FROM THE DESK OF WILL SPOKES, SENIOR PASTOR
Words For Reflection:
The gospel makes the God of Israel visible and effective in […] setting[s] from which Yahweh seem[s] to be expelled…. Yahweh is present, powerful, active; Yahweh’s presence changes everything. – Walter Brueggeman
For next Sunday:
Sermon Text: Psalm 131
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing - Adoration
Depth of Mercy - Confession
How Deep the Father’s Love for Us - Grace
Jesus, Cast a Look on Me - Response
Jesus Our Hope, Our Hearts Desire - Communion
The Bible Project:
As a way to help you grasp the over-arching story of the Bible, I am going to include each week a link to one of The Bible Project videos that summarizes in a few minutes one book of the Bible.
This week check out the summary of Acts 1-12 and 13-28.
If you are looking for help to read the Bible in a more regular way, you may findthis approach and this app helpful.
As we've mentioned the last couple weeks during worship we are using theNew City Catechism for our confession of faith this year. It is 52 questions long, one question per week. The authors have also written a helpful companion to the catechism to aid your learning and even a children's edition coming out later this year. Is there an app? Yes there is. The app is user friendly and already includes a childrens' version.
This is a great resource for individuals and families to learn the basics of the Christian faith and commit them to memory.
The New City Catechism & Devotional
The New City Catechism Mobile App
Singing To God (Psalm 95:1-5)
Let Us Love And Sing And Wonder
Let us wonder grace and justice
Join and point to mercy’s store
When through grace in Christ our trust is
Justice smiles and asks no more
He Who washed us with His blood
Has secured our way to God
Bowing Before God (Psalm 95:6-7b)
Prayer of Confession
God of mercy, we humbly confess our need of your pardoning grace. We shelter arrogance and pride in our hearts, believing that our efforts will secure what only you can give us. We are quick to judge and grumble when our plans, pleasures, and preferences are threatened. We are slow to offer mercy, both inwardly and outwardly, towards those you have placed in our lives and called us to love. Forgive our self-righteousness and our self-absorption. Fix our eyes on our savior, Jesus Christ, that we may become enraptured with Him, for it’s in his name we pray. Amen.
Words of Grace
[B]ut God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Hearing From God (Psalm 95:7c-11)
Sermon Text - Isaiah 40:1-11
1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.
9 Go on 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!”
10 Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
11 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.
1. God brings a word of unexpected comfort (v. 1-2)
2. God brings a word of good news (v. 9-11)
We are in our third week of renewing our vision as a church. About a year ago, the elders of RMC began discussing how to more succinctly and clearly communicate our vision. That work culminated this past December. You can read more here.
For these first few weeks of the new year, we are focusing on our vision statement:
RMC exists to pursue renewal and healing
for all the people and places of Birmingham
through Gospel ministry in word and deed.
Last week (1/28) we looked at the words renewal & healing. This week we looked at the phrase all the people and places of Birmingham. Why "Birmingham" and not "the city of Birmingham?" There are three main reasons. First, "Birmingham" means something different than "City of Birmingham". "Birmingham" includes communities especially over the mountain communities in a way that "City of Birmingham" doesn't. Second, our church has changed over the past 16 years. We now have people living in the city as well as in communities outside of the city limits. It's important that our vision both include and reflect who we are. Third, "Birmingham" captures the richness and complexity of our place and our history. It's a complex history and it's messy and often ugly. For an example, listen to Malcom Gladwell's podcast on the foot soldier statue in Kelly-Ingram Park. It's a history we need to understand, embrace, and move towards if we are to pursue renewal and healing for all the people and places of Birmingham.
What does all this have to do with Isaiah 40:1-11? Well it's important to know that Isaiah 40 was written to God's people in Exile decades after they were carried off to live in Babylon and the destruction of Jerusalem. It was written to people whose lives have been shattered due to their own sin and the sin of others. Despair and hopelessness were their daily outlook. They were powerless with no-one to come to their rescue. Into that experience God speaks, "Comfort, comfort my people!"
Isaiah 40:1-11 describes God coming to rescue his people in a remarkable way. Valleys are lifted up. Mountains are brought low. Uneven ground is made level. (v. 4) Why? So that the glory of God would be revealed for all to see. (v. 5) Isaiah 40 is God saying, "I am coming to rescue you and to restore you!"
Isaiah 40:1-11 is God's word of comfort and good news to the weak, hopeless, and helpless. He comforts by speaking to the hearts of his people reminding them who they really are ("my people, v. 2) and declaring what they really need: freedom and forgiveness (v. 2). He doesn't mention how yet, just that it's true. We have to wait till Isaiah 53 to see how.
God's word of comfort is followed by a word of good news. Isaiah 40:9 is the first intentional use of the term "gospel" or "good news" in the Old Testament. And what is this good news? "Behold your God!" In other words, God is the good news. His word and his coming. He comes in power and mercy. He comes to rescue. He comes to gather, carry and lead his people like a Shepherd.
The comfort and good news of which Isaiah speaks doesn't reach its climax until Jesus shows up on the scene. All four gospel writers quote from Isaiah 40:3 to describe John the Baptist's ministry preparing the way for our God. What does that teach us about Jesus? He is the revelation of the glory of the Lord for all people to see and behold as God's good news for the world.
Jesus comes in power forgiving sin, healing disease, and pushing back the powers of darkness. He is unraveling the power and consequences of sin, giving a preview of all things being made new. Jesus comes in mercy as the good shepherd gathering, carrying, and leading his people home giving his very life to do so.
God in Christ has comfort and good news to give to us and to all the people and places of Birmingham. To be sure our vision is big and beyond our abilities. But the good news isn't our qualifications or abilities (v. 6-7) but that God's word will stand forever (v. 8). Isaiah 40:1-11 is an Exile ending word of forgiveness, freedom and life in Christ!
Sermon Reflection Questions
- What stood out to you from these verses?
- What questions do they raise for you?
- Was there anything that bothered you?
- How does Isaiah describe God's word of comfort? What does it mean to you?
- What is the gospel according to Isaiah? Why is it good?
- How should Isaiah 40:1-11 inform and shape our efforts to pursue renewal and healing for all the people and places of Birmingham?
Confession of Faith: The New City Catechism, 2017
Q. 4. How and why did God create us?
A. God created us male and female in his own image to know him, love him, live with him, and glorify him. And it is right that we who were created by God should live to his glory.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.