Isaiah 40 – Comfort My People, 6th December 2020

Isaiah 40 – Comfort My People, 6th December 2020

December 6th, Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11, and Mark 1:1-8.

Isaiah 40 – Comfort My People

Have you ever tried to offer words of comfort to someone? Over the years as a husband, father and friend I have been in situations where I have needed to speak words of comfort. Two years ago when I learned that my father had passed away back in Australia I appreciated the words and acts of comfort that I received from others. We all need comfort at times don’t we!

In this season of Advent, we reflect on and anticipate the coming of Jesus into the world. Today we explore Isaiah 40 with its message of comfort, preparation, and hope. That is a wonderfully relevant message to read and reflect on.



Isaiah opens this message with the beautiful words: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem…”

So why the words of comfort?

  • These words were spoken by the prophet to a people that were in exile due to their repeated failures to follow God faithfully and ignoring the words of the prophets including Isaiah –
  • The very things they had put their trust in had been torn down – Jerusalem and the temple were in ruins, their normal ways of life and worship had been turned upside down
  • This experience must have caused sorrow, sadness, feelings of alienation from God and their land – this was a disorienting experience for those in exile and those left in the land of Israel
  • Can you relate?

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

  • V2 says that the prophet is to let God’s people know that their penalty for unfaithfulness is paid and that their time in exile is coming to an end  
  • The prophet announces God’s forgiveness to the people – that their unfaithfulness has been forgiven and that God makes reconciliation possible
  • In this passage and ones following the prophet assures those in exile that their relationship with God is to be restored, that God’s love and grace is to flow over them in a special way   

Comfort, comfort Isaiah sings out to us as well – these are words you and I need to hear

  • We may not be in exile for unfaithfulness but I think this year has tested us in many ways – it has challenged some of the very things we have perhaps placed our confidence and trust in – our sense of what is normal has been challenged
  • It has been a wilderness experience often leaving us feeling alienated – separated from family and friends, from worship in church, from fellowship with one another, tested in some many other ways as well
  • These words speak comfort to us as they remind us that God loves us and sees the situation we are in and wants to pour out his love and compassion upon us to bring the comfort we need  
  • The passage reminds us that forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration and wholeness is what Christ came to bring and make possible for all – our mistakes are not the last word but God’s forgiveness and grace are


A voice of one calling – in the wilderness v3

  • This passage though is not just about comfort though – it is a call to prepare
  • In verse three the prophet says that there is the voice of one calling out in the wilderness to prepare the way for the Lord – that a highway through the desert or wilderness is being formed
  • there are two aspects going on here
    • The first is an image of a royal procession where the people would prepare an entry road and path for a royal figure to enter a region or city – in this case a highway is prepared for God to return to Jerusalem and take up residence there once again speaking of restoration
    • The second image is that a way out of exile and back to Jerusalem through the wilderness is being prepared for God’s people – and it is God who is the one that makes that way possible but that the people need to prepare themselves to leave their place of exile and return to their own land along the way through the wilderness God has prepared

The wilderness features strongly in the Bible

  • sometimes God speaks to us in the wilderness
  • in my own life there have been times in the wilderness – during my years of experiencing depression and anxiety there were wilderness times where I struggled – yet God demonstrated spoke to me and demonstrated his care for me through the incredible love and support of Kathy and others around me, through songs of worship that soothed my troubled mind
    • perhaps this is or has been a wilderness time for you – which voices calling words of comfort and hope has God placed around you? What lessons are you learning that can strengthen you and prepare you for the road ahead?

The glory of the Lord will be revealed v5

  • verse 5 brings this section to a close when Isaiah says that the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all people will see this – in context it is the act of Israel’s return from exile that was to reveal God’s glory
  • this restorative act will demonstrate God’s glory to all peoples
  • God’s people had better prepare themselves and be ready for when this highway is finished and they can leave their place of exile
  • Preparation brings comfort and hope as the people are prepared for God to act to restore and renew them – preparation speaks about a future that is one of hope and promise  

John the Baptist

  • This imagery of hope and preparation and anticipation of God acting in a mighty way can be seen Mark’s gospel – John the Baptist is a voice in the wilderness preparing the way for Jesus to come
  • In Jesus God reveals his glory to all nations – through his life Jesus revealed the heart of God, through his death and resurrection Jesus makes reconciliation with God and restoration possible – this is what John the Baptist is announcing and calling the people to prepare for just like the Isaiah was 


All people are like grass, but the word of God endures

  • In verses 6-8 Isaiah employs metaphors suggesting the fragile and temporary nature of human existence – Isaiah says all people are like grass or flowers that grow, blossom and then fade away  
  • This reminds us of our fragility and vulnerability as people – this year especially has shown us our fragility, we are not as in control as we would like to think
  • The prophet uses this image to contrast with the steadfastness of God, and God’s promises of restoration – the people are reminded that God is faithful and steadfast even if we are not
  • If we understand it properly vulnerability as people should turn us to God who is the constant one, in our weakness we discover God’s strength
    • As Christians we sometimes like to think that we must be strong and in control at all times – but strangely this self-reliance tends to leave little room for God or others around us to speak into our lives and be the help and strength we need
      • this is something I sometimes have struggled with, thinking that I always had to be strong and in control – in doing so I put a shield around myself which can shut out God and others
  • Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12.9-10 – that in weakness he finds God’s strength because it is in those moments that he turns to God and allows God to be his strength, his hope and power
  • It is when we acknowledge our own vulnerability that we can experience the strength and hope of Christ who is steadfast and trustworthy
    • Where are you feeling vulnerable and fragile at the moment? I think this passage encourages us to let God into those places to strengthen us, but also to let others into those places as well to encourage us, to speak words of comfort and hope into our lives

You who bring good news to Zion – Your God is coming

  • In verse 9 the prophet shouts out that there is good news coming in which God will act in a mighty way to bring about restoration and reconciliation
  • This good news is to be the cause for joy and celebration and it is news that brings hope – it creates a sense of hope-filled expectation
  • That is what these weeks of advent are about as we approach Christmas day – it is anticipation of celebrating the coming of Jesus, the anticipation of which is to bring us great joy and hope
  • Isaiah was called at this point to be a person of good news and hope to his people – that is what we I think can be in the present as well – through the way that we speak, give and act we can be people that share the hope of Jesus this season to those who need some hope

Comes with power and tending the flock as a shepherd

  • Finally, in verses 10 and 11 there are two contrasting images that Isaiah uses
  • The first is that God will act in a powerful way to redeem the exiled nation, it was something that only God could do
  • The second is an image of God as shepherd – Isaiah speaks so beautifully here – God gathers lambs in his arms, he feeds them, and carries them close to his heart, gently leading his sheep
  • These are words of comfort that God’s people needed to hear – they needed God to act in a mighty way to restore them but they also needed a shepherd to gently care and lead and restore them
  • When we look to the life of Jesus we see both of these elements –
    • through his miracles, through his death and especially his resurrection we see the power and might of God at work – this is something only God could do
    • Yet Jesus is also the good shepherd, the one that looks for the lost sheep, that carries the sheep back to the flock that feeds his sheep – we see in the life of Jesus the way he loved, showed his compassion on those who were in need
  • In this time when our own vulnerability and fragility has been exposed this is a beautiful image to hold on to, that brings hope and comfort – you and I can be carried in the arms of the good shepherd who wants to reconcile, to restore, to love, to feed, to renew and lead us towards wholeness   
    • This is also a message that can be shared with a world that needs to find a way back to wholeness

The words of comfort spoken by the prophet brought hope to Gods’ people – speaking words of hope into the life of a people struggling with life in exile. He announces that God has forgiven and will reconcile and restore, he will act with a mighty display but also care compassionately for his people.

The good news of the coming of Jesus also speaks of hope, of God taking the initiative to deal with our own alienation from God and from each other – the promise of Jesus is to bring reconciliation through his life, death and resurrection

In this time let’s prepare ourselves for the celebration of Jesus’ birth – let the comfort and hope that this passage fills us with overflow in us and through us so that we can be people of comfort and hope to others