“When He sees that their power is gone”

We had a wonderful Palm Sunday service, and the sermon was on a text that I don’t think I’ve ever noticed before, Deuteronomy 32:36-39.  Moses says that “When he sees that their power is gone,” that is the time when “the Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants.”  When their power is gone!  What a passage for Law & Gospel and the Theology of the Cross vs. the Theology of Glory!

Postmodernists reduce everything–culture, law, government, morality, religion–to power.  One group is exercising power over someone else, and all of the veneer of civilization is just a mask to hide that fact.  So goes postmodernist cynicism.  (Notice how we Christians play into that mindset and confirm it when we create the impression that what we seek is political power.)

One line of apologetics to the postmodernists is to say that, yes, that does explain a lot.  But there is one counter-example.  One religion that is all about not power but the abdegnation of power.  God who emptied Himself of power:  Jesus on the Cross.

And this text reminds me that Christians too meet Jesus when our “power is gone,” when we admit that we are broken sinners, that we are powerless.  And that’s when the very different power from what postmodernists cynics bemoan manifests itself.  Not an oppressive power but a liberating power.  A saving power that raised Jesus from the dead and that in compassion will “vindicate” us too, raising us from every kind of death.

Pastor Douthwaite did a lot with this text.  Read the whole via sermon, which includes the quotation I gave above.  I remain haunted by this:

Besides, no matter how powerless you are, no matter how low, no matter how tired and weak and piled upon, you will never be at the bottom of the pecking order.

That spot is reserved for one person: Jesus.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • fws

    “Besides, no matter how powerless you are, no matter how low, no matter how tired and weak and piled upon, you will never be at the bottom of the pecking order.

    That spot is reserved for one person: Jesus.”

    Response:

    How great Thou art!

  • fws

    “Besides, no matter how powerless you are, no matter how low, no matter how tired and weak and piled upon, you will never be at the bottom of the pecking order.

    That spot is reserved for one person: Jesus.”

    Response:

    How great Thou art!

  • http://RoseFremer@yahoo.com Rose

    The federal government assaulted a Michigan militia this weekend. What concerns me is ‘the warrants were sealed’; no reason was given.
    Also, the Kansas City Star notes that
    Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) said in an interview March 22: “…it takes a long time to do the necessary administrative steps that have to be taken to put the legislation together to control the people.”
    As you write: One group is exercising power over someone else, and all of the veneer of civilization is just a mask to hide that fact.

  • http://RoseFremer@yahoo.com Rose

    The federal government assaulted a Michigan militia this weekend. What concerns me is ‘the warrants were sealed’; no reason was given.
    Also, the Kansas City Star notes that
    Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) said in an interview March 22: “…it takes a long time to do the necessary administrative steps that have to be taken to put the legislation together to control the people.”
    As you write: One group is exercising power over someone else, and all of the veneer of civilization is just a mask to hide that fact.

  • fws

    er…um… What I get out of this,is the the abuse of power and the lust for power are two things we get to let go of in Jesus.

    meaning this: that we don´t have to worry when we see these things happen, God is in control. We can picture Jesus, riding on a donkey, being praised on the way to his death, where he conquers death and the dark powers.

    Jesus has won the victory. even over abortion, divorce, and the wrong political party in power.

    Take home point: we don´t need to think that all will be lost if we don´t do something.

  • fws

    er…um… What I get out of this,is the the abuse of power and the lust for power are two things we get to let go of in Jesus.

    meaning this: that we don´t have to worry when we see these things happen, God is in control. We can picture Jesus, riding on a donkey, being praised on the way to his death, where he conquers death and the dark powers.

    Jesus has won the victory. even over abortion, divorce, and the wrong political party in power.

    Take home point: we don´t need to think that all will be lost if we don´t do something.

  • Jerry

    It goes beyond Christians seeking political power. The world tells us that by exercising power we are only fulfilling our vocation. Thanks for the thought!

  • Jerry

    It goes beyond Christians seeking political power. The world tells us that by exercising power we are only fulfilling our vocation. Thanks for the thought!

