Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
If you are familiar with Handel’s Messiah, you will surely hear the music of that great oratorio going through your head as you read the verses of the fortieth chapter of Isaiah. Handel chose the first verses of this chapter for the opening chorus of Messiah.
In a musical overture, the themes of the entire piece which is to follow are first all presented in brief form. That is what we have in these first eleven verses of Chapter 40, by which Isaiah introduces the chapters to follow. It is noteworthy that his first emphasis is this wonderful word of forgiveness to Israel. The prophet seems to be carried forward in time to the occasion of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. He is told to announce to the disobedient nation that the basis for their forgiveness has already been accomplished. He is to speak to the heart of Jerusalem (that is what the word tenderly means), that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for.
That last phrase, double for all her sins, does not mean that God has punished the nation twice what their sins required. This is a reference to an Eastern custom. If a man owed a debt he could not pay, his creditor would write the amount of the debt on a paper and nail it to the front door of the man’s house so that everyone passing would see that here was a man who had not paid his debts. But if someone paid the debt for him, then the creditor would double the paper over and nail it to the door as a testimony that the debt had been fully paid. This beautiful picture therefore is the announcement to Israel as a nation that in the death and resurrection of her Messiah her debt has been fully paid.
Today, too, Jew and Gentile alike are given the same wonderful announcement concerning our sins. In Paul’s great declaration in 2nd Corinthians, he says, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation, (2 Corinthians 5:19 RSV). That is the gospel—the good news. You may feel burdened about the mistakes, the wrong things you have done, or the hurt you have caused. To you this wondrous word of forgiveness and reconciliation is directed. All that is needed is to confess your sinfulness and believe that God himself has borne your sins: Your iniquity is pardoned, you have received from the Lord the doubling for all your sins.
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Thank you, Father for the comfort of your forgiveness that is offered to me through your Son, Jesus Christ.
When godly grief leads us to repentance, the gospel of God’s amazing forgiveness brings the deepest comfort. Are we then proclaiming this Good News by word and deed?