The Second Sunday in Advent| December 4, 2016| Rev. Rolf Preus| Romans 15:4-13
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. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: “For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, and sing to Your name.” And again he says: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!” And again: “Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!” And again, Isaiah says: “There shall be a root of Jesse; and He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, in Him the Gentiles shall hope.” Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:4-13
Let us pray:
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of eternal life, which thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen
The Bible is the most revered book in the world. People who rarely read it and know little of what it teaches treat it with respect. The Bible is a symbol of tradition, of stability, and of truth. It connects us with the past. The Bible assumes a special symbolic value when beloved traditions are being trashed; when traditional morality is tossed aside even by religious leaders; when the saving mysteries of the faith are replaced by advice on how to use God to get ahead.
But it is not enough to know that the Bible contains ancient wisdom and provides us with a stable foundation for our lives. If we are to understand the benefit of the Bible we must know who wrote it and why. It is in knowing the Author of the Bible and in knowing why he gave us this book that we will find in its pages the patience, comfort, hope, and joy that it provides.
God is the Author of the Bible. He did not write it in heaven and send it down to earth. He wrote it here on earth. He did so through many men over a long period of time. The Old Testament Scriptures were written over a period of a thousand years. From Moses through Malachi, God spoke through the prophets. They wrote what he gave them to write. St. Paul writes that all Scripture is inspired by God – literally, God-breathed. St. Peter writes that holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
The New Testament Scriptures were completed during the lifetime of Jesus’ apostles. The same Holy Spirit who directed the prophets to write God’s word in the Old Testament directed the apostles to write God’s word in the New Testament. The entire Bible is God’s written word.
Since the Bible is God’s word God binds himself to it. He keeps his word. If he says it in the Bible he will stand by it. The Bible gives us patience and comfort because it reveals Christ to us. The promises God gave about his eternal Son, from Genesis through Malachi, were fulfilled in Jesus the Son of Mary. He is called here in our text, “a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God.” “The circumcision” is a reference to the Old Testament people of God to whom God gave the sign of circumcision. They are the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the nation that God miraculously delivered from Egypt, and led into the Promised Land. He spoke to them through the prophets. He promised them his faithfulness. He promised them a Savior. The Savior came and he confirmed the promises God had given to the fathers.
The Gentiles mentioned here are the other nations of the world. They did not know God, did not have the Bible, had not heard the preaching of the prophets, but had lived in darkness. The Savior God promised to his people Israel he promisd to the nations as well. The Bible makes this clear. St. Paul cites several Old Testament passages that show how the Gentiles would praise God with Israel. They would praise God together. The church is the new Israel. There are not two peoples of God – one of the Old Testament and another of the New. There is one people of God. They are united by the same word of God. They glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and with one mouth.
At the monthly Confessions reading meeting at the parsonage last Wednesday, we read these words from the Smalcald Articles:
For, thank God, to-day a child seven years old knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd.
We receive one another, we confess the faith together, we worship God in one voice and one mind because we have all heard the same voice. The unity of the church is unity in biblical teaching. The true Christian doctrine unites the church. Sound biblical teaching is the source of our unity and harmony. Our own opinions are unstable. They change as we grow older. God doesn’t age. God’s teaching doesn’t change. This is why the teaching of the Bible provides true Christian unity. It gives us one mind, one voice, and enables us to receive one another in love.
The Bible gives us patience, comfort, and hope. It unites us and makes us of one mind and voice. To have a book that is God’s word and entirely true won’t, of itself, provide us with comfort or hope. If the only teaching God taught in the Bible were his law, his word would not instill in us patience, it wouldn’t provide us any comfort, and it wouldn’t give us hope. God’s law is good and it requires goodness. It provides patience and comfort and hope only to those who do what it requires. But nobody does what the law requires. St. Paul writes earlier in this Epistle to the Romans:
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)
The Bible contains two teachings: the law and the gospel. The gospel is the preaching of the forgiveness of sins God freely gives us for Christ’s sake. The gospel doesn’t tell you what you must do. The law does. The gospel tells you what Christ has done for you to take away your sin by his holy life and sacrificial death on the cross. The reason the Bible brings us patience, comfort, and hope is because it reveals Christ to us. If you take Christ out of the Bible you are left with the law only and if the law is the only thing we learn from God we will learn only that we are guilty of sin, deserving of death, and have no hope in this world or the next.
You should read your Bible because it is the cradle in which the Christ Child is laid. You should not read the Bible because by reading the Bible you are obeying a religious rule for which you will be rewarded. If you approach it like that, you’ll see Bible reading as a chore to be endured. You should read your Bible because it was written to bring you to Christ, to strengthen your faith in Christ, and through Christ to turn your suffering into patience, your sadness into comfort, and your fear of the future into hope. You need what God teaches you in the Bible.
When Jesus sent out the apostles to make disciples of all nations, he told them how this would be done: by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and by teaching them to hold onto everything he had commanded. This teaching is the teaching of the Bible. Teaching the Bible makes disciples. Some years ago I read a children’s Bible story book in which the word disciple was translated as “helper.” I guess the author thought that it makes the kids feel good to be able to help out. Give them something to do. Make them feel they have something to contribute. This is a popular view of Christianity that turns Christians into religious busy-bodies looking for good works to do.
But that’s not what a disciple is. A disciple is one who is taught. Jesus wants to teach us. The Bible is his book. It was written by the Holy Spirit that he sent. It was written about him. It was written to provide patience to those suffering from every difficulty their own sin brings upon them. How so? By showing them how Christ himself has borne their sins and carried their sorrows.
Similarly, the comfort the Bible provides is the comfort of Christ. It’s not the shallow comfort of well-meaning folks who assure you that everything is going to be alright when they don’t know what is going to happen. The comfort the Bible gives you is the comfort of Christ’s defeat of all your enemies. It is the comfort that when everything in the world is falling apart before your eyes, the kingdom of God is near.
The Bible isn’t just for studious Christians with an intellectual curiosity. It isn’t written for the curious. It is written for the spiritually needy who need to be taught the same thing over and over again. As long as you are living in the body with which you were born, you are living with the temptations of sin, with the threat of death, and with the weakness of your mortal flesh. You can’t learn the gospel and know it. Your own sins belie it. You need the daily instruction of God. The gospel message of Christ dying for us sinners to make us righteous is foolish according to the wisdom of this world. The gospel teaching that God reckons to us Christ’s righteousness and forgives us freely by his grace is foolishness to those who are perishing. Only the Holy Spirit can persuade us that the gospel is true and he does so through the Bible. The Christian faith isn’t gotten and kept by our own power. We need the teaching of the Bible.
That’s why Jesus has given us the Bible and has established in his church his ministry to teach it and preach it. It is as we are taught together that we are joined together that we are comforted together and with one mind and one voice glorify God together.
Our text for this morning concludes,
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
He fills us with joy, sets our hearts at peace, and gives us hope. The Holy Spirit does all this by teaching us the teaching of the Bible, the book about Jesus who has promised us eternal life in his name. Amen.