My first church was in a small town in northwest North Dakota. Folks there prided themselves on being loyal, fair, and honest. One of the farmers told me about how large business dealings would often be agreed on and guaranteed with nothing more than a handshake. He then added, “If a person in North Dakota gives you their word on something, that is as good as anything on paper in California.” I’ve never done any business in California so I don’t know how things are there, and I found out that not everyone’s word was always good in North Dakota. But it usually was, and that kind of trust is a good thing to have among the people you live with.
For that reason, parents want to teach their children how important it is to tell the truth, so that their word is good. I would say to my kids, “If you tell a lie and get away with it, you might get out of a 10 minute punishment; but when a lie is discovered, as it often is, then the trust between us is broken. And that is serious, because then your word is no longer good, and then there will be a shadow of doubt over everything you say– and you don’t want that.” Children must learn how important it is to be true to their word, and how hard it is to rebuild that trust once it is lost.
This pertains to not only outright lies, but also to how well you can depend on someone. There are those who when they say they will do something for you, you know it will be done and done right and done on time. Their word is good. There are others who will gladly agree to do anything for you, but then they must be checked on and prodded and reminded and checked on again. They may not be dishonest. They may be very well meaning. But they are not dependable. They cannot be relied on. Their word is not good.
In Luke 7:1-10 there is a story of one man trusting in another man’s good word. A Roman centurion had a servant who was sick and near death. He sent for Jesus. Jesus agreed to come and help. When the centurion saw Jesus approaching his house, he sent someone out to give Jesus this message: “Don’t bother to come all the way,” he said, “For I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. But just give the word and my servant will be healed.”
‘Just give the word’ was all he asked. He did not demand any special effects or even a personal appearance by this famous Jesus. How different was he from King Herod at the trial of Jesus. Herod was delighted that Pilate sent Jesus to him. Herod had heard about the miraculous powers of Jesus and was anxious to see Jesus do a trick or two for him. But this centurion was not at all interested in that sort of thing. He just wanted his beloved servant healed, and he was ready to take Jesus at his word. He had no doubt heard about Jesus, not only that he was honest and that his word was good in that way; but also that Jesus was dependable and when he spoke things happened, even miraculous things. “Just say the word,” the centurion said, “and my servant will be healed.” And the Bible then says that Jesus was astonished. Usually it is the crowds that are astonished at seeing Jesus, but here it is Jesus who is astonished and he says, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” And the word of Jesus was good. It was true and reliable, and the servant was healed.
This is important because as followers of Jesus we also have only words to go on, words from God, yes, but still only words– words written on a page, read from a lectern, spoken from a pulpit, or read at home. These may be familiar words and eloquent words and great words, but they are still only words. And that’s all we get for now. I’ve never seen Jesus. He is my Lord and my Savior and I want to live my life for him, but I have never seen him. I have only heard words about him and read words about him. My greatest hope in the life is in the promise that when this life is over there will be a resurrection from the dead, but I have never once seen that happen. I have only heard about it. Heard and read words, words that say it can happen and that it has happened and that it will happen for me also. I am staking everything on that promise. My whole life work has been to proclaim that truth. But all I have to go on, and all I have to work with, is words.
Dare we take God at his word? We have no choice, of course. That is how faith works, and that is how God says we shall receive what he has promised, by faith in him and his Word, faith to take him at his word. That is what the Roman centurion did. He took Jesus at his word and found the word of Jesus to be good and true and reliable. I also believe it to be so. But I cannot prove it to anyone, and neither could that centurion. He had to stake everything on that word– and then wait and see. And so also must we. In Deuteronomy 32:47 it is written, “These are not just idle words, they are your life.” That is true, and here is how it works: the more you hear and learn the word, the more it will become a part of your life, molding you and shaping you and encouraging you and giving you strength and hope. The Roman centurion had no doubt heard some things about Jesus and had good reasons to rely on him. And for us, the more we read and hear God’s word the more we will begin to depend on it, and, the more reliable we will find it to be.
Have you found that word to be reliable? Do you trust it? Does it give you strength and hope? Have you learned to depend on it? “These are not idle words”, said Moses, “these words are your life.” (continued…)
Luke 7:7b — The centurion said to Jesus, “…(Just) say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
Deuteronomy 32:47a — They are not just idle words for you; they are your life…
Revelation 21:4-5 — (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
We pray that you so nurture us in your Word that our lives may please you and that other people may be attracted to you by our godliness. May your commands and promises be written into our hearts, and constantly kept in our minds. May your Word be for us far more precious than our own life and whatever else we cherish on earth. Help us to live and act accordingly. Amen. –Martin Luther