"In Christ, Unbroken" #82-15
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on December 14, 2014
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:What Does It Mean To Be Both A Saint And Sinner?)
Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, and His healing message of grace is especially for those who are broken and in need. Amen.
In less than two weeks, on Christmas Day, there's a movie coming out one that I cannot wait to see. It's called, "Unbroken," the story of Louie Zamperini. We've talked about him before on the Lutheran Hour. Yvette and I are reading the book by Laura Hillenbrand right now, a chapter at a time right before bedtime, and let me tell you, it is a compelling story about trial, suffering, torment, and the power of grace and love in Christ Jesus. Louie Zamperini was a misguided youth who became an Olympic runner and a World War II hero. He suffered the after-effects of being a prisoner of war, brutalized by his captors. He came home with what we know now as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD. He was tormented by nightmares and addictions that attempted to mask his pain. Louie Zamperini was about as broken as a human being could be, but by God's grace and restoration he was miraculously unbroken with the new life that only Jesus can give. I don't know if the movie will be able to tell the whole story about Louie, but I sure hope that it focuses ultimately on that; but what a great story to hear so near to Christmas. In fact, maybe Zamperini's story could be yours this year; from broken, to unbroken in Christ alone.
Let's be honest. We're getting very close to Christmas. The Christmas lights are glimmering. Trees are decorated and beautiful. Christmas music is playing on the radio. Plans are being made for Christmas gatherings. You may have already been at an office Christmas party or two. But underneath the fresh white snow of a new Christmas celebration can be a battered and bruised heart, heaped with the dust and debris of hard times. Your heart may be broken. And it's very important to acknowledge and talk today about our broken hearts.
Yours may have come because of a break-up or a divorce. Your heart may be wounded because of cruel words from your children or your parents. You may be broken because you lost your job or you dread your job because it symbolizes a broken dream for what you really want to be. Maybe your heart is broken because you feel rejected or because you've lost someone you love so much.
Let's be honest about broken hearts this Christmas. They're more common than you think. You're not the only one who feels brokenhearted.
That's why God's Word through the prophet Isaiah is so powerful and refreshing today. In Isaiah 61 we hear Isaiah, God's messenger to the world, say, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he sent me to bind up the brokenhearted" (Isaiah 61:1).
To bind up the brokenhearted! These are words of a miraculous restoration, dear friend. Christmas isn't about whipping oneself up in religious or family devotion as much as it is knowing the joy of the fact that God is real, God is active, and in Christ, God has love and grace for your life now and forever.
In fact, as Jesus began His ministry, He quoted Isaiah's words about Himself, about His purpose in Luke, chapter 4.
Jesus knew that you and I, we get brokenhearted.
This is the tension of life in this world. In fact Jesus says it this way, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33 NIV). There is an ancient teaching that captures this human condition very well, even as believers in Christ. It tells us we are simultaneously both saint and sinner. We are at the same time both broken and healed. As we live out our days on this earth, we are forgiven people of God who continue to wrestle with our own pain, failure, weakness, and struggle.
That was Louie Zamperini's story for sure. As a child and teen in Torrance, California, he was a rebellious delinquent. Hillenbrand said in her book: "Louie was untamable. As he grew into his uncommonly clever mind, a one-boy insurgency was born" (p. 6).
She recounts how young Louie, mischievously began breaking all the social boundaries, stealing anything he could, getting into fights, rebelling even at home. He created mischief all over town. He was always in trouble. In fact, if his brother Pete hadn't gotten him into track and field, Lord knows where Louie would have wound up!
That's a truth that is hard to hear; we're not just victims of circumstances, we're often the cause of so much of our own grief. We do things that can be absolutely awful. We can treat people poorly and go off the deep end of destructive behavior. We can pile on guilt and regret in our lives and pay the torturous price of being tormented by all we cannot undo. It's part of being broken.
But hear Isaiah's promises and Jesus' reality. He came to bind up the brokenhearted. He came to unbreak your broken heart. Please hear that again. In our broken world, having a sinful, broken heart is unfortunately, normal. But Jesus came to unbreak your broken heart.
