These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. (Luke 24:44)
As Lutherans we have always maintained that the Word of Christ is intended to be preached. The Apostle Paul would magnify this preaching of God’s word. For instance he summarizes: We preach Christ crucified [1 Co 1:23]; and he admonishes Pastor Timothy: I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…preach the word [2 Tim 4:1,2]. Several other such references demonstrate the importance and necessity of preaching the Word, which implies the importance and necessity of hearing that preached word. On the importance of hearing the preached word Jesus would avow, Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it [Lu 11:28]! We are blessed when we hear the Word of God.
To do mission work by simply distributing Bibles is not consistent with the necessity of both the preaching and the hearing of God’s Word. Though people may be able to learn much from having a Bible in hand (the Scriptures are perspicuous), merely reading from a Bible can generate dangerous misunderstandings, as well as failures to realize the centrality of the Gospel—that Gospel which is foundational to Christian preaching. Evidence of such misunderstandings and failures is abundantly observed in today’s religious culture.
Is the Bible then important for the Christian faith? Indeed, it is of the utmost importance! We realize the Bible to be the “rule and norm” of the Christian faith, for by it alone we prove or disprove the doctrine of the faith. Thus, as recorded in Sunday’s Gospel, the resurrected Christ proved the centrality of His death and resurrection from Holy Scripture: Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead… [vv 46-47]. Earlier that day our resurrected Savior had spoken something nearly identical when He explained to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself [vv 26,27]. Of course these “proofs” for the necessity of Christ’s death and resurrection are drawn from the only part of Scripture extant at that time—the Old Testament.
So what about the New Testament? Note that in the previous paragraph we were quoting from the New Testament, in order to show the foundational value of the Old Testament. Truly from the New Testament we realize how to properly interpret the Old Testament—or rather from the words and works of Christ, who is the topic of the New Testament, we realize how to properly understand the Old Testament. Now we have the New Testament Scriptures, established by the Apostles. The Apostle John would speak of this Apostolic writing of Holy Scripture when he says in his first epistle: We write these things so that our joy may be complete [1:4]. The “we” in this verse is clearly the Apostles; they were the inspired writers, who also gave their imprimatur to the other New Testament writings.
When the resurrected Christ explained to the Apostles that, proven from the Old Testament, He had to die and rise from the dead, He was giving them the culminating word for their seminary education. For three years He had been instructing them, and now they have the key—Christ’s death and resurrection—to unlock everything He had been teaching and doing. Now they possessed the knowledge to write the New Testament, and, equally important, they had what was necessary to preach the Word of Christ. They then would establish well-instructed preachers in the meaning of the New and Old Testaments, so the preaching of Christ crucified and risen, for the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation, would continue until Christ’s return.