â€œComfort, 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 Lordâ€™s hand double for all her sins.â€
These words mark a significant turning point in the book of Isaiah. Up to this point, the word of the Lord that came to Isaiah was mostly a harsh word of Law and the promise of punishment because â€œmy peopleâ€ refused to call Him, â€œtheir Godâ€ and continued to live as though His Word didnâ€™t matter.
Isaiahâ€™ message has been that God is going to use a foreign nation named Babylon to carry out His punishment against â€œmy peopleâ€ â€“ OUT OF HIS ANGER, yes. (You donâ€™t really think that your rejection doesnâ€™t really bother Him do you or that He doesnâ€™t really care, do you?)
But even more, OUT OF HIS LOVE AND MERCY, because He wants â€œmy peopleâ€ to REPENT! He wants them to see where their rejection of â€œtheir Godâ€ is taking them and TURN BACK before the judgment comes. (Because you donâ€™t really that there will be NO judgement for your putting yourself first and otherâ€™s second and God last, do you?)
Babylon will be His instrument of DISCIPLINE and Babylon will make the life of â€˜my peopleâ€™ a living hell. All that they put their confidence and trust in apart from â€œtheir Godâ€ Himself, will be destroyed – the city of Jerusalem, the magnificent Temple, their pride in being the people whom the nations fear because â€œGod is on our side.â€
Heâ€™s about to take all of that away. They put the gifts that God gave to them above the Giver of the gifts â€“ as if they DESERVED IT because they EARNED IT.
So they would be disciplined, with a hard discipline â€“ FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE that â€œmy peopleâ€ might repent and turn from their sin and the man and the woman and the boy and the girl might say â€˜forgive me.â€™ And the pastor on behalf of his people might say, â€˜forgive us,â€™ â€“
â€¢ that He might show them just how MERCIFUL and GRACIOUS He is –
â€¢ that they might respond to His mercy and grace with those words that He longs to hear from His dear children â€“ â€œyou are our God.â€
And although the times have changed, people have not â€“ not even THE PEOPLE OF GOD. Some hear the Word of the Lord and take it to heart and in their humiliation and shame they confess what is most true â€“ â€œI am the man,â€ â€œI am the womanâ€ and â€œI have lived as if God didnâ€™t matter and as if I mattered most. My Lordâ€™s name I have not honored as I should; my worship and prayers have faltered. I have not let His love have its way with me, and so my love for others has failedâ€¦. I am sorry for all of this and ask for grace. I want to do better.â€ (LSB #292 – Individual Confession and Absolution).
And others say, â€œI donâ€™t like that kind of preaching. Itâ€™s depressing. What I want to hear is that â€œIâ€™m okay and youâ€™re okayâ€ and that God doesnâ€™t really care WHAT I DO or HOW I LIVE MY LIFE because all He really wants is for me to be happy.â€
Iâ€™m sure that many in Israel listened to the prophet and repented and diligently strove to live as though nothing else mattered than to LOVE THE LORD THEIR GOD WITH ALL THEIR HEART AND SOUL AND STRENGTH AND THEIR NEIGHBOR AS THEMSELVES. Just as there are many today who love their Lord and His church and this congregation and gladly offer their time and talents and their hard earned money to ensure that it continues to carry out the work we are called by God to do – TOGETHER.
And Iâ€™m just as sure that many people in Israel ignored the prophet and his word made not the least difference in their life because they refused to believe that it would ever actually come to anything so drastic as all that. Just as there are many today who seem perfectly content to let others do the work and give their time and hard earned money to do the work we have been called to do â€“ TOGETHER.
And then the punishment came. And it came for the sake of the stubborn and the hardhearted and the hardheaded. It came for the sake of those whose offering to the Lord God consisted of â€˜lip serviceâ€™ and nothing more â€“ that they too might REPENT and turn and be saved.
And for the sake of the stubborn and hardhearted and lip-servers, THE FAITHFUL ALSO SUFFER. The destruction came upon them too and they suffered and were deported â€“ because they were all in it TOGETHER.
They were the light in the darkness â€“ AND THEY STILL ARE. They were the remnant that bore witness to the truth even as the world was collapsing around them â€“ AND THEY STILL ARE.
It is to these, the â€˜repentant,â€™ who live by faith in the midst of a world that is collapsing in on top of them and in which they experience great trials and pain and suffering complete with all of the worries and fears that cling like barnacles to a weak and fragile faith, that the word of the Prophet comes like the sweetest music any ear has ever heard. â€œComfort, comfort, my people, says your God.â€
TO BE SURE, this word of â€œCOMFORT, COMFORTâ€ is NOT FOR THE UNREPENTANT. For to declare the Gospel to the unrepentant is the cruelest most unloving thing you can ever do. It only makes us all the more comfortable in our sin and hardens our heart and our head all the more.
