DESPAIR TO HOPE
In the Name of the Father, and (+) of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1 I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
3 When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah
4 You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5 I consider the days of old,
the years long ago.
6 I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
7 “Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah
10 Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
12 I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
you have made known your might among the peoples.
15 You with your arm redeemed your people,
the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
16 When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
indeed, the deep trembled.
17 The clouds poured out water;
the skies gave forth thunder;
your arrows flashed on every side.
18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lighted up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
19 Your way was through the sea,
your path through the great waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
20 You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
This Psalm has a lot to teach us about what it looks like to wrestle with God in prayer and what it looks like when faith in God’s promises grips us.
In the first half of the Psalm, the psalmist is overwhelmed and tormented by despair. Luther believed it was from the psalmists struggles with his own sin. Whatever the source of Asaph’s struggles, it is clear that he sought help in the Lord by going to him at night in prayer. It is not that the psalmist couldn’t sleep, rather he chooses to stay up so that he might take the things that are weighing him down and afflicting him to the Lord. This is what our Lord Jesus Christ did as well, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death…” (Hebrews 5:7)
In verses 6-9, we see the psalmist wrestling with his doubts and fears. Had God forgotten him? Had the Lord removed His grace? Would he never again fulfill his promises? Notice that it is faith that drives him to talk to the Lord like this. In expressing his doubts out loud to the Lord, he would also come to see how his doubts are contradictory to the promises and power of God.
It is extremely important to notice the shift that takes place in the Psalm. The first half of the psalm is dominated by the psalmist talking about himself and his affliction. The second half of the psalm is dominated by his focus on who the Lord is and what the Lord is capable of doing – based on what God had done and the promises He had already kept. Asaph gains courage and strength by recounting all the mighty and wonderful things that God had done for His people in the past. People who had suffered and were afflicted like he was! He knew that the same God who had done those things for His people was his God and that he would not be abandoned by the Lord amidst his own afflictions. Notice he meditates on the works of the Lord. He meditates on how powerful and truly awesome God is. He realizes that the One True God is the Almighty One who is strong to save.
Luther says this about meditating: “Meditating is an exclusive trait of human beings, for even beasts appear to fancy and to think. Therefore, the ability to meditate belongs to reason. There is a difference between meditating and thinking. To meditate is to think carefully, deeply, and diligently, and properly it means to muse in the heart. Hence to meditate is, as it were, to stir up in the inside, or to be moved in the innermost self. Therefore, one who thinks inwardly and diligently asks, discusses, etc. Such a person meditates.”
When we are afflicted and despairing and meditate on God’s Holy Word, we are strengthened by seeing God fulfill His promises for His people. Most importantly we see that He fulfilled His promise in sending His Son to suffer and die for us. When we realize this, our eyes are taken off or ourselves and our problems, and they are directed to how great our God is and what He is capable and willing to do for us.
The imagery at the end seems almost anticlimactic. We are led like a flock. But for the Christian, could there be a more comforting image? It calls to mind Psalm 23 and our Good Shepherd who even leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. We shall not lack anything, and we have nothing and no one to fear. The psalmist ends the psalm fully confident that his afflictions have met their match in his Lord, his faithful Good Shepherd.
God of all comfort, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, grant the consolation of Your Holy Spirit to all comfortless and afflicted souls. Make us to be rooted and grounded in faith, armed with the breastplate of Christ’s righteousness, furnished with the helmet of an unwavering hope, and provided with the sword of the Spirit, the word of Truth, by which we shall triumph over all enemies. Amen. (This prayer is taken from Reading Psalms with Luther.)
THE TOWER OF BABEL UNDONE
In the Name of the Father, and (+) of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
Remember, the Tower of Babel is after the flood. They make a tower because they want to make a name for themselves (as sinful man always wants to do in his pride). They were supposed to go out into the world but they ignore God’s command and build a tower. The Lord says there would now be no limits to their rebellion against God.
