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God is Coming

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40 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

We have finally, at long last, reached . The Assyrian conflict has been resolved with God’s dramatic deliverance. The Babylonian envoys have come, and, setting up the remainder of the book, Isaiah prophesied that those same Babylonians would come and overthrow Judah, which we know from our timeline discussion two weeks ago comes in 586 B.C.
Going forward there is major shift in not only the focus of these prophecies but their structure. Previously there have been these clearly delineated sections, topic shifts, and divisions in the prophecies. Going forward, the prophecies are in long, unbroken sections.
The message going forward, while still interspersed with visions of God’s wrath, takes a much more hopeful tone. We will see interspersed throughout many visions of the Messiah, the suffering servant. We see words of reassurance to God’s people that, no matter how bad things get (and they will get very bad) God is with them, he loves them, he will preserve them, and he will redeem them.
We should be familiar with our text tonight, as we sang it last week, courtesy of Kevin. It’s also a timely passage, as many of us are facing uncertain, discomforting circumstances. This is our first week without Clark, who founded this group and has led it faithfully for so many years. Many of you are facing uncertainty from the Air Force on where you might be going. Or you know where you’re going but are uncertain what will happen when you get there. A lot of you go to Meadowbrooke. You don’t have a pastor currently. Who will you get and what will he be like? Over the weekend the United States launched strikes in Syria. There’s all kinds of uncertainty around us.
Just as God’s word provided comfort to God’s people in Isaiah’s day, it provides comfort to us. But this passage is not just intended to give us comfort. It is a call to action, a call to arms. Because of what God has done and will do for his people, it elicits a necessary response from us.

40 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

The verbs here are plural imperatives. They are commands from God for some unnamed entity to comfort God’s people. But because we know that the verbs are plural, we know there are multiples of whomever are coming. Calvin suggests God is speaking to his prophets, his messengers, preparing them to bring the message of deliverance. Barnes, being Barnes, wants to tie this to Babylon, saying that they need to comfort God’s people when they conquer them and take them into captivity. I don’t buy that argument because what comes in verse 2 seems to be describing something that comes after punishment is over. Regardless, after all the difficulty they have gone through and are yet to go through, they are still to take heart in God’s care for them. “The remnant shall return” as the name of Isaiah’s first son reminds us.
We do know that one of the ways God comforts his people is by raising up shepherds. Pastors, elders, Bible study teachers who preach the word.

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.

The messengers are told to speak tenderly. This isn’t the tone we’ve seen in most of Isaiah, which has been one of warning, of judgement. It has been rather stern. This is a soft, reassuring tone. The “everything is going to be OK,” voice
Here, three assurances are made:
Warfare is ended. The people that had been continually invaded, oppressed, conquered, and enslaved will someday no longer be. There will come a day where there will no longer be any Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Turks, or ISIS to come and make war against God’s people.
Iniquity is pardoned. Even more important than the temporal peace, peace will be made with God through the forgiveness of sins.
She has received double for her sins. There is no punishment remaining to give. The debt has been satisfied.

3  A voice cries:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;

make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

There’s an interesting translational issue here. ESV says “A voice cries” then proceeds with the quote, making “in the wilderness” part of the quote. NKJV says “The voice of one crying in the wilderness” then begins the quote. So is the cry in the wilderness or the preparation in the wilderness. I don’t know Hebrew, so I couldn’t tell you.
The fact that it is in the wilderness indicates the state God’s people will be in by the time this comes to pass. The wilderness is not a good, healthy, prosperous place. We talked back in chapters 34 and 35 about the wilderness, and how it was desolate, haunted by wild animals, and uninhabitable. Yet, from death, from emptiness, from the void, God himself will come. The command is to prepare a way for the LORD, and a highway for God. Though there have been these times of trial and struggle, God himself will come and dwell among his people. God comforts his people through sending a message and messengers as we saw in verse 1, but he also comforts them by sending himself. God the Father decrees from the foundations of the earth to create us and save us and redeem us. God the Son enters into creation and dwells with his people then lays himself down as a sacrifice for sins. Then God the Holy Spirit enters into us personally to enable us to understand God’s word and to enable us to live as we ought.

