Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What do you call your male parent? Because Jesus says not to call anyone on earth father, because you have one Father, who is in the heavens. So what do you call your male parent? I suspect that we have all, at one time or another, called our male parents “fathers.” (And you can’t get around Jesus’ words by saying “dad;” that’s just a short version of “father.”) But I ask the question to get at Jesus’ real point, which is not about titles at all. Jesus is not really concerned about the title “rabbi,” or the title “father,” or the title “instructor.” In fact, He’s just talked about another title when He says that the Pharisees and scribes “sit on Moses’ seat.” That’s a title:“Those Who Sit On Moses’ Seat.” The point is not the title, but the misuse of the office that the Pharisees and scribes hold.
This is why Jesus tells His disciples and the crowds to listen to what they say, but not to do what they do. Since they sit in Moses’ seat, they are speaking from Moses. And Jesus knows that every word of Moses testifies and points to Him as the fulfillment of all those words. If you listen to what the scribes and Pharisees say, you will hear Jesus. But what they do is another story. They say, but they do not do. Instead of doing the will of God and speaking about the coming Messiah, so that they themselves might recognize Him when He stands in front of them, they end up not speaking about God at all. Oh, sure, they use all sorts of religious language and pious words but, in the end, about whom are they really talking? Well, they sit in the prominent places. They love to be greeted as rabbi, instructor, maybe even father. They want to be recognized as the important people in Israel. So they’re no longer talking about God, but about themselves.
They add to the Law of God by multiplying the commandments that guard the Law from being broken. They actually, in one sense, make the Law easier because they have a bunch of commandments that they keep and that they tell the people to keep. But this doesn’t help; it just ignores the true Law of God. They tell the people to do their human commandments, thinking that they are guarding the word of God, but they do not help the people. They simply tell them what is pleasing to God and expect them to do it. They pile up burdens and cannot relieve a single one of them. So when Jesus comes preaching the true Law, and He puts the keeping of the Law out of reach of sinners, they are angry. They thought that the Law of God and their human traditions led to the keeping of them, when it actually leads to Jesus.
Two different purposes to the Law: one that puts the law in reach, but actually ignores the Law’s iron-clad immovability; and one that makes the Law immovable in order that the burdened might be relieved. Jesus refuses to move a single centimeter on what the Law demands in thought, word, and deed. He does not make it easier to keep. But to the burdened and the weary, He says, “Come to Me and I will give you rest.” He is the true Rabbi, the true Instructor, the true way to the Father. In fact, the word “instructor” that is spoken of the Christ is used only here in the entire Scriptures. There is literally only one Instructor. And His words are life itself. He lifts not just a finger, but is lifted up on the cross. And He has told His disciples already what the will and work of God is: that the Son of Man be betrayed, suffer, die, and on the third day rise again. Jesus is the Word and He is the Work of God. He speaks and He does.
He, the greatest, becomes their servant. And He who is humbled to the point of death on a cross is exalted above every name in the glory of the Father. And now He sends teachers, fathers, instructors. Paul says to the Corinthians that they have many guides, but they do not have many fathers. He became their father in Christ, just as Timothy was his true son in the faith. He says that the Corinthians should imitate him. In another place, he says that they should follow him as he follows Christ. In Ephesians, Paul says that the Christ, in His ascension, gives gifts to men. He gives apostles and prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
The difference is not in the title, but in the words and the work. Paul points to the Christ, who instructs all people. Christian fathers point their children to their true Father in heaven, who sends the Son in to the flesh. Christian pastors and teachers speak and proclaim Jesus. They echo the Father, who says, “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him.” They say with John the Baptist what the scribes and Pharisees should have said: “I must decrease; He must increase.”
The difference isn’t in the title, it’s in the faith. If the scribes and Pharisees had truly listened to Moses, they would have recognized Jesus when He came and pointed to Him as John did. If Christian fathers, teachers, and pastors listen to the Scriptures they will always hear and speak with the words of Christ. This is why we remember and honor the saints who have gone before us in the faith: not because of some holy title, but because they believed and so they spoke. They listened to Christ and did the work that God had given them to do. We rejoice that God granted them faith when the Word of Christ came to them, and that He kept them faithful until the end of their lives on this earth. They are our fathers and mothers in the faith, because they spoke of the heavenly Father and the Son in flesh and the Holy Spirit. They do teach us, whenever they repeat the words of Moses, or the prophets, or the apostles who speak only of Christ. God, grant us today and as long as we are in this world faithful fathers, faithful teachers, faithful instructors in the offices into which You have put them, that we might hear nothing but Jesus from them.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/5/17