Tonight’s Readings do an excellent job of illustrating our lives. There is reality, and then there is perceived reality. “I walk in danger all the way” is the truest statement we could speak. Thanks be to God, though we walk in danger all the way, He is always beside us to defend us.
Our perceived reality is much like James and John in tonight’s Gospel. Their overly confident mother goes to Jesus and asks that her sons get to sit at Jesus’ right and left for all eternity. After this presumptuous request, Jesus asks the boys, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” In other words, “I told you just minutes ago that I am going to be betrayed, condemned to death, mocked, scourged, and crucified. Can you handle that?” The arrogance shines through when they huff and say “Yeah.” This is where you wish Jesus was more sarcastic and replied to them, “Well, isn’t that cute?” There’s a reason that Jesus names these two the “Sons of Thunder” in Mark’s Gospel. They’re more than a little overzealous and extremely sure of themselves.
But aren’t we all? While we may not be asking to sit at Jesus’ right or left for eternity or insisting that we’re up to the task of bearing the world’s sin while being tortured and crucified, we think that we’re much better off than we are. We think that, spiritually, we’re fine. We think that the devil has more important people to go after. Who am I? I’m just Joe Pewsitter. Satan’s going to go after the Pastor more than he’ll go after me. Who am I? I’m just some parish Pastor. If Satan’s going to go after someone, he’s going to go after a district president or a seminary faculty member. You see where our hubris gets us. It gets us to think that we’re fine. Yeah, I sin, but Satan’s gonna go after other people more than he’ll go after me. Yeah, I have this sin that I’m particularly attracted to, but I can give it up whenever I want to.
That’s where Dr. Luther comes in. In his Large Catechism he speaks against our foolhardy selves. He says: “Now, what is the devil? Nothing else than what the Scriptures call him: a liar and a murderer. A liar who entices the heart away from God’s Word and blinds it, making you unable to feel your need or to come to Christ. A murderer who begrudges you every hour of your life. If you could see how many daggers, spears, and arrows are aimed at you every moment, you would be glad to come to the sacrament as often as you can. The only reason we go about so securely and heedlessly is that we neither imagine nor believe that we are in the flesh, in the wicked world, or under the kingdom of the devil.”
This is where we learn a good lesson from Mordecai, pleading with the Lord as the Jews are about to be annihilated. He realizes, as do all the people of Israel, that their enemy, Haman, is about to convince King Ahasuerus to wipe out the Jewish minority in Persian exile. Mordecai doesn’t think “this will pass” or “it’ll all be okay.” He realizes the imminent danger and pleads to God for help. And God provides that through the work of Esther, a Jew, who caught the eye of Ahasuerus and was made queen. The king now sensitive to the Jews’ plight, allowed the Jews to defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force that might attack them. God provided for the protection of His people.
Which, of course, He does for us as well. He knows full-well who seeks our demise. He knows that Satan is cunning and crafty. He watched as Satan destroyed the bliss of Eden with just a few twisted words. He knows how easy it is for us to give into the temptation that surrounds us. So, He sent Jesus to defeat Satan once for all. He sent Jesus to do battle with Satan in our place, knowing that He would be victorious and Satan’s head would be crushed. Just as the God caused everything to work out for the Jews of Esther’s day so that they destroyed their enemies instead of the other way around, God causes everything to work out for the good of His children. Just as Satan thought he was receiving the victory over God’s creation, Jesus declared “It is finished,” and Satan was defeated, bound, and sentenced to eternal death.
And now to defend you Jesus gives you His Spirit and His Sacraments. By Baptism you were brought into the protection of His Kingdom. You are surrounded by a legion of holy angels who are with you so that the wicked foe may have no power over you. You are given Christ’s Body and Blood for forgiveness and the strengthening of faith. You are given the Holy Spirit who wraps you in the full armor of God so you can stand against all those daggers, spears, and arrows of Satan. Just as God fought for the Jews and caused them to annihilate their enemies, He fights for you. He destroys sin, death, and the devil, all for you.
You may walk in danger all the way, but remember that you also walk with angels all the way, with Jesus all the way, and that they are walking with you on a heavenward journey. Because you are in Christ you can look at the devil, the world, and your sinful nature and say “You’re no big deal. Not because of my own strength, but because of Christ’s. He has this under His control and you’re already defeated by Him. I’m on my way to heaven, carried in the arms of Jesus, and you can’t stop that.”
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.