by Matthew C. Harrison
The triune God speaks. The idols are dumb. When God speaks, things happen. “God said ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). When the ancient prophets spoke the “word” of God about what was to come, it happened (1 Kings 13:32). The prophet Micah declared, “O you Bethlehem . . . from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler of Israel” (Micah 5:24), and it happened 700 years later! The Old Testament sometimes says that the mighty deeds of God are a “word” that is to happen (Is. 9:8). On the basis of John 1, the Early Church fathers believed that Jesus was the word “spoken” to create the world: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Jesus Himself is the “Word” par excellence: “In these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” (Heb. 1:1). The word of Christ is given from the Father to the apostles: “For I [Jesus] have given them the words that you gave me and they have received them and have come to know the truth” (John 17:8).
What the Word of God says happens (See the horrid story of the end of Jezebel in 2 Kings 9:36–37). The Word of God doesn’t merely predict happenings; it causes them to happen. “For He spoke and it came to be!” (Ps. 33:9). The Word always achieves its purpose. “By myself I have sworn . . . a word that shall not return; To me every knee shall bow, every tongue swear allegiance” (Is. 45:23). “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to His people . . . Not one word has failed of all His good promise which He spoke by Moses His servant” (1 Kings 8:56).
The Bible is actually the written Word of God. “No prophecy comes from one’s own interpretation . . . but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21, concerning the Old Testament). Jesus promised His apostles, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26, concerning the New Testament). And so they wrote it down. We believe, teach and confess that the written words of the prophets and apostles in the Bible are the inerrant, verbally inspired and effective Word of God Himself!
So what’s the benefit of reading and knowing the Bible? So that the Word of God achieves its purpose in your life too. “The Word of the Lord does not return void” (Is. 55:11). The Word of God creates faith in Christ, and faith receives the Word (2 Cor. 11:4). By the word of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Spirit dwells in believers (1 Cor. 3:16.) The Word of God, preached but also read, is an action. In fact, it is the “power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16). The Word of God saves (Eph. 1:13f.) and works rebirth, renewal (1 Peter 1:23) and hope (Col. 1:5). The Word of God is the source for strength in life and its many challenges (Eph. 6:5). It reminds us that we are nothing of ourselves — that we are all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account (Heb. 4:13) — and that God’s Word is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit” (Heb. 4:12f.). And that is exactly what we need now in these last wretched days. Luther often repeated that reason without faith is a problem because there are many challenging things in the Bible. “Faith speaks, I believe you Lord . . . But what does God say? He says things that are impossible, false, stupid, inconsistent, absurd, abhorrent, heretical and diabolical if you consult your reason” (Weimar Edition, vol. 40/1, p. 361). But the Bible, which is a challenge to understand, carries its own solution to our dilemma and works faith.
Reading the Bible provides consolation and hope in these trying times. Christ said it would be so (Matthew 24–25). Reading the Bible helps us “give a reason for the hope that is within” (1 Peter 3:15). Reading the Bible directs us to seek preaching and the Sacraments (Heb. 10:19ff.).
Many years ago I began to note that the elderly saints whose funerals I was conducting had confirmation verses that remarkably reflected their lives. It was uncanny. I used to think that those old pastors really had profound insight into the lives of these dear saints when they were young. I still think that’s so, but there’s more. I think that the Word of God in a confirmation verse actually has the power to shape a life and so often does. Such is the power of God’s Word, especially the words of the very Gospel.
The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison is president of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.
*Many of the references in this article may be found in the chapter, “The Power of God’s Word” in Robert D. Preus’s Doctrine Is Life: Essays on Scripture (Concordia Publishing House, 2006).