Summary: God speaks four words of comfort, instead of judgment, to his wounded children, and releases them, and us, from those things that hold us captive. And these are voices we all need to hear.
Back in August, many people were glued to their televisions as the tragic events of hurricane Katrina’s onslaught unfolded in New Orleans.
With mandatory evacuations ordered, over a million people left the area successfully, traveling to Houston, Dallas, and other cities. This was the biggest migration in U.S. history. But many people were unwilling or unable to leave, ending up in the superdome. And over 1000 lost their lives. The hurricane took a huge toll on every conceivable aspect of life in New Orleans: work, housing, health, education, and churches.
Through news reports we have followed the stories of some people who were displaced. Separated from family, they had to find ways to start their lives over in other places, some even here in Lima.
In recent weeks, Mayor Nagin has been urging people to come home. Many have and many will. But some aren’t so sure. One college student I read about would like to stay at the University of Virginia where she was taken in as a student. A man who did return said he was so disgusted with what he found, he decided to leave permanently.
The impact of this hurricane gives us some idea of what it must have been like about 2500 years ago when the Jews were deported from their country, not because of a powerful hurricane, but because of a powerful nation. Babylonia came in and forcibly removed thousands of people, transplanting them in a foreign country. They didn’t want to be there any more than people from New Orleans wanted to be in Houston. Psalm 137 says, “By the rivers of Babylon - there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.”
Yet Isaiah said that is where they would be. The Bible says this exile was the result of their sin and disobedience. And if you look back to chapter 1 of Isaiah where God calls them a “sinful nation,” you will see a description of their situation. (v3) They had rebelled against God. They were unwilling to follow his commands and receive the blessings he had for them. They were under his judgment. And Isaiah wrote these words 100 years before the exile took place.
But, after 70 years in captivity, it would be time for them to return. And the tone of God’s message has changed. His words are not judgment and punishment and disappointment. Instead, they are words of grace, providence, truth, and love.
You probably don’t know what it is like to be in exile. Some of you know what a prison or a jail looks like from the inside. Some of you know what it is like to be separated from your family because of bad relationships. And some of you know what it is like to be imprisoned by addictions. Last Wednesday night when we studied the story of the prodigal sons in three different homes, one person said, “It’s amazing that his story is so much like our story.” It was the son who put himself in the pig pen. But when he went home, he found his father ready to welcome him. And the Bible says the angels in heaven rejoiced.
I don’t know what all goes on in heaven, but three times in the book of Isaiah we are treated to an inside look at heavenly dynamics.
• The first of Isaiah’s visions is recorded beginning in Chapter 1. This was a vision of what would happen to God’s people because of their wickedness and sin.
• The second vision is recorded in Chapter 6. This is the vision which gives Isaiah his call to be God’s messenger and Isaiah said, “Here am I, send me.”
• And today, in Chapter 40, in these first 11 verses we hear four different voices as God speaks words of comfort, instead of judgment, to his wounded children, and releases them, and us, from those things that hold us captive.
And these are voices we all need to hear.
The first is the voice of Grace. You have already heard these words from vv 1,2. God has good news for his people. The word comfort is said not just once, but twice. The voice of God speaks tenderly of “my people” and isn’t afraid to refer to himself as “your God.” This is the language of relationship. There is nothing worse than feeling abandoned and alone. Remember the description of people in New Orleans who felt abandoned in the superdome for several days. We can imagine the joy of the Jews in Babylon who heard these words, who felt as though they had been abandoned. They were hostages in a strange place. But now, freedom was on the way.
But there is more. Vs 2 says “she has served her term and her penalty is paid.” Last week in our nation we were reminded of the power of clemency, when one person’s sentence was changed from death to life imprisonment. A president has the power to grant total release. It is one thing to serve a sentence for a crime; it is quite another to be pardoned. I’ve heard people say that they have served their time, and they have, but serving time does not take away their guilt. That can only happen with forgiveness.