Malankara World Journal Fortieth Friday and Raising of Lazarus
Passion Week Special - 1
Volume 3 No. 131 March 18, 2013
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
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BIBLE READINGS AND SERMONS
FORTIETH FRIDAY - FASTING AND TEMPTATION OF JESUS
CROSS - THE SACRIFICE OF JESUS
We are less than a week away from the passion week. Technically it begins with the Lazarus Saturday, followed by the Palm Sunday. This is the week we concentrate our attention on Jesus Christ, our Lord. We recall, with thanks, what he had done for us. Malankara World has a full passion week supplement that goes into the Passion Week in detail day by day. In addition Malankara World Journal hopes to issue 5 specials. This is the first of the Passion Week specials. Here are the planned specials:
Issue 131 - Theme: Fortieth Friday and Lazarus Saturday - this edition
Issue 132 - Theme: Palm Sunday - Arrival of the King - To be published on March 21
Issue 133 - Theme: Pes'ho and the New Commandment - To be issued on March 25
Issue 134 - Good Friday and Gospel Saturday - To issued on March 27
Issue 135 - Easter - To be issued on March 28
We hope that you will be spiritually nourished and blessed during this passion week.
Dr. Jacob Mathew
Bible Readings and Sermons
Friday before Hosanna (40th Friday)
Before Holy Qurbana
Saturday before Hosanna (Lazarus' Saturday)
Before Holy Qurbana
Fortieth Friday: Fasting and Temptation of Christ
by Martin Luther
I. THE FASTING OF CHRIST
I. This Gospel is read today in order to picture before Christians the example of Christ, that they may rightly observe Lent, which has become mere mockery: first, because no one can follow this example and fast forty days and nights as Christ did without eating any food. Christ rather followed the example of Moses, who fasted also forty days and nights, when He received the law of God on mount Sinai. Thus Christ also wished to fast when He was about to bring to us, and give expression to, the new law. In the second place, Lent has become mere mockery because our fasting is a perversion and an institution of man. For although Christ did fast forty days, yet there is no word of his that He requires us to do the same and fast as He did. Indeed He did many other things, which He wishes us not to do; but whatever He calls us to do or leave undone, we should see to it that we have his Word to support our actions.
2. But the worst of all is that we have adopted and practiced fasting as a good work: not to bring our flesh into subjection; but, as a meritorious work before God, to atone for our sins and obtain grace. And it is this that has made our fasting a stench and so blasphemous and shameful, so that no drinking and eating, no gluttony and drunkenness, could have been as bad and foul. It would have been better had people been drunk day and night than to fast thus. Moreover, even if all had gone well and right, so that their fasting had been applied to the mortification of the flesh; but since it was not voluntary it was not left to each to do according to their own free will, but was compulsory by virtue of human commandment, and they did it unwillingly, it was all lost and to no purpose. I will not mention the many other evils as the consequences, as that pregnant mothers and their offspring, the sick and the weak, were thereby ruined, so that it might be called a fasting of Satan instead of a fasting unto holiness. Therefore we will carefully consider how this Gospel teaches us by the example of Christ what true fasting is.
3. The Scriptures present to us two kinds of true fasting: one, by which we try to bring the flesh into subjection to the spirit, of which St. Paul speaks in 2 Cor 6,5: "In labors, in watchings, in fastings." The other is that which we must bear patiently, and yet receive willingly because of our need and poverty, of which St. Paul speaks in 1 Cor 4, 11: "Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst," and Christ in Mt 9,15: "When the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, then will they fast." This kind of fasting Christ teaches us here while in the wilderness alone without anything to eat, and while He suffers his penury without murmuring. The first kind of fasting, one can end whenever He wills, and can satisfy it by food; but the other kind we must observe and bear until God himself changes it and satisfies us. Hence it is much more precious than the first, because it moves in greater faith.
4. This is also the reason that the Evangelist with great care places it first: Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, that be might there fast and be tempted, so that no one might imitate his example of their own choice and make of it a selfish, arbitrary, and pleasant fasting; but instead wait for the Spirit, who will send him enough fastings and temptations. For whoever, without being led by the Spirit, wantonly resorts to the danger of hunger or to any temptation, when it is truly a blessing of God that He can eat and drink and have other comforts, tempts God. We should not seek want and temptation, they will surely come of themselves; we ought then do our best and act honestly. The text reads: Jesus was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness; and not: Jesus himself chose to go into the wilderness. "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God." Rom 8, 14. God gives his blessings for the purpose that we may use them with thanksgiving, and not that we may let them lie idle, and thus tempt him; for He wishes it, and forces us to fast by the Spirit or by a need which we cannot avoid.
5. This narrative, however, is written both for our instruction and admonition. First, for instruction, that we should know how Christ has served and helped us by his fasting, hunger, temptation and victory; also that whoever believes on Christ shall never suffer need, and that temptation shall never harm him; but we shall have enough in the midst of want and be safe in the midst of temptation; because his Lord and Head triumphed over these all in his behalf, and of this he is assured, as Christ says in John 16,33: "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." God, who was able to nourish Christ forty days without any food, can nourish also his Christians.
6. Secondly, this is written for our admonition, that we may in the light of this example also cheerfully suffer want and temptation for the service of God and the good of our neighbor, like Christ did for us, as often as necessity requires it; which is surely accomplished if we learn and confess God's Word. Therefore this Gospel is sweet consolation and power against the unbelief and infamy of the stomach, to awaken and strengthen the conscience, that we may not be anxious about the nourishment of our bodies, but be assured that He can and will give us our daily bread.
II. THE TEMPTATION OF CHRIST
7. But as to how temptation takes place and how it is overcome, is all very beautifully pictured to us here in Christ. First, that He is led up into the wilderness, that is, He is left solitary and alone by God, angels and men, by all creatures. What kind of a temptation would it be, if we were not forsaken and stood not alone? It is, however, painful when we do not feel anything that presents its back to us; as for example, that I should support myself and have not a nickel, not a thread, not a twig, and I experience no help from others, and no advice is offered. That means to be led into the desert and to be left alone. There I am in the true school, and I learn what I am, how weak my faith is, how great and rare true http://www.Malankaraworld.comtp://www.Malankaraworld.comith is, and how deeply unbelief is entrenched in the hearts of all men. But whoever has his purse, cellar and fields full, is not yet led into the desert, neither is He left alone; therefore He is not conscious of temptation.
8. Secondly, the tempter came forward and attacked Christ with these very same cares of food for the body and with the unbelief in the goodness of God, and said: "If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread," as if He should say: Yes, trust thou in God and bake and cook nothing; only wait patiently until a roasted fowl flies into your mouth; do you now say that you have a God who cares for you; where is now your heavenly Father, who has charge of you? Yea, it seems to me He lets you in a fine condition; eat now and drink from your faith, let us see how you will satisfy your hunger; yea, when you have stones for bread. What a fine Son of God you are! How fatherly He is disposed toward you in that He fails to send you a slice of bread and permits you to be so poor and needy; do you now continue to believe that you are his son and He is your father? With like thoughts He truly attacks all the children of God. And Christ surely felt this temptation, for He was no stock nor stone; although He was and remained pure and without sin, as we cannot do.
9. That Satan attacked Christ with the cares for daily food or with unbelief and avarice, Christ's answer proves, in that He says: "Man shall not live by bread alone;" that sounds as if He said: thou wilt direct me to bread alone and dost treat me as though I thought of nothing but the sustenance of my body. This temptation is very common also among pious people, and they especially feel it keenly who have children and a family, and have nothing to eat. Therefore St. Paul says in I Tim 6, 10 that avarice is a root of all kind of evil; for it is a fruit of unbelief. Do you not think that unbelief, care and avarice are the reasons people are afraid to enter married life? Why do people avoid it and live in unchastity, unless it be the fear that they must die of hunger and suffer want? But here we should consider Christ's work and example, who suffered want forty days and nights, and finally was not forsaken, but was ministered to even by angels.
10. Thirdly, behold how Christ resists this temptation of bread, and overcomes; He sees nothing but stones and what is uneatable then He approaches and clings to the Word of God, strengthens himself by it and strikes the devil to the ground with it. This saying all Christians should lay hold of when they see that there is lack and want and everything has become stones, so that courage trembles, and they should say: What were it if the whole world were full of bread, still man does not live by bread alone, but more belongs to life, namely, the Word of God. The words, however, are so beautiful and powerful that we must not pass over them lightly, but carefully explain them.
11. These words Christ quotes from Deut. 8,3, where Moses says: "Thy God humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by everything that proceedeth out of the mouth of Jehovah doth man live." That is as much as to say: Since God permits you to hunger and you still continue to live, you ought indeed to grasp the thought that God nourishes you without bread through his Word; for if you should live and sustain yourself by bread alone then you must continually be full of bread. But the Word, that nourishes us is, that He promises us and causes it to be published that He is our God and desires to be our God.
12. Thus now, the meaning of Moses and of Christ is: Whoever has here God's Word and believes, has both blessings; the first, where He is in want and has nothing, but must suffer hunger, that Word will sustain him, so that He will not die of hunger nor perish, just as well as if He had abundance to eat; for the Word He has in his heart nourishes and sustains him without eating and drinking. But has He little to eat, then a bite or slice of bread will feed and nourish him like a kingly meal; for not only bread but the Word of God also nourishes the body naturally, as it creates and upholds all things, Heb 1, 3. The other blessing He will also enjoy, namely, that finally bread will surely be at hand, come whence it will, and should it rain from heaven like manna where none grows and none can grow. In these two thoughts every person can freely trust, namely, that He must in time of hunger receive bread or something to eat, or if not, then his hunger must become so moderate and bearable that it will, nourish him even as well as bread does.
13. What has been said of eating and feeding the body He understood also of drinking, clothing, house, and all our needs: namely that although He still permits us to become naked and suffer want for clothing, house etc., clothing must finally be at hand, and before it fails the leaves of the trees must become coats and mantles; or if not, then the coats and garments that we wear must never grow old; just as happened to the Children of Israel in the desert Deut. 8, 2-4, whose clothing and shoes never wore out. Likewise the wild wilderness must become their houses, and there must be a way where there is no way; and water, where there is no water; stones must become water. For here stands God's Word, which says: "He cares for you;" and St. Paul in 1 Tim 6, 17: "God giveth us richly all things to enjoy;" and Mt. 6,33-34: "But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow." These and like words must continue true and stand forever firm.
14. All this one may indeed learn from his own daily experiences. For it is held, and I almost believe it, that there are not as many sheaves of wheat grown as there are people living on the earth; but God daily blesses and increases the wheat in the sack, the flour in the tray, the bread on the table and in the mouth, as Christ did. John 6, 12 f. It is also noticeable that as a rule poor people and their children are fatter and their food reaches farther and agrees with them better than is the case among the rich with all their provisions. However that the godless at times suffer need, or in times of famine many die of hunger, is caused by a special plague as pestilence, war etc. In other ways we see that in all things it is not the food, but the Word of God that nourishes every human being.
15. Now that God sustains all mankind by bread, and not by the Word alone, without bread, is done to the end, that He conceals his work in the world in order to exercise believers; just as He commanded the children of Israel to arm themselves and to fight, and yet it was not his pleasure that victory should come through their own sword and deeds; but He himself was to slay their enemies and triumph with their swords and through their deeds. Here it might also be said: The warrior was not victorious through his sword alone, but by every word that proceeded out of the mouth of God, as David sings, Ps 44,6: "For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me." Also Ps 147, 10 and 33, 16-17: "He taketh no pleasure in the legs of a man. A mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain thing for safety." Yet He uses man and the horse, the sword and bow: but not because of the strength and power of man and of the horse, but under the veil and covering of man and the horse He fights and does all. This He proves in that He often did and daily does the same without man and the horse, where there is need and He is not tempted.
16. Thus He does also with the bread; since it is at hand, He nourishes us. through it and by means of it, so that we do not see it and we think the bread does it; but where it is not at hand, there He nourishes us without the bread, only through the Word, as He does by means of the bread; so that thus bread is God's helper, as Paul says in 1 Cor 3,9: "We are God's fellow workers," that is, through and under our outward ministerial office He gives inwardly his grace, which He also could give and does give indeed without our office; but since the office is at hand, one should not despise it nor tempt God. Thus God sustains us outwardly by bread; but only inwardly He gives that growth and permanency, which the bread cannot give. And the summary is: All creatures are God's larva and mummery, which He permits to work with him and to help to do everything that He can do and does do otherwise without their cooperation, in order that we may cleave alone to his Word. Thus, if bread is at hand, that we do not therefore trust the more; or if there is no bread present, that we do not therefore despair the more; but use it when it is at hand, and do without it, when there is none; being assured that we shall still live and be sustained at both times by God's Word, whether there be bread or no bread. With such faith one overcomes avarice and temporal care for daily bread in the right way.
17. Christ's second temptation is opposed to the first and is repugnant to common sense. Its substance is that the devil teaches us to tempt God; as He here calls to Christ to cast himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, which was not at all necessary, since there were surely good steps upon which He could descend. And that this temptation was for the purpose of tempting or making trial of God, the answer of Christ also clearly proves, when He says: "Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God." By this He shows that the devil wished to lead him into temptation.
18. And this very appropriately follows the first temptation. For where the devil feels a heart trusts God in times of want and need, He soon ceases his temptation of bread and avarice and thinks: Wait, wilt thou be very spiritual and believing, I will assist you: He approaches and attacks on the other side, that we might believe where God has not commanded us to believe, nor wills that we should believe. For example, if God gave you bread in your homes, as He does yearly everywhere in the world, and you would not use it, but instead you would cause need and want yourselves, and say: Why, we are to believe God; I will not eat the bread, but will patiently wait until God sends me manna from heaven. See, that would be tempting God; for that is not believing where all is at hand that we need and should have. How can one believe that He will receive what He already has?
19. Thus you see here that Satan held before Christ want and need where there was neither want nor need; but where there was already good means by which to descend from the temple without such a newly devised and unnecessary way of descending. For this purpose Satan led Christ to the top of the temple, in the holy city, says the Evangelist, and placed him in a holy place. For He creates such precious thoughts in man that He thinks He is filled with faith and is on the true way of holiness; and yet He does not stand in the temple, but is only on the outside of the temple, that is, He is not in the true holy mind or life of faith; and yet He is in the holy city; that is, such persons are found only in Christendom and among true Christians, who bear a great deal of preaching about faith. To these persons He applies the sayings of Scripture. For such persons learn Scripture also by daily hearing it; but not farther than they can apply it to their erroneous opinions and their false faith. For Satan here quotes from the Psalter, Ps 91, 11-12, that God commanded the angels that they should protect the children of God and carry them on their hands. But Satan like a rogue and cheat fails to quote what follows, namely, that the angels shall protect of God in all their ways. For the Psalm reads thus,: "For He will give his angels charge over thee to keep thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone;" hence the protection of the angels does not reach farther, according to the command of God, than the ways in which God has commanded us to walk. When we walk in these ways of God, his angels take care of us. But the devil omits to quote "the ways of God" and interprets and applies the protection of the angels to all things, also to that which God has not commanded; then it fails and we tempt God.
20. Now, this temptation seldom takes place in outward things as bread, clothing, house, etc. For we find many foolhardy people, who risk and endanger life, their property and honor, without any need of doing so; as those do who wilfully enter into battle or jump into the water, or gamble for money, or in other ways venture into danger, of whom the wise man says in Sirach 3, 27: "Whoever takes pleasure in danger, will thereby be overcome;" for in the degree one struggles to get a thing, will He succeed in obtaining it; swimmers are likely to drown and good climbers likely to fall. Yet it is seldom that those of false faith in God abstain from bread, clothing and other necessities of life when they are at hand. As we read of two hermits, who would not accept bread from the people, but thought God should send it to them directly from heaven; so the consequence was that one died and went to his father, the devil, who taught him such faith and left him fall from the pinnacle.
21. But in spiritual matters this temptation is powerful when one has to do with the nourishment not of the body but of the soul. Here God has held before us the person and way, by which the soul can be forever nourished in the richest manner possible without any want, namely Christ, our Saviour. But this way, this treasure, this provision no one desires. Everybody seeks another way, other provisions to help their souls. The real guilty ones are those who would be saved through their own work; these the devil sets conspicuously on the top of the temple. They follow him and go down where there is no stairway; they believe and trust in their own work where there is no faith nor trust, no way nor bridge, and break their necks. But Satan makes use of and persuades them through the Scriptures to believe that the angels will protect them, and that their way, works and faith are pleasing to God, and who called them through the Scriptures to do good works; but they do not care how falsely they explain the Scriptures.
22. Who these are, we have identified often enough and very fully, namely, work righteous persons and unbelieving hypocrites under the name of being Christians and among the congregation of Christian people. For the temptation must take place in the holy city and one temptation is seldom against another. In the first temptation want and hunger are the reasons that we should not believe; and by which we become anxious to have a full sufficiency, so that there is no chance for us to believe. In the second temptation, however, the abundance and the full sufficiency are the reasons that we do not believe, by which we become tired of the common treasure, and every one tries to do something through his own powers to provide for his soul. So we do; if we have nothing, then we doubt God and believe not; if we have abundance, then we become tired of it and wish to have something different, and again we fail to believe. There we flee and turn against want and seek abundance: here we seek want and flee from the abundance we have. No, whatever God does for us, is never right. Such is the bottomless, wickedness of our unbelief.
23. Christ's third temptation consists in temporal honor and power; as the words of the devil clearly teach, when Satan shows and offers Christ all the kingdoms of the world if He would worship him. To this class those belong who fall from their faith for the sake of honor and power, that they may enjoy good days, or not believe further than their honor and power extend. Such are also the heretics who start sects and factions in matters of faith among Christians, that they may make a great parade before the world and soar aloft in their own honor. Hence one may place this third temptation on the right, and the first on the left side. The first is the temptation of misfortune, by which man is stirred to anger, impatience and unbelief; the third and last, the temptation of prosperity, by which man is enticed to lust, honor, joy, and whatever is high. The second or middle temptation is spiritual and deals with the blind tricks and errors that mislead reason from faith.
24. For whom the devil cannot overcome with poverty, want, need and misery, He attacks with riches, favor, honor, pleasure, power and the like, and contends on both sides against us; yea, "He walketh about," says St. Peter in 1 Pet 5,8, so that if He cannot overthrow us either with suffering or love, that is, with the first temptation on the left or the third on the right, He retires to a higher and different method and attacks us with error, blindness and a false understanding of the Scripture. If He wins there, we fare ill on all sides and in all things; and whether one suffers poverty or has abundance, whether He fights or surrenders, all is lost. For when one is in error, neither patience in misfortune nor firmness in prosperity helps him; seeing that in both heretics are often powerful and the devil deliberately acts as if He were overcome in the first and last temptations, although He is not, if He has only won in the middle or second temptation. For He lets his own children suffer much and be patient, even at times to spurn the world; but never with a true and honest heart.
25. Now these three temptations taken together are heavy and hard; but the middle one is the greatest; for it attacks the doctrine of faith itself in the soul, and is spiritual and in spiritual matters. The other two attack faith in outward things, in fortune and misfortune, in pleasure and pain etc., although both severely try us. For it is sad that one should lay hold of heaven and ever be in want and eat stones where there is no bread. Again, it is sad to despise favors, honor and possessions, friends and associates, and let go what one already has. But faith, rooted in God's Word, is able to do all things; is faith strong, then it is also easy for the believer to do this.
26. The order of these temptations, as they met Christ, one cannot absolutely determine; for the Evangelists give them in different order. The temptation Matthew places as the middle one, Luke places last, Luke 4,4 f.; and again, the temptation Luke places in the middle, Matthew places last, as if little depended on the order. But if one wished to preach or speak of them, the order of Luke would be the better. For it is a fine opportunity to repeat and relate that the devil began with want and misfortune; when that did not work, then He began with prosperity and honor; and last, when all fails, that He wantonly and wickedly springs forth and strikes people with terror, lies and other spiritual tricks. And since they have no order in practice and experience, but as it happens that a Christian may be attacked at one time with the last, and another time with the first etc., Matthew gave little attention to the order for a preacher to observe in speaking of this theme. And perhaps it was also the same with Christ through the forty days that the devil held to no order, but today attacked him with this and tomorrow with another temptation, and again in ten days with the first and so on, just as occasion was given.
27. At last angels approached and served him. This must have taken place in a literal sense, that they appeared in a bodily form and gave him to eat and drink, and just as at a table, they ministered to all his wants. For the service is offered outwardly to his body, just like, no doubt, the devil, his tempter, also appeared in a bodily form, perhaps like an angel. For, seeing that He places him on the pinnacle of the temple and shows him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment, He must have been a higher being than a man, since He represents himself as a higher being, in that He offers him all the kingdoms of the world and permits himself to be worshiped. But He surely did not bear the form of the devil, for He desires to be beautiful when He lies and deceives, as St. Paul says of him in 2 Cor 11, 14: "For even Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light."
28. This however is written for our comfort, that we may know that many angels minister also to us, where one devil attacks us; if we fight with a knightly spirit and firmly stand, God will not let us suffer want, the angels of heaven would sooner appear and be our bakers, waiters and cooks and minister to all our wants. This is not written for Christ's sake for He does not need it. Did the angels serve him, then they may also serve us.
Source: The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 11, Lutherans in All Lands Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1906
by Peter Woods
Scripture: Matthew 4:1-11
Until re-reading this passage in my sermon preparation this week it had never registered with me that there is a sequence in the temptation of Jesus other than the sequence of the three temptations. Sometimes as a preacher I lock on to any three point passage and away I go with my sermon without reading around the passage to see perhaps the greater structure of the whole. I am so glad I did the "reading around" this week as it has been revealing.
Apart from, stones to bread, pinnacle of the temple, and the promise of world domination; there is the larger sequence in the passage of:
1. Led to the wilderness by the Spirit
2. Forty days of ritual fasting
3. Profound physical hunger
4. The temptation (nested in this larger sequence)
5.The ministrations of angels
It has been the contemplation of this larger structure that has prompted the following thoughts.
The first aspect of the story that impacts me is the fact that Jesus, up to the moment where the Tempter manifests, has been very obedient to his calling and his mission. He has been baptised by John, he has been affirmed by the voice of his heavenly Parent, he has followed the Spirit's leading to go away into the wilderness and he has been diligent in fasting.
