Today’s devotional writing in the Treasury of Daily Prayer is particularly appropriate in this week after the call service, as our graduates are preparing to be ordained and enter into their first congregations. Martin Luther is commenting on John 3:34, “For He whom God has sent utters the Word of God”:
John is speaking here about calling or sending, particularly about the sending of Christ. I have decided to discourse on this topic at some length. There are two ways of sending. First, God sent His messengers, the prophets and apostles, like Moses and St. Paul, directly and without the help of an intermediary. These men were called by God’s word of mouth and without human agency. Such sending was done only when God wished to inaugurate something new, as was the case when He sent Moses and the prophets. This exalted method came to an end in the New Testament with the apostles, who were the last to be called directly by God.
The other way of sending is indeed also one by God, but it is done through the instrumentality of man. It has been employed ever since God established the ministry with its preaching and its exercise of the Office of the Keys. This ministry will endure and is not to be replaced by any other. But the incumbents of this ministry do not remain; they die. This necessitates an ever-new supply of preachers, which calls for the employment of certain means. The ministry, that is, the Word of God, Baptism, and Holy Communion, came directly from Christ; but later Christ departed from this earth. Now a new way of sending was instituted, which works through man but is not of man. We were sent according to this method; according to it, we elect and send others, and we install them in their ministry to preach and to administer the Sacraments. This type of sending is also of God and commanded by God. Even though God resorts to our aid and to human agency, it is He Himself who sends laborers into His vineyard.
Therefore everyone must realize that he has to be sent. That is, he must know that he has been called; he dare not venture to sneak into the office furtively and without authorization. It must be done in the open. The sending is done through man, for example, when a city, a prince, or a congregation calls someone into office. But at the same time this person is sent by God.
– Martin Luther, Sermons on the Gospel of John, AE 22:482