Jesus Only

“And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only” (Matt. 17:8 ESV).

Jesus only. In this instance “Jesus only” was a letdown for Peter, James and John. They’d just glimpsed glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, complete with Moses and Elijah. No time to build booths. It was back to the grind of preaching, teaching and healing. At the end of the transfiguration chapter comes another disturbing passion prediction by Jesus: “’The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.’ And they were greatly distressed” (Matt. 17:22–23).

Their only option was Jesus. “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (John 6:68). All or nothing. Jesus or nothing. But withRev. Matt Harrison Jesus came suffering and death. Their knowledge would remain partial until they’d seen the risen Christ. “Put to death for our transgressions, raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). And then, just one thing remained: Jesus only. The apostles, just like us, wavered and still had the flesh about their necks (Gal. 2; Acts 15:39), but trials and crosses always threw them back upon Jesus only. “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).

Service in the church is often very hard business. We come into these vocations having been encouraged by our pastors, teachers, fellow Christians and family. “You’d make a good pastor!” “You’d be a wonderful teacher!” Soon we find that it’s not all Moses and Elijah in glory. Not at all. Times of joy may be punctuated with long periods of deep trials, congregations in turmoil, challenging relationships with staff and church members. The stress of disappointment and gossip can sap all energy, throw pastors into lethargy, parch preaching and drive us to separate ourselves from the world. If I could change just one thing in the Missouri Synod by waving a magic wand, I’d turn every bit of gossip and unhealthy complaint about church workers into a prayer for them. Valid critique and appropriate accountability are good things, but they also require careful and positive implementation, preferably while things are going well.

And it’s not just the “weak” church workers who have this experience. C. F. W. Walther, Friedrich Wyneken, Franz Pieper and Friedrich Pfotenhauer (and for that matter, Luther himself) all had serious and long-lasting struggles with stress-related depression and breakdown. After telling Walther about his life-long struggle with depression, Wyneken wrote:

The longer and the more I have suffered under my heavy spiritual Anfechtungen [i.e., trials, struggles], I have experienced in a practical way the necessity and importance of pure doctrine. Since every doctrine is connected with justification, and undergirds it—indeed, proceeds from it as from the center [of the faith], and leads back to it—I have found in this doctrine my only stay in the midst of my difficulties (At Home in the House of My Fathers, p. 425).

Wyneken’s trials forced him to the heart of it all—justification—Jesus, put to death for our transgressions, raised for our justification. Jesus only. We all pass through times of trial and difficulty. I’m very thankful for those trials I experienced in the parish because they have made me much more sympathetic to others and much more compassionate. Such trials leave us clinging to Jesus only. “Lord, to whom shall we go?” And wonderfully, and somewhat ironically, they render us ever more to be “little Christs” to our brothers and sisters in their challenging moments, so that we can come to them with “Jesus only:” “Whatsoever you have done to the least of these . . .” (Matt. 25:40). Perhaps Paul said it best: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7).

When we began the trek into this church work business, they told us, “You’ll be a good pastor or teacher or . . .”  But the way we become such workers is the Jesus way—”the Son of man must suffer many things.” Only through such trials are we reduced to “Jesus only.”

— Pastor Matthew Harrison, President The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod