Isaiah 61:1 says, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for prisoners.”
The Book of Isaiah is sometimes called the “fifth Gospel.” It is described this way because in the Book of Isaiah, we find prophecies that announce the mission and ministry of the Messiah who is to come. We are to recognize who the Messiah is by the way he conducts his ministry. The true Messiah will preach good news to the poor, will bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for captives, and release prisoners from darkness.
This Sunday kicks off the Advent season where we begin to anticipate the coming (again) of our Savior Jesus Christ. Matthew 1:23 says, ““The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). In Jesus Christ we see the face of God. I have no doubt that Jesus will return again. This is an expectation fueled by what the Bible tells me to be true. But as much as my expectations grow for the future arrival of Jesus Christ I also realize that I have an expectation of God’s church. My expectation is that God’s church will be the way the world experiences “God with us” in the meantime, while we wait and anticipate Christ’s return.
For us, as the church, to be the incarnation of Jesus Christ to the world, we must participate in the ministry of our Messiah. This means people should be able to see tangible ways we are proclaiming good news to the poor. This means people should be able to see tangible ways we are binding up the brokenhearted. This means people should be able to see tangible ways we are proclaiming freedom for people that are captive. This means people should be able to see tangible ways we are releasing prisoners from darkness.
In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25) we are given several examples of the acts of service God desires to recognize in His people. I believe it is no accident how much these actions parallel the ministry of the Messiah in Isaiah 61. When the King comes, He will say to those He recognizes as His sheep, “Take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:34b-36).
The tie that draws it all together is the way the righteous sheep respond to this inheritance invoking invitation. They say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go visit you?” The King answers His righteous sheep saying, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
The King doesn’t say that His sheep should provide this service to only those who say “please” and “thank you.” The King doesn’t say that His sheep should serve only those who are grateful. The King doesn’t say that His sheep should serve people who can give them back what they give. The King says, “My sheep should serve the least of these,” irrespective of any other conditions.
It’s really very simple. The Bible is truly all somewhat interconnected. God cannot deviate from His divine nature. When Jesus says one of the greatest commandments is, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” He again demonstrates the core nature being a Christ follower. When we separate the teachings of Christ from a tangible love that touches people’s lives in practical ways, what we have left is a hollow religion that is empty at its core. I personally don’t want to be a part of a hollow religion that consists of a bunch of filler and lacks any substance.
As a Christian I’ve realized that God brings brokenhearted people to surround me. I only learn of their brokenness when I choose to listen. During the recent Thanksgiving meal we served to our guests from the Haven House; I heard Jessie’s story, Telesa’s story, and Denise’s story. Each one of their stories is different, but there is a single common denominator, and that is a broken heart. Somewhere along the way, the world has tripped them up. Satan has beat them up and told them lies, and they are left trying to put the pieces back together. Psalm 147:3 says, “He (the Lord) heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Isaiah 61:1 says the Messiah “will bind up the brokenhearted.”
If you are coming from a broken place right now, Jesus Christ declares, “I am here to hold together your heart!” This is amazing news: If we turn to Jesus in the midst of our brokenness He will put us back together.
To “bind up” something means to wrap it up in such a way that it is held together. When I see the words “wrap up” I automatically think of the beautifully wrapped Christmas presents that you will place under your Christmas trees. I say, “you” because I’m not a gifted wrapper of presents, I can only do it well enough to get the job done. You see, if we are followers of Jesus Christ, our ministry, until we see Him again, is to hold together people’s hearts. Maybe, like my Christmas wrapping skills, we are scared we aren’t good enough to help others put their hearts back together. The beauty of “binding up the brokenhearted” is in the “try.” The “try” is the effort expended out of love that someone can recognize as the love and grace of Jesus being offered to them.
I shouldn’t need to explain that holding together people’s hearts is messy. To do so we need to immerse ourselves in their story. We have to truly love them as much as we love ourselves. We have to hold all of their needs at the same level that we hold our own. We have to be the church we say we are.
One year ago, on December 10th, I lost someone very dear to me. My brother Nick passed away from an accidental overdose of his prescribed medications. You never really think that someone so young, that you genuinely care about, is going to be gone so quickly. Remembering this experience, I realize that I’m one of the brokenhearted ones. What I need, though, is not anyone’s pity. What I need is for each and every one who proclaims to be a follower of Christ to step up to “bind up the brokenhearted” and hold together their hearts. This world is littered with broken hearts waiting for someone to genuinely care enough to hold them together. Who knows? Someday, that broken heart may be your own.