Archive for the ‘ISAIAH 40:1-11’ Category

Comfort…Do You Need It?

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist, June 24, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Do you need comfort?  Did you notice that I didn’t ask you if you wanted comfort, I asked do you need it?  There’s a difference.  If I were to ask you if  you wanted me to comfort you, and if you weren’t going through any perceived crisis or threat, you’d probably think I was out of my mind.  But if I  were to tell you, I have comfort to give and you will see a need for it in the future, would you let me comfort you?

Such was the case in our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 40:1-5).  The Prophet Isaiah is proclaiming the very heart of God; God wants to comfort His covenant people;  He wants Isaiah to speak tenderly to them and declare that their warfare is ended and their sins are forgiven.  In fact, He wants His people to know that  within this comfort comes a double portion of blessing, directly from the hand of their Creator and Redeemer God!  But they didn’t get it.  They saw no  need for comfort because their lives seemed to be going smooth.  They still had their homes, a good job, money to buy food, and national pride!  Why  what more could they want?  So comfort, no thanks Isaiah, but we will take that double portion of blessing from God that you mentioned.

What they refused to acknowledge was God’s appraisal of their sinful lives.  They refused to agree with God that how they were living was sinful; that God  was right and they were wrong.  They refused to hear God’s Word of Law.  And because of that, God promised through the prophet Isaiah that they  would be destroyed as a nation and occupied; they would be forcefully removed from their homeland and taken away in bondage.  They would feel  helpless and abandoned.  Then they would want comfort, because then they would see a need for it.  So through the prophet, God is saying, here is My  comfort, and after knowing all that I’ve told you, do you think you need it?

Do you need His comfort?  If you find yourself this morning a little like the stiff necked people of Judah that Isaiah was preaching to, thinking that your life is fine right now, let me help you out a little by being blunt.  You do need His comfort and so do I!  We need His comfort because we are sinful and broken!

Do you understand that everything that is and ever will be wrong with your life is the result of your sin and the sin of people around you?  Somewhere in your past, maybe even in the near past you have made decisions that you knew were unpleasing to God;  maybe you’ve done something or failed to do something that has had a drastic effect on your present or your future.  God wants you to know that you can’t undo that past, but you can find comfort.

Maybe there’s a character flaw in your personality that keeps hurting the people closest to you; maybe the hurt you’ve caused others is so deep that you may never have a loving and healthy relationship with them ever again.  Maybe because of that sin, you feel alone and abandoned?  If so God says that He has come to bring you comfort!

Perhaps, at one time you seemed to have everything.  God had blessed you with money, reputation, and authority, but now it seems that all of this has been taken from you.  You may see yourself as a shadow of what you once were.  If so, God wants me to speak comfort to you this morning.

Or maybe, you are looking back at your family, your children and it seems that what was once a strong Christian family has become dysfunctional and distant from God and His divine service.  Maybe the hunger to know God’s forgiving love and mercy is no longer a priority to you or your children.  Maybe you’ve struggled with answering the question who is to blame?  Is it your fault, your adult children, or a combination of the two?  This morning God is telling you that regardless of who is to blame, He wants to bring peace and comfort to you and your family.

And finally, maybe God wants us to look back together as a congregation and see how far we’ve fallen as a worshiping family of faith.  Maybe He wants us to look back at our strong legacy of sharing the gospel that was once Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.  Maybe He wants us to see how we are but a shadow of what we once were, and then agree with Him that our fall from greatness is the result of our own sin as a congregation.  Maybe within our collective congregational guilt, you too can find some personal responsibility and guilt on account of what you failed to do or give that would have helped the church’s mission?  If so, God wants me to speak Words of comfort to you this morning!

What is this message of comfort?  Simply this, your warfare is over, the battle is won!  You no longer have to worry about how you will account for  your sinful life to God; you don’t have to wonder what you can do in order to take away your guilt.

This morning, God is telling each of us that it’s good that we see our sin and our inevitable death as punishment for that sin; that’s the proper work of His law.  But God also wants you to hear and believe the other portion of His Word that brings you new life, the gospel.  He wants you to know that if your sinful heart longs for freedom and release from your guilt, then He has heard your cry.  He has sent His Son, your Savior and King to take away your guilt.  Yes you have sinned, and yes your sin is offensive to your holy and perfect God, but He and He alone has acted to take away that sin.  You need never worry that God will not forgive, or that He will take away His love from you.  Instead, He wants you to hear His Words of comfort.  You are forgiven!  You are no longer locked up in a prison of your own making.  Your sin no longer defines you.  In other words, you are no longer a slave to your sin.  The devil can no longer threaten you with an eternity of punishment in hell, because Jesus has come to set you free.  Upon the cross His life-blood was spilled to set you free!

