Sermon audio here.
As a young man, St. John was hot-headed, ambitious, and stubborn. In other words, he had the makings of a good Lutheran.
Our Lord even had a special nickname for St. John and his brother James: “sons of thunder.” John was feisty and fiery. We get a glimpse of his hot-headedness shortly after our Lord set out for Jerusalem and began His deliberate march toward Palm Sunday.
The trip from Galilee to Jerusalem was a long one—anywhere from about 90 to 120 miles, depending on the route you took. When they got near Samaria, our Lord sent messengers to make the necessary preparations for their lodging.
But there was no love lost between the Jews and Samaritans, so it’s not shocking that the Samaritans didn’t receive them. Once again, there was no room for our Lord at the inn.
If the Samaritans’ lack of hospitality was to be expected, equally as predictable was the reaction of our sons of thunder. As usual, they flew off the handle in a blind rage. They were even ready to summon fire from heaven to rain down on that Samaritan village, but Jesus rebuked them and they moved on.
At this point, our Lord had every reason to dismiss James and John from His inner circle of disciples—if not from the Twelve altogether. What possible use could the Prince of Peace have for men with such murderous impulses? But not only did He allow them to continue along with Him, He even promised the disciples that they would sit beside Him on twelve thrones in the New Creation.
But that wasn’t enough. John and his brother wanted the places of honor next to the King. But they didn’t take their concern directly to their pastor like they should have. Instead, they started complaining to everyone else. Eventually they ended up sending their mother to do their dirty work for them. After making her request, Jesus turned to James and John and told them point-blank: following Me means a life of suffering, not one of glory and honor.
“Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” He asked. This was the very same Cup our Lord prayed that the Father might remove from Him—a Cup filled with the bitter poison of your sin. The mere thought of drinking this Cup caused our Lord’s sweat to become like great drops of blood falling to the ground.
On another occasion, John went to our Lord and complained that he saw someone casting out demons in His Name. Now you’d think John would’ve rejoiced at this. Once our Lord Himself was accused of casting out demons by the power of the devil, but our Lord cut right through this nonsense and pointed out the obvious: why in the world would Satan cast out demons? If Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?
It goes without saying that casting out demons is a good thing. This is what Christ does, not Satan. But when John saw this going on, he wasn’t pleased and even tried to stop it. Why in the world would he have wanted to silence the Gospel?
John tells us why: because this man wasn’t one of them. He was an outsider. He wanted Jesus to be more exclusive, and our Lord was being friendly with way too many people—and not always the “right kind” of people, to top it all off. It seemed Jesus would hang out with anybody, even liberals. John was happy with his little group just the way it was. Letting these other people in would completely change the dynamic and ruin everything.
But John was open to instruction. He didn’t stubbornly cling to his prejudices. He was willing to hear the Word of God and let the Holy Spirit work in him, even though this meant hearing things he didn’t want to hear and accepting things he didn’t want to accept. He knew that in the end, God’s wishes took priority over his own.
By the grace of God, John—who was once primarily known as that reckless son of thunder—would eventually became known as the Beloved Disciple and Holy Evangelist.
This meant John could no longer call down fire upon his enemies. Instead, He was to love them and pray for them.
No longer could he put himself first. Now he would have to become last and a servant of all.
No longer could John cling to his exclusive, cliquish mentality or give priority to his own preferences over God’s Word. Now he would have to proclaim a Gospel for the very purpose of bringing in outsiders. Now John would have to pray “Thy will be done,” even when his will was at odd with Christ’s.
Confessing Christ as Lord means living and confessing the faith in accord with His will. That sounds obvious and all Christians want to do that—at least in theory.
But then the liturgy ends, you go back to reality, and you find yourself surrounded by people you love to hate and losers you’re rather exclude. Repent. Love your enemies, pray for Muslims and atheists, and welcome those who would befriend you.
And then there are those vices you love to indulge. You try to be a good person and undoubtedly avoid some bad things, so what harm can it do to give in to temptation, at least once in a while? As it turns out, a lot. Repent. If your right eye causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go to hell.
You may think you know better than God when it comes to thinks like women’s ordination or gay marriage. Being a Christian doesn’t mean you’ll always like what God has to say. In fact, if you always agree with God, you can’t be a Christian.
Just look at John. He was hot-headed, ambitious, and stubborn—and these qualities would always remain with him—but his most important characteristic was that he was repentant.
The life of the baptized consists of acknowledging and daily repenting of the fact that your will is at odds with Christ’s. This means affirming God’s design for the Church and family, even if you don’t like it. It also means affirming the goodness of everything that pleases God.
God has spoken: He likes weekly communion, closed communion, and communion before confirmation.
He likes vestments, the liturgy, chanting, hymns, genuflecting, incense, the sign of the cross, the crucifix, and saints’ days.
Believe it or not, God likes these things even if you’ve never seen them before in a Lutheran congregation.
He absolutely insists that we keep purity of doctrine and never compromise this, not on a single point.
He also forbids you from using the truth as a hammer. Even when you’re right, Christ commands you to love and be patient with those who are wrong.
After all, was it not Christ’s love for the wayward and erring that caused His Incarnation? Did He not pray for who couldn’t have been any more wrong when they crucified Him as a blasphemer?
Confessing Christ as Lord means living in accord with His will. This is beyond difficult—it’s impossible. But this doesn’t mean it’s okay to throw up your hands and not even try. If you don’t try, you’re not a Christian.
But when you try and fail, repent, and rejoice—for you have a Savior who put Himself last and made Himself a servant to all. You have a Savior who lived in perfect accord with His Father’s will, even when it was His will to crush Him. You have a Savior who loved Judas and the Pharisees, even though they loved the world more than His doctrine. You have a Savior who loved and even had use for men with such murderous impulses as the sons of thunder.
And if He could love even them, He can love even a Lutheran like you—and He does. In Holy Baptism, Christ has traded places with you. He became the Scapegoat that in Him you might become the Righteousness of God. He continues to forgive, renew, and lead you by the Light of His Word and grace of His Sacraments that you may delight in His will and walk in His ways to the glory of His Holy Name.
God’s ways are always good for you. Never are His ways better for you than when you dislike them most. As we sing:
What God ordains is always good:
His will is just and holy.
As He directs my life for me,
I follow meek and lowly.
My God indeed
In ev’ry need
Knows well how He will shield me;
To Him, then, I will yield me.
Soli Deo Gloria