ISAIAH, Part 6

Power For the Weak, Isaiah 40:28—31

The book of Isaiah has been called “a miniature Bible.” There are 66 chapters in Isaiah and 66 books in the Bible. The first division of Isaiah is made up 39 books, as is the Old Testament, and just as the Old Testament contains a heavy emphasis on God’s judgment of sin, so does the first division of Isaiah. The 27 chapters of the second part of Isaiah parallel the 27 books of the New Testament in that they emphasize the grace of God.

The great theme of this second part of Isaiah is Judah’s redemption. The immediate historical background is the devastation caused by Sennacherib in 701 BC. Even though Judah would remain a nation for some 150 years after the fall of Israel (Israel fell in 722 BC and Judah’s fall began in 586 BC), Sennacherib had effectively stripped Judah bare and almost captured Jerusalem in 701 BC.

We might divide this latter section of Isaiah like this:

(1) Chapters 40—48 deal with theology. Here the prophet contrasts the incomparable Yahweh—the Eternal One—with the powerless idols of the heathen. Their ultimate deliverance from the Babylonian captivity is predicted through God’s “political servant,” Cyrus.

(2) Chapters 49—57 are devoted to soteriology, the doctrine of redemption. These chapters contrast the sufferings of God’s Servant in the present situation with His glory, revealed in the future.

(3) Chapters 58—66 set forth Isaiah’s eschatology, his doctrine of the last days. They contrast the hypocrites, the immoral, and the apostates with the faithful, the mourners, and the persecuted. Here, deliverance is pictured as a new creature and a new creation with the sons of God triumphing over the wicked. This section concludes with the stunning prediction of “peace…like a river…” (Isaiah 66:12).

Our text begins like this:

Do you not know? Have you not heard? (40:28a)

What prompted Isaiah to write those questions? He was ministering to a discouraged people, those whose faith had grown tired. This happens to the best of God’s people, for even the best of God’s people are still weak human beings. As great and as awesome as God is, there are times when we, like the people of Judah, feel like throwing up our arms and saying:

My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”… (40:27b)

Have you ever felt like that? Most Christians have, at one time or another, felt like God was strangely unaware of their desperate situation. From God’s heavenly perspective, we human beings must appear to be real oddballs, indeed. On the one hand, we recognize how big, powerful, and all-knowing our God is. We sing about that in our hymns and worship songs. We encourage others with that fact. But on the other hand, when going gets tough, the first thing we do is accuse God of not knowing what’s going on in our lives.

That is the context of Isaiah’s statement in verse 28. The Word of God reveals so much of God’s goodness, yet so many of us, like Judah, have failed to fully grasp it and apply these timeless truths to our own lives. Isaiah’s question causes us re-think our faith and our knowledge of God’s Word. It’s as though Isaiah is speaking to us from the mists of time:

Aren’t you aware of just how big your God is?

1. We need power! 40:29

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

Instead of praising God for who He is, the nation of Judah was complaining to Him about their state, accusing Him of not caring about them. In their view, God had put them in an impossible position. Instead of seeing an open door in front of them, the Jews saw only a long and winding road. Instead of feeling God’s power, all they felt was tired.

God gives strength because, in spite of what a struggling believer may or may not feel at the moment, God knows the problems of His people. Isaiah had spent a number of verses contrasting God with idols:

With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? (verse 18)

That’s what the Jews had a habit of doing all the time. They would look around at all the nations surrounding them, see them prospering, and attribute their prosperity to their idols. In turn, they wanted Yahweh to be behave more like an idol than like the omnipotent, omniscient, sovereign God that He is. But before we Christians think we’re so much better than the Jews, we do exactly the same thing. When we struggle, we look around at how nobody else is and we conclude that we’re either being punished by God, that He is ignoring us, or that He just doesn’t care. Or, when we are in dire need, we pray to God, and instead of asking for His will to be done in our lives, we tell Him what we think He should do, as if we know what’s best for us. Now, God knows our needs and He knows our wants, and sometimes the two are the same and sometimes God freely gives us our wants, when those wants won’t jeopardize our relationship with Him.

But the promise is clear: God can, He will, and He does give strength and power to those who have none. And nobody is exempt from this spiritual “power shortage”:

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall… (verse 30)

Things must be bad if the strongest among us are susceptible to weariness and weakness! The greatest saint of the church can fall into the position of being unable to reach up to touch bottom!

2. The Source of power, verse 29

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

The God who upholds the stars also supports His weary people. That sounds like common Christian sense, but most of us forget simple things like that when we are struggling. Isaiah was simply reminding his people of things they already knew. It’s good for believers to read and re-read the Word so as to buttress the knowledge they already have. God’s Word gives comfort when it’s needed. That’s how Isaiah began this section of his book:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. (verse 1)

God’s people have always had difficulty remembering what He is like. Even the followers of Jesus had this problem:

Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9)

No matter how many prayers God answers, no matter how faithful we have been in our Bible studies and our attendance at church, when the storm winds blow against us, the first thing they do is blow that spiritual knowledge our of our heads. We must never lose sight of the fact that in God rests all the power we need. All creative and sustaining power is His. All fullness dwells in Him. If we serve a God who never tires, why should we?

Once when David had reached the end of his spiritual rope, he wrote these powerful words:

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Psalm 51:11, 12)

God can do that! He is strong enough and powerful enough to do just that for you. But you have to ask:

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken. (Psalm 55:22)

If your hands are full of your cares, you won’t be able to grab hold of the help God offers you.

3. The nature of God’s power, Acts 1:8

But what does God’s power look like? What does it feel like? The power God shares with us is not something we put on, it’s something that puts on us! God’s power literally enters into our inner most being, bringing us the ability to stand and stand some more.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you… (Acts 1:8)

God is a Spirit and His gifts are spiritual in nature; His strength and power in us are spiritual. Power, like love, is part of God character; to have more of Him in your life means you will have more of His power in your life.

God’s power is not a “new resolution” you come up with. It is not a youthful vigor, nor is it some kind of ginned up enthusiasm. God’s power is GOD’S POWER given to you because God has entered into your life. Jesus said this:

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. (John 6:63)

Need more power? Need more of the Spirit in your life? According to Jesus, it’s linked to His Word.

4. How to receive that power, verse 31

…but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.

We’ve established that continuing strength comes from the Word. Isaiah indicates something more is at work: hope in the Lord. Other translations say we must “wait upon the Lord.” What does this mean? Hoping or waiting on the Lord is not a passive activity. When you think about it, whether we are waiting for a bus or plane or a taxi, we are not just sitting around with our minds empty. We’re thinking. We’re surfing the Internet on our iPads or chatting on the phone. We never just do nothing. When we are hoping in and waiting on the Lord, we need to engage our minds as our spirits in this activity. We need to pray. We need to worship. We need to immerse ourselves in His Word. As we do those things, our strength will be be renewed.

The word translated “renewed” is interesting because it suggests an exchange. We exchange our weakness for God’s strength. This simple yet profound concept was something the apostle Paul understood well:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

In the famous Hall of Heroes in Hebrews 11, we have a list of great men of God who had accomplished so much His Kingdom. After describing their exploits, the writer to the Hebrews summed up his thoughts like this:

…whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. (Hebrews 11:34b)

That’s what renewed strength can do.

5. Evidence of God’s power, verse 31b

Bible teachers point out that there are three levels of power here:

They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Soaring, running, and walking are all verbs. The Christian life is a life that lived on the move. Christians should never get caught watching the paint drying!

Some scholars also see in these three levels of power the three stages of Christian growth found in 1 John 2:12—14:

I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

The young Christian mounts up and soars like an eagle. The adult Christian will run. The mature Christian will walk. But no Christian can ever retire.

Dr. McGee tells the humorous story of the southern preacher who was preaching on Isaiah 40:31. As he was bringing his wonderful sermon to a close, he said, “Brothers, this church, it needs to walk!” And a deacon exclaimed, “Amen!” He continued, “Brothers, this church, it needs to run!” And the deacon exclaimed, “Hallelujah!” Then he said, “Folks, this church, it needs to fly!” The deacon yelled, “Amen, hallelujah!!” Then the minister said, “Well, it’ll take money to make this church fly.” To this the deacon shouted, “Let her walk, preacher, let her walk.”

The point is well taken. If you are a believer; if you are wanting to live for and move with God, it will cost you something. You will get tired. You will get frustrated. You will get discouraged. You will become disillusioned. But the God of unlimited resources will give you exactly what you need to strengthen whatever your condition may be.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd
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