Weekly Reflections

RSS Feed

For March 21, 2021

REFLECTIONS ON THE READINGS

FOR SUNDAY, MARCH 21, 2021

 

PSALM 51

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!

 

JEREMIAH 31:31-34

THE BACKGROUND

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.

THE DETAIL

  • 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)

 

THE TAKEAWAY

  • 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?
 

HEBREWS 5:5-10

THE BACKGROUND

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.

Melchizedek

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 DETAIL

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.

 

THE TAKEAWAY

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! 

 

 

JOHN 12:20-33

THE BACKGROUND

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 DETAIL

  • 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.

THE TAKEAWAY

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?

For March 14, 2021

NUMBERS 21:4-9

THE BACKGROUND

The people of God have are wandering in the Sinai wilderness.  Jews consider this time the honeymoon part of the relationship between Yahweh and his people. It is during this time when Mosaic Law was expanded to become the 613 Laws of Moses so diligently observed by the Pharisees of Jesus’ time.  All these regulations laid out how the people of God could “get the attention of Yahweh and then be in the divine presence.”1  It detailed how to be in a long-term relationship with God.

Those who followed Moses out of Egyptian slavery were a miserable lot.  They complained at every turn.  By the time we get to chapter 14 in Numbers, God has had enough.  He declares that He is going to purge the flock.  That generation will not see the Promised Land. Chapter 14 is an interesting read. Moses does some serious negotiation with Yahweh, and makes Him modify His plans. 

THE DETAIL

  • By the time we get to our passage in chapter 21, the Jews have already been to Mt. Sinai.  God provides them with food and water, during their entire journey.  But they are sick of eating manna, and tired of all the desert walking.  They complain to Moses. (v. 5) 
  • God does not take it well—this is the last straw.  He sends poisonous snakes, and they kill many Israelites.  God is working his plan of attrition, as outlined in chapter 14. (v. 6)
  • But wait!  There’s more! The people go to Moses.  They repent.  This softens God’s heart, and his divine grace shows through.  He doesn’t eliminate the snakes, but provides a way for the people to save their lives.  (vv. 7-9) 

 

THE TAKEAWAY

The main reason for the inclusion of this passage from Numbers is it’s connection with the Gospel lesson.  But it is a good lesson to study all by itself.

God has chosen the people of Abraham to be his favorites.  He has delivered them from slavery, and cares for them daily on their journey to a land he has promised to them.  He loves them.  But they are a contrary lot.  They complain at every turn, and God’s compassion is continually tested.  He decides to wait for the new generation of Israelites to mature, before they arrive at the Promised Land.  More than once, he alters his plans, because of Moses’ intervention.  In this passage, we see God’s love and grace in action.  He knuckles under when His people are sorry, and they want to start anew. He doesn’t take away the scourge, but He provides a way for them to save their lives. 

I find comfort and assurance in this story.  God keeps changing his mind out of love for us.

 

1 “Reading the Old Testament”, Barry L. Bandstra, Wadsworth/Thompson Learning, chapter 4.

 

 

EPHESIANS 2:1-10

THE BACKGROUND

Paul’s letters always begin with a greeting, followed by a foundational theological statement.  Our passage follows this statement.  The passage also contains one of my most cherished Bible verses.  (vv. 8-9)

THE DETAIL

  • The first paragraph (vv. 2-3) are written in the past tense.  They refer to the time before we knew Jesus, and claimed him as our savior.  Paul says that, because of our sinful lives, we were “dead men walking”.  (My phrase, not Paul’s)  Paul paints a dark picture of life outside the grace of God.
  • Verses 4 & 5 are the turning point.  God snatches us up out of our dead and dreadful lives, and saves us. This He does by His “grace”2.
  • Beginning with verse 6, and going to the end, this passage is all written in the present tense.  Now that we are believers, not only are we alive with Christ, we are raised up with him, and get VIP seating alongside Jesus! (v. 6)
  • Just to make things clear, Paul restates who and what saves us.  It is God’s free gift to us, those who believe. We have nothing more to do with it than believe.  We can’t brag about it, because it was a free gift.  (vv. 8-9)
  • God did all of this beforehand.  Now, it is our job to respond to the free gift by doing his work on earth. (v. 10)

 

 

THE TAKEAWAY

This passage makes it crystal clear to me where my salvation comes from.  It is not from earning it through an accumulation of divine brownie points; it is a free gift.  I can’t “work my way to heaven” or “get right with God” by doing good things.  But I do those good things because of God’s grace, his undying love for me in spite of my failings. 

Paul wrote this as a “before and after” situation. But to me, the need is ongoing. As humans, we are drawn to sin like moths to a flame.  We are in continual need of God’s saving grace.

A pastor once told me that the word “salvation” means “God’s salvaging operation”.  I recently read that some people somewhere in Scandinavia discovered an intact sailing ship from the 1700’s.  They engaged the services of a salvage company, and carefully brought the ship off the bottom.  They restored her to her former glory.  It was a big salvage operation.  God is like that in our lives.  He continually plucks us up off the ocean floor, and restores us to life.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

In what ways have you caused yourself to sink to “the bottom of the ocean”?  What can you do, to prevent this from happening again?  (This is what we call repentance.)  God has better things to do, than to be continually fishing us out of the water.  Let’s fix that.  But thanks be to God for His undying love and grace, and the gift of His son!

 

 

2 A pastor friend of mine defines grace as “God’s love, freely given”.

 

JOHN 3:14-21

THE BACKGROUND

In the beginning of John chapter 3, we find the dialogue that was the meeting of Jesus with Nicodemus.  Our passage today is Jesus’ teaching moment, which is the result of that encounter.  We are not sure if Nicodemus heard these words or not.  But they were spoken in response to the subject of their discussion—what (and/or who) saves us.

THE DETAIL

  • Verses 14 & 15 are a direct reference to our Old Testament lesson for today.  For the Israelites, their lives were spared, if they kept their eyes fixed upon the serpent of bronze.  For us now our lives are spared, if we keep our eyes fixed upon the cross of Christ. 
  • Verses 16 & 17 show the love of God for us, giving us His son so that we inherit eternal life, rather than condemnation for our sinful lives. 
  • Verses 18 – 20 contrast light with darkness.  Jesus is “the light” in the Gospel of John.  Darkness, on the other hand, is life without The Light. 
  • As with our passage from Ephesians, deeds come after God’s saving grace. They are not the means for achieving His grace; they are our response.

THE TAKEAWAY

It is easy for us to take the free gift, and walk away. True gratitude and love are expressed when we show our gratitude by doing God’s work in our surroundings.

Posts