The Necessity of Hearing

There isn’t a pastor alive who hasn’t been asked the question or who hasn’t asked the question himself about what is necessary for salvation. It is the question of the young man who asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” We want the bottom line. What must we do to be saved? And there isn’t a Lutheran alive who hasn’t answered this question with a resounding “Nothing!” Yet we all know that this isn’t the full answer.

We all know that Jesus is the true Israel: the man who wrestled with God in death and with man in life, and overcame. He is risen and is ascended, and by His stripes we are healed and by His faith we are justified. By His obedience we are made righteous. This is true for all mankind, even the unbeliever.

The unbeliever is no less reconciled to the Father by the blood of Jesus than the faithful disciple. The only difference is faith. The unbeliever does not believe and hold fast to the promises of the Father that for the sake of the Son he is justified and innocent. The disciple, the believer, believes the word of the Lord. Faith makes the difference.

Yet even as we are all reconciled to God by the blood of Jesus, we are also being reconciled to the Father by the  ministry of reconciliation. These are not opposites, but two sides of the same coin which faith cashes in. The ministry of reconciliation is the ministry of the apostles, or the apostolic ministry. It is the preaching of the good news (the gospel) that we are righteous before God on account of Christ’s suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. The preaching of the gospel and the administration of the mysteries of God for the benefit, strengthening, and fortification of his saints is reconciling us to God. Not because it is meritorious in itself, but because faith that justifies comes by hearing.

Preaching the gospel is no good work that justifies. But it is God’s work by which He reconciles sinners to Himself (2 Cor. 5:18), giving those who hear faith to apprehend, to cling to the reconcilatory work of Jesus. So we can rightly say that preaching of the gospel or the ministry of reconciliation is the work of God on behalf of sinners reconciling them to Himself according to the merits (obedience) of Christ.

This means that while we walk this mortal coil we are being reconciled even as the apostle pleads with the Corinthians that the be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20). If we reject the word of the Lord we are not reconciled even though Jesus’ blood atones not for the sin of the believer only, but for the sins of the whole world (1 Jn. 2:2). We walk by faith, that is, we live in the trust that by the meirits of Jesus we are reconciled to God. Should we cease to walk in this trust, we cease to be reconciled. Therefore, we are warned everywhere in Holy Writ to stay awake and be alert and stay focused on Jesus.

Thus the necessity of hearing.

We remain focused on Christ by hearing the preaching of His ministers who have been given the ministry of reconciliation, in whom God is making His appeal to sinners to be reconciled to God. Not by the merits of the minister but by the preaching of Jesus who is our righteousness. If ever we cease to listen to the ministry of reconciliation, if ever we decide that we have arrived at full reconciliation and no longer need the ministry of reconciliation – ie, by not hearing preaching and God’s word, but despising it – but by our own faith we will remain true to God, then the curse of Deuteronomy 26 (vv.14-33) shall be upon us.

Therefore we should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching or His word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. So the apostle tells Timothy (and all preachers) to take heed to yourself and your teaching; hold to the truth, in so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Tim. 4:16)

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