A few weeks ago, we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation which Martin Luther initiated when he questioned the unbiblical teachings of the church of his day. Emory University in Atlanta actually has a big collection of Lutheran writings, and a couple of years ago, they found this old document, which was printed in 1520, 3 years after the Reformation had begun, on which someone had handwritten a note. It turns out after study that this note is from the hand of Martin Luther himself, who had written a comment on this page, mocking the Pope, who had excommunicated him for his beliefs! It was a surprising discovery, and now of course that document is one of the treasures of Emory University, as they have the very words of Martin Luther Himself on that document!
But although that pamphlet is quite a treasure; the fact is, every one of us has something far greater in our hands today: the very words of God, in the Bible! Our passage for today talks about the confidence we can have in God’s word, and the comfort we can find in it, as well as the attention that we should pay to it.
I. The Certainty of the Word of God
In this passage we find several indications of the certainty of the word of God:
— Verse 5 concludes by saying: “For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” In other words, what he says here IS going to happen. This isn’t just Isaiah’s “feeling”, or “impression”, which may or may not come about. This is “the mouth of the Lord.” GOD has said it, and it IS going to happen.
— And then :8 tells us: “The grass withers, the flower fades. But the word of our God stands forever.” He says, there are things in this world which are temporary: grass comes up, and “flowers” blossom for a day, but they wither quickly away. And he says that WE as human beings are like that, too: verse 8 says, “all flesh is like grass.” We are just here on earth for a brief time. He says in :7 “surely the people are grass.” People come and go. Even “great men” — presidents and rulers — come and go. In Isaiah 6 Isaiah spoke of how “in the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.” Uzziah had reigned over Israel for 52 years — that’s like 13 terms for our President ! The people of Judah had gotten used to King Uzziah; they felt secure with him. But King Uzziah could not guarantee anything for the people of Israel; King Uzziah was just a man; “grass”, the Bible says, who would one day be gone forever, just like every one of us. The strongest of us as human being are like grass, only temporary. But he says: “the word of our God stands forever.” It doesn’t change.
So God very emphatically describes here the confidence that we should have in His word.
“For the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.” This is GOD’s word! These are not just a bunch of good ideas that a group of men have put together. This is literally the Word of God! We should treat it that way.
In several denominations, when they have finished the scripture reading in their service, the pastor or whomever is reading will say: “This is the word of the Lord.” That’s not a bad tradition. We NEED reminding: these are not just the words and opinions of men; they are the words of God: “The mouth of the Lord hath spoken this”!
It is just as II Timothy 3:16 says: “All scripture is inspired by God.” As many of you know, the word “inspired” means “God-breathed.” God Himself breathed the words of scripture through the human authors. These are His words, all of them.
You may be familiar with, or even own, what they call a “red letter” version of the Bible. In those versions, they put the words of Jesus in the New Testament in red, and all the others in the Bible, in black ink. And that’s ok, I guess. But in another sense, it can be kind of misleading, as it almost implies that the OTHER words in there are not His. Folks these are ALL God’s words! There is a very real sense in which if we are going to have a “red letter Bible,” that ALL of the words in there should be in red! They are ALL His words. We can say of all scripture like Isaiah 40 does here: “For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it”!
And we see this borne out: what God said here in Isaiah would happen, did indeed happen. God told Israel in the first 39 chapters of this book that they would be punished if they continued to sin against Him, and they were. Just look back at the last verses of Isaiah 39, where the Lord told Hezekiah in :6 that his treasures would be carried away to Babylon, and in :7 that some of his own sons would be taken captive to Babylon. This did in fact come to pass. In 586 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded Israel, surrounded Jerusalem, broke through the walls of the city, blinded the king, and carried him and his sons and many of the country’s leaders and their treasures into captivity into Babylon. It happened exactly as God said — “For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it”!
May I say, by the way, that this should serve as an ominous reminder to OUR nation today. America cannot continue to rebel against God’s word and do whatever seems right in our own eyes, and think that He will just continue to withhold His judgment forever. Just like He was with Israel, God has been very patient with our country. But as Psalm 103 clearly says: “He will not always strive with us; nor will He keep His anger forever.” We cannot continue to murder unborn babies, and redefine marriage and gender, practice immorally, ignore the poor and needy, live selfishly, and ignore God our Creator and King, and think that judgment will not come upon us. God’s judgment has come upon every nation which has practiced these things, and it will come upon us too. There WILL come a time of judgment for America unless we repent. It’s not a question of “if;” only a matter of when. “For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it”! His word is certain.
And what is true for our nation is also true for us as individuals. “The mouth of the Lord has spoken” the things that He commands us in His word. You need to pay attention to it. Galatians 6:5 says “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” Listen: there is a very real sense in which you do not “break” the commandments of God. Rather, the commandments of God will break YOU if you choose to disobey them — and we see this tragically borne out in people’s lives all around us every day. What God’s word says is certain; it WILL come to pass.
II. The Comfort of the Word of God
But this same word of God which proclaims judgment, also proclaims His comfort and love:
— In fact, Isaiah 40:1 opens with the hopeful words, “Comfort, comfort My people, says your God.”
—:5 says “Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see it …”.
— :9 speaks of the “good news” which will be proclaimed to the cities of Judah, saying “Behold your God!”
— And :11 says He will come and “like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs.”
And because these weren’t just the words of Isaiah, but “the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it,” this too came to pass. God DID come, and He DID comfort His people, in His promised Messiah/Son, Jesus, 500 years later, who came to gather His lambs in His arms, just like Isaiah foretold. It was no accident that when Jesus came to earth, He said in John 10 “I am the Good Shepherd …”. He fulfilled this prophecy: He came to love us, and lead us, and even pick us up and carry us when we need it, as our Shepherd.
But before He could really be our Shepherd, He had to do something about our sins which had kept us from Him. As I mentioned before, the first 2/3 of this book of Isaiah speaks about the sins which the people of God had committed against Him, and the judgment that was coming upon them because of them. And if you read Isaiah, you will see that we today are just like those people! We have broken God’s commandments in the same ways that they did; in our actions, in our words, in our thoughts, and attitudes, and in the things He commanded us to do that we have left undone. Isaiah puts it this way in 53:6, “All of us like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way.” That’s a great picture of what’s happened: we’ve each just gone off our own way, and done whatever we wanted to do, instead of following the Lord as our Shepherd. That’s what sin is.
And God can’t just “ignore” our sins. He is holy. We can’t have fellowship with Him when we sin. Isaiah says in Chapter 59:2, “your iniquities have caused a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” Our sins separate us from Holy God.
But amazingly God still loved us; He wanted to be our Shepherd, and He wanted us to be able know Him, and to fellowship with Him. So He Himself came down to earth, just as Isaiah 40 said He would: “Behold the Lord God will come …”. And God the Son DID come, in Jesus Christ. And He Himself removed the barrier to God that our sin caused, by taking our sins in His body on the cross. Isaiah 53 puts it this way: “All of us like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way. But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on HIM.” All of the punishment for all of our sins, was placed upon Jesus on the cross.
In Mark Twain’s classic story Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher, the young lady Tom loved, accidentally tore a page in the school teacher’s anatomy book. The teacher comes in and discovers the page is torn, and he is furious. Someone is really going to get a whipping! One by one, he grills the students, asking who did this. Just before he gets to Becky, who is about to break down and admit what she had done, Tom stands up and says, “I done it!” And he took the whipping from the teacher that Becky deserved. That is what Jesus did for us: He took the “whipping;” the punishment from God, that we deserved: “the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”
So now, if we believe in what Jesus did, we can be comforted, and have our “iniquity removed” like :1 says, and we can follow Jesus as the Shepherd that He wants to be for us, because He paid for our sins on the cross.
This is the “good news” that :9 speaks about: “Lift up your voice mightily, O Jerusalem, bearer of good news; … say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!” So now one day we WILL behold Him in glory, and even now we can follow Him as our Shepherd, because of what Jesus did for us.
More than anything else, this is what God wants you find in His word today. He wants you to be comforted because He loves you, and He is your Shepherd. And you can know that comfort: if you will admit to Him that you have gone off in the wrong direction; trust that Jesus took your sins on Himself at the cross; and commit your life to Him as the Shepherd of your life, Whom you will follow from this day forward. From the moment that Tom Sawyer took Becky Thatcher’s punishment that day at the schoolhouse, she loved him. And that’s what God wants from you, too: more than anything else, He wants you to love Him, and follow Him as the Shepherd He wants to be for your life. If you’ll do that, you will be forgiven, and saved, and you’ll have the comfort God wants you to find from His word.
III. Our Commitment to the Word of God
Implied throughout this whole passage is the commitment that each of us should have to the word of God:
— :5 says: “For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” Just think about it: If the mouth of the Lord has spoken it, then that means we need to pay attention to it! Hebrews 2:1 says “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard.” This is God’s word!
— :8 says “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” So we need to be committed to this word. Listen: our world is changing — and a lot of it is not for the better: science changes; educational theories change; politics changes; people’s opinions and feelings and standards of right and wrong change — but God’s word doesn’t change. Don’t build your life around those ever-changing things. Build your life on the unchanging the word of God. It will last forever.
