Behold Our God

Original Date: 
Sunday, August 16, 2015
Series: 

Isaiah 40:9-25 Behold Our God!

Vision Sunday
We usually designate the 3rd and 4th Sundays of August as Vision Sundays. As we look at the church calendar, we see these two days as the start of the new church year. School will be back in session soon. Vacations are coming to an end. We’ll be starting a new cycle of Sunday School and Youth Ministry and worship teams soon. So I’ve tried to use these Sundays to cast vision for the coming year and try to set the tone for our work as a church. The last couple of years we’ve focused on themes or goals for us as a church, and we’ll do that again this year on August 30.

But at the same time, Jay has been encouraging me to go back to our Mission statement as a church and just remind us all of why we are here. I think that’s a good idea. And so this week and next I want us to focus on our mission statement, the statement we put on our church signs and our church letterhead.

Here’s what it says, this is our reason for existing as a church:

We are here to bring joy to Jesus and to experience joy in Him.

It was 8 years ago that we introduced this mission statement. On a Vision Sunday in August much like this. We often shorten the statement to four words: Bring Joy, Experience Joy. We talk about being a church of joy.

Many of you were here when we first introduced this phrase. And many of you are new to our church in the last 8 years. But I think it would be good for us all to take some time to reflect on what this statement is saying and how it drives the life of our church.

Because, I’ll be the first to admit, it is not always immediately obvious what this phrase means. Especially when we reduce it to “Bring Joy; Experience Joy.” What does it mean to “bring joy”? Am I supposed to bring someone named Joy to church? Am I supposed to be always deliriously happy when I’m here? Is it my job to try to cheer up the people around me?

I want to remind you that the idea is that we are here to bring joy to Jesus. In other words: we see our purpose as a church in pleasing Him. Doing what Jesus would have us do. Honoring Him. Worshipping Him. Submitting to His leadership. Following Him. Above all else, we want to be a church that puts its focus on Jesus.

In truth, our mission statement is just a re-working of the first question and answer of the Westminster Catechism. The Westminster Catechism is a summary of the Christian faith prepared in 1647. Like the Heidelberg Catechism, it presents a Reformed understanding of Christianity. And its first question and answer reads like this:

What is the chief end of man?

    Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

Our statement: “We are here to bring joy to Jesus and to experience joy in Him” is an attempt to capture the idea of this answer. When you get right down to it, the reason any of us exist—the meaning of life—is to glorify God. Or, to put it another way, to bring joy to Him. And the best way to accomplish that is to enjoy Him forever. To find our comfort and joy in Him. As John Piper has famously stated it: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

So, this week and next, I want to focus on the two parts of our mission statement. This week I want to talk about bringing joy to Jesus. Next week I’ll talk about experiencing joy in Him.

Big God
And to talk about bringing joy to Jesus, I want to talk about seeing Him for who He is. I believe we will be driven to glorify God if we can only get a clear picture of Him. So, to do that, I want us to turn to Isaiah 40. Interestingly enough, when I first arrived as pastor of Hope Church, 8 years ago this last June, it was Isaiah 40 which I used as the text for my first four sermons. I wanted us to start our ministry together with a picture of a Big God. So as we revisit our Mission Statement, I thought it would be good for us to go back to this great text.

Let’s start with Isaiah 40:9:

9You who bring good tidings to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”

In the King James Version of the Bible, that last line reads as “Behold your God!” Isaiah is writing to Israelites in exile. They are discouraged and discomforted. They are doubting God and even questioning their faith in Him. So Isaiah says: “Stop! Take a look at God! Let me remind you of who He is!” In the next 15 verses or so he paints a picture of a God who is worthy of our worship.

We’re going to look at those 15 verses, and we’re going get a good look at God. And here’s my theory, here’s why we’re looking at these verses today: When we see God for who He is, it becomes our deepest desire to bring joy to Him. We’re going to see the greatness of God so that are moved to live for Him.

So let me read the text. Isaiah 40, I’ll start at verse 10:

10See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power,
and his arm rules for him.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
11He 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.
12 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?
13 Who has understood the mind of the LORD,
or instructed him as his counselor?
14 Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge
or showed him the path of understanding?

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires,
nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.
17 Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing.

18 To whom, then, will you compare God?
What image will you compare him to?
19 As for an idol, a craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and fashions silver chains for it.
20 A man too poor to present such an offering
selects wood that will not rot.
He looks for a skilled craftsman
to set up an idol that will not topple.

21 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 "To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One.

Bigger than Idols
So, I want you to see God clearly today. 4 things I want you to see. 4 things I want you to behold. First: Behold our God who is bigger than we can imagine. Verse 12:

12 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?

God is the biggest.

Have you ever cupped water in your hand? You didn’t have a glass, but you wanted a drink, so you stuck your hand under the faucet and caught some water and then you slurped it up. How much water do you get? How many times do you need to cup your hand before you’ve had enough to drink?

You don’t get much water in there. But, Isaiah says that God cups his hand and He measures out the oceans. He scoops up some water and there’s the Pacific. He scoops up some more and there’s the Atlantic. The Indian. The Arctic. They’re just drops of water in God’s hand.

Or, again, He marks off the heavens with the breadth of his hand. You know what this is, don’t you? I’ve seen some handymen work this way. You’re cutting some boards, and you don’t have a tape measure handy, so you measure it off with your hand. From finger tip to base of thumb. One, two, three hands…cut. Close enough. Well, that’s how God works, only He’s not measuring boards. He’s marking off the heavens.

Think of that. I read in the paper a while back that scientists in Canada have discovered a planet that actually heats its sun. There’s a planet out there revolving around a star, but the planet is actually warmer than the star—so warm it causes solar flares on the star. The paper said the planet is a gas giant 250 times larger than the earth and that this phenomenon can be found 90 million light years away. Our universe is varied and immense.

And God walks up to all this immensity—all these planets and stars and galaxies, 90 million light years—and He measures it with the span of His hand.

Or, again, He holds the dust of the earth in a basket. All of the dust and sand in the world—all of the dust in the Sahara and Malibu and all of the other deserts and beaches in the world—and He packs it in a little fanny pack strapped around His waist.

He weighs out the mountains. He balances hills on the scales. The Rockies, Andes, and Appalachians on one side; the Himalayas, the Atlas, and Urals on the other side. Huge mountains are like one ounce weight markers to our God.

The point is, as enormous and vast as creation is—we can hardly conceive of the size of the universe, how could we imagine anything bigger?—as huge as creation is, God manipulates and puts it all together like a craftsman in His shop. God is bigger than you can imagine.

Not that people won’t try to imagine God. That’s some of the irony here. Look at verse 18:

To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to?

When Isaiah wrote this, nearly every nation had its own god or gods. In fact, the Israelites were probably the only group of people who believed there was only One God. And all these other nations made images of their supposed gods. They created idols to worship and bow down before. And Isaiah thinks it is absurd.

So, to demonstrate just how absurd this is, Isaiah gives us a picture of what goes into making an idol. Verse 19:

As for an idol, a craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it.

This isn’t the fanciest of idols—it’s only gold-plated, not solid gold—but it’s still pretty uptown. A blacksmith carves a mold, and pours the iron into it. Once it has cooled, the goldsmith takes it and overlays it with gold. Then fancy chains are attached to it, and it is hung up in the house so that it can “see” what you are doing.

But not everyone can afford such a fancy idol. That’s like a Cadillac. Some can only splurge for a Ford. No matter. Verse 20:

A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple.

Can’t afford iron and gold plaiting? Whittle up some wood, you can still have a god.

You can feel Isaiah’s sarcasm here. A hunk of metal hanging by a chain—“look out!—Marduk is watching!” A piece of wood in a shrine—“get another log, Baal is about to fall over!” Make an idol, and you can make your god into anything you can imagine. Your god can look like anything you want. But Isaiah’s point is that God is so much bigger than anything your puny imagination can come up with.

Of course, we’re far too sophisticated to build shrines to statues or to bow down to something you can hang on a key chain. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have idols. In fact, we have a tendency to do something far more blasphemous. We take Jesus, and then we confine Him to the limits of our imaginations. We domesticate Jesus. We create a pet Jesus. A Jesus that we can stick in our pockets and then take out for a couple of hours on Sunday. A Jesus that thinks like us and acts like us and sees the world pretty much the way we see the world.

