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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Trust God's promises for a bright future
Text:Isaiah 40:6-8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-06-30
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 4

Psalm 25:5 (after the law)

Hymn 54

Psalm 103:1,2,6

Psalm 150

Scripture reading: 1 Peter 1

Text:  Isaiah 40:6-8 (begin reading at verse 1)

* 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,

Acts 27 contains one of the most dramatic stories of the New Testament.  It involves the Apostle Paul and his ship-wreck on the Mediterranean Sea.  Paul was a prisoner on a ship bound for Rome.  They set sail from Crete and got caught in a terrible storm.  It looked like everyone was going to die.  Then Paul stands up and tells of how an angel from God came to him and assured him that he and everyone else would survive.  Then he says in Acts 27:25, “So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.”  Paul trusted in God’s promise that had been revealed to him.  God was faithful and what he said came to pass.  Everyone did survive and eventually Paul did make it to Rome.  But of the 276 people on the ship, some doubted God’s Word to Paul.  Acts 27 tells of how some of the sailors tried to take things into their own hands.  They were going to escape on the ship’s small boat and leave everyone else to die.  They didn’t trust Paul or the promise God had given him. 

That’s a common human problem.  People just don’t trust God.  They don’t trust his Word.  They don’t trust his promises.  We see it all around us all the time.  Most people don’t think that God is trustworthy.  You can’t believe God or what he says.  But what about us?  Do we trust God and trust his Word?

The Bible tells us that we shouldn’t expect life here on this earth to be easy.  The Bible tells us that Christians are people faced with a struggle.  We have to struggle and fight against the sin in our hearts and it’s not easy.  At times it’s frustrating.  But we also have the brokenness of this world.  We have sickness and weakness in our bodies.  Sometimes it seems like things are always falling apart.  Then there’s the hatred of the world for Christ, for the Bible, and for Christians.  In Acts 14:22, Paul and Barnabas told a group of believers, “…we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”  There are many tribulations we face.  Life as a Christian is hard and the Bible is realistic about that.

But the Bible also holds out promises to us to encourage and comfort us.  Scripture promises that God will be with us in our trials and challenges.  For example, Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  Scripture promises us a better day.  Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  We have these promises. 

The question is whether we trust God and trust his promises.  Our passage from Isaiah this morning encourages us to do just that.  It gives us reasons why we should.  The Holy Spirit tells us here in Isaiah 40:6-8 to trust God’s promises for a bright future.

We’ll look at:

  1. Why you definitely can’t trust in people
  2. Why you can surely trust in God

As we look at the context of our passage, we’ve got Isaiah the prophet living about 700 years before Christ.  His prophecy here in Isaiah 40 is addressed to God’s people some time later.  It’s projected into the future.  It’s addressed to the Jews living in exile in Babylon.  In the first five verses of Isaiah 40, God has made promises for the restoration of his people to the Promised Land.  His repentant and believing people will be brought back where they belong.  They’ll be back in the land promised to Abraham, they’ll be back to Mount Zion and the temple where they can enjoy communion with God. 

Our passage for this morning can’t be just lifted out of that context.  As I was studying and preparing for this morning, I was actually surprised how many commentaries do that.  They just look at verse 6 as if it has no connection at all to verses 1 to 5.  I want to emphasize to you again how important context is.  It’s important for sermons, but it’s also important for our own Bible reading and Bible study.  We always have to pay attention to context.  If we don’t, we can easily miss the specific point the Holy Spirit is trying to bring across.

Like in verse 3, a voice is heard in verse 6.  It’s a command to cry out or proclaim a message.  It’s a command that comes from God to Isaiah the prophet.  In obedience, Isaiah asks what message he should proclaim.  He didn’t just assume that he could proclaim anything he wanted.  He humbly asked for God’s direction.  Isaiah wanted to bring God’s Word to bear on the situation.  He wanted to encourage people with what God would say, rather than with an opinion he came up with on his own. 

