Reading Ramblings – March 18, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 18, 2018

Texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:32-45

Context: As we draw closer to the end of Lent, our thoughts begin to direct themselves to the sacrifice of Jesus through which our sins are forgiven and the power of the Law to condemn us is broken. Something new comes into place to replace the temporary program of sacrifices that God instituted with his creation. A final sacrifice is necessary to end all further sacrifices and to make good all sacrifices that came before. This will make possible a new state of things between God and his creation, a new state worked in individual hearts. In that arrangement the typical things we struggle for in life – respect, power, prestige – mean nothing. The need to constantly assert ourselves for our own benefit is replaced by the ability to receive the highest honor possible – being fully and completely ourselves, free of sin and death – by receiving the gift of God in his Son. Jesus’ unique nature as truly human and truly divine makes this uniquely possible. His sacrifice can be conveyed perfectly to us, achieving in us the perfect results impossible under any other high priest or with any other sacrificial offering.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 – A new day is anticipate, one in which God’s Word won’t need to be taught, but rather will be known and recognized in the individual heart. This covenant will be unlike the one at Mt. Sinai, which God’s people had to be repeatedly reminded of and called back to. This covenant will be characterized not by the requirements of the law but rather by forgiveness and grace. The former covenant could be broken – and was. But this covenant will not be, as it consists ultimately not of perfect obedience but perfect forgiveness from God.

Psalm 119:9-16 – The great acrostic psalm takes up the theme of God’s word in each stanza. Beth is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and each of the lines in this stanza start with a word that begins with the letter beth. Certainly it isn’t only the young man that should be concerned with guarding his way, but here David uses his own experience as an exhortation to others. There are many forms and sources of alleged wisdom in our world, but only one of them is truly and completely reliable – the wisdom that comes from God and specifically the wisdom provided in his Word. These are the reliable precepts we may trust, against which every other source of wisdom should be tested.

Hebrews 5:1-10 – Hebrews works to flesh out the role of Jesus to humanity, and takes on subjects such as his authority compared to angels as well as his function as the great and final High Priest. Earthly high priests are limited in their efficaciousness by their own mortality and their own sinfulness. Their sacrifices can never be fully pure or holy. The office of High Priest is a human office to which in theory no person should aspire towards for their own personal pride or vanity, though of course by the time this letter is written in the mid-late first century, there were plenty of examples in Jewish history of people doing exactly this. Jesus, however, is called perfectly by God the Father into this role, a role He could carry out perfectly because of his perfect obedience. Therefore when Jesus is called upon not simply to offer a sacrifice but to be the sacrifice, his sacrifice is pure and perfect and holy, and that pureness and perfection and holiness is credited to those who believe and follow him. The final reference to Melchizedek, a shadowy figure from Genesis 14:17-24, is a source of endless fascination and speculation. Is Jesus actually Melchizedek, or more accurately, is Melchizedek actually a prefigurement of Jesus? Paul’s language here is ambiguous and doesn’t clearly assert this as a divinely-revealed truth.

Mark 10:32-45 – Jesus comes not to fulfill our ideas about glory and power. Jesus foretells his death for the third and final time in Mark’s account, and this immediately gives rise not to pious meditation on the suffering servant of God, but rather on speculation as to how Jesus’ victory and honor will be shared amongst his inner circle. This certainly sounds crass and selfish, though of course it mirrors much of our own desire for power and recognition, and much of our understanding of the life of faith. Our obedience and faith will be rewarded with and in eternal life with our Creator God. But it will not consist in the relative lording over one another of our particular level of faith. It will not be a reward to distinguish us and our obedience but rather a reward that first and foremost honors God who makes it possible. The only distinction in heaven will be the glory of God the Son due to his full and perfect obedience to God the Father’s plan of salvation, a plan that calls for his own sacrificial death. James and John cannot share in this plan – they cannot drink the same cup that is prepared for Jesus. It isn’t purely a matter of faithfulness or willingness but the reality of their sinfulness that makes this impossible.

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