My spirit is broken; my days are extinct; the graveyard is ready for me. Surely there are mockers about me, and my eye dwells on their provocation. "Lay down a pledge for me with yourself; who is there who will put up security for me? Since you have closed their hearts to understanding, therefore you will not let them triumph. He who informs against his friends to get a share of their property - the eyes of his children will fail. "He has made me a byword of the peoples, and I am one before whom men spit. My eye has grown dim from vexation, and all my members are like a shadow. The upright are appalled at this, and the innocent stirs himself up against the godless. Yet the righteous holds to his way, and he who has clean hands grows stronger and stronger. But you, come on again, all of you, and I shall not find a wise man among you. My days are past; my plans are broken off, the desires of my heart. They make night into day; 'The light,' they say, 'is near to the darkness.' If I hope for Sheol as my house, if I make my bed in darkness, if I say to the pit, 'You are my father,' and to the worm, 'My mother,' or 'My sister,' where then is my hope? Who will see my hope? Will it go down to the bars of Sheol? Shall we descend together into the dust?" (ESV)
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Wednesday of Advent 2
10 December 2014
By 1529 Sultan Suleiman I of the Ottoman Empire had reached into modern Austria and was knocking at the gates of Vienna. Needless to say this deep incursion into Europe by Islam had Europeans deeply worried about the future of their countries, towns, and cities. Luther put the "Turks" on the same level as the followers of the pope. He thought of both as oppressive and legalistic regimes that despised the preaching of Christ as the only and true mediator for sinners in God's sight.
Sixteenth-century Europeans woke up to the threat of the Muslim Turks, just as twenty first-century Europeans are waking up to the internal threat of a growing Muslim population. It would be easy to panic under the force of this incursion. The question to which this growing Muslim population should demand an answer is, "Why are our churches so moribund that they are unable to take the gospel of Jesus Christ into the neighborhoods where the mosques stand?" Christians should look on the proximity of Muslim neighbors as a blessed opportunity to proclaim Christ to them, so that they would learn of His wonderful mercy for sinners and the habits of forgiveness and compassion, equity and rule of law; cultural habits that make western culture the envy of Arab autocracies the world over. The church has co-opted invaders in previous times. When pagan invaders took the city of Rome in the fifth century, the church took the pagans by converting them in the sixth through the ninth centuries.
It is easy to moan about the threat of the Muslim incursion into the west. It is much harder to see why God would permit this challenge to our culture, form of government, and institutions. Perhaps we should take a clue from the relative weakness of the church. She seems unable to project the truth about Christ into the spiritual and physical ghetto of Muslim construction in western countries. We had better get busy about teaching our children and grandchildren what it really means to be a Christian and modeling that in our daily lives. Unfortunately, most post-moderns only think that Christianity is another religion or set of superstitions just as true as any other, that is, not true in any meaningful sense. When we cannot see the fundamental difference between the humanistic character of biblical law and the brutality of Sharia law, it gives us some idea how little the people of the west know either about Christianity or its rival, Islam.
We will never know the purposes of God's mind, because we must remain bound to the earth where our Lord has placed us. We must never claim that we have a vantage point in the mind of God, where we can read His divine purposes. He turns His back upon us that He might exercise our faith in Him. "What is He doing? How is He doing it?" The answer to that is simple: "I don't know!" What I do know is that He is the Lord of heaven and earth. I know that He promises never to leave me nor forsake me. I know that He has come in flesh like mine, to suffer the burdens that I experience. I know that that One died for me, that I might live, though I die. All the rest, although it matters intensely to God, matters not to me, because I know that He is taking care of the rest of it, as only He can. Seeing God's back means that we have to trust God. What's better than that?
"The very saintly fathers placed all trust and hope in Christ, and by this faith they conquered death, hell, and Satan with great strength of soul and attained the eternal glory which is laid up for them and for us in heaven. If Joseph had remained at home and in the household of his father, he would have lived there as a private person and would have benefited only a few. But after the seed has fallen into the ground (Jn 12:24), it becomes the physical and spiritual salvation of many lands.
"And what will we think is going to happen to the Turk and the pope? For what they thought for evil God can very easily turn into good. Somewhere there is a magnificent and holy statement of Augustine: 'God is so good that He in no way permits an evil unless He knows how to draw good from it.' Thus from the captivity, slavery, and exile of Joseph, He achieved the salvation, life, and glory of all Egypt.
"Thus according to His wonderful counsel, He throws us, too, into dangers to life, reputation, and property. But the faith of the soul breaks through and rises from death into life.
"These things should be understood with regard to the manner of speaking in which Joseph sets forth the wonderful counsel of God. He says, 'And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life' (Gn 45:5). Thus Christ says to Peter: 'You do not understand now' (Jn 13:7). And concerning the disciples it is stated: 'They did not understand that saying, because Jesus had not yet risen from the dead' (Mk 9:32; Lk 18:34). Therefore God does this to exercise our faith. For if He showed us His face from the front, faith would have no place. Thus we conclude from seeing God's back that so much evil cannot be inflicted on us that God will not heap far greater blessings on us."
Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 45.5
Lord Christ, give us faith to see Your face though You turn Your back to us. Help us to witness to Your love for the world, so that all would come to believe Your mercy and grace. Amen.
For Paul Lodholz, that the Lord Jesus Christ would grant strength and a full recovery to him
For Mamisoa Randrianasolo, who is undergoing continued medical care, that the Lord would grant her courage and healing
For missionaries who work to proclaim the kingdom of Christ in Muslim populations, that they might be kept safe and that the Spirit would give success to their labors
Art: Annunciation Schnorr Von Carolsfeld, Julius (1818)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014