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Psalm 45

 

My heart overflows with a pleasing theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe. You are the most handsome of the sons of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you forever. Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one, in your splendor and majesty! In your majesty ride out victoriously for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness; let your right hand teach you awesome deeds! Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king's enemies; the peoples fall under you. Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions; your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad; daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir. Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father's house, and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him. The people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts, the richest of the people. All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold. In many-colored robes she is led to the king, with her virgin companions following behind her. With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king. In place of your fathers shall be your sons; you will make them princes in all the earth. I will cause your name to be remembered in all generations; therefore nations will praise you forever and ever.  (ESV)  

 

 

 

Blissful Banquet

Friday of Pentecost 16

13 September 2013

Whenever the possibility of being killed for confessing Christ as Savior arises in a discussion, people inevitably ask me, "Pastor, do you think you would be strong enough to confess Christ unto death? Would you be confident enough at that moment not to renounce faith in Jesus?" The short answer to that question is, "I don't know." We do ask those who join the church to confess that they would "suffer all, even death" rather than renounce this faith. That's a tall order for the church to demand. In our culture, a person committed to anything to the point of death is a fanatic. Yet, Jesus warns that tribulation and death are a possibility for those who confess his holy name (Mt 24:9). Shall I worry about my ability to confess if called to account to the point of death? If my steadfast confession is a gift of God through the Holy Spirit, the answer is quite clear. No, I should not worry. I would ask God for the strength to give up my life, dying to this world for "the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil 3:8).

 

The 23rd  Psalm (Ps 23:5) reminds us that the Lord Jesus sets before us a full and intoxicating meal in the presence of our enemies. This feast is set not only when things are peaceful and happy, but especially when we are being scrutinized and persecuted by our enemies. They may howl and rage against us, but the Lord gives us this rich banquet, which He serves Himself. Notice that God does not fit the believer with tools of war; helmet, grieves, or sword, a battle tank or a Hummer. No, a choice banquet with wine and food is prepared by our Lord Jesus, the good Shepherd (Is 55:1-2). We can be in no better position than to recline at the feast of the Shepherd while surrounded by a deadly army of enemies. We may then not only be prepared to gainsay all opposition, but also to rejoice in the face of suffering and death. We fight back best, when we let the Lord fight for us; all the while feasting. It is no wonder that our enemy the devil is so full of spite and rage against us. We sit fêted by our God, while the devil labors against us; and labor as he might, he cannot overcome our Lord and Master. It is no wonder we are so peaceful and joyous in the face of persecution.

 

George Eliot's novel, Romola, warns that "we prepare ourselves for sudden deeds by reiterated choice of good or evil which gradually determines our character." In it, Tito Melema has made little compromises to the detriment of the truth and honor. This prepares him for greater and greater acts of betrayal. If we are to be faithful to Christ at the ultimate moment, then we will need to be faithful to Christ when smaller prices are to be paid. We may not compromise when the debate is between faithful worship of the true God and our own convenience. For example, how will we renounce family when necessary, if we now bow down to family tradition to the detriment of the worship of Christ? If we are not faithful in little when we are called on to witness to the first commandment how can we be faithful in much (Lk 16:10)? This is why we need to be faithful by dying every day to sin. It is a divinely given habit that will blossom into ever greater martyrdom according to God's will. Christ must be our consolation whether the cost seems small or great, according to the case. We will only be victorious when we stay in the Word of God, whether called to account for small or great issues (1Jn 5:4). If we are in the Word of God then we shall have "power, joy, and blissful intoxication."

 

Martin Luther

 

"Such power, joy, and blissful intoxication (Ps 23:5) are manifested in the believers not only when they prosper and have peace, but also when they suffer and die. When the council at Jerusalem, therefore, had the Apostles flogged, they rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41). And St. Paul says: 'We also rejoice in our sufferings' (Rm 5:3). Later on many martyrs, men and women, went to their deaths with happy hearts and laughing mouths as though they were going to a happy festival or dance. So we read of St. Agnes and St. Agatha, who were virgins of thirteen or fourteen years old, and of many others. They not only boldly and confidently conquered the devil and the world through their deaths, but were also cheerful with all their hearts, just as if they had been drunk with great joy. And it does vex the devil beyond measure when someone can so confidently despise his great might and guile.

 

"In our time, too, many have died cheerfully because they have confessed Christ. Similarly we learn that many die in their beds with a fine understanding and faith and say with Simeon, 'With peace and joy I now depart,' so that it is a pleasure to behold, as I myself have often beheld it. And all this because, as the prophet says, they are anointed with the oil which the Forty-fifth Psalm (Ps 45:7) calls an oil of gladness and have drunk from the overflowing cup which the Lord has filled.

 

"'Good!' you say, 'but I do not yet find myself sufficiently well equipped to die cheerfully.' That does not matter. As mentioned earlier, David did not always have the ability either. Indeed, at times he complained that he had been cast away from the presence of God. Nor did other saints at all times have full confidence in God and an eternal pleasure and patience in their distresses and afflictions. St. Paul at times trusted so securely and surely in Christ that he would not have bothered even to stand up because of the law, sin, death, and the devil. 'It is no longer I who live,' he says, 'but Christ who lives in me' (Gal 2:20). And 'My desire is to depart and to be with Christ' (Phil 1:23). And 'Who shall separate us from the love of God? He did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all. Will He not also give us all things with Him? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or the sword separate us from Him' (Rm 8:32, 35)? When he speaks here of death, the devil, and all misfortune, he is as sure as though he were the strongest and greatest saint, for whom death would be pure joy. Elsewhere, then, he speaks as though he were the weakest and greatest sinner on earth. 'I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling' (1Co 2:3). 'I am carnal, sold under sin' (Rm 7:14), which brings me into captivity. 'Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death' (Rm 7:24). And in Galatians 5:17, he teaches that in the saints there is an eternal struggle of the flesh against the spirit. Therefore you ought not despair so soon, though you find yourself weak and fainthearted, but pray diligently that you might remain with the Word and grow in the faith and knowledge of Christ."

 

Martin Luther, Psalm 23, 23.5
 
Prayer

Lord Christ, good Shepherd, You have set a banquet before me in the presence of my enemies. Help me to confess you in the face of all persecution both small and great. Help me to die every day to sin that I might confess you unto death every day. Rescue me from the little compromises that jeopardize my confession of Your truth. Send Your Spirit that I would cast all my cares on You, when suffering for You is my lot. Amen.

 

For all teachers and school administrators, that they would be blessed with health and strength

 

For all who travel, that they would be kept safe in their travels

 

For all doctors and other health professionals, that they might ease suffering and be God's instruments in bringing healing

 

For President Matthew Harrison, the Praesidium, and newly elected members of boards and committees, who will be installed tomorrow, that the Lord would shower them with ever greater tokens of His love and give them joy in their service 
Art: Eyck, Jan van  The Adoration of the Lamb (1425-1429) 

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