The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
In today’s epistle, we hear St. Paul say that God, through the working of His Word, has made us sufficient. Understood in repentant faith, this makes perfect sense to our ears. There’s nothing offensive or derogatory about it. God has made us sufficient for salvation. Simul Justus et peccator. While I reside on this side of eternity; while I still wear the flesh of Old Adam, I am—at the same time—both sinner and saint. I am justified. I am redeemed in Christ. I am sufficient for salvation. And yet…I’m still a sinner. I KNOW that I could always be better. “The good that I want to do I don’t do, and the evil I don’t want to do I keep doing.” I’m sufficient for salvation, but I’m not perfect. I’m not even exemplary.
But is this what Paul is really driving at here? In a word: NO. The whole saint and sinner thing is absolutely true, but that’s not the point Paul is making here. The Greek word that Paul uses here is hikanos. We translate it as “sufficient,” but it also carries with it the meaning of “greatness” or “worthiness.” In fact, the overwhelming majority of times this word is used in the New Testament, it’s translated as “great” or “greatness,” i.e., “great crowds, great man, great power,” etc. Both of these translations—greatness or worthiness—would make perfect sense in the light of justification and salvation by God’s grace alone. “We are not great in ourselves to claim anything coming from us, but our greatness comes from God.” “We are not worthy in ourselves to claim anything coming from us, but our worthiness comes from God.”
This leads to a very important question though; a question many Christians with very good intentions tend to overlook or ignore: HOW is that God makes us sufficient, great, worthy of salvation? The answer is simple (and I know all of you already know it). God works this great and mighty miracle by means of His Word. We see this at the very beginning with creation. In the beginning there is nothing. God speaks…and now there is. His Word is performative. It does what it says. God says, “Let there be,” and there is. This performative, powerful, life-giving Word has the power to “reverse the curse,” so to speak.
We see this in our Old Testament lesson. Speaking through Isaiah, God has promised that His Word will reverse and transform the rugged, mountainous forests of Lebanon into a fruited plain. This Word will give light and sight to the blind. The deaf will be able to hear this Word. We see this promise coming to fruition in our Gospel lesson as Jesus heals a deaf man whose tongue was bound up, unable to speak. Christ speaks one word—ephphatha—and the bonds are broken. The ears are opened and the tongue is loosed. The performative Word of God in action.
And talk about performative…. This same Word of God took on flesh and went to the cross to suffer and die in our place. With one word—tetelstai (which we translate as “it is finished”)—Jesus victoriously pronounced our victory over sin, death, and the devil. With that one word the temple curtain tore, from top to bottom, from heaven to earth; the earth quaked; mountains split and crumbled; the dead rose to life. All that was prophesied about the Messiah “in that day” has begun to take place at the cross; at the moment when God’s promise of redemption was fulfilled.
And Good Friday is certainly not the end of this performative Word in action, is it? Three days later, the resurrected Christ appears to His apostles, who were hiding behind locked doors out of fear. “Peace!” One Word. He shows them His pierced hands, and then He again speaks that one Word, “Peace.” Notice how Jesus very clearly ties together God’s peace and Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. In fact, they can never be separated. Beginning with Adam and Eve in the Garden, God speaks His promise of redemption—that redemptive promise who will descend from Eve and crush the head of the wicked serpent—and from that point on all men are saved through faith alone in God’s Word and Promise alone; all those in the Old Testament looking forward in faith to the coming Messiah, and all us on this side of the cross looking back in faith to the serpent-crushing, all-atoning death and resurrection of the Gospel in the flesh. “Peace.” The singular all-sufficient peace that surpasses all understanding.
But here’s the thing: I know we know all this—God’s Word is all-sufficient…but do we really believe it? Careful before answering, because the fruits you bear in everyday life may contradict your confession. Is God’s Word all-sufficient? Yes. Is God’s Word all-sufficient in every situation, in every circumstance? Is God’s Word all-sufficient for you? Well…. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be complete….” God makes a man sufficiently complete by means of His Word—His Word alone. Sola Scriptura, right? Christ Himself commands, “Make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded.” Teach His Word. According to Jesus the Word of God this is all-sufficient for the Church; for salvation.
And yet…God’s Word never really seems to be enough, does it? I’m not going to belabor the point. Suffice it to say that churches struggle with this all the time, be it in budget matters, attendance matters, or doctrinal matters. “What about the children?” No church will ever come right out and say, “God’s Word is insufficient,” but they will unashamedly practice “God’s Word PLUS____. We need something more; something different; something better.” Jesus declared “It is finished,” and yet it continues to be taught that you now need to do your part. I guess Christ’s own Word isn’t sufficient enough(?)
If we’re honest, we’ll confess that we struggle with this in our individual lives too. Again, I won’t belabor the point. I don’t need to. Look in the mirror. The fact is that we’re all guilty of treating God’s Word and His means of grace as somehow insufficient or impotent, unable to do all that we want it to do. We don’t “feel happy,” so something must be wrong. The insufficiency must be on God’s end, right? Our contradictory fruits of unfaithfulness are witnessed in how we approach such things as sexuality and teenage promiscuity. “God’s Word isn’t enough. It won’t work. Birth control is the answer.” God’s Word is all-sufficient…until it comes to matters such as Social Security, health insurance, prescriptions, and gas prices. “Look at the birds of the air. Look at the lilies of the field. Seek first the kingdom of God.” “Yeah, but God you don’t understand.” “Give us this day our daily bread….” “Yeah, but God you don’t understand.” I’ve said enough on this. It’s sufficient. Repent.
I’ll end the same way I began, directing you to the all-sufficiency of Christ’s all-redeeming sacrifice; pointing you to how God has baptized you into this all-sufficient sacrifice and made you all-sufficient for everlasting salvation. “We are not great in ourselves to claim anything coming from us, but our greatness comes from God.” “We are not worthy in ourselves to claim anything coming from us, but our worthiness comes from God.” I point you, not to your utterly insufficient selves, but to God. I point you to Immanuel in our midst and at work for us; for our good, for our salvation. Look to this font, where your Lord has made you His own; where He Himself has made you great and worthy. Look to this rail, where your Lord kneels down from heaven to nourish you with His own death-defeating, life-giving Body and Blood. Ephphatha! May your ears be opened to hear the Gospel reality of God’s Christ-centered grace and absolution for you!
Folks: If all this isn’t all-sufficient for you; for your joy, your peace, your blessed assurance, then you really don’t get what’s going on here, and a great reversal really needs to take place with you. But here’s the thing: God’s Word is all-sufficient. It accomplishes His will, and it never returns to Him void or empty. That great repentant reversal can and will be brought about only by the all-sufficient Word of God and the working of His Holy Spirit in that Word, so I’m going to leave it to Him, confident that He is working all things for the good of those who love Him. May the Law/Gospel seed that has now been sown take root in your heart and spring up to bear abundant fruit that is in keeping with repentance. May the all-sufficiency of God’s grace and mercy in Christ be all-sufficient for you, and may this same divine grace, mercy, and favor give you His all-sufficient peace and joy, no matter the circumstance, now and into all eternity.
In Christ’s all-sufficient and holy name…AMEN.
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