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[Lent Devotional] Wednesday, March 21

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14

Jesus is talking to people “who were confident of their own righteousness.” In other words, he’s talking to us. This is the natural inclination of every human being. “I’m a pretty good person.” It’s not only what we think, it’s where our confidence lies.

The consequence of this is that we “look down on everybody else.” People who aren’t “good” like us, well, we just can’t understand them at all: “How could he do that? How could she say that? How could he think that? What kind of a person would do such a thing? I could never do something like that?” Even when we see others who might be “better” than us, we resent them too, for they pose a direct threat to that which is our confidence, our trust.

We are self-righteous to the core of our being, no matter our “religion” or lack thereof. So, because he loves us, Jesus aggressively comes after our trust in our own goodness, seeking to root it out with his searing truth.

The story he tells doesn’t have quite the intended effect on us, as it did on its original hearers. After 2000 years, we basically think of Pharisees as bad guys and tax collectors as the guys Jesus likes.

Actually, a Pharisee is what we aspire to be: a good citizen who is respected by all. As he reminds us, he’s honest with his money and doesn’t take advantage of others, upholds justice, is faithful in his marriage, religiously devoted, and gives to charity.

The Tax Collector is an extortionist, who abuses power to coerce money from people. He not only doesn’t give to charity but takes money from the poor. What’s he even doing in the temple?

The contrast couldn’t be more apparent. Then comes the startling, revolutionary conclusion that we still can’t really believe. The greedy, lying, stealing, unjust thief is approved of. And the good guy respected by all is rejected. Are you serious?! No wonder Jesus was crucified!

Does Jesus not care about extortion, adultery, honesty, injustice? Of course he does, much more than the Pharisee or any of us.

By commending himself to God, the Pharisee is making a number of claims. One of those is that he’s been the person God has made him to be. We are made to represent God, to have our lives display who he is, to show his character. In making such a claim, the Pharisee is showing, we are showing, we know neither ourselves nor God. The one who trusts in his goodness must inevitably separate himself from others and say, “I’m not that kind of person. Those are not my kind of people.” The Pharisee is not concerned about the tax collector but effectively says,“if he’s lost, that’s okay by me.”

Thus, he shows himself to be completely unlike God. Jesus, who is good and just like God, says he “came to seek and save the lost.” Luke 19:10. He loves those who do not even come close to being the kind of person that he is. Jesus was called “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Luke 7:34. As a matter of fact, “Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, 'I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” Hebrews 2:10-11. Standing next to us “tax collectors and sinners” in the temple, Jesus says, “that’s my brother, that’s my sister.”

Even more so, he stands in for us, so that it can be said that, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21.

God have mercy on me a sinner.

God our Father, we have nothing to commend ourselves to you other than your own love and mercy that comes to us through Jesus Christ our Lord. His life, his death, his resurrection, with us, for us. We dare not stand on our own efforts or righteousness, but on Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Accept us for his sake and for your glory, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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[Lent Devotional] Tuesday, March 20

“What is truth?” John 18:38

The above question is one posed by Pontius Pilate to Jesus, when questioning him prior to sentencing him to death.

It’s a question that remains common. For many the notion of truth is one that is threatening. If there is a truth, then that truth has power over us to control and suppress us. It is an enemy to be overthrown in order that we might be released from its oppressive authority.

To those holding to such a view, God is the most threatening and oppressive truth of all, subjugating us with his raw power. On such a view, human beings are the victims of an unjust, overpowering God. Even for those who don’t hold such views intellectually, this is the default view we all hold practically.

The fact is God could overwhelm us. However, it is not in the exercise of raw, unhinged power, but in the beauty of his holiness, goodness and justice. In Isaiah 6, the prophet Isaiah experiences a vision of God, and he is undone: “Woe is me! I cried. I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Isaiah 6:5.

The truth comes to Isaiah and searches him out, exposing him for who he is, telling him what he’s really like, and he cannot bear it. In God’s light, he realizes that he is not in any way the person he might have imagined himself to be, but realizes that he, like everyone around him, is basically a poseur and pretender whose own mouth is sullied by the half-truths, untruths, sort of truths. “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”

We cannot approach the truth. So he comes to us. The one who is truth comes to us, “veiled in flesh,” completely disarmed, surrendering all his rights and privileges. Instead of our being ruined, he is ruined, as we falsely accuse and condemn him. In so doing, we reveal more of the truth about ourselves. Yet, it is from the cross, in his complete abandonment of power, in the laying down of all his rights, that the truth calls us to himself in the only position that would permit us to approach him: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth (crucified), will draw all men to myself.” John 12:32.

It is there in his mangled, disfigured, defenseless body, we see that the truth is somehow even more true, more holy, more radiant, more just, more gracious, more righteous, more merciful, more powerful, more loving than anything our false notions of the truth about him or ourselves could have demanded or imagined.

What is truth? Jesus Christ. “I am the way and the truth and the life.” John 14:6.

Lord Jesus, we thank you for coming to us to be falsely accused in order to rescue us from the falsehoods and lies about God and about ourselves that we build our lives on, and to bring us to your truth instead. God our Father, we thank you for sending your Son into our world to open our eyes to see your true character. Holy Spirit, help us, by your grace, to live in the light of your truth. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
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[Lent Devotional] Monday, March 19

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free...I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:31-36

Freedom! It is our cry and expectation. Historically what this has meant is political and civic freedom - freedom from tyrants and oppressors. As we lookout on the world, we find many places where such freedom does not exist. Thus, we hope for its expansion. It is one of the many reasons that people from all over the world still seek, by whatever means are available, to come to the United States.

Yet, where political freedom takes hold it invariably goes hand-in-hand with a demand for complete individual freedom - total autonomy. Put another way, the rhetoric employed to gain political freedom is the same one used to justify personal autonomy in all aspects of life.

This is an expectation of freedom from any and all restrictions, the desire to do “whatever we want,” as long as “we’re not hurting anyone.” Insistently, we say, “no one tells me what to do.” When we say “freedom,” that is what we mean. Yet, we don’t feel free, but anxious, distressed, burdened, enslaved even. The way we address such ongoing dissatisfaction and emptiness is by seeking more “freedom” as we understand it.

Here Jesus tells us we don’t feel “free” because what we think is freedom isn’t. It’s slavery. In saying that he’s come to “set us free,” he’s also saying that we’re enslaved apart from him. Doing “whatever we want” or ignoring all restraints doesn’t make us free. To offer a couple of obvious examples, if I want to drink poison or jump head first out of a tenth floor window, doing so wouldn’t be freedom but self-destruction, for we are not designed for such things. We know and experience freedom when we live consistently with our design and intention, when we become who we were made to be. We were made to become like the One who created us, to bear his likeness, living in trust and obedience to him.

In coming to set us free, Jesus also shows us what it means to be free. He was completely submitted to his Father’s will and the freest person who’s ever lived - submitted in love to all and yet subject to no one. It was in the freedom of that love that he chose to enter into our slavery, being bound and arrested. He chose to experience the consequences of our counterfeit freedom in order that he might give us the true freedom that only comes from him.

Having shown us what freedom is and having set us free, he now invites us to live in the freedom that only he gives. He says to us, follow me, trust me, listen to me and you will know and experience the freedom of being your true selves, who you were intended to be.

“This is love for God; to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:3.

Lord Jesus, thank you for not leaving us to live in the delusion of our slavery, which we think of as freedom. Thank you for becoming enslaved for us so that we might be set free to live under your life-giving authority. Help us to live in the freedom of the children of God. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
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[Lent Devotional] Friday, March 16

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

Jesus speaks the words above as he is gathered with his disciples on the night he is to be arrested. As he is about to enter into the crucible of his suffering, he reassures his disciples. More than that, he’s telling them that what he’s about to experience is the way that peace will come about.

Peace is a comprehensive word in the Bible (shalom in Hebrew) consisting of the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God and with others, wholeness, full flourishing, rest, the world made right, all things new. Jesus’ promise of peace implies that we don’t have it, which, of course, we don’t. Furthermore, that we cannot and will not get it apart from him - the Prince of Peace.

All our lives we look for peace. As a matter of fact, it’s fair to say that every single thing we do is in the pursuit of peace, but on our own terms, and apart from the One who freely gives it. All around us, everyone and everything beckons us, saying, “peace, peace...when there is no peace.” Jeremiah 6:14. Neither we nor the world can attain or give what Jesus gives. Instead, we have frustration, hostility, disappointment, gossip, malice, slander, bitterness, unraveling, disintegration. The world dresses our wound as though it were not serious. Jeremiah 6:14. What it gives actually only serves to aggravate our condition.

Jesus does not give as the world gives. The world doesn’t give but demands - our bodies and souls, torn apart and then dead and buried. Jesus gives himself. He is deeply distressed, torn apart, bears all our hostility, abandoned to death and buried in the ground, so we could be forgiven, made whole, be healed, have rest, be reconciled, have life. The contrast could not be more stark. In him is peace. Apart from him is not.

The peace of Christ be with you.

Lord Jesus, thank you for making our overwhelming sin, sorrow, distress and hostility your own, in order to give us peace. Instead of futilely chasing after what we cannot have apart from you, we pray that we would receive the peace that only you can give, with thanksgiving and the sense of wonder and adoration it warrants. You are our peace. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
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