For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (ESV)
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Under the Cross
Monday of Pentecost 12
17 August 2015
If the church's goods are hidden under the contrary signs of the cross and suffering, then her growth and blessedness will likewise be hidden under those same contrary signs. What this means is that the church's value or her health cannot be judged by the signs which mark the health of our civil life; like the valuation of the stock market, profit and loss, income, cash flow, and others. Those "dash board" items of success all have their place in our civil life or what Lutherans call "the kingdom of the left." There they are legitimate and helpful. Not in the church. The church's success is always seen under what Martin Luther calls "contrary signs." She can only be recognized under the signs of suffering and the cross. And such signs are not the signs of success.
As Christ hung dying, those who looked upon Him with the eyes of the world could not see in His face anything other than his failure. His mission was ended in tragedy. They could only see His hands fixed to the accursed tree. His work had come to a screeching halt. They could only see the feet that strode the highways of Palestine seeking the lost nailed down. He was leaving His disciples as orphans in the world; frightened and scattered. In terms of profit and loss; this was a total loss. This was a loser, cut off from His people, and apparently unable to save Himself. Those who stood below the cross taunted Him and mocked Him: "Save yourself, and come down from the cross" (Mk 15:30
)! The organizational dashboard read "out of gas."
Sometimes the surest sign of the health of the church is that she is being attacked and persecuted. What would make us think that the church's fate should be somehow different from her Lord's? The church's suffering and weakness under the cross of the Suffering Servant is always her lot. Her suffering and lack of worldly success are the signs of her strength and confidence in God. When you cannot and are not depending on yourself, then you have no choice but to be dependent on God. You can stand under the cross and look upon life in the eyes of the One who suffered. You can see the nail-scarred hands reach out for you. You can hear the Word coming from those whom the church's chief bishop sends, because their feet are beautiful. You can gather His disciples around the sign of their life: the cross and the crucified victim upon it. The trouble that will come because you gather them there below the cross, is a sign not of failure but of life, success, hope, salvation, optimism, and glory. Just live under the cross.
"When Paul says: 'If I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed' (Gal 5:11), he wants to show that it would be an absurdity and a disgrace if the offense of the cross were to end.
"He speaks the same way in 1 Corinthians 1: 'Christ sent me to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power' (1Co 1:17). It is as if he were saying: 'I would not be willing to remove the offense and the cross of Christ.' But someone might say: 'Christians must be quite insane if they needlessly expose themselves to dangers. For all they accomplish with their preaching is to gain for themselves the anger and hatred of the world and to create offenses. And that, as it is said, is laboring in vain and nothing but looking to cause trouble.' 'This fact,' says Paul, 'does not offend or disturb us. It only makes us high-spirited and optimistic about the success and growth of the church, which flourishes and grows under the cross.' For Christ, the Head and the Bridegroom of the church, must 'rule in the midst of His enemies' (Ps 110:2).
"On the other hand, when the cross has been abolished, the rage of tyrants and heretics, and the offenses have come to an end, and when the devil guards his palace and his goods are in peace (Lk 11:21), this is a sure sign that the pure teaching of the Word has been taken away."
Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 5.11
Lord Jesus Christ, through suffering and death upon the ignominious tree, you brought life and immortality into the world through the gospel. Grant us in our day, to preach the cross, Your suffering and death, that we might enjoy the success of Your Word and the true glory of Your church in weakness. Amen.
For Luke and Celeste Jain as they serve their Lord in a new parish, that they would grow continually in the faith of the cross
For President Daniel Gard and the faculty of Concordia University Chicago, that they would be upheld in the mission that Christ has given them
For all those who are seeking work, that they might find labor in keeping with the vocation of the Lord Jesus Christ
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015