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The Word: Authoritative, Powerful, Effectual
Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
October 1, 2017
The Word of God has authority. The scriptures of all other religions do not bear up under scrutiny. The written Word of God is true, every word. The widow in the Old Testament reading accepted the word of the prophet Elijah as the very Word of God. When she saw that her son who fell ill and into death was now alive she believed the Word of God. The Bible invites people to examine its history and factuality by placing hundreds of historical names of people and cities as well as events. No other religion has scripture that comes close to touching that.
When Jesus entered the town of Nain and saw a young man who had died being carried away to be buried He saw that a considerable crowd had joined the man’s mother. She was already a widow and now she lost her only son. It was only natural and compassionate that many people from the town would be there for her in her grief. But when Jesus approached her He spoke with the authority of the Word of God. “Do not weep,” He said to her.
Crying is natural and part of grief. It’s not usually helpful to tell someone who’s grieving to not cry. But Jesus when He saw her had compassion on her. He wasn’t trying to make her feel better. He was speaking to her as only one with authority could. He didn’t know her. She didn’t ask for help. He came along and saw her in her grief and He acted in compassion. Those who tell others not to cry, that things will get better, have no authority to say so. Things may not get better. Things may get worse. Then how is the person supposed to feel? What are they to think of God?
Jesus speaks His authoritative Word, Do not weep. He speaks to her inviting her trust Him. He speaks with the intention of backing up what He speaks. He is going to give reason for joy where there was only weeping. Those who were there for her were a true blessing to her. But they had no authority. All they could do for her was comfort her. Jesus came and brought about something new.
The authoritative Word of God is Word that has power. It does not just say it is the truth. It shows it. Jesus spoke with authority. But He didn’t then just walk away. He touched the bier, the movable frame they carried the corpse on. When those carrying it stopped Jesus spoke His powerful Word to the dead man: “Young man, I say to you, arise.” If the mother had been caught off guard that Jesus had told her to not weep, imagine how shocked she was to see Jesus speak to her dead son. And to tell him to get up!
When Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate Jesus was told that He was under Pilate’s authority, that he had authority to condemn Jesus or free Him. Where there is authority there is power. Jesus told Pilate that he would have no authority if it had not been given to him by God. Jesus could say to the young man who had died, “Arise,” but there is no power to that word unless it is backed up with power. The young man, upon hearing the Word of Jesus did get up and began speaking.
This was a word that had power. That is what drew the reaction of the crowd of fear and glorifying God. It is what drew the response of spreading the word about Jesus throughout the region. They had been there for this poor widow who had lost so much in her husband and now her son. But what they just witnessed went far beyond compassion and being there for her. What they witnessed was power over death.
The Word of God is authoritative. No other word from any religion can match it. As the word of authority it is powerful. It accomplishes what we are unable to. It is effectual. Isaiah 55. God says that His Word which goes forth from His mouth will not return to Him empty. It will accomplish the purpose for which He sends it. It is powerful. It brings about what it says. It is not an empty word. It is not a word which consists of mere words. It is a Word which consists of authority, power, and effectualness, able to bring about what it says.
The widow in the Old Testament reading receiving her son back points to something larger. The widow of Nain receiving her son back shows us that there is something greater. In each case the Word of God is the effectual agent. God is a God of means. As God, with all authority and power, He could do anything He wants in any way He wants. What He shows us is that He works through His Word.
You’ll remember that at the beginning that was what Adam and Eve had, the Word of God. He spoke plainly to them that everything He had created was at their disposal, nothing He withheld from them except one thing, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Instead of trusting Him and His Word, basking in the glory of every good thing He had given them, they trusted in themselves that they knew what was better. They ignored His Word that in the day that you eat of that tree you will die. Paul says in Romans 5 that “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, so death spread to all men because all sinned.”
God has given us His written Word so that we may know this. If you are convicted of a crime the judge will declare you guilty. But God hits you right between the eyes with His Word—you are a sinner. You have not just committed sins, you are a sinner. Your guilt cannot be overcome with enduring a sentence or a punishment. There is no pardon or completing the sentence. Your due for your sin is eternal punishment, eternal separation from God. This is God’s authoritative, powerful, and effectual Word. You cannot escape it, it brings about what it says.
So if bringing a boy back to life and a young man back to life point to something else, we need to recognize what the Word of God means for you and me. Coming back from death doesn’t bring you from spiritual death, only physical. What Jesus accomplishes in His Word going forth from Himself is eternal. For three years Jesus healed people miraculously and on occasion raised people from the dead. But had He done this for even more years and in even a larger geographical area, it would have accomplished only so much. Even if God waved His finger and cured every disease where would we be? We would still be in our sin. We would still be eternally separated from Him and eternally in torment.
What God has done is given us His Word, that is, His Son, the Word made flesh. Jesus took upon Himself your sin, your guilt, your death. The widow wasn’t ready to give up her son. The Father was ready to give up His. Jesus was ready to give up His own life. It was not just death He submitted Himself to. It was suffering the punishment, condemnation, and suffering of the wrath of God upon sinners. He gave His life as a pure offering for the sin of the world. The Word of God as authoritative, powerful, and effectual is at its core here in the suffering and death of Jesus, the Word made flesh. His resurrection from death confirms and puts a stamp on this Word of God.
There is salvation in Christ. Forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the basking in all good things God has given. He has given and He continues to give. As always, He works through means, bringing you into this new and resurrected life in your Baptism, bringing Christ into you through bread and wine with His body and blood. His Word brings about what it says, which means you have everything He has given you in His Son. Amen.