(Editor’s Note: We are very honored to have Dr. Daniel Gard, Professor of Exegetical Theology and Dean of Military Chaplaincy at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne – Indiana, writing a new column for us. We are also eating a little crow since our post on Thursday whined about the reluctance of Concordia Seminary profs to write for BJS. Dr. Gard’s column is titled “Random Thoughts from an Absent Mind.” Like all of our regular columns it will be archived on the “Regular Columns” page. For more biographical information on Dr. Gard click here. I am particularly proud since Ft. Wayne is my second seminary alma mater ((D. Min, 2006) with my first being St. Louis (M Div, 1985) . Speaking of the “other seminary,” if any St. Louis professors would like equal time just drop me a line at [email protected]. Here is Dr. Gard’s first post.)
RANDOM THOUGHTS FROM AN ABSENT MIND: ON EPIPHANY 3
Annette, my wife of 26 years and who knows me better than anyone except the Lord, says that I am the absent minded professor. She is probably right. At Pastor Rossow’s gracious invitation, I will from time to time post a few random thoughts from an absent mind. I realize that many can do this better than I and offer more profound insights and wisdom. I am humbled at the privilege of addressing those who read this, so many of whom have taken courageous stands in these dark days.
Thus, I offer a few thoughts for the week of Epiphany 3. The texts for the day (especially Mark 1 and Jonah 3) come on the same day (January 25) that the Church sets aside to commemorate the Conversion of St. Paul. As I reflect on this, I was reminded that God has always used broken and very human servants to do things that they themselves cannot do.
Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). In His Person, the reign of God was announced. But Jesus had chosen to send men before Him to announce that His Kingdom was coming – and He continues to send them to announce that the Kingdom is here.
We read about an Old Testament prophet named Jonah (Jonah 3:1-5, 10). God sent him to Nineveh; that is, the Assyrian empire. This was a cruel, corrupt and violent nation that would eventually destroy the northern tribes of Israel. Jonah was a reluctant prophet – he did not want to obey the call to preach repentance to a people he hated and feared. He tried to run, went to sea and wound up spending 3 days in the belly of a great sea creature. God got his attention – and this unwilling prophet preached to Nineveh and God brought them to repentance. Jonah had to be broken by God.
When Jesus began His own preaching, He was announced by another prophet – John. Mark notes, “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee” (Mark 1:14). Here was an unlikely looking herald of a Kingdom – a wild man, living in the desert, wearing camel hair and eating locusts and honey – the polar opposite of the smooth, slick and polished model of a preacher that is held up today. Yet, as Jesus approached to be baptized by John, he proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” As Mark notes, John was in prison. He would become a martyr when the kingdom of this world ordered him beheaded.
John would die but others would take his place. As Jesus preached, He also called disciples to follow him, “Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Mark 1:16-18). Then he called two more fishermen, “And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him” (Mark 1:19-20).
Notice how they all immediately follow him. Pretty courageous, right? They left their boats and nets not knowing where they were going. In 3 years they would find out – and their human frailty would be quite apparent. All four, along with the other disciples, would witness the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Their hopes for a kingdom on earth would be crushed and they would go into hiding, afraid that they might be next. Called to be preachers of the Cross, they would eventually do exactly that but not without first being broken by fear and restored by grace
So we have St. John the Baptist, St. Peter, St. Andrew and St. John the Disciple, all faulty men who ultimately were changed by the One who called them. January 25 is also the Festival of the Conversion of St. Paul. Here was a religious leader of the Jews, a young man who with great fervor persecuted the Church. He even presided over the stoning of St. Stephen and became the most feared enemy of the early Christians. But God had other plans for Saul, as he was first called. On the road to Damascus, Jesus appeared to Saul and changed his life on earth and his life in eternity. You know the story – struck blind, led to Damascus, brought to encounter Jesus through the preacher Ananias, baptized and restored (Acts 9), he became Saint Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles and the author of much of the New Testament.
Jonah, John, the disciples, Paul – what an unlikely group to proclaim an everlasting Kingdom. Each a weak, frail, and broken man. Yet each a chosen instrument of Jesus.
Nothing has really changed in the last 2000 years. The Kingdom is still announced by the most unlikely of men. They are weak and frail with enormous faults. In other words, they are just like you and me! I could tell you about some the most amazing people I know – my students at the Seminary. Or I could tell you about the pastors I know and some of their experiences, their pain, and their wounds. They all have them. Not one of them is the ideal man for ministry. And yet God uses them all.
How is it that God can use men like prophets, apostles and pastors for His Kingdom? How can He take sinful, wounded men and make them the bearers of eternal life? Well, if he created a special kind of person for the ministry, could you relate to a pastor or he relate to you? You see, we share a life of ups and downs, of questions, of doubts, of fears – indeed, a life of sin. But we share something greater than those things – we share the message of eternal life.
Remember what Jesus proclaimed? “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The fulfillment of all things was right there present in Him. In this one Man came the Kingdom of God, not distance and unapproachable but crashing in on them and on us. Here was God Himself who had become a Man. Here was God who bore all of our human woes and fears and pain.
Have you been crushed with guilt, with pain, with sorrow? Look to Jesus – He knows you and bears it with you and for you. This is why He gives His people pastors. When God seems distant, here is a man who shares your humanity and speaks for the One who has redeemed the world, including you! He stands in the place of Christ, bringing the ear of Christ in confession and the heart of Christ in absolution.
Do you fear death? Look to Jesus – He has already been there and has some great news for you! He is the One who has entered death, even death on the Cross. He has borne all the guilt of sin for you and every other sinner, shedding holy and innocent Blood in your place. Yet death could not hold Him when on Easter morning. He arose destroying the power of sin, death and hell. And this He proclaimed to you when a pastor, a fisher of men, poured water upon you in His Name and you became one with Jesus in death and Resurrection.
Do you fear life? Then come to His altar and be fed with a meal that brings to you forgiveness, life and hope. Receive a foretaste of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. Here you have the Kingdom of God, not distant, but breaking into your moment in time. Come broken and leave whole. Come burdened and leave free. Come and see and taste the Kingdom of God.
If sin, death and hell have been conquered (and they have – the Tomb is empty), then we have nothing to fear. The Lord of the Church is your strength and courage. He who is the Truth sets you free – free to live, free to proclaim, free to face the challenges of the day, free to love your Synod more than self. Before you there is a cloud of witnesses and they still speak today. Prophets, apostles, pastors, laity, men, women, children, famous or obscure, they learned that the Lord fights the battle for us. And He is still on the battlefield, fighting for us. Stand firm!
Daniel L. Gard
Epiphany 3, 2009