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The incomparable God - Isaiah 40:18-26

This is a sermon by Peter Birnie from the Riverside Church service on 14th February 2021.

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Is 40 v 18-26 “The Incomparable God”

Intro: Do you like playing Jenga? It’s a game where players take it in turns to move and place wooden blocks on top of a tower and the game continues until someone makes the tower collapse as they move their block. Some people are way better at Jenga than others – as you can imagine, the games don’t last very long in our house and the tower doesn’t get very tall. A 12 year-old boy called Auldin Maxwell in British Colombia (Canada) holds the world record for Jenga – he managed to stack 693 Jenga pieces on top of a single block.  By 2023 he hopes to break that record with 750 pieces. He is very skilled at Jenga but the article about his accomplishment contained this little sentence which I hope will ring in your ears from today when you find yourself acting like Auldin Maxwell with the pieces of your life, it said this; After the stack fell, Maxwell kept the final block as a memento. It now lives on a shelf in his room.” It was great while it lasted but now all he has is a sad little wooden block gathering dust.

We have seen that Isaiah 40 offers a great comfort to people in great trouble. But here is the problem – there are many many people living all around us who wouldn’t be comforted at all by this chapter. Worse, there are some of us here, maybe even very involved in the family of Riverside church who may well be in exactly the same situation. The comfort offered in Isaiah 40 is all to be found in the true God, by believing truths about his character and workings, by fixing our eyes on his greatness and love. But people, in their sin, and in their desire to find the type of comfort they want, build their own gods.   

And these are Jenga gods, they are just made of stuff and so no matter how good they look, how sturdy they seem, how nice they are to play with for a while, they are going to collapse. And having collapsed, they will leave anyone leaning on them for comfort in a very bitter and terrible situation. The mighty, powerful shepherd God wants his little sheep to avoid this desperate end and so the verses in our passage today though stark and uncompromising, are filled once again with his deep love and compassion. God exhorts you and pleads with you this day as he says with such tenderness “Do you not know? Have you not heard?” Today, we are to put our full trust (first time for some?) in the God who won’t topple. Who won’t fade away, but who will reign in glory forever.  

  • Our God will not topple like idols (v18-22)

 

“With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? 19 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. 20 A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple.”

Every day, every hour, every minute we live in this world we face a choice. We either choose to trust in God and live out that conviction or we choose to trust in something else and live that way instead. The Israelites in Isaiah 40 are in an excellent place to now make a good choice. And that’s because their terrible situation shows up so well the truth of verses 18-22.

So often in the past, the Israelites had turned away from God and put their trust in idols and in the nations around them rather than keeping faith with God. And this led them to disaster. To siege and defeat and captivity and the destruction of all that they most valued. And so as God speaks comfort to them now, to tell them he is coming to save them and that no one or no nation will be able to stop him from doing that, they should be in a good place to happily put their faith in him rather than in their idols that all lie toppled over and broken. This is what always happens to idols eventually, whether they are made of expensive metals covered with gold and silver (v19) or whether they are simply flat-bottomed blocks of wood (v20). But we are so easily taken in, we so easily replace worship of the creator with worship of the created. We so easily compare the things we can see with God and pin our hopes on the things we can see. But this is so stupid (STUPID!)

Let’s say though that you are stopped at the traffic lights near Parkstone road and in one lane in front of you is an old battered Vauxhall Zafira 1.8d and in the other lane is a brand new Ferrari 812 Superfast. You aren’t going to waste time looking at the Zafira and when the light goes green and you drive away your daydreams will have you at the wheel of the Ferrari rather than the Vauxhall (if you aren’t careful you may even end up making a racing car noise as you drive). Those 2 cars look so different and yet drive a bit further and go to the scrap yard on Clough road and it will only take you 30 seconds to see that they are made of exactly the same stuff. They came from dust and they are on their way back to dust; Jenga gods.    

It would be stupid to think of either of those cars as anything more than that, to tie your identity or achievement or security in the fact that you have a wonderful car. But as I said already we are so easily taken in, we so easily replace worship of the creator with worship of the created – what might this look like for CC Riverside(no Ferraris here)? We want God’s stuff more than we want God. What I am about to say sounds very challenging but please go with me and patiently wait to hear the whole sermon before putting any barriers up;

We easily value good mental health way more than good spiritual health even though God can be using your mental health struggles to draw you closer and closer to him (better). We easily value a happy and easy marriage way more than a good relationship with God. But God can use the bumps and difficulties in your marriage to help you desire Him more and more (better). We easily value the seeming security of a decent salary or a successful business rather than the absolute security of salvation and the promise of heaven. And yet hard financial times can build our faith in the generous creator God (better). We easily value a particular person way more than we value Jesus. But even in the midst of bereavement God is working good for his children as he stirs up their desire for Jesus’ return (better).    

Like the Israelites in Babylon, we are actually in a very good place right now to make the right choice regarding worshipping God or worshipping stuff. And that’s because many of the things we can make into idols are currently lying toppled on the ground.

Mental health problems, struggling marriages, financial worries and bereavements are all things the CC Riverside family are wrestling with right now. And in all of them it is right to feel burdened and saddened with each other, it is right to carry one another’s burdens and to pray that God gives relief and brings health and comfort and ask that he do that soon. But in the midst of all of these trials and more, God’s great purpose is to change our hearts so that they are filled with zeal and desire for him – our struggles, expensive and painful as they are, they are worth it when we come to realise verse 21;

Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? 22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.”

Our pain is worth it when it brings us to view God as he really is and to seek to worship him properly. The gods that people make are far too small and far too prone to topple. Whilst we try to balance our Jenga tower and stop our little idols toppling, God is stopping everything from toppling – he is stretching out the heavens like a tent as he sits on the throne of the universe. Us little grasshoppers are to realise his greatness and to see clearly that he is not to be compared to anything, never mind replaced by anything, and then live our lives as we were made to, in worship of him, thinking about him, being changed by Him. And this is such a safe and secure state to be in – because our God will not topple like idols.    

       2. Our God will not fade away like Princes (v23-24)

And our God will not fade away like Princes, v23; “He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. 24 No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.” Israel had often made the mistake of going to other nations for military help instead of trusting that God would keep his word to them through the prophets. They found it so easy in the past to look at nations like Assyria and Egypt, compare the chariots and horses they had to offer with what God had to offer and choose wrongly. And now they are stuck in powerful and advanced Babylon they could easily choose wrongly again; they could compare God’s proclamation of comfort and rescue through Isaiah with the military power of Babylon and so fail to put their trust in their God, fail to believe his promises, fail to have faith.

And so in these verses 23 and 24 God repeats the simple truth from verse 7 that humanity withers, even princes and rulers wither, and they do so very quickly before the strength of the ruling God. In the first section of the sermon we imagined going to a scrapyard where Ferraris and Zafiras are in the same rotten condition. When was the last time you walked through a cemetary? It is simply a scrapyard for bodies isn’t it? It is a place where the remains of people society put their hope in and those society despise lie next to one another. Ferraris and Zafiras have the same end and valiant Kings and noble leaders will end up in the same state as paedophiles and child killers.   

This means that it is as stupid to put your hope in people as it is to put your hope in stuff. Do not put anything or anyone in the place of God, do not compare Him to anything or anyone. Because only God and those who belong to him through the death and resurrection of Jesus, have hope of life past death, through death, after death. It is a certain hope and it puts God’s people in a completely different position than from anyone else under the sun.

And what this necessarily entails is that we should not fear any person or the opinion of any people compared to fearing the great God of the Universe. Unfortunately, great idolatry is obvious in churches across our land right now where the fear of what people think and how society might react means that what is preached from many pulpits is not the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. To keep princes and rulers happy, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ is done away with, the sinfulness of sin is hidden, the reality of hell is obscured, the necessity of Jesus as Lord as well as saviour is forgotten. But these princes and rulers that we try to impress, they will soon fade and the hopes of anyone depending on them will fade too.

What do I have for you near the end of this sermon once again? Only the cross of Jesus Christ. Because only at the cross can grasshoppers, and little blades of grass, and tiny pieces of chaff that should be blown away, only at the cross can we have hope, can we approach the God of the universe as we should; forgiven from our sin and rebellion and free and empowered to worship Him and only Him with all of our lives. Our God will not fade away like Princes and so we must bow and worship.

Conclusion: Our God will continue to reign (v25-26)

What a privilege it is that I personally can say this to you now; “The God that I belong to in Jesus, that we belong to in Jesus, the God who has given himself to me and to his people through the blood of Jesus is the incomparable God of Isaiah 40 verses 25-26”; “‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”

Get rid of the idols in your life; let the good gifts that God has given you and the wonders of his creation turn you to Him, drive you to him. Come to Jesus Christ for the first time today or come to him for the thousandth time and resolve by the life he gives you through His spirit to respond to God in wonder and in worship. Through your trials and your pain, through mental health troubles and marriage problems and financial difficulties and the pain of bereavement and the crisis that is Covid, think about his right to rule in your life and think about the goodness of his rule in your life; he knows all the billions of stars by name, how much more does he know you and everything about you and how much more does he have concern and love for you? And with the Christianity Explored course starting next week, resolve to invite others to come and bow before the one true God as well. “Comfort, comfort my people says your God” and who is this God? He is the incomparable, unlimited, shepherd-hearted, loving ruler of the Universe and he endures forever.

Is 40 v 18-26 “The Incomparable God” HANDOUT

Intro: Jenga gods Vs the real God.

 

  • Our God will not topple like idols (v18-22)

 

Stupid to replace worship of the creator with worship of the created

 

The Ferrari, the Zafira and the scrapyard.

 

 

 

Which is more valuable?

 

  • Good mental health or a closer walk with God?

 

  • Easy marriage or a stronger desire for God?

 

  • Successful business or an increased faith in the God of heaven?

 

  • No mourning or an a more eager waiting for Jesus’ return?

 

 

Lives of worship to God are what we have been made for – and God will not topple.

 

 

         2. Our God will not fade away like Princes (v23-24)

 

Cemeteries - Human scrapyards where noble Kings and vile murderers are in the same state.

 

 

The resurrection hope in Jesus means God’s people are in a completely different position than anyone else under the Sun.

 

 

 

At the cross of Christ grasshoppers and chaff have the hope of heaven.

 

 

Conclusion: Our God will continue to reign (v25-26)

 

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”

 

 

Get rid of your idols and instead worship the God that knows the stars by name – how much more does he know and love you?

 

 

 

Is 40 v 18-26 “The Incomparable God” Home Group Questions

 

1) Read through verses 18-20 and discuss what different things in our society are often made into idols. When have you found yourself settling for an idol rather than drawing near to God?

 

2) How do verses 21-22 show up the stupidity of idolatry? Can our pain really be worth it if it helps us to come to God in deep need?

 

3) In verses 23-24, how should the reality of death stop us from putting our ultimate hope in our friends or our family? Do we think enough about God’s greatness? How could we think more about his greatness and majesty?  

 

4)Can you think of things in your life that were once very important to you that are now more like a jenga block gathering dust on a shelf?

 

5) How does the resurrection of Jesus Christ put Christians in a different position from everyone else under the Sun? How should it drive us outwards to the world around?

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