Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Keep the Fast, Keep the Feast

I'm getting a little behind on keeping this blog updated. I planned on writing more on fasting through this Lenten season but this article by Peter Leithart will make up for what I am lacking considering it is one of the best pieces on fasting I have ever read. Here is a little excerpt:

Jesus is the Last Adam because He keeps the fast. He enters a world that is no longer a garden, but a howling waste, and in that wilderness Satan tempts Him to break the fast, to be an Adam: “You’re hungry; eat this now. You deserve the accolades of the crowds; you can have it now if you jump off the temple. You want all authority in heaven and on earth, but your Father won’t give that to you unless you suffer an excruciating, shameful death; you can have it all now, no cross or self-denial required. It’s yours, and you only need to do a bit of bowing. Life, glory, power, everything you want, everything you deserve—you can have it all now.”

Jesus refused, and refused, and then refused again, and in so doing broke the power of Adamic sin. Jesus kept the fast; he waited, labored, suffered, died, and then opened his hand to receive all the life, glory, honor, authority, and dominion that his Father had to give Him. He kept the fast and as a result was admitted to the fullness of the kingdom’s feast—because by that time both it and he were ready. And by resisting the devil, Jesus sets the pattern of true fasting and reveals a Lenten way of life.

You really should read the whole thing.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Don't Let Go Until He Blesses You

Excerpt from a sermon on Genesis 32

And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the day has broken." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." And he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then he said, "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed." Then Jacob asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered." The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh. (Gen. 32:24-32)
Jacob and the Wrestler went at it for hours. In the dark, it was hard to wrestle. They couldn’t see each others’ arms, legs, or heads. Twisting limbs around limbs, grabbing, pulling, pushing, grappling, holding... The details of this strange event are beyond us; we cannot conceive of them. Jacob met the Angel of the Lord first as an enemy of some kind, perhaps, but later saw Him as the only hope of his life and sought His blessing. Jacob gained the victory. He had struggled with God and with men, and had prevailed. The Angel of God gave him a new name, Israel. “Israel” means “Prince with God.” That’s what Jacob would be for now on, a prince, a king with God; a man of astounding wisdom. Jacob named the place Peniel, which means, “the face of God.” He had seen the Angel of God face to face. “Peniel”: I have seen God and lived to tell it.”

This encounter did result in an injury: Jacob limped. The dislocated hip hampered him for the rest of his life. Now he would really have to depend upon the Lord, and not in his own strength... After this crisis, this terrifying life-and-death struggle with the Angel of God, Jacob, now a man named Israel, became a warrior, and limped his way to great things. He reconciled with his brother Esau. The twins embraced and it turned out well. Israel led his family to settle in Canaan. Later he became the spiritual leader of Egypt under his son Joseph, and he remained the spiritual leader of the chosen people.

Like Jacob, we must seek God’s blessings and work and fight for them without ceasing. Don’t quit. This is a lesson we should learn. If you are doing a good work for the Lord, if you are struggling in a marriage, if you are feeling exhausted in your prayer and Bible-reading, don’t quit. Jacob shows us that it is dumb to quit. A few days ago a 34-year-old husband and father of three lost his house in the housing crisis. He committed suicide. He quit. Think of the pain he has caused his wife and children.

What do you do in times like these? You cling tighter than ever to God and to his promises. All of Jacob’s strength, even his strength to walk, had to be broken down. Sometimes God takes away everything you have in order that you not rely on your own strength and power, but in the strength and power of the Lord. All Jacob could do was cling to God and seek a blessing from Him. Are you going through a struggle? Do what Jacob did.

Another lesson Jacob teaches us is this: life can be tough. When God adopts you into His family, it doesn’t guarantee a comfortable existence. God may assault you in the night, and if that happens, you will pass through a dark night of the soul. Are you ready to wrestle with God? Do you have doubts about God’s goodness and justice? God may seem like an opponent to you. Do you trust Him enough to cling to Him through thick and thin? Jacob endured a life of rejection from his father and brother. He suffered 20 years of cheating and dishonesty from Laban his uncle. He faced the greatest crisis when the Wrestler took him on at Peniel. But he came out of it with the blessing. He emerged a wise and mature man. God will bring you through great crises and trauma to make you wise, mature, and holy. Try to see your trials in terms of what occurred to Jacob.

Lastly, we should link Jacob’s struggle at Peniel with the cross of Jesus. [These last two paragraphs are basically a quote from Iain Duguid’s Living in the Grip of Relentless Grace, pp. 115-6.] On the cross God the Son endured the agonizing assault of God the Father so that grace and blessing might flow out to His people. Having completed His wrestling with man throughout his earthly life, Jesus Christ wrestled with God on our behalf. He wrestled with God in the garden, crying out, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Mt. 26:39). Jesus wrestled with God on the cross, in that awful moment when He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46). The outcome of His wrestling was not merely that He was crippled in the hip; He was wounded and flogged and crucified and burdened down with the whole weight of our transgressions. But Jesus clung to God and would not let Him go unless He received a blessing – not a blessing for Himself but a blessing for us, His people. Through his faithful clinging to the Father, He prevailed over sin and death, and as a result He has been given the name above every name.”

Jesus is the true Israel, the one who has struggled with God and struggled with men and has overcome. You become part of the Israel of God as you are united to Christ, participating in His struggles and suffering as well as in His victory. Jesus struggled on the cross not so that you and I might never have to struggle but so that your struggles might be fruitful, bringing about wisdom, maturity, holiness, making you more like Him (Phil 3:10-11). It is in your struggles and suffering that you are finally taught to abandon your self-dependence and look to the cross, clinging to God alone for blessing. When you fear God, you will have nothing else to fear. Come to him with all your strength, and you will find that He will not let you go.

Sunday, March 1, 2009