Welcome to the March 2018 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the World English Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, March 2018
March 1, 2018
“My heart is steadfast, God. I will sing and I will make music with my soul. Wake up, harp and lyre! I will wake up the dawn. I will give thanks to you, Yahweh, among the nations. I will sing praises to you among the peoples. For your loving kindness is great above the heavens. Your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth. That your beloved may be delivered, save with your right hand, and answer us. God has spoken from his sanctuary: ‘In triumph, I will divide Shechem, and measure out the valley of Succoth. Gilead is mine. Manasseh is mine. Ephraim also is my helmet. Judah is my scepter. Moab is my wash pot. I will toss my sandal on Edom. I will shout over Philistia.’ Who will bring me into the fortified city? Who has led me to Edom? Haven’t you rejected us, God? You don’t go out, God, with our armies. Give us help against the enemy, for the help of man is vain. Through God, we will do valiantly. For it is he who will tread down our enemies.” Psalm 108, WEB
Robert Morgan is a pastor and author from Nashville, Tennessee. He shared this story about prayer in a sermon. “I once spent the night in a crumbling hotel in Ponto Alegre, Brazil. A friend and I ascended to our room, high in the building, in a tiny, creaking elevator. From our window I saw slums spreading out far beneath me, and I felt uneasy. That evening I prayed, ‘Lord, please save me from any danger of fire. You can see we’re at the top of a dilapidated hotel, which is nothing but a firetrap. There isn’t a fire station near, and I can’t see any fire escapes outside the building. Lord, you know that this building would go up in flames in a second, and at this very moment it is probably full of people falling asleep with Marlboros in their mouths…’
“By the time I finished praying, I was a nervous wreck, and I hardly slept a wink at night. The next morning, as I evaluated my evening, I realized that my bedtime prayer had focused on my negative feelings rather than on God’s assurances and promises, and learned an important truth: Unless we plead in faith, our prayers can do more harm than good.”
David faced many enemies throughout his life. As a young boy he killed lions and bears protecting his father’s flocks. As a youth he killed the Philistine who threatened the armies of the LORD. After Samuel anointed him as God’s chosen ruler, he fled the wrath of Saul, never turning from the right ways. As king of Israel, he fought many enemies in the name of the one true and living God. He was threatened but never turned from trusting God, whom he knew would guard and protect him from harm.
In this Psalm, we can see David’s heart and focus. He began this prayer with a song of praise, exalting the one from whom he was seeking help. He remembered God’s promises, and recognized that when Israel failed, it is against her God. In this song of praise he sought God’s salvation, direction and help. He ended the prayer with a statement of faith: “Through God, we will do valiantly. For it is he who will tread down our enemies.”
What David did not do in this Psalm is what Robert did in that hotel in Brazil. He did not focus on the enemy, the fear or the danger ahead. He first praised God’s greatness and His promises and then asked for help. Robert realized the next morning that it was the words of his prayer that made him nervous and restless that night, not the perceived danger itself. He learned that he should have prayed in faith that God is great and His promises are true.
We often hear the call for “thoughts and prayers” these days, especially after a tragedy of some sort. This call is ridiculed and rejected. “What good are thoughts and prayers? We have to DO something!” While it is true that our thoughts are generally meaningless, prayer certainly has power. At the very least it will turn our hearts from fear and anger. At best, we’ll hear God’s voice and find the right answer to our troubles, giving us direction about what we can do.
It isn’t enough, however, to pray against the things that make us afraid and angry. Prayer is about trusting that God is in control and that He can and will DO something. The root of our problem is not earthly objects or even human failure. The root of our problem is evil and the devil. We’ll never beat the devil with our human strength or ideas. We will never overcome evil by doing something. We need God. We need to pray. We need to begin those prayers with praise and thanksgiving like the Psalmist, worshiping the God who has defeated and will continue to defeat our enemy. Do not spend your time rehearsing the evil that might befall us, but instead look to the good that God will do in answer to our prayers and listen for His guidance.
“Therefore many of the Jews, who came to Mary and saw what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them the things which Jesus had done. The chief priests therefore and the Pharisees gathered a council, and said, ‘What are we doing? For this man does many signs. If we leave him alone like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.’” John 11:45-48, WEB
I have no small children in my life at the moment, but I have a huge collection of children’s books. I kept many of the favorites from when my children were small, but I also used those books when I was a preschool teacher and when I have visited classrooms as a storybook reader. I love to read to children.
Today would have been Dr. Seuss’s 114th birthday, and I have a large collection of his books. My favorite is “Green Eggs and Ham.” I love to read it because the rhyming is fun and it has a good message. Over and over the guy tells Sam-I-Am that he does not like something and will not eat it anywhere with anything. He refuses to eat it for no good reason, except maybe because it does not look like something he would like. The kids get a kick out of the end of the book, when the guy finally tries the green eggs and ham to get Sam-I-Am off his back and he discovers that he likes it. At four and five years old, many of our children need to learn that they should try things they have never had before because they just might like it. The children all agreed that they should try new things.
I read the story just before snack time when I was a preschool teacher. After the story I announced, “In honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday, our snack today will be green eggs and ham!” I had gotten up early to scramble some eggs with green food coloring. I served the eggs with some ham and a mini bagel. One girl, who was a very picky eat, tried them when I explained that they were regular scrambled eggs. She exclaimed, “Hey, I like it!” just like the guy in the story. However, even after the story and the discussion about trying new things, some of the children refused to eat the green eggs.
Adults are not much different than children when they have their mind set on something. I know there are foods I refuse to try or things I refuse to do. Sometimes these decisions are based on previous experience; sometimes there is good reason for my refusal. However, I can also admit that there are many things I will not do because I have previously established an opinion and I won’t change my mind no matter how hard someone tries to convince me otherwise.
This happens with many adults in the arena of ideas. They have their opinions and they won’t even listen to another person’s ideas to see if there might be another possibility. This is particularly true when it comes to issues from politics or religion. Now, ideas are not like food: we should not change our opinions with every wind that blows. We can’t try on ideas. However, we can listen to others with an open mind and then seek more information so that all our decisions and opinions are based on facts and information.
Unfortunately, many of the Jews refused to listen to Jesus or believe what He said. They were set in their ways. They had their opinions about the Messiah and what He would do. When Jesus came, he did not fit into the image they had created and they could not see God in the works He did. They even said that Jesus was of the devil. This caused division among the people. No matter how much Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God, some people could just not get past their attitude about Jesus.
