Year B – Lent 1 – 1 Peter 3:18-22

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 3:18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 3:19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 3:20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 3:21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 3:22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him. 4:1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin),

Summary – The book of 1 Peter is all about suffering. Peter wants his hearers to endure suffering for doing good, not for doing evil. In this rich passage he summarizes the sufferings of Christ. “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” He explains that Christ proclaimed His work to those imprisoned spirits who were disobedient in the time of Noah. The disobedient in that day suffered (in the flood), but deserved great judgment. Just as Noah and his household were saved in the ark, now baptism is the ark of salvation from judgment. So baptism like other covenant signs refers to blessing and cursing. The first baptism of the world was a judgment which brought salvation to Noah and his household, but now baptism is the saving flood. Through it we are united with Jesus in His resurrection. If we are in Christ, then we should be like righteous Noah, not disobedient like those who mocked Noah, but perished.

Insight – When is the last time you were punished? Did you do it? Were you guilty? There is a kind of suffering when you are found guilty and must be punished. But this kind of suffering is deserved. Suffering for doing what is right and good, being punished for something you did not do, that is very hard. But how much harder if you were to be punished or hurt simply because you believe in Jesus! This was the context of 1 Peter. Believers received harsh treatment and persecution because they confessed through their baptisms that Jesus was Lord. Today we can see the same thing  in the Islamic world. Talking about Jesus is one thing, but if a Muslim is baptized then it may mean (in many Islamic countries) that he or she will be killed or imprisoned. Suffering for our faith is, however, preparation for glory. After Christ suffered He went “into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” He promises that we too will reign with Him if we suffer with Him.

Child Catechism – Why did Christ suffer? Christ suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.

Discussion – Have you ever been hurt because you were doing what was right?

Prayer – Almighty God, we come to you in Christ’s name asking that you would relieve the suffering and persecution of Christians in the world. We pray that you would bring gospel peace to countries where Christians are persecuted. Open the eyes of those that would harm baptized Christians for their faith and grant them forgiveness. Give us strength to be bold in our faith. In the name of the Lord Jesus who ascended to Your right hand. Amen.

Year A – Proper 9 – Genesis 22:1-14

Genesis 22:1-14: After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.’ Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together. When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’ And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt-offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’

Summary and Insight –  This is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture.  As with last week’s OT reading, the moral of the story is in the last line.  This is the story of our God comforting Isaac.  Also like last week’s reading, this passage highlights the drama of God’s faithfulness.  To get a true sense of chapter 24, you may want to review 23 which is all about the death and burial of Sarah.  When she died, Abraham, had to go out of his way to find a small piece of land to buy in order to bury his wife.  Remember, this is the man who has already been promised all of the land by God.  Then for several years, his promised son is unable to shake the grief of his mother’s death.  He was forty years old, living in the Negeb [desert] and still walking the fields at night in sorrow for his mother.  And this is the son through whom God promised Abraham he’d beget innumerable descendants!  But God was faithful to fulfill His promise, and in grand fashion.  He did so not only to display His greatness and glory, but also His compassion.  He turned the son of laughter from his tears and He is also a God not unaffected by our sufferings.  He bids us come and find rest and comfort in Him. Hallelujah, our God is a God of comfort!  Perhaps now would be a good time to reflect upon and share those times when you have seen Him restore comfort to you or those you know.

Discussion – How many years elapsed between Sarah’s death and Isaac’s marriage?  Why would someone like Isaac have been so grief-stricken at the loss of his mother?  How does this picture of Isaac differentiate him from the other patriarchs, Abraham and Jacob?  How much water can a thirsty camel drink after a long journey?

Prayer – Heavenly Father, we praise You for Your perfect  faithfulness, even when we are faithless.  We pray that You would comfort our sorrows and cause us to be like You in service to a grieving world.  Thank You for Your Fatherly caring.  Help us to cast all our cares upon You, by the power of Your Spirit, Who is our Comforter, and in the name of Your Son, our Lord, in Whom we find rest.  Amen.
Contributed by Pastor Ben Rossell

Year A – Fifth Sunday of Easter – 1 Peter 2:2-10

Fifth Sunday of Easter
1 Peter 2:2-10: Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation- if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: ‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’ To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner’, and ‘A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Summary – The theme of 1 Peter is enduring suffering on the basis of Christ’s finish work, through the hope of resurrection. In this passage Peter is proclaiming truths about Christians, based on the work of Christ. The metaphor Peter uses here is one of a house. Christ is the cornerstone (which we remember from a few weeks ago was the most important foundation stone Psalm 118), and Christians are smaller stones, whom God uses to put on the foundation of Christ, to build up his spiritual house, his kingdom.

