Isaiah 40:31

We all know what it means when something goes viral. It’s funny or moving enough that you share it on social media. Then someone else shares it. And before you know it, it goes viral. And that video becomes, for a time, part of common conversation.

It’s the same with the Bible. In this summer series we’re looking at Bible verses that have gone viral: more than 400 million Bible verses were shared on social media last year via just the YouVersion app. 

Last week’s viral verse was Matthew 6:13 where Jesus teaches us to pray, “Lead us, not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” We all know what it’s like to be tempted—as shown in this viral video from the movie, “The Secret Life of Pets.”

Like Chloe in that viral video clip, we all know what it’s like to be tempted. So last week we unpacked the model prayer Jesus taught, including that viral verse that is basically a prayer to become spiritually street smart, so that we’re not naïve about temptation and the devil. 

That was last week. This week’s viral verse is found in Isaiah 40:31. It’s a powerful verse that reads…

“Those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.”

Isaiah 40:31

What an awesome message! You can easily see why this has gone viral, has been shared again and again. It’s encouraging. It’s inspiring. It’s just what you need when you feel like you can’t take another step.

I enjoy cooking—taking various ingredients and combining them to enjoy something better because of how the ingredients complement and highlight each other. One dinner last week we had chili lime chicken with jasmine coconut rice and a mixed greens salad. A bunch of ingredients and textures put together made for a scrumptious meal.

Good Bible study works in the same way. To get the most from this verse, we’re going to taste the ingredients that when put together make for an awesome impact.

Because at first blush this viral verse sounds like it’s all about determination. Head down, put your hope in God, and you’ll make it. And you won’t just make it, you’ll soar like an eagle, and run like Usain Bolt, walk better than anyone who gets on a treadmill here in the Y. You’ll be a winner.

But is that what God is really saying here? Just like with our other viral verses, we can hear the richness of what God is really saying when we first understand why this verse was written in the first place. 

So let’s unpack two things this morning:

  • What was happening here—in other words, why the original listeners needed to hear this.
  • And second, let’s learn who Isaiah was. Who was this prophet, and why was he sent?

The Old Testament in 3 minutes…

Let me give you the history of Israel in about three minutes. This is the stuff I wish I had learned a long time ago, because it would have helped me understand a lot more of the Bible.

We’ll start with Abraham, called out of a pagan background and given amazing promises by God. God makes a covenant with him, promising that one day this old man’s descendants will be a blessing to people from every nation. 

Abraham’s son is Isaac. Isaac’s son is Jacob, who is later renamed Israel by God himself. Abraham’s promise is repeated to these men, Abraham’s son and grandson.

Jacob’s dozen sons and their families are then led to Egypt, where they grow to nation-sized. Fast-forward to Moses who leads them out of Egypt and then Joshua, who leads them into the Promised Land.

The nation of Israel is then led by a succession of kings, including Saul, David, Solomon (who is David’s son), and Rehoboam, who is Solomon’s son. Under Solomon, the nation hit its high point.

But Rehoboam turns out to be a fool. He provokes rebellion, and on his watch, civil war breaks out. The nation splits into two kingdoms, with Israel to the north and Judah to the South. 

God sends them prophet after prophet, calling the people back to listening to him, and coming together to follow him. They don’t listen. And so a 350-year decline takes place, ending with both parts of the split nation carried off into foreign lands as prisoners of war. God’s people end up in exile.

The northern kingdom was lost forever. Only a remnant from the southern kingdom was able to return from exile in Babylon to the Promised Land, where they re-established the Jewish homeland and waited for the long-ago promised Messiah.

That’s just about the whole Old Testament storyline in a nutshell. The prophets go silent—God does not speak again for another 400 years, the span of time between the end of the Old Testament, and the birth of Jesus.

Now go back with me a bit to Isaiah, who Isaiah was. Isaiah was a prophet God sent by God to the people of the southern kingdom, Judah, before they were taken off into exile.

It was while Isaiah was alive that he and the people of Judah in the south witnessed their fellow Jews in the northern kingdom militarily attacked and destroyed by the nation of Assyria. Isaiah could sense that their day was coming, too.

And while he consistently called the people of Judah to return to the Lord, his primary message was a message of long-view hope—that their ultimate hopes would be fulfilled when Messiah would come on the scene. God would come to them again.  

It is in the writings of Isaiah that we find the most compelling and convincing prophecies fulfilled more than 700 years later by Jesus, in ways that only God could arrange. 

Who Isaiah 40 was written for

So what’s happening when we get to Isaiah chapter 40? This is where it gets fascinating. We begin to hear why God gave this viral verse to the people back then.

This chapter—40—is the hinge on which the whole book of Isaiah turns. Everything changes starting with this chapter.

The book of Isaiah is sometimes called “the Bible in miniature.”
The Bible is comprised of 66 books; Isaiah is comprised of 66 chapters.

The Bible has 39 books comprising the Old Testament, followed by 27 books which make up the New Testament; the book of Isaiah likewise has 39 chapters with a distinct emphasis, followed by the remaining 27 chapters looking to the future. 

That’s important. That’s a big clue to what God really is saying in Isaiah 40:31. This verse, and the whole section of Isaiah that it comes from, was a future-tense-message for people who were losing hope. 

Isaiah 40:31 was only going to mean something decades down the road, when the people of Judah would be carried off into exile, just as their northern neighbors had been. 

God knew they would find themselves in the most difficult, faith-testing season they had ever experienced. 

God knew they would lose their treasured Promised Land.

God knew that gleaming Jerusalem would be demolished.

God knew that even the Temple he had inspired would burn in arson.

And God knew that the people themselves would be seized as prisoners of war and marched hundreds of miles to a foreign land where the language wasn’t theirs, the religion wasn’t theirs, the culture wasn’t theirs, and favor would not be theirs. 

That is the setting for today’s viral verse of Isaiah 40:31. It was God’s future-tense prophetic message to their grandchildren, who would find themselves in a “God, where are you?!” experience worse than they had ever imagined. 

God had a message for that generation yet to come, and he gave it through the prophet Isaiah.

Now listen to Isaiah chapter 40, beginning in verse 27 and walking right up to this week’s viral verse. As you take this in, I want you to imagine you are a Jew back then, living in Jerusalem. There’s no invading army as Isaiah speaks. This is a message for a generation yet to be born, your grandchildren. They will see the fearsome Babylonian army smash Jerusalem’s gates and pull down its walls. They and their families will be marched off into exile far away. 

You cannot prevent it. You cannot stop what’s over the horizon. The one thing you can hope and pray is that when it happens, your grandchildren will remember this promise and choose to trust God. With that understanding of the context of Isaiah chapter 40, listen to God’s future-tense message to that coming generation. Isaiah 40 beginning in verse 27:

“Why do you complain, Jacob?
    Why do you say, Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord;
    my cause is disregarded by my God’?
Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.”

Isaiah 40:27-31

This is the voice of a rescuer yelling from far above an Arctic hiker who has fallen into a crevice and can’t imagine a way out. It’s a message that help is on the way. 

Today’s viral verse is God speaking ahead of time to those exiles, declaring that no matter how you feel, and no matter how little sense you can make of your situation, help is on the way.

No matter how you feel,when you can’t make sense of your situation, help is on the way.

This was God’s timeless word for that future generation, and it is his timeless word for his people in every generation. We can never make sense of crises when we’re in the midst of them. We wonder—but cannot know—how everything is going to play out.

But God’s well in advance word is that he sees. He knows. And he cares. God cares about you far more than you worry about the future. 

Peter says the same in his first New Testament letter, writing in 1 Peter 5:7…

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”

1 Peter 5:7 NLT

All that stuff you worry about, God cares about—because he cares about you. That was his message to a future generation long ago: “Help is on the way.” For the believer, this is always true. Help is on the way. No need to give up. 

The second thing God wanted those future exiles to hear and take to heart and live by is that no problem overwhelms God. He’s still in control, even when you have no control over the situation, whatever crisis hits.

No problem overwhelms God.

He is always, still, in control.

In that disaster that wore them down and ground them into the dirt, God wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. Just because we get tired, don’t imagine that somehow God gets worn out or run down or walks away.

That leads us to the third thing God wanted those future exiles to hear and take to heart and live by. It’s our viral verse. Hear it again:

“Those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.”

Isaiah 40:31

Let me paraphrase God’s message to the exiles then and to you and me today, to those who worry how things are going to turn out: When you can’t take any more, God stands ready to give you more. 

When you can’t take any more, 

God stands ready to give you more.

Haddon Robinson, who went on to his reward two years ago this month, reminds us, “God keeps his promises. According to his purposes and according to our needs, sometimes we mount with wings as eagles and soar among the clouds and almost touch the stars at great events in life. Other times we run and are not weary; we have the second wind of grace. At other times still, we walk one step at a time, and we don’t faint. But know this: God will not lie to you…You can bet your soul on that.”

So this verse isn’t about gutting it out with gritted teeth. It’s a message of hope that when you’re ready to quit, God can give you new strength. When you can’t take any more, God stands ready to give you more—just as he promised to these men and women of long ago. They speak to us across the ages, echoing what God prophetically spoke to them: put your hope in the Lord. Again. And receive his strength. Again. 

To help you hear what God is really saying in this viral verse, I want to show you another viral video. I’ll set it up for you, then just watch. Take it in. And receive the renewed strength the Lord wants to bless you with. 

The scene is 1992, summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Great Britain’s 26-year-old Derek Redmond is favored to win the 400-meter race. 

But halfway through the semifinal, his hamstring tears and he falls to the track in agony. All his years of training…are taken from him.

Medical workers run out with a stretcher to carry Derek off. But he pushes to his feet and, in great pain begins to limp, desperately wanting to finish what he began. 

But then his father, watching from the stands, breaks out and runs to his son. He grabs him and tells him, “We’re going to finish this together.” 

And they do. Dismissing security with a father’s loving anger, his son’s head sometimes buried on his shoulder, they walk together all the way to the finish line. Here’s the actual footage:

Friend, I don’t know your exile, but I know your Father. I know that he knows. He cares. And he can carry you. He can give you the strength you need to get back up and keep moving, staying with you all the way to the finish line. Put your hope in him. 

Hope in the Lord,
   & renew your strength.

Put your trust in God, who knows what the future holds, cares about you, and stands ready to renew your strength.