By Matt Redmond
It has been said it is the job of the preacher to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. That may be true. But I need to come clean. As a pastor, I really enjoyed afflicting those I saw as comfortable far more than I loved comforting the afflicted.
This is my great regret about my time as a pastor—that I did not teach the Scriptures with a consistent aim to comfort people. The Scriptures are by and large written to people and by people in the midst of suffering, and therefore are best understood with that in view. Because this is so, we should expect comfort from those who teach Scripture, just as we should expect comfort from Scriptures itself.
There is a reason why our hearts swell when we open Isaiah 40 and read that first verse: “‘Comfort, comfort My people,’ says your God.” There is something emphatic about the repetition of “comfort” that makes us love to see it written on the page. It’s as if God is making sure we know He is serious about wanting us to be comforted.
Isaiah’s original audience was God’s people exiled in Babylon. And what comfort does God offer? Their iniquity is pardoned and they have “received (blessing) from the Lord’s hand double for all (their) sins” (Isaiah 40:2). In the midst of their misery in exile, God’s people are to find comfort in the fact that their sins are pardoned, and in exchange for their sins they will receive a double blessing.
It is easy to study the Scriptures and miss how significant this is. Our guilt and the guilt of others can blind us to the truth that God’s desire for us is to be comforted. He wants us to be at peace.
In 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, Paul uses the word “comfort” ten times. In that passage he expresses his hope for the church to experience the comfort of the gospel. Indeed, Paul hopes that his suffering will result in their comfort. Verse 5 sums it up: “For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows.”
Paul’s desire here is in sync with God’s desire. In the midst of this world where suffering is bound to come for us all, God wants us to be comforted by what Christ has done for us. What has He done? He has died for us. Now our sins are pardoned and we have received blessing from the Lord’s hand, double for all our sins.
Written by Matthew B. Redmond