The Obedience of Faith

Date: Advent IV + 12/21/14
Text: Romans 16:25-27

We are approaching the great mystery of the incarnation of God. The mystery is that in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth resides two natures; of one with us in His humanity yet above us and at one with the Father in His deity. Many who dismiss this mystery as nothing but a myth have not and do not stop to ponder at all what was really going on here in the Son of Mary. Indeed, to what extent did even Mary herself understand? Nevertheless when the angel Gabriel announced to her that she would bear a son, a very special son by the power of the Holy Spirit without a human father, she does not say, “I can’t believe it;” she does not object but says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And that response is as much a miracle as what was happening in her body at that moment. For, as Martin Luther maintained, the Virgin Mary conceived through her ears, that is, by the power of the Word spoken by the angel. She was still a virgin, yet in that instant she became Theotokos, the Mother of God!

So on this last Sunday in Advent we prepare for the celebration of Christmas. The true celebration, however, is in your response to the Word spoken into your ears. No, you will not miraculously conceive a child, but rather faith, the gift and creation of God through the Word in your heart and mind. How do we know you have this gift of faith? The apostle Paul today says that the good news, the gospel of salvation is given to you “to bring about the obedience of faith.”

Faith is not mere knowledge or even a vague hope based on only an emotional religious hunch. “Faith,” says Luther, “is an active, busy thing.” So what is your faith moving you to do?

If you said, “believe,” that’s the correct beginning of the answer. Paul speaks of God as “Him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.” Saving faith is given to those who hear about Jesus Christ. And what about Jesus Christ? Well, first and last, He is the Son of God. He was in the beginning and all things were created through Him. This is not a junior, minor or secondary god, but the one, eternal God Himself; God Himself now in the flesh. So He is also the Son of Mary of Nazareth, of the house and lineage of the great King David according to the promise spoken through Nathan the prophet, saying, “the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house…and your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”

Well, David died as all mankind dies. But the promise of his kingdom did not die with

him but reached its goal and summit in the conception of Jesus who was not only the recipient of the throne of his father David, but the ultimate King who would rule forever, “and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

But now He is not ruling over you with rules dictating certain acts or works to be accomplished which, of course, if you fail to accomplish them, you’re out! No, besides knowing His Person as fully human and fully divine you are also told why He took on our human nature.

I mean, why all the bother? Why all the angels and shepherds and manger and wise men, why all those years of silent childhood, why all that Bible study and bar mitzvah, why “confirmation”? Why all the teaching and preaching and healing, why apostles and disciples? Why all the bother? Because God was terribly bothered that His creation was being stolen from Him, was being destroyed by the enemy, was having His gift of eternal life turned temporary. Why all the bother? Because the only way for God to redeem, restore, reclaim His creation was by destroying the enemy and the last enemy is death. Why all the bother? Because on the one hand God’s Law must be kept, must be satisfied. Yet no sinner is able to do that. So He Himself became one of us. In a body just like ours He kept God’s Law so that He became the first man ever who did not sin and therefore would not die, as the wages of sin is death.

But why all the bother? You know. It was so that He could die our death for us, deliver us from the condemnation of God’s Law. Because of His sacrificial death, and more because of His mighty resurrection from the dead, now all who belong to Him, who confess and believe in Him as their Savior, we are freed from sin and death and are born anew to the eternal life God originally intended for us and the whole world. St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria in the early 300s included you in this story of salvation when he wrote, “Whatever Scripture says that the Son has received, it understands as having been received with respect to His body, and that the body is the first-fruits of the Church. Accordingly, God raised up and exalted His own body first, but afterwards the members of His body.”[1] That’s you! That’s why all the trouble; to save, preserve and strengthen you in all your troubles.

And that is the gospel-word which saving faith hears, believes and hangs on to. The obedience of faith is to believe what God has done to save you, to believe that He is strengthening you by forgiving all your sins and creating a new heart within you, and to respond in thankful worship as Mary did, saying, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

“According to your word.” Indeed everything in life from now on must be according to God’s word, God’s saving, life-giving word. So says St. Paul, this is how God is able to strengthen you, to strengthen you to persevere and to believe even and especially in the face of everything and everyone who speaks against the claims of the gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.

In the obedience of this faith we sing, in the words of today’s psalm, “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.” In the obedience of faith we say of everything God has promised to us, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” So faith says in all of us, “let it be, let it be to me according to your word.” After these words spoken by Mary, “the angel departed from her.” But God did not! And He will not depart from you! For this same incarnate God, this same brother, the man Christ Jesus, says to you, “I am with you always to the end of the age.”

[1] Triglotta, Catalog of Testimonies, p. 1117.