O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on Eph. 3:1-12
Preached on January 11, 2015
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Fellow baptized saints, today we celebrate Epiphany, the revealing of Christ to the nations, or perhaps we could say, the bringing of the nations to Christ.
The wise men came - to Jesus, as representatives of the nations. They were brought to Christ. Lead to Him by a star. No, they could not have found Him on their own. They were brought to Him, into His presence. And you also need some sort of star to lead you to Christ, to lead you to faith, repentance, and salvation. A part of the nature of sin is that you cannot come to God by your own reason or strength, nor continue in Him by your own efforts. You must be brought.
So God sent someone to bring you so that you may believe. He has sent out many stars to lead all nations to salvation. Just as an ordinary star sheds light upon the earth, these “stars” that God has sent also shine upon you, the light of God's Word, the Light of the world, Jesus Christ.
These stars that God has sent to lead the nations to Christ are the ministers of the Word.
The Office of the Holy Ministry is from the gracious hand of God. Christ gives to His Church by calling a man to minister to them in His stead. Saint Paul was one such man. In his letter to the Ephesians, he describes what these men are like.
He says, first, they are stewards of God's grace; second, ministers of the Gospel; third, they are the very least of all the saints; and fourth, they are preachers.
Paul first says that he is a "steward of God's grace that was given to me for you." Those last words, "given to me for you," describe the exact nature of what a steward is. A steward is given something as a trust to be used for the benefit of someone else. In the holy ministry, a man is entrusted with the means of Grace: Baptism, the Lord's Supper, the Word, and the Holy Absolution. By virtue of his office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, he uses these powerful gifts for the benefit of his master’s Church – for you.
These means of Grace properly belong to the entire Church. But they are not to be given out publicly by everyone. God sets aside His called servants so that there is no confusion, so that the Gospel may shine out as a clear light to all. God sets this humble star in place, to shine on you and bring you to Christ and Christ to you.
Paul secondly writes that he is a "minister of the Gospel." The word "minister" means "servant". It is important to be very careful what is meant by "servant". A minister is not a servant who does just any good works. Many people may identify the minister as one who models good works for his people as an example so that they learn to do them, and perhaps a minister who does not excel in the right gifts in the people’s eyes is thought to be a poor minister.
Now, it is true that a minister should be an example of good works. Yet that is not what a minister is. A true minister is a servant by virtue of the Gospel. The true minister lifts up the Good News of God's grace, the Cross, the Blood of the atonement, the Manger and the Empty Tomb. In the proclamation and delivery of these things, of Jesus, the minister serves you.
Paul also says that he is "the very least of all saints to whom grace is given." No pastor should ever serve by virtue of his own goodness. The holy ministry is not given to those who deserve it, but it works as a gift of God by grace. So a pastor must not puff himself up as better than others.
Instead, a pastor who is constantly in the Word will come to see himself as a pathetic sinner. The chief function of God's Law is to accuse every man of sin. A pastor is not immune to the Law. A pastor who studies the Word is constantly running into God's Law, butting heads with the Law, being bruised by the Law. So he should, more and more, have his soul stripped bare of any pretense or excuse or self-righteousness. A pastor begins to see himself as full of sin as God's Word describes.
But God has a purpose for this, so that you may receive the grace of Christ. He has not set up a superior before you. He has not sent a holy angel from heaven. He has not sent a saint so pure that his feet hardly touch the ground. No, He has set a sinner before you, to show you that it is by grace you are saved, through faith and not by works.
Finally, Paul writes that he is a "preacher to the Gentiles of the unfathomable riches of Christ." The preacher's task is to faithfully speak the Gospel, that is the message of who Christ is and what He has done for you. Many preachers may be tempted to speak nothing but the Law, those words concerning what you should do, as if to beat the body of Christ into shape - to coerce, cajole, threaten, entice, use guilt and shame, instead of grace. Instead of Christ.
Both Law and Gospel must be preached. The Law must drive sinners to repentance. You must see your sin and throw yourself upon the mercy of God. Because the Gospel declares God’s mercy. It is the voice of God to speak forgiveness and salvation and eternal life to you - for free - for the sake of Christ alone.
To preach grace means not merely to repeat the same tired, old Gospel, week after week. No, it is to unfold the unfathomable riches of Christ. There is more in the Gospel than you can fully comprehend. The Cross is a mystery that will be beyond you in this lifetime even as you grasp onto it. Because your justification, your redemption, your righteousness is from God, not yourself, and you cannot fully understand it any more than you can fully understand God.
The Gospel is an inexhaustible treasure, and its preaching a source of unending riches. Your sinful flesh wants to despise preaching and the Word, but the Spirit of God creates love in you for that dear Gospel that gives you life. God's grace in Jesus Christ is your lifeblood. It is the oxygen you breathe. It is your joy and strength.
And all of this, through the voice of a sinful man, a preacher called by God to serve you by saying what I say to you now: "I forgive you all your sins." My word of forgiveness is God's Word, because He called me through you Beautiful Savior to bring you His Christ. It is my voice you hear, but it is Christ who speaks. Who acts. Who works. So picture yourself standing before the judgment seat of God upon His throne in heaven. Picture the holy angels all looking down on you. Picture the full assembly of God’s people and God Himself ready to make His verdict. "You are forgiven by virtue of Christ, by the virtue of His Blood, by the virtue of His Cross." You are forgiven.
Can it be any exaggeration to say that the holy ministry is a star leading the nations to Christ? What praise is too great for the holy ministry? It is not praise for this poor bag of flesh that occupies the pulpit, but for the incredible grace of God that Christ pours out upon you. Yes, even for Christ Himself. Kneel at His manger. Feed upon His body and blood put there for you. Enter through this gate all you peoples. For the voice of Christ is beckoning you to eternity through His grace. In His Holy Name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr