Take Comfort In God’s Strength! – Isaiah 40:1-8, 10-11, 27-31
By Pastor Lee Hemen
March 9, 2014 AM
We live in a world that worships the immediate. When the Polaroid SX-70 camera was introduced in 1972, it revolutionized photography. An article by Owen Edward in Smithsonian magazine described the camera as “a miracle of physics, optics and electronics.” When a photo was snapped, “a blank square would emerge from the front of the camera and develop before our eyes.” People were sold on speedy, immediate results. In today’s world, digital cameras offer instant gratification that makes Polaroid cameras obsolete. Sadly, far too many want God to immediately gratify their emotional spirituality in much the same way. When times get tough, they want Jesus to fix it immediately.
People respond differently under stress. Some lose hope, some get depressed, while other seek God’s strength and comfort. The nation of Judah was facing consequences for their ungodly actions, but the Lord held out hope for them as a nation and as a people. Things might have seemed rough now, but they could take comfort in God’s strength! Let’s discover how…
What do you do when you feel stressed about life? We discover that God cares about and offers His strength to people when they feel overwhelmed by life. We can take comfort in God’s strength by…
I. Encouraging One Another! (Isaiah 40:1-5)
1. Isaiah 40 initiates a new tone in Isaiah’s message. The word comfort implies more than patting a hand and speaking clichéd encouragement. Comfort describes compassion toward one who grieves over the loss of a loved one. God does not suggest but commands comfort. The word’s repetition emphasizes its importance. God’s use of my people and His identification of Himself as your God, recalls the language of His covenant with Israel. Speak tenderly means speak to the heart. The phrase refers to words that do more than temporarily soothe. These words offer real hope and belief in a new future so those paralyzed by life’s difficulties can live confidently, knowing God’s love sustains them. Isaiah used the past tense of future events, so certain were their fulfillment. God gave three announcements for His people. First, their hard service has been completed. Their period of great difficulty, caused by their ungodliness or the difficulties of the world, served to call them back to the right path. Second, God stated Judah’s sin has been paid for or pardoned. God’s people remained sinners, but here God promised forgiveness by His grace alone. Third, Judah had received double for all her sins. God’s law stated a thief needed to repay double the value of any stolen property. Judah had stolen worship and obedience from God, and Judah’s punishment met that criterion. Double meant Judah had suffered God’s complete punishment, yet comfort had begun. God promised, “A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.’” John the Baptist would ultimately fulfill this promise. All obstacles to safe and quick travel would be removed. “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” Uneven ground would be smoothed out. For a people discouraged by national and personal difficulties, the return of God seemed impossible. God invited them to believe He would return even though they could not see it. God wanted His people to have faith in Him. “And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” God’s glory would appear again among His people, and not only Judah but also all mankind would see. God’s return to Jerusalem would have significance for all people. We can take comfort in God’s strength by encouraging one another!
EXAMPLE: God’s nature guaranteed His promise would come true. Just as God sent punishment to call His people back to Him, so He would come as promised to give His people comfort, hope, and renewal. When life’s difficulties come our way, we need encouragement to endure the tough times and move beyond them. We also need to encourage others when they experience difficult circumstances in life. Often our witness to the comfort, strength, and encouragement God and others have provided us, helps others as they weather their storms. We can be bearers of God’s comfort to others. How do you encourage people in difficult circumstances? We can take comfort in God’s strength by encouraging one another!
We can take comfort in God’s strength by…
II. Acknowledging Our Weakness! (Isaiah 40:6-8)
1. Here, we hear a chorus of angels. One commands, “Cry out!” Another responds, “What shall I cry?” or pronounce. The people of Judah in the Old Testament era must have seen the great empires like Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia as incredibly powerful. The size of their cities, the number and grandeur of their temples and palaces, the vastness of their empires, and the wealth and majesty of their royal courts must have overwhelmed God’s people. Despite outward appearances, human glory fades quickly and never approaches the glory of God. In fact, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.” Human glory compares to grass and seasonal flowers, dependent on the sun and rain for sustenance. Even humanity’s longest-lived people live a brief time compared to God’s eternal existence. Even humanity’s wealthiest, most powerful individuals and their goodness proves temporary. God’s love never fails but our response to His love often does. God remains reliable while humans remain unreliable. Because of hot arid winds, green grass can turn brown and flowers wither. In the same way, God overpowers those who oppose Him.” The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass.” Armies cannot prevent God from delivering His people. If we cannot stop God, we also need to remember we cannot save ourselves. Only God can do that. If God’s promise depended on our strength, we would have no hope. Fortunately, God’s promise rests on His eternal, powerful, and loving character! Humans and nations come and go, but God’s Word remains forever. In a world where people fail to be dependable and consistent, God remains completely reliable and unfailingly merciful. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” Before we can experience God’s comfort and strength, we need to acknowledge our weakness.
