Sunday, July 25, 2021
The Holy Marriage of Taylor Comfort and Anna DeTray
July 24, 2021
Text: Matt. 19:4-6
Do you have any idea how countercultural you are at this moment? Ironically doing the very thing people have been doing since the dawn of time, the very thing God designed us to do from the beginning, His institution, even before the fall into sin. You’re getting married. It’s like you’re hippies, or something, only reverse hippies, rebelling by doing the thing the hippies (or in our day, the postmoderns) rebel against doing. You’re swimming against the tide. Man and woman. Making vows. Pledging your faithfulness. Forsaking all others. To have and to hold from this day forward. For better or for worse. For richer or for poorer. In sickness and in health. To love and to cherish. Until death parts you. And you mean it. It’s really weird.
But good for you. This is how God designed us as human beings. He designed us for marriage. He designed marriage for us. This that is happening here today, before God and these witnesses, this thing that is so countercultural, Holy Marriage, is God’s gift to you. And you are God’s gift to one another. “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:5-6; ESV).
It is God who joins you together as husband and wife this day, and He does this thing the way He always does His things, which is to say, by His Word. He pronounces it. He declares it. Why would He do such a thing? Why would He give such a gift? Well, as long as we’re being rebellious and countercultural, we may as well get really funky and ask what the Scriptures have to say about it. Marriage is by God’s design. And according to the Scriptures, God has designed the gift of marriage to fulfill at least three purposes: 1. Companionship, 2. Procreation, and 3. Holy Sexuality.
In the creation that was “very good” (Gen. 1:31), there was one deficiency, even before the fall into sin, as God Himself points out in Genesis Chapter 2. “It is not good that the man should be alone” (2:18). God created man to live in relationship, in communion. And here was Adam, utterly alone, the only soul on earth. But God knew just what He would do about it. “I will make him a helper fit for him,” literally, corresponding to him. And here we are making the revolutionary assertion that men and women are, in fact, different, physically, mentally, emotionally, in such a way that they complement one another. They complete each other. As a general rule, things work out best when they are in relationship to one another.
But things were so good in Eden, God had to make a special point of this to Adam, that there was an absence that needed to be filled. Thus the parade of animals. You remember this. Adam names every living creature as God marches them past. And it is not that Adam is naming them “Spot,” “Rover,” “Mr. Snuggles.” What is he doing? He is engaging in scientific classification. He is studying them. Remember, Adam is no caveman. Pre-fall Adam is undoubtedly the greatest intellect who ever lived, operating with the unmarred image of God, the height of human reason and sophistication. And as he carefully observes each living creature, he notices something important. There is a Mr. Buffalo and a Mrs. Buffalo, a Mr. Rhinoceros and a Mrs. Rhinoceros. You get the point. Each male has a counterpart corresponding to him, and vice versa. And all at once, Adam ruffles his brow and scratches his head and says, “Wait a minute… Where’s mine? I need that. I am incomplete.” Perhaps he even prayed, as single Christians should and do, “Gracious God, please grant to me a Christian spouse.”
And God puts Adam into a deep sleep, and from his side, God fashions a woman, Eve, and He brings her to the man. And this is the first wedding, the first marriage. God gets to define marriage, because He created it in the first place, for our good, according to His eternal design. Adam was beside himself. “This at last,” he says, as so many men do when they’ve met the love of their life, at last! “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen. 2:23). And then we get the Words of Institution for Marriage, quoted by Jesus in our Holy Gospel: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast,” cling, cleave, “to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (v. 24).
So companionship. Not just good friends, though certainly that. But intimate relationship, communion. And from that come the next two purposes, and they go together. Procreation. Let’s have no talk about “reproduction.” We’re not on an assembly line, pushing out product. Husbands and wives are given to be participants in God’s creative act. “God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). It is a blessing to have children, and every child, no matter the circumstances of conception and birth, is a gift from God. We don’t know yet whether, or how prolifically, God will bless you with fruit and multiplication. But I’m warning you, I pray He blesses you generously. We need some more kids around here. As far as I’m concerned, you can get started tonight. But then, you know how that happens, right?
