This is the first week of a new series we are calling, “righteousness from God.” It is also the beginning of the Lenten season for many traditional churches. Lent commemorates the forty days Jesus spent in the desert fasting and praying prior to the beginning of his public ministry. Churches use these same forty days (excluding Sundays) as the preparation time building up to the three days of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus at Easter. This series will run for six plus weeks through Easter Sunday.
What do we mean righteousness from God? To be righteous we mean we are in right relationship with God. It is a human quality but it takes on a divine presence when we allow God to make us righteous. We commonly think of it as being moral, being right in all that constitutes a moral persona. To be righteous we are right, we have right conduct which is pleasing to God. It can be described as a being who will be judged favorably by Jesus. If you are righteous you will receive a good judgement in the end, Jesus even refers to the “resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14)To be righteous we are right, we have right conduct which is pleasing to God. It can be described as a being who will be judged favorably by Jesus Click To Tweet
When Paul uses righteous he is referring to life, “The one who is righteous by faith will live.” (Romans 1:17) Of course Paul recognizes the dependency on God to deem us righteous. And when we are righteous in the eyes of God we live eternally. Jesus came to save us which in essence means he came to make us righteous. We will see throughout this series that God is trying to help us become righteous. God is a God who will do everything possible to make us righteous. We should also note our cooperation is required. We can’t be righteous if we do not accept help from God.God is a God who will do everything possible to make us righteous. Click To Tweet
Over this series we will use the readings of each week to derive a theme of the week and then relate it back to the overall message series theme of righteousness from God. Always we will be looking at how God acts in our life to provide what we need to become righteous. God wants us righteous so we can be ever with God. Now is the time to decide if we will accept righteousness from God, or not.
This week our readings push us to recognize the Word is near. The Word of course is the Word of God, which we see sometimes as the scripture and we also know as Christ himself. Jesus is the living Word and his message becomes the living word. Through him we come to know the word, which is dear and knowing the word brings us near the Word. The old covenant readies us to know how significant God’s word is and can be, it leads us to be ready for God.
The readings this week are from the Lectionary for the First Sunday of Lent; Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalms 91:1-2,10-11,12-13,14-15; Romans 10:8-13 and Luke 4:1-13. These readings guide us this week to recognize the Word is near, accepting the nearness of the Word we can be influenced and made righteous from God.
The reading from Deuteronomy includes a kind of creed that the people would say when they brought their first fruits to God in thanks for all the blessings he has given them. It is a time when they have escaped Egypt, they are in the Promised Land and their first harvest includes the first fruits which they bring to the place of God. At this moment in time God is telling them where to bring the first fruits as he doesn’t even have a tent as a Sanctuary, but where God is is holy. The people will bring their offering to the priest who will lay it down in front of the altar of God. We see right away God wants to be near the people. He doesn’t need their offering but when they come with it they know they are close to God and God close to them. Throughout their journey from Egypt, their time spent in the desert and now as they reach the Promise Land God is near, and his word is always near as well. This close relationship with God gives the people confidence and hope and leads to their desire for righteousness.
In the second reading from Romans Paul refers back to Moses the figure of the Law. He does so to indicate it is not the Law that saves but the nearness of the word. Speaking to everyone Jew and Gentile Paul tells them the Word is near in their heart and in the mouth. God has made the word fully accessible. If the Torah is near so too is the word of Christ near and fully accessible. The saving word of God is accessible in the incarnation of Christ. If you say Jesus is Lord and that he rose from the dead than you are made righteous (Paul says justified which is often interchangeable with righteous.) Believing and confessing allows the Word to be nearer than we think, it is on our lips and in our heart. It is this nearness that tells God we are ready to be made righteous and that as followers we wish for the righteousness from God, as Paul defines it, this means life. When we let the Word be near, God will make us righteous and we will live.
In the gospel reading from Luke we read the story of Jesus in the desert for forty days fasting and praying to prepare for his public ministry. Near the end of his time he is visited by the devil who tries to tempt him with simple temptations but ones that might invoke much pride in any of us. Henri Nouwen in a series of teachings makes these three temptations very relevant for us today; he defines the three temptations as; 1) you think you are what you do, 2) you think you are what people say about you, 3) you think you are what you have. It is a standard trick of the devil to make us think we should be something or someone other than who we are. Being near the Word, we know none of the descriptions are true, we are truly the beloved of God and should never let others define us. The devil in trying to tempt Jesus is himself familiar with the word and quotes scripture to Jesus. Jesus three times uses the word to negate the devils temptations and in the end the devil gives up for now. It is interesting even though the devil knows scripture he is not near the Word. It shows that without an appropriate relationship with the true Word, Christ, scripture isn’t good in fact it can be used for dangerous purposes. It is not enough to be familiar with the word of God, but we must know the Word. Here in saying “know” we mean in the biblical sense, there must be an intimacy a closeness, a familiarity not with words, but with the Word, the message and person of Jesus.Henri Nouwen defines the three temptations as; 1) you think you are what you do, 2) you think you are what people say about you, 3) you think you are what you have. Click To Tweet
These three readings have a deep message and much meaning, but looking at them from the perspective of the nearness of the Word, we can see that God is pushing for us to be close. God, does all he can to make the word live on our lips and in our heart, so we have the opportunity to know the Word. God incarnated the Word, so the word is in our midst, allowing us to see and hear the word and have an image in our mind and heart of what the word truly means. The word is a tangible image that we can recreate in our mind and let it sink into out heart. Finally, we see that knowing the Word is important, as compared with knowing words. We can be fooled if we are not close to God, but with God in our heart we are so near as to be able to be made righteous from God.
The Word is near
Key to understanding the words of God is knowing the Word of God. God gave us his Word so we may come to know God. We have books filled with chapters and verses that are held up as the word of God. But in fact they are the words of God. Just knowing the words and being familiar with chapter and verse is not what God intends. Knowing the words without knowing the Word can be more dangerous than not knowing the words at all. As we see in the gospel reading the devil can quote scripture to his advantage, and we can be sure he has no relationship with the Word of God.Knowing the words without knowing the Word can be more dangerous than not knowing the words at all. Even the devil can quote scripture. Click To Tweet
In order for the words to have life in us we must first have life in the Word. Many might call this a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And maybe that language has come to mean something very specific, but relationship is important. Jesus teaches us to love, to put others first, to give is better than to receive. If we don’t have this understanding or we are not close to Jesus so that we can be formed as a lover than the knowing of the words can have no impact, or even have a negative impact. Much of what we read in scripture can be scary if we don’t really know God.
To be near the Word means we can be influenced by the word, we can be a student of the word, we can be a disciple of the word. This is the message of Jesus; come be near me. Reading the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John we will never see a “how to” from Jesus. How to make the world perfect. How to make our community the most powerful. How to be the perfect family. Jesus message when asked is “come and see.” Jesus is not going to give us the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, or the 5 Best Leadership Principles. Jesus simply wants to be near to us so we can be His influence in the world and a sign of his word.
We ask Jesus, where do you live and he responds come and see. So it is through nearness that Jesus wants to be in relationship with us. It is the reality of the learning from Jesus. We should be able to touch Jesus, hear Jesus, see Jesus, breathe Jesus. Being near God is not some warm sentimental feeling, there is a reality that we must enter into to become near the Word. An example from the Old Covenant as we read in the first reading from Deuteronomy, God had the people offer first fruits, bringing them to God’s altar. They were doing something, touching and growing and sacrificing to enter into relationship with God. It was real, not some interior journey of introspection that only lives in our mind.Being near God is not some warm sentimental feeling, there is a reality that we must enter into to become near the Word. Click To Tweet
In the New Covenant Jesus comes and dwells among us so that we can see him walking, breathing, eating, praying, and loving. God among us so we can form a nearness that is real. Then we are left with his message, eat this bread and drink this wine to be in communion with me. We also learn, do to the least and you do it to me. Feed, shelter, visit, help others and you do it to me. Jesus leaves us a very real, very tangible means to be near the Word. We must do something, touch someone, and sacrifice to touch Jesus. In a very real sense we are to change to be like Jesus, to be Christlike, and in so doing we end up near the Word. In fact we are so near the Word that we discover Christ in us. We seek God and we learn God is inside us waiting to be discovered.
This all can only happen by being near the Word. God gives us every chance to know the word and be close to the word so that we can be changed, we can grow to be like the Word. In all that we live and do, we are meant to be Christlike to others, so that we are near the Word and we can become an image of the Word that others can be near.
Righteousness from God
To receive righteousness from God we must accept that God can be near us. We must accept the hopefulness of a God who wants to be near to us. Being righteousness means we are right and justified in the eyes of God. We are someone that God points to and says to others be like (put your name here) he/she is my righteous one. God’s plan for the transformation of the world is us. We are to be made righteous from God. Then we are held up as examples of what it means to be right!
It doesn’t come with lots of pressure, or difficult tasks to accomplish. God provides all we need every step of the way. We require certain discipline and disciplines. 1) Perhaps regular times of quiet to be close to God. 2) A steady diet of service so we may be close to the poor and the least; thus meeting Jesus. 3) Pushing ourselves to be in the present. To live each moment fully and in the reality that we are near to the Word. Presence is required to be near the Word, who is only in the present. Being near the Word we can be made righteous, and thus always have life.Being near the Word we can be made righteous, and thus always have life. Click To Tweet