Sunday, February 27, 2011

Who is the Word of God? Why Should You Read His Book?

[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church during worship this morning.]

John 1:1-3, 14
2 Timothy 3:16-17*
As you know, on Ash Wednesday, March 9, we begin a yearlong emphasis at Saint Matthew: Read the Bible in a Year.

The response to the announcement that we were going to read the Bible together in a year’s time has been gratifying! Some of our overachievers have already started reading the Bible. Several people have gotten or are looking at new Bibles, in translations that are more accessible. And I hope that those who, because of the current conditions of their eyes, find reading difficult will be able get an audio edition of the Bible, either through a vendor or at the library. (If you'd like help finding an audio Bible to purchase, let me know, and I'll try to help you with your selection.)

With Read the Bible in a Year coming in so short a time, I’m departing from my usual practice of preaching on the appointed lessons and instead today, focusing on two important passages of Scripture. I hope that they’ll help motivate and inspire you to join in reading the Bible this year. My aim is to do that by talking about two important questions:
  • First, what do we Lutheran Christians mean when we speak of “the Word of God”? 
  • And second, why should we bother reading the Bible?
So, let’s get to it. Please pull out a pew Bible and turn to page 611. There, you’ll find what’s known as the Prologue to John’s Gospel, John 1:1-18. We’ll consider just a few passages of the Prologue, verses 1 to 3 and verse 14. Read along with me silently, please.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” [Now, slide down to verse 14.] “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Long before the universe was created, there was the Word of God. This Word of God is not an “it.” Unlike an impersonal force, the Word of God can be known in the same way you know your family or your friends or your neighbors.

That’s why John says of the Word of God, “He was in the beginning with God” and “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made” and “We have beheld His glory.”

I’m not emphasizing the maleness of those pronouns. What I am emphasizing is that the Word of God is a Being with passions and preferences and a personality.

It’s this Personality that the Old Testament book of Genesis tells us spoke to chaos and brought the universe into being: “’Let there be light’ and there was light.” It was the Word of God that made the light and you and me and everything else.

The New Testament book of Colossians says of the One John refers to as the Word of God: “In Him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible…all things have been created through Him and for Him.” And it says that in Him “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” 

This Word of God, the One Who created the universe, took on flesh and, as John’s Prologue says, “dwelt, lived” among us.

The Bible confesses that Jesus is the Word of God.

God, it turns out, is the Great Communicator. He used His Word to communicate all that was needed to bring the universe into being.

And from the very beginning, He has communicated with His personal favorites, the apples of His eye, the pinnacles of creation, the only beings made in His image: the human race.

We human beings have often turned a deaf ear to the Word of God, of course. But God has never tired of communicating with us.

The Word of God ultimately came to us when He took on flesh, became one of us, bore our sin on the cross, and rose from the dead so His Word of forgiveness and new life could come to all who repent and believe in Jesus.

When we Lutheran Christians speak of the Word of God, we mean first and foremost, Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, Who sits on the right side—the power side—of God the Father. The Word of God is, above all, God the Son.

Some people claim to see a different God in the Old Testament than they see in Jesus in the New Testament. Lutherans never have seen such a difference.

And for good reason. When Jesus walked on this earth, He said that He and the Father were one. He quoted Old Testament Scripture and He said that He came not to abolish God’s Old Testament law, but to fulfill it. Everything He did and said was consistent with the Personality of God revealed in Old Testament times. The New Testament writers show how the law and the grace that Jesus communicated for all the world, Jews and Gentiles, was precisely the same law and grace God communicated to His people Israel in the Old Testament. The preacher of the New Testament book of Hebrews says of Jesus, the Word of God made flesh: “[He] is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

As Lutheran Christians, we believe that God speaks and has spoken to people with the same simple message through the centuries, one composed of two parts: Law and Promise.

The Law is the moral law as embodied in the Ten Commandments, which God has never rescinded, revoked, or amended.

The Promise is God’s promise of forgiveness and new life to all who will repent and believe in Him.

