Reading Ramblings – March 17, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday in Lent – March 17, 2019

Texts: Jeremiah 26:8-15; Psalm 4; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

Context: The readings for this Sunday focus on the reality of struggle in this world between the followers of Christ and those who resist the message of grace and truth and seek to silence it by persecuting those who proclaim and carry it. The idea of worldly opposition should not be a surprising one. Our ancient enemy The Accuser was at work in Eden to throw creation into sin and death, and he continues his work today actively. While defeated, he is still able to inflict collateral damage on the Church and individual Christians. A brief investigation of world news will show that persecution of Christians is alive and well in a stunning number of areas. Yet we are called to faithfulness in spite of the threat of persecution and harm.

Jeremiah 26:8-15 – The word of God is first and foremost always the Word that calls us towards life. God always speaks for our benefit, and even his Word of warning and discipline is for our benefit. It is often not heard this way, however. People have always been offended by the idea of an actual God with actual expectations, who has a moral order that He expects us to follow, even if imperfectly. Our sinful self-centeredness balks at this restriction, always crying more, more and me, me! To the sin within us the Word of warning and discipline is outrageous and offensive. We would rather God affirm us in our sin, even though our sin leads to our own destruction and the destruction of those around us. Jeremiah stands firm in the Word he was called to deliver, delivering it again even as he stands in public accusation, under trial, with the very real possibility that he will be sentenced to execution for God’s Word that calls for repentance and warns of discipline. So we are to keep our eyes fixed on Christ rather than on the threats we imagine or fear or actually face around us. God is faithful, and has promised us victory through faith in his incarnate Son Jesus, who knows all too well what the road of faithfulness will sometimes lead to.

Psalm 4 – This psalm is often interpreted in three parts – where David speaks first to God (v.1), then to those around him (vs.2-6), and finally to himself (vs.7-8). The psalm is thought by some to date to the conflict between David and his son Absalom, who sought to depose his father from the throne and led an armed rebellion against David. David first prays to God, acknowledging him as the source of his own righteousness, his own standing in God’s eyes, and asking God to hear him. The David addresses those around him, perhaps officials who are uncertain in their loyalties in the midst of this situation. Perhaps he calls to those who have deserted him in favor of Absalom. He calls them back to truth, and affirms that God will vindicate his righteous ones, of which David already professes he is one. He calls his followers to calmness of heart. Verse 4 is fascinating. The Hebrew word translated in the ESV (and some other translations) as anger can also refer to strong emotion of any kind, including fear. It may be that it is translated as anger because of Ephesians 4:26. There, Paul speaks of being angry and not sinning. Is Paul quoting Psalm 4? Perhaps. The Greek word for anger here very clearly means anger, while there are other Hebrew words better and more frequently translated as anger in the Old Testament. If it is anger, David warns against sin in thinking ill of their enemies, calling them to rest on things as a means of cooling their anger. Continue to do the things the Lord has required (v.5) rather than focus improperly on the larger issues at hand. Finally, David takes his own advice to heart. He remembers all of God’s goodness to him, and reminds himself or exhorts himself to right behavior, trusting ultimately in God as his protector.

Philippians 3:17-4:1 – Paul exhorts the Philippians to focus on those who walk faithfully, rather than focus on those who do not. There are no shortage of the latter – people who focus on short-term pleasures and self-gratification rather than the bigger picture of what pleases God. We are called to keep our focus straight. This life is not the end all of our existence. In some ways it is just preparation for our eternal life, and that eternal life is not defined by our own selfish desires but rather by Jesus, who is our Lord and Savior, appointed by God the Father himself for this role. It is in Jesus that we will receive life, so that our eternal lives will not be enslaved to the passions of our flesh as they often are now. This is what we are to strive towards and focus on.

Luke 13:31-35 – Jesus is warned of political schemes to execute him. Rather than being knocked off course by this, Jesus focuses on the work at hand as dictated by his heavenly Father. Jesus has a job to do and a time frame to do it in, and Herod cannot thwart the will of God in this respect, so Jesus will not thwart it either in fear. And Jesus clarifies the situation further. Herod may be threatening, but the real issue is with God’s own people rather than Roman-designated rulers. It is Jerusalem, the capital of God’s people, center of the worship of God that has proven time and time again to be fatal to the very messengers of God himself. It is Jerusalem that is the real threat, which is why Herod won’t be able to do anything until Jesus reaches Jerusalem and faces the leaders of God’s people who will in turn hand him over to Herod.

Jesus final words in this chapter are fulfilled as He enters Jerusalem (recorded by Luke in chapter 19). It is there and then that Jerusalem does see Jesus for who He is, the crowds acknowledging that Jesus comes in the name of the Lord, He is the messenger of God who comes on behalf of God and should be listened to and revered as such. But just as Jesus predicts, just as the prophets of old such as Jeremiah understood, speaking the Word of God can be dangerous business, particularly when speaking it to God’s people.

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