O God, Where Art Thou? A Sermon for Cantate on St. John 16:5–15

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Every problem ever in the history of the whole world has always begun in the same exact way. They always begin with turning away from the Word of God.

Remember how it all began? Satan called God’s Word into question: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1). Adam and Eve started to doubt the goodness of God’s Word. The rest is history: Adam and Eve exchanged the truth of God for the lie of Satan and worshipped and served themselves rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25).

Like Adam & Eve, Abram got into trouble when he turned away from God’s Word. God promised to give Abram land, more descendants than he could possibly count, and to bless those who blessed him and to curse those who dishonored him (Genesis 12:1–3). It’s as if God said, “Any friend of Abram is a friend of mine.”

Shortly after God makes this incredible promise, a famine came upon the land. Abram took his wife Sarai to Egypt where there was food (12:10). Thing is, it wasn’t safe to show up in a foreign land in those days. Abram immediately began to fear for his life, and in the process doubted God’s ability to follow through on His promises (can’t give land and lots of children to a dead guy, after all). So he hatches this plan to pimp out his wife Sarai to Pharaoh, hoping that Pharaoh will deal kindly with him for the sake of Sarai. All because Abram doubted God’s Word.

But it gets worse. When the newly re-named Abraham and Sarah arrive at Gerar, Abraham pulls the same exact stunt with Abimelech, once again making Sarah play the harlot (Genesis 20), thinking if he doesn’t, he’s dead meat. Again, all because Abraham doubted God’s Word and promise. God told Abraham He was his “shield”, but apparently Abraham didn’t think God was very good protection.

Both Abraham and Sarah doubted God’s ability to make good on his promise to give them more children than sand on the seashore (Genesis 22:17), so they cooked up yet another anti-6th Commandment plan. This one involved Abraham taking Sarah’s Egyptian servant Hagar as a second wife so that she could give Abraham children. And you thought your family was dysfunctional!

Hagar ended up conceiving and bearing a son, Ishmael, but the whole family was a mess and it ended badly. After God made good on His promise and Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah, Abraham sent his second wife and son off into the desert wilderness with nothing more than a loaf of bread and a skin of water. Not much by way of child support for Hagar, that’s for sure.

All this because of Abraham’s failure to trust God’s Word. Every problem ever has always begun by not trusting the Word of God. Abraham was worried about how things would turn out, so he took matters into his own hands. He wasn’t content with God as his shield. He wanted something a little more tangible and “practical” than God to keep him safe. Like Adam & Eve, Abraham became impatient and doubted God’s goodness.

We’re no different. God gives blessing after blessing, but the moment even the smallest thing goes wrong you begin to doubt. You’ve found yourself growing discontent with what God has given you, coveting that which is not yours. Solomon had all the wealth in the world and tested every pleasure imaginable (Ecclesiastes 1–2), but this did not bring him satisfaction. Adam and Eve had Paradise, but they wanted more. The human appetite is insatiable.

Or like Abraham, maybe you’ve found yourself in life-threatening circumstances. The hymn stanza we sang a little earlier is a good reminder to us all:

When through fiery trials your pathway will lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, will be your supply
The flames will not hurt you; I only design
Your dross to consume and your gold to refine.
(LSB, 728; st. 4)

It’s a remarkable promise: “The flames will not hurt you.” When it comes to things with destructive power, fire’s up there at top of the list. When something’s dangerous, maybe even deadly, we warn them against “playing with fire.”

But you have nothing to fear. The promise God once spoke through Isaiah still holds today: When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame will not consume you (Isaiah 43:2).

Notice there’s no promise that these things won’t be scary, only that they won’t destroy you. Our Lord elaborates on the meaning of this in His Sermon on the Mount. He says,

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24–27)

When your life is founded on the rock of Christ and His Word, nothing can shake you. This is St. Paul’s secret for being content in any and every situation, high or low, rich or poor, hungry or well-fed. The Word of God is the only source of true and lasting contentment. God’s Word is the foundation of your faith.

Where that foundation is weak, your faith is at risk of suffering shipwreck. This is why an intimate knowledge of God’s Word is vital. Where you remain rooted in God’s Word, you will be steadfast and unshakable, like a fruitful tree planted by streams of water (Psalm 1:2–3). Then you will no longer be a child, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14).

In our constantly changing world, stability is found in the Word of God. God is not fickle or capricious. His promises are certain. With Him there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17). God’s Word endures forever (Isaiah 40:8).

This is why Satan concentrates all of his effort into attacking God’s Word. Satan’s a one-trick pony that way. All he ever does is attack God’s Word. He’ll try to twist God’s Word into false doctrine or distract you from God’s Word by keeping you preoccupied with worldly things.

Now these preoccupations can be godly enough, like, ‘how can I best provide for my family?’, but they can easily become ungodly obsessions. Any concern that’s more important to you than Jesus is an idol.

Sometimes we try to go beyond God’s Word when it comes to matters of freedom—and this is one of Satan’s favorite and most successful tactics. God has given you freedom when it comes to worldly decisions, things like whether or not to take that job, getting married, which doctor to see, or which politician to vote for. Certainly you should make decisions like those carefully and pray about them, but then you need to use your God-given reason and decide what’s best. That’s why He gave it to you!

God does not give you “signs from heaven.” Ever. Remember, looking for guidance and blessing apart from God’s Word is what got Adam, Eve, and Abraham in trouble. Every problem ever has begun with turning away from God’s Word. This includes seeking divine guidance in places that are not His Word.

The minute you depart from God’s Word—intentionally or not—you’ve made yourself vulnerable to Satan. And he’s subtle. The devil is excellent at disguising himself in sheep’s clothing, or even as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). All he needs is the smallest opening. He wants you to think seeing that palm reader or playing that Ouija board is no big deal or maybe even a little harmless fun. God’s Word is a lamp to our feet, and nothing else.

Most of the time we end up doing whatever we wanted to anyway, and—this is where the danger comes in—thinking that it’s part of some great cosmic plan. God does not care what color car you buy. He’s got more important things to worry about. He has given you a choice on whom to marry, or whether or not to marry at all. God does not speak in dreams or visions. God speaks in His Word. Anything that claims to be of God that is not founded directly—and I mean directly—on God’s Word is the voice of Satan.

The things that matter to God are spelled out in the Ten Commandments. Your Lord, His Word, and His Bride, the Church, should be your number one priority in life. That’s where He loves and serves you. And then He gives you the privilege of turning around and loving and serving your family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, neighbors and co-workers. The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37–39).

This is the shape of a life that is founded on God’s Word. Faith in God and fervent love toward one another.

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother (1 John 4:20–21).

So don’t get preoccupied with finding signs that aren’t coming. Occupy yourself with God’s Word. There’s enough in there to keep you busy as long as you live and then some. Be, as James says, “quick to hear” (1:19). Jesus’ disciples abide in His Word. Like Mary, treasure it up and ponder it in your heart. Your life in Christ began with the Word, and the Word is that which sustains your faith.

This is what our Lord was getting at in today’s Holy Gospel when He said the Holy Spirit does not speak on His own authority. The Holy Spirit “spoke through the Prophets”, that is to say, through His Word. In many and various ways God spoke to his people of old in dreams and visions, but now in these last days He has spoken to us in His Word (Hebrews 1:1). You hear the voice of Christ when His Word is read, spoken, or preached—and nowhere else. You meet Him when His Word is combined with water, bread, and wine. That’s where Jesus has promised to be. He wants you to know where to find Him and how to spot the traps of Satan.

Jesus is your shield and great reward, just as He was for Abraham. He allowed the devil’s arrows to sink into Himself so they wouldn’t hit you. He knows firsthand the difficulties of this life. This isn’t the way He wanted it to be, which is why He shed His blood for you. He rose from grave and sits at the Right Hand of the Father to assure you of your place in Eternal, Peaceful Kingdom. Until then, He invites you fix your heart and mind on His Word, that place where the Holy Spirit speaks and true joys are found. In this world there is no end of trouble, but with Christ there is no end of grace.

Soli Deo Gloria

+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. John 16:5–15
Cantate, 2015: O God, Where Art Thou?
Zion, Summit: https://www.facebook.com/zionlcms
Immanuel, Hodgkins: https://www.facebook.com/immanuelhodgkins
Around the Word Bible Studies: http://www.whatdoesthismean.org/bible-studies.html
Steadfast Throwdown: http://steadfastthrowdown.org/

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