And to make sure that you will have no doubt about God’s complete and perfect work, He makes the gospel very personal, by coming to you in the waters of your own baptism.  It is there where He assures you that every one of your sins has been washed away and that you have been, and everyday are being recreated into the very image of your Savior, Jesus Christ!  Just as Judah could not pay for her own guilt that Isaiah made so plain to them in his preaching, you can do nothing as well.  You are helpless and must depend totally on God’s mercy; you must stake everything on His undeserved love.  And in your baptism, that is what you do every day.  You remember that it was God alone who saved you and is saving you.  Listen, its true, someone must pay for your sins, and someone has; it is Jesus Christ, not just the Son of God and your Savior, but the Heavenly Father’s Suffering Servant who came to suffer in your place! In your baptism, Jesus took away your guilt and sin and exchanged it with His obedient life and death upon the cross.  So in your baptism, God wants you to see that on the cross, Jesus not only took away the sins of the world, but He especially took away your sins!  Hear this word, believe it, and be comforted!

But there is one more piece of comforting news for you this morning.  God has not come to the world in one great moment upon the cross and then left us alone.  He did not come to you once in your baptism to wash you clean with the water and the Word and then abandoned you.  No, His Word this morning promises you a double portion of blessing; in other words the blessing of His real presence is with you, it is eternal, and it will never end.

In this season of Pentecost, God wants you to remember that His Holy Spirit is with you always.  When you were baptized, God put His seal upon you and declared to the devils and this sinful world, “This one is mine!”  He is always with you protecting and blessing you.  When you read God’s Word and stay in that Word, His Spirit is teaching you things so great that the angels stand in awe.  In His Word you hear and understand about a comfort from God that will never leave you or forsake you!  In His Word you learn that while God will not take away the discomfort and the temporary consequences of your sin, He has taken away the eternal consequence.  “You are free!  You are forgiven!”  Now that is a message of double blessing, and through the Holy Spirit He repeats it to you over and over!

Now do you see that you have really received a double blessing? Good, then God wants you to leave this place with not just gratitude and appreciation, but with a new personality; a new mindset.  God wants you to leave here knowing one simple thing.

You have been blessed to be a blessing to others.  How?  By speaking the gospel; by speaking the same message of comfort to your neighbor.  Speak the gospel and live the gospel.  And as you speak and live the gospel, God wants you to invite others to be changed by the gospel.  Tell them that there is a place at 7210 Lisbon Street, in the city of San Diego, where they too can hear a message of comfort that will change them just as it has changed and is changing you.

This morning friends, it is my prayer that you not only see your need for comfort but that you would also want it, now and always.  I pray that God has shown you that you are not to be defined by your past, by what you have done or failed to do, but only by what the Son of God Jesus Christ did for you upon the cross and what He gave to you within your own baptism.  I pray that this realization will change you and you like St. John the baptizer, you will leave this place speaking and living a message of repentance; always turning to Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith and your Christian life.  I pray this always in Jesus name… AMEN!

Behold Your God!

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

2nd Sunday in Advent B, December 4th, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Isaiah 40:1-11

Click here for audio of this message

What kind of God do we serve?  When we give a testimony about Him to our neighbors, what should we say?  Well listen to His own  Words and then behold your God: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and 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.

Not just once, “Comfort”, but twice, “Comfort, comfort.” So the Lord begins with a single repeated command; it’s a command to the  preacher of God’s Word, that would be me, and it’s a command to God’s ambassadors, that would be you. This command flows from the  mind of God, and God himself directed it to his messengers, messengers who will announce the good news of his love. God wants  everyone to hear this message. He claims all people as His own when He calls them, “my people.”  Think about that for a moment; after  all of our unfaithfulness, all our rebellion, all our sins, we are still his people. God remains our God; for us He is still faithful and  gracious, just as he promised to be: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and  faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6, 7).

What is our warfare?  It is our struggle to fulfill God’s Law.  It is realizing that because of our sin we can’t make things right with God.  But in order for our warfare to be over, in order to receive a double portion of God’s own comfort we will need to see our sin and want it removed; we need to hunger for His forgiveness; we need to receive it according to His terms and not ours.  Each of us must admit that we alone bear the responsibility for our hard life, the hard service that our life represents.  It was our own sin that separated us from God’s love and it is our insistence on atoning for that sin our own way that causes such warfare.

This morning God’s is asking each of us to agree with Him that all of our accomplishments, the things that we count as good are like grass and the beauty of wild flowers in a field.  The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it, when He calls us home.  Then all of our goodness vanishes as we stand before a perfect and holy God.

This was the message of John the Baptist as he lived his life proclaiming the way of the Lord; preparing the way of the Lord!

This morning, that same Word, that same message is crying out to us from the wilderness of our hearts: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Prepare the way of the Lord. To our sinful ears, this is a hard word to understand, because it sounds like God is asking us to do even more to earn His love; but that is exactly what He isn’t saying.  No, instead, He’s telling us that He will no longer let us do things our way.   To prepare the way of the Lord means to prepare ourselves for the Lord’s activity in us, so that He alone may be our source of help and pride; so that our lives and eternities will be one with His Son Jesus Christ. But how is this way prepared? What are the obstacles and obstructions we are to remove?  Nothing other than our own arrogance and pride. Those are the very things that prevent people from receiving the grace of Christ.

So how hard can it be?  Well to walk this way, you have to get onto God’s royal highway naked as a Jay bird!  You can’t travel with any merits of your own; you have to receive only the clothing that God provides!  You must be clothed only with His double gifts of grace and faith!  Your heart must agree with the psalmist and say: “If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand,” (who could walk on your royal road to your royal kingdom)? “But with you there is forgiveness (there is grace and faith)” [Psalm 130:3]

Now, this is where all sinners equally stand at the edge of a cliff; they will either allow God to turn them away from certain death and see the beauty of God’s way, or they will ignore the way of the Lord all together and jump head-long into pride and an eternity of death.  Those who chose death hear the command to prepare the way of the Lord and say, “What more do you want me to do? I go to church every Sunday and I try to be good. What do you want from me now?” But what they fail to see is that if there is any doing to be done, it must be done by God.  They fail to see that the mountains and valleys that God wants leveled are in our own hearts.  Martin Luther said that the Mountains are saints, and valleys are sinners. As we stand before God all of us are the same without distinction, whether we are saints or sinners. In fact, you who are baptized are both at the same time!  This is the way of God; He levels the playing field.  But why? So that the gospel can be receive by everyone with the exact same assurance; God’s Word gives exactly what it promises… an eternal life of peace with God.  Before God all things must be leveled.

In God’s declaration of double comfort is the assurance that the Law has been fulfilled for us.  Our sin has been removed from us.  He is telling us that we have been set free from our sins, not by working and struggling but by the forgiveness that the Son of God, Jesus Christ provided for us through His suffering and death upon the cross. This is the continual message of God’s Word, which teaches deliverance from sins by forgiveness and grace; grace completely removed from anything we do or fail to do.  This is not the way of the world, but it is God’s way!  God’s way is the gospel, and the gospel doesn’t look backwards at the life we led, but it looks to Jesus Christ upon the cross Who and says, “Believe God, trust in God. For your faith receives forgiveness for sins.”

Faith is completely a gift from God.  It allows you to hear His Word and believe it.  It is a Word, which declares that you are no longer a slave to sin; you are no longer locked in the dungeon of fear and pain! Your hard service is over, not because you’ve earned it or because you’ve done your time and satisfied the law. No, your bondage is over because God has provided your release through his Son, Jesus Christ!

Jesus alone paid the debt, a debt caused by every twisted and perverted sin ever committed, even your sins!  Your debt has been paid off. Your sins are forgiven; they  were paid for by the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

So as our reading says this morning, we have been paid double.  Not only have we been forgiven and promised to receive the blessing of an eternal life of peace with God, but we may also enjoy that blessing in the here and now, in this sinful world.  But you have been blessed to be a blessing to others.  How?  By speaking the gospel.  The gospel alone saves people from all sin.  It alone is what saved you, correct?  So the voice of God speaks to us this morning and says, Cry out!  You who have heard the good news and been freed from the bondage of your own sins, “lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, and do not be afraid; say to the people in your community, “Here is your God!”  See the Sovereign Lord born in a manger; see Him high and lifted up, crucified for you… for your sins.  He is the Sovereign Lord who is coming again with power and His arm rules for Him.  His arm is His Holy Word, and His reward and recompense is in the gospel for you.  Jesus died to save you!

Speak the gospel, and do not be afraid to give your witness, because that witness and the Word of God are the very power of God!  No one can become a Christian, no one can be saved unless they hear the Word of God and receive the gift of faith from God which comes through the hearing of His Word.

I’d like to close with a Christmas story that explains very nicely how God prepares us and puts us on His road of salvation.  It was Christmas almost Fifty years ago when a man named Rex was stationed in Korea as a young Marine lieutenant. His wife and new born daughter were home in the United States.

On Christmas morning the thermometer hovered around zero with several inches of snow covering the ground. Outdoor worship services were planned and Rex decided to attend out of respect and “to set a good example for the other men.” Nearly two hundred Marines turned out for the service. They sat on their helmets in the snow. They faced a small portable altar. The chaplains had no microphones, and the portable organ suffered from the extreme cold.

Something happened to Rex in that worship service. God broke into his life. He thought of all that was precious to him: home, his wife, his unseen infant child. In that moment as they tried to sing Christmas carols in the cold air he realized that knowing God does not depend on anything he has done or will do; it doesn’t depend on a building or nice clothes, instead knowing God is an act that God does in our hearts so that it can be celebrated and shared with others.” Far from home and loved ones, Rex realized that Christmas Day — in itself — is not important, but the faith it represents is.”

The truth is, God often breaks into our lives in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. He always does it through His Word and He does it through people speaking and sharing that Word.

Behold the mystery of your God; He comes to you in your own language!  Born as a baby in a manger; beaten and bloodied by the government and mocked with the words, “Behold your king!”  Crucified to silence Him, and now reigning with power and might!  Behold your God!  Behold the Lord God comes as your Savior who will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, (even you); he will carry (you) in his bosom, and gently lead to your eternal heavenly home.  Come Lord Jesus, come!  AMEN!

Lasting Comfort

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

The Second Wednesday of Advent
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego, CA

Isaiah 40: 1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD‘s hand double for all her sins.

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.


INRODUCTION: Tonight’s service centers around Zachariah’s Song!  Does that seem a little odd to you?  We know that Marry has a song (it’s called the Magnificat), but what is all this about Zachariah Song?  Glad you asked!  Zachariah’s song is really prophecy that God spoke through Zachariah concerning a question that was asked about his son, John the Baptist.  Verse 66 in our Gospel lesson is where we find this question: “What then is this child going to be?”  The answer to this question is what provided great comfort to Zachariah, his wife, and latter their son John. 


What gives you comfort?  Maybe it’s your favorite pair of shoes or a well worn sweat-shirt? For some it’s a favorite food that Mom used to make.  I have a friend who swears that he finds comfort only at the seashore, and then I have a few acquaintances who say that there is nothing like a good stiff drink or two to bring real comfort.  All these things are ways that we use to relax, but…do these things really bring comfort during times of illness, death or crisis?  They didn’t for Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, but he did find comfort.  Tonight, I would like to examine a period in Zachariah’s life and his true source of comfort and then see if you and I can turn there as well.


I. The story of Zachariah is the beginning of John the Baptist’s story.  In our Gospel lesson, we join Zachariah, family, and friends on the eighth day of life for baby John, who would be called “the Baptizer.”   It is his circumcision day and that was a big event in the life of a Jewish male; in ceremony, it was much like our sacrament of baptism.  It took place in the town synagogue.  Walk with me in your minds eye, up the stone steps and into the stone building that was the local synagogue. 


As you enter, your eyes haven’t quite adjusted to the dark, but your eyes are drawn to some torches around a stone table, and you see a group of people gathered around that table.  You soon realize that this is the family of Zachariah the priest, and you are here to witness his son’s circumcision.  There’s his wife, Elizabeth, boy she sure is old looking, and then you remember that’s because she really is old.  What a miracle story that is.  Here is a woman unable to conceive throughout her childbearing years and now, well somehow she had this baby.  You feel happy for her and you also remember hearing a strange story about how this little baby was jumping for joy in his mother’s womb when Elizabeth’s cousin Mary came to visit.  Elizabeth told everyone that her baby was excited because Mary was also pregnant, but not just with any normal baby but with the Messiah!  Could this be true?  Well, at any rate, now that your eyes are beginning to adjust to the light, you see Zachariah, the proud father.  He’s been literally silent for the last nine months.  You heard that something happened to him nine months ago in the Lord’s Temple when he was performing his duties as priest.  Elizabeth said that the angel Gabriel came to him and said that a son would soon be on the way.  Zachariah doubted the Lord’s Word, so the angel said that since he would not accept the Word of the Lord, no words would be heard from his mouth either, that is not until the circumcision of his baby.


