Last weekend at the conference, we heard some very challenging messages about the failure of evangelical Christians to live their faith. I mentioned this in a message a few weeks ago. I am one of those evangelicals who does not always succeed at living obediently. I know that there are times when I sin and it is frustrating and defeating when we yield to sin. At times like that, I wonder, “where is the power of God that is supposed to change me into the image of Christ?”
Some of you are aware that our daughter, who is 27 years old, suffers with arthritis. It is hard to watch and realize that if the problem is already starting now, how severely limited will her life be? We pray for healing, but it only seems to be getting worse and we wonder, “where is the power of God that healed people so easily in the past?”
I know that some of you are dealing with some really tough stuff. Some of you are dealing with serious illnesses. Some of you are dealing with grief that seems hard to bear. Some of you are dealing with business challenges that are hard to solve, including those of you who are farming and experiencing drought after flooding and wondering if there will ever be a year that will yield a good crop again. You also must be wondering, “where is the power of God to help us in these difficult situations?”
As a pastor, I am concerned about my family and about you as a congregation. The burden of caring is one that sometimes gets a little heavy and I get tired and wonder how I can keep on ministering.
I invite you to open your Bibles to Isaiah 40:12-31 where we will find direction and encouragement in these things.
I. Where Is God When I Need Him? Isaiah 40:27
Isaiah had prophesied the destruction of Israel for a number of years. In the first 39 chapters of the book, he warned of what was coming because of the sin of the people. Beginning in Isaiah 40, there is a new section with a new tone. Some suggest that this section was written when the people were already in exile in Babylon and others say that it was written before they went into exile in Babylon to prepare them for that time. Whatever the case may be, it is written to a situation of extreme difficulty. It is written to a situation of loss, of devastation, of hopelessness. It was written to a time when the people were wondering if God was still alive, if God cared for them, if God was able to help them. Great and godless powers had prevailed and they would have wondered, as one writer says, “How could the glory of the Lord be revealed in a world dominated by emperors and their armies?”
In Isaiah 40:27, Isaiah identifies the things they were thinking about. They were thinking, “my way is hidden from the Lord.” What did they mean by that? They meant that they felt that God could not see them. They meant that they felt that God was blind to their situation. They thought that, in God’s eyes, their issues were so small that in the grand scheme of things God didn’t see them.
The second thing they were thinking is “My cause is disregarded by the Lord.” By this they were expressing that they thought God wasn’t fair. They assigned no motive for why they thought God was being unjust. Was it that he didn’t care or wasn’t able to help or because he hated them? They simply declared the result and that is that God wasn’t making it right, he was ignoring what was due to them
Have you ever asked such questions? I suspect that all of us have. When we consider the powers of nature, we wonder if God is big enough to bring rain and if he is big enough, why he doesn’t – is our cause disregarded by the Lord? We wonder why our disease is not healed when God could so easily relieve us of the pain and burden of it – is our way hidden from the Lord? As we watch the destructive military actions in Israel and Lebanon, we wonder if God is powerful enough to stop the conflict and bring peace to the region. We wonder if nations are too big for God to control.
One writer asks, “Given the complexity of the cosmos and its celestial hosts, can we really believe that one God controls our destiny?”
II. Do You Not Know? Isaiah 40:28, 12-26
Isaiah takes their questions seriously, when he asks, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel…” In other words, he asks them, “why are you asking these questions?”
Twice in the whole passage he asks, “Do you not know? Have you not heard?” These questions appear in both verse 21 and 28. These questions imply that we have missed something.
Both of these questions turn our doubts back on ourselves. The questions which Israel was asking were questions of doubt. The questions God asks are questions challenging doubt. What reason do you have to doubt God?
The major part of Isaiah 40:12-31 is a rehearsal of who God is written to demonstrate that we do not need to be filled with doubt about the ability, justice, care and help of God. The evidence is powerful and deep to demonstrate that we have every reason to hope in the Lord. This morning I would like to examine what is spoken here as an encouragement to all of us to not doubt God, but to put our faith in Him. What reasons do we have to do this?
