Resurrection of the Lord – April 12, 2020

Suggested Readings:
John 20:1-18
Matthew 28:1-10
Psalm 23

Sunday’s Coming

Friday was filled with brutality and violence. The promise of Bethlehem shattered by nails driven into soft flesh. The One John proclaimed to be the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36) executed in the vilest manner possible. A stone sealed the entrance to the tomb. The women bereft, waiting for the Sabbath to pass in order to perform the proper burial rituals. Saturday, a quiet day of sadness, reflection, and fear. The pall of death hung in the air.

There is, however, good news. Sunday’s coming!

On the first day of the week, Sunday, God raised Jesus from the dead. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, we can face dark Fridays and quiet Saturdays. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, there is always the hope of Sunday. We may traverse the darkest valley, face an immovable mountain, but we do not face these trials alone. Sunday’s coming!

Christian worship takes place on Sunday precisely because it is the day of Resurrection. We celebrate new life each Sunday as we gather for corporate worship. The music, message, and prayers are all meant to remind us that Jesus is alive.

Regardless of what we experience in life, Sunday’s coming. Sunday is the day when the risen Lord called Mary by name. It is the day when God calls each of us by name and reminds us that even in our darkest hour we do not walk alone because Sunday’s coming.

The empty tomb does not prove the resurrection. The resurrection is proved because Sunday is always coming. New life is always possible because Jesus is raised from the tomb.

The place of the skull is viewed as an ugly black stain on the face of humankind. Crucifixion demonstrates the worst in humanity. Those we love suffer and die. We sit forlornly outside the tomb, lost and alone. Suddenly the darkness breaks and the gloom is lifted. The sun breaks through our despair as we hear the voice of the Risen Lord speaking our name into the pain that we felt was inexorable. Sunday is here! The Lord is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Hallelujah!

Prayer:

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. Sunday is here! Christ is Risen! Thank you, Father God, for the inexpressible gift of the Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Holy Saturday – April 11, 2020

Suggested Readings:
John 19:38-42
Matthew 27:57-66

Shabbat Shalom

It was storming the day my dad was buried. The rain pounding so ferociously that we couldn’t go to the gravesite. Rather, we held the committal service in a mausoleum, and he was interred later. I have never been to the actual grave. Some people find solace in visiting the graves of loved ones. Others enjoy looking at old tombstones and noting the dates and times of those long gone. There is often a sense of peace to be found wandering through a cemetery.

Matthew reports that Joseph of Arimathea, asked for the body of Jesus and Pilate allowed him to take it for burial.  John notes that Nicodemus brought a mixture of spices to anoint the body. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there also, sitting opposite the tomb. The afternoon stillness melded into the sunset and the two women hurried home to prepare for the Sabbath.

We know nothing of what occurred on Saturday. The disciples, still in shock and fear, were hidden away. The women planned for the Sabbath and the following day when they would visit Jesus’ tomb and properly anoint his body.

There is a stillness to Sabbath. It is intended to be a day of rest, ordained by God at the conclusion of creation, it is meant to be a day for regeneration and reflection. The customary greeting on the Sabbath is Shabbat Shalom. Shabbat is Hebrew for Sabbath, and Shalom means peace. It is a common greeting on Friday evening or throughout the day until evening on Sabbath (Saturday). In the exchange of this greeting one is wishing another peace on the Sabbath or wishing them the peace that the Sabbath itself brings.

On this Holy Saturday I wish you Shabbat Shalom. Shalom is a word that means wholeness of relationships; with God and with other people. It is important on Holy Saturday to stop and take the time to reflect on our relationship with God. Lent is the most sacred time of the church year. It is an inward journey that follows the steps of Jesus to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, and ultimately into the arms of the Father. Lent confronts us with the need to examine what that journey means in our lives. Our journey is intended to bring us to Shalom; that is, wholeness in our relationship with God. When we experience Shalom in our oneness with God, we will find it easier to be in healthy relationships with our families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

The challenge today is to be still. Easter egg hunts are fun, but not the essence of the day. The psalmist wrote, Be still, and know that I am God! (Psalm 46:10). God’s Word translation puts it this way, Let go of your concerns! Then you will know that I am God. On this Holy Saturday find space to listen for the voice of God. God has a message uniquely meant for you. Be quiet. God is trying to talk.