God has personalized that promise for the whole human race in Jesus. This is why Jesus has given us the great commission to make disciples of all the world.

It was in response to Jesus' great commission and to help people know the Word of God personally and so, have the chance to repent and believe in Jesus, that John wrote his Gospel. “Jesus did many other things in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book,” John writes near the end of his Gospel. “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in His Name.” 

Jesus is the Word of God and the Bible is the Word of God because, through the Holy Spirit, the Church has learned that the Bible perfectly reflects the message the Word of God has been communicating since Adam and Eve: Turn from sin, trust in Me, and live. The Bible is God speaking law and promise to us: the law to drive us to Him, the promise to reconcile us to Him for eternity.

So, if the Bible’s message can be summarized in a few minutes, why spend a year reading it?

It’s simple, really. The crush of life—what The Small Catechism calls, “the devil, the world, and our sinful selves”—can turn us into amnesiacs. We can forget all about Jesus, the Word of God, hurtling through our lives without a clue of how to live or what to do.

But in the Bible, God helps us to remember. God knows we need reminding.

That’s why Luther said that the born-again Christians of his day weren’t born-again enough. They thought of repentance and faith in Christ as a one-and-done deal. But Luther said, rightly I think, that if we don’t keep coming back to God each day to repent and be renewed in His forgiveness and love, we can drift away from God and from eternity with Him.

Reading the Bible regularly can help correct our courses through life.

That leads to a second passage of Scripture I’d like to ask you to look up in the New Testament, 2 Timothy 3:16-17. It’s on page 690 in the pew Bibles. It says:
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God [literally, it says all scripture is God-breathed; God invests His very life into the pages of this book!] and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the [person] of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 
In the Bible, the Word of God—Jesus—gives us a treasury of tools by which God empowers us to live with faithfulness and to share God’s Word of law and promise that can bring eternity to all who believe in Jesus.

True story. Monique Govender grew up in a Hindu home in Durban, South Africa. Her family regularly worshiped numerous idols.

Then, in the space of twenty days, two of her siblings died. Monique’s mother became fearful and, maybe just to cover all her bases, began going to a church to secretly pray to the One the Christians said was the one and only God of the universe revealed in Jesus.

Monique’s father, an alcoholic and a physical abuser of his family, hated Christians. Maybe he’d met the kinds of counterfeit Christians who give Christianity a bad name. However it happened, he misunderstood Christian teachings.

Over the course of her childhood though, Monique encountered the Word of God at different times, each time having an impact on her. Once, at age four, she attended “a memorable church activity.” At seven, buying booze for her dad, she saw street performers do two skits: one about Jesus’ parable of the ten wise and foolish virgins and the other about Joseph, the son of Jacob from Old Testament times. Most influential of all was when she learned that her grandparents, lifelong Hindus, had come to faith in Jesus Christ and joined a local church.

At age 15, Monique herself came to faith in Christ. Then, her brother, after reading a Bible he had been given, came to believe in Jesus.

At first, Monique’s father was angry at his two children and refused to let his daughter worship at church. But, trusting in Jesus, the Word of God, Monique began to pray for her family, asking God to let her worship with other Christians and to help her father recover from his alcoholism and to stop being an abuser. “Eventually, she was allowed to go to church, and [amazingly] in time both her parents came to know Christ as well.”

Monique reflects on the goodness of God. “I am not sure of what God’s thoughts were for me, but in looking back, it seems like He’s been thinking about me. And it’s [amazing] to think that I was just an unknown girl…[But] God knew me, and even as a little child, I could feel that God was there with me.”

Jesus is the Word of God. The Bible is His book, written so that, no matter how “unknown” or alone or adrift or overwhelmed you may sometimes feel, God loves you.

God wants to be in relationship with you.

He wants to give you an abundant life here and in eternity.

He wants to guide you with His wisdom and love.

Read the Bible every day and let Jesus, the Word of God, speak His grace and truth into your life all the days of your life!

*The renderings of these two passages, as linked here, are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible. The Bibles in the pew racks of the Saint Matthew sanctuary are the New King James Version (NKJV). 

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