Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”
In the run up to Christmas, we have been in Isaiah 40. This remarkable chapter that begins with comfort, ends with renewal of strength. It is packed full of anticipations of the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. How many songs from “Handel’s Messiah” were written directly from this chapter?
Here we have God speaking tenderly to his people, and calling us to speak with the same tone into our broken world. We have been following the message that God has given to his church.
It is a message of God’s abundant provision: Peace established, pardon secured, payment made through a person—Jesus Christ. But we are also to speak tenderly and candidly about our own desperate need. Our lives are beautiful and fragile. Beautiful, because we are made in the image of God.
Fragile because when God blows on us, we are gone.
We saw how wonderful it is that a Christian believer can say, “My birth, my life, and my death are all in the hands of my Heavenly Father who loves me. Nothing in my life happens by random chance. I am in the hands of God who made me and redeemed me, and his Word stands forever: ‘The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever’ (Isaiah 40:8). I can rest on the promise of God.”
So here is the message that is given to the church, and that we are to speak tenderly to the world: God’s abundant provision, and our desperate need. And today I want us to see how the need and the provision meet together in Jesus Christ.
I want us to pick up on verse 5 and then verses 9-11: “And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (40:5). “Behold your God” (40:9)! Notice the two key words and how they belong together. The glory of the Lord shall be revealed. This glory that has been hidden is going to be made known.
It’s like opening a Christmas present. The presents are under the tree; they are wrapped. We know there is something good there, and we think that we know what it is. But we haven’t seen it, and we don’t know what it is, until we get to tear the paper off. Then the gift will be revealed. That’s the word here: “The glory of the Lord will be revealed.”
Then Isaiah says, “Behold your God” (40:9)! Look at what has been revealed! When something great and glorious is revealed you want to look at it. Imagine a person who is given a diamond. She opens the box, sees the sparking jewel, but then she puts it aside, and opens another box that turns out to be candy.
You would say, “Look at what you have just opened! Nothing else that you open will come close to this!” The glory of the Lord shall be revealed. Behold your God! So, there is a revealing (40:5), and there is a beholding or looking (40:9).
The Glory of the Lord Shall Be Revealed
The glory of the Lord shall be revealed. Isaiah 40:5
What is this glory of the Lord? And what does it mean for this glory to be revealed? The glory of the Lord is the full wonder of who God is, the splendor of God himself.
In the book of Exodus, we read about how Moses said to God, “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). Now here’s the fascinating thing about that prayer: God had already made himself known to Moses. He had done this in the burning bush and in the miracle of crossing the Red Sea.
More than that, we’re told that “the glory of the Lord appeared in a cloud (Exodus 16:10). “The appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire” (Exodus 24:17). “The cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34).
So something of the glory of who God is had been revealed already. But notice how it had been revealed: In cloud—which means it is unknowable.
And in fire—which means it is unapproachable. When the cloud filled the tent of meeting, Moses was not able to go inside, because of the cloud. The glory of God was inaccessible.
So Moses comes before the Lord, and he says, “Show me your glory. I’ve seen the reflections in fire and the cloud, but I want to see the full wonder of who you are! I want to see your face! Show me your glory!”
God says, “You cannot see my face and live” (Exodus 33:20). God hides Moses in the cleft of a rock, and covers Moses with his hand. Then God causes his glory to pass by, and Moses is allowed to see the after burn of the glory of God: “You shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen” (Exodus 33:23).
Last month marked 50 years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. CNN ran a piece about the pink suit worn by Jackie Kennedy on that day. Most of us can immediately picture the pink suit, as images of the first lady on that day have been printed in magazines and played on television so many times. But my guess is that none of us have seen the thing itself.
The pink suit has never been cleaned. It was given as a gift to the people of the United States by Caroline Kennedy in 2003, nine years after her mother’s death. The gift came with the condition that it should not be put on display for 100 years (2103). The suit is stored in the national archives building in Maryland:
“The archive has stored the suit in a windowless vault, in an acid free container, where the air is changed three times an hour to properly maintain the wool and cloth. It is kept at a temperature of 65 to 68 degrees which is best for the fabric.” i
All of us have seen images of the pink suit. None of us has seen the thing itself. It is locked up in a vault. It is hidden from view. But 100 years from now, it may be put on display and a future generation will see the thing itself.
Earlier this year Karen and I visited the Space Center at Cape Canaveral. All of us have seen pictures of rockets. But at Cape Canaveral, we saw Saturn 5, suspended in a vast hanger, so that we could walk next to it.
