Behold Your God!
The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive a Child by the Holy Spirit—a Child would be the Savior promised of old. Her cousin Elizabeth would also bear a child, Mary was told. Mary visited Elizabeth and expressed her praise for God, her Savior.
Text: Isaiah 40:5
You who bring good tidings, get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, You who bring good tidings, lift up your voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”
In Christ Jesus, in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, dear fellow redeemed:
What are the immediate and the ultimate consequences of sin? If upon thinking about that question you were to respond: “Well, Pastor, there are no doubt many such consequences,” you would certainly be correct. However, if you consider the original fall into sin, as recorded by Moses in Genesis 3, you will note that the most obvious immediate consequence of sin was fear, while the inevitable ultimate consequence was death. When God came to walk and to talk with Adam and Eve the evening after the fall, our first parents, who had been created in God’s image and who had known and loved Him, were now afraid. They attempted to hide themselves among the trees of the garden, revealing their new-found lack of understanding.
My dear friends, fear and death continue to be the consequences of sin—even today! Consequently, even though we are separated from Isaiah and his compatriots by over twenty-seven hundred years, we can appreciate the encouragement “be not afraid,” and we can understand the need for “strength” in the midst of a life that is all too often filled with troubles. Isaiah, sent by God to bring comfort to his fellow believers in the face of the divine judgment soon to come upon an unbelieving Israel, urged his fellow believers to rejoice in the comfort of God’s forgiveness and to place their hope in His promises of salvation, which would find their fulfillment in the Christ to come! Last Wednesday we considered God’s promise that John the Baptizer would “prepare the way of the LORD” (Isaiah 40:3), and we noted in particular that when Jesus came as a small Child and when He comes as our divine Judge, we will see “the glory of the LORD” (Isaiah 40:5). Today as we continue a study of Isaiah’s prophetic words, we see him refer directly to the Christ Himself. Isaiah proclaimed to the believers of his day, even as I can proclaim to you believers today, that as we approach Jesus Christ, we approach more than a newborn Child in a manger; yes, we approach more than a good man and powerful preacher—no, as we approach Jesus, I would urge you: BEHOLD YOUR GOD! In doing so, I am not suggesting something that is only theoretical, but rather something that has a direct and practical impact upon your lives, for when we understand and recognize that Jesus Christ is true God, then we can live without fear, and then we can live with strength!
Yes, as you approach Jesus this Advent/Christmas Season, BEHOLD YOUR GOD—live without fear and live with strength! What did Isaiah and his fellow believers have to fear? They had to fear God’s pending judgment upon their nation. For centuries God had patiently worked with His people—His Israel. He had given them the law through Moses, but they had not obeyed it. He had sent prophets to warn them—Joel, Amos, Obadiah, but they had not listened. They had grown proud, attributing their success to their own hands, and using their success to oppress those less fortunate around them. Their judges were corrupt, their rulers self-centered, their men unfaithful, their women indulgent. Finally, God’s judgment had been announced. God told His unbelieving people in Jerusalem: “I will encamp against you all around, I will lay siege against you with a mound…. You shall be brought down,…your speech shall be low, out of the dust…. The multitude of your foes shall be like fine dust…. You will be punished by the LORD of hosts with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with storm and tempest and the flame of devouring fire” (Isaiah 29:3-6). Yes, God’s judgment in the form of war, defeat, captivity, and violent death lay ahead of the people of Isaiah’s day—it was a fearful prospect!
Yet, in the midst of that announced judgment the LORD God wanted those among His people who were yet faithful to live without fear! Consequently, He urges Isaiah to direct the thoughts of His faithful to the fulfillment of His promises to send a Savior—a Savior who Himself would be greater than an earthly foe. Yes, King Nebuchadnezzar of the Chaldean Empire would come and destroy Jerusalem, including God’s own house—the great temple of Solomon, yet even King Nebuchadnezzar was subject to the coming King of Kings—Jesus, for He was true God! Jesus could and would preserve the lives of His believing children in the midst of the coming battle, as He did that of the prophet Jeremiah and the Ethiopian slave Ebed-Melech who once rescued Jeremiah. He could and would bless His believing children, such as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, causing them to rise up within the ranks of imperial officials in Babylon and then preserving their lives from fiery furnaces and lions’ dens. It was in the quiet knowledge of an ever-present and all-powerful personal God and Savior that believers such as these would find the strength to overcome their fears and every obstacle before them. It was with eyes of faith that these Old Testament believers were able to look ahead in the midst of the trials of their day and BEHOLD THEIR GOD!
In the same way God would have us overcome fear and obtain strength today. Of what are we afraid today? Are we not afraid that we will not have enough money to buy the things we think we need? Are we not afraid, when we have enough money, that we might somehow lose it or have it taken from us? Are we not afraid of getting sick, or if sick, of not getting better? Are we not afraid of being left all alone—of begin abandoned by family and friends? Are we not afraid of growing old…of becoming infirm and increasingly dependent? Are we not afraid of death? All too often Satan is able to confound us with such fear!
Isaiah says, “O Zion, You who bring good tidings, get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, You who bring good tidings, lift up your voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’” Isaiah and the people of his day had still to look forward to the mysterious fulfillment of all of God’s prophecies. You and I know the good tidings! Many of us can recite the words of the angel found in Luke 2, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord,” followed by the angelic host singing out, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (vs. 10-11, 14).
Jesus came into this world for you and for me. He came to overcome sin—your sin and mine. He did so in His life. He did so in His death. He did so through His resurrection. He overcame sin and thereby overcame both the immediate and ultimate consequences of sin. Listen to the writer to the Hebrews as he addresses this very issue: “Inasmuch then as the children (you and I) have partaken of flesh and blood, He (Jesus) Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (2:14-15). Listen to the apostle John, who likewise addresses the whole issue of the love of Christ removing fear from our lives. John writes, “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:17-18a).
My dear friends, this is the secret to true strength in the face of every one of our fears! We are to look to Jesus, for in so doing we see the perfect love, the perfect life, and the perfect work of our Savior, which rescues us from sin and its consequences: fear and death! Consider the words of our Savior God as He addresses our fears. I am afraid that I will not have enough money to take care of my needs. What does God remind us to say? “The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want!” (Psalm 23:1) The Lord urges us to trust in Him. Has He not promised: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (these earthly needs) shall be added to you”? (Matthew 6:33) Yes, He has! I am afraid that someone might take my money and my possessions away from me. What does God say? “The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). My possessions are not truly mine—they are God’s on loan to me. Can God keep track of and protect His things? Of course He can. Simply entrust those things to His care and seek to use what He has entrusted to you wisely! I am afraid that I might get sick, or if I am sick, I am afraid that I might not get better. The Psalmist David reminds you and me that even as it is God who “forgives all your (our) iniquities,” even so He “heals all your (our) diseases” (Psalm 103:3). Is God’s hand that short that He cannot deal with our illnesses, if indeed such healings are a part of His plan for us? Of course not! Our God is all-powerful. He who healed the sick and cleansed the lepers remains on heaven’s throne. He can and will intervene, if indeed that is what He knows is best for you and me. I am afraid of being alone. Oh, dear friends, Jesus has promised, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He has promised, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). He has promised, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28).
These are the words and promises proceeding from the lips of Jesus. BEHOLD YOUR GOD, dear friends! Do not be afraid, but rather live with the strength that is yours alone as you place your trust in Jesus. The apostle Paul was able to say with the greatest of conviction: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). The unbelieving world of Paul’s day would have howled with laughter had they heard Paul speak such words! He was, after all, in prison, chained to a guard, and facing a possible death sentence! He could not next to nothing, they would say with sneers! But what Paul said was true, for while in prison a great gospel ministry had flourished in spite of Satan and Caesar’s attempts to stop it. Paul, while in prison, was strong in the Lord!
My dear friends, this Advent/Christmas Season is intended once again to help you BEHOLD YOUR GOD! Do so in faith, for then you will be able to live without fear and Jesus Himself will enable you to live with strength! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting