The Third Sunday in Advent| December 14, 2008| Rev. Rolf Preus| 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.”
John the Baptist was a preacher’s preacher. He puts the rest of us to shame. We fuss and fret over preaching what we know God wants us to preach if we think the people might get a bit upset with us for doing so. We worry about our livelihood, our future, our reputation, and our status. John just preached. He didn’t let all of the distractions bother him.
But he shared the doubts of the rest of us. John apparently doubted his own preaching. “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” John! You know! You identified him as the Coming One. You were chosen from before you were born to prepare the way for his coming. Why do you have to ask? What has gotten into you? Surely you know that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Savior?
Well, men get confused. Even preachers get confused. But that’s no excuse to pass the confusion on. The preacher doesn’t preach what he wants to preach. The preacher doesn’t preach what he feels. The preacher preaches what God gives him to preach. That’s why preachers wear robes and stand in pulpits. They aren’t there to share their own personal insight. They are there to speak on behalf of Christ. After writing to the Corinthians that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, he added: “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.”
A pastor is a minister of Christ. He does what Jesus tells him to do. Jesus is the boss. Jesus is the Lord of the Church. Thus, the minister answers to Jesus. St. Paul urged the pastors in Ephesus:
Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Acts 20, 28)
The church belongs to God. It doesn’t belong to itself. It doesn’t belong to a pastor. It belongs to him who purchased her with his own blood. It belongs to the Lord Jesus.
Therefore, a true minister of Christ is a steward or manager of God’s word. He doesn’t own it. He may not fold, spindle, or mutilate it according to his own will. A steward cares for what belongs to another. Here in our text the minister is called a steward of God’s mysteries. He is to administer them faithfully. What are these mysteries of God?
St. Paul writes:
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory. (1 Timothy 3, 16)
The mysteries of God are Christ, faith in him, salvation through him, and all the treasures of heaven revealed in him. God’s mysteries are apprehended by faith and by faith alone. We cannot grasp them by our senses. We cannot appeal to our human reason or intellectual powers. God reveals his mysteries to faith and to faith alone.
Jesus prayed as recorded in Matthew 11, 25:
I 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.
The word “mystery” in the New Testament was translated into the Latin with the word sacrament. The sacraments are mysteries. We cannot understand how water can bring the Holy Spirit. Jesus joins his word to the washing. He promises that this washing is not merely a washing of the body but a cleansing of the soul. Holy Baptism provides us with the forgiveness of sins. How can this be? It is a mystery.
The sacrament of Holy Communion is also a mystery. How can the sacramental bread that we eat be Christ’s body? No one can explain how it is so. Rationalists of various stripes have tried to figure it out and have generally ended up rejecting this mystery because they cannot understand it. But God reveals to our faith many things that we cannot reason out. The mysteries of God are not just the sacraments. They are everything that God has revealed to our faith. Faith does not reject reason. Faith does subordinate reason to revelation. Divine mysteries are revealed by God. We do not accept them because we can figure out how they can be true. We accept them because God reveals them to us and he does so for our benefit.
The steward of the mysteries of God must be faithful in his stewardship. He does not own as his personal property the mysteries of which he is a steward. They belong to Christ. Christ is the real office holder. Sometimes Christians get into big arguments about the office of the ministry or the pastoral office. Most of the arguments stem from setting aside this simple fact. The mysteries are the mysteries of God. The steward administers what belongs to God. He serves Christ by means of administering the mysteries that belong to God.
Do these mysteries belong to the Church? Yes they do, but they do not belong to the Church to do with as she pleases. They belong to the Church to do with as God directs. God commands that ministers be called to preach the gospel, forgive and retain sins, administer the sacraments, in short, to feed the flock that God has entrusted to his care.
The mysteries do not belong to the pastor who administers them any more than they belong to every individual Christian. The pastor is a steward. But to manage what belongs to another requires knowing how the owner wants things to be managed.
The pastor is obliged to preach God’s law. This is not always easy to do but it is necessary. Christians do not go out and commit adultery, tell lies about each other, cheat, get drunk, steal, get into fights, harbor hatred against those who do them wrong, get divorced, take God’s name in vain, despise God’s Word and behave like heathens. Christians don’t do such things. But then they do. And when they do they aren’t behaving like Christians. They need to be told that they are sinning and that they must repent of their sins and if they don’t repent of their sins they’re going to go to hell. Yes, Christians need to hear this because this is what God says and the minister of Christ had better say what God says.
I recall once when I preached a sermon in which I condemned divorce. A parishioner came up to me afterwards and chided me for my remarks. I made his father feel bad. He had been divorced some forty years earlier. Well, the law makes people feel bad, sometimes even forty years later. I’ve heard confessions from women who had abortions decades earlier. Sin hurts people. The minister of Christ must know this and he must preach this and he has no authority to alter God’s law because folks might become upset by what he says. If God says it the preacher must preach it or he is a hireling and no minister of Christ.
But the law is not the primary message of the preacher. St. John reminds us, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1, 17) The central mystery of our faith is the incarnation, obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection of the Son of God. Here in Jesus is grace and truth. Here in Jesus is the forgiveness of all our sins, peace with God, abundant and eternal life, and deliverance from every evil thing.
Are you the one who was to come? You know he is, John. You preached it. Your preaching didn’t come from you. It was not your sense of the moment that Jesus was the Lamb of God when you pointed him out and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” These were God’s words. You preached them. Now stop looking at yourself, your doubts, your fears, or whatever is going on inside of you. Forget all that personal stuff and preach what is given you to preach.
The steward is not faithful if he doesn’t preach Christ. If he doesn’t preach that Jesus lived and died for you he isn’t a minister of Christ. You come here to church on a Sunday. I don’t know what you’ve been doing or what you’ve been saying or just what’s on your mind. Oh, I may know that someone is sick or someone is celebrating. I certainly can’t read minds and I’m not going to spy out on folks to see what they do wrong so I’ll know how to preach the law on a Sunday morning.
But one thing I do know about you when you come to church on a Sunday morning. I know you have sinned against God. That I know. I know what you need. You need to repent of your sin. You need to hear about Jesus. He faced your sin. Where you disobeyed he obeyed. He is your Mediator. He offers to your Father in heaven his flawless obedience to replace your sin. He forgives you all your sins. This is what God wants his ministers to preach and this is what he wants you to believe.
The steward must be faithful because what he is administering is for the salvation of souls. He must not baptize unless he is also willing to teach. He may not give out Christ’s body and blood to those who do not know what they are receiving and what they are confessing by receiving it. He is not a spiritual vending machine. He is a steward responsible for managing faithfully the treasures that belong to his Lord.
Every pastor fails in some way or another. This is why pastors need parishioners who will do for them what Jesus did for John. Jesus encouraged John to hold on to what he had preached. It was true. It didn’t originate with him. When you encourage your pastor to be faithful in his preaching, teaching, and administration of the sacraments this is a kindness that you offer to Jesus himself. For the pastor is a minister of Christ. Amen