Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Devotional for the Thirty-Second Day of Lent

Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
 so that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord: that he looked down from his holy height,
 from heaven the Lord looked at the earth, 
to hear the groans of the prisoners,
 to set free those who were doomed to die; 
so that the name of the Lord may be declared in Zion,
 and his praise in Jerusalem, 
when peoples gather together,
 and kingdoms, to worship the Lord. (Psalm 102:18-22)

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.’ He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him. (John 6:66-71)

My office is in a business complex that is shared by a vocational training school. Many of the students are training to work in the field of nursing. You can tell who they are, because at their break times they gather outside, wearing their green scrubs, and smoke cigarettes with their teachers. I marvel at this. With all the research that has emerged over the last few decades about the health hazards associated with cigarettes, you would think that young people preparing for careers in health care would have caught onto that reality. One would hope that the succeeding generations would grasp this better than their forebears, but apparently that isn’t the case.

The psalmist continues to lament Israel’s adversity, but also hopes that future generations will learn of God’s faithfulness and respond in a way that avoids the disasters of those who have gone before them. He dreams of descendants who have not yet come into the world, who will not bend the knee to idols or engage in acts of injustice and oppression, but instead will praise the Lord.

I wonder if Jesus thought about this Psalm during the events that were recorded in John 6. He has pressed the people who have been following him—people who have considered themselves to be his disciples—by speaking of the hard realities of truly being God’s people. Many of them, while enjoying his miraculous works, didn’t much care for the real life of following Jesus, and they took off. The only ones remaining were his original twelve disciples, including Judas. So, while Jesus still has followers, a band of men who represent all of Israel, there is still danger in the ranks.

Again, it is God’s faithfulness to his people and to the world that comes to the forefront. Judas, along with the others, were an answer to Jesus’ prayer when he his out in the wilderness for forty days. Jesus prays for those who would follow him, and he gets Judas. To be fair, he also gets Peter, who chickens out at the end, and Thomas, who is cynical about the resurrection. In their frailty and confusion, these twelve represent all of God’s people to Jesus. They are the psalmist’s future generation of hope. But God remains faithful to them, even in their failure.

This is good for us to remember. Each successive generation simultaneously responds to and reacts against God. The various factions of the church continue to reflect faithfulness and worship while simultaneously acting out in brokenness and sin. We can be a bi-polar people, just like those who have gone before us.

In John 17, Jesus prays, ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me’ (vv. 20-21).

Jesus prays this prayer, and he gets us.

Lord, have mercy.

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