(based on Isaiah 61:1-3 and Luke 4:14-30)
Today we begin a new series called “Broken” and over the next several weeks we will be reflecting on the reality that we are broken people living in a broken world. And yet, in spite of our brokenness and perhaps even because of it, God invites us to bring our broken life to him and let him do something in and through our brokenness that is far beyond anything we could ask or imagine. We keep trying to hide the fact that we are broken from ourselves and others, but God says to us, “Your brokenness is the best part of you. I can do great and wonderful things with broken people. Let me show you what I can do in and through your brokenness.”
Today we are thinking about brokenness and hope. Hope is very important to human life. One of the Proverbs in the Bible says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12a). Swiss theologian Emil Brunner said, “What oxygen is to the lungs, such is hope to the meaning of life.” And hope is a problem for broken people like you and me because the magnitude and the range of our brokenness is so great that we can get no hope from ourselves. Our situation is hopeless. Yes, we can avoid facing up to the reality of our brokenness, or we can dream of winning the lottery or some other magic solution to all of our problems. But when we do that we are not really being honest with ourselves or others.
You and I are broken. We are broken physically. As time goes on and our bodies age, they begin to break down and we lose more and more of our abilities and functions until our body shuts down completely and we die. We are broken morally. Every day, we say, think and do evil things that we should not do and we fail to say, think and do the good things that we should. We are broken spiritually. There is a longing in the human heart for something more than what we are presently experiencing. In his book Pensees, Blaise Pascal wrote, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing.” As we grieve our own death, or the death of others, as we mourn our moral failures and our spiritual emptiness, we are also broken-hearted.
We try to fix our own brokenness but that only makes things worse. We go shopping to make ourselves feel better, and then we suffer when the credit cards bill come due. We avoid facing the hopelessness of our personal plight by losing ourselves in activities, work or the lives of others, and then we become overwhelmed because we have overcommitted ourselves. People who have experienced abuse, like I have, tend to try to fix their own brokenness by trying to control situations and people because we never want the abuse to happen again. So one way that I would try to control people is by trying to “fix” them, and I would end up hurting the person I was trying to help. I would try control situations by being a people pleaser, and I would end up hurting myself and others because I was not maintaining healthy boundaries. I would try to control people with anger, and the result was bitterness in my heart and corrosion of my relationships with others. All of us are seriously broken, our situation is hopeless and “do-it-yourself” repairs are impossible.
The brilliant mind of Sigmund Freud grasped the reality of the hopelessness of the broken human condition. Freud was an atheist, and author and professor Armand Nicholi, in his book The Question of God, describes Freud’s approach to pain. He writes,
Freud confronted suffering in his own life with what he often referred to as “resignation.” In his Future of an Illusion, Freud described what life would be like when people rejected the spiritual worldview, perhaps describing what he himself experienced. “They will have to admit to themselves the full extent of their helplessness… they can no longer be the centre of the creation, no longer the object of the tender care on the part of the beneficent Providence… And, as for the great necessities of Fate, against which there is no help, they will learn to endure them with resignation.”
When he tried to comfort others in their suffering, Freud had “no consolatory words”—only the advice to endure the suffering with resignation. In a letter to a friend’s wife after she lost her husband, Freud laments “that we have to submit with resignation to the blows of fate you know already…” When his colleague Ernest Jones lost his only daughter, Freud wrote him a letter saying, “As an unbelieving fatalist, I can only sink into a state of resignation when faced with the horror of death.” He reminded Jones that when his grandson Heinele died, he lost all desire to live: “I became tired of life permanently.” …After the death of his daughter Sophie, Freud wrote to a colleague: “I do not know what more there is to say. It is such a paralyzing event, which can stir no afterthoughts when one is not a believer…” Freud wondered, “when my turn will come” and wished that his life would soon be over.
We are broken and there is no source of hope inside of us. But there is a source of hope outside of us. About 700 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah wrote a message of hope from God to a broken people. The southern kingdom of Judah, where Isaiah served as prophet, was under threat both from Assyria, which was the world’s most powerful empire at that time, and from the northern kingdom of Israel, which was allied with the Kingdom of Damascus. It was kind of like today’s situation between Russian and Ukraine combined with the civil war in Syria all wrapped up into one. The northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC, which was during Isaiah’s time. But Isaiah also foretold a time coming over a hundred years later when the southern kingdom of Judah would also be defeated. You see, the people of Judah tried to fix their own brokenness and control their own destiny by turning to the idols of their neighbours instead of turning to God. But that only made things worse because God punished them for their idolatry by allowing Babylon to defeat Judah and take many of the people off into exile. To the broken people of his time and to the broken people of the future, Isaiah wrote:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:1-3 ESV)
Isaiah’s words were God’s promise to those future exiles that, one day, he was going to restore them to the Promised Land. Therefore, even in the midst of their poverty, brokenness, bondage and grief, the people of Judah could have hope, because their status as God’s chosen people had not changed, and God had given a promise that, one day in the future, their circumstances would greatly improve.
But Isaiah’s words also applied, in a richer, fuller sense, to Jesus some seven centuries later. In the synagogue in his hometown, when Jesus had an opportunity to read from the Scriptures, he deliberately chose this passage from Isaiah and applied it to himself. He said,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
Jesus carried out his divinely-appointed mission by accompanying his supernaturally wise teaching with acts of deliverance and healing during his three years of ministry. But the ultimate way that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy about himself was through his suffering and death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead on the third day that followed. Everything changed on that first Easter weekend. This is the hinge point of human history. Everything turns around at this particular moment in time.
Jesus took all of our brokenness upon himself as he was beaten, wrongly condemned, scourged, and nailed to a cross to suffer and die. Through his suffering and death, Jesus paid the full cost of healing every broken heart, restoring every broken body, cleansing every sin-stained soul, and reconciling every God-human relationship. And on the third day that followed, Jesus showed people what a completely healed and fully restored human being looks like when he rose from the dead and appeared to many of his followers.
Now you may question whether Jesus really did rise from the dead. And this is a very important question to settle in our hearts and minds, because, if the resurrection did not really happen, then people who believe the Christian faith are misguided fools. Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, in their book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, use historical research principles to identify five key facts which, when considered together, lead us to conclude that Jesus rising from the dead is the most logical explanation. First, Jesus died by crucifixion. This is attested to by biblical and extra-biblical sources. Second, Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose from the dead and that he appeared to them. We know the facts of their belief from the New Testament letters and we know of the strength of their belief because pf their willingness to die for what they knew to be true. Third, Paul, who used to persecute the Christian Church, was suddenly changed from a skeptic to a believer. Fourth, James, the brother of Jesus, was changed from a skeptic to a believer and became a leader in the Church in Jerusalem. And fifth, Jesus’ tomb was empty after his resurrection. If it wasn’t, it would have been easy for the Jewish or Roman authorities to discredit the growing Christian movement by disinterring the body of Jesus and displaying it for all to see. The simplest explanation that fits with this collection of facts is that Jesus actually did rise from the dead.
When you believe in Jesus and what he has done for you, your circumstances may be not be any different. But the position of your life changes immediately. Because of Jesus, you have been moved from being condemned to being forgiven, from being alienated from God to being a child of God, from suffering in bondage to living in freedom, from dead in your sins to alive in Christ.
Trust in Jesus and the circumstances of your life will dramatically improve in the future. Even now, the trajectory of your life changes from heading towards a future of eternal brokenness and suffering to heading towards a future of eternal wholeness and glory. One day Jesus will raise you from the dead and all of your brokenness will be fully healed. And in the meantime, we know that we belong to Jesus, we know that we are headed towards healing and wholeness with Jesus, and we know that Jesus works in and through our brokenness to touch the lives of others in powerful ways.
In 1809, Louis Braille was born in small village near Paris, France. One day, when Louis was three years old, he was in the shop of his father who was a harness maker. With a desire to imitate his father, Louis was trying to punch holes in a strip of leather with an awl. The awl slipped and struck Louis in one of his eyes. The wound became infected and, when the infection spread to his other eye, Louis eventually lost sight in both of his eyes.
When he was older, Louis went to one of the first schools for blind children in the world, the Royal Institute for Blind Youth. The school had books that had large embossed letters for the blind children to read, but these books were large, heavy and simplistic because of the great amount of space taken up by the letters. When he was 12, Louis learned about a system of raised dots and dashes developed by Captain Charles Barbier for night-time communication among soldiers. Working tirelessly, Louis developed a simpler system of his own using six dots. He created the dots using an awl, the same tool that blinded him. Because of Louis Braille, blind people all over the world have a way to read.
This is how God works through the brokenness of people. Because of Jesus, we are both broken and hope-filled. Amen.
(Shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church on April 27, 2014.)
 “Where does the concept of a “God-shaped hole” orginate?, Christianity Stack Exchange, last modified
April 14, 2014, accessed April 26, 2014, http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/2746/where-does-the-concept-of-a-god-shaped-hole-originate.
 Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), 213-214.
 Gary R. Habermas & Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 43-77.
 “The Story of Louis Braille,” accessed April 26, 2014, http://www.his.com/~pshapiro/braille.html; and “Louis Braille,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, last modified April 14, 2014, accessed April 26, 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Braille.