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The God who is our shepherd - Isaiah 40:9-11

This is a sermon by Peter Birnie from the Riverside Church service on 31st January 2021.

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Is 40 v 9-11 “The God who is our Shepherd”

One of the bits of television that I have watched again and again on Youtube is from 2009 and a talent show called “Britain’s got talent.” A middle-aged lady called Susan Boyle was introduced to the judges and after about 5 seconds of her talking, everyone watching expected her to be terrible. When she began to sing though, she was incredible – people could hardly believe what they were hearing. It is an amazing moment - they expected one thing and were blown away when they got something else.

In verses 9-11 of Isaiah 40 today a voice is shouting out, telling God’s people to fix their eyes on God, to “behold your God”. In my head this voice that is shouting from the mountaintop in verse 9 and 10 sounds exactly like the man who introduces the fighters at the start of a boxing match. He begins the way you would expect, speaking of the strength and power and rule and might of God and of the accomplishments and trophies hung around his neck. Those listening to this voice have a picture of what they are going to see when God exits the changing room and steps out of the smoke. And then comes verse 11. And anyone who has a pulse and can hear these words should be absolutely blown away. Because when this God of strength and might and rule and power and accomplishments steps out of the smoke, he is dressed like a Shepherd. And he has come to tend and to gather, to carry lovingly, and to gently lead. What a God we are invited to belong to! Behold him, stare at Him, come to him, respond to him. This is the one true God and He is our Shepherd.

  • There is good news because there is God (v9)      

V9 “You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem,[c]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 a world filled with sin and so under God’s judgement there is no shortage of news but good news is at an absolute premium. In verse 9 there is good news to be declared, to be shouted out from a high mountain, good news that God’s people are to listen to, good news that is to get rid of all their fear. I am sure your ears pricked up a bit at that because right now we are face to face with much fear in our city and in our world. We know by now that the exiles from Jerusalem in Babylon faced much fear and had been through much suffering. They had nothing within themselves to pin any confidence upon and so this loud, confident, joyful declaration from Isaiah on the mountain is very welcome indeed. Especially as it follows fast on the heels of verse 8 which finished with “The word of our God endures forever.”

So what exactly is the message from God that Isaiah is to fearlessly declare to a fear-filled people?* It is very simple; “Here is your God” or if you prefer the older translation “Behold your God.” That’s it. God’s people are to stare at God, to realise who He is and how he acts, and this is to move them from fear to faith, this in itself is the good news. Is this what you want to hear when someone you love gets ill? When you lose your job? When a friend hurts you or a relationship breaks down? When a pandemic rips across the globe? Behold God?

It’s not what the world around us wants to listen to. Joey laughs at me sometimes as I walk around the estates smiling at people (the benevolent minister!). But I am under no allusions as to what most people think of church ministers these days – irrelevant at best and unrepeatable things at worst! All I have got for people is God, all we as a church family really have for one another and for the world around us is God. And for the vast majority of the population that is simply not a message they pay any attention to, never mind one that will get rid of their fear and fill them with thankfulness.

But here is the thing; there is only good news in this world because there is God (repeat). If there is no God then there is only news because anything that sounds like it might cheer us up or make us happy apart from God will soon be gone. I reckon I use this illustration a lot but it is so helpful – if your house is burning down with your family inside, is it good news that you have just been promoted. No, it’s news yes, but it is pretty irrelevant news that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The situation that God’s people were in as exiles in Babylon meant that only news about God was good news and the situation every human being is in today in a sin-torn world heading towards God’s final judgement means exactly the same thing.

What are the nice people around us doing right now in this horrible time of Covid? Lots of them, very admirably, are “counting their blessings”, weighing them up against their difficulties, and somehow still managing to be cheerful and even thankful (thankful to something I guess, not God). 

That is not to be the pattern of God’s people, that is not to be us in CC Riverside. We are to move from fear to faith, from grumbling to thankfulness, not just because when we think about it we do have a warm house and enough food and a nice church family and so on, no, we are to be filled with joy because we have a God who is real and who is worth fixing our eyes upon. We MUST get to who God is and what he does in our hard conversations with each other. We must understand and trust that when one of the brothers and sisters at Riverside tell you how desperate the situation is that they are in, what they most need is to behold our God. And this goes for the unbelievers around us as well (Derek in the street). There is good news to share only because there is God.

   

  • There is great news because God is the mighty king (v10)

 

And the great news that we see when we do fix our eyes on God is that he is the mighty king, verse 10; “See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.”

 

The God who we are to behold, the God who comes to His people is: Sovereign, Powerful and Mighty, and Victorious. Think of what these truths mean for the exiles and then we will think of what they mean for us.

Sovereignty: Israelites, in your exile, God is in control – your enemies haven’t done this to you behind God’s back. No, he has been in total control the whole time, and so if he decides to rescue you then you WILL be rescued.

Power and might: The Babylonians seem powerful and believe themselves to be powerful, but any strength they have has simply been given to them by their creator and so when He wills it their arms will droop because his arm never will. His breath causes men to wither and his mighty arm holds the entire world in order. I remember doing Physics at school and playing around with circuits and bulbs and when you linked everything up right the bulb shone brightly. The Babylonians shine brightly at this point in history, they look impressive, but when God feels like it, he is simply going to remove the battery connection and they will be left powerless and dead. The Babylonians have no chance of stopping the all-powerful God when he decides to act for his people.  

Victorious: All glory belongs to God, and if he wants to earn plaudits and trophies and praise, when he wants the correct response to his goodness and glory, nothing will stop him getting it. But even better than this fact Israel, is that God’s people themselves, you are the reward he wants, you are the recompense that he will have accompanying him. This miserable bunch of exiles, who brought all this calamity upon themselves by their own sin and rebellion, are valued and desired by the glorious God. And so like a champion boxer he will act to have them hung around his waist or shoulders showing the heavens and the earth who is the victor.   

Through the cross of Christ, all of those things apply to us today as well. Imagine your worst case scenario, the circumstances you fear most, perhaps you are living through it right now; To behold your God in those is to remember that God is sovereign – those circumstances have not come about by accident. God is in total minute by minute control of them, he is at work in them and through them and He can be trusted to what is right.

Remember your God is mighty and powerful – any opponent or any difficulty only has the power that God has allowed it to have, and at the right time he will knock off the battery connection and it will have no power left over you. Covid is just one of the things that this is true of.

Remember your God is victorious – and that you and the rest of God’s people are his intended prize. And what a price he has paid as Hebrews 12 explains; “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” If you belong to God in Jesus, the price he has paid to win you shows you how valuable and precious you are to him. What a champion our God is.

Put all these things together and as we listen to Isaiah crying out this good news from the mountain top, we strain to get a clear view of this God we are to behold. The boxing commentator is in full throttle, gusts of smoke and fireworks are everywhere, and then God steps out into full view, v11;

  • There is amazing news because the mighty king is a tender shepherd (v11)

“He 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.” He’s a soft-hearted Shepherd. Does that not blow you away? All the rubbish that people sometimes speak about the big bad Old Testament God and the nice warm New Testament God is shown up in a verse like this. God is not either mighty and awesome or loving and caring, no, the almighty ruling God is the tender Shepherd of his people. The sovereign, powerful, mighty, victorious God tends his people, and gathers them. He carries them close to his heart. He gently leads those who are most vulnerable. Remember that in Isaiah 40, God is acting like this towards a stubborn, faithless, sin-filled people. The Shepherd King looks at his flock, all scratched and wounded so prone to running away from him rather than to him and He uses all of his might and power and sovereignty to act with such deep love and grace and mercy. Behold him behold us!

We can’t help but go to Jesus from here can we? We can’t help but go to Mount Calvary and hear the good news ring out. Not because “Jesus is a bit like Is 40v 11” or “Oh, Is 40 v 11 is a bit like Jesus” but rather, because Jesus is this almighty God in full view. And yes, the almighty God who conquered sin and death at the cross was indeed dressed just like a shepherd because he is one, John 10v11; ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”      

Jesus’ life was filled with kindness and tenderness towards the humble and the needy. The greater the need, the more obvious Jesus’ compassion. Touching lepers who no one else would go anywhere near, calling tax-collectors by their name when others crossed the road to avoid them, giving time and attention to a gentile woman rejected by her neighbours because of her awful morality. The good shepherd who wouldn’t break a bruised reed, who longed to gather Jerusalem to safety despite its rejection of him, whilst dying on the cross had time to welcome a criminal into the kingdom of God. CC Riverside, be blown away by our God, by his might and his love and let us acknowledge once again this morning our privileged position of belonging to him in Christ Jesus.

Isaiah was shouting from a mountain, the eternal victory of the cross was won on a mountain, and we are heading to an eternal mountain that will never be moved. But until then let us treat this place like a mountain, Mount Riverside, and from here let us shout out loudly and proclaim to all who can hear that they must turn their eyes to God, repent of their sin, and allow the good shepherd to tenderly lead them to safety. Just as I finish, let us have a moment of quiet where we can bring to mind specific people in our lives who have no good news to celebrate right now because they do not know God. Let us pray for them now, but more fittingly even than that, let each of us pray that today and in the days to come this week, we will take any chance we can to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them, to point them to him and to say “Behold our God.”   

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