Reading Ramblings – March 1, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday in Lent, March 1, 2020

Texts: Genesis 3:1-21; Psalm 32:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

Context: The Latin term is quadragesima – 40 days. But the Old English lencten, which means spring, is the source for the English word Lent. Several Church Fathers in the fifth century, including St. Jerome, will refer to a 40-day period of fasting based on apostolic tradition, but we have no written verification of that source any earlier than the 400s AD, and we have other, earlier sources such as Irenaeus indicating there are differences in the length of the fasting time. The length of Lent as it became institutionalized is no doubt driven by periods of fasting or difficulty in Scripture, such as Israel in the wilderness for 40 years, or Moses on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights, or Jesus’ fasting for 40 days in the wilderness prior to his temptation by Satan. Fasting has long been associated with Lent though the length of time varies from area to area.

Genesis 3:1-21 – The story of God’s salvation of creation begins with the story of creation’s fall into sin. The great tragedy of perfection marred and twisted by disobedience to God’s Word. Satan plants ideas and doubts into the heads of Adam and Eve, using some of God’s words but altering others. It’s clear Adam and Eve know what is expected of them. It is not a fall from ignorance. Satan flatly contradicts God – to eat the fruit will not lead to death. To a change, yes, but death? How silly! And that is enough for Eve to evaluate the fruit and how desirable it is. And it is enough for Adam to follow her in disobedience. The Fall is simply the first disobedience of creation, creating an avalanche of all sorts of sins that will ripple out through Genesis and the rest of Scripture and our lives still today. Sin that leads to death, contrary to Satan’s assurances. Sin from which we cannot escape, but can only be saved. Sin that requires a Savior who can and will do what you and I can’t and won’t. Perfect fulfillment of God’s commands.

Psalm 32:1-7 – The common oversimplification that God’s people in the Old Testament believed they were righteous is just that, oversimplified. This psalm is a beautiful example of a very good understanding of sin and the need for forgiveness. Sin is present always, but God’s forgiveness covers over it as though it were not there. It is our duty to be honest, confessing our sins and seeking God’s forgiveness. Failure to do so results in the conscience torturing us – or perhaps it is the Holy Spirit of God that accuses us constantly until we admit our wrongdoing and seek forgiveness and a setting of our mind against repeating the sin? But as soon as we bring our confession to our God, He forgives our iniquity, providing us with the only true peace that exists – reconciliation with God. The term maskil which describes this psalm is a Hebrew term that means wise or enlightened. Certainly to acknowledge our guilt before our God and seek his forgiveness is the height of wisdom!

Romans 5:12-19 – Paul’s argument is Jesus is a second or new Adam. Without sin. Capable of perfect obedience to the will of God, which now requires quite a bit more than simply avoiding the fruit of a particular tree! Paul quickly dismisses the notion that without the Law (given through Moses at Mt. Sinai) there could not rightly be sin. Of course there was sin – right there in the beginning in the Garden of Eden – and that sin had not disappeared but propogated. Proof of this is that death was in the world long before Moses brought the Law of God down the mountain to the people. Where Adam’s disobedience brought death, Jesus’ obedience brings life. Jesus’ perfect life and sinless death makes it possible for the reign of death to be overthrown, and those in Christ to reign in life instead. Note that nowhere in this discussion does Paul mention our own righteousness or good behavior. There is no place for that here. The only consideration in our righteousness is the righteousness of Christ extended to us through faith and trust in the promises of God. There is nothing we can add to this, and nothing we can substitute for it. Jesus alone is the source of our reconciliation with God.

Matthew 4:1-11 – Weakened by fasting and exposure, Satan arrives to tempt Jesus. The meeting was planned by God the Holy Spirit Matthew makes clear. This is no coincidence. One wonders if perhaps Satan arrives after a conversation with God similar to the one recorded in the opening chapters of Job? Once again Satan uses the words of God – at least some of them – as a basis for tempting Jesus. It worked with Adam, perhaps it can work here as well? But he begins with a simpler appeal – turning rocks into bread. Surely the Word through whom all things were created can do such a simple thing? Surely such a simple act would not be sinful! If blindness can be turned to sight and deafness to hearing, if lameness can be healed and death itself overruled, what is turning a few stones to bread? The issue is not the alteration of creation but rather obedience to the Word of God, and if God the Father or God the Holy Spirit have not given Jesus permission to do such a thing, than to do it on his own initiative would be sinful. To fulfill his own, personal desire rather than rely exclusively on the Holy Spirit who brought him into the wilderness in the first place would be sin. Jesus rebuff’s Satan’s suggestion by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3.

Perhaps inspired by Jesus’ use of Scripture, Satan next draws from Psalm 91 to tempt Jesus to test God’s protection and in the process, demonstrate his identity. Satan’s choice helps us to understand this psalm ultimately as being about Jesus. But once again, does Jesus presume upon the Father? Does Jesus dictate to the Father how and when to save him? Jesus has come rather to obey only and completely the Father, even unto death. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 to show Satan’s suggestion is inappropriate.

Finally Satan makes an offer he likely can’t fulfill. Worship him and he will provide Jesus with the kingdoms of the world. This is likely not a temptation to greed, but rather a temptation to circumvent God the Father’s plan. Why endure years of laborious ministry and then suffer and die on a cross? Wouldn’t this be easier? Don’t the ends justify the means? Hardly. Obedience is the end, and without obedience, nothing else can be accomplished. Jesus rebuffs Satan with a paraphrasing of the first commandment from Exodus 20.

Jesus remains obedient where Adam and Eve failed to. He resists Satan’s temptations rather than give in to them. He insists on listening to God the Father rather than substituting his own ideas about things. Jesus maintains the perfect obedience you and I are unable to, so that He can offer his righteousness to us through faith.

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