This is the first week of a new series we are calling “Jesus the gift of life.” It is a Lenten series that will lead us to the Easter celebration. The Lenten season is modeled after Jesus forty days in the wilderness where he fasted, prayer and met the devil before being ministered to by angels. Jesus is God’s gift to us for life. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16) This is God’s greatest act of love for us his children.
We will look at Jesus through this series, using the readings from each week to take a particular aspect of Jesus and expand how we are gifted. Jesus provides so much for those who want to know him. Beyond salvation there is much we can learn to live better lives and make life better for others. Through Jesus we learn we are brothers and sisters, and we are challenged to share and love each other. Jesus is a gift to us; we can be gifts to one another if we desire to give what we have received.
We have readings this week that begin with the telling of God breathing into Adam and animating life. The Hebrew word for breath can also be translated as spirit. It allows us to see we have the spirit of God in us. Jesus becomes the being in whom all life is held, he is in the beginning giving life, his obedience acquits all humanity to give eternal life and Jesus teaches we can obey and defeat transgression on our own to live a joy filled life. Life begins when we receive a breath and through it have the animating spirit of God who gives Jesus as the gift of life.
The readings this week are from the Lectionary for the First Sunday of Lent; Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Psalms 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17; Romans 5:12-19 and Matthew 4:1-11. This week we see life, how through breath we receive life, how Jesus’ life gives us a return to life and how Jesus leads us toward obedience, which is a life in God.
The reading from Genesis tells the story of the creation of man into a living being, the planting of the Garden of Eden and the temptation by the serpent to eat what God had forbidden the first people to eat. The reading tells of God forming man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. There is a distinction between man and animal in creation. Animals were brought forth entire from the earth while man is distinctive in that God formed him and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. The Hebrew word for breath is ruah (pronounced roo-ah) which can be translated breath, wind or spirit. It is beautiful to think that God blew into man God’s spirit, the animating aspect of a human’s life. The material of the earth formed man and it was the spirit of God that transformed the lifeless dust into a living being raising man above the animal forces, endowed with the ability to master and rule over the earthly within him. So God made man out of both lower (earthly) and upper (heavenly) matter, his body from the dust and filled his nostrils with the breath of life. The story immediately goes on to treat the disobedience of the first man and woman. They are tricked by the evil one in the form of a serpent and break God’s covenant with them bringing death upon the body and the need to be aided by God in salvation. God already has a plan, death will not be forever, Jesus will come to defeat death with his death and resurrection.The material of the earth formed man and it was the spirit of God that transformed the lifeless dust into a living being raising man above the animal forces, endowed with the ability to master and rule over the earthly within him. Click To Tweet
In the second reading Paul is telling how the first man sinned and addresses the consequence of that sin. Paul will go on to say there is acquittal through the action of another man, Jesus Christ. We see in Genesis 2:16-17 God implicitly making a covenant with man, “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.” And so when the fruit of this tree is eaten sin and death enter the world. This death Paul indicates is our spiritual death, the death of our original union with God, which secondarily results in physical death. Adam’s relationship with the Lord is pronounced dead at the very moment he committed the first sin, Paul sets this death in opposition to the gift of “eternal life.” All of Adam’s descendants fall under this spiritual death because of the consequences of the broken union, so all become sinners. Paul points out even though there was no law until Moses, sin and death still prevailed, even thought there was no violation of divinely revealed commandments. Paul says even those who were unable to sin before the law shared in the fallen condition and experienced death.Death Paul indicates is our spiritual death, the death of our original union with God, which secondarily results in physical death. Click To Tweet
Paul writes Adam is a type of one to come, a prophetic image of the future Messiah. Paul will go on to explain how the deeds of one man can affect the “many.” He explains how Adam and Jesus made completely opposite choices in relation to God. Adam alienated his descendants from God, Jesus united his disciples to God. Paul goes on to report humanity has gained disproportionally more in Christ than it ever lost in Adam. Paul points out one is not like the other, there is a universe of difference between the gift of eternal life that comes from Christ and the legacy of Adam’s transgression. Through Adam all die, through Christ all live. By the one sin of Adam, the Lord’s judgement fell hard on all of humanity. However the divine acquittal or justification that comes from the gift of Christ to those who believe means they are made righteous which includes an abundance of grace, and life. Humanity goes from being made sinners in Adam’s transgressions and being made righteous through Christ’s atonement. It is as if new life is breathed into humanity through Christ, certainly life is returned. It is Paul’s writing here that leads us to know Jesus as the gift of life.The divine acquittal or justification that comes from the gift of Christ to those who believe means they are made righteous which includes an abundance of grace, and life. Click To Tweet
In the gospel reading we see Jesus moving from his baptism by John the Baptist to the desert where he will fast and pray getting ready to do the work the Father has sent him to accomplish. At the end of his sojourn in the desert Jesus is hungry and meets the devil who tries to convert Jesus to his evil nature. As Adam was tempted and failed to be obedient, Jesus is tempted and is steadfast in his obedience. We see three different temptations, with a critical difference between the two men, Adam and Jesus. Adam was self-serving, Jesus is other serving, mainly God serving. The first temptation Jesus is asked to use his power to take care of his own needs, but says it is God who comes first. Adam didn’t trust and took care of his own needs. In the second temptation Jesus is challenged to try to force God to verify his love or caring, Jesus chooses to trust God knows best. Again Adam didn’t trust God but decides on his own to challenge God’s word. In the third temptation Jesus is challenged to take on all power himself, even repudiating God’s power. Jesus refuses to put himself over the Father. Adam seems eager to take on the power of a god rather than trusting in God to provide for all his needs.
