In the name of Jesus, Amen. Beloved in the Lord: it’s good to be here with you. Praise be to the Lord of the Harvest for sending laborers into His field, and for bringing us together!
Well, this is my first time in the pulpit here, and what I really want to do today is to stand here and boast before you all. Now, before you get the call committee together and run me out of town, hear me out. Now I know that St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:6 that the people’s boasting is not good, and that boasting is usually considered a bad thing to do by Biblical standards. Usually. But there is such a thing as the Holy Boast, and that’s the Biblical doctrine I want to set before you today. Not just for the sake of saying something interesting, but because this is a doctrine of supreme comfort, and is one that gives God the glory due His name.
I’m taking my cue here from Luther, who gave some marvelous lectures on the book of Galatians. This is one of those books that every Christian should read at least once a year. St. Paul introduces himself to the Galatians with these words: Paul, an apostle–not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead– and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal 1:1-3).
These are boasting words, words that are appropriate to remember when meeting a new pastor, because they set before us the glorious and comforting doctrine of the Divine Call. Paul isn’t just some guy who had some interesting things to say. Nor did he take it upon himself to start preaching the Gospel. You will recall that in his previous career, he was something of a butcher, who was skilled at making mince meat out of Christians. But something drastic changed. God called St. Paul to apostleship, as he says: not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.
There is tremendous comfort in these words. They assure us that God is at work through this preaching office. Luther says: This doctrine has as its purpose that every minister of the Word of God should be sure of his calling. In the sight of both God and man he should boldly glory that he preaches the Gospel as one who has been called and sent. Thus the king’s emissary boasts and glories that he does not come as a private person but as the emissary of the king… To glory this way in not vain but necessary; for he does not glory in himself but in the king who has sent him and whose authority he seeks to have honored and elevated (AE 26:16).
Thus the comfort of this doctrine is evident. When you hear the Gospel, you hear Christ Himself. Sermons aren’t motivational or inspirational speeches. They’re something much more profound, and when I remember this, it’s actually rather terrifying. Week after week I dare to stand before you all and speak for God—on the basis of Scripture, of course. This is comforting because in this way, there can be absolutely no doubt about His love for you. You’ve heard it here.
As Deuteronomy 30 says, God’s Word is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ No, the Word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart (Deuteronomy 30:12, 14). God also sends pastors, who are not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, that you might hear the living voice of Christ.
In Isaiah 55:8 God says: My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. The doctrine of the Divine Call is perhaps one of the clearest examples of just how different God’s thoughts are from ours. You might expect God to raise up pure and holy men or send angels from heaven to baptize, preach the Gospel, and bring the body and blood of Christ to you. But He doesn’t. Instead, He sends poor, miserable sinners like me to speak in His stead and by His command.
Now I know you don’t know me all that well yet, but I can assure you that I’m a sinner. But still God promises in Luke 10:16 that when you hear the voice of your pastor, you hear the Lord Jesus Himself. As He said, The one who hears you hears me (Luke 10:16). This is not only comforting, but it also brings glory to God, because if you know you’re listening to Jesus and not some guy telling cute stories about his kids, you’re much more likely to listen up.
All of this is to say that you can be sure that Christ is at work through this holy Office into which He’s called unholy me. We can boast and take pride in this together, certain that God is at work here to put the devil to flight. This is not arrogance, but a holy pride, a holy boast.
And that’s really important to have, because the devil is at work to make your life a living hell. Now we heard from Genesis 1 & 2 this morning, which is the well-known creation account, Adam and Eve living together in paradise, in perfect fellowship with God. But it’s not like the Bible ends after that in chapter 3, saying, “And they all lived happily ever after.” No—the rest of the Bible is filled with one human mess after another. But as great as our sin is, God’s grace always remains greater.
Remember Genesis 3? Again, it’s not the “happily ever after”, but quite the opposite: the Fall into sin. What about about chapter 4? Cain murders Abel. Things get so bad by chapter 6, God floods the whole word and decides to start over with Noah! Why this sad state of affairs? Because of what we might call the unholy trinity of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.
Just as Satan was at work to lead Adam & Eve away from God’s Word in Eden, so also he’s at work today to lead you away from Christ and make your life miserable. We don’t always think about Satan or his work in our lives, but as we heard in our Epistle today from Ephesians 6: For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12). Satan is waging an all-out war against the Church, and he has some serious artillery! A regular crossbow can be dangerous enough, but as verse 16 says, he has flaming arrows!
Satan’s war is one that’s more deadly than all the World Wars and conflicts between nations in human history combined. It’s a war that’s nearly as old as creation itself. The good news is that the outcome of this war has already been determined. As Genesis 3:15 prophesied, Jesus crushed the head of Satan when He died on the cross for your sins and rose victorious from the grave. But even though victory belongs to Christ and you who belong to Him, there’s still a battle in progress, and Satan won’t go down quietly.
This happens in sports all the time: one team is clearly going to win because the score is so lopsided, but until the clock runs out, they keep playing the game. Satan’s time is short, but he’ll do as much harm as he can while the clock is still ticking. He’s like a suicide terrorist, who figures since he’s going to die anyway he might as well take as many people down with him as possible.
Our Lord describes Satan as a murderer (John 8:44). Next to the Evil One, the Hitlers and Stalins of the world look like Mr. Rodgers. But unlike the criminals of this world, he’s out for more than just blood. When he causes harm to you in mind and body, he’s just getting warmed up. Even death would be letting you off the hook too easily. Satan’s goal is to drag you down to hell with him, in both body and soul. There he would torture you for all eternity, in that place where you’re always thirsty but there’s no water (Luke 16:24). There’s a lake there, except it’s made of fire (Rev 20:15). There’s no pleasant music or singing there, only weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 8:12).
To really think the war Satan is waging against the church can be terrifying. If we could only see the flaming darts that Satan has aimed at us every moment we’d probably have a nervous breakdown. Graciously, God spares us this horror. But since we don’t see this war, it can easily become a case of “out of sight, out of mind,” and we leave ourselves vulnerable.
There’s more to life than meets the eye. It’s essential for us to be attuned to the spiritual warfare that’s going on around us. There’s so much more at stake here than in any human conflict. This isn’t just about nations and territories, it’s about souls and eternity. Just as our Lord works through ordinary, even mundane things like water, words, bread, and wine, and uses ordinary sinful men like me to bring them to you, so also Satan works in rather unspectacular ways. But make no mistake, the devil is behind all of the things that trouble you in this life, whether it’s worrying about finances and health, aging, grief at the death of loved ones, and all spiritual doubt and affliction.
The devil would have you think, “Well, that’s life. It’s just the way it is.” He’s fine if you attribute these things to coincidence, bad luck, or the way of the world, so long as you don’t see things as they really are. His work is subtle; he likes to remain out of the spotlight as much as possible. But don’t be deceived— Satan is as real as the suffering and death he causes. His goal in all of this is to get you to curse God and die (Job 2:9).
It’s easy to go on suffering and never even know what the problem is. Well, that’s one of the reasons God has sent me here to you. To continually expose the devil for the liar and murderer that he is, and to set before you the healing medicine of the Gospel, the remedy for all that troubles you. Our Lord’s Word and Sacraments are a shield against the attacks of Satan and impart to you the comfort and peace of God Himself for every trial. By virtue of your baptismal union with Christ and your faith in Him, you can even mock Satan, just like we did in our hymn. In it, we sang about Satan and the forces of hell, saying: Their might? A joke, a mere facade! God is with us and we with God— our victory cannot fail (LSB 666, v. 3).
In Christ, victory is certain, even over death, our great enemy. The official’s son in our Holy Gospel was at the point of death. It doesn’t get much bleaker than that. Satan would have used that to drive the father and his family into despair. But in comes Jesus, who in utter defiance of Satan and the grave, speaks these remarkable words: Go; your son will live (John 4:50). In the face of sin and suffering and death, boast in Christ and His victory. As the hymn says: Take up the shield of faith, which protects you from the doubts that assail. Wield well your blade, rejoice in its powers. Fight on undismayed, for Jesus is ours! (LSB 665, v. 5).
Dear saints, it is a privilege to bring God’s Word and Sacrament to you, equipping you for battle with the evil one. As Pastor Gillespie said last week, I may be a failure on every level, but God has called me here to speak in His stead and by His command anyway, to boast of Christ and His victory week after week. So listen up: Christ is risen. Your sin is forgiven you. Thus saith the Lord.
Soli Deo Gloria