  • fws

    what jerry says!

    ditto for the sin of covetousness. often the world beckons us to call this the work ethic and a virtue. It can be that! often it is not.

  • fws

    what jerry says!

    ditto for the sin of covetousness. often the world beckons us to call this the work ethic and a virtue. It can be that! often it is not.

  • EGK

    A number of years ago I heard a local feminist theologian ( from a United Church of Canada school) declare that Christianity has to get away from all of this servant talk and start talking more about empowerment.

  • EGK

    A number of years ago I heard a local feminist theologian ( from a United Church of Canada school) declare that Christianity has to get away from all of this servant talk and start talking more about empowerment.

  • http://RoseFremer@yahoo.com Rose

    EGK: Yikes! And to think we have a ELCA woman seminarian on our Lutheran World Relief board from Union Theological.

  • http://RoseFremer@yahoo.com Rose

    EGK: Yikes! And to think we have a ELCA woman seminarian on our Lutheran World Relief board from Union Theological.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Wow, EGK, such language is very significant. Even the postmodernists who most complain about about how oppressed they are by those in power are thinking in terms of simply grabbing power themselves (so they can presumably be the ones oppressing the other guys). As you show, conservatives and liberals in the church are both obsessed with power, as opposed to the One who actually had all power and gave it up to redeem us.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Wow, EGK, such language is very significant. Even the postmodernists who most complain about about how oppressed they are by those in power are thinking in terms of simply grabbing power themselves (so they can presumably be the ones oppressing the other guys). As you show, conservatives and liberals in the church are both obsessed with power, as opposed to the One who actually had all power and gave it up to redeem us.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Lord Acton wrote that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Reinhold Niebuhr following Kierkegaard understood that people tend to cover their insecurity and anxiety with power. All of this, of course, refers to human individuals and the Right-Hand Kingdom.

    Knowledgeable men, including Luther, understood that given the tendency of fallen men to wield unjust power, it is rather necessary for legitimate wielders of Left-hand Kingdom power to within the limits of proper restraint to use power to the fullest. That is why Luther had no problem in supporting established authority against the German rabble involved in the peasant’s war. That is why at present America is using power to defeat the radical Islamist warriors who wish to impose Shari’ah Law on the West.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Lord Acton wrote that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Reinhold Niebuhr following Kierkegaard understood that people tend to cover their insecurity and anxiety with power. All of this, of course, refers to human individuals and the Right-Hand Kingdom.

    Knowledgeable men, including Luther, understood that given the tendency of fallen men to wield unjust power, it is rather necessary for legitimate wielders of Left-hand Kingdom power to within the limits of proper restraint to use power to the fullest. That is why Luther had no problem in supporting established authority against the German rabble involved in the peasant’s war. That is why at present America is using power to defeat the radical Islamist warriors who wish to impose Shari’ah Law on the West.

  • Jerry

    Peter, thanks for the distinction!

  • Jerry

    Peter, thanks for the distinction!

  • Frank P.

    Peter, you write as if English is not your native tongue. Am I right?

  • Frank P.

    Peter, you write as if English is not your native tongue. Am I right?

  • Peter Leavitt

    FrankP. I am a born and bred American, though with extensive Latin, some Greek, and am familiar with French and German.

  • Peter Leavitt

    FrankP. I am a born and bred American, though with extensive Latin, some Greek, and am familiar with French and German.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Yes, power is to be wielded in the Kingdom of the Lefthand. There is certainly a legitimate use of power. But the Kingdom of the Righthand, God’s spiritual kingdom, is not about wielding power. The problem is when the kingdoms are confused, as often happens on both sides.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Yes, power is to be wielded in the Kingdom of the Lefthand. There is certainly a legitimate use of power. But the Kingdom of the Righthand, God’s spiritual kingdom, is not about wielding power. The problem is when the kingdoms are confused, as often happens on both sides.

  • fws

    Here is THE Luther sermon on the two kingdoms or “two powers”. This could also be called “A Sermon On Two Kinds of Righteousness”.

    Note that Luther´s two kingdoms teaching is NOT about the sphere of civil/govt perogatives vs the sphere of churchly perogatives. This understanding is a common error.

