Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan
- Name: Rev. Jonathon T. Krenz
- Location: Dorr, Michigan
Sunday, July 26, 2015
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 12)
July 26, 2015
Text: Mark 6:45-56
“Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Mark 6:45; ESV). What do you fear? What is it that keeps you up at night? We all have our fears. I won’t tell you my deepest, darkest ones right now, though I will tell you just a little bit about how messed up I am. I love cars and I love to drive. I love road trips. But there are things about it that make me really nervous, that cause me to fear. Traffic, confusion, aggressive drivers, getting lost in unknown territory, finding myself in a bad neighborhood. So Bray MacIntosh sent me to Detroit this week. Free tickets to the Mariners at Detroit. The D. The personification of all my fears, rolled up with a large crowd of people in an enclosed space, which also makes me very nervous. Then I found out that day was the anniversary of the 1967 race riots. Thanks Bray. Well, we made it out alive, and actually, we really enjoyed ourselves. So really, thanks Bray. It was a great day we’ll never forget. But for the purposes of this sermon, what is it about all those things I just mentioned that cause me to fear? Chaos. No ability to control the variables. Anything could happen. There are unknown dangers around every corner. And there is no escape if the worst should happen. I have no way to save my family. I have no way to save myself. And that is what I really fear. And truth be told, so do you. The root of all our fears is the knowledge that we cannot save ourselves.
Immediately after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side (v. 45). Our Lord stayed behind to dismiss the crowds and take time alone to pray. And we should note, though it is not the main point of the text, that even Jesus, the Son of God, makes prayer His priority, even when He is exhausted from a busy day of teaching and healing and feeding. Now it is night, and there has been a change in the weather. Jesus is on the land and the disciples are on the sea. The wind begins to howl. The waves begin to toss the boat about. What should have been an easy troll across the lake becomes a perilous night at sea. The sea in ancient literature, and especially in the Bible, is a place of chaos, danger, and death. It is the place of Satan and the demons. The disciples are terrified. Things don’t look good. After hours of fighting the wind and the waves and holding on for dear life, things take a turn for the worse. It is the 4th watch, 3 am, the witching hour, and what is that out there on the sea? It looks like a man, walking on the water. But men don’t walk on water. It must be a spirit! Not just a ghost, as our translation says. A phantasm, that’s the Greek word. Remember, the sea is the place of demons, and in Jewish theology, the phantasm is the demon who comes and pulls you down to hell when you die. Well, no wonder the disciples cry out in terror! Two thoughts occur to them simultaneously: We’re going to die. And not only are we going to die, we’re going to hell. And there is nothing we can do to save ourselves.
Now, of course, we’re in on the secret. We know this is no phantasm. This is Jesus, walking on the water. And He doesn’t seem concerned. In fact, our text says “He meant to pass by them” (v. 48). He sees their struggle. He knows their fears. But He told them He would meet them on the other side. And they should have believed Him. No storm can void the Lord’s Promises. But the disciples… well, “they did not understand about the loaves… their hearts were hardened” (v. 52). Even though they’ve been there for all the miracles, witnessed all the healings, known firsthand the Lord’s faithfulness and the power of His Word… they forgot. They forgot who Jesus is, and what He has come to do. They forgot that Jesus loves them and works all things for their good and for their salvation. They forgot that, because they cannot save themselves, Jesus has come to save them. And that is your story, too. You do not understand about the loaves, either… the Bread Jesus feeds you here at His altar, the Bread of Life that is His Body, crucified and risen for you. If you understood that, you would not fear. Your heart would not be hardened. You would believe the Lord’s Promises. Repent. You fear death, but why? Jesus tells you He will meet you on the other side. He has been through death. He has come out of it again. He is risen. And He promises that you will come through death, too… to life and resurrection and eternal communion with Him. You fear death because you know there is no way to save yourself. But you don’t have to save yourself, because Jesus already has. He died for your sins. He is risen. He will bring you to eternal life. No phantasm will meet you in death. Only the risen Lord Jesus. Your sins are forgiven. You are saved.
