Friday, July 2, 2010

The Weapons of Peace

Here is my sermon for this Sunday, coming to an LCMS pulpit that "Pastor John" and I are sharing while the regularly called "Pastor Dave" is on active duty. The text is Luke 10:1-20.
When I looked at today’s Gospel, the mean streak in me thought, “All right! Here’s a text about how Christians are supposed to honor and support the ministry. Now I can really let those sinners have it!” But then my brain caught up with me. I realized that I’m preaching to a congregation that has faithfully supported its pastor, a group of people who are deeply in the Word. Now I have a new problem. How do I proclaim Law and Gospel from this text? How do I preach the law without accusing you where you are not guilty? How do I preach good news without seeming to congratulate you for good behavior?

Well, even the best of us is not perfect. When we’re closest to fulfilling God’s will in our lives, we risk becoming self-satisfied. When we think we are strong, then we are weak. We need to realize we are truly sick, afflicted with an incurable disease that will someday kill us. And then we will treasure the medicine God gives us through His ministry of teaching and preaching. For in it, God heals our spiritual ailments, nourishes us with spiritual food, strengthens our faith, pardons our sins. As long as we have sins to forgive—that is, until we die—we need this spiritual balm, refreshment, and forgiveness.

While this congregation may be outwardly at peace, we are always inwardly in conflict. We battle temptation and doubt every day. We bear the assaults of the devil and the mockery of the world. We are at war from without and within. So what Jesus says in Luke 10 will be a powerful comfort to you. When you’re backed against the wall, when the enemies of faith are closing in, only one weapon will get you through. You need the Word of God in all its majestic power. You need the voice of Christ that can raise the dead, heal the sick, and drive demons away. You need His devil-defeating, sin-destroying, death-defying strength. And you’ve got it. Wherever God has sent a man to proclaim His kingdom, there Christ fights for you with weapons of heavenly power. How powerful? Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven!

So here is your first bit of encouragement from Luke 10: By His ministry of Word and Sacrament, Jesus triumphs over the devil and all powers of evil. He does this even through other men sent in His place. We’re not just talking about the twelve apostles, who are all dead. Jesus also gave authority to heal the sick and cast out demons to 70 others chosen from His wider circle of disciples. He sent them two by two as an “advance guard” to soften up the towns where He planned to preach. He gave them instructions on how to live while working for the Lord, how to cope with rejection. These instructions required them to rely entirely on the power of God’s Word. Armed with that same powerful Word, Jesus still sends men to preach and teach in His name.

Like those 70 evangelists, your pastor must rely on you to provide what he needs to live, without seeking personal gain or career advancement. And like the cities where Jesus sent the 70, you see God’s power at work. As he baptizes, as he rebukes sin, as he pronounces God’s forgiveness, your pastor grapples with Satan. As he provides catechism instruction, as he corrects doctrinal errors, as he buries the dead and comforts the living, your pastor fights the powers of death and hell. He cannot do this on his own. Without the power of Christ, he would be helpless against these foes, and he would certainly be no help to you. But Christ called your pastor to teach and preach. He specifically sent him to serve you. So you can be absolutely sure that God’s weapons of peace are fighting for you. You can be confident in the outcome of this battle, just as the 70 evangelists returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name!”

Your second bit of encouragement comes from what Jesus said to the 70 as He was sending them out: “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” This is Christ’s pledge to every man that He calls to preach and teach in His name. So, if you want to hear Jesus, you really can! Where can you hear Jesus? Here, in His house, where God’s Word is preached most faithfully. How can you hear the voice of Jesus? By listening to the Word preached by the man God chose, called, and sent. Listen to his message; ponder it; check it against Scripture. If it agrees with the full counsel of God, take it to heart. Believe it. Live according to its commands and its godly examples. Take comfort from its promises. Consider how the hymns, the words of the liturgy, and the sacraments work in concert with the message proclaimed. And although Pastor Dave is a sinner and an imperfect Christian just like you—and that also goes for Pastor John and myself—be assured that in the message we preach, you hear the living voice of Jesus. In and of ourselves, we are no better than any of you. But in our vocation as mouthpieces of Christ, it is not David or John or Robin speaking to you, but Jesus Christ.

Is this comforting to know? Yes, and in many ways. First, it is comforting when the ambassador of Christ says, “I forgive you your sins.” My forgiveness is neither here nor there. But when I forgive you in Christ’s name and by Christ’s command, you have His forgiveness. Our Lord has promised that it will be so, and God does not lie.

Second, when your pastor says, “I baptize you,” this isn’t like washing the school blackboard on Monday evening. When the custodian comes back on Tuesday he finds it covered in chalk and needing to be washed again. But when the pastor baptizes you, it’s more than just a one-time cleansing from sin. When the pastor says, “I baptize you,” God is speaking. Our Lord promises that, in Baptism, He causes you to be born again and makes you His child forever. And God does not lie.

Again, when your pastor speaks the words of the Sacrament (“This is my body” and so on), he is not just telling a story or teaching a history lesson. Rather, Christ is preaching His Gospel to you, as He preached it to the twelve on the night when He was betrayed. He is promising that the food and drink given here are His body and blood, sacrificed once and for all, for you, for the forgiveness of sins. As difficult as this testament may be to understand or to believe, our Lord is speaking it, and He does not lie.

From Jesus’ promise to the 70 evangelists, “He who hears you hears me,” you can take great personal comfort every time you come to God’s house and hear God’s man speak God’s promises to you. The same is true of God’s dire and terrible warnings, like Jesus’ warnings toward those who reject the Word proclaimed in His name. Heaven forbid that these warnings should ever apply to us, or that anyone here will ever deserve the same doom as Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum. For by rejecting the Word preached by the called servants of Christ, they rejected Christ; and so they lost favor with God. If we can take assurance from Jesus’ promise that “He who hears you hears me,” we must also believe His warning against those who will not hear. But the guilt is theirs, not ours, and certainly not the fault of Christ or His powerful Word. As we struggle to make disciples, this, too, is encouraging to know.

Another word of encouragement comes from the end of our text. “Behold,” says Jesus, “I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” This is similar to what Jesus told His disciples just before His ascension: “These signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17–18). In other words, what was true of Jesus’ evangelism crusade in Luke 10, remains true for the church since Jesus ascended into heaven.

Lest you think this is about handling actual serpents and poisonous bugs, take a close look at what Jesus says in Luke 10. “Serpents and scorpions” mean the same thing as “all the power of the enemy,” the demons and spirits who were subject to the 70 in Jesus’ name. These aren’t literal snakes and spiders. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Here Jesus is already delegating to His servants the authority to forgive sin, to lock and unlock heaven—authority which can only come from God. And Jesus gives not only the authority to fight the powers of darkness, but also the power to win.

Is it wise to give such authority or power to mere, stumbling human beings? I don’t know; God knows. Sometimes, perhaps, even a faithful pastor goes a bit above himself. Perhaps, like St. Paul, even a good and devoted servant of the Word might exalt himself too much, become conceited. We pastors are to regard ourselves as stewards of the mysteries of God, yet we should not become drunk on them. We should be able to march confidently into spiritual battle, armed with Word and Sacrament. Yet we should not become puffed up with our own importance, our learning, our religious experiences, our powers, or our spiritual gifts, whatever they may be. Ministers must not let such things go to our heads or make us set too much stock in ourselves. It is sad to see this happening, as when a man of God has his head turned by money or power. Maybe, also like Paul, pastors like David and John and myself need to be regularly visited with afflictions and thorns, to keep us humble and to force us to fix our eyes on Jesus.

And when we have been corrected by the hard knocks of life, we pastors have this additional promise to encourage us, a comfort we share with every one of you: “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” Visible miracles may not happen in our midst. They are not what ultimately matters. The true sign that the kingdom of God is at hand is that sinners are repenting, hearers of the Word are believing, and the faithful face their troubles and even death with joy and peace. How is this possible? Because Christ promises us right here: “Your names are written in heaven.” You are written on God’s hand and heart. Your name is recorded in His Book of Life. Death cannot swallow you up. Hell cannot touch you. Satan cannot intercept you, because He has fallen. Even the second-hand report of the 70 evangelists, even a rumor of God’s kingdom in Christ, topples Satan from his throne. God’s Word is powerful. As Christ writes it on your heart, He writes your name in heaven. Do you doubt it? Our Lord has promised it. And God does not lie!

The harvest is truly great. But the laborers are few. Therefore…” And when Jesus says therefore, think about everything I have said up to this point. “Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Why? Because of how great the harvest is. It is a great harvest, not just because there are so many people who need to hear the Gospel, but because of how powerful God’s Word is, and because of how precious and unbreakable Christ’s promises are. Only when you think about what He promises to you, can you understand how great the harvest is, and how important it is to pray for more laborers in the harvest. They go as lambs among wolves, vulnerable to danger and persecution. Some of them will be rejected, driven out. Some will be hurt, even killed. At times their message will not get through, and the people they serve will be in danger of a terrible fate as a result of their unbelief.

Therefore pray for the harvest. The need is as great as ever, and daily grows. Pray for those laboring in the harvest fields. Pray for more evangelists, missionaries, pastors, and teachers. Pray for the faithful handling of the Word of Christ. Pray for powerful teaching, even here in your midst, that the kingdom of God may grow and that you and your families may grow within it. Pray for your pastor, for all faithful servants of the Word, and for the whole church, that you may be confident in the weapons of peace they wield in your defense. And to you younger men I even dare to say: Pray that, through the guidance of your pastor, God might lead you to answer His call for laborers in the harvest, saying, “Here am I; send me!”


hn160 said...

It grates me to call or hear anyone to call a pastor by their first name, such as Pastor John. A pastor should not be one of the boys.

Robbie F. said...

OK, but there is something to be said for calling a Christian by his Christian name, what? Also I'm not sure I can spell their last names correctly. Especially on a public blog without their permission. Other than that, was it a terrible sermon?