Insight – Consider the theme of suffering in connection to our identity in the Church. Peter also calls Christians, a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.”  These were all things that the Jew’s of Jesus day believed they were. This is a citation of Exodus 19 for Israel at Mt. Sinai. Now Peter applies this to the Church. Only those who accept Jesus as the foundation are the true chosen race, and holy nation.”  We once were enemies of God, but now are his people, adopted as his children. This is so that we may “proclaim the excellencies of him,” or in other words to worship him, and give him glory in our lives. If theme of the overall book of 1 Peter is to have endurance in suffering, based on what Christ has done, being part of this Chosen, Royal, Holy Priesthood means that we do not suffer or endure trials in vain. Our suffering is never alone and never lacks a redemptive purpose. We are acting as God’s priests in the world, especially in suffering.

Child’s Catechism – What is the Church? The Church is God’s temple, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.

Discussion – How can the truths of who you are in Christ (part of a holy nation, chosen race) help you when troubles arise?

Prayer – Almighty God, we are thankful that through Christ’s work, he has been made the cornerstone. We are thankful that you have opened our eyes, and soften our hearts, that that we may embrace Christ by faith. We thank you that you have made us part of you’re holy nation. We ask that our lives may reflect who we are in you, and that we would always proclaim your excellencies. Amen.

(Contributed by Jared McNabb)

Year A – Fourth Sunday of Easter – 1 Peter 2:19-25

Fourth Sunday of Easter
1 Peter 2:19-25: For it is to your credit if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, where is the credit in that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

Summary – Peter’s first epistle was written to those who were suffering persecutions. It may be that it was written earlier than many consider and therefore reflects the persecutions surrounding Acts 7 or 12 (e.g., believing Jews scattered after persecutions arose in Jerusalem). The more conventional view is that these persecutions were part of the Neronian persecution which began 64 A.D. In the process of giving expectations to those under duress, Peter naturally moves to the suffering that Jesus experienced and shows as a model Jesus suffering without retaliation. These verses are some of the richest statements about redemption in the pages of Scripture. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”

Insight – Whatever the original setting, the principles Peter teaches are readily applicable. We cannot reason that because we are in a desperate situation, we can be unkind, revile,  retaliate, or anyway take our own vengeance. That is exactly what we are tempted to do when someone comes against us. Whether it is an unkind word, a taunt, bullying, criticism . . .  any of these things tempt us to respond with a desire of repaying evil with evil. But Peter provides the redemptive model and motivation. Jesus modeled for us a person who could receive harm without giving it back. Jesus simply entrusted Himself to the Father. But Jesus’s once-for-all suffering provides us with the freedom and the spiritual resources to never pay back evil for evil. Christ model became salvation so that we can live for righteousness and we have healing in Him. We do not need to get deliverance for ourselves or right every wrong done to us. God was take care of it and he is a much better at justice than we are: God “judges justly.”

Child’s Catechism -What did Jesus do for us? “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”

Discussion – Can you think of one person that has wronged you? How can you apply this call to not repay evil with evil in that situation?

Prayer – Almighty God, in this Eastertide, give us grace to endure all manner of light afflictions and troubling suffering(s) so that we may more fully appreciate the once-for-all work of the only Savior who brought healing to us through His stripes and Life indeed through His resurrection. May we walk in His steps so that we may ascend in His glory through His resurrection power. In His name above every name we pray. Amen.

Year A – Palm Sunday – Matthew 21:1-13

Matthew 21:1–16: When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
12 Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.”

Summary – This passage provides the climax of Christ’s journey toward Jerusalem. He has “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51, Matt. 16:21, 20:17; cf Is. 50). When He arrives in Jerusalem He goes to the temple. Jesus’s “triumphal entry” culminates in the “cleansing” the temple. To understand this, we must see how Jesus reenacts Jeremiah’s prophecy (Jer. 7:12, 26:6; 1 Sam. 4:15-22; Ps. 78:60). Jesus replays Jeremiah’s experience with the destruction of Shiloh (tabernacle) and Solomon’s temple (586 BC) at the time of the exile. This all fulfills the pattern of cleansing a leprous/unclean House (Lev. 14:33-47; cf. John 2:13). Jesus symbolically tears down the house as a prophetic action foreshadowing the actual destruction of the temple (70 A.D. Matt. 24:1ff).

Insight – In the middle of the game how do you know who will be the winner? The one who “triumphs” may not be clear until the game is over. This is the case with Jesus entering into Jerusalem. At the climax of Matthew we find Jesus entering finally into Jerusalem to fulfill a prophecy by Zechariah. A closer look at this prophecy reveals a promise showing how God will accomplish His purposes:

Zechariah 9:8–11 – But I will camp around My house because of an army, Because of him who passes by and returns; And no oppressor will pass over them anymore, For now I have seen with My eyes. 9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim And the horse from Jerusalem; And the bow of war will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations; And His dominion will be from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth. 11 As for you also, because of the blood of My covenant with you, I have set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.

So is Jesus climactic entrance really a “triumphal entry”? It is not an immediate triumph. Rather, it was a defeat of the Son of Man. He was seized, interrogated, beaten, tortured and finally, mercilessly put to death in the cruelest way. But  . . . because of this “defeat,” planned before the foundation of the world, the greatest triumph was possible. As Matthew hints, the true son of David will have dominion from sea to sea because of the blood of his new covenant. Jesus, though He appeared to all the world as a defeated crucified failure — a loser — by this death, brought in the judicial and official basis of the very victory of God. Jesus does triumph, but through the cross.

Child’s Catechism – How did Jesus triumph? Through His death on the cross.

Discussion – How do believers ultimately “win” their triumph? Is it similar or different to Christ’s triumph?

Prayer – Almighty Lord, we give your praise for the triumph of Jesus through the crown of thorns and the cross of Calvary. Grant that we may follow Him by giving of ourselves in service, obedience, and love in order that we may be found in His righteousness through faith. In Christ’s name. Amen.

Year B – Easter 5 – Psalm 22:25-31

Psalm 22:25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him.  26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;  those who seek him shall praise the LORD!  May your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. 28 For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. 29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. 30 Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; 31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.  (NRSV)

Summary:  We don’t always see the results of our prayers; but that does not make our unanswered requests worthless.  Our hearts and minds must always cry out to God, no matter how frustrated or confused our desires and needs.  David could not have possibly understood the full weight and outcome from these cries [in the first half of the Psalm] and subsequent rejoices [found in our verses today].  This Psalm clearly had and will have further fulfillment through Christ and in his people.

Insight:  The opening of this psalm was quoted by Christ upon the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  These once future events, the impending sufferings, and the hopeful promises which David sung a thousand years before, were cried out, and lived out, by the Son of God himself.  For they did indeed pierce his hands and feet (v16) and they even divided his garments (v18).  His death was the will of God and now through Him redemption has been accomplished.  The results that followed, were also foretold by the Psalm.  The Apostles were seeing and living out the future “shalls” promised by the verses we are looking at today.  Just as we are seeing and living that future.  The ends of the earth are turning to the Lord, and we are those families from the various nations which worship Him (v27).  And thanks be to God, it will be even our future generations, those not yet born, that will serve him forever.

Child Catechism:  The Lord is to receive worship from whom?  All the families of the nations are called to worship and serve our King, Jesus the Christ.

Discussion:  Can you think of places in the Gospel where Jesus declares the fact that the nations were to come and worship the Lord?  How might have David understood these events (for example, crucifixion was not yet “invented”)?

Gracious Father, you have rescued us from the old creation, build us up with your Spirit,  untangle the anxieties and confusions of our lives, that we may trust and serve you only, no matter how unclear the future may be, we look to you for guidance, And it is in the power of your Spirit we pray; and in the name of him whose hands and feet we have pierced, Jesus the Christ, Amen.

Contributed by M. West

Year B – Easter 3 – Psalm 4

Psalm 4: Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer. 2 How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah 3 But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;  the Lord hears when I call to him. 4 When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.  Selah  5 Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord. 6 There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”  7  You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound. 8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.

Summary:  We say a great deal of many things.  But sometimes in our prayer lives, the words just won’t come.  What stops you from praying?  Here David speaks confidently.  He speaks as if God will hear him.  Prayer is an action done in trust.  But sometimes we still need to question, and sometimes we need to be silent.  David mentions times for them both.  In this psalm, he seems to be questioning the actions and attitudes of fallen humanity (vv2,6) rather than God directly (cf. Ps 6:3, 10:1).  And David had a great deal to question in his life, and he had plenty of reasons to be frustrated, but his trust in God remained.

Insight:  Even when we are angry, we can remain faithful.  There is a difference between righteous outcries and vain venting:  think how often we take out our frustrations upon innocent and unwitting third-parties.  We love vain words.  When life gets difficult, or when we are being that difficult party, David suggestions is that we get quiet (v4).  And during this moment of silence, we can then think about what we have said and will say… to God, as well as, to our fellow man.  We always have cause to lift up our hearts; we needn’t wait until everything goes wrong, or until everything is going just right.  Certainly, as we ponder this Easter Season, consider the full implications of Christ’s resurrection and ascension:  Prayer is just one of our great privileges and responsibilities.  It is an amazing and confident conversation done between the Creator of the Universe and His creatures who are now at peace with one another (v8).

