I know that many of us, myself included, when we face hardships or discouragement (like what we are currently facing), we all look for comfort.

– Some of us find comfort in control, so we do whatever we can to control the situation we are in. That’s not working so well right now.

– Some of us find comfort in food or drink, so we run to the cupboard or refrigerator to get temporary relief.

– Some of us find comfort in ignorance, so we try to ignore the problem and hope it will go away. But this isn’t going away.

– Some of us find comfort in substances, or travel or music or research or other forms of comfort.

But none of these things are sufficient to really comfort us – especially when life is hard and is hard for a long time.

This is where I do have some good news this morning and this is where we are going to camp out.

The good news is that God desires to comfort his people in the midst of their hardships. God desires to give you comfort. He wants to. Now that may seem obvious, but when you are in the midst of hardship it can be hard to believe, so you need to know that, if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and struggling with a hardship of some sort… even… even if that hardship is a result of God’s discipline for your sin, God desires to comfort you. That’s the truth.

If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and struggling with a hardship of some sort, even if that hardship is a result of God’s discipline for your sin, God desires to comfort you.

The word “comfort” means to give strength and hope, and unlike all the other temporary comforts we chase that leave us discouraged, empty or that ultimately fail us, the comfort God gives his people truly strengthens them and gives them a sure hope.

The Bible testifies of many people who experienced the worst this life has to offer, yet God provided them comfort – we are going to look at a key example recorded by the prophet Isaiah. And as we turn to Isaiah chapter 40 we are going to see the prophet actually answers a question many of us may be wondering which is: How does God comfort his people?

For this passage to really make sense and impact you, there is a bit of background information you need to know. And if you are like me, sometimes it’s hard to place all the events of the Bible on a neat timeline and keep things straight, but hopefully this will help. Ready?

Historically God chose to work through a group of people known as the Israelites (named after their ancestor Jacob who was renamed “Israel” by God…. often also called “Jews” which stems from the name of Jacob’s son “Judah” who was an ancestor to Jesus). God chose the Israelite nation as his people; he entered into a covenant (a sacred agreement) with them, and they were to be faithful and obedient to him and he was going to work his ultimate plan of salvation for the world through them. It was God’s plan to bless the world through the nation of Israel.

Sadly, the story of Israel, much like most of us, is a picture of ups and downs. They follow the Lord and obey him; they start to drift and rebel and turn to false gods; God disciplines them to purify them, then restores them. Things go well for a while, then it cycles all over again. This pattern shows up all too often.

At the time when Isaiah is writing – in the 8th century B.C. – Israel is not in a good place. Israel has fractured into two kingdoms: the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah which is home to the nation’s capital – Jerusalem. (Important to note that “Israel” may mean only the north or the whole nation). It would appear that Isaiah is from the southern kingdom of Judah and familiar with Jerusalem. Certainly, if you read through Isaiah’s writings, you’ll find he is familiar with all the evil that is going on there, and he doesn’t hold back any punches when calling them out. He declares over and over again God’s coming judgement on Judah.

During Isaiah’s ministry, the Assyrian empire was the greatest threat to the nation of Israel, and God was using the Assyrians to discipline the Israelite people for their sin. The northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC and 20 years later when the king of Judah – his name was Hezekiah and he was a mostly good king who straightened out a lot of idol worship– rebelled against the Assyrians, they tried to take the southern kingdom of Judah as well. They managed to take a few cities but failed to conquer Jerusalem, because God miraculously protected her. That meant that the southern kingdom didn’t go into exile like the north. At least not then.

The kingdom of Judah would hang on until another world superpower – Babylon – would rise up, attack, and exile them in 586 BC. And Isaiah tells the people long before, in no uncertain terms, that the exile was going to happen.

This is all recorded prior to chapter 40 of Isaiah, but then in chapter 40 there is a shift in the audience and timeline. It’s as though he’s hit the fast-forward button on history and is speaking prophetically to the future Israelites who would be exiled in Babylon – an event which wouldn’t even happen for another 100+ years.

This would be like me preaching a sermon like it’s addressed to our church 100 years from now but preaching it to you today and then recording it to be played 100 years from now as well.

So you kind of have to keep these two audiences in mind: the current audience who hasn’t lived through an exile but knows it’s coming and the later audience who will be absolutely discouraged and overwhelmed while currently living in the Babylonian exile. You have to understand they would not only be discouraged because of the practical difficulties of living in exile, but also because what they were experiencing was causing serious doubt about the promises God had made. To these captives, God uses Isaiah to deliver a message of comfort. And if you’ve ever tried to comfort someone going through the most difficult days of their life, you know how challenging this can be.

So how does God comfort his people in hardship? How does God comfort the exiled Israelites?

First we see that God comforts his people by assuring them that the war is over.

Isaiah 40:1-2 reads:
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

God’s compassion is clear from the start as he calls twice for comfort to be brought to his people. The fact that he still calls the people of Israel “my people” and that he desires his prophet to “speak tenderly” to them demonstrates that God has not abandoned his promises and that, even though he was very firm in his discipline, his love and relationship as a father is real. What’s also neat is that he calls them “Jerusalem” even though they are far away from that city. He reminds them that their true identity isn’t defined by their current circumstances. That’s something we would do well to remember. Your identity is not defined by your current circumstances.

Your identity is not defined by your current circumstances.

The message the prophet is to deliver to these captives in exile is good news! Their time of warfare or hardship has come to an end. (So Isaiah is obviously prophesying to the exiles at the end of their stay and Babylon). Their sin has been pardoned. It’s been paid for. They are not destined to stay in Babylon forever. Think for a second what that must have been like – to live in a foreign place, against your will, not free, no power. You can just imagine how they would have felt to hear this good news – it would have certainly been a comfort.

But it would have also been a comfort to those in Isaiah’s time. While their war and hardship were, in many ways, just about to begin, there was already the promise of an end to it. Isaiah was declaring that the punishment of exile would not last forever. That God would deliver and keep his promises.

The phrase “That she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” at first glance would appear to indicate that God had over-punished Israel; however, the sense is more that of fully paying for it. The “double” or “two-sides” (as the word is translated in Job) could be indicating that both the obvious sins and the hidden sins have been taken care of.

When it comes to our battle against sin, the word’s “it’s over” are the sweetest comfort we can hear. For Isaiah and his listeners, they did not yet have the full knowledge of who Jesus was and what he would do. For us, however, the final words of Jesus on the cross should give each of us the greatest degree of comfort that we could ever have – the three words, “It is finished.”

The final words of Jesus on the cross should give each of us the greatest degree of comfort that we could ever have – the three words, “It is finished.”

When God speaks those words tenderly to your heart and says, “John, it is finished.” “Katherine, it is finished.” “[insert your name], it is finished!” The ultimate victory has already been won! We have the great privilege of knowing what happened on the cross has freed us from sin and that there is no longer anything more we could add. Sadly, many people don’t live that way.

Years ago, I came across a news article about a fascinating man named Hiroo Onoda. He was an Imperial Japanese Army intelligence officer who fought in World War II. When the war ended in 1945 he and several of his comrades were hiding in the jungles of the Philippines and they kept on fighting. As time went by they would discover leaflets that announced the war had ended in 1945. The men decided that this was propaganda designed to flush them out for capture, so they continued to hide out. One of the Japanese generals dropped leaflets by air with orders to surrender but still the men believed it was a lie, and they continued to hide. Eventually letters and pictures from their family were dropped by air, but even that could not convince them. They had made up their minds and sadly… this is so sad… it cost them precious years of their lives. One by one the men either defected or were killed in skirmishes with the local village police until finally there was only Hiroo left. He continued to hold out until finally a brave Japanese man ventured to find him, arrange for Hiroo’s old commanding officer to come in person, and order Hiroo to surrender. And get this. This didn’t happen until 1974…. 1974! 29 years Hiro kept fighting.

29 years wasted fighting a war that was already over.

I believe that’s where many people are right now – perhaps even some of you in this room. You’ve heard the story, that your sin has been paid for by the blood of Jesus, perhaps even had family share their story of freedom, but you don’t believe it. To you, that grace stuff is just religious propaganda. And you continue to fight to be a good enough person, to battle your own addictions and you own sin on your own.

Yet your heavenly father wants to comfort you with these three simple words, “It is finished.” Your warfare is over. Your sin has been paid for. You need only to surrender! To accept the free gift that Jesus Christ is offering.

Your heavenly father wants to comfort you with these three simple words, “It is finished.” Your warfare is over. Your sin has been paid for. You need only to surrender!

Those are words of comfort. Your sin is paid for. No matter what else you face in life, if you are in Christ, you will never stand condemned to hell. You will never be found guilty. Praise God!! The words of Romans 8:31 and 32 apply to you when Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Do you live like that? Do you carry the shame of what you’ve done, or even the fear of what you might do in the future and let that define you? “It is finished” Those words are worth writing in the cover of your Bible or in the margin beside this verse.

Now let me ask you, when you and I seek to encourage other believers, do we point to this? Or do we offer them another slice of pie and the encouragement to just “disconnect from the news” for a while?

The greatest comfort you will be able to offer is to point back to the greatest comfort that God gives his people – the war is over. It is finished. Rest in that.

The greatest comfort you will be able to offer is to point back to the greatest comfort that God gives his people – the war is over. It is finished.

The second way that God comforts his people is by reminding them that they are part of God’s bigger story.

Verse 3 continues:

3 A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 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.
5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Here we see what Isaiah was pointing forward to – the “
glory of the Lord” being revealed to all people. We have the advantage of knowing exactly who these verses were talking about. John the Baptist would proclaim these words as he announced the arrival of Jesus – the one who according to Hebrews 1:3 is “the radiance of the glory of God”. That glory will be revealed, and the guarantee is that it is from the “mouth of the Lord” that this declaration comes.

Isaiah reminds the people of Israel that they are not the main attraction; God’s glory revealed in Jesus Christ is. All that they are going through is part of a bigger picture. God comforts them by reminding them, even though it doesn’t look like it in exile, that God will be glorified and that they have a part to play in that. They are to prepare the way. Like preparing for a king who is coming by making sure the road is smooth and potholes filled – the valley lifted up and hill made low are metaphors that refer most likely to repentance of sin. They people were to prepare for the arrival of God’s glory – for Jesus to come.

It was true for Isaiah and the people of Israel and it is true for us in a similar way. While we are on the other side of the cross, we still look forward to a day when Jesus Christ will return to earth and his glory will be made known to all people – every knee will bow and every tongue confessing that He is Lord. And we have a part to play in that bigger story. This is both comforting and at the same time humbling.

Here are some ways that we are called to prepare for the second coming of Christ. We are called to be faithful stewards of all that he has entrusted us. We are called share the Gospel with the lost. We are called to encourage one another. We are called to pray. And we are called to patiently and expectantly wait knowing that God will fulfill his promise. All this with the mindset that it’s not all about us.

It reminds me of the complexities of hosting the Olympic games. It takes years and years of planning and building just to make the stadium, not to mention the hundreds, maybe thousands, of people that must be employed in advertising, doing security, cleaning, and media – all so that we can watch athletes compete and the winning athlete receive the world’s glory for being the best at their sport.

So much preparation by so many for such a monumental event for so few. In a much greater way, all of human history points to and prepares the stage the glory of Jesus Christ in his first and second coming.

All of human history points to and prepares the stage the glory of Jesus Christ in his first and second coming.

God comforts his people in exile with knowledge that they have a part to play in the bigger story, and I believe he comforts us with the same knowledge. One of the greatest comforts you can receive from God is that this is not all about you. And because of that, our lives may not look like what we expected.

Maybe another way to think of it is like a giant puzzle, and our lives or our culture, or our time in history is one piece. It might not make sense on its own. It might be far to dark to understand, or we may be in a place that is unusually bright. But our situation is not the way it is for our sakes. It is the way it is for the bigger picture of God’s glory. And I want to ask…

Are you okay with that? Am I okay with that? Am I okay with living my entire life in obscurity if that’s what it takes to make much of Jesus Christ? Am I content if God has chosen this period of time to be one of intense suffering for the Gospel if that’s what it takes to pave the way for the second coming? Am I okay with that? I am when I know that there is a bigger story and that God is still in control of it.

As a sidebar I want to just acknowledge one of the most significant struggles that I have faced in my life of discipleship. And that is: What about the ones I love? How does it work to lead someone else to embrace the cost when they didn’t make the decision?

So a pastor gets arrested and jailed for leading a church service. But that pastor’s kids get the dirty looks at school, they hear the rumours… they see the hurtful comments about their dad or even about them on social media.

Honestly, that kind of stuff is more concerning to me than what these pastors are facing. The pastors have conviction, have tenure in the faith. Their kids might not. And I just encourage you to pray for the kids of Pastor James Coates, Pastor Jacob Reaume, Pastor Mike Thiessen, Pastor Steve Richardson, and our very own Pastor Aaron and any other pastor or Christian whose family has embraced a heavy cost for their dad following Jesus.

It is incredibly challenging to the heart of a leader to know that others will bear a cost that they didn’t have the choice to embrace. But this is where two things come into play.

1. Our trust in God’s provision of strength.

2. Our absolute need to remind those people that they have the privilege of playing a part in God’s bigger story.

If we lead them to suffering, we must also lead them to God’s comfort.

If we lead them to suffering, we must also lead them to God’s comfort.

Many of the exiles that would hear Isaiah’s words were not the primary cause of the exile. They were suffering because of the foolishness of kings of the past like Hezekiah who had done things that led to the exile. So these people needed to hear the comfort of God’s Words. They are part of a bigger story. Hold on. There is more!

So when we go to comfort others, do we make much of them or much of Christ? Do we try to make them the hero of their story or Christ? We are leading them down a dangerous path if all we do is speak of how heroic and amazing of a person they are as they go through trials. We need to show them they are part of a bigger story.

When was the last time you reminded a fellow believer that Jesus is returning and that we need to live in the light of that? This is your reminder.

So God comforts us by showing that we are part of a bigger story.

God also comforts his people by proclaiming the supremacy of his Word.

