Christianity 201

July 23, 2019

The God Who Desires My Trust Through Obedience

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Today we’re paying a return visit with John Curtis at the Exchange Ministry Blog. Click the header below to read this at source.

One Act of Righteousness

Romans 3:18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.

It was only one piece of fruit.  One time.  “How bad could that be?” asks all of humanity.  Well, it was an act of rebellion that led to the condemnation of all men.  If I would deny God a central attribute of holiness, I would certainly insist on the primacy of my own ethics, rules and perspectives.  If God does not conform to my compromises and indulge my pleasurable tastes, however they progress and escalate, then I want nothing to do with that God.  For it is not only one piece of fruit.  It is an endless orgy of fruit, and one that I delight in discovering, uncovering and feasting on, my mouth dripping with juice.

Why does this condemn?  Isn’t fruit good?  If I entertain there is a Creator, wasn’t it then created for my enjoyment?  What kind of spoil-sport God would show me a tree and its fruit then deny its consumption?

The kind of God whose limits and boundaries are for my good, not my harm. The kind of God who desires my trust through obedience.

It is a chief fault of mine if I fail to see the reason in this verse. I made choices. They were NOT good, no matter how I revel in them and point to other factors in making them. And Holy God does not endorse rebellion or rebels like me. I have separated myself deliberately, even exuberantly. God finds me hiding behind a tree in the garden and I decide to miss out on the most pleasurable walk in the company of One so intimate and loving. I leave behind the most precious time I have ever known and could ever know, in the cool of the day with God. Oh, what I’ve traded for my indulgence!

It was only one man, perhaps erroneously killed by oppressive authorities who were jealous of his persuasion over the people. That injustice was scarcely unique, and is not unique to this day. Yet the dying man had said prior that his death was voluntary, that there is no greater love than someone who dies for his friends. He called himself the Good Shepherd and his sheep were people. He taught denial and lived it and died it. His proposition was that in giving up his life he was purchasing mine. And even in that, granting me the volition to say yes or no to him.

That “one act of righteousness” speaks through time. Hallelujah! God did not leave me this way. Blood drips from the veins of the crucified One, not any man but the dying Messiah. The pleasure fruit and its effects die with him, along with the shame that I bore and curse I swore.

My rebellion is justified, paid for and I am reconciled to take that walk through the garden in the cool of the day again. My obedience doesn’t come at once, salvation is progressive and my depravity deep and pervasive. Yet his cleansing deeper still.

My life is his; there is no one else.

 

July 22, 2019

This is His Covenant, Mediated for You

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NASB.Num.21.9 And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.

NCV.Gal.3.13 Christ took away the curse the law put on us. He changed places with us and put himself under that curse. It is written in the Scriptures, “Anyone whose body is displayed on a tree is cursed.”

This is our third time sharing with you the writing of who writes at Feeding on Jesus. Click the header below to read at source, or to find the option of listening to today’s devotional on audio.

The Better Word Spoken

 

“You have come… to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Heb. 12:22-24, ESV).

What did the blood of Abel speak? It cried out in condemnation of Cain. Cain lived out the rest of his days under the dark, heavy cloud of condemnation.

Have you every struggled under the suffocating weight of condemnation? I know I have! You and I may not have shed innocent blood. Regardless, inside our souls, every one of us has heard the voice of condemnation crying out against us. Within our minds, within our hearts, that menacing voice has trumpeted the message of our failures. That voice has sat down oppressively upon our emotions and eaten mercilessly away at our joy.

But you have come. Oh, what glorious news! You have come… to the new covenant Jesus mediated for you. You have come… to the sprinkled blood that speaks an immeasurably better word than the hostile voice of accusation.

The blood of Jesus has its own breathtaking voice. Its voice is louder, better, and exceedingly more powerful than the ugly mutters of condemnation in our souls. Its voice is superior in every way. The blood of Jesus ALWAYS overwhelmingly trumps the voice of the accuser.

Have you ever read the story of the bronze snake? In the desert, the stricken Israelites had merely to look up at that snake Moses had hung on a pole. In doing so, they were saved from their affliction (Num. 21:9). That snake typified how Jesus would become a curse for us as He hung on the cross. Do you deeply understand that He hung there to redeem us from the curse of our condemnation? When we simply look up to Him, His gaze meets ours, and we, too, are instantly saved from our affliction (Gal. 3:13).

Look to Him now. Find the forgiveness in His eyes. Do you see it there? Find the mercy. Find the cleansing. It’s there. It’s for you. It’s available this very moment. Immediately. There’s no price you need to pay. He’s already paid it. Drink in the provision of His sacrifice. Receive it, precious child.

Listen. Listen as His blood proclaims this prevailing word over you: “It is finished! Once and for all… you are made holy, righteous, blameless in My sight. Right now, My precious blood washes your iniquity and your shame away. I have made your spirit perfect. I have purchased and sealed you with My very own life’s blood. You are Mine… forever Mine!”

Even right now, look to Him! “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame” (Ps. 34:5, NIV).


Revelation 12:11 says that we overcome the accuser by the blood of the Lamb. In practical terms, how do you apply this verse? What steps do you take to overcome the accuser’s voice when it tries to come against you?

 

July 21, 2019

Why Jesus Died

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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My wife and I are currently reading Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice (Baker Books, 2019) by Sylvia Keesmatt and Brian Walsh. I got curious if Sylvia had anything online we could poach for C201 (!) and found this beautiful 2011 article from a denominational magazine. While it doesn’t have the usual scripture content we look for, I thought it was a great fit for the liturgical type of pieces I often post here for our Sunday Worship column.

Why Did Jesus Die?

by Sylvia Keesmaat

Was it because of the chief priests and the officers of the temple police and the elders? They were the ones who came out with swords into the dark of the garden. They were the ones who provided the thirty pieces of silver, who plotted day by day as Jesus spoke in the temple. They were full of fear: fear of a revolt by the people, fear of losing their own privileged positions in the Jerusalem hierarchy, fear of God’s kingdom of righteousness and justice and peace breaking in. Did Jesus die because of their fear and jealousy and ambition?

Why did Jesus die?

Was it because of Judas, the keeper of the money, who had followed Jesus almost from the beginning? Judas had heard him teach, seen him bring healing and hope, and watched forgiveness flow from his fingertips. Judas had been full of hopes for Jesus, keyed up on the walk to Jerusalem, waiting for the revolution to come. Was he disappointed that Jesus did not start gathering an army? Was he disappointed that this great leader was ignoring the only sure path to power? Is that why he slipped away in the night to whisper Jesus’ whereabouts to the officers of the temple for 30 pieces of silver? Is that why he betrayed his master with a kiss? Did Jesus die because of Judas’s disappointed hopes?

Why did Jesus die?

Was it because of the soldiers who were in charge of him overnight? They blindfolded him and beat him, saying, “Prophesy! Tell us who hit you!” Was it their glee in having someone new to torture that carried Jesus through the night? When he arrived before the assembly of elders in the morning, he was no longer the Jewish teacher from Nazareth but a prisoner—bruised and bloody, beaten up and tortured. Did Jesus die because of the soldiers’ joy in violence?

Why did Jesus die?

Was it because of Herod? Herod had wanted to meet Jesus for a long time. Herod had hoped to see a miracle or two, perhaps even be forgiven. Herod, whose father had murdered all the boys Jesus’s age in Bethlehem, now hoped that the one who got away would entertain him. Herod, who had beheaded John the Baptist for the sake of a dance, now wished for John’s cousin to perform for him. But Jesus did nothing. Said nothing. Is that why Herod’s soldiers put the robe on him, punched him a few more times, shouted their insults in his face? Did they hope to provoke him to some sign, some wonder? Did Jesus die because he would not do signs and wonders for the king?

Why did Jesus die?

Was it because of Pilate? Pilate had ruled the Jews for a few years. He knew that at the feast of Passover, rebellious feelings ran high as Jerusalem filled with Jews from far and wide hoping for a new exodus and a new Moses.

Though Pilate could find no grounds for Jesus’ death, he became increasingly afraid of the violent crowd. Pilate had all the power and control—and no power and control. And so he had Jesus beaten and handed him over. Did Jesus die because Pilate was afraid of a revolt?

Why did Jesus die?

Was it because of the assembly of elders, both chief priest and scribes, who tried him that morning? Was it because they didn’t believe he was the Son of Man? Was it because they didn’t believe he was the Son of God? Did they think that when he said he was the Son of God that he was claiming to be the king? Or the Messiah? Or both?

They were the ones who brought him before Pilate and accused him of treason, of refusing to pay taxes to Rome. They were the ones who said that Jesus had called himself a king and who insisted that they had no king but Caesar. They were the ones who demanded that Jesus be crucified, no matter how many times Pilate tried to release him. Did Jesus die because of the hatred of the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes?

Why did Jesus die?

Did Jesus die because we shouted “Crucify him, crucify him!”? Did Jesus die because of us?

Was it because of the crowds? The people he had healed, the people he had forgiven? The people he had freed from demons, the people he had fed? The ones who had listened to his stories, the ones with whom he had eaten? The people who wanted to make Jesus king waved palms as he approached Jerusalem. Had they drawn too much attention to him at the start?

Later, when they saw him, beaten up and tortured, it was the crowd who shouted, “Crucify him, crucify him!” It was the crowd who called for the release of Barabbas. Who cared if he had murdered someone? At least he knew how to resist the Romans! Did Jesus die because the crowd wanted him to be a different kind of king?

Why did Jesus die?

Was it because of us? Was it because of the way we share in this story? Was it because we share the fear and jealousy and ambition of the chief priests and the officers of the temple police? Was it because we share the disappointed hopes of Judas when it comes to the plan of God? Was it because we take joy in the violence the soldiers demonstrated? Did Jesus die because, like Herod, we favor entertainment over justice? Or did he die because, like Pilate, we prefer to keep the peace rather than do what we know to be right? Did Jesus die because of our hatred? Because we too want a different kind of king to rule over this world? Did Jesus die because we shouted “Crucify him, crucify him!”? Did Jesus die because of us?

Why did Jesus die?

Was it because of God? God, who made a covenant with a sinful and broken world. God, who promised that someday blessing would come to all people through the offspring of Abraham. God, who refused to give up on people, coming in love again and again to woo them back to himself. God, whose heart had broken over the sin and brokenness and despair that filled the creation.

God knew there was no way his wayward people could ever bring about healing and wholeness on their own. He knew there was no way they could get rid of the evil in their midst; he knew there was just one way: to offer himself up in love. Did Jesus die because of the love of God?

Why did Jesus die?

Maybe Jesus died because of it all: the hatred, the jealousy, the disappointment, the fear, the love of violence and entertainment. Because of us all: soldiers, rulers, elders, disciples, followers, mothers, fathers, children—sinners all.

But most of all, Jesus died because of God’s deep, deep love for the world—a love so deep that he gave his life to bring peace to us and to all creation.

Why did Jesus die?

Because of love. Because of love.



Originally published in The Banner – the official magazine of the Christian Reformed Church.

Link here for information about Romans Disarmed.

June 18, 2019

Christ, the Bread of Life

by Russell Young

Some Jews tried to entice Jesus into performing a miraculous act asking him what sign he would give so that they might believe and offered that their fathers had eaten manna from heaven. Christ responded that it was not Moses who had given the manna but his heavenly Father. He followed that by asserting that the true bread from heaven gives life to the world (Jn 6:33) and declared that he is the bread of life. It is easy to skip over this pronouncement without further reflection. However, later in the passage he presents, “For my flesh is real food and my blood real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them.” (Jn 6:55−56)

The requirement to eat his flesh and to drink his blood caused many disciples to leave him. He is not talking about literally eating his body of drinking his blood. Such a thought is certainly repulsive; his words are metaphorical. As well, “eats” and “drinks” should be understood as “is eating” and “is drinking”; they do not represent a single act, but a continuous one.

Christ, the rider on the white horse of Revelation, is referred to as “the Word of God.” (Rev 19:13) That is, to eat his flesh is to be feeding on the Word. Matthew has recorded, “It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Mt 4:4) Eating his flesh is continuously feeding on his Word.

Likewise, the blood refers to that which is life, or the Spirit. The LORD admonished the Israelites, “But be sure that you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life.” (Deut 12:23) Paul has written that the last Adam (Christ), is “a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor 15:45), and the Lord stated, “the Spirit gives life.” (Jn 6:63) While life exists in the blood of a living body, it is the Holy Spirit who gives life to the body of death by cleansing it from its misdeeds. (Rom 8:13)

When Christ said that you must eat his body and drink his blood, he is presenting that you must feed on his Word and allow the Spirit to quicken or to give life to the body that loves sin. This though is born out in Revelation. “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev 12:11) These believers had overcome Satan by the blood of Christ which provided atonement for sin and by the words that their life-testimony spoke; they way they had lived. In speaking to the woman at the well, Christ reported, “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (Jn 4:24) Paul wrote: “God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth (his Word).” (2 Thess 2:13)

It is unfortunate that communion services have limited understanding to the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine as emblems of Christ’s offering on the cross. He also commanded people to eat and to drink of those emblems, to take them in, for he is both the Word and the Spirit (2 Cor 3:17, 18). Communion is to be a reminder of what Christ has accomplished and of what he is still accomplishing and needs to be completed through his Spirit, the redemption or sanctification of the body. It is a reminder of that which believers must do to complete or to finish their salvation. (Phil 2:12)

John has recorded the Lord’s words of admonishment that people should “remain” in him and that they could be cut out. He stated, “Remain in me and I will remain in you” (Jn 15:4) and “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) and in John 6:56 it is recorded, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” The one who would remain in Christ and who would enjoy fellowship with him must feed on his Word and practices the life-giving power of the Spirit.

The person who would avoid God’s wrath and seek his eternal kingdom cannot gain his or her hope through easy-believism; the truth of God’s Word must be honored, and the Spirit must be obeyed. Christ is to be the bread of life and the Spirit must give life through the defeat of temptations as the believer is conformed to the likeness of the Son of God (Rom 8:29) and made into an offering acceptable to him, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Rom 15:16)



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His first book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link

June 15, 2019

Light and Darkness

This is our third time highlighting the site Discovering the Bible, written by Deborah, a retired doctor now living in Swansea, Wales. Choosing a devotional (or two smaller ones) for today was a tough process; there’s so much good material. Click the header below to read this at source.

Learning to walk in the light

Psalm 89:15

“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You,
who walk in the light of Your presence, LORD.”

What is it like to know God? The people who get to know Him develop an attitude to life that is full of confidence and gratitude. They are not merely drifting through life; they know what they are doing and where they are going. They are ‘walking in the light’.

This sounds deceptively easy, but it doesn’t come naturally even to Christians. In fact, it’s something that we have to learn to do.

The pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21)

Ex.13.21 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.

When we start out on our Christian journey, God often seems especially close, because He makes things easy for us during our spiritual ‘babyhood’. It was like this on Israel’s first crucial journey out of Egypt: His unseen presence was made visible as a pillar of fiery cloud, and all they had to do was follow it.

In the desert, it’s easier to travel at night (when it’s cooler) – but in the darkness it’s all the more vital to know where you are going! And in a world that is spiritually dark, we need to know which road to take. Whenever we come to a moral decision-point, it’s to God that we must look for direction. We don’t have a convenient pillar of fire (or an audible voice from heaven) to lead us; we must learn to discover God’s will by reading the Bible and by discussion with other believers.

The light of the world (John 8:12)

In Jesus’ time, the four great candelabra in the Temple courtyard were lit during the Feast of Tabernacles to remind the people of the pillar of fire that had led their ancestors through the wilderness. John tells us that at the end of the festival, when the lights were being extinguished, Jesus declared Himself to be the Reality behind the symbol:

“I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Decision (Isaiah 2:5)

Walking in darkness is the ‘default option’. We have to make a positive decision to become followers of Jesus in the first place; and thereafter we must make a conscious effort to reject the ways of the world and keep following His light.

Is.2.5 “Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD.”

But if we stop paying attention to where we are heading, we will gradually drift off course and back into the darkness again!

Walking together (I John 1:7)

1Jn.1.7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

Walking in darkness includes such things as having bad relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters (I John 2:9). We cannot have full fellowship with God while refusing to join and work together with other believers!

Walking in the light is also by its very nature a communal activity; for everyone who is following close to Jesus must also be close to one another. “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” And that fellowship also helps to keep us together on the right path.

Our destination (Proverbs 4:18)

Prov.4.18 The path of the righteous is like the morning sun,
    shining ever brighter till the full light of day.

The path of light is one of safety and growing certainty. As we grow in our faith, and diligently put it into practice, we come further and further into God’s light – and it actually becomes easier to make the right decisions.


Bonus devotional: If you have time, here’s another from the same author…

The Gospel: Some Questions Answered

25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— Romans 3:25,26

Our sins could not be forgiven without atonement being made. So what about those, like David, whose sins were forgiven before Christ came?

2.Sam.12.13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.

Paul’s answer is that the cross is a ‘once-for-all’ method of dealing with sin, effective both retrospectively and prospectively

Heb.9.26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Before Christ came, God had refrained from executing full judgement on sin because of His mercy.

“He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:10)

But this was not because of moral indifference; rather, judgement was withheld until it could fall upon Jesus.

The cross also answers the question of how a righteous God can remain righteous while forgiving our sins – which seems to overturn the whole concept of justice. Justification is not an amnesty; our sins are not being ignored or ‘swept under the carpet’. In fact, justice has been done – and seen to have been done – in the public execution of Jesus Christ. Because His sacrificial death fully satisfies the demands of justice, God can justify sinners without compromising His own righteousness.

May 11, 2019

Out of His Pain, We Are Counted Righteous

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV.Zech.3:3-4 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.  The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”

Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”

This is our third time with Melody who writes at In Pleasant Places for six years. As we explained previsouly, her blog started from correspondence she was sharing with a friend; see more at her story. To read today’s article at her blog, click the header below.

Anguish and Joy – Isaiah 53:11

“Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.”

Isaiah 53:11

This is one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture. Capturing so powerfully Jesus’ perspective of His sacrifice on the cross. I’m sure I have written on it before, but its impact on me is renewed each time I read it, reflecting on the love of our Savior and the love of God the Father to send Jesus for our salvation, knowing all it would require.

As Isaiah 53:5 says, Jesus was wounded for our transgressions, our offenses against the law established by the sovereign God of the universe. He was crushed for our iniquities, our immoral and wicked behavior. Jesus took the chastisement, the punishment due for the choices we made, to bring us peace with God. And with His stripes – a picture that brings me to the severe lashes on His back from His scourging – we are healed, every crevice of our heart, to the very depths of our soul.

Jesus endured all of this. Sorrow upon sorrow, abandoned by those closest to Him, mocked and scorned by crowds. Unimaginable physical pain. The darkness and heavy weight of all sin, laid on this One who is light. An agonizing break in relationship as Jesus took our place on the cross as forsaken, willingly taking the wrath of Holy God for us and experiencing for the first time in all eternity a separation from God the Father.

But out of this, through the anguish of His soul – the soul of the beautiful, perfect, infinite and holy Son and Word of God – He sees and is satisfied.

Because through this knowledge of grief and pain, Jesus makes many to be regarded as righteous. All who believe in Him, who previously had no hope of righteousness because unrighteousness filled our souls. Jesus fully and successfully bore our iniquities, that we would bear them no longer and be set free from sin. He is satisfied because He can silence our accuser, remove our filthy rags stained with our sin, and personally adorn us with pure vestments (Zechariah 3:1-4).

Ever our intercessor and good shepherd. Caring for each of His own and not losing one of them (John 10:28).

Ensuring, through the perfect fullness of His sacrifice, that no condemnation or accusation can touch us, because we are His. Sealed with His Spirit who lives and works within us, whose presence is revealed and affirmed by the evident renewal of our minds and hearts as we become more and more like Christ, day by day, until we stand blameless before the throne of His glory as He presents us to Himself with great joy. To the praise of His glorious grace.

“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died
– more than that, who was raised –
who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
Romans 8:33-34

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling
and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,
to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord,
be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
Jude 24-25

October 3, 2018

The Throne Room in High Definition

This our eighth time featuring Ben Nelson at Another Red Letter Day. This teaching, inspired by the ministry of Jack Hayford, is a scripture medley like no other I’ve read before. Click the title below to read at source.

Be lifted up, O ancient doors

I want to share this wonderful idea I’ve been tossing about this week. I recently listened to Jack Hayford teach on the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. I really love Pastor Hayford. He’s got such a gentle and tender spirit.

I first heard him teach on this in the 90s on his radio program. I bought the series on (wait for it) cassette tapes. I wanted to refresh his take in my mind, so I bought the MP3 version, which was recorded sometime in the last few years.

To the point. One thing he teaches about the scene in the throne room in Chapter 4 and 5 fills me with awe. Back there in the 90s, it changed my perception of this scene. It has stayed with me since. But this time, he threw in a new twist which just had me weeping as I listened and imagined the scene.

The translation of one phrase in this magnificent drama changed everything for me. Where the NASB renders “a Lamb standing, as if slain.” (From Revelation 5:6.) Hayford teaches this phrase could be rendered “a Lamb bearing the fresh marks of slaughter.”

John’s tour of heaven drops him into the middle of the most significant moment of all eternity, the ascension of Jesus Christ. Let me present the story, starting with the book of Acts.


And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” – Acts 1:9-11

…meanwhile in heaven…

I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; – Revelation 5:1-4

…Meanwhile – in the heart of David, hundreds of years earlier…

Lift up your heads, O gates,
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Who is the King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
The LORD mighty in battle.

… in heaven…

and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” – Revelation 5:5

…David…

Lift up your heads, O gates,
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
He is the King of glory. Selah. – Psalm 24:7-10

…back in heaven…

And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, bearing the fresh marks of slaughter, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.

And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”

And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”

And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped. – Revelation 5:6-14 NASB


This thrills my heart. But what’s greater than this description, is that John is seeing this a solid 50 or 60 years after Christ’s ascension. It’s my opinion that this outside-of-time event takes place in front of every one of God’s elect. Every saint stands in attendance, from Enoch to Paul, from Noah to my mother and father, from Abraham to me.

I know you could break a brain cell or two trying to figure this out. This is the biggest moment in all eternity (wait—are there moments in eternity—mind blown.) And we will all be there (Maybe I should say we were there?) to see Jesus bring the sacrifice of His blood to the Father’s throne.

Can you understand why heaven’s worship gets real! When we all see the Lamb present His blood to the Father, and realize this is the moment of atonement—well—it’s going to get Pentecostal. I get chills thinking about it.

I admit this is speculation on my part. Still, it thrills my heart to think we’ll see this greatest of all wonders in person.

Won’t you praise Him with me today! He is worthy!

 

July 15, 2018

Unashamed of the Blood

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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It’s been six months, and we’re back at the website Before the Cross. The writer today is . Click the title below to read at source.

Nothing But the Blood of Jesus

Outside of blood drives, I’m sure it’s not common to hear gratitude and blood thrown together in the same sentence. We sing a worship song in church on occasion with the lyric “We thank You for the blood.” This refers to the good news that Jesus Christ, being the very Son of God, was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, was crucified on a cross for all the sins of man past, present and future and was raised again to life so that anyone believing in Him would live an eternity with Him. We are thanking Jesus for His blood spilt on our behalf. Every time we sing it, I wonder what a person unfamiliar with the gospel must think as they give church a try. Here are some of my guesses:

  • That’s gross.
  • Did I come to the wrong place?
  • Why are these people singing about blood?
  • Of all things, why are they thankful for blood?

If those are the questions, I hope they don’t leave without getting them answered and I certainly hope they come back.

Let’s face it. The lyrics aren’t exactly “seeker” friendly and some churches might treat this song like any blood-related incident, to keep the lyrics sanitary and removed from the scene, out of mind and out of sight for believer and non-believer alike. Blood evokes a strong mental image and unless you’ve been desensitized by horror movies, it usually isn’t an image someone likes to think about. There are certainly other worship songs we could sing that would bring about more peaceful, calming and relaxing images of God’s saving grace without mentioning blood.

And that’s the very reason why I think we need to sing about it. Without the blood shed by Jesus Christ, there is no cross. If there is no cross, there is no resurrection of Jesus Christ. If there is no resurrection, we are doomed.

The Blood Is Necessary

Since the first sin of man in the Garden of Eden, blood was required. Animals were sacrificed for their skins to cover up the nakedness of Adam and Eve. The sacrifice of animals for atonement of sin was still present in the time of Jesus.

And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”Exodus 24:8

“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”Hebrews 9:22

The Blood Protects

The Israelites are instructed to place animal blood over the door of their dwellings to avoid God’s plague on Egypt.

“The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.”Exodus 12:13

Jesus, before His crucifixion refers to his shed blood as that which would forgive sins.

“for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”Matthew 26:28

The Blood Cleanses 

Redemption, fellowship and cleansing are benefits we as Christians who believe in Jesus Christ get to enjoy as a result of His shed blood.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ.”Ephesians 1:7-9

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7

We often see what we prize most in light of what we pay for it. In the case of our salvation, it is we who were purchased with blood that ran through the body of our savior, the same body broken on our behalf to allow God and His creation to have a restored relationship. If you are a Christian, you are in this restored relationship.

We can sing it out unashamed. Thank you Jesus. Thank you for the blood!


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July 13, 2018

The Washing of Regeneration

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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We’re back again with Charlie Garret at The Superior Word blog and I chose this one because it’s part of one of my favorite Bible passages.

Titus 3:5

…not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, Titus 3:5

This continues the thought of the previous verse, but it is tied into the whole package of thought since verse 3:1. Paul exhorted the believers through Titus in verses 1 & 2 to be subject to rulers, to obey, to be ready for every good work, and to do so in a peaceable, gentle, and humble attitude. Then in verse 3, he spoke of the wretched state that we all were in prior to being saved by Christ. That was immediately followed up in verse 4 with, “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared…

That now brings in the words of verse 5. Paul begins with, “not by works of righteousness which we have done.” This is being contrasted to the state we were in, and it is complementing the “every good work” of verse 1. We were in a state of disobedience, living in a manner contrary to what God expects of us. In that fallen state, God initiated the process of our change by sending Jesus. We had not yet done any good works in order to merit His favor. Even if people before coming to Christ did good things, they could never meet the high standard of righteousness that God expects. Our deeds were tainted by sin. But even more, they were done in a state of unbelief.

Without belief in Christ (faith), there can be no merit for our works. Our state was fallen, and so nothing we did could meet God’s bar of what is considered “righteous.” And so Paul says that our works are wholly excluded from merit before Him. He sent Jesus before any such works of righteousness were possible. Thus, the sending of Jesus was an act of pure grace; unmerited favor. And it was in a condition of needed mercy. We needed to not get the righteous justice that was due to us.

And this is exactly what God provided. God sent His Son to us not in a state of merited favor, “but according to His mercy.” God’s extended mercy implies that we needed mercy. If so (and it is so), then it means that we actually deserved His punishment. We had not worked our way out of the pit of destruction. Instead, we wallowed in it. Remember also, Paul was an observant Jew. And not only was he observant, but he was the cream of the crop; a Pharisee. And yet, he includes himself in the equation. He was as in need of God’s mercy as all others. Jesus said as much to the people of Israel –

“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20

Obviously, if the most observant Jews of all could not enter the kingdom of heaven through their own merit, then it shows that something much greater was needed. This is what Paul now speaks of in Titus. God sent Jesus to us as a merciful offering. It is in this act that “He saved us.” The only way we could be brought out of the pit of destruction in which we lived was for God to initiate the process. In that, and through that, we can be saved. Paul is speaking only to believers here. The words, “He saved us,” are speaking only of those who are actually saved by God through the work of Christ. However, it is inclusive of all who are saved – past, present, and future. Paul’s words are written as doctrine for the church age.

He then explains how this salvation came about. It was, “through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Reformed theologians say that a person cannot be saved unless God first regenerates them in order to believe. They then believe, and after that, they are saved. They then say that being “born again” in John 3:3 is that process. In other words, a person who is born again isn’t yet saved. He is simply regenerated in order to believe at that point. Only after that will he will then believe and be saved. If that isn’t the craziest theology imaginable!

Paul’s words here completely refute such illogical doctrine. The “washing of regeneration” literally signifies “water for washing.” It is baptism (of the Holy Spirit) that Paul speaks of here. The only other time he uses this term is in Ephesians 5:26. There he says (while speaking of the church) –

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, Ephesians 5:26, 27

It is first through the word that one is washed. The word is given by the Spirit of God. This then needs to be brought back further, to Romans 10 –

“But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:16, 17

Paul’s words clearly show that “not all have obeyed the gospel.” There is a choice (free will) which is involved in the process. That choice is based on the word which has been given by the Spirit of God. In hearing the word, a choice is made (belief). In that choice, faith is exercised. In the exercising of that faith, man receives “the washing of regeneration.” That is the baptism (of the Holy Spirit) spoken of by Paul here, and which leads to “the renewing of the Holy Spirit.” This is what Paul means when he said in the previous verse, “He saved us.” It takes us again to Romans 10 –

“…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

The entire process is initiated by God, but it must be acted upon by man (faith). The moment that faith in the gospel is exercised, Paul then tells us what the result is. This is found recorded in Ephesians 1:13, 14 –

“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.”

The sealing of the Holy Spirit which Paul speaks of in Ephesians 1 is the same thing he is referring to in Titus 3. Through the word, we “hear.” In hearing, we believe. In believing, we are sealed with the Spirit and are saved. The entire process is of God, and not of our own works. Faith is not considered a work (Romans 3:27), and it is something we must exercise as a part of this process.

Finally, the “renewing of the Holy Spirit” means that we are now acceptable to God. Though we are still capable of wrongdoing, that wrongdoing is not imputed to us (2 Corinthians 5:19). Rather, God accepts us because of Christ, and our works are now made acceptable to Him through Christ as well. That is the “every good work” which Paul cited in verse 3:1.

Life application: It seems as if such a long commentary on what Paul says at times is unnecessary. His words are clear and precise. But because so many people have come in and muddied the theological waters, even to the point where there is complete confusion in how Paul’s words are presented, there actually needs to be a highly detailed explanation of his thoughts at times. Always be ready to dig into the word, keep the waters clear, and accept the basics as they are given (such as free-will) from the start. Once we divert from the obvious, the pure flowing river becomes tainted. In the end, it is all about Jesus who has come to give us the remedy to the state which we are in.

Lord God, thank You for the Holy Bible; Your precious word. Help us to read it daily, apply it to our lives always, and to never muddy its purity with unsound theology. Your word is a wonderful light, and it is the purest of water. Thank You for your precious word. Amen.

June 22, 2018

Fire & Brimstone – Part 2

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

We have already seen the reality of the judgement of God, that separation from God and His goodness is real and therefore hell is real. But what does it mean to “go to hell”?

There are three possible views on hell which could be summarized by the words fire, torment, and destruction.

Fire: The first takes the language used in the Bible about hell most literally and those who hold this view think those in hell will literally experience everlasting fire along with everything else mentioned.

Torment: The second view holds the language around hell to be metaphorical, but still very descriptive of experience. Those who hold this view don’t think those in hell will experience literal everlasting fire, but will experience everlasting something, and that something will be bad.

Destruction: The two former views reflect what we call ‘eternal conscious torment’ and are considered to be the more tractional views. The third view is different. Let us look at this third view more closely since many of us already know the traditional views.

Remember that time Luther posted his 95 theses which helped spark the move from what tradition taught to what the Bible taught? John Stott called for a similar move in the last century:

As a committed Evangelical, my question must be—and it—not what does my heart tell me, but what does God’s word say? And in order to answer this question, we need to survey the biblical material afresh and to open our minds (not just our hearts) to the possibility that Scripture points in the direction of annihilation, and that ‘eternal conscious torment’ is a tradition which has to yield to the supreme authority of Scripture.  – John Stott.

You can read that passage in its context here.

Is it possible that hell, the experience of separation from God and his goodness, could be summed up by ‘destruction’ rather than ‘everlasting conscious torment’? Does the Bible teach that? Let us consider the same passages we looked at in the last post when we asked if God’s judgement was real:

. . . then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Genesis 2:16-17

Adam is given the gift of life and is warned that the consequence of rebellion against God is death. Nothing is said about eternal eternal conscious torment at this point.

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:22-24 (emphasis added)

Adam and Eve did rebel against God and the consequences started to fall into place. Here, at the very first sin, the consequence of rebellion is framed as death, not everlasting conscious torment. This death and life theme is reflected when Paul brings up Adam’s sin and the resurrection of Jesus:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 (emphasis added)

In that same chapter on the resurrection, Paul does not speak of going to heaven rather than hell as we might think he would. He speaks of eternal life made possible through the putting on of immortality:

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed,  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
  “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:50-57

The focus here is on life versus death, rather than heaven verses hell. The Bible does speak elsewhere of the unrepentant also being raised for judgement. But from this passage in Corinthians we can infer that the unrepentant will not receive the wonderful gift being celebrated by Paul here, namely the gift of being clothed in imperishability and immortality. We should note here that the concept of the immortality of the soul is a Greek concept that has more to do with Platonic philosophy than Biblical teaching. Our souls have not been around for eternity, they were created. Adam and Eve could have enjoyed everlasting life in the Garden, but sin messed that up. Our default without Christ is mortality. God, however, graciously offers the gift of eternal life in Christ.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

This last verse reminds us of the doctrine known as the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus. That is a fancy way of saying that Jesus paid the wages of sin on our behalf. No one believes that Jesus is experiencing eternal conscious torment on our behalf.  He experienced death, and in a mysterious but real way, separation from the Father and His goodness.

Consider, finally, these verses that speak in a matter of fact manner of everlasting life versus destruction.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

But what about those passages that speak of everlasting torment? When Biblical teaching which has the sound of metaphor is placed next to Biblical teaching which sounds quite matter of fact, perhaps we should consider the matter of fact statements to be pointing to facts, and the metaphor to be poetic. “The wages of sin is death” is a matter of fact statement and so, in fact, sin without the atoning work of Jesus will lead to death, separation from the presence and goodness of God. That “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12) is a poetic way of saying that to experience separation from God and his goodness, to experience death, is utterly regrettable. That too, is a fact! But to take the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” as a factual description of the experience of separation from God may not be what is intended.

Likewise, when Jesus speaks of hell he often is being poetic by using the word “Gehenna”. Gehenna was locatable on a map and was a place of idol worship, including the incredibly evil practice of sacrificing children. The people of Jerusalem ended up burning their garbage there. When Jesus speaks of people going to Gehenna, in the Sermon on the Mount for example, the idea is that if you want to appeal to your own righteousness, then you will end up being taken out with the trash. Perhaps what we learn through the poetry of Jesus’ words on hell should not be lost by forcing them to become a scientific description.

Which view of hell is correct? I’ll leave that up to you to research further and decide (A good start is to read both John Stott and J.I. Packer on the topic). Whichever view is correct, we agonize over our loved ones who do not know Christ. Whichever view is correct, we agonize over anyone who would choose to be separated from God and His goodness. Whichever view is correct, we thank God for His wonderful love and grace.

Is it time to bring back fire and brimstone? Whichever view on hell we think is correct, are we witnesses that hell is eternal conscious torment, or that Jesus rose from the dead and is Lord, even over death? Keep in mind that our unbelieving friends do not yet believe in hell. They already believe in death. The Good News is that though “the wages of sin is death”, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is the Good News we share. We don’t need to be angry fire and brimstone preachers to do that.


Clarke Dixon is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to a 31-minute sermon of this topic.

June 11, 2018

Sin is More Than Humans Behaving Badly

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is our third time at Mystery of Faith, written by Glenn Packiam, lead pastor of New Life Downtown, a congregation of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Click the title below to read more articles.

The Problem of Sin and the Power of the Cross

In our world, sin is seen as behaving badly, or breaking some arbitrary code of morality. But the Bible talks about sin in a different and much deeper way.

Sin in the Old Testament is portrayed in various ways. Psalm 51 alone uses several Hebrew words to describe it: failure, waywardness, rebellion, and evil. Sin is all of those things: it is a failure to live up to our creational vocation to reflect God’s wisdom and rule into to the world; it is a waywardness of life that drifts from the path of righteousness; it is a rebellion against God as King; it is a complicity in the evil of the world around us.

But the Old Testament gives us more than terms and concepts; it is rich with stories and symbols. So it is the key rituals that relate to sin which give us insight into the problem of sin. Yom Kippur was the ‘Day of Atonement’; it is prescribed in Leviticus 16. Passover is the great story of Israel’s rescue from Egypt; it’s story is told in Exodus 12. Through the enacted symbolism of both events, we come to see sin as a ‘stain’ that must be purified, a blame that must be removed, a power to be freed from, and a penalty to be saved from.

The stain of sin is sin in the goat sacrificed on Yom Kippur to purify the worshipper.

‘Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.’

Leviticus 16:15-16

This imagery is a picture of the stain of guilt that needs to be cleansed. The sacrificed goat is a picture of purification from the stain of guilt.

There is another goat the Yom Kippur scene, one which is kept alive. The priest lays hands on this goat, transferring the sin of the nation upon it, and then sends it away.

“And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.”

Leviticus 16:20-22

This is a picture of blame. Even if the stain of guilt were removed, there is still the fact of culpability; we are to blame. The living goat represents the bearing of the blame.

Finally, there is the Passover Lamb. The blood of the lamb is placed on the doorposts so that the people of God may be saved from Death. Death is the judgment upon Sin, a judgment that fell upon Egypt that fateful night. In being saved from Death, Israel was also rescued from slavery to Egypt. The blood of the lamb means a rescue from the powerofsin which leads to the penalty of death.

‘Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.” ‘

Exodus 12:21-23

The bull represents the purification from the stain of guilt; the goat represents the removal of the blame. The lamb represents the rescue from the power of Sin and penalty of Death.

The New Testament picks up on each of these themes as it tries to help us understand the power of the cross. Paul seems to draw on Passover imagery more than that of the Day of Atonement. In Romans, especially, we see Sin as a power we were enslaved to, which leads to Death as a consequence of this enslavement. Jesus is the one who sets us free from this slavery.

‘When you were slaves of sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What consequences did you get from doing things that you are now ashamed of? The outcome of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and become slaves to God, you have the consequence of a holy life, and the outcome is eternal life.’

Romans 6:20-22, CEB

In Hebrews and in the Johannine epistles, Jesus is seen as the one who removes the stain of guilt from us, cleansing us fully.

‘He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.’

Hebrews 1:3-4

‘But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.’

1 John 1:7

‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.’

1 John 2:2

And in both Paul’s and Peter’s writings, Jesus bears the blame of our own behavior in His body, thus expiating it from us.

‘For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh…’

Romans 8:3

‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.’

1 Peter 2:24

To put it another way, the problem of sin is that it is a contagion and a captivity, which involves our complicity.

As a stain, sin is like a contagion that must be cleansed— as a virus must be eradicated from the body.

As blame, sin involves our complicity and thus blame must be borne.

As a power which leads to the penalty of death, sin is a captivity from which we must be freed.

In His death on the cross, Jesus purifies us from the stain of guilt, removes from us and bears in Himself the blame, and frees us from the power of Sin and Death.

Good Friday, indeed.


This post was inspired by reading Chapter 4 in Fleming Rutledge’s very excellent book, The CrucifixionThough Rutledge deals primarily with Sin as a power we were under, it was the way she wove in our complicity in addition to our captivity (terms that come from a quote in her chapter) that provoked my reflection on the nature of the problem of sin. It prompted a recollection of Goldingay’s work on the ‘stain’ of sin in Old Testament texts. My attempt to hold all three concepts together caused my to reflect on whether the sacrifices related to Yom Kippur and Passover might actually address each of these aspects of the problem of sin. Thus what you have read is a musing aloud, and not a final word by any means. I pray it provokes just the sort of prayerful reflection in you.

 

June 10, 2018

Only One Sacrifice Could Effect a Momentous Achievement

Deborah (named after the prophetess) is a retired doctor now living in Swansea, Wales; a Christian for over 40 years, and an avid reader of the Bible. This is our first time featuring her writing here. To discover more, click the title below and then look around at some of the other articles.

Focus on Jesus: He is the ultimate sacrifice

“Fix your thoughts on Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1)

Hebrews 9:1-10:18

The worship of the old covenant took place in the Tabernacle (and, later, the Temple, which was constructed in a similar way) The sanctuary was divided into two rooms by a heavy curtain. In the outer room, the priests would perform certain duties (such as burning incense and tending the lamps); but they could not enter the inner room, where God was present. Only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, was the high priest allowed to enter the Most Holy Place – provided he took with him the blood of sacrifice to sprinkle onto the lid of the Ark.

Thus the very nature of Tabernacle worship bore witness to its inadequacy. God was not really approachable; even while living symbolically in the midst of His people, He remained at a distance, and access to His presence was severely restricted. There was an impenetrable barrier between the first and second rooms that no amount of animal sacrifices could break down. This symbolized the real barrier between human beings and God – which was never a physical barrier in a building but an internal, spiritual barrier located in the conscience. And so it could not be removed by the physical rituals of the old covenant.

But the death of Jesus has changed everything!

“He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, so obtaining eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:11,12)

What made the difference was the nature of the sacrifice that He offered and the location where He offered it. For He alone was able to enter God’s actual presence in heaven – not once a year, but once for all. And the death that He presented as atonement was not that of an animal but His own. Thus He paid the full redemption price for all God’s people – a price for which nothing in this world would have been sufficient (I Peter 1:18,19).

The animal sacrifices had to be endlessly repeated because they never actually achieved anything. “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4) But Jesus was a willing, rational and morally perfect Victim, and His sacrifice was accepted by God – which is why it will never need to be repeated (Hebrews 10:14). He had to die only once to save everyone!

Only one sacrifice could effect this momentous achievement – but now that it has been made, there is no need to repeat it or add to it. It is ‘the sacrifice to end all sacrifices’; the old system has been abolished at a stroke. The real, heavenly sanctuary has now been cleansed, signifying that God has forgotten our sins and that we shall be welcomed into His presence. We can neither be shamed by them now, nor condemned for them later! So while the repetition of the old covenant sacrifices was a reminder of sin’s continuing dominion (Hebrews 10:3), the repetition of the Lord’s Supper is for us a reminder of sin’s definitive removal.

All Bible quotations are from the NIV

May 29, 2018

The Chastisement of Our Peace

Sometimes a reader will leave a comment at very old post here, and it will remind me that the article might be worth sharing again. This one is from January, 2011…


He was wounded for our transgressions.

Those words, from the KJV of Isaiah 53:5 are probably among the scripture verses most known by heart.

By his stripes we are healed.

If you grew up Pentecostal or Charismatic, there is no escaping teaching on that part of the verse; no escaping the connect-the-dots between the scourging Christ suffered and the healing that is available to us today, in the 21st century.

But what about the third of the four clauses in that verse? Here’s the whole verse in the new NIV:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah, in this Messianic prophecy is saying that Christ’s suffering has brought us forgiveness for our transgressions and iniquities as well as (if you’re not dispensationalist) healing of mind and body.

But there it is, in the second-to-last, a reference to peace.

I mention all this because of a post I did this morning at Thinking Out Loud, where a U.S. pastor had his congregation complete an index card indicating the trials they were facing and the burdens they were carrying. If Isaiah 53 applies, then it must apply to the point of bringing peace to the very doubts, anxieties, fears, angers, jealousies, anger, pride, insecurities, addictions, pain, disappointments, attitudes… and everything else that people mentioned on those little 3-by-5 cards.

First, let’s do some translation hopping:

  • He took the punishment, and that made us whole (Message)
  • The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him (NASB)
  • the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him (Amplified)
  • He was beaten so we could be whole. (NLT)
  • The punishment which gives us the peace has fallen on him (tr. of French – Louis Segond)

Clearly, the intent of this verse is that our peace is part of the finished work of Christ on the cross.

The New International Bible Commentary says:

Peace and healing view sin in terms of the estrangement from God and the marring of sinners themselves that it causes.

The ESV Study Bible notes on this verse concur:

His sufferings went to the root of all human vice.

Lack of peace as sin? Worry and anxiety as sin? That’s what both of these commentators seem to say.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary makes clear however that the peace that is brought is a general well-being, not simply addressing the consequences of sin.

But in the Evangelical Bible Commentary, something else is suggested, that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is bringing a peace that represents the restoration between God and man.

Many of the other commentaries and study Bibles I own do not directly address this phrase. A broader study of the chapter reveals a Messiah suffering for all of the burdens we bear, such as the ones listed above in the pastor’s survey. (“Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear…”)

I’d be interested if any of you can find any blog posts or online articles where this particular phrase is addressed apart from the wider consideration of the verse as a whole.

At this point, let’s conclude by saying that the finished work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all manner of needs we face; all types of burdens we carry.

April 19, 2018

Utter Mess, Utter Grace

by Clarke Dixon

1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– Ephesians 2:1-8 NRSV

According to the apostle Paul we were all once in an utter mess, and in fact some people still are. While events around the world may confirm for us that yes, some people are in an utter mess, methinks there are many would say “others yes, but not me.”

Imagine, for example reading Ephesians 2:1-3 and then saying to a non-Christian friend that you just learned that they are ’dead in their sins’ (verse 1), or a follower of Satan (verse 2), or ’children of wrath’ (verse 3). Many fine folk would, I think, say something like “well that does not sound like me, I feel quite alive thank you, I have never been involved in Satan worship, and if there is a God I should not be judged by such a God for I am basically a good person.” How do we reconcile what we learn from scripture about our fallen nature with what a lot of what people think and feel?

First, you don’t need to feel dead to be dead. This mention of being dead takes us back to the story of the fall in Genesis. God said to Adam “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16b,17 ESV). Now we know that on the day Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit they did not die, but on that day we can say that death entered into the world, death becoming their inescapable future and a sure bet. In this sense when we are without God today we are “dead in our sins,” it only being a matter of time before death catches up to us.

Nor do you need to worship Satan to be listening to his voice. Again we go back to the story of the fall where we find the serpent tempts Eve, not to worship him, but to stop trusting God. Most people would never admit to worshipping Satan, but when pressed, might admit to not trusting God.

But what about the unbeliever who seems to be perfectly moral, in fact more moral perhaps than most believers; can we really say they are “children of wrath” deserving of what is commonly known as hell? According to the Bible you are either a child of wrath (Ephesians 1:3), or a child of God (see John 1:12). Many would like to say that by their moral actions they show themselves to be closer to being a child of God than a child of wrath. But this is like saying that a pregnant woman is a little bit pregnant, or very pregnant. I have heard and used such expressions but of course one is either pregnant or not. You are either a child of wrath or you are a child of God, you cannot be somewhere in between. Further, the symptoms may not be a good indication of truth.

There was once a show on TV chronicling the stories of women who gave birth despite not noticing any indications or “symptoms” of pregnancy until the last minute. You could say that with my middle-aged-spread — which began in my 20’s! — I have more symptoms of being pregnant than what some of those women experienced! What matters is not the symptoms, but the truth. And it does not matter how righteous or moral a person appears to beall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).

Consider the righteousness of Adam and Eve. When they were convicted of sin and banished from Eden they had no prior history of sin, and in sinning had not harmed anyone directly, nor done anything that most people might consider “immoral.” What they did was fall short of the glory of God, trusting the words of Satan over God, and so became children of wrath.

However, verses 1-3 are not the main point of our passage. They are verses that some will not get past in their denial of their need for a Saviour, but they are not the main point. Here is the main point: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4, 5 NIV). This passage is not really about sin or death or hell, but is about God’s grace, mercy, and love. No one need fear hell for anyone can trade in their status as a child of wrath for a new family tree, becoming a child of God and recipient of his grace though faith. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 NIV).

We can imagine God’s grace and our faith like this: we are stuck in quicksand and there is no way out. However, God reaches down and lifts us out in the palm of his hand. God’s love, initiative, and reach to rescue is the grace by which we are saved – we would be sunk without that. Our trust which keeps us in his hand is the faith through which we are saved – we’d jump back into the quicksand without that. What most people do not realize is that while we are alive we all, everyone included, experience a measure of God’s grace. That we can live at all, breathing, relating, enjoying life is a sign that we are experiencing God’s grace. God is under no obligation to grant us life but he does so as a sign of grace. This should help us to understand what we know of as hell. We tend to think of hell as punishment reserved for those who have done evil things to other people, making salvation and hell a matter of morality. Many naturally consider murderers as deserving of hell, but regular law abiding folk as not for example. But in the Bible, separation from God (hell) does not come just because one deserves it. It also comes because one desires it. Having experienced God’s grace by breathing some will curse the God who gave them breath and say “I don’t need you.” Having experienced the grace of God through loving and being loved, some will curse the One who has loved them the most and say “I don’t want you.” And so some choose to jump out of the hand that has been holding them, the hand that is ready to save them if only they will turn to in repentance, and not away from, the Giver of Life.

We have all at some point been in an utter mess, dead in sins, under Satan’s influence, and children of wrath, but utter grace is there for anyone who will take and trust that nail-scarred hand reaching for us in grace.!


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV. Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

Today’s post is from Clarke’s archives and was originally written in April, 2013.

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

April 15, 2018

May We Be Discontent to Live in Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re introducing a writer who is new to us. Sarah Jo writes at Blind Insanity. This is really part testimony and part teaching. I appreciate her transparency. To read this post at its source, click the title below.

Worship in Deed

[Friday] night, I went to a worship concert.

It was wonderful to worship with so many believers of Jesus. But as I looked around the auditorium, seeing so many hands raised, I was reminded of what Samuel said to King Saul:

“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)

Saul chose to disobey God’s commands, but he tried to cover up his disobedience with excuses. Obviously, God did not stand for his excuses, because He could see Saul’s heart. There was no excuse for Saul’s sin. He should have bowed before God right then and there, but he chose to stand in his sin.

Almost everyone at the concert raised their hands and sang praises to Jesus, but I know that so many of them choose to stand in their sin on a daily basis. They make excuses for their actions, so they worship God in vain, because they worship with their lips, but don’t bow down their hearts and surrender their lives to His leading.

How can I know that people are living in sin and rebellion against God? Because I am no different.

I believe in Jesus. I love Him. But so many times, I sin, and that, knowingly. I have the willpower to resist sin and do the right thing, but I still choose sin. By the grace of God, my guilt draws me back to Jesus, again and again, and He gives me grace upon grace. But His grace and His Holy Spirit are changing me; making me more like Him, teaching me what it means to be holy, and giving me the strength and will to follow.

I am only accountable for my actions and the condition of my heart, but I see a need for every professing believer in Christ to live a holy life before God.

Without Christ, righteousness is impossible, but anyone who has Jesus has put on His righteousness. Through Him, they are made righteous, and through His Holy Spirit, they are given the strength to live a holy life; to live in a way that glorifies Him. That means that, what would be seen as normal, and even “healthy,” by the world, should not be present in our lives.

Every form of sexual immorality, gossip, lying, hatred, drunkenness, cheating, and any other sin should no longer have dominion over us. That is not to say that we won’t struggle or that we won’t stumble, but we should grow to the point where we don’t fall into that sin again. And we should humble ourselves before God on a daily basis; asking Him for the strength to resist sin and live for Him.

We need revival in the Church. Revival starts in the heart, and it should produce good fruits that bring glory to Jesus Christ.

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will show forth Your praise. For You desire not sacrifice; else would I give it. You delight not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:15-17)

Abba, we need You to step into our mess and bring us to our senses. May we be discontent to live in sin. Teach us to be holy as You are holy; to be examples of You in word and deed. Please continue to shower Your grace and mercy over us, and may it be Your love that brings us to our knees and shapes us into the men and women that You intended us to be. Thank You for listening when we speak, and never forsaking us.
I love You, Jesus.

Amen.

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