Second Sunday in Lent

The Bible passage for this week, the week beginning 25th February, is the story of Jesus explaining about his need to suffer and be put to death.  Peter then takes Jesus aside and reprimands him for saying such things.  Peter, Jesus’ great friend, then receives a stinging rebuke from Jesus for wanting to protect Jesus from harm.  Why such harsh words for Peter?  Surely Peter was just showing concern for his Messiah, so why the telling-off?  The answer is that it wasn’t Peter who was speaking these words to Jesus.  Jesus, being fully human, was wrestling with enormous temptation to avoid the path of suffering.  As the Son of God, he could easily avoid any pain at all.  Here, from the mouth of Peter, Satan is replaying the wilderness temptation that Jesus faced about self-glorification.  Satan is skilfully using one of Jesus’ closest friends to dissuade Jesus from the road he must take.  No doubt, Peter’s arguments made absolute sense in human terms.  Why should God’s Messiah have to suffer at the hands of the Gentile oppressors?  The answer to this is that there was no other way to save humanity.  What is the application for us in this, the second week of Lent?  In our lives, we will frequently be presented with very persuasive arguments to turn away from God’s path for us.  Indeed, sometimes those who are nearest and dearest to us, who are completely unaware of Satan’s plans, will make these arguments.  Nonetheless, if we are convinced of our calling by God to do something, then we must be faithful to that calling irrespective of the temptations to do otherwise.  This is a message for us all, not only in this season of Lent, but at all times throughout the year.

First Sunday in Lent

This week, beginning 18th February, marks the beginning of Lent.  The Bible passage is the account in Mark’s Gospel of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.  In our world, we generally regard temptation as a bad thing.  Temptation is viewed as something that Satan uses to make us stumble and fall before we become wracked with a sense of guilt and inadequacy.  However, it is pertinent to note, according to Mark’s Gospel that it was the Holy Spirit that sent Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted.  Why?  One simple answer is that for God, temptations are not sent to make us fall but rather to strengthen us.  Temptations are not meant for our ruin but for our good.  In some translations of the Bible, the word temptation is replaced by the word testing.  While we do not like the pressure of tests, we do acknowledge that by being tested we emerge a better person.  In a physical test, we emerge a better athlete and in mental tests, we emerge a more knowledgeable scholar.  It is the same when God allows Satan to tempt us.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we have the opportunity to emerge a more spiritual person and a better warrior for God.  Remember, God does not want us to lead easy contented lives as much as purposeful lives in which we continually grow in character.  As we journey through Lent, let us rejoice in all the temptations that face us and see them as a way of deepening our relationship with God.  In addition, if we do stumble and fall, let us just pick ourselves up, seek forgiveness, resume the fight and continue the journey.

Transfiguration Sunday (last before Lent)

The Bible passage this week, the week beginning 11th February, is the account in Mark’s Gospel of the transfiguration. Jesus was at a pivotal point in his ministry.  He was just about to set out to Jerusalem and to the cross.  What does he do?  He turns to his Heavenly Father to get his endorsement.  Although fully God, Jesus was also fully human and needed to be sure that the searing pain he was about to endure was fully part of His Father’s plan.  Moses represented the ‘law’ of God and Elijah represented the prophets of God.  By receiving their validation, Jesus was positioning himself to be fully in tune with God’s plan of salvation wrought in history.  If Jesus had God’s backing, then he would be able to cope with the unimaginable pain of the crucifixion, death and temporary separation from His Heavenly Father.  What is the application for us?  Two things, I suggest.  Firstly, before we embark on any major journey in life, we should seek God’s approval first.  Secondly, once we receive this approval, we should boldly go forward in the sure knowledge that whatever the devil throws at us, we have the power to overcome.

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

The Bible passage this week, the week beginning 4th February, is the account of Jesus healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law as well as many who were possessed with evil spirits.  After driving out many demons, Jesus prevented the demons from speaking because they knew who he was.  Why did Jesus do this?  Why did Jesus not want his actions to be known?  There are two inter-related reasons.  Firstly, Jesus did not want to become a celebrity faith healer or celebrity exorcist.  That was not his main aim but there was another, related reason.  To understand this, we need to understand Jesus’ primary purpose in coming to this world.  Jesus came to establish the Kingdom of God.  This was his over-riding concern and he talked more about the Kingdom than anything else.  For this, he needed to spend time with his disciples.  He needed time to teach them and train them because, when he was gone, they would have to take over the work of building the Kingdom.  Now, if Jesus was known as someone more powerful than even Caesar, he risked immediate imprisonment by the Romans.  If that happened, he would be unable to teach his disciples and his ability to establish the Kingdom of God would be hampered.  We too should have an over-riding concern for the Kingdom of God.  For this, we should also be wise as to the best way to promote it.