Dear radio friends,
“The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.”
Those are the words of Isaiah found in chapter 40:6-8, words which contain two realities: on the one hand the reality of the frailty of life; on the other hand the reality of the steadfastness of the Word of God. These contrasting realities are really complementary. If one faces the reality of his or her own frailty, then one will also run to the Word and depend upon the abiding Word of God. If you imagine that you are strong, you lean on your own understanding and you despise and neglect the Word of God.
Notice with me that this text is found in that most beautiful Old Testament passage of Isaiah 40, which begins with “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.” Although the first part of the book of Isaiah prophesies the captivity of God’s people, now, in the second part, the good news has come. The call is repeated for emphasis: “Comfort ye, comfort ye again; speak comfortably to Jerusalem.” And the rest of the verses 2-5 in the immediate context include the blessed pronouncement of the forgiveness of sins in repentance and the glory that will be revealed to all flesh because “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: … the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
But then we find in our text immediately following, in verse 6, “The voice said, Cry.” At first it might seem rather strange. Confront with great urgency. Have not comfort and deliverance been announced? Has it not been promised that the forerunner of the Lord will prepare the way of the Lord and God’s glory will be revealed? Why now this word: Cry? And why this cry: “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field”?
The reason is this. Jehovah is going to deliver His people, no doubt about that. But He will do so not by the aid of human strength. Zion must learn to behold her God, Jehovah, the I AM THAT I AM, the almighty Creator and Redeemer, and never again turn to the idols of men’s hands. God’s people will be delivered, for the passage concludes that “even the youth shall faint and be weary, … but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
It is when we realize how frail we are that we will truly learn to depend on God and on His abiding Word.
We consider our text as part of the series we began a few weeks ago on Preparing to Die Willingly. We want to face the reality of God’s Word that our life is frail (we wither and die) and that it is only through this way that we will then depend upon the abiding Word of God and be able to say with this text: “But the Word of our God shall stand for ever.” I submit to you that we will not even see our frailty and acknowledge the abiding nature of God’s Word unless God Himself reveals this to us as He does through Isaiah and through every faithful preacher of the gospel.
The voice said, Cry. And we ask, What shall we cry? And this is what God almighty wants every faithful preacher to cry out: “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field.” The holy Bible, the Word of God, everywhere emphasizes the frailty of men, illustrating it for us by the withering grass and the fading flower.
It is true that the wicked especially are described as grass in the Scriptures. Psalm 37:1, 2, “Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.” Or Psalm 92:7, “When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish” they shall all, everyone of them, burn up and be destroyed. In those passages and many others like them we, the people of God, are exhorted not to fret and become anxious when we see the wicked prosper. Rather, we must place our trust in the living God.
So all flesh, not only the wicked, is as grass. The Word of God clearly teaches here that all flesh is as grass. Moses says in Psalm 90:5-7 that in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. Thus does he describe men’s life here on earth. Also, Psalm 103:15, “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.” We can go on and on. You will notice that this is the viewpoint of our text also: All flesh is as grass – the wicked, the righteous, the rich, the poor, in fact all men, all beasts – grass is mentioned four times in these three verses, surely to emphasize the frailty of men. In James 4:14, James says that life is even as a vapor, that appeareth for a while, a little time, and then vanisheth away.
The Word of God in Isaiah emphasizes the frail nature of life, and it repeats this reality again in verse 8: “The grass withereth” under the sun or by a blowing of the wind. It loses its life, it dries up. That is what man is. He is frail, he is weak. When we are young we think we are strong. But we must know we can be taken away at any time, just as the rising sun will scorch the field and the grass will die. When we are old, perhaps that reality seeps in even more. The psalmist in Psalm 102 groans in that knowledge: “My heart is smitten, and withered like grass,” he says. “I forget to eat my bread.” And again in verse 11 of Psalm 104, “My days are like a shadow that declineth; I am withered like grass.”
Do you feel that way? Is the frailty of life becoming more and more a reality to you? Do you pretend to be outwardly strong but know that indeed you are becoming more and more frail? The Word of God mentions this again and again, so that God’s people will not forget it. In fact, in the New Testament, Peter quotes our text in I Peter 1:24, reminding the New Testament saints of this same truth and reality.
But the text also points to the reality of our being very frail by comparing life to a flower. And this is repeated a couple of times: “all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field” (v. 6), but again in verses 7 and 8. The Word of God is not unnecessarily pessimistic. I believe this expression shows that. Life, though frail as grass, is often like a flower – beautiful in blossom, as life indeed is. We must not, as we speak about death, even the frailty of death, begin to look at life in such a way that we go around with a depressed look, even desiring to die as if there is nothing in this present life that we might enjoy, so that we look at life negatively. Oh, no! The child of God can and must know that he is fearfully and wonderfully made and that life here is beautiful.
I had a professor in seminary who used to describe the Christian’s death as the glory of autumn. Leaves are fading and dying. But really they look so beautiful. So also is the Christian’s death. He is dying, but he enters into glory. What a beautiful way to look at life and death, so that as we become weaker and weaker, and as the day comes when we must enter the grave, instead of looking at it gloomily, we look at it with joy and thanksgiving.
Then, when we are in the strength of youth, we do not pretend that we want to be martyrs for the faith or, worse yet, have suicidal thoughts. But we live our life with joy and thanksgiving, the emblem of that eternal life to come in the new heavens and the new earth, which now already the child of God has in principle.
So we live. And the life of the Christian is indeed as the flower of the field. After the fall and the winter we have spring, and everything is beautiful. We speak of a “budding” young man and a “budding” young woman. In fact, our Lord Jesus Christ used that illustration in the great Sermon on the Mount, teaching us to trust God – Matthew 6:29, Solomon in all his glory could not be arrayed as one of these flowers, these beautiful lilies in the valley. Even though we may speak of the flower of life, you understand that the youth shall faint and be weary and even that goodliness of life, with all of the blessings of this life, must all pass away.
I recall preaching this to a group of some twelve teenagers in Singapore several years ago. It was a baptismal service. And because my mother died that same week, the reality of death was sinking in. I chose this text for baptism to remind these young converts of the reality of man’s frailty. How transient is this life, how temporary – especially since it contrasts the frailty of life to the abiding nature of God’s Word, which these young converts had come to know and love, even the precious truth of the holy gospel which was preached to us on the mission field by the Protestant Reformed Churches.
In fact, we want to see this day that the frailty of life, and then the abiding power of God’s Word, can never be known by us, will never be acknowledged by us, except it is revealed to us by God Himself. That is the Word of God here in Isaiah 40:6-8. “The voice said, Cry.” Whose voice was that? Why cry? It is the voice of God, the voice of God alone, that can awaken this reality in man. Cry! It is a word used to indicate prophecy. It is a word of the Lord which must awaken us. Often the prophets, before pronouncing some important message, would say, “Behold,” or “Awaken.” Same idea here. Cry, shout aloud, so the people will awake out of their slumber and take this to heart – so that they will not imagine that victory is by their own strength, so that they will not forget that they are just like the grass of the field or, at most, a flower of the field.
We, like Isaiah, must respond then, “What shall we cry?” If the Lord wants us to pay attention to this apparently simple truth, we had better listen. If the Lord reveals this to us in His Word, and so very often it must be, we need to hear it. For is it not true that man, by nature, is proud? When we have the good news of deliverance and victory, we forget our frailty. When we are strong and healthy again, we imagine that we will live for ever. And we take our life and our health for granted until God brings us low again. And then we realize, with crying, that we are so weak.
Well, when we do not have this knowledge by nature, nor remember it as we are by nature, God, by His prophet, comes to us with the cry, with a loud shout of the revelation of God’s Word. Like the rich fool in the parable that we saw last week, we dream, “Soul, take thine ease.” We live in the twenty-first century. We can face diseases. Why, we will find cures for cancer and for AIDS. We will use medicine and natural herbs and all kinds of things to increase the quality and length of life.
But notice that there is more that is revealed here. Cry, not only that life is frail, but cry this truth of God’s Word: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. Tell the people the reason why they are frail and why they must die and why the wind blows and they are cast down and cast away. God made all things. He carpets the earth with grass, graces the field with flowers. Oh, even the most unbelieving man must acknowledge somehow this reality. Of course, the fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” But he knows better. Man tries to drown the memory of God out of his mind, thinking life consists in the abundance of things. And man wants to deny the reality that he must face his Creator, so he says, “Ah, everything just happened by a big bang.” So, living in the lie of evolution, he refuses to face the reality of God, God who created, God who gave life, and God whom we must meet one day.
So Isaiah, so Peter, so every faithful preacher must do likewise. Cry to the people, tell them, the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon man and surely the people are as grass. They think they are mighty, but tell them that God almighty, by His Spirit, blows and they are but nothing. Nothing but dust, and to dust they return.
In God’s hands are all things. Even the streams of water are in His hands, so also the king’s heart. In Him we live and move and have our being, as Paul preached on Mars’ Hill. We must know, as Job of old confessed, “It is the Lord who gives, it is the Lord who takes away,” and be able to say, “Blessed be His name.”
So, O man, hear the revelation of God so clearly given in His Word. As for man, his days are as grass. As the flower of the field, so he might prosper for a while but then he shall vanish away.
But also this truth: the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting. The very purpose of this revelation of our frailty is that we might hear this cry, we might hear this truth, Israel might understand that her salvation is not in herself, not dependent upon the strength of the nation, but in her God. That is really the directive of our text, pointing us to the urgency to rely on the Word of God.
