Online Text Sermon - The Comfort of the Incarnation, Isaiah ch.40 vv.1-8
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||The Comfort of the Incarnation|
|Text||Isaiah ch.40 vv.1-8 |
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"Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever." (Isaiah 40, 1-8)
Now in this passage of scripture, God is giving comfort to His own dear people. That is very clear from the opening words, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God" (Isaiah 40, 1). The world has its own form of comfort. It tells us to look on the bright side. The world tells us that every cloud has a silver lining. The way the world comforts is by reminding us that we should turn up the music a little higher and that we should fill our glass with champagne again, and forget our troubles. But that only solves it for a short time. Tomorrow we have to face those troubles all over again. The Bible does not give comfort as the world gives comfort. The Word of God gives comfort of a spiritual kind. And that is what Isaiah is here instructed by God to give to His people. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God." (Isaiah 40, 1)
It might help a little to understand why God's people at that time needed comfort if I very briefly give you an outline of this whole book of Isaiah in a few words. In the first 39 chapters, the people of God had been threatened by the Lord for their sins. Isaiah lived in the day when very many changes have come to the people of God. Their forefathers before them had excelled in godliness, many of them. But in Isaiah's time, the truth of God was being treated lightly. Righteousness was being lost among those professing godliness. The land was becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah. Morality was lost. Spirituality was being lost. And early in this chapter, in chapter 1 of this prophecy, Isaiah said, "Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah" (Isaiah 1, 9). It was therefore to this godly remnant that Isaiah was called on to give comfort, to those who felt the problem of that day, to those who cared for the cause of Christ in that day. For those who bore the burden of seeing and hearing the wicked things which were done often in the name of religion even at that day. And to these God sends the prophet and he says to them 'Comfort my people.'
There was in these early chapters of Isaiah the continual threat of war. The Assyrians were to come and they were to flatten many of the cities of the country as the divine judgment for their turning away from God. So the Lord's people needed comfort at that hour and they were going to need comfort in the future. Because although the Assyrian army was wiped out by the Angel of the Lord, there was another enemy to come - the Babylonians in their turn were also to attack Jerusalem and they carried the people away captive for many years. It was therefore in that context, with that setting in mind, and with those circumstances in mind, that Isaiah comes in the name of the Lord and he does what he is commanded to do. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God." (Isaiah 40, 1)
My friends, God's people today need comfort. Not that sort of comfort which comes from a bottle of whiskey, not that comfort which comes from turning music up a little louder. But that true spiritual, Biblical comfort which comes from the mouth of God. The Lord's people need that comfort today because of the state of the world, and because of the state of the church, and because of their own state which they know to be so imperfect. And the Lord offers comfort in this passage. And I would like to try to open up some of the leading thoughts which Isaiah give to us here, to show the comfort that God has ordained for His people.
1. GOD IS RICH IN MERCY AND PLENTEOUS IN COMFORT TOWARDS THOSE WHO TRUST IN HIM
The first point we are to notice is this, my friends, God is rich in mercy and plenteous in comfort towards those who trust in Him. Listen to His words, the repetition, "Comfort ye, comfort ye ...Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her" (text). Now it is no wonder that the Bible describes God like this, that He is the God of all comfort. He is the God of all consolations. God is near to those that fear Him and He will hear their cries. The whole Bible is a testimony to the fact that God is concerned about His people's feelings. He is concerned for His people's emotions, for their thoughts. And He is able to comfort them as nobody else can comfort.
Take the case, for instance, of the woman in the days when Christ was ministering upon earth. We are told she had been sick for twelve years and she had been to many doctors. And she had paid a fortune in doctors' fees. But she was no better but for all her treatments grew steadily worst. And you remember how on one occasion she came behind our Lord, when there was a thick crowd of people behind him and she said, 'if I may touch the hem of his garment I shall be made well' (Mark 5, 28). She crept up nervously to him and she lightly touched our Lord's clothing. And immediately he turned round in this crowd and said, 'Who touched me?' And the disciples said, 'behold, the crowds are thronging you and you said who touched me?' And our Lord said, 'Somebody touched me'. And the woman came forward trembling. And our Lord said to her, 'Daughter go in peace, thy faith has saved thee.' Now that shows how one word from Christ could heal the body and one word from Christ can heal the mind and the heart and the soul of His troubled people.
The kind of comfort that God gives is comfort that goes straight to the heart. This is not apparent in the English version of our Bible, but let me tell you about this word 'comfortably' in verse 2. "Speak ye comfortably" (text) is in the Hebrew Bible, 'speak to the heart'. God speaks to the heart of those whom He intends to comfort. And He comforts them by reminding them of the truths. It is preaching. You see the comfort God gives is to speak to people. "Speak to Jerusalem, cry unto her" (text). And the way which God ministers to the needs of the consciences, the hearts, and the souls of those who are His is by reminding them of their relationships with Him. And he does so like this, tell them their warfare is accomplished and their iniquity is pardoned. Now the warfare, of course, is that condition in which we all once were before our conversion to Christ. The warfare in which we were was the warfare in which we were the enemies of God. There is a lifelong war between the sinner and God. But when the sinner comes to faith in Jesus Christ as His Saviour and Lord, that warfare is over. And we need to be reminded of that. And no matter how many times, you and I sinned against God and grieved Him and failed Him, it is nonetheless true - our warfare is accomplished. Our alienation from God is at an end. We are not what once we were.
And God would have us remember this, the warfare is accomplished because He says, the iniquity is pardoned (Isaiah 40, 2). Now that iniquity, of course, is something that is pardoned through the Lord Jesus Christ. It is because of Christ's finished work that the people of God have their peace and have their comfort. And there is no peace or comfort in the world or in the Bible even, apart from Christ and what He had done in death upon the cross. It is the blood of Jesus that speaks peace to the soul. It is the blood of the cross that speaks peace within to the heart of my people. 'Speaks to the heart of my people and tell them that with all their faults and failings, and with all the troubles that they go through in this life, they are at peace with me', says God. And their sins which are many have been blotted out. Their iniquity is pardoned. For he has received at the Lord's hand double, for all have sinned.' And that refers solely to the fullness and suitableness of Christ's work. Christ has paid amply for your sins as a believer. He has paid in full measure. He has paid the uttermost farthing of all that we owe as debt to the justice of God because of our transgressions and because of our sins. Even the very last pardon, the very uttermost mite of everything we have owed to God has been paid in full. And so God reminds us, we have received at the Lord's hands double for all our sins. Our sins have been paid for by Christ.
Now, this method of comforting is the method which Isaiah uses all the way through his prophecy. You are reminded for instance, that when he is telling the Jews in the early chapters and the later chapters of his prophecy about the trials and tribulations, the judgments and the sorrows which are to come upon them because of their sins, that ever so often he breaks off his narrative, he breaks off his description and he points the people of God, the true remnant, to Christ. All of a sudden, what he is saying seems to stop and we have a vision of Christ brought in.
Let me give you some examples of this. In chapter 9 of Isaiah, for instance, he is talking about the darkness, and the gloom, the social evils of the day. He speaks about the warfare which is to come upon them and then suddenly he breaks off. He says, "unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9, 6) and he points the heart of the people of God upward, to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He does it, for instance, in chapter 32 where he says, a man shall be as a hiding place and as a covert from the storm. A shadow of a great rock within a weary land, a stream of water in the desert.
And again and again Isaiah breaks off his description of contemporary things to show that Christ is the hope, Christ is the captain of His people as they go through life. Of course there is no way where he does that better or fuller than that he does in Isaiah 53 where he gives a description intimately and in detail of all the sufferings and agonies of the Saviour whom he sees even hanging upon the cross of Calvary. "Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin" (Isaiah 53, 10) and so on and so on. A description of the suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ and the manner in which our sins will be laid upon Christ. And the manner in which God will punish Him as a substitute for the sins of the world. It is ever the norm in his prophecy, Isaiah stops what he was saying, lifts the people's minds above and out of the circumstances and comforts them by showing them that Christ is crucified for them. Their iniquity is pardoned, their warfare is accomplished and no matter how many outward trials they may have to pass through in this life, it is ever true to remind them and to say to them that God is speaking to their heart and to their soul.
Now, I must also point out here, that God comforts His people by encouraging them to know that better days are going to come. Better days are ahead and He does this at verse 3, "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God." Now that does not seem to give any comfort. And you may say to yourself, 'what comfort is it to these people to hear these words?' And the answer is, these words in verse 3 are the prophecy of the coming of John the baptist. We know that to be the case because when you turn to the New Testament gospels it is about John the baptist that these words have their reference. The beginning of the gospels of Mark, Matthew quotes these very words, and they do so because they were referring to the coming of the great John the baptist. And that is a comfort to them because they are to know that however weak and low the cause of Christ is in their days, God is going to raise up great preachers of the Gospel in time to come. There will be men who will be restorers of the paths they dwell in. God will raise up reformers and men who will repair the breaches made in the walls of Zion. God will appear in His glory when Zion He builds up and repairs. So it is a description of a great preacher who is to come and what is this preacher described as? Simply a voice crying in the wilderness.
Now, my friend, that is what a true preacher is. That is all that a preacher is called to be. He is a voice. He is not a personality. He is not a pulpiteer. He is not there to impress people with his charisma or with his charm. A true preacher is a voice in this wilderness world - a voice for God. And that was what John the Baptist was. You recall the way in which he was dressed. He was dressed in a garment made of camel's hair, probably black. Certainly looking very home spun. He did not wear designer's cloths. He did not come as somebody who is user friendly. He came as a rugged man with a rugged message to a sinful world. His diet was locus and wild honey. He was a man apart from man. You would hardly call John the Baptist a sociable man. You won't call him an affable man. He was not the sort of man to come and put his feet under the table and talk for 2 hours. He was a man who was apart - fasting, praying, alone with God. He was a voice.
Now, my friend, that is the comfort to the elect of Isaiah's day and to ours because whenever God has some great thing to do in this world that's precisely the kind of man He raises up. You remember how Paul before he began his great mission, had to spend some time on his own with God in Arabia. And you remember how Martin Luther when he was being prepared for his great mission, he spent time in a monastery. And John Knox was prepared for his great work and ministry by being a galley slave. And Whitefield and Wesley was prepared for their great works at Oxford and else by being in the holy club with the hatred and despised by people of that generation. They were men apart. They were men who were different from other men. A voice! And oh this is comfort to us to know that God would one day raise up other eminent voices who would speak for Him in this world. There are too many voices that speak for men and for the devils and for sin and for evil.
2. REPENTANCE IS THE NUMBER ONE NEED OF THE WORLD
But there were some voices, said Isaiah, a voice, that will be raised up to turn the nation back to God. And he described that in verse 4, "Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:" Now that is a description of the effect of the preaching of John the baptist. You see, society has become unequal. The rich were very rich and the poor were very poor. And that is symbolized by these mountains and these valleys. Society has become unfair, unjust, inequitable, unrighteous. The mountains symbolized those that were powerful. And the valleys symbolized those that had nothing. There is going to be a difference. The valleys will be exalted. The mountains and hills brought down low - through the preaching of the truths. The crooked should be made straight. That refers to men's lives, their crooked ways. Their deceitful practices. Their hypocritical ways of representing things. They all going to change. The crooked shall be made straight. And the rough places plains. And it is the effect of the preaching of the truths. Now, that is a great comfort to you and me, as it was, to those of Isaiah's days - that repentance is the number one need of the world. Repentance is what the world most need to hear preached. And this is what was going to be preached by John the baptist when he was come. And the Lord's people rejoiced to know that the inequality which was so visible in their day would one day be at an end.
My friends, this is what is most needed in our time. It is the preaching of repentance. I can't understand those professing Christians who always seemed to want spoonful of sugar and honey and sweetness. Nothing does more good in our soul than the rousing of the doctrine of repentance towards God. That's what does us most good, when our lives are searched out by the truths. When in our lives, the mountains are brought low and the valleys lifted up. When the crooked is made straight and the rough places plains. This old doctrine of repentance is what men most need to hear today. Isaiah was the kind of preacher who will not be welcome in most churches today because he had a plough share to rip up men's consciences and to show their deepest need was an inward change. And that they would need to control their lust and to bridle their appetites. They would need to humble their pride and to correct their foolish ways. And when of course, eventually at the course of time, John the Baptist appeared, all these changes took place. The multitudes came and surrounded him as they listen to his preaching of the truths. And they were baptized confessing their sins in the River Jordan. And all of that is prophesied here. And Isaiah gives this to the people a comfort. My friend it will only be the beginning of comfort when you or I begin to repent of our sins. That's where comfort begins, with repentance towards God and looking to the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who was crucified for us all.
3. THE GLORY OF THE LORD SHALL BE REVEALED
And he goes on to that very point at verse 5. He said," And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." Now he is comforting the people and he has done so in various ways as I have tried to point out. But here, he comes to the climax of all the comfort that he gives. The glory of the Lord shall be revealed. What is he talking about? What does the prophet mean? And the answer, is, the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ into the world. The glory the Lord being revealed means the birth of Christ into this sinful world - the coming of the Son of God. Now He is called the glory of God because all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ. He is God. He is equal to the Father and to the Spirit. And He is called the Glory of the Lord. And that glory is revealed when Jesus Christ comes to Bethlehem and is born of Mary in the stable, laid in a manger and grow up in this world. And went to preach His truth and to display his miraculous power and to die upon the cross. That is the glory of the Lord revealed and all flesh shall see it together. They do so through the knowledge of the Christian faith,which is now become universal throughout all nations. As the truth of Christianity go throughout the world, these words are being fulfilled and all of these were a great comfort to the people of God in Isaiah's day because they were being told that the Lord whom they love would one day be loved among all nations and not simply in their small circle but among all the nations of men there would be those who would love and honour and worship this same Jehovah Lord of all.
Now, my friends, that is happening and has long been happening. Wherever the Gospel of Christ is preached, these words are being fulfilled. And Christ through the Gospel is being lifted up and drawing all men to Himself and the nations are coming to the knowledge of the truths. All men are being blessed in Christ and all the nations are calling Him blessed. And the earth is becoming full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. And that is the encouragement that you and I have. Now, when the Lord comes again at the end of time, it would be to a world which has long has the truths and long has the Gospel of Christ preached to it. And is this not the comfort Isaiah's generation need and which you and I need today?
4. THIS IS THE VERY TRUTH OF GOD
So, finally, let me point out one item of comfort that Isaiah gave. You and I might suppose that all of these really is exaggeration. We might think this is to say too much but no. His final reassurance is to confirm that this is the very truth of God. "The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass." He is saying in other words that everything human is coming to an end. Mankind is like the grass of the field. Our days are few. All the great nations, all the great civilizations in this world, they are coming to nothing. Assyria has gone and Babylon has gone. And Egypt has gone, and Greece and Rome have come and faded away. And the British Empire has come and is gone too. And America now in power but they will go and Russia will go and China, they will all come to nothing like the flower of the field, they have their day and they die and done. Every human institution, all human civilization, all human greatnesses, coming to nothing. The power and glory are leading to the grave. But there is one great exception in this world, there is one thing that abides forever. It is the word of God. What a comfort! "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever" (Isaiah 40, 8).
My friends, here is the comfort, that God gives to us that His word will never let us down, and His Words will never fade. And therefore I have to ask you, 'Is your life built upon this Word? Are you relying upon this Saviour for your righteousness, and your standing and your hope with God?' There is no other comfort possible. Oh, yes, you can turn the music higher. Oh, yes, we can turn the blind eyes to the trials and tribulation of life. More champagne. Forget about them all. Or to eat and drink for tomorrow we die but we know very well before we start with this foolishness we have to face our problems tomorrow. They do not disappear overnight. But if we have God and Christ with us, then we shall be more than conquerors through Him that loved us because the Word of God reassures us that if God be for us, who can be against us and this is the true comfort of the Word of God. May He bless it to us all!
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