Sermon: Hope in the Midst of Despair (Isaiah 40:21-31)

Text: Isaiah 40:21-31
Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany
Listen to the sermon here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

One of Europe’s leading psychiatrists was imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War. During this time, he saw something that distinguished the survivors and the dead, and it wasn’t physical health and strength. What made the difference between those who survived and those who didn’t was hope — something to live for beyond the barbed wire, something to look forward to, something to go home to after the war. If someone had lost faith in the future — their future — was doomed. Without hope these people often let themselves decline and became subject to mental and physical decay. They often simply gave up.

This really highlights the importance of hope, of having something to live for beyond the barbed wire of this life. This lack of hope is a common condition, we call it despair. In our Old Testament reading for today Isaiah points the way out of despair toward a renewed hope.

Does God Know Our Situation?

Isaiah is prophesying to the Jews who were exiled in Babylon. By this time they’ve been in captivity for several decades and are teetering on the edge of despair. You couldn’t blame them for being depressed. The empire had defeated them, destroyed their capital, and enslaved them. They were weary and exhausted. The Jews were crying out to God with a sorrowful lament. They felt abandoned by their God–and their present circumstances seemed to confirm it. They wanted God to intervene on their behalf, but it looked like he wasn’t going to help them at all.  They felt as if their lives were no longer of any real concern to God. They were a tired and weary people who could no longer imagine a bright future.

That was their situation. Our own situations can provoke the similar attitudes in us. “How can God do this to me? God no longer remembers me! God doesn’t care about me, he’s got more important things to do!” We can often find ourselves strongly tempted to indulge the despairing and impatient attitude shown by the children of Israel. It’s all too easy for us to assume that God has “forgotten to be gracious” to us, that he has “passed us by,” that the wrongs we suffer and things we endure are ignored by God just as if they were hidden from his sight. 

Think for a moment of some situations we experience that can create in us that impatience and despair we find described in Isaiah.  The Christian faith continues to be persecuted, mocked, and disdained. We may be discouraged because of the emptying of pews and great difficulty in filling them again. We may have been hurt by family members, friends, or fellow Christians and the wounds still linger. We can be trapped in any number of social, domestic, or financial crises and we have been anxiously striving to escape them. We may be enduring unrelieved pain, weakness, disease, illness, or the effects of age. In order to deal with this epidemic, we have either been locked-down or under restrictions for nearly a year, and its starting to wear on us. We may feel like we have lost the peace and joy of God’s salvation and that our religion has become rote. 

Are you tired and weary? Do you find it hard to imagine a bright future? Do you feel that because of one or more of these circumstances that God has abandoned you? Isaiah does not deny that the situations Israel faced were hard. He doesn’t deny that the situation that we face are hard. He doesn’t deny your weariness, struggle, impatience, or despair. Isaiah instead suggests that we need to remember two things: first who God is, and second, what God gives.

Do You Know Who God Is?

Everything that matters in life hangs on who God is.  Our God, is the Creator God, the maker of everything.  This God is the one who not only created, but creates; the One who not only brought nations into existence, but remains in control of world political affairs. Look to the night sky with the moon and the billions of stars. Are any of them missing? Have they floated away? No. God has named them and claimed them. 

We should also remember that God doesn’t measure time by our clocks. With the “everlasting God” one day is as a thousand years. We only see the present, our reality and circumstances, but God sees the whole picture. “It is not that the Lord is slow in keeping his promise, as some suppose” (2 Pet. 3:9). The length or shortness of time is not the same thing to God as it is to us. We need to remember that it is impossible for him to forget our necessities or our sorrows. He does not grow weary. What might be a burden for you will not be wearisome for God. He does not ignore your needs for one single moment. 

Since you understand that the eternal God is the Creator, don’t you believe that he is at work in our world? Creation is not a one-time act but an ongoing activity. God has not finished with us yet. God made all these things, they are his creation. They are under his control, they cannot touch the least hair of your head without God’s say-so. Do not be afraid. We may be foolish and weak. Our God is wise, a liberator, living and strong. We may be poor and wretched. Yet, what we lack God has in ample supply. 

Do You Know What God Gives?

When Isaiah says that Creator God does not faint or grow weary that tells us that there is reason to trust him. Isaiah says you have a God who does not get tired. God may not be tired, but humans are. So, God today consoles those who are tried: God will not become weary. God has always been at work in your life. He can help you. God supplies strength in our exhaustion, our oppression, and in our moments of greatest need. The same power used to make the heavens and the earth is used on behalf of God’s baptised people. If you are a sinner, Christ is righteous; if you are poor, Christ is rich; if you are foolish, Christ is wise; if you are a captive, Christ is present to set you free; if you are forsaken, Christ takes you to himself; if you are cast down, Christ consoles you; if you are weary, Christ refreshes you. If you are hurting, Christ was poured out upon the Cross for you. If you are dying, Christ rose again for you. Cling to that Word, not to your reason. Cling to God, not to what your situation looks like. 

Do not lose heart. The biblical witness is that from age to age, God hears the cries of his people and gives strength to them. Although it may at times feel like you are on your own, it is not so.  Cling to God. God can give you the strength to resist temptation. He can give you the ability to endure even the most severe of trials. He will certainly strengthen your faith, hope, and love as you continue to feed on Christ. This calls for us to be patient and to wait on God come what may. This is why God sends us his Word so that we may be comforted when situations in life leads us to despair. 

There is something beyond the barbed wire of life — God himself. He hasn’t abandoned us. God does not promise that the problems of the world will go away. But Isaiah promises that our Creator God can us give the strength to endure whatever we may face. Our powerful, Creator God remains with us as we live in this uncertain and dangerous world. You believe this, don’t you? You trust God, don’t you? 

Trust in God, and then the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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