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Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I have to admit, sometimes I wonder about the ways of the Lord. It seems like it would be a whole lot easier for everybody if He would just appear visibly and speak audibly in all the places He wants to be. If they could see Him as the disciples saw Him and hear Him as the disciples heard Him, maybe a lot more people would listen to Him, believe Him, follow Him, and find their peace in Him.
But He doesn’t do that. He sends out messengers, even when He is walking around on the earth. He sent messengers to the Samaritan villages, as we heard last week. He sends out 72 messengers—six times the number of His apostles—to all the places He was about to go. He sends them out with instructions about what to say and what to do at that time, which are slightly different from the instructions He gives His apostles just before He is betrayed and crucified. There, He says, when I sent you out with a knapsack, and money bag, and no extra sandals, you didn’t lack anything, did you? But now take a money bag and a knapsack and sell your cloak and buy a sword, because I’m about to be numbered with the transgressors.
Even so, the instructions remain: say these things to the people in the places you go. Notice that Jesus doesn’t simply follow them around. He is on His way to Jerusalem, to the cross. So how does He go to those places? He goes there the same way He always goes, even when He’s walking around on the earth: by His Word. And the fact is, when Jesus did appear visibly and speak audibly, not everyone immediately believed and followed. Many rejected Him. Many cried for His crucifixion. Many left Him. Even the large crowds following Him around, looking for God knows what, didn’t all believe Him. He goes to all those places and to this place only by His Word, spoken into the world by the Father.
And He sends that word by the mouths of sinful men. Why does He do that? Because He doesn’t want us putting our trust in the messengers. He wants us putting our trust in the Message. He doesn’t want people trusting the messengers, even if they do miracles, even if they cast out demons, even if the demons are subject to them by His Word and in His Name. And He doesn’t want the messengers trusting themselves either. Don’t rejoice that the spirits are subject to you. Rejoice that your names have been written in heaven, hidden with God in Christ.
Regular human words rise and fall with how much trust we put in those regular humans. Everything depends, as far as we are concerned, on the trustworthiness of the human who’s bringing the message. And, certainly, the messengers of Jesus have their own commands about how they are to conduct themselves. But the bare fact is this: the Word of Jesus doesn’t depend on the messenger who brings it. And, for that matter, it doesn’t depend on whether anyone believes it. The Word of Jesus depends on one person and one person only: Jesus. When it comes to His words, the question isn’t whether the one who brings it is trustworthy or good or charismatic or successful. The only question is whether or not it’s the actual word of Jesus. If it is, its good, benefit, and success depend only on Him. Is He trustworthy? Does He doe what He says? Is He risen from the dead or not?
And regular human words don’t have unbreakable promises attached to them. If the messengers of Jesus speak their own words, then they should be judged by them. But if they speak to the words of Jesus, then those words depend on the promises Jesus has attached to them. When He tells His messengers to speak peace, their peace is nothing if it is not the peace of Jesus, who (at that time) was on His way to death and resurrection. For us, it is the peace of the crucified and risen Lord. He speaks His peace.
When He tells His messengers to say that Kingdom of God has come near, it means nothing else than that Jesus Himself is present. He is the King. It is the Kingdom of God fulfilled in the resurrected Lord. And if He is risen from the dead, and if the words are His words, then wherever His words are, it is no one else but Jesus speaking. His words alone are flawless. His words alone bring forgiveness, life, and salvation. His words refresh us, body and soul. His words nourish and keep us until the Day of Resurrection and forever after. The promise is that He is actually the one speaking, doing, and giving. Where His words are, He is. And where He is, the Spirit is. And where the Son and the Spirit are, the Father is. The triune God is present wherever the words of Jesus are being spoken, heard, believed or rejected.
And that’s why Jesus gives another promise to those messengers. Because the messengers ought to know what’s going on when people receive or reject. Preachers often pray Luther’s prayer for preachers, sometimes called the sacristy prayer. “Use me as Thy instrument in Thy service,” we pray. “Only do not Thou forsake me, for if I am left to myself, I will certainly bring it all to destruction.” Only do not Thou forsake me, for if I am left to myself, I will certainly bring it all to destruction.
Besides the fact that Jesus promises never to forsake His children or His word, He says, “Whoever hears you, hears Me. And whoever rejects you, rejects Me. And whoever rejects Me, rejects the One who sent Me.” So, messenger, whoever hears and receives the word is not hearing and receiving you. They’re hearing and receiving Jesus, because they’re not your words, but Jesus’ words. And whoever rejects the word is not rejecting you, but Jesus and the Father. Because they’re not your words but Jesus’ words. And thank God. He will continue to bring His word to us, through His messengers, even in spite of us. Because even when the messengers fail, even when the messengers would otherwise bring it all to destruction—they cannot because nothing can destroy or prevent Jesus’ words from being spoken, somewhere, by someone.
They are His words, not mine or yours. That means He will do what He says, not what you or I say. And thank God. Thank God.
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).
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/6/19