Date: Second Sunday in Lent – March 1, 2015
Texts: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 5:1-11; Mark 8:27-38
Context: Our God is the giver of good gifts. Our inclination is to look to ourselves, to hold out our offerings of prayers and good deeds as some sort of badge of honor to God, something that will make God like us better. However all things come from God, and our feeble efforts at good works are of no interest compared to the holiness of a perfectly righteous God. Our actions in and of themselves do not impress him. Good deeds worked through faith in God’s ultimate good gift – his Son Jesus the Christ – are only and always responses to what God has first given us.
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16– This reading emphasizes God as the giver of promises, and as will be seen by reading further (which you should always do!), the ultimate promise-keeper. He promises Abraham a multitude of offspring, something unexpected for a man of Abraham’s age. God gives promises to Sarah through Abraham as well. The two will conceive and bear a son. The promise seems perhaps cruel, a taunting jest to a married couple well past the hope of ever having a child of their own. But the God who makes promises is the God who is fully capable of keeping them, and can himself cause even the most unlikely promises to be kept. The God who promises me forgiveness in Jesus Christ despite my continued sinfulness is the God who promised an elderly couple a miraculous child. If He could fulfill that promise to Abraham and Sarah, I can trust his promises through their descendant, Jesus of Nazareth, for forgiveness and eternal life.
Psalm 22:23-31 – This section of Psalm 22 evokes the Genesis 17 reading. Verse 23 emphasizes the great number of those worshiping God, and the fact that they are Jacob’s (the grandson of Abraham) descendants. Those worshiping are evidence themselves of God’s faithfulness to Abraham, a fitting exhortation to give thanks to the God who has fulfilled his promises to Abraham. Starting at verse 27 keywords draw the hearer/reader to a remembrance of Genesis 17, keywords such as nations and kingship. Again, God’s faithfulness is in view, so that the story of his promises fulfilled in one generation should be declared to the next that they, too, might place their faith and trust in God the Father.
Romans 5:1-11 – God promises that the sacrifice of his Son results in our justification. We are granted amnesty and forgiveness from our sinful rebellion against God, so that we need not fear his wrath, but rather can be at peace with him and therefore with ourselves and one another. Yet despite these good and very real gifts, we also deal with the continued effects of our sinful nature in a sinful world. Justification with God does not immediately result in a life free of suffering. But because we have peace, that suffering changes tone. We do not enter it as passive victims, but as victors. Though suffering is unpleasant, we can bear in mind that the suffering is temporary, and that we have the ability to impact the effect suffering will have on us. We suffer as those who have hope – hope not simply that we won’t ever have to suffer, but hope that says regardless of what we do or will suffer, we need never suffer again with God’s wrath.
Mark 8:27-38 – Jesus’ reaction to Peter’s attempts to dissuade him from his appointed path are met with sharp rebuke. Jesus had already faced direct temptation from Satan in the wilderness after his baptism (1:12-13) as we heard a few weeks ago in the Gospel reading. Satan tempted Jesus to disobey his heavenly Father’s directives, to seek another way of allegedly accomplishing the same goals. Why slug it out day in and day out among the sweaty masses with signs and wonders when you could display your identity from the top of God’s Temple in Jerusalem? Wouldn’t a quick moment of worshiping me instead of God be worth it, if it might deliver all the kingdoms of the world immediately into Jesus’ hands? The offers sound ludicrous but the temptation and sin inherently are ludicrous. Someone standing outside the effects of temptation can see how hollow and shallow the offers being made are. Yet for those in the midst of temptation, the offers seem truly tantalizing. Satan’s temptations to Jesus had to be attractive, else they could hardly be considered temptations.
The main issue was whether or not Jesus would remain faithful to his Father’s plan or deviate. The temptations had to be real and strong enough for Jesus to actually consider pursuing them. The very human fear Jesus undoubtedly had about the exhausting and agonizing death He would suffer made Satan’s offers desirable, and that temptation remained very real here and now with Peter essentially (and perhaps unknowingly even) tempting Jesus away from obedience.
Jesus does not have an academic understanding of temptation, the mechanics and nuances. He has experienced it personally. He knows how appealing it can be in the moment, how badly we want to believe the lies that always accompany temptation. Our great high priest, as Paul refers to him in Hebrews, fully empathizes with us. His sacrifice on our behalf is every bit as grounded in reality as his temptations. Who He came to be on our behalf, and his faithfulness and obedience in maintaining that path and identity despite temptation, guarantees us that his death and resurrection belong to us as well, and that through his suffering we are healed.