God Says Otherwise
Tuesday of Easter 3
17 April 2018
Christ's rod and staff only bring comfort as we see in Psalm 23:4. The rod of Moses brought threats against humans: threats to piety (Gal 3:11) and life (Ex 19:12). The deepest and most deadly spiritual delusion presumes that humans have the power to satisfy God's holy demands in the law. The law's central purpose is to disabuse us of the presumption of the rightness of our own actions, thoughts, words, and desires. That list by itself should be a sufficient deterrent to the idea that we can be right in God's sight by our own obedience. Yet, so often we succumb to self-delusion about the rightness of our own actions, as beautiful Lisa in Émile Zola's Le Ventre de Paris (1873), after betraying her brother-in-law to the authorities, tried to persuade herself: "No, she was not avaricious, she was sure she wasn't; it was no thought of money that had prompted her in what she had just done." Zola masterfully displays how deluded we are.
The only obedience that fully and perfectly avails before God is the obedience of the Son of God (Rm 5:19), whose obedience makes sinners right in the presence of God. Here is the fundamental difference between biblical Christianity and all other religions. In Christianity, righteousness is a gift that is dependent on God's action. In every other religion, righteousness is dependent on human action. In Christianity God has acted decisively in Christ to undo the whole world's sin (Jn 3:16). It is God's doing, not ours.
Any description of Christianity as a religion of works is a fundamental distortion of the Bible's truth. Those who depict Christianity as higher or better works than other religions are blind to the reality of human wickedness. Those who describe themselves as Christian are no more or less likely to be immoral than any other person. Take, for example, the prevailing statistics about divorce. People claiming to be Christians are just as likely to be divorced as people who decline to be identified as Christians. While this is deeply lamentable, it in no way invalidates Christianity's claim to offer forgiveness to sinners who are sorry for their sins. It actually reinforces Christianity's claim to truthfulness, because Christianity wants to deal with sin God's way, that is, by forgiving it. Christianity does not and cannot paper over sin. Sin cannot be ignored, but may only be forgiven for Christ's sake.
Christianity then, calls us to the comfort of the gospel. So many people deprive themselves of this comfort by believing the demonic distortions of the prevailing Christian culture, which reduces Christianity to temporal success ("your best life now"), or to good actions ("we need to make good choices"). In either case, ethics has become the summary of God's work in the world. The problem here is that this constrains God to human standards of rightness. The wild and radical divine righteousness is squelched, in which God desires to give up His own Son to establish a kingdom of comfort for troubled sinners. This God proclaims through the office of preaching. The under-shepherds come and proclaim comfort to those who are despairing, rescuing them from the shadow of death. The world thinks that such preaching is nonsense because it does not do anything the world can see or measure. But God says otherwise. Who are you going to believe? God or the world?

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"Here David also touches upon the office of preaching. For through the oral preaching of the Word, which enters the ears and touches the heart by faith, and through the holy Sacraments our Lord God accomplishes all these things in His Christendom, namely, that men are brought to faith, are strengthened in faith, are kept in pure doctrine, and in the end are enabled to withstand all the assaults of the devil and the world. Without these means, Word and Sacrament, we obtain none of these things. For since the beginning of the world God has dealt with all the saints through His Word and, in addition, has given them external signs of grace. This I say so that no one may venture to deal with God without these means or build for himself a special way to heaven, lest he fall and break his neck."
"But with the words 'Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me' the prophet wishes to say something special. It is as though he would say: 'Moses is also a shepherd and also has a rod and a staff. But he does nothing with them but drive and plague and burden his sheep with an unbearable burden (Acts 15:10; Is 9:3). Therefore, he is a terrible, horrible shepherd, whom the sheep only fear and from whom they flee. But You, O Lord, do not drive and frighten Your sheep with Your rod and Your staff, nor do You burden them, but only comfort them.'
"Therefore, he is speaking here about the office of preaching in the New Testament, which proclaims to the world that 'Christ came into the world to save sinners' (1Ti 1:15) and that He has gained this salvation for sinners by giving His life for them. Whoever believes this should not perish but have eternal life (Jn 3:16). That is the rod and the staff by which the souls obtain rest, comfort, and joy. In spiritual shepherding, that is, in the kingdom of Christ, one should, therefore, preach to the sheep of Christ, not the law of God, much less the ordinances of men, but the gospel, which the prophet with metaphorical words calls a rod of comfort and a staff of comfort. The goats one must govern with Moses and the emperor's rod and staff. For through the gospel, Christ's sheep obtain strength in their faith, rest in their hearts, and comfort in all kinds of anxieties and perils of death.
"Those who preach this way conduct the office of a spiritual shepherd properly, feed the sheep of Christ in a green pasture, lead them to the fresh water, restore their souls, keep them from being led astray, and comfort them with Christ's rod and staff. Where men hear such preachers, they should believe for certain that they are hearing Christ Himself. They should also acknowledge such preachers as right shepherds, that is, as servants of Christ and stewards of God (1Co 4:1), and pay no attention at all to the fact that the world proclaims and damns them as heretics and seducers. Those who preach something else than the gospel, who guide men to works, merit, and self-appointed holiness, may indeed praise themselves ten times over as the followers of the Apostles, adorn themselves with the name and title of the Christian Church, and even raise the dead. Actually, they are horrible wolves and murderers that do not spare the flock of Christ, but scatter, torture, and slaughter it not only spiritually but also bodily, as is now clearly and plainly to be seen." 

Martin Luther, Psalm 23, 23.4
Isaiah 66:10-14

"Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance." For thus says the LORD: "Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and the hand of the LORD shall be known to his servants, and he shall show his indignation against his enemies. 
Lord Jesus, when my heart is troubled, give me the rod and staff that will comfort me. Send Your gospel through the external Word, that I might have the message of your death for me imprinted upon my heart. Amen.
For LouAnn Webber as she undergoes cancer surgery this day, that the good Physician of soul and body would guide and guard the hand of the surgeon and bring LouAnn the healing and recovery she needs
For the faculty and staff of Memorial Lutheran School as the school year concludes, that learning would continue and we would all grow into the stature of the fullness of Christ
For congregations that have been deprived of pastoral care, that the Lord Jesus would continue to hold them in the palm of His hands
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias,  Resurrection (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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