by Noel Due
‘The word of God’ and ‘the means of grace’ – both familiar statements, both deeply embedded in our heritage. And therein lies the danger.
We can become so accustomed to the means – baptism, holy communion and the preaching of the word – that we overlook their presence and power. Or better said, God’s presence and power. Because in them God gives himself to us. He meets us with outstretched hands, to forgive and to bless, to bestow life and salvation, to seal his eternal promises to us. They are personal actions, in which God performs what he promises.
That’s why the phrase is ‘the word of God’, not ‘the word about God’. The God who loves us speaks. And he doesn’t utter opinions into empty space; the Word has a face and name. The writer to the Hebrews put it like this: ‘in these last days, God has spoken in his Son’ (Hebrews 1:2). Jesus is the Word.
So, it is no surprise to hear him say: ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me’ (John 10:27 ESV).
What makes a pastor’s heart sing? It’s hearing his people (even one of them!) say: ‘God spoke to me this morning’. That’s worth a thousand ‘Nice sermon, pastor’ comments; or: ‘I hope the Crows win!’; ‘The children were noisy today. Again’; or even (a very rare) ‘You’re looking well!’.
But when God speaks, the world changes. That’s what powered the Reformation. It wasn’t just the reading, but the preaching of God’s word which turned the world upside down.
Why? A great theologian once said that no-one hears the gospel from the lips of the preacher, only from the lips of Christ. Only Christ can preach himself. And he does, every day.
He preaches in thousands of languages, uses vastly different personalities, and spans time and space through his servants. But when Christ preaches his gospel, his sheep know it. No matter which accent they hear, the sheep come to him, not to his servant. In their distress, they cry to him; in their joy, they praise him. Their faith rests on Christ, because they have heard his voice in the preaching.
Where we see this, we see a miracle.
Rev Dr Noel Due is Mission and Ministry Support Pastor for the LCA’s SA-NT District and chair of the LCA Committee for New and Renewing Churches.