Broken Hearts Bound

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent based on Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Dear people with broken hearts that have been bound: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We know broken-heartedness. We have lost loved ones over the years. Yes, our hearts have been broken by death and loss. Oftentimes, this broken-heartedness is felt most strongly at Christmastime.

That is why during Advent, the Church waits not just for Christmas, but the return of Christ. Our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah promised us that Christ will bind up the broken-hearted, and that He will comfort all who mourn.

These are not empty sentiments. Christ binds up broken hearts with the promise of the resurrection. When Christ returns, He will raise the dead, and give eternal life to all who believe in Him. We will be reunited with all our loved ones who have died in the faith.

In addition to death and loss, we also know broken-heartedness from sin at the hands of others. Other people have sinned against us and our loved ones. Our spouses have sinned against us. So have close family members, dear friends, people we loved, even pastors we trusted. We know the broken-heartedness of trust that has been betrayed, secrets that have been revealed, lies that have been told, sin that has wreaked havoc in our lives and the lives of those we love.

We are delusional, however, if we are not aware of the broken-heartedness we suffer from our own hand because of our own sin. We have sinned against others. We have sinned against our spouses, our family members, our friends, the people we love, and our pastors. We have betrayed trust, gossiped, and wreaked havoc in our lives and the lives of others around us. We have held grudges, had sinful thoughts, spoken sinful words, and acted out the sinful thoughts of our hearts that we ourselves have broken.

It is one matter to speak of being broken-hearted by sin you have committed against another human being, and another matter to be broken-hearted by sin you have committed against God. Of course, all sin is a sin against God, because He is the one who has given us the Commandments to follow. He sees all our actions. He hears all our words. He knows all our thoughts. Nothing is hidden from His sight.

We can try to justify ourselves to our neighbour. We can lie about our motives for what we have done or left undone. We can make up excuses for our sin. We might even be able to convince ourselves of our excuses.

Before God, however, our mouths are stopped. His Law condemns us. He is not tricked or fooled by our attempts to excuse or justify ourselves. God sees our sins, and His Law causes us to be broken-hearted because we realize that we have once again failed to do what is right. In our weakness, we have again sinned against God.

We have lived as if God did not matter and as if we mattered most. Our Lord’s name we have not honoured as we should; our prayers and worship have faltered. We have not let His love have its way with us, and so our love for others has failed. There are those whom we have hurt, and those whom we have failed to help. Our thoughts and desires have been soiled with sin (see Individual Confession and Absolution, LSB 292). We have broken others’ hearts with our sins, and we have broken our own hearts with our sins.

We need our broken hearts bound. We need comfort in our mourning. We need the Gospel proclaimed to us because we are poor in spirit.

When Jesus preached on our text from Isaiah in the synagogue of His hometown of Nazareth, He said that Isaiah was speaking about Him. Jesus says that Spirit of the Lord God is upon Him; that He has been anointed to bring good news to the poor, that He was sent to bind up the broken hearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and comfort to all who mourn (Luke 4:16-21).

Jesus came to bring the good news of victory for poor sinners. He was sent by God the Father to preach forgiveness of sins to miserable sinners held captive by their sins. He was anointed to proclaim the bursting of the gates of hell to release all of us captive to the devil. He was sent by God to bind up our hearts that have been broken by death and loss, by the sins of others against us, and by our own sins. Jesus came to proclaim comfort to those who mourn over sin and mourn over death.

There is no greater comfort than the forgiveness of sins, because through the forgiveness of sins, Christ’s righteousness and perfection cover our sins. Through the forgiveness of sins, we have the promise of life and salvation. Our sins are removed from us as far as the east is from the west because Jesus has taken our sins away from us onto Himself. Jesus died for our sins so now we will live forever. He rose from the dead so that we would know that we also will rise from the dead.

With our sins forgiven, we have no fear of death or the grave; we have no fear of hell or the punishment of sin. With our sins forgiven, our broken hearts are bound. We are comforted in our mourning.

And we wait.

Yes, Jesus says that this Scripture is already fulfilled (Luke 4:21). It is fulfilled because Jesus came and did what the Scripture says He would do. It is fulfilled because we don’t have to wait for the forgiveness of sins; we already have it now. We don’t have to wait for our sins to be removed form us; they’re already gone. We don’t have to wait for comfort; we already have it.

We do, however, wait for Christ to return and take us from this vale of tears to Himself in Paradise. We wait for our illnesses and losses to have an end. We wait for the final enemy, death, to be defeated. We wait for the tears to be wiped from our eyes, the end of death, the end of mourning, crying, and pain (Rev. 21:4). We wait for the day that we will no longer sin; when we will no longer cause others to be broken hearted, and when we will no longer feel the pain of our own broken heart.

We wait for Jesus to return as He has promised and make all things new. Then we will not just have hearts that has been bound, but we will have new hearts that will know no suffering or brokenness, but only joy and gladness forevermore. We will have new hearts that will desire no sin, but will only desire what is holy, and righteous, and good.

Jesus promises three times in the final chapter of Revelation, saying, “I am coming soon.” We trust Him and know that He will return at the right time, because He gives His promise to us, “I am coming soon.” He says, “Surely, I am coming soon.” And we pray, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Word Stands Forever

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent based on Isaiah 40:1-11

Dear hearers of the eternal Word: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.” God’s Word is eternal. It will endure forever. It is unchangeable. It will not wither or fade.

Fads, on the other hand, come and go. Trends are born and then they die. New ideas, new beliefs, new churches, new religions – they come and they go. Man’s word falters, waivers, and deceives, and then withers and fades.

We are used to everything being transitory and temporary. Our clothes wear out. Our kitchen appliances stop working. Our cars break down on us. Our own bodies, too, wear out, and in the end, will lose the battle with illness, disease, or some other cause of death. Everything see and touch withers and decays. Everyone dies.

Even the kingdoms of this world will all totter and fall. Any study of history will quickly show the rise and fall of countless kingdoms, empires, and civilizations. The cycle continually repeats itself: Hard times create strong men; strong men create good times; good times create weak men; weak men create hard times. Then the cycle repeats. We are certainly at a time of weak men, so we know hard times are coming, and the end of western civilization does not appear to be far off.

Everything does wither and decay, and most directly, this passage is speaking of us, people: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.” It’s not really talking about grass and flowers. It says, “Surely the people are grass.” Our faithfulness is like the flower of the field. In other words, we people will wither, fade, and die. Our faithfulness to God stands out like a flower in the field one day, only to fade into oblivion the next. We are faithful one moment and unfaithful the next. We are fickle and feeble. We always have been. We always will be, so long as we are alive.

Thus, when we hear God’s proclamation of comfort and that all flesh will see His glory, we are inclined to think that it too won’t last very long.

Our experience with comfort is in fleeting glimpses here and there. We are busier than ever with the things of this world, thinking that they will bring comfort. In this preparatory season of Advent, we certainly are preparing for Christmas, but not in the way the voice in the wilderness calls us to prepare. We are busy shopping and decorating, buying and crying. We’re busy planning our meals, finding our deals, and preparing for visits and visitors. We want to have a nice comfortable Christmas, and will work for weeks in the hope of having a few brief moments of comfort. In the end, in the hustle and bustle, the unfair present exchanges, the missing batteries, the fighting children, the overcooked turkey, and the smashed lamp, the only comfort we may have is in a glass of spiced rum eggnog once all is said and done.

This is the reason God’s proclamation of comfort is tied with His Word enduring forever. Since God’s Word endures forever, the promise of comfort that He gives in His Word endures forever. The comfort that God promises isn’t a fleeting, momentary comfort, but an eternal comfort of peace and joy. The comfort is ours because our warfare with God is ended, and our iniquity pardoned.

The warfare was not started by God, but by us falling into sin. It was mankind who rebelled against our Creator and made Him our enemy. Instead of living in peace and quietness in His Kingdom, we decided to break His Laws. We rebelled by following our own sinful desires rather than following God’s good and perfect will for us.

Instead of destroying us as we deserved, the Lord God Almighty punished His Son in our place. Christ Jesus was punished as a rebel and a sinner even though He never did anything but serve His Father and us, His creation. Jesus received punishment for all our sins, and then God sends a word of comfort to us. Your warfare is ended. Your iniquity is pardoned. The price of your sins has been paid. You have the promise of comfort, instead of the affliction of hell your sins deserve.

This comfort is only possible through the forgiveness of sins. There is no comfort to be had in sin, even if the devil would have you believe otherwise. The only true comfort we can have is when the threat of hell does not hang over our heads; when the threats of the Law and the threats of punishment have been removed.

These threats have been removed because Jesus not only faced the threat of God’s Law for us, He fulfilled God’s Law for us. He didn’t only face the threat of punishment for us, but He took the actual punishment for us as well. Thus, God speaks tenderly to us of comfort.

This comfort is eternal. It will not wither or fade. Saint Peter writes that it is an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you (I Peter 1:4).

This brings us back to the Word of God standing forever. Since God’s Word stands forever, God’s promises to you stand forever. They don’t wither or fade.

When God said to you through Baptism that you belong to Him, it stands forever. When God says to you that your sins are forgiven through Absolution, it stands forever. When God says that you receive the forgiveness of sins through the body and blood of Christ, it stands forever.

We can neglect and reject what God gives to us, but that is not God breaking His promises or invalidating His Word. It would simply be us refusing to believe it. God’s Word stands forever, whether we believe it or not.

God’s Word will stand forever, but this does not mean that every congregation will last forever. When God’s Word is taken for granted, neglected, is not preached or heard, or read or studied, it is not the end of God’s Word. It is merely the end of those congregations and the end of Christians in those places where God’s Word is taken for granted, neglected, is not preached or heard, or read or studied. Christians do not and cannot exist apart from the Word of God.

The people of Israel had God’s Word, but they rejected it and lost it, so now they have nothing. The apostles and many after them brought the Gospel to many nations and peoples throughout Europe, but they neglected it and now they have Islam. Rome also had God’s Word but rejected it, and now they have the pope. So you dare not think you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt for God’s Word will not let it remain. Therefore, take hold and hang on tightly, while you are able to grab and to hold. Neglecting to hear and read God’s Word has never turned out well for anyone (partially rephrased from Luther’s Letter to the Town-Councilmen, AE:45, 351-352).

Hearing and reading God’s Word, however, always brings blessing. Faith is created through the Word of God. Trust in God’s promises comes from the Word of God. Comfort comes the Word of God.

Only in God’s Word do you hear of the comfort that comes from having your sins forgiven. Only in God’s Word do you hear that your warfare with God is over, that your iniquity is pardoned. Only in God’s Word do you hear that because of God’s promises to you that stand forever, you will have comfort forever.

We will wither and fade, but God’s promises to us will stand forever. Because God’s promises to us will stand forever, after we have withered and faded, we will have eternal comfort in the joys of Paradise, and our comfort will endure forever. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

A Son Named Isaac

Midweek Advent Sermon – A Son Named Isaac

Dear people who are waiting for God to fulfil His promises: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Abraham was not always a believer in the one true God. He had lived with his father Terah across the Euphrates from the promised land, in Ur of the Chaldeans in Old Babylonia. Then his name was Abram, and he worshipped other gods as did everyone who lived there, and they had a lot of them. The people of Ur had invented some 4000 gods. These are the gods Abram served.

God called Abram to leave his false gods, along with his country and kindred and father’s house, promising to make a great nation of him in the land promised to him. God promised to make his name great, so that he will be a blessing. God promised to bless those who bless Abram and curse those who dishonour him. God promised the land to Abram and to his offspring after him; his offspring which God promised would be like the dust of the earth.

Abram believed God, and at age seventy-five, took Sarai his wife, and Lot his nephew to travel to the promised land.

They settled in the land, and time passed. God once again spoke to Abram and said, “’Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward will be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless… Behold, you have given me no offspring.’”

God had promised Abram offspring like the dust of the earth, but at an age past seventy-five, and Sarai past sixty-five, they still had no children. Abram figured a slave from his household would end up being his heir, but God said, “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” God brought Abram outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.

Abram believed God. He trusted God’s promise to him. Thus, God said that Abram is righteous. That’s what righteousness is – trusting God’s Word; having faith in God’s promises; believing what God says is true.

Ten years went by in the promised land. Abram still had no children at eighty-five, while Sarai was seventy-five.

What often happens when time passes after God makes a promise and it is yet to be fulfilled? Doubt. Doubt happens. Maybe God meant something else. Maybe I have to do something to make God’s promise come true. Maybe God has forgotten what He said.

Sarai convinced Abram to have a child with one of her servants. Maybe that’s what God meant. Maybe that’s what had to be done to make God’s promise true. Maybe God forgot what He promised. But, no, that is not what God meant, and God did not forget.

Time passed once again. The Lord changed Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “father of a multitude,” and Sarai’s name to Sarah, which means “princess.” God once again promised Abraham, now ninety-nine years old, saying, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”

Sarah laughed at God’s promise, as Abraham had done earlier. The way of women had ceased to be with the eighty-nine-year-old Sarah. She said to herself, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” God rebuked Sarah for her laughter and said, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

God did fulfil His promise to Abraham and Sarah, even though human wisdom said God’s promise was impossible. The overwhelming realities of life said that God’s promise cannot be true. Nature, science, and experience all contradicted God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah.

Human wisdom, the realities of life, nature, science, and experience were all wrong. God’s promise proved true, as God blessed Abraham and Sarah with a son, Isaac.

To us, Christ has promised that He will return and make all things new, that He will raise the dead, that He will give everlasting life to those who belong to Him. Human wisdom, the realities of life, nature, science, and experience say that His promise is impossible. We don’t see anything getting newer or better. Everything is getting older and worse. Creation is becoming more and more corrupt and evil. We are getting older, and sicker, and fewer, and we still struggle with the same sins with which we have always struggled.

Christ promised to return quickly. Two thousand years later, His promise is more likely to make us laugh with Sarah than to say, “Amen.”

What often happens when time passes after God makes a promise and it is yet to be fulfilled? Doubt. Doubt happens. Maybe God meant something else. Maybe I have to do something to make God’s promise come true. Maybe God has forgotten what He said.

We need rebuke for our laughter and doubting, our lack of trust and unbelief. We need to be asked, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” God rebukes us for our doubting. We fear the Lord, knowing we deserve much worse than a rebuke, and we pray, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”

The Lord does help us in our unbelief. He helps us in our unbelief by being true to His promises. Yes, He fulfilled His promise to Abraham and Sarah. Even more, He fulfilled His promise to all mankind by sending His Son into the world to take on our flesh. The long-awaited Saviour of the nations came to save us from our sins.

Isaac was a son of promise for Abraham and Sarah; Jesus is a Son of promise for all mankind. As Isaac carried the wood for his own sacrifice on his back up the mountain, so Jesus carried the wood of His cross for His sacrifice on His back as He headed up to Golgotha. Isaac, the only son of his father, was led by his father to be sacrificed, as Jesus, the only Son of God the Father, was led by His Father to be sacrificed.

Isaac was not sacrificed, however. There was a substitutionary sacrifice for Isaac. The ram caught by its horns in the thicket was sacrificed instead of Isaac.

Jesus was sacrificed. He is the substitutionary sacrifice for all mankind. He suffered and died for us and in our place, and He thus fulfilled God’s promises throughout history to save us. Jesus was sacrificed for our sins so that we will not die eternally.

Through Abraham’s years of waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled, God worked and strengthened faith in Abraham. Thus, Abraham trusted God’s promise that his offspring would be like the dust of the earth and the stars of the heavens to the point that he was willing to sacrifice his only son, trusting that God could even raise Isaac from the dead if need be. So also, God works faith in us throughout our lives, through times of waiting for God to fulfil His promises to us. He strengthens our faith so that we will trust His promises, including the promise that Christ will return and make all things new.

We believe the Lord, and He counts it to us as righteousness. We believe God, because He always keeps His Word. We trust God’s promises to us. Thus, God says that we are righteous. That’s what righteousness is – trusting God’s Word; having faith in God’s promises; believing what God says is true.

This faith is the gift of God that comes from His Word. God works faith in us through His Word, and God strengthens us in His Word to trust His promises even when human wisdom, the realities of life, nature, science, and experience tell us what God promises is impossible.

Nothing is too hard for the Lord. Thus, we pray, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief,” and “Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Rend the Heavens and Come Down

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent based on Isaiah 64:1-9

Dear people of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down. Isaiah longed for God to come from heaven to earth to see the suffering and affliction of His people. He longed for God to have pity on them and rescue them from their enemies.

Their enemies had trampled down God’s sanctuary among His people (Is. 63:18). Isaiah prayed that God would come down and make their enemies tremble at His presence; that He would reveal Himself in terror to those who terrorized His people. Even creation’s most secure elements are insecure in God’s presence, as even the mountains quake when God comes down. The mighty man who is bold to fight and tyrannize other men, cowers and cries aloud in fear before God (cf. Zeph. 1:14).

Yet, it was God who gave His people into the hand of their enemies because they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit (Is. 63:10). Therefore God turned into their enemy, and Himself fought against them. God was angry with them and hid His face from them.

Isaiah confessed their sins to God. He said, “Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.”

Why would Isaiah still pray to God that He would rend the heavens and come down? What hope is there for sinners before God who tears the heavens open and makes the mountains and nations quake at His presence? What hope is there for sinners before God; sinners whose righteous deeds are filthy rags? If their righteous deeds are filthy rags, how much worse are their unrighteous deeds? If their good works deserve punishment, how much worse punishment do their sins and evil works deserve? Why pray to God that He would rend the heavens and come down?

When God came down to Mount Sinai and gave His Law, His voice shook the earth. There was thunder and lightning and the sound of a trumpet and the mountain was smoking. The people were afraid and trembled and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Ex. 19:16-20:21; Heb. 12:18-29) Why pray to God that He would rend the heavens and come down?

Isaiah tells us. He prays, “But now, O Lord, You are our Father… Behold, please look, we are all Your people.” Because God is their Father, Isaiah prays that He would answer the plea for compassion and salvation for His children. Because they are God’s people, Isaiah prays that God would not be so terribly angry or remember their iniquity forever.

This is the same plea that Moses had for God’s people when thy fell into sin and worshiped the golden calf. God threatened to destroy them all, but Moses pleaded with Him, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? … Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” (Ex. 32:9-18)

The plea is for God to rend the heavens and come to His people in mercy, despite our sinfulness. Remember the promises you made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Remember the promises you made to us in our Baptism when you put Your name on us and made us Your people.

God is merciful to us for His own name’s sake; for His own glory. His glory is to snatch us from the devil. God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature… and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die (SC III.3).

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down. Come rescue us from sin, death, and the devil. Not because we deserve it, but because we are Your people. Come rescue us from this evil world. Not because we merit such salvation, but because You are our dear Father and we are your dear children. Come rescue us from our own sins because we cannot save ourselves, and you are merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

The Church prays that God would rend the heavens and come down, and the Church waits. The Church at the time of Isaiah and Moses waited for the promised Saviour to come. Ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin and God promised them a Saviour, the Church waited for the Christ. He did come. He came and fulfilled the Law of God on our behalf, took the punishment our sins deserve, and suffered and died for us. Now the Church waits once again. We wait for Christ to return as He has promised.

Advent is about waiting. Yes, waiting for and looking forward to Christmas, but even more waiting for and looking forward to Christ’s return, when He will rend the heavens and come down. Yes, He will come in power and great might. The mountains will quake, and the nations will tremble in His presence. He will destroy His enemies.

To His people, however, He will give everlasting life. He will not be terribly angry with us; all of His anger was poured out on Jesus. He will not remember our iniquity, He has removed our sins from us. He will remember His promises to us and He will save us eternally as He has promised.

Thus, the Church prays, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.