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The Scalpel of God’s Tender Mercies

            God’s word is meant to rebuke and correct (2 Timothy 3:16).  It is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword and can lay bare our sinful thoughts and intentions (Hebrews 4:12-13).  Nevertheless, I was struck by a biblical passage that shows God’s word often works in a different way.

            In our morning devotions my wife and I read Isaiah 50:4 “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him that is weary.”  Here the ministry of the word is to sustain those who are weary.  It is to strengthen God’s people who are struggling and losing heart. 

            As a teacher and former pastor, I know that urging people to confront their sins and repent is essential.   Sometimes, however, we ministers of the word, find it all too easy to do that.  Isaiah teaches that comforting God’s people is another side to our calling.  

            The prophet also tells us that the ministry of comfort must be learned, and he tells us how we are to be taught.  The rest of the verse says, “Morning by morning he wakens, he wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.”  Morning by morning the teacher or preacher listens to God’s voice.  He learns from the Lord himself to use the word to comfort.

            It is no accident that this verse is located in one of Isaiah’s Servant of the Lord passages that point to our Lord Jesus Christ.  He was a master of the ministry of comfort.  In John chapter 20 it appears that Peter may have been considering abandoning the apostolic ministry, especially in the light of his threefold denial of Jesus.  Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”  Each time he is commanded to feed Jesus’ sheep; that is, to teach them.  Peter is grieved that Jesus asks him a third time because it reminds him of his great failure, but his response is surprising.  Peter says, “Lord, you know everything.  You know that I love you.”     

            Christ’s hard questioning had shown Peter his heart of hearts—that he loved Jesus.  What greater encouragement could we have than for Jesus to show us that we love him?  Is it any wonder that the apostle could write such a comforting letter to suffering Christians as he did in 1 Peter?  No, it’s not.  He had learned from the Great Physician how to use the scalpel of God’s tender mercies.

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