As we read through the Gospel narratives of the life of Jesus, it seems impossible to us that there was anyone who did not believe in Jesus. His words hold so much authority and His actions came from one with power. The Pharisees saw the miracles and heard His preaching and yet they would not believe. They could not get over their own interpretation of the signs and prophecies. They knew Jesus threatened to turn their world upside down and they did not want anything to change. They refused to believe despite the proof and came up with many excuses to reject Jesus.
We are not much different than the Pharisees and those children who refused to eat the green eggs. We get our hearts and minds set on things and we won’t change. Unfortunately, when we close our minds to new things, we miss the chance to discover that “We like it!”
“Now this is the commandment, the statutes, and the ordinances, which Yahweh your God commanded to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you go over to possess it; that you might fear Yahweh your God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you; you, and your son, and your son’s son, all the days of your life; and that your days may be prolonged. Hear therefore, Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with you, and that you may increase mightily, as Yahweh, the God of your fathers, has promised to you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. Hear, Israel: Yahweh is our God. Yahweh is one. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. These words, which I command you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the door posts of your house, and on your gates. It shall be, when Yahweh your God brings you into the land which he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you, great and goodly cities, which you didn’t build, and houses full of all good things, which you didn’t fill, and cisterns dug out, which you didn’t dig, vineyards and olive trees, which you didn’t plant, and you shall eat and be full; then beware lest you forget Yahweh, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Deuteronomy 6:1-12, WEB
Julia Roberts played Katherine Watson in a movie called “Mona Lisa Smiles.” It was about an art teacher in the 1950’s at Wellesley who was unmarried, independent and she loved modern art. She didn’t fit the mold of the Wellesley expectations. The girls were intelligent and could accomplish great things, but their ultimate goal in life was to be a trophy wife on the arm of the right man. They were born and raised to this life as a perfect housewife. Katherine put up a series of art slides when she first began teaching the class; the girls knew the facts about each one, but when asked their opinion of the piece or to compare two, they had difficulty looking beyond the surface to see what lie underneath.
Katherine showed the girls a new perspective and encouraged them to consider a different kind of life. She showed them it was possible to be happy with a career. She lived life by her own rules and upset people along the way. The college alumni refused to allow her to change the status quo. The mothers of the girls were firm with their expectations and their boyfriends were unwavering with their demands. In the end, the girls realized that there was indeed more to life than being a housewife and they stepped forth in faith.
Throughout the movie, the girls, the teachers and the mothers suffered consequences for their actions. Relationships were broken if they disappointed their friends. They failed when they did not follow the instructions. If they did something that was different, they ended up divorced or separated from those they loved. They were outcast if they did not do what was expected. They lost homes, jobs, children, respect and honor in a world where such things were lifted onto pedestals. Adherence to the rules meant peace and happiness. Unfortunately, the rules were a confusing and contradicting mix coming from every direction. Some of the rules were meant to keep things as they were; others were made to bring change. Some seemed to protect and others to endanger. Which way should they go?
The Lord’s Law was not given to oppress or burden the people, but to protect them. God’s Law is not a bunch of rules that we have to keep; it is a covenant between God and His people. It is a sign of God’s love. The Law was given so that the people would remember Him and look to Him always. Whenever they turned away, disobedient to the Law and their God, they suffered the consequences of a broken relationship. When they observed the commandments, they enjoyed the blessed life that God promised. The commandments are instructions about relationships, how to keep them strong, first with God, then with each other. They also affect our relationship with ourselves. When these relationships are broken, we have no peace and happiness. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, we are unable to keep those relationships from being affected by the world. The confusing mix of rules we are expected to follow make it difficult. Jesus Christ came to show us the true purpose of the Law: to turn our hearts and minds to God for salvation. He is ready with grace and forgiveness to give us His Kingdom.
“Remind them to be in subjection to rulers and to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, not to be contentious, to be gentle, showing all humility toward all men. For we were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love toward mankind appeared, not by works of righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy, he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly, through Jesus Christ our Savior; that, being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This saying is faithful, and concerning these things I desire that you affirm confidently, so that those who have believed God may be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable for men.” Titus 3:1-8, WEB
In “The Four Loves” C. S. Lewis wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Jesus says, “Love your neighbor, even your enemies.” We could spend hours discussing the different “types” of love. We certainly love our spouses with a different kind of love than our children and our parents. We love our friends in a different way than we love strangers. We have those different types of love because we base our love on the relationships and what we have in common. How do you love someone you don’t even know? How do you love someone who is so completely opposite in ideology? How do you love someone who has actually done you harm? These are the questions with which we struggle. The reality is that we do love each person with a different type of love.
There is one love that is different than the rest: the love of God. This is a love that is unwavering, faithful, sacrificial, not just for one person or one nation but for all mankind. While we will love our spouse as a lover or our children as a parent, we are also to love them with the love of God. That is the love that flows out of our faith. This is the love that makes it possible for us to love those neighbors who aren’t very loveable, to love those who are our enemies. Unfortunately when we love, we will be hurt. But when we love, we will experience the blessing of God’s grace. We are vulnerable, but we’ll know God’s faithfulness and mercy. We might be hurt, but God will give us comfort and peace in the midst of it and His love will reach out in ways we do not understand to those who have hurt us, calling them to repentance and faith. Loving the unlovable might just prove that they are loved, not just be us but by the God who can save.
When we love family, friends, neighbors, strangers or even enemies with the love of God that flows through us, they are drawn into His heart where they will find the transforming grace of His love. The world changes with each person that becomes a brother or sister in Christ. This love is hard. It means subjecting ourselves to authority, sometimes rulers with whom we vehemently disagree. It means being obedient, doing good works for all who are in need even when we are struggling with our own needs. It means never speaking an evil word about anyone. It means ignoring the argument that you are sure you can win, being gentle to those who are no, and being humble. Jesus came in flesh and blood to love us and save us. We are made new by His Spirit, justified by His grace and made heirs to the eternal Kingdom. He did this and now calls us to live accordingly. That means being vulnerable by opening our hearts to let God’s love flow to everyone, sharing His kindness that they too might believe and be saved.
Scriptures for Sunday, March 11, 2015, Fourth Sunday of Lent: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-9; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21
“Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole. It shall happen, that everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’” Numbers 4:8, WEB
I went to the grocery store yesterday to buy food for the next few days. While there, I thought about joking with my friends on the East Coast who are facing another winter storm. I was going to post, “For my friends in PA, I’m at the grocery store. Need anything?” I joke because the grocery stores in their area were probably empty of the staples because everyone went to stock up for the time they would be trapped by the blizzard. I didn’t do it because it would have been cruel to play upon their suffering, especially since winter appears to have finished with Texas for the year.
