• Rev. Mark Tews

Comfort My People

“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!’” (Isaiah 40:9).

Comfort – it is so much more than a town in Texas! Comfort is a hot bowl of soup when you’ve been working outside in the freezing cold. Comfort is a caring embrace when you are grieving. Comfort was the disciples hearing Jesus rebuke the storm on the Sea of Galilee.

One does not need to be comforted when one is already comfortable. But there are many situations that involve fear and discomfort. Personal situations, including health problems, relationships, mental illness, and the weight of past sins, can all cause discomfort. There are situations in the world that trouble us. Just as the world started to breathe after the pandemic began to subside, upheavals swelled worldwide. Riots, civil unrest, wars, rumors of war, and earthquakes all make us uncomfortable and fearful. It is always hard to live when things are out of our control. We need to be comforted.

Paul reminds us that Scripture was given to instruct us “that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4). Many songs have been written about the 40th chapter of Isaiah. Handel’s Messiah contains comforting verses from the first eleven verses of it. But not all of the chapter seems so hopeful. In Brahms’ German Requiem, written while he was mourning a loved one, we find the harsh and despondent “Alles fleisch ist wie die Gras” (all flesh is as the grass). Other parts are even darker; prophecies of judgment on all people. When Isaiah was written, the Lord was displeased with injustice, such as the neglect and abuse of the poor. He was tired of religious hypocrisy and idolatry. He promised that judgment was coming – not only to Israel and Judah. Some of the prophesies of Isaiah were fulfilled during his lifetime and some after. Others will happen at the end of time. Trying to parse these prophecies can be difficult. It’s hard for us to find comfort when so much is hard to understand. It may be beyond our control to understand how all these judgments find their fulfillment, but not for God.

Words of truth are necessary for comfort, even if that truth declares judgement. Much of our worldly “comfort” involves the denial of reality. People tell funny stories during a funeral to break up the reality that a loved one has died. A husband might bury himself with work to escape the pain of a strained relationship with his wife. We drink at the end of the workday to help us forget how challenging it was. But true comfort has to face the truth: Our world is falling to pieces around us and we are like grass. Like the flower of the field, our works look beautiful in the morning, but the heat of the midday sun wilts it. Our world is becoming unglued, and no one is able to hold it together. The real truth that confronts us and comforts us, is to be found in the Word of our God which stands forever. If we are indeed to stand in the midst of all that is shaking around us, our only hope is in the unshakable Word of God.

The truth the Lord tells us through Isaiah is that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6). We cannot find shelter from the storm within ourselves, we must trust in the Lord for His righteousness and His shelter. Interspersed among the judgments in Isaiah are prophecies of salvation and hope, shining like bright stars in the darkness. They are promises of deliverance against the backdrop of gloom. Like the prophecies of judgment, some of this deliverance occurred in the day of Isaiah, some after, and some are yet to come.

So how does the Lord bring us comfort? He sent John the Baptist as a herald to tell us that a way had been prepared in the wilderness. The hills and valleys of this way were to be made level and the crooked road straightened. John baptized and introduced God’s Chosen One, Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Jesus called Himself “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). He is the way to a better Jerusalem where the Father lives.

The Lord of truth confronts us in our sin. God hates the sin, not the sinner. The Lord of truth also comforts us. The One who comes in the name of the Lord is the Good Shepherd. A good shepherd feeds His flock and carries the young in His bosom. The Lord who judges sin and injustice has also provided pathway to follow Him out of the wilderness, we only need to take the path. To remain in our temporary comfort and shelter is simply to wait for the Day of Judgment. But if we are on the pathway of Jesus, we realize that Jesus bore our judgment upon the cross. Isaiah tells us that He was chastised and bruised for our sins. The chastising whip was laid to His back and it is He who has paid the double penalty. The cry goes out: “This is the Way: walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21).

“Though [our] sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18). The Lord is compassionate and willing to forgive us and show us mercy. Even during pandemics, the people of God are not without light and hope. The strains of the hallelujah chorus can and must still be heard. Isaiah says to not be afraid and to lift up our voices with strength. We need to boldly and fearlessly comfort one another and all the world around us, proclaiming from the mountaintops, “Behold our God! He has done great things for us. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”