So the disciples doubt, and you doubt, and you’re terrified when it looks like you’re about to perish. But here is the comfort. The Lord Jesus hears the cries of His terrified people. He heard the disciples. He hears you. And when He hears, He speaks His all-powerful, Spirit imparting, faith creating, life giving Word. “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (v. 45). Or I like a more literal translation: “Courage! I AM. Fear not.” What is this all about… the storm, the fear, Jesus walking on the sea? This is all on purpose. It is a demonstration that chaos and danger and death and demons have nothing on Jesus. Jesus is YHWH, I AM! Jesus is God! He is the Creator of heaven and earth. He made the wind and the sea. He controls every gust and every wave. He cannot die until He gives Himself into death. And you cannot and will not die apart from His knowledge and compassion. He hears your cry. He will save you. He can, because He is God. He will because He has promised it. So “Courage,” He says. He speaks His courage into you. “Fear not,” He says. He speaks the fear out of you. Why can you be courageous? Why should not fear not? Because, says Jesus, “I AM.” God has come in the flesh to save you.
Matthew Harrison, our Synod president, loves to remind us that “Courage is fear that has been baptized.” You are a sinner. You are a fallen bag of bones. You have your fears and your vain attempts to save yourself. Jesus knows your weakness and He hears your cries. You are baptized! Jesus has already met you on the sea. The life of the Baptized can be stormy to say the least. There is temptation and sin and the frustration of living in a world that wouldn’t know the truth if it bit ‘em on the nose. There is pain and disease and death and decay, chaos and confusion, hatred and race riots. There are companies in the business of murdering babies and selling their body parts. There are shootings at schools and at shopping malls and at Navy recruitment centers, and even at churches during Bible Study. And we fear. Because we cannot save ourselves. Especially when there is evidence that the phantasm, the devil, is out to get us. But Jesus speaks: “Courage! I AM. Fear not.” You are baptized! Jesus promises to meet you on the other side. And He does even better than that. For when the disciples cry out in fear, our Lord not only speaks. He gets into the boat with them. He gets into the boat, and immediately the wind ceases. There is one place the disciples will always be safe. In the boat, with Jesus.
And what is the boat but the Holy Christian Church? You are sitting in the nave, the same root from which we get the word “Navy.” And here is Jesus in His Word and in His Body and Blood, with you just as surely as He was with the disciples in the boat on the sea. It’s just that you can’t see Him. But you know He is with you because He speaks: “Courage! I AM. Fear not.” So you are safe. And now that Jesus has spoken His courage into you, you know that it’s okay when the wind picks up and the boat starts to rock and the waves come splashing over the side. You don’t have to save yourself. Jesus is with you, and you can leave all the saving to Him. Don’t forget who He is (I AM, YHWH). Don’t forget what He has come to do (Jesus: YHWH saves, because He will save His people from their sins). And don’t forget the loaves. Don’t forget what it is Jesus feeds you. His Body, crucified and risen, for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. Jesus doesn’t just speak the courage into you, He feeds it to you, right in the mouth. He Bodies and Bloods it into you. And if He does that, He won’t leave you to perish in the storm. The phantasm can’t have you. The sea cannot swallow you. What do you fear? What keeps you up at night? Those things have come to an end. For Jesus is God, and He has spoken: “Courage! I AM. Fear not.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, July 19, 2015
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 11)
July 19, 2015
Text: Mark 6:30-44; Ps. 23
“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34; ESV). In the feeding of the 5,000, our Lord Jesus fulfills the 23rd Psalm. Christ Jesus is the Good Shepherd who satisfies the wants and needs of His precious lambs. The shepherding, the pastoring, had been busy for Jesus and the Apostles, and He had called them away for a time, to a desolate place across the Sea, to rest and to eat and to be refreshed by their Lord. Even pastors need a vacation now and then, and we’re very thankful when our congregations allow us that luxury. In His compassion, the Lord Jesus reminds His ministers in this text that quiet time away from the demands of ministry is important. But then again, it doesn’t always work that way. Vacations are made to be interrupted. If it’s true that there is no rest for the weary, there is certainly no rest for the Savior. The people see where Jesus and the disciples are going in the boat. And they beat them there! They run around the shore! If only every congregation were so eager to hear a sermon! And as Jesus disembarks, there is probably that moment of disappointment as He realizes there will be no solitude. But at that same moment His pastoral heart is moved. He has compassion on them. The Greek word for “compassion” literally means He feels it in His gut. Even the English word “compassion” literally means “with suffering.” What causes Jesus to be moved with compassion, to suffer in His guts for these people? They are like sheep without a shepherd. They are like a congregation without a pastor. The word “pastor” means “shepherd.” The chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, they had failed to shepherd these people. They were starved for the Gospel. They were hungry for the preaching. They had been torn to pieces by wolves in sheep’s clothing. They were very much in want. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Good Pastor, cannot let that stand. So from that moment, until late into the night, He gathers them together into His fold and He opens His mouth and teaches them many things.
Remember, this is a desolate place, and the disciples have a very practical concern. The people haven’t eaten. It’s way past supper time. The shops in the villages are closing. Time to send them away while they can still catch a morsel. But Jesus has other plans. “You give them something to eat” (v. 37). You see, the Divine Service isn’t over yet. We’ve had the Service of the Word: Jesus teaching His people His Word of life. But now it’s time to gather round the Lord so Jesus can feed us by the hand of His called and ordained servants. Jesus is teaching us how it works when He gathers His flock together, when He congregates them. Now, the disciples are confused, as pastors often are. They doubt the Lord’s ability to provide for the needs of these people. Granted, we have here five loaves of bread and two fish. But what are these among so many? Jesus commands them to sit down in groups on the green grass. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures” (Ps. 23:2; all quotes of Ps. 23 from KJV). The word for “groups” in Greek is “symposia,” that is, drinking parties. It indicates this will be a feast! Five loaves, two fish, and you know what happens next. Everyone eats. Everyone is satisfied. The disciples take up twelve baskets full of leftovers, a basket for each man. And then we find out that the number 5,000 only includes the men. Counting women and children, there may have been ten, twenty thousand people there. The disciples are amazed. Pastors always are when the Lord’s gifts actually work. Remember, one of the Lord’s favorite pet names for the Twelve (and I imagine for the pastors who follow after them) is “O ye of little faith.”
The Lord Jesus teaches His people, His sheep, and He feeds them. “He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake… Thou preparest a table before me” (vv. 3, 5). That’s how He does it, Words and Food, Preaching and Supper (and the still waters [v. 2] of Holy Baptism, of course). And it works! The people are fed, spiritually and physically. And as it turns out, there is no better rest or renewal for the Lord’s undershepherds than to feed His sheep the Means of Grace the Lord commands, and watch Him do miraculous things with what doesn’t look like much: words and water, bread and wine… five loaves and two fish.
Jesus has gathered us together here this morning because of His compassion for us. We are like sheep without a shepherd. There is, of course, no lack of would-be shepherds calling us to follow them here, there, and everywhere. Politicians, professors, entertainers, preachers of false gospels. What happens in the chaos of competing voices is the division of the flock. We’ve talked a lot about sheep and how dumb they are. That’s not a veiled insult… It’s simply what the Lord calls us. We just don’t know how to keep ourselves out of danger, and we’re always wandering off on our own, away from the flock, away from the Shepherd and the safety of the sheepfold. The Good Shepherd constantly has to come find us, save us, wash us, heal our wounds from the dirty, dangerous, deadly places where we’re trapped. It is no wonder when He sees us He is moved with compassion, He suffers in His guts for us. That same compassion will lead Him to His Passion and death for us on the cross. His whole body will suffer. His entire soul will be in agony. For us. For our salvation. His hands and feet pierced. His sacred head crowned with thorns. The insults and mockery and spit. The scattered sheep. The Blood outpoured. The Spirit given up. The water and blood of His riven side. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). This Shepherd is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opens not His mouth (Is. 53:7). He dies. For you. For me. For the world.
The greatest peril for sheep who go their own way is the valley of the shadow of death (Ps. 23:4). If a sheep gets lost alone in that valley, there is no hope. Notice what the Good Shepherd does. He goes after the sheep. He goes into the valley. That is what He is doing on the cross. He is dying our death. He is paying for our sins. He goes right down into it to bring us out again. He knows the way. He is the way. He leads us out of the tomb and into life eternal. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. And with His rod and His staff, He comforts us (v. 4) and leads us out. You need not fear this valley full of death’s dark shadow. You need fear no evil. Because on the Last Day you’ll emerge from it into the light of day. Jesus Christ will raise you from the dead. And you will dwell in the house of the LORD forever (v. 6).
In the meantime, Jesus gathers you here into the sheepfold of His Church to pour out His compassion upon you. He teaches you many things: His Word, Law and Gospel, convicting you of your sins, bringing you to repentance, forgiving you, enlivening you by His Spirit spoken into you, speaking Himself into your ears, and showing you what it means that you are a child of His heavenly Father. And then it’s time to eat. He commands His minister to give you something to eat. It doesn’t look like much. Bread and wine, a wafer and a sip. But do not doubt. This bread, and this wine, are in the hands of the Lord who fed 5,000 men plus women and children from five loaves and two fish. These are the hands of the God who spoke the universe into existence, who made something, everything, out of nothing. So you come, group by group, symposia by symposia, drinking party by drinking party, for the joyous Feast. And your Good Shepherd gives you to eat, not just bread, but bread that is His Body, given for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins. Wine to drink, yet not just wine, but wine that is His Blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins. That’s what He does. The Lord Jesus teaches His people, His sheep, and He feeds them. And your soul is restored. The Lord gives Sabbath rest to pastor and people in the green grass of His pasture. He does it out of His compassion.
We all too often take the feeding of the 5,000 as a neat little story about how we don’t have to worry, because God will provide us with daily bread for our bodies. That is true, of course, but we miss the greater gift for all our fascination of the lesser. If, in His compassion, He feeds us His Body and Blood and gives us eternal life, He will also feed our bodies with bread. If He gives the greater gift, He will not fail to give the lesser. This feeding is about so much more than bread. This is about the Divine Service. This is about Jesus Christ present for you here and now, in the flesh, and in great compassion. This is about Jesus teaching you with His own Word. This is about Jesus feeding you with His own Body and His own Blood. This is about Jesus, your Good Shepherd. With the Lord as your Shepherd, you have no want. He has prepared the Table before you. Time to Feast. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, July 12, 2015
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 10)
July 12, 2015
Text: Mark 6:14-29
St. John the Baptist was beheaded by the government for preaching traditional marriage. Let’s not mince words on this. Herodias was offended by John’s preaching, because he declared it unlawful, ungodly, for Herod to have his brother Philip’s wife while Philip was still alive. As we all know, hell hath no fury… and Herodias was furious at the scorn and shame brought upon her by John’s preaching. How dare he make her feel bad about her domestic situation! How dare he question the sanctity of her love. How dare he suggest, nay, proclaim, that her marriage to Herod is sinful before God. And so John finds himself in the dungeon. Herodias wants him executed, but Herod protects him, if you can call the dungeon protection, because he fears John and knows that he is a righteous and holy man. Herod even appreciates a good John the Baptist sermon now and then, although he finds John’s message perplexing. You know how it is when a sermon hits a little too close to home. The Law of God tears you apart at the seams. And it hurts. It’s the crucifixion of the old man, the old sinful nature. That always hurts. But it must be done, so that your God can raise you up to new life, a new creation in Christ Jesus. That preaching hurts, but you love it, because you know it’s true, and you hear in it the voice of the living God.
But the enemies of the Gospel are always watching for an opportune time to rob you of such preaching, and Herodias and the demons identified the opportunity to silence John on the occasion of Herod’s birthday. There was a big bash, a serious feast, a wining and dining of the elite of the elite. These included Herod’s nobles and his generals and the leading citizens of Galilee. Such feasts always serve a political purpose. They offer an occasion for the ruler to show off his wealth and his power. He shows the leading men a good time and shores up their loyalty. The free-flow of alcohol looses up the tongues. Stories are told. Boasts are made. And hearts are merry. And they’re all the merrier if Herod’s pretty step-daughter gives us a dance. It’s not in the text, but we assume the dance was lewd. Whether that’s true or not, it was certainly a crowd pleaser, and it exceedingly pleased Herod. Caught up in the spirit of the moment and the spirits in his cup, Herod makes a rash vow. “Ask me whatever you wish, and I will give it to you… up to half of my kingdom” (Mark 6:22-23; ESV). It has been suggested Herod was offering to trade in the mother for a newer model, make Herodias’ daughter his wife. It’s hard to say. But this had been a set-up by Herodias the whole time. Daughter asks mother, “For what should I ask,” and mother advises daughter, “The head of John the Baptist” (v. 24). She wouldn’t be the last mother to demand a preacher’s head on a platter. But she meant this quite literally. She had trapped the king in his words. Herod didn’t want to execute John. But he also didn’t want to be embarrassed in the presence of his prestigious guests. So rather than do what he knew to be right, he sold his soul for a dance. Isn’t that the way of the world? Herod promises to give up to half his kingdom, as if he were a powerful god, but in the end, we see he is nothing but a weak and insecure slave of his subjects.
Well, John is beheaded. So it goes. But there would have been an easier way, you know. If he had just tolerated the illegitimate marriage, this never would have happened. He could have done so much more good if he’d just kept his trap shut this one time. But that wasn’t his office, was it? He was sent to be “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (Mark 1:3). He was sent to proclaim “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (v. 4). To everyone. Even to sinful kings. He doesn’t stay out of politics when the Word of the Lord is at stake. He is not ashamed to proclaim the Lord’s testimony before kings (Psalm 119:46), even if it costs him his life. Divine truth is worth dying for. We forget that, living in a society that denies the very existence of objective truth. But John knew it. So did the prophets and the apostles and the martyrs of all ages who loved not their lives even unto death (Rev. 12:11). What about you? Are you afraid to bear witness to Christ? Do you fear to speak His truth because your friends and family might rebuke you, or think mean thoughts about you, or defriend you on Facebook? Repent. It’s getting harder, isn’t it? The Lord knows your weakness, and has taken your failure into Himself and put it to death in His flesh. And He gives you His Spirit, to make you bold, that you confess His Name and His Word, even if it means your death. For you know that whoever lives and believes in Jesus, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Jesus shall never die (John 11:25-26). And you know that whoever confesses Jesus before men, He will also confess before His Father in heaven; but whoever denies Jesus before men, He will also deny before His Father in heaven (Matt. 10:32-33).
But with John there is even more at play. John is sent to prepare the way of the Lord quite literally. John’s life, and his death, parallels that of Jesus on every level, except that what happens to Jesus is greater, what happens to John is lesser, just as he said it would be: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). So John’s birth is foretold by the angel Gabriel, who promises he will be great before the Lord (Luke 1:15), and Jesus’ birth is foretold by the angel Gabriel, who promises the Child to be born is the Son of God (v. 35). John’s birth is miraculous, born to elderly parents. Jesus’ birth is even more miraculous, born of a virgin. John baptizes for repentance, but Jesus offers a greater Baptism that not only washes away sin, but makes you God’s own child. John has disciples, but he sends them to follow Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And John prepares the way in suffering and death. He is arrested and beheaded. His disciples put his headless body into a tomb (Mark 6:29). Jesus is arrested, tried, and crucified. Joseph and Nicodemus put His pierced Body into a tomb. And now it is Jesus’ turn to blaze the trail. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! Herod worries that Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead, and his fear is not completely unfounded. Because the risen Jesus will raise up John on the Last Day. And He will raise you. You’ll see John and Jesus with your very own eyes. And you’ll praise God for the blood John shed, preparing the way for the Blood of the Savior, shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
So you need not fear the enemies of the Gospel: Not Satan, nor the demons, nor sin, nor death; not Al Qaeda, nor ISIS, nor the abortionists, nor the homosexual marriage crowd. You need not fear the unfaithful who claim the Name of Christ, nor your own sinful flesh. Jesus Christ is the end of fear. The enemies of the Gospel are always watching for an opportune time to get you. But they can never get to you when you are in Christ Jesus, in His Word, in Your Baptism, in His Supper. The Lord also gives a Feast, and He outdoes Herod. He, too, gives Food and Drink. But He invites the weak of the weak, dying and dead sinners. His Feast is the medicine that brings the dead to life. His wine also looses tongues, not for boasting, but for confessing and singing songs of praise. His wine makes our hearts merry, so that we rejoice, and we’re caught up in the Spirit, His Holy Spirit, who opens our lips to speak His Word with joy. He makes no rash vow, but He does make a vow: “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14). It is the promise that He hears our prayers and answers them. And unlike Herod, He delivers. He is not trapped in His Words. He holds Himself to them. He is a powerful God, the only true God, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Though it is true that His Words result in a death: His own on the cross, for the life of the world. For sinners. For you.
Jesus Christ is crucified by the government that He might form for Himself a Bride, the holy Christian Church. He sleeps the deep sleep of death, that from His side the Church be formed. Water and Blood, Font and Chalice, filled with Jesus Christ crucified for you. You are His beloved. You are His spotless Bride. As with any marriage, what is yours is His, and what is His is yours. What is yours He has taken away: sin and death and condemnation. What is His He has freely bestowed upon you: righteousness and life and resurrection. In the Church, we preach traditional marriage, not because we’re ignorant, or prudes, or haters. We preach it because it is God’s gift for our good: for companionship, and procreation, and holy sexuality. And we preach it because it is an icon of Christ and the Church, a living picture of the Gospel. The husband gives himself for his bride. The bride receives the sacrifice of the husband for her good. And in this pattern of giving and receiving, husband and wife live together in love and fidelity and so provide a safe haven for the nurture of children. We all fall short of this in our marriages. But this is what marriage is designed by God to be. Until the Day the Lord Jesus comes again and bids us join Him and the wedding Feast of the Lamb that has no end. Then St. John will have His head again. And all will be made whole and right and good. Indeed, come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, July 05, 2015
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 9)
July 5, 2015
Text: Mark 6:1-13
Preachers are called to preach the Word of the Lord. Jesus sends them with all His authority to speak His Word… all of it, the whole counsel of God, no more, no less. The preacher doesn’t get to pick and choose what he likes and what he doesn’t like, what is safe to proclaim and what could land him in hot water with the people or with the government. The Holy Christian Church is called to hear the Word of God… all of it, the whole counsel of God, whether it appeals to her members or not. She is to receive it gladly, confess it boldly, and support the ministers of Christ who publicly proclaim it. But understand, there is no promise of glorious success in this undertaking, at least not in human terms. There will be those who hear the Word of God, repent of their sins, and come to faith in Christ. But there will also be those who will not hear, not for lack of preaching, but because they refuse to hear. They do not want the Lord or His Word. And this should not surprise us. We are a rebellious nation in the midst of rebellious nations, after all. Fallen sinners, every one. We are born unbelievers. Our ears are not, by nature, attuned to the things of the Spirit. That is why we require a new birth by water and the Word, the washing of regeneration that is Holy Baptism, that born of the Spirit we have ears to hear. It is God’s gift, this new life, this faith that hangs on every Word of the Lord Jesus. It is His doing, and not our own. And so it is that we are called to preach and hear and confess the living Word of God. But the results are up to the Spirit. We are not called to success. We are called to faithfulness.
Jesus came to His hometown, Nazareth, to His home synagogue, to be the Guest Preacher on this particular Sabbath. The text doesn’t say it, but I can imagine how it went. Everyone was excited that the hometown Boy was returning to preach. “That’s our Boy! He’s done well. Look at the following He has. Why, I can remember when He was just a little guy on Momma’s knee. I just can’t wait to hear His sermon. I bet He’s a good Preacher.” But then He opens His mouth. And He preaches the Word of God unvarnished, with all its rough edges and hard surfaces, the crushing weight of the Law, the scandal of the Holy Gospel. And the people say, “Wait a minute! This is not what we were expecting. Who does this kid think He is, anyway?! Saying things only God has the authority to say! Telling us to repent! Forgiving our sins! After all, He’s just a carpenter. Nobody special! We know His mom and His brothers and sisters.” I’ve preached at my home Church, and while everyone was very gracious, I’m not sure how effective a preacher I can be to people who changed my diapers. When a preacher returns home, at best, there is a condescending pride in the boy who made good. Jesus gets the worst. The people are offended at Him. They will not hear the Word from Him. “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and his own household” (Mark 6:4; ESV). “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief” (vv. 5-6). Disappointing. Sad. But so it goes. Jesus came to preach, and that is what He does. Whether they hear or refuse to hear (Ez. 2:5).