We rush out to the grocery store before a huge weather event because we don’t want to be trapped without food. The trouble is we could probably survive just fine with what is already in our pantries, refrigerators and freezers. In the United States, most of us have more food than we can possibly eat. We go shopping before those storms not for survival, but for comfort food. We want snacks to eat during the movies we will watch if our electricity doesn’t go off. We want brownies and chips. We buy milk and bread, but really want chocolate and wine. We buy food that will sustain us, food that can be eaten even if we can’t cook, but we usually eat the junk food that makes us feel good.
We all have to admit that there are times we go to our pantry or refrigerator and think, “There’s nothing to eat,” despite the fact that we couldn’t fit any more food on our shelves. We can’t find something because there is nothing looks good. Nothing seems worth the work and time it would take to cook it. Everything looks bland and unappetizing. We manage to settle for something, but we think about all the things that would taste better. Sometimes we don’t even know what would satisfy, we just know that what we have won’t.
The Hebrews had plenty to eat, but they were tired of eating the same old manna day after day after day. I can see them as well as I can see myself standing in the pantry saying, “There’s nothing to eat here!” They complained about wandering in the wilderness. They complained against Moses and God. They wanted to return to the slavery of Egypt. Did they really expect that the food would be better in Egypt? After all, they were slaves and would never have received the best of fare. However, when we are not satisfied with our situation we always expect that things will be greener on the other side of the fence. They thought that the food for slaves had to be better than the manna of freemen.
God was disappointed by their lack of faith and trust. The Hebrews wanted control. They, perhaps rightfully, felt helpless. Moses had led them into the wilderness away from their homes and everything they knew. Perhaps their life was not comfortable. They were oppressed and worked to death as slaves to the Pharaoh, and they hated their life. When Moses led them out of Egypt they were excited to be alive and free. But the Promised Land was not right around the corner. Their wandering in the wilderness became such a burden that they began to look back on their sojourn in Egypt with fond memories. It had to be better in slavery than starving and thirsting lost in the desert. Even though God was providing them with all that they needed - safety, food and water - they hungered and thirsted for Egypt.
When I think of the Exodus, I picture a rag-tag mass of people just wandering in the desert for forty years, no direction or purpose. While that is true in a sense, they were far more organized. They became a nation of nomadic people, and while they did move often in those forty years, they weren't constantly in motion. They followed the pillar of cloud in the day and fire in the night as God commanded, but they also set up camp for long periods of time.
They were forced to wander because they did not trust God at Mount Sinai. While Moses was receiving God’s Word for His people, they built a golden calf to worship. This caused God’s anger and a promise that the unfaithful generation would not enter the Promised Land. By the time they made it there, the men and women who left Egypt had died, leaving only their children and grandchildren. They were not happy; they grumbled constantly about the lack of food and water. The journey was meant to teach them to trust in God. It was a hard earned, and shortly held, lesson. God’s people have fallen to unfaithfulness so many times. When they did, God used the world to help them to look to Him again. Whether it was war, exile or oppression, the suffering they faced was given as a gift to bring about repentance and faith.
We can easily get caught up in ourselves, whether it is our victories and dreams or our suffering and pain. It becomes so important to us that we lose sight of that which is more important: God. The Hebrews turned from God and Moses over and over again. In today’s Old Testament lesson, we see the aftermath of one of those moments. Numbers 21:1-3 tells the story of their first battle as a new community under God’s grace. The king of Arad attacked the wandering nation as they passed near to his land and captured some of them.
Their prayer was typical of our human prayers, Israel vowed a vow to God: “If you will indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.” It wasn’t enough for their people to be set free; they wanted to destroy those who had harmed them. God gave the Canaanites over to the Hebrews and they completely destroyed them. It was by God’s hand and will that it happened, but as with all victory, the people became caught up in their success. They had the power to defeat a great enemy!
When it was time to move on, Moses led them the long way to avoid Edom. They people were not thrilled by this route; they were impatient and thought it to be a waste of their time. Besides, why shouldn’t they go into Edom and use their new found strength to take what they needed? They could find fresh food and water; they could eat something besides manna and quail. As is typical with human complaint, the Hebrews exaggerated their needs. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, and there is no water; and our soul loathes this light bread.” They were sure they were going to die.
The Promised Land was not right around the corner but they weren’t going to die. God provided for them, the manna and quail filled them, and they had enough to survive. They didn’t want to just survive and their desires turned them away from God. The Hebrews wanted control; they spoke against God and Moses. They complained the way we complain when we can’t find something we want to eat in the pantry or refrigerator. Manna was not food to these people, even though it met their needs. They were imagining that back in Egypt they’d be eating chocolate and drinking fine wine.
God was disappointed by their lack of faith. The people exaggerated the dangers they faced in the desert, especially since they had the God of creation, the God of their forefathers, protecting and leading them. All they could see was what they had left behind. Sure, they were slaves, but they had food other than manna and quail. God had to remind them that they were not in control. This story of snakes is hard for us to accept. It doesn’t fit with our modern expectation of God. Why would He do such a thing? Why would He send dangerous snakes into the midst of His people? Why would He allow so many to die? The poisonous snakes were a way of getting the people’s attention before they did more harm to themselves, perhaps even rebelling against Moses and returning to Egypt. Would Pharaoh welcome the slaves back with open arms and a huge barbeque? No, they would go back to their own deaths, and it would be alone, without God. If they turned back to Egypt, they turned their back on God. Returning to Egypt would have been worse than poisonous snakes as it would have led to the annihilation of God’s people.
The snakes did indeed get their attention. They went to Moses and asked him to pray for them. And Moses prayed and the LORD heard their pleas. Did He remove the snakes? That certainly would have been the most logical and loving solution to the problem. But in His mercy, God did not remove the poisonous snakes. Instead, He commanded Moses to create a bronze snake on a pole. When the people were bit, they could look at the snake and be healed. Ironic, isn’t it? Looking to the very thing that brought death brought them healing and life. God gave them the sign so that they could have a visible reminder of His salvation and deliverance.
We often ask ourselves why God would allow Jesus to die. Again, it doesn’t fit in with our modern expectation of God. It seems illogical and unnecessary. God could have saved the Hebrews by removing the snakes and He could have saved us by removing from our lives that which continually leads us astray. Would it have worked? Would the Hebrews have kept their eyes on God if they had no snakes to remind them of His saving grace? Would we keep our eyes on Jesus if we had no reason to be saved? God gave us a sign so that we could have a visible remind of His salvation and deliverance.
Jesus reminds us of this parallel in today’s Gospel message. The book of John shows clearly how Jesus is better than Moses in every way. He is better than the Temple that Moses established because He is the Temple. He is better than the Law which Moses received from God because He is the Law. He is better than the prophet because He is the I AM. In today’s passage, Jesus tells Nicodemus that Moses lifted up a bronze serpent to save God’s people, but the Son of Man would be lifted up to a greater salvation.
Look to Him and have eternal life. Have faith in the only Son and you will have eternal life.
John 3:16 is probably one of the most beloved and most quoted (and perhaps even misquoted) verses of the scriptures. Yet, there is so much more to this passage. This is a message about light. Jesus Christ is the light, and without Him we live in darkness. John 3:16, is a wonderful message, a message that many people have used to share the love of God with the world. As a matter of fact, when you see “JOHN 3:16” in the end zone of a football game or on a billboard, you know exactly what it means. We worship a God of love.
This is so very true. Here is where the Christian message begins to trouble us. This God who loves us so much sent His Son to die for us. How can this be? How can the world see love and grace in this horrific death? Why couldn’t God do it in a different way? Why couldn’t He let us do it our way so that we wouldn’t have to suffer? Wouldn’t more people believe if we could show them this God of love? They reject a God that allows the snakes to keep biting without seeing that it is in His gracious act that we repent and return to Him. John 3:16 is worthless without the rest of the story. John 3:17 says, “For God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him.” We are saved by the blood of Christ, shed for us and for all those who believe, and by His cross we are set free to live in God’s kingdom for eternity. John 3:16 means nothing without the truth that Jesus saves us from ourselves and the sin that will destroy us. He who was without sin was raised so that the world would be saved.
The world looks at the cross and sees it as a horrific torture device and not a symbol of freedom and glory. Yet, as you read the witness of John, you will see that the cross is where Christ was glorified, because it was on the cross that He was perfectly obedient to the will of God. It was there the world was saved, not in the empty tomb. Our salvation rests in the One hanging on the pole, and it is to Him that we are to look for healing and peace.
The focus during the weeks of Lent has been on covenants, but this passage does not seem to hold to the pattern. Where is the promise in the Old Testament lesson? Yes, the people will be healed, but God never took away the snakes. They will still be bitten and people still died. The only way they would ever be saved is by trusting in God. Though there is not a spoken covenant here, there is an incredible promise: you’ll experience His saving grace when you trust in Him.
Nicodemus didn’t get it. We don’t hear his entire story, but let’s put our passage in context. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, but something about Jesus drew him in to have a conversation. He had respect for Jesus, and yet we have to wonder why he came at night. Was he afraid of what others might think of him? Did he want time alone with Jesus? Is the idea that Nicodemus came at night more a statement from John that Nicodemus was stuck in darkness? It is interesting that Nicodemus speaks in the plural, “We know you are from God.” Who is “we”? Is Nicodemus speaking for a group?
Whoever Nicodemus meant when he said “we,” the conversation was very personal and intimate between the two men. Jesus told him that something has to change. He couldn’t rely on his human gifts and experiences to know God. It is only by God’s grace that he could truly have life. Jesus reminded him of the story of the people in the desert: it was only by the grace of God that those people were saved from their snake bites, and it will only be by the grace of God that anyone will be saved from their sinful natures. The new bronze snake would be Jesus Himself, raised on a cross and killed for the sake of the world.
Nicodemus was a teacher, a Pharisee and a member of the ruling council. If anyone knew God’s word it would be a man like Nicodemus. Yet, he understood God only from the perspective of law and tradition, not from grace. He knew only the things of flesh, not the spirit. So, Jesus pointed back to a story Nicodemus would have known very well to show how God would give a sign to His people. Moses’ snake was just a type. The Savior would be lifted, too. Jesus was referring to Himself; He would be lifted on the cross and those who look to Him will have eternal life.
Is the image of the cross any more comforting than that of the snake on a pole? I don’t think so. We wonder why it was even necessary for Jesus to die. Couldn’t God have simply forgiven our sins and let us continue on our journey? No, it would not have been enough. We would have been like those Hebrews eventually. Along our journey we would wonder about whether things were better before we were forgiven. Isn’t it more fun to live according to the ways of the world? Isn’t it more exciting to follow our own desires, to seek the good things in life? Isn’t it better to be in the comfort of Egypt rather than wandering helpless in the wilderness?
God had to do something more than get our attention; He had to finish the work. He had to pay the price. He had to provide His Son who would guarantee eternal life to those who believe. The issue in the desert was not hunger or starvation; it was trust. The issue for us is not living by the law; it is about trusting that God provides true life. Nicodemus didn’t understand how anyone could be born again. He probably didn’t even understand why; he thought everything he needed could be found in good works and right living. He thought he could trust in himself. But just as the Hebrews had to trust in God to be healed from the snake bite, we have to trust in God to be reconciled to Him, even if His method seems out of character.
Thankfully, God gives us something to look at, to remind us of His grace. He could have taken the snakes away, but how long would the Hebrews have continued to trust in Him if He had? He gave them the bronze snake so that they would keep looking to Him. Would we trust in God if He took away sin and made us perfect? Adam and Eve certainly didn’t. How long would we last? How long would we remember God and look to Him? Instead of letting us wander in our own wilderness, in our own selfishness, God gave us something to remind us of His grace: the cross. When we look to Jesus, we know that all God’s promises and covenants are real.
The psalm for today is a call to praise God, given to those who know God’s redemption. The psalm names several groups of people, including those who are wandering in the wilderness, freed prisoners and seafarers who have been saved from a shipwreck. We have to wonder if God really heard the cries of His people in the wilderness. In the wilderness the people were grumbling about the conditions. They were tired. They were sick of the manna. They were thirsty. They were beginning to fear what was ahead. They wondered if the Promised Land would be everything they expected. The wondered what suffering they might experience there. They worried about how many would die along the way. God answered their grumbling with poisonous snakes.
Yet, despite this unexpected answer, God did lead them to the Promised Land. Despite our grumbling, God answers our prayers, too. The answers to our worries are not always as we might expect. We don’t always get healed of our disease nor have our problems solved as we wish. Sometimes the answer is death. What we don’t know is that the answers we want might lead us to turn away from God and from His salvation. He answers so that we will learn to trust Him, give Him control and keep our eyes on Him. The psalmist sings, “Let the redeemed by Yahweh say so, whom he has redeemed from the hand of the adversary.” No matter our circumstances, we’ve been set free to praise God and glorify Him to the world.
Paul begins today’s epistle lesson with a rather strong statement: “You were dead.” They weren’t physically dead; this isn't the first scene from some early version of a zombie movie. As a matter of fact, they were probably living a fairly decent life in Ephesus. They were dead not because their heart stopped beating and their brain stopped working. They were dead in their sin; they did not believe in God.
There is a very real “us versus them” attitude in the words of this epistle. The “you” in verse one is directed toward the Gentiles, those who lived according to the desires of the flesh, following the ruler of this world: the devil. In verse three Paul refers to the Jews who were called to be God’s chosen nation.
Yet, in this passage we see that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. Paul writes, “...we also all once lived in the lust of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” Jew and Gentile are the same; we are all condemned by our will. We are typical selfish and self-centered human beings and we will naturally reject God for our own sake. This is the very reason why it was necessary for Jesus Christ to die on the cross. The world is full of human beings who are sinners in need of a Savior. It took a serpent to bring salvation to the people in the desert, and it took the cross to bring salvation to you and me. It took a man to bring healing and pain. Who would have thought that it would be the Son of God hanging on a cross?
It is on the cross where we truly see the God of mercy. Could God have removed the serpents from the camp of the Hebrews? Of course He could, but He didn’t. Instead He gave them a way to be healed. Could God forgive without the cross? Why didn’t He find another way to save us from our troubles? I don’t have the answer to that question, for I do not know the mind of God. I do know however, that when I’m in the midst of trouble brought on by the consequences of my own sin, the sins of others, or the grace of God sent as serpents to draw me back into His presence, it is the cross where I can most clearly see God's love. I see my sin and my sinful nature and I see His mercy and His grace. Any freedom I have, or peace, or joy, or hope, or even faith has nothing to do with me. It is a gift from God, given not because I've done anything right, but out of His deep love for me. As a matter of fact, I was dead, and He died so that I might live.
“God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” The eternal life that comes from faith given by God is not just something to look forward to in the future; it is also in the here and now. It is a life that is lived in thanksgiving and praise. There is hope in a world made up of typical human beings who fail to trust God. His name is Jesus.
“Don’t be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, nor turning shadow.” James 1:16-17, ASV
When someone decides that they want to change clothes in our house, to get into something more comfortable after church or something clean after a sweaty or messy activity, they say, “I’m going up to change.” We answer, “Don’t change too much. We like you the way you are.” Of course, we don’t necessarily like the clothes they are wearing, especially if they are dirty and smelly, but we do love them just the way they are.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for all of us to change. We all have aspects of our lives that are less than perfect. We have habits that should be broken, attitudes that could be transformed. We should be constantly growing and maturing and becoming more, striving for the perfection that God intends for His people. Will we make it in this life? No, I’m certain none of us will ever be perfect in this world. We will be sinners in need of a Savior until the day Christ fulfills everything. Until then, we are imperfect saints journeying toward the Promised Land.
Change is a good thing, but it is not the supreme aim. Change for the sake of change is not worthwhile. It doesn’t work. We’ve all heard that when something is “broken” we have to “do something about it.” The first impulse is to change. Change might just be what is necessary, but it isn’t helpful to just make random changes without considering the consequences. It also isn’t helpful to say, “But we have never done it that way.” So, what do we do? We consider the problem, not only from our point of view, but from the point of view of those who think differently. After all, there are always those who have the opposing opinion, for good reasons.
Gabriel the angel took good news to two people in the birth story of Jesus. He told Zechariah that he would be a father, and he told Mary that she would be a mother. Both answered with the same question, “How?” They were facing the same ridiculous news and they both questioned the words of the angel. But Zechariah asked from an attitude of doubt, and Mary asked out of curiosity. They received the news from different points of view: one wanted proof and the other wanted understanding. Some may look at change as good news, but it isn’t always good news for everyone.
We should not assume that when someone says, “We’ve never done it this way” that they are rejecting the idea. Some, like Zechariah, will doubt. But others will ask with the curiosity of Mary, “How will this be?” Instead of immediately brushing off those who question change, let us consider that they may simply wish to understand how the change will happen and how it will make a difference. Why are we doing this? Are we changing for the sake of change? Do we understand the consequences and have we considered all the possibilities first?
Youth ministers and people who work with children in the church will tell you that the most common answer to the questions they ask those they are teaching is “Jesus.” It doesn’t matter what question is asked, someone will say the answer is “Jesus.” So, when we ask “Why,” the answer might just be “Jesus.” We might be tempted to use the same answer when confronted by the doubtful and curious, but He’s not always directly the answer. Take, for example, the question of whether we should change the carpeting in the church. When someone says, “We’ve never done it that way before,” they might just mean “why.” Can we really answer, “Jesus?” Surely Jesus does not care about the color our carpeting. But, we can ask, will this change glorify God? Does this change build the church or does it destroy Christ’s body? Does this encourage Christians or does it make some stumble?
James tells us that God never changes. He loves us now and forever just as we are. But He encourages us to grow in faith and maturity, to strive for the perfection to which He is calling each of His children. We may like things the way they are, but there may be good reason for us to change. Let us remember that change is never the supreme aim of anything we do; glorifying God is our purpose. Change can be good and change can be bad. So, let us not change things for the sake of change, but discover what changes glorify God and help us to grow in faith, working together to do what is right and true.
“Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat, to a deserted place apart. When the multitudes heard it, they followed him on foot from the cities. Jesus went out, and he saw a great multitude. He had compassion on them, and healed their sick. When evening had come, his disciples came to him, saying, ‘This place is deserted, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves food.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘They don’t need to go away. You give them something to eat.’ They told him, ‘We only have here five loaves and two fish.’ He said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass; and he took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave to the multitudes. They all ate, and were filled. They took up twelve baskets full of that which remained left over from the broken pieces. Those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.” Matthew 14:13-21, WEB
It has been a very long time, but I remember taking Sunday trips to see my Grandma and Grandpa who lived a few hours from us. They lived on a farm, had an extensive garden and served delicious food. There was always a huge bowl of mashed potatoes, corn, some sort of meat – usually beef – as well as other bits and bites. By the end of the meal we were stuffed and ready for a nap on the couch in front of the TV. There were piles of leftovers.
The same thing happens at my house. I always over plan; I buy enough food to feed an army. In my attempt to ensure everyone will have enough to eat, I prepare large quantities of everything. Eveyone is stuffed in the end and there are always piles of leftovers. We try to eat everything, but after a few days we usually have to discard something. I cringe at the waste, but know can become unhealthy to eat. We don’t worry about the leftovers when we are preparing the meal, we only think about satisfying the needs of our guests. This is gracious generosity. It is an attitude that what matters most is providing the best for those we love. This is what God does for us.
God’s gracious generosity is beyond our comprehension. The meal in today’s text from Matthew’s Gospel seems very simple, but it was extravagant. More than five thousand people ate and were satisfied. It wasn’t a pack of peanuts or even a tuna fish sandwich, which would help with the grumbling tummies but would never satisfy. The disciples handed out fish and bread that filled thousands of bellies until they were satisfied. When it was over, there were twelve basketfuls of bread remaining.
Have you ever wondered what happened to the leftovers? Did they pack it away in plastic containers and make sure everyone had some to take home? Did they take it to the local soup kitchen? The story does not tell us what happened to those twelve baskets full of bread. Jesus could make the miracle, but don’t you think that he could have made it perfectly, without leftovers? Perhaps there is some sort of symbolism to the twelve baskets. In this story we see God’s gracious generosity; we see how God was more concerned with feeding the hungry without worrying about the leftovers.
That’s what He does with His grace. He gives it out in abundance, not concerning Himself with what is left over. Perhaps, just as it is up to us to consider what it means that there were twelve baskets left over, we should also be considering what to do with the grace that runs over in our lives. There is surely someone with whom we can share it.
“According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another builds on it. But let each man be careful how he builds on it. For no one can lay any other foundation than that which has been laid, which is Jesus Christ. But if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or stubble; each man’s work will be revealed. For the Day will declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself will test what sort of work each man’s work is. If any man’s work remains which he built on it, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, but as through fire.” 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, WEB
I once visited an historic Anglo-Saxon village when we lived in England. The village was a recreation of a settlement that had existed circa 400-900 AD. Archeologists found the remnants of this village and through trial and error tried to discover what their homes might have looked like. Wattle and daub homes are made from twigs and sticks that are twisted together to form walls, and then covered in mud plaster like substance to provide some protection from the elements. These materials quickly disappear with the ravages of time and weather. All that remained for the archeologists were the foundations of the homes; the stick and mud is long gone. They tested different theories, using the tools that the Saxons would have used, and after several attempts put together one home that used the most successful options from the previous attempts. We can see something of their lives in the tools and jewelry left behind. Those things were made of iron, bronze, silver and gold.
It is interesting to note that even many castles and cathedrals built long after the Saxon era are also crumbling and disappearing from the landscape. The lovely town of Bury St. Edmunds was once the home of a large, prosperous abbey. Today, the ruins are part of a lovely park with gardens, an aviary and a museum. The Abbey was once very prosperous, but hard times fell upon the people. There was civil and religious unrest. Many of the buildings were abandoned, left to fall into ruin over the years. Sometimes the king or local government officials took the buildings apart to reuse the materials. Sometimes the people of the surrounding town stole the rocks to build homes, barns or boundary walls. Eventually all that remained was a foundation and a memory.
Since most English churches were designed in the shape of a cross, aerial photos show a cross drawn on the ground. It is a reminder of what those places once stood for: the love of Christ and as a witness to the Gospel. Unfortunately, the world interfered, sometimes from within as the leaders became greedy and proud and at other times from the persecution that came from outside the walls. It is nice to know, however, that when everything else is gone, what still remains is Jesus.
Your life of faith is built upon our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As a person of faith you will have eternal life in Him. We can believe and never build a single wall of our temple because we have the foundation of Jesus Christ. However, we are given gifts and opportunities to build our life of faith to glorify God now and into eternity. The best building is that which is built with gold and silver tempered by the Holy Spirit, but many temples are being built with nothing more than twisted twigs and sticks covered by mud that will be unrecognizable in time. Others are crumbling from lack of use.
I pray that when I stand before my Lord there will be enough there for Him to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” How I long to hear those words. But I know that whatever happens in that day I will be saved. Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of my life, and to Him I owe everything. But I also know that in faith I’m called to build a life in this world that glorifies God. We are saved to be a blessing to others, that they too might experience God’s grace and be saved.
Even if everything you have ever done disappears from existence like the Saxon homes or the ancient ruins of England, with Jesus as your Savior you will have eternal life. The question our scripture passage asks today is whether or not your temple is being built and maintained according to His good and perfect will. Are you living according to the Word of God as found in the Scriptures? Are you living a life of active faith? Or are you throwing up walls made of the destructible thoughts of this world? Your salvation is not dependent on the temple you build, but your life is the only thing you have to offer the Lord. What will He see after the fire of the Holy Spirit burns away the perishable things? Will He say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant?”
“The next day, he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who is preferred before me, for he was before me.” I didn’t know him, but for this reason I came baptizing in water: that he would be revealed to Israel.’ John testified, saying, ‘I have seen the Spirit descending like a dove out of heaven, and it remained on him. I didn’t recognize him, but he who sent me to baptize in water, he said to me, “On whomever you will see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.” I have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.’” John 1:29-34, WEB
The story is told of a military man who was stationed overseas during a war. In those days, there were often people who wrote to the soldiers in the field to give then courage, love and friendship. This man received regular letters from a woman in the states whom he had never met. He wrote back as often as possible and they fell in love.
When the time came for him to return home, they arranged to meet. The soldier went to the rendezvous point and looked around for a woman wearing a flower on her dress. He noticed a beautiful young woman on the street, and was disappointed when she did not have the expected flower. She winked at him, and he was tempted to go with her. Just then, an older, rather plain looking woman approached him wearing a flower. He knew this must be his beloved. He was a bit disappointed, for he’d expected her to be a beautiful woman. He loved her, however, so he approached her with a small token of his esteem.
The woman, with tears in her eyes, told him that she was not the pen pal and that he should give the gift to the beautiful young woman that had just crossed his path. She was truly his pen pal, but she needed to be sure he loved her for herself, not just her beauty. His love for the woman in the letters was so great that physical image did not matter to him.
