The first Christian Pentecost marked a turning point in the history of salvation. Jesus opened the minds of the disciples to understand the Scriptures. The prophecies of the Scriptures – the Law of Moses, the books of the prophets, and the Psalms – and the promise given by Jesus to His disciples were fulfilled in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. The disciples were given a task: “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luk 24:47)
The sermon about Christ – the gospel about the resurrected Jesus Christ – began to have a powerful effect. Peter’s Pentecost sermon, which was based on the prophecies of the prophets, strongly touched the hearts of the hearers of the word. The Spirit of God caused the service guests to ask the apostles: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Act 2:37) Three thousand listeners “gladly” received Peter’s words and personally believed the gospel. The sacrament of baptism reinforced the content of Peter’s sermon and joined them to the continuous care of the congregation. The first congregation of the New Covenant was born in Jerusalem (Act 2:14–41).
Martin Luther has said: “The word of God cannot exist without the people of God.” God continuously interacts with His own through His word. The Scriptures – the written word of God – are a fruit of this interaction. The hidden God has spoken to His servants through His Spirit: “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but the holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Pet 1:21)
The word of God is an unperishable treasure
In the beginning of time God created everything by His word. One day He will also end this earthly time by His word. Thus, our world is constantly being carried by His word. This is why we can describe the word of God as unperishable. This was also confirmed by Jesus Christ in His teachings: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Mat 24:35)
For us the word of God is an unperishable treasure because God has revealed Himself to us in it. We do not have a deaf or dumb God. He who is hidden from our eyes is a speaking God. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews describes the speech of the triune God: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.” (Heb 1:1–2)
The New Testament’s Apostle Peter compares the word of prophecy to a lamp shining in the dark, which sheds light on the path and shows the way (2 Pet 1:19). The light of the word of God enlightens the mutual path of the people of God, the faith and life of the congregation, and each and every child of God’s own endeavor of faith. The Psalm writer admires this light, having experienced it himself: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psa 119:105) Likewise he admires the blessed portion of a righteous person, because his “delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” (Psa 1:2)
Christ is the Lord and King of the Scriptures
The main thread in the Old Testament scriptures is the promise of the Messiah, Christ. The New Testament speaks about the fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus Christ. Early Christian preaching also followed this format. This can be clearly seen in the sermons and parts of sermons kept by the apostles that have been recorded in the New Testament. The same had come true in the Lord’s own proclamation, beginning from the very first moments of His public ministry.
The Scriptures are meant to be a textbook for faith and life. John, the writer of the fourth gospel, gives his reason for writing at the end of his gospel book: “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name.” (Joh 20:31)
In his letter the Apostle Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians about how the gospel he preached approached those in Corinth who received it and believed it: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:1–2)
It is important to remember, regarding the proclamation of the apostles and the early congregation, what is revealed in St. Luke’s depiction of the end of Paul’s work in the Acts of the Apostles: “Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.” (Act 28:31)
The gospel gives birth to faith
The basic teaching contained in the tenth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans is often cited in the sermons of our Christianity: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom 10:17) According to Martin Luther’s translation, “faith comes by the preached word.”
The preaching of the word – the proclamation of the gospel – has unique significance as a tool of the Holy Spirit. The gospel proclaimed from the kingdom of God gives birth to faith wherever the Spirit of God has prepared a person’s heart to receive it by faith.
Preaching is not a personal matter; it is a matter of God and His congregation. A preacher is a workmate of God and an ambassador of Christ. God’s congregation calls up and sends people to carry out this task. When the Spirit of God through the congregation calls to carry out the task of a servant of the word in God’s congregation, it is good to be obedient to that call. May Apostle Paul’s “account” of his proclamation of the gospel instruct us: “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16)
In his letters Apostle Paul speaks of the office of the New Testament and the office of atonement. As members of the royal priesthood, all children of God are participants of this office. Every believer is a priest on the basis of his or her faith. It is the calling of every believer to proclaim “praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9).
In the heart and mouth of every believer is the sermon of faith by which a slave of sin can be released into the freedom of God’s children. Every believer has been put to administer this office. The deepest meaning of the word proclaimed by the Holy Spirit – the gospel of the kingdom of God – is that it gives birth to faith in a person’s heart and joins the believer to the family of God, into the care of the congregation mother.
In the school of the word
Before the mirror of the word – both written and preached – a person can begin feeling his or her guilt before God. Realizing this does not release that person from the burden of guilt. This requires the power of the keys that the Holy Spirit uses through God’s own. Jesus gave this decree when he said to His disciples: “Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” (Joh 20:23)
According to Martin Luther’s explanation of the third article of the Creed in the Small Catechism, a Christian constantly needs the work of the Holy Spirit to preserve faith: the Holy Spirit sanctifies and preserves both individual Christians and the whole congregation of God in the true faith. To cherish our faith – the most important matter in our life – we need the fellowship of God’s congregation. St. Luke has left a touching image of the early congregation in Jerusalem in the Acts of the Apostles, which is the first church history: “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Act 2:42)
This ideal image was endangered already during the time of the New Covenant. That is why the apostle reminded: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” (Heb 10:25)
The focus of the apostle’s exhortation is on encouraging one another. We know from experience how our soul is refreshed when we hear the word of God. The food of the gospel nourishes our poor soul.
Text: Timo Riihimäki
Source: Kestääkö perhe?, Ajankohtaista 2009
Julkaistu englanninkielisessä kieliliitteessä 24.11.2015.
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