20 October 2013

For You He Strives and Wrestles

When the Son of Man comes, He will find faith on earth.  For those whom He has chosen, He has also called to Himself by the preaching of the Gospel.  And those whom He has called, He justifies by grace through faith in His forgiveness of sins; and that, not of yourself, it is the gift of God.

In calling you to this faith, He teaches you to pray, not in doubt or desperation, but in confidence.  Therefore, do not grow weary or lose heart; for the Lord your God is faithful.  He hears your cry, and He will answer your prayer.  He will vindicate you in due season, and give you His justice.

You do not have to wear Him down or twist His arm to help you.  Nor could you ever do so!  You could not prevail over the Lord, except that He persists in patience and prevails over you.

Nor does He give you the justice that you deserve, which would be death and damnation.  But He justifies you with the Righteousness of Christ, and so delivers you from your adversary, the devil.

In the case of Jacob, who has been a deceiver like the devil (when he lied to his father, Isaac, and stole his brother Esau’s blessing), the Lord now humbles him and teaches him to pray: To cling to the Lord Himself, to call upon His Name, and to seek the blessing of His Word and promise.

And in this same Jacob, the Lord points to the Christ who will come from his loins, that is, to the promised Seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — the Incarnate Lord, who is both God and Man — who will strive and wrestle on behalf of all men, and will prevail by faith in His God and Father.

His hip, and all of His bones, will be put out of joint in His Crucifixion, when the hands of sinful men will cruelly nail His hands and feet to the hard wood of the Cross; whereby, no one takes His life from Him, but He lays it down willingly, and He entrusts Himself entirely to God, and offers up Himself for you and for all the nations, even to the ends of the earth.

Not that it is easy for Him.  Not at all.  But in the agony of His Passion — from the Upper Room to the Garden, to the Sanhedrin and the Praetorium, and finally from Gabbatha to Golgotha — He prays in steadfast faith, with loud crying and tears, to the One who is able to save Him out of death.  And He is heard because of His piety.

So surely has God the Father vindicated His beloved Son, and has raised this same Jesus from the dead, in order to justify you and all the world, and so to draw you to Himself in perfect peace.

Even now, as He has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, this Lord Jesus Christ ever lives to make intercession for you at the Right Hand of the Father in heaven.  Think of that:  The Son of God is always praying for you!  Not only that, but He is your Prayer — in His own Person, in His own flesh and blood — as He is your merciful and great High Priest forevermore.

Therefore, the Son of Man “finds faith on earth,” first of all by establishing it in Himself, in His own human flesh, by His perfect obedience, even unto death; so that His own faith and faithfulness as the Son of God, your Savior — His prayer and His sacrifice, His Cross and Resurrection — all of these avail for you: In heaven, yes, before His God and Father, but also here on earth through His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins.

In this faith of His, and by this preaching, He teaches you to pray: What to pray, and How to pray, and also, That you should so pray, at all times and in all place, in the confidence and certainty of His own crucified and risen flesh.  Indeed, His Resurrection is already God’s “Amen!” to your prayer.

He teaches you to pray, therefore, by His Word of the Cross, and by your bearing of His Cross after Him, as a Christian disciple; so that you are crucified, dead, and buried to yourself, and so that you learn to look to Him, instead of yourself, and to cling to Him, and to call upon His holy Name.

He puts your hip out of joint, as it were.  He knocks all your props out from under you, and He deprives you of all other help and comfort, in order that you would rely on Him alone, and fear, love, and trust in Him above everything else.  Because, in truth, there is no other god to save you.

That is why the poor widow keeps coming to that unrighteous judge and asking him to give her justice, to vindicate her, and to protect her and deliver her from her opponent.  It’s certainly not because that guy is such a gem!  Hardly!  But simply because of her great need, and because she has no other help and nowhere else to turn.  She really has no choice but to keep bothering him.

Even in this day and age, to go from being a wife to being a widow is difficult and disorienting.  Whatever your husband used to do and take care of for you, now you’re either going to do without, or do it yourself.  You learn how to manage, in order to survive.  But it isn’t easy, and it isn’t fun.  The fact remains that you have lost your head, and there is no other man on earth to take his place.

Practically speaking, in first century Palestine, a widow was in a precarious situation, especially if she had no father, brother, or son to advocate for her, to represent her interests and defend her.  Evidently, that’s the case for this poor widow in the Parable that Jesus tells you here: She has no other man to help her, except this unrighteous judge, who has no reverence for God nor any respect for people.  He does not want to help her.  And she probably doesn’t want to keep coming to him and asking for his help.  You can imagine how that makes her feel!  But she has no other choice.

And the whole point is, that, neither do you!  Not really.  What you do have is an adversary who is always accusing you, both day and night; actively assaulting your conscience; allowing you to have no rest, within or without; but doggedly attacking you, and constantly threatening to rob you of everything you have, to deprive you of your health and strength, and of your very life itself.

And there is only One Judge who has the authority to acquit you, who is able to preserve your life, and who can set you free, forevermore, from sin and death and every evil of body and soul.  He is, to be sure, not unrighteous, inhumane, or ungodly.  By no means!  But the bottom line remains, in any event, that there is no one else who can save you from your dire straits and vindicate you against your adversary.  Which is why His elect cry out to Him day and night; even as Christ and His Spirit are always interceding for you, and crying to the Father on your behalf.  It is necessary.

But consider how easy it is for you to forget all that, to let go of God altogether, to be slack in your worship and prayers, and to put your trust and confidence in all kinds of others things: To pursue other possibilities; to fear and love other gods; and to hope in yourself and your own ingenuity.

Left to your own devices, you do not wrestle like Jacob; nor do you persist like that poor widow.

Yet, the good news is, that you are not left to yourself.  No, the Lord’s elect cry out to Him both day and night — not because they have mustered the energy and wherewithal, the nerve, and the faith to raise themselves up by their own devices — but precisely because the Lord has chosen them in mercy, and has chased them down and found them for Himself.  He has called them, by His Word, to repent and believe the Gospel, and He has put His own Word and Spirit in them by that same Gospel; that they might cling to Him and call on Him in hope, and be saved by Him.

So has He done for you.  Before you ever knew Him, or thought to call on Him, He has known you and loved you.  He has called you by name — and has revealed and given His own Name to you.

He has also laid the Cross upon you.  Not to crush you and destroy you forever, but to break you of your idolatry, and to teach you to know Him rightly, the true and only God, who has Himself been crucified for your transgressions, and has been raised again for your justification.

Christ gathers you up in Himself, in His crucified and risen Body, in His flesh and blood (which are given and poured out for you), in order to bear you to the Father as a beloved son or daughter.

It is this relationship of Father and child, of faith and love, of blessed peace and Sabbath rest in the household and family of God, that He is always aiming at in all of His dealings with you.

When He lays the Cross upon you — when He exposes your sin and accuses you with His Law; and when He allows and uses even the devil to assault you (though Satan seeks only to harm you) — the Lord is actually at work to bring you back to life, to drive you from your sin and death, and to bring you safely to Himself, that is, to your own dear God and Father in Christ Jesus.

The Cross removes all self-reliance and self-sufficiency, and leaves you with no other recourse, no other help or hope, but to call on the Name of the Lord, and to prevail upon His promises; so that, according to His Word, you refuse to let go of Him, because you dare not, lest you perish!

Even though it seems for awhile that He Himself is your Adversary and Opponent — and the fact of that matter is, that, for a time, He is! — nevertheless, you are made bold by your great need, to demand of Him the blessing that He has sworn to you by His own Name (in your Holy Baptism):

For He has given you His oath, that He will be with you always; that He will never abandon you.

Therefore, instead of becoming discouraged or giving up, you persist in coming back, and calling on the Lord your God both day and night; because He is your God, your Savior, who declares you to be righteous for the sake of His beloved Son, and who will thus raise even you from the dead.

His own Word of the Law does put you to death: to your family and friends, and even to yourself.  Thus are you an orphan and a widow of that old man, Adam, who is mortal and subject to death because of his sin (his unbelief).  But that is not the end of the story.  That is only the beginning.

For, now, this New and Perfect Man, Christ Jesus, the Second Adam, has come down from heaven to earth, and has become your Advocate and Defender, your Defense Attorney, who pleads for you with His own Body and Life.  He will not be denied, and you will not be thrown out or cast off.

As you pray in His Name, by faith, you are in Him; for you are baptized into Him, into both His Cross and His Resurrection.  In Him you have a new Husband and Head.  Which means that you are no longer widowed and bereft of any man to help you.  Nor are you orphaned and left alone; because God Himself has become your true Father in Christ Jesus, and you are truly His own child.

It is “in His Name” that you pray; and for Jesus’ sake you are heard, and your prayer is answered.

This Righteous Judge to whom you make your appeal is not deaf to your plea.  He does not despise you, and He will not cast you away from His presence.  He actually desires to help you.  It is His good and gracious will to save you, in body and soul, for the life everlasting.

The very fact that you come to Him and call on Him is indicative of His grace and mercy toward you.  For He has called you by His Word and Spirit through the Gospel, enlightened you with His good gifts, and sanctified you in the waters of your Baptism.  And He still keeps you in that faith.

It is a trustworthy saying: His Kingdom comes, and so does He, even without your prayer.  But He has taught you to pray in this way — at all times, and not to lose heart — as He Himself always prays for you — that He and His Kingdom should come to you also; and that you should thereby live with Him in His Kingdom, in His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, forever and ever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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