“Behold Your God!” — Part One
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“Behold Your God!” — Part One

Isaiah 40:12–31  (ID: 3473)

In the midst of a national dilemma or a personal trial, Isaiah’s cry to God’s people still rings true today: “Behold your God!” In Scripture, God reveals Himself as the gentle Shepherd as well as the holy, transcendent, almighty King. Our creator God is greater than His creation, teaches Alistair Begg. The source of true wisdom, He requires no counsel. Even the mightiest nations are under His sovereign control. When we immerse ourselves in Scripture, we’re invited to behold a God who is too great to fail us.

Series Containing This Sermon

Behold Your God!

Isaiah 40:1–31 Series ID: 12340

Sermon Transcript: Print

And I invite you to turn to Isaiah chapter 40, which passage, of course, contains the exhortation that frames that song “Behold Your God.” That’s in verse 9, but we’re going to read from verse 12. Isaiah chapter 40 and from verse 12:

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
 and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
 and weighed the mountains in scales
 and the hills in a balance?
Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord,
 or what man shows him his counsel?
Whom did he consult,
 and who made him understand?
Who taught him the path of justice,
 and taught him knowledge,
 and showed him the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
 and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
 behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
 nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
All the nations are as nothing before him,
 they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

To whom then will you liken God,
 or what likeness compare with him?
An idol! A craftsman casts it,
 and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
 and casts for it [its] silver chains.
He who is too impoverished for an offering
 chooses [the] wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
 to set up an idol that will not move.

Do you not know? Do you not hear?
 Has it not been told you from the beginning?
 Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
 and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
 and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
who brings princes to nothing,
 and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
 scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
 and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

To whom then will you compare me,
 that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
 who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
 calling them all by name;
by the greatness of his might
 and because he is strong in power,
 not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob,
 and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
 and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
 the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
 his understanding is unsearchable.
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;
they shall run and not be weary;
 they shall walk and not faint.


Father, we acknowledge that we do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,[1] that you have given to us, retained for us, in the Scriptures. And as we turn to the Bible now, we ask for your help, that in all our consideration of it we may meet with you, and ultimately and savingly in the person of Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Well, let me invite you to turn again to the chapter which has actually been the focus of our attention for the past two Sundays. And I hope this morning that we will discover together just how appropriate these verses that we will look at both in the morning and then again in the evening hour, God willing, how appropriate these verses are in relationship to all that has happened to us and around us in the past few days. I’ve been asked a couple of times during the week if I will have a word to be able to address the circumstances that unfolded in DC and elsewhere. And the answer is yes, yes I do. It’s… The word is called the Bible, and it’s a bit like “A voice [said], ‘Cry!’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’”[2] And the answer, of course, that was given to the servant, the messenger of God, was “Tell people this is God. Behold your God.” And the great need of our hour—in fact, the great need of every hour—is just that. What Spurgeon said to his congregation in 1855 in London was their great need, and that was that they would “plunge” themselves into “the Godhead’s deepest sea,” and that they would “be lost in his immensity.”[3]

It’s a quite fascinating thing to be on the receiving end of people’s observations and investigations and to realize how much the average follower of Jesus actually believes that if somebody can only address these very specific questions in specific ways, give the how-to answers to a number of dilemmas, then everything will begin to slot into place. But in actual fact, it doesn’t, and it won’t. And what may seem at first to be a sort of remote idea—namely, plunging ourselves into the immensity of God—will, under God, prove to address many of those very issues that we want solutions to.

For example, I mean, that’s 166 years ago since Spurgeon spoke in that way. And he was a young man, and he was preaching in London. And two days after he preached that sermon, which was in January of 1855, the then prime minister was on the receiving end of a vote of no confidence for his government because of his handling of the Crimean War, and within three weeks, he was replaced, and a whole new government had arrived. So, I say that just to set in context that Spurgeon wasn’t preaching in a vacuum. There was a world that was going on around him as he preached.

You say, “Well, we don’t really care. That was a long time ago, and that was England.” Well! In 1855, if you were in America, you would have been confronted in January by the Cincinnati Riots, riots that were taking place—territorial street fighting—between people who regarded themselves as patriots and those that they did not like, who were German immigrants. And so, if you had had occasion to be preaching at the time, then the temptation would be “Well, I better say something about immigration and the patriots,” or “I need to say something about the change in government,” or so on.

You know, here’s the deal: many people who do that, they find themselves chasing down the trail again and again and again, and at the end of it, it’s a sort of dead-end street. And people then become accustomed not to studying the Bible, not to looking to God, but just waiting for somebody to give them some kind of insight that they can consider and chew over for a little while.

Well, we’re not trying to do that, and Isaiah certainly doesn’t do that. Because the book of Isaiah is actually just a huge panorama. You know, when you take pictures on your phone, you have as an option—I’ve never been able to do it, it never works for me—but there’s a panoramic setting on it, and you’re supposed to put your—you put your feet here, and then you go like this. It’s a shambles for me. But anyway, the idea is then you get it beautiful all the way around. And probably you can. But what Isaiah does for us is just that: he surveys the whole scene. And here we have this amazing picture of the people of God. He is reminding them that their identity is in God, that their security is in God, that God is sovereign over all things.

And in the midst of it all, you have these punchy statements that drive home the absolute otherness of God. For example, 45:21, God says, “There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and … Savior; there is none besides me.” In other words, God is not a fan of comparative religion. In fact, he doesn’t engage in it at all. The exclusive claims that are the basis of an expansive invitation to the nations of the world are plain for us to see. And it is that God who keeps in perfect peace those who are stayed on him, those who trust in him. And you will remember from our last two studies that the people of God were going to find themselves in a situation that would call from them all kinds of uncertainties: instability, the nations around them pressing them, seducing them, trying to encourage them to ditch this living and true God and embrace their little gods. And in the midst of all of that, God comes by his prophet, and he gives them this direction.

Now, we begin at the twelfth verse. And at the twelfth verse, we just begin a whole series of questions. We’re not going to go through all the questions, at least one after another, because we would be here for a very long time. But in these questions and in the answers that are given to the questions, a number of things happen. One, this amazing poem—because it is a poem. It’s not a scientific project. All these figures and metaphors and similes and so on are there to teach us. But the poem does a number of things. One, it rebukes our small ideas of God. It rebukes our small ideas of God. It also counters all of the things that we like to imagine about God. And it provides a very necessary antidote to two other aspects.

One is big views about ourselves. So in other words, we’ve got the problem of having small views of God and big views about ourselves. That is a recipe for trouble. That is a recipe for trouble if your husband is like that, dear lady. If you have a husband, and you want to take him to counseling to see if you could help him to do the dishes, the problem will not be addressed, even if he does the dishes, if he has a big view of himself and a small view of God. So I could help you with this—the Holy Spirit can—by making sure that all of our self-preoccupations are crushed under the awesome weight of who and what God is. And that’s what Isaiah is doing here.

People need to know who God is—not their conjecture of God, not the concept that they’ve created for themselves, but who God is.

The extent to which contemporary Western culture has embraced a big view of itself knows virtually no bounds. I don’t go searching for these things. I just find them as I’m walking around. Have you seen this? Are you up to date not with monogamy but with sologamy? You know about sologamy? Well, you can find it. It’s out there. I hope none of you are planning on it. It involves women, interestingly, not men. And it is a new phenomenon, a growing trend, where women are marrying themselves. This is no joke. This is no joke. They walk down the aisle by themselves to give themselves away to themselves, with a cake, with a ring, and everything that goes along with it. That’s quite incredible. Do you ever imagine marrying yourself? I am amazed that anybody would marry me! How would you ever marry yourself, for goodness’ sake? Maybe I don’t understand it. But anyway, the extent to which we think big thoughts about ourselves and therefore make our own decisions about all the things that a big God has said about the nature of humanity almost knows no bounds.

And the other antidote that it provides is the antidote to bizarre thoughts about God—big thoughts about me and bizarre thoughts about God. It’s quite amazing what you discover when you think about where the Church, big C, is in contemporary America, in contemporary Western culture. One of the commentators in the New York Times, an opinion columnist—he’s not there all the time—Ross Douthat, had a very interesting article back in December of 2018. I stored it away. I knew I could use it sometime, and here is at least part of the time. The article is entitled “The Return of Paganism.” And what he’s addressing is the state of the church and the bizarre nature of things. He says we’ve really been tempted to say that the real prevailing influence on the church is secularization—in other words, people are done with God, they’re done with church, and so on. But, he says, of course that is not the case. In fact, the spiritualities that abound give an indication of the fact that people are somehow or another worshipers of someone or something.

