The Power and Purpose of God’s Word
Sexagesima Sunday Sermon| Rev. Rolf Preus| February 15, 2009| Isaiah 55:10-11
“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55, 10-11
God talks to us. He tells us about himself. He wants us to know him. He tells us what to do. He wants us to love him. He gives us the promise of forgiveness of our sins and eternal life for Christ’s sake. He wants us to trust in him. God relates to us by speaking to us. He gives himself to us by speaking to us. It was by speaking that he created us. It is by speaking to us that he gives us eternal treasures and brings us to trust in him.
God talks to us. If he did not speak to us we could not know him. If we did not know him we’d probably end up inventing our own god or gods and assigning to him or to them whatever wisdom we would deem worthy of a god. Some folks deny that there is a god but the Bible says they are fools.
God spoke through the prophets. This is how we know that the Old Testament is God’s word. King David, the psalmist, wrote: “The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue.” (2 Samuel 23, 2) St. Peter wrote:
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 author of the Epistle to the Hebrews begins his epistle with these words:
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, (Hebrews 1, 1-2)
Christ sent out the apostles who not only were the church’s first preachers but also were led into all truth by the Holy Spirit and they wrote that truth down in what we know as the New Testament. The prophetic and apostolic writings, also known as the Holy Scriptures, are God’s word.
God’s word is preached. We call this the oral word because it comes out of the preacher’s mouth. God has always spoken through men. He has always sent preachers to preach. What is preached must agree with what is written. The Bible is the standard for all preaching.
And what is the substance of God’s word? What does he say? He speaks of Christ. Indeed, Christ is called the Word. He is the Word who became flesh. Moses writes that God spoke and the world came into existence. John writes that everything was made by the Word who became flesh. Jesus Christ – begotten of his Father before time began, and born of the Virgin Mary some two thousand years ago – is the Word. Everything that God has to say to us has something to do with Jesus our Savior.
This is how we can be confident that the word of God always does what God wants it to do. Just as the rain and the snow cause the crops to grow so we have food to eat to sustain our bodies, even so, the word of God has the power to bring us to faith, sustain us in the faith, and keep us in the true faith. It is powerful because it is God’s word and God is almighty. It is powerful to bring us to faith in Christ because it teaches us of Christ. It brings Christ to us and enables us to receive him through faith.
But before faith comes the soil must be tilled. The seed that fell on the worn path could not penetrate the soil. The birds ate it before it could take root. The seed that fell on the rocky soil likewise could not take root and grow. It died soon after germinating. The seed that fell among the thorns grew for a while but was soon choked and overcome. In order for the seed to grow the soil must be cut deep so the seed can go down deep.
The law of God is what tills the soil. The law is not the seed. The law produces no life. But it is nevertheless God’s word. It has the power to kill. God’s law is not merely suggestions. It is the immutable will of the holy God. When God speaks his law he rips apart every human façade of holiness and exposes the corruption underneath. God’s law demands. It does not suggest. It demands pure love. It requires that we love God above all things. It requires us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
The law is good. But it makes us feel bad. This is why so many refuse to listen to it. They think that a good God would make them feel good. That’s because they don’t understand what they are. They refuse to understand what they are. They are sinners.
We are not sinners because we feel our sin. We are sinners because God’s law reveals that we are. When the church loses her voice and no longer preaches against specific sins the soil of the human heart will remain hard. Faith will be stolen, quenched, or choked.
One of the most common sins among Christians is to despise God’s word. People learn the Catechism when they are young and think they have learned all they need to know. They’ve already learned it so they don’t need to hear it again and again and again. But they are dead wrong. Unless the rain falls the crops will die. Faith cannot survive without God’s word. God’s word isn’t like geometry or chemistry. You don’t file away God’s word somewhere in the hidden recesses of your mind to use some day if you need it. It is the water of life.
“Oh,” people say. “I have my Bible. I can read it at my own leisure. I don’t need to go to church to hear it preached.” Martin Luther confronted this attitude in his day and wrote about it in his preface to the Large Catechism:
Yea, even among the nobility there may be found some louts and scrimps, who declare that there is no longer any need either of pastors or preachers; that we have everything in books, and every one can easily learn it by himself; and so they are content to let the parishes decay and become desolate, and pastors and preachers to suffer distress and hunger a plenty, just as it becomes crazy Germans to do.
There’s nothing new about the sin of despising God’s word. It goes back to the Garden of Eden. It was the original sin. God said. Satan replied, “Did God really say?” Ever since then God’s word has been questioned, denied, revised, spun, hated, distorted, and ignored.
Church services nowadays often resemble entertainment more than instruction. They are designed to titillate the emotions of the worshippers rather than to build them up in God’s saving truth. Simply to teach God’s word by expository preaching is considered to be too dull and dry and lifeless as if God’s word needs plenty of additives before it can do us any good.
But God’s word is powerful in and of itself. Divine power inheres in God’s word because God’s word is never just words on a page or words coming out of someone’s mouth. God says:
So shall my word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
What is the purpose for which God sends it? Faith. Faith is why God caused his word to be written down in the Bible. Faith is why God sends preachers to preach his word. God’s word works faith. The purpose of every sermon is faith. Every hymn we sing and every portion of the Divine Service is written for the purpose of faith.
Faith doesn’t cause itself. God causes it. He elicits it. He creates it. He sustains it. He purifies it. He does this always and only through his word.
This is why we insist that our preachers are devoted to the pure teaching of God’s word. This is why we set aside time every week to go to church to hear the word preached. This is why we read our Bibles, go to Bible classes, and spend time studying God’s word. We know that God is always active in his word. His word is never inert. It is never just words. It always retains the power to do what he intends it to do.
Faith is the simplest and yet most difficult thing. It doesn’t do. It is done to. It doesn’t go out and get. It receives. All it does is to receive. To receive isn’t to do. It is to do nothing.
Yet faith is also the most powerful thing in our lives. Every good deed the Christian ever does is a fruit of faith. But faith must be true. It must come from God. That is, it must come from God’s word. Otherwise it has no real power. The faith that is born from God’s word receives what the Word made flesh gives. He alone can give it. Faith alone can receive it. We call it the gospel because it is good news. But it is not just any kind of good news. It is the good news of Jesus.
This good news comes to hearts plowed up by God’s law. We know our sins. We have indeed loved our own wisdom more than God’s. We’ve neglected his word. We’ve failed to pay attention to it. We’ve even denied it. We have failed to confess it. This we know and this we confess with sorrow.
God speaks. He speaks to us from the cross where Jesus died. The eternal Word become flesh bore in his holy flesh all the sin of fallen flesh. He suffered and died. He died for all sin. He died for us. He died for our sins of despising, ignoring, twisting, and running away from God’s word. The Word become flesh who was crucified for us embraced in purity every command of God’s word. He also embraced our sin. He chose to suffer for it as if it were his own. He took it. He paid for it. He bore it. He took it away.
This is what God’s word tells us. Indeed, this is what God’s word gives us. In giving us forgiveness of sins God keeps us in the true faith. He takes away our fears and he brings us true comfort. He opens the door of paradise to us and guarantees our entrance. He accomplishes in our hearts what he set out to do. This is why we love his word like the dry land loves the falling rain. Amen