Sermon Manuscript . . .
God is Not Safe
Ever been on a wild ride? We had one years ago–we took a ride home in a bug infested car. We rented a car for one day in Hawaii one summer. That night we got in the car to return home and discovered it was infested with cockroach-like insects. For an hour drive back to the hotel, the boys were terrified–stomping the floor, whacking with their hands, moving around. While I had the radio on for noise and the inside lamp on for light, piercing my eyes while I tried to drive. And to be honest with you, I was experiencing massive creepies, picturing roaches crawling up my legs, in my pants and through my shirt. I let some bugs out this morning, so you can identify.
Life can be that way–a little unjust and creepy. God causes or allows all things. God is sovereign–He does as He pleases, only as He pleases and always as He pleases. And whatever He does, He does for his glory and our good. But that does not stop us from asking, “Why does that godly woman of God have to die?” Or, “Why does a mother of four get cancer?” Or, “Why is that godly man damaged in a horrible accident . . . the sister die . . . parent abandon their kids . . . you experience unemployment, or heartbreak, or no attention from any guy?” What is God trying to do? What do we learn about God when the Lord rattles our cage? We learn that God is not safe. Turn to Isaiah 40 to see God more clearly.
One of my favorite fun book series is “The Chronicles of Narnia” by CS Lewis. In these fictional books, the Christ figure is a lion named Aslan. In the first book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as Mr. & Mrs. Beaver describe Aslan to the two little girls, Susan and Lucy, Lucy asks this question about Aslan. “Is-is he a man?” “Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you, he is the King of the wood and the son of the great emperor-beyond-the-sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion–THE Lion, the GREAT Lion.”
“Oh,” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a Lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” asked Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the KING, I tell you.”
Friends, I agree, and the Bible affirms–Jesus isn’t safe. He is the King. He is good. But He isn’t safe. And Isaiah 40, along with a hundred other Scriptures, proves it. In Isaiah 40, it’s the divided kingdom–Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Isaiah is preaching primarily to upper-middle class Judeans in the south. He condemns them for appearing genuine, without a committed heart to God.
Isaiah takes 35 chapters to proclaim judgment upon Judah and other nations for their empty faith. Then for the next three chapters, chapters 36 to 39, Isaiah describes Assyria’s attempt to conquer Judah, which Isaiah predicted would fail. But then he tells them Judah will be taken captive by Babylon in the future. As we come to chapter 40, Isaiah has just predicted that everyone in Judah is going to be torn from their homes, lose their wealth, property, security, and be taken into slavery. In many cases, children will be forever separated from their parents. God is not only allowing this to occur, but He has ordained it. God is not safe.
I’m not saying God is cruel–just not safe. God is not like the Jr. High school janitor who was having a problem cleaning the mirrors at the school. The girls were putting on their lipstick, but then kissing the mirrors, leaving all kinds of lip prints. Finally, the principal decided something had to be done. She called all the girls to the bathroom in groups of ten and met them there with the custodian. She explained that all these lip prints were causing a major problem for the custodian, who had to clean the mirrors every day.
To demonstrate how difficult it was to clean the mirrors, she asked the custodian to clean one of the mirrors. He proceeded to take out a long-handled brush, dip it into the nearest toilet and scrub the mirror. Since then, there have been no lip prints on the mirrors. God is not cruel, but He is not safe. Non-Christian, God will drag you to Himself, but the price might be high. Christian, to grow you, the price may be high. But even as Isaiah predicts their coming captivity–which far exceeds any of our hurts, through Isaiah God now teaches the Jews back then and teaches us today three crucial truths, starting in Isaiah chapter 40. What does God want you to know in the midst of a wild ride?
#1 God CARES about your condition Verses 1 to 11
As Isaiah begins this second major section of his letter, he describes to the discouraged Israelites a God who is incredibly great, yet one who cares for His people. How? Look at verses 1 to 2, “Comfort, O comfort My people, says your God. 2Speak 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.”
Isaiah describes your problem and God’s solution. Isaiah’s diagnosis of your sick condition is this–you have a sin problem and eternal death is certain. Unless God Himself takes care of your sins, you’re going to Hell and you can’t do anything about it. You can’t live good enough or be religious enough to somehow solve your sin problem. You can’t, but God can. Isaiah 40:2 says God does help–I believe because He loves us. This is why he says “comfort” and “speak kindly” in verses 1 and 2.
But be careful, friend–God is not limited to one attribute. God is not exclusively the God of love. He is also the God of holiness, justice, wrath and judgment. The true God of love is also determined to punish sin. Isaiah just took 39 chapters to describe certain, coming judgment. In fact, you can’t understand God’s love unless you understand His wrath. Because of our sin, all of us–from the kind grandfather to the blue-eyed baby girl will all go to Hell. We are all born, as Ephesians 2:3 says, “By nature, objects of wrath.”
Every one of you here has repeatedly committed high treason against the Supreme Ruler of the universe. Knowing that is what makes God’s love so amazing. Yes God loves everyone, friends–but not the same. His love for those who reject Him is of a different quality and degree than His love for His own children. I love my neighbor and my wife differently. I chose my wife, I didn’t choose my neighbor. My neighbor is hairy and Jean is a babe. I willingly asked Jean to live with me for the rest of our lives, but didn’t do that for my neighbor. I love my neighbor and I love Jean, but the love isn’t the same.
And friends, God’s love for the lost and for His children is different too. We can see His love for lost people, shown by the fact there is laughter, mercy, enjoyment and a patient Gospel offered to them in this life without immediate punishment for sin. But that love will not keep God from ultimately casting them into Hell forever. Why? Because God is also perfect, without sin–and no sin nor violation of any one of His commands of thought, speech or action can be overlooked or allowed into Heaven. You and I have to be as perfect as God in order to live with Him in heavenly perfection forever.
Never forget, the same God who loved the wicked city of Ninevah through the prophet Jonah, is also the very same God who condemned the same city 100 years later through the prophet Nahum, when God’s patience was up. Friends, we don’t cease to exist when we die and the God of love does not take everyone to Heaven. Each of us is doomed to Hell for committing just one single sin, unless God does something for us.
This is why Isaiah can say in verse 1, “comfort my people,” and verse 2, “by the Lord’s hand her iniquity has been removed“–because God did do something for us through Christ! Jesus took our punishment for our sin and can exchange our sin for His righteousness, which is a perfect standing before a perfect God. In Isaiah 53, the prophet tells us how Jesus can do it. “He [Jesus] was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. 6All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:5 and 6).
Friends, God does not love us for what we are–God loves His children in spite of what we are, because Jesus Christ took our punishment for sin. Isaiah tells us in verses 3 to 5, Jesus will come again like a conquering General. And though we’re as fragile as grass and delicate as flowers, in verses 6 to 8, God keeps His Word. Jesus will come for those who are His sheep, so verse 11 says “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs, and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.” God does care.
He’s not the volcano-god, expecting you to jump in when He is angry. But once we are His children, He is a loving Father who tenderly shepherds His family. Isaiah is encouraging captive Judah with the news of their deliverance, through the Second Coming of Christ. Yet you can see the care God has for all His people here. “But,” you ask, “when suffering, in pain and full of problems–does the Lord really care for me? Can He truly help me?” When you ask that question, you’re revealing that you don’t see God correctly.
#2 God is CAPABLE of anything in your life Verses 12 to 26
God has the ability to help. In fact, His ability is so great, His power is immeasurable. The closer we move to Him, the more we will be awed by His greatness. Our problem is you and I don’t see God correctly. Is God big enough to deal with what you are facing? Cancer, divorce, death, bankruptcy, pain, sorrow? He may care, but can God pull it off? Answer–yes! But how can I believe that? Correct your vision.
First God is infinitely greater than NATURE
Look at verse 12, “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand.” God is so great, all the waters of all the seas could be measured, as it were, in the hollow of His hand. I’ve seen most of the oceans of the world–that’s a lot of water to fit in a hand, friends. Two-thirds of the earth is covered with water, in places six miles deep–the total volume is incalculable. But God says He holds all that water in the hollow of His hand–that is to say, holding it all in the hand cup.
I borrowed Jean’s measuring spoons to see how much water I can hold in the hollow of my hand. If I could hold a swimming pool, that might be something–or a gallon, or even a cup. But after pouring water in, then measuring the amount, I found I hold just under a tablespoon in the hollow of my hand. Yet God can hold all the oceans in His–that’s big!
Next, verse 12 adds, “And marked off the heavens by the span.” Everyone hold your hand up and spread out your fingers. A span is the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger when the fingers are spread apart. I measured my span at just over 8-½ inches. God is so great, He has marked off the entire created universe by the breadth of His hand–incredible!
No matter what scientists say, we can’t calculate the actual distance of the universe with any certainty. We do know that the nearest star is over 26 trillion miles away–that’s the nearest star! Not even across our own galaxy, let alone the distance to the nearest galaxy among the billions of galaxies. Yet God tells us He marks off the entire universe with the span of His hand.
Then verse 12 adds, God is so much greater than nature, He has actually measured all the dirt on the planet like we might weigh a cup of flour to make some pancakes. Plus He has weighed the actual weight of the earth’s mountains and hills, as if He were weighing peaches in a produce scale at the supermarket. If God is so great, do you think the Judeans have anything to worry about? And do you think He might be able to take care of you and your struggles?
Second God is wiser than all KNOWLEDGE
Verses 13 to 14, “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as His counselor has informed Him? 14With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding? And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge, and informed Him of the way of understanding?”
Friends, God doesn’t gasp at the newest scientific discovery. When God sees the latest Instagram invention or infomercial, He does not say, “Ohh!” God never is confused about you, as if He can’t figure out your messed up thinking or emotions. God never says, “Oops,” or “So sorry!” Add up all the greatest minds with every book written, and all of that is nothing compared to the wisdom of God. Our knowledge is limited, but God is limitless. We tend to think we could understand things, if God would just explain–we don’t really believe God’s understanding is so great. Verse 28 affirms, no one can fathom it.
God is wiser than all. He knew what He was doing by allowing Babylon to take Judah captive and God knows what He is doing in your life. In fact, much of what He is doing in your life is not for you to know, figure out, analyze or reason through–but merely for you to learn how to trust Him. Romans 8:28, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God.” God has a purpose for your pain–not to punish you or demand a volcano-god sacrifice, but a plan for good. Trust Him! “But why should I when the world is falling apart?”
Third God is greater than the NATIONS
Verses 15 to 17, “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales.” Isaiah literally says, think of this–the nations are either a drop from a bucket, or a drop in a bucket. Both make the point. A bucket of water is something, but a single drop in a bucket is nothing. Iran, China, Russia, USA are all nothing. All combined, they’re a drop in a bucket to God. They’re all dust on the scales that make no difference. When you buy your fruits and veggies at the market, do you wipe the dust out of the scale before you weigh it? No? Why not? Because it doesn’t matter.
The nations of the world are just as insignificant to God. Judah is going to be enslaved by Babylon, but only because God allowed it. And God will end the captivity exactly when He chooses, 70 years later. Christian friends, nations can’t plan terrorism or start war without God’s specific permission, because the nations are, verse 17, meaningless in comparison to Him. Will you trust Him? You should trust the Lord because . . .
Fourth God is so awesome, He’s beyond DESCRIPTION
Verse 18, “To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him?” Our biggest error in our view of God is in Psalm 50:21, when God says to His people, “You thought that I was just like you.” God is not like us. Verses 19 to 20 prove God is beyond any idol, picture or image we can conjure up. God is unfathomable–He is beyond what we can imagine.
Friends, God is holy, set apart, unique, 100% pure. Our Lord is so awesome, we would burn up as if we were standing on the surface of the sun if we saw Him in His full glory, in our current state. That kind of greatness demands our trust–not doubt, not rebellion.
Fifth God is in control of every RULER
Verses 21 to 25, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22It is He who sits above the vault of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. 23He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.”
Proverbs 21:1 adds, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” Back then, the king’s will was absolute, unconditional and unrestrained–there was no Congress or Supreme Court, but the king’s decisions were still controlled by God. Even if king Nebuchadnezzar did take Judah into captivity later, he was still under God’s control. The Jews doubted it and Nebuchadnezzar didn’t believe it–until one day God made him insane for a season, eating grass like a cow. He was a cow king, a gulla-bull, a nincowpoop, an utter catastrophe. When he woke up, this is what Neb said.
Daniel 4:34 to 37, “But at the end of that period I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What hast Thou done?’ 37Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.”
The President can’t do anything God does not allow nor ordain. Nor can any terrorist or tyrant. And if God is so great, do you think you can trust Him with your work, school, friends, relationships, spouse, kids, parents, problems or pains? “But,” you say, “my problem is so small.”
Sixth God is the overseer of every DETAIL
Verse 26, “Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power not one of them is missing.” Psalm 147:4 adds, “He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them.”
And if God names a hundred billion times a hundred billion stars and not one of them is out of orbit–if God can oversee all that detail, don’t you think He’ll take care of the Judeans? And don’t you think He can take care of even your smallest uncertainty if and when He chooses? God is not random, nor indifferent. God did not set the world in motion, then sit back to see what happens. He is intimately involved in all the details of our lives. Jesus even says in Matthew 10:30, “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Psalm 40:5 reminds us, “Many, O Lord are… Thy thoughts toward us…They would be too numerous to count.”
Friends, God cares about the details of your life. See your Savior for who He really is. Isaiah 40 asks you two separate times–to whom or what will you compare God to? Take a moment and compare your problems to God and you’ll find God immensely greater and able. When your God is small, your problems will become obstacles. But when your God is big, your problems will become opportunities. Friends, God cares and is capable–how should we respond? Stop whining, reasoning, manipulating or excusing, and . . .
#3 Start COUNTING ON God
God cares, God is capable so count on Him. Read verse 27, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God’?” What are they saying here? God doesn’t care, God is unfair, this problem stinks. So Isaiah says in verse 28 to 31, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. [God knows what to do, He’s not too busy, He’s not inactive, nor is He uncaring] 29He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. 30Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, 31yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”
I know you’ve seen a duck take off from the water–they flap, work, pump and struggle just to get airborn. When you watch them, you find yourself saying, “Come on ducky, you can make it!” (Hey, at least I do.) You can hear how hard they’re working their wings. Have you ever seen an eagle soar on the wind? You look up and they coast around on the currents. They can hang up there with little effort, as they rest on the wind. It is like they’re floating on wind.
Friends, God is telling you through Isaiah 40, don’t be a duck. Don’t try to solve your situation in your own strength. Don’t use your own strength to solve your battle. No wonder you’re worn out, smashed or discouraged. Friends, be an eagle–totally depend, rest in, rely upon and have faith in God. Use His methods to glide, meaning the Spirit, the Word of God, prayer and His body to fly. Jesus cares, He knows, and He can handle it. Turn from your strength, your reason, your emotions to rely upon Him alone and you will gain new strength.
Beloved Christian, you have not been taken captive and made a slave, stripped of your rights and separated from everyone you love. Judah will be–yet God comforted them with the news of a coming salvation and a coming Savior who is totally capable of dealing with any burden and any situation. God may not be safe, but He’s dependable. Don’t rely on your mind, on men, or money–but rely on your Master. So . . .
TAKE THIS HOME–what should you do?
A Don’t play games with God–REPENT
Don’t play church, be unsure of your salvation, act religious or hope you are a Christian. God knows exactly what is going on in your heart. He knows who is phony, unsure or self-deceived. Test your heart–are you willing to give up every dream, possession and relationship for Christ? Do you want to obey Him in everything, even when you don’t? Does Christ show through your life in sacrifice, service and sincere worship? If Christ is in you, He will show through you. If He doesn’t, today is the day to repent–turn from your ways, sins, dreams and desires and exchange your life for His life and eternal life with Christ.
B Don’t try to have all the answers–TRUST
Stop trying to figure everything out. Stop trying to have a reason for everything God does in your life. Stop trying to analyze your own mind and emotions. Live dependently and trust in God. Isaiah 55:9 says, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts says the Holy One.”
Ever read a sign that said, “Canceled due to circumstances beyond our control”? Friends, all our circumstances are beyond our control. Trust the Lord. The book of Ecclesiastes is about living on this planet, and the bottom line, the secret of living this life is in 12:13, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.” When you need to cry, cry. When you experience deep times, thoughtful times, times of grief or joy, highs or lows–do it freely, openly. But don’t violate God’s Word, nor fail to honor God. You can go through the dark tunnels of life, knowing at the end, God has a good purpose–just don’t sin.
C Don’t be flippant with your faith–FEAR God
Whenever you say to yourself, “It’s okay to disobey God’s Word”–like not minister your gift in the church, nor give or gather faithfully, you show you don’t understand God, true grace or your salvation. If you’re a Christian, God and you are not buddies or pals. His glory, holiness, wrath and justice should cause you to recoil in fear from your God. Like Isaiah who, when he saw God as Holy, Holy, Holy, cried out, “I’m unclean!” At the same time, God’s love, mercy and grace will draw you near to your Abba Father. Both extremes are true.
Just like when my boys were small–they had a healthy respect for my discipline, but did not live in dread of abuse, knowing that I love them. Christians should never be flippant, familiar or casual in their walk with God, but remember that willful disobedience will bring God’s discipline. God loves us, but He is still awesome and holy.
D Don’t play it safe in this life–be BOLD
God is not safe and neither should we be. Start telling it like it is. When someone hits you with, “You’re unloving to call homosexuality sin”–you remind them we are all sinners who all deserve Hell. Tell them you have found the only way to escape and you want them to know Christ–to be rescued. Don’t play it safe–speak the truth in love. Be bold.
E Don’t lose the best thing in life–God’s GLORY
The Christian walk is not a convenience, an add-on, a once-a-week ritual, an occasional prayer or merely a guide to what to watch or don’t watch. Christ is our life. We gave up our lives in exchange for His. Therefore act like it. Live committed. Pursue Him. Serve Him. Give sacrificially, not conveniently. Grow. Die to self and live for Him. Do all for His glory–make Christ look good at home, at work, at play and at church.
Maybe you’ve asked, “Isn’t it self-serving for God to require us to do all for His glory. Isn’t it self-centered of God to draw all this attention to Himself?” Not at all. Friends, the very best thing in the universe is God. So when God calls us to give Him glory, to turn our focus on Him in everything, He is giving us the very best thing we could possibly have–God Himself. Remember Romans 8:28 to 29? “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (“But what good will come from my difficult circumstances? What is the good God has for me?”) 29For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.”
Friends whatever is happening in your life is for good–and the good is to make you more like Jesus Christ. God may not be safe. His ways are not our ways, but He always works everything out in our lives for our greatest good, to make us like His Son, Jesus Christ. Often, He will even bring great blessing out of trial. Remember the bug infested car? It resulted in a free convertible rental, traveling down Waikiki with the top down with the Beach Boys on the radio. Let’s pray.