The Divine Call
Quasimodogeniti Sunday Sermon| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| April 23, 2006
Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:19-23
When Jesus speaks peace to His disciples He shows them the wounds He received on the cross. He who was crucified is risen from the dead. The man who died is the man who rose. Jesus is Christ. Thomas denied what he had never experienced. He insisted on a religious experience and he was quite clear on the specifications of that experience. He insisted on seeing the print of the nails in Jesus’ hands. He insisted on touching the print of the nails and putting his hand into Jesus’ side where the spear pierced Him. He insisted on seeing and touching and in this way experiencing the truth of Christ’s resurrection in a convincing manner. But faith is not based on seeing and touching. Faith doesn’t come from having religious experiences in which God proves Himself to sinners. Faith comes by hearing. We are born again by means of the gospel that we hear. God speaks. This is how He created the world. This is how He creates faith, replacing the stony heart with a heart of flesh, making the unwilling willing, changing us from the cold rationalists we are by nature into true Christians who live on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
Jesus speaks. He teaches. He preaches. And by His speaking, teaching, and preaching He brings us peace. He says, “Peace be with you.” He doesn’t say, “May you have peace.” He says, “Peace be with you.” He is not praying. He is not wishing. He is giving. His words give what they say. When Jesus says, “Peace be with you” this means that peace is with you. Jesus said so. His words are not wishes. His words are almighty. When He says it, it is so. It is so because He says it.
His words give us peace. What peace? The peace that He gained by His work. Whenever we think of our Lord Jesus we should think about both His work and His words. His work is what He did. His words are always joined to His work. What He says and what He does go together in perfect harmony. He’s not just talk. He’s action. He says, “Peace be with you” and then He shows them His hands and His side. He speaks His word and points to His work. Then, after showing them His work, He speaks to them again, saying the same thing: “Peace be with you.” What peace is this? Look at His hands and His side. It is the peace that Jesus has won by His work. His work was dying for us. When the nails pierced His hands and feet and He was raised up on the cross He labored in agony. He worked. He worked hard. It was the hardest work anyone has ever done. He fought against the evil that was poured out upon Him. He fought against the temptations of the devil. He fought in holy innocence against the sin that was imputed to Him. He worked. He worked to satisfy the demands of justice. He worked to fulfill all righteousness. He labored under the burden of bearing the load of guilt of the entire human race. This holy work, this vicarious work, this successful work was signified by the marks of the nails and spear. The scars of His body bore witness to the truth of His words. When Jesus says, “Peace be with you” He speaks the truth. He gives you what He has to give. He gives you what He earned by His bitter labor. Isaiah wrote of Him:
He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:11)
Where we Christians get all mixed up inside and twist our faith into doubt is when we base our faith on our experience. Our faith is not based on our experience. It is based on Christ’s experience. Our faith doesn’t come from our words. It comes from Christ’s words. Our faith doesn’t result from anything we say or do or offer to God. Our faith comes from Jesus. He gives us what belongs to Him. His work earned it. His words give it. Our faith receives it.
There are many things that we Christians believe, but the heart of our faith is the forgiveness of sins that Christ freely gives us. With the forgiveness of sins comes the peace Jesus gives. Here is how we confess the central truth of the Christian faith in the Augsburg Confession (AC IV):
Our churches also teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works but are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in his sight (Rom. 3-4).
Jesus made full satisfaction for our sins when He died. There is nothing more that needs doing in order that we may be forgiven and justified. But if we didn’t believe this it would be for nothing because without faith we do not have the forgiveness that God freely gives. And so the Augsburg Confession continues (AC V):
In order that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and the sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given, and the Holy Spirit produces faith, where and when it pleases God, in those who hear the Gospel. That is to say, it is not on account of our own merits but on account of Christ that God justifies those who believe that they are received into favor for Christ’s sake. Gal. 3:14, “That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
Jesus sent the original ministers as recorded in our text as well as in Matthew 28 and Mark 16. He sent them to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments so that, through these means of grace, the Holy Spirit they received would be given to others. The Holy Spirit brings us to faith. This is why we need pastors who will faithfully preach the gospel and administer the sacraments of Christ. We need faith. God needs to send men who will preach the same gospel and administer the same sacraments entrusted to the apostles. God sends pastors today, even as He has sent pastors ever since Jesus sent the first pastors. God sends them. They don’t send themselves. God sends them through the call of the church, but it is God sending them. Here is what we confess about the divine call of pastors in the Augsburg Confession (AC XIV):
Our churches teach that nobody should preach publicly in the church or administer the sacraments unless he is regularly called.
The church doesn’t hire preachers. God sends them. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Now was Jesus speaking merely to those men present with Him in the room? No, Jesus was speaking to all future pastors in His church. He sends them. The apostles were sent directly by Jesus, but the apostolic ministry continues until the end of time. Pastors since the time of the apostles have been sent by Christ through the call of the church. For example, the pastors in Ephesus were not put into office directly by Jesus, but rather through the call of the church. Yet to these men St. Paul says in Acts 20:28, “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.” It was the Holy Spirit who made the pastors overseers of the congregations they served. And so it is today.
Jesus breathed on His disciples and said to them, “Receive the Holy Ghost. Whosever sins you forgive, they are forgiven. Whosever sins you retain, they are retained.” Jesus speaks through His preachers. When we hear them speak we hear Jesus speak. When they preach God’s law, God Himself is judging us and showing us our sins. The man whose voice you hear is a sinner like you, but the law he preaches has divine authority. No mere man judges your heart and exposes your conscience to the sin in your life. God does. God speaks through His ministers. Similarly, when the minister sent by Christ tells you that for Christ’s sake your sins are forgiven it is as if Jesus Christ Himself were saying this to you because Jesus Christ Himself is saying this to you. He is doing so through the mouth of His minister.
We receive Christ’s ministers because Christ sends them. Jesus says to His ministers, as recorded in St. Luke 10:16, “He who hears you hears me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” Jesus does not send men to preach false doctrine. Ministers who preach false doctrine are to be marked and avoided. There is no divine call to preach or teach anything but the truth of the Holy Scriptures. But ministers who are regularly called and who preach the pure gospel faithfully and administer the sacraments of Christ according to Christ’s institution are indeed sent by Christ. They may not be hired and fired at will. To fire a faithful minister of the word and sacraments is to expel Jesus from His own church. As Jesus said, “He who rejects you rejects Me.”
We defend the divine call of our pastors, not to honor them but to honor Christ who sent them. We do so to protect ourselves from hirelings who will preach whatever our itching ears want to hear. The doctrine of the divine call for ministers of word and sacrament is not for the benefit of the ministers. It is for the benefit of those they serve. You cannot trust a pastor who can be hired and fired at will. When Jesus sends men to preach He puts them under orders. They are accountable to Him first of all. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Let a man so consider us as ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (1 Corinthians 4:1)
What is the goal of this ministry of Christ? What does God want it to accomplish? Exactly what Jesus said when He first instituted it: “Peace be with you.” He wants us to receive His peace. The sin that keeps us from God must be exposed by God’s law. This is why Christ’s ministers must preach the law. It is not to make us better. It is to show us our sins. Those who cling to their sins, refusing to repent of them, must be told by Christ’s ministers that those sins are retained by God. When they are led to acknowledge their sins and repent, the minister of Christ must tell them that for Christ’s sake their sins are forgiven. This is the source of peace. If God has forgiven you He isn’t angry with you, so why should you be angry with Him? His gospel not only gives you the forgiveness of your sins – by the authority of Christ Himself – it also brings to you God’s peace. You see and hear only a man who is no different than you. You don’t see Jesus. But you hear Him. And you receive the same peace the first disciples received. You are filled with the same Spirit. You too can forgive your neighbor who sins against you. We can give only what we have. We confess our sins to God. We receive His forgiveness. It is given to us in words spoken by men He sends. We take these words to heart. We give what we have received. This is the life of the Christian.