EXAMPLE: Our strength fails. We become discouraged. We cannot save ourselves. When we confess our weakness and dependence, we discover God’s strength and encouragement. What events in your life have helped you acknowledge your weakness and God’s strength? We can take comfort in God’s strength by acknowledging our weakness!
We can take comfort in God’s strength by…
III. Relying on God’s Protection! (Isaiah 40:10-11)
1. The voice speaking for God spoke directly to Jerusalem, instructing the city to proclaim the coming of God “You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’”(v. 40:9). God returned to Jerusalem in power as a triumphant king whose rule has been established by his victories. “See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him.” When kings returned from successful campaigns, they brought with them spoils of victory. God also brought his reward back to His city. The King who had punished His people for their sin returned with power to restore them. In fact, “his recompense accompanies him”! Powerful rulers often rule by fear, imposing their will with no concern for their people’s welfare. Such rulers selfishly focus on their comfort and pleasure. God, however, returned to Jerusalem to serve as caring shepherd, not as military dictator. What a beautiful picture Isaiah gives us of God! He describes God as caring shepherd in three ways. First, he tends his flock from enemies and starvation. He meets the needs of His people. Second, He “gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart”. The weak he compassionately helps. The fold in a shepherd’s robe provided a natural pocket in which a lamb could be carried warmly and safely. God notices the special needs that each of His people has and seeks to meet each one’s needs. Third, God gently leads those who need special care and assistance. A nursing ewe had increased responsibility in having to care for herself and her lamb. God helps those who experience increased responsibilities, providing His strength and guidance. We can take comfort in God’s strength by relying on God’s protection!
EXAMPLE: As we recall the Christian church’s history, we can name individuals whose stand for Christ brought them into conflict with authorities and led to their execution. To some people, such examples prove God’s failure to care for His people; but that perspective misinterprets God’s care. Life brings difficulties and sufferings to all people, even Christians. Yet in times of difficulty, Christians can draw from God’s strength and encouragement, both directly from Him and through fellow Christians. As Christians we also can rest assured our salvation remains securely in God’s hands. God always provides us with what we need most: His presence and salvation! How have you relied on God’s protection during specific times in your life? We can take comfort in God’s strength by relying on God’s protection!
We can take comfort in God’s strength by…
IV. Depending on God’s Strength! (Isaiah 40:27-31)
1. God had acted in the past by bringing Israel into Canaan. Yet His people believed God often did not pay attention to them. Many in our day ask the same question, wondering why God does not intervene to stop evil in the world and rescue His people who suffer. In the next few verses, God provided the answer through Isaiah. He bluntly asks them, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God’?” God reminded His people of His differences from them. He is everlasting while humans are trapped in time. “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” He is the Creator while we are His creations. His strength knows no limits while our strength gives out. He possesses infinite understanding while our knowledge, despite our scientific breakthroughs, remains severely limited. “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” God is not like His creation. He does not become exhausted and have to abandon or postpone His purposes. God works on a greater scale than we can imagine. We live in the present and think about the future, but God thinks and works for a future far beyond our perception. At most, we can see where He has been and get a glimpse of where He is going. Since God never suffers exhaustion, He can provide strength and encouragement to us. God also wants to supply what we need. God freely gives His strength to those who call on Him. “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall…” God makes a way available for us to receive His strength. Whiel we may grow weary, “those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Those who trust in God find renewal. An eagle soars, allowing the powerful wind currents to bear it up, so we too allow God’s Spirit to lift us up. We can take comfort in God’s strength by depending on God’s strength!
EXAMPLE: When we think of athletic competition, we think of young men and women in top physical condition. As we age, we simply do not have the strength and agility we possessed at one time. Yet even young people in great physical condition become weary. They fall to their knees unable to complete the race. They fall behind in the final lap, unable to swim at the speed they hoped. If outstanding athletes who have trained for years become weary, then so will the rest of us. When life calls for us to run to accomplish what needs to be done, God provides the physical, mental, and spiritual strength we need. To receive strength from God we need to trust in Him. We can take comfort in God’s strength by depending on God’s strength!
1. We can encourage one another because God is working redemptively in His people’s lives.
2. By acknowledging our weakness and holding to God’s eternal truth, we can find comfort in God’s strength.
3. As we take comfort in God’s strength, we can rely on the Lord’s protection and provision.
4. By depending on God’s strength, we can find comfort in Him.
This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.