Waiting in Hope

by Pastor Doug Stratton — April 26, 2020

Isaiah 40:21-31

Isaiah 40:21-31

Do you not know? Have you not heard?

        Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?

        Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?  

        [22] It is He who sits above the vault of the earth,

        And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,

        Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain 

        And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.  

        [25] “To whom then will you liken Me 

        That I should be his equal?” says the Holy One.  

        [26] Lift up your eyes on high 

        And see who has created these stars, 

        The One who leads forth their host by number,

        He calls them all by name;

        Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power 

        Not one of them is missing.

       [27] Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD,

        And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”?  

        [28] Do you not know? Have you not heard?

        The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth 

        Does not become weary or tired.

        His understanding is inscrutable.  

        [29] He gives strength to the weary,

        And to him who lacks might He increases power.  

        [30] Though youths grow weary and tired,

        And vigorous young men stumble badly,  

        [31] Yet those who wait for the LORD 

        Will gain new strength;

        They will mount up with wings like eagles,

        They will run and not get tired,

        They will walk and not become weary.

Central Idea: Our hope is renewed when we remember God’s faithfulness.

– Judah’s story of hope restored

The Nation of Judah was in a bad way.  It was around 540 BC.  200 years before this time the nation of Israel had been destroyed because of their disobedience.  Following their being sent away, Judah, the southern Kingdom continued on it’s sinful path.  There were revivals, but they were short lived.  The people believed that they were God’s chosen ones and so nothing bad could happen to them.  And then along came the prophet Jeremiah and his words were not comforting.  In chapter 1 we read: “The LORD said to me, “From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land.  [15] I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms,” declares the LORD.

 “Their kings will come and set up their thrones

        in the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem;

    they will come against all her surrounding walls

        and against all the towns of Judah.”  

And then in the 4th chapter he said:

    “I looked at the earth,

        and it was formless and empty;

    and at the heavens,

         and their light was gone.  

    [24] I looked at the mountains,

        and they were quaking;

        all the hills were swaying.  

    [25] I looked, and there were no people;

        every bird in the sky had flown away.  

    [26] I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert;

        all its towns lay in ruins before the LORD,

        before his fierce anger.

These were God’s words to the people.  Not words of comfort!  The worst part was, they came true.  The land was decimated, the people scattered, the crops destroyed and even the temple, God’s dwelling, leveled.   50 years has passed since the destruction of Jerusalem.  A lifetime!  Only a very few were still living who could remember the old days. Their prayers had become cries for mercy. How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people? 

They had been uprooted, they had been persecuted and even put to death for praying.  They had been forced to adopt the practices of their neighbors and worst of all, there had been no offerings for sin because the temple was destroyed.

Early in the exile, it was thought that it might be temporary, perhaps God would lead them out like he did the slaves in Egypt, but as time passed, the thoughts of being restored as a nation faded, and hope dimmed.   David’s kingdom was now a distant memory and there was no hope in the minds of the people that things would ever change.

And then, like a voice from the past, the words of Isaiah 40 were heard.  Comfort, comfort my people says your God, Speak kindly to Jerusalem that her warfare has ended and her iniquity has been removed.

When the people first heard the word, they were not very sure.  Hope is a hard thing to rebuild!  How could God, who had spoken with such anger now speak words of comfort?

And yet the words of hope began to resound in their hearts.  

        [28] Do you not know? Have you not heard?

        The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth 

        Does not become weary or tired.

        His understanding is inscrutable.  

         [29] He gives strength to the weary,

        And to him who lacks might He increases power. 

After waiting a lifetime, suddenly, a tiny candle was lit, hope was rekindled and slowly that hope became a flame and wonder of miraculous wonders, the nation was reborn! 

Today, many are hoping for our nation to be reborn. We have been shut down, it seems like it has been a long time, this is the 7th week that we have not met as a congregation! We have only had contact through technology or in twos or threes. We long to return to the place we have known. I have heard some who have begun asking, in the words of Psalm 80, “How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?” We have been exiled from our building for 6 weeks, the Jews in Babylon were exiled from their homes for 70 years. How long, O Lord? When might we know restoration?

– Jubilee and restoration

When the Law was given to the people, Justice was the key point throughout.  Punishment was never to be unfair, it may be harsh but it was always in keeping with the crime.  Offerings were called for based on income so no one was left out of worship.  And once each lifetime, during the year of Jubilee, the playing field was to be leveled when debts were canceled, slaves set free and people’s identity, which was wrapped up in their property was restored.  Jubilee was a time for hope.  It was a time for starting over.  I was a time of new beginnings. It was a reset of the social order. Jubilee! For the Jew, it was all their hopes wrapped up into one time. 

Scholars have suggested that one way Jews interpreted the Exile was through Sabbath and Jubilee. Every 7 years the land was to lay fallow, and every 50th year the land was return to its original family owners. Neither practice was followed, so the Exile of 70 years was God’s way of forcing the earth’s Sabbath, and the return was the Jubilee!

Our world today is in a period of Sabbath. Only those businesses that are necessary to life are being permitted. Just as was true for the Sabbath. For the pre-exilic Jew, the Sabbath was not observed in the Synagogue or even the temple, it was observed at home, and only life sustaining work was permitted, just as we see today. It is a long Sabbath, and waiting for it to end is difficult, but friends we are 6 weeks, the Jews were 70 years.  

Wait on the Lord for the Lord will act. We are looking for the Jubilee that will arise from our long Sabbath. 

Our world is filled with impatience, helplessness, and hopelessness.  Sometimes relationships getting hard. The isolation is becoming deep.

But hear Isaiah’s words of comfort.     

        [28] Do you not know? Have you not heard?

        The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth 

        Does not become weary or tired.

        His understanding is inscrutable.  

        [29] He gives strength to the weary,

        And to him who lacks might He increases power.  

        [30] Though youths grow weary and tired,

        And vigorous young men stumble badly,  

        [31] Yet those who wait for the LORD 

        Will gain new strength;

        They will mount up with wings like eagles,

        They will run and not get tired,

        They will walk and not become weary.

I asked earlier if this lockdown is an answer to prayer. This passage has been set to song, and it is dearly loved in this congregation and around the world. The final line in the song is a prayer: “Teach me Lord, Teach me Lord, to wait.”

How different would this time be in your life if you were to look at it as God’s answer to your prayer? Teach me Lord, Teach me to wait upon you. 

May God use this time to renew our strength that we might run and not grow weary, that we may walk and not faint. 

Jubilee is coming, this Sabbath is preparing us.

~ Pastor Doug