Intro to Is 40-44
Aug 19, 2012
There are lots of great reasons to study the Bible, as opposed to just reading it or just listening to sermons about it (though both are good!). One of the biggest reasons is this – often what God is actually saying is much bigger than a sermon, and gets missed if we are reading but not studying.
A great case in point: the first four chapters of the second part of the book of Isaiah. Now, where does this come from? God took me to a verse in Is 43 as I started to plan our church retreat coming soon, verse 19 (more about the retreat in a moment!). So I did what I always do, I start to read around the verse – before and after – to make sure I get the context right. Often it is a section and I can get the context quickly, but this time I had to go back to chapter 40 and to the middle of 44. More than 100 verses! And God spoke great things through them all, some of which were present in the themes last week about how big God is and how much He loves us, and some of which we have already experienced together this morning in worship.
Now, before I outline that for us, I’m going to talk for a moment about how important it is that we actually dive in to God’s Word together, and how we intend to do so this fall. We’ve revamped some things at an Elders meeting this week, and I want to share those with you. See, if our “Big Goal” in life is to follow Jesus, and His “Big Commands” were “love God”, and “love others”, and if we actually buy into our church vision of “Love First”, then we have to grow in depth of our experience of God through His Word. The Bible cannot be a book on a shelf. We have to get into it, study it, wrestle with it, and ultimately OBEY it. We value that extremely highly here. So here is our plan to grow that value and our love of God through His Word: Starting September 16, we are going to shape our Sunday mornings like this:
9:45 Preparation for worship
10:00 Multi-generational worship (Scripture, songs of worship, prayer, offering)
10:45 Greeting time
10:46 Teaching Time: Adults (sermon+)
Sr. youth (with Darcy Smith and ?)
Jr. youth (with Pastor Garret and ?)
11:30ish Fellowship (around a cup of coffee )
Once a month, on Communion Sunday, the “teaching block” will be all of us together.
We worked this out at our Elders’ meeting this week (with input from Gail of CE), and we started to get really excited about the possibilities, talk to any one of us for more clarification.
Back to Isaiah:
So as I was saying, I was working on planning the church retreat which is coming up very soon. A brochure is available with all the details, but it has flowed out of and around a verse from Isaiah 43:19: “19 For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?” And that promise, made long ago by God to His people in a very different time and place, seems to be being repeated to us by the Holy Spirit today. I have felt it in my spirit. Around our Elder’s table we have felt it. We have felt it in our services, especially back in July when we heard testimony from our new Elders. We believe: God is about to do something new.
This retreat is an important starting point. So important, that we want everyone who is able to come. We have made the cost for the weekend “by donation”, so that everyone can come and contribute what you are able. And we have carefully thought and prayed about how to get away together, be refreshed by the Holy Spirit, be healed from some of the issues we have been facing and what those have done to us, have a great time, and meet God. Please, come.
But that verse is in a broader context in Isaiah, so broad that I can’t even outline it properly today. So we are going to explore it together over the next 4 weeks, both in our time of worship and our time of teaching. It contains some verses that are famous, dearly loved, and very applicable to us, like:
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. 2 “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned.” (40:1)
“30 Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. 31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”
42 “Look at my servant, whom I strengthen. He is my chosen one, who pleases me. I have put my Spirit upon him. He will bring justice to the nations. 2 He will not shout or raise his voice in public. 3 He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle… you will be a light to guide the nations. 7 You will open the eyes of the blind. You will free the captives from prison, releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.”
43 “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.”
But just pulling those great promises out is not enough. In order to really see them, and understand them, and receive them, we need to find them in their context. And here it is, very briefly:
40:1-11 Comfort and response
40:12-31 God is BIG
41:1-7 Invitation to conversation
41:8-20 God’s Promises
42:1-9 Promise of a Savior
42:10-17 Worship response to promise
42:18-25 Our failure to listen and see
43:1-21 More promises in spite of disobedience
43:22-24 More disobedience
43:25-44:5 More promises anyway
Do you see the arc? God speaks words of comfort, then reveals Himself to us (and wow is God big!!). Then He invites us to speak with Him, and showers us with promises, including promising us a Messiah. There are some words of worship in response. But then God speaks of His people’s failure – sin. And then He extravagantly makes more promises. Then mentions disobedience and sin again. And then makes even more promises.
From the overall arc of the chapters, there is something missing that we subconsciously expect: following God’s revealing and naming our sin, we expect judgment. Punishment. Maybe even rejection. But that is not the story… it is a love story instead. In response to our sin, God promises to forgive and restore and guide and bless. Not weakly or by turning a blind eye and pretending sin doesn’t matter, but instead by overwhelming sin with love. And I believe that we would actually turn away from sin and towards God, that is exactly what we will find – Love! Not punishment, not rejection, not judgment. There is no condemnation! Mercy triumphs over judgment!! Let’s stop being afraid to turn from sin, let us stop using our fear of what we think God might do as an excuse to stay in sinful habits, and instead let us turn to Him and find out what is REALLY there!!!
