Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague

Gospel & Gratitude

Here is a must read gem from Martin Luther’s life and ministry. This entire post is taken from T.F. Lull’s book Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings.

Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague (1527)

On August 2, 1527 a case of the plague was discovered in Wittenberg. The university was closed and the students sent home, but Luther remained in the city and was busy with the pastoral and practical care of the sick. He was urged by correspondents from various places to give advice on what a Christian’s responsibility is at such a time. In November Luther finally got around to responding to a pastor in Breslau in what was published as an open letter to all.

Luther fought against the notion that faith would protect one against the plague, and he urged those who could rightly do so to leave. But some must stay, including doctors, pastors, public…

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Running from Death

Christ came for those chained to the “fear of death” (Heb 2:15). We all lie under this death sentence. Death produces fear and this fear becomes lifelong bondage (Heb 2:14-15). Richard Beck wrote a book on this very topic, he argues that our fear of death drives us to fierce avoidance of our mortality. He states,

“Every American is thus ingrained with the duty to look well, to seem fine, to exclude from the fabric of his or her normal life any evidence of decay and death and helplessness. The ethic I have outlined here is often called the ethic of success. I prefer to call it the ethic of avoidance. . . . Persons are considered a success not because they attain some remarkable goal, but because their lives do not betray marks of failure or depression, helplessness or sickness. When they are asked how they are, they really can say and really do say, “Fine . . . fine.”

In spite of this avoidance and believing that “our deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation” (Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death) we cannot escape it. Death is personified in Scripture as a ferocious monster that consumes everyone and everything in front of it (1 Cor 15:26, Rom 7:24, 8:1, Rev 6:7-8). 

Death must be looked in the face. Wisdom requires it (Ps 90:12). Without this, we run the risking of not taking our mortality to heart (Eccl 7:2). Just as sin drives us to the cross for forgiveness, death pushes to the empty tomb for hope and assurance. The gospel is the only good news in the face of death.

Jesus buried, this is one of the most critical yet overlooked facets of the gospel (1 Cor 15:1-4). The sting of death was full absorbed by Christ. He lay lifeless in a tomb for three days. Yet, as he lay there he was unraveling death itself. He came that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death” (Heb 2:14). Death was his instrument of undoing our sin, undoing the evil one and destroying death itself. The third day was the death knell of death itself.

Running from death will not help us. We must face it and run toward the gospel. The buried Lord and the resurrected King tell us that all will be okay, we do not need to be controlled by the fear of death.

Dear Fellow Struggling Parent

I cannot think of one time in the last 16 years of parenting where I have thought: “Oh man I am absolutely crushing this parenting thing.” If anything, parenting has been a constant exposure of my shortcomings, failures and inability to be who I want to be as a Dad. If parenting is an anvil and children are hammers, then I’m getting absolutely pounded.

Parenting has been a constant mirror. It has shown me the stubborn patterns, attitudes and thoughts in my soul. The things that I cannot rid myself of…the things that make me see that I need strength, wisdom, patience and help that can only come from outside of me. Parenting makes me desperate for Christ.

I have always loved the bizarre story of Enoch in Genesis 5. He’s that weird dude who never died for some crazy reason. He was known for walking with God. But the catalyst for his walk with God is rarely highlighted. In Genesis 5:21, we read that Enoch was 65 years old when he had his first son Methuselah and “then he walked with God.” The “then” is the money word—kids came along and Enoch stretched out for God. I connect with that.

Parenting is hard. How are you doing with it? I know, success is not what chases us down and tackles us in our parenting journeys. If there is one thing that chases us, rather haunts us—at least if you are anything like me— it’s guilt. Guilt for what I have failed to do, guilt for what I have done. Guilt for not being enough, not giving enough, not doing enough. Nagging guilt, it chases me.

It’s guilt that teams up with fear in my soul, the fear of failing as a Dad. That’s a biggy for me—a cardinal fear. I don’t want to fail my kids, my wife, my family. But guilt tells me, “man, that ship has already sailed.” This nagging guilt and paralyzing fear can lead me to a downward spiral (which it does plenty of the time) or it can fuel my desperation for Christ (which I pray it will do more of the time).

Gospel means “good news.” Parenting has plenty of bad news, good news is very welcome in this arena. Into this constant exposure, guilt, fear, sense of failure and shame comes news that is so good.

The good news is this: God’s posture toward us is not based on what we have done or have failed to do—it’s not contingent in any way on our performance. He does not assess me on the basis of how good I am as a husband, father or human being. He deals with me and you much differently.

