Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”? 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 understanding is inscrutable. 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; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. Isaiah 40:21-23, 27-31
As we watch the Olympics, all the typical sports stories and analogies come out. There are winners and losers, and those who came oh-so-close. For Canada, it was the luge that was oh-so-close – three 4th place finishes in as many races. The Peruvians are at their second Olympics with three athletes. There’s the story of the Peruvian cross country skier who broke his rib earlier – normally the person would withdraw from racing. But he races on and comes in dead last at double the time of the first place position. But the great part was the gold medal winner and others waited at the finish line for him, a full half-hour after they finished, to congratulate him on his race.
Did you see the Russian skier trying to finish the race with a busted ski? He had fallen twice, the ski flapping all over, the layers of it separating and gouging the snow. He comes over a rise and falls down the slope, also in last. You can tell he is frustrated, disappointed for the setback in front of his home crowd. He is determined to finish, but it is so difficult. He stands and goes a bit further and then hears a yell from behind and to his right. A man jumps down the bank and crouches at his left foot, placing a new ski beside him. In a matter of a few seconds he has a new ski and off he goes to finish last, but finish all the same. The Canadian coach shrugs off the gesture as part of the spirit of the Olympics. It is about helping athletes do their best. The other side of the story is that the Canadian relay team broke a pole in the 2006 Olympics, and the coach from Norway threw her in a new pole. The Canadians went on to win silver in that race, while Norway finished fourth. There are very human stories happening which warms the heart and gives one a little more appreciation of humanity.
The fact is, we all go through periods of hardship, of things not going quite right, of difficult circumstances. Life is often hard, and we can feel snowed in, dumped on, frozen out. Sometimes it is something we bring on ourselves. Have you ever made a bad decision? Those things come back to haunt us in life, the “if only I did that differently…”, “if only I had made a different choice, a better decision.”
The first half of Isaiah is rather dark and filled with judgement. Israel had blown it. They had God as their King, but demanded a man. The men got progressively worse, and as kings are sometimes wont to do, ran amok with their power. Isaiah was warning Israel again, as many prophets before him had, of impending judgment because of their sin and unfaithfulness. In sports there is only one winner, but there is always another competition. There was the vancouver Olympics, and now Sochi. In four more years there will be another winter Olympics in South Korea. There is always a “next time”. In life we often have to live with the consequences, and sometimes the results are catastrophic. We don’t always have a “next time”. But God offers hope. And so, after Isaiah 39 we come to Isaiah 40.
The second part of Isaiah shines with the light of promises of restoration and of the coming Messiah. The restoration refers to both the land as well as to millennial blessings for Israel. The exile hadn’t happened yet, but where the first 39 chapters speak to thE exile, the last 27 Chapters look beyond that to a better future.
So if you are weary and heavy laden, listen to the prophet. He says in Isaiah 40:1 “’Comfort, O comfort My people,’ says your God. ‘Speak kindly to Jerusalem…’” God has been speaking peace from the beginning. The problem is that often all people hear is judgment. I am not sure why that is – perhaps because they know intuitively they have fallen short of God’s standard. The negativity and self-righteous judgment of their own hearts pushes back to the One who says, “all have sinned… there is none righteous, no not one.” But God has offered Good News – news that says we are no longer slaves to sin, to selfishness. there is a way out – God has reached down out of eternity and infinity and offers hope and peace and love.
We need to try to understand how big God is. You can’t put God in a box. As soon as you draw boundaries BAM He is outside them. Think you have found the edge of grace? Nope, it goes further – much further. Listen to these verses again (21-23, 27-28). In your trouble it is not about how strong you need to be, it is about resting in how strong God is. And He knows. He knows your way, your trouble. The justice due you has not escaped Him. He never sleeps – He is always there listening and speaking to you. Lance Armstrong thought he got away with cheating. How many times have pure athletes been beaten by drugged athletes who never got caught? Where is the justice? Hear this – always make your appeal to God. He knows, He is sovereign. If anything is to be done, He will do it. Rest in Him and let it go, let God bear the burden of justice, so you can continue on in the things He has called you to do and to be.
Then comes the promise at the end of Isaiah 40. Energy and strength is what God offers. This does not start with your muscles. They say 80% of competition is mental – mental strength and mental preparedness. What Isaiah is talking about is spiritual strength. Spiritual strength and preparedness. When chaos is all around you, it does not have to drag you down, because you have Jesus. The whole athlete thing is what the writer of Hebrews talks about, it is what Paul talks to the Philippians about. Hebrews 12 says, “let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…” You want endurance? Focus on Jesus. Paul says in Philippians 3, “I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul uses the analogy of the sprinter who sets his feet and looks down the track at the goal, at the finish line. For the whole race that is where the sprinter looks. As you look, Jesus will be doing an amazing work in your life. You will find a peace that makes no sense and a hope that endures. Are you tired, lonely, frustrated, disappointed, scared, and more? Look to Jesus. Keep your eyes on Him and those things will dim, they will fall away – not because your problems went away; most often they don’t. But you will no longer be alone in them. Jesus will be standing with you in that fiery furnace of life.
Isaiah encourages us, reminding us that this big, awesome God is on our side. Actually, it is His side we are on, but when we throw ourselves on His side, He is there to see us through. Persevere in the pursuit of God. The spiritual war is real, and Satan is constantly trying to get you to falter. But just as the Russian skier was almost done, the Holy Spirit comes alongside and gives us a new ski, that we may finish the race strong. It doesn’t matter who wins – there is always another race to win. What matters is that today we press on in the race. Look up to the finish, there is a crowd cheering us on.