The tender God of comfort - Isaiah 40:1-2

This is a sermon by Peter Birnie from the Riverside Church service on 10th January 2021.

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Isaiah 40 v1+2 “The Tender God of Comfort”

Intro: What do we most need right now? (Vaccine? A different political party in charge? A loved one to get better? More money in you bank?) All of those things might be attractive to you and they all might bring some relief right now, but none of them are the correct answer to the question. What we need right now in these current trying circumstances is the same thing we have needed from the first breath. We need to know who the one true God is, we need to behold our God.


For the next 7 Sunday mornings we are going to try to mine deeply (minecraft and diamonds) a wonderful chapter of the Bible, Isaiah 40, a chapter that tells us so much of the character of the one true God. I hope we will know it by memory by the time we are finished because as we spend time in it as a church family, and as the Holy Spirit applies it to our hearts, we will know God better, we will love him more and we will have rebuilt confidence in his plans and purposes for his creation.   


I think that as your pastor having the privilege of preaching Isaiah 40 to you each week I am going to feel like one of my kids when they come home from school after having received a gold award or having painted a beautiful picture, so excited about showing it to the family; “look at this, isn’t it great?” In verses 1 and 2 this morning I want say to you “look at this, isn’t it great” that the almighty God is the tender God of comfort to his people.   

  • Why do they need comfort? (Why do we need comfort?)

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.”

Those are beautiful verses in any context but because we have just jumped into Isaiah at chapter 40 we need to fill in some of the history if we are to understand the need for comfort and if we are to be properly and suitably amazed and filled with wonder and gratitude at what is being declared by God here.

So, imagine you have been rightly convicted of a horrific crime, sentenced by the judge and driven away in the prison van for life in jail without any chance of ever getting out. That’s it, you could have avoided all this but you didn’t and you have got exactly what you deserve. You are lying on your hard prison bed a few miserable years into your sentence, full of regret as you think of how things were once so much better, full of sadness as you consider what could have been but never will be now. Full of bitterness because it is all your own fault. And then one day, through the bars in the window, you hear words that you haven’t heard for so long, words full of kindness and tenderness, words full of hope being spoken. And not only that but you hear your own name being spoken you recognise the voice. As you jump to the window to look out it is hard to believe but those words of comfort being spoken by the one who judged you are being spoken to you. Your hard service is over, your offence has been wiped out, the judge has come to set you free and give you hope and a future once more.

That is where we are at the start of Isaiah chapter 40 for God’s chosen people. The first 39 chapters were filled with the prophet Isaiah warning the people and the rulers of Israel about the consequences of ignoring God and treating him with contempt. Verse after verse and chapter after chapter explaining that continuing in sin and unbelief would lead to an inevitable outcome of woe and judgement and destruction. There is a great summary of Isaiah’s message and purpose in chapter 1 verses 18-20;


‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.’ For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.


You can hear in those verses God’s father-like concern for his children. Parents get a taste of this when you give a loved child a warning and then another warning because you want them to choose what is good and what will actually make them happy. But when that child continues in defiance the good parent must then act (for a couple of our kids the sending to bed early brings many tears  - discipline is painful too for the parents but it must be done). If you are willing and obedient – good things, but if you resist and rebel, terrible things. Choose the good.

But as a nation from the Kings down, all of Israel (both the Northern Kingdom called Israel, and the Southern Kingdom called Judah where Isaiah directed his words mainly) they all constantly failed to choose the good, they continually chose the bad. And even when the people of Judah and Jerusalem saw God act in terrible judgement on the Northern Kingdom when it was destroyed by the Assyrian army, they continued the same pattern of sin and disobedience. God had chosen them to bless them and through them to bless the entire world but instead they were a disgrace and were bringing disgrace to God’s name. Let me read some more of Isaiah 1 to show just how low they had bent and what God promised to do in response; read verses 21-26.   

And God did act decisively. This was no being sent to bed early. This was the Babylonian army sweeping down and taking the people of Jerusalem into exile in Babylon. This was the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and even worse the tearing to pieces of their great Temple. Heart-breaking and tragic but exactly what the people had been warned about and exactly what their actions deserved. And so at the end of chapter 39 there they are, languishing in their miserable Babylonian prison full of regret and sadness and bitterness, but then the sweet sound of Isaiah 40 comes pouring in through the bars;

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.”

Comfort, Comfort; compared to the hard life of judgement in a land far from home.

My people; compared to a nameless bunch of exiles with no Temple and no identity. The people of Yahweh, the children of the one true God.

Speak Tenderly; compared to the reproofs from God that they have deserved and the scorn from their enemies that they have had to endure.

Hard service paid for; their sins are dealt with by God himself compared to the terrible guilt of knowing that all of this was their own fault, all of this they brought upon themselves by their pride and foolish rebellion.


Is this not exactly what they needed to hear but couldn’t have dreamt they would really hear it? Is this not exactly what we need to hear this very day? We too are a nation that has turned from a privileged position. We think we are self-sufficient and can live out our own desires and even the mess that we find ourselves in barely causes us to wonder and search. And yet the tender God of comfort still calls out to our estates, to our city of Hull, to our nation – the glorious gospel is still proclaimed from pulpits week by week and from individual Christians day by day and by it God implores us to listen to God’s words of comfort and kindness, to realise that he has full forgiveness to offer, to come and find all that we don’t deserve and yet so need in a loving relationship with Him – He as our God and we as His people.

2. Why does God offer them comfort? (Do we deserve comfort?)

Why does God act like this towards such a stubborn and guilty people? The basis for this comfort and tenderness is simply God’s love. This is who God is. Some Christians listening this morning, people who already belong to God because they have come to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and new life, and all Christians at different points in life, will be feeling rotten because on top of Covid and other hard circumstances in our lives, we feel terribly burdened by our own sin and failure in front of a Holy God. The main problem here is that we have the wrong idea about how we should deal with our sin and failure. And partly that is not helped when people like me aren’t clear enough with our language. I often explain that sin separates us from God and that is true but it is very helpful to be more precise than that.


So with the words of Isaiah 40, verses 1 and 2 ringing in our ears, let us realise that trying to hide sin, either by ignoring it or by calling it not sin, or trying to deal with sin by ourselves – that is what will keep us separate from God. Instead, bring your sin to the God of comfort. God can deal with our sin. He made a way for the hard service of his people to be ended. He opened up the prison cell so that His children can walk free. On this side of the cross of Jesus Christ we are so privileged to be able to see that and yet we are just like all of humanity throughout the ages because we so quickly forget it. Because God loves his children, he has fully dealt with their sin.

I have repeated this quote a number of times already but it is worth saying again; Jesus is with us against our sin rather than against us because of our sin. This is an incredible truth and yet so different to all of our inclinations and conditioning (lovable people get loved, deserving people get blessed, we earn what we have worked for etc) – stop living this lie even as a Christian. Instead delight in the tenderness and comfort given because of who our God is and allow your heart and life to respond appropriately.

Conclusion: Jesus is our comfort.

As we finish let’s go back for a moment to that prison cell - imagine someone else was in there, someone who had committed many horrific offenses against you. Would you want them to be comforted? To be embraced as important and valuable? To be spoken to tenderly? To be told that their crimes have been dealt with and wiped out? And yet this is what has happened. The one who was most offended, the one who has been sinned against, is the very one comforting and embracing and speaking tenderly and wiping away sin.


Do you not feel very comforted right now? (Covid and everything else leaving you down-hearted and weary) Are you listening properly to who our God is? (What do you listen to in the morning? The news? Hard and comfortless. Crazy to allow the hopelessness of the world to fill our minds first thing. Far far better to open up God’s word and be confronted and consoled by His comforting love for His people).

In this series on Isaiah 40, lets listen once more to how the almighty God cares for us, to the tender love he has for us. Let us take notice once again of what he has done to forgive us and put an end to our sin because he loves us. Behold your God. You are free for eternity, one day all we will know is His love and comfort and tenderness – in Jesus Christ forever you belong to the tender God of Comfort.  

Home Group Questions on Isaiah 40 v1+2 “The Tender God of Comfort”


1) Why do we often feel that God’s heart is hard towards us? Are you surprised in verse 1 that God wants to comfort his people and speak so tenderly to them?


2) What circumstances in your own life leave you needing God’s comfort right now? (Maybe take some time in Home Group to pray for each other at this point)



3) How does verse 2 (and the context of Isaiah 40) reassure you that even your own sin isn’t a barrier to God loving you and treating you tenderly?


4) Why does God treat his people with such love? How should this challenge us when we make the mistake of trying to clean up our own sin or earning God’s favour?  


5) What practical, day to day decisions can we make so that 2021 is a year filled with us listening to God’s tender words rather than being crushed by the brokenness of this world?  


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