Summary: Centuries before Jesus was born, Isaiah prophesied that Israel's warfare would be accomplished, and her iniquity pardoned. Who are we at war with? How is iniquity pardoned? And what does that have to do with Christmas?
Please open your Bibles to Isaiah 40. As we begin the season of Advent, we are going to look at some very familiar words from the Old Testament, particularly if you are a fan of Handel’s Messiah: “The voice of one crying: In the wilderness prepare the way of theLord. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” I want you to just marinate on that image for a little:
“Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
God makes a way in the desert.
When you think about a desert, you think about an empty, barren place with no life. And that was how people described Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. They called her barren. What a horrible word! And she had heard it all her life. In a time when a woman’s worth was measured in how many children she had, in a time when, if you had many children it was seen as God being happy with you. If you had no children, it was because God was angry at you...that you were sinful...that you were being punished for something.
But just like she said in the video, God seems to take delight in bringing life to barren places. And Elizabeth’s story which we read about in Luke chapter 1 is really the story of the people of Israel. Just as Elizabeth and Zechariah probably wondered if God had forgotten about them, the people of Israel wondered if God had forgotten about them.
The Christmas season is about the anticipation of something good coming in good time. But how much more when its something you have been praying for or longing for for a long time? Anyone who has struggled to get pregnant understands the unfulfilled longing to bring a baby into the world.
Or what about something you are in desperate need of? I have a friend that I have known for nearly five years who has been waiting for a kidney transplant for as long as I’ve known him.
The Advent season teaches us the value of waiting on God. We understand that Christmas isn’t just about December 25. The gospel story doesn’t begin in Bethlehem with a birth announcement to shepherds. As we will see this morning, it actually begins hundreds, even thousands of years before that. Let’s read together Isaiah 40:1-5. Please stand to honor the reading of God’s word.
40 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare[a] is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the LORD's hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries:[b]
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
As we look at this text, realize that we are kind of being plopped down in the middle of Jewish history. Chapter 40 is about two thirds of the way through Isaiah, which is about two thirds of the way through the Old Testament, and about 700-800 years before the birth of Jesus. Clearly, from verse 1 we see that God is speaking words of comfort to His people. But why do they need comfort? He says their warfare is ended. When did it begin? Who are they at war with? And what does this have to do with Christmas? Let’s start by identifying the problem.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.
We are at war. Israel had had a long history of warfare with other nations. After 400 years of bondage in Egypt, they entered a land where they had to fight for every inch of what God had promised them. The book of Joshua ends with Israel having defeated every people group in the promised land.
During the period of the judges, Israel would be oppressed by various nations, then God would raise up a deliverer, there would be a period of peace, then the cycle would begin again.
Then came the period of the monarchy. First King Saul, then King David led Israel against the Philistines. After David came King Solomon. And here is the amazing thing about Solomon. His 40 year reign was the longest uninterrupted period of peace Israel had had since the time of Abraham. Think about it: Only 40 years of peace over the course of fourteen hundred years. Imagine how Isaiah’s readers would have felt to hear this prophecy for the first time— There will come a day when God will say to his people, “your warfare has ended.” Because a Prince of Peace is coming.