B. God Is:
First of all, we note the brief summary of who God is and what he does in verse 28. Here we have four statements which encourage us to trust God.
First of all we read that he is the everlasting God. Was God able to help Abraham? Of course, He is the everlasting God. Was God able to help Paul? Of course, He is the everlasting God. Is God able to help us today? Of course, He is the everlasting God. Will God be able to help us in whatever future we experience? Of course, He is the everlasting God.
The second statement indicates that He is the “creator of the ends of the earth.” Last summer, our son Joel hit a rock with his canoe while going down a rapid and caused some damage. We were not too concerned about it. We had built the canoe and so we knew exactly how to fix it. God is the creator of the ends of the earth. Is there anything in all of creation that He does not know about, how it works and how to fix it?
A few weeks ago when I was working on a building project in our yard, I was having some problems. It was in the evening and I had already had a full day at church and was quite tired. I began to make silly mistakes and realized that I would have to stop because I wanted to do it right, but was too tired to do so. God “will not grow tired or weary.” Whenever we need His help, He is ready and able to give us His best.
The last statement in this summary is that “his understanding no one can fathom.” There are two thoughts which come out of this one. One is to recognize that there is nothing that God does not know. Ken Jennings knows a lot of things, but there is an end to his understanding. In his day, Albert Einstein brought the understanding of physical science to new depths, but there was an end to his understanding. There is no end to God’s understanding. The other side of that truth is that when we get to the end of our understanding and can’t figure things out, God still has lots of ideas. In other words, when we can’t understand why God lets a child die, we have to realize with humility that we have come to the end of our understanding, but not to the end of God’s understanding.
C. Over All Powers
Isaiah 40:28 is a summary of the arguments which encourage us to put our trust in God. Isaiah 40:12-26 is a fuller presentation of the things which encourage us to trust God. It is written to people who had a certain understanding about the powers of the universe. The religious and philosophical understanding of the people surrounding Israel was that there was a particular power structure in place in the universe. They believed that there was a connection between the gods who ruled the universe, the created world in which they ruled and the nations which existed. Each of these had power – nature, nations and gods. The people feared each of these powers. They feared nature which was unpredictable and uncontrollable. We understand that power because nature is still unpredictable and uncontrollable. They feared nations which could at any time come and conquer them. We understand this fear because we still live in fear of nations, and today especially of terrorists, which come right into our country and plot to engage in acts of terror. They feared the powers behind all things. They saw them as gods and sought to appease them by making images to represent them and hopefully by sacrifice to appease them. We also fear other powers. We fear the power of ideas. EFC reports on a poll that says that 31% of Canadians are uncomfortable with evangelical Christians. What happens when that is taken to its logical conclusion? We fear the power of economic forces. What happens as the dollar strengthens and we can’t sell our goods to the US any more? What happens if the interest rate goes to 20% again as it did in the early 80’s?
In Isaiah 40:12-26, Isaiah addresses these powers and demonstrates the power of God over all powers. He does so by using the literary device of a chiastic structure. A-B-C-C-B-A. Isaiah 40:12-14 deals with creation; 15-17 with nations; 18-20 with idols and the powers behind them; 21-22 with powers; 23-24 with nations and 25,26 with nature again. The images here are at times humorous, powerful, persuasive and ultimately encouraging.
1. God Over Nature
The massive diminutive nature of the first verse is so creative and interesting. Can you imagine God scooping up all the water of the whole world in the hollow of his hand? Last December we flew over part of the Pacific Ocean and believe me, that is a lot of water. Can you imagine God measuring the infinity of space with the distance between the tip of his thumb and baby finger? Can you imagine God carrying a basket filled with all the dust in all the earth or getting out a scale to weigh the mountains and the hills? The images are massive diminutive, demonstrating that God is more powerful and bigger than anything on earth. Not long ago someone said to me “this is a big problem.” It was true, it was a big problem, but when we read this we are encouraged that God is an even bigger God.
