The Message of the Messiah

Steve Viars December 18, 2016 Isaiah 40:1-11

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Introduction

1. The reassuring nature of being comforted

Isaiah 66:13 - As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; and you will be comforted in Jerusalem.

2 Corinthians 1:3 - Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort…

John 3:16 - For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

2. The unique structure of this passage

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3. The important context and theological themes

John 1:14 - And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

4 aspects of the message God has given us to proclaim

I. A Message of Comfort

A. Meaning

Hebrew - be consoled, relieved, eased

English – noun, a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint, as a verb - to lessen someone's grief or distress by giving strength and hope and restoring a cheerful outlook

B. Images

Isaiah 40:11 - Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 - Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.

C. A key focus in the Christmas story

Luke 2:8-11 - In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

D. A way for Christ to work in and through you

2 Corinthians 7:6 - But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus…

II. A Message of Good News

A. In a spirit of kindness

Isaiah 40:2 - Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended…

B. Because of the possibility of forgiveness

Isaiah 40:2 - …and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

Jeremiah 16:18 - I will first doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted My land; they have filled My inheritance with the carcasses of their detestable idols and with their abominations.

Romans 5:20 - …where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…

Matthew 1:21 - She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.

C. Look for ways to proclaim this news

Isaiah 40:9 - Get yourself up on a high mountain, O Zion, bearer of good news, lift up your voice mightily, O Jerusalem, bearer of good news; lift it up, do not fear. Say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”

Isaiah 52:7 - How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Romans 10:13-15 - …for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

III. A Message of Preparation

A. The way has to be cleared

Isaiah 40:3-4 - A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley…”

B. Based on the unchanging nature of God’s Word

Isaiah 40:6-8 - A voice says, “Call out.” Then he answered, “What shall I call out?” All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.

C. Often begins with repentance

Matthew 3:1-3 - Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight!’ ”

IV. A Message of Fulfillment

Isaiah 40:5 - Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A. From the overall argument of the book of Isaiah

B. Miraculously accomplished at Christmastime

John 1:14-17 - And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ ” For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.

Romans 8:28-29 - And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren…

Outlined Manuscript

Have you ever noticed how there are some words that conjure up images that are entirely positive…practically everything associated with it is something we like…

- dessert would be one of those words…joy…bonus…peace…lots of words fit in this category…

- here’s another one to add to the list…the word comfort…

Introduction

1. The reassuring nature of being comforted

- as soon as I say that – what thoughts and images comes to your mind?...

- maybe your comfortable winter coat and gloves and hat on a cold Sunday morning like this one?...

- or maybe it’s that chair or couch in your house where you tend to go when you work is done for the day…

- or those comfortable clothes you slip into after work…

- or that blanket you pull over yourself when you’re watching TV…

- nothing better than being comfortable…

- then of course there’s comfort food….3 cheers for that…a big pile of mashed potatoes slathered in melted butter and warm gravy…that would be comforting…

- on a much more serious note, for many as you reflect back on this year – you can think of a time when you were hurting and someone comforted you…maybe with a call, or a card, or a verse of Scripture, or a prayer, or just a hug…

- but in that painful moment – that seemingly simple act of kindness was incredibly comforting…

- you can probably also think of times this year where you received that from the Lord…who said in the book of Isaiah…

- Isaiah 66:13 - As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; and you will be comforted in Jerusalem.

- it doesn’t get any more personal or precious than that…no wonder the apostle Paul would say…2 Corinthians 1:3 - Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,

- so yes, practically everything associated with comfort is something we like on all sorts of levels…

- and the double good news this morning is…

- comfort is part of what God wants us to have at Christmastime…

- secondly, not only is this a gift to be received and enjoyed, but it’s also a message to be creatively and enthusiastically proclaimed…

- with that in mind, let me invite you to open your Bible to Isaiah chapter 40…page 513 of the front section of the Bible under the chair in front of you…

- our church’s theme this year has been Loving Our World…and during Christmastime we’ve been focusing on God giving The Messiah to the Nations…not just a particular group or kind of people…John 3:16 - For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

- to whatever degree we’ve been able to grow in loving our world this year…to that same degree we have become more like our God…it’s one of the ways to glorify Him…

- one of the challenges is this post-truth culture of ours is that some might place the story of Christmas alongside the stories of Santa Claus and Elf on the Shelf…pleasant myths that add to the sentimentality of the season…

