Thursday, January 6, 2011

IF YOU’RE AT THE END OF YOUR ROPE

                                                             

                                                                                                            ELDERLY/RETIRED

What should you do when you sense that no one around you is concerned and you even feel that God doesn't care?

Have you ever felt as if God has forgotten you? Do you perhaps now sense that God doesn't real1y care-that He has forsaken you and gone off and left you? This was how the Jews in exile in Babylon felt. They questioned the knowledge and the power of God. We read about this in Isaiah 40:27, where they said, "My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God."*

Here they were, 900 miles away from their homeland, surrounded by the idolatry of Babylon. They were without their king, without their priestly system, without their sacrifices, without their annual religious festivals. The temple had been burned, their houses demolished, and the city ransacked in that terrible year, 586 B.C. They concluded, "God doesn't know about us, or if He does, He doesn't care!" If you think God doesn't see you or He doesn't care, you need the same antidote that Isaiah wrote for the captives. That is, Isaiah 40.

This great chapter, which Alfred Lord Tennyson said is one of the five great classics of the Old Testament introduces the second half of this book, which was written ahead of time as if the people were in captivity. Isaiah looked ahead by means of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as he wrote these marvelous chapters and then, more than 100 years later, the Jews in exile could read these chapters and be comforted by them.

Isaiah 40, at the beginning of this majestic portion, stresses that God does care because He is the sovereign God. There are two thoughts in this chapter that we need to see. First, the sovereign God wil1 restore His people (see vv. 1-11). Second, the sovereign God wil1 renew or strengthen His people (see vv. 12-31).

God Will Restore

In verse 3, Isaiah wrote: “‘clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.' “Isaiah was referring here to the custom of workers in those days going ahead of the king, clearing debris from the road and making the ride smooth for their king. Al1 four Gospels quote this verse, and in fact apply it to John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the Lord Jesus. But Isaiah was speaking here primarily of the Lord who would clear the way for the exiles, as they would return 70 years later.

He wrote then in verses 6, 7: "Al1 flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass." He is comparing humanity to grass, which  dries up in Palestine when the hot wind blows on it overnight. And this would have great significance for the exiles, because the Babylonian empire was a great nation. That nation had conquered Assyria and then Judah and had attacked many other nations.

That city, the capital city of Babylon, was well fortified, so much so that Nebuchadnezzar said, "Is not this Babylon the great which I have built?" There were two huge systems of outer walls around the city. Within the city were 53 pagan temples, and the temples and the gates were named after their gods-and the Babylonians believed that those gods were greater than the God of the Jews. They felt that was proved by the fact that they were able to conquer the Jews.

But Isaiah is reminding the exiles that that concept of their Babylonian captors is wrong-for all the splendor of the Babylonians, he says, will vanish just like grass withering overnight. That actually happened when the Persians conquered Babylon-the Babylonians became like grass. Later, the Greeks conquered the Persians, and the Persians became like grass. Then the Romans conquered the Greeks, and the Greeks became like grass. Then barbarians conquered the Romans, and the Romans became like grass. Therefore, God is saying that He will lead the exiles back home because their enemies wil1 become powerless. He wil1 do it with a strong arm (see v. 10) and with a tender arm like that of a shepherd (see v. 11).

God Will Renew

The second major truth in this chapter is that the sovereign God will renew His people. He can give inner strength because of who He is, because of His strength.

Isaiah contrasted the greatness of God with several things. First, he contrasted God's greatness with the world. He spoke in verse 12 of the water and the mountains being smal1 in comparison to God, and even the vast universe, he said, can be measured by God's hand.

Second, he contrasted the greatness of God with the nations. Our Lord says through Isaiah, that these nations are like a drop from the bucket, like a speck of dust on the scales. In fact, they are total1y insignificant and amount to nothing. They are, he said in verse 17, less than nothing. This is an important reminder for us today: Every nation, however strong, prosperous or terrifying, is absolutely nothing.

If the nations are nothing, therefore, then certainly their idols are nothing as well. This is what he speaks of in verses 18-20. Isaiah, with delightful sarcasm, belittles these idol makers, who cast an idol and then cover it with gold. Others who are not rich cut down a tree and carve an idol out of the wood. Isaiah is reminding the exiles that that is what those idols were made of. They are simply man-made and therefore are totally insignificant compared to the sovereign greatness of their-and our-God.

Fourth, Isaiah contrasted the sovereign greatness of God with the rulers. He said in verses 23, 24 that these rulers are nothing. They are like seed planted in the ground that may begin to take root, but when God blows on them, they wither, much like the grass we saw earlier in the chapter. He stated in verse 22 that it is not these Babylonian gods nor is it these Babylonian rulers who sit in sovereign power-it is God who sits above the dome of the earth. He is the One who is the Ruler. So Judah had no need to be afraid of these Babylonian kings-they were totally insignificant.

Likewise, Christians today do not need to be afraid of wicked rulers, because our God is the One who is in charge.

Fifth, Isaiah pointed out the sovereign greatness of God by contrasting Him with the stars (see v. 26). Why stars? This is highly significant because astrology began in Babylon. It was the center of star-worship, and the stars, they believed, were gods. But the sovereign God Jehovah is saying to the exiles that this concept is wrong. It is God who controls the stars, not the stars who control man.

All of these contrasts are meant to lead them and us to verses 2773 I, and to help us see that God can strengthen us because of His strength. In verse 28 we read: "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

Nations are meager compared to God's majesty and puny compared with God's power.

Understanding is inscrutable." God never gets tired. He is never too preoccupied to help us, He is never too exhausted to rise to our need, He is never incapable of understanding our situation.

Inner Strength

In these closing verses, Isaiah used several words for "weary" and "tired," and also several words for "strength" and "power." He wrote: "He gives strength to the weary and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength" (vv. 29, 30).

How do you get that inner, spiritual strength from the Lord to continue on in the face of difficulties? The answer is in verse 3 I:  "Those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength." The word "wait" does not mean to sit around and do nothing. It means instead to trust, to hope expectantly, to recognize that our times are in God's hands, and that He will work in His way and in His time-because He does care.

The result then will be that we "will mount up with wings like eagles"-that is, we will rise easily above our difficulties, confident in God's power. We "will run and not get tired ... [and] walk and not become weary" (v. 31). He is speaking not so much of physical strength as he is spiritual strength. So when you are down and weak spiritually, you need to turn to the One who indeed is strong.

If you have not trusted Christ as your Saviour, turn to Him the One who is the Shepherd, who gave His life, who died for the sheep. If you are a believer, hope expectantly, wait for God's timing-because of His strength.

Several years ago, two ladies, missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators, were driving in a remote region of an Asian country to take a language survey when their car broke down. They realized they were in serious difficulty because they were about 80 miles from a mechanic. The Lord brought along a stranger, however, who happened to have a . rope in the trunk of his car. He offered to tow them to a place for help. He tied the rope to the two cars, and they started out. But the rope broke. So they stopped, tied it, and started out again. Then the rope broke again. They continued to do that, with the rope breaking several times and their tying ""knots in it. Finally there was no way they could tie any more knots in that rope. They did not know what to do. Just then they spotted a stronger rope at the side of the road, lying in the bushes. Later these women, writing about this experience, said, "When we literally came to the end of our rope, God provided a better one."

Are you at the end of your rope? Do you think that your way is hidden from God as these Jewish exiles thought? Do you sense that God has forgotten you, that He does not care? Then wait, hope, expect and remember God's' sovereign greatness. Then you will be strengthened and renewed by His strength.
                                                                              - by Roy B


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