And so he says,

Instead of secularization it makes sense to talk about the fragmentation and personalization of Christianity—to describe America as a nation of Christian heretics, if you will, in which traditional churches have been supplanted by self-help gurus and spiritual-political entrepreneurs. These [individuals] cobble together pieces of the old orthodoxies, take out the inconvenient bits and pitch them to mass audiences that want part of the old-time religion but nothing too unsettling or challenging or ascetic. The result is a nation where Protestant awakenings have given way to post-Protestant wokeness, where Reinhold Niebuhr and Fulton Sheen have ceded pulpits to Joel Osteen and Oprah Winfrey, where the prosperity gospel and Christian nationalism rule the right and a social gospel denuded of theological content rules the left.[4]

This is just somebody who is just observing the state of affairs. I could read more, but it wouldn’t be particularly helpful at the moment.

But with that said, notice that verse 12 follows verse 11. Not everybody will be able to point out things as helpful as that to you, but I want you to see it there. Just look down and you will see it. Well, if you look at verse 11, you have this wonderful picture, a very accessible picture, the kind of picture that you might actually find in a little painting in a child’s bedroom: “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms,” and so on.

Now, notice how quickly it moves from that picture to explode, if you like, with a dramatic statement concerning the transcendence of God—a comprehensive display of God’s transcendence. In other words, it then answers for us the picture of verse 11 by putting it in the framework of verses 12–31. Because, remember, I think we said last time, if we don’t hold 11 within that wider context, then you end up with a kind of cozy, personal, engaged little encounter with the shepherd God—which in Jesus, of course, is a reality. But the shepherd God is the transcendent God. And the way you understand verse 11 is in light of everything that’s been said leading up to it and everything that follows from it.

That’s why children in an earlier era would be able to answer the questions in the catechism. And the absence of that in contemporary church life is a significant absence. The fourth question of the Shorter Catechism: “What is God?” “What is God?” “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, [his] wisdom, [his] power, [his] holiness, [his] justice, [his] goodness, and [his] truth.”[5]

Now, why mention this? Well, because Isaiah mentions it. He says, “The good news that is to be heralded abroad is that God is great and that God is gentle. I’ve just told you about how gentle God is,” ultimately revealed to us when we find it in the New Testament in Jesus, “but we need to realize that the God that we encounter is incomparable.” He is the one who is “in the heavens,” says the psalmist, and “he does [what] he pleases.”[6]

Now, let’s try and unpack this in the awareness of the fact that we don’t come to know God by investigation, certainly not by our imagination, but we come to know him by revelation—in other words, that God himself is self-announcing; that God is the one who discloses himself; that God is the one who, as we began our service this morning, has set his glory above the heavens,[7] so that the one who is immediately accessible to us as the shepherd God is the God whose glory is above the heavens.

Now, those of you who, like me, were alive and kicking in the ’60s will perhaps have grown up with youth groups singing a song which began,

In the stars his handiwork I see,
On the wind he speaks with majesty;
Though he ruleth over land and sea,
What is that to me?

I will celebrate nativity,
For it has a place in history;
Sure, he came to set his people free,
[But] what is that to me?

And then it went into the chorus:

[And then one day] I met him face-to-face,
And I [found] the wonder of his grace.

So far, so good, really. But it was at that point I had really stumbled. I remember as a boy thinking, “There’s something wrong with the next two lines.” I never really knew what it was. And you might not agree with me. I don’t know.

[Then one day] I met him face-to-face,
And I [learned] the wonder of his grace,
Then I knew that he was more than just
A God who didn’t care,
[Who] lived away up there.[8]

Now, I never liked singing that, because it didn’t seem right to me. And it isn’t right! Because he never, ever was, is, a God who lives “up there” and doesn’t care. It should have read, “Then I knew that he was not a God who lives up there and doesn’t care.” You see what happens? The inference from the transcendence of God that is wrong says God is so great that he doesn’t care. The inference from the transcendence of God that is right says God is so great he cannot fail. And so you have this juxtaposition between God in all of his transcendent glory and man down here, in need of a Shepherd. And the Shepherd comes.

But you see, when it says that he’s up there and his glory is above the heavens, it’s not talking in spatial terms. It’s not that he is up there and away from us; it is that he is beyond us in his greatness. He’s beyond us in his greatness. And this is revealed to us in a number of ways throughout this poem.

