The Fifth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| June 26, 2005
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” 1 Peter 3:15
The Gospel Lesson for today recounts for us the calling of Peter, James, and John into the office of apostle. Jesus taught them for three years, training them to be gospel preachers. Then, after dying on the cross to take away the sin of the world and rising from the dead with eternal life to give, Jesus sent out the apostles as the first pastors in His church.
The word “apostle” means one who is sent. God sends the preachers or they may not preach. St. Paul addresses this matter in Romans 10 where he writes:
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? . . . So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:14-15a, 17)
Only those who are sent by God may preach in Jesus’ name. God has sent preachers from the time of the apostles and He will continue to send preachers until the end of time. When Jesus sent out the apostles, He did so directly. Since ascending into heaven Jesus has called His preachers through the church. He gave the ministry of the word to the church. God uses the call of the church to send preachers to His church.
Jesus Christ instituted and established the ministry of the word when He sent out the apostles as His first ministers. The duties of this ministry are simple. Christ’s ministers are to preach His gospel and to administer His sacraments. This is the net that brings people into the church. This is how the minister serves Christ’s church. He must faithfully preach and teach the teaching of Christ. This teaching is from heaven. It is from the Holy Spirit. The gospel and the sacraments of Christ are the means by which the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the Holy Christian Church on earth. The important thing to remember about the ministry of the word is that it is the ministry of the word. It does not come from men. It is Christ Himself coming to His people and serving them through the words His minister speaks.
When you receive God’s word through faith you have a hope living within you. It is true that we live with doubts and sometimes the doubts can cause us real spiritual pain. But the Holy Spirit brings us confidence through the means of grace. When you begin to doubt your faith and wonder about your future and even question your salvation, the last thing you should do is to fade away from church. Instead you should run to church every Sunday. The gospel is not a dead letter. It is the power of God to save you. God attacks your doubts and replaces uncertainly with true faith.
The fact that God chooses to live within us in the midst of our sins and doubts shows us how much He loves us. He won’t abandon us in our need. We waver. We wonder. We doubt. But God keeps on coming to us in the words of the gospel. Our baptism keeps on washing us and it remains the washing of rebirth throughout our lives. We aren’t born again just when we are baptized, but we are born again daily when we drown all our sins and doubts in the life-giving washing with which the Holy Spirit has washed us.
This is also how we set aside Christ as Lord in our hearts, or, as the New King James Version puts it, “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” It may sound strange to sanctify God since God is already holy. How can you make Him what He already is? You acknowledge Him for who and what He is! Before you can confess to others you must know yourself what you believe and in whom you trust.
Faith doesn’t produce itself. We don’t come to faith by an act of our own will. The source of our faith is the gospel of Christ crucified for us. It is the sacraments by which we are born from above and sustained by Christ’s body and blood. The source of our faith keeps us in the faith and this is how we can set aside the Lord Jesus in our hearts. When our faith is uncertain we look at how God confirms in us a living faith. We look to see Christ. We set aside Jesus in our hearts by looking at Jesus lifted up on the cross for us. As we sing:
On my heart imprint thine image, blessed Jesus, King of grace
That life’s riches, cares, and pleasures have no power, Thee, to efface.
This, the superscription be: Jesus crucified for me
Is my life, my hope’s foundation, and my glory and salvation.
You are a Christian. What do you believe? Why do you hope for the future? What is your hope? Can you give an answer? Can you confess the faith into which you were baptized? Can you give anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that you have?
Perhaps you’ve heard the story about the bishop and the farmer. The bishop went traveling through his diocese in order to see what his parishioners believed. He met a farmer in his field and he asked him. “What do you believe?” The farmer replied, “I believe what the church believes.” “And what does the church believe,” asked the bishop. The farmer replied, “Why the church believes what I believe.” Later, when asked what he believed, the bishop replied, “I believe what that farmer believes.” But nobody knows what that is!
People usually know quite a bit about those things they care about. They become experts on cars, sports, politics, Hollywood movies, or pop music without really setting their mind to becoming experts. They are interested, and so they naturally learn more and more about what interests them. Theology is talk about God. It ought to be the topic of the daily conversations of every Christian. It is not only the preachers who ought to be interested in theology. When we talk about what we as Christians believe we are talking about what’s most important and we are going to be ready to defend our faith when called upon to do so.
Be ready to give a defense. Why do you believe what you believe? On what does your hope rest? How do you know you are going to heaven? Are you sure? Can you confess what you believe and why you believe it? There’s nothing wrong with going to your pastor with questions about what God’s word teaches us. He’s your servant to speak God’s word to you in whatever need you have. But nobody can believe for another. Faith is always personal. And the true Christian faith does not rest on unformed feelings or religious emotions. It rests on God’s word. It rests on the doctrine that Christ has revealed to us, centered in His suffering and death for us. It is focused on the forgiveness of sins, but it includes every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. God teaches us nothing that doesn’t matter. He doesn’t talk to hear Himself talk. He wants us to receive His teaching as if we were hungry for it.
When Christians become satiated, fat, and sassy they begin to lose interest in learning God’s word. They learn to despise the true teaching. They want something to tickle their desire for what is new and exciting. They tire of repenting of their sins and crying out in their sin to a gracious God who forgives them for Christ’s sake. They tire of the same old law and gospel preaching that tells them to live alone by mercy. They want to rise above the daily contrition and repentance to which God called them in Holy Baptism.
That’s why there are so many unfaithful preachers. There is a demand for them. St. Paul predicted this. He wrote, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heal up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” (2 Timothy 4:3) God calls on every Christian to defend the faith. It is your Christian duty to make sure that your pastor preaches nothing else than the pure and wholesome word of God. It is never just the minister’s ministry. It is always Christ’s. It belongs to the whole church, just as Christ does. God calls on every Christian to defend the hope that God has given him. When we do this, God Himself speaks through us, just as surely as He speaks through the called and ordained pastors.
What a tragedy to see the sincere conviction in the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons who go door to door giving witness to false and soul destroying religions while Christians who have learned the true gospel hem and haw and squirm when they are called upon to make the good confession. When we are called upon to defend our Christian hope we may not delegate to others our own duty to confess Jesus Christ and His holy word. We confess. We defend. We take our stand on the truth by which we are saved. We don’t do so in a spirit of arrogance or pride, but in humility and fear. We live by mercy and it is only by God’s grace that we know the truth. So we confess it.
For what do you hope? Eternal life! On what does your hope rest? It rests on Jesus Christ, my Savior, who took away my sin on the cross and who keeps giving me eternal life in His gospel and sacraments. Where would you go if you died today? I would go heaven to be with my Savior. How do you know this is true? I know this is true because my Savior, who purchased eternal life for me by His innocent life and holy death, has given this life to me in His holy word. He cannot lie to me or deceive me. I know that my hope is certain and true because it rests on Jesus Christ alone. Do you believe that, dear Christians? Then confess it, defend it, and don’t ever back away from it.