Vol. VIII — No. 52 December 31, 1967
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. The voice said, Cry. And he said, what shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
In Christ Jesus, who would bring us Comfort; Fellow Redeemed:
There was a stir in the wilderness of Judea. The countryside was alive with people who had come from Jerusalem and the surrounding area down to the banks of the Jordan. What was the great attraction? A prophet had arisen. He was clothed in a simple garment of camel’s hair. He lived off the desert, eating wild honey and locusts. His message was simple, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Who was he?
So great a stir did this strange desert preacher create that the religious leaders in Jerusalem felt compelled to investigate. So they sent a delegation of priests and Levites to ask him, “Who art thou?” Some of the people had begun to wonder and speculate and to talk among themselves: “Is he the promised Christ?” The preacher in the wilderness freely and frankly disavowed all such speculation, saying, “I am not the Christ.” The delegation from Jerusalem pushed their inquiry further, asking: “What then? Art thou Elias?” It was a common belief among the Jews that the prophet Elijah, who had ascended to heaven without seeing death, would return again to earth to make preparations for the coming of the promised Messiah. The preacher in the wilderness knew this popular notion, but he disavowed it, saying, “I am not.” The delegation persisted with its questioning, saying, “Art thou that prophet?” Again he answered, “No.” The priests and Levites had to carry a message back to their masters, so they persisted in their questioning, “What sayest thou of thyself?” The desert preacher answered in the words of Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.”
Isaiah himself had heard a voice commanding him to cry. He had inquired, “what shall I cry?” And he had been given a message to proclaim. Under the guidance of the Spirit of all prophecy he had written of a coming voice that would sound forth in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” That voice appeared in the person of that man who was named by the angel Gabriel before his birth as John and who is known among us as John the Baptist. He was that voice crying in the wilderness, and yet every prophet who proclaims the same message is also a voice. Isaiah was the voice for the people of his day. Haggai was the voice for the people who returned from exile. John the Baptist was the special voice just before the appearance of Christ. Martin Luther was the voice for his generation Every true prophet or preacher of the Lord today is also a voice, sounding forth the Word of the Lord. And so it is that—
How are we to prepare the way for the Lord to come to us during this Christmas season? Oh, we are making many preparations. Housewives are baking cakes and cookies. Members of the family are shopping for gifts, wrapping them and placing them under the tree. Christmas cards are being addressed and placed into the mails. Decorations have been made ready and adorn the interior and exterior of our homes. Special plans for visiting relatives or entertaining relatives and friends are being made. So many preparations, but who will say that any of these preparations in any way prepare the way for the Lord to come to us again this season? So much of the preparation that wearies our bodies and minds, consumes our time and exhausts us had nothing at all to do with preparing us in the way we should be prepared for the Christmas festival. That is why we need to hearken unto the voice that cries again this day “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” That message urges us to—
The voice cries out also to us this day: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” The word imagery is taken from the preparations that were made for the coming of an oriental king. Then the road crews would be ordered out to get the road in shape for the day when the king would pass by and on to his people.
This picture of busy road repair is to be applied spiritually. There are in our hearts wash-outs of sin, mountains of iniquity, rough places of evil that must be smoothed and straightened before the King can enter into our hearts. Think but of jealousy, and think of how it warps lives and embitters people. Does it bother you that someone else appears to be more successful than you, that someone else makes more money, has a finer home, a newer car, better clothes, more friends, greater talents than you? Does this jealousy prevent you from being genuinely happy when a relative or friend experiences success? Do you find that you have to force yourself to say something nice, while you are boiling on the inside with hot flashes of envy? Do you feel compelled to try to undermine the name and reputation of some neighbor or relative or friend, who is a bit more successful than you, in some wild effort to bring that person down to your level? Who will deny that such emotions, such lusts, are common and do so much to embitter lives, cause friction, stimulate hate, and multiply hypocrisy? This is but one of the rough places that needs to be smoothed by repentance so that the King can enter. How can the Christchild find His vey into a heart filled with petty jealousy and envy, bitterness and self-seeking, viciousness and hate? Repent and so make a highway for the Lord into your hearts!
The prophet heard a voice, urging him to cry. He asked, “What shall I cry?” This is the message that fits every age: “All flesh is grass, and all the godliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.” Man as he is born into this world in sin is as grass. Each one of us began to die the moment we were conceived in our mother’s womb. Each one of us carries about with him the telltale evidence of the fact that he is grass: graying hair, a balding head, decaying teeth and no teeth at all, wrinkled skin, ears that no longer pick up sounds as they once did, eyes that become dimmer, reflexes that slow down. We are but grass—here today and gone tomorrow. The best that sinful man can produce is but as the flower of the field that blooms and then fades away. The finest in literature, art, music, morals, emotions that sinful man can produce—all of it contains the virus of death. When examined by the Spirit of God in the light of the holiness of God, it is all found wanting. Even the people of God is grass. There is nothing—not a thing—that we as children of God can produce by and of ourselves that can stand the test of judgment before our God. Everything stands condemned. The rise and fall of civilizations down through the ages, the decay and corruption within the churches is all proof and evidence of this continuing process: “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.” Here is a message that punctures the balloon of man’s pride. Here is a message that places all human achievements in the perspective of eternity and finds them wanting. Here is a humbling message.
Here is a message that all of us need. It is so easy for us to become inflated with our own importance and with our own accomplishments. We may think of ourselves as citizens of the most powerful nation on earth. He may think of ourselves as people who have achieved the highest standard of living ever attained by people living on the face of this planet. He may think of ourselves as morally superior people because we have withstood the erosion of morals that we see all about us. We may think of ourselves as superior and especially faithful children of God, for we have discerned the doctrinal corruption in the churches about us and have withdrawn and started anew in protest. In this self-estimation we may think of ourselves as in some vey superior—so that the message of the voice does not apply to us. If we think in that way or in that direction, there is a road block on the highway to our hearts that will prevent the King from entering in. Repent! That means that we are to realize that we are but grass that withers and the best that we can offer is but as the flower that fades away. May this mournful refrain humble our hearts this day: “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth.” So it has always been, and so it is with us!
But yet there is hope, for “the word of our God shall stand forever.” The word of the God that we can call “our God” is the Good News that God has had mercy upon withering and fading mankind and has rescued it from self-destruction. That Good News is the message that urges each of you to—
Withering and fading people need comfort. They need comfort especially at times when they are most forcefully made to realize that they are withering and fading. The time of national deportation and exile to Babylon was such a time. Then it was that the Lord God raised up Isaiah to bring comfort. “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.” The voice from God Himself bade His people be comforted. “Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her.” Divine comfort is to be proclaimed to the ear and heart of God’s people. But God’s comfort is never only a pious wish, fine sounding but without content. No, it is rather comfort based upon God’s acts in behalf of His people. The people in that day were sitting in captivity in faraway Babylon. The message of comfort for them was this, “Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished.” The period of national suffering would come to an end. The exile would surely be followed by the restoration, and so it happened.
But the deportation and the exile had their roots in the sins of the people—their rebellion against their God. What comfort for the rebels? “Cry unto her…that her iniquity is pardoned.” The Lord God would send His Servant to bear the iniquity of His people and to make full atonement for it. Isaiah saw the coming of the Son of God, His life of perfect obedience to the word and will of His Father, His suffering and death for the sins of the whole world, and the acceptance of that sacrifice by the Father in and through the resurrection. Isaiah saw it all as an accomplished fact which brought the message for God’s people: “Your iniquity is pardoned!”
But God, who is all love, gives more than just pardon. The voice cried to God’s people to assure them: “She hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Not double punishment, but double blessing! The Lord forgives and with that forgiveness restores to sonship, fills with His Spirit, makes heirs of eternal life. What a double portion the Lord would pour out to those who by themselves are but as grass that withers and flowers that fade!
I address you as such withering grass and fading flowers, for that is what you are! Would you better your lot? Would you improve yourselves? There is a way—not the way of self-help and self-effort, for withering grass and fading flowers cannot restore themselves. The way is to heed the voice that cries out to you again this Christmas season. Repent! Let each one spiritually fall on his face before his God because of the sin and evil in his heart! Let each one of us turn from the sins that are seeking to enslave us! Let each one of us realize that before our God we are but withering grass! Let each one of us realize that the very best that we can offer our God is but as a fading flower that must be cast out.
Then let us hearken yet again to the voice: “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” That Word assures you that all punishment for your sins has been borne by the Son of God. That Word assures you that the Child called Jesus has in fact brought you pardon for all your sins. That Word assures you that the same Jesus would give you double, grace upon grace, now and forevermore. Do receive Him into your heart and life! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.