In these days of uncertainty and perplexing news, let us find reassurance in the fact that our God is a God who comforts his people!
My son told me that he knows of at least three families in his network who cannot get their loved ones treated for cancer, due to the prevailing pandemic.
We all know of family, friends, neighbours or colleagues who are sick or hospitalized, and vulnerable to the effects of this pandemic.
There are pregnant mothers or mothers nursing infants wondering how this pandemic will impact them.
Many people are fearful of being infected with the Covid-19 virus. Many are fearful of dying.
Those in the frontlines, the emergency and essential services workers, live every day wondering if they could become infected.
Some have been bereaved and bereft of
their loved ones and cannot bury them, or give them the dignity and respect
that they would have preferred.
Hundreds of thousands around the world have been infected with the Covid-19 virus and thousands are being treated in hospitals. The health care systems of many countries are overwhelmed.
And the people of God, those redeemed by the blood of Christ, cannot meet to commemorate and remember the darkest cum victorious day of history, when Jesus himself died on the cross! And they cannot meet to celebrate his resurrection in the way they have been accustomed to.
Isaiah chapter 40 is a very comforting chapter for seasons like this!
Isaiah had been prophesying concerning a very difficult season that was to come upon God’s people, when they would be taken captive and exiled to a foreign land.
God’s people, would lose the most important symbols of their identity as the people of God, that is:
The temple of God in Jerusalem would be desecrated and destroyed by a heathen nation, the Babylonians.
They would lose their capital city ,Jerusalem, a city that had withstood conquest for hundreds of years. It was also the city that housed their holy place, the temple.
They would lose their land of promise and be taken captive to a foreign land, and their land would be occupied by outsiders.
They would lose their monarchy,which caused the dimly burning wick of David to flicker. Their king would be humiliated, thereby leading them to wonder how the grandiose promises God made to David would be fulfilled.
They would lose their freedom and dignity and become subjects to a foreign king, in a foreign land, speaking an alien language. Even their sacred scriptures would be translated into a foreign language.
The only thing the Jews would not lose was the scriptures they had with them, and God continued to manifest and speak to them through his prophets. But they would lose everything else that was crucial to their identity as the people of God! What a painful season that would be!
At least, we still have our homes to live in. Most of us still live in the cities and countries we are accustomed to. Our governments are still functional and even though we may be on a form of lockdown, we still enjoy some of our freedoms.
It was not so for the people of God that the prophet Isaiah saw being taken into exile. And it is in this context that God spoke these comforting words through Isaiah:
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God! Speak tenderly to Jerusalem! (v 1-2)
What a comfort that they had not stopped being God’s people! Difficult seasons in life do not remove the eternal love that God has for his redeemed! And what a comfort that God had not stopped being called their God! And what a comfort to know that God speaks tenderly, affectionately, lovingly and caringly to his people when they are in a difficult season. The Hebrew expression ‘tenderly’ suggests that he speaks from the ‘bottom of his heart’.
And in this chapter, Isaiah gives three comforting anchors, namely, the Christ of God, the Commandments of God and the Character of God.
Comfort from the Christ of God (v2-5)
No matter how much suffering the people of God experience, they should always take comfort in the knowledge that all their hardships and sufferings will one day come to an end! And that all their sins have been atoned for and removed through the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus on the cross! Jesus sympathises and empathises with those who suffer!
The people of God should also take comfort in the knowledge that God is always at work to reveal his glory in the Lord Jesus Christ. Like John the Baptist, we too are in some way called to be voices that cry aloud, in the midst of sufferings, to prepare the way of the Lord Jesus. We too can bring joy to the bridegroom by being the vessels God uses to bring people to Jesus. And we can do this because we have been comforted by the tender love of Christ! Are we voices that point people to the Lord? Or are we voices that point people to fear and paranoia? What a comforting thought that we can be a people who point others to Jesus, that they too may be comforted by his saving grace!
Comfort from the Commandments of God (v 6-8)
The word of God enables us to find comfort in the knowledge that this earth is not our eternal dwelling. The material things that we cherish on earth will vanish and fade. Even our very lives on earth will come to an end. These slight momentary afflictions are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen, for the things that are seen are transient and the things that are unseen are eternal. God’s eternal word gives us perspective that is comforting, during such seasons as we face today! And this word in any case, points us to the comforting saviour!
Comfort from the Character of God (v9-31)
In times of sufferings, it is comforting to know that our God is great yet gentle, mighty yet meek, majestic yet merciful, powerful yet patient, immeasurably strong yet immutably a shepherd, holy yet humble, creator of the cosmos yet compassionate toward all he has made, sovereign ruler yet saviour redeemer, immortal yet inviting, invisible spirit yet he became incarnate, indescribably wise yet inexpressibly willing to aid those who wait for him and that he is all-knowing, incomparable, unsearchable yet he can be sought and known! What a God! And what a comfort!
If the LORD has already measured and weighed all the matter in the created cosmos, surely has he not already measured all these small pathogens, including the covid-19 that is causing a pandemic? What is the corona virus in comparison to all the waters, heavens, dust, mountains and hills that God has weighed and measured? And the little infants wondering what on earth is happening around them at this time are like lambs he has gathered in his arms to carry in his bosom as he gently leads their mothers!
Are you exhausted, weary or faint? It is comforting to know that our God renews our strength! Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matt 11:28-30).
And the people of God are encouraged to be those who invite others to behold God in this way! It is comforting to know that we worship this indescribable God and approach him through the Lord Jesus!
Take comfort my friends that all things do indeed work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose. Take comfort in the Christ of God, the Commandments of God and in the Character of God!
– Paul Kimani, Navigators Africa –