Prayer:

God, help me to quiet the constant demands of time; the incessant call to do, do, do, and go, go, go. The two Marys sat quietly outside the tomb, weeping and consoling one another, seeking peace. Grant me a quiet heart and focused mind. In the midst of life’s raucous noise let me hear your speaking voice. Amen.

 

 

 

Good Friday – April 10, 2020

Suggested Readings:
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
John 18:1-19:42

It is Finished!

On this dark and painful day we may justifiably ask, “What’s so good about Good Friday?” Jesus has been betrayed, denied, flogged, and crucified. It hardly describes what we would usually describe as a good day.

Good Friday is called Good Friday because, Christians believe, there is something very good about it: It is the anniversary, of Jesus suffering and dying for our sins. “That terrible Friday has been called Good Friday because it led to the Resurrection of Jesus and his victory over death and sin and the celebration of Easter, the very pinnacle of Christian celebrations,” according to the Huffington Post. The Oxford English Dictionary and other language experts support the theory that the name comes from an antiquated meaning of good.

The crucified Lord was the cornerstone of Paul’s preaching. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). If the crucifixion of Jesus is central to our preaching and teaching, then it follows that there is something inherently “good” in the gruesome events of that Friday afternoon.

One of words recorded as coming from the lips of the dying Jesus is, “It is finished.” In that dying proclamation Jesus assures us that God has accomplished what God intended in the life and death of Jesus. The Anointed One has done all that can be done for fallen humanity. The price for sin has been paid once and for all. The curtain of the temple has been torn (Matthew 27:51); symbolizing that the death of Jesus spans the gulf between sinful humanity and God. Jesus has completed his commission of making God’s love available for all of humankind (see John 3:16).

There is, of course, another act to this drama and that is the resurrection of Jesus. In the resurrection God placed an enduring affirmation of the events of Good Friday.

Jesus is condemned and executed as the lowest of criminals, but God has the final word and, in the resurrection, affirmed that the plan is complete. It is finished! It cannot be modified or improved upon.

Prayer:

Thank you, God, for showing me your heart in the life, death, and resurrection of your son, Jesus. Thank you for seeing in me someone worth loving and dying for. I am humbled by your sacrifice and challenged by your love. Amen.

 

Maundy Thursday – April 9, 2020

Suggested Reading:
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

They’ll know we are Christians by our love

The word Maundy comes from the Latin “mandatum,” which means “commandment.” The tradition is based on Jesus’ command in John 13:34: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 

The command to love one another is easy to read and often quoted. But what does it look like to love one another?

In Philippians 2:5-8, Paul points out the love of Jesus as demonstrated in the incarnation. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

 In biblical studies this passage is known as the kenosis passage. Kenosis literally means “the act of emptying”. In these verses Paul is describing the “self-emptying” of Jesus’ own will and becoming entirely obedient to God’s divine will.

The command to love one another is the most more difficult requirement in all of scripture. To love one another is to empty ourselves of our own needs and desires and seek only the very best for the ones we serve. It is to accept the most menial of all jobs, not because the job is fulfilling, but because we genuinely love the one, we are serving.

In the act of washing the disciples’ feet Jesus offered a tangible demonstration of the self-emptying that is required of a servant leader. Foot washing was the role of a servant, not a rabbi. Jesus willingly emptied himself of his deity to become a human being and showed his love by doing the servant’s task.

There is something poignant in the image of God’s Son washing the feet of fishermen and tax gatherers. The prologue of John’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus is the living Word who was with God in the beginning of creation. Yet, here just a few short hours before his death, God’s Son stripped off his robe and assumed the role of servant.

When he had completed the task, he declared: You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So, if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. (13-15).

Over the course of time many in the church have come to ignore the practice of foot washing. What we cannot ignore is the command of Jesus to practice servanthood. Regardless of our stature, education, or gifts we are called as disciples to live out the image of Jesus in serving others. Jesus did not say, “if you have time” or “if it’s convenient”. Rather, he was quite clear. “I have shown you what you are to do-now do it!”

The challenge for each of us going forward is to be open to opportunities for service in our homes, churches, places of employment, and leisure activities. If we are committed to discipleship, we are committed to service to others.

