By His Baptism in the Jordan River the Lord Jesus, the incarnate Son, was anointed by the Holy Spirit to be the Christ, the Messiah, who bears all our sins and becomes the Savior of the world.
By His reading and preaching of the Scriptures in the synagogue of Nazareth, His hometown, as we heard last Sunday, He not only announced but inaugurated the fulfillment of all the Words and promises of God concerning the Christ. For He bears the Spirit in His Body from His Baptism to His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead, in order to liberate His people from the captivity and bondage of sin, death, and the devil. In keeping with that goal and purpose, His rejection by the people of Nazareth, their attempt to murder Him, anticipated His coming Cross and Passion.
He moves then, with His Word and Spirit, away from Nazareth to Capernaum and beyond, taking the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to those who will receive it. And today you have heard from St. Luke a few specific examples and a summary description of the preaching and healing that characterize the entire Ministry of Christ Jesus, as He proceeds on His Way to the Cross.
This is more than just a great story from the life and times of Jesus. It is more than ancient history. The Ministry of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, His preaching and healing, continued in the Ministry of His Apostles — from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, into Samaria, even to the ends of the earth — as St. Luke has recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. And not only that, but the same Ministry of the same Lord Jesus Christ also continues to this day and in this place in the preaching of His Gospel, in the ongoing catechesis of His Word, and in the administration of His Holy Sacraments.
Concerning this preaching and healing of Jesus, even as these are happening for you and given to you here and now in this sermon and this Divine Service, St. Luke has highlighted three points of particular importance. And as I follow in the footsteps of Christ and His Apostles and Evangelists, I would have you recognize the significance of this Ministry and receive it in faith and love. For it is the Word and Spirit of the Lord which lead you, in this way, from the Font and the Lectern to the Altar, from the preaching of His life-giving Gospel of forgiveness to the healing Medicine of Immortality, His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for you in the Holy Communion.
The first point to be made is the divine necessity of this Ministry of the Gospel, this preaching and healing of Christ Jesus. It is not simply expedient or practical, a useful methodology, or one of many possibilities. It is not an optional program. The Ministry of the Gospel is necessary to life and salvation, no less so than the Cross and Resurrection of the Christ.
“Thus it is written,” the Lord Himself will say to His disciples in the final chapter of the Gospel, “and thus it was necessary, that the Christ must suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His Name to all the nations.”
Of course, none of this is necessary for God’s benefit, as though He needed anything for Himself. But according to His good and gracious will, both the Cross and Resurrection of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, and the preaching of the Gospel in His Name, are necessary for the forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation of sinners from all over the world.
To be sure, Christ was crucified once for all, and there is no other sacrifice for sin to be offered. He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, never to die again. So that work of the Lord Jesus Christ is complete and perfect, whereby He has made Atonement for your sins and reconciled you and all the world to His God and Father in heaven. But apart from the preaching and bestowal of this Gospel, you remain lost in your sins and unbelief, and you cannot be saved. Apart from the preaching of the Gospel, you remain in captivity to the devil and the fear of death.
That dire predicament remains, even for those who are gathered together with the church on earth — if not for the preaching and healing of Christ Jesus. Whereas the Cross and Resurrection are accomplished, never to be repeated, the Ministry of the Gospel is an ongoing necessity. Even if you are convinced that you’ve already heard it all, you are still called daily to repentance and to faith in the forgiveness of sins. It’s not so much a matter of knowledge but of the Word and Spirit of the Christ, without which you are doomed. Nor is it simply a matter of showing up, putting in your time and “paying your dues,” as it were, although being where the Word is read and preached is a necessary start. But you must not let that Word go in one ear and out the other. You must hear and heed the Word of Christ, take it to heart, repent of your sins, and believe the Holy Gospel.
Remember that it was the synagogue in Nazareth that tried to kill the Lord Jesus. And again today, it is a man within the synagogue in Capernaum who is possessed by the spirit of an unclean demon. So, too, you are not saved by your being here but by the preaching of Christ which happens here.
It is by His Word and the preaching of it that the Spirit of Christ Jesus actually works repentance and faith within your otherwise hard heart. For His Word and Spirit convey to you the salvation that He has obtained for you by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead. What He has purchased and won for you and for all people by His sacrificial death, He wraps up and presents to you in the Ministry of His Gospel. Not only by the preaching of His Word, but also in His Holy Sacraments, in which the Word continues to become flesh and abides with you in body and soul.
As the Son of God became true Man, flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood, as He bore your sins in His Body to the Cross, as He rose bodily from death and the grave, and as He has ascended to the right hand of the Father in and with His Body of human flesh and blood like your own, so does He bring His Gospel to bear upon your body as well as your soul, by the washing of water with His Word in Holy Baptism, and by feeding you with His Body and His Blood at this Altar.
Now, then, the question of the crowds in this Holy Gospel has brought us to the second point at hand: “What is this Word!?” What power and authority belong to this Word of Christ, by which He commands and casts out unclean spirits, rebukes both demons and fevers, and heals the sick?
