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First Sunday in Lent, Cycle C

A unifying factor present in all four of these texts selected for Lent 1 in Series C is the concept of deliverance. According to Psalm 91, the person who trusts in the Lord will be delivered from all danger. In the Deuteronomy 26 confession of faith it is said that the Lord (the God of our Fathers) heard our voice when we were slaves in Egypt and rescued us. The temptation account in Luke 4:1-13 has Jesus demonstrate that if you worship the Lord your God (as perceived by the Israelites, the Jews, and the early followers of Jesus) and serve only the Lord, you will be delivered from the power of the devil. Finally, in Romans 10:8-13 Paul wrote that if you confess with your lips and believe in your heart that Jesus the Risen Christ is Lord, you will be saved.

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

This well-known psalm that extols the wisdom of trusting in the Lord God Almighty was obviously chosen for Lent 1, Series C, because Psalm 91:11-12 was quoted by the “devil” in the Luke 4:1-13 temptation of Jesus account, our Gospel reading for next Sunday, illustrating how the Scriptures can be misused when the wrong person quotes them in the wrong way! It is apparent that Psalm 91 in its historical setting in ancient Israel was not referring specifically to Jesus who would be born hundreds of years later, but to anyone who would be wise enough to trust God completely. Certainly the Jesus of history was not to enjoy the “long life” promised in verse 16; neither was the Jesus of history rescued (v. 15) from death on the Roman cross.

Psalm 91 shares the thought in verses 11-12 that was further developed within the Zoroastrian religion of angels guarding faithful people. Although we would certainly support the wisdom of unconditional trust in the Lord God Almighty, there is well-documented evidence that in spite of this trust Jews were tortured and killed by their Seleucid adversaries at the time of the Maccabean revolt, Jesus was tortured and then died on a Roman cross, first-century followers of Jesus were torn to pieces by hungry lions and tigers from Africa for the amusement of decadent Romans, millions of Jews of all age groups were starved, gassed, and slaughtered by the Nazis, and the practice of torture of prisoners continues in the world today. Perhaps we should recognize that ultimately with God there is salvation for the faithful, but that penultimately “the angels” have been known to fail us.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Perhaps Gerhard von Rad in his Old Testament Theology I (New York: Harper & Row, 1962) overestimated the importance of this great offering response in the formation of Israel’s traditions. Nevertheless, we can learn from it not only how Israelites and Jews have perceived the Exodus as a saving act but also how the offering should function liturgically as a central focal point in active worship. Offering, confession of faith, and proclamation through word and sacrament are closely related elements. Nothing is more “dead” liturgically than our “time for the collection.” We should return to the earlier Israelite and Christian practice of bringing our own gifts and offerings to the altar with joy, grief, or whatever emotion may be appropriate.

Luke 4:1-13

As we search for new meanings in this temptation of Jesus account, we become aware that there is almost certainly a subtle anti-Roman cryptogram (often now called a “hidden transcript”) within the three temptations of Jesus in this account. Only the Roman Emperor was the “devil” who had authority over all of the known kingdoms of the mid-first century world of the followers of Jesus. Only the Roman Emperor at that time, via the powerful Roman Civil Religion, was demanding that all of the people within that empire bow down in submission to him and to his authority. Faced with this challenge, conscientious followers of Jesus found comfort and gained courage to resist that idolatry from this story about how Jesus had rejected the claims and demands of this Satan, this devil, and they asserted with Jesus that “You shall worship the Lord your God, and God only shall you serve!” With this bold assertion, Jesus and many other first-century Jews and followers of Jesus took the way of the cross. For us also, we shall worship and serve only the Lord our God and no one nor any thing else. That is the way of ultimate deliverance.

Romans 10:8b-13

For Paul, as a Jew, Adonai was Lord and no one who would believe in Adonai as Lord would ever be put to shame. For the Apostle Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus the Risen Christ, Jesus as the Risen Christ was also Lord and all who would believe that Jesus the Risen Christ is Lord would be delivered, saved from sin, death, and the power of the “devil,” whether the devil was perceived as the Roman Emperor or any other personification of evil. With great boldness and excitement Paul proclaimed that now there is no longer any important distinction between Jewish background and non-Jewish background followers of Jesus, because the same Lord (whether Adonai or Jesus the Risen Christ) is Lord of all, of Jewish background and of non-Jewish background followers of Jesus who will believe that God has raised the Jesus of history from the dead as Lord of all. Paul was thrilled by the insight that now Jewish background and non-Jewish background followers of Jesus could be together within the same olive tree (Romans 11:17-24). Paul, and others among early followers of Jesus, with the reluctant consent of Peter and of James, the brother of Jesus, in Jerusalem, brought Adonai and Jesus the Risen Christ together as one Lord and eventually most Christians have followed them. Marcion during the mid-second century CE and other followers of Jesus who have separated Jesus from Adonai as Marcion separated them, have taken a different path. Let us take the path of Paul.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen