Your Best Life Now and Forever
Wednesday of Christmas 1
3 January 2018
People often complain that there is much in the Christian religion to frighten guests away from a worship service of the church. They are right. There is much that Christianity says, does, and sings in its worship services to make the experience quite opaque. But that is hardly the big impediment to becoming a Christian. The content of the gospel preaching is the big hump which keeps most people from becoming believers in Christ and practicing members of His church. The content of the biblical gospel is in no way immediately attractive. Even though we have "niced-up" the Christmas story with sentimentalized depictions of the birth of a child in the bucolic poverty of the ancient near east, there still remains the stumbling block that a young Jewish woman claimed to conceive the Child by the power of the Holy Spirit, who would be called the Son of God, and that He would be the Word of God become flesh to dwell among us. This is a preposterous claim on the face of it. There is no way to "nice-it-up."
 
This too might be considered the least of the impediments to the proclamation, for the apostles not only claimed that God was with us in Christ, but also testified that He died, rose, ascended, and will come again in judgment. Add to this that those who claimed this faith as their own would surely become subject to persecution, losing property, prestige, and even life itself at the hands of the enemies of the cross of Christ. The church proclaimed the ultimate program of deferred gratification, promising suffering, crosses, and death in this life, and glory, honor, and life only in the world to come. Add to this that this was all unseen, and known only through the remarkable proclamation of the Word of God by the Apostles of Christ and Christ Himself. All the while this was preached, the church grew explosively, despite and perhaps because of the promise of suffering and death in this life and hope for life in the world to come. Now we're talking real impediments.
 
Unfortunately, the westernized churches of the modern world have turned their backs upon this proclamation of suffering in this life, opting instead for a this-worldly gospel of prosperity and ease. One of the purveyors of this false gospel published a best-selling book entitled, Your Best Life Now. The title says it all. Here there is no suffering and cross, but only ease and personal glory. Imagine if the Apostle Paul had tried to sell this idea while he himself was undergoing this list: "Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure" (2Co 11:24-27). This could not be described as anything like a best life now. There is nothing here about a best-selling book. If Paul was the example of the triumphant life, no one could have been attracted to the message he was peddling. But Paul was not a spiritual peddler. He was an Apostle of Christ. He proclaimed the truth at enormous peril to himself, without worrying if it would sell with the public. He proclaimed the truth of the suffering and death of Christ and that we, His followers, should also take up our cross and follow Him. That is the best life now and forever.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   John Chrysostom
"Let us see whether the doctrine of the apostles was attractive. No, in this respect also there was enough to frighten away the unbelievers. For what did the preachers say? That we must worship the crucified, and count Him as God, who was born of a Jewish woman. Now who would have been persuaded by these words, unless divine power had led the way? That indeed He had been crucified and buried, all men knew; but that He had risen again and ascended, no one save the Apostles had seen.
 
"But, you will say, they excited them by promises and deceived them by an empty sound of words. No, this very topic especially shows (even apart from all that has been said) that our doctrines are not false. For all its hardships took place here, but its consolations they were to promise after the resurrection. This very thing then shows that our Gospel is divine. For why did no one of the believers say, "I close not with this, neither do I endure it? You threaten me with hardships here, and the good things you promise after the resurrection. Why, how is it plain that there will be a resurrection? Which of the departed have returned? Which of those at rest have risen again? Which of these has said what shall be after our departure?" But none of these things entered into their minds; rather they gave up their very lives for the Crucified.
 
"This bare fact was more than anything a proof of great power. First, their working conviction at once, touching matters so important, in persons that had never in their lives before heard of any such thing. Second, that they prevailed on them to take the difficulties as a trial, and to account the blessings as a matter of hope. Now if they had been deceivers they would have done the contrary. Their good things the Apostles would have promised in this world (Jn 18:36); the frightening things they would not have mentioned, whether they are related to the present life or to the future. For so deceivers and flatterers act. Nothing harsh, nor galling, nor burdensome, do they hold out, but altogether the opposite. For this is the nature of deceit."

 John Chrysostom,
Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 7.17

2 Corinthians
11:16-33

I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not with the Lord's authority but as a fool. Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of- I am speaking as a fool- I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one- I am talking like a madman- with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
 
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands. (ESV)
Prayer
Lord Christ, You have called us to weakness, suffering, crosses, humiliation, and death. Send Your Holy Spirit that we might embrace these things as sent by You to us for our blessing and hope. Keep our hearts set upon the life of the world to come that we might live in Your promises. Amen.
 
For all those who have been deluded by false teaching, that they too might take up their cross and follow Christ
 
For all those who have suffered harsh winter weather, that the Lord would keep them safe in the midst of the bitter cold and snow
 
For Arthur Narr, that the Lord Jesus would surround his bed with the holy angels
Art: MARATTI, Carlo  The Holy Night (1650s)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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