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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:God calls us to cheer one another with the joyous reality of his presence
Text:Isaiah 40:9-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-07-01
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 3:1,2

Hymn 3:5 (after the law)

Psalm 23

Psalm 98

Hymn 56

Scripture readings:  Mark 10:13-16; John 10:1-18

Text;  Isaiah 40:9-11

* 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,

Imagine for a moment living in the Netherlands in early 1945.  Some of our older members don’t have to imagine, they just have to remember.  But for the rest of us, we need to use our imaginations.  It’s early 1945 and the Nazis are still in control.  It was the time of the Dutch famine, the so-called hunger winter.  It was the hardest time of the war.  There wasn’t enough food and people were starving to death. 

Now imagine you’re the only family in your town or village that has a radio.  Radios are illegal.  The Nazis don’t want people hearing radio programming from England.  So having a radio is dangerous.  But you’ve got one in your home and you listen to the BBC and its Dutch radio programs.  They let you know how things are really going with the war. 

The Allies landed in France in Normandy in June of 1944 and then started making their way north towards the Netherlands.  They were coming to kick out the Nazis.   And the only way to find out about their progress was with your radio.  Now imagine you’re listening to the radio and you hear the good news that the Allies are winning more battles with the Nazis and they’re just about in the Netherlands.  Would you keep that good news to yourself?  If you had neighbours you trusted, family you trusted, brothers and sisters in the church you trusted, you’d go and share that good news with them.  It would cheer them up and encourage them that the war is just about over.  There’s hope on the horizon.  Just a little while longer and freedom is coming. 

And when the Allies finally arrived, you can be sure that people spread the good news around as soon as they heard.  Their presence meant the end of the war, the end of Nazi oppression and occupation.  All these years later, those of us who didn’t go through it can hardly imagine how much joy and relief the Dutch people must have felt.

That gives you a bit of a picture of what’s happening in our passage from Isaiah this morning.  God’s people were not experiencing occupation, but exile.  They’d been sent into exile in Babylon – and they experienced that as a national tragedy.  It was their own fault that it happened.  It was because of their rebellion against God.  But the prophet Isaiah is addressing them and telling them the good news that it’s coming to an end.  There’ll be restoration.  And God will again dwell with his people.  God’s people are to take this good news and share it with one another.  They’re supposed to encourage one another with these glad tidings.  Even though we live thousands of years later, there’s a message in this for us as God’s people too.  There’s also a call for us to hear God’s Word and use it to bring joy and hope to one another.

Let’s listen to God’s Word from Isaiah this morning as we hear how God calls us to cheer one another with the joyous reality of his presence.

We’ll see God’s presence is good news because he is:

  1. Powerful
  2. Just
  3. Compassionate

Our passage begins with this command.  It’s addressed to Zion, to Jerusalem.  Zion, of course, is Mount Zion in Jerusalem.  Mount Zion is where the temple was built.  So Zion and Jerusalem here in verse 9 are referring to the same place.  They’re often interchangeable in the Bible.  The command comes to Zion/Jerusalem, because it was the capital city of the Jewish nation.  It was not only the political center, but also the spiritual center.  It’s the most important place in the Promised Land.

The command to Jerusalem is to get up on a high mountain and shout out some good news like a herald.  In the ancient world, a herald was someone who announced the news.  Sometimes a herald was employed by a king to bring news to his subjects.  Sometimes the herald went ahead of a king to announce that the king was on his way and people should get ready.  In this instance, that’s the picture being painted for us.  The king is coming and this is good news for the people that has to be announced.  It has to be announced with a loud voice and with no fear of what people might think. 

It’s important to note in verse 9 who this good news is directed to.  It’s announced by Jerusalem “to the cities of Judah.”  It’s announced by God’s people to God’s people.  This isn’t speaking of announcing good news to the world out there, but it’s good news that’s being shared within the covenant community.  You could say that it’s being shared within the church, within the Old Testament church. 

It’s an exciting piece of news.  That excitement is reflected in the way the word “Behold” is used three times, once in verse 9 and then twice in verse 10.  It’s like, “Look, there’s God – isn’t this awesome?  Be impressed, because God is coming to his people – in fact, he’s already present back in Jerusalem.”

Like with the previous eight verses of Isaiah 40, this is all speaking of what happens after the Babylonian exile.  The Jews return to the Promised Land.  The temple is rebuilt.  God again comes to dwell with his people.  There’s a restoration of how things are supposed to be between him and them.  Here the focus is really on the presence of God with his people.  

