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Promise of the Comforter

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The Promise Of The Comforter

20 April 2009 – Michael Owen (Seaton)

We begin our study in Isaiah 40, with those words that ring out with such assurance for God's people as they suffer intense trials:

"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" (Isaiah 40:1,2)

Jerusalem had been a focus for conflict in the time of Isaiah. It would continue to be so in the future and still in our own day this ancient city is “a burdensome stone to all people”. Here is a welcome promise of an end to adversity and suffering.

This long-term perspective enables us to see a deeper significance in the ending of her warfare. Numbers 8:25 refers to the Levites’ service in the tabernacle. The margin picks up the military language of ‘waiting upon’ and suggests the idea is here of ending “the warfare of the service”. Paul uses the same concept when he tells Timothy to “war a good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18). He is thinking, of course, of ecclesial service. We can reflect that Isaiah may be referring to the end of the burden of the law and its service and also the end of the burden of our mortality, which contributes to the struggle involved in our service to God today.

Finally, the fundamental cause of discomfort, burden and trial is sin. So the greatest comfort of all is in the pardoning of iniquity, the end of sin and all its consequences.

Isaiah continues with a clarion call to prepare for the coming of the Lord (verses 3-5). We notice that the voice that utters the message is heard in ‘the desert’. The wilderness is a time and place of humbling and testing, designed to shape our characters and strengthen our resolve (Deuteronomy 8:16). The voice emphasises that there is no lasting comfort in the flesh (verses 6-8): we are mortal beings who are limited by our natural weakness and insufficiency. By contrast the word of God will stand for ever; His purpose will stand firm; His will cannot be overturned.

We can see then that the glad tidings, now referred to in verse 9, are none other than the good news of the kingdom of God, at the heart of which is the message of sin forgiven and mortality swallowed up by immortality. This is the ‘comfort’ of verse 1. Isaiah goes on to refer to the ‘strong hand’ of the Lord God (verse 10), needed to rule the nations. But in verse 11 there is a delightful picture of a shepherd who gathers the sheep in his arms, carrying the weak in his bosom and "gently leading those that are with young".

The Old Testament was translated into Greek in the 3rd Century BC, in a version known as the Septuagint. This Greek version was in common use in the time of Jesus and the apostles and is often the source of Old Testament quotations in the New Testament. In Isaiah 40:1, the Greek word for ‘comfort’, transliterated into Latin characters, is parakaleite. The same root is found in verse 11 where the Authorised Version has ‘gently lead’. We are reminded of the words of Psalm 23: “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”. The shepherd’s rod guides, protects and chastens. The rod is a token of leadership and we are being told in Isaiah that the sheep who hear the shepherd’s voice benefit from the comfort of his strong but gentle leadership.”

These ideas are echoed in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ in John's gospel. If we first turn to John 10, we read of “the good shepherd”. Notice that the sheep “know his voice” (verse 4) and in verse 16 that there are “other sheep” who will “hear my voice”. They become “one fold”, with “one shepherd”. Clearly this refers to the Gentiles brought into the flock of God through the work of Jesus, who gave his life for the sheep.

Later in John's gospel, in chapter 14, Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to leave them. But he tells them not to be troubled, since he will be coming again to take them to himself once more (verses 1-3). These too are words of comfort (in fact they are often quoted without understanding in church funeral services). Along with the many other words of the Lord, they are words of teaching, of guidance, of rebuke, of wisdom. They are the words of His Father – and at the heart of this message is the comfort of the Gospel.

When Jesus refers to "the Comforter" (Greek, parakleitos) he says it is “the Spirit of truth&lrdquo; (verses 16,17). It is described in personal terms, because the words are the words of a heavenly Father and of His loving Son. A few verses later (verses 26), Jesus defines in more detail the work of “the Comforter”: “He shall teach you all things and bring all things to remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you”. Just as the comfort described in Isaiah 40 is bound up with the word of God that “shall stand for ever” - the gospel of salvation - so too the comfort Jesus is promising is closely associated with his role as Saviour and with the message of Salvation.

Again in John 15:26 ‘the Comforter’ is described as ‘the Spirit of truth’. This Spirit comes from God and testifies of Jesus. Of course, we know that all the words of Scripture were inspired by the Holy Spirit, providing “doctrine ... reproof ... correction ... instruction in righteousness ... that the man of God may be complete” (2 Timothy 3:16,17). Paul had previously written:

"Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." (Romans 15:4)

It seems clear then, that we cannot separate the ‘comfort’ that is provided by God through His Son, from the ‘voice’ that cries in the wilderness, from ‘the word of God’ that stands for ever, from the ‘Spirit of truth’.

It is no surprise therefore to note that on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came on the disciples, the effect was to enable them to teach the gospel: “We do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11). This teaching was then summarised by the Apostle Peter and the outcome we know well: three thousand were baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (verses 38,41).

The word parakleite is used again in the First Letter of John, again of the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ, “the word made flesh”. It is translated ‘advocate’ in many versions, conveying the idea of one who is at our side, who gently leads us. He is able to be our Advocate before God because he did no sin, yet bore for us the consequence of our sin. He laid down his life for the sheep, making possible the comfort of freedom from sin and death, of salvation from a world of burdens and distress, of the hope of sharing in the green pastures and still waters of God's kingdom.

The whole concept is very beautiful. The point we wish to stress, is that ‘the word of our God’ that ‘shall stand for ever’ is at the heart of the idea of the Comforter. It is nothing less than the message of salvation, which found its perfect expression in the life and work of Jesus Christ.

Clean Flesh #1 Intro

Suffering redemptive because Jesus redeemed us from sin

Faithful to the leastening ear

The way of salvation

Looking for this promise

A Provission made by God

A Living Faith #7 Prayer

Rebirth and belonging to a church

Copyright © 2009, Belgian Christadelphians.


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