Text: Romans 15:4-13
A little while back we had a guest come to St. John’s for the organ rededication. After the service he led a very helpful Bible study on how the Lutheran Church has more Bible in its service than any other. That statement sounds provocative at first; but if we page through the Divine Service and consider the small writing on the right side of every page, we can see that it’s true. Nearly everything spoken or sung in the Divine Service is either a direct quote from Scripture or a close paraphrase. The same is true for the prayer offices we use: Prayer and Preaching, Evening Prayer, and now Vespers. This inclusion of God’s Word in nearly everything we say and do as a congregation is intentional; but have you ever considered why?
St. Paul wrote in our Epistle this week, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4 English Standard Version) St. Paul could just as easily be writing this to us, who now are living through one of the stranger years of our lives. What was written before us was written so that we might have hope. St. Paul had the Old Testament Scriptures in mind in this text, but certainly he would include what we know as the New Testament. We read, sing, and hear the Scriptures in our worship and lives because it is through them that the God of Hope grants us endurance and encouragement.
“For whatever was written in former days,” St. Paul wrote, “was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (vv. 4-6) We are here today because we are those who have been called by the Holy Spirit to faith in Christ. We, with the one voice of faith, are united with Christians around the world who also have gathered to hear the Word and sing His praise. We confess, however, that, since the Fall, there have existed on earth a multitude of false religions in addition to the worship of the one true God, the Triune God. Many of these so-called religions have their own religious texts, but relatively few have it written down. We are included among those who have a written Scripture. If the goal of Scripture is, according to Paul, that we have hope – this is something that God could have done without writing things down. So, why did God choose to communicate with us in this way?
In Confirmation we learned how important it is for us to have someone outside of ourselves speak the forgiveness of sins to us. Like King David when he committed adultery with Bathsheba, we can be blind to our own guilt. We need someone or something to call us to repentance and also to announce that we are forgiven in Christ. It needs to come from outside of us so that we can be sure that what is said is true, and not a whisper of the Old Adam. God gave us His Word in writing, in part, so that we can have something external to us that speaks to us of our sin and the forgiveness that is in Christ. An added benefit of something being written is that it can also be tested. This is also something that separates us from the false religions of the world. The Bible contains many historical events and claims. Unlike other religions, more and more the science of archaeology is finding evidence that what the Bible says is, indeed, true. In other words, science concurs with our faith. It cannot prove it, but it does speak to it.
God gave us His Word in writing so that we might have something external to us, something that can be verified, something that doesn’t change. We know well the words of St. Isaiah, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.” (40:8) Our Lord also said Himself, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My Words will not pass away.” (Mt. 24:35) Our God is merciful and does not desire His people to be tossed around on the waves like a ship on the ocean, but to have a firm foundation like a house built on the rock. God’s Word is our rock, and it is through this rock that He grants to us – His faithful people – endurance and encouragement.
“Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope,” says the Holy Spirit through St. Paul. God has given us His Word in writing so that we might have something external, fixed, verifiable. Through it He grants us endurance and encouragement. Really, the English words here fail us a little bit. The Holy Spirit implies something beyond just endurance; something like a fortitude, a steadfastness and perseverance in the face of extreme difficulty. Such did He grant to the Christians who have gone before us. In Hebrews 11, we hear a catalog of those before us who also lived, “by faith.” At one point it speaks about those,
who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight…Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.Hebrews 11:33-38
When we hear the accounts of what the saints have gone through and endured before us, we hear what the Holy Spirit granted them through the Word – an endurance, a perseverance through the most extreme of situations.
And just as the English word “endurance” doesn’t quite cut it, neither does the Word “encouragement.” This is really the word “comfort,” as when we call the Holy Spirit “The Comforter.” He is the Comforter because, through the Word, not only does He give to us the endurance to face all things in Christ, He also comforts us with the fact that our sins are forgiven. Come what may, whatever the devil may throw at us to steal our faith or whatever the Lord may allow to strengthen our faith, we are comforted that our place before God is secure – not because of us, but because of Him. God the Father in mercy sent His Son into the flesh. He kept His promise to remove our sins from us and bring us into a new heavens and earth where righteousness dwells, and not sin. When we hear this, we can take comfort.
It is with gladness that we confess that our worship service is permeated with God’s Word. It is filled with it; and this isn’t by accident. Rather, our services are filled with the Word because it is through it that our merciful God, the God of Hope, grants us perseverance and comfort. In the Word we have something outside of us that stands the test of time and that will endure, unlike all other things on earth. Let us, therefore, give thanks to God and pray that His Word would be preserved among us always.
Preserve your Word and preaching.
The truth that makes us whole,
The mirror of your glory,
The power that saves the soul.
Oh, may this living water,
This dew of heavenly grace,
Sustain us while here living
Until we see your face. – “Preserve Your Word, O Savior,” The Lutheran Hymnal #264