Well it looks like things are about ready to get started…there’s the Rabbi.  “I assume this baby will be named the same as his father” says the Rabbi.   But Elizabeth screams out, “No! He is to be called John.” The Rabbi quickly turns to Zachariah and says “But there are no Johns in your family, what is this woman talking about?!”  Zachariah signals for a writing tablet and at the same time he writes and screams out, “His name is John.”  So Zachariah gets his voice back just as promised and the baby gets a surprise name that’s a good one too!  You see, John means, “The Lord is faithful.” 

God has been faithful to Elizabeth and given her a son, and he has been faithful to Zachariah when he promised that his voice would return after the boy was named John, but He has been faithful about another promise that is far more important than any of this, and through the Holy Spirit, Zechariah is keenly aware of this.  Now, with his voice in the best form that it has ever been, Zachariah begins to sing a song about his child, but it is really a song about what the Lord will do first through John, and then through Mary’s Son, the Son of God, the Messiah.  It is a song of hope, it is a song of prophecy fulfilled, and it is a song of comfort!


And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high  to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” [vs. 76-79]

Zechariah knew that the arrival of his son meant the fulfillment of every prophetic word that was ever spoken concerning the Messiah.  He knew that his son John was the fulfillment of our Old Testament Lesson tonight, found in Isaiah 40 that speaks of a prophet crying in the desert: “prepare the way of the Lord.”  ““Comfort my people!  Comfort them!” says your God.”  He knew that his son was the one that would come in the power of Elijah, drawing men to the saving work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Before John, a host of great prophets had been sent by God to announce the future coming of the Messiah; they told of a time when God would wipe all tears and save men from their fears and sins.  Prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah said “Wait just a little longer.  The Messiah IS coming.”  But now, John gets to say, “Your wait is over-He IS here!  Your Savior has come and He will make all things new!  Prepare the way of the LORD!”  Zechariah knew that John would preach about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of not just the Jews but the world.  The Savior who delivers men from darkness and sets those held captive by their sins free!  John would preach that men could now, through the Messiah find peace with God!

II. Dear friends,  Zechariah found comfort in God’s promises now fulfilled, because he saw not only what the coming Messiah meant for his son John, himself and the Jews, but he saw into time and knew what it would mean for all the world, for all time.  He knew what it would mean for you and me.  He knew not only what kind of child John was, but he also knew what kind of child you and I would be because of the saving act of the Messiah…. precious children of God!  We are the righteous children of God not by our own reason or works, but solely because of what Jesus has done for us.  This is the same Jesus that John would continuously point to, and eventually die for.  This baby Jesus, whose birth we will celebrate in just two short weeks, grew up in time and obediently went to the cross for our sins; He died and rose to life again for you.  When he obediently washed in the waters of John’s baptism, God the father declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  At your baptism, for Jesus’ sake, God the Father declared the exact same thing about you.  Because of Jesus, to whom John pointed, you are a child of God and an heir to eternal life.

III. As a child, Advent always struck me as strange; I would wonder, “Why are we waiting for something that has already happened?”  We wait for baby Jesus to be born to save us, but he has already come and saved us.  But now as an adult I have come to really appreciate the full meaning of Advent.  During advent we remember how the whole world waited for the messiah to come, and we do this by waiting in our own lives for our savior to come again and make all things new and right!  Just like those before us, we also wait in a world full of sin.  We need help to find comfort and hope.  We need healing from the many hurts that life dishes out, and God gives us that help and it is found in His Word.  God’s Word is living and active.  Through His Word, Jesus is here with us!  He first came to us in the waters of our Baptism and He promised that He would never leave or forsake us.  He comes to us in His Supper and says “This is my body, and this is my blood.”  “Through His Word He says, “Behold I am with you always, even to the end of time.”  Dear friends, apart from the Word of God no real comfort exists. 

CONCLUSION: Tonight, may I suggest something new this advent season?  You know that during lent, we give something up.  I suggest that during advent we take something up, or pick something up that is, God’s Word!  Let us resolve ourselves to grow in faith by reading His Word and joining with God in prayer daily and regularly, and as we grow in faith we will also experience the joy and comfort that Zechariah found.