Isaiah 40 sermon
The end of the road…the start to the journey!
(A sermon on Isaiah 40: Corrie Nel on 7 August 2005)
Isaiah 40: 20-31;
Good evening everyone. I hope you are all feeling very welcome…
The end of the road?
Congregation, brothers and sisters, when was the worst moment of your life.
I mean a really hopeless moment – a moment so black that you may have cried out: “This is the end of the road!”
Do you recall such a moment?
Are you perhaps experiencing such a moment?
It is difficult of course to conjure up such a moment here in church on a lovely winter’s morning, surrounded by loved ones and fellow Christians.
But what I am asking is that we try and remember that worst moment, that moment when we felt no one could help us now, moment when we were deserted by friends and family, a moment when we felt deserted, maybe, even by God himself!
Or, if by God’s grace you have no recollection of such a dreadful moment, do you recall a moment when you witnessed such a dark day in someone else’s life?
In the late seventies, I worked as the assistant to a chaplain, Major Scott, in the South African Prison Services system.
Our job - well, his job mainly; I was but a lowly warden - was to “Spiritually Care” for prisoners who had received the death penalty.
When I recall those days, in my mind I still seem to distinguish between two phases in our work among the prisoners on death row.
And I was remined of this strange working of my mind while I was preparing this sermon.
The first phase was the months of contact with a prisoner before he – or she - would be told the exact date they would be executed.
Strangely, these were always days of hope!
And hope, is, of course, faith…. so they were also days of great faith.
For the prisoners, specifically, the days before being told the actual day they would be executed, were days of hope and faith, for all that remained for them was hope!
So often such a prisoner would say “…while one is alive, there is hope.”
And this hope, their very faith in this time was tangible
… until they “were told”.
Have you been told yet? One would ask?
That is how it was referred to when the prisoner was informed of the exact day and hour he would walk to the gallows – he “was told”!
And then the second phase started and the character of the Spiritual Care we would try to offer, would change.
For now we were no longer dealing with a prisoner on death row, we were dealing with a man or a woman who would not live past a known date and even a hour. We were, in fact, talking to a dead man. Now all hope of a life on earth, was over for that person.
For him, or her, they had truly reached the end of the road.
No living person, not their father or brother or best friend or all together could stop the course that would soon follow.
And ironically, it was here, at this point of many a person’s journey, the end of their earthly journey, that we often saw faith in its most visible, most profound, most honest form.
This person had no reason any longer to feign his faith. It was then past the point where a false show of regret would score any points with a judge or a jury; that moment was past the point where a confession in a new found faith held in it the possibility of a reprieve.
When one confesses your faith with a noose around your neck, I believe you have come to a wisdom and a faith beyond the understanding of those who so easily shift their trust to things material, to things or people we believe we can control or which can control God’s earth.
For these prisoners, they have reached the end of the road, but their journey is about to begin.
was But all too soon those months would turn into weeks and weeks would turn into days – and the worst part is no-one knew exactly when the prisoner’s time would run out -
Have we reached the end of the road in our faith
How desperately hopeless has the news been again this past few weeks
Who can we count on to bring us peace; hope;
Bombs in Egypt and London
The life support system of the woman allegedly murdered by her husband and his lover,
How glum the Israelites
But Isaiah is foretelling
Israel have sinned – what was their main sin
(examples of Abraham Isaac Jacob)
The Israeliets will be banished, they will suffer
But they will be delivered and they will return to favour with God
And it is during their banishment that they will reconsider
This pattern is evident in all of the minor prophets:
Be comforted oh Cornelius
Be comforted Oh Ali
Be comforted Oh Wally
Be comforted oh teenager; pensioner; you who are ill; you who are lonely
The time of restitution is past and your sins have been payed fro twice over be comforted
The Lord did not let go when Israel found themselves in times of trouble. It is by His command that they are exiled; but it is by His command that they are reconstituted.
In both the Lord God is in control, fully aware of every hair on every head, of every level of suffereing.
