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[Lent Devotional] Thursday, February 22

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-21

In this passage, Jesus is declaring that he is the long-awaited Messiah, and his mission is nothing less than the restoration and renewal of all that’s wrong, all that’s broken in us and around us.

He proclaims good news to the poor. The one who has all power and wealth, has come to give of his resources, to give of himself, for their sakes. Given the comprehensive nature of Jesus’ good news this means nothing less than the total reversal of their condition.

In proclaiming good news to the poor, Jesus is bringing a new order - a kingdom - that reverses the world’s values. In the kingdom that Jesus brings, the poor’s material poverty is not an impediment to their status as those who are welcomed and cherished by God. As a matter of fact, the inclusion of the poor is the preeminent sign that the old order is being undone, which it is, ultimately through Jesus' death.

In this kingdom, the world’s measure of success is of no value. So it’s not that it’s a bad thing to be wealthy, educated, accomplished. It’s just that those things, in and of themselves, have no value with respect to our identity and status, our standing with God. They’re given to us by God. But they’re not to our credit for us to use to bolster ourselves in God’s or anyone else’s sight. They are tools, resources to employ, but our life doesn’t consist in their possession.

We have a hard time believing that. So we continue to live as if the old order in which we use them to measure ourselves and others is the only one that exists. They are our security, telling us who we are, that we matter. In that respect then we too are poor and in need of the same good news that there’s a better way than the accumulation and preservation of stuff and credentials and accomplishments and accolades. We need to be liberated from their enslavement and oppression.

Thankfully, Jesus includes us in his new order, in his kingdom. That same Spirit that came upon him and raised him from the dead is now ours in and through him. In the fullness and abundance of the Spirit, we are both recipients and emissaries of Jesus' good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, release for the oppressed. Within Jesus kingdom, we've been set free to use the resources he’s given us to spread his good news.

King Jesus, we thank you for rescuing us from the old older, which you destroyed in your body, and for including us in your kingdom of good news, healing and freedom. Holy Spirit, send us out as agents of Jesus’ good news for the poor in neighborhoods, communities and the world. Help us to recognize when we are thinking and living according to the old order that is passing away, and to live as recipients of the kingdom of King Jesus instead. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
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[Lent Devotional] Wednesday, February 21

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’' Luke 4:5-8

The entirety of Jesus’ life was a journey to the cross, culminating in resurrection. Death to life, suffering to glory, humiliation to exaltation - one must precede the other. They are inseparable.

Today, we return to Jesus’ temptation in the desert, where he is offered the latter - life, glory, exaltation - without the former - death, suffering, humiliation. But Jesus knows that cannot be. The path to life can only come through death.

Here’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

(Jesus) realizes in this instant that now, high on a mountain, for a moment, he is gazing upon all the kingdoms of the world, knowing that he could be their ruler. But he also knows that a price must be paid for such dominion, a price he deems too high. Dominion would only be his at the cost of his obedience to God’s will. He must bow before the devil, go down on his knees before him, worship him. And that means he would have become a slave, and would no longer be free...But he remains the free Son of God, and recognizes the devil who is trying to enslave him.

Jesus knows what that means. It means debasement, revilement, persecution. It means being misunderstood. It means hatred, death, the cross. And he chooses this way from the very outset. It is the way of obedience and the way of freedom, for it is the way of God. And for that reason it is also the way of love for human beings. And any other path - be it ever so pleasing to people - would be a way of hatred and contempt toward human beings, for it would not be the way of God. And this is why here, then, Jesus rejects the devil. Because it is the way of God through the world, he chooses from the very outset the way of the cross. And we are going with him, as individuals and as the church.

Here we see the heart of the battle. The devil would give us the entire universe [“champagne wishes and caviar dreams,” fame and fortune, the adulation of millions] at the cost of only one price - disobedience to the word of God. Put another way, it is at the price of worshiping and serving the devil. It is slavery. Just as he did, in the beginning, with Adam and Eve, he would have us believe that God is stingy. This is the great lie, as Jesus later reminds us: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32. It is our Father’s pleasure to freely give us no less than his kingdom.

Ultimately, the universe is not the devil’s to give, but only to steal, for as long as God allows. It belongs to the Son of God who came “to destroy the devil’s work.” 1 John 3:8.

There is no doubt that we have disobeyed God and worshiped and served the devil. But Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work in us and around us. He sets us free, by his obedience, by the cross, by his love.

God our Father, forgive us for believing the devil’s lies. By your Holy Spirit, help us to discern those lies and to live in your truth and freedom instead. Lord Jesus, we thank you for the way you exposed and overcame the devil’s lies. We know that this path of death to life, suffering to glory, is not only yours, but ours as well. We believe; help our unbelief. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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[Lent Devotional] Tuesday, February 20

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered,

“It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’’

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered,

“It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’’

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here...Jesus answered,

“It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’' Luke 4:1-12

At his baptism, we see that Jesus has the love of his Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. This doesn’t mean a life of comfort and ease for him (or for anyone else who receives that love through him). Instead, he is led by the Holy Spirit to the desert to do what we all (starting with Adam and Eve and all who came after them) failed to do - reject the devil’s deception and obey, trust and worship God. This is the life and calling of the one loved by God and full of the Holy Spirit.

In the amazing economy of God’s grace all that was needed was one who was righteous - just one human being to love God and love his neighbor - to stand in for all the rest of us. That would be sufficient to rescue and save everyone. In his encounter with the devil in the desert, the man Jesus Christ represents us all.

Regarding the devil’s temptations, pastor and author, John Piper, says:

These temptations are amazingly relevant for American Christianity. Satan skips over adultery, fornication, stealing, lying, murder—those temptations are too obvious. Those are the games that sub-devils play with weak saints. Jesus is no fall guy...

Satan had one aim in the wilderness: to do whatever he could to keep Jesus from suffering. He was willing to let Jesus have all the glory and authority of a world ruler if he just wouldn't gain it through suffering. He was eager to let Jesus use his divine power if he would just use it to relieve his suffering. He was willing to let all the worshipers in Jerusalem see and acknowledge his divine sonship if only the angels of God would keep Jesus from suffering...

Satan's aim in the wilderness was to hinder Jesus from suffering. Because the suffering and death of Jesus meant the final destruction of Satan and the salvation of you and me. And Satan's aim in this church today is to hinder you from following Jesus when he says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (in the path of suffering).”

Jesus was afforded the opportunity to satisfy his deepest physical craving. He was offered the world, its riches, its power, its adulation. And he said, “no,” in order to say “yes” to God his Father, no matter the cost. For he knew that there was no cost too great for the love and glory of his Father, and the love and salvation of his people. In so doing, the world too would be his - not by his seizing it at the first opportunity. But by his laying down his life for it, for us.

Where there was no way - all had fallen short of the glory of God - he shows the way, he made a way, he is the way. And he then says, “follow me.”

Lord Jesus Christ, we praise you and thank you for your entering into the ultimate battle for all the rest of us, for your loving willingness to say "no" to everything the world offers, everything that tempts and devours us, in order to rescue us from the consequences of our misguided ambitions, in order to be the way where there was no way. We love you, the one who first loved us, to the glory of the Father and in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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[Lent Devotional] Monday, February 19

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:21-22

Jesus’ baptism is his entry into the crucible of sin and suffering. So how will he take on the toughest assignment anyone has every been given? Will he “just do it” because he’s courageous enough and strong enough? Or will he be able because he’s you know...Jesus? He’s kind of like Clark Kent - pretending to be one of us - but able to access his “superpowers” at any time. No. In the mystery of the incarnation, the one who is fully God is, at the same time, fully human. There’s no pretending here. He is like us in every way. There are no “tricks” or “superpowers.”

The way he will walk the path set before him is made known to us at his baptism - the word of his Father’s love and the fellowship and communion of the Holy Spirit. They are all he needs. “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” In the knowledge and ongoing experience of his Father’s unfailing love and the presence and strength of the Holy Spirit, Jesus can slay the dragon, release the captives, endure suffering, bear our sins and conquer death. And he does!

This indestructible love of the Father and companionship of the Holy Spirit are ours in Christ, through faith. By God, they are “freely given us in the One he loves.” Ephesians 1:6. Jesus has won them for us. That’s why it can be said that nothing “in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:39.

The soul who on Jesus has leaned for repose
I will, I will not, desert to his foes
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

God our Father, we ask you to impress your love upon us by your Holy Spirit, so that we would know that love more than we know anything else. And we pray that we would also know that your overflowing and indestructible love is all that we need for whatever comes our way, which, in the end, is the salvation Jesus has won for us, for your honor and glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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[Lent Devotional] Friday, February 16

And so John came baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River...At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Mark 1:4-5, 9

In preparing the way for the Messiah, “John came baptizing.” Everyone must be baptized; all must be cleansed; each needs forgiveness (Why? What I have done wrong? Ahem...). And then something surprising takes place. When Jesus - the Messiah! - appears, he too is baptized. He doesn’t only come to the water’s edge, observing and waiting for the people to come to him. He gets into the water with them, with us.

What’s going on here? Well, at least a couple of things. First, Jesus is repenting, not because he needs to, but because we need him to, for us. Even our repentance is incomplete. But his is perfect. He turns from sin to God for us. It is here that we can see him already taking our dirt, our filth, our ugliness, our disobedience and making it his own. He is with us and for us.

Secondly, in getting into the water, he is also revealing the nature of his mission. “The chief Biblical analogy for baptism is not the water that washes but the flood that drowns.” The deluge, the torrent of sin and suffering and sorrow and death - all that is wrong in us and around us - consumes him. He is overcome by the water with us and for us.

It’s why he came. It’s why we can trust him completely.

As Jesus takes what is ours, he gives us what is his. His death is our own, and so is his life. “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:3.

“To be baptized ‘into Christ’ and ‘in the name of Christ’ means to be incorporated into the way of life which characterizes his life, the life of the empty one, the servant, the humble one, the obedient one, obedient even unto death.”

Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you for leaving no separation between yourself and us, for getting in the water with us, for fully identifying with us. And as you have fully identified with us, we want to fully identify with you, to become like you, because it is our highest privilege. Help us to do so, for your name’s sake, in the power of the Holy Spirit and for the glory of your Father and our Father. Amen.
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