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Justification: The Article upon Which the Church Stands or Falls

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“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25a).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Martin Luther is generally remembered on this Reformation Day for the posting of the 95 Theses, statements for debate on repentance and the sale of indulgences. But a more complete statement of faith prepared by Luther is the Smalcald Articles. It was Luther’s hope that this document would be used for discussion at a general council of the Church or, should he die before such a council was held, that it would be regarded as his “last will and testament.”

The Smalcald Articles clearly establish the differences between Romanism and Lutheranism. Nowhere is this more evident than in Article I. It reads:

The first and chief article is this:

1 Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 4:24–25).

2 He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all (Isaiah 53:6).

3 All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works or merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23–25).

4 This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law, or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us. As St. Paul says:

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:28)

That He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. [Romans 3:26]

5 Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls [Mark 13:31].

For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

And with His stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

Upon this article everything that we teach and practice depends, in opposition to the pope, the devil, and the whole world. Therefore, we must be certain and not doubt this doctrine. Otherwise, all is lost, and the pope, the devil, and all adversaries win the victory and the right over us.[i]

Article I is short, to the point, and like Luther himself, pulls no theological punches. Notice how many of the passages cited come from our Epistle, Romans 3:19-28. It is easy to see why this pericope was chosen for Reformation Day.

The key teaching of Lutheranism, “The article upon which the church stands or falls,” is justification—particularly, justification by grace through faith in the work of Christ. “Justification” has to do with being or being made or being declared “just,” or “righteous,” or “right.” Scripture teaches that we are justified by Christ, who took our sin into Himself and atoned for it on the cross and who imputes (or credits) to us His righteousness. When we are united to Christ—which happens by Baptism, in Holy Communion, and when we receive His Word—we are justified, freely, apart from any works of our own. To believe, trust, and depend on the fact that Christ saves us is to be justified by faith.

Now, it might seem that justification is another theological term whose meaning has been lost in today’s secular climate. Christianity is about the forgiveness of sins. But many people today do not think they have need to be made right with God. “Sin” is thought to be an outmoded concept.

And yet people today still search for “justification” for themselves and what they do. They still crave approval, and they want to consider themselves to be good and right. And when they fail to measure up even to their own standards or that of their peers—let alone God’s standards—they tend to construct explanations and  excuses that would exonerate them. It turns out that justification is the article on which we all stand or fall. It’s just a matter of where we look for our justification.

We can look for justification in our political or ideological beliefs: “I am good despite my personal failures, because my cause is just.” Post-modernism can be a way to justify ourselves: “The truth I reject is nothing more than a construction, so I am blameless in rebelling against it.” We can seek justification through atheism: “God does not exist, so no one can condemn me.” Or we can simply seek to justify ourselves by comparison: “Nobody’s perfect, but at least I’m better than so-and-so.” These are all attempts at self-justification. They are endless mental exercises by which we can consider ourselves to be good.

But something is missing in these attempts: a correct understanding of sin and personal culpability for that sin. Many believe there is no such thing as objective morality to sin against. They assume morality is purely subjective, varying from one culture or one person to another. No one has the right to “impose” his personal morality on anyone else. And yet, those who reject the very possibility of moral truth, are constantly making moral judgments of others: demanding social justice, human rights, and ethical approaches to the environment.

We tend to frame conflicts with others as arguments over moral transgressions—“You’re selfish!” “You don’t really love me!” “That’s not fair!”—with both parties accusing each other and defending themselves. Our transgressions still leave us with guilt, which can torment us for the rest of our lives. And yet we still tend to insist that “I am a good person.” If someone else considers us “bad” or “wrong,” we defend ourselves—with excuses and arguments maintaining that our vices are not bad but good, even something to be celebrated. In truth, we do not need to be righteous in order to be self-righteous.

Far from being an outdated theological concept, justification is a preoccupation, if not an obsession, for people today. We always feel the need to show that we are right. At work, online, in our casual conversations, in our relationships with others, we are always seeking approval, scoring points, making excuses, and defending ourselves. At the same time, we are also always accusing and judging others. Often, such criticism is not dispassionate moral analysis, but attempting to cover our own flaws by highlighting the far greater flaws of others. Underlying the need to be justified is our yearning for affirmation, for thinking that our existence matters, for our need to think that our life is worthwhile.

Not only do we judge and justify ourselves and one another; we also judge and justify God. “How can God allow evil and suffering in the world?” both believers and non-believers ask. “He must not be good.” Against that accusation, believers can form arguments to justify God, as if He needs our help to explain His motives and actions. Non-believers, ironically, justify the intellectual concept of a righteous God by concluding that such a being does not actually exist.

But the problems of evil and suffering do not go away even when God’s existence is rejected. No longer is the question “Why does God allow evil and suffering?” but “Why does existence allow evil and suffering?” If God cannot be justified due to the evil and suffering in the world, existence itself cannot be justified for the same reasons. If existence cannot be justified, life is meaningless, absurd, pointless, and (in a tragic number of cases) not worth living.

But what if, instead of having to justify ourselves, God Himself gives us the approval, affirmation, and assurance that our existence matters, that despite our many, obvious shortcomings, our lives have His approval? He does! We do! The incessant desire to justify ourselves is put to rest when we are justified by Christ.

How does Christ justify us? By dying.

The Second Person of the Trinity assumed a human nature. Instead of living in earthly glory as we might expect and as He was certainly entitled to, He chose to be born in poverty and to live a life of homelessness. But He did good works—by healing the sick, raising the dead, reconciling people who had been at each other’s throats—and His teaching blessed the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the persecuted, and so on. Jesus’ goodness was evident to all, even to His enemies, who hated Him for it. He accomplished what other human beings throughout history have always tried to do but failed: He was justified by His good works.  

Nevertheless, Jesus did not escape accusations, judgments, and condemnation. He was, in fact, wrongly convicted and sentenced to death. While others have supposedly died an innocent death, Jesus is the only person to have truly died an innocent death. At His execution, though, He fully exerted His divine power by doing something that defies our capacity to understand or to imagine: He took the evils of the world—that is to say, the sins of the entire human race—into Himself. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). St. Paul put it even more strongly: “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

When on the cross Christ “bore our sins in His body,” He also took the punishment that we deserve. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The “wonderful exchange” also means that Christ’s righteousness—along with access to the Father, freedom from guilt, and eternal life—become ours. God the Father now counts our sins as belonging to Christ. He also counts Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us. Thus, when we face the judgment of God the Father, He will consider all of Christ’s good works—His healings, His acts of love, His obedience to the Father, His perfect fulfillment of the Law—to be ours. This is what it means to be justified by Christ.

This is unbelievable, one might think. It would be tremendous if it were true, but how could it be? How could God become a human being? How could anyone—even God—bear another person’s sins, let alone the sins of the entire world? It staggers the mind. It is beyond understanding. Interestingly, Luther agrees. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him,” he writes in the Small Catechism. Essentially, Luther admits, “I believe that I cannot… believe.”

Notice how Luther anticipates—and repudiates—the mindset of both the modernist and the postmodernist. “I believe that I cannot by own reason… believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord.” So much for the “Age of Reason.” So much for modernism. Human reason is not how we receive Christ Jesus and His gifts. “I believe that I cannot by my own… strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord.” So much for the will to power. So much for postmodernism. Exerting our own power or effort is not how we receive Christ Jesus and His gifts.

So how do we? Luther goes on to explain: “But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Faith, this belief and trust in Christ, is a gift from outside ourselves. The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, creates our faith. Rather than human reason or power, faith is how we receive Christ Jesus. God does this by calling me through the Gospel, His means of grace—Word and water, body and blood—which creates, sustains and grows faith.

For Lutherans, the doctrine of justification is the “chief article” on which the Church stands or falls. Every other key teaching—the Sacraments, Scripture, worship, vocation, the two kingdoms, prayer, the Christian life—has as its keystone our justification by Christ.

And it is also the chief article on which individuals stand or fall. Restless hearts and anxious minds find peace in justification. Frenetic lives of self-justification have rest in the salvation of Jesus Christ. The incessant need to prove our own worthiness and our failure to ever do so are nailed to the cross, buried in the tomb, and put to death forever. What Good News!

 We confess: “[We] all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25a). That is to say, by God’s grace, for Jesus’ sake, you are righteous and holy; you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[i] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (pp. 262–263). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

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The Question Jesus Never Answers

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“[Jesus] went on His way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to Him, ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’” (Luke 13:22-23).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

This week’s Gospel reading begins with a question. Luke does not tell us who asked it. But it’s a good question. “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”

The questioner in the text was probably asking about the people of Israel. There seems to have been debate about which behaviors among God’s people would result in loss of salvation, and it is possible the questioner had this debate in mind. This would also make sense within the context in Luke’s Gospel. He has been highlighting the increasing opposition between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, which will reach its climax when Jesus finally finishes His journey to Jerusalem.

