Oscar Wilde – “Comfort is the only thing our civilization can give us.” That is how he summed up advancement. In his view, if our civilization can’t provide comfort, it has no use.
The American TV writer, Alexander King said, “the basic need of the human heart in nearly every great crisis – a good hot cup of coffee.” That is not a very deep view of comfort. But most people are no better. When we mention “comfort” people usually think of “easy chairs”– “comfortable homes” – “electric blankets.” – “soft modern church pews”
Comfort is used in advertising – even for lipstick that doesn’t fade – deodorant that outlasts. It is associated with Insurance policies – anti-virus software and painkillers and sedatives. That is the world’s idea of comfort.
The word “comfort” means “to strengthen, to reinforce, to secure.” I believe in God, and our Bible tells us that our God is the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.”
Our English word “comfort” comes from fortress. To comfort someone was to fortify them. In the time of the reformation, about 1530, Martin Luther wrote a powerful Reformation hymn. It was called “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” – and was based on Ps.46 – “God is our Refuge and strength….therefore we will not fear, even tho’ the earth be removed!” eg. We are fortified & comforted.
That work has been spasmodic lately, but thankfully the Lord has granted me the opportunity to produce engineering drawings for a new mine in QLD. There are some great programs on TV – documentaries on mega structures. Every age has its challenges. One of the most daring Structural steel projects ever attempted was the Golden Gate Bridge in California. It was built in two stages. The 1st stage cost the lives of many and there were protests. So it was proposed to erect a safety net at the cost of $100,000. The costs were already sky-rocketing but they erected it anyway. The result was a quicker & efficient construction which saved over $1 million in labour costs. They realised the safety net fortified the labourers and they worked faster because they felt secure.
Everyone needs comfort. Here in Isa.40, the God of all comfort, commands His ministers to give comfort. God says “Comfort – Comfort my people” It is God’s will we be comforted & fortified & secure.
Not the Syrians – Egyptians – Babylonians – but “My people” – Israel – Jerusalem – believers; the church.
This command may have come as a surprise to Isaiah. How could God say this of Jerusalem? They had treated God and His prophets with disdain. They pursued their idolatry & false religion & uncleanness & lusts…. but here it is. But there is no doubt – God says, comfort these people – With all their faults and blemishes.
But still we must make this observation. The focus of God’s comfort is – “My People”. Not everyone in Israel were God’s people. The Bible says – “Not all Israel, is of Israel.” The same is true of the visible church. It is a mixture of wheat & tares. Sheep & goats. But for all that, this is God’s message. They need comfort.
Jesus commands it – Remember to Peter – Each time, “Do you love Me?” …..“Feed My Sheep – Lambs.”
God says, “Comfort my people.” To offer comfort to others, is to be like the false prophets. They cried “peace, peace, when there was no peace.” This is not comfort given out carelessly. We don’t cry comfort just for the sake of sounding nice & friendly. The purpose of worship is not to produce a “feel good” effect.
Non-Christians are not God’s people. God commands comfort for His people, and no others. There is one message to others – not comfort. It is the message of repentance and faith. Jesus said – “Repent and believe the gospel.” Paul preached in Athens and said, “God commands all men everywhere to repent.”
In the parable, Jesus compared the gospel to an invitation to a feast. The gospel is a feast of acceptance and forgiveness and cleansing and hope and promises.
But in our efforts to reach people for Christ, we are not to lower the standard and offer false comfort and false hope to those who have not repented. There is no comfort, until a person indicates they have repented and believed.
We must all be careful when non-Christians get into difficulty. Lose there job – contract cancer – marriage breakdown – we don’t just rush in to pray they may be delivered from their trouble. I know we mean well, but we are likely doing them a great disservice. We may be asking for the one thing that may bring them to faith and repentance, to be removed from them.
Prayers for their comfort is not their need – better they lose everything – their job – health – families – if through it their souls are saved. Pray for their salvation.
God’s “comfort” is not for everyone. The focus of His comfort is only for those He calls “My people”. For everyone else, there is another message. God – pleads – stretches out His arms – cries ‘why will you die’. God commands you to repent. Turn from your sins and turn to Christ. Be reconciled to Him through His Son. So that is the 1st point – the focus of God’s comfort is His people.
hN©G¢P hN©G¢P. In Hebrew, whenever words are repeated, it emphasizes the intensity of the thing. When God said to Adam – “The day you eat, you will surely die – literally – ZhN¡x Z]N “dying you will die, to emphasize the horrible nature of the death that would happen. So God gives this command with intensity by repeating it. He also uses the imperative form of the verb. You know what an imperative is – it is something that must happen. It is God’s will. You must be comforted. And He pledges that comfort. He is the God of all comfort. The 3rd person of the Trinity is called the Comforter.