First of all, in relationship to creation itself: “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand …?” We don’t need to do much with this. We don’t need to spend long on it, because we’ve already sung about it. In fact, one of our songs was essentially this text. And what Isaiah is pointing out is that what is massive to us is manageable to God. I was just looking at… Yesterday, in our elders’ meeting, we were thinking about the work that is being done down there, wonderfully, in Uruguay. And in order to help us with that, we were given a photograph of South America. And as I looked at the scale of it and tried to imagine going up the scale, I realized, “What a vast distance it is from way down the bottom here up to the top and to Cuba and to the islands and so on. And that’s only a tiny piece!” And then you go out, and come in my cave, and you’ll find the map of the world. It’s vast! And we’re not even talking about the solar system here, or galaxies. We’re just talking about the Earth itself. What is massive to us is manageable to God.

What we have, actually, is a universe that is dwarfed by the presence of God. The universe is dwarfed by the presence of God. Look at the pictures. There’re pictures. He cups his hands, and he holds the waters. How much of the earth is water? I don’t know. It’s a significant amount, I believe. And then he takes out a ruler and a compass, and he plots out the heavens. And then he takes out the scales, and he weighs the mountains and the hills, and he assesses it all.

Now, what is Isaiah doing here? He’s doing this: he is allowing us as the readers of his prophecy to see God through God’s eyes, to see God as he reveals himself. He reveals himself savingly, finally, in Jesus. He reveals himself in creation. He reveals himself in his Word. And here in his Word, he says, “Do you want to know how I relate to creation? This is who I am.”

So, it is there to consider in relationship to creation. Secondly, in verse 13 and 14, to consider how God has no need of counsel; that he never needs to go and ask anybody for advice; that he who has measured out the waters is himself immeasurable. You see that? “Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord …?” Well, no one. No one! “Whom did he consult, … who made him understand?” Who could ever have told God what to do? What management consultant firm would he bring in, in order to make determinations? What school would he have to attend in order to be able to make the judgments that he makes and establish the laws that he has given? No one shows God how to understand things. In fact, God is the way to understanding. And absent an awareness of who God is, you may be the brightest intellect in the Western world, and yet still you will be foolish. You will be a foolish genius. Why? Because God is the way to understanding.

Now, let me assign for homework Job chapter 28 and then just dip into it for a moment to whet your appetite—or make you decide you’re not going to even look at it.

Job 28 is very similar—in fact, Job is very similar—to this poem in Isaiah 40. And in Job chapter 28, Job is asking the question “Where is wisdom?” And he runs through a number of things. He says, “You know, the natural resources that are in the earth can be brought out by man. Man has the capacity to drill through rock. Man has the capacity to dam up streams and so on. He can do all of these things.”[9] That takes you to verse 11. And then in 12 he says, “Where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?” He comes down to the same again in verse 20: “From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding?” Well, of course, you need to go to the end of the chapter, and there it is:

And he said to man,
 “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
 and to turn away from evil is understanding.”[10]

Well, it’s quite a thought, isn’t it? You go to the universities of the Western world and ask them about wisdom. We are bombarded on a daily basis… I say this with great thankfulness for all of our scientists and all of our medics. But if there is one thing that is pretty obvious to me as a mere sojourner on earth, if I hear anything else told to me again about “the scientists have concluded,” “the scientists know,” “the scientists have the answer”—this is simply an expression of the extent to which a culture has lost any notion of the Godness of God. We’ll come more to this this evening, perhaps, at least some of us. The fact is that once you have dispensed with the source of wisdom, you are left to come up with all of your own answers to your own questions. And the Bible comes to us and says, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens.”[11]

What does this mean? Well, it means this: that ultimately, only God understands God—ultimately. Because the finite cannot understand the infinite. Our understanding… And we thank God for the great progress that we’ve been able to make in the history of man, and for the geniuses, and for those who have helped us. And I hope you won’t misunderstand my comments about scientists, but, you know, having failed physics dreadfully, I suppose I have a bad attitude. But anyway, that’s by the way. No. Our understanding is the understanding of a creature. Of a creature. It’s finite. And therefore, it can’t understand the infinite, at least not by way of investigation; only by way of revelation.

And that’s why, you see, when Paul goes in amongst the Corinthians, who were very, very interested in wisdom, and understandably, as people are today, they lay great store by it—“I’m a very wise person, I’m a very intelligent person, and what do you have for me, you believer in God?” “Well,” Paul says, “I want to tell you my message, and I should just let you know right at the outset that what I’m going to tell you, you will regard as absolute folly.[12] I’m going to tell you that Jesus Christ was, is the incarnate God who bore our sins in his body on the tree, and he is the resurrected Lord, and he is the coming King.” “Oh,” said the people, “we brought you here because we thought you were a sensible soul. You’re not gonna give us that bunk, are you?”

And then he says to them, “Well, I ought to tell you that the Bible says that God will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the discernment of the discerning he will thwart.”[13] What is he doing? He’s quoting Isaiah chapter 29:14. You think about that! Think about how human wisdom is supplanted generationally: “We used to think it was fantastic that this, but now this, and this.” And so the idea is that the further you go, the later you were born, you’re inevitably smarter. But not in terms of God’s revelation of himself! “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater …? Has[n’t] God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom…” In the wisdom of God, the world does not know God through wisdom! So “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”[14]

Now, come back to the passage, and you realize how this absolutely knocks on the head superficial notions about God. I mean, God has become a catch-all for whatever men and women want it to be, whatever they feel it to be. People say, “Well, I believe in God. But I have my own God.” Years ago, there was a book, I think it was called Habits of the Heart. And there was a chapter in it there called “Sheilaism.” “Sheilaism.” And it was all about a lady called Sheila, who had decided that, you know, she had a God of her own making. Quite fascinating.

On the other side of the coin, of course, you get the rationalists, who are prepared to say, “Well, if there is a God in any sense, he’s just an energizing aspect of life. He’s a cosmic principle.” Sounds very smart, doesn’t it? “Well, of course, I believe God is a cosmic principle.” Exactly what does that mean, sir? I think what you’re saying is you are unprepared to consider the possibility that God is a sovereign person and that it is far more manageable for you to regard him just as a principle—the smaller, the better.

Well, we’ve got time for just one more, perhaps. Consider this, then, in relationship to creation; consider it in terms of the fact that God is in need of nobody’s counsel; and consider it, thirdly, in terms of God’s view of the nations.

Look at verse 15. If proud man is feeling uncomfortable on an individual basis, now what are you gonna feel like in the land of the free and the home of the brave, or, like me, coming from the “Rule, Britannia!” world: “Britannia rules the waves; Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.”[15] We used to sing that on the school bus. Well, what’s God’s view on the nations? Well, “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket.” Well, that’s not very nice, is it? Let’s say we need a bucket to wash something up here. I go back, and I get it, I bring it out, and I spill a little; it goes splat, like that, on the floor. I said, “Did you see that?” “Well, should we get it back?” Well, we can’t get it back. It’s gone. It’s infinitesimal, just a drop in the bucket. But what is it? Is it the G8, or is it the G7 now? Yeah, it’s the G7, isn’t it? It was the G8, but one of the drops fell out of the bucket—Russia, I think. Splat. Drop. We’re a drop in a bucket as well.

You say, “Really?” Yeah. Yeah. Look at what it says: “The nations are like a drop from a bucket,” they’re “accounted as the dust on the scales.” I’m old enough to have gone for potatoes at the grocery store and had them weighed out for me. They used to weigh them out, and then they put them in a bag, and then they put them in my shopping bag, when I was tiny, and I’d hang them on the handle bars of my bicycle and go home. But I never said, “Hey, there’s some dust left there. Could I have that dust please? I’d like to take that with me.” Because the dust didn’t even register on the scale. It was just there. The nations do not even register.

And if you want to consider the coastlands, whether it’s the Mediterranean coastlands or whether it’s the islands of the world, the picture that we’re given of God is that he’s able to sweep them up, the way he would sweep dust up on a garage floor: you take a brush to it, just move it out. It’s a metaphor. Of course it is. And what’s it saying? It’s saying, “Here is God.” “A voice says, ‘Cry!’ ‘What shall I cry?’ Cry, ‘Behold your God!’” People need to know who God is—not their conjecture of God, not the concept that they’ve created for themselves, but who God is.

Isaiah 40 is just putting us in our place: so small, so frail, and God so vast, so powerful, coming to seek.

Now, if you think about the educational system in Western culture: it largely exists to completely collapse such a notion that begins with God, who is the source, the sustainer, and the end of all things. This is who God is. He’s not a construct. He’s not a cosmic principle. He’s not whatever you want him to be. Isaiah says, “No, this is what you need to know.” And thank God for Christian teachers in those systems who, when in the context of interpersonal relationships, are able, as opportunity allows, to say, “You know, I actually believe this.”

In fact, on a religious basis—verse 16—God is not dependent upon man either. He’s not dependent. Why is Lebanon introduced? The nations are like a drop. What about Lebanon? Well, it’s an illustration. “Lebanon would not suffice for fuel.” All those trees, all the creatures that roamed around in the forests, if you were to put them all together and present them as a sacrifice of praise to God, Isaiah says it wouldn’t be enough. It wouldn’t be sufficient. There is no worship service you can put together that is worthy of God. I don’t care if you’re in a cathedral. I don’t care if you’ve got mass choirs and trombones and everything else that goes along with it. We could never do it. We could never give to God the glory that he alone deserves. We could never offer a burnt offering. We could never offer a sacrifice, could we? No, because there’s only one sacrifice that is acceptable to God, and that is when Christ “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”[16] Until we understand that, then we will find ourselves at great pains either to run from God because we know we cannot face him or to come up with our own sacrificial offerings somehow or another to make ourselves acceptable.

Now, let me just conclude in this way: let’s not make this say something that it doesn’t say. God does not despise the nations. God loves the nations. God has sent his gospel out into the world, to the nations of the world. One day, when the community of Jesus is assembled, there will be those from all the tribes and nations and languages and so on.[17] The nations of the world are not worthless, but the nations of the world derive their worth from God, who—remember, when Paul preaches in Athens, he says that God has established the very bounds of their habitation; that God has made the world to be inhabited, and he has established these things.[18] So we mustn’t make it say something it doesn’t say. They are “nothing before him.” Do you see that? They are “as nothing before him.” In other words, it is in comparison to him.

“We are this. We are that. Look at our history.” Where’s the USSR? Where’s the might of Greece? Where’s the Roman Empire? Do you think it’s going to stop at that? No. No. And God says, “You should know this.” Not in order that you would not take seriously the privileges that are yours within a nation, let’s say. But by means of this, God is putting the nations in their place. You’re a schoolteacher; you’ve used that line, haven’t you? “Begg, would you just sit down in your place, please? Begg, we’ve heard enough from you today. I know that you think you have a lot to share, but would you just sit down in your place?”

Now, you see, Isaiah 40 is just putting us in our place: so small, so frail, and God so vast, so powerful, coming to seek us. Wow!

It kind of gives the lie to the idea of “I think I’ll do God a favor and go to church,” gives the lie to the idea that somehow or another we’ve gotta protect God from the bizarre notions of our culture. He’s not in need of our protection. He is altogether sufficient in himself. He needs no counselors. He never asked anybody’s advice about making the universe. And he has promised that all who come to him through Christ may find their wisdom, their righteousness, and their acceptance in that. That’s why it’s so silly to think about making idols. And it is to the idols that we will come, perhaps, this evening.

Father… Father, we are in need of what Spurgeon said to his congregation 166 years ago. We are definitely in need of a real encounter with your immensity. Some of our friends haven’t rejected our offers of considering faith because they don’t regard it as true. They just rejected it because it seems so trivial. We’ve got a sort of “copy watch” Christianity where it’s, if you get ahold of the watch, you know it’s not the right watch, because it’s got no weight to it. It’s empty. It’s useless.

God, we want you to come, and we want to have, when we get in here with one another, we want to have a sense of your heaviness. We want to have a sense that this immense God to whom we are introduced in Isaiah 40, who has stepped down, who comes to our worship gatherings with us, who leads us in our praise, who preaches to us from the Bible—we want to have a greater sense of that, Father. We want to rediscover awe. We want to be able to say, “Put us in our place, Lord. Put us in our place. And then use us where you put us.” For we ask it humbly, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] See Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4.

[2] Isaiah 40:6 (ESV).

[3] C. H. Spurgeon, “The Immutability of God,” The New Park Street Pulpit 1, no. 1, 1.

[4] Ross Douthat, “The Return of Paganism,” New York Times, Dec. 12, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/12/opinion/christianity-paganism-america.html.

[5] The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 4.

[6] Psalm 115:3 (ESV).

[7] See Psalm 8:1.

[8] Ralph Carmichael, “He’s Everything to Me” (1964).

[9] Job 28:1–11 (paraphrased).

[10] Job 28:28 (ESV).

[11] Proverbs 3:19 (ESV).

[12] See 1 Corinthians 2:14.

[13] 1 Corinthians 1:19 (paraphrased).

[14] 1 Corinthians 1:20–21 (ESV).

[15] James Thomson, “Rule, Britannia!” Lyrics lightly altered.

[16] Hebrews 9:26 (ESV).

[17] See Revelation 7:9.

[18] See Acts 17:26.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.