1 Peter 1:3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith-more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (ESV)
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St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles
28 October 2015
Greatness always tries to impose itself upon the true church. Those who are great smile at the church and mock her: "She is little, her sheep are ordinary, her shepherds insignificant. We are great. See the size of our gatherings. If we are big, we must be correct. If we are rich, we are blessed by God. If the world pays attention to us, we must be important. The church is poor and persecuted. The world ignores the church. This proves certainly the rightness of our position and the failure of the church." And so it goes. We are not unique in feeling the Leviathan breathing down our necks when the government by law prohibits the church from believing and living as the Lord has taught and commanded. The ancient church felt the pressure of the government when it sided with the Arians. The Arians were the "faith-based" religious organization favored by the Roman emperors for about fifty years in the middle of the fourth century. They ran all the largest churches, had the biggest following, the greatest income, and the most exciting religious spectacle. Gregory Nazianzus admitted all this. The true church is small, weak, and impoverished. But she had a Lord, the truth, the Word of God, the cross, suffering, and the faithful confession of her children. What could be better than that?
Persecution is a sign of God's favor upon His bride, the church; for her suffering shapes her like her Lord, the suffering Servant Himself (Phil 1:29
). We do not seek persecution, we do not run into it with open arms, but when it comes upon us, we will embrace it as a sign of God's grace. We can welcome persecution because we can look upon it and understand its meaning through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rm 8:17
). We have no choice but to accept our weakness in the face of persecution, while our Lord certainly had a choice but chose to be weak for our sakes, that in Him we might be strong. When the power of the Leviathan is arrayed against us we will have no choice but to face its animosity and rage against our faith. When our Lord faced Pilate, He could say that Pilate would have no power if it hadn't been given to him, and yet Christ willingly stood under Pilate's condemnation (Jn 19:11
The true church finds herself accused of narrowness and closed-mindedness. She won't open her doors to the teachings that are foreign to her Lord. She won't accept the world's view that human life can be dispensed with when it seems to be convenient to the world. She will not support the measures that end innocent human life in the womb. She will not accept the world's sexual mores, but will be faithful to her Lord. But what the world calls narrowness, the Lord calls the openness of His caring embrace for sinners. What the world calls closed-mindedness, the church calls the mind of her Lord (Phil 2:5). The church's doors are flung wide to the lost sheep, who sorrowing and brokenhearted over their sin, seek the mercy of their Lord. The sheepfold, small though it seems, is large enough for sinners, because her Lord is the one who creates it. Her narrowness is just wide enough. Her openness just open enough. This openness is the open wounds which spatter the sinner with life-giving blood (Jn 6:53-54). This narrowness is the door which He opens to us by grace (Lk 13:24).
"I consider these trials to be a mere fraction of the spittings and blows which Christ endured, for whom and by whose aid we encounter these dangers. I do not count them, taken altogether, as comparable to one thorn in the crown (Jn 19:2
) which robbed our conqueror, the devil, of his crown, for whose sake also I learn that I am crowned by the struggles of life. I do not consider my suffering as worth the one reed (Mt 27:29
) by which the rotten empire was destroyed; of the gall, the vinegar, by which we were cured of the bitter taste (Jn 19:29-30
); of the gentleness which He showed in His suffering (Lk 23:34
). Was He betrayed with a kiss? He reproves with a kiss, but does not strike back. Is he suddenly arrested? He reproaches indeed, but follows. If through zeal you cut off the ear of Malchus with the sword, He will be angry and will restore it (Jn 18:9-11
). If one flees in a linen sheet (Mk 14:52
), he will defend him. And if you ask for the fire of Sodom upon His captors, He will not pour it forth (Lk 9:54-55
). If He takes a thief hanging upon the cross for his crime He will bring him into paradise through His goodness (Lk 23:43
). Let all the acts of one that loves men be loving, as were all the sufferings of Christ, to which we could add no greater sin than, that when God even died for us, we refuse on our part to forgive even the smallest wrongs of our fellow men.
"I considered and still consider my own case. See if it is not quite correct. I have often discussed it with you before. These men [the Arians] have the houses, but we have the Dweller in the house. They have the temples, we the God. Besides, it is ours to be living temples of the living God, living sacrifices, reasonable burnt offerings, perfect sacrifices, even partakers of the divine nature through the adoration of the Trinity. They have the people, we the angels. They have rash boldness, we faith. They threaten, we pray. They riot, we endure. They have gold and silver, we the pure word. 'I will build myself a great house with spacious upper rooms, (do you recognize the words of Scripture?), who cuts out windows for it, paneling it with cedar and painting it with vermilion' (Jer 22:14
). But this is not loftier than my faith or higher than the heavens to which I am being borne onwards.
"Is mine a little flock? But it is not being carried over a cliff. Is mine a narrow fold? It cannot be approached by wolves; it cannot be entered by a robber, nor climbed into by thieves and strangers. I shall yet see it, I know well, larger. And many of those who are now wolves, I must reckon among my sheep, and perhaps even among the shepherds. This is the glad tidings brought me by the Good Shepherd, for whose sake I lay down my life for the sheep. I fear not for the little flock; for it is seen at a glance. I know my sheep and am known by mine. Such are those who know God and are known by God. My sheep hear my voice, which I have heard from the oracles of God, which I have been taught by the holy Fathers, which I have taught alike on all occasions, not conforming myself to society's desires. This I will never cease to teach; in which I was born, and in which I will depart."
Gregory Nazianzus, Fourth Theological Oration, 33
Almighty God, You chose Your servants Simon and Jude to be numbered among the glorious company of the apostles. As they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so may we with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For President Matthew Harrison of the LCMS, that he would have the peace of God that surpasses human understanding as he faithfully confesses our faith before kings and princes
For President Barack Obama, that he would seek to serve all the people of the United States, including those who treasure the free exercise of religion
For Jo Lodholz, as she undergoes chemotherapy, that she would be strengthened in her body and soul
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015