The Third Sunday in Advent
December 16, 2012
“Ministers of Christ”
1 Corinthians 4:1-2
Let a man so consider us, as ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. 1 Corinthians 4:1-2
The point of contact between God and us is God’s word. That’s how God has always dealt with the human race. He talked to Adam from the very beginning, even before he made Eve. As soon as Adam and Eve fell into sin and broke the fellowship they enjoyed with their Creator, God restored that fellowship through his word. He promised a Savior from sin. God’s word creates faith. God’s word is the standard for the teaching of the church. God’s word is the substance of what Christ’s ministers preach. When we have God’s word we have God. When we are without God’s word we are without God.
There is nothing we have in this life of more value and benefit to us than the word of God. Let us consider this in connection with Christmas, where we celebrate the birth of a Child. The birth of the Christ Child sanctifies the birth of all children. By sending his eternal Son into the world to become a little baby God has elevated the entire human race. He has assigned a value to children.
The greatest love we can show to our children is to give them the word of God. Jesus is the Word made flesh. He is God become one of us. Immanuel: God with us. We give God’s word to our children because Jesus, the incarnate Word, joins himself to the word that is preached. We give God’s word to our children so that we and they can share eternal life together. For just as surely as Jesus, the Word made flesh, has purchased heaven for us, so surely does the word of God that we read in the Scriptures and that we hear from the pulpit give us that heaven that Jesus won for us.
In today’s Gospel Lesson, John, who was in prison, sent his disciples to Jesus to confirm that he was the Christ. Jesus said to them:
Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.
He gave sight to the blind, he enabled the lame to walk, he healed lepers from their disease, he gave the deaf the ability to hear, he even raised the dead. These were wonderful signs doing wonderful things to affirm health and life. But in listing the signs that he was the Christ, he saved the greatest thing until last: the poor have the gospel preached to them. That’s the greatest thing, because it is the gospel that brings us from death to life. It delivers us from hell and it leads us to heaven.
The gospel and the sacraments go together. Jesus preached and did miracles. Today, Jesus preaches and administers sacraments. A sacrament is a sign to which God attaches his word, making something ordinary a means of salvation for us. God takes water – ordinary water such as you get out of the faucet – and by joining it to his word he makes it a washing of rebirth by which a sinner becomes a saint. He takes ordinary bread and wine and makes them his body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. The gospel and the sacraments are what make the church the church because the gospel and the sacraments are where Jesus has promised to be. Jesus and his church go together. You cannot find the one without the other. Just so, you cannot find either Jesus or his church apart from his gospel and sacraments.
St. Paul calls them the mysteries of God. They come from God. They reveal wonderful truth that no human mind can possibly fathom. The mysteries of God include such truths as the trinity of God. God is triune. He is one. There is only one God. Yet he is three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father begets the Son from eternity. The Holy Spirit, from eternity, proceeds from the Father and the Son. This is a mystery of God.
Another mystery of God is the incarnation. This is the wonderful truth that the Son, begotten of the Father from eternity, was born of the Virgin Mary and was made man. God became a baby. This is the mystery we celebrate every Christmas. We sing of his birth:
He whom the sea and wind obey
Doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness.
Thou, God’s own Son, with us art one,
Dost join us and our children in our weakness.
The almighty God became a little baby. This is a mystery of God.
The crucifixion of Jesus is another wonderful mystery. It is offensive to many people. In fact, it is offensive to everyone who has a high opinion of himself, because the crucifixion of Jesus is God becoming a man to die the death of a sinner in order to set sinners free from the death they deserve.
Holy Baptism is a mystery of God. God places his name on a sinner who thereby becomes a saint, is forgiven of all his sin, and is united with the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Lord’s Supper is a mystery of God. Jesus gives us to eat and to drink his true body and blood, though all our senses can see, taste, and feel are bread and wine.
The mysteries of God are managed by stewards. That’s what stewards do. They manage the property of another. The mysteries of God are from God. He reveals them. They are given to the church as her very own. By them she is born and by them she lives. By them she is guided to eternal life in heaven. Nothing is more precious to the church than the mysteries of God because they are what make the church the church.
These mysteries require a steward. The word of God is preached. The sacraments are administered. The gospel doesn’t preach itself. Preachers must be sent. The sacraments don’t administer themselves. Ministers must administer them. Those whom God sends to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments are Christ’s ministers. They serve Christ. They are the church’s ministers. They serve the church. They serve the church only when they do what Christ has sent them to do.
St. Paul speaks for all pastors when he says, “Let a man so consider us, as ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” He wasn’t speaking just of the apostles of the first century. He was speaking for your pastor. You should regard him as a minister of Christ. That means that Christ is his boss.
The world runs after things that perish. Christ comes to us with eternal life to give. The minister of Christ is required to be faithful to his ministry. That is, he is to administer the mysteries of God faithfully. He is to preach what God gives him to preach, to teach what God gives him to teach, and to administer the sacrament according to God’s word.
The world runs after things that perish. There is nothing constant. The democratic spirit that rules our country has no firm foundation. Whatever the passion of the majority wants at any given time is the standard that preachers are expected to follow. It is as St. Paul foretold:
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 heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
For a pastor to be a faithful servant to the people God has called him to serve, he must resist and oppose the democratic spirit that would pressure the church to conform to whatever the market is demanding at the moment. God’s mysteries can’t be marketed and sold like toothpaste or kitchen utensils. God’s mysteries may be despised by the majority and usually are. John the Baptist, the epitome of the faithful preacher, ended up in jail and was finally beheaded. Likewise, St. Paul. Our Lord was crucified between two criminals. God doesn’t call on his ministers to be successful. He doesn’t call on them to be popular. He calls on them to be faithful. The majority doesn’t determine for us what we believe, teach, and confess. The minister is not called to be a steward of public opinion polls as he tests the soil to see what he ought to plant. He is called to be a steward of the mysteries of God, so he should prepare himself to serve Christ’s people by studying God’s word and faithfully teaching it to God’s people.
There are things in this world we cannot understand but we cannot deny either. A young man steals his mother’s guns and proceeds to murder twenty some people, most of them little children. Can you understand such evil? I can’t. But neither can we deny it. The children are dead and their families mourn in helpless sorrow. Call it a mystery of human wickedness. That such evil can exist frightens us.
That evil is the evil common to all of fallen humanity. It is the evil that unites all sinners to death, whether by vicious violence at such a tender age, or by the less shocking but equally final death of the old woman living alone in the nursing home. Death is death and it comes because we are sinners. We embrace our own will against God’s. We scorn his word in favor of more immediately gratifying pursuits, which if we were to be honest with ourselves, are mostly a waste of time. We judge the church and her ministers and even her Lord by the democratic standards of the market place and despise the mysteries of God in favor of the approval and acceptance of sinners such as ourselves. When we do we should be ashamed of ourselves.
When we are filled with shame that is when our God comes to us in his mysteries and sets our hearts at peace. He comes to bind up the broken hearted. He comes to forgive us our sins. That’s what Christmas is all about. It’s about the forgiveness of sins. It’s about God joining the human race and overcoming the evil that has infected it. He does so, not by punishing the guilty, but by taking their place and suffering and dying for them.
This is what we preach. With our pastors, Christ’s ministers, we preach Christ crucified for sinners. We encourage them to be faithful in preaching God’s law that condemns us and God’s gospel that forgives us. We are the poor who need the gospel preached to us. We daily sin much and deserve nothing but punishment. We pray for preachers who will preach the gospel faithfully, presenting to us the obedience and suffering and dying of Jesus. For in the mystery of God becoming flesh, we are brought back to God. In the mystery of his holy and vicarious suffering, all of our sin is taken away. In the mystery of his body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, we are forgiven of all our sins and made partakers of God. What wonderful mysteries are ours! What a joy it is to be a Christian! Amen