Comfort, comfort My people

Comfort Israel

Wednesday 05/25/22 

Series: Thru the Bible

Message: Comfort, comfort My people

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Comfort, comfort My people

Isaiah 40:1-31, 

“(1) “Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God.  

(2)  “Speak kindly to Jerusalem, and tell her that her time of warfare is over, that her punishment is completed. For the LORD has made her pay double for all her sins.”  

Prophecy of John the Baptist

“(3)  A voice cries out, “In the wilderness clear a way for the LORD; build a level road through the rift valley for our God.  (4)  Every valley must be elevated, and every mountain and hill leveled. The rough terrain will become a level plain, the rugged landscape a wide valley.  (5)  The splendor of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it at the same time. For the LORD has decreed it.”  (6)  A voice says, “Cry out!” Another asks, “What should I cry out?” The first voice responds: “All people are like grass, and all their promises are like the flowers in the field.  (7)  The grass dries up, the flowers wither, when the wind sent by the LORD blows on them. Surely humanity is like grass.  (8)  The grass dries up, the flowers wither, but the decree of our God is forever reliable.”  

As always, this has an immediate relevance to the deliverance of the Jews out of Babylon, and smoothing their way from there to Judea which was across a wilderness; but more importantly, to spoke prophetically regarding the coming of Messiah and the one who prepared the way for His reception – namely, John the Baptist.

Wesley says regarding the words “Prepare the way” 

You to whom this work belongs. He alludes to the custom of princes who send pioneers before them to prepare the way through which they are to pass. The meaning is, God shall by His Spirit so dispose mens hearts, and by His providence so order the affairs of the world, as to make way for the accomplishment of His promise. This was eminently fulfilled, when Christ, Who was, and is God, blessed for ever, came into the world in a visible manner.

However, this next part is both necessary and unfortunate for it plays into one of the reasons why the Jews did not recognize Messiah when He came. Let’s read…

“(9)  Go up on a high mountain, O herald Zion! Shout out loudly, O herald Jerusalem! Shout, don’t be afraid! Say to the towns of Judah, 

“Here is your God!”  

(10)  Look, the Sovereign LORD comes as a victorious warrior; His military power establishes His rule. Look, His reward is with Him; His prize goes before Him.”

While these words DO have a literal fulfillment at the end of the age, they have a more meaningful application at the advent of Messiah Who delivers Israel from spiritual oppression. He was indeed like a victorious warrior who established His rule by His power.

Jesus Himself foretold this in His ministry in Matt. 16:27, “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.”

…and then again He said it to John in Rev. 22:12,  “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.”   

The Jews however mistakenly believed this was all one event at the initial coming of Messiah.

Consider how often the New Testament mentions this reward and its direct connection with our actions (not just our beliefs).

  • Concerning those who remain faithful under persecution,

“Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” ~ Matt. 5:12

  • Concerning those who love and pray even for those who persecute them…

“For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” ~ Matt. 5:46   

  • Concerning those acts of righteousness,

“Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven.  (2)  Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward!  (3)  But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  (4)  so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, Who sees in secret, will reward you.  (5)  “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward!  (6)  But whenever you pray, go into your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, Who sees in secret, will reward you.” ~ Matt. 6:1-6 

“(41) He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. (42)  And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.” ~ Matt. 10:41,42  

  • Regarding our labor in the work of the kingdom,

“Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.” ~ 1Cor. 3:8, 14; 9:17 & 18   

  • Regarding false humility and pretentious false knowledge

“Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind” ~ Col. 2:18   

“Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people,  (24)  because you know that you will receive your inheritance from the Lord as the reward. Serve the Lord Christ.  (25)  For the one who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there are no exceptions.” ~ Col 3:23-25  

  • Regarding our confidence in Him

“Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward.” ~ Heb. 10:35   

  • Regarding Moses’ departure from Egypt to aid his people,

“esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.” ~ Heb. 11:26   

  • Regarding our diligence,

“Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.” ~ 2Jn. 1:8   

  • Regarding the end judgment

“The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, And the time of the dead, that they should be judged, And that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, And those who fear Your name, small and great, And should destroy those who destroy the earth.” ~ Rev.11:18  

As you can see MUCH is said about the rewards we will receive, but it was never intended to be understood as completely fulfilled upon the initial coming of the Messiah.

Now Isaiah begins to describe Messiah in other terms. It is interesting how Israel identified the first portion of the scripture with the Messiah, but not this later part or if they did it was to a far lesser degree.

“(11)  Like a shepherd He tends His flock; He gathers up the lambs with His arm; He carries them close to His heart; He leads the ewes along.”  

Much can be said of Jesus as our shepherd. Like the song we sang tonight that God’s favorite name is Father, but among His favorite roles in our lives is His role as our loving Shepherd!

It is a very short verse but it communicates SO much!

The passages says, “He will feed His flock like a shepherd”

As you know sheep are the most defenseless animals known to man. Without a shepherd they are all but guaranteed to die and even if they do not they are doomed to carry loads far exceeding their design to bear.

Spurgeon says this about sheep, “No creature has less power to take care of itself than the sheep; even the tiny ant with its foresight can provide for the evil day, but this poor creature must be tended by man or else perish.” 

Shepherds care for sheep… and I mean this in greater ways than the obvious ways such as feeding them, leading them, protecting them, nurturing them – but shepherds “know” them. They study them and are familiar with each one individually. They have names and characters and ways which differ one to another and a good shepherd knows them all and tailors his guidance and care for them individually.

This passage also says, “He will gather the lambs with His arm” 

Guzik says, 

“Our LORD shows special care for the lambs. The youngest, the weakest, are not despised – they are given special care by the LORD Who first actively gathers them, then Who will carry them in His bosom. He doesn’t cast the weak lambs over His shoulder, as a shepherd might carry a sheep. Instead, He lovingly cradles them in His bosom, close to His heart. That is both a safe place and a tender place.”

Spurgeon says,

“To carry is kindness, but to carry in the bosom is loving-kindness. The shoulders are for power, and the back for force, but the bosom is the seat of love. I see the Lord of angels condescending to personal labor. Jesus Christ Himself gathers with His Own arm and carries in His Own bosom the lambs of His flock. He doth not commit this work to an angel, nor does He even leave it to His ministers; but He Himself, by His Spirit, still undertakes it.” 

Finally our passage says, “And gently lead those who are with young”

In a flock there are not only adult sheep, adolescents and babies – there are also expectant mothers. The shepherd knows these too and his care for them is especially tender, not only in respect to their increased burden and feeding needs, but also out of care for the unborn of his flock. No one needs to tell a true shepherd that an unborn sheep is not just an embryo – they know they are in truth the youngest of real sheep and as such are already one of their flock. By caring especially for the mother, he is showing the best care he can for these unborn sheep.

Notice how the passage does not say, “and gently lead those who are with an undeveloped fetus” no, these are real sheep..they are just especially YOUNG!

Guzik also offers this observation…

Jesus is given three great titles regarding His work as a shepherd.

  • Jesus the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-15). He is good in His care and sacrifice for the flock.
  • Jesus the Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20). He is great in His glorious triumph over every enemy.
  • Jesus the Chief Shepherd (1Peter 5:4). He is the Chief over all His people in His return. 

At His return, Jesus also exercises another aspect of His role as Shepherd: He “divides the sheep from the goats” (Matt. 25:31-33). 

For all His saving power and tender-kindness, do not forget He is almighty God. He is to be responded to as a child to their father, like a sheep to their shepherd without losing for one moment the deep and awe-inspiring wonder and reverence of their relationship to Him as Creator and God!

Spurgeon says, 

“Did you ever notice that the same Shepherd Who saves the lost, will curse the finally impenitent? 

He shall separate them one from another as a shepherd divideth His sheep from the goats, and He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall He say unto them on the left hand, ‘Depart ye cursed.’ 

