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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Wait on God and he will give you strength
Text:Isaiah 40:27-31 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-07-13
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 66

Psalm 25:3 (after the law)

Psalm 47

Psalm 121

Hymn 65 or Hymn 13

Scripture readings: 1 Cor. 1:18-31; 2 Cor. 12:1-10

Text:  Isaiah 40:27-31

* 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,

Have you ever heard anyone tell you that religion is for the weak?  Or that Christianity in particular is just a crutch?  These are commonly-held ideas out there in the world.  These ideas were first made popular by philosophers.  Philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche thought that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, are just emotional or psychological crutches for the feeble-minded.  If people would just stand on their own two feet and recognize their own inherent human strength, they’d cast off religion and faith.  They wouldn’t need them.  Today those ideas aren’t just held by philosophers, there are a lot of people who think that way. 

If you’ve had someone tell you that, how did you respond to them?  If someone were to tell you that Christianity is for the weak, what would you say?

In this passage from Isaiah 40 this morning we find an answer for those kinds of questions.  It comes in the context of exile.  The people of Israel are in Babylon.  They were deported there because of their rebellion against God.  Now the prophet Isaiah is speaking to those people in exile.  Earlier in Isaiah 40, he’s assured them of God’s promise for restoration to the Promised Land.  He’s dealt with some of their doubts and questions.  At the end of the chapter, he tackles a couple more.  These doubts and questions have to do with who God is and who they are as human beings.  This morning we’ll hear the call of God’s Word in Isaiah 40:27-31:  wait on God and he will give you strength

We’ll look at what this passage teaches about:

  1. Our weak selves
  2. Our strong God

Imagine for a moment that you’re an Israelite in exile in Babylon.  The exile has lasted for decades.  It’s been 70 years of exile from the public worship of God at the temple.  It’s been such a long time since these people could gather in the presence of God in Jerusalem. 

The temptation would be to think:  God doesn’t see what’s happening to us.  We pray to him for restoration, but he doesn’t answer.  God has abandoned and forsaken us.  That’s the thinking you see in verse 27.  That’s the thinking in the words, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God.”  It means God doesn’t see and God doesn’t care about doing what’s right for me.  It means God has abandoned his people. 

To that way of thinking, the Holy Spirit says through Isaiah:  why are you talking like that?  And notice in verse 1 how the people are addressed.  It’s “O Jacob” and “O Israel.”  He could’ve just said, “O my people” or something like that.  But instead, the names of the patriarch Jacob are used, not just his proper name Jacob, but also the name God gave him later on, Israel.  That’s intentional.  It immediately reminds the people of God’s covenant with their forefather.  To remind you, God’s covenant is his relationship with his people.  This is the covenant of grace – no one deserves it, Jacob didn’t and neither do his offspring.  And it’s also an everlasting covenant – the people might turn their backs on God, they might break the covenant from their side, but God is always faithful to what he has promised.  So calling the people “Jacob” and “Israel” is meant to remind them of those beautiful truths.

And why are these covenant people thinking in unbelieving terms?  It’s because of the weakness of their faith.  Their sinful weakness.  Their trust in God is wavering.  Their confidence in his covenant love is minimal.  In these words at the end of verse 27, you see not just human weakness in general terms, but human weakness in terms of spirituality, in terms of how many human beings regard God in a time of crisis and difficulty.

For some, crisis and difficulty is like the pressure that turns carbon into diamonds.  For others, it’s different.  For others, whatever faith may have been there beforehand starts to crumble.  Maybe you remember what New York State governor Andrew Cuomo said at a certain point in the COVID-19 pandemic.  He noted that the curve was flattening and he said something like, “We did it.  Our efforts have done this.  God didn’t do this, faith didn’t do this, prayer didn’t do this.  We did it.”  Even though Andrew Cuomo is supposedly a Roman Catholic, he didn’t acknowledge God.  He explicitly put God out of the picture.  God has nothing to do with flattening curves.  That’s a sort of unbelief.  It’s sinful and wrong.  It’s a denial of God, this unbelief.               

Now God has a response to this unbelief and it begins in verse 28.  But before we look at that, let’s also look at other ways this passage reminds us of our weak selves. 

Notice how many times these verses speak about fainting, growing weary, getting exhausted, having no might.  That’s the reality of who we are as human beings.  We’re weak. 

As creatures, we’re weak.  When God made Adam and Eve, he didn’t give them infinite strength.  There was physical weakness built in to us from the beginning.  That’s not a sinful thing.  You can see it in our need for sleep.  We need rest because, as creatures, we’re weak.  Look at Jesus.  He never sinned.  He wasn’t a sinner.  Yet we see him in the boat on the Sea of Galilee fast asleep.  Why did he sleep?  Because he was a true human being with the weakness coming along with that.  We have limits to what we can endure.  We’re weak and we get weak when faced with pressure. 

So we not only have to contend with sinful spiritual weakness, we also have to deal with our physical weakness.  And this is true for every single one of us.  That’s the point being made in verse 30:  “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted…”  Young men are in peak condition.  They’re vigorous and strong. 

