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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:God can and will restore his people
Text:Isaiah 40:3-5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 107:1-4

Psalm 38:1-3, 8 (after the law)

Psalm 85

Hymn 15

Hymn 66

Scripture reading:  Luke 3:1-22

Text: Isaiah 40:3-5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Our passage this morning is about restoration.  So I got to thinking:  where else in life do we talk about restoration?  Some people like to restore old cars.  Imagine a man who brings home an old wreck with plans to restore it to its former glory.  His wife isn’t so sure he’ll get it done.  It could be that he lacks the ability.  Maybe he’s a guy who doesn’t own any tools and even if he did, he wouldn’t know how to use them.  The restoration is in doubt because he lacks the ability.  But it could also be that he lacks the willingness.  He’s the kind of guy who gets a bright idea, but soon loses interest and his plans get derailed.  He doesn’t have a good track record with completing past projects.  His wife doubts the restoration because she hasn’t seen her husband have the willingness to finish what he begins.  So car restoration projects can flounder when there’s no ability, but they can also flounder when there’s no willingness.  When either ability or willingness is lacking, we doubt the restoration is going to get done.

Now sometimes that same kind of thinking is applied to God and his plans.  He has plans for restoration.  He’s promised to restore us, but he’s also promised to restore this world.  Everything that’s wrong with us and this world is going to be made right and perfect and glorious.  But it can be challenging to believe this restoration project is going to happen.  The doubts can happen on two fronts.  Just as with our car restoration project, there can be doubts about God’s ability, but there can also be doubts about his willingness.  With those doubts floating around, believers can struggle with things like hope and joy.  How can you have hope when it seems like restoration is in doubt?  How can you have joy when it seems like God’s Word is empty and everything just goes on the same?  You see, hope and joy can get crippled by our doubts about God and his restoration.

That’s a serious problem.  And it gets addressed in our passage from Isaiah 40 this morning.  God promises his people that restoration is coming.  But does God have the power to make it happen?  Does he have the willingness to make it happen?  For the sake of his people’s hope and joy, and ultimately for his glory, God tells them to have no doubts about the coming restoration.  What was true for the people directly addressed in our text is true for us too.  Brothers and sisters:  God can and will restore his people.  That’s the theme for the preaching of God’s Word.  We’ll consider this prophesied restoration and its:

  1. Preparations
  2. Certainty
  3. Revelation

Let’s first briefly look at the context of this passage.  Isaiah lived during the 700s before Christ.   But his prophecy here in chapter 40 is addressed to God’s people in the future.  Because of their sins, the Jews would be sent into exile in Babylon.  They’d be there for 70 years.  This prophecy is projected ahead to God’s people at the end of the time of the exile.  In his grace, God has a message through Isaiah for his believing people who’ve been praying for restoration.  God comforts them that they will be restored to the Promised Land.  That’s what we find in the verse two verses of Isaiah 40.

Now we come to verses 3 to 5 and the restoration of God’s people is still in view.  This is still about God bringing his people back from exile in Babylon.  Isaiah paints a picture of a voice calling out.  We ought to right away ask:  whose voice is this?  If you look ahead to verse 6, you hear another voice.  The language parallels verse 3.  The voice in verse 6 is not Isaiah’s.  It’s not his, because he responds to the voice: “What shall I cry?”  It must be the voice of God himself, both in verse 6 and in verse 3.  God is speaking, although he’s doing it through the prophet Isaiah.

God calls out and he has a word for his people as they come to the tail end of their time in Babylon.  God recognizes that their exile is comparable to the wilderness, to the desert.  In verse 3, both the wilderness and the desert picture the situation of the Jews.  It’s a fitting picture.  It’s a picture that draws lines back to important events in biblical history.  For example, you can think of the Garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve belonged in the beautiful Garden, but the fall into sin sent them into the wilderness outside.  Later on, the people of Israel had to travel through the wilderness to get to the Promised Land.  They didn’t belong in the harsh wilderness.  They were supposed to be in the land of milk and honey.   But because of their rebellion against God they had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.  So the wilderness is a picture of a situation where things have gone wrong. 