“Lord, will those who are saved be few?”

Some of the rabbis of the day taught that all Israelites would have a share in the kingdom to come. After all, they are the chosen people of God. Descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Others taught that, yes, Israel is God’s chosen people, and He saves all of those who observe the civil, ceremonial, and moral aspects of the Law. The Pharisees emphasized their traditions, some 600 plus rules that “helped” you keep the Torah, the Law given through Moses. Jesus answers the question in quite a different way. As He often does, Jesus replies with a parable.

Several of the parables of Jesus compare salvation to a great feast, or banquet, given by a king. That is also the picture He uses here. Entrance into the banquet hall is by a door. The first thing Jesus says about that door is that it is narrow. A narrow door prevents great crowds of people from entering all at once. Entrance into the banquet is gained by going through the door one at a time.

That narrow door is a symbol for Jesus Himself. One enters the banquet hall by way of Jesus. Jesus urges His hearers to “strive to enter through the narrow door.” A Greek word is used in the original text which suggests a contest or struggle to enter. The struggle is not against other people but rather against our own sinful flesh and the temptations of the devil.

Jesus has something else to say about that door. The time will come when the Master of the house is going to close that door. There will be some who come knocking on the locked door demanding entry. But just knowing the Master of the house will not cause Him to open. Jesus is obviously picturing Himself as the Master since the people speak of His teaching in their streets. Just as the time will come when the unfruitful tree will be cut down (Luke 13:9), so also the time will come in each individual’s life and in the history of the world when the entrance to salvation will be closed. The message is plain: don’t delay but strive to enter now.

Finally, we have a description of the people sitting at the banquet tables. As is to be expected, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets are there. But then comes a surprise: many of Jesus’ contemporaries will find themselves on the outside looking in. Weeping and gnashing of teeth will express their disappointment and shock. They will see that other people from all over the world will be sitting in their places at the banquet of salvation. Those who first had the opportunity to respond to Christ’s preaching will find themselves left out; those at the very ends of the earth who hear the Gospel message last will find themselves honored with choice seating at the heavenly banquet.

But theoretical questions framed in the third person “put off repentance and do not lead to faith.”[i] Jesus will not let a questioner examine others without first examining himself. So Jesus makes it personal. He responds with direct warnings in the second person: “[You] strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:24). “When … you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’” (Luke 13:25). “Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’” (Luke 13:26). “When you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out” (Luke 13:28-29). These warnings seem to say, “O questioner, don’t worry about the others at this point. The more pressing question is will you be saved?”   

“Strive to enter through the narrow door,” Jesus urges. “For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24). The command to “strive” does not mean “that moral effort is necessary in order to enter the kingdom,”[ii] nor does it mean entrance is gained by exercising “human responsibility.”[iii] Rather, the struggle through which one enters is repentance, which is a work of God in the human heart. The struggle is produced when the Word of God—such as the teaching of Jesus here—calls one to repent and trust in Christ, but sinful human nature wars against God’s Word. The struggle is resolved as the old Adam is put to death by the Law and the person of faith is raised to new life with Christ by the power of the Gospel.

Entrance through the narrow door is gained not en masse by nationality or religious affiliation, but rather, individually, one sinner-at-a-time, by those who repent and see in Jesus the Lord of the eternal heavenly banquet.

But the question still stands. How many will be saved?

Jesus doesn’t answer it directly. Instead, He focuses attention on the Master. The people who are excluded, who are “evil,” literally “unrighteous” (not declared righteous by faith), are not known by the Master (Luke 13:27). Twice the Master says He does not know where they come from, even though they ate together and listened to Him teach (Luke 13:26).

The baptism of John and the preaching of the kingdom by Jesus had provided them with a narrow but opened door. Because they refused to repent and recognize Jesus as the Master of the banquet, they now stand on the outside. He denies that He knows them, even as they have failed to confess Him. He will not open to them, for the time of patient forbearance, of preaching and catechesis, when they were invited to know (believe in) Jesus, is finally over.

Jesus does not really answer the question that He is asked. Rather, He is saying to all who will listen, “Just be sure that you are going to be saved.”

The closest Jesus comes to answering the question is verse 29. He does not say how many will be saved, but that those who are saved will come from every direction—east and west, north and south. This reminds us that no single group has a monopoly on access to the Master. Through (and sometimes despite) us, God is reaching out to all nations. There can be no circling the wagons with the Gospel.

The Lord makes this clear in our Old Testament lesson: “The time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see My glory, and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard My fame or seen My glory. And they shall declare My glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the Lord … to My holy mountain Jerusalem” (Isaiah 66:18-20). Those nations mentioned to symbolize the worldwide gathering of the redeemed were on the outer perimeter of ancient Israel: Tarshish (modern Spain) to the west; Pul and Lud to the south (Egypt and Ethiopia); and Tubal and Javan to the north (Greece and Turkey).

Through Isaiah, God directs us to see what He would do with the believers that survive the coming judgment of Jerusalem. God will send some of the remnant of believers to be His missionaries. They will go out into the four corners of the world and bring scattered Jews to faith in the Messiah. They will convert Gentiles from all nations and gather them into the Church as well. Through their work, the Holy Spirit will gather believers into the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church will not be confined only to Jews, but all believers will be related by their faith in Jesus. Regardless of their nationalities and origins, they will be brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.   

“Lord, will those who are saved be few?”

It is an important question to be sure. All Christians ask it at one time or another. You ask it as you wonder about neighbors who are barely connected to a church. You ask it as you pray yourself to sleep worrying about your child or grandchild who has drifted from the faith. You ask it as you notice members of the congregation who seem to have fallen off the face of the earth. A majority of Americans continue to identify as “Christian” in surveys. But when you consider how many have a meaningful connection to a Christian congregation, “few” seems a more accurate answer than “many.”

But still, Jesus doesn’t give an answer. Instead, He turns attention to the Master. To be saved, to be welcomed to the feast, is to be known by the Master. Jesus does not explicitly identify the Master in this text, but His behavior immediately prior to and following this text makes it clear that He is the Master (see His healing on the Sabbath in 13:10-17 and 14:1-6). In His resurrection from the dead, He definitely shows Himself to be the Master over all things.

The question we should be asking, therefore, is not how many will be saved. But rather, does the Master know me? In business they say it’s all about whom you know. With respect to salvation, it’s all about Who knows you.

Your Master knows you. This is a gracious knowing, to be sure. The Master created you. He sees you. Despite your unrighteousness apart from Him, He still loves you. He forgives you. He lives a perfect obedient righteous life in your place. He dies on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. He rises from the dead to give you eternal life. He sits at God’s right-hand interceding for you and reigning over all things for your salvation. He sends you His Holy Spirit to give you new birth.

God has made you His own child through the water and Word of Holy Baptism. He declares you righteous, opens the door to you, and welcomes you to His table—both here and now in the Sacrament, where He gives you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. And on the Last Day, He will return to raise all the dead and bring you and all His children to live with Him for eternity and join Him in the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb. To be known and loved by the Master is a wonderful thing.

I bet for most of you one of the first Sunday School songs you learned began with the words, “Jesus loves me, this I know…” It’s a good reminder of Jesus’ love for each of His little ones, including you and me. But today I’m going to suggest a little twist on this old favorite: “Jesus knows me, this I love.”

And what about those who are not present? The neighbors and children and delinquent members who are far off? The promise in verses 29-30 offers hope: Many people will come from the four corners of the earth and recline at table in the kingdom. The last shall be first. Many who think they will be saved will not; but many whom we might not think will be there, will be there, saved by God’s rich and amazing grace.

This also offers motivation for you and me to continue praying and continue reaching out to others with the Master’s promise. “Jesus knows you,” we can assure them. “Come on in while the narrow door to salvation is still open!” And then, together, we graciously welcome them in the Master’s name.

For only in that name, do we find forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.

So go in the peace of the Lord and serve His people with joy. The narrow door is open to you. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[i] M. Franzmann, Concordia Self-Study Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 1979) NT, 72.

[ii] I. H. Marshall, The Gospel of Luke. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 565.

[iii] J. Nolland, Luke 9:21-18:34, World Biblical Commentary. (Dallas: Word Books, 1989), 734.

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Love One Another

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Love One Another

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Cast Your Net Again!

The Second Miraculous Draught of Fish
“The Second Miraculous Draught of Fish” by James Tissot

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As day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered Him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish (John 21:4-6).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

This last week, both of our LC-MS seminaries held their call services for new candidates in the ministry. I’m pleased to announce that Jesse Baker received a call to Zion Lutheran Church in Hardwick, MN. We thank God for providing a pastor for Zion and we look forward to working with him in our Pipestone Circuit and Minnesota South District.

Call days tend to get pastors reminiscing and/or commiserating about their own call night. An almost universal disappointment seems to be the sermon for the placement service. I suspect that this might be in part because pastors—especially those just coming out of the seminary—tend to be the sharpest critics. It may also be that the preacher realizes this may be his only chance to straighten out these novices before they get in the congregation, and so the sermons tend to be long and heavy on the Law. It might also have something to do with fact that the intended audience of these sermons is more interested in finding out where they will be going to spend their next few years of life and ministry than anything else at this point. Candidates for the ministry probably don’t listen to the sermon on call night much better than the couple listens to the sermon in their wedding service.

This prompted one pastor, Rev. William Cwirla, to offer his own advice for the sermon on call night.

Simple. 10 minutes max. Basic outline:

  1. You’re incompetent.
  2. Christ is your competence.
  3. Go where you’re sent; Christ will bless you.

It’s a good suggestion. A fitting outline for candidate placement services and for impromptu breakfasts at the beach and for Divine Service in little congregations in small towns in southwest Minnesota.

In last week’s text, John wrote what seemed to be the perfect ending for his Gospel: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you might have life in His name” (John 20:30-31). Perfect conclusion, end of story.

But then, curiously enough, there’s one more chapter in John’s Gospel, our text for today. The seven disciples seem to be asking themselves, “What are we going to do now?” Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” It doesn’t take much coaxing to get the others to join him. After all, they are in Galilee, waiting for the Lord to come as He had said He would. They’re right next to big lake on which most of them had made a living before being called by Jesus. So, they set out by boat for a customary night of fishing. But they don’t catch anything. As my Uncle Warren would say, “They got skunked!”

Just as the day was breaking, Jesus comes and stands on the shore. He calls out to them much like one fisherman might call out to other fishermen. “Hey guys, you haven’t caught anything to eat, have you?” “No,” they answer, but they haven’t caught on yet that it is Jesus. When Jesus tells them to cast their net out again, this time on the right side of the boat, they do so without much thought of how silly this advice is to experienced fishermen who have worked these waters all their life, the whole last night without any success, or about whom it is who is telling them to do so.

But when the catch is so big they can’t haul the net into the boat, their attention turns back to the man on the shore. John, perhaps remembering that earlier catch of fish when they began to follow Jesus, says to Peter, “It’s the Lord!”

Peter wastes no time. He puts on His outer garment and throws himself into the sea so he can swim to the beach ahead of the rest. This is a big change! Do you remember what Peter did the last time Jesus enabled the disciples to make a great catch? Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” That was the natural reaction of a man who had not yet seen the cross, one who had not experienced Jesus’ forgiveness in the shadow of that cross.

How different it is this time! Peter jumps into the water. He can’t wait to be near Jesus. This is the natural reaction of those who have believed in the cross and resurrection. See, by this time, Easter has happened. Believing in the crucified and risen Christ creates a completely new nature. Now inside is a person who knows he’s forgiven, loved by God. The new person inside knows he’s going to be with God forever in heaven—and he can’t wait to be with Him. And because he believes that, there’s this whole new nature that’s eager to do something for Christ.

So what’s he going to do? We’ll get to that, but first, let’s finish this story.

The others follow Peter in the boat, dragging the net full of fish with them about a hundred yards to shore. When the disciples reach the shore, they see breakfast is already cooking, fish on a bed of coals and bread to go with it. It appears they are surprised to see the fish cooking, although no one asks Jesus where He got it. Instead, Jesus tells them take care of the catch, sort out the “keepers” from the small ones, and He’ll get breakfast ready.

Peter, ever quick to oblige the Lord, climbs into the boat. Although the net is too heavy to lift into the boat, he manages with the help of the others to drag it onto the beach. It is loaded with 153 large fish but doesn’t tear, unlike the net from the miraculous catch early in Jesus’ ministry.

Imagine how the disciples must have felt as Jesus invites them to have breakfast with Him. They know it is Jesus, but this is only His third appearance to them as a group since He died. The resurrected Lord, who brings forgiveness and life by giving Himself up to death on the cross, certainly deserves our service. But Jesus is the Host. He serves them bread and fish for breakfast.