And besides, let us not make this passage just about us. Let me show you a little graph: I counted up the number of verses that are about God, and the number that are about us. Even the ones about our sin – there are about 11-12 of those, and almost 100 about God and the promises He has made to us. THAT is important context!!
We experienced Isaiah 40 in our time of worship, and the theme of how big God is was one of the themes I preached about last week, so I want to move into Isaiah 41 with what is left of this morning. It begins with an invitation: “41 “Listen in silence before me, you lands beyond the sea. Bring your strongest arguments. Come now and speak. The court is ready for your case.”. The very fact that God, after spending most of a chapter describing how awesome and huge He is, now invites us to speak, is itself amazing. Why do we deserve a hearing? Why should we get to provide a “case” before the “court”? Does it sound like an invitation to judgment? Does is sound like an opportunity to be embarrassed, when we break out our best arguments and defenses for our sins, and then God reveals the truth and the depth of corruption in our hearts and we fall on our faces deserving death? That is sort of what we expect…
But that is not the loving God we see here in Isaiah 41. God talks of those who worship lesser things in harsh terms in vs. 6-7, but then He moves on. I want to read these verses:
8 “But as for you, Israel my servant,
Jacob my chosen one,
descended from Abraham my friend,
9 I have called you back from the ends of the earth,
saying, ‘You are my servant.’
For I have chosen you
and will not throw you away.
10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
Wow, eh? “I have chosen you and will not throw you away”. How do you like that? Close your eyes for a moment; imagine God has invited you to stand before His court and present your case, and we stood there realizing that this is the God of the Universe, who knows absolutely everything including those deepest secrets of which we are terrified and ashamed… our breath is short and our pulse is fast and the sweat breaks out on our brow, and God says “9 I have called you back from the ends of the earth, saying, ‘You are my servant.’ For I have chosen you and will not throw you away. 10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Picture God reaching out with those words, with His hand, and that offer of strength and help and upholding… Will you accept? Will you take His hand??
If you do, hear the next words from vs. 13:
13 For I hold you by your right hand—
I, the Lord your God.
And I say to you,
‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.
14 Though you are a lowly worm, O Jacob,
don’t be afraid, people of Israel, for I will help you.
I am the Lord, your Redeemer.
I am the Holy One of Israel.’
17 “When the poor and needy search for water and there is none,
and their tongues are parched from thirst,
then I, the Lord, will answer them.
I, the God of Israel, will never abandon them.
18 I will open up rivers for them on the high plateaus.
I will give them fountains of water in the valleys.
I will fill the desert with pools of water.
Rivers fed by springs will flow across the parched ground.
19 I will plant trees in the barren desert—
cedar, acacia, myrtle, olive, cypress, fir, and pine.
20 I am doing this so all who see this miracle
will understand what it means—
that it is the Lord who has done this,
the Holy One of Israel who created it.
Accepting and Living:
Do you want in? Those are some powerful promises… and they are for us. Do you believe that God can still revive, still breathe new life, still forgive you, still reach out His powerful hand, uphold you, pour out rivers for those who are parched? I’ve never been really physically parched, but spiritually I know that feeling.
Feeling dry. Parched of soul. Knowing what it was like when it felt like the Spirit of God was flowing freely in and through me, refreshing me and others around, but knowing that as a memory. Remembering times of God’s blessing and fruitfulness and flowing and moving. And they are good memories. But they also heighten the feeling of being parched of soul, because we know of something better.
Do you still believe God can do it again? In your life, in your home, in our church? Is God faithful to His promises? When He speaks these words in Isaiah, does He mean them?
I believe He does. I believe that the same God that spoke through Isaiah to a nation in exile, the same God that raised Jesus Christ from the dead, the same God who reached down and spoke to me and made me His child, is here right now. Repeating these promises, grabbing our hearts and saying “I have chosen you and will not throw you away… don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand… and I hold you by your right hand”.
And so… do you believe it? With head, heart, and hands? The intellectual part, the emotional part, and the active part? All three??
I believe Is 43:19… I believe God is doing a new thing, and wants to do a new thing. He wants to breathe new life into tired relationships. He wants to help us choose to forgive. He wants to pull us out of misery and into life. And He wants to use us, work through us, to bring that hope to our world.
Will you take His hand? Will you believe God can still keep His promises? I think we will be surprised by what He still wants to do…