In verses 6 and 7, the Holy Spirit gives Isaiah this illustration involving grass and flowers.  The illustration doesn’t need a lot of explanation for us, because we see this happening every year, just like it happens in Israel.  In the winter [in Tasmania] it rains a fair bit.  With all the rain, the grass grows and greens up.  Then summer comes, it might not rain for weeks or months, and everything dries up and turns brown.  We see it every year here.  In Israel, however, they had something else as well.  There was a hot wind that would blow in from the desert during the summer months.  It’s sometimes called the sirocco.  Verse 7 is referring to this hot wind when it says, “the breath of the LORD blows on it.”  When that sirocco blows in from the desert, it dries everything up and turns it all brown and withered.  As I said, the picture doesn’t need a lot of explanation. 

The withering grass and the fading wildflowers are an illustration of what people are like.  Now that’s said more often in Scripture.  We sang “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” a few minutes ago and that hymn is based on Psalm 90.  Psalm 90 speaks of how people are here and then gone, just like grass, just like flowery fields.  Our lives are relatively short.  We live for a few decades, and then we’re gone.  We’ll sing Psalm 103 after the sermon and it says much the same thing, “As for man, his days are like grass.”  So, usually when Scripture uses this picture, it’s to make the point that human beings are transient and mortal.  Our lives are short and then we die. 

There’s something of that here in Isaiah 40 as well.  Part of what God is saying here is that people can’t be trusted because they’re, well, just people.  They’re creatures, rather than the Creator.  Moreover, they’re fallen creatures who are subject to death.  One person might tell another, “I’ll always be there for you.”  But the reality is that they won’t.  You’re a human being, and you’re going to die.  You won’t always be there for someone.  Death is part of being human on this side of eternity.

But there’s more to it than that.  In fact, the emphasis here in Isaiah 40 is on another flaw in human nature.  The key is in the last line of verse 6.  Please look there with me.  It says in our ESV translation, “All flesh is like grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.”  Now notice that there’s a footnote with the word “beauty.”  If you look at the bottom of the page, you find an alternative translation, “all its constancy.”  The 2011 NIV translates this, “all their faithfulness is like the flower of the field.”  I think that’s the best way to translate the Hebrew word used here.  “Faithfulness” or “loyalty.”  “Constancy” is fine too, but faithfulness or loyalty are a little clearer.  What’s being referred to is the reliability of human beings, how trustworthy people are.  How much you can depend on the word of people.  The truth of the matter, revealed here, is that people ultimately can’t be trusted, at least not in the same way that God can. 

The trustworthiness of people goes up and down, just like the wildflowers blossom and then don’t.  Just like the grass turns green and then brown.  It’s alive and then dies.  It’s not constant.  Human trustworthiness is not constant, certainly not constant enough to build your hope for the future on. 

And why are people so fickle and so untrustworthy?  It’s because we’re sinners.  Ever since Adam and Eve, all of us are sinners.  Part of being a rebel against God is that we’re ultimately untrustworthy with one another.  Now there’s a sense in which human beings have to trust each other for everyday things.  Like I mean just think of receiving your pay.  You trust your employer is going to give you what you’ve earned.  You trust that when the money goes in the bank, the bank isn’t going to steal it.  Those are everyday kinds of things.  But we’re talking about ultimate things, the things that are the most important of all.  We’re talking about things like our satisfaction in life, our joy in life, what happens to us after we die, and things like that.  Our passage was specifically addressing the restoration of Israel to the Promised Land – that’s an ultimate sort of thing too.  Could they just trust people to make it happen?  And the answer is “no.”  And we can’t trust people in regard to ultimate matters either. 

Let me just give one example.  You see it in politics.  A certain political system is held out to voters as being the answer to all our problems.  If we would only adopt socialism, we could have a humanist utopia, a worker’s paradise.  Everyone would be equal, there would be no poverty, and everyone would be happy.  Or if we would adopt the green philosophy, we could save mother earth.  Promises are held out about ultimate things.  But as Christians we have to look at those promises and say, “No, you’re just grass, you’re just flowers of the field.  You can’t be trusted to make those things happen because you’re sinful human beings just like us.”  If there’s going to be a bright future, it’ll have to come from someone completely trustworthy, who can actually make it happen.

