Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives."
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.
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The Trial of the Truth
Thursday of Easter 4
15 May 2014
"What will you do if there is a direct persecution of the Christian church? Are you ready to confess to death?" I can't recount the number of times I have been asked this question in my life and perhaps countless times more I have queried myself with it. Will I stand fast and confess when the church's enemies begin to confiscate her property, constrain by hate speech codes her preaching, fine or jail her leaders. How will I reply when jackbooted tolerationism tries to silence the divine truth? I pray for the strength to be faithful unto death, that I might win the crown of life (Rev 2:10). In so far as it depends on me, I don't know how I will reply when called to account for the hope that is in me. I am not so full of myself to say that I know the answer to this question in advance.
When interviewed before a game, a football coach will often testify that his team had a "great week of practice," as though that guarantees a positive outcome in the game. But more than one fan has been disappointed after this positive prognostication on the part of a coach. The game day sometimes puts the lie to all preparations. The team that did not practice well sometimes emerges victorious, driven on by a desire to triumph and the roar of the crowd. Preparation is important, but it is not everything. In fact, our God promises to be with us when we are called to confess our hope. Insofar as it depends on Him, by the power of His Holy Spirit, I have no doubt that I shall confess faithfully. He promises to be with His people in the moment of truth. He has proven Himself constantly ready on that day. Thus it was at Cyprian's time that the Carthaginian church confess that the suffering and death of Christ paid for all sins, even though property was confiscated, torture applied, and judicial murders worked. Cyprian himself, while eluding an earlier persecution, confessed to death in 258 A.D.
Only when a storm comes do we know how well the house is founded. Only in the clutch does the wrestler know if he has the strength and skill to overcome his opponent. This is why we welcome the challenge of our faith. This is why we approach the battlefield when our enemy demands that we enter the contest against all his earthly power. With fear? Yes. With passionate prayer? Yes. With agony? Yes. With confidence that Christ Himself so prepared for His suffering in just this way in the garden, which He remade with great drops of blood (Lk 22:44). Yes. With the trust that He who has suffered will be with us in our agony (Heb 2:14-15). Yes.
We pray that such an auto de fé would never be expected of us. But while we await the good pleasure of our heavenly Father, we should confess our faith where the only penalty is rebuke and rejection. This is practice week. If we cannot withstand smirks, furled brows, outright mockery, and verbal abuse, we will never endure what may yet come. So let us confess while there is still daylight. Let us face the trial of adversity while we can confess the truth. Now.
Cyprian of Carthage
"Abraham pleased God, who, so that he might please God (Rm 4:3) did not shrink even from losing his son, or from doing an act of parricide (Gn 22:1-18). You, who cannot endure to lose your son by the law and lot of mortality, what would you do if you were asked to slay your son? The fear and faith of God ought to make you prepared for everything, even if it should be the loss of private property, the constant and cruel harassment of your limbs by agonizing disorders, the deadly and mournful wrench from wife, from children, from departing dear ones. Let not these things be offenses to you, but battles. Do not let them weaken nor break the Christian's faith, but rather show forth his strength in the struggle, since all the injury inflicted by present troubles is to be despised in the assurance of future blessings.
"Unless the battle has preceded, there cannot be a victory. When there shall have been, after the battle, the victory, then also the crown is given to the victors. For the ship's helmsman is recognized in the tempest. In the warfare the soldier is proved. It is a meaningless display when there is no danger. Struggle in adversity is the trial of the truth. The tree that is deeply founded in its root is not moved by the onset of winds. The ship which is constructed of solid timbers is beaten by the waves and is not shattered. When the threshing floor brings out the corn, the strong and robust grains despise the winds, while the empty chaff is carried away by the blast that falls upon it."
Cyprian, On Mortality, 12
Lord Jesus, I worry that I will not be able to confess you in the midst of suffering. Free me from my fear by the power of Your Word and Your enduring promise to be with me always. Help me not to set my heart on the goods of this world, so that when these things are to be relinquished for the sake of the divine truth, I might be truly prepared to die to live. Amen.
For the catechumens of Memorial Lutheran Church, that they would be encouraged in their faith and enabled to confess Christ, when called to account
For good weather, that we might be blessed by the earth's good fruits each in their due season
For Bob Frerking, that the Lord Jesus would grant him strength and confidence of faith through the Holy Spirit
For all marriages, that they would be signs in the world of Christ's love for His bride, the church
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Resurrection (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014