Eric Liddell was a Christian missionary.  Eric Liddell died in a Japanese concentration camp in China in 1945.  However, before becoming a missionary, he was an athlete, an Olympic champion.  He won gold at the Olympics in 1924.  Eric Liddell became well-known because of his refusal to run on the Lord’s Day.  As a devout Christian, he wanted to keep the fourth commandment.  You may remember the story from the movie Chariots of Fire.  At a certain point early in the movie, we see Eric Liddell reading from Isaiah 40:30-31.  “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted…”  This is fitting because the Hebrew word for “young men” literally means “chosen ones.”  The select, the ones who are selected for their strength and vigour, perhaps for the military or maybe for athletic competition.  Eric Liddell was one of those strong young men, selected to represent his country at the Olympics.  But yet he felt his own human weakness – he experienced it and he knew it because he was a Christian.  The truth of the matter is that even vigorous young men will break at some point.  We all break, because we’re all weak human beings.  We have to realize that and admit it.  God teaches us to be honest and admit that we’re not as strong as we sometimes think we are.

God also teaches us about how his Son became a human being.  God teaches us how his Son took on a weak human nature so that we could be restored to fellowship with him.  You can think of what the Holy Spirit says in Isaiah 53:4, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows...”  Christ did that by becoming one of us.  He took our human weakness upon himself. 

The Son of God took on a human nature so that he could suffer and die on the cross.  The cross is the ultimate place of human weakness.  In what we read from 1 Corinthians 1, the cross is where human beings see weakness and foolishness.  But it’s also how God chooses to work out our salvation.  God takes what’s weak in the world and he uses it to his purposes, to shame the strong, to bring about our rescue.  We may look at weakness and think of it as a negative, but in the Bible God takes weakness and turns it around into something positive.  He does it through the gospel.  He does it through revealing who he is and calling us to wait on him.

In our passage, that revelation of our strong God begins in verse 28.  We first hear the questions, “Have you not known?  Have you not heard?”  Similar words are used back in verse 21 of Isaiah 40.  Just as in verse 21, here in verse 28 these are rhetorical questions.  These are questions where the answer is obvious.  Of course, you’ve known.  Of course, you’ve heard.  Why?  Because God has revealed it.  You might think your way is hidden from God, but God has certainly not hidden himself from you.  He’s shown you what he’s like. 

That means there’s been revelation.  In the case of the people of God in Babylon, by their time, a lot of the Old Testament had been written.  God had ensured that his people would know who he is.  He’d given them prophets.  He’d given them writings.  It’s the same for us today, except even more so.  Because we not only have the Old Testament, we also have the New Testament.  We have 66 books full of revelation of who God is.  God’s made it clear to us who he is and what he’s like.

In our passage, there are four particular ways God’s strength is revealed.  First, notice that the LORD is “the everlasting God” in verse 28.  He is permanent.  He’ll always be there.  Moreover, his everlasting nature also means that he’s unchangeable.  The way God is now is the way God has always been and the way he always will be.  As the hymn says, “Change and decay in all around I see, O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”  God never changes – he’s God everlasting.  And that’s part of what makes him our strong God.

Next notice how he’s “the Creator of the ends of the earth.”  The “ends of the earth” is a poetic way of referring to the whole earth.  The entire planet has been created by God.  Doesn’t that say something about God’s strength?  If God has created the whole planet and continues to uphold it, how could he lose his grip on his people?  Being the Creator is another part of what makes him our strong God.

Then, still in verse 28, the Holy Spirit says the LORD does not faint or grow weary.  Unlike his creatures, God never gets tired or worn out.  His strength is always at full capacity. 

Moreover, he has profound understanding.  Unsearchable, infinite understanding.  He knows what’s happening, he knows why it’s happening, he knows who it’s happening to, he knows what the outcome will be.  He has it all in his grasp.  He has an infinitely strong understanding of all circumstances, both those facing the Israelites in their day and the circumstances facing us in our day.

Last of all, this God, our God, is a strong giver of gifts.  That’s what we find in verse 29:  “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.”  God doesn’t keep his strength to himself.  He shares it.  He gives strength to his creatures.  It says that he “increases strength” for those who have no might.  For those who are on empty, he comes along and fills their tank in abundant measure.  When he gives, he gives strongly.

In his grace, God will give his strength to us.  We don’t deserve his strength to help us.  We deserve his strength to punish us and destroy us eternally.  But through Christ and through the promises of the gospel, God is our heavenly Father.  An earthly Father would use his strength to help his children.  Our heavenly Father does that too, but he does more.  He not only uses his strength to help us, he gives us of his own strength.  He puts his own strength in us – no earthly father can do what our heavenly Father can. 

Though we’re weak in ourselves, he’ll lift us up and give us what we need to carry on.  The people of God addressed in our passage by Isaiah were weak.  They’d been deported and carried off to a foreign land.  They didn’t have an army.  They were poor and had been captured by the Babylonians.  How were they going to ever make it back to fellowship with God?  How were they ever going to make it back to the Promised Land?  In themselves, not possible.  But with the gracious God and his strength and his willingness to give strength, it would happen.  It did happen.

