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Lent 1, Cycle B (2015)

God lovingly calls his people in various ways for response while providing comfort and joy. The theme and texts for this Sunday testify to God’s love and the comfort that affords in bad times (Sin and Justification by Grace).


Psalm 25:1-10
This is a lament song attributed to David, which is a prayer for deliverance from personal enemies. We are reminded again that it is unlikely that David is the author of the psalms attributed to him (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 512). This psalm is also acrostic, which as we have noted entails that each line begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The artificial pattern may contribute to the absence of a clear logical structure to this psalm. It begins with a cry for help, a plea not to be put to shame. It may be that part of the psalmist’s shame is that he has not yet received a response from Yahweh Elohim (vv. 1-3; cf. 22:2-8; 69:17). The lesson includes a confession of sin and prayer for forgiveness. Yahweh is said to be a God of mercy and steadfast love [chesed] or compassion (vv. 6-7). The affirmation of Justification by Grace includes a concern with the practice of the religious life (Sanctification). It seems that the forgiven sinner is led/taught [yarah] the way [derek] by God (vv. 5, 8-9). This is guidance by God, not a legalistic command (Leo Trepp, Judaism: Development and Life, p. 2).

Application: A sermon on this text invites reflection on how our loving God is always ready to deliver us from tough times (Sin and Justification). When we are uncertain about what to do or what comes next, God provides loving guidance (Sanctification).


Genesis 9:8-17
Like all five books of the Pentateuch, this Book of Origins is probably the product of several distinct literary traditions. This one is just comprised of three strands: (1) J, a ninth/tenth-century BC source, so named for its use of the Jahweh or Yahweh (translated “Lord”); (2) E, an eighth-century BC source named for its use of the divine name Elohim; and (3) P or Priestly source, dated from the sixth-century BC. The lesson seems to be the work of the P source. It recounts part of God’s covenant with Noah after the flood. The covenant [berith] is not just with Noah and his progeny (with human beings) but with every living creature (vv. 8-10). Unlike later covenants, this one is truly universal, including all human beings since Noah’s sons are said to be ancestors of all nations (9:8-19; 10) and all living things.
Preservation of the natural order from a flood or the powers of chaos is pledged (vv. 11, 15). (In the worldview of Genesis [1-2] and its P tradition, water is associated with chaos.) A rainbow will function as a sign of this covenant (vv. 12, 16-17). Ancients imagined the rainbow as a weapon of the divine warrior from which the lightning of arrows were shot (see Psalm 7:12-13; Habakkuk 3:9-11; Lamentations 2:4) but by locating the bow in the clouds this seemed to be a visible sign that God had removed his wrath and threats to the earth.

Application: This lesson opens the way to sermons on the beauty of nature (Creation and Providence) as testimonies to the love and care of God, stimulating both joy (Sanctification) and renewed ecological appreciation (Social Ethics).


1 Peter 3:18-21
The lesson is found in a pastoral exhortation (circular letter) by an elder in Rome (claiming to be Peter) to Gentile churches in Turkey (1:1; 5:1). Probably written between 70 AD and 90 AD, the later date and high-quality Greek makes it unlikely to have been written by the apostle. Exactly what then the connection of the epistle to Peter might mean is a matter of much debate in the academy. The letter offers comfort and advice to Christians who are suffering persecution (2:19-24; 3:14-15; 4:12-19). Romans expected Christians, like practitioners of other foreign religions, to practice immorality and insubordination to patriarchal social relationships. In response, the epistle calls for imitating Christ by doing good and maintains the typical Roman social order.

While counseling readers about their suffering, the author begins the lesson by noting that Christ also suffered. His suffering was for sin, bringing hearers to God. This was done once for all. Testimony to the resurrection is given (v. 18). Christ is said to have made proclamation to those in prison [phulake] (perhaps to the dead in hell). Reference is made to the proclamation being made to those who did not obey during the building of the ark prior to the flood (vv. 19-20). The point seems to be that the cosmic Lord conquers all disobedience. Baptism is said to save [soza, keep sound], as an appeal to God for good conscience [suneidesis, a knowing of oneself] (vv. 20-21). Christ has gone to glory in heaven, at the Father’s right hand (v. 22). In Hebraic thinking, the right hand is the place of power and honor of a ruler (Psalm 110:1).

Application: This is another opportunity to proclaim God’s astounding and persistent love (Justification by Grace) in face of the suffering and sense of abandonment many, like recipients of this epistle, feel today (Sin). His unwillingness to lose anyone or any relationship is evident in the comfort we have from our own baptisms (they keep us sound, the Greek phrase affirms) and from the inviting image of Christ even pursuing his people in hell (Atonement and Eschatology).


Mark 1:9-15
Again we consider a text in the first of the Synoptic Gospels to be written, a book that was perhaps the source of other gospels, perhaps based on oral traditions of the Passion narrative and accounts of Jesus’ sayings (the so-called Q-source). Probably written prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, this anonymous work is traditionally ascribed to John Mark, perhaps referred to as an associate of Paul (Acts 12:12-25, 15:37; Colossians 4:10) or as Peter’s scribe (1 Peter 5:13). Some speculate that the original audience was the church in Rome (especially Gentiles), as it presumes readers unfamiliar with Jewish customs and Palestinian geography (see 7:2-4, 31), but it also could have been written for Palestinian Christians.

The lesson narrates Jesus’ baptism (vv. 9-11), his temptation in the wilderness (vv. 12-13), and the beginning of his ministry (vv. 14-15), accounts appearing in all the gospels (except that John with his stress on Jesus’ divinity omits Jesus’ temptation and in Matthew [3:14-16] John is portrayed as more reluctant to do the Baptism than in the other gospels). While baptized, the heavens are torn apart (an apocalyptic image signifying divine disclosure [Isaiah 64:1]) and the Spirit [pneuma] descends on Jesus like a dove (vv. 9-10). A voice from heaven proclaims him God’s Son [huios] (v. 11). References to Jesus being “beloved” [agapetos] here could connote Jesus’ chosenness (cf. Isaiah 42:1). The Spirit then drives Jesus into the wilderness for forty days where Satan tempts him. The forty days in the wilderness is reminiscent of Exodus 34:28. He was with wild beats and angels are said to wait on [diakonia, served] him (vv. 12-13). Jesus’ interactions with the wild animals could suggest that in him the paradisiacal condition of harmony of all living things existing before the fall is restored (Genesis 1:28, 2:19-20; Isaiah 11:6-9, 65:17-25). Many more details of Jesus’ temptation are provided by the other synoptics (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). Mark then reports that after John the Baptist’s arrest, Jesus begins proclaiming God’s good news (v. 14). It is summarized as a call to repentance [metanoia] and eschatological urgency concerning the coming kingdom of God [basilieai tou theou] (v. 15). This is likely the oldest, most historically authentic account of Jesus’ preaching.

Application: This text invites sermons on the good news of Realized Eschatology, the word that there is no time for procrastination as the kingdom of God is breaking into our present reality. Repenting in this way we can proceed with confidence because we have God’s assurance that Christ has traveled with us and has shared our temptations (Christology).

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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