Salvation in Isaiah 40
In any series of consecutive sermons there are times when we can look ahead a little to see what is coming. Some of you have eagerly anticipated Chapter 40!
The first section of Isaiah’s prophecy concluded at the end of Chapter 39 and we have before us the beginning of a new section. At the end of the last section Isaiah has predicted under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the captivity to come – in Babylon.
39 v 6 Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD.
Jerusalem and Judah were only just over the threat of Assyria. God had moved mightily to avert the danger. Assyria had been a picture of the enemy of God ranged against Him through His people. The subject of chapters 40 to the end in Chapter 66 is the Preparation of the people of Jerusalem for the captivity. Isaiah is going to tell his people of a deliverer to come. But he would not be a deliverer from the Babylonian exile. Isaiah looks beyond to a superior deliverer who will free all kinds of people from a greater bondage. He will be the servant of Jehovah who will deliver His people from spiritual captivity. And out of this servant’s work will emerge a spiritual Kingdom that will last, not for a few generations, but for all eternity! It will be a kingdom that will overcome all other kingdoms. Anything human or physical is foreordained to pass away – and only that which is spiritual will endure.
What a message Isaiah had! And what a masterpiece of literature and poetry this prophecy is. Isaiah’s mind was constantly filled with glimpses of the future. The Kingdom of which he spoke in his predictions was God’s kingdom that would have God’s own qualities of holiness and eternal endurance. Isaiah was one of God’s major instruments to communicate the eternal future to his covenant people. But why was it to Isaiah and his day in the 8th century before Christ?
It is because in Isaiah’s time the conflict between the world and the divine Kingdom was intense. The great Power of the Assyrians represented the world of lust and human conquest. This movement opposed the spiritual Kingdom of God. It was flesh against spirit – it was human versus the divine. But God, who is sovereign, will defeat hostile rebellious man and his kingdoms – and from their destruction would arise a glorious spiritual kingdom.
Isaiah’s prophecy is a Messianic prophecy. But it does not mean that it only had significance for the Jews in Jerusalem. The prophecy was also of great consequence for all succeeding generations – ours included.
The first 11 verse of Isaiah 40 serve as a prologue to the rest of the prophecy from now on.
Whereas chapter 39 closed with a dark prediction of the captivity in Babylon to come, chapter 40 opens with the joyful assurance of comfort, restoration and redemption. These chapters are the equivalent to the whole of the New Testament. It is no accident I believe that the first section of Isaiah is 39 chapters long – the number of Books of the Old Testament – while this second section from now on comprises 27 chapters – 40 to 66. We are moving from the Old Testament of judgement to the New Testament of grace!
1. A Proclaimed Message of Comfort. V 1 – 2.
The word “comfort” literally means, “to cause to breathe again”. There is an element of revival here. After the deadening message of judgment and the prediction of a long exile, here is a breath of fresh air – Comfort – comfort! It is repeated because Isaiah is communicating a sense of urgency. The voice of God speaks to the remnant who are represented by the city of Jerusalem. As Isaiah looks through his prophetic telescope he sees that the majority of the people are in Babylon, but a remnant are in the ruined city of Jerusalem. Its walls are demolished and its temple is ruined. God has sent faithless Judah into captivity to discipline her. She had chosen to worship idols of wood and stone and spurn and reject Jehovah God. But now He comes to comfort her.
My friend you may be one here tonight who has done the same as Judah. You have lived your life up till now rejecting God and worshipping the idols of this world. God has been a swearword to you. His laws have been there to be broken. You have squashed your conscience when it has screamed at you that your actions were wrong. And perhaps you have done it all, seen it all, been there and back in the pleasures of sin. And there is still no satisfaction. Your soul is still hungry. You are trying to make sense of life. My friend God is ready to comfort you too – for God is in the business of making new hearts for people – and bringing them comfort. It is good news brought by the prophet. Is this your position?
Three things of comfort are proclaimed here.
i. Jerusalem’s warfare is accomplished.
By this Isaiah is telling the people that their long period of captivity and misery, that had been brought on by their sins – is now at an end. A new beginning has come.
Do you need a new beginning in your life my friend? Isn’t it about time that you realised how futile it is to continue to be at war with God – by refusing Him, rejecting Him and breaking His laws? Almighty God says that it is ended – has it ended for you yet?
ii. Jerusalem’s iniquity is pardoned.
What an expression of Divine grace! After all that the people of Judah had done – yet God is merciful and prepared somehow to pardon them. Yet this expression of grace presupposes repentance – there can be no pardon unless the sinner comes to repentance. It was true then – in Isaiah’s day – in the days of the restoration when Cyrus released the Jews – and it is true today. The people of Judah knew the terms of restoration to the Lord God – they had been laid down by Moses in Deuteronomy 30.
1 And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee, 2 And shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; 3 That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee.
7 And the LORD thy God will put all these curses upon thine enemies, and on them that hate thee, which persecuted thee.8 And thou shalt return and obey the voice of the LORD, and do all his commandments which I command thee this day.
Pardon for sins that we have done can only be received when we repent of our sins. Have you repented of your sins my friend? Have you turned from your sins? Have you determined to leave them far behind you? It is not merely a matter of apologising and saying that you are sorry. Repentance means not doing it again! It means a forsaking of sin never to return to it. Do you know this?
iii. Jerusalem hath received from Jehovah double for all her sins.
You may be wondering what this means – double for all her sins. Is it a double punishment for their sins? No – No – God is not like that. Rather the picture here is that of a set of scales – which are balanced. The sin on the one hand has been amply balanced by the judgement of God on the other – and pardon is possible. Payment has been made and accepted by the judge. A proclaimed message of comfort.
But how is this to be brought about? How can real comfort be brought to sinners? We begin to see the answers to these questions in the next section.
2. A Prepared Messenger to come. Verses 3 – 5.
A King’s courier is going to bring a message from the king! He is coming to visit and the way must be prepared. Arrangements must be made. Whenever our Queen goes on a visit elaborate preparations are put in place weeks if not months before she arrives in a particular venue.
In Judah’s case there was a sense that the Lord God left His people while they went into captivity in Babylon. They were not only banished physically from the city of Zion and their own land – but God also withdrew Himself from them. They were in a wilderness experience – no God. Backsliders are in such a state. A wilderness – a time of roaming and feeling lost – until the Lord Himself comes and gently draws them back to Him.
After the years of the captivity God came back to Judah, his people – but before that could happen their hearts had to be prepared. The highways and valleys and hills, the rough places were their hearts – and they had to be prepared.
From our reading in Luke’s Gospel we recognise immediately the person of John the Baptist. He knew in himself that he was appointed to be the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness. John was to prepare the Jews for the rich outpouring of blessings that God had promised them.
100 years before the event, Isaiah had foretold that Cyrus the Persian King would deliver God’s people out of Babylon and send them home.
Isaiah 44 v 28 That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.
The remnant will return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple and settle there. What a wonder this was!
But a much greater wonder was in store for all flesh when John the Baptist comes crying in the wilderness “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” And it was John’s privilege to introduce the Messiah himself to a waiting world. Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world! To Isaiah, John was the Prepared Messenger to come.
Next we find
3. A Personal Manifesto to Convince people. V 6 – 9.
Sometimes ministers do not know what to preach about. Sometimes they are lost for words. Sometimes they have to say to the Lord God “What am I going to say, Lord?” Isaiah says “What shall I cry?” and the answer comes back – in verse 6 – tell them about the weakness and frailty of all flesh!
That is not very encouraging? No – but it is true – all flesh is as grass or a flower – a meadow flower. It is destined to wither – people are like grass v 7. Which tells us that what is going to be done will not be in the power of man’s achievements or strength. Human strength, called here goodliness in verse 6, is inadequate.
Do you like being called inadequate my friend? Do you mind being compared to a flower or grass, which is going to be blown away and burned up one day? We are weak and we are temporary. Our bodies, which are under the curse of the fall of man, will not last. Why has this come about? It is the curse of sin which is upon all men. This curse is the bad news of the gospel. All have sinned. None righteous no not one. The wicked shall be turned into hell. Are you aware my friend, of the danger that you are in if you die with the curse still hanging over you? Dare you continue to live the way that you do when you have a terrible future if you remain an unbeliever! Let me plead with you to consider your peril without faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This world is cursed!
Yet, despite this, verse 8 says that the word of our God shall stand forever! In the midst of a decadent and crumbling world, pressured on every side by human power and wickedness inspired by Satan, there IS something permanent and enduring. It is the character of God, the promises of God, the word of God! These will never fail but shall eternally endure. This is the only hope that any human being has – but what a hope it is!!
So what is this wonderful promise of the Word of God that will endure for ever? We have it in v 11
4. A Perfect man to Command. V 10 – 11.
Behold the Lord God (himself) will come! What a promise!
He will come as a mighty one. He will come as a conqueror exerting infinite power, so different to puny man, whose power is limited – like grass!
His arm will rule for him. The arm of God is a symbol of His power by which he overthrows all his enemies, redeems his people and exercises His rule.
His reward is with Him. This means that the Lord God redeems His people and then rewards them.
What power is thought of here. Omnipotence – awesome power – might and majesty – the right to rule is in His hand – for He is the creator God.
But now notice how He will really come.
11 He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
From power and rule the Lord God turns to tenderness and compassion. Here is the shepherd tending his flock. He has redeemed and rescued them from the grip of the enemy – now he will be tender to them.
With His mighty arm, His strength and power He has gathered them – in electing love. Now He protects and provides for them as a tender shepherd. He carries the lambs, the young ones safely wrapped in his shepherd’s cloak, near to His heart in his bosom. He will lead and guide those that are nursing ewes – those involved in bringing others to birth. How this all points to the Lord Jesus Christ!
4 And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. 5And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. 6 This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. 7Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. 8All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. 10The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
Isaiah points his people and us to the Good shepherd of the sheep. He seeks for His sheep – He finds them – then rejoices over them.
What about you my friend, tonight?
Are you wandering in this sinful world and you know that you are not yet one of Christ’s sheep? And yet you find yourself here in this church, under the sound of the preaching of Christ. The shepherd died on the cross at Calvary – that’s how much He loved His sheep. He was prepared as the good shepherd to lay down his life for his sheep. That is what he did at Calvary.
Did He die for you? Are you aware of His love for sinners like you and me? He found me 36 years ago on a Sunday evening much like this at the end of March 1968. Gently He drew me to Himself – can you say that you feel Him drawing you tonight?
I was aware that I was as grass – a fading temporary being, deserving God’s anger and wrath. But God’s word was plain – repent and believe. Turn from sin – trust in Christ and His work on the cross.
Will you do the same my friend?
May God give you grace to know Him tonight – may you hear the voice crying in the wilderness – go to the Lord Jesus Christ tonight my friend – pour out your heart to him – confess your need of him – confess your need of deep forgiveness for the things you have done and receive that pardon mention earlier! May God grant it tonight for His glory!