Sinful mankind always likes to think that God can’t see or hear their sin - or that God doesn’t care about their sin. But God does see, He does hear, He does care. God came to them in judgment – confused their language and that confusion resulted in division.
Think of how much war and bloodshed there have been because of the divisions that began on this day! Like the story of the fall – rebellion against God leads to divisions among people. People are driven from paradise (the presence of God) and from one another. Sin always has a ripple effect creating division and confusion.
Our sin has the same ripple effects. We are all in need of reconciliation – we are by nature enemies of God, and we need to be made friends. We are in need of peace – with God and with man.
Sin always brings division. Think of how much strife is caused by sin within families, at your jobs, among nations, etc. All of the problems you have with others are caused by one thing – sin, whether it is their sin, your sin, or both parties are at fault.
At Pentecost, the Lord undoes the confusion and division caused by Babel and gives us that which brings clarity (right thinking) and unites us.
“At this sound [mighty rushing wind and of them preaching in tongues] the multitude came together” (Acts 2:6), this draws them in because the preaching of Christ is the primary work of the Holy Spirit, whereby He gathers people from all nations into one Church.
What is it that unites us with one another? It is the preaching of Christ – His life, death, and resurrection for you. That is the only thing that can truly unite us and destroy the divisions among people.
So, at Pentecost we see the gift of speaking in tongues. It was given as a sign that the Gospel was for all sinners of every tribe and nation under heaven. And so, Babel is reversed on Pentecost. Instead of language dividing the people, at Pentecost the people are united as the Gospel is preached in their own language.
God’s judgment on man’s self-centered pride had manifested itself not only in the multiplication of human languages but also in the division and strife between peoples.
We see all of this being undone at Pentecost. The only thing that can cure this confusion and division is the gospel!
Only the Holy Spirit, working through the gracious Word of Christ, can unite and cut through the confusion bringing clarity and peace. The Holy Spirit teaches us to repent of our sins so that we would find our true name not in ourselves, making ourselves great, but in Christ.
There is no other name given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
So, on Pentecost the Holy Spirit united his people into one language – the Gospel. The same Holy Spirit is still bringing clarity and peace to you.
How does this come about? The Holy Spirit gives clarity and peace through our Lord’s appointed means – not through some mystical experience of the Holy Spirit.
Through the Word, the Holy Spirit teaches and brings to our remembrance the words of Jesus (whole Bible!), which are the words of the Father who sent Him. These words bestow clarity – right thinking about Law and Gospel!
If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. 24 He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me. (John 14:23-24)
So too: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (14:27).
This peace is given through the Sacraments as well. The Gospel calls us into communion and fellowship of faith in which all sinners share in common the forgiveness of sins by grace alone.
Peace comes only through the forgiveness of sins – both with God and one another. The forgiveness of sins reestablishes our relationship with God and one another. Because we have peace with God we are free to live at peace with one another – free to serve our neighbor in love – we no longer have to be in conflict with them.
Peace only comes through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives us Christ and Christ indeed is our peace. And the Holy Spirit keeps coming to us through Word and Sacrament to give us Christ.
We are in need of clarity and peace. Because of what Christ accomplished for us in His death and resurrection and because He ascended to the right hand of the Father, He sent us the Holy Spirit, just as He promised. And the Holy Spirit keeps giving us clarity and peace through Word and Sacrament.
Almighty and ever-living God, You fulfilled Your promise by sending the gift of the Holy Spirit to unite disciples of all nations in the cross and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ. By the preaching of the Gospel spread this gift to the ends of the earth; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
A DEVOTION ON PSALM 27
In the Name of the Father, and (+) of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When evildoers assail me
to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
it is they who stumble and fall.
3 Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
yet I will be confident.
4 One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.
5 For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock.
6 And now my head shall be lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
8 You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
9 Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me in.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they breathe out violence.
13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
Devotion by Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann
If you experience the harsh and vehement attacks of the enemy, and they crowd against you, despising you as one who is not anointed, and on this very account they fight against you, do not succumb to these attacks but sing Psalm 27. – Athanasius
A psalm of David, written probably about the same time as the preceding one, picturing the state of mind of one who is persecuted ‘Without cause and longs for the blessings of the worship in the midst of the congregation. V. 1. The Lord is my Light, the only Source of all spiritual light, and my Salvation, He who saves him from the darkness of oppression and persecution; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the Strength of my life, his Stronghold, his Bulwark, his sure Defense, keeping his life from destruction; of whom shall I be afraid? The entire song has the ring of Paul’s mighty hymn of triumph, Rom. 8, 31-39. V. 2. When the wicked, the doers of evil and mischief, even mine enemies and my foes, those who oppose and oppress him on all sides, came upon me, approaching him with marked hostility, to eat up my flesh, as wild beasts eager to tear and devour their prey, they stumbled and fell, unable to carry out their object because of the protection afforded David by Jehovah.
V. 3. Though an host, a whole army or camp of adversaries, should encamp against me, besieging him on all sides, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in this, even in such a great extremity, will I be confldent, in spite of all that he would calmly trust in Jehovah, his Stronghold. Both the words and the tone of the psalm denote the holy and calm defiance with which all believers may await the attack of the enemies.
V. 4. One thing have I desired of the Lord, in the midst of all these threatening dangers, that will I seek after, with a great desire: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord, the Tabernacle of His presence, all the days of my life, in the delight of intimate fellowship with Jehovah, to behold the beauty of the Lord, His favor and kindness as revealed in the Word of His grace, and to inquire in His Temple, meditating upon the wonderful blessings of His mercy in the message of the Gospel. V. 5. For, because of the believer’s close communion with God, in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion, in the Tabernacle, where His almighty hand protects; in the secret of His Tabernacle shall He hide me, sheltering the believer in the safety of His tent; He shall set me upon a rock, the house of Jehovah being a refuge and stronghold beyond the reach of puny men.
V. 6. And now shall mine head be lifted up, in the triumph of a certain victory, above mine enemies round about me, the fact of whose defeat places the believer beyond their reach; therefore will I offer in His Tabernacle sacrifices of joy, thank-offerings always being occasions of great rejoicing. I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord, which the faithful Israelites were wont to do at the festival meal connected with their thank-offerings. At the same time David does not, even in the remotest way, rely upon his own strength, and for this reason the triumphant strain of confidence now gives way to an earnest appeal. V. 7. Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice, calling loudly and emphatically; have mercy also upon me, that being the one safe reliance of the believer, and answer me, with a favorable reply.
V. 8. When Thou saidst, Seek ye My face, at Jehovah’s call to seek His face, my heart said unto Thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek; the heart of the believer being attuned to the fellowship with Jehovah, it gladly answers His call, assenting thereto as an echo of it, happy in the knowledge that it pleases Jehovah if His children enter into the presence of God, in order to gain comfort, assistance, and blessings of every kind.
V. 9. Hide not thy face (far) from me, veiling it from the prayer of the believer; put not Thy servant away in anger, thrusting him aside as unworthy; Thou hast been my Help, and the former mercy and love emboldens David to plead against rejection. Leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation. It is the cry of Jacob: “I will not let Thee go except Thou bless me,” Gen. 32, 26, a call which holds the Lord to the promise of His salvation.
V. 10. When my father and my mother forsake me, the very nearest earthly relatives abandoning him who seems doomed to destruction, Matt. 10, 35. 36, then the Lord will take me up, receiving the believer into His care and protection, adopting him as His own child. V. 11. Teach me Thy way, the road according with Jehovah’s will, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, even, level, without pitfalls, because of mine enemies, since they dog his every footstep and are trying to lead him into sin, his fall at the same time heaping dishonor upon God.
V. 12. Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies, to the destruction which they had planned against him; for false witnesses are risen up against me, such being the methods employed by the enemies in their persecution of the believer, and such as breathe out cruelty, their every breath being charged with violence.
