O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us, what deeds you performed in their days, in the days of old: you with your own hand drove out the nations, but them you planted; you afflicted the peoples, but them you set free; for not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm save them, but your right hand and your arm, and the light of your face, for you delighted in them.
You are my King, O God; ordain salvation for Jacob! Through you we push down our foes; through your name we tread down those who rise up against us. For not in my bow do I trust, nor can my sword save me. But you have saved us from our foes and have put to shame those who hate us. In God we have boasted continually, and we will give thanks to your name forever.
But you have rejected us and disgraced us and have not gone out with our armies. You have made us turn back from the foe, and those who hate us have gotten spoil. You have made us like sheep for slaughter and have scattered us among the nations. You have sold your people for a trifle, demanding no high price for them. You have made us the taunt of our neighbors, the derision and scorn of those around us. You have made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples. All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face at the sound of the taunter and reviler, at the sight of the enemy and the avenger.
All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way; yet you have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death. If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart. Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.
Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground. Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love! (ESV)
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Dying to Live
Thursday of Holy Trinity
4 June 2015
After Constantine's conversion to Christianity, the Roman Empire had a long string for more or less Christian emperors, with one notable exception: Emperor Julian (A.D. 355-363). Julian was known to later generations as "Julian the Apostate." He was a neo-pagan, not unlike the postmodern pagans now being cultivated by our decaying culture. Even the highly cultivated and philosophically Neo-Platonist pagans of his day despised him. Julian tried mightily to revive paganism in the Roman Empire. He angered the people of Antioch, where John Chrysostom was later deacon and bishop (A.D. 381-398), when he slaughtered large numbers of animals in pagan sacrifices during a terrible famine, leaving many people hungry while feeding the maw of the carved gods of the pagan pantheon. He complained that the Christians were noted for their love and goaded the pagans of the empire to be as loving as the Christians. However, the Christians understood that the best sacrifices were those not perpetrated on dumb animals but those accepted by Christians in self-offering. It is better to give your cattle beast to a hungry neighbor than to some dead god. Julian was not a good example for the pagan population of the empire. He loved blocks of wood and stone at the expense of human beings.
The Christians understood that they were to give themselves away to the need of their neighbor. In this way Christianity is the most humanizing religion. Our sacrifices of thanksgiving offered by Christians are not offered to God, who has no need of them, but to our neighbor who has desperate need of us (Ps 50:7-15). Good works serve our neighbor, not God. We give ourselves away to their need, even and especially when they neither appreciate it, nor thank us for our offering. At first, this might seem a horrible waste, "All I wanted was a little thanks!" However, we are becoming more Christ-like by offering ourselves for the sake of the neighbor. Christ never counted the cost, nor even begrudged His suffering and death for the sake of those who hated Him and taught contrary to His Word (2Pt 2:1). He died for those who mocked Him and nailed Him to the accursed tree, begging the Father's forgiveness upon them (Lk 23:34). He died for His enemies; enemies like us! If we are killed like this with Him, what of that?
Not only are we killed with Him by sharing in His indignities, we are repeatedly susceptible to slaughter, as we offer ourselves every day as living sacrifices to our neighbor in need (1Pt 2:5). How can we be susceptible to multiple deaths? If as the writer to the Hebrews says, "It is appointed for man to die once" (Heb 9:27), how can we be killed all day long, like sheep led to the slaughter? Our self-offering is a repeated visitation of death. And since we are dying to live, this is as it should be. We are dying every day, not just to sin, but also to our neighbor's need. We are sheep whose daily slaughter provides for others. The Lamb of God has provided the paradigm of life-giving death to His dear sheep. We have the privilege of giving ourselves away ever and again. Let's keep dying to live.
"'For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered' (Rm 8:36).We are exposed to everyone to be badly treated by them. Against so many and such great dangers and these recent horrors (probably the rebellion of 387 A.D.), the object of our conflicts is given as a sufficient consolation, or not merely sufficient, but even much more. For it is not for men, nor for any other of the things of this life that we suffer, but for the King of the universe.
"This is not the only crown, for Paul encircles them with another besides, and one that is varied and manifold. Since they were men they could not have deaths without number to undergo, he shows that in this way the prize is no less. For even if by nature we die once, God has granted us to suffer this every day by His choice, if we are so minded. Therefore, it is plain that we shall depart with as many crowns as we have lived days, or even with many more. For it is possible in a day to die not only once or twice, but many times. For he who is always ready for this, keeps continually receiving a full reward. This is what the Psalmist (Ps 44:2) hints at, when he says, 'all the day long.' For this reason the Apostle also brought him before them to rouse them more.
"Paul implies that Israel, in the old dispensation, who had the land of Canaan as their reward and the other things which come to a close along with this life, might have looked down upon the present life and the temptations and dangers of it. Therefore, what pardon would we find if we deal so complacently after the promise of heaven, and its unutterable blessings, so as not to come even up to the same measure as Israel did? He does not expressly say this, but leaves it to his hearers' consciences, and is satisfied with the quotation of the Psalm alone.
"He also shows that their bodies become a sacrifice and that we must not be disturbed or troubled at God having so ordered it. And he exhorts them in other ways besides. For to prevent any from saying that he is merely philosophizing here before having any experience of reality, he adds, "we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered," meaning the daily deaths of the Apostles. You see his courage and his goodness. The Apostles, when slaughtered made no resistance, so neither do we."
John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 15
Lord Jesus, Lamb of God, You offered Yourself into slaughter once for all. Endow us with Your Spirit that we might offer ourselves as sheep to be slaughtered all the day. Amen.
For Holly Cokinos, who will be delivering a baby tomorrow, that the Lord would keep her and her child safe
For Paul Lodholz, as he undergoes therapy, that doctors would have medical wisdom and that his heavenly Father would bring him necessary healing
For all those who have listened to the Word God but not heard the clear message of God's grace
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015