Lent Midweek Sermon Series: 1 Peter 5

In light of coming persecution for the saints in Asia minor, as well as God’s faithfulness in all things (1 Peter 4:12-19), pastors are to watch over the flock of God.  They are to do so with pure motives rather than for personal gain; they are not to do so in a domineering way, but rather as examples.  The difficult labors of this life will not last forever; Jesus will return (1 Peter 4:4).  All—whether pastors or hearers, young or old—should treat each other with humility. 

We should also humble ourselves before God.  He gives grace to the humble (Prov. 3:34);  saving them, but bringing down the arrogant (Psalm 18:27; Luke 1:52; James 4:10).  Each of us should remember his place as a creature.  Each of us should, in meekness, be mindful of our sin.  None of us should regard himself more highly than he ought (Rom. 12:3)—whether before man, or before the Almighty.  Instead, we should have the same mindset as Christ, who in humility gave himself into death in our place (1 Peter 4:1; Phil. 2:5-7). Pride is a snare of the Devil (1 Tim. 3:6).

Satan prowls looking for prey therefore the Christian should be sober and watchful (Job 1:7; 2:2; Eph. 4:27).  He is a liar and murderer (John 8:44).  We should pray against temptation (Matt. 6:13; Matt. 26:41).  If we resist the Adversary, he will flee; instead we should draw near to God (James 4:7-8; 2 Tim. 2:22). 

Whatever the nature of the temptation—whether persecution for the saints in Asia Minor, or fleshly enticements for us today—no temptation, no testing, lasts forever (1 Peter 5:10; 1 Cor. 10:13).  As the Book draws to a close, we see again one of the first themes of the Epistle: “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).  These trials work for our good and God’s glory (1 Peter 1:6-7; 1 Peter 3:14-17).   

Christ is the cornerstone of the church (1 Peter 2:7).  We are a building for his habitation (1 Peter 2:4-5).  He is the Head of the body, his church (Col. 2:19; Eph. 4:15).  He alone has brought us to God (1 Peter 3:18).  All things have been subjected to him unto all eternity (1 Peter 3:22; 1 Peter 5:11).  His power sustains us to the end, so that we might with him in his glory forever (1 Peter 5:10).

Lent Midweek Sermon Series: 1 Peter 4

A seed planted in Chapter 1 grows up and bears fruit in Chapter 4.  Early on in the Epistle, the Holy Spirit reveals to the saints in Asia Minor that although they have been grieved by various trials, these only serve to refine their faith, with the result that they rejoice and praise God (1 Peter 1:6-7).  Our Lord suffered in this world because he was not of this world.  Those who follow him will likewise face opposition from wordlings (John 15:18-20).  Rather than paranoia, defeatism, or defensiveness, this should rather rouse the Christian.  Indeed, we are to “arm” ourselves with Christ’s mindset (1 Peter 4:1).  

The world engages in “sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry,” (1 Peter 4:3) and when Christians abstain, they are maligned.  However, the end of all things is near, and the Christian should leave these vile things in the past (1 Peter 4:3; 1 Peter 4:7).  Rather than indulgence, the Christian is called to sobriety, prayer, and Christian love (1 Peter 4:7-8).  We should live for the will of God, instead of for sinful pleasures (1 Peter 4:2).  This may translate into suffering, but our Lord does call us to take up the cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24).  We are to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ (Romans 6:9-14).  

The Christians in Asia Minor may have more persecution ahead of them (1 Peter 4:12).  Yet, those who suffer for Christ share in his glory (1 Peter 4:13).  Indeed, this is a sign that the Holy Spirit is with the believer (1 Peter 4:14).  If this seems difficult, or unpleasant, or unfair, then Peter asks his audience which seems better: to suffer for Christ, or to suffer the just judgement of our sin?  There is no choice.  Who are we to answer back to God? (Romans 9:20; Job 38:1-8).  

Rather than accusing God, rather than judging God, rather than condemning God, the proper Christian response is to fear God (Ecclesiastes 12:13; Romans 11:33-36).  Though the faithful may suffer on account of Christ, this is far better than the alternative.  And God is faithful.  His will is best; he works all things for our good (Romans 8:28).  The Old Testament accounts of Joseph, as well as the Three Young Men in the Fiery Furnace and Daniel and the Lion’s Den, illustrate this. 

Christ himself submitted to the father’s will, even when that meant shame, torture, and crucifixion.  But this, the greatest suffering anyone has ever undergone, has accomplished our salvation.   God is faithful, even in the midst of suffering (1 Peter 4:19). Thus, when Christ returns on the Last Day, all suffering will cease and we will be “glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).

