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To Whom Will You Compare Me?

“’To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One.” (Isaiah 40:25)

That is our question this week in our series of questions God has for us.  The common thread running through all these questions that God asks of us is not so that we come out of Sunday mornings with a big long moral to do list. Rather, the intended effect of wrestling with the questions God asks of us is a greatly expanded vision of who the Lord is.

  • He is awesome!
  • His wisdom is mind-blowing.
  • His compassion is unheard of.
  • His power is unlimited.
  • His reign has no borders.

And that’s what we all need more than just a spiritual to do list! God wants to reveal himself to you, that you may more and more believe that you can trust him. It is worth it to belong to Jesus!

This week’s question takes us one big rocket launch deeper into the wonder of who God is. It flows from God’s question through the prophet Isaiah,

“Who can you compare me to? Who else anywhere is like me?”

“Who is like me? Who holds a candle to me?, asks the Holy One.

Having heard what we have now heard and seen what we have now seen, especially in Jesus, we say…well, I don’t want to answer the question for you. You have to answer it for yourself. What I want to do for just the next few minutes is take us farther out, into one of God’s own inspired descriptions of who he is, of what he’s like, of how unlike all others the Lord is. You have it there on the back of your bulletin. Out of the 150 psalms or worship songs included in the Bible, just about half—73—are attributed to David, the shepherd boy who became Israel’s second king. In the middle of Psalm 103, we hear one of the most treasured portraits of who the Lord is. Who is this God we believe in? What is he like? How does he treat us? We read, Psalm 103:8-12,

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:8-12

If this was all you ever knew about God, this would be plenty. This could be the fuel in your tank; the spring in your step; the song on your lips—especially when things get tough. This is who God is. His character is described potently four ways here. I want you to walk out remembering and reveling in who the Lord is. Rephrasing them as Jim Nicodem does, this Psalm reveals that the Lord has a long fuse, a short memory, thick skin, and a big heart. Let’s dance through them one at a time.

  • The Lord has a long fuse; he is patient.

Here you see Wile E. Coyote and his perennial nemesis, the Road Runner. The plot line of every cartoon with these two was the same: Wile E. Coyote schemes to capture or kill the Road Runner by way of Acme Incorporated explosives. Yet without fail each time, they blow up on him!

Some of us are far too much like Wile E. Coyote: short fuse, little patience. Not God. If you have a hot temper, hear the good news: God is not like that! Verse 8 celebrates…

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.” (Psalm 103:8)

Another translation reads…

“The Lord is not quickly made angry, but ever ready to show mercy.” Wow!

The Lord…is…very…patient. Some of you were getting annoyed that that took too long. Thank God, he is patient!

So different from so much of typical human interaction. How much of human history could be different and better were we to fix our eyes on this God, that this is who patiently puts up with us.

How could the interaction in our homes be different and better if we fix our gaze on this being the character of God who puts up with us so patiently? Don’t elbow anyone sitting next to you. Take it to heart for yourself and praise God that he has a long fuse. He is patient with us.

I was staffing our prayer outreach this week when a young girl sat down nearby sobbing and holding her foot. Turns out the Mom had accidentally stepped on the daughter’s foot. We got an ice pack, and then from time to time I stepped aside to check on them. In the course of conversation, this little one was so angry at the Mom that she got a really bad attitude. Would…not…let it go.

Reminded me of the young Dad pushing a shopping cart with his little son strapped in the seat. The boy was fussing, irritable, crying. Other shoppers gave them a wide berth because the child would yank items off the shelf and throw others out of the cart. As they made their way through the aisles, the father kept murmuring gently, “Easy now, David. Keep calm, David. Steady, boy. It’s all right, David.”

A mom passing by with her little ones noticed and was impressed with his attitude. As they passed she volunteered, “You certainly know how to talk to an upset child—quietly and gently.” Then bending down to his still-angry son, she asked, “What seems to be the trouble, David?” To which the Dad spoke up, “I’m David!”

Back to the girl with the stepped-on foot and bad attitude this week. What finally got her to lighten up was when I suggested that from now on whenever she goes out with her Mom, she should wear balloons on her feet. That broke the ice and got her giggling!

It’s so easy to be so impatient! We get impatient when we don’t get our way, our preference, or our choice. We get impatient when the person ahead of us is too patient! Good news, not God: he is slow to anger.

That phrase is actually borrowed from the book of Exodus, long before David’s day. Here’s why: while Moses goes up Mt. Sinai to meet with God, the people of Israel degrade into a drunken mob, replete with sexual immorality and pagan worship, right after the Lord has miraculously freed them from lifelong slavery in Egypt!

God has had enough. Decides to wipe them out and start anew with Moses. Moses pleads with God for mercy instead, and God relents. When Moses returns a second time to the summit after confronting his people, this is where the Lord first reveals this about himself—that he is, in the words of Exodus 34:6…

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger…”

It’s such a relief to hear this, that it is quoted several more times throughout Israel’s history, nine times in the OT Scriptures.

Don’t misunderstand. God gets angry. His wrath against sin is unrelenting. All sin will be met with his justice. Peter addresses this in his second letter, that God’s patience should not be abused. Peter cautions…

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” 2 Peter 3:8-10

The Lord is not slow. He is still holy. Yet praise God, he is patient, giving us all time to change. He has a long fuse.

