11 December 2016
Text: Matt 11:2-11 (Isa 40:1-11, 1 Cor 4:1-5)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
God tells Isaiah to “Comfort, comfort my people.”
The Lord is not directing Isaiah to make sure the thermostat is set correctly or to fluff up their pillows. The word “comfort” has a very deep and complex meaning. It is a Hebrew word that can be translated in many different ways. The root of the word means to “sigh,” as in breathing heavily in sorrow. And so there is a sense of repentance and forgiveness in the word, a sense of sorrow, and a sense of mercy being shown to the one who is sorrowful.
It calls to mind the sigh of our Lord when he opened the ears of the deaf man.
The sense of healing and forgiveness comes through in the Lord’s instructions to Isaiah to preach to His people that “her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
This comfort being spoken as a sighing gospel preached by the prophet points forward to the very last in the long line of prophets before the God who sighs, who pardons, who comforts us, and who is to come into the world.
This last prophet, St. John the Baptist, fulfils this prophecy, as a sighing voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” John the Baptist preaches the words delivered to Isaiah: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.” John’s comfort is a joyful message that the kingdom is near, because the King is near.
The entire world wants to know the answer to John’s question posed to our Lord Jesus Christ: “Are You the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Our Lord sends the messengers back to John not just with an answer, but with an answer bearing with it proof, testimony of Jesus’ standing as Lord and Messiah; as Prophet, Priest, and King; as God incarnate, as the Savior: “Go and tell,” says our Lord, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”
These miracles of Jesus are not only mighty acts that confirm that He is no mere ordinary, fallen man; they not only demonstrate the mighty power of the Lord. For in addition to that, they also reveal the Lord’s mission. He is undoing the work the Satan, rolling back the degradation of the evil one, reversing the curse of Eden. For the Lord takes the blind and the lame, whose bodies are malfunctioning as a result of the brokenness of the sinful fallen world, and Jesus restores their sight and their mobility. Jesus takes the leper, whose body has turned against its own flesh in a one-man civil war, cell against cell, flesh against flesh, in a painful and disfiguring mortal struggle, and Jesus takes away the disfiguration, the pain, and the destructive ravaging disease, replacing that flesh with new flesh, calling to mind the innocence of Adam and Eve before the fall. Jesus raises the dead, showing us not only His divine power but His divine mercy, the comfort, comfort that He delivers to His people and the Word He puts into His preachers’ mouths, that not even death itself stands in the way of God’s plan to restore paradise, and the sure and certain hope of the “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” The Lord remembers the poor, that the good news is that poverty and scarcity itself are replaced by riches and abundance in the kingdom of God, in the new heaven and new earth to come.
This, dear friends, is the comfort of the Christian faith. Comfort for us Christians is not found in fluffy words or vague feelings, but rather in the unequivocal promises of Christ Himself, who promises us that “He who believes and is baptized will be saved,” and “not even the gates of hell will prevail” against His people, those to whom the “comfort, comfort” is being preached by patriarch, prophet, and pastor.
For even as Isaiah was sent with a message, and even as St. John the Baptist was given a mission, so too does that same proclamation of Christ go on today, dear friends, and will continue to do so until the return of the Lord in glory. As St. Paul points out: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” The pastor is a servant, a steward, one who brings food to the table and who serves it with His hands. He announces the decrees of his Lord and he obeys the commands of his Master.
The object of all preaching – that of Isaiah, that of John the Baptist, and that of the Church of every age, is Christ, the comfort, comfort in His name given to His people by God’s grace and mercy, comfort, comfort given to us by means of the blood of the Lamb, shed upon the cross, willingly offered as a sacrifice to atone for our sins and bring us into communion with the Father once more, and the comfort, comfort of knowing that we are baptized even as our Lord was baptized, and that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus, the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, set apart and kept until the day of the Lord, when “the dead are raised up” and “the poor have good news preached to them” that the words of the prophets and preachers are fulfilled, brought to their fullness in Jesus Christ, who is our true comfort:
“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.” Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.