Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities. (ESV)
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Wednesday of Advent 3
16 December 2015
The Christian life is not easy. Martin Luther makes fun of the "plaster saints" of the medieval church, the saints set before the people as the perfect example for their piety. The plaster saints exhibited a perfect life and piety, as though it were as easy as falling out of bed. The saints were portrayed in such a way that they never struggled with sin or battled against their own flesh. They were masters of their own holiness. Like the plaster statuary to which Luther referred, they looked beautiful, were well painted, always exhibited a cherubic smile, and nothing bothered them. But if they fell from their perch of piety in some niche, they were smashed into a thousand pieces and were found to be completely hollow; unreal.
Luther took pains to describe the saintly life in such a way that it was quite real. Saintliness is not an easy perfection. It is not a life free from sin. It is not a life into which no trouble comes. It is not a life of constant cherubic joy. It is a life that knows the meaning of sin and the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ. It is a life that recognizes, in the midst of trouble, the gift of Christ's cross and the suffering connected with it. It doesn't just put on happy face or merely look on the bright side of life. The Christian life may not be gauged by feelings or by external appearances. No, the Christian life can only be measured by the One who is source and strength: Christ Himself. The crucified and risen Lord is the One who defines what the Christian life is and what it looks like. This is why only those who are heartbroken and downtrodden have any need to approach the good Physician of the soul. The world can look at the Christian life and mock it and ridicule its weakness and dependence on God, but that is precisely the reason that it is certain and full of divine gifts. Only the weak and dependent will actually benefit from it. The world so mocked and ridiculed the Son of God upon the cross, but in His weakness there is our life. If He could be weak, giving Himself up for us all, and in that triumph, why should it be any different for us?
Most of all, the saints feels their sins and the desires of the flesh that plague them because they are still in the world. There remains the daily battle to keep a stranglehold on old Adam. That isn't easy. He fights like the devil. This battle is fraught with tears, failure, and sorrow. Here is why the saints find themselves on their knees imploring the Lord for His grace. Here is why the saints demand to speak their sins in confession that the confessor can say them away in holy absolution. Here is why they do not fear the designation: "sinner." They do not fear such a name, because they have a Lord that is the friend of sinners (Lk 7:34
). The saints are not free from sin, but free from condemnation, because they are in Christ Jesus (Rm 8:1
) Real saints are real sinners.
"It is able to be understood who the true saints are. They are not stumps and stones, as the sophists and monks dream. They are not people who remain unaffected by anything or who never feel the desires of the flesh. But, as Paul says, the desires of their flesh are against the Spirit (Gal 5:17
). Therefore they have sin and are able to sin. Psalm 32 testifies that saints confess their own unrighteousness and pray for the forgiveness of the guilt of their sin when it says: 'I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you' (Ps 32:5-6
). The whole church, which certainly is holy, prays that its sins be remitted; and it believes in the remission of sins. In Psalm 143 David prays: 'Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you' (Ps 143:2
); and in Psalm 130: 'If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness' (Ps 130:3-4
). This is how the greatest saints speak and pray, David, Paul, etc. Therefore all saints speak and pray in the same spirit. The sophists do not read the Scriptures; or if they do read them, they read them with a veil drawn over their eyes (2Co 3:14
). Therefore they are unable to come to a proper judgment about anything, neither about sin nor about holiness."
Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 5.17
Lord Jesus Christ, Your faithful people struggle with the burdens of the world and their own sin and wickedness. Send Your Spirit to them, that they might see You as the God who forgives sins. Keep them from despair, that they might cast all of their cares upon You, who calls the weary and heavy laden to their rest in You. Amen.
For Thomas Arthur Best, that the Lord would continue to strengthen him as he undergoes therapy for cancer
For the family of Jo Lodholz, that the Lord of life would strengthen their faith as they mourn her passing
For police and other public safety officers, that they would be kept safe in the conduct of their duties and that we would accord them the honor and respect their office requires
Art: VOUET, Simon Annunciation (1640s)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015