Isa. 40:3-8(9-24; 38:4-8) 1 Sam. 17:36 2 Peter 3:8-13 Ps. 34:18-19
I was reading recently about the island of Mindoro in the Philippines. It’s a beautiful tropical island which had been popular as a tourist attraction and a place to live – popular that is – until August 26 this year. That’s when it was struck by an earthquake of over 7.0 intensity. The ground shook, roads started cracking and bridges fell. Then a tsunami came. Many were drowned.
To see the disaster on the news was almost hypnotizing in the magnitude of the tragedy. That’s when I began to think about our own lives. When our lives begin to shake, when the very foundations of where we’re standing seem unsure, we can all be thrown into confusion just like those victims in Mindoro. Some might say that living in California tends to prepare us for such things, but does it ever? When even the earth we’re standing on seems unsafe, where can anyone find security? (illustration from SermonCentral.com)
Times like these remind us that the church needs a realistic view of God. When tragedies enter our lives, our view of God sometimes proves too small; probably because we’re too overwhelmed. At such times, God can seem far off.
Does God ever seem to you like a majestic king sitting on a throne but quite distant in some third heaven? Is that our image of God?
For whatever reason, I’ve recently become aware that many of us grew up without having a clear idea of God’s nature. Having a limited view of God can be very discouraging when we’re struck by overwhelming problems in this life.
That reminds me of a story about a man in a hot air balloon who realized he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a woman below. He shouted, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I’m lost."
The woman replied, "You’re in a hot air balloon about 30 feet above the ground. You’re between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and between 59 and 60 degrees west longitude."
"You must be an engineer," said the balloonist. "I am," replied the woman, "How did you know?"
"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is, technically correct, but I still don’t know where I am. The fact is you haven’t been much help at all. If anything, you’ve only delayed my trip."
The woman below responded, "You must be in Management." "I am," replied the balloonist, "but how did you know?" "Well," said the woman, "you don’t know where you are or where you’re going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise which you’ve no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problems. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it’s my fault." (illustration from SermonCentral.com)
When we’re lost and distressed, it’s tempting to blame it on someone else – especially God. Here again, I believe that’s because we really lack a clear perception of who God is and what God does.
Today I’d like us to have a glimpse into the nature of our incomparably great God. Obviously, it will have to be a "glimpse" because that’s really all we can do. With our finite minds, how can we fully comprehend an infinite mind?
The Book of Isaiah tells us that God described himself to the Israelites. He was speaking to a society in turmoil and about to collapse. They had a fickle king (Hezekiah) who couldn’t make up his mind whether to be loyal to God or not, and consequently, the people were also uncertain about their relationship with God. It was then that God thundered to the people who He really is.
“Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion,” Isaiah told them. “Lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, . . . do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’ See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him . . . . Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?” (40:9-12)
The largest seas in the world are nothing but a handful of water in God’s hands. Yet, have you ever been in a ship out at sea where you can’t see the land? It makes you feel rather small and helpless. And if the ship sinks, you’ll feel even smaller. But to God, all those seas are like water in the palm of his hand.
The distance between the planets and stars is far in our perspective. How far are galaxies from other galaxies? If you’re traveling with the speed of light, you couldn’t reach the end of the universe in your lifetime. But the Bible tells us that God measures the diameter of the universe with the span of His fingers. Yet God knows how many grains of sand are on each beach.
Verses 13-14 asks: “Who has directed the spirit of the Lord, or as his counselor has instructed him? Whom did he consult for his enlightenment, and who taught him the path of justice? Who taught God, and who showed him the way of understanding?”
These verses tell us about God’s omniscience. He’s all-knowing. Where did God get his knowledge? Sometimes we’re impressed by people with Ph.D’s. We tend to marvel at those whose IQs are more than 200, but God’s IQ is infinite. And here we are trying to make God fit into our prefabricated boxes instead of just opening ourselves up, dispensing with our vanity, and just asking God to tell us about Himself.
Our society has come very close to making science into a god and scientists into god’s prophets. Some would even say we’ve already done that. Yet, to God, their knowledge is nothing, and any PhD worth his or her salt would tell you the same thing. For all that we’ve learned about quantum mechanics and the mysteries of the human mind, we still can’t cure the common cold. And we still declare lunatics to be sane and sane people to be lunatics.
Verse 15 declares: “Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he takes up the isles as a very little thing.”
Our God governs the universe, and yet, He’s intimately involved in each of our lives. Be careful not to think too highly of nations or those who govern. Some people are tempted to elevate their leaders or governments to the level of God. But the Scriptures tell us that they’re like dust particles on a scale.
