St. John Lutheran, Galveston
Rev. Alan Taylor
+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In this morning’s Gospel reading Jesus sends His disciples out to proclaim the kingdom of heaven. But He does so with a peculiar command. “Go nowhere (He says) among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.” The command is peculiar because Jesus tells His disciples to spread the Gospel only among the Jews, or, as He says, “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” One might wonder why Jesus commanded such a limited scope for the proclamation of the Gospel. What about the Gentiles and the Samaritans? Are they unfit or unqualified to receive the grace of God in Christ Jesus? Are they, somehow, outside of the reach of God’s love?
With what Jesus says here in Matthew 9 these days He would be labeled a bigot, a racist, and a religious elitist. Sending His disciples to proclaim the kingdom of heaven exclusively to the Jews seems to suggest, at least on the surface, that He must think less of everyone else. In the end, it appears that the difference between those who are saved and those who are lost is a racial one.
Just this past week, Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for the Office of Management and Budget, was grilled in an open Senate hearing about his religious beliefs. “Are only Christian’s going to be saved,” he was asked? “Is everyone else going to be condemned?” “Are Muslims going to be condemned?” “What about people of the Jewish faith? Of course, there is not, nor can there be, a religious test to hold office in this country. Still, the person asking the questions of Mr. Vought concluded that he was a bigot, principally because he isn’t a universalist, a person who believes that everyone, regardless of what they believe, or, don’t believe will ultimately be given a place in the kingdom of heaven.
The point though isn’t what Russell Vought believes or doesn’t believe. The point is what Jesus says. “I am the Way (He says), and the Truth and the Life and no one comes unto the Father but by Me.” Ultimately, the irate Senator was incensed and perplexed and repulsed, not by Russell Vought, but by Jesus. He is one, after all, who says who can and cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.
There is a sense in which the Gospel of salvation in Christ is the most exclusive religion in the world. Not everyone is going to go to heaven. Therefore, as Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
The way to the kingdom of heaven is narrow, not because only certain races will be saved, or, because only certain people of exemplary moral character will be saved, but because Christ Jesus, and He alone, is the door to the kingdom. Indeed, as St. Paul tells us, “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” And again, in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus, Peter says, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
The Christian faith is the most exclusive faith in the world. If that is a problem with some, the problem is not with the person who believes it, it is with God, who declares it. The Good News is that while the Gospel is the most exclusive faith in the world, it is also, at the same time, the most inclusive faith in the world.
There are two passages in the New Testament that come to mind that speak volumes regarding God’s intent to save the whole world, people of every race, every nation and every tongue from sin and death. The first passage, I would dare say, everyone knows quite well. It’s from John 3. Jesus says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
God so loved the world, the cosmos, that He gave His only begotten Son. Whoever, man, or, woman, young, or, old, rich, or, poor, of any nation, of any ethnicity, whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. The Gospel that the disciples were to proclaim regarding the kingdom of heaven was universal, which means, it was for everyone.
The second passage that comes to mind regarding whom God really desires to save is in 1 Timothy 2. “First of all (says St. Paul), I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” By the way, for those who might be offended by Paul’s reference to “men,” “God would have men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” the word is actually the generic Greek word for men, which really means “mankind.” Indeed, as Paul says elsewhere, “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Sin kills and damns, but God would not have the sinner die. Therefore, Jesus died and rose again for everyone and His desire is to save everyone from sin and death, including the person of the Jewish faith who has, thus far, rejected His coming and His message, as well as the Muslim, who has been taught to deny His atoning death and resurrection for the sins of the world, and yes, including you and me, who, by the sheer power of His Word, He brought out of darkness into His marvelous light.
So, why did Jesus send His disciples only “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel?” Well, in His day, there was certainly a great deal of tension between Jews and Gentiles, as well as, between Jews and Samaritans. Interestingly, the tension was, at least from the Jewish perspective, over whether the Gentiles and the Samaritans were to be included in the kingdom of heaven. The Gentiles because, well because, they weren’t Jews! They were another race! The Samaritans because they were only partly Jewish. They were half-breeds! Unfit, therefore, to enter the kingdom of heaven.
It seems that Jesus would bridge the gap between the Jews and these other two groups by including them right away in the proclamation of the Gospel. But, He doesn’t! Again, the question is, why doesn’t He?
I’ve built up to this point in the message, the point of revealing Jesus’ plan, His reason for limiting the preaching of His disciples to the lost sheep of the house Israel. So, here it is! Why were the disciples sent to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of heaven only among the Jews? The answer…I don’t know! What I don’t though is this…what God hides from us, what He doesn’t tell us about His actions, whether then, or, now, are always in agreement with, in line with what He does tell us.
God is good. He is gracious and merciful. He desires all men to be saved to come to the knowledge of the truth. He sent His Son into the world to die for the sins of the whole world. Whatever He does and whenever He does it, is to serve His will, which is always just and good and gracious.
“God would not have the sinner die;
His Son with saving grace is nigh;
He Spirit in the Word declares
How we in Christ are heaven’s heirs.”
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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