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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:God speaks abounding comfort to his broken people
Text:Isaiah 40:1-2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-06-28
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 93

Psalm 6:1-3 (after the law)

Psalm 23

Hymn 15:1

Hymn 71

Scripture reading:  Isaiah 39

Text:  Isaiah 40:1-2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

I want you to take a minute and reflect on your life.  Specifically, I want you to think back over your life and think about your regrets.  Think about those things you’ve done and said that you really wish you hadn’t.  Do any of those things have consequences that continue to the present day?  That can happen.  Something foolish that you did 20 or 30 years ago, maybe even longer, those things can have lasting consequences.  And so you’re always being reminded of your foolish sinfulness.  You did something sinful and wrong and it seems like there’s just no getting away from it.  And things get more challenging when you try to look at where God is in this picture.  Is he really gracious and forgiving when he organizes things in such a way that we have to keep dealing with the consequences of our sin even though it was a long time ago? 

Similar questions and challenges were facing the believing people of God in our passage from Isaiah.  The people addressed by this prophecy were broken.  They were broken in the sense of being sinful and inclined to evil.  But they were also broken in the sense of being discouraged and weighed down by the consequences of sin in their lives.  These were afflicted people in need of comfort.  And in our passage, God provides them – and us – with exactly that.  I preach to you God’s Word this morning with the theme:  Yahweh speaks abounding comfort to his broken people.

We’ll hear his tender words assuring them that their:

  1. Disaster has passed
  2. Debt is paid
  3. Discipline is done

First off, we need a bit of background for our passage.  It was written by Isaiah, a prophet who lived during the 700s before Christ.  He did his work as a prophet during the reign of several kings in Judah.  One of those kings was Hezekiah.  Hezekiah is remembered as one of the relatively good kings of the Old Testament.  King Hezekiah had been sick.  He nearly died, but God heard his prayers and gave him healing.  He was given an extra 15 years to live.  After his recovery, Hezekiah welcomed a delegation from Babylon.  This is in chapter 39.  He tours them around his treasures, foolishly showing them how much wealth he had amassed.  What drove Hezekiah to do this?  Why would anyone show off their wealth?  Pride.  He wants the Babylonians to respect him as a potential ally.  He wants to win their high estimation.  Hezekiah pridefully places his trust in his wealth instead of in God. 

But God noticed.  Through Isaiah the prophet, God told Hezekiah that all the wealth he displayed to the Babylonians is going to be theirs.  They’re going to truck it all away to Babylon.  Not only his material wealth, but his family too.  They’re all going to be exiled to Babylon.  When Hezekiah heard this, it didn’t bother him too much.  He was just happy it wasn’t going to happen to him.  Hezekiah was one of the good kings, but yet here you see that even this good king had a prideful and selfish heart. 

Eventually the exile into Babylon happened.  It happened in about 586 BC.  In general terms, God sent his people into exile because of their sinful rebellion against him.  Most of the Jewish people didn’t want to worship God only and to worship him in his way.  Through the prophets, he warned them over and over again.  He warned them that disaster would come if they didn’t repent, if they didn’t turn from their sins and return to him with faith. 

Exile was the worst disaster they could have imagined.  Let’s read for a moment from 2 Chronicles 36:17-21 to see how it all went down.  That’s a disaster.  That was the exile into Babylon.  The surviving Jews were there for 70 long years.  It was a painful time.  They were strangers in a strange land. 

Now you’ll remember that I said that Isaiah lived during the 700s before Christ.  The exile took place in about 586 and lasted for 70 years.  And yet, the words of our passage are addressed to the people at the end of the exile.  How is that possible?  There are scholars who argue that there are two or three authors of the book we call Isaiah.  The real Isaiah wrote chapters 1-39.  Then a second “Isaiah” who lived much later wrote chapters 40-66, or some part of it.  There are two major problems with that view.  One is that the Old Testament presents the whole book of Isaiah to us as one book written by one human author named Isaiah.  The other major problem is that the New Testament consistently tells us that the entire book was written by one human author, Isaiah the son of Amoz.  So we follow what the Bible teaches.  The Bible teaches us that the whole book of Isaiah was written by Isaiah the prophet, a historical figure who lived during the 700s.

So how could Isaiah the prophet write a message to people who were going to live a couple of hundred years later?  The answer is simple:  inspiration.  He was inspired by God the Holy Spirit.  God knew what was going to happen in the future – he had revealed it through the prophets before.  He knew there would be an exile, but he also knew what would come afterwards.  Now, through one of those prophets, he was also going to graciously extend comfort to those believing Jews who’d come later.  In his grace, God spoke through Isaiah to bring encouragement to his broken people further down the highway of history.

The first words he speaks are “Comfort, comfort.”  This is a command:  go and comfort the people.  It’s a command addressed to Isaiah and his disciples.  They’re to speak words of encouragement.  Note how the command is given twice.  That’s for emphasis.  God is saying that what needs to be spoken is abounding comfort.  It has to be relayed in a sincere and emphatic way that God wants to console his broken people. 

That abounding comfort begins already in the first verse.  Notice how it says, “my people.”  Notice also how it says, “your God.”  It’s easy to overlook those details, but they’re crucial here.  Those words “my” and “your” speak about relationship, a healthy relationship.  This is a relationship between God and his believing people.  This is a covenant relationship which is working the way it should because there’s been reconciliation and forgiveness.  The people have repented.  They’ve turned away from their sin.  They’ve turned to God with faith in his promises, and so they’ve been forgiven.  There’s restoration.

In that already we catch a glimpse of the gospel.  The gospel is the good news that there’s a healthy relationship to be had with God.  God offers that to us through Jesus Christ.  He’s the way through which we can be God’s people and he can be our God.  He’s the only way.  The Jewish people addressed in our passage could only see that in a shadowy way.  They had to trust in God’s promises which were leading up to the Messiah.  But for us, we have to trust in God’s promises as they’ve been embodied in the Messiah.  For us to be in a healthy relationship of fellowship with God, we have to believe in Jesus Christ.  Then there’s abounding comfort for us too, the abounding comfort of knowing God as our God and as our Father.

This gracious God wants tender words spoken on his behalf in verse 2.  Literally it says in the Hebrew that the speaking is to their hearts.  God just doesn’t want to fill their minds with information about who he is or what he’s done.  He wants to grab their hearts with his compassion and kindness.  He wants their hearts to be impressed with his grace.  

It’s Jerusalem that’s addressed here.  Oftentimes in the Old Testament, Jerusalem is used as a symbol of God’s people.  It’s representative because it was the capital city.

God wants his believing people living in exile to hear the loud cry or proclamation that “her warfare is ended.”  Now if you look in verse 2, you’ll see that there’s a footnote in the ESV with the word “warfare.”  If you go to the bottom of the page, you’ll see that this word can also mean “hardship.”  That’s a better translation here.  It’s better because the Jewish people in exile were not facing warfare.  At least there was no human warfare in the picture.  That was a long time ago.  But they were facing hardship and servitude.  Being in exile in Babylon was no picnic.  They were brought to Babylon to serve the Babylonians.  Psalm 137 describes one of the hardships they faced and that was being mocked for their circumstances.  Moreover, exile meant the hardship of having had the temple destroyed and the sacrificial system ended.  The temple was where God made his name dwell.  As the sacrifices pointed to Christ, they spoke of forgiveness and reconciliation.  All of that was gone, taken away from them.  These were the disastrous consequences of their sinful rebellion against Yahweh, the LORD.

But that word in Hebrew does carry the connotation of “warfare” as well, and even though there was no human warfare in the picture, there was still hostility with God.  They had rebelled against him and the consequence was enmity, warfare you could say.  Rebellion against God is a declaration of war against him. 

However, after the 70 years are up, God announces that it’s all over.  The hardship or warfare is completed, ended.  There’s going to be restoration.  The people are going to be restored to their land, restored to the temple and the sacrificial system.  Most importantly of all, there’s reconciliation with God, a healing of the broken relationship caused by the pre-exile rebellion.

Notice how their sin brought about hardship/warfare.  But with repentance and faith comes restoration and reconciliation.  God provides abounding comfort for repentant, believing sinners.  He promises to restore them and bring them into a healthy relationship with himself.  Loved ones, this is true for us as well.  Our sin brings consequences.  Our sin brings hardship, all kinds of brokenness.  Our sin messes us up.  It messes up our relationships with people, but it also affects our relationship with God.  But God calls us to repent, to turn from this destructive wicked force in our lives.  God calls us to place our trust in the Saviour Jesus, the one through whom we have rescue.  When we repent and believe, God assures with tender words of comfort:  your slavery is over.  Sure, you may still have to endure some of the consequences of your sin in this life, but the day is coming when all those consequences are going to disappear.  But even now, while you wait for that glorious day, you can be sure of peace with God and that’s something to find joy in.  That’s something that gives abounding comfort to broken people in the here and now.  Peace with God. 

The second part of the message is directly about the forgiveness of sins.  Yahweh wants it proclaimed that the iniquity of his believing people is pardoned.  Now we should pause and think about what that means and how it’s possible. 

So what does it mean that the iniquity of God’s people is pardoned?  First, iniquity is sin.  It’s rebellion against God.  Sin is always personal in the sense that it’s an attack on the person of God.  Whenever anyone sins, it’s like a slap in God’s face.  Something has to be done about that.  God’s majesty has been offended and there must be justice for that.  A payment needs to be made.  Now think for a moment about the greatness of God’s majesty.  How great is God’s majesty?  How would you describe its greatness?  If you looked at it biblically, you would end up with the word “infinite.”  God’s majesty is infinite, endless.  Now if you offend infinite majesty, what do you think the corresponding penalty should be?  Obviously, the penalty has to match the crime.  An offense against infinite majesty requires infinite payment, an infinite measure of justice against the offender.  That’s a serious matter.  That’s what makes sin such a serious problem. 

Now as an aside here, let’s take note that the Bible here and elsewhere speaks in terms our world is really uncomfortable with.  The world doesn’t want to hear the word ‘sin’ or related words like ‘iniquity’ or ‘evil-doing.’  They don’t want to hear about sin because whenever you say “sin,” you’re indirectly speaking about God.  Something is a sin because it’s measured against God’s holy standards.  Sin relates our life to God.  Sin is a religious term, a spiritual term.  So usually the world will use other words like “mistakes.”  As Christians, let’s be careful that we don’t let the world’s way of speaking become our way.  That can happen.  Christians can say things like, “I’ve made some mistakes in the past…”  Unless you’re talking about a maths test or something like that, what you should be saying is, “I’ve done some sinful things in the past…” or “I’ve been rebellious against God in the past.”  Brothers and sisters, it really does make a difference how we speak about these things.  Christians have to speak with a biblical accent.  That’s one way that we acknowledge God in all our ways, as Proverbs teaches us to do.

Now our passage speaks about the pardon of iniquity.  There are a few things to notice there.  One is that this isn’t speaking so much about the pardon of the iniquity of individual Jewish people.  It’s there, but the focus or emphasis is more on the people as a whole.  Now these people as a whole are God’s repenting and believing people.  They did that as individuals and they’ve done so corporately in some way.  But it’s the rebellion of God’s people as a whole that led to the exile in Babylon and those horrible consequences.  It’s God’s people as a whole that are being addressed here.

The other important thing here is how this pardon takes place.  It takes place through repentance and faith in God’s promises.  It’s not an automatic thing.  God always stands ready to pardon and forgive every sin, but he also calls everyone to repent and believe.  That’s the way to have your sins forgiven.  You have to turn away from sin, hate it, flee it, don’t live in it anymore and turn to God.  You need to believe his gospel promises to you.  For the Jews addressed in our text, they were called to believe that God would be their Saviour through the Messiah he would eventually bring.  If they would trust God’s promises, they’d be forgiven – their infinite debt to God’s justice would be considered paid in full.

For us too, God offers abounding comfort in the cross of Christ.  We can be God’s forgiven people as we individually and collectively turn from our sins and look to Jesus Christ.  As we trust in him, we can be confident that the greatest debt we could ever owe has been fully paid by someone else.  Our greatest problem has been completely addressed.  The greatest wrath we could ever face has been endured to the max by someone else in our place.  The One we offended the most has become our Father.  So even if we have to live with some of the consequences of our past sins now, the greatest consequence of all has been neutralized.  Our guilt before God is gone.  Our debt is paid and we are good in the eyes of God.  We can be his people and he can be our God.  What an awesome message the gospel holds out to us! 

We’ve come to the last part of verse 2.  This is where it says, “she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.”  I have to say that when I first started studying this passage, I wasn’t quite sure what this means.  In a few minutes, we’re going to sing the rhymed version of this passage in Hymn 15 and these words of verse 2 are missing.  Maybe the hymn-writer didn’t quite know what to make of it either.

To understand it, we have to know that receiving from the hand of Yahweh something for your sins is an expression related to God’s discipline of his people.  If you receive something from God’s hand for your sins, he’s chastising or disciplining you.  He’s giving you punishment for the sake of correction.  He’s giving you something hard to correct you.  He gives discipline so that you’ll be the better for it. 

And, in this instance, the people of God had received double from his hand for their sins.  That word ‘double’ has a couple of notable things about it.  One is that it’s the counter-part to the double-comfort command at the beginning of verse 1.  Isaiah can comfort, comfort because there has been discipline, discipline.  That double discipline accomplished its goal of restoration, repentance and faith.

Another notable thing about the word ‘double’ is that we shouldn’t press it too far.  The word in Hebrew can sometimes just indicate an abundant measure of something.  In other words, the people of God have received an abundant measure of discipline for their sins.  They’ve suffered the consequences at length and now God announces that it’s done.  The exile is over.  They’re going to be restored to the Promised Land. 

That’s exactly what happened.  In due time, many of the Jewish exiles made their way back to Judea.  The temple was rebuilt.  God’s plans for salvation in Christ seemed to be getting back on track.  The consequences of the exile were never forgotten, but God graciously took his believing people further and brought them the salvation for which they were hoping.

Now it’s a bit challenging to take what happened to God’s people in our passage and make a direct one-to-one application to us today.  What I mean is:  has anyone here “received from the LORD’s hand double” for all their sins?  Have any of us received an abundant measure of God’s discipline for our sins?  Suffered an abundant degree of consequences because of our sin against God?  Maybe, but maybe not.  Hard to say.  What we can say is that God does sometime give us discipline.  You know, it says three times in the Bible that God disciplines those whom he loves.  Does he love you?  Then you might very well expect him at times to discipline you.  He might send hard things into your life to get your attention and wake you up to some sinful blind spot in your life.  It could be a direct consequence of some sin or a sinful lifestyle of some kind.  We can also say that this discipline is meant to achieve something.  It’s meant to change your life, to change you.  God is trying to get your attention and tell you to repent.  When you do, we can also say that God holds out abounding comfort.  He holds out the promise of forgiveness and restoration to all repentant sinners.

Sometimes the consequences of sin are providentially left in our lives to humble us each day.  God leaves these things with us to remind us that we’re always sinners in need of his grace and forgiveness.  So long as we live in this world, we never outgrow that need.  The Jewish people after the exile should never have forgotten what happened and why.  There were consequences that lasted centuries.  Even though the discipline was over, the effects were still there and it was meant to humble them into constant dependence on God, constant repentance from their sins, and constant faith in God’s promises for redemption.  That’s the way it is for us too, loved ones.  God is sovereignly in control of all these things and they have a good purpose for those who love God.

Loved ones, our God is a God of comfort and tender words.  He is such to those who take him seriously, repent from their sins, and place their full trust in Christ.  With that, you can be confident your God has a tender heart of love towards you – he’s ended your slavery to sin, he’s brought you peace with himself, all your debt has been paid with the cross of Christ, and whatever discipline he gives you will ultimately bring you closer to him.  That’s the comfort the gospel promises here in Isaiah 40.  AMEN.

PRAYER

Our God in heaven,

We are your people.  You’ve established a relationship with us.  We thank you for that.  Thank you also that you promise us that our hardship is over as we repent and turn to Christ.  Thank you that you promise us that our debt is paid with the blood of the cross.  And thank you also that we can know that when you discipline us, it’s for our good.  You are a good and faithful God and we worship you.  We praise your Name for the abounding comfort you promise us in the gospel.  Help us always to believe your words of comfort to us.  Comfort and assure us each day, also if we continue to deal with the consequences of sins committed long ago.  Father, please continue to hold us in your loving hands. 

            

                                                                                    




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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