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“Oh, the unspeakable greatness of that exchange,—the Sinless One is condemned, and he who is guilty goes free; the Blessing bears the curse, and the cursed is brought into blessing; the Life dies, and the dead live; the Glory is whelmed in darkness, and he who knew nothing but confusion of face is clothed with glory.” Trailady

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

The gospel of comfort

“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: for she hath received of the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isa. 40:1,2).
 
This wonderful, precious promise was initially given to Israel in 722 BC. It immediately follows the capture and disappearance of the northern tribes of Israel. They had lived in the land God gave them for the relationship He had with their father, Abraham. And they were given the choicest lands because Joseph’s character had perfectly honored Christ. Living closer to the Fertile Crescent, they were given the best of the Promised Land.
 
“Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall:
The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him:
But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel:)
Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb:
The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.” (Gen. 49:22-26).
 
“[Jacob] blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh.” (Gen. 48:20).
 
The northern tribes knew the greatest abundance from heaven, as their lands plentifully prospered with constant fruitful harvests. However, the Canaanites also enjoyed the abundance, and Canaanite influence infected the northern Hebrews’ obedience to the true God. Thus, the house of Israel eventually became as evil as the rest of the world that Satan controlled. The northern Israelites did this while keeping God’s name of blessing to Jacob, Israel “He who wrestles with God and overcomes rules with God.” Doing all their perversity in the sacred name of God’s salvation was the greatest insult to Him. So, they couldn’t remain in God’s land. If they had read Moses’ and the prophets’ writings they would have known that the Lord was not pleased with them. They had no excuse or alibi. Therefore, after generations of warnings God raised up Assyria, which came down and removed the blasphemous nation from God’s home.
 
The beautiful promise of Isaiah 40 was for Jerusalem, as verse 2 shows. But, it was also for the northern tribes, by its context with the two preceding chapters. It would be for Jerusalem also because Jerusalem had always been accepted as the original capital of the two brother nations that King David established. They had been brethren for 700 years already prior to King David, a millennium of brotherhood. But, the Lord’s punishing warfare was against Jerusalem also because they were following the evil practices of their northern brethren. Read the first 10 chapters of Isaiah and some of the minor prophets, and this becomes apparent.
 
“The LORD said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot. And I said after she had done all these things, Turn thou unto Me. But she returned not. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.” (Jer. 3:6-8).
 
“I have seen an horrible thing in the house of Israel: there is the whoredom of Ephraim, Israel is defiled. Also, O Judah, He hath set an harvest for thee, when I returned the captivity of My people.” (Hos. 6:10,11).
 
The wonderful promise of Isaiah 40 is about comfort. The comfort was needed for the discomfort they had under the yoke of captivity. They had received of the Lord’s hand a double punishment. But, now the Lord declared that His wrath was past; their warfare was finalized.
 
“Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for He hath torn, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind us up. After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight…. O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.” (Hos. 6:1,2,4).
 
“Then the angel of the LORD answered and said, O LORD of hosts, how long wilt Thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which Thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years?
And the LORD answered the angel that talked with me with good words and comfortable words.
So the angel that communed with me said unto me, Cry thou, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy.
And I am very sore displeased with the heathen that are at ease….
Therefore thus saith the LORD; I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: My house shall be built in it, saith the LORD of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem.
Cry yet, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; My cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad; and the LORD shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem.” (Zech. 1:12-15,16,17).
“For I was but a little displeased, and [the heathen] helped forward the affliction.” (Zech. 1:15).
 
The Lord had given the Gentiles providential opportunity to conquer Israel and Judah. But, they had gone farther than He had wanted. Satan was in control of them and he lusted for the total annihilation of the people who might have the possibility of a tiny remaining root of loyalty to Jehovah. Do we go too far when presenting the truth to others? Do we help forward the affliction that they suffer for their disobedience to God’s laws, or do we look for their tiny root of loyalty to God? Do we “preach Christ...of envy and strife” (Phil. 1:15)? We need more sweetness of the original gospel. Added to their sorrow for sin during the 70 year captivity, the gentleness of the gospel presented by the teaching pastor, Ezra, led to a great repentance and reformation among the returned Jews.
 
“Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the LORD your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law.” (Neh. 8:9). The people wept because the scriptures that Ezra so aptly and lovingly taught them was so much more beautiful than they or their forefathers had ever realized. During the long, pagan captivity they had longed for the comfort of the precious words from their God. Repentance to God made that day holy and beautiful in His sight. Through a tragic captivity, He had done for them, in the way of genuine repentance, what they couldn’t accomplish for themselves.
 
“Then [Ezra] said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Neh. 8:10). There is an end of genuine repenting. It’s not healthy to spend our whole lives repenting for our past sins and mistakes. Overmuch sorrow saps the bones and nerves, and robs our brains of vitality and a long, healthy lifespan. Our Creator knows this and sends word for it to cease; there must also be joy in Him and calm hope for the future.
 
But, before He speaks the word of pardon He will make sure He has removed all of our self-made, empty, faked repentance. He will make us genuinely sorry for our sins, and we will be very sorry. Through Jeremiah, the Lord had informed them of the coming harsh conditions under foreign captivity due to their deeply rooted, almost incurable rebellion. Whoever would not fight the punishment, would be captured and become slaves. Their enslavement under taskmasters would make them constantly preyed upon. But, at least they would live.

“And unto this people thou shalt say, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I set before you the way of life, and the way of death. He that abideth in this city shall die by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence: but he that goeth out, and falleth to the Chaldeans that besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be unto him for a prey. For I have set My face against this city for evil, and not for good, saith the LORD: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.” (Jer. 21:8-10).
 
The pangs of guilt and shame may seem like they will never subside. But, like Jesus taking upon Himself all of our chastisement of peace in Gethsemane carrying them to death on Golgotha, our scourging will pass. But, our harrassing “evil conscience” (Heb. 10:22) can pass only because He took our damnation ten billion times more. He knows what harrassment of mind and soul is. Every time we are forgiven by God, Jesus assumes our burden of sin. Then, as He had healed the repenting people, He will “bind us up” (Hos. 6:1) and send us His Spirit of comfort. He “forgiveth all thine iniquities” and “healeth all thy diseases.” (Ps. 103:3).

Finally, 700 years after the promise was given, it was time to comfort Israel, having received their due punishment for serving Satan. The Lord doesn’t punish forever. He isn’t like Satan, “who smote the people in wrath with a continual stroke, he that ruled the nations in anger.” (Isa. 14:6). No, the Lord is very different. His mercy endureth forever. He says,
 
“Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumblingblock out of the way of My people. For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before Me, and the souls which I have made.” (Isa. 57:14-16).
 
Now, the Isaiah 40 promise spoke of the wrath of God being past. His blessing was near to come. No more pain, no more dying, no more captivity, no more tears. Those comforting words to Zechariah by the angel, and to the people by Ezra, were what God had commanded Isaiah to say, “Comfort My people!”
 
Full of hope came the promises of God. It was a refreshing from the presence of the Lord. But, the revival and reformation by Ezra and Nehemiah, so much a blessing to the people, faded. They lost their first love. The people hadn’t remained vigilant to Satan’s wily machinations, and his agents dissolved their spirit of revival. Then, the captivity resumed. The 70 years of captivity turned into a 600 year captivity, as Israel never regained its sovereignty.
 
Really, the 70 year captivity was originally spelled out to be a 600 year captivity, as the next verses of Isaiah 40 describe. The Lord knows His people, He knoweth that they are dust. He knows their proclivity to forgetfulness of eternal things. But, at the end of the next 450 years, then He would send someone greater than the earlier prophets; He would send His forerunner;  and then He, the Sent of God, would come Himself.
 
Some of the Jews were waiting for the fulfillment of that famous Isaiah 40 promise. Ichabod, the glory of Isreal had departed. How much more forgetful of the holy past could God’s holy nation get? How much worse could heathenism and idolatry take up residence within Israel? Few were waiting for the manifestation of God’s grace to His people. “There was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel.” (Luke 2:25). He found that that “consolation” would come in the form of a newborn. “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.” (Isa. 9:6). The “consolation of Israel” was the “comfort for Jerusalem” from Isaiah 40. The redemption that the Messiah would accomplish for His Jewish people would give them the greatest and fullest ever pardon and comfort. But, Israel was the theater for the whole world. Therefore, the word from heaven to them was also for all of the human race, for God so loved the whole world.
 
Three more decades passed after Simeon discovered the birth of the Consolation of Israel. All hope was gone. Then, John the Baptist stood up and suddenly created a stirring revival in Israel. He bore the message of Isaiah 40.
 
“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. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: 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.” (Isa. 40:3-5).
 
“And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” (Luke 3:3). “Saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:2). “As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:4-6).
 
And this message of comfort and consolation was the good news that Jesus preached. “Saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:15). Combined with the 70 week prophecy of Daniel, the Isaiah message of comfort was the good news gospel that Jesus brought to the multitudes.
 
Isaiah 40 is the foundation for the New Testament. “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: for she hath received of the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isa. 40:1,2). They had received of God’s hand double for all their sins; now it was time for reconciliation with God and their justification. Atonement was the theme of the day; Jehovah authorized it. It was the year of acceptance from the Almighty. “To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn.” (Isa. 61:2).
 
And until today, that is still the message to the world. Nothing has changed. “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matt. 24:14).
 
At the very end of the age, we have again received of the Lord’s hand double for all of our sins. Almost. His stern warfare against us is almost accomplished. Over the past several decades we’ve been through an atheistic, loveless, Christless time. But, we have yet a more wicked period of terror coming our way. The “little time of trouble” will not be little or only a couple of years. Protestantism has signally failed in its protest and reforms against the devil’s corruptions of the gospel and Law of God. We haven’t remained vigilant against Satan’s wily machinations, and his agents have stolen away the revival that came from the apostles and later from the great Reformation. And, like the Jews of Nehemiah’s day, we just let the gospel of peace and comfort slip away, without hardly a protest or a sigh and cry for the abominations sweeping the land. History has repeated itself. The wrath of God against Protestantism around the globe, and especially against Protestant America, is soon to fall upon us. But, we are not left without hope. We “shall be saved out of it.” (Jer. 30:7).
 
The church in the wilderness (Revelation 12:6,13-17) has been through the papal Dark Ages, and has lost much of what Christ taught and showed His disciples while He was here. Yet, the same message of Isaiah 40’s pardon and hope is for us today, and, especially will it be for us tomorrow. As the Jews went through a 600 year punishing silence from the Lord God between the prophets to John the Baptist, so we’ve been through our 2,000 year punishing silence between the apostles to the final 144,000, a silence from Jesus in His Father’s heavenly sanctuary. We’ve had our 2 millennium New Covenant inter-Testamental period, and now it’s time to bring it to a close, as John the Baptist closed the Old Testament inter-Testamental period.
 
Soon Christ will raise His hand up to His Father Most High, and swear “by Him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer.” (Rev. 10:6).
 
It’s time to close the gap and reconnect the bookends of this New Testament Covenant dispensation. It’s time to restore the Isaiah 40 precious promise. Those who will reconnect the gap will be called, “The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.” (Isa. 58:12). Their work will involve rebuilding the apostolic church.
 
“Before the final visitation of God’s judgments upon the earth there will be among the people of the Lord such a revival of primitive godliness as has not been witnessed since apostolic times.” Great Controversy, p. 464.
 
“It is only as the law of God is restored to its rightful position that there can be a revival of primitive faith and godliness among His professed people. ‘Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.’ Jeremiah 6:16.” Great Controversy, p. 478.
 
“They that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations.” “They shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations.” (Isa. 58:12; Isa. 61:4).
 
Everything from Christ and His apostles is yet to be fulfilled. “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.” (Matt. 10:23). We have not yet gone over all the cities of the world with the good news of Isaiah 40. Satan succeeded in bringing the victory of the earthly kingdom of God almost to a halt for a couple of millennia. No doubt the Lord, who had gone forth conquering, will regain all His lost ground with a vengeance. Then He will return with both His own and His angels’ shouts of victory over Satan, and with the trump of God.
 
But, how can we get refreshed without first bowing to the authoritative Law of God? Will we go to the Spirit of Prophecy and get humbled? Really stumbled and fallen and broken? And then, as humbled and stumbled children, will we accept Christ’s grace and get refreshed, as the people received under Ezra and Nehemiah? The refreshing comfort will start with the commandment of God to stop laboring for our salvation and enter into His rest. “If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on My holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour Him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.” (Isa. 58:13,14).
 
In the faith and love of Jesus, we will feel like we’re riding upon the high places of the earth. “God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:4-6).

This sealing of God’s Law in our hearts and our escalation to heavenly places with Christ are our only preparation for the difficult times ahead. Our lives will be for a prey, but we will be saved through the deeper faith and stronger dependence on Jesus, which only that time of terror can bring us. Knowing that, and having that for a purpose, will make it all doable.
 
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:
Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” (1Pet. 1:3-9).
 
“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matt. 10:16).
“For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” (Matt. 24:21).
 
“But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues;
And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles.
But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.
For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.
And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.
And ye shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.” (Matt. 10:17-23).
 
“Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them.” (2Tim. 3:13,14).
 
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matt. 24:29-31).
 
We need to trim our lamps now, while the tumult has not yet arrived. It will come with a vengeance, and relentless in its fury. This cannot be overemphasized. But, the joy of the Lord will be our strength. Because our eyes and hope will be on Jesus, His words will make sense: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
 
“Because he hath set his love upon Me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known My name.
He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.
With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him My salvation.” (Ps. 91:14-16).

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