THEY THAT WAIT UPON THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-11-76 10:50 a.m.
The title of the sermon today is waiting upon the Lord, They That Wait Upon the Lord. And the reading of the passage is in the last verses of the fortieth chapter of the Book of Isaiah:
Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of His understanding.
He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:
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.
All of us in this pilgrimage to the celestial city, all of us know trouble and sorrow and trial. There is no pilgrim on the road but that finds it rough and difficult. As with Bunyan’s Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress, we find ourselves in Slough of Despond, climbing up Hills of Difficulty and facing Giants of Doubt and discouragement. And to so many, we fall into faintheartedness and failure.
To the man who does not have God as his strength and as his Savior, life is a hopeless affair. The godless man is always the hopeless man, for trial and trouble drive away happiness and joy out of a man’s life like a hawk will drive a meadowlark or a mockingbird out of its nest. The godless man is always the hopeless man. This world is either a place where there is no God anywhere, or it is a place where there is the one true God everywhere. And there is no middle ground between. It is one or the other.
This world is either without cause, without meaning, without purpose, without destiny, it is nothing but a vast graveyard, or else, it is our Father’s house, and He keeps watch above His own. So the prophet writes by divine inspiration, “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; they shall walk, and not faint” [Isaiah 40:31].
As I meditated upon that beautiful and marvelous text, I wondered why it was it is turned around as it is? Would you not think that the prophet would have spoken of those who walk, then of those who run, and finally of those who soar into the blue of the sky like an eagle? But he turns it around, “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; they shall walk, and not faint.”
And as I thought upon it, it came to my heart that possibly the prophet was speaking to us like this: first, to the youth in his strident strength with vision and purpose and destiny in his soul. He soars and mounts up like an eagle, like an eagle into the blue of the sky. Then he speaks of the man in his sober maturity and judgment as he runs without weariness, and finally, in old age, as we walk and do not faint—the care of the Lord for His people all through the days of their lives, in youth, in manhood and womanhood, and finally to old age and to death. There is no time when the Lord withdraws from us strength for our failing and fainting lives. If there is a cross to bear, He always carries the heavier end. And if there are troubles that assail us, they are but golden chains that bind us to the heart of our sympathetic and understanding Lord.
“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” [Isaiah 40:31]. Do you remember the incomparable Psalm, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” [Psalm 27:1, 14].
“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” [Isaiah 40:31]. What comes to those who wait upon the Lord? First: there is guidance and strength for the pilgrimage of the way. In this glorious chapter of the fortieth of Isaiah, in the first verses he speaks of a highway for God’s redeemed [Isaiah 40:3] on which we sing the songs of Zion, and sorrow and sighing flee away [Isaiah 35:8, 10]. The Lord is to us a pillar of a cloud by day and a pillar of a fire by night [Exodus 13:21], as He guides us through the weary years of this world.
Then in the tenth [verse] he speaks of the Lord God as coming with us and to us with a strong hand and with a mighty arm [Isaiah 40:10]: the Lord’s keeping us and protecting us. Then the next verse, in 11, “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” [Isaiah 40:11]. God looks upon us as a flock and He never over drives His sheep. Our Lord is the great and the good shepherd [John 10:11,14]. And the flock gathers, cuddles, huddles around Him. And especially in a storm will you find the sheep gathering together. So the flock of our Lord—and that is we—gather close around our Shepherd, and He strengthen us, and He comforts us, and He feeds us. “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; and He shall gather the lambs with His arms, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” [Isaiah 40:11].
How many times do we persuade ourselves our lives are worthless? We are naught in the sight of God. We don’t amount to any more in the presence of the Lord and in this world than a falling autumnal leaf; out of the thousands of others falling around, what significance is that one? We sometimes look upon ourselves like that: weak, and poor, and unable, amounting to nothing, and largely forgotten, and soon completely lost in the memory of the world.
Does God look upon us like that? Does He? He says that He takes care of His little ones. He picks them up in His arm and He carries them in His bosom, the poor, the weakly, the young, the helpless, and the sick [Isaiah 40:11]. The governments of the world pay deference to the mighty magnates and the great and strong men. But in the kingdom of God, and in the patience and love of our good Shepherd, He especially holds dear to His heart the poor, and the weak, and the sorrowing, and the sick, and the hurt.
