When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
In the Lord Christ, dearly Beloved!
If a man is retiring from a demanding and responsible office after he has held it for a long time, and if he is also leaving this particular office in an honorable way, then in many instances this leaving counts as something which can be fully desired and welcomed by such a man.
Therefore, to be sure, many might think that a man who is leaving the office of preaching to a large congregation and leaving the preaching office completely would be entirely satisfied with that. To be sure, the preaching office in an especially large congregation is certainly difficult and demanding and grueling, although our dear Christians often do not have the proper understanding of it. It is also certain that the preaching office is an incredibly responsible office. It deals with the highest things of all: the honor of God and the salvation of man. He who has long held the preaching office conscientiously, with full recognition of his responsibility before God in a congregation with lots of people has also worked honestly and uprightly and has likely worn himself out. Nevertheless that preacher who has held his preaching office with fervor and love through long years, especially in one and the same congregation, certainly will not be entirely satisfied that he should leave the difficult and responsible preaching office. On the contrary, leaving will be exceedingly difficult for him even if weighty and irrefutable reasons have compelled him to do so. And so it is for me. And I think that it is proper at this time to say to you, dear congregation, in which for over 20 years I have held the holy, precious preaching office, that leaving is hard for me.
What makes leaving the preaching office so hard?
- That a man in the preaching office is a servant of the Lord for the carrying out of his gracious will unlike anywhere else.
- That a man in the preaching office carries on the work of the Lord through his word of grace unlike anywhere else.
- That a man in the preaching ministry conducts the battle of the Lord under his gracious protection unlike anywhere else.
1. That a man in the preaching office is a servant of the Lord for the carrying out of his gracious will unlike anywhere else.
The gracious will of the Lord has established his church, and in this church his gracious will shall now continue to be put into effect. The Lord speaks of this, his gracious will, when he says: “On this rock I will build my church.” “I will” – he says. That is his gracious will. For what will he do? He will build a church, which shall be a temple of God, in which the glory of God lives.
And out of what will he build his church? Out of nothing but poor, sinful people! What have they done to earn such an honor and great salvation? Nothing. They are not worthy of it; he builds the holy church and temple of God out of them only according to his free, unearned love and goodness – in short, out of grace.
But how, then, is it possible that out of poor sinners and unholy people the dear Lord can build a church, house, and temple of God, which then is holy and a dwelling place of the glory of God? Can someone build a good house out of bad stones, a holy temple of God out of sinners? Yes – because his gracious will has provided such a foundation and base, through which it becomes possible, that poor sinners can be constructed into a church, which is God’s church and people and house. The dear Lord points to it in the text.
He asks the disciples: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
The disciples answer: “Some say you are John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
The Lord asks further: “Who, then, do you say I am?” As if he wanted to say: That is all wrong to say that I am only a prophet, only a preacher, especially a preacher of repentance and preacher of judgment. – But don’t you dear disciples know better?
And Peter answers: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Yes, says the Lord, that is spoken correctly about me. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, rather my Father in heaven.”
Indeed, with this the Lord says: I am not just a John, who only calls: Repent! – And not just an Elijah, a preacher of judgment, but I am the Christ, the Mediator, the Savior, who himself shall atone for the whole world, and himself shall and must bear the punishment, as in the book of the Holy Scriptures is written about me. And I will gladly do it, even though it costs me my life and I must give my blood for the redemption of many. Yes, gladly. No one takes my life from me, but I myself let it be taken from me. – Yes, for this purpose I, the Son of the living God, have come into the world and have been born as the Son of Man. I have willed this from eternity in counsel with my Father in heaven in nothing but sincere love; in nothing but free, boundless love and goodness.
See how the gracious will of Jesus Christ, our Lord, is great and wonderful above everything. In this gracious will he has already looked upon the entire poor body of sinners from eternity and resolved not to leave them in their condition of perdition, but to build out of them a church, house, and temple of God.
In this gracious will, as the Son of God and Man through his holy suffering on the cross and redemption in his blood from all punishments, once in time, he has laid the base and foundation on which damnable sinners are able to be built into a holy church and house of God.
And the same gracious will shall now and hereafter be put into effect in time until the Last Day, in that poor sinners be brought to and grounded on the base and foundation, and hereafter be built as a church of Christ and most wonderful house of the great, almighty God.
