The First Sunday in Lent
My father always told me that there is a time and a place for everything. The season of Lent is observed in many churches. It is a time that is set aside to reflect on our sinful nature: how we have fallen short of God’s of us. Just as Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness, we will pursue this study for 40 days (not including Sundays). Some will also fast, to sharpen their spiritual focus, and draw nearer to God. Let’s begin our Lenten journey.
GENESIS 2:15-17, 3:1-7
We join Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden for the famous event— The Fall. Most preachers and teachers will pick this story apart in fine detail, like eating fried chicken off the bone. And they will pick those bones clean. I prefer to stand back and look at the big picture, and ask the question: “What does God want me to learn from this story?”
- So, God puts Adam in the Garden of Eden with only one rule— don’t eat the fruit of this one tree. (vv. 15-17)
- Time passes. Enter, the beautiful Eve. The “serpent” starts messing with her mind, filling her with notions of wisdom. He convinces her to eat the fruit. (vv. 1-5)
- She eats the fruit, and gives some to Adam. The serpent was right! Their eyes were opened, and they realized their nakedness. They went to the mall and bought some clothes. (vv. 6-7)
Sorry about the mall comment. Sometimes my sense of humor steps in.
You know the rest of the story. But this is enough of the story for the God Lesson for today. In Genesis 1 we learn that God made us, “and it was good”. This is one of the God Lessons for Genesis 1. We are God’s creation, and we are good. But here in Genesis 2, we read about a big exception. We see human frailty in action. For me, the God Lesson here is this: If we were given paradise and only one rule, we would break that rule. Do you doubt me? What is your first thought, when you see a sign that reads “Wet Paint”? If you’re a normal human being, you wonder how old the sign is, and if the paint is still wet. Am I right??? God created us good, but we’re not perfect. Martin Luther used to say that we are all sinners and saints, both at the same time. We are created good (Genesis 1) and we are also drawn to do the very thing that we should not do (Genesis 2). Without God’s help, we are a hopeless mess. Welcome to the season of Lent!
Paul wrote this letter to the Christian church in Rome. That church consisted of an odd mix of both Christian Gentiles and Christian Jews. The first three chapters paint a broad-brushed perspective of various types of people, pointing out how they have fallen short of God’s expectations (sinned). In chapter 2, Paul turns on his audience, and says “and what about you…?” Do you think you are any better, he goes on to say. He drives the point home in 3:23– “…since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
- Paul reminds the reader of Adam’s fall, which was today’s first lesson. (v. 12)
- Paul explains that even though the law didn’t come until Moses, the fall of mankind was already in place. (vv. 13-14)
- Paul now contrasts “the free gift” (of salvation through Christ) with “the trespass” (The Fall). The sin of one man (Adam) caused death. But the sins of many are justified* through the free gift offered by one man (Jesus).
- The next three verses repeat one another, but in different words. I believe Paul does this to make things clear and drive an important point home. He’s saying that Adam gave us death, but faith in Jesus gives us life! (vv. 17-19)
During Lent, it is very important for us to reflect on our sinfulness. But we should never forget that Jesus is our lifeline.
This is the famous story of Jesus temptation by the devil. Here, again, I believe is best to stand back and look for the God Lesson for me, rather than to pick apart the story in infinite detail.
- Jesus has been fasting in the desert for nearly six weeks, and is very hungry. (vv. 1-2)
- In three very different ways, Jesus is tempted to abuse his divine power. One is to feed his hunger, one is to prove his divinity, and one is to use his divine power to gain political power. In each case, Jesus triumphs over the temptation by recalling his Father’s words. He remains focused on his divine mission to remain a humble servant to his Father, and do what he was sent to do. (vv. 3-11)
I take great comfort in this story. It tells me that Jesus was human. He was tempted to do things that he knew he shouldn’t. I’ll even bet that during his 30+ years on this earth he was tempted more times than just this once. But with this story, I see that he remains dedicated to the task that lies ahead. He is going to walk in our shoes, heal us, teach us and love us enough to die on the cross for us.
*This word is best understood like this: If you kill a person in self-defense, you have still killed someone, haven‘t you? But in a court of law, the judge would claim your actions “justified”. You were acting in self-defense. You are set free. Paul is saying that Jesus’ death on the cross has “justified” all our sinful acts. We are forgiven. We are set free.