Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;
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. 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.” 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.” (Isaiah 40:1–8, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Comfort, comfort my people. Don’t we all like comfort? Don’t we all need it at sometime or another? Rudolf Bohren (Prof. of Theology: University of Heidelberg) said, “A human being needs comfort. The nursing child crying in its crib, the old man clinging to a beloved hand as he dies; the one coming into the world, the one departing from the world, both need comfort. Beginning and end help us to sense that the need for comfort is simply a part of being human.” The problem is that comfort is always suspect. Even people of faith find it difficult to always trust when we receive comfort. Maybe that’s because we’ve so often heard shallow words of comfort from well meaning people; words that don’t really bring any comfort at all. We often find ourselves testing words offered in comfort to make sure that they are not some kind of swindle and hoax.
This text that Isaiah writes, God’s Word to us today, says “Comfort, Comfort.” It’s double comfort that is to be given to God’s people. It’s double comfort to be shouted from the mountaintops. But if the comfort here is to be real comfort and not some phony replacement, we’ll need to understand what is really being said here. And Isaiah helps us here in this text to understand just that.
Comfort implies a helper.
We all know the real difference between true comfort and comfort that really isn’t comfort at all. Job’s comforters were really comfort at all. In fact he was burdened by their comfort. We don’t need that kind. Nor do we need the pat on the head, “There, there, it will be all right in the end.” Especially when we know that it won’t just be all right. In Psalm 87 the psalmist says, “for you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.” Help and comfort go together. Imagine the nurse who only talks to her patient but never touches them, never holds a hand, or changes bedding, or bathes, or gives medicine. Of course that nurse would be of no comfort at all.
“Comfort” is a very strong theme in the book of Isaiah, especially after this text in Chapter 40. Here God in continually calling out to his people with comfort. It is interesting to note that in all of these verses God is the one who does the comforting, and his people are always the ones who are comforted. God’s comfort always restores and helps, and Isaiah speaks the words as if the comfort that is offered is a done deal, already completed.
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.” (Isaiah 49:13, ESV)
For the LORD comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” (Isaiah 51:3, ESV)
“I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass,” (Isaiah 51:12, ESV)
Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 52:9, ESV)
Comfort is addressed to the heart.
The word translated from Hebrew into English as “tenderly” might also be translated, “straight into the heart.” Comfort must reach the human heart to be of any comfort at all. It’s easy enough to put off condemnation from other people. When someone says to me, “You’re a sinner!” I can say back to them “Same to you!” and even Satan’s accusations can be rebuffed with a word. “You are the father of lies, a professional trouble maker, I don’t need to listen to you.” But if my trouble come from my own heart, if my condemnation comes from right in here, then what help is there for me if the comfort doesn’t also reach right in here. It is only a message spoken “tenderly,” or “straight to the heart.”
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:19–20, ESV)
Here is a real message of comfort from God, it is most of all a message that the warfare is over. We are no longer God’s enemies. Our sins have been paid for… in double! Isaiah says. That doesn’t mean that we can sin all we want because it’s been taken care of. It means that the power of sin to destroy us has been destroyed. It’s just that it is foolish to let the very thing that has been destroyed destroy us from inside our own heart.
God says, “Her sin has been paid in double.” None of us can say that we have suffered more than we have sinned. There was in fact only one human being who could rightly claim that, because he had not sinned at all and yet he suffered the punishment of the whole world’s sin. No matter how great our suffering is we still deserve even more. The law is never satisfied. If we are guilty of breaking one little part we are guilty of breaking it all. But, God has taken care of that for us. Jesus Christ satisfied the law, perfectly. Jesus Christ suffered under the law and satisfied the requirement for punishment completely. God’s grace, God’s underserved love for us, is that he takes our punishment on himself in Jesus, and he gives to us His perfect life. That is comfort spoken straight into our hearts.
Comfort from God breaks through all obstacles
There are times when we suspect that God’s comfort is only words. When God is strangely silent when evil is so outspoken. There are times when God’s inaction makes us suspect that he is powerless, or that he doesn’t really care, or worse yet, doesn’t even exist. Make straight the way of the Lord. Isaiah says. Every valley raised up and every mountain made low. Nothing can stand in God’s way of dealing with sin. A way is going to be prepared for Him. God comes to deal with sin. He comes before people can even come to him.
Comfort is the reassurance that although humans fail, God’s word stands forever.
Life is short play hard, is hardly a phrase of great comfort. But, isn’t that what Isaiah is saying here?
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.” (Isaiah 40:6–7, ESV)
“Comfort my people, tell them that they are withering grass and fading flowers.” It isn’t what we even want to hear. But according to this text it is part of our comfort to remember it always. We are never to forget that death is built into everything we do, and there is nothing we can do about it. You and I will face death. We will face it with others, and we will face it for ourselves. That fact alone has a way of changing our minds about what is important, and what is not.
But there is comfort in knowing that death is not the end for us. For us, the resurrection looms also in our future, beyond our death. The breath of God that withers is also the breath that God will use to revive us. Grass has its season, but the life that God gives is eternal. That is comfort to us, whose flesh is but grass.
But that comfort isn’t cheap. It was paid for in the coinage of Jesus own holy and precious blood. That’s the price that assures us that our sin, and our punishment is forever paid. Why is it that we so often parcel out forgiveness in little increments? That is hardly how the Bible talks. “Your sin is paid in double!” shouts Isaiah. God’s forgiveness is total and complete. It is the comfort above all comfort and that is how we should receive it, in full. With Jesus Christ there is no sin that is too great that he cannot forgive it. There is no life to far gone that he cannot restore it. That is what we confess. “I a poor miserable sinner…” That is what we are, but the problem with the General Confession is that we become “generic sinners.” We are indeed guilty of breaking specific commandments. You are a murder. You are a thief. You are despiser of God’s Holy Word. We all break God’s commands daily; sometimes openly and sometimes secretly in our hearts. “in thought, word and deed.” We say. There is here today God’s words of comfort to you, spoken straight to your heart. Jesus Christ speaks his word of forgiveness to you. “In the stead and by the command of my Lord, Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.” You have received double for all your sins. There is more than enough forgiveness at the foot of the cross to cover them all, and more than enough to bring you comfort straight to your heart. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.