Behold Your God!

Delivered September 22, 2002 by Dennis Whelan,
Director of Church Relations of World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Assoc. of Evangelicals (NAE).

Theme: Insignificant man can actually be in the family of the everlasting God as sheep to a shepherd to Jesus Christ his son.

Sermon Text:
Isaiah 40:6-31

Good morning. Does anybody else in the state of Maryland suffer from allergies? I have been having a real hard time in the last couple of weeks and to be sitting in the front row, I don’t know if you can see it back there, but there are lots of mums and rose bushes and all kinds of stuff up here. So I got a little bit of water there and the first two services everybody has been great with supplying me with water and it reminded me of a time when I was speaking in Houston and I guess I was getting over bronchitis or something and I asked one of the elders to make sure there was water in the pulpit for me so I could drink and sure enough I spoke and during the sermon I drank a couple of times and afterwards I thanked the elder for doing that and he said, “Boy, you know I forgot to do that. That was pastors water from last week.” So I am convinced that this is fresh water.

I was going to take time to read a very lengthy portion of scripture from Isaiah Chapter 40 as an introduction to the message, but I think in light of time restraints, I want to just I think have it up here, and maybe for the first couple of minutes you could just read through it quickly as I am going, but Isaiah, Chapter 40 beginning at Verse 6 and reading through the end of the chapter is a crucial portion of scripture for us. Before we begin though, let’s pray.

Father, thanks so much for your goodness to us. Thank you for the overwhelming amount of gifts that you have given to us as we live here on this earth and I just pray that we would be worthy of that and that we would give you all the praise and all the glory and that when we leave here today, we would have a different perspective on just exactly who you are. In Jesus name. Amen.

The Book of Isaiah contains a dark message of judgment for the people of Israel because of their sins and especially the earlier chapters of the Book of Isaiah. The prophecy is filled with descriptions of human failures, imminent disaster and consequences for sin. And yet this same Book of Isaiah contains a bright message of hope and that’s what I really want to focus in on this morning. The bright message of hope that we can find and that we can experience through Isaiah Chapter 40, and especially the last chapters of Isaiah, the prophet talks about deliverance, he talks about salvation and he talks about the final glory that awaits all those who trust in and depend upon the Lord. Now the basis for our optimism in Isaiah Chapter 40 is verses beginning after Verse 8 and I think it is important for us to remember that the basis for this optimism is not in man and anything that we can do, because in Verses 6 through 8 Isaiah says that all men are like the grass and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall. So what Isaiah is telling us here is that there is no ground for hope and there is no way for salvation in human life and its resources, no matter how hard we may try, no matter how good we may be and no matter how respected in the community we are, there is nothing in and of ourselves that we can do that can bring us hope. Instead the prophet directs us away from ourselves and he draws our attention to the almighty Father who is the only real basis for our hope. Isaiah says in Verse 9, “Here is your God” or better translated, “Behold your God”. Now I am not a science teacher and I am not an oceanographer and I am not an astronomer, but there are some amazing facts and some characteristics about God that I think we sometimes overlook as we read through this portion of scripture. So I would like us to see this morning that if after we take a closer look, that we might be able to behold God in a different way this morning. God is, according to Verses 12 through 27, a God of immensity.

And the bigness and the greatness of God is measured here in several ways. First, he is seen in Verses 12 and 13 in relation to waters. Verse 12 says, “The Lord measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and with the breadth of his hand, he marked off the heavens and held the dust of the earth in a basket and weighed the mountains on scale and the hills in a balance.” Now by waters the prophet is referring to the oceans of the earth. The lakes, the rivers, the streams, the ponds, all the water in the world. He is talking about the Pacific Ocean. An ocean that contains 21 trillion gallons of water. A body of water so vast that if you were to start with a bucket and try to bale it dry by baling out ten gallons a minute, 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year, it would take you over 2 million years to empty the Pacific Ocean and that’s just one of the bodies of water that he is referring to. “Take all that water” says Verse 12 “And God is so immense that he can hold it as it were in the hollow of his hand.” If he can hold all that water in one hand, then certainly the hollow of his hand is big enough for all of my problems and all my concerns, and all my anxieties. There is nothing that I have experienced, nor is there anything that I ever will experience that God can not handle.

On June 25, 1995, when my oldest daughter broke her neck in a swimming accident and my youngest daughter received a very powerful electric shock in a recreational vehicle accident, two daughters, two hospitals, two different states. I began to understand what it meant to fall in to the hollow of the hand of God. To my faith in a God who was so immense and had my best interests in mind. The question this morning is, What about you? As an individual or even as a church, are you trying to carry too much on your own? I would encourage you not to leave here this morning without putting your concerns and your troubles in the hollow of the hand of the God of the Universe. There is plenty of room there for you. And by the way, both of my daughters fully recovered and they are both perfect today, at least physically.

