Worship Helps for Pentecost 15

Title: Samson at the Mill
Artist: Maurice Theodore Mitrecey

“Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in the prison” (Judges 16:21).

Samson has had his head shaved, his strength removed and his eyes gouged out. He has been taken to the city of Gaza, whose mighty gates he had once torn off the city walls and carried to a nearby hill.

He is pictured doing the work of a mule, grinding grain in Gaza’s prison. But his hair is growing back and his strength is returning. He is able to move the cumbersome millstone by himself. He cannot see the woman sitting nearby who is watching him with fascination. Nor can he set his eyes on the prison guards who no longer fear him. They do not hesitate to mock him and make sport of him. One of them even striking Samson on the cheek as he passes by.

But the greatest victory over the Philistines has not yet carried out by Samson. His vengeance on his persecutors is not fully accomplished until the vast temple of the Philistine god, Dagon, is pulled down upon him. Thus, Samson killed many more when he died than while he lived (Judges 16:30).

Worship Theme: The Church is militant: first the cross, then the crown. Today Christ tells us that for him and for us, going God’s way means death must come before life. He calls on us to deny ourselves and follow him on the way of the cross. Those words offend our sinful flesh and make our Old Adam cry with Peter, “Never!” They make us accuse God with Jeremiah. So today the Church prays for the never-failing mercy of Christ that we might avoid such wicked and harmful thoughts and instead be guided on the cross-laden path to salvation. Then, and only then, do these words of Christ cease offending our flesh and become a joy and delight for our heart.

Old Testament: Judges 16:22-31
But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved. 23 Now the rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate, saying, "Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands." 24 When the people saw him, they praised their god, saying, "Our god has delivered our enemy into our hands, the one who laid waste our land and multiplied our slain." 25 While they were in high spirits, they shouted, "Bring out Samson to entertain us." So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. When they stood him among the pillars, 26 Samson said to the servant who held his hand, "Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them." 27 Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform. 28 Then Samson prayed to the LORD, "O Sovereign LORD, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes." 29 Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, 30 Samson said, "Let me die with the Philistines!" Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived. 31 Then his brothers and his father's whole family went down to get him. They brought him back and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. He had led Israel twenty years.

1. Verse 22 reports: “The hair on his head began to grow.” Why is this is an ominous statement?

2. What do you think was in Samson’s heart as he entered the temple?

3. Jesus says in the Gospel, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul” (Matthew 16:26)? How are Jesus’ words of warning a perfect picture of Samson?

Epistle: Galatians 6:12-16
Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.

4. In his letter to the Christians in the region of Galatia, Paul is writing about the Judaizers – those who claim to be followers of Christ, but who are pushing Christians to follow the Old Testament ceremonial laws like circumcision, sacrifices, etc. What does Paul say is the motive of the Judaizers?

5. What are Paul’s motives according to verses 14 and 15?

6. How do Paul’s words to the Christians in Galatia in the 1st century A.D. apply to us as Christians living in the 21st century?

Gospel: Matthew 16:21-26
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

7. Why did Peter say, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (verse 22)? Why was Jesus so harsh with Peter?

8. It might be easy for us to boldly declare with Peter – as we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). However, Jesus being the Christ means that He must suffer and die for sinners. He must carry His cross for humanity. If we are to be counted among Jesus’ followers, what is Jesus expecting from us?

1. It lets us know that although Samson, along with God and his people, seems to be defeated, there is still more to the story.

2. It is clear that Samson was a changed man. In repentance Samson asked the Lord to remember him and to strengthen him one more time. As the Philistines were blasphemously singing praises to their false god, Samson would show them one more time that the God of Israel is the one true God.

3. Samson had it all – strength, fame, power, leadership, love. Yet he was losing his soul. But the God of grace humbled him. Samson repented and took up his cross and followed. He lost his life, but died in faith. His words comprise the most fervent plea that a sinner can make at the end of life. Like the thief, he cried, “Remember me!” Once again a man of faith, he had in mind the things of God rather than men and died in service to his Savior God.

4. Verse 12a The Judaizers wanted to make a good impression on the world or at least on the Jewish community (perhaps with the idea that if they saw the Gentiles being circumcised, they might decide to join the Christian community).

Verse 12b The Judaizers did not want to suffer persecution for trusting only in the cross of Christ.

Verse 13 The Judaizers wanted to boast that the Galatian Christians were following Moses’ laws. Yet they themselves could not keep those laws.

5. Paul wanted to boast in nothing but the cross of Christ. Only then could he be separated from the world and its final destruction. Only by being joined with Christ in his death and resurrection could Paul become a new creation and serve the Lord.

6. Christians will be tempted to give in to license or legalism in order to escape persecution. But Christ told us to expect persecution and burdens that come from carrying his cross. For the Christian, bearing the cross is a point of pride and the basis for our boasting. How can this be? We are the Church militant, and so death comes before life, the cross before the crown. By the cross the world dies to us, and we die by that same cross to the world. But after that death comes life—new life—an entirely new creation.

7. Peter was bold to confess Christ, but when Jesus said he would have to suffer, Peter became afraid. If Jesus suffered, Peter knew he would have to suffer. Peter sounded like he was concerned about Jesus, but he was really only concerned about himself. Jesus rebuked him sharply. Peter was keeping Jesus from God’s appointed task and way of salvation. All who are part of the kingdom of God will have to carry a cross as Jesus carried his.

8. Cross and death were necessary for Jesus to fulfill His mission as God’s Christ. When Jesus spoke most clearly about his cross, Peter spoke Satan’s words of compromise. Thanks be to God that our Savior saw the necessity of the cross before the crown! Now for Christian followers, cross comes before the crown as well. Jesus expects us to be willing to suffer and die for him. We die to sin and self, but gain Christ who is our Life.

Putting your faith into action

A reading from the Book of Concord for Pentecost 15
We have assigned these two parts, contrition and faith, to repentance.  In order that the doctrine of faith might be clearer, we have named it among the parts of repentance. For experience shows that those passages are dangerous that require contrition or good works, and make no mention of justifying faith.  Since the Fathers speak in some places about one part of repentance, and in other places about another part, it would have been good to select and combine their judgments not only about one part but about both, that is, about contrition and faith.

Tertullian speaks about faith, discussing the oath in the prophet Ezekiel, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (33:11).  As God swears that He does not want the death of a sinner, He shows that faith is required, in order that we may believe that He forgives us.  In our estimation, the authority of the divine promises should be great by itself.  If anyone is not confident that he is forgiven, he denies that God has sworn what is true.  A more horrible blasphemy cannot be imagined. 

Here we must know that this faith should be confident that God freely forgives us for Christ’s sake, for the sake of His own promise, not for the sake of our works, contrition, confession, or satisfactions. – Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIIA, Repentance (paragraphs 91-95)


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