The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion - to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; but you shall be called the priests of the LORD; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast. Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.
For I the LORD love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the LORD has blessed. I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations. (ESV)
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The Wisdom of God
Tuesday of Advent 3
16 December 2014
We can easily identify gross, external sins. We know that indulging in sexual relations with a prostitute is a transgression of the sixth commandment. This is sin; we know it and condemn it. We think it is a big sin. In the words of Potter Stewart, Supreme Court Justice, about obscenity, "I may not be able to define obscenity, but I know it when I see it." We are especially able to identify gross transgressions especially in others, in part because we think that we have avoided these sins. We are quick to congratulate ourselves by saying, "Isn't that awful? I would never do that." Uh-huh.
All this fails to account for the inbred depravity that lurks within the fallen human nature. Martin Luther argued that our depravity is so deep that we are unable to fathom it apart from the divine disclosure of it to us in the Word of God. One of the clues that God gives in Scripture about our desperate need is the desperate lengths to which He goes to secure our salvation. Look at the horrifying abuse heaped upon the eternal Son of God for us! Why does He undergo this? For His own instruction and edification? No. He suffers it because that is the only way that we could be rescued from the threatening peril of our sin. The most costly cure is offered for the disease hardest to treat. If we have little need of a cure, God was a fool to provide such a costly and powerful medicine. Your health insurance company will always demand that you be prescribed the cheapest medication. Isn't God at least that wise?
In Titus 2:11-12 Paul talks about our godlessness. This is not garden variety atheism, which is actually quite boring. It is a kind of self-deification that seeks to serve God with its own inhering righteousness. This godlessness makes the claim to piety and holiness. So we have a strange inversion; what claims to be holy and right and which is often praised in the sight of men as good, is declared by God to be anything but good and holy. And what is good and holy is called anything but good and right by men. Men question God's wisdom in tying His Son to the weakness of human flesh of Mary. Human reason can always think of some better way to become right. "What could some bed wetting, squalling infant, now centuries dead, do for me?" This attitude God calls godlessness. It is an affront to God because it seeks its own way of holiness. It is a theology of glory. It is the pious human attempt to make Christ's incarnation of Mary the virgin superfluous or merely symbolical of something else, something less. The incarnation is a waste of God's time and effort, if I am capable of being right in His sight on the basis of my own efforts and works. What we think of as a waste of God's time, God thinks of as His own divine wisdom.
"This must be believed more than felt. Since God has His grace proclaimed to all people, that they should renounce godless living (Tit 2:12), we must believe Him to be the one who knows our hearts better than we do and confess that if our affairs were not godless and damnable, then He would not have had His grace proclaimed to stop this. Only a fool would give medicine to someone who is not sick. Therefore, God must be regarded as a fool by those who, according to their own estimation and feeling, do not want to believe that all their affairs are godless, damnable, and in need of his saving grace. That is horrible! Therefore, He says that the chief priests, scribes, and clergy did not believe John the Baptist, who told them to repent, since they did not want to acknowledge any of their own sins (Mt 21:32). All the prophets were slaughtered because they rebuked the people for this sin. But no one wanted to believe them; no one thought they had this sin. They judged according to their own feelings, imagination, and works, not by God's Word and judgment, which he spoke through the prophets.
"Therefore, Paul employs a strong Greek word here (Tit 2:12), which means 'training,' as children are trained in what they have never previously heard, which they are not to judge by their own reason but by the words of their father. They adhere, believe, and follow him regarding what is useful or harmful. Intelligent adults are shown grounds (which they can evaluate with their reason) that something is useful or useless. The saving grace of God wants this kind of children as students so that, even when we do not think it is so, yet we may believe that our life is godless and damnable, and then receive and follow his grace.
"Therefore, Christ certainly says, 'Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven' (Mt 18:3). Isaiah adds that if you do not believe, you will fail (Is 7:9). Thus the divine, saving grace has appeared not only to help us but also to teach us to recognize that we need it, because it shows with its appearing that all our life is ungodly, graceless, and condemned. Therefore, the psalmist asks God to teach him His judgments, His law, and His commandments, so that he will not live according to his own ideas and feelings (Ps 119), which is something God has forbidden: 'you shall not do what seems right to you' (Deut 12:8)."
Martin Luther, Sermon for Christmas Day, 10-11
Dear Lord Jesus, You have become incarnate of Mary for our salvation. Grant us a full measure of your grace that we might rejoice in the gifts that You shower down upon us. Send us the peace that surpasses all human understanding, that our hearts and minds might be kept in You. Give us the joy of sharing the message of what You have done for the world with our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family, and accompany that message with Your Spirit, as You have promised. Amen.
For Simon Makangula, that the Lord Jesus would grant him strength and a full recovery from heat stroke
For Luke George, in thanksgiving to God that his bone marrow counts are improving
For all who grieve in the season that is to be joyous, that they might see a joy and gladness that overcomes all sorrow and weeping
Art: Annunciation Schnorr Von Carolsfeld, Julius (1818)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014