RPM, Volume 15, Number 2, January 6 to January 12, 2013

The King is Coming

Isaiah 40:1-11

By Mike Osborne

Introduction: Handel's "Messiah"

  • George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) — composer of operas, organ concertos, and oratorios — especially his most famous oratorio, Messiah.
  • Though born in Germany, Handel moved to London at the age of 27, and it was there that he did his most creative work and went from writing in Italian to English.
  • Messiah was composed in just 24 days in August & September, 1741.
  • Handel was a devout Lutheran. At the end of the Messiah, he wrote the letters "SDG"—Soli Deo Gloria, "To God alone the glory."

I tell you all that because this Christmas season, we're going to look at several passages of Scripture that Handel used in Messiah as our sermon texts.

  • Today: Isaiah 40:1-11
"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God."

We all need comfort, don't we?

  • Illus.: There is a retention pond behind our house — at times very full, but at other times very low, dry, and ugly.
  • What comforts you in those low, dry, ugly times? Christmas songs create an illusion that some people find comforting.
    • "It's the most wonderful time of the year / it's the hap- happiest season of all"
    • "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas"
    • "Yuletide carols being sung by a choir, and folks dressed up like Eskimos"
  • It's a world that does not exist! Yet we long for it, don't we?
  • Because this is a world filled with pain and brokenness. It's much like my retention pond. Sometimes it's up, but a lot of the time, it's down.

We lit the hope candle today. What gives you hope for the future? Is it your kids? Your marriage? Your work? Food? Money? Your college degree? Your next vacation?

  • All those things are like Christmas songs — here one day and gone the next.
  • Vss. 6-7 — "All men (i.e., flesh) are like grass, and all their glory (beauty, goodness, faithfulness, devotion) is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall…."

The prophet Isaiah tells us where comfort comes from. He says to us, just like he said to the people of his own day, that true comfort is a gift from a King — a King who rules the world with power and shepherds his people with love. And that King, of course, is Jesus Christ.

Let me show you three things:

  • A promise
  • A prediction
  • A plea

I. First, the promise

Vss. 1-2: "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, her sin has been paid for, and she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins."

Now this is shocking. Why in the world would God say such things?

  • Chapters 1-39 of Isaiah are full of God's threats of punishment and messages of judgment.
  • The people of God had wandered away from the Lord. Their false prophets, priests, and kings had led them into idolatry and alliances with foreign nations like Egypt and Assyria.
  • Even Hezekiah, who was a good king, had drifted away from the Lord in his later years. Isa 39 talks about how Hezekiah welcomed envoys from Babylon and cozied up with Merodach-Baladan, king of Babylon.
  • And for God, that was the last straw.
    • 39:5-7
    • This is a prediction of the Babylonian Exile.
    • Sure enough, in 586 BC, about 100 years after Isaiah spoke these words, Babylonian armies under King Nebuchadnezzar broke through the walls of Jerusalem, set the temple on fire, destroyed all the main buildings of the city, killed hundreds of people, and took thousands of Jews captive back to Babylon.

So how would you expect Isa 40 to read?

  • I'd expect God to say, "I've had it with you. You're getting what's coming to you. Aren't you ashamed of yourselves?"
  • "Judgment, judgment, says your God."
  • But Isa 40 is not "judgment, judgment." It's "comfort, comfort."

    Notice the three things God wanted Isaiah to tell the people of Judah in vs. 2:

    First — "Her hard service has been completed."

    • The promise of restoration is so certain that God speaks in the past tense.
    • "Her hardship has been completed. Her warfare is accomplished. Her Exile is over."

    Second — "Her sin has been paid for."

    • Again, past tense. The debt has been paid.
    • The penalty due Judah's sin has been fully satisfied.

    And third — "She has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins."

    • There was a law in Israel that said if a person stole something from someone, and was caught, he had to pay back double to the victim. It was the law of double restitution. And elsewhere in Scripture there's the principle of double punishment. Jer 16.18, "I will repay them double for their wickedness and sin, for they have defiled my land with their detestable idols."
    • But here, God is not talking about restitution or punishment. He's talking about grace. It's double grace.
      • Illus.: Suppose someone steals your wallet. Inside your wallet is a $100 bill. You call the police and somehow they're able to apprehend the thief. They call you down to the police station so you can identify the man. He's the man alright. He hands the wallet over to you, and it still has the $100 bill inside. So you reach in the wallet, grab the $100 bill, take another $100 bill out of your wife's purse, and give both bills to the thief. You say, "Merry Christmas."
      • Illus.: Does that remind you of Les Miserables… Jean Valjean steals the bishop's silverware… he is caught by the police… Bishop Myriel saves Valjean by claiming that the silverware was a gift. Then he adds, "But you left in such a rush you forgot the two silver candlesticks."
      • See, that's what God did for Judah. "She received double for all her sins."

    Do you understand what this promise meant for the people of Judah?

    • They felt like God was a million miles away. And rightly so. They had forsaken him. It felt like the covenant God made with Abraham, to be a God to them and their descendants, had been forgotten. It seemed like the covenant God made with David, to establish an everlasting kingdom through one of his descendants, had been nullified.
    • But God says, "No, never. Listen, I am speaking to your heart. Comfort, comfort."
    • Vs. 1 — "You are still my people…I am still your God."
    • You may be in that place today.

    • You're in a low time. You're suffering. You feel far away from God. You weep and mourn over your sin.
    • But be comforted — your affliction has been completed, your debt has been paid, and you've received from God double for all your sins.
    • You're not just forgiven. You are a righteous saint.

    That's the promise.

    II. Second, in this passage is a prediction.

    Vvs. 3-5 — "A voice of one calling: 'In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.'"

    Now this language is clearly talking about a royal figure, a King, who is coming to the rescue.

    • In ancient times, months before a king's entourage would set out on a journey, his officials would issue an edict: "Prepare the way for the king. Make a straight way in the wilderness and a highway for the king." The people would run before the king to remove any obstacles and fill in the rough places in his path. They would build a road and fill in small valleys and dig through the hills so the king's progress would be smooth and unhindered.
    • There's even a Babylonian inscription about a god named Nabu: "Make his [Nabu's] way good, renew his road. Make straight his path."

    The point is, says Isaiah, a King is coming, and he's going to deliver you from bondage. His arrival is certain. Nothing will stand in his way. Every obstruction will be removed. The road is going to be like the 408 expressway, only without tolls.

    Now who is this coming King?

    • Here we need to stop and talk about prophecy. When a prophet spoke God's words to the people, they often spoke in terms of multiple fulfillments.
    • Most immediately, Isaiah was referring to Cyrus, King of Persia, who in 539 B.C. conquered Babylon and issued a decree that set the Jews free from their captivity.
    • But we know from the NT that Isaiah was really looking over 600 years into the future when another voice would come calling in the deserts of Judea, "Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him…."
    • And that man was John the Baptist, calling for people of his generation to get ready for the coming of THE One who would rescue us from our sins, even Jesus Christ.

    Jesus is the ultimate comforter of this passage. He is the coming King whose glory was revealed in the manger of Bethlehem, and throughout his life.

    But ultimately, Isaiah is looking beyond the Exile, beyond the First Advent of the Messiah to his Second Advent at the last day, when the glory of Christ will be fully revealed, and all mankind will see it together.

    He is your Comforter. He is the King who is coming to deliver his people from their enemies. Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

    III. In Isa 40 is a promise, a prediction, and finally a plea.

    It's not explicit, but it's implicit. I'm talking about vs. 10 through the end of the chapter.

    • Vss. 10-15, 21-22
    • Do you see what God is saying through the prophet Isaiah?

      • Vs. 10 — "I'm the Sovereign Lord." Our King is mighty & awesome. In Hebrews that's Adonai Yahweh. "I'm not just the Lord, I'm the Lord Lord. I'm the strongest King you'll ever meet. I'm the victorious conqueror of the ages. I can handle anything you throw at me. There's no power greater than me."
      • Vs. 11 — Our king is merciful and tender. "I'm also the most tender Shepherd you'll ever meet. I'll gather you in my arms, carry you close to my heart, and gently lead those that have young."
      • Notice what it says at the end of vs. 10 — "See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him." You are his "reward." You are his jewels. You are his recompense, his prize.

    Listen: You can imagine a King who is mighty, and you can imagine a Shepherd who is tender and merciful. But can you imagine a King who is both perfectly mighty and perfectly kind? That's Jesus Christ. Jesus combines both attributes in his one Person. He is both mighty and merciful, tough and tender.

    • Rev 5 — Lion and Lamb

    And because Jesus is infinite might and infinite mercy, he pleads with you to trust in him, to follow him, to obey him.

    • Vss. 27-31

    Some of you this morning are low and dry. You are tired. You're weary of fighting your sin and walking the walk in a corrupt and fallen world.

    Some of you are really feeling the Exile. You're wondering what's happened to the promises of God. You call out to God and get no answer.

    Don't you know? Haven't you heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. You're his reward. Your sin has been paid for. You've received double grace. You're his people. He's your God. Trust in him.

    Come to the table today, and receive the promise: The King is coming.

    • "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God."

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