As I pondered these matters, Isaiah’s “comfort” sermon kept coming to mind. Here was a message to a people who had a genuine crisis looming. So I went to my file and lo!, there I discovered sermon notes and a sketchy manuscript from over 20 years ago. After reading it over I decided to simply publish it as I had written it. I realize that as much as 1/3 of my preaching is “improv,” so it won’t be as lengthy as when I preacher it.
First a little background. The date was February 24, 1991. Our nation was at war, our first real war in 15 years. 500,000 American troops were involved in Operation Desert Storm, an invasion of Iraq to drive them out of the nation of Kuwait, which they had invaded the previous year.
I was pastoring a church in Georgetown, TX and also serving as a volunteer chaplain at the local hospital. It was in the latter role that I was called upon to work alongside a psychiatrist in leading a group session of families – spouses and parents – of troops deployed to the war. There were many such families in our city, as it was located close to Fort Hood, from which a large contingent of troops had been deployed.
As the sessions were held in the basement of a Methodist church, I became acquainted with the associate pastor. One evening while we were conversing before the session, he suggested that we needed to have an encouragement service for the community. Others besides these families were concerned and anxious.
After we had discussed the format, I consented to be the speaker. We both agreed that this was not to be a patriotic, flag-waving pro war service; nor was it to be an anti-war service. Rather it was to be a service where we could give comfort to the many families who were anxious, some suffering from what was known at the time as “chronic stress syndrome.”
Sometimes we feel helpless as we look at the world scene. The conflicts of nations overwhelm us. We don’t understand. Our loved ones are taken from us, it seems, to fight a war that shouldn’t have had to be fought. The misguided evil ambition of one man has caused the conquest of a nation and the exile of a people. It has brought suffering on a great number of people, including those of his own nation. And our loved ones and friends are taken from us. And we are anxious.
Does God care? Perhaps when we look at the immense size of the conflict – the millions of people involved – ½ million American troops among them – we may feel that our situation is of little concern to God. Perhaps the “big guys” are important to Him, but am I? Is my spouse, my child, myself of any concern, any importance?
Perhaps the words of Isaiah will speak to our questions:
“Comfort, oh comfort My people, says your God.Get up on a high mountain
oh Zion, bearer of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
oh Jerusalem, bearer of good news;
lift it up and do not fear.
Say to the cities of Judah,
‘Behold your God!’” (Isaiah 40:1,9)
Isaiah, of course, was speaking to another situation. The ancient nation of Israel was contemplating its conquest by the ancient nation of Babylonia. (I didn’t choose this passage because of geography.) Apparently, there were those then and there who felt as you perhaps may feel. The message for them may be of some help to you. In a sense, it is simply some facts about God. Facts that you may already know, but which I believe need to be emphasized or reemphasized.
First, God is sovereign over the movements of the nations.
”Behold, the nations are like a drop in a bucket,Regarded as a speck of dust upon the scales;
He lifts up the islands like fine dust.
Lebanon is not enough for fuel,
nor its beasts enough for an offering.
All the nations in His sight,
He regards them as less than nothing.
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told to you from the beginning?
It is He who is enthroned above the vault of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers!
He stretches out the heavens like gauze,
and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He reduces rulers to nothing;
makes the judges of the earth meaningless.” (Isaiah 40:15-17, 21-23)
God is all-powerful. The nations are weak. They are of relatively little importance; He is in control. It may not look like it from our perspective. It apparently didn’t look like it from the perspective of Isaiah’s first readers. That’s why He has to say it and emphasize it, over and over.
And God is just. He is ultimately going to make things right.
“Behold the Lord GOD is coming with might,His right arm ruling for Him.
His reward is with Him,
and His recompense before Him.” (Isaiah 40:10)
And God is concerned about individuals!
“Why do you say, oh Jacob,and why do you declare, oh Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my cause is hidden from my God?’
Don’t you know?
Haven’t you heard?
The LORD God is from eternity,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He never grows tired or weary.
His wisdom is unlimited.
He gives strength to the weary
and power to the powerless.
Youths may grow weary and faint
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who wait for the LORD
will gain new strength;
they will run and not get tired;
they will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:27-31)
He is concerned about us; about you and me. This is in contrast to what we just read regarding the nations. He is gentle to those who know and trust Him. Look at verse 11: He carries us like lambs. Because He is all-powerful, He can give strength to those who lean on Him.
One of the features of stress syndrome is fatigue. That feeling of being extremely tired, for no apparent reason. Apparently it is not new. Isaiah spoke of this problem.
But something else we should note about God is not found here in this chapter, because to some extent it was not yet true. And that is that God understands your sufferings, your anxieties, our longings for your loved ones who are away. Because He gave a Son. God sent His Son to enter a world hostile to Him. And that Son willingly came.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Jesus Christ – God the Son – went on a mission to conquer death through His death on the cross, and to bring liberation and eternal life to those who put their faith in Him.
As the One who cares for you.
As the One who cares for your loved one.
As the One who entered into your pain to bring you salvation.