October 29, 2020
What kind of comfort does your heart crave? What kind of good news can capture your heart and give you a durable hope? God tells Isaiah to speak a word of comfort to a people anticipating devastation, and it ends up being an assurance of hope that destruction, dislocation, and even death don't mean the end of God's grace towards us. In Jesus, God doesn't only carry our burdens. He carries us. #Isaiah #growgroups #gospel #hope #salvation #comfort
What kind of comfort does your heart crave? When circumstances only seem to promise that things can always get worse, what kind of good news can capture our heart and give us hope? We’re halfway through our journey through Isaiah, but his focus in the last thirty-seven chapters of prophecy looks a century, seven centuries, even beyond our own day into the future. And it isn’t just the time has changed, but everything has changed for Judah and Jerusalem. Well, not everything. Just as when Isaiah was told by God when he called him to be a prophet, God’s people won’t listen or believe his message. And because they won’t listen, because they won’t change, their downfall is inevitable—God keeps his word. It won’t be overnight. It will take a century more before the final blow falls. But because they will continue to refuse God’s invitation to find rest through repentance and righteousness, Isaiah speaks to a time after their idolatry, their immorality, their injustice has been judged by God and they have been sent into exile in Babylon. So what is there left to say to a people who seem committed to never listen?
“Comfort, comfort, my people, says your God” (Isaiah 40:1).
When they might have expected an “I told you so,” or “I tried to warn you,” God instead brings a word of hope and reassurance and comfort. God tells Isaiah to speak tenderly to them—to speak to their hearts—and let them know that judgment doesn’t have the last word (v. 2). Even after death and destruction and dislocation. Even after being plucked up from everything they had ever known and every hope they’d ever had lay shattered. Even after their circumstances make it seem like God must have abandoned them or doesn’t have the power they thought he did to begin with if they’ve ended up like this.
Comfort. Tenderness. It’s the first word, and it has the last word. God gives the assurance that though there were sins to be reckoned, God has a way to pardon them (v. 2). He will make things right again. He will make them right again. His eternal plan is still on—it hasn’t even been derailed or delayed. So what comes next?
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.” (Isaiah 40:3–5)
The Gospel writers all see the fulfillment of these words in the prophetic ministry of John the Baptizer. God sends him to prepare the way for God to come in Christ. He calls the people to repentance, so that this time God’s people really will hear and see and understand. The full radiance of God’s glory is about to become visible in Jesus Christ—they’ll get to see God’s glory in the flesh.
And this time, when God comes, he isn’t coming to judge his people—or at least not to judge them directly. God will let his judgment fall on his Son so that their sins can be forgiven. It will not only be such gracious forgiveness sufficient for more sins than they could ever commit. Jesus will bring such grace that we won’t want to commit sins any more.
And so this is, as v. 9 says, “good news.” It’s something worth shouting from a mountaintop. As v. 10 says, “Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.” (Isa 40:10) He isn’t coming to crush his people but to comfort them—even more, to carry them.
“He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11)
The good news that we need to hear today is that in Jesus Christ, whatever fears we might have, there is comfort to relieve them. Do you fear that your difficulties mean God has abandoned you? Comfort, comfort—Jesus proves that isn’t true. God has come near to you. Do you worry that your sins are too many, your shame too revolting, your weakness too abhorrent? Don’t look to yourself, look to Christ. “Behold your God” (v. 9).
Sometimes the difficulties and suffering of the life we live in brokenness, in disappointment, in a pandemic, in our lifelong exile from Eden make us think that God must tolerate us at best. But our weakness and need don’t repel Jesus from us. They draw him towards us with a greater tenderness than we can sometimes believe. “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11)
Today, Jesus doesn’t just want to carry your burdens. He wants to carry you. He loves you all the way to death and back again. He went there first so that whatever you go through won’t kill you, but will bring you a purer vision of his soul-satisfying glory. Hear Jesus’s tender word of comfort to your heart today: he was won the fight, your sins are forgiven, he’s setting things right to put his glory on display. “Behold your God, your tender shepherd-king” is the best good news you could hear today. It is the comfort that your heart craves.
But the tenderness of a shepherd is only a true comfort if it is paired with strength and tenacity that can defend us against any predator that would come against us body and soul. Jesus is just such a tenacious tenderness, and we’ll learn more about that as we explore the rest of Isa 40 in our Grow Groups this Sunday.
On Zoom or in the room, we’ll see you there.