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Sermons on Sermons: The Primacy of the Word (Deuteronomy 4:32-40)

The Primacy of God’s Word

Let’s remind ourselves what we’re up to in our current series “Sermons on Sermons.” We’re looking at the preached Word in four ways: the power, the primacy, the story and the strangeness of God’s Word. If you missed last week’s sermon on “The Power of the Word” from Ezekiel 37, please do go back and give it a listen.

Again, the “Ears to Hear” hand out will mark and guide our goals for this series. In this series, I want to help you hear the Word of God in seven ways: preparedly, attentively, retentively, understandingly, applicatively, reverentially, and obediently.

Prayer

Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and the comfort of your Holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I. Symbols & Signs

In their song “Symbols and Signs,” contemporary music group Beautiful Eulogy delve into the topic of guidance in the Christian life, asking us to reflect on where we look to know our God and his will for our lives. It’s an immensely important and yet misunderstood topic! Here’s a part of the song:

Are you the kind

That’s completely consumed

By symbols and signs?

If you are that’s fine

But don’t you find it interesting

How most of the time

Your self-interpreting seems to coincide

With what’s deep inside

Your heart’s desires

Seems rather convenient, doesn’t it?

I’m not saying that God can’t do it

Not saying that God won’t do it

That might very well be the case!

I’m simply making an observation of how much weight you place on it…

Sometimes what we believe to be true from our supernatural pursuits is actually a fluke

A series of events that’s used to distract you from the truth…

But, I’ll give you a sign that’s obvious

One of the most supernatural acts is that God through His Word has actually revealed everything pertaining to life and Godliness…

… I say the mark of a mature man

Is the one who reads God’s Word and understands

And allows that to govern his decisions and his prospective plans

You can almost hear the mic drop, can you? Pulling no punches, as you can see, they are effectively blowing up what counts for pop spirituality in our culture and, even sometimes in the church. And we agree – we say as Anglican Christians that “Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation.” As we’re going to see this morning, we believe that the Lord has definitively spoken and continues to speak through God’s Word written. Notice we don’t say that it’s a book of everything about everything. Such a book might fit on your smartphone, but you’d never get through it, and it would definitely not fit in your hand as a printed book. God’s purpose in giving his Word is to give you everything you need for life in Christ, right through to heaven. So come with me today as we look at the primacy (we could also say the sufficiency) of God’s Word.

II. The Living God Speaks (vs. 4:32-33)

32 “For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. 33 Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live?

What is the difference between the idols men make and the living God? Our God speaks. Idols are seen but never speak. Idols are held but can never hold and save us. Idols are posable but never act on behalf of their worshippers.

As you look over our passage, one the things that should absolutely grab you is the active power of our God to seek and save and speak into the lives of his people. I circled no less than thirteen action words or phrases in the first seven verses. Our God is not simply hanging out on a heavenly couch – he is an active and involved God.

One of the most powerful illustrations of this dynamic is found in 1 Kings 18:20-40 in the showdown between the prophets of Baal and the prophet Elijah – it’s a showdown to determine who is the true God. Here’s how things go for the prophets of Baal:

25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” 26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. 27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.

On the other side, Elijah constructs on altar and then proceeds to douse the altar in water – three times over! Here’s what happens:

36 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.”

The prophets of Baal go to all sorts of extremes to rouse their God and show forth his supposed power and will, but the living God has no such problem.

And here’s the application: sometimes as Christians, I think we can try to be more spiritual than God. At the center mark of every ordinary, faithful, Christ-seeking Christian life is the Bible. This is the place where hear our powerful and awesome God speak in clear tones.

In light of all this, we have to ask ourselves two questions this morning: just how central is Scripture to your relationship with God? How central is it to knowing God’s will for your life and faith?

Because however else God might direct and guide our lives (and I could tell you very powerful, personal stories of how he has done that for me!), we can’t say that we want to know our God if we disregard his Word.

And that is particularly true of the preached Word of God. John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury once said, “Despise not to hear God’s Word declared. As you tender your own souls, be diligent to come to sermons; for that is the ordinary place where men’s hearts be moved, and God’s secrets revealed.”

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury once wrote that, “[I]n holy scripture is fully contained what we out to do, and what to eschew; what to believe, what to love, and what to look for at God’s hands.”

Our God has spoken, he is speaking, and we know exactly where to look to find his Word.

III. The People of God Hear & Trust in his Word (v. 40)

Which leads us to the second part of today’s homily. God speaks, and his people are those who hear & trust in his Word.

40 Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time.”

Now, let’s relate this back to the preached Word. In Deuteronomy 4, God’s people are defined here as those who hear and trust his Word. That is why the proclamation and preaching of God’s Word matters so much. Without that, we really can’t claim to be Christians. As Anglican Christians, we say that the visible church is a congregation of faithful men and women in which the pure Word of God is preached and the Sacraments rightly ministered” (Article of Religion XIX). The stakes really couldn’t be higher here – we’re talking spiritual life or spiritual death!

And this why, as your priest, I talk about my commitment to expository preaching. What is expository preaching? Preaching that honors the primacy of the Word of God. Preaching that let’s the Word of God set the agenda for the preacher. Preaching that follows a close reading of Scripture. The aim and goal of expository preaching is simply to say what scripture says, that God’s people might hear and trust his Word.

Pastors share in the prophetic ministry of the Old Testament prophets. Their job was not so much to foretell the future as to tell forth the Word of the Lord. In fact, this is the overriding distinction between true and false prophets. And so, the prophet Jeremiah, writing against false prophets, declaring the Word of the Lord, saying “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people.” (Jeremiah 23:21-22) That’s the call of every pastor and every sermon.

Let’s end here. Look at your goal statements from “Ears to Hear.” At New Creation, I want us to raise up people who hear and trust the Word of God, who “1) Hear the Word of God preparedly. As the preacher must take care to find acceptable words, so the people should labor to bring acceptable affections to the work.” If you know the Word of God is going to be proclaimed, then do all you can to bring your best to it. Get sleep. Plan your morning out. Drink lots of coffee!

And, secondly, we want to raise up people who “3) Hear the Word of God retentively. Who labor to keep in their memory what they hear, that they may put it into practice in their life. Who talk about the sermon.” If you know the Word of God is going to be proclaimed, if you value it as such, how then will you seek to retain such a precious gift? Strong and unassailable, says our Lord, will be the one who builds his or her life on the rock of his Word.” (Matthew 7:24-25)

If the living God has spoken, and our lives hang on it, then surely we will do these things! May it be so. Amen.