David Brauch, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, USA
On Sunday evening, the 5th of April 2020, Queen Elizabeth II delivered a message of solidarity and hope to the people of the United Kingdom. This was despite the fact that the United Kingdom was struggling to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic and Prime Minister Boris Johnson had contracted the virus. ‘Today we are tackling this disease, and I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it’. These are some of the words she used in her brief address. Her demeanour and speech manifested modest dignity and insight resulting from a life dedicated to the nation’s highest ideals in good times and bad. According to the press, her address served to comfort many in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. This was the fourth time that the queen had spoken to the nation in a time of turmoil or sorrow.
Since the beginning of time the Godhead has also manifested much concern for the comfort of people, especially the godly. Down through the centuries, this ministry was accomplished either directly by the Godhead or using surrogates, for example, prophets. This contrasts with the efforts of some humans. Take, for example, Job’s three friends who came together to provide this ministry to him after his life was turned upside down. After some of their attempts to ‘console’ him, Job responded, ‘Miserable comforters are ye all’, Job 16. 2!
Sprinkled throughout the Old Testament are verses that have brought consolation, not only to saints then, but to those down through the centuries. One that has particularly uplifted me, and others too, is Isaiah chapter 41 verse 10, which states, ‘Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness’. Incidentally, ‘Fear not!’ is the most repeated command in the Bible. Theologian Ogilvie, author of Facing the Future without Fear, even claimed that there are 366 ‘fear nots’ in the Bible, one for every day of the year, including Leap Year! God doesn’t want us to go a single day without hearing His word of comfort: ‘Fear not!’ 1
Soon after beginning His earthly ministry, and in declaring the so-called beatitudes to His followers, the Lord Jesus promised, ‘Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted’, Matt. 5. 4. Barnes writes that ‘this [statement] is capable of two meanings: either, those are blessed who are afflicted with the loss of friends [I would add ‘relatives’] or possessions, or they that mourn over sin’. 2 Many today are mourning the loss of their job and/or savings. Still others are mourning wasted years of living for self or for committing particular sins repeatedly.
During His three-year ministry, our Lord demonstrated, on a number of occasions, that He could deliver this important commodity of comfort to those who were filled with fear – a few examples are:
- Two scary situations where the twelve are in a boat that is ready to sink on the Sea of Galilee;
- The possibility of being stoned by the Jewish religious leaders, as was the case with the woman caught in adultery;
- The loss of a loved one, as in the cases of the widow of Nain and Lazarus of Bethany.
When our Lord’s earthly ministry was nearing its end, He assured His disciples that there would be a continuity of divine help and comfort for them, in the person of the Holy Spirit. The Lord stated, ‘And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you’, John 14. 16, 17. The word ‘Comforter’ [Parakletos] means one who comes along one’s side, as Philip the evangelist did to the Ethiopian eunuch.
Sometime later, the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, assuring the believers of still another divine comforter, ‘Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble [tribulation], by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God’, 2 Cor. 1. 3, 4.
Vincent in his Word Studies in the New Testament wrote, ‘All is better rendered every: the God of every (every type of) consolation’. 3 Guzik in his Enduring Word Bible Commentary wrote that ‘the words all comfort in this passage come from the ancient Greek word paraklesis. The idea behind this word for comfort in the New Testament is always more than soothing sympathy. It has the idea of strengthening, of helping, of making strong’. 4
However, we should note that we believers are not only to pray that the members of the Godhead will minister to the sick and sorrowing. We are to be willing to engage in comforting them ourselves, using the same means that brought us comfort.
How sad it is that our Lord who delivered this precious commodity of comfort to His own was deprived of it on the cross. Sadly, our Lord went through a time when He received no comfort during the most excruciating experience ever – the worst of them all. Psalm 69 is a Messianic psalm containing portions that do not apply to the author King David but rather his namesake, the Son of David. Verse 21 is an example of this, ‘They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink’. This was literally fulfilled on the cross, see Matthew chapter 27 verse 34. I believe that verse 20 also speaks about our Lord during His crucifixion, it reads, ‘Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none’. He was utterly bereft of comfort. Why? ‘His disciples forsook Him and fled; the priests, scribes, and common people, that attended Him at the cross, mocking Him; the thieves that were crucified with Him reviled Him; and God hid His face from Him; only a few women stood afar off and lamented’. 5
All but one of His eleven disciples at that time had disappeared, seeking their own safety. Matthew chapter 27 verses 55 and 56 read, ‘And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children’. No doubt from that distance any words of comfort from them couldn’t be heard. However, there was a time when His mother, Mary Magdalene and Mary the wife of Cleopas, along with John, the son of Zebedee, were standing by the cross, John 19. 25-27. Perhaps they had tried to console Him but, probably, anything they said was being drowned out by the blaspheming, mocking, and reviling by not only the crowd but by the two thieves that were crucified with Him. Nor were any angelic beings ‘there’ for Him as comforters at that juncture of time. Why? It was because our Lord was paying the penalty for our sin. Note that, in spite of the dearth of comforters during the six hours on the cross, He provided comfort to the repentant thief, assuring him that he would be with Himself in paradise [heaven] that very day.
Do you recall what were the first recorded words spoken on the resurrection morning? The angel at the opened and empty tomb said to the women who came to anoint Christ’s dead body with spices, ‘Fear not ye [be comforted]: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay’, Matt. 28. 5, 6.
Let me conclude with a most encouraging verse from the Epistles, highlighting the Godhead’s past and present comforting ministry in our lives, respectively. ‘Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and stablish [strengthen] you in every good word and work’, 2 Thess. 2. 16, 17.
1 See here.
2 Albert Barnes, Notes on the Whole Bible, found here.
3 Marvin Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, found here.
4 David Guzik, Enduring Word Bible Commentary, found here.
5 John Gill, Exposition of the Bible, found here.