This Sunday we look at Isaiah 40, and the incredibly uncomfortable message of "Comfort" the preacher is given to preach.
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Good Morning. Our lesson from Isaiah is painful to me in the sense that it reminds me I am getting old. I’m gonna tell you a secret this morning that no one knows but you listening. I used to fear preaching from Isaiah. I remember complaining to Bishop David. Now I enjoy it.
Mostly, I prefer preaching parables or stories, so Isaiah and Jeremiah have always scared me. They’re poetry. And especially as a young man, poetry scared me. I was always afraid I wasn’t gonna “Get It.”
I think Isaiah 40 actually helped me overcome it. Part of it, of course, is looking at the story behind the poem that the preacher is teaching us. And when we dig into this one, it really is an encouragement. (Gospel)
Isaiah 40 is a huge turning point in the book. The first 39 chapters are warnings from Isaiah to God’s people that if they don’t repent, they will face the consequences of their sin; captivity and slavery in a foreign nation.
Starting in chapter 40, the preacher now shifts his audience to the exiles preparing to return about 150 years later after generations of punishment. We begin with the preacher being given some good, solid direction on what to preach to his people in v. 1. (Bishop Dave)
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, and her iniquity is pardoned. What a great message. You have paid the price for your sins, and now you can come home and rebuild Jerusalem.
But there’s another voice, in verse 3 and 6, giving him a slightly different message. Verse 3 first tells of a voice In the wilderness crying prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. That voice is echoed in our Gospel lesson, where John the Baptist identify himself as preaching that voice.
John’s voice was needed because before people could understand the Good News of Redemption, they need to have an understanding of the blackness and pain of sin. Israel needed this when they returned from EXILE, they needed it when Jesus came, and we need this as well.
Next the voice says tells the preacher in v. 6 to Cry! Now, that’s not literally weep, but to cry out, to preach with a capital P! And the preacher asks, “Alright, what do I preach?”
What is this message of comfort I am supposed to bring?
And the answer is almost funny. Tell them, “All flesh is grass.” Here is where a record scratching sound effect would be nice. Passages like this are why I don’t always get poetry. So, when you get something like this, it’s time dig. While these words may not seem to offer much comfort, or hope, they are some of the most comforting words in Scripture.
To start with, whether or not we like these words at first glance, they express a Truth that is emphasized again and again in Holy Scripture. Psalm 90 says, “In the morning people are like grass which grows up. In Psalm 103 we read, “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone;
These verses show us that our lives are short. Even if we live to be a hundred years old, compared to the vast span of history, compared to the eternal years of God, our lives are as short as that of grass.
And though we know these things to be true, we still try to keep cling to, to grasp onto things that that simply can’t be held. We want our health, looks, financial security, to be frozen in time, but it is impossible. The moment you think you have it, it is already the past.
Now, you may be thinking, “Pastor Mike, if you intended to comfort us this morning, you are not doing a very good job. God says in the beginning of the passage to comfort the people, not to depress them.
Where is the comfort in knowing that all flesh is grass and the beauty of the flower fades?” First, like the Gospel, there can be no TRUE comfort unless you know truth. We know that “all flesh is grass” not only because Scripture tells us so, but also because the Words are obviously true to our own experience, even if we really want to ignore them.
When we truly accept this, THEN we begin to ask the questions,
Is there anything that lasts?
Is there anything I can place my trust and confidence and know that it will last longer than grass, than the flowers, than my failing body?
Only when we give up on searching for stability and permanence in this world, can we realize it only can be found in God.
“But the Word of our God stands forever.”
There is only one thing that never changes, the Promises of our Lord.
His Word will stand forever. Since He is unchanging, the Word that he speaks is eternal and unchanging.
This chapter’s primary audience is a people suffering as slaves after generations in captivity. God promised them that one day they would be delivered. Do you think that they were ever tempted to give up hope that the Word of God was true? Do you think they were tempted to believe that their slavery and being held down would last forever? Maybe we should just live here, worship these gods, give up on the Lord’s redemption.
Of course they did. Even Daniel did in chapter 9. During trying times, we always face THIS temptation. So, the Lord is telling his people, “When you look at the Babylonians and the Persians and all of their might, remember this: All flesh is grass.” Though they seem powerful and permanent, they will soon be gone, and the Word of God will continue to accomplish everything that was promised.
Isaiah 40 was not ultimately fulfilled until Christ came into the world to free us from the captivity of sin. God had promised his people a redeemer, but it was well over 700 years from Isaiah until the time of John the Baptist in the Gospel lesson this morning.
Do you want something in which you can really put your trust and confidence? Don’t put your trust in yourself, in other people, in nations, or politicians. Trust in something more enduring, more stable than ourselves and even powerful people—the word of God. Believe the Word of God. We shall stand forever because the Word of God stands forever.