Sermon preached at Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church, Haslet, TX. Stay tuned for more information on our visit.
Easter 3 (3yr)
Text: Luke 24:36–49
Rev. Roy S. Askins
preached on 20150419, at Holy Shepherd Lutheran Haslet, TX
Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The text for today is the Gospel reading, particularly these words, “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:45–47).
The call to go forth and share the Gospel has become common in the Christian church. All sorts of activities go on in order to “share the Gospel.” Some people in the church have chosen to do some really interesting things to share the Gospel, some questionable things. But most times, we just do some rather normal things to spread the message of forgiveness.
We put together evangelism programs; we appoint evangelism committees; we host special convocations and conferences on sharing the faith. Many people make lots of money writing books about sharing the Gospel. Now, by themselves, there’s nothing wrong with many of these activities and materials.
As a young man, I was involved in Ongoing Ambassadors for Christ (OAFC), and through that work, I learned how to speak with others and express what I believed in simple, easy-to-use language. Evangelism committees can be very helpful in merely helping people realize how many opportunities exist for them to share the Gospel. Such committees can help congregations brainstorm opportunities for confessing the faith to their community.
But we must also be clear, that no evangelism program, no outreach committee, no evangelistic opportunity ever saved anyone. In the end, neither you nor I are responsible for filling the pews of Christ’s church. Neither is your pastor responsible for filling the church pews. Not a single conversion can be attributed to you or me. Not a single conversion of any person at any time in any place can be attributed to a missionary. How can I say that? I’m supposed to be the missionary, right?
Look at the text for today. Jesus appears before the apostles, and He opens their minds to understand what the Scriptures have said. Hear that again: Jesus opens their minds to understand all that Moses and the prophets have said, namely, that they spoke about Jesus.
Now, these are the Apostles. They’ve spent the entire last three years of their lives with Jesus. They listened to Him preach. They watched His miracles. They watched Him die. They’ve seen it all. If you want to talk about an evangelism program or mission training, you don’t get much better than what they’ve been through. And yet, they still don’t get it. Jesus has to open their minds to understand the Scriptures.
Which is precisely the point. Mission work is God’s work. All throughout the Gospels, Jesus opens minds to understand the Gospel. They don’t give their hearts to Jesus. They don’t dedicate their lives to Him. No, He opens their minds to understand the Scriptures, Moses and the prophets. It is Christ’s job to grow and care for His church.
It’s why we confess in the explanation to the Third Article of the Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the truth faith.” Listen to that: “I believe that I cannot believe.” If I’m going to believe, it cannot be through my own reason or strength. I cannot bring myself to faith. Nor can I, through superior reasoning or influential strength, bring others to the faith.
The work of mission in the world is God’s Work—the Holy Spirit’s work. There’s no pulling yourself up by your spiritual bootstraps. There’s no, “God will do His part, you do yours,” here. Nope. It’s pure work of God, the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament, working through the Means of Grace.
In the end, such work by the Holy Spirit frees you. The work of God forgives you and grants you a new, renewed relationship with God. It also frees you from the burden of saving someone. You are not responsible for someone receiving Jesus or not. It’s not your job to save everyone you meet. But while it’s not your responsibility to save everyone, God does call you to live in certain vocations as a witness before the world. He calls you as fathers, mothers, children, workers, students. All of these vocations provide opportunities for you to serve to the best of your ability, to love the loveless, to serve the helpless, as best you can.
And then when someone asks you about the hope you have, about why you do what you do, why you love your neighbor and care for those in need, why you work as hard as you do and why you serve others, you can answer. You can walk them through the Creed and spell out the hope that you have: that in spite of all the things you do, you’re a sinner just like the rest of the world. But God the Father sent His Son to die for you, and because of His death and resurrection, you have life in His Name.
Mission—The Story of the Bible
In fact, that story right there, basically describes the story of God’s work ever since the fall of man into sin, ever since the bite from the forbidden fruit in Eden. God has done mission ever since the beginning. The story told to us in the Bible describes God who made everything perfect and without sin. It tells how we managed to screw it all up. And that’s only the first three chapters.
The rest of the story of the Bible is the story of God doing mission work, of God working to redeem the world. He chose Israel, He chose Abraham, that Abraham’s line might be a blessing to all nations. When God promised the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles through Abraham’s line, He was doing mission work. He was working to redeem all nations, not just the line of Israel.
In fact, Jesus says the entire story of the Old Testament is His story. It tells how God worked through the Israel of old to bring redemption for the entire world. In this sense, the entire Bible is a book on missions. And therefore missions isn’t just something we do on the side; it’s not just a thing we do in the evangelism committee. The church is missions. It is God speaking life into dead world, or in the words of John, God speaking light into the darkness.
How Mission is Done
Our text today also describes what mission work looks like. The text says that Jesus opened the minds of His disciples to understand that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).
Mission consists in preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins. It’s the same thing John the Baptizer preached. “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). The people came and were baptized, confessing their sins. Right after His temptation, Matthew writes that Jesus also preached the same thing, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
Our work is not different. We go forth into the world proclaiming, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). In the “Great Commission” passage of Matthew 28, Jesus sends out His chosen Apostles to do exactly that. He says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all things which I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20).
Jesus makes disciples, therefore, in two ways: Baptizing and teaching. God’s Word is no empty Word. It’s powerful and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. When God proclaims His Law, it cuts deep into the heart. It reveals our utter sinfulness. But the Gospel forgives sins, heals the wounds created by the Law. When and where it is heard, God creates belief, trust in Jesus Christ—it creates faith. It may not yield a massive harvest every time we preach the Word. Sometimes only two or three might gather in the name of Jesus. But the Word of God will accomplish the purpose for which God sends it, even if we do not know what it might be. It might be for a thirty-fold harvest, sixty-fold, or hundred-fold. We cannot know. But it will accomplish God’s work.
Secondly, the work of making disciples, mission work, occurs as people are baptized. “Baptism . . . now saves you,” St. Peter declares, “not as removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21). Holy Baptism washes away the sins that stain our conscience, thus giving us a clean, new conscience. Through Baptism, God gives new life. Thus, when we do the work of mission, when we go proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name, we do it by teaching and baptizing.
This is what Jesus opened the minds of the disciples to see. The preaching of repentance and forgiveness in the name of Jesus happens when the Word of God goes forth into the world, and people receive the gift of Baptism for the forgiveness of their sins. It is and remains the work of God for us.
Praise be to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, for the work of proclaiming Christ to the world began with Jerusalem and spread from there. God fulfilled the promise He made to Abraham, that all nations would be blessed in Him. And that this blessing would be the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all nations.
God has poured out His Spirit on you. He has washed you in Holy Baptism, sustained and strengthened your faith in the preaching of His Word and in His Sacraments. Praise be to Him for doing His mission for us.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Now may the peace of God, which transcends all understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.