The Time of Trial: H.C. Question 127

What does the sixth petition mean?
 
Psalm 103:14-16 – for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.  The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.
 
Ephesians 6:10-13 – Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
 
1 Peter 5:8 – Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
 
John 15:18-21 – “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.
 
Romans 7:23 – but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.
 
Galatians 5:17 – For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.
 
Matthew 10:19-20 – But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
 
Matthew 26:41 – “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
 
Mark 13:33 – Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.
 
Romans 5:3-5 – Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
 
1 Corinthians 10:13 – No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
 
1 Thessalonians 3:13 – May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
 
1 Thessalonians 5:23 – May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.


The Lord’s Prayer: H.C. Question 119

What is this prayer? 
 

Matthew 6:9-13 – “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
 

Luke 11:2-4 – He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”


1 Corinthians 10 – Israel's Messed Up Freedom

Read 1 Corinthians 10

As Paul continues his thoughts on Christian freedom, he appeals to the example that is set by Israel’s failures in the past.  While they had the law, their ultimate calling and identity was to be about loving God and loving each other.  All of what they did and what they were was to point to the coming Messiah, something that Paul shows here.  They, however, thought that they were doing right, that they were standing firm, and were deceived and paid the price for it.

While things are different now, in the age of grace rather than the bondage of the law, our response doesn’t change.  We are still called to love God and love each other as well as to live a transformed life.

Therefore, Paul says, flee from idolatry.  What does this mean for us?  Paul is calling Christians to live into their transformed life.  Yes, you have freedom in Christ and forgiveness through grace, but that shouldn’t be a ticket to do whatever you want.  Not everything is life is beneficial to us.

I often liken his comments about food and idols to TV shows.  Are we free to watch whatever we want?  Sure, and we often do.  There are a couple that I would struggle to give up if I was told to.  Does this mean that they are beneficial to me?  No in the slightest.  In fact, they may even be footholds for temptation.  Whether violence and hostility or sexual images, these things can cause great harm to us and potentially to those with us as well.

So often I find myself encouraging people to watch this or that show.  Rarely to I take into account what that person may be going through or dealing with in their lives.  Paul implores us to not cause anyone to stumble once again reminding us that our freedom is not to be used to our own advantage, but rather in the humble, loving, Christ-like service of others.



1 Corinthians 8 – Puffed Up

Read 1 Corinthians 8

Reading the middle section of 1 Corinthians, Paul seems to meander through issues in a scatterbrained sort of way.  He’s here and there and back again without any seemingly logical progression.  However, if we take a step back and look at the whole of this section, the same theme continues throughout: “Don’t let the way you act diminish the message of the Gospel.”  Sometimes he talks about this in reference to “outsiders,” here it is in reference to conduct with other believers.

Sacrificing food to idols is archaic practice if ever there was one.  I think this is why Paul frames this in terms of knowledge, not the act itself.  The reality is, in every Christian community, there are those that understand and embrace the freedom that Christ offers and those that are still working that out.  Those that have “knowledge,” meaning they understand the freedom they have, must temper how the act on it so as not to hurt others.  In this instance, some people may know that food sacrificed to a false god that doesn’t exist is fine to eat.  Yet younger Christians who may still be working that out could find it offensive… or perhaps even a temptation to fall back into their former sinful life.

Perhaps a more contemporary example would be the idea that drinking alcohol is not a sinful act.  However, expressing our freedom by drinking alcohol in front of a recovering alcoholic causing him/her to fall back into that addiction is wrong, the very opposite of Christ’s call to love.

Christian freedom is always express in love and concern for others.  Knowledge is always expressed through the wisdom of God that is in Christ Jesus.  Therefore let us use our knowledge to build others up… not to boast and be puffed up.



Luke 4 – Wilderness

Read Luke 4

The theme of “wilderness” is something that is quite prevalent throughout Scripture.  From the very beginning, Scripture records people heading into the wilderness as a part of their journey.  One of the more famous of these is that of the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness for 40 years between their captivity in Egypt and entering the promised land.  King David also spent time in the wilderness being chased by Saul before finally ascended to the throne.  The people of Israel also experienced a “wilderness” type event in the Babylonian Exile.

All of these events have something in common, though, as they are all intimately related to the shaping of identity.  Israel leaves Egypt as a group of slaves and enters Canaan as a nation, the people of God.  David enters into the wilderness as an anointed shepherd but emerges as Israel’s great king.  Jesus is baptized, given His identity by the voice of God Himself, and enters the wilderness for 40 days before emerging to begin His ministry here on earth.  Each of these Old Testament events points forward to Jesus and brings meaning to His identity as the Messiah.

We too are a part of this story.  We find our identity in Jesus Christ and that identity is continually shaped and molded through the work of the Holy Spirit throughout our lives.  Our lives too contain times of “wilderness” experience when God seems distant and life seems hard.  Yet these often serve much the same purpose as those of the Bible, to develop and establish our identity and to teach us dependence on God.

Have you ever experienced a time like this in your life?  Sometimes we spend that time asking “where is God?”  Perhaps a better question is “what is God teaching me in this time?”

**Many of the colored words here are Links to other posts related to this topic.  Feel free to click and explore other writings on this subject!



Psalm 119:105-112 "Light for the Path"

1/17/2016 – Engage the WORD – There are times when our path seems clear and times when it seems cloudy and dark. In those times, we need to turn to God’s Word to give us light, maybe not to illuminate the whole path, but at least enough for the next step.



Matthew 4 – It is Written…

Read Matthew 4

Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit where He would face temptation from satan himself.  40 days later, the temptations begin, a point when Jesus would have been at His weakest point physically.  When temptations come, so often they come when we are at our lowest, weakest points.  Have you ever had that?  Life seems to just pile things on and then we start to slip:

Old temptations that you haven’t struggled with in years begin to resurface…

New temptations present themselves for the first time…

The words we don’t want to use become much more palatable…

Our tone of voice with family, friends, and coworkers becomes a bit more harsh…

This is likely how Jesus felt as satan approached.  All of what He had experienced and now this… reading this we think that He couldn’t possibly take any more.

However, physical weakness doesn’t necessarily imply spiritual weakness; Jesus demonstrates that.  As satan brings the temptation, touching on several points that would have been close to Jesus.  Yet our Lord responds in kind, not with human logic or philosophical defense, but rather with the enduring Word of God.

Reading this reminds me of other Scripture passages like Psalm 119:11 and 119:105.  David, in many other places in the Psalms as well as many of the prophets talk at length about the need to have the Word of God inside of us, on our hearts.

So often, when we start out a Bible reading plan with the mindset that it is “something to get through” or “something to conquer,” as if it was like a weight loss plan.  Maybe that is the wrong approach.  John Ortberg once said, “Our goal should not be to get through the Scriptures.  Our goal should be to let the Scriptures get through us!”



Day 300: Luke 10-11; Learning to Pray

Today’s reading encompasses a great deal parables, teachings, and miracles of Jesus.  I am planning on covering some of that tomorrow.  Our reading today also touches on the Lord’s prayer, or at least Luke’s version of it.  Prayer is one of the most important parts of the Christian life, and therefore I think that our Lord’s teaching on prayer should be mentioned sometime in this blog.  Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer is somewhat shorter than it’s Matthew counterpart though, so we will be drawing from both sections.

Both Matthew and Luke’s prayer begin with praise and acknowledgement of God’s holiness.  “Father, hallowed (or holy) is Your name.”  As we enter into prayer, I think that this is a good and appropriate way to orientate ourselves to the one we are praying to.  As creatures of the creator, redeemed sinners coming before a gracious and holy God, it is important for us to remember our true place in the world.  Though God invites us to pray and encourages us to bring our needs before Him, God is still God and we need to remember and acknowledge this as we enter into His presence.

