Text: Isaiah 40:1-11
For the last eight weeks we have heard stories of people encountering God and responding “Here I am.” In most of those cases what God went on to ask or lead or nudge them to do was out of their comfort zone, beyond their skill set, or a little bit scary. You heard from some of our congregation who have said “Here I am” to God. Their stories were no different, but God has been present and faithful to go before and behind and with them as they stepped out in faith.
Today we come to the end of the series and we flip the thing around. Instead of focusing on the human side of things, the text focuses on the one TO WHOM we respond, the Lord. In today’s text we have God speaking to His people saying, “Here I AM.” It, of course, still prompts the question: “How will they respond… how will YOU respond?” But the great focus in the text is clearly on God.
So I want to work through this text with you and try to get a clear glimpse of who God is and what He has done. Then I’ll end by asking you the question one last time for this series: how will YOU respond?
Prologue: they won’t listen
I don’t know if you remember last week. We were in Isaiah 6. Same guy… Isaiah. He had a powerful vision of the Lord, an encounter with God Almighty. We talked about that whole cycle of encountering God in worship, confessing sin, being made clean, and being responding to God’s mission. And I pretty well glossed over his mission, but it was another challenging one. God told him that the people wouldn’t listen. “Here I am; send me!” and God does… and God tells you that they won’t listen. At least for a long time. It was kind of a God-sized, community time out. Or perhaps more accurately, God was letting them experience the consequences of their disobedience and sin. So Isaiah was to go among God’s people for a season of being tuned out to God until the people were ready to listen and really turn back to God.
That was Isaiah 6. Today we are in Isaiah 40 and time has passed. The people have experienced the wretched consequences of living in disobedience to God. And now Isaiah’s message is much different. Not only is it full of Good News, but now the people may be ready to hear it! Let’s listen.
Peace and Preparation (vv.1-5)
The chapter begins with amazing words of mercy and grace: “Comfort, O comfort my people” says your God. It’s THEIR God who is speaking now of comfort. The time for punishment and consequences is over. Isaiah goes on to share God’s message: “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Have you ever delivered that kind of message as a parent? Okay; you did something wrong, but you have endured the consequences and now you can move on with life. And in this case God pronounces something that sounds so Gospel-like: your iniquity has been removed. They endured the consequence of their disobedience and faithlessness, but only God can remove sin. And He has; and He does. Things are right with God; His people have been reconciled to Himself. They have peace with God.
With that peace, God now tells His people to get ready. It’s the language of preparing for the King to arrive: clear the way, make smooth the road. In ancient times, this preparation literally happened when a king was coming. The roads would be cleared off and even leveled out to “make way” for the king. What are they preparing for? It’s there in verse 5: the GLORY of the Lord will be revealed and everyone will see it. It’s Messiah language, the promise of the return of God’s blessing, and Kingdom, and King. Remember, God’s people have been in exile because they turned away from God. They lost the land, the earthly kingdom, and it felt like they had lost the blessing of God. Those were all the covenant promises to Abraham and they had lost all of it because of their sin. But Isaiah is announcing that all is not lost. The glory of the Lord will be revealed!
Here is… your God! (vv.6-11)
In verse 6 and following what comes next is an announcement, literally answering the question posed in verse 6: “What shall I call out?” Then, in an interesting contrast, the fleeting lives and efforts of humanity is contrasted with the eternal nature and Word of God. I’ve heard a number of preachers use these verses right before preaching, a reminder of our impermanence and the permanence and solidity of the Word: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of tour God stands forever.” To be clear, it is humanity that withers and fades. But that is in stark contrast to God and God’s Word. Though hundreds of years had passed, God had not forgotten His Word – His promise – to Abraham. And God’s Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom; it is an eternal Kingdom.
All of this is building up to a declaration. The herald is told to get up on a high mountain to declare the good news… to raise the voice mightily. It is not going to be a human hero with a “Here I am” moment, as important as our response to God is. This is the foundational “Here I am” statement. It’s all eyes on God time. So the herald shouts it from the mountaintop: “HERE IS YOUR GOD!”
And more description follows. This is God who will come with might (v.10) but who is also a tender Shepherd (v.11). But the real point here that I want to lift up is that before we can ever say “Here I am” we must see and say, “Here God is.” That’s what happened in each of the stories we’ve looked at in this series. Each human encountered or experienced God. Each was humbled, sometimes in full repentance and confession of sin. And it was only then that they could truly respond, “Here I am.”
So it may be that I’ve run the whole series backwards… but maybe this is the piece you have been needing for things to click. Church and religion and Christianity – is not about what we do, but about who God is and what God has done. If it is something we build or imagine or cobble together, it is as permanent as the grass the withers and the flower that fades. But if we can catch a glimpse of God – not a God we create, but the God who created us – then something glorious will happen. God’s purpose and plan will SHINE through us and around us and bless those around us.
Last week I talked about the importance of regular worship. It’s important because it makes sure we are intentional about encountering God. Yes, God can reveal Himself to you anywhere. But ordinarily and faithfully, God reveals Himself through His Word and His Spirit, both of which are present when we gather to worship here.
God to Us: “Here I AM” (Rev. 3:20)
I included one verse from Revelation in today’s scripture. I did because it uses similar language to what we’ve been looking at. It also came in a vision from God; in this case, to the disciple John in his old age. It is part of Jesus’ message to the early church, specifically one of the seven churches mentioned in the first chapters of Revelation. While our NASB translation begins the verse with ‘behold’ the NIV renders it this way: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.” (Rev 3:20)
It’s a great image. We can operate as a church or as individuals by preparing meals and events that we think will be good. We can do things we think are good or might be looked on favorably. But the image that God gives to His church is that God is the primary visitor who must be invited in to the dinner. God says, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”
That’s a familiar image to anyone who may have been to an evangelistic rally or a revival before. And it’s true: to be a Christian you must welcome God into your life. But what many church-going folks miss is how important that image is to a church. And it was written to a church. It’s easy to be about our churchy things and forget the key guest. Especially when we are in a mode of wanting to grow and welcome new people into our midst, it’s easy to focus on the events and the welcome and the outreach. But THE critical thing before we say “Here I am” and “here are our plans” is to open the door to God. “Here God is” comes first because it is God who directs what we will do next.
That’s why worship and prayer and scripture are so important all the time, but especially right now. Our first realization must be that GOD IS HERE. And then our first question must be: What is God doing here? And then “Here we are!” Let me say those three things again:
God is here!
What is God doing here?
Here we are – listening, available, ready to go!