Don't Despair
Wednesday after Pentecost
23 May 2018
American Christians easily confuse physical power with spiritual power. They presume that since we are able to maintain a space station in orbit above the earth that that implies that we have great power in our spiritual lives. Since we have cracked the atom, we ought to be able to crack the spiritual code that gets us into heaven. No secret of the universe will ever remain unknown to our restless intelligence, so why shouldn't we think that with just the right effort no spiritual depth will ever be locked to us. Of course, this is evidence of our human pride. For there is much that is still unknown to us and will remain so. Beyond that, however, we must confess that the Bible pronounces us to be spiritual illiterates and ignoramuses. As hard as that is on our bloated egos, we must confess that apart from the intervention of the Holy Spirit we are not only ignorant of the things of God, but blind, dead, and even enemies of God.
 
We humans would not be aware of the depth of our sinful weakness had God's Word not revealed it to us. We would easily have blundered along in our depravity presuming that we are stars on God's team, when, in fact, we aren't even sure where the team bench is. We are like the mountain climber who is so lost, he does not even know how lost he is. Walking in circles he returns to the same place, and presumes that he can find his way from there, his spiritual progress every time an empty thing, a joke and mockery of God's Word. What's left then? Shall we despair? Shall we lie down and die like a dog in a ditch?
 
Yes and no. Yes, we should despair of ourselves. Yes, we should lie down and die. The Word of God must come and deprive us of our spiritual pride that refuses to submit to the law of God. The Word of God must put us to death. We must be drowned in baptism and die. But in that dying there is life. Only in that despair is there faith and confidence in God. We must trust the God who is gracious in Christ. We are cast only on the power of God to save. And isn't that what He promises to do? He is a saving God. Our own spiritual weakness is the mirror image to God's passionate work to save sinners like us. This is why Christology tells us about spiritual anthropology. What I mean is this: when we see how much Christ does for our salvation in Him, we begin to see how little we have done for it. In fact, we have done nothing at all. He has done everything. God's own Son was offered up for us sinners, that we might be the redeemed of God, purchased by the most precious price. All the spiritual labor has been done by God's own Son. What's left then for us to accomplish? Nothing. If we make the claim that we have done anything, it will be to steal from the hands of God's own Son the power to save and to save completely. What contribution could possibly be needed by the eternal Son, so that he would be helped to save us?
 
Perhaps you remember when Ingrid Betancourt was rescued from a lengthy captivity among communist guerrillas in Colombia. When her rescuers arrived with a helicopter to save her, all they had to do was to tell her of the rescue and its nearness. That invitation empowered her to arise and climb onto the source of her rescue. So it is for the people whom God calls with His Word to the salvation prepared for them. The very speech of God accomplishes what God says in that Word. He takes us from being dead to being alive in Christ. He takes us from being an enemy to being an intimate friend of God. He takes us from being blind in our spiritual sight to seeing the light in Christ. Although Ms. Betancourt showed signs of despairing in her six-year captivity, now she lives in peace and joy, even authoring a critically acclaimed book about her period of captivity. No, we needn't despair or die, but believe and live.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Formula of Concord
"This is our teaching, faith, and confession on this subject: in spiritual matters the understanding and reason of mankind are completely blind and by their own powers understand nothing, as it is written in 1Co 2:14, 'The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.'
 
"Likewise, we believe, teach, and confess that the unregenerate will of mankind is not only turned away from God, but also has become God's enemy. So, it only has an inclination and desire for that which is evil and contrary to God, as it is written in Gn 8:21, 'the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth.' Rm 8:7 says, 'The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.' Just as a dead body cannot raise itself to bodily, earthly life, so a person who by sin is spiritually dead cannot raise himself to spiritual life. For it is written in Eph 2:5, 'even when we were dead in our trespasses, [He] made us alive together with Christ.' And 2Co 3:5 says, 'Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.'
 
"God the Holy Spirit, however, does not bring about conversion without means. For this purpose He uses the preaching and hearing of God's Word, as it is written in Rm 1:16, the Gospel 'is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.' Also, Rm 10:17 says, 'Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.' It is God's will that His Word should be heard and that a person's ears should not be closed (Ps 95:8). With this Word the Holy Spirit is present and opens hearts, so that people (like Lydia in Acts 16:14) pay attention to it and are converted only through the Holy Spirit's grace and power, who alone does the work of converting a person. For without His grace, and if He does not grant the increase, our willing and running, our planting, sowing, and watering (1Co 3:5-7)-are all nothing. As Christ says in Jn 15:5, 'apart from Me you can do nothing.' With these brief words the Spirit denies free will its powers and ascribes everything to God's grace, in order that no one may boast before God (1Co 1:29; 2Co 12:5; Jer 9:23)." 

Epitome of the Formula of Concord, 2.1-6
Romans 8:12-17

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
(ESV)
Prayer
Lord Jesus, while I despair of myself, send Your Spirit to me that I might never despair of the salvation You have granted me. Amen.
 
For all those who serve in the military, that they would be kept safe in their duty and that all those who benefit from their sacrifices would show their gratitude to them
 
For LouAnn Webber and Michael Koutsodontis as they continue to undergo therapy, that the Lord Jesus the Good Shepherd of His sheep would keep them safely tucked into His arms
 
For all those who struggle with their daily labor because it is difficult or dangerous, that Christ the Lord would watch over them keep them safe
Art: DYCK, Sir Anthony van  Pentecost  (1618-20)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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