SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 9:1-4; 1 Cor.
1:10-18; Matt. 4:12-25; Ps. 22
phone rang at 2 in the morning Friday night/Saturday morning. That’s usually
not good news! This was. It was Tina, calling from Heathrow Airport in London,
letting us know that she had arrived there safely after an overnight flight
from NYC. Later that morning we talked with her on Skype. Her trip to Aberdeen
had gone well, and she was settling in at Robert Gordon University. So begins
the next stage of her life!
our Scripture readings today we travel to another land and a different
situation. Jesus begins His ministry in Galilee in northern Israel. I was there
years ago, touring Israel with a group of fellow seminarians. If you ever have
the chance to go there, do so. It’s quite fascinating and inspiring to see and
be in the places you read about in the Bible! How amazing it must have been
2,000 years ago when Jesus began His ministry. Imagine seeing “all
the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by
demons, epileptics, and paralytics” brought to Him and healed. The
kingdom of heaven was truly present! God was ruling and overcoming every evil!
He was even overcoming the evil of prejudice and division. “His fame spread throughout all
Syria,” we’re told. “Great crowds followed him from Galilee and
the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.”
People of various races and backgrounds, Jews and Gentiles from throughout the
region, came to Him; and He received and helped them all.
didn’t last, of course. During the three year ministry of Jesus, as well as
during the years after His ascension when His Church grew and spread throughout
the Roman Empire, there were highs and lows. Sometimes many people were coming
to Jesus and they seemed united; at other times there were few and there was
dissension among them. To this day it is this way in Christ’s Church. Why?
problem does not rest with God. We see right at the beginning of Jesus’
ministry that nothing – no disease or sickness; no demonic power or
oppression; no racial division – can prevent Him from doing His work of
salvation. Our Lord is mighty to rescue from every affliction and bring sinners
to Himself! Take comfort in this. As His salvation is received by faith, nothing
can keep you from receiving the blessing He desires to give if you seek it. At
least, nothing that is without can prevent Him. When Christ’s Gospel is not changing
lives, the problem does not lie with God. It lies with us. We see an example of
this in today’s reading from 1 Corinthians. The apostle Paul writes: “I
appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you
agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the
same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s
people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that
each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow
Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” ” The people were focusing upon
themselves and their desires and what appealed to them, and not upon Christ. “What is there for me?” each was asking,
and this was dividing them.
of them preferred Paul because he had started their congregation and was, in a
sense, their first pastor. Jesus had also appeared to him personally and specially
preferred Peter (Cephas), who, after all, was one of Jesus’ original apostles.
Jesus had even called him the rock on which He would build His Church. There was
no one better than Peter to follow!
preferred Apollos, a man of great intellect who had come to them after Paul
left and inspired them with his great preaching and teaching.
men were different, certainly; but Paul points out that they were not divided
in their message. Each proclaimed Christ crucified. Salvation – forgiveness of
sins and eternal life – is found in Him alone, in the One who was crucified for
our sins and raised again on the third day. It is Jesus and the message about
Him that matters, not the person who proclaims that message. Personal
preferences and “What’s in it for me?”
should not be the focus, as they had become in Corinth.
our day, the message of Christ crucified has spread throughout the world.
Thanks be to God! There are Christian churches almost everywhere. But, sadly,
the message is not the same. In Christian churches today you can hear preaching
was married to Mary Magdalene and made her an apostle.
is not God, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
has been divided. I could go on and on about the differences in teaching of the
many and various Christian denominations and the difference this makes, but I
don’t think you’d be happy with an hour long sermon. Suffice it to say that you
should hold onto Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, crucified and risen for you as
the central message of Christianity; to the Bible as God’s true and holy and
complete message in its
entirety; to the true body and blood of Christ given and received in Holy
Communion as of vital importance for your salvation; to your Baptism into
Christ as the assurance of the forgiveness of your sins and your being a child
of God. Seek this preaching and teaching and hold onto it, and avoid those who
proclaim a different Christ. The apostle Paul told his followers, “I
appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create
obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” (Rom.
16:17) Jesus Himself warned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you
in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Mt. 7:15)
If you have Christ and the true teaching about
Him, then take your focus off of your own personal preferences and desires, for
they draw attention away from Christ. We can’t always have what we want and
think is best, in pastors or in people. Thank God for this! The Lord teaches us
far more from those who are unlike us than those who are like us. So, when you
go to church, instead of saying, “What is
there for me?” say “Jesus is there
for me!” That is what matters. This focus unites us with one another, no
matter what may threaten to divide us. More importantly, it keeps us focused
upon Jesus and the blessings we have in abundance in Him.
and eternal is the blessing we have in Jesus! Thanks be to God for His Gospel,
and for all those who rightly proclaim it. May God keep far from us all
division and keep us, pastor and people, united in Jesus Christ our Lord. His
name will then be honored, and we will be blessed, now and into eternity! Amen.