This week we start looking at the second half of Isaiah. If the first half of Isaiah was characterised by the idea of judgement, the second half of Isaiah is characterised by hope.
Discuss what differences and similarities you see between the ideas of “comfort” and “rest”. How can you have one without the other?
For the Israelites, the idea of rest was central. It’s raised first in the creation accounts when God creates for six days and the rests. And it’s developed into an idea that will come to fulfilment for the Israelites when they enter the land and are obedient.
Between the group, flick over to these verses and get a feel for how the Old Testament understands the idea of rest – Deuteronomy 3:20; 5:14; 12:9; 25:19; 28:65
The picture we see built is that rest is given by God, and isn’t blissful inactivity, but constructive, unhampered activity. An Eden-like experience where the world and life is being experienced as it should.
But that’s not where the Israelites are. Flick over to Psalm 137 to get a feel for how Israel’s life is now.
In Isaiah 39, we’ve just had a glimpse of what’s awaiting Judah in the near future. But in Isaiah 40 we get a glimpse of a more permanent plan God has for his people.
Read Isaiah 40
This chapter is about God comforting his people. And there seem to be two angles to what God says so that his people are comforted.
The first is the traditional kind of “comfort” that we’re used to. How do you see this comfort in Isaiah 40:11 and 40:29-31?
Why might it be important that God comforts out of desire as opposed to obligation?
But most of this chapter is given over to a different characteristic of God, namely his sovereignty. What does this chapter say about the sovereignty of God, and how he differs from his creation?
Consider what gives you unrest. How does God’s sovereignty shape what kind of comfort he can bring?
Isaiah is the second most quoted book in the Old Testament, but verse 3 in Isaiah finds special significance. This is because at the start of each of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:2-3, Luke 3:4-6) this verse is quote right at the start, as Jesus is beginning his public ministry. John the Baptist is the voice calling in the desert, and Jesus is God who arrives. So each of the Gospel writers are saying the same thing – God’s comfort has arrived.
And while we see Jesus comforting the afflicted, being drawn to those in pain, experiencing the wrong-ness of death and the pain of betrayal, we also see that his first job of comfort for his people lies in a different area. Jesus mission in coming was not first to be a burden-sharer (although he is) but to be a burden-bearer.
Read Matthew 11:25-30.
At the start of this chapter (Matt 11:10) Isaiah 40:3 is quoted again. But here Jesus begins to talk about the kind of rest he’s offering.
In light of Jesus mission, and what he says here, how would you describe the rest that Jesus has in mind? What kind of weariness and burden is he speaking about? (Keeping in mind that he’s just spoken in this chapter about people rejecting him and people being unrepentant.)
How is it in the life and death of Jesus, God brings comfort to his people?
The comfort Jesus brings though isn’t just the clearing of guilt by the one whose word stands forever, but the care and guiding of one whose ways don’t lead to pain or unrest. If you were to describe to someone who did not know Jesus what it looks like to “take his yoke upon you and learn from him” – what would you say?
At the moment, how is your soul? Are you finding rest in Jesus? Pray for each other in this.