God does not go back on His word to be God. He does everything in His power to remind us. To strengthen us, to be covenant commiters
The big plan ( a moment in history – Alexander the Great and the greek language)
The so called silent years – bah – hey are loud years. It is just a matter of only later, much later that mankinbd heard the noise, the buzz, and the buzz was saying – truly He was the son of God
And here we are this morning in August 2005.
Can we see the bigger picture; can we see God’s plan; can we here the clammer …or have we grown blind and deaf because we have lost our hope, our very faith. Do we need to follow in the footsteps of the Israelites all the way into banishment before we see the error of our ways, our sinfulness (remember – the main sin we can commit is to be self-reliant; to become our own means towards our own ends; to want to step in when God does not plan this world our way, but His way, and His way seemingly not being all about me!
May I ask you, just as one example – and as I ask you the question please know and believe that as I search my own conscious on this first – have you when the budget just woudn’t balance, have you found yourself at the local news agency, or tattersall, buying a lottery ticket or the putting that bit of spare change on the horse that just can’t lose? And when you did, did youin your mind start spending the 9million dollars as if you had already won it. After all, won’t $9-million solve all your troubles?
When cancer strikes you down, will the money help?
When you loose a child to drug addiction, will your money help?
When I am week, I am strong
When I am lost, I am found,
When I realise I cannot trust myself, I grow in trust in the Lord and as Paul says, God’s grace is all I need
And go out and comfort you those who are still in exile so that they may know they too will be delivered.
Remind them of God’s commitment and remind them of the awesome history, of God’s ultimate act of love (not to mention even the many acts of rescue along the way….
I have discovered a message 200o plus years old
Isaiah is bringing us a message too,
By the questions we ask God, we have become devils testing God, expecting miracles for our own purpose
Lord, let the Springboks beat the wallabies; just this once then I will go to Church on Sunday!
God knows better. God knew that the Israelites would learn from their banishment. Their banishment and their return from exile was part of the plan. He knew they would reconsider their ways and they did and God was happy that they did. His plan was on track, not back on track, for mankind cannot scuttle God’s plans, they can but experience God’s plan, be part of God’s plan, yes and no
Yes’ God’s plan is that Israel will return, that from their return will rise a clan from which will rise the house of David, from which will rise Herod etc etc.
No, we do not know the specifics. We do not know who will be ill or healthy, rich or poor, rich today porr tomorrow, healthy today, sick or dear tomorrow. But we know that we are part God’s plan and that knowledge will give us as the television ad goes, wings!
Or, for a far more trustworthy medium, a faultless, honest, pure saurce, the Bible – we will walk and walk and not grow tired
At college we have a module called “Minsistry Formation.”
The course is designed, I suppose, for the students that attend college, but I also realised that the questions – and the advice – presented in the course, like everything else at theological college, is also applicable to everyone, whether you are studying theology or whether you are a minister or what ever!
Anyway, as far as the content of this course is concerned, after about one whole term, I recently realised the whole course was built around two questions:
“How is your ministry going, and how are you going in your ministry?”
You can see why I think it is for everyone….
Everyone can – and should – every now and so often, ask himself or herself these two questions:
“How is your ministry going, and how are you going in your ministry?”
That was the one thing I got out of this course.
There is also another …
In about the second week of college, the same lecturer (he is also a full time pastor) gave us some rather strange homework (or so we thought at the time):
“When last did you take a walk with God?” he asked. “Not an imaginary walk. A real walk, a physical walk.”
When next you get the opportunity,” he said, “your homework is to take a walk… take a walk in the park; in the rain; along that favourite, peaceful beach…but take a walk, not alone, but take a walk with God…”
I thought that this was the nicest homework I had ever received.
I hope we will all soon get the chance to go for such a walk. I also hope this evening will be part of the preparation for such a walk.
Lets us ask become aware of the Lord’s presence as we come before Him in a moment of silent and personal prayer.
(Call to worship):
Our call to worship comes from Ps 46, where we read:
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”
And the last verse:
“The Lord almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
Congregation of the Lord, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
Singing: Let us respond to God’s greeting by singing some more:…
(Confession of faith):
As our confession of faith, please read with me tonight Article one of the Belgic Confession, which is on page 18 of the Book of Forms:
Our God is, as we have just read and believe, “the overflowing source of all good.” Let’s take this opportunity to thank God for all his mercy as we also give freely of that which he has provided.
Our reading comes from the new testament, from the Gospel according to Luke, and Ditta will do the reading, please Ditta? Luke 21: 5-19
(Sermon): The sermon I will be reading is a sermon written by the reverend John Eselbrugge, and is called: The Lord – My Strength and my Song.
Please turn with me to Lord’s Day one of the Heidelberg Chatechism….(Responsive reading)
Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the beginning of the Heidelberg Catechism.
This is the start of one of our four confessional statements.
Together with the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dordt, and the Westminster Confession of Faith, this Catechism expresses our summary, as a federation of churches, of what Scripture teaches.
So what do you state at the beginning of what is a very important document? How would you start something that is about everything that matters?
Well, I think that because of what it is, you would want to have a clear statement about what you were going to say in the rest of the Confession.
And I think of the Westminster Shorter Catechism - What a first Question and Answer that has! It asks … “What is the chief purpose of man?” it asks. Or, what is everything really all about?
And the Answer is precisely and absolutely clear:
“To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
That tells us heaps about what we learn through the rest of that Catechism. And yet it has used so few words!
It is the same with this Heidelberg Catechism.
This Catechism that the Westminster closely followed.
This Catechism that has been such a strength in Reformed churches.
And the first Question and Answer are crucial.
Although it may seem that the second Question and Answer more clearly tell us about what is in the Catechism, that same three-fold division is already found in Answer 1.
That’s why this sermon will closely follow those three parts.
But let me first introduce the whole matter of Confessions and their purpose.
We need to ask why we have these confessions in the first place. If you were a visitor to one of our churches, you might well wonder why these confessions have this kind of authority among us. Isn’t that what the Bible is for?
The question is not new.
Many times since this Catechism was written and since it was decided to use it also as a teaching aid through the preaching in the churches, people have objected to this practice.
It seems to be an awkward thing.
The Church Order says that we are to preach from one of the confessions each Sunday.
And, yet, do we really have to? I mean – it’s not the Bible, is it?
Let me address this question from a different perspective. A point of view which draws in this first Lord’s Day.
And I do this by asking: Dear believer – what is it you believe?
You say, “In Jesus as my Saviour and Lord, of course!”
And where do you know that from?
“The Bible, naturally!”
Now, if you were asked to share what you believe, how would you do it?
It wouldn’t help to quote the whole of Scripture. That would take ages!
You need some kind of summary statement.
Giving someone a Bible would be a nice gift.
But how has your witness to the Bible encouraged them to want to receive this precious gift?
In the words of 1 Peter 3:15, have you been always “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have?”
The Catechism is one way of making this simple testimony, a purpose that it has served well for more than four hundred years. There is much value in a testimony to your faith. We know that personally in our own lives.
And we should also know that together as a church.
B B Warfield, a well-known Presbyterian theologian of the 19th century, once described the worth of this Catechism. He put it this way:
“Two things keep the relatively small Christian Reformed Churches straight in an ecclesiastically crooked world: the systematic instruction of its youth and the preaching of the Heidelberg Catechism.”
So one may say: “Not creed, but Christ!”
Yet, if he’s true to his witness to Christ, then his testimony will be words identical in meaning to this Catechism. For this tells of the Word of Scripture Himself!
In the everyday situation of your life, the Catechism gives us a realistic and warm approach to the heart as we unfold the truths of God’s Word.
And the first Question and Answer couldn’t show this more clearly.
If there is one thing this world lacks, it’s true comfort.
You see, it’s not in what we have. Forget good food, nice clothing, or a fancy car.
The comfort the Catechism speaks of isn’t found in things.
This is no comfort. This is no cosiness. And it’s far from the health-and-wealth gospel that some churches teach, as though now being a Christian means we’ve arrived!
Rather, this comfort is a certain quality.
Indeed, that’s what comfort means.
For “comfort” is derived from two words:
“con” (or “with”) and “fort”, (or “strength” so meaning - “with strength.”
This is the power to survive.
This is what really gets you through.
And in the process of this surviving, true comfort eases misery, suffering, and grief.
The Dutch (and the Afrikaners) even have a special word they say to those going through such a difficult time.
They say to them, sterkte!
It comes as no surprise, then, to discover that this first Question and Answer was written specifically in this way because of the persecution that the Huguenots were experiencing in France.
And what a time of suffering that was! Who could ever forget the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572? - the Catholic holy day when thousands and thousands of Reformed Christians were slaughtered by the Catholics.
Butchered on the streets!
And by then blood had already been pouring for many years.
The believers then could take little comfort in their material possessions. Nothing they had was of any use when a brutal death could come tomorrow.
And while the situation might seem alright one day, the next day it could be completely different! Forget your feelings!
Then – what kept and sustained them?
And now we go on to the three parts in the Catechism.
The first of which, in the words of Answer 1, says simply:
I AM NOT MY OWN.
When we say this, and understand this, and believe this, we have come to the point where we realise our total uselessness.
In the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 3:10, “there is no one righteous, not even one.”
It’s so true.
We who thought we had it all!
We who were so important in our own balloon of self-importance!
Then someone went and pricked it! It was only hot air after all.
And it seems they just prick it again and again and again!
“I am not my own”. How true it is.
And that powerful convicting work of the Holy Spirit also makes us realise the first part of Answer 2:
How great my sin and misery are!
But, isn’t that a strange way to talk about comfort?
And yet, that’s exactly what the Catechism does in Lord’s Days 2 to 4.
It really drags us down to the dirty ground.
We’re shown that, as it’s dust we came from, so it’s to dust we’ll return.
It’s a pain which pierces the very depth of the soul. There’s no other way!
Your heart must be broken and contrite.
Then – and this is the marvel of it all – as we look up, the Light is shining so brightly.
All around us everything is so fresh and new!
Though you’ve been brought so low … your whole life is now joined to the heights of eternity itself!
He is everything I will never be.
That I AM NOT MY OWN becomes the relief that HE IS EVERYTHING I WILL NEVER BE! - Our second part.
The eyes that had been so blind to the spiritual realities have now come to see! Why, “I belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.”
Suddenly, Good Friday makes all the sense in the world to me. In fact, I now really know why it is such a Good day for me!
For though it was the innocent One who hung on that cursed cross, yet He’s bearing it all for all of us!
My friends, I want to plead with you to see!
Do you know this phenomenal knowledge in your own heart and mind?
Are you really in love?
If there’s a word that’s been over-used and much abused, it’s “love.”
“Love” doesn’t even mean “love” anymore! It’s become, among other things, an infatuation.
You can fall out of love as easily as you fell into love.
It’s just all up to what you’re feeling at the time!
And how good have we become at self importance, or, in the words Frank Sinatra boldly saying, proclaiming even, “I did it my way!”
What vain conceit and selfishness!
How different that is to the relationship the Christian has with Jesus Christ!
Or – should I say? – how different it ought to be with what we have in Jesus.
For the influence of the world has also come yielding her sickle of destruction amongst believers.
Far worse even than the physically, bloody massacres of Christians in the past, is the great spiritual carnage the devil is wreaking in our day.
Dear believer, run with all your strength, flee with every last pant of your breath; exert the final desperate spasm of your muscles, to go to Him who “has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and set me free from the tyranny of the devil.”
Because your eternal life….. depends on it, go to Him who (and I quote) “Him also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven.”
Are you in love?
Have you seen – in the words of the second part of Answer 2 – how you’re set free from your sins and misery?
Then be in love! For love is trust, isn’t it?
I mean, without trust you couldn’t give yourself to someone the way that love truly demands.
And if you have that trust shattered, as can happen so tragically between husband and wife, then it takes a long time for healing to happen and for the love to grow back to what it was before – if indeed it can ever be like it was before!
But now you’re in love with Jesus! He’s the One who has already poured out Himself completely for us.
There’s no worry now about whether or not He’ll let us down. He won’t – and that’s all there is to it! It’s completely against His character to do such a thing.
Of course, how faithful we will be – that’s a different question.