The Lord uses his servants and workers for the continuing fulfillment of his gracious will. It pleases him to carry out this gracious will not only in an immediate way, but also to use his instruments for this purpose. These are all believing people in general. A Christian should also always work as a servant of Jesus for other Christians, so that Jesus’ gracious will may also be done to them. First and foremost, however, this is valid for those whom he appoints as his servants and helpers, as in this text he appoints Peter. These are the preachers or pastors, or, as the Bible also calls them, shepherds, elders, and bishops. That is the office of all offices. Whoever is permitted to serve the Lord and Savior Christ in a particular office as a servant and helper-- that this great, most glorious Lord and King of the kingdom of heaven entrusts him with this service: to help in carrying out the gracious will of Jesus, he may indeed take joy in this as a high and blessed honor. Now, no one has such joy like a preacher or a pastor. They are the people whom the king of the heavenly church has established so that, as it were, they may be closest to him as helpers, workers, and trusted servants who are right at hand for him so that he may carry out his gracious will in the church. No one else is entrusted to serve the Lord as a servant in the way in which they are. For this reason it is also understandable that the departure from the preaching office is a difficult thing. This is also becoming difficult for me. I have enjoyed being a servant of the Lord among you. Now I know well that my planning and accomplishing have been very much incomplete, as it is with all servants and workers of Jesus. Such a realization as this one makes for many difficult hours. Nevertheless, more difficult than this is the hour when one shall depart from the preaching office. This hour has arrived now for me also. It is certainly true that I am undertaking an office which has great importance. Indeed, I shall help both to prepare and equip young people whom Jesus may use some day as his servants and helpers. I also recognize this as a noble service. However, I myself will no longer be permitted to be at God’s side in carrying out his gracious will as a servant in the same way as one who is in the preaching office. That makes my departure from the preaching office difficult for me. Now, the Lord of the church has ordained it in this way. I submit myself to his will and in the process; I thank him for it, that in my place he has put someone as his servant, whom I myself was permitted to help equip for the preaching office, in order to carry out his saving work among us hereafter. Certainly, the thought of this work again instantly makes the departure from this office in your midst difficult for me. For this too makes this departure difficult:
2. That someone in the preaching office carries on the work of the Lord through his gracious word, as nowhere else.
The salvation of poor sinners through his gracious word--that is the work of the Lord. This work came to pass for Peter. Indeed the Lord said to him, “Blessed are you Simon Peter.” And why does Jesus commend him as blessed? Because Peter knew and believed this, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, because he therefore knew and believed by godly revelation the heart and soul of the entire gospel, that is, the gracious word of Jesus Christ. Now the Savior wants to do this very same work unto poor sinners until the end of the world. On this rock I will build my church. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven to loose and to bind. Poor sinners should be built into the church of Christ and into the house of God. In it they shall become living stones. They shall become God’s dwelling place and abode in the Spirit, the lovely entity, which is at the right hand of God for all time and the fullness of joy shall thus be in them. The love of God shall be poured out in their hearts, that is, they shall be saved. The keys to the kingdom of heaven should be used on them. They should be loosed, made free from the guilt of their sins, from the curse of the law, from the wrath of God, from the punishment of hell, and from damnation. A wonderful loosing and liberation becomes theirs in part, which is called forgiveness of sins, justification from all sin, declaration of righteousness and acquittal; that they have the righteousness that avails before God and they are considered in time and in eternity as righteous ones and the saints of God. In this way the dear blessed kingdom of heaven is opened. Not that one only looks inside, as Moses looked into the Promised Land, but that he is inside the blessed kingdom of heaven already now. For where forgiveness of sins is, there is life and salvation and that is indeed the kingdom of heaven--the blessed life. Only, one should enjoy it better and in a more precious way than he does here. For, the real, eternal place of the church of Jesus and God is not the earth for all time, but the heaven of glory and wonder. Therein aims the loosing, the forgiveness, the justification here in time, which is valid in heaven. There it shall also first be enjoyed completely and fully with all its fruits. Then comes the freedom from all evils, the wiping away of all tears, the ceasing of all anguish of conscience and all pain of sin. Then also begins the laughter, the joy, the full peace of heaven, the all-important magnificence, honor, brilliance, and triumph of sinners who were once so poor but pardoned with forgiveness. That is altogether the most wonderful work that Jesus cultivates in a sinner, this most wonderful salvation here and for all eternity. And the means for it is his gracious word. Peter confessed: You are Christ, the Son of the living God. So the Lord says: On this rock, that is, on this his gracious word and the gospel of him, the Christ, the Son of God. This same gracious word and gospel is also the key to heaven which unlocks the kingdom of heaven. Through the gracious word and the grace-filled sacraments, which indeed are only there through the gracious word, does the work of the Lord happen, salvation. Oh, wonderful work! All work that happens on earth is a trifle, trash, a beggar, a mere nothing compared to this work: salvation, glorification of the sinner from hell to heaven the glorification of a shamed servant of Satan to an eternal, godly, grandeur. Rejoice you who may take part in this work. Oh, many may: husband and wife to one another; parents, father and mother, to their children; a friend to a friend; every Christian to his neighbor, be it even his enemy. As Christians, they all have the keys to the heavenly kingdom, the gracious word of Jesus. But every servant of Jesus in the preaching office may especially rejoice.