Tell me, is there a mother here this morning who has five children? And four of them are well and strong, and one of them is at home sick and weak? Tell me, of the five children, which one of the children is she thinking about? I’ll tell you, and you know it. She’s thinking about that one child that is home, weak and sick. God’s heart is like a mother heart, like a shepherd heart, and He cares and lifts up to His bosom the young who are helpless and needy and sometimes forgotten [Isaiah 40:11].
Not only does the prophet avow that, but listen to the marvelous thing that he adds. He says to us in verse twenty-six of this fortieth chapter, “Lift up your eyes on high, and behold that great God who created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: He calleth them by names by the greatness of His might” [Isaiah 40:26]. Ah, the great mighty God who created the whole universe, the firmament and all that’s in it [Genesis 1:1-31]; that’s the same Lord God who picks up the lamb in His arms and carries them in His bosom [Isaiah 40:11], who pays deference to us who are poor and sick and lowly.
There’s not a more beautiful or poignant psalm in the Book than the one hundred forty-seventh. Do you remember the fourth verse? “He telleth the number of the stars; and He calleth them by their names” [Psalm 147:4]. And do you remember the verse precedes, “And He bindeth up the brokenhearted, and He heals all their wounds” [Psalm 147:3]. Ah, could such a thing be, that the great mighty God who created the stars and calls each one of them by name, that He is the same God who binds up the brokenhearted and who heals all their wounds?
Look at the marvel of that. On any clear night, with a naked eye, looking up in the chalice of the blue, blue sky, we can see something like three thousand stars. Then in 1600, Galileo discovered a telescope, invented a projection of our sight. And scanning the heavens with his new telescope, he discovered in the sweep something like thirty thousand stars. Then in the years that soon followed, improving Galileo’s telescope, they discovered six hundred forty thousand stars. Then in 1800 Sir William Herschel invented a telescope that made Galileo’s look like a play toy. And with the sweep of that giant telescope, he swept into view something like twenty-six millions of stars. Then improving that telescope, Sir Robert Ball soon after, looking at the heavens, discovered there were more than fifty millions of stars! And then in our lifetime, at Mt. Palomar in California they placed together a giant telescope and discovered that in the sweep of the glory of the firmament there are uncounted billions and billions and billions of stars!
There are millions of galaxies like our Milky Way to which our sun belongs. And there are sidereal spheres and great, created handiworks of God beyond counting and beyond imagination! Look at the wonder of that. “And He calleth them all by their names” [Psalm 147:4]. Think of it, billions and billions and billions that His hand created, and He calls them all by their names. And the [prior] verse, “And He binds up the brokenhearted, and heals all their wounds” [Psalm 147:3]. Ah, “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; they shall walk, and not faint” [Isaiah 40:31].
Again, not only does God strengthen, and comfort, and shepherd, and feed, and heal the pilgrims, but also He says that waiting is an acceptable sacrifice in His name. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” [Isaiah 40:31]. They who wait, who pray, who look up into the face of God, they also serve; they present an acceptable sacrifice, they who just wait. Ah, could it be that a man can serve God in an acceptable way just by waiting in His presence, just by calling upon His name?
I am such an activist. I believe in doing things and getting along with it. God has given us a great and heavenly mandate, and we must be at it! But also, there is a ministry that is acceptable to God in prayer, and in quietness, and in confidence.
Did you know one of the most unusual passages in this Bible is in this Book of Isaiah in the thirtieth chapter. In a time of great despair, the nation was turning down to Egypt for help, and in the first two verses, Isaiah speaks of those who have gone down to Egypt to find strength in Pharaoh! [Isaiah 30:1-2]. Then in the fifteenth verse he says, “Thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength” [Isaiah 30:15]. Don’t depend on Egypt. Don’t look to Pharaoh for strength. Thus saith the Holy One of Israel, “Look to Me. In quietness and in confidence shall ye be saved. In returning and in rest shall ye find strength” [Isaiah 30:15]. They that wait upon the Lord offer an acceptable sacrifice to the blessed Jesus [Romans 6:13; 12:1].
My assistant, Dr. Wade Freeman, with us in the pastoral ministry of the church, we are preparing a wonderful program of intercession whereby these who are invalids can share with us in the work of the Lord. There are some of them that cannot get out of the room; there are some of them who cannot rise out of a chair; there are some of them who cannot be raised out of their beds; but they can pray. And they can wait before God, and that also is an acceptable ministry in His sight. “For they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” [Isaiah 40:31].
I’ll not take time to read it, though I have a beautiful poem here. Milton’s sonnet on his blindness, do you remember how it ends? This great Puritan poet who spoke literature as no man has ever written it outside the Word of God; John Milton went blind, lost his sight in the cause of liberty and righteousness, standing by Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan Commonwealth, and in his blindness, wrote Paradise Lost. “Paradise Regained,” the great symphony of words in English speech, do you remember how the sonnet ends? “They also serve, who only stand and wait” [“On His Blindness,” John Milton]. “Wait, wait, I say, on the Lord” [Psalm 27:14].
Not only is it an acceptable sacrifice [Romans 12:1], but God gives to us who wait on the Lord His finest and His best and His choicest gifts [Isaiah 40:31]. That’s such a strange thing. The finest gifts of heaven are bestowed upon those who wait upon the Lord. Somehow God may take away from us earthly things that He might bestow upon us heavenly things. Sometimes God will take away from us human strength that He might bestow upon us heaven’s strength.
The eyesight of Milton was taken away. He was blinded in order that he might see the celestial city of God. John Bunyan was imprisoned in order that he might make that journey, that pilgrimage, with Christian throughout the journey of life that leads to the home in heaven. Alfred, Lord Tennyson was broken in heart in order that he might write “In Memoriam”: “Thou Strong Son of God, immortal Love.”
The chosen nation and family of God was sold into slavery and lived in a foreign captivity in order that they might love the Promised Land [Psalm 137:1-6]. And to this day, wherever you find a Jew, you’ll find in him an imperishable love for his promised home. God sometimes takes away the Old Jerusalem that we might lift up our eyes to the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:2]. God lets this house turn back to the dust of the ground in order that He might build for us another house, one made without hands, eternal in the heavens [2 Corinthians 5:1]. God bestows His best gifts upon those who look up to Him [Isaiah 40:31]. And once again, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” [Isaiah 40:31]. God gives power to those who will wait upon Him.
He said to the twelve apostles, eleven apostles, He said to them, “Tarry in Jerusalem”—wait in Jerusalem—“until you be endued from power from on high” [Luke 24:49]. So they tarried and they waited, praying before God [Luke 24:53], then came the outpouring of the Holy Spirit without measure at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4]. How we need to learn that. The greater the assignment, the longer we need to wait upon the Lord. If it is a little thing, maybe we can dash into it, but if it is a great thing and a mighty thing, how we need to tarry in the presence of God.
He gives power to them, strength to them, who wait upon Him [Isaiah 40:31]. Lord, bless us, and be with us, and guide us in wisdom, and stand by us—power to the faint and to the weak and to the weary who wait upon Him. And God gives to those who wait upon Him the ultimate and final and assured victory [1 Corinthians 15:57]. They cannot, they will not fail.
Do you remember the beautiful verse in 1 Corinthians 2:9? Do you remember it? “Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither hath entered into the heart of a man, those good things God hath prepared for those who love Him.” Do you remember that? Do you know how Isaiah writes it in the sixty-fourth chapter of his book, from which Paul was inspired to take it in 1 Corinthians? Do you remember how Isaiah writes it in chapter 64? “Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and the heart has not imagined those great things that God hath prepared for those who wait upon Him” [Isaiah 64:4]. For those who trust in Him, there cannot be defeat or failure. God gives the victory. He never fails us, those who trust in Him. Sometimes that seems so impossible to believe. But the Lord has demonstrated it and exemplified it for our encouragement throughout the story of the human heart that has leaned upon Him and has looked up in trust to Him, waiting upon Him [Isaiah 40:31].
One time, going through England, we stopped at a monument in Oxford. As you enter the university there is what is called the Martyrs’ Monument. It is dedicated to Cranmer, who was burned at the stake there, and Bishop Latimer and Master Ridley, who were burned at the stake there. They were mighty men of God. They were preachers of the gospel of the grace of Jesus. And because of their loyalty to the Word of the Book, they were burned at the stake in October of 1555. And when the flames were rising, Master Ridley began to cringe and to cry before the leaping fire. And when he began to cry and to cringe, Bishop Latimer, tied to the stake on the other side, turned and said, “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, be of good cheer. By God’s grace we shall light a fire this day in England that shall never go out!”
And did you know in my reading this week, preparing this message, I stumbled across the bill of expense that was sent to the crown for the burning of Latimer and Ridley? Listen to it.
One load of fire fagots; three shillings, four pence.
Cartage for four loads of wood; two shillings.
Item, a post; one shilling, four pence.
Item, two chains; three shillings, four pence.
Item, two staples; six pence.
Item, four laborers; two shillings, eight pence.
Add it together, it’s twenty-five shillings and eight pence. What a cheap fire! It never cost five dollars; but they trusted in God, and that day they lighted a fire in England and in the world that burns to this hour, preaching the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. “They who trust in the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint” [Isaiah 40:31]. We cannot lose. We never fail, trusting in God. Ah, Lord, may I have time just to speak of Thy dear Son?
Dying on the cross; those who mocked and those who ridiculed and those who blasphemed walked up and down as He hung there dying and said, “He trusted in God; let us see if God will have Him!” [Matthew 27:43]. And when that Savior bowed His head on the cross, He trusted in God. And bowing His head he cried, saying, “My Father, into Thy hands I commend and commit My spirit” [Luke 23:46]. And He died. He was dead. They took a corpse down from the cross, and they buried it in a tomb [Luke 23:50-53]. He was dead. He was dead. He was dead!
But my brother, the sun may go out in the sky, and the light of the world may turn to darkness, and the tides of the sea may cease to ebb and flow, and the stars may grow old and dim, and the very nature itself make rack itself on the tides of time and history and fortune and the eon of the ages, but that Christ should remain dead, that Christ should remain in the tomb is impossible and unthinkable, for He trusted in God. “And 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; they shall walk, and not faint” [Isaiah 40:31]. Down to old age and to death will He carry us, maybe lifting us up in His arms, holding us near to His heart, that we might have strength to finish our pilgrimage in this life.
Oh, what a wonderful Lord! What a mighty God! What a glorious Savior! And He is ours. He made us for Himself. We don’t belong to the devil, and God is trying to steal us away. We belong to God, and sin and death have defaced us and hurt us and destroyed us. Come, let us return to the Lord. Let us find in Him help and healing and happiness and hope.
In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and when we stand to sing it, stand up walking down one of these stairways, walking down one of these aisles. “Today, pastor, I have decided for God [Ephesians 2:8]. I give you my hand. I give my heart to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is my family, pastor, we are all coming today.” Or just a couple you, or just one somebody you, and wherever this gospel has been heard on radio or on television, where you are, today would you make it the glad day of decision? “This hour, this very moment I give my heart and my life into the keeping of the mighty God, and here I am. Here I come.” Make it now. Do it now. On the first note of the first stanza, come, while we stand and while we sing.
WAIT UPON THE LORD
A. All know trouble and
sorrow in this pilgrimage
of the godless man
2. Hope for the
B. The unwearied God
comforts the wearied man (Psalm 27:1, 14)
II. Strength and protection for the way
A. God guides us on His
highway (Isaiah 40:4)
B. He does not over
drive His sheep (Isaiah 40:10-11)
calls the stars by name and has thought for His children (Isaiah 40:26, Psalm
III. Waiting is an acceptable sacrifice
A. In quietness and
trust (Isaiah 30:1-2)
B. David (1 Samuel
C. Peter and John (John
IV. Receive the best gifts
God removes earthly things that He might bestow the heavenly
V. Power for the work
A. The apostles tarried
in Jerusalem (Luke 24:, Acts 2:1-4)
B. God gives the
victory (1 Corinthians 2:9, Isaiah 64:4)