God's Word Is Not Mere Lip Service For It Does Stuff

Text:  John 4:46-54

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

We are used to broken promises and empty words, words that are vacuous; words that are simply lip service. Are we not?

Politicians make campaign promises and speak words of hope, only for us to later realize that their campaign words were empty, non-binding, and that their words were unable to deliver. "Read my lips, no new taxes.  I will not cut funding for the farm bill.  I will create new jobs. I will balance the deficit!” and so forth.  Employers and supervisors make words with promises only to have the promises rescinded due to budget cuts, “"You can expect a raise next year.  Yes, there is a job promotion ahead for you if you work hard.  This fertilizer should get you an extra 10 bushels per acre, if you invest now." Marketers make promises that we should know better not to trust, but words that we deep down hope are true, "With 4 easy payments you will obtain this fantastic exercise video which will then bring you on an exercise journey to lose 30 pounds in 5 weeks.  Invest now and you can expect a 20% return just like these fantastic individuals.  Purchase this product and your wildest dreams will come true."

Yes, these words sound promising and give assurance, but you, like me, have experienced the frustration of words not coming to fruition.  You have experienced the comfort of words, only to have that very comfort and joy stripped when the words didn't deliver, thus implanting and creating lingering doubt within your mind, doubt that says, "I will believe it when I see it."  However, I suspect that you are much like me in that you have also failed with words yourself too.  You have made promises to your employers, colleagues, friends, and family only to default on those promises, only to see that the words were not effective in having the results that you promised.  Painfully, you have spoken words to your spouse, saying, "Trust me, this time; it won’t happen again; everything is going to be o.k." only to find out that they are not. You have spoken words to your children, words that testify that you will be at the precious baseball game or music recital, only to default and fail to follow through on your words.

It is no wonder why we are suspicious of words.  We have all been sinned against with words, words that were false and words that failed to deliver on what they promised.  Furthermore, we are all guilty and know the guilt of sin when we speak false truths and speak empty words, words that have failed to bring forth the integrity that we hope to possess. Tragically this is our human condition.  We are broken and dead in sin which results in broken, false, and vacuous words.

The consequence of this is that we are suspicious of words; in fact we are so untrusting of words that we demand outward signs, things to validate and hold words in check.  You know what I am talking about!  When we submit words on a job application we need to have references for the employer to call in order to verify if our words of self-assessment are true and right.  Our words are not typically taken at face value, thus the need to place down payments, sign contracts, shake hands, and so forth.  God calls us to let our yes be yes and our no to be no; that we are to be truth speakers. Yet, we fail and sin with our use of Words and need to have outward signs, or tangible things in order to validate and hold our words and other people’s words in check.

Do you know that it was no different during the time of Jesus’ day?  The Jewish population demanded signs.  In order for something to be true and right they wanted to see the proof in the pudding, as they say.  And guess what?  Jesus did give the people signs.  During the 3 ½ years of Jesus’ ministry He traveled the country side doing miracle after miracle; healing the sick, giving life to the dead. Yes, the lame walked and the blind could see.  The buzz in the air was that this Christ did miraculous things!

But why did He do these miraculous things?  Although Jesus performed these miracles and signs to make Himself known and to lead people to faith in Him, the underlying purpose was to focus their attention on the Words that He spoke rather than the signs.  The visible signs and miracles testified to the truth of Jesus’ message.  In other words, these signs and miracles of Jesus were done not as a means to their own end, but they were done so that the people might believe that He was the Messiah (John 20:31).  The signs and miracles were to be like a catapult that grabbed ahold of the people and launched them to the person of Jesus Himself and His faithful/true words.

You see, my friends, Christ is much different than you and me.  Whereas our words are many times false and powerless, Jesus’ words are true.  Jesus’ words are powerful.  Where we demand signs to validate words, Jesus gives signs and miracles to point us back to His Words. 

In the case of our Gospel text that we read earlier, the Jewish Official is insisting that Jesus come to the place where his son was at the point of death.  In response Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” What Jesus is addressing is the problem that the people of the day many times had. They became distracted with the miracles and signs of Jesus and simply regarded Him as a miracle worker.  They saw the miracles and signs and failed to see the One doing miracles.  They had faith in the miracles and the signs.  Therefore, as we heard in the Gospel lesson today, Jesus does not go to the official’s residence to heal his son, but rather He speaks the words, “Go: your son will live!”  Jesus is taking this man from a ‘miracle and sign’ faith to a true saving faith in Jesus’ ‘Word.’  What makes Jesus the Messiah is not that He can do miraculous miracles, but that He actually is the Messiah, that Jesus’ words are true and powerful. 

Do you see the significance of this my friends?  Jesus speaks a word and the official’s son is healed instantaneously!  Jesus does not go to the man’s dying son on purpose.  He does not go and the reason is so that the official would trust the truthfulness and power of Jesus’ Word and His Word alone.

Unlike you and me, and the people of the 1st Century, Jesus’ Word is true and Jesus’s Word is powerful.  The Word of God does stuff!  In the Old Testament reading from today we hear about God creating this world by the power of His word.  God said, “Let there be light.” And so it was.  As God speaks the world into existence in Genesis 2, we also see Jesus, the Son of God, declaring that the official’s son was healed, and so it was!  And get this, just as the Lord speaks the world into existence and speaks healing in to existence, He also speaks faith into existence in you and me. 

Each and every Sunday you come to this church, this Divine Service, to hear the Word of God.  Every time that you open the scriptures, God speaks to you.  His Word is not mere information that you are to act upon, but it is a living and active Word.  The Word is like a double edge sword; it is like a hammer.  The truthful Word of God invades you and me, interrogates us, and exposes our sin; thus it kills us and then delivers to us promises.  The Word does this because it is true and because of the Holy Spirit working in and through the Word.  The Word breaks through and wounds.  The Word comes against our old Adam, our sinful nature, and ascribes redemption solely to the blood of Christ. 

Therefore, listen and open your ears you who fail with words.  Listen and open your ears you who speak promises only to bankrupt those promises by your failure to fulfill.  Listen and open your ears you who speak false truths, fibs, lies.  Listen and open your ears you who offend God by your thoughts, deeds, and especially words.  Listen to a new Word.  “At the mighty cross, a cross that drips of Christ’s blood, Your sins were forgiven.  Yes, Your Sins ‘are’ forgiven. Thus saith the Lord.”  Indeed, you are wholly and totally forgiven.

So, my friends, in light of this new Word, when the devil rises to speak counterfeit words, false truths, lies and so forth to you—because he certainly will—tell the devil this.  The tomb is empty, for surely you know that it is true, for you yourself heard the words of victory from my Lord Jesus Christ, who cannot lie, that He indeed finished everything for me.  Yes, I am indeed a poor miserable sinner; yet I have heard the absolution from my pastor, who in the stead and by the command of Jesus proclaims to me that I am clothed in the blood of Jesus. Indeed, Jesus’ word is true and He has promised me salvation, redemption, and forgiveness.  Evil one, you should surely know this for Christ even descended to Hades to announce His very victory, a victory that He accomplished for me.

God’s Word is true, it is effective, and it is for you my friends.

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Doulos2Christou said…
Hi Pastor Matt - I have a very practical/pastoral concern. Although your sermon here is tremendous encouragement to me, I have a friend who perennially doubts the Word of God. His main beef is that the promises in it which are addressed to us do not come true when he asks for them, e.g. anything spoken to us about putting on Christ and receiving subjective peace, sanctification, a love for God. He always feels empty, broken, and angry at God even though he has received my constant counsel to look to Christ, to believe the gospel, and to receive His gifts given through means.

He yet comes back time and again more and more discouraged, because he finds little to no delight in the things of God, and basically has to force himself to go to church, force himself to believe these promises because "they don't happen." "Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden . . . and I will give you peace," for instance. My friend simply has not found this and other things to be true in his experience.

So how do we counsel a Christian who has ZERO corresponding joy or contentment in regard to the gospel promises coming to him? Just tell him to keep eating communion? I'm spent.