Wednesday, January 30, 2013
“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isa. 40:1–2).
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 40:1–24
A husband stands facing his wife. He remembers the day she broke his heart by running away with another man. He remembers the day he read of her indictment in the paper after she unwittingly allowed her lover to involve her in a life of crime. Now she faces her husband, broken and repentant. Ahead of her lies a prison term. He opens his heart to her, and with a spirit of forgiveness, he reaches out to take her hand and says tenderly, “Everything is going to be all right.” He is saying that when she has paid the punishment decreed by law, he will take her back, and together they will pick up the pieces of their marriage.
The assurance he gives to her is not an easy one. Rather, it is akin to the assurance of the doctor as he says to the patient, “Everything is going to be all right,” but as he says it, he stands with a mask on his face, a scalpel in his hand, anesthetic nearby, and a great surgical light glaring down on the operating table. What he means is that after the operation and the healing, everything will be all right.
Isaiah 40 has this kind of tone. “Comfort ye, comfort ye,” translated into our daily conversation, might be, “Everything is going to be all right.” Having delivered God’s prophecy of chastisement through wicked Babylon, Isaiah is called upon now to speak words of comfort, looking beyond the Babylonian captivity to God’s restoration of his people. In Isaiah 39:6 the prophet proclaims, “Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord.” The coming judgment at the hands of Babylon is God’s way of judging his own people for their sins. God’s judgment, however, is always for a purpose. Following the judgment in Babylon, God’s people are to be restored to their land and forgiven their sins.
1) When sin is forgiven (Isa. 40:2).
Assurance of forgiveness.
With eyes of prophetic vision, Isaiah looks beyond the coming punishment to God’s promised restoration. The phrase “Speak ye comfortably” has the literal meaning of speaking to the heart in order to give comfort. Spiritual comfort can come only after sin has been forgiven, after chastening has renewed the child of God. As much as they would like to, the church can offer no comfort to people as long as they remain wayward and evil. Yet when people repent, God assures them of forgiveness. The prophet is told to proclaim forgiveness for Israel, because in the coming exile, they will suffer double for all their sins. Here the Old Testament law of retribution with regard to money is applied to the matter of judgment because of sin.
The price of forgiveness.
The Bible never presents forgiveness as a frivolous or simple process. The cost of sin is always high. It was over six hundred miles from Jerusalem to Babylon—a trip of at least four months for prisoners walking in chains. Not only were the Babylonians to rob them of all riches, but they were to make them slaves as well. One can scarcely imagine the mistreatment of women and children that transpired. Families were separated and husbands were tortured by the mistreatment of their families. Having declared their freedom from the living God, they found themselves being led away in chains.
Just as the moon is eclipsed when the earth comes between it and the sun, so our lives lie in darkness when we allow the material world to come between us and God. The Lord gave to the Israelites a Promised Land, and they in turn devoted themselves to the land instead of to the God who gave it.
Although the chastening has not yet come, Isaiah is so sure that it is to be followed by pardon that he speaks in the past tense: “Her iniquity is pardoned.” It is this assurance that enables him to speak of comfort. Though God’s chastisement may lie between our sin and our pardon, we gain encouragement by knowing that pardon does lie ahead.
2) When life is adjusted to God (Isa. 40:4–5).
When Middle-Eastern monarchs prepared for long journeys, officials were sent ahead to pick the best route and to see that all the roads were passable. Ravines were filled in and rocky places smoothed over. The prophet uses this figure to speak of the spiritual adjustments necessary to make the message of comfort a reality. Before God can come into our lives to bring forgiveness, a way into our hearts must be prepared—a way hewn out by repentance. Each of us lives in a wilderness of human sin, and God will not force his way in. There are a lot of crooked things in our lives that must be made straight. There are self-indulgences that we must be willing to forsake.
If spiritual adjustment is real, practical adjustment will follow. Genuine repentance always finds its way into practical application. All of life must be adjusted to God’s schedule—our work days as well as our worship days. God’s holy demands know no limits. They are not restricted to the stained-glass arena. The man who schedules seven full days of work for each of the fifty-two weeks of the year need not deceive himself into thinking that everything is going to be all right. A woman may choose to spend every penny she makes on her own needs, giving nothing for the work of the Lord, but she need not deceive herself into thinking that everything is going to be all right. A man may choose to have a profane mouth and a wayward heart, but let him never think that he will see the glory of the Lord.
3) When life’s perspective is true (Isa. 40:6–8).
Twenty-twenty vision is never more necessary than when applied to our spiritual perspective. Unless we learn to see things in the proper order of their importance, we shall stumble into one wrong path after another.
The prophet is ordered to pronounce a message of comfort for the hearts of the people. Yet beyond that he seems unsure as to what message should follow. Then he finds God’s direction: “A voice says, ‘Cry out.’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ ” Then comes the answer: “All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever” (vv. 6–8 NIV). People are frail and temporary. Unless they realize their predicament, they are in no frame of mind to listen to the words of comfort from God. No one disdains offers to help quite so much as people who suppose they need none. People are so busy building their own kingdoms that they often overlook God’s kingdom.
When people see themselves properly, they are in a position to see God in proper perspective. God is omnipotent and eternal. Whereas humans are frail and temporary, “the Word of our God shall stand for ever” (v. 8).
4) When God is trusted (Isa. 40:27–28, 31).
The natural cry.
People, because of their finite nature, are anxious creatures. So often the people of God do not actually trust in God. On every hand, the prophet Isaiah hears natural cries of anxiety: “My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God” (v. 27). The word translated “way” is commonly used to speak of one’s fortune or fate. The word translated “judgment” refers to a lawsuit or petition. The people are saying, “Our destiny has been forgotten by God, and our petition for help has been neglected.”
The supernatural help.
To the discouraged, defeated exiles, Isaiah speaks of the divine help promised by God: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (v. 31). The great God who has created the earth and sustains it with his power (v. 28) has the power to sustain his people. God will put a new strength in the place of their present weakness. This renewal will take place when the people learn to “wait upon the Lord.”
The concept of waiting upon the Lord means not only to trust in him for deliverance but also to serve him daily. This is not a passive idleness; it is an active commitment. To wait upon the Lord means to do his every bidding, trusting in his wisdom and purpose even when they remain obscured to human perception. Kings have those who wait upon them to carry out their every whim. The King of Kings expects his people to do his bidding as well. God promises, “They shall not be ashamed that wait for me” (Isa. 49:23).
Now in Conclusion
The Word of God speaks a message of hope to all the prodigals, whether their waywardness is at the point of lustful passion (like the adulterous woman confronted by Jesus), or self-righteous pride (as Nicodemus), or dishonest manipulation (as in the case of Zacchaeus). To all he says: “Behold your God! He comes to take you home.” The good news of the gospel is that everything can be all right with God’s help. We too can affirm with Paul, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28 RSV). And from this vantage point we can take the next step: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39).
God bless you all, Pastor Mike