The Word of the Lord Endures forever
The Word of the Lord Endures forever For months you've been seeing V/D/M/A, the initials for the Latin Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum. "The Word of the Lord endures forever." It's taken from our text. It's the motto of the Lutheran Reformation first used in 1522 as a rallying cry for laypeople in the defense of their faith. The initials were sown on the right sleeve. Today, the motto sounds simplistic: "The Word of the Lord endures forever!" Right. Whose interpretation of the Word? What about errors in transmitting the words? How can you prove it's God's Word? How is your Bible any better than the holy books of the Mormons, Muslims, or Hindus?
How shall we answer such questions? To begin with, when Lutherans hear, The Word of the Lord Endures Forever, we first think of Christ. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Word that was in the beginning with God and was God. He predates any written Word of God. In the beginning, before there was anything God spoke, and that Word was God.
We Lutherans have sung this truth all our lives in A Mighty Fortress. In the last verse when we sing about the Word that can fell Satan, we don't call it an 'it', as would be the case if we were referring to a book, but a 'He': "He's by our side upon the plain/ With His good gifts and Spirit." The Word of the Lord that endures forever is first a Person.
Our text says the same thing. It opens by telling us that we are reborn not of a perishable but an imperishable seed. The seed is Christ say Paul in Galatians. The text closes with, "and this is the spoken Word which was evangelized to you." The Word that endures forever is the preached Gospel of God the Son who took on flesh and blood to redeem sinners. This is the Word that is put on you in Baptism, into your ears in Absolution, and into your mouth in Holy Communion. This Word, He, endures forever.
But how only can we know about the Word made flesh, about God the Son, about the true God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? That's the real question before all those who can't imagine how people in the 21st century can believe in a written Word from God that endures forever. Where does their knowledge about god come from?
Men have tried 3 ways to know God. They've tried philosophy, seeking answers about God in their intellect and reason. They've tried mysticism, seeking answers about God in the feelings they have about God. They've tried moralism, seeking answers about God in their right living. If you haven't tried these, I encourage you to.
See what you can say without a doubt about God using your mental powers. I can save you time. You can only know for sure that He exists; He is powerful, and that He's going to punish you for the wrong you've done and the right you haven't done. And go ahead; try finding God in your feelings. All you'll find is what you feel about God, not what He feels about you. Try facing a crisis, a disaster, a death knowing only how you feel about God. Finally, try the moral route. Seek God in being a good boy or girl. All you'll find out for sure is that you can never know when you're good enough to come into God's presence.
Where on earth can I go to find out about the eternal God? All I find on earth is that all men are no more enduring than grass. Even the best of men, the brightest philosophers, the deepest mystics, and the best living moralists, are no more enduring than wild flowers. No matter how bright their mental light, how deep their thoughts, how holy their living, they all died. They all went back to dust and ashes and so did their ideas, feelings, and deeds.
So who can tell me about the God who endures forever? Only the God who endures forever. And where does this God speak? In this Word being preached to you right now. The first Word God speaks to beings of flesh and grass and wilting flowers is a Word of Law. And you have no defense against this Word because what the Law speaks into your ears resonates with what has been written in your heart since the day you were first conceived.
Unbelief can deny all day that Adam and Eve were real people. Unbelief can say Noah's flood is just a myth. Unbelief can smugly proclaim Jonah couldn't have been swallowed by a whale. And unbelief can confidently say Jesus was just a good man, a great teacher, but not God. Unbelief can argue all of these points, but it can't argue this: I'm a sinner. I'm guilty and will go to hell despite all my excuses and despite all my promises to do better. I haven't even lived up to the god I claim to believe in. I haven't worshipped the god I admit exists in a way that befits him. I fall short of even the glory of the god I've made up!
Deny the Bible is the Word of God; deny it endures forever; deny that God created the earth in six 24 hour days; deny that God became Man; deny that God comes today in Baptism's Water; in these Words I speak; and is on the altar in Bread and Wine. But you cannot deny that you're a sinner and God is going to hold you accountable for every move you make, every vow you brake; every deed you fake. Your own haunting fears, your own gnawing doubts, and your own harrowing nightmares tell you this, don't they?
You know the true God who judges the living and the dead in these Words of Law I'm preaching into your ears. But there is another Word of God you need to hear. If all you know about God is that He demands total perfection and damns everyone who falls short, well you know enough to go to hell, and that's where you're heading right now. But God has another Word, and this Word you won't find in your heart or any other. This Word declares to you what no man or woman has seen, heard, or could ever dream up.
Though you've sinned against God in more ways than you can count; though you've done this willingly, laughingly, proudly, as an all out enemy of God, God didn't want to see you go to hell. So God sent His only beloved Son into the world via a virgin's womb. There He took on your flesh and blood, so He could take on all your obligations as a creature before God. He worshipped and served only the true God in your place. He did everything you can't do. He never was greedy, lustful, or gossiped, but He was punished brutally and horribly as if He was guilty. You know those secret fears you have of a hell where you burn and burn but are never burned up? Well Jesus really did go there and suffer that in your place.
The Word of salvation that Jesus kept God's Laws in your place and paid what you owed for not keeping them strikes your heart, trust is born, and your are reborn as immortal and enduring as the God who gave birth to you. The 10 Commandments, the thousands of "do this" and "don't do that" which you hear ringing in your ears can't keep you out of heaven because Jesus did them all in your place. All those sins you see staining your heart and feel weighing your conscience down are washed away by the blood of Jesus and carried off by Him. The deal was that your sins had to be completely paid for before you could go to heaven. Jesus did that, so heaven is yours.
The Word of the eternal God came down from heaven and took on flesh and blood to save me, guilty sinner that I am. His Word to me, "I baptize you;""I forgive you;" "take eat and drink this is My Body and Blood" are what keep me free from judgment and from going to hell. All I have are His Words. My mind can't figure how I can be saved. I don't always feel saved, and I never do enough to be saved. All I have is Jesus' Word on it, and that is enough. Faith lives from and to the Word. Jesus says, "I baptize you, I forgive you, and take eat and drink," and faith says, "Amen!"
Being saved by the Word made flesh, I have the same attitude He does to the written Word. Jesus appealed to God's Word written 1,500 years earlier that any unbeliever could question, give a dozen reasons to doubt, and ridicule any number of ways. Yet, this ancient written Word was good enough for Jesus. He appealed to it as an authority to end arguments about divorce, the resurrection of the dead, and the deity of Christ. Even more amazing, when Jesus went up against Satan in our place, He replied to Satan's sophisticated temptations, arguments, and accusations by quoting 3 simple passages from the written Word of God.
Jesus used the written Word as an enduring authority, and He binds us forever to all His Words. He says those holding to His Word are His disciples. He requires us to teach all things He has commanded. You won't find what Jesus commands in your head, heart, or life, in your ideas, feelings, or works, but only in the Words He has left you. These Words are the boundaries of being a disciple of Jesus nothing more, nothing less.
The Word of the Lord endures forever as a living authority no matter if men have no thanks for it, ridicule it, or tear it down. On your death bed, you will know this wonderful authority. If I had time I would tell you of philosophers who could find no comfort in their minds on their death beds; of mystics who could find no hope in their feelings as they stared into the open grave; of moralists who could find no peace in their right living as they saw the looming judgment throne of God.
The same will happen to 21st century people who try to face the grave, the judgment, and the devil using medicine, science, or technology. You will find no comfort, hope, or peace in these. When you're dying of cancer the fact medicine has found something new will bring no comfort. When you're dying of old age the fact that scientists believe we can live to 140 won't give you hope. Even if you're not right now dying, if you know that dying is never and "if" but always a "when," new microchips and nanotechnologies don't give you one bit of peace, do they?
A Word from the eternal God does. The strong Word of God "cleaves the darkness of sin and death" and "bespeaks us righteous," saying, "Fear not; I've put away your sins for Jesus' sake. You're not going to die: today, tomorrow, or ever. You'll endure as long as My Word does, and My word endures forever. Though the heavens and earth will pass away, not one dot of an i in My Word ever will." Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin
Reformation Sunday (20051030); I Peter 1: 23-25