GETTING THE MESSAGE/Isaiah 40:1-2
Isaiah 40 is a chapter every Christian should become familiar with. Handel's majestic musical composition, "The Messiah," begins with the first two verses of this chapter, which we are looking at today. The musical uses Scripture about the promise of Christ's coming and the fulfillment of Christ's promised work, the saving of sinners to the glory of God. Isaiah 40 is a good place to begin.
The chapter begins with a word of comfort: "Comfort, comfort my people says your God." This word of comfort follows a word of judgment upon God's people in chapter 39. The Lord had repeatedly warned Judah of her idolatry and immorality, and finally gave her over to judgment in the form of a Babylonian invasion and subsequent fall of Jerusalem.
The word of comfort looks ahead to the Jewish exiles that were carried off to Babylon. During the siege and fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah wrote in the book of Lamentations that there was no comfort for Jerusalem. But here God's word assures his people of a time that God will restore his people in Jerusalem. This word of comfort is about restoration and reconciliation of God to his people.
This word of comfort ultimately looks to Christ. Christ speaks a word of comfort from God to people under the just judgment of God. The exhortation is; "Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her." This phrase "speak tenderly" has the meaning of speak to her heart, to the very core of her being. It is natural for us to grieve over the devastation of the land we live in, especially when there appears to be no remedy, no hope. Such was the lamentation of the Jews when Jerusalem fell.
But here we are shown people who are devastated by their sin and rebellion against God. They mourn over the state of the world in sin and their own souls. Isaiah knew well this experience. We see it in Isaiah 6: "I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips." This conviction convinces a soul that his sin is the cause of his exile from God.
The prophet Joel spoke of a time: "It shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Peter quotes these words in Acts 2 at Pentecost. In order to call on the name of the Lord, we must be convinced in the heart of the need to be forgiven.
Pentecost was in Jerusalem where Christ was crucified. The Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Jews there. Peter explained to the crowd gathered that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and that God had raised him from the dead. He also reminded the people that they were the ones who crucified Jesus, though he was the Holy One of God.
Many in the crowd were convicted, or cut to the heart, though this was conviction of sin, not comfort. But Peter had a word of comfort for them, a tender word from God. He pointed them to Christ for the forgiveness of sin. 3000 souls embraced Christ as Savior for remission of their sins, and were baptized in his name.
When Jesus promised his disciples they would do greater things than the miracles they were doing in his name, He was pointing to this work of God on display at Pentecost in Jerusalem. It is the power of God alone that can convince a sinful man he deserves the judgment of God.
Christ's word of comfort is to those who are troubled by their sin. Think of the story our Lord tells of the tax collector. He was so troubled by sin he would not even look to heaven, but asked for mercy. The Lord said he went home justified. He received a word of comfort.
You can imagine him objecting to this word at first; "O Lord if you only knew all that is in my heart and what I have done." But the Lord does know, and he knows it is worse than you know. Yet he has bound himself to speak tenderly to such. He blesses, he does not curse those come to him.
The phrase "says your God," that follows the exhortation to comfort my people, literally means keep on saying. Never stop giving comfort to my people. And what comfort it is. We see in verse 2, it includes the cessation of war, no more enmity between you and God. It promises the pardon of iniquity, a pardon without which you would have no hope. And it promises a double portion, abundant blessings from God. God not only forgive the sins of his people, he upholds them until they see him.