That’s what Babylon was for God’s people.  It wasn’t the way things were supposed to be.  They weren’t supposed to be in exile.  If they’d listened to God, believed in him, and repented from their sins, they could’ve stayed in that beautiful Promised Land.  They could have enjoyed fellowship with God at the temple, the place where he made his name dwell.  But because of their sin, things got turned upside down and they were sent off to Babylon.  In a way, it was like being thrown out of the Garden of Eden all over again. 

So when you read “wilderness” and “desert” in verse 3, this is a poetic way of referring to the people being in Babylon.  It’s in that wilderness-like situation that the command to make preparations comes in verse 3.  The people are being called to prepare the way for Yahweh, to make straight a highway for their God.

And the language here too isn’t literal.  We’re not to imagine Jewish people taking out their shovels and making roads for God out in the desert somewhere.  There’s a picture being painted here with poetic language.  The best way to see what God is calling for is to look at the way the New Testament applies these words to the work of John the Baptist.  John was a prophet -- he was the last Old Testament prophet.  His work was to prepare the way for the Lord, for our Lord Jesus.  He did that by his preaching and by his baptizing.  And what did his preaching and baptizing have in common?  Both of them called for the people to humble themselves.  Both of them called for the people to recognize their sins.  They had to see their sinful condition.  In his preaching, John called people to turn away from their sin, to repent.  His baptizing had the same message.  You see, the Jewish people in John’s time knew about baptism.  If you were a Gentile and you wanted to join the Jewish religion, you had to be baptized.  It was a ceremonial cleansing.  It showed that you were a dirty Gentile who was getting washed, so that now you could be a clean Jew.  With baptism you leave the dirty people and join the clean.  But now John comes along and he says to the Jews, you’re the dirty people.  You need to be cleaned.  Your sins have made you dirty.  So to be baptized by John, you as a Jew had to be humble and admit that.  By doing this preaching and baptism, John was preparing the way for Jesus by getting the people to humble themselves with repentance.  Humble people would have hearts that were open to the message of the good news preached by Jesus.                 

Now when we go back to Isaiah 40, we can see that the same call was being preached by Isaiah.  God was calling the Jewish people in the Babylonian exile to humble themselves.  They had to humble themselves by repenting – turning away from their sins and turning to God in faith.  They were called to forsake all of the evil that led to the exile, all the pride, all the idolatry, all the oppression of the weak, everything sinful and wrong had to be turned away from.  By doing that, they would be preparing themselves for the restoration God promised to bring.  To put it simply:  repentance is the way to prepare for restoration.

Loved ones, there’s a sense in which right now we too are dwelling in the wilderness.  Spiritually speaking, we’re not in the Promised Land.  We’re not in our final dwelling place, the new heavens and new earth.  We haven’t seen the restoration of all things.  We haven’t yet seen God putting everything right side up.  We haven’t seen God righting every wrong.  There’s a sense in which we’re still living in the wilderness.  We’re in exile.  We’re waiting for the Promised Land, the New Creation.  And just like John the Baptist told the people how to prepare for Christ’s first coming, God tells us in his Word how to prepare for Christ’s second coming and the ultimate restoration of all things.  Again, to put it simply:  repentance is the way to prepare for the restoration God can and will accomplish.  The Bible calls each one of us to daily hate our sins and fight against them.  God calls us to get a new way of thinking about all our sin and rebellion against him.  That we see it like he does, as something vile and despicable.  We need the way of thinking that lines up with his Word.  So, brothers and sisters, as we live in this wilderness, prepare for the promised restoration by pursuing daily repentance in your life. 

Ask God for his help in that, not as a last resort, but as the first step towards it.  We’re weak and we can’t do this daily repentance in our own strength.  Pray and ask God to help you make war on every sin in your life.  God will hear your prayers and he will help you prepare for the restoration of all things through repentance.            

Now what about the certainty of these things?   If you think back to the car restoration project, a wife can’t have 100% certainty that her husband will ever get it done.  He’s only human and so is she.  Only God can know for certain whether it will get done.  The only way anyone would be able to know is if God revealed it. 

