Who Is He Who Comforts Us?
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, November 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003, P. G. Mathew
Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.
The Servant of the Lord
Isaiah 49 speaks of the servant of the Lord. In verse 6 we read: "I will also make you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth." The NIV translation is in error here, as this rendering of the text would make Jesus Christ merely an agent of salvation, just as anyone who proclaims the gospel is an agent of salvation. What the Hebrew text actually says is, "that you may be my salvation." In other words, the servant of the Lord, Jesus Christ, is salvation.
In chapter 40, Isaiah prophesies, "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God." The people of God, were in deep trouble. But their real trouble was not their captivity to Egypt, Assyria, or Babylon. All such physical captivity is pointing to a far more serious spiritual captivity-captivity to sin, Satan, and death. God sees his people in their spiritual captivity and promises to comfort them.
Can the idols of the world comfort anyone? Isaiah 41:24 tells us something about idols. Again, the NIV translators erred by ommitting the first word of this verse: "See!" or "Behold!" The verse actually says, "Behold, you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless. He who chooses you is detestable." Idols are worthless and cannot comfort anybody. Verse 29 continues, "See, they are all false! Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion." There is neither comfort nor salvation in the idols of the world.
In Isaiah 42:1 we are introduced to the servant of the Lord. Here again the word "behold" has been erroneously taken out. The Hebrew text says, "Look. . ." or "Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations." The Holy Spirit is telling us, "Do not look to worthless idols to comfort you, but look on my servant. Behold him! He is the one who will save you. He is the one who will comfort you." It is this servant who is going to comfort us and bring us salvation; therefore we need to find out who this servant is. His Person:
- The Suffering Servant
Isaiah speaks about this mysterious servant in four places: 42:1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; and 52:13-53:12. Chapter 53 describes him in detail as a suffering servant, despised and rejected: "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed" (vv. 4-5). Moses was called the servant of God, but here is one greater than Moses. He is the servant par excellence who will obey God totally. This servant will not shrink back from death, even the death of the cross.
Isaiah 49 is the autobiography of the servant. He himself is speaking, not just to Israel but to the whole world: "Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations" (v. 1). The word "islands" symbolizes the uttermost parts of the earth. This servant is commanding the whole world to listen to him. To any need comfort, salvation, healing, hope or deliverance, this suffering servant commands: "Listen to me! Acknowledge that you cannot help yourself. Acknowledge that your gods cannot help you. Nobody can help you but me. I came from outside of this world into this world for the specific purpose of helping you."
Like Jeremiah and Paul, the Lord called this servant before he was born (v. 1). He is a prophet, but he is greater than all other prophets and apostles. He was chosen from all eternity and called to the task of comforting his chosen people. The Father gave him a people to save, which he agreed to do by suffering in their behalf.
In Deuteronomy 18:15 Moses prophesied about this servant: "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him." On the Mount of Transfiguration, the Father's voice said concerning him, "This is my beloved Son; hear ye him!" Here the suffering servant himself tells us, "Listen to me!"
Do you want comfort? Do you want salvation? Do you want peace and hope and joy? "Listen to me!" says this mysterious suffering servant. I also say to you: Listen to him, because in him alone is salvation. I am just a preacher of that salvation, and as I preach about him, you will be healed, restored and strengthened; your fear will be driven out; and you will be reconciled to God. But these gifts come only to those who are in need. The servant preaches the gospel to the poor and miserable; he has no need for the self-righteous and self-sufficient. If you want comfort, listen to him! If you do not, you will not be saved, and you shall die in your sins.
- His Powerful Word
This servant is not a military man who uses a sword or spear to exercise power. His weapon is the sharpened, effectual sword of the word of his mouth. When he speaks, his word goes into our conscience and convicts us of sin, so that we cry out, "Have mercy upon me, a sinner!" His word is spirit and his word is life. It exposes all our hypocrisies, cutting through all the lies and pretensions of man.
The word of this servant is powerful. Isaiah 11:4 says, "But with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked." In Jeremiah 23:29 we read, "'Is not my word like fire,' declares the Lord, 'and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?'" Hebrews 4:12-13 tells us, "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account."
Revelation 1:16 says of the glorified Christ, "In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance." By his word this servant saves and by his word he executes judgment. By his word he created the whole universe and by his word he recreates us.
- Immanuel; God with Us
In Isaiah 49:1,5 the servant tells us, "Before I was born, the Lord called me. . . . He who formed me in the womb to be his servant." This is speaking about the virgin birth as foretold in Isaiah 7:14: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him 'Immanuel.'" So he is not just a servant, not just a prophet. He is Immanuel. Isaiah also spoke in 9:6: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. . . . And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God." The one who comforts us is Mighty God, who became incarnate.
John 1:1,14 says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full and grace and truth." Jesus came down from heaven, humbled himself, became a man, and was obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross, for one purpose-to comfort us!
It is in this servant God's glory is displayed, as we read in Isaiah 49:3, "He said to me, 'You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.'" All creation displays the glory of God. But this One displays God's splendor perfectly; to see him is to see the Father. That is why we must never think that Jesus is merely a nice man or a moral teacher. He is God and he is man. In him dwells the fullness of Deity in bodily form. He is the Savior sent by God to comfort us.
Not only that, verse 5 continues, "For I am honored in the eyes of the Lord." Of all humanity, this One alone is honored by God the Father. At his baptism a voice from heaven declared, "This is my beloved Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." The voice came again toward the end of his life, on the Mount of Transfiguration: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" How, then, can we not honor the one whom God has honored and listen to him in whom the glory of God is displayed!
- The Light of the World
This servant's duty is to restore Israel to God. But that is too small a responsibility, so he is given greater responsibility by God: "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you might be my salvation to the ends of the earth" (v. 6). There is the double duty-to restore Israel and to be light for the Gentiles and save them. Israel had the light of God's word, but they did not walk in it. The nations of the world had no light, so the servant was appointed to bring light to them. He is the Light of the world and its Savior.
Human philosophies, human religions, human ideas of salvation are all darkness and cannot save anyone. Jesus declared the truth when he said, "I am the light of the world." There is no salvation in any other because "there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."
This means of saving the world is not an afterthought. In the book of Genesis, God says of Abraham, "[A]ll peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (12:3); or again, "[T]hrough your offspring all nations on the earth will be blessed" (22:18). Genesis 28:14 tells us, "Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples of the earth will be blessed through you and your offspring."
- The Covenant
In Isaiah 49:8 we read, "This is what the Lord says: 'In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people."
The people of Israel failed to keep God's covenant and became rebels. In fact, in 48:8 they are identified as "rebels from birth." But no blessings can come to God's people unless the covenant is kept. Only one person could do this: The suffering servant kept God's covenant, fully obeying all its requirements. Jesus said, "I have come, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it." He is the covenant and he kept the covenant. Therefore, the covenant blessings promised to Abraham now flow from Jesus to everyone who is united to him by faith. He is the head and we are the body. He is the vine; we are the branches.
Verse 3 begins, "He said to me, 'You are my servant Israel.'" All twelve tribes of Israel had failed, and so God looks upon his servant and sees him as the true Israel. Thus, if you want true comfort, then listen to Jesus Christ and believe in him. He is the covenant, and covenant blessings will flow into us when we trust in him. The Work of the Servant:
- He Sets Us Free
Having looked at the person of this servant, let us now consider what he does. His mission is given in verse 13: "Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains!" For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones." This One came to bring us comfort!
Verse 8 speaks of the time of his comforting work: "In the time of my favor. . ." This means in the fullness of time, the time of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the time when God saves his people. It is the Year of Jubilee, which we read about in Leviticus 25. Because of her disobdience, Israel lost everything. But listen to this amazing promise: "In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property" (v. 13).
Have you lost everything? Are you bankrupt? Are you miserable and unhappy? If so, you are living at the right time: This is the time of God's favor for you, the time of his restoration. You can come back to your lost inheritance.
This is exactly what happened to us, if we are Christians. By God's grace we have returned and been restored. (PGM) We destroyed everything; therefore, we deserve nothing, and yet he gives us everything. "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!"
Yes, Moses brought the Israelites out of the land of Egypt, but now there is a new Moses, this suffering servant, Jesus Christ. He is the one appointed "to say to the captives, 'Come out,' and to those in darkness, 'Be free!'" (v.9).
Are you in captivity? Are you shut up in prison? Are you burdened? Then I say to you, rejoice! The new Moses has come. Listen to him. He is saying to you, "Come out! Your chains have been broken, your burdens are lifted. No one can keep you in slavery anymore. The suffering servant has done all that is necessary to set you free."
When John the Baptist sent messengers to Jesus, he told them, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." That is why I say to you, come out!-out of your guilt and gloom and death. Nothing can prevent you from coming out. The death of Jesus Christ is sufficient and efficient for this purpose. "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony."
Come out! There was no need for Lazarus to remain in the tomb. Yes, it was the fourth day and he stank, but that is all right. Jesus commanded, "Lazarus, come out!" and the dead man came out. Christ brings the same freedom for you. You do not need to live in guilt and misery any longer. Today is your day! "Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation." You can be saved, healed, and reconciled to God.
Verse 8 further defines this freeing work of the servant: "to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritance." After Joshua defeated the enemies of Israel, he divided up the land and gave it to them as their inheritance. This servant is the new Joshua who divides to us our heavenly inheritance. And not only that, this ministry of the servant is worldwide, as verse 12 reveals: "See, they will come from afar-some from the north, some from the west, and some from the region of Sinim." According to some scholars, Sinim refers to China. So people will come to him from all parts of the world and be saved. Having accomplished our peace on the cross, Jesus Christ proclaims peace to those who are near and those who are far off.
- He Meets All Our Needs
What will this servant do after we have been set free? He will take care of us. Verse 9 says, "They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill." This is a picture of the new exodus. After Jesus our shepherd leads us out, we have needs, but they are all taken care of. Where Christ leads, the dead are raised, the desert blooms, and the barren heights blossom into pasture. The Lord is our shepherd, and we shall lack nothing.
What about protection? Verse 10 says, "nor will the desert heat or the sun beat upon them." He is the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire. He will protect us.
He also provides guidance. The latter part of verse 10 says, "He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water." This servant is going to tell us which way to go and what decisions to make.
Verse 13 tells us the Lord has compassion on his afflicted ones. Compassion means to feel another's pain and do something about it. God felt our pain, and his Son removed it: "The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed."
Where To Find Comfort:
Do you have this comfort? If the answer is yes, you can rejoice. If not, you can also rejoice, for such comfort can be yours this very day. Where, then, can this comfort be found?
In the Bible. Whatever is written in the Bible is written for our comfort.
In prayer. God has provided for us a mercy seat, and we can go to him in prayer at any time, in any place, for small things as well as big. The Bible says we do not receive simply because we do not ask.
In the church. It is in the church that the word of God is preached, which is full of comfort for us. It is in the church that discipline comes, which is also a source of comfort. In church we have fellowship with the people of God, and access to the sacraments, especially the Holy Communion, which God himself designed to provide comfort for his people.
In forgiveness. The Scriptures tell us that God forgives all our sins, he does not remember them anymore; he blots them out; he blows them away; he casts them behind his back; he buries them in the depth of the sea. "There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
In our position. The Bible says we are adopted sons, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people-which means a people of God's own possession. God looks upon us as his portion and his inheritance. We are the apple of his eye. We are graven in his heart and on his hands.
In Christ. Romans 8:34 tells us that Jesus Christ is making intercession for us right now. He will keep us from falling. We are under his grip, and no one is going to snatch us out of his hand. Our life is hid with Christ in God. Nobody can destroy us-neither death nor life-nothing in all creation.
In the Holy Spirit. Do you want comfort? Martin Luther said, "The Spirit and the gifts are ours." The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, dwells in us, guiding us, interceding for us, insuring our resurrection, giving us assurance of salvation, helping us to pray, and giving us power for living. Shout For Joy!
What should we do in light of all this? Verse 13 tells us: "Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains!" The whole creation is to shout and to sing. Why? God has comforted his people and had compassion on his afflicted ones. God the Father saw us in our misery, and sent his Son, the suffering servant, to save us. He has comforted us, and so we will praise and worship him, both now and throughout all eternity. God has done great things for us!
Jesus comforts his people, whom the Father gave to him from all eternity to save. How do you know whether you are his? Those who listen to him are his people and will come to him, trust in him and believe in him. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit will draw them with their mighty power and they will surrender to him freely and repent of their sins. Therefore, if you have not yet trusted in Jesus Christ, I beseech you to come today to enjoy the rich feast God has prepared for you. Trust in Jesus and be saved forever. Amen.
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Copyright © 2003, P. G. Mathew
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The "NIV" and "New International Version" are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™