MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
Glendale, Arizona 85304-2419
1 Corinthians 10:6 Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. 7 Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. 8 Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. 9 Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. 10 Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. 11 Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. 12 Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. 13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
In this lesson we are warned to learn from the example of those who have been destroyed by their own folly. But we are also encouraged by the promises of God to help us with temptation.
We no longer have to look up historic references to Corinth to show people how sinful one city can become. We only need to look around, wherever we are, from the metropolitan areas to the rural counties. America has become Corinth and we are all paying a terrible price for it. For instance, a husband and wife in Phoenix made the national news by developing their own adult website, featuring themselves. They were shocked when the hospital fired them from their jobs as nurses. The ACLU is looking into their rights, even though they signed a contract with a morals clause in it.
America is following the Roman Empire and many others in its decline. Juvenal, a Roman poet, wrote about women parading around in armor, pretending to be soldiers. We have a general social decline accompanied by vast wealth. Unfortunately, wealth allows vice to multiply rapidly.
Therefore, we have to be careful that we do not get drawn into the decline of society, in the name of freedom and forgiveness, and learn too late the penalties attached to that decline. In addition, we should not despair that so many seem to get away with everything. God’s Law is natural law. He commands what is good for us. Therefore, if we continue to violate His law, the consequences will follow. Luther explained the problem of temptation as follows, paraphrased. Satan deceives people to sin, as if there will never be bad consequences. They go along blindly and often enjoy a great measure of happiness, especially in scorning those who feel inhibited by such concepts as right and wrong. However, at the end Satan tears away the mask and shows people what they have become. Then they despair of all forgiveness and make themselves even more fodder for the devil.
Imagine how pitiful is the condition of the great apostates of today – those religious leaders who do not believe in salvation through Christ alone. Are they poor? Are they losing members? Are they scorned by the media? No, just the opposite is true. The worse they become, the more successful they are in every respect but one. Their hearts are hardened against God’s Word. One man wrote about going in to see a televangelist about the corruption of his ministries. The minister responded by ordering his financial secretary to write out a large check, a bribe to silence the man. How much money will God need to be silent on the Day of Judgment? “Lord, Lord, did we not perform great miracles in Your Name?”
Temptation comes in other forms for believers. Then Satan makes us think that others have much better conditions. He encourages us to doubt the goodness of God. Some believers question whether they can be forgiven and fall into despair when they realize how weak their flesh is. However, when we fall into temptation, we should be reminded of how we cannot rely on our own strength to save ourselves.
Since we live in an era with great wealth and peace, we do not despair about the age-old problems of hunger, security, and housing. Nevertheless, there are many ways to be tempted.
Those who suffer from long-term illness are tempted to despair. Many opportunities are closed off to them. I have known several people who are always treated as if they are retarded, just because they have limited physical abilities. The equation does not make sense, unless we believe a professional wrestler is a genius.
Long term illnesses are almost always accompanied by great discomfort and pain, plus many forms of humiliation. Greater expenses are matched by lower income. We worship the active, athletic life, and not one of thought, so it is easy for many people to feel useless because they are not athletes in residence.
But God’s purpose should not be questioned. We should not think He neglects us but rather see how He gives us blessings in the form of problems. One mother was despairing because her son had special learning problems. Her husband made $400 an hour in sales, so they were not limited by financial concerns. I said, “That’s a minor problem. He just needs some special training and lots of love.” She said, with some disgust, “You make it sound so easy.” I thought to myself, “Compared to what I have seen in many hospitals and nursing homes, yes it is.”
When people have little, they often value the smallest things. One of our friends had severe lupus, retardation, physical problems, and a father who died fairly young. Her relatives did not treat her very well. On one icy Minnesota day, I stopped at Hardy’s and got her a bag of French fries. The weather was too evil for her to walk there. She munched on those fries as if they were the best gourmet food in the world.
When someone has almost nothing, God’s Word is the only treasure. I think we could find more believers among the chronically ill than among the chronically rich. Knowing that their lives are shortened and many things beyond their reach or imagination, they take great comfort in the promises of God. A poor weak person is usually far more patient than a rich, strong person. It is well known that the Mafia don, John Gotti, beat the daylights out of a truckdriver for talking back to him. Then, at the assault trial, he scared the trucker into denying the beating. What makes the chronically ill more patient is not their greater virtue, but the leaven of the Gospel working in them, making them more forgiving, more willing to endure.
Despair does not always come from great difficulties. It also comes from the normal challenges of daily life. For instance, as Luther wrote, it is easy to become despondent over the state of the church and the disappointing behavior of pastors. I counted up four pastors I have tried to help with publishing. All four have been especially spiteful and destructive. Those who want to be faithful Lutherans find themselves in one congregation after another, prompting their relatives to mock them for never being happy. I was told several times that WELS district presidents had gone through one doctrinal crisis with the break with the Missouri Synod. For that reason, they refused to engage in another doctrinal battle, as if God gives us a quota of one in our lifetimes. Even deer licenses are more lenient than that.
Despair can also come from fulfilling responsibility and never seeing any great results, often reverses. Mothers must do the same jobs every day and never feel rested or caught up. Gratitude is not a quality found in great abundance in children. Surrounded by love and concern, children take it for granted. Who can measure the great impact a loving mother has on her children, especially when the time spent (for an at-home mother) is so rarely in evidence today?
God’s blessings are being realized when we tempted to despair. At one time I thought my whole life consisted of walking through hospital halls, waiting for test results, listening to social workers insult my intelligence, watching helplessly as the weakness grew in our children. Every cure made things worse. Later, I realized those were times of the greatest possible happiness and fulfilling as well. It is a blessing to be able to care for someone and to receive so much love in response. Black Christians consider it a great honor to be able to care for someone. It is in giving without receiving back that we approach God’s love for us, but God gives us many rewards in the act of giving time and concern.
God promises us a way of escape, an answer for the problems of the moment. In that way, time after time, we see how God works to solve our greatest difficulties. When we see a teenager blow his stack over a minor frustration, we can say, “Oh yes, I often feel the same way.” When we think about how silly it is at the moment, we can think, “I have been as silly if not worse.”
Every Lutheran should know the great work of Bunyan called Pilgrim’s Progress, because many Biblical lessons are taught in the allegory. I often recall the scene in which Christian is lying in a jailcell in the Castle of Despair. The giant who captured him is loudly discussing with his wife how he will kill Christian in the morning. Finally Christian realizes that he has had the keys to unlock the jail cell all along. They were in his pocket. They are: the promises of God.
The Gospel defeats despair because it is nothing more than the promises of God. Do we have worries? God will provide. Are we afraid? God will take care of us. Does our suffering seem meaningless? God will show us the meaning in time.
When I think about difficult people I have known, and they come in a marvelous assortment, I believe they have one thing in common – no concept of forgiveness. It is not so much that they must be forgiving toward others. They seem never to have grasped forgiveness of their own sins, how they can receive it and rejoice in it. Forgiveness comes to us through that contrition which is worked in us by God’s Law. We see ourselves as we truly are when we look into the mirror of the Law. It is not that contrition makes us worthy to be forgiven.
Forgiveness of sin is not based upon how sorry we are or how sorry we say we are. Forgiveness comes from the Gospel alone, received in faith. But as long as our hearts are hardened in pride, as if we need no forgiveness, the Gospel does not mean anything to us.
But when we properly despair of ourselves and ask for mercy from God, we realize how great His love is toward us, how devoid of resting that love upon our worthiness.
Those who know how great this forgiveness is, through the blood of Christ on the cross, also find it easy to forgive others as well. They are also likely to assure others, “Just as God helped me out of my troubles, so He will help you in your crisis.” God is faithful. He will fulfill His promises. His Gospel promises defeat despair, fear, and anxiety.