Comfort My People (Isaiah 40)
|By:||Wayne Hilsden||Category:||Not Categorized|
|Date:||Monday, March 15th, 1999||Topics:||Zion, Yeshua, Word, Sin, Salvation, Sacrifice, Responsibility, Relationship, Prophecy, Prayer|
It is no accident that my congregation, King of Kings Assembly, is situated in Jerusalem—and in West Jerusalem, in particular. More than 17 years ago, we helped to establish this ministry to reach out to the Jewish people. I don’t apologize for that. There are some people who are called to reach out to the Arabs in this land. And I thank God that He has placed that important burden on their hearts to reach the sons of Ishmael, whom the Lord Himself has promised to bless. And there are others who have a specific calling to reach out to both peoples at once. One of the main ministries involved in that work is called Musalacha, led by Salim Munayer, who also serves as the academic dean of Bethlehem Bible College. I was one of the founding board members of that ministry. And I continue to bless and encourage this ministry, which brings Jewish and Arab believers together.
But I cannot tell a lie: Two decades ago, the Lord clearly gave me and many members of my congregation a specific calling to reach out to the Jewish people. There have been some who have questioned this focus. But I stand by my calling and most of all I stand on the Bible, which verifies the fact that some are called to focus their ministry in the direction of one group of people. Let me remind you of the words of Paul in Galatians 2:9, “And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”
And so the Lord spoke clearly to us two decades ago that we should follow the path of James, Peter, and John and reach out to the Jewish people, while others would follow the path of Paul and reach out to other peoples. But the point of this message is not to defend the calling of King of Kings Assembly. Nevertheless, I do wish to emphasize a very important aspect of our ministry among the Jewish people, which has become very relevant, actually quite crucial, in recent days: bringing comfort to the Jewish people.
Let’s look at portions of Isaiah 40, which speak of the ministry of bringing comfort to Jerusalem and to the Jewish people. Here are verses 1-11:
1 “‘Comfort, yes, comfort My people!’ says your God. 2 ‘Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.’
3 “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; 5 the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’
6 “The voice said, ‘Cry out!’ And he said, ‘What shall I cry?’ ‘All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.’
9 “O Zion, you who bring good tidings, get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, you who bring good tidings, lift up your voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’ 10 Behold, the Lord GOD shall come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. 11 He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.”
Now let’s look at verses 22-24:
22 “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. 23 He brings the princes to nothing; He makes the judges of the earth useless. 24 Scarcely shall they be planted, scarcely shall they be sown, scarcely shall their stock take root in the earth, when He will also blow on them, and they will wither, and the whirlwind will take them away like stubble.”
Finally, let’s examine verses 28-31:
28 “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. 30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, 31 but those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
One erev Shabbat (Sabbath eve), my entire family was invited to the apartment of Penina Ben Ya’acov. Penina has a real gift of hospitality. But more than that, the Lord has given her a ministry to wounded soldiers in the Israeli army. She told us how the previous week she gave out nearly 30 worship cassettes and tape players to soldiers lying in their hospital beds in Haifa. She described the various wounds they had—some had gunshot wounds, some had terrible burns on their faces or legs. All but one of those soldiers gladly received Penina’s love gift—even though they knew that she was a Messianic believer.
Penina is one of many people in my congregation who are involved in ministering comfort to the Jewish people. Others visit Holocaust victims. Some deliver food parcels to the poor and needy in Jerusalem. Some actually live in homes of elderly, housebound Jewish individuals who are completely dependent upon their Christian volunteer helpers. And I commend the dozens (maybe hundreds) of others who make this comfort possible by doing other behind-the-scenes jobs, such as office administration, managing financial or material gifts, or typing appeal letters—all vital and necessary to making the ministry of comfort possible.
While Isaiah chapters 1-39 are filled with words of judgment upon God’s people, from chapter 40 onward there is an emphasis on their restoration and salvation. In particular, in chapter 40, the Lord reminds the Jewish people that they are “MY people.” And because they have a special relationship to Him, He himself will deliver them from the Gentile nations that will seek their destruction.
Let me pause here just for a moment to note: Some people abhor the idea that God has actually chosen a special people distinct from all the other nations. They say, “This is unfair!” But along with Israel’s awesome privilege came an awesome responsibility. God chose Israel to be the messenger to reveal the “one true God” among the multiplicity of pagan gods. The Jewish people were not only to declare this truth, but to live this truth by obeying the laws of their one true God and in so doing prove how blessed it is for a nation to serve this God. Israel, then, is chosen and very special, but it is still merely a servant messenger. And the fact is, people often like to shoot the messenger.
Not only is Israel a servant, but many times it is treated like one too. Israel has been the doormat of the nations. God placed Israel in a strategic place—at the convergence of three continents, on a major trade and communication route. While this was a perfect place from which Israel could spread the word about their one true God, it was also a place coveted by other nations—nations who wanted to control the Middle East and have profound influence over the rest of the world. And so history has shown that Israel has been a virtual doormat trampled under foot time and time again.
Yet God works all these things together for good. The pressure and trials and suffering have served to test Israel’s faith. And in Israel’s tests, their God has sustained and preserved them in a miraculous way. Even today we can see a modern-day miracle where God is bringing Israel’s exiles back home after nearly two millennia of dispersion. God will use Israel again as a servant-messenger. And when Israel is finally restored and saved once and for all, it will hit the headlines. In Israel’s last great trial God will demonstrate in the most powerful way ever seen how he can take a pint-size nation and through His mercy make it mighty. Only this time, the whole world will get to see it all live on CNN!
Now let’s look more closely at Isaiah 40. We’re going to see that the Lord has given specific instructions concerning the various ways in which we are called to speak comfort to Jerusalem.
But first let’s understand the background of chapter 40 in the book of Isaiah. Some scholars believe this chapter is the beginning of a new section written by another author altogether. I don’t believe this, simply because Yeshua Himself quotes verses from this chapter and says that Isaiah wrote these words.
Now up until chapter 40 God spoke about the many woes of Israel’s captivity in Assyria—and they are spoken of as if they had already happened. But the prophecies concerning Judah and Jerusalem are spoken of as if they are yet to come.
Here in Isaiah 40 we have a prophecy that is intended as a means of support and comfort for the Jewish people in their time of trouble that is soon to come, when Jerusalem will be destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s armies and the people of Judah will be carried off into Babylonian captivity. You see, the Jews will find themselves captives, sitting and weeping by the rivers of Babylon over the ruined condition of Jerusalem, and over the punishment they are enduring because of their sinful idolatry. As it says in verse 2, she “has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” And at that time of judgment they would surely need the words of comfort spoken here in Isaiah 40, for the Jewish people will be despondent. In verse 27 we read of Israel’s despondency: “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel: ‘My way is hidden from the LORD, and my just claim is passed over by my God’?”
While this prophecy does not speak directly to the circumstances of the Jewish people in our day, surely its message needs to be heard by the Jewish people now more than ever. For indeed Zechariah declares that a time is coming when all the nations of the world will come against the Jewish people and their most holy city, Jerusalem. And then what will we, the bearers of the good news, tell God’s special people in these terrible days leading up to the final battle for Jerusalem?
I wish to tell you that we do have something to say to Jerusalem. Our message to Israel, the text of our sermon for Israel in the midst of their troubles, is found right here in Isaiah 40. It’s a sermon of comfort. It’s not just any sermon—it’s a vital message for the hour. Just to make sure that we don’t forget to preach this message, the Lord even repeats the word “comfort” twice in one verse: “ ‘Comfort, yes, comfort My people!’ says your God.” And then, if that’s not enough, another 11 times in chapters 40-66 the words “comfort,” “comforted,” or “comforts” can be found.
Indeed, if the Spirit of God is upon us as it was upon the Messiah, then we will do what He did. We read verses of comfort in Isaiah 61:1-3: 1 “‘The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor…2 to proclaim…the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, 3to console those who mourn in Zion….’ ”
1. How to speak
Our words of comfort, if they are from the Spirit—the Spirit of all comfort—will be tender words. Isaiah 40:2 tells us to “speak comfort to Jerusalem,” or literally, to “speak to the heart.” We should speak as a lover might comfort his beloved bride. Isn’t that the way the Lord spoke to his wayward wife in Hosea? We read in Hosea 2:14, “ ‘Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her.’ ” And here’s the heart-to-heart way in which the Lord speaks to Israel in Isaiah 54: 6-8 :
6 “ ‘For the Lord has called you like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a youthful wife when you were refused,’ says your God. 7 ‘For a mere moment I have forsaken you, but with great mercies I will gather you. 8 With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,’ says the Lord, your Redeemer.”
Romans 11:28 says that the Jewish people are still “beloved for the sake of the fathers.” Is that the way we speak to Israelis—as if we are speaking to those who are beloved—or do we speak with fighting words? Romans 11:31 says that “through the mercy shown you [Christians] they also may obtain mercy.” Do we speak tender words of mercy or words of condemnation?
So now that we know how to speak—with what spirit we should speak comfort to Israel—now what will we say to bring comfort to the Jewish people and Jerusalem in the coming times of trouble?
2. What to say
Isaiah 40 also gives us the content of our message of comfort. We comfort Israel with the fact that Yeshua has pardoned their iniquity and paid for their sins. It says in Isaiah 40:2, “ ‘Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.’ ”
There’s an amazing prophecy in Daniel 9:21-24:
21 “…While I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, reached me about the time of the evening offering. 22 And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, ‘O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you skill to understand. 23 At the beginning of your supplications the command went out, and I have come to tell you, for you are greatly beloved; therefore consider the matter, and understand the vision: 24 Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness….’ ”
This must be the center of our message of comfort to Israel—that God has finished with sin, that He has made atonement (or “reconciliation”). He has provided this atonement through the death of His own Son, Yeshua of Nazareth.
Yeshua has died and paid the price of Israel’s salvation. Yes, Israel must apply the blood of His sacrifice on the cross to their hearts, just as the children of Israel had to apply the blood of the Passover lamb to the doorposts of their homes by faith to be saved from the angel of death—because now the provision for their salvation and “the end of sins” has been made through the shedding of the blood of the Lamb.
In a real sense, Yeshua took the place of Israel on the cross. So when Isaiah writes in Isaiah 40:2 that Israel “has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins,” this is not only because Israel paid for their idolatry by being in Babylonian captivity for 70 years. The fact is, no one can atone for his own sins. But Yeshua, by taking Israel’s place on the cross, was truly a sacrifice who could achieve atonement and had the potential to release Israel from every sin—even idolatry. And surely this is a punishment at least double for all Israel’s sins—a double loss in terms of value, in that God spared not His only Son.
The greatest message of comfort and peace is to tell someone about the awesome salvation Yeshua provided on the cross—that He has already paid the penalty for our sin. In the words of Psalm 32:1,2: 1 “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity….”
All Israel needs to do now is to apply Yeshua’s blood by faith and they will be saved. His atoning work on the cross must be part and parcel of our message of comfort to Israel.
Some may wonder why Israel should ever have another chance at salvation. Surely Israel is beyond hope. But weren’t many of us beyond hope? 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 says:
9 “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”
And then we have this profound promise made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah in Jeremiah 31:31-37:
31 “‘Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— 32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’
35 “Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar (the Lord of hosts is His name):
36 “‘If those ordinances depart from before Me, says the Lord, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever.’ 37 Thus says the Lord: ‘If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, says the Lord.’ ”
And one day soon all Israel will be saved and Jerusalem will finally be comforted. We read in Zephaniah 3:14-17:
14 “Sing, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! 15 The Lord has taken away your judgments, He has cast out your enemy. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall see disaster no more. 16 In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: ‘Do not fear; Zion, let not your hands be weak. 17 The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.’ ”
So we have a message of comfort. Do not be afraid to open your mouth. Remember these words from Isaiah 40:9, “…Say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’ ”