Handel's Messiah: The Person and Work of Christ

2. 'Comfort Ye My People'

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Does God speak to you the words of comfort, "Your iniquity is pardoned"?

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part 2 of a series. Read part 1.

Does God speak to you the words of comfort, "Your iniquity is pardoned"?

God through the prophet Isaiah declared the certainty of His coming judgment against Judah for her hundreds of years of spiritual adultery:

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, "Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: 'Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house, and what your fathers have accumulated until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left,' says the Lord. 'And they shall take away some of your sons who will descend from you, whom you will beget; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.' " (Isaiah 39:5-7)

Those prophesied events occurred a century after Hezekiah's death. But Isaiah chapter 40 begins a section of the book in which God addresses Judah and her prophets, during Hezekiah's lifetime, as though their future exile and captivity in Babylon were already a present reality.

It is here that Handel's Messiah begins. After an instrumental overture, a tenor soloist sings these words from the prophecy of Isaiah:

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.
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.
(Isaiah 40: 1-3, KJV)

Words of Cosmic Significance

As Handel's librettist Charles Jennens realized, these were not merely words of comfort to Israel before and during the years of exile. They had a far greater significance. They prophesied the One who would come to ultimately redeem a people to rule and reign with Him forever in new heavens and a new earth. "My people" ultimately are the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16).

Isaiah 40 verse 3 foretells the coming of the last and greatest of the prophets who would precede Christ, John the Baptist. All four of the New Testament Gospel records begin their accounts of the life of the incarnate Messiah with references to this prophecy. The Apostle John records this:

Now this is the testimony of John [the Baptist], when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?"
He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ."
And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?"
He said, "I am not."
"Are you the Prophet?"
And he answered, "No."
Then they said to him, "Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?"
He said: "I am 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said." (John 1:19-23)

It was John the Baptist's long-prophesied task to call sinning Israel to prepare themselves for the first coming of Jesus the Messiah. In John's day that preparation took the form of a baptism of repentance. But those who received John's baptism also needed to believe on the One of whom John said,

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11)

Today God the Holy Spirit is in the world, calling upon humanity to repent, not through water baptism, but by "repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21).

How Is It With You?

Dear reader, Christ the Messiah is coming again. The purpose of His first coming was "to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). The purpose of His second coming will be to "judge the living and the dead" (2 Timothy 4:1). Near the end of Scripture's last great prophetic book we find these terrifying words:

And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:15).

Are you prepared to meet the Messiah? Will you face Him as your loving Savior who declares, "Your iniquity is pardoned," or as your condemning Judge who declares, "I never knew you" (Matthew 7:23)? Only those who believe on Him as their Lord and Savior, trusting in His finished work on the cross as the full and final atonement for their sins, "may have confidence and not be ashamed [literally, filled with shame] before Him at His coming" (1 John 2:28).

 

Next: "Every valley shall be exalted"

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