Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives."
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (ESV)
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The Shame of God
St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor
26 January 2015
Canadians are famous for understatement. Ask a Canadian how he is doing, and he is liable to reply, "Not too bad. Not bad, at all." In rhetoric this is called "litotes," which means a negative statement substituted for a positive statement. Instead of saying, "I am well," or "I feel great," which Canadians can't bring themselves to say, they give the more ambiguous reply of litotes, which can mean everything from "good" to "so-so." The Apostle Paul also used litotes in Romans 1:16: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel." The positive statement to which this corresponds is something like, "I am boasting in the gospel of Christ." But here he avoided this form of speech, although he used it elsewhere (1Co 1:31), but mainly boasting and glorying are excluded from Christian piety, because our glory is exclusively from Christ. Because it is not our work or possession, there is nothing to boast about in the presence of God (Rm 4:2).
We also exclude boasting because the world takes the suffering and death of God in Christ to be a great shame and offense. The weakness of God, which is evident in the life of Christ, drives the worldly-minded to mock and ridicule the faith of the Crucified. It is a shame to the world to trust and believe as Lord and God One to whom can be predicated the most demeaning actions and who suffered the most degrading brutality. What kind of God appears to be unable to fend off the lowest form of physical cruelty? Not much of one, according to the world. The world can only mock such a God, because it cannot understand such a One.
The world, while trying to shame us for trusting Christ, must be met with a shining and joyous face, and a clear eyed confession, "Yes, I believe in the Crucified. I am not ashamed of the gospel." We are not afraid of the shame of the world, taking it, instead, as a sign of faithfulness of the Lord to His church. How could we do differently? The writer to the Hebrews has it right when he encourages us, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb 12:1-2). We too ought to despise the shame of our enemies and brazen out their ridicule and accusations. Why shouldn't we? Even the accomplished criminal will brazen out the wickedness he has done, by looking you in the eye and saying, "I did not do that." Why shouldn't we have the same brazen courage when accused of trusting in the Crucified God? We aren't ashamed of the shame of God, because it's not bad, not bad at all.
"'For I am not ashamed of the gospel' (Rm 1:16). 'What are you saying, Paul? When it would be fitting to say, that I boast, and am proud, and luxuriate in it; you do not say this, but you say less than this, that you are "not ashamed," which is not what we usually say of very glorious things.' Why does he speak this way, even though he exults over it more than over heaven? At least, in writing to the Galatians, he said, 'Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ' (Gal 6:14). How does he come to say here, not even that I glory, but rather that 'I am not ashamed?'
"The Romans were most anxiously concerned about the things of the world, owing to their riches, their empire, their victories; and their emperors whom they reckoned to be equal to the gods, and so they even called them. For this reason too, they worshipped them with temples and with altars and with sacrifices. Since then they were so puffed up, Paul was going to preach Jesus, who was thought to be the carpenter's son, who was brought up in Judea, in the house of a peasant woman. He had no body guards, was not surrounded by wealth, but He even died as a criminal with robbers, and endured many other shameful things. It was likely that the Romans were concealing themselves since they did not yet know any of the unspeakable and great things. Therefore, he says, "I am not ashamed," having still to teach them not to be ashamed. For he knew that if they succeeded in this, they would quickly go on and come to boasting also.
"If you hear anyone asking, 'Do you worship the Crucified?' do not be not ashamed, and do not look down, but luxuriate in it, be bright-faced at it. With the eyes of a free man, with uplifted look, take up your confession. If he says again, 'Do you worship the Crucified?' say in reply to him, 'Yes!'"
John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 2
Lord Jesus, we confess that we so easily boast in nonsense. Have mercy on us when we glory in the things of this world and are shamefaced before the confession of Your suffering and death. You suffered shame and humiliation on the cross that we might boast of our salvation in You. Help us to confess together with the Apostle Paul, that we are not ashamed of the gospel. Amen.
For Paul Lodholz, as he continues therapy for brain tumors, that the Lord would send His holy angels to watch over him
For the members of the board of directors of the Luther Academy, that the Lord would watch over them as they prepare to travel to Houston for a meeting of the Academy board
For all doctors, that they would be endowed with the wisdom and skill to bring care into the lives of those who are suffering
Art: CARAVAGGIO The Conversion of St. Paul c. 1600
© Scott R. Murray, 2015