A Different Kind of Comfort
Topic: Dudley's Monthly Message Passage: Isaiah 40–40
A Different Kind of Comfort
We all like to be comfortable, but probably don’t consider what is involved in such a state. We think of quiet, soothing, non-judgmental treatment. If we should think of a church service that is comforting, we might imagine an affirming message promoting how wonderful we are despite our missteps. That is a pretty popular approach of many trying to attract the contemporary consumer, but the word “comfort” used by Isaiah to describe what God had in mind for the remnant of Israel is much stronger. Instead of promoting how wonderful the audience is, he promotes how wonderful God is. “Behold your God,” he says.
Go on 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!"
Isaiah 40:9 (ESV)
The comfort he offers is the proclamation that her warfare is ended; her iniquity is pardoned; the price of her full redemption has been fully paid.
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.
Isaiah 40:1-2 (ESV)
Comfort is not to soothe, but to strengthen. It was not to enable their victimization but to shake them out of their hopelessness and awaken them to what God had done in their behalf so that they could participate in his purpose for all creation.
Isaiah lived at a time when big events were happening on earth. Israel had been violating their covenant with God for years. Judgment was inevitable, and God would use the pagan powers of the world as his instruments. Assyria had been lying dormant under poor leadership for years but was awakening to their opportunity at world domination under a ruthless leader. Isaiah saw with his gift of prophetic vision what God was doing and warned Israel of what was happening. They didn’t listen and were defeated first by Assyria and then by Babylon. The first 39 chapters of Isaiah’s prophecy was the warning before judgment. Chapters 40-66 promise a new day of “comfort.” God will act in behalf of undeserving Israel simply because he is full of mercy. He will not be thwarted in his purpose to bless the whole earth just because his chosen instrument has failed. He will first salvage his instrument, Israel, and then bless the earth as he planned.
The people needed a new vision of who God is. They had been under the heavy hands of foreign pagan powers for 70 years. They were treated as slaves with no dignity, so they had a poor concept of their own identity and the identity of their God. Other nations were saying that Israel’s God was weak in that he could not save them from the military power of Assyria or Babylon. Israel began to believe that might be true. So, Isaiah’s message to them was an eye-opening declaration of their God and their destiny.
Isaiah pictures a voice from heaven demanding that history line up with the purpose and timing of God.
A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way for 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.”
Isaiah 40:3-5 (ESV)
The oppressed people need to know that their God controls history. The pagan powers think they are in control, but they are being utilized to fulfill God’s plan, and it will happen right on time. God will raise up Cyrus the leader of Persia to destroy Babylon after Babylon has been used to purify Israel. After that, he will use Greece to conquer Persia and prepare the world for the excellence of the Greek language. Later Rome will conquer Greece to provide the governmental structure and transportation system needed for the purposes of God. Isaiah’s premise is that the God who controls all of life can be trusted to control your life. Trust him.
He not only controls history, but he is the creator and sustainer of the heavens and the earth. He holds the oceans in the palm of his hand. He measures the massive amount of soil on the earth on a kitchen scale, and it is like the residual dust on it. It doesn’t even register. The nations are like a drop of water on the edge of a bucket of water. He is so majestic he created all the millions of stars in the sky, yet he knows each by name and they all submit to him. No one has educated God, and no one gives him counsel. Those who make idols are revealing a level of ignorance that is staggering to any rationale. Humans make gods out of materials they choose, fashion them as they desire, prop them up so they do not fall over, pray to them—but they never talk back.
Israel, like us today, had a difficult time interpreting their current circumstances in light of the big plan of God. Isaiah shows them how ridiculous it is to forget God.
Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Isaiah 40:27 (ESV)
When any of us is not seeing the sovereign power and mercy of God we will conclude that God has forgotten us and we are victims of powers beyond our control. It is not that we need to try harder to get in control. We need to see that the God who is in control loves us and is committed to our good. God specializes in giving to those who have nothing; strengthening those who are weak; empowering the weary; and blessing those who have earned no blessing. His grace provides an empowered life that is beyond the vigor of youth. Those who, because they have confidence in the One who controls life, have committed their lives to his control will soar like eagles, run without exhaustion, and walk successfully.
…but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:31 (ESV)
Isaiah was promising a new day with a new kind of life. We live in the fulfillment of that day. Jesus has come. History did line up to produce the Messiah at the exact right time. Zion has declared the good news of God’s restoration. The ultimate servant has come. He lived as a man loved by the Father. He was the lamb that ended all sacrifices. He is king over all; ruling from the throne of God. He continues to shepherd his sheep through the Spirit that raised Jesus from death. He has done what was promised. The seed has been planted in the field. The leaven has been added to the dough. The new creation has begun. We are in it, and that is a comfort that is beyond anything this natural world can produce.