I. God’s Comfort.
“I think my water broke!”
“Your what did what?” I replied.
“I think my water broke!”
“Not now. We’re at church.”
“No, this is it. We gotta go to the hospital.”
“Uh, okay. Let me ask mom to take Victoria.”
We were off to the hospital. It wasn’t supposed to be for six more weeks. We stayed overnight in the hospital. Tammy slept on a comfortable hospital bed. I slept on springs that had little more than a sheet on it. It didn’t seem to matter though because number two was on the way. Late the next afternoon, Joseph Robert Bishop sprang into the world.
What an exciting day. Something didn’t seem right though. “Mr. & Mrs. Bishop, we are a little concerned about the condition of Joseph’s lungs.” What does that mean?
They put our six-pound little guy under what looked like a salad cover. I went home to sleep. I awoke to the piercing sound of the phone ringing at 2:00 in the morning. “Hello.” “They’re taking Joey to Research Hospital. He needs treatment there that they can’t offer here,” said the groggy voice on the other end. “Huh? Treatment for what?” I shot back. “His lungs aren’t developed enough.”
For nearly two weeks, we trekked daily to Research Hospital to visit our newest family member. Friends, family and well-wishers came to visit. I was scared, to say the least. My mom comforted me. I realized that it had been 28 years since her firstborn lay in a hospital for 52 days before he passed on. Now she put her arm around me and comforted me. She stormed the gates of Heaven for her first grandson. My dad offered his quiet strength as we watched Joey lay there, eating through a feeding tube, hooked up to a respirator. The comfort that my parents offered was priceless. It helped through those days.
There is nothing like the gentle touch of someone when we have just gone through a difficult time.
Turn to Isaiah 40. Keep your Bible open as we work through this.
1 Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
2 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.
Isaiah had just delivered the bad news of judgment in chapter 39. The people were facing 70 years of captivity in Babylon. Many who would be carried to Babylon would never again see their homeland. Many more would be born in captivity, having never seen the “old country.”
Now he looks forward to the end of the judgment. After that time, they would be disoriented and bewildered. There would be a sense of not being sure what to do.
The anger of God would subside, because the price of the sin would be paid. Now God is commanding that comfort be brought. Last week we talked about God turning his face from the people because of their sin. Now Isaiah foresees a time when God turns his face back to his people. God sees the pain they will have. We think of Nehemiah’s task of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. After hearing the walls of Jerusalem were in ruin, we are told in Nehemiah 1:4, “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” The pain would be deep. There would be people who wanted to give up. In Nehemiah 4:10 we read, as the wall building project was underway, “Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, ‘The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.’” Now that sounds like people who need to be comforted. We are commanded to offer comfort to God’s people. We’ll come back to this a little later.
II. Prepare the way for the Lord.
Have you ever had to prepare for the arrival of someone? There were a few occasions when I was younger that my dad would invite someone over to the house after the Sunday evening service, without clearing with the management first. “You did what? You invited who over?” would be my mom’s response. So in an effort to adequately prepare for the guests we would break world land speed records to get home before the guests who had already left.
Or do you remember the first time that special someone came over to the house? You were probably racing around rearranging things, throwing the G. I. Joe’s or Barbie’s in the closet. You would say things like, “Now don’t embarrass me mom and dad.”
I recall the time Tammy and I decided to get married. She wanted me to ask her dad. Now I am about the biggest chicken you’ll ever meet. We drove from Kansas City to eastern Indiana to visit her grandparents. Her parents and sister were driving up from Florida. She said I could ask her dad then. I did all those things you do to work up you courage.
Hurricane Andrew blew through south Florida the week we were there, and Tammy’s dad took off. He was then in the Air Force Reserve. He was put in charge of building the tent cities where all the displaced people went to live. I was able to ask him for his daughter’s hand in marriage late one Sunday night as he worked at his post in the tent city. I was preparing the way for wedding plans to be made.
Let’s look to verse 3-5:
3 A voice of one calling:
"In the desert prepare
the way for the LORD;
make straight in the wilderness
a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all mankind together will see it.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
Someone is calling for the way of the Lord to be prepared in the desert. The desert here is the moral wasteland through the Israelites had wandered. Make a way for God to come back to you. Isaiah is calling on the people to remove the clutter from their lives that might hinder the advent of God in their lives.
Road building is a task that is vastly different depending on where you are. It’s not terribly difficult to build a road through western Kansas. If you have ever been there, you know it flat ground. You can pretty much just lay the road down. Now, if you get into the mountainous area. I can appreciate that after driving through West Virginia. Roads are much easier to travel when they are flat and open. Gas mileage is horrible when going up a mountain. Have you ever been comforted by the runaway truck ramps on the way down? Tunnels are a little help, but I’m not real crazy about them.
The voice Isaiah hears says, the ground will be leveled off. The hills and mountains will be flattened and the valleys will be filled in. The rough ground will be smoothed out. In other words, all the junk and clutter will be removed to allow the Lord to come to his people. What exactly needs to be cleared? We need to clear out anything that hinders God working in our life. I am not going to offer a laundry list of things that need to be done. You need to sort that out with God. But as you consider what is important in your life remember that what we think is important isn’t always important. Sometimes the vitally important things we hold on to are hindering us from experiencing God in his full power.
III. Our temporal nature and God’s eternal nature.
I was flabbergasted the other day as I was watching the Family Feud. Richard Karn read the question, “Name a famous George.” My first thought was “George Briley.” The one lady rang in and said, “George Brett.” Richard Karn looked at her in puzzlement. He said something sarcastic like, “How about the famous George Brett.” He didn’t know who George Brett was. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent the last 14 years in Kansas City and the fact that I’m a baseball fan, but how in the world do you not know whom George Brett is. His is a Hall of Fame baseball player. He is the greatest player in the history of the Kansas City Royals. He leads the Royals in virtually every single offensive category. He is one of only 25 men in the history of baseball to have 3000 hits, in fact he ranks 15th on the all-time hit list. He is also sixth on the all-time list for doubles. He hit .390 in 1980, which was the highest batting average in 39 years. He spearheaded the Royals amazing string of post season and World Series appearances. If you remotely followed baseball at all from the mid-1970s through the early 1990s you should know who George Brett is.
This does point something out to us though. Fame is fleeting. And even more, our lives are fleeting. Let’s look at verses 6-8:
6 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.
7 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the LORD blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God stands forever."
Like George Brett’s fame on the baseball diamond, our glory is short lived in the long run.
Isaiah compares our life and our glory to that of grass and flowers. I understand that in Israel, there is a weather phenomenon that occurs in May. A violent dry wind sweep across the desert from Arabia. It is a hot scorching oppressive wind. It occurs before the spring rains and leaves a parched and dry land in its wake. The flowers and the grass are turned brown, as though it were autumn. Perhaps Isaiah was looking out his window at the devastating wind as he wrote these words.
But when you stop and think about it, Isaiah is right. Our lives are so fragile and temporary. If we are temporary, what good are the things that we think are important? Those obstacles that hinder God’’ ability to come to us are also temporary. What things are important? What are the things we look for when making major purchases? What’s important in a house? Longevity or looks? What about when we buy a car? Is it more important to get something flashy or something that will last several years? We often seek durability in what we buy. Longevity is important to us.
If that is the case, what should be the most important thing to us? What will last forever? According to Isaiah it is “the word of our God.” If we clear out all the clutter that we focus on and focus on his word, then he has a clear path to our lives. We prepare for the Lord’s coming by clearing a path for him. We clear the path by removing the clutter and focusing on his word that stands forever.
Our lives, fame, money, beauty, cars, clothes, and all that are here today and gone tomorrow, but the word of God is eternal.
What happens when we focus on him and his word? He comes to comfort and protect us.
IV. God is our protection.
When I think of God’s protection, I think of my cousin Dale. He was my favorite cousin growing up because he is so close to my age. Most of my first cousins are much older than I, and many of them have children older than I. Dale and I traded baseball cards. We played GI Joe together. We were married the same year, just two months apart. We were in each other’s weddings. We both did horrible things to the other’s car during the wedding reception. Victoria and Dale’s oldest are about a year apart. One other thing that made our relationship close is that he is a Christian and actively involved in church. Many of my mom’s other family are not Christian.
I was distraught last spring when I found out that he had lymphoma cancer. The prospects were not good. The doctors didn’t give him much hope. Dale and his wife also had their second child this spring. We prayed. Several churches prayed.
The Sunday before Thanksgiving, my mom called and told me that all the cancer was gone. God offered his protection and comfort at a very trying time for the family.
Let’s look at verses 9-11:
9 You who bring good tidings to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
"Here is your God!"
10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power,
and his arm rules for him.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.
When we remove the obstacles to God coming in our lives, we are able to experience his comfort.
God’s strength is his tenderness. A shepherd is someone who is strong yet tender. We think King David when he was younger. He tended his flocks. He was also famous for killing lions and bears with nothing more than al sling. Jesus is also the picture of a shepherd. We see the tenderness he displayed when he gathered the children around him. We see his strength as he chased the moneychangers from the Temple.
God offers comfort to those that are disadvantaged. Sheep are a disadvantaged animal. They are basically dumb. They are dirty. They have no sense. Sheep can’t be driven like cattle. They must be lead.
In verse 11, Isaiah offers us a picture of God as a gentle shepherd that “gently leads” his sheep. The young that are too weak to make on their own he carries. Those that have young cannot be pushed to hard, again he gently leads them. God looks out for the disadvantaged. I have never seen a pregnant sheep, but I have seen a pregnant goat. That goat was about ready to pop, and there is no way she could have been pushed hard. It would take gentleness to lead her where she needed to go.
This time of year it is easy to have a lot of clutter in our lives. There are the family get-togethers. There are programs at school. There may be travel plans. Maybe it’s extra hours at work. Maybe it’s the first Christmas without a loved one. Whatever the case, we need to prepare the way for the Lord.
It’s not that the get-togethers, programs, work, travel or the memory of a loved one aren’t important. It is that God is more important. Put those things aside at some point and prepare the way for the Lord to come to meet you and care for you. These things are only temporary but our God is eternal.
We celebrate this season the birth of the one who came to be our shepherd. The true comfort comes though not in the wooden manger, but on the wooden cross. Our hope is in Jesus, who is the one who provides our salvation.