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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:You can trust God because he is majestically incomparable [COVID-related]
Text:Isaiah 40:12-26 (View)
Occasion:Pandemic
Topic:Living in a sinful world
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-07-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 34:1-3

Psalm 73:9 (after the law)

Psalm 42:1-3

Psalm 146:1-3

Hymn 71

Scripture reading and text:  Isaiah 40:12-26

* 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,

Isaiah 40 is addressed to God’s people living in exile in Babylon.  Because of their rebellion against God, the Jews were deported to that far-off land.  It was a major trauma for them.  One of the things that made the exile such a terrible thing was that the Jews were cut off from the temple and the worship of God.  They couldn’t gather together in God’s presence to make sacrifices, to sing praises, or to offer prayers. 

Here we are today and we’re in our own sort of exile.  No, we haven’t been deported to a far-off land.  But in God’s providence, we have been cut off from the opportunity to gather together before him in public worship.  Yes, we can still hear God’s Word via this means, we can still worship God in our homes, but it’s not the same thing.  It’s not the same as coming together twice on a Sunday, seeing each other in person, and worshipping God all together in the same place.  There’s a sense in which you could say that we’re currently the church in exile. 

Isaiah 40 speaks words of comfort and assurance to us in these circumstances too.  In its original context, Isaiah was prophesying to the Jews in exile that God was surely going to restore them.  In our context, we can be equally confident that our exile will not be forever.  There’ll be an end point, even if we don’t know when.  God knows.  But the day will come when we’ll be able to gather for worship again as we used to.  We’re called to trust God on that.  This passage is designed to get us to that trust and keep us there.  It does that by showing us how God is completely unique.  He’s incomparable.  You can trust God because he is majestically incomparable.  That’s the theme for this morning’s message.

We’ll see how:

  1. The nations don’t compare to God
  2. Idols don’t compare to God
  3. People and their rulers don’t compare to God
  4. The starry host don’t compare to God

As we start our look at verses 12 to 26, I want you to notice how this section is structured.  There are four sets of questions and four sets of statements.  The first set of questions is in verse 12 to 14.  The second is in verse 18.  The third is in verse 21 and then the last in verses 25 and 26.  All the questions have a couple of things in common.  They’re all rhetorical questions – rhetorical questions are questions where the answer is obvious.  So they’re rhetorical questions, questions for effect.  And what’s the intended effect of all these questions?  It’s to drive home the simple point that God is incomparable.  He’s unique.  There’s no one like him.  In verses 12 to 14, the point is that no one stands over God.  No one is higher.  In verses 18, 25, 26, the point is made directly – no comparisons can be made with God.  And in verse 21, the rhetorical question drives home the point that all this should be obvious to God’s people.  If you’ve received direct revelation about who God is, you should know that he’s incomparable.  But they need to be reminded and that’s what’s happening in this passage.

Now let’s look at the statements about God in this passage, and we’ll take each in turn.  Each one is meant to show that God is incomparable in relation to some element of his creation.  That’s driving home the truth that the Creator can’t be compared to his creation.  He’s distinct, one of a kind, entirely unique, and therefore entirely worthy of our trust.

In verses 15 to 17, the nations are compared to God.  Compared to him, they’re like a tiny water drop from a big bucket.  They’re like particles of dust on the weigh-scales.  To God, the coastal regions and islands of the nations are all like fine dust too.  Then Lebanon gets mentioned.  Lebanon was renowned for being rich in forests and wildlife.  If Lebanon doesn’t have enough wood or animals to make offerings worthy of God’s majesty, then nobody does.  Then verse 17 summarizes it:  all the nations are nothing compared to God’s greatness. Before him, they’re even less than nothing.  They’re “emptiness.”  Compared to God, it’s like they don’t even exist. 

The same is true today.  You could have the greatest nation on earth.  It could be China with the world’s largest population – 1.2 billion people.  It could be the United States with the world’s most powerful military.  It could be Russia with the greatest landmass of any country – over 17 million square kilometers.   Maybe it’s Canada with the world’s longest coastline of over 200,000 kilometers.  You could have the greatest nation on earth by any measure, and it still wouldn’t compare to God in any way.  Compared to him, they’re all drops in a bucket, dust in the scales, nothing, emptiness.  God’s majesty and grandeur far surpass them all.  So no matter how great a nation is, it’s never going to be worthy of our worship or our trust.  Don’t trust in nations, trust in God.

