As we remember the week leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, we can only imagine the darkness, dread and uncertainty the disciples of Jesus must have felt. They were going to be turned upside-down before they turned the world upside-down. Describing Jesus as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Bible says: “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
Gaining the right perspective during a crisis or a trial is essential. How we look a thing determines our reaction to. Are we anxious or at peace? Are we discouraged or encouraged? Are we depressed or joyful? Jesus looked beyond the current circumstance and even beyond what lay immediately ahead. We’re told that “for the joy that was set before Him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Our uncertainties (left to themselves) always produce anxiety, but when we see a sovereign God ruling over what is uncertain to us but certain to Him, our perspective changes. So, the Apostle Paul instructs us:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. —Philippians 4:6-7
This is how James can call for us to have joy when we face various trials (James 1:2). Of course, if all we have is ourselves, and a very limited perspective, then we’re like little children who can become very distressed over something like the arm coming off of a doll, or the accidental release of a helium balloon. As adults, we reach down to comfort them because we have a different perspective and can instruct them and help them to grow in their understanding. As they come to trust us, and see that we seek their good, our comforting words are powerful to help them through their immediate crisis even if they don’t fully understand it all.
This Savior, who came into the world to save sinners, sees us and our situation from a much bigger and better perspective. As a result, part of His salvation is to comfort us in our weakness and to give us help, along with a new perspective on life.
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. —Hebrews 4:14-16
Jesus walked through the agonizing valley of the shadow of death and experienced the promise of Psalm 23:4, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Now we too can walk that dark valley, but not alone.
For Jesus Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Heb. 13:5-6). Capturing this greater perspective, the hymn, Comfort, Comfort Ye My People was originally written as a German versification of the text Isaiah 40: 1-5. The text of this hymn was meant to show the promise of better days to come with the coming of the Messiah.1
Comfort, comfort ye My people,
Speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness,
Mourning ‘neath their sorrow’s load;
Speak ye to Jerusalem
Of the peace that waits for them;
Tell her that her sins I cover,
And her warfare now is over.
For the herald’s voice is crying
In the desert far and near,
Bidding all men to repentance,
Since the kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way!
Let the valleys rise to meet Him,
And the hills bow down to greet Him.
Blotting out each dark misdeed;
All that well deserved His anger
He will no more see nor heed.
She has suffered many a day,
Now her griefs have passed away,
God will change her pining sadness
Into ever springing gladness.
Make ye straight what long was crooked,
Make the rougher places plain:
Let your hearts be true and humble,
As befits His holy reign,
For the glory of the Lord
O’er the earth is shed abroad,
And all flesh shall see the token
That His Word is never broken.
1. Words: Johann Olearius (Oelschlaeger), 1671. Translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1862. Music: ‘Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele’ from Trente Quatre Pseaumes de David, Geneva, 1551. http://etymologyofhymns.blogspot.com/2012/12/comfort-comfort-ye-my-people.html