by Matthew C. Harrison
“A Christian has already been thrust into death by the very fact that he became a Christian. Wherever he may be, he occupies himself with this hourly. He expects death any moment so long as he sojourns here, because the devil, world, and his own flesh give him no rest. However, he enjoys the advantage of already being out of the grave with this right leg. Moreover, he has a might helper who holds out his hand to him, namely, His Lord Christ; He has left the grave entirely a long time ago, and now He takes the Christian by the hand and pulls him more than halfway out of the grave; only the left foot remains in it! For his sin is already remitted and expunged, God’s wrath and hell are extinguished, and he already lives fully in and with Christ with regard to his best part, which is the soul, as he partakes of eternal life. Therefore death can no longer hold him or harm him. Only the remnant, the old skin, flesh and blood, must still decay before it, too, can be renewed and follow the soul. As for the rest, we have already penetrated all the way into life, since Christ and my soul are no longer in death” (Luther’s Works, vol. 28, page 133).
Luther spoke so wonderfully about Christ’s death and resurrection. The hard part is over, says Luther. Our resurrection from the dead will follow quickly and easily at the last trumpet. That is amazingly comforting.
I need comfort. So do you. It often seems the challenges upon us are beyond our capacity to cope. Last week we received communication from a man who leads a church body of 40 congregations, with a 10-year plan to plant 360 more. His church is working in a remote land — a place I’ve never been to, nor do I know anyone who has. This bishop informed us that a number of years ago a Peace Corps volunteer gave him a copy of Luther’s Small Catechism. The church does not have “Lutheran” in its name, but I found its webpage. From the authority of Scripture, to justification by grace through faith, to baptismal regeneration, to Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament, to the office of the ministry, to a rejection of unbiblical ideas about the millennium, they are absolutely Lutheran. It’s amazing what one catechism can do! They want to affiliate with the LCMS and need help figuring out how to train their pastors.
Meanwhile, another communication from a church body in Africa of some four million has requested formal fellowship talks as well as missionaries to assist them. We currently have a record of 20 such church bodies (some enormous, others small) requesting formal talks. And because the officials of the Lutheran World Federation continue to try to convince Lutherans that the Bible is not clear on homosexuality, Lutherans in the global South and East are reaching out to us daily. Simply put, they want to associate with Lutherans who believe the Bible and Luther’s Catechism. We wish no one ill, but this is just a fact.
Our strength is not sufficient for the task. Our domestic situation alone is daunting beyond belief. We don’t have the capacity, the finances, the mercy funding, the missionaries. And yet, doors keep opening. We do what we can when we can. And blessings rain down upon us, despite ourselves. Yet what Luther says is true. We have only the left foot remaining in the grave. Christ has done the heavy lifting, and He still does it. What joy is ours as resurrection people to participate is Christ’s own great mission of seeking, finding and saving the lost!
Dear Jesus, give us strength for today and uphold us tomorrow. We are yours. Thy will, not ours, be done. Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison is president of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.