Its sheer size was overwhelming. There’s no comparison between seeing a picture and seeing the thing itself.
Now think about this: “The glory of the Lord will be revealed.” It will be put on display. Some reflections of this glory have been seen already. His glory was in the fire and in the cloud. But it is unknowable, unapproachable, and inaccessible.
Isaiah says, “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” What Moses longed to see, will be put on display. And this glory will be displayed for everyone; not just Moses: “All flesh shall see it together.”
The same prophet tells us how this will happen: “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name will be called Immanuel [God with us]” (Isaiah 7:14). When Jesus Christ was born into the world, John wrote: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory” (John 1:14).
Behold Your God
“Behold your God!” Isaiah 40:9
Notice that the word “behold” comes not once, but three times: “Behold your God! …Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him” (Isaiah 40:9-10).
To “behold” means “to look at.” The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, so look at your God, look at his might, and look at his reward.
Behold your God! Isaiah 40:9
Here is the miracle of Christmas: God became man in Jesus Christ. He is the image of the invisible God, the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3).
God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:9). We have the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).
The full wonder of all that God is has been revealed in Jesus Christ. So that Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
How can you know God? Where can you find God? Who is he? What is he like? These are the greatest questions of life, questions that will shape your eternity. And God has not left you to make up your own answer.
When you want to know who God is, look at Jesus Christ. When you look at him you will see holiness and compassion and justice and truth and
mercy and kindness and patience and love.
Look at Jesus Christ and you will see the heart of God: “The Word was made flesh and we have seen his glory” (John 1:14). And John says, “Here is what we saw: He is full of grace and truth.”
If someone should tell you that they hate God, ask them to tell you about the god that they hate. Then talk to them about Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God, the exact representation of him.
The Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him. Isaiah 40:10
The glory of the Lord has been revealed and he is awesome in strength.
You see that in his life as he endured temptation, opposition, and the relentless demands of people in need pressing in on him day after day.
You see this in his death as he endures suffering beyond anything we can grasp or describe. You see it most of all in his mighty power by which he raises himself from the dead: “Nobody takes my life from me: I have power to lay it down and power to take it up again!”
Think what a Savior with this kind of power could do for you! There are things about yourself that you have not been able to change. You have found, as the Bible says, that “the leopard cannot change its spots.”
You would like to turn over a new leaf, to be a new and better person. You have tried, but you’ve found that it’s harder than you thought. You need a power that is greater than yourself. Look! Behold! The Lord God comes with might. The glory of the Lord has been revealed! The Savior has come! He reaches out to you with strong hands, and with a mighty arm.
His reward is with him, and his recompense before him. Isaiah 40:10
This reads, literally, “Behold! His wage is with him: His work is before him.” ii Christ comes to do a work and to earn a wage: His wage is with him, and his work is before him.
What is the work?
Why did Jesus come into the world? Listen to his own answer to that question: “The son of man has come to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Here is the great work for which he came into the world.
When Christ took our flesh, and was born on that first Christmas, the cross was before him. Becoming the sacrifice and substitute for sinners was before him. Paying the price, the ransom, was before him.
What is the wage?
What does Christ want so much that he would leave heaven’s glory and stoop to take to himself the frailty of our human flesh? What is the reward he desires so much that he earns it through unspeakable agony on a cross?
The answer is: “He will tend his flock like a shepherd” (Isaiah 40:11). What does Christ get from all that he endured in this world? What are these wages that he so desired? A flock of dirty, smelly sheep! A flock that needs tending and gathering and carrying and leading.
Brothers, sisters, we are that flock. Since the flock was bought as such a price, you can have great confidence that:
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom, and
gently lead those that are with young.
Jesus says it so clearly: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). That’s why Jesus Christ came into the world. The flock are his wages. Redeeming you is his reward.
You can be sure that having purchased his flock at such a cost, Christ will tend and gather and carry and gently lead his flock. He says about his sheep: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).
Isaiah says later, “He shall see the fruit of the travail of his own soul and he shall be satisfied.” What is the fruit of all that Christ endured in his soul and in his body? Answer: The flock. When you grasp what Christ did to make you his own, you will not doubt his love.
The glory of the Lord has been revealed in Jesus Christ. Look at him. Behold your God! Trust him with your life. Worship him with all that you are and with all that you have, and follow him all your days of your life.
O, come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.