What is the number one goal of a pastor? It’s not necessarily to preach the perfect sermon, but that always helps. It’s not to have the pews full every Sunday, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The goal of a pastor is that of God: the pastor “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
In our text for today, it opens with Paul talking to the Gentiles. His goal: to preach and teach to the Gentiles the saving nature of Jesus Christ. Not only does Paul want to see the Gentiles saved, he also wants to see his own people saved as well. That, my friends, is the goal of all pastors: to see their own people saved. And who are a pastor’s own people: all sinners.
For Paul, he too taught his own people, sinners who were Jew and Gentile. The Jews had disregarded Paul’s saving message of Jesus Christ while the Gentiles accepted it. Of the Jews who disregarded Paul’s message of Jesus Christ were members of his own family. It was Paul’s hope that some of the Jews, family or non-family, would take heed to what he was preaching and teaching.
We too have heard the saving message of Jesus Christ, but do not always “listen” to what it says. We turn away from God when something goes horribly wrong, such as the death of a loved one. We would rather be fed with chips and beer on a Sunday rather than Christ’s body and blood. We would prefer to commune with God on the fishing lake rather than in His house. We can insert many other reasons why we hear the saving message of Jesus Christ but don’t always “listen” to what it says.
For Paul, he did whatever he could to bring people to Christ, both Jew and Gentile alike. He preached to both groups, but only one group listened. According to him, he made much of his ministry in the hope that he may somehow arouse his own people to envy and save some of them. What a strange thing to do; to make someone envious so they will come to Christ. Think of what Paul did. He did this in order not only to bring the Gospel to as many Gentiles as possible, but to enlarge that number so that there might be a resulting sense of envy among the Jews. The envy might even then become an occasion for the Jews to rethink their own rejection of the Gospel, since it will have proved its power in the conversion of so many Gentiles.
It’s funny how we are so much like the Jews and the Gentiles. Some have heard and accepted the message while others have rejected the message. What is important to remember is whether we have accepted or rejected the message of Christ which has been proclaimed to us, Christ died for all of us, including those that reject. Christ’s death is not just for believers, but for all of mankind.
As it was for the Jews and Gentiles, it remains for us today: rejection or acceptance. Rejection is of ourselves, our own decision to reject the gift of eternal life which has been freely given to us. Acceptance is not of ourselves; it is strictly alone by the grace of God. This is seen in the teachings of the Lutheran confessors during the time of the Reformation. They taught sola gratia, by grace alone. This wasn’t something that they came up with; this is taken straight from Scripture: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” It is only through the grace of God that we have faith. This is spoken of again in the Gospel of John: “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”
This acceptance that Paul speaks of in our text is “life from the dead,” in other words, eternal life. Each believer of Christ is given that as a free gift, paid for by the blood of Christ. We have been given a life that means an end to sin and death, a life where we come face to face with Jesus Christ, who gave us this new life at the cost of His own.
The best part of this is that it is irrevocable; it can never be taken away. God’s grace will not be withdrawn. His grace does not fade away because of our sins. The grace that God extends to His children, He does so out of the love that He has for His creation. Since He created us in His image, He desires us to remain in His image. Since the fall, we lost that image. For the image to be restored, God sent His Son to be the Sacrifice that would be necessary to restore that image. Because of Jesus and His atoning sacrifice for God’s creation, the image of God has been restored. We have the image that God had intended for us to have at creation: perfection, holiness, righteousness – all won for us by Jesus Christ. These are the gifts that He gives to all who believe.
All of this is a response to our fall into sin. Had that not occurred, there would be no need for Jesus. Because of our fall into sin, we became disobedient to what God had purposed for us, eternal life in the Garden of Eden. Because of the fall, disobedience was all that we were left with. Only one thing would bring us from our disobedience, God’s mercy. And through this mercy are we given eternal life.
Mercy is what God is all about. All throughout the Old Testament, we see how God showed mercy to His people. God showed mercy to Noah when He destroyed the world in a flood. God showed mercy Abraham mercy by making him the father of many peoples. God showed mercy to Lot by sparing him from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. God has shown mercy to us all by sending Jesus to redeem us. God showed mercy to you when He called you by name in the waters of Holy Baptism and made you His beloved child.
The Lord used the rejection of the Jews into the means by which the Gentiles were saved. We too have had the rejection of others used as means to encourage and strengthen our belief in Jesus Christ. This rejection, this disobedience, is turned into mercy which gives salvation to all.
It is God’s will that all men might be saved, both Jew and Gentile alike, those who accept the message of Jesus Christ and those who reject it. His Son died for all, that all men might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth: that Jesus Christ is our Savior and giver of eternal life. All of this God does “that he may have mercy on all.” God indeed has shown mercy on us by giving to us His Son, Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.