The next words that both Luke and Matthew record are that of asking God to bring His Kingdom.  We pray “Your Kingdom come…” and related to this in Matthew is “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  While talk of the Kingdom of God differs in the idea of what this means, the reference to God’s work on earth throughout history towards the restoration of creation is certainly at or near the center.  Ultimately, this is the will of God too, to bring all of creation back to its original state, the perfection in which it was created.  God has been working for this throughout history, culminating in Jesus Christ coming which hailed the kingdom of heaven here on earth.  Right now we are living in the time in between that and when we will see it in its fullness, the already but not yet period where we are waiting for God to bring all this to an end and reconcile all things to Himself.

It is at this point, when we have oriented ourselves before God and prayed for His will in the world that we then turn to our own needs.  We ask God for “our daily bread” knowing and trusting that God is going to give us all that we need for life.  Jesus talks about through throughout His ministry and teaching, telling us not to worry and showing us how God will provide as He always does.  I think what is important here, not that God’s provision isn’t important or anything because it most definitely is, would be the order in which these things come in the prayer.  Too often we come before God and just rattle off a list of things that we need as if God was some sort of a cosmic vending machine.  Jesus is showing us the appropriate way in which we should be praying to God, the appropriate orientation and therefore the appropriate order.

Jesus moves on from there to asking the Lord for forgiveness.  Again, I think that this is an appropriate place for this, and not just because this is where Jesus put it.  Coming from the Reformed Tradition, and being quite dutch in my heritage, I know what it is like to feel bad about the things that I have done or those things that I failed to do.  So very often we focus in on the fact that we are sinners and need forgiveness.  We are sinners…  we are sinners… Lord have mercy… forgive us… Apart from the things that we need, I would say that this section is the place at which we find ourselves praying so very often.  Yet we don’t need to be stuck in “guilt mode prayer.”  We are not people that have no hope, we live in the reality that grace has already been extended to us!  Jesus has died!  We have been forgiven!  Yes, we sin… but we are FORGIVEN!  This is our current reality and we need to live into it rather than just focusing in on our sins.

Finally we come to the last part of this prayer.  This can probably be the most confusing part of it as well.  Why would we ask God not to lead us into temptation?  God doesn’t tempt.  He doesn’t even make bad things happen to us.  So why do we say this?  I think a more contemporary translation that we use at seminary maybe makes a bit more sense here: “Save Us from the time of Trial.”  Perhaps it just seems to fit more with the phrase in Matthew “deliver us from evil (or the evil one).”  I think it makes more sense with what we know about God as well.  God is not the source of evil, but He does allow us to go through difficult times.  Jesus knew this as He was teaching his Disciples this prayer.  He too would face evil in its greatest assault.  Though Jesus did not want to go through this time, and even prayed that God would take the cup from Him (save us from the time of trial?), yet He resigned to what the will of God the Father was and willingly went through it (deliver us from evil?).  I think that these fit seamlessly together here and round out the Lord’s prayer quite well.

For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the glory forever, Amen.



Day 297: Luke 4-5; Jesus' Ministry Begins

Yesterday we talked about Jesus’ birth and the preparation for ministry that took place before Jesus in the work of John the Baptist.  Today we look at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as He is baptized by John and then proceeds into the wilderness to be tempted.  As we talked about in Matthew, Jesus life in many ways parallels the journey that the people of Israel took to get to the promised land and to be the people that God called them to be.  While they never actually realized this calling, or at least never fully actualized it, they did follow this same path of “baptism,” wilderness wandering, and eventual entrance into ministry in the promised land.  We don’t often equate Israel’s presence in the promised land as being that of ministry.  They killed, or were supposed to kill all the inhabitants of Canaan and then occupy it as an inheritance.  However, remember that Israel was also called to be a light to the nations, a community that was to represent the world to God and God to the world.  Sadly, like I just said, this was never fully realized… at least not until Jesus came to earth.

I think its funny that most of the crown that has gathered to hear John’s teaching really have no idea what is transpiring before them.  Jesus shows up and John recognizes Him, yet it is the greater of the two who requests baptism from the lesser.  Upon protest though, which we see in the account of Matthew, John baptizes Jesus and we see heaven open.  The Spirit descends onto Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice speaks, affirming Jesus as the Son of God to all the people gathered.  This happening is one of the fundamental ways in which we understand baptism.  Baptism has to do with identity.  As a member of the Reformed Church in America, we practice infant baptism where we acknowledge God’s claim on the child’s life, that they are a member of God’s people and an heir to the covenant promises of God.  In this, we acknowledge the child’s true identity.  While John’s baptism was one for the forgiveness of sins, which in many ways is also a change in identity from sinner to forgiven, when Jesus was baptized, He too was given a specific identity.  Perhaps it would be more apt to say that Jesus’ baptism confirmed the identity that was already present… much like we believe infant baptism does to the child of believing parents.

From here Jesus is led by the Spirit that has just descended on to Him into the desert in which we learn that He both fasts and is tempted by the devil.  We don’t know much about the 40 days that Jesus spends in the wilderness apart from the fact that we are told He was tempted and didn’t eat.  It is at the end of this time that the Devil comes to Jesus and tempts Him directly.  There are a lot of parallels that can be drawn between this experience and that of Moses at Mount Sinai while Israel in the wilderness.  He too was away for 40 days and there comes a point with the people are tempted as well.  Unlike the people of Israel though, Jesus doesn’t succumb to temptation but refutes the Devil not only with the Word of God, but with the heart of its true meaning.  In some ways I think Jesus is demonstrating the true and right use of the Scriptures as He is not just quoting random verses of the Bible to Satan but is speaking the true meaning of the Word, especially when the devil uses the words of Scripture against Jesus.

Finally, after Jesus returns from the wilderness, He goes to His hometown of Nazareth and teaches in the synagogue.  His first Scripture lesson comes from the prophet Isaiah, a teaching about the day of the Lord and the coming of the Messiah.  After reading it, Jesus tells them that the Scripture is fulfilled by His reading it.  Isaiah often talked about the joy and restoration that would come after the time of exile in Babylon saying that things would be different upon the return of God’s people to their land.  However, it wasn’t.  The people of Israel fell back into their old sins.  They were still not the light that they were called to be and still didn’t care for the least, last, and lost that they were called to.  Jesus’ coming signals the dramatic in-breaking of the Kingdom of Heaven on this earth.  He comes and the Spirit of God is on Him to be the true Israel, the true human in the face of evil.  Not only does Jesus proclaim these things, but He enacts them as well, fulfilling all that is written about Him throughout Scripture.



Day 279: Matthew 1-4; Intro to the New Testament, The Gospels, and Matthew

The New Testament Photo Credit: www.thinktheology.org

The New Testament
Photo Credit: www.thinktheology.org

And so we come to it at last, the New Testament, the fulfillment of God’s promises to send a Messiah, the fulfillment/expansion of the covenant that God made with His people.  In the New Testament, the term “God’s People” also takes on a new meaning as the promise of reconciliation and redemption extends outward from the people of Israel to encompass the whole world!  In addition to this, we see the culmination of God’s work throughout the whole of the Old Testament to bring about the coming of Jesus in the New Testament and the fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies and covenantal promises that had been spoken of for over 1000 years, all coming to fruition in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

The Gospels are the first books of the Old Testament, four books that recount the life and work of Jesus Christ from His birth all the way to His ascension.  Each book is written by a different person, two Apostles, Mark who was an associate of Paul, and Luke (also the author of Acts) who was a doctor and one of the first gentile Christians.  Each of the Gospels is written to a different audience with a different purpose.  This will become apparent as we read through each of these books, however here is some basic information about each of the four Gospels, taken from both the NIV Life Application Study Bible (Tyndale House Publishing, 1991) and Reading the New Testament Today by Robert E. VanVoorst (Wadsworth, 2005).

Wordle of the Gospels Photo Credit: www.petergalenmassey.com

Wordle of the Gospels
Photo Credit: www.petergalenmassey.com

Matthew: Written specifically to the Jews in an effort to prove that Jesus was indeed the Messiah that the prophets foretold and was the eternal King in the line of David.

Mark: Written to Christians in Rome to encourage the Christians who were undergoing persecutions by relating the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Mark is said to be the first of the Gospels written.

Luke: Written to “Theophilus” which mean one who loves God, but also to Gentiles and people everywhere in an effort to present an accurate account of the life of Christ and also to present Christ as the perfect human and Savior.  Luke also makes an effort here and in Acts to challenge believers to be more devoted to the faith, especially its growth and defense.

John: Written to Christians and searching Non-Christians to prove that Jesus is the divine Son of God, the Word of God incarnate, and also to deepen faith in Jesus as Son of God and the giver of life, and to encourage readers to confess this faith  openly in the face of threats from synagogue authorities.

The Gospel of Matthew Photo Credit: www.spreadjesus.org

The Gospel of Matthew
Photo Credit: www.spreadjesus.org

As I said, the book of Matthew was written to a primarily Jewish audience, which is apparent right from the beginning of the book.  If you remember some of the culture we learned about the Hebrews, which are now referred to as “the Jews,” the orientation of their lives was towards God, which for them meant looking backward to creation and backing into the future.  This is a bit different than contemporary orientation of looking toward the future.  So naturally we being with a genealogy, a way of linking Jesus Christ with the ancestors of Israel, all the way back to Abraham and the original calling of the people of God by God Himself.  In effect, Matthew is proving right off the bat the Jesus is a decedent of Abraham and from the house and line of King David, two prerequisites for the coming Messiah which, as was said earlier, was one of the purposes of Matthew: to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, the predicted King that was to come, in the line of David, to set up God’s Kingdom here on earth.

Saint Matthew Icon Photo Credit: www.internetmonk.com

Saint Matthew Icon
Photo Credit: www.internetmonk.com

Matthew does a great deal of linking the Old Testament Scriptures to the person and work of Jesus Christ.  There are multiple ways in which he does this.  The genealogy which we just talked about is just one way.  Matthew’s account of the angel visiting Joseph also signifies a divine happening, a message directly from God.  Matthew points to this as well, something he does throughout his book.  He writes, “All this took place to fulfill…” In this case, the happening of Mary’s conception took place to fulfill with Isaiah wrote about in Isaiah 7, “The virgin will be with child…”  Interestingly enough, the course of Jesus’ life in the book of Matthew actually mirrors that of the course of Israel’s life as well going to Egypt to escape death while he was very young, a wilderness experience which lasted for 40 days (a mirror of Israel’s wilderness wanderings), and a Baptism before he began His ministry (which is reminiscent of Israel crossing the Red Sea and the Jordan before entering the promised land).  This too, we see was “to fulfill all righteousness” as Jesus says.

Today we also see a taste of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as well.  The very route the Jesus took, Matthew says, was to fulfill what is written in Isaiah 9 about those being in darkness who have seen a great light.  From there he begins calling disciples, preaching and healing the sick.  For one reason of another, the work of Jesus as it has been preached in the Church is often boiled down to His work on the cross to die for our sins.  While this is a very major part of the work of Jesus, we also need to remember that His work was also with the sick, the poor, the homeless, and all those who were downtrodden.  As we will see in the coming chapters of books, Jesus work in the world is the very embodiment of what Israel was suppose to be, an assault on the powers of darkness in the world.   In many ways, Jesus too is an example of the outpouring of the wrath of God against sin, disease, and all forms of injustice.  He has come to bring healing, forgiveness, and restoration… the true nature of the Kingdom of heaven.