Reading Ramblings – February 25, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday in Lent – February 25, 2018

Texts: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 5:1-11; Mark 8:27-38

Context: Promises are powerful things. Keeping promises is even a more powerful thing, both to the honor of the one who keeps it as well as the one who receives the benefits of the fulfilled promise. God promised Abraham that He would bless him. After nearly 25 years together Abraham has indeed been blessed, even though God has not fulfilled all of his promises to him. He does though, and Abraham is indeed the blessing to all of creation God indicates. It isn’t simply the long-awaited birth of Isaac in which God fulfills his promise. Rather, it is ultimately in Abraham’s distant descendant, Jesus of Nazareth. Here is where the promise to Abraham reaches it’s fullest application and fulfillment, and you and I today are part of the evidence of God’s faithfulness to his promises. Lent is a time of anticipation and trusting in the promises of God as we recognize just how unfaithful and untrustworthy we ourselves are.

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 – The skipped verses have to do with the covenant of circumcision, and are omitted to keep the focus on God and his promises. Likewise the reading stops short of Abraham’s response to God’s promise. These are irrelevant things. What God promises, God fulfills. Regardless of whether we believe He will or not. So we are called to trust God’s promises in Jesus Christ that our sins – which Lent gives us time to reflect on and repent of – truly are forgiven. This has nothing to do with the intensity of my faith or the size of my faith, for even what we might characterize as small faith is grounded in the power and promise of God himself, and is enough. Even the thief on the cross with his very small statement of faith – remember me when you come into your kingdom (Luke 23:42) – is assured that God will honor his promises to this unlikely convert. Rather than be dismayed at the depth of our sinfulness, we should rather cast our eyes to the promises of God in Jesus Christ that though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). God keeps his promises!

Psalm 22:23-31 – The first half of this psalm is a powerful plea to God for help and mercy, a searching for a God who seems hidden but is trusted to be present. Jesus quotes the first line of this psalm as He hangs on the cross, dying. Yet today we focus on the second half of this psalm, which based on trust in God’s faithfulness transitions into an exhortation to praise. God is faithful, and the appearances of this world and our relative conditions in it are not accurate descriptions of the extent of God’s faithful promises to even those we would consider lowly or despised (v.24). Rather, God’s faithfulness will be extended to those who need it most, and we his people are to take seriously that, as Martin Luther described, we are masks of God through whom God fulfills his promises to his creation. When we see those who suffer we do not ask why God allows them to suffer, but rather why we allow them (or cause them) to suffer. Such confidence is not just the duty and privilege of the living but the dead as well, powerful assertions in the last two verses of the psalm. God is not the god of the dead but of the living, including those who seem dead to us.

Romans 5:1-11 – Paul beautifully summarizes what we receive from God and his promises through Jesus Christ. First and foremost we are now at peace with God. We are no longer actively in rebellion against him and his will and therefore subjects of his righteous wrath. Our sin no longer separates us from God. This in turn leads us to experience our lives not in anger against God for what He has or has not given us, but rather in trust that He has, does, and will give us all things, even if our current situation does not seem to reflect this. Christians suffer differently than any other person on earth because Christians suffer in the hope that God the Holy Spirit is at work even in the suffering, not simply helping them to get through it but actively working within them to change their very character in the process, which enables us to hold on to our hope in the promises of God. These promises are grounded in the very physical death and resurrection of the Son of God. We are not left to ground our hopes on nothing but on a historical event witnessed by many people and attested to by reliable witnesses still today in the four Gospels of the New Testament. We therefore have hope not simply to avoid punishment from God – which fell upon Jesus instead – but rather to enjoy the full blessings and promises of God witnessed to in the resurrection of the Son of God.

Mark 8:27-38 – We read the account of the Transfiguration which follows this section two weeks ago. Now we move back in time to see what happened before Peter, James and John witnessed Jesus in his divine glory. It begins with Peter’s miraculous confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the fulfillment of God’s prophetic promises to his people since at least the time of Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18). But expectations about what the Messiah will do and be need to be corrected, so Jesus proceeds to outline the trajectory of his ministry, culminating in his death and resurrection. This doesn’t match the hopes and dreams of a subjugated people, who long for a Messiah who will deliver them from the power of Rome and restore them to the glory they enjoyed under Kings David and Solomon! Peter feels the need to correct Jesus. In doing so, however, he becomes a source of temptation to Jesus, and in that respect no better or different than Satan when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness following Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). Fully human, Jesus no doubt is filled with fear and dread of the events He knows are coming. Would that there was another way! Peter vocalizes the temptations that Jesus must constantly face down and so He reacts sharply to Peter.

His words still haunt his followers today, who all too often have seen the truth in them. To follow Jesus is a denial of self and what we would prefer or desire according to our sinful and broken standards of what is good. To follow Jesus ultimately means committing oneself – if necessary – to taking up voluntarily the instrument of our death, rather than rejecting the one we know to be the Messiah, the Son of God, and the ultimate source and hope of our life not just here and now but for all eternity. Jesus’ words are not a Hallmark-card encouragement to keep our chins up when we have a bad day at work or when the car won’t start. The cross was a brutal, terrifying reality to the people of Judea in Jesus’ day. They understood his words clearly as a summons to death, if necessary.

We are to be bold in the face of death, resolved to our faith in the one who is faithful and keeps his promises to us. Failure to do so is a rejection of the only one who truly can give us life. Rejecting Jesus may allow us to live a bit longer in this world, or a bit more comfortably, but at the eternal cost of our very souls. God is faithful! Let us be faithful to him for this little while, regardless of what suffering that might require from us!

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