12th Sunday After Pentecost September 4, 2011
2 Timothy 3:12-17
13, 296, 262, 283
In the name of Jesus Christ, our Gate to Life Eternal and our friend as we journey along the path, dear fellow-Christians:
A young boy awakens in the night and listens to a clear and direct voice revealing what will soon happen to his master. The message is from God Himself, delivered in so normal a voice that the boy three times thought it was the voice of his master, Eli. In this way God spoke to Samuel (cf. 1 Samuel 3).
An old man, who at 75 was just beginning the greatest part of his life, hears the voice of his God and leaves his extended family and the land of his ancestors and settles in Canaan. In this way he also heard the voice of this same God throughout his later life—now promising to give him descendants as numerous as the stars, and now warning him of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and again announcing that the Savior of the world would come from his line. So the Lord spoke to Abraham (cf. Genesis 12ff)
Another old man hears the voice of the Lord from a burning bush. Much later the Lord speaks to a young Hebrew warrior, telling him to lead his people against the Midianites. And much later still to a prince of Israel as he ascends to the throne of his father, David. So the Lord spoke to Moses, Gideon, and Solomon (cf. Exodus 3, Judges 6, 1 Kings 3).
Back then, clearly, God spoke. But what of today? Does the Lord speak to us today? How can we hear Him? How can we know His voice? What will He sound like and how will He communicate with us? Even if He were to speak, is this same God still as powerful, still as relevant and effective? Do His words still matter? It is to such questions that we turn our attention this morning—timely questions for those who can often feel forsaken. The text that will form the basis of our study is found in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, the 3rd chapter:
Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you, continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
These are the words of our God. In humble acceptance of the fact that these words are altogether true and right in all ways and at all times, so we pray: “Sanctify us by your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth.” Amen.
Admit it. If I were to ask you “Is the Lord still speaking to his people?” you might well imagine that you can already in your mind trace the path where the answer will lead even before the pastor takes you down it. “Is the Lord still speaking to his people?” The pastor will undoubtedly tell us, “Yes, God speaks to us even today from the pages of the Holy Bible.” Hopefully your thought process from that point wouldn’t be: “I already know and believe that the Bible is God’s Word. Every Christian knows that. So, I guess that having been reminded of that fact (which of course is a good thing) I will now try to occupy my mind while the pastor talks about what I already know.” The challenge here is more than just to tell you what you know. It is also to apply what you know in such a way that you come away both enlightened as well as reminded, educated as well as strengthened. The goal is not just to state the obvious, but to use God’s Word as God Himself said: “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” [v.16]
So, is the Lord still speaking to his people today? Let me ask in a little different way: “Who here, as a follower of Jesus Christ, has not wished that God would give you some kind of a sign or special guidance, especially when faced with an important decision in your life?” This is obviously not a rare desire since I’ve heard these words from others and I’ve thought them myself. Wouldn’t it be great if God would just tell us—out loud—what He wants us to do?
It is readily apparent that the sentiment in every such spoken desire is not necessarily wrong. It might even be noble, at least on the surface. The general indication is that the speaker wants to be led by God in all of his actions, but he is having a hard time figuring out just what his God wants him to do. Christians, however, seem to know almost instinctively the “right-sounding answer” to most questions, but at times that stock answer lacks the conviction of the heart. Most Christians know instinctively that God has given us answers and guidance in His Word, but they often lack the conviction that their specific question or problem could actually have been answered several thousand years ago. The reasoning goes something like: “I know that Baal is an idol and that murder is a sin, but what I want to know is whether or not I should marry this person…or go to that school…or take that job…or move to that city.” God’s people tend to trust the Bible for doctrinal truth and for general guidance, but many wonder if the Bible can really be trusted to answer today’s specific questions. Can the Bible, in other words, really be God speaking to us today?
This question needs to be answered, but first we have to acknowledge that an even more disturbing question has arisen of late. This is a question actually makes our first question obsolete. This question was born of the notion that even if God is still speaking today, His Word, His message—even God Himself—is no longer relevant. Has God, and specifically God’s Word, lost a step?
You’ve heard the expression before— “lost a step.” It’s an idiom, of course, since no one really loses a step. As far as I can tell it was first used of athletes as they age. From there folks began to use it to describe anyone or anything that maybe isn’t quite what he, she, it once was. As folks age, their mental and physical capabilities naturally and universally begin to slow down or deteriorate. At that point an interesting phenomenon begins to form: that which has slowed or diminished begins to seem less and less relevant. Whatever it is tends to fade into obscurity and human beings tend to redirect their gaze to that which emerges as the biggest, fastest, quickest, best. Maybe that’s one reason professional athletes are so reluctant to leave their sport. They know instinctively that in doing so they will almost certainly pass into the obscurity of the masses.
When the “slippage” becomes obvious and profound, most folks tend to forget altogether. They come to imagine that the world has pretty much gotten all they can from this individual and that it’s time to move on. Nursing homes are filled with those who have lost most of their steps and to the world have nothing more to offer.
