Second Sunday in Advent| December 7, 2003| Rev. Rolf Preus| Luke 21:33
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” Luke 21:33
“Heaven and earth will pass away.” So says Jesus. He should know. After all, He is the One by whom heaven and earth were first created. It is by His word that all things we can see around us have their existence. He is the Architect of the universe. Nothing that exists on this earth or in all the vastness of the entire universe exists except by the word and will of Jesus. Jesus says that this world will pass away but that His words will not pass away.
Christ came into this world to save sinners. He came only for sinners. Those who will not admit or confess their sins to God cannot know Jesus. Jesus remains hidden except in repentance. Jesus said that the healthy have no need of a doctor. He came to call sinners to repentance. He came into the world as a little baby. He did not come to judge this world but to save it. From His humble birth all the way to His ignominious death by crucifixion Jesus showed His utter seriousness of purpose in taking sins away from sinners and so making them into saints. Jesus did what He set out to do. He redeemed this world of sinners. For nearly two thousand years now sinners have found peace in the wounds of Jesus. They have learned that God graciously receives sinners, has mercy on them, and forgives them freely for Christ’s sake.
Every soul is filled with sin. We call this the doctrine of original or inherited sin. This doctrine doesn’t flatter us. It teaches us rather that all of the evil that exists out there in the world resides as well in every human heart even from birth. The denial of this doctrine spells nothing but trouble. An ad running on television these days features Hollywood actors lecturing parents on how kids aren’t born to hate but that hate is learned. They are wrong. Listen to how Moses describes the world before the flood as recorded in Genesis 6:5. “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Was Noah himself free from sin? By no means. In verse eight we read, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” Noah found grace. He found forgiveness. He was by nature a sinner like the rest. Within Noah and the others that God saved on the Ark there was the same sin that rendered every intent of every thought only evil all the time. We cannot get rid of crime, injustice, suffering, hatred, and war by human strength or contrivance. To obliterate the cause of all injustice and suffering in the word would require the destruction of the world. And this is what God is going to do.
Jesus is the only One who can deliver us from the destruction that will come upon this world. This is why it is only in repentance that we can find deliverance. When your soul is burdened by sins and beset by temptations and tormented by fear and you despair of yourself you have a Savior in Jesus. He sees your sins. He knows all of them. He knows when you have lied and cheated and stolen; when you have broken solemn promises, and then lied to cover it up. He knows when you have wasted God’s gifts and squandered opportunities to help others. He knows every sin you have ever committed. How could He not know them? He suffered for them! He was tempted, just as you were. But He did not give in to temptation. Instead, He confronted the temptations common to us all and He overcame them by His innocence while willingly bearing the punishment for our failure to do so. St. Paul puts it as bluntly as it can be put in 2 Corinthians 5:21 where we read, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus who was innocent became the sinner. We who were guilty became righteous. How can this be? It can be and it is by God imputing our sins to Jesus and imputing His righteousness to us.
God will not destroy the righteous. But He most certainly will destroy this world. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” So says Jesus. Everything we see around us will be gone. This world, with all its attractions, will not stand. Christ’s words will never pass away. His word will remain forever.
The word of God has always been proclaimed in this world. Adam was a preacher as were all of the Patriarchs. Noah was a preacher, and so were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The word of God has been preached from the beginning. It has always called sinners to repentance and it has always promise forgiveness of sins and everlasting life as God’s gift in Christ. In Old Testament times, wherever God’s people went they erected altars. On the altars they offered sacrifices up to God. Along side of the altars they proclaimed God’s word. Altars and pulpits have always been with us in one form or another. Of course, in Old Testament times the altars were where sinful man sacrificed animals to God to signify that the price of God’s forgiveness was the shedding of blood. Jesus, the perfect man, offered Himself on the altar of the cross once and for all. No more offerings for sin can ever be offered again.
Wherever God’s word was preached, sinners were called to repentance and to receive the righteousness of faith. The word of God was preached for thousands of years before it was ever written down. The first writing of God’s word was done by God Himself on Mt. Sinai when He inscribed His Ten Commandments on tablets of stone. That was the beginning of the written word. Over the next thousand years what we today know as the Old Testament was written. St. Paul writes in our Epistle Lesson for today: “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 Bible was written in order to give us patience, comfort, and hope.
The Bible is God’s word. The Bible is God’s word because God inspired it to be written. All human beings are sinful and subject to error. The Bible, while written by sinful human beings, is not subject to error because God directed the writing of the Bible in such a way as to ensure that everything that was written down was what He wanted to be written down. St. Peter writes: “No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21) The Bible is the word of God and the Bible alone. It is no more possible for the Bible to err than it is for God to err because the Bible is God’s word.
The Bible is therefore the only authority by which all teaching and teachers in the church must be judged. The church is under, not over the Bible. The argument that the church gave us the Bible is a false argument. The church did not give us the Bible. God did. God is the One who inspired the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament. The main reason God gave us the Bible is to lead us to faith in Jesus as our Savior. Listen to how St. Paul explains it in 2 Timothy 3:15-16, “From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”
Since the Bible can make us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus we don’t need the church to add her own wisdom to what God has already caused to be written down. Whenever the church confesses the true word of God, she is only bearing witness to what the Bible plainly teaches. She cannot add to or subtract from the teaching of the written word of God, that is, the Bible. The Lutheran Confessions to which our pastors and congregations bind themselves – freely and unconditionally – are binding upon us because they are drawn from the Bible. It is because the Apostles’ Creed agrees with the Bible that we confess it. It is because Luther’s Small Catechism is based upon the Bible that we teach it. It is because the Augsburg Confession agrees entirely with the Bible that we confess it even today and require all of our pastors to teach in agreement with it.
I encourage you to read through the confessions of the Lutheran Church and you will find that our church’s official teaching is thoroughly biblical. The Bible is a clear book. This doesn’t mean that its meaning is immediately apparent to everyone who reads it. It does mean that you don’t need a secret code to understand it. You don’t have to appeal to the teaching authority of the church to tell you what it means. You can sit down in the privacy of your own home and you can read the Bible with every bit of confidence that in your reading of God’s word the Holy Spirit will guide you into the saving truth.
He will show you Christ. He will show you what is permanent in a world that is heading toward destruction. You will witness the dying and fading away of so many things in this life that you have cherished. One day this whole world will be destroyed. But the word of God will remain and those born again to eternal life by that word will remain. St. Peter writes:
Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the LORD endures forever.” Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23-25)
Jesus is the word become flesh. By joining Himself to us He was able to take upon Himself the sin that kept us away from God. He removed it from us by bearing its penalty in Himself. Christ crucified for us is the chief topic of the written word of God as well as the theme of the preached word of God. He who created all things in the beginning and joined His creation in the fullness of time sends us His Holy Spirit who daily and richly forgives us all our sins. This is how He keeps us united to Him in faith until the very end. This world will pass away, but the words of Jesus and those who cling to them in faith will endure forever. Amen.