“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?” (Gal. 3:1)
When the King of Syria (Aram) wanted to capture Elisha, God’s prophet in Israel, he sent enough Syrian soldiers to surround the town of Dothan, where they found the prophet. But Elisha prayed that the Lord would strike them with blindness, and when that happened, Elisha was able to lead the entire army into the Israelites’ capital city, Samaria. When their eyes were opened again, the soldiers might well have felt a little foolish for having walked into a trap, and their foolishness might even have cost them their lives. But Elisha interceded for them, and they were treated well, fed, and sent away, perhaps to tell their king and their countrymen that they had been “bewitched” and blinded. They had not recognized their prey when he was right in front of them, and had come back empty-handed, but lucky to have hands at all!
Time and again through history people have been on the brink of disaster. The foolish Galatian Christians were on the same brink. “Who has bewitched you?” Paul asked them. “Jesus Christ crucified was crucified before your very eyes.” Yet they were trying to improve their standing with God by their observances: special ceremonies, special days, special months, special years. It was foolish for those who had seen Jesus crucified for their sins, and not for theirs only, but for the sins of the whole world. It was foolish, but not funny. They were being led into the enemy’s stronghold. Depending on one’s own works leads a) to Pharisaic pride which fails to look upon the wayward heart within, or b) to despair upon seeing the truth.
On The Brink
Some four hundred eighty years ago Martin Luther was struggling with the same danger. He had tried to stand before God with his outward observances, but knew the truth: that his heart was nowhere as happy with God as his ceremonies suggested. He was on the brink of destruction, despairing of any help to save him from the God who knew his heart.
Then it happened. God’s Word held Christ before his eyes, crucified for all sins, rising to declare him innocent by reason of forgiveness, at peace with God. When the Spirit’s Word persuaded him to believe this, it was as though heaven was opened up before him. By faith he saw that he was Abraham’s child in Christ, an heir of heaven, God’s own. His ceremonies and observances, his prayers and vigils could not bring him any closer to his heavenly Father’s arms, for he was in them already, trusting the Good News! “The just shall live by faith.”
Now, Luther was not only a monk and a priest, but also a teacher and Doctor of Theology who was called to teach the glorious truths of God’s Word of grace. But when he began applying the Good News to some of the rituals and rules which had been erected in the name of Christ, he was in some hot water. He was finally brought before the emperor and rulers of the empire. That was 477 years ago next April. It appeared that his life was on the line when he was asked to take back his writings and the teachings that they contained.
But having begun with the Spirit, Luther refused to go back again to relying on his Christian works for peace with God. He continued to proclaim that God’s completed work in Christ on the cross was what reconciled the world to God, rather than God’s work in us, which will not be finished until the resurrection.
What a difference this makes! It brings a new joy, for example, at Christmas to see God’s work–outside of us, in the manger–bringing God’s peace to earth, and His good will to men. Likewise on the cross Christ died for us, whether we feel it or not. Here is something objective to believe, not dependent upon our feelings within.
But the Word which declares this truth does work within us, persuading us to believe that God has also reconciled us to Himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Thus we receive God’s gift and thus we sing:
Let me never, Lord, forsake Thee, E’en tho’ bitter pain and strife On my way shall overtake me; But may I thro’ all my life Walk in fervent love to Thee, In all woes for comfort flee To Thy birth, Thy death, and passion Till I see Thy full salvation. Amen. (TLH 401:2)