We often feel like the Psalmist in Psalm 38, when he says, "My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear" (Psalms 38:4 NIV). But folks that's why God's work in Jesus Christ is so vital! God, in His merciful work in Jesus, promises to unbreak you, to remove your guilt and pain, and give you new life to live.
God's Word is clear on this; calling us to say with the Psalmist: "I acknowledged my sin to you. I did not cover up my iniquity. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to Yahweh the LORD'- and you forgave the guilt of my sin" (Psalms 32:5 NIV). God removes your guilt only as He can. He did it by placing it all on His Son, punishing Him instead of us, putting Him to death on a cross so that you and I could breathe the breath of forgiveness and freedom. This Christmas season you can be certain that God unbreaks your regret and failure. He repairs your heart. He gives you a new beginning as you trust in your Savior Jesus Christ.
This is not an excuse for your ongoing sin either. No, it is an antidote. It is the real compassionate forgiveness from God that can make you compassionate for others.
Even in those areas in your life where your weakness shows up in a big way; where you doubt if God can forgive you yet again. He came for that precise purpose. As a sinner and a saint with faith in Christ, you need His forgiveness every day, and by the power of the Holy Spirit you will grow and mature as a follower of Jesus for others.
It's true, this side of heaven you will not reach perfection, but you may overcome addiction, temper, and destructive habits. You may improve in your relationships. You may also struggle for your lifetime but always in the certainty of His grace and His forgiveness, empowering you to be gracious and kind to others who don't know this mercy from God in Jesus Christ. We need to be truthful about our broken hearts. We all have them. We all struggle with them. But, we need to be even more encouraged by the truth that Jesus came into your life to bind up your broken heart today and always!
In fact, that's exactly what happened to Louis Zamperini. He was a very promising runner. In his teens, he qualified for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. With an amazing finish there in the 5000 meters, there were many who thought that he would be the first to break the 4-minute barrier in the mile. With so much promise, he was a favorite to lead the U.S. track team into the 1940 Olympic Games. But brokenness soon washed over him and others with the outbreak of World War II.
Instead of competing against the world's best athletes, Louie found himself in the army air corps in a country at war. But then it got much worse. On May 27, 1943, as Louie and an airplane crew were flying a search mission over the Pacific Ocean, mechanical failure sent their plane spiraling into the ocean. Miraculously, Louie and two other crewmembers survived, but that only meant more pain and more suffering ahead. They survived sharks, starvation, exposure to the sun, even attacks by enemy airplanes as they drifted thousands of miles in the ocean; only to be taken captive by the Japanese just as they saw the hope of land and safety.
As you read the story, your heart breaks with Louie. Like Zamperini, you may be feeling like you're floating in the middle of a vast ocean with no plan at all and no help in sight. You feel like things are going from bad to worse. You wonder if God knows that you exist. You wonder if He even cares. You wonder if He is really out there, if He really is with you.
You may be feeling that right now, but, dear friend, let me tell you, a broken heart is part of this evil world, even for believers in Jesus. But, that's even more the reason why we need the One who heals broken hearts now and forever. Remember what God's messenger said to you today in His Word: "The Spirit of the Lord 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" (Isaiah 61:1).
All does not go right. Life may never be exactly what you hoped. Sometimes it gets worse when you least expect it. Sometimes Christmas isn't what you hope it will be. But that is why Jesus came. He came to bind up the brokenhearted, to bring the good news of rescue and help to you.
Psalm 46 says it this way; I love it; "God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalms 46:1). Did you hear that? God is our help in the midst of trouble. That's because we have trouble! And in it we need help. We need a refuge. We need strength. We need restoration for hearts broken by suffering. Do you need that today? Hear the Word of God for your pre-Christmas days: Psalm 34:18 says: "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and He saves the crushed in spirit." Psalm 147, verse 3: "[God] heals the brokenhearted and He binds up their wounds."
If your suffering and pain are breaking your heart today, hear the Good News of Jesus' healing grace for you. The Savior who died for you and rose from the dead has overcome everything that would discourage you and dishearten you. He lives to give you His eternal hope.
To those broken, He comes with an unbreakable grace and love. In Him alone, the broken can become unbroken.
And that's the real story of Louie Zamperini. Things did get much worse before they got better. In Japan, he suffered incredible, demonic cruelty in a brutal prison camp existence. He was beaten, starved, tortured, and emotionally abused. They lived under the threat of murder each day as the Japanese policy was to leave no prisoner alive.
When rescue miraculously, finally, came, he and his comrades were overjoyed. Even though they looked like skeletons and were riddled by physical illness, they came home rejoicing. But even amidst the real joy of being free again Louis, like many of his fellow soldiers, he struggled. He was plagued with horrible nightmares. He couldn't sleep. He was obsessed with thoughts of revenge against his captors. He masked his pain with alcohol; never being able to drink enough to overcome the brokenness of his heart and spirit.
Louie's post-traumatic stress took its toll. He married his beautiful wife after the war, but his battle within created turmoil at home. He lashed out at her. Home became his new battleground. His drinking was out of control. He lost every cent they had. And the flashbacks of his prison camp tormenter plagued him every night. Thrashing about in his sleep one night during a nightmare, Louie awoke with his hands on the throat of his pregnant wife. He nearly killed her. His life was out of control.
He was lost in hatred, rage, and bitterness. It seemed as if there was no hope. But when he least expected it, when he had written off the possibility of ever being whole, something happened to completely change his life. Something miraculous healed his broken heart.
It was a simple but life-restoring message spoken through the young evangelist, Billy Graham. Graham happened to be in Los Angeles in 1949. He was preaching the Good News of God who binds up broken hearts. Louie's wife heard the message and knew it was what she needed. She begged her husband to come and hear. Louie grudgingly went to hear the preacher. It was then, though, that the Word of God crashed through the walls of his rage and addiction. Laura Hillenbrand describes it this way, "[Graham] spoke of God reaching into the world through miracles and intangible blessings that give men the strength to outlast their sorrows. 'God works miracles one after another,' he said. 'God says, "If you suffer, I will give you the grace to go forward"'" (374-375).
Louie flashed back to the last days afloat on the ocean on that raft, to a promise he made to God. With his anger falling away, his resistance fading, and his realization that he needed his heart to be unbroken, Louie remembered that he said to God, "If you save me, I will serve you forever" (375). And with that, Louie Zamperini bowed in prayer to receive God's gift of new life in Jesus Christ.
Let's be honest about broken hearts today. We all have them. We are at the same time both sinner and saint. We struggle with failure. We become bent over with suffering. We need to be unbroken by the grace of God through the gift of His Son. We need forgiveness and restoration. And God, because of His great love for you, gives this precious gift of new life to you by faith. Louie received it at that very moment that his life seemed lost. You may need it this very day. So, dear friend, hear it clearly from Jesus Himself who says, "I am here to bind up your broken heart." It is a real and life-changing gift. You are His now by faith. You are forgiven, His life is your life, and that's an eternal promise He has already fulfilled for you.
In Him alone; unbroken, restored, sustained, and hopeful; Louie Zamperini went home with his wife, dumped his booze down the drain, threw his cigarettes and girly magazines in the trash, and picked up the Bible he was issued in the air corps. He went to a park, sat down under a tree, and began to read the Word of God. Hillenbrand told the story in her book this way:
Resting in the shade and the stillness, Louie felt profound peace. When he thought of his history, what resonated with him now was not all that he had suffered, but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him. He was not the worthless, broken, forsaken man that [his captor] had striven to make of him. In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation, his helplessness, it had fallen away. That morning, he believed, he was a new creation (376).
That's the Bible's promise to you too. As Paul says so clearly in 2 Corinthians 5, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). These words are the words that describe your life today because of God's love for you and because of the gift of His Son for you. In Christ Jesus your heart, even in the midst of failure and suffering, that brokenness is unbroken.
Louie Zamperini became a man of forgiveness because he was forgiven. He became a man with an unbroken heart who was restored by grace alone, who shared what a new creation in Christ meant with everyone he could talk to. Up to his death at the age of 97 earlier this year, Zamperini proclaimed and lived the truth of new life in Jesus Christ, of healing for every broken heart.
I hope that the movie is as good as the book. But, let me tell you this, the life and death and resurrection of the Babe of Bethlehem, it's not just a compelling story or a good movie moment, it's the reality of God at work in this world so that broken lives may indeed be unbroken, redeemed, restored, made whole.