Verse 12 goes on to say, that with the breath of his hand he marked off the heavens. Now a breadth is the distance from the tip of the little finger across the hand to the end of the thumb. So the prophet was then saying that one day the Lord God stood alone when no physical universe existed and he stretched out his hand and he spoke in to the nothingness around him and he said, “Let there be” and at his command there came in to existence between the little finger and the thumb of his outstretched hand all the vast heavens that are spread out around us. His hands are big enough for us today. His immensity is measured secondly in terms of distances. Today we measure the extent of the heavens by the distances from one heavenly body to another. The moon we know is so far away that it takes days to reach it even with some of our fastest rockets. We also know or at least those of us who are preparing to preach this morning know, that a light year is the distance that light traveling at 186 thousand miles per second would travel in one year or about six trillion miles. The Palomar Observatory has photographed stars that are two billion light years away. That’s 2 billion times 6 trillion miles away. If you could travel fast enough to go around this world in the time it takes me to snap my finger, it would still take you 10,000 lifetimes to reach those stars that have been measured and observed. And yet my God holds these heavens between his thumb and little finger.

Isaiah said, “Behold your God” and he set forth first a description of the immensity of God and then he described the immeasurable might of the Lord and this immeasurable might of God is declared in Verse 26. That verse reads:

“Lift your eyes and look to the heavens. The power is seen here reflected in the stars. The vast heavens that surround our earth is inhabited with planets and suns, comets and moons.”

Approximately 6,000 heavenly bodies are visible to us at night as stars, but there are more than just 6,000 stars above us. There are we are told, more than 100 billion stars in our galaxy, The Milky Way” alone. 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone and scientists tell us now that there are millions of other galaxies. Philip Yancy in an article in “Christianity Today” in 1997 wrote this and I quote, “Just in the last few years astronomers have admitted underestimating the number of galaxies by 50 billion or so.” Oops. And missing the age of the universe by around 8 billion years. Our earth, the place that we inhabit, is 25, 000 miles in circumference, but it is so small that you could put 1,300,000 earths inside our sun. There are some stars that are so big that you could put our sun in the middle of the star, our earth 93 million miles away and our earth could rotate around our sun inside that star. There is a star in the heavens named Alfa Herculeus. That star is give or take a few meters, 2.4 billion miles in diameter. 2.4 billion miles in diameter. Let me try to illustrate how big that is. Neptune because it is so far away from our sun, takes 105 years to rotate one time around the sun. We take one year. The distance from earth to Neptune is about as wide as the star Alfa Herculeus is. As Steven Hawkins describes it, earth is a medium size planet orbiting around an average star in the outer suburbs of an ordinary spiral galaxy, which is itself only one of about a million, million galaxies in the observable universe.

Do you know what Isaiah says about all of this? Isaiah says that God created those stars and scattered them around like a man shaking water from his fingertips after a shower. Verse 26 says that God brought out all of those billions and billions of bodies, designed each one, put it in its place, arrange the orbits, established galaxies and set it all in motion and all of this the prophet says he does through the greatness of his power. Isaiah said, “Behold your God”. How do you behold God today? Do you limit him? Have you placed restrictions and boundaries on God? Have you just sectioned off parts of what your life you don’t want God to enter in?

Isaiah described the immensity of the Lord and the might of Lord and now I want to look at the unlimited wisdom of the Lord. Go back to Verse 13. “Who has understood the spirit of the Lord or instructed him as his counselor?” Now I detect a little sarcasm here in the prophet’s voice. I think he is kind of asking us, Whose understood the spirit of the Lord or instructed him as his counselor? Have you done it? The Lord has never had to learn anything because there has never been anything that he has not already known. He has never had to ask advice or direction, because God knows with perfect knowledge, what is right and what is true concerning every situation. He knows all the past. He knows the number of raindrops that fell in Noah’s flood, the amount of manna the children of Israel consumed in 40 years. He knows every casualty in every bitter war fought by his people. He knows every thought in every one of our minds here this morning. He knows the number of grains of sand on every beach and the number of fish in every sea. He knows every need that you have in your life today and he knows the name of the next pastor of his church. Amen? He knows the future. He knows which nations will fall and which will rise. He knows every decision that will be made in the council of every chamber of every government in the world. Verse 26 says that he counts the stars and he knows their names. He knows every sparrow that falls, the numbers of hairs on our head, and every tear that we cry. We are never alone. He can make no mistakes, never fail to understand, never have to be counseled because God has complete perfect and unlimited wisdom. Isaiah said, “Behold your God” and he portrayed the immensity of the Lord, the might and unlimited wisdom of the Lord and finally he sets forth his amazing mercy and I am going to receive some mercy right now.