He will never cease to be our comfort. He reminds us constantly – “I am with you. I love you. I have loved you from eternity. I will never leave you. If you need to stay up all night crying I will be there with you. There’s nothing you can ever do to lose His love. He has promised there is nothing in all creation that can separate you from the love of Christ. He will keep you from falling. He will protect you until you die. He will protect you after your death. He is stronger than Depression. He is braver than Loneliness. There is nothing that can exhaust God from comforting His people. He commands it to be so.
He commands that His people be told their sins are all paid for; they are atoned; pardoned. Blotted out. He says, “Speak comfort” or “speak tenderly”.
Literally in Hebrew M¦¢L¡[hX¥I A¤L-L¢R hX¥d¢f “speak to the heart of Jerusalem”– tell them, their sins are forgiven.
Friends, our struggle is always against sin – it is sin & guilt that lies heavy on our hearts. It is always sin that is at the bottom of our discomfort. If we knew we were completely innocent; everything we lacked was made up; all our offenses were wiped out – we could face an army and not be afraid.
That is why we as Christians need to hear the gospel again and again. Paul – “for me to say the same things is not irksome…” Peter – “I will remind you … though you know these things.” We need to be reminded we are a forgiven people. We are as if we had never sinned.
O we don’t deserve it. And that is one reason we need to be reminded. We allow unconfessed sin to build up, and we lose our peace. Then we feel wretched, and unworthy and unacceptable. Our circumstances get us down. And all we need is a heart wrenching time in prayer with the Lord – “Search me O God and know my heart…!”
I have told you before of this. In the time of the Great Awakening – George Whitefield to Howell Harris – The same question we asked of Dallas & Rheanna. “Sir, do you believe your sins are forgiven?” It does not matter who we are – how many people we have preached to – there is no more important question for us than this. “For me to say the same things ….!”
Sometimes we find, as Christians, our forgiveness is clouded over. I love that hymn – (No.2 in our book) “Come Thou fount of every blessing … I love the honesty – “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” That is our story. We become careless – worldly minded and prone to leave the God I love.
In another hymn we sing – “May Thy rich grace impart, strength to my fainting heart.” How true that is of us. Certainly in my case, my heart is often fainting.
The people of God were about to go into captivity and be chastised for their sins. Isaiah predicted this, then furnishes them with comfort and promises of God’s faithfulness.
Troubles come to everyone, but especially to believers. Jesus said, “In the world, you will have tribulation – literally, YOU of all people will suffer.” If anyone is going to suffer, it will be you. That is front page news for the Christian. You will suffer.
It is a privilege to come under the chastening hand of God in this life. It is not a privilege given to the unbelievers of this world. We are disciplined only for our growth and improvement. God says, “As many as I love, I chasten and rebuke.” Troubles are God’s hammers & chisels. This life is the only time we have to learn these things.
And for all that – we need comfort – James “count it all joy when you fall into various trials …!” Why? Because we ought to have some understanding of God’s purpose. Paul – “Therefore I take pleasure in troubles & trials .. for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
In the reformation in the 1500’s, one of the first reformed confessions ever written, was the Heidelberg Catechism. It’s opening words are, were written in 1562 – “What is your only comfort in life and death?” When the authors wrote this, they had just heard news from France that many Protestants had been massacred. They had been slaughtered while worshiping in church.
Initially sixty persons were killed and two hundred were wounded. No mercy was shown even to women and children. As Protestants rallied to protect themselves hundreds more were killed. Torture was common: men were usually burned at the stake; women were buried alive.
In the years that followed, over ten thousand French Protestants were killed for their faith. The Protestant church was virtually wiped out in France. That’s why today we have Dutch Reformed, & German Lutherans, Scottish Presbyterians, English Baptists, but French nothing. Protestants were wiped out.
What gives us the strength to keep going? Where do we get the courage to keep fighting the good fight of faith? How do we run the race and stay on course?
They put that question first in the catechism. “What is your only comfort in life and death?” This was their answer. “I am not my own; I belong both body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.”
God comforts us, because our testimony depends upon it. Bible says, – “Always be ready to give a reason of the hope ….!” Friends, are you comforted? Do you have a strong hope? When others see our hope – they will ask the reason. How??? Obviously, if we have no comfort, they will not see much hope and optimism. So it is God’s will, that we be comforted.
Do we have that comfort? Do we feel fortified by such a loving Sovereign Lord? If you believe, then listen while the Lord speaks to your heart today. In the words of that ancient catechism – “What is your only comfort in life and death?” This was the answer. “I am not my own; I belong both body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.”