Blessed Is the Man (Psalm 1)
- Liturgical Date: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 8, 2013
- Order of Service: Prayer & Preaching
- Hymns: LSB #696, 705, 918
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the Torah of the LORD, and on His Torah he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).
In our readings today, we have three men who have walked on both sides of God's Torah. They've seen the great sorrows of being wicked, sinful scoffers. They've seen the blessings of those who delight and meditate on God's Torah. And they know that it is better to receive God's blessings than God's curse. Moses sets out God's Torah. "I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to Him, for He is your life and length of days" (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). It is a black and white choice between the two. Life is good. Death is evil. It's as simple as that. Seek the blessing and you will live in God's favor.
Moses spent forty years in Pharaoh's court. Forty years under the wicked counsel of the Egyptian court. However much he might have indulged himself in his youth, he had a moral sense of right and wrong. He knew he was a Hebrew. When he saw an Egyptian torturing a Hebrew slave, Moses took the law into his own hands. He slew the Egyptian and buried his body in the sand. The next day, he realized his secret was out (Exodus 2:11-15). Forty years he fled as a fugitive of justice. He would no longer take counsel with the Egyptians that it was acceptable to beat the Hebrew slaves. He would not stand by as a life was sinfully taken. He would not sit with those who cheered on such behavior. Moses had a higher calling. A calling where he would have to meditate upon God's Word. After forty years as a shepherd of sheep, God made him a shepherd of His people for yet another forty years. A shepherd fully blessed in the glory of the prophet to come (Deuteronomy 18:15).
St. Paul writes the epistle to Philemon. In his early life, Paul walked in the counsel of the wicked. He stood by as the members of the Sanhedrin stoned Stephen to death (Acts 7:58). He sat and scoffed as Stephen called upon Jesus to receive his pathetic soul. Scoffed all the way to Dasmascus. "Ravaging the Church" (Acts 8:3). "Breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1). Everything you could possibly do in order to NOT be blessed according to the first Psalm, Paul did. Paul saw a problem with Jesus' followers. His sight was taken away so that he might learn to truly see what God taught in the Torah (Acts 9:8). Meditating upon this renewed knowledge, Paul began his new life fully blessed in the resurrected Christ.
Then comes Onesimus. A good-for-nothing runaway slave. Angry at his master Philemon. A thief. Not wanting to be a slave anymore. Wickedly wanting his freedom. But not wanting to earn it. He wasn't happy with his life. Scorned his master's great wealth and generosity.
Like many runaways, Onesimus went off to reinvent himself. From Colosse, Onesimus ended up in Rome. Almost 1000 miles as the crow flies. Was Rome his final destination? Did Onesimus have a final destination? Maybe. Maybe not. But Rome was a place he could lose himself. A city of over a million people. No one would know him. He could easily make a name for himself.
And then he ran into Paul. Imprisoned for the Gospel. Paul shouldn't have been useful in Onesimus' life. But he gave Onesimus the ultimate blessing of his life. Paul preached the Gospel to Onesimus. Onesimus believed. The Gospel allowed Onesimus to make a name for himself. His own name. He became useful to Paul in prison. But Paul would not allow Onesimus to profane the Gospel by continuing his sinful ways. His sins had been forgiven by Jesus, but Onesimus was still living in unrepentant sin. Unrepentant because he had not returned and made things right with Philemon. He had not returned to being Philemon's slave. As Paul had earlier written to the saints in Corinth, (1 Corinthians 7:20-22):
- Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ.
The Gospel changes people's hearts. The Gospel doesn't change the social aspect of people's lives. Whatever social circumstances when they believe the Gospel will be the same. With Gospel-powered love, a slave will serve his master in Chrsitian love. Paul encourages Onesimus to return to Philemon and continue to be his slave. Paul already had a reason to write to the church in Colosse (1:7-8). The congregation who worshipped in Philemon's home (Philemon 2). The congregation who would have known Onesimus. While Paul writes to the congregation about their problems, he writes to Philemon about Onesimus. To receive him back not only as a slave but as a brother in Christ. To forgive him for Christ's sake.
And Philemon accepts Onesimus back. This is evident first by the fact that we still have the epistle to Philemon. That Philemon didn't throw it away or burn it. The epistle was not only published in the congregation, but it was circulated around to other congregations as well. Onesimus was received as a member of the Colossian congregation. After that, he became a pastor and eventually succeeded Timothy as the Bishop of Ephesus. The blessings of meditating on God's Torah continued to manifest themselves in his life.
Onesimus believed the Gospel and was saved. You have believed in the Gospel and have been saved. Your saved life revolves around the meditation of God's Torah in your life. Staying away from the wicked, sinful, scornful way of this age. Letting the seed of faith take root in your heart. Letting God's Word water that seed to grow into the faithful tree planted by the Baptismal stream (v3). Being spiritual watered through meditation, you see Christ's blessings in your life. As they were in Onesimus' life. In Paul's life. In Moses' life. The same Jesus who blessed them blesses you.
The Jesus who says, "Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?" (Luke 14:34) "O God, my faithful God, true fountain ever flowing" (LSB #696.1). The saltiness of faith is only restored by returning to God's ever-flowing fountain. God comes to you and restores the saltiness of your faith by forgiving your sins. Strengthening you to restrain yourselves from your sins. Making you confident to be able to stand before God, knowing that you will be received by grace (LSB #696.5). That you will be a fruitful tree in God's garden. That you will be blessed by God with life.
Choosing life, "that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying His voice and holding fast to Him, for He is your life and length of days" (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). Holding fast to Him, forsaking anything else that interferes with bearing your own cross (Luke 14:26-27), you run the race set before you by Jesus. The same race set before every Christian that has ever lived before you. The race from new birth to entrance into the heavenly kingdom. The race where we daily pray, "Give me the strength to do with ready heart and willing whatever You command, my calling here fulfilling" (LSB #696.2). The race is the same, but the obstacles the devil throws in your way may be different. The strength is the same as well. The strength of faith in Jesus Christ. Faith springing from the Gospel. The Gospel Paul preached to Onesimus.
The Gospel where God blesses you with life. He sets Gospel of life before you. Believe on Him. And be blessed in your life like Moses, Paul and Onesimus. Blessed in and by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, dead, buried and resurrected for you. Amen.
PSALM PRAYER: O God, thanks and praise belong to You because You have given us Your Holy Word. Enlighten us by Your Holy Spirit to understand Your counsel of grace in Jesus Christ, to love Your Word, and to take delight in learning Your statutes and walking in Your Law. Bestow Your blessing and prosperity on the works of our hands in our Christian calling and all our conversation.