In our passage, God says that what he’s promised will certainly come to pass.  It’s most obvious if we skip ahead to the end of verse 5.  There it says, “for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”  That’s an assertion that because Yahweh has said it, it will surely happen.  The words found here didn’t come from a fallible human being like Isaiah.  The words come from the infallible God, the God who by his very nature cannot lie and will never be mistaken.  The words come from God, whose very character defines what is truthful.  The words come from God, who is the ever-reliable and faithful One.  When God says something is going to happen, when he makes that promise, you can be sure about it.  You can have certainty.

That’s also the point of verse 4, but you have to look a little closer to see it there.  Verse 4 is about creation – it’s about valleys, mountains, hills, uneven ground, and rough places.  All of these different geographical features – and what do they have in common?  Valleys, mountains, hills – all these things make travel difficult.  It’s easy to just walk on a flat path.  But rising and falling elevation make it hard.  So all these geographical features are travel challenges, especially in a world without cars and other modern forms of transport.

Now notice what it says about what’s going to happen to these valleys, mountains, hills, and so on.  They’re all going to be flattened out.  The geography is going to be rearranged to make it easy going.   But it all begs the question:  who is going to do all this earth-moving?  The answer is the only one who can:  God.  God is the Almighty, all-powerful.  He created all things and if he wants to, he can move it all around.  So God has the ability.  He can do the things that described here. 

If he wanted to, he could do them quite literally.  If God wanted to, he could flatten any hill in an instant.  If God wanted to, he could level any mountain you can think of just like that.  If God had the power to create it all with the word of his mouth, he has the power to rearrange it too.

Even though God has the power to do these things literally, that’s not what’s in view here in Isaiah 40.  Of course, the language is poetic and symbolic.  This is a picture for the restoration of God’s people from Babylon.  God has the power to do something amazing and bring his people back to the Promised Land.  God has the power to smooth out the way for his people so that it’s easy going to the promised restoration.  God has the power to take every obstacle away so that his purposes are achieved and his people are again where they should be.

God not only has the power, but he also has the willingness to do it.  You see, verse 5 says, “Every valley shall be lifted up…the uneven ground shall become level.”  You can be certain it’s going to happen, simply because God wants it to happen.  His will is ultimate.  God is all-powerful and when he determines to do something, it’s going to get done.  Guaranteed. 

In our passage, that certainty is attached to the restoration of God’s people to the Promised Land.  And from the rest of the Bible, we know that God came through and did what he said he would do.  He followed through and he brought about the promised restoration.  God was faithful to his Word, as he always is.

God continued to be faithful during the ministry of John the Baptist.  Through John’s ministry, God removed obstacles to the coming work of his Son.  He made it so that when Christ appeared in his public ministry, he’d attract disciples who’d follow him and form the basis of his church-gathering work later.  A people would be gathered who’d believe the gospel and place their trust in Jesus Christ.  God’s work of restoring his people wouldn’t be hindered. 

But the ultimate fulfillment of our passage remains.  A day is coming when God will bring the ultimate restoration.  There’s going to be a new creation.  In the new creation, there’ll be justice and peace for all.  There’ll be consistent joy in every moment and it’s all because God is faithful.  We can be sure that he has the ability and the willingness to do what he promises us.  The ability is because of who he is in himself – almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth.  And the willingness is because he’s become our Father through Jesus Christ.  If you ever doubt it or wonder about it, brothers and sisters, you have to look to the cross.  Keep looking to the cross.  At the cross, you see the undoubtable proof of your Father’s love for you.  If he would give up his own Son so your sins could be paid for in full, then you can be sure that you can trust his Word that he’s going to restore all things.  You can trust him that he’s going make to everything all right.  You can have hope and you can have joy in God each day.

When God’s promised restoration happens, it reveals something about him.  That’s the last thing we want to see in our passage this morning.

