Sunday, September 19, 2010

Isaiah 40 - Comfort My People

Opening thoughtEver had someone tell you to get out of your comfort zone? Those who say that want you to get out of your complacency, drop the laziness, get moving, do something you’ve never done before, try something risky. In today’s passage, Isaiah encourages us to find a real comfort zone and get in it – a different kind of comfort zone – a comfort zone of anticipation of our coming King, a comfort zone of celebration of a sovereign Lord, a comfort zone where the universe’s Creator desires a close relationship person to person with you, a comfort zone of strength and renewal that comes from the Savior. What a great day, and what a great passage of Scripture. Let’s read together Isaiah 40.

Pray and Read:  Isaiah 40

Contextual Notes:
Today we launch the second half of Isaiah’s incredible prophecy. The fortieth chapter of Isaiah is a famous one by itself. G.F. Handel powerfully set many of these verses to music. And Isaiah 40 begins the second of two sections of Isaiah’s prophecy. Chapters 1-35 announce a coming judent on the earth and a coming Messiah who can rescue all who call on him. Chapters 36-39 serve as a pivot for Isaiah’s work, proving God’s commitment to his people, his faithfulness despite their unfaithfulness. Notice that there is no mention of the coming Exile to Babylon, when the nation was hauled away from the land for disobedience and the land was desolate. Chapters 40-66 give us a comforting vision of the coming future and the coming Messiah who will make that vision reality.

In the Hebrew Bible, the book of Kings (our 1 & 2 Kings), which comes just before Isaiah, narrates the building and then decline of Jerusalem and the Davidic line. Then Isaiah 1 portrays a sick Israel with a ruined Jerusalem, but in chapter 2, Jerusalem is restored and becomes the capital of the world with a descendant of David on the throne. In chapters 36-39, Jerusalem is attacked, but God protects her and preserves Hezekiah, the heir of David’s line. In 40:2, Jerusalem’s pain is over and comfort has come through a Shepherd (like David). At the end of Isaiah (65:17-19), Isaiah envisions a new heavens, a new earth, and a New Jerusalem.

At the beginning of Isaiah (1:4), Israel is a nation mired in transgression (chatat), but at the beginning of this section, her transgression has been paid for (40:2). In the song of praise at the end of the first segment of Isaiah (12:1), the nation is comforted by forgiveness of its sin, a foreshadowing of the tender comfort of 40:1-2.

Key Truth: Isaiah wrote Isaiah 40 to teach Israel that comfort is found in the Messiah who is a sovereign Shepherd, an incomparable Creator, and a strengthening Savior.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about knowing Christ’s comfort.

Sermon Points:
  1. Comfort is found in a Sovereign Shepherd (Isaiah 40:1-11)
  2. Comfort is found in an Incomparable Creator (Isaiah 40:12-26)
  3. Comfort is found in the Strengthening Savior (Isaiah 40:27-31)
Exposition:   Note well,

