Please read Mark 1: 29-39 and Isaiah 40: 21-31: then pray; Almighty Creator God, as I listen to your word today, enable me to understand the importance of trusting you for renewed strength to live every day of my life to the glory and honour of your name. Amen!

Are you ready for take-off? I hope so, because today’s key text from the prophet Isaiah promises nothing less than renewed strength through the supplying of divine power – which will lead to the struggling people of God being lifted-up and soaring like a swift and powerful eagle, rather like the golden eagle shown on the short video clip at the beginning of our service today.

The text is Isaiah 40:31, a biblical text which has come to mean so much to millions and millions of God’s people down the centuries, a biblical text you will regularly come across on special Christian cards, calendars, plaques, paintings, posters, car bumper stickers and bible covers. I read this precious text at Yvonne’s funeral last Wednesday before remembering her life and beautiful Christian witness in prayer. Here it is;

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope (trust, wait upon) in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.

It was interesting to see that Yvonne’s photograph on the back of the order of service, chosen by her family, was a photo of Yvonne holding a bird of prey upon her gloved hand – not an eagle, but a kestrel, I think.

That text has helped and cheered many a weary Christian over the years. There is one word within the text that is translated differently in the various bible translations. In the NIV, which I generally use, it is the word “hope” – “but those who hope in the Lord.” It is sometimes translated “trust” or “wait upon.”

Those who “trust” in the Lord or those who “wait upon” the Lord. The Hebrew word qavah could be translated in any of those ways. This word denotes hopefully waiting for or trustfully resting upon the Lord. It is used to encourage believers to look to the Lord, to hope in the Lord, to trust in the Lord with all their heart. It forms the condition to this wonderful and remarkable promise. The people who patiently wait upon, look to, rest upon, and trust in the Lord, will experience a renewal in strength, such that they will sense themselves being lifted-up and soaring like an eagle.

Who was this message and promise intended for? Who was the message originally aimed at by the prophet Isaiah? It was a message and promise of hope to the weary and despondent exiles living in Babylon. They had spent at least half a century living away for their homeland. These were Israelites who felt a deep sense of abandonment, isolation, hopelessness, and tiredness. They felt that there was no way out and no way up. These negative feelings are expressed in the complaint of the exiles which Isaiah highlights in v 27.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel. “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by God?”

Have you ever felt that God was hidden from you, or that your cause and your prayers are being disregarded by God? This is how many of the exiles felt. But just as the original Jacob, the son of Isacc and brother of Esau, was called by God to return from a period of exile (Genesis 31:31), so now the people of Jacob (27) – Israel – would be called out of exile to return home. Was that possible and would they have the emotional and physical strength to make the long, hard, and treacherous journey back toward Jerusalem? Could the impossible be made possible – and if so, how? Had the people forgotten their amazing history, and the incomparably powerful God behind that history. What had happened at the time of the Exodus – the greatest moment of their people’s history? Had not God stepped in with tremendous miraculous power and strength to deliver and carry his people away from Egypt, people who had been weakened by hundreds of years of forced slave labour? Had not God removed Pharoah and crushed his cruel might and power? Let us remind ourselves how this was recorded in Exodus 19;

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of JACOB and what you are to tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”

If this great, glorious, and mighty God could carry the whole of Israel (old and young) out of Egypt on eagles’ wings, could he not do the same with the exiles in Babylon? Had the exiles forgotten the incomparable greatness and power and strength of their faithful God? It seemed that they had, and Isaiah goes to great lengths through chapter 40 to remind them of the truth about who their God is, and how very great he is. As Isaiah says here; “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary and his understanding no-one can fathom.” (40:28)

Do we sometimes forget who God is and just how infinitely great and above all powers He is? I think we do! We forget that God’s power is so vast and great, and that this God is our God, our loving Shepherd, our Father who is in heaven, and our caring Saviour. Our biggest problems and anxieties come about when we simply forget who God is. Have you done that lately? Forgotten who God is, and allowed that forgetfulness of God to dominate all your thinking and outlook on life?

Right at the outset of the chapter, Isaiah seeks to bring a message of real comfort and hope. His message deliberately starts with the word “Comfort” – and what is more, he uses it twice for emphasis;

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for….

It is from verse 12 in the chapter that Isaiah draws the people’s attention to God’s incomparable greatness and power. In a section remarkably like a section in the book of Job (chapter 38), Isaiah writes of God’s incomparable stature and glory. Read Isaiah 40 v 12-14,

Then, the prophet proceeds to say that it would be ridiculous to compare God to the power of earthly nations – even the most powerful ones like the Babylonians. It is rank stupidity to compare God’s power to that of the nations who He looks and rules over. Read v 15-17

Likewise, do not compare God to pathetic lifeless dumb idols whatever material they are made from and however beautifully crafted they may be and gilded with gold; Read 18-20

Isaiah then continues to lift-up the glory, might and awesome creative power of God. The prophet’s argument is now taken to another level as he asks Israel if they have forgotten that God is the sole Creator of all things and Sovereign over all that He has made. Read v 21-24

The prophet is almost at the end of his wonderful sermon which he communicates using the most sublime Hebrew poetry. This is amongst the greatest Hebrew poetry to be found anywhere in the OT, and it is why this chapter is one of the greatest portions of Holy Writ. Here’s how Isaiah concludes, once again establishing the incomparable nature and power of the Holy One – God Almighty!

Read v 25-31

These exiles needed to be reminded just how great God’s power and strength were. God is the Creator of everything – the full and massive splendour of the heavens and the earth. God is the great star maker, and He personally names each one. All these stars and planets and the earth itself are held in place and sustained by God’s inscrutable and immeasurable wisdom, power and might.

Now this is the God – this is the God – you must hope in, trust in, and wait upon for renewed strength!

Will you do this? Will you look to this God, the only God, our God – the One who called you by name, the One who named each star, the one who is your caring covenant God?

If you will wait upon him, be assured, you will be given all the necessary strength to get you through every day and every step of journey back home. Even the old ones with their walking sticks will make it – such is God’s strength; such is God’s grace and power working within you and for you! He will enable you weak and weary people to soar like an eagle. The God of the Exodus is the God of the returning Exiles.

God just loves to give strength to weak and weary ones if they are but prepared to trust him and wait upon him to act on their behalf. God loves to manifest His strength through their/our weakness. This the message of the bible. Jesus lifted the lowly and humble and weary ones – did he not? Jesus healed and helped Peter’s mother-in-law who was suffering from a terrible fever. He helped her up with his hand. (Mark 1:31) Could not God help Israel up, up onto eagle’s wings and away from exile? Could not God help you up today? Could God not supply the strength you and I need today and tomorrow and during all the ensuing days?

How does God do this? How does God strengthen an individual or a whole community so that they mount up on eagles’ wings – so that they run without growing weary and walk without fainting? This is where the hoping, trusting, and waiting comes in. Those who “wait upon” the Lord; those who trust and hope in the Lord – in this God who powerfully controls every star in the sky, will discover their weakness and weariness is exchanged for God’s strength and power. As we look to and lean upon God, so God strengthens us with the strength of his grace and mighty power. Renewal means experiencing God’s strength within us and around us.

Paul speaks much about this in his great letter to the Ephesian Church. He writes about the Ephesians being “strengthened with power through his Spirit entering and working within their inner being. (3:16) Paul also speaks about “God’s incomparably great power” being at work within the saints – the same power that was exerted to raise the Lord Jesus from the dead. (1: 19-20). This power is so real and so great writes Paul, that Christians will be able to do and achieve things that they could barely dream of.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory IN THE CHURCH and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen! (Ephesians 3: 20-21)

That is as good as Isaiah 40:31 promise, isn’t it? God’s strength is sufficient to lift us up and carry us on wings like eagles. God’s power working within us can achieve seemingly impossible things. As I say, even the elderly ones with all their physical weakness and fragility can be equipped with God’s strength and taken onwards and upwards. A whole community can be carried on wings like eagles. This must be encouraging for us a Church, what with our present age demographic. God will pour His strength, the strength that holds the stars in place, into our community and our hearts. God is good.

However, we must wait upon him. We must trust and hope in God and God’s strength not our own human strength and ingenuity. This means that we must be people of prayer – because it is prayer alone which reveals and signifies our dependence upon and trust in God. How did Jesus in his humanity renew his strength? What enabled Jesus, who was subject like us to physical and emotional tiredness and weariness, to mount up with wings once again like an eagle – and then continue his ministry to the needy? Our gospel reading provides the answer; “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35) Jesus knew, that if his strength was to be renewed, he would need to spend quiet time waiting upon his Father. Yes, the Lord Jesus, needed to “wait upon” his Father for renewed strength. As He waited upon his Father, so must we. (Matthew 6:6)

The times I feel most spiritually invigorated are when I come from a time of prayer, prayer with others, or prayer on my own. Countless others testify to the same experience and reality. After a TIP meeting (Together in Prayer) I have seen our very own Val Stephens and Norman Whitaker take off like eagles when leaving this building. Val is on cloud nine – at least in her spirit! Val’s strength and joy, and the strength and joy of those who have been with her waiting upon God in prayer is very noticeable; we find ourselves suddenly gliding on the thermals of God’s love and power – like eagles. Would that more people in our Church would join us for TIP.  I am not surprised that the great Catholic author J.R. Tolkien, in his Lord of the Ring’s trilogy, chose the Eagles to be the great rescuers and overcomers of evil. Rescuing little weak hobbits – bearing them up on the wings of the Eagles!

And notice the promise is that the people of God “will soar” not fly. Soaring, I am informed by experts, is not like flying. Flying is moving through the air; soaring suggests exhilaration and joy as a bird of prey experiences the power and the strength of warm thermals all around enabling them to glide effortlessly, saving energy and enjoying rest. This is what enables successful migration over thousands of miles, conserving energy on the thermals. Is this not what would spiritually enable exiles to migrate back to their promised land? Being carried on the thermals of God’s grace and love, power, and strength? The Church should be gliding and soaring on the thermals of the Holy Spirit.

My dear friends, I want this Church to soar upon the strength of our God in the coming weeks and months and years. Are you ready for this? I asked at the beginning of this sermon; are you ready for take-off? Do you believe that God can and will enable us through his power and strength to do this together – with no one left behind in exile? Old, not so old, and young, soaring according to the will and word of the Lord! Our God is mighty! If you struggle to believe me – I will ask you to do this – as Isaiah asked the exiles;

Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these (stars)? The Holy One who is the Incomparably Mighty and Faithful Creator God who can and will strengthen all his people if they will but wait upon him. Paul proclaimed that he could do anything and everything through Christ who strengthened him. (Philippians 4:13) That strength of God is available to all who will wait upon Him, all who trust and place their hope in Him. It is now your turn to trust and your time to soar like an eagle!

Read Psalm 103: 1-5.

To God be all the glory for His strength and power! Amen!

Revd Peter J Clarkson (4.2.24)