Our Lord’s mistreatment serves as an object lesson for the Church. This is not just about a preacher returning to his home congregation. This is the treatment any faithful Christian can expect when you speak the Word of the Lord. Jesus calls the Twelve and begins to send them out two by two. He invests them with His own authority over unclean spirits. He sends them out to preach that people should repent, to cast out demons and heal the sick, to be His spokesmen, His representatives to the people. An “Apostle” is one who is sent. The Apostles were sent by the Lord Jesus, and they possessed all His authority in the matter for which they were sent, so that when they spoke, when they acted, it was the same as though Jesus Himself spoke or acted. And so also the reaction they were to encounter. Jesus tells them they will not always be received well. “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:10-11). The negative reaction is not to the Apostles in and of themselves. It is a rejection of Christ. It is a refusal to hear His Word. As Jesus says elsewhere, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master… If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matt. 10:24-25). No matter. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).
That is what the world does to prophets and preachers of the Word. That is certainly how they treated Ezekiel. God sends His man, the prophet Ezekiel, to a rebellious nation of Israel. And He virtually promises the prophet he will be rejected. “I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD GOD.’ And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them” (Ez. 2:4-5). The preacher is sent to preach the Word of the Lord. He is not called to success. He is called to faithfulness. Whether they hear or refuse to hear, they will know that Christ has sent His man, that the Lord has spoken.
This is a comfort to pastors and to the Church in a world that doesn’t really want to hear us right now. We’re free to believe what we want to believe, as long as we do it quietly. But when we come speaking the Word of the Lord, preaching that the people should repent, that they are sinners, and so are we by the way, and we all need the salvation that only comes in Jesus Christ, well… No, thank you! Keep preaching that and we’ll have to silence you by force. Refuse to endorse same-sex “marriage” and we’ll strip you of your tax-exempt status. Speak against homosexuality and we’ll fine you for hate speech. Keep it up and we’ll arrest you. I’m not exaggerating. It’s already happening in Canada and Europe. There are proposals to do it here. The stage is set and it will happen. But that’s the Spirit’s problem, not yours. Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not. We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). You just confess the truth in love. I’ll just keep preaching. And whether they hear or refuse to hear, they’ll know that the people of God have been among them.
And the miracle is that some will hear. The Spirit does His work in the preaching of the Gospel. He breaks hearts of stone and bestows beating hearts of flesh. He brings to new birth by water and the Word. He leads the Old Adam to water and drowns him good and dead, that He raise up the new man in Christ to live in Him by faith. He bestows seeing eyes on the blind and hearing ears on the deaf. He opens dumb mouths and looses bound tongues to speak His Word faithfully. He sends preachers to preach and the Word of the Lord grows as sinners come to faith in Christ. “(W)e preach Christ crucified,” says St. Paul, “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24). We preach Christ crucified for sinners, for the forgiveness of sins. We preach Christ raised from the dead, who will raise us also. It is a scandal, and it is really to say that Christ Jesus saved us precisely in being rejected. It’s true. He saved us by dying. Not very successful in human terms. But with God, things are not as they appear. His death is His triumph and our salvation. So with St. Paul, we are content to be weak and defeated in the eyes of the world. For the sake of Christ, we are “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (2 Cor. 12:10). For Jesus says to us as He said to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9).
So it is that the Lord sends His weak preachers to mount pulpits week after week, day after day, proclaiming “Thus says the LORD GOD” to poor miserable sinners. It is a pitiful sight to the movers and shakers of this world. But with God, things are not as they appear. The weak man is clothed in an Office that speaks for the risen Lord Jesus Christ. The Word he speaks grants life to the dead. And the sinners in the pew are forgiven, righteous, glorious saints, who reign with Christ and will judge the world. We preach and we suffer, willingly, with rejoicing, because we know how this ends. We know it is good. For Christ is risen. He lives, and He reigns. The old is passing away. Jesus makes all things new. “Thus says the LORD GOD.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.