We live today in a time of moral and intellectual upheaval. The 1700’s were a time like that also: it was a time of political revolution, like the United States, and France experienced, but also of intellectual and religious change. One leader in the “Enlightenment” movement which swept Europe in those days was a man who called himself Voltaire, who hated Christianity. He wrote that the Christian faith was “assuredly the most ridiculous, the most absurd and the most bloody religion which has ever infected this world.” Voltaire had a great wit, and he spent much of his time vigorously assaulting and poking fun at the scriptures. And at one point he boasted that: “One hundred years from my day there will not be a Bible in the earth except one that is looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity seeker.” Voltaire died in 1778. Almost 240 years have elapsed since his death. And despite all his attacks and his predictions, since “his day”, 5 BILLION more copies of the Bible have been sold! The Bible is today read in more countries around the world than it was in Voltaire’s day; it is believed by more people around the world than it was in Voltaire’s day, and the Bible is every year, year after year, THE #1 best-selling book in the world. And it is not going away! “The grass withers; the flower fades; but the word of our God stands forever”! “For the mouth of the Lord has spoken it”!
So the lesson for us is: don’t follow the shifting sands of media or popular opinion. They’ll tell you one thing today, and something different tomorrow. Follow Jesus as your Shepherd, and anchor your life in His words: the unchanging word of God.
How can we do that? We’ve got to be committed to reading and hearing His word, and obeying it.
It just makes sense: if Jesus is your Shepherd, that means that you are going to follow Him. But how do you know how to follow Him? He gave us His word to hear, and read, and obey. You can’t really say that you are following Jesus as your Shepherd in any meaningful way, if you aren’t studying and obeying His word.
And yet, honestly, most of us aren’t — even those of us who come to church. I just read a survey this week that indicated that only 20% of people who attend church read their Bibles regularly. How can we follow Jesus, when we are not even reading His word?! We are not hearing what the mouth of the Lord has spoken to us. We are not listening to the voice of our Shepherd so that He can lead us.
That is one of the reasons why in January we are going to kick off an emphasis I’m calling “Every Day With Jesus.” It will feature a program of reading through the Bible in 2018, with 3 different readings each day, of roughly a chapter each; two from the Old Testament (one starting in Genesis and one starting in Job) and one starting in Matthew in the New Testament. If we follow that reading plan, we will read through the whole Bible together in 2018.
Many of us would sadly admit that we have never read through the whole Bible. It is THE most important book in the world! “The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it!” If we really believe that, then we must read the words that God spoke!
Now I have said before: I don’t think a person necessarily needs to read through the Bible every single year. In fact, the problem some of us have is that we get in too much of a hurry, and we need to slow down and actually LISTEN to what God is saying to us each day. But I also think that every so often, we do need to read through the whole Bible in a year, to get more of God’s word in our life, and to get the “big picture” of what He is saying.
So starting next Sunday, we are going to have the 2018 daily Bible reading guides for you to pick up. In fact we’ll have them available the next 3 Sundays, so hopefully everyone will have an opportunity to pick one up before January 1st. I’ll share a message on Sunday, December 31st, the last Sunday of the year, on the importance of reading the Bible — and then we can all start reading through together the next day.
I hope you’ll plan to participate. I think that reading the same scripture passages together each day will help bond us together as families, as we’ll be able to discuss what we’ve read with our family around the breakfast or dinner table or while we’re driving. And I think it will be a good bond of fellowship in the church too, as we’ll all be able to talk together about what we’ve read in the same daily readings. In fact, I am going to encourage each of our Sunday School teachers to take a few minutes at the beginning of each class, so that members can share something they got out of the readings that week. And we will also have a testimony time in each of our worship services starting January 7th, where someone will share something the Lord spoke to them about that week in our readings. And we’ll all be familiar with the passage they’re sharing from, because hopefully all of us will have read that same passage. So there’s a lot of good that can come out of us all doing the same Bible reading. I hope you’ll be ready to join in and spend “Every Day With Jesus” in His word starting January 1st of the New Year.
But listen; I have said this many times: just reading the word is not enough.
This Book is different from any other book you might read:
— The Bible is not some “novel” we are just reading for our entertainment.
— The Bible is not just a “textbook” we are studying to pass an exam.
— “The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it”! It is the word of GOD to us. Our Shepherd wants to speak to us through it every day. We need to give it that kind of attention and hearing.
In 1536 William Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake, for translating the Bible into English, so that everyday Englishmen could read the word of God for themselves. In his introduction to his new translation, Tyndale wrote to his readers to take this word seriously and personally. He wrote, “As thou readest therefore, think that every syllable pertaineth to thine own self …”. In other words, don’t just read this as history of what others have done, or study it like some kind of “textbook”; read this book to hear the voice of your Shepherd, Jesus Christ, speaking to YOU, to DO what it says.
This book is certain; it is a rock-solid foundation for your life. And there is so much comfort and blessing to be found in it as it helps you to know and follow Jesus as your Shepherd. So we must commit ourselves to read, and know, and personally do what this Book says. “For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”