The creator - Isaiah 40:12-31
They said they were God's people, indeed his children, the apple of his eye. As followers of the one true God they had known blessings which were the envy of the nations - miracles, signs and wonders, prophetic utterances, an empire second to none. But now? Well now they were simply a beleagured minority in what was an essentially pagan and hostile culture. Oh, they had tried praying, but nothing seemed to happen, it was as if God had left the receiver off the hook. For 70 years they had been praying. And that is why the rumours began. "God", they said, isnt quite as we thought him to be. "Certainly, our parents and grandparents believed that God Almighty stuff, but we can't, not in this day and age. No, we can't expect any help from that quarter. The Lord helps those who help themselves you know. "That was pretty obvious, they argued, from a plain reading of their circumstances. For, if God were so powerful, how come he hadn't already done something to lift his people out of the mess in which they found themselves, as he did, say in the days of Moses? So this in turn gave rise to the second rumour, far more twisted and demoralising than the first, - even if God were able to bring about a divine rescue, he simply wasn't willing. That in fact was the taunt of their non - believing neighbours: 'What's the point of having a God, they said , who allows you to suffer? How can you ever think of such a God as "father". 'Those were the two rumours of despair - God not able, God not willing.
Well, that is exactly how God's people, the Jews, were feeling as they languished hundreds of miles away from their homeland in pagan Babylon - with those two haunting thoughts, expressed so bitterly in Is 40: 27 (read). And if God can't help, then who can?
And it may well be that as we look around the society in which we find ourselves at the end of the 20th century, those are precisely the thoughts which run through our minds. For instance, did you know that there is now a pagan federation of Great Britain with 20, 000 paid up members ? An association consisting of practising witches, clairvoyants and druids - nature worshippers? And I would suspect that this is only the tip of the iceberg. No doubt you would have come across this sort of conversation: "Do you read the Bible? ""What that mythical book - of course not, but I do read my horoscope. "Do you go to church? "No, but we as a family go to the new temple down the road dedicated to mammon - the shopping mall. Add to that the tremendous confusion about belief and behaviour in many of our mainline denominations which are losing something like 2, 000 members a week, then we too must be wondering what is God doing, if anything? Is there a word from God? Well, yes there is. And it is a word about God.
And so it was that as these poor people felt like throwing in the towel that word from God came to them with tremendous power as the prophecy of Isaiah was proclaimed to them afresh - Is 40: 9 'Behold your God. "
Its if the prophet is saying: "Do you honestly think that God is so small that he doesn't have the strength to mount a rescue operation? " Do you really think that God is so fickle that he will abandon you , leaving you to stew in your own juice, however well deserved that might be? "Then think again. And begin by thinking great thoughts of God and work through the implications. For what I am about to proclaim to you about the Creator God is nothing knew, you have heard it before - it is their in your Scriptures, but you desperately need to hear it again and take it to heart if you are going to climb out of the mire of self - pity in which you are presently wallowing and learn anew what true praise is.
And so the prophet begins to turn his congregations thoughts to the greatness of God.
First of all they are told to that God is beyond all measure - 12 - 14(read)In our creed we say we believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And that is exactly what we are being reminded of here. What can you measure in the hollow of your hand? Just a few drops of water? What can you measure with the span of your hand - that is the distance between the thumb and the little finger? About 18 cm? What can you carry in a basket ? A few groceries picked up from Tesco's perhaps? What do you weigh on the scales? Maybe some flour or some other ingredients for cooking. Do you know how all of that transfers to God?
What's in the hollow of his hand? Nothing less than the oceans of the world, thats what. Our galaxy, we are told is some 100, 000 light years across. It is some 2 million light years to the Andromeda galaxy, our nearest neighbour. There is something like one hundred billion other galaxies. Do you know how God measures it - not in light years? But like that - No more than the span of a man's hand. Do you know what you will find in God's shopping basket? All the dust of the earth. What does he weigh on his scales? The mountains and the hills. Now, you don't have to be a Mensa candidate to understand that - you can be no more than four years old - he really does have the whole world in his hands - the whole universe too! That is your God, , says Isaiah.
In v 13 Is explains that God didn't need to form some working party to invent the world. When he was creating , he didnt say, "Well, I wonder if there is anyone else around to help me out, this is a pretty big project you know - I need a Peter Mandelson on the job." Of course not. He is God, we are grass.
But you may say, "Well, space and the heavens, are a little too remote for me and my situation. Its this planet which gives me cause for concern - a possible nuclear conflagration in the Middle East for example. What scares me stiff is if someone like Saddam Hussain, gets hold of a rocket capable of launching devastating toxic agents. Well, says the prophet in vv 15 - 17 - fair enough, just go ahead and think about them for a moment. Are the nations mighty? Do you feel overwhelmed poor Israel (and we might well add - poor church) by the superiority of the world as people laugh at you and deride you? Of course you do. But look at them again , but this time try and see them as God sees them. They are like dust which can be swept away with the brush of the forefinger. Or like a drop of water falling from the lip of a bucket, so insignificant that it is hardly noticed. Don't be intimidated by the nations. They are a negative quantity as far as God is concerned. He is beyond all measure.
But this God, proclaims Isaiah is also beyond all comparison - 18 - 24.
