Sunday Sermon, 2004
Power of Godís WordĒ
When Jesus said to
doubting Thomas, ďBlessed are those who have not seen and yet have
believed,Ē He was addressing every Christian.
Faith does not require sight.
The Epistle to the Hebrews (11:1) says that ďfaith is the
substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.Ē
We do not see in order to believe, but we believe in order to
see. An article of faith is
something that God has taught us to believe.
When God says it, that settles it.
Faith listens. It
does not look. Faith hears. It does not see. As
St. Paul writes, ďSo then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the
word of God.Ē (Romans 10:17) True,
the deaf hear only by seeing, but when they look to read lips or to see
someone signing words they look with fixed attention.
Looking puts the
one looking in charge. You
flit your eyes here and there, picking out whatever details strike your
fancy. You pass by this and
you focus in on that. The
eyes pick and choose. But
the ears can only take it in. An
unsightly or ugly scene can easily be avoided by glancing away.
An annoying sound canít be ignored without plugging the ears or
going somewhere else. The
word of God is meant to be heard.
Thatís not to say
that the gospel truth cannot be illustrated and depicted visually.
Pictures of the Lord Jesus carrying a sheep in His arms,
struggling in prayer, or dying on the cross can powerfully convey
Christís compassion and suffering.
One of the most powerful symbols of Christís love for us
sinners is the crucifix. The
bare cross reminds us of how Christ died.
The crucifix places Christ on the cross before our eyes and
brings home to us the concrete truth that He was crucified for us.
I have a habit of pointing to the altar while I am preaching. I got into this habit because for years I preached in
churches that had a crucifix in the middle of the altar. There is a popular notion that a crucifix is a Roman Catholic
symbol. That is as true as
that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is a Roman Catholic doctrine.
Roman Catholic is not necessarily wrong.
Using a crucifix to display before our eyes the crucifixion of
Jesus complements our prayer that this image will always be imprinted on
our hearts as well. The fact is that using a crucifix in worship is a Lutheran
custom. It was the Reformed
churches that got rid of the crucifix because they regarded it as a
graven image prohibited by their Second Commandment.
It is only natural that the Reformed churches would not want a
depiction of Christís body on their altars.
After all, in their teaching on the Lordís Supper they deny
that Christís body and blood are ever on the altar, or in the hand, or
in the mouth. The
crucifixion of Jesus has never been the central event in the popular
religion of our country. It is not surprising that the American religious culture
takes the crucifix off of the altar.
As important as
symbols are, however, a symbol is only a symbol.
We need more than symbols. We
need substance. We need
more than pictures to express our faith.
We need the words from God that establish our faith.
We need to hear Godís voice.
The word of God has
always been spoken. In the
very beginning, God said, ďLet there be light,Ē and there was light. When Jesus healed lepers and cast out demons he always did so
by speaking. Jesus speaks
His word and the elements of the Lordís Supper are consecrated.
By Christís word ordinary bread and wine are no longer merely
bread and wine but His very body and blood by which He made full
satisfaction for all our sins. Jesus
Himself is called the Word. He
is the eternal Word become flesh. St.
John writes of Jesus in the prologue of his Gospel:
the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was
God. He was in the
beginning with God. All
things were made by Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
(St. John 1:1-3)
the eternal Son of the eternal Father is called the Word is because
everything God has to say to us is centered in Him.
Jesus rebuked the devil by saying, ďIt is written, ĎMan shall
not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth
of God.íĒ The reason we live by every word that proceeds from the mouth
of God is because every word that proceeds from the mouth of God points
us to Jesus. Jesus said,
ďYou search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal
life; and these are they which testify of Me.Ē (John 5:39)
Godís written word is the standard for Godís preached word. Unless the preachers preach in agreement with the Holy
Scriptures, they are not preaching Godís word.
And whenever preachers preach in agreement with the Holy
Scriptures, they preach Christ. So-called
ďBible-believingĒ preachers who do not point sinners to the
suffering and death of Jesus for their forgiveness and salvation are not
Bible-believing preachers at all. The
Bible is not just a list of religious principles or moral precepts.
It is written, as St. John said of his Gospel, ďthat you may
believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you
may have life in His name.Ē (John 20:31)
St. Paul reminded Timothy, ďfrom childhood you have known the
Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through
faith which is in Christ Jesus.Ē (2 Timothy 3:15)
The purpose of the Bible and the purpose of all biblical
preaching is faith.
Does it work?
Does the word of God produce faith?
Or must something be added to Godís word to make it effective?
Does the Holy Spirit hover nearby when the word of God is
proclaimed debating whether or not He will enter into that word to give
it the power to create faith and to save sinners?