So you can’t trust other people, but also you can’t trust yourself.  You can’t trust yourself for ultimate things.  The world tells us that we certainly can.  But it’s a lie, a deception.  Sometimes you even hear people claiming to be Christians who say that you can trust yourself, even over and above God’s Word.  I recently came across this YouTuber who’s a “progressive Christian.”  She doesn’t believe a lot of what the Bible says.  Instead, she believes that if you’re peace with what you’re doing or believing, then it’s good.  So LGBT, no problem.  Abortion, no problem.  Sex before marriage, no problem.  Just trust yourself, trust your feelings.  So long as human beings are sinners, that’s the most dangerous advice in the world.  God says in Proverbs 28:26, “Whoever trusts in his own mind (or heart) is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”  Trusting in yourself is foolish.  Notice how our passage says in verse 6, “All flesh is grass” – all human beings are untrustworthy, and that includes you. 

So you can’t trust in human beings.  However, there’s one notable exception:  the ultimate human.  Two thousand years ago, the Son of God took on a human nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  When he did that, he took on human mortality.  In other words, he became a man who could die.  In fact, he had to die on the cross in order to pay for our sins.  That part of the comparison between human nature and grass/flowers of the field applies to our Lord Jesus.  Just like they wither and die when the hot wind blows, so Christ “withered” and died on the cross when the hot wrath of God blew upon him.

But while he was like his brothers in every respect, Jesus was without sin.  So he didn’t and doesn’t suffer from the disloyalty dysfunction.  He was never unfaithful, never has been, and never will be.  He was faithful and loyal to God to fulfill the obligation we owe to God.  Our Lord Jesus was committed to God perfectly and his obedience is transferred to us as we look to him in faith.  Because of Christ’s perfect covenant loyalty, God looks at us and sees perfect covenant loyalty to himself.  Isn’t that encouraging and comforting?

We also take heart that our Lord Jesus was faithful and committed to us.  When he came to this earth, it was for the purpose of redeeming those entrusted to him by the Father.  He was faithful to save us from the destruction we deserve.  And still today, he is the 100% completely faithful human being.  He is faithful and loyal to us in heaven.  He’s there as one of us to intercede for us before the throne of grace.  Loved ones, our Lord Jesus is the grand exception to what’s described of human beings in Isaiah 40.  As we think about him right now, our hearts ought to rise up in worship for him.  He’s the most human human being ever, exactly the way Adam should have been, and he’s that for us.  What a Saviour!  There’s no reason to place our ultimate hope in anyone else other than him.

Now let’s look at the comparison our passage draws between human beings and the word of God.  You definitely can’t trust in people, but you can surely trust in God.  People are like grass and flowers, but the word of God is something completely different.  That’s the point driven home in verse 8. 

It says that the “word of our God will stand forever.”  God’s Word has both permanence and trustworthiness.  When God promises that he’s going to do something, you can count on him that he’s going to do it.  If he’s promised restoration and a bright future, it’s surely going to happen. 

Now in the original context, that’s referring specifically to God’s promise to restore the people to the Promised Land.  The promise wasn’t coming from the man Isaiah.  It wasn’t as if Isaiah just dreamed this up and decided to tell the people his own thoughts or opinions.  Isaiah cries out to proclaim only what’s been revealed to him.  Isaiah is the messenger for God, God’s prophet.  He’s crying out God’s Word and God’s Word stands forever – it’s unshakeable, steadfast, loyal, faithful, dependable.  God’s promise is going to become reality. 

Why is that?  God’s Word is faithful and dependable because of who he is.  God is completely faithful and dependable, always loyal in his covenant relationship with his people.  In himself, God is the perfection of everything imaginable relating to commitment.  If that’s true, then when he speaks, he speaks out of his heart and who he is.  You can trust him for 100% all the time.

