The Lord Comforts

Dr. Brian Allison

Recently I received a brochure from Wildwood Travel Inc. It is an agency that, in part, organizes trips to the Holy Land. Now, it is interesting that on the front of this brochure, there is the inscription: Israel is Waiting. The natural interpretation is: Israel is waiting for you to visit it. Yet, as I considered that statement, I could not help but see the prophetic significance of it, namely, different ones in the land of Israel are still waiting for the Messiah, waiting for the King to come to Zion and restore all things. In fact, throughout history, many Jews have been waiting for the Messiah, waiting for the King to usher in His kingdom.

Now, as Christians, we know that the King has already come. Some 2000 years ago, Christ the King was born in a stable (or a cave) and was placed in a manger. But even then, when the Messiah King broke into time and history, there were those in the land of Israel who were waiting for Him. In Luke 2:25, we read, "And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon [the name means hearing, or hearing and obeying, or hearing with acceptance]; and this man was righteous [i.e., he externally conformed to the Law of God] and devout [i.e., he was a pious man], looking for the consolation of Israel and the Holy Spirit was upon him." Now, the statement that I want us to concentrate on is: "Looking for the consolation of Israel."

Living in a state of expectancy

Now, this phenomenon of 'looking for the consolation of Israel' is variously described in the New Testament. For instance, in Luke 2:38, we read, "And at that very moment [Jesus having been brought into the temple as a baby to be presented to the Lord] she [Anna, the prophetess] came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem." Later on in this Gospel, we read the account of the burial of Jesus – "And behold, a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council [i.e., the Sanhedrin] a good and righteous man (he had not consented to their plan and action [to crucify Jesus]), a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God" (Lu. 23:50). The phrase 'waiting for' is a translation from the same Greek word that is also translated 'looking for'.

This phrase 'looking for', as used in Luke 2:25, conveys the idea of expecting or anticipating, and thus, waiting for. Now, this notion of 'looking for' denotes at least one of two meanings. First, for example, I am an individual who is very time conscious; maybe I am too obsessed with time. This past week, I left the house without my watch. Subsequently, I returned home to look for – to search for – my watch. That is not the sense in which the phrase is used here in Luke 2. Second, this past week, I thought that a particular letter would be delivered. I was looking for – anxiously expecting – an acknowledgement of receipt of a parcel that I had sent. That is the sense in which the phrase is used in Luke 2.

Simeon was waiting expectantly for the consolation of Israel. As Christians, we too ought to be in a constant mode of expectancy; and such should be the case for at least two reasons. First, generally speaking, God has promised full redemption at the return of Jesus Christ. We have yet to enter into the full experience of God's glorious salvation; and so, as Christians, we are to be eagerly awaiting the fullness of that salvation. We should joyfully anticipate Christ breaking through the clouds to gather His people and to usher in the new heavens and earth. Titus 2:11-13 reads, "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for [same Greek term] the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Christ Jesus." We find similar language in Jude 21 which instructs: "Keeping yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously [same Greek term] for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life."

So, as those who have been redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus, Christians should be living in a state of expectancy. We ought to be living in a mode of waiting for the second advent of Jesus Christ, that is, looking for the final consolation of Israel. I was speaking recently to a young man and he could not wait to leave this world. He was disturbed that he must continue in this world which he considers to be evil and wicked. He is waiting for God to take him home, or for Christ to come; and that should typify all believers. Are you in a mode of expectancy? Are you looking for the consolation of Israel?

The second reason, specifically speaking, why we should be in a constant mode of expectancy is that God has promised His continual supply of grace and mercy. God has promised to meet our every need, to address our every concern, to respond to our every anxiety. He has promised, and therefore we ought to be looking for it. As you wrestle with that angry disposition, you ought to be in a mode of looking for His grace and His mercy in bringing inner peace and meekness. As you wrestle with your nagging prayerlessness, you ought to be looking for His grace and His mercy in bringing renewed devotion and commitment. As you wrestle with the absence of compassion and kindness, you ought to be looking for His mercy and His grace in bringing sincere love.

