Remembering the Voice of God’s Goodness This Christmas
A mother was having a gathering to celebrate the birth of her newborn son. She invited a bunch of friends over to celebrate his arrival. She welcomed her guests, and they all had a great time celebrating, eating, and drinking.
After a while, one of the ladies said, “Well, bring the baby out. Let us see it.”
The mother went to get the baby from his crib—he was nowhere to be found. She started to panic and feel fearful. Suddenly, she remembered that the baby was still at her parents’ house, where she had left him that morning. She and the guests had been having so much fun they had forgotten what the party was about in the first place. During the Christmas season, many people get busy with celebration and forget that the birth of Jesus Christ is the reason for the season.1
Isaiah is a unique book among others in the Old Testament. It is called a “little Bible” by some because there are sixty-six chapters, just as there are sixty-six books in the Bible. The first thirty-nine talk about God calling out to His people, warning them of the results of their disobedience. Starting with this chapter, we see the theme shift to redemption. This begins the “New Testament” section of Isaiah. As we will see, God is revealing His goodness to His people. We need to remember that goodness. Here are four voices of God’s goodness that we need to listen to during this Christmas season. What are the voices you hear?
THE FOUR VOICES OF GOD’S GOODNESS THIS CHRISTMAS I NEED TO REMEMBER
1. Remember the voice of PARDON (Isaiah 40:1-2)
““Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of forced labor is over, her iniquity has been pardoned, and she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”” (Isaiah 40:1–2, CSB)
This is the third time that Isaiah takes us to the scene of Heaven. During the first visit, it was to pronounce judgment.
“Listen, heavens, and pay attention, earth, for the Lord has spoken: “I have raised children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.” (Isaiah 1:2, CSB)
During the second visit, God reveals His holiness and the need to worship Him.
“And one called to another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Armies; his glory fills the whole earth.” (Isaiah 6:3, CSB)
God calls Isaiah out to speak to a rebellious people. After sharing this word of judgment, God now calls Isaiah to speak to His people a word of forgiveness.
This word of forgiveness is the first word of God’s goodness we need to remember to share during this Christmastime. Because God’s goodness can give us comfort. There is a voice which comforts us, a voice that speaks about the goodness of God.
Notice that the word of God’s judgment always precedes a word of God’s forgiveness. Our sin because of our rebellion against God causes us to need to hear about God’s judgment. But if you notice, God is the one who shares the word of judgment. God convicts and then He comforts. Yet, He calls us to speak out a word of forgiveness and pardon.
Lord Balfour once said: “The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example; to a father, deference; to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you; to yourself, respect; to all men, charity.” 2
This leads us to the second voice of God’s goodness this Christmastime.
2. Remember the voice of PROVIDENCE (Isaiah 40:3-5)
“A voice of one crying out: Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert. Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be leveled; the uneven ground will become smooth and the rough places, a plain. And the glory of the Lord will appear, and all humanity together will see it, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3–5, CSB)
Another voice tells us to get ready to receive that comfort. In order to do that, we have to prepare for God come to us. God does not just give us His comfort because of who we are. We have to change and be ready to receive His comfort and goodness.Why is this so? Because in contrast to the goodness of God, the goodness of humanity is lacking. Humanity has a goodness that fades, that wanes, that disappears.
That is why people came to prepare the way for God to show us His goodness. This verse is a prophecy the first Christmas. Someone was called out to prepare for God’s glory to be revealed. All four Gospels speak of John the Baptist who came to fulfill this ministry and work. God would provide His care to people who trust Him if we would just clear the way for Him to do His work. That is why we need to remember the voice of providence.
The valley of depression, discouragement, and defeat needs to be filled in. The mountain of pride and prayerlessness and haughtiness needs to be taken down. The crooked place of errors needs to be straightened out. And the rough places of irritation need to be made smooth. I don’t have time to be in the valley of depression or to feel sorry for myself. I’ve got work to do. I don’t have a right to be proud or irritated because I have a job to do. We need to forget about our own problems and pain, hurts and heartaches. We need to realize that we have the same call John the Baptist did: to prepare a way in the wilderness of this world for Jesus.3
It’s like getting your house ready for visitors this Christmas. Many of us will either ready our homes for visitors. We have to clean our homes and the prepare the place to receive guests. Perhaps we have to do clean away old things or dust or dirt. Maybe we have to sweep or mop. Maybe we have to clear the tables for guests to come and eat. You don’t leave your place dirty to receive people. You want to have it ready for guests to come.
The same is true this Christmastime. We know that God has taken care of us. But have we taken care of what God has given us. Maybe we need to get things cleaned up in our lives. Maybe we have taken the time to forgive others. But there are other sins and entanglements that have weighed us down.
Pastor Henry Ward Beecher was quoted as saying: “Someone has said that in war Providence is on the side of the strongest regiments. And I have noted that Providence is on the side of clear heads and honest hearts; and whenever a man walks faithfully in the ways that God has marked out for him, Providence, as the Christian says—luck, as the heathen says—will be on that man’s side. In the long run, you will find that God’s Providence is in favor of those who keep His laws, and against those, that break them.”4
God has provided for you. Have you been faithful to Him? Perhaps you need to re-evaluate your faithfulness. To do that, you need to remember the voice of promise.
3. Remember the voice of PROMISE (Isaiah 40:6-8)
“A voice was saying, “Cry out!” Another said, “What should I cry out?” “All humanity is grass, and all its goodness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flowers fade when the breath of the Lord blows on them; indeed, the people are grass. The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever.”” (Isaiah 40:6–8, CSB)
Like the grass and the flowers, human goodness withers and fades away. God’s word (His word of comfort and goodness) stays forever. My works and faithfulness are fleeting. They won’t last.
Like the grass, nations and their leaders fulfill their purposes and then fade away, but the Word of God abides forever5
Our lives are like grass. The prophet Isaiah reminds us of this truth twice in this passage.
Bill Clinton was thirty years old when he was appointed attorney general of Arkansas. He was elected governor of Arkansas two years later, easily becoming the youngest person in the nation to hold that position. He was a youthful forty-four when elected president of the United States, and he still holds the distinction of being the youngest person ever to leave the office of president. In other words, the vast majority of Bill Clinton’s life and accomplishments were characterized by youth.
In August 2006, during his sixtieth birthday celebration, a melancholy Clinton reluctantly admitted that life had changed. No longer the youthful saxophonist wailing away on MTV, the white-haired former president said, “For most of my working life, I was the youngest person doing what I was doing. Then one day I woke up and I was the oldest person in every room. In just a few days, I will be sixty years old. I hate it, but it’s true.”6Life goes by in a hurry. Your children grow up and your parents grow old. Many people today may be looking at their situation in life as they enter this Christmastime and wonder: “Was what I did worth it?” “Is my life meaningful?” The reason is that as one gets closer to eternity, one begins to re-evaluate purposes. They look at previous failures and re-evaluate what is the most significant in life. The Bible here says that what is most significant is the word of God. The word of God we read, known as the Bible. The promises that it contains, both for now and for eternity.
When you begin to doubt your significance and your purpose, you have to remember the voice of promise that God shares with you. But this voice of promise is not just for you. God wants you to be the voice of promise fo others around you. Christmastime is about promises that God has made and kept. Just like John the Baptist as that “herald” who cried out in the desert and pointed people to Jesus, you and I need to be that voice of promise today.The goodness of God in your life becomes the good news which needs to be shared by God’s people. We are called to be a “herald,” an announcer of that good news. The good things in my life come from God, and no one else. The only to God is through Jesus. That comforting good news is something that people need to hear, see, and read from you during this Christmastime.
If you are old-school, pull out the Bible and share God’s promises fulfilled in your life to others when you gather around the table and Christmas tree this year. For those who like to post and tweet, share how God has fulfilled His promises to you this year. We need to “shouting out” to others how God provides for my needs and gives me promise.
This leads me to another voice to remember from this passage today. We need to remember the voice of God’s goodness in giving peace.
4. Remember the voice of PEACE (Isaiah 40:9-11)
“Zion, herald of good news, go up on a high mountain. Jerusalem, herald of good news, raise your voice loudly. Raise it, do not be afraid! Say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with strength, and his power establishes his rule. His wages are with him, and his reward accompanies him. He protects his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them in the fold of his garment. He gently leads those that are nursing.” (Isaiah 40:9–11, CSB)
God’s peace is derived from God’s goodness and it is provided by God’s power.
The glory of the Lord, therefore, is God himself becoming visible, God bringing his presence down to us, God displaying his beauty before us, the true answer to our deepest longings. And he promises to do this for us. It is the central promise of the gospel.7
God comes with His strength.
God rules your life by His own power.
God brings rewards and gifts to those who place their trust in Him.
God protects, gathers, carries, and leads, all because of His goodness.8
When a person comes with gifts, you know that something good is going to happen. Someone buys you a gift and you are happy not just for the gift, but also the giver. The same is true with God. I know that God’s gift for me is good. It comes with His strength and His power. So I know that He has to be good. Just like the JELL-O commercial – if it is JELL-O, you know it has to be good. What gifts am I waiting for from God? What kind of gifts does He want to give me? That He gives me gifts also shows me that He loves me. You don’t usually receive gifts from someone who doesn’t care about you. God cares about me and so He gives me gifts.
Remember what Jesus said about God and giving gifts.
“Who among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him.” (Matthew 7:9–11, CSB)
One of the qualities of my relationship with God and His ability to give gifts because He is good is the fact that there is peace in our relationship. Because God is strong and He is able to give me good gifts, I receive a sense of peace in my relationship with Him. This peace comes from His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus gives me God’s pardon, God’s providence, God’s promise, and God’s peace.
God gives me gifts because He loves me. The gifts He gives me come from out of His strength, His power, and His reward. I need to reflect less on the gift itself and more on the Giver this gift-giving season.9 That is the reason why it is so important to give out a gift of the message of Jesus Christ during this Christmas season. The Hebrew word “herald of good news” is where we get the Greek word for an evangelist. The role of the evangelist, which every Christian takes on, is to share the good news. The best good news is the peace that one can get with a relationship with Jesus. Remember, God is good and He gives us gifts. We are to share one of those gifts – a relationship with Jesus Christ. Because many people need to hear a message of peace this Christmas. Many of us not only need to hear the voice of peace calling out to us today, but we need to be the voice of peace as we share Jesus Christ with others. The peace that comes from the goodness of God is best illustrated in the following story.
A little boy went grocery store shopping with his mother. They were in the checkout line and the grocer asked the mother if he could offer her son some candy. The mother agreed. As the grocer held out the jar, encouraging the boy to reach in, the little boy shook his head. The man stretched the jar out a little further and told the boy he could take as much as he would like. The boy continued to say no. With a confused look on his face, the grocer gave one last effort. The boy finally said, “I want you to give it to me.” The grocer happily took some candy out of the container and handed it to the boy who quickly offered his thanks.
When he and his mother were in the car and on their way, she curiously asked, “Why wouldn’t you take the candy? Why did you tell him to give the candy to you?” Her son replied, “Because, Momma, his hands were bigger than mine!” Smart boy. He understood that the hands of the source were bigger.
If God’s children would simply let Him be God, they would soon discover that His hands are bigger than their own.10
1 Tony Evans, Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations: Stories, Quotes, and Anecdotes from More than 30 Years of Preaching and Public Speaking (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009), 60.
2 Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996), 459.
3 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: Volume Two: Psalms-Malachi (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 409.
4 Herschel H. Hobbs, My Favorite Illustrations (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1990), 93.
5 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Comforted, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 110.
6 “I’m 60 and I Hate It: Bill Clinton,” Breitbart.com (August 15, 2006) Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, 1001 Illustrations That Connect (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2008), 10.
7 Raymond C. Ortlund Jr. and R. Kent Hughes, Isaiah: God Saves Sinners, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 237.
8 Jim Erwin, “Receiving Comfort Through the Goodness of God,” 5 December 2014, Patheos, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2014/12/05/receiving-comfort-through-the-goodness-of-god/, accessed on 13 December 2017.
9 Jim Erwin, “His Gifts Come With Him,” 9 December 2014, Patheos, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2014/12/09/his-gifts-come-with-him/, accessed on 13 December 2017.