Some relate God to the laws of science. But God’s not a scientist who obeys scientific laws. He’s the author and finisher of all laws and more. This we see in Isaiah 38:4-8 in which Isaiah conveys God’s message to King Hezekiah:
“Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: ‘Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the LORD, the God of your ancestor David: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and defend this city.
“This is the sign to you from the LORD, that the LORD will do this thing that he has promised: See, I will make the shadow cast by the declining sun on the dial of Ahaz turn back ten steps.’ So the sun turned back on the dial the ten steps by which it had declined.”
In case you don’t know what that means, turning back the sun-dial ten steps is the same as adding two degrees – or forty minutes – to the length of the day. In other words, our God not only created the universe, but He’s still actively in control of the universe. He controls the movement of the planets and of time itself. As it says in Luke 1:37, “For nothing is impossible with God.”
I think that’s where many Christians get stumped. We know, in the abstract sense, that God can do anything, but we have a problem believing that He’ll do anything for us.
The God of the Bible is a living Being – and a very personal one at that. The Philistines worshipped gods as made of stone or wood. The Israelites had forsaken God. But to David, the God of all creation was a living God!
In 1Samuel 17:36, David said to King Saul, “Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.”
The idea that God was real and alive had not entered the minds of the Philistines and, for that matter, most of Israel either. They were worshipping gods made of stone and wood; gods devised by their own imaginations.
Isaiah 40:18-20 asks the question:
To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness will you compare with him? An idol perhaps? A workman casts (the idol), and a goldsmith overlays it with gold, and casts for it silver chains. As a gift (to that god), one chooses mulberry wood — wood that will not rot — then seeks out a skilled artisan to set up an image that will not topple.
Maybe you’re thinking that we don’t see Christians do these things. Wouldn’t it be strange to see your neighbor praying to his apple tree? Or watch him peel and apple and offer it to a rock? But that’s precisely what Isaiah’s talking about with ancient idolatry.
Today, however, there’s a different kind of idolatry. Anytime you or I make a person, a goal, a institution or anything else equal to or higher than the living God in our loyalties and priorities, then we’re committing idolatry. That’s what idolatry is; giving to anyone or anything the loyalty and devotion we should render to God . . . this even includes anything that we feel deserves our time and resources more than our worship of God.
We’re all born worshippers – even so-called atheists. They may claim that they worship no god, but in God’s eyes they worship themselves or whatever it is that gives them pleasure.
If you think about it, Isaiah does have a sense of humor. In verse 20 for instance, he’s saying, “Some of you are poor and you say that you don’t have gold to cover your idol. Well if that’s the case, be careful of the wood you choose! Your god may be eaten by termites.” Then he says, “And by the way, be sure to nail your gods down, or they may just fall their pedestal and break!”
Doesn’t that remind you a bit of how some treat their Hollywood idols? They put them on a pedestal, follow and envy their every success, pay them lots of money to be entertaining, and then – somewhat morbidly – spend even more money to read about their failures or human foibles.
Well, God cannot be compared with a physical object or human icon. He’s very much alive, and He’s without foibles or failures. All that He declares is accomplished. Anything or anyone that we put ahead of Him is bowing to deaf and dumb idols of ancient times.
Nevertheless, we do tend to put material things ahead of God. Every time we make our jobs, our leisure time, our worries or our friends more important than our worship of God, we show that our view and estimation of God is lacking.
Isaiah 40:21-24 tells us,
• Don’t you know? . . . Hasn’t it been told to you from the beginning?
• It is HE who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; (HE) who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who makes princes into nobodies, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
• Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when (GOD) blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
God is not only incomparably great compared to idols, but he’s incomparably great in his relations with the rulers of this world. Even the greatest leaders of this world cannot escape what is common to all men – death.
Follow along with me now as I summarize this message in three points.
1. God is all Powerful, all knowing and everywhere: “His arm rules for him.” God’s arm, His Son Jesus Christ, shows us God’s power. With Jesus Christ, nothing is ever impossible – be it mountains to move, problems to solve, or bodies to heal. He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.
2. God is a very personal living Being. “His reward is with him.” It shows us that He is a very personal God whose greatest desire is a personal relationship with you. He came down into the pit with you in order to lift you out. He totally relates to you; to every pain and sorrow as well as every joy and triumph. And He even listens to you – even when you don’t make sense.
3. God is the perfect loving Shepherd. “He tends his flock like a shepherd.” He shows you that He’s a powerful yet tender shepherd who will not abandon His sheep, and wherever He leads you, it will take you to His perfect peace.
Psalm 34:18,19 reminds us, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all.”
Please join with me in prayer: Heavenly Father, open our hearts and our minds to receive the Truth of who You really are – not just the image that makes us feel comfortable. Ours is a world of shadows and mirrors, O Lord.
Create in us an unquenchable hunger for Your light and a total relationship with Your Son Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.