Sexagesima - Isaiah 55:10-13 - February 8, 2015

1)         The Lord gives us an exceedingly precious promise through the prophet Isaiah. He compares His Word to rain and snow and by doing so teaches us how effective His Word truly is. The Lord says, “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 Lord compare His Word to rain and snow because rain and snow always accomplish their purpose. Rain is how God waters the earth and causes vegetation to sprout and grow. Even in the winter months when the grass and trees are dormant, winter rains provide nutrients to plants so when the seasons revolve and spring arrives the growth that is now unseen becomes visible in the budding of leaves and producing of fruit. Rain, the Lord says, thus provides more than just growth of plants, but “seed to the sower and bread to the eater.” The rain He sends produces vegetation, some of which is held back to make seed for next year’s planting while another part is used to make food. His point is that rain always accomplishes its purpose. Snow does the same thing, blanketing the earth to protect the ground from the dry cold of winter and to provide moisture for the spring growth as it melts. No one ever looks at a rain shower and thinks, “This rain will accomplish nothing.”

2)         That is why the Lord compares His Word with rain and snow. Like rain and snow, the Word always does something. The Word of the Lord always accomplishes its goal. “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.” The Word of God is efficacious, that is, it is effective. The Lord shows us this is true from the beginning. God created the heavens and the earth with His efficacious word. The Lord spoke everything into existence. David sings, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” (Psalm 33:6) What the Word says it accomplishes. The same is true when the Word assumes human flesh in the person of Jesus. Being the Word of God incarnate, what He speaks accomplishes what He says. So the blind see. The deaf hear. The lame walk. Demons are driven out. Sins are truly forgiven before God in heaven by Jesus’ absolution. Atonement for sins of the world is complete in sight of God the Father when Christ breathes, “It is finished.” The Word always accomplishes that for which it is sent.

3)         What was true in the beginning and in the life of Christ is true still for today. The Word of Lord accomplishes God’s purpose. Whenever the Word of God is preached purely without the alloy of human wisdom mixed with it, we have God’s promise that it is effective. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” The Word translated “powerful” is evnergh.j, the word from which we get energy or effective. Jesus says in John 6:63, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” The Holy Spirit is present in the preaching of the Word, then. He is present when it is preached from the pulpit, so that this word might be planted as seed in your hearts and take root. The Holy Spirit is present in the Word when you read it at home and meditate upon it, taking it to heart and considering it. The Holy Spirit is present in the Word when, in the midst of temptation, trial, or cross, you recall the Word so that your heart may be strengthened in temptation and your courage aroused by the Holy Spirit working through the Word. This is the great promise the Lord gives us through Isaiah today. He promise to be effective in the Word, to be present in the Word to work His work of creating, sustaining, and preserving faith in your heart. His Word is like the rain. It may not seem to do much at the moment, but it is sent so that your faith might grow and be strengthened for every trial and every good work.

4)         We must always hold fast to this, that the Holy Spirit is always present in the Word when it is preached purely, for there are many who do not hold to such a doctrine. Most in today’s religious marketplace believe that at best the Holy Spirit might be present in the Word. They send their hearers to all sorts of places to look for the certainty of God’s revelation. Some send their hearers to the recesses own hearts to judge if they feel something to be “of God” or not. Other preachers send their hearers to human reason so that human reason is placed above the Scriptures as the true source and norm of what is to be believed. Still others tell their hearers to seek God and His will in the sunset, in good deeds, or in poverty and pilgrimage. But the Holy Spirit is only to be found in the Word alone. Seeking the Holy Spirit anywhere else outside the Word of God will only find the Devil as Luther wrote in the Smalcald Articles. “Therefore we ought and must constantly maintain this point, that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. It is the devil himself whatsoever is extolled as Spirit without the Word and Sacraments.[1] This is why we must defend the Word and Sacraments (which are simply the Word of the Lord attached to visible elements). These are the means that God has promised to use to interact with us, to forgive our sins, and to reveal His will to us. Seeking God outside the means that He has ordained will only get us a god that looks remarkably like ourselves.

5)         So the Word is like rain and snow. It accomplishes its divinely established purpose. And that is the other point which we must not forget. The Word accomplishes the Lord’s purpose, not our own. That purpose is the salvation of men’s souls through repentance of sin and faith in Christ’s merits and promises. He gives us this in the Word of preaching, absolution, and the sacraments, so that we can be sure a thousand times over what God thinks of us in heaven. He does not tell us one thing in His Word and harbor a secret will for us in heaven that is set against us. But we also see that the Word does not always accomplish faith in the hearts of men. This is not the Word’s fault, nor does it mean that the Holy Spirit isn’t really present in the Word. All it means is that sinful man can rejected, neglect, and despise the Word of the Lord. If man rejects the Word then the Lord uses the Word to harden man’s heart.

6)         Consider Pharaoh in the day so of Moses. The Lord sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh with this Word of the Lord, “Let my people go.” The Lord foresaw that Pharaoh would reject this Word and cast it aside, so He told Moses and Aaron, “I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh will not heed you, so that I may lay My hand on Egypt and bring My armies and My people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them.” (Exodus7:3-5) The Lord’s will would be accomplished through His Word. But for Pharaoh, who rejected His Word, that same Word became the stench of death to him and made him continually harden his heart against the Word. Since the Word is the means of salvation, Pharaoh rejected salvation, leaving the Lord no choice but to condemn him. One theologian summarized it like this: “The efficacy of the Word always has a result. The man to whom the Word of God comes, and who repels it, is not as he was before. Where long and persistently refused, hardening at last comes, and the Word becomes a 'savor of death unto death,' (2 Corinthians 2:16). Every word heard or read, every privilege and opportunity enjoyed, leaves its impress either for good or for evil. It is not so properly the Word, as man's abuse of the Word; not so much the efficacy of the Word, as the sin taking occasion of the efficacy that produces this result.”[2] The Word of the Lord does not leave a man as he was before hearing it. The Lord will either work faith in him or the man will reject the working of the Holy Spirit through the Word. Therefore we must always be careful of how we are hearing the Word of the Lord. Do we “gladly hear and learn it” as we are taught in the Catechism, or do we neglect it, push it aside, and despise its effectiveness to bring about growth in faith and the Word in our hearts? Or, using the parable of Jesus, what kind of soil are we?

7)         We are to remain tethered to the Word and Sacraments. These are the means to which God has promised to tether Himself. We don’t have to go looking under every rock, behind every sunset, or into our own sin-darkened hearts to find Christ, His forgiveness, our His holy will. It is all given to us in the Word. You can be certain that your sins are forgiven when you repent and confess your sins because He promises in His Word and gives you the Word of absolution from the pastor as from God Himself. You can be certain that your sins are forgiven and that Christ wants to unite with you because He gives you His flesh to eat and His blood to drink. You can be certain that you belong to the Triune God and that He will not forsake you in temptation, doubt, or despair, because He has baptized you with water combined with His Word. Nor do you have to run around being uncertain of His will for your life, for He lays it out in the Holy Scriptures. His will is that you preserve in the faith and remain steadfast in His Word all the days of your life. Because it is there, in His Word, His Word alone, that He is effective to sustain, grow, and strengthen your faith for this day and every day unto life everlasting. Amen.

[1] Smalcald Articles. III. Article VIII. Of Confession. 10-11.
[2] Henry Eyster Jacobs, Elements of Religion, Philadelphia, Board of Publication, General Council 1919 p. 155.

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