Summary: In times like this, we need to be comforted as well as to give words of true comfort/
Comfort Ye My People: An Exposition of Isaiah 40:1-11
Whenever we hear the word “comfort,” we think of the word “discomfort.” One does not need to be comforted when one is already comfortable. Comfort is a hot bowl of soup when one has been working outside in the freezing cold all day. Comfort is something we receive from others when a loved one dies. Comfort is something John Wesley received when he was on a boat in a terrible storm when he found the Moravians singing praises to God. Comfort is when those sailing with Paul in the terrible storm sounded that land was nigh. Comfort was hearing Jesus rebuke the storm the disciples were on. When they woke him from sleep, He rebuked the wind and told the disciples to be of good cheer. They took comfort in these words.
There are many situations that we find ourselves that involve fear and discomfort. These can be personal issues such as health problems or marital problems. It can involve addictions or depression. It can be the weight of sin in our lives. These things alone can make us quite despondent. But there are also situations in the world which trouble us. The world is in great dread right now from the Coronavirus Pandemic. The fear is palatable for many. There is political and economic upheavals worldwide. We might add as Christians that Jesus told us that in the end times there would be pestilences, wars and rumors of war, earthquakes and other natural disasters as well as the return of Jesus as judge. There are so many things beyond our personal power to stop, and there are things which no one is able to stop. It is always hard to live when things are so out of our control. We need to be comforted. Paul tells us in Romans 15:4 that Scripture was given to instruct us “that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” So, let us look this morning at one of these passages. Let us turn to the 40th Chapter of the Book of Isaiah.
Many songs have been written about the 40th chapter of Isaiah. Handel’s Messiah alone quotes these verses four different times. We hear the Messiah starting with “Comfort Ye My People” and “Every Valley.” Later on we hear “O Thou that Tellest Good Tidings to Zion.” Finally we have the comforting “He Shall Feed His Flock.” The first eleven verses of this chapter indeed cause us comfort and hope.
But not all of Isaiah is bright and cheery. Even within the text, Brahms in His German Requiem has the harsh and despondent “Alles fleisch ist wie die Gras.” (“All flesh is as the grass.”) Brahms was mourning the recent death of a loved one. The pall of death sounds loud at first but slowly resolves to more pleasant themes. Other parts of Isaiah are even darker. There are prophecies of judgment throughout the book. The LORD was displeased with injustice such as the neglect and abuse of the poor. He was tired of religious hypocrisy. He hated idolatry. He promised that judgment was coming. Not only was Israel and Judah to be judged, but the surrounding nations as well. Isaiah prophesied for a long time and promised judgments. Some of these took place within the lifetime of Isaiah, some after, but before our time, and yet others at the end of time. Trying to parse these prophecies is very difficult and has led to considerable confusion, It is hard for us to find comfort when so much is hard to understand. Perhaps this general confusion is deliberate, to make us realize that our hope through this is that we might depend upon Him who brings all things to pass according to His will. It may be beyond our control to understand how all these judgments find their fulfillment, but not for God.
Interspersed among these gloomy judgments are prophecies of salvation and hope. They are like bright stars in the gloomy darkness. They are like the sailors of old who did not have GPS and radar to guide them. The sea and the fog blended into one uniform grey. But then they see the light of the lighthouse and are now oriented and hopeful of reaching shore. How brightly shines these promises of deliverance against the backdrop of gloom. Like the prophecies of judgment, some of these deliverances occurred in the day of Isaiah, some after but before our time, and some in the future. But instead of confusion, we realize that the LORD is compassionate and willing to forgive and show mercy. The past deliverances display the character of the unchanging God. The same God who delivered the fathers is willing to deliver us. This promise is throughout Scripture. It teaches us to have hope.