The Angel of the Lord, riding the red horse, asks God how long he will continue to have no mercy on the children of Israel that have been punished in Babylon for the past 70 years of captivity. The Lord answered and said, And the Lord answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; my house shall be built in it, declares the Lord of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem. My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem again.” The curious thing to me in this passage and others like it from the Old Testament prophets is that although they contain warnings of judgment upon the wicked, the point they all try to make is that God is always ready to forgive and receive back into fellowship. One Theological Journal recognized this in the poetry of Emily Dickinson, “Though American poet Emily Dickinson did not practice conventional Christianity, her poetry is suffused with the images and language of the Bible. She blamed clerics for deadening the Bible and aimed to make its message alive again. Her often subtle illusions reveal a very thorough knowledge of the Bible. She emphasized the compassion of God rather than his judgment.”[1]

I’ve always preferred to emphasize God’s love rather than His judgment. Without denying God’s judgment on sin, I will never forget the many passages about God’s comfort of people, even sinners. Collin’s Thesaurus of the Bible gives us a beautiful collection of God’s comforting words: “Your anger turned away, and you comforted me (Isa. 12:1); the Lord has comforted his people (Isa. 49:13; Isa. 52:9); you will be comforted for the evil I brought on Jerusalem (Ezek. 14:22); your rod and your staff comfort me (Ps. 23:4); God who comforts the downcast comforted us (2 Cor. 7:6); you have helped and comforted me (Ps. 86:17); the Lord answered the angel with gracious and comforting words (Zech. 1:13); I remember your ordinances and comfort myself (Ps. 119:52); the poor man was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22); the rich man saw Abraham and Lazarus in his bosom (Luke 16:23); Lazarus received bad things, and now he is comforted (Luke 16:25); the church was walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:31); my comfort is that you have revived me (Ps. 119:50).”[2]

In the midst of God’s great judgment upon the whole earth, He protected Noah and his family. He then protected Lot, the resident of Sodom and Gomorrah, when the fire and brimstone rained down.  “If he is powerful enough to save when the whole world is underwater, and when the skies are raining fire, then he can save his people through and from trials and bring them at last to glory.”[3] I find it interesting that Simeon was the priest at the Temple who rejoiced when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus. Luke 2:25 tells us that Simeon was looking for the “consolation of Israel.” In the midst of a sinful, rebellious people, Jesus is indeed the “comfort of Israel” as well as the comfort for all believers. He’s settled the score for us. He came and died on the cross and rose from the dead to pay the penalty for our sins and purchase for us a place in heaven which he offers to us as a free gift that can only be received through faith. He left us here at his ascension with some of the most encouraging and comforting words imaginable. He’s preparing a place for us in heaven and will return to take us home. One writer says, “He cannot prepare a mansion for us in heaven without first of all destroying the works of the devil, destroying sin and its dominion, destroying death and the grave. In addition to satisfying God’s justice and God’s holy law and offering this propitiation that removed the wrath of God, He had to do all that before He could prepare a place for us in heaven and then come back and receive us unto Himself, that where He is, we may also be.”[4]

[1] Sailer, William, J. Creighton Christman, David C. Greulich, Harold P. Scanlin, Stephen J. Lennox, and Phillip Guistwite. 2012. Religious and Theological Abstracts. Myerstown, PA: Religious and Theological Abstracts.

[2] Day, A. Colin. 2009. Collins Thesaurus of the Bible. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Anderson, Clive. 2007. Opening up 2 Peter. Opening Up Commentary. Leominster: Day One Publications.

[4] Lloyd-Jones, David Martyn. 1996. God the Father, God the Son. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.