Comfort My People

Comfort My People

December 14th, 1975 @ 10:50 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    10:50 a.m.

 

This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Comfort My People.  In our preaching through the Book of Isaiah, we have come to one of the masterpieces of human literature, the second great section of the prophecy beginning at chapter 40 and continuing through chapter 66.  And the message this morning is an exposition of the first eleven verses of Isaiah chapter 40:

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: 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 indeed, the flower fadeth to be sure: 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.

[Isaiah 40:1-11]

“Comfort ye, comfort ye My people . . . Speak ye tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, her iniquity is pardoned: that she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” [Isaiah 40:1-2].  How deeply, vastly, everlastingly is that prophetic message of God’s pardon, and God’s grace and mercy, and God’s presence needed for them, and for us, and for the whole world—for the first chapters in Isaiah are full of judgment, prophetic threatening, harbingers of terrible and drastic things.

In the midst of these chapters, there is a book of woe, the judgment of God upon the sins of the people:  Isaiah 28:1 begins with the word, “Woe”; Isaiah 29:1 begins with the word, “Woe.”  Isaiah 30:1 begins with the word, “Woe.”

“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” [Isaiah 30:27].   Woe!  Woe!  Isaiah 31 begins with the word, “Woe.”  Isaiah 33 begins with the word, “Woe,” the threatening judgment of God upon an iniquitous and sinful people.  And finally, in chapter 39:6-7, the awesome and terrible prophecy:  “Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, King Hezekiah, and all that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day,” the whole lineage and line of David, “shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord. And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, the enemy shall take them away; and they shall be eunuchs,” emaciated, emasculated men, serving “in the palace of the king of Babylon” [Isaiah 39:6-7], into slavery.

And now that dreadful prophecy has come to pass; the people are in slavery and captivity [2 Kings 25:11].  Their nation has been destroyed [2 Kings 25:21]; their holy city has been burned with fire [2 Kings 25:9], its walls broken down [2 Kings 25:10].  The sanctuary of God, the Solomonic temple, lies in ruins [2 Kings 25:9]. And the people, in despair unutterable, sit down on the banks of the river of Babylon and weep before the Lord, receiving of the Lord’s hand double for all their sins [Psalm 137; Isaiah 40:2].

And in the midst of that indescribable suffering, and sorrow, and sadness, in a grief that poured out in psalms of longing, and bitterness, and despair, the prophet is sent with a message of hope, and forgiveness, and assurance, and comfort.  “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people.  Yea, speak ye tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry unto her,” herald unto her, preach unto her, ”that her iniquity is pardoned,” her slavery is finished, ”she has received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” [Isaiah 40:1-2].  That is not mathematics; that is mercy.  What we find in the heartcry and the soul need of these people who belong to God; who are in slavery, and despondency, and despair, in a far away and foreign land; that same need of strength, and help, and comfort is the cry of the whole bleeding, sorrowing world today.  The world is not nearly so much made up of strong people who need to be skinned alive, who need to be punished, who need to be threatened, as it is a world made up of weak people who need help, and encouragement, and forgiveness, and redemption.

 I sometimes think of our whole world, both us and these beyond us.  I sometimes think of our world as I remember a man who, in a new Buick automobile, passed by me at a furious pace as I was driving down the highway to my little country church.  When I turned off the highway to go to my little church, about a mile beyond turning off of the highway, the country road made a ninety-degree angle turn, a right angle turn; and the grading crew—in cutting the road—left a tall embankment where the road ran into it and then turned to the left.

Right up at the top of the hill was a farmer’s house, a sweet dear couple of our congregation.  And when I drove down the highway and then turned off on the road that led to my little church, by the time I got to that turn in the road, that embankment, I saw the man’s big Buick, apparently—at a furious speed, he admits—unable to negotiate the corner and had run full blast into that embankment.  He had wrecked his car, and by the time that I arrived, up there on the slope toward the farmer’s house, was this man; he was bloody, and broken, and wounded, and hurt.  And on one side of him was that godly farmer, and on the other side was his dear wife, and they were helping the man, tenderly, and graciously, and kindly, and sympathetically, as slowly they made their way up to the house where his wounds would be washed and the broken man cared for.  I think of the whole world kind of like that.

Certainly, it is in order for a man to appear before that broken and wounded traveler and to say to him, “Don’t you know there are speed limits in this country?  And don’t you know that when you exceed the speed limit, you break the law?  And don’t you know there is a judgment for those who break the law and break the speed?  And look at you!”  That would be perfectly in order, to lecture the man and to point out to him a castigation that he needed.  That’s right; no one would deny it.   But I think of that old farmer and his wife—instead of castigating, or lecturing, or prophesying doom and destruction—one of them was on one side, his dear old wife was on the other side, helping that bleeding, wounded, hurting man up to the house where they would care for his wounds and wash the blood away.  The whole world is like that.  The world needs God.  It needs the comfort, and the presence, and the strength of the Lord; we do.  O God, in my need, be pitiful to me.  Help me, Lord; stand by me.

I used to hear our young people sing a song, “Kum Ba Yah.”  I supposed that it was some foreign language because the song comes from a tribe in the heart of Africa.  And I supposed kum ba yah was a language from the heart of Africa that I could not understand.  I learned that is not so.  Kum ba yah was the best way that that tribe in the heart of Africa could say our English that they learned from the missionary, “O Lord, come by me.” Kum ba yah, the best they could say it, “Lord, come by me; stand by me.”  Do you remember its plaintive melody?

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

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

Kum ba yah, dear Lord, stand by me.

O Lord, kum ba yah.

Do you remember the stanza?  Sing it with me:

Someone’s crying Lord, kum ba yah

Someone’s crying Lord, kum ba yah

Someone’s crying Lord, kum ba yah

O Lord, kum ba yah.

Do you remember another one?  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]

Come by me, stand by me; a heart-cry out of the deepest heart of Africa.  The need of the world; O God, remember me.  Not just over there; here, where we are, in America.

There is no more poignant song in the Christian hymnology than this one that comes out of America.  “O God, remember me, help me, forgive me, strengthen me, encourage and comfort me, stand by me.”  Do you remember it?

When the storms of life are raging, 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]

The heart cry of God’s people, and the Lord answers in mercy and in pity from heaven; “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people.  Yea, speak Ye tenderly to Jerusalem” [Isaiah 40:1-2].  This passage is one of the beautiful poems in literature and has in it some of the most glorious prophecies of assurance that could ever strengthen and encourage our soul.  And as you study it, you will find that the prophet delivers his message in triad.  A triad is a thing expressed in three, so the whole prophecy is expressed in threes.  There is first a triad of imperative: “Comfort ye.”  And then repeats it, imperative: “‘Comfort ye My people’ saith your God.”  The word “saith” is in the imperfect tense; it is called a frequentative imperfect.  That is, God says it not once, not twice, but He says it again, and again, and again, and over again; that mercy and the goodness of God is vouchsafe to us every moment of our day as long as we live.

“Speak ye,” another imperative, the second one.  Tenderly, literally the word is “around her heart.”  “Speak ye tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry unto her” [Isaiah 40:2], herald unto her [Isaiah 40:2], proclaim, announce, preach unto her.”

Now the next triad, a triad of clauses, objective clauses: “that her warfare is accomplished” [Isaiah 40:2].  The “warfare,” the word does not refer to conflict, armed engagement, but refers to the toil of endless slavery.  We can use the word slavery there, “that her slavery is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned” [Isaiah 40:2].  The word “iniquity” refers not only to the sin itself but the judgment that is always carried with it: “the soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:4, 20].   There is no such thing as a sin that is not punished; somewhere, somehow, sometime, ultimately it meets a judgment from God.  “That her iniquity,” the judgment that went with, their iniquity “is pardoned [Isaiah 40:2]; that she has received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” [Isaiah 40:2].  Accomplished, finished is her slavery; pardoned is her iniquity, and recompense is all the sin of her life.

Then follows a triad of voices, they are strophes—the man who speaks is never seen—it is just a voice, the message that you hear.  The first strophe, the first voice:

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 shall 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 an incomparable prophecy that has come to pass!  “The voice of him that crieth,” that is an angelic voice in heaven, and he cries to his fellow angelic messengers and yokefellows, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” [Isaiah 40:3].  That is an imagery that comes from an ancient day when the king visited a city and they built a highway, a road for him to come on, to ride on.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight . . . a highway for our God.  Every low place shall be raised high, and every high place shall be brought even.  The crooked shall be straight, and the rough places plain.

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

[Isaiah 40:3-5]

The prophet says that there is coming a great decisive event in history when God shall come, when the Lord shall appear, and when we shall look upon His face [Isaiah 40:3].  John the Baptist applied that prophecy to himself: “I am a voice crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord” [Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:2-3; John 1:23]; and the great decisive event in history is the coming of the Lord God incarnate in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:20-2:1].

The Lord is among us, dwelling among us; flesh like ours [John 1:14], a human frame like ours, living our life, talking our language, walking our way, suffering our heartaches, enduring our trials and temptations [Hebrews 4:14-16].  The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, we shall see God Himself [Isaiah 40:5].  And the next strophe: how could such a thing be that God should be revealed in human flesh, that we should receive our Lord in such glory?

And the next strophe: “A voice said, ‘Crieth.’  And unto the voice he said, ‘What shall I cry?’” [Isaiah 40:6]  How could such a thing come to pass?  Because everything we see in life is transient; it is temporal; “All flesh is grass, the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withers, the flower fades: surely the people is grass” [Isaiah 40:6-7].  There could not be any glorious prophecy like that come to pass; everything in life, every human frame is corrupting, and temporal, and passing away.

Then the glorious announcement—and the next time I preach here will be on this text, and it will be entitled My Favorite Verse— “The grass withereth,” that is correct; “the flower fadeth,” it always does; “but the word and the promise of our God shall stand for ever” [Isaiah 40:8].   Heaven and earth itself may be dissolved and pass away, but God’s word and God’s promise shall endure forever.  And when we see things decay around us, and the whole world plunged into frustration and despair, there is a foundation upon which our feet can stand:  immovable, unchanging, the word and the promise of God [Isaiah 40:8].  In the midst of changing day is the changeless promise of Jehovah God.

And the last strophe: “O Zion,” this is the third voice, “O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain” [Isaiah 40:9].  The highest pulpit that you can find, stand on it, says this third voice!  “O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up,” raise high your voice, shout it, proclaim it, “be not afraid”; do not be timid, “say unto the cities of Judah” [Isaiah 40:9]; and then the last triad, three beholds:  “Behold, your God!” [Isaiah 40:9]. Look at Him, in a manger [Luke 2:10-16]; look upon His face; God manifest [1 Timothy 3:16], God with us, Immanuel, “With us is God” [Matthew 1:23].  Look upon Him, look upon Him in manhood, introduced by John the Baptist at His baptismal service in the Jordan River [John 1:29].  Look upon Him, baptized with the Holy Spirit from heaven [Matthew 3:16-17].  Look upon Him in His ministry among the people, preaching the gospel to the poor, opening the eyes of the blind, cleansing the leper, healing those that were sick [Matthew 11:4-5].  Look upon Him, dying for our sins on the tree [1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 Peter 2:24].  Look upon Him, buried in the tomb in the heart of the earth [Matthew 27:59-60].  Look upon Him, raised from the dead [Matthew 28:5-7], the great Conqueror of sin and death! [1 Corinthians 15:54-57].  Look upon Him ascending back into heaven [Acts 1:9-10], there to be our Intercessor and Mediator, great High Priest [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 4:14-16].  And look upon Him, coming again in glory, in power [Matthew 16:27, 24:30, 25:31], coming for His own [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].  Behold, your God! [Isaiah 40:9].

The second behold:  [“Behold,] the Lord God will come with strong [hand], and His arm”—and that is always a reference to God’s redemptive grace—“and His arm shall rule for Him” [Isaiah 40:10].   He is coming as a great, conquering King and Lord [Revelation 19:16].

And the third behold: “Behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him.” [Isaiah 40:10]  Do you remember Revelation 22:12? “Behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man as his work shall be,” the great conquering King who is coming for His people.

But look just once again; “Behold,” the great, mighty, conquering King is also the sweet, and kind, and gentle Shepherd.  “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 40:11].   O God, what that means to us:  that the great and mighty God who is coming down from heaven to rule the world and to be Lord of all the universe [Revelation 19:16], that same great conquering God is also the loving Lord Jesus who took little children up in His arms and blessed them [Mark 10:13-16], who understands all of the trials and weaknesses of our life [Hebrews 4:14-16], who has pardoned our iniquity [Matthew 9:6; Ephesians 1:7], and who, in loving grace and pitiful kindness, opens His arms to receive us [Isaiah 40:11].  The great God and conquering King is also our loving Savior who died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 10:5-14].  Oh, the preciousness of the prophecy!  The comfort of the Book, the meaning of the revelation; could God be more than He is?  Is there aught else that He could do for us?  Is there anything further that He could say?

How firm a foundation ye saints for the Lord,

Is laid for your faith in His glorious Word.

What more could He say than to you He hath said,

To you who for refuge to Jesus has fled?

[“How Firm a Foundation,” John Rippon, 1787]. 

And that is our sharing in the gospel message with you today.  To receive the Lord Christ as your Savior, to answer His call with your life, to come into the fellowship of His church, to be numbered among the people of Christ, a family you, come; a couple you, come; or just one somebody you, come.  In the balcony round there is a stairway at the front and the back, and there is time and to spare.  In the press of people on this lower floor, into an aisle and down to the front, make it now; do it now.  May the angels attend you in the way as you come.  Make the decision in your heart, “This moment I am going; I decide for Christ.”  And in a moment when you stand up to sing, stand up walking down that stairway, coming down this aisle.  Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.