May the Mender of broken hearts, Jesus Christ, be your gift this Christmas. May His hope be yours, may His gifts of the amazing Word of God, the blessing of His grace-giving Baptism, and the enduring comfort of His Supper of grace, secure you in the unbrokenness of His forgiveness, His life, and His salvation.
In Him, we who are broken are unbroken now and forever.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for December 14, 2014
Topic: What Does It Mean To Be Both A Saint And Sinner?
ANNOUNCER: How can one be both a saint and a sinner? Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, there's a Christian teaching that holds that believers are both saints and sinners at the same time. What does that mean and how can it be?
SELTZ: Well, there's a Latin theological phrase "simul justus et peccator" which means "simultaneously 100% righteous and 100% sinner." The phrase was an expression used during the Reformation as Martin Luther brought this to clarity. It reflects more the Bible's teaching about grace; opposing the popular teaching of the day that baptism, while it washed away original sin, you had to take care of the sins that followed, as if we were blank slates and then we merely had an inclination to sin.
ANNOUNCER: All right, sounds pretty theological. Why don't we take a moment to unpack that a little bit more?
SELTZ: The bottom line for our listeners, Mark, is that this is a comforting teaching that helps explain why we struggle at times to follow our Lord and Savior Jesus while at the same time confessing faith in Him. You know how it goes: you're thankful for the gift of eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus; you confess faith in Him; you serve Him with both words and actions; but you still find yourself failing and falling short in your life. It's a tension that can be confusing, even frustrating.
ANNOUNCER: And this teaching of being both completely forgiven and holy in the sight of God because of Jesus Christ, BUT also being a fallen sinner at the same time; I think that helps explain the tension we feel in our current reality.
SELTZ: Exactly. If you struggle in that tension, you're not crazy! In fact, this is a clear Biblical teaching. Now just think about the Apostle Paul's words in Romans, chapter 7. Even about himself; he said: "I don't understand my own actions. I don't do what I want, but the very thing I hate. Now if I don't do what I want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin which lives within me. For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh." Then he says this, "For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out" (Romans 7:15-20 ESV). You can hear the struggle that's going on within him. Then he said, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" And then here it comes, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24-25 ESV)
ANNOUNCER: So, we hear that struggle. Paul is lamenting his sinful flesh while at the same time; he thanks God for the redemption he's received through Jesus Christ.
SELTZ: That's an important and clarifying truth for followers of Jesus. First, it takes away the false and dangerous notion that our sin will result in our condemnation. People worry if they will slip up and fail God--sometimes very seriously and grievously-that God will cast them out forever and never forgive them. It's not true. For every sin and failure we have a faithful Savior and Redeemer. Any person who laments his or her brokenness and sin, can say with Paul, by God's grace and because of His love, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"
ANNOUNCER: Which is why Jesus came. The Bible says nothing can separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord.
SELTZ: That's right! Though we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We are declared righteous through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. But this teaching about being a saint and a sinner at the same time guards us from another trap; it keeps us from the illusion that, somehow, we can reach perfection in this life. While we can grow in faith and mature in our walk with Jesus, and while being a sinner/saint is no excuse to live in willful disobedience, we do need to realize that our fallen nature will be at war with us for the duration of our lives on this earth. So living with the errant expectation that, one day, we can be perfect on this earth that too could plunge a person into hopelessness and constant disappointment.
ANNOUNCER: And while we can celebrate a growing and developing walk with our Savior, we should also remember that all the good we do that's also by His grace.
SELTZ: Well said... So maybe we can say it this way, believers, take heart. When you fail, as sinners, it should not be surprising due to your fallen condition. That's precisely why Jesus came to bring His forgiveness of sin and His new life. And when you live a life that is pleasing to God, it is cause to rejoice and give God all the credit and thanksgiving for His living in and through you. So, in all things, God is your refuge, your strength, and your faithful friend.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Infant Holy, Infant Lowly" arr. Mark Shepperd. From Hymns for All Saints: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany (© 2005 Concordia Publishing House)
"Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"O Lord, How Shall I Meet You" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)