Real Comfort

Comfort hand

Isaiah 40:1-2 “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

God feels passionately about the comforting message he is preaching through his prophet. He is not a hard-nosed, CEO kind of God, concerned only about the bottom line, seeing people only as cogs in the great machinery of his heavenly corporation. These words are not an impersonal company memo outlining a new policy. They are more a note of individual concern, a letter in which he professes the great love he has for us.

This is a God who cares personally and passionately for the people he calls his own. You can hear it in the way he speaks. You hear his urgency and concern in the repetition of the words, “Comfort, comfort…” If you spoke the Hebrew language, you would hear the depth of his emotions in the choice of the word “comfort,” a word which calls to mind the heaving of a great sigh.

You hear it in the next verse when he tells the prophet to “speak tenderly to Jerusalem.” “Speak to the heart, not just the head. Speak in a way that we will show them I care and they can trust me.” You can hear it in the way he addresses us. He claims us: not just “the people,” but “my people;” not just “God,” but “your God.” The Lord wants us to know how desperately he cares.

But this is not merely an emotional outburst. It is not a content-free expression of his feelings. There is a solid reason that these words can give his people comfort. “Proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed.” Though he wrote a hundred years before Babylon took Judah into exile, Isaiah penned these words for those future exiles. Life would be tough for them. They lost a war. As a result of the war many buried their own children. They suffered through famine. They were finally dragged away from their homeland and forced to live in a foreign country. Worse yet, they knew that they had every bit of it coming. They were suffering for their stubborn refusal to live God’s way.

The Lord doesn’t have to send an invading army and drag us out of our homes for us to know something about the hard service mentioned here. Our own misery so often comes as a result of our stubborn refusal to live God’s way. When you keep the commandments, the commandments keep you. But as someone once pointed out, we never so much break the commandments as we are broken on them. Sin doesn’t make life fun. It makes life hard.

Should it surprise us that we live with miserable relationships when we are so obsessed with making a buck that we invest no time in them? Should it surprise us that Christian marriages come apart when, from the start, we build the relationship on gratifying lustful desires instead of the self-control, self-denial, and self-sacrifice that are necessary to make it last a lifetime? Should it surprise us that we live in a constant state of tension when we won’t be honest with the people around us? Should it surprise us if the crime rate soars when we are tight-fisted? A harder service than these awaits those who won’t repent, but even now our sin makes us comfortless.

Then we hear God’s comforting promise, “proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed.” But why? What has changed? “Her sin has been paid for…she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” The Lord isn’t saying his people have paid for their sins themselves. There would be little comfort in such a thought, only temporary relief as we anxiously waited for the next sin we committed and the next payment that the Lord extracted for it.

No, the comfort that the Lord so earnestly wants to impress upon our hearts is the comfort that he has paid for our sins. Whatever price was needed, he paid it himself, even double. There is no tiny fraction of the price left over for us to cover. He has paid it all, and the staggering price was the life of his only Son.

That generous, extravagant love of God that so comforts us is the true glory of our God. His glory is not to be found so much in grand visions of heaven, or awesome demonstrations of miraculous power. It is rather found in the grace and love that led our Lord to pay for all our sins.  It was first revealed in the coming of Jesus, in the announcement of the angels, “Today, in the city of David, a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.” The revelation is a comforting message without equal.

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