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Isaiah 40:1-11 1
1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 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. 3 A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” 6 A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” 9 You, who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

clip_image001Background

Isaiah lived during a time of moral and spiritual decline in Israel. The Northern Kingdom was filled with idolatry and God was about to bring judgment upon them. God’s instrument of destruction would be the Assyrians who were expanding their empire south into Israel. However under the prophecies and ministries of Isaiah and Jeremiah the southern kingdom of Judah knew revival and was spared for another one hundred and thirty years.

Isaiah made it clear that unless the people repented from their ways and continued in obedience to the Lord that they also would be taken into captivity not by the Assyrians but by the Babylonians. This of course sounded foolish in Isaiah’s day of the Assyrian’s power. But the Babylonians did rise to power and Isaiah’s predictions did come true.

When visitors from Babylon were given a royal tour of the Temple and all the treasures of Jerusalem, the messengers returned and told their king what was in Jerusalem, the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem and carried off all the treasures and the main families of the city.

To comfort God’s people, Isaiah declares that even though they will be taken into captivity they will also be delivered and the Babylonians will be overthrown. Isaiah even mentions Cyrus, the king of Persia who would return the captives from exile. (Isaiah 45:1,13; Jeremiah 25:9) His name is mentioned one hundred and fifty years before he reigned. Cyrus lived from 559-530 B.C.

Alongside this message of encouragement Isaiah gives a message of hope in speaking of the glory of the Messiah who will come as the suffering servant. The point of the ministry of Isaiah was that Israel was to rely on the salvation of God alone for their deliverance, and ultimately embrace the Messiah. (Isaiah 8:6-17; 9:6).

In Chapters 1 to 39, God warns his people about judgement for sins. In these chapters, Assyria is the enemy. Isaiah himself is living during the events of this period.

In Chapters 40 to 66, God promises comfort to his people. (The word ‘comfort’ appears 13 times.) In these chapters, Babylon is the enemy. God’s people are prisoners in Babylon. The chapters refer to the situation two centuries after Isaiah’s time. But unlike in chapters 1 to 39, Isaiah does not mention any actual events from the history of that period.

Biblical Truths 2

Verse 1 – The Lord’s words are to ‘my people’. They are the Lord’s own special people. They belong to him by a personal covenant (see Exodus chapter 24).

Verse 2 – Enemies had ruined Jerusalem 70 years earlier. But now the people will be able to build it again (see Isaiah 44:28).

  • The final words of this verse may seem to mean ‘double punishment’. However, this would be neither ‘comfort’ (verse 1) nor justice (see Genesis 18:25).
  • The word ‘double’ has two meanings (in the original language, as well as in English). ‘Double’ can mean ‘twice as much’, as in ‘double punishment’. But ‘double’ can also mean to ‘fold in two’ (see Exodus 26:9). For example, if I fold a piece of paper in two, I double it. Isaiah is using this second meaning here.
  • The verse refers to an ancient custom. If poor people were quite unable to pay a debt, they could become slaves (see 2 Kings 4:1). There were no national funds to help them. But there was one thing that a poor person could do. He could fix the final demand (bill) for the money in a public place. He hoped that some generous rich person would fold the demand in two. That is, that he would double it. Then he signed his name on the back of the demand (like a modern cheque). That meant that he would kindly pay the poor man’s debt. And everybody knew it.
  • So God forgives his people because of his great kindness. They could not earn their freedom by their hard labour. But God himself acts to rescue them.

Verse 3 – The New Testament declares John the Baptist to be the person who is shouting (see Matthew 3:3 and John 1:23). Of course, John’s message was not about freedom from Babylon. He lived several centuries after the Jews returned from Babylon. But John’s message was similar. His message was about the arrival of the Messiah. And the Messiah would bring about freedom from sin (verse 2).

Verses 3-4 – The Lord’s road is to be straight and level. And it is to be free from blocks in the way. When the road is ready, the Lord will definitely arrive. He will be able to travel without difficulty or problems.

  • The arrival of the Lord to come to his people’s aid (see Judges 5:4-5; Psalm 68:7-8) combines with a word picture. It was an ancient custom to construct special ways for the arrival of an important visitor. Or for the gods (that is, idols) to use as people carried the gods’ images in a procession.

Verse 5 – The Lord promises that all nations will see him in his great glory. This is the subject of Psalms 95 to 100 in particular.

Verses 6-7 – Human beings come and go. Their words and actions are never enough.

Verse 8 – Only God’s words and actions are always permanent and always perfect.

Verses 9-11 – The Lord is coming to Jerusalem (verses 3-5). He comes as far more powerful than any nation’s king. He is bringing with him the people that he has rescued from a foreign country. Although the Lord is so powerful, he is very tender (gentle) towards his special people.

