November 19, 2018- Beyond the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Psalm 23, Job 19:25-27

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The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23 (ESV)

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another. Job 19:25-27 (ESV)

The valley of the shadow of death is not a popular destination, but mortality is a reality.  No one gets out of this life alive…except…those who believe by the grace of God in Christ will share in His resurrection.  In spite of the really bad pop theology that is rampant in American Christianity, Jesus never was about “your best life now.”   Even though televangelists and “Christian” authors may try to sell us a Cross-less Christianity, Jesus teaches us, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

True Christianity holds to a theology of the Cross, one in which we die to our own selfishness and sins- not to earn points, but in response to the extravagant grace and the undeserved favor God has already given us.

Psalm 23 has been beloved among believers for millennia, precisely because God’s inspired words from David’s pen underscore God’s promise that death and the curse is not the end. We who are baptized into Christ are not alone.  This world and its valleys of shadow are not the end.

God with us, Emmanuel, does not shield us from suffering, but He is in it with us, ever present with his comfort, walking with us through the valley of the shadow of death, (Psalm 23:4) and leading us away from evil.

God so loved the world that He sent Jesus, His only Son to be a man- fully God and fully man- and live in this world with us. (John 3:16) When the time came for Jesus to give His life for us, He struggled with the cup He was given to drink, but the only way for Him to accomplish our salvation was through His suffering and death. Jesus was not spared the bitter path of the Cross.  The sin of the Garden of Eden could only be overcome on by Jesus’ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, and ultimately His sacrifice on Calvary.

God does give us challenges that are way over our heads and way over and above our capacity to overcome.  We do not have life in our own strength. On our own we have no strength.  Apart from Jesus we have nothing to look forward to but despair, hopelessness and death in our trespasses and sins.  Yet in losing ourselves and relying on Jesus we can endure anything.  He has already overcome death and the grave.

As the church year is drawing to a close, we become aware of the groaning of all creation, awaiting the restoration of all things that the apostle Paul speaks of in Romans 8:18-25.

Those who are familiar with the musical work The Messiah, by George Fredric Handel, will recognize the verses from Job 19 above.  I know that my Redeemer liveth / and that he shall stand /at the latter day upon the earth./ And though worms destroy this body/ yet in my flesh shall I see God.

As we are very quickly coming upon the season of Advent and celebrating the arrival of the promised One, we put our focus on Jesus, the living Redeemer, the conquering King.

We can trust that we will endure the suffering that is simply a part of this life here in the now, but not yet. We will stand with Jesus, in our own bodies, on that great and glorious day when all tears are wiped away and there is no more suffering or mourning.

April 19, 2019 Good Friday- The Punishment that Brought Us Peace-John 19:17-30, Psalm 22, Isaiah 53:1-5, Matthew 27:51-54

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So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.  There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.  Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek.  So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’”  Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:18)

So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture – Psalm 22:14-15), “I thirst.”  A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:17-30 (ESV)

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:51-54 (ESV)

The Lord of Life, tried and hastily convicted by a kangaroo court, at night, is now consigned to a cruel and ignominious death nailed to a Roman cross in a place called Golgotha, a place of a skull.

The penalty for sin- the sin of the Garden and all the sins that humanity has built upon and multiplied ever since- is death. This was death that Jesus had neither earned nor deserved. Our sins and our inability to save ourselves from the penalty of death put Him there.

Jesus’ captors took the opportunity to divide up his clothes, even rolling the dice to see who would get his one-piece tunic so they wouldn’t have to tear it up. The prophetic psalm of lament (Psalm 22) that David had written centuries before the Romans and their exquisitely cruel method of death by crucifixion came into being springs to brutal reality as Jesus was scourged, mocked, and left suffering, panting and thirsting on the cross.

He was offered sour wine, which could not have been worth much to assuage anyone’s thirst. After being offered this offensive drink, His suffering was finished. The punishment that brought our peace, the blood sacrifice required to redeem us from eternal death and hell, at that moment was fulfilled.

At the moment Jesus surrendered His spirit, the curtain of the temple that separates the Holy of Holies, the place of God, from common sinful humanity was torn. The new High Priest has made a new covenant in His blood, not the sacrifices of lambs and goats and bulls that could only foreshadow His true and once and for all atonement. The dead who had died in the promise of Christ by faith were raised from their graves.  Even the centurion assigned to witness the crucifixions on that day declared, “This truly was the Son of God.”

Today we take a somber look at Jesus’ death. We thank God that by His wounds, we are healed.  By His suffering and death, we have peace.  We dare not overlook so great a salvation.

By the grace of God, in Christ, it is finished. He has had the final say over death and the grave.

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

For he grew up before him like a young plant and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.


But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:1-5 (ESV)

April 18, 2019 Maundy Thursday-The Lord of Life, Given for Us -Luke 22:7-23

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Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.  So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?”  He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him.  And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves.  For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  And he 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. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!”  And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this. Luke 22:7-23 (ESV)

The disciples are sharing the Passover with Jesus in the upper room. Judas has already betrayed Jesus to the chief priests (Luke 22:1-6) but the others are not aware that he has done this.

Theologians and scholars have speculated on Judas and his fate for centuries. It was appointed before the world began that Jesus would have to die and to be the sacrifice for fallen humanity.  To be Judas, the one who would betray the Lord of Life for a few coins, is hard to imagine.

The hard reality is that we are all guilty in the same way as Judas. Every fallen human being, in our sinful nature and in our inability to stop sinning, betrays the Son of Man.  Every lie, every covetous thought, every time we put ourselves and our idols above the One True God, every time we fall into resentment and hate, we too are the ones who surrendered Jesus to the chief priests.  Our sins consigned Jesus to the Cross.

Even with the knowledge that His betrayer sat at the table with Him, Jesus still gives His body for us to eat and His blood for us to drink. In, with, under and through the elements of bread and wine, Jesus is truly present and truly given in the Sacrament.  His Body and Blood, given, even for His betrayer.  Given for the remission of the sins of the world, for even the most vile sinner who looks to Him in faith will be forgiven.

Maundy Thursday is a day of promise for the disciples, but also a day of worry and uncertainty. Where is this Supper heading?  Jesus knows what He must encounter the next day.  Judas knows Jesus is going to be put to death, and that he was the one who set the wheels in motion.

None of us can claim moral superiority to Judas. We learn in James 2:10 that anyone who violates even one teeny tiny point of the Law is guilty of violating all of it.  Yet Jesus gave Himself and took our place so that our sins don’t stick to us.  By faith in Him alone, we are brought to the font.  We come to the Communion table.

April 16, 2019 – Here Comes Your King, the Lamb, the Son of God- Matthew 21:1-11

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Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

 “Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” (Zechariah 9:9)

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them.  Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Matthew 21:1-11 (ESV)

In Jesus’ day important people and rulers would have been carried in to the city in a litter borne by slaves, as Pilate most likely would have been carried into the city of Jerusalem before the Passover celebration. Pilate’s arrival would have been an important display of Roman might and hegemony- an entrance that would let the people know in no uncertain terms that the Pax Romana would be enforced by force.

Riding on a beast of burden such as a lowly donkey was not how earthly kings traveled. A good comparison today would be when the President comes to town. He arrives on Air Force One, and is further transported by motorcade, where he is transferred to “the Beast” limousine and is surrounded by security and peripheral vehicles.  The President arrives with pomp and circumstance because he’s important.  The President is not just some guy riding into downtown on a BMX bike with a few of his friends- but that was the sort of arrival that Jesus had.  Jesus didn’t storm in like an Important Guy.

The people in Jerusalem didn’t even know who Jesus was until the disciples and those who accompanied Him announced his identity. Perhaps some of the general public of Jerusalem was familiar with Zechariah’s prophecy of their king coming to them riding on a donkey. There may have been whispers and fleeting fantasies that This Might Be the Guy who will raise up a coup to defeat the Romans, and restore Jewish autonomy.

Unfortunately what most people didn’t understand about Jesus then and still do not understand is that His kingdom is not one of political hegemony or earthly strength or material prosperity. Jesus came to suffer and to be wounded unto death for our salvation, redemption and healing. His way was not one of being carried in on a litter to be praised, but to be spat on and beaten, to take up the cross, and to be put to death.

As Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”-John 18:36

He was to be given as a lamb to the slaughter, the Lamb who bears the sins of the world.

The cries of “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday will turn in a few short days to, “Crucify Him!”

Jesus’ blood is upon us all. His blood is the blood of the Lamb, foreshadowed by the blood of the lambs spread on the doorposts during the Passover. We are the same people who cry, “Hosanna to the King!” one day, and we also cry, “Crucify Him!” as we sin and pursue our own way. When we were given the choice between Barabbas (the son of the father, of our father Adam) and the Son of God, we chose to save Barabbas, and in so doing, we sent Jesus to the cross.

The good news is that Jesus came to be King – not by upending Caesar or throwing the Romans out of Palestine, but by going to the cross. He did for us what we could never do- He made us worthy before God.

He paid the punishment that brings us peace.

 

April 10, 2019- The Great Exchange: Give Us Barabbas, the Son of His Father, for the Son of God-Mark 15:1-15

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And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate.  And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” And the chief priests accused him of many things.  And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.”  But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the feast he (Pilate) used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked.  And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”  For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up.  But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead.  And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?”  And they cried out again, “Crucify him.”  And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.”  So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.  Mark 15:1-15 (ESV)

Pontius Pilate certainly was not a Jew, but he did have to be somewhat aware of the meaning behind the Passover celebration. He had to see the danger of a conquered people celebrating their past freedom. The number of people coming into Jerusalem for Passover created a logistical nightmare and an opportunity for violence and riots to break out.  His assignment was to enforce the pax Romana in his jurisdiction by whatever means were expedient.   If freeing a known murderer would mollify the crowds, so be it.  If it took crucified bodies still on their crosses lining the roads to keep the peace and to remind the vanquished who is in charge, so be that too.

The chief priests saw Jesus as a threat to their authority, so they had no problem with sending Jesus to Pilate to do their dirty work. The Romans weren’t exactly known for their benevolence.  If anything Pilate was a pragmatist- using whatever methods necessary to get the desired results.

The name Barabbas means “son of the father.”  And this Barabbas was a guilty man, a murderer who had earned the earthly punishment of death.  Yet the crowd (in which all of fallen humanity is represented) begs for the vindication of Barabbas, who was very clearly guilty as sin. We are all children of fallen man, offspring of the first father, Adam.  The cries to free Barabbas were cries for our own vindication as we are all sons of Adam.

Our sins put Jesus on the Cross- not because He was forced to take our punishment, but because He chose to. Out of His amazing love and mercy for fallen humanity, He took on the sins of the world, even as the crowd demanded, “Crucify Him!”

Free Barabbas, who is truly a son of his father, Adam. Crucify Jesus, the sinless, eternal Son of God. The irony of the Great Exchange is made crystal clear here.

Jesus was the only man who ever lived who was qualified to take on the redemption of humanity. While Barabbas- and every other human being except Jesus- deserved eternal death and punishment, only Jesus’ death would suffice to answer the wrath of God and break the curse of Adam.

…Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! – John 1:29 (ESV)

April 9, 2019- Peter Betrays Jesus, and We Do Too- Mark 14:66-72

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And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”  But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.”  And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14:66-72 (ESV)

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Peter. He thought he had the inner fortitude to confess Jesus even when it could mean his hide.   There are times when we all think that we can be confident to confess Christ, and then our old Adam comes out and our words and actions betray Him.

The ability to remain faithful is not within us. This may have been the lesson that Jesus had for Peter as well as for us. Whether we stand or fall in the faith is not reliant on on our own desire, willpower or merit.  If Peter, the apostle, who walked and ate and lived with Jesus, could betray Him, who do we think we are?

The saint side of us (which is a gift of God, a result of God choosing us as His own) wants to cling to Jesus and wants to live for Him, even when it means our own personal discomfort or sacrifice.  We as sinners want to be God and we insist on having our own desires fulfilled- our own personal comfort and our own advancement and benefit.  It is inevitable that the saint and the sinner will have some skirmishes.

The apostle Paul discusses this struggle in Romans 7 – the things he wants to do he does not do, and the things he does not want to do, he does.  It is the struggle we all have and will have as long as we live in this lifetime.

Yet God gives us the gift of repentance. He gives us the Good News that Jesus died for ALL of our sins- even the times when we are faithless, when we fail, when we outright break His law.  No one is “too bad” for God’s grace and forgiveness.

Jesus forgave Peter and commended him to service and ministry even though Peter betrayed Him. We still sin and our actions betray Jesus every day.  Even so, we are still, by faith in Jesus, by the grace of God, named and claimed as His own children.

Thankfully Jesus doesn’t just leave us to the consequences of our sins. We are baptized, washed, covered in His righteousness, because we believe He is who he said He is and that we trust that He is enough.

April 4, 2019 – The End of the World? Jesus Says Stay Awake- Mark 13:21-37

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(Jesus was teaching His disciples:) And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.  But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.

 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.  It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake.  Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.  And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” Mark 13:21-37 (ESV)

Jesus tells His disciples: Stay awake.

Our culture is fascinated with eschatology or the study of the end times. There are a variety of differing Christian teachings on the end times, but Lutherans generally take the Bible, especially what Jesus says about the end of days, at face value.  The traditional Biblical understanding of end times is called amillennialism, in which we contend that Jesus began His rule and reign upon His ascension into heaven, and that He will come again to remake heaven and earth. This view is supported and affirmed in the Ecumenical Creeds and in Article XVII of the Augsburg Confession.

So why are there so many people out there claiming this or that inside knowledge on the end of the world when Jesus Himself does not know the day or the hour?

Jesus gives us a clue when he warns us about false teachers. There are people who claim that they have hidden knowledge, but how can a fallible human being know something that Jesus doesn’t claim to know?  How many date setters have there been who have failed to accurately predict Jesus’ arrival back on earth?

The apostle Paul also gives us some insight on how to verify what is true and what is not. He commended the Bereans for taking his words- the Holy Spirit inspired words of an apostle no less- and holding them to the light of Scripture.  (Acts 17:10-15) If we are intimately acquainted with the real thing- God’s Word as it is given to us in the Bible- it becomes easy to spot false teachings and counterfeits.

Perhaps the reason why we have no way of knowing when Jesus is coming back is so that we will focus on being God’s people now. How do we know if today is our own personal last day? Jesus talks about the foolishness of relying on ourselves and in our own wealth for security in the parable of the rich fool- Luke 12:13-20.  We rely on God’s provision, whether today is the last day or if the world does not end for another thousand years.

We should not follow false teachers who promise prosperity in this life or listen to wolves in sheep’s clothing who preach a theology of glory rather than a theology of the cross. We aren’t going to have our “best life now” just yet. Our life now is a life with one foot on the fallen earth with all its sin and brokenness, and one foot in the heavenly kingdom, living in the promise of the life to come.

By faith, we trust Jesus at His Word. Stay awake.

“Keep your lamps trimmed and burning /For this old world is almost done
Brother don’t you stop prayin’/ Sister keep right on prayin’
Don’t you stop prayin’ /for this old world is almost done” – from the Spiritual, Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning- Rev. G. Davis

April 3, 2019- The Widow’s Mite, the Shema, and the First Commandment-Mark 12:41-44, Deuteronomy 6:4-8, Matthew 22:34-40

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And he (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44 (ESV)

Jesus’ account of the poor widow isn’t meant to guilt trip us into putting all of our money in the collection plate. Jesus isn’t really even talking about just our money.  While we should be good stewards of what God provides us, and we should be mindful of our giving of time, talent and resources to the mission of the church, Jesus is really talking about the First Commandment and what it is to take it seriously.

We can all agree that the shema – which is the primary prayer and petition of the Jewish people- is good.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-8 (ESV)

Jesus underscores the shema as being the foundation of God’s Law as well:

But when the Pharisees heard that he (Jesus) had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV)

So the question Jesus asks of us is, “Do you really love God with all your heart and soul and mind? Do you really love other people like you love yourself?”

The answer to this question is, “No, we don’t.”

We don’t love God with all our heart and soul and mind – and we certainly don’t love others like we love ourselves because we can’t. No matter how hard we may try, we fall short.  Cats meow, dogs bark, and sinners sin.  As long as we live this life in these imperfect bodies, we will still be subject to the curse of sin. We are powerless to love perfectly, and we cannot love God and others in and of our own strength.

We can only love God and others, as imperfect and fallen as we are, by the grace of God in Christ.  We, like the poor widow, have nothing to offer God but ourselves in our weakness and poverty.   Jesus loves God, and loves fallen humanity perfectly in a way we are not capable of.  He gives us the faith we need to be able to give even our imperfect selves.

This isn’t to say that the Law is a bad thing. The Law is a good thing because it shows us our desperate need for Jesus.  Jesus lived out the Law perfectly, not only in love toward God, but also in love for us.  He gave His life- which was all that He had here on this earth- so that God would see us as being justified under the Law.  He freely took the punishment that brings us peace (Isaiah 53:5.)

That is what love is, and why it is so difficult for us to trust God so fully that we give freely of ourselves for the good of others. In Christ, we know love.  In Christ – by His grace, through faith, we are free to give all that we are and all that we have to Him.