We’re Just Weak Messengers of the Sufficient Message.
From our Gospel reading this morning (Luke 8), we have heard a rather complete discourse on the Word of God as it relates to human hearts. It is a good refresher to go through this parable in order to remind us of God’s Word and the faith which the Spirit produces from it, while also serving as a sobering reminder of the various ways in which this word and faith are “taken away, scorched, and choked out.” But when we study this parable, have you ever noticed that we focus much more on the seed and the ground on which it falls rather than on the one who sows it? Well, that’s in large part because Jesus focuses our attention on the seed rather than the sower, but also consider other portions of Scripture and how they focus on the message rather than the messenger. If you look back on the Old Testament, you will see how God used many mouthpieces—prophets—to carry out His preaching. These men didn’t call attention to themselves, but to the Lord, saying “Thus says the Lord!” Aaron was given to Moses as simply a mouthpiece to a mouthpiece to speak God’s Word. Isaiah was sent to simply preach God’s message. Jeremiah was promised that the Lord would put His Message in his mouth. And this sentiment carried into the New Testament, the sentiment that it’s God’s message not the messenger that matters. Like the prophets who went before him, the apostle Paul was given the ability to perform many miracles in the name of the Lord. But what did he say about himself and the other apostles such as Peter and John? In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed-- 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” Perhaps this portion may shed light on what Paul is talking about in our sermon text for this morning. Paul boasts in his weakness. He acknowledges his thorns in the flesh. He’s just a messenger, a sinful man with nothing but the grace of God to rely on. What more could you want in a preacher? What more could you want for yourself to be a witness of Christ and His truth to others? So today let’s learn the true boast in our theme that we are just weak messengers of the Message of grace….
Now before we begin our study on the importance of how God uses clay pots to bear the treasure of His grace, perhaps it would be beneficial to understand the context for why Paul is writing this way. In our epistle reading, Paul demonstrates that he has some competition. False prophets have paraded themselves about the city of Corinth, leading the already struggling congregation that was there to buy into lies…Paul, in strongly emotional and sarcastic language, calls the congregation foolish for listening to these people. He practically says, “These prophets boast about being Jewish…well so am I. What difference does that make? They claim to be ministers of Christ…well…so am I,” says Paul. “And even more so! Do you know all the hardships I had to go through for the sake of the Kingdom? And to top it all off, as an apostle, I have received true visions from God to help you, Corinth! These men, false prophets, are boasting in themselves! They call themselves ministers of Christ. They think being Jewish brings something to the table…They boast in their prowess and try to point out my weaknesses as reasons not to follow me.” These false prophets say ‘forget about Paul, that jar of clay, and focus on the gold chests that we are!’ But what’s Paul’s point? It’s not the messenger but the message! If you look in the jar of clay—The apostle Paul--you will find gold—the truth of Christ Crucified and His Word. If you look in the gold box, namely false teachers, you will find rotting refuse—work righteousness, the damning shame of trusting in yourself for salvation and personal assurance, and all sorts of diversions seemingly big and small from God’s Word.
Now what can we learn from this thesis of Paul’s? Perhaps it’s easy to see that the golden boxes that Roman Church offers are nothing but a soul damning rouse. Perhaps it is easy or clear to us that the money grabbing Osteens, Roberts, Grahams, and Crystal Cathedral preachers of this world and all their Reformed counterparts are the kind of gold boxes that we don’t want to open. Perhaps the silver jewelry chest that is the Bible abandoning so called “Lutherans” in our country and beyond who claim to preach love and acceptance already reeks from miles away to the point where we will never get near it to open it. All excellent observations! But let’s go a step further than that even. Perhaps you have doubts in the jar-of-clay church you belong to? Has the past or present you found yourselves discouraged by your church, the weaknesses of your fellow members, and the weaknesses of your pastor? “We aren’t welcoming enough! Is pastor even trying? Why are these pews so empty?” Or “Are we tolerating this loveless behavior? Where’s pastor’s back bone? Why isn’t the church doing anything?” or the opposite, “well that seems harsh! This person needs help or wants change and pastor’s too heartless or indifferent, and the congregation doesn’t care?” Or maybe even your neighbors and loved ones have thought these same things before? To answer this, why are you blaming the humble sower, and rather not looking at the ground on which the seed falls? Perhaps there’s a reason we don’t focus on the Sower so much. For what is it that you want? Gold caskets with false doctrine? Seemingly nice churches and charismatic ministers who in reality preach dangerous poison; or clay jars with treasure, a church of struggling witnesses and a minister with a lot of learning to do who bear the message of the truth? Which is going to be better for you and your neighbor’s soul?
With that being said, and with the warning given, perhaps it would be best to reexamine the words of Paul to best understand our position lest we be discouraged. “For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me. 7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” If anyone could set up a cult of personality, it was Paul with all the various gifts he was given…but that wasn’t important. What mattered was the weakness of Paul, so that any potential arrogance wouldn’t eclipse God’s message. Paul was even given what was called a thorn in the flesh and a messenger of Satan. He was given a difficult ailment of body to keep him weak. He even prayed for this to pass. Perhaps he thought that if it were gone, he could serve the Lord better…But what does God tell him? "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” To which Paul aptly replies, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” How was Paul going to compete with the wolves in sheep’s clothing? How was Paul going to sail around the mediterranean with this thorn in his flesh? How is the truth of Christ crucified going to be spread abroad with such meager means? The answer was simple for Paul. God’s grace was sufficient for him. That’s all Paul needed. God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. God’s Will will be done, and His kingdom will come even if it was the stuttering and rambling Paul which God used! And how much more to God’s glory when He uses weaklings to do bear His word! This way no arrogance could eclipse the vantage point of God’s grace. No cult of personality can get in the way. And it’s not like this is the first time God did things this way. A pitiable speaker such as Moses, a runt shepherd king in David, a teenager in Jeremiah, a tax collector in Matthew; and it’s no wonder it is this way, for God had called all his servants of humility to follow their humble Savior before them. Jesus was born in no royal palace, nor did he walk among the nobility, but was a humble servant who lived a humble life. He did not come to make an golden kingdom by conquering Rome but came to be a potter making us jars of clay with treasures inside. And how did Jesus do this? He came as the express image of God’s grace shown to us weak sinners. Though we have in no right deserved such treatment and have rather deserved the treatment of eternal death, Jesus came to show His grace, that grace that is sufficient for our salvation. Jesus came down from Heaven to take on human flesh. He came to walk a sufficient walk in our place. He came to be the sufficient payment for all the sins we have committed. And God showed Jesus’ work to be sufficient by raising Him from the dead. Therefore, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, also known as God’s grace, is sufficient for us in everything that we do. God’s strength, His resolve to have His grace shown among all nations and shine into all hearts, is made perfect even when it is jars of clay which bear it.
So then, you and I, us jars of clay, how can we ever expect to survive as workers in God’s kingdom? How many thorns in our flesh do we have? Old age and its effects on us, lack in various personal skills, histories of broken relationships, a busy schedule with seemingly no time to breath? Can God really work through us? I’d like to act with the apostle Paul here and say, “Therefore Most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Yes, God will act through you, o jar of clay. Remember its not about the messenger, but the message. Christ’s power, the Good News that He has provided, is what has redeemed you a lost and condemned person. Christ’s Power, His love shown on Calvary’s cross and in the empty grave, His love shown in the Word of God and in the sacraments that preaches the forgiveness of sins to you, is what will do the same for others. This message resting upon you, His jars of clay, is what will call man to His grace. This message is what makes a patch of human soil into a lush wheatfield yielding a hundredfold. Remember that it is not the sower lowercase sower, but the Sower uppercase S and His message that brings people to faith. You and I, we are just the messengers who have a message to share. This message is sufficient for us, for it is this full sufficiency of the message that has saved us. God’s grace is sufficient for you. First of all, to save you, and secondly to work in you to preach to others. Remember it’s the message not the messenger that matters. We’re just weak messengers of The sufficient Message of grace. So I say once more, God’s grace is sufficient for you, for His strength is made perfect in weakness. Therefore let us rather boast in our infirmities that the Power of Christ may rest upon us. Amen.