Sunday, June 2, 2013

For No Word of God is Impossible

The Bible teaches that God is omnipotent, meaning that He is all-powerful. This truth is a great comfort to believers not because power itself provides comfort but because it means that God is capable of doing what He promises. Our only hope in salvation is trusting in the promises of God, that He is willing and capable of keeping His word. The idea that there is nothing in the universe powerful enough to thwart the purposes of God is the reason for the hope that sustains the Christian life.  

The Bible emphasizes the connection between the power of God and the performance of His word in various ways. One of my favorite examples I first heard in a lecture by Dr. Edmund Clowney as he was commenting on the Christmas story.

In the first chapter of Luke, after the angel explains to Mary that she will have a son who will be the fulfillment of the messianic promises, Mary asks how this is possible since she is a virgin. The angel explains that the child will be the child of God and then he says, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:34-38)

We might read this as a simple statement about the power of God but the statement is not merely an assertion of the omnipotence of God. It also highlights a connection between what God promises and His ability to bring it to pass. What the angel actually says is ὄτι [For] οὐκ [not/nothing] ἀδυνατήσει [shall be impossible] παρὰ [with] τοῦ [the] θεοῦ [God] πᾶν [every] ρῆμα [thing spoken or uttered]. The word ρῆμα (rhema) literally means that which is spoken or uttered.

The usual translation that no-thing is impossible draws upon a Hebrew pattern where a reference to a spoken work can either mean the word itself or the thing the word refers to. The typical translation communicates the main point that God has the power to bring this to pass and so is not a bad translation. The phrase, however, can also be translated “for no word of God is impossible” or “for no word of God will fail”. Translating the statement more literally highlights a number of important connections both in the immediate text and in the overall Biblical story.

The angel has just explained that Mary’s child is the fulfillment of the prophesies of the Old Testament. He is declaring to her that all of those seemingly impossible promises in which Israel had placed its hope were to be fulfilled in her child. These prophesies and promises were the words that God had uttered. To trust in the promises is the same as trusting in His word. Notice the way that Mary responds. She says, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” She is essentially saying that the words she just heard sound impossible but she believes them because she is a servant of God (Lk. 1:38). The emphasis of this dialogue is not God’s power as an abstract concept. What is emphasized is the connection between the power of His word and His faithfulness in acting to bring those promises into reality.

The phrase the angel uses also highlights a particular connection between the ultimate fulfillment of the promises in Mary’s child with a previous promise that pointed toward it. Remember that God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations and that the world would be blessed through his seed. When he was 99 years old, still without the promised child, The Angel of the Lord visited him and told him that Sarah would have a child the next year. Sarah, who was listening to the conversation, laughed because it seemed absurd that she would have a child at her age (Gen. 18:12-13).  The Angel knew she laughed, and asks Abraham “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14). This is the same statement made to Mary but in question form. The Hebrew word dabar, translated as “anything” literally means a word that is spoken. As mentioned above, it often refers to the thing spoken about rather than the statement itself but in this case, the question could be translated “Is any utterance (word) of Jehovah too marvelous?”

The statement of the angel to Mary is not just information, but is also intended to remind us of God’s previous faithfulness to Abraham and Sarah. Sarah thought that an old barren woman having a child was impossible but God showed His power in keeping the promise when Isaac was born. The name Isaac means laughter so the very name of her child was a reminder of the answer to the question that the angel had asked, “Is any word of Jehovah too marvelous/difficult?” The promise to Mary is even more unlikely than the one given to Sarah so it is understandable that Mary asks how it is possible. The angel’s answer, while sufficient in itself, would almost certainly have reminded Mary of the story of Sarah and the birth of Isaac. Her attention is therefore called not only to the power of God but also to His history of keeping His promises.

While Isaac was a partial fulfillment of the promise, final fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham would not happen until Jesus Christ came. Christ is the ultimate answer to the question about God’s ability to bring His word into reality. The answer to Mary’s question is also the answer to the question that The Angel of the Lord asked Abraham. The answer is that no word of God is impossible and the proof is God keeping His promises in Jesus Christ. Jesus and His work secures the fulfillment of all the promises to the patriarchs and prophets (1 Pet. 1:12, Heb. 11:39). The power, grace, mercy, and love of God are made apparent through His sure word “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

What an encouragement this is to us! The angels who visited Sarah and Mary did not encourage them by pointing to their unique experiences or circumstances. They were encouraged by a reminder of the trustworthiness of God’s word. We have hope because the marvelous promises of God’s word are 100% certain because they are secured by His sovereign power (1 Pet. 1:3-5, 1:23-25). 

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