Tag Archives: Pharisees

Thursday in the Fourth Week of Lent

The Glorious Image of God

A great tragedy occurred after God led the children of Israel out of Egypt. The people lost their way, exchanging the glory that was their birthright for the profane:

We have sinned as our forebears did;
we have done wrong and dealt wickedly.

In Egypt they did not consider your marvelous works,
nor remember the abundance of your love;
they defied the Most High at the Red Sea.

Israel made a bull-calf at Horeb
and worshiped a molten image;

And so they exchanged their Glory
for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.   (Psalm 106:6–7,19–20)

Have we done the same? The glory which God gives us is his own glory. We are made in the image of God. Are we to reject who we are in exchange for a lie? Jesus made it very clear that he had the glory of God the Father and did not need to seek the false “glory.” He said:

“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God?   (John 5:39–44)

It is time for us to trade all the falsehood that we hold dear for the glory that will never fade away.

Isaiah wrote:

“He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”   (John 12:40)

Jesus added:

Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him. Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.   (John 12:41-43)

Jesus is the one who gives us this glory:

The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.   (John 17:22-23

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Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C

The Love of the Father

Jesus was criticized by the Pharisee for eating with sinners. He responds to them with this famous parable of the prodigal son:

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘   (Luke 15:11-19)

The younger son realize that he had greatly sinned against his father and heaven. He felt so ashamed of himself that could not ask for forgiveness. He only hoped that his father would take him back as a servant. He was not prepared for the Father’s greeting upon his return:

So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.   (Luke 15:20-24)

This parable illustrates how eager our heavenly Father is to forgive us when we return to him and confess our sin. What could easily be lost here is that God not only forgives, but he removes our shame and disgrace.

There was a time in the wilderness when God removed the disgrace of the children of Israel. Reading from Joshua:

When the circumcising of all the nation was done, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.   (Joshua 5:8-9)

We not only need God’s forgiveness. We need him to lift our shame and disgrace so that we might have a fresh start. How many of us today know that God will to remove our disgrace if we let him. We hear people say: “I know that God has forgiven me but I cannot forgive myself.” God does not want us bound by the past. He wants to circumcise our hearts so that we might start over. It is time to allow him to do that for us.

Let us look at another side of God’s love and grace. There was an elder son in the parable that had not rebelled against the father in the same way as the younger son:

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”   (Luke 15:25-32)

The two sons were quite different, but they shared something in common. They had the same father, of course. But they both failed to understand the father’s love. His love was unconditional. It does not need to be earned. Had both of these sons had a deeper relationship with the father they might have understood that. We need to draw closer to God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ. Now is the time look deeper into his heart. God wants to celebrate with us today. There may have been a time when we were lost, but now we have been found. Can we join in the celebration, or are we too busy keeping score on others? Let us move on from the old person to the new. The Apostle Paul wrote:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.   (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

Are we counting trespasses? If so, then we are not very good ambassadors for Christ. Paul goes on:

So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

It is time to be reconciled to God. God will remove our sin and offer us righteousness by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us not look back. Let us go forward in newness of life.

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Second Sunday in Lent, Year C

Enemies of the Cross

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Philippi about certain people who were the enemies of the cross of Christ:

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.    (Philippians 3:17-20)

Who were these enemies of the cross? Do they still exist today? To answer this question we must understand what the cross means. It means we have failed as human beings.

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement[ by his blood, effective through faith.   (Romans 3:21-25)

Because we have sinned does not make us enemies of the cross. The real enemies of the cross are those who think they are righteous without the cross. The Pharisees believed that they were righteous because they kept the law of God. They were pious. They were religious. And they were judgmental of others. Their type still lives today, even in our churches.

As Jesus approached the city of Jerusalem one last time he wept over the city:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”   (Luke 13:34-35)

Jesus was facing death in Jerusalem. The Jewish leadership had rejected him. They had not just rejected him, they rejected his ministry. They believed that they did not need anything from Jesus because they had all that they wanted from their understanding of Judaism.

The Pharisees had a cursory understanding of the Law. But, as Jesus accused them, they neglected the weighty matters. From the Gospel of Matthew we read:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.   (Matthew 23:23)

The Pharisees failed to understand that God required righteousness. This could be imparted into them by God alone. It took the atoning act of Jesus on the cross, and it required their acceptance, appreciation, adoration, and praise. They would have none of it.

God was looking for Abrahams. From today’s Old Testament reading:

The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.    (Genesis 15:1-6)

God made of covenant with Abraham. All Abraham had to do was to believe it and receive it. Abraham had some doubts, at first, because it seemed as if he would have no offspring through whom the promise of God could be brought forth. God makes us promises, but we must believe him. The greatest promise he makes to us is forgiveness, salvation, and life eternal with him. We must believe him and we must trust him to bring this about.

Are we enemies of the cross today? That depends. Are we smug in our faith? Do we focus on the faults of others and overlook at own faults? If any of this is true about us, then we have misunderstood the cross altogether. Jesus said:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.   (Luke 9:23)

If we do not wish to follow Jesus in this way, then we are enemies of the cross. The cross demands that we deny ourselves. We do not have all the answers. We cannot make ourselves righteous by our good works. God demands more than we will ever be able to do on our own. He requires our faith and trust that he alone can make us righteous. We must believe in Jesus, but we must also follow him. Abraham believed and followed God. God reckoned it to him as righteousness.

During this Season of Lent, it is traditional for many to give up something they enjoy as an act of penance or spiritual discipline. If successful, the temptation might be that they become prideful about it. What about denying ourselves instead? What about giving up our right to be right? What about placing ourselves entirely in the hands of God? That frees him to fashion in the likeness of his Son, as only he can do.

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