V. 13. I had fainted unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, literally, “If I did not trust to behold the excellence of Jehovah -!” He leaves the sentence unfinished. for it is too hard to picture and imagine life without the sustaining mercy of Jehovah. And so David encourages himself and all believers in conclusion, v. 14. Wait on the Lord, firmly trusting in the revelation of His mercy; be of good courage, strong of heart, and He shall strengthen thine heart, rather, let thy heart show itself mighty. Wait, I say, on the Lord. With this confident expectation the prayer of every believer must be concluded; for the Lord will, at His own time, bring salvation in rich measure upon His children, here in time and hereafter in eternity.
O almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all dangers and necessities stretch forth Your mighty hand, to defend us against our enemies; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, world without end. Amen
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BUILD?
In the Name of the Father, and (+) of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
4 Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. 2 And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” 4 Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. 5 Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.
6 So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. 7 But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. 8 And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. 9 And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.
10 In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” 11 And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” 12 At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.” 13 So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. 14 And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”
15 When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, 17 who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. 18 And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. 19 And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. 20 In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”
21 So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out. 22 I also said to the people at that time, “Let every man and his servant pass the night within Jerusalem, that they may be a guard for us by night and may labor by day.” 23 So neither I nor my brothers nor my servants nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon at his right hand.
I have shared this in various settings before and I thought it was quite fitting right now. Do we want everything to return to “normal” after the pandemic passes? What do we want our homes, church, and community to look like? What do we want to rebuild in this place where God has set us? We are not called to save the world or culture or whatever term you want to throw in there. But we are called to faithfully work and serve where God has placed us – out of love for our neighbor and to the glory of God.
The following is taken from The Failure of Sex Education in the Church: Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity (pp 61-63) by Linda Bartlett (which is a book every Christian should read).
What is a Christian to do? It’s as if God asks the impossible of us. He wants us to build with one hand and resist evil with the other. But with more cultural decay comes more evil.
Mindful of raising up a new generation of Christians but also keenly aware of our own inadequacies and failures, parents, pastors, and all who love children become discouraged and even fearful. With fear comes the temptation to doubt the sufficiency of God’s Word and more easily accept the help of passionate unbelievers. “Why do you cling to ancient traditions?” they ask. “Can’t you see? We have something new!”
There is a lesson to be learned from God’s people who, in a time before us, were also discouraged, overwhelmed, and taunted by unbelieving neighbors who offered something new.
The remnant of Israel that had survived exile in Persia returned home to find the walls of Jerusalem broken down and city gates destroyed. To this small number of faithful people was given the arduous task of re-building the temple and walls of Jerusalem. God also wanted His people to grow faithful families. He wanted them to be holy and set apart in their worship and practice. When people in the neighboring land saw that Jerusalem was being restored, they offered their help. After all, these people explained, they worshipped God, too. (In reality, they were a people of blended religions.) Fearing that they would commit themselves to false worship, the Israelite fathers refused the offer of resources and help. They knew that God had entrusted the job of rebuilding the temple and walls only to them. So “the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose” (Ezra 4:4-5).
The culture in which God’s people found themselves made the building project very difficult, but the Word of the Lord consistently commanded the people to persevere. God also reminded His people that they were to be holy and set apart for His good purpose. But the people of Israel, following the example of some of their leaders, mixed themselves with the Canaanites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and others through marriage (9:1-2). The people were guilty of breaking faith with God and allowing impurity of worship, teaching, and practice. There was confession and absolution but, because the potential for continued corruption of worship was so great, illegal marriages were identified and ended (10:18-19). The rebuilding of the temple, restoration of the walls, and growing of faithful families began anew.
However, when the neighbors in the land saw that the Israelites were again doing the work of God in rebuilding Jerusalem, they were angry. “[T]hey all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it” (Neh. 4:8). It was easy to cause confusion and discouragement among the Israelites because fathers, mothers, and grandparents were overwhelmed by the task that lay before them. “There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall” (4:10). The enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work” (4:11). Nehemiah encouraged the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes” (4:14). When the walls were rebuilt and the gates restored, the law of God was read to the people who were both joyful and repentant (chapters 8 and 9).
Everything was coming back into order and Israel was prepared to live by the truth of God’s Word. What could go wrong? What went wrong is incredibly significant. Eliashib, the priest appointed over the chambers of God, gave Tobiah the Ammonite a place in the temple (13:4-5). Under the guise of helping God’s people, Tobiah was given a room formerly used to store the offering for God. There, within the temple, sat Tobiah and his possessions. Nehemiah was away when this happened, but when he returned, he “was very angry, and [he] threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then [he] gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and [he] brought back there the vessels of the house of God” (13:8-9).
God entrusted the rebuilding of His temple and the city walls to His people. He entrusted the growing of holy families to husbands and wives equipped with His Word. He does the same today.
God wants His people to keep their worship, teaching, and practices pure and different from that of the dark and unbelieving world. Certainly, there are resources in the world that can be practical and helpful to the Christian. But we must take care especially when it comes to instructing Jesus’ little ones. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 18:10). It is a frightening thing indeed to compromise one of the Father’s children.
Compromise happens, however, when God’s people are weary and burdened, or prideful and above reproach. Compromise happens when we let down our guard and grow comfortable with the world. At such times it is easier for an opposing foe to gain access by offering some kind of help or resource. It was for this reason that Nehemiah “stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows … each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built” (Neh. 4:13, 18). The men were on guard at night and labored by day (22).
We are weary and overwhelmed by a multitude of life issues. Sometimes we are prideful after doubting God’s Word and trusting something else. As the culture decays and evil abounds, we may believe that God asks the impossible of us. But, Martin Luther reminds us that the task of rebuilding the temple and shoring up walls was given to a weak people, few in number; a people against whom stood powerful princes and nations, which lived round about and daily threatened imminent destruction.
There will be days when failure distracts us from the building project. There will be those like Tobiah who mock our faithfulness to an ancient faith while tempting us with new practices. In the face of evil, let it be said of us: Look! They remember “the Lord who is great and awesome,” and they “fight for [their] brothers…sons…daughters…wives…and homes” (Neh. 4:14).
Almighty God, grant us faithfulness in our vocations in the places where you have stationed us to serve you – in our homes, in our churches, and in our community. Forgive us as we strive to do what you have called us, and as we struggle and fail. We ask that you would bless the work of our hands; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Amen.
In the Name of the Father, and (+) of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1 Kings 19:1-18
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 3 Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” 5 And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” 6 And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. 7 And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” 8 And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.
9 There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 11 And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 13 And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 15 And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. 16 And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. 17 And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
I came across a fascinating quote that I really love: The demon in your heart is called, “What’s the use?” (To be clear this quote is clearly using the term “demon” rather broadly.) This is where Elijah is at in 1 Kings 19. Victory looks more like defeat. Think about it. He had just won a great victory on Carmel, and the people yell, “The LORD, He is God. The LORD, He is God.” They basically yell the prophet’s name – and it sounds like victory. It appeared he had won the majority to his side…but nothing seems to have changed because most of the people are still worshipping idols.
When Elijah challenged and then killed the prophets of Baal, he was impelled by the Spirit of God, yet, when Jezebel’s wrath has been reported to him, he fears for himself. He is not commanded by God to withdraw. His reason kept telling him that he would be safe if he hid in the desert. He is ready to give up, he is ready to die, Elijah thinks in his heart, “What’s the use?” These facts were recorded to comfort us, who have no other thought about the saints than that they were blocks and logs without feeling.
I have seen it happen time and again that faithful pastors become weary and distressed when they see that their earnest labors bring so little fruit. I have experienced this myself – sometimes it feels like I am trying to empty the ocean with a thimble.
But I am certain you have experienced this in your Christian life as well - as the devil, your sinful flesh, and the world seek to wear you out and lead you astray. You strive and struggle in the Christian life and it seems like your efforts are bearing little fruit – and there are probably days when you think, “What’s the use?”
