Reading Ramblings – March 10, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday in Lent – March 9, 2019

Texts: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-13; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

Context: We enter the season of Lent, the penitential season that prepares us for Holy Week and the eventual joy of Easter morning. Lent is ultimately a time to take stock of our life. It is a time for repentance and self-examination, to be sure. But also a time to think of all that we have by the grace of God. Instead of the judgment and wrath we should expect from our sin, we are blessed all too often with the grace of God in both forgiveness and material blessings. The readings for today launch us on this overlapping trajectory as we move towards Holy Week and Easter. We give thanks to God for his graciousness and forgiveness as we take seriously our sin and our need for constant repentance, trusting in God the Father’s promised grace through God the Son.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 – In our first world culture of materialism and our corresponding emphasis on self-reliance and self-determination, it can be easy to forget that all we have is from God. He gives us life and our abilities and skills and the intelligence to use them. We can point to all that we have and say truly that all of this is a gift from God. In saying this, our view of our possessions changes, and hopefully our attitude towards others. If all we have is a gift from God’s, shouldn’t we be that much more inclined to share his blessings with others as He has shared them with us? Lent provides us a time to re-evaluate not just our spiritual lives but our material priorities and attitudes which are often a source of sin in terms of pride or greed or idolatry.

Psalm 91:1-13 – As the God who blesses us, He is also the source of all things, our protection in the midst of terror and trouble. We may be tempted to put our trust in other things – the rule of law, civility, communal expectations of good behavior. But all these things are prone to dissipate quickly in the midst of uncertainty. Neighbors can quickly become enemies. We can become isolated and helpless due to natural disasters and catastrophes that cut us off from help. This psalm declares strong confidence in the Lord’s ultimate power to save and defend, despite what may seem insurmountable odds or hopeless situations. We are always to place our hope and trust in him, so that we can face whatever it is that we need to with his strength rather than our own or the strength of others. We also hear in this psalm part of the Scripture Satan uses to tempt Jesus in the wilderness. It’s easy to see that the psalm itself has nothing to do with testing God by throwing yourself off of a high place! And while the psalm certainly proclaims that God can save us at any time, the scope of Scripture makes it clear that we can never be certain whether it is God’s will in any given situation to save us. The psalm is not an invitation to tempt God’s protection, nor to presume upon it improperly. But it is a call to confidence in the strength and grace of God rather than our own, for his glory rather than our own – the very opposite of what Satan proposes!

Romans 10:8b-13 – Our help is in the name of the Lord, we proclaim in worship, and this is true. Our own strength and resolve fails. Our own efforts at purity and obedience are often half-hearted at best and ineffective. Our thoughts and emotions betray us even when we manage to keep control of our bodies and external actions and words. This is not the condition of one group of people but rather all humanity. God’s solution to our sinfulness must be universal in scope as well, encompassing everyone who will accept his grace and forgiveness. These verses are part of Paul’s comparison between Moses and Jesus, demonstrating that Jesus is greater than Moses. Moses gave the Law to just the Hebrews, but Jesus brings salvation to all.

Luke 4:1-13 – This encounter between Jesus and Satan is not random. Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was driven into the wilderness to face Satan. Luke says that He is led into the wilderness. Either way, it is the Holy Spirit’s intention to arrange this meeting, so we might well assume that Satan is driven here as well. The temptation is over the course of 40 days, and might encompass more than what the Gospels record. Satan employs various techniques to tempt Jesus, some of which might not strike us as specifically sinful. Yet it seems clear that Jesus knows what is and is not permitted, and will remain obedient to his Father’s will.

Satan pretends doubt at Jesus’ identity. Maybe He should prove his identity to Satan by turning rocks to bread. Certainly it must be a tempting and somewhat innocuous request, particularly if Jesus is hungry during his 40-day sojourn. Jesus counters this with Deuteronomy 8:3, which references how God the Father fed the Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years with manna.

Satan then tempts Jesus with earthly glory and authority, dominion he claims has been given to him, though this claim seems sketchy at best. Satan offers to give this to Jesus if Jesus will worship him. Jesus resists this temptation with a paraphrasing of the first commandment. It is appropriate only to worship God, never anyone or anything else, for any reason.

Satan then references Scripture to tempt Jesus to display his power and identity, tempting God the Father’s protection as a means of proving his identity to Satan and perhaps to the people of God as well, short-cutting the long three years of preaching and teaching and working miracles throughout Galilee and in Jerusalem. But Jesus knows Psalm 91, and as we mentioned already, the psalm has nothing to do with testing God, or demonstrating and flaunting the protection it describes. Jesus responds with Scripture again, referencing Deuteronomy 6:16, where Moses warns God’s people about putting him to the test with their complaining.

Jesus must meet Satan to be tempted. He must demonstrate that He is both willing and able to resist temptation, to not follow the steps of Adam and Eve away from the word and will of God. While this is not the end of his temptation, it indicates that He can begin his ministry. Everything hinges on this obedience, which must be continued until He hangs from the cross in death.

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