But our Lord - we must trust eternally!
It’s this Lord who has been quite clear about how things will be in our faith.
Luke 21 points out how we will suffer for our faith.
And it’s happening as He said it would. “All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will save yourselves.”
It’s not easy. The way to glory is a winding and crooked narrow path compared to the huge and wide straight motorway that leads to hell itself!
And along that difficult track there’s much battering and bruising and bleeding. To know where it goes, though, is a most high blessing! and to realise more and more, this is the way, the true way! And this waycan never be….”my way”!
Then we know, thirdly, HE MAKES ME MORE AND MORE FOR HIM.
Fellow Christian, do you know God’s working in your own life?
Can you glance back on the road you’ve travelled, and realise that the Lord Himself was keeping you and guiding you and blessing you?
Are you seeing His hand at work in your life?
Isn’t this what we especially think about at a public profession of faith?
The Lord has kept that person. The Lord brought him or her to that point, through their learning, their fellowship, and all those other ways that His grace has touched them.
And he will keep them – and us!
As we say in our Catechism, “because I belong to Him, Christ, by His Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life.”
This is a peace which believers want so much.
Christians through the centuries have been asking, “How can I know I am one of His?”
“How can I be sure I’m saved?”
Here it is – by the grace of God! You belong to Him! It’s His Holy Spirit who tells you that in your heart.
Let me give you one example of our assurance.
And I do this by asking you a question: Believer, in which way do you love?
How do you show your love? Think about it.
Now, what’s your thought?
Is it something like, “I love by showing love”?
You feel the urge in you heart to reassure, to show concern, and to be together with the one you love.
Another example is that the very fact you are here amongst God’s people right now might well be because you honestly want to worship Him.
There may be those times we don’t fully commit ourselves to His way, times we slip away, times when sin tries to take its cold icy grip.
But to be in love!
To know that you’re not your own; that Jesus is everything you will never be; and that now He makes you more to live for Him.
For if ‘sin’ is “self” – so it’s making yourself into your own god – then the opposite must surely be another person.
True love takes us outside of ourselves.
In the words of Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates his own love for us: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
This is why Answer 1 ends by saying, “Christ, by His Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me whole-heartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him.”
It fits in exactly with the third aspect – of thankfulness – in Answer 2,
and so with the last part of the Catechism, in Lord’s Days 32 to 52.
That’s where we realise that the Ten Commandments and The Lord’s Prayer are actually ways that we show we love God.
Because we so much want to be with Him, and live out of His wonderful grace!
That is the most marvellous thing has happened in our lives, and we can’t help but show it!
And we do! And we will show it even more as we draw closer still to our Saviour and Lord, through being reminded of the simple facts of our salvation.
Thus Lord’s Day 1 is a beautiful beginning.
These are great words to learn off by heart – as some of our catechism students do!
It’s a good start to all that follows.
And Lord’s Day 1 is a tremendous end.
These are words which have given much comfort to a beloved saint dying in his or her Lord.
How many of our senior folk remember the Psalms they learnt at Christian school – and the Catechism?
In conclusion…. even more than what we start with, or remember at the end – let’s use it to help us on the way!
The Good Shepherd bids us come. Jesus says in John 10:14. “I know my sheep and my sheep know me”.
So, let’s then be like the sheep in Palestine. Let’s follow where He has trod, knowing that in those well-worn paths He will safely lead.
O LORD God, we thank you for the heritage of the saints.
We stand so richly blessed by what has been passed on to us by your Spirit.
We thank you for this Catechism being among those treasures.
And we pray that you may bless our learning again through it.
Touch our hearts and turn our lives ever more to you.
Through Him who is the Light, Jesus Christ, our only Saviour and Lord, we pray.
As we end this evenings worship, let’s sing again, this time from the Book of Worship, No 392. “I will sing of my redeemer”
BOW 392….., and after we have sung, please remain standing for the benediction.
“After the words, a quiet; after the songs, a silence;
after the crowd, only the memory recalls the gathering.
Peace and justice and Love have need of you and I after the words, the music, and the gathering.
God grant us His peace and love.
God grant us the will to be an apostle of His peace.”