Verse 9 – The phrase ‘do not be afraid’ appears nine more times in the later chapters (see Isaiah 41:10; 41:13; 41:14; 43:1; 43:5; 44:2; 44:8; 51:7; 54:4). Each time the words are to encourage God’s servant to do some task. The servant is not to worry whether he will be capable. God’s power will help him.

Verse 11 – The Lord looks after his people like someone who looks after sheep. The Bible often uses this description, for example: Psalm 23; Zechariah 11:7; John 10:11.

Items for Discussion

  • What are the visual images and memories that come to mind when you think of being comforted?
  • Why are so many of them tied to our parental memories?
  • What similarities are there between God’s comfort and that of our parents when we were young and in need of comforting?
  • Does the image of power and gentleness match those you would have for parents? Either you as a parent or your parents?
  • Why are images of a shepherd so perfect for our God? How does this image tie to Christ?

 

Luke 2:25-40; Romans 8:22-25
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Background

None included for this lesson.

Biblical Truths

Verse 29 – Simeon had finished his work for God because he had seen the Messiah.

Verse 32 – Isaiah spoke of a servant of the Lord who would be ‘a light to the nations’ (Isaiah 42:6). Simeon’s words are similar to these. The Messiah will help Gentiles to understand God’s truth. All people, Jews and Gentiles alike, will see God’s glory because his Son has come to earth (Isaiah 40:5).

  • People will show their attitudes to God, when they accept or refuse God’s Son, Jesus.

Verse 33 – Joseph was Jesus’ legal father.

Verse 34 -‘Fall and rise’ can have two possible meanings:

  • People must be humble (‘fall’) before they can gain a place in God’s kingdom (‘rise’).
    Verses 19-22 – When people sinned, the world itself suffered. The world lost its original purpose. And everything in the world suffered because of human sin. People had sinned. But often they knew that they were doing wrong deeds. Nature had no choice. Plants and animals also suffer illness and death. We know how human sin spoils God’s earth. For example, when people cut down trees for selfish reasons, they make the land bare. Then animals that live in forests cannot continue to live there. And the crops that grow there are often weaker than the old trees. So that place becomes poorer because people were selfish. However, God promised that he would free his world. Then the world could share the freedom of God’s children (that is, the real Christians). The Jews were expecting a new age when the Messiah would rule. The prophets spoke about this time. Nations would be at peace with each other. People would make tools for war into tools for farmers (Micah 4:3-4). The land would produce plentiful fruit (Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13). Even among animals, natural enemies would not attack each other (Isaiah 11:6-9). Until God changes his world, the world will cry in pain. It is like a woman who gives birth to a child in pain. Or, it is like someone who waits (verse 19). It is waiting for the new age to begin. That age will begin when Jesus returns as king. When he returns, everybody will see his glory. And real Christians will share his glory. They are the children whom God adopted. And the world will have peace at last. The child will separate people. People who refuse to accept Jesus will receive judgement (‘fall’). People who accept him will enter his kingdom (‘rise’). This will happen ‘in Israel’, that is, among Jesus’ own people. This truth also appears in John 1:11-12.

Verse 35 – Mary will suffer greatly. This came true when she saw her son Jesus die. People will show their attitudes to God, when they accept or refuse God’s Son, Jesus.

Verse 23 – Paul has described how the world seems to cry in pain. It is waiting for the new age when God’s children will have complete freedom. And God’s children (the real Christians) also cry inside, because they also desire that time.

  • Now our bodies suffer pain. But then pain and death will end (Revelation 21:4). Now our relationship with God seems distant. But then we shall see his face (1 Corinthians 13:12). Now our lives are not perfect. But then everything will be perfect.
  • The word ‘promise’ means that the Holy Spirit is like the ‘first fruit’ of the harvest. The first fruit is the beginning of the harvest. It is like a promise that the full (complete) harvest will follow. So Christians have received the Holy Spirit. He brings joy in the present and a promise of blessing in the future. But we share the pain of the world that God made. We want to be free from the weakness of our physical bodies. We desire to be free from our human nature, which still sins. God has adopted us as his children already (Romans 8:16). But we are eager for the time when God will change our human bodies. He will change them to be like Christ’s glorious body (Philippians 3:21).

Verses 24-25 – We can be confident about God’s plans for the future. We live in the time between pain and glory. God will do what he has promised to do. We know this. So we wait eagerly and patiently at the same time.

Items for Discussion

  • How do these verses explain the pain we must endure in the world?
  • What kind of hope is being discussed here?
  • In what way is our hope dependent upon Christ?

Discussion Challenge

  • How do we bring Christ back to CHRISTmas?

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
  2. http://www.easyenglish.info/bible-commentary/isaiah40-48-lbw-nh.htm
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