Bishop and Christian*, September 2015

“In many and various ways long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets; in the last of these days He spoke to us by the Son” (Hebrews 1:1). How does God tell us what He wants us to know? How does He make known to us His will? How do we discern what really is God’s word to us, especially when all sorts of people are running around telling us that God has said this or God has said that?

Hebrews simply reminds us what Jesus Himself said. To the two disciples on the road between Jerusalem and Emmaus on the day He rose from the dead, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). And just a little later to the other disciples: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). Likewise to the leaders of the Jews: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). And St. Paul says the same thing to Timothy about the purpose of the Scriptures: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood [really, “infancy,” since the word means a child who must be carried, even one who is still nursing] you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15). And how does Philip go about preaching the Gospel to the Ethiopian? “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture, he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35).

The Scriptures are completely consistent: if you want to know God’s will, if you want to know what God says, the only place to go is to Jesus. If Jesus hasn’t said it, promised it, or done it, then the words are uncertain and ambiguous, and we cannot place our trust in them. The will of God is wrapped up in the flesh of Jesus; everything else—except sin, of course—is open and free for His people.

It is a primary principle of the Lutheran confession (that is, the Scriptural confession) that God’s word does not come to us apart from Jesus and the means which He has given. This is both a caution for us and a promise. It cautions us to be skeptical about any thought or feeling that is not specifically promised in the Scriptures that speak of Jesus. Perhaps it is a nudge from the Holy Spirit in a particular direction, but perhaps it is a nudge from our sinful flesh or the devil. What is the test? Is this something that God commands for His people in the Scriptures (which always run through Jesus)? Or is this something new, even contrary to the Scriptures rightly understood? How do I know that this is a word from God? If there is not a clear command or promise in the Scriptures, then the fact is that we cannot be sure, and that ought to make us hesitate to trust whatever it might be that we think we’re hearing. Can we completely trust our thoughts and feelings when the old, sinful nature still clings to us? No. Are people sometimes deceived by their thoughts and feelings? Yes. And this is where the promise comes in. Because people are indeed deceived into sin, shame, and despair, we need a certain word that comes from outside of us. And the only word that comes from outside us that is completely, absolutely, without remainder trustworthy is the word that comes from the trustworthy God in Jesus Christ. He cannot and will not deceive us or lead us astray. Though God did, in former times, use various means and ways to make His word known by the prophets (though, notice, “by the prophets” and not in the secret recesses of our hearts!), in these latter days He has spoken to us only by His Son. And that’s good news for uncertain and ambiguous hearts, minds, and days.

For September, the Hymn of the Month is Lutheran Service Book 602, “The Gifts Christ Freely Gives.” Like last month’s hymn, this one is new to us in this hymnal as well, written only in 2001. Fitting well with the theme of this newsletter, the hymn tells us in rhyme all the sure and certain ways that God has spoken to us in Christ, so that we have no doubt where we can hear Him speak to us, and for what purpose.

Pr. Winterstein

*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”

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