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Worship Series: The Promise
Worship Theme: Comfort, Comfort
First Lesson & Sermon Text: Isaiah 40:1-11 (EHV)
Music: CW 23 Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel, Comfort, Comfort All My People, CW 16 On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry (in worship folder)
Grades 7-8: The Birth of John the Baptist and Prepare
Message Notes & Growth Group Questions
Watch the livestream beginning at 5 p.m. on Saturday. After the livestream is finished, the video will be available to watch at any time.
Message: Comfort, Comfort
Pastor Jake Schram
It was a long and lonely stay for the four-year-old in the time out corner. I had sent the kid there to think about what he had done. He had kicked another kid for not being very good at sports. Apparently, he thought if he took out his teammates one by one that would give him more time with the soccer ball. It all made sense to him and he couldn’t see anything wrong with that. After all, he would still get what he wanted. It all went downhill because I had seen him do it. We talked about why it was wrong. There were the usual attempts at getting away with it: the excuses, the shouting, the crying, but none of it was working on me and he had to sit in the corner. Eventually it did hit him what he had done was wrong. As the tears (this time real tears) started running down his cheeks, he wondered if I would ever be willing to play games with him again. Had he pushed it too far? After he had served his time, we had another talk about why what he did was wrong. We also talked about how I was still his friend and cared about him. You could see the relief on his face. Everything was going to be ok.
In the first 39 chapters, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah with a general message of rebuke. You can hear God lamenting at Israel’s bad behavior. For example, in chapter 1, God proclaims, “How terrible it will be for that sinful nation, for a people loaded with guilt, offspring who act wickedly, children who are corrupt! They have forsaken the LORD. They have despised the Holy One of Israel. They have deserted him and turned back.” Israel had departed from their heavenly Father and now it was time for them to have a long time out. God used Isaiah as his mouthpiece to tell the Israelites that the Babylonian empire would rise to power and wipe away the wealth, health, and success of Israel. If they didn’t repent, the Israelites would have a 70-year time out as captives in the nation of Babylon. But in chapter 40, God has a message of comfort. He reassures them he still loves them and cares for them. Despite the punishment they will receive, everything was going to be all right.
Everything will be better than all right. In chapter 40, the first words God tells his people are, “Comfort, comfort my people.” Isn’t it a little weird that God says comfort twice? Not in the written language back then. You’d write something twice if you meant to emphasize it. So you’d say I’m hungry, hungry, if you were very hungry or sad, sad, if you were very sad. God here is telling Isaiah not to just comfort his people, but to really comfort them. God is about to reveal how and with what Isaiah should bring comfort to his people. He is to “speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call out to her.” There is another thing you should know about the Hebrew language back then. The heart was used in a different way than it is today. We use “heart” for emotions. “I feel it deep within my heart.” Or “My head says yes, but my heart says no.” They actually used the word “kidneys” for emotions. Try that on your loved ones when you get home. “My kidneys are aflame with love for you.” Let me know how it works out. They might tell you to go see a doctor for that. Anyways, the heart for an Israelite was deeper than just feelings. It was often used as the spiritual disposition of someone. Isaiah was to speak to that. God does not want his people just to feel or have knowledge of his Word, but to know his it deep within and to trust those Words. God wants the people to trust that he is going to bring them back from spiritual captivity and give them far more blessings than all the punishments they will experience. There is something more. Not only does God promise to free the Israelites from captivity, he’s promising freedom from the captivity of sin. Someone has paid the debts of all their sins. Let’s look closely at what God says.
Three times in this text does a voice show up to speak God’s Word. The first voice talks about making a level highway for our God. Last week, we talked about how God was hiding his face from Israel. Israel didn’t want Him in their life and yet he still loved them and wanted them to return to him. Here God promised his presence was going to come back to them, busting through every obstacle in the way. The picture is from ancient times, before roads were nice and well-kept. A king would send forth a servant to clear the road and allow for safe and smooth travel. God was going to clear the way and return to them. But, there is something more to this text than that. God is hinting at something deeper and we find out what in Matthew 3. We see that Isaiah was speaking of John the Baptist. John was the voice calling in the wilderness, preparing hearts for the coming of the Lord. John preached about repentance. He urged people to chuck away the debris of sin and the hardness of hearts. He wanted people to turn away from sin and turn to a Savior. He wanted people getting rid of the obstacles in the way of Jesus coming along the path to their hearts.
I think of our hearts like my Grandpa’s garage. My Grandpa was awesome. He was over 100 years old and still going strong until this past week. He had lived more in the past 10 years than most people do their entire lives. But he was a packrat. Before he moved out, his garage was completely full of stuff. Anything and everything except a parked car was in that garage. There was no room to walk in it and there certainly wasn’t room for anything else to be put in it. We do that with our hearts. We fill it with things we don’t need, with junk. Sometimes when God’s Word comes along, we don’t give it a clear path because we are trying to hold onto too many other less important things. God is telling us to clear it out and let him fill it with something more marvelous, with the greater treasure only he can provide: an unshakable trust in the Lord.
The second voice in our text occurs at verse 6 and speaks of how all flesh is grass or maybe even a flower. Humans can bloom beautifully, but not in any lasting way. In a way, this was great news for the Israelites. It meant that even though the Babylonians would rise to power and take the Israelites captive, it wouldn’t last. Their great power would be broken. But it was also scary news too because it meant the Israelites wouldn’t be able to thrive forever by their own power. They were going to have to look to someone or something else for lasting comfort.
As humans, we may bloom beautifully for a moment, but soon our petals drop and dry out. Eventually we die. As long as Christ doesn’t return to wrap things up here on earth, death stalks every one of us. Most of our daily achievements are forgotten in a week or two. Many of our greatest achievements in a couple years. Even the memory of us will probably be forgotten within a hundred years of our deaths. Isaiah tells us there is no human glory standing before God’s great majesty and power. And it’s a hard message to hear because of our pride. But it’s a beautiful message. Because we see the Word of God in contrast to us. It is the Word of God that stands. It is permanent and enduring. It’s promises are forever. Sin means I wouldn’t be able to stand up before God’s holy breath and the consequences are death and hell. Like a flower I would wilt and die. But God’s eternal word changes all that. The third verse expounds upon this.
The third voice in our text starts at verse 9. God gives instructions for someone to go on top of a mountain. This person is to go to the highest point where everyone can hear him. This person is to shout with all the strength of his voice. He is to proclaim such wonderful news to the world. “Here is your God!” The Word of God rises far above anything human. It deserves to be proclaimed from the highest mountain. This is the God who will bring the Israelites back from captivity. With his strength and his ruling arm no one would be able to oppose the great plan he had for them.
The LORD enters into your life with strength too. Notice how LORD in all capital letters snuck in the text again. This is the LORD who pours out his free and faithful love on you and keeps all his promises. This LORD rules over your life. The ruler of your life is not your job, not your health, not your doubts, and most certainly not your sin. It’s not misfortune, or shame, or pain or tears. It’s God. Here is your God! And God the LORD has brought his reward with him. It is the salvation won by Jesus.
This text was meant to comfort the Israelites in the coming years by promising a return from captivity to the glorious land they called home. But it was meant to do more than that. It was meant to comfort them for eternity. The entirety of this text points to Christ. The sins of Israel could not be paid by 70 years in captivity (look at Israel’s spiritual condition from last sermon). All three voices shout the message of a Savior whom Isaiah will elaborate in the coming chapters. They shout of someone who will pay the sins of the world. They proclaim hope and comfort in every situation for every time period.
Look where this comfort comes from. This is God and he could bring comfort about in any way he chooses. But each time he uses a voice proclaiming his Word. Isn’t that amazing? The comfort we have in Christ, the trust we have in him, comes from hearing and sharing God’s Word. This comfort is not just something we feel or know, but something we trust. A comfort deep down that resounds within us.
In the last couple years, someone whom I won’t name was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Neither she nor her husband saw it coming. When the doctor told her this might be what put her in the grave, she calmly replied, “Ok, I’m ready to go.” The doctor gave her the strangest look. How could she be so calm? How could she be ready? How could she look so comforted? She knew the message. She had been told the Word of God by someone and she knew her Savior Jesus had taken away all her sins. She knew that despite what she was about to go through, God would grant her the reward of heaven which he won on a cross.
Comfort, comfort. Extreme comfort. This is what is ours in Christ. This is the comfort we can share because of Christ. I want to leave you with one last picture. It’s found in verse 11 of our text. Jesus is our good shepherd who offers us comfort. Like a shepherd he gathers us in his arms. He deals with us gently. He protects us with the folds of his pure robes. My friends, God has promised to take care of us. Through faith, we have this comfort.