Now some people think God can be compared and it is usually prefixed with the statement: "I like to think of God as such and such - a kindly old man in the sky, a cosmic life force or whatever." Well, I might like to think I have a million pounds in the bank. But the crunch question is : is it true? You see, to believe that God is anything other than what he has revealed himself to be in the Bible is to be guilty of one of the most foolish and prevalent sins of all - the sin of idolatry - vv 18 - 20 (read). Isnt that a pathetic picture being painted ? Here is this poor fellow who wants to be religious. So what does he do? Well, he goes into the backyard and finds himself a piece of wood - good quality mind you. He then takes it into town to the religious B and Q to have it prettied up - nice lick of paint decked out with gold chains and jewels. Then he invites all his friends around for a religious tupperware party so they can admire his new - god. Ridiculous. And the prophet is intending the foolishness of it all to be seen for what it is. But there is a serious point being made nonetheless. And it is this: Whenever people elevate something which is less than human to the status of being more than human, they in fact dehumanise themselves. (rpt). There is something debasing about a man or woman made in God's image bowing down before a statue made in the image of a bull or a pig isnt there? But it can be more subtle and more serious than that. Think about the idols of our culture for a moment. Forget the crude pictures of people worshipping statues and listen to this account from the Christian thinker Harry Blamires, a former student and friend of CS Lewis and see if it rings any bells with you: "We live in what is in effect a polytheistic society (that is a society with many gods) in what we give ourselves with varying degrees of what we can only call idolatry, to the service of money making, career making, power grabbing, food, drink, fashion, entertainment, cars, gambling, sex and so on. This does not imply that no one can give attention to these things without guilt. There is a due degree of attention such things merit. But, they are getting excessive attention. As objects of concern, they are attracting the kind and degree of human response more proper in the religious sphere. "In other words, when such things, be it work, sex, entertainment , sport or whatever it may be, begin to receive the sort of commitment rightly reserved for God, they have become idols and we their slaves. Let me ask: How many people live to work rather than work to live - with the result that not only is home life destroyed, but service for the Gospel curtailed and health ruined? How many lives have been crippled by addiction to gambling fed by the consumerist god mammon? It is a real social problem you know and those hooked are getting younger and younger. And if Aphrodite - the goddess of sex and pleasure - is not the reigning queen of heaven today then I am at a loss to know who is. You see, like these Jews in Babylon, we Christians are surrounded by idols which have immense power and attraction, squeezing the real God from the centre of our horizons, so that worshipping him with his people , say on a Sunday becomes more and more intermittent. What is the antidote? Get hold of this view of God who alone should have our love and allegiance, who frees and does not enslave, who enriches rather than impoverishes - vv21 - 22.
Of course the world is huge, and if we but gave it a moments thought we would feel dwarfed by it all, but our God dwarfs the world, yet at the same time cares for you.
But then again you might be tempted to compare God to some mighty ruler, as if Freud and Feurbach did in seeing God as nothing more than the projection of our own fantasies - man writ large. Not at all. How do these rulers appear when measured against him - vv23 - 24. These are the great men which cause us such sleepless nights - the Nebuchadnezzar's of Babylon, the Hitlers, the Stalins. They are like a handful of dry grass which when you let go are blown away by the wind.
But the true and living God is also beyond all rivals - look at the heavens - v25 - 26 (read).
From time to time we go down to Herefordshire for a break . Now there are few street lights where we stay and on a winters night the sky is inky black. And surely one of the most overwhelming experiences we can ever have as creatures on this planet is to look up at that sky in such conditions and be spell bound by the magnificence of the stars, strewn like diamonds on a black velvet cloth. Well asks, the prophet - who made them? Who created these countless stars and knows each one by name? It is Yahweh , your covenant God that's who - the God you feel is powerless to help you. But the prophet has another more significant reason for drawing the exile's attention to the stars, for the Babylonians who had taken them captive worshipped them, theirs you see was an astral religion. They believed the stars were god's, the very gods who had defeated Yahweh, the very god's who held Israel's destiny in the balance - so they thought. Nonsense, says Isaiah, don't believe a word of it - throw your horoscopes away, let mystic Meg get a proper job - God made the stars how can he be held to ransom by them? He determines their existence, they don't determine ours. Our life is not governed by blind fate, but by an all knowing, all creating - redeemer God who has a loving purpose for our lives.
And so we come to the climax of this breathtaking passage - the God who is beyond all praising - v 27 "Why do you say O Jacob, and complain O Israel, and we could add, and grumble O Christian' - "My way is hid from the Lord and my cause disregarded by my God? What does he know? What does he care ? 'Do you sometimes feel like that? Well, this is what he says: "Have you not known, have you not heard, the Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, his understanding no one can fathom. 'But even more than that, - v29 - 31. Do you see how the God of limitless strength shares it with those who acknowledge their need? It is the weary who prevail, because their strength is not human but divine. So we , like these folk are not to judge by what we feel or see, but by the word of the living God. It is those who put their hope in him that will keep on when humanly it seems impossible.
And that is precisely what he is calling us to do. In fact we can say with even greater certainty than these people that our cause has not been discarded by God because we have the fuller revelation in the face of Jesus Christ, it is through faith in him that we shall soar like eagles, run and not give up, walk and not faint, for it is in the Lord Jesus that we see most clearly of all the nature of the God who is not only able to help us, but more than willing to help us and to help us at the point of our greatest need, for as the apostle Paul writes: God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. It is in the Lord Jesus that we are rescued, brought home from the exile of our sin and rebellion, lost and without hope, so that we can know God, this God, as our heavenly Father. Behold your God.
Copyright information: The sermon texts are copyright and are available for personal use only. If you wish to use them in other ways, please contact us for permission.