Welcome to St Clement’s,
Today we look at a wonderful chapter of Isaiah, Isaiah 40, widely known because many of its verses are set to music in Handel’s Messiah. After the overture the opening tenor Accompagnato is Isaiah 40:1-3 (missing a little bit – I’ll leave you to find out what’s missing!):
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.
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.
But why do God’s people Judah and particularly Jerusalem need God’s comfort? Last week in chapters 36 and 37 we saw God’s wonderful protection of his people from the might of Assyria, poised to destroy them completely as they pursued a campaign on Jerusalem. Not only did we see God’s protection, we saw his power as his angel struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians! Surely all is going well? Well no.
Between chapters 39 and 40 of Isaiah many years have passed. You can read about them in 2 Kings 20-25. Hezekiah has died, and the kings after him – Manassah, Amon, Josiah, Jehoahaz, Johoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah – 2 Kings tells us ‘did what was evil in the sight of the Lord’, except for the reformer king Josiah. So God’s word of judgement to his wayward people came true, as prophesied by Isaiah (e.g. in chapter 39:5-8). King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came and over a period of years took captive God’s people and eventually in 586 BC Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed.
No wonder God’s people needed his comfort! And wonderfully that comfort comes, as the chorus of Handel’s Messiah says (Isaiah 40:5):
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.
Handel got it right – God’s glory is revealed supremely in the Messiah, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. May we see and know God’s glory today,