Most everyone I know could use some comfort right now. The people of Isaiah’s day were no different. In Isaiah 40, we find good news; God stands ready to comfort His people. And Isaiah 40 is one of the great “comfort” chapters in all of the Bible.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.Isaiah 40:1-2
There is a shift that occurs at this point in Isaiah. In the first 39 chapters, God pronounces a lot of judgment. In the early chapters, God says things like, Woe to those who call evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5). But here in chapter 40, the shift in tone is so dramatic that scholars believe Isaiah is looking into the future to speak to those people who would be exiled in Babylon over 100 years later. God tells the prophet to bring comfort to these people who are a long way from the Promised Land. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, God says. Literally, it says, Speak to the heart. And that’s what we find here: tender words of comfort spoken from the heart, spoken to the heart.
I hadn’t noticed this before, but there is a trilogy here in Isaiah 40 — three ways God talks about comfort here in this chapter. I’d like to spend the next few weeks looking at this “Comfort Trilogy.” And my prayer is that God’s Word will bring us some comfort.
The first thing God says about comfort in this chapter is that He comforts His people through His eternal, unchanging Word:
A voice says, “Call out.”
Then he answered, “What shall I call out?”
All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field….The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.Isaiah 40:6-8
So here’s the scene: God comes to Isaiah and tells Him to say something to the people. Isaiah replies, “What shall I say, Lord?” This is especially significant if Isaiah is asked to speak a word to people living 100 years after Him. (If I was convinced God wanted me to say something to people living in 2121, I’d probably ask the same question Isaiah asks here.)
God tells Isaiah to comfort His people by reminding them of the unshakeable nature of His Word. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. In the natural world, things are always changing. But God’s Word is supernatural. In a volatile world, the word of God stands forever.
And this is a comforting thought.
Last spring, when many of us were quarantined at home, I spent a lot of time working in the yard. I dug up this old tree that was dying and planted a new one in its place. I pulled up a few of our shrubs, planted some knockout roses, some vincas and some petunias that Sunny had picked out. I was out there watering and weeding our flower beds pretty much every day last spring. And I have to say, those flower beds have never looked better. (Not saying much, but still.) For all that was negative about 2020, we really had a beautiful spring last year. The weather was great and those flowers were so beautiful. Sunny posted some pictures of those flowers on social media. I even recorded some of my sermons and classes sitting right there among those roses.
But to no one’s surprise, time eventually won out. As God says, grass withers and flowers fade. Those beautiful rose petals eventually fell off as the weather turned colder. We haven’t been posting any pictures or recording any sermons from the flower beds lately.
God contrasts the fleeting beauty of earth with the enduring nature of His eternal Word. God’s Word is as true in the dead of winter as it is in the bloom of spring. As Isaiah says, the word of our God stands forever.
And this is meant to bring us comfort.
Like the people of Isaiah’s day, we can feel a bit like exiles today. We find ourselves exiled in a world we don’t often recognize, a word some have called a “post-truth” world. That’s just a fancy way of saying that these days, many people don’t know who to trust anymore. Often times, we just don’t know who to believe. You can pretty much curate your own version of the truth these days through cable news and social media. Every news story can be spun to say whatever someone wants to say. Just check out the headlines on FOX and then go do the same on CNN. It will seem like they’re describing two completely different worlds, not the same country. What one network reports, the other completely (and conveniently) ignores. By now, most of us are really good at seeing through the spin, but it leaves us wondering who we can really trust these days. I think that’s a natural consequence when journalism takes a back seat to entertainment.
But right here in Isaiah, we find comfort — because God assures us that His Word is trustworthy and eternal. His Word is dependable, solid and sure. As we sometimes sing, “all other ground is sinking sand.” But the Word of God endures.