For nowhere is it permitted for a person, to accomplish the most wonderful work of salvation as in the preaching office. Who among you would not know this! That is indeed well-known to you, that the keys of the kingdom of heaven are given to the entire Church, each congregation of Christ, and therefore also to you, dear congregation of St. Matthew’s. Yours--as of all congregations--from the hands of your rich Lord, the dowry from the hands of Christ your heavenly bridegroom, is to be sure the gracious word and sacrament. But who is to use them in such a way? Who administers the office of the keys in such manner as a preacher and a servant of Jesus? They are the public caretakers of the secrets of Jesus; they are the public messengers in the place of Christ. Who, then, has these precious rights as they do? O, how precious it is, when a messenger of Christ can stand thus before a large congregation and may bring the Word of the Law to many and humble and smite hearts, but only, that he might be able to rightly enter them with the message of him, who in our place, was beaten and tortured so that we might have peace. Yes, how precious, when he sees many eyes give news of the godly sadness of the penitent heart, but also afterwards, when he sees all the eyes shine so blessedly in the joy and peace of believing in him, who bore our punishment. Ah, yes, that is precious. To whom is it permitted that he accordingly gathers many to himself in order to carry on the work of salvation? To no one is this granted as it is to the preacher. You, as the head of your house, may gather your family to yourself and carry out this work on them, but to assemble the people and church of the Lord and to publicly carry out the most majestic work of salvation to so many--that is the privilege of the preacher alone. And how precious are the communion Sundays! How precious, when he may use the keys of heaven on everyone altogether, an entire congregation of confessors! I, on Christ’s behalf, as his servant, may bring the forgiveness of sins to you; afterwards with the bread and with the cup seal forgiveness to you. That is alone the right and call of Jesus’ servant--the preacher. Yes, what more do I need to say about it! You know that no one carries out the work of salvation through the gracious word of the Lord as the called servant of Christ in the preaching office.
Who among you, brothers and sisters, should, therefore, not understand how difficult it is to depart from this office? How much fruit can someone procure in it! How many he can help to save! God grants him with the trust of so many! How many seek him in their sorrow, in their need! Who has such a position to many souls as a true servant of Jesus Christ! To how many is he beloved for the sake of his comfort, as a helper to their joy, how many cherish him for the sake of his work to save their souls through the word of grace! I have experienced this love also among you. It has indeed become apparent enough, that I have been accorded your love for the sake the holy work which I could do for your souls as a servant of Jesus.
And I experienced this love in many, who are no longer amongst us. I have been able to help so many to make death easy and to be able to have a blessed joy, that I always longed for him, and came welcome in his last days here. Yes, as Paul says: He who desires the preaching office, desires a delightful task. And, I add: He who departs from the preaching office departs from the precious office, for nowhere in such a way is it permitted to him to carry out the work of the Lord. For this reason, the parting from the same is so hard. To be sure, some may say: You only stressed the bright side. Do not many things become grievous to a true preacher? Doesn’t he also have struggles--internally and also outwardly? But as true as this is, it makes the departure no easier! But rather, this also comes to why departing from the preaching office is so hard.
3. That a man in the preaching ministry conducts the battle of the Lord under his gracious protection unlike anywhere else.
