Reading Ramblings – October 1, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 1, 2017

Texts: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Psalm 25:1-10; Philippians 2:1-18; Matthew 21:23-32

Context: The distinction between justification and sanctification is crucial. What God the Father does through God the Son to save us sets in motion a process that only finishes in eternity – our being made into the holy and righteous sons and daughters of God the Father that we are made through faith in God the Son. Yet we are always looking for ways around this, either to blame others for our sin or to claim a righteousness based on our works rather than on the work of Christ. Both are futile, and leave us exposed to the wrath of God that demands our faith and trust in what He has done on our behalf.

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 – We are prone to looking for excuses for our sinfulness. We want others to bear the responsibility for our transgressions. Modern psychology has convinced us that we can’t truly be held responsible for our own problems, yet God says otherwise. Rather than helping us to place blame elsewhere, God holds us responsible for our own sin. Just because we were influenced or affected by others does not remove our moral culpability before a righteous God. Instead, we are called to repentance and to changed lives made possible by the power of God the Holy Spirit who leads us to God the Son, Jesus Christ, as the source of our justification – our being made right – with God the Father. God’s goal is always straightforward – that we would choose life in him rather than death on our own terms.

Psalm 25:1-10 – If this sounds familiar it’s because we recited it on Pentecost Sunday, just a few short months ago. Verses 1-3 are a plea for help in a difficult situation, ending with the acknowledgment that those who trust in God will not be put to shame. Verses 4-5 ask for the Lord to guide and lead the petitioner in the right ways, while verses 6-7 are a plea for mercy and forgiveness. Knowing God’s will and being able to perfectly accomplish it are two separate things. Verses 8-10 are an affirmation that God indeed will lead and guide his people, and that the Lord will act in love and faithfulness to his people. Forgiveness goes hand in hand with seeking the Lord’s leading and guidance out of sin and towards a life that is more in keeping with his ways.

Philippians 2:1-18 – We are prone to think of ourselves first, but as followers of Christ we are to follow his example of humility, even humility to the point of death. Paul exhorts the Philippians towards this goal acknowledging that he himself takes pride in their successes towards this end and would lament their failures. Despite his imprisonment, he can still look to them as a source of encouragement and hope, and they should consider themselves as such for mutual rejoicing.

Matthew 21:23-32 – Jesus deals with challenges to his authority by forcing his inquisitors to examine their own consciences. The goal is repentance, not simply avoiding a question. Jesus is not shy in other places (notably John’s Gospel account) of giving his authority as God the Father. But here He gives an opportunity for repentance. Matthew gives us a glimpse of the thought processes involved by the religious leaders. To acknowledge John the Baptist’s authority would condemn themselves because they did not submit to him. But to deny John the Baptist’s authority would expose themselves to the judgment of the crowds, who were convinced that John was a prophet sent by God. Without a convenient answer, they opt to avoid the question and so does Jesus.

Jesus then tells a parable to demonstrate the position which the religious leaders have just placed themselves in. They are like the second son, who claims to be obedient to his father and yet is not. Likewise, the religious leaders claim obedience to the law of God while rejecting the authoritative voices that God sends to them – notably in John the Baptist and Jesus himself. But those who are all too aware of their sinfulness and need for grace – they recognize God’s calling to them in John the Baptist and Jesus. While their lives have previously been in offense to God and a rejection – for whatever reason – of his call on their lives, they have come to repentance, seeking baptism from John and now listening and heeding Jesus. As such they are more obedient and therefore better sons and daughters of their heavenly Father than the religious leaders who promise to be obedient and then are not.

Repentance and the the corresponding forgiveness of God the Father cannot help but create change in our lives. We are not free to dictate to others exactly how this will look, yet Scripture provides plenty of examples of the sorts of things we should expect. What we cannot expect is to repent and be forgiven without any need for change in our lives. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the grace of God. It is not simply an intellectual shortcoming but a matter of unfaithfulness to the one who has set us free to live for Him rather than for ourselves.

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