Deep Wickedness
Wednesday of Pentecost 14
13 September 2017
J. R. R. Tolkien's  Lord of the Rings portrays the fellowship of the ring confronting deep wickedness. As the fellowship of the ring trudge through the mines of Moriah, evil, seemingly invincible, creatures stalk them. The battle that ensues leaves Gandalf plunging to the depths into apparent oblivion and the rest of the fellowship running for their lives. Even the battle-hardened members of the company of the ring are shocked by the wicked enemies that come screaming up from the ancient depths. Evil has a long and lingering history. We cannot fathom the depth of the wickedness that has inhabited our world and lingers in our fallen hearts. We have mocked Satan and rightly so. And yet, if our mockery has turned him only into a risible pitchfork-wielding costumed figure, we have played into his hands. He has become a Halloween figure not a fallen creature fighting to devour us and make us children of his perverse kingdom. A horrible depth to the wickedness seeps our East of Eden.

Adam and Eve were introduced to the evil that would have no end by becoming fellows with Satan in his already failed rebellion against the incarnation of God of the Virgin Mary. An evil that has no end, requires an eternal reward. So our Father prepared an eternal restraint in the burning abyss (Rev 20:1-3; 2Pt 2:4) for the father of evil, casting down wickedness and its children that they might become a footstool for the feet of the Messiah (Ps 110:1). The day of wickedness is brought to an end when the Lord chains its minions. No one but Satan's evil angels need go there. However, those who are in the fellowship of evil and its kingdom will certainly have their commitment rewarded. They will be with their lord forever.

In the face of this wickedness our Father sends His Son as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29). Frodo Baggins is positively powerful in comparison to Jesus, who never draws a sword, small or otherwise. Only the weakness of the Son of God can truly vanquish the power of the enemy. "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth. Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up your might and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!" (Ps 80:1-3). The Glory of God, who sits enthroned between the Cherubim, comes as a humble Shepherd leading the flock of His children. With His might hidden by weakness He offers Himself for the flock setting Himself against and into the oblivion of death for our sakes, wrestling the demonic forces into their abyss. Like Gandalf, the Christ does not remain in the realm of the dead (1Pt 3:19), but returns to the company of the apostles in triumph over death.

Through the work of the Shepherd of Joseph we receive rescue from among sinful humans. All of us alike deserve to be flung into the abyss of the second death with the devil and his evil angels. However, our heavenly Father has seen to our salvation through the work of the great substitute for sinners, the Shepherd of Joseph. Our entire wickedness extols the gift of grace. The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He has vanquished all our enemies. The difference between what we ought to receive and what we do receive by grace is an unbridgeable chasm (Lk 16:26).

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo

"Eternal punishment seems hard and unjust to human perceptions, because in the weakness of our mortal condition there is wanting that highest and purest wisdom by which it can be perceived how great a wickedness was committed in that first transgression [of the fall]. The more enjoyment man found in God, the greater was his wickedness in abandoning Him. He who destroyed in himself a good which might have been eternal, became worthy of eternal evil. Hence the whole mass of the human race is condemned; for [Satan], who at first gave entrance to sin, has been punished with all his posterity who were in him as in a root, so that no one is exempt from this just and due punishment, unless delivered by mercy and undeserved grace. The human race is so divided that in some is displayed the efficacy of merciful grace, in the rest the efficacy of just retribution.

"Both could not be displayed in all; for if all had remained under the punishment of just condemnation, there would have been seen in no one the mercy of redeeming grace. And, on the other hand, if all had been transferred from darkness to light, the severity of retribution would have been manifested in none. But many more are left under punishment than are delivered from it, in order that it may thus be shown what was due to all. And had it been inflicted on all, no one could justly have found fault with the justice of Him who takes vengeance. Whereas, in the deliverance of so many from that just reward, there is cause to render the most cordial thanks to the gracious bounty of Him who delivers."

Augustine, The City of God, 21.12
Matthew 24:15-31

"So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There he is!' do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, 'Look, he is in the wilderness,' do not go out. If they say, 'Look, he is in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
 
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."  
(ESV)
Prayer
Lord Christ, the Word of God pronounces us deeply damned apart from Your grace. Grant us repentance for our sinful nature and the wickedness that arises from our perverse hearts. Rescue us from damnation through the preaching and sacraments through which you invite poor sinners like us to partake of eternal life. Amen.
 
For all those who suffer for the faith of Christ, that they might be upheld in the confession of the truth of Your Word
 
For those who are providing service to those who have suffered losses from the recent hurricanes, that they would be supported in their labors for the benefit of their neighbor
 
For the pastors and lay people of the Lutheran Church in Sudan, that they might be kept safe under the care of the Good Shepherd
 
For President Matthew Harrison of the LCMS, that he would be strengthened in body and soul for his service to the church
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
©  Scott Murray 2017