Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
February 24, 2013 – Lent II
Genesis 15:1-12, Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35
From the book of Genesis:
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram; and lo, a dread and great darkness fell upon him.
From St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians:
For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
“One who truly fears God, and is obedient to Him, may be in a condition of darkness, and have no light; and he may walk many days and years in that condition…”
So wrote the Puritan Thomas Goodwin (1600-1679), and the Prophet Isaiah agrees with him: “Who among you fears the Lord? Who obeys the voice of His Servant? Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon his God” (Isa. 50:10).
At times even the most dedicated Christian feels “in the dark” and wonders why God seems so far away. During the Boxer Rebellion, the China Inland Mission suffered greatly; and its founder, J. Hudson Taylor, said to a friend, “I cannot read; I cannot think; I cannot even pray; but I can trust.” It was a dark time, but God eventually gave light.
Abraham had an experience of what spiritual directors call “the dark night of the soul.” The term comes from a sixteenth-century spiritual classic of that title by St. John of the Cross. Based on the night scenes described in the Song of Songs, the book tells how the child of God enters into deeper love and faith by experiencing temporary darkness and seeming separation from God. It is not an easy thing to experience, but sometimes necessary.
People with faith are also people with feelings, and feelings must not be discredited or ignored. Many orthodox Christians are prone to emphasize the mind and will and minimize the emotions, but this is a grave error that can lead to an unbalanced life.
We are made in the image of God, and this includes our emotions. While it is unwise to trust your emotions and bypass your mind, or let your emotions get out of control, it is also unwise to deny and suppress your emotions and become a religious robot. In the Psalms, David and the other writers told God honestly how they felt about Him, themselves, and their circumstances; and this is a good example for us to follow. Jesus was a real man, and He expressed openly His emotions of joy, sorrow, holy anger, and love.
You certainly ought to “listen to your feelings” and be honest about them. “When a person assumes responsibility for his feelings,” writes psychiatrist David Viscott, “he assumes responsibility for his world.” But don’t stop there: Take time to listen to God, and receive His words of encouragement. The faith that conquers fear is faith in the Word, not faith in feelings.
God’s remedy for Abraham’s fear was to remind him of who He was: “I am thy shield, and thy exceedingly great reward” (Gen. 15:1). God is our shield and our reward, our protection and our provision.
Protection and provision are blessings that the world is seeking and the politicians are promising whenever they run for office. Candidates offer voters protection from war and danger on the streets as well as provision for jobs, health care, education, and old age. Some of the promises are kept, but many of them are forgotten. Almighty God is the only One who can offer you protection and provisions and keep His promises.
Our Gospel reading today has Jesus in Perea, which was ruled for Rome by Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great. The terrain of Perea was one of the most picturesque in Palestine, marked by rugged highlands and secluded and fruitful valleys. The Pharisees wanted to get Jesus back into Judea where the religious leaders could watch Him and ultimately trap Him, so they tried to frighten Him away.
Herod had been perplexed by our Lord’s ministry and was afraid that John the Baptist, whom he murdered, had come back from the dead (Luke 9:7-9). In fact, at one point, Herod wanted to meet Jesus so he could see Him perform a miracle! But it appears that Herod’s heart was getting harder, for now he threatened to kill Jesus. The warning the Pharisees gave was undoubtedly true or Jesus would not have answered as He did.
Our Lord was not afraid of danger. He followed a “divine timetable” and nothing could harm Him. He was doing the will of God according to the Father’s schedule. It had been decreed from eternity that the Son of God would be crucified in Jerusalem at the Passover (1 Peter 1:20; Rev. 13:8), and even Herod Antipas could not hinder the purposes of God. Quite the contrary, our Lord’s enemies only helped fulfill the will of God (Acts 2:23; 3:13-18).
Jesus used a bit of “holy sarcasm” in His reply. He compared Herod to a fox, an animal that was not held in high esteem by the Jews (Neh. 4:3). Known for its cunning, the fox was an apt illustration of the crafty Herod. Jesus had work to do and He would accomplish it. After all, Jesus walked in the light, and foxes went hunting in the darkness!
Our Lord’s heart was grieved as He saw the unbelief and rebellion around Him, and He broke out in a lamentation over the sad plight of the Jewish nation. It was a sob of anguish, not an expression of anger. His compassionate heart was broken.
In this lament, Jesus was addressing the whole nation and not just the Pharisees who had tried to provoke Him. The people had been given many opportunities to repent and be saved, but they had refused to heed His call.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he is filled with joy, but he is also weeping. Perhaps he is weeping over himself and his difficult situation, being in prison. No, he is a man with a single mind, and his circumstances do not discourage him. Is he weeping because of what some of the Roman Christians are doing to him? No, he has the submissive mind and will not permit people to rob him of his joy. These tears are not for him at all; they are shed because of others. Because Paul has the spiritual mind, he is heartbroken over the way some professed Christians are living, people who “mind earthly things.”
We are not sure who Paul is weeping for. He may be referring to the Judaizers and their followers. Certainly Paul is writing about professed Christians and not people outside the church. The Judaizers were the “enemies of the cross Christ” in that they added the Law of Moses to the work of redemption that Christ wrought on the cross. Their obedience to the Old Testament dietary laws would make a “god” out of the belly; and their emphasis on circumcision would amount to glorying in that about which they ought to be ashamed.
To refer to the Judaizers as “enemies of the cross Christ” might be a bit harsh. These were Jews who converted to Christianity, but did not want to give up the Jewish laws and traditions. They also expected all converts to take on the Jewish laws and traditions in order to be considered Christian. This included circumcision and dietary laws. This must have been hard for the Jews; all their life they were taught to obey the Old Testament laws; laws that Moses gave to the Jewish people from God. Now they were told that many of those laws were not important. This brought about the conflict in the church and Paul’s sadness for the people in Philippi.
In what sense, were the Judaizers the “enemies of the Cross of Christ”? For one thing, the Cross ended the Old Testament religion. When the veil of the temple was torn in two, God was announcing that the way to God was open through Christ (Heb. 10:19-25). When Jesus shouted, “It is finished!” He made one sacrifice for sins, and thus ended the sacrificial system (Heb. 10:1-14). By His death and resurrection, Jesus accomplished a “spiritual circumcision” that made ritual circumcision unnecessary (Col. 2:10-13). Everything that the Judaizers advocated had been eliminated by the death of Christ on the cross!
Furthermore, everything that they lived for was condemned by the Cross. Jesus had broken down the wall that stood between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:14-16), and the Judaizers were rebuilding that wall! It is the Cross that is central in the life of the believer. He does not glory in men, in religion, or in his own achievements; he glories in the Cross (Gal. 6:14).
These men were not spiritually minded; they were earthly minded. They were holding on to earthly rituals and beliefs that God had given to Israel, and they were opposing the heavenly blessings that the Christian has in Christ.
The spiritually minded believer is not attracted by “things” of this world. He makes his decisions on the basis of eternal values and not the passing fads of society. Lot chose the well-watered plain of Jordan because his values were worldly, and ultimately he lost everything. Moses refused the pleasures and treasures of Egypt because he had something infinitely more wonderful to live for (Heb. 11:24-26). “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain he whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)
The Judaizers were living in the past tense, trying to get the Philippian believers to go back to Moses and the Law; but true Christians live in the future tense, anticipating the return of their Saviour (Phil. 3:20-21). It is this anticipation of the coming of Christ that motivates the believer with the spiritual mind.
There is tremendous energy in the present power of a future hope. Because Abraham looked for a city, he was content to live in a tent (Heb. 11:13-16). Because Moses looked for the rewards of heaven, he was willing to forsake the treasures of earth (Heb. 11:24-26). Because of the “joy that was set before Him” (Heb. 12:2), Jesus was willing to endure the cross. The fact that Jesus Christ is returning is a powerful motive for dedicated living and devoted service today. “And every man that hath this hope in him purifies himself, even as He is pure” (1 John 2:28-3:3).
The time is coming when our Messiah will return and be recognized and received by both Jews and Gentiles. They will shout, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35). There can be no peace on earth until the Prince of Peace is seated on David’s throne (Isa. 11:1ff). “He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).
Let us pray:
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.