Advent 2

Preached: December 7, 2014

Speak Comfort
Isaiah 40:1-11

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which our Savior comforts us is Isaiah 40.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 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.

A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”

You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news 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!” See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 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. (Isaiah 40:1-11 NIV11)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

How different “comfort” can be from “comfortable!” “Comfortable” is a relaxing Lazy-Boy or a cozy sweater. Comfort goes deeper. True comfort penetrates to the very depths of the soul. Even when the body is uncomfortable, the heart can be comforted.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (Isaiah 40:1 NIV11). How does this comfort come into our hearts? How do we bring this comfort to others? “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem” (Isaiah 40:1 NIV11). Yes, this comfort comes through words, spoken words.

Three times in the text, we hear a voice. “A voice of one calling” (Isaiah 40:3 NIV11). “A voice says, ‘Cry out’” (Isaiah 40:6 NIV11). “Lift up your voice with a shout” (Isaiah 40:9 NIV11). This is not some inner voice. It comes from the outside. It communicates in words. Yes, the comfort God brings to his people comes through words. Hear those words and speak those words. Imitate the Apostle Paul, who wrote, “The God of all comfort ... comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4 NIV84). Yes, dear friends, speak comfort. That's the theme today. Speak comfort.

What is this message of comfort? The Hero has come to end our hard service. He has paid for our sin. He shepherds us into doubly rich pastures.

A. The Hero has come to end our hard service

“Proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed ... A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken’” (Isaiah 40:2-5 NIV11).

“John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4 NIV11). John certainly fulfilled those words from Isaiah as he preached repentance, preparing the way for Jesus. And the Lord calls on us still today to speak his message of repentance. But sometimes we imagine that repentance is only a harsh, abrasive thing, the opposite of comfort.

The call to repentance is harsh and abrasive to our pride. Think of how rough sandpaper is and that is only meant to grind down the edges of a piece of wood. But what about the peaks of pride in our hearts? They're not small ridges of wood but stoney cliffs and mountains. How harsh and abrasive the message that levels our pride!

God's commandments confront our sinfulness. We have broken his commands, not just dinging them but shattering them. We have failed to obey. God's law devastates our pride and exposes our helplessness. We cannot save ourselves.

Yet our inborn self still labors on. “There must be something I can do. If I try harder, if I do better, if I sacrifice more, then God will accept me. Right?” Wrong! “How about if I make myself feel really sorry, if I make amends to those I've hurt, if I beg for their forgiveness?” None of that makes us right with God either. What hard labor our flesh drives us on to—hard, futile, pointless labor! What hopelessness!

If this is where the preaching of repentance ended, there would be no comfort. But John did not stop here. Neither did Isaiah, and neither does our preaching of repentance. “After me comes the one more powerful than I” (Mark 1:7 NIV11), John proclaimed. “The glory of the Lord will be revealed” (Isaiah 40:5 NIV11), Isaiah wrote. And Jesus came.

On that first Christmas night, the glory of the Lord came. The angel proclaims: “I bring you good news of great joy ... Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10, 11 NIV84). The Hero has come. The Savior has come to deliver us. Our hard labor is ended. Sin no longer drives us on in futility. Our Hero has come. He has ended our warfare. What comfort for you and me! What comfort for us to share! Speak comfort. The Hero has ended our hard service.

But how? How did he do it? How did he end our hard service? He himself paid for our sins.

B. He has paid for our sins

But can that really be true? How could someone else pay for the wrong I've done? And if it is true, how could I ever be sure about it? Nothing is sure in this life. Everything wears out or breaks. How short the human life is and even the accomplishments that survive us fall away. Even the most glorious works of humanity, the blossoming flowers of our ingenuity and creativity, all wither away as the winds of time blow on them. Does anything last?

“A voice says, ‘Cry out.’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ ‘All people are like grass, and all their glory[NIV84] is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever’” (Isaiah 40:6-8 NIV11). And what does that word say? “Proclaim to her ... that her sin has been paid for” (Isaiah 40:2 NIV11).

Your sin, dear friend, has been paid for. You have God's word on that. And later in the book Isaiah describes how that happened. In chapter 53 referring to Jesus he writes: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and be his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5, 6 NIV84). Your Hero, Jesus Christ, paid for your sins. What comfort!

Even when all else crumbles in life, even when your body withers and your accomplishments fall like dying blossoms, even when the very foundations of civilization are shaken, cling to this word of promise. Your Hero has paid for your sins. For the word of our God endures forever. This world will pass away, but his word will never pass away. His promise will never fail. Cling to his word of promise as the one sure thing.

What comfort as we cling to his word of forgiveness! What comfort for us to speak to others. Tell them the good news, the glad news of great joy. Speak comfort, comfort that endures, as you tell them: Jesus Christ has paid for your sins.

For through faith in Jesus, through faith in his word of promise that he has paid for our sins, we have God's double blessing. For Jesus shepherds us into doubly rich pastures.

C. He shepherds us into doubly rich pastures

“Proclaim to her ... that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:2 NIV11). For you see, where sin abounded grace abounded all the more (Romans 5:20). In place of our sin, we have received grace upon grace.

For the Shepherd, the Good Shepherd who laid down his life to pay for our sins—he has taken up his life again to gather us in his arms and carry us close to his heart. How gently he leads us! How comforting his voice! Because he has paid for our sins, God's blessings abound for us even now. You have peace with God. What comfort! You have open access to the Father's throne to call on him in prayer as a dear child going to your dear father. What comfort! You have direction and purpose in life, for you know whom you are following, the Shepherd of your soul. What comfort! And we could go on with the blessings that are yours and mine right now through faith in our Shepherd.

What about the hardships and problems we still feel? Think of where the Shepherd is leading you. Our present suffering isn't worth comparing to the glory that awaits. That future glory far outweighs the present troubles, doubly so and even more. For the Shepherd is leading us home, home to our Father's house.

What good news for us to tell! What good news to tell not only in our own homes but from the highest mountain tops. That's why we support mission work and look beyond our own community. What good news for all to here. And so the text closes: “You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news 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!’ See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 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” (Isaiah 40:9-11 NIV11).

What comfort the words of our God bring to our heart, even when our lives may be very uncomfortable! What words for us to share with others! Speak comfort. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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