Fourth Sunday of Lent – March 20, 2017

Jesus Calls Us from Sinful Selfishness to Selfless Service

These are the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent.

God’s Word for This Week

Jesus calls us from sinful selfishness to selfless service. We can view the world from the perspective of selfishness or selflessness. Selfishness puts self before all and leads to favoritism, pride, and envy. Repentance, however, means despairing of self, trusting in Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice, and leading lives of selfless service modeled after our Savior who came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for us.

Traditional First Lesson – Hosea 5:15-6:3

How had God threatened his people?

God threatened to turn away from his people because of their sin. Our
sins separate us from our God, and separation from God is described as
“misery” (5:15).

How did they respond? Was it what God wanted?

Let the reader consider the context of this lesson carefully. True repentance and selfless service are about more than saying the right words. On their face, this confession of Israel is beautiful, but at its heart it is empty. This is unrepentant Israel’s kind of “repentance.” The words sound nice, but there is no confession of guilt, God doesn’t receive it, and fruits don’t follow. This is a selfish “repentance” that is, in fact, merely made out of self-interest. True repentance leads to confession, trust, and fruits of selfless service that were absent in Israel (see 6:4-6).

Supplemental First Lesson – Genesis 37:1-11

What do we learn about the choice between selfishness or selflessness from Joseph?

The life of Joseph illustrates Jesus’ message that whoever wants to be first must be your slave. Selfishness led to Jacob’s favoritism and his sons’ jealousy. Selfishness led Jacob and his sons to such pride that they could not imagine God’s prophecy about Joseph coming true. Their selfishness forced Joseph into the role of slave and servant, yet God in his grace would save many people in spite of their sin. Sold into slavery and jailed unjustly, Joseph would trust in God and selflessly serve his fellow man. Ultimately, God brought the prideful low and raised up humble Joseph. In doing so, He both fulfilled his prophecy and also saved the family of God and countless others.

Second Lesson – Romans 8:1-10

Why are the opening words (verse 1) so triumphant?

Paul has already discoursed at length on the reality of sin and its
consequences as well as on God’s faithfulness and his gracious forgiveness
in Christ. As Christians, he acknowledged that we are still struggling daily
with the sinful nature that is part of us, but that we are being rescued
by Jesus Christ (7:21-25). Now the triumphant confidence naturally
follows: THERE IS NO CONDEMNATION FOR THOSE FOUND IN CHRIST! What a comfort. What a relief for sin-challenged Christians!

While the Law no longer condemns us, it still has a function. What is the Law’s purpose for us now? (verse 4)

The “righteous requirements of the law” speak not of achieving God’s
demanded perfection. Remember that there is no condemnation in Christ!
This use of the Law is referred to as the “guide” or “rule,” which we obey
out of love for God through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Gospel – Matthew 20:17-28

What was the “cup” of which Jesus spoke?

The cup was Jesus’ suffering and death, which he was headed to
Jerusalem to drink.

Why is pride such a dangerous sin?

It is incorrect to consider one sin more punishable than another, but
pride causes a person to ignore his need for spiritual help, and that can
be a damning mistake.

How do Jesus’ life and ministry provide a model for us?

Jesus revealed the plan of the Father to his disciples: The Son of God would leave his heavenly throne and selflessly give his freedom to his enemies, his body to the torturer, his life to the executioner in order that he might be our Savior. Rather than marveling at the depth of his love and self-sacrifice, the disciples argued about places of greatness in glory. The sons of Zebedee wanted to sit at the right and left of Jesus, but were only promised that they would join in drinking his cup. The other disciples were indignant, but not righteously so. Jesus corrected them, too. Followers of Jesus drink his cup and find greatness in selflessly serving others. For our motivation and our model, Christ points back to God’s plan for the Son of Man who came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.