Jubilate (The Third Sunday after Easter) May 3, 1998

INI

What Do We See When We Look Up?

Isaiah 40:26-31

Hymns

200, 376, 43, 39

Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth. Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the LORD, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. Here ends our text.

In the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

One of the greatest tributes to the power and majesty of our God is the vast universe He has created. Sometimes I wonder how many of us have even a slight grasp of just how vast it is. It was brought home to me a while back, when I heard about America’s space probe to the planet Neptune. It was launched way back when Jimmy Carter was president. Although the space craft was travelling at 35,000 miles per hour, it took over twelve years for it to reach the planet! Now remember: this is all taking place in our solar system, which is really just a pinhead in our galaxy, the Milky Way. And our galaxy itself—is nothing more than a tiny dot in a universe filled with galaxies!

The vastness of the universe stretches our imagination to the limits of human comprehension. But for us Christians, thinking about the power of God’s vast creation is worth the effort. The starry sky holds several important and comforting lessons especially for us. According to the prophet Isaiah, there are a lot of things we should be able to see when we look up at the stars. Not just constellations, but important facts about God, and about ourselves. The sermon theme today is a question:

“WHAT DO WE SEE WHEN WE LOOK UP?”

  1. We see God’s power
  2. We see our faithlessness
  3. We see God’s love for us

Do you ever just stand outside at night and look up at the stars? A lot of people have been doing that with the advent of the Hale-Bopp comet. Perhaps you’re not much of an astronomy buff. But this has probably happened to you at one time or another: you’re out in the country, away from city lights, perhaps at a higher elevation…and you look up at the stars, and the sight just about knocks the wind out of you! There are so many millions of stars, and sometimes they’re so bright that it seems like they’re hanging just over your head. The effect can, indeed, be breathtaking.

It’s a beautiful sight, alright. But did you ever wonder why God put those stars there? They don’t give off any warmth, like the sun does, and they don’t provide much light. All we can do is look at them. Well, one reason they’re there is to make us ask questions. And the biggest question of all is, “How did those stars get there?”

The world we live in has quite a few different answers for that one, according to which modern school of astronomy you listen to. The most popular explanation right now is the “Big Bang Theory.” If you’re not familiar with it, you can probably find it in the textbooks from your local public High School. It says that, three billion years ago, all the mass in the universe had collapsed into a space smaller than the head of a pin. Then it exploded and sent galaxies rocketing outward toward the edges of the universe. It’s a fascinating theory, but I wouldn’t put too much stock in it—this theory probably won’t last too long! Even in our modern technological world, astronomers aren’t too sure about how to answer the question of where the stars come from. In fact, their theories seem to change completely every 15-20 years!

Where can we find a definite answer for that question—an answer that won’t change with every passing whim of science? Our text asks the question and answers it all in the same breath: Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth.

What do we see when we look up? When we stand out on our porch at night, or in our back yard, craning our necks toward the sky? We see God’s power! We see the hand of a mighty Creator. The One who formed our solar system, and all the stars and planets and galaxies. He not only formed them, but He gave each of them their place in the arrangement of the sky. “Not one faileth”—there’s not a single one missing. That’s why Venus is the “morning star” for us, just as it was when Christopher Columbus first discovered America, and just as it was for centuries before that! God knows each of the stars by name, even the ones beyond the sight of the most powerful modern telescope. It’s only by God’s power that they all are there, night after night—not one is missing. Man’s power is nothing in comparison. Think of the many centuries it took us merely to progress to the point where we could travel between the earth and the moon! And by His power God created our earth and our moon, and all the myriad of stars and planets light years beyond our solar system!

It’s funny that modern scientists are forever tearing their hair out puzzling over the origin of the universe, when the sky itself is continually shouting the answer to them. The Psalmist says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.Ps 19:1-2. The same stars that the scientists stare at for hours on end—they speak more eloquently about the power of God than any preacher ever could!

What else does the night sky tell us when we look up? Well, according to the prophet Isaiah there is a sharp rebuke there for us, too! He says, Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the LORD, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. The prophet was speaking to the Children of Israel at a time of extreme crisis in their history. It was during the reign of King Hezekiah. In a few years time, Isaiah knew, the country would be conquered by the armies of Babylon—modern-day Iraq. It’s people would be carried away into Babylon as captives. Why this terrible disaster? It was because of the faithlessness of God’s people. Even now, Isaiah could hear the faithless cries of the captives in that faraway land: they would complain that their God had forgotten them, or didn’t care about them, or was too weak to help them. “What a ridiculous idea!” he says. “Look around you—look up at the stars! Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? God created all the things you see! He doesn’t forget, and He doesn’t get tired! His wisdom and power encompasses all creation! How could you think that He has forgotten you?”

