on Isaiah 40

“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned. Yes, the LORD has punished her twice over for all her sins.”
Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
“Clear the way through the wilderness for the LORD! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God! Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills. Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places. Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The LORD has spoken!”
A voice said,
“Shout!”
I asked,
“What should I shout?”
“Shout that people are like the grass. Their beauty fades as quickly as the flowers in a field. The grass withers and the flowers fade beneath the breath of the LORD. And so it is with people. The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.”
O Zion, messenger of good news, shout from the mountaintops! Shout it louder, O Jerusalem. Shout, and do not be afraid. Tell the towns of Judah, “Your God is coming!”
Yes, the Sovereign LORD is coming in power. He will rule with a powerful arm. See, he brings his reward with him as he comes. He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. — Isaiah 40:1-11

“Dear Granddaughter

It’s strange writing this to you right now, because you’re just a little kid. By the time you’re reading this, I’ll probably be gone. But I want you to remember what I’m now telling you.

Times are good now. Your mom and dad love you very much, you’re in a good school. I don’t imagine things will change much between now and when you’re reading this. But things will change. You will fall into some very hard times as you get older. It’s hard to imagine, I know. Some of it will be out of your control; but a lot of it will be because of who you are, how you think, and what you do. You will make bad calls; you will push away your friends; you will start to hate your parents simply because of who they are. You will discover that very often, you know what the right thing to do is, but you’ll choose not to do it. How do I know this? Because you are your father’s daughter. And your father is my son. I’ve done this. Your father’s done this. And I’m willing to bet so will you.

But, dear granddaughter, that won’t be the end of the story. In your darkest moments, when you suddenly realise you’re alone – because you’ve pushed everyone away in your mad chase for acceptance, love, and meaning, and you find that you only have yourself for company – there will be a turning point. The same God who watched over me as I destroyed myself, and who watched over your father as he destroyed himself, will come find you too. Things are going to be ok, granddaughter. It’s hard to imagine that such painful times will come. But that same God who promised to rescue his children always, his promise covers you too. And your children after you, but that’s a long, long way away. Probably.

I’m writing this to you so you’ll know to be prepared. I love you, and I’ll see you again someday.

Love,

Grandpa”

If you want to understand what the Book of Isaiah feels like, it feels like this letter. Isaiah was talking to God’s people at a time when things were going well for them. God had just saved them from their enemies. But God spoke through Isaiah, he told his people that things wouldn’t last; even as God’s people were celebrating how God had saved them, they still wouldn’t turn to God. And so a new world was coming, when foreign people would rise up and swallow God’s people, because they still refused to turn to God – instead they trusted in the things of the world to save them: money, power, cleverness. God would allow the foreign nations to conquer his people, and drag them away to a foreign land. But one day God would save them. He would comfort his people, and bring them home.

All of this sounded like a steaming heap of nonsense to God’s people when Isaiah was speaking to them. But it all happened just as God said it would – it took 100 years, but in the end foreigners took God’s people away. And it took another 40 years, but God brought his people back home in the end.

This is the God of the Bible. He is not what we expect him to be. We’re happy with a God who for the most part doesn’t exist. When he does exist, he exists to bless us, make us happy, and help us achieve our dreams. But I want you to know the God of the Bible, not the God of your imagination. He doesn’t do things the way we expect. He isn’t a figment of your imagination, he isn’t a genie in a bottle – he is the King of Creation. With a word he told his people through Isaiah, in their brightest days, when things seemed to be going so well, that things would go bad. They didn’t believe him. And in their darkest days, he told them that he would save them, because he made a promise to always save his people. And they wouldn’t believe him. But he always does what he says he will do, even if we don’t expect it, even if we don’t believe him.

Fast forward 700 years after Isaiah spoke today’s passage. A crazy homeless man, stinking to high heaven, dressed in clothes made of fur, tells God’s people that here in the wilderness, he is making straight the path for the Lord. Who would expect this? Who would expect that this crazy homeless man is God’s messenger, quoting a 700-year-old, dusty, dead text – a text that is not, in fact, dead, but is about to come to life? Who would expect that the Sovereign Lord, coming in power near the end of this passage, would not come as a conquering King, surrounded by horsemen and flags, but as a poor, uneducated, homeless preacher, who died naked and broken? Nobody expected it. Very few people believed.

God is not who you expect him to be. Often you will not believe what he says. I know, the Bible says some pretty crazy things sometimes. But God always does what he says he will do. And he says that he made a promise long ago to stick by his people, even if they try to run away from him, even if they sin against him. Nothing has stopped him fulfilling that promise for 4000 years now. And I’m telling you this now because I’ve seen it in my life. I’ve seen God doing things in ways I could have never expected. I’ve seen him do things that I didn’t believe he would do. But he always sticks to that promise he made, even when you don’t think he will. Don’t pass off this chance. Go find him, go listen to him. It will be the best thing you could ever do.

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