The whole church of Christ has a difficult, but through the merciful protection of the Lord, a victorious battle to fight until the end. The battle is difficult, for it is a powerful enemy to fight against. They are the gates of hell, which stand against Christ and his church. Christ built his church; the devil with his army wants to overthrow it. Therefore the church, that is, the members, the Christians not only have to fight with flesh and blood, that is, with men, but with the evil spirits, who as a great army serve Satan, as under their princes and leaders. To be sure these people, as evil enemies, are also dangerous to Christians, who lead the cause of unbelief and atheism against the church. They have outward power. They are clever and cunning in their attacks. They know how to raise all sorts of lies and blasphemies against the true church of Christ and place themselves in good light, that they can mislead many Christian souls to err because of it against the true faith and against the church. Therefore these visible, human enemies are already dangerous. And the fight which the Christians have is therefore already difficult. But they are not even the only enemies; they are only the visible army of the invisible archenemy, of evil. And under him stands a powerful, invisible host of evil spirits, and what we sing of him, the prince, at the celebration of Reformation is true of each of them:
Deep guile and great might
Are his dread arms in fight;
On Earth is not his equal. (CW 200)
Because we as Christians also have to fight with him, the fight of the Church of Jesus is so difficult. But we must all fight him. Jesus challenges us all to it. The scripture is full of calls to fight. “I did not come to bring peace, but instead the sword”--says Jesus himself. And through the apostle he calls to Christians: Fight the good fight of faith! Thus we must fight. We must stand against the enemy, where he also attacks the church. This is the job of Christians. A Christian and a soldier of Christ are one. If one wants to be a Christian, then it is valid of him: suffer, that is, lead and betake yourself as a good soldier of Christ as God says through Paul: the one who once makes an attack against the church, see him as an enemy of Jesus, and repulse his attack. Jesus himself will certainly repel the attack. One sees this from the text. The gates of hell shall certainly not be successful in attack. So we must certainly do like Christ. This does not mean that one suffers and behaves as a good soldier of Christ when he notices the attack and remains quiet with the thought: “O, it doesn’t matter.” No! Never, brothers. Follow me, says Christ our hero.
Vile slaves are they who, at the sight
Of their Lord fighting, do not fight. (AMJ, 2008)
We must fight. And who then would not want to. The highest and greatest things are involved in this battle. The enemy wants to overthrow the congregation, which Jesus reveals as the enemy’s intent; he wants to devour the individual soul. What does this mean? He wants to remove the Christian faith from the world, to take the Christian faith from the individual. Fathers and mothers shall serve him in this by being silent concerning Christ to their children. What does he do with them all? He takes their comfort for the time being and the magnificent crown for eternity. Yes, it involves things of the greatest good, such as salvation here and forever, such as the crown of glory. We must fight. No one is crowned unless he fights in the right way.
We also are not to fear the battle. We can certainly not lose it! We cannot be overcome. Here is the certain promise of the glorious victory in the battle: the gates of hell shall not overcome us. Hear this, you Christian soldier: your enemy cannot conquer you. He cannot now or ever succeed. Here it stands: The gates of hell shall not overcome us. The enemy must become a mockery and disgrace to you. You have only one thing to do: that you fight in such a way that in your faith, you rely firmly on this promise in faith. That makes you invulnerable. It is a wonder, but that’s the way it is. As you believe, so it happens for you. If you believe confidently: The gates of hell will not overcome me, then it will also not happen to you. Jesus is the mighty fortress, a trusty shield and weapon, an impenetrable wall for you here. In short, you are hidden in his gracious protection, you are made steady and invulnerable, so that you will not lose; instead you can only prevail in this difficult battle, which all Christians have to fight at some time.
Nowhere else does a person wage this war as in the pastoral office. Why? Not because a pastor might have a harder attack to survive in his own person and his own Christian life than anyone else. Surely there are many dear Christian brothers who had harder battles than many pastors. Also not because the pastor fights a battle of faith for his own person more gloriously and bravely than other Christians. Ah, how many pastors will certainly be embarrassed on account of the magnificent battles and struggles which so many Christian brothers face silently. No, I say this, that in the pastoral office a person has to lead a battle of the Lord in an especially important way because he does not fight only as a simple soldier, as in the ranks of an army, instead he fights just as a general and commander instituted by Jesus. They shall lead the congregation in battle. As St. Paul says: Follow me, dear brothers. Now, this leadership includes so many costly things.
The first is that one marshals and conducts the fight. He points out the enemy, discloses to the Christian, what his attack is, then also announces how to fight against it. He constantly formulates the plan of the fighting congregation for a successful battle. For if the Christians in the battle flail in the air, where there is no enemy at all, and don’t strike where he is, then it bodes evil for them and the whole congregation. This is hardly the way to speak of correct fighting. For this reason Jesus has charged the preacher to see to it that the battle of the whole congregation be lead right. What a truly wonderful position Jesus gives to a poor man! But delightful is the position of the preacher in the fight, that he is now appointed to encourage the congregation to the fight. He gives them courage and desire, while he points out the enemy to them in his evil and wicked attacks, but also in his weaknesses for the sake of the highest commander, Jesus, “to whom truly all enemies on earth are much too few to stand against him.” He is to energize the weary and refresh and bandage the wounded. A delightful means is in his hands: the comfort of the Gospel. To those who get tired of the on-going fight, he shouts the comfort: We suffer only for a short time.
Praise God, we are redeemed!
The world’s scoffs and schemes
Are soon over,
And God’s own Son
Ere world begun
A crown of honor for us won. (AMJ, 2008)
A rest remaineth for the weary;
Arise, sad heart, and grieve no more;
Tho’ long the way and dark and dreary,
It endeth on the golden shore.
Before his throne the Lamb will lead thee,
On heav’nly pastures he will feed thee.
Cast off thy burden, come with haste;
Soon will the toil and strife be ended,
The weary way which thou hast wended.
Sweet is the rest which thou shalt taste. (TLH 615)
Fight on. The reward of victory, the crown, is worth more than all the toils of war.
Aren’t our present sufferings
Worthy of the glorious things
Jesus will us e’er be giving
Who in heav’nly peace are living? (AMJ, 2008)
Whoever here grows tired:
Gaze at the goal desired--
Joy from heaven.
Come then and be
And crowned for all eternity. (AMJ, 2008)
The patriarchs’ and prophets’ noble train,
With all Christ’s foll’wers true
Who bore the cross and could the worst disdain
That tyrants dared to do,
I see them shine forever,
All-glorious as the sun
Mid light that fadeth never,
Their perfect freedom won. (CW 212)
Thus the preacher encourages the Christians for battle. And those who stumble in the fight, who let themselves be beaten and overcome by the devil, because they didn’t fight in faith, those he has to comfort. Arise! With Christ, your Lord, there is much forgiveness. Take it in faith; go on to the contest anew! The enemy still has no triumph over you! The crown is still not lost. Yes it is a wonderful office, the preaching office, for the sake of which, a preacher has to lead the battle of the Lord. So to speak, they are the captains under the highest commander, Jesus, who lead the Lord’s soldiers in battle against the arch-enemy! Who has to lead this fight like them?!
And again therefore it is also so difficult to leave this office. And for this reason it is difficult for me. Willingly and joyfully I was with you, to lead you in the commanded fight. Sincerely have I done it. I have not conferred with flesh and blood and I didn’t spare any of your enemies, not even those whom some thought of as good friends. I have showed them to you as your enemies. It was a serious matter for me to lead you to victory, that you keep the crown of honors. I wanted to be a help for your joys. And the more I was with you as leader in the battle with desire and joy, it is that much harder for me to give up this delightful position. Not for the sake of the honor but for the sake of the work. But it was God’s will. Another shepherd has also been given and he will faithfully lead you from here on out. But, what am I saying to you, as if my last farewell sermon as preacher and shepherd should mean to you a complete departure from your midst? I say better: The new shepherd will lead us. Now I step from the place as leader into the midst of you soldiers, to fight hereafter shoulder to shoulder with you as a warrior and combatant of Christ. I no longer stand at your front, so to speak, to encourage and fire up the whole army, but among you in heartfelt love, as a good spiritual comrade and brother in battle, and our battle cry shall be, with which we encourage one another mutually:
Then let us follow Christ, our Lord,
And take the cross appointed
And, firmly clinging to his word,
In suffering be undaunted.
For those who bear the battle’s strain
The crown of heav’nly life obtain. (CW 453)