Third Last Sunday Sermon
November 9, 2003
Love Greater Than a Mother’s Love”
The book of the
prophet Isaiah contains some of the most beautiful expressions of
God’s faithfulness ever written.
Isaiah, the prophet, wrote the book of prophecy that bears his
name when the nation of Judah was facing fearsome enemies from without
and deep spiritual corruption from within.
The first part of this book speaks of the impending destruction
of Jerusalem and the captivity of her people.
The second part of the Book of Isaiah speaks to the people in
captivity. God’s chosen
people had despised His pure gospel.
They practiced syncretism – a kind of smorgasbord religion –
in which they joined together the worship of God with the worship of
idols. They persecuted the
faithful prophets God sent. They
traded away the truth of God for political and social respectability
with their neighbors. The
result was the destruction their country.
God permitted enemies of His people to bring His people into
disgrace. Jerusalem lay in
ruins. Solomon’s Temple
was utterly destroyed and desecrated.
As the nation languished in captivity hundreds of miles away with
only memories of her greatness, God spoke through Isaiah and promised
release from captivity and return to the land.
As God promised to
set Judah free from her Babylonian captivity, He also promised something
far greater. We must never
forget that the Holy Spirit is the primary Author of the Holy Scriptures
and the Holy Spirit always speaks of Christ.
This is so in the Old Testament as well as in the New.
Throughout the book of Isaiah God speaks of the promised Christ
as “My Servant.” God’s
Servant will be born of a virgin. He
will bring righteousness and peace to the nations.
He will bring God’s glory to Israel and salvation to all the
nations of the world. He is
the God over all and yet He will appear in humble form.
He will be the suffering Servant who silently bears the sin of
the whole world.
We who call
ourselves Christians and are baptized into union with Christ should take
the words of our text as applying to us.
For they do. They
were written to comfort Christ’s church.
The church of the Old Testament and the church of the New
Testament are the same Christian church.
They share the same faith and are comforted by the same Spirit.
He brings us joy when we are filled with fear, dread, shame, and
The joy that God
brings to His people is so great that the prophet personifies the
heavens, the earth, and the mountains as they all join together in
joyful singing to God. Nothing
can bring greater joy to this world than the gospel of Christ.
When God’s people bring suffering and misery upon themselves by
their unfaithfulness to God they wonder if God has utterly forgotten
them. When our conscience tells us that, because we deserve to have
God forsake us this must mean that He has forsaken us, God interrupts
our lying conscience and sets us straight.
“You are wrong,” He says.
“You say that the Lord has forgotten you and forsake you.
You say this because you know that this is what you deserve.
You haven’t been faithful to your faithful God so you assume
that your God cannot tolerate you any longer.
You judge God by human standards and think Him to be lacking in
mercy sufficient for you.”
mistake. We cannot judge
God as if He were like we are. It
is natural for sinners to assume that their faithlessness will influence
God to abandon them. This
is how humanity behaves, so this must be how God will behave.
In response to this way of thinking, St. Paul writes, “For what
if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of
God without effect? Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a
liar.” (Romans 3:3-4)
When we come face
to face with our own guilt we must, if we are to survive, come face to
face with God’s mercy as well. Otherwise
we will leap to false conclusions about God and assume that He has
become our enemy. Judah and
Israel were suffering their just deserts while mourning their captivity
far away from home. They
assumed that God’s grace had run out.
They would no longer be considered God’s children.
Why else would God leave them in their condition?
He must have decided to turn against them.
Since the people were judging God by human standards, God
responded by appealing to the strongest human bond there is: the love of
a mother for her own child. God
presents the argument in language too powerful to ignore or deny: “Can
a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of
her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you.”
We are horrified
when we hear of women who murder their own children, but we shouldn’t
be surprised. The so-called
“right” to an abortion is not only the legalization of crime; it is
the exaltation of what is most unnatural to the level of the status quo.
What an abased people we Americans have become!
