The Word here is especially helpful to the shepherds of Christ’s sheep, but also to you lay people as well.
Jesus was angered and grieved at the hardness of the Jew’s hearts. Now, we pastors may sometimes get angry at the stubbornness of people, or their lack of attention to the Word of God. We may feel this way toward our own sheep, who, it turns out, are sinners. Or it may be in response to people outside our congregation, perhaps even fellow pastors.
We may sometimes wonder if we sin when we are upset at people. This is not necessarily so. The Large Catechism says, “[The Fifth Commandment] forbids anger except . . . to persons who occupy the place of God, that is, parents and rulers. Anger, reproof, and punishment are the prerogatives of God and His representatives, and they are to be exercised upon those who transgress this and the other commandments.” So we shepherds, as spiritual fathers, have a certain right to feel anger in our duty of reproof against sin.
Since Christ our Lord was angry, we know for certain that His anger could not be a sin. As a Teacher and Preacher, His anger was just.
But “just anger” is one thing. What we feel may or may not be just. Are we grieved at people’s hardness of heart? Or are we sometimes upset because we did not get our way? Are we sometimes miffed that our feelings got stepped on? Or we rationalize why it is someone else’s fault.
Even if we have a genuine reason for anger, even then our old Adam surely finds ways to taint our otherwise just anger with sin.
May God lead us to be more long-suffering for the sake of our sheep. May we temper our anger with gentleness. May the Spirit lead us to repent when the fault is ours.
Our old Adam is as hard-hearted as anyone else. We can resist the Word of God with the best of them, since we, too, are sinners. For the sake of our people and ourselves, may we bend to the Word in repentance where we have done wrong.
The Reading also speaks of Christ as He taught and healed by the sea. Such a great crowd came to Him that His disciples held a boat ready for Him. He was prudently taking a precaution in case the multitude pressed in too hard.
We shepherds, as well as lay people, are also crowded in by the circumstances of life. We get too busy so easily. Sometimes, people make heavy demands on our time. Like Christ, we should be wise. We should not allow the work of life to overwhelm us. Sometimes, we need to be ready to tell people “No.” We are tempted to try to help all people at all times, making it hard to find time to rest and fulfill our duties with family. There are times to have a boat handy, so to speak, so that we can step away and get some space.
Christ often went away by Himself. Although He was willing to take time for people, He also made sure that they did not crush Him with their insistent demands.
We have a need for rest, as the Sabbath directs. Christ modeled this for us. He did not strictly need to rest as the Son of God, although in His state of humiliation He allowed Himself to become tired like us.
This is therefore more than a good example to follow. Christ lived as one of us. He walked the long road of work and difficulty, and more than that, the divine work laid upon His shoulders by His Father in heaven. He did the work of atonement for us as our substitute. He had to be one of us so that He could pay the price for us. He was not here to glide through life as the divine Son of God without any troubles touching Him as His feet barely touched the ground. No, He got dirty like us, and suffered like us, and more.
His path led all the way to the greatest tribulation of all when He was crushed upon the Cross by the weight of our sins. Then He did not prudently avoid it. No, He stepped right into it, accepting the burden for our sake. All the guilt and punishment and rejection of our iniquities crushed Him down.
By doing so, He has purchased for us a life without pain or tribulation or any overwhelming pressures. There we will not have to rest, since that is our eternal rest, purchased by holy Blood.
Finally, I want to touch upon a word in our English translation. It says here that Christ “appointed” twelve apostles. A literal translation says that He “made” the Twelve. Although what He did can be described as an appointment, I want to stress the point for the sake of us pastors, that Christ made us what we are. We did not earn or attain it. Although our calls came through a congregation, it is Christ’s call. Our Lord looked at you and said, “I will make that one My minister.”
To some extent this is true of most vocations, yet especially true of a pastor. Christ chose you and set you in place in this ministry. He made you His man to preach and to cast down the works of satan with the mighty waters of Holy Baptism. Although you are not an apostle in the strict sense, you are a man sent by Christ with His authority to forgive and retain sins. You open and close heaven by the keys of the kingdom.
These are the Gospel gifts that you have received, and continue to receive. Like the twelve, you are not mighty in yourselves to do the work set before you. You fail, and you fall short, as the other disciples did, including Peter the Rock. But Christ made you His preacher nevertheless.
May the Spirit lead us all to take this office most seriously, and do our work most vigorously for the sake of the sheep. May we also listen to the Word that we preach and take it to heart, because this Gospel is for us also. Therein lies our strength and our life. We are dead without this Gospel. The Word spiritually raises us as well as our people. It ties us to Christ our Lord who chose us, and makes His life our life. It pours the Blood of atonement upon us, so that even we unworthy slaves may stand in His grace.
May the Spirit continue to both open our mouths to speak rightly, and our ears to listen faithfully. Amen.
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