In 1946, Czeslaw Godlewski was a member of a young gang that roamed and sacked the German countryside. On an isolated farm, they gunned down ten members of the Wilhelm Hamelmann family. Nine of the victims died, but Hamelmann himself survived his four bullet wounds.
Godlewski recently completed a twenty-year prison term for his crimes, but the state would not release him because he had nowhere to go. When Hamelmann learned of the situation, he asked the authorities to release Godlewski to his custody. He wrote in his request, “Christ died for my sins and forgave me. Should I not then forgive this man?” —Gospel Herald.
Hamelmann shows the kind of forgives that comes only from a heart transformed by a loving, heavenly Father. It is also a painful reminder that even when we abandon God and struggle to see God because of our sin, God is still there. God never moves. He is always there. Today we see that never more evident than in Isaiah 40:1-5. Before we dig into that text allow me to lay out the context.
The nation of Israel had committed multiple sins against the Lord. Their offenses included idolatry, injustice, immorality, and insensitivity to the messengers God sent to show them the error of their ways. No matter how grave the sin, no matter how much they rejected the love of the Father, His love never waned. These were still His people, and He loved them, that would never change. Discipline is not often received well. I can’t think of one punishment growing up when I said, “Thank you, Mom, may I have some more.” So even though God would chasten them, He did so like my mom because He loved them. He wanted to restore them, redeem them. He would not, could not forsake them. In the original Hebrew the term “Speak tenderly” literally means “speak to the heart,” and “warfare” means “severe trials.” God’s chastening’s are not unfair, for God is merciful even in His punishments. God chastened them in an equivalent measure of what they had done. We should not sin; but if we do, God is waiting to pardon.
In the midst of Israel’s unfaithfulness, God still keeps His promises. Isaiah hear His voice. God has a message for His unfaithful people from Isaiah 40:3-5,
3 A voice is crying out:
“Clear the Lord’s way in the desert!
Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!
4 Every valley will be raised up,
and every mountain and hill will be flattened.
Uneven ground will become level,
and rough terrain a valley plain.
5 The Lord’s glory will appear,
and all humanity will see it together;
the Lord’s mouth has commanded it.”
There are two key promises in this section:
One the King Is Coming! I love how Kent Hughes describes it: “He comes to us as we are, where we are, in the wilderness and the desert of our real lives. He wants us to get ready to receive him, because right now we aren’t ready.” John the Baptist used this verse to remind us that we prepare for this King’s coming by turning from the ways of sin and walking a new path by faith. The ways of sin are made low, every valley of our own self-reliance is flattened, the unevenness of our commitment to holiness is made straight. Every bit of pride is replaced with the glory of the Lord and all humanity will see the King is here.
Secondly this King, unlike previous earthly kings who fail, will accomplish God’s purpose. This King will usher in a new social landscape, no longer are people looking to the old temple system for salvation, now a more complete, a more perfect sacrifice is put in place. This King will be one that the Father says of him, “This is my Son. In Him, I am well pleased.” When this king’s earthly work is done, He proclaims boldly, “It is finished!” Nothing else, no one else need do what I have done. Your sins are atoned for, your relationship with God restored. Rest now in the peace and comfort of His presence for all eternity, for Jesus the King has come and has accomplished what God that the Father sent him to do.