Prayer:

Thank you, Jesus, for washing dirty feet. Forgive me Lord, the times I make excuses and whine and complain about the tasks set before me. Remind me often that the command is to love one another. The response is to serve one another.  Amen.

 

 

Liturgy of the Palms – Palm Sunday (April 5, 2020)

Suggested Readings:
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Matthew 21:1-11

Save us, we beseech you, O LORD!
—Psalm 118:25

The day had finally arrived. Having set his face toward Jerusalem Jesus now rode triumphantly into the Holy City. He had planned for his entrance into the city by arranging for a donkey to be provided. Riding a donkey, not a warhorse, the goal of the king is not domination, intimidation, and greatness, but humble service. The humble donkey is a sign of peace, not aggression.

Such is the case with King Jesus. He rode into the story of humankind, not as a warrior king, but as the Prince of Peace. The shout “Hosanna!” literally means “save us.” The picture of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem is a fulfillment of the words of Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Although he had arrived in Jerusalem, Jesus’ work of redemption was not yet complete. This day inaugurates the final week of his earthly life and ministry. The crowds today shout “Hosanna!” On Friday another crowd will shout “Crucify!” Both cries are necessary for God’s plan to be complete. To save us (Hosanna!) Jesus will have to endure the cross.

In the Gospel of John, the word “hour” is used in reference to Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. These events are summarized by the word “glorified.” It is toward this “hour” that Jesus rode that day.

It is for this purpose that Jesus came. When the Word became flesh (John 1:14) it was God entering the world of broken humanity to offer eternal life. Eternal life is a metaphor for living now in the unending presence of God. This Lenten journey is meant to bring us into a deeper relationship with Jesus the Christ, thus enabling us to experience eternal life.

Our Lenten journey does not conclude with Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. Our journey is a lifelong trek of growing up into Christ (Ephesians 4:15). The disciplines and practices that we have developed along this 40-day journey will continue to determine our spiritual journey.

Our maturity as disciples is contingent upon our commitment to read the biblical text each day, to pray in the Spirit at all times (Ephesians 6:18) and bear the cross of humble service. The journey of discipleship is never complete.

Prayer:
Save us, we beseech thee! Save us from the sin that encompasses us. Save us from the selfishness that motivates us. Save us from arrogance that controls us. Save us to be more like you each day. Save us to be your children in this place. Save us, we beseech thee! Save us to live eternally with you, now and in the future.  Amen.

Suggested Weekly Readings

Monday of Holy Week  April 6, 2020:  Isaiah 42:1-9; John 12:1-11
Tuesday of Holy Week  April 7, 2020:  Isaiah 49:1-7; John 12:20-36
Wednesday of Holy Week April 8, 2020: Isaiah 50:4-9a; John 13:21-32

Fifth Sunday In Lent – March 29, 2020

Suggested Readings:
Ezekiel 37:1-14
John 11:1-45

I am the resurrection and the life
—John 11:25

Ezekiel was a priest who became God’s spokesperson during Israel’s exile in Babylon. Deported in 597 BC after the Babylonian invasion, Ezekiel was commissioned in 593 BC. His work continued until at least 571 BC.

Ezekiel was driven by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley of dry bones. The vision depicts a battlefield, representing dead Israel after the Babylonian invasion. The question to Ezekiel draws a tentative response (v. 3).

Ezekiel throws the question back. The question is not about the afterlife or resurrection as much as it concerns whether it is possible to return to the world of the living. The question does not involve the resurrection of an individual but rather concerns itself with whether a dead people can become alive again. After responding to instructions (vv. 4-7), to prophesy to the bones the prophet observes corpses with no spirit (Hebrew: ruakh).

Ezekiel was then commanded to prophesy to the breath. The breath caused the corpses to come to life. The second command to the breath caused the corpses to live. This is reminiscent of the description of creation in Genesis 2:7 the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Lazarus was dead. There is little room for debate on that matter as John records he had been in the tomb four days. It is a sign of Jesus’ courage and resolve that he would voluntarily return to Judea. When Jesus stated his intention to return to Judea the disciples reacted with surprise and fear, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”  (John 11:18). But Jesus was determined in his decision to go to Bethany.