In verses 19 and 20, Isaiah looks at idols.  His words here are dripping with satire and sarcasm.  It’s meant to accomplish the goal of this passage:  to show us that only God is God.  It’s like he’s saying, “Look here, here’s idolatry.  You get human beings, they’re creatures.  They make these idols.  Craftsmen do their work to make them, whether it’s with gold, silver or wood.  They use these elements of God’s creation to make something to replace him.  That’s ridiculous.  It’s foolish.  Even poor people use what little resources they have to pursue it – showing again how nonsensical it is.  They select wood that won’t rot and they hire a craftsman to make an idol that won’t topple over.  But of course, the wood will rot and the idol will topple.  Idols always end up failing those who worship them.  But not God.  If you worship God and trust him, he will never fail you.  God doesn’t rot.  God doesn’t topple over. 

In our day and where we live, few people go and set up statues to worship.  That kind of idolatry is largely outside our experience.  Yet idolatry is still around, even if it’s not as conspicuous.  We create idols whenever we take something created and make it more ultimate than the Creator.  We create idols whenever we take something created, and we find comfort in that rather than in the Creator.  Especially in times of crisis and trial, this kind of idolatry can be enormously tempting. 

You could be tempted to comfort yourself with alcohol.  Some people call it self-medicating, but it’s really idolatry.  Beer, wine, and whiskey are created things – in themselves they’re not bad.  But when you take these sorts of things and use them to replace God in your life, they’ve become idols.  You have to calm your worries and your fears and your panic with a drink – or several drinks.  Alcohol can become an idol and it often does for a lot of people.  But it shouldn’t be for us as Christians. 

Another common idol in times of trial is pornography.  Using pornography, you can forget all the difficult stuff that’s going on around you.  You can put it out of your mind and comfort yourself with sexual pleasure, the dopamine hit that comes to your body as you browse.  Loved ones, that too is idolatry.  Porn takes created things and makes them of more worth than the Creator.  We’re finding comfort in this rather than finding comfort in God.  We’re worshipping this, rather than worshipping God.  Instead of God, this becomes our ultimate obsession. 

Here’s the thing about any type of idolatry:  it’s going to fail you.  It’s going to rot, it’s going to topple.  And if you’ve toyed with it, you’re going to go down with it.  Idolatry of any kind is ultimately spiritual self-destruction.  Brothers and sisters, we have to turn away from this and see that God is infinitely better, majestically incomparable.  God is always going to be there and he’s never going to topple, and those who look to him in faith will stand forever too. 

Perhaps there’s someone watching who’s feeling God’s Word sting them here this morning on this count.  Good – it means your conscience hasn’t yet been seared.  You can be thankful that you still feel the guilt of your sin.  Now, what are you going to do?  Here’s what God wants you to do: turn from that sin.  Hate it and flee from your idolatry.  Go to God and ask him to forgive you of your idolatry because of what Jesus Christ has done for you on the cross.  Jesus bore the wrath we deserve for our idolatry.  Through him, you can and will be forgiven.  Then see that idols don’t compare to God and they won’t get you through this crisis or any crisis.  Idols will fail you, but God never will.  Idols didn’t bring the Jews back from Babylon, God did.  And God will bring us restoration in every sense too.                

Back to our passage, and we’re looking at verses 22 to 24.  Here the Holy Spirit shows through Isaiah that people and their rulers don’t compare to God.  Earlier we saw that nations don’t compare – there we were looking at people from a big picture perspective.  Now we zoom in and look at individual people, and even certain types of people. 

There’s God, he sits above the “circle of the earth.”  Some have said that this shows that the Bible teaches that the earth is a globe.  However, it’s a reference to the horizon.  You look around 360 degrees at the horizon, it’s a circle.  God is enthroned above all that.  He’s looking down on it all from heaven. 

And what does he see?  If you were to go to Toronto, Canada’s largest city, you could go up in the CN Tower.  The public viewing area in the CN Tower is over 340 meters above the ground.  You could go to the Eureka Skydeck in Melbourne too -- that’s some 300 meters above the ground.  In either place, you would look down to the city streets and you could see people, but they’d be fairly tiny.  That’s the picture of people here in Isaiah 40.  God looks down from heaven and from his perspective, they’re like little grasshoppers.  That’s true of all individual people.

Now we look at God again and what do we see?  We see an awesome Creator.  He stretched out the heavens at creation.  He laid it all out.  That tells you of his power.  He had the power to arrange the elements at creation, and he still has the same power today.  His power never changes. 

That’s how he can bring the greatest of people to nothing.  This is in verses 23 and 24.  Princes and rulers (or judges) may appear to be great and powerful people.  But when compared to God, they’re powerless.  God brings them to nothing, he makes them like emptiness.  He has the power to humble the greatest of the great.  Verse 24 speaks of that too.  Isaiah says that when God decides they’re finished, they’re finished.  They’re blown away like stubble with the wind, just like that.  Before the great true God, they have no staying power.

There’s a great illustration of that from the time of the Jews in exile.  It’s in the book of Daniel.  You may remember how Nebuchadnezzar looked over Babylon.  He started feeling pretty proud of himself.  Babylon was all about him and all about his glory and majesty.  Then you know what happened.  God reduced him to an animal.  This great king Nebuchadnezzar went out of his mind.  He ate grass like an ox.  His hair grew long like eagle’s feathers and his nails were like the claws of a bird.  Eventually, he was restored to his kingdom, but only when he was ready to acknowledge God’s power and majesty.  God proved the truth of what he said earlier here in Isaiah 40 – he brings earthly royalty to nothing. 

The implication of that is that we should place our ultimate trust in God.  People will fail you.  But God is incomparable in his power and he’s your God.  It’s the same message as Psalm 146:3-4, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.  When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.”  That message was relevant for the Jews in Babylon.  They could have been tempted to trust in political power to set things right for them.  Instead, they were called to trust that God would be the one to set it right and bring them back to the Promised Land.

That message is relevant for us today too.  We have to remember that people are just people, even governments are only human.  Even though we have a Prime Minister [in Australia] who acknowledges God, who even professes to be a Christian, the Prime Minister is limited in what he can do and how he can help.  Many promises have been made and we’ll see if they’re kept – we hope they will.  But loved ones, ultimately, let’s put our trust in God to get us through.  You might doubt government, but never doubt God.  God will never let us down.  He has perfect plan in all of this and he has the perfect power to carry it out.  And it’s all going to work out for our good.  Put your trust in the majestically incomparable God and him only. 

Then last of all, in the last verse, the Holy Spirit tells us to raise our eyes to the sky.  Look up at the night sky.  What do you see?  If you’re out away from the city lights, you might be able to see 5,000 stars with your naked eye.  If you get a pair of binoculars, that goes up to 100,000 stars.  If you get a small telescope, you can see 5 million.  And even then, that’s just a small percentage of the total number of stars in the universe.  The largest known star bears the memorable name of WOH G64.  It’s probably at least 2000 times larger than the sun.  The sun is huge, WOH G64 is massive.  Then there are the galaxies.  On a nice clear evening, you can look up and see our galaxy, the Milky Way.  It’s a band of stars across the sky.  The Milky Way is about 100,000 light years in diameter.  A light year is the distance that light travels in a year, 9.46 trillion kilometers.  So with the Milky Way, its diameter is 100,000 times 9.46 trillion kilometers.  That’s mind-blowingly big.  But that pales in comparison with the largest known galaxy, IC 1101.  IC 1101 is over 200,000 light years in diameter.  And get this:  it’s estimated to have 100 trillion stars.  The universe is so vast and so impressive. 

Ancient peoples didn’t know a fraction of what we do and yet they found it all impressive too.  In fact, they found it so impressive that they worshipped the stars.  The Babylonians were well-known for doing this.  In Babylonian religion, the night sky was there to be worshipped and to be consulted.  They worshipped the stars, but they also went to the stars to find revelation about the future.  They practiced astrology.  In fact, in the Christmas story, the so-called “wise men” from Babylon were actually astrologers.  They were idol worshippers.        

