What Lasts and What Doesn’t
The Second Sunday in Advent| December 7, 2008| Rev. Rolf Preus| Luke 21:33
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” Luke 21:33
When bad things happen you rejoice. The market crashes. Another war begins. Even the earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars are thrown off course and the entire universe is in disarray. You don’t cower in fear. You don’t find a place to hide. You lift up your head. You rejoice in the promises of God. You hold on to the words of Jesus and they are your refuge. They are your life. They are your comfort and hope.
The Bible was written to teach us. The doctrine of the Bible makes us patient. It brings us comfort and hope. So writes the Apostle Paul: “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 the doctrine or teaching of the Bible provides us with such great benefit is because the Bible was written by God.
It is true that men wrote the Bible, but they wrote what they wrote under inspiration of the Holy Spirit. St. Peter writes,
Knowing this first, that 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
The Holy Spirit moved the writers of the Bible to say what they said. He ordered the writing of the biblical text so that what was written was God’s word. We call this inspiration. Listen to St. Paul, the Apostle:
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. 2 Timothy 3, 15-16
When St. Paul teaches us here that the Bible is inspired by God he first mentions that the Bible is able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. God did not inspire the Bible so that it could serve as the basis for ordering human governments. He did not provide his very words in written form so that we would have divine guidance on how to make more money. God did not provide us with the Holy Scriptures to give us greater affection for things that do not last and will soon pass away. He provided us with his words because his words teach us about Christ who is the LORD our righteousness who has reconciled us to God. This divine doctrine gives us true wisdom. It saves us. It rescues us from every calamity that will fall on this world. We can rely on the words written in the Bible because they are God’s. Jesus prayed to his Father in his high priestly prayer: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” John 17, 17
The Word that comes from God is the truth. It is the power to save us. It justifies us. It pronounces us to be righteous by imputing to us Christ’s righteousness. That is, it forgives us all our sins. It regenerates us. It brings us to faith, from death into life. It sanctifies us. It makes us holy. God’s Word lasts. It is not time bound. What it achieves it achieves according to God’s eternal purpose. Our justification, our faith, our regeneration, our sanctification – these are not hit and miss events that come about accidentally. God is from everlasting to everlasting. So is his Word. Those who are joined to his Word receive from it everlasting life. God’s Word defies time. It is unchanging. It cannot be set aside. It cannot be rendered false. It will stand when the world and all its glory is destroyed forever. As the Apostle Peter wrote:
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, 23-24
In the Revelation of St. John Jesus is called “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Revelation 13, 8) The crucifixion occurred in a specific place at a specific time. But Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, dying for the sin of the world is the truth that transcends all space and time and brings forgiveness and eternal life to people everywhere. Just so, the Bible was written by specific men in specific places at specific times. It was written in three different languages over the span of 1,500 years. It was written in a variety of literary styles to people of a variety of circumstances. But the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures have a unity. The unity is of divine authorship. God wrote all of the books of the Bible. And the unity is of divine purpose. The purpose of every book of the Bible is the same: to lead us to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, so that we may be saved from our sins and everlasting death through faith in him.
The gospel of Christ was hidden for many years within the Church. It was never lost. The Christian Church cannot perish. But it was disguised and hidden under layers of human tradition. Then God sent Martin Luther to reform the Church and to bring the gospel to light. This was foretold by St. John in the Book of Revelation:
Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people—Revelation 14, 6
Luther preached, not a time bound, temporary, changing, or evolving gospel. He preached “the everlasting gospel” that cannot change anymore than the Christ who is its message can change. This is the gospel that we believe, teach, and confess.
Everything else we know and love in this world will pass away. So says Jesus. When he says, “heaven and earth shall pass away” he is referring to all created things. “Heaven” here refers to the universe beyond this world. We see a small fraction of it on a clear and starry night. The vastness of outer space simply boggles the mind. Once you start measuring in light years the distance becomes so vast as to be beyond comprehension.
Yet standing in front of his disciples, not long before his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion under Pontius Pilate, stood Jesus. He claimed that his words would remain when the vastness of the universe was destroyed.
People find this incredible. Look at him! He appears as a man. He suffers. When they subject him to the false justice of a kangaroo court and sentence him to die he appears helpless to resist. He is mocked and whipped. They put a crown of thorns on his head to poke fun of his claim to being a king. They blindfold him, beat him, and ridicule him. They nail him to a cross where he suffers and dies.
His death is victory. You can’t see it until he rises from the dead. But the victory was in his death. By dying while bearing the sin of the world he destroys sin. By suffering for the sin of the world he takes the sin away. All sin of all sinners is washed away in Jesus’ blood.
He said he would rise on the third day and he did. He said he would return to judge and he will. Whatever he says is so because he says it. His words do not change. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So are his words.
Things change. New inventions radically change the lives of billions of people. The technological advances of our generation signal more and more changes that we can’t possibly predict. Who could have predicted internet technology, cell phones, email, and the amazing advances we have witnessed during the past few years? Ever upward and onward! The rise of humanity! Nothing is too difficult and no challenge is too great! But the material advances of the human race correspond to its spiritual and moral degradation. Human life is cheapened even as human comfort and convenience become more important that doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong.
Ninety percent of unborn babies with Downs Syndrome are killed in the womb. Homosexual marriage – an oxymoron if there ever was one – creeps in as the Church finds herself tongue tied and unable to articulate a clear biblical condemnation of it. We see the false gospel of self-esteem replace the gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake. We see respected theologians replace the saving divine doctrine with cheap political imitations. We see the rise of false religions and cults as the Christian laity of our country become more and more ignorant of basic Christian teaching and thus more and more helpless to withstand the attacks against biblical truth that are waged on every hand. And when we look outside of the Church to the world we see war after war without apparent end.
This will all pass away. Jesus says so. He bore in his own body the sin of the world. He says that the world and all that is in it will be destroyed but those who have Jesus will not be destroyed for they have the forgiveness of sin he has won for them. They have been rescued from the power of the devil. They have received eternal life. To have Jesus means to have his words. Jesus will not be fashioned according to the world’s standards or desires. He is who he is and he will not change. He will not suffer his words to be altered or set aside. We receive Jesus by believing his words.
We like to think we’re smart. We have it all figured out. But we cannot figure out how to stop this world from being destroyed. And we cannot find any wisdom higher than that of God’s written Word. So we devote ourselves to it. We read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it. It is Christ’s own words to us revealing his love for us. It is the means by which the Holy Spirit lives within us. It is our life. So we cherish it as we do life itself. Amen