In Verses 6 through 8, the focus of the prophet as I said is on the feebleness of human life. Man is as grass, and the grass if frail and the grass fades and man is really a very very small, very insignificant, very fragile being in and of himself. A single individual takes up about 1 square foot of area and what’s that compared to some of the distances that we talked about earlier. Man is a speck, a particle of dust in the midst of an immeasurable universe. This is the emphasis in Verses 6 through 8. But it’s from this view of man that the prophet shifts to the immensity and the majesty and the might of God. So immense that the universe is held between his thumb and little finger. So mighty that he creates billions of gigantic stars, immeasurably mighty and unlimited in wisdom and yet right here in the middle of these two utterly contrasting pictures of man and God is perhaps one of the most beautiful passages in all of scripture. Verse 11:

“He tends his flock like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in his arms and he carries them close to his heart. He gently leads those that have young.”

We see in these verses a picture of an almighty God reaching down to an infinitely small people to be their God, to be their shepherd, to be their savior. Perhaps this is a portrayal of God in the highest dimension of his greatness. Perhaps God is never so great as when an amazing mercy he extends his grace to tiny pitiful man. I see a relationship in this verse. He tends to his flock. We can belong to him. He made provision for us to be part of his vast kingdom. He sent his son who took part in the creation of our universe. He sent him to our little planet to save us from our sins. The same hands that help to create the universe have each one of our names written on them, if we have accepted him as our personal Lord and savior. We can be united to the infinite God of heaven. We are told that we must come to God through Jesus Christ who said, “I am the way. No man comes to the father but by me.” Then we are also told that we can come in to God’s hold by asking Jesus to forgive our sins and by accepting him as our savior. Jesus again said, “I am the door. By me if any man enter in, he shall be saved.”

My emphasis this morning is that insignificant man can actually be in the family of the everlasting God as sheep to a shepherd to Jesus Christ his son.

There is also direction in these words. He shall lead those that have young. The God who knows all things will lead us who know almost nothing. And I am amazed at the foolishness of those who try and live without his direction. Now there are some men in this world who pride themselves in their knowledge because they know more than other men, but even the wisest of us, the smartest of all of us is like a baby trying to read “War and Peace”. God has reached down to lead us like a shepherd leads sheep and the wonder of that is only exceeded by the wonder that any man or woman would try to live without him.

Care is also shown in Verse 11. He gathers the lambs in his arms and which of us here this morning isn’t a lamb? A helpless, feeble stumbling lamb. Which of us doesn’t need to be cared for? Which of us this morning hasn’t struggled with relationships? Who hasn’t struggled with guilt and grief and loneliness? Who hasn’t experienced financial difficulties or frustration or sin? And yet he gathers in the strain and he picks up the fallen and he rescues the lost and he heals the broken and he tends to each of our particular needs. Wonder of wonders that exalted God could loved dust, that such majesty could cherish withered grass. My friends, God loves us. He loves you and he loves me. I don’t understand why one so great that he can hold the oceans in the hollow of his hand or fling stars from his fingers, would ever even notice any of us. But God is so amazingly great, he is so magnificently glorious that he can and does love even people like you and me.

Yancy concludes his article by saying this and here is the wonderful promise for us today. He says and I quote, “Eventually the universe itself may collapse, yet from the lips of the creator we have a promise that we will join him and see his glory and share in it for eternity.” Isaiah said, “Behold your God” and again the challenge this morning is will you. Will you recognize his immensity and his might, his unlimited wisdom and his amazing mercy? And if you will, what will be your reaction? My hope is that you will never see God in the same way again. Behold your God, he loves you. He cares for you and he is waiting to be your father, your friend and your shepherd.

Psalm 8 says, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him.” And then skipping down, “Oh Lord, Our Lord how majestic is Your name in all the earth. I will praise you Oh Lord with all my heart. I will tell of all Your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in You. I will sing praise to Your name O Most High.” And then it’s my prayer that along with David in the Psalms, we will all be able to sing, Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, O My Soul. I will praise the Lord, oh my soul. I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. Behold your God. Let’s pray.

Father, we take so much for granted and Lord we would ask that even today we would take a few moments out to just reacquaint ourselves with our holiness and your majesty and your might. Father, thank you for all you have given to us and all that you have promised for us. We ask that you help us to make a difference in our world today, tomorrow and the rest of the week in Jesus name. Amen.