a.   40:1-2 – “Comfort!” Isaiah’s opening cry is “Comfort, comfort my people.” The original word for comfort is naham, meaning ‘console.’ It is a deeply emotional word, overflowing with concern and pity. In chapters 1-35, Isaiah has cried out against the spiritual insensitivity of his generation and warned of devastating consequences. But God’s love for Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem has never changed or weakened. In the Exile, God made an example of the nation that was commissioned as his representative (Deut. 4:5-8, 23-24), but they cry out in exile for the grace proclaimed by Isaiah 40:1-2 (Ezra 9:6-8; Neh. 1:5-10; 9; Daniel 9). Now Isaiah speaks to the remnant, the shaken survivors, to comfort and console them, to announce to them their forgiveness. God’s commitment to his own never changes. Notice that comfort is repeated twice (40:1) to balance the double punishment for sin. God is the one who shows mercy (40:2).
b.   APPLICATION: Perhaps today you find yourself in the shaken survival of the ravages of sin in your life. Are you in need of a comfort zone? Are the winds blowing so hard you wonder, ‘what next?’ Christ brings comfort, but you must be willing for him to embrace you with his consolation. Won’t you let him forgive you? Won’t you forgive yourself? Comfort is found on the other side. As believers who have been forgiven, we have been called to a ministry and mission of comforting others (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).
c.   40:3-5 – Highway in the desert. The exiles hear a herald’s voice ordering a highway to be built in the desert (40:3). The desert often is a symbol of God’s punishment and desolation (34:8-15; Numbers 32:13), but it has also been a place of discovering or returning to God (Exodus 3:1-2; Hosea 2:14) or even of testing and empowerment by God (Matthew 4; Luke 4; Israel in Wilderness; Paul-Galatians 1:17-18). The herald comes calling for a new exodus from Babylon (Exodus 16:10). It will be a smooth road (40:4) paved by a Messiah (35:8-10). The gospel writers saw this passage applied to the role of John the Baptizer, preparing the way for the coming of Christ (Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23). The coming of God brings deliverance for his people and brings God’s glory (40:5).
d.   APPLICATION: There are deserts in our lives. They are inevitable. You might be there. Some of us through sin put ourselves into the desolate place of the desert. A herald is calling you out, and like John’s message, it is one of repentance. You must turn away from your sin and choose to walk with Christ. “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling O sinner, come home.” Are you listening? He has provided a smooth road out through the person and work of the Messiah, the Highway of Holiness Himself (35:8), Jesus Christ.
e.   Some of us are placed in the desert for testing and empowerment. God put you in that desert – not because he is mean, but because he has high aspirations for you. You have been appointed to display his glory, and the desert is where the dross is burned off so that you can shine. It is the desolation of soul that drives you to crave the living water of the Holy Spirit (John 3) and the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ (John 6). When the desert times come in your Christian life, what do you do? The same thing every sinner does. You get close to Christ. You seek Him. You pursue Him. You abandon all for Him. You are there for the purpose of greater intimacy with the result of greater empowerment for the work he has called you to do for His glory.
f.    40:6-9 – The Word. God has a plan, and it will be carried out. Despite man’s brief wisp of a life (Psalm 103:15; Genesis 2:7), the “Word of our God stands” as utterly reliable (40:8; 25:1). It has eternal value. Therefore, the message of salvation can be proclaimed with confidence, from a high mountain (40:9). This mission, entrusted to the people of the Messiah (Genesis 28:14; John 4:22), fully accomplished by the Messiah on the Cross (“It is finished”), is now been given as a Great Commission to the Body of Messiah, the Church (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15).
g.   APPLICATION: In the last generation among Southern Baptists, there was a battle royal over the inerrancy of Scripture, whether the Bible had errors in it. Why was that battle important? Because if we cannot trust the Word of God, then we cannot trust its message of salvation through Christ. If it is not all equally inspired, fully inspired, and inerrantly inspired, it is not inspired to the point for us to trust our eternal destiny on it to point us to Christ.
h.   40:10-11 – Sovereign Lord. The names of God are a key to the second half of Isaiah. Sovereign Lord is ‘adonay YHWH.’ The first word is an intensive form of Master or Lord. In the OT, it is used only of God, and it emphasizes his greatness, ultimate power, and rule (a strong, muscular man (Exodus 6:6; Psalm 79:11). YHWH is the personal name of God, built off the Hebrew word, ‘to be.’ It emphasizes God’s personal presence with his people. These two names put together is significant. They link Power and Love, transcendence and intimacy. What a God we have, so great the universe can hardly reflect some of His glory and so tender and loving toward you and me that he pursues us for a close relationship. Then to emphasize the character of the Messiah, he is not only a strong, muscular Man, but he is a tender Shepherd (Psalm 23; John 10:11), like his father David (1 Samuel 16).
i.    APPLICATION: You have an Almighty Messiah who is a gentle shepherd who stands ready to welcome you into comfort, into peace, into contentment. The mountains that stand in our way are nothing in his sight. They melt at his powerful Word. The demons who assail you are completely powerless at the mere breath of the Lord. When will you trust him with the mountain in front of you? When will you repent and forgive and ask Him to remove the enemy from your life?
a.   40:12-17 – The greatness of this Strongman Shepherd is celebrated in this poem of his immense power and wisdom (40:12-17; Job 38-39). It speaks of the wonders of His creation by asking questions about God that open the way to a mature and thoughtful faith.
b.   ILLUSTRATION: I’ve been told in a deacons meeting at another church I pastored that, “We don’t need to learn nothing. We don’t need teaching. We need preaching.”
c.   APPLICATION: Brothers and sisters, there is no way to preach the Bible with any stripe of integrity without teaching the Body of Christ something along the way. Many in our churches are still childish. They don’t want Bible teaching. They are unwilling to study the Word. They want some pabulum shouted at them from a pulpit, some mantra with an ounce of truth that is more akin to a poor side show at a county fair than anything actually related to vital, growing Christianity. They want some pitiful form of free entertainment, but at heart they are rebellious and desire to appear religious rather than actually develop a vital relationship with the Lord. God pushes us to use our minds and our intellectual capacities to their fullest in calling us to reflect on the wonders he has made (Proverbs 1:1-7).
d.   40:15-20 – He is incomparable. Compared to the greatness of God, the nations are insignificant (40:15, 17). All the cedars of Lebanon are not sufficient to burn an offering the size the Lord deserves (40:16). Twice we are asked, “To whom or to what will you compare Him?” (40:18, 25). Both times the answers underline our inability to comprehend God fully. Human artistic efforts of deity are ridiculous (40:19-20). The idolator fashions an idol that will not topple, but we serve a God who balances the heavens like a canopy (40:21-22). Instead of foolish idolatry or trust in men and governments, we should contemplate and meditate on God’s creation (40:26; Romans 1:20).
e.   40:21-26 – Create. Isaiah says creation demonstrates God’s greatness. He made all things, sustains all things, rules all things (v. 21-25). The word for create, ‘bara’,’ is used only of God in the Qal stem as a technical theological term. Rather than simply “make something out of nothing,” bara’ means to initiate an object or project. The use of this word, (echoing Genesis 1-2), points up a great fact. There are certain things that only God can do. He alone could fabricate the material universe and set natural process in motion. Only He could shape male and female in His image and launch the human race. He alone could initiate time, set history on its course, and guide its development and progress. He alone is able to give existence to the world and new life to you and me. He alone can take sinful man’s character and create in us a new heart. He alone was qualified and able to forge an unbreakable covenant, the Son with the Father, on the Cross at Calvary, and He alone therefore could be the first one permanently raised from the dead. He alone is able to renew the universe, purge it of all evil, and initiate a new heaven and earth at the culmination of history. This is the Holy One of Israel whom Isaiah presents to us. This is the person of the Messiah to whom we give praise.
f.    Colossians 1:16-20: 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
g.   APPLICATION: At some point in your life you are going to get to the point where you will have to admit that you cannot handle everything on your own. You do not have the resources within yourself to handle everything life throws at you. Where will you turn then? A wise man, a wise woman will look to the only One who can handle every mess we work up for ourselves. So when are you going to let him take control of your life and make something out of it? Christian, when are you going to stop living like an atheist, stop relying on yourself for every responsibility and expectation that is before you? When are you going to run to the Lord and cast your cares on him (1 Peter 5:8)?
a.   Since the Lord is so great, does he even have time for you and me? (40:27). But we should not be tempted in difficulty to become discouraged (40:27). God’s knowledge is infinite and he does not grow weary (40:28). If we will place our hope in the Lord, we will have strength to endure (40:29-31; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
b.   Colossians 2:6-7, 9-106So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 9For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.
c.   APPLICATION: The great power and mighty strength of 40:26, used throughout the OT to emphasize the ultimate power and strength of Messiah, flow into and enable you and me through a personal relationship with Him. So what about you? Do you have access to that ultimate power and strength found only in Christ Jesus? If you were to die this afternoon and pass into eternity, how certain are you that you would be in Jesus’ presence? You CAN have that confidence, you know. Many of the people in this room know that assurance of salvation. Do you? You’ve sat here listening for weeks or months or years, but are you sure about your eternal future?
Invitation: Will you come today to your Sovereign Shepherd? Will you respond to your Incomparable Creator? Will you give your life today to a Savior who can give you strength?