Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. (Isa 40:1–2)
Sermon audio here.
Most of us have experienced the frustration of being sick or having something wrong with us, only to go to the doctor and find out they have no clue what the problem is. Oh, they might act like they know and prescribe some sort of treatment, but when it doesn’t work, or worse, when the treatment creates even more problems, we learn that medicine is an art and not a science the hard way.
But your Great Physician knows exactly what you need. He never misdiagnoses the problem, and His course of treatment is always effective. What you need—what you’ve always needed—is the comfort of the Gospel.
If only you had faith, no matter what was going on in your life, no matter how hard things got, you would always be able to say with the English translation of Psalm 23: The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
But you’d be able to do better than the English. You’d be able to say with King David, as he does in the Hebrew, the Lord is my Shepherd; I lack nothing. Not to bore you with the finer points of Hebrew grammar, but the verb ‘to lack,’ אֶחְסָר, is the imperfect tense, which can refer to the future (“I will lack nothing”)—and indeed, that’s true, you will lack nothing in the life to come.
As we learn at Cana, no desire of yours is so trivial that it goes unnoticed by the Lord, not even the desire for more wine when everyone’s already had more than enough. And, as Amos prophesies, in the new creation, there will be abundance upon abundance: the plower will overtake the reaper, and so much wine the mountains will melt with it.
The picture of life in the age to come when our Lord makes all things new is one where the Lord provides so fully for you, you might even be tempted to accuse Him of being wasteful.
But back to our verb, אֶחְסָר, Hebrew often uses the imperfect to describe habitual action in the present tense, as King David does here. And it only makes sense, for what do those who trust in Christ lack? The Lord is my Shepherd, therefore, I lack nothing. Not merely, I will lack nothing someday, but I lack nothing now. In Christ, I have everything I need and then some. David says it again in Psalm 34: Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear Him have no lack![i]
To have faith is to sing, “What God ordains is always good: I take content what He has sent; no poison can be in the cup that my physicians sends me; though the cup I am drinking which savors now of bitterness, I take it without shrinking; I fear no harm, for with His arm He shall embrace and shield me; so to my God I yield me.”
To confess Christ as Shepherd and Lord is to say with St. Paul, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (Phi 4:12)”
But you’ve been suspicious of your Good Physician’s medicine. You rejected His treatment, instead preferring your own, ineffective remedies, which only make matters worse.
Imagine going into the doctor and saying, I know you gave me this really great cancer medicine, but instead I thought I’d fill my body with drugs and alcohol and do the exact opposite of what you said to see if that would do the trick. That would be a good way of getting the doctor to fire you as a patient.
And that’s what you, by sinning in thought, word, and deed, do to Christ every day of your life. Yet, your Great Physician doesn’t fire you as a patient. Instead, He becomes even more determined to make you well. The medicine the Good Doctor orders tastes like mere bread and wine, but make no mistake, it is the Bread of Life and Blood of the Lamb.
And He treats you with His word, saying, Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.
Isaiah doesn’t describe life with rose-colored glasses. He describes life using the language of warfare. We all bear the scars of battle with Satan. We even bear the scars others have left upon us. When they sin against us, when they hurt us, when they disappoint us, we get angry.
But when you sin against God, He has pity. He knows you’ve been through hell, and so He says do not be afraid. In Christ, your warfare is ended. He’s overcome it all. There’s nothing left for you to do except repent and believe.
He gives you double for all your sins. You haven’t even had to pay for them once, much less twice. Your account has been paid in full by Christ, who has suffered for you. The grace of God in Christ is so great that He doesn’t merely eliminate the debt and call it even. He leaves you with a credit. It’s as if you cheated and stole $1,000 from God, but instead of making you pay it back, He gives you another $1,000.
So hear the word of the Lord and receive His tender comfort. In Christ, your warfare already is over. Your sickness is already healed. Your sin is already forgiven.
Soli Deo Gloria
[i] Psalm 34:9