It is at the point of discipline and due diligence that Jesus renders himself most vulnerable. Isn't it true that we are often most vulnerable to the darkness when we are doing everything correctly and are wearied and worn out from the doing of it all so correctly. Please don't hear me dismissing discipline and diligence. Not at all. They are the framework of any meaningful spiritual practice. I do however recall a time in my ministry when, totally over-extended by pastoral and community service work, I unlocked the front door one night and thought to myself, "I am really at the top of my game!". One week later I was in a psych ward undergoing sleep therapy for burnout! It happens that quickly.
There is a false doctrine that wafts around the church as it wafted around the temple in Jesus' time. It says, "If you are diligent and dutiful and if you keep all the rules, then only good and pleasant things will happen to you." The life of Job, Jesus and your life and mine attest to the fact that this is not true. Every great spiritual tradition on the planet attests to the fact that shadows are darkest around those that burn brightest. The presence of these shadows don't diminish the devotion and diligence of the devotee, they are the realistic counterpoint to the music of their beautiful lives. The joyless secret journals of Mother Theresa are recent evidence of this reality.
Secondly, I need to confess that I prefer to speak of the singular temptation of Jesus rather than the temptations of Jesus. My reasoning is that I don't think that the struggle which Our Lord had in the wilderness was merely confined to: the avoidance of suffering (Stones to bread), the lure of cheap sensational showmanship (Pinnacle base jumping sans parachute), and world domination at the cost of Godly obedience( Bow down and worship me). I speculate that these are merely illustrations of the torment he faced as, filled with power and blessing, he had to submit his ego to the will of God for his life.
Carl Jung said most powerfully, "Any form of neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering". Are we perhaps, the neurotic society we are, because we recoil from legitimate suffering either as discipline or as duty? The temptation of Jesus is essentially Jesus' costly choice for mental, spiritual and physical health over the soft and cheap neurotic options he could have embraced for his ministry. I wonder how much healthier I would be if I could do the same?
The third and most striking discovery I have made in this passage for the first Sunday of Lent, lies in the final verses. "Jesus said to him [tempter, ego, false self], "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him."
The way Matthew tells the story suggests that despite the temptation struggle of the faithful, fasting and thus famished Jesus, this battle does not happen in a place where God is absent. We, as pilgrims of the cross, know that no such Godless place exists! God is. The Israelites regarded the wilderness as a place of demons and devils. For them it was the destination of centuries of scapegoats, those symbolic bearers of the nation's sin. But the wilderness was also the place where the fledgling Israel, fresh out of Egypt, learnt devotion and dependence to what Daniel Erlander calls their Manna and Mercy God.
Jesus learns in the wilderness temptation, as every faithful servant of God has come to learn, that once we put our self-centred, selfish, false-self Satan in its place, the runway is clear for the hovering angels of God's grace to land.
Desert Tower to Angel Flight, self is contained, you are cleared to land.
Source: I Am Listening, 2011
by Laurence Freeman OSB
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him. (Mk 1:12)
In the 26th hexagram of the I Ching, the Chinese wisdom text called the Book of Changes, we read that great power is produced by stillness. From its deep spring of wisdom it also teaches us that when we face what seem intolerable burdens the best response is to be still and thus gradually overcome the pressures of the subtle and mighty ego.
After the Baptism, Jesus did not choose from his ego to go into the desert. Rabbits might vote for Easter but turkeys don't vote for Christmas. It was the Spirit that drove him there. His ego would have said - you have the endorsement of the Father, the attention of the crowd, now hit the campaign trail. Instead he spent forty days taming the wild beasts. These forces reside in the steely will of the ego. They can use any form - ingratiating or cruel - that suits their purpose have to be confronted in the solitude and stillness of the desert of our heart. But then, faced and integrated, they become angelic forces transmitting the essential goodness of our nature. The ego cannot be overcome by force, only by tough love.
Our essential goodness is the only sure base from which to do what Jesus did next - to 'proclaim the good news from God'. This is our work in life. But it is hard to believe that the time is not yet ripe when we feel time is running out - the young feel this as much as the old because only children are immortal.
However it is, as always in the realm of the spirit, a choiceless choice. Not to assent to its reality is to repeat the same mistakes even long into old age. To be faithful is to choose the real. Our desert is our meditation.
Source: Lent Daily Reflections, wccm.org
by Mark Altrogge
Lazarus of Bethany is dying. In desperation his sisters Martha and Mary send for Jesus.
He may hesitate to come - the local religious leaders are seething with hatred for him - they're watching for him with stones in hand - so the sisters don't ask him directly, but appeal to his love for their brother - "Lord, he whom you love is ill," knowing Jesus would want to return to heal languishing Lazarus. But Jesus doesn't come right away.
But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." (John 11:4).
How can Jesus know this illness won't lead to death? He isn't there. He can't see Lazarus writhing and groaning on his deathbed. He doesn't see Martha mopping the sweat on her brother's brow or Mary helping him take a few precious sips of water.
Jesus knows because he's God. He knows all things, past, present and future. And he knows what he will do in the future. From Martha and Mary's perspective, it looks desperate. But Jesus has a different perspective - a divine perspective: "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through It." Someday, something will lead to Lazarus' final death, but THIS illness won't. This illness will lead to an opportunity to glorify God and glorify the Son of God.
God has a greater perspective than we do.
We might only be able to see how evil a situation is, how gut-wrenchingly sad and burdensome it is. And God doesn't deny that. We live in a fallen world pervaded with heartbreak, devastation and death. It is sad. Jesus doesn't refute that.
He doesn't say, "Oh, Lazarus isn't that bad." It's just that Jesus, as God, sees a much more complete panorama than anyone else. He can see whole picture, the whole vista. He can see the future and knows what he is going to do. He's going to take something evil - Lazarus' death - and turn it to God's glory.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
For his children, God takes all things, including genuinely evil things - sickness, injustice, sin, hurt, divorce, depression, accidents, hunger, pain, poverty - and triumphs over them, causing them to bring us good. He takes poison and transforms it into a cure. He takes a crucifixion and transforms it into salvation for multitudes.
Jesus answered Martha and Mary's request - not in the way they expected, but in a far greater way.
He could have come immediately and healed Lazarus, which would have been wonderful. But instead, by delaying, he glorified himself in a much greater way by raising Lazarus from the dead - a much more amazing miracle. Jesus could answer your prayers immediately if he wanted to. If he hasn't he's got something far greater in mind for you.
Trust him. Wait for him.
by Greg Laurie
As He stood at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus was about to put God's glory on display in spite of tragedy.
John 11 tells us that as Jesus saw Mary and the others weeping, "a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled." Then He asked, "Where have you put him?" (verses 33, 34).
Of course, we all know what happened. Lazarus was raised from the dead. Jesus had called him back from the grave.
You know, I honestly feel kind of sorry for Lazarus. If you could talk to someone in heaven and say, "We were kind of thinking it would be good if you came back to earth again, but we want to give you a choice." Do you think that person would come back? It would be like trying to get a child out of Disneyland who has only been there for 10 minutes.
"It's time to go now."
"I don't want to go."
"Yes, it is time to leave heaven now and come back to Earth."
"No, that's okay. I will stay here."
But Lazarus had no choice, because Jesus called him from the other side. And when Jesus calls, people answer. It is a good thing that Jesus did not merely say, "Come out," because everyone in every grave on earth would have risen simultaneously. But Jesus singled him out and shouted, "Lazarus, come out!" (verse 43) And out from the tomb came Lazarus, still wrapped in his graveclothes.
This account from John's Gospel reminds us that God can be glorified through human suffering and bring good, despite the bad. The bad thing for Lazarus, of course, was that he had to not only die once, but he had to die twice. Yet God was glorified through it all.
Copyright ©2012 by Harvest Ministries. All Rights Reserved.
by Dan Clendenin
In 2005 when my wife and son visited France, they left the beaten tourist track to explore the Paris catacombs. In 1786 Monsieur Thiroux de Crosne, Lt. General of the Police, and Monsieur Guillaumot, Inspector General of the Quarries, converted some Roman limestone quarries into a subterranean cemetery. In nearly 200 miles of dark and dank tunnels Parisians meticulously stacked the skeletal remains of five million people from floor to ceiling in various symmetrical patterns. Graffiti line the narrow passages and low ceilings, commenting on the certainty of death and the uncertainty of life: "Crazy that you are, why do you promise yourself to live a long time, you who cannot count on a single day?"
In an ancient Semitic version of the Paris catacombs, the prophet Ezekiel envisioned the nation of Israel as a wasteland of bones scattered across a desert valley (Ezekiel 37). Lifeless, windswept, and eery, the "great many bones that were very dry" symbolized Israel's exile to pagan Babylon: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off'" (37:11). In short, Israel felt hopeless.
Helpless and hopeless is exactly how Mary and Martha felt when their brother Lazarus died (John 11). And a nagging question added insult to their injury. The sisters, their family, and their neighbors were so flummoxed by the question that John repeats it three times in his story. It's the sort of question an ancient Hebrew who had been exiled to Babylon would have asked the priest and prophet Ezekiel: "Can these lifeless bones live again?" It's a question that we all ask even today.
When her brother Lazarus took sick, Mary asked Jesus for help. But Jesus purposely delayed intervening, so by the time they finally arrived back home in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead and buried for at least four days. "Lord," Martha cried, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died" (John 11:21). Mary her sister said the exact same thing: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died" (John 11:32). Amidst all the grief and tears, the neighbors mumbled their own aside: "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" (John 11:37). Could he not have prevented all this horrible pain and heartache?
Jesus didn't answer their question. Instead, in the shortest verse in the entire Bible, He revealed one of the most important characteristics we can ever learn about the heart of God: "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). When Jesus experienced the sisters Mary and Martha weeping for their dead brother Lazarus, and their distraught neighbors, John writes that he was "deeply moved in spirit and troubled" (John 11:33). The God whom Christians worship is not a remote and aloof "sky god" somewhere way out there. No, He's a tender God who is deeply moved, even grieved, by anything and everything that threatens our human well-being.
This compassionate and empathetic nature of God is the reason why the Scriptures encourage us to bring to Him every anguish, confusion, anger, perplexity, and anxiety. When my friend Luke lost a second child in a car accident, I remember at the memorial service how he resonated with the Hebrew Scriptures where the saints threw dust in the air and cried out in pain. Stoicism is not a Christian virtue. Like Mary, Martha, and their neighbors, the Psalmist for this week demonstrates this sort of visceral scream to God (Psalm 130:1–2):
We can pray to God like this because we know that He weeps when we weep. We place our hope in Him because, as the Psalmist continues, He is a God of "unfailing love" and "full redemption" (Psalm 130:7).
God doesn't only empathize with our many pains and sorrows. He also acts. Jesus wept with Mary and Martha, and then he raised Lazarus from the dead (his last miracle before his own death and resurrection). Of course, human experience tells us that God doesn't act exactly when, where, and how we think He should act. So we must wait in hope. The Psalmist cries out to God with full confidence in His compassionate love, but even so, his poem repeats five times, perhaps talking to himself, that he must "wait" like a sentinel on the night shift who waits for the sun to rise (Psalm 130:5-6).
Part of Christian maturity involves learning to wait. We ought to be confident not so much about our chances for a rosy outcome, or about exactly where, when and how God will act, but confident that He will act. We wait in hope even while we "cry out of the depths" to God. The alternative is to lose hope and to spiral into despair, which was the chronic temptation for Ezekiel and the exiles: "Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off" (Ezekiel 37:11). However tempting, however human, however understandable, hopeless despair is not a Christian place to live.
Winter will not last forever; spring will come. Lenten darkness, repentance and sorrow have their rightful place with us, but Easter resurrection is our destiny. However painful our current circumstances, and however agonizing our honest questions - about job loss, wayward children, financial disaster, chronic sickness - ultimately things will get worse, for nothing can compare to the horrible specter of death that awaits us all. But Christian faith believes that God in Christ will conquer and transform even that ultimate enemy death. For the time being, we confidently "cast every anxiety upon him, because he cares for us." (1 Peter 5:7)
For Further Reflection:
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:15-16).
Consider that Jesus "destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10).
Copyright © 2001–2013 by Daniel B. Clendenin. All Rights Reserved.
We never truly appreciate "home-grown," or "home-style"," "home-spun" or "down home" until "home" is in our rear view mirror. For college students, Mom’s meatloaf suddenly take on a whole new luster after a semester of college cafeteria food. A burger from McDonald’s, a Pizza Hut pie, or some KFC, tastes like heaven after an extended tour of duty in Afghanistan. It is the simple tastes, the simple things, the most simple and most familiar people, that make a particular place on this planet "home."
According to the gospels, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, spent a few years in Egypt, then relocated to Nazareth. Once Jesus began preaching and teaching he was constantly on the road. His very own "home-town" threatened to throw him off a cliff for his words of wisdom. Not surprisingly, Jesus stayed away from Nazareth and spent time in other regions — Capernaeum, Samaria, Jerusalem, the outer regions of Galilee. While "foxes had their dens," Jesus really had no place to rest his head, no "home land."
Except. Jesus had one special place he liked to go when he wanted the companionship of friends and the absence of crowds. When Jesus wanted to be alone to pray and communicate with the Father he sought out the wilderness. When Jesus felt the need to be among his closest friends and earthly companions, he traveled to Bethany. Frank Viola calls Bethany "Jesus’ favorite place on Earth."
A scant two miles outside of Jerusalem, Bethany was still far enough away to be "far enough away." Jesus’ best friends — Lazarus, Martha, Mary — kept their home open for him and for his disciples, always welcoming, always open armed. Bethany was not where Jesus went to preach or preside. Bethany was where Jesus went to hang out with his "buddies"…
Source: "Be a Bethany", sermons.com
We are at the beginning of Holy Week. If we want to truly
be Christian, this week ought to be a time when we share in a special way in the
passion of Christ. We do this, not so much by indulging in pious feelings, but
by bearing the burdens of our life with simple fortitude and without
ostentation. For we share by faith in the passion of our Lord precisely by
realizing that our life is a participation in his destiny. We find this
difficult, because so often we fail to understand that the bitterness and
burdens of our own life do - or should - give us a mysterious share in the
destiny of all human beings … If we were aware of this … we would understand
that his passion is the unique acceptance of the passion of humankind, in which
it is accepted, suffered, redeemed, and freed into the mystery of God. (Karl
Malankara World has a supplement that provides detailed information about Passion Week including articles, prayers, sermons, etc. You will find it here:
Malankara World has developed a daily plan of bible readings, meditations, reflections, and prayers for Passion Week. Please click on the link below for the day to read the reflection for that day.
Cross - The Sacrifice of Jesus
by Sarah Jennings, Editor, Crosswalk.com
Although the nature of suffering is not one that offers itself to easy explanations or pat answers, the answers we seek seem to make the most sense in light of the Cross. There is nothing in the world - no religion, philosophy, or material comfort - that offers such a powerful answer to life's toughest questions as the two slabs of wood on which our Savior died. Although I was drawn to Christianity in search of joy, it's the Cross that keeps me coming back day after day, year after year.
That's because it is through God's suffering He becomes real to me. I don't know about you, but sometimes the glorious, triumphant, all-knowing Alpha-Omega is hard for me to wrap my limited human faculties around. On one hand, I want to bask in His glory but on the other, my gritty existence makes me feel too far removed from such a magnificent king. Yet St. Paul points out, "For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4: 14-16)
When I look into the eyes of our suffering God, I'm in awe - suddenly the complexity of our Lord, the love of our Lord, the humanity of our Lord shows through. I realize God is not just some nebulous energy source or a grandfather sitting in the clouds - He is so much more. The Cross is where our faith stands when all other faith's fail. Christ's sacrifice and his subsequent resurrection are the true "cruxes" of the Christian faith. Without one there would be no salvation, without the other, no hope. This is why Good Friday and the following Easter Sunday are the most important dates on the Christian calendar - even more so than Christmas.
Lent - A Time Set Aside
Just as we set aside time to spiritually prepare for Christmas Day, it makes sense to set aside time to prepare for the two most important days of the Christian year. Lent offers us an opportunity to come to terms with the human condition we may spend the rest of the year running from and it brings our need for a Savior to the forefront. Like Advent, Lent is a time to open the doors of our hearts a little wider and understand our Lord a little deeper, so that when Good Friday and eventually Easter comes, it is not just another day at church but an opportunity to receive the overflowing of graces God has to offer.
But unlike the childlike joy associated with the season of Advent, with it's eager anticipation of the precious baby Jesus, Lent is an intensely penitential time as we examine our sinful natures and return to the God we have, through our own rebelliousness, hurt time and again. Lent is also an opportunity to contemplate what our Lord really did for us on the Cross - and it wasn't pretty. But ultimately, the purpose of Lent does not stop at sadness and despair - it points us to the hope of the Resurrection and the day when every tear will be dried (Rev. 21:3).
