Dear people who have been sent a word of comfort: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
God’s people had fallen into idolatry, adultery, and all other kinds of sin. They thought that they could do whatever they pleased, and then just turn to the Temple every once in a while and everything would be fine. They conformed to the culture around them instead of conforming to God’s Word.
As a result, God gave them into the hand of the Babylonians in 587 BC. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated them in battle. He destroyed the architecture of their cities. He destroyed the Temple. He even wiped out much of the natural ecosystems in their land. Nebuchadnezzar exiled all the royalty to ensure there would not be an uprising against him. He conscripted the soldiers he hadn’t killed into his army. All the artisans, craftsmen, musicians, and any other skilled trades were redeployed in the conqueror’s service. The rest were left to work the vineyards and the fields to yield revenue for Nebuchadnezzar.
Zedekiah the king was blinded before he was bound and exiled to Babylon. But he was forced to watch one last horrific thing before he was blinded, which was the last thing he ever saw: his sons were slaughtered before his eyes, and his royal line was thus ended.
The exiles saw a future with no hope. They had turned their backs to God and now they were exiled with no hope to ever return home. Their sins had resulted in this horrible situation.
Their warfare wasn’t just with Babylon, it was with God. It was God who brought this disaster upon them because they refused to listen to His Word. There was no hope. They had no one to comfort them. But did God spurn them forever? Did He reject His people forever? No, God did not reject His people forever. He sent them His Word of comfort.
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” While suffering because of their sins, they receive comfort from God. And He still calls Himself their God. He has not rejected His covenant people. And contrary to what would be expected, God does not now speak harshly to these rebels, but tenderly. He tells them their iniquity is pardoned. Their sins are forgiven. They receive double comfort from their God.
No, they don’t deserve it. God used this horrible destruction and exile to crush the pride of His people. He turned them away from their sins back to Himself, and forgave their sins. Let us pray that we do not need such a harsh lesson to turn away from our sin.
Yet this text applies to us. The situation of mankind without Christ is that of warfare with God. Before God made us His own in Holy Baptism, we were His enemies. Before God put His name on us and called us His own, we belonged to Sin and to the devil.
“Comfort, comfort my people” says your God. But comfort is required only where there is affliction. Comfort is required only where there is grief. Comfort is required only where there are those sitting underneath sorrow’s load.
Well, this was our situation. There was serious affliction. We were at war. I’m not talking about a little skirmish that’s insignificant in the overall scheme of things. I’m talking about all-out warfare. We were outnumbered and outweaponed. We were surrounded on all sides. We had rebelled against the King and made Him our enemy. Instead of living in peace and quietness in His Kingdom, we decided to break His Laws. We incited those around us to do the same. Our sins became a stench in the Kingdom.
There was no fight coming. It was going to be an onslaught; a slaughter. We had no chance for anything except to be completely wiped out. We would be no match for the mighty angel warriors. The Angel of Death marched on our weak encampment.
But instead of wiping us out, the King, the Lord God Almighty sent a word of comfort to us. Our King, against whom we had rebelled, did not send harsh words of anger to us as we would have expected and deserved. He sent words of comfort. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned.” No harsh words of judgment. No condemnation. Our warfare is ended.
“Comfort, comfort, ye My people, Speak ye peace,” thus saith our God;
“Comfort those who sit in darkness, Mourning ‘ neath their sorrows’ load.
Speak ye to Jerusalem Of peace that waits for them;
Tell her that her sins I cover And her warfare now is over.” (LSB 347 st. 1)
It is only through the covering of our sins that we have peace with God. In our sins, there is no peace. Our sins deserve God’s anger and punishment. Our sins cause us sorrow. Our sins cause God sorrow.
“Comfort, comfort my people” says your God. These aren’t empty words of comfort. Since they are God’s words, they do what they say. God’s words of comfort actually give you comfort. They’re not mere words but they concretely do something. God gives His words of comfort because He has concretely done something to give you comfort.
God sent His Son to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows; to be stricken, smitten, and afflicted for us; to be wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities; He sent Jesus to take our punishment on Himself and suffer and die on the cross for our sins, so now we have peace with God (Is. 53:4-5). Now God blots out our sins and pardons us. We are no longer God’s enemies, but His children. God has concretely changed who we are. He is the Judge who has pronounced us “not guilty”. He has brought us into His Church and concretely made us His own through Baptism.
Yea, her sins our God will pardon, Blotting out each dark misdeed;
All that well deserved His anger He no more will see or heed.
She hath suffered many a day, Now her griefs have passed away;
God will change her pining sadness Into everspringing gladness. (st. 2)
God’s word of comfort will also do something else concrete. When we die, God’s word will raise us back to life at the resurrection of the dead. This is no empty promise or figurative language. It is a concrete promise based on the resurrection of Jesus. Romans 6 promises that those who have been united by Baptism into Christ will also be united with Him in His resurrection (v. 5).
This is true comfort. You also have received double comfort from God despite all of your sins. This is because your sins are forgiven on account of Jesus’ death for you. Your warfare is ended. Your iniquity is pardoned. “Comfort, comfort my people” says your God. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.