Sermon based on Mark 1:14-20 for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Dear bride of Christ: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen
The Lord God of heaven and earth had a plan when He created the heavens and the earth and when He created man and woman. He created order and structure. He designed the family unit as the basic building block of society. The family has a designated structure and order, and families together form society with its order and structure. The Lord of the creation also instituted the Church with a certain order and certain roles, because “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (I Cor. 14:33).
After John the Baptist was no longer preaching repentance because of his arrest and imprisonment, Jesus Himself starts preaching, saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel” (v. 15). There is no more waiting; God is here before you and His reign is here! According to God’s plan, this message is to be preached to the ends of the earth, so Jesus calls disciples to follow Him.
Simon and Andrew are carrying out their job as fishermen as Jesus passes by. Jesus says to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (v. 17). They immediately drop their nets. They leave their jobs and their incomes and follow Jesus, not knowing where they are going or what following Him will mean over the months and years ahead. Jesus comes across James and John and He calls them to follow Him also. They likewise drop everything and follow Him in faith.
Overall, Jesus calls twelve men to be His disciples. In essence, they start seminary under Jesus’ teaching. They spend three years with Jesus listening to Him and learning from Him. They see His miracles and they hear His preaching and teaching as Jesus prepares them to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. After His resurrection Jesus sends them to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and by teaching them to observe everything that Jesus taught and commanded them (Matt. 28:19). Here also Jesus has a plan, a structure, and an order to His plan of salvation. Jesus called men to represent Him and speak His Word of forgiveness to His bride, the Church.
The question can be asked: why did Jesus send only men as His representatives? Is it because only men are good public speakers? No, we can possibly think of many women who excel in public speaking and many men that do not. Is it because men have more value in God’s eyes or are better in some way? No, Galatians 3[:27-28] says that through Baptism we are all one in Christ Jesus – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female” when it comes to salvation or equality in God’s eyes. Perhaps it is then because men take God more seriously. Nope. It cannot be that either. Very often it is the women who attend the Divine Service and teach their children while men are slackers in their obligations as husbands and fathers. So what then? Why only men? We get very helpful answers from Paul’s letters since this question is one that came up then as well.
In the Greco-Roman world of the first century there was a strong movement of the “new woman”. These “new women” pushed for liberation from traditional roles, appearance, and social conduct. They pushed away from traditional family structure and sought to be heads of their houses contrary to the order of creation (cf. also Eph. 5:22-33). It should be noted that women were serving as priestesses in many of the religions in the Greco-Roman world. Women were allowed leading roles in religious rites and in teaching, particularly in the religions with female goddesses and those gods related to fertility cults.
So when this influence of society invaded the church and there was a push for women to take leadership roles and to teach in the church, Paul writes to address this. He writes, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (I Tim. 2:11-14).
So Scripture says that contrary to the influence of society and contrary to other religions, in the Church of God women are not to teach or exercise authority over a man. The appeal is to the order of creation: Adam was formed first, then Eve. The appeal is to the structure and order that God planned before creation. God says that He gives man headship because He created man first, then woman.
This is not a question of value or equality. This becomes clear from I Corinthians 11[:3], “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” This is nothing other than a hierarchy or an ordering of offices. Christ subordinates Himself to God the Father even though He Himself is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God… and of one substance with the Father” (Nicene Creed). Christ is equal with the Father, nevertheless, there is an order established by God. So it is in the family, and so it is in the Church.
But we may still want to ask why? Why is this God’s order? Why did He not create woman first, and then man? Or why not create man and woman at the same time? And why must woman bear the hard work and danger of bearing children instead of men also bearing children? God does not give us every answer for which we seek. But He does tell us clearly what His plan is, what His order is, and that that is what is best.
In I Corinthians 14[:33-38] we hear also, “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.”
This passage of God’s Word says that God Himself instituted the Church and set its structure and order. The Word of God is not ours to tamper or change. There was such pressure from the world to allow women to do things outside of God’s order that Paul makes a great issue of this. He writes that those who do not recognize this command of the Lord are not recognized to be in the Church. And indeed, how can they be? How can someone go directly against the Word of God and think that they should be recognized as being in the Church?
Jesus did indeed send the disciples to teach everything He had commanded (Matt. 28:19). Not just some things. He didn’t tell them to pick and choose what they want to teach. He said teach everything I have commanded you.
This is the order God decided was best. Surely, if it was up to us, we would probably choose a different order. But our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, and our ways are not His ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts (Is. 55:8-9). “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom. 11:33)
There is also societal pressure on us now, as there was on the Church in the days of Paul, to conform to the world in which we live. It’s not just other religions around us that allow women to lead and teach in their temples, but also organizations that call themselves the church of God. Even organizations that call themselves Lutheran! But we must resist this worldly pressure, and we must not recognize those who permit such things contrary to the Word of God.
We do not have all the reasons why God set such an order in place. We may still want to ask: Why can a woman not read Scripture lessons in the Divine Service? Why can a woman not be an elder of the congregation? Why can a woman not be a pastor? It can look to us like a waste of talent if you have a caring woman who knows her Scriptures well and is a good teacher. But such is God’s command, so it we will obey.
God our Father saw fit to send His Son to be born a man and die for our sins. Christ our Lord sends men to bring this good news of forgiveness to the world so that they would come into the Church. The Church is often described as the bride of Christ in the Scriptures (Mt. 25:1-13; Mk 2:19; Jn 3:29; II Cor. 11:2-4; Eph. 5:22-33; Rev. 19:8, 21:2, 9-10). This all points to the glorious and honourable position of being the bride. It is the bride that is served by the groom. Christ, the bridegroom gave up His very life to save His bride, the Church.
So also in the Divine Service there is this symbolism present, whereby women also have the position of honour. They are the ones being served by the pastor who stands as the representative of Christ. They symbolize the entire Church of men and women receiving the forgiveness of sins.
This all falls into place when we recall that the Divine Service is all about receiving from God. The Divine Service isn’t about our involvement or actions; it is all about God doing, and us receiving. We receive the forgiveness of sins. We are fed and strengthened through His Word and through the Lord’s Supper. Christ serves us and gives to us. It is the congregation, the bride of Christ that is in the position of honour as Christ, through His representative serves His people. So let us rejoice in the order that God has instituted, knowing that His order is best. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.