“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)
The gospel is the most precious truth in the world. It is as old as God’s love. That makes it eternal. It is as new as the new day because it gives us new life, innocent life, righteous and holy life every single day. The word of God that comes to us in the gospel is a word of forgiveness. God tells us that the sins that burden our conscience are all forgiven, as surely as Jesus lived a righteous life for us and died our death on the cross. For Christ’s sake, God forgives sinners. He does so freely. Nobody can make God do anything. He forgives us because he loves us. He forgives us because Jesus died for us. He forgives us by speaking to us.
The word of God that goes forth from God’s mouth is the gospel that is preached by Christ’s authority. The gospel doesn’t tell you what to do. It doesn’t burden you with rules and regulations. It doesn’t threaten you with punishment. It is a word of grace, that is, of God’s undeserved kindness for Christ’s sake. It is of this gospel that God, through Isaiah, speaks in the chapter that contains our text for today. The chapter begins:
Ho! Everyone who thirsts; come to the waters;
And you who have no money, come, buy and eat.
Yes, come buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And let your soul delight itself in abundance.
Incline your ear, and come to Me.
Hear, and your soul shall live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you –
The sure mercies of David. . .
Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him;
And to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
God refers to this gospel promise when he compares his word to the rain and snow that fall down from the sky and don’t return until they have watered the earth to cause the fruits of the earth to grow. The word of God is powerful. It does what God wants it to do. It shall not return to God empty. It shall accomplish the purpose for which God sent it.
God word works. It is inherently powerful. The Holy Spirit has bound himself to it. The Holy Spirit is almighty God. It is not possible that God’s word is proclaimed and God is not there, actively, powerfully, calling sinners to repentance and faith, and drawing them to him. It’s not as if the Holy Spirit has to come to the word to make it powerful. The word is always God’s power to rescue sinners from their sins and to establish them in the true faith.
Consider Jesus’ parable about the sower and the seed. The sower sows the seed into four different kinds of soil. Some seed fell on the wayside, some fell on the rocky soil, some fell among the thorns, and some fell on good ground. In every instance, it was the same seed. The word of God has within it the almighty power of God to do what God wants it to do. If something grows, it is God who does it. If nothing grows, it’s not God’s fault.
God uses illustrations from nature to teach us about the supernatural. The sower and the seed, the rains and the snow, are natural. God’s word is supernatural, and so it its fruit. The fruit of God’s word is faith. Faith is a supernatural gift. The gospel is the power of God to bring us to faith. The gospel is preached. As far as the public preaching of the gospel is concerned, we teach, according to the Holy Scriptures, that unless one is called by God to preach publicly in the church he may not do so. The Bible says, “How shall they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:15) We confess this biblical teaching in the Augsburg Confession, Article XIV:
It is taught among us that nobody should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church without a regular call.
But the Bible also teaches that fathers are to teach God’s word to their children. Through Moses, God said to Israel,
And these words which I command you today shall be in hour heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children.
Every Christian who knows the word of God can tell others what he knows. The word of God has inherent power. It does what God gives it to do whether the preacher preaches it publicly or the individual Christian tells it to his neighbor, his spouse, children, or friends. It’s not the preacher who empowers God’s word. It’s God.
The preacher preaches God’s word and becomes discouraged because he doesn’t see the fruit. What should he do? He should keep on preaching it! Well, maybe, it would work better if he packaged it in more clever verbiage, if he avoided certain controversial topics, or if he did a survey of the community to learn their felt spiritual needs so he could tailor the gospel to meet those needs? Well, no. It wouldn’t work better. He can’t make it work. He can only preach it.
Nothing is more tragic to witness that the despising of God’s word. Of all the commandments, the third commandment is the most brazenly despised by folks who claim to be Christians. It says:
Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and his word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
There are two reasons why people don’t go to church. First, they don’t see their need. Second, they don’t see that the church is where their need will be met.
They don’t see their need. They don’t realize that the devil is real and he seeks to falsify the gospel at every turn. They don’t understand that the world in which they live is very evil, opposed to God’s will, hostile to God’s word, and spiritually blind. They refuse to deal honestly with their own sinful flesh. They don’t see that their biggest enemy lies within, within their lying heart, within their foolish self-styled spirituality that inevitably directs their faith away from their Savior. They don’t see their need. They don’t understand the seriousness of their own sin and the spiritual peril in which they live their lives.
And they don’t see that the church is where their need will be met. They need the forgiveness of sins. They need the Holy Spirit. They need God’s power to live holy lives. But the longer they neglect God’s word, the longer they stay away from hearing the gospel, the more the sinful condition in which they were born takes control of their thinking, their believing, their living, until they die spiritually. But they don’t know they are dead. They may feel a sense of loss, but they don’t understand what they have lost. They may have some understanding of what the church is there for – they may recall learning about the Holy Spirit who calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies his church – but they have no hunger and thirst for the righteousness that avails before God. They don’t consider that God, in his church, can satisfy them.
You come to church. You come with all of your good intentions tattered and torn and weighing you down, because you didn’t do what you intended to do. You blew it. Not once or twice, but repeatedly. Here you come and God sees you come. He sees how you blew it. He knows the excuses you made. He knows how lame they were. He sees you coming to him for spiritual food and drink. And what does he do with you? How does he treat you?
He feeds you with food that costs you nothing. He quenches your spiritual thirst. He does it free of charge. For he paid the price for you. The gospel you hear in this place isn’t just the talk of a preacher; it is the fruit of Christ’s labor. The obedience God rightly required of us and that we failed to provide is precisely what Jesus did provide. He loved with a perfect love. He loved without fail in every circumstance, not grudgingly, but willingly. His love sent him to the cross where he, of his own free will, bore in his body all our sin. He obeyed, actively doing what the law demanded and passively suffering what the law exacted. He offered his obedience to the Father as ours. He offered his suffering for us. What he gave on Calvary is what set us free from all our sins.
This freedom, this forgiveness, this new life lived under God’s approval and grace, is what God gives us in his word here at St. John / Trinity Lutheran Church week after week after week. The word that goes forth from God’s mouth does not return to him empty. It raises us up to heaven and seats us next to Christ in glory. Even while we walk through the mud of living as sinners in a sinful world, God directs our hope heavenward, and sets our minds on the things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
The spiritually self-satisfied who thinks he doesn’t need to hear the gospel purely proclaimed, doesn’t need the body and blood of Jesus given and shed for the remission of sins, doesn’t know what he needs. He’s blind. He’s starving, but can’t see it. He thinks his feelings are a fit substitute for genuine faith.
Genuine faith requires the word of God. God works faith. He does so through his word. It isn’t your achievement. It’s not the preacher’s doing. It’s the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who through the word of the gospel brings new life, eternal life, the abundant life to the parched soul.
Can a Christian be certain of his salvation? Yes. Does this mean that once you are saved you cannot be lost? No. Some believe for a while and fall away from the faith. It’s tragic. Christians can fall away. Those who were heaven-bound have fallen from grace.
How then can you be sure you won’t fall away? Jesus said,
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)
God promises that his word will not return to him empty. It will accomplish the purpose for which he sent it. Its purpose is to call you and keep you in the one true faith. Will going to church make you a Christian? Hearing the voice of your Savior will. His voice calls us together right here as his church in this place. Amen