Isaiah 40:1-11 is a beautiful prophecy. It’s worth playing the opening part of Handel’s Messiah to hear it sung. It’s also worth looking at the three parts of this prophesy which foretells the coming of Christ.
The first words are “Comfort, comfort my people.”
When was the last time you needed to hear that? As we look through the Bible, most of Jesus’ words were comforting words. He went around healing people – not just their bodies, but also their hearts. When we have been broken by life, Jesus is not there to tells us what we did wrong. He comes to bring us comfort.
And there is a particular form of comfort being talked about here; Comfort… for the people’s sins have been paid for.
This past week President Trump has been handing out pardons. He has these little yellow “Get out of jail free cards” in his candy dish in the oval office.
But that isn’t what is being said here. “[Tell] Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.”
Note it says that sins have been paid for. What Jesus did for our sins is very different from just handing us a get out of jail card. He actually paid a price, death on the cross. But, I also want you to picture the people of God who were in exile 2,500 years ago in Babylon. The seventy years that they spent there were a payment for the sins of their leaders and the nation and now, they needed to hear God say, “You have served your time. Come home.”
The last part of Isaiah’s prophesy says that “[Jesus will] feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”
Remember how Jesus tells a story about a shepherd that loses one of his hundred sheep. Everyone knows that this is the sheep’s fault. Those fuzzy little brains cause them to wander away. The lost sheep is bound to be cold, the darkness falls, and this lonely sheep is in their exile paying the price. The first thing the shepherd does as he picks up the lost sheep is to tell them that they are okay. Their wounds will be cared for. They will be carried back and reunited with the 99 that never strayed. The master will tell the others to welcome and rejoice with him over the lost sheep. And what’s going to happen to that mean goat that keeps bringing up the lost sheep’s past sins?
The part in the middle says, “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”
This implies that the road home from exile will be crooked and rough. When we travel back from hardship the road is just as bad as it was when we went out on it at the beginning of our affliction. When we repent of our sins and make restitution, the road home is just as bad as it was when we took the wrong turn in our lives. The only thing that is different is that Jesus travels with us this time. God’s grace allows our return journey to be smoothed out.