Reading Ramblings – March 5, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday in Lent – March 5, 2017

Texts: Genesis 3:1-21; Psalm 32:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

Context: This is the first Sunday in the liturgical season of Lent, which is in my opinion the most curious of the liturgical seasons. It balances the acknowledgement that every Sunday is Easter Sunday again, a celebration of our Lord’s dramatic victory of sin, death, and Satan through his resurrection from the dead. But at the same time the season has a somber edge appropriate to the self-examination and confession of our sinful need for a savior. Jesus undergoes his Passion because of you and I and our sins, to save you and I personally and specifically. Balancing the celebrative with the contemplative is an interesting homiletical challenge! Being in Lent, we are no longer in the liturgical season of Ordinary Time, and will not return to it until June 18 after Pentecost and Holy Trinity Sundays. At that point the lectio continua will resume, but with the middle of Romans instead of 1 Corinthians.

Genesis 3:1-21 – A season for the contemplation of our sinfulness logically begins with the source of our sinfulness, the primordial sin of our ancestors Adam and Eve. Sin is disobedience from God, and we struggle to consider that such a simple exertion of self-will against divine will could brook all the chaos and suffering we know in our world and lives. But this is so. One command in the beginning, not ten. One act of disobedience, not the myriad failures you and I experience daily as a result. While we may source our own sinfulness in Adam and Eve’s, it is inaccurate to try and shift the blame fully to them. We participate actively in sin, whether large or small, whether societally abhorrent or privately nagging. Disobedience is disobedience, and the excuse that it is just a small matter fails to recognize that rebellion on a small scale inevitably leads to rebellion on a grand scale (consider the murder in the next chapter!).

Psalm 32:1-7 – A beautiful psalm not only of confession, but confidence in God’s forgiveness. It acknowledges the guilt that we suffer when we sin (vs.3-4), and though we are inclined to want to hide our sinfulness from God and not talk about it, it is only in the act of honest confession that we receive relief (vs. 5-6). So it is that we can and should encourage one another to constant confession. Self-examination is something that leads us closer to God, not farther away. As we confess our sin we are forgiven, a blessed state indeed! As Christians this continual act of confession is not because God has not forgiven us already. Rather, it is the means God gives us for remaining aware of our dependency on him, and guarding our hearts and minds from being misled by others or our own brokenness into determining that something God has declared to be sinful is, in fact, not sinful. Such an error is dangerous, and confession based on the Word of God is a strong tool to keep our hearts and minds aligned in Him, rather than our own spurious feelings and ideas.

Romans 5:12-19 – Romans is an amazing book for connecting Scriptural dots. I’m often asked by people new to the Bible how and what to read first. Genesis 1-3, at least one of the Gospels, and then Romans is my standard response. Romans connects the implications of Genesis 1-3 with the good news of Jesus Christ in a personal way. Death and sin are our inheritance. But in Jesus, we are set free from those chains, receiving instead grace and righteousness instead of condemnation in guilt. In Adam, all humanity was condemned. In Christ, all humanity has been redeemed. Salvation is a reality that only need be received, not earned.

Matthew 4:1-11 – In order for Jesus to redeem humanity, He must remain obedient where Adam was not. So it is that before He begins his public ministry, He must – weakened by fasting – withstand the temptations of Satan. It’s easy for us to dismiss this as a rather trivial matter. But Jesus is truly human as well as truly divine. He has a human will which truly could deviate from his heavenly Father’s commands. The temptations of Satan are real. He tempts Jesus physically in his hunger. He tempts Jesus’ pride and vanity by asking him to prove his identity. And he tempts Jesus in regards to his work and mission, by offering another way to accomplish allegedly the same goal. Jesus withstands all three temptations by relying on the Word of God to correct Satan’s misuse of God’s Word.

We who face temptation have the same weapon at our disposal to withstand temptation. The Word of God is more than capable of thwarting Satan’s temptations, or the suggestions of the world, or our own sinful desires. Knowing God’s Word is essential to detecting misuses of that same Word.

Lent is a time of reflection and confession of our sinfulness. But we reflect and repent in the light of the empty tomb. The resurrected Christ assures us that our sins are forgiven through faith in his once-for-all sacrifice. There is nothing more to be added to his work. Although we are weak and will fall prey to temptation where Jesus did not, our hope is not in compensating for those failures or making up for them in some way by becoming a better person. While striving to be a better person is a noble pursuit, we dare never allow it to become the means by which we try to show God our own worthiness of his love. He loves us, assuredly, but if we wish to stand on our own merits, we must keep his Law perfectly, at all times. As with Adam and Eve, just one failure condemns us, because there is no way to make up for failure. Only when we rely fully on the sacrifice of Christ can we be assured that his death and resurrection have forgiven every single one of our sins – past, present and future.

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