I call Psalm 103 the Parent’s Psalm—this is good news. Take a look.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:8-14)

The character of God is constant, his posture unchanging. He is filled with compassion which equates to understanding and the willingness to suffer with us. He is marked by grace, which means he gives us what we don’t deserve. He is always patient, which means he is slow to be frustrated and slow to get angry. He is marked by love, which means he looks at us with fondness and great care.

This is how he engages tired, guilt-ridden, fearful parents—this is how he treats me. He doesn’t give me what I deserve. He gives me the opposite. He forgives me and forgets my failure. If there is one thing parents need, it’s endless access to a clean slate. I need the strength, energy and perseverance to get up again and again and again after I have screwed it up. This is what a clean slate from God does—it enables me to know forgiveness and to go again.

God knows my frame, he knows I’m made of dust—he doesn’t look down on me for my frailty, instead he has compassion on me. This is comforting my fellow struggler. God is not frustrated at you, he is understanding. Never do we see this more clearly than in Jesus Christ. Look at how he treats struggling people.

How does he treat the head-hanging parent?  He comes to us with grace, compassion, love and patience. He weeps with us in our sorrow. He grieves with us in our pain. He bleeds for us in our sin. The cross and empty tomb mean a clean slate for us. The gospel means good news for struggling parents. Jesus is the hope of the parent. He is my hope and yours.

God’s Thoughts Toward You

“How precious are your thoughts about me,O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!” (Psalm 139:17-18)

The thought of God’s intricate involvement in the Psalmist’s day to day leads to worship—he is overwhelmed by God’s thoughts toward him. They are too great, too many! They are like sand on the seashore. Sit in this for a minute—God’s thoughts toward us are beyond number.

This summer our family went to California for vacation. We spent one week on the beach in San Diego. The beach went for miles, it was gorgeous and overwhelming—my friends God’s thoughts toward you are beyond every piece of sand on this beach, on every beach, every desert.

We camped on the beach on this vacation and there was sand every where you looked. Open the tent and there was piles of sand on the floor, it was in the sleeping bag…it was everywhere. Everyone around us was in RV’s and we were roughing it in our tents. Every morning we would wake up with sand in our hair, on our bodies—there was no escaping it. For weeks we found sand in our ears, in our bags, car, clothing.

I think this is exactly what we need when it comes to God’s thoughts toward us—we need to camp out on his beach. We need to build sand castles on his beach—let his kindness get stuck between our toes, let his mercy get lodged in our clothes, let his compassion and love cling to our hair. We need to go for long walks on this beach, his thoughts toward us change us, they lead to assurance, comfort, worship and gratitude. How precious are your thoughts toward us O God!

He’s Coming Back

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is one of the key passages in the New Testament that speaks to the second coming of Christ. Check out what it says:

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

The return of the Lord is certain: the text says he will return and no one on the planet will miss it: He will descend with a cry of command, the voice of an archangel and a trumpet—it’s gonna be loud and unmistakable. This is happening. His return means four things in the text.

 The Return Means Hope in Loss

The church in Thessalonica had experienced a series of losses and deaths—they missed their loved ones, fellow believers and were grieved. Paul, being the pastor he is, speaks into their pain and loss with tremendous hope. He points them to the return of Jesus. He believes that right information will inform their grief…it won’t take it away, but it will change how they grieve. Grief without hope…is grief without Jesus, it’s grief without his promised return and promise of resurrection. This is true for all grief, loss, and pain—grief may always be present with us, but hope is never absent as long as the King is coming back. The second coming is stubborn hope, one that changes the game.

The Return Means Resurrection

Paul uses the terminology asleep 3x in the passage—he is driving home the Christian reality that death is truly not the end. His logic is this: Jesus rose from the dead, his people will also rise from the dead—Jesus conquered death, so will his followers. The NT calls Jesus the “firstfruits” of the resurrection ensuring a harvest will follow. Believers who have already died are in the presence of Christ—Paul tells us they will accompany Jesus when he returns and that they will be the first to receive their resurrected bodies. The dead in Christ will rise first. Following this, those who are alive will be caught up with the Lord and be changed—they will receive their new bodies.

The Return Will be a Reunion

Notice that one of Paul’s main concerns in this passage is how believer’s are thinking about their loved one’s who have passed on before them. He wants them to know first off that those who trusted Jesus are with Jesus. He wants them to know that when Jesus comes back, he is bringing them with him. He wants them to know that when we are caught up in the air with Jesus, we will be caught up with them. The return of Jesus is the great reunion—when we will all be together. We were made for community—we will not lose that at the return of Christ, it will only get better.

The Return is Fuel for Encouragement

Finally, note Paul’s final statement—“encourage one another with these words.” These words are power-packed, these are words to put in each other’s ears, to remind one another of regularly.  My friends, this hope is certain and concrete. His return is something we can rest our hope fully upon. This reality, is fuel for the journey. This provides profound encouragement if we sit with it and live upon it.

 

The Return of the King

In the early 1900’s, an ad was run in the paper that stated: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

Ernest Shackleton, British explorer was forming a team to attempt a sea to sea crossing of Antartica. The ship they sailed was called the Endurance. Not long into their journey, the ship was entrapped in ice and had to be abandoned.The crew camped on the frozen ice until it melted and then launched lifeboats to Elephant Island (720 miles away from their capsized boat).

Once they reached Elephant Island—Shackleton left 22 of his men, with only two boats upturned to create shelter, only penguins and seals to eat and a dark oppressive winter to face. He left them a promise: “I will come back for you.” Shackleton led 5 other crew members in a tiny 22 foot boat and launched out on a 750 mile journey for help. Miraculously the crew made the trip, upon arrival Shackleton immediately set plans to return.

 

Four months later after three failed attempts, the 22 men were huddled around a fire eating their daily portion of seal, one looked up and in the distance…he saw it, the ship named Yelcho. The day one survivor would call in his journal, the “day of wonders.” Abandoning their meal the men rushed toward the shore filling the air with cheers. As the ship grew closer, the men could make out a figure in the distance—Shackleton.

Shackleton recalls: “I hurried the party aboard with all possible speed,” he writes, “taking also the records of the Expedition and essential portions of equipment. Everybody was aboard the Yelcho within an hour, and we steamed north at the little steamer’s best speed…not a life lost, and we have been through hell.”

Jesus made some precious precious promises, among the most wonderful are the words that come from his mouth assuring us he will not forget about us here, he will come to us. Listen to these three:

  • “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.” (John 14:18)
  • “I will come back and take you with me.” (John 14:3)
  • “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)

We are a waiting people, living on the promise of Christ, “I am coming for you.” Hold fast, hold tight…I am absolutely going to return. Waiting forms our identity, it is that which we are called to do and its how we survive…listen to this text.

“For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10)

In 1 Peter 1:13, we are called to place all our eggs in one basket: “set your hope fully on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:13).

This is one place where you can actually do that—hope in people, hope in money, hope in health, hope in a career, hope in our abilities—all of these will ultimately come up empty. But hope in Christ, in his return and his promises—oh friends this is a hope that will truly deliver and will not disappoint.

 

Love serves our neighbor, sin uses them

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” -Matthew 7:12

This text contains an imperative regarding how we are to view and treat all other people. It is a command not limited to our family members or to our immediate neighbors or to our coworkers, but to all people. It is a command so important that the entirety of the law and prophets are summed up in this one imperative.

It is an imperative that demands the hard work of placing ourselves in the shoes of others and acting for their good.  It requires us to imagine ourselves in other peoples situations and from that position to think through how we would desire people to be toward us and what we would desire people to do on our behalf. Once this has been done we are to do the very thing we believe we would desire be done to us.

This is a command and expectation of the believer that requires energy and intentionality. It is a call to kill the apathy that so often characterizes our interaction with our fellow man. It is a call to live outside of ourselves for the sake of our neighbor. It is a command to other-centeredness.

The fact that in this command is the law and the prophets helps us understand that sin does the very opposite. Sin manifests itself on a horizontal level in the singular devotion to the self and the utter lack of concern for others. Often an apparent concern for another is in actuality the pursuit of benefit received by another for the self. Sin does not serve other people it uses them as a means to another end. All sin of a horizontal nature can be understood within this light.

For example, stealing is taking advantage of another person by taking their goods with no concern for the owner. Adultery is of a similar nature. Stealing a person and enslaving them, hurting a person or murdering them; these are direct assaults on another person. This is a direct disregard for the person. This type of offense manifests a gross elevation of the self over the very life of another human being.

Jesus was the revelation of God as He is and the revelation of man as he was intended to be. In the person of Jesus we thus see a God who empties himself for the sake of serving his neighbor and a man who perfectly obeys the golden rule. The cross is the greatest manifestation of self-abasing service for the good of one’s neighbor. God does not command what He himself does not do. By the aid of the Spirit and in obedience to this command we seek to imitate the love of Jesus for all people.

What then will obedience to this imperative look like at different times and in different circumstances with the people in our lives. What will it look like to love…

  • Parents…
  • Spouse…
  • Children…
  • Friends….
  • Co-workers…
  • Church body…
  • Homeless…
  • Slaves…
  • Poor…
  • Prisoners…
  • Widows…
  • Orphans…
  • Elderly…