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Psalm 13


 

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed over him," lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me. (ESV)

 

A Zombie-Like Existence

Tuesday of Easter 4

28 April 2015

There is death and then there is death. Do you remember the last time you did something really embarrassing? In the depth of your shame you might have said, "I wish I could die." On the face of it, this is a very strange thing to say. What could possibly be preferable about death? What embarrassment or shame could only be remedied by death? Among people of the western world there once was a sense that honor sometimes required that a man face death rather than face shame. Traditionally, there were some things and ideas worth dying for, such as honor, country, family, and faith. Some of that survives in the warrior class cultivated by our military services, in which the soldier would prefer to die honorably than survive in dishonor. Perhaps you remember Representative Anthony Wiener, who sent sexually explicit images on the Internet. Would any of this make sense to Wiener, who seems relatively shameless about his own depravity and stunningly bad judgment?

 

In the western world, Christianity has certainly inculcated the idea of an honorable death as preferable to a cowardly life. Lutheran Christians still pledge in our confirmation rite that we will "continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it" (LSB, 273). To die in the confession of Christ is better than to live as a slave of Satan. In fact, such a life is a kind of living death; numb to God's grace and oblivious of His mercy, a zombie-like existence chasing the things of this world: fame, fortune, or pleasure, insensate and barbaric. It is no wonder Cain complained to His heavenly Father in the midst of his shame: "My punishment is greater than I can bear" (Gn 4:13-14). Death might have been better for the murderer.

 

Some things are worth dying for. Some things are of immortal value and eternal eminence. In such a case it is not death to die. Because of the death and immortal life of Christ, the Christian prefers death to the living death of perjuring their faith. We have a God who is the God of the living, not the dead (Mt 22:32), and therefore those who die in Christ do not die, but stand in His presence forever, vindicated by Him who is death's death. We must not become slaves to this life and the sin that pervades it. We are free. Free as slaves of righteousness. Or we will be enslaved to death and the fear of death, which will be a truly zombie-like existence. Now that's death.

 

John Chrysostom

 

"'[You,] having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness' (Rm 6:18).There are two gifts of God which Paul points out here: liberation from sin and becoming servants to righteousness, which is better than any freedom. God has done the same as though a person were to take an orphan, who had been carried away by savages to their own country, and not only freeing him from captivity, but setting a kind father over him and elevating him to great honor. This has been done in our case. For He has not just freed us from our old evils, but He even led us to the life of angels, and paved the way for us to the best way of life (Rm 6:4), handing us over to the safekeeping of righteousness, killing our former evils, subduing the old man, and leading us to an eternal life.

 

"Let us then continue living this life; for many of those who seem to breathe and to walk about are in a more wretched plight than the dead. For there are different kinds of death. There is death of the body, according to which Abraham was dead and yet not dead. As Jesus says, '"I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." He is not God of the dead, but of the living' (Mt 22:32). There is also death of the soul to which Christ alludes when He says, 'Leave the dead to bury their own dead' (Mt 8:22). There is another, which is even the subject of praise, which is brought about by the love of wisdom about which Paul said, 'Put to death therefore what is earthly in you' (Col 3:5). There is also a death which causes this, the one which takes place in baptism. 'We know that our old man was crucified with Him' (Rm 6:6), that is, has been killed.

 

"Since we know this, let us flee from the deadness by which, even though alive, we die. And let us not be afraid of that by which common death comes on. But the other two, through one of which a person is blessed, having been given by God, and the other worthy of honor, and which is accomplished by ourselves together with God, let us eagerly choose. Of those two, David pronounced one blessed, when he says, 'Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven;' and the other, Paul approved by writing to the Galatians, 'those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires' (Gal 5:24).

 

"Of the other two, one Christ declares to be easy to hold in contempt, when He says, 'do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Mt 10:28). Therefore let us flee from this, and choose rather that deadness which is held blessed and admirable; that of the other two, we may escape the one and not fear the other. It is not the least good to us to see the sun, to eat and drink, unless the life of good works is present with us. For what would be the advantage of being a king dressed in a purple robe and controlling plenty of military hardware, but without a single subject, and exposed to all that had a mind to attack and insult him? Likewise, it will be no advantage to a Christian to have faith, and the gift of baptism, and yet be open to all passions. In that way the disgrace will be greater, and the shame more. For as such a one having the diadem and purple is so far from gaining by this dress any honor to himself, that he even does disgrace to that by his own shame, so the believer also, who leads a corrupt life, is so far from becoming, as such, an object of respect, that he is only the more one of scorn."

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 11.4-5
 
Prayer

O God, whose strength is made perfect in weakness, put to death in us every wickedness and so strengthen us by Your grace that by the innocence of our lives and the constancy of our faith, we may glorify Your holy name; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

 

For the Council of Presidents of the LCMS, as the Council meets at the seminaries, that they would lead them in faithfulness and truth

 

For the men at the seminaries, who will hear of their assignments to serve congregations of the church, that the Lord Jesus would be with them and their families

 

For all military personnel, especially those who are in harm's way, that the Lord Jesus would send His holy angels to watch over them

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Resurrection (1515)

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