Isaiah 40:1-3, 10-11 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. A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, . . . Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms,
It is almost impossible for people to these days to hear the words of our text. Its not that the words are hard. Its not because the text is somehow hidden. It is rather due to the corruption of language, and this corruption is another one of Satanís deceptions. What is the deception? It is this, that we have tied what comfort is, to our idea, and desire to be comfortable. Why is it a deception, perhaps this can be best seen in a description of the ministry of Jesus Christ, he came to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. In other words, comfort really has nothing to do with being comfortable.
How do we know this? If in no other way, than this, that when the fulfillment of this prophesy came in the ministry of John the Baptist, we know that John the Baptist made most people uncomfortable. Why? Because of the message: "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand." If you preach repentance, you preach the law, and the law always convicts, it shows us our sins, and it shows us our need for a savior. It is not comfortable to see your sins. It is not comfortable to remember the evil that you have done. It is not comfortable to hear that God is coming, and that I am guilty, for how can I make peace with God, or undo the evil I by my sins have done? So the law always afflicts the comfortable, for they see their sins, and they see that they have not been good stewards of the gifts God has given them. So comes the question, why is this called comfort?
And this points to a second deception of Satan. For it has come to pass in our day, that comfort means giving the person what they want. So if a baby is crying, and he wants this or that, we give them what they want, it stops their crying. Yet it is oftentimes true that what we want, has nothing really to do with what we need. So true comfort has nothing to do with what we want but everything to do with what we need. For when people are in crisis, it does no good to say, there, there, donít worry, be happy, everything will be OK, donít worry it will turn out fine. For this is not comfort, this is a false reassurance. People in crisis need to be able to face the crisis, and the first step is admitting there is a crisis, it is only then that they can appreciate that they will not have to head down that road alone.
So in our text, once the law brings us to contrition sorrow and remorse for our sin, it is then that we can hear the good news about the forgiveness of sins which comes to us by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, it is not comfort to let people continue in sin, but it is comfort to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to penitent sinners. This proper distinction in the application of law and gospel was at the heart of the reformation. In those day, like it is today, there is a lot of false comfort, many are going there own way, many are going astray. And that is the great danger in being comfortable, for when you are comfortable, you think you can handle everything by yourself, and there is no room for God.
So, what is comfort? It is hearing the law which leads us to repent of our sin; and having repented of our sin, it is hearing the gospel which tells us how God has given us everything we need in Jesus Christ, life, salvation, and the forgiveness of sins. But it is more than that. For the real comfort in the gospel is not merely the forgiveness of sins, but it is a God with us, so that his abiding presence will keep us from sin. The comfort is that there is a good shepherd, who will gently guide us, not with cattle prods, but with a still small voice which speaks to our heart, and with His staff which guides us on our way. And it is not as though we are alone, for our good shepherd is always with us, leading the way, healing the lame, gathering the lost; and this is the hope which comforts. He will gather his lambs in his arms and carry them. And so we prepare for the coming of our Lord and Savior.