The shepherds in the field found the angel, who surrounded them with the glory of God, terrifying. The ministry of the prophet, Isaiah was defined by the glory of God—having witnessed that glory in the vision of Isaiah 6, he was called to preach judgment to a people with hardened hearts. But the Isaiah 40:1-5 points you to a comforting display of the glory of God.
Praise God for his glory. Praise God for the comfort of his forgiveness. The Lord had proclaimed judgement through Isaiah. His prophecy was delivered to a rebellious people, Isaiah 1:2. The people were “modern” in their rebellion against God. Therefore, God had called on Isaiah to proclaim judgment, 6:9-12. The holy justice of God cannot be separated from the good news. You can’t appreciate the depth of his love unless you understand his holiness. Your hard service is over. Isaiah looks ahead to the exile, and then to the restoration under Cyrus. But his eyes focus beyond Cyrus and the returning exiles on the ultimate restoration, the coming of the true theocracy, Isaiah 40-48. Your sin has been paid for. It is not just that the Lord considers Israel’s suffering sufficient, but rather, the price for sin has been paid. This time the sacrifice is not an animal, but the Suffering Servant. Forgiveness replaces judgment, Isaiah 49-57. You have received double for all your sins. The blessing is double the punishment, Isaiah 61:7. God’s deliverance in Christ is a free, abundant gift. Salvation is abundant and glorious, Isaiah 58-66. “God will again appear among men. This time, however, it will be an eschatological coming, a revelation of the glory of God that will display itself in His salvation.” (E. J. Young, Commentary on Isaiah, Vol. 3, p.30).
Rejoice in the glory of the Lord! God’s forgiveness is glorious, but in a deeper sense than that in which we usually use that term. The glory of the Lord is revealed in Jesus Christ. The comfort of forgiveness is not an abstract promise. It is part of God himself coming to be with his people. When a holy God comes to sinful people, the only result can be their being consumed by his holy wrath against sin–unless he first deals with that sin. Thus you need to prepare, you need to be ready for the presence of your God. Those preparations are made, not by sprucing up the house, building triumphal arches, etc., but by repentance and new obedience, Luke 1:67-80; 3:8,10-14. God initiates the process of dealing with your sin and bringing you into his presence, but he commands your response. He summons you to trust him, to turn to him, and to rejoice in the presence of his glory.
Proclaim the comfort God provides. God comes to you with words of comfort! Much of the first half of the prophecy of Isaiah focuses on God’s judgment, whether on his rebellious people or on surrounding, evil nations. The second part of Isaiah (40-66, written by the prophet himself) takes you ahead from his time to the time of the Babylonian exile. The people have suffered God’s punishment for their sins. Yet God has not abandoned them or you. You are addressed as “My people!” verse 1. God speaks “tenderly” (lit. “to the heart”) in the way that a mother comforts her frightened daughter. Sometimes you may suffer specifically because of your sinful actions and choices. Other times your suffering is simply the result of living in a world in which the effects and curse of sin are so painfully evident. But in either case, what you need is God’s comfort. This is more than a secure feeling–it is the assurance that the sovereign God is reconciled to you, that you are indeed his covenant people.
Make God’s comfort known! Note the commands to speak. Isaiah 40 grows progressively more noisy, verses 1,2,3,6,9. Keep telling what God has done! The news of God’s coming in comfort is too great to be confined to one nation, Isaiah 42:10-12. The work of proclaiming comfort has been entrusted to you, the covenant people, to you, the church of Jesus Christ. Your words and your daily lives are the instruments God uses to make his comfort known to the world in which you live. “No more striking description of our Lord’s work can be given than that He shines upon us with His divine light and leads us on the path of peace. Out of darkness—the symbol of estrangement from God, of ignorance, impurity and misery—He, the Sun of righteousness, leads us through His work of reconciliation along the way everlasting—the path of light and peace. . . . Through Christ the estrangement from God, the spiritual ignorance, enslavement to sin and the feeling of futility are replace by intimate communion with God, but true knowledge of the deepest truths of life, by inner freedom and richness of life—a consciousness of vocation which makes life worth while.” (Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, p. 96). As God comes to you in Jesus Christ, his glory is revealed. That glory was there in creation, Psalm 19:1; in the cloud, Exodus 16:10; and in the temple, 1 Kings 8:10,11. Now it appears, not just as a reflection of the Lord, but the Lord himself comes in the person of Jesus Christ, John 1:14.
In our broken and sin-cursed world we need comfort, the comfort that comes only from trusting in the One who is God’s glory revealed. In him is the forgiveness you need, a salvation so great that its news must be shared.