Niton Methodist Church – Sunday, 10th December 2017
Isaiah 40.1 – 11
This Sunday in Advent is usually given over to a focus on the prophets – the prophets who foresaw the coming of the Messiah. Today we are focusing on perhaps the greatest of those prophets, Isaiah. Certainly the book of Isaiah is one of the most quoted prophets in the NT. It contains perhaps the most influential, moving and clear chapters that looked forward to the passion of Christ, chapter 53 – He was bruised for our transgressions.
In the great oratorio “The Messiah” by Handel he took a lot of inspiration for his songs from this book, including this chapter.
Isaiah is the longest prophet in terms of chapters. It is a magisterial work that spans many years. Some see it as having several authors because of the differences in 1-39 and 40-66. We don’t need to concern ourselves with that question. It doesn’t really matter and I am quite happy to take it as read – one great prophet who captured the great sweep of God’s plan for His chosen people and for the world in these 66 glorious chapters.
Here in 40.1 – 11we enter a new phase. There has been much focus on judgement in the previous 39 chapters. Now here we see Isaiah turning to a new theme – that of God’s saving of His people. There are a number ofthemes here that are very pertinent and timely for us this morning as we edge towards Christmas 2017. This chapter feels so relevant in 2017. It was written about 2700 years ago, but it has relevance for us today.
Its focus is Jerusalem, the place of peace. Jerusalem stands today still at the centre of a struggle that is felt the world over. The world’s 3 great religions – Islam, Judaism and Christianity – all calling for a part of Jerusalem. They all come from the great patriarch Abraham and they all want Jerusalem to be their capital and spiritual centre. Jerusalem has been called the navel of the world, the crossroads of the world. It is called the city of peace, but it has known more bloodshed, destruction and trouble than any other city in the world, I would contend.
Jerusalem is 3000 years old, but remains a focal point for spiritual aspirations for many people across the world.
It is the place where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac on a rock, the place where Jesus was tried and crucified and the place where He rose again.
It remains a city that divides people of different faiths, but I would suggest a place that still occupies a place in God’s plans and God’s heart.
There are a number ofthemes that come from this passage which I want to draw your attention to this morning.
1Exile is often where God finds us.
At this point the people of Israel are inexile, taken away to Babylon – many of them at least. As a result of their sin and disobedience they were carried away into exile. This is a call from God that He has seen this situation and He says the time is over, come back, you have suffered enough it is time to come home.
Notice thepassage talks not so much about the people coming back from exile, as God coming back to them and gathering His people together again.
But the fact is that the people are inexile, without hope, afraid, scattered and leaderless. They need fresh hope, new purpose and they need gathering together fromtheir scattered exile.
Now ofcourse this passage looks forward to the Messiah coming to Israel and announcing thekingdom. But this picture is apicture of the way that God works in many times and inmany places.
Exile is something that many people feel today. Exile from hope, purpose and meaning. We can feel thatour culture is a wilderness, empty of purpose, desolate of meaning. TS Elliot wrote The Wasteland in 1922, Bob Dylan wrote Desolation Row in 1965, both of which paint a picture of a culture inexile.
God calls to us comfort, comfort my people, I am coming.
2God’s coming is certain, His word is true.
The God of Abraham is One who promises to bless the world through Abraham and his faith. He is a God who does not sit back and watch the world unfold in its sorry mess. He is a God who comes to our aid again and again. The time may tarry, the exile might seem long, but God will come and restore all things. God’s glory will be seen and all people will see it.
When Jesus came 2000 years ago that short life changed the world. It took the waning and ultimately corrupt Roman Empire and turned it on its head. Again and again in history God’s coming to a people has transformed the exile and made the desert a garden.
The word – theannouncement, the decision, the resolve – of our God stands firm forever. He will not, cannot abandon His people, or HIs world.
3The glory of man is like grass.
Man is a wonderful creature. His inventions are amazing. His achievements are mind-boggling. His powers to solve problems have given us fantastic advancements in our culture. Man is made in the image of God, after all. But man is flawed. Compared to God’s resolve and purpose, man is fading and transient. We pray for leaders to resolve conflicts, make deals to secure our future in Europe, put limits on our exploitation and destruction of the planet – but it isonly God that can finally resolve our problems.
We pray for good leadership. We hope for wisdom for all leaders inour troubled world, but the highest hope is for the resolve and promise of our God to bring peace and renewal to our world.
4This all powerful God comes as a tender shepherd.
This God is seen as a mighty and powerful Leader. He is seen as humbling great mountains, elevating deep valleys and smoothing rough places. He comes with a strong arm and a mite that noman canresist.
But notice His manner when He comes to His people. Not as a warrior king, in military splendour, but as a humble shepherd.
He will feed His flock. He will tend His people. He will gather His little lambs in His arms and comfort them, close to His heart. This is a God with a tender heart, the heart of a Shepherd.
Who do you want to run this world? A strong man, with limitless supplies of strength and might, or a shepherd with a big heart that cares for the least and the last?