by Matthew C. Harrison
Luther often commented that the devil cannot stand to be ridiculed. Our newest hymnal, Lutheran Service Book, puts a belly laugh right in the devil’s face by choosing to place “O Little Flock, Fear Not the Foe” as hymn number 666. This strong little song depicts the church on earth — the Church Militant — confident in the face of growing opposition.
O little flock, fear not the foe Who madly seeks your overthrow; Dread not his rage and pow’r. And though your courage sometimes faints, His seeming triumph o’er God’s saints Lasts but a little hour. (LSB 666:1)
The birth of our Savior wondrously illustrates the truth this hymn expresses. The King of all creation comes to this world as a lowly child, born of a young virgin in an animal stable. The person in whom all time and eternity meet, “very God of very God” (Nicene Creed) — “begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary” (Small Catechism) — was laid in a manger. Herod gets word that there’s a new king in town, and “madly seeks” His “overthrow.” The birth of this little babe prompts a mad rage by the powerful, the preferred, the establishment.
Be of good cheer; your cause belongs To Him who can avenge your wrongs; Leave it to Him, our Lord. Though hidden yet from mortal eyes, His Gideon shall for you arise, Uphold you and His Word. (LSB 666:2)
Christ’s glory was hidden, even as He was revealed — from the flight to Egypt to His boyhood in Nazareth; from a humble baptism by John (who was shocked that the Savior of the world would seek Baptism from him) to temptation in the wilderness, to preacher of repentance and the Good News, to the opposition of all the powerful of Israel, to attempts at His life, plots to confound and kill Him, to suffering in the garden, betrayal, capture, trial on false charges, conviction by a mere mortal, crucifixion, ridicule even on the cross, last words and death. The Son of God’s divinity flashed forth here and there — at His baptism, transfiguration, in His miracles and miraculous words — but His glory was hidden. God’s Word records this state of affairs in an upside-down way. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” said Jesus, speaking of His very crucifixion (John 12:23). “Truly this man was the Son of God,” said the Gentile centurion, as he stared at the dead Savior (Mark 15:39).
And then, the glorious resurrection proved Jesus’ life and words to be true. His resurrection was the great absolution of the sins of the world. “Be of good cheer; your cause belongs To Him who can avenge your wrongs; Leave it to Him, our Lord.”
As true as God’s own Word is true, Not earth nor hell’s satanic crew Against us shall prevail. Their might? A joke, a mere facade! God is with us and we with God — Our vict’ry cannot fail. (LSB 666:3)
The odds against the babe in the manger and the Christ on the cross where enormous, even absolute to any betting man. But there was something more than meets the eye. As Luther put it, if it were a mere man in the balance, over against the sins of the world, we’d be lost. But on the scale, over against our sins, is God in the flesh, and it’s not even close. The “power” of sin? The “power” of the devil? The “power” of this world? The “power” of the flesh? “Their might? A joke, a mere facade! God is with us and we with God — Our vict’ry cannot fail.”
Amen, Lord Jesus, grant our prayer; Great Captain, now Thine arm make bare, Fight for us once again! So shall Thy saints and martyrs raise A mighty chorus to Thy praise Forevermore. Amen. (LSB 666:4)
So much for this world’s pomp and praise. So much for political folderol, losses and wins. So much for a vastly unchristian world. So much for all the worldly treasures and cares. So much for the odds. So much for the popular. So much for the fleeting worldly glory. So much for the odds against the church. So much for the 666 and all that the beast can throw at Christ’s “little flock.” The prayer of the littlest child, “Come, Lord Jesus,” is more powerful than all of that. For our “Great Captain” shall soon make His arm bare. He waits for us to share the blessed Gospel with the last of the elect. “So shall” we, with “Thy saint and martyrs raise A mighty chorus to Thy praise Forevermore. Amen.”
O little flock, fear not the foe!