The 20th Sunday After Pentecost October 26, 2014
775(1-3, 5-6) [TLH alt. 261], 297, 290, 296(1,3,4), 266, 774 [TLH alt. 262]
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore, take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
In Christ Jesus, who is the center point of the Gospel message and of all that we teach and believe, dear fellow-redeemed:
We call ourselves an Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Evangelical—Evangel is another word for Gospel. It means “good news.” If an individual or a congregation is evangelical it means that they are Gospel based. It means that the Gospel is the foundation upon which they put their faith and from which they speak.
Lutheran identifies us with the Reformation heritage. These are the teachings that were put forth by Luther and the other reformers in contrast to what was being taught in the church of that day. Church calls to mind what God defines the Church to be, namely, the Holy Christian Church—the assembly of all believers.
The name of a church, “________ Evangelical Lutheran Church” provides a congregational identity; but in which of the names does a congregation’s true heritage lie? Actually, it lies in all of the names, but not always in the way that seems most apparent.
The “first name” of a congregation identifies a particular church in a specific location in a particular town. Our true heritage does not lie in this, rather it lies in the connection to Christ and His Word. For example, “Immanuel”—a name for Christ, “St. John’s”—recalling the apostle, his inspired writings, and the work of spreading the Gospel. It is in the connection to God’s Word that these “first names” have significance and meaning.
Evangelical is a title that can be thrown around rather easily and attached to almost anything. That’s not where our heritage lies. Being Gospel-centered with the Gospel giving us our purpose…there is our true heritage.
Lutheran—We indirectly bear the name of Martin Luther. Does our heritage lie with the man? No. The name began as a derogatory title when people referred to those who followed the teachings of Martin Luther. Rather, our heritage lies in the truth that God brought forth through the work of the reformers.
Our heritage lies in Church not because of the four walls within which we worship. It’s not because of what our church has or has not accomplished in our city. Our heritage lies in the title church because as believers we are part of God’s invisible assembly of all believers.
There is heritage in each one of a congregation’s names, but the reason for this is not because of us, or a building, or an entity. It is because of God’s Word—because of our Savior, and because of what our Savior brings to us. OUR REFORMATION HERITAGE IS ROOTED IN GOD’S WORD. Today, we consider I. The identity of the Word, II. The purpose of the Word, and III. The Word’s future.
The apostle Paul was meeting with the Ephesian elders for the last time. What would his message be? What would be his purpose in that conversation? Among other things, Paul spoke to them identifying their heritage. He characterized the work he had done among them and said, “I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” [v.26]
In a sense the apostle was defending his ministry among the Ephesians by declaring, “I have not hesitated to preach to you everything from God’s Word.” Faithfully preaching all of God’s Word is no small matter. God gives a warning through the Old Testament prophet, Ezekiel, about receiving a Word from God and then not preaching it. God said, “When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die!’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless, if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul” (Ezekiel 33:8-9).
God has given His whole Word to His people, to His children. He has commissioned us—the apostle Paul and all believers—to preach the whole Word. So when Paul defended his ministry and identified the heritage of the Ephesian Christians, he said, “I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God,” that is, the complete Word of our Lord.
In today’s children’s sermon, the children first identified the Bible as God’s Word. A short message was whispered into several children’s ears to demonstrated God’s verbal inspiration of Scripture. He gave the writers the words to write, therefore, it is His Word. The following passage was shown and read to the children: “Go so loved only the people in Minnesota, that He gave $1,000,000 that whoever lives as best they can will not perish but get to go to McDonalds.” The children immediately recognized the silliness and error of this “passage” and corrected it to read: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (Jesus) that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). All of this helps to illustrate some important truths about God’s Word.
The whole counsel of God which the apostle Paul did not hesitate to teach the Ephesians is 100% God’s Word. God used human writers, but He breathed-in the very words they were to write. The Bible is God’s Word from cover to cover.
It is fashionable today to deny parts of the Bible, or to discount the miracles, or to suggest that a big part of Old Testament history is just legend and fanciful stories. That is not what God says. He says, “All Scripture—cover to cover, every word—is God breathed and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16).
At the end of Revelation Jesus warns through the apostle John, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of this book of prophecy, God shall take away his part form the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).
Taking out and adding to a Bible passage can produce a rather silly result as an example, but when people do actually take from God’s Word or add to it, the result is deadly, and in many ways just as silly. The Word of God which we celebrate is 100% the words of the Almighty God.
Hymn: 290 — We Have a Sure Prophetic Word
The identity is the “very word of God” but for what purpose did God give us these words. John writes toward the end of his Gospel account, “Truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31).
The words of Scripture are given so that we may believe and that through faith we may have eternal life. There are many who try to make God’s Word into something else and will always fail—just as much as we would fail with anything if we try to use it for a purpose other than that for which it was intended. Paul identified the purpose of God’s Word to the Ephesian elders by telling them how to use it. “…take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” [v.28]
The Ephesian elders were called upon by God to shepherd the church. They were to shepherd the believers and particularly those believers in Ephesus. How would they shepherd them? With the Word of God, for in that Word all sinners can hear that Jesus has purchased us, buying us back from sin and death by shedding his blood.
In the third verse of our opening hymn (WS 775) we sang about God’s Word which “bespeaks us righteous.” God’s Word declares us righteous because of what Jesus has done. What power that Word must have to declare sinners such as we are to be completely righteous! What power that Word must have to take our unbelieving hearts of stone and turn them into hearts that believe our Savior and love Him! The activity of taking an unbeliever and making him a believer, the activity of creating faith and bringing salvation which Jesus won, the activity of preserving faith until Judgment Day or our death—this is the purpose of God’s Word!
God has given us His Word for our nourishment and our defense. Paul went on to warn the Ephesian elders: I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” [vv.29-32]
Paul wanted to leave the Ephesian Christians well-defended. He wanted to leave them well-nourished. To do this, did he lay out a 15 point plan? No. Did he develop a large complex strategy that they needed to follow for success? No. He simply gave them the Word of God’s grace. That Word, Paul says, is able to build you up, give you the inheritance, nourish you, encourage you, call you back when you slip away, strengthen you against temptation; that Word is powerful enough and has the purpose of preserving your faith to eternal life.
Paul left them the Word.
The purpose for God’s Word remains for us. God calls upon certain individuals to serve as leaders within congregations to shepherd the believers, but he also calls upon each one of us to look out for one another and, on an individual basis, to shepherd one another out of Christian love. How do we do it? With the Word. The purpose of the Word is to encourage, nourish, tell us about that salvation which Jesus won…also to rebuke when we sin, but then assure us of forgiveness through our Savior Jesus.
The Word of God has a glorious purpose so Paul could say, “I’m not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). God has given us His very words for our life, all praise and glory to Him!
Hymn: 296 (1,3,4) — Speak, O Lord, Thy Servant Heareth
The future and its details are unknown to everyone but God. There are many questions an individual may ask about his own life. There are many questions we could ask as far as the future of external Christianity. Amidst this uncertainty, there is one part in the future of our lives as Christians and as a Christian Congregation that is already well defined and certain. Many things may change, many things may come and then go, but God’s Word is unchanging. In the middle of all the things in our lives that are transient and fading, God’s Word remains forever sure. “The grass withers, the flower falls away, but the word of the LORD endures forever” (1 Peter 1:24f).
When Martin Luther wrote his explanations to the Lord’s Prayer in his Small Catechism, he spoke in an interesting way concerning two of the petitions: Hallowed be Thy name and Thy kingdom come. Both of these petitions have to do with the Word of God. Hallowed be Thy name is a prayer that we regard everything that God tells us in His Word as holy and set apart. Thy Kingdom come is a prayer that the work of the Holy Spirit comes and remains in our hearts and keeps us as members of God’s Kingdom through faith.
When Luther explained these petitions he said, “The name of God is indeed holy all by itself, we pray that it be holy among us.” Luther explained the second petition by writing, “The Kingdom of God certainly comes all by itself but we pray that it come to us also.” The future of the Word is certain. We couldn’t change that even if we wanted to do so and tried to do so. God’s Word is an everlasting testimony to all that God has done and continues to do. It is a testimony that remains unchanging, a Word of truth, the Word of Life, the power of salvation that remains unaltered. Bible texts may change, people may preach differently, people may “interpret” God’s Word differently and suggest it has changed—but that is all what the people are doing. God’s Word stays forever the same and true.
God’s Word is a testimony that will not change or fade, so if we want to ask something about the future, the question is not about God’s Word. The question is about God’s Word among us. For the Ephesian elders looking ahead to the future of the Word in their congregation included a warning. Paul warned them concerning false teachers who would rise up from among them—people within the congregation slipping away and teaching falsely. Paul warned them about outside influences who would try to pull them away. Their future would be met with temptation, wolves after their souls, and pitfalls in their spiritual path. But the Word stays the same. In all of the temptations and pitfalls, the Word would be constant. Paul encouraged the Ephesians to run to the Word in every future need and He commended them to that Word.
We have a Reformation heritage that, by God’s grace, has been passed down to us for nearly 500 years. That heritage includes the restoration of the true teaching of the Word which declares that Jesus really is our Savior and we really are saved by grace and not by what we do or earn. That heritage has been preserved and now it comes to us. What will be the future of the Word among us in our day…in the days of our children…grandchildren…and down to each new generation until the end of time?
The Word’s future is certain. It will be true. It will stand. Our use of it is the question. Our treasuring of the Word is the unknown. Our knowledge and rejoicing in it remains uncertain, if…if we rely on ourselves. If we look at our heritage in those four names as something other than Christ and His Word, then all of this remains in doubt. But when by God’s grace we continue to rest our every hope, confidence, and faith upon the everlasting testimony of God’s Word, then our future is sure as well. Then we are bonded to our Savior and nothing can separate us. Then we have the awesome power of God’s Word in our corner. Then we have the awesome power of our conquering Savior on our side and it doesn’t matter what tries to attack from without or creep up from within, God’s Word stands sure! When we stand with that true word our future is 100% guaranteed just as confidently as it is for the Word itself.
We pray that God will enable us to always treasure His Word--from cover to cover, every word, every jot, every tittle, every part—because it is the word of the almighty God. We pray that we will always treasure the Word’s purpose and rejoice at knowing that our soul’s life is in that Word as is also eternity with our Lord. Then our future is golden because we are forgiven sinners through Christ Jesus with an inheritance that will never fade away. Amen.
Hymn: 266 — O God, Our Lord, Thy Holy Word
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