2021:Sundays in Lent

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Look Up (Gen 22:13)

  • Introduction: The NT readings for today focused on temptations, whether they be the temptation of Jesus in the desert after having been baptized, or as in James Ch#1, trials and temptations that we experience.  However, I don’t know if it was apparent that Abraham in the OT reading was under a tremendous trial of faith.  Let’s spend a few moments going through the trial Abraham endured, analyze the situation through the eyes of faith, and then draw conclusions on how we can persevere through our time in this Age.
  • Let Us Pray: Heavenly Father, You gave to us Abraham, who is our father in the faith.  It was by faith, You credited righteousness to Abraham and to his offspring.  Send Your Spirit to increase in us true faith, so that we as children of Abraham can also believe so that You credit our faith as righteousness.   We pray this through Your Son Jesus, who reigns with the You, Heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.
  • Background:  In our OT reading for today, God tested Abraham just as Jesus allowed Satan to tempt Himself. (Gen 22:1, Mark 1:12-13) However, that is where the similarity ends.  As we read from the Epistle of James, God tempts no one to sin.  God will present situations throughout our life in this Age which will cause our faith in Him to grow. That is profoundly different than Satan’s intentions which are to destroy us both temporally and eternally.  Temporally, by making us miserable after succumbing to temptation, and eternally, by chipping away at faith to the point where we no longer trust in the Lord and follow Him.  With this distinction in mind, let’s go through the OT lesson on how God works situations to make us grow in faith, and also provides for us throughout the trial.
    • Genesis 22 starts with the phrase, “…after these things…”  Isaac is born in Gen Ch#21, and after a period of time, Sarah and Ishmael’s mother, Hagar, have a falling out so to speak.  Sarah then demands Abraham send Hagar and Ishamel away.  This demand “greatly distressed” Abraham, because he loved Ishmael. (Gen 21:11) Abraham probably wouldn’t have sent Ishmael away, except that 12 But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and your slave woman; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named[1].”
      • Ishmael was the first-born of Abraham and this is clear in Genesis.  That is why it raises an eyebrow when God said in Gen 22:2 - Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you[2].”  People not of faith use this as an example to state the bible has contradictions. People of faith however recognize the Lord’s specific statement to Abraham that it is through Isaac Abraham’s descendants will be named.  That is how at the turn of the page all of the sudden Abraham has an “only” son.
      • We have to read on in today’s OT lesson to understand more about burnt offerings, but please understand this is something Abraham and Isaac apparently had understood in the family culture.  What is very interesting about burnt offerings is they are not specified by God in detail until Lev 1:4,10.  In fact, the only other time in Genesis where a burnt offering is mentioned is just after Noah exits the arc, builds an altar, and sacrifices clean animals to the Lord.  That event occurred in Gen Ch#8.  It isn’t until Lev Ch#1 when God told Moses the specifics of a burnt offering for the atonement of sins.  Having said all of this, Abraham being told by God to perform a burnt offering was nothing unusual.  Nonetheless, as we will see how this request relates to our Lord Jesus, a sacrifice of a burnt offering was for the atonement for sins.
    • The sacrifice by Abraham is to be done at a specific place. (Gen 22:3-4) It was a three-day journey from where Abraham and family lived in a place called Beersheba. Beersheba at the time was near, and perhaps in, the land of the Philistines[3].  (Gen 21:31-34)
    • Abraham planned ahead for the intentional sacrifice as we read from Gen 22:5-8.  Well, sort of; note the curiosity of Isaac in v7 - Isaac spoke to his father Abraham and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 😊
    • Abraham & Isaac proceeded forth without the unblemished sheep that would normally have been used for the sacrifice. (Gen 22:9-10) When they arrived at the place where God instructed Abraham to conduct the sacrifice, he somehow bound Isaac, who probably was old enough to understand and resist becoming the actual sacrifice, and was ready to slay Isaac before committing him to be the sacrifice.  We have to understand at this point that both Abraham and Isaac had to display an extraordinary amount of faith to proceed with this plan.
    • If I can digress for a little bit, whenever throughout the OT you see the phrase, “angel of the Lord”, that means a preincarnate Jesus appeared.  Jesus has been sent by God the Father to work the will of the Father ever since creation of the world began.  We discussed on last Sunday how ironic it was that Jesus was the person of the Trinity who gave Moses the Ten Commandments, and how every time Jesus met with Moses, Moses’ face would glow. So when we read in Gen 22:11 “the angel of the Lord” called out to Abraham and intervened ahead of the slaughter of Isaac, that angel of the Lord was none other than a preincarnate Jesus.  (Gen 22:11-12)
    • Jesus then saw to it (“provided” – MT) a male sheep (male lamb – v8) was provided for the burnt offering in place of Isaac.  We read again from 22:13-14 - 13 Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram caught in the thicket by its horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in the place of his son. 14 And Abraham named that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
  • Application: The OT biblical story of Abraham offering his “only” son, Isaac, seems way out of line, doesn’t it? Abraham was promised a son sometime after Abraham entered into the land of Canaan.  He was 75 when he left for Canaan, and was 86 when Ishmael was born. Ishamel was not the son to inherit the estate of Abraham, nor was Abraham’s “official” lineage to come from any other child other than Isaac.  Gen Ch#22 illustrates how sometimes it is hard to follow what the Lord asks of us.
    • Abraham was asked to sacrifice the son of the promise after having just chased away Ishmael. At the point of Gen 22:2, it was legit for anyone to presume Isaac was the sole heir and therefore the lineage of Abraham.  God made that “official” when He said to Abraham, “Take now your son, you only son…and offer him there as a burnt offering…”
      • This was the same Abraham who believed, and God credited that faith to Abraham as righteousness back in Gen 15:5, when God said to Abraham - And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”  God, who knows what is in the heart and soul of each of us, saw Abraham’s reaction to the promise.  We see in the next verse that Abraham believed, and God credited to Abraham as righteousness.  For those of you around 75, just imagine not having had any children at that point, and yet, God comes along and says to you, you will have descendants as numerous as the stars in the night sky.  There was no indication in Abraham’s life there would suddenly be a son born to him through his wife, Sarah.  And yet, Abraham believed!
    • We know how God’s promise was eventually fulfilled, despite Abraham and Sarah conspiring to help God along by having Hagar get pregnant from Abraham.  Their scheme wasn’t what God had in mind, and we see in Gen Ch#21 how God had to fix the problem created when Abraham and Sarah decided to do things their own way instead of waiting upon the Lord to deliver on the very promise he made face-to-face with Abraham.  Even when God has to correct things we screw up, it works out in the best interest of those who love God.  By the time Abraham is asked to sacrifice Isaac, we see a stronger faith exhibited in v8 – …but Abraham said [to Isaac], “God will see to it Himself a sheep [for the] burnt offering, son.” (CSRV from LXX) The wording I just used for Gen 22:8 is a bit different than what was read from the lectern a few moments ago, because the Greek version of the OT, the Septuagint, uses the wording of God “seeing to it” that there was an appropriate animal provided for the requested sacrifice.  This is one of the many take-aways I got out of Gen Ch#22, in that we are so feeble in our abilities relative to God’s infinite ability, God sees to it we meet obligations under the Law.  Put another way, God knows we can’t meet any of the requirements of the Law, so He even provides us with the ability to meet the requirements of the Law through a substitute – just like He did for Abraham and Isaac.
    • In our Epistle reading from the Book of James, written by Jesus’ half-brother, James, we are exhorted to persevere under trials the Lord asks us to endure. (Jas 1:12-18) We reread from v12 - 12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.  James went on to write by inspiration that God tempts no one to sin. Good gifts come from above.  God wants us to stand up throughout all trials and temptations we endure throughout this Age.  Would you agree, Abraham was tested, but did not bend to temptations to do something other than what God told him to do?  This portion of James leads me to believe that if we stay in God’s word regularly, we are more likely to persevere through trials the Lord presents in our life, and less likely to succumb to temptations Satan and his henchmen will through before us to try to get us to stumble.  Let’s face it, Abraham and Sarah tried to help God along with His own promise to them.  How did that turn out?  It’s best as the Psalmist wrote - Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; Do not get upset because of one who is successful in his way, Because of the person who carries out wicked schemes. Cease from anger and abandon wrath; Do not get upset; it leads only to evildoing[4].
    • Jesus was tempted by the devil after fasting 40 days, just to make it a fair fight. (Mat 4:1-11) Jesus far more powerful than Satan could ever dream of being.  We know about the fasting from the Matthew Ch#4 account of Jesus being tempted directly by Satan.  Satan is a putz, but that doesn’t stop him from throwing everything at us like he threw at Jesus to get Jesus to sin.  It didn’t work, and we can experience the same success against Satan when we trust in the Lord and lean not onto our own understanding.
    • Because of His experience, Jesus understands our trials in life. (Heb 4:15-16) We have a great high priest who knows a lot about the intense pressure Satan and the world around us can bring to bear on us to succumb to temptations and sin. Nonetheless, Jesus didn’t ever sin, and can provide for us the way out, or the solution to any problem just as we saw with the missing sacrifice Abraham and Isaac had.
  • Conclusion: Like Abraham, we need to look up to see Jesus who has given Himself for us.  Abraham was about to carry out the slaughter of his “only” son as God referred to Isaac.  God knew what He was asking of Abraham and God knows what you & I are enduring this very moment.  A take-away I see from Gen Ch#22 is Abraham would have missed the provision of the sacrifice God provided had he not listened to Jesus calling him and then looked up to find what Jesus provided.
    • When temptations overwhelm us, we need to look up to Jesus for faith to believe, to trust, and to be empowered to not succumb to temptation.  He has 100% integrity; there is nothing written in the bible that hasn’t come true, unless there is still unfulfilled prophesy.
      • Jesus provided the ram for Abraham to sacrifice in place of Isaac. (Gen 22:13) ‘Just a reminder, a ram is a male sheep.  A sheep is what was to be sacrificed for sins.  I can’t help but observe Jesus about 2400yrs after this situation with Abraham and Isaac would again provide a male sheep for not just the sins of those committing the slaughter, but also for the sins of the whole world.
      • Jesus saw to it to provide atonement or propitiation for our sins. (1Jn 2:2) Jesus had no other option but to sacrifice Himself who, as John the Baptist said, was the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! The OT believers had the burnt offerings which were to atone for the sins of the person providing the sacrifice. Us NT believers have the one sacrifice Jesus provided which completed the need for any further sacrifices.
      • Jesus was faithful in going to the cross to shed His own blood that did not have any blemish of sin. He now will come to our aid as the writer to the Hebrews wrote by inspiration in Heb 2:17-18 - 17 Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brothers so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted[5].  Abraham and Isaac went to about the same place 2400yrs before where Jesus was sacrificed.  They were a foreshadowing of the salvation that was to come to mankind.  Abraham and Isaac were of the same sinful flesh as you & I, yet looked up to the Lord for a solution through a trial.  They serve as an example for us some 4400yrs later yet still applicable.  As we confessed at the beginning of this church service, “our help is in the name of the Lord.”  Please remember that as you persevere through trials.  Amen!

