The 14th Sunday After Pentecost September 6, 2009
17, 743 [TLH alt. 19], 427(1-5), 427(6-7)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
“To whom then will you liken Me, or to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things, Who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, by the greatness of His might And the strength of His power; not one is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel: “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my just claim is passed over by my God?” Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
“The young men shall utterly fall…” The other day, I saw clips from the Olympic men’s gymnastics which featured some bone crunching falls by some of the top competitors. The commentators were surprised that men of that caliber were making such costly blunders during their competition. The commentators guessed that the athletes were fatigued by the strain of their activities during the Olympics.
We don’t tune into worldwide broadcasting of the Olympic games just to watch young men and women fall. We tune in to be amazed and inspired by such a variety of gifted and determined competitors. They are a nation’s champions—they go out on the citizens’ behalf; they compete under the nation’s flag, and the country cheers them on for national pride and for the thrill of seeing what can be achieved if you set your heart on something.
Few of us can imagine focusing on something like the Olympics. We are the breadwinners and homemakers and students that plod along anonymously in our little track from home to work, to school, to church, to Wal-Mart and the grocery store. But we still think of those Olympians as our champions, and it does us proud to see one of our own plant a landing, break the tape, or touch the wall.
We’re surprised to see our champions fail, fall, or run out of steam. But when it comes to us, it is a different matter. We live in this world where weariness is just a work day away, where burdens can weigh on our shoulders and on our hearts, where we often fail to follow through, or fall to temptation. We are competitors in a different sort of games, one with far more events, one that has been around long before the Olympics, one with stakes far higher for our body and soul.
Isaiah’s audience was part of these games and what he wanted to convey to them was that they also had a Champion—one in whom they would find victory even when they felt they were losing. His message in this fortieth chapter is that where the Lord is Champion, the weary are the winners! I. This Champion’s power is unequaled, II. This Champion’s wisdom is undisputed, and III. This Champion’s kindness is unending.
Beginning in chapter 40, Isaiah was addressing people who had not yet been born. The Babylonian nation, a weak city-state while Isaiah was alive, would become the dominant world-power and would have its sights set on Judah and Jerusalem. Babylon’s heroes would be on the march and the people of Judah would find themselves trembling and distressed. They would have little military strength, their allies would be defeated, and their kings would be pagans in Israelite clothing. How could they be delivered from the doom that was to come?
It is to these people that Isaiah says “Behold your God!” (Isaiah 40:9). God shows the people that their Champion’s power is unequaled. After all, He has “…measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, measured heaven with a span and calculated the dust of the earth in a measure” (Isaiah 40:12). Friends, this is your God. This is the everlasting One, the Holy One who watches over Israel and never slumbers nor sleeps (cf. Psalm 121). Isaiah makes quite a case for the majesty of God in this chapter, because his hearers had come to think of God as weak and distant and fickle. They claimed, “My way is hidden from the Lord and my just claim is passed over by my God” (Isaiah 40:27).
But Isaiah’s God, David’s God, Abraham’s God, and Moses’ God is a mighty God. He sits above the circle of the earth and spreads out the heavens like it is a tent to dwell in. From His perspective, man’s mighty armies are like grasshoppers. Mighty rulers and princes are putty in His hands. What adversary can prevail against Him or threaten that which belongs to Him?
The most remarkable aspect of God’s majesty is brought out in our text, where the prophet tells his readers: “Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things; who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, by the greatness of His might and the strength of His power; not one is missing.” [v.26] Notice how Isaiah weaves the idea of absolute power into the picture of a celestial shepherd. When night falls and all the heavenly lights come out, it is He who leads them in their heavenly pasture. For all their number and for all the distances that separate them, they are to our God like lambs under the care of a shepherd who knows every one by name.
Isaiah’s God lives today. Not a one of us draws a breath without His knowledge and nothing happens that He does not permit. Does He have His foes and enemies? Certainly. Do they seek to overthrow His ways and bring evil on His creation? Absolutely. Do they seek to destroy those who love and obey Him? They do. But we see here that this Champion’s power is unequaled.
So, if “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases, (Psalm 115:3), why were the folks in Jerusalem so worried? Why the whiny “My way is hidden from the Lord…” and the pathetic “my just claim is passed over by my God?” Why, similarly, do we creep along in life with our backs bowed down, living only half a life? If we claim to have some “just claim” before God, some heritage, some right, is it evident in our way of life? Does it shine in our eyes when we speak? Are we joyous and content in our faith, or are we moping around like the Jews of old?
Isaiah fixes a gaze on us both and says, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable.” [v.28] This Champion’s wisdom is undisputed.
There is something very important being said here, not just about God, but about us. “Have you not known?” Isaiah holds it as possible, self-evident in fact, that God can be known. That we, living in a rebellious and deceptive world, can hear the knowledge of God and receive it by word. God comes to you through His word and sacraments for this very purpose—that you may know Him and discover His intentions toward you.
God comes to mankind through His Word spoken on the mouths of prophets and proclaims His saving will to fallen mankind. He reveals His holy Law and defines what is truth and exposes what is false. He warns the transgressor of His just wrath, but then He comes and shows all mankind the most astonishing thing—as Isaiah said, “A marvelous work and a wonder” (Isaiah 29:14). This marvelous work and wonder is the redemption accomplished by Jesus, the Son of God, the Lamb for God who takes away the sin of the world. God sends His own eternal Son into the world and He lives here as a true human being. He was rejected, betrayed and executed by this world to the horror and distress of the handful who believed in Him, but through this defeat He overcomes. He dies to conquer death. He is bruised by the Adversary in order to crush him like a bug. He allows Himself to be rejected by men, but in the process reconciles the world to Himself.
Our God can be known, but we should not expect to understand Him beyond what He reveals to us. There is no searching His understanding, but to the one who hears and accepts His Word, God’s wisdom is undisputed.
This Champion, then, is powerful and He is wise. But all that only underscores Isaiah’s last point in this message which is that this Champion’s kindness is unending. For what we are to know is that He directs His power and wisdom to our everlasting well-being, and in this comfort He sustains and builds us up.
Last year one Olympian walked away from the games with an astonishing eight gold medals. He became a great American champion, a hero. But that will not necessarily qualify him to be a good physician for your child, nor a wise leader for our country, and even his hero status faltered when he was revealed to be only human and plagued by mistakes like the rest of us.
But in our God we have a champion for the weary and weak in every distress. “He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength.” [v.29] The great promise of our God is that even though we daily fall short of what we should be, even when we feel we cannot endure more in terms of pain or heartbreak or labor, even though our conscience assails us like a champion boxer pummeling away at us, our Champion is still here and has won the day and will carry us to victory.
A commercial aired during the Olympic games last year that tells the story of 1992 Olympic sprinter Derek Redmond. Derek was winning the 400 meter race when he pulled a hamstring and crumpled to the track. As he struggled up and hobbled along in tears and pain his father rushed down from the stands and took his side helping him reach the finish line. On that day, the father was Derek’s champion.
Our God is the champion for all those who know Him and trust in Him. In Isaiah’s words, they “wait on the Lord.” The Gospel of redemption becomes very personal—like a father coming down to lift us up and carry us across a hopelessly distant finish line. To the world sitting in the stands our life of faith may not be glorious or pretty, but in our soul God’s eternal power and unbounded love supply the strength to overcome every adversity and finish the only race that really matters. “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” [vv.30-31] Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.