Lent Midweek Sermon Series: 1 Peter 3

Chapter 3 begins in the middle of the section which started at 1 Peter 2:13.  The Christian has been redeemed from sin, but he still lives within God’s created order.  Just as citizens should “be subject to every human institution,” (1 Peter 2:13) and servants to their masters (1 Peter 2:18), wives should “be subject” to their “own husbands” (1 Peter 3:1).  Even if some of them have unbelieving husbands, their feminine behavior will serve as a fitting witness to the Gospel (1 Peter 3:2).  This inward adorning ought to be the true source of beauty for the Christian woman, rather than extravagant outward adornment (1 Peter 3:3-6).

Likewise, rather than selfishly taking advantage of their helpmeets, husbands are to live with them “in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel…” (1 Peter 3:7).  In every house there are a variety of vessels—some for honorable use, some for dishonorable (2 Tim. 2:20).  Though women are physically weaker than men, Christian men are not to take advantage of that fact, but instead to treat wives with honor.

Peter urges his audience to submit to authorities even when it is difficult.  If emperors, governors, husbands, or masters are difficult, the Christian is to endure suffering just as the Lord Jesus did (1 Peter 3:14). We may be tempted to rush toward hard cases; before we even finish reading we may already be asking “what if…” and “what about…”  Perhaps there is some room for discussion on how to handle certain specifics of suffering unjustly under God-given authorities.  But in the end, we must confess, with the Holy Spirit that no matter what, “even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed” (1 Peter 3:14). All of this is for the sake of the Christian’s witness to the world.  His good conduct will put to shame false testimony against him, even if “only” on the last day (1 Peter 3:16; 1 Peter 2:12).  With Christ as Lord, the Christian can make a defense of his faith before the world (1 Peter 3:15).

Whether wives or husbands, servants or citizens, Christians should put away malice, deceit, and other fleshly motivations and vices (1 Peter 2:1).  Since the glory of man is doomed to perish (1 Peter 1:24), and since we have been born again to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3), we should live humbly and trust in the Lord in all matters.  This means Christian women ought not idolize physical beauty, and Christian men ought not abuse physical strength.  And Christian freedom does not mean earthly anarchy.

Just as Chapter 2 ended with Christ’s work, so does Chapter 3.  Jesus suffered in order to make us righteous.  Though God’s justice may seem distant, though we may have to suffer for doing good, nevertheless, God will intervene as he did in the days of Noah (1 Peter 3:20).  In the flood we have a foreshadowing of Baptism, which gives us a pure conscience before God and saves us (1 Peter 3:21).  Our Lord put his skin in the game by descending from heaven, becoming man, suffering for us, and dying.  But he has overcome all things and now sits in glory.  His victory is our victory.

Third Sunday in Lent: Luke 11:14-28

Christ casts out a demon as He had done many times before, yet the focus in this account is the reply of some of the crowd. Accusing Christ of utilizing demonic agency and demanding a sign from heaven, as if the sign performed in their sight didn’t count, they reveal the state of their heart. Truly in them is the prophecy of Isaiah fulfilled: “Seeing they do not see and hearing they do not hear” (Isaiah 6:9-10; Matthew 13:14-15).

King Ahaziah, laying sick upon his deathbed, sent messengers to ask Baal-zebub whether he would recover instead of seeking the Lord (2 Kings 1). Baal-zebub is described as the god of Ekron, one of the five principal Philistine cities (1 Samuel 5). The word “baal,” rendered in Luke as “beel,” simply means “lord” or “master.” It was frequently used among the Canaanites to describe their gods, and even some of the Israelites adopted the practice when they sought to worship the Lord and the Baals (Hosea 2:16-17). “Zebub” or “zebul” means “flies,” as in Isaiah 7:18 and Ecclesiastes 10:1. Whether this title was legitimate or an intentional corruption is hard to say. The accusation of the crowd is not that Jesus is using a particluar Philistine god to do His work, but rather that His power is not from heaven. Jesus Himself appears to identify Beelzebul with Satan, which is fitting, since the Scriptures frequently identify false gods with demons (Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 106:37; 1 Corinthians 10:20-21).

Jesus answers them according to their folly. Satan would not work against himself, since casting out demons meant an end of his authority and influence over a man. It would be tantamount to civil war. More than this, the Jews also practiced exorcism, as the sons of Sceva prove (Acts 19:11-20). If their sons were doing the same thing, why would they not accuse them of collaborating with Satan? Yet wisdom is justified by her children (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:35).

Christ describes His own work as “the finger of God,” or the direct action of God. The lector-priests of Egypt, no longer able to imitate Moses through their sorcery, cry out to Pharaoh that this was no trick, but God’s action among them (Exodus 8:19). God Himself wrote the Ten Commandments on the tablets with His finger (Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 9:10). Creation is also described as the work of His fingers (Psalm 8:3). Satan remains secure in his palace until the stronger Man, Christ the Lord, to bind him. Satan does not fight against himself and plunder his own palace. This is the work of God among them.

