In a short while a handful of Lutheran Christians will gather in a humid, mosquitoey corner of Christendom to prayerfully consider, debate, execute, and otherwise fulfill their tiny share in the Great Commission. As this is intense and demanding work, responsible parties will see to it that the CLC Convention delegates are well- fed from daybreak till its weary end. One cannot carry on the Lord’s work of preaching the Gospel to every creation on an empty stomach, nor an empty spirit. That is why, while food-service specialists busy themselves in the shiny new campus kitchens of Immanuel Lutheran College, other specialists will be preparing morsels of heavenly manna, consisting of the Bread of Life, Living Water, and the true body and blood of Christ Himself — all to be set forth as a source of spiritual satisfaction and joy suitable for soldiers in the ranks of the Church Militant.
Part of that spiritual food will come in the form of essays highlighting our Convention theme: We Appreciate The Means of Grace. The Means of Grace are the food our Lord has given to satisfy our souls and nourish our spirits. This food is the Word we preach and the sacraments which we, as churches, administer — all of which center on the redemptive work of Christ.
We appreciate the Means of Grace — that is our claim. There will be others who who speak about the Means of Grace. I for the moment would like to speak about “appreciation.” It’s an amazingly versatile word, and it fits many perspectives on the “great salvation” that comes to us through these Means of Grace.
Maybe the most common meaning of “appreciate” is “to hold in esteem.” When one receives a good teacher or a benefactor, there is an appreciation of that person. Jesus once declared (to those who held Him in very low esteem) that “Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it, and was glad” (Jn. 8:56).
It’s quite a notion to suggest that Abraham, who had been dead for two thousand years, was able to look ahead to the era of Jesus of Nazareth, and find some sort of comfort and joy in it. Only by God’s grace could Abraham appreciate the days of Jesus for what they were — an appreciation that was lost on the proud and self-righteous descendants of the patriarch.
The Precious Gem Of The Gospel
Through the Gospel we can appreciate what Jesus had done two thousand years past as being very special to us. For Abraham or for us the blessing is the same: “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations” (Lk. 24:46-47).
To “appreciate” something may at times mean that that thing has our approval — that we would not despise it or turn away from it, because of its merits. The apostle Paul boldly stated his appreciation for the Good News of Jesus’ redeeming work in his letter to the Romans: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).
It is through this Gospel, the proclaiming of God’s gracious response to the wretched mess of sin, that listeners in every era are brought face to face with the person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul appreciated the fact that his telling of the Gospel was more than just a rehash of history, something for idlers in Athens to dissect and interpret in a hundred different ways. The Gospel message is God’s means for reaching sinners, confronting them in their sinfulness; and supplying the healing balm of the Gospel. Paul appreciated the fact that no amount of moralizing, and no type of feel-good philosophy can act as a substitute for this simple law/gospel preaching of Jesus Christ, Savior. It is the power of God for salvation.
But one of the richer uses of “appreciate,” one that holds the interest of financiers and speculators, is its connection with value and worth. To “appreciate” the value of the Gospel would mean to realize how rare and precious a gem it truly is, in contrast to all the “cubic zirconium” vaunted by this world. “Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding; for her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, and all the things you may desire cannot compare with her” (Prov 3:13-15).
A simple trust in the Means of Grace for carrying out the work of the Church is not a fashionable thing in our day; the stand for sound law/gospel preaching is trampled underfoot by many who scramble for outward growth. Our hope is that by recalling the importance of the Means of Grace — and what that term means to Lutheran Christians — we will have a heightened awareness, a better appreciation, of the magnificent and costly feast of salvation to which we have been called.
–Pastor Peter Reim