Attending to the Word of the Lord

The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus was “tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.” Christ was tempted the way we are, yet our temptations are never as strong as His. That’s because we give in before they reach their full strength. Then temptation is no longer temptation, it’s sin. The extremes of Christ’s temptations are something we would never experience, because we are too weak. Yet He can sympathize fully with our own struggles with temptations. He is our example of ultimate endurance, and He is our source of comfort and mercy in our time of need. In order to find that comfort, we have to seek to draw near to His heart.

To understand better, let’s examine the wilderness temptation of Christ in Matthew 4. The first part of that temptation was to turn rocks into bread. The miracle itself of turning rocks to bread wasn’t the sin that Satan was tempting Christ to. It’s the trust in bread to fill Christ’s hunger that was the temptation. Jesus had to resist the temptation to believe that the bread itself was His greatest need, and we have to resist the same temptation. Humans are amazing at taking the most mundane things and believing they are of the utmost importance. But Jesus reminds us that “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from the mouth of God.”

The question is, are you present as you are hearing the Word of the Lord? Are you paying attention? It’s easy to live the church life and ignore the reading of Scripture, and we forget that the Creator of all things is lovingly speaking directly to us. Don’t get distracted, don’t zone out, don’t forget where life actually comes from.

It is an awesome responsibility to sit in the pews of the House of the Lord and have the King of kings and Lord of lords speak directly to our hearts and offer us His salvation. What a privilege that we don’t have to go to great lengths to search for the Word of the Lord. He gives it directly to us! What a gift! Don’t lose sight of how precious that is!

God makes His Word accessible and present to us. Pay attention!

Glory

Sermon about beholding the glory of God in Christ

As we continue our Lenten journey seeking to draw near to the heart of God, I want to ponder the glory of Christ. One good definition of the word “glory” is, “the visible manifestation of the attributes of God.”

The Transfiguration is one of the very few instances where a human was allowed to actually see the glory of God. One is Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 33-34), another is Elijah at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 19), and then there was Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9). They saw the full divinity of Jesus revealed, and it was staggering!

The full revelation of the glory of God gave Moses direction and determination, it gave Elijah courage and purpose, and it filled the disciples with all they would need to face the ordeal that Jesus knew was coming. Jesus knew that you can’t receive the full glory without first enduring the cross.

Our sin and shame keeps us from fully embracing the revelation of God’s glory, and it causes us rather to hide in fear. However, now that Christ’s work as our Great High Priest has been completed, we no longer have to hide from the glory of God. In 2 Corinthians 3, the Apostle Paul reflects on the way Moses could see the Lord face to face, but the rest of the Israelites could only see Moses’ reflecting the glory of the Lord from behind a veil. Paul says that through Christ, the veil is removed, and we can stand fully in the presence of the Living God.

In order to go from fear to the fullness of God’s glory, the action we need to take is to turn our faces to Him – repentance. We have to say along with Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, and John, “I want to see your glory!” Let’s seek Him with unveiled faces and repentant hearts.

Dust to Life

With these words, the priest marks a sign of the cross in ash on the Christian worshiper’s forehead: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

It is a stark reminder that we are sinful, fallen and under the curse of Adam. Ashes are used throughout the Bible as a symbol of our mortality, of our sin and of our need for repentance. In the Bible, people don sackcloth and cover their heads with ashes to tangibly grieve and mourn sins. When Job is humbled before the sovereign Lord he says, “I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6). The prophet Daniel’s prayer of corporate repentance on behalf of the people of God is marked with physical signs of grief over sin:  “So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes” (Daniel 9:3).

Ash Wednesday signals the beginning of Lent. The period of Lent is a 40-day journey of self-denial. Through “self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 265), we are invited by the Church and the Lord to individually and corporately prepare ourselves for the annual celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus during Holy Week and Easter.

The Ash Wednesday service has a tone of solemnity. We begin in silence with a collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have
made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and
make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily
lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission
and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 264.)

The words of this prayer echo Psalm 51, a prayer of repentance from King David after he committed the sin of adultery with Bathsheba. David prayed:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit (Psalm 51:10-12).

Repentance leads to joy. God longs to restore his people and bring us out of the bondage of sin and death into new life in His son. This is the entire goal of our Lenten discipline—to be restored to the joy of God’s salvation. To be restored, yes, from dust to life.

Ash Wednesday does not leave us in the dust.  The season of Lent invites us to the throne of grace.  We are invited to the table where the Lord has given us another firm reminder—one of grace, redemption, and restoration. In the bread and wine, we mysteriously commune with the body and blood of our crucified Savior.  Through the Sacrament, we remember what He has done for us in bearing in His body the finite and mortal nature of man.  By becoming one of us and like us in our death, God has made it possible for us to become like Him.

Before going to the cross,

Jesus took bread. And when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19-20).

So, today mark your course in ash and set out in the way of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Begin a holy Lent, from dust to life.