Today in the Spirit: Lent 1A

By

In the season of Lent our walk with Jesus just as he walked (1 John 2:6) through the liturgical year takes a turn to face the reality of opposition from the devil and rebellion in the human heart both set like armies gathered in formation against the revelation of the Son of God. If Christmas and Epiphany have trumpeted the presence of the Savior in the world, the forty days of Lent with its readings and collects emphasize our desperate need to be saved–apt preparation leading up to Holy Week when we will follow Jesus to his death on the cross. Week One of Lent each year begins with the account of the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. In Year A, the church assigns the account in Matthew 4:1-11. The OT reading out of Genesis 2:4-9, 15-17, 25-3:7 recalls the story of Adam and Eve falling by temptation in contrast to Jesus’ performance in the Gospel’s Temptation narrative. Saying (or singing) the appointed Psalm 51 composed in the first person I, places us firmly in company with David pleading to God for mercy because of our sin. Paul’s teaching in the assigned NT reading Romans 5:12-21 provides commentary on both the OT and Gospel readings, comparing the trespass of Adam with God’s gift of mercy in Jesus Christ.     

The Collect

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations, and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Sponsored

She Took of Its Fruit and Ate (Genesis 2:4-9, 15-17, 25-3:7)

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You[a] shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths (3:1-7).

In Year A the church assigns the Bible’s prime reading on human temptation in Genesis to go alongside that of the temptation of the Son of God in the Gospel. Notice there are three motivations given in Genesis for the woman’s actions–that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise. These can be seen roughly to parallel the three temptations of our Lord. A devotional question to be asked might be: How do you respond to the weakness of the woman in her giving in to the serpent? Do you cast blame, or do you sympathize? Surely the whole movement of the Scriptures is toward human beings coming to grips with the weakness of Eve that resides in us all. The mercy of our holy God toward us woos us into sympathy toward the sin of others–always taking the side of the publican, never with the Pharisee. It is from a position of sympathy with Eve that we cry out with “David” in the assigned psalm: For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me (Psalm 51:3 NIV). Today, Holy Spirit, as you are in me both to convict me of sin and to show me the mercy of Jesus, create in me a soft heart toward the sinful as I look to you for deliverance from my own rebellious ways.  

Wisdom in the Secret Heart (Psalm 51)

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart (3-6).

Notice Behold, I..Behold, you (or Surely, I…Surely, you NIV). “David” through his crisis of contrition has gained insight pertaining to himself and to God. He finds that though evil in the inward being is set deep like a granite ledge, God is capable and equipped with every tool necessary to break through the rock and implant a comforting word. David is lamenting his transgressions in this psalm, but we must not overlook his rejoicing over the mercy of God tenaciously seeking to restore his soul. The Holy Spirit is the provider of wisdom in the secret heart. Our Lord promises the Counselor will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment, and that he will glorify [Jesus], for he will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:8,14). What is it from Jesus that the Spirit makes known to us? Is it not primarily the full extent of his gentleness? Dane Ortlund writes: “Nothing can chain [Jesus’] affections to heaven; his heart is too swollen with endearing love.” Today, in the Spirit, we rejoice with David that on the heels of realizing the depths of our sin comes a deeper understanding of God’s longing to show mercy through Jesus Christ.

That Grace Also Might Reign (Romans 5:12-21)

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (18-21).

Note the repetition of the words reigns or reigning in the passage. Normally in English, and in the Greek basileuo, the term is used to describe the authority of a human or divine king. But for Paul in this passage it is not Satan or Jesus who reigns but death or grace. Does that not fit with our experience of being subjects under authority? We don’t often know a ruler personally, but we are well acquainted with their policies impacting our lives. Paul’s teaching in this whole section of Romans is that with the initiation of the reign of Christ has come the enactment of new policy–grace and life for those who believe, changing everything. Grace cancels sin. Life expels death. Will you believe it? On sin, later in Romans Paul will claim, For one who has died has been set free] from sin (6:7). Regarding death, he will declare, There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (8:1-2). A new king reigns, and even if he is invisible the effect of his policies are easily discerned, if by his strengthening we can live as if what is reported is true. Today, Holy Spirit, grant me the faith to live under the reign of the policies of freedom and life set forth by King Jesus.  

Then…Again (Matthew 4:1-11)

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’

and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
    and him only shall you serve.’”

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him (5-11).

Last week we observed how Matthew’s narrative of the Transfiguration points to a narrowing of devotion toward Jesus alone. This week in Matthew’s Temptation narrative, we see the devil seeking to steer Jesus away from his own narrow devotion to the Father God. Notice throughout Matthew’s account (unlike Luke’s) the continued repetition of then and again. Jesus himself is even quoted as saying, Again it is written. The attack of the tempter here is both clever and relentless, then and again, against our Lord’s singular devotion to doing only what his Father desires. By the end Jesus is all but spent. We might wonder: How are we supposed to survive such determination by the devil to counteract our narrowing devotion to Jesus? We cannot. Thankfully there are ministering angels in many forms to help us even when we as students fail to perform as well as the Teacher. Today, Holy Spirit, through this season of Lent and beyond, make the temptations of the enemy you permit, whether I succeed or fail to overcome them, count for increased devotion to the Son of God. 

Today in the Spirit

Reflections and related content, sent straight to your inbox.

Published on

February 20, 2023

Author

Geoff Little

Geoff Little writes the Today in the Spirit series of reflections on the ACNA Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary. He is the founding rector of All Nations Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Blanca.

View more from Geoff Little

Comments

Please comment with both clarity and charity!

Subscribe to Comments
Notify of

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments