Comfort My People

Isaiah

Comfort My People

December 14th, 1975 @ 8:15 AM

Isaiah 40:1-11

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’S hand double for all her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever. O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
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COMFORT MY PEOPLE

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Isaiah 40:1-11

12-14-75     8:15 a.m.

 

We welcome you who are sharing with us the service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the message.  Before I read the Scripture that is expounded today, could I invite all of our people here in the great auditorium and all of you who watch and listen on television and who listen on radio to share with us the praise of our Savior this Christmas season?   Every evening beginning this Sunday evening at 7:30 o’clock and each evening at 7:30 through Friday evening, we can gather here in this sanctuary and listen to our glorious choirs as they sing from this Living Christmas Tree.  You can see the height and the immensity and the stature of it immediately back of me this morning. It is a gloriously interesting and praiseworthy program. And if you have opportunity to come at 7:30 each evening, beginning tonight through Friday night, you are most welcome.

Could I also say, if you would forgive me, at the same time there came into my hands two books that are written by the pastor, namely me.  One is from Zondervan Publishing House in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  It is entitled Expository Sermons on the Epistle of James.  The other is published by the Broadman Press of Nashville, Tennessee, our Southern Baptist Convention press.  It is entitled What To Do Until Jesus Comes?  If you buy them at our library, what little is made on the book goes to our library fund.  I have no control, of course, of the books that are sold by the bookstore.  But it is a way to sow the seed of the Word, giving it to somebody at Christmas.

In our preaching through the Book of Isaiah, we have come to chapter 40.  And we stand at the threshold of one of the great masterpieces of human literature, one of the great revelations of Almighty God and one of the sweetest passages of strength and encouragement and comfort to be found in the Word of the Lord.  The message this morning will be an exposition—an expounding of the first eleven verses of the fortieth chapter of Isaiah:

Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God.

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: that she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

The voice said, Cry.  And he said, What shall I cry?  All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:

The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely, surely the people is grass.

The grass withereth indeed, the flower fadeth indeed: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

O Zion, that bearest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!

Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him: behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him.

He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.  

[Isaiah 40:1-11]

 

The need for such a message is most apparent as you follow the story of the life of the people of God.  In these previous chapters the Lord had warned them of impending and disastrous judgment.  In the midst of these first chapters is a book called the book of woe!  Chapter 28, verse 1, “Woe!” [Isaiah 28:1-33:24]. Turn the page; chapter 29, verse 1, “Woe!” [Isaiah 29:1]. Chapter 30, verse 1, “Woe!” [Isaiah 30:1]. Why?

 

Behold, the name of the Lord cometh from far, burning with anger, and the burden thereof is heavy:

His lips are full of indignation, and His tongue as a devouring fire: And His breath, as an overflowing stream.

[Isaiah 30:27-28]

 

Woe!  Chapter 31, verse 1, “Woe!” [Isaiah 31:1]. Chapter 33, verse 1, “Woe!” [Isaiah 33:1]. And then the awesome prophecy that immediately precedes this fortieth chapter:

 

Behold, the days come, says the prophet Isaiah by the word of the Lord to Hezekiah, that everything in thine house,

and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day,

shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord.

And of thy sons that issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they be taken away; and they shall be eunuchs, slaves, in the palace of the king of Babylon.

[Isaiah 39:6-7]

 

And that awesome prophecy in the vision of Isaiah has now come to pass.  The nation has been destroyed.  The temple lies in ruins.  The people have been carried away into captivity, and they sit in despair and in slavery in a far away and foreign land.   And in their despair they cried the cry of verse 27, in chapter 40.  God says to them, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and why do you speak, O Israel, that my way is hid from the Lord,” that God does not see us anymore, “and why do you say that judgment is passed over from my God?”  [Isaiah 40:27], that the Lord is not there; that the Lord does not notice us and He does not do right by us.  He has forgotten us and He is indifferent to us. 