In the valley of dry bones Ezekiel was faced with the desolation of his people. In Bethany Jesus was faced with the death of his friend. In both instances the Spirit of God prevailed. The dry bones live. Lazarus received life. These two stories present us with the reality and power of God’s Spirit. It is the breath of God which gave life to the first human being, to dry bones, to a dead Lazarus. On this journey toward Jerusalem it is the Spirit of God which leads us on our way. It is the Spirit of God which compels us to travel this road of sacrifice and service.

As you read these two passages, I would like to suggest that you direct your personal reflections along two lines. First, note the number of times the spirit is referenced. Second, more personal, focus on the number of times today the spirit has directed your steps. It is a journey. A journey requires one step at a time.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father breathe the breath of your Spirit into my heart. My bones are dried up and my hope is lost. I feel completely estranged from you. I take this Lenten journey in hope that your breath of life will renew my spirit and restore my relationship with you. Amen.

Suggested Weekly Readings: 

Monday, March 30, 2020: Psalm 143; 1 Kings 17:17-24; Acts 20:7-12
Tuesday, March 31, 2020: Psalm 143; 2 Kings 4:18-37; Ephesians 2:1-10
Wednesday, April 1, 2020: Psalm 143; Jeremiah 32:1-9, 36-41; Matthew 22:23-33
Thursday, April 2, 2020: Psalm 31:9-16; 1 Samuel 16:11-13; Philippians 1:1-11
Friday, April 3, 2020: Psalm 31:9-16; Job 13:13-19; Philippians 1:21-30
Saturday, April 4, 2020: Psalm 31:9-16; Lamentations 3:55-66; Mark 10:32-34

Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 22, 2020

Suggested Readings:
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

Live as children of light
—Ephesians 5:8

In the prologue to the gospel John declares: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (1:5). The story of the man born blind in John 9 is a wonderful story of one person’s journey from darkness to light. The journey is both physical and spiritual.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the man was born blind. When the healing was investigated by the Pharisees, they went to the extreme length of interviewing his parents to assure the fact that he was indeed born blind.

When Jesus encountered the man born blind, he first addressed the physical malady of blindness. Jesus rejected the connection the disciples made between sinful actions and illness (v. 2). The man’s blindness is an occasion that will reveal God’s presence in Jesus. And so, the journey of the man’s physical and spiritual healing begins.

In the ancient world saliva was believed to have curative power. Jesus used a familiar technique to begin the process of healing by spitting on the ground, making a mud paste, applying the paste to the man’s eyes, and instructing him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. Having followed Jesus’ instructions his eyes were opened, and he was able to see.

The spiritual journey into the light could now begin. When first questioned as to how he received his sight he answered vaguely, the man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight (9:11).  At that point his understanding of Jesus was limited to the fact that Jesus was a miracle worker who had restored his sight.

The story takes an interesting turn as the religious elite become involved in investigating the healing. As the Pharisees question him the man once again tells the story of the healing. This time when asked what he thinks of the one who healed him he exclaims he is a prophet (9:17). Unwilling to believe the evidence in front of their eyes the Pharisees confront the parents who acknowledge he is their son and yes, he was born blind. They will not discuss his healing for fear of being excommunicated from the synagogue.

When the man was interviewed a second time, he became more aggressive, challenging his interrogators with a well-reasoned argument.

Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing. (9:30-33).

In anger his accusers drove him out of the synagogue. Jesus found him and asked him if he believed in the Son of Man. The man questioned who is he sir? Jesus replied, you have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he. Lord, I believe was the man’s simple confession of faith.

The man moved from physical blindness to sight, from spiritual darkness to faith in the light of the world. This is the journey on which we find ourselves through this Lenten season. We are seeking to discover for ourselves the light that shines in the darkness. In verse 5 Jesus declares, I am the light of the world. So, saying, he identifies himself with preexistent light described in the prologue. Sin and darkness cannot overcome the light that is the Savior.

In verse 25 the man made a bold and beautiful statement. He freely admitted his lack of full comprehension as to the nature of the one who healed him. He profoundly declared, one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.

 That is our goal moving forward on this Lenten journey and indeed, all of life. We want to see Jesus more clearly each day of our lives.

Prayer:

Open my eyes Lord. I want to move from the darkness of sin and despair into the light of your unconquerable love. There is a great deal of darkness in my life, the darkness of sin. Please grant me the light of forgiveness. You are the God who spoke light into existence and the Father who sent your Son to show us the way of life.

Thank you, God, for your inexpressible gift. Amen.

Suggested Weekly Reading:

Monday, March 23, 2020: Psalm 146; Isaiah 59:9-19; Acts 9:1-20
Tuesday, March 24, 2020: Psalm 146; Isaiah 42:14-21; Colossians 1:9-14
Wednesday, March 25, 2020: Psalm 146; Isaiah 60:17-22; Matthew 9:27-34
Thursday, March 26, 2020: Psalm 130; Ezekiel 1:1-3, 2:8-3:3; Revelation 10:1-11
Friday, March 27, 2020: Psalm 130; Ezekiel 33:10-16; Revelation 11:15-19
Saturday, March 28, 2020: Psalm 130; Ezekiel 36:8-15; Luke 24:44-53

Third Sunday in Lent – March 15, 2020

Suggested Readings:

Exodus 17:1-7
John 4:5-42

Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water
—John 7:38

Human beings need food and water to survive. At least 60% of the adult body is made of water. A human being can survive without food for about three weeks but would typically only last three to four days without water.

The ancient Israelites were furious with Moses because they were suffering from thirst in the desert. They were in fact, so angry with Moses that he feared for his life (Exodus 17:2-4). God responded to their complaint by providing water to satiate their thirst. This is not the first time the people of Israel were angry over thirst. In Exodus 15:22-25, a scant three days after being led through the Red Sea on dry ground, the people found water, but it was brackish and could not be drunk. The Lord commanded Moses to throw a piece of wood into the water and it was immediately made sweet. In each case thirst was satisfied for only a brief time. They would be thirsty again soon.

When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman, he addressed her need for living, not physical water. The fourth chapter of John is replete with theological insight into the identity of Jesus and the nature of living a spirit-led life. The water that Jesus provides is spiritual nourishment which provides sustenance for our spiritual and emotional well-being.

As you read the text note the number of references you can find that describe the Spirit-filled life. For example, the gift of God is living water that gives eternal life, God is spirit and those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth. Ultimately, Jesus names himself as the Messiah. It is a profound chapter! One that requires reading and rereading to mine the depths of its theological treasures.

Before leaving this story of Jesus’ noonday conversation at the well, I would like to call your attention to two other points. First, the woman didn’t keep quiet about her experience with the stranger at the well. She ran back to the city and told everyone she met about her encounter with the man at Jacob’s well. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (4:29).

Because of her witness many people came out to meet Jesus and he spent two days in the city of Sychar.

The second point I’d like you to ponder before we leave this story is the comment from the townsfolk after they met Jesus. It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world (4:42).

Our responsibility is to introduce people to the Savior of the world. One who has a genuine encounter with Jesus cannot possibly walk away the same person. An encounter with Jesus is transformational.

Prayer:

I’m thirsty God. I thirst for living water which wells up within me, satisfies my longings, and leads me to share the gift of life with everyone I encounter. My desire and fervent prayer are to worship and live in spirit and in truth. Amen.

 

 

Second Sunday In Lent – March 8, 2020

Suggested Readings:

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17

pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace,
—2 Timothy 2:22

 In Romans 4:3 Paul declares, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. This declaration is repeated in Galatians 3:6 and James 2:23. Further, Paul instructs a young pastor to pursue righteousness.

What does it mean to be righteous? Can we obtain righteousness by human effort? In its widest sense righteousness means upright, just, virtuous, keeping the commands of God. This definition makes it sound like if we just do the right things, we can achieve righteousness. This is not the case. Righteousness is not earned it is conferred. That is, we are made righteous, not because of our worthiness, but solely based on Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. The upright and virtuous acts we perform are the result of Christ’s action, not our human achievement.

If we cannot earn righteousness, then what does it mean to pursue righteousness? I would suggest that righteousness means being rightly related to God. There are steps we can take to enhance our relationship with God.

Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born from above (John 3:3). This a spiritual birth which is possible only through Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Without being born from above it is impossible to pursue righteousness. As such, the first step in the process of being rightly related to God is to accept the sacrifice of Jesus for our salvation. Nothing can take the place of this step. Church membership, denominational affiliation, even Bible study cannot take the place of being born from above.

As with any relationship it requires effort to maintain and strengthen this very crucial connection. This journey toward Jerusalem is intended to support us as we seek to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Ephesians 4:15).

Having been born from above we determine to cultivate holy habits When we choose the path of spiritual transformation, we do so understanding that whole-hearted devotion is essential.

It is important on this journey to set aside a specific time and place to commit yourself to reading, reflection, prayer, and perhaps journaling. Early morning works well for some, while bedtime may be best for you. The important point is to find a time and place where you are not likely to be disturbed.

There is no rush on this journey. In fact, you will learn that this journey moves beyond the 40 days of Lent and takes you on a lifetime journey of becoming one with Christ.

It is vital to read and reflect on the biblical text. It is a good practice to read the text more than once. Let the words speak to you. Listen for a word or phrase in the text that addresses you where you are in the present moment. There are several texts provided for each day along the journey. Don’t interpret. Listen to what God’s Spirit is saying to you through the text. This journey is about personal spiritual transformation. Practice listening for the voice of God in the written word.

Take a few minutes to jot down your thoughts. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Complete sentences are unimportant. The crucial question is what you hear God saying to you in the written word.

Prayer:

Merciful and gracious Father, thank you for the gift of Jesus, whose life, death, and resurrection make salvation possible. God, instill in me the desire and resolve to pursue righteousness through the practice of spiritual discipline. When I’m tired and discouraged remind me that I am your child and you are partnering with me on this journey. I want to love you more each day.   Amen

 

First Sunday in Lent – March 1, 2020

Suggested Readings

Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

One man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all

The gift of Jesus is the gift of life. Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 relates the story of the temptation and fall of human beings. Paul uses the ancient story to compare the gift of salvation juxtaposed with the failure and sin of human beings. It is Paul’s understanding that sin came into the world because of the failure of one person to respect and adhere to the law of God. The opposite of that failure is the gift of righteousness which also came into the world through one man, Jesus Christ. The difference is one man’s failure led to the introduction of sin, while the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus leads to the gift of salvation.

Matthew 4 contains the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Jesus’ wilderness experience is the result of being led by the Spirit. In this wilderness testing Jesus was faced with a decision about how he would proceed in fulfilling his ministry. The temptations came when he was physically tired and hungry. The tempter knew when, in his humanity, Jesus would be most vulnerable.

A voice from heaven (3:17) declared Jesus to be God’s Son and the tempter used this declaration to tempt Jesus to do something that is actually a good deed; that is, feed the hungry. In the feeding of the 5000 Jesus will provide bread for hungry people. However, in this instance, it is a case of using his power to satisfy his own need rather than relying on God to provide for his needs.  Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 which states, He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Jesus does not take orders from Satan but places his trust in God.

The scene moves to the pinnacle of the temple where the tempter quotes Psalm 91:11-12 to coax Jesus to jump from its great height. Jesus is quick to respond that God is not a 911 call to be used by human beings when a crisis arises. Citing Deuteronomy 6:16, Do not put the Lord your God to the test, . . . Jesus refused to take the bait.

In the third temptation Satan offered Jesus control of all the “empires of the world.” This startling temptation indicates the control of Satan over the world through secular empires such as Rome. In Matthew 28:18 Jesus declares, All, authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Jesus’ authority has come from God, not Satan. And it has come through obedience to God’s commands, not worship of Satan, or the secular structures of the world.

Jesus successfully resisted the temptations of the devil and set out the course he would follow throughout his ministry.

The writer to the Hebrews states, For, we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin (4:15). Jesus identified with sinful humanity through baptism and temptation but remained faithful to the call and commission of God. Jesus is thus uniquely qualified to be the high priest, who stands between sinful humans and a holy God, providing an opportunity for salvation and abundant life.

Therefore, Paul can write that one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all (Romans 5:18). That one man is Jesus the Christ, who led by God’s Spirit, overcame the lure of the world, was totally obedient and opened the way to God to all who believe.

The story of Jesus’ temptation forms the framework of our Lenten journey. For forty days we commit ourselves to fasting and prayer, to the reading of scripture, and discerning the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is a journey of spiritual transformation, not to be taken lightly, but reverently in the presence of God.

Prayer:
Spirit of God, lead me on the path of righteousness. When I’m tired, thirsty, and want to succumb to the pressures of the world around me, lead me beside cool waters and verdant pastures. When my path takes me through the darkest of valleys, hold me tightly by your side. My prayer is to live in your presence all the days of my life. Amen.