|2 Corinthians 11:21-33|
But whatever anyone else dares to boast of - I am speaking as a fool - I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one - I am talking like a madman - with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands. (ESV)
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Friday of Pentecost 7
1 August 2014
Your local Bible bookstore is full of portraits of the saints of the church. These fanciful depictions have a certain kitschy aura about them. The saint is often depicted in the attitude of prayer, eyes upraised to see the divine rescue, which the rest of us garden variety Christians never see. Their faces are bathed in light inaccessible. Their mouths set in quiet and unerring confidence of divine grace, a knowing smile playing about their lips. Our kitschy saint is ready to conquer all. Nothing can disturb his spiritual peace. He's got everything under control. We presume a saintly life is full of easy confidence and powerful certainty. Nothing could be more wrong! A saint of God does not have a big "S" tattooed on his chest or a big red cape. The baptized life of the saint is often lived in high anxiety.
The Apostle Paul speaks of the struggle and trial of his life: "Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea...And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness"(2Co 11:24-25, 28-30). If Paul were on a TV reality show he would have been voted off the island in the first episode! Boasting in weakness, indeed! Yet this is the truly saintly life, busy about the offices into which God has graciously placed us in our daily lives. We often feel harried and overwhelmed by what is going on, the things we can't fix, the people we cannot satisfy, and the mission of Christ appearing to fail because of our weaknesses. This is when we need to know that our anxiety does not neuter the divine grace, our trouble does not cause Him to flee from us, our suffering does not mean we have lost the Holy Spirit. While the believer is triumphant, that triumph is often hidden under our weaknesses, so that the rescue provided by God might be seen to be truly coming from Him and not from us. Our weakness is a sign of His strength for us.
I found it humorous that during snow storms in Washington, D.C. "essential" government offices were completely shut down. FEMA could not be reached and Homeland Security was on "low alert;" no one's answering the phones. This is the human response to a crisis: leave the phone off the hook. Unlike humans, God never leaves the phone off the hook. He can always be reached and especially when we are in a crisis. Yet, at such times we seem so incapable of prayer. We are too busy looking around for whatever solution we can find; turning this way and that seeking a way to escape. So completely has Jesus made provision for our weakness, that He has sent His Spirit into our hearts to cry to our Father with words we cannot even utter. Just when we are weakest, when things look least capable of resolution, when we feel cornered, the Spirit Himself cries to heaven our need. Our high anxiety leads the Lord to give us a higher salvation, one often unbidden by us. When it comes, it is so obviously totally and completely by grace.
"In Exodus (14:15) the Lord says to Moses at the Red Sea: 'Why do you cry to Me?' He was trembling and at the point of despair. He was in the highest anxiety. Not faith but unbelief appeared to be ruling in him. For it seemed that Israel was so hemmed in by the mountains, by the army of the Egyptians, and by the sea that it could not escape anywhere. Moses did not even dare mumble here. How, then, did he cry? Therefore we must not judge according to the feeling of our heart. We must judge according to the Word of God, which teaches that the Holy Spirit is granted to the afflicted, the terrified, and the despairing in such a way that He encourages and comforts them, so that they do not succumb in their trials and other evils but conquer them, though not without the greatest dread and effort.
"The papists imagined that the saints had the Holy Spirit in such a way that they never experienced or had any temptations. They speak about the Holy Spirit only speculatively, as the fanatical spirits do today. But Paul says that the power of Christ is made perfect in our weakness (2Co 12:9), and that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us with unspeakable sighs (Rm 8:26). Therefore we have the greatest need for the aid and comfort of the Holy Spirit, and He is also nearest to us when we are at our weakest and nearest to despair. If someone passes through evil with a courageous and happy spirit, then the Holy Spirit has already carried out His office in him. But He really performs His work in those who are thoroughly terrified and who have come near to what the psalm calls 'the gates of death' (Ps 9:13).
As I have just said that Moses saw the very presence of death in the water and wherever he turned his gaze. Therefore he was in the deepest anxiety and despair, and undoubtedly he felt in his heart the loud cry of the devil against him, saying: 'This entire people will perish today, for they cannot escape anywhere. You alone are the author of this greatest calamity, because you led them out of Egypt.' To this was added the clamor of the people, who said, 'Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt, 'Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness' (Ex 14:1-12). Then the Holy Spirit was present in Moses, not speculatively but actually; He interceded for him with sighs too deep for words, so that Moses sighed to God and said: 'Lord, by Your command I led the people out. Therefore take up the work!' This sigh is what Scripture calls 'crying.'"
Lectures on Galatians, 4.6
Lord Christ, we are often weak and afraid. Keep us from succumbing to doubt. Send Your Spirit to intercede for us, that the right petitions might ascend to Your throne of grace. When we experience Your rescue, help us honor You on that day and confess that You have triumphed for us when we could not. Amen.
For the family of Harold Heckmann, who was called from this valley of sorrows, that they might be comforted by the power of the resurrection of the flesh
For Juanita Duffala, that the Lord would send His holy angels to watch over her
For Pastor Matthew Heise and the Lutheran Heritage Foundation, that the Lord of the church would grant free course to the Word of God
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014