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Galatians 6:11-18

 

 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

 

From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

 

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. (ESV)

 

 

 

Mark by Suffering

Friday of Easter 4

16 May 2014

When I was a seminary student one of the bits of seminary humor had to do with the blessedness of suffering. A student who seemed to be especially unhappy was described by his classmates as truly blessed. A glum colleague was said to be having a "blessed day," as those cheery answering machine greetings so cloyingly say. Overt happiness was mocked as truly un-Lutheran: "How could you be happy? We are the frozen chosen. Happiness is not really in the cards for us Lutherans. So you better get glum, and be happy about it! If you don't, you never know what other trouble God might send you."

 

Many Christians are just "waiting for the other shoe to drop," after they have experienced great joy, had success in their chosen calling, or recovered from financial difficulties. They have the niggling concern, "How will I have to pay for all my blessings? What suffering will I experience because God has granted me such great temporal and spiritual gifts? This is going to cost me." Our attitude shows our inability to grasp the grace of God in its fullness. We are constantly falling back to the default position. The default position of the human heart is called "the opinion of the law." We humans fall into the trap of believing that God's grace is given as a quid pro quo transaction; that for every gracious action there is an opposite and equal reaction of suffering required. We do live in a moral universe. There is cause and effect in moral meaning. But we fail to see how God deals with us in the moral universe that He has engineered.

 

First, God has taken our iniquity and laid it on the suffering servant, Jesus Christ. The other shoe does drop. On Christ. The hammer falls on sin and goodness when the blows are administered to the nails that pierced His precious hands. He, who is the truly blessed man of Psalm 1, becomes the man who is rejected by men and acquainted with grief (Is 53:3). The One who offers to show us His face (1Co 13:12), is the man from whom men hid their faces (Is 53:3). What the angels desire to see, we have seen at the cross (1Pt 1:12), that God was willing in Christ to suffer the full price of our sin and iniquity. The price has long ago been paid, willingly, freely, and with an eye upon future joy.

 

Second, this changes the meaning of the suffering experienced by people shaped by the cross of Christ. We suffer to confess our confidence in Christ. We neither seek it, nor delight in it, but we do not shirk it when the Lord lays its mantle on our shoulders. When we accept suffering, we are pointing to a hope in the world yet to come, in which there will be no sorrow or suffering; only a perfect experience of God's life in Christ, unalloyed by any earthly concern and untainted by human iniquity. When we suffer we are saying that we are willing to take the cruciform pattern blessed by the author and perfecter of our faith; it is to be stamped upon us without fear of our enduring too much. It is not a burden that gains merit. The weight of the world is not in it. We are like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who become smeared with the blood and water from the wounded body of the Lord, as they embrace the body of the Lord in His death by bearing its weightless weight. We are marked by suffering for joy; by death for life.

 

Cyprian of Carthage

 

"The Apostle Paul, after shipwrecks, scourgings, many and grievous tortures of the flesh and body, says that he is not grieved, but benefited by his adversity, in order that while he is sorely afflicted he might more truly be proved. He says, 'A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me' (2Co 12:7-9). When, therefore, weakness and inefficiency and any destruction seize us, then our strength is made perfect; then our faith, if when tried it shall stand fast, is crowned; as it is written, 'The furnace tries the vessels of the potter, and the trial of tribulation just men' (Ecclesiasticus 27:5). This, in short, is the difference between us and others who know not God, that in misfortune they complain and murmur, while adversity does not call us away from the truth of virtue and faith, but strengthens us by its suffering.

 

"What a grandeur of spirit it is to struggle with all the powers of an unshaken mind against so many onsets of devastation and death! How sublime, to stand erect amid the desolation of the human race, and not to lie prostrate with those who have no hope in God; but rather to rejoice, and to embrace the benefit of the occasion; that in thus bravely showing forth our faith, and by suffering endured, going forward to Christ by the narrow way that Christ trod, we may receive the reward of His life and faith according to His own judgment! Assuredly he may fear to die, who, not being regenerated of water and the Spirit, is delivered over to the fires of Gehenna. He may fear to die who is not enrolled in the cross and passion of Christ. He may fear to die, who from this death shall pass over to a second death. He may fear to die, whom on his departure from this world eternal flame shall torment with never-ending punishments. He may fear to die who has this advantage in a lengthened delay, that in the meanwhile his groanings and his anguish are being postponed."

 

Cyprian, On Mortality, 13-14

 
Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, You are our suffering servant. Redeem our suffering by Yours. Help us to confess You when we are afflicted. Amen.

 

For all shut -in believers, especially Rita Baker and Helen Weaver, that they might be kept in arms of their good Shepherd

 

For President John Willie of the South Wisconsin District of the LCMS, that the Lord Jesus would grant him strength and healing

 

In thanksgiving to God for rain and the fruits of the earth that spring from God's bounty

Art: GR�NEWALD, Matthias Resurrection (1515)

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