At North Wake, we’re studying “Advent BC” — Old Testament predictions of the coming Messiah. In our sermon Sunday, we will be looking in Ezekiel at one such prediction of a Shepherd. But here, I want to look at another time God taught His people through the prophet Isaiah.
Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and His arm rules for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him. (Isaiah 40:10)
We read, “God comes with might” because He is a victorious warrior. “His arm” (His military might) proves He is powerful over His enemy in this battle. This shock and awe is intended to make the world alert to the fact that He has power, and He will use it.
I grew up near a military base, so I saw men and women in fatigues every day. Their uniforms were battle clothes: rugged, practical, and ready to encounter an enemy. Meeting a trained soldier ready for action can be a bit frightening! We know this military commander described by Isaiah is righteous and powerful, but what will He do? What does He demand of me? Is He for me, or is He condemning me?
“His reward is with Him,” so we know this commander has captured something. Modern military generals capture air bases, tanks, jets, and artillery. Read on to see what God has captured…
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. (Isaiah 40:11)
He has captured “His flock” which He tends “like a shepherd.” We might wonder if this is even the same prophecy. He’s a powerful warrior, so how can He carry lambs?
How can the God of Heaven’s armies be the God who “gently leads,” walking slowly so the lambs can keep up?
These images seem dissonant. On one hand, we have armor and power; on the other hand we have grassy hills and short-legged lambs. When God spoke through Isaiah 700 years before Jesus, He wanted His people to think of two facts: God is serious about victory, and God is serious about His gentle care for His people.
God is Serious about Victory
God promises His people victory, but defeating the wrong enemy isn’t victory at all. So, was it the Assyrians, the Greeks, or the Romans who captured and enslaved the Jewish people in the times of the prophets who were the biggest enemy of God’s people? No. God makes the true enemy clear through the words of the Apostle Paul:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him. (Colossians 2:13-15)
By His work on the cross, Jesus defeated our biggest enemy and adversary, the devil. What’s our biggest threat? It is our guilt for sin and rejection of God’s rescue. The conquering God is not against you. He’s not principally here to resolve the momentary battles of this world. He is here conquering our true enemy: our sin.
God is Serious about Caring For His People
Secondly, by sending us a shepherd, God promises He is serious about care. Jesus picks up this image of Himself as the herder of flocks:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:10-16)
Jesus makes two facts clear. First, He explains that He leads his people because He is the gentle shepherd from Isaiah. Secondly, He assures us that He is the victor by giving his life to win the battle.
This Advent, we observe and celebrate the prophesied, conquering shepherd. He gave His life to conquer our enemy and to clear up the problems between us and God. And if we trust Him, he’ll lead us by His word every day.
All scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
1212 S Main St
Wake Forest, NC 27587