Yet as Pharaoh saw the finger of God and hardened his heart against God more and more, so the Jews are doing the same. Nor is this a neutral thing, because there is no middle ground. To walk with God is to be like God. To attribute God’s work to something else to to walk against Him. Whoever is not with Christ is against Him, and the final result of that way is death and destruction (Galatians 6:7-8). It is not enough that a demon depart from a man. It will go into “waterless places,” the wilderness which is the abode of demons (Leviticus 17:7), but when it returns it will bring spirits more evil than itself to take up residence again.

The same is true of spiritual hardening. It is a progressive process leading more and more away from God. The heart refuses to listen to God and closes its ears, so to speak, against Him. “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as at Meribah” (Psalm 95:7-8). Pharaoh in his pride hardens himself against God. Yet this hardening is also God’s judgment against sin. God hands us over to sin in order to bring on judgment even in this life (Romans 1:26). This is why God also hardens the heart of Pharaoh (Exodus 9:12). God hardens Israel’s heart so that they would not turn to Him and repent (as He plainly says in Matthew 13:15), though this partial hardening has come upon His people in order to further His plan of salvation (Romans 11). For those who persist in sin, God hardens them so that they cannot repent, because God will not allow it.

How then should we understand this? On the one hand, it is beyond our understanding (Romans 11:33-36). The potter has the right over the clay to shape it according to His will (Romans 9:21). Yet the heart which is not hardened is the heart which listens to God. The woman in the crowd who calls for a blessing upon Mary misses the point. Even her unique status as the mother of God changes nothing. Salvation is not a matter of the flesh. “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!”

Lent Midweek Sermon Series: 1 Peter 2

Having laid the groundwork for the Epistle in Chapter 1, Peter unpacks what it means for us to be redeemed.  Far from a stepping stone onto bigger and better things, Christ is in fact the cornerstone upon which the living building of the church is being built.  Christ is the beginning and the end of our faith—and everything in between.  We only have faith because he has caused us to be born again (1 Peter 1:2).  Our destiny is to be with Jesus (1 Peter 2:11).  And between the beginning end the end, while we sojourn here, we should “long for the pure spiritual milk,” so that by it we “grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).  And again, here in this life we ought to follow Christ’s example in suffering (1 Peter 2:21).  Jesus planted faith within our hearts through his word, he sustains that faith, and he guards it that it may reach its intended goal. 

Though the Christian has a living faith, though he sets his eyes on Jesus, though the Lord sustains him here below, nonetheless, there are those around him who do not believe (1 Peter 2:7-8).  The same Christ is a stumbling block to the unbeliever.  The Christian will suffer on account of this (1 Peter 2:18-20).  Even though the unbeliever may speak evil of the Christian, the believer’s honorable conduct will stand as witness against these accusations (1 Peter 2:12).  And although the heathen may even persecute the Christian physically, the believer should overcome it with Christ-like endurance (1 Peter 2:19-20). 

Christian faith does not abolish God’s created order.  Nor is it as though the facts of the secular world are neutral for the Christian. For the Lord’s sake, we are to submit ourselves to “every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors sent by him to punish those who do evil…” (2 Peter 2:13-14).  Servants are to be subject to masters (1 Peter 2:18).  The theme continues into Chapter 3, with directions to wives, husbands, and all Christians.  Authority is God’s gift, and it reflects something of God himself. 

We are to “live as people who are free” while not using that freedom “as a cover-up for evil,” but instead as “servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16).  Again, we are redeemed not for anarchy, not for indulgence, not for comfort, not for selfishness, but to live decent, orderly, respectable, useful, and godly lives as sojourners here on earth.  We are to do this because it is godly.  We are to do this as witnesses.  We are to do this for the sake of conscience and for the sake of our faith (1 Peter 2:11). 

Today’s preacher has ample fodder here.  The number-one theme in pop-culture today just might be this: “be yourself, be unique, be an individual, be your own god, make your own laws, chose your own destiny, live for yourself.  Anyone or anything standing in the way of this should be thrown aside, bulldozed, trampled, despised as backward, scorned as ignorant, and exposed as oppressive.  Just let it all go and be who you are on the inside.” 

Christians—even preachers and their families—marinate in these messages.  The ugly fruits of these lies should be plain enough.  But doesn’t Satan make forbidden fruit look sweet?  He tempted Eve to want more than was given her.  He promised ungodly knowledge and ungodly freedom.  Instead, she got pain, death, and disharmony with her husband.  And Adam, forsaking his headship, now must contend with the earth as well as with the woman.  More on that in Chapter 3.

Second Sunday in Lent: Matthew 15:21-28

His interaction with a Canaanite woman takes Jesus to the north and west of Israel’s ancient boundaries. The region of Tyre and Sidon was never within the promised land, even at Israel’s Solomonic height. King Hiram of Tyre was a friend of Solomon’s and contributed cedars of Lebanon and laborers for the building of the temple. From that it may be inferred that he was a God-fearing Gentile, but nothing is said of how wide-spread his devotion to the Lord ever became in Tyre or Sidon.

