REFLECTIONS ON THE READINGS
FOR SUNDAY, MARCH 21, 2021
Normally, I don’t discuss the Psalm, but this one is extra special. It is a beautiful prayer and meditation about our sinful nature, and our relationship with God. It is a perfect prayer for us during our Lenten journey. In my Lutheran denomination, we are very cognizant of our sinful nature. Every worship service begins with a liturgy of confession & forgiveness. We sort of take a spiritual “bath” prior to worship. We don’t go the “fire and brimstone” route, with lots of guilt being inflicted on the worshipers, but we do recognize our uncanny ability to disobey our Lord at every turn. Martin Luther liked to say that we Christians are at the same time both sinners and saints. Also, every Sunday is also supposed to be a “Little Easter”, so we take care to ensure that the Good News of the gospel shines through. Lent is a time to confront our shortcomings, knowing that God loves us, and has forgiven us through the gift of His son.
I am especially fond of verses 10-12. In years past, these words were part of a song that was included each week in our worship service. This song is etched in my heart—it was, and still is, true worship. Look at those words, and make them yours!
This passage is one of those “dual meaning” passages. Originally, it was written during or just after Babylonian captivity. It was written over 500 years before the birth of our Lord. There is certainly no way that they could have heard these words and thought “They’re talking about Jesus!” It was a message of hope to the captives that a better day was coming. Since Jesus’ time, however, it has taken on new meaning. It is quoted in Romans and Hebrews, and hinted at in Matthew, Mark, and John. We’ll look at both meanings, since they have the same message, especially to us Christians.
- This passage starts out by looking forward to the day of hope and promise. The Lord will make a new covenant with us. Other words for “covenant” include charter, treaty, pact, and testament. (v. 31)
- The new covenant will not be like the old one. Jeremiah reminds them that God freed them from captivity in Egypt, and was “their husband”. He loved and cared for them. (v. 32)
- The new covenant will be richer than the old one. No longer will the law be written on stone tablets, but within their hearts. We will have intimate knowledge of God and God of us. He will forgive us, and completely forget about our sins. (v. 33)
- We divide our bible into two parts—the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament was God’s covenant promise with Moses and the people of Israel. The New Testament is God’s covenant promise sealed by the blood of Jesus on the cross.
- We live in the in-between times. Jesus has come. He has died for our sins, and gone back to heaven. He will come again to reign on earth. While we wait for his return, we have a partial fulfilment of this scripture. Jesus has laid out God’s will before us. It can be “written on our hearts”, and is, in part. But this prophecy will be fully implemented after his return.
- The New Testament writers quickly recognized Jesus in these last verses. Through Jesus, our sins are completely forgiven. We have a fresh start, a renewed relationship with our Lord.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
How does His law and His will get “written on our hearts”? I think prayer and studying the scriptures is a good start, don’t you?
The book of Hebrews is one of those books of the bible that I try to avoid. It is so dense and complicated, that it is easy to get distracted or bored, and move on. I am thankful that we get to study it now, because it requires me to do the hard work of understanding it. Unfortunately, we are going to need to learn about a couple of things before we can begin to crack the code on this very precious passage.
Jewish High Priest
There was only one at a time. Only Levites were allowed to be priests, so the high priest must be from the house of Levy. He alone was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, and be in God’s presence. He alone was allowed to make sacrifices for the sins of the people. He was the people’s only connection with God.
He was a priest and a king at the time of Abraham. He is only mentioned in Genesis 14:18-20 and in Psalm 110:4. Abraham gave offerings to him, in reverence to Yahweh. By contrast, the Levite line of priests was established at the time of Moses and Aaron, after slavery in Egypt. Since Melchizedek lived well before them, his qualifications to be a priest precluded the requirement to be from the house of Levy. He was a priest long before the Levites had this job.
The writer of Hebrews is writing to the Christian Jews to explain Jesus’ divinity in Jewish terms.
- Jesus was not of the house of Levy, he was from the house of Benjamin. He was not qualified to be a priest, according to the Law of Moses. If you read Psalm 110 through a Christian lens, you might conclude that David is referring to the messiah. Therefore, God states that His son is a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. He doesn’t have to be a Levite. This is the point that the author of Hebrews is making; Jesus is fully qualified to be our high priest through the order of Melchizedek. (vv. 5-6)
- Verse 7 calls to mind Jesus’ prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane.
We do not need the convincing argument that is presented here to know that Jesus is our Lord. Through Jesus we have direct prayer access to God the Father. Through Jesus’ obedient suffering on the cross, our sins are forgiven, and we have eternal life! Hallelujah!
At this point in John’s gospel, Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead, and has made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, with palm branches and praises all around. Jesus is drawing large crowds wherever he goes. In the verse just before our passage, the Pharisees say to one another “Look, the world has gone after him
- The “world” has indeed gone after him. In this case, some Greeks approach the disciples, and ask to see Jesus. They relay the request to Jesus. (vv.20-22)
- Jesus appears to ignore the request, but does so indirectly at the end. Instead, he uses this as a teaching moment. He speaks of the cost of discipleship. Of putting service to Him above all else, including one’s own life. (vv. 23-26) The powerful words that attracted my attention are verse 26: “Whoever serves me must follow me…”, presumable even to death, if necessary.
- In verse 26 he says “Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life”. I do not believe we must actually hate our lives. Jesus is telling us to put God’s plan for our lives above all else, even if it means putting our life at risk.
- This passage gets very interesting in the second paragraph. He is still talking about the cost of doing God’s will. But now, he speaks about himself, rather than his disciples. He is “troubled”. He knows what lies ahead. But he left his heavenly home to teach, preach, and die for our sins. He is on a mission, and that mission is about to turn dark. But he doesn’t bail out of the mission. He is faithful to his Father’s mission. He has a job to do.
- He final gives those curious Greeks an answer in verse 32. Sort of. He says that he will “draw all people to himself”. The people of Israel considered themselves to be God’s chosen people. With the coming of the messiah, God choses to include everyone; even us Gentiles.
When Jesus climbed on that donkey to enter Jerusalem, he knew where he was headed. The road he traveled into Jerusalem also points in the opposite direction; he could have decided to save his life by going in that direction. In spite of the pain and humiliation he is about to subject himself to, he presses on. He presses on to do his Father’s will, to be God’s ultimate expression of His love for us.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Jesus challenges us to put God’s mission for us above our own plans. Jesus is setting the bar high. Are you in?