17th Sunday of Pentecost September 4, 2016


On Christian Education: “In the Beginning Was the Word”

John 1:1-3, 14-18

Scripture Readings

Ecclesiastes 12:1-7
Psalm 78:1-7
Timothy 3:14-17


628, 629, Hymn after sermon, 283

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted

Editor’s Note: The follow message was delivered by Professor John Pfeiffer on August 23, 2010 at the opening service of Immanuel Lutheran High School, College, and Seminary. —NJP

Prayer: We praise and thank You, O Lord, that You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning and growing in Christ our Savior. Grant therefore that we may hear them, read, understand, and apply them to our lives, so that by the patience, comfort, and guidance of Your holy Word, we may embrace and hold fast to the blessed hope of everlasting life, which You have given us in our Savior, Jesus, the Christ. Help us now in this hour to worship You with sincere hearts. Equip us also to sow the seed of Your Word, to speak of Your saving power and majesty, and to live our lives to Your glory. Amen

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’” And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

In Christ Jesus, from whom we have received grace and truth, dear disciples of Christ,

Our lives are full of beginnings. At this time of the year, we mark another one: the beginning of a new school year.

Beginnings tend to be accompanied by excitement and fear. If it is the beginning of something to which you have been looking forward, then there is excitement. Yet, fear can still be present. How is this going to work out? Is anything going to happen to prevent a successful conclusion?

As we begin the school year with excitement and fear, we turn our thoughts to other beginnings. By so doing, we should be able to conquer the fear and keep the excitement under control.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

Look at what the text says: “In the beginning was the Word…” The book of Genesis says, “In the beginning God…” But John writes, “In the beginning was the Word…

What are words? A word is a sound meant to convey a concept. On hearing a word you mentally connect that sound to a concept. For instance, if I say, “Ball,” you immediately have the concept of a ball in your mind. However, each of you may be picturing a different kind of ball. But, if I say, “round, red, rubber ball,” the pictures in our minds become very similar. This is what words do: they convey concrete or abstract concepts.

However, what our words cannot do is to actually produce these concepts. I can repeat the word “ball” ever so many times, but never once does a real ball come into existence.

In schools, the chief tool for instruction is words: spoken words, written words. These words explain concepts that are mathematical, theological, philsophical, musical, geographic, scientific, linguistic, artistic…. However, our words can conjure up only mental images of what those words represent; they will not conjure up the actual things.

As for the words of God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” As we read the words of Genesis 1, it becomes evident to us that the words of God are able bring into existence the very things of which they speak.

And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Actually, God used only two words in the Hebrew: “Ye-Hee OR:”—“Light be.” This is followed by the same two Hebrew words tied together as if they are one word: “Va-Ye-Hee-OR:”—“And light is.

Two simple words bringing into existence one of the most essential forces of nature. What tremendous power abides in the words of God. As the writer to the Hebrews says, “The word of God is alive and powerful…” God did not use some fanciful gibberish, like “hocus pocus” or “filigree, apogee, pedigree, perigee,” which words accomplish nothing. Rather, He simply used the word that represents the reality and the reality became reality.

However, our text says so much more. “And the Word was God.” What does this mean? Well, when we are talking about God, we address concepts for which there are no parallels in our daily lives. This is why many people reject the concept of the Trinity; they can’t bring into their minds a mental image of this wondrous truth.

Even so, who can fully explain the expression, “the Word was God”? Add to this these words: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Word became flesh, the only begotten of the Father: this can be referring only to Jesus. Therefore, we accept the truth that Jesus is the One being called “the Word” and we believe that the Word, that is, Jesus, is God. Beyond that we have only a small idea of what this means.

So what is this small idea? Consider the words of Jesus: “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” Words reveal concepts; Jesus reveals God. Can you see one reason why Jesus is called “the Word.” “…the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Consider, also, the word “gospel.” It is an old English expression: “good spell” or “good words.” The Gospel is the revelation of Jesus Christ and of His work of redemption. Take Jesus out of the Gospel and there is no Gospel. The Gospel is about Jesus. He gave it; He lived it. We can even say that the Gospel is Jesus. Verily, “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Here is another reason for calling Him “the Word.” When we get to know Jesus, we get to know God. “Jesus said…‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father…” Jesus is the revelation of the Father. He is the “the brightness of His (God’s) glory and the express image of His person.” If someone wants to get to know you, you have to tell him about yourself. If we want to get to know God, we look at Jesus and His actions and His words.

Also, when we get to know Jesus, we get to know our own salvation. For “…this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

Suffice it to say that Jesus reveals God to us by what He said and what He did and what He is. God put the thoughts of His heart into action by and through Jesus. Jesus is full of the grace and truth of God, which saves us. In Him, in His words and in His deeds, we see God’s thoughts and desires. God speaks; Jesus acts. He is the Word.

When God said, “Let there be light,” Jesus went into action and light immediately became a reality. So, Jesus is the Word, who was at the beginning with God and performed the work of creation. More than that, Jesus is the Word, who walked this earth and brought into existence the Gospel of our salvation. More than that, Jesus is the Word, who rules by grace today and sends His Spirit to rescue lost souls. By the word of this Gospel, the Spirit washes us clean in Jesus’ blood, covers us with Jesus’ righteousness, and thus makes us heirs of heaven. Jesus is the Word in creation, in redemption, and in sanctification.

So what does this have to do with Christian education? Everything. After all, the Word of God is the thing that makes this kind of education so special. It is not the words of men, although there are a lot of those, and we need them for teaching purposes. However, the words of the teachers do not make this education special. It is the Word of God…the Word that does what it says. The Word that is Jesus.

With the teaching of the Word, grace and truth come into reality in the hearts of students, young and old. Where the Word is spoken, Jesus is active and Jesus is full of grace and truth.

The words we speak are simple: “Your sins are forgiven.” “The righteousness of Christ is counted to your credit.” Words like: redeem, atone, ransom, save. Simple words, but, when tied to Christ, they are more powerful than Satan, the world, and our own flesh.

Likewise, it doesn’t matter who is speaking. The Gospel itself is “the power of God unto salvation(Rom. 1:16). It would be a sad thing if we had to depend on the abilities of man to make the Gospel effective. Human beings are full of weaknesses. The world around us and the Old Adam within us are always at work to confuse us regarding truth, to seduce us to do evil, and to lead us away from Jesus. However, because Jesus has overcome the devil, the world, and our Old Adam, His Word is His power in the ears and heart of the hearers, regardless of who the speaker is. As Paul told the Philippians, some preach the Gospel out of love, while some “preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely.” Then he says, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice(Phil. 1:17,18).

What a grand and glorious thing is Christian education! It consists of putting into action the power of God, so that students are rescued from sin and everlasting damnation and given the divine guarantee of an eternal home in heaven. What else can do this?

Rest assured that the Word made flesh will be given to those who receive a Christian education. Whether the Word is proclaimed in Christian school classroom or in church or in the home or in conversations or in discipline, Jesus will be at work and those who hear will “behold His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word. Amen.

—Professor Emeritus John K. Pfeiffer

1. Dear Shepherd, look with grace divine
Upon these young and growing sheep;
This cherished flock protect and keep,
As Thou hast sought them to be Thine.

2. And look on us who in Thy place
Should feed them on Thy pastures green,
And lead them to Thy springs serene,
And guard them from the foes they face.

3. How little can our feeble hand
Suffice this holy work to do!
And cold we are and careless, too,
To train them as we have command.

4. Good Shepherd, give us greater love,
More zeal to guide them by Thy rule,
In every home, in church, in school,
By Thy sweet Word, to heaven above.

5. Bless parents, pastors, teachers, all,
Thy youthful saints in faith to rear,
That they may love Thee without fear,
And walk obedient to Thy call.

6. Great Lord, unless we do Thy will,
And bring our children unto Thee,
In vain will be our Church’s plea;
Its light will fade, its voice be still.

7. God of our fathers, make us see
The duty we our children owe
By word and walk to teach them so
That, as they live, they live to Thee. AMEN.

J. T. Mueller
The Lutheran Witness,
Aug. 13, 1935.
Melody of TLH #630.

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