Two Timelines One Time
When Christians read the Bible they must be aware that there are 2 timelines; otherwise, they are in danger of taking something from one timeline and putting it in the other. That's the first rule of time travel. Don't do anything to alter the past lest you find you've completely changed the present. By bringing then into now or now into then, you can completely change God's Word. There are 2 timelines in our text but only 1 time.
There is then. Then is about 28 A.D. Jesus has been traveling about preaching the Gospel and showing physically what that meant spiritually. In the kingdom of heaven that Jesus proclaims there is no sickness or disease. The kingdom Jesus announces is illness free. In heaven, there's no cancer, heart disease, indigestion, or diabetes. But more than that there is no sin, no guilt, no shame, no despair. As a sign of that kingdom's presence, Jesus heals illness. As a sign of the reality of His kingdom's spiritual blessings, Jesus gives physical ones.
Make sure that you see that the former not the latter is the real emphasis of Jesus' ministry. It's the spiritual not the physical. Jesus did not heal everyone of every physical ailment. He didn't heal His own stepfather or raise him from the dead. But Jesus did pay for the sins of the whole world and did forgive the sins of all without exception. Our text shows you this in that it says Jesus had compassion on sheep not because they were sick without a doctor, ill without a pharmacist, or poor without a banker, but because they were sheep without a shepherd.
It shouldn't surprise us that the material world thinks material problems are the real ones. Global warming really would be the end of their world. Heart disease really attacks the very heart of their world. Human blood really is the gift of the only life they know. But us? We who gather each week to confess we're sinful not diseased, who look for forgiveness more than health, who look for a world without end not this world never ending, how is it that we constantly need to be reoriented, rebooted, reset to see that spiritual problems and solutions really trump physical?
I don't know, but the people then did too. Jesus has to teach the disciples then what they should be praying for. He says literally, "You must be moved to beg the Lord of the harvest." "Beg" is a word used by Paul and Luke in regard to prayer, but only found in Matthew here. Notice it's passive. They must be moved to pray, to have the compassion that Jesus did for shepherdless sheep, by something outside of them.
You can see the intensity of this situation in that Jesus said they were to beg the Lord of the harvest to literally "cast out" workers into His field. Later the same word is used to say the apostles have authority to "drive out evil spirits." And later still the regular word for sent' will be used to describe the sending of the 12, but here there is an "all hands on deck," "man the battle stations" urgency to everything.
Remember even though I briefly took you into our timeline, we're still in the 28 A.D. one. In answer to the disciples' prayers, Jesus selects 12 apostles to go where He goes. The text opens by saying Jesus was going through towns and villages "teaching in their synagogues." He sends the 12 only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. Jesus sends them then to preach what He did. He was "preaching the Gospel of the kingdom." They were to preach "The kingdom of heaven is here." And Jesus sends them then to do what He was doing. Jesus healed sickness and disease; they were to heal, raise, cleanse, and exorcise.
That was then; this is now. The Gospel of the kingdom was yet to be fulfilled in 28 A.D. It is now. 1 John 3:8 says, "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work." The devil's work is disease, death, filth, and demonizing. In some sense, Moses' miracles, Elijah's miracles, Elisha's miracles, and the apostles' miracles destroyed the works of the devil. But they couldn't do so permanently. Every single one they raised from the dead, died again. Every one they cured of disease could have gotten another one. But remember Jesus was establishing a disease free, death free, demon free kingdom but He couldn't do this by miracles.
If miracles could do it, there would have been no need for God the Son to enter into our flesh and blood. The Holy Trinity could have just spoken from heaven and sent the Devil to hell for good. But to redeem flesh and blood, to save flesh and blood from the sinfulness they had fallen into would take satisfying the Law of God that made them guilty and required their punishment. As long as the Law of God could condemn us and demand our punishment, no amount of power could help us. The Law of God had to be kept by mankind and the debt mankind owed under it had to be paid.
That hadn't happened yet then, in our text; it has happened now. God the Son humbled Himself to be born under the Law to redeem them that were under the Law. God the Son said, "I will take their place under the Laws of God." And He did. Think of all the commandments; Jesus did them all perfectly. Think of the things you have failed to do in the past or fail to do today. Jesus did them all. There's not a law, a command, a demand, a should, must, ought or better, that the Devil, your own conscience, or other people can cite that Jesus hasn't already done.
Yes, you're right; still the Law requires that those who break the Law are to be punished, are to suffer till God's Law is satisfied. Even dying doesn't do that; in fact, fallen mankind can never, ever pay off their debt of sin. That's why hell is eternal. The eternal God is the One who is sinned against. How can time-bound man satisfy the wrath of an eternal God? He can't, but Jesus did. Being true God, He could suffer an eternity of damnation on the cross in a matter of hours. Being true God, Jesus' suffering was divine, holy, perfect, and complete. Not Devil, not conscience, not other people can now take God's Law and threaten you with its punishments? How could they? Jesus bore them; Jesus said it was finished. No one is able to find a sin of yours, a shortcoming, a fault that Jesus didn't already pay for.
Jesus work of fulfilling the Law's demands and punishment is done now, but as it was then so is it now. Jesus still has compassion on lost sheep. But now Jesus sends His Gospel to all nations not just to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. This big change happened at the resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead proclaiming that repentance and forgiveness of sins be preached to all nations. He proclaimed, "Go make disciples of all nations." Then, in 28 A.D. the missionary mandate was limited now it is unlimited. Then the nation of Israel had a special status; now it doesn't.
The command in this timeline is what it was in that timeline. Preach the Word, preach the Gospel. But there is no command to heal, raise, cleanse, or exorcise. Read the only 3 letters the Holy Spirit has left to pastors. You will find no command or promise to do any of these. You will not find in all the New Testament the promise that the miraculous powers that accompanied the apostles then will accompany Gospel preachers now.
Then, in New Testament times, Paul validates his ministry to the rebellious Corinthians by telling them he did the signs of a true apostle among them (2 Cor. 12:12). I'm not an apostle. There were only 12 of them. Don't look for me to do their signs. The only thing the ministry that descends from the apostles has been promised is that Baptism will rebirth sinners; Absolution will forgive sinners; and Communion is the Body and Blood of Jesus for sinners to eat and drink.
There are 2 timelines. One of the apostles in the first century and one of the apostolic ministry that continues through the centuries to our time, but there is only 1 time even as there is only one Lord, one faith, one Baptism. There is only 1 time, and "I hope you've had the time of your life." That's a line, and sometime title of a 1999 punk rock song. The music video for this song shows still frames of people in mundane, everyday, ordinary situations in which every now and then you can see a glimpse of something special.
I hope you don't feel cheated because the signs of an apostle haven't been done among you, but what did you expect? I'm not an apostle. Never have been; never will be; never can be. The Lord has His 12 patriarchs, His 12 tribes, and His 12 apostles. You find 24 thrones in heaven. 12 from the Old Testament and 12 from the New. There's no room to for another chair.
"I hope you have had the time of your life." Through the mundane, ordinary, everyday, Waters of Baptism, Words of Absolution, and Bread and Wine of Jesus that I have administered, comes to you the Apostolic Gospel of forgiveness, new life for today, and everlasting life for eternity. I hope you can see though you don't have the truly amazing physical, visible miracles that accompanied the apostles then, you do have now something extraordinary even in the ordinary.
The Church has always confessed this fact. In Her celebration of Communion, She confesses that She isn't alone but with angels, archangels, and all the Company of heaven. In Her art she has depicted Baptism as a portal opened into heaven. In Her confession she has said that forgiveness spoken by a man on earth is no less than that of God in heaven.
I hope you've had the time of your life now. Because in suffering, in sickness, in dying you won't find life or power or comfort in what the apostles did then, but only in the Font, the Pulpit, and the Altar that is here now. Even if the Lord has miraculously healed you of something earlier in life, which He certainly could have, that won't bring help or give peace in your present trails. No, only the Water, Words, Body, and Blood that are present with you now which have been present with the Church of all times can do that. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (20140706); Matthew 9: 35 10:8