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“Promises. Promises.” “All talk and no show.” That’s how we tend to view words. We don’t want just words. We want action. We want tangible results. But in some cases, words are more powerful than actions. If you ask someone who has been physically and verbally abused which had a more lasting effect, they will tell you it was the verbal abuse. Physical wounds heal and may be forgotten, but the mind keeps hearing abusive words over and over and over again. You might have chanted the phrase, “sticks and stones my break my bones but words will never hurt me,” all the while knowing that those unkind words really do hurt. Words are powerful.
Nothing is more powerful than the word of God. In the beginning he said, let there be light, and there was light. The sun, moon and stars had not been created yet, not until day four of creation, but there was light on day one, provided by the power of God’s word. Everything God made came into existence by the power of his word with the exception of Adam and Eve for whom he personally formed bodies. The Palmist says, he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. The writer to the Hebrews says that all things are sustained by his powerful word.
God spoke to Adam and Eve and made them rulers over all he had made. He told them that all the trees of the garden were theirs, but he commanded them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He gave his word that if they disobeyed him and ate, they would die.
The devil knew the power of God’s word so that’s what he attacked. He challenged Eve to question God’s word. Did God really say? And then boldly contradicted God’s word by saying, you will not surely die if you eat the forbidden fruit. Genesis five makes clear the lie of the devil and the power of God’s word. Skip over the long lists of unfamiliar names if you want, but don’t miss the tolling bell at the end of each genealogy- and he died, and he died, and he died. Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.
Jesus says, flesh gives birth to flesh. He says, the flesh does not help at all. And our sinful nature objects. We say, “but look at all I can do! I can build things, skyscrapers that reach into the clouds. I can send a rocket to the moon and beyond. I can make music and beautiful pieces of art. I can make huge airplanes that can defy gravity while carrying tanks and trucks weighing tons. I can make huge ships that float while carrying tons of cargo. I can perform intricate surgeries. I can make medicines. I can create programs that help the poor. I can airlift food and water to places that are devastated by earthquakes or other natural disasters. I can go to church and worship. Just look at what the flesh can do! Certainly, the flesh counts for something, doesn’t it?”
Did any of those good and helpful things keep you or anyone else from death? Did any of those good and helpful things grant you or anyone else eternal life? The flesh does not help at all. Nothing you do can keep you or anyone else from facing death one day. Nothing you do can give you or anyone else eternal life. The Pandemic has brought that fact home to many people and our sinful flesh rebels against it. Vaccines can be good and helpful, but, although they may save your flesh from the current virus, they will not keep you from facing death someday. Israel ate manna in the wilderness, but they still died.
Ecclesiastes says, vanity, vanity, everything is vanity. Everything of the flesh, everything of this world is like a mist, here today and gone tomorrow. The flesh does not help at all. “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words, Jesus says, will never pass away.
Because of sin the flesh counts for nothing, so God has chosen to deal with us on the basis of his powerful word.
When Adam and Eve sinned, his word stood. They died. But he gave another powerful word, a promise. He promised them and all their descendants whose flesh could not help them that he would send them a savior whose flesh would help them. He would be born of a woman. The word became flesh and dwelt among us. He was full of grace and truth. He would give his flesh for the life of the world. He would proclaim the very words of God. By the power of his word, he would clam storms, heal the sick, cast out demons, and even call people back from the dead. Lazarus, come out! And he did. He would proclaim I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me. He would proclaim, I, the Son of man, did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world. Whoever believes in me is not condemned. He says, I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead (those dead in trespasses and sins) will hear the voice of the Son of God, his words, and those who hear will live.
The flesh is no help at all when it comes to facing death and having eternal life. But, Jesus says, the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. God chooses to save us through his word, his promises. Adam and Eve were saved through faith, trusting God’s word, that God would keep his promise to send a savior. The people in the wilderness were saved from snake bites when they trusted God’s word, his promise that looking up at a metal snake on a poll would save them, and Jesus used that as a picture of himself. He promises that when people see him lifted up and believe in him, they have eternal life.
We are familiar with the way Paul describes the fact that God works through the word. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. The words of Jesus are spirit and they are life.
It’s no surprise then that Satan continues to attack the word of God. He continues to ask, Did God really say? Can it really be true that by the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. Can it really be true that God made them male and female? Can it really be true that there is only one way to have eternal life? Can it really be true that my flesh cannot help at all, that I can’t do anything to save myself or even contribute a single thing to my salvation?
Yes! Everything God’s word says is true. But there are some of you who do not believe. There are some who refuse to listen to God’s word, who reject what they consider a hard teaching. There are those who turn back and do not continue to walk with Jesus, who refuse to take up their cross and follow him. Jesus says it is his word that will judge them on the last day.
How sad it is that so many today want nothing to do with God’s word. They want to trust man’s word, even though man’s word has failed them over and over again. How dangerous it is when Christians despise God’s word, making almost everything else in life more important than hearing, reading and learning God’s word– when it’s relegated to “if I have time,” or “when I’ve done everything else I want to do,” category of life. How dangerous it is when even Christians fail to regard God’s word as Holy and gladly hear and learn it. Jesus is calling out to us and all who claim to be his disciples, You do not want to leave too, do you?
What a blessing that Jesus always regarded God’s word as holy. He always made it is habit to be in the Synagogue on the Sabbath, to gladly hear and learn God’s word. He did this in our place because we confess that we do not always regard God’s word as holy and gladly hear and learn it. He took on flesh and blood so that he could offer his flesh for the life of the world, so that he could go to the cross and take on himself the condemnation we deserve for all the times we have neglected the word or thought that our flesh, the great things we have done, counted for something, contributed at least something to our salvation. What a blessing, that like Peter, the one who said let there be light, has caused his light to shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Only because the words of Jesus are spirit and life, and God has caused us to hear them, are we able to join with Peter and say, Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God. You alone save. In you alone we have eternal life. Your words are spirit and they are life!