Gripped | Isaiah 40:10-31
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Isaiah 40:10–40:31
Good morning and welcome to Damascus Road. I am so glad you have joined us this morning. My name is Al Muzzy and I am an elder and one of the pastors here at Damascus Road Church where we affirm that we are saved by Jesus’ Work, changed by Jesus’ Grace, and living on Jesus’ Mission to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, knowing that He is with us always, to the end of the age.”
All of us face life’s situations that elicit an immediate fear response on our part. Your attention is drawn back from an engrossed conversation with a friend as your toddler “toddles” off toward certain danger and harm. Or, you look back at the road where traffic is at a dead stop and you are closing distance fast on the bumper of the car directly ahead. An unfamiliar dog appears from the shadows, hackles raised. All of us have our stories to tell. God created in us a total mind-body response mechanism to deal with these situations wherein we take one of three courses of action, freeze, flee, or fight, for so God wired us to appropriately master our fears in the face of imminent physical harm that we might survive. At times, it is best to avoid notice. At times it is best to run from danger. There are times when it is best to stand ground when facing danger, or even charge toward it.
But let me ask you this. Have you ever experienced a generalized anxiousness which seems to have no immediate source? What about a need to control people and events around you, or conversely the reluctance to set a course for yourself? Are you a spendthrift? Miserly? Do you continuously seek the approval of others, or actively avoid contact? Do you avoid decision making? Are you frequently too hasty? Terrified by confrontation? Always up for a good battle? What about you, this morning? Is there an anxiousness in life which hinders your joy? My starting point for this morning is that in many cases these pervasive states of the heart and mind are response mechanisms to a fear different than physical threat. Fear that burrows deep inside us, which requires a completely different solution in order that we may experience joy and flourishing in our lives. We need God’s perfect provision to defeat the enemy we face and his weapon of choice, Fear of Man. Clearly understand that I’m not speaking of those whose lives are lived out under the burden of physical, emotional, or mental unhealth at the hand of disease, though these too are the result of this sin-broken existence.
Take me as I came here today gripped by the possibility of two events which might befall me. First, that I would stumble and fall upon the steps while making my entry, in front of all of you, possibly rendering myself unconscious which, now that I think of it, would immediately have relieved me the burden of my second and greatest fear, that in this moment, I have completely blanked from mind everything I had prepared for my sermon. Briefly revel in the thought that, as I did not succumb to Fear #1, Fear #2 is still in play and this morning’s service might be indeed brief.
I want to open with a quote from Charles Spurgeon (slide needed)
“It has been said by someone that the proper study of mankind is man. I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The higher science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the works, the doings, and the existence of the great God, whom he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity, so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content and go away with the thought, “Behold, I am wise . . .”
In other words, “I got this!”
The American Psychiatric Association clinically defines fear as an emotional response to a real or perceived threat. When the response to fear crosses the threshold to functional impairment, the APA labels it a phobia and estimates 40-million adult Americans suffer some level of functional impairment due to anxiety. GAD, OCD, Specific Phobias, Social Phobias. . . the list is long, the names for these phobias are longer, though it seems that none who diagnose them suffer from Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia – the fear of long words. This morning you might well be in the throes of Homilophobia – the fear of sermons.
Fear of Man
Earlier, I told you I feared I might fall. Was I concerned about physical harm to myself? Partially. I also feared that I might forget my sermon – was that because I am worried you all might miss out on great words of wisdom? Not at all. What gripped me? An inordinate concern about how you would perceive me. I had come down with a touch of what has become an epidemic among Christians today – the Fear of Man, where we are in awe of other people to the point that we put our trust in them, need their approval, idolize them, worship them. God’s word is replete with examples of fear of man, concise about what it is, and clear about its consequences. Proverbs 29:25 begins; (slide needed)
“The fear of man lays a snare, . . .”.
Notice two things
- Fear of Man is not the snare. Fear of man is the active agent with an end-game. The snare is nothing more than a contrivance.
- The snare is intentional, laid and concealed cleverly along the path the bird takes. It is not some random accident of nature. The snare is all about the intentionality of the one who lays the snare. The hunter retreats and waits as its prey inevitably approaches, scratching and pecking for its natural food as it goes. But then it catches the sight and scent of the bait, throws natural caution to the wind in pursuit of the promise of the feast, and unwittingly steps within the snare’s confines. First a clawed toe then the whole foot passes under the string loop until it takes a subtle purchase on its leg. The bird freezes in place. Suddenly, secretly the end of the snare is pulled, and the loop closes tight. Instantly, the bird attempts to flee. The snare is unyielding, immune to the cries of its victim, as the contrivance realizes its maker’s single purpose.
No, we are not birds. We have a complex brain capable of reason. We put 2 and 2 together and derive 4. But none amongst us are ruled exclusively by logic. It is said that for most, our emotional quotient exceeds all other aspects of our lives and behavior as we interact with the larger world around us. As designed by God EQ is a gift given us by Him allowing us to relate to Him and others on a level deeper than raw intellect would ever permit. Knowing God is not knowing the facts of God in order to define and limit Him. Jeremiah 9:23-24 quotes the Lord. (Slide needed)
“. . . Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me.” (Jer.9:23 & 24)
Wisdom is a good thing, generally. The felt need to appear wise springs forth from the fear of being found out as the fool. Strength is a good thing, generally. A bully’s actions to dominate and control others could hide the betrayal, hurt and fear experienced at the hands of those who are meant to provide safety. Riches can be a blessing. Chasing riches out of a fear of lack or want, a scarcity mentality. . . well, you get it. God’s word speaks extensively about the fear of man and its consequences with great clarity and sets it in opposing tension against the fear of Him. The true identity and destructive nature is seldom honestly revealed or dealt with for what it is, idolatry. Instead it is sanitized, dressed up into something more palatable and treatable, something not sinister, but something man can “fix”. Peer pressure, low self-esteem, co-dependency. Clever masks concealing the contrivance along with the true identity and intention of its author, Satan. Those who suffer with the fear of man in one of its many forms are realizing the single purpose of the enemy who is the author of their condition, and not the manifold purposes of their Creator. Let me reiterate here, and be clear, I’m not speaking of those who suffer under the very real burden of physical, emotional, or mental disfunction at the hand of disease, trauma, bodily imbalances. No, I speak of those, me, who’s problem is rooted in that which comes seemingly as second nature. Where man assumes godlike status in their lives, your life, my life, supplanting worship of the Creator with worship of the creature. They, we, I have the spyglass pointed at God held backward to the eye, operating from a distorted view of reality in which man looms large and God seems small. It is the second nature which needs approval in the eyes of people, to need power, to need security, to need anonymity, to have our human needs met by others. Why? Because man’s First Nature was lost when sin entered into the hearts and minds of our parents, Adam and Eve
Second Nature or First Nature - Fear Man or Fear God - Fear is fear – What’s the Difference?
By definition, God’s holiness sets Him apart from His creation. Holiness is His essence. His essential holiness is what inhabits all of his attributes of justice, mercy, wisdom, power, ever-presence, eternally without variation or shadow of turning and on display in all that He made. The angelic beings declare the whole earth full of His glory, his manifest holiness. We were uniquely created by God as a reflection of His holiness and in our hearts He set eternity. And God calls his chosen people to be separate from the unregenerate world around them, to reflect His image, not the tarnished image of the world. In Leviticus 19:2 God instructs Moses to say to all the congregation of the children of Israel; (No slide needed)
“You shall be holy for I the Lord your God is Holy”
God is passionate about holiness. Reading from Isaiah 48:9-11 where God says; (slide needed)
For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
We were created as image bearers of the holy, eternal God, to reflect His essence, glory borne out of His Holiness. This was our First Nature. Satan hijacked it through a lie and crafted a counterfeit idol, this our second nature, in an effort to thwart God’s plan and purpose by stopping our ears, blinding our eyes and hardening our hearts.
Yeah, but Fear God? How’s that an upgrade?
The problem is that we are conditioned to immediately associate the word with that which can and likely will harm us. We sense we are outside of any source of protection and we are about to crash into that suddenly stopped car in front of us, having lost sight, for a mere moment, that upon which all of our attention should have been riveted. Here, a healthy reverence for the physics of a sudden stop from 60 MPH is our surest protection from physical harm. Our only protection from eternal catastrophic harm is to attend to and fear/revere God more than we fear man, for only He can kill both body and soul. In rebellion, fallen mankind recoils from the omnipotent, omniscient, holy, eternally just God who not only can but for some will kill both body and soul. Thinking they know God but not understanding Him, they see wrath, vengence. Their question of “How can a God who loves (fill in the blank)” is not seeking God, but condemning Him in their heart and mind. Instead, they run away to a god whom they have created in their image – one who at their command only affirms and fills their felt-needs cup with good things or provides anesthetic relief from the pain of their inner lives. This never was the tension of God’s love for us, either viewed as only vengeful wrath or servile needs fulfillment. God’s love for us certainly demands our obedience, our guiltless, sinless holiness because He is Holy. And His plan eternally included the only way possible for us to reach that perfect state of holiness through Jesus Christ who came to fulfill the law and be the once-for-all sacrifice for those who believe. Yet many reject the one true Gospel and embrace a watered-down half-truth, or worse a puny version invented out of whole cloth.
Open your Bibles and go with me to Isaiah 6 verses 1 thru 3 (slide needed)
“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Is. 6:1-3)
Holy is used over 600 times in the Bible but only twice repeated three times. Pay attention. Each repetition magnifies the thought. There are those who hold that the three-fold mention here may refer to the three persons of the Godhead – Father Son Holy Spirit. It is interesting that we see two names for God used here, Adonai (Lord) and Jehovah/YAHWEH (LORD), and John tells us in John 12:41 that Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory and spoke of them. We do not have to speculate when in Is 57:15 God declares His name – Holy!. Continuing in Isaiah 6, starting with verse (slide needed)
“And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Is. 6:4 & 5)
In his vision, Isaiah stood before the very throne of God. Holy, Holy, Holy. As all around him shook at the calling of the seraphim, the burning ones”, Isaiah trembled and shook with fear, certain of his imminent or already accomplished death. Before a Holy God he stood as if naked, unable to conceal his uncleaness, a puny, insignificant man from a vile, insignificant people laden with iniquity, offspring of evil doers, children who deal corruptly, who had forsaken the Lord, despised the Holy One of Israel, utterly estranged (Is. 1:4). He knew he deserved God’s wrath and he proclaimed that message boldly. How do we process the holy God in these passages? Do we acknowledge His might and power, tremble with Isaiah in the presence of this Holy God and bow to worship Him at His calling, or do act in contempt and scoff at His word as written in Isaiah 28:13? (slide needed)
“And the word of the Lord will be to them precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little there a little that they may go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken (Is. 28:13)
“Woe is me for I am lost, a man of unclean lips” Here is a man lost and knowing he is deserving death. Continuing in 6, beginning at vs 6 (slide needed)
“Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said “Behold this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Is. 6:6-7)
The seraphim, a servant of God literally on fire for God’s glory, whose sole eternal purpose is to serve and glorify God takes the live coal from the fire to touch Isaiah’s lips, not to punish him because he deserves it, not to seal his lips against further iniquity against God’s person, but to take away his guilt, and atone for his sin. Here we see a different kind of tension in the continuum of the Fear of God, tension which binds together both justifiable awe and terror of His just judgement for sin, which we all deserve, and the merciful, grace-filled loving care of our God who’s plan it is to redeem and restore us to Himself by removing the sin that separates. This is mercy which we do not deserve. Justice and Mercy bound up as one. This is the space we were created to inhabit.
God’s mighty arm is on display throughout scripture. Nothing can thwart Him as He uses His might to bring about His sovereign plan to rescue His people. It is a terror which decimates pharaoh and his army, (slide needed)
“Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? (Deut. 4:34)
This mighty arm accompanied them as they journey to and finally possess the promised land. In Psalm 44:3 we read (slide needed)
“For by their own sword they did not possess the land, and their own arm did not save them, But Your right hand and Your arm and the light of Your presence, “ (Ps 44:3)
By that same mighty arm, God went forth with his people and utterly destroyed their enemies by the edge of the sword, those who had formerly rejected God’s holy truth for Satan’s lie. The Prophets warned His people that they should revere His power and might or suffer eternal consequences, and we too should still tremble at the mighty, just, arm of our holy God. Yet, too often in our humanity we push back, recoiling at the descriptions of the totality of His power and holiness.
In Isaiah 40 God says comfort, comfort to His people. What does comfort look like? (Slide needed)
10 Behold, 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. “ (Is. 40:10 & 11)
Allow your heart to engage in this tension, in the bonding of Justice, and mercy. Does this passage speak of Yahweh or Jesus? Yes.
Skip ahead to verses 25-31 (Slides needed)
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.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 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. (Is. 40:25-31)
So which God is it – the mighty, fearsome God whose holiness rightfully demands justice and will surely execute judgement for sin? Do we fear that God? Or, arrogantly acting as judge of God’s justice, as if we could validate it? Or is it the tender merciful God who reaches down in mercy to shelter us from what we rightly deserve, and through grace, provide a way back to His holy presence through His sacrifice on our behalf? Do we cleave to that? We choose poorly if we choose either apart from the other, for only choosing both will give you the Fear of God sufficient to overcome the fear of man. A Holy God who is mighty and whose judgement is just and certain to those who oppose Him yet whose mighty arm tenderly holds those whom He calls to His bosom and is able to lead and save. Ultimately, you trust in the power of that which you fear. You will only obey that which you fear. Do you fear the god in the form of puny man and his fickle and fleeting approval more than you fear and seek the eternal rewards offered by a mighty, holy, loving God who created you to glorify Him for all eternity and sent His Son to redeem you from the pit into which you’ve fallen? Again, Spurgeon’s word speak to this. (Slide needed)
“When the soul is perfectly reconciled to God and comes to delight in Him, it rejoices in all His attributes. At the first, perhaps, it dwells almost exclusively upon His love and His mercy, but it afterwards proceeds to find joy in the sterner attributes, and especially delights itself in His holiness, and in His power. It is a mark of the growth of Christian knowledge when we begin to distinguish the attributes, and to rejoice in God in each one of them . . .”
It was a difficult situation of relational brokenness on a team which I had only recently joined. It was obvious to me that something was wrong and needed fixing so when asked to take the lead in an effort to restore brothers in Christ to one another, I agreed. Early progress soon gave way to a sense of floundering. Steps forward met with new resistance, bickering and rejection. Accusations, anger, debate and distrust seemed to punctuate events of nearly every day. Eventually, the bonds of friendship strained, tattered, and broke, as did any pretense that work as usual could continue. Grief accompanied the sense that I had failed. Long-term relationships ended; close friends were lost. Worse was the collateral damage to those impacted by the outcome. Long weeks followed as I tried to explain in quiet conversations over coffee or passing in the hallways, the “whats” and “whys” and “hows” of the wreckage, which seemed to them to come out of the blue. All questioned. Some accepted, others did not, a few reacted out of anger and assigned blame. My sense of self and well-being crumbled as my anger and bitterness at this treatment worked to consume me. More than once I would lament “For fifty years no one has ever questioned my motives, questioned my character” How could they?” “How dare they!” Their thoughts, words, and actions debilitated me, like a cancer allowed to metastasize, until it consumed me. Like Pyrrhus against the Romans, sensing defeat, I marshalled my decimated strength elsewhere. I began avoiding people, closing off friends and even family. I shut down avenues of contact, eventually deleting my online social media accounts. Publicly I wore a mask and passed it off as best he could. “I’m fine” I would say when asked. It’s like my grandson the other day. While kicking and chasing a ball in our backyard he stumbled against the fence and caught his finger between two vertical slats. “I’m okay” he said after his fingers were quickly freed, striding emphatically around in circles, red-faced, wet-eyed, huffing and puffing, waving his hand to try to lessen the pain. “I’m okay!” Hardly. I was unable to let Linda into this pain completely, “protecting” her as best I knew how, except our relationship was experiencing a “difficult patch”. My selfish refusal to seek her comfort and strength hurt so much. She told me that, though our kids didn’t have any idea of what was going on, they sensed something amiss asking quietly out of my earshot, why dad seemed so preoccupied, cut off, at family gatherings. It seemed to them that I would rather spend time engrossed in the smartphone than engaged with them. I could not free myself from the burden of what others were thinking. It was time to run. And run I did, headlong away from God’s safe harbor and into heart of the tempest, unmoored, unanchored. This is my story of how fear of man could have cost me everything – my family, my friends, my faith. How did I get ensnared in such a place of unforgiving disapproval, of melancholy, darkness, and depression? Jeff Vanderstelt from his book Gospel Fluency, states “I’m an unbeliever . . .”