Holy sexuality. And we should think of it that way. We’ve made sex into something dirty, unclean, unseemly, unfit for Christian sermons. But we’ve done that by misusing and abusing what is one of God’s most precious gifts. Because it is the bodily consummation of the companionship, the communion, for which God created marriage. And it is the means by which God makes a marriage fruitful, so that the love between husband and wife flows out now creatively in the begetting and raising of children. St. Paul sees this as really important, and he warns husbands and wives not to deprive one another of physical intimacy, except perhaps for a brief and agreed upon time to concentrate on prayer, but then immediately to come back together, so that we may avoid temptation and loss of self-control (1 Cor. 7:5). But also because within the context of marriage, within the lifelong union of one man and one woman who have vowed themselves before God to one another in love and fidelity, sex is holy and God pleasing. It is His gift to you.
So for these purposes God gave marriage to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, a perpetual estate for every generation to follow. It was to be the ultimate expression of communion between a man and a woman, the living picture of man’s communion with God, and the reflection of the Communion of Persons within the God-head in the Tri-unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But you know what happened. Sin. Rejection of God. The breaking of Communion. The husband blaming his wife, and blaming God for his wife. The wife blaming the serpent. Humans blaming everyone but themselves. And we, their children, the fruit of their union, born into their guilt, and taking after their rebellion. That is why marriage is in the state it is in in our society these days.
It is not good for our communion with God to be broken. If God does not restore it, it leaves us alone, separated from God, separated from one another. But through the rubble of Paradise lost, God preserved marriage. He kept it for our good. And by it He brought forth for Himself a people, a people who lived by a Promise: The Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). Through many generations of husbands and wives and children, God preached and preserved that Promise, until an angel came to a poor virgin girl in the town of Nazareth, Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph, now found to be with Child, God’s own Son.
He would grow up, that Son, to be the faithful Husband Adam was not. And to restore communion, He would give Himself up into the death of the cross for His beloved Bride, the Church, to present her to Himself in splendor, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; that is, sins forgiven, holy and blameless, righteous with the righteousness of her faithful Bridegroom. God put Jesus into a deep sleep, the sleep of death. And from His riven side, by water and blood, God formed for our Lord a Bride washed and redeemed. And you belong to her. Which is to say, you belong to Him, the fruit of this holy union, born anew in baptismal water, redeemed by His blood shed for you.
Your marriage will not always reach the ideal of Eden. In fact, it never will. But as a Christian marriage, ordered by God’s Word and institution, it will always be a living picture, and icon of Christ and His holy Bride, the Church. That is, your marriage is a countercultural confession to the world, and to one another, of the love of God in Christ that redeems sinners and makes us His own. And your marriage is, and will always be, lived out in His grace, forgiveness for every failing, healing for all that is broken, His steadfastness always preserving you and your union.
So let’s do it, let’s be countercultural and revolutionary. Make your vows today, and mean them, and keep them. Live as husband and wife according to God’s order. Love one another. Be faithful to each other. Delight in one another. Speak well of each other in the hearing of others. Exult in your marriage. Hold it in high esteem. Have lots of kids, if God so wills, and raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Be the living picture of Christ and His Bride, the Church. To live such a life is to live by faith. And it is to live a rich and fulfilling life, all redeemed and sanctified by the Lord who here declares a new beginning. In just a few moments, He will pronounce you husband and wife, and so you will be, for the Lord has spoken. Thus you will leave father and mother, and cleave to one another, no longer two, but one flesh. And what God here joins together, let no one separate. God has designed you for this. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11B)
July 18, 2021
Text: Mark 6:30-44
When Jesus feeds the five thousand in our Holy Gospel, He is quite literally fulfilling Psalm 23. Seeking just a little bit of solitude and solace with His disciples, as He comes ashore in this desolate place, He sees a great crowd. They had run ahead of Him on foot. And when He sees them, He has “compassion on them, because they are like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34; ESV). And if there is one thing Jesus cannot stand to see, it is sheep without a shepherd, sheep in disarray, scattered abroad, lost, exposed to danger and predators, where there is no food, where there is no drink, wounded and alone. So there by the waters He gathers the flock together. He congregates them. And He makes them to recline on the green grass, to lie down in green pastures. And He restores their souls by speaking… He teaches them many things. He leads them in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake, and the Word He speaks to them is the Word of life, the rod and staff that will guide and comfort the sheep, and protect them from all evil, even though they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And speaking of shadows… as they lengthen into evening, what does the Lord do but set a Table before His sheep. Bread and fish. His goodness and mercy overflowing in abundance. All eat and are satisfied, and there are twelve baskets full left over. So there can be no doubt. This Jesus who miraculously multiplies the loaves and fishes is the Lord, who is our Shepherd, and we shall not want. He opens His hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing (Ps. 145:16).
From this text we are to learn that Jesus cares about our every need, even our bodily needs, right down to whether we get enough to eat. He cares, and He is able and willing to provide for us. This is a great comfort to us in an economy that is anything but certain, in times of political instability and social unrest. None of us knows the future, what will happen, but we do know the Good Shepherd who is leading us through it. We know He can feed us and comfort us in all the desolate places we find ourselves, that He can do a lot with a little, that with Jesus, there is always enough, and even more than we need.
Now, He may bring us through some lean and scary times. The promise is not that we avoid the valley of the shadow, but that He will bring us through. Remember, the crowds in our text only knew their tummies were rumbling and it was getting dark. They had no idea what Jesus would do about it. The disciples thought they could avoid the trouble altogether by planning for the future, sending the crowds off early enough that they could purchase something to eat for themselves in the villages. In any case, the disciples did not think there was any possible way the Lord could provide for all these people here in the middle of nowhere. And we smile, and we laugh at their littleness of faith, but then we stand on their shoulders, and we know what happened, because it was written for our learning. The Lord provides. And He does it through the hands of these very disciples.
And isn’t that just like our Lord, to bring about something out of nothing, to fill the hungry with good things, to pour out His gifts upon us, grace upon grace. And if we’re honest, isn’t it just like us to doubt whether He can do it, or whether He will do it, and like the disciples, to incredulously present our very reasonable objections, and suggest to Him a better way to resolve the situation (“Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” [Mark 6:37]… “Come on, Jesus! You’re being ridiculous! Follow our plan for once. We know what is needed. We know what to do.”) Yet, Jesus delivers anyway, though we doubt, and though we do not deserve it. He gives His instructions, and He fills the hands of His disciples, and everyone walks away satisfied when the Lord hosts the meal. I don’t know about you, but when I think back over my life and see how the Lord has provided for me, for my family, and for my loved ones, there are times I couldn’t tell you how He did it. How did those five loaves and two fish feed the multitude? There were some awful lean times where by every human standard it shouldn’t have worked out and we shouldn’t have had enough, but we did, and we survived, and we had plenty. And we had joy. The Lord brought us through. The Lord provides.
But there is more going on here than simply the assurance that the Lord fills our bellies. When the Good Shepherd gathers His sheep into a congregation, what He gives them is the Divine Service. Did you notice the shape of the whole encounter in our Holy Gospel? Jesus has compassion on the crowds, who are like sheep without a shepherd, out here in this desolate place (He literally suffers in His guts for them, that is the meaning of the Greek word). So He gathers them together beside the water, and He teaches them, and then He feeds them. Water, teaching, feeding. Do you get it? Baptism, Word, Supper. And so that you don’t miss it, what does He do with the bread and fish? He takes them, gives thanks, breaks them, and gives them. Does that sound at all familiar?
Now, this is not to say, of course, that this is the Lord’s Supper. It is most certainly not. He has not yet instituted the Supper at this point, and there is no wine, and we don’t have fish in the Sacrament. But what this is, is a foreshadowing of the Supper, a dry run, if you will. He is showing us the pattern, what He does for us, how He cares for us, as the Lord who is our Shepherd, so that we shall not want. He provides. He feeds us.
Jesus provides all we need for this body and life. Our Father gives us each day our daily bread for Jesus’ sake, and that is not unimportant. But even more, the Bread we need above all else is Jesus Himself, whom God feeds us here, when He gathers us together as His Church. In this desolate place, in this world where nothing is as it should be, where all is fallen and broken, and we ourselves are broken and snared by the mortal grip of sin and death, Jesus comes to rescue us. He has compassion, He suffers it in the guts for us, because apart from Him, we are like sheep without a shepherd. We’re in disarray, scattered abroad, lost, exposed to danger and predators, where there is no food, where there is no drink, wounded and alone. Jesus knows just what we need for that. We need to hear His Word. That is what restores our souls. So He teaches us. He calls us together, calls us by name, and we recognize His voice. He gives us a place at His Table. He gathers us in groups, a hundred here, fifty there… in other words, He places us in a Christian congregation. And He ordains the disciples He has called and appointed for the purpose, to give out His gifts, to take what is His and distribute it to the sheep, to you, to feed you, to make sure you get what you need, and to gather together whatever is left. Or as Paul says, to be “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1).
