Do you feel like God is ignoring you? Does it seem like God is treating you in a way that is not fair? It’s not surprising that sometimes we feel this way. When we experience problems with our health, we want to ask God, “Why is this happening to me?” If they are severe, or if they drag on it can indeed seem like God is ignoring us. It is discouraging to deal with ailments that sap our strength and take joy out of life as we deal with them day after day.
Do you feel like God is ignoring his people the Church? Does it seem like God is treating us in a way that not fair? You know the world in which we live today. It is discouraging to see that the life of a faithful Christian is becoming and more difficult. You know what it is like to talk to a person who has a completely secular world view - a person for whom the idea of a God who acts in our world and reveals himself is the stuff of fairy tales.
Does it seem like God is ignoring the problems that are occurring in your life, or that of family and people you care about? I will tell you that I learned of a tragedy this week that really struck home for me. Chris was a guy I played baseball with at Concordia College, Ann Arbor. I certainly liked him while in college, but honestly, at the time I wasn’t sure what kind person he would turn out to be.
After losing track of him for years, Facebook became the means by which I reconnected with Chris and had a chance to see what he had become. It was wonderful to see that he was a man of faith, family, teaching and coaching at a Lutheran school. He was a really good guy. Then, I learned that Chris died this week of Covid. I was shocked. I don’t know anything about the circumstances, but his death leaves behind a widow, several children who are around college age, and a grieving church and school community where he had clearly impacted many lives.
Our text from the prophet Isaiah addresses these kinds of experiences. The prophet reminds us first, that God is simply out of our league. We don’t want to hear it, but we are just not in a position to understand, much less question what he does. But while that is true, Isaiah also assures us that God does not just leave us there. Instead, he is the One who gives us strength – a strength that is grounded in his remarkable and dramatic action to save us.
Isaiah wrote in the eight century B.C. In his day, the Assyrian empire was the great threat from which Yahweh miraculously delivered Jerusalem. The Assyrians had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and taken the people into exile. God had used the Assyrians as the instrument of his judgment against Israel, for from the very time when it broke away from Judah after the death of King Solomon that nation had embraced the false gods of paganism in every way.
Judah too was sinful in this way. The experience with the Assyrians was a warning – a call to repentance. But the people were not going to pay attention. And so in his prophecy Isaiah writes about the exile that would occur to Judah in the sixth century B.C. The Babylonians would take them into exile. But in his prophecy Isaiah also speaks Yahweh’s word of promise and good news that he would bring them back to their own land.
God says through Isaiah at the beginning of our text, “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.” Yahweh begins by reminding the people that he is the true God – he is the Creator – and there is no one else like him.
In Isaiah’s prophecy Yahweh continually reminds the people that he is the almighty Creator. He has all might and power and there is no one that can be compared to him. In the verses just before our text Isaiah writes, “Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told 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 like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.”
Because this is so, the complaint by the people of Judah – and by us – has no justification. God says through Isaiah, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God’?” There are two accusations here. The first is that God does not know about the problems experienced – that he is oblivious to them. The second is that he doesn’t care and isn’t doing what it right for them – what they should be able to expect from God.
Yahweh’s response to Judah and to us is very direct. He says, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” God is the almighty One who never lacks power. He never grows weary. And his understanding is unsearchable.
This is one of the moments when we just have to admit that we don’t know what God is doing. We aren’t capable of knowing what God is doing. He is God and we are not. We say things like, “I don’t understand what God is doing.” And that is precisely the point. We don’t, and we won’t. Later in Isaiah God says, “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.”
We can’t understand what God is doing because he is God and we are his creatures. Beyond that, we can’t understand what God is doing because we are sinful people. Even as those who are a new creation in Christ our lives are still pulled down by the old Adam. We may not understand what God is doing, but God has revealed in his Word that he uses the circumstances I described at the beginning of the sermon to crucify the old Adam in us. He uses them to force us to turn away from ourselves and toward God. He uses them to cause us to grow in faith.
In our text, God promises that he gives strength to faith. He says, “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
The source of this strength is God’s action in this world. This chapter begins with the words, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins.” God speaks of the rescue he is going to provide to Judah. He will act to bring them back from exile. Isaiah then writes: A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Isaiah speaks about the return from exile. But this saving action by God pointed forward to something even bigger; something even mightier. The careful listener will hear in that text the prophecy about John the Baptist. Matthew tells us in his Gospel, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’”
The glory of the Lord was revealed as God sent his Son into the world to win salvation for us, and defeat death. This is what happened when Jesus Christ died on the cross. Although he is true God, he took on a human nature in the incarnation – he became man without ceasing to be God. He did this in order to take our place as he suffered and died receiving God’s judgment against us. Jesus Christ was the Servant of the Lord who fulfilled these words of Isaiah: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Jesus died on Good Friday to win forgiveness for us. He was buried in a sealed tomb. But during this season of Easter we are celebrating the fact that God acted in our world in an incredible and new way. He raised Jesus from the dead. He raised Jesus with a body transformed so that it can never die again. Jesus lives! And because he does, death has been defeated. He is the first fruits of the resurrection. Because Jesus has risen, we will too.
There was nothing about Good Friday that would have led us to expect this blessed outcome. Jesus hung on the cross in weakness, failure, shame, and humiliation. It certainly looked like his way was hidden from the Lord, and that his right was disregarded by God. But God’s understanding is unsearchable. His ways are not our ways. And what looked like failure and rejection, was actually God’s most powerful action to take away our sins.
We know this now, because God raised Jesus up on Easter. And in fact, we have learned that Jesus’ death was the means by which God has defeated death forever. Because Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead we have been reconciled to God. Baptized into Christ’s death, we are saints who already now possess eternal life with God. And because Jesus has risen from the dead, we know that Christ will raise and transform our bodies on the Last Day.
The resurrection of Jesus gives us living hope. This is what allows us to trust in God when it seems like our way has been hidden from the Lord, and that our right has been disregarded by God. The Spirit gives us grace to trust in God because we have already experienced his amazing love in the death and resurrection of his Son for us.
In circumstances of difficulty and hardship, we wait for the Lord. But we wait for the One who has already acted in the death and resurrection of Christ. The Spirit of the risen Lord gives us strength through the knowledge of what God has done for us. And because he does, Isaiah’s words are true for us: “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.