THOUGHTS FROM ISAIAH

COMFORT MY PEOPLE …

For thirty-nine chapters Isaiah has been proclaiming a message of God’s judgement both to the surrounding nations and to the people of Judah. From time to time that message is interspersed with anticipations of the ultimate Saviour and the worldwide and eternal salvation that he will bring, but the thought of unavoidable judgement has dominated. Indeed it will continue through to the end of the book.

But now, God gives Isaiah an additional task, alongside that of pronouncing judgement. He says:

‘Comfort, comfort my people …Speak tenderly to Jerusalem ...’ [40:1].

The message he is to proclaim contains, besides the teaching of the physical, temporal judgement that must fall and the physical, temporal restoration that will follow, a message of a spiritual restoration, an eternal spiritual salvation, that also follows judgement. This ‘comfort my people’ that Isaiah must proclaim soars high above the physical restoration that took place beyond the predicted Babylonian captivity, and has the power to rescue not only the people of Judah, but people from every tribe and nation, from a far greater judgement, and a far greater captivity.

The people of Israel would spend seventy years in exile in Babylon. But what is that compared to the millennia of exile endured by the whole human race? Banned from the perfection of Eden and from the life-connection with God for which we were created [Genesis 3:22-24], the whole of human history since our first sin has been lived out under the judgement of God – exiled from God, exiled from our true human identity, exiled from life with God. Guilty and condemned. And with no power and no ability to secure our own release, and no hope of ever gaining acquittal.

But now comes this command to Isaiah, and his call goes out way beyond the coming exile in Babylon. Isaiah’s call goes out to all the inhabitants of the earth – Get ready! Get ready! The Lord is coming!

And God did come. In the person of his Son he came. Into our exile he came – into this world of curse and condemnation. He became one of us. Into the place of judgement he came – and he cried ‘My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?’

He speaks tenderly to our hearts:

‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’ [Matthew 11:28].
I have come to give my ‘life as a ransom for many’ [Mark 10:45].
‘Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life’ [John 5:24].

God’s command to Isaiah – “Comfort my people!’ still holds.

Here is the solemn responsibility of all who proclaim the word of God: evangelists, teachers, preachers, disciplers, mentors, counsellors, writers. Yes. The responsibility of communicating God’s word is to clearly and truthfully communicate the hard facts of human sin and divine judgement. But it is never that alone. It is to also communicate divine comfort, divine grace, divine mercy.

Comfort my people, speak tenderly, tell them what their hearts have yearned to hear, ever since the message of judgement began, ever since the first expression of judgement in Genesis 3.

Tell them that there is grace, there is forgiveness, there is reconciliation with God.

Let them know that Jesus has come and that the salvation he has provided through his death is a complete salvation, leaving nothing at all that depends on their own ability. Let them know that it is all of grace - an incredible free gift straight from the heart of God.

Do not bind them again under the law of sin and death with a multiplicity of legalistic demands and expectations that only confirm their guilt and inability. Do not rob them of the grace God has given them.

May all who speak in God’s name remember this command when pressured to replace the Gospel of grace with any formula of human performance or human merit: ‘Comfort my people!’

© Rosemary Bardsley 2014