Date: The Second Sunday in Lent, March 16, 2014
Texts: Genesis 12:1-9; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-8, 13-17; John 3:1-17
Context: Lent continues. While the readings and songs for worship follow the Lenten theme of focusing on repentance and our Lord’s obedience and mission, Sundays themselves are not counted as part of the Lenten journey. Sundays always are a celebration of Easter, always an emphasis on the victory of our Lord over sin, death, and the power of Satan.
Genesis 12:1-9 — We know little about Abram biographically. There is no indication as to why God chose Abram. The essence of his message is clear and consistent with overall Biblical themes—obedience to God yields blessings. Those blessings may be general, but in this case they are very specific—land and descendants (both implied in the promise to be a great nation, and later stipulated specifically and separately), as well as personal renown. Abram is no spring chicken when this call comes, and he must leave his patriarchal family unit to strike out on his own, relatively vulnerable to predation along the way. Yet God’s protection enables him to reach his destination safely, though without any additional fanfare or evidence of God fulfilling his larger promises to him.
Psalm 121— This psalm emphasizes the Lord’s protective power. While we identify many intermediary causes for our safety—stable government, local police, fire, and paramedic personnel—ultimately and finally all good things and therefore our true source of hope is in the God who creates and facilitates all of these things. We hear in this psalm many reasons to give thanks, recognizing at the same time that it calls us to faith in God implicitly. While our conditions and situations may change, God never let’s his hold on us go. He will bring us through the worries of this world into an eternity where we will better recognize and give thanks for his promise to watch over us always.
Romans 4:1-8, 13-17 — Abram is not perfect. There is no indication that, like Noah, God calls Abram to particular obedience because of Abram’s comparative worthiness. We know that sin is still in the world after Noah and therefore in Abram. While Abram does not have the explicit revelation of the Law that God will provide to his descendants hundreds of years in the future, Abram is still not counted perfect. Therefore, if righteousness is to be credited to him, it is ultimately righteousness based on his willingness (like Noah) to trust in God obediently. Noah builds an ark. Abram follows God to a new land. Both remain sinful men despite their faith. As such, in both cases it must be their faith that makes the difference, their faith which is itself a gift from God which is the source of righteousness. We must be careful not to presume that God owes us grace in return for our good works. A sober self-assessment will quickly disabuse us of that notion!
Our faith must be grounded totally and completely in the gift of God the Father through God the Son, Jesus Christ, as we are led to faith by God the Holy Spirit. No boasting on our part, nothing within us that merits this gift, and therefore the gift can be offered freely both to Abram’s literal heirs as well as those who are counted as his heirs through a shared faith and obedience to God. We become part of Abram’s family and heirs of the promises of God whether a DNA test would show us to be or not!
John 3:1-17 — While football games have helped make John 3:16 a ubiquitous Bible verse, it does sum up the beauty of the Gospel remarkably well. Verse 17 is hugely important also, though. Those who see in Jesus the judge who condemns them of their sin are mistaken. This is not Jesus’ purpose. Sin already condemns us. Jesus comes not in order to condemn but to pardon, to save. Referencing part of Israel’s history recorded in Numbers 21, Jesus likens himself to the statue of the serpent that was erected in the midst of the Israelite camp, so that those who trusted in the Lord’s assurance of grace could be healed of their snake bites.
Sin and the effects of that sin are already at work in us. God the Father did not need to send his Son to drive this point home, but rather to save us from the sin that is already killing us. Lent reminds us of our sinfulness and our need for a Savior. Jesus is that Savior. He is exclusively good news to a broken and dying world, just as the bronze serpent in the Israelite camp had no effect other than to save God’s people from the punishment of their sin.
Like the Israelites, we do not merit this. Our sin merits only death, just as it has with the Israelites, or with Abram, or with Adam and Eve and every person in all of humanity since then—except for Jesus. The only thing that can be said of us is that we have not rejected the free gift in Jesus Christ. The person who receives a gift is not credited with any sort of merit in doing so! But glory is given to the giver of the gift, and the gift itself.
In our Lenten journey we can be encouraged that God has always sought to work in the lives of his people. He works differently and sometimes far more explicitly in some lives, but He has worked a common gift of grace available to every and any person in Jesus, his Son. In receiving this gift, we receive life—not to our glory but to the glory of God the Father who gives, God the Son who obeys, and God the Holy Spirit who extends that gift of faith to everyone.