Isaiah 40:21-31 (5th Sunday after the Epiphany—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
February 8, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament lesson recorded in Isaiah 40:
Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; 23 who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness. 24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. 25 To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing. 27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”? 28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” (Apostles’ Creed) With this brief sentence the confession of the Christian faith begins. The Creed, from the first words, instructs us as to what the relationship is between God and us. God is the all-powerful Creator. He is the One who made heaven and earth. He is the One who made us. Therefore, we are His creatures. So we find the relationship between God and us to be a relationship between Potter and clay, Builder and wood, Creator and creature.
This is a relationship of great contrast. God, as we confess in the Creed, is Almighty. He is omnipotent, all-powerful! He stands as the polar opposite of His creatures who are weak and powerless. Isaiah describes God as the One who sits upon the horizon of the earth on His throne. He is transcendent—superior, without equal, unmatched in glory, splendor, power, and holiness. From God’s lofty perspective, we, the inhabitants of the earth, are like grasshoppers. We are as weak and powerless before God as grasshoppers are before the stomp of our foot. No one, not even human rulers and authorities, can match the power of God. They are scarcely in the place of power and authority before God removes them with a puff of His divine breath. (Is. 40:24)
The only Creator God stretched out the heavens like a curtain. He spread them out like a tent to dwell in. He brings out the starry host of the night sky, calling them all by name. All of creation is His instrument and is under His control. Seated as King, God constantly upholds His creation and governs it. Truly, God is in a league of His own.
Because of that, we, His creatures, are tempted to feel that God doesn’t always care about us. God who is holy (without sin and hating sin), who is infinite, unchangeable, and eternal, has virtually nothing in common with His human creatures who are sinful and corrupt, finite, earthly, and mortal. Perhaps God is too aloof in His glory. Maybe God is ignorant of our suffering because He is out of touch with our reality. After all, why should God bother about a grasshopper like me? Why should my heartaches, my sadness, my illness, my trouble, show up on God’s radar? Didn’t even King David write in Psalm 8 these words? “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4) In comparison with God, we are nothing. He is Creator and we are creatures. Add in the fact of our sins that eternally separate us from God, why on earth would He ever care about us in our struggles against sin and its devastating consequences in this life and the ultimate consequence of everlasting death?
But let’s read one more verse of Psalm 8. “Yet you [God] have made [mankind] a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:5) What does this mean? It means that we, as humans, are not worthless in God’s sight. We are the crown of God’s creation. We are the most important creatures that He made. And yes, we are stained and polluted with sin. We are corrupt inside and out. Our hearts pour forth all kinds of impurity against God and against people made in the image of God. And yet, God does not abandon us. Not only is He the Creator, but He is also our Preserver. God’s power and majesty are used for us in compassion!
Martin Luther wrote in the Explanation to First Article of the Apostles’ Creed that “God has made me and all creatures. . . . He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.”
In order to rightly trust in our powerful God you and I must come to understand that, in and of ourselves, we are weak and frail. We must come to know from God’s Word that we are lost and condemned creatures who cannot stand up very long against the assaults of the devil. We grow faint under the constant barrage of temptation. Grasshopper-like as we are, we get tired and worn out from Satan’s plotting and cunning ticks. The effects of sin in our lives and in the world around us pound against us day after day—sickness, cancer, depression, anxiety, loneliness, fear, worry. Ultimately we realize how powerless we are to do anything about it, helpless to overcome the temptations and struggles, the changes and chances of life.
Satan and the world are relentless enemies. Sin and its corruption and its harmful effects keep after us until we are exhausted. When we are wearied and emptied, God gives us strength. We must become nothing, otherwise we are unable to know and to apprehend divine consolation and strength. Only when we are weary and faint, stripped of all self-reliance, can we receive from God the strength He has for us. When we have to stop trying to do it all by ourselves, when we can’t do anything to make it all right by ourselves, when we have nothing left but to call upon our all-powerful God, then we can know His strength.
God comes to the aid and help of the faint and powerless. God acts for us because we cannot act for ourselves. Thus we learn to say with faith and trust, “What I do not have and what I cannot do, that Christ has and can do.” (Luther, AE 17:32) For Christ is the everlasting God, the Holy One, the One who created the ends of the earth. “He does not faint, and He will not become weary,” says Isaiah. “He is the One who is giving strength to the faint and to the ones who do not have vigor He multiplies might.”
But look how God does this. Isaiah rightly says, “There is no searching for His understanding.” The everlasting God who does not faint or become weary took on human flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ for the express purpose of becoming weary and faint, subjecting Himself to all of our struggles, the effects of sin, and the punishment of death. Jesus, true God and true Man, became weary, weak, and faint to the point of death so that you and I might be strong. Philippians 2, “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8) This is God’s all-powerful, merciful, gracious action on our behalf to grant us forgiveness of sins and the new life of faith. Christ, the everlasting God, became weak for us so that we might become strong in Him.
Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, our “strength” which isn’t strong at all, is exchanged for real strength—Christ Jesus Himself given to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, which is the power of God for the purpose of salvation, we receive saving faith in Jesus Christ which takes hold of the gifts offered in the Gospel—forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the strengthening of our faith. By the power of the Gospel and the strength given to us by the Holy Spirit through Jesus, you and I are able to look to our God in the midst of weakness and helplessness and, in faith, wait on the Lord to revive, renew, and strengthen us in body and soul so that we might persevere. This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 5 when he writes by the power of the Spirit “that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Rom 5:3-5) The word “wait” and the word “hope” in Hebrew come from the same root word. So when Isaiah declares by the power of the Holy Spirit, “The ones waiting on Yahweh will receive strength anew,” he is saying that those who hope in the Lord, in confident expectation of His promise of strength, will not be disappointed.
Our own strength is useless to get us through the temptations, the sins, the trials, and the difficulties of this life. But the strength of our everlasting God who made heaven and earth, lifts us up so that we might soar in the power of Christ, persevere by the grace of Christ, and be enfolded with the love of Christ. In our weakness, Christ is strong for us to help and to save. He is our “refuge and strength” as we experience fear or trouble. Our God in Christ is a “very present help” and a “well proved” place of protection and strength for us. (Psalm 46:1) Amen.