Sexagesima Sunday Sermon| Rev. Rolf Preus| February 24, 2019| Isaiah 55:10-11
“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11
Farmers and ranchers know more about rain and snow than city slickers who think that the source of food is the grocery store. We see what we see. What we don’t see we don’t understand. If we have money to spend and the stores keep stocking food, what do we care where food comes from? As long as we have it when we need it, we’re okay.
Those whose livelihood is intimately connected to the weather may wonder how people can ignore such a basic fact that the rain and the snow are necessary. Without rain and snow watering the earth, no seed can grow, and no grain, or food. Surely, even the most isolated urbanite can see this. But he can’t see it. He knows it is so, but he cannot see it.
We’ll see it in less than three months. This country will be green again. We’ll see with our own eyes. The rain and the snow cannot but bring it about. This snow cover will melt into the ground and things will grow. We’ll see it. It will bring seed to the sower and bread to the eater.
We can see what the rain does. It’s growing in the field. It’s walking in the pasture. It’s visible. But we cannot see what God’s word does. God says through his prophet Isaiah that just as the rain and snow cause the crops to grow, so the word of God will do what he sends it to do. God’s word is inherently powerful because it is always God’s power. It is never just words spoken. It is words that create, destroy, build up, tear down, convict, absolve, condemn, and justify. When God says it, it is so.
God said let there be light and there was light. God speaks and his speaking makes it so. It is so because God says it. The word of God is inherently powerful because it is God’s word. Jesus is the Word made flesh. Jesus spoke and by speaking he healed the sick, he gave sight to the blind, he opened the ears of the deaf, and he even raised the dead. God’s word does what God wants it to do.
But we don’t see it. The sower sows the seed. You can see the seed that is lying on the ground. So can the birds. They see it and eat it up. You can see the seed that lies on the rocks. But it has no room to put down roots. It quickly springs up and dies just as fast. You cannot see the seed that goes into the plowed ground because it is covered up by the ground in which it will produce life.
So it is with faith. You cannot see it. It is born underground, so to speak. It is born in the heart. Only God can see the heart. What does God see when he sees the heart? Jeremiah, the prophet, writes:
The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
God knows what lies underneath the ground. God knows what’s inside of you. You see and you want, but you cannot have, so you lust, you covet, and you seek what you have no right to have. God sees what you want. Deep inside of your heart, where no human eye can see or know, God knows. He knows what we want, how we think, what we fear. Listen to what God said through Isaiah just before he spoke the words of our text for today:
Seek the Lord while He may be found,
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the Lord,
And He will have mercy on him;
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:6-9)
The word of God works inside of us where nobody can see what it is doing. It hides itself within us, penetrating into our thoughts, showing us the folly of our ways. “Seek the LORD while He may be found,” the prophet says. When is that? It is when he speaks. “Call upon Him while He is near,” the prophet says. Where is he near? It is where he speaks. St. Paul, the Apostle writes,
The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach) (Romans 10:8) . . . So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17).
God’s word is where he may be found. God’s word is where God’s thoughts are revealed. God’s word is where he is merciful. God abundantly pardons through his word. Every spiritual benefit God has to give to you God gives to you in his word.
The word of God has power to do what God wants it to do. Listen to what God said to Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, after Jeremiah protested that he was too young to be God’s prophet.
Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me:
Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.
See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms,
To root out and to pull down,
To destroy and to throw down,
To build and to plant. (Jeremiah 1:9-10)
God’s word will do what God sends it to do. We cannot make it work. Tampering with God’s word to get it to work the way we want it to work distorts it, alters it, and replaces it with our own words. Our words have no power to fight the devil, to destroy the evil that rises against us, or to forgive the sin that rises within us. Our words are powerless to prevent the bitter fruit of harm against our neighbor. Our words are just words. God’s word is God’s power to destroy, and throw down, to build and to plant.
No preacher gives the word its power. God does. He says, “It shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” The preacher is just the voice God uses. You know the law the preacher preaches. You know the Ten Commandments. You know what they mean. You know the gospel the preacher preaches. You know who Jesus is and you know what Jesus did. You know that the forgiveness of sins we need if we’re going to enjoy eternal life with God is the forgiveness that Christ purchased for us by his holy life and his bitter suffering and death on the cross. You know that God gives this forgiveness to sinners who are sorry for disobeying his commandments and want to live holy lives. You know that this gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake is freely given by God to unworthy sinners. You know these things. You can speak God’s word. You can be the voice of God.
You know somebody – maybe a close relative, a spouse, or a dear friend – who neglects hearing God’s word. He won’t. He won’t come to church. He won’t talk about it. So you pray. Praying isn’t enough. God doesn’t say,
For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall your prayer be that goes forth from your mouth; it shall not return to you void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which you sent it.
He does not say, “So shall your prayer be.” He says, “So shall my word be.” God’s word is the means by which he gives us grace. It is a means of grace. Prayer is not. The grace Christ gained for us on Calvary where Jesus died is given to us in God’s word and sacraments. We receive God’s grace through faith. God doesn’t give us grace by means of our prayer. Prayer is our talk. The word of God is God’s talk. God gives his grace to us by talking to us. God’s grace is given in God’s word. There is no shortcut. Faith needs God’s word. Yes, pray for your loved one who doesn’t know God and doesn’t know whether he’s forgiven by God and doesn’t know where he will spend eternity. God answers prayer. But just as he answers our prayer for daily bread by causing the rain and the snow to fall to water the earth and make things grow, just so he answers our prayer for faith by causing his word to be proclaimed and heard. Prayer is not the means by which the grace gained on Calvary is given to us. God’s word is. God gives us every spiritual blessing in and through his word. He gives us forgiveness of sins through his word. He gives us peace with him and freedom from the judgment and curse of the law through his word. Through his word he gives us new life and rescues us from the devil’s power. Through his word he ushers us into heaven when we die and raises us up on the last day to the resurrection of glory. Every spiritual benefit God gives he gives us in his word. How do we know that when we pray to God for forgiveness that he forgives us? God’s word tells us we are forgiven! Those who pray and pray and pray and pay no attention to what God says are talking into a vacuum. They’re praying to a god of their own imagination. Until you listen to God talk to you, don’t bother trying to talk to God. If you won’t hear God, God won’t hear you.
God’s word does what God sends it to do. You can speak it. You can tell the sinner he’s a sinner and show him from God’s law what he’s done wrong. God convicts sinners’ conscience with his law. You can tell the sinner that Jesus is his Savior. Tell him the gospel. Tell him how Jesus died for him to wash away all his sin by his blood. God absolves sinners by his gospel. Talk. Talk God-talk. Talk the word of God. God’s word does not return to him void. It is never empty sounds.
If you cannot see the fruit God’s word works you can nevertheless know that God’s word bears fruit. It works. It works when pain descends on us and disturbs our lives, throwing us into spiritual confusion. It works when we are weak. It works when we suffer. As we admit our spiritual weakness we learn to rely on what God says, holding onto it as the source of strength. At the heart of what God says is the message of the cross. It is the almighty power of God to forgive us sinners, raise us up from the death, and give us eternal life. God’s word is our life. Amen.