ENDURE TO THE END
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CHRIST fulfilled every promise God made to save sinful man. He came, preached good news, liberated the captives from sin by His blood and still consoles the broken hearted with His mercy. After He accomplished all that was needed to redeem us He commanded that the Gospel be preached to the ends of the earth so that men everywhere might believe and be saved.
But has the world changed since His coming? Do we hate what is evil and cling to what is good? Are husbands and wives more affectionate since our Lord first manifested His glory at a small town wedding twenty centuries ago? Not so that anyone would notice. If anything the world gets worse with the passage of time as Jesus predicted it would (Mt 24:12-24). Wickedness increases, love grows cold, and the kings of the earth rage louder against the Lord and against His Anointed with each passing day. (Psalm 2).
And how about us? Has our sinful flesh been tamed so that we are no longer tempted to live like beasts? Impossible! The Flesh is incorrigible. It only knows how to do evil and the Old Adam loves and worships no one but himself.
Unless we can see with 20/20 vision through the eyes of faith, Paul’s prescription makes no sense at all. There’s nothing to rejoice about; no reason to endure tribulation, every reason to eat, drink, be merry and die, and not a rationale in the world that would lead us to devote ourselves to prayer or bow down in reverence before our God. None the less we have this inspired word: rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, constant in prayer.
The first thing Paul exhorts God’s people is to do is rejoice in hope. Immediately a problem arises because in our language to hope means to wish, but in theology it means something very different. To hope means to wait patiently for the Lord to work His good and gracious will in our lives. So when Paul tells us to rejoice in hope he means that we should find solace and satisfaction, not in the present sinful realities of life which look like they will never end, but rather in the future and certain pledge of God to supply all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).
But there’s more. In the original Greek Paul doesn’t merely say “rejoice in hope,” but “rejoice in the hope.” He employs the definite article and that little word makes a big difference. Why? Because there are many false hopes out there; each one alluring, each one tempting, each one claiming to be the hope that will solve every problem and make all of our dreams come true. Companies market false hopes for money. Politicians spin them out of their dreams for a living. Criticize if you like but none of them would get to first base if we didn’t foolishly demand that mere men give us what only Christ can, namely true hope and a reason to rejoice.
What is the hope that Paul has in mind? Nothing less than the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. That is the Great Expectation that fuels our faith and inspires our hope. Everything has been done for our salvation by Christ; the promises made, the future prepared. All we wait for now is our final deliverance and this one reality fills us with joy.
Next Paul tells us to be patient in tribulation and there are two kinds of trouble that we suffer: First there is the trouble that’s common to all men. According to the Lord’s own word (John 16:33) as long as we live in the world we will have tribulation. Do you wish it were not so? Remember hope is not a strategy, and self-pity is deadly. Life is what it is; troublesome, tiring and frustrating, sometimes from too much wine, sometimes because there’s not enough, but that will never change. We might re-arrange the darkness, but until the Last Trumpet sounds and our Lord brings about the New Age, nothing will fundamentally change.
Still there’s more. Again Paul uses the definite article encouraging us to be patient in the tribulation. Besides the normal travails of life Jesus warns in Mark 13:13 that, “You will be hated by all for my name's sake, but he who endures to the end will be saved.” Sometimes it seems like Jesus is wrong and that the world respects the church. It’s especially true when we do the world’s charitable work for it. People love the church when it’s nothing more than a benign social services agency, but as soon as we open our mouths to confess that Jesus is the only mediator between God and man and all others imposters, then all bets are off.
It's not only our Profession they despise, but our morality as well. The world doesn’t like Christian morality. It’s too confining but also too holy. So holy indeed that without so much as a single word it condemns all who transgress it, and we are the ones who get the blame. So St. Paul encourages us to patiently endure these things. It’s not easy but we get our courage from the Lord Himself who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despised the shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). May we learn to do the same!
Lastly Paul admonishes us to be constant in prayer. We cannot re-create the apostolic church, and would be ill-advised to ignore 2000 years of church history as if it never happened. We cannot turn back the hands of time as Pietistic Christians would like, but we can learn a lot from the church which met immediately after Pentecost and devoted itself to prayer, the Word and the Sacrament. Nothing can counter-act the injuries the devil inflicts upon us better than these things. Medicine can be a blessing, psychology can teach us a few tricks, but nothing can actually cure bleeding souls except prayer, God’s Word, and God’s Sacraments.
Again St. Paul uses the definite article and tells us: be constant in the prayer. For us the prayer is the one we call the Lord’s Prayer. It is the perfect prayer and there is none better. It is given to us by Jesus Himself and we will never cease to pray it until we see God face to face and no longer need it. It includes every important element, covers every possible need and we can be sure that God will answer it in the affirmative every single time.
If we have any problem today it’s not a shortage of prayers to pray, but an over-abundance. The treasury of Christian prayer is more than we could plumb in a lifetime, so we do well to learn the basics, and nothing teaches us better than the prayers we pray each Lord’s Day in the Mass. By years of blessed repetition we do what would otherwise be impossible, remain constant in prayer.
The world still is the same, and we’ll never change it, but with the instruction and power of God’s Word we will always be able to rejoice in hope, endure in tribulation and remain constant in prayer. God grant it. Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras