A New Day: Comfort in God’s Character, Part 4

These two images — God as Mighty Warrior and God as Gentle Shepherd — must be held in balance.

If we picture God merely as the Mighty Warrior without the balancing image of the Gentle Shepherd, we might end up with the mistaken notion that God is an angry God, waiting to zap us the minute we step out of line. We’d probably edge into legalism and fault finding and we’d find ourselves a bit like Jonah, hoping God launches a “shock and awe” campaign against our enemies while we gloat in self-righteousness.

And if we picture God merely as the Gentle Shepherd without the balancing image of the Mighty Warrior, we might end up with the mistaken notion that God is a permissive God who laughs off our misbehavior like a doting grandfather. We’d probably edge toward permissiveness and leniency as in the case of King Saul, thinking God really doesn’t mean what He says.

But when you put these images together as Isaiah does here, you have a complete picture of our God. And this is intended to bring us comfort.

So which image of God do you need to behold today?

Do you need a Mighty Warrior to fight your battles? Do you need a defender? One who is strong when you are weak? Do you need a God who will fight for you?

This is our God. Behold Him today.

Do you need a Gentle Shepherd to hold you closely? Do you need a God of compassion and tenderness? One who will protect you when you feel vulnerable? Do you need a God who will shepherd your soul?

This, too, is our God. Behold Him today.

As it was in the day of Isaiah, let it be shouted from the mountaintops today as well. Behold, your God! He is the mighty God, the One who conquers our enemies and rules over all things. And this same god is the tender shepherd who gathers His sheep to Him and holds them closely. In His arms we find both strength and tenderness. Behold, your God!

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Sovereign Lord who makes all things new, he who has ears, let him hear.

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A New Day: Comfort in God’s Character, Part 3

God as Gentle Shepherd

The picture of the Mighty Warrior is balanced by a second picture: that of God as a gentle shepherd. Isaiah says, He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms. This is a picture of God’s compassion and protection. He holds His people, leads those who are weak. He protects the vulnerable in His flock.

What a comforting thought! Not only is God the mighty warrior, fighting on behalf of His people. He is also a gentle shepherd, tenderly caring for His people. He’s mighty and powerful, but also gentle and compassionate.

Psalm 23 begins with this beautiful line: the Lord is my Shepherd. The shepherd leads His flock, guiding them away from danger and leading them to places of quiet rest. The shepherd makes sure the sheep are nurtured, makes sure they receive the care they need. Of course, Jesus references this idea when he says in John 10:11, I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Jesus contrasts a hired hand with a true shepherd; the hired hand cares nothing for the sheep, while the true and good shepherd is focused on caring for those in his flock.

We should note the same thing we said in the previous post: God has not retired from being the shepherd of our souls. He still tends His flock and gathers the lambs in His arms. He feeds you, cares for you, holds you close to His heart.

This is summarized by another comment Isaiah makes about the “arms” of God. Of the Divine Warrior, he says his arm rules for him. But of the Gentle Shepherd, Isaiah says he will gather the lambs in his arms. Picture this: those same arms that are mighty to defeat our enemies are also the tender arms of eternal care and compassion.

Behold, our God is a gentle shepherd.

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A New Day: Comfort in God’s Character, Part 2

God as Mighty Warrior

Isaiah says, Behold, the Lord God comes with might and his arm rules for him. The picture here is one of God as a mighty warrior who fights on behalf of His people. It’s similar to the image we find over in Exodus 14:14, The Lord will fight for you. Moses says this to the Israelites when Pharaoh’s army pursued them to the Red Sea. With their backs to the sea and the army of the world’s greatest nation in hot pursuit, Israel was as good as dead. But God proved His strength by delivering His people from the enemy, parting the waters for Israel before vanquishing the enemy warriors. God always makes a way for His people.

After this deliverance, Moses led the people in worship and this is what they sang: The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is His name (Exodus 15:3). They sang this song of victory because praise follows promise. Worship is our response to salvation. That makes worship our most vital activity. It’s more vital than work, than child-rearing, than accruing wealth. Like Israel, we were dead until the warrior God fought for us and brought us back to life. Do I worship like a dead man who has been brought back to life? It’s amazing that I can yawn my way through a story like this on most Sunday mornings. Praise follows promise — because our God is faithful. He fights on behalf of His people.

And Isaiah proclaims the same truth here. The prophet wants the people of his own day to know that God has not gone into retirement. He is still able to defeat His enemies and rescue His people. And this is a good word for us as well. Behold your God, church. He has not gone into retirement. He is still the same mighty warrior He was on the banks of the Red Sea. He will always fight for His people.

“Reward” and “recompense” is the language used to describe the plunder of a conquering army. They would come through and claim the conquered people’s land and livestock and possessions. So the picture here is God bringing with Him the spoils of victory. He is able to conquer the spiritual forces that stand against us. Any sin, any temptation, anything in our past — these are part of His spoils. He is mighty to conquer and bring victory.

All of this is summarized by the mighty arm of God. Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him. Isaiah has more to say about “the arm of the Lord” than any other OT prophet. “His arm rules for him” is a way of saying that God doesn’t need to get help from any other being. He rules by right of His own mighty power.

Behold, our God is a mighty warrior.

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A New Day: Comfort in God’s Character, Part 1

Juniper Village is a memory-care facility located just outside Denver, Colorado. This week, Juniper Village set up a “hug tent” for their residents, many of whom are not only dealing with memory loss issues but they have not been able to hug their loved ones for almost a year due to COVID restrictions. But that’s where the “hug tent” comes into play. It has clear plastic walls with four sets of arm holes cut into the front wall with plastic sleeves so visitors and residents can embrace one another.

Anita Hanson’s father lives in the Juniper Village facility. Due to COVID guidelines, she has only been able to speak with him through a window or on an electronic device. But this week, Anita was able to hug her father for the first time since last March. She said, “My heart is just swelling with love for him and how much I miss him. Just being able to hold him in my arms. I haven’t been able to hold him in a year.” She went on to say that hugging her father was something she’d never take for granted again.

We often find comfort in the arms of our loved ones. So it should come as no surprise when we find this same idea applied to our relationship with God. In the Bible, we are told that we can find eternal comfort in the arms of our God.

Right now, we’re studying the book of Isaiah as a church family. And last week, we introduced this idea of a “Comfort Trilogy” that can be found in Isaiah 40, which is one of the great comfort chapters in the Bible. In just a few verses, Isaiah gives us three amazing pictures of comfort. We talked about the first one last week: we find comfort in the eternal Word of our God. Isaiah 40:8, The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. There is tremendous comfort to be found in knowing that the Word of God never changes.

Isaiah builds upon this with an additional word of comfort: we can take comfort in the unchanging character of God. God’s Word doesn’t change because God’s character doesn’t change. When the Hebrew writer says Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever, he’s saying that Jesus is our ultimate example through the ages — which gets back to His character. As much as things change in our world, we can take comfort that God’s character is unchanging.

We’ll pick up right where we left off last week.

Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

Isaiah 40:9-11

God calls Isaiah to be a “herald of good news” — that phrase is used twice in verse 9. Isaiah is to go up to a high mountain and proclaim a word from God. Based on what we said last week, Isaiah can be confident in this work because he knows that he is proclaiming a word that is eternal.

And this is what he is to say: Behold, your God!

Isaiah reminds the people to look toward God for comfort. He helps them see God’s glorious character. And that’s what this message is all about today. Isaiah calls us to see our God today. When the prophet says, Behold, your God! he is calling us to take comfort in the character of our God. Centuries later, Paul will make the same point when he calls God the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1).

In particular, there are two aspects of God’s character that Isaiah describes:

  1. The Lord God is a mighty warrior. He is powerful and sovereign. He rules in judgment and stands ready to conquer all of His enemies.
  2. The Lord God is a gentle shepherd. He gathers up His lambs, carrying them close to His chest. He is tender and compassionate.

Over the next few posts, I’d like to look at these two images of God — because I believe there is special comfort found in each one.

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A New Day: Comfort in God’s Word, Part 3

I decided to run a little experiment this week. Rather than going through all the verses in God’s Word that bring me comfort, I decided to crowdsource this. So I asked my friends a very simple question: What Scripture or story from the Scriptures brings you comfort? And the response was overwhelming. All week long, I have benefitted from hearing so many different people share passages and stories in the Bible that bring them comfort.

Here are a few of those comments:

Unsurprisingly, Psalm 23 was one of the passages my friends mentioned the most. For thousands of years, David’s words have brought comfort to God’s people. I was especially moved by what my friend Cindy wrote. She and her husband, Bob, have served in our church family for many years. Cindy spent most of her comment talking about another passage, but before she closed, she mentioned the 23rd Psalm, saying that it “has been a huge comfort to me since losing Andrew.” Cindy and Bob lost their son over 7 years ago. Cindy also lost her parents when she was very young. So when she talks about being comforted in her grief, I listen up. And she says, “This word from God has brought me so much comfort.”

Another one that was mentioned repeatedly was this verse from Jeremiah. God assures His people that He has a plan for them, a plan for them to flourish even while they’re in exile. And I think the point is that God is still at work, even when our circumstances aren’t what we would choose. Those are the times when we need this reminder that God is still at work.

Psalm 34:18 was mentioned by several of my friends. The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. This text comforts us in the knowledge that God comes near when our hearts are broken, when we feel crushed by life. The entire book of 2 Corinthians is basically a commentary on this line from Psalm 34.

Unexpectedly, several of my friends mentioned that the book of Job brought them a special sense of comfort. One of my friends mentioned Job 5:9, He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted. She says, “When I’m paralyzed by grief or life, God isn’t. He is still at work doing ‘more than I can ask or imagine.'”

I’m blown away by what my friend Lindsey wrote. I wish you knew her story; and she’s right — her life has been filled with difficulties. But through the book of Job, God has been able to speak tenderly to her heart.

My friend Beth points to the book of Esther as her place of comfort. This story of God’s sovereignty has heartened God’s people for centuries as we seek to live faithfully (like Esther) in the times in which we find ourselves.

My friend Heather pointed to Psalm 31, especially verse 2, which simply says, Be thou my strong rock. She says this verse has guided her through some really difficult days, but God has proven to be the strong rock for her that David speaks of in this Psalm.

One of our elders, Denton, texted me this picture. It’s Isaiah 40:11 taken from the Bible of Paul Kelly. Paul was one of our shepherds at Mayfair for many, many years. He passed away nearly six years ago. Denton told me he went over to visit Susan after Paul had passed away and Paul’s Bible was opened to this passage. As you can see it’s been highlighted and underlined many times. He tends his flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better description of the heart of Paul (and Denton). I know these two shepherds to have hearts that have been shaped by the Master Shepherd, the One who carries all of us close to His heart.

God’s Word is eternal, unchanging, and it is such a comfort to us. Hear again His Word: The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.

May we take comfort in His Word.

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A New Day: Comfort in God’s Word, Part 2

God tells Isaiah to speak to the heart, so I think we should hear these words at a heart level, too. So let me ask you a question: What kind of person do you want to become?

There is a man I know and one of the first things I ever heard anyone say about him was this: “He’s only as good as the last person that talks to him.” What they meant by this comment was that this guy was wishy-washy. He could be swayed easily because he didn’t have deep convictions.

I don’t want to be that kind of person. I doubt anyone does. I want to be the kind of person who lives according to his convictions. But that requires trust. And in Isaiah 40, God is telling us that we can be confident that when we put our trust in His Word, we’re trusting in something eternally secure and solid.

In Ephesians 4, God talks about His desire for us to be spiritually mature, not tossed back and forth by every wave and every wind of doctrine. But in order to become that person, I have to put my trust in His Word.

We tend to think of maturity as achieving a state of dependence. You grow up, you become your own person, etc. But spiritual maturity is not based entirely upon my independence like this. Instead, spiritual maturity is based — at least in part — upon my dependence upon God and my dependence upon His Word. In order to become the spiritually solid, unwavering person God wants me to be, I have to put my trust in Him, which means trusting in His Word, trusting in the goodness of His commands, trusting what He says.

