Turn away from evil and turn toward God

It’s the first Sunday of Lent, the Resurrection season has begun. Ash Wednesday kicks it off and for the next 40 days we spend time reflecting on what it means to be a Christian. It’s a time of self-awareness and examination, when we repent of our sins and fast. The forty days represent the time that Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted by Satan and preparing for his coming ministry. In the early days of the church it was a time to prepare new members for Baptism. In the present we tend to focus on our relationship with God and usually choose to give up something or give something in return to the community at large. Some choose to give up a specific thing like sodas or smoking, but it doesn’t have to be physical and doesn’t have to be done in a sense of rejection. You could choose to be kinder to your neighbor for forty days or you could choose to always start a conversation with a compliment. It’s not so much in what you do but who you are doing it for, every time you are tempted to do the opposite remember that Jesus endured far more than forty days without soda. Whether or not you choose to give up something for the next forty day or not it is a time for us to repent, to reflect on where we are in our walk with God and our personal relationship with Christ. Over the past weeks I have been trying to bring together the elements of Christianity, to get us thinking about what it meant to the disciples and what it means to us, what God expects from us and what Jesus taught us. To reflect on our humanity and what it meant for Jesus to partake of that humanity. To understand that while we revere the Apostles and what they did for us, nevertheless they were no greater than you or I, that we possess the same capabilities. To realize that all that was accomplished through them was by the will of our Lord and Savior Jesus. To give thanks that while Jesus was born as you and I, the Son of Man, yet He is the Son of God, the Alpha and the Omega. “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life and the life was the light of all people”. [John 1:3-4]

To comprehend the fullness of what Jesus did for us we have to take a look within ourselves and comprehend the nature of the covenant that God made with humanity and for that we have to go back to the beginning and that beginning is Genesis. I am not going to go into the fall and original sin, who’s to blame etc. rather what concerns us now is the covenant that God made with Noah. “Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” [Genesis 9:8-11] Why was it necessary for God to make this covenant with us? Why did God destroy the earth? “And it repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart”. [Genesis 6:6] Of all creation we are the only ones that God has actually repented of, twice. God was not only sorry that he made humanity but we grieved His heart. Usually when we are talking about repentance it’s us for our sins, not God, he does not sin yet he felt sorrow and regret that he created us, God felt that he had done wrong by our creation. Think about that. Exactly what does that mean, remember we can’t change Gods mind and God can do no evil, yet he repented of us. Repentance in the simplest from is “to turnabout or to turn away from” in the theological sense it is to turn away from evil and to turn towards God. So practically speaking God turned his countenance away from our evil because it pained him so much. Fortunately for us “Noah found favor in the eyes the Lord”. [Genesis 6:8] So humanity survives but buried deep within us at our core is still that seed of evil that we took with us out of the garden. There is just no way that we can atone for our sins, it is not possible for humanity to earn God’s grace. We were given a reprieve (free and clear) and still we didn’t get it, thousands of years and we were heading right back down that same road. What’s God supposed to do? God has made a covenant with us, and He must be true to His nature. He won’t destroy us, doesn’t want to in fact, yet he cannot countenance evil.

You’ve all heard the saying “if you want something done right you have to do it yourself”. Amen. So, the only way for us to receive salvation is if it is given freely and accepted and apparently, we can’t figure it out, so God decided to show us the way personally. Our true salvation begins not with Noah’s covenant, that’s the old world our salvation begins with Jesus and his ministry, if you will recall I said that the true beginning of Jesus ministry was his Baptism by John. “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”. [Mark 1:9-11] Up to this point Jesus has been practicing but this moment defines the beginning not only for Jesus but for all Christians that moment when we are accepted as children of God by accepting Gods sovereignty in our lives. The one man that does not need to repent his sins for he has none, yet he acknowledges Gods authority and God approves and the spirit descends and the Trinity is complete on earth as it is in heaven. The Messiah is at hand “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence”! [Isaiah 64:1-2] God has come and rent the heavens to anoint His servant, Jesus. “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations”. [Isaiah 42:1] And God has declared him his Son “I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you”. [Psalm 2:7] I love it when the Old Testament and the New Testament connect and you get to see God’s plan in action. I get a profound sense awe and wonder that this actually happened and then I get excited because the best is still to come. But like anything worth having it has to be worth waiting for and there is always a price.

 “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him”. [Mark 1:12-13] Forty days in the wilderness. Please don’t think of this as a camping trip in the Gila. No food, no water and wild animals, we are not talking about sheep and goats here, but jackals and lions. People were regularly killed in the wilderness, it was not a Sunday picnic. It was dangerous and demanding, survival is not a game and the adversary is not someone to be taken lightly. But neither is Jesus and unlike the children of God (Israel) that had failed in the wilderness, Jesus is the Son of God and he conquers Satan and cast him away returning from the wilderness only to find that John the Baptist  has been arrested. This was a cruel blow for Jesus as John was his cousin but more importantly he was also the harbinger of the Messiah for “A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God”. [Isaiah 40:3] As much as John was necessary to prepare the way for Jesus so to was it necessary that John’s presence must lessen as Jesus begins his ministry, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” [John 3:30] “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” [Mark 1:14-15] Repent and believe in the good news for the kingdom of God is near. Turn away from evil and turn toward God for His kingdom is near and his Son is truly the Messiah, our Lord and Savior. Jesus will come again. I get a little bit excited when I think about everything coming together, because it’s amazing, even if for some reason your here today and don’t believe in Jesus. Consider this, according to biblical scholars Jesus fulfilled over 300 references to 61 specific prophesies written over a thousand years and by many different people in different geographical locations and cultures. The odds of fulfilling just one is like winning the Irish lottery. To fulfill all of them is impossible, well unless you are the Messiah. Something to reflect upon this first Sunday in Lent? Last week I was hard on Peter, so I’ll let him have the last words this week because Peter knew that Jesus was the Messiah, even when he didn’t get it right.

 “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him”. [1 Peter 3:18-22]

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