Text: Isaiah 40:1-11
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The text for our sermon this morning is the first two verses of the Old Testament reading we just heard. There prophet Isaiah recorded these words: “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 double from the Lord’s hand for all her sins.”
I want to start out this morning by asking you a question. It’s a question that I’m almost afraid to ask because I already know what the answer likely is. The question is this: Have you ever, while sitting in church listening to a pastor (me or someone else) preach, wondered what the point of all this preaching really is? To put it another way, have you ever wondered why Sunday after Sunday, week after week, service after service, pastors like me get up and preach a message to you that sometimes is eerily similar to the one you heard last week and the week before? Have you ever wondered what the point of this preaching really is? Why do we bother?
Like I said, I think I have a pretty good idea what the answer to that question is. You have, more than likely, thought thoughts like that at some point in your life while sitting in church listening to the pastor drone on and on. How do I know? Because I’ve had those thoughts myself. I’ve sat in the pew thinking the same thing. Even as the one up preparing sermons and up here preaching them I have sometimes wondered what the point of all this really is.
Believe it or not, however, there is a rhyme and a reason to Christian preaching. There is a purpose to all of it. It may seem as if pastors just step into the pulpit every Sunday without any purpose, without any goal, and just talk until their tired of talking about things that the average person does not care about, but deep down there is a purpose behind what we do. The purpose is this: To afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted.
Let me explain what I mean by that. The purpose of a Christian sermon is not to make you feel good or to uplift you, to energize you or to pump you up, to teach you how to live the right way or to give you instructions. A Christian sermon might do any or all of those things, but those things are not the main point or purpose. The main point or purpose of Christian preaching is to show us our sinfulness (to afflict the comfortable) and then show us our Saviour (to comfort the afflicted).
This pattern for preaching is not something that we have just made up on a whim. This is how the Bible talks and preaches to us. This is how people in the Bible preach. The best example of that is John the Baptist.
We meet John in our gospel reading today from Mark chapter 1. Mark doesn’t give us a ton of details about John here, but the other gospels do. John is a preacher and a baptizer out in the wilderness of Judea. People from Jerusalem and all over flocked out into the wilderness and down to the Jordan River to hear and see John. There, in the wilderness, they found a preacher who afflicted the comfortable and comforted the afflicted.
Almost everything about John was kind of uncomfortable. He wore clothes made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. Even in those days that would have been quite the outfit. Today if we saw someone like that walking towards us on the sidewalk we’d seriously consider crossing to the other side of the street! He ate locusts and wild honey, the Bible tells us, strange food to be sure. Just being around someone like that has to make a person at least a little bit uncomfortable. But John’s physical appearance and the food that he eats really doesn’t matter. It’s his message that is designed to make people uncomfortable.
When John saw some Pharisees and Sadducees coming out to him to be baptized John called them a brood of vipers, the children of snakes. They were comfortable in their sin and so John afflicted them. He called what they were. He called them sinners.
It wasn’t just them, however. When the crowds came out to see him John called them to repent too. He told them that if they have any extra clothing or food they ought to be more willing to share it rather than hoarding it all to themselves. To some tax collectors who were there he said that they ought to start being honest in their dealings and stop stealing from people. When soldiers came out to him he said that they ought to treat people more fairly and be content with their wages. To all these people who were comfortable John preached repentance. He called sin, sin. He called on them to change their ways. He afflicted the comfortable.
That is only the first half of John’s preaching though. John did more than just make people uncomfortable, afflict them, and call them sinners. He also preached the good news, the good news the comforts the most troubled and afflicted heart, the good news that Christ has come to save sinners like us. One day when Jesus walked by John and his disciples down by the Jordan River John pointed at Jesus and shouted, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This preacher who called out sin, who afflicted the comfortable and called them to repentance, now comforts the hearts of those who have heard his preaching. Look, behold, the one who saves you, the Lamb of God who takes away all of your sin.
The pattern is still the same today. Following in the footsteps of John the Baptist pastors step into their pulpits every week and try to do the same. Admittedly, we do it better some weeks than others, but the goal is still the same: to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.
So which are you? Are you comfortable? Have you become so comfortable with mistreating others with thoughts, words, and actions that you don’t even notice you’re doing it anymore? I have. Have you become so comfortable with the ways of this world and the ideas of this world that there suddenly is little room for God and His Word? I have. Have you become so comfortable with loving yourself that you have convinced yourself that loving yourself is more important than loving other people? I have. I’m pretty comfortable. How about you?
If any of that applies to you then you are comfortable and need to be afflicted by God’s Law. You need to consider your life according to the Ten Commandments. You need to look at that first commandment that says that we should have no other gods and you need to realize that you have not loved the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. You have not kept God’s name holy. You have not loved and cherished His Word the way you should. You need to look at the other commandments too, in particular commandments four through ten. You need to realize that you have not loved your neighbor as yourself. You have not honored everyone who has authority over you. You have not done everything you can to help your neighbor keep his possessions, income, and life. You have become preoccupied with yourself. You have covet what other people have. You have not always loved others. You and I we are sinners, it is true.
When we realize that. When all the comfort that we think that we have is stripped away. When we have been thoroughly afflicted by God’s Word we can finally get to our sermon text today. To afflicted people like you God says this: “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.”
To troubled hearts, to burdened consciences, to broken spirits God has one word: comfort. Not comfort that you can find for yourself. Not the comfort of a nice warm bed, a soft sweater, or a pair of slippers. Not the peace of mind that comes from temporarily forgetting our problems only to have them come rushing back again. But the comfort that comes from Jesus Himself. The comfort of knowing that our struggle with sin, our struggle with our own thoughts, words, and deeds that so often leave much to be desired, is over. The struggle is over. The warfare is finished. The victory is won. Christ, our Saviour who is coming to us born in a manger, has won that victory and has given that comfort to us. Our warfare in ended. Our iniquity is pardoned. We have received double from the Lord’s hand for all our sins.
That last part, the double part, might be my favorite part of this whole text. What have we receive “double” of from God for all our sins? Double punishment? Double consequences? Double judgement? Nope. Double comfort. “Comfort, comfort (twice over!) my people says your God.”
Are you afflicted? Is your heart troubled? If it is take this to heart. Your God comes to you to give you comfort. This is what we are celebrating in Advent and Christmas. This is what the Saviour in the manger is all about. He comes to give you comfort, double comfort. He comes to take the sins that burden and afflict you upon His shoulders and to die for them so that you can live. He comes to take you up out of the afflictions of this life into the comfort of His presence eternally. He comes to life you into His arms and carry you into life everlasting. He comes to give you His comfort. Comfort, comfort my people says your God. He has done it. Thanks be to God. In Jesus name. Amen.