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Philippians 4:1-9

 

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me- practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. 
(ESV)

Footprints Or Nail Prints?

Monday after the Feast of the Holy Trinity

16 June 2014

"Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition," is the refrain in a skit of the English comedy troupe, Monty Python's Flying Circus, in which John Cleese and company, mock both the phrase as an indignant figure of speech and the Spanish Inquisition as a historical occurrence. The problem is that what is expected seldom takes place. We are often confronted with the unexpected, both for good and ill. Sometimes for good when the unexpected brings us joy; such as when a husband brings flowers to his wife on a day that is not their wedding anniversary. Sometimes for ill; when a husband does not bring flowers to his wife on a day that is their wedding anniversary. Sometimes we can miss a greater gift of joy when we look only for the expected, as the wife who, angry because her husband failed to present her with flowers on their wedding anniversary, failed to notice the new car with a huge gift bow on it in the driveway.

 

The expected way of finding God is through His self-revelation in creation. His existence and nature should become clear to us through our contemplation of His creatures. And in a way there is a set of footprints in creation that leave us with a vague and perhaps unsettling knowledge that there is a God and that He is immensely powerful. "All-powerful" is an expected adjective to put before God. Often, and wrongly, this is thought to be decisive difference between us humans and the God: His immense power. My God is soooo big: "He is great. I am small." But that is not the decisive gap between us and our heavenly Father. The decisive gap is sin.

 

At the creation, Adam and Eve were as small and insignificant in comparison to God as we are now. Yet, they had fellowship with God and they knew Him perfectly, as was to be expected through His revelation of Himself during afternoon tea in the Garden He fashioned for them (Gn 3:8). Only when they forfeited their perfect relationship with Him by choosing their own wisdom over His, were they separated from Him. When He came next for tea, they heard not the quiet tones of a friend and Father, but they heard accusation, blame and shame. I don't think the speech changed much. Their ears, now filled with the wax of wickedness, heard what was expected: threat and wrath. They got an inquisition, but now they expected it. They hid from the questioner, fearful of the questions that hung over them, "Where are you?" and "What have you done?" Their wisdom had no adequate reply for these. All Adam could do was accuse God and his wife. He no longer had the moral capacity to hear the footprints of God as the message of the divine coming in fellowship. What Adam expected was a complete failure. He was a complete failure.

 

God took up the unexpected not to fool humanity, but to foil man's faulty wisdom. All the seeming-wise answers to the mocking questions of unbelief can never ring true in the face of God's self-revelation on the cross. God takes our expectations and laughs them to scorn (Ps 2:4). Every objection to the plan of God to save the world through the weakness of the cross, becomes a centerpiece of the plan itself. The worldly wise object that Jesus should have freed Himself from suffering and death before His crucifixion. Jesus chooses to free us from eternal suffering and the fear of death by being crucified. He faces down the horror of the cross to save us from the horror of our own wickedness. He chooses not to save Himself to save us. He chooses to give up His life, only to take it up again and in that resurrection to give life to those who were dead in their trespasses and sins. Footprints will no longer do. Only nail prints will now tell us about God.

 

John Chrysostom

 

"When I say, 'He was crucified;' the Greek says, 'And how can this be reasonable? He did not help Himself while undergoing crucifixion and sore trial while on the cross. How then after suffering these things was He able to rise again and help others? For if He had been able, before death came upon him and He was actually in the midst of horrors, He should have shown Himself above all horrors; and being in the enemy's grasp should have overcome. This you would expect of infinite power. Just as in the case of the fish, it is better to suffer no harm from the whale and not to be swallowed at all, so also it seemed in the case of Christ. It would not have been so inconceivable that He should not have died, as that He should loose the bonds of death through having died. If you say, 'Why did He not help Himself on the cross?' the answer is that He was hurrying to close conflict with death itself. He did not get down from the cross, not because He could not, but because He would not. How could the nails of the cross restrain Him whom the tyranny of death could not restrain? These things, though known to us, are not known to unbelievers. Therefore, Paul said that 'The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart"' (1Co 1:18-19).

 

"'Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe' (1Co 1:20-21). Having said, 'It is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,' Paul adds proof, saying, 'Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe?' at the same time glancing at both Gentiles and Jews. For what sort of philosopher, among those who have studied logic or learned Jewish matters, has saved us and made known the truth? Not one. It was the fisherman's work, the whole of it.

 

"Having then drawn the conclusion which he had in view, and brought down their pride, what of God? His wisdom is apparent in those works through which it was His will to make Himself known. For to this end did he make them, and make them such as they are, that by a sort of analogy, from the things which are seen, such as heaven great as it is, not only was made by Him, but made with ease, and the boundless earth, too, was brought into being as if it had been nothing. Therefore of the heavens He said, 'The heavens are the works of your hands' (Ps 102:25), and concerning the earth, 'Who has made the earth as it were nothing' (Is 40:23 Hebr). Since then by this wisdom the world was unwilling to discover God, He employed what seemed to be foolishness, namely, the Gospel to persuade men; not by reasoning, but through faith. It remains that where God's wisdom is, there is no longer need of man's. For before, to infer that He who made the world such and so great, must in all reason be a God possessed of a certain uncontrollable, unspeakable power, and by these means to recognize Him; this was the part of human wisdom. But now we need no more reasoning, but faith alone. For to believe on Him who was crucified and buried, and to be fully persuaded that this Person Himself both rose again and sat down on high; this requires not wisdom, nor reasoning, but faith. For the Apostles themselves came not in wisdom, but by faith, and surpassed the heathen wise men in wisdom and loftiness so greatly it became clear that to raise arguments is less than to receive the things of God by faith. For this transcends all human understanding." 

 

 John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 4.3-4
 
Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, Your wisdom is the wisdom of the cross. Grant that we would see Your will only through the cross, that we might have all the blessings You have worked for us there. Free us from our faulty expectations. Send us Your Holy Spirit so that we receive what You have done for us, through faith alone. Amen.

 

For President Matthew Harrison of the LCMS, that the Lord Jesus would be with him

 

In thanksgiving for the Nicaragua mission team of Memorial Lutheran Church, that the Lord was with its members in their travels

 

For the Board of Memorial Lutheran School, as its members seek teachers for the school, that the Holy Spirit would lead them in their deliberations

Art: Dürer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 

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