It’s All In His Name

Nativity Creche.jpg

Luke 2:21 “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.”

In the second commandment, God warns us to be careful about our use of his name. He intends to do more than prevent us from using it flippantly, for jokes or entertainment; or hurtfully, to vent our anger or frustration. He is also urging us to use his name in a way which pleases him and blesses us.

So it is that the Lord wanted the priests to use his name to bless the people in the Old Testament. In doing so they “put his name” upon them. So it is that Jesus sent his disciples into the world to make disciples by baptizing them “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” So it is that Jesus invited us to bring our prayers to the Father “in Jesus’ name.”

The name Jesus means “The Lord saves.” What if we lived the entire coming year cognizant that Jesus is my Savior? What if we were ever conscious of who he is and what he has done? How would it change our lives?

On the one hand, we might go through this coming year truly aware of our sins, the reason we need saving. Why is it still so hard to admit them? Why don’t we take them seriously? We try to hide them, deny them, or pass the blame. It is still so painful to face the truth about ourselves.

In part, we are scared. We know what God thinks of sinners. In Psalm 5 David says, “You hate all who do wrong.” Paul reminds us in Galatians, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the law.” We still want to be thought of as good people on our own terms. It scares us to think we might be accepted any other way.

Then there is the matter of trust. We cling to certain sins because we deeply want them. We rationalize them. We deny they even qualify as sin. They make me feel good. By contrast, I’m not so sure how God feels about me. I’m not so sure I trust him when he tells me he has something better in mind.

But if we live this year in Jesus’ name, we can draw on its comfort. We can live each day aware that Jesus has lived as my Savior. We see this beginning at his circumcision.

Circumcision was part of God’s Old Testament law. Circumcision was a vivid reminder that God had made a covenant, a promise, to his people. He claimed them as his own. Circumcision was also a vivid reminder that sin begins at the very source of our life: it is passed from parent to child from the very time of our conception. Thus it must be cut away at its source. Even this original, inherited sin must be removed before we are acceptable to God.

Jesus had no personal need for circumcision. He was already chosen by God in a way which far surpassed that of any other human being. He needed no reminders of our sinful flesh and the need for its removal. He was sinless, because God was his only Father and he was born of a virgin.

But Jesus came to be our Savior. With his circumcision, he was saving us. He was keeping this law for us. Here he began to offer his heavenly Father the perfect obedience we owed. He did so in our place–as our substitute.

Live your year in Jesus’ name, and draw on this comfort: Jesus lived as your substitute. He lived as our Savior not only at his circumcision, but every single day he spent on earth. He still does. Everything he did–every breath he took, every movement he made–he did as our substitute. As you listen to the gospel lesson at church, or read it for yourself at home, take comfort! Jesus is doing all these things to save you. He is teaching the pure word of God, performing miracles of mercy, and loving people to make up for our failures.

Do you understand what peace will be yours this year if you begin, if you live your year in Jesus’ name–always aware that he is your Savior? We need not try to hide our sin in fear (though sincere sorrow is still in place). Jesus’ blood washes every sin away. Jesus’ holy life replaces our disobedient and rebellious lives. His holy life and innocent death is all the Father sees when he looks at you or me.

Doesn’t this also assure us we can trust God? We can conclude with Paul, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Everything our Savior tells us–whether identifying sins, giving us promises, or instructing us how to live–he tells us only because he loves us. Every hardship we endure happens for our good, because he is Jesus, the Savior, and this is our comfort.

It is all promised in the name he has been given.

A Promising New Year

Clocks New Year

Isaiah 51:4-5 “Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation. The law will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations. My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations.”

God’s salvation comes from his system of justice, a system of justice unlike anything else the world has ever known. That is why he can say, “My justice will become a light to the nations.” In God’s justice system the judge is the one who serves the very sentence which he has passed on the criminal. The lawbreaker goes free. The judge is sentenced to death in his place. Poor lawbreakers like ourselves find a never ending source of pardon because our Judge became our Savior.

