What good are words?
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” You’ve heard that, right? How about, “The pen is mightier than the sword”? I’m sure you’ve heard both. But both can’t be true. Which is it? Do words have no power or are they more powerful than armies and tanks? What good are words? I’m guessing you’ve felt it when the fallacy of that “words shall never hurt me” statement stung. The truth is words can hurt more than any physical strike. And on the flipside, sometimes words can do far more good than any physical thing could have. Words have power.
But, wait a second, what about the times you’ve heard words that had absolutely no power? There are times when an insult doesn’t really sting all that much or a promise doesn’t really help. Think about when that happens — it depends on the source, doesn’t it? The insult of someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about, or whose opinion you don’t respect, doesn’t do much. The promise of someone you can’t trust farther than you can throw doesn’t either. Right? You’ve got to consider the source.
Compare the vows my sister made to her new husband last Friday with the promises of the lying beggar I bought supper for the other day. I expect my sister to keep her word. I wasn’t at all surprised to see the panhandler take the few dollars I gave him to help him get cleaned up for his interview and walk into a liquor store instead of the drug store I dropped him off at.
Words have power only when you consider the source. So let’s do that for the words of Isaiah 55. “As the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
This is God talking. Consider that source. He reminds us — I’m the one who reached my hand farther than any telescope can see and put every star, every planet, every galaxy in its place. I’m the one who carved the Grand Canyon and molded Mount Everest. I’m the one who grew every pine, every palm, every blade of Bermuda on every golf course green. I’m the one who gave a pile of dirt six billion lines of DNA. Remember that? And remember how? I said, “Let there be.” And it was.
The same LORD who spoke the words that brought life into existence now says “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Just as surely as water works to nourish life, to produce food from the ground — God’s Word works. But here’s the thing, just as surely as God’s Word has power — Satan wants us not to see that power or use that power.
Think about it. How often haven’t you treated this source (the Bible) – not as more precious to you than your spouse on your wedding day, but more like that liar begging for money downtown? God says he’s got our provision handled; we worry. God says, “Vengeance is mine,” “I’ll take care of it”; but we hold a grudge and speak those words of anger as if God can’t or won’t handle it. God says to give firstfruits; we make sure our barns are full before giving. God says, “Preach my Word.” You say, “Well, pastor can handle that. I’m not cut out for that,” as if God didn’t make you what he has made you. So you bite your tongue instead of speaking up for your faith at work.
God speaks – the same voice, the same breath that made you, and you doubt its power. You may never say you doubt his power to do what he says, but we certainly live like that’s the case, like we have to prioritize everything else because of all the things WE need to take care of as if God couldn’t handle it.
But the truth is – God can handle it with His Word. Consider the source.
And consider the substance. Think about what he says. In our text he says His Word accomplishes His desires (and you know that His desire is that all be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth) and achieves His purposes. And what is the purpose of his Word? John writes in 1 John 5:13 “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
What is the substance? Eternal life. Everything in the Bible – from the account of Adam and Eve to John’s Revelation – from the history of Israel to the letters to the churches. Every last syllable of this Word is written that you may know that you have eternal life. This is here to give you confidence, which is important because our enemies want anything but that. The devil, the world and our sinful flesh repeat their lies again and again hoping that you’ll forget the source and listen to them. But God’s Word keeps going out – and it comes back bearing fruit.
When you can’t put out of your mind the hurtful words you spoke in anger, the LORD says that he has long ago put them out of his. When you look at yourself and see the filth and failure, the LORD tells you that he sees you as a beautiful bride, free from spot and blame. When your guilt follows close by your side wherever you go, the LORD has put it in black and white that he has removed that sin as far as the east is from the west.
When you realize the debt your failures owe – you open up His Word and hear him declare it paid. “It is finished.” “The blood of Jesus his Son purifies us from all sin.” Sins paid for. That’s what God’s Word says. Now that has power.
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 8 & 10:30am. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.