The story is told
about an engineer, who was working in an automobile assembly plant. The company
had to make some changes to its assembly lines every year because of the new
model changes. Occasionally, though, entirely new products would be
introduced, which would require a more extensive overhaul of the facility. The
engineer’s crew was installing and testing about six miles of overhead
conveyors that would move car bodies through the plant from one area to
another. As is often the case in such projects, it was taking more time than
initially planned, and the work was behind schedule. In order to save time,
the project team would often have crews removing old equipment at the same time
that others were installing the new. Sometimes the crews worked pretty close
to one another.
Part of that
engineer’s job was to supervise a group of workers and make certain that the
equipment actually worked the way it was supposed to work. One day, as he walked
into the area around one of the work stations, minding his own business, someone
grabbed him roughly and pulled him hard. It was very unnerving to the man, and
he was about to shake himself loose and issue a sharp, angry objection. A few
seconds later, however, he was very, very thankful to his unknown assailant.
You see, while he
was busy looking at the work station, he was not paying real close attention,
and he was certainly not looking up. He didn’t know it, but, about twenty feet
over his head, a team was dismantling a very big piece of equipment with
cutting torches. A couple members of the team were walking around down on the
main floor as safety observers. These safety observers were called spotters.
They were watching for people just like that pre-occupied engineer.
About two seconds
after one of the spotters grabbed him, a forty-foot-long I-beam about twelve
inches thick dropped down from the ceiling. If that spotter had not grabbed him,
that I-beam would have ended his life instantly.
The man experienced
about a dozen different emotions all at the same time. He was a little dazed
and shocked. He was grateful to be alive. He was thankful for the quick
actions of the spotter. He was frightened at the thought of what that I-beam
could have done to him. He was also quite embarrassed. He felt stupid that he
had not been more aware of his surroundings. It was a construction zone. He
was wearing a hard hat for good reason. He should have been more careful, and
knew he would pay closer attention to important things in the future,
especially to the presence of the safety spotters.
Did you know that
the Bible also has spotters in it? Some of the spotters were called prophets.
Others were called apostles. Both prophets and apostles acted as spiritual
spotters who warn people when they are about to get into spiritual danger.
Today’s Old Testament reading comes from the writings of one of those spiritual
spotters, a prophet named Amos.
God chose Amos to
warn Israel and other countries. Judging by his words in today’s reading, he
didn’t really want to be a prophet. He didn’t really want to be the one who
told Israel what kind of danger they were in, but God chose him and he couldn’t
do anything about that.
In today’s Gospel,
we learn of another spotter—one sent to warn Herod of spiritual danger. John
the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was the forerunner
of the Messiah. When Jesus talked about John, He said, “Among those born
of women none is greater than John.” (Luke 7:28)
John was the
spiritual spotter that God sent to Herod. Herod had stolen the wife of his
brother. That and many other sins had placed his soul in danger. John the Baptist
warned Herod of this danger.
Our readings today
tell us that there is one very obvious difference between the spotter who saved
the man’s life in that factory and spiritual spotters. For one thing, people
are usually very grateful to those who save their physical lives, as the
engineer was to that spotter who kept him from walking under that I-beam in
spotters, on the other hand, often get no respect. The reward for warning
someone of the danger to their soul instead of to their body may
be verbal and physical abuse—in some cases, even death. The Israelites in the
Old Testament reading wanted to send Amos into exile.
God had told Amos
to proclaim the many consequences of staying in their current situation of
spiritual danger. Instead of listening to the warning that God gave through
Amos and moving to the safety of God’s salvation, they decided that Amos had to
go. They suggested that he go to Judah and prophesy there.
Our Gospel tells
us that Herod—though he respected and feared John’s preaching—was maneuvered
into having John beheaded. John had warned Herod and Herodias, his illicit
wife whom he had taken away from his half-brother, of the dangers of adultery.
Marriage is not only the union of man and wife, but it is also a picture of the
communion between Christ and His Bride, the Church. Herod and Herodias had not
only sinned against marriage, but also sinned against the very image that God
established as an image of His relationship with us. They were in danger of
going to hell where their souls would be lost forever.
But Herodias was
enraged and vengeful at having been called out on their sinful and sordid
behavior. She responded to John’s faithful and scriptural ministry by first
using her own daughter as a sexual tease to Herod and his dinner guests. She
then took advantage of his drunken, prideful oath to get John’s head put on a
platter and displaying it as a party decoration.
God still sends
spiritual spotters to watch over His people. After Jesus rose from the dead
and before He ascended into heaven, He established the pastoral office. The
pastor is the spiritual spotter that remains with us to this day. Being one of
God’s spotters can often be very fulfilling, but it can also be very uncomfortable
and frustrating sometimes. People don’t always comprehend, much less appreciate,
the service and the gifts that God provides for them through His spiritual
Oh, they’ll listen
to their doctors’ guidance about weak, mortal bodies that’ll one day turn to
dust. They’ll listen to their mechanics about addressing problems with cars
that will one day turn to rust, or be crushed and melted into something else.
They’ll listen to their brokers and bankers about handling their fleeting
Yet they will
refuse to listen—sometimes refuse even to physically hear—what God would have
proclaimed to them through the means He has established to grant and sustain
faith, for the protection of their eternal souls. After all, everyone can read
medical textbooks, auto repair manuals, the Wall Street Journal, and the
Though in physical
terms, the advancement of knowledge and technology has made modern life far
more comfortable than the biblical prophets and apostle could have ever dreamed
possible, in its own ways, being a pastor can still be just as difficult.
Down through the
centuries many thousands of pastors have lost their lives because they
faithfully proclaimed repentance and forgiveness to those who would not listen.
In some parts of the world, it can be just as dangerous to be a spiritual
spotter in modern times as it was for John the Baptist in his day.
country has laws against killing or injuring other people, including pastors.
While violence against them is occasionally reported, it isn’t commonplace.
People in this country have other ways of persecuting pastors, though. Sometimes
this is even more apt to happen inside the church than outside. Many families
have roast pastor for Sunday lunch or dinner, pointing out his many flaws,
failings, and limitations after the man has only attempted to do what God has
called him to do.
God certainly does
not talk to pastors in the same way that He spoke to His apostles and
prophets. That is because the Holy Spirit inspired the apostles and prophets
to write down the guidelines for his spiritual spotters for us in the Bible, so
all pastors and those who hear them could share God’s message. Pastors are to
do their spotting according to those Biblical guidelines.
Jesus had a vision—a
clear and distinct method, even—for those called to proclaim His Word. They
were to warn people of spiritual danger, and then tell them about the only
place of spiritual safety. Jesus said that, “Repentance and forgiveness
of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations …” (Luke 24:47).
In order to proclaim and encourage repentance, though, a pastor must first tell
people about God’s law and then tell them how they break it, daily. A pastor
must tell people that they—just like their pastors—sin frequently. That the
penalty for being sinful and unrepentant is eternity in hell.
Pastors do this in
love because they want to make people aware of their spiritual danger and then
let the Gospel move them to a place of spiritual safety.
become aware of their spiritual danger, the pastor then has the wonderful
opportunity to proclaim God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness. There is indeed a
place that is safe from spiritual danger. That place is at the cross of Jesus
In today’s Gospel,
John the Baptist died. Although he was a great prophet—the greatest, according
to Jesus—John was still a sinner. His death saved no one, but his death did give
witness to another. His message in life and his witness in death pointed to
the greater one who would follow him, Jesus Christ.
spotting the pastor does isn’t just limited to dire warnings of sin and its
consequences for you, though. After John the Baptist died, other rulers
conspired to commit another crime of violence—this time against Jesus, the one
for whom John had come to prepare the way. They tortured Him and then nailed
Him to a cross. His crucifixion and death did something John’s death could
never do. Jesus had lived a perfect life. He had not committed one, single
sin. His death was totally and completely undeserved.
Yet Jesus died not
only bearing the sins of the whole world, but actually becoming that sin for
us. His death is redemption for all people. His death takes away the sins of
the whole world. That means He died for your sins, just as He died for mine.
Those who place their faith in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins
are safe from the eternal damnation that our sins fully deserve. You are free
of that curse and that fear.
Even here, though,
the pastor’s spotting work does not end with the wonderful news that for the
sake of Jesus’ suffering and death, your sins are forgiven and its eternal
consequences wiped out by God. The pastor also has the opportunity to proclaim
the further joyous news of the resurrection—the news that although Jesus died
for our sins, He did not stay dead. Jesus is true God and death cannot hold
Him. He rose from the dead. He lives and reigns forevermore. Christ’s
resurrection opens up the door to eternal life in heaven for all who believe in
Him. What a tremendous joy it is for pastors to proclaim the victory of Christ
that gives us the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.
have lives that are full of great contrasts. They want all people to be in
that safe place at the cross of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, many people stubbornly
refuse to listen to the warning and remain in their trespasses and sins. They
reject the working of the Holy Spirit in the Word of Law and Gospel. This can
cause many a pastor to get angry, or frustrated, or even to moisten his pillow
with tears at the end of the day. In other cases, though, the Holy Spirit
works faith in people, turning them in repentance. He, and not the pastor,
puts them in the safety that comes with faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of
sins. It is then that the pastor rejoices with the angels in heaven over the
sinner who has received salvation.
equivalents of heavy I-beams are falling all over the place, all around you.
This world is full of sin. When one of God’s spotters, like Amos or John the
Baptist, gives you a warning against your sin and those by which you may be
tempted, he is only doing what God has called him to do. He is warning of the
danger of that sin to your soul and your eternal well-being. He is proclaiming
safety in Christ alone; in Jesus who died on the cross for you and then rose
from the dead. The warning of a spotter is an act of love, not an act of
judgment. Along with the Savior who sent him, he only wants you to abide
forever in the safety of Jesus Christ. Amen.