The Third Sunday in Advent
December 5, 2004
ďThe Mysteries of GodĒ
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Jesus Christ Himself honored
John by saying of him, ďAssuredly, I say to you, among those born of
women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who
is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.Ē (Matthew 11:11)
John was a fearless prophet.
The prophets of old foretold his coming.
Yet to belong to the kingdom of heaven is a greater honor than to
be a great prophet. The
little children who are members of the kingdom of heaven have wealth
beyond the imagination of man. The
treasure of this kingdom is the very mysteries of God.
To know the mysteries of God is to know God.
These mysteries are not for
those who are wise according to the standards of this world.
Speaking of the treasures of His kingdom Jesus prayed to God the
Father, ďI thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have
hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to
babes.Ē (Matthew 11:25) What
impresses the crowds is not what is impressive to God.
His standards upend the standards of this world.
The world is not seeking after the kingdom of God.
People judge by human standards.
St. Paul writes:
If you judge by human standards
you will also judge those who preach Godís word by human standards.
John preached Christ. He
identified Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
He said of Jesus, ďHe must increase, but I must decrease.Ē
(John 3:30) He said, ďHe
who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy
to carry.Ē (Matthew 3:11) Johnís
entire ministry was devoted to directing attention away from himself to
Christ. Still, many of
Johnís disciples did not want to leave John to follow Jesus.
They were more attached to John, the preacher, than they were
attached to the preaching John preached.
This is why John sent them to Jesus.
They had to see and hear for themselves that Jesus was the sum
and substance of all of Johnís preaching.
And this is the way it must
always be for Christian preachers.
As St. Paul wrote:
Preachers are earthen vessels
and they have clay feet. Christians
should not follow after this preacher or that preacher on account of any
quality in the preacher. As
St. Paul writes in our text, ďLet a man so consider us, as ministers
of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.Ē
A minister of Christ does not serve by his own authority but by
the authority of Christ. The
minister of Christ is a steward of Godís mysteries, not a promoter of
his own personal philosophy. The
mysteries of which Christís ministers are stewards are mysteries that
God has hidden from the wise and the powerful and has revealed to babes.
The mysteries of God come from God.
They donít come from the steward.
A steward is a manager of what belongs to another.
The mysteries of God belong to God and God has given them to the
church. They arenít the
private property of the stewards.
The mysteries of God do not
require a degree of human cleverness to grasp.
They are grasped by faith alone.
The mysteries of God are all centered in Christ.
Included is the mystery of the incarnation that we celebrate on
Christmas. St. Paul writes
in 1 Timothy 3:16, ďAnd without controversy great is the mystery of
godliness: God was manifested in the flesh.Ē
Another mystery is the mystery of the resurrection.
As St. Paul writes later on in this Epistle to the Corinthians:
I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be
changed; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.
For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible,
and we shall be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)
Another mystery of our Christian faith is the relationship between Christ and His Church as St. Paul writes to the Ephesians:
The mystery of mysteries is the
suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus for our salvation.
This is the greatest mystery of all.
This is the essence, soul, and center of all divine truth.
Apart from the passion and resurrection of Jesus we are blind to
all spiritual reality because in the crucifixion and resurrection of
Jesus our sins are forgiven, we are reconciled to God, and we are
rendered righteous before the bar of Godís justice.
But it is precisely this central mystery of our salvation that
the world in her wisdom regards as the greatest foolishness.
That God would stoop to bear the burden of sinners!
Those who are dying without hope despise the suffering of the
God-man. This is why they
are dying with no hope. And
this is why Jesus, in our Gospel for today, says: ďAnd blessed is he
who is not offended because of Me.Ē (Matthew 11:6)
He was speaking specifically of His suffering.
Donít be offended by God when He condescends to suffer for you.
Donít look at the bloody sacrifice of Christ as an offense.
Of course, it offends the pride of the world, but that pride
leads only to destruction. Yes,
it offends those who trust in their own virtue, but that trust will only
disappoint. The high and
mighty of this world are offended by the cross, but we who have found
forgiveness of our sins in Jesusí suffering glory in the wisdom that
offends this world. St.
Paul writes earlier in the Epistle from which our text is taken:
The things God has prepared for
us He prepared for us on the cross.
There it was that Jesus removed from us the sin of which we were
guilty, the curse our sin evoked, and the death our sin deserved.
St. John the Baptist pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God.
It is as the Lamb of God that Jesus opens our hearts to receive
all the mysteries of God. As
the Lamb of God takes away our sin He brings us into communion with the
holy God that we may be partakers of His eternal Wisdom.
It is not in our works. It
is not in our merits. It is
not in any humanly devised status we could gain by any number of good
deeds or any amount of virtuous living.
It is not by avoiding evil and doing good.
It is not by an exercise of our will or by our moral or
intellectual prowess. It is
in Jesus taking away our sin. God
in Christ has mercy on us lost and condemned sinners.
He finds us, delivers us, and rescues us from our sins.
This is why we glory in the preaching of the cross.
It is, for us, the everlasting wisdom of God.
This is what the preachers are
called to preach. This is
what it means to be a steward of Godís mysteries.
It means to preach the pure gospel of Christ and to administer
His holy sacraments. They
reveal to us the heart of our gracious God because they give Jesus, the
Lamb of God, to us. The gospel and sacraments come to us from none other than the
crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ who is the very Wisdom of God, as
Solomon teaches in the Proverbs. We
donít need eloquent orators. We
donít need powerful polemicists.
We need the mysteries. We
need them because in them is our God and our eternal life with God.
The steward of the mysteries is nobody.
The minister of Christ has nothing of his own to administer.
But like the waiter or waitress at the local restaurant, he is
only to serve what is given him to serve.
The pastor is always a minister
of Christ and since Jesus doesnít lord it over His flock, neither
should the pastor. He is only the steward of Godís mysteries.
He doesnít own them. You
donít need to know a pastorís opinion about anything.
But you do need to be enriched by the mysteries that belong to
Jesus. This is why you need a pastor.
You donít need any particular pastor, but you do need the
mysteries of God and you need someone who will faithfully give them to
you. You need the gospel
and sacraments of Christ. This
is why Jesus instituted the pastoral office.
We donít judge our preachers
by human standards. This
doesnít mean that they are above criticism.
Far from it! It
means that we bind our pastors to teach according to the divine doctrine
taught in the Holy Scriptures and faithfully set forth in the creeds and
the confessions of the Church. We
insist that our pastors preach the pure doctrine that we confess in the
creeds, Catechism, and confessions.
The more we care about the
saving mysteries of God, the less we will care about human status, human
wisdom, and human judgment. We
should neither put our preachers up on pedestals nor should we subject
them to unfair criticism because they lack this or that skill or gift.
We honor faithful stewards not for the sake of their persons, but
for the sake of the mysteries of God that they administer for our good. If we want to encourage the ministers of Christ we can do no
better than to urge them to be faithful in their stewardship of the
mysteries of God. In this
way the ministers of Christ will also be serving those to whom the
mysteries of salvation belong: the beloved bride of Christ, His holy
Rev. Rolf D. Preus