“Lord, who has believed our message?” asked the prophet Isaiah.
Moses, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Paul, Jesus Himself tasted disappointment at lukewarm and downright cold reactions to the gospel.
This is not the fault of the gospel. There is no new and improved gospel, no “different” gospel which is no gospel at all, as Paul put it in Galatians.
“Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ,” says the great apostle in Romans.
This is how God works. God could open up the sky each day at 9 a.m. and shout at us. But this is not how the Holy Spirit works.
God chooses to use the gospel in word and sacraments to bring people to faith. These are the “means of the grace,” the tools the Holy Spirit uses to get under the hood of human hearts, to get the engine of faith started, and to maintain it all the way down the road to heaven.
Luther says it so simply in his explanation to the 3rd commandment: “We should fear and love God that we do not despise preaching and His word, but regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it.”
In the Smalcald Articles of our Lutheran Confessions, Luther bluntly said: “God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken word and the sacraments. It is the devil himself whatsoever is extolled as Spirit without the word and sacraments.”
Listen. Suppose you take your car to the mechanic. You say: “It’s in bad shape. Some days it barely starts.”
So the mechanic opens the hood, takes out his tools and leans over the engine. You say, “Stop! You don’t need to use those tools. Just wave your hand over it and meditate a little.”
Your mechanic is going to tell you: “Listen. I get cars started and keep them going with my tools. If you want some other way, get yourself another mechanic.”
Every preacher of the gospel is obliged to say this too: “So you want to sit at home and claim you and God have your own private arrangement? Get yourself into God’s “garage.” This is where the gospel is purely preached and the sacraments of baptism and holy communion are rightly administered. These are the tools God has commanded me to use on dead hearts that need starting, weak hearts that need strengthening, strong hearts that may stray. This is how God chooses to work. If you want some other kind of gospel, get yourself a different preacher. Faith still comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”