THEY THAT WAIT UPON THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-11-76 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing with us the service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled They That Wait Upon the Lord.
In our preaching through the Book of Isaiah, we have come to the last verses of the fortieth chapter. And the message is an exposition of verses 28-31:
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.
In all God’s Word are there more comforting sentences for our weary souls than the passage that closes the glorious fortieth chapter of Isaiah? [Isaiah 40:28-31].
For all of us, who go through this weary world in our pilgrimage to the celestial city, meet every kind of difficulty. There are Sloughs of Despond we go through. There are hills of difficulty that we climb. There are giants of doubt and discouragement that we face. Truly the delineation of the pilgrimage of Christian in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is the story of every one of our lives.
And how hopeless is the man without God, for difficulties and trials drive happiness out of our lives like a hawk will drive a meadowlark or a mockingbird from 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 everlasting God everywhere. And there’s no middle ground; this earth in which we live is without purpose and is nothing but a vast graveyard, or else it is our Father’s house and He keeps watch over His own.
Thus it is that the prophet Isaiah writes of those who look up to heaven and who wait upon the Lord; “They 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].
I have thought and thought and thought of the way that passage is turned. Would not you think that he would say “Those that wait upon the Lord, they shall walk and not be weary; they shall run and not be tired; they shall mount up with wings as eagles.” Wouldn’t you think it would follow a progression like that: from walking to running to soaring into the skies? But he turns it around: “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 study and meditate over the passage, it seems to me that the prophet is describing our lives: in youth, dreaming dreams and seeing visions, in the strident strength of youth, we mount up with wings like eagles; then in manhood, mature and majestic, we run and are not weary; then in old age, we walk and don’t faint—a description of God’s sustaining grace for us. Any burden we bear, any cross we share, He always carries the heavier end. And any troubles and trials we know in life, they but chain us to our Lord with golden links. They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; waiting upon the Lord [Isaiah 40:31].
Do you remember the beautiful twenty-seventh Psalm? “The Lord is my light and my salvation . . . The Lord is the strength of my life . . . Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, upon the Lord” [Psalm 27:1, 14]. What does God do for those who look up to Him and who wait upon His grace, His presence, His mercy, and His strength?
Ah, the prophet Isaiah writes of some of these marvelous things that God does for us who look in trust and in prayer and for help in Him. Isaiah writes that God is our comfort, and our care, and our protection. He says in the third through the fifth verses [Isaiah 40:3-5] that the Lord makes a highway for us who are in this pilgrimage to glory.
In the thirty-fifth chapter of the Book of Isaiah he had written of the great highway on which the redeemed walk, pilgrimage, to the city of God [Isaiah 35:8-10]. The Lord makes a highway for us, and He cares for us as we journey to the heavenly home. “Behold,” he writes in verse 10, “The Lord God will come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him” [Isaiah 40:10]. He guides us with His eye; He protects us with His arm, and He is by and for us a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day [Exodus 13:21], as God protects and guides those who wait upon Him [Isaiah 40:31].
And “He feeds His flock,” in the eleventh verse, “like a shepherd: and He gathers the lambs with His arm, and carries them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” [Isaiah 40:11]. They that wait upon the Lord; He gathers them round Him like a flock. Jesus is our Shepherd, and a shepherd always has a flock, and we are the sheep of the pasture of our Lord [Psalm 95:7].
And the Lord cares for us and protects us, and He gently leads those that are with young [Isaiah 40:11]. He doesn’t overdrive His flock. He cares for the little ones. Isn’t it a remarkable thing how the great Shepherd looks upon His children, the sheep of His pasture, His flock? [Psalm 95:7]. For the mighty of the earth, they care for the great and the strong, but our Shepherd takes care of the weak, and the struggling, and the sickly, and the lowly. And He doesn’t overdrive. He doesn’t press beyond what we are able to bear [Isaiah 40:11].
We may think we are a nothing in God’s sight. We are worthless and weak. “What can I do? What do I amount to? Not as much as a fallen autumnal leaf.” No. He is our Shepherd, and He gathers the lambs in His bosom, and He gently leads those that are with young. And He feeds; He cares for His flock like a shepherd [Isaiah 40:11].
Look, there may be a mother here this morning with five children. And four of them are strong and well, and one of them is at home, weakly and sick. I’ll tell you the one she’s thinking about. The one on her heart, it is the one at home who is weakly and sick. The Lord is like that with us.
It is astonishing what this prophet writes. He says, “Lift up your eyes on high, and behold the great God who created this universe, that bringeth out their host by number: He calleth them all by names by the greatness of His might” [Isaiah 40:26]. This is the same mighty God whom the prophet describe as “feeding His flock like a shepherd, gathering the lambs with His arm, carrying them in His bosom, and gently leading those that are with young” [Isaiah 40:11].
The great God who made the stars and the universe [Genesis 1:14-19] is the same Lord God who cares for the weak and the sickly and the lowly. It is unbelievable! Do you remember the one hundred forty-seventh Psalm, the fourth verse? “He telleth the stars by number; and calleth them all by their names” [Psalm 147:4]. Then that verse preceding, “He bindeth up the brokenhearted, and healeth those with wounds” [Psalm 147:3].
Why, I can’t imagine such a thing! The great God who created the stars and calls each one by its name is the same Lord God who “bindeth up the brokenhearted, and who heals all of our wounds” [Psalm 147:3].
On a beautiful night out under the chalice of the blue sky, the naked eye can see about three thousand stars. In 1600 Galileo invented a telescope, and sweeping the heavens with his telescope, he could see thirty thousand stars. Then in the years that followed after, they improved his telescope, and they could see six hundred forty thousand stars. Then in 1800 Sir William Herschel invented a telescope that made Galileo’s look like a toy. And he swept the heavens with his telescope, and they numbered twenty-six millions of stars. Then Sir Robert Ball improved that telescope and swept the heavens and surmised there were fifty million stars. Then finally we place toward the sky that great, mighty telescope in Mt. Palomar, California, and these astronomers say that there are billions and billions and billions of stars!
There are Milky Ways and sidereal spheres and galaxies by the thousands and the thousands that have in them millions and millions of stars. And when I read in the Book that “He telleth the numbers of the stars; and He calleth them all by their names” [Isaiah 40:26]; every one of those billions did He create, and the name of each one is called by Him when they come out to shine in the darkness of the sky.
And that’s the same Lord God who “bindeth up the brokenhearted and who healeth all our wounds” [Psalm 147:3]. What God does for those who wait upon Him; “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].
Another thing: this also is an acceptable service and an acceptable sacrifice before God for those who just wait before the Lord. This is a great principle of spiritual revelation in the Holy Scriptures. David went to war and there were four hundred men who fought by his side and there were two hundred who stayed by the stuff. They were too weary to fight, and after the victory and they came back laden with spoils, the men who fought said, “These two hundred shall not share with us, who have been in the fray of the fight!” [1 Samuel 30:9-10]. David said, “Not so. These who have stayed by the stuff will share no less with us who have been in the forefront of the fight” [1 Samuel 30:22-24]. The Lord accepts the sacrifice of those who can do no other thing but to wait upon Him.
I haven’t time, but I planned to read the sonnet of John Milton on his blindness, and the last verse in the beautiful sonnet is: “They also serve who only stand and wait.” Some of our people—and Dr. Freeman is beginning to take our pastoral staff and to minister to them—some of our people cannot even get out of bed. Some of our people cannot even get out of the house. Some of our people are invalid and cannot get out of a chair. But they also are acceptable in the sight of God in their waiting upon the Lord. They can pray, and they can sustain us in intercessory remembrance before God’s heavenly throne. To wait, also is an acceptable service.
And again, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” [Isaiah 40:31]. They receive God’s best and finest gifts [James 1:17]. “They who wait upon the Lord.” Somehow in God’s economy, He takes away earthly things that we might have heavenly things. He takes away our strength that He might bestow upon us the strength of His right arm. His best gifts are for those who wait upon the Lord [Matthew 7:11].
He took away the sight of John Milton. He gave his life and his very eyes in the cause of righteousness and liberty under the great commonwealth of Cromwell and went blind writing in behalf of that great Puritan movement. And God took away his eyes where he couldn’t see this earth and this sky in order that he might see the celestial glories of heaven.
God imprisoned John Bunyan, couldn’t get out of his cell, placed him in a jail in Bedford that he might journey on the celestial pilgrimage to the heavenly home. God broke the heart of Alfred, Lord Tennyson that he might write for us “In Memoriam”: “Thou strong Son of God, immortal Love.” How the Lord does His best gifts bestowed upon those who just wait upon Him.
The chosen nation and the chosen people of God were placed in a foreign country in huts for slaves, in order that they might love their Promised Land. The Lord took away the old Jerusalem that we might lift up our eyes to the New Jerusalem [Revelation2 1:2]. God takes this old house, this body, and turns it back to the dust [Genesis 3:19], in order that we might have a new body, “one made without hands, eternal in the heavens” [2 Corinthians 5:1]. God gives His best gifts to those who wait upon him [Matthew 7:11]. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” [Isaiah 40:31]. God gives power to those who wait upon Him.