It was about 2005 and I remember standing in a grocery checkout in Canada.  There were all these magazines with the latest celebrity gossip.  I still remember one of the headlines, “Brad Promises Angelina’s Kids that He will be their Forever Dad.”  I have to confess, I looked at that pretty cynically (which is why I remember it so well).  People make all kinds of promises and then break them.  It happens all the time.  But God is different, so different, worlds apart from Brad and Angelina and all other sinful human beings.  God makes promises and keeps them.  He can be completely trusted.  His Word can be trusted.

Now that’s certainly true of the specific promises made through Isaiah.  But it’s also true in a broader sense.  The whole Bible and all its promises, all its warnings, all its statements, everything it says is trustworthy.  This is because the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit.  2 Timothy 3:16 says that “All Scripture is breathed out by God…”  And 2 Peter 1:21 says, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  Inspiration means we can be confident that God’s Word is trustworthy.  Connected with that, we sometimes say that Scripture is infallible.  By that we mean that Scripture cannot fail or be mistaken.  Infallibility means there’s no potential for untruths in Scripture.  We also sometimes say that Scripture is inerrant.  By that we mean that Scripture does not fail and is not mistaken.  Inerrancy means that there are actually no untruths in Scripture.  Taken together, inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy tell us that God’s Word is 100% completely trustworthy.                     

That certainly applied to God’s promises made through Isaiah for a bright future for the Jews in exile.  Because God said it, they could be certain that they were going back to the Promised Land and restored fellowship with him.  They just had to trust God that it would be so.  And it was.  God came through.  He did what he promised.  There was a restoration. 

That pointed ahead to even better things in the future.  It pointed ahead to how God would provide a way for their sins to be forgiven at the cross, a way for his people to live forever with him in the new heavens and new earth.  God promised it would happen in his Word and then he made it happen.  He sent Christ into this world and he lived, died on the cross, and rose again for our salvation.  In the gospel, God proved himself dependable.                               

That’s why Peter in 1 Peter 1 goes back to this passage from Isaiah 40.  He connects the Word of the Lord and God’s promises to the gospel.  You see, God’s trustworthy Word is most exemplified in how God has fulfilled the promises of the gospel in Jesus Christ.  If you want to talk about a bright future, think of what God has promised us through Christ.  He’s promised life forever in the new heavens and new earth.  He’s promised the most intimate relationship with himself.  He’s promised us the fullest measure of joy in him.  One of the problems with talking about this is that our minds are so puny that they can’t even begin to grasp how incredible it’s going to be, how bright the future glory will shine.  We can only just see a sliver of the future glory, but even that sliver is amazing.  These are God’s promises for a bright future and they can be trusted because they’re found in the faithful God’s inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word.

Loved ones, we have every good reason to trust God’s promises.  Life here can be hard.  It’s true.  Life as a Christian is filled with challenges.  We do go through valleys and low spots.  But trust God’s promises.  They give you hope.  They give you the assurance that God goes with you.  He will strengthen you for the journey and help you make it through.  And in the end, there is a bright future waiting for you and for all of God’s people.  That’s his promise.  AMEN.

PRAYER

Our faithful God,

We confess that we’re just creatures.  We’re weak.  But we’re also sinners.  Because we’re sinners, we can’t depend on ourselves or other people in regard to ultimate things.  Father, that’s why we’re glad for who you are.  We worship you as the faithful and loyal God.  You keep your promises, you fulfill your Word.  You did that most beautifully in the gospel, in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.  We worship you that in him we have a perfect human being who stood in our place.  We praise you that in Jesus we have forgiveness for all our disloyalty to you.  We praise you for his obedience credited to us.  We also thank you Father that in Christ you promise us a bright future.  You promise us to walk with us through our trials, to be our strength and help.  And you also promise us to bring us to the brightest glory.  Father, help us with your Holy Spirit always to trust you.  Help us with your Holy Spirit always to trust your inspired, infallible and inerrant Word.  Please send away our doubts and unbelief and fill us with a greater trust in you each day.      




* 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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