Text: Isaiah 40:25-31
“Shout for joy to God, all the earth. Sing the glory of His name; give to Him glorious praise…let the sound of His praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip.” (Psalm 66, English Standard Version) These words come from Psalm 66; they both give us the title for this Sunday and set the tone of our gathering. Today’s Latin title is Jubilate, which means, “Shout for joy.” We shout for joy because the Lord has not let our feet slip into death, but has kept us among the living through the resurrection of Jesus. Because He lives we shall live, also. From this we draw comfort, strength, and joy. This, indeed, is what our Lord promises to us in His Word today.
Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord declares Himself, “The Lord is the everlasting God…He does not faint or grow weary…He gives power to the faint and to him who has no might He increases strength…They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles.” (Is. 40) The Lord shows Himself in His Word to be the everlasting God of salvation, who gives strength to those who have none of their own. This, we confess in this time, matches us. Of our own, we have no strength. We have this promise, however: the Lord strengthens those who wait for Him in faith.
Our text today is delivered through the prophet Isaiah. For the last couple weeks we’ve been hearing from Ezekiel; we will hear from him again before too long. Ezekiel prophesied during a very low point in Israel’s history: the Babylonian Captivity. For seventy years, as discipline for their unfaithfulness, the children of Israel were exiled by God to Babylon. Isaiah, from whom we hear today, prophesied over a generation earlier and in the kingdom of Judah. Although Babylon was rising at the time, from Isaiah’s ministry, it would be a hundred years or so before destruction comes. Through the Holy Spirit, Isaiah was given to see ahead to that time and give word to people who were yet to be born – us, included. St. Peter wrote in his first epistle that the prophets saw ahead to the time of Christ and they prophesied not for their own sake, but for ours; even we who come millenia later. A little back in Lent we heard Jesus when He said, “Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and was glad.” (Jn. 8:56)
As a prophet of God, Isaiah was given here to see the experience of God’s people a generation ahead, to hear their words. These were their words, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God.” (v. 27) In exile, the people experienced a new spiritual low. Rather than wait for the salvation of God, however, they lashed out against Him. They mocked God, thinking that He either couldn’t see what was going on with them, or He did know and didn’t care. Certainly this was the case with Babylon’s idols, who could neither see nor care. But to ascribe that to God is sinful. And yet, we have thought these thoughts, haven’t we? We continue to live in a pandemic and we are tempted to the same thoughts: maybe God can’t see us and our lives. Or else, maybe He sees our misery and doesn’t care. At the very least, this is what the world tells us, even some Christians, and we feel their burn.
“To whom then will you compare Me, that I should be like him? Says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and see: who created these?” (vv. 25-26) These were the Lord’s questions to His people in exile. Though they were suffering and spiritually downcast, they had made a great miscalculation. When Israel got to Babylon, they saw how the Babylonians worshipped the moon and the stars. They gloated that their gods bested the God of Israel and, to an extent, the people were inclined to believe them. But that’s when the Lord came in. Who do you think created the sun, the moon, and the stars? God did. He knows them by name, He put them in place; they are His creations. We’ve all heard Psalm 121 where we are assured that the sun and moon won’t strike us – that’s a reference to how the pagan gods are just false and powerless.
Our God, on the other hand, is the creator of the heavens and the earth. He knows each star by name and put them all in their places. Unlike the false gods of the heathens, He does not hunger or thirst. He has no need of sacrifices to provide for Him. He does not grow faint or weary and He knows all things. He knows the troubles His people He endure, He sees their suffering. He observes all things that happen, even the gray hairs that fall from our heads. But where is the Lord going with this, why does He remind His people of His everlasting power, might, and knowledge? It is this: the Lord uses His might and knowledge for the benefit of His people, to give strength to those who have none, who wait for Him in faith.
That is the promise that He makes here. St. Isaiah relates, “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted, but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles.” (vv. 29-31) This is the Lord’s Word to His people in exile. They need not despair, they need not fear that God is somehow unawares of their plight. It is the opposite that is true. Unlike the empty idols of the nations, the Lord alone is the everlasting God who has compassion and gives strength. They need only wait for Him in faith, and He will make them mount up as on eagles’ wings.
This Word of God is for us to hear, as well. We are far removed from the suffering of Israel in exile and from some of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world, yet we feel a longing. We feel a spiritual longing for the goodness of the Lord, to inquire – in person – in His holy temple. The words of King David remain true, “Wait for the Lord; Be strong, and let your heart take courage; Wait for the Lord!” (Ps. 27:14) The Lord our God is not some idol that cannot see or care. He is an everlasting God that cares for us so much that He sacrificed His Son to save us poor sinners. How will He not also rescue us from every present evil? So, today, we sing joyfully to the Lord, who gives us strength. Even now we are mounted on eagle wings in the forgiveness of our sins and we wait for the Lord to deliver us both now and in the time to come. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed, alleluia!