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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:To whom will you liken God?
Text:Isaiah 40:12-31 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Providence
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-07-11
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 97:3,4                                                                                            

Ps 115:2,5                                                                                          

Reading – Isaiah 40

Ps 89:1,3

Sermon – Isaiah 40:12-31

Hy 54:1,2,6,7,8

Hy 13:1,2,3,4,5

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


Beloved in Christ, there’s a lot of power in a good question. Because sometimes a question is so pointed that it leaves no possible answer but absolute truth—there’s no wiggle room, there can be no hesitation, just plain truth.

In the Bible there’s lots of questions like this. Think of the powerful questions in Romans 8, like verse 31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Or verse 35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” You can only answer those questions with the affirmation that nobody can stand against us, and nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ.

There’s many questions near the end of the book of Job too. Then the LORD confronts lowly mortals with his greatness as Creator. Think of Job 38:4, God’s hard and humbling question: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” Not much Job could say to that. He has to be silent before the LORD’s majesty.

In our chapter too, we find a whole series of questions. Much of Isaiah 40 is written in the style of a debate, with arguments being put forward and considered. Many questions are asked, and many must be answered with a ‘nobody’ or a ‘nothing.’ Like the question, “To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him?” (40:18; cf. v 25). There’s a lot of power in that question, because the answer is that God is incomparable, unique, singular.

Isaiah asks all these questions for a reason. Isaiah 40 is the chapter of ‘comfort, comfort’ for God’s people, for God will deliver. One day He’ll bring them back from exile and restore them. But this was a hard truth for Judah to accept. Maybe it seemed like God’s hands were tied. He wasn’t able to prevent the Babylonians from capturing the land in the first place, so was He really going to be able to bring his people home?

And Isaiah’s answer is simple but profound: to put the spotlight onto God’s character. Like in verse 5, “The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” God is going to show his majesty, reveal his greatness. God can save, and not just because He is greater than Babylon’s many gods. He can save, because God is the only God!

To whom shall the LORD be made equal? There really is none who can compare with him! And when we really see that truth, and we accept it, then we’ll be comforted in all our trouble, our sin and brokenness. I preach God’s Word from Isaiah 40:12-31 on this theme,            

To whom will you liken God?

  1. He is Lord of creation
  2. He is Lord of the nations
  3. He is Lord of his people

 

1) He is Lord of creation: We said that our chapter asks a lot of questions. And that’s how our text begins in verse 12, with a set of questions meant to bring the reader to the point of confessing that the LORD is the only creator: “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, measured heaven with a span and calculated the dust of the earth in a measure? Weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?”

Isaiah speaks here about the totality of the creation, the world in its vast extent. Picture the prophet standing on a high hill, with the slowly swelling ocean in front of him, the circle of sky above him, a range of mountains and hills and plains behind him—and he says that all of it, the seas and the dry land, the heavens and the earth, have been made by God.

And when God made it all, it was like the LORD was working as a master craftsman at his workbench. He measured and He poured; He calculated and he shaped—all was his to mould after his own will. With intimate attention, He brought everything into being.

So at once we’re confronted with our own limitations and powerlessness next to Almighty God. When we make our way through this world, we sometimes feel significant and valuable. But Scripture says we’re but tiny players on a massive stage; we are travellers passing through who will soon be forgotten. We can’t control anything, nor have any permanent impact on the world we live in. We are the moved, rather than the movers. But God is greater. He holds all creation in his hand: stirring up the storms, shaking the earth, generating ocean currents and sending the wind. He’s a great God—and here’s the good news message—in Christ, He is our God.

Another question: “Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, or as his counselor has taught him?” (v 13). In the ancient world, the gods of the nations weren’t usually imagined to be all-knowing. They had power and ability—that’s why people prayed to them, after all—but the gods also needed help. So the gods would have a counsel of lesser beings to advise them, even humans to assist them. ‘Why don’t you try this? Have you thought of this?’

Today too, we put a high value on collaboration. Everyone needs the input of others, benefits from guidance and accountability. There’s a lot of truth to that. But God is different. He requires no counsellor, no advisory body, because He is infinitely knowledgeable, and his wisdom is unsearchable.

“With whom did He take counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of justice? Who taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?” (v 14). Do you hear the answer that’s implied? Nobody gave counsel to God or helped God to see the truth. His wisdom has always been perfect, for He is Lord of creation, its Master and King—and eternal, one who sees the end from the beginning.

That’s an encouragement when we think about how the LORD manages this world and how He directs our lives. In all He does, in all He decides, His understanding is flawless. He always knows what is the best path for us to take, and He always sure on the destination. He will bring us there, and it will be good.

There’s many occasions when we might question that, like Judah must have. Especially hardship makes us question God’s wisdom. Is this exile thing such a good idea? Did the temple really have to be demolished? Or what’s the good that can possibly come out of this heartbreak? Am I only drifting, or is God leading me to a clear purpose? You can trust that He is. He needs no teacher, He has no need for your input. His plan for you is without mistake and it is good.

We’ve been saying that there was plenty of things in Judah’s situation to discourage and intimidate them. This can be all that we see too, things on our own horizon, our own level, like these family problems, or this besetting sin, or these cruel enemies. Then we need to look up and see the Lord of creation: “Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things, who brings out their host by number” (v 26).

How different our view on life would be if we were quicker to look up and to remember God, the Lord of all. Because looking up with the eyes of faith, we get an immediate reminder of his glory: there is a God, He made all, and He governs all—for us.

This is how verse 22 describes his glory: “[He] stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.” Probably the most impressive part of God’s creation will always be the heavens, the sky and stars and planets above us. There’s nothing quite like the night sky to make us feel small.

But to the great God, Isaiah says, these magnificent heavens are like the curtains in our living room, easily pushed back and tucked away. To God, even the glorious sky is like his tent: a humble home for the Lord, put up and taken down at his will. ‘Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these things.’ The Lord of creation can intervene and shape and manage as He pleases.

And the care of God is personal. He is not a distant executive, seated in his corner office, content to read reports from his employees. God the Lord is near! Speaking of God’s creation of the stars, Isaiah says, “He calls them all by name, by the greatness of his might and the strength of his power; not one is missing” (v 26). There’s something like 100 billion stars in the galaxy, but there is neither one more nor one less than God determines.

So think of the care God takes for us. We’re not on the same level as those most impressive stars—we are far more exalted than they, for we are created in God’s image. And God even redeemed us in the precious blood of his Son. For Jesus’s sake, He knows each of us by name, and by the greatness of his might and the strength of his power, not one of his elect will ever be missing. For God cannot forget. He cannot falter. He cannot change. He cannot be unfaithful to his promise. To whom then, will you liken God? He is Lord of creation, and Lord of the nations.

 

2) He is Lord of the nations: In the time of Isaiah, Judah was often fretting about the nations. What was Syria up to? Would Egypt come to the rescue? When would Assyria invade? Not much has changed today. The nations cause distress: What if China gets aggressive? How can Russia be restrained? Will our country remain a friendly place for the church?

Here too, we face our vulnerability. We don’t have a lot of say in domestic politics. On the global scene, we’re very susceptible to the shifts in world economics or government. But our God is greater. Verse 15: “Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket, and are counted as the small dust on the scales. Look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing.” Isaiah lets us see the true picture of God’s sovereignty. The Lord holds the very seas in his hand, so what are the nations? They are just a drop of water, splashing out of your cleaning bucket onto the bathroom floor—a drop soon dried and disappeared. The Lord lifts the islands like they were nothing, so what are the nations? They’re just a bit of dust, wiped from the bathroom weigh scales, too insignificant to even register.

As verse 17 puts it, “All nations before him are as nothing, and they are counted by him less than nothing and worthless.” Now, it doesn’t always seem like this. Some countries are very impressive, with populations into the billions, with an influence that reaches into every corner of the globe, with military strength that makes other nations hesitate to do anything to oppose them. From Washington to Moscow to Beijing, there are nations who are great in their own eyes. But what are they before God? Light and fleeting and soon forgotten, while our God reigns!

So when God looks down on the earth, what are all peoples to him? Verse 22 answers: “Its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.” When you tower over the beetles and centipedes in your backyard, you get a brief sense of power. You could crush this insect with no effort at all, destroy this ant hill with one tap of your foot. Such is the greatness of God, before whom all people are like insects: fragile and totally under his control.

Likewise for their presidents and prime ministers. God is not intimated by them and their pretensions: “He brings the princes to nothing; He makes the judges of the earth useless” (v 23). To God, even the mightiest men and women are like plants which quickly fade away: “Scarcely shall they be planted, scarcely shall they be sown, scarcely shall their stock take root in the earth, when He will also blow on them, and they will wither” (v 24).

Fearful Judah knew all this, of course. They’d been taught the ways of the Lord, just as we have. God had always revealed himself as the Almighty God, the great and only King, the LORD of hosts. In that sense, Isaiah 40 was nothing new—it was unchanging truth given a fresh look. We know it too. What is so much of Isaiah 40 but the simple teaching of Lord’s Day 10, about God’s providence, his almighty and ever-present power by which He upholds and governs all things with his powerful hand?

But Judah needed to review these truths, like we do. Look at verse 21: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?” More questions, with more obvious answers. ‘Yes, you do know this, Judah. You’ve heard this before. I’ve told you this from the beginning. But now you need to believe it.’

God speaks this to reassure his people, to adjust our vision so we have a clear view of the world: the nations are as nothing to God, their populations are like grasshoppers in his eyes, and their princes like fading flowers. So be encouraged! Do not fear. Do not plot how you can get out of this. But keep your gazed fixed on the glory of God.

This remains our constant need, to take all our good theology and to live it. We can become anxious about many things, like what the future is going to be like for the church in this land. Or about the godless movements sweeping Western nations, when good is called evil, and evil is called good. We fret about the kind of world that our grandchildren will grow up in. We might even say, ‘I’m glad I won’t be around to see where this all ends up. It’s going to be bad.’

And then God says to us, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning?” Have you forgotten that God sits above the earth, that its inhabitants are like insects before him? To whom can you liken God, or with whom will He be equal? No one, and nothing. He is sovereign. He is faithful. He is unchanging. So you can trust in God, always. And you should worship him with all your heart.

For this holy God is worthy of more worship than anyone could ever give. Verse 16 says, “Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor its beasts sufficient for a burnt offering.” God is so great that even all the mighty forests of Lebanon wouldn’t create a sufficient bonfire for his altar. God is so great that there isn’t a stockyard in all the earth which would have enough animals for sacrifice to him.

And nothing that a human gives is capable of putting God in your debt—not your money, not your prayers, not all your suffering—for He alone is Lord. Yet here is the wonder of God’s grace: that He delights in the adoration of his people, that for Jesus’s sake this glorious God seeks a relationship with lowly sinners like us!

 

3) He is Lord of his people: If all this is true about God, then there’s only one response that He seeks. That’s where Isaiah is going with all this. As he asks in verse 18, “To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to him?” That question admits only one answer: God is incomparable, and you must serve him alone!

That’s an important point in our chapter. If God is Lord of all creation, and Lord of the nations, then his people should never put our trust in idols. The temptation of false gods remained very real for Judah—for us too. When you’re feeling the pinch, getting desperate, some visible, tangible, controllable security seems like a great idea. And that’s what the gods of the nations offered: if you bring a gift, offer a sacrifice, pray a prayer, the gods will show favour.

So idol-making was big business in Judah. Verse 19: “The workman molds an image, the goldsmith overspreads it with gold, and the silversmith casts silver chains.” Selecting quality wood and carving it, overlaying with precious metals, setting up a shrine—an idol could look impressive, like something who just might help you in your hour of need.

But will you really compare God to an idol made by a craftsman? That is laughable, and it should be laughable to us too. Will you really trust in something that God created, rather than God himself? Will you really find hope in your money, or your body, or the praise of other people? There is nothing there but things that God made, or God provided. There’s no power but human power—soon fading.

Instead, we know that God is the only Lord of his people, the only Refuge we need, the only Saviour. Yet we’re always ready to doubt the greatness of God. Isaiah here anticipates what the exiles will be thinking as they languish in Babylon. They’ll conclude that God has forsaken them, given up on them. The prophet confronts their low view of God: “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel: ‘My way is hidden from the LORD, and my just claim is passed over by my God?’” (v 27). It’s true, isn’t it? When we’re pressed and anxious, the reality of God’s care can seem so distant. Is God really with me still? Does He actually watch over my way?

Then we have to remember the truth. We have learned it, and we need to learn it again: “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” (v 28). How can you not know this, Isaiah asks? God is faithful, and He will certainly do something about your trouble. So rest in him: “The everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary.” If you are looking for help, don’t turn to your idols, but know that God is eager to give his aid: “He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength” (v 29).

And that is where we all need to go for our strength. For the truth is that even the most vigorous things in creation cannot keep themselves going. Think of young men and women in the prime of life, when they are energetic and ambitious and nothing slows them down. Maybe that’s how we all like to imagine ourselves, even as we get older: that we’re capable and competent, always able to pull it off.

But “even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall” (v 30). For all of us, the time will come when our natural resources fail. We will reach the end of ourselves—and the sooner we reach that point, the better. ‘I am not able. Not sufficient. Not strong. I am a sinner who deserves nothing.’

In that spirit, we come to God with great expectations. Because the holy God has copious blessings to give to those who hope in him: “Those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength” (v 31). Remember, that’s the central question of our life: Where do we put our trust? And the LORD is the only one worthy. So wait on him!

To wait on God is to live with the confident expectation that He will take action on our behalf, and He’ll do it when the time is right. His understanding is perfect, remember? His wisdom is unsearchable, and his love for us is true. He showed his love for us beyond any doubt at the cross, when He sent his only Son. We know this God and his glory! So waiting on God is refusing to run ahead of him and solve our own problems. But we trust in him.

And those who do “shall mount up with wings like eagles.” Like birds of prey riding the drafts of the wind, soaring with no apparent effort—in like manner, God will lift us up. It doesn’t depend on our effort. It doesn’t even depend on our faith. But it depends on God. Those who are filled with his strength, those who know his grace in Christ Jesus, “shall run and not be weary.” Those who go with the Lord “shall walk and not faint” (v 31).

Have you not know this, beloved? Have you not heard it? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Our God is the Almighty Creator, glorious King, and our loving Father in Christ Jesus. He is faithful. He is good. He is gracious. To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to him? He is the Lord of all creation, the Lord of the nations, and the Lord of his people. So wait on him, and He will renew your strength.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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