Date: December 8, 1935
We have . . . a more sure Word of Prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed. – 1 Peter 1:19
Most merciful Father: We ask Thee this afternoon for a true, firmer faith, for the soul courage that will take Thee at Thy Word and believe that the promises of the Scriptures must be fulfilled. We confess that often weakness of faith and doubt have overtaken our hearts; that we have been spiritual cowards; that we have trusted in men and in the arm of flesh rather than in Thee and in Thy saving love. Forgive us, for Jesus’ sake, these and other sins; and send Thy renewing and strengthening Spirit into our hearts that we may grow daily in Christian courage, in trusting faith, and in sanctified life. Especially do we entreat Thee to bestow Thy merciful hope upon those who are bent under the repeated blows of adversity. Comfort them, the sick, the destitute, the bereft, the lonely, the fearsome, the restless, the disillusioned, with the everlasting love of Christ; and teach them as us that Thy mercy is for every one, for every day, for every sin, and for every sorrow. Bless us with this faith for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
SUSPICION and deep-rooted doubt have seized the hearts of the masses. They have been tortured by so many broken promises and miscarried predictions that faith in their fellow-men has withered and trust frozen. In March, 1930, our Secretary of Commerce predicted: “Business will be normal in two months.” In the same year the President of the United States asserted: “The worst effect of the crash of unemployment will be passed within the next sixty days.” But now, after sixty months, as they hear the march of 10,000,000 unemployed, many who during these years of waiting have become forty-five years old (when a cruel, lash-in-the-hand industrial system often casts its workers into discard) grimly wonder whether the dulcet prophecies sung by soothsayers today will be fulfilled even tomorrow in the lives of their children.
We think of the broken financial promises made, not by bucket-shop frauds and gambling cheats, but by industrial wizards, who promised generous returns, yet left many of you robbed of your savings, clutching certificates worth only a ragman’s price. As thoughtful minds contemplate the guaranteed securities issued by national banks which have not paid the principal; the Government bonds, which pledged payment in gold, but yield only silver, how can they escape the fear that in some future crisis the promises of financial institutions and governments will be similarly repudiated?
On all sides our age is confronted by this tragedy of broken guarantees and false predictions. International diplomacy often knows no law but the self-interest that makes treaties scraps of paper. Physicians advocate mercy killing for those whom they declare to be incurable; yet as medicine marches on, new discoveries prove their mistakes. Millions turn to crystal-gazers, astrologers, and other dealers in forbidden arts; yet when a New York newspaper tested the ability of a select group of fortunetellers, they could guess the weather correctly only for six of the thirty-one days in the month. Even preachers, notably some of those who have attracted nation-wide attention through their advocacy of financial and monetary theories, have floundered in so many contradictory political predictions, as they have forsaken the true purpose of the pulpit, that they have lost most of their intelligent support.
The cry that goes up from American hearts in this decade of broken hope is the appeal for an infallible, immovable source of truth and promise. What a privilege, then, it is for me to show you in the name of God that, while human promises, even the ties of friendship, even the sacred pledges of marriage, are sometimes wilfully violated,
GOD KEEPS HIS WORD!
We find this pledge in the Second Letter of St. Peter (chapter one, verse nineteen): “We have . . . more sure Word of Prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed.” As we apply these words to ourselves and to our times, let me show you the arresting warning, but chiefly the comforting promise which they hold out to our groping age.
THE PROPHECIES OF DIVINE JUSTICE ALWAYS FULFILLED
This “more sure Word of Prophecy,” which is ours in the Bible, offers a striking demonstration that the Bible is not man’s word, but God’s; that it is not just another book, but that it is the Book. If it can be shown that Scripture does what no other volume can do in foretelling events long before their occurrence; that its predictions are minutely and exactly fulfilled; that all this occurs too frequently to be a matter of chance, this should he conclusive evidence of the Bible’s divine origin and of its being divine truth.
Let us take as a test case the Book of Nahum. One of the shortest Old Testament prophecies, it is frequently neglected by Bible-readers and attacked by irreverent scholarship. Written in the heyday of Nineveh’s luxury and wealth (and even radical critics concede this early date), the message of Nahum makes the startling prediction that this capital city of the Assyrian empire, the center of world affairs, is doomed. Were his prophecies executed? We know of course that Nineveh fell in 612 B. C., in direct fulfilment of Nahum’s utterances; but only since 1923 have we been able to prove that the doomed city collapsed just as God’s prophet had foretold. Twelve short years ago a small baked clay tablet, the Babylonian account of the fall of Nineveh, was deciphered; and to an amazing degree this tablet, together with some previously known documents, emphasizes the literal fulfilment of Nahum’s prediction. Our prophet foretells a long siege of Nineveh; the Babylonian tablet indicates that the city was surrounded for three years. Nahum predicts a wild plundering of the capital; the Babylonian record speaks of booty “in quantity beyond counting.” Nahum foresees that the Ninevites will be captured when they are “drunken as drunkards”; and tradition recalls that in a royal carousal the city was taken in an unexpected attack by night. Nahum records three times that Nineveh would be swept away by a flood; later historians corroborate this. Nahum forecasts “the utter end” of the city; and unlike many other Oriental cities destroyed in warfare, Nineveh was never rebuilt. Until ninety years ago even its ruins lay buried beneath the debris of twenty-four centuries.
Many other monuments to fulfilled prophecy dot the face of the earth. The tottering pillars of Egypt’s devastated temples; Babylonia’s age-old mounds; the crumbling remains of an ancient glory in Tyre and Sidon; the famed ruins of a dozen other countries,—these are perpetual warnings in our proof-seeking age that the threatenings of God’s outraged justice never miss their mark. Though we may be separated from the remains of ancient nations by thousands of miles and thousands of years, the truth that God still keeps His Word remains inviolate. He may delay; He may postpone; He may even appear to suffer the taunting rebukes that men hurl against Him.. But though His justice sometimes moves slowly, it always moves with irresistible power. The final reckoning is inevitable; often during this life, always in the next.
Let us take heed to God’s sure prophetic Word. When we read: “The nation and the kingdom that will not serve Thee shall utterly perish,” we must realize that, if our nation ever refuses to serve the Almighty (and are there not some unmistakable trends toward that tragedy?) , not even our ten-billion-dollar gold reserve, the largest in history, though it were multiplied by itself, could purchase exemption from divine judgment.
We look into American business to behold theft, fraud, and connivance; and recalling this prophetic warning: “Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness and his chambers by wrong!” we must not forget that God will keep this word; that dishonesty is never cunning enough to cheat its way out of His punishment, even though it may purchase acquittal before human courts. When God looks down upon the concentration of American wealth into relatively few hands, sees that some of this wealth is retained for selfish, iniquitous pleasures while the poor are becoming poorer every day; and when He hurls this prophetic indictment: “Go to, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries,” I tell you that, when God’s judgment overtakes them, all bloated, self-engrossed oppressors of the poor will finally “weep and howl” for their miseries.
Again, God speaks in warning to our American homes. When His Word cries out: “Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother,” He would speak into the hearts of America’s youth, plead that they love and honor their aged and decrepit parents, and show the unmistakable curse resting upon the neglect of this sacred duty. When His Word, indicting rampant lust, foretells the time when the “flesh and body are consumed” by the ravages of vicious disease, every physician of the land must testify to this truth and admit: “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
With equal force will the predictions concerning the sins of churches find fulfilment. If American Christians become lukewarm, “neither cold nor hot”; if they permit strange doctrines, which God hates, to be endorsed from their pulpits; if worldliness crowds out godliness and repentance is spurned, their days are numbered. All roulettewheels and games of chance, all fashion shows and cardparties, all degrees behind preachers’ names and social prominence of members, all machinery used to promote its work, will not be able to restrain the hand that writes the sentence of doom on church walls.
God keeps His word. This truth brings a personal warning to you and me; for God will uphold His threats against sin in our lives. Struggle against this as you may, the Word of God thunders out this judgment: “The wages of sin is death.” To all men comes the indictment: “Thou hast sinned.” Though an eat-drink-and-be-merry generation may try to laugh off this universal indictment; though academic unbelief may seek to disguise sin’s hideous, ugly nakedness under the masquerade of new terms and titles; though we may resist the idea of punishment for sin and payment for wrong, there is within us that incisive voice of conscience which ultimately confronts restless men and women with the terrifying certainty that God keeps His word.
THE PROMISES OF DIVINE MERCY NEVER FAIL
Thank God, divine mercy triumphs over divine warning! Thank God, we can exult, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Though “heaven and earth shall pass away,” God’s promises remain the unshaken, eternal truth itself. Doubt any fact of secular history that you will. Put a question-mark behind any of the axiom truths of science if you must. Contradict your own experience if you care to. But do not question this supreme verity, that God loves us with that everlasting affection which makes His pledges the sure word of unchanging grace.
Now, if an inquiring soul demands, “How can I be sure that God loves me?” “How can I come to the immovable faith that the sins which separate me from God have been removed?” what better can we do, particularly in these weeks commemorating our Savior’s advent into the flesh, than point to the sure prophetic word of love and its fulfilment in the Christ-child of Bethlehem? Here, in the majestic train of Old Testament prophecies and in the marvels of New Testament fulfilment concerning the Savior’s birth, life, death, and resurrection, we have the most awe-inspiring, faith-instilling truth of all history. Go back with me to that tragic day when the gates of Paradise were to swing closed upon the outcast parents of the race. Hardly had sin entered the world, when a Redeemer was promised—human because He was the woman’s seed, yet divine because He was to perform the superhuman task of destroying sin. Ages roll on, and to Abraham and the Hebrew nation is given the pledged assurance that in his seed “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” Of Abraham’s descendants Jacob, and of Jacob’s Judah, is chosen. Centuries are heaped upon centuries, and David is told that the promised Deliverer will be of his royal house and lineage. The prophet Micah foresees Bethlehem as the royal birthplace. Isaiah speaks of the virgin mother. Even more sharply does prophecy portray the great chapters of His world-moving career. Although He will heal the sick and prove Himself the Friend of friends, the Preacher of righteousness, He will be “despised and rejected.” Blasphemous men are to take Him captive. He is to be numbered with criminals. His holy hands and feet are to be bored through. He is to die a felon’s death; and, strangely, instead of being buried obscurely in a potter’s field, His body is to repose in the tomb of a rich man. Yet, marvel of marvels, He cannot be held in the grip of death. His body will not see corruption; He is to be resurrected; and palsied Job rejoices: “I know that my Redeemer liveth!” He is to ascend on high and, sitting at the right hand of God the Father, will maintain His Kingdom and Power and strengthen His Church for its victorious course through the ages. And why this life of humility, this death of deaths? Inspired Isaiah, beholding in prophetic vision the suffering Messiah, answers eleven times in eight verses of his peerless fifty-third chapter and foretells: “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.”
Since all these promises of the coming Redeemer were fulfilled to the letter in the redemptive career of Christ, I ask you, in the words of our text, to “take heed” to the sure Word of Prophecy that is sealed in the Savior’s blood, certified by His resurrection, demonstrated daily by His almighty power. If the love of God “spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all”; if Christ so mightily proved His divine power that He changed the world and we date our calendar from His birth; if all history pays its tribute, willingly or reluctantly, to His truth, shall we not especially in this Advent season prepare to welcome Him? Shall we not gain unbounded strength from the fact that, if every prophecy concerning the past has been fulfilled, every prediction of the future will likewise be verified? Shall we not with penitent and prayerful hearts, trusting only in Christ, acknowledge that “all the promises of God in Him are yea and in Him amen”?
There may be many sorrows that surround you in these heavy days. But when Jesus says: “Let not your heart be troubled; . . . believe in Me,” then believe that He who gives this comfort is the almighty, ever faithful God, that He can and will banish grief from your heart and fulfil His pledge: “Your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” Fears may encircle you in timid, apprehensive moments; yet when Jesus calms your heart and tells you, as He once told His wavering disciples: “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid,” remember this promise will be fulfilled even though Christ shake the earth and move its mountains. You may be overtaken by the dread loneliness which besets those who lead solitary lives, bereft, through death, of their nearest and dearest; but when Jesus speaks to your hearts and promises: “Lo, I am with you alway,” trust this promise; say to Christ: “Take Thou my hand and lead me O’er life’s rough way,” and His unfailing companionship will put a new meaning into your hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus!”
Below all gnawing, disquieting cares of life there may be the deeper fears voiced in some of your letters, the hesitancy that makes you wonder whether you are saved, whether you will continue in grace, whether some heavy sin hanging over your conscience will keep you from God. As to these and a thousand other soul problems, let me assure you for all times that, if you truly believe Christ, if you want to trust Him as your Savior, then, in spite of all the deep and terrifying sins that may have crowded into your life, in the face of all temptations that may assail you, in the very shadow of death that may swiftly overtake you, His sure Word of Prophecy comforts: “No man shall pluck you out of My hand.” And when in seeing, rather than in believing, you experience the full truth of these pledges; when “God shall wipe away all tears”; when “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither . . . any more pain,” then, in heavenly fulfilment, you will exult: “There hath not failed one word of His good promise.”
I pray this blessing for all in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.