Not only has He promised to give us grace and mercy for our hour of need, but He is even prepared to grant His presence, which assures that those needs will indeed be met. Thus, Christians, in other words, should be living in faith and hope. Psalm 101:1,2a reads, "I will sing of lovingkindness and justice, to Thee, O LORD, I will sing praises. I will give heed to the blameless way. When wilt Thou come to me?" The Psalmist inquired, in effect, "Lord, I am waiting for You. When will You visit me?" And that cry should be constantly on our lips, "Lord, when will You come to me? When will Your grace find me out and Your mercy overtake me? When will You visit me, Lord? Will it be when I turn to meditation? Will it be when I bow the knee and I enter into prayer? Will it be when I demonstrate that act of love (for God is present in the act of love)?" Is this the cry of your heart?

You should not become weary; and I suspect that some who read this article may be. There is a tendency to become weary when you have to wait. You need patience. God wants you to wait because in the period of waiting, your heart is being prepared for His visitation; and there is no divine visitation without preparation. The longer you wait, the more spiritually hungry, and even the more spiritually desperate, you should become. And in that desperation, in that hungering, you may become impatient. But God says, "Hang on; you wait." He will come. It may not be at your expected hour or time, but He will come because He is faithful and good. He is waiting for you, as you are waiting for Him. I encourage you, my weary Christian brother and sister, to 'hang in there'. Persevere. He will give that daily provision, that desired guidance, that needed help. Philippians 4:19 promises, "But my God shall supply all [not simply some!] your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." Do you believe that? As a child of God, born again of the Spirit of God, do you believe the Word of God, that God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory? He will! What are your needs? What do you want God to do for you? Come boldly to the throne of grace that you might receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (see Hb. 4:16). God delights in blessing. Have you grown weary? Press on just a while longer and He will come to you.

Expecting the comfort of God

Again, many Jews were looking for something specifically at the time of Jesus' birth – "Looking for the consolation of Israel." They were looking for God's comfort for Israel. Now, it is a special kind of consolation or comfort in view here. We are considering redemptive consolation or comfort. We are looking at deliverance or relief from the ravages of the pain and suffering which ensue from sin and its consequences. We are looking at the consolation of the Messiah and the kingdom of peace which reverses the effects of the Fall.

Consolation, of course, presupposes pain and suffering – pain and suffering that manifest themselves in mourning. Generally speaking, the backdrop of Luke 2:25 is the Fall into sin by Adam and Eve, which resulted in pain and suffering for the whole of creation. When Adam and Eve took from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God pronounced to the woman, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you shall bring forth children; yet, your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" (Gn. 3:16). Then God spoke to Adam, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat from it'; cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Gn. 3:17-19).

So, because of sin, we have pain and suffering in the world; and even from the dawn of creation, there has been this hope, this anticipation, that there would be deliverance and relief from the pain and suffering, and thus from the mourning, which sin has brought about. People have been looking for consolation. It is interesting that with the birth of Noah, a few generations after Adam and Eve, there was the belief that here was a saviour. We read, "Now he [Lamech] called his name Noah, saying, 'This one shall give us rest [lit. comfort us in] from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the LORD has cursed" (Gn. 5:29). So, even from the beginning, there has been this anticipation, this hope of consolation, through the deliverance from sin and its consequences. That is the general backdrop to Luke 2:25.

Specifically speaking, the backdrop of Luke 2:25 is the turbulent and tragic history of Israel. Israel's history was marked by war, bloodshed, disaster, and oppression. As a nation, it was constantly attacked and subdued by invading nations – the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medo-Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. Thus, the nation was in constant need of help and deliverance; and thus in constant need of redemptive consolation.

This need of redemptive consolation is a constant theme in the prophetic writings when reference is made to the coming of the Messiah. For instance, Isaiah 40:1,2 reads, "'Comfort, O comfort, my people,' says your God. 'Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins'." Again, this particular comfort should be understood with respect to the pain and suffering that has ensued from sin. Recall that Israel experienced judgement, and was sent into captivity, because of covenantal unfaithfulness to God. Israel experienced all these corroding sociological pressures and misfortunes because of its transgressions and iniquities. But God promised redemptive consolation. So, again, Isaiah 52:7-9 reads, "How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, 'Your God reigns!' Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, they shout joyfully together; for they will see with their own eyes when the Lord restores Zion. Break forth, shout joyfully together, you wastelands, you waste places of Jerusalem; for the LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem." In addressing the corroding sociological pressures and misfortunes of Israel, God first of all addresses the sin problem. He would redeem His people, and restore them to Himself, which would result in consolation, peace, and restoration.