The prophesied restoration reveals the glory of the LORD, the glory of Yahweh.  What is “the glory of Yahweh”?  We talk so often about “the glory of God.”  We do this and we do that “for the glory of God.”  But do you ever pause and think about what that really means?  In the Bible, God’s glory refers to the fact that he has to be taken seriously.  The word in Hebrew literally means “weighty.”  God is weighty – he’s important.  When the glory of God is revealed, people see that.  They see that God is magnificent.  They see that God is awesome and worthy of praise.  God is to be treasured and appreciated as the most incredible being in the universe. 

The restoration showed that.  And verse 5 says that “all flesh shall see it together.”  The whole world is going to see how amazing God is when he restores his people.  That happened first of all at the return from the exile in Babylon.  You can think here of Psalm 126.  That psalm speaks of the joy of God’s people at their restoration.  But then it also says in verse 2, “…then they said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’”  God’s glory was revealed and the nations saw it.      

But there’s more.  Because this passage from Isaiah 40 also points ahead to the time of John the Baptist and the first appearance of Christ on earth.  In the coming of Christ and the announcement of the gospel, we also see the glory of Yahweh being revealed to all flesh.  As the gospel has gone out into all the world, God’s glory is revealed in Jesus Christ.  God’s glory is revealed in Christ whenever he’s preached, whenever a believer shares testimony about him.  People hear that God is amazing.  The King against whom we committed treason has made a way for us to be restored as his people.  The Judge whose guilty verdict we deserve has decreed to call us righteous.  It’s all because of Jesus.  Through Jesus Christ, we see the glory of God revealed more brilliantly than ever.  The Jews addressed by Isaiah could only see a sliver of the true extent of God’s glory.  But for us, in the person and work of Jesus Christ, we see God’s glory revealed in ultra-high definition.  As John’s Gospel puts it, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  More than anyone or anything, Jesus reveals the glory of God.

That was just with his first coming.  As I mentioned earlier, there’s a second coming of Christ in view here too.  The ultimate restoration.  It’s coming.  We don’t know when.  But when it does come, we’re really going to see the glory of Yahweh revealed.  “And all flesh shall see it together.”  Not just us, but the whole world will see God’s transcendent, glorious majesty.  It’ll be the beginning of the great restoration.  If we died before then, our souls and bodies will be restored whole.  We’ll have perfected and glorified bodies.  We’ll be complete human beings again, the way we were created to be.  But more than anything else, we’re going to be restored to dwelling with God in communion.  God’s people in our text were restored to the Temple and the communion with God that could be enjoyed there.  There’s a sense in which we’re restored to the Temple too.  We’re restored to the heavenly Temple made without hands.  We’re going to have the joy of living close to God forever and ever.  We’ll be as close to him as it’s possible for a human being to be.  Then, then, we’ll see and experience his glory in an unparalleled way.  And it won’t terrify us.  In fact, it’ll gladden us into eternity. 

So, brothers and sisters, let’s pray for that day to come quickly.  Pray for it as we go through this wilderness where there’s still so much brokenness.  This is the desert where times are sometimes tough.  Look forward with hope to the restoration promised in Scripture.  God can and will bring it about.  When we let Scripture remind us of that, that also fuels our hope and joy.  The restoration is coming, God has promised it, he’s guaranteed it in Jesus Christ, and all who fear the Lord and trust in him can be confident that they’ll see it with their own eyes.  AMEN.                


O Yahweh our God,

As we live in this wilderness, we thank you for the hope and joy that come from your promises for restoration.  Thank you that all your promises are ‘yes’ and ‘Amen’ in Jesus Christ.  We have certainty in your Word and that makes us adore you.  Praise belongs to you for the cross where you guarantee your love for us.  With your Holy Spirit, please help us to prepare for the great restoration by daily turning from our sins.  Help us to repent sincerely each day and see your forgiveness through Christ.  And Father, we pray to you for his return.  We pray for the day when your glory shall be revealed in the face of our returning Jesus.  Please bring that day quickly.  We long to see everything wrong be righted.  We long to see justice.  But more than anything, we look forward to living with you forever in perfect communion in the new heavens and new earth.  Father, thank you that you are a faithful God, ever reliable, always steadfast, filled with steadfast love.     

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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