What God did is what God always does with a nation, with a people, with a home, with a soul.  The soul that sins shall die! [Ezekiel 18:4, 20].  And all the nations shall be turned into hell, who forget God [Psalm 9:17].  There is always judgment with sin. And the judgment fell upon the people of the Lord.  They have lost their nation.  They have lost their holy city.  They have lost their beautiful sanctuary, the Solomonic temple.  They have lost their freedom.  The judgment of sin has sent them into slavery [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21].  And they sit by the banks of the rivers of Babylon and cry and weep and lament: pitiful, sad, in despair and abject despondency [Psalm 137:1-6].  And it is to those people who are so cast down and so deeply judged that the prophet lifts up his voice and cries his word of comfort and assurance [Isaiah 40:1-11].  God has not forgotten, and the Lord is not indifferent.  He still cares for His own, loves His own, remembers His own and is preparing for them some incomparable present and future blessing;  Israel in the remembrance of God [Isaiah 40:1-11].

Now not only faith but we all need this message of assurance and comfort.  “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God,  Yea, speak ye tenderly to Jerusalem and say unto her that her slavery is passed, her iniquity is pardoned, for she has already received from God’s hand double for all her sins” [Isaiah 40:1-2].   This is the message the whole world needs: we and they.  You know the world is not made up of strong people who need to be skinned alive.  But the world is made up of weak people who need to be forgiven, and saved, and redeemed; and we are among them. 

I think sometimes of us, and of our world, like a man, who in a big new Buick automobile on a highway down which I was driving to my little country church; he passed me at a furious pace.  Oh, that fellow was driving like gee-haw down that highway in his new Buick automobile.  I turned off of the highway to the little road that led up to my country church.  And when I turned off the road, about a mile further it took an immediate turn, a ninety-degree turn, and the road builders had cut out the soil, the ground, and there was an embankment there; he ran toward that embankment and then the road turned to the left like that at a straight angle.  And when I came up finally to that turn in the road, evidently the man had not been able to negotiate the turn, and he had driven his beautiful new Buick right into the heart, the middle, of that embankment and had wrecked the car. 

And by the time I reached the place—right up the hill was the home of a farmer family in our little church—and by the time I reached the place, on one side of the driver of that car was that old farmer and on the other side of the driver of the car was his wife.  And the man, the driver of the car, was covered in blood; and that old farmer and his dear wife were slowly helping that crippled and bleeding and wounded man up to the home, to the house, to care for him, to bathe his wounds and to be good to him.

I think of the whole world kind of like that.  You could have taken time to lecture that man: “Don’t you know you shouldn’t drive furiously like that?  Don’t you know you break the law?  Don’t you know there’s a speed limit?  Don’t you know you are to observe it?  Don’t you know it’s dangerous to drive as you have?”  There were ample opportunities and reasons to lecture the man about what he had done.  No!  You don’t think of it like that.  The man is hurt, he’s wounded, he’s bleeding, he’s injured, and he needs somebody to help him up, to bathe his wounds, to care for him like that grand, good ‘ole farmer and his dear wife who were helping him up to the house.  The whole world is like that.  It cries in its soul for direction, and for help, and for forgiveness, and for comfort. 

You will find that poignantly in some of these songs that I hear our people sing that come out of the soul of the people.  “Oh, how we need God!  Somewhere O God stand by me.  Come by me.  Listen to my cry.” 

Take this one for example.  There is a song that comes out of the heart of Africa: “Kum Ba Yah.”  I thought for years, listening to some of our young people, especially, sing that song, I thought kum ba yah, that must be some strange language spoken by a tribe in the heart of Africa, kum ba yah.  Not at all.  Kum ba yah was just the best that tribe could pronounce the English message of the missionary, “O Lord, come by me.  Stand by me, kum ba me.”  And the best they could frame it in their language, in their accent, kum ba yah.  Do you remember the plaintiveness?

 

Kum ba yah, dear Lord, kum ba yah—stand by me.

Kum ba yah, dear Lord, kum ba yah—come by me. 

Kum ba yah, dear Lord, kum ba yah

O Lord, stand by me. 

 

Would you sing the next stanza with me:

 

Someone’s crying Lord, kum ba yah—stand by me.

Someone’s crying Lord, kum ba yah

Someone’s crying Lord, kum ba yah

O Lord, kum ba yah.

 

Do you remember the next stanza?  Sing it with me:

 

Someone’s praying Lord, kum ba yah

Someone’s praying Lord, kum ba yah

Someone’s praying Lord, kum ba yah

O Lord, kum ba yah

[“Kum Ba Yah,” traditional Spiritual, circa 1930]

 

That is the heart of the whole world.  “O Lord, come by me.” 

 

Comfort ye, comfort ye My people.

Yea speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her iniquity is pardoned.  Her slavery is finished: she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

[Isaiah 40:1-2]

 

So many of our songs are like that; looking to God, pleading with the Lord, needing the encouragement and the presence of God in our lives.  Out of America, not only in the heart of Africa where the tribal people sang that “Lord, come by me”, but out of the life of America comes one of the sweetest songs, I think, in all of Christian hymnology.  And its pathos and its appeal to God is just like that, “Lord Stand By Me.”

 

When the storms of life are raging, stand by me

When the storms of life are raging, stand by me

When the world is tossing me like a ship upon the sea

Thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me

 

In trials and tribulation, stand by me

In trials and tribulation, stand by me

When the hosts of hell assail and my strength begins to fail

Thou who never lost a battle, stand by me

 

In the midst of faults and failures, stand by me.

In the midst of faults and failures, stand by me.

When I do the best I can and my friends misunderstand

Thou who knowest all about me, stand by me.

 

When I’m growing old and feeble, stand by me

When I’m growing old and feeble, stand by me

When my life becomes a burden and I’m nearing chilly Jordan

O Thou “Lily of the Valley,” stand by me.

[“Stand By Me,” Charles A. Tind­ley, 1905]

 

Not strong but weak; not needing to be denounced but comforted and forgiven and strengthened; so the message of the prophet to the people in slavery, in captivity, and in despair, “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people” [Isaiah 40:1].

Now in the few moments remaining, we’re going to expound the passage.  We must do it hastily, but oh how full of precious meaning is every word.  When you study the passage you will notice that the prophet speaks all the way through in triads.  A triad is a presentation of a thing in threes.   So in all the passage He will speak in threes. 

First, His triad of imperatives: “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people” [Isaiah 40:1], an imperative that is repeated. “Saith your God,” the word “saith” is in the imperfect; it is a frequentative imperfect.  You could translate it this way—God says it over and over and over again, lest we might forget it. 

And the second and the third imperative, “Speak ye tenderly to Jerusalem” [Isaiah 40:2], literally “speak around the heart, to the heart of Jerusalem and cry unto her.”  Now this is followed by a triad of concluding objective clauses.  What does he speak; what does he cry?   One: that her warfare is accomplished [Isaiah 40:2].  The word “warfare” refers to toil and burden, not so much to conflict in battle; but let’s use the word “slavery”; that her toil in slavery is accomplished, it’s over, that her iniquity is pardoned; that’s both, the word refers to both the sin and the judgment that followed it—God has forgiven—that she is received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins [Isaiah 40:2].  That triad there accomplished; finished is her slavery, pardoned is her iniquity; that achieved, accepted, received is the expiation of her sins. 

Then follows a triad of voices; you don’t see the speaker, nowhere does the speaker appear. You just listen to the message that is delivered.  The first triad is verses 3 through 5:

 

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 

Every valley shall be exalted, every mountain and hill be made low: the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

[Isaiah 40:3-5]

 

What that is, that first triad, there was a voice in heaven, a celestial voice, and he cries to his fellow angelic messengers and helpers and yokefellows and workmen saying, “Let us build the great causeway for our God.”  The imagery of that comes from the ancient king who, when he came into a city or was welcomed into a country, they prepared for him a great road; like we’d say, “we roll out the red carpet” to receive some great dignitary.  So they prepared a great highway for the coming of the mighty king.  And there’s a voice in the heaven calling to his fellow angelic workmen and messengers, saying, “Let us prepare the highway, the great causeway, for our God.”  And they do it:

 

The valleys are raised up and the high places are made low.

And the crooked is made straight, and the rough places are plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. 

[Isaiah 40:3-5]

 

What he is talking about is, that there is to be some great decisive event in history when God shall come down and the glory of the Lord is revealed, and we shall look upon it and see it and rejoice in it together. All of us know that great decisive event in history, when the angels announced it and all of the heavenly choir sang the glory of it together [Luke 2:10-14].  And John the Baptist says that he is a part of the fulfillment of that prophecy:  “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord” [Matthew 3:1-3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23].  This is a prophecy of the birth of the great King [Micah 5:2]; the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ when He was announced as being born in Bethlehem, the city of David; a great event in history when the Lord shall be revealed.  And we can see Him, and we can worship Him, and we can touch Him, and we can hear Him [1 John 1:1].

Now the second triad refers to a doubt that such a thing could ever be. “The voice said, cry.  A companion said, What shall I cry?  All flesh is grass, the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: The spirit of the Lord bloweth upon us: surely the people is grass” [Isaiah 40:6-7].  How could such a mighty thing ever come to pass?  The transiency of all things, human and earthly, it’s like grass.  “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the word and the promise of our God shall endure and stand forever” [Isaiah 40:8].  That second triad is an avowal that the prophecy is sure.  It will certainly come to pass.  It is true.  God admits the transiency of all things mundane, and terrestrial, and human, and mortal.  We’re just like grass, and the houses we build, and the nations we build, and the cities we build, and institutions we build are all like grass: they fade and decay away, but not the word of God, not the promise of the Lord. 

The next sermon I preach here will be entitled My Favorite Text.  Isaiah 40:8: “The grass withereth,” that’s right, “the flower fadeth,” that’s correct, “but the word of our God shall stand forever.”  It will surely come; God will visit us. 

And the third triad: a voice cries, the third voice, “O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid, say unto the cities of Judah” [Isaiah 40:9], and then comes a triad of beholds: “Behold your God!” [Isaiah 40:9].  Look upon Him, born in a manger [Luke 2:7-16]. Look upon Him, preaching the gospel to the people [Luke 4:43].  Look upon Him, dying for our sins [Matthew 27:26-50].  Look upon Him, laid in the tomb [Matthew 27:57-60].  Look upon Him, raised from the dead [Matthew 28:5-7].  Look upon Him, ascending into heaven [Acts 1:9-10], our great Mediator and Intercessor [Romans 8:34].  Look upon Him, coming again in power and in glory [Luke 21:27].  Look at that triad, “Behold your God!” [Isaiah 40:9]. The second one: “Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand and His arm,” that always refers to redemption, “and His arm shall rule for Him” [Isaiah 40:10], coming as a great conqueror in mighty power.  Look at the third behold in the triad:  “Behold, His rewared is with Him, and His work before Him” [Isaiah 40:10], Revelation 22:12, “My reward is with Me, I come quickly.”

But look, not only as a conqueror does He come, not only as a great, mighty king does He come, He comes as a gentle shepherd, “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arms, carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” [Isaiah 40:11].   Our great God, our mighty King, our coming Lord is also a tender and gentle shepherd.  He knows all about us and still loves us.  He has seen every sin we ever committed, and forgives us.  And in our need and despair, He comforts us and strengthens us.  This is our Lord, and this is the prophecy of His coming. 

Oh, why shouldn’t we sing and praise His name?  Why shouldn’t we love Him and worship Him and adore Him?  Why shouldn’t we give Him the issue of our hearts, of our lives, of the work of our hands, of the devotion of our souls?  Oh, blessed be the name of the Lord!

We stand now in a moment to sing our hymn of appeal.  And while we sing it, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, down one of these stairways, walking down one of these aisles, “Today I receive Christ as my Savior.  I open my heart God-ward and heavenward, and I invite the Lord to dwell in my soul.”  A family you, coming into the fellowship of the church, a couple you, or just one somebody you, while we sing the appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come.  Make it now, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.

 

 

COMFORT MY PEOPLE

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Isaiah 40:1-11

12-14-75

I.          Introduction

A.  First part of Isaiah full of judgment

B.  Isaiah is sent with a message of hope

II.         His call of comfort

A. “Comfort ye”

B. “Saith your God”

C. “Speak tenderly”

III.       Assurance of forgiveness

A. “Her warfare is accomplished”

B. “Iniquity pardoned”

C. “Received double”

IV.       Triad of strophes

A.  A celestial voice

B.  The Word stands forever

C.  An address to the people

V.        Triad of “Beholds”

A.  Behold your God

B.  Behold He comes with strong arm

C.  Behold His reward is with Him