Bringing Lent Home
So where does Lent come from, and how do we "do" Lent? The Lenten season developed as part of the historical Christian calendar and is typically celebrated by Catholics and some mainline Protestant churches that follow a liturgical calendar. Although its format has varied throughout the centuries and throughout different cultures, the basic concept remains the same: to open our hearts to God's refining grace through prayer, confession, fasting, and almsgiving as we anticipate Holy Week. Lent traditionally lasts forty days, modeled after Christ's forty day fast in the desert, and ends on Good Friday. In the Western Church, Lent officially begins with a reminder of our mortality on Ash Wednesday. (Editor's Note: Orthodox Church begins the lent on Monday before the Ash Wednesday. The Malankara Catholics, I was told, also undergo 50-day lent like us beginning it on Monday.)
As with Advent, you can benefit from celebrating Lent even if your church does not formally do so. Here are some of the key elements of the Lenten season, along with some of the symbolism that comes with it. Many of these practices can be celebrated both individually and as a community:
Like Advent, the official color for Lent is purple. Usually, churches that celebrate Lent choose the deepest, darkest shade of purple for this special season. They may also strip their churches bare of some of the usual decorations adorning the walls. Purple is the color of repentance for sins and also symbolizes the state of our souls outside the light of Christ. During this time, pray for those who do not know Christ and for those who have sinned gravely against Him.
As mentioned above, Lent is a penitential season, even more so than Advent. The 40 days are set aside to really examine areas of recurring sin in our lives that prevent us from being conformed to God's Will.
Keep in mind the idea here is not to be overly scrupulous or to deceive yourself into thinking you can earn heaven through your own goodness. The goal is to honestly examine your life in light of God's Word and to make a commitment to change in any areas you have not submitted to the Lord. A good way to start an examination of conscience is by praying Psalm 139, verse 23-24: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Then, hold up your life to the Ten Commandments. Confess (James 5:16), the ways you've sinned against God, thank Him for His forgiveness, and ask Him for the grace to change.
Fasting and Prayer:
Fasting is a practice that has really gone by the wayside in many Christian circles. Yet, if done correctly, it can be a powerful time of renewing your relationship with God. Fasting can be found in both the Old Testament and the New, with Moses (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9,18 ), Elijah (1 Kings 19:8), and our Lord (Matthew 4:2) all participating in 40-day fasts. Fasting is a way of denying ourselves the excesses of life so that we might be more attuned to the Lord's voice. It is also a way of disciplining yourself, strengthening your "spiritual muscles" so to speak, so that when temptations arise in life, you are already used to saying "no" to your desires. And finally, fasting is also a way of participating, in a small way, in the sufferings of Christ and can be particularly powerful when accompanied by prayer and confession.
A word of caution:
Although fasting can be a wonderful spiritual exercise, it is also an easy one to abuse. Make sure that when you fast, you do not deprive yourself so much that you do harm to your body. Fasting should only be practiced by adults and mature teens. Also, take into account any medical conditions or nutritional needs when deciding what and how much to abstain from (I recommend consulting with a doctor and/or spiritual advisor before undertaking a serious fast). On the spiritual front, Jesus warns us to guard against pride while fasting (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18).
Meditating on Christ's Sacrifice for Mankind:
In addition to periodic fasting and prayer, our scriptural meditations typically turn to the salvation offered to us through Christ's suffering. Read Old Testament Scriptures prophesying the suffering of Christ and the New Testament Gospel accounts.
A very important element of the Lenten season is becoming aware of not only the suffering and sacrifice of Christ but also to the suffering of others. Between now and Good Friday, choose one way you can increase your giving to those in need. It could be through extra financial offerings, donating goods you no longer need or use to charity, or increasing your personal time commitment to a ministry or cause close to your heart.
Lent is a time when Christians separate from the world; when we find out our faith is not just a feel-good, self-help religion but one that answers the deepest questions of life and eternity. Those who journey through the Lenten season will enter the Easter season with an increased appreciation for who God is and what He has done for us. And the joy of Resurrection, as well as the promises of eternity, will not be soon forgotten.
Source: Crosswalk.com copyrighted
by St. Thomas Aquinas
Why did the Son of God have to suffer for us? There was a great need, and it can be considered in a twofold way: in the first place, as a remedy for sin, and secondly, as an example of how to act.
It is a remedy, for, in the face of all the evils which we incur on account of our sins, we have found relief through the passion of Christ. Yet, it is no less an example, for the passion of Christ completely suffices to fashion our lives. Whoever wishes to live perfectly should do nothing but disdain what Christ disdained on the cross and desire what he desired, for the cross exemplifies every virtue.
If you seek the example of love: Greater love than this no man has, than to lay down his life for his friends. Such a man was Christ on the cross. And if he gave his life for us, then it should not be difficult to bear whatever hardships arise for his sake.
If you seek patience, you will find no better example than the cross. Great patience occurs in two ways: either when one patiently suffers much, or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid. Christ endured much on the cross, and did so patiently, because when he suffered he did not threaten; he was led like a sheep to the slaughter and he did not open his mouth. Therefore Christ's patience on the cross was great. In patience let us run for the prize set before us, looking upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before him, bore his cross and despised the shame.
If you seek an example of humility, look upon the crucified one, for God wished to be judged by Pontius Pilate and to die.
If you seek an example of obedience, follow him who became obedient to the Father even unto death. For just as by the disobedience of one man, namely, Adam, many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man, many were made righteous.
If you seek an example of despising earthly things, follow him who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, in who are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Upon the cross he was stripped, mocked, spat upon, struck, crowned with thorns, and given only vinegar and gall to drink.
Do not be attached, therefore, to clothing and riches, because they divided my garments among themselves. Nor to honors, for he experienced harsh words and scourgings. Nor to greatness of rank, for weaving a crown of thorns they placed it on my head. Nor to anything delightful, for in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
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