The Fifth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| July 8, 2007
Luke 5:8,10,11 “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’ And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.’ So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed him.”
1 Peter 3:15, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”
Our Gospel Lesson for today describes for us the calling of Jesus’ apostles. He called specific men to a specific task. We have their names listed in the four Gospels. We have their duties spelled out. They were to preach the gospel. They were to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. They were to teach to the baptized the same doctrine that they received from Jesus. They were to administer the Lord’s Supper. They were to forgive the sins of penitent sinners and to retain the sins of the impenitent. They were to do this in the stead and by the command of their Lord, Jesus Christ.
After three years of instruction, Jesus sent them out to do the work of the ministry. This is what Jesus has been doing for the past 2,000 years. This is what Jesus does today. A man enters into the seminary for three years of instruction. He is taught the same doctrine that Jesus taught the original apostles. Jesus then sends them to do what he sent the apostles to do.
This morning, we consider three things about this office. First, it is Jesus Christ himself who acts through the ministry he has established. Second, no one is worthy to enter the office of the ministry except by God’s grace alone. Third, while only those whom God calls may serve as ministers, every Christian has the duty to defend the faith.
First, it is Jesus Christ himself who acts through the ministry he has established. If Jesus were merely a man, whatever he established would be merely human and so would pass away. But Jesus is not merely a man. He is God incarnate, that is, God in the flesh. His miraculous catch of fish proves it. Jesus was raised the son of a carpenter. He had little experience catching fish. How did he know that if Simon did as he instructed that he would catch a boatload of fish? He knew because he was God and God knows everything. He knew because he was God and he put the fish there. Not a blade of grass grows except by his will. Jesus is the LORD God of Israel, come to save us poor sinners.
Simon, later to be called Peter, didn’t question Jesus. He obeyed him. He didn’t argue with him. He did as Jesus commanded. Simon said, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” The minister of Christ is just that. He is a servant of Christ. He does what Christ says to do and says what Christ says to say. In this way, it is Jesus Christ himself who is acting and speaking through his ministers.
If Jesus knows enough to tell Peter where to catch fish, he certainly also knows enough to tell his ministers today how to catch sinners in the net of God’s grace. So we say and we do as he says we should. Nothing more nor less will do.
When the ministers of the church stop saying what Jesus says to say and when they stop doing what Jesus says to do they stop being his ministers. Men think there is something more important to do than to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments. So we have so called ministers lecturing political leaders on how to run the government. They set themselves up as God’s representatives to butt into everybody’s business and tell them what to do.
But what did Jesus do? After he had shown his tremendous power and how he could, if he chose, feed the hungry by controlling nature, he gave his ministers no such authority or power. Instead, he gave them the authority to catch men for eternal life. If Jesus had wanted to set up a political or social or economic or philanthropic institution, he could have done so. But he didn’t. Instead, he established his church on earth. To the church he gave the ministry of preaching and teaching the Gospel and baptizing and absolving those burdened by guilt and giving his body and his blood for the forgiveness of sins. There is no greater ministry and no greater power on earth.
What can we say about today’s ministers who set aside this ministry of the gospel and sacraments for the sake of joining trendy social causes which are then dressed up in religious garb and paraded as the Christian ministry? We say they are not ministers of Christ at all. St. Paul said it so simply: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance: Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners.” He didn’t come into this world to create a perfect society here on earth. He didn’t establish here on earth a society of religious busy bodies to reform human institutions. He established his holy church in which we receive eternal treasures through the preaching of his ministers. Jesus saved sinners on Calvary’s cross. And Jesus saves sinners today by speaking the words of salvation through the mouths of his ministers.
Second, no one is worthy to enter the office of the ministry except by God’s grace alone. “Depart from me,” Peter said, “For I am a sinful man, O Lord!” What was the first thing that Peter felt when he realized that Jesus was God? He felt his sin. He felt his unworthiness even to be in Jesus’ presence. The office of the ministry is not a job to which someone applies. God must call his ministers. And before he calls them to preach, he must first call them to faith.
A minister of Christ must be a forgiven sinner. That is, he must be a Christian. The gospel and the sacraments of Christ are valid even if the minister is an unbeliever. It is Jesus Christ, after all, who is acting and speaking through the minister. But no man who doesn’t know his own sin and its consequences can know how to preach the gospel to sinners. It’s no good to put the minister up on a pedestal, as if he is some kind of saint. The Bible does say that a bishop must be blameless, but that’s a far cry from being sinless. It means that he isn’t involved in scandalous living. Such a man would have no credibility. But the minister as a man will always be a sinner, just like the folks he has been called to serve in Jesus’ name.
You need to know that when your pastor preaches God’s law to you he is preaching it to himself as well. The last thing the people of God need is a plaster saint or icon up in the pulpit. Jesus demonstrated his grace in choosing Peter, a sinful man, to be his servant. His words to Peter, “Fear not,” are the same words he speaks to every pastor in his church. Who am I to preach God’s law to you? I’m just as much of a sinner as everybody else. “Fear not,” Jesus says. First he forgives; then he calls into the ministry. Isaiah lamented that he was a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips and he had just seen God in a vision. God forgave Isaiah his sins. Then he called him to preach his word.
The minister is not in special class of Christians who are holier than the rest. His prayers have no more value. His intercession is no more effective than that of any other Christian. The minister is a sinner who needs the same gospel he preaches to Christ’s church. It is never the holiness or the talents or the gifts or the personality of the minister that benefit anyone. It is the words of Jesus that he preaches. These are the words of eternal life that the minister trusts in for his own personal salvation from hell.
Third, while only those whom God calls may serve as ministers, every Christian has the duty to defend the faith. God calls his ministers. Those who appoint themselves are not ministers of God. Through Jeremiah the prophet, God said, “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.” (Jeremiah 23:21) The apostle Paul teaches the necessity of the call into the ministry in Romans 10:14-15.
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they
believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a
preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?
God sends them. They don’t speak the words of men, but the words of God. Since Christ has given himself and his ministry to his whole church on earth, we know that the call from the church to do what Christ has instituted is God’s call. Just as God speaks to us through the ministers he has called, God calls his ministers through those who hear and confess and defend the true word of God.
How do I know that I am a minister of Christ? I have a call to that office which Christ established. How do I know that it is a call from God? It is from his church. If it weren’t from his church, it wouldn’t be from God. We confess in the Augsburg Confession: “Nobody should publicly preach, teach, or administer the sacraments in the church unless he is rightly called.”
Not everyone is a minister, but every Christian is called to defend the faith. It is every Christian’s duty to confess the truth and to give a defense for the hope that God has given him. This is what St. Peter says in the Epistle Lesson for this morning, “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”
When we consider the widespread apostasy throughout visible Christendom in our day, we tend to blame unfaithful preachers who don’t have the courage to be genuine ministers of Christ. But that is only half of the story. It’s a matter of supply and demand. The reason there are so many unfaithful preachers is that there is a big demand for them. St. Paul predicted this. He wrote, “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 heal up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” (2 Timothy 4:3) Every Christian is to defend the faith. It is never just the minister’s ministry. It is Christ’s ministry. It is the Church’s ministry. When you defend the hope that God has put inside of you, you confess the faith into which you were baptized. God himself speaks through you.
Through the speaking of sinners Christ sets sinners free. He brings into our lives the freedom for which he died. He who bore our disgrace and our shame by suffering the just penalty for all our sins; he who shed his blood as the sacrifice to still God’s anger against us; he who rose from the dead on Easter Sunday and showed himself alive by many infallible proofs; he is here. He is here, washing us clean in Holy Baptism, speaking words of forgiveness in the absolution, preaching his eternal love into our hearts, giving us to eat and to drink of his precious body and blood by which he made full satisfaction for all our sins. He is here. You see a sinful man standing before you every Sunday. But your Savior chooses to speak through poor sinful men like me to give to poor sinful men, women, and children like you the treasures of heaven. That’s how he catches us in the net of his almighty grace and bears us home to heaven.