Written for our Learning
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Advent, December 6, 2020
“Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”
Talk is cheap, and looks can be deceiving. But there is something about the written word. You’ve heard enough promises, great things that are supposed to happen for you, a treasure you’ll receive if send in this unique winning card... Then you wait, and it’s awarded to someone else. You thought she’d be true, she even seemed to say so, but she’s off with another. You’ve been induced to change jobs with a promise of a part of the company. You go out on a limb, even get into debt, only to find out in time that the words were untrue.
You can’t always trust what people tell you. Some folks can’t even tell you the real time. Some people lie because it’s expected of them. Actors and lawyers play parts, pretend to be strong or witty or passionate or intelligent, pretend because that’s what they do. We follow, rather stupidly sometimes, what we hear and what our hearts resound to, only to find out a lesson that lawyers wisely advise: get it in writing.
Even something written can be a bald-faced lie. Yet it’s a record and its writer is accountable for the words inscribed in black and white. The words on the page mean something and we count on their publisher to stand behind them. Words are there. The written word is proof of its own existence while words spoken in the ear may not be worth the paper they’re printed on.
God has been speaking to man since the dawn of time. God’s words are sometimes just that: words. We may hear them if He makes them audible. God also speaks in other ways. God is Spirit and He created us in multiple dimensions, able to use spiritual senses just as we use the physical. God communicates to us in the Spirit far more often than in the ear. But how can we trust communication that is neither audible nor written? “God is telling me to do something,” sounds like an exercise in self-delusion and self-justification. Sometimes it is. How can we judge?
People acting on divine communication may actually be obeying the Almighty, so don’t rush to judgment. One way to tell if it’s true is to see the outcome. God tells someone inwardly that they should go down this street and stop at a certain place. Just then a van pulls out and leaves a parking place on a busy boulevard. As they emerge from the car, a friend comes out of a building and has a question that our believer can help with. This leads the friend to Christ. I’ve heard wilder stories when the outcome was that this person was hearing God. Outcomes can deceive as well. To the self-deceived, everything is confirmation.
Another way to discern spiritual direction is the inscribed Word of God. The Bible. The Holy Book. What can we tell about one’s sense of spiritual direction from reading this book 2,000 years old and older? Does it say in here that you should marry Phil? No. But it does say that moving in with him without marrying him is wrong. People actually do that, then claim Divine guidance, when their actions violate clear commands of God. God does not violate God. You don’t need a second opinion.
Not every question falls under biblical warrant. This business seems a good venture for my capital, and I feel led to do it, but is it God? How can the Bible help our poor investor? How do you recognize a voice on the phone? Okay, your cellphone says the name. But if it just says “Private Caller?” Hit the green button, say “Hello,” and listen. “Hey, is my pizza going to be delivered or what?” Wrong number. “Hello, Darling!” That’s her. Having listened to its melody for a long time, you know the voice. In just this way we can know the voice of God, the ways of God, God’s leading in our lives because we’ve studied His words and actions in the past.
Through the written Word we learn the voice of God. God spoke to the tribes of Israel, escaped from Egypt. They couldn’t stand to hear Him, so Moses spent 40 days on Horeb, bringing back “two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the Lord spake with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly.” Deut. 9:7-11
Centuries later, those books of Moses were hidden in the walls of the Temple, the commandments forgotten. A construction crew turned them up and a faithful king ordered them to be read. When he heard them, he tore his clothes, and in the zeal of all he heard, King Josiah “took away all the abominations out of all the countries that pertained to the children of Israel, and made all that were present in Israel to serve, even to serve the Lord their God. And all his days they departed not from following the Lord, the God of their fathers.” 2 Chron. 34:19-35:1 He then knew what to do to the idols and pagan temples that spotted the landscape, and he did it: all on the power of the written word.
Our laws were based on this Book. God has spoken wisdom and judgment to individuals and empires. A pagan king and his drunken guests drank from the chalices that had been looted from the Temple in Jerusalem. A spiritual hand wrote upon the wall, and they feared the apparition, but didn’t understand its meaning. The prophet Daniel told the party: “this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. Mene; God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it. Tekel; You are weighed in the balances, and found wanting. Peres; Your kingdom is divided, and given to the Persians.” Daniel 5:24-28 That night the Babylonians fell to the Persians, and that pagan king died. It was so written.
Jesus, fasting 40 days then heard his chiefest enemy sneer and taunt Him, but He answered His tempter: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God… Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God… Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” Matthew 4:4, 7, 10 Satan fled from Him.
Jesus quoted a number of Old Testament prophecies of which He was the fulfillment. Of John the Baptist He said: “this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.” Matthew 11:10 And, “I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him.” Mark 9:12-13 Of His opponents, He said: “it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” Mark 7:6 And of Himself, “The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner.” Luke 20:17 Of the Temple marketeers: “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. Matthew 21:13 To the apostles Jesus said, “All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.” Matthew 26:31 And, “this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.” John 15:25 After His Resurrection, He said, “Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day.” Luke 24:46
Jesus gave His Word, and with Him even the spoken words held true, every one of them. He made the Jewish Scriptures come alive with meaning and truth. His very existence fulfilled the most convoluted and conflicted revelations, how a Messiah should both come to restore Israel and also die as a rejected convict, but His death provide redemption, and then He received and still receives glory. No one in Israel had understood. Jesus made the rough places smooth.
The written word of God is therefore powerful and important. It tests us, it is a living Word. Everything that God has spoken lives on and He is in it.
Thus, the Bible is the only book on earth that you may read, but that also reads you. God speaks to you through its pages, but He is watching you as you read His Word and seek His Face.
An even more important writing exists that we don’t have down here. We will each receive a new name one day, written in a white stone, a name only God knows. Rev. 2:17 Jesus told His disciples, “in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20 What God has written, can indeed save us for eternity. Is it time we found out what it is?
God has written by inspiration, by speaking, by moving His Hand across a table of stone. He has written eternity in our hearts. He has established Creation by His Word. If we can’t trust it, if we don’t know it, if we doubt it, if we fail to apply it, we do ourselves a disservice and disobey Him.
In today’s culture, the newest thing brings the highest price. In five years, newer things will have pushed them off the market. Where is the real value? Not just in things old, but things timeless, proven, deeply true, eternal, rich and holy. Such things are widely forgotten, unexplored, even laughed at and scorned. Truly, many things were written in times past and most failed to survive. But one compilation of books has weathered the centuries because people keep finding God’s voice in these words and training in the real life. These words were written for us to learn: the real facts of life, the source of our existence, the meaning of it all, our future beyond earthly life, why we fail and how to repair the breach between ourselves and our Creator.
And every passage somehow points to a single Life, anticipates Him coming, proclaims His birth, establishes His kingdom, speaks in His voice, and casts visions of the end of all things, and new beginnings. This is the course in reality that was written by the hands of people, but is the voice of God speaking. Learn it and live. It was written for your sake, that you might learn His voice, and know where to find Him.
It is written. You have His Word on it.