Maybe you look around at our culture and how bad things are and you say in your heart, “What’s the use?” We see even Christians living and confessing contrary to God’s Word and indifferent to God’s gifts. Maybe you are struggling with a certain sin and it seems to get the better of you time and time again, and so you say in your heart, “What’s the use?”
Perhaps you say this about going to church or reading your Bible or praying, “What’s the use?”
Nothing seems to change, victory seems far from me, things don’t feel like they are getting any better, “What’s the use?”
The bills are piling high, your family is stressed out and at its breaking point, your health is still failing, God seems to not be fulfilling His promises…and you hear the words in your heart “what’s the use?”
This is a real temptation for the child of God and when you fall into it, you must repent.
It was not hopeless for Elijah and it is not for you either. Elijah did not see all that God was doing to uproot idolatry and even preserve 7000 who had not worshipped the false gods. Through His Word He was still working, still saving, still rescuing – even though Elijah could not see it.
God always has strength for you in His Word and in the power of His Spirit.
This is beautifully depicted: 11 And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.
The Law is a hammer that crushes rocks, a fire, a wind, and a great and mighty earthquake that overturns mountains. When Elijah could not bear the terrors of the Law that were signified by these events, he wrapped his head in his mantle; and after the storm he had seen was over, there came a still small voice, in which the Lord was present.
But the violence of the fire, the storm, and the earthquake had to come first, before the Lord Himself followed in the still small voice. The voice of the Gospel comes and brings the forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and eternal salvation which Christ purchased and won for you on the cross.
The power of God’s Word forgives you your doubts and your despair and your lack of faith…and strengthens you to face all those things that make you say, “What’s the use?”
The demon in your heart says, “What’s the use?”
But the LORD says, “What are you doing? Why are you despairing? Why are you afraid? Why are you giving up? I am your light and your salvation…you have nothing to fear…wait on me…be of good courage and I will strengthen your heart…look to me…I am in control…these things are not done in vain…I am in control of all things… I will not abandon you nor forsake you…Arise and eat…be strengthened for the journey…” Amen.
O Lord, it is very tempting to despair and throw up our hands and cry out, “What’s the use?” Forgive us for not trusting You and Your Word. Strengthen us by Your Word; through Jesus Christ Your Son our Lord, Amen.
REJOICING IN GRIEF AND SORROW
I picked this text and hymn for our devotion for today because this will be the hymn we sing this Sunday and I will be preaching on Lamentations 3 as well.
In the Name of the Father, and (+) of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
Devotion based on Rejoice, My Heart, Be Glad and Sing 737
1 Rejoice, my heart, be glad and sing,
A cheerful trust maintain;
For God, the source of ev'rything,
Your portion shall remain.
2 He is your treasure, He your joy,
Your life and light and Lord,
Your Counselor when doubts annoy,
Your shield and great reward.
3 Why spend the day in blank despair,
In restless thought the night?
On your Creator cast your care;
He makes your burdens light.
4 Did not His love and truth and pow'r
Guard ev'ry childhood day?
And did He not in threat'ning hour
Turn dreaded ills away?
5 He only will with patience chide,
His rod falls gently down;
And all your sins He casts aside
In ocean depths to drown.
6 His wisdom never plans in vain
Nor falters nor mistakes.
All that His counsels may ordain
A blessed ending makes.
7 Upon your lips, then, lay your hand,
And trust His guiding love;
Then like a rock thy peace shall stand
Here and in heav'n above.
You can listen to the hymn here.
Today’s commentary on the hymn comes from Pastor Richard Resch as found in the Lutheran Service Book Companion to the Hymns Volume 1.
There are those who cannot believe that a pastor would write a hymn asking them to rejoice during trials and testing. These saints will have a difficult time with the seven stanzas of this hymn by Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676).
