Reading Ramblings – March 24, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday in Lent, March 24, 2019

Texts: Ezekiel 33:7-20; Psalm 85; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

Context: Our actions have consequences. While the Reformation restored (at least in some quarters) the centrality of Christ and redemption through faith alone in him, in some of those same quarters there was, I suspect, a corresponding casualness that grew up in regard to sin and the serious business of sanctification. When you confess that it is the life, death, resurrection, ascension and promised return of the Son of God Jesus the Christ that is the only thing that saves you, it is easy to presume that the sin in our lives is not really an issue after all. Scripture never allows us this ease with our sin, however. The call to repentance is clear and constant from beginning to end of Scripture. That repentance is perfected and made pleasing to God through faith in the Son of God’s atonement, but the repentance itself remains serious business as it should lead us to truly battle against the persistent sin in our lives. It’s important to remember that each of the passages this morning is not a railing against the sinfulness of the pagan world, but rather warnings and reminders to God’s own people!

Ezekiel 33:7-20 – Ezekiel is given the command to speak the Word of God to God’s people and not to pull back or soften it. Lives are at stake, and it is not a stretch to think that these lives are eternal as well as mortal. Salvation is at risk of Ezekiel is not faithful to his task. This is the job of the watchman. The job of the people is to listen when the watchman raises the alarm. This is an important aspect of this passage. Ezekiel functions as a prophet of God who speaks the Word of God. It is the duty of God’s people to listen to the Word of God Ezekiel speaks and respond appropriately. But instead of doing this, instead of recognizing the alarm that the watchman of God is raising, the people instead want to debate theology and accuse God of being unfair, as though God is desiring their death, when this is exactly the opposite of what God wants! Moreover, God is gracious and merciful, so that those who hearken to the watchman’s warning will be saved from death. Those who feel they are already righteous and don’t need to listen may find themselves at risk of the same death they presume others are deserving of but they are not. Our attitude towards God is paramount, as it drives our actions, including genuine repentance which is more than a mere apology but rather a concerted effort to fight against the sin we have apologized for.

Psalm 85 – Verse 8 ties in so beautifully with the reading from Ezekiel. Yes, God indeed always speaks peace to his people, but to do so He must constantly warn them away from dangerous, rebellious folly. Here is the heart of the matter – God speaks life and forgiveness but our sinful nature is always seeking a way to maintain our sinfulness rather than listening to the Word of God and turning from folly. But is this series of actions that is necessary for God to turn from his wrath. The first seven verses of this psalm are exactly what God desires, but it is verses 8-9 that are the central issue. Will we receive God’s forgiveness (v.2) or seek to justify our sin? Will we accept the Lord’s restoration (v.4) or insist on doing things our way. Will we allow God to revive us (v.6) or insist on death? The proper answer to these questions requires our affirmation of v.12. The Lord gives what is good. Always. Therefore we should turn to his Word and learn from it and be saved from our folly.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 – Paul stresses the idea that simply doing the things of faith and receiving the things of faith is not equivalent to faith. All the people of Israel in the Old Testament were saved from slavery and genocide by God. They were all guided by the pillar of cloud and fire. They were all given water from the rock and all fed with God’s manna from heaven. But not all of them had faith in the God who gave these things. Likewise, it is possible to be churched but without faith. It is possible to act in a Christian manner without being a follower of Christ. And it is possible to pollute our faith through practices that are completely antithetical to it. Idolatry, testing God, ingratitude – these are all matters that pollute and dilute our faith. The life of a follower of Christ is one of humility – understanding that we have an external enemy as well as our sinful nature inside of us colluding to sidetrack us from faith in Christ. It is dangerous to dabble in sin, presuming it will never ensnare our hearts away from Christ. Instead, we should seek to resist sin, trusting in the God who has saved us through his Son to provide strength via the Holy Spirit to fight against temptation.

Luke 13:1-9 – One of the ways we seek to justify ourselves and feel safer and more secure is to judge others, particularly those who suffer from misfortune or disaster. It seems that without fail after some catastrophe or another, there are Christian preachers asserting that this was God’s judgment against a sinful people (anyone remember Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans?!). Of course is this a possibility? Certainly. Yet without an authoritative revelation from God are we free to speak in such sweeping terms? I am not so sure. Likewise, Jesus cautions his disciples about making equally quick and easy leaps to judgment in the Gospel lesson. Those who suffer disaster in this world are not necessarily intended as examples of God’s judgment. They are not necessarily more sinful than the rest of us. In fact, this is never the case, even when God decides to judge someone’s sin, their sin is not any worse than the sin in the rest of us. We cannot take such a leisurely approach to sin. Their sin is worse than mine so God punished them. However He won’t punish my sin because it isn’t as bad.

God seeks hearts of repentance and faith in his people. Rather that presuming God stands at the ready to smite us immediately in our sin, we should rather consider God’s graciousness and mercy, his patience in trying to lead us towards producing fruit in keeping with our repentance (Matthew 3:8). Judgment comes to all of us sooner or later, and we should try to keep from assuming that misfortune or disaster in this life is either the direct retribution of God for sin, or that it is indicative of an eternal fate. Rather, not knowing what the future holds or how long we have ahead of us, we should take repentance seriously now, today.

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