The Second Sunday in Advent
December 5, 2010
“The Patience and Comfort of the Scriptures”
For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:4-6
During the season of Advent we talk about preparing for Christ’s coming. His first advent was when he was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem. He came in meekness and humility to be our Savior. Christ’s second advent will be when he returns in glory to judge the living and the dead and this present world will come to an end. But there is another advent or coming of Christ. He comes today. He comes to us in his holy word.
The Epistle Lesson for the Second Sunday in Advent assures us that God himself teaches us in the words of the Bible. “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning.” The Bible was written to teach us. God spoke through the prophets of the Old Testament and he spoke through the apostles of the New Testament. But he did more. He directed them to put down into writing his very words. As St. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is useful for teaching.” Jesus said, as recorded in John 6:45, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’”
People try to separate the teaching of God from the words of the Bible as if they are two different things. Our text won’t permit that. In verse four the apostle says that the Scriptures give us patience and comfort and in verse five he says that God gives us patience and comfort. If we want to be taught by God, if we want the patience and comfort that God alone can give, and if we want the hope that comes from such patience and comfort, we must go to the Bible. No other word is the word of God. No other source of teaching can give us what the Bible can give us. This is why we confess in our Lutheran Confessions that the Bible is “the only rule and norm according to which all doctrines and teachers alike must be appraised and judged.”
God wants to teach us. He wants us to receive his teaching or doctrine in faith. That is, he wants us to believe what he teaches us. He wants us to believe his doctrine. God’s doctrine is beautiful. It is precious truth that comes from heaven. Many people don’t like the word “doctrine.” Preachers are told to avoid that word when preaching. It sounds cold and somewhat academic. But there is nothing cold about God’s doctrine. It is a teaching that opens up life for us. It is doctrine that gives us patience, comfort, and hope. As St. Paul says, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4) The reason there is so much restlessness, anxiety, and despair among people is because they are ignorant of what God wants them to know. They haven’t learned the doctrine that God teaches us in the Bible. To be taught from the Bible is to be taught by God and that teaching brings us patience, comfort, and hope.
Consider the gift of patience. What does the Bible teach us? From the Bible we learn that God gave a promise to Abraham that he would own the land of Canaan and that through his Seed all the nations in the world would be blessed. It took several hundred years for the first part of the promise to be realized and it took two thousand years for Christ to be born. Look to the Scriptures and learn patience.
The word for patience in our text means a bearing up as if under a heavy burden. The burden doesn’t always go away, but God, through his word, enables us to bear it. The immediate context of these words tells us what one of those burdens is. The Christians in Rome were divided among those who would eat meat and those who would not eat meat. You see, the meat that was for sale in the market place had been sacrificed to idols and some Christians thought that it would be a sin to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Others knew it was no sin at all to eat meat. It was a case where something that is not a sin was thought to be a sin by many people. The people who did not eat meat would judge those who did. The people who did eat meat would look down on those who didn’t. It was hard for these people to get along. Do you love people who stand in judgment of you? Do you love people who despise you? Now those who refused to eat meat were wrong in saying that it was a sin and then standing in judgment against their brothers, but those who ate meat were also wrong in looking down on those who sincerely believed that eating meat was wrong.
Can you think of an area of life in which we need patience more than in getting along with one another? We talk about loving our neighbor, but talk is cheap. It’s easy to love in the abstract. We love the idea of loving people. But real people aren’t abstractions. Real people aren’t so easy to love. It is a burden to love. Do you find it easy to do good to and speak kindly about those people who have unfairly judged you, despised you, and spoken words to hurt you? But you know that God requires you to live at peace with them. God has decided that as long as you live here on earth you’re going to have to put up with them. So you get discouraged. Much of the discouragement comes from coming face to face with our own sinful, unforgiving, vengeful hearts.
And then God speaks. The written Word of God, the Bible, speaks to us about the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ. God became flesh and blood to be our brother. We look to him and what do we see? He blessed those who cursed him. He prayed for those who mocked him. He loved those who hated him. He patiently endured. This life of perfect love for the unlovable was lived for us. That is, he lived the life we were required to live and he did this as our substitute. For every time we lost our patience and embraced hatred over love, Jesus remained pure in his love for all people. And he did this so that we would receive the credit for it. He obeyed the law of love, he bore up under the burdens of others, he patiently endured suffering without complaint, and this pure and spotless goodness of Jesus is given to us so that God sees no sin in us but sees only the obedient love of his Son. This is what the Bible teaches us. The Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, called Jesus, the LORD, our righteousness. His innocence is reckoned to us so that, trusting in him, we are pure, holy, spotless saints.
This is what brings us such comfort. It is only when we know that we are forgiven for Christ’s sake, when we know that we are holy before God, covered by the spotless robe of Christ’s righteousness, that we can find true comfort in this life. Because when all is said and done, what grieves us the most is not the wrong done against us by others; it is the sin in our own lives. This is what Jesus came into this world to cover, to die for, to take away. This is what we learn from the Bible. And this is how the patience and comfort God gives us in the Bible also gives us a living hope.
The way we use the word hope is somewhat different than what it means in the Bible. When we say, I hope, we usually mean I want, I wish, but I don’t know if it will happen, I just hope that it does. Hope means something quite different in the Bible. Hope is simply faith that has not yet been fulfilled. It is faith that God will really give us in the future what we have received by faith right now. In the Bible the word hope is used to talk about something sure and definite, but still in the future. The word faith is used to talk about what we are believing right now. So we say that by faith we receive the forgiveness of our sins. This means that we can hope for eternal life in heaven. But this is not an iffy or uncertain thing. It is as certain as if we were already there. The hope of the Christian is for the return of Christ to take us home. As Jesus describes Judgment Day in our Gospel for today we see that some awful, terrible things must occur before that day comes. But when it comes, what does Jesus say to us, “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”
It is the Bible that teaches us so to hope. Look at every rotten thing that goes on in this world. Consider the decay of our culture, the disintegration of the family, crime, unbelief, and every vice you can imagine bringing our nation to ruin. Look at it all and know that Jesus Christ himself told us that this would happen before the day of his return. The teaching of the Bible gives us patient endurance, comfort, and hope. God gives us patience, endurance, and hope. God is the teacher.
Many church going people today have lost confidence in the Bible as the word of God. Falling prey to the propaganda of evolution, secular humanism, moral relativism, and assorted political ideologies, people who once had tasted of God’s grace in Christ fall deeper and deeper into the mire of a self-imposed ignorance. They are ignorant because they won’t listen. They are like the strong willed child who puts his hands over his ears and screams his defiance against his parents as if his own unbridled will and passion will prevail against all authority. They are, as St. Paul put it, “tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14) helpless to defend themselves against every trendy lie and deception that comes their way. Refusing to be taught by God, they cannot stand for anything and so they fall for everything. Sneering at the simple and childlike faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), their arrogant dismissal of the pure doctrine of the Scriptures only serves as a mask of their profound and invincible ignorance of all things spiritual. And they remain miserable in their ignorance.
True patience, comfort, and hope come from being taught the truth by God. And when we are taught, we can, as our text concludes, “with one mind and mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When we are taught by God we find the patience to bear up under the meanness and judgment of others. When we are taught by God we find the comfort which comes only from knowing that, for Christ's sake, all our sins are forgiven and we stand as saints before God. When we are taught by God we live in hope, for we know the one who will return to judge the living and the dead and we know he is not coming back to condemn us but to take us home. So we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.” Amen