Below are my sermon notes from our first Covid-19 public worship service in Knockbracken, Belfast, today, 12 July 2020. If you are interested in a link to the pre-recorded version of the message, please click on the link below:
Reading – Isaiah 40:1-31
1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 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. 3 A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 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. 5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken." 6 A voice says, "Cry!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. 8The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. 9 Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God!" 10Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. 12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? 13 Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel? 14 Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? 15Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust. 16Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering. 17 All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. 18 To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? 19 An idol! A craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains. 20 He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skilful craftsman to set up an idol that will not move. 21 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? 22 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; 23 who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness. 24Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. 25 To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. 26 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. 27 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"? 28 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. 29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31but 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.
Money matters, family problems, relationship issues, work pressures, health & safety, loneliness & grief, fear & worry, depression & exhaustion, spiritual struggles – all test our faith & ability to cope.
For their sin, Judah faced deportation & jail. Now under intense pressure, hearts begin to question. Has their God forgotten? Has Yahweh’s promise failed? To banish gloomy doubt Isaiah calls for faith in Israel’s God of grace!
Covenanted Grace 27
He is not a foreign deity who will let believers down. He is the personal LORD of Israel who summoned Jacob by name & swore a gracious oath to be their God – if an oppressor like Assyria or Babylon oversteps the mark He vindicates their cause. Are you suffering for your faith? Are you getting it in the neck? Look to Covenant blood. Trust God’s binding oath. He won’t desert your case or abandon you to your foes. Summon God, your covenanted friend and sworn ally, to fight your battles for you.
Powerful Grace 28
Those stressed or stretched beyond their ability to cope must know God has brought this trial so that you might in your exhaustion look to Him. You may be faint & feel your resources have run out. But you can keep going & face tomorrow by looking around at the handiwork of Yahweh, the Maker of earth’s ends. Get eyes in your heart, to seek spare coping capacity from the infinite excess of an Everlasting God who is fully-cognisant of your plight.
Abounding Grace 28
God’s sore-pressed children must realise the resources made available. The capacity to cope uses colourful terms that go beyond power or strength. His mighty power & abundant strength more than match the task with which believers are faced with multiples of grace. These verbs don’t run-out or have expiry dates but offer continual, constant, & all-season, streams of strength. Gives means Giver - Yahweh, God of grace, is the Giver who keeps on giving & every gift is perfect from the unchanging heavenly Father.
Transforming Grace 29
What a remarkable change when saints' faith is exercised! The gloomy are glad, the exhausted are empowered, the fearful find courage, the timid are emboldened, the downcast rise up: comfort soothes their sorrows, balm soothes their wounds, power surges replace weakness; the marathon is completed, saints overcome by faith & persevere in grace – they rise above the storms, like eagles riding winds, triumphant in their trials.
If Creation is not enough proof, focus on the Cross: it is here that 3-dark hours of wrath, & wounded limbs & brow, assure saints of God’s grace, which is sworn & blood-sealed in Christ. His Day 3 resurrection, & exaltation to right hand rule above all power, show well-enough that God’s Mediator of the Elect has all-sufficient power for every test. God did not spare His Son but gave Him for us all. Wait on Him for rise-up, fight-on, grace to finish your course, run the race & win!
Are you flat, fearful, faint? Beware of distrustful thoughts which lean on flesh not faith? Does a voice in your heart say you just can’t continue or face another step-forward tomorrow? Are you swamped by sight of circumstances that surround? Will you confess your doubts & sinful reliance on self? Will you bow pride & admit you are weak? Will you confess unbelief & you’ve taken eyes off God? He never forgets or fails! You cannot fall! Trust His Word. Wait for grace.