What lips are those which pronounce those dreadful words? The Shepherd’s lips.” 

…and so Isaiah goes on to reveal this awe-inspiring aspect of God as all powerful.

“(12)  Who has measured out the waters in the hollow of His hand, or carefully measured the sky, or carefully weighed the soil of the earth, or weighed the mountains in a balance, or the hills on scales?  

(13)  Who comprehends the mind of the LORD, or gives Him instruction as His counselor?  

(14)  From whom does He receive directions? Who teaches Him the correct way to do things, or imparts knowledge to Him, or instructs Him in skillful design?  

(15)  Look, the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales. 

He lifts the coastlands as if they were dust.  (16)  Not even Lebanon could supply enough firewood for a sacrifice; its wild animals would not provide enough burnt offerings.  

(17)  All the nations are insignificant before Him; they are regarded as absolutely nothing.  

(18)  To whom can you compare God? To what image can you liken Him?  

(19)  A craftsman casts an idol; 

a metalsmith overlays it with gold and forges silver chains for it.  (20)  To make a contribution one selects wood that will not rot; he then seeks a skilled craftsman to make an idol that will not fall over.  

(21)  Do you not know? 

Do you not hear? 

Has it not been told to you since the very beginning? 

Have you not understood from the time the earth’s foundations were made?  

(22)  He is the One Who sits on the earth’s horizon; its inhabitants are like grasshoppers before Him. 

He is the One Who stretches out the sky like a thin curtain, and spreads it out like a pitched tent.  

(23)  He is the One Who reduces rulers to nothing; He makes the earth’s leaders insignificant.  

(24)  Indeed, they are barely planted; yes, they are barely sown; yes, they barely take root in the earth, and then He blows on them, causing them to dry up, and the wind carries them away like straw.  

(25)  “To whom can you compare Me? Whom do I resemble?” says the Holy One.  

(26)  Look up at the sky! Who created all these heavenly lights? 

He is the One Who leads out their ranks; He calls them all by name. Because of His absolute power and awesome strength, not one of them is missing.  

(27)  Why do you say, Jacob, Why do you say, Israel, “The LORD is not aware of what is happening to me, My God is not concerned with my vindication”?  

(28)  Do you not know? 

Have you not heard? 

The LORD is an eternal God, the Creator of the whole earth. 

He does not get tired or weary; there is no limit to His wisdom.  

(29)  He gives strength to those who are tired; to the ones who lack power, He gives renewed energy.  

(30)  Even youths get tired and weary; even strong young men clumsily stumble.  (31)  But those who wait for the LORD’s help find renewed strength; they rise up as if they had eagles’ wings, they run without growing weary, they walk without getting tired.”

The word “wait” means more than patience, it means faith WITH patience which is the consummate definition of HOPE.

The word is a verb meaning to wait for, to look for, to hope for. The root meaning is that of twisting or winding a strand of cord or rope. Though it is uncertain what the original intent was which led this meaning of twisting into hope, but it is probably not unlike a 3 strand cord not being easily broken.

Isaiah 41:1-29,  

“(1) Listen to Me in silence, you coastlands! Let the nations find renewed strength! Let them approach and then speak; let us come together for debate!  

(2)  Who stirs up this one from the east? 

Who officially commissions Him for service? 

He hands nations over to Him, and enables Him to subdue kings. 

He makes them like dust with His sword, like windblown straw with His bow.  

(3)  He pursues them and passes by unharmed; He advances with great speed.  

(4)  Who acts and carries out decrees? 

Who summons the successive generations from the beginning? 

I, the LORD, am present at the very beginning, and at the very end – I am the One.”  

Well we know “who” because God Himself claims credit for it, but I like what Guzik says about these words,

“Who . . . Who . . . Who”: 

As God invites those in distant lands to come and reason with Him, He shows them His greatness over all creation, and over all history. 

They must ask themselves, “Who is in control of the course of human events?” Who has performed and done it, calling the generations from the beginning?

This is always a relevant question. 

Is there a point, a direction to human history? 

Is it just a random, meaningless combination of undirected events? 

Is it a cycle, fated to repeat itself endlessly? 

Or… 

Is there a God in heaven Who directs human events, always moving to a final resolution and fulfillment? 

Our answer to this question influences almost everything in our lives.

“I, the LORD, am the first; and with the last I am He”: 

Here, the LORD God of Israel declares that He has performed and done it, calling the generations from the beginning. He lifts up and puts down kings and nations. 

He is the first and He is the last; He is the “bookend” both before and after the saga of human history, starting the story, ending the story, and keeping the whole story together.

If God is both the first and the last, then He also has authority over everything in-between. This means that there absolutely is a plan of God for human history, and He directs the path of human events toward His designed fulfillment. 

Our lives are not given over to blind fate, to random meaninglessness, or to endless cycles with no resolution. Instead, the LORD God Who is the first and the last directs all of human history and even our individual lives.

Jesus takes the same title of the First and the Last in Rev. 1:17; Rev. 22:13. If the LORD is the first and the last according to Isa. 41:4, and if Jesus is the First and the Last according to Rev. 1:17; Rev. 22:13, since there cannot be two firsts or two lasts, Jesus must be the LORD God!”

One additional thought is that even though God does in fact influence and direct the overall story and course of human events to arrive at His desired and predetermined ends – He rarely takes control completely out of man’s hands. The scriptures tell us that He is able to turn the hearts of kings and that He shaped and molds each heart individually. God does NOT always get what He wants with the individual but He is ALWAYS capable of accomplishing His plans and purposes and He does so in perfect timing!

“(5)  The coastlands see and are afraid; the whole earth trembles; they approach and come.
(6)  They help one another; one says to the other, ‘Be strong!’  

(7)  The craftsman encourages the metalsmith, 

the one who wields the hammer encourages the one who pounds on the anvil. 

He approves the quality of the welding, and nails it down so it won’t fall over.”  

(8)  “You, My servant Israel, Jacob whom I have chosen, offspring of Abraham My friend,  (9)  you whom I am bringing back from the earth’s extremities, and have summoned from the remote regions – I told you, “You are My servant.” 

I have chosen you and not rejected you.  

(10)  Don’t be afraid, for I am with you! Don’t be frightened, for I am your God! I strengthen you – yes, I help you – yes, I uphold you with My saving right hand!  

(11)  Look, all who were angry at you will be ashamed and humiliated; your adversaries will be reduced to nothing and perish.  

(12)  When you will look for your opponents, you will not find them; your enemies will be reduced to absolutely nothing.  

(13)  For I am the LORD your God, the One Who takes hold of your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Don’t be afraid, I am helping you.’  

(14)  Don’t be afraid, despised insignificant Jacob, men of Israel. I am helping you,” says the LORD, your Protector, the Holy One of Israel.  

(15)  “Look, I am making you like a sharp threshing sledge, new and double-edged. You will thresh the mountains and crush them; you will make the hills like straw.  (16)  You will winnow them and the wind will blow them away; the wind will scatter them. You will rejoice in the LORD; you will boast in the Holy One of Israel.  

(17)  The oppressed and the poor look for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched from thirst. 

I, the LORD, will respond to their prayers; I, the God of Israel, will not abandon them.  

(18)  I will make streams flow down the slopes and produce springs in the middle of the valleys. 

I will turn the wilderness into a pool of water and the arid land into springs.  

(19)  I will make cedars, acacias, myrtles, and olive trees grow in the wilderness; 

I will make evergreens, firs, and cypresses grow together in the arid rift valley.  

(20)  I will do this so people will observe and recognize, so they will pay attention and understand that the LORD’s power has accomplished this, and that the Holy One of Israel has brought it into being.”  

(21)  “Present your argument,” says the LORD. “Produce your evidence,” says Jacob’s king.  

(22)  “Let them produce evidence! Let them tell us what will happen! Tell us about your earlier predictive oracles, so we may examine them and see how they were fulfilled. Or decree for us some future events!  

(23)  Predict how future events will turn out, so we might know you are gods. Yes, do something good or bad, so we might be frightened and in awe.  

(24)  Look, you are nothing, and your accomplishments are nonexistent; the one who chooses to worship you is disgusting.  

(25)  I have stirred up one out of the north and he advances, one from the eastern horizon who prays in My name. He steps on rulers as if they were clay, like a potter treading the clay.  

(26)  Who decreed this from the beginning, so we could know? 

Who announced it ahead of time, so we could say, ‘He’s correct’? 

Indeed, none of them decreed it! Indeed, none of them announced it! Indeed, no one heard you say anything!  

(27)  I first decreed to Zion, ‘Look, here’s what will happen!’ 

I sent a herald to Jerusalem.  

(28)  I look, but there is no one, among them there is no one who serves as an adviser, that I might ask questions and receive answers.  

(29)  Look, all of them are nothing, their accomplishments are nonexistent; their metal images lack any real substance.”

Blessings!

Hi my name is Mark and though I am opposed to titles, I am currently the only Pastor (shepherd/elder) serving our assembly right now.

I have been Pastoring in one capacity or another for nearly 30 years now, though never quite like I am today.

Early in 2009 the Lord revealed to me that the way we had structured our assembly (church) was not scriptural in that it was out of sync with what Paul modeled for us in the New Testament. In truth, I (like many pastors I am sure) never even gave this fundamental issue of church structure the first thought. I had always assumed that church structure was largely the same everywhere and had been so from the beginning. While I knew Paul had some very stringent things to say about the local assembly of believers, the point of our gatherings together and who may or may not lead, I never even considered studying these issues but assumed we were all pretty much doing it right...safety in numbers right?! Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong!

So needless to say, my discovery that we had been doing it wrong for nearly two decades was a bit of a shock to me! Now, this "revelation" that did not come about all at once but over the course of a few weeks. We were a traditional single pastor led congregation. It was a top-bottom model of ministry which is in part biblical, but not in the form of a monarchy.

The needed change did not come into focus until following 9 very intense months of study and discussions with those who were leaders in our church at the time.

We now understand and believe that the Bible teaches co-leadership with equal authority in each local assembly. Having multiple shepherds with God's heart and equal authority protects both Shepherds and sheep. Equal accountability keep authority and doctrine in check. Multiple shepherds also provides teaching with various styles and giftings with leadership skills which are both different and complementary.

For a while we had two co-pastors (elders) (myself and one other man) who led the church with equal authority, but different giftings. We both taught in our own ways and styles, and our leadership skills were quite different, but complimentary. We were in complete submission to each other and worked side-by-side in the labor of shepherding the flock.

Our other Pastor has since moved on to other ministry which has left us with just myself. While we currently only have one Pastor/Elder, it is our desire that God, in His faithfulness and timing, may bring us more as we grow in maturity and even in numbers.

As to my home, I have been married since 1995 to my wonderful wife Terissa Woodson who is my closest friend and most trusted ally.

As far as my education goes, I grew up in a Christian home, but questioned everything I was ever taught.

I graduated from Bible college in 1990 and continued to question everything I was ever taught (I do not mention my college in order to avoid being labeled).

Perhaps my greatest preparation for ministry has been life and ministry itself. To quote an author I have come to enjoy namely Fredrick Buechner in his writing entitled, Now and Then, "If God speaks to us at all other than through such official channels as the Bible and the church, then I think that He speaks to us largely through what happens to us...if we keep our hearts open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, if we remember at all deeply and honestly, then I think we come to recognize beyond all doubt, that, however faintly we may hear Him, He is indeed speaking to us, and that, however little we may understand of it, His word to each of us is both recoverable and precious beyond telling." ~ Fredrick Buechner

Well that is about all there is of interest to tell you about me.

I hope our ministry here is a blessing to you and your family. I also hope that it is only a supplement to a local church where you are committed to other believers in a community of grace.

~God Bless!