Society seems to have placed God—especially His Word—into that category. The “wise” of this age have even coined a phrase, referring to our time as the “post-Christian era.” The clear indication is that they believe Christianity has lost a step. More than that, the implication is that the time of Christianity—in particular the teachings and relevance of the Christian faith as drawn from the Bible—has come and gone. It is time for humankind to find a new source of truth, a new and better source of reality, fulfillment, and wisdom. The old way was fine for Grandma and Grandpa, maybe even for my parents, but the time has come for something new, better, different, because even if the God of our Lutheran forefathers does speak today, clearly in the minds of modern man He has lost a step. He just does not possess the power and effectiveness that he once did. Nor does His Word carry the power that it once did.
Obviously this is blasphemy of the highest order. Nor does God treat such sin lightly (The New Testament reading reminded us of the sorting process that will take place on Judgment Day). Nor were things always this bad. Historically, mankind has not and does not always and only slide further and further from the one true God. The pattern of history is not an ever downward curve but a rollercoaster or pendulum. Look at the history of Israel and you will see the pattern. The Jews were forever swinging from “on fire for God” to any old god will do. For the sake of His promise and covenant (cf. Old Testament reading) God always not only preserved a remnant of true believers, He also brought about revival and rededication. So Israel rose under Moses and Joshua and fell during the time of their successors. There was revival under David and Solomon and the return to apostasy under Solomon’s son Rehoboam and those who followed. A rededication under Hezekiah and Josiah and the inevitable fall under their successors.
The root cause was almost always the same: man returned to the same pagan desires of their decadent ancestors. We see the same things happening today and the results are inevitable. When man seeks from God what God has never promised, man is not only invariably disappointed, he is disillusioned. He begins to doubt the effectiveness of the God he once worshipped, or the God that was once worshipped by his forefathers. So again in our day crowds are thronging to those who promise the desires of the human heart. Thousands turn out every week to hear that they can be rich, fit, powerful, and happy. They gather to hear that the sin that naturally troubles their collective conscience is no longer sinful – in fact it is now progressive and fashionable. The old God couldn’t or wouldn’t provide the desires of man’s heart so man just made another god. The old One lost a step, so a new one was created.
It is striking how so little has changed in the thousands of years since the events of our text. As then, so also today. We live in a world where God made Himself known, only to be abandoned. This very thing was foretold in our text. It was happening in Paul’s day, it is happening today. So also our text affirms: Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” [vv.12-13]
Though God in His Word repeatedly warned that Christians would always be the poor persecuted nothings in the eyes of the world, preachers today are telling us that Christians can and should have and live exactly like the unbelieving world around them. Though Jesus Himself warned of ongoing hardship for those that are His—those who would one day inherit eternal life—today we are told that everything has changed. We have, in other words, new gods that will give us exactly what we want. The only rule is that nothing that was once considered evil can ever be condemned. Focus on your own worldly desires, let others focus on theirs, and all will be well.
But then is or is not the Lord speaking to His people today? Of course He is, and in much the same way as he did in former times. This does not mean that He speaks audibly in the ears of a select few, or that He continues to reveal new facts or prophecies. But it does mean that He still actively and specifically addresses our concerns when we turn to the pages of Holy Scripture. Understand this well. The Bible does not just give us vague parallels to today’s problems and a “best of luck” when we try to find our way. Both the Holy Spirit and the Word itself are living and active. There is a divine power at work in God’s Word that is every bit as powerful today as it ever was. Our Triune God is every bit as powerful and effective as He ever was. That means that God Himself works in us and for us whenever we are exposed to Holy Scripture. Note that while Scripture rules out new and continuing revelation (which is, in fact, a great comfort to us) it does in no way indicate that His Spirit will ever stop working in and for us or that His Word would no longer be effective, powerful, applicable, and decisive in our lives. Far from it.
The godless of this age not only believe that our God has lost a step, they believe that God’s Word has lost a step and in more ways than one. Not only do they believe that God’s Word is impotent, they believe that God’s Word has lost a step in the sense that it has left out a step necessary for man to be saved. The step they believe to have been lost is that which to them is the very key to Heaven—man’s own good works. In the world’s reckoning, if there is a God He will certainly accept whatever you do if you will but carry out some act of kindness or generosity from time to time.
Our text says just the opposite: “from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” [v.15] Still today the one, the only path to Heaven is through faith alone in Jesus Christ. The only good that God sees in us is the good that He has credited to us based on what Jesus has done for us as our substitute. It is anything but an outdated truth that the only way anyone can live forever in Heaven is by God’s undeserved love through faith in Jesus Christ. Sin is real but so is the forgiveness that is ours through faith alone in God’s Son.
Our God will indeed speak to you concerning other questions or problems in your life. He has promised to be with you always, and to give you all things, but you must go to the place where He promised to speak to you: His Holy Scriptures. There He will not simply give you vague and often conflicting notions about what you ought to do or what course of action you ought to take. There, when you are exposed to the power of His Word, He will visit you, guide you, convict and convince you. But, again, you must visit with Him where he told you to go, and then you must be prepared to listen to Him and submit to His guiding hand. How foolish to blame God for any failure to guide and direct us when it is we who do not go where He promised to speak to us, and we who fail to follow where He leads.
Has God lost a step? Hardly. Has His Word? Our text gives us our answer: “Continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Trust your God, trust His Word, and you will lack for nothing. Amen.
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