Reading Ramblings – February 22, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday in Lent – February 22, 2015

Texts: Genesis 22:1-18; Psalm 25:1-10; James 1:12-18; Mark 1:9-15

Context: The season of Lent is the preparation season for the celebration of Easter. We are Easter people, people of the resurrection, but people also of the short attention span, people of the quick fix, people of the pop-a-pill. We are people who like to get to the good stuff and bypass as much of the bad stuff as possible. Lent slows us down. Lent tells us that the good news of Jesus Christ is only good news so long as we have faced squarely the very bad news of what our life without Christ looks like. Only in acknowledging our sin can we truly appreciate forgiveness. Only by staring death in the face are we able to truly rejoice with the promise of the resurrection.

Genesis 22:1-18 – Without a doubt this is one of the most challenging passages in all of Scripture. That God would test Abraham, that God would allow Abraham to doubt and wonder and consider the reality of losing the promised son he had waited so long for, even if God never intended to actually require Abraham to go through with the sacrifice – this story resonates in the heart of every parent and every child, regardless of age.

We find it appalling that God would even make such a request of Abraham, yet Abraham himself seems at the very least resigned to the appropriateness of the request. He never questions. Never balks. He obeys. Perhaps he understands God as the author and owner of all salvation. At the very least he understands God as the source of the blessings he has enjoyed since leaving his family. God is the one who promised him a son – who is Abraham to deny God what He asks? Does the Lord not indeed give, and is the Lord therefore not entitled to take away (Job 1:21)?

Abraham does not yet know God, certainly not as we know him now, through his Word and through his Word made flesh in Jesus Christ. Our outrage should not be at what God asked of Abraham, but at how quickly we – who know that God would never ask for human sacrifice from us – how quickly we are to dictate what God can and can’t do in our lives.

Psalm 25:1-10 – The recurring theme in these verses is one of seeking the Lord’s wisdom and teaching (vs.4-5, 8-10). Alternating with this them is that of faithfulness and trust in the Lord (vs.1-3, 6-7). These are the two aspects of our relationship with our God. First and foremost is obedience and faithfulness, but this can come only if God reveals his intentions and desires for our lives.

God the Father’s most fervent desire for us is that we be in proper relationship with his Son, Jesus the Christ, and as such enjoy the presence of God the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. While we may fret over the decisions of our lives, we are called first and foremost to trust in God, and particularly in his mercy and steadfast love (v.6), and the promise of forgiveness through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ (v.7). If we understand God’s disposition to us as one of love and mercy and forgiveness, the particular decisions of our life become less intimidating. We live in the grace of God! We are free to live as his children in faith and obedience, rather than in constant fear and worry of disappointing him or somehow failing to live up to his plans for our lives!

James 1:12-18 – Our continued sinful existence in a sinful world means that we will face difficult situations. We will indeed experience trials and temptations, through which we are exhorted to stand fast to eternal life. We are sometimes inclined to credit God as the source of a particular trial or temptation, but James is a good reminder that temptation originates from within us. It isn’t that God has to work to tempt us – we are constantly a temptation to ourselves, constantly conceiving of sin in our hearts and minds. This is our natural disposition, the reason that the Son of God had to come into this world to die in our place as the final, perfect sacrifice for sin.

Rather, we are to see God the Father as the source of blessing, not trial and temptation. He is the source of life, not the source of death. He never changes his disposition towards us, despite our constant fluctuations in attitude and faithfulness towards him.

Mark 1:9-15 – Jesus must face temptation. This is not to say that He has not yet been tempted in his life – that would indeed be miraculous! But now that He has in obedience declared his intention to publicly obey his Father’s plan for his life, now that He intends to take on himself the sin of the world, He must be tested. Mark’s account of his temptation is very brief, and we must turn to Matthew 4 or Luke 4 for the fuller account. Mark is perhaps crafting his Gospel as a drama, more like a play that emphasizes action rather than exposition. What matters is that Jesus faces temptation head-on, that temptation occurs over a prolonged period of time, and that God the Father provides for his Son during this period away from other people.

Scholars are intrigued by a unique detail of Mark’s account – the inclusion of wild animals. This seems like a curious detail for a Gospel that is so streamlined and terse. Why does Mark mention this? The wild animals are not portrayed as antagonistic to Jesus. Are they tending to him as well? Is this a precursor of the sort of changes in the natural order that Isaiah prophesies (Isaiah 11:6-9; Isaiah 65:17-25)? Is this hearkening back to Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve, surrounded by the wild animals God had created, faced Satan’s temptations and failed?

Jesus resists temptation and begins his public ministry (Mark 1:15). From Matthew and Luke we know that Jesus resists temptation not through supernatural means, but through familiarity with the Word of God and a willingness to use this rather than substitute his own preferences. As such he demonstrates his worthiness to continue on the path laid out for him by his heavenly Father, a path that ultimately leads to Jerusalem, betrayal, death, resurrection, ascension, and a glorious return. A path that ultimately opens to you and I forgiveness and grace from God the Father, the presence of God the Holy Spirit, and the promise of life everlasting.

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