19 May 2024


Passage Isaiah 40:6-8, Mal 3:6-7; Jam 1:16-18

Speaker Ben Tanner

Series None Like Him


Passage: Isaiah 40:6-8

A voice says, “Cry out.”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All people are like grass,
    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of our God endures forever.”

New International Version (NIV)

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Transcript (Auto-generated)

This transcript has been automatically generated, and therefore may not be 100% accurate.

She is now going to come and give us our three different readings and then Ben is going to come and talk to us.

Reading from the Niv. Isaiah, chapter 40, verse six to eight. There's three small readings. A voice says, cry out. And I said, what shall I cry?

All men are like grass and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall. But the word of our God stands forever.

And then one from Malachi, chapter one, verses six to seven. A son honours his father and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honour due to me? If I am a master, where is the respect due to me? Says the Lord Almighty.

It is you, o priests, who show contempt for my name. But you ask, how have we shown contempt for your name? You place defiled food on my altar and you ask, how have we defiled you? By saying that the Lord's table is contemptible. When you bring blind animals for the sacrifice, is that not wrong?

When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor. Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you? Says the Lord Almighty.

And then from James, chapter seven. No, sorry.

James, chapter one.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be kind of first fruits of all he created. This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God, Sheila. Thank you and well done for getting through.

What's a bit of an obstacle course at the front here today? We've still got the stage in place from last night's concert. It'll be really helpful for you if you have got those bibles in front of you, pages that you can look up there. The observant among you will have noticed we've got. We read chapter one of Malachi.

I'm just going to read you chapter three, verse six, because that's the one that I'm just going to focus on. Chapter three, verse six and seven. And it says this, I, the Lord, do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors, you've turned away from my decrees and have not kept them.

Return to me and I will return to you, says the Lord almighty. But you ask, how are we to return? Fab. Let me lead us in a prayer as we think about those three passages. Heavenly Father, thank you so much that when you say something, you mean it, that you're not one of these people who says something and then changes their mind.

One of the things that you say is that you, your word doesn't return to you empty. And so, father, I pray that this morning, as we look at your word, would you have it achieve its purposes in us? Might it increase our faith? Might it show us again the rock that you are? Might it help us while we're hurting?

Might it lift our eyes to the future? And might it delight us in your son? Amen. A few weeks ago, we headed to Bakewell with some friends. And while we were there, my wife Rachel said, oh, I grew up in Bakewell.

Shall I show you the house that we went to? And we said, okay, let's do it. So we walked up the hill and there it was in front of us. And Rachel said, oh, no, this is wrong. And I thought, well, no, I'm fairly sure this is the house.

I've got to know you in this house. But here's the thing. Rachel knew that house as the place where she grew up. The place that she trudged back to in the snow and walked back from school to in the heat, at the place that she left on her wedding day to come to church to get married. And she remembered it with a different colour of fascia around it.

And so for her, it was wrong. Now, there aren't such things as moral and immoral colours, unless it's coming to what colour football shirt you've got. Don't worry, I'm not going to push on that one today. But there aren't such things as moral or immoral colours. And somebody who owns a house has the right to paint it whatever colour they want.

So why was it? Or why did it feel so wrong? Well, because it was something that was precious, that had changed. Maybe you sympathise, as I do with Rachel, on that. Maybe you have places that you remember that always were the same.

Maybe people, maybe food that you enjoyed eating is always the same. And now, for whatever reason, it's changed. And it might not have changed in a bad way, but there's something guttural inside us that says, oh, this is just wrong. It doesn't sit right. We're thinking today about ways in which God's different to us and why that's a good thing.

And we've been thinking about lots of different ones today. We're thinking about the idea of God being unchanging, or as some of the bigwig theologians call it immutable. God doesn't change. We heard it in those Bible readings, didn't we? He says, I, the Lord, do not change.

So you're not destroyed there in chapter three, verse six, or in James, he said that the Lord does not change. Like shifting shadows we know elsewhere, Jesus Christ is the same. Yesterday, today and forever. We have a God who doesn't change. And logically, that kind of makes sense, doesn't it?

Like, if God is perfect, then he can't be a God that's changing. If he's perfect and he changes for the better, then he wasn't perfect before. And if he's perfect and he changes for the worse, then he's no longer perfect. So a God who's perfect is a God who stays dependable and does not change. And here's the thing.

Having a God who doesn't change helps us in a world that is changing all the time in all sorts of different ways. So we who are changing long for a changeless good. This is that idea of nostalgia, the idea of looking back. And maybe, I don't know if you're sort of politically or culturally kind of progressive or conservative, if you think yesterday was better than tomorrow's going to be or the other way around. But most of us, as we look back in our past, there are times when it's like the sun is shining down on that little bit of our life, you know, something that was really delightful.

And we kind of. We can be lured into thinking, if only I could go back to that moment, I would be truly satisfied. It was great. A couple of years ago, we were preparing for the graft, and I got chatting to one of our graft team members and they said, I once ate a steak that was so good that I cried. That is one of those kind of sun shining down on moments.

And for him, it's like, if I could go back, if I could experience that, that would be brilliance. And there can be that sort of sense of if only. But that's a thing that is now lost and in the past. And yet, CS Lewis writes something really interesting on this. He actually picks a fight with Wordsworth.

They were at different times, but he picks a fight when Wordsworth says, oh, if only I could go back and experience that time again. He says this. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would have found not the thing itself, but only a reminder of it. What he remembered would turn out to be itself only a remembering the books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust them. It was not in them.

It only came through them. And what came through them was something we long for. These things, the beauty, the memory of our own past, are good images of what we really desire. But if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of the worshippers. For they are not the things itself.

They are only the scent of a flower not yet found, the echo of a tune we've not yet heard, the news from a country that we have never yet visited. What's he saying? That's long and convoluted. But he's saying that when we think back on those things in the past, the thing that we long for is actually that emotion, or that love, or that beauty, or that feeling. And he's saying that's what we're longing for.

And it came through that person, or that place, or that piece of music. That's a really key point. Because if that's true, that means that though that place and that time has gone, the God who bought the beauty and the goodness is unchanging. In other words, there is a beauty and a goodness that I remember from back then. And perhaps I've got even rose tinted spectacles.

And if I went back, it wouldn't be as amazing. And the stake wouldn't make me cry or make that person cry.

But the God who made the beauty of the taste or the delight of that love can and will give it again, because he is an unchanging God. It's not lost to the past. See, being in a changing world means that we long for a changeless good. But being in a changing world means, too, that we long for a changeless stability. See, we change all the time, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

And some things that we leave in the past, we are nostalgic. That's lovely. But some of the changes that we go through are really hard.

In my son's class, there's a girl whose mum has recently done just a really brilliant and beautiful thing. She's cut her hair really short, and she's given the hair to a charity that makes wigs for children. It's a beautifully, morally lovely thing to do. But do you know what her daughter did when she saw her mum? She wept.

Mum's changed. In one sense, that's a small thing. But actually, we long for stability, don't we? For dependable people and places and times.

And when they're not dependable, that can be really hard for us. We see it in a small way. If. Do you remember when Sheffield City Council was changing all the roads around the. Around the station?

And I remember driving through and feeling like every time I drove through my own city, I didn't know where I was going. And it was a different way and a different route. I remember getting very frustrated by that. It threw me. That's a little thing.

How much bigger when it's somebody who's changed. Think of it like this. Maybe you've got a friend and maybe these words have come out of your mouth. You don't seem to be yourself today. What are you saying?

You're saying, I know who you are. You're like this. And today you're not seeming to marry up with that person.

And how do you feel at that moment? You're worried, aren't you? They're not themselves today. What's gone wrong? I was chatting with a friend of mine a few months ago, and her father had upped and walked out on her mother out of the blue.

And I remember her saying, it's like he's a different person overnight. Did I ever really know him? Was he always like this and just hiding it? What's happened? That stable home seemed to have changed and it's really uncomfortable for us.

Maybe you've been in the situation where somebody has promised you something, we're going to act like this, they say, and then they do something different. It hurts. We live in a world that changes all the time.

Maybe. Maybe it's not even somebody's failings, but it's just somebody who used to be there all the time. And then of a sudden, they're not. And it's. What is the new normal?

The girl was really honest about sharing the change in her life. That is a really painful transition. They used to be around and now they're not. How do I deal with that? Isaiah's reading tells us, doesn't it?

Her voice says, cry out. I said, what shall I cry? All people are like grass and all their faithfulness like the flowers of the field. It is a beautiful image.

Yet the grass withers and the flowers fall. If it stopped there, that would be the most depressing verse, wouldn't it? Yet the word of the Lord endures forever. It says. It says, there is something that is stable, that the Lord, if he doesn't change, means that I can truly know him.

There's not going to be a day when he turns around and all of a sudden I go, who are you? I never knew you. No, he's the dependable one who doesn't change. He's the person who, when he makes a promise, his word endures forever. He's not going to come to you on some idle Tuesday and go, do you know what?

I'm just really not feeling it today. That's not what God's like and nor do I need to come to him at the right kind of time to placate him and make sure that he's in a good mood before I speak. No, he never changes. It means that what he said 2000 years ago in this book here, I can trust and know. Yes, he said it, and he's not changed.

He's a constant source of stability. But really, practically, this means that if you're here today and you're a Christian, you can know that what he has said about you does not change. In other words, if he has declared, this is my child, whom I love with them, I am well pleased he's not changing his mind about that. It's not that you come to a point in your life and he says, I've declared this person righteous, but now he doesn't change. You can know that that is true now.

You can know it will be true in ten, in 15, in 20 years time. Because he doesn't change.

He doesn't shift like shifting shadows. He's the one from whom every good gift comes. I need to pick up the pace.

We long for a God who is stable. We long for a God who is changeless. Good. We also long for a God who is changeless. Comfort.

Now, bear with me on this one because this is another one of those mental jumps. Some of you will be ahead of me on this. It might be that you're sitting there and you're thinking, wait a second, if God doesn't change, that must mean that he can't be reactive, that he can't hurt, for example. Because if he hurts, then he goes from a place of not hurting to a place of hurting, that God cannot be harmed. And that's pastorally quite tricky, isn't it?

Because we say, wait a second, if God doesn't change, if God can't be hurt, how can he really sympathise with me, empathise with me? Do you remember the Grenfell tower disaster that happened? And it was terrible, wasn't it? And what happened was that we had the prime minister and also the leader of the opposition came. And in the days after that horrible disaster, when there was all sorts of really important things that were being discussed, one of the things that caught the headlines was this.

It was that Theresa May didn't cry. And it was that question, how can we have a leader who doesn't empathise, he doesn't weep at something like this. And you have politicians arguing about whether or not somebody should have cried or not. Is it then that God's like the great Theresa May in the sky?

Well, for a number of reasons, I want to say, I don't think so.

And I also want to say, and yet there is something that we need to get here. Imagine for a second. I know there's lots of imagining. Imagine for a second. We finished the service today.

The kids suddenly rush out to go and get biscuits. I know I'm asking you to stretch your imagination at this point, but let's imagine that they did that. And in so doing, one of them falls over and bangs their knee and their parent runs over to the child and the child is weeping and on the floor and holding their knee, and the parent starts weeping and holding their knee and rolling around next to them. That's not going to be what's best for the child. What the child needs is a parent who is able to lift them out of that situation and deal with their knee, or a more serious situation.

Let's imagine that Tom Ferdyhuff arrived at a terrible accident in his ambulance. What do the people there need from him? They need him to get out, to analyse the situation, to deal with things. What they don't need him to do is to weep. Not then and there.

What am I saying? I'm saying that a God who does not hurt is a God who is never blinded by rage or incapacitated by grief. A God who is over and above suffering is the only God who is able to say, I am able to lift you out of suffering, and I am able to promise you a future without suffering. Because I myself. I myself do not.

Am not trapped by suffering.

And that's a changelessness that we need. We need to know that we have a God who is able to fulfil his promise that when we are living with him and enjoying him for eternity, that suffering is no longer a part of that.

And yet there's more. You see, we've talked about ways in which God is different to us, and so finally we see that a changeless God enables change in us. It's Pentecost today, isn't it? We remember the Holy Spirit comes on the believers, that he changes us from one degree of glory to another. And here's the thing that means that you can change.

I was chatting with Amber and some of the others who were getting married. And we talked about sometimes the way in which arguments happen in marriage. And one of the big ways that we get argue and we get sloppy with it is that we attribute to our spouse something that's only ever true of God. Unchangingness. We say, you never take the bin out.

You always humiliate me in front of my parents. You never do that. You always do that. And of course, it's not true, is it? It's lazy.

It's very easy to say, well, actually, I took the bin out once in 1987. So technically that's not true. It's a lazy form of arguing because only God is unchanging. But here's the difficulty. Because so often we do that, and maybe we need to be picked up on that with our spouse or friends, but so often, actually, we think of it as our.

We think of ourselves like that. Maybe you're sitting here and you're thinking, you know, everyone else in this room has got it sorted. I will never not struggle with that. I am always going to be the one who slips into gossiping. It's just who I am.

My big mouth always gets me into trouble. I am always going to be the one who is kicking myself because I'm addicted to pornography and I keep falling into that. I'm always going to be the one who lets my family or friends down. It's always me. My pride is always going to be an issue for me.

Do you see what you're doing? Never and always. That applies to God. That doesn't apply to you. You do change.

If we believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in this world today, as I believe he is, that means that when you screw up and you think to yourself, it's not a case of if I screw up again, it's a case of when the Holy Spirit says, no, no, no, you can change. A few years ago, there was a really, really influential article that was written by a christian ethicist called Louis smeeds. And he wrote this. He said, when I married my wife, I had hardly a smidgen of a sense of what I was getting into with her. How could I know how much she would change in 25 years?

How could I know how much I would change? The truth is, my wife has been married to at least, has lived with at least five different men since we were married. And each of those five has been me. The connecting link with my old self has always been the memory of the name that I took on back then I am he who will be there with you. In other words, he says, look, I have changed massively.

I have changed hugely since I got married. Wife has changed, too. In fact, I could point to five wholly different people that I have been in that time. And yet what has enabled that change for the good? It's been an unchanging promise that I made back then.

I am he who will be there with you. In other words, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. It says, that promise has enabled us to change again and again and again in a safe, in a safe, unchanging state, because of the promise we made. He goes on like this. He says that when we make and keep promises, we are most of all like the God whose name is, I am he who will be there with you.

Now, why does he say that? Why does he say, when we make and keep promises, we're very like God who says, I am he who will be there with you. Remember, that's the terminology he used of marriage. Why is it that he says that? He says that because that marriage relationship is exactly the relationship God has with us.

Even today, we think of marriage as being the unchanging promise. Even when 50% of marriages end in divorce, we still see it as the most important promise people will make. Why? Because it's the promise God makes to us very quickly. Why and how is this?

Well, it happens because God, the one who we heard can't be measured, became a human who was measured in the length of Mary's arm. God, the one who cannot, who was self existent, became a child who was growing in his mother's womb. God, the one who is self sufficient, became reliant on humanity, on air, on food, on education. God, the one who is eternal, measured his days in 24 hours periods as a human being. God, the one who cannot be hurt and doesn't change, became a changeable, hurtable human being who was nailed to a cross.

And when those nails went into his hands, what was he doing? He was fulfilling an eternal promise, a promise that doesn't change. A promise where that saviour looks at you and me and he says, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, I am he who is with you. He says all that I am, all the riches of heaven, all my riches, all my betters, all the goods that goes to you. And in return, I will take all your failings, all of your brokenness, everything that you have done, everything that you will do, I will take all of that.

And I will die the bloody death that that deserves. And as he dies there on the cross, the God who became man so he could suffer for you there upholds an eternal promise that says, I am he who will be there for you. I am he who has forgiven you, who declares you right before me.

And that means that we can change. Because as he sends his holy spirit, as he did at Pentecost, on us, he can conform us more and more to Jesus image. He can forgive those times we mess up. And he can make us more and more like his saviour.

The Bible says, weve been looking at it in our prayer meetings, that the very power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in you and at work in me. I cant change. Rubbish. You cant change. Rubbish.

Youre going to sleep like that forever. Rubbish. The power that raised Christ from the dead is in you. Of course you can change.

We live in changing worlds, and that's safe and enabled because we have an unchanging God. We live in a changing world, but we can be stable because we have a stable God.

We don't need to look for that in others. We live in a changing world, but we need not do so with nostalgia. But we do so with hopeful nostalgia. The beauty that I longed for there I will experience again. Because my saviour has died for me.

Let's pray. Heavenly Father, we're going to come to communion in a few minutes time. We're going to remember that you, the unhurtable God, became hurtable for us. Father, whatever else we take from today, might it be that we would delight in having a God who doesn't change that? When you say that you love me, that you've adopted me, that I'm your child, you mean it.