Beloved. This season of Pre-Lent, in which we are now, is a season of self-searching and self-consecration. It is a season in which we look at our lives in the mirror of God’s holy Law and we see how often we have served self and not the Lord and so we sorrow and repent; but it is a season in which we are reminded that God deals with us in grace, a season to hear God calling to us and assuring us of and giving us His grace in His holy word. Now, with faith strengthened, we strive in that faith to dedicate/ consecrate ourselves anew to the Lord. Part of that consecration is boldly to enter the season of Lent and its time of deep reflection and penitence, to fight all the more against sin to root it out, to root out all that separates us from God and from service to Him.
We get an example of that zeal and consecration in today’s Epistle, the longest of the Church Year. In it we saw St. Paul in his zeal of service and his great suffering for Jesus’ sake. This is what he was called to as an apostle. To be sure, none of us are called to be an apostle—that was reserved for St. Paul and the Twelve—but the Lord has called us in our various vocations to serve Him, be it as husband, wife, daughter, son, father, mother, citizen, church member, etc. As we live out our lives of faith and faithfulness to the Lord, there will be much suffering as we strive for faithfulness; it is not an easy route to be a Christian—as St. Paul testifies to in the Epistle. But as we do so, we have the same comfort Jesus gave Him: “My grace is sufficient for you, because my power is made perfect in weakness.” In St. Paul’s list of sufferings on account of the Gospel, we see that through it all, the Lord’s grace is what he needed—and got. That is same grace the Lord gives us today. With St. Paul, we see his fortitude and courage. May that be said of us—that we are filled with strength and courage, all worked in us by the Holy Spirit. A Christian does not look for nor expect a life of ease; we expect to suffer on account of our confession of Christ as we live out our life and faith in a world that is hostile to Him, as we strive to conform our will to His. From St. Paul in today’s epistle, we learn the lesson of the true source of strength in this—our Lord and His grace. In every trial and struggle, let us rely on the Lord and His grace to us. Easier said than done? Definitely! How differently the Lord works than how we expect.
Today’s Gospel also gives us an example of how differently the Lord works than we would expect. Jesus elsewhere promises [Mt. 16.18]: I will build My Church. Does Jesus build His Church with great power and might for all the world to see? Do all who become Christians become free from trial, trouble, hardship? Hardly!—remember St. Paul in the epistle; remember your own life as you try to live faithful to the Lord and His will. How does Jesus build His Church? –Through His holy word and sacrament. Look at how Jesus describes His work of building the Church in today’s Gospel: A farmer went out to sow his seed. A seed looks all small, dried up, like not much of anything. And as He Himself explains, The seed is the word of God. Through the sowing of the seed of the word of God, Jesus builds His Church. He has His holy word go out into the world and by faithful preaching of that work—including in the word of Holy Baptism—He sows that word into the hearts of people. Again, the word of God, like a seed, doesn’t look like much, like it can do anything. But that’s precisely the one tool/ instrument Jesus left to His Church to build the Church. After all, right before His ascension He told His disciples [Mt. 2819-20]: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations [that is, through you and your work I will build my Church. And look at the tools I am giving you], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit [so I am giving you the Sacrament of Holy Baptism], teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you [that is, the word]. Through the word and sacrament Jesus proclaims and distributes through His Church, His Church will grow. A farmer went out to sow his seed. Although the seed of the word and sacrament may not look like much in the eyes of the world, it is powerful. Although, as Jesus points out in the parable much seed is seemingly wasted and does not produce fruit, yet other seed fell into good soil. It grew and produced fruit—one hundred times as much as was sown.” Not all who hear the word will come to faith; sadly, many will reject their baptism. But the seed of the word will still produce many Christians, bountiful results: one hundred times as much as was sown. Or in the words of our text from St. Isaiah: and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
This is the Lord’s plan of how He will build His Church: For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. That was fulfilled when the apostles left Jerusalem and went out into all the world—St. Thomas, for example to India, St. Paul to Rome and probably Spain, St. Matthew to Ethiopia, etc. Just as the field doesn’t on its own produce a bountiful crop of wheat until the farmer comes to it, so also Christians aren’t just “made”; Jesus doesn’t just “zap” people into His Church; it is always in connection with the word. For that to happen, the word must come to the people first—just like it came to you and me. How did the word come to us? How did the farmer sow the seed of the word into our hearts? For us all, it is different but ultimately it all goes back to Zion, to Jerusalem; it all comes from and is grounded in Jesus and His saving work. For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. It was in humble, lowly Roman province of Palestine that Jesus was born and lived and carried out the work that would save the world—you and me—from sin, death, devil and hell. In Jerusalem and the temple, Jesus taught; His holiness seen; in was in and by Jerusalem where He suffered and died for our salvation; it was by Jerusalem where He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. It was to Jerusalem that Jesus sent His Holy Spirit on Pentecost to the disciples and where the Church got first firmly rooted. It was from Jerusalem that the disciples went into the entire world with the preaching of Jesus. And that saving Gospel word made the rounds of place and time until it came to you and me. And may it go from us—our lips—to others and so on.
Again, the key thing to remember is that the word goes out—just like the farmer sowing the seed in his field. And although each seed may not look like much, it still has that life force in it, something that makes it sprout and grow. The same thing applies to the word that Jesus sows through His apostles, through His Church. It may not look and seem like much; in fact, the word, the preaching of Jesus and Him crucified is considered foolishness by the world. But look at how Jesus has built His Church, For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem—from a handful of followers to the greatest religion in the world. The word that Jesus has His Church proclaim today is not just mere sounds of human language or letters on a page. It is a divine word, a word through which the Holy Spirit is busy and active creating and sustaining faith in Jesus in the hearts of people. The apostle writes by the Holy Spirit [Hb. 4.12]: For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It penetrates even to the point of dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, even being able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart. Because the word, the word that preaches Jesus as Savior—the Holy Scripture we have today—is the very word of God, the Holy Spirit is working powerfully in it and through it. He draws us to Jesus through it as He works in us both a knowledge/ recognition of our sins—a true sorrow over our sins—and a recognition of and trust in Jesus as our Savior from that sin and death.
Our text: and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. Why would they say Come, let us go up? It’s obvious that there is discontent with the present situation. No one would say Come, let us go up, “let’s leave where we are and what we’re doing” if they were happy and content. No one wants to leave a good thing. So those who say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob are looking for something better than what they presently have. To put it in different/ law and Gospel terms: they are tormented in conscience because of their sin. They feel and recognize their sin; they know that there is a God and that they must stand in judgment before Him. This initial unease is the Lord’s work; then when the Holy Spirit comes in His word of the Law and shows them/ convicts them of their sin, that’s where there’s true torment of conscience. Is something bothering you inside? Is your conscience bothered by sin? Are you feeling guilt over sin? That’s the Holy Spirit’s work on you. And that’s a good thing! He is working through the Law to bring you recognize, feel and sorrow over sin. He’s creating that dissatisfaction within you so that you long for relief, so that you long for the forgiveness of that sin/ the holy absolution. But know that He does not just leave you in despair over sin. Instead He comes with the preaching/ the Good news of Jesus—that in Jesus your sins are completely/ fully forgiven you; He comes with the Gospel, the holy absolution that actually forgives your sin. He works in you that faith that from the heart you trust in, lay hold of Jesus and His forgiveness and rely on Him. This is the faith that St. Isaiah describes in our text this way: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” By the Gospel, the forgiveness of our sin in Jesus, the Holy Spirit points us to/ draws us to Jesus. This is life! –True spiritual life; a life of freedom and joy in the Lord.
Again notice—just as the farmer goes out to sow seed on that field for it to produce, so too must the word, the Gospel, come to us. We can’t produce or conjure up faith in ourselves. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit in the word coming to us and drawing us to Jesus, creating faith in Him in our hearts. And where there is faith, the Holy Spirit has worked. And the wonderful thing is that the Holy Spirit doesn’t just create faith in Jesus in us but He strengthens it and creates in us a desire to know more of the Lord and to seek to do His will. Dear Christian, use the upcoming Lenten season not only as a time to examine heart and life to root out sin, but also use it as a time of renewal in Scripture; refresh yourself in the teaching and doctrine of the Scripture. Use a solid devotional book, follow a plan to read through the entire NT or at least during the 6 weeks of Lent. Besides Sundays, be here in church each Wednesday to hear and ponder Jesus’ holy Passion. During your time around the word, the Lord will be speaking to you in His word; and by your prayer make it a conversation.
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” The Holy Spirit through the word draws us to Jesus and makes us joyful and willing to do His will. As we know the truth about Jesus—He is our gracious loving Savior from sin—we are led into a life of holiness; now as Christians we want to do God’s will and we want to delve further in His truth—in doctrine and teaching. In His holy Word, by the Holy Spirit, He will certainly teach us and in joy our lives will reflect Him in us a life of holiness. Jesus builds His Church as He has His word come to us and by His word draws us to Himself. INJ Amen.