1 Corinthians 4:1: Stewards of the Mysteries of God

Stewards of the Mysteries of God (610x351)When Jesus started His New-Covenant Church, fulfilling what came before, He didn’t hand out copies of the Bible and tell people to read it. Neither did He command His Apostles to do the same. He commanded them to do other things. And how God is at work through those things can be mysterious to our fallen minds.

Throughout history, we find huge gaps when God’s people didn’t even have access to all of His written Word. We have the time between Adam and Moses, before Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. We have the time between Jesus’ resurrection and when those New-Testament books were put on parchment. And how long was it before the Church met in council to affirm what books belonged in the Bible? And how long was it before most people could read and be rich enough to own a Bible?

God’s people didn’t always have His written Word, but they did always have His preached word. Since the beginning, God has used others to speak His Word. That’s what the Bible teaches. The Apostle Paul wrote to Pastor Timothy, “Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). Why? It’s because “faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

That’s one reason Jesus founded His Church, so people could still hear Him speak through others. That’s the usual way God works. And that in itself is a mystery.

As our Epistle text says: “Think of us in this way: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” But who’s the “us”? It is you? Is it me? Is it the guy down the street? For if we don’t know who these stewards of God’s mysteries are, how will those mysteries be made known to us? Fortunately, we know to whom the “us” refers.

1st Corinthians begins: “Paul, an apostle of the Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Sosthenes, our brother.” Paul was an Apostle; Sothenes, Silas, wasn’t, but both were pastors. Sosthenes even became the Bishop of Caesarea. And so we learn that pastors, those servants of Christ, are the stewards of the mysteries of God.

A servant doesn’t serve on his authority but under the authority of another. That’s what it means to be a servant. So, a servant of Christ then serves by Christ’s authority–and no other. That’s why the Lutheran Church will have no man serve as a pastor without a call from Christ through His Church, and who is ordained into the Pastoral Office.

And those servants of Christ, those pastors, are also stewards of God’s mysteries. A steward manages what belongs to another. That’s what a steward is. That means the mysteries that Christ’s servants manage and oversee are mysteries of God that come from God, not from the steward. Those mysteries are from God and belong to God–but God has chosen to use stewards in His Church to oversee those mysteries.

And those mysteries of God center on Jesus. Included in those mysteries is Jesus’ birth. It is as we hear in 1 Timothy 3:16: “The mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in the flesh.” Another mystery is the resurrection of our bodies, made real by the resurrection of Christ. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

I tell you a mystery: We will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the sound of the last trumpet. For that trumpet will sound, and then the dead will be raised, never to decay, and we will be changed. [1 Corinthians 15:51-52]

It’s a mystery that God can become a man and, yet, still be God. It’s a mystery that God, that Jesus, can die on the cross. It’s a mystery that Jesus in His sacrificial death saves us.

John the Baptizer pointed to Jesus as that sacrifice, whom he called “the Lamb of God.” And that sacrificial Lamb of God takes our sin away, bringing us into communion with God, so we may live in Him and He in us. That, too, is a mystery beyond our grasp.

For it isn’t through your doing that you become part of God’s family. You don’t get that birthright through good deeds or virtuous living. Neither do you become God’s own by avoiding evil. It doesn’t happen through the choice of your will or your intellectual prowess. You only become God’s child by Jesus taking away your sin.

In His Son, Jesus, God reveals His mercy to us fallen and condemned creatures. He finds and rescues us, ever anew, from our sins. That’s why we delight when Jesus is faithfully and properly preached into our ears, for they are life-giving words from God.

That’s why God calls preachers to preach. That’s what it means to be a steward of God’s mysteries. It means to preach the Word of Christ, which means preaching Jesus into the ears of others. The preached Word of Christ reveals the heart of our gracious God, because it gives us Jesus, the only One who saves us.

And yet, those preachers through whom God speaks are still sinners, just like the prophets, just like the Apostles. They are imperfect and weak. How could God use such sin-tainted men? Even more, when God chooses to speak through them, how can He speak His own almighty Word? That is a mystery!

It’s a mystery that in the preached Word that brings you Jesus, Jesus, through the Holy Spirit He has sent is at work. Jesus, who “is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing as deep as soul and spirit” enters and lives within you (Hebrews 4:12). That is a mystery, even if it doesn’t cause you to gape in wonder.

But has God told pastors to manage, to be stewards of, other mysteries in His Church? Yes! It’s more than preaching–although Jesus did tell His Apostles that they were to preach (Luke 24:47). Think of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus. Jesus told him, “Unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).

Now, that’s a mystery. How can water and the Holy Spirit somehow come together, so someone is born from that, all so he can receive God’s kingdom as an inheritance? God doesn’t explain how all that works, but He commands His pastors to baptize so others can be born from above (Matthew 28:19, John 3:3).

But there’s more. Jesus also told His first pastors, His Apostles: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain them, they are retained” (John 20:22-23). How can a man bring God’s forgiveness to another? God doesn’t reveal to us how that can be true, only that it is true.

And since Jesus told His pastors to forgive sins, it only makes sense for the pastor to speak Jesus’ Word of forgiveness to Christ’s flock. That’s what we do at the beginning of every Divine Service. And when the pastor does that, it’s not his forgiveness (as if that would do you any good), but Jesus’ forgiveness. It’s a mystery, believed by faith.

But that’s not all. Although it’s true that Jesus sacrificed His body and shed His blood for you on the cross, it’s not at the cross where you get His sin-forgiving body and blood. You get that in another mystery. Jesus said:

“I assure you: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day.” [John 6:53-54]

So that’s why when Jesus first gave His Supper, He said, “Take eat… take drink.”

What’s so astounding about these mysteries is that they baffle the human mind! How can God bring life, salvation, and forgiveness through such mysterious ways? How can bread and wine be Jesus’ body and blood? How can God become a human baby? How can a man bring God’s forgiveness to another? How can God become incarnate to give that forgiveness for His pastors to speak? They all are mysteries!

How can God the Holy Spirit connect to water to give new life? How can God the Holy Spirit come to the Virgin Mary to give the new life of Jesus in her womb? They are mysteries. And how can God use a sinful man to be an overseer, a steward, of those mysteries? That, too, is a mystery.

And so we don’t lose ourselves in HOW those mysteries can be true, for God has chosen NOT to reveal that to us. But God has seen fit to tell us what He does through those mysteries. Do you believe that God was born as a baby to save you? Of course! Then what’s so hard about believing that God delivers that salvation to us through Word and Sacrament, using a man, whom He has called and placed to be a steward of such mysteries?

And so you are here on this Sunday? Why? The real reason–even if it’s not the reason you came to Church–is to meet Jesus. You need Jesus because He is the One who forgives you. There’s only one Jesus, who forgives and saves. Any pastor of Christ will do–as long as he is a faithful steward. But only the one, real Jesus forgives and saves you.

But you do need a pastor. Why? It’s because JESUS chooses to come to you, to forgive your sins, and give you salvation through such stewards of the mysteries of God. You hear the pastor speak, but it’s Jesus who forgives you. The pastor gives you bread and wine, but Jesus gives you His body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins. Jesus, who took your sin and washed it away by His blood, comes to you here, in this place, through such a steward of the mysteries of God.

God speaks. He attaches Himself to His promises. Although spoken through sinful, mortal, and fallen men, Jesus uses pastors to give you His forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. And so we treasure the work of Christ among us, no matter who your pastor might be. It’s all about Jesus. The pastor is just the delivery boy. Amen.