That’s the point we made last week: obedience actually sets you free! The world won’t tell you that, but it’s absolutely true! Submitting myself to God in obedience is actually liberating. Spiritual maturity isn’t measured by my degree of independence but rather by the degree of my dependence upon God and His Word.

So the point is that God’s Word can be trusted to bring us comfort. And in trusting His Word, we become the people He wants us to become.

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A New Day: Comfort in God’s Word, Part 1

Most everyone I know could use some comfort right now. The people of Isaiah’s day were no different. In Isaiah 40, we find good news; God stands ready to comfort His people. And Isaiah 40 is one of the great “comfort” chapters in all of the Bible.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

Isaiah 40:1-2

There is a shift that occurs at this point in Isaiah. In the first 39 chapters, God pronounces a lot of judgment. In the early chapters, God says things like, Woe to those who call evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5). But here in chapter 40, the shift in tone is so dramatic that scholars believe Isaiah is looking into the future to speak to those people who would be exiled in Babylon over 100 years later. God tells the prophet to bring comfort to these people who are a long way from the Promised Land. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, God says. Literally, it says, Speak to the heart. And that’s what we find here: tender words of comfort spoken from the heart, spoken to the heart.

I hadn’t noticed this before, but there is a trilogy here in Isaiah 40 — three ways God talks about comfort here in this chapter. I’d like to spend the next few weeks looking at this “Comfort Trilogy.” And my prayer is that God’s Word will bring us some comfort.

The first thing God says about comfort in this chapter is that He comforts His people through His eternal, unchanging Word:

A voice says, “Call out.”

Then he answered, “What shall I call out?”

All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field….The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.

Isaiah 40:6-8

So here’s the scene: God comes to Isaiah and tells Him to say something to the people. Isaiah replies, “What shall I say, Lord?” This is especially significant if Isaiah is asked to speak a word to people living 100 years after Him. (If I was convinced God wanted me to say something to people living in 2121, I’d probably ask the same question Isaiah asks here.)

God tells Isaiah to comfort His people by reminding them of the unshakeable nature of His Word. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. In the natural world, things are always changing. But God’s Word is supernatural. In a volatile world, the word of God stands forever.

And this is a comforting thought.

Last spring, when many of us were quarantined at home, I spent a lot of time working in the yard. I dug up this old tree that was dying and planted a new one in its place. I pulled up a few of our shrubs, planted some knockout roses, some vincas and some petunias that Sunny had picked out. I was out there watering and weeding our flower beds pretty much every day last spring. And I have to say, those flower beds have never looked better. (Not saying much, but still.) For all that was negative about 2020, we really had a beautiful spring last year. The weather was great and those flowers were so beautiful. Sunny posted some pictures of those flowers on social media. I even recorded some of my sermons and classes sitting right there among those roses.

But to no one’s surprise, time eventually won out. As God says, grass withers and flowers fade. Those beautiful rose petals eventually fell off as the weather turned colder. We haven’t been posting any pictures or recording any sermons from the flower beds lately.

God contrasts the fleeting beauty of earth with the enduring nature of His eternal Word. God’s Word is as true in the dead of winter as it is in the bloom of spring. As Isaiah says, the word of our God stands forever.

And this is meant to bring us comfort.

Like the people of Isaiah’s day, we can feel a bit like exiles today. We find ourselves exiled in a world we don’t often recognize, a word some have called a “post-truth” world. That’s just a fancy way of saying that these days, many people don’t know who to trust anymore. Often times, we just don’t know who to believe. You can pretty much curate your own version of the truth these days through cable news and social media. Every news story can be spun to say whatever someone wants to say. Just check out the headlines on FOX and then go do the same on CNN. It will seem like they’re describing two completely different worlds, not the same country. What one network reports, the other completely (and conveniently) ignores. By now, most of us are really good at seeing through the spin, but it leaves us wondering who we can really trust these days. I think that’s a natural consequence when journalism takes a back seat to entertainment.

But right here in Isaiah, we find comfort — because God assures us that His Word is trustworthy and eternal. His Word is dependable, solid and sure. As we sometimes sing, “all other ground is sinking sand.” But the Word of God endures.

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A Great Way to Start

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Baseball is Back!

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A New Day: The Gift, Part 4

Isaiah gives us four names that tell us even more about this gift:

Wonderful Counselor

One of my favorite scholars on Isaiah says, “Wonderful counselor is either a supernatural counselor or one who gives supernatural counsel.” I don’t see why it couldn’t be both. Jesus is the supernatural counselor who offers supernatural counsel.

Jesus is the most brilliant person who ever lived. When he was the age of a middle-schooler, the temple leaders were amazed at His understanding. But it’s not just that He was intelligent. Luke 2:52 says that Jesus grew in the area of wisdom, learning how to apply knowledge. This wisdom is the wellspring of His supernatural counsel.

His wisdom isn’t earthly wisdom, but wisdom that comes from above. So again, we’re talking about this theme of seeing with spiritual eyes, hearing with spiritual ears. Isaiah talks about God’s wisdom in Isaiah 55:

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:6-9

God gives supernatural counsel because His thoughts are not our thoughts; His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. And take note: this statement is made in the context of forgiveness. When I think (in my earthly wisdom) that God has no use for somebody like me — “He could never forgive what I’ve done,” — God says, “Try me. My wisdom goes higher than yours, so return to me so I can have compassion on you and pardon you abundantly.”

This is the wonderful counsel of the Wonderful Counselor! It is an act of grace that God has given us His Word to guide us toward forgiveness.

Mighty God

The future King will also be called “Mighty God.” Scholars note the military tone of this title. This is a way of referring to God as a warrior God. So the ideal King is not just some counselor of philosopher. He rolls up His sleeves and fights for His people. He’s not passive; rather, He is engaged in defending, protecting, advocating for His people. He is able to conquer any foe, any adversary. He takes initiative on behalf of His people. This is the image of Jesus you see in Revelation 19, Jesus riding the white horse coming to defeat evil once and for all.

And this is further proof that we’re dealing with a unique individual — not merely a human king, but one who would be God in the flesh. He is “Mighty God.”

Everlasting Father

Isaiah balances the scales here yet again. Not only is the ideal King a warrior, but He is called “Everlasting Father.” The King cares for His subjects as a parent cares for a child. What a tremendous gift! He doesn’t rule over us harshly, as if we were mere servants. No, He cares for us like a good father cares for His children. And this care is eternal, everlasting, comfort without end. Again, we see that this could only be referring to God in the flesh.

It may be confusing to think of Jesus as “Everlasting Father” because we talk of God the Father as being separate, which is true. How is Jesus like a “father?” Well, Jesus Himself talks about faith as being born again. In that regard, for two thousand years people have been born again in the image of Jesus, the Everlasting Father of our faith. So this is just a metaphorical way of speaking of Jesus as the basis of our new existence.

Prince of Peace

The coming King brings peace, shalom in Hebrew. We’ve discussed this word many times in the past here on my blog. It’s the word for wholeness, well-being. The King restores what is lacking in us due to our sin and puts us back together again, making us whole.

Peace is the ideal of the New Jerusalem we talked about last week. Remember, her citizens will beat their swords into plowshares…and learn warfare no more.

Which of these images tugs at your heart today? Are you in search of one of these today?

  1. Wonderful Counselor: Do you need His wisdom, His instruction for the journey? Do you feel lost, in need of a trustworthy guide for the path ahead of you? Turn to Him for wisdom, for He freely imparts it. James 1:5, If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
  2. Mighty God: Is there some battle you need to let the Lord fight on your behalf? Some adversary that you cannot defeat on your own? Know that He is mighty to save and there is no foe He cannot overcome on your behalf. Psalm 24:8, Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle!
  3. Everlasting Father: Maybe you’ve been betrayed so many times you don’t know who to trust. Maybe your earthly family has let you down. Maybe it was a spouse or a dear friend. But know that God is everlasting and true. He is your Father in heaven and He will never let you down. Psalm 27:10, For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.
  4. Prince of Peace: Maybe everything is chaotic in your life and it feels like things are spinning out of control. But our King brings shalom. He promises to take away our sin and make us whole again. Ephesians 2:14, For he himself is our peace…

Jesus is the gift of God to us — to you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)

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