Sometimes when I show people something I have made they ask me, “who showed you how to make that?” Well, I seldom use plans and rather enjoy figuring it out myself. Verses 13 and 14 ask this kind of a question about God. They invite us to consider if there is someone who is wiser and greater than God? Did anyone tell him how to create? Did anyone show him what was the way of righteousness? Did anyone lead him in the way of wisdom and understanding? If there was someone like that, then we should get to know that someone because he would be greater than God. But God is the source. All wisdom, all understanding, all knowledge of justice, every right way, the best possible solution is always in the mind of God. This week I was standing and looking into my garage and noticed a project I had made and was admiring it. Then I glanced a little over and saw some flowers and was immediately humbled to realize that my little project was nothing compared to God’s creation.
In verses 25,26 which again refer to God’s power over creation, we are invited to examine the starry host and realize that thousands of years of looking at stars, first of all with the eye, then with telescopes, then with space telescopes and then even with electronic receptors, and we have still not gotten to the end of our knowledge of the universe, but God knows the name of each star and has, in fact, put them all in place. The question asked in verse 25 is certainly relevant. “To whom will you compare me?” God is greater and wiser and more powerful than all the powers of nature. He is greater than the storms, greater than the bears, greater than the ocean waves and even than the hurricanes.
2. God Over Nations
The section comparing God to the power of the nations begins in verse 15. Once again we see pictures that stir the imagination. Can you imagine God holding an empty bucket with only one drop of water in it? Can you see what it means when it says that the nations are like a drop in a bucket. Can you imagine a scale with the fine dust that gathers when we don’t dust it? That dust doesn’t even register on the scale! Can you imagine that compared to God all the nations of the earth are just like that dust?
Lebanon was a country of great forests filled with animals. Yet for all its natural resources, there is not enough wood and there are not enough sacrificial animals in all of Lebanon to supply all the sacrifices which would be fittingly offered to God. The intent of the image is once again to show that God is greater than all the powers of all the nations of the earth.
The other section speaking about the nations is in Isaiah 40:23,24. There have been many great nations in the world, but every one of them has eventually come to nothing. The nations which exist are there by the will and permission of God. When they no longer have the permission of God, they are gone.
God is greater than North Korea, greater than Afghanistan, greater than Iraq and greater than the United States of America.
3. God Over Powers
The last power addressed in this section by Isaiah is the powers which are often represented by people as idols. We think that we do not make idols, but that is not the case. Idols are the representation of powers that we fear or serve. Money can be an idol when it represents a power we serve. Medical and educational institutions can be idols if we put our hope in them and as they represent something greater than ourselves to trust.
The section on idols is actually quite humorous, especially verse 20 when it talks about “wood that will not rot” and “a skilled craftsman” who “sets up an idol that will not topple.” How can you worship and serve something that you have made, over which you have power?
Once again we are asked the question “Do you now know? Have you not heard?” It isn’t nations or nature or powers, it is God who sits enthroned above the circle of the earth.” God is bigger and wiser and more capable than any power on earth.
III. Those Who Hope In The Lord! Isaiah 40:29-31
These powerful, creative images bring us to turn to God and realize that He can help us in any situation. The invitation to trust comes in verses 28-31.
When Carla was training for the marathon, we learned a lot about how to have enough energy to keep going. At first she was trying to do her long runs with only water for nourishment. Later we discovered that you could buy a container with a pudding like substance which was very high in quick energy. When she began to eat one of these every four or five miles, it made a huge difference. We are made so that we need to replenish our energy if we want to keep on working. If we have not taken in enough nourishment, we get weary. One of the words used in this section for tired or weary is a word which implies that the tiredness comes from not taking in enough energy. We know what that feels like, but, God does not. He doesn’t ever grow tired even if he hasn’t had enough to eat.