Discussion:  What is getting in the way of your conversations with God?   How do we sincerely pray for those who hates us or have different views than us?  (cf. Romans 12:14-21, Lk 23:34).

Thank you Father for the opportunities given to us,

Through sin and struggles, grant us the right words and hear our prayers

May our words glorify You, And May our words bring peace and gladness to others

In harmony with your Spirit’s leading and in Christ’s Name,

Forever.  Amen.

Contributed by:  M. West

Year B – Fifth Sunday in Lent – Hebrews 5:5-10

“5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; 6as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” 7In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.”

Summary – Jesus, Glorified by God alone to the office of the Eternal High Priest begotten of the Father offered up prayers to the only one who could save Him from Death; Jesus was heard because of his Reverent submission. Even though a Son, he learned obedience through what He suffered. Thus, being made perfect Jesus is the only source of our salvation.

Insight – Jesus did not assume the glory of the priestly office for Himself but rather was called of God (John 8:54). That is, the Father glorified and appointed Him to the priesthood. This appointment was the result of the Sonship of Christ which qualified Him for the office. Only the divine Son could have fulfilled such an office.  Jesus did not represent Himself to be the Son of God, but was from everlasting [in eternity] the only-begotten son of God.  He is a Priest absolutely because He stands alone in that character without an equal.  He was always obedient to the Father’s will but the special obedience needed to qualify Him as our High Priest He learned through suffering. He was High Priest already in the purpose and eyes of God before His crucifixion, but after it, by it, He was made perfect.

Childs Catechism – Is Jesus the perfect son of God the only source of our salvation? Yes, Jesus is the perfect son of God and the only source of our salvation, and He says: “anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24, NSAB)

Discussion – What qualified Jesus to be the High Priest forever? If God could save Him from death why did He have to die?

Prayer – Lord God and heavenly Father, our ways are not Your ways nor our thoughts. Help us O God, Help us O Lord to think of one another as Christ thought of us giving Himself on the cross that we might live. We thank you Lord for all you have done, You alone are God and the great High Priest and we worship You alone with great thanksgiving and we do so in your name Jesus, Amen.

Contributed by Rev. Tom Miller, MA

Year B – Lent 1 – Ash Wednesday – Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. 6:2 “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6:3 “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 6:4 so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. 6:5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6:6 “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.  . . . 6:16 “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6:17 “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 6:18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 6:20 “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 6:21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Ash Wednesday Meditation – “The Secret Life of Disciples”

As we enter once again into the season of Lent, we remember Christ in the wilderness.  Christ’s wilderness journey was a time of training and finally of testing. The 40 days of Jesus paralleled the 40 years of Israel in the wilderness. God “led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (Dt. 8:2). Christ passed this test, though it was clearly a human struggle, which shows His full humanity. He emerged victorious over the very real temptations of Satan. The struggle of Jesus in the desert led to His overcoming temptation and ultimately the victory of the cross, His resurrection and His ascension to glory; because all of the temptations were in place of suffering and provided a “glory” without the cross. But Jesus did not forsake the way of the cross. He fully prepared to be obedient to the death of the cross.

Now if Jesus, the very Son of God, took upon Himself 40 days of fasting in order to prepare for His ministry, then are we not misled to think we should be like Him without any such discipling? If Christ Himself thought it needful to fast and pray before engaging the enemy and leading in His public ministry, then how will we make any progress in pursuing godliness without such testing? If God’s purpose throughout our lives is to conform us to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29) and this is what Christ did, should not our lives conform in a some measure to Christ’s example?

Matthew 6 indicates we are to practice righteousness. But our motivation is the difference between that practice being evil or good. Two people may do the same religious act and for one it is evil and the other it is good. Religious people have all kinds of motivations. Jesus highlights the desires of the Jews of His day to be seen by others as righteous and pious. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them” (6:1). We may want to “sound the trumpet” when we give to others (v2), to pray publicly so as to be admired (v5), to be seen doing the ultra-spiritual discipline of fasting (v16). These desires all arise from that most basic human motivation: pride. We would rather lie about who we are and look righteous, than be authentic and be seen as who we really are. This lack of honesty is a great cause for unbelief in the world. Jesus calls this storing your treasure on earth (v19). It is misplacing values in our life. Where is your secret vault for treasures in life?