This is a rebuke that we need from time to time, too. One thing we see when we look up is our own faithlessness. When you encounter a crisis in your life, do you feel as though you’re alone? As though no one could possibly know the anxiety, the pain you’re enduring? Do you feel small and inconsequential in the face of life’s problems and demands? Worst of all, does it seem as though the Lord is ignoring you, or that He has somehow overlooked your suffering? It’s not true! Isaiah is talking to you today when he says, “Look up at the stars. The same God who created them and placed them in their proper pattern is carefully guiding the pattern of your life, too!”

I was once visiting an elderly woman who was known for her ability to create beautiful pieces of needlepoint. I was anxious to see a sample. I caught a glimpse a piece she was working on lying on an end table, but it didn’t look like much to me. It just seemed to be a mass of different colored threads going every which way. She smiled when she saw me puzzling over it. “You’re only looking at the underside of it,” she said. “You can’t see the pattern unless you look at it from above!” When she turned it over, I could see the beautiful picture it really was. Sometimes our view of life is like that. We can’t make sense out of the things that we see happening around us. It just looks like chaos—a tangled mess of random happenings. But God knows the pattern of our lives. Each event, each thread, is part of God’s plan to make us better Christians, stronger servants of our Lord. And God’s plan is always aiming toward the same goal—to bring us, finally, to Himself in heaven. In this life we see only the underside of the pattern, but God sees it from above.

The events of our life may seem random to us, just like the scattering of stars in the sky appears to be random. But you know, those stars are not stuck up there at random—God, in His infinite wisdom, placed them in that exact pattern! And His wisdom dictates the events of our lives, too. It’s good, when we look up at the stars, to confront ourselves with our faithlessness, and do our best to overcome it with the promises of God’s Word. God does not forget us. Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you, says the Lord.—Is 14:15. The Bible promises us that every detail of our lives is precisely placed into the Lord’s plan for us. God will make even the bad things work out for our good! We can place our futures into His hands with confidence, knowing that His wisdom is infinitely beyond ours. “As the heavens are higher than the earth,” God says, “so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.Is 55:9.

What do we see when we look up? We see God’s power, and, unfortunately, we often see our own faithlessness. But we should also see something else—God’s love. Why is it that we can trust Him to make sense out of the scattered pattern of our lives? Because He has declared His love for us, and His will to help us. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.

“He gives power to the powerless.” Every human being, by nature, is absolutely dead in sin, unable to help himself in any way. It’s like an electrical outlet when the circuit breaker is switched off: it’s just a hole in the wall, not good for anything. But each one of us Christians has been transformed by God’s Word. We’ve become alive, electrified, activated with the God-given energy of faith! It’s not faith in ourselves, and what our own abilities can bring us. It’s not faith in the world, and what it has to offer. It’s faith in God’s Son, who was sent to earth with a specific mission—to pay for our sins with His own blood, and to free us from the curse of the law. He came to give us new life and strength, and to put meaning into our existence here on earth.

Look up at the stars! Each little twinkling star is actually a distant sun—most of them with many times the power of our own sun! The mighty God who gave them that power has, in His love, promised to give you power, too! The saving power of faith, yes, but also the power to overcome the difficulties of life. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. God has promised to provide us with strength for every step of our walk through life. When the sufferings of our existence here become so great that we don’t know how we can go another step—then that’s when we especially need to take God at His word! That’s when we need to hold Him to His promise and wait confidently for the strength He has pledged to give us! The night sky reminds us that His love for us, in Christ, knows no limits. “For,” the Psalmist says, “as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.Ps 103:11. The God who didn’t spare His only Son, but gave Him up for us all—He will, indeed, freely give us everything we need!

Perhaps each of us would do well to become more of a “star-gazer”. Why not do it sometime soon, especially if you feel the need of comfort in this perplexing and often painful world. Take a walk outside in the dark, and have another look at the breathtaking spectacle of the stars. Lift up your eyes to the heavens, as Isaiah suggests, and ask yourself, “Who created all these?” In Jesus’ Name, AMEN.

—Pastor Paul Naumann

Sermon Preached April 20, 1997
Ascension Lutheran Church, DuPont WA


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