Epiphany 5

Trust in the Lord


Do the bible and sports belong together? Every now and then at a football game you see someone holding a big sign that reads, “John 3:16.” And I suppose, there’s nothing wrong with that. Of course it assumes that a person who is not a Christian has a clue what “John” is and what “3:16” is. But there are worse signs you can hold up at a football game. But there is a context in which sports and the bible do not belong together. Every now and then you hear of an athlete who either memorizes or even worse, tattoos the words, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13 NIV11-GKE) When you see a guy do that, take note of him. Because, most likely, if he’s a quarterback, he’s going to get sacked. If he’s a running back, he’s probably going to be the one to fumble the ball. Why? When Paul wrote those words the game football didn’t exist. And it’s wrong to take those words out of context and make them into our own image. All of this I mention because, if there’s any part of the bible in which we need to understand the context, it’s the book of Isaiah. In the opening words of this part of the bible we read: “Jacob, why do you say, and, Israel, why do you assert: “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my claim is ignored by my God”?” (Isaiah 40:27 CSB17)


God does not hear me. That is what the Israelites are saying in these words. That is their complaint. But again, what is the context. As you read the book of Isaiah, recognize that there is one author, Isaiah. But there are two distinctly different parts. In the first part Isaiah speaks to Israelites who despised God’s word. And so, through Isaiah the Lord invites the Israelites to repent. And then threatens them that the Babylonians will come and destroy them if they don’t. Those Israelites did not listen to the Lord. So the Lord brought down the Babylonians against them and they were carried off into exile. Then Isaiah writes to the second group of people. He writes to a despairing group. You see, the children of that rebellious generation grew up, not in Israel, but instead, in Babylon. And they gave up trusting and hoping in the Lord. And from a human perspective they had every right to do so. For the Lord had promised that the Messiah was to be born in Israel—and in Israel alone! And if the Jewish people were not in Israel then there was no Savior for their sins. So the Lord promised to this despairing group of people that the Messiah would be born of a virgin in Israel. And this Messiah would be both God and human.


The context in Isaiah 40 is despair. It is despair over sin and the consequences of sin. And that, my dear friends in Christ, is a context we know all too well today, don’t we? A guy begins smoking in high school. And decades later he sees how horrible of a habit that is as his lungs are destroyed. And he even, with every ounce of strength in him stops. But the consequences of his sin remain. His lungs remain damaged. The young man grows up and gets married. He has his first child. And for the first time in his life he ‘mans up.’ He gets a job. He works hard. He works long hours over many years. But then what happens? The years go by, and with pain in his heart he realizes that his children are almost grown up and he was so busy working he didn’t really know them. And the consequences of sin remain. A girl is born. She grows up in a very non-Christian household. And she gets married to a Christian man. And through him she hears about Jesus and God’s word creates faith in her heart. She has children. And she wants more than anything to share God’s word with her children. But she fails to because she isn’t in the habit and because she has no idea how to accomplish this. And the consequences of sin remain. It is in that context that we too can cry out with complaints, saying, “My way is hidden from the Lord, My case is ignored by my God” When will my sin be forgiven? When will I be given strength to fight against that sin?


The Lord answers our complaint in a very fascinating way. Through Isaiah the Lord says, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth. He never becomes faint or weary; there is no limit to his understanding.” (Isaiah 40:28 CSB17)


We are not eternal. We are not omnipotent. We are not omniscient. But the Lord is all of these and more. Now this might seem like a very stupid response for the Lord to speak. We all know this, don’t we? We memorize these atributes of God in catechism. But what good are they to us? Well, Isaiah tells us: 29 He gives strength to the faint and strengthens the powerless. 30 Youths may become faint and weary, and young men stumble and fall, 31 but those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength;” (Isaiah 40:29–31 CSB17)


When I was a child my oldest brother used to get bored. And when he got bored that’s when everything fell apart. He would sometimes take whatever toy I was playing with and hold it high above my head. And I would jump and not be able to grap that toy. But, to make the situation even worse, he would lower the toy down to where I could reach it. And when I jumped he would quickly lift it out of my grasp. And the more frustrated I got, the more entertained he was.


We have to admit, that in our lives, there are times that it seems like that’s what God is doing to us. He is omniscient, omnipotent and eternal. But what good does that do us? Here in these words is where we see the truth. The Lord is omniscient, omnipotent and eternal. And what does he do? He gives to us his strength. But again, there is a context behind these words. Isaiah is not saying that because we are Christians we can become little gods will little sparks of the divine inside of all of us. No, instead, he is giving to us two important promises. first, despite what we might conclude in our everyday lives, Jesus has paid for our sin and we are forgiven. It is true that we can look in the past and see so many times and ways we have sinned. And we can see in our every day lives the consequences of those sins. And those consequences scream out to us, “You are not forgiven.” But these words are so beautiful. For they promise to us that our sins are forgiven. Christ’s strength is our strength. He is the one who lived for us and died for us.


But there’s also a second promise. The Lord gives us his strength so that we can persevere. Now notice the word I used. I did not say, “conquer” or become “perfect.” The Lord gives us his strength so that we can endure and persevere. We may have our daily load of sin and its consequences. But in Christ, they don’t seem as light. For he gives to us his very own strength. And the consequences of our sins may remain with us to the day we die. But with the knowledge that Christ’s strength is our own to forgive us and to cause us to persevere, we can carry on—even with joy in our hearts.


And as these words close, Isaiah paints a picture for us. What does this daily life of trusting in the Lord look like? We read: “they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not become weary, they will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31 CSB17)


Notice the point that Isaiah is making here. Those attributes of God that seemed to be against us, now, as Christians who trust in the Lord, are now for us. Now, to drive home this point, I could speak about any of these three attributes, his omniscience, omnipotence or eternal nature. But, because my time is coming to a close, let me just speak about one of them. Just take a look at the Lord’s eternal nature. As sinful human beings, time is our enemy. Have you ever thought about that? I’ve been here ten years. But it flew by like a dream. I’ve baptized people’s children. I’ve buried their parents. And it all flew by. And in two days I’m going to get in a car and drive away. And I do not know when I will see you all again. For some other man will have the call and joy to be your pastor. What does it mean then when the Lord here says that he will give to us his strength? What it means is this: All of us who continue to trust in the Lord will see each other again. It’s OK to say goodbye if you know you are going to see a person again.


And that’s why, my dear, treasured brothers and sisters in Christ, let me leave you where I began. Parents, bring your children to Sunday School and read to them at home. When you call a pastor to teach you God’s word, actually come to bible class. When you rejoice at having a pastor once again in this pulpit, listen to him. Humble yourself when he preaches law, and rejoice when he preaches gospel to you. And treat him with the same care and compassion as you poured out on me and my family. Continue to trust in the Lord. For he will give your his strength. Amen.


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