Septuagesima Sunday

February 20, 2011

“The Power of God’s Word”

Jeremiah 1:4-10


Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations." Then said I: "Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth." But the LORD said to me: "Do not say, 'I am a youth,' for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you," says the LORD. Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: "Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant." Jeremiah 1:4-10



Last week we listened to the inspired words of St. Peter about the Holy Scriptures.  St. Peter gives us good reasons why we should pay attention to what the Bible says.  It is true.  It is a light that enlightens us.  It reveals Jesus, our Savior, to us.


This morning we listen to the words that God spoke to the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah and we focus on another important attribute of God’s word.  It is powerful.


“The word of the LORD came to me,” Jeremiah writes.  That’s how he describes his call to preach.  He wasn’t musing one day, pondering the mysteries of human existence, when a flash of insight leaped from the hidden recesses of his mind and he was inspired to speak.  That’s not how it worked when God called the prophets to preach.  The word they preached did not originate in them.  It came to them.  It wasn’t Jeremiah’s word.  It was God’s.  It wasn’t Jeremiah taking stock of the situation and figuring out what God must have to say about it.  It was God coming to Jeremiah through his word.


God deals with us through his word.  This is the only way he deals with us.  We don’t figure it out and explain it to God.  God tells us how it is.  He tells us in his law and he tells us in his gospel.


When we think of God’s word we usually think of what he says.  But the Bible also talks about God’s word as who he is.  Specifically, the Second person of the Holy Trinity is identified as the Word.  Jesus Christ is the almighty God become flesh.  St. John refers to him as the Word.  He writes,


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. . .  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.” (John 1:1&14)


The word of God written down in the Bible is centered in Jesus Christ, the word made flesh.  The word of God that the preacher is given to preach is also centered in Jesus Christ, the word made flesh.  When the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, Christ Jesus came to Jeremiah, though it was several hundred years before he was born.


Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah – they all preached about Christ.  God never sent a preacher to preach who didn’t preach about Christ.  Self-appointed preachers preach themselves and their own notions, not Christ and not God’s word.  Jeremiah was appointed by God.


The call to preach comes from the outside, not the inside.  It’s not a feeling the preacher gets.  It’s God coming to the preacher and telling him to preach.  In the case of the prophets of old they were chosen directly by God.  In the case of today’s preachers, God’s call to preach comes through the Church.  In either case it is God who appoints the preachers to preach.  They don’t appoint themselves.


Jeremiah illustrates this.  God told him that he had chosen him to be a prophet to the nations.  Jeremiah replied, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.”  He naturally pointed out his own inability and inexperience.  But God had chosen him.  Before he formed him in his mother’s womb he chose him, appointed him, ordained him to be a prophet to the nations.


More that that, God chose what it was that Jeremiah was to preach.  God sends the preacher and God tells the preacher what to preach.  He said to Jeremiah, “You shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.”  Go where God says.  Say what God says to say.  You’re not the boss.  God is.


Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet.  It was his painful duty to tell Judah that their nation would be destroyed and that they would be taken away into captivity and would languish in exile far from their homeland.  They deserved it.  They had fallen into idolatry.  Their own kings instituted the worship of the Baal and Asherah – a god and goddess of the Canaanites.  King Josiah, who reigned during much of Jeremiah’s tenure as a prophet, instituted reforms to bring the nation back to the true worship of the true God.  He ordered the altars to Baal destroyed and the Asherah poles taken down, but Josiah couldn’t change the hearts of the people.  They had become callused to the gospel. 


What was it about Baal and Asherah worship that so appealed to these people?  They had God’s word!  They had the truth!  They had the law.  They had the promise of the Savior.  Why would they throw it all away for the worship of heathen idols?


Their neighbors worshipped Baal and Asherah.  They wanted to be like their neighbors.  They didn’t want to take a stand against the popular religion of the area.  But more than that, Baal and Asherah could be manipulated.  They could be bought.  They could be bribed.  And worshipping them did not require renouncing their sinful passions and desires.  In fact, sexual immorality was a part of Baal and Asherah worship.  They could feed their flesh as an act of religious devotion.


These people needed the law.  They needed to be shown what they didn’t want to see.  They didn’t want to give up a religious of the flesh.  They didn’t want to repent in humble sorrow for their selfishness, greed, lust, immorality, and dishonesty.  They wanted to whine to the LORD God about their troubles while refusing to take responsibility for them.  Jeremiah was sent to preach the law.


He was understandably afraid.  What will they do to me?  In those days a prophet could get himself killed for saying the wrong thing to the wrong person.  More to the point, he could get himself killed for saying the right thing to the right person.  Kings had prophets killed.  Jeremiah knew it.


God said to him:


Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you," says the LORD. Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: "Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant."


When God put his words in Jeremiah’s mouth he made Jeremiah his tool to root out, to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant.  God promised to speak through his spokesman and to protect him in his speaking.  And the words he spoke would be no empty words.  It’s not as if God advises and shrugs his shoulders should his advice be ignored.  God doesn’t propose and wait for negotiations to begin.  He speaks and it is done as he says.


And so it was with Jeremiah.  He preached the law to Judah and Judah went into exile.  He preached against Egypt, the Philistines, Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, Damascus, and the list goes on.  Everything he preached came to be.  When he preached the law that judges that law judged and nobody could turn that judgment away.


That’s enough to make any Christian weep, and believe me, Jeremiah was a Christian.  He preached Christ.  Listen to these words of God recorded by Jeremiah:


Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.  In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS (Jeremiah 23:5-6).


Just as the preaching of the law does what the law does, so the preaching of the gospel does what the gospel does.  The law roots out, pulls down, destroys, and throws down.  The gospel builds and plants.


This has nothing to do with the strength, piety, intelligence, or persuasive ability of the preacher.  The word of God is inherently powerful to do what it says.  God is almighty and his word expresses who he is, what he wants, and what he is going to do.


The reason we come to church to hear God’s word proclaimed is because we need to be uprooted and destroyed.  We need to be planted and built up.


The law kills.  It doesn’t offer suggestions.  It issues commands.  The law doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves.  It doesn’t pat us on the back for doing the best we can.  It demands a perfect heart.  It demands pure love.  It demands faithfulness, honesty, kindness, patience, and humility.  It demands that we run the race set before us without looking back and without questioning what God gives us to do.


You must agree with the law to understand it.  For it is in agreeing with the law that the law crushes you.  It does what it is designed to do.  When you argue with the law, it may hammer you down – after all, you’re not God and you don’t get to decide what is going to happen – but you will remain proud and impenitent.  When the law convicts your heart and you say, “Yes, it is true.  I should have been faithful to her.  I should have honored him.  I should not have said what I said.  I should have humbled myself and admitted my wrong,” it is then, when you say “amen” to the law and its judgment of you that it has done its work.


The law kills, but the gospel gives life.  It not only describes the LORD, our righteousness; it not only tells us about him; the gospel actually gives him to us and makes him ours.  The words of the absolution didn’t come from the minister who spoke them.  They came from Jesus who is the LORD our righteousness.  The gospel we hear in church is never just the opinion of a man standing in front of us.  It is the almighty power of Jesus Christ himself.  He bore our sins.  He suffered the enormity of their guilt.  He paid his innocent life to the penal justice of God to replace our lives of sin.  He suffered the pain of hell itself on the cross as he suffered and died for the sin of the world.  He is the one who speaks his words of forgiveness.  Those words that tell us our sins are forgiven are powerful to give us the forgiveness they promise.  They are powerful to enable us to trust in them.  They are powerful to rescue us from whatever evil lies within and to transport us to heaven.


The word of God is powerful.  It achieves everything God wants it to achieve.  God wants to keep us steadfast in the true faith until we die and then he wants to take us to heaven to be with himself where there is no sin, no suffering, and no death.  He wants to do all this for us through his word.  Amen.