Here we are at the start of another year. Many are anxious as to what 2012 will bring us, as we watch the TV or listen to the radio or read the newspapers. Its all gloom and despondency – the euro crisis, rising unemployment, famines and wars abroad and the ever present threat of terrorism at home.
At the end of 1939, the late King George VI in his broadcast to the nation quoted the following poem:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown!”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
To be honest there is no safer place to be than in the hand of God. He doesn’t promise us an easy road but he does promise to be with us every step of the way.
The following sermon I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church on Sunday 3rd January 2010.
Isaiah 40: 1 -11
“Comfort my people,” says our God. “Comfort them! Encourage the people of Jerusalem. Tell them they have suffered long enough and their sins are now forgiven. I have punished them in full for all their sins.” A voice cries out, “Prepare in the wilderness a road for the Lord! Clear the way in the desert for our God! Fill every valley; level every mountain. The hills will become a plain, and the rough country will be made smooth. Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it. The Lord himself has promised this.” A voice cries out, “Proclaim a message!” “What message shall I proclaim?” I ask. “Proclaim that all human beings are like grass; they last no longer than wild flowers. Grass withers and flowers fade when the Lord sends the wind blowing over them. People are no more enduring than grass. Yes, grass withers and flowers fade, but the word of our God endures forever.”
Jerusalem, go up on a high mountain and proclaim the good news! Call out with a loud voice, Zion; announce the good news! Speak out and do not be afraid. Tell the towns of Judah that their God is coming! The Sovereign Lord is coming to rule with power, bringing with him the people he has rescued. He will take care of his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs together and carry them in his arms; he will gently lead their mothers.”
At this time of year, we tend to look back at the past and forward to the New Year. The media is full of retrospective programmes and articles ie Sports Personality of the Year. Also we have the New Year’s honours list rewards people for past deeds and acts of public duty.
Then we have TV & radio pundits who try to look into the future to tell us what the year ahead holds for us.
The looking back is sometimes happy; holidays and joyful family events such as weddings and births. However sometimes our memories are tinged with regret for failures, for things that didn’t go right; or perhaps we look back with sadness for the losses we endured during the year. Maybe we have lost a loved one, or lost our health or our work or something equally significant.
Perhaps we’ve seen our dreams and aspirations come crashing down around us like so many buildings being demolished.
The past can be very painful and if we look back too long or too hard we can like Lot’s wife get frozen in time. We cannot change the past but we can with God’s help change how we feel about it and how we view it.
Many people tend to forget that the whole of creation is moving towards that great day when Jesus will return. Lets see what in says in Romans 8:19 “All of creation waits with eager longing for God to reveal his sons. For creation was condemned to lose its purpose, not of its own will, but because God willed it to be so. Yet there was the hope that creation itself would one day be set free form its slavery to decay and would share the glorious freedom of the children of God.“
Nothing stays the same, though many of us wish that it would do so. Even organisations such as churches are subject to change and decay. Just compare the church today with how it started out in Acts 2.
Some years ago in a previous church we had a members’ meeting to discuss proposed alterations to the building. We sung the hymn “In heavenly love abiding no earthly change I fear” and then the vicar told people what was going to happen, and did they fear the earthly changes? Oh yes they did!
And we ourselves are subject to physical changes and the ageing process.
Also we should remember that God appoints a time for everything, and just because we start something it doesn’t mean it will go on forever exactly as we started it. Ecclesiastes 3 starts like this: “Everything that happens in this world happens at the time God chooses. He sets the time for birth and the time for death…”
Many people think that their influence or what they build will last and last. They think that their immortality will be through their own works.
Often these words from Isaiah 40 are read at funeral services:
“Proclaim that all human beings are like grass; they last no longer than wild flowers. Grass withers and flowers fade when the Lord sends the wind blowing over them. People are no more enduring than grass. Yes, grass withers and flowers fade, but the word of our God endures forever.”
As the only thing that will last forever is God’s word, we should really pay more attention to it than perhaps some of us do. Whether we like it or not, even our traditions will pass away.
It all sounds very depressing doesn’t it?
Yet Isaiah the prophet gives to us living in 2010 a message of comfort and hope.
“Comfort my people,” says our God. “Comfort them! Encourage the people of Jerusalem. Tell them they have suffered long enough and their sins are now forgiven. I have punished them in full for all their sins.”
The Good News is that actually the punishment for our sins has been taken by Jesus so that we can have our sins forgiven. None of us is good enough to earn our way into heaven. All our good works mean absolutely nothing. The only way we can get right with God and have our sins forgiven is to put our faith in Jesus.
Our past can be dealt with and then forgotten by both God and ourselves. All we have to do is to accept the forgiveness Jesus offers us and the slate can be wiped clean. Jesus can heal our spiritual and emotional wounds and set us free from the affects of the past if we ask him.
Will you let Jesus comfort you and heal you of your past hurts?
Once we have accepted Jesus as our Saviour and allowed him to deal with our past, we can turn our back on the past and look to our future.
How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans for your future.
God is in control and he has plans for us. Jeremiah 29:11 “I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.”
How do you look at the future? Are you anxious? Do you worry about your eternal future?
If you have come to faith in Jesus, what the Bible terms being “born again” then your ultimate future is certain.
The Christian’s hope for the future is in Jesus. Hebrews 6:19 says “We have this hope as an anchor for our lives. It is safe and sure, and goes through the curtain of the heavenly temple into the inner sanctuary. On our behalf Jesus has gone in there before us, and has become a high priest for ever...”
For some people “hope” is wishful thinking. You know the sort of thing “I hope West Ham win today” or “I hope I’m not late again” or “I hope that he doesn’t preach for too long”.
However the hope talked about in the Bible is a certainty; it’s absolutely guaranteed and underwritten by God himself.
So hope for the Christian is a certainty that we will receive what God has promised although we do not know the exact timing. We just have to wait.
What is the hope for us in this bible passage we are looking at today?
Isaiah 40: 9 – 11 “Jerusalem, go up on a high mountain and proclaim the good news! Call out with a loud voice, Zion; announce the good news! Speak out and do not be afraid. Tell the towns of Judah that their God is coming! The Sovereign Lord is coming to rule with power, bringing with him the people he has rescued. He will take care of his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs together and carry them in his arms; he will gently lead their mothers.”
God is coming.
We are given this picture of God as not only a strong all powerful King coming to rule but also a gentle caring shepherd. Both these pictures are good news.
God will come to bring justice and will rescue people enslaved by sin. We know from the gospels that when Jesus returns he will act as God’s judge. Matthew 25: 31 “When the Son of Man comes as King and all the angels with him, he will sit on his royal throne, and the people of all the nations will be gathered before him. Then he will divide them into two groups, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the righteous people on his right and the others on his left.”
We are of course familiar with the idea of God as a shepherd, as I am sure most of us know the words of Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd…” Jesus said about himself in John 10 :11 “I am the good shepherd, who is willing to die for his sheep.”
The shepherd of Bible times led his sheep and was always with them. He cared for them and made sure they not only had food and water but that they were kept safe from danger. The injured ones and the lambs he would carry to safety.
Whilst the sheep would follow the shepherd, the goat was a totally different character and would try to find its own way. Indeed I understand that if you find an animal carcass in the rocky wilderness of Judea it will be a goat that chose to go its own way. So the goats represent those folk who don’t accept Jesus as their shepherd and decide to go their own sweet way. They may be nice sincere people, they may even go to church and do all sorts of good works but they have not come to Jesus.
Do you know Jesus as your Shepherd?
Have you entrusted your life to his care?
So, who is to proclaim the good news?
In the Old Testament, Jerusalem and Zion were terms often used to refer to God’s people. So it’s down to all of us to pass on the good news of Jesus. This is news that everyone needs to hear. As Jesus commanded his followers before he ascended into heaven (Mark 16:15 & 16) “He said to them ‘Go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all mankind. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.’”
We have quite a task but we don’t have to do it in our own strength, because we have the presence of the Holy Spirit in us to help us.
So lets just summarise what we’ve learnt from this passage:
1. God longs to comfort us. If we come in faith to Jesus, our sins can be forgiven and the hurts and failures of the past can be healed. We can move on into the future unburdened by guilt and shame.
2. God offers us Hope for the future. As the worship song says “We have a hope that is steadfast and certain”. Our hope is in Jesus.
3. If we are God’s people we are to announce the good news. To speak out and not be afraid.
Father God as we come to you at the start of this year, we bring to you all our past hurts and failures and disappointments and ask for your healing. May your Holy Spirit bring us the healing we need and the strength to go on into the new year in the confidence of the hope we have in Jesus. And we ask dear Father that those who do not know you may be drawn to you and receive the new life and forgiven that Jesus offers to all who come to him. Finally for ourselves we ask that we may be bold in our witness to the world of your wonderful love and of the good news of Jesus. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.