Isaiah 40:1-2

Sermon preached on September 7, 2014 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2014. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

The opening words of Handel's musical masterpiece the,
Messiah, begins with the words of our text.

"Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people."

It's a wonderful opening because it's a great message from God—a message of encouragement and hope. It's wonderful to get good news, to know that good is coming. That's what the beginning of Isaiah 40 is about. In a very real sense it begins a new theme in the book of Isaiah. The end of chapter 39, like much of the first 39 chapters, was one of judgment. Isaiah told King Hezekiah that judgment was going to come on Jerusalem. He said, (Isaiah 39:5–7)

"Hear the word of the Lord Almighty:
The time will surely come when everything
in your palace, and all that your fathers
have stored up until this day,
will be carried off to Babylon.
Nothing will be left, says the Lord.
And some of your descendants,
your own flesh and blood who will be
born to you, will be taken away,
and they will become eunuchs in
the palace of the king of Babylon."

But in Isaiah 40 there's a great change. As E. J. Young says, (Isaiah, Vol. 3, p. 17)

"When one turns from the thirty-ninth to the fortieth chapter it is as though he steps out of the darkness of judgment into the light of salvation."

The beginning words of Isaiah 40 are just incredible. God tells His people that He cares for them and that He wants them to be comforted. This is emphasized. We read, (Isaiah 40:1–2)

"Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and
proclaim to her that her hard service
has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for, that
she has received from the Lord's hand
double for all her sins."

The words here remind me of when God sent Moses to Egypt. He said to Moses, (Exodus 3:7–10)

"I have indeed seen the misery
of my people in Egypt.
I have heard them crying out
because of their slave drivers, and
I am concerned about their suffering.
So I have come down to rescue them
from the hand of the Egyptians and
to bring them up out of that land into
a good and spacious land,
a land flowing with milk and honey—
the home of the Canaanites,
Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites,
Hivites and Jebusites.
And now the cry of the Israelites
has reached me, and I have seen the way
the Egyptians are oppressing them.
So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh
to bring my people the Israelites
out of Egypt."

God sent Moses to the people with such a great message.

But the message to the Israelites was not one of immediate deliverance. God had also told Moses that Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go unless God compelled him with a mighty hand. There would be a delay of several weeks, months.

We have the same thing in our text. At the time that Isaiah wrote these words that judgments spoken of in chapter 39 were still coming. God didn't suspend them. God wasn't telling them that He had changed His mind and was not going to bring about what He had threatened. No. That's not the case. Neither was it the case that the judgments were over, in the past. No. The horrific invasion by the Babylonians was still to come. The exile in Babylon was still in the future.

In spite of the troubles that they faced, God wanted His people to have hope. Even though the fulfillment of the promise was in the future God's people were to be confident of their salvation.

Thus one of the main things that our text teaches us is that

God expects you to live by faith.

When Isaiah wrote these words the captivity into Babylon was at hand. Judgment was coming. John Calvin writes,

"By this exhortation, therefore, the Lord intended to stir up the hearts of the godly, that they might not faint, amidst heavy calamities."

The words God spoke were essentially,

"exhortations to patience and faith…"

According to 2 Peter 1:4 we Christians have been given exceedingly great and precious promises. But we must never forget what the apostle Paul told us in 2 Corinthians 5:7,

"We live by faith, not by sight."

The Christian life is often very difficult. In Romans 8:36 Paul wrote that Christians face death all day long. In 2 Corinthians 4:8–9 he wrote,

"We are hard pressed on every side,
but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed."

In the great chapter on the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11, the writer mentions Abel, Enoch, Noah and Abraham. He then says, (Hebrews 11:13)

"All these people were still living
by faith when they died.
They did not receive the things
promised; they only saw them and
welcomed them from a distance.
And they admitted that they were aliens
and strangers on earth."

And as the writer to Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 10:35–38,

"So do not throw away your confidence;
it will be richly rewarded.
You need to persevere so that when
you have done the will of God,
you will receive what he has promised.
For in just a very little while,
He who is coming will come
and will not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith."

We need to have faith. We need to trust God's promises. One of the principles of this life is that for Christians glory only comes after suffering. But the point is that we should have such great trust in God that His promises will give us strength and hope during our suffering.

In this we are to follow the example of Jesus. In Hebrews 12:2 the apostle told us to do this.

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before him
endured the cross, scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand
of the throne of God."

In this regard, one of the great things our text teaches us is that even though some of the promises of God relate mainly to the future,

they are absolutely sure of coming to pass.

Notice the tenses of the verbs in verse 2. It says that Israel's hard service has been completed, her sins have been paid for, she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. These are all in the past tense.

This is an example of the 'prophetic future tense'. This was a literary technique that some of the Old Testament prophets used in which they referred to future events in the past tense. The point is that the events they spoke about, even though they were in the future, were so sure of being fulfilled that they could write about them as if they were already past. They wrote about them in the past tense. It was a technique that the Holy Spirit used to help His people to look forward with hope and confidence.

We should understand this from a better perspective than even Isaiah did. From our perspective as post-resurrection observers, we know that Jesus has won the victory. Our victory has been secured by Jesus and His work. Our sins have been paid for. The curse of has been satisfied. Jesus kept the law perfectly on our behalf. We have been justified. Nothing can stop the promises of God from being fulfilled. The book of Hebrews speaks about the distinctiveness of Christ's work. Hebrews 7:26–28 says of Jesus,

"Such a high priest meets our need—
one who is holy, blameless,
pure, set apart from sinners,
exalted above the heavens.
Unlike the other high priests,
he does not need to offer sacrifices
day after day, first for his own sins,
and then for the sins of the people.
He sacrificed for their sins
once for all when he offered himself.
For the law appoints as high priests men
who are weak; but the oath,
which came after the law,
appointed the Son,
who has been made perfect forever."

Hebrews 9 also compares Jesus and His work to the Old Testament priests. Hebrews 9:12 says of Jesus.

"He did not enter by means
of the blood of goats and calves;
but he entered the Most Holy Place
once for all by his own blood,
having obtained eternal redemption."

Hebrews 9:24–28 says,

"For Christ did not enter a man-made
sanctuary that was only a copy
of the true one;
he entered heaven itself,
now to appear for us in God's presence.
Nor did he enter heaven to offer
himself again and again,
the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place
every year with blood that is not his own.
Then Christ would have had to suffer
many times since the creation of the world.
But now he has appeared once for all
at the end of the ages to do away with sin
by the sacrifice of himself.
Just as man is destined to die once,
and after that to face judgment,
so Christ was sacrificed once to take
away the sins of many people;
and he will appear a second time,
not to bear sin,
but to bring salvation to those
who are waiting for him."

And Hebrews 10:10 says,

"And by that will, we have been
made holy through the sacrifice
of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."

So the point is that now, we have much more than the prophetic perfects to have confidence and hope. Jesus' work is complete. Our salvation, as far as the certainty of it, is complete.

The second thing that we should understand about our text is that

the accomplishment of God's promises are far beyond what appears on the surface.

The promises are not merely earthly, related to this life. They are go way beyond that.

Let me illustrate. When I was home this summer my sister talked a little to Marg about the death of her son three years ago. She said that while he was sick they prayed for him and they expected God to heal him. After all, they were a good Christian family who were following him. But he died.

But what about the promises of God? Does that mean they are worth nothing.

Not at all. All the promises of God are going to be fulfilled. They are going to be fulfilled in a way that goes far beyond this life and this earth. E. J. Young tells us that our passage is basically explained by the rest of the book of Isaiah. He writes, (Vol. 3, p. 24-25)

"the threefold message of comfort, so succinctly stated in this verse, corresponds in actuality to the threefold declaration or preaching of that comfort unfolded in the subsequent chapters. Thus, in 40:2-48:22 the prophet announces to Jerusalem her redemption and deliverance from the judgment. In 49:-57:21 Isaiah preaches of God's bringing salvation to Israel in place of her sins, and finally in 58:1-66:24 there is pictured the abundant and wondrous salvation that will come to Israel."

I'll give two examples from this. First of all, Isaiah 53. It's about Jesus, the suffering servant and how we are saved because He took our place. Isaiah 53:4–6 says,

"Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace
was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep,
have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all."

The end of the chapter also speaks of Jesus' exaltation and kingship. It's one of the greatest chapters of the Bible. We are saved by Him, by His work.

Turning to the end of the book of Isaiah, it speaks of the establishment of God's kingdom and the new heavens and the new earth.

So our text looks to all those things. As the apostle Paul said to Christians in 1 Corinthians 3:21–23,

"All things are yours,
whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas
or the world or life or death or
the present or the future—
all are yours,
and you are of Christ,
and Christ is of God."

All things are ours. But we have to have faith to see that. If we see it as we should, we should understand that the promises are going to be fulfilled in a way that is far beyond what we can even imagine. (1 Corinthians 2:9) As we are told in 2 Corinthians 4:17,

"For our light and momentary troubles
are achieving for us an eternal glory
that far outweighs them all."

One day our hand service will be completed. Our sins have been paid for. We have received from the double for all our sins. This phrase is difficult to understand. God doesn't treat us as our sins deserve. (Psalm 103) As Alexander says of the word 'double', it,

"is not used mathematically to denote proportion, but poetically, to denote abundance…"

E. J. Young notes that this idea of receiving double after suffering usually refers to the reception of blessing. He writes,

"it indicates that in God's sight Jerusalem has suffered sufficiently because of her sins."

I wonder if there's a Messianic reference here. Jesus' suffering, how great it was. How incredible, that God should suffer for our sins. (Acts 20:28) The suffering was absolutely sufficient.

All this means that

we Christians should have great comfort.

All things are ours. Our God rules. Nothing can separate us from His love. (Romans 8:35f) We don't have to be anxious about anything. (Philippians 4:6) In whatever troubles we face, we should have confidence like the Psalmist of Psalm 46.

"God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth give way and the
mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam and the
mountains quake with their surging."

If you're not a Christian, you should understand that

trouble is before you and that Jesus is your only way of escape.

Your sins demand judgment. They demand death. But if you go to Jesus—instead of judgment there will be words of comfort, there will be acceptance with God, there will be life like you've never imagined. Go to Jesus. He will accept you.