For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles - assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.
This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.
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At the Center
Thursday of Pentecost 8
7 August 2014
The most powerful savants are able to spiel the value of Pi to more than one hundred digits. Pi is a number that just won't quit; having to do with the calculation of the area of a circle or sphere. But even the most brilliant minds at some point can no longer rattle off the value of Pi; its infinitude finally defeats their minds. So it is with the gospel grace. The center of the circle is the divine promise that we are called by God sons of God, because the Son of God has become incarnate for us poor sinners. The person of Christ, His salvific work, the article of justification that extends out from His person and work bring us to what Luther elsewhere will call the "punctum mathematicum," the mathematical point, that is, that which can no longer be subdivided; a complete theological unity in itself. That anchoring center is what we see by the divine Word; it is what God says about us and to us; telling us that we are indeed His blessed children by the merit of His only begotten Son: "You are my own precious children. I offered My own Son to win you back from death and the devil and to assure that you will spend eternity with me in perfect fellowship with me and the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit."
But from that mathematical point spreads in all directs the un-counted and un-countable mercies of God. Concentric rings of blessedness all firmly anchored to the center of our status as children of God continue to keep us in the orbit of divine grace. We ourselves do not always see how or why the center is connected to the ever expanding orbits of divine grace. Our limited view keeps us from seeing the fullness. We cannot see the infinity of the grace of Christ. We are kept in this blindness by the weakness of our human reason, always groping for that which is always more and greater than can be thought or imagined (Eph 3:20). The Lord's own grace keeps us anchored at the center, and therefore pinned to those things that spread lusciously outward from the center of grace in Christ. Just like the savant we lose track of the fullness of the circle, surprised time after time by the mystery of God's grace to sinners like us.
We gain glimpses of this rich circle of grace as we see how the Lord cares for His church and the sheep of His pasture by sending them pastors who preach the truth in spite of, and sometimes because of, their weaknesses. We see how the Lord sets the table of richness before us, even in the presence of our enemies (Ps 23:5), when we kneel quietly to feed upon Christ's body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of the eternal feast yet to come. How such things connect us to grace yet unexperienced we cannot know or speculate. Only in the moment will we know what it means and how it is for us. The ultimate knowing what surrounds us remains to be experienced in eternity. It is there, just to be enjoyed and fully known when we see Christ face to face. And only then. But for now the Lord keeps us at the center where the divine promise is known through the Word.
"If you cry: 'Abba! Father!' He says, 'then certainly you are no longer slaves. Then you are free men and sons. Therefore you are without the law, without sin, and without death; that is, you are saved and have nothing more of anything evil.' Therefore sonship brings with it the eternal kingdom and all the inheritance of heaven. How great the measure and the glory of this gift is, the human mind cannot even conceive in this life; much less can it express this. Meanwhile we see this dimly (1Co 13:12). We have this faint sigh and this tiny faith, which depends only on hearing the sound of the voice of Christ as He promises. According to sense, therefore, this is only the center of the circle; but in fact it is a very large and infinite sphere. What a Christian has is in fact something very large and infinite, but according to his view and sense it is very small and finite. Therefore we must not measure this by human reason and sense; we must measure it by another circle, that is, by the promise of God; just as He is infinite, so His promise is infinite, even though meanwhile it is enclosed in these narrow limits and in what I might call the Word of the center. Now we see the center. Eventually we shall see the circumference as well. Therefore there is nothing left that is in a position to accuse, terrify, and bind the conscience. There is no slavery any longer. There is only sonship, which brings us not only freedom from the law, sin, and death but also the inheritance of eternal life."
Lectures on Galatians, 4.7
Dear Lord Jesus, grant that we would grow in faith that we may the more confidently await the full disclosure of Your infinite grace. Keep us from impenitence and unbelief, that we might live only in the forgiveness of sins which You have merited for us by Your anchoring death and resurrection. Amen.
For doctors, nurses, and other health professionals, that they would be blessed in their life of service of alleviating the suffering of others
For President Daniel Gard, faculty, and staff of Concordia University Chicago, that the Lord would grant His blessings both to those who learn and those who teach
For those who are in need of work, that the Lord would grant them the gift of labor
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014