Text: Isaiah 40:1-11
Last week we heard Isaiah’s prayer and plea to God, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence.” He saw the destruction and adversity, the shame of God’s people, and prayed that God would come and destroy evil. But he soon realized that, if God put a sudden end to sin, then we should be rightfully swept away like a leaf in the wind. This righteous God who is holy is like no other God, in that He actually acts in lives of His people, would be justified in blowing us away. Isaiah concludes his prayer by reminding God that we are His people; we are the clay and He the potter. He has made us and He is merciful.
God’s response to Isaiah and His faithful people was, “Here I am, here I am,” and, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy.” This calls to mind His previous word to Isaiah, and our text this evening, “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.”
God’s message to Isaiah comes after an envoy came from Babylon. They came to visit with King Hezekiah and he took them around and showed them everything: everything of value in all the kingdom. Then the Lord spoke through Isaiah that everything he showed them would be carried off to Babylon, even some of his sons. The resounding point in all this is that punishment and destruction were about to come upon Jerusalem and God’s people. There is forgiveness for the sins that they committed, their continual rejection of God and worship of false gods, their hatred and greediness, but the consequence is that Jerusalem must be destroyed.
For some of God’s faithful people this led to despair. They couldn’t help but think that God was abandoning them. He was permitting Jerusalem and His own house, the Temple, to be destroyed and the people along with it…or so it might’ve seemed. Thus God speaks to them His Word of comfort. He tells Isaiah to speak tenderly to the people, to speak to them heart to heart, to cry to them and keep crying as the Hebrew says that her warfare is over. Her time of trial, her time of distress is now ended. Her iniquity has been pardoned. The word for “pardoned” here is the word used in Leviticus for when God accepts a sacrifice of blood. Payment has been made in blood for the transgression of God’s people and they are pardoned.
The work of the Suffering Servant, the One who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, has resulted in God’s people receiving double from His hands. This is not double punishment, because the Law says transgression and punishment must correspond, but it is grace. By the suffering of God’s Servant, Jesus, His people have received enough forgiveness to cover twice the penalty of their sin. And we need it too, because “all flesh is grass…the grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it.” No one needs to tell us how frail human flesh really is. Some make it to old age, but not without sickness and calamities on every side. We can also see new definitions of morality and a moving center of right and wrong all around us. These things are result of both the sin within us and the broken creation we live in that is tainted by sin.
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’” Though mankind is by nature transitory, both in the fact that we will physically die, and how even as Christians our moral center is sometimes hard to nail down, the Word and Promise of God stand forever. Man withers and fades; man is fickle. God is strong, unchanging, merciful. He has promised to remember the sins of His people no more, to no longer hold their iniquities against them. This He has done by sending His Son into the flesh to die as payment for our sin.
And so He says to Jerusalem, to Isaiah, to us His faithful people: lift up your voice, do not be afraid. Behold your God. Truly this is made manifest in the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He who existed eternally in perfect unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, took on frail human flesh to suffer and die painfully for sins He did not commit. He did this to gather us in and to bring us to be with Him in heaven. God tells His people, “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 tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom.”
This is a picture of something we hope, pray for, and expect – the second coming of Christ. At His return He will come with might to collect His reward: us. We have been purchased not with gold or silver but by His blood. The wages of our work is death, but the wages of His work is eternal life in Him. Through Him we receive the forgiveness of all our sins. The death of the Son of God for sinners has resulted that we have received double the grace instead of the merited punishment of our sins. Next week our text will be from Isaiah 61. These words Jesus applies to Himself to describe the work that He was born to do. The reading ends with words that He puts in our mouths, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.”
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Is 64:1.
 Is. 65:1, 17-18.
 Is. 40:1-2.
 Is. 40:6-7.
 Is. 40:8–9.
 Is. 40:10–11.
 Is. 61:10.