You see, fear of man boils down to unbelief. Unbelief led me into a dark season of life. Don’t misunderstand. I confess Jesus’ work on the cross as a sacrifice for all my sins past, present, and future. I am a new creation, forever redeemed from the bondage of sin. Truly. And as Christ-followers, so do you. Yet, my faith could not sustain me in a trial because I had failed to daily apply it to the day-to-day of life. Unbelief. I allowed fear of man to usurp fear of God in my life. I assumed responsibility for a burden beyond my capacity to bear because in part I needed acclaim from man, I needed to be successful, because I feared rejection and pain. I felt crushing weight for fear of the certain loss my failure would bring upon my friends and others, for fear of what others would think of me, for fear that one last failure would finally, irrevocably confirm to me that I was indeed as weak and pitiful as I felt through my childhood family experiences, and that finally all others would see that too. Though God, through the work of Jesus on the cross had brought me out of my old life to a new one, I failed to cling to the finished nature of that transaction and tucked away enough of the debris from my former life which I used to condemn myself. I allowed my reputation to assume preeminence over the reputation of my Lord and Savior. I lost sight of “this King of glory. The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle!” (Ps. 24:8) I believed the lie whispered into my heart that God was insufficient, distant, and disinterested. I rejected that “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zeph 3:17). Jesus Christ is the power of God come to man. The cross is the power of God to redeem those whom He calls once for all. And in times of trial, it is to the cross I must come again and again to worship, to dwell on its message and refresh my soul. In the end, after much struggle I was restored to a place of grace by the mighty power of God through Jesus’s tender love for me made manifest through family and friends who preached Jesus into my life and because grace is not a one-time only transaction but a stream of living water from which we need to drink continuously. Believe me when I tell you that I tell of this chapter in my life, not so you know me better, but that you know Jesus better.
Have you ever seen what it is to side-launch a ship, a really big ship? Picture yourself standing on the 50-yard line at CenturyLink. This gigantic, towering ship, more than a football field in length and half its width looms above a narrow waterway beside. From keel to topmost mast it stands nearly as tall as the 200-foot high arches supporting the stadium roof. The ship is held tenuously in place by a system of chocks atop wooden pillars and massive hydraulic rams. A team sledgehammers the chocks out of place as the restraining hydraulic rams strain to resist the gravitational effect of 8-million pounds. Finally, the pressure is let off the rams, as they fall away. The ship, slowly at first, then more rapidly, irresistibly slides down the ramp toward the water, piercing horns blaring warning of its approach until it drops full force into the water, nearly on its side. A tidal wave mounts up, created by the ship’s 3000 metric tons of displacement, explosively ejecting water and whatever debris is floating about. Fear man gripped my heart. The fear of God needed to crash into my hurting heart’s harbor with the impact of a side-launched ship and having so entered displace and eject the joy chocking debris created by the fear of man. For we read;
Isaiah 41:10 (Slide needed)
Fear not, I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
This is our stake in the ground around which we rally against fearfulness, in the face of all of life’s uncertainty and perceived threats. He is with us! He is above us and beside us, He is in us and around us, He is over us and beneath us in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. Fear not. Be not dismayed. I am your God. I am for you. Satan is the fowler whose snare awaits the unwary. Yet God is certain protection for those whom He calls to Himself (Slide needed)
If it had not been the Lord who was on our side . . .they would have swallowed us up alive . . . the flood would have swept us away, the torrent gone over us. Blessed be the Lord who has not given us as prey to their teeth . . .We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler’s: the snare is broken, and we have escaped! Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124)
I opened today with the words of Spurgeon, speaking of the tension in our lives, that of humility before God which drowns our pride, and our confidence in our ability to figure things out and grapple with them on our own. Read with me his concluding remarks. (Slide needed)
“This subject” (contemplation of God, the “science” of Christ and Him crucified) “is” (also) “eminently consolatory. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea, be lost in his immensity and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest . . . I know nothing which can so comfort the soul, so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial as a musing on the subject of the Godhead”
Fear of God is no mere antidote for the fear of man. Fear of God is the power with which we vanquish it. But it is necessary that we open our lives to be gripped by God, The author of Hebrews cautions believers in chapter three that we are to take care, lest there be in any of us an evil, unbelieving heart, leading us to fall away from the living God. Instead we are to exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
We began today with Proverbs 29:25, interrupting it mid-verse. Let God lay hold of you, grip you, through the truth of the whole passage (Slide needed)
The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe (Ps. 29:25)
To and for His honor and glory forever.