Life Sunday #2 – 2015 LSB #608
Text – Isaiah 40:1-2
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem & cry to her that her warfare is ended that her iniquity is pardoned that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
MATTERS OF THE HEART
The prophet Isaiah is speaking to God’s people. These words are not his because they come from the heart of God. The words, Isaiah & the other prophets had to speak, were not always words of comfort. Sometimes they were words of judgment to turn people away from sin. Did you know that the primary origin of sin is a matter of faith, & a matter of the heart?
The unique & defining attribute of Judeo-Christian faith is monotheism – belief in one God. Yahweh’s people lived in a pagan culture that worshipped many gods. It was tempting to be “of” the world & pursue the gods of the surrounding culture.
The chosen people of Israel often yielded to that temptation & their idolatry made necessary the call of the prophets. They had to recognize the foolishness of their behavior, to repent & return to faith in the only true & life-giving Lord.
Now, fertility of the soil is essential to an agrarian people. Their crops & herds are most easily seen as their source of sustenance & wealth. As such they’re easily seduced & attracted to pagan fertility gods & goddesses. In that culture, as others, prosperity was a sign of value & of importance.
Fertility gods like Baal, Ashtarte, Dagon, & Milcon were worshipped when people brought offerings & participated in sexual acts with the priests or priestesses at the temple. They did this because the temple was where the image or statue, of the idol, was kept.
Productivity & success were connected to perverse displays of human sexuality, contrary to God’s Word & to God’s will. The abuse of human sexuality was never more apparent than in the worship of Molech. This idol was worshiped either by offering your children to grow up as temple prostitutes or as a human sacrifices, consumed by fire. Our heavenly Father’s absolute prohibition against such behavior is recorded multiple times in Leviticus, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos & Malachi. It was considered far worse than a transgression of the commandments.
This act is considered so atrocious that to engage in such activity is to profane the name of God, to profane His character, His very person. It was considered so egregious because it was contrary to the essence of our Creator, who is pure & holy.
At chapter 44, Isaiah comments on the nature of these idols. People shape these gods from wood. They use some of the wood for heating their home or cooking their food & with the rest of it they fashion a god. They attribute power & greatness to this image thus deceiving others into trusting it, worshipping it & serving it.
These idols were shaped into the form of human beings “in all their glory.” The images were sexually explicit, crafted to encourage people to pursue sexual pleasure & gratification, thus legitimizing it as a form of worship. Yet these gods cannot see. They cannot understand. They are as blind & ignorant as those who create them.
And if they are nothing more than an invention of human beings, then worshiping them is nothing more than the worship of human beings, along with an excuse to indulge in shameless immorality. The true idol is human sexuality & the promotion of licentious behavior. Instead of giving life, these gods destroy it & the relationships around it.
The worship of idols destroys our relationship with the living Lord God as well the people closest to us. It made children, the by-product of those sexual acts, mere offerings to be consumed or objects to be used for even more perverse sexual indulgence. You & I live in a world that has been equally deceived; a culture that is sexually charged & explicit. People are reduced to nothing more than their sexuality. The entertainment industry flaunts the idols they want us to worship & desire, encouraging us to act on our desires, to fulfill our lusts & to pleasure ourselves no matter how perverse or contrary to the will of God.
Addiction to pornography & participation in prostitution are growing. Instead of sources of shame, they’re lauded as legitimate business, or as a first amendment right – the freedom of speech.
Abortion is equally connected to our sexually charged culture as both devalue human life & relationships for the sake of momentary pleasure or selfish fulfillment. The horror of abortion is no less egregious than the behavior of those who worshipped Molech by sacrificing their children to the idol of human sexuality. Our nation’s people desperately need Isaiah’s words.
The greatest temptation for God’s people is to engage in self-deception – believing it’s possible to balance the idolatry of the culture with their faith in the Lord God. I’ve heard Christians say this – they support a woman’s right to choose, even though they personally would not have an abortion.
They believe they can embrace the surrounding culture with its idolatry while at the same time they can remain faithful to their Savior. St. Paul points out to the church in Rome how impossible this merging of belief is. Attempting to do so creates greater separation & alienation from our Lord. The Apostle wrote:
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, & their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, & exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man & birds & animals & creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie & worshiped & served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Romans 1: 21-25)
Paul is pointing out that all sexual sin is a symptom of a greater problem. The Bible
reveals that our main problem is refusing to find satisfaction in God’s beauty & goodness as the center of our existence. Rather, we horde the gifts of creation & we treasure them over the Creator to whom they point. These gifts were given by our heavenly Creator to bless & remind us of why He alone is worthy to be loved with all our heart & mind, soul & strength.
The seductive focus on the gifts of creation, such as sexuality, instead of on the Creator, produces within us a spiritual disorientation. That then spills over into every aspect of our existence. We soon find ourselves participants in life-destroying behaviors, having alienated ourselves from the only true source of life & love.
Reflecting on the need for celebrating Life Sunday we acknowledge that all of us are participants in a culture which promotes values that lead to the acceptance of abortion as a right. In many ways we’ve failed to speak up in opposition. We’ve accepted it as inescapable.
We’ve compromised through believing it’s possible to live by the values of the secular culture & Christian faith. Instead of pointing the finger of judgment at others, we too are convicted by the wise counsel of God through the prophet Isaiah. We need to hear His words.
This is truly a matter of the heart – yours & mine! This is a matter of the heart that is more than a book by Danielle Steel, more than a song by Tracy Chapman. It is more than our feelings, our pleasure, or preoccupation with our own desires. This is really the greatest matter of the heart – the Lordship of God in our lives. It is the issue raised in the 1st commandment.
What place does God have in our lives? Luther made it clear in his explanation to the 1st commandment. An idol is anything we give priority over God’s rightful place. That can be a New Year’s Eve party over the worship service. It is a matter of the heart to admit that God is in control. He is King of kings & Lord of lords.
Yahweh has no limitations & is without equal regarding influence or power. So consider
what the Bible declares about His rightful place in our heart: “God is above all things & before all things. He is the Alpha & the Omega, the beginning & the end. He is immortal, & He is present everywhere so that everyone can know Him. (Revelation 21:6) “God created all things & holds all things together, both in heaven & on earth, both visible & invisible.” (Colossians 1:16)
“God knows all things past, present & future. There is no limit to His knowledge, for God knows everything completely before it even happens.” (Romans 11:33) God can do all things & accomplish all things. Nothing is too difficult for Him, & He orchestrates & determines everything that is going to happen in your life, in my life, & throughout the world.
Whatever He wants to do in the universe, He does, for nothing is impossible with Him. If God has that position of lordship in our heart, then He alone rules our lives. His Word guides & directs our behavior, thoughts, emotions & desires. His Word shapes our values & decisions. When His Word conflicts with the values of the world we oppose the world & follow Jesus.
Above all else, His Word proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the profound nature of His love for us. In the life, death & resurrection of Jesus we receive the promise of salvation & redemption. His love for you in Christ has the power to free you from bondage to any idol, all competing cultural values, all self-destructive behavior. That is the greatest word of comfort.
“Comfort, comfort my people says your God.” The Holy Spirit is the Comforter Jesus promised to send. It’s the power of the Holy Spirit that transforms your life & guides you in paths of righteousness. To those who admit their sins & who struggle to turn in the direction of faith in Christ Jesus, we are called to “speak tenderly.”
To those who grieve the fact they’ve compromised their faith to worship idols, embraced culture above Christ, or joined in perverse sexual activity, God speaks a tender word into your heart. If your words & deeds have contributed to the acceptance of abortion & you now long for transformation & the redemptive embrace of Jesus, God speaks a tender word into your heart. Yahweh commands Isaiah to cry out to His people saying their warfare has ended. Inside each of us is a spiritual war for 1st place in our heart, for who or what will be god in our lives.
When we arrive at the place of repentance, knowing we cannot save ourselves, we’ve reached a point of surrender. There’s no longer a need to resist or rebel against our Creator. God wants us to be absolutely assured that our iniquity is pardoned, our sins forgiven. That work was finished on the cross.
If we had to pay the price for our own sin the demands of justice would require us to forfeit eternal life. Instead, Jesus offers His life for ours. He pays the price for our forgiveness. There is no greater word of comfort we could receive.
Yet, though we receive forgiveness, the consequences of sin often exact a huge toll. So the final phrase of the sermon text has double meaning, “she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Thinking about abortion, I realized people receive double for the sin.
They must live with the fact that they have participated in the death of a child, the deaths of countless children across our land for generations. In addition to that, they also grieve the loss of countless relationships, the gifts those children were designed to bring into our lives, the contributions they could have made to this world.
Yet, the greater & life-giving truth of the Grace of Jesus is that it is always sufficient, more than enough. From the cross of Jesus, our Lord gives not just twice as much Grace as we need but Grace to infinity – always more than we deserve or can imagine. In this Word of God through Isaiah “Comfort, comfort my people” we receive true comfort for our heart & soul.
In The Bondage of the Will Martin Luther taught that the only way we can truly trust in these promises, which bring such comfort & assurance, is to also believe in God’s absolute lordship in all things:
“When He makes promises you ought to be out of doubt that He knows, & can & will perform, what He promises; otherwise, you will be accounting Him neither true nor faithful, which is unbelief, & the height of irreverence, & a denial of the most high God! And how can you be thus sure & certain, unless you know that certainly, infallibly, immutably & necessarily, He knows, wills & will perform what He promises?”
It is God’s absolute lordship that brings true comfort in His promises, because Yahweh’s lordship cannot fail us. It is His lordship that gives us confidence to follow Jesus, to risk obedience to His Word & will, in spite of the influence of our culture to the contrary. His lordship gives us courage to live in opposition to the emptiness of the world.
The sanctity of life is not for human choice or sexual freedom. It is for the lordship of God over all matters of living – including our sexuality & our morality. It is possible for us to have an appearance of obedience without true obedience. So our heavenly Father does not only take our behavior into consideration, but also our thoughts & our motives.
The Bible says that although people look at the outward appearance to make judgments about others, God looks at the heart to draw His conclusion. For God, heart matters are the heart of the matter. So we thank our Lord that these words of Isaiah were written for us:
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem & cry to her that her warfare is ended that her iniquity is pardoned that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Amen.
Lord, to you I make confession: I have sinned & gone astray, I have multiplied transgression, chosen for myself my way. Led by You to see my errors, Lord, I tremble at Your terrors. Yet, though conscience’ voice appall me, Father, I will seek Your face; though Your child I dare not call me, yet receive me in Your grace. Do not for my sins forsake me; let Your wrath not overtake me. Lord, on You I cast my burden – sink it in the deepest sea! Let me know Your gracious pardon, cleanse me from iniquity. Let Your Spirit leave me never; make me only Yours forever. Amen.
 Jeremiah 32:17
 The Bondage of the Will; pp. 83-84
Pastor Dean R. Poellet