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“This is the true heart of Lent: we want to be people who love much, because we see how much we need forgiveness—and how much forgiveness we have in Jesus.”
The readings for the third Sunday of Lent are Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, and John 4:5-42.
Jesus once told a Pharisee that those who are forgiven much love much, but “he who is forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47). This is the true heart of Lent: we want to be people who love much because we see how much we need forgiveness—and how much forgiveness we have in Jesus.
The readings for this week bring this truth home in a new way: we are creatures who stand in judgment over our Creator, yet God not only forgives us but provides us with more than we ever thought possible in Jesus.
Exodus 17 relates a typical moment in Israel’s history. God had established His own people from one man, Abraham. He kept his promise to deliver them from slavery in Egypt into the promised land by sending plagues, parting the Red Sea, and defeating Pharaoh's army—in short, Israel had seen miracle upon miracle as God demonstrated his power and love for them. After all of God’s faithfulness the people come to camp in the wilderness with no water in sight. Exodus says the people “tested the Lord” by complaining that they had nothing to drink. In other words, they had seen all of God’s miraculous work but at the first opportunity doubted that he would actually be their provider. On the other side of the Red Sea the people are still evaluating God to see if he was worth following. Despite all of this, God commands Moses to strike a rock with his staff. Water begins to pour out from the rock in yet another miracle of provision for a people who don’t deserve it.
Psalm 95 opens with the declaration that God is the creator of all, which means we belong to him. The only proper response is to “kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture.” Therefore, we must not harden our hearts like the people in Exodus 17. When we hear his voice, our responsibility is to trust and obey our good Shepherd, not pass judgment on him at the first opportunity.
The problem, of course, is that sin runs deeper than our good intentions. Who hasn’t hardened their heart when they've heard the Lord's instructions? Who hasn’t questioned God’s goodness, or his power, or his presence? Who hasn't “put him to the proof, though we’ve seen his work?” Think of the sheer number of times we have rejected and judged God. Our sins have risen over our heads.
Romans 5 brings us to the New Testament and shatters the power of our sin with the sheer size of God’s grace. We have hardened our hearts, we have turned away, we have put God to the test as creatures with delusions of grandeur. But “while we were yet sinners”—while we were yet stiff-necked, while we were yet judging God and finding him wanting despite all he has done—“Christ died for the ungodly.” Christ gave up his eternal rest with God to take on the Father's eternal wrath for us. Now nothing can keep us from rejoicing in God through Jesus Christ, in whom we have received reconciliation. We are forever in the care of the Lord our maker, he will always be our God, and we will always be the people of his pasture. He has died to make it so.
The readings close with a picture of this amazing love that brings us full circle. In John 4, Jesus encounters a woman who is marked by immorality and marginalized by her Jewish village. She comes to a well in the hot noonday sun to find a tired Jesus asking her for a drink of water. When she marvels that he would interact with her at all, he flips the conversation on her: if she knew who he was, she would be asking him for water—and not any water, but living water, that would never leave her thirsty again. She brings up the coming Messiah, who will make a way for humans to finally worship in spirit and truth. Jesus astonishes her when he says, “I who speak to you am he.”
And so our readings show us the incredible plan of God set forth in his word. Thousands of years apart, Israelites needed water. Both the nation and the woman at the well were full up with sin in their hearts and lives. And in the middle is Jesus, the rock who would be struck by the wrath of God. Out of that sacrifice, we find more than a momentary drink of water. “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). We have been forgiven much! Let us love much.
Brian serves the church by overseeing preaching and Sunday morning services at Cornerstone.
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