Good news and 2020 don’t seem to go together. But Isaiah 40:9–11 gives you good news, not just for the people in Isaiah’s day, but for you as well.
Behold! Your God! Listen to the good news. Much of the first part of Isaiah had been warnings of coming judgment. He was to be a prophet to people whose ears, eyes, and hearts were closed. He spoke not only of the contemporary threat of Assyria, but also the future judgment to come from Babylon. Sin brings judgment. Israel would be exiled away from their land, away from the presence of the Lord. But starting with Isaiah 40 he looks beyond that, not only to the return from exile, but the full redemption and restoration that the suffering Servant would bring. You and I have the same problem as Israel. Our sins separate us from God and his presence, jus as Adam’s sin caused him to be driven out from the Garden of Eden. Our problem is not just that we may feel burdened and guilty—we are guilty. We are alienated from God. Isaiah 40:9 brings you good news. Listen to it! “Isaiah 40:1 prophesies that end-time Israel will be ‘comforted’ by God because ‘her iniquity has been removed,’ with the result that ‘like a shepherd. . . in his arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom’ and ‘will gently lead the nursing ewes’ (Isa. 40:11).” (G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, p. 549)
Your God is here! This good news centers on the presence of God. The words are an interjection, startling in their force. “Behold! Your God!” God is present. But he is present, not in wrath and anger, but in blessing. He is speaking tenderly to his people, as verses 1–2 point out. He introduces a voice, calling in the desert, preparing for the coming of the Lord, verses 3–5, the words that John the Baptist quotes to identify himself. Notice how that description concludes: “And the glory of the Lord will be revealed.” You might expect the presence of God to be revealed in the thick darkness, thunder and lightning of Mt. Sinai. You might think of the glory filling the temple, and the pillars and thresholds shaking at God’s voice. But the great revelation of the glory of the Lord takes place when John the Baptist has to point to a man, similar to others who came to be baptized by him, and proclaim, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This is good news! “After the long night of sin and warfare, the time of darkness brought on by the sins of the people, at last God Himself is coming again to His own. In these words is found the heart of the Gospel, ‘the sum of our happiness,’ as Calvin puts it, ‘which consists solely in the presence of God.’ This is the great theme of the remainder of the prophecy; it is the very center of the Gospel. If we have not God, we have nothing; and if we have Him, we have all things.” (E. J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, NICOT, Vol. 3, p. 38.) What makes the new heavens and earth the glorious reality it is? Not primarily the streets of gold. Rather, as you read Revelation 22, it is the direct presence of God.
Trust your Shepherd-King. Your God is your Redeemer. He comes with power. God comes in judgment and strength. The passage reminds you of the Exodus. He rules, even over his enemies. His reward (and his recompense is his work, his earned reward) is his people. You are his reward! You need this powerful King to do battle for you, to redeem you from your enemy, the devil. Notice how he is described in Revelation 19:11–16. Last week in the Sunday School class we looked at 2 Samuel 5, David becoming King. Notice how he is described in Revelation 22:16.
Entrust yourself to your Good Shepherd. God is present, not only as the conquering King, but also as the Good Shepherd. Jesus draws from Isaiah as well as Psalm 23 when he calls himself the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. His work is successful. He draws you to himself and tenderly cares for you. He summons you to trust him. “The more Christ indwells us, the more we are strengthened in faith; and the more our faith increases, the more Christ communicates himself to us. In the church of Christ, therefore, there are lambs and sheep who nurse them (Isa. 40:11); those with little and those with great faith (Matt. 11:11; 20:16); those who are little and those who are great in faith (Matt. 6:30; 8:10, 26; 14:31; 15:28; 16:8); weak and strong (Rom. 14:1ff.; 15:1; 1 Cor. 8:7ff.; 9:22; 10:25)…. To each is given a personal measure of faith (Rom. 12:3); everyone has a place of their own in the body of Christ (Rom. 12:4–5; 1 Cor. 12:12ff.). All members must grow up together in the grace and knowledge of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, p. 264)
Bring the good news. Zion proclaims good tidings. Zion, the city of David, is not just the recipient of good news, but rather is summoned to proclaim it to the surrounding towns of Judah. The content of that message is the presence of your God, the revelation of his glory. It is a future gleam in Isaiah’s day. But it becomes a reality which the angels proclaim outside Bethlehem, and which the shepherds echo on their way back to the fields after find Mary, Joseph, and the Baby. It is good news that echoes beyond the towns of Judah as the Spirit is poured out and then the good news is proclaimed throughout the earth.
Make the good news known. Read on through Isaiah’s prophecy, and he proclaims the invitation to come to your God, especially clear in Isaiah 55. When the Messiah comes, he invites the thirsty to come to him and drink. He welcomes the discouraged, for he is gentle and humble himself. He gives his church, he gives you, the task of making that good news known. Make that good news known through the earth. Your Thank Offering gifts are doing that. Make it known as you speak to neighbors, friends, and family. Make it known as you speak to one another here in church, with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. This good news is too good to be kept quiet!
You don’t have to pretend that 2020 was a wonderful year. But you do have the confidence that the presence of God is a very good thing—regardless of your circumstances.