And this is to say, whenever you find yourself in a desolate place… wherever the desolation touches you… when you are sick, when you are sorrowful, when you are beaten and broken by your enemies, the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature… when your marriage is troubled, when mom and dad just don’t understand you, when your job is in jeopardy, or when just can’t seem to make ends meet… when your mind is in a fog, when you are tired, exhausted… when those you love are suffering or making bad decisions… when a loved one dies and you find yourself in the midst of grief… when your sins burden you, when the devil tempts you, when your body fails you, and when death approaches… wherever the desolation touches you, what you need is what God gives you here in His Church. Jesus. You need Jesus. His green pastures, His still waters, the Bread of Life. And He will provide it. Here is Jesus, for you, always, in divine compassion, beside the water, teaching you, feeding you, healing you, forgiving your sins, making you whole, and giving you life. You should never say, when you find yourself in desolation, when you are suffering or in want, “The Church is not for me… That is not what I need right now.” “I don’t feel like it,” or “It’s not safe,” or “I’m not worthy enough or holy enough to go to Church.” Church is precisely where you should be when you are suffering or worried or oppressed by temptations, or the devil, or the guilt of your sins, when you know you are unworthy or unclean, when you find yourself a sheep without a shepherd. For it is here in the Church, gathered together with those who are just like you, who have the same problem you do apart from Christ… It is here, in the water and the teaching and the feeding, where your Good Shepherd Jesus applies the healing balm of His death and resurrection for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. He teaches you the way you should go, and strengthens you for the journey with the Bread of Life that is His very Body.
The feeding of the five thousand was not just a one-off, spectacular miracle designed to wow you with Jesus’ divine, glorious power. It was a demonstration of just how your Good Shepherd, Jesus, at this very moment, cares for you and provides for all your needs of body and soul. We love the 23rd Psalm because we long for a Lord who cares for us the way the Good Shepherd cares for His sheep. In Jesus, that is just what you have. And, by the way, look there at the altar. Do you see how He is still multiplying the loaves? It will happen again in just a moment. You will come, and you will eat, and you will leave here satisfied, soul restored, forgiven, healed, and whole. Psalm 23 is fulfilled. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life, and you will dwell in the House of the Lord forever. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Tuesday, July 13, 2021
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10B)
July 11, 2021
Text: Mark 6:14-29
St. John the Baptist was beheaded by the government for preaching traditional marriage. Let’s not mince words on this. Herodias was offended by John’s preaching, because he declared it unlawful, ungodly, for Herod to have his brother Philip’s wife while Philip was still alive. As we all know, hell hath no fury… and Herodias was furious at the scorn and shame brought upon her by John’s preaching. How dare he make her feel bad about her domestic situation! How dare he question the sanctity of her love. How dare he suggest, nay, proclaim, that her marriage to Herod is sinful before God. And so John finds himself in the dungeon. Herodias wants him executed, but Herod protects him, if you can call the dungeon protection, because he fears John and knows that he is a righteous and holy man. Herod even appreciates a good John the Baptist sermon now and then, although he finds John’s message perplexing. You know how it is when a sermon hits a little too close to home. The Law of God tears you apart at the seams. And it hurts. It is the crucifixion of the old man, the old sinful nature. That always hurts. But it must be done, so that your God can raise you up to new life, a new creation in Christ Jesus. That preaching hurts, but you love it, because you know it’s true, and you hear in it the voice of the living God.
But the enemies of the Gospel are always watching for an opportune time to rob you of such preaching, and Herodias and the demons identified the opportunity to silence John on the occasion of Herod’s birthday. There was a big bash, a serious feast, a wining and dining of the elite of the elite. These included Herod’s nobles and his generals and the leading citizens of Galilee. Such feasts always serve a political purpose. They offer an occasion for the ruler to show off his wealth and his power. He shows the leading men a good time and shores up their loyalty. The free-flow of alcohol looses up the tongues. Stories are told. Boasts are made. And hearts are merry. And they’re all the merrier if Herod’s pretty step-daughter gives us a dance. It’s not in the text, but we assume the dance was lewd. Whether that’s true or not, it was certainly a crowd pleaser, and it exceedingly pleased Herod. Caught up in the spirit of the moment and the spirits in his cup, Herod makes a rash vow. “Ask me whatever you wish, and I will give it to you… up to half of my kingdom” (Mark 6:22-23; ESV). It has been suggested Herod was offering to trade in the mother for a newer model, make Herodias’ daughter his wife. It’s hard to say. But this had been a set-up by Herodias the whole time. Daughter asks mother, “For what should I ask,” and mother advises daughter, “The head of John the Baptist” (v. 24). She wouldn’t be the last mother to demand a preacher’s head on a platter. But she meant this quite literally. She had trapped the king in his words. Herod didn’t want to execute John. But he also didn’t want to be embarrassed in the presence of his prestigious guests. So rather than do what he knew to be right, he sold his soul for a dance. Isn’t that the way of the world? Herod promises to give up to half his kingdom, as if he were a powerful god, but in the end, we see he is nothing but a weak and insecure slave of his subjects.
Well, John is beheaded. So it goes. But there would have been an easier way, you know. If he had just tolerated the illegitimate marriage, this never would have happened. He could have done so much more good if he’d just kept his trap shut this one time. But that wasn’t his office, was it? He was sent to be “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (Mark 1:3). He was sent to proclaim “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (v. 4). To everyone. Even to sinful kings. He doesn’t stay out of politics when the Word of the Lord is at stake. He is not ashamed to proclaim the Lord’s testimony before kings (Psalm 119:46), even if it costs him his life. Divine truth is worth dying for. We forget that, living in a culture where the very existence of objective truth is denied. But John knew it. So did the prophets and the apostles and the martyrs of all ages who loved not their lives even unto death (Rev. 12:11).
What about you? Are you afraid to bear witness to Christ? Do you fear to speak His truth because your friends and family might rebuke you, or think mean thoughts about you, or unfriend you on Facebook? Repent. It’s getting harder, isn’t it? The Lord knows your weakness, and has taken your failure into Himself and put it to death in His flesh. And He gives you His Spirit, to make you bold, that you confess His Name and His Word, even if it means your death. For you know that whoever lives and believes in Jesus, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Jesus shall never die (John 11:25-26). And you know that whoever confesses Jesus before men, He will also confess before His Father in heaven; but whoever denies Jesus before men, He will also deny before His Father in heaven (Matt. 10:32-33).
But with John there is even more at play. John is sent to prepare the way of the Lord quite literally. John’s life, and his death, parallels that of Jesus on every level, except that what happens to Jesus is greater, what happens to John is lesser, just as he said it would be: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). So John’s birth is foretold by the angel Gabriel, who promises he will be great before the Lord (Luke 1:15), and Jesus’ birth is foretold by the angel Gabriel, who promises the Child to be born is the Son of God (v. 35). John’s birth is miraculous, born to elderly parents. Jesus’ birth is even more miraculous, born of a virgin. John baptizes for repentance, but Jesus offers a greater Baptism that not only washes away sin, but makes you God’s own child. John has disciples, but he sends them to follow Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And John prepares the way in suffering and death. He is arrested and beheaded. His disciples put his headless body into a tomb (Mark 6:29). Jesus is arrested, tried, and crucified. Joseph and Nicodemus put His pierced Body into a tomb. And now it is Jesus’ turn to blaze the trail. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! Herod worries that Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead, and his fear is not completely unfounded. Because the risen Jesus will raise up John on the Last Day. And He will raise you. You’ll see John and Jesus with your very own eyes. And you’ll praise God for the blood John shed, preparing the way for the Blood of the Savior, shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
So you need not fear the enemies of the Gospel: Not Satan, nor the demons, nor sin, nor death; not Islamic terrorists, nor abortionists, nor foreign superpowers, nor the woke mob. You need not fear the unfaithful who claim the Name of Christ, nor your own sinful flesh. Jesus Christ is the end of fear. The enemies of the Gospel are always watching for an opportune time to get you. But they can never get to you when you are in Christ Jesus, in His Word, in Your Baptism, in His Supper. The Lord also gives a Feast, and He outdoes Herod. He, too, gives Food and Drink. But He invites the weak of the weak, dying and dead sinners. His Feast is the medicine that brings the dead to life. His wine also looses tongues, not for boasting, but for confessing and singing songs of praise. His wine makes our hearts merry, so that we rejoice, and we’re caught up in the Spirit, His Holy Spirit, who opens our lips to speak His Word with joy. He makes no rash vow, but He does make a vow: “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14). It is the promise that He hears our prayers and answers them. And unlike Herod, He delivers. He is not trapped in His Words. He holds Himself to them. He is a powerful God, the only true God, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Though it is true that His Words result in a death: His own on the cross, for the life of the world. For sinners. For you.