But to the â€˜repentant,â€™ who fight the good fight of faith in this world where itâ€™s a daily battle that sometimes even breaks out in a war, which Peter describes as, â€œthe passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul,â€ (1 Peter 2:11) a battle that often feels fairly hopeless – TO THEM, THE REPENTANT, TO US, the Gospel is truly â€˜GOOD NEWSâ€™ that long to hear, that lifts our spirits and renews our strength and gives us the courage to stand firm and to actually even experience in our hearts that which His Word gives â€“ â€œComfort, comfort, my people, says your God.â€
Literally, itâ€™s â€œNachum, nachum,â€, â€œbreathe deeply,â€ â€œbreathe deeply.â€ â€œTake a deep breath, my people, says your God.â€ Itâ€™s going to be okay.
See, He calls you â€œmy people.â€ You belong to Him. This is covenant language here. â€œLet MY people go.â€ â€œI brought MY PEOPLE out of Egypt.â€ â€œYou shall shepherd MY PEOPLE.â€ â€œHe was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgressions of MY PEOPLE.â€
Nothing can separate â€œmy peopleâ€ from â€œyour Godâ€. â€œNot tribulation or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger or sword.â€ (Rom. 8:35) You have His WORD on that â€“ and nothing is more sure than His Word. Itâ€™s all about, â€œsays your God.â€
Thatâ€™s what REAL COMFORT is based on. â€œSays your God.â€ Any other WORD OF COMFORT is just wishful thinking.
Deb and I watched a good movie the other night called â€œGone Baby Gone,â€ about a child who was abducted from a home which reminded me of the Ayla Reynolds tragedy that happened right up the street from here. Itâ€™s a good movie if you can get by some very bad language. The mother of the child hires a private detective to find her daughter. Heâ€™s a young guy who has no experience in this kind of work. But he takes the case and it quickly becomes obvious that there are layers of complexity and mystery involved.
At one point along in the story, the mother says to him, â€˜do you PROMISE to find my daughter?â€™ And he replies, â€˜yes, I promise.â€™ And it struck me that if ever there was an example of an â€˜empty promise,â€™ that was it. He had no idea if he could fulfill what he promised. And the motherâ€™s COMFORT in his word of promise was nothing but wishful thinking.
What a contrast to the way we hear PROMISES when they come from God. When you hear â€œyour Godâ€ say, â€œComfort, comfort, my people, SAYS YOUR GOD,â€ it is so sure and certain that already now, even in the midst of the battle and the warfare and the unfairness of it all, you can â€˜BREATHE DEEPLYâ€™ because you know how itâ€™s going to turn out, and in fact, itâ€™s already done. Because Godâ€™s Word always does what it says.
To those who put more trust in â€˜says your heart,â€™ or â€˜says your conscienceâ€™ or â€˜says your horoscopeâ€™ or â€˜says your facebook,â€™ than â€œsays your God,â€ God tells His prophet to speak harshly. â€œAll 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 stands forever.â€ â€œRepent, and hear the Word of the Lord.â€
But to the one who repents, who gets goosebumps every time they hear their God call them, â€œmy peopleâ€ despite all of their failing and weakness and weariness, to us, He tells His prophet to â€œspeak tenderly.â€ â€œSpeak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lordâ€™s hand double for all her sins.â€
Not double punishment for all of your sins, but double mercy and grace and forgiveness. Not just â€œcomfortâ€ but â€œcomfort, comfort.â€ Not fleeting and temporary like the grass and the flowers that wither and fade, here today and gone tomorrow, but sturdy and solid and lasting and real and FOREVER.
The unrepentant hear this precious word and promise of God and say, â€˜SEE, GOD WANTS ME TO BE COMFORTABLE.â€™ The repentant hear the same word and say, â€˜SEE, I AM WILLING TO GLADLY SUFFER ALL RATHER THAN FALL AWAY FROM THIS PRECIOUS WORD AND FAITH.â€™
Surely by now youâ€™ve seen the news that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, a Muslum, spent a record 4.5 million dollars to own the DiVinci painting of Jesus Christ called – â€œSalvador Mundiâ€ â€“ â€œSavior of the World.â€
Brothers and sisters, the true â€˜Salvador Mundiâ€™ has paid 4.5 million times 4.5 million to have you. And He has given Himself to you for free in your baptism, not that you might frame him and hang him in a museum and admire Him – but that you, a Christian, would REPENT and turn and call Him, â€œmy God.â€
The true â€˜Salvador Mundiâ€™ entered into our world and took on our flesh and engaged in the daily battle that we all engaged in â€“ to stand FOR US and fight FOR US and suffer FOR US and die FOR US. And on the 3rd day to conquer even our death FOR US.
In Him, your warfare is ended, your iniquity is pardoned – for He has received from His Fatherâ€™s hand â€“ double for all of your sins.
As you hear His Voice speak tenderly to you today, let it â€œlift up every valleyâ€ and â€œlevel every mountainâ€ that hinders you from following Him with all of your heart and soul and mind and strength.
As you eat this bread and drink of this cup, let His body and His blood â€œlevel the uneven groundâ€ and â€œmake the rough places a plain,â€ that when you may hear Him say to you, â€œComfort, comfort, my people, says your God,â€ you may believe it and breathe deeply.