March 14, 2015

God’s Love Frees Us From the Spiritual Prison of Our Desires (Lent 4 Readings)

Lent is a time of self-examination and spiritual cleansing as we prepare for the great celebration of Easter. Self-examination is not designed to make us feel guilty or bad. Self-examination is meant to free us from feelings of guilt and shame that prevent us from living a life of joy. The Good News is that “…God so loved the world that he gave His only son so that all that believed in Him might have eternal life.” It is hard for us to grasp how great the love of God is. It includes all people of all races and religions. It is like a father who loves his children enough to do whatever it takes to rescue his children from their mistakes and restore them to a right relationship.
·         The Readings teach us how this works – how God has provided a way through Jesus Christ to pay the price for our sins and restore us to right relationship.
·         Sin – any rebellion against God’s law of love is very serious and can lead to the death of our personal spirit and soul
·         God is holy and pure and nothing unholy can survive in His presence
·         Spiritual dimension specific & legalistic – sin must be paid for by death
·         Good news is God allows Jesus to pay the price for our specific sins

1. The Hebrew People wanted more than manna

The First Reading (Numbers 21.4-9) is an example of how we can fail to respond to God’s love and put ourselves in the spiritual prison of covetousness – wanting more, i/e. Materialism. They were in the desert. There was no food other than the manna that God provided daily. They became bored and restless. They rebelled – sinned against God’s love.

  • Did not realize that God was testing them and molding them into a religious nation, a kingdom of priests. Psalm 107 says "…they became fools through their rebellious ways…" (v.17).
  • They forgot about the miraculous things God had done for them. They forgot they depended on God for everything and rebelled.
  • Instead of focusing on God, they began to focus on what they did not have. They remembered some of the good things about their time of slavery, particularly the food.
  • Became more self-centered and less God-centered.
This is the gradual process of putting oneself in the spiritual prison of personal desires. Those desires grow stronger and stronger, until they become controlling. When they control a person, it is like they have put that person in a mental prison

2. Our desire for more can lead to the death of our spiritual life
The Apostle Paul explains it very dramatically. He tells the Christians in Ephesus that before they accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour "…you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient" Ephesians 2.1).
·         This is a ‘before statement’ – the original, normal state of human life
·         They were dead spiritually in their sin – separated from God
·         No hope of eternal spiritual life with God – these are good Jews!
·         They were (unwittingly) under the spiritual power of Satan
·         They were ruled by their desires – materialism, power, control
  • Like us they had put themselves in the prison of their own desires.
3. The Good News is that God loves us and provides a way to escape
In the Old Testament Reading, we read about the consequences of the desire of the Hebrew people for better food. God removed His protection and they were attacked and bitten by poisonous snakes. The penalty for rebellion is always death. In this case the people repented, came to Moses and God arranged for a way to save them from the consequence of death. They were to go and look at a pole with a bronze snake on it. This is the same symbol used by medical people in our time. The point was that the Hebrew people had to repent – die to their desire for rebellion; and recognize the authority of God in the form of the snake on the pole. We can think of the snake as evil; and evil being put to death on a pole. This is of course a foreshadowing of Jesus on the Cross – dying for our personal sins out of love for us personally..

4. Paul explains how God’s love works to free us from sin guilt
But, because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” (Eph. 2.4) This is the hinge of human history. This is the Good News we are to proclaim. We need to know exactly what this Good News is.
·         We are made alive “with Christ “– not apart from relationship with Him
·         Relationship depends on knowing about Jesus through Bible Study
·         Relationship depends on coming to know Him through public worship, personal prayer and experience of the Holy Spirit
·         Baptism is our entry into this relationship
·    Baptism requires renunciation of Satan and our rebellion and turning to Jesus Christ in faith as our personal Saviour – saved individually
·         Baptism requires continuing in the prayers and fellowship of church
·         We are not saved by works – we are totally dependent on grace

Just as the Hebrew people had to go to God for forgiveness and healing; Christians take their sins - the things that could lead to their spiritual death; to the Cross of Jesus for forgiveness and healing. Just as the Hebrews had to acknowledge the authority of God to be healed; Christians have to acknowledge the authority of Jesus as personal Lord and Saviour to be forgiven and healed. Notice it does not say "know about Jesus". It says "believe in Jesus". This is the essence of our faith. Like the ancient Hebrews we must put our trust in Jesus and the promise that those who ask for forgiveness and healing will be forgiven and healed. This is how we get out of the prison of our desires. This is how we go from being 'dead in our trespasses' to being spiritually alive and inheritors of eternal spiritual life.

Thanks be to God who loves us and rescues us from the prison of our desires!

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