Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God."(ESV)
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St. Bartholomew, Apostle
24 August 2015
The devil is highly religious. What? How can this be? Simple, he realizes that to wreak havoc in the church's hallowed precincts and among the people of God, he must have an appearance of piety, as Paul warns us: "Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light" (2Co 11:14
). He comes with an appearance of piety and in this way we humans will find him and his message more palatable. He realizes that the human heart is at bottom religious, that is, that it seeks holiness, albeit the wrong kind. His message is fundamentally religious, because at bottom he wants to be god; he wants to be a substitute for the true God. He desires that divine worship be accorded to him. Therefore, he takes the appearance of God, what Martin Luther calls "a mask," that is, a mere appearance and external disguise. Remember that when the old serpent slithered into the garden to tempt our first parents in paradise, he offered them a mere appearance and a lie: "You will be like God" (Gn 3:5
). This was a promise he had no power to fulfill. But by believing this promise of piety, Adam and Eve became doubters of the promise of the Word of God. The devil is a one-trick party pony. He uses the same strategy today, tempting with the appearance of piety, the desire to be like God, so that we can do the works of God.
Then we are tempted to present such works and efforts to God as meritorious, signs that we are holy and righteous in His sight. By seeking righteousness by our own efforts or works we are guilty of blasphemy, we are claiming to be God, by claiming we are capable of doing what only the Son of God has ever been able to do: keep the divine law perfectly and appease God's wrath by His blameless life and innocent suffering and death. The religion of my own piety, false religion that it is, supplants Christ and His righteousness with the claim to my own righteousness. This religion makes Christ superfluous. If I can generate my own righteousness Christ will have died unto no purpose. The Apostle to the Gentiles puts it so succinctly: 'If justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose' (Gal 2:21
). Thus the religion of works is always a religion substituting for the truth. Despite its appearance of holiness it is a false religion.
The truth of the cross rips the mask from the face of Satan and shows him for what he is; a true enemy of God and the blasphemer. The cross confronts us with the deep impiety of our religion of works. The cross highlights God's weakness, so that it would become our power. The cross exposes us to opposition, rage, anger, and all the onslaughts of our enemy. He would overturn Christ-centered preaching with the pabulum of human piety and shows of human holiness. None of these onslaughts can possibly steal from us the joy and exultation that is given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. These things are ours quite certainly when they come to us from the work of Christ rather than from ourselves. So, just preach Christ and his cross.
"Christ comforts His followers in this way: 'Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you' (Mt 5:11-12
). The church will not allow this joy to be taken away from it. Therefore I would not wish for the pope, the bishops, the princes, and the fanatical spirits to be in accord with us. Such accord would certainly mean that we had lost the true doctrine. In summary, the church must suffer persecution when it teaches the gospel purely. The gospel proclaims the mercy and the glory of God; it lays bare the wickedness and the wiles of the devil, portraying him in his true colors and snatching away his mask of divine majesty, by which he has made an impression on the whole world. That is, it shows that all worship, religions, and monastic orders invented by men, as well as the traditions about celibacy, special foods, etc., by which men think they can gain the forgiveness of sins and life eternal, to be ungodly things and "doctrines of demons" (1Ti 4:1
). Therefore, there is nothing that more irritates the devil than the proclamation of the gospel. This takes away from him the mask of God and shows him for what he is, that is the devil and not God. Therefore it is unavoidable that when the gospel flourishes, the offense of the cross will follow; otherwise it is sure that the devil has not really been attacked but has only been gently caressed. If he is really attacked, he is not quiet but begins to raise a terrible disturbance and to create havoc everywhere.
"Therefore if Christians want to keep the Word, they must not be offended or terrified if they see the devil breaking his reins and running wild, the whole world in tumult, tyrants raging, or sects arising. But they should certainly know that these are signs, not of terror but of joy, as Christ interpreted: "Rejoice and be glad" (Mt 5:12). Therefore may it never be that the offense of the cross is taken away, which is what would happen if we were to preach what the ruler of this world (Jn 14:30) and his members would like to hear, namely, the righteousness of works. Then we would have an indulgent devil, the world on our side, and the pope and the princes well disposed toward us. But because we illumine the benefits and the glory of Christ, they persecute us and rob us of our goods and bodies."
Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 5.11
Lord Jesus Christ, Word of God incarnate, You have given us the word of the cross with the burdens that it implies. Enable us to keep it for proclamation to the world in need of Your salvation. If you send us persecution for the truth's sake, give us the Spirit that we might confess you and the power of Your cross. Amen.
For Carol Crump, that she would be strengthened in body and soul
For Robert Peddycoart Sr., that the Lord Jesus would continue to watch over him and grant him His peace
For the gift of rain from God, in thanksgiving that the parched ground of Southeast Texas has been blessed by precipitation
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015