A Flower Quickly Fading

Isaiah’s audience at the beginning of this book were the people of Judah, still living in the land. To them went God’s message of warning and call to repentance. Now Isaiah’s listeners were a discouraged people, living in exile, and God spoke to them in consolation, promising to come to them.

Prepare the way, Isaiah cried in exuberance, fill all the valleys, flatten all the mountains, and make a straight road for God.

It had to have sounded like an impossible task. How could they possibly prepare in that style for God? They simply did not have it in them.

A voice says, “Cry out!”

    And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass;
    their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers; the flower fades,
    [[when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers; the flower fades

 Isaiah 40:6-8a (NRSV)
Isaiah 40:8 quoted in German | By Unknown author – Self-photographed Renardo la vulpo, 2014-06-01, CC0

How can mere people, especially a people so weighed down, be expected to accomplish much of anything? 

Here today, gone tomorrow.

Forget about do-overs, we have hardly enough time to do all that we have in mind to do even just once. Events, obligations, the necessities of life all catch up with us, and then, before we are quite ready, before we quite know what is happening, age has caught up with us, or illness … we are done for.

I love doing crosswords, and I can really tell who writes some of them. Their clues have to do with events, and people, of anywhere from twenty to fifty years ago. Certainly in the age of information, there are mounds of material – articles, posts, images, videos, recordings – piles of news that must have been written about all those people and events. But how well do you and I remember the details of their lives and accomplishments decades later? 

God’s Word a Fort Unfailing

People have a brief moment of power and fame and glory, and then they fade away.  

But God’s word, now that is something that stands the tests of time.

… but the word of our God will stand forever.

 Isaiah 40:8 (NRSV)
A “Bible” in Belfast When Bible House in Howard Street was re-built the old “Bible”, which adorned the premises, was transferred to the new. | By Albert Bridge, CC BY-SA 2.0

God had kept God’s word of judgment. The people now stood in the aftermath of their own failure to return to the Lord and therefore keep the land. All had been brought to ruin. Now, God would keep God’s word of salvation.

But there is more to what Isaiah was saying than just that. Isaiah was bringing out a universal truth concerning humankind and Almighty God. We are frail. But God is infinitely strong. We cannot do it. But God always can.

It is in this truth that the third aspect of God’s grace can be found.

Enabling Grace 

Remember that Scripture describes God’s grace in three ways:

  1. Saving Grace
  2. Common Grace
  3. Enabling Grace

Isaiah referred to God’s saving grace in the opening verses of this oracle:

Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that she has served her term,
    that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

Isaiah 40:1-2 (NRSV)

Isaiah then indicated God’s common grace to all people when he promised:

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all flesh shall see it together.

Isaiah 40:5 (NRSV)

The Gospel writers all turned to this passage to show God would come to all people, and all would see God’s glory, all would be given the gift of God’s presence and invitation to be within God’s circle.

Now, Isaiah would address the empowering grace of God to all who are the Lord’s.

God gives enabling grace for whatever is needed. The Lord tends His flock like a shepherd. The young, and those new to faith, God gathers up and carries. Those who care for His lambs, He gently leads. The Lord knows what you and I need right now, and with all His power, His sovereign rule, His recompense ready, The Lord is going to provide for us.

Power of Grace

Grace makes it possible for God to work through us and in us. God knows you and I are grass and flowers, so the Lord strengthens, encourages, and comforts us inwardly, through the Scripture, and through the working of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, through prayer.

As God is working in us, God is also working through us, by making us the voices who say prepare for the Lord, let us look at God’s glory together, let us stand on God’s word, let us praise God with enthusiasm, let us receive the Lord’s shepherding.

God’s grace is God’s power, God’s divine assistance to the people of God, to enable you and me to be God’s instrument and the expression of God in every situation—in the desert, in the field of flowers, up on the mountain, God enables the people of God to give voice everywhere.

Riches of Grace

Perhaps you have come across a teaching that says God never wastes anything, that God supplies every need, God gives enough, but God does not waste.

Yet God does seem to waste one thing, at least.

Listen for it, in this passage from Apostle Paul.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us

Ephesians 1:3-8 (NRSV, emphases mine)

Did you see it?

It comes in the word “lavish”

According to Merriam Webster, the definitions of “lavish” all include the sense of “more than enough.”

  1. expending or bestowing profusely : PRODIGAL
  2. expended or produced in abundance
  3. marked by profusion or excess
  4. to expend or bestow with profusion : SQUANDER

God lavishes on us the riches of God’s grace. There is so much grace coming from God, we could not possibly absorb it all, Grace flows freely all around us, pouring out every possible spiritual blessing.

  • God’s grace makes us strong.
  • God’s grace helps us whenever we are in need.
  • God’s grace makes us holy and sets us apart to God.
  • God’s grace transforms our characters to be Christlike.          

God’s people could depend on God keeping God’s word. And God’s people can depend on God helping them to keep God’s word and live by it.

God’s unchanging word strengthens God’s people to live with an eternal perspective.

Greek copy of the last page of the Epistle to the Ephesians (verses 6:20–24) and the first page of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (verses 1:1–8), dated to about 150 to 250 CE. Manuscript 6238,158r. University of Michigan. | By Auteur inconnu – Université du Michigan, Public Domain

What value do you and I place on God’s word versus others’ words? Perspective and interpretation is everything. That is why people hire spin doctors, to put the best possible face on a situation, or an issue. Isaiah called God’s people to an eternal perspective:

Yes, they were exiles in a hostile nation, but they were also God’s people, and God would always be their champion

Yes, they were experiencing the consequences of their sin, but this would not last forever. There was an endpoint.

Yes, they were suffering under God’s right discipline, but God would give them another chance to receive all the blessing that their inheritance held for them.

Yes, the road ahead of them was long and hard, but God would enable them and provide all that was needed.

Yes, the Babylonians were currently on top of the world … but remember, the Assyrians.

Only God’s glory prevails in every age and time, against every power and potentate.

Knowing earthly glory does not last gives you and me the greater perspective that only eternal things are worth investing our hearts in. So we ask ourselves: What priorities might need to change in order to reflect a more eternal perspective?

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