Then Jesus came from Galilee to be baptized by John at the Jordan. But John tried to stop him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, because it is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John let him.
When our pastors speak, God is working through them to accomplish His gracious work among His people. Pastors are but conduits through which the heavenly Father speaks, the Son fulfills all righteousness, and the Spirit hovers over baptismal waters.
Pastors, themselves, are no different than anyone else: weak, sinful, and in need of the same words they deliver to the church. But we should not see pastors in their own person, because seeing them as such would mean we would never listen to them. Pastors are sinners, like all of us, and the way we treat our pastors should reflect how we would ask God to treat us as sinful people, and also be a reflection of how we hold God and His Word in our church.
Pastors come in the name of the Triune God, and because of this, we should hear them as if it is the Lord Himself dealing with us. When a pastor absolves, we should trust that God is truly absolving through him. When a pastor baptizes, we should trust that God is truly baptizing through him. When a pastor administers the Sacrament of the Altar, we should trust that it is Christ’s true body and blood in the bread and wine being distributed by the pastor. When a pastor rebukes, it is God rebuking through him. When a pastor commends, it is God commending through him.
Consider how God the Father called down from heaven concerning His beloved Son saying, “This is My Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” John the Baptizer was a mere man, but because of God’s call, he was a prophet and fit to baptize the Son of God! Not that John had anything in his substance that made him worthy of this high call, but that God chose him and set him apart for this purpose, to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in baptism, and to baptize the Christ.
Like the baptizer, God has also called and set apart others throughout history to serve as His mouthpieces and instruments, people such as David (Psalm 29:3), Gideon (Judges 6:21), Elijah (1 Kings 18:38), the Apostles (Acts 2), any many, many other pastors since. This is how God works in and for His church – through men.
Ambrose writes, “Do not consider the merits of individuals but the office of the [pastors]. Or, if you look at the merits, consider the [pastor] as Elijah. Look upon the merits of Peter also, or of Paul, who handed down to us this mystery, which they had received from the Lord Jesus. To those of old, a visible fire was sent so that they might believe. For us who believe, the Lord works invisibly. For them, what happened is a figure; for us, it is a warning. Believe, then, that the Lord Jesus is present at the invocation of the [pastor], for He said, ‘Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am among them’ (Matthew 18:20). How much where the Church is, and where His mysteries are, does He promise to impart His presence!”
Heavenly Father, help us to recognize Your call and work in our earthly pastors, that we learn to heed their warnings and find comfort in their consolations, for You speak through them as Your instruments. Keep our pastors from false doctrine and do not let despair or fear rule in their hearts. In Jesus’ name, amen.