Jesus Christ is crucified by the government that He might form for Himself a Bride, the holy Christian Church. He sleeps the deep sleep of death, that from His side the Church be formed. Water and Blood, Font and Chalice, filled with Jesus Christ crucified for you. You are His beloved. You are His spotless Bride. As with any marriage, what is yours is His, and what is His is yours. What is yours He has taken away: sin and death and condemnation. What is His He has freely bestowed upon you: righteousness and life and resurrection. In the Church, we preach traditional marriage, not because we’re ignorant, or prudes, or haters. Let this be absolutely clear: You are to hate no one. We preach traditional marriage because it is God’s gift for our good: for companionship, and procreation, and holy sexuality. And we preach it because it is an icon of Christ and His Bride, the Church, a living picture of the Gospel. The husband gives himself for his bride. The bride receives the sacrifice of the husband for her good. And in this pattern of giving and receiving, husband and wife live together in love and fidelity and so provide a safe haven for the nurture of children. We all fall short of this in our marriages. But this is what marriage is designed by God to be. Until the Day the Lord Jesus comes again and bids us join Him at the wedding Feast of the Lamb that has no end. Then St. John will have His head again. And all will be made whole and right and good. Indeed, come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Monday, July 5, 2021
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9B)
July 4, 2021
Text: Mark 6:1-13
Preachers are called to preach the Word of the Lord. Jesus sends them with all His authority to speak His Word… all of it, the whole counsel of God, no more, no less. The preacher doesn’t get to pick and choose what he likes and what he doesn’t like, what is safe to proclaim and what could land him in hot water with the people or with the government. The Holy Christian Church is called to hear the Word of God… all of it, the whole counsel of God, whether it appeals to her members or not. She is to receive it gladly, confess it boldly, and support the ministers of Christ who publicly proclaim it. But understand, there is no promise of glorious success in this undertaking, at least not in human terms. There will be those who hear the Word of God, repent of their sins, and come to faith in Christ. But there will also be those who will not hear, not for lack of preaching, but because they refuse to hear. They do not want the Lord or His Word. And this should not surprise us. We are a rebellious nation in the midst of rebellious nations, after all. Fallen sinners, every one. We are born unbelievers. Our ears are not, by nature, attuned to the things of the Spirit. That is why we require a new birth by water and the Word, the washing of regeneration that is Holy Baptism, that born of the Spirit we have ears to hear. It is God’s gift, this new life, this faith that hangs on every Word of the Lord Jesus. It is His doing, and not our own. And so it is that we are called to preach and hear and confess the living Word of God. But the results are up to the Spirit. We are not called to success. We are called to faithfulness.
Jesus came to His hometown, Nazareth, to His home synagogue, to be the Guest Preacher on this particular Sabbath. The text doesn’t say it, but I can imagine how it went. Everyone was excited that the hometown Boy was returning to preach. “That’s our Boy! He’s done well. Look at the following He has. Why, I can remember when He was just a little guy on Momma’s knee. I just can’t wait to hear His sermon. I bet He’s a good Preacher.”
But then He opens His mouth. And He preaches the Word of God unvarnished, with all its rough edges and hard surfaces, the crushing weight of the Law, the scandal of the Holy Gospel. And the people say, “Wait a minute! This is not what we were expecting. Who does this kid think He is, anyway?! Saying things only God has the authority to say! Telling us to repent! Forgiving our sins! After all, He’s just a carpenter. Nobody special! We know His mom and His brothers and sisters.”
I’ve preached at my home Church, and while everyone was very gracious, I’m not sure how effective a preacher I can be to people who changed my diapers. When a preacher returns home, at best, there is a condescending pride in the boy who made good. Jesus gets the worst. The people are offended at Him. They will not hear the Word from Him. “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and his own household” (Mark 6:4; ESV). “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief” (vv. 5-6). Disappointing. Sad. But so it goes. Jesus came to preach, and that is what He does. Whether they hear or refuse to hear (Ez. 2:5).
Our Lord’s mistreatment serves as an object lesson for the Church. This is not just about a preacher returning to his home congregation. This is the treatment any faithful Christian can expect when you speak the Word of the Lord. Jesus calls the Twelve and begins to send them out two by two. He invests them with His own authority over unclean spirits. He sends them out to preach that people should repent, to cast out demons and heal the sick, to be His spokesmen, His representatives to the people. An “Apostle” is one who is sent. The Apostles were sent by the Lord Jesus, and they possessed all His authority in the matter for which they were sent, so that when they spoke, when they acted, it was the same as though Jesus Himself spoke or acted. And so also the reaction they were to encounter. Jesus tells them they will not always be received well. “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:10-11). The negative reaction is not to the Apostles in and of themselves. It is a rejection of Christ. It is a refusal to hear His Word. As Jesus says elsewhere, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master… If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matt. 10:24-25). No matter. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).
That is what the world does to prophets and preachers of the Word. That is certainly how they treated Ezekiel. God sends His man, the prophet Ezekiel, to a rebellious nation of Israel. And He virtually promises the prophet he will be rejected. “I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD GOD.’ And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them” (Ez. 2:4-5). The preacher is sent to preach the Word of the Lord. He is not called to success. He is called to faithfulness. Whether they hear or refuse to hear, they will know that Christ has sent His man, that the Lord has spoken.
This is a comfort to pastors and to the Church in a world that doesn’t really want to hear us right now. We’re free to believe what we want to believe, as long as we do it quietly. But when we come speaking the Word of the Lord, preaching that the people should repent, that they are sinners, and so are we by the way, and we all need the salvation that only comes in Jesus Christ, well… No, thank you! Keep preaching that and we’ll have to silence you by force. Refuse to endorse same-sex “marriage” and we’ll strip you of your tax-exempt status. Speak against homosexuality and we’ll fine you for hate speech. Keep it up and we’ll arrest you. Unfortunately, you know I’m not exaggerating. It is coming. It’s already happening in Canada and Europe, and we know that right here in the good old United States of America, Christians have lost their businesses and their livelihoods for speaking God’s truth about gay marriage. Our service video may be pulled from Facebook because of what I’m saying. Don’t think you are safe just because you don’t own a flower shop or a bakery. God still may call you to suffer at the hands of the world for His sake. But that’s the Spirit’s problem, not yours. Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not. We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). You just confess the truth in love. I’ll just keep preaching. And whether they hear or refuse to hear, they’ll know that the people of God have been among them.
And the miracle is that some will hear. The Spirit does His work in the preaching of the Gospel. He breaks hearts of stone and bestows beating hearts of flesh. He brings to new birth by water and the Word. He leads the Old Adam to water and drowns him good and dead, that He raise up the new man in Christ to live in Him by faith. He bestows seeing eyes on the blind and hearing ears on the deaf. He opens dumb mouths and looses bound tongues to speak His Word faithfully. He sends preachers to preach and the Word of the Lord grows as sinners come to faith in Christ. “(W)e preach Christ crucified,” says St. Paul, “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24). We preach Christ crucified for sinners, for the forgiveness of sins. We preach Christ raised from the dead, who will raise us also. It is a scandal, and it is really to say that Christ Jesus saved us precisely in being rejected. It’s true. He saved us by dying. Not very successful in human terms. But with God, things are not as they appear. His death is His triumph and our salvation. So with St. Paul, we are content to be weak and defeated in the eyes of the world. For the sake of Christ, we are “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (2 Cor. 12:10). For Jesus says to us as He said to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9).
So it is that the Lord sends His weak preachers to mount pulpits week after week, day after day, proclaiming “Thus says the LORD GOD” to poor miserable sinners. It is a pitiful sight to the movers and shakers of this world. But with God, things are not as they appear. The weak man is clothed in an Office that speaks for the risen Lord Jesus Christ. The Word he speaks grants life to the dead. And the sinners in the pew are forgiven, righteous, glorious saints, who reign with Christ and will judge the world. We preach and we suffer, willingly, with rejoicing, because we know how this ends. We know it is good. For Christ is risen. He lives, and He reigns. The old is passing away. Jesus makes all things new. “Thus says the LORD GOD.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.