16th February 2021 - Canvey Methodist Church Bible Studies

Canvey Island Methodist Church Bible Study - 16th February 2021

Lent:

 

Reading-   Matthew 4:1-11

 

4Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.



 

Comment:

For the delight of gastronomes everywhere, today is Shrove Tuesday, otherwise known as Pancake Day. In our house the normal shrove Tuesday  conversation enlivening the pancake proceedings is usually about the choice of topping to have with the pancake; lemon juice, maple syrup, Golden Syrup, Marmalade, Honey, Jam Peanut butter, or a combination of various items of these! This year though, the conversation turned on whether we should have the traditional flat, roll up British pancakes as opposed to the thicker, smaller diameter American pancakes. In the end, we went for the American variety, following a recipe from TV’s Nadiya Hussain.

Although in these more secular times in the UK, Shrove Tuesday has become more of an excuse to make and eat large quantities of pancakes of all descriptions for their own sake, its original function was to serve as essential preparation for the Lenten period. The word “Shrove” is derived from the English word “shrive”, meaning to confess one’s sins and to obtain absolution. In the Methodist tradition, we come to Christ to confess our sins and to receive his forgiveness, but in doing so, we are mindful of the cost to Jesus of our salvation; no less than His death on the cross and resurrection to new life.

It is in this reflective spirit that we approach lent and the Easter period. Here both church tradition and the witness of Holy Scripture combine to speak of fasting and sacrifice beyond the feasting excesses of Shrove Tuesday.

Tomorrow is known as “Ash Wednesday”, the first day of Lent, when many Christians begin to mark its progress with daily Lenten devotions, and by making a Lenten sacrifice that they will not partake of until the arrival of Eastertide. Hence the notion of “giving up something for lent”. This period of fasting recalls Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil ahead of and in preparation for his ministry and work on earth. (Matthew 4:1-11). For us too, it can be a time of preparation for our service in the year that lies ahead.

 

Ash Wednesday gets its name from early traditions in the Christian Church in Rome, when penitents and sinners would partake in a period of public penance. During this, they were sprinkled with ashes and dressed in a sackcloth until they were reconciled with church-goers on Maundy Thursday.

Today, in some churches, this outward sign of repenting and believing in Jesus is marked by the placing of “repentance ashes” on the foreheads of participants along with the words spoken, "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" or the words, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (These ashes are prepared by burning palm leaves from the previous year's Palm Sunday celebrations).

 

Interestingly although the Bible does not mention Ash Wednesday by name or even the custom of Lent, it does say a lot about the need to repent (turning away from sin) and also of the importance of being sorry for the sin (or as the scripture puts it, “mourning in ashes”).  Examples of this are found both in the Old Testament, but also in the New Testament, and significantly from words spoken by Jesus himself!   

 

2 Samuel 13:19;

19 Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.

 

Esther 4:1;

4 When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.

 

Job 2:8;

8 Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

 

Daniel 9:3;

3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.

 

Matthew 11:21.

 

When Jesus saw towns full of people reject salvation even after he'd performed so many of his miracles there, he denounced them for not repenting:

"What sorrow awaits you, Korazin and Bethsaida! For if the miracles I did in you had been done in wicked Tyre and Sidon, their people would have repented of their sins long ago, in sackcloth and ashes.

 

Sadly, today, there would seem to be a tendency to treat sin, (or going in exactly the opposite way to God's intention for us), as being either a non existent or archaic moral artefact of the past or as being something that is completely inconsequential because “God is going to forgive us all anyway”! In this view of sin, being sinful is equated as being no more serious than “eating a cream cake”!

 

However, when Jesus spoke of sin, it was never in a light hearted way. Sin was about “missing the Mark”, “walking the broad highway”, “turning back and not carrying the cross”, “choosing riches instead of new life within”, “having lives that were like white washed tombs” (clean on the outside but filthy within), and in making Holy places a “den of thieves and robbers”,

Jesus did not His mince words when it came to sin because he knew it as the cause of what separates humanity from Almighty God. For Jesus this was not a theoretical battle but a real, and at times a physical battle.

 

In the wilderness, Jesus, for forty days, confronted Satan, the father of such lies, with the truth of Holy scripture.

Matthew 4:1-11:

‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

 

” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

 

.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

 

There is therefore clearly strength and spiritual insight to be gained from fasting (not necessarily from food) not only during this Lenten period, but also at any other time; perhaps in seeking God, over an issue of concern, or a loved one, or in matters of personal guidance.

 

Are there any rules to fasting?

 

1).If it’s from food, and you have a medical issue, please check with your doctor first.

 

2). Make sure the motive is right.

 

Matthew 6:1-6,16-21.       6“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

 

5“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

 

16“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

 

19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 

I would suggest that the Key Verses to follow in respect of fasting and in sorting out motives is that of

 

Verse 1

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

 

Verse 6.  Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.'

 

Verse 3

 

But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,


 

Verse 17:       But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,

Jesus does not want normal daily behaviour changed when we are fasting.

 

Verse 20:    but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.

 

Seeking God brings its own rewards. These are simply described as being

“treasures in heaven” in v. 20.


 

From next Tuesday our Bible studies will reflect a Lenten theme.

May God bless, strengthen, bless, and guide each one of us as we reflect upon Him and serve him in the weeks ahead.

 

In Christian Love

 

Colin