But Jesus still isn’t finished with His disciples. Although our Gospel stops at verse 14, Jesus does not. He takes Peter aside and restores him as an apostle. Peter denied Jesus three times; so three times, Jesus tells him to feed His sheep. Jesus doesn’t just appear to give fish and daily bread. He appears to give forgiveness, again and again. After all, that is why He died. And that is why He is risen. And before He ascends into heaven, Jesus gives His disciples this same ministry of forgiveness and life and promises to send His Holy Spirit to help them.

It’s possible to recognize a number of similarities between the disciples in the text and the Church today. For example: It was after the resurrection and the disciples were together. To follow Jesus after His resurrection is to be together with other believers.

Not only were they together, but they did what they knew how to do. That is, they returned to their vocation as fishermen. Easter doesn’t mean the end of life or work, but rather faithful living and working in a new light.

Before Jesus entered the story, the disciples had caught nothing despite working all night. The Church’s work is only productive insofar as Jesus directs and effects it.

Jesus provided for the disciples. He provided direction for their fishing. He provided the large catch of fish into their nets. He provided food for them back on land. Jesus takes the initiative with us, too. He comes to us in our everyday vocations and graciously provides for all our needs—bodily and spiritually. In fact, Jesus does everything. Jesus feeds and equips us for the work He has for us to do.

Jesus is the one who plans and makes it all happen. The best-laid plans of men are meaningless. Peter says, “I’m going fishing,” but all night they catch nothing. That’s the way it goes sometimes. Without Jesus, all our fishing for men is just as fruitless. But then Jesus says, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat,” and things go very well. Jesus is the one who catches fish. We just go where He tells us, casting our nets again and again.

Many people might say that Trosky or Jasper or even Pipestone, Minnesota is not the best spot to go fishing for men. Church growth experts are going to say, if you want to grow the Church you have to plant churches in growing suburbs and vibrant communities. But our job isn’t to grow the Church, but rather to be faithful where God has placed us. To cast our nets again and again at our Saviour’s call. He will provide the growth to His Church, when and where He wills.

Any good fisherman knows sometimes when you go fishing, you’re going to get skunked. Not many days in the mission field are 153-large-fish-days! But you won’t catch any fish if you don’t cast out the nets. And the more often you go out on the lake and cast the nets, the more often you’re probably going to catch something. Feel like it’s hopeless? Feel like you’ve been skunked? Take the Lord at His Word. Cast your nets again!

As fishers of men, we don’t plan how many “fish” we’re going to catch. We just go about our business—fishing because we’re fishers of men, sharing Christ just because we’re Christians, people who ourselves are loved, forgiven, going to heaven—doing what come naturally. We leave the results in the hands of the Lord.

Every Christian does this naturally. New Christians aren’t made by how well the pastor entertains us or how much the songs stir our emotions. No, new Christians just naturally happen as we seize the opportunities that God presents to us to share the story of Jesus and His love.

As a pastor, I get lots of chances to tell people about Jesus. But the four cases where I actually know God let me have a hand in making new Christians were the easiest, most natural: when Aimee and I brought Jessi and Katie and Logan and Marissa to be baptized. We did essentially nothing. I wasn’t even a pastor yet, so I didn’t even do the baptizing; but through the water and His Word, Jesus made four new believers. And as they continued in that Word, they’ve grown in their faith and have shared it with their friends and acquaintances as well. And now they have their own children to be baptized and to tell the story of Jesus and His love. See, for all of us who’ve experienced and believed in Easter, making new Christians comes quite naturally. Jesus does all the work, even as you go about your daily vocations.

In the meanwhile, Jesus sustains you with His means of grace. He feeds you, not a miraculous catch of fish and bread, but with His Holy Supper, His very body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins.

So, by God’s grace, may you use the opportunities God places in your path to share the wonderful story of Jesus and His love and forgiveness. May you all be fishers of men, willing to cast out Christ’s Gospel net into the mission field here and abroad, with your personal confession of faith, with your prayers, and financial support. May you all be doing what comes naturally—living in the grace of God.

Though you may feel incompetent, Christ is your competence. Go where you’re planted; Christ will bless you. He will provide for you. He will feed you. He will sustain you. He will give you strength and life. For His sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.