Scripture – Isaiah 40; 2 Corinthians 1:3-11
1 Comfort, 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.
The title of this series is entitled, “Prepare the Way of the Lord.” For the last two weeks we have concentrated on the “darker” side of the preparation. In the traditional Advent preparation the four candles stand for hope, comfort, joy, and peace. This morning we will look at this idea of comfort. Last week we look at the idea of how Jesus came to bear our sorrows and burdens. It is in this act of Christ going to the cross that we can have hope and that should bring us comfort. We have a wonderful hope in the coming Christ-child; this doesn’t mean that we won’t experience grief during the season and if we do experience grief, Christ is more than able to help us through it. We have a great comfort this morning. It is this comfort that we need to give to others who need comfort. More on that later.
One of the “new” words that I have discovered in the last two years is missional. You may recognize the root word, “mission.” What is the purpose of the Church? What is our purpose as Christians? Let’s take a look at Matthew 28:18-20.
18Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The mission of the church is to go and make disciples to everyone. You’ll notice that I didn’t stay that we are to convert people. There is much more than conversion or salvation. We are called to make disciples. We were saved to live righteous lives and to take care of the needy. Part of that involves going and making disciples; teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Our Wesleyan denomination states it this way: “To fulfill the great commission in the spirit of the great commandment.” What is the great commandment? It is to love the Lord, your God with all your heart, all your mind, and with all your soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself. As the letter writer James puts it, “Pure and lasting religion that the Father accepts is the take care of the widows and orphans in their distress and to keep yourselves from being polluted by the world. We live in a world that is in need of comfort. We have a world that needs to know that he has born our griefs. This is cause for great hope. Let me take you to a “comforting” scripture in the New Testament. Let’s take a look at 2 Corinthians 1:3-11
3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 6If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
8We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our[a] behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
So what does this scripture say to us? Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. We have a reason to be comforted. God is a Father of compassion and a God of comfort. What is compassion? Remember, Jonah? Jonah had no compassion toward the people of Nineveh, either before he told them to repent or afterward. The Lord even caused a tree to grow up and shade Jonah as Jonah awaited the destruction of Nineveh. When the Lord caused the tree to wilt, Jonah was angry. God asked Jonah why. God loved the people of Nineveh and in his compassion and his mercy saved Nineveh from destruction. Jonah didn’t understand that God loves all people, not just a chosen few. How does this apply to us? God loves all his people, not just a chosen few. We need to be missional in our mindset. We need to make disciples of ALL nations, baptizing them ENTIRELY, teaching them EVERYTHING God has commanded until the VERY END of the WORLD. This is an all encompassing commandment. The gospel message may make people uncomfortable, but brings ultimate comfort when we receive Jesus Christ. Look at verse 4. Who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. Now you see why I call this part 2. We can comfort those in trouble with God’s comfort.
Why? Verse 5For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 6If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
Last week I spoke on the grief and pain that Jesus Christ bore on the cross. We spoke on Christ’s sufferings. We remembered it through communion. Like verse 5 says, just as Christ’s sufferings flow into our lives, so does his comfort. This is the comfort that we can give to others. We sing it in one of our worship songs. He came from heaven to earth to show the way. From the earth to the cross my debt to pay. From the cross to the grave from the grave to the sky. Lord I lift your name on high. It’s really so simple and we like to complicate it. This is the comfort that we can give; that Christ came, shed his blood for our sins, died, was buried and rose again triumphantly to break the power of sin over our lives.
Did you also notice that whether we go through difficulty or whether we are comfortable, our message should be comfort and salvation? This is something that we do not only for those on the outside, but also for those on the inside. The scriptures tell us to bear one another’s burdens. Verse 7 “because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, you share in our comfort.
When we read the rest of Paul’s introduction, we realize that this is encouragement to the believers at Corinth. This morning’s message is two-fold. There are two people to comfort. First, there are those (and some may be here this morning) that don’t know Christ. To them the whole Christian story doesn’t make much sense. They are confused. As it says in Isaiah chapter 6; “The people who walk in darkness…” As we learned this past week when the power went out, it doesn’t take much light to help someone who is stumbling in the darkness. My first challenge is to be Jesus Christ to those who so desperately need it during this season. This should be a season of hope. Jesus Christ is coming as a baby to save his people from their sins. This is the hope that we have. We also have the hope that one day; he will be coming again to take those who have received him home to heaven with him. Share the light of Jesus Christ through your actions, through your words to those who need him; those who need to be comforted. Invite them to church over the next few weeks. My second challenge has to do with the rest of Paul’s introduction. We as Christian brothers and sisters share in the lives of each other. We need to lift each other up. We need to bear one another’s burdens. One of my goals in the next month is to start a weekday prayer meeting. Now, I know for some of you this eliminates the possibility of you coming. But anyone who is available at that time is welcome, especially you prayer warriors (and you know who you are.) It will be during this time that we can lift each other and our church up in prayer for an extended period of time. I don’t know about you, but prayer meetings lift me up, not drag me down. Through prayer meeting we will share with each other and share one another’s burdens and this is what being a missional church does.
Let me say once again that it’s all about building the kingdom. What are you doing to build the kingdom? What are you doing to prepare the way of the Lord for those who don’t know him? What are you doing to prepare the way of the Lord for those who do know him and are just in need of some encouragement?
What do I want you to do today as you leave? God says, “Comfort my people.” Go and do it today!