Put yourself in the disciples’ sandals. It’s now 43 days since Easter Sunday and the startling good news: The Lord is risen. Last Thursday, Jesus disappeared into a cloud. Vanished in a cloud. For forty days you saw Him, ate with Him, touched Him, talked to Him, basked in His presence. You saw His wounds – the nail scarred hands and feet, the gash of the spear in His side. The evidence was rock solid; no question about it. This was the same Jesus who hung dead on a cross, now alive and well.
On a mountain Jesus authorized you to disciple all the nations by baptizing and teaching. He sent you to the ends of the earth and commissioned you to bring the good news to the world that sins are atoned for, death is conquered, the Law is fulfilled in His death and resurrection. He gave you a plan: Begin in Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, and don’t stop until you reach the ends of the earth. Embrace the whole world for which Jesus died, everyone whom Jesus embraced in His death.
Now what do you do? Do you get busy? Organize? Mobilize? Draft mission statements? No – then you wait. That’s right wait. Go to Jerusalem and don’t do a thing until you are clothed with power from on high. Wait for the Holy Spirit. Don’t try to do this on your own. You will fail. Wait on the Lord.
And so they waited. One hundred and twenty disciples, eleven apostles waited and worshipped in the upper room in Jerusalem. That was the entire holy, catholic, and apostolic church on earth in the year 30 AD. One hundred and twenty people, eleven pastors. How on earth were they going to disciple the nations and bring the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth? They had no synodical bureaucracy, no church government, no publishing house, no television or radio station, no mass communication, no means of transportation. The printing press wouldn’t be invented for another 1500 years. The airplane 1900 years. The internet nearly 2000 years. How were 120 believers and their 11 pastors going to bring the good news of Jesus’ resurrection to the ends of the earth?
When faced with this kind of daunting task we might panic. We might be tempted to borrow a trick or two from the busy world of business or the slickened world of politics or maybe even the military. They seem to get the job done. We might be tempted to rely on our own tricks to “get the word out.” We’d try to organize things, appoint task forces, have meetings in which we agree to meet again.
The first church simply waited in prayer. And here, on this seventh and last Sunday of Easter, we find the secret to the church’s survival. We learn why the church has survived two thousand years of wars, dictators, despots, persecutions, heresies, popes, councils, synodical conventions, voters meetings, and what can charitably be described gross mismanagement that would have driven a business under in a heartbeat. But not the church. Oh, yes, congregations do go under. And so do synods and even whole church bodies. But the church – the one, holy, universal, and apostolic church, never goes under no matter how hard you drive it. The Roman empire tried to wipe it out. The communists tried to shut it down. Islam tries to subject it. But the church goes on. Why?
One simple reason: The Lord provides. It’s what Abraham believed and confessed when he was about to offer his son Isaac on the altar. “Yahweh yireh. The Lord will provide,” he said.
Our readings this morning show us three ways that Christ provides for His Church. First, He supplies His church with pastors, authorized preachers and teachers who carry on the office and work of the apostles. Second, He gives His Church the Word and the Sacraments, by which the Holy Spirit testifies to the truth of Christ’s redeeming death. Third, He prays for His Church before the throne of His Father.
The Lord provides His church with pastors. The first congregation had a vacancy. One of the Twelve was missing. Judas was dead, a sad end to a miserable life of refusal and betrayal. Judas was an apostle, one of the Twelve, the Lord’s Israel. He betrayed Jesus for thirty silver pieces. With the profits he invested in a piece of real estate and hung himself and then fell headlong onto the ground where his guts spilled out. Not a pretty picture, this “field of blood.” It never is when you try to atone for your own sins. It will cost you your life. It’s all such a terrible waste. The blood was there for Judas too, the blood of God’s Son that cleanses us from all sin, including the sin of Judas. No need to kill yourself – you already died in the death of Jesus. Your death adds nothing to His death.
Judas was gone, but his office remained. Peter took notice and saw the Scripture connection. Something had to be done. An office doesn’t work without someone in the office. If the president dies, someone has to take his office. When a pastor leaves a congregation, the office remains and has to be filled.
So what were they going to do? They had no procedure, no instructions from Jesus, no by-laws to consult or church bureaucrats to guide them. To their credit, they recognized that life has no script. It’s improv theater, one line following another. They chose two men who had been with them the whole three years, from Jesus’ baptism until He disappeared into the cloud. And then they prayed and drew lots, and the lot fell to Matthias. The Lord had the last word. The Lord provided.
Have you ever noticed how often God hides His hand behind what appears to be dumb luck? Luck used to be a holy thing, until the gamblers got a hold of it and turned it into a religion. We talk about it all the time – how we just happened to clear that intersection before the truck swerved out of control? Or how things “just happened” to come together for that new job? If you didn’t know better, you’d call it dumb luck or coincidence. If you want to read an exercise in this, read the book of Esther, which never even mentions God. The Jewish people even play a little game of chance on the festival of Purim to celebrate their good dumb luck under the hand of God.