Jesus will be the one who returns someday to judge all people, but he first came to save them when he paid for our sins with his life. The fact that you and I will sin this coming year is more certain than death and taxes. The fact that all those sins will be forgiven, and all their guilt erased, is just as certain. Our only Judge has also become our Savior, and that promise gives us confidence for the new year.

But we don’t have to wait. We can enjoy the salvation God promises immediately. He continues, “My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations.” God forgave the children of Israel for their sins. He declared them not guilty, pure and spotless, though they had been nasty, guilty, and filthy with their sins.

God’s forgiveness for them was real, but the historical events that formed the foundation for that forgiveness were still waiting in the future. The time for the Savior was drawing near. It was on the way. But it had not yet arrived in time. In a sense, Old Testament Israel’s forgiveness was on credit. God’s promises to them were like his credit card, assuring them he would pay for all the forgiveness they were receiving now. The Lord repeats those promises here. He wants them to be sure that when he promises something, it is as good as done.

That same salvation and righteousness is near to us in the sense that it is already here.  This past Christmas we saw again how the Lord did send the Savior. He did pay the bill. We can confess with Simeon, “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people.” We not only have the confidence of God’s promise that he forgives our sins. We have the confidence of knowing how he did it. We see the promise fulfilled, and we can live in the confidence that Jesus is our living, present Savior every day.

God’s salvation lasts forever. His righteousness never fails. That is our greatest confidence for the year to come. Forgiveness of sins isn’t going to run out by spring. Grace won’t break down from years of too much use. Every time we go back and ask the Lord to take our sins away, he will do it. Every time. Every day we live, eternal life and a piece of real estate in heaven is our present possession. Every day. We have a promise, signed and sealed in Jesus’ blood, guaranteeing us it is so.

This is a good place to start celebrating the new year. These are really the only good things guaranteed in the year ahead. God still cares so much for his people. His salvation doesn’t change. Looks like a promising year.

God Wages Peace

Nativity Painting

Colossians 3:15“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

The peace of Christ is one of the more popular Christmas themes. “Peace on earth” the angels sang. But this is not the popular idea of peace. It’s not about getting our soldiers out of harm’s way overseas or getting our politicians to get along. In writing about “Peace on earth,” columnist Austin Bay recently told about a U.S. Marine Colonel serving in East Africa in 2005. He described his mission this way: “We’re involved in waging peace.” Conflict still troubles the region.

Fifteen years earlier, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a hippie retread challenged this same columnist on a college campus, “You write about wars, don’t you? With the end of the Cold War and so many people waging peace, you will have to write about something else, eh?” But her optimism for an end to war was short-lived. Within six months the Persian Gulf War began. The U.S. Marines’ approach to waging peace is still needed. We might share the hippie activist’s disappointment over the war and bloodshed, but it is not peace from such things the angels were singing about Christmas Eve.

It’s not what Paul was writing about in his letter to the Colossians, either. This is peace for the heart. This is peace between God and man. This is peace in knowing God loves me, he doesn’t hate me. This is peace in knowing God forgives me, he doesn’t condemn me. This peace is the relief of knowing that with God on my side, nothing can truly harm me, even if I am stuck in the middle of a war, or in the grip of poverty, or in the clutches of death itself.

When God’s grace in Christ has made our hearts so new, and given us such peace, then we are enabled to live at peace with others who share that peace, “since as members of one body you were called to peace.” Once this peace lives in our hearts, it rules them. The word Paul uses for “rules” is a sports term. It is the work of an umpire or a referee. Such officials keep the game from getting out of control, and God’s peace in our hearts has the same effect on us. It settles us and calms us and in a gentle way. It keeps us under control so that we can live at peace with others.

God’s love and peace naturally lead us to the next of Paul’s encouragements: “And be thankful.” Regardless of how many gifts were under your tree, or how plump your Christmas goose was, you and I have countless reasons to be thankful. The spiritual and eternal blessings of the Savior born in Bethlehem defy enumeration. Their value can’t be measured. Even an honest inventory of our earthly blessings reveals that the good things God has given us in our bodies, our possessions, and our world, far outweigh the bad. All the Lord’s goodness makes it possible for us to be thankful.

And doesn’t such a thankful attitude change our lives for the better? Isn’t hard to feel sorry for yourself when you are praising God for his gifts and graces? Isn’t it hard to be depressed when the Lord has opened our eyes to all the ways in which he has blessed us? Doesn’t he fill us with contentment when we take time to thank him for the many good things we enjoy? In yet another way we see God’s peace ruling our hearts by transforming the lives of those who have discovered his grace.

Jesus came to wage God’s peace on earth. Let his peace with you rule your heart.

Prince of Peace

C18 No Words

Isaiah 9:6 – “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Perhaps when you were growing up you had a friend you called the “King” of something. He was the “King of homers” on your sandlot team, or the “King of climbing” in the trees in your neighborhood, or the “King of catching frogs, or bugs, or salamanders,” or whatever else the local wildlife offered. He wasn’t literally royalty, but he was the best at what he did.

Isaiah describes our Savior as the “Prince of Peace.” Jesus is not merely a prince in a metaphorical sense, like the “kings” just mentioned. If anyone can be called royalty it is Jesus Christ: a real life Son of King David according to his human nature, and the ruler and master of all the universe in his divinity.

Prince of Peace describes him like it describes no one else. Jesus epitomizes peace. Look at how he carried out his work. When he comes into our world, he comes into what C.S. Lewis once described as enemy occupied territory. Our sin and Satan’s dirty work make this a harsh and hostile place even for us. For the Son of God, coming to reclaim what is rightfully his from a world in rebellion, it is a downright hateful and dangerous place. John said of his coming, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”

How, then, does he come? With an army of gun-toting secret service agents? Protected by an armored personnel carrier? Preceded by an extended air strike and barrage of artillery to take out the enemy’s front lines? No, he comes as a weak, helpless little baby. He becomes the child of a rather ordinary Jewish family. We sense no hostility toward this world in his birth. For his part, everything about it speaks of peace.

And we who know the other end of this life–what do we see there? When our Prince is battling death and defeating hell for us, does he look like he is fighting? Do we sense him lashing out at his enemies through his trial, his sufferings, and his crucifixion? Isn’t he rather astoundingly passive, even forgiving the soldiers who nail him to the cross? He is the Prince of Peace even when the last battle to free us from our sins is being fought, especially when the last battle to free us from our sins is being fought. He peacefully surrenders his life and dies.

We know this peace from yet another of his conquests, one much closer to you and me. He has also won the battle for our hearts. How did he do it? We weren’t converted to faith in Jesus at gunpoint. Someone may have shared very convincing, very persuasive arguments in favor of the Christian faith along the way, but our faith doesn’t rest on logical arguments alone. How did the Prince of Peace win the battle that battle?

Have we not been overwhelmed by his love and grace, like the love and grace at the center of the sweet story of Jesus’ birth? The wonder of Jesus’ birth is not so much found in the miraculous elements that surround it, true as they are, but that the Lord of all the universe should care enough about us mortals to take our flesh and share our woes. Here, as one theologian put it, “I find a beautiful thing I want to believe, not just something I am told I must fight to defend.” True to his nature, the Prince of Peace has overcome our unbelief, not so much with an act of raw power or a violent assault on our resistance. Rather, this self-emptying of God to save us so consoled us and comforted us that we quite literally can’t help ourselves. We fall into God’s loving arms in faith. It is by the preaching of peace that he has made us his own.

That same peace pervades the kingdom into which he has led us. There is only one place on earth where real peace can be found. It isn’t a destination on any major airline or port of call for any cruise ship. It is the kingdom of the Son God loves. It crosses every border and transcends every division. Within this kingdom people of the most dissimilar cultures separated by the most ancient hatreds or prejudices are united as one. There is nothing else like it on earth. The Apostle Paul describes the peace Jew and Gentile once found under our Prince like this. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”

Such peace is not a faded phenomenon of the First Century A.D. Especially at Christmas one hears incredible stories of Union and Confederate soldiers worshiping together on Christmas Eve during the Civil War, or French and German soldiers worshiping together at Christmas during WW I. Men who were sworn enemies and bound to kill as many of each other as they possibly could by day were drawn together by a higher government and a peace which transcended their wars. Their peace was, for the most part, an invisible one, coming as it did from the invisible kingdom to which they belonged, but it was far more real and powerful than any brokered peace this world has ever known. This is because it flowed from peace with God in the forgiveness of sins, a peace which still unites God’s people today, though often they cannot recognize each other across the more visible divides.

Many other words could describe the nature of our Savior and his work: joy, righteousness, grace, or love. But none is more clearly proclaimed to us in the Christmas Gospel than this one we have from Isaiah’s inspired pen: Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

Don’t Forget Doing Good

Related image

Hebrews 13:16 “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

What does it mean to you to “do good”? Many Christians today think of living the Christian life especially in terms of avoiding evil. Being a Christian means keeping your life pure, staying out of trouble, not doing something that will hurt someone else. As long as they don’t do anything wrong, many Christians believe that they are living the Christian life.

But is “not doing anything wrong” the same thing as “doing good”? Doesn’t the salvation Jesus’ won for us inspire us to shoot for something a little higher than staying out of jail? Christian love is an active thing. It does something, not nothing. Doing good means helping others. It works hard at providing for our families and raising them in a godly way. It puts in an honest day’s work at the office or in the shop and wants to see my employer thrive. It looks for places to volunteer–at school, for charities, in the community. It wants to share with others. Doing good is love in action, not love trying to get away with as little as possible. Then it is truly the kind of service born of salvation, our sacrifice of praise and thanks to God.

And how does he feel about all of this? It is his pleasure. “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

Sometimes we are so careful not to give anyone the impression that you can earn your salvation or pay off your own sins that we fail to mention the truth taught here. God is pleased with the service his free salvation inspires in us. That does not mean that our service is a condition we must meet for his love. This does not deny that even our best work is still tainted by sin, and far from perfect, and in need of his forgiveness.

But God is pleased that faith and salvation are producing changed lives in his children nonetheless. We often refer to ourselves as his children, and perhaps this provides a good picture of the pleasure he takes in our praises and good deeds. When you started doing household chores for your parents back when you were a child, your work probably left a little something to be desired. If you mowed the lawn, there may have been thin strips of unmowed grass across the yard that had to be mowed again. If you washed the dishes, there may have been some that needed to be washed a second time. If you did the laundry, maybe you let a pair of blue jeans get in with the whites and turned everything light blue one time. Your work needed a certain amount of your parents’ forgiveness. They may have had to fix your mistakes for you. It wasn’t perfect. But they were pleased that you were trying and you were growing. They wouldn’t be satisfied if it didn’t get better by adulthood. But for the time, they were pleased with your efforts.

God is never happy with our sin and imperfection. He can’t be and still be holy. But he does forgive it. And he is genuinely pleased with the things that come as a product of the faith he has planted in our hearts, the Spirit who has made our bodies his home, the salvation through which he has called us to faith. We don’t have to be afraid to serve. We can be confident that our service born of salvation is his pleasure.

Christmas is still about God’s salvation, the work that he has done in service to us. But we can’t believe that God has left heaven and come to earth in such a humble way to save us without being changed. We want to respond. We want to serve. May the miracle of Jesus’ birth give birth to the miracle of faith and service in us.

Therefore

Carolers

Hebrews 13:15 “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise.”

“Therefore” tells us that this is a conclusion, a response, the logical result of what comes before.

What was that? In the preceding verses, the inspired writer draws a comparison between Jesus’ sacrifice for us and the sacrifices offered on the Great Day of Atonement. The blood of the animals sacrificed was used in the ceremonies of the tabernacle, but the bodies were taken outside the camp to be burned. Things that God commanded be taken outside the camp were unclean. There was a distance between such things and God’s people, an end to contact between them. God’s people wanted nothing to do with such things anymore.

When Jesus, our sacrifice for sin, was crucified, he also suffered “outside the camp,” outside the city. His body was treated like the bodies of those sacrifices on the Great Day of Atonement. He was regarded as unclean. The people wanted nothing to do with him anymore. Among all the other indignities he suffered in paying for our sins, there was also this disgrace. It may not have been the greatest insult he suffered, the most intense pain that he endured. But it is surely another example of the great extent of his love for us. That our God should let himself be treated so–as someone so unclean, so lowly, a reject to be gotten rid of–this is one more way in which he demonstrates the depth of his grace. He would not let such humiliation and rejection prevent him from cleansing us from our sins. How dearly he must love us!

Nor are such examples of his great patience with us missing from any other era of his life. We may wax sentimental about the manger scenes with which we decorate our homes. The scene looks warm and inviting–to us! There was nothing warm and inviting about it for our Savior. It has more to do with humiliation and rejection for him. No one would make room for him and his parents. He was relegated to a place among the animals. Still, he was not so great, so high, so proud that he refused to humble himself this way. If this was what it took to save us, so be it. He would suffer worse things on the way to his mission’s end.

What does this have to do the words of Hebrews 13? “Therefore.” “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise…” What we offer God is not something we initiate on our own. It is not a way by which we hope to convince him to love us. It is not a bribe that will move him accept us and give us heaven. No, it is our response. We are merely responding to God and what he has done. He initiated any service we offer. His love convinced us to love him, not the other way around. He has already accepted us and given us heaven, and thus our service is born of salvation.

Let us not miss the sacrifice and love that ever lead to our “therefore.”

What We Want for Christmas

Christmas Shopping

John 12:20-21 “Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”

This is a season of the year for wanting things. When I was little my Christmas lists were incredible: two or three pages of spiral bound notebook paper filled with requests thanks to ideas I got from the J. C. Penney Christmas Catalog. My wish lists have gotten more modest since I have gotten older, but I would be lying if I told you I didn’t really want to get some of the things on my list.

It’s not just the gifts that make this a season for wanting. This season promotes nearly hedonistic indulgence. Between now and December 25th there are things we want to taste– cookies and sweets and snacks and feasts. There are things we want to hear– Christmas carols and concerts and the happy sounds of gatherings and parties. There are things that we want to see– Christmas lights and seasonal cartoons, sentimental old holiday movies and maybe even an inch or two of snow.

The Greek men who came to Philip wanted to see Jesus himself. How they had heard of him, or why they wanted to see him, we are not specifically told. They simply make the request, “We would like to see Jesus.” Were they curiosity seekers? Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday had created quite a stir. Maybe they even witnessed the royal welcome the crowds gave him. Maybe they had heard reports of Jesus’ miracle working and hoped that they might get to see something miraculous done by him.

Were they seekers of a more spiritual sort? Maybe they wanted an audience with Jesus to ask him their questions about God and religion. Maybe they were still trying to find certainty for their faith. Maybe they were seeking salvation.

A common Christmas slogan asserts, “Wise men still seek him.” Why? Why is this still our wish, a couple of thousand years later?

Maybe it’s because the Christ child adds that sentimental touch to our Christmas celebration. The Fourth of July isn’t complete until you’ve gone to see the fireworks. Thanksgiving isn’t complete until you’ve had your turkey and pumpkin pie. A trip to Disney World isn’t complete until you’ve had your picture taken with the Mouse. And Christmas isn’t complete until we have spent some time hearing about that poor little baby who got such a terrible start in the world. It’s a story that tugs at the heart strings, just like hearing about Tiny Tim Cratchett in Dickens A Christmas Carol, or George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life.

Then we have reduced Jesus to a seasonal prop. He comes out with the other decorations after Thanksgiving and can just as easily be put back in the closet shortly after New Year. He gives us a warm, cozy feeling, but there is no lasting impact on my heart or life. I experience no soul searching as I ponder my depravity. I find no encounter with God in the face of Jesus, no sweet taste of his grace. Then Jesus is less the object of our worship and more a pleasant diversion. Jesus as Christmas decoration is a subtle example of what God had in mind when he commanded, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” It is a vain, useless, and evil thing to reduce the Savior of the World to an ornament or a good feeling.

But what if our desire to see Jesus this Christmas is because we know what he will be doing on Good Friday and Easter? What if we want to see him because a deeper, more desperate need haunts our souls and troubles our consciences?

Maybe we have been able to hide our mean, twisted and perverted selves from the mutual admiration society we have gathered around us. We haven’t been able to hide it from ourselves. And we haven’t been able to hide it from God. When we consider that God knows– he knows every curse whispered under our breaths, every hateful urge we have choked back, every lustful glance, every perverted daydream– we know our situation is critical. Our sin-sickness is terminal. We want more than a cute baby, then. We want to see a gracious Savior, a heroic and self-sacrificing Champion, who can bring forgiveness where there is sin, life where there is death, and heaven where there is hell.

There is no deeper reason for our desire to see Jesus this season.

Lasting Comfort

withered flower

Isaiah 40:6-8 “A voice says, ‘Cry out.’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.’”

We don’t naturally go looking for the kind of comfort that will last forever. Our world is full of counterfeit comforts, short-lived comforts, and you and I have probably tried most of them.

There is Southern Comfort, and other similar mind-altering comforts that come in a bottle, or in a pill, or in a syringe. They may make us forget our hardships for a little while, but they can’t make them go away. They usually end up creating more of them than we had before.

There is the comfort that comes from being comfortable, from having all the money we need, all the things that we want, all the prestige and success we have worked so hard to build. The problem is that when we look for our comforts here, we never seem to have enough to be truly comfortable.

We may try to surround ourselves with comforters of various sorts, people who can give us a feeling of safety and security. We strive to build the perfect family. We work hard to elect the right leaders. We look up to heroes and role models who show us the way.

The problem is that “all men are like grass.” Even the good ones may serve well in their time, but death overtakes us all. “And all their glory,” all the best things that their lives have produced, “is like the flowers of the field.” Human accomplishments rarely outlive the lives of the people who performed them.

My great-grandfather and grandfather spent their lifetimes building up a family farm. They worked on it until the day they died. Then one day the bank came and finagled it away.

The history of the world is littered with heroes whose life’s work benefits absolutely no one today, other than to make a great story. You can be sure the day will come when fathers of our own country, whose ideas and sacrifice we still benefit from hundreds of years later, will be added to the list of those whose glory has faded, whose flowers have fallen, and no one will benefit from their work other than a few interested historians.

But the word of the Lord, and the promise of comfort that it brings, will never end up on that list. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” The life’s work of Jesus Christ is no less relevant today than it was 2000 years ago. The power of his gospel to touch our hearts and bring us faith is no less effective today than when he first issued the Great Commission. The forgiveness of sins his gospel promises is no less valid and no less certain than when those comforting words first fell on the ears of his disciples in the towns and villages of Galilee. It is an absolutely sure message.

God’s comfort may not be immediately obvious to us in the stable at Christmas. It is even harder to see hanging on the cross. That is why so many artists have doctored the picture with halos and glowing skin. But we don’t need such special effects to see salvation in the manger. All we need to see is the comforting and certain message of forgiveness connected to that Savior, and know his word stands forever.

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.