Jesus Christ brings comfort

Jesus Christ is the deliverer. He redeems. He brings relief from oppression, from pain, from suffering, even that which sin has produced. That was true of Israel, and that is equally true of us. God came to Israel with consolation with the birth of the Son of God, and He comes to us today with that same consolation. My Christian friend, I know I need not say this, but it is always good to be reminded – Christ is your consolation! He is the great Comforter. Thus, we read the prophecy concerning Christ, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favourable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified" (Is. 61:1-3).

You too have inherited the pain and suffering from the curse of God because of sin. You too know what it is to experience the ravages of sin in your life. For instance, you may know what it is to be disappointed (e.g., being betrayed by a friend, or rejected by a colleague, or let down by a family member). And thus you need consolation. You may know what it is to be oppressed (e.g., facing an employer who is insensitive and demanding of you). And thus you need consolation. You may know what it is to experience misfortune (e.g., maybe this past year you were forced to file for personal bankruptcy). And thus you need consolation. Or, you may know what it is to experience tragedy in your life (e.g., maybe a loved one has died in a car accident). And thus you need consolation. Maybe you are experiencing the pain of loneliness. Many Christians are lonely, and you would never know it until you talk with them and they let you into their hearts. I was speaking to a young man who gave me his testimony; and one of the things that had stalked and hunted him is this chimera of loneliness; to the point where he had attempted suicide on two or three occasions. Are you feeling lonely, smiling on the outside, but weeping inside? Jesus Christ is the Great Comforter; and He will come to you. Are you looking for the consolation of Israel?

Christ offers, and will communicate, to you His support, His encouragement, and His rest. The Scripture reads, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Mt. 5:4). This past year there were various times when I felt a bit discouraged and I am just amazed at how His consolation came; and it came at some of the most unexpected times. For instance, one morning I went into the office, feeling a bit discouraged, and I found a note on my desk from a member of the congregation. It was a note of encouragement, indicating that the person appreciated the fellowship and the ministry. You see, He comes in different ways, at different times, and in different manners in order to comfort His people.

God has bound Himself to bring comfort to His people. His heart weeps for you, and He knows exactly what you are going through. Take heart, my Christian friend. He cares for you. He not only communicates that comfort and support, but He Himself comes; and His very presence actually provides that comfort and support. Last Sunday, a group of us entered into prayer; and in the midst of prayer, God spiritually came. Oh, how wonderful it was, God revealing Himself in the depth of the spirit, making known His goodness and the warmth of His love.

My final word is to my non-Christian friend. I am particularly concerned about you. God has a word for you. You too have pain and suffering in your life – physical pain, emotional pain, spiritual pain; and you may be doing everything possible to lessen the pain, to numb the pain, or to escape the pain by activity – by becoming absorbed in sports, by pursuing some hobby, or by some other undertaking. Though you are running away from the pain, though you are trying to cover the pain, you know that deep down inside there is an emptiness and a fear. You fear life. And more than that, you fear God, and one day you will stand before Him and you will have to give an account to Him. It is appointed unto people once to die and then the judgement (see Hb. 9:27). And what will you say in that day? What will you answer to God, my non-Christian friend?

Right now you know the pain of your guilt, shame, and fear. But I tell you that Jesus Christ is the Comforter, and He is able to take away that pain, if you are willing. Here is what you need to do. You need to be honest about the condition of your own heart; that you cannot do it on your own, nor save yourself; that the God Who created you demands the submission of your will; that your life does not belong to you, but that it belongs to Him; and He wants it now. You need to confess your sin and you need to believe in Jesus Christ as your Saviour. As a result, He will save you from your sin, and He will comfort you. Won't you come, my non-Christian friend? The Comforter is waiting. The great Burden-bearer is waiting for your burden, your pain, your suffering. Come to Him. Are you looking for the consolation of Israel? He has come! Hallelujah, what a Saviour!