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Comfort!

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 40:1-4

Isaiah the prophet flourished in the 8th century BC at Jerusalem.  His call to be God’s prophet came about the year 742.  Isaiah’s date is firmly set by the first verse of his Prophecy: “The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.”  Isaiah’s theme was warning of coming judgment on Israel because of the nation’s continuous rebellion against God, choosing instead to worship foreign, Canaanite gods. As shown in the first verses of the prophecy, Isaiah also prophesied the coming of the Messiah, Savior and Redeemer of Israel and the world.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.”  In this large book of prophetic warning, God’s faithful remnant can also find much comfort.  In fact, the book is intended to comfort all those who repent and return to the Lord. “Comfort, comfort!”  Not material, earthly comfort, but spiritual comfort. The comfort of knowing that God is merciful and gracious- a God who forgives sinners and lifts sinners up out of their guilt and shame.

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her.”  The message was particularly to Jerusalem. The message was to be spoken tenderly, that is, with a tender heart, with a love for the people of Jerusalem. For despite their sins, God still thought tenderly of Jerusalem. He wanted them back. He wanted to forgive them and embrace them.

‘Proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed,” These words probably look forward to the years-long conflict with the Assyrians and the eventual captivity by the Babylonians. The day would come when God would reckon that Jerusalem’s hard service was completed. Her punishment was complete. Her captivity was coming to an end.

“That her sin has been paid for.”  But did Israel really pay for all her sins against the Lord? Can any person, any nation, ever fully repay the Lord for sin?  Can we go back in time for a do-over? Can we ever heal all the hurt and rectify all the damage we have done?  No, yet God proclaims here that “her sin has been paid for.”  The only way her sins were paid for was through the suffering and death of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. And that’s the only way our sins are completely paid for.  God would be right in punishing us for our sins, but he does not. He does not because he has already taken out all our punishment on Jesus Christ. There is nothing left to punish. Jesus has paid for it all and Jesus has suffered all the punishment for all sins of all sinners of all time.

“That she has received from the Lords’ hand double for all her sins.”  You might think that means Jerusalem received double punishment for all her horrible sins against God. It does not mean that. It means she has received double mercy, grace, and forgiveness for all her sins.  Not only did God raise up the emperor Cyrus, who sent the captive people of Judah back to rebuild Jerusalem.  But God through that faithful remnant brought forth the Messiah, Jesus, according to the old prophets, born in his ancestral town, raised in Israel among his people, accomplishing the great sacrifice for redemption of all on the cross outside Jerusalem’s walls.

We, too, have received double from the Lord’s hand for all our sins.  Not double punishment, but double grace and mercy.  We have not been punished as we ought. Jesus was punished for us. We have not suffered beatings, whippings, scorn, ridicule, shame, a crown of thorns, crucifixion on a cross. Jesus has suffered all that for us. Now we are free. Free from Satan, free from sin, free from the grave, free from hell.  All from the Lord’s gracious hand.  And today, though by the weakness of our flesh we sin every day, we still never receive the Lord’s punishment. He extends to us in the Gospel and the Sacrament only mercy, grace, forgiveness, salvation, and life.  We are the New Jerusalem, the Church, which Christ brought down from heaven. In this church, the seat of His Word and Sacraments, we find all peace, security, confidence, faith, hope, forgiveness, and eternal life.

Comfort! Comfort my people!

-Pastor Anderson