Comfort, Proclaim, Wonder, and Renew

Comfort, Proclaim, Wonder, and Renew

Pastor Doug Stratton – July 9, 2017

Isaiah 40:1-2, 9-12, 27-31    

Isaiah 40       The book of Isaiah, 66 chapters, is written to 3 distinct audiences at three distinct periods of time. The first, which generally covers chapters 1-39, is written to the nation of Judah just before the Northern Kingdom, Israel, was destroyed. The second is written to the people the Jews, who are living exile after the destruction of Jerusalem. This portion is written to people at the time King Cyrus came to power and opened the doors to the Jews returning to their homes. This section is chapter 40-55. The third part of Isaiah, chapters 56-66 is written to people who are returning, but are not finding the victory they had expected. Today we will be looking at the beginning of the second part of Isaiah, chapter 40, it is a poem of comfort, call, challenge, and renewal.

Comfort, comfort my people,

says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and proclaim to her

that her hard service has been completed,

that her sin has been paid for,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand

double for all her sins.

You who bring good news to Zion,

go up on a high mountain.

You who bring good news to Jerusalem,[a]

lift up your voice with a shout,

lift it up, do not be afraid;

say to the towns of Judah,

“Here is your God!”

See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,

and he rules with a mighty arm.

See, his reward is with him,

and his recompense accompanies him.

He tends his flock like a shepherd:

He gathers the lambs in his arms

and carries them close to his heart;

he gently leads those that have young.

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,

or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?

Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,

or weighed the mountains on the scales

and the hills in a balance?

Why do you complain, Jacob?

Why do you say, Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord;

my cause is disregarded by my God”?

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

CCI: In times of change comfort, witness, challenge and renewal are essential if we are to know the joy God has in store for us.

Intro to Series: A number of weeks ago, I invited each of you to share your favorite scripture with me. When I have done this in the past, many texts from Jesus’ teaching and from Paul’s letters would be shared. But something interesting happened this year. Every one of the favorite texts shared, have been scriptures taken from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. In addition, most of these have come from the prophets who wrote during and after the Exile of the Jews. At first I was surprised by that, but as I thought about it, I have begun to understand why. The time leading up to and during the Exile was one of the most divided periods in Israel’s history. Religious leaders were divided on how to support the rulers, the rich kept getting richer while the poor were getting poorer, violence and injustice were epidemic. The time leading up to the Exile was very similar to the days we are living in our own land. And so today, the challenges and the promises of the prophets speak directly to where we live today.

The text we just read, as I mentioned earlier was written to Jews who were nearing the end of the Exile.

When Jerusalem was destroyed, the educated and wealthy and rulers of the land were put in chains and taken to Babylon. As the years passed, the people began to settle into their new homes. As Jeremiah had commanded them, they built homes, raised families, found wives and built a new life.

But then Babylon was attacked, and the home that they had known for the last two generations was overthrown by the Persian Empire. Once again it looked like the Jews would become the object of persecution. There was fear in their hearts. Fear of the loss of your home or family is one of the greatest fears children and I believe adults experience. Infants fear separation. Toddler’s fear being lost from parents. The Loss of home and family can be terrifying. And now after 2 generations, the Jews were facing the loss of their homes again. A new ruler was in charge, and Cyrus, who had conquered kingdoms throughout the Mediterranean, caused fear to rise in the hearts and minds of the Jews.

To these people, the prophet sends a message of Comfort, Proclamation, Wonder, and Renewal. And these are the very messages we need today as we face uncertainty, division, poverty and injustice.

“Comfort, oh, comfort my people,” says your God. What does it mean to offer comfort? So often we think when people are hurting around us we need to fix their hurt. Perhaps you have tried to comfort a husband whose wife has left him. You assure him that it will be OK. But it isn’t words that deny the pain don’t bring healing. I have heard aunts and uncles tell children whose parents have died that their parent left because “Jesus needed her in heaven.” Later the child who had left the church when he grew said, “If Jesus would take my mother from me because he needed her more than me, then I did not want anything to do with this Jesus.” This is not comforting.

Comforting is not platitudes or empty assurances. Rather comfort is about identifying with people in their hurt and pain. To comfort is to acknowledge the deep hurt. To comfort is to listen and to be silent.

Heidi was a missionary kid who was sent to a mission school far from her family. One day, when she was in 5th grade she wrote the following letter to her parents:

“My two first-grade roommates are fine. They gave me the biggest bear hug tonight. But I will explain one of my very hard nights. I’m homesick, Mom. I was woken up by loud crying. Julie was crying really hard; she’d flooded the bed. Aunt Janice (the housemother) changed the sheets. I’d just gone back to sleep when Esther woke me up.

“She was homesick. I got her to sleep finally. Then Julie woke me up again, homesick, and I helped her get back to sleep. And drifting off, I heard Julie crying again. She’d thrown up, and Aunt Janice was asleep, so I woke her up, and she had to turn on the light and change the sheets. I finally got to sleep.

“Last night somebody woke me up so homesick that I crept into bed, and we held each other. Even though it’s a pain sometimes, I like to be known as the comforter.”

  To be a comforter is to be present when needs arise and to listen to the cries of those around you.

But the Prophet also proclaimed good news. He had good news to share! God was going to rescue his people. While the King of Babylon had taken the Jews into exile, there was now a new King. Persia had defeated Babylon and King Cyrus was the new ruler of the new nation. When Cyrus established his throne in Babylon, he issued a decree that changed everything for the Exiles. We can read his decree in the last verse of 2 Chronicles 36, “‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up, and may the Lord their God be with them.’”

This was a message to proclaim. This was good news! The Prophet was told to go up on a high mountain, to shout, “Here is your God!”

We have good news that will comfort and give hope. But often we keep it to ourselves. Sometimes we think we are secret agent Christians, trying to hide our identity. But we have good news! We have news that will comfort the broken hearted, offer direction to the lost, give purpose to those who are searching, and bring justice to the oppressed. It is a message of peace and joy and love and meaning.

Our God is at work and when we see God at work, we need to point it out and say, “Here is your God!” When God answers prayer in your life, declare to the world, “Here is your God!” When God meets  your needs, shout, “Here is your God!” If we would make a difference in our world, we must be willing to proclaim what God has done in our lives.

And then the prophet drew the attention of the people to wonder. Joshua Harris in his book Dug Down Deep wrote: I knew a girl who used to think the stars were tiny specks of light just over her head. I’m not kidding. And she wasn’t in grade school when she believed this. She was in college. She was a really sweet, kind, redhead who spoke almost perfect Spanish. She was intelligent in many ways. But one day in a conversation she mentioned that she had just learned that stars in the night sky were actually really far away. I asked her what she meant. She said, “You know, they’re not just right up there. They’re not just tiny dots. They’re really far away.”

       I was incredulous.

“What did you think they were before?” I asked.

“I thought they were, you know, just right up above us.”

If you were to ask me why it matters that we study the doctrine of God, I’d say for the same reason that it’s worth knowing that stars are not tiny pinpricks of light just above our heads. When we know the truth about God, it fills us with wonder. If we fail to understand his true character, we’ll never be amazed by him. We’ll never feel small as we stare up at him. We’ll never worship him as we ought. We’ll never run to him for refuge or realize the great love he’s shown in the measureless distance he bridged to rescue us.”

This is why the prophet proclaimed wonder. “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,. . .” This is our God! The God who sustains us, who knows us, who provides for us and who loves us. Proclaim his name and wonder at his worth.

But friends, even when we have embraced God’s comfort and have stepped out to proclaim God name and have discovered the wonder and awe of God’s work, we can still grow weary. I spoke to a man yesterday who said, “I love my job, I like caring for people, but I guess compassion fatigue is a real thing.” And it is. The symptoms of Compassion Fatigue are several. When we have been depleted by constant giving, we will begin to isolate ourselves. When we feel like all we do is give, we push down our own feelings, after all the people around us need us to be strong, but eventually we become subject to emotional outbursts because the body and mind can only keep things inside for so long. There can be physical symptoms, headaches, depression, ulcers, backaches, and frequent infections. These are stress related as we seek to give, give, and give some more.

When we fall into this kind of fatigue it feels as though God is not present with us. At times, we think we are all alone. That is when God reminds us that he is always with us. “He will not grow tired or weary” God does not get tired of pursuing us, or of calling us, or of providing for us.

And so God calls us to hope, to wait with expectant patience. The story is told of the European explorer who was journeying into the wilds of Kentucky many years ago. He was on a tight schedule. He had an Indian guide who knew the land well and assured him that he could get him to his destination on time. The explorer pushed forward urging his guide on. Until with no explanation, the old Indian guide sat down and refused to move any further. The explorer urged him on, but he would not move. Suddenly, once again, for no apparent reason the guide stood up and started walking again.

The explorer asked what had happened and the guide simply said, “We were moving so fast, I had to sit down and let my soul catch up with my body.” And that is the message of the Prophet.

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

Whether we are young or old, we will grow weary. But when we put our patient hope in the Lord; when we slow down enough to let our souls catch up; when we become aware of our need for renewal, the Lord will renew us, the Lord will give us strength, the Lord will make us run, the Lord will guide us as we walk.

So today, know Comfort, Proclaim Good News, Wonder at the love and nature of our God, and be Renewed as you hope in patience for God to act.

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