Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 4, 2009

Sermon on Proverbs 30:4-5

WHO IS THIS?

  1. The God whose power is beyond us
  2. The God whose Word is among us

 Text: Proverbs 30:4-5

Introduction

Four Gloria Dei members attended last summer’s WELS National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts in St. Peter, Minnesota.  On the last morning of the conference, a strong thunderstorm came roaring through the area.  It was strong enough that morning worship was delayed so that people didn’t have to run through rain and lightening to get to the chapel, and so that the recording of the service wouldn’t include nature’s noises in the background.

I miss those good old fashioned Midwest thunderstorms.  I thought it was neat to experience a real thunderstorm – a rarity in this part of the country.  Our church’s teen honor choir participant was apparently in the cafeteria during the storm, in total awe of this weather.  The other teens – most of whom were from the Midwest and were used to this weather – couldn’t figure out why someone would think that a thunderstorm was cool.  This was something ordinary for them.  But if you asked a resident of St. Peter, Minnesota, what they thought of these storms, you might get a very different answer.  In 1998, a tornado ripped through St. Peter and caused major damage in the city and on the college campus where our conference was held.  People who enter the college’s chapel inevitably see a mangled metal cross hanging above the entrance – the cross that was once atop the chapel’s steeple, which was chopped down by the tornado.

When I read the Gospel for today (Mark 4:35-41), perhaps you had the California perspective of that storm.  What an incredible display of God’s power in nature, and what an even greater display of God’s power as Jesus calms the storm with his words!  But the disciples in the boat with Jesus felt more like the residents of St. Peter, Minnesota.  The storm produced terror and dread, and Jesus’ miracle produced shock and awe.  Their response to the miracle: “Who is this?  Even the winds and the waves obey him.”

The common thought that runs through today’s Scripture lessons is that God has control even over creation and nature.  He is not distantly removed from us but completely in command.  That is an important point to remember for scientifically-minded people living in the third millennium.  And that point leads us to ask the very same question about God that the disciples asked about Jesus in the Gospel.  Who is this?  We will find the answer to that question by looking at the series of rhetorical questions in the First Lesson for today, Proverbs 30:4-5.  After we ask, “Who is this?” our reading will answer with two important truths about our God.  This is the God whose power is beyond us.  This is the God whose Word is among us.

I.

“When were you supposed to be here?”  “Did you read the directions carefully?”  “What did you just say?”  With the right tone of voice, those questions are rhetorical questions.  Rhetorical questions aren’t questions that you ask to find an answer.  They’re questions that make a statement.  Parents who met their teenage children as they enter the front door in the wee hours of the morning and ask, “When were you supposed to be here?” didn’t forget what time curfew was.  Parents who ask that question are making a statement: “You are inexcusably late and don’t think you’ll ever get away with this again!”

Today’s First Lesson begins with a series of rhetorical questions.  Just like the rhetorical questions we would ask, these aren’t questions that seek information, but questions that make a statement.  Let’s look at them one by one and note the obvious answer to each.

“Who has gone up to heaven and come down?”  Can any ordinary human being claim to have gone up to heaven and returned down to earth?  The answer is obvious.  Of course not!  This is beyond our power.  “Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands?”  Can any ordinary human being set the direction of the wind or bring them to a halt?  Not only is this impossible, but we can’t even stop their affects.  Just ask the residents of St. Peter, Minnesota!  “Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak?”  Can any ordinary human being control the ocean tide or the clouds and rainstorms?  Not only are we unable to control them, but rain and waves often control us.  They commonly change our plans due to the weather, and sometimes they even make an uncommon and devastating change to neighborhoods and cities with storms and tsunamis.  “Who has established all the ends of the earth?”  The Hebrew word for “establish” here could also be rendered, “Who caused the ends of the earth to rise?”  Can any ordinary human being claim to be the cause of the world in which we live?  Impossible!  A universe like ours needs an infinite, not finite, explanation.

Now take the total effect of the questions.  One look at the creation around us should lead a person to acknowledge a divine Creator whose power is beyond us.  In fact, that’s a point you learned in your youth Catechism class.  Nature testifies to the fact that a divine being put us here.  Nature doesn’t tell you who God is, but it does tell you that he’s out there.  Any other conclusion would be foolish.

Some religious scholars today assume that many of the stories in the Gospels – stories like Jesus calming the storm in today’s Gospel – aren’t factually true.  The assumption is that these are developed stories designed to teach us a religious truth.  And so, under that kind of thinking, the story of Jesus’ calming the storm is designed to teach us to trust in Jesus during the difficult “storms” of life.

Maybe that kind of interpretation sounds good at first glance, but there’s something very foolish about that kind of thinking.  Besides the fact that this viewpoint denies Scripture’s reliability, think about its other ramifications.  Is it really worth trusting a god who does not actually have power over his creation?  Is it worth believing in a god whose power was never seen but whose followers tell us to trust him anyway?  What comfort or confidence would there be if you turned to a god who could offer no concrete help in your time of need?

We may rightly point out the errors of the critics, but do we see the parallel errors that we give credence to?  We nod in agreement that God’s power over creation is far beyond us, but then we head right back into our lives thinking that the only one who’s looking out for me is me.  Do we assume that God isn’t actually in control when we take life’s challenges into our own hands without even a prayer for his help and wisdom?  Do we assume that God isn’t in control when we buy into the myth that we could destroy the planet in a decade?  (Yes, we ought to be good stewards of creation, but even our poorest stewardship cannot negate God’s Genesis 8:22 promise).  Do we assume that God isn’t in control when we look at our crosses and hardships and only see a pile of problems, ignoring God’s promise that he works in all things for our eternal good (Romans 8:28)?

You may recall the Bible account in which Jesus healed a paralyzed man (Mark 2:1-12).  Before he healed the man, he asked the critical observers around him whether it was easier to heal someone or to say to someone that he is forgiven?  Obviously the latter is easier to do, but if you can do the former, that power proves your ability to do the latter.  And that applies to God’s power in our world and universe as much as anything else.

 The critics’ claims do not negate the facts.  Our sinful natures’ doubts and fears do not negate the facts, either.  And most importantly, they cannot negate the historically demonstrated facts of Jesus’ power over sin and death.  Far greater than Jesus’ power over the winds and the waves is his power over death and the devil.  Far more important than his control over nature and its effects is his conquering of sin’s eternal effects.  Nature groans because of sin’s effects, but Jesus groaned and suffered and bled and died to erase sin and all its deadly effects.  And one day Jesus will bring us into the new creation that is promised us by his resurrection.  That’s the kind of God we have—a God whose power to create and to redeem is far beyond us!

II.

My seminary classmates used to joke among ourselves that if we didn’t know the answer to a question that a professor asked, we should just say “God” or “Jesus,” and we would have pretty good odds of getting the right answer.  That’s the feeling you probably got when you heard the rhetorical questions in the First Lesson.  Who can do all these things?  “God!” is the obvious answer.  And that obvious answer is only strengthened when we look at the rest of our reading and see what it says about the power of God’s Word.  “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”

The Hebrew word that is translated “flawless” means something that is tested and proven genuine.  The particular term that is used here originally referred to a goldsmith subjecting precious metals to fire so that they would be refined and purified.  The end result was that you had a pure precious metal.  It was tried, tested, pure, and “flawless” – as our translation says about God’s Word.  From Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, the Word of God is tested and shown to be authentic and reliable.

And because God’s Word is reliable, it can answer the last of the rhetorical questions found in our reading.  After four questions asking who created and sustains the world, the last question is this: “What is his name, and the name of his son?  Tell me if you know!”  This question provides an Old Testament preview to the reliable and authentic truth taught us in the New Testament – specifically, at the start of John’s Gospel.  The third verse in John’s Gospel speaks about Jesus when it says, “Through him all things were made; without him, nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3).  The tested and truthful Scriptures point us to God the Father and Jesus Christ as the authors of creation, and they also point us to Jesus, the Son of God, as the source of our redemption.

During the past several weeks, we promoted a sale on a new edition of the Book of Concord (that is, the collection of Lutheran Confessions from the sixteenth century).  From my perspective, I think it’s great that these foundational documents from our church are now readily available in a wide variety of forms.  There’s no reason someone within or even outside of Lutheranism can’t learn what the Lutheran Church stands for.

If our Lutheran Confessions are readily available, then the Word of God is a thousand times more readily available.  How wonderful!  And yet we can act like it isn’t all that wonderful.  We can act like it isn’t readily available among us because we ignore it against better knowledge.  Instead of a thirst for the Word, we take in just enough to get by.  Instead of accepting all that the Word has to say, we make our Bible and delete whatever we don’t care for: prohibitions of sex outside of marriage, or the command to act and speak decently as God’s children, or the encouragement to give our best offerings to God, or the call to feed our souls richly and regularly with his Word.  And so our souls shrivel from lack of nourishment, and stink from the sin in which we have soaked ourselves.

Just when you think God is going to come to light a match and burn us up along with all our sinful rubbish, he comes instead with his Word.  Rather than punishing us, he is now a shield to those who take refuge in him.  For his Son, the one Scripture clearly names Jesus Christ, shielded us from the end results of our sin by taking up those very results on himself.  Just look at the Word!  There you will see what Jesus graciously did and endured on your behalf.  The Word tells you, “[Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25).  The Word tells you, “[Jesus Christ] has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).  The Word tells you, “In his great mercy, [God] has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4).  The true, tested, and reliable Word not only tells you of your full and free forgiveness in Christ, but it shows you the future heavenly results of that good news: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

Conclusion

Sometimes I take my laptop with me and work on my sermon or some other church work at a local coffee house.  On more than one occasion, I have ended up having a casual debate with the same local resident about the existence of God.  His question is always, “Did God make man or did man make God?”  If the latter were true, then we’d be better off doing something else with our time each Sunday.  But it doesn’t take long to figure out that there’s a bigger being than us in charge!

Who is this God?  Open your eyes.  Look at his creation.  You will recognize that his power is beyond us.  Then open your Bibles.  Look at his Word.  You will rejoice to see not only that his Word is among us, but that he sent his Son among us to live and die and rise for us.  That’s who this God is – not a remotely removed spirit, but a gracious and loving Lord who leave you with no doubts about his love for you or your future with him.  No doubts, just certainty.  And with that kind of certainty, you can truly say, “Amen.”

Advertisements

Categories

%d bloggers like this: