************ Sermon on Isaiah 40:1 ************


By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman


This sermon was preached on September 11, 2011


Isaiah 40:1-11
vs 1
"Comfort"

I Need for Comfort
A "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God" (Is 40:1). What does Isaiah, inspired by the Spirit, mean by the word "comfort" here? In the Bible "comfort" is something good that takes care of all bad things. Comfort does not always take away the bad. Sometimes it makes us strong enough to endure the evil and to keep on going. Sometimes it dries up our tears. Sometimes it stiffens our resolve. It is comfort that allows us to keep on living in or during or after bad things have happened.

In Isaiah's day and in our day there is so much bad that happens that people have a tremendous need for comfort.

B "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God" (Is 40:1). How the people of Jerusalem needed to hear those words. In the previous chapter, Isaiah had just predicted the "Babylonian captivity." Everyone knew about the Babylonians. How nothing and no one could stop them. How they conquered everything and everyone in their path. How entire populations were being deported and moved around the Empire. The prophet had predicted that the Kingdom of Judah would be conquered just like the Kingdom of Israel was and she was wiped off the map.

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God" (Is 40:1). These words needed to be heard by those who had lost loved ones in battle.

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God" (Is 40:1). These words needed to be heard by the oppressed of Judah. Widows, orphans, the poor, all had their rights trampled upon and their property taken away. They would appeal for justice to the courts but the judges would accept bribes to rule against them.

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God" (Is 40:1). These words needed to be heard by those weighed down by the guilt and shame of their sin.

C "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God" (Is 40:1). On this anniversary of 9/11 we need to hear these words. These words need to be heard by all those who come face-to-face with death either their own or a loved one.

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God" (Is 40:1). These words need to be heard today by the many across our land who suffer through broken marriage relationships. My heart goes out to the young men and women who enter a relationship with so much hope and joy and leave it with so much anger and disappointment. Especially, though, my heart goes out to the children of these broken marriages. The men, women, and children of broken marriages need to hear Isaiah's word of comfort.

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God" (Is 40:1). Those who suffer through cancer, heart-attack, stroke, major surgery they need to hear these words.

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God" (Is 40:1). These words need to be heard by those who face unemployment, bankruptcy, financial loss, homelessness.

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God" (Is 40:1). Children and teenagers who face rejection, who have no friends, who aren't popular with the other kids, they need to hear these words.

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God" (Is 40:1). The victims of sexual and physical abuse badly need to hear these words.

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God" (Is 40:1). As in Judah, these words need to be heard by those weighed down by the guilt and shame of sin, the burden of evil.

II Comfort: God is Coming With Power
A "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God" (Is 40:1). What is the comfort Isaiah is speaking about? What is the good thing that takes care of all bad things?

As a little child, one of our boys always found comfort in his blanket; another really enjoyed his thumb. The blanket and the thumb were pacifiers that gave a kind of comfort. Is this what Isaiah has in mind?

As you know, there are many who look for comfort in food. Hence the phrase, "comfort food." Is this what Isaiah has in mind?

Still others look for comfort in alcohol or drugs. Is this what Isaiah has in mind?

Many today find comfort in companionship. If others share the load, share their tears, and share their pain, they are comforted in knowing they are not alone. Is this what Isaiah has in mind?

B In the Bible, real comfort is not something that man can bring; it is something that comes only from God. Only God provides the good thing that takes care of all bad things. "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God" (Is 40:1).

What is this good thing supplied by God that brings comfort to a world that so badly needs it? What is this good thing that gives us the grace to endure the bad, to overcome the evil, to keep on going? What is this good thing that allows us to keep on living in or during or after bad things have happened?

Inspired by the Spirit, Isaiah tells us the source of our comfort: "the Sovereign LORD comes with power ..." (vs 10). "The glory of the LORD will be revealed" (vs 5). "Here is your God" (vs 9). It all boils down to one thing: God is coming!

God is coming, the sovereign God, the God of glory, the God of power, the God Who holds all things and all persons and all events in His hands. He is coming. And what an awesome God He is. Further on in chapter 40 Isaiah tells us how great our God really is. "To whom, then, will you compare God?" "To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One. "Lift your eyes and look to the heavens." We can use the biggest reflecting telescopes, even the Hubble telescope, to look at stars that are billions upon trillions of miles away. Yet we still can't see to the outermost edge of the universe. "Who created all these?" asks the Lord. "He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing" (Is 40:18,25,26). Did you know there are more stars in space than people on earth? Yet God knows each star by name.

God is coming, the sovereign God, the God of glory, the God of power, the God Who holds all things and all persons and all events in His hands. He is coming. And next to Him mighty Babylon is nothing, counts for nothing, and can do nothing. Before this great God, "the nations are like a drop in a bucket" and who pays attention to one drop in a pail full of water? "They are regarded as dust on the scales" no one notices a speck of dust on a weighing scale. "He weighs the islands as though they were fine dust" who in England, Long Island, or Sri Lanka would like to hear this? "Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing" (vs 15,17). Isaiah says this with mighty Babylon outside the city gates.

God is coming, the sovereign God, the God of glory, the God of power, the God Who holds all things and all persons and all events in His hands. He is coming. And that is our comfort. "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God" (Is 40:1). "I am coming."

III The Comfort of God's Coming
A The people of Judah, like the nation of Israel, had sinned greatly against the Lord with their idolatry, injustice, immorality, and rejection of His messengers. But they were still His people and He loved them. Though He would punish them with captivity, He would not forsake them. So, in His coming God would bring comfort.

How? What? We see four things in our Scripture reading explained by four different voices.

First of all, we hear the voice of pardon. The coming of God means the comfort of forgiveness to a people weighed down by guilt and the burden of sin:
(Is 40:2) Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.

"Speak tenderly" means "speak to the heart." "Hard service" means the trials of defeat and captivity. "Double" does not mean that God is unfair because God gives in accordance with what has been done. Instead, God is merciful because He forgives. In fact, His forgiveness is greater than His punishment.
(Ps 103:8-10) The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (9) He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; (10) he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
He does this, of course, by the cross. There, Jesus received double, triple, a hundred-fold more than what He deserved. In fact, He deserved no punishment at all. But God visited His wrath on Christ so His people could be forgiven.

B Second, we hear the voice of providence. What is comforting about the coming of the mighty God? What good thing does He bring that overcomes all bad?
(Is 40:3) A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God ..."
"Prepare the way for the Lord." God is coming. And, even though the captivity has not even happened yet, God tells them that they have to get ready because He is going to bring them back to Jerusalem and the Temple. The Jews had a rough road ahead of them as they returned to the Promised Land, but the Lord would go before them to open the way (Is 40:3). The ultimate fulfilment here is the ministry of John the Baptist as he prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus (Mt 3:1-6).

C Third, we hear the voice of promise. But in a rather strange way:
(Is 40:6-7) A voice says, "Cry out." And I said, "What shall I cry?" "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. (7) The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass."
Isn't this a strange thing to cry out? That all men are like grass? Well, look at it in its context. God is coming and His coming means all kings and kingdoms are like grass. Assyria which had conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel was gone. Babylon will be gone too. They fulfill their purpose and then fade away. What remains? Only God and His promises remain forever.

D Fourth, we hear the voice of peace. The coming of God means "good tidings" (Is 40:9). Back then, the good news was the defeat of Babylon and the release of the captive Jews. The Good News today is the defeat of Satan by Jesus Christ and the salvation of all who trust in Him.

Conclusion
"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God" (Is 40:1). Whether we recognize it or not, comfort is what everyone needs. On this Lord's Supper Sunday, we celebrate that God, in Christ, has already come so that comfort is already ours.

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God" (Is 40:1).
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