When Jesus came to earth, He did not wear a banner telling the world His identity. He came as the son of a simple carpenter, born in a stable, grew up under the care of Mary, his mother, and spent most of his life living that simple life in an unassuming and unexpected village. Even during His ministry, He spoke in a manner that only those who heard with spiritual ears would believe His words.
It was the Holy Spirit that gave John the recognition of Jesus Christ. The same is true for us today. God does not approach us with a banner saying, “Hey, I’m God, believe in me.” Jesus did amazing things during His time on earth, but He did those things to prove that He was who He said He was. He also told His disciples that those who would believe based on His Word would be more blessed because they would have faith without proof. He wants us to love Him for Himself. What did you expect when you first met the Lord? Were you disappointed because He did not fit your expectations?
We love Jesus Christ because of the testimony found in the scriptures. The Bible is His love letter to us, given over the ages so that we can get to know Him. Through His Word we see Him as He is, experience His love for us and receive His grace. By His Word we are saved; by His grace we have the faith to love Him even if He does not fit our expectations.
Scriptures for Sunday, March 18, 2018, Fifth Sunday of Lent: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:[32-34] 35-45
“I will delight myself in your statutes. I will not forget your word.” Psalm 119:16, WEB
Who is Melchizedek? We have so little information about this man, but his name is found several places in the scriptures. In Genesis 14, Lot, Abram’s nephew, was captured by a group of kings battling against another group of kings who was apparently stuck in the middle. Abram heard about what happened and with just 318 trained men pursued the captors. Abram won, freed Lot and returned home. On his return, Melchizedek, the king of Salem brought Abram a meal of bread and wine and blessed Abram. Abram returned the blessing with a tenth of everything.
Melchizedek was not only the king, but also a priest of God Most High. Psalm 110:4 says that he was “a priest forever.” Abram recognized the blessing as having come from God, and gave the tithe to Melchizedek in recognition of his kingship and priesthood. A tenth is the share a king would receive from the bounty taken in war. A tenth is the tithe given to God in thanksgiving and praise. Melchizedek offers for us the archetype of the king-priest that we see in Jesus Christ. Melchizedek is often viewed as one to whom God has given an authority that reaches beyond the boundaries of the Law, both religious and secular. There are organizations that claim to train people in the order of Melchizedek, with secret priesthoods that hold to the cosmic laws and their own inner vision and sacred purpose. Those that take on the role of Melchizedek in their ministries claim a kingdom beyond earthly limitations. Since we do not have very much information on Melchizedek, it is easy for people to take the scriptures and interpret it to their own benefit.
I saw that a lot when I was doing online ministry. I spent time in Christian chat rooms and loved the discussions on faith and theology. It seems like there are a million different ways to understand the Bible and I think I ran across every one of them during my wanderings. Some of our differences were minor and often based on our own unique perspectives. We each look at the text from our own point of view, understand it from our own experience and see it as we need to see it in our current circumstances. Sometimes, however, I ran across people who saw God’s Word in a way that could be considered heretical. All too many believed they have “special knowledge” of the scriptures and claim that if others do not understand then they have not been blessed by God. They never try to explain, but instead insist that the listener “Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal it to you.” They believed they were superior and simply dismissed others that refused to believe what they said.
Jesus Christ is not like those who claim of their own volition that they are specially called and gifted. They are nothing more than earthly men and women who are using a mystery of scripture for their own benefit. Jesus does not claim to be a priest; He is a priest called by God. The writer of Hebrews says of Jesus, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” In God’s words spoken, “You are my Son. Today I have become your father,” the Son is called into the priesthood to serve God. As the Son, He is the King. Thus, Jesus Christ is the true King-Priest, which Melchizedek was only the archetype. He humbled Himself and served those to whom He was sent.
Throughout Lent we have been looking at the covenants of the Old Testament. We saw the covenant with Noah, Abram and Moses. Those covenants were made between God and His chosen people. They were defined by God’s will and established with a sign. They were promises of God’s love, protection, provision and mercy. They were made to the people as a group, as a nation. As such, the sins of the nation fell on the heads of all the people. The covenants were mediated by the king and the priests. They were themselves imperfect persons, so it was necessary for the priests to present a sacrifice for themselves before they could offer the sacrifice for all people.
This new covenant promised in Jeremiah is different because it is a covenant between God and each individual. The New Covenant promised that we would no longer need a mediator. God promised to write the Law on the hearts of all people; He would no longer dwell in the Temple but in the hearts of men and women of faith. “Know Yahweh; for they shall all know me, from their least to their greatest, says Yahweh: for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more.” The sins of the father no longer falls on the head of the son; each person is responsible for his or her own failing.This makes the relationship between God and His people more personal, more intimate, more cherished.
What an incredible promise! This promise was fulfilled in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in His death at the cross. His resurrection and ascension gave us the hope of eternal life. He forgave our sins and promised that we would live in His light and life by His Power. He gave us that power at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon all flesh. Now God dwells within the hearts of His people, those who believe in Him, molding and reforming us each day. We know Him because He has written Himself into our hearts and our minds with His Word.
The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus Christ the one and only Son was obedient, giving up the glory of heaven to become flesh to live, serve and die for the sake of the world. “Having been made perfect, he became to all of those who obey him the author of eternal salvation...” Our obedience to God’s Word is our response to that which He did for us. The source of our salvation calls us to a life of humble service; following in His footsteps, perhaps even to our own death.
We don’t choose our calling. We simply choose whether or not we will be obedient to the will and purpose of God. In doing so, we receive all that He has promised.
I get why some of these people easily follow organizations that make great claims. We all want to be important. We are blessed throughout our lives with opportunities for positions of authority whether in the church or the world. We are sometimes given the responsibilities of leadership. As such, God expects us to manifest our relationship with Christ in the way we take upon those responsibilities. We aren’t called to these positions to rule over people; we are called to serve. Jesus Christ was the Servant King, doing more for God’s people than He ever asked of His disciples. He even went to the cross die. Now those of us with faith, forgiven by His blood, walk in His light and do His work with joy. We should never allow our position in God’s Kingdom make us think we are more important than another. We are called to be servants, knowing that Christ did it first for us.
James and John were important to Jesus and they were witnesses to the miraculous and incredible things He did. They immediately left their father Zebedee to follow Him. They were part of Jesus’ inner circle along with Peter; they were witnesses to the Transfiguration. They are often known as the Sons of Thunder because they asked Jesus if they should call down hellfire on a Samaritan town that rejected Him as they were going to Jerusalem. They were zealous and loyal. They believed and lived their faith passionately. They also thought they were important enough to have Jesus give them special consideration when He entered into His Kingdom. They wanted to sit at His right hand and left hand. They wanted to be on the dais with the King, sitting beside His throne.