In Ezekiel 10, we read of the tragedy that happened before the Babylonian exile.  In Ezekiel 10, we read of how Ezekiel watched the glory of Yahweh leaving the temple in Jerusalem.  God was gone.  He no longer made his name dwell among his people.  That was a terrible thing for the Jewish people, even if many of them didn’t realize it at the time and didn’t care.

But then there was the exile, and through the exile, through those 70 years in Babylon, God brought many of his people to repentance and faith.  They turned away from their rebellion and again trusted in God.  That paves the way for their restoration.

It also paved the way for the return of Yahweh to the temple.  In the book of Nehemiah, we read of how the Jews rebuilt the temple after the exile.  They together confessed their sins to God and God again came to dwell among them at the temple.  Then you get one of the most powerful verses of Nehemiah.  It’s in Nehemiah 12:43, “And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced.  And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.”  That’s really the fulfillment of what Isaiah is speaking about in our passage for this morning.  The reality of God’s presence back in Jerusalem led to joy that was broadcast over the whole land.  God had come back. 

And our passage tells us that this is good news for three reasons.  When you have the presence of God with you, it’s good for these three things that have to do with who God is and what he does.

We’re at verse 10.  Look at it with me.  Verse 10, says, “Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him…”  Isaiah is saying, “Look, there’s God and he’s impressive!  He’s a powerful king!”  When it says, “Lord GOD” in our English translation, the Hebrew says, “Lord Yahweh.”  That’s an emphatic way of saying that God is a mighty ruler.  God is the awesome King with whom you and everyone else should be impressed. 

Then it adds that he “comes with might and his arm rules for him.”  God has sovereign power.  No one can stand in the way of this king.  When he decides to do something, he’s going to do it and no one is going to stop him.  If you stand in his way, his arm is going to reach out and swat you.    

Now the wonderful thing is that this is “your God” as it says in verse 9.  “Behold, your God.”  That was speaking first of all to these people of God back in the Old Testament.  This all-powerful God was on their side.  If he’s on your side, and he’s present, you’ve got a lot of reason to be rejoicing. 

I was an only-son in my family.  There were a lot of times when I was in school that I really wished I had a brother, especially an older brother.  I had friends with older brothers.  Sometimes older brothers could be a problem.  But if you were at school and you had someone bothering you, an older brother could also be a really great solution.  If your older brother was bigger and stronger, that could be really helpful – provided two things:  provided your brother cared enough to defend you, and provided your brother was there. 

Well, God isn’t just a bigger, older brother.  He is the almighty Creator of heaven and earth.  He is the omnipotent, all-powerful God.  And he loved his people.  He loved them enough to bring them back from exile.  God loved them enough that he promised he was going to do even more – he was going to bring a Redeemer to pay for their sins.  So he cared like no one else.  But he was also present.  He had both the love and the presence and that’s why God’s people could be so encouraged and so joyful with the good news announced in our passage.                         

Today when we think about God’s presence and his power, and how we can encourage one another with those things, we have to think about our Lord Jesus Christ.  We have to remember how God fulfilled his loving promise to bring a Redeemer in our Saviour Jesus.  He brought the joyous reality of his presence in a far-richer way than what the Jews experienced in the Old Testament.  Today, if we believe in Christ as our Saviour, God is surely on our side and against us shall be none.  God is both present in our lives and powerful.  Before Christ ascended into heaven he told his church, “And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age.”  That’s in Matt. 28:20.  As we confess in Lord’s Day 18 of the Catechism, with his divinity, majesty, grace and Spirit he is never absent from us.  The God who loves us still dwells among his people.  He dwells with us in the person of the Holy Spirit.  Even though bodily Jesus is in heaven, he’s always present with us with his Spirit.  That’s good news because of his power.  He is the Lord come with might.  He is the King of kings.  His arm rules for him in our lives.  He’s in control and it’s all for our good.  Loved ones, look to Christ and behold your God!

God’s presence is also good news because of his justice.  You see that described in the second part of verse 10.  It says, “Behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.”  Isaiah is saying, “Look, God always does what’s right and that’s part of what makes him impressive, and part of why we can have joy at his presence.” 

The words ‘reward’ and ‘recompense’ are the key terms here.  These words mean essentially the same thing.  They’re parallel here.  If you get a reward, you get what’s coming to you.  You get a recompense, you get what you’ve deserved.  God gives what’s been earned.  He gives what’s been deserved.  God dishes out justice.  It’s part of who he is. 

If there are people who stand in God’s way and who unrepentantly rebel against him, God is going to deal with them.  He’ll deal with them appropriately.  In his being and essence, God is just and he therefore renders justice. 

That would have been an encouragement to Isaiah’s readers, because they would know that every evil that’s been done against them would somehow be addressed.  Because God is present, because God is on their side, he’ll address any evils that have been done.  God won’t allow injustice to prevail.  He’s going to make everything right. 

In our world today, this picture of God is really uncomfortable for a lot of people.  People who call themselves “spiritual” and say they have some kind of belief in God, they’re usually not that comfortable with the idea that God is just.  They don’t like the idea that God has a standard of right and wrong, and when the standard is not upheld, there are consequences.  People don’t like that.  But the truth is wrong-doing and rebellion aren’t ignored by God, but dealt with. 

Or maybe people are okay with God being just with others who are really, really bad.  People are okay with God being just with Adolph Hitler and the Nazis, or maybe with child abusers.  But those are exceptional.  The rest of us aren’t really that bad.  But the Bible won’t allow that kind of thinking.  If you take the Bible seriously and what it says about God, it says that God is just all the time with everyone.  His justice is equally distributed, with no discrimination.

That can be a comforting and cheerful thought but it can also be a really uncomfortable, disturbing thought.  It can be uncomfortable if God is your enemy.  If you’ve rebelled against God and haven’t received his forgiveness, then God’s justice is something to be afraid of.  Because if you haven’t been forgiven, he’s going to give what you deserve.  You deserve his wrath and you’ll get it.  That’s justice.  But God’s justice can also be comforting and give you great joy.  If you’ve rebelled against God and have found the way to be forgiven by him, then God’s justice is awesome.  Forgiveness means that God’s requirement for justice has been met by someone else.  Someone else has made it possible for you to be reconciled to God.  If justice has been met, justice will ask no more.  And then with God on your side, all the injustice done against you is also going to be addressed at some stage.  If the mighty God is now your ally and friend, he won’t allow injustice done against you to remain unaddressed. 

That was really how the Jews back in the Old Testament could find joy in God’s justice.  If they had the presence of God in the temple, they had the way open to a just forgiveness – forgiveness in a way that still upheld justice.  They could bring the sacrifices which pointed ahead to Jesus Christ.  Because they pointed ahead to Jesus, God would accept those sacrifices and forgive their sins.  They could have reconciliation with God.  God would be on their side again.  Being on their side, he’d then uphold justice for them. 

For us as Christians, God’s justice is also a reason to rejoice.  We can be cheerful knowing that the penalty we deserve for our sins has been fully paid by Christ.  God’s justice was maintained when Jesus took our place on the cross and took all the wrath we deserve.  The full payment was made.  Justice was satisfied.  If we believe in Jesus Christ, God is never going to ask payment from us.  Moreover, he’s going to uphold justice for us and for all his people. 

Today we see horrible persecution of Christians in other countries.  In places like North Korea and China, prison or death are not uncommon for Christians.  Or think of Christians in Nigeria.  After Pakistan, Nigeria is the second-most violent country for persecuted Christians.  In 2019 at least 1350 Christians were martyred in Nigeria.  In January of 2020, there was that terrible video of a Nigerian pastor being beheaded by Boko Haram.  Again, that’s not uncommon in parts of the world.  But God reassures us that he will uphold justice for his people.  All these wrongs will be made right.  And when Jesus Christ returns in person to judge the living and the dead, the cause of the gospel will be seen by every single human being to have been right and good.  God is on our side and he will judge justly.

God’s presence is also good news because he is a compassionate God.  He is a compassionate God to his people who revere him and trust him.  That’s the point being driven home in verse 11.  It gives us this powerful picture of God as a shepherd.  He’s not only the exalted King and the one who metes out justice, he’s also this shepherd.  This is a remarkable picture because being a shepherd wasn’t exactly considered to be an elite job.  Being a shepherd was menial work, low-class work, not highly respected.  Yet God compares himself to a shepherd and he does so to drive home his compassion for his people. 

We’ll get to his compassion in a moment, but for now you should also notice that God’s people here are being compared to sheep.  That’s a reality check.  It’s not a complimentary description.  Ask anyone who works with sheep and they’ll tell you that sheep aren’t exactly bright animals.  They need care.  They need tending.  Sheep need a shepherd.  That’s the reality of who human beings are.  Like sheep, we’re dependent creatures.  We’re dependent on God. 

