4th Sunday after Pentecost July 2, 2017
296, 775, 261, 283
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
“Behold the days are coming,” says the Lord GOD, “That I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. 12They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the Word of the LORD, but shall not find it.”
In Christ Jesus, Dear Fellow Redeemed:
Long ago in the land of Egypt the LORD God sent two dreams to the Pharaoh. In the first dream the Pharaoh saw seven fat cows come up out of the river, “fine looking and fat; and they fed in the meadow. Then behold, seven other cows came up after them out of the river, ugly and gaunt, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the river. And the ugly and gaunt cows ate up the seen fine looking and fat cows.” In the second dream Pharaoh saw, “…seven heads of grain came up on one stalk, plump and good. Then behold, seven thin heads, blighted by the east wind, sprang up after them. And the seven thin heads devoured the seven plump and full heads” (Genesis 41:2-7).
No one could explain these dreams to Pharaoh until a young man named Joseph was brought before the king. Through Joseph, the LORD God revealed that the seven fat cows and the seven good heads of grain were seven good years, while the seven ugly cows and the seven thin heads of grain were seven years of famine. Joseph advised Pharaoh to gather grain during the seven good years to be used during the seven years of famine. As a result, Pharaoh named Joseph second-in-command in Egypt and ordered him to carry out this plan for avoiding the famine.
That’s common sense. If you know bad times are coming, you stock up so the bad times don’t affect you. In light of our text, which warns of a famine of God’s Word, we would do well to:
In our nation, in our churches, for our children, and in our own hearts.
In our text the LORD warns Israel that a famine is coming. “Not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.” The people figured that, since they were the nation of God they could do what they wanted and God would always be with them, no matter what. So they took Him and His Word for granted; they ignored Him, and instead of glorifying Him in their lives, they served only themselves.
The United States has traditionally been referred to as a “Christian” nation, or at least a “godly” nation. Whether or not this is true anymore is up for debate as the false religion of humanism, which worships man and his achievements, gets an even firmer hold on our people.
However, our presidents have yet to swear on anything other than the Bible; we still refer to our nation as “one nation, under God”; the Senate and House of Representatives open their sessions each day with prayer. So maybe there’s hope?
But are these exercises are really anything more than lip service? After all, who is the god that is referred to in these public prayers anyway? People of different faiths bow their heads together in prayer; but who is the god to whom these prayers are directed? The true God says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). He says, “You shall worship no other god, for the LORD…is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14). He says, “I will not give My glory to another” (Isaiah 48:11).
Freedom of religion in our nation has come to be understood as freedom from religion, especially the Christian religion. For example, the biblical teaching of Creation is laughed out of the classroom as the false teaching and false science of man’s evolution from the animals has become the officially accepted doctrine of the public education system.
And now our society is reaping the fruits of this anti-Christian mind set that says, “Me first, and forget about God!” Our young people find less and less reason for living except for pleasure; crime is rampant; our babies are offered to the chopping block of abortion in the name of women’s rights; furthermore, the name of Jesus has become just another swear word, much as people say, “Oh my God,” without thinking about what they’re saying.
If there is not a famine of God’s Word in our nation yet, it certainly seems to be looming on the horizon. Society is doing its best to see that God’s Word is stifled, or, at least, not taken seriously. And what about the churches? Are they doing their part?
The solution to all of these problems is to share God’s Word with others, so that faith in the one, true God would be worked in their hearts too. Brought to faith in Jesus as the one and only Savior from sin, people will respond with fruits of faith. Having been brought to know the love of God in Christ, they will seek to serve Him and to share that love of God with their neighbor. As Christ says, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). But His people are living in this world, and God has said that we each should “…love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). God’s people cannot help but be good citizens of this world.
So what about the churches? Are they doing their part to spread the Word of God so that sinners might be saved? How can we expect the Word to be prevalent in a nation if the churches aren’t doing their part to spread God’s Word?
The news magazines tell us that people are returning to churches. We have heard over the past couple of years that America is undergoing a spiritual renaissance. But does that mean that America is seeking after God’s Word? Are they worshiping the one, true God, or are they following after other gods?
Consider that the fastest growing religions in our country are the so-called “Eastern” religions: the Hindu religion; Buddhism; and Mohammedism, or the Moslem religion. More and more people are being misled in our day and age by religions that offer man spiritual peace and unity with God, but those religions are only leading man further from the truth, further from salvation, further from the one, true God.
And if people in our day do happen to wander into a so-called “Christian” church, what are they finding there? Are they finding God’s Word taught in its truth and purity?
The answer is increasingly “No.” Instead of teaching Jesus as the only Savior from sin, more and more “Christian” churches are saying that it doesn’t matter what god you worship as long as you’re a good person.
Instead of finding the Law and the Gospel proclaimed, people are finding a social club, where people gather, not to hear about the forgiveness of sins, but instead, to consider what they can do to end poverty. Instead of hearing about what Christ has done for them, they’re hearing about what they can do for the church.