- but certainly not something that actually occurred or could have any real impact on our lives here or in eternity…

- to counter that notion, God has given us in His Word very specific prophecies written hundreds of years in advance that were miraculously fulfilled down to very minute details…so when a verse like John 3:16 says – that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life…it’s not belief that you have to conjure up out of mid-air…

- you’re being called upon and encouraged to carefully examine the facts…the evidence…and then make a decision based on where that pursuit leads…

- Isaiah 40 is one of those places that predicts the coming of Christ in ways that were fulfilled with breathtaking accuracy…in a way that can provide great comfort…and direction about the nature of our message…and ultimately focus our hearts on a point in time when the glory of our God was especially revealed in a manger in Bethlehem…

- now, there are two other issues we need to clear off the deck to be best prepared to read our verses…

2. The unique structure of this passage.

- our God is a very creative God…(for example, He created all sorts of weather conditions so we would never be bored…)

- that creativity is on full display in the nature of His Word…

- so there are different types of biblical literature…there’s history, and poetry, and prophecy…you may remember back earlier this year when we saw a mixture of biblical types that makes that book fascinating and riveting for sure…

- there are also many different literary devices to capture our attention or emphasize key ideas…

- here’s a random one – hyperbole – purposeful exaggeration used for emphasis or humor…

- so when Jesus said – if your right eye offends you, pluck it out…no one took that literally…but the point of being careful what you look at is now engrained in your memory because of that literary device…

- this actually might lead us to a great New Year’s resolution for you…to learn more about how to study and understand your Bible – here’s a wonderful resource: How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart.

- but here’s what we’re going to see in Isaiah 40…it’s known as Hebrew parallelism…where a thought is made…and then it’s repeated later in the passage…

- then another thought is made…and then it’s repeated later…

- often you’ll find what Bible students call a chiasm…named after the Greek letter X (chi)…

- this isn’t some secret meaning in Scripture…they’re fairly common…so here’s how Isa 40:1-11 is going to unfold…

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- I wanted you to see that so you can understand the outline we’re about to follow…

- now, one other piece of the puzzle before we read…

3. The important context and theological themes.

- Isaiah was writing in the 8th century BC…so this is before the northern kingdom was conquered by Assyria…and about 150 years before the southern kingdom is conquered by Babylon and God’s people are carried off for the 70 year captivity…

- so if you’re going to compare this to the book of Daniel…Isaiah wrote before Daniel…

- the first 39 chapters are pretty hard hitting…because God’s people had been called to be a light to the nations by having no other Gods than Jehovah, Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph…

- and to be a light by living by the ten commandments…and making use of the sacrificial system when they failed…

- but instead Israel had repeatedly gone after false idols…and Isaiah says that they have become spiritually deaf and dumb…just like the statues of wood they have been worshipping…

- so instead of glorifying God to the nations, and thereby loving their world – they had become just like those who did not know the Lord…

- but there is a significant shift in chapter 40…because Isaiah looks ahead to when after the nation will have gone through significant judgment their sin through the Babylonian captivity…

- and this is filled with the message of good news about God’s steadfast love for His people and what they can expect to find when they return to Jerusalem…all which brings great glory to God and points to a coming Messiah who throughout the book of Isaiah is able to represent God as a person in a way that Israel was never able to do as a nation…

- so you have an 8th century BC prophecy written to people who will live in the 6th century BC but if know your Bible you know that’s not the end of the story by far…because the NT tells us that this voice calling out to clear the way for the Lord is speaking about none other than…John the Baptist…

­ - which means that the staggering reality is that the Glory of the Lord who will be revealed in verse 5 is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ…the perfect lamb of God…who comes into the world in the form of baby…

- which is why the apostle John would later say…John 1:14 - And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

- and that is the marvelous message we’ve been given not only to receive…but to proclaim, and that’s how God’s people supremely love our world…

- now, with all of that in mind – let’s read our passage…read Isaiah 40:1-11

- we’re talking this morning about The Message of the Messiah…and with the time we have remaining, let’s think about 4 aspects of the message God has given us to proclaim.

- and we’re going to take them right from the logic of our new friend, this chiastic structure of Isaiah 40:1-11…

- read Isaiah 40:1-11

- so, 4 aspects of the message God has given us to proclaim…

I. A Message of Comfort

A. Meaning

- Hebrew - be consoled, relieved, eased

- English – noun, a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint, as a verb - to lessen someone's grief or distress by giving strength and hope and restoring a cheerful outlook

- sometimes words like this are best understood through a picture, which is why we have verse 11…

B. Images

Isaiah 40:11 -             Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,

In His arm He will gather the lambs

And carry them in His bosom;

He will gently lead the nursing ewes.

- think about how that would have impacted those who had survived the Babylonian captivity and now were making their way back to Jerusalem…what would they receive at the hand of their God whom their ancestors had failed over and over and over…

- comfort…like God gathering them up and carrying them back in His bosom…there’s no more comfortable place than that…

- you see the same emphasis in the NT…what is “knowing God” like?...

- 2 Thessalonians 2:16–17 - Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.

C. A key focus in the Christmas story.

- what did the angels say to the shepherds?....[talk through the passage]…

- Luke 2:8–11 - In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

- friends – that’s Isaiah 40 – when the glory of the Lord is revealed is through the promised Messiah…those who receive the message will find in it great comfort…co-fortitude…

- this observation isn’t original with me…but it’s amazing how Charles Schultz who for many years penned the Charlie Brown cartoons captured this in the great Charlie Brown Christmas classic which just turned 50 years old last year…

- but who was Charlie Brown’s friend?...Linus…and what was Linus known for…always having his blanket…

- may of the cartoons over the years were of people trying to get that blanket out of Linus’ hands…but in Charlie Brown Christmas, what happened when Linus began reciting the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke to help Charlie Brown and his friends understand the true meaning of Christmas?...

- in what was a beautiful picture of the power of the gospel message…Charles Schultz had Linus do what?...

- absolutely ingenuous…and a beautiful picture of how Isaiah 40 came true…Christmas is a message of comfort…

- one other idea about this word in Scripture…

D. A way for Christ to work in and through you.

- it’s amazing how often that the word comfort is used to describe the impact one person has on another…

- here’s one of many examples…2 Corinthians 7:6 - But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus;

- often comfort isn’t just what you say – it’s what you do…

- I was reminded of this the other day when I observed some of our dear deacons’ wives preparing yet another funeral meal for a grieving family from our community…

- the glory of the Lord was revealed in that…they were loving their world…by bringing a message of comfort…

- so the glory of God is revealed because He is a comforting God…secondly Isaiah said this would be…

II. A Message of Good News

- in part because it is given…

A. In a spirit of kindness

- did you see that in verse 2?...

- Isaiah 40:2 - Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended

- if you’re here this morning and you’ve never placed your faith and trust in Christ and have wondered what kind of reception you would receive from the Lord if you did…here’s the answer – a spirit of kindness…

- friend…the news is that good…and it gets better…

B. Because of the possibility of forgiveness.

- how many times is the word comfort used in verse 1?...twice…

- we can’t be dogmatic about this…but there’s no question that when we get to the end of verse 2…what kind of forgiveness is available?...

- Isaiah 40:2 - …and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

- why is that important?...well, please compare that to this…

- Jeremiah 16:18 - I will first doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted My land; they have filled My inheritance with the carcasses of their detestable idols and with their abominations.

- the judgment God’s people had to endure for their sins was significant to say the least…but now they can receive from the Lord’s forgiving hand doubly for their sins…

- Paul would say in the NT -- Romans 5:20 - …where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,

- this too is a major theme at Christmastime – what was it that the angel told Joseph?...

- Matthew 1:21 - She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.

- that’s why we have the other side of the chiasmus…verse 9

C. Look for ways to proclaim this news.

Isaiah 40:9 - Get yourself up on a high mountain,

O Zion, bearer of good news,

Lift up your voice mightily,

O Jerusalem, bearer of good news;

Lift it up, do not fear.

Say to the cities of Judah,

“Here is your God!”

- don’t you love that?...Get yourself up on a high mountain…(Go tell it on the mountain…)

- Isaiah would say a few chapters later - Isaiah 52:7 - How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

- if it’s really true that because of the finished work of the perfect lamb of God people like you and me could receive forgiveness of our sins…that’s good news that deserves to be proclaimed from the highest mountain…and when you choose to do that…you’re part of the glory of the Lord being revealed…

- [thank folks for serving in CFE, the musical, the LN…]

- [develop – making use of our final outreach opportunities – Candlelight services, Christmas Day services – could explain how/why we arrived at the Christmas Day schedule, potential impact on children, etc]

- I would also encourage us to be praying for one another as we look for witnessing opportunities over the next couple of weeks with our family members and friends…

