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MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS

A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH

Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.

6421 W. Poinsettia Drive

Glendale, Arizona 85304-2419

 

THANKFUL TO GOD

 

Luke 7:11 And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people. 12 Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. 14 And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. 15 And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother. 16 And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people. 17 And this rumour of him went forth throughout all Judaea, and throughout all the region round about.

 

Jesus cured many people and raised more than one person from the dead. This miracle is not as well known as the dramatic story of Lazarus being called out of his tomb and following Christ to Jerusalem. And yet, the Holy Spirit has preserved this particular miracle in a special context. What can we learn from it?

 

First of all, we can see that all the rationalists are wrong when they claim that Jesus healed people with his magnetic personality. They thought they were sick and then when they met Him, they thought they were healthy again. Many of us would like to cure all illness this way. Christian Science has tried to teach this, and Pentecostals try the same method in a slightly different form. Many people believe that if they believe hard enough, they will not be sick.

 

The biggest problem with faith healing in this miracle is the actual death of the young man. He did not have the luxury of thinking he was ill, since he no longer thought. He did not make a decision. He did not come to Christ. Instead, Christ came to Him and called Him out of death to life. The young man contributed nothing except his corpse to the miracle. His mother contributed nothing to the miracle.

 

Therefore, we should first see this miracle as an example of salvation. We offer nothing. We have nothing. We are dead to Christ, having no power to trust in Him or have any understanding of His spiritual benefits. God has appointed people and has set up circumstances so that we are called to faith just as the young man was raised from the dead.

 

We are lifted out of the coffin, just as the young man was delivered from death and given back to his mother. In some cases, we are called to faith through baptism as infants. In other cases we hear the Gospel as adults and begin believing for the first time.

 

We can see the loving-kindness of Christ, because He provides many ways of calling us back to faith when we are prone to wander.

1.     Sinfulness make us withdraw from the Scriptures, because we do not want to face our guilt and errors.

2.      Crushing disappointments in religious people can make us feel disgusted with Christianity, although we never blame Ford if loud-mouthed oafs curse us from a Thunderbird or Taurus.

3.      Ease and luxury can make us feel indifferent to the Gospel.

4.      Doctrinal conflict can make us nauseated by problems and prone to ignore it all.

 

We must always ask ourselves if bad people or bad circumstances keep us from the Good Shepherd. As one person said, “The hypocrite is closer to God than you are. You say you won’t go to Church because of the hypocrites there. But the hypocrites is closer to God because you are letting him stand between you and God.”

 

In addition, it is Satan’s wish to separate each believer from the loving and comforting message of the Savior. What method does he use? He will use any method that works. As Luther said, if difficulties do not work, he will use the sense of never-ending difficulties. Once a person gives in to despair, thinking that evil will never end, then he is fodder for Satan, who works upon our feelings, where we are weakest.

 

Left on our own, we would quickly desert the Savior, due to our weakness of flesh and the constant antagonism of the unbelieving world and the assaults of Satan. Worst of all, at times those within the visible church will grind their heels in our faces and laugh at us.

Proverbs 24:17 Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: 18 Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him.

Implied in this verse is the promise that God will spare us when people mock us and scorn us because we have fallen on bad times. So we should never lose hope and confuse the Gospel of the Savior with the actions of His nominal followers.

 

We can see a special lesson within this miracle of the widow’s son being raised from the dead. The clue comes from the title: the widow’s son. She had already lost her husband and she only had one son. Luke is especially good with such details. We do not know about daughters, but they would not be much help to a widow. The men earned the wages and provided protection. The widow had lost all future security and protection. Her earlier loss was more than doubled by her second loss, of her only son.

 

Luther emphasized that God took her son from her because of her ingratitude. Of course, the Gospel does not tell us this, but we can identify with the spiritual condition. We take what we have for granted. We are not thankful. The more abundance we enjoy, the less we are thankful to God for the abundance.

 

The widow might have said, “I miss my husband, but my son will take care of me. He is young and healthy. He will be here for the rest of my life.” We often let things slip away by being so indifferent to reality. Every moment with someone is a gift from God. We can never predict exactly how much time God gives us with that person.

 

God has taken the Gospel away from America because our country simply took the Scriptures for granted. The liberal attacks on the Bible began in the early 1900s, but people said, “Oh, we have plenty of leaders who still believe in the Bible. We can afford a few scoffers to keep us on our toes.” Then ministers began saying, “Our leaders don’t seem to believe in the Bible, but I can keep my congregation free from their influence.” And members said, “This minister doesn’t seem to believe in the divinity of Christ, but he is so good with the teenagers.” The indifference accumulated, like mildew on wet clothes, until no one could miss the aroma.

 

Lack of gratitude is one our biggest problems. People will say, “No, not at all! We always have a big Thanksgiving meal together and watch football all day. We are thankful for the blessings of our country, our freedom and prosperity.”

 

We should be thankful to live in the most affluent era of all time, in the greatest country, at the peak of technology and medical science. But thankfulness is tested best by times of difficulty.

 

Our Old Adam likes to have abundant food, peace, and prosperity. But our Old Adam does not like the cross. When family and friends scorn us, we are not thankful. When church leaders call us names in print and quietly assassinate us behind our backs, we are not happy. When doing the right thing causes financial loss and countless little treacheries, we do not feel blessed.

 

God makes us more mature as believers by putting us through difficult times and asking us to thank Him for those trials. At the moment we cannot see the wisdom and love of God in the cross we are bearing. But first we need to see that our crosses are nothing compared to the innocent death of Christ on the cross for our sins. To bear the cross when reasonably innocent is bad enough for us. It helps us see the love of Christ, to be without sin and to become sin for us. This Christ did without complaining, as we sing in “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth.” He became sin for us, that we might receive in faith His righteousness.

 

The experience of the cross is always connected with faithfulness to the Word. Do we shun the cross? Then we must shun Christ. Are we not thankful for the cross? Then we are not thankful for Christ. We can see that the temptation to turn Christianity into a school for success is based upon a fear of the cross. The old description of liberal Christianity has become the theme of the Church Growth Movement:  “A God without wrath sent His Son without a cross into a world without sin…” (Richard Niehbuhr)

 

God’s wisdom can be seen in His power to turn a cross into a blessing. C. F. W. Walther was so burdened by the sense of sin and other problems that he had a complete nervous breakdown. Now we would call it clinical depression. During that time, in Europe, he recovered by reading the works of Luther. His study of Luther was the foundation for rescuing the early Missouri Synod from collapse. It also influenced all Lutherans and served to create an orthodox Lutheran synod, wonderful schools, faithful pastors, a wealth of spiritual blessings. But they began with the collapse of young Walther.

 

The heir of Walther at the St. Louis seminary and as LCMS president was Franz Pieper. He was so overworked that he also suffered a nervous collapse. Resting in bed, he finally began to write his Christian Dogmatics, one of the finest works in Lutheranism. The collapse made it possible to have this work, which many of us use each week in some way. Should we say, “If only he could have kept on working and getting things done. Too bad he suffered such a setback.”?  Most people recall his work but not the pain that produced the work.

 

No one has written more to comfort Christians than Luther. All denominations will admit that, if the people actually read Luther. One nun said, “How can a man who lived 500 years ago speak to me today?” The reason is simple – Luther lived in the Word and he dealt with the pain he suffered from severe depression and major health problems. He used the term Anfectungen, or onslaughts, and gave Satan his due for causing them. Most minister’s families are plagued with unusual health problems. St. Paul was not spared. We do not know what his thorn in the flesh was, but he suffered the scorn of others because he was not on the cover of Wheaties (or the Hellenistic equivalent of that honor).

 

Luther’s co-worker, Philip Melanchthon, is an example of situational depression. He became acutely depressed when Philip of Hesse manipulated Luther into endorsing his bigamy. Philip almost died in bed, but Luther prayed him back to health again. Many people go through such crises, due to horrible losses, treachery, and major setbacks. We know that new mothers can suffer profound depression simply from the change in hormones after the birth of a baby.

 

The difference between Luther and Melanchthon is that Philip did not use his painful experience to comfort others, while Luther used his spiritual insights to help thousands, if not millions of people. Many people, perhaps most people, to through great tribulation at certain times.

 

When we are able to see God at work during these times, we can be thankful for the benefits we eventually receive and enjoy. We can also help people who suffer from the same difficulty. It may be bankruptcy, violent crime, the betrayal of friends, verbal abuse, or dozens of other horrible experiences. We cannot tell from looking at someone whether he has experienced those little crucifixions or not. Many people look angelic and peaceful after the worst possible experiences. The difference is not the experience but God healing them through the Gospel and showing them His Hand in their suffering.

 

Basic to un-thankfulness is doubting the goodness of God. We can imagine the widow sobbing and thinking how cruel life must be, to deprive her of her husband then her young son, leaving her absolutely bereft and poor. Little did she know that she would soon her the gentle voice of the Master calling her son back to life and restoring her joy.

 

In Mark Twain’s work, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn let everyone think they are dead. The drama is drawn out and built up until they watch their own funeral in secret. The hoax is discovered at the end, and everyone sings the Doxology, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” The boys get scolded all around, and everyone confesses the terrible grief they felt for no cause, but they admit, “It was worth it to hear the Doxology sung so well.”

 

Our lives are full of moments like that of the widow. We are grieving at a loss, then the loss is reversed. And we experience a joy beyond measure. Our challenge as believers is to see each moment as a God-given blessing with a God-given purpose, even if we cannot see it at the moment.

 

2 Corinthians 4:10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body 11 For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.

 

All those who trust in Christ as their Savior are the living, not just alive, but living in Christ, passing from this life into eternal life. For this we are thankful to God, for He has done everything for us through Christ our Lord, giving us life in forgiveness from sin, pouring out blessings upon us, and uniting us with all those who believe in Him.