Friday, March 18, 2011

Lent Day 9: TEST

Recite the Primo Credo Today in the Morning and in the Evening:
Hear, O Israel:
the Lord our God, the Lord is one;
you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.
~Mark 12:29-31

Today, on the Ninth Day of Lent, we continue to discuss the Primo Credo, a variation of the Hebrew Shema Yisrael that Jesus himself told us was the bedrock of our entire belief system.

We have been meditating on it now for eightdays (today is day nin) and will continue to do so until Resurrection (Easter) Sunday.

We have been reciting it every morning and every evening, as faithful Followers of YHWH have been doing for thousands of years.

Today’s Scripture Passages: Deuteronomy 6 and Matthew 4:1-13 and Luke 4:1-13 (pay close attention to the footnotes of Matthew and Luke)

Lent is a time of introspection and penitence during the forty days before Resurrection Sunday. During this Holy Season, we take the time to not only look inward, but to look outward and focus on God’s ongoing reconciliatory work in the world.

The forty days of Lent are symbolic of the forty days that Christ spent in the desert, fasting and praying and being tempted by Satan. The forty day period that Christ spent in the desert is also significant, in that it represents the forty years that the Israelites wandered and were tested in the desert. In both of these ‘desert scenarios’ there were trials involving physical need/provision, concern for physical harm, and major moral dilemmas (especially with regard to who to worship).

During Lent, we take the time to contemplate that the trials commonly associated with “flesh-life" have been modeled and mastered by God Himself through Christ Jesus. It’s not only a beautiful thought, but a tremendous comfort to know that God’s Son did not come into the world as an official ambassador, with privileges, perks, and diplomatic immunity; but He came as a full-fledged citizen who was subject to the same physical limitations, needs, and vulnerabilities that we are. He leads us like a shepherd, and by example. We can truly say that we have a God who “gets” us!

Jesus is “Our Daily Bread,” but we, as humans, have the propensity to gnaw on the stale crust of “Our Daily Dread,” instead. Let me explain what I mean. We are aware that the Powers and Principalities of Man (our societies) are set up to promise the provision of physical needs (such as food), protection from harm, and preservation of moral values. We recognize that there are significant limitations to the protection that the Powers and Principalities of Man can offer us, yet we prefer the imperfect promise we know to the perfect Promise we don’t know…hence the dread. We are not sure where to put our trust, and so we straddle the fence between the World and God’s provision. The Israelites experienced this very dilemma after leaving Egypt, they had not been well cared for under Pharaoh’s care, yet when in the desert, they longed for the “discomforts of home.” Sound familiar?

In the Exodus wanderings, as the people transitioned their allegiances from Human principalities and powers to Yahweh, they underwent several tests: 1) the test to trust God for provision; 2) the test to turn to God in obedience, in the face of personal injury; and 3) the test to totally surrender to God, and worship Him alone. Sadly, they failed miserably each time. We don’t fare much better than they when we face the same dilemma.

As part of the atonement work created for Jesus to do, three scenarios occurred that re-created the Israelites’ desert trials: Jesus was tempted to trust God for provision; Jesus was tempted to turn to God in obedience, despite fear of personal injury; and Jesus was tested with regard to total surrender- would He worship god, or choose to be worshipped? Yet Jesus succeeded triumphantly!

What was the difference? What was Jesus’ secret? Well, we could (and often do…I know this is how my though pattern invariably goes…) just blow off the significance of Jesus’ desert experience by thinking, “Well, he was god, so it was easy for him to do those things.” But we forget, thereby diminishing his efforts, that Jesus was 100% man and that His suffering in the desert was just as difficult for Him as it would be for you or me. If it wasn’t- then the event wouldn’t really matter. But it does matter.

So, as a 100% human (capable of failure) - how did Jesus bar Joseph resist the devil’s wiles? We need to find out, because the answer will be immeasurable valuable to us. Part of the answer is in The Shema and the scriptures surrounding it.

On Day 7 we discussed meditation on scripture has the capacity to create a fused connection to The Word of God. When we meditate on scripture, we become wiser and gain insight, and even have the ability to have victory over those things which oppose us (enemies, and the like). (See Psalm 119: 97-99) Jesus knew this and did it. We’ve already discussed that, as a faithful and devout Jew, Jesus recited the Shema at a minimum of twice a day. But we know that Jesus didn’t hollowly recite or merely pay lip-service to the Shema. We know that he actually did what the Shema commands- he meditated on it, and thereby “bound” the scriptures to himself. This is how we know…

The sixth chapter of Deuteronomy is without dispute one of the most important passages of scripture for the Jewish people. From it comes The Great Shema. In the fourth chapters of both Matthew and Luke, we see Jesus quoting from this particular passage of scripture as He stood against Satan’s temptations in the desert. As Satan attempted to undermine Jesus’ response to God’s call on his life, Jesus rebutted Satan’s taunts by twice quoting from this passage. At one point, Jesus then quotes the context of two verses from Deuteronomy, 6:13 and 10:20, “…for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” Jesus’ response reflects the command Deuteronomy 6:4-5, called by the Jews, the Shema: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Later, as we have already discussed, when Jesus was tested by a Pharisee and asked which the greatest commandment was He quoted the Shema. (Mark 12:29) The text of Deuteronomy 6 is clearly on that Jesus held close to his heart- Jesus did not merely quote the Shema; He used it in context and applied it, even to the point of using to rebuke a direct temptation. We should emulate Our Lord and do likewise.

Often, in our lives, we find ourselves in our own unique “desert” of trial, temptation, and/or tribulation. We should expect that life will bring to us times like this. We are only able to respond appropriately to difficult times in our lives in a God-honoring way if we first “prep” ourselves by rehearsing our responses and memorizing scripture. (In theological terms, this is called: “girding your loins.”)

This is one of the purposes for doing what we do at Lent. During Lent we re-create/synthesize a “desert” experience by causing ourselves to address the pertinent issues of trust, obedience, and surrender though prayer, fasting, scripture memorization, and other forms of spiritual discipline. These disciplines train us how to react during adversity and remind us what it feels like to experience adversity. (It’s “Adversity Training” if you will!)

We re-create the “test” only to remind ourselves what it must have felt like to take it. For most of use are ‘kinetic’ and ‘experiential’ learners and we better understand when we “do’ versus when we ‘hear” a lesson. Just as Christ entered into our suffering world to understand and save us, so too, we enter into His suffering in order to more deeply understand His salvation of the world.

This Ninth Day of Lent, may you persevere under trial and pass the test. May you remember that Satan may test us, but God “gets” us.

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