Third Sunday After Pentecost
S. Pentecost 3.23 Matt.9:35-10:20
Our Gospel today is the real “Great Commission”—defining the scope, power, and nature of Christ’s ministry. Matt. 28 doesn’t commission the apostles—Matt. 10 did that!—28 only promises everyone the Word and Sacrament ministry of Jesus will work on anyone, make them Xn, even those who were born perfect little pagans…
Why is there such confusion on this—on just what, precisely, the scope, power, and nature of the Christian ministry really is? Well there wasn’t any confusion about Matt. 10 being the real “Great Commission”—the true definition of the scope, power, and nature of the apostolic-pastoral office of the New Testament Church—for (small-“c”) catholic Xns, ever. It was only a sect of 18th century English heretics led by George Whitfield (the inventor of tent-show revivalism) that was confused. The real, Xn (catholic) Church has always been clear on this. (! 😉
Whitfield was an Arian heretic (he didn’t believe Jesus is Yahweh, the One, True God). He was also a Pelagian heretic (he believed human works are necessary for salvation because he didn’t believe Jesus is God, therefore Jesus’ work needs boosting by human efforts); finally, Whitfield was an Arminian heretic as well (the unholy triumvirate of heresy, right there!) believing we all have “free-will” and must make a personal decision to invite Jesus into our hearts in order to be “saaaaved”.
Luther, by the way, (and all catholic fathers of the church) vigorously rejected all three heresies. As we confess in the 3 ecumenical creeds, Jesus is one substance with the Father (he is Yahweh), and each Person of the Trinity is, by himself, fully God, therefore it is Jesus’ divine work alone that saves, completely, and this is by his will because human will (enslaved by sin) is completely ineffective, so our decisions can never move us to faith.
Yet, the vast biblical ignorance of modern Christendom helped Whitfield’s heretical movement capture the imagination of most of Anglo-American Christendom by the mid 20th century—Billy Graham being Whitfield’s chief apostle, and several of the presidents of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod being followers of the heresy. If you didn’t realize that Billy Graham was an Arian-Pelagian-Arminian heretic—very far from the one, true catholic faith of holy scriptures that the Lutheran church confesses—well… now you know 😉
Whitfield, Billy Graham (and many leaders of the LCMS) have twisted Matt. 28 to make it the only word on the ministry of the church, twisting it to suggest we (lay and clergy alike) should seek out, by all means at our disposal (especially modern advertising media!) the unchurched; and, by our efforts at proselytizing, convert them. But Matt. 10 ruled that out, by Christ’s definition of the scope, power, and nature of NT ministry…
Scope: Jesus called 12 of his disciples to be apostles, the first pastors of the church, and told them “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” So; the pastoral ministry of Word and Sacrament is only for Israel, the (worthy!) synagogues that become Christian congregations.
This is easily proved by simply reading the book “The Acts of the Apostles” in the New Testament which describes, uh… the acts of the apostles. The book states clearly, many times, that the apostles (pastors) of the NT church went only to the synagogues of Israel preaching and administering the sacraments, just as the LORD Jesus himself told the Sanhedrin he only and always taught in the synagogues of Israel. The apostles never, not one time, went chasing after outsiders of Israel. Now, sometimes they got hauled (as lawbreakers) before courts (Roman and Jewish) where an account of what they were doing was demanded; in which case, they answered as briefly and cheekily as you could wish. 😉
Because they knew, as our Small Catechism faithfully summarizes, that salvation is entirely by the work of Jesus Christ who redeemed us by his holy precious blood, innocent suffering and death, and that no one can (by their own reason or strength) believe in Jesus Christ or come to him; but the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with his gifts, sanctified, and kept us in the one true faith, even as he (the Holy Spirit) calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one, true, faith. This is most certainly true, and most certainly what the holy scriptures teach.
This is why our Wed. class is “Bondage of the Will”, Luther’s magnum opus that makes clear it’s God’s election of us that alone makes us Christians, because we have no ‘free-will’, no ability to make that choice or decision ourselves, but the Holy Ghost knocks sense into us mysteriously, by Word and Sacrament, as his free gift.
So, the scope of the NT ministry is always, only Israel, the Christian congregation. But, as in the 1st century, God works (in mysterious ways 😉 to draw his own to these congregations to hear him. In the 1st century, maybe even half of the synagogues would have been god-fearing Gentiles, worshipers—like Cornelius. Because scriptures tell us the Gospel which we heard is preached always, already, “to every creature under heaven” Col. 1:23 (!)
As far as the power and nature of Christ’s ministry: the power is all Christ’s, flowing through his humanity from his divine nature, as he tells his apostles: “It is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
If you get this, you get the power and nature of the pastoral ministry of the NT. Simply put: pastors don’t work for the Triune God; the Triune God works (his divine and saving work) through the pastoral office—tools that we are. 😉
It’s why we’ve switched from the “creepy little cartoon guys” to a new default bulletin cover: “Christ the All-Ruling” the Deesis mosaic in Hagia Sophia. Since our congregation is called “Our Savior” and since Jesus is our Savior—who does all the saving himself—as the all-ruling, all-powerful, I thought he should be the face, our “icon”, if you will…
Now, Jesus could simply zap us with lightning from heaven to convert us. As Luther says, quoting Ps. 73, “man is a mule caught between two riders—God and the devil. If God rides, he wills and goes as God wills, and if the devil rides, he wills and goes the devil’s way. And the beast does not choose or run to his riders, but the riders [God and the devil] fight to see whose it will be.”
But, Jesus delights to do his divine and saving work of calling, gathering, enlightening, sanctifying, electing, saving his sheep through the hands of ordinary men whom he chooses, largely, I think, to show if he can do his work for and with blunt instruments like Peter, Paul, Kevin, or Andy, well… he could do it with and for anyone! 😉
When my son was 3 or 4, I’d let him “drive” the car into the garage, sitting on my lap, sawing at the wheel while I steered with my knee (without his ever noticing ;-). This delighted Christopher (and his father ;-). He’d run into the house and go “Mommy, mommy, Cis-a-pher can drive!!!”.
Just so, Christ lets us “drive”—lets his medicine of immortality slip through unworthy human hands like ours, that all may share his joy, and marvel at the wonder of his love and grace and mercy…
BTW the Greek isn’t “you received without paying, give without pay” but “Freely (giftedly, δωρεαν) you received, freely give.” Christ’s Kingdom’s not transactional—no earnings are being withheld here. IT’s just handed out—a ridiculously gratuitous treasure for beggars, sinners, and pirateers.
IT comes to you from Jesus. I don’t do Christ’s work for him; he does IT through me—so you may be his own, live under him in his kingdom, serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness; in Jesus’ Name. Amen.