“Comfort, Comfort My People” (Isaiah 40:1-11)
“Comfort, comfort my people.” Yes, comfort. A word so nice, they said it twice. Who did? Why, Isaiah did. Well, actually God said it, through his prophet Isaiah. You heard it at the start of today’s Old Testament Reading from Isaiah 40: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,” etc. God wants his preachers to bring comfort to his people, to speak tenderly to his church. And so this is what God has sent me to do here today for you. He says, “Comfort, Comfort My People.”
Comfort: Today I want to answer four question about the comfort that Isaiah speaks of. And they are as follows: Why do we need this comfort? How do we prepare to receive this comfort? How does this comfort come to us? And what is this comfort? So let’s begin.
But to begin, I suppose I should set the stage. What historical situation is Isaiah addressing? Well, he’s envisioning the fall of Judah to the Babylonian army and the people of Judah being taken off into exile to Babylon. This will be a rough and painful debacle for the people of God. Much hurting. Much sorrow. A great need for comfort for these troubled and defeated people–trouble and defeat they had brought on themselves, really. Their own sin and rebellion against God had led to them being conquered and driven out of the land. That’s the situation that the prophet Isaiah is addressing.
But really, this prophecy applies to God’s people in any age. For we too have sinned. We too have experienced the consequences of our sin. We too need the comfort that this word of God speaks of and provides. So let’s hear it now as applying to us.
First, then, why do we need this comfort? Isaiah tells us:
A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the LORD blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.
All flesh is grass. That’s us. Think of how the grass looked back in May. It was all green and lush and alive. Now think of how the grass looks today in December. It’s all brown and withered and dead. That’s a picture of us and our lives, what is happening and will happen to us. We wither and fade and die. Do you know this? Do you feel it?
This mortality that we share, it’s a worldwide thing. No exceptions. We’re dying out here. No kidding. And at the root of this dead-and-dying-grass thing is sin. The reason we die is because we sin. This is something we all share. Each one of us is born with this birth defect, passed down from our parents. This Adamic sinful nature–it’s a killer. And the thing is, we all go along with it. We grow up–and grow into–sinning. We enjoy it. We do it. We don’t want to listen to God, we’d rather go it on our own. And that’s a recipe for disaster.
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Ah, there’s the answer! “The word of our God.” The fact that we even know the Lord as “our God” is because of God’s grace to begin with. And then he reveals his word to us, through the prophets and apostles in Holy Scripture, preached and taught to us by God’s servants today. This is a word you can count on. God’s Word is sure and certain. And this word speaks to us today and tells us of the comfort that God has for us.
How then do we prepare to receive this comfort? That’s our second question. And again, Isaiah has the answer:
A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
“Prepare the way of the Lord.” Isaiah here is prophesying the ministry of John the Baptist, who would do just that. John was the way-preparer, the forerunner of our Lord. John came proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And the people came confessing their sins. This is as it should be, in view of the coming Lord. We recognize our sins and confess them. We repent of our sins, acknowledging that we have sinned against God and deserve nothing but his punishment.
Do you feel and know your sins and your sinfulness? It is good and necessary that you do. Those who do not sense their sins will not have much desire for the comfort that God provides. So then, how have you gotten off track? Do you have a mountain of pride, or even just a hill, that needs to be brought low? What is the uneven ground, where are the rough places, in your life? Repentance is an ongoing affair, isn’t it? A daily dying to sin. A daily rising with Christ. This is the rhythm of the baptized life.
So, yes, we do mourn our sins and the damage we do to ourselves and to others. But dear friends: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This comfort is all by God’s grace. And Isaiah, and John, and Jesus himself–they’re all about that grace.
So next, how does this grace and this comfort come to us? Once again, listen to Isaiah:
Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.
God himself comes to us! He comes with might and strength. But this might is wrapped in gentleness. He comes as a shepherd, a good shepherd. And we know who this is. It is Jesus. Jesus, our Good Shepherd comes, humble and gentle is he. Our King, tender in his rule over us, yet fierce against our enemies. He will die to protect us. Yes, literally, he did exactly that. Christ our King gave up his life on the cross, in order to save our lives. His sacrificial death on our behalf marked the death of death itself. The power of sin lies broken. Death is vanquished. When the very Son of God dies to save sinful humanity–that is powerful stuff. Our sins, your sins, are forgiven. Peace with God once more is made.
And that leads to our final question: What is this comfort that Isaiah is prophesying? In what does it consist? Hear again the comfort passage we began with:
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins.
“Her warfare is ended.” That phrase jumps out at me. You know, today, December 7, is the anniversary of that infamous day in 1941 when Pearl Harbor was bombed and the United States was brought into the war. That was a grim and awful day. Our warfare was just beginning. But then fast-forward to V-E Day in 1945, and a little after that, to V-J Day. Victory in Europe, Victory in Japan. I wasn’t there, of course, but I’ve seen the pictures. Joy and cheering. Strangers kissing strangers on the street. Confetti, the whole nine yards. That’s what it’s like when your warfare is ended and you come out victorious.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is how it is for us! Victory over sin! Victory over death! We are at peace with God, our sins no longer being held against us. Peace is ours through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His death wins our forgiveness. His resurrection assures our rising from the dead. His life, his eternal life, he will share with us forever.
What greater comfort can there be? Our warfare is ended, our iniquity is pardoned. We have received from the Lord’s hand double for all our sins. Yes, double! Double the comfort, that is. “Comfort, comfort my people.” A comfort so wonderful, a comfort so nice, God tells it to us twice.