I’m an activist and I don’t deny it. I like to do things. I like for things to move. I like for the church to grow. I like to implement the great mandates of heaven. I like to see our church busy about the things of God. And oft times though do I remind myself, “Remember you must also wait upon Him. Wait,” I say, “upon the Lord, instead of dashing into it without prayer, without intercession, and without looking to heaven. Wait. Wait.”
The Lord said to His disciples, His apostles, before returning to heaven, “Tarry in Jerusalem. Wait. Tarry until you be endued with power from on high” [Luke 24:49]. And they waited; spending their days in prayer [Luke 24:53]. Then came Pentecost, then came the power of God for the changing of the world and for the saving of the souls of men [Acts 2:1-47, 17:6]. “Wait, I say, upon the Lord” [Psalm 27:14].
Do we have some mighty assignment? That means we must pray more than we ever have before. If we have a little thing, maybe a little praying. But if it’s a great thing, it means longer tarrying in the presence of the great King. “Wait, I say, upon the Lord” [Psalm 27:14].
One other thing: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” [Isaiah 40:31]. God gives to those who wait upon the Lord, inevitable victory.
Do you remember that beautiful passage in 1 Corinthians 2:9? Do you remember it? “Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man, the good things God hath prepared for them that love Him.” Do you remember that? In the sixty-fourth chapter of Isaiah that passage is written like this, “Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard what wonderful things God hath prepared for them that wait upon Him” [Isaiah 64:4].
Habakkuk 2:3, “Wait,” he says, “upon the vision, for it will tarry, but it will come; wait upon the vision.” They who wait upon the Lord never fail. They cannot fail. God gives them an ultimate and a final triumph; He never fails.
Young Petty, I stood at Oxford before one of those colleges, at a martyr’s monument—have you seen it?—to Latimer and to Ridley who were burned at the stake. Bishop Hugh Latimer and Master Nicholas Ridley, great preachers, marvelous expounders of the Word, and because of their proclamation of the message of Christ, in 1555 they were burned there at the entrance to Oxford University; they were burned at the stake. When the flames began to rise, Ridley began to cringe and Latimer turned toward him on the other side of the stake and said, “Be of good cheer Master Ridley. By God’s grace we shall light this day a fire in England that shall never go out!”
You know what I did this week? This week in my studying for this message I read the bill of expense that was sent to the crown for the burning of Latimer and Ridley. I read it to you:
One load of fire fagots. Three shillings, four pence.
A 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, nine pence.
Add it up. It comes to twenty-five shillings and eight pence. What a cheap fire. What a cheap fire! Took about four or five dollars, but they light a fire that day in England that burns forever! That’s God! That’s God. That’s the Lord.
“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]. They can’t fail.
Let me close. Is not that our Lord Jesus; as they watched Him die, as they crucified Him, they who mocked walking up and down in front of the cross, said, “He trusted in God; let God have Him if He will take Him. He trusted in God” [Matthew 27:43]. He did. He trusted in God. He waited upon the heavenly Father, and when He died He bowed His head on the cross, saying, “Lord God, Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” [Luke 23:46]. And He died, and He died and they buried Him [Luke 23:50-56]. And He was dead; He was dead; He was dead; He was dead!
But it may be that the sun will go out, and it may be that the light will turn into darkness. It may be that the tides of the ocean cease to ebb and flow. It may be that the stars will grow dim and cease to shine. It may be that all nature will be wrecked upon some awesome and ultimate catastrophe. But that Jesus could stay dead is unthinkable and impossible, because He trusted in God! [Matthew 27:43; Luke 24:5-7]. “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].
God shall raise us from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. God shall give us an inheritance in His heavenly kingdom [1 Corinthians 15:50-58; 1 Peter 1:4-5]. And the Lord shall give us strength and grace for the pilgrimage along the way. “Wait, I say, upon the Lord” [Psalm 27:14]. Could anything be more comforting and encouraging than that? Ah the presence of God with us. No wonder they called His name “Immanuel, God with us” [Matthew 1:23].
We must sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a child you, a little lamb you, a family, while we sing the appeal, to give your heart to Jesus [Romans 10:9-10], to put your life in the church, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Make the decision now in your heart. In the throng in this balcony round, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “Here I am, pastor, I make it today, I’m coming now.” And the Lord speed you as you come, as we stand and as we sing.