In the first place, of course, there is the authority that Christ Jesus has by right, by His own divine nature as the almighty and eternal Son of the living God. He is the Word by whom all things in heaven and on earth have been made, so it is to be expected that whatever He says must be so and must be done. Even the demons recognize and must acknowledge this fact in fear and trembling.
Yet, on that note, we are dealing here with what is often called the “Messianic Secret,” that is, the way that Jesus frequently admonishes those who witness His mighty works not to speak of them to anyone, and the way He commands the demons and the unclean spirits, in particular, to be quiet and not announce His identity (as you have heard them doing here). That probably seems strange to you. But it is neither appropriate nor salutary for the Lord Jesus Christ to be proclaimed as the Son of God, the Holy One, apart from His Cross and Passion. Apart from His voluntary suffering and His sacrificial death, His divine power and authority must confront you with the Law, with His righteous wrath and judgment against your sins, and without any hope of forgiveness or salvation.
Thanks be to God, there is also the divine authority that Jesus has been given as the Son of Man, just as He says following His Resurrection: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” That is the authority which He has obtained and received as the true Man who has given Himself in the place of sinners, in the place of all people, Adam & Eve and all their children, that He might atone for their sins and redeem them by His Blood, by His death upon the Cross. As God has raised this same Christ Jesus from the dead, He has become your righteousness, and He is the One whom God the Father has appointed as the Judge of all mankind, the living and the dead.
It is with that authority of His Cross and Resurrection — already in view as He proceeds on His Way from the waters of His Baptism — it is with that authority and power that He forgives sins, casts out demons, heals the sick, and raises the dead. For He has come to conquer death in His own Body of flesh and blood, and to bestow the life and health and strength that He receives from the Father in the Holy Spirit through the preaching of His Word and with His Holy Sacraments.
Even more to the point for you and your salvation, and for the entire Church on earth to the close of the age, the same Lord Jesus Christ uses the authority that He has received as the crucified and risen Son of Man to call and send His holy Apostles even to the ends of the earth, and so also to call and send ministers of His Gospel as the preachers of His Word to this day and to this place.
The third main point in this Holy Gospel, therefore, is the divine content of this Ministry of Christ, the substance of this preaching and healing which are now delivered to you by His own authority. According to the Lord Jesus and His Evangelist, St. Luke, it is nothing else and nothing less than the Kingdom of God which He preaches to you. For it is by His Word of the Gospel that He reigns over you in love, as your true King, with forgiveness and life and salvation. It is by and with His Word of the Gospel that He delivers you from the devil’s tyranny and gives you peace with God.
The preaching and healing of Christ Jesus bestow the Kingdom of God, because this Ministry of the Gospel bestows Christ Himself, your crucified and risen Savior, with all His gifts and benefits.
And wherever Christ Jesus enters in — by and with His Word — Satan is cast out, and God’s good Creation is resurrected and renewed in righteousness and peace. It is just as you witnessed in the Holy Baptism of Fredrick William James Bliese this past month, and as you shall witness again next Sunday in the Holy Baptism of Violet Victoria Rodriguez. What is more, so has the Spirit of Christ Jesus entered in and cast out the unclean spirit from your body and life by the preaching of His Gospel and by the washing of the water with His Word in your own Holy Baptism.
This divine, eternal life and salvation Christ Jesus bestows, not only as the Creator and Lord by whom all things are made, but also as the true Man who bore the curse of sin in His own Body, who made Atonement for the sins of the world by His sacrificial death on the Cross, who restored His fallen creation to perfect goodness in His Resurrection from the dead, and who has exalted human nature in Himself to the right hand of His God and Father in the heavenly places.
Such is the life that He now gives to you by and with His Word, by the preaching of His Word, just as all things are created through His Word. He speaks, and it is so. And it is very good.
And such is the salvation that He now bestows upon you — the healing of your body and your soul for life with God now and forever — by the touch of His divine and life-giving flesh, by the giving of His Body for you to eat, and by the pouring out of His precious Blood for you to drink.
As surely as He healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and all those other people in Capernaum and beyond, so surely does He grant His life and salvation to you by the Ministry of His Gospel here.
For this preaching and healing of Jesus the Christ make this place a New Testament “Synagogue” of His Holy Christian Church, and this Liturgy of the Lord’s Day a true “Sabbath Rest” in Him.
Indeed, South Bend, Indiana, is among those many “other cities” to which the Lord Jesus has also been divinely sent to preach the Kingdom of God. And so it is that He has come to you here and now, sending me in His Name and stead, by His divine authority, to preach the Gospel and to heal the diseases of your soul with the precious Medicine of Immortality here at His Altar.
God grant that, by His grace, by His Word and Holy Spirit, you would have the same zeal to hear and receive the preaching and healing of Christ as the crowds in this Gospel, and that you would therefore cling to Him by faith in these means of grace and never let Him get away from you.
And as it shall be so, according to the good and gracious will of God, let this report of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God — your crucified and risen Savior and Redeemer — spread far and wide “into every locality in the surrounding district,” that all those who are sick with sin and subject to death might also be brought to Him in His Church. For the “Messianic Secret” is now revealed by the Cross and in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus, the Holy One, who saves you by His grace.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.