Lent 2B


Exegetical Notes

Mark 8:31-38

Initial Thoughts

  • Passage has been used to keep people in bondage of suffering in abusive relationships. The words “take up thy cross,” can be a powerful tool of abuse. This doesn’t mean we need to abandon the language, but we need to be careful, and understand the ways Jesus’ words have been used for evil.

Bible Study

  • Literary Context

    • Come immediately after Jesus asking, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter proclaims “You are the Christ.” The part about Peter’s name being changed is not here. That already happened, without any fanfare, in Mark 3:16.

    • Comes immediately before the Transfiguration, which was two weeks ago.

    • Begins a new phase of Mark. Up until now, things were going relatively smoothly. There were miracles, healings, feedings. There has been some conflict, but nothing too serious. From here on, things turn darker. After Transfiguration, there are conflicts, arguments, and Jesus predicts his death two more times.

    • In all the Gospels, this is a part of a much larger story that is a transition. By Jesus’ own words, the story from here leads to the Cross.

    • After this, we leave Mark in the lectionary until Palm Sunday (if you do Palm Sunday)

      • John 2:13-22 Jesus cleanses the Temple

      • John 3:14-21 Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be born again

      • John 12:20-33 Jesus teaches about his death

    • All three synoptic Gospels tie these events together (it’s kind of too bad the lectionary doesn’t):

      • Peter says “You are the Christ.”

      • Jesus predicts his death, Peter rebukes Jesus. Jesus rebukes Peter (not in Luke)

      • Jesus teaches about saving and losing your life - All must “take up their cross,”

      • Transfiguration

      • Jesus heals a boy.

      • Prediction about death/arrest

  • Alternating Private/Public words

    • Public: Prediction of death and resurrection

    • Private: Exchange with Peter.

    • Public: Lose life to gain it.

  • Prediction of death and resurrection

    • Begs questions: “How much did Jesus know?” or “Was it Jesus’ mission to die?”

      • High Christology: Jesus knew from start exactly what was happening, and death on the cross was his mission from day one.

      • Low Christology: Jesus knew that the things he was teaching were not going to be tolerated. He knew, even provoked, conflict that led to his death, but the teaching and community he built was the mission, not his death.

      • Answering this determines much about the rest of Lent, and the way we see Resurrection.

      • If mission was to die, then it could be argued that resurrection is superfluous.

    • Failure of the disciples

      • Three first of three passion predictions

      • Each is followed by a failure of the disciples

        • Peter's rebuke

        • Who is the greatest

        • James and John arguing who sits at the right hand

      • Reveals the difficult of the church to accept a crucified Christ

  • Exchange with Peter

    • Peter just made the declaration that Jesus is the Christ.

    • He’s about to tag along on Transfiguration

    • In between, he’s Satan.

    • “Get behind me” is in direct opposition to “Come after me,” which is what Jesus told Peter to do when they first met.

    • Peter’s mistake is in stepping out of order. Jesus demands that he “get back in line,” or simply, “let me lead.”

    • Satan, or ‘tempter,’ is briefly mentioned in Mark 1. Peter here is tempting Jesus to let up, to do less than what he was called to do.

  • Lose life to gain it

Sermon Thoughts

  • When do we feel temptation to take the easy road? When we’re called to a difficult task, there is inevitably a time when we wonder if it is worth it. We start to think of plan B, or some way to sneak away. I saw a poster a long time ago that said “The workout begins the moment you want to quit.” In a way, Jesus ministry really begins when he is first tempted to take the easy way out. Instead he reminds everyone that his path does in fact head straight for the cross.

  • The lie of redemptive violence (the idea that violence is a good and appropriate response to evil) permeates nearly every part of our culture: from cartoons (think Popeye, Bugs Bunny or Wile E. Coyote) to celebrity twitter battles, to bullying, to how we teach US history, to how we interpret the cross. The cross does not justify violence. In dying on the cross Jesus breaks the cycles of violence and refuses to participate in the myth of redemptive violence. The idea that one would not “strike back” is so radical that the disciples cannot wrap their minds around it. Later the church uses the cross to perpetuate the myth (blood atonement theology) instead of declaring that violence is NEVER redemptive. The idea that we can solve the world’s problems through violence leads us further down the road of nuclear weapons, domestic abuse, and school shootings. It is time to stop the cycles of violence - even if it means our own deaths - to take up our cross and begin to truly follow Jesus.

Genesis 17:1-16

Initial Thoughts

  • Continuation of the Covenant OT Lent series

  • I prefer Gen 12:1-3...More about trusting God than genital mutilation

  • v. 8-14 are about sealing the covenant with circumcision - must be included as it is humanities half of the covenant

Bible Study

  • God calls Abram in chapter 12, but the Covenant is not formally established until now

  • God’s action- God initiates the covenant with us

    • The word Covenant (Berith in Hebrew) appears 13 times in 17:2-22

    • implicit covenant: “walk before God and be blameless”

    • God’s promise is to Abraham and his offspring - does that include us? According to Paul (in the passage for today Romans 4) it does

  • God’s Promise:

    • Multitude of Nations

    • Fertility

    • Land of Canaan

  • Abraham’s Promise:

    • Circumcision - this is Abraham’s side of the covenant...not faithfulness, not love God and neighbor, but circumcision.

    • El Shaddai is a title given by the P or priestly writers in a context of exile and post exile

      • rebuilding- revealing the everlasting promises of God, lifting up evidence that God has not abandoned God’s people

      • Important for people who have seen the destruction of the temple and the loss of the land that God’s covenant was made before the conquest and temple and is everlasting (v. 8-9)

    • Circumcision calls for the embodiment of covenant- how might we embody our faithfulness to God?

    • Christians are “circumcised” through baptism - i.e. baptism is a sign of our covenant- but Baptism is not enfleshed as much as it is in-spirited. Does this matter?

  • Names:

    • God is given a new name: el Shaddai  - God Almighty - this is the first time this name is used for God.

      • Also translated as “God of the Mountains” (Craig Kocher, Feasting on the Word)

    • Abram (High Father) becomes Abraham (Father of Many)

    • Sarai (Princess of a family “lit. my princess) becomes Sarah (Princess of a nation)

    • Names are linked to the Covenant- Abram and Sarai cease being a couple or individuals but now are known through their relationship to a promised community and nation. Sarai will be Sarah the princess of a nation and Abram goes from being a childress “father” to Abraham the father of nations. How will this happen (v. 17) God Almighty (el Shaddai has promised it)

    • Being named by God inherently places God over Abram and Sarai - they are called to serve God not be served

Sermon Thoughts

  • Abram and Sarai are called into covenant as elderly persons. God does not write them off but seems in them the promise and parenthood of a priestly kingdom and holy nation - do we honor the elderly in our congregations as much as God does? God works in and through the elderly much more than the young - yet we choose to focus on the young (often at the expense of the elderly)

  • Are names still important? What is in a name? Do we expect people to live up to their names? What about our churches? Think of you community’s name- does it live up to that name? Should it? If God were to rename your community- what would God name it?

  • Circumcision calls for the embodiment of covenant- how might we embody our faithfulness to God? Traditionally Christians are “circumcised” through Baptism - but how else might we be covenanted enfleshed

Romans 4:13-25

Initial Thoughts

  • Once again, the epistle acts as glue between Gospel and Hebrew Bible. Genesis text about Abram’s covenant, and Jesus’ teaching about his own crucifixion and the cost of discipleship are tied together by Paul’s teaching about the covenant of faith.

  • “Starting at 4:13 is like walking into a room where an intense and detailed conversation has been going on for some time. Consequently, a consideration of its context in Romans is important.” (Arland Hultgren, Working Preacher)

Bible Study

  • Literary Context

    • “In the preceding verses (Romans 3:31-4:12) we learn that Abraham is our father in the faith. In these verse we learn how he is our father in such faithfulness.” (Paul Achtemeier, Interpretation: Romans, p. 81, emphasis is the author’s).

