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Ephesians 6:10-20

 

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (ESV)

 

 

Comfort the Afflicted

Monday of Pentecost 24

24 November 2014

Those who are smug in their sins need to be confronted by the wrath of God and the perfect example of our Lord Jesus. Those who are troubled by their sins, confessing themselves to be poor miserable sinners, need nothing but divine mercy and the forgiveness of their sins. They need to see Christ as the substitute for sinners, who, by His blood and death, has bought back those who feel the burden of their wickedness and their inability to conform their lives to the perfection exemplified in Christ. Some years ago I taught a talented young man in his mid-twenties in my adult confirmation class. This young man, brought to my class by his future wife, enjoyed the class, but as he himself said at the conclusion of the instruction, "Pastor, I just can't bring myself to say with your congregation, 'I a poor, miserable sinner confess unto You...' (LSB, 184) in the general confession of sins at the beginning of the liturgy. I don't know that I am a 'poor, miserable sinner." I replied that I was grieved to hear that. Of course, he could not join the congregation I served.

 

About eight months later the same young man virtually burst into my office, climbed across my desk, took me by the throat, and said, "Pastor, how do I join your church?" Now this was a quite a change of heart. Suddenly, this young man had come face to face with evil and great suffering. He knew that he was exactly that poor, miserable sinner and he had better confess so. At that point I had the opportunity to say, "I told you so." However, that was not the proper pastoral response to his suffering under the wrath of God. I gave him the opportunity to confess his sins, and then to receive holy absolution. Sin and guilt may not be covered up or ignored. It can only be forgiven. It demands confession and is resolved by holy absolution. When hearts are burdened by sin and grief they need only to hear what God has done about these things in Christ our Redeemer.

 

To re-impose the burdens of the law and the example of Christ upon those who are suffering from their sin and are seeking relief, is to become a messenger of Satan. So much preaching today is exactly this sort of blather pointing us to the example of our Lord. Remember the WWJD ("What Would Jesus Do?") campaign of a few years ago (and if it was so important, where did it go?)? This is the central teaching of what is called evangelical preaching today. Such preaching just points you back to your own works and efforts. Such preaching deprives the hearer of Christ as Savior, and emphasizes Christ as an example. The results are deadly for those who are suffering with sorrow over sin. It is like giving more liquor to the alcoholic; it doesn't work out so well. Those who are troubled need not to be pointed back to the cause of their trouble, but to the one who has borne it in His own person on the tree of the cross, Jesus Christ our Savior. Our doing needs no mention. His doing must be proclaimed. The church needs to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

 

Martin Luther

 

"We must learn how to resist Satan when he transforms himself into the appearance of an angel (2Co 11:14), namely, by distinguishing when Christ is proclaimed as a gift and when as an example. Both forms of proclamation have their proper time. If this is not observed, a plague arises from the proclamation of salvation.

 

"Therefore, Christ must be taught as Savior and gift to those who are afraid and have already been terrified by the burden of their sins, and not as the example and the lawgiver. But to those who are secure and hardened in their own opinions, the example of Christ should be set forth, and the terrifying examples of the wrath of God such as the flood and the destruction of the Sodomites that they might be led to repentance.

 

"Therefore let every Christian, when he is terrified and afflicted, learn to be able to shake off the false idea of Christ that Satan urges upon him and say: 'Satan, why are you debating with me now about my doing? I am terrified and disturbed more than enough because of my deeds and my sins. Indeed, since I am already troubled and burdened, let me hear, not your accusation and condemnation but Christ, the Savior of the human race, who says that He came into the world to save sinners (1Ti 1:15), to comfort the despairing, and to proclaim release to the captives (Lk 4:18). This is the real Christ in the most precise sense of the word, and no one else beside Him. I can find an example of a holy life in Abraham, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Paul, and other saints. But they are not able to remit sins, to deliver from your [Satan's] power and from death, to save, and to give life. Only Christ is competent to do these things, whom God the Father has marked with His seal. Therefore I shall not listen to you as my teacher; but I shall listen to Christ, about whom the Father has said: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him" (Mt 17:5).' Let us learn to encourage ourselves with faith this way amid trial and the persuasion of false doctrine; otherwise the devil will either seduce us through his agents or murder us with his flaming darts (Eph 6:16)."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 5.8
 
Prayer

 Lord Jesus Christ, send us pastors to encourage us with Your work amid trial and the persuasion of false doctrine. Protect us from the devil who will try to seduce us through his agents or to murder us with his flaming darts. Keep us focused in your eternal Word that we might know you as our Savior and Redeemer from sin. Amen.

 

For Paul Lodholz, who is recovering from a stroke, that the Lord Jesus Christ would grant him strength and comfort

 

For Rachel Hunt, as she begins therapy for a brain tumor, that the Lord Jesus would strengthen her in hope and confidence in God's care

 

For the faculty and staff of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, that they would faithfully teach the next generation of pastors to serve the bride of Christ

Art: Crucifixes  Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)

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