There is another place to store our treasure, however. Jesus does not call for us to have no desires for approval in our pursuit of righteousness. He does not say a desire for “reward” is evil. He simply redirects our desire for approval toward God. Our secret desire (or perhaps not so secret desire) for the reward of others to commend us, is placing our treasure vault for earthly corruption. This shows were our heart’s focus. Our godly secret life as disciples is to be doing what we do for God’s approval alone. We are to carryon a God-ward focus in our actions and reflections on our motivation.

What do you desire? There may be periods of time when our secret desires, rolling in our minds like TV reruns, endlessly play episodes of sin. We covet scenes of worldly wealth, putting others in their place, secret lasciviousness, retirement from into a secluded and unending vacation in a tropical paradise to disengage from all the demands on us. We are tempted by these desires. Inasmuch as we give-in then we are accepting the lie that there will be godliness without discipline; glory apart from the way of the cross.

If we find the grace to lay aside these impure ambitions and remember that we are bought with a price, then what is our deeper desire. What is our secret desire? Is it not for our character to be transformed into Christ’s likeness? Isn’t that what you know to be your most truly right ambition? When we can scrub off the dirt of our lusts and covetousness and even the dead skin of our flesh-provisioning habits, then we stand with a stringent burn since we have scrubbed away much that was precious to us. In these times we actively advance in being more like Jesus. In these ways we are like Christ who endured temptation and endured suffering for our salvation unto great glory. “He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:17-18).

God, it appears, often brings us to these places whether we want to go or not. Wildernesses our part of the journey for every believer. Israel could have passed through the wilderness in about 40 days, but God found it necessary to test them for 40 years and a whole generation failed the test. Our willingness to enter into times of self-discipline apart from God-created wildernesses or “frowning providences” evidences our desire to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). Whether our self-conscious discipline prevents such dark episodes in our lives, is not something that I can say with any certainty, but I can say that the Lord wants us to embrace trials and hardships with this attitude. “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11). In the words of James 1:2, we are to “consider it all joy” – that is we must actively see it in terms of what God will do in us through it. We are to know “that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:3).

The faithful use of this Lenten season trains us to scrub away habits that hinder us (even if not sinful, per se). It surely helps us exercise the muscles of abstaining from worldly lusts which wage war against the soul by training ourselves to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, to limit our appetites, to listen in quietness, to forsake anxieties, to be motivated by pleasing God rather than men, and to yield ourselves more fully to live by faith.

A foundational lesson in our pursuit of godliness, beyond the fact that it requires effort in intentional times of training, is that it requires a secret life. True righteousness requires a secret life which is directed toward God and God alone. All motivations to be seen by others and get their approval undo our righteousness. Our secret life as disciples is to intentionally “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v20-21).

[contributed by Rev. Gregg Strawbridge]

Year B – Lent 1 – 1 Peter 3:18-22

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 3:18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 3:19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 3:20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 3:21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 3:22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him. 4:1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin),

Summary – The book of 1 Peter is all about suffering. Peter wants his hearers to endure suffering for doing good, not for doing evil. In this rich passage he summarizes the sufferings of Christ. “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” He explains that Christ proclaimed His work to those imprisoned spirits who were disobedient in the time of Noah. The disobedient in that day suffered (in the flood) but deserved judgment. Just as Noah and his household were saved in the ark, now baptism is the ark of salvation from judgment. So baptism like other covenant signs refers to blessing and cursing. The first baptism of the world was a judgment, but now baptism is the way we are united with Jesus in His resurrection. If we are in Christ, then we should be like righteous Noah, not disobedient like those who mocked Noah, but perished.

Insight – When is the last time you were punished? Did you do it? Were you guilty? There is a kind of suffering when you are found guilty and must be punished. But this kind of suffering is deserved. Suffering for doing what is right and good, being punished for something you did not do, that is very hard. But how much harder if you were to be punished or hurt simply because you believe in Jesus! This was the context of 1 Peter. Believers received harsh treatment and persecution because they confessed through their baptisms that Jesus was Lord. Today we can see the same thing  in the Islamic world. Talking about Jesus is one thing, but if a Muslim is baptized then it may mean (in many Islamic countries) that he or she will be killed or imprisoned. Suffering for our faith is, however, preparation for glory. After Christ suffered He went “into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” He promises that we too will reign with Him if we suffer with Him.

Child Catechism – Why did Christ suffer? Christ suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.

Discussion – Have you ever been hurt because you were doing what was right?

Prayer – Almighty God, we come to you in Christ’s name asking that you would relieve the suffering and persecution of Christians in the world. We pray that you would bring gospel peace to countries where Christians are persecuted. Open the eyes of those that would harm baptized Christians for their faith and grant them forgiveness. Give us strength to be bold in our faith. In the name of the Lord Jesus who ascended to Your right hand. Amen.