- one of our church members told me about a radio program he heard that suggested ways for people to avoid talking about politics and religion around the holidays…

- how sad that on a holiday designated to celebrate the birth of Christ – some would think it inappropriate to bring up…religion…[that message is the polar opposite of Isa 40]…

- but it’s true that sometimes such persons can be among the hardest individuals to talk to about the Lord…

- and I would just remind you of how this same passage is repeated in the NT…where Paul says…Romans 10:13–15 - for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

- you know as you get older, do you know when you will more frequently see the people that you now see at holidays?...at funerals…

- you don’t want to look into someone’s casket some day and have to acknowledge – I didn’t share the message of comfort and the message of good news with this person I said I loved…

III. A Message of Preparation

- verses 3-4 explain that…

A. The way has to be cleared.

- Isaiah 40:3–4 - A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley…”

- the message to those returning to Jerusalem after the exile was beautiful…God is going to get you home…

- whatever it takes to prepare you for the work of the coming Messiah…

- this is where the other side of the chiasmus is especially important as well…

B. Based on the unchanging nature of God’s Word.

Isaiah 40:6–8 - A voice says, “Call out.” Then he answered, “What shall I call out?” All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.

- so what does that look like?...the answer is…

C. Often begins with repentance.

- now you might say – why would we say that?...

- because how were these verses fulfilled?...in the life and ministry of John the Baptist…

- Matthew 3:1–3 - Now in those days John the Baptist *came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight!’ ”

- please think carefully about that – a prophecy made in the 8th century BC – fulfilled precisely through the ministry of John the Baptist…

- and what this means is that often before men and women are willing to embrace the glorious message of our forgiving Savior, the way has to be prepared by being reminded of the power and presence of sin…

- and you might say – well, that’s going to make for a pleasant holiday conversation…hey Uncle Joe, please pass the cranberries, you sinner…

- how about this – how about spending time as a family working on the best ways to share your testimonies…the story of how and when you came to know Christ…

- or what Jesus means to your life today…

- or what impact he’s had on you this year…

- everyone else can talk about what comforts them…what’s good news to them…what they are organizing their life around…

- why not you being well prepared to talk about how you can’t get over the fact that the birth of Christ was prophesied in exact detail hundreds of years before it occurred, and how what Christ subsequently did on the cross for your sin is your greatest treasure, and your very best news…

- we don’t need to spend a lot of time talking about everyone else’s sin…because we’ve got plenty of our own to share…

- lastly, we have…

IV. A Message of Fulfillment

- the chiasmus is pointing to verse 5…Isaiah 40:5 - Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

- when we think about the exact words chosen by the gospel writers to explain the Christmas story…this statement should take our breath away…

- and when we consider it…

A. From the overall argument of the book of Isaiah

- Jesus was as a Person what Israel had failed to be as a nation

- because they refused to live before the nations in a way that glorified the Father…he chose to send His own son….so that this prophecy could be….

B. Miraculously accomplished at Christmastime

- John 1:14–17 - And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John *testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ ” For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.

- Isaiah 40:5 came true…

- you know, the apostle Paul made as astounding statement when he wrote…

- Romans 8:28–29 - And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;

- we can follow in Christ’s footsteps as we proclaim this message…

- let me sketch out one of many ways this could come true in our ministry…

- we’ve been purchasing homes in the northend of our community and this year we’ve acquired some beauties…

- on purpose we’re not buying anything that a responsible owner would want to purchase and renovate and then sell/rent…

- we’re looking for the ones that are too far gone…

- so a couple of weeks ago we were standing on the porch of one of those houses…and in this case it had a married couple living there that we don’t want to displace until we have a better alternative…

- and this house is between 2 apartment complexes on the street one block to the east and one block to the west…

- and they were telling us that they don’t go outside after dark because there is a steady stream of people going from one building through their yard to the other in order to buy drugs…

- that is a significant problem in the north end along with most other communities in our country…

- why?...because people are looking for comfort…

- and God has given us a message…the glory of the Lord has been revealed in the person and work of His dear Son…

- it’s a message of comfort…message of good news…it’s a message of forgiveness…a message based on His unchanging Word, a message of preparation…

- let’s do everything we can to be amazed by that message, and to find a mountaintop on which to proclaim it…

- to the everlasting glory of the Lord.

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987.  He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and they have three children. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church.  He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of Vision of Hope and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video