Jesus had authority over heaven and earth but He could not fulfill their wish to have such seats of honor. The reality, which they did not yet understand, is that the seats they desired would never exist. They thought Jesus would be an earthly king like David, who would rule over Jerusalem and Israel to save the people from the oppression of the Romans. The irony here is that Jesus just finished telling the disciples that the Son of Man, Himself, had to suffer at the hands of the world and be condemned to death. He told them that He would be mocked, spit upon, flogged and killed in Jerusalem. Jesus would never sit on the type of throne they expected and desired. His throne would be a cross, and those on His right and left would be common criminals facing the same punishment for their sins. They had no idea that His cup and baptism would offer only suffering and pain. They were willing to follow Jesus anywhere, but they did not expect that it would mean following Him to a cross. They told Him they were able to follow Him. Jesus said, “You will.”
This came true for James. Just fourteen years after the Jesus’ death, James was beheaded in a lame attempt to halt Christianity. He was the first Apostle to be martyred, the only one of the eleven whose death was recorded in the scriptures. He indeed did drink the same cup and suffer the same baptism as Jesus. James boldly asked Jesus for the wrong thing, but he continued to live out his life of faith and then he died for the sake of the Gospel. We may make the same mistakes, thinking our position or our experiences merit us greater attention or honor. Jesus teaches us a different way.
Jesus called the twelve together and said, “Jesus summoned them, and said to them, “You know that they who are recognized as rulers over the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you, but whoever wants to become great among you shall be your servant. Whoever of you wants to become first among you, shall be bondservant of all.”
Jesus was not self-appointed. He was called by God, called the Son of God with God’s own voice. He was not following His own will but the will of the Father. Because of His obedience, God made Him Priest and King over this New Covenant. He did not choose these roles; God fulfilled His promises in Jesus. These were not earthbound titles given for a brief period of time; He is Priest and King forever.
The journey we’ve traveled during this Lenten period has helped us see, and accept, that we have truly sinned against God. We have done what we should not do and failed to do what we should do in thought, word and deed. While our sins are against our neighbors, the root of our problem is that sin keeps us separated from God. Our failures make us unable to pay the debts we owe one another and our God. But God promised to take care of it all and He fulfilled that promise with Jesus on the cross. We do not need a priest or a king to intervene on our behalf because we have Jesus. God forgives our iniquity and forgets our sin because He was obedient.
We are still going to sin. It’s a fact of life that our flesh is weak and susceptible to temptation. Every day we will fail to do what is right. These sins are rarely anything major; we seem to be good and upright to the world. But sin is sin, and the effect of sin reaches far beyond our own lives. Though the work is complete, we still have reason to pray for God’s grace and forgiveness. We need Him to change us. He teaches and guides us through His Word; His Word is found throughout the scriptures.
Psalm 119 is the longest of the psalms; it is an uncomfortable psalm for many of us, first of all because it is twenty-two stanzas of eight verses each that seem to say the same thing over and over and over again. How many times can someone say “I love your law,” especially those of us who understand God's grace? However, the psalmist is not repeating the same words over and over again. Each word has a unique and different meaning, though it is hard to see in the English translations. There is repetition, but not as you might think. Each stanza gives us a fuller understanding of what it means to be obedient to God. With words like statutes and commandments, it might seem like it is simply about obeying rules, but the reality is that it is a far more, all encompassing trust and obedience to God and His Word.
Let’s look at Psalm 119:9-16 a little more closely, seeing the words more clearly to understand how it helps us be more obedient to God as we come to the end of our Lenten journey.
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.” The word translated “word” in this passage is a Hebrew word that means “spoken word.” In other words, the speaker understands that following God means hearing and obeying that which has been spoken about Him.
“With my whole heart, I have sought you. Don’t let me wander from your commandments.” The word translated “commandments” is best translated “all God’s law.” This refers to everything God has commanded, not just a specific set of rules. This is about more than being a perfect law-abider; it is about being all God has created and redeemed us to be.
“I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. This word is the best verse in this stanza, it is where we find God’s grace. “Word” in this verse should be translated “promise.” We can’t be perfectly obedient to anything on our own strength or power, but God has promised to guide us and lead us in the right way. He has also promised that He will not abandon us when we fail.
“Blessed are you, Yahweh. Teach me your statutes.” This word translated “statutes” refers to the boundaries. It is often used in reference to the ritualistic law, but God lays out all sorts of boundaries for us in His Word. Those boundaries are given to keep us safe, to set us on the right path, to keep us close to Him. We all need boundaries and we ask God to teach us the limitations of our humanness.
“With my lips, I have declared all the ordinances of your mouth.” This word, “ordinances,” refers to justice. True justice, biblical justice, is that which adheres to what God intends for His people. As much as we do not like to consider it, God has returned a verdict: we are sinners in need of a Savior. That’s what Lent has been all about - discovering the truth of our failure to live up to being the people whom God intends us to be.
“I have rejoiced in the way of your testimonies, as much as in all riches.” The word “testimonies” refers to the work of God in the world, the witness of all the good God has done. When we are troubled by our sinfulness, we can look back to the story of God and His people and see that He is faithful to His promises. He will save us because He has promised.
“I will meditate on your precepts, and consider your ways.” Here the psalmist makes a commitment to be obedient to God’s authoritative rule. The “precepts” are official orders properly appointed by God. He is the authority over our lives and His Word is the one to give our full attention.
“I will delight myself in your statutes. I will not forget your word.” Here we return to the words used in verses 9 and 12. Obedience to God’s boundaries and spoken word is not a burden; it is a joy and a delight to follow God, no matter where He leads and no matter what He calls us to do. And sometimes He calls us to do very hard things. But when He does, we can trust that He has given us all we need. His Word is enough to keep us on the right path and take us where He wants us to go.
We do a lot of things wrong. That’s our human nature: we are sinners and we fail to live up to God’s expectations. When we do, we can trust in God’s faithfulness to keep the New Covenant. Our Lenten journey has led us toward repentance, turning to Jesus for His forgiveness. He has led us to the point that we can delight in His statues and never forget His Word. In His great mercy and love, Jesus has provided for our reconciliation with God the Father, which then makes it possible for us to reconcile with our neighbors and all creation. He forgives us, forgets our sin and dwells in us, guiding our resurrection journey along the path He has ordained for each of us.