Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
June 19 and 20, 2021
“God’s Foreign Work”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Do you know the difference between God’s primary work and his secondary, or foreign, work? The understanding is important and the difference is crucial.
Let’s start with the primary and central work of God. His primary work is salvation. Salvation is His rescue of us from the result of our sins. Primary. John 3:16-17, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Or how about what we hear in the letter to Timothy, “[God] wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time.” (I Timothy 2:4-5)
It is foundational, primary, that we trust in Jesus for our salvation. We are saved from the damning effect of our sin and we are promised forgiveness of sins in the sacrifice of Jesus, our substitute, and His powerful resurrection. We are told that through the work of Jesus, and Jesus alone, we will live in heaven and when the last day comes our bodies will rise and join our souls in God’s heavenly kingdom. Romans – “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16-17)
That is God’s primary work. I hope you know that. I hope that you take great comfort in it. But that is not His only work. God is also involved in a secondary, or as some call it, a foreign work. That work, though not His most important work, is necessary.
In the Portals of Prayer from 6 weeks ago (Thursday, May 6, 2021), a 200-word devotion titled “Repentance and Life”, interested me. I think it gives a good understanding of God’s foreign work. The reading that day was from Luke 13 which began, “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will perish.’” (Luke 13:1-3)
The author wrote, “We might expect that when Jesus was told of Pilate’s vicious act against the Galileans, He would condemn Pilate’s actions or pray for the victims’ families. Instead, Jesus says to the crowds, ‘Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’” Just think of that. What would you say to those folks if they had told you that account? They had gone up to do something good, make their sacrifices for worship, they had come to obey God, and Pilate, known to be quite violent, murdered a number of them during that holy moment. Jesus used that event to talk about God’s foreign work – calling our hearts to turn to Him.
The primary work of God is compassion, restoration, wholeness. His secondary work, His foreign work, is for us to know the emptiness of self and our total dependence on Him. His foreign work is “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Our reading from Mark’s Gospel is the account of Jesus calming the storm. I know that you know how it ends. It is a great ending. The Lord over all creation looks at the wind and the waves and says, “Quiet!! Be still!!” And they were. Everything went from chaos to peace with just a few words from Jesus. That is how we want our life to be. That is His primary work.
But before we get to that wonderful outcome see what was happening. “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’” (Mark 4:37-38)
God’s work is there too. It is in the darkest days, the worst moments, the times when our loss is too big, and our grief is unbearable when God is also speaking clearly. God’s work can be seen when we question our faith and when we really wonder if God cares at all about what is happening in our lives. God’s work is when we grieve over miserable choices we have made in life, never considering what God would have us to do. He shows us that we can’t do this life alone.
In a previous congregation I visited Newell Smith. Newell was a Vietnam veteran. But when he was in Vietnam he got messed up with all types of drugs. When he came back to the States he said that he was “On a road to hell.” Then something just plain awful happened to Newell. When he was stoned and wasted he walked in front of a moving car and was hit. His body was crushed. But he lived. In fact, he looked at that moment as the time when he went from going to hell to the time when he was heading toward heaven. When he would tell me his story, and when I witnessed the pain he continued to have long after his surgeries, I would feel sorry for what he experienced. But he didn’t have pity for what he was going through, he was happy that God gave him a second chance in life. You might know that hymn Softly and Tenderly. (With One Voice 734) “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me. See, on the portals he’s waiting and watching, watching for you and for me. Come home. Come home. You who are weary, come home. Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling, ‘O sinner, come home.’” I wonder how softly and tenderly it is at times when Jesus has to get our attention and when he has to take us from self-destruction to divine-rescue?
This is His foreign work. We read a little portion from Job this morning. You know a little of his life. He lost everything. He life was in great pain and grief. Like Newell. Maybe like you. But loss and misery are not God’s ultimate purpose for Job or you or me.
When God speaks to our life and our ways that can be far from His ways and His will, He will use His word to do His foreign work. In the verse that we often use to speak about the inspiration of the Bible, consider how His words are used for the purpose of repentance, His secondary work. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (II Timothy 3:16-17)
God’s foreign work, disrupting our life, our ways, our will, that would most certainly daily and eternally destroy us, is powerful. But His primary work is greater, more powerful. When that storm came up and the disciples knew that they were going to drown in that water, like so many of their fellow fisherman had done through the years, their fears came to an end with the command of Jesus. “Quiet!! Be Still.” One translator says literally it is, “Shut up and stay shut up.”
When life is in turmoil, when sin is alluring, when despair is present, when everything has come undone, Jesus, who is Lord over sin and the devil and temptation and trouble says, “Quiet!! Be Still!!”
When everything changed simply by a few words, the question from those in the boat with Jesus was, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41) Good question. Right question. It is the question for everyone who has felt the foreign work of God through His law to ask. “Who is this Jesus?” “What can He do for me?” “What problems can He handle?” “If He can take care of the wind and the waves can He take care of me and my life?”
In his Portals of Prayer devotion for May 6, the author Benjamin Petersen, said, “Tragedy also directs us to our Savior, who suffered tragedy upon the cross. Through tragedy, we have eternal salvation. When we feel the tragic burden of our sins, Jesus invites us to turn to Him for life.”
Who is Jesus? He is the one who loves us and calls us to know and trust His strong and saving hand. Amen!!