No! The word of God
always has the power of Almighty God.
The word of God cannot be void of power because it is Godís
word and God chooses to exercise his almighty power through His word.
It is the very voice of the Holy Spirit whom we rightly confess
to be the Lord and Giver of life. How
does the Holy Spirit give life? Through
Over the years
there have always been those who have denied the inherent power of
Godís word and have tried to supplement what they thought was lacking
in it. So, for example,
during the 19th Century revivals that swept throughout this
nation, preachers relied on what they called ďnew measures.Ē
They would try to rouse the crowd into an emotional state that
would supposedly make them more receptive to the word of God.
Music that pulled on the heartstrings combined with urgent and
emotional appeals to give yourself over to God.
It was as if the word of God could not win over the hearts of
unbelievers unless first the unbelievers were emotionally primed to
listen. The American
tradition of revivalism accounts for much of the emotionalism and lack
of sound teaching so prevalent in the church today.
People who donít believe that the Holy Spirit is always
powerful and active in His word tend to rely more on manipulating people
emotionally than in teaching Godís word to them.
But the only hope we sinners have to hold on to Christ in firm
faith and to live Christians lives worth living comes to us from Godís
Is it possible for
the rain not to make the fields green?
Have you ever seen a winter that did not bring you spring? I know itís hard to believe on a day like today when
everything is white and frozen. But
we know by our own experience that the snow will not leave without
causing the crops to grow. Thatís
the way it works. And
thatís the way Godís word works.
God Himself intends that the rain and the snow will cause the
seed to bud and the crop to grow. God Himself intends that His word accomplish that purpose for
which He sent it. We cannot
improve on Godís word. We
can only proclaim it. When
it is faithfully preached, taught, and confessed it will remain Godís
power to save. When it is
watered down, denied, and covered up with human opinions and false
teachings, it will cease to be Godís word and it wonít do anything
Now there is a bit
of a paradox about the power of Godís word.
The very center of that power is the gospel. Yes, Godís law has power, too, but the power of the law is
destructive. The law cannot
create any good in us. When
God tells us that we must love Him with our whole heart, strength, and
mind and that we must love our neighbors as ourselves we receive no
power from that command to obey it.
On the contrary, Godís law accuses us.
It judges us. It condemns us. Have
you loved God more than your family, your friends, your job, your money,
or your home? No, you have
not and Godís law tells you this.
The law is no friend to a sinner.
The paradox comes
in when we consider the power of the gospel.
People by nature consider it to be foolishness, yet it has within
it the power to bring those who hear it to faith.
A sinner who needs the gospel does not naturally believe in it.
The word of the gospel is the word of absolution.
God speaks to us words that give to us the forgiveness of sins.
Thatís what an absolution is.
It is words that convey Godís forgiveness.
This forgiveness comes only from Christ. The reason the minister has the authority to absolve the
penitent is because he does so ďin the stead and by the commandĒ of
Christ. Christ has loved
God with the pure heart with which no other man, woman, or child loved. Christ bore the sin of the entire human race.
He personally bore in His body the judgment of Godís law
against all sinners. As
Isaiah writes concerning Him:
The word of the
gospel is the word of the suffering of Christ, our Substitute. It is the suffering by which God made peace with us and
forgave us. Just as surely
as Christ lived the righteous life we failed to live and did it for us,
in our place, so surely does the gospel of Christ give Christís
righteousness to us. And
this is what gives the gospel the power to save.
As St. Paul writes in Romans 1:16-17,
The very words that
the world thinks are irrational and just plain wrong are the words that
carry within them the power of God to convert us and to keep us in the
saving faith. When sinners
hear the gospel, God is at work. His
word will not return to Him void or empty.
The good and gracious will of God is done.
But you can see the
green fields in the spring. You
cannot see faith. You
cannot see what faith receives. We
confess that we believe in ďthe holy Christian church, the communion
of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and
the life everlasting.Ē We
believe because Godís word tells us so.
But we do not see.
This is why we take
great care and persistence in seeing to it that only the pure word of
God is proclaimed among us and that the sacraments are administered
rightly. This is why we
attend only those churches that are publicly committed to the true
gospel and sacraments of Christ. We
need the word of God Ė nothing more and certainly nothing less.
Having it, we will remain steadfast in the true faith until our
This is also why we
never give up on the souls of loved ones who deny the faith but we keep
on confessing Godís word to them.
We keep on telling them the gospel.
We know that faith comes from hearing Godís word and that the
bitterest enemies of Godís truth can and have been brought to faith
even when it appeared impossible. With
man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus