Archive for December 13, 2010
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So said the Spanish philosopher George Santayana in his 1905 opus magnum The Life of Reason. If only Santayana was right. If only it was only those who had somehow forgotten the past who, ignorant of the lessons of yesteryear, repeated them in these years. Unfortunately, even those who do remember the past, as debase as it might be, often repeat it. The son who knows his father is an alcoholic drinks excessively himself and develops the same addiction. The daughter who is bitter and vindictive remembers well the grudges her mother held against others. The father who hits his wife passes his legacy down to a son who raises his hand to his girlfriend in a fit of rage. We have no problem remembering past calamities. But in spite of our well-defined memories, we all too often repeat them.
What reason can be given concerning those who remember the past and nevertheless consign themselves to repeat it? In our text from this weekend, the apostle Peter reminds us that we are all heirs to “the empty way of life handed to us by our forefathers” (1 Peter 1:18). The Greek word for “empty” is instructive. It is the word mataios which denotes the appearance of a thing as distinct from its essence. That is, mataios allows for a thing to look enticing in its appearance while leading to sin, despair, and death in its essence. One cannot help but think of how Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6). Satan tempted history’s first couple with the appearance of wisdom. But what Satan was leading Adam and Eve to, as appealing as its appearance may have seemed, was, in its essence, sin, despair, and death.
What Satan did with Adam and Eve he continues to do with us. He tempts us with a thing that has an appealing appearance, but, in its essence, leads us to sin, despair, and death. Satan tempts us with the appearance of joy through drunkenness. But that ephemeral joy quickly melts into the essence of regret as we suffer through a hangover. Satan tempts us with the appearance of pleasure through sex outside of marriage. But that illusory pleasure quickly melts into essence of pain as a marriage is destroyed. The temptations of Satan look full and marvelous, but, in reality, they are empty and tragic. They are mataios.
Thus, it is no surprise that we fall for temptations from our past. For though we may remember their appealing appearances, we all too often minimize or even forget their essential brokenness.
What remedy is there against Satan’s enticements toward all things mataios? Peter answers, “Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:13). Again, the Greek for the word “given” is instructive. It is the word phero which refers to something that is not only “given,” but “brought.” That is, God desires not only to give us His grace, He has actually made provision for it to be brought to us through His Son Jesus Christ. Indeed, this is what we celebrate at Christmas: How God was not content to leave His grace supinely suspended in heaven and so deigned to bring His grace to earth in the person and work of Jesus. Our ancestors, beginning with Adam and Eve, may have handed down to us the impoverished ways of mataios, but our God brings down to us His amazing grace in Christ. So instead of trying to remember the pain of past mataios so that you can learn from it, instead, rejoice in the peace of God’s present grace. Because, in the light of God’s eternal grace, mataios loses its appealing appearance. For we now have God’s grace and its incomparable essence of forgiveness. And that’s good news.
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