No matter how much we take in, there are times when we will still get tired. There is a weariness from not having taken in enough nourishment and there is another kind of tiredness that comes from having done too much work. This is the meaning of the other word for tired in this passage. I always find it so interesting that I wake up in the morning with all kinds of ideas and plans and all the energy in the world to do many things. As I do them, my enthusiasm begins to wane and if I have decided to do something in the evening, in my early morning energy, by the time evening comes along my enthusiasm is not nearly as great. I get tired, we all do, but God does not grow tired or weary. Whether at the beginning of the day or the end, God has full energy. Whether at the beginning of creation or near the end of the world, God’s will and ability to work and act is the same. God’s promise is that He always has full energy to do whatever is needed.
God’s further promise is that we can tap into that energy. The same words used to describe that God does not grow tired or weary are used to promise that God also gives strength to those who grow tired and weary. I am always amazed at the energy and strength of young people. Carla worked very hard from April to June to prepare for running the half marathon. She was diligent and disciplined. Our son spent very little time preparing. He was busy and went running a few times and then was able to run the full marathon. He is a young man, but even he gets tired. God promises that we can have the strength and energy greater than that of a young man. God promises that He will provide for us whatever is needed to soar like an eagle, to run and not get tired because we lack nourishment or energy. He promises that we will walk on and on and never become faint.
What a tremendous hope to know the power of the God who never gets tired available to us in whatever may be needed. Now this is not saying that if we put our trust in God we will never have to eat or sleep. What it does mean is that if we get to the end of our resources and we have to keep going, God supplies what is needed. I have had to apply this to myself many times. Sometimes when I needed to go make a visit and didn’t have the emotional energy or when I had to write a message and was feeling like I was lacking the creative energy I have experienced God’s power holding me up and giving me the ability to do what needed to be done. I have also, on the other hand experienced God’s grace in giving me rest when I felt obligated to do something but God knew I needed a break. That is the way God gives strength to the weary and power to the weak.
B. Hope In The Lord
How is the power of God and the eternal and amazing wisdom of God applied to our lives?
Often we are looking for immediate answers and when they don’t come, we begin to doubt God. We were talking about the soccer games last weekend and wondering about some of the acting that was happening when players who were barely touched fell down and pretended to have an injury. In one case, the player was grasping his knee and when the trainer came he sprayed something that looked like water on the knee and all of a sudden the guy got up and was better. We were mocking the magic healing water in that bottle. Yet we often want magic healing water to cure us right now. We are quick to go off and find the powers that will solve all of our problems, whether it is a lawyer, a doctor or a government official. Now I am not saying we should not use the help we get from these professionals. However, if we discover that they can’t solve every problem or don’t listen to us, and we become upset at that, it shows that we are putting our trust in these other powers instead of in God. One writer says, “So long as the human heart harbours other ultimate loyalties besides God, it is lost in a sea of chaos.”
The help of God comes to those who “hope in the Lord.” The Hebrew word means to wait, to hope, to look eagerly to God.
What this means is that first of all, we trust that God is able, that God cares and that God knows what to do. It means that we have faith in God. This is a critical point! I have done some rappelling, which is jumping off a cliff held up by a rope. You have to trust that the rope is solid and will hold your weight. If you don’t, you will never take the first step. Putting our hope in God is similar. It requires that we put our weight of confident trust in Him. What rest comes when we so trust in Him!
It also means that we wait until God acts or calls on us to act. I can’t speak for you, but I know that I am often very impatient. I don’t understand God’s timing and it sure doesn’t always suit me, but in retrospect, I always know that it is best. I have had several times in my life when I left one church and did not find another one for several months, once 4 months and once 7 months. At the time it was difficult to wait for God to show us our next place, but in retrospect, I have realized that these times away from ministry were important as times of refreshing to be able to gain strength and energy for the next assignment. God’s timing was right and I could have saved myself grief if I would have put my trust in Him.
Friends, there is so much in this passage to show us that God is able. As we recognize that, whatever you need help with, I invite you to have faith, to trust in God. He will give strength. He will give what you need.