The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Listening to that miraculous account recorded in the Gospel lesson for today, who wouldn’t immediately drop everything and follow Jesus? The miraculous abundance is so great that it’s literally sinking your boat! Is that why the disciples followed Jesus—because He worked such a great miracle? Well… we wouldn’t be wrong in saying this. After all, the word “miracle” means “sign,” as in God gives a sign of His divine power and presence for people to see. He wants them to know who it is that’s at work and in their presence. The disciples behold this great and awesome sign, and they get it. Peter cries out, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Thanks to that miracle—because of that miracle—he understands that he’s in the presence of almighty God, and it terrifies him. He knows what his sin deserves. So when God Himself tells him to not be afraid and instead follow Him and be catching men, Peter and the boys immediately obey. Who among us wouldn’t?
What about when things aren’t so awesome and miraculous though? Consider the lesson our Lord Himself teaches Elijah. Things didn’t go according to Elijah’s expectations. Even after the miraculous, fiery display that ultimately led to the humiliation and death of 450 false prophets of Baal, wicked Queen Jezebel only dug in her heels more and vowed to destroy Elijah by the same time tomorrow. Apparently the great miracle of God didn’t work as Elijah had expected! He heads for the hills in fear and disgust, eventually hiding out in a cave. “God, just let me die! It’s hopeless! I quit!” This is where God finds Elijah. “Elijah, what are you doing here?” Elijah wasn’t where God had called him to be. God then instructs Elijah to go out and stand at the entrance of his cave hiding place, where He then puts on a powerful and miraculous display, showing Elijah a mountain-splitting tornado, and then an earthquake, and then a raging fire. But… God wasn’t in any of those miraculous, powerful displays of terror. That’s when a faint, low whisper—almost inaudible—comes from inside the cave. God wasn’t in the huge and miraculous. He was in the lowly whisper. He had been with Elijah all along!
What about you? How many of you think that following Jesus would be so much easier if He just gave you some powerful miracles to hold on to; to work with? How many of you, like Elijah, struggle and lament when it seems like you’re all alone and the powerful/miraculous signs you’re looking for and expecting aren’t coming to fruition? How many of you have put God to the test by playing the little game, “God, if you don’t want me to do this, give me a sign”? You know… you ask for a divine sign, and then you wait for lightning; you wait for the heavens to rend; you wait for the earthquake… and then nothing happens, so it must mean that God is okay with you doing whatever your little heart is leading you to do, right?
On the flip-side, how often does it take a tragedy to blind side you and wake you up to just how far off the Lighted Way you’ve strayed? You know how it is… life is good; you’re on cruise-control; not a worry in the world, and then it happens: Tragedy jumps you, beats you down, and takes your wallet. “Why, God?! Why me?!” It’s amazing how “religious” people can get after they get their rear end handed to them and they realize they’re not immune to the symptoms and realities of sin. My question is: Why would it take fire from heaven to get us to turn our backs on sin? Why does it take such a powerful punch to wake us up and recognize the darkness we’re walking in? Why does it take such terror to turn us back to God?
I guess the answer comes down to the simple fact that God works His miracles of repentance, restoration, and salvation in very humble and ordinary ways; ways that we so often ignore or disregard. God doesn’t work the way we expect (or desire). Look no further than the suffering and death of God Himself in the flesh. Yes: This is almighty God, in the flesh. Not very impressive, is it? If we could draw up the plan, we would do it differently. Is it any wonder why so many people rejected Him and mocked Him (and still do)? Is it any wonder why even His own apostles tucked tail and headed for the hills when all this went down? Talk about unexpected and undesirable! This isn’t supposed to happen to God! God is supposed to win; not the bad guys!
And yet… this is God’s plan of victory. This is the ultimate victory, first foretold and promised by God Himself in the Garden of Eden. All the powers of sin, death, and the devil were crushed and put to death for all time right here on Christ’s cross. The really sad thing is that the rest of nature was making this miracle abundantly clear. The skies turned black. The earth quaked. Boulders and mountains split open. The huge temple curtain was rent, from top to bottom, from heaven to earth. Even some dead people were resurrected! No one seemed to get it, no one except one lone Roman soldier. “Truly this was the Son of God.”
After all this (and after the promise of Christ that on the third day He would rise again in victory), the apostles were still hiding in a lowly cave of a room. Things didn’t work at all the way they expected. You can hear it in the two disciples while on their way to Emmaus. “We had hoped that He was the One to redeem Israel, but the chief priest and the leaders crucified Him.” They just didn’t get it. They didn’t get it because it wasn’t what they had expected or desired. They didn’t get it because they never really paid attention or listened to the Word of God. “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” And with that, our Lord led them back to the Scriptures, interpreting and explaining to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
Here’s the thing: hammering on all the many ways we sin, daily and often, isn’t going to work repentance in anyone. Only the Gospel of Christ can work this miracle (and it does just that, just as our Lord has promised). “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it (and it alone) is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.” What does your Lord say (albeit in the whisper of Holy Scripture)? What has He said about not neglecting to meet together, as some are in the habit of doing? Can you really follow Jesus without being where Jesus is? What has He said about the wage of sin—ALL sin? More importantly, what has He done to pay that deadly wage in full, for you, for me, and for all the children of Adam? God Himself took on flesh and shed blood in death for you! That’s how much He loves you! In terms of following Christ, this is so important to understand. Christianity is NOT simply a game of “follow the leader,” with us simply following Jesus’ lead, doing what He does. We CAN’T do what He does, which is why He did what He did for us in our place.
Because of the all-atoning death and resurrection of Jesus, however, we can follow Him. By grace, through faith—through the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit in these, His means of grace—we can have the confidence to follow Him wherever He leads us; wherever He calls us, even when it means that following entails cross-bearing. Where does your Lord call you to be, even in the midst of your sorrows; even as you bear your crosses? What has He already said regarding His presence with you always; how He’ll never leave you or forsake you? He was forsaken for you. He was forsaken by our heavenly Father so that you would never have to know/experience a single second of it in your own undeserving life. What has He said regarding the whisper of water in Holy Baptism, and how you bear His holy name; you belong to Him? What has He said regarding the whisper of His Body and His Blood in, with, and under the ordinary elements of bread and wine; Body and Blood that is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin; for the peace that surpasses all understanding? Understood and recognized through the eyes and ears of faith, it’s all so very powerful and miraculous!
I know this may not be what you want to hear. This whole “thing” that we do here each and every Sunday morning—Word and Sacrament worship, focused solely on Christ and His gifts to us—may not be all that you desire. If that’s the case, that’s a “you” problem, because this is exactly what your Lord desires for you and for all men. Here is Life; the free and unmerited gift of Life in Christ and because of Christ. Friends: Here is Christ, right where He tells you to seek Him; right where He promises to be. Yes, it’s the equivalent of a lowly whisper, but do not be deceived! Here is Christ for you, with you now and with you always, to the very end of the age.
May this powerful miracle of God’s undeserved and unconditional love for you guard you and keep you into life everlasting. May you ever bear your crosses faithfully (even joyfully) as you follow Him, and may you ever always be at peace, for you belong to Him, and nothing and no one can ever take that away from you.
In His most holy name… AMEN.
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