It was a fifty-fifty chance that the lot would fall on Matthias. Could it have gone either way? Perhaps. And certainly God could have worked through either one of those two men. But the lot fell on Matthias, and he was added to the eleven. Lucky Matthias. The Lord gets the last word.
It’s something we forget all to often today. We try to anticipate every detail, every turn, every possibility. Call committees today have long lists of expectations and demands down to age, skill set, hair and eye color. Occasionally one hears rumors of the congregation that has had enough of the whole business. I know of one congregation that voted on their call list, wrote the names of the three top vote getters on pieces of paper, put the slips of paper in a basket on the altar, prayed, and had the district president draw out a name. That was their pastor. Now we don’t have to do it that way, but we sure could do a lot worse.
The Lord will provide, but will we trust Him?
The first congregation recognized that Jesus was running the show. Not them. Jesus. When they needed a man to round out the Twelve, the Lord provided. When the apostles died, Jesus provided others, and He multiplied their office. And He continues to call and ordain men today. Yes, he uses instruments like congregations and seminaries and call lists and call committees. But in the end, it’s the Lord’s congregation, His church, His ministry. And He provides.
Second, Jesus provides His church the tools for the task. Whenever you set out to do a job – whether repairing your car or doing some yard work or a piece of home improvement – you always check to see that you have the right tools. If the task is discipling the nations, what are the tools? How are we going to confront an unbelieving world, a dying and sinful world? How are we, as chosen disciples of Jesus, going to survive being “in the world yet not of the world”? What tools will we bring to the task?
John names three in his epistle – the Spirit, the water, and the blood. These are the witnesses to Jesus’ saving work, and they testify today. The Spirit, who descended on Jesus at His Baptism, whom Jesus breathed into His disciples, who poured out on the whole church at Pentecost. The Spirit of truth who speaks through the Word and drums the truth of our sin and the greater truth of our salvation in Jesus’ death into our ears, working faith in our hearts, turning our minds.
The water of Baptism, by which Jesus was revealed to be the Savior of the world. The water that flowed from His side pierced by a sword. The water of your Baptism, by which you were buried with Christ in His death and received your adoption papers.
The blood which stained the wood of the cross, the blood of the Sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world, the blood that comes to you in the chalice of the Lord’s Supper. These three testify as one that Jesus is the Son of God, God in the flesh, and your Savior – the Spirit-ed Word, the water, and the blood. That’s all you need to have church. You don’t need a building, a constitution, a board. All you need is the Word, the water, and the blood and believers gathered to receive them.
These are what keeps the church going to this day. They are Jesus’ gifts to us, with the invitation to listen, to take and eat and drink. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” The church is not our creation, and it’s not ours to preserve. The church is born and lives out of the water and blood from dead Jesus’ side, just like Eve was made out of the side of sleeping Adam and was joined to him in marriage.
The Lord will provide – the Spirit, the water, the blood.
Third, the Lord prays for His Church. Our Gospel reading delivers the Lord’s prayer, the prayer the Lord prays as High Priest. He prays for the church. Our prayers are important; His prayer is essential. The prayer of Jesus – crucified, risen, reigning – sustains the church. Without it, we cannot go on.
He prays that we would be protected by the Name, the Name into which you and I were baptized and covered with Christ like a bullet proof Kevlar suit. He knows the danger of being in the world and not of the world. He knows the danger you are in. You are marked men and women. You bear the sign of the cross, and the world hates it. Jesus knows that, and so He prays that you would be protected by the power of the Name of God.
He knows the evil one, the devil. Jesus went one on one with the devil in the wilderness, and He knows what you are up against. He knows you can’t defeat the devil. “On earth is not his equal.” Jesus knows that. He also knows that “one little word” from the mouth of God can fell him. He’s given you His Word – a pulpit and a preacher, a reliable written record in the Bible.
The Word reveals the truth. The truth that you are a sinner through and through, and even your noblest works are full of Adam’s dirty fingerprints. And the greater truth, the One who is the Truth, who wiped out your sin in one dark death on a Good Friday. You are holy, not in yourselves, but in Jesus. And for that, you have His Word, and that Word stands against your sin, against the devil, the world, your own flesh, the Law with all its commandments, and even your death. You are holy – perfected and pure – in the death of Jesus.
And that, my dear friends in Christ, is the secret to the church’s success, the mystery of what has kept the church going all these years, and what has kept our little congregation going for 42 years: Jesus’ ministry, His Word, His Baptism, His Supper, His prayer. The Lord will provide. He always has. He always will.
In the name of Jesus,