The fact that the woman is called a “Canaanite” further emphasizes her foreign status. The Canaanites in their various ways worshiped idols and polluted the land to such a degree that the conquest of Israel was both due to the promise God gave to Abraham and also as a punishment for the sins of the Canaanites. The conversation, if we want to call it that, between Jesus and the woman further brings out the reality that she is a woman of unclean lips who dwells among a people of unclean lips. In this way it will be seen that she is the flip side of the immediately prior teaching of Christ about what truly defiles a man, namely what it is that makes a person clean.

There are many references in the Gospels about word getting around about who Jesus was and what he did. The obvious conclusion, then, is that the woman had heard about him and therefore was coming to him. In this she is not unlike like Rahab who had heard of God’s power at the Red Sea and was given faith. In faith, Rahab hid the two spies, and in faith, the Canaanite woman comes to Jesus for help her daughter’s great need.

Jesus’ silence toward the Canaanite woman furthers the dissonance. The universally comforting promises of Christ to “come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” do not come with a similar promise about the timing of that rest. “Draw near to God, and at the proper time he will lift you up.” Experience bears out the fact that Jesus, like His Father, can be simultaneously imminent and distant. He is present and hears her pleas, but “answers her not a word.”

The tension between universal and particular is furthered as Jesus discusses boundaries. Still silent to the woman, Jesus speaks to the disciples and tells them he was not sent except for the lost sheep of Israel. Their request had been that he dismiss her, possibly meaning to grant her request so that she subsequently leaves them alone. His response indicates that they must have inferred that he help, or else why the statement about only being sent for Israel?

The more pressing question is whether he means it or not? The woman calling him son of David may factor in here. David’s son brings to view the later prophecies of the Christ which oftentimes have a primary focus on Israel’s restoration from exile. “Behold, the days are coming declares the Lord when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely …. In his days Judah shall be saved and Israel will dwell securely” (Jeremiah 23:5-6). “And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will feed them: he shall feed them and be their prince” (Ezekiel 34:23). Taken in isolation, references such as these may lead one to conclude that the Christ is the hope of Israel only. But this is an overly narrow view of the messiah as some of the key prophecies, especially in Genesis 3:15 and Genesis 12:3, speak of his mission for all of Adam’s descendants and all nations being blessed in him.

Why then does Jesus speak of an Israel-centric mission? Is such a thought wrong? Is he speaking tongue-in-cheek? Attempts to discern sarcasm in the Scriptures are usually a sign of grasping at straws, so it is better to assume he meant what he said and find the rationale in Scripture itself.

St. Paul says that he magnifies his ministry to the Gentiles in order somehow to make his fellow Jews jealous and thus save some. In this, he is only imitating his Lord who magnifies his ministry to Israel in order somehow to make this Gentile woman jealous and thus save her. The magnification of the messiah’s Israel-centered ministry does not exclude Gentiles, but actually draws them to Him. He becomes a light to the nations. As even the most Israel-centric prophecies foresaw: “Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore” (Ezekiel 37:28).

The context of our reading further emphasizes this point. Jesus’ journey to Tyre and Sidon comes on the heels of a controversy with the Jewish leaders about what makes a man unclean. The Pharisees were upset that Jesus did not observe the traditions of the fathers related to ritual washings. Their thinking was that he and his disciples were therefore unclean to eat. Jesus clearly refutes the error of their thinking to show that it is not what is outside a man that defiles him, but rather what comes from the heart.

What has this to do with the Canaanite woman? In many ways she is the opposite of the Pharisees. She is not only a Gentile, but a descendant of Israel’s ancient enemies. If anyone would have been ritually unclean, it would be her. And yet, from the fullness of her heart her mouth speaks. She approaches the Lord with unwashed hands, and in all likelihood with no knowledge of the traditions of the elders. In that sense, it would not be “right” to give her the bread of the children. Humanly speaking, she is like a dog, an animal that is canonically understood to be synonymous with uncleanliness.

But by faith in the Lord Jesus, she is worthy and well-prepared to receive his blessing. Not only does she receive the crumbs that fall from the children’s table, but the affirmation of the Lord: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you believe.” The Pharisees earned the rebuke of the Lord as he quoted Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” By way of contrast, in the Canaanite woman, Isaiah’s other prophesy of the Gentiles also comes to pass: “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”

Lent Midweek Sermon Series: 1 Peter 1

There is a time to rejoice in God’s abundant earthly blessings.  There is a time to rest, a time to laugh, and a time to feast.  But there is also a season for reflection, for honest self-assessment, for recommitment to the more demanding aspects of our Christian walk.  Lent is just such a season.  The First Epistle of Peter reminds us that we are sojourners, and that we ought to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war” against our souls (1 Peter 2:11).  In light of Christ’s suffering, we should “live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions, but for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:2).  This Epistle, at five chapters in length, could be preached as a midweek Lent sermon series. 