God’s people were often tempted to do likewise.  The Bible tells us that sometimes they gave in to that temptation.  2 Kings 17 even says that the exile into Babylon happened because the Jews worshipped “all the host of heaven.”  They would have seen the Babylonians doing this in Babylon too.  But now God comes to them and says, “Enough of that.  It’s all worship of the creation, rather than the Creator.”  God reveals that even the most majestic elements of his creation, the stars and galaxies, they don’t compare to him.  He created them.  He brought them into existence, therefore he’s far greater than they are.  Verse 26 says that he brings them all out by number, calls them all by name, and because he is almighty God, not one of them is missing.  The picture is of a general commanding a military unit.  He’s doing roll call and they’re all there, and they’re all ready to obey his orders, the mighty commander in chief.  The starry host of heaven serve God – they’re just weak and little servants compared to their almighty Creator.

Now today we might not be tempted to worship the starry host above.  But the temptation to trust in astrology is definitely still there.  It used to be just in the newspaper, but now you also find astrology stuff, horoscopes and that kind of thing on social media.  A couple of years ago, some research was done on this in the United States.  The survey found that almost a third of American adults believe in astrology.  What was even more surprising was that 26% of people claiming to be Christians also said they believe in astrology.  Brothers and sisters, we need to be clear what God’s Word teaches on this.  It teaches that the stars and planets are incomparable to God.  Astrology and horoscopes and all that kind of stuff is sinful and wrong.  It’s evil because you’re looking for guidance from somewhere else other than God.  God made the stars and the planets, not so they could tell us our future and show us what we need to do, no, he made them so that we would see them and praise his incomparable majesty.  Astrology and horoscopes and all that are again putting the creation over the Creator.  It’s the overturning of what we read here in Isaiah 40.

You can see that there’s a moral thrust to this passage we’ve been looking at.  It’s the moral thrust of God’s law.  Specifically, this is really all about the First Commandment.  The First Commandment says, “You shall have no other gods before me.”  Don’t put your ultimate confidence or trust in anything or anyone other than the majestically incomparable God.  Whether it’s nations, idols in the form of statues or any other idols, people, rulers, the stars and planets, never, ever put creation over the Creator.  The Creator alone is God.  The Creator alone is worthy of your trust.  This is all on the lines of the First Commandment.

It’s good for us to remember how our Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled this perfectly in our place.  If you want to see the perfect picture of someone trusting God alone and regarding him perfectly as incomparable, look to Jesus.  He had a single-minded focus on following God.  And always remember that he did this in our place.  His obedience is ours when we believe in him. 

And also take comfort again from the cross.  For all the times that you haven’t regarded God as incomparable, you have the blood that flowed from Jesus at Golgotha.  It fully pays the penalty you owe.  We’ve all failed in regarding God as he should be regarded and trusting him as he should be trusted.  But that cross proclaims peace to us.  As we look in faith to the one who hung on it, the cross announces that it’s all taken care of.  We have peace with God through the blood shed by our Saviour.

Let’s also then move on in being so impressed with God that we love him and want to always trust him above all.  Let’s pay closer attention to the Word and what it says about who God is and what he does.  He’s majestically incomparable.  Whatever God’s people are facing, whether it’s an exile in Babylon, or an exile from public worship here, he’ll get us through.  Keep trusting him, brothers and sisters.  AMEN.

PRAYER

O God our Father,

You are majestically incomparable.  No one and nothing stands over you.  You are the Creator of the universe, the Creator of the stars and planets, our Creator.  No one even comes close to being like you.  You deserve worship and obedience forever.  O God, we confess that we’ve often failed in seeing your greatness and have failed in trusting you as we should.  Please forgive us through Christ.  Please look upon as we are in him, as we trust in Jesus and his perfect obedience for us, and his work on the cross for us.  With your Holy Spirit, please lead us to hate our idols and flee from them.  Also now as we face trials and challenges, please help us to find our comfort and strength in you alone.  We need your help and so we look to you and plead for it.  Lord, have mercy on us today and in the days ahead.            

                            




* 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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