Jesus comes to serve, putting God first and trusting in God. It is a message we need to learn. We tend to be self-serving and not trusting in God. We think we need to take care of ourselves; save for the future, fill our refrigerators with food, have extra of many things so that when a tragedy or catastrophe strikes in the future we can be on top of it. We are more like Adam, we take matters into our own hands rather than putting all our trust in God. The separation Adam began we continue today. Sin is separation from God, the union broken in the Garden continues. We need Jesus to show us the way of trust and to give us the gift of life.We need Jesus to show us the way of trust and to give us the gift of life. Click To Tweet
These readings have a common theme showing spirit or breath which brings life. God breathes into Adam and gives him life, it is the spirit of God that animates man. Paul speaks of life coming through the one who is the new Adam. Adam’s sin brings transgression to all and Jesus obedience brings acquittal to all who trust in him. Finally we see Jesus putting God first and avoiding the temptation of the devil. When evil is defeated Jesus is glorified by the angels. Jesus brings life in many ways, we focus on breath this week, the animating spirit of God that brings life and supports life.Jesus brings life in many ways, we focus on breath this week, the animating spirit of God that brings life and supports life. Click To Tweet
There are many places in scripture we can determine that life comes from breath. Using the Hebrew original word ruah (sometimes ruach) and freely letting the translation become breath or spirit, we see many places where life is animated by God’s breath or spirit. In scripture there is great meaning to have breath or spirit come upon someone, some bones, something. God’s breath always means life.
We read from the prophet Isaiah, “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives,” (61:1) The prophet is sharing that there is new life coming, there is a messenger, more than a king or prophet, one who will bring comfort. Not only are they anointed by the Lord but they have new life in them to perform the Lord’s mission.
Jesus coming to Nazareth where he grew up and was known enters the synagogue and is giving the scroll to read. He opens the scroll to the passage of Isiah, beginning with the text above. When he finished reading he returns the scroll and announces, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21) Jesus is proclaiming he is the messenger that Isaiah prophesied and he has the Spirit of the Lord upon him. Jesus is fulfilling this prophecy. Luke sees much of Jesus life fulfilling the prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures, including Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. Jesus is the gift of life.Jesus is proclaiming he is the messenger that Isaiah prophesied and he has the Spirit of the Lord upon him. Jesus is fulfilling this prophecy. Click To Tweet
Again in Isaiah we read about the Lord’s servant, “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased. Upon him I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations.” (42:1) this servant has the spirit of the Lord, serving the Lord with humility, leading the Lord’s people back to God, back to life. God claims his people and promises to send a servant who will save his people. This servant will have the Spirit of the Lord, and will bring those unaware the gift of life.
We read in Matthew chapter twelve Jesus is traveling with his disciples and meets a man with a withered hand. The religious leaders were asking Jesus about curing on the Sabbath; it is a day meant as a day of rest to honor of God. Jesus not wishing to see the suffering of another, cures the man’s hand. The religious leaders immediately condemn Jesus for healing on the Sabbath and begin to plot Jesus’ death. Jesus slips away so that he would not be found and warns those with him not to say anything that could make him known.
Matthew goes on to write that Jesus is the servant that we read about in Isaiah (cf. Matthew 12:15-21). Matthew quotes the passage from Isaiah above ending with hope for the Gentiles. Jesus is the Messiah that the Jews are waiting to come and bring them freedom. Matthew makes the point with this passage that Jesus is also the savior for the Gentiles, those not even aware of Jesus and his mission from God. Many meet Jesus who is filled with the Spirit of God and want to know him more and more and discover life with God. This is true even today, Jesus is an irresistible person. Today people still come to him, seeking this Spirit of God. Jesus is the gift of life, knowing Jesus provides life.
If we look at the open verses from the gospel attributed to John, we read, “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race;” (John 1:3-4) In later verses we are told the “him” in this verse is Jesus. Jesus was with God in the beginning. All things were made through him. Paul writes in Colossians “For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him.” (1:16)
We can interpret this to mean Jesus gives the breath of life. The verse from John concludes with, “this life is the light of the human race.” Jesus gives life and this life reflects the radiance of God, it is a light that shines God, reminding humans they are created in the image of God, “God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26) We can imagine then that Jesus is the breath of life, creator of all, the source of life. Life is bestowed on us through breath, spirit and the one who is the gift of life in Jesus.
We see Jesus receiving the Spirit and Jesus giving the spirit, or breath to all living humans. This breath, this spirit animates our lives. Without it we are just bones that can do nothing, an image we understand from the Prophet Ezekiel. The Lord led Ezekiel to a valley filled with bones and in one particular passage we read, “Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Listen! I will make breath enter you so you may come to life.” (Ezekiel 37:5) And the text goes on to describe bones coming back to life; sinews, flesh and breath come unto them as they return to life.
It is a powerful prophecy, one that is used when Jesus dies on the cross and descends to the dead to restore them to life. Jesus gives life to those already dead as he gives life to all who die knowing him. This is Jesus saving mission. Jesus in all manner of speaking is the gift of life. We see the “ruah” of Jesus given to humanity to bring them to life. With out the breath of God we would have no life.
Jesus the gift of life
We look at Jesus as a gift because Jesus is a gift from God so that we may have life. Jesus gives us life through breath, and spirit through his death and resurrection. Beyond life Jesus is a great teacher that makes all things in life better. We get life from Jesus whether we ask for it or not, everyone born receives the breath of life. Once we live we should choose Jesus to give a life we will love and make us people who can bring a joy filled life to others. There are many ways in which we are family, through the common breath of God, through the adoption of our Father, through communion with Jesus. As family we should live for each other, which is the example of Jesus the gift of life.