Comfort My People
Introduction: We just celebrated Mother's Day in my home. Although my mother died four years ago, and disappeared into the dark world of Alzheimer's many years before that, I will never forget the feeling of comfort that she would give me. I like to avoid sick people so I will stay well. Not my Mom. When I was sick, she was there to try to make the sickness as comfortable as possible. This week God our Father, the One who has been disciplining His people, now sounds more like "God our Mother" as He turns to comfort His people. Let's charge into our lesson!
- A Call for Comfort after Punishment
- Read Isaiah 40:1-2. For what reason has the time of comfort come? (God's people have finished their service of paying for their sins.)
- I thought Jesus paid the price for our sins (Hebrews 9:15). What kind of theology is this? (Our studies in Isaiah so far have shown us that the sins of God's people brought penalties. Reliance on other gods brought the Assyrians (and other countries) who defeated Israel and did a great deal of damage to Judah. Ultimately, God's people were taken into captivity by Babylon. This is the captivity which is described by Daniel.)
- 2 Peter 2:13-15. What does this suggest about the relationship between sin and punishment? (This agrees with Isaiah that sin brings "payback.")
- Have you found in your life that you have suffered because of your sins?
- Notice that Isaiah 40:2 refers to paying "double" for sin. Is God unfair?
- Compare Leviticus 26:18 with Ezra 9:13. Which is it? Does God punish us multiple times for our sins? Or, does He punish us less than what we deserve?
- When Bible teachers teach the idea of a perpetually burning hell which eternally tortures sinners, my first reaction is that this is impossible given God's justice. Assume 70 years of sin. Is it just to "repay" that with millions of years of torture? If God is in the "multiple-payback business" maybe this makes sense. What do you think?
- Read Revelation 18:4-7a. Here is a specific discussion about "payback" which uses the term "double portion' at the same time claiming to be an equivalent punishment ("give back to her as she has given"). What sense do you have about "double portion" here? ("Double" may simply mean "bountiful" according to The New Bible Commentary. Serious sins call for serious punishment. We recognize this idea in American law. We call it "punitive" damages. The punishment is not "unfair," but rather is intended to "punish" the person (or entity) so that it will remember not to do this in the future.)
- How many times was Jerusalem destroyed? (Twice. It is possible that "double" refers to the double destruction.)
- A Call for Preparation
- Enough discussion about punishment. Remember that our lesson is about comfort! Our lesson tells us that Isaiah chapter 40 moves past the time of punishment and ahead 150 years to the time of the return of God's people after the Babylonian captivity.
- Read Isaiah 40:3. Of what does this text remind you? ( Matthew 3:1-3. This text refers to John the Baptist.) What has John the Baptist to do with God's people coming out of captivity in Babylon?
- Think about this a minute. God says to His people that their troubles are over, they have suffered enough. Then a voice is heard to make a highway in the wilderness. When were God's people in the wilderness? (This is a repeated theme in the history of Israel. They were punished by Egyptian slavery. They escaped through the wilderness. They were punished by Babylonian captivity. They made their way back through the "wilderness" to rebuild the temple. They were punished for the sins of Adam and Eve. John the Baptist came out of the wilderness to announce freedom and salvation through Jesus. God's people hear a call from the wilderness to return to the comfort of freedom.)
- Read Isaiah 40:4-5. If you believe that your job is to help draw others to Jesus, what do these texts tell you to do? (Don't create barriers for those who want to come.)
- What kind of barriers do we create? (For my children, worship style is a big barrier. They want a contemporary worship service. At my last Elders' meeting the group was asked, "What would you give up for your children? Would you give up your life? If so, are you willing to give up your preferred worship style?" Good question. Because I wear a suit to court, I feel I should wear a suit to church. But wearing a coat and tie may be a barrier to some. I struggle with the balance between "barriers" and the proper worship of a Holy God.)
- A Call to Proclaim
- Read Isaiah 40:6-8. How long does grass live?
- Is hearing this a comfort?
- What is compared to the short lives of humans? (The Word of God.)
- Why does Isaiah compare our life span with the Word of God? Isn't this like comparing apples and oranges?
- Read Isaiah 40:9. Okay. All you short-lived people, what are you called on to do? (Introduce God ("Here is your God") to others.)
- Read Isaiah 40:10. Is the picture about the Word and our short lives more clear now? Why are our short lives compared with the Word of God? (There is a solution to our "short life problem." If we believe and proclaim the Word of God, He will return and reward us with eternal life.)
- How does this message compare to where we started in this chapter? (We started out with a message of comfort. Judah has suffered for its sins during the short time it has here on earth. However, if we trust God, as opposed to the temporary things of life, then God will reward us and comfort us with a permanent relationship.)
- Read Isaiah 40:18-20. None of my neighbors has an idol in their yard which they worship. Is this a message for us today?
- To whom do we compare God today?
- What is the common denominator for idols - whether created for a poor or rich person? (They are all dependant upon humans. Today, we basically stop with idol worship at the human level. The issue today is whether you depend on ideas created by man or ideas created by God. Human worship is the prevalent "religion" of the day.)
- Read Isaiah 40:25-26. There have been a number of science books which have broken into the best-seller list in recent years. I've read all of them and am currently reading The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene. Based on this slender claim to scientific knowledge, it seems to me that the "Big Bang theory" is the leading scientific explanation for (v.26) how the heavens were created. Although the "Bang" had to be just right to work (and keep working), science thinks it happened without a Master Intelligence. Who does the Bible say created the heavens?
- Is this another "idol worship" issue? (The ironic thing about idol worship then and now is that the idols of Bible times were obviously made by humans. Today, some scientists attribute to chance or whatever, things that obviously could not be created by humans, much less chance. Do you see God's logic? He says "How can you believe that an idol, which you had to create with your hands, could create the heavens?" Today we take an equally illogical position. We claim that something that even humans could not create, created itself.)
- Read Isaiah 40:27. Aside from the claim that there is no God, what is the next popular claim? (God pays no attention to me. He does not notice.)
- Read Isaiah 40:28. Again Isaiah says God is the Creator. How does he explain the charge that God does not notice our problems? (God does not lack the energy or power to help us. The reason we think God does not notice or help us is that we do not understand God's wisdom.)
- Read Isaiah 40:29-31. To those of you who need comfort, to those of you discouraged by life, what does God promise you?
- Friend, if you place your hope in the Lord, He promises you renewed energy. He promises that you can soar. He promises you comfort. Will you put your hope in Him and not in yourself?
- Next week: To Serve and to Save.