This is the Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent in the 2015 Church Year -- December 14, 2014 at
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church
Laurie, Missouri



Isaiah 40: 1-8

“Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God. “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; 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.”

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; 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 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.

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent                                                                                                                                                                                                     12/14/14

This Is True Comfort


My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Comfort. There are two ways of looking at comfort, one of them is all feelings and emotions, with nothing behind it but a good heart. The other way to look at comfort is to actually do something about what is causing the discomfort, grief, fear, or pain, and make it better. Right now, we need comfort. We need to know, and we need to see, and we need to feel comfort from the pressures and dangers around us. We have terrorists knocking at our doors. We gloom and doom sayers railing against our nation’s future. The economy is eroding – maybe rebounding, we just don’t know. We have the pains of aging and the fears of what we see happening in our world. We know who we are, and how we have personally sinned, and how little we deserve from God. We need comfort.

And Isaiah holds out to us true comfort in our Old Testament text. He doesn’t go for just the feelings, but he speaks God’s Word and talks about the reality of the comfort, what was done and accomplished so that we might have a real and lasting comfort. So, I invite you to listen to the somewhat familiar words of Isaiah, and consider that This Is True Comfort.

He begins with God’s Word of comfort. “"Comfort, O comfort My people," says your God. Speak kindly to Jerusalem; 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.

Here we see the will of God – that His people be comforted and strengthened. “Comfort My people,” He says, “Speak kindly to Jerusalem and tell them that their troubles are over, that their sins have been forgiven, that their punishment is complete and finished for all time.” Now, I know that the prophet calls Jerusalem “her”, and I have used “they” and “them” instead. But “Jerusalem” is a Biblical figure speech for “God’s Chosen People”. So, the prophet is actually commanded to proclaim the comfort of God to His Chosen People.

And what is the comfort? It is that God has forgiven them their sins – their iniquity has been removed. That is the Gospel, isn’t it? Their sins have been forgiven.

Why is that Good news? Because sin is the immediate cause of all of our troubles. Sin causes us to fear. Sin is the source of pain. Sin is the reason why things go wrong with life. Sickness is a symptom of sin. The forgiveness of sins means that all of the troubles associated with sin are also removed! That is what the healing miracles of Jesus were primarily about. Jesus would say. “Your sins are forgiven,” and then heal them – illustrating the connection between sin and the maladies of life. Here, forgiveness is the message following “Tell her that her warfare is ended.” Her warfare – her troubles – were ended because her sins have been forgiven.

Now, remember that this prophecy is spoken a couple of hundred years before the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity which followed, before Jerusalem would desperately need the comfort. The end of the warfare, and the forgiveness of her iniquity were things to be taken by faith. Our forgiveness is also to be taken by faith. Our sins have been forgiven, and all of the symptoms and ailments caused by sin have been ended, but we haven’t come entirely to the end yet. We have the forgiveness, and we have the promise, just like ancient Israel, that the victory is won, and our troubles are over. What we lack at this moment in time is the experience of the reality, just as those to whom the prophet spoke lacked the outward reality to validate the word of the Prophet.

We walk by faith, not by sight.

When we look back at the words, it is easy for us to mistakenly believe that the words of comfort of Isaiah were intended for Old Testament Jerusalem, and the people there. They were to read them, and I would guess that God intended for them to find the comfort He spoke, even as it applied to their political and national situation. But the meaning of the text is not the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Captivity being dissolved. The meaning of the text is Jesus Christ, and the forgiveness of sins. The life of Ancient Israel was simply a moving example – an analogy in history, if you will. Their real-life experiences were God illustrating in History the spiritual truths of His people, both Old and New Testament.

We are the unfaithful Israel. We have been called and made God’s people by His gracious choice. We have been rescued. Our sins have been forgiven. And why? Isaiah says, “she has received of the LORD'S hand Double for all her sins” The payment has been made. Israel would have naturally though of the captivity as punishment. They would have believed that they finally paid their way, and now God was going to be good to them again. But they could not un-ring the bell of their unfaithfulness any more than you can un-sin the sins you have done. The difficulties of the life of Israel was God’s way of purifying them, cleansing out the hypocrites, as it were.

The troubles of our lives are God’s way of working in us, purifying us, training us in faith and perseverence and endurance. But they do not pay for our sins. Our sins have been paid for. They have been fully atoned for. God has poured out His wrath over our sins – and He has poured it out to the full, until the cup of wrath is empty. He poured it out on Jesus, on the cross. Jesus rose from the dead as the proclamation of Comfort – we have received double for all our sins – full payment, every bit, only we did not receive it, Jesus did!!

Your sins have been forgiven! You have been given the gift of everlasting life in glory! Do not fear! Do not be confused by the troubles and fears and sorrows of your life. They are but a passing thing! Your sins have been removed – as far as the east is from the west, so far have I removed your iniquity from you! Be comforted. Be at peace. The Lord your God is with you to bless you and love you for your sins have been taken away!

Then the prophet shifts gears. He tells us to prepare. He tells us to prepare for the Lord to come. A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.” Our hearts, not the landscape is what needs the work. Our sinful hearts and minds are the wilderness that needs to be prepared.

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 mountains are human pride – our works, our faith, our great piety. They need to be knocked down. We are not saved because we are or we do anything. We are saved because of Christ and the cross and the glorious grace of our God! The valleys are the pits of unworthiness and self-depreciation and depression. We have no need to fear – and we have no reason to withhold ourselves from trusting God until we feel we are worthy. We cannot be worthy! God has claimed us, chosen us, called us! We are His by His work and His choice and His gift. We need to hear that message loud and clear, to confess that message, to believe that message, and to proclaim it to others.

Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. The glory of the Lord is in His great goodness and love and grace, that He has saved us with a salvation so free and wonderful. He has paid the price, and we receive the benefits. That is our Lord’s glory – Jesus Christ!

There has been a lot of talk, lately, about how the times are a’changing. People are telling us that the world is different today. The old ways and the old truths are simply not enough – they don’t relate, they are not effective. People are turning in other directions for comfort today. Even the former President of our Synod said something like that once. It was quoted in the newspaper, “In Kieschnick’s view, times change, . . . “This is not your grandfather’s United States of America,” he said. “Things have changed a bunch in the past 30, 40, 50 years.”” That was almost a decade ago.

The Bible says that there is nothing new under the sun. When I was a in college, they were saying that the Bible and our doctrines were “no longer relevant.” They didn’t apply to life, it was said. God had already addressed that issue. 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.

God’s answer is that however much things will change, His Word, and this wonderful Gospel do not. We can liken our lives to the grass. It comes and it goes and it is so fragile and temporary. We are the grass. We are fragile and temporary. Life seems so permanent and long, until you have most of it behind you, and you look back on it and see that it is so quick and so brief. The grass withers, the flower fades, When the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass.

When we watch a movie and hear someone say, “Gee, this is the 1920's! We are too modern and too ‘in the know’ for that stuff now,” we laugh, because the comments are so anachronistic and silly. But somehow every generation hears someone say that about their own moment in history, and they think it rings profound. God’s perspective is much longer than ours. The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.

This gospel is our hope and our comfort, and the changing winds of time cannot touch it. People come and go, but God’s Word is true, His promises are unchanging. Our salvation is sure because God is guaranteeing it. Our sins have been forgiven – we call it “remission of sins”. The word, “remission” means to send it away. Tell Jerusalem that her iniquity has been removed. It doesn’t rest upon us or our opinions. It isn’t a fad or a fashion or some other creature of time. It is the Word of God. It is the truth of God. It is the gift of God. It is the Gospel, and it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe!

It cannot be changed. If we change it, it is no longer the Gospel! It doesn’t need to be improved. It cannot be destroyed. We can abandon it, but it will not abandon us. We can mess it up, and proclaim something else much more in keeping with the times – but that won’t have the power to save. It won’t have the promise of salvation. It won’t have the power to comfort. And God calls to us through the centuries, through His unchanging Word, to proclaim His Comfort. ‘Comfort, O comfort My people,’ says your God. ‘Speak kindly to Jerusalem; 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.’

This is true comfort!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)


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