Isaiah tells God’s dependent people that they can count on God’s compassion for them.  “He will tend his flock like a shepherd” – the whole flock, all the people of God, will be cared for.  They will be fed, they will be watered, they will be protected.  A shepherd doesn’t allow his sheep to suffer if he can help it.  He wants them to flourish, and that’s what the compassionate God wants for his people. 

Then the compassion narrows its focus to the lambs:  “he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom.”  The picture’s not hard to imagine.  The Shepherd tenderly holds the little lambs close to his chest.  The youngest and most vulnerable in the flock are kept as close as possible to the Shepherd who can protect them.  It’s a beautiful picture.  It’s a beautiful picture of our God and his people and, in particular, the youngest of God’s flock.  God has a special affection for the children of his people.  Because they’re weak and vulnerable, far more so than the older sheep, he has a deep compassion for them.

Then last of all, we also read here of God’s compassion for other vulnerable members of the flock, specifically the ewes with young.  He will gently lead them.  This is a general picture of other vulnerable members of the flock.  Ewes, mother sheep with their young, they can also easily get injured or die from predators.  Some members of the flock are more vulnerable because of their life circumstances and God says here that he has compassion on them – he remembers their situation and will act to keep them safe.  God is going to take care of his people – all of them.  This was the good news that cheered God’s people as they returned from the Exile.  God was there for them, and this God was assuredly compassionate and tender-hearted towards those who trusted in him. 

It hardly needs to be said that this picture of God as a compassionate shepherd is found elsewhere in the Bible.  One of the most obvious places is Psalm 23.  But it all reaches its peak with how Christ describes himself in John 10.  He calls himself the Good Shepherd.  With him, you see God’s compassion clothed in human flesh.  In Jesus, you see the compassionate heart of God revealed like nowhere else.  It’s most vivid in the fact that the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  He takes their place, he dies for them, so they can live and flourish. 

And when it comes to Jesus as the Good Shepherd, we also see his compassion for the lambs.  We see that in what we read from Mark 10.  The disciples try to keep away those little covenant children from Jesus.  They thought Jesus was too big and important to be troubling himself with little children.  Our Lord rebukes his disciples.  He wants the little covenant children to come to him and be blessed by him.  Remember our Lord Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.  Our Lord Jesus wants all the lambs to be gathered in his arms and blessed by him.  As parents, we have the responsibility to make sure that nothing stands in the way of that.  We want to give our children every opportunity to hear the gospel, to be taught the Word of God, to know Jesus the Good Shepherd and his compassion. 

So our passage speaks of God’s compassion, justice, and power.  But it also calls us to speak.  God Word’s call us to tell others, “Behold, your God!”  Like it called the Jews of old to speak to one another of these things, to cheer one another with these things, so it does with us today with one another in the church.  When we have the opportunity to encourage a brother or sister, let’s take it and remind them of who God is. 

Sometimes there’s a need to be reminded of God’s power.  Maybe someone is doubting whether change is possible in their life or in the life of another person.  Our God has the power.  Remind each other of that.

Sometimes there’s a need to be reminded of God’s justice.  Maybe someone is wondering whether a particular wrong will ever be made right.  Our God is just.  He will right every wrong.  Remind each other of that.

Sometimes there’s a need to be reminded of God’s compassion.  Maybe someone has a wrong view of God and sees him as a condemning judge.  Our God is compassionate to those who revere him and take him seriously.  God is so compassionate that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  God has a big heart for his flock and he’s present and on our side.  Remind each other of that.

Loved ones, God’s Word here is ultimately meant to lead us to worship together.  It tells our minds things about who God is and what he does, but these things are meant to touch our hearts too.  What we read here of God’s power, justice, and compassion are meant to draw us upwards to him in adoration of him.  He’s a God worthy of our worship.  Let’s bring that worship right now by singing together Psalm 98.  AMEN.

PRAYER

Our Lord Yahweh,

We worship your Great Name.  We worship you for the good news that you’re present in our lives with your Holy Spirit.  We worship you for your power, for your justice, for your compassion.  You’re a powerful king, a just judge, and a compassionate Shepherd. Thank you for being our good and loving God today and always.  We worship you above all for the greatest revelation of your power, justice and compassion in our Lord Jesus Christ.  We look to him and we see you and your hand of power, your heart of love, and your maintenance of justice.  We praise your Name for revealing yourself so beautifully in the person and work of our Saviour.  We adore you also for not only being our God, but also the God of our little lambs, of our children.  Please help us all with your Holy Spirit to believe what you say about yourself in the Scriptures.  Please help us too to encourage each other with these gospel truths.  When we have the opportunity, help us to cheer one another with the joyous reality of your presence.                                   

        




* 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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