Have we forgotten something? Have failed to remember something really important?
Questions like these are likely to pop into our minds when we read in Acts of the great gains that the Church experienced. In Acts 2, Peter preached his great Pentecost sermon. He proclaimed the Name of Jesus that alone saves. He called all the people to repentance and Baptism for the remission of sins. He both rebuked sin and proclaimed the Gospel with powerful words.
In response to his sermon, 3,000 people believed and were baptized. 3,000! And later we read that every day people were being added to the church.
Then we look around at our church and how few people are here. We are likely to wonder: What is wrong with us? Have we forgotten something important?
Sometimes, we decide that we need to change things in the Church in order to reach more people. Perhaps we decide to change our worship in order to attract the lost. Perhaps we create new programs or groups within the church to bring in unbelievers. Perhaps we adopt new strategies in order to mobilize our members to do evangelism more effectively.
The motivation behind such changes is good, namely, to save the lost. Such changes may or may not be bad in themselves. Yet there is a basic problem here that we should especially remember during Lent. It is the truth that we are sinners. Sinners do not have the power or wisdom or any other quality in themselves to make disciples.
We can see where our sinful wisdom can lead us. For instance, when we change worship with the purpose of attracting outsiders, then we make worship a slave of the desires of outsiders. The outsiders whom we want to attract and please are not even believers. Why would we subjugate worship to the sinful whims of those who are spiritually blind, lost, and enemies of God? Neither is it a good idea to gear our worship to our own desires, because even though we are believers, we still have the old Adam within us that drives us toward the wrong choices. Rather than what we want, worship should give us what we need, and what all sinners need.
Likewise, new societies or boards or methods for missions often turn missions into a job that we do. Organizations for missions often become full of busy work that may make people think that they are accomplishing something.
But the mission of the Church is not something the Church in itself does. Hear this and hear it well: The Church accomplishes her mission by forgiving sins by the authority of Christ. The Church preaches the Gospel of Christ, which is nothing but forgiving sins by the authority of Christ. The Church baptizes and administers the Sacrament of the Altar, which are also the forgiveness of Christ by His authority.
But making disciples? We sinners cannot! The flesh gives birth to flesh. We sinners, of ourselves, can only make more sinners.
The best that we can do is to proclaim the Gospel. The rest is in the hands of the Holy Spirit, who works faith when and where He pleases. Actually accomplishing the mission of the Church successfully is outside our hands.
Jesus instructed the Apostles to "Go and make disciples of all nations." But He also said how: by baptizing and teaching. Baptizing is not our action, as Scripture says, but is the action of the Triune God. Teaching the Word likewise is not our action, since it is God's Word, His voice, which is active in making saints out of sinners.
We can see Matthew's "Great Commission" start happening right there in Acts chapter two. People were baptized, and they devoted themselves to the Apostles' doctrine because the Apostles were teaching them to observe everything Jesus commanded. Yet the increase in numbers was not attributed to the Apostles, but to the Lord who added to the Church daily those who were being saved.
Actual numeric success is not our business. Faithfulness to the Apostles' doctrine is our business. Many people dislike that word: "doctrine." But our doctrine comes from the Apostles, who got their doctrine from Jesus. To reject pure doctrine is to reject Christ. But if we continue steadfast in the doctrine, then what riches are ours! In doctrine, we find the cross that saves us. In doctrine, we find the precious blood that cleanses us. In doctrine we also find God's law, too hard for us to obey. In doctrine we learn why we cannot obey - because we are sinners who deserve hell, with our human flesh still at enmity with God. But in doctrine we also hear our Savior's voice, absolving us of all guilt.
Hear that voice now as He speaks to you. Jesus says, "I know your guilt, for I have carried it on the cross. You could do nothing. So I have done everything for you. I died the horrible death you deserved by being rejected by the Father. Now you are free of your guilt, because I have erased your sins and taken away your punishment. You are forgiven."
Something really has been forgotten in the Church. God has forgotten your sins. He has promised that He would remember them no more. He does that forgetting right here in His house. He speaks His absolution, and He gives you to eat and drink the body and blood of His Son. By these things, your sins are forgotten.
May God's Spirit keep us satisfied with the treasures God has given us. Our human flesh wants to tell us that it is not enough, that we need to add something more to His Gospel to make it effective or relevant. But the Gospel of Christ is already effective. All by itself, it is the power of God for salvation to all who have faith.
May God's Spirit keep us faithful to that Gospel, which is the doctrine of the Apostles. May He keep us from seeking spiritual substitutes that feel good, like a junk food addict who is destroying his body because he only eats what he wants. The doctrine of the Apostles is what we need, and what our sinful world needs.
Therefore, the power of the Gospel keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus the Lord. Amen.
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