Biblical Foundations 15: God’s Character 3: Comfort (Isaiah 51)
We continue this post to examine the foundation of this local church, the cornerstones on which Jesus is building HIS Church:
- Why does God have us attending HERE?
- What is the Holy Spirit doing in and through us, both inside AND outside this building?
This post will look at some passages of the Bible that help us see God for Who He really is, that give us a crystal clear picture of the character of God, 100 megapixel portraits of the LORD! Knowing God = eternal life (John 17:3)…those who have received Jesus as Savior by faith will spend eternity in heaven knowing God more and more deeply; while it is not possible on earth to ever know Him completely, as He teaches us to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10), our eternal life starts now! HOW AMAZING IS THAT?! 🙂
Romans 11:33: “Oh, the DEPTH [go DEEP with Jesus!] of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”
Isaiah 51:1-16 (NIV)
Everlasting Salvation for Zion
51 “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness
and who seek the Lord:
[Oh do you listen to, pursue & seek the LORD!? Do you? HOW?]
Look to the rock from which you were cut
and to the quarry from which you were hewn;
2 look to Abraham, your father,
and to Sarah, who gave you birth.
When I called him he was only one man,
and I blessed him and made him many.
[God is the great Doer of the impossible]
3 The Lord will surely comfort Zion
and will look with compassion on all her ruins;
[God is the great Comforter, the God of compassion—love that acts!]
he will make her deserts like Eden,
her wastelands like the garden of the Lord.
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the sound of singing.
[You who suffer, grieve, mourn & crawl…cry out to the LORD for salvation, forgiveness, new life, and more closeness with God! You whose joy is bone dry, you who have no energy to sing & give thanks, keep looking to the LORD, keep coming before Him in prayer & silence & Bible reading & confession & praise…joy & gladness WILL be found in you! What a promise from the only God Who makes the universe out of NOTHING and who can do the same to create joy & gladness & singing in YOU! Call on Jesus!!!]
4 “Listen to me, my people;
hear me, my nation:
Instruction will go out from me;
[The Truth of Christ, not the opinions of the culture]
my justice will become a light to the nations.
5 My righteousness draws near speedily,
my salvation is on the way,
and my arm will bring justice to the nations.
The islands will look to me
and wait in hope for my arm.
6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
[like Jeremiah in Lamentations 3—focus on character of God not circumstances of grief!]
look at the earth beneath;
the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment
and its inhabitants die like flies.
But my salvation will last forever,
my righteousness will never fail.
[Though everything seems to change/fail, God’s character & promises will NEVER change!]
7 “Hear me, you who know what is right,
you people who have taken my instruction to heart:
[Oh have you taken His Word TO HEART? Is His Truth in one of your ears and out the other? Just collecting dust on a shelf in your brain? Or planted in your heart by the Holy Spirit & faith and growing so that you are growing up in your salvation, so that your character is looking more and more like Jesus’ over time, so that you are clinging less to the false gods of the world and more to the One True God of the Word?! Is the fragrance & aroma of Jesus Christ in your thoughts, words, actions & plans more and more?! Are you agreeing more with Christ and less with the culture?]
Do not fear the reproach of mere mortals
or be terrified by their insults.
8 For the moth will eat them up like a garment;
the worm will devour them like wool.
But my righteousness will last forever,
my salvation through all generations.”
9 Awake, awake, arm of the Lord,
clothe yourself with strength!
Awake, as in days gone by,
as in generations of old.
[You who suffer—cry out for GOD to act on your behalf, like the persistent widow keep on crying out…don’t just ask Him for more stuff…cry out for more of HIM, His character, His closeness & presence with you each day! SEEK THE LORD!!! Don’t just change the channel on the t.v. to take your mind off your fears…change the channel of your mind to tune in to God moment by moment through His Word!!!]
Look back in the Bible to what God has done, to examples of His compassion, love & power…objects in mirror are closer than they appear—look back to the great deeds of the LORD to strengthen your faith in these days of suffering and weakness and doubt and dryness. Yes God’s actions in the Bible happened a long time ago but that is not a real/true disconnect with us today—our technology is different but our problems are the SAME, and we need the SAME GOD & KING to deliver us & save us & rescue us & transform us—He hasn’t changed!!!]
Was it not you who cut Rahab to pieces,
who pierced that monster through?
10 Was it not you who dried up the sea,
the waters of the great deep,
who made a road in the depths of the sea
so that the redeemed might cross over?
Could your current situation be any more hopeless (in an earthly sense) than the one God’s people faced? The giant/uncrossable Red Sea on one side (and no one knew how to swim!) and the world’s most powerful army charging for you on the other side (and you have NO earthly weapons to defend yourself!)? And yet the situation WASN’T hopeless, at least not for the LORD…
Oh loved ones, in Isaiah 51, in Lamentations 3, and throughout the Bible God invites us to look at HIM—His character (how He acts), what He has done in the past, what He is capable of doing now, and what He promises to do in the future! In many ways, the Bible is God’s resume, His credentials/qualifications, to be God, to be in charge of both the universe AND our individual lives. When we look to the Bible that way the Holy Spirit begins to help us trust in God more, begins to help us see Him more fully, more clearly, more amazingly! That’s why we read the Bible—not just as holy homework but to KNOW GOD HIMSELF!
But some say, “I don’t need the Bible to tell me about God—I just go for a walk in the woods to be with Him.”
GREAT! DO THAT! Just bring your Bible with you when you do! God is in the woods but you can only learn a tiny bit about His character from the woods. We NEED the Bible to learn and trust God’s character; if it weren’t so the Bible would be a couple sentences long: “Hang out in the woods—see ya there! And bring some mosquito repellant! Love, God.” 🙂
As He teaches us to do this—FIX our eyes on Him by faith through the Bible (2 Corinthians 4:18; Hebrews 12:2)—it isn’t that our problems get smaller themselves, but that our perspective of God gets bigger and HE begins to make our problems seem smaller than they have grown in our minds.
- Like monsters in a cartoon—as they walk up a winding staircase, their shadow is much bigger than the actual monster; if you only look at the shadow, you get scared! But often when the monster gets to the top of the stairs you realize that it is much smaller than its shadow made it seem…the shadows of our problems and pain on earth—and the Bible talks about the earth as the land of shadows (Psalm 23, 1 Chronicles 29:15, Job 8:9, Isaiah 59:9, Matthew 4:16, Luke 1:79, Colossians 2:17, Hebrews 8:5, Hebrews 10:1, James 1:17); shadows by definition have LESS light and thus more darkness and confusion—make them seem even bigger and more overwhelming than they are. They often ARE big, they often ARE painful, but I’m just saying that their shadows on earth make them seem bigger than they are, make them seem as if they are even bigger than God and His character and His promises! This sinful earth is a carnival of mirrors that distorts and twists reality; thus we need God’s Truth in the Bible to cut through the fog and shadow and shine the Light of God!!! But looking at them in light of eternity and in light of God’s character, they aren’t as big and scary as them once seemed…
- The moon isn’t small—it’s a huge rock! But compared to the sun, the moon is small, and the moon is able to be totally & beautifully eclipsed by the sun! The LORD wants to teach us to see Him as HUGE and to allow His hugeness and power and love and grace and Truth to eclipse our fears, our anxieties, our worries, even our pain. This is how God comforted & encouraged (and disciplined! Yes, even someone suffering as intensely as Job gets lovingly disciplined by God!) Job in chapters 38-42—God doesn’t explain why Job has suffered, and God doesn’t immediately take away Job’s pain and suffering. But God is using Job’s pain to get Job’s attention; Job is focusing his eyes on the LORD and God shows Job a brief but powerful snapshot of God’s character and actions, God’s resume so that Job can trust God even in Job’s suffering, so that Job can learn to trust God even when Job doesn’t have all the answers…God wants to teach us that as well!!!! If Job learning God’s character helped him to endure his terrible suffering, of course learning that will help us in our terrible suffering!
11 Those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
[God describes the other side of the storm for those who cry out to His Son Jesus!!! WHAT A PROMISE!!!! WHAT A GOD!!!]
12 “I, even I, am he who comforts you.
Who are you that you fear mere mortals,
human beings who are but grass,
13 that you forget the Lord your Maker,
who stretches out the heavens
and who lays the foundations of the earth,
that you live in constant terror every day
because of the wrath of the oppressor,
who is bent on destruction?
For where is the wrath of the oppressor?
14 The cowering prisoners will soon be set free;
they will not die in their dungeon,
nor will they lack bread.
15 For I am the Lord your God,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the Lord Almighty is his name.
16 I have put my words in your mouth
and covered you with the shadow of my hand—
I who set the heavens in place,
who laid the foundations of the earth,
and who say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’”
Verses 12—13: Again, God describes Himself as the COMFORTING God!!! YES!!! Present tense…God IS comforting us…many of us desire God to comfort us now in all that we are facing…but what if He is, and we don’t REALIZE it? That’s scary to think about, that He is desiring to comfort us but for one reason or another we won’t let Him! Like the people of Jerusalem who were unwilling when Jesus wanted to gather them in his arms.
But HOW is He comforting us?
Look to verse 10 and 11; in verse 10 He tells us to look back at all that He has done, the miracles He has worked and the power He has displayed in carrying us through our trials…And in verse 11 He tells us to look forward to all that He will do, to His great promises that He guarantees that He will fulfill.
Loved ones, that is the main way that God comforts us—looking back to HIS mighty deeds for us and looking ahead to HIS mighty promises for us. If we aren’t learning to invest the time to look through the Bible in those two ways, then we simply are not receiving the comfort that God wants us to have. If we aren’t learning to stand on the Rock of God’s Word than we will continue to sink in the sand of this world…
Verse 12 continues with a powerful question: “Who are you…?” Now this is a question for Christians, for those who by the undeserved grace of God have cried out to Jesus for salvation, for forgiveness, for new life, for adoption…If you have done this, God puts the question directly to you: “Who are you…?” Do you know who you are as a Christian? Do you know your identity as a child of God, a prince or princess of heaven, a brother or sister of Jesus Christ? Are you still looking at yourself and thinking about yourself in the same way you did before you were reborn through faith in Jesus? You should look at yourself differently because you are different! I am learning that many of the roots of the weeds in our lives come from a false understanding of our identity as Christians…
How sad that so many Americans don’t know the Constitution, don’t know their rights as citizens of the U.S.!
How much more sad when so many Christians don’t know their identity and benefits and characteristics as citizens of heaven, as inheritors of God Himself…
- If you buy a car you want to know the features, the benefits–what are this car’s features?
- How much more should we know the benefits, the characteristics, the identity of being a Christian, the utterly unique and mind-blowing features of having God Almighty as our Dad?
- People get excited when they find out that they are related to Abraham Lincoln or some other famous person—wow! I’m related to so and so! It changes how they look at themselves!
- This is why God says in Isaiah 51:2-3—LOOK to the rock from which you were cut! Look at your family tree! Look at your ancestors like Abraham and others in the Bible—look at what the LORD did through them! Look at how FAITHFUL He was to them…He is the same God for you; look to God Himself Who is your Father, the God Who comforts you! This is encouraging Truth, but we cannot be encouraged and comforted by it if we don’t read the Bible, if we don’t examine and dive deeply into the benefits and features and characteristics of God and of His family…
Furthermore, look at Him in Whose image we are made—GOD HIMSELF is the rock from which we have been cut…we are made in His image! HOW AMAZING IS THAT!? How little we scratch the surface of understanding that powerful Truth, and how much comfort and encouragement do we miss out on by not knowing it, like a child who is too lazy to get their gloves in the winter and so they have to deal with cold hands throughout the entire day! Unnecessary suffering/discomfort!
“Who are you that you FEAR…?” Your brother is the LION of Judah…Your Father is the Great Warrior, the God of the Angel Armies! Who are you that you fear anything with so many spiritual Navy Seals in your family who are with you always!?
But this verse also reveals that when we fear others we forget the LORD; when we fear situations we forget our Savior. This is the connection God makes in this verse between fear and forgetting. What a powerful Truth from the LORD! How humbling, how convicting, but how freeing!! God is describing the lock that shackles us so we can know the key that frees us! Learning to fix our eyes on God’s character and actions, learning to KNOW God deeply and intimately sets us free! “Then you will know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free.” What Truth? Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
Thus God continues in this verse to help us look back at what He has done: “The LORD Who made you and Who made the universe!” Isn’t that enough of a resume to earn our trust through our current situations!?
But we often live in constant terror everyday even though we don’t realize it:
- Financial fear
- Relational fear
- Parental fear
- Marital fear
- Spiritual fear
- Health fear, etc. etc. etc.
“Where is the wrath of the oppressor” of whom you are so afraid? Oftentimes what we are scared of never actually happens…we have therefore acted—and suffered!—as if it did happen when it didn’t, like giving ourselves physical broken ribs & whiplash through worrying about a car crash even though the car crash didn’t happen!
But sometimes what we are scared of does happen! Yet, no matter how painful our situation is, what is it when compared to the promises of God and His power to fulfill those promises?!?
- Infections and bacteria are powerful—they can kill a body if left untreated! But compared to the power of anti-biotics and penicillin, infections and bacteria can be totally wiped out, we can be TOTALLY healed of them, the disease is small compared to the cure!
- Midnight is dark & cold & scary and seems to take forever to leave; ask anyone who struggles to sleep how long the night feels! But compared to the power of the sun at noon, midnight is a cobweb easily swept away by a broom! Physical darkness must flee when the sun appears…spiritual darkness must flee in the presence of the Son of God…
And so we cowering prisoners—seemingly hopelessly trapped in fear and worry and anxiety—will soon be set free by the Truth of the LORD!!! Have you taken it to heart!? We children of God will not die in our dungeons of fear (though we will eventually die in a physical/earthly sense, but that is not the end of us!), we will not starve in our hunger of hurt!
Why? Because God is in charge—He is all-powerful and all-loving! Verse 15: He can churn up the sea and the oceans so that its waves roar!!
- There isn’t a man-made spoon big enough and a machine powerful enough to literally churn up the oceans; but to God the oceans are like a pot of water that He can churn and stir easily whenever He wants! He even holds the world in His hands! That is His power!
- When the storm in the Atlantic Ocean in the mid-1990s hit—this is the one described by the book and movie “The Perfect Storm”—it SNAPPED IN TWO a 300,000 TON ship. Think how HUGE that ship was and the Atlantic Ocean’s powerful waves snapped it in half like a stick. As powerful as those waves are, God is even MORE powerful to be able to churn them and stir them up like a pot of water! HOW AMAZING IS GOD! As we see Him as BIG as He truly is it helps us see our fears as small as they truly are…let’s not allow the shadows to trick us; let’s shine the light of God’s Truth to sweep away the shadows of fear…
Loved ones—I’m talking to Christians here who by faith have received Jesus as their Savior for the forgiveness of their sins—do you know of God’s great dealings with people like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, David, Esther, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, Hosea? Do you KNOW how God faithfully brought them through trial after trial? They suffered–oh how they suffered–but not in vain, not alone! Do you know of the mighty deeds of deliverance God did for them and in some cases through them? Do you know the book of Acts where God worked mightily through His people and helped them grow in joy and peace even in terrible suffering & persecution?
I don’t think we know much about all that God did in the lives of these normal people—none of which is a secret, it’s all right here in this book in plain English!—because we don’t read, we don’t soak, we don’t study. And so we miss out, loved ones, on the encouragement and refreshment and guidance and hope offered to us through the very character of God. We don’t really know Him very well, and so we are afraid of our current trials and our potential future trials…we fear because we forget the LORD our Maker.
- We are like children who play in the January cold and suffer from freezing fingers because they don’t want to put on their gloves. They have fantastic gloves provided by their parents…but they don’t like the looks of the gloves, they can’t throw good snowballs in the gloves, they want to be cool like their neighbor who never wears gloves…and so they suffer from freezing fingers that make them long to simply get out of the cold in any way possible…
There are many false/faux gloves in this world that claim to be able to protect us in the cold, but only the gloves of God’s character—HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS—can truly protect us from sin, shame, guilt, temptation, evil, hell, etc. Through Jesus’ death God literally gives us His perfection to wear as our clothing to cover the nakedness of our sinfulness. And only the fine print of the Word of God, with the power of the Holy Spirit, can open our eyes to trust in Jesus and His character and actually put on the gloves of God. We cannot know or trust God without reading His Word regularly; there is no other way around this.
- Psalm 132:9: May your priests be clothed with your righteousness; may your faithful people sing for joy.’”
- Galatians 3:26-28: 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
The gloves of this world—the STYLE and FASHION of this sinful world—promises protection from the cold of life but cannot truly provide it. Good looks, financial wealth, muscles, big house, fancy car, popularity, fame, etc. are all false-gloves sold by this sinful world. They may look cooler on the outside than the gloves of God—repentance of sin and humbly trusting in Jesus’ death on the Cross—but when your life turns into Mount Everest you will only get frostbite in style…the world’s gloves will do nothing for you when faced with the terrors and fears and attacks of life, not to mention the judgment of God that will come for all humans.
Many Christians can’t persevere—or even begin!—living out their Jesus-mission/purpose of Acts chapter 1 and Matthew 28 because we won’t wear the gloves of the character of God…we just want to stay where it is safe and comfortable—never sharing our faith, never letting God’s Word change our opinions, never taking a stand against the evil of this world, never learning to give to God until it hurts—even though God has equipped us with EVERYTHING we need to survive the cold (Ephesians 1:3)…not to turn January into July but to endure January with the very character of God as our trust. If we are honest we really don’t know God…we just have a vague idea of who He is and we are content with that.
Now you might say, “But I’ve tried, man! I try reading the Bible and I don’t feel comforted, I don’t feel closer to God, I don’t see God’s character in this pages. I’ve tried and it didn’t work.”
Oh loved ones, please let us not say that. I know of people who have tried a 4 or 6 session Bible study at one point in their lives and felt as if nothing came from it. But I don’t know anyone who has cried out to God to help them know Him, who has cried out to God to reveal Himself to them through His Word, and who has applied the same dedication to reading the Word of God that they apply to winning their fantasy football league or getting that promotion to earn more money so they can afford a cool car; I don’t know anyone who has read God’s Word humbly and expectantly and consistently for TWENTY YEARS who can say that nothing has come of it, who can then say that they don’t really know God, that they aren’t encouraged and strengthened by Him through the Bible.
See the difference? The first “attempt” at knowing God is the fast food, drive-thru, microwave attempt…You eat but you aren’t nourished; knowing God that way leads to clogged arteries and unhealth and nausea.
But the second attempt isn’t an attempt at all, it isn’t “trying God out” like a piece of exercise equipment that you can return, it isn’t giving God a trial run, a 30 day money back guarantee where we “return God” if He doesn’t prove to be the genie in a bottle that we are wanting. The second attempt is more of a decision, a submission to God, a choice to trust His Word like a child no matter what the earthly results are, no matter how we feel; it is a choice to know the LORD His way simply because He tells us to. That is not an attempt, my friends…that is FAITH, and that is why God blesses such people with knowing Him deeply.
- When we eat regular food “by itch”—I’m hungry and I need something fat to get rid of this hungry feeling (i.e. problem in my life)—we will in the long run feel something worse than our original hunger; we will be unhealthy and tired and malnourished;
- When we eat regular food “from scratch”—I’m going to endure my current feelings of hunger for a while by putting in the time & effort & waiting to make a truly healthy homecooked meal—we will be healthy, energized and nourished. Knowing God through learning of His character through reading His Word is the homecooked meal from scratch, my friends, the crock-pot meal that takes longer to “see results” but that produces the only results that matter—being reborn/made new through faith in Jesus Christ and His cross and empty tomb and growing in our salvation to reach our full potential…everything else is microwaved fast food…
Thus Jesus truly walked the talk when He said, “Humans don’t live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). We are made to live on God’s Word because it reveals to us the character of God!
- Thus Jesus, when He was tempted in the desert by the devil for 40 days, when Jesus went without physical food for 40 days, what DID He eat? His Father’s Word! Oh how Jesus must have fed upon the words that His Father said to Him right before leading Him into the wilderness: “This is MY SON, Whom I love, in Him I am WELL PLEASED!” Jesus LIVED on the Truth of the Father’s Word, Jesus fed on the character of God the Father, Jesus fought off the devil himself with nothing less than the Word of God. We can…indeed we must…do the same in our fears, in our trials, in our wilderness…Let us NOT fear, let us NOT forget the LORD our Maker…
Psalm 121:1-2: I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
Beautiful verses…what is the key here? Just what we’ve been learning in Lam 3 & Isaiah 51!
God’s part: The LORD and His unchanging/trustworthy character—YES!
Our part (but still with God’s help): LOOKING UP to God and His character! Lifting our eyes off the distractions of this culture and fixing our eyes onto the deity of Christ! LOOK UP Gods character in the Bible! LOOK UP in His Book to see Him and know Him and have your fears decrease as your faith in Him increases! YOU GOTTA LOOK UP! He won’t upload His character into you as you blitz through the drive-thrus of life! He invites you to put yourself in park and come in and sit down to taste and see that the LORD IS GOOD, to wait for the LORD as He prepares the meal that your soul has hungered for since you were conceived—Jesus Christ as the Bread of Life, the Holy Spirit as your Living Waters—a meal made not by itch but from scratch…Jesus said humans live not by physical bread alone but on EVERY WORD that comes from the mouth of God. FEAST ON THE CHARACTER OF GOD through the Bible!