1Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
3 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
9 You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
After reading this several times, the part that grabbed my attention the most were the words, “Don’t be afraid.” The people have lost their homes and have been in Exile. They’ve been sleeping in unfamiliar beds; eating unfamiliar foods, all the while pining for home. And now God is telling His people to herald the news that after the long wait, He is here. Why would we be afraid of announcing that good news? Wouldn’t good news be… good news!?
Then, I understood why you might be afraid to announce good news. Because it was good news.
It’s a hard thing to try to announce good news when things are bad. It’s scary to announce because we don’t need false hope: someone to say that things will be fine when they actually may not. The gospel is good news, but sometimes it may feel like a bit of good news that doesn’t seem to actually change bad circumstances. What if things don’t work out the way we’ve announced? Would you want to bear that good news?
Kids, we’re going camping this weekend!
Honey, I got that promotion at work!
Or, “You’re going to be a father!”
That news rang in Abraham’s ears after waiting his whole life. I know why Sarah laughed: she doesn’t want another person to give her false hope. “Please don’t get my hopes up if it’s not true.”
What about old Simeon in the temple being told, “Don’t worry, you’ll get to see the Messiah before you die, I promise.”
Don’t tease me if it’s not true. Don’t get my hopes up if there is no Saviour for our situation.
Isaiah is handed some words of good news for his people in Exile. “Tell the people your God is here! Tell them his reward is with Him and He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart!”
Isaiah’s audience is a grave-faced woman who’s just buried her mother in Exile. She doesn’t have time for false promises. His audience is a man who lost his child on the way to Exile in Babylon. He doesn’t have time for false hope. Sometimes good news feels out of touch with reality.
“Where have you been?! Can’t you see what we’ve just suffered?! Don’t tease me!”
The people were in Exile. They’ve tasted the worst. Their captors mock them asking them to entertain them with their songs. If you’re bringing news that captivity will be over soon and they’ll be going home, it better be true. If you’re going to tell the many displaced in Northern Ethiopia that the fighting will be over soon, it better be true. If you’re going to sit with a mother in a refugee camp in South Sudan telling them their country is safe and they’ll be able to return home, it better be true. You can’t take the risk of saying good news unless it’s true.
It’s been a long year and you don’t need false hope right now. If it’s good news, it better be true. There’s a lot at stake and we don’t need false hope. Are you sure the good news you’ve told to announce will come true?
What gives us confidence to announce this good news? To tell people huddled in Exile to prepare the way; to make straight the paths in the desert because He’s coming. That our God is here! Words announcing the coming of a Messiah, a new David, a shepherd who would come and carry his people close to his heart. Don’t tell me he tends his flock like a shepherd unless it’s true. Don’t tell me he carries us in his arms unless he can. Are you sure that this good news is true?
A friend of mine lost his wife three years ago. She was a friend from church. Last month was the third-year anniversary of her passing. The last time I was home in Canada, I spend some time with him. He shared some stories. She was an avid reader and he was reading through some of her books and remembering her through those. After her passing, I had heard stories about her from other friends too. Decades ago, on a trip to the Holy Land as they drove into Jerusalem, she had the car stopped, got out and danced. She said she wanted to dance as David danced. Those stories ring true with what I remember of her.
I wrote to him on the third-year anniversary and he shared a story with me that I didn’t know. In her last moments, he read to her from John 17. He said when he got to verse 24, she had passed. I flipped through the pages of my Bible to look up the verse.
I want those you have given me to be with me where I am,
and to see my glory,
the glory you have given me because you loved me
before the creation of the world. (Jn. 17:24)
Just last week, Claire’s friend who had been battling the aftermaths of cancer passed away. Likewise, in her last moments, her husband read her favourite Scriptures.
Should we announce the good news even in this tough situation? Will they hear it? It seems at odds with the desperate situation they’re in.
But they read the Scriptures, by the bedside, to the end, even when the situation looked bad. They were announcing good news in a difficult situation.
I think they kept reading because they were convinced that this good news was true.
Is it true? Did God come down as a baby? Was he born in a stable and laid to rest in a manger? Did he come to save the whole world? Did he die even for the things that I’ve done? Can I announce this good news with confidence? I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up if it’s not true.
Do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!”
See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him.
See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;
He gently leads those that have young. (Is. 40:9c-11)
Don’t be afraid, He says. Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere… this is good news that can be shared.