But it’s not automatic.  God’s people are called to something here.  It’s at the beginning of verse 31:  “…but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength.”  That’s the key right there.  The key is waiting for the LORD.  What does it mean to wait for the LORD?  It essentially means to trust in God.  To wait for God is to have faith in him, to hope in him, to patiently expect him to do what he has promised.  To wait for God is to confidently rest in his Word.  When we wait for God, we don’t turn inward to look for strength – we already know that it’s not there.  Instead, when we wait for God, we look outwards and upwards to our strong God.

Then, the Holy Spirit says, God will renew our strength.  He will fill us up with his strength.  That strength can get people through impossibly difficult circumstances.  In fact, it’s more than just getting through.  It’s more than just surviving.  It’s thriving, flourishing.  Verse 31 paints these pictures of what God’s people look like when they have faith in the strong God, when they wait for him.

They “mount up with wings like eagles.”  They say that wedge-tailed eagles are in trouble in Tasmania.  Maybe they are.  But I see them all the time when I’m out fly-fishing or bushwalking.  One time I was on top of St. Patrick’s Head and l looked down and there was an eagle soaring below us.  He was soaring along the slope of the mountain.  Is there a more gracious and powerful sight than an eagle soaring?  The eagle appears so majestic and so strong.  The eagle has been described as “the King of Birds.”  Eagles are well-known in the Middle East too, they were well-known for their power and majesty.  That’s the picture of the believer who’s waited for God.  The believer is going to soar powerfully.

And “they shall run and not be weary.”  Running is normally exhausting, at least for a good number of people.  But here God’s Word says that the believer who waits for God in faith is going to run like the wind and will never run out of energy.

Last, “they shall walk and not be faint.”  Walking too can be tiring for weak human beings.  Very few people can walk all day and not feel it.  But placing your trust in God ties you into his divine strength.  You’ll be like that person who can walk and walk and walk and never feel it, never get exhausted, never faint.  This is what God gives to those who trust him, to those who wait for him.

What do all these pictures have in common?  They all have to do with motion, with travelling.  Soaring, running, walking are all ways of getting somewhere.  The return from Babylon to the Promised Land involved a journey.  Strength was needed for that journey.  The Bible tells us that the Christian life is a journey, a pilgrimage to the heavenly Promised Land.  God tells us that he’ll give the strength to help us soar there, to help us run there, to help us walk there.  God will graciously give his weak people his strength so they can travel to their ultimate destination with him in the new heavens and new earth. 

We look at weakness as a problem.  We look at our human nature and we see our limitations and we view them as negatives.  But the Bible teaches us how God turns that thinking upside down.  Think of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12.  He had that thorn in his flesh.  There’s been a lot of speculation over what that thorn was.  We don’t need to get into that right now.  The important thing to realize is that it was weakness for Paul.  It limited him in some way.  It brought him to his knees.  He waited for the Lord, praying to Christ, asking for it to be removed.  But the Lord taught him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Then Paul said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”  Why does he shift his attitude about weakness, about the thorn?  Why does he shift it from being a negative attitude to being a positive one?  Because he realizes that it’s the weakness that brings him to prayer and to seek the Lord.  The weakness brings him to Christ.  That’s why he then says in verse 10, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

Do you see it?  Weakness brings us to Christ.  When we recognize and see our weakness, we go to the Saviour.  We are brought to him in faith and trust. It’s that faith and trust through which God works to make us strong to endure our weaknesses and all the other brokenness in this world.

So what should you say when you’re told that Christianity is for people who’re weak and need a crutch?  You tell them, “You’re right.  I’m weak.  I know how I weak I am.  I’m not strong enough to make it through life on my own.  I’m weak to deal with things.  I’m weak in dealing with my own sinful desires.  I’m weak in how I deal with people around me.  I’m so weak that someday I’m going to die.  I’m weak and I have no problem admitting that.  But I also know that through Jesus Christ I have a strong God.  He’s our Creator, he’s unchanging, and he gives of his own strength to those who trust him.  Any strength I have, comes from him.”  That’s what you need to say.  You need to say that, because it’s the objective truth revealed in the Bible.  It’s the truth that God has given for our comfort in our challenging earthly pilgrimage.  He promises us:  wait for me, and I’ll bring you home with my strength.   AMEN.

PRAYER

O LORD God,

You are the everlasting God.  In your strength, you created the entire earth and you still hold it up.  You don’t faint or grow weary.  Your understanding is limitless.  And you give strength.  In your grace, you give strength to those who don’t have it.  You give strength with your Holy Spirit to us too.  Father, we confess that we’re weak.  We do faint and grow weary.  We sometimes doubt and question you and your ways in this world, even though we shouldn’t.  Our bodies are weak, our souls are weak, and so is often our faith.  But Father God, our God, we wait for you.  We look to you in hope and trust.  We ask you to renew our strength, make us soar like eagles, make us run without tiring, walk without fainting.  As we look to you through Jesus Christ, please grant us more strength for our earthly pilgrimage here.  Make your power perfect in our weakness, and please do it for the praise and fame of your name.  Please help us to wait for you and please bring us home with your strength.

 




* 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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