A Powerful Word

Text: Jeremiah 1:4-10
Date: Epiphany IV + 1/31/16

Our text from Jeremiah this morning, the Call of Jeremiah, brings two issues to the fore. First, this text helps us to observe Life Sunday which we only mentioned in the prayers in the past two weeks. Then, secondly, and in concert with today’s Gospel let us take note and consider that the Word of God is A Powerful Word.

The prophet Jeremiah tells of his call from God to be a prophet, saying, “Now the word of the Lord came to me.” This is how all the prophets became so. Recall how the word of the Lord came to Moses in that mysterious burning bush (Ex 3), how the Lord spoke to Abram sending him forth “to make of you a great nation” (Gen 12). After the death of Moses, the Lord spoke to Joshua commissioning him to lead God’s people (Josh 1). We remember how the Lord called the young man Samuel speaking in a voice Sam at first assumed was Eli the priest. Review the call of the prophet Isaiah and his vision of the Lord in the temple and the voice saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” To which Isaiah responded, “Here am I. Send me” (Is 6).

How different the call of Jeremiah in this way: for the word of the Lord revealed to the 20-year-old son of Hilkiah of Anathoth that, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer 1:5). Now lest we think that only this prophet or any prophet was so “known” and “consecrated” and “appointed” by God before he was formed in the womb and born from it, listen to this reliable commentary by C. F. Keil.

Jeremiah’s appointment to be a prophet for the nations follows upon a decree of God’s, fixed before he was conceived or born. God in His counsel has not only foreordained our life and being, but has predetermined before our birth what is to be our calling upon this earth; and He has accordingly so influenced our origin and our growth in the womb, as to prepare us for what we are to become, and for what we are to accomplish on behalf of His kingdom. This is true of all men, but very especially of those who have been chosen by God to be the extraordinary instruments of His grace, whom He has appointed to be instruments for the carrying out of the redemptive schemes of His kingdom…. Thus Samson was appointed to be a Nazarite from the womb, this having been revealed to his mother before he was conceived…. To other men of God such divine predestination was made known for the first time when they were called to that office to which God had chosen them. So was the prophet Jeremiah.[1]

So you can see and understand how this text was adopted especially by Lutherans for Life as one of our proofs that the preborn is a human life, planned and created by God from the moment of conception and even before that! How great a sin therefore and how great a judgment deserved on the nation and on anyone who murders an individual before birth much less any time after that.

So you can consider yourself especially created by God and blessed with specific vocations of place in family and of vocation in society. Today we thank God for His gift of our life and especially our new life brought about by our second birth at His powerful Word in Holy Baptism.

That brings us to the consideration that the Word of God is a powerful word.

It is powerful first of all because it is God’s word. Jeremiah doubted and said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But Jeremiah, like any and every other pastor, preacher, evangelist, bishop or deacon, was not called to speak his own words. “Whatever I command you, you shall speak declares the Lord.” In the words of the apostle Peter regarding the doctrine of the divine inspiration of Scriptures, “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). Jeremiah continues, saying, “Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.’” Through the words given Jeremiah God would “pluck up and break down, destroy and overthrow, build and plant” in all the nations and kingdoms of the world.

God’s word is a powerful word. Need we cite the mystery of creation when “when” became “when,” that is, the beginning of time, when by merely a Word all creation came into being ex nihilo, created out of nothing? We learn from John’s Gospel that the Word was God Himself, the second Person of the Holy Trinity who, for us and for our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary and was made man. Through this Man all things were created from the beginning. Jesus is God.

Jesus is God. In today’s Gospel the people were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. Well, of course it did! By the same Word demons were disrupted and commanded to silence. “What is this word?” the people asked.

This is our question today. What is this word?

It is the word inspired, given and recorded by God through the holy prophets, the eye-witness apostles and evangelists, inerrant and divine. In other words, the Bible. I love it when Billy Graham’s son Franklin says in the forward of the evangelist’s latest book, “Whether talking with a world leader, the media, or the common man, my father always begins his answers to their questions with ‘The Bible says….’”[2] Mr. Graham appreciated The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod for our doctrine and firm stance on the scriptures which was severely tested and proven in our struggle against the alien Historical Critical movement of the early 70s when it seemed that our only friends were at the time, of all people, the Southern Baptist Convention! It is for this reason that we today stand out from others especially when it comes to the refusal to ordain women to the office of the ministry, or to the practice of closed communion to name only a few doctrines. It is because, “the Bible says….”

What is this word? It is God, the Word, speaking to us human beings throughout the centuries and still today. Pastors today are said to speak the divine Word of God for it is not their own word, but the inscripturated, inspired prophetic and apostolic word of God, no more and no less; “in season and out of season” as St. Paul commands the young pastor Timothy (2 Tim 4:2). It is powerful as there is nothing else and no other way to bring sinners to repentance and faith. For it is God Himself working through the powerful word and sacraments who gives new birth, faith, communion with God and eternal hope. So God’s promise through the prophet Isaiah,

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is 55:10-11).

What is this word? St. Paul says, “It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom 1:16-17). Martin Luther was so insistent that he wrote, “Something else must always be there. What is it? The Word, the Word, the Word. Listen, lying spirit, the Word avails. Even if Christ were given for us and crucified a thousand times, it would all be in vain if the Word of God were absent and were not distributed and given to me with the bidding, this is for you, take what is yours.”[3]

So many more passages of scripture and hymns by Luther come to mind that emphasize how God’s Word is A Powerful Word. It is by God’s Word that all things were created, even and including you and all those whom He knew before they were born. It is by God’s Word that people are saved, given the gift of saving faith in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ being buried with Him by water and the Word, given the forgiveness of their sins by the Word of absolution spoken by the called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, strengthened by the Word spoken over the elements of bread and wine, “This is my body,” “This is my blood,” confirmed by the Word of benediction spoken over us, “The Lord bless you and keep you….”

The Word, the Word, the Word:

God’s Word is our great heritage
And shall be ours forever;
To spread its light from age to age
Shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life it guides our way,
In death it is our stay.
Lord, grant, while worlds endure,
We keep its teachings pure
Throughout all generations. (LSB 582)

[1] Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol VIII by C.F. Keil. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 39.
[2] Billy Graham, Where I Am, Nashville, W Publishing Group, xi.
[3]Luther, M. 1999, c1958. Luther’s works, vol. 40 : Church and Ministry II (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works. Vol. 40 (Vol. 40, Page 212-213). Fortress Press: Philadelphia