    No. Luthers 2kingdoms or 2kr (two kinds of righteousness) is merely, simply and in essence, another way of expressing the distinction between Law and Gospel. As with St. Paul, Luther instructs using contrasts.

    Here the contrast is: True Visible Righteousness of Works vs. the Invisible Righteousness of Faith.

    Highlights:

    1) to preserve the doctrine of Invisible Faith ALONE, we must understand that there is another, truly God-pleasing and visible Righteousness of Works.

    2) Anything the body can do and that is visible is done in the Earthly Visible Kingdom.

    3)A christian should be certain what these works are and that he pleases God with them. These works are the exact same works pagans do. The ONLY difference is that Invisible Righteousness of Faith.

    4) The Heavenly Kingdom of the Invisible Righteousness of Faith is useless to anyone but God and troubled consciences. It does NOT include any of those visible works included in the Earthly Kingdom. How can it include those things , SINCE THEY ARE ALL INCLUDED IN THE EARTHLY KINGDOM?!” Earthly Kingdom visible works will perish with the earth along with all who seek to live by them (Romans 8).

    5) One must think of the Invisible Righteousness of Faith as a vast can0py that convers the sins we commit in doing Earthly Visible Righteousness, and makes God blind to our sin.

    6) A christian, when troubled by conscience, can not help but cast about for Visible Righteousness to do because reason can understand this righteousness. The lifelong task of a christian therefore is to struggle to surrender himself to the Invisible Righteousness of Faith.

    Conclusion: Anything the body can do is of the Earthly Kingdom. Period. This includes ALL forms of power being exercised, this includes all calls to visible morality. Nothing the body can visibly do makes one a christian or can be evidence that he is one.

    Here is the link to this rich and pivotal sermon that is referenced in article IV of the Formula of Concord (it was that esteemed by the Lutheran confessors that means):

    http://www.godrules.net/library/luther/129luther_e13.htm

  • fws

    Here is THE Luther sermon on the two kingdoms or “two powers”. This could also be called “A Sermon On Two Kinds of Righteousness”.

    Note that Luther´s two kingdoms teaching is NOT about the sphere of civil/govt perogatives vs the sphere of churchly perogatives. This understanding is a common error.

    No. Luthers 2kingdoms or 2kr (two kinds of righteousness) is merely, simply and in essence, another way of expressing the distinction between Law and Gospel. As with St. Paul, Luther instructs using contrasts.

    Here the contrast is: True Visible Righteousness of Works vs. the Invisible Righteousness of Faith.

    Highlights:

    1) to preserve the doctrine of Invisible Faith ALONE, we must understand that there is another, truly God-pleasing and visible Righteousness of Works.

    2) Anything the body can do and that is visible is done in the Earthly Visible Kingdom.

    3)A christian should be certain what these works are and that he pleases God with them. These works are the exact same works pagans do. The ONLY difference is that Invisible Righteousness of Faith.

    4) The Heavenly Kingdom of the Invisible Righteousness of Faith is useless to anyone but God and troubled consciences. It does NOT include any of those visible works included in the Earthly Kingdom. How can it include those things , SINCE THEY ARE ALL INCLUDED IN THE EARTHLY KINGDOM?!” Earthly Kingdom visible works will perish with the earth along with all who seek to live by them (Romans 8).

    5) One must think of the Invisible Righteousness of Faith as a vast can0py that convers the sins we commit in doing Earthly Visible Righteousness, and makes God blind to our sin.

    6) A christian, when troubled by conscience, can not help but cast about for Visible Righteousness to do because reason can understand this righteousness. The lifelong task of a christian therefore is to struggle to surrender himself to the Invisible Righteousness of Faith.

    Conclusion: Anything the body can do is of the Earthly Kingdom. Period. This includes ALL forms of power being exercised, this includes all calls to visible morality. Nothing the body can visibly do makes one a christian or can be evidence that he is one.

    Here is the link to this rich and pivotal sermon that is referenced in article IV of the Formula of Concord (it was that esteemed by the Lutheran confessors that means):

    http://www.godrules.net/library/luther/129luther_e13.htm


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