Not only does he have a long fuse…

  • The Lord has a short memory: he “forgets” our sins.

Verse 4 sings…

“He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever…”

Thank God, he chooses to have a short memory. Psalm 130:3 says it another way…

“If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.”

If God stood sternly in heaven watching with an ipad to record every infraction, there’s not one of us who would be able to stand before him in the end. He sees it all. And he chooses to forgive as we call on him in truth, owning up to our need.

There’s the story of the woman complaining to a coworker that whenever she gets into an argument with her husband, he gets historical. Her coworker corrects her, “You mean hysterical.” She says, “No, I mean what I said. He dredges up the past, reminding me of every time I’ve failed in the past.” Historical.

Thank God, he is not like that. He doesn’t endlessly nag about what’s past. With him there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve him.

Speaking for myself, I have no idea how many times I’ve come to God asking forgiveness, often for my mouth getting me in trouble. I’ll pray, “Lord, I’m sorry. Cleanse me. Fill me anew with your Holy Spirit. Set a guard over my mouth, that I’ll speak only what is helpful for others, to build them up according to their needs, so that it will benefit them.”

Thank God, he doesn’t say, “You again? You have got to be kidding me!” We might say that to someone who offends us again and again, but not God.

What sin are you holding yourself guilty for? You’ve confessed it to God. You own up that it was wrong. But you still feel weighed down, ashamed. However serious it is, however grieved you are over it, take God at his word here:

“He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever…”

With him there is forgiveness, so that you can, with reverence, serve him. Rest in the Lord’s “short memory.”

Praise God, he has a long fuse. A short memory. And third…

  • The Lord has thick skin: he holds back where he could strike back.

Psalm 103:10…

“He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.”

If God punished us every time we deserved it, life would be miserable. If every word misspoken, every bad attitude, every lie and lust, gossip and greed were immediately met with justice, we would be toast in a flash.

The older English word for God being thick-skinned is forbearance. He puts up with a lot. An awful lot of wrongs we do, and right things we leave undone, God in his forbearance chooses to overlook. Thank God!

And this has everything to do with our everyday life. Rebecca Pippert tells of attending graduate-level courses at Harvard University, one on Systems of Counseling. The professor presented a case study in which therapeutic methods were used to help a man uncover a deep hostility and anger toward his mother.

Those methods helped the client understand himself in new ways. Curious about where things went from there, Rebecca asked how the professor would have responded if the client had asked for help to then forgive his mother for the things that had him feeling so angry.

The professor responded that forgiveness was a concept that assumed moral responsibility and many other things that scientific psychology could not speak to. He argued, “Don’t force your values … about forgiveness onto the patient.”

When other students took issue with his response, the professor tried to relieve the tension with humor, offering this: “If you guys are looking for a changed heart, I think you are looking in the wrong department.”

God not treating us as our sins deserve, not giving payback for all our sins, has everything to do with why we forgive those who sin against us.

Adapted from Tim Keller, Making Sense of God (Viking, 2016), page 15

Thank God, he has a long fuse. A short memory. Thick skin, holding back where he could strike back. And fourth,

  • The Lord has a big heart: he loves fiercer than we can fathom.

Psalm 103:11-12…

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

The deepest we’ve been able to send a manned vehicle to date has been to 35,813 feet below sea level in the Marianas Trench east of the Philippines. That’s almost 7 miles straight down. The picture here is that if you were one of the two people in that tiny sphere being lowered all that way down toward the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean, even there God would see you, know you, and love you. Go as high as humanly possible. Go as deep as you can. You cannot and will not outrun God’s love!

“’To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One.” Isaiah 40:25

In my experience, the greatest felt need most people have is believing that God loves you. That he really does. That knowing your flaws and foibles and failures, his love is still waiting for you. And so again and again in the Bible, God uses metaphors to sneak behind our defenses and capture us with his love.

The OT prophetic book of Micah 7:19 says of the Lord,

“You will again have compassion on us;
you will tread our sins underfoot
and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

Isaiah 38:17 says,

“In your love you kept me
from the pit of destruction;
you have put all my sins
behind your back.”

In Isaiah 43:25 the Lord says…

“I, even I, am he who blots out
your transgressions, for my own sake,
and remembers your sins no more.”

In Isaiah 44:22 the Lord calls out…

“I have swept away your offenses like a cloud,
your sins like the morning mist.
Return to me,
for I have redeemed you.”

In Jeremiah 31:34 the Lord says…

“I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

This is who God is. His love is fierce. His love is unsearchable. You cannot find its limit. So I need to ask you: have you experienced this level of God’s love? Do you believe—really believe—that Jesus’ death and resurrection is enough to open the way to God for you? Is this the fuel that gets you up in the morning, keeps you focused during your work week, and brings you back to church on Sunday, the radical love of God? It’s the only fuel that never burns out or runs dry.

  • Zeal will get you so far.
  • Personality will take you places.
  • A solid education is a blessing.
  • Gaining wealth makes things easier in many ways.

But the only fuel that you can never run out…is the deep, deep love of Jesus. In him we see incarnated what David sang about in this Psalm:

“The Lord [Jesus] is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:8-12

Today’s Scripture is not a call for you to do anything. It is a call to rest in the deep, deep love of the Lord—who thank God has a long fuse. A short memory. Thick skin. And a big heart. Rest, and revel in him!

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