Opening thought: Ever heard someone say, “I’m so scared about this I don’t want to know anything about it.” That is the situation we have in today’s passage.
Contextual Notes: Let’s set up the stage for today’s passage with a thumbnail of how things happened. There was David, Israel’s greatest king. Then there was David’s son, Solomon, Israel’s wisest and wealthiest king. Then things fell apart Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. In some ways Israel’s most foolish king, the nation split along tribal lines. Ten northern tribes seceded and formed the nation of Israel, leaving the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to form the nation of Judah with Jerusalem as its capital.
A people called Assyria, based in what is today’s northern Iraq, had dominated much of the Middle East. In 722 B.C., the idolatrous northern Israel fell to the Assyrians, and they were deported to another part of their empire. Then a new kingdom was arising, the Babylonians, from today’s southern Iraq. They took the world stage under Nebuchadnezzar and destroyed the southern kingdom of Judah, the city of Jerusalem, and the Temple in 586 B.C., hauling off the important people into the Exile, people like Ezekiel and Daniel.
Then Persia arose, from what is today’s Iran, and on the night that King Belshazzar saw the handwriting on the wall, the Persians breached Babylon’s walls, destroyed their empire, and became the superpower of the ancient world. The Persian leader was named Cyrus, and it was Cyrus who issued the decree in 539 B.C. for the Jews to go home to their Land – to end the Exile.
What is amazing about today’s passage is that Isaiah is living and preaching while the Assyrians are in power, before the Babylonian empire, and certainly before anyone had ever heard of Cyrus of Persia – 150 years before, but he names Cyrus by name.
We are now into the second half of Isaiah’s prophecy, and it began with chapter 40 and a theme of comfort. Where Isaiah is going with the idea of comfort is to tell them that, yes, Babylon will be God’s instrument of punishment for Judah, but take comfort. God will send a man named Cyrus to destroy Babylon (chapters 46-47).
That theme of comfort provides the context for chapter 41 where God Himself speaks to the nations for Israel’s comfort. The scene is a courtroom where the Lord is the injured party, the prosecutor, and the judge (41:1), and he describes the stunning rise of Cyrus of Persia. The Lord says he is behind Cyrus’ rise to power (41:2-7), and Israel should not be in fear (41:8-10) because Israel’s enemies will be put to shame (41:11-16) and her desperate need met by God (41:17-20). The gods of the nations are powerless and false (41:21-24), because only the Lord has the power to predict the future (41:25-29). The rise of Cyrus, even boldly naming him, mentioned here, is 150 years in the future as Isaiah prophesies.
But the real star of the show comes in chapter 42.
Pray and Read: Isaiah 41-42
Key Truth: Isaiah wrote Isaiah 41-42 to teach Israel not to fear tomorrow or embrace blindness, but to trust the strength of God’s Servant-Messiah.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about rejecting fear and blindness and embracing Christ’s strength.
- Do not trust your fears – Trust His Strength (Isaiah 41)
- Do not embrace blindness – Embrace My Servant! (Isaiah 42)
Exposition: Note well,
1. DO NOT TRUST YOUR FEARS – TRUST HIS STRENGTH (Isaiah 41)
a. 41:1 – The courtroom (Heb. rib). These courtroom scenes present God’s case against evildoers and to announce divine judgment, both seen in this chapter. Verse 41:1 is similar to 1:2 and 34:1 in God summons ‘all nations’ to hear what is said. The islands are the countries farthest away. God calls the idols of Babylon to testify (41:21-24) and announces the rise of Cyrus as a judgment on Babylon (44:24-28).
b. APPLICATION: As intercessors, we can stand in that courtroom and plead the case before Him. An incredible thing about this trial system is that if someone will stand and repent for the sin, God’s judgment will be allayed. Are you using that privilege to plead the case of your nation? Your family? An unreached people group?
c. 42:2-7 – It was Cyrus the Persian who was called ‘from the east’ to service by the Lord (45:1). He overthrew the Babylonian Empire and issued the decree that permitted the Jews to return to their homeland (end of 2 Kings, Ezra 1). He was God’s servant for fulfilling God’s will in accomplishing these two jobs. (cf. 41:4 & Revelation 22:13). Yet even facing God’s imminent judgment, the nations prefer to take refuge in idolatry, even though they made the idols with their own hands and are so powerless that the idols need to be nailed down to keep them from toppling over (41:5-7). But Israel, the descendants of Jacob and Abraham, God’s friend, are to act differently (41:8). And Paul says in Galatians 3 that we who are in Christ as spiritual descendants of Abraham.
d. APPLICATION: When you are under pressure, under duress, under stress, where is your refuge? Is it an iPod? Is it your beach home? Is it a person? Is it a hobby? Is it a Xanax? Is it nicotine? Is it 80 or 100 proof? Is it porn? Is it food? Be careful. Where you run for refuge when the pressure hits hard will indicate your spiritual state. Are you running for refuge to Jesus? Hebrews 2:18 tells us that because Christ himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able (literally boetheo) to run to the cry of those who are being tempted.
e. If you have no allegiance to Christ Jesus, then make anything you want an idol. Isaiah says it is something you made with your own hands and if you don’t nail it down, it can’t keep itself from falling over. But if you call yourself a believer in Jesus, your first and only place of refuge should be Him alone. Psalm 91:1-2 says that “he who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” Such a believer “will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Is that true of you? If not, why not?
f. 41:8 – My servant. In Isaiah, avdi, my servant, points up two things: God’s choice and the fulfillment of a divinely appointed task. Israel is God’s servant but falls short of completing the mission. Isaiah will reveal in the next chapter that God will send another Servant, the Messiah, to accomplish the mission God has for him. Yet even though Israel fell short, they remained “my servant.”
g. APPLICATION: God does not discard us when we fail, but remains committed to us in love.
h. 41:10 – The Key verse: Do not be afraid, cf. 41:13-14.
i. 41:10 – power, strength. Here for the second time Isaiah’s emphasis on comfort is centered in God’s commitment to strengthen and help his people (41:28-31). These words allude to God’s great acts: Creation, the Flood, and Israel’s redemption from Egypt.
j. 41:14 – Worm. That little worm Israel will overcome. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6-10) and Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) were acutely aware of this status, but that worm with God’s help can destroy mountains (41:15-16; Matthew 21:21 – “Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done.”). Our modern worship of self-esteem has changed these words in our hymnbook, but the original, and more biblically correct wording of the hymn is, “Alas! and did my Savior bleed? And did my Sovereign die? Would he devote that sacred head For such a worm as I?”
k. 41:16 – Rejoice. They are not to fear. They are to rejoice. Philippians 4:4
l. 41:26 – from the beginning. The phrase emphasizes God’s end-time purposes even in Creation and as history unfolds. God began with the end in mind. He is not a deistic God who wound the clock and left it to run down. From the beginning he has been working a plan and purpose to carry out, and history unfolds according to his grand, eternal design.
m. APPLICATION: God controls the course of history and the rise and fall of nations. Even pagan nations serve God’s purposes. Tomorrow’s wars hold no terrors for those God has chosen for his own. You have trusted God with your eternal soul. Trust him with your tomorrow as well.
2. DO NOT EMBRACE BLINDNESS – EMBRACE MY SERVANT! (Isaiah 42)
a. 42:1-9 – Here is the first of the famous “servant songs” (others are 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12). On the face, the servant is Cyrus (42:6; 45:13), but he is a type of a king who will come suddenly with great power in the future. The perfect, coming servant is neither Cyrus nor Israel, but the Messiah, through whom God will establish justice on earth (42:1-8).
b. How do we know? Matthew 12:18-21 specifically applies 42:1-9 to Christ.
i. This Servant is chosen by God (42:1; Mark 1:9-11).
ii. He will bring justice to the nations, even the far distant islands (42:1, 2-3, 4).
iii. He is a light for the Gentiles (42:6-7; Matthew 28:19; Acts 10:28).
iv. He will not falter, but is faithful (42:4; 53:7)
v. He represents the Creator (42:5-6; language similar to Genesis 1:1; 2:7)
vi. He represents YHWH (42:8-9; Exodus 3:14-15; Jesus claimed this John 14:6-7).
c. 42:1-3 – My Spirit. These opening verses emphasize servanthood and the endowment with the Holy Spirit. He is so humble and sensitive that even those whom society has rejected as of no value (bruised reeds and flax) are worth saving for Him.
d. APPLICATION: Anyone who serves God must (a) have a desire to do so, (b) remain humble before others and dependent on the Lord, (c) be committed to winning others release from sin’s grip, (d) accept personal suffering, and (e) rely completely on the Holy Spirit for guidance and strength.
e. 42:1 – These servant songs clearly depict the Messiah, who will bring salvation and righteousness to this world. The servant songs emphasize Messiah’s humility and his being set aside for a special mission. In Israel, it is linked with the high priesthood and the king, the son of David who will take His throne at the end of history and rule and eternal kingdom (Psalm 2:2; 18:50; 84:9; 89:38, 51; 132:10, 17; Isaiah 9:7; 11:1-5).
f. APPLICATION: How awesome that the greatest of all stooped down and suffered for us. He set aside his crown for a cross so that when he takes up the crown again we might rule and reign with him.
g. 42:9-13 – Proper Response to The Servant: Praise. He stimulates God’s people to praise (42:9-13). He is about to act (42:13). After a time of silence (such as the Exile) the Lord will intervene on behalf of his people (42:14-15). He will heal the blindness and deafness (42:16-20; 6:10; 29:18). God is like a pregnant woman in labor (42:14-17) while Israel is blind and deaf to God’s purposes, unable to fulfill the role of servant (42:18-25). But because God is faithful, they will come to know the Messiah as their Savior and Redeemer because God loves them (43:1-7).
h. 42:21-25 – Pay close attention – Isaiah recognizes that Israel brought their coming discipline and judgment on themselves through their sin. These sufferings are to teach them to pay close attention in the future when God speaks (42:23). They need to hear the message of redemption which is coming in chapter 43.
i. APPLICATION: Are you paying attention to what is going on? Are you paying attention to what God is doing in our nation? Are you paying attention to what God is doing in your church? Are you paying attention to what God is doing in your family? Are you paying attention to what God is doing in you? What exactly is he doing in you?
Perhaps he is doing something in you that needs a response from you. We don’t offer invitations to make the preacher feel good or for the congregation to gauge how good the sermon or service was. We give invitations so that you can respond to the Word that has been planted in you in the last half hour. The question is, are you going to respond to what the Holy Spirit’s work in you right now? Or will you be disobedient to his tender leading? What will you do?