A few weeks ago I preached a sermon on the psalm that Moses wrote, Psalm 90. It was all about our struggle with death and our failed attempts to deal with it. It was dark and gloomy and there was no good news in it at all. At the end I said that all we could do was look ahead to Advent and cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Today is the day when we get a resounding answer from Isaiah. He writes that messengers are being sent from God to give his people good news. This is what the messengers are told to say, “Comfort my people. Speak tenderly to them. Tell them that the warfare is over. Tell them that their sin has been pardoned. Tell them that I am taking away their sin, and in exchange I am giving them a double blessing.”
That sounds pretty positive, but what does it mean exactly?
This is what it means. God is telling them about his son Jesus who is coming and he is telling them specifically about what Jesus is coming to do.
First, Jesus is coming to bring comfort to his people. The gospel is always about comfort. The gospel is never about fear or obligation. The gospel is sent to comfort the troubled hearts of God’s people. “Do not worry. You are MY people. I have chosen you. And I know the plans that I have for you. And they are plans for good.”
And then God tells his messengers to speak tenderly. The word of gospel is a word of love directly from God’s lips. “I love you,” he says. To say, “I love you” right, one can’t be angry or impatient or boastful. No, God’s love is gentle and kind and so this good news must be delivered that way. It must be delivered tenderly.
Next he says this, “Your warfare is over.” What is this warfare? It is our struggle with sin, death and the Devil. In Christ, God is declaring that this warfare is over and done with. In my own battle with alcoholism, I kept losing battles. Year after year I lost battles. I came up with strategies to drink less or only at certain times. I poured bottle after bottle down the drain only to buy more. The warfare was never ending. It was never ending until the day when God declared that it was over. He declared that the warfare was ended. And so it is with our battle with sin, death and the Devil. God simply declares it over and done with.
Next God says, “your iniquity is pardoned.” Your sin is forgiven. This is how God ends the warfare. He forgives sin. He doesn’t strengthen us so that we can win the battle with sin. He doesn’t give us another chance so that we can maybe do better the second or third time around. No, he ends the battle altogether by forgiving our sin. He forgives our sin for the sake of Jesus.
Next come these words, “she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” These words refer not to a double punishment, as is often understood, but to a double blessing. We receive from the Lord’s hand a double blessing IN EXCHANGE for all her sins. Jesus took our sins on himself when he was crucified. He bestows this blessing on us at Holy Communion, “This is my body, given for you. This is my blood shed for you.”
But there is a deeper significance to this double blessing; it is not simply a blessing. In the Old Testament, the first born son was the heir. And the heir received a double portion of his father’s estate. Therefore, what God is declaring to us here is that not only is he taking our sins and giving us a blessing. He is declaring that we are his heirs. And when we receive Holy Communion we are partaking in our inheritance.
So then, this is the message that your God gives you today: Be comforted, you are my people. I love you. Your warfare is over for I have forgiven your sins. My son Jesus has taken them and in exchange for these sins. I am giving you a very special blessing. I am declaring that you are my heirs. You will inherit all that is mine: life, forgiveness, joy, peace, understanding, love...... beginning now...... and in fullness in the age to come. This is the gospel of our Lord. Amen.