    • “Chapter 4 continues what has been said in 3:21-31, in which Paul (1) sets forth the gospel of justification by faith apart from works of the law and (2) maintains that, since that is so, no one can boast about being able to obtain justification by works of the law, and that applies to both Jew and Gentile believers. Then in chapter 4 itself Paul takes up the story of Abraham as a proof that justification is by faith, not works. After all, he says, the great patriarch Abraham was justified by faith, not by observing works of the law. He was justified while he was technically still a Gentile, since he was declared justified (Genesis 15:6) prior to being circumcised (Genesis 17:10-27). Moreover, the law of Moses was not given until many years (centuries, in fact) after Abraham was declared righteous, so he could not have been justified by doing works of the law.”  (Arland Hultgren, Working Preacher)

  • Abraham

    • “Lines of grace converge in Abraham. He is the origin of God’s promise of grace to humankind, God’s answer to the ravages of human evil outlined in Genesis 3-11. In Abraham, God undertakes a new beginning, calling Abraham out of his familiar and secure surroundings to begin a pilgrimage founded on trust in the God who led him out.” (Paul Achtemeier, Interpretation: Romans, p. 81).

    • Abraham comes after a long line of human failures. Abraham is the living reminder that God seeks humanity even when humanity fails to see God.

      1. Israel’s history is full of failure to trust. This in no way diminishes the covenant that was first made in Abraham.

      2. Hosea is a poignant story about the loss of trust that humanity has earned. This however, does not break the covenant.

    • “His faith was “credited to him as righteousness,” says Paul in Romans 4:3, quoting directly from Genesis 15:6. That happened years before he was ever circumcised and centuries before the Torah was given to Israel to obey. So, it wasn’t his circumcision or his law keeping that made him righteous. It was his faith, simply his faith, that was credited to him as righteousness. Anybody who trusts God the way Abraham did, whether they are Jew or Gentile, will receive the same credit. He is the “father of us all.” I’ve oversimplified Paul’s argument here,” (Stan Mist, Center for Excellence in Preaching)

  • Jesus does not supercede the covenant with Abraham. Jesus opens up the covenant to all people.

    • Israel’s failure to remain faithful does not condemn them to no relationship with God any more than our sin condemns us.

    • “Trust which Abraham displays allows God to room to work. Such trust is confident that the God who gives his promise is also powerful enough to fulfill it… It is a call to do those good things within the framework of trust in the God who bases his promises on grace, and fulfills them in the same way in Jesus Christ. It is that kind of trust, Paul concludes, that put Abraham on the right track with God.” (Paul Achtemeier, Interpretation: Romans, p. 81, emphasis is the author’s).

Preaching Thoughts

  • Abraham is the first case of prevenient grace. Before he did anything to earn it, he had God’s love. He was used by God before the covenant, before the Law, before even knowing God. He was not perfect, but he was used by God to do impossible things. He was strengthened by faith:

    • “Abraham’s faith is the example for us. “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised.” This NIV translation covers a very helpful hint for growing in faith. The Greek says, he “was strengthened in his faith, giving glory to God.” There is no conjunction there; “giving glory” is a participial phrase, telling us how he was strengthened in his faith. His faith grew as he gave glory to God, as he refused to dwell on the hopelessness of his situation and focused instead on the power of God. That’s how faith is strengthened.” (Stan Mist, Center for Excellence in Preaching)

  • To take up your cross and follow Jesus is a daunting task. So is starting a nation and being a blessing to the world at age 99. It was through faith that Abraham achieved these things, and it is through faith that we achieve Jesus’ command. Abraham trusted God to fulfill God promise - which he didn’t earn. This is the same calling for Christians - to trust God to use us to fulfill God’s promise - which we didn’t earn. We are justified by faith, and in so doing, we are joining in Abraham’s lineage of faith in Yahweh.


Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (psalmimmersion.com,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Paul and Storm for our closing music (“Oh No”).