Third Sunday in Advent
December 11, 2005
The Public Ministry of the Word
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
If God doesnít speak we donít have to listen, do we?
Think about it. What
would be the point in listening to someone who has nothing to say?
And yet so much of what passes for Christianity these days is a
vague affection for a silent deity who has nothing in particular to say.
But who can trust in a god who has nothing to say?
If he has nothing to say he has no promises to make.
If he has no promises to make he has no promises to keep.
Our God speaks. He makes promises. He
keeps His promises. When
the Son of God is identified in the Gospel of St. John He is called the
Word. God speaks.
He speaks through His Son. Every
promise God gives is centered in His Son, Jesus. Every promise God keeps He keeps for Jesusí sake.
God speaks through preachers. When the preacher that God sends preaches it is God Himself
who is preaching. We
confess of the Holy Spirit in the Nicene Creed, ďWho spoke by the
prophets.Ē God used the
voices of men but it was Godís Word.
David, the greatest songwriter who ever lived, didnít just
express what was inside of him. We
read in 2 Samuel 23:2, ďThe Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, and His
word was on my tongue.Ē
God has always spoken through
men. The men through whom God speaks are sinners.
They are fallible. They are weak. They
have clay feet. But when
God chooses to speak through them God speaks His own almighty and
infallible word. Is the
preacher sent by God? Does
the preacher preach Godís word? Then
listen to him as if God Himself were preaching because God is preaching.
When God sends the preacher, to despise the preacherís message
because of the weaknesses of the preacher, is to despise God Himself.
St. John the Baptist was a
preacher sent by God. He
preached the truth. He
suffered for it. Thatís
the way it goes. John was a
gospel preacher but he had to preach the law, too.
There is no message of forgiveness except for sinners and if
there is no law there is no sin. So
John preached the law. The
law he preached condemned Herod for stealing his brotherís wife.
For preaching this John was put in prison.
While in prison he sent a couple of his disciples to Jesus to ask
Him if He really were the promised Christ.
Why would John do so when he himself had identified Jesus as the
Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?
Maybe he was having doubts about what he had preached as he was
languishing in jail? We
donít know exactly, but we do know what Jesus said to John through
Johnís disciples. His
last words to John were, ďBlessed is he who is not offended because of
The Christian preacher must
preach Christ. That is the
sine qua non of being a Christian preacher.
You preach Christ. When
you preach Christ you donít promote yourself, your own opinions, your
own bright ideas, or your own religious philosophy.
St. Paul put it this way: ďLet a man so consider us, as
ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.Ē
The Corinthians congregation was
wracked by division. They
pitted one preacher against another.
Some said that they followed Peter, others Paul, other Apollos,
and others Christ. But Peter and Paul and Apollos all preached the same gospel.
They all preached Christ crucified for sinners.
The preacher is nothing. The
preaching is everything. The
preacher is nothing but a steward of what belongs to someone else.
He is a steward of the mysteries of God.
The mysteries of God are the gospel and the sacraments of Christ.
They are called mysteries because the truth they reveal cannot be
reasoned out. The gospel
teaches us that God gives us sinners the credit for Jesusí righteous
life and that Jesus willingly suffered the blame for our sins.
The gospel reveals to us the mystery of Godís grace.
God reckoned to Jesus our sins and He reckoned to us Jesusí
righteousness. Reason doesnít understand this.
Faith alone receives it. The
world calls Godís mysteries foolishness, but faith lives on the truth
that Christ alone is our righteousness, our salvation, and our life.
Even as the mysteries of the gospel and sacraments reveal Christ
to us, they also belong to Christ.
They are the means that He has chosen to be vehicles of His
grace. We should judge our
preachers by what they preach. Are
they faithful stewards of Godís mysteries?
Do they preach the gospel purely and administer the sacraments
We should not judge our pastors
by how one man compares to another man.
St. Paul writes,
with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a
human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know nothing
against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is
Thereís a reason why Paul
cared little about the personal judgments of others and why he didnít
even bother judging himself. Paul
knew that the ministry is always more important than the minister.
Let God worry about judging men.
Who should get what credit and who should get what blame?
Who cares? Leave it
to God. The ministry
isnít about the ministers. It
is about Christ. It is
about bringing to sinners the forgiveness of sins that only Christ can
It is called the public ministry
of the word. In the
Augsburg Confession it is called the ministry of teaching the gospel and
administering the sacraments or simply the preaching office.
It is public. That
is, it is official. One
must be called by God and entrusted with the office before he can
publicly preach, teach, or administer the sacraments of Christ.
As St. Paul says, ďHow shall they preach unless they are
sent?Ē (Romans 10:15) They canít. It
is public, that is, right out in the open for the whole world to see.
The preacher has no secret wisdom of his own.
He is to be a steward of nothing less than the mysteries of God
Himself, and these mysteries are to be made public to the whole world.
It is the ministry of the word. Whose word is that? It
is the word of God. God
speaks to us through His ministers.
There is a difference between a minister and a priest.
A priest offers sacrifices up to God.
The priests of the Old Testament offered up bloody sacrifices to
God. They were offered for
the sins of the people. These
animal sacrifices did not of themselves take away anyoneís sin, but
God joined the promise of forgiveness to them.
He did so for the sake of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.
When Jesus offered up His body and blood on the altar of the
cross, He did so once and for all to take away the sin of the whole
world. No priest can ever
again offer up a bloody sacrifice to take away sins.
To presume to offer up Christís body and blood to God as if
this is necessary to take away sin is to deny that Jesus Christ has
already taken away the sin of the world.
Christís ministers do not
serve Christ by offering up sacrifices.
All Christians are priests.
All Christians offer up the sacrifices of thanksgiving and
ministers donít serve Christ by offering anything up to God.
They serve Christ by preaching Christís word, washing with
Christís baptism, administering the sacrament of Christís body and
blood, and absolving with the absolution of Christ.
They serve Christ by serving Christís people.
They have nothing of their own to give.
They have the mysteries of God.
And they may not alter them in any way.
Luther preached a wonderful
sermon on this text on the Third Sunday in Advent in 1521.
Listen to what he said:
office is a service or ministry proceeding from Christ to us and not
from us to Christ. Note
this carefully; it is important. . . . The meaning of the verse, then,
is: ďLet every individual take heed not to institute another leader,
to set up another Lord, to constitute another Christ.
Rather be unanimously loyal to the one and only Christ.
For we apostles are not your lords, nor your masters; we are not
your leaders. We do not
preach our own interests, nor teach our own doctrine.
We do not seek to have you obey us, or give us allegiance and
accept our doctrine. No,
indeed. We are messengers
and ministers of him who is your Master, your Lord and Leader.
We preach his Word, enlist men to follow his commandments, and
lead only into obedience. And
in this light should you regard us, expecting of us nothing else than to
bring the message. Though
we are other persons than Christ, yet you do not receive through us
another doctrine than his; another word, another government, nor another
authority than his. He who
so receives and regards us, holds the right attitude toward us, and
receives, not us, but Christ, whom alone we preach.
But he who does not so regard us, does u injustice, discards
Christ, the one true Leader, set up another in his stead and makes gods
Preachers whine and complain
just like everyone else. Even
though we confess in the Catechism that we daily sin much and indeed
deserve nothing but punishment we still seem to think that we deserve
something better. Besides,
within every pastor there is a little pope just waiting to jump out and
take charge. This is why
the most loving and beneficial thing you can do for your pastors is to
require of them that they prove their doctrine from Godís word. It is never an act of disrespect to insist that the pastor
show from the Holy Scriptures that his doctrine is sound. Itís a matter of life and death.
It is required of stewards that they be found faithful.
A steward must manage what is given him to manage.
He doesnít choose. God
has already chosen. The
public ministry of the word is the office that Jesus Christ Himself
established in and for His church when He sent out the apostles as His
first preachers. He told
them to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments.
Through these means of grace God brings sinners to faith and
keeps them in the faith.
What faith is that?
It is the faith that looks to Jesus and see that He is indeed the
Lamb of God as the faithful preacher John said He was. Jesus came and gave sight to the blind, healed the lame,
cleansed the lepers, gave hearing to the deaf, raised the dead, and
preached the gospel to the poor. He
preached forgiveness to them. This
is what the faithful steward of Godís mysteries must do.
Every time you come to church
you come as a sinner burdened with sins.
You may not feel the burden, but it lies upon you.
Guilt is guilt even when you wonít admit to it.
You have loved yourself first and most.
You have lied to cover up your own sins and to hurt others.
You have taken what you had no right to take. Youíve cheated. Youíve
lusted, hated, coveted, and youíve lied about it to yourself so that
you could do it some more. Youíve
loved things more than people, and more than God.
But here you come.
Why are you here? You
are here to meet Jesus. You
need Jesus because He is the One who forgives you.
Any minister of Christ will do, just as long as he is a faithful
steward. But you need a
minister for the simple reason that Jesus chooses to come to you and to
forgive you your sins and to receive you unto Himself through the
speaking of a minister. You
hear the pastor speak but it is Jesus who absolves you.
The pastorís hand give you bread and wine, but it is Jesus
Christ Himself who gives you to eat and to drink of His body and blood
for the forgiveness of your sins. He
who bore your sin and washed it away by His blood comes to you here in
this place through His ministry of the word and He serves you.
God speaks. He binds
himself to His promises. Though
spoken through sinful, mortal, and fallible men, they give you
forgiveness, salvation, and everlasting life.
So we will treasure the ministry of Christ among us, regardless
of who our pastor might be.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus