By Paul Koch –
Water. Water is a commodity. It is a blessing from God that we so easily take for granted. Without thinking much about it, here in the United States of America we can go to practically any place from the richest luxury apartment complex to the ghettoes and slums of the cities and turn on tap water that is free of disease and pollution. You may not like the taste of it; it probably isn’t filtered by reverse osmoses, but it won’t kill you either. Water is necessary. It is crucial for survival. There are many areas around the globe that don’t have the luxury of clean water, where death and famine exist because water is difficult to find. And there is an unpredictability to water, a movement of it that is outside of our control. Try as we might, our ability to contain and disperse water is limited. We build damns and aqueducts and filtration systems, but sometimes all of that isn’t enough and we resort to praying for rain.
Here in Southern California, we know full well the effects of water on our land. After years of a severe drought this past winter we actually had rain. When you drove down the freeway the whole world seemed to come alive. In response to the rain, the long dormant and dry hillsides sprang forth in new growth. Everything, for a time, was green and beautiful. As the rains become again scarcer we see how quickly it all reverts again to the seasonal brown we are used to viewing.
Just as water is crucial for our land, the Word of God is also crucial. We may not think of it in these terms, but the Word and the world are intimately entwined. Recall how John’s Gospel begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made.” Beneath every tree in the High Sierras, under the rocks of the mountains, in the breath of the fish of the sea and above the wings of the birds – there is the Word. The voice of God established this creation, shaping it and giving it the rhythm of life. Now sure, sin has torn and distorted the perfect creation He spoke into being, but that doesn’t mean that the Word is now divorced from it or that the Word is no longer crucial. It still is the source of life and hope and regeneration.
But the Word, like the rain, is beyond our ability to control. We can build our reservoirs for it to thrive in for a time, but we cannot make it rain. At times, the rain can become too much and we long for it to stop or it can become so scarce that we pray for it to return. But Isaiah tells us that this Word of God is not just some random blessings of chance and opportunity. It is the intentional speaking of God that accomplishes His purposes. He says, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Is. 55:10-11) Just as the rain brings forth life, so does the Word of God. Just as the world needs the rain, so all creation needs the Word.
There is a line in the book of Amos that Luther once said was one of the most terrifying of all Scripture. For the people had rejected the Word of God and even forbidden the prophets to prophecy. So in chapter 8 verse 11 God says, “Behold, the days are coming, when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” Amos warned of a famine of the Word of God. In a famine of the Word the destruction will be far greater than that of a lack of rain. For without the Word there will be no law to break the proud and arrogant, no guidance for repentant and sorrowful. Without the Word, there will be no Gospel proclamation lifting up the poor in spirit and the terrified conscience. If you think this world is mad now, if you think it is pulling apart at the seams, it is nothing compared to how dried up and broken it will be come if the Word is silenced.
Then again, it isn’t always the drought that we fear. It isn’t always a famine that is the problem. Sometimes the rain just keeps on coming. Sometimes there are floods and destruction that comes from a Word that will not let up, no matter how bad we might want it to stop. Oh, there are times when we want it to let up. There are those times when the Word zeroes in on your sin, when it exposes your failings and your shortcoming, when it shines the light on all those little dark recesses of your life that you would rather keep hidden away. The Word of God can hurt when it is pointed at you, when your pride is on display and your sins are brought to the foreground. When that Word shows you a mirror reflecting every transgression and every sinful desire of your heart, you will pray for it to stop – to focus somewhere else or on someone else.
And so, we will often develop our own system of survival. We’ll try and survive both the famine and the flash flood. We limit the Word when it bites and tears, and we let it flow more profusely when it suits our needs and feels good. At times, we will want God off our backs, and at other times we will cry out for him to intervene. For you see, we need the Word like the earth needs the rain but we want to wield it for our purposes, for our intentions, for our goals and desires.
But when you take a hold of it, when you think you will be more judicious in the use of the Word, you will find yourself standing in judgment over it, deciding how it is used and where it is to be used and to whom it will benefit. The result won’t be a cure for the droughts and the floods, rather it will only make it worse. The proud and the arrogant will be emboldened while the broken and the hurting will continue to be crushed. For your purposes, no matter how noble and upright they might seem from the outside, your purposes will always be tainted by your sin, by selfish desires and prejudiced minds. So, thanks be to God that His Word does not serve your purposes.
As the rain and snow fall to the earth, so God’s Word goes forth from His mouth. And it goes forth for His purposes. It goes forth not for vain and empty things, not for human glory and one-upmanship. The Word goes forth to do its task – to kill and bring forth new life. The Law will kill the sinner, exposing your shame, revealing that you have fallen short of the glory that God demands. And then the Gospel will pour down like a sweet and refreshing rain, proclaiming to you that this very day you are forgiven. You are forgiven all of your sins in the gift that is your Lord Jesus Christ. He has done what you could not. He lived the perfect life. He claimed your sins as His own. He suffered and died for them all on the cross of Calvary. He rose from the dead to proclaim victory.
The Word of God tears down and builds up so that you might receive the free gift of life everlasting. And as creation rejoices in the rain, so we rejoice in the promises and gifts of Christ. At the working of God, at the coming of his Word, the prophet Isaiah declares the “the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Creation itself lifts up its voice in celebration because the Word which spoke it into being has not abandoned it in its trouble. The mountains sing and the trees clap, for the Word of God still goes forth. And it goes forth for you; for your salvation, for your hope, for your eternal life. It will not return empty, but shall accomplish the purpose for which He has sent it.