But I need to tell you: a pet Jesus is not Jesus! Jesus cannot be confined to the limits or our imaginations. He measures the waters in the hollow of His hand! He measures the heavens with the breadth of His hand! We cannot tame Jesus, but we should bow before Him.

You Cannot Hack God
Second: Behold our God who is smarter than any earthly wisdom. Verses 13 and 14:

13 Who has understood the mind of the LORD,
or instructed him as his counselor?
14 Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge
or showed him the path of understanding?

One of the trendy things in American culture right now is to bring in specialists to straighten out your life. I guess they’re calling them “Life Hacks” now. All these tips and shortcuts to make your life more efficient. All these so-called experts to help you get fit, to organize your closets, to coach you in your relationships, to help you get a better job.

But God doesn’t need experts. When God put together the laws of nature that govern our universe, He didn’t call in an advisory panel of scientists to guide Him in the best use of gravity. When God designed the moral laws that govern us, He didn’t run it by a focus group first to see how His target audience would react to rules against adultery or lying.

God doesn’t need counselors. God does not need consultants in order to know the “right way.” You can’t hack God.

Let me ask you a question: Have you ever said: “If I were God, I’d do things differently”? Don’t lie, we’ve all said something like that. You know you have. “Why doesn’t God just do this or that?”

But, it’s nonsense. We couldn’t possibly comprehend all that goes into governing the universe. We will never know all that God knows.

So, verses 15-17:

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires,
nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.
17 Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing.

There were all these nations around Israel that projected a God-denying presence. Big, bristling superpowers. Egypt. Assyria. Babylon. These were strong nations that could, and would, inflict serious damage on Israel. They were frightening. Intimidating. And they believed they knew better than God.

They all presented sophisticated ways of living that took no account of Jehovah. They laughed at Israel’s God and desecrated His temple. But how did God view them? They are like a drop in a bucket to Him. Like dust on the scales.

Think about that: How many of you, when you go to weigh yourself on your bathroom scale, dust if off first? You want that number to be as low as it can be—you want every advantage—but have you ever thought to get the dust off first? Of course not, because dust weighs nothing. And that’s how these big, bristling, power hungry men and nations appear to God.

“Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.”

Every nation tries to project a God-denying, God-defying interpretation of reality; and God is not at all impressed. The powers of this world have no real substance apart from God. They exist, they have reality, but not in any meaningful sense. They are deficient of the ultimate ground of reality that is God.

Ultimately, they are acted upon, and not the actors. Eventually, every world superpower—even the United States—will be sent to the dust bin of history. Eventually, every dictator will end up in a rat hole.

God is smarter than any earthly wisdom. He doesn’t need life hacks. He’s not impressed by our sophisticated ideas that leave Him out of the picture.

To Whom Will You Compare God?
So, behold our God who is bigger than we can imagine. Behold our God who is smarter than any earthly wisdom. Now third: Behold our God who is unequaled by any rival. Let’s skip ahead to the last verse, verse 25. This is God speaking, and it’s sort of the summary of the whole passage:

25 "To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One.

We have a tendency to substitute lesser things for God. To let earthly powers—and earthly problems—obscure our view of God. Scary headlines, and day-to-day stresses, loom large in our lives and as a result God appears smaller. These problems rush to the foreground, and shove God to the background, and they seem so much bigger than Him.

But it’s silly. If we’d just get things in proper perspective, we’d see that nothing compares to God. Back up to verses 21 and 22:

21 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

The circle here is like the circle of the horizon. Any way you look—wherever you turn—God sits enthroned over it all. The heavens—the star-studded sky on a clear night—are like a giant tent to Him. And people—those of us who live in this vast creation—are like grasshoppers to Him. In other words—we are laughably puny when compared to God.

And that’s important, because the temptation for the people Isaiah is writing to would be to compare powerful people to God. These were people being threatened by mighty armies. People banished to exile by powerful kings.

But it’s absurd to compare these puny powerbrokers to the God of the universe. Verse 23:

He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.

God was the living God when this universe banged into existence. He was the living God when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon. He was the living God when Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes controlled most of the continent of Asia. He was the living God in 1918 when Vladimir Lenin and the rest of the Bolsheviks declared He didn’t exist and tried to stamp him out of Russia. And

he will be living ten trillion ages from now when all the puny potshots against his reality will have sunk into oblivion like BB's at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean… There is not a single head of state in all the world who will be there in fifty years. The turnover in world leadership is 100%. In a brief 110 years this planet will be populated by ten billion brand new people and all [six] billion of us alive today will have vanished off the earth... But not God. He never had a beginning and therefore depends on nothing for his existence. He always has been and always will be... (John Piper, sermon on Isaiah 6:1-8, Jan. 1, 1984)

He’s the God of history. The rulers of this world don’t drive history, God does. All of the so-called power of the rich and famous and political is subservient to—and at the pleasure of—His power. Verse 24:

24 No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

Isaiah wants us to see the brevity of human power. Taken at face value, this verse says that these rulers aren’t even planted yet and they’re gone. Not even for one moment are they independent of God. They’re like stubble in a field. Like faded hot house flowers.

Already, the campaigning for the next presidential election has begun. Upwards of 20 different candidates have already declared their intentions to seek the ticket for one of the two major parties. If you pay attention to the news coverage, this next election will be a pretty big deal.

And that’s all fine and good and important for us to take seriously, just so long as we remember that whoever governs us—Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or Jeb Bush or Scott Walker or, yes, even Donald Trump--God is still the ultimate and real power.

God controls all human events. Earthly powers cannot take the place of God.

Now, again, I don’t know how much of what Isaiah is literally describing is a problem for us. We don’t incline toward worshipping our leaders. Even if you vote for him, you aren’t likely to pray to the President of the United States.

And yet, I think the idea that Isaiah is getting at is a problem that still exists today. We can let our concerns over who has power, over who has control, dominate our perception of the world. How often have you heard it implied that unless this party or that is in control, this nation is sure to fall to pieces? How often do we let headline making calamities shake our confidence? The stock market drops a couple of hundred points and people panic and sell. A terror attack overseas gets big coverage and thousands of people change their travel plans.

Or, take it down a level—from big, CNN type worries to the little, regular-life type worries that plague us from day to day. We can let those things become little gods too, can’t we? We can let our worries and fears and concerns crowd in on our allegiance to God.

So here’s the question we need to ask ourselves: What worries or problems are we letting take the place of God? What earthly problem are we making bigger than God?

I’ll admit: there are some nights that I can’t fall asleep. More often than I’d like to admit, I get a problem or a worry stuck in my head and I can lie awake for hours on end. We have a consistory meeting or Beth and I have to make a big decision about the kids and I can lie there all night turning it over and over and over in my mind.

I need to remember Isaiah 40, don’t I? I need to remember that God sits enthroned above the circle of the earth. I need to remember that God is in control. I need to remember that earthly powers—and earthly problems—cannot take the place of God.

The Tender Shepherd
Then, fourth: Behold our God who loves us with a tender love. Let’s go back to the beginning of the passage. Verses I skipped over earlier. Verses 10 and 11:

10See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power,
and his arm rules for him.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
11He 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.

The whole point of this passage is for us to see how mighty and glorious God is. We need to see how immense and strong He is, so that we are filled with confidence in Him. That’s the point of verse 10. Look at the strong words used there: Sovereign, LORD, power, rules. This is a picture of God with biceps like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. A mighty warrior. The cosmic Christ of Revelation.

But, at the same time, this awesome God loves us. Those same mighty arms also gently cradle and hold vulnerable lambs. This big and wise and unequaled God has entered into history as a humble servant, sacrificing Himself on behalf of the people He loves.

The hands which scooped the oceans and stacked mountains are also the hands that were pierced by nails.

The burden of this passage is not just that we will be in awe of God, but also that we will love Him. Because He loves us.

And that’s really the point of our mission statement as a church. We are here to bring joy to Jesus. Or, more simply, we are here for Jesus. We are here to glorify and worship and serve and live for Him.

And the clearer we see Him for who is, the greater our desire to make Him happy. That’s our purpose as a church. That’s our mission. To Behold our God.