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.

This shows us a few things. First, the degree of transformation that will occur at the Lord’s coming. Mountains falling down and valleys being lifted up is not a normal type occurrence. Also, it means that the way by which God is coming is certain, and to him, effortless. This is set, determined, and will not be thwarted.

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.”

Why do we know this will happen? Because God says so. His words cannot fail. His plans cannot be stopped. God says, it will be. And all flesh will see it together. This isn’t just a promise to Israel. This is a promise to everyone.
This prophecy is cool, because we get to see in the Bible how it is ultimately fulfilled in

3 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.

5  Every valley shall be filled,

and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall become straight,

and the rough places shall become level ways,

6  and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”

So the one crying in the wilderness is none other than John the Baptist, preparing for the coming of Christ.
Now an interesting thing is going on in the text here. You’ll notice the last line from the Luke citation says that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Isaiah doesn’t have that line. That’s because in the Hebrew Old Testament that line is not there. However, in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament which would have been the primary Old Testament in use at the time of Christ, it is.
καὶ ὄψεται πᾶσα σὰρξ τὸ σωτήριον τοῦ θεοῦ
καὶ ὄψεται πᾶσα σὰρξ τὸ σωτήριον τοῦ θεοῦ
This happens sometimes when the New Testament quotes the Old Testament. Some say it proves that the New Testament is unreliable because it rests on a translation that has been changed from the original. To which I simply respond, God is sovereign over all things that come to pass. Even if the added line was not inspired scripture at the time of Isaiah, it certainly became inspired scripture when it was written into Luke.
This happens sometimes when the New Testament quotes the Old Testament. Some say it proves that the New Testament is unreliable because it rests on a translation that has been changed from the original. To which I simply respond, God is sovereign over all things that come to pass. Even if the added line was not inspired scripture at the time of Isaiah, it certainly became inspired scripture when it was written into Luke.

6  A voice says, “Cry!”

And I said, “What shall I cry?”

All flesh is grass,

and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.

6  A voice says, “Cry!”

And I said, “What shall I cry?”

There’s a back and forth here between Isaiah and God. God says “Cry!” and Isaiah asks what he should say. This is an important exchange because it shows that Isaiah is not interested in putting forth his own message. He is here to deliver the very words of God.

All flesh is grass,

and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.

7  The grass withers, the flower fades

when the breath of the LORD blows on it;

surely the people are grass.

This talks about how life is short and fleeting, and the things of this earth, even the splendid, beautiful ones, will pass away. God breathes and the flowers and grass die. He is sovereign over all creation. But here we, too, are equated with the grass. We wither. We die. God determines that at some point we pass away. But...

8  The grass withers, the flower fades,

but the word of our God will stand forever.

So while this earth, and the things in this earth, and we are passing away. God’s word stands forever.
Heidi and I actually hear this verse often. We’re members of a Presbyterian church that uses a more traditional liturgy than most churches out there today do. Part of this is that at least 3 times in every service, we have scripture readings. We have at the beginning of the service a call to worship (usually from the Psalms, but can be something else), we have in the middle another reading that is not the sermon scripture, usually from the opposite testament (so if the sermon is from the Old Testament, this reading is from the New Testament and vice versa), and finally, the sermon text is read in full prior to the sermon. This is because in the Reformed tradition, we place a high value on the hearing of scripture (not that others don’t, we just build it into our worship). We want to keep it central.
But I mention this because often after the pastor reads whatever text he reads, he will quote this verse to remind us why we read scripture. It is because we know that God’s word is true, reliable, unchangeable, and will stand forever. Whatever happens on this earth, whatever change and death is around us, we know that God’s word will remain. That provides us with great confidence and assurance, no matter what happens. The word of God is true, faithful, and reliable. We need not fear, we need not doubt. Not only has our God come, but he has given us his word.
If you would indulge me for a moment, I see verse 8 here, and it weighs heavily on me and gives me sorrow. Because I look out in our world today and much of what calls itself the church and many who call themselves Christians live as though this verse is not true.
We were warned about this, in :

4 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Despite this promise that the Word is the only thing the lasts, the only thing in which we have hope, people want more. People want something different.
Clark, in his sermon yesterday, illustrated this point very well. It is as thought the pastors, commissioned as undershepherds by the Chief Shepherd, Christ, to guard his flock and feed them the Word, are not content with the work they are given, and, wanting to expand their kingdoms. They want more seats filled and dollars in the collection plates, so they start letting pigs and cows in among the sheep. Unnoticed, wolves creep in as well. Pigs and cows won’t eat the food of sheep, so the shepherd has to change what he feeds to something other than the Word. As a result, the sheep start to grow ill and die. The wolves (false teachers and false teachings) start picking the sheep off. The shepherd might now be a cow and pig mogul, he might be rich and successful and well-thought-of by man, but he has forsaken the work that Christ gave him to do.
Listen very carefully: If our churches abandon the Word, if they are not centered on it, if they decide to swap out the Word for social programs and man-centered growth strategies, if even this Bible study becomes something other than a Bible study, where we hang out and have a good time but there’s no Christ in it, there’s none of the Word in it, it’s over. We might as well close down and go home. Because the Word is our only hope. It is the only place to go for God’s truth. It is the only thing we have that will last forever. No scripture, no church. No scripture, no Christian.

9  Go on up to a high mountain,

O Zion, herald of good news;

lift up your voice with strength,

O Jerusalem, herald of good news;

lift it up, fear not;

say to the cities of Judah,

“Behold your God!”

The news of the sort that Isaiah is bringing here demands a response. So go up on a high mountain. Go where everyone can hear you and (it says) lift your voice with strength. Be loud, shout, yell.
Zion and Jerusalem as used here are a personification of God’s people. God’s people need to go tell the world this great news. And they are told to do it how? Without fear. “Fear not” is the command. They are told to tell the surrounding cities of Judah (as Jerusalem is their capital) “Behold your God.” Tell everyone around you about this.
Jerusalem here is
God’s people now struggle with this. It’s hard to fearlessly tell others about the good news of Christ. We could get in trouble. We could upset or offend someone. We cower in fear while people rush headlong into hell. This is not how God has instructed us to handle the news he has given us. We go shout on a mountain, not go whisper it into our pillows.

10  Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might,

and his arm rules for him;

behold, his reward is with him,

and his recompense before him.

When God comes, he promises in this verse to do three things.
He will rule. When God comes, he will establish his kingdom with Christ as its head. This is happening in the church. You go to just about every country in the world, you will find (you may have to look for it) a Christian church. Even in the most difficult of places, like Iran and North Korea, there’s missionaries on the ground, churches being planted, and the gospel is being proclaimed. This is a kingdom greater than any earthly kingdom, and will persist even after the earthly kingdom passes away.
Second, he will reward. When Christ comes, he grants salvation and eternal life to his people.
Finally he will recompense. Jesus is not just the savior of the world, he is also its judge. He will save his people and he will destroy his enemies in the last day. captures this well:

22 For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

So not only is God coming to save and to take dominion, he is coming to judge. We know this has been fulfilled in Christ. But we also know now that Christ is coming again. So just as in the time of Isaiah, where the messengers are to go and comfort the people with this message of hope, so are we. We are to proclaim to gospel. We are to live lives that are rooted in the scriptures, certain of the hope we have in Christ’s return. We are to be mountaintop heralds that speak even and especially if the world is unwilling to hear. Because God is with us. Because God with his Word and his Spirit empowers us to do so. Because he is our comfort.
Discussion question: How does God’s word comfort us?
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