It is one thing for the faithful to understand and trust that God, in His infinite wisdom, needs to chasten them from time to time. But it is quite another thing for them to rejoice, be glad, and sing about it while enduring the chastening. Without help, very few rejoice and sing in such times. Yet hymns give Christians a voice and provide the words that lead them to do just that. There may be tears, but the muffled singing still confesses a confident hope and trust in the One who sent a form of testing – for their good.
This is how Paul Gerhardt becomes the master teacher of the theology of the cross, for he teaches the unthinkable. He teaches joy through tears, a heart to be glad when it is breaking, a cheerful trust when it appears that one is forsaken and alone. Gerhardt frequently experienced such trials and knew what he was talking about. Yet he saw a blessed road, one that also gives us rejoicing and gladness. His pastoral advice is for us to sing that Jesus Christ is a treasure, a shield, a reward, a counselor, a light, and the Lord in contexts that extraordinary and filled with despair, extreme suffering, and severe crosses. Gerhardt nevertheless has us sing that Christ is our song. Only in Him could rejoicing be on our lips in such times (Habakkuk 3:17-19). Such unique singing baffles the world and sends Satan running.
Lord God, heavenly Father, who in Your divine wisdom and fatherly goodness makes Your children to bear the cross, and sends diverse afflictions upon us to subdue the flesh, and quicken our hearts unto faith, hope and unceasing prayer: We beseech You to have mercy upon us, and graciously deliver us out of our trials and afflictions, so that we may perceive Your grace and fatherly help, and with all saints forever praise and worship You; through Your dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, world without end. Amen.
MOSES WRESTLES WITH GOD IN PRAYER
You can listen to this devotion here.
In the Name of the Father, and (+) of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’ ” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” 3 Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” 4 But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.” 5 And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” 6 The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, 7 “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.”
10 So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. 11 Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.’ ” 12 So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. 13 The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw.” 14 And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?”
15 Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this? 16 No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” 17 But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ 18 Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” 19 The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.” 20 They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; 21 and they said to them, “The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
22 Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”
In the beginning of Exodus chapter 5, Moses declares the Word of the LORD to Pharaoh, but Pharaoh refuses to listen and instead makes things even more difficult for the Israelites by requiring them to make bricks without giving them straw.
The LORD, through Moses, had commanded Pharaoh to let His people go so that they could hold a feast to Him. Pharaoh considered himself to be the incarnation of the deity Horus and the son of Ra. Since the LORD is not one of the gods that the Egyptians worshiped, Pharaoh refused to let the people go and worship the true God and instead saw it as an excuse for the people to be lazy.
At the end of Exodus chapter 4 the people were excited that their deliverer, Moses, had come. But that joy quickly turned to complaints when their deliverance did not come as quickly as they had hoped. Rather than being delivered right away their suffering was made even worse. The conditions of their slavery had been made impossible by the efforts of their deliverer!
The people blamed Moses and Aaron. They said to them, “The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” (5:21)
Moses, in response to Pharaoh's hardheartedness and the people's grumbling, goes to the LORD in prayer with his own complaint. Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.” (Ex 5:22–23)
This is evidence of Moses’ faith – when Moses doesn’t understand the ways of the LORD, he flees to him in prayer. The cry of “Why, O Lord? How long, O Lord?” does not show a lack of faith in a believer – it shows that they know where to go in the time of need. The LORD actually wants us to wrestle with Him in prayer!
Many times things appear to get far worse before they get any better and those are certainly times of severe testing for our faith. And yet, we must look in faith because God is always helping us – even though it often isn’t in the way we think he should. Consider Paul praying for deliverance, and God instead giving him the grace to endure it. The fact is we don’t usually know what is best for us and we must trust our good and gracious heavenly Father who ALWAYS does what is best for us.
Christ has accomplished everything necessary for your salvation in His life, death, and resurrection, and He has given you the wonderful gift of prayer. Know for certain that you are blessed by Christ. Keep praying – even when you don’t understand what the Lord is doing…especially when you don’t understand what He is doing. Take refuge in your God who hears your prayers because of Christ and promises to give you whatever you ask in His name.
Eternal God, You counsel us not to be anxious about earthly things. Keep alive in us a proper yearning for those heavenly treasures awaiting all who trust in Your mercy, that we may daily rejoice in Your salvation and serve You with constant devotion; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
A Christmas text during Holy Week? Yes. Christmas finds its fulfillment in Holy Week. And the section from Luther's Christmas afternoon sermon on Isaiah 9 beautifully illustrates this. He uses some of my favorite imagery from any of his sermons as he considers what it means for us that "the government shall be upon his shoulder."
In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
From Luther's Sermon on Isaiah 9:6:
Isaiah, however, stays down here [on earth, saying], “He is the kind of lord
who takes the government on his shoulder—and thus a genuine lord.” Let whoever
can figure out what that means! A unique and wonderful lord, who wears his
authority around his neck! This shows how the rule of Christ differs from the kingdoms
of the world. For Christ says, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them.”10
They have to exercise power, to rule strictly, and make use of the law; but they do
not need to fleece and flail [people]. [All] secular governments have to rule and
punish with severity; but it is [only] the villains and tyrants who fleece and flail
[their people]. In the latter case, the subjects have to carry these lords, magistrates,
heads of families, etc., on their shoulders. And they do have to carry them, or the tyrants will be on them with blows and executioners. But we are speaking here of
good rulers, not of tyrants. Yet even the good authorities are carried on the shoulders
of their subjects. But the rule of that Son who was born to us works the other
way around: he carries us! We rest on his shoulders; he is our bearer. See how
Isaiah turns everything around, contrary to the customs of the world. Where is
Christ’s rule, his land, and his people? Our duke’s rule includes Saxony,
Thuringia, and Meissen.
But Christ’s rule includes all believers, of whom he is Lord. So we are his people and his land. And where is his government? On his shoulder! This is wonderful. Christ’s kingdom is not under his feet, nor is it in Rome or in Babylon; it is on his shoulder.
There is no way I can describe this. If someone asks, “Where is Christ’s rule?
Is it in Rome? Compostela? Wittenberg?” [the answer is,] “Of course!”
Briefly put, it is on his shoulder! We see artists’ renditions of this, but I would advise the
painters to put the church on the child’s shoulders rather than the cross.
We just have to put up with the fact that the godless papists, the rabble, and
the peasants all have our word and sacraments. But only those are Christians
who are on his shoulder, that is, those who firmly trust him and allow themselves
to be carried by him like the lost sheep. To sum up: no one is a Christian who does
not rest on the shoulder of Christ.
This is what Isaiah said. This means that I believe that he has paid everything for me, that my sins and my death are his cross. Would that I could say this: “I know no other comfort than to rest on the shoulder of this man.” All who are held firmly on his shoulder are Christians. He must pay for us; he must make satisfaction and suffer. He must carry us, not we him. He does not want to be served, but to serve and to carry us. [He says,] “I will give you everything; all your guilt will be on my shoulder.” All the saints, whatever their names—Isaiah, Peter, Paul—from the greatest to the least, they are all on his
shoulder. That is his government. Those who are not on his shoulder are not under
Thus, here you see the very definition of the Son, the one who carries his subjects
on his shoulder. And we are those subjects! If the foolish followers of the pope
who want to kill us only believed this, they would rethink their plan. They want to
carry Christ themselves, back and forth; they carry him with their works and their
merits. But he will prove too heavy for them. The sheep must say [instead], “Dear
Shepherd, you carry me, not I you!” It would be some crazy sheep that wanted to
carry him! Would it ever get something to carry! But Christ says, “Hop on! I will
carry you well—and all your sins are forgiven.” And the world persecutes this
treasure of the kingdom [of Christ]! Isaiah says, “You have the Son.” So, hop on!
We should gladly and confidently run to him, believing that he will answer for us
and pay for us.
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for carrying all our sins and for carrying us on your shoulders. Thank you for being our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Keep us steadfast in the one true faith. Amen.
A place for Pastor Packer to post articles, links, and his own thoughts.