There is no human love stronger than the love a mother has for
the fruit of her own womb. To provide legal protection for the killing of the living but
unborn makes those who provide it criminals of the first order.
And when the Congress and President of the United States attempt
to stop only the more gruesome form of abortion – the killing of the
newborn child – godless judges presume to declare such legislation
unconstitutional. What a
tragedy! It is unthinkable
that such a thing should have happened in a country that has always
acknowledged God as the Author and Guarantor of life, but the
unthinkable has happened. Yet
even as we witness the natural love turning cold and we see the culture
of death taking over, God reminds us that His faithfulness toward us
cannot die. All that we
cherish in this world can become corrupt.
Our nation, our community, our congregation, our family, and our
own personal lives are all subject to the sin that dwells within us.
Our God cannot sin. He
cannot lie. He cannot deny Himself.
And it is by His own name, that is, by Himself that He has sworn
to be faithful to us. He
says, “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls
are continually before Me.”
False teachers will
grow stronger and bolder. As
Jesus has warned us, “For false christs and false prophets will rise
and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the
elect. See, I have told you beforehand.”
When we see these things we will wonder if God has simply turned
His people over to His enemies and abandoned them.
It looks that way.
Many churches these days don’t even attempt to preach in
accordance with the Holy Scriptures. Christ – His crucifixion and resurrection, and His
redemption of sinners – is ignored.
Instead of the preaching of the cross most churches are teaching
a so-called “gospel” of how to overcome obstacles to worldly
success. The Bible is
denied. The sacraments are
despised. Preachers have
become CEOs and congregations have become religious social clubs
designed to make people feel good about being religious.
The doctrine of sin is rejected and the doctrine of grace has
become irrelevant. Confession
and absolution have been replaced by what is called therapy.
Repentance runs counter to the doctrine of self-esteem.
Christians who labor under their sins run for help to counselors
who stand for no truth beyond the benefit of temporary emotional
acquiesce to the wholesale denial of biblical teaching by offering a
pale imitation of the secular gospel, all in the name of Jesus.
Why does God permit
such blasphemous attacks against His truth?
Why does He sit idly by and watch as His truth is denied on every
hand and nations that once embraced the gospel treat it with contempt?
Why is He silent in the face of the open and impenitent defiance
of His holy word even on the part of those who claim His holy name?
God is not silent.
He is not powerless. He
has not forgotten or forsaken His church.
He sees what we cannot see.
He sees our names written on His hands.
He sees the covenant He made with us in Holy Baptism.
When it comes to His promises to us, we feel the doubt in our own
heart and we hear the denial of this world.
He sees His children conformed to the glory of heaven.
He sees what we cannot see.
We see the walls of Jerusalem torn down and lying in ruins.
He sees His holy Christian Church in her glory.
We see and feel and fear our sins, especially our sins arising
from doubt as we face eternity and know we are unworthy to face the holy
God. God sees His suffering
Servant and He remembers the words He gave to Isaiah to write:
We tend to forget
God’s promises when we need them the most.
God never forgets. Our
faith flickers and wavers. God’s
faithfulness remains constant. We
deny Him who loves us by our faithless thoughts, words, and deeds. He cannot deny Himself and His faithfulness endures forever
We stand on the edge of eternity. God invites us to consider the end of all things. But He tells us not to be afraid. When He joined Himself to our nature in the Virgin’s womb He became one with our blood forever. When He joined Himself to our sin on the cross His innocence conquered it and blotted it out forever. When He joined Himself to each one of us personally in Holy Baptism He made us partakers of His death and resurrection and He clothed us with the royal robes of righteousness by which we will enter heaven some day. So when we are plagued by doubts and when we must face our own personal death, the Servant who joined us in our birth and in our death will send us His Spirit so that we will not fall away from the only true and saving faith. Meanwhile, we will find our refuge in His gospel and sacraments. They reveal to us a love stronger than any mother’s love and a faithfulness that cannot fail.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus