The Triune God and the Task and Message of His Church
Dear Father in heaven, as I join my fellow believers in worship today, fill all of our hearts with a zeal for the work of missions. Help me and others to understand the true nature of our great spiritual needs, of Your amazing love, and of the salvation You have so graciously prepared for all human beings. Impress upon us a sense of urgency, for souls are at stake. Move us to share Your truths with others as You give us opportunity, so that many will join us in singing Your praises. Amen.
In this reading the LORD identifies Jesus as His “Servant” and “chosen” One who would without apology and in the face of opposition “raise up the tribes of Jacob” and serve as “a light to the Gentiles.”
The message of the cross is “foolishness” to many, but it is the “power of God” for those being saved. We ought not be surprised, then, when the world opposes the preaching of the gospel, but we need not fear, for God is wiser and stronger than the world!
Beloved in Christ, may the love of God the Father fill you with wonder, may the sacrifice of God the Son fill you with gratitude, and may the indwelling of the Holy Spirit fill you with faith, hope, and love-- and an ardent desire to share your Christian faith with others. Amen.
My how time flits and things have changed since 1961 (55 years ago) when at this very geographical location yours truly was one of two graduates from the CLC’s newly formed Immanuel Lutheran College in the spring, while in the fall enrolling in the fledgling Seminary in your church basement—the basement of the old church which burnt to the ground in 1971. Yes, what changes! Yet what has not changed one whit is the divinely inspired Word of God, nor the urgency of the Savior’s call to be about the holy task of spreading that Word to all the doomed and dying world.
The basis for our message this day are the familiar words found in Matthew 28:16-20: Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.
This is a portion of the holy words of God--words which He promises will not return to Him void, but will accomplish what He pleases and prosper in the thing for which He sent it. To that end, we pray, “Sanctify us, O Lord, through the truth; Your word is truth.”
In Christ Jesus, our Savior, dear fellow-redeemed:
As Christians—that is, as Christ-believers who take the Master and His Word seriously (more on that as we go along!)—it is good for us to be students of history, students of the past, for history (as you’ve heard before) is “God’s story.” As we study His-story—Bible History, of course, but also church and world history since Bible times—we will be encouraged and strengthened as we see how Almighty God has been at work in the past and will be in the future, guiding and directing His Holy Christian Church, as that Church of Christ-believers marches on toward its goal of a blessed eternity in heaven.
A while back, a magazine called Christian History said this on the subject of missions: “In one sense the Christian church is God-established and eternal. In another sense Christianity is always one generation from extinction. The faith has survived for 2,000 years because one person has gone to tell another. And for Christianity to continue even fifty more years, we will need to be like William Carey, forget how undereducated and underfunded we are, face our daunting obstacles, and go.” The magazine was talking about William Carey whom it called “the Father of Protestant Missions.” Carey was a late 18th/early 19th century Englishman who spent forty years in India doing mission work for the Reformed Church. Our long-time CLC missionary to India and Nigeria, David Koenig, has often spoken of his being inspired by the example of William Carey.
What I would underscore from the above quotation is that—while the Holy Christian Church is indeed eternal—Christianity and the visible church is, in a sense, always one generation from extinction, and it has survived for 2,000 years only “because one person has gone to tell another.” I checked and found that Immanuel congregation traces its history back to 1866 (that’s 150 years ago this year, isn’t it, some seven or eight generations?). In that timeframe many Christian churches have come and gone on the American landscape. Praise God that your congregation has survived. Yes, HE has done it; because of His grace alone each generation at Immanuel has faithfully proclaimed His saving Word to the next!
That’s why you keep the age-old tradition of setting aside a given Sunday for a missions or outreach focus, isn’t it? To remind yourselves of the holy and always unfinished task the Savior has entrusted to us as laid out in the text before us. As our central thought we consider…
1. Our task as Christ-believers is to be going forth—WITHOUT APOLOGY--on the authority, command, and promise of Jesus Christ.
Our CLC synod, and each of its individual congregations, are not “social gospel” churches. That is, we don’t believe that our primary task is to somehow make this sinful world a better place to live. Yes, we will strive to put our Christian faith into practice out in the world; as citizens we might choose to march in pro-life rallies (as we did a few years ago out in Cheyenne); we may use the “soup, soap, and salvation” approach overseas, assisting people with various physical and temporal needs; we support orphanages for needy children in India and Nigeria; we help needy Seminary students in those same countries; however, our primary task is to prepare the hearts of poor sinners for eternal life by proclaiming the saving acts of the one true God—the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. A few years ago I remember a debate going on in another Lutheran Synod about whether or not the Muslim “Allah” is the same god as the Christian’s God. In that connection I read an article titled “A Missionary Weeps” written by one of their foreign missionaries. Think about it. How disheartening for overseas missionaries to hear members of the parent body say that one god is the same as another. If that’s so, why do mission work? If such a debate happened in our synod—God forbid!--don’t you know that missionaries Koenig, Ude, and the rest would surely be weeping.
The whole point is that what I was taught here as a fourth year collegian and first year Seminary student fifty-five years ago, is not to be taken for granted; two or three generations later the Bible remains the objective, true and only saving Word of the one and only true and living God! In other words, one generation to another, WITHOUT APOLOGY, you at Immanuel Lutheran Church and School still believe and teach that man is NOT a product of an evolutionary process, but was created by God to be holy before Him; likewise, you do not, for the sake of political correctness, retreat from the Bible fact that man sinned and thus erected a wall of separation between himself and God. WITHOUT APOLOGY you still teach that the only solution to the problem of sin (and its wages death!) had to be and was provided by God Himself. This took place when God the Father in His eternal counsels sent His only-begotten Son into this world to reconcile and redeem sinners by His holy living, His substitutionary dying, and His subsequent resurrection from the dead. At the same time, as far as saving faith is concerned, WITHOUT APOLOGY you still proclaim the holy truths and objective facts that all people are by nature dead in sins, that they cannot bring themselves to believe, but that God the Holy Spirit, through the Means of Grace, the gospel in Word and Sacrament, alone brings people to faith and keeps them therein. Christian friends, these holy truths the world of sinners need to hear in 2016 as desperately as did the world of 1866, and 1966. In fact, WITHOUT APOLOGY we say that, ignorant of the blessed saving work we’ve just rehearsed, sinners are hopelessly and eternally lost.
William Carey was just one man convinced of the urgency of carrying this gospel message to the world of sinners. Countless other faithful missionaries and witnesses have carried the gospel torch—beginning with the disciples themselves! And yet, just before Jesus gave them His Great Commission, we are told “When they saw Him [the risen Lord], they worshiped Him, but some doubted...” Ah yes, how human they were; they needed to be strengthened and reassured by the Savior’s promise, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore...” And exactly who was the One who gave them this command and promise? Was He, after all, just another Jewish rabbi? Just another in a string of self-proclaimed prophets of God? For sure this Jesus was not a very impressive figure when He walked on the earth. He was born in a donkey’s feedbox in a small Judean village; He was a carpenter’s son from the despised city of Nazareth; He never owned any property, or had any position of earthly authority; He never traveled more than 150 miles from His birthplace; He often associated with the simple, poor, and even scandalous people. He was finally scorned and rejected by the majority of His countrymen and received a death reserved for the worst of criminals, crucifixion. [What would poll numbers indicate for the popularity of such a one?] Truly, by all outward appearances Jesus of Nazareth was an exhibition of failure. How indeed then could He contend: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore....”?
You and I know the answer to this paradoxical life, and we will not apologize for our allegiance to this Jesus, for He was and is the Christ of God, who “made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men, and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father…” (Phil. 2:7-11) But before He was exalted, the Savior gave the solemn command to His faithful followers to be “going,” proclaiming repentance and remission of sins in His name to all the world! And as the book of Acts of the Apostles recounts, after the Spirit’s outpouring they went forward boldly WITHOUT APOLOGY proclaiming the absolute, exclusive truth that “neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Peter and the rest were willing to be imprisoned, tortured, yes, martyred, for the sake of Christ. Far from the Church becoming extinct on account of such treatment, history reveals that the blood of the martyrs (including those in our day!) fertilized the Church’s growth. In fact, due to the witness of those faithful few you and I are Christ-believers today! Praise be to God!
We yet need to consider that…
2. We are APOLOGISTS for the “radical” gospel
I intentionally use a play on words here. Yes, we are called to be going forth with the gospel of Christ WITHOUT APOLOGY. On the other hand, no small part of that “going” includes being “APOLOGISTS” for the faith. Apologetics, Christian friends, is that branch of learning which involves the defense of something—in this case, the DEFENSE of the Christian faith! Among the confessions of our conservative Lutheran church body is the “Apology of the Augsburg Confession.” That 16th century Confession is a stirring presentation and defense of Bible teachings as still confessed among us. In a word, as faithful disciples of and witnesses to Jesus we are WITHOUT APOLOGY to be APOLOGISTS for the one true saving faith.
In this connection I would underscore that the Savior’s Great Commission is two-pronged, including both propagation and preservation (or APOLOGETICS) of His saving Word. He added “…teaching them to observe [keep watch over, guard, keep] all things that I have commanded you.” This part of the Great Commission is hardly mentioned and even less followed in many sectors of the church today. Rather, for the sake of political correctness, many of the teachings, especially the “hard sayings” of the Bible are watered down, compromised, or ignored. You know, in order to “sell” something these days, you have to offer something NEW and IMPROVED and UPDATED; that may be fine in the realm of the secular and materialistic, but if the church thinks it must update the teachings of the Bible to “grow” the church, make no mistake who is behind such shifting of the moorings of the ship of the church—it is none other than the arch-enemy of Christ, Satan and his minions. And what is Satan’s ultimate goal?—the undermining of the only-saving gospel of Christ Jesus! As St. Paul (a “weeping” missionary!) said to the Christians in Galatia: “If we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed...For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Gal. 1:8ff).
A compelling book on my shelf has a chapter which reads: “Any effective missionary is a good apologist. Why? Because missionaries seek to preach Christ crucified to the culture they are operating in at the time. That culture will present unique obstacles to the gospel—obstacles that must be destroyed by effective apologetical work so that the unbeliever in that culture is faced with the only true offense: the offense of the cross...” (Parton, The Defense Never Rests, p. 58ff). When the author speaks of being an “effective missionary” he is hardly discounting the role of God, the Holy Spirit. The author knows, with us, that “no man can say Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. 12:3).Yet how well-taken the point that in our current culture with its anything goes no-such-thing-as-truth relativism, Satan is having a hey-day blinding the hearts and minds of countless thousands to God’s Word of Truth, and to the gospel of Christ and Him crucified, which is the heart of that Word. Living in such a spiritually spineless and compromising generation, God help us to be bold APOLOGISTS, defenders, of the one true and only saving faith. In other words, as anxious as we are to reach out with the gospel, we are equally bound to “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).Those “marching orders” come from the King of kings Himself, who leaves no liberty to tamper with His teachings for the sake of “growing” His Church.
Our opening comments called attention to how your congregation spearheaded the birth of a new college, and a new synod, the CLC! And why? Three or four generations back, your forefathers were concerned about the leaven of false teaching threatening to undermine the doctrinal foundation of the congregation—and then ultimately also its gospel message to itself and to the world at large! With yours truly in those first seminary classes were some still among you today, Mr. Schreyer, Pastor Redlin, and Prof. Kuehne was a Greek instructor. Members and Friends of Immanuel congregation 2016, I pray with you today, as we old timers did back then, that your congregation will ever stand UNAPOLOGETICLY on the holy teachings of God’s pure and only-saving Word, for then only will it be inspired to reach out around the world with the radical, only-saving gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified, risen again, and coming again. What do I mean by “radical”? I mean that the only-saving gospel is divinely-given, not man-made; I mean that the true gospel of Jesus Christ, encapsulated in the divinely-inspired Word of God, rules out any and all self-righteousness; the true gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that God, before time began, decreed that His one and only Son would enter into space-time history, would live that life of absolute perfection, would then suffer innocently at the hands of wicked men, dying on a cross to atone for men’s sins, thus paying the penalty the holy God demanded to redeem sinners. Could you or I ever have dreamt up such a radical solution to mankind’s sin and death problem? Never in a million years—so unique, so distinct, so radical is that gospel compared to all man-originated systems of religion.
I’m almost done. More than once Missionary Koenig has spoken of how amazing it is what the Lord did centuries ago WITHOUT the convenience of telephone, smartphones, radio, TV, fax machine, computer, car, airplane, and all the other mechanical aids and amazing technologies we’ve come to rely on to “get the job done” in our day. Isn’t it so, dear friends?! To be sure, what God did centuries ago to grow His church WITHOUT all the modern conveniences He wants us to do today by getting His Word out WITH all these conveniences. To that end God continue to bless Immanuel Lutheran Church, its grade school and high school!
Fellow Christians, to insure that Christianity, true orthodox Reformation Lutheranism, survives to the next generation, let us be going—going forward confidently in our neighborhood, city, and world with God’s gospel, “always being ready [as Peter writes] to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear...” (1 Peter 3:15). “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them...teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.”
I like the saying which has solid biblical basis, namely: “As we take care of the ‘depth’ of the Great Commission, God Himself will take care of the ‘breadth’ of it.” Another way of saying this is: The Great Commission includes NOT ONLY the propagation (the spreading) of God’s Word, but also the preservation of that Word (namely, a bold and unapologetic proclamation of the whole counsel of God, even those teachings which are not “popular” or politically correct). To that end, God help Immanuel congregation in the present and future, even as He has throughout its past history!
When we are threatened and/or persecuted for the faith, may we say with the apostles that “we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” When we can engage a friend, a visitor, a co-worker in a religious discussion, let us calmly, but firmly and boldly, share the true gospel which is so radical it can only be believed.