Isaiah 40:8, The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.
From the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation, God’s Word is always connected to action. Whenever He speaks, something happens, whether it’s in that moment or something that’s promised to come later. In the Old Testament, God communicated through the burning bush, pillars of fire, mountains of smoke, and even a donkey. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ Himself is the Word of God (John 1:1, 14); He is Immanuel—God with us.
Concerning His Word, God gave the following instructions to His people, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). Concerning the Ten Commandments, Luther said, “We are to keep them incessantly before our eyes and constantly in our memory and to practise them in all our works and ways. Each of us is to make them a matter of daily practise in all circumstances, in all activities and dealings, as if they were written everywhere we look, even wherever we go or wherever we stand” (LC I 331-332). God was speaking metaphorically here. He was emphasising the vitality of remembering His Word in everything, but later on many Jews took these words literally and tied phylacteries to their foreheads and left arms (see Matthew 23:5).
It is not outward obedience that God desires, but constant rumination upon His Word. “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). Skeptics say this verse contradicts the Bible because God did require burnt offerings. Yes, He required them, but it wasn’t the rituals He sought; it was faith. God desired faith rather than just going through the motions of a sacrifice. One of the major flaws of these skeptics is that they fail to implement the second principle of interpretation of basic hermeneutics: Scripture interprets Scripture. This verse in Hosea is explained by Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” The commentary in the Lutheran Study Bible says this about the verse: “Even the best sacrifice is nothing if done without a contrite heart, which knows it owes everything to God, deserves nothing from Him, and has forgiveness, life, and salvation in Him alone” (Engelbrecht, 897). God required sacrifices in Old Testament Israel because there was no other way they could be forgiven since Jesus hadn’t come yet. If they went through the sacrifices without true contrition, how could they be forgiven? Because without a contrite heart, you cannot truly repent. The Greek word for “repent” is μετανοέω (meh-tah-nuh-EH-oh), which means to “have a serious change of mind and heart about a previous point of view or course of behavior” (Danker, 230). Repentance, then, is not merely confessing your sins; it is also forsaking them—no longer doing them. In the Old Testament, forgiveness was not based upon the ritual of the sacrifice alone, but the faith in the sacrifice. Likewise, today, forgiveness is not based upon the ritual of confessing and forsaking the sin; it is based upon the faith connected to God’s promise in Jesus Christ our Lord. However, without a contrite heart, you cannot turn from the particular sin and when you go back to it, you’re just guilty of it again and your confession was in vain. True repentance, then, cannot be done without faith. It is easy to go through the motions of repentance, but without faith in God’s Word as you contritely confess your sins, you’ll just go back to the same pattern of behaviour.
It is God’s Word that shows us the path to forgiveness. As we confess our sins, whether in prayer, receiving the Lord’s Supper, or hearing God’s words of forgiveness in Absolution, His Word reminds us of who He is. “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). “For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand” (Psalm 95:7). His Word reminds us that in Jesus “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14). As the wicked around us arduously attempt to persuade us that God’s Word is irrelevant and is going to die out, God’s Word reminds us, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8). Everything on earth will pass away, but God’s Word will remain forever. This infinitude of His Word also reminds us that we will remain with Christ forever because we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). So as we live this life, let us constantly ruminate upon God’s Word, for it is the lamp to our feet and leads us to the Way we should go in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Rev. Edward A. Engelbrech, Various Editors, The Lutheran Study Bible, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009).
Frederick William Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2009).