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The God who reveals his glory - Isaiah 40:3-5

This is a sermon by Peter Birnie from the Riverside Church service on 17th January 2021.

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Intro: In “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” there is a really important scene where Aslan speaks with the White Witch about Edmund. Edmund had been a traitor and the deep magic, the laws of Narnia, commanded clearly that any traitor must be put to death. The Witch demands that Edmund is handed over to her so she may kill him. And so as Aslan and the witch speak, at a distance stands Edmund and his brother and sisters as well as a whole army who are on Aslan’s side and who desperately want Edmund to be saved. We read this; “At last they all heard Aslan’s voice; ‘You can all come back,’ he said. ‘I have settled the matter. She has renounced the claim on your brother’s blood.’ And all over the hill there was a noise as if everyone had been holding their breath and had now begun breathing again.” For now, all that matters is that Edmund has been set free and there is much joy as his family and friends are comforted. Nobody has yet asked “How did Aslan rescue him?” but the answer to that will soon come.

If we stopped at the end of verse 2 in Isaiah chapter 40, God’s people would be at that same point – rejoicing because their God has spoken tenderly to them, he has comforted them by telling them that their sin has been forgiven and their days of mourning and bitterness are over. They can breathe again – everything is going to be ok. But it is impossible not to ask “How? How can this be?” The prison sentence that the people of Israel were experiencing was a fully deserved one. So what can God possibly do to save them, to wipe away their sins while still remaining Holy and Righteous and full of glory?

The answer to that question takes up the rest of Isaiah and indeed the rest of the Bible but verses 3-5 sum it up beautifully. How can the Holy God forgive sin without tarnishing his glory? He does it by coming and revealing his full glory to the world.      

  • God himself is on His way and nothing can stop him (v3+4)

“A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord;[a]make straight in the desert a highway for our God.[b]4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.”

The people of Jerusalem and Judah had been through so much pain (our current pain), they know what pain is like– a 2 year siege by the Babylonians that meant starvation and left them doing some terrible things to survive. They were defeated and humiliated and marched off to refugee camps in Babylon and then news comes of a destroyed Temple to go along with a broken down Jerusalem. There are no set of circumstances that could cause more agony for these people. Although the people cry out to God and feel their circumstances show he has forgotten them, the reality is that they brought all of this trouble on themselves. God wanted to bless them but they chose to be cursed instead. And there is no human way of changing things. The Babylonians are far mightier than they – so although they got themselves into this harrowing situation, they can do nothing to get themselves out. They cannot save themselves.    

So if the comfort announced in verse 1 and 2 is a real comfort, if the end of their hard service and the sorting out of their sin is to be anything more than just empty words, then something incredible needs to happen. And verses 3 and 4 tell the people that the incredible event is this; God himself is on His way and nothing can stop him.

If we were going on a journey, the sort of obstacles that would stop us or slow us down would be a closed Humber bridge if we were trying to get to Barton, or a gridlocked Beverley Road on the way to town, or a road eaten up by the ocean if we were driving near Skipsea. Go back 2500 years and it is Desert highways that need to be made straight, valleys raised, mountains and hills flattened, rough ground levelled out and rugged ground smoothed. Verse 3 and 4 assure the people that their LORD, the almighty God, is on His way; there will be no barriers at all to stop him from coming.

 

This is incredible news that testifies to the Covenant keeping God’s faithfulness. The people don’t deserve to be treated with tenderness, they don’t deserve God to turn up and rescue them, they are utterly helpless in their awful circumstances, they can’t get out, they can’t somehow run to God, but He is coming to be with them. God is coming near his sinful people to deliver them. For a people far from a ruined home, knowing that the Temple, the place that signified God’s presence amongst his people, is a ruin, this voice calling out such undeserved and glorious news is a sweet voice indeed. And for any people in pain this is the voice we need to hear.

It is the same sweet voice that we get to hear as the gospel is proclaimed in our time and to our people. If you aren’t a Christian yet, I plead with you to recognise your own helplessness in terms of dealing with your sin and guilt and the terrible position this has put you in – separated from God and facing only his correct (righteous) judgement. This is frightening – but it is not said to scare you but rather it is said in love so that you look to God for the rescue he offers you. The gospel is sweetness – it is good news of great joy all about a faithful God who deals with all the barriers so that He can save his people, so that he can be with his people.

 

And if you are a Christian already then my prayer for you in the light of this wonderful truth is that you would be filled once again with thankfulness and hope and peace. I pray that members of CC Riverside will take courage and confidence amidst all their current pain – in Home groups this last week that pain was so apparent, so many of us are struggling in so many ways. But, our God is with us amidst our pain. And neither your own sin, the rotten circumstances of a broken world that include pandemics and diseases and deaths, or even the opposition of the world around can separate us from His care and rescue; He is with us and so Christians are eternally safe and secure - “the peace that God’s people have received hasn’t come from this world and so nothing in this world can take it away from them.”

 

  • God himself will reveal his glory as he rescues his people (v5)

This peace is a reality not despite God’s glory (he hasn’t swept his people’s sin under the carpet) but instead this eternal peace has been accomplished because of God’s glory, verse 5;

“And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

The people comforted by these words in Isaiah were soon free to return to Jerusalem as King Cyrus of the Persians, under God’s sovereign hand, allowed the people to return and provided them with resources to rebuild. Some of us are familiar with this account from our sermon series in Nehemiah and there was much to celebrate for God’s people as a new Temple stood once more in the rebuilt city of Jerusalem.  

But amidst the celebration we read this in Ezra 3v12 “But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid.” (The new temple is not as glorious as the previous one!) Although the people are rescued from Babylon and back in Jerusalem, Is 40 verse 5 just hadn’t been fulfilled. Yes, some people had seen some of God’s glory as he moved Kingdoms to liberate his chosen people from exile but Isaiah chapters 40-66 are pointing to something so much greater than simply a geographical relocation of people and a rebuilding of a physical city. Verse 5 “the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together” is speaking of an event of cosmic scale and eternal importance, one dealing with the people’s sin forever.   

Back to “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and the cost of Edmund’s rescue soon becomes clear. 2 of the children in the story watch weeping from afar as Aslan allows himself to be tied up and tortured and then killed. Edmund was set free because Aslan took his place. To the girls watching this was far from glorious – rather this was a tragedy the depth of which they had never experienced before. But only until the moment when Aslan shrugged off the hold of death to roar at his enemies and get rid of them forever.  

 

This is the type of glorious victory that Isaiah is pointing the people to. This is what God will accomplish for them when He comes. For them, there was still some patient waiting to be done. 500 years of it! But, eventually, we get to Mark chapter 1 and a strange man in the Judean desert baptising people and calling them to repentance and faith;

Mark 1 v 1-3 “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way – a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the lord, make straight paths for him. And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness.”  

And the waiting really is over, by verse 15 of Mark 1, John the Baptist is in prison and Jesus of Nazareth declares “The time has come… The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.”

And as Jesus walks the earth declaring God’s words with authority, driving away demons, healing the sick, raising the dead, controlling nature, as he goes willingly to the cross, as he strides out of the tomb, as he appears to many eyewitnesses and then as he ascends to heaven to send the Spirit upon his followers, it is clear to many that God himself has come to reveal his full glory to the world and in glory to rescue his people forever. As the apostle John wrote “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the father, full of grace and truth.”   

CC Riverside, as we delight in Isaiah 40 together, as we realise once again who our God is and so are pushed towards the peace and confidence He offers, as our hearts are shaped to love him more as we should, let us be a church that glories in the cross of Jesus Christ. Because it was there that the “How” of salvation was answered, it was there that sin and death and judgement were sorted out forever. Let us be a church that cannot stop talking about the cross with each other and with the world around us. Listen to Jesus’ own prayer in the garden of Gethsemane in John 17 as he prepares for the cross;

“‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”

God’s glory is not tainted by the full forgiveness of sins that we as his people have received and been set free by. Rather, at the cross of Christ, Isaiah 40 v 5 was fulfilled and God’s full glory was revealed so that all people of any nation can see it and be invited to wonder at it and benefit eternally from it.   

 

Conclusion

 

Brothers and sisters in the Lord, in your current trials and difficulties, Behold your God. Let me finish with 2 more verses which are all about the victory and majesty and glory of Jesus Christ and then we will watch a short video we have been stirred by before;

Isaiah 42 v 13 says this; “The LORD will march out like a champion, like a warrior he will stir up his zeal; with a shout he will raise the battle cry and triumph over his enemies.”

Philippians 2 v 10 and 11 say; “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the father.”

Amen, and lets watch this video ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzqTFNfeDnE )  before praising God in song.

Is 40 v 3-5 “The God who Reveals His Glory” Handout

 

Intro: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

How can the Holy God forgive sin without tarnishing his glory?

 

 

 

1) God himself is on His way and nothing can stop him (v3+4)

 

How can the comfort proclaimed in verses 1 and 2 be real?

 

  • A people in pain

 

 

  • A helpless people

 

 

The Faithful, Covenant-keeping God himself is on his way and nothing can stop him (The sweet gospel call):

 

If you aren’t a Christian yet: Recognise your need and look to God for His rescue.

 

If you are a Christian already: Take courage and confidence from God’s love and care for you. Be thankful and at peace because God is with us.

 

 

2) God himself will reveal his glory as he rescues his people (v5)

 

A people freed from Babylon but still waiting for Is 40 v 5 to be fulfilled (Ezra 3 v 12), waiting for a cosmic and glorious victory;

 

  • Mark 1 v 1-3: The voice!

 

  • Mark 1 v 15: “The time has come!”

 

  • John 1 v 14: “We have seen his glory”

 

  • John 17 v 1-5: “I have brought you glory”

 

 

We must be a church who glory in the cross of Jesus Christ.

 

 

Isaiah 42 v 13 says this; “The LORD will march out like a champion, like a warrior he will stir up his zeal; with a shout he will raise the battle cry and triumph over his enemies.”

 

 

Philippians 2 v 10 and 11 say; “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the father.”

 

 

 

Is 40 v 3-5 “The God who Reveals His Glory” Home Group Questions

 

1) Why can God not just sweep sin under the carpet rather than having to punish it? What pain had this led to for the people of Jerusalem and Judah?

 

2) What different circumstances would add to the exiles’ feeling that they were far away from God?

 

3) Verses 3-5 tell the people that ‘God is on His way and nothing can stop Him’. Why does God act in this way and does he act in this way for you in your need?

 

4) Verse 5 speaks of God coming and revealing His glory. How is the cross of Jesus Christ glorious? How can we as a local church ‘glory more in the cross’?

 

5) Isaiah 42 v 13 says this; “The LORD will march out like a champion, like a warrior he will stir up his zeal; with a shout he will raise the battle cry and triumph over his enemies.” How should Jesus’ great triumph over sin and death help you to put all of your current pain and trials in the correct context? 

 

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