5 Lent

Isa. 43:16-21Ps. 126Phil. 3:4b-14John 12:1-8

Given enough time and prophetic inspiration, the Egyptians, with their horses, chariots, and army of warriors, become something other than an objective human enemy. To be sure, the prophet employs the old story to tell of God’s intervention in delivering his people from Babylon, but the command to forget prior and ancient events in the face of something radically new suggests that Egypt in all its power is now a symbol of what God’s elect must themselves leave behind. They are washed under the weight of the sea, tossed in the torrent of crashing water. Their chariots and horses are dragged down. Crushed and snuffed out, there is nothing left, no people to save, or so it seems. Forget your prior things; pay no attention to ancient wonders. “Behold, I make new” (Isa. 43:19).

The past is never really past, and yet its grip can be weakened. “Behold, we have left everything and followed you” (Mark 10:28). God creates a garden again, putting a path in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, blessing not only his elect but the wild jackals and ostriches, the beasts that, with their human partners, give all honor and praise to whom it is due. God is glorified in the people and the plants and the beasts, in the dusty path and the rolling rivers. Everything and everyone, added together and seasoned with grace, shines with radiant newness.

Some of the past we want to throw away. Guilt and shame lodge deep in memory and resist shedding, though we want to be free. Strangely, even goodness and achievement and public respect can become a burden, seeming to mandate a constant proof worthy of one’s status and esteem. The sense that “I am someone” may do little more than fuel fear, ambition, and anxiety. St. Paul was cut loose suddenly and miraculously from his prestige and social honor by the inexhaustible grace of God. His pedigree: circumcised, a member of Israel, from the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew, zealous of the law, persecutor of the church, blameless. What is this but a body of death? Does God care?

“Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ” (Phil. 3:7). Paul does not thereby deny his past or his position. He simply acknowledges that it is nothing compared to the unsurpassing value of knowing Christ. He does not want a righteousness of his own that he must prove again and again by zeal and force. Rather, he wants righteousness through faith in Christ — or, in an even more compelling translation, through the faith of Christ. For grace is ever prevenient.

Although made righteous by the faithfulness of Christ, Paul is still on his way, as are all who have put on the Lord Jesus Christ. We forget what lies behind and press on to what lies ahead, toward the goal of the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:13-14). But how?

The hortatory section begins, the daring claim that we ought to do something. Consider this: (1) Walk in full awareness that you have been raised from the dead. Christ rose and you rose with him. (2) Everywhere there is some service to do, some goodness, some obligation, some kindness. It is very near you. (3) Let down your hair (imagine), bow to the ground, take the flask of ointment, pour it on his feet, wipe them with your hair, take in the fragrant beauty. You are raised and called to service and called to love (John 12:1-8). Press on.

Look It Up
Read Ps. 126. Like those who dream.

Think About It
Consider past sorrows and old victories. It all runs out. And yet there remains the unsurpassing value of knowing Christ.


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