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. Isaiah 40:1-2
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name. You are mine. Isaiah 43:1
- Very often in the Bible, when God speaks directly or when an angel speaks to someone, the first words spoken are, “Don’t be afraid.” Think of two or three other places in the Bible where an angel said, “Don’t be afraid.” Why would you need to hear these words when God is speaking? Do you feel afraid when you hear God speaking to you?
- What self-perception in Isaiah’s heart and mind would make him feel that he needed redemption? Do you feel guilty about anything? Do you feel that you need to be redeemed?
- What difference does it make to you that God calls you by name?
- Sometimes when we walk out the front door in the morning, we feel we have entered a war zone. God says, “You are mine.” How does God’s claim affect the way you feel about the day ahead?
If you have been thinking about memorizing Bible verses in order to be able to recall them when you need them, this is a good place to start. Write this verse on an index card. Stick it in your pocket or your purse. Take it out and read it any time you wish. Say the verse to yourself when you feel under assault or tired and discouraged. Soon it will write itself in your heart.
When John the Baptist started preaching on the banks of the Jordan River, people got very excited. He became a real celebrity. He was a spectacle in his rough camel’s hair clothing cinched up by a leather belt. He supposedly lived on locust and honey, and some may have been hoping to see how he choked down those ugly insects. However, it was his rhetoric that got people’s attention.
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
This is an opening line guaranteed to rivet the audience to its seats. John followed up with a call to repentance that some listeners considered insulting. If John spoke on television today, almost certainly someone would take offense. There would be an outcry that John was not sensitive to the needs and feeling of some hearers. John did not worry then, and if he were alive today he would not worry now, that anyone took offense at his words. John had a message for people that was so important that he could not be bothered to be sensitive. He wanted the people to be ready to receive Christ when Christ appeared. His call for descendants of Abraham to repent of their sins offended them, but they needed to be offended, because they were guilty of looking at the world the wrong way.
Dr. Rick Carlson, a professor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, says that a better way to translate John’s call to repentance is to say that John demanded a “radical reorientation” of people. People needed to turn around 180 degrees and start seeing the world God’s way. He accused them of missing God’s mark, a high mark set for them as the chosen nation, and he said that the only way they would ever hit it was to turn completely around in their thinking and their worldview.
John’s message, startling as it was, was not new. God had been saying similar things to the people of Israel for centuries. Zephaniah spoke to people who were worried about their national security. Their world view was that God needed to do something and do it now to keep them from being crushed by more powerful nations. Zephaniah told them to stop worrying about that, because God already was their security. However, God’s worldview and their worldview were so radically different from each other that they would need to completely change their point of view in order to understand what God was doing for them. Through Zephaniah God said, “I will deal with all your oppressors,” and the Israelites thought, “Well, that take care of the Assyrians, and the Babylonians, and etcetera” because they did not understand that the greatest oppressor was Satan. Those other enemies were merely Satan’s way of assaulting them over and over. God promised to deal with Satan, and that victory would free the people from the real oppression they suffered because they thought life was not fair and they hadn’t received their share of the prizes. Zephaniah pointed ahead to the work Christ would do, just as John did.
Isaiah did the same thing. Just like John’s audience, Isaiah’s contemporaries were thirsty. They cried out like the woman at the well for fulfilling lives and the contentment that comes when people have everything they need. Through Isaiah, God promised “water from the well of salvation.” He promised the miracle of salvation for everyone with plenty for all and no shortage for anyone.
Paul, looking back at the work of Christ rather than forward, nevertheless called people to the same sort of reorientation. People need to be reminded and recalled to God’s worldview repeatedly. It is easy for us to be distracted by glamorous sights and wealthy displays and the constant message that we need and even deserve to get exactly what we want when we want it. Paul pointed people to a radical reorientation from the satanic worldview of self-worship to God’s worldview of trust in his provision. He said that the wealth others possess was not taken from anyone, and confiscating it by theft or taxation will not enrich anyone. God provides and God fulfills.
John’s startling message, right in line with his predecessors, was this:
Turn around and start seeing things God’s way. When you see things God’s way, you will realize what a mess you made of things, and you will tell him how sorry you are. Better yet, when you see things God’s way, you will start doing things God’s way.
And what would it mean to do things God’s way? John had an answer for that question:
Look here. If you see the world God’s way your actions will change. Your deeds will do fruit God is pleased with. If you aren’t bearing fruit, then you are deadwood, fit only to be thrown on the fire.
The question “What then should we do?” is answered with examples of the fruit:
Share food, clothing, shelter — whatever you have. Be honest with people. Show that you trust God, and be willing to live within his provision. Show that you trust that God has actually already provided what you need. Stop envying other people. Stop being greedy and worshiping yourselves. Worship God and see things his way. You will be happy.
Then John told them the real blessing that was coming: Christ the Lord. John made sure people knew that Christ was light years beyond his human advance man. John baptized with water that poured over people’s bodies. Christ would baptize with fire that would be the unleashing of God on the earth. John prepared his listeners for the day of Pentecost when the fire of the Holy Spirit would change them forever. Talk about radical reorientation!
Hark, the glad sound! The Savior comes,
The Savior promised long;
Let every heart prepare a throne
And every voice a song.
He comes the prisoners to release,
In Satan’s bondage held.
The gates of brass before him burst,
The iron fetters yield.
He comes the broken heart to bind,
The bleeding soul to cure,
And with the treasures of his grace
To enrich the humble poor.
Our glad hosannas, Prince of peace,
Your welcome shall proclaim,
And heaven’s eternal arches ring
With your beloved name.
- This joyful hymn of in celebration of Christmas includes the phrase “The Savior promised long.” Can you think of three places in the Old Testament where the Savior is promised?
- Isaiah spoke of the promises named in the second verse. The fulfillment is described in the New Testament. Do you know where Christ claimed the fulfillment of this prophecy? (See Luke 4:16-21) What stories about Jesus show how he fulfilled it?
- Have you prepared a throne for the Savior in your heart? What does it mean? (See Luke 9:23 and 1 Corinthians 3:16)
- What image from the story of Jesus’ birth comes to mind when you read the final verse? What do you do at Christmas that welcomes Christ this way?
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Luke 21:33
- Jesus spoke these words to his disciples in the context of foretelling destruction yet to come. Why was it important for the disciples to know that Jesus’ words were timeless? Why is it important that the gospel writer recorded those words for you to read?
- When Isaiah foretold the coming of the Messiah, embedded in his prophecy were these words: The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8) These words were part of a speech by God to his people. When you compare Isaiah’s record with the record of Jesus’ words, what conclusion do you draw about who Jesus is?
- In the midst of God’s words of judgment on evil through Isaiah, God spoke words for his faithful people. In rich imagery that resonated with human understanding, Isaiah wrote that God promised: As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:10-11 How does the imagery of this promise help you to understand what Isaiah is saying? How does it help you understand what Jesus is saying? What is happening in your life that makes this promise hopeful and helpful for you?
- Secular thinkers insist that spiritual concepts are like fairy tales, because spiritual concepts cannot be tested, measured or proved by the scientific method? If a secular thinker asked you to explain why you believe what Jesus said, how would you respond?
- Peter once wrote that we should always be ready to explain why we hope in Christ. (Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. 1 Peter 3:15) Do you make any efforts to motivate secular thinkers to ask you for such an explanation?