Churches of our day don’t want to talk about the Bible as being without error because so many learned people of our day reject the Bible as full of errors and fables. But Jesus says, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). God says that, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Instead of hearing God’s Word, they’re hearing what the pastor thinks that they want to hear. Churches of our day avoid talking about sin because they think that will scare people away. But how can they then preach about the Savior if the people don’t know what this Savior has saved them from? As Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:31f).
If God’s Word is to be proclaimed in its truth and purity, it must be proclaimed in its entirety. Which means that the church must proclaim that “…all have sinned…” (Romans 3:23) and that “…the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23). When the sinner feels his sin, and understands what the punishment is, how sweet the blessed Gospel sounds, in the sinner’s ears. The chief purpose of the Church is to proclaim that: “…you, being dead in your trespasses…[God] has made alive together with [Christ] , having forgiven your trespasses” (Colossians 2:13). God assures us through His Word that while, “…the wages of sin is death…the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Unfortunately, such preaching is rare in the churches of our day, as there is a famine of the Word in most churches, for they have departed from God’s Word. But how can we expect the churches to remain faithful to God’s Word if our children are not brought up to know and treasure that Word?
After all, that’s how many churches have departed from the Word. In the name of making the churches more friendly to kids, many churches have gradually cut out the traditional music, they’ve shortened the service, even dropped the sermon, all of which have resulted in less and less of God’s Word being proclaimed. They’ve even gradually leaned away from the teachings of God’s Word, so that as the older people pass away, a younger generation that’s not as well versed in the Bible doesn’t notice the changes.
What’s the answer to this problem? How can we keep a famine of the Word from occurring in our churches? How can we ensure that our pastors and our church body hold true to God’s Word? Easy—make sure that our children know God’s Word; that they’ve been instructed in the teachings of that Word. Fathers are told to bring up their children, “…in the training and admonition of the LORD” (Ephesians 6:4), as the LORD God says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
Jesus says, “Let the little children come to Me and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). Christ wants us to use His Gospel in the Word and in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism to bring our children to know Him as their Savior. We are to instruct them concerning His Word so that they know that Word. If they know God’s Word they will recognize false teaching when they encounter it so that they can avoid it; they will hold their pastors and churches accountable for their teachings, so that the churches will remain true to God’s Word.
And even more, when they need that Word, when they are feeling pressure to sin, when they need assurance of God’s forgiveness, or of the fact that God is protecting them, the Word will be there, committed to memory, to bring them comfort. That is another one of the blessings of growing up in a Christian home.
If that Word is not ruling in our hearts then that Word will certainly be lacking in our home life. And that’s really where the famine of the Word begins. When the words of our text were fulfilled for Israel, that nation was going through the motions of religion, but just below the surface greed and injustice were ruling in their hearts. God had sent famines of bread, drought, plagues, and death, but nothing would turn the hearts of the people from their sin.
Finally, the LORD was left with no choice but to withdraw His presence from them: “‘Behold the days are coming,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘That I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the Word of the LORD, but shall not find it.’”
Are those days coming in our nation? This judgment has certainly been carried out by the LORD upon other nations, even to our present day, so, yes, it is entirely possible that the LORD could impose a famine of the Word even upon our nation. What does that mean? It means that no matter where people look, they will not find God’s Word. They will be concerned about their sins and hunger for forgiveness; they will desire peace with God, but they will not receive a drop of the water of the Gospel to soothe their thirsty consciences. This is the worst judgment the LORD could send on a nation in this world, for without the preaching of the Gospel who could be saved?
The most certain way to avoid such a famine is to stock up on the Word of God. That stockpiling begins with the heart of each individual.
Keep your Bible close at hand, use it in your daily devotions; study at home and in church and Bible Class. Read God’s Word, commit it to memory, for, as we noted in connection with our children, when we need God’s Word the most is often when the Bible is not handy. By recalling the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus we are moved to show love to our neighbor; by studying God’s Commandments we better understand how to put that love into practice; when we fall into sin, Christ’s Gospel is there to lead us to true repentance and to believe that, “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins; and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness..” (1 John 1:9). When death is near, we can call to mind God’s promises of everlasting life.
Stocking up on God’s Word is even more useful than helping us through our own personal hard times. When we encounter someone else who is starving for God’s Word, who is troubled by their sin, but who doesn’t know Christ their Savior, we can call upon that Word which we have learned and share it with a fellow sinner, and assure him that Christ has died for him as well; that he too has full forgiveness of sins through Christ, for, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Let us instruct our children in that Word; hold our churches, pastors, and teachers responsible for preaching only the truth that is God’s Word. Spread that Word to enough people and we will truly have a Christian nation, where God’s Word is proclaimed in its truth and purity in all of the churches.
It is as Jesus says, “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water, springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).
But even if we never live in a truly Christian nation, and the LORD God does allow a famine of the Word to descend upon our nation, we know that we, who have tasted of the water of Life that is the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins, will never lack that Gospel that we need to ensure that we weather the storm of this world and remain in the faith unto life everlasting.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.