Facing the Future with Confidence
Advent Two Sermon| December 4, 2005|Rev. Rolf Preus| Micah 4:4
“But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.” Micah 4:4
“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
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away.” Luke 21:33
Imagine that the god of Muhammad were the true God. You have no right to call him “father” because he is no one’s father. He is the master and you are the slave. You have no right to bind him to his promises because he refuses to be bound by anything but his own arbitrary and unknowable will. The Muslim does not know whether he will spend eternity in heaven or in hell. He cannot know because his god refuses to say. According to this religion, on Judgment Day everyone will have to walk over a bridge. Below the bridge is hell. At the end of the bridge is Paradise. If you make it across the bridge you go to heaven. If you fall off the bridge you go to hell. You cannot know ahead of time whether or not you will make it across. Allah might decide to let you cross. Or he might decide to push you into hell. Allah knows, but he’s not telling. You don’t get to know.
Imagine that the god of the Jehovah’s Witnesses were the true God. You must tell others about him, regularly visiting people you don’t want to see and who don’t want to see you. You must follow a strict code of conduct that forbids you to celebrate any holidays or to give allegiance to any human authority. You must submit to Jehovah, but Jehovah offers you no guarantees. You want to inherit eternal life but you cannot know if you will. You are forbidden to know.
The Muslims and the Jehovah’s Witnesses worship different gods but they have much in common. They believe that their god created the world and all that is in it. They believe that their god has spoken and that his word is written down. Muslims believe that their god dictated the Koran to Gabriel who passed it on to Muhammad. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Bible is the written word of God without any errors. Both Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus lived an innocent life. Both deny that he died on a cross and both deny that He rose bodily from the dead. Both deny that Jesus is the true God become flesh. Both believe that their god will judge this world on the last day. And neither can be confident that he will enter the gates of heaven.
If you are to have any hope for your future, it is not enough to know that God made you. It is not enough to know that God speaks and that His words are written down in a book. It is not enough to know that His words are true. None of this is enough. You need to know that God speaks to you and that He binds Himself to the promises He makes to you.
All three lessons for the Second Sunday in Advent teach a common theme. The Old Testament Lesson from Micah describes the Messianic Age. The time of the Messiah has a two-fold fulfillment that corresponds to Christ’s first and second coming. In His first coming, He establishes His church on earth. In His second coming, He brings His church to glory. The church on earth has the word of God. It goes out to all nations. People from all over the world learn to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. That is, they find in Christ’s kingdom the peace they sought but could not find by their own efforts. God takes fear away from their hearts and sets them at peace in Christ.
The Epistle Lesson speaks of the Gentile nations glorifying God for His mercy in Christ. The Holy Scriptures are fulfilled in Christ and provide us with true hope. The end of the world will come unexpectedly, but those who found Christ in the Holy Scriptures will be ready to face that day.
The Gospel Lesson speaks of the coming of the end. People will be terrified but Christians will be filled with joy because the promises God gave them in Christ are finally being fulfilled. All those who hold on to the words of Christ will escape the destruction coming on the world. The entire universe will be destroyed, but Christ’s word will remain.
From these three lessons we learn three things about God’s word. God’s word is creative. God’s word is comforting. God’s word is eternal.
God’s word is creative. God speaks. But God’s word is never just talk. By speaking God does. He creates. In the beginning God created the world by speaking. By speaking He created new life in us. He brought us to faith and regenerated us – that is, He gave us the new spiritual birth – by speaking to us. He speaks to us and thereby establishes a relationship with us. This relationship stands. It stands firm in the face of catastrophe.
But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.
Everyone sitting under his own vine and fig tree is a poetic way of describing prosperity. There is more than enough for everyone. No one is in need of anything. There is perfect contentment. No one makes anyone afraid. This is so because God has said so. When God says so it makes it so.
This is how we should regard our future. St. Paul writes:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
And how do we know this? We know this because God’s purpose cannot fail. He speaks and it is as good as done. Why should we worry about our future when God has already decreed that all things will work together for our good? His word is never just words. It does that which it promises.
God’s word is comforting. The Bible was written for a purpose. Near the end of St. John’s Gospel we read of his purpose in writing the Gospel.
And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31)
The reason the Bible brings us comfort is because the Bible brings us Jesus. The written Word of God is written for the expressed purpose of bringing us to faith in the Incarnate Word of God.
This is how you should read the Bible. The comfort of the Holy Scriptures comes from the content of the Holy Scriptures. The content is Christ. Christ brings comfort because He guarantees our future. The reason the gods of Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses can bring no real comfort is because these gods are not true. The true God is the Christian God. The true God is the God who is revealed in Christ.
Christ brings comfort because He is the reason that God’s promises to us are sincere. God binds Himself to His word for good reason. It is certainly not because we have deserved it. We haven’t. We’ve run away from God’s word, denied it by our words and actions, and ignored it. We’ve doubted it. We’ve despised it. God doesn’t bind Himself to His promises to us because He is obligated to do so by anything we have done. But God is obligated to keep His promises to us. He has bound Himself to do so. How can this be? It is because of Christ.
Christ has the affection of His Father. Christ has won over the Father’s heart by the purity of His living and the innocence of His suffering. When the Father said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” He said this for our sake. We should look to find God’s love and approval in Christ. He has won this approval for us. For Christ’s sake God forgives us our sins. For Christ’s sake God guarantees us life in the face of death. For Christ’s sake God comforts us and speaks kindly to us. We should read the Bible with the idea of finding Christ in every page. When we are discouraged and filled with doubts about our future and we wonder how our troubles will be resolved God invites us to search the Scriptures. What will we find therein? Jesus says,
You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of me. (John 5:39 )
The reason the Bible gives us eternal life is because the Bible testifies to Christ who gives us eternal life. The comfort of the Bible is the comfort that Christ alone can give.
God’s word is eternal. Our troubles are not. Our temptations are not. Our doubts are not. Our sins are not. Our sins cannot rise up to claim us or accuse us when we have received from God’s word the promise of forgiveness for Christ’s sake. God’s word is eternal. It sees to the eternal past into the heart and mind of God, eternally electing his children unto salvation for Christ’s sake. It sees into the eternal future where all sins, doubts, and troubles are forgotten. This is the word in which we trust. It is more than enough to keep us in the true faith.
The reason people wonder about their future is because they don’t listen to God. They listen instead to all of the time bound notions that sound so true and so intelligent and so very wise. They worry about the economy. They wonder how they’ll pay their bills or get through the operation or get on with life when facing a deep loss. They worry and they wonder. Then God speaks. He speaks and it is done. Where there was doubt there is now assurance. Where there was guilt there is now comfort, for Christ takes the place of all doubt. The faith the word of God creates and the comfort the word of God gives is not transient. It doesn’t diminish. It doesn’t fade. It lasts forever. It never loses its luster. This is why we will cherish God’s word above all that this world offers. When God holds Himself accountable to keep His word, we will make bold to do so as well, knowing that for the sake of His dear Son there is nothing good that God can or will deny to us. Amen.