“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the Word of our God shall stand for ever.” That, so to speak, is the anchor of our text. “But the Word of our God….” Contrary to the frailty of life, contrary to man’s weakness, God and His Word abide for ever. True, life of man is short and frail. But God’s Word is not frail. God’s Word is not short. God’s Word is not passing. God’s Word stands forever. It is the Word of God, God who is immutable, God who is unchangeable, God who is the great I AM THAT I AM. True, we are sinners. But sin leads to grace, and frailty to the almighty God.
Yes, the forerunner must point the people to God. Already here, the day when the forerunner comes, he will point them to the Lamb of God who will finally come. And that Lamb of God, of course, is none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of God in the flesh, the Word which was from the beginning, the Word who is Himself God and then came in the fullness of time to dwell among us. That same Word came as the life and light of man. He suffered, He died, He arose, He ascended. Then He will come again to deliver His people from death unto life everlasting.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of our Lord shall abide for ever. You, O man, must pass away. You are made of dust. You are weak. You are creaturely. If all you have is your inheritance in Adam, then, of course, your frailty can only point you to death. Then, like the beast, you must pine away and die. Worse yet, after death there is the judgment of God. Then you surely are not prepared to die. But the reality of your frailty must not make you proud and cause you to be offended. Rather, by the grace and Holy Spirit of God, this reality ought to humble you. If you, by the preaching of God’s Word, hear Christ Himself call by His servant to tell you, “Come, you who are weak, you who are heavy laden, you who are frail, you who cannot expect to live for ever; come to Me. For in Me you will find rest, you will find life.” Peter says in I Peter 1, that this is the incorruptible seed which, by the Word of the gospel, has been preached unto you. That is why Peter quotes from Isaiah 40, to point out the reality that it is in the preaching of the holy gospel that this abiding Word of God is proclaimed. And then it rests, it is deposited, it is placed mysteriously in the hearts of His people.
Oh yes, we are admonished: Trust in the Word of the Lord which stands forever. Man may despise it, deny it, neglect it, pretending to depend on the arm of flesh for deliverance. But, listen. This Word of our God shall stand for ever. It will never change. Not one jot or one tittle of the law shall pass away, Jesus said, till heaven and earth pass away. That is how abiding the Word of the Lord is. This is the Word of the Lord which, according to Hebrews 4:12, 13, is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword. And God’s people who hear that Word and know that Word embrace it by faith, rejoicing and acknowledging that it is the Word of God that shall endure for ever. And therefore, they too will endure forever in Jesus Christ! Though they are frail, though they are weak, they will live, and, yea, already now live, because they have heard the Word of God when they heard the Son of God.
Have you heard this Word of the Lord which endures for ever through the preaching of the gospel? It is not enough, you know, to say, “I know the Word of God is true, accurate, infallible.” It is not enough to say, “I know how many wonderful truths I can learn and follow in life.” But then, secretly in your heart, you say, “Well, it contains God’s Word and I can pick and choose and, you know, after all, not all these things will always abide. They are culturally bound. And not all of it is indeed relevant. And part of it is man’s word and part of it is God’s Word.” So you go your merry own way trusting in yourself, imagining that you can put your confidence in man and in the philosophy of the world.
Oh, no. The point of the Word of God here is, “Cry to the people. They are as grass. Believe in the Lord and trust in Him with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” It is only by the grace of God that we are able to say with the Word of God in our text: “The Word of our God shall endure forever.” For it is our God. Can you say that? My God, your God, the God who has revealed Himself to us in His Son – His Word we know, by faith, cannot pass away because that Word has come to reside in our hearts. Christ, in us, the hope of glory.
Everywhere the Scriptures emphasize this calling that we trust in God and in His Word. Listen to Isaiah 51:12, “I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass.” Really it boils down to this: Whom do you fear? Men, the devil, the world, circumstances, wars, death? Luke 12:5, “Fear not him who kills the body, but fear him who, after death, casts into hell.” Fear God! No, our fear of God is not one of terror. It is rather a fear of reverence and love. It is a fear which we have because we honor Him and love Him, because we know now that our death is as the beautiful colors of the fall. We die, but in glory, a passage way to life eternal.
Listen to the wise man (Eccl. 12:1), Remember now thy creator in the days of thy youth; while evil days have not come, while you can still hear and see and enjoy the pleasures of life. Remember the whole duty of man is to fear God. Then you will truly be able to enjoy life, in spite of all its frailty. And then you can honestly say, “I have known that God sits on His throne. I have beheld Him with all of Zion. And I rejoice that I can face the reality of death, even the frailty of life, because death itself points me in the direction of God almighty and His wonderful Word.” Amen.
Let us pray.
Cause Thy abiding and precious Word, O God, to be written upon the tables of our hearts by Thy blessed, Holy Spirit, so that we may hear and rejoice and humbly walk in Thy blessed ways. In Jesus’ name, Amen.