At the outset, Peter calls Christians “elect exiles” (1 Peter 1:1), not fully at home on this earth.  Everything under the sun is vanity (Ecc. 1:3).  All the glory of man is doomed to pass away (1 Peter 1:24).  The heathen go about in futility (1 Peter 1:18), sinful passions, and ignorance (1 Peter 1:14).  But we have been born again (1 Peter 1:3), ransomed (1 Peter 1:18), promised an inheritance (1 Peter 1:4), and are being guarded until the Last Day (1 Peter 1:5).  Peter builds on many of these teachings throughout the letter.   

Although we are not at home in this world, how we live here and now does matter for the Christian.  Jesus’ death, our faith, and our hope for things to come all inform the way we should think and live here and now.  It is not as though faith were merely a spiritual or otherworldly matter.  Although we wait for the full joys of heaven (1 Peter 1:4), though we long for the day when we will see Jesus (1 Peter 1:8), the Lord has called us for specific purposes in this life. 

The LORD ransomed Israel from Egypt at great cost.  The toll was tremendous destruction and loss of life for Egypt.  In memory of this, all the firstborn of Israel had to be redeemed (Ex. 34:19-20).  The Lord purchased Israel neither for libertinism nor for anarchy; he did not ransom them just so they could be free for freedom’s sake.  Rather, the LORD liberated them in order to worship him (Ex. 8:1), dwell with him (Ex. 15:13), be his (Ex. 19:4), to obey him (Ex. 24:7), and ultimately to raise up a prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15-18) and Abraham’s Seed, through whom the whole earth would be blessed.  conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile

Christians too are redeemed for specific purposes.  We are called to endure “various trials” (1 Peter 1:6).  These refine our faith, just as a furnace purges away impurity from gold.  Yet our faith is more precious than gold, which is doomed to perish along with this world (1 Peter 1:7; 24).  The heat may be unpleasant, but the result is beautiful.  Even in the midst of suffering, we should rejoice.  The trials are for our benefit and God’s glory.  We are not yet fully free from this world; we do not yet see Jesus face to face.  Thus the need for faith (Heb. 11:1).   

Christians are also called to holiness.  Rather than obeying passions, foolishness, and worldly mindsets, we are to be ready for action and sober minded in this life, and hopeful of future encounter with Jesus, rather earthbound in our thoughts (1 Peter 1:13).   Sinful passions tear apart Christian fellowship, and so we are called to lay these aside and instead love one another “earnestly, with a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22).     

Although everything under the sun perishes, rots, fails, disappoints, dies, and is forgotten, the word of God endures forever.  And since that same word which endures has kindled faith in our hearts, we Christians will also endure into eternity.  While we continue on our earthly pilgrimage, we are to hope in God, endure difficulty, live in love with others here on earth, resist the Devil, and praise God in all we do. 

The preacher can urge his hearers that whether they eat or drink, fast or abstain this Lent that they at least reflect upon their spiritual life. We are surrounded by the world’s comforts. It is easy to think we are at home here on earth. But since Christ has risen from the dead, our faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:21) and our true home is in heaven.

First Sunday in Lent: Matthew 4:1-11

The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness following His baptism, but not unwillingly. Nothing happens to Christ without His consent or permission (John 10:18). His temptation in the wilderness also happens because of His choice. The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, and no one will hinder Him from carrying out His mission! One may even say that Jesus deliberately entices the Devil to a contest, because the Devil has no power apart from God’s permissive will (cf. Job 1-2).

Like the scapegoat of old (Leviticus 16:8-10), Jesus begins His work of carrying away our sins immediately following His baptism. Mark relates that He was with the wild animals, away from the domain of men and utterly alone (Mark 1:13). He abstains from all food for forty days, as Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8) had done. Moses and Elijah could not do so apart from God, and Jesus’ own fast is a proof of His divinity. Jesus explicitly tells His disciples in John 4:34 that His food is to do His Father’s will, suggesting that He had no need to eat whatsoever. That He eats and becomes hungry is a sign of His humiliation, becoming like us, not by necessity, but by choice.

It is likely that the forty days stand for the forty years during which Israel wandered in the wilderness as a divine punishment, especially since earlier in Matthew, Jesus is explicitly said to fulfill the prophecy of Hosea 11:1. Just as Jesus is the second Adam, being everything that Adam was not, so also is Jesus the greater Israel, faithful where Israel of old was faithless.

The word temptation and its related forms is used in three different ways in Scripture. God may tempt us, as He did with Abraham (Genesis 22:1). Men may tempt God, something which is explicitly forbidden (Deuteronomy 6:16). Satan may also tempt us into sin (1 Corinthians 7:5). What is common to all of these is the idea of testing. To be tempted is not a sin. If it was, Jesus sinned in the wilderness, something which is blasphemous to say (Hebrews 4:15). This test is a kind of proving, attempting to determine the truth or the quality of something. God proves His servant Job through His trials against the accusations of Satan. Thus this temptation, like the temptation of Abraham, is not an invitation to sin. James says that God tempts no one, because the temptation in question there is an enticing to sin (James 1:12-15). Rather, God proves the character of His saints to their praise and to His glory.

Men may not tempt God or put Him to the test, because it calls into question His nature. A man would test God to see whether He is faithful or telling the truth, as the Israelites did at the first Meribah (Exodus 17:1-7). Yet God is not man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind (Numbers 23:19). Satan also tempts man in the same way by presenting opportunities to sin, drawing into question the Word of God (as with Eve in Genesis 3) or by laying before us a trap. Satan tempts Jesus to sin, but Jesus resists him and does not give way. We are also capable, through the work of the Holy Spirit, of resisting temptation. It is only when we assent to it that sin gives birth to death, though this assent is not hard to gain.

Satan is described in three ways within this passage: the “tempter,” the “slanderer,” and the “adversary.” He is the Tempter for reasons noted above. He is the Devil, or the Slanderer, because he seeks to accuse by lies and half-truths (Zechariah 3:1-2). He is the Adversary, because he opposes God and His saints. Satan tempts Jesus out of his desire to be a murderer (John 8:44). He is a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Yet as noted above, Satan should not be understood as God’s opposite. Satan comes into the wilderness because God has permitted it, not because Satan can do so on his own (Job 1:12; Matthew 8:31-32).

The first temptation here is a test of God’s providence. Can God provide something as simple as bread for You in this wilderness, as He did for Israel with the manna? God the Father quoted Psalm 2, “This is my beloved Son,” just forty days earlier or so at Jesus’ baptism. Is that still true? Satan’s question, “If you are the Son of God,” is thus drawing into doubt that pronouncement more than anything else. Yet Jesus rebukes the devil with Scripture, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. God gave Israel manna so that they would learn to trust in Him above all things. It is not a difficult thing for God to provide, even when it seems like it is physically impossible to us. God’s providence is not limited to natural laws, but all things come from His gracious hand (1 Kings 17:14-16; Psalm 145:15-20; 1 Kings 17:4-6, etc.).

The second temptation here is a test of God’s faithfulness. The devil takes Jesus physically to a high point in the city and tells him to throw Himself down, for Psalm 91 says that God will bear you up and keep you from physical harm. Yet this rash action would become a temptation of God, because casting ourselves into danger in order to determine whether God will keep His Word is drawing into doubt His faithfulness. It is an act of faith to trust in God, knowing that He will deliver us, even when things seem hopeless or contrary to our expectations. It is an act of presumption to see whether God will do it in ways that fit our parameters and conditions. Thus, Jesus rebukes the devil with Deuteronomy 6:16, which is perfectly fitting, since the sin of Israel at Massah was the same as the devil’s proposal.

The last temptation here is a test of God’s sovereignty, since it is an invitation to idolatry. Now on a very high mountain, the devil presents to Jesus a vision of the world. He baldly lies and claims the authority to give and take these kingdoms as he pleases. This is God’s possession and perogative, not Satan’s (Psalm 2:8; 22:28; 47:8; 50:10). In exchange for this worldly glory, shown to be as empty as it really is in Satan’s lie, he calls on Christ to worship him as the source of that glory. However, God rules over the world, and all things are under His dominion. He alone is the proper object of worship, because He is the Creator, not a creature. He is the Lord, and glory belongs to Him alone (Isaiah 42:8).

With the words of Deuteronomy 6:13, Jesus sharply rebukes Satan for his pride. Again, these words fit perfectly, because God warned Israel in that portion of Deuteronomy 6 of the dangers of the world. When they come into their inheritance in the land and live in that which God gave them, they must not be enticed to think that such things came by their own power. God rules over all things, and He is the one who gives all things. We must not seek to worship other gods, because such gods are nothing at all and did not bring us out of slavery into the promised land. God alone is our Redeemer, our Provider, and our King.

Let us also take note of two things in this passage. First, Jesus sharply rebukes Satan and commands him to depart. Resisting temptation may indeed involve drastic measures, even to the point of abstaining from something entirely. If something I do leads me or someone else to sin, it is better to not do it at all than to dabble in it in the name of freedom (1 Corinthians 8:13). Second, Jesus rebukes the devil with the Word of God. Our strength is not in ourselves, but in God and His Word. Spending time in that Word is the surest way to resist temptation, because it is our life and our weapon against the devil (Ephesians 6:17). Jesus resists the invitation to sin, because He is sinless, but He shows us the way to resist the devil and his temptations by His example.

