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Psalm 116

 

I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the LORD: "O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!" Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful. The LORD preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living. I believed, even when I spoke, "I am greatly afflicted"; I said in my alarm, "All mankind are liars." What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!(ESV)

 

Christ Succeeds

Zacharias and Elizabeth

5 September 2014

A friend of mine made the acquaintance of a man who failed in his attempt to found his own church. In the process he went bankrupt and nearly wrecked his marriage. He confessed to my friend that he has not been in church for two years. Why? Because he felt that Christians despised more than anything a pastor who is a failure. He said that he felt himself to be a worse outcast than a pastor who was a child molester. Those are strong words! Of course, if he was trying to found "his own" church, it is a good thing that it failed; for there is no other church than Christ's. If he was establishing "his own" church in distinction from Christ's then there is a big problem immediately. Repentance is the only solution to that kind of self will.

 

But let's presume that he was a faithful man who was trying to build the kingdom of Christ, then what? Did God reject him? Has he failed God? Is this failure God's judgment against him? Only in a society that sees external success as a sign of divine blessing could that conclusion be reached. If external failure is a sign of God's wrath and that only the successful are beloved of God, then Christ Himself and His holy apostles should be considered the most abject failures in the sight of God. Yet they are not. The Man who suffers a pitiable and abject death, is rejected by His own people, cast off by His Father and abandoned by His followers is hardly to be recommended as an Donald Trump-like success in life. The failure to found a church, if the man failed while preaching the truth of Christ's grace, would be a sign of his fellowship with Christ, the suffering servant, not the opposite.

 

The Bible's culture is so different from our law-based modern ethos. In the world, life is about success and failure. When we fail it is our failure. When we succeed it is our success. The Bible's culture is about being shaped like Christ, in cruciform shape. If our failures shape us like Christ then we have experienced Christ's success through our weakness. Our failures are embraced by Christ and become His successes. Our weaknesses mold us like the suffering Servant. When we fail, Christ succeeds. When we succeed, Christ fails.

 

Martin Luther

 

"It is sufficiently clear that Paul calls 'weaknesses of the flesh' the afflictions he suffered in the flesh as was common among the other apostles, the prophets and all the pious, who although they were weak in the flesh, they were strong in spirit. The power of Christ dwelt in them, and it continually ruled and triumphed through them. Paul himself testifies to this in 2Co 12:10 in the words: 'When I am weak, then I am strong'; again: 'I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me' (2Co 12:9); and in chapter two he says: 'Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession' (2Co 2:14). It is as though he were saying: 'Although the devil, the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles cruelly rage against us, we remain unconquered even against all their insults. Whether they like it or not, our doctrine prevails and triumphs.' Such was the power and strength of the spirit in Paul, to which he here contrasts the weakness and slavery of the flesh.

                                              

"This weakness of the flesh in the pious is especially offensive to reason. Therefore Paul extravagantly praised the Galatians because they were not offended by his most scandalous weakness and the weakest forms of the cross, which they saw in him, but they undertook to care like an angel for him as they would Christ Jesus. Christ Himself defends them against the greatest weaknesses of cross, as He says: 'Blessed is the one who is not offended by me' (Mt 11:6); and Paul says: 'We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles' (1Cor 1:23). Therefore it is something great that believers acknowledge as Lord of all and Savior of the world One about whom you hear that He was the most miserable of all, the least of men, 'scorned by mankind and despised by the people' (Ps 22:6) In other words, He was despised by all and finally condemned to death on the cross by His own people, especially by those among them who were the best, the wisest, and the saintliest. It is, I say, something great not to be dissuaded by these huge offenses, not only to be able to despise all of them, but also to make this Christ, who was shamefully spat upon, scourged, and crucified, more than the riches of all the wealthy, more than the power of all the mighty, more than the wisdom of all the learned, more than the crowns of all the kings, more than the religion of all the saintly." 

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.14
 
Prayer

Lord Jesus, help me to interpret my suffering through the cross of Your suffering. Amen.

 

For the pastors of the Texas District, that they would be strengthened in their faith and confession of the gospel

 

For all military personnel, that they would be kept safe in the performance of their duties, especially Chaplain Donald Ehrke

 

For Pastor Sagar Pilli, that the Lord would grant him the support he needs to continue his ministry to Asians

 

In thanks to God for the gift of baptism which Hugh Travis Pernoud will receive on Sunday, that the Lord would keep him in the death and the life of Christ 
Art: Crucifixes  Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)

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