Everything we’ve said so far is useless if God is a liar or can’t keep his word. Just this past week I was speaking with a friend about a warranty he had for an appliance. The warranty was useless because the company had gone bankrupt and the part was no longer made.

There is no use in buying the lifetime warranty if the business goes under. Likewise there is no use trusting God’s Word if it’s not eternal. So much of the comfort we receive from God is about the future or about unseen spiritual realities. Because of this, we NEED to know his word is trustworthy.

Verse 6 says,

A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Isaiah uses a very simple analogy and compares humanity to grass. All flesh is like grass. It doesn’t last long. It’s good for a season, but is very fragile. It withers. It fades. The word used for “beauty”, when used with God’s name, refers to his covenant faithfulness or goodness. The original listener would right away pick up the huge contrast in saying that human beauty or goodness or faithfulness is so transient and untrustworthy, but God’s Word is the exact opposite.

This is comforting in two ways. First, God’s Word is true. But second, if all flesh is going to fade, then that means the kingdoms that set themselves up against God’s people will also fade. No early dynasty or kingdom lasts. They are all doomed to fail. But God’s Word never will.

The kingdoms that set themselves up against God’s people will fade. No early dynasty or kingdom lasts. They are all doomed to fail. But God’s Word never will.

Now we say that a lot around here, but I’m not sure we all believe that. The Christian life has stages of growth that we often progress through. The first step is to believe the core of the Gospel – that Jesus Christ died for our sins and that we can be saved from hell by turning away from our sin and placing our faith in Jesus. That’s how you become a Christian.

However, we should continue to grow in faith the longer we are a Christian, and we should start to understand more and more. And one of the most influential and critical stages of the early life of a Christian is the process of trusting that the Bible is God’s Word and that God is completely trustworthy. Sometimes that happens as you become a Christian, but sometimes it takes a little longer to fully grasp.

I would encourage you today, depend on the Bible. Depend on the truth it reveals about Jesus, about you, and about life. Work hard to understand it. Work hard to learn it. And know you can depend on it. It has more to offer than the greatest universities of the world. It has more ability to transform lives than the most gifted motivational communicators. It has thoroughly satisfied and at the same time bewildered and humbled the greatest minds of humanity.

The Bible has thoroughly satisfied and, at the same time, humbled the greatest minds of all humanity.

It is a treasure, and it has never failed me. The only failure has been in me not reading it or believing it or understanding it. The failure has never been in God’s Word. And if you don’t have a copy of God’s Word – then it would be our honour to give you your own personal copy today.

God comforts us by proclaiming the supremacy of his Word.

And the final way that God offers comfort to his people in exile is by declaring his own great power.

You know, when someone is struggling with a hardship, we are kind of taught not to talk about ourselves in front of them. Don’t offer comparisons to your own life – because that takes the focus off of what they are facing and makes them feel ignored. Well, interestingly, several times in Scripture, when God’s people are in hardship, he talks about himself. He points to how awesome he is. For us this would be arrogance and unhelpful, but for God it’s actually the most loving thing He can do because declaring who he is and his great power is a great source of comfort. Let’s pick up in verse 9.

9 Go on up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
10 Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.

This again shows that God is tender towards his people. Verse 12 continues and highlights God’s awesome transcendence.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
13 Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord,
or what man shows him his counsel?
14 Whom did he consult,
and who made him understand?

Who taught him the path of justice,

and taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?

The answer is obvious – no one!

15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
16 Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before him,
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

Those verses are encouraging in today’s political climate!

18 To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?
19 An idol! A craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and casts for it silver chains.
20 He who is too impoverished for an offering
chooses wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
to set up an idol that will not move.

21 Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
23 who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
25 To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name;
by the greatness of his might
and because he is strong in power,
not one is missing.

This is tremendous. God is so incredibly powerful and without comparison! And now we are going to see why he has made such a lengthy display of his power.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?

Clearly, they had begun to doubt the power of God and his ability to remember them. And this is how God answers. Not by focusing in on them and telling them they are awesome, but by saying:

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

I want some of that! I want some of that strength. But it comes in waiting on the Lord. Waiting on the Lord doesn’t mean we are done working for the Lord, but it does mean finding our strength in him – tapping into a conviction and resolve that will far outlast any physical endurance on our own.

This promise of strength after seeing the terrific display of God’s power is such a comforting word. One we need today. One that I need today.

God desires to comfort his people.

He desires to comfort you by reminding you “it is finished”.
He desires to comfort you by reminding you – you’re part of a bigger story.
He desires to remind you that his word is supreme and eternal, and
He desires to comfort you by showing you his power and by promising strength for you as you wait on him.

None of us knows what the week or month or year ahead holds, but when hardship comes – and it will – don’t turn to false comforts or assurances. Turn to Isaiah 40 and God’s comfort in hardship.

Keep your eyes on Christ! (Hebrews 12:1-2)