Quinquagesima: Luke 18:31-43

Repetition is the mother of all learning. Three times our Lord predicted his betrayal, his sufferings, his crucifixion, and his resurrection. (Luke 9:21-22, 44, 18:31-33) This repetition clearly conveys importance. Elisha was twice told that Elijah will be taken up from him (2 Kings 2:3-5). St. Paul prayed three times to have the thorn in his flesh removed but was told, “My grace is sufficient.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9) The risen Lord grieved Peter with his triple, “Do you love me?” (John 21:17)

Sadly, though, the third repetition of our Lord’s passion and resurrection yields no better result than the first. If anything, things have only gotten worse. The triple prediction yields only a triple lack of understanding: “They understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” (Luke 18:34)

Their lack of understanding puzzles us who live after the resurrection. Why do they not understand? Could he have explained it better? Did he misspeak? Were they ill prepared?

Rather than finding fault with the Lord we should invoke the reality of the mystery of his rejection. Attention to the title used in the passion predictions is fruitful for meditation on the disciples’ lack of understanding. Jesus employs the title, “the son of man,” without fail in the passion predictions as recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

What do we know about the son of man? Most generically the phrase can simply be the equivalent of, “human.” (Psalm 144:3, Ezekiel 2:1 et alia) A son of Adam is one who is like his father. Fully man. But there are key passages that employ the phrase in more exalted terms. Psalm 8 speaks of a son of man who is Lord over every last detail of creation. Sheep, oxen, beasts, birds, fish, and every last sea creature are all under his sway. Daniel 7 fills out the title even more fully as the prophet sees in the night visions, “one like a son of man,” who is presented before the throne of God and given eternal dominion over all things, including what had previously belonged to the beastly kings of the earth. We may conclude then that “son of man,” is a title of cosmic majesty and everlasting dominion.

But on the lips of Jesus the regal title takes a mysterious path. He will be betrayed. Suffer. Be crucified. And only then, almost as an afterthought, arise. Certainly Isaiah spoke of, “my servant” who would suffer as the representative of and bear the sins of the people. But can that suffering servant be the same as the son of man?

Mysteries such as these can be put into words but not always explained. The lack of understanding in the disciples should not be construed as a failure on their part any more than we would fault our children for not being able to understand the full explanation of our love for them. There are some mysteries that can be expressed but not fully grasped until they are experienced. The passion of the Christ is chief among these.

That the son of man and his cosmic kingdom and eternal dominion must pass through the crucible of the passion is too much to comprehend. It is a mystery to be believed and only in the light of the resurrection can it be understood. Even then, on the road to Emmaus the Lord must explain and open the minds of his disicples so that they might understood all that was written.

This brings us then to the connection of the cryptic saying about the son of man’s suffering and the miraculous healing of the son of David. While even the twelve do not understand Christ’s clear words about the son of man’s passion, a blind beggar calls out to the son of David for mercy. What words cannot communicate perhaps works can.

The crowds announce the arrival of one they title, “the Nazarene,” but the beggar has a better confession: “son of David.” The son of David is a title reaching back to 2 Samuel 7:14. The confession overlaps with “son of man,” in that it is a royal title. The son of David is prophesied to be an eternal king whose rule will reach as far as the river and the sea (Psalm 89:25). He will be as a son to God and God as a father to him (Psalm 2:7).

But it is the plea for mercy connected to this title that comes to the fore from this blind beggar in Jericho. The eternal king is a merciful king. What Christ was explaining to his disciples in clear and explicit words is now shown in a healing. His kingdom will be a kingdom of mercy, healing and salvation which is received by faith. None who trust in him will be put to shame (Luke 18:42). Subsequently he will pass through Jericho and bring the day of salvation to the house of Zachaeus the tax collector (Luke 19:9). Once again, through his actions he is showing what the son of man’s suffering, death, and resurrection will accomplish for all. “The Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

Son of man and son of David are not competing titles. Rather they are titles that converge in the one man, Jesus Christ. While his passion predictions may remain concealed and hidden for a time, nothing is hidden except to be made manifest (Luke 8:17). The result of his suffering, cross, and resurrection will be mercy, sight and the salvation for all who call upon his name. (Acts 2:21)

Everything that is written about the son of man will come to pass. And it will be understood, but only after the fact. “And now I have told you ahead of time so that when it does take place you may believe.” (John 14:29) Good teachers lay a foundation for future learning even when it can’t be grasped in the moment.

We may draw an analogy between the passion prediction in Christ’s earthly ministry and its reading on this day in the church’s lectionary. Just as the disciples heard the plain details of his cross but needed signs to understand so too the church will pass through the coming season of Lent and in those 40 days will see the signs of the son of man’s kingdom, which ultimately is inaugurated through the cross. Only after the fact, like the Emmaus disciples, will their eyes be opened and their hearts be set aglow (Luke 24:32). Likewise we, by following the Nazarene, the son of David, the son of man, Jesus, to the cross and empty tomb see the glory of the cross which brings mercy and sight to those in darkness and the shadow of death.

