GETTING THE MESSAGE/Isaiah 40:16-17
In these verses, Isaiah is addressing the propensity in men to look everywhere but God to sustain and bless their lives. In verse 15, we saw that though the nations in all their wealth and power are impressive to us, they are not even as a drop in the bucket or a speck of dust on the scales to Almighty God.
We are tempted to wave this aside but consider that the Lord is conveying the paucity of safety and security the nations of men can provide however great they may be. And that he, the Lord, is no respecter of nations or men, meaning that you cannot escape him, whatever temporary prosperity and safety you may enjoy in the land you live in. And that is not our only issue.
We are prone to think that the abundance we value so highly is equally impressive to God. We suppose that God is pleased with any attempts at outward morality or civil behavior. We file away in our minds a ledger of sacrifices or achievements we imagine may suffice to set us apart in God’s eye, or expect God to consider whatever offerings we give as sufficient or more than sufficient.
We can see the response of the Lord in verse 16: “Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.” Israel did not have an abundance of forests in their land. They were dependent upon other countries for sufficient lumber. Lebanon was a main supplier. She was renowned for her vast forests and quality of lumber.
Yet, if men were to prepare and assemble all the wood in Lebanon and all its livestock to be offered up on such a bonfire, it would not reconcile men to God. Isaiah uses this example to make us understand that all the wood and beasts on earth would not be sufficient. Men cannot offer up sufficient offerings to God for sin even if they were inclined to and offered all they had.
But men are not so inclined. Rather, they think there is salvation in a nation if it would just become righteous and prosperous enough. Certainly, we should want the nation we live in to have fair justice and righteous laws. Here though, we are talking about the souls of men and how they might be reconciled to God. The Lord is addressing ultimate salvation.
The Jews, during the time of the Lord Jesus, sought righteousness before God in their citizenship to Israel and in keeping the laws of the religious leaders. Of course, many of their laws were based on God’s Word. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with them. Jesus pointed out their righteousness was superficial, not real. It would not avail them before the judgment of God.
Many people in our country have stood condemned for the same self-righteousness. Too many Americans have thought the righteousness of belonging to a Christian country and having a nominal assent to Christianity would suffice for them before God. You can easily be inclined to trust in a relative righteousness because it is true sin abounds all around us. But God judges according to his righteousness. There is no partiality.
There is only one sacrifice that is sufficient for us; one offering that can make atonement for you and me. It is the Lord Jesus crucified for sinners. What need is there for a Savior, if we are not lost? What need is there for wisdom from the Holy Spirit if we are wise in ourselves? What need is there to be made righteous if we are not defiled?
All that God show us in his works and teaches us in his word is to show us the necessity of Christ. And to do that he must persuade men to come out of the confidence and trust they are in and take Christ instead. The apostles of Christ, the designated foundation of the Christian church by Christ who is the cornerstone, often begged, as it were, to sinners; “We beseech you,” or “As ambassadors of Christ we beseech you.” In other words, we plead with men to be reconciled to God.
If you belong to Christ, we are taught to feed upon him in all circumstances. In our ignorance, we look to him for instruction. In our sense of God’s anger and wrath, we feed on Christ as a priest to make peace and reconciliation; ‘He is our righteousness.’ We look to his kingship and power to conquer our inward unbelief and corruption. Whatever is in Christ is for our good, and it is to him we must look.