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The God whose word stands forever - Isaiah 40:6-8

This is a sermon by Peter Birnie from the Riverside Church service on 24th January 2021.

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Isaiah 40 v 6-8 “The God whose Word Stands Forever”

Intro: In Romans 8 v 28 Paul says this; “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We know! That is such a wonderful and confidence inspiring truth and it is one that if we all really knew it to be true would make an absolutely massive difference to the way we approach the trials of life. Do you share Paul’s confidence? Do you know that right now God is working in all of your current circumstances for your good? Is your “I know” the same as Paul’s “I know” – one that drives you on through difficulty with eyes of faith fixed on God and a heart determined to respond in thankfulness, or is your “I know” more like that of the typical teenager responding to the advice of their parents who replies with “I know, but …”  

If we are honest with one another and thinking clearly about our convictions there are a number of reasons why we often struggle to simply take God at His word, to believe him fully and unreservedly and therefore to live appropriately as a result. This failure of faith means that many of us are living more nervous and fear-filled lives than we should be. So we must turn to God and ask him for his help so that our lives in this broken and sin-torn world are marked by confidence and peace, lives that demonstrate to the world that our God is full of glory. Isaiah 40 v 6-8 helps us to address some of the reasons for our doubt and my prayer for us in CC Riverside is that by His never-failing word, the Isaiah 40 God will make us into Romans 8 people.

  • Don’t let the strength of the opposition stop you believing God’s promises (v6-8) 
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    Let’s begin by seeing that the strength of the opposition God’s people face shouldn’t stop them believing God’s promises. The people of Jerusalem and Judah are in exile in Babylon, having suffered so much because of their stubborn sin against God. We would be no different from them upon hearing God’s proclamation of comfort in verses 1&2, then his plans to come to them himself in verses 3-5, and wondering if they really can be true. “I know what God said through Isaiah, but … what about these powerful Babylonians?” And so we get verses 6-8;
     

    “A voice says, ‘Cry out.’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ ‘All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures for ever.’”

     

    The military power that the people of Israel have suffered under, first the Northern Kingdom getting destroyed by the Assyrian armies and then the Southern Kingdom defeated by the Babylonians, this military power seems absolutely invincible. They are strong, numerous, ruthless and advanced. At that point in the world there was nothing that could come near comparing to Babylon. It would be a bit like trying to overcome the military power of China or the USA.

    And yet Isaiah is commanded to cry out that all people (including the Babylonians) are like flowers and grass that are going to wither and fall. The Babylonian Kingdom is temporary, is nowhere near as powerful as it seems, and God is far greater than it. The Babylonians’ days are numbered. In our series on Daniel before Christmas we saw that this was true. King Belshazzar of the Babylonians laughs and scorns the true God and His people and that very night the Medo-Persian Empire arrives, puts an end to the Babylonians, and soon, with King Cyrus in charge, the people of Jerusalem will be able to return to Jerusalem. All people are like grass and flowers.

    We know this to be true today. The most powerful people in the world one minute are almost an embarrassing irrelevance the next. President Obama becomes President Trump becomes President Biden becomes President somebody else and after a while all that is left of their legacy is just another name on a list for American school children and British Pub Quizzers to learn. People and power can be a frightening mix and in many places around the world Christians are suffering terribly because of the evil that pours out of the human heart. But here is what the people in Isaiah’s day were to realise and what we must understand as well; The size of evil and the scale of opposition is simply not relevant in believing God’s promises. They are like grass and flowers that spring up and then wither but God remains and can be trusted.

    And in our current struggles, with Covid acting like a magnifying glass making every trial look bigger, it is vital for us to see this clearly and say “I know” (and not “I know… but”).

  • Don’t let the failing promises of men stop you believing God’s promises (v7)
  • But it isn’t just the size of the opposition that stops us simply taking God at his word and believing his promises. We get so used to people letting us down that we find it hard to put our trust in anyone’s word, even the word of God. “I know what God said through Isaiah but … we have been let down by the empty promises of people so often before.” This is where we need to understand verse 7 correctly; The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them.” That ‘because’ contains a very sobering truth - what we are experiencing in this world right now is exactly what we should expect if God’s word is true, if it can be relied on. The breath of the Lord here describes his judgement of sin (handout references).

    The breath of the Lord is what is causing the grass to wither and the flowers to fall – in other words, humanity who in their sin and rebellion against God set themselves up as important and strong and self-reliant, simply wither and die under God’s judgement. That is where we are in this world right now – our sin means we experience God’s judgement in different ways. Romans 1 helps us to see that one of the ways we experience it is in God “giving humans over” to their own desires. One of the fruits of this is the word and promises of people meaning less and less all the time. People say what they want when it suits them and change their mind later if it doesn’t suit any more. Politicians and leaders make huge promises which they know they will only keep if it suits them politically or economically to keep them later.

    And the ultimate fruit of our sin is that it brings God’s curse and judgement of death, both physical death and spiritual death. In Genesis 2 God had warned people that to sin was to die and his word never fails. I am not saying this stuff to load more weight onto us at the moment but instead to help us to see that this world with all its trials and all your own heavy and painful burdens are not something that surprises anyone who listens properly to God’s word. You aren’t somehow “doing life wrongly” when you suffer. This world is full of suffering because of sin but none of it is somehow outside of God’s rule, none of it surprises Him, none of it throws doubt on His word. This is what we should expect.

    What it shows us is that the way we listen to God’s word and the way we listen to the word of people has got to be different. There is a massive difference between the promises of people and the promises of God. Many of us when we read the bible seem to be reading it wearing a pair of glasses with man-shaped lenses. We read amazing things about God and yet somehow reduce His character so he is more or less like us and so can be trusted as much as we can and acts in much the same way we do. But God is not like us, he is Holy – so his character is utterly righteous and loving and his actions are equally as righteous and loving. He is the same yesterday, today and forever, He doesn’t change at all. He is always Holy and so is always righteous and loving. And so when he declares comfort to his people, when he tells them that he himself will rescue them, when he says that he is working all things for the good of those who love him, we can take him at his word.

  • Don’t let your cares in the present stop you believing God’s promises (v8)
  • One last “I know…but” that we will deal with now. And perhaps this one is the one where most of us in CC Riverside are at right now. “I know what God has said in his word and through Isaiah, I know he is greater than his enemies, I know his word can be trusted when men’s cant’ but …his promises are focussed more on God’s people as a whole and more about the future than they are for me right now in my particular situation.” That one is a bit of a mouthful but it really chimes with me as I seek to bring my cares to God and apply His word to each of my days. And as we deal properly with verse 8 we see there is actually a lot of truth in that wordy statement; “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures for ever.’”

     

    As a local church in the UK we don’t face lots of blatant opposition and persecution yet. But one of our problems that we do particularly face is the big influence the world around us has on us in terms of our hopes and expectations. We live in an entitled culture who expect that this life should be comfortable and unfortunately this attitude easily seeps into our thinking as God’s people. The eternal nature of God and his word is the antidote to this worldly thinking. We are not to treat the present as more important than eternity. We are not to fall into the terrible trap of wanting what the world has to offer now rather than what God has to offer forever. A person could gain the whole world and lose their soul.  

    God’s word endures forever and so it is absolutely vital for us to realise that when God gives promises he does give them to a people rather than a person and those promises always have their final fulfilment in the future rather than the present. Indeed, the trials that we undergo as individual Christians are supposed to help us have this correct, healthy perspective, James 1 v 2-4 says; “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

    2 Cor 4 v 17 says this; “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”  So one of the truths we must bring to bear when we are wondering whether God’s promises have relevance to our life right now is that in the very suffering we are struggling with God is doing something to our faith that will count for us for eternity.

     

    But this perspective doesn’t mean that the wonderful promises God gives his people somehow don’t count in our personal trials and day-to-day life. In home groups this week we talked about how as a local church we can glory more in the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is absolutely central for us as we try to work out how God’s promises apply to “me now in the middle of my trouble and doubt”.

     

    When we read a verse like Isaiah 40 v 1 “Comfort, comfort my people says your God”, we have got to go to the cross of Jesus Christ to see that promise being kept and then we have got to realise that if God did that out of love for us, if God did all that was needed for our eternal safety and security and good, then of course he offers comfort in the middle of a relationship breakdown, or financial problems, or mental illness, or cancer, or joblessness or bereavement. What does a faithful minister of the gospel seek to do at a funeral? He takes people to the cross of Jesus Christ because there all of God’s promises are kept and from there the great benefit of those promises can pour out all over the people of God.

     

    And with that we are back in Romans 8 again, verse 31 and 32; “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” The cross proves God’s individual care and faithfulness for you right now (he loves you that much) and it accomplishes all of his purposes for all of his people forever. There is no opposition that can stop God keeping his word. His word is not like the word of men and women. And because his word endures forever then if you belong to him in Jesus then right now he is keeping all of his promises to you and is at work to prepare you and us and all God’s people, for an eternity of comfort and tenderness, and joy and glory. We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” 

    Isaiah 40 v 6-8 “The God whose Word Stands Forever”

    Sermon Handout

     

    Intro: Taking God at His word

    Romans 8 v 28; “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

     

    1) Don’t let the strength of the opposition stop you believing God’s promises (v6-8) 

     

    “I know what God said through Isaiah, but … what about these powerful Babylonians?”

     

     

     

    The size of evil and the scale of opposition is simply not relevant in believing God’s promises.

     

     

    2) Don’t let the failing promises of men stop you believing God’s promises (v7)

     

    I know what God said through Isaiah but … we have been let down by the empty promises of people so often before.”

     

    This world is exactly what we should expect if God’s word is true:

     

    • The breath of the Lord (Ex 15:10, Job 41:21, Ps 103, Ezek 22:21) 

     

    • “Man-shaped lenses” are bad for us when reading God’s word.

     

     

    3) Don’t let your cares in the present stop you believing God’s promises (v8)

    “I know what God has said in his word and through Isaiah, I know he is greater than his enemies, I know his word can be trusted when men’s cant’ but …his promises are focussed more on God’s people as a whole and more about the future than they are for me right now in my particular situation.”

     

     

    We are not to treat the present as more important than eternity.

     

    • James 1 v 2-4
    • 2 Cor 4 v 17

     

    We take God’s promises and go to the cross;

    Romans 8 v 31&32 “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

     

    Home Group Questions

     

    1) Romans 8 v 28 says “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” How might knowing this to be true change your attitude to your current trials?

    2) How does opposition and the depth of evil that is evident in this world cause us to doubt God’s word? Why should Isaiah 40 v 6 help us when feeling like this?

    3) What do you think of the statement “this world is exactly what we should expect if God’s word is true”? How does “the breath of the Lord” in verse 7 explain this world to us?

    4) Why should we listen differently to God’s word than the promises people make? Do we listen the way we should when God’s word is proclaimed in a sermon or when we read the bible for ourselves?

    5) Why is the cross central when we try to apply God’s eternal promises to our own day-to-day situations? How can we become more of a “Romans 8 church”?

     

     

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