Sexagesima: Luke 8:4-15

“Take heed then how you hear.” (Luke 8:18)  The kingdom of God is a kingdom of preaching and hearing. The one requires the other. Aptly then, the parable we will hear on Sexagesima is known under two names: “the sower” and “the four soils.”

Jesus, of course, didn’t name his parables; he simply preached them. And of all his parables, only this one is explained in each of the synoptic Gospels. This ought to be a clue to us as to its prominence and importance. “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” (Mark 4:13)

The focus in Christ’s explanation is on hearing. Score one for “the four soils.” Christ himself pays almost no heed to the sower. Sure, he’s mentioned. He’s there. But the explanation is focused on the soil which receives the seed, that is, the hearing of the Word. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 8:8)

Not all hearing though is the same. Experience will testify to this. The same word can be read and preached to an entire group. But the results differ from hearer to hearer. The parable is largely an explanation of the differing ways that the Word of God will be heard, and by it, the kingdom of God either opposed or received.

The various ways to hear are not permanent. So a particular hearer can and will move between various ways of hearing. This is important so that the hearer who is cut to the heart by Christ’s description of rocky or thorny ground does not lose hope. But also, those who are good hearers ought not presume that they may trifle with grace and take it for granted that they will continue. Good and fruitful hearing of God’s Word continues to hold fast to the Word as long as God gives life.

The Teacher of the Kingdom identifies four ways to hear. The seed that falls on the pathway are those who hear but fail to hear all at the same time. How can this be? Because attendance does not guarantee attentiveness. The devil is hard at work to take away the Word. There is no virtue in the birds coming to eat the seeds, as if we might read into this that the birds will transport those seeds in their bodies and expel them somewhere else. This should be foolish on its face, and I only mention it as an example of an over eagerness to put a silver lining on what is clearly a dark cloud. Identifying the tactics of the enemy are necessary to avoid them. The devil doesn’t take away the word out of nowhere, as if he could reach up his invisible hand and somehow snatch the sound waves out of thin air. His taking away of the word is more subtle and sinister. It happens whenever he entices hearers to discard the Word. Some perhaps will sit in the pew and deliberately oppose the preacher. They will listen but only to nitpick, to mock, and to ridicule. Others will sit there like blocks of wood and let the words of Scripture and the preacher pass in one ear and out the other, all the while with the mind elsewhere. But the devil will also work on a larger scale to take away even the possibility of hearing the Word. Governments, who ought to hear the Word themselves and submit to it, will rise up and persecute the preachers of God’s Word and drive them out of the land, rendering a deafening silence in their wake, as the example of Jerusalem in the days of the apostles bears witness.

The seed that falls in the rocky ground are those who hear in what we might call a superficial way. They are tickled by something in the message. Maybe it satisfies some religious feeling for them, an emotional high. Maybe they like to learn bits and pieces of trivia. Whatever the case, the hearing of the Word is for them a surface level matter. There is no conviction about what is heard. There is no retention or attempt to incorporate the Word into the mind and heart. They are those who, when asked what the sermon was about will say, “I don’t know, but it made me feel good.” Or even, “It’s all very interesting. We will hear you again about this.” (Acts 17:32) Hearing without assimilating is of no use. When the time of testing comes, as we can be assured it will, such a plant will be quickly scorched.

The seed that falls among thorns are those who hear a little better, though still not properly. They have too many other things to listen to side-by-side with the Word of God. When the cares of wealth and the pleasures of this passing age are on par with the hearing of God’s Word they choke out the intended product. Yes there is a plant. Roots have even been established. Doctrine is known and can be articulated. But finally, it hasn’t made any actual difference. Head knowledge has not become faith working in love. How easy it is for so many of us to be satisfied here. Week after week we listen, we attend, we even mentally assent to what we have heard. But when it comes right down to it, there’s so many cares and distractions that the implementation of the Word, whether it be a matter of repentance or action, is put on the back burner. We’ll get around to it some other time when things settle down.

Lastly the seed falls on good soil. These are those who hear with an honest and good heart and bear fruit with patience. No short cuts can be taken. Honesty entails that the hearer makes no attempts to hide what is uncovered about himself. Neither does he feel the need to go beyond what the Word reveals about God. The good heart is the heart that does what it was created to do. It stands as the organ of the body from which springs forth both thought and action. Repentance, trust, and action all issue from the heart that holds to the implanted Word. “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)

The hearing of the Word which grows to understanding and gives rise to trust and obedience is the harvest that the sower is at work to create. Yes, the Word does the work, but it does so by grabbing hold of those who hear, and once grabbed, the hearers of God’s Word actually do it. They are not content with a little but become hungry for more. What they hear in the Word they know how to do. (Luke 8:21) “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.” (Luke 8:16) The harvest produced by the kingdom defies the logic of pure mathematics, which would say that 1 in 4 is a failure. While the sowing of the sower is not met with unmitigated success, nevertheless, “he comes home with shouts of joy, bearing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:6)