[1] Gen 21:12 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%2021&version=NASB

[2] Gen 22:2 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%2022&version=NASB

[3] On-line maps at https://www.google.com/search?q=where+was+beersheba&sxsrf=ALeKk00-mZsFqQT3na-lRTy3dt2HRibfmQ:1613878066196&tbm=isch&source=iu&ictx=1&fir=sYZpEuIazgD1jM%252C0-ouSBoU3pk4LM%252C_&vet=1&usg=AI4_-kRNk8_fdit-bS9XlRYJaehawkhOQg&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwihmuKmhPruAhWaIDQIHUvXAiAQ_h16BAgYEAE#imgrc=N3-nEXmlIojKQM

[4] Ps 37:7-8 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%2037&version=NASB

[5] Heb 2:17-18 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=heb+2&version=NASB

Practicing Righteousness (based on Mat 6:1)

  • Introduction: A long-time, successful Hollywood actor, Sean Penn[1], was quoted last Friday from a social media posting I repeat here: "Evangelical leaders should themselves be impeached by the Vatican if they themselves don't follow Nikki Haley's lead & clearly state they should not have followed Satin (sic) into the bowels of hell.  But, perhaps they are too busy at sex parties."
    • Others from the religion of secular humanism have voiced equally outrageous and polarizing thoughts.  Climate czar John Kerry was asked by a reporter, "I understand that you came here with a private jet. Is that an environmental way to travel?[2]"  John Kerry’s response, "If you offset your carbon -- it's the only choice for somebody like me who is traveling the world to win this battle."
    • I’m personally offended by Sean Penn’s outrageous statements linking evangelical support for former President Trump with church leaders who have fallen to temptations.  I don’t know what these two have to do with each other.  However, Sean has a point in that it really hurts the mission of the Holy Christian Church on earth when there are high profile scandals of hypocrisy within a church body’s leadership. 
    • I’d like for you to take stock on the thoughts and emotions you are experiencing right now regarding these two examples I’ve provided.  Think about whether those same thoughts and emotions you have after hearing these statements could be directed toward you or me when someone from outside of the Communion of Saints hears us making very uninformed statements or sees us doing something very hypocritical with respect to what we say we believe.
  • Let Us Pray: Lord Jesus, You came into our same flesh to redeem us from the otherwise certain eternal death.  Send the Holy Spirit to work in us this Lenten season to reflect on our sinfulness and see how that affects our ministry to others who are not a part of your flock.  We need the Holy Spirit to work in us true repentance, so that all our actions in Christian piety somehow bring glory to You.  We entrust this petition to You, Lord Jesus, who reigns with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.
  • Background: I think you’d agree the two examples I have provided in the  introduction to this message can really evoke virulent emotional responses from people who are of both the same and different world views. The more set in your mind you are about right and wrong based upon a set of beliefs will determine the intensity of the emotional response.
    • As I mentioned in the introduction to this message, I was really offended by Sean Penn’s ill-informed commentary on the Christian church.  I suspect a lot of people are indignant about what he posted on social media.  I, as a called servant of the Lord, feel as if he was lumping me in with the priests of another religion who succumbed to the temptations of illicit sexual desires.  We can stand in judgement of a religion which forces its clergy to take a vow of celibacy and therefore deny the appropriate sexual motivations God built into each of us. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having sexual desire, because God made woman for man and man comes from woman.
    • Nonetheless, if one Christ-professing religion is caught in a scandal, it reflects on all Christ-professing religions – especially in a society hostile to God and His followers. Satan and his followers who do his bidding are ready and waiting to accuse any saint of breaking the Law of God. It may seem strange, but Satan knows the scriptures better than either you or I will learn them in this Age.  We read from Rev 12:10 after Satan was evicted from heaven for rebelling against the Lord - 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down, the one who accuses them before our God day and night[3]
    • God clearly stated throughout the scriptures starting with the 6th Commandment, that the good and righteous sexual desires He designed into humans should not be misused.  We should not adulterate what God has made for procreation and for the enjoyment between one husband and his one wife.  The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth - Or do you not know that the unrighteous will *not* inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor those habitually drunk, nor verbal abusers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God[4].
    • We believe Paul wrote this by inspiration from the Holy Spirit.  We also believe that the scriptures are the inerrant word of God.  If we are true to God, we follow this and others of His messages. When anyone associated with Jesus publicly commits sexual sins, as what has happened over years in another religion, isn’t there justifiable disappointment that brothers in Christ have stumbled?  That is one aspect of the scandal, but additionally, it creates a field day of accusations against the Lord’s Church on earth and even the Lord’s Holy Word. Satan brings a bull rush of accusations against those doers of iniquity as part of a strategy to bring down anyone associated with the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
  • Interpretation: In our Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday from Matt Ch#6, we see Jesus speaking about the proper and improper means of practicing righteousness.  Jesus started out Ch#6 - “Take care not to practice your righteousness in the sight of people, to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven[5].”  The Greek verb the Apostle Matthew used, which is interpreted as “in the sight of people”, is a passive voice verb where people are looking upon followers of Jesus to see what those followers are doing.  Jesus didn’t mention whether people would be looking to Christians for how to act or whether to wait for them to stumble.  However, let’s face it, there are people looking on for these and other motivations.  They are looking at you and me to see what it is like to be a follower of Christ.
    • I believe the reporter was sincere in his question to John Kerry about flying around the world in a private jet. For instance, shouldn’t people believing in man-caused climate change practice what they preach to everyone else? Shouldn’t Kerry be taking commercial flights that have scores of passengers so that the jet emissions aren’t an additional load on the environment like a private jet?  These are legitimate concerns, and one would think someone so committed as John Kerry on man-caused climate change would be sensitive to how his actions would be viewed by others.  After all, there are Kerry’s detractors and accusers who are waiting for him to stumble on any aspect of his religion, in addition to Kerry’s followers wondering how to properly act in reducing man-caused emissions they believe lead to climate change.
    • Jesus had concerns for how true followers would practice what some call Christian piety.  Piety is defined by Merriam-Webster on-line[6] as:
      • 1: the quality or state of being pious: such as
        • a: fidelity to natural obligations (as to parents)
        • b: dutifulness in religion : DEVOUTNESS
      • 2: an act inspired by piety
      • 3: a conventional belief or standard : ORTHODOXY
    • In short; piety is putting into action what you believe.  Jesus was making clear to His disciples, and the people who were listening in on the Sermon on the Mount, that practicing righteousness in pious actions needs to be something kept between God and the individual doing the act of piety.  Acts of piety are not to be held out for all to see.   Don’t be sounding a trumpet when helping out the poor so that everyone can see what a great thing was done.  Jesus said don’t let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.  God sees what you are up to.  He is looking on at a much closer distance to you & me than we may perceive.  God sees what is in our heart to understand the true motivation behind prayers and fasting.
    • It’s nice to receive the praise and adulation from others for something we have done.  Entertainers crave it.  Extroverted people seem to need this from others more than introverted people.  There’s nothing wrong with the desire to be accepted and approved by people who we respect. However, when that desire for approval gets out of hand, and we start doing things for show instead of practicing righteous piety in accordance with God’s word, we are no longer doing all to the Lord’s glory.  The examples Jesus gave in our text from Matthew were scenarios where people were doing things to bring attention to themselves for how great they were.  They received the reward for their pious actions from the people they were trying to impress.  They were *not* receiving the approval from their God and Lord in heaven.
  • Analysis: It is something the Jews know as the “sheema” which needs to be in the forefront of our minds as all times. It is found in Deu 6:4-5 - “Hear, Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength[7]. There has never been anyone greater than the Lord Jesus.  Did He go through the trouble of becoming man by being born in a filthy stable in order to impress man?  Did He go around Judea and Galilee preaching, teaching, and healing just so He could impress synagogue leaders and the general populace?  No, Jesus did all He did as God in man in order to serve the Lord God, heavenly Father, with all His heart, soul, and strength, by doing the will of the Father.  Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience even to the point of a horrible death on a cross, Jesus’ Father is our Father!  And, because Jesus was and still is perfect, we can be sure that He practiced what He preached.
    • When people decided to argue with Jesus about some of His teachings, - 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’[8].  As I just said, that same Father Jesus referred to as His Father, is our Father. The Father will reward all as He sees fit.  If there is any desire in our soul to obtain approval from the Father, we see in the text of Mat Ch#6 how that approval comes about: acts of piety which are done …in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you[9].
  • Conclusion:  Fellow saints will see our acts of piety and ideally be motivated to follow them.  However, I should caution, the more piety any of us makes public, the more likely we will be targets for accusations of hypocrisy. The accusers will be waiting for you & I to stumble so they like Sean Penn can accuse us of things, whether in context or not.  Sean probably still thinks he’s smart with that public comment.  I suspect he has already received his reward.
    • And yet, this risk of hypocrisy should not dissuade us from listening to God’s word, then putting it into practice.  The Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians - 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord and not for people, 24 knowing that it is from the Lord that you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve[10].  Whether there are accusers just waiting behind a bush to catch you in hypocrisy or not, the sheema still applies. Jesus was asked by Pharisee who ambushed Him in Matt 22:36-40 - 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 Upon these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets.” 
    • We are going to be judged by others from now until we breath our last.  Unlike John Kerry who came under scrutiny for his egregious attempt to justify himself for grossly violating the tenants of his religion, we need to seek only the justification which comes through Christ taking our sins from us and taking them to the cross.  There is no piety we can do to offset our sins.  We can only seek the forgiveness from our Lord, be assured we are forgiven, and in Christian piety – go and sin no more.  Let’s spend the next 6wks reflecting on our sins and sinfulness and work on improving on our witness to the world on what we believe, by actually practicing what we preach. Amen.


[1] https://www.theblaze.com/news/sean-penn-tries-to-attack-evangelicals?utm_source=theblaze-dailyAM&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily-Newsletter__AM%202021-02-16&utm_term=ACTIVE%20LIST%20-%20TheBlaze%20Daily%20AM

[2] Icelandic reporter Jóhann Bjarni Kolbeinsson quoted from https://www.foxnews.com/politics/john-kerry-private-jet-iceland-climate-award

[3] Rev 12:10 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation%2012&version=NASB

[4] 1Co 6:9-11 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians%206&version=NASB

[5] Matt 6:1 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matt+6&version=NASB

[6] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/piety

[7] Deu 6:4-5 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=deu+6&version=NASB

[8] John 8:54 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%208&version=NASB

[9] Mat 6:4 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mat+6&version=NASB

[10] Col 3:23-24 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=col+3&version=NASB