It is necessary to choose men
- Order of Service: Common Service, p15
- Lessons: Acts 1:15-26, 1 John 4:13-21, John 17:11b-19
- Hymns: 505 (1, 3-5), 411, 311 (1-3, 5-7), 277
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
I think it’s safe to say that nobody wants Judas as their pastor. He stole money. He betrayed Jesus. He committed suicide. Not a sterling resume. Yet, Jesus made Judas a pastor. Jesus appointed Judas to be one of those hand-picked by Jesus apostles sent out to testify about him. No doubt Judas preached sermons, healed the sick, cast out demons, and baptized people.
And now he’s dead and people have questions and concerns. “Judas was the first person I heard about Jesus from, what does that say about me?” “Judas baptized me, do I need to be rebaptized?” “Whoa, if that’s the kind of guy who believes in Jesus, I’m not sure I want to be a part of this Christian Church thing.” “Look and see what kinds of degenerates pastor in that church!” Some may have doubted the validity of Judas’ ministry, the Word he preached and the sacraments he administered. Judas’ wicked end and how that reflected on the ministry and the Church may have concerned others. Some might have used Judas as an excuse to leave the church. Others may have used Judas as a way to slander the Church of Christ.
There’s no two ways about it. What Judas did is shameful. There’s no defense for theft, betrayal, and his suicide. That’s why Luke calls what he did wickedness (Acts 1:18, NIV84) and Peter said that Judas left his apostolic ministry (Acts 1:25, NIV84). Those who behave this way have no place in the holy ministry of the Church. Thus Paul writes, the overseer must be above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2, NIV84) and He must also have a good reputation with outsiders (3:7, NIV84).
That being the case, it begs the question, “Why would Jesus make Judas a pastor?” Why did Jesus risk the reputation of the holy ministry this way? Why did He entrust the Word and Sacrament ministry to this traitor? On the one hand, there’s a couple, simple answers. Firstly, it pleased Him to do so. It’s like trying to figure out why God created Satan or put the Tree of Knowledge in Eden. He did and that’s that. Secondly, we hear from Peter that Jesus did this to fulfill Scripture. As Jesus shares the first Communion with His disciples He announces his coming betrayal and says, “One of you will betray me.” Not because that makes for good theater, but rather, because Scripture foretold it. Jesus quotes Psalm 41, He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me (John 13:18, NIV84).
And yet, we can also discern other reasons for Jesus to choose Judas. It’s because Judases make it into the ministry all the time. Pastors too behave like the worst of sinners. Whether it’s Ted Haggard getting caught with male prostitutes or any number of preachers found to have golden toilets, private jets, and secret slush funds, pastors sin. And worse than that, even though it’s rarely reported, pastors all over the world fall from the faith, teach false doctrine, or perform ministerial acts despite not believing in what they were doing. I heard the story of a pastor in Germany who announced before reciting the Apostles’ Creed with his congregation that he didn’t personally believe much of what it said. How do we handle sinners being our pastors? How do we deal with Judases in our churches? Do we abolish the office of pastor? Do we go back to the drawing board, establish house churches with lay leaders? Do we get rid of all the sinful men and start ordaining women and see if they can do any better? No. We continue to do what we’ve done – we train up, set aside, and ordain men into the pastoral ministry. Because it’s God’s holy ministry. He calls shepherds to serve His flock, to preach the Word, to give the sacraments. And, even when a Judas gets into the ministry, we hear Peter say, It is necessary to choose one of the men to become a witness with us of his resurrection (Acts 1:21-22, NIV84). In other words, no matter how bad an experience you’ve had with the ministry, no matter how bad a previous office holder was, it’s necessary for us to have pastors. It’s necessary for us to choose men. And we can do that with confidence, because today, in the example of this call meeting to replace Judas, we’re reminded that the man holding the office doesn’t make the ministry work and that God uses ministers, even bad ones, to witness to Christ.
Our fathers in the Lutheran faith wrestled with these questions. As the Reformation progressed and people began to understand the false teachings of the Roman Church, some began to wonder if anything that their priest did “counted.” Should they be rebaptized? Had they ever received the sacrament? Was the Word of God from their lips effective? This is actually an ancient struggle. In the earliest years of the church, when the Roman emperors persecuted Christians, some pastors fell away. They denied the faith. They handed over Bibles. They sacrificed to the emperor. Some did it out of conviction. Some did it purely to stay alive. After the persecution, some of them wanted back into the Church and the ministry. Others wondered about the Baptisms and other sacred acts those men performed. Some, called Donatists, said that if someone who gave in to persecution baptized you, you needed to be rebaptized, nothing such a pastor did counted.
Faithful men then and the first Lutherans both understood how to handle this issue. In the Augsburg Confession the Lutheran Church teaches: It is lawful to use Sacraments instituted by evil men…. Both the Sacraments and the Word are effective because of Christ’s institution and command, even if they are administered by evil men (AC, VIII:1-2). In other words, it doesn’t matter what your pastor believes or does, because who your pastor is, what he does, and what he believes does not invalidate the Word he preaches or the sacraments he distributes. If I baptized you, and then 10 years later you find out I’m an atheist, you’re still baptized, because I don’t make Baptism work, Jesus does, by attaching a word of promise to that water. It’s Jesus’ Baptism, not Pastor Tomczak’s Baptism. Likewise with the Lord’s Supper, sermons, etc. They work because of the Word of God attached to them, not my word, my wit, my wisdom, my will, or any power in me.
So that you know that this isn’t a Lutheran opinion, but God’s, listen to two words of God on this issue. First, Paul writes to the Philippians: It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice (1:15-18a, NIV84). Let Jesus seal the deal: The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach (Matthew 23:2-3, NIV84).
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care about what our pastors believe, or how they act. Judas deserved to be removed from the ministry, had he not removed himself. If I announce prior to the Creed that I don’t believe it, you should terminate my call. If I’m caught stealing, or make the news for some incredible crime or sin, I may not be above reproach and deserve to be removed, so that the ministry and the Church can continue to have a good reputation with men.
But that such men make it into the ministry only reinforces for us that the ministry is God’s ministry, not mine. We preach His Word, not my word. We use His Baptism and distribute His Communion, not ours. Which means the forgiveness you crave, which I announce and distribute to you, is not contingent on whether I’m Judas or John. It’s hangs on Christ, who won it by living and dying and rising for you. I’m only His witness and mouthpiece. That’s the job Judas had, that’s the job the Church called Matthias to do in Judas’ place: One of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection (Acts 1:22, NIV84).
The men who hold this office, the men we call pastors, from the first to the last, including even some of the greatest and most famous in history, like Peter and the other apostles, were real human beings, which means they sinned. Peter denied Jesus. Peter later led other believers into sin by not eating with Gentiles. The disciples argued about their place and greatness. Paul sentenced Christians to death before coming to faith. And yet despite that Peter says, It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us. Despite that our graduated young men and women yesterday, allowing them to be called into the teaching ministry, even though some of them might turn out to be Judases. Despite that this week our Seminary will assign men to be vicars and pastors, even though some of them might turn out to be Judases. Because pastors don’t make the ministry work. Pastors only witness to Christ. Pastors didn’t win forgiveness for you. Pastors only announce and distribute the forgiveness Christ won on the cross. Pastors didn’t institute the holy ministry as an office they could hold. Pastors get sent out by Christ, the chief Shepherd, who wants shepherds to care for and guide His flock against the devil who seeks to create more Judases to destroy the Church.
But the bad shepherds won’t bring the Church crashing down. Bad shepherds can’t invalidate the Word and Sacraments. Bad shepherds won’t put an end to God’s holy ministry. Because bad shepherds – and good shepherds, for that matter – are not the Christ, the son of the living God. Only Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Only Jesus is the good Shepherd, who laid down His life for His flock, and took it up again. Only Jesus gave His body and shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sins. By God’s lot, through a Divine call, pastors get to witness and testify to that, and through those pastors – whether Judases or Peters – you receive the blessings of Christ, forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. We pray always for good shepherds, good ministers, Peters. But we live confidently, knowing that whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this [we] rejoice. Amen.