Christianity 201

April 3, 2021

Below the Surface: Look for the Symbol in the Miracle

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.John.2.3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons…

…11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

The most miraculous thing Jesus ever did was to conquer death, which we celebrate this Easter weekend. At the other end of the narrative, we have his first miracle at a wedding. These bookend that aspect of his life and they have much in common.

Today we have a book excerpt for you from The Problem of Jesus: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to the Scandal of Jesus (Zondervan, 2021) by Canadian pastor Mark Clark. (A sequel to The Problem of God.)


Bringing about revelation of God that leads to saving faith is one of the stated purposes of miracles the gospel writers tell us about. Jesus did miracles to reveal to the world what he came to do. Again, we see this in the miracle mentioned earlier, the turning of water into wine. John 2:6 tells us that there were six stone jars filled with water and then gives their purpose, which is the key to uncovering the meaning of the miracle: they were “for the Jewish rites of purification.” Why did John include this detail? Because John’s larger purpose was to show us through this miracle that the Jewish observance and ritual of purification was being upstaged and superseded by Jesus. This phase of history, where humankind connected with God through religious observance of rituals, was coming to an end. It was being fulfilled by Jesus and what he was doing in the world. Jesus was doing something new, and he was saying, “I am the new wine.” Religion was giving way to relationship.

Here we find the scandal of Jesus’ miracles, the real problem Jesus was creating. What he was saying was like a cultural hand grenade, upending centuries of tradition and belief. this would have been extremely offensive and controversial to John’s audience. How do I know? When I was in Israel a few years ago, I had the unique privilege of preaching in front of one of these big stone water jars at Cana in Galilee, where this miracle took place historically. The jar was up to my waist and must have been two or three feet wide at the mouth. My audience was a collection of tourists standing around as well as our Jewish tour guide, Abraham.

I explained what the story of the water being turned to wine was about, and later Abraham pulled me aside and asked, “Are you serious about what you said back there?” I said, Yes, of course,” He said, “I’ve done this tour with two hundred Christian groups, and I’ve never heard any of them get up and say what you just said. Do you really think that that’s what Jesus was trying to say?”

Here was a man who was religiously living under the idea that purification jars were still necessary in relating to God, and I was able to clarify what Jesus was saying. he began to grasp the idea that one phase of God’s work was over and a new had begun, and it hit him hard. As it should hit all of us. You can see why the miracles Jesus did were powerful, not only for the activity itself, but for what it meant about God and God’s work in the world. Jesus was not just healing people or doing marvellous things. He was more than a doctor or a magician. In every miracle, he was reinforcing what he taught: “I’m replacing everything the temple and all of the purification rituals ever meant or were used for. I’m here–and I’m shutting it all down.”

You can understand why Jesus’ audience often got angry with him. Jesus claimed to be bringing about a new era, or as John said, “The law was giving through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). With Jesus came a cosmic shift in how God related to the world, for Jesus was bringing creation back to what it was intended to be before sin and death.

What does this mean for you and me? It means that miracles are an invitation to all of us, God’s invitation to enter in and experience restoration at a personal level.

pp167-169


Excerpted from The Problem of Jesus: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to the Scandal of Jesus ©2021 by Mark Clark and used by permission of Zondervan Publishing.  Learn more at  zondervan.com


Watch a 90-second video with Mark introducing the book:

 

 

March 8, 2021

Jesus Changes Everything

In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” – Luke 8:25b

Today we’re paying a return visit to Practical Theology Today. The writer is Curt Hinkle.

Get Used to Different

If you haven’t watched The Chosen yet, I highly recommend it. The developers of the project hoped to create a “binge-worthy” series and they seem to have accomplished their intent. I had a fever several weeks ago, was self-quarantined for a few days, and I binge-watched the entire first season (eight episodes). It is well done! They really do a good job of depicting the humanity of Jesus as well as his likely interactions with the people, especially his followers.

The creators did an especially nice job of surmising the interactions between the disciples themselves. Of particular interest was the interplay of the fishermen (Simon, Andrew, James, and John) with Matthew (Levi), the Israelite, turned traitor, tax collector for the occupying Romans. There was no love loss. When Jesus invited Matthew to follow him, Simon questioned the action, “What are you doing? Do you have any idea what this guy has done?” Simon, after reminding Jesus what this guy was a tax collector, said, “I don’t get it” to which Jesus responded, “You didn’t get it when I chose you, either.” Simon’s response: “But this is different. He’s a tax collector.” Jesus’ retort has become my favorite line in the series so far – “Get used to different.”

 Get used to different – an understatement to say the least. As I read through the gospels, I try to imagine what was going through the minds of those first-century followers. Almost everything Jesus did and said was different. I picture them huddled together, collectively trying to make sense of what was happening.

I recently read Luke’s account of Jesus calming the storm prior to a visit to the Gentile region on the East side of the Sea of Galilee (Luke 8:22-39). To this point, the disciples suspected they might be following the Messiah, the anointed one of God that would rescue the nation of Israel from the Roman Gentile dogs. But Jesus seemed to do things differently than they expected of a messiah and the trip across the lake didn’t ease their confusion. When Jesus said, “Let’s go across to the other side of the lake,” I could picture the disciples discussing among themselves, “Serious? The other side? That’s Gentile country. They are different over there.” Get used to different!

As they crossed the lake (about the size of Lake Mille Lacs in Minnesota), Jesus fell asleep and a storm blew in. After being abruptly awakened by the disciples, Jesus calmed the raging storm and they continued their journey across the lake. Though the disciples marveled at what they had just witnessed, it left them fearfully asking, “Who then is this…?” We think he might be the Messiah, but messiahs don’t calm storms. Messiahs position themselves to overthrow pagan kingdoms. This is different. Get used to different!

Landing on the the other side of the lake, Jesus and his disciples were immediately met by a naked man who lived among the tombs and was possessed by a Legion of demons (Who, by the way, knew exactly who Jesus was – “Son of the Most High God.”). Cleanliness was core to the first century Jewish religious customs. What we see in this narrative is uncleanliness at every turn – an unclean (naked) man, with unclean spirits who lived among unclean tombs in an unclean territory where they raised unclean hogs. Any respectable rabbi (and presumably a messiah) would have gotten back in the boat and left. I picture the disciples huddled on the shoreline next to the boat, again asking “Who then is this…? This is really different than we expected.” Get used to different! *

In what ways might we need to get used to different? As Christ followers, I think we need to be OK with different. I think we need to learn to expect different. In fact, as Christ-followers, I suspect that God wants us to step into different. The late Howard Hendricks used to suggest that we should always be involved in something that stretches our thinking and comfort – something different than we are used to. Different drives us to God and causes us to rely on the Holy Spirit. Different leads to transformation. If we are serious about following Jesus, I suspect we need to…

Get Used to Different!

* If you know the story, you know that Jesus drove the legion of demons from the man. Jesus was not defiled by the unclean man in his unclean setting. Instead “the holy contagion of Jesus rescued and transformed the man,” borrowing from Jim Edwards (Edwards, J. R. (2015). The gospel according to Luke, p. 249).


From Thinking Out Loud:

What if the books of the New Testament were arranged somewhat differently? If people can have fantasy sports teams, I figured I could imagine an edition of the NT with the books in a different order. Click here to read.

February 2, 2021

Living New Covenant Means Welcoming New People

The transition from Old Covenant to New Covenant involves the story of a man named Cornelius. If you’re unfamiliar with his story, click the link which appears at the beginning of today’s devotional.

A year ago we introduced you to Paul T. Reynolds who lives in the Cayman Islands, where he oversees Children’s Ministry at First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman. You can read more of his writing at his blog, where he’s currently working through the Book of Acts. He is the author of 66 Books, One Story.

Living for God for People

Acts 10:1-23a (AD 42)

Verse two is not a comprehensive statement of what it means to be a good Christian, but neither is it incidental.

The Roman Centurion Cornelius was a “devout and God-fearing” man (not just him, but also his family). Furthermore, he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly (v.2).

God repeated the point for emphasis, two verses later: Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.

James shared similar thoughts from God when decrying moral hypocrisy, stating that Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world(James 1:27).

In both instances, a point of emphasis is a dual perspective on what being a Christian looks like: holy living (involving personal relationship with God and behaviour) and caring for those in need.

Cornelius – a righteous Gentile and a man of authority – was then told by God to send for a nobody; a mere fisherman, a poor man with no-one under his command. Cornelius had no problem with what God said, and did as he was told.

Peter, on the other hand, did not immediately do as he was told. In his vision (v.11-16), God told him what Jesus told him – that the old civil and ritual codes were fulfilled and therefore no longer relevant. He needed to change his understand of right and wrong.

Does that mean that other aspects of God’s teaching might have reached their sell-by date and need to be traded in for more enlightened perspectives?

Well, that depends.

Is the teaching in question, part of the system of civil and ritual law that Jesus said was fulfilled and therefore ended? Or is it part of the moral law, the nature of God himself, reaffirmed by Jesus or the apostles?

Cornelius, with his upbringing surrounded by idol-worship and sexual immorality, knew that his culture didn’t change God’s nature. God’s nature must and did change him.

Peter, with his upbringing dominated by hypocritical leaders, was struggling to understand that his nature wasn’t exactly the same as God’s nature. God’s nature must, and would eventually, over time, change him.

Fight the part of you that doesn’t care about the eternal destiny of people you don’t like.

And hold firm to God’s calling on your life; pursuing your relationship with Him in prayer and holy living, and helping the needy.


What happened next? The continuation of the story in the rest of Acts 10 and Acts 11 is important. Click to read the next blog post in this series: Even to the Gentiles.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Two posts might appear on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives, or from different parts of the world. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. Your suggestions of articles and websites to consider are always welcome.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

November 29, 2020

What Does It Mean to Say God is Immutable?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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What does the word mean?

From Dictionary.com:

adjective: not mutable; unchangeable; changeless.

synonymns: immovable, inflexible, sacrosanct, enduring, abiding, changeless, ageless, constant, fixed, invariable, permanent, perpetual, stable, steadfast, unalterable, unmodifiable

From a very detailed, very researched page at the website PreceptAustin.org:

Immutability means that God is not subject to change through time or circumstances. He is invariable. In His nature and character, God is absolutely without change. In God’s essence, attributes, consciousness and will, He is unchangeable. Ponder the significance of this truth, in light of other truths about God such as “God is love.” (1Jn 4:8, 16)…

A W Tozer ..adds that “If God is self-existent, He must be also self-sufficient; and if He has power, He, being infinite, must have all power. If He possesses knowledge, His infinitude assures us that He possesses all knowledge. Similarly, His immutability presuppose His faithfulness. If He is unchanging, it follows that He could not be unfaithful, since that would require Him to change. Any failure within the divine character would argue imperfection and, since God is perfect, it could not occur. Thus the attributes explain each other and prove that they are but glimpses the mind enjoys of the absolutely perfect Godhead.” …

Where does the Bible teach this?

The website AllAboutGod.com provides the scripture references:

The Old Testament clearly states that God is immutable:

“God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19).

“He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind” (1 Samuel 15:29).

“They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end” (Psalm 102:26-27).

“Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please’” (Isaiah 46:10-11).

“I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed” (Malachi 3:6).

God is Immutable – New Testament Verses
“Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-13).

“God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged” (Hebrews 6:18).

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

“He also says, ‘In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end’” (Hebrews 1:10-12).

“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time” (Titus 1:1-2).

Why is it Necessary that God have this Characteristic?

From the website GotQuestions.org:

…There are several logical reasons why God must be immutable, that is, why it is impossible for God to change. First, if anything changes, it must do so in some chronological order. There must be a point in time before the change and a point in time after the change. Therefore, for change to take place it must happen within the constraints of time; however, God is eternal and exists outside of the constraints of time (Psalm 33:11; 41:13; 90:2-4; John 17:5; 2 Timothy 1:9).

Second, the immutability of God is necessary for His perfection. If anything changes, it must change for the better or the worse, because a change that makes no difference is not a change. For change to take place, either something that is needed is added, which is a change for the better; or something that is needed is lost, which is a change for the worse. But, since God is perfect, He does not need anything. Therefore, He cannot change for the better. If God were to lose something, He would no longer be perfect; therefore, He cannot change for the worse.

Third, the immutability of God is related to His omniscience. When someone changes his/her mind, it is often because new information has come to light that was not previously known or because the circumstances have changed and require a different attitude or action. Because God is omniscient, He cannot learn something new that He did not already know. So, when the Bible speaks of God changing His mind, it must be understood that the circumstance or situation has changed, not God. When Exodus 32:14 and 1 Samuel 15:11-29 speak of God changing His mind, it is simply describing a change of dispensation and outward dealings toward man…

Does this mean the God of the New Testament is the same as the God of the Old Testament?

In many respects, this question needs to be re-framed to be a valid question, but the clue to the answer is in the last sentence of the previous answer (“a change of dispensation and outward dealings toward man.”)

Look at this way, you can’t read Hebrews 13:8

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

without having passed by Hebrews 8:13

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

(Like the 8:13/13:8 thing I did there?)

Similarly, you can’t answer this question in terms of God’s core character or essence, but rather, one resolves the presumed dilemma in terms of discussing the idea that God has, with the coming of Jesus, ushered us into an era of a new covenant with humankind.

Thankfully, we get to be participants in this new covenant.

 

 

April 16, 2020

When Everything Changed (Easter Reflection)

by Clarke Dixon

We have all experienced incredible change recently, to our routines, our plans, our lives. Our hearts go out to those who have experienced change in the worst ways.

I am reminded of a time I was the instigator of change. My first pastorate was a two-point charge, each of which had regular Bible studies. In the one church we met over lunch and tea was served in some very fancy teacups. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t do fancy. And while my fingers are not large, they are still larger than the pathetic little handles in your average fancy teacup. By the time we left that church five years later, I had them drinking tea out of mugs!

That was pretty much the only change I made in that church. People resist change, especially people who are devout, people who are committed. Very often in smaller churches, people are both devout and committed. Thankfully so!

In New Testament times we see many devout, committed people making very big changes in a very short space of time. They made changes in their expression of faith. For example, they moved away from a focus on the temple, away from the practice of animal sacrifice, and away from a focus on Saturday, the Sabbath, as the highlight of the week, focusing on Sunday instead. They also moved away from an insistence on keeping a distance from anyone who was not Jewish.

How did these big changes come about among people like Paul, who were very devout and very committed to an old and enduring way of expressing faith in God? What made them want to change in matters of great importance? Paul tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (NRSV)

Paul met the risen Jesus, and that changed everything.

Since Jesus had risen from the dead, people began to change their religious practices. For example, people began meeting on Sunday to worship in order to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus, which happened on a Sunday. Every Sunday is Easter Sunday! They stopped the sacrifice of animals, realizing that Jesus is the best, and truly only, sacrifice for sin. They stopped having a strong focus on the temple, realizing that God was not to be found there, but rather indwells all His people.

Since Jesus had risen from the dead, people realized that how they related to God had changed. We relate to God through a new covenant, not by our being good enough to “make the cut,” but in Jesus being good to us, taking the consequence of our sin on himself. Our relationship with God is based on his love and grace, his offer of reconciliation.

Since Jesus had risen from the dead, people changed how they related to one another. They related, not so much by law and custom, religious or national, but by a new way of love which touched all relationships. There was a new way of valuing one another, breaking down class divisions, another big change.

Jesus was raised from the dead and that changed everything. Jesus is alive, and that changes everything. It can change everything, for you and for me.

The resurrection of Jesus can change our future. Many are living in fear that COVID-19 will control our future, and rightfully so, it certainly has had, and will continue to have, an impact. However, some day it shall be a matter of history. It will be in the past. Jesus is the one who is, who was, and who is to come. The day will come when COVID-19 will be part of our history. Jesus is our future.

The day will come when COVID-19 will be part of our history. Jesus is our future.

Jesus was raised from the dead in the past. He lives with us now in our present. He will be there for us in our future. Resurrection to eternal life will be a life-changing, life-giving part of our future.

The resurrection of Jesus can change our lives now. We can walk with Jesus now, in faith, hope, and love. Walking with the risen Jesus changes everything. It changes our relationships, as we walk with others in the way of love. It changes our outlook on life and society. It changes us. The word “repentance” literally means “a change of mind.” We change our minds about ourselves, and about God. Among other things, in repentance we change from thinking that God does not matter, to realizing that God does matter, because we matter to God. Easter is the evidence that we matter to God, a lot!

Jesus is risen, and that changes everything. Are you ready for change?


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can watch the full worship expression, or the reflection alone. For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here

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?

 

August 28, 2018

You are a Slave: Who is Your Master?

by Russell Young

How often have you heard a passage put in a context that seems to make sense without giving its meaning second thought? Romans 6:23 may be one of them. “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This passage is often used in the evangelizing process to confront people with the fate that awaits sinners and to reveal the hope provided by Christ; however, the context of this passage makes it more expansive than often appreciated. It is directed to both those who have confessed faith in Christ and to those who have not. Paul is addressing the question of whether those who claim to be believers should go on sinning “that grace may increase” (v 1) and has stated that we should “count” ourselves, or consider ourselves, to have died to the practice of sin which our baptism has pledged. He has proclaimed that sin should not be our master because we are no longer under the law. In addressing slavery to sin his words are:

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin which leads to death, or to obedience which leads to righteousness? (Rom 6:16 Italics added)

In his encouragement, he has added, “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (v 18) The freedom to which he refers is from past sin and from slavery to sin since breaking the law is sin and the law has been nailed to the cross. Paul wrote to the Colossians,

“When you were dead in your sins and in the circumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code (the law) with its regulations that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Col 2:1314)

Old Covenant law does not apply to those under the New Covenant, therefore sin cannot be acquired by breaking its prescriptions. He has commended their slavery to righteousness since they were obeying the teaching that he had given. Paul went on to explain that although they used to offer their bodies in slavery to sin, they were to “now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” (v 19) Further he explained, “but now that you have been set free from sin (past Heb 9:15) and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” (v 22) His position is that slavery to righteousness leads to eternal life. It is in this context that he wrote, “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Many confessors have taken the last clause, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” to over-rule the first. A “gift” is normally something given unconditionally. Paul has not promoted the idea of a “gift” anywhere in this chapter, however. In keeping with his teaching on “slavery” a more understandable and a better rendering of charisma, the Greek from which “gift” has been translated, can be gained.

The Liddle and Scott Greek Dictionary presents charisma to mean “grace, favour.” The online Ancient Greek Dictionary (to 1453), Glosbe, represents charisma to mean “personal charm or magnetism; (Christianity) an extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit; the ability to influence without the use of logic; a personal attractiveness or interestingness that enables you to influence others; personal magnetism or charm.” This chapter does not mention “gift,” nor hint of a gift, but of a life of slavery.

Gift” as used in Romans 6:23 is misleading. Charisma refers to the idea of the appeal or magnetism of God and implies a response by the one who has been attracted or charmed and influenced. Some confessors will not see the charisma of God and to others the influence of a holy God will not endure; they will be claimed by the world once more. It is the appeal of God’s magnetism (attractiveness) which motivates a person’s soul to pursue God and to become a slave to righteousness that provides eternal life. Christ is to be recognized as lord or master and it is through obedience to him (Heb 5:9) that he is able to accomplish the believer’s eternal salvation. Paul has presented that while slavery to sin –which is the continuation of sinning and rebellion against the Spirit—results in death the influence or appeal of Christ entices slavery to righteousness which results in eternal life.

Verse 23 is a summation of his address to the question concerning whether we should go on sinning so that God’s grace should increase. Those who don’t live in slavery to Christ as their master and lord by default become slaves to sin which will result in death. Confessors have the freedom to choose their master. However, the wages of sin is death but the charisma of God provides eternal life through Jesus our Lord, our Master. The sin issue cannot be resolved until the mastery issue is resolved.

Although the first covenant law has lost the power to enslave the confessor, a law still exists that can be broken. Paul said that he was not free from God’s law but was under “Christ’s law” (1 Cor 9:21), which he has also called “the law of the Spirit of life”. (Rom 8:2) Breaking Christ’s law brings death. John wrote, “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.” (1 Jn 5:16) If life over death for a brother can be gained by forgiving a sin, neither pardon for sin nor certainty of life must have been established for the brother.

The Lord addressed the issue of slavery, as well. He stated, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.” (Jn 8:3435 Italics added) A son is one who is led by the Spirit of God (Rom 8:14), who in slavery to righteousness, through which he or she honors Christ’s law.

Confessors would be wise to consider Paul’s words in their context and to choose their master carefully.


Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

(All Scriptures are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.)

 

 

November 23, 2017

Sitting on the Altar

by Clarke Dixon

“The priest yelled at me for sitting on the altar and that was the last time I ever went to church”. Thus said a new acquaintance one day. Some may want to scold the priest for handling the situation in an unfriendly manner. Or perhaps the priest knew something the young man did not? The Bible has much to teach about sacred, holy spaces.

It begins with Adam and Eve who, though initially enjoying the presence of God in the garden, sinned and got the boot. God is holy, they were not, and so they no longer belonged in that sacred space.

It continues with Moses and the burning bush. Moses is to take off his sandals for the place upon which he was standing was holy ground. God’s presence was near, an unholy man like Moses must keep his distance. We can note here, how fire is an appropriate image for the presence of God. Unholy people should never think they can give a holy God a hug. The fierce holiness of God commands a respect of space.

It continues with the Israelites at Mount Sinai. God tells Moses that he is going to be present on Mount Sinai and so the people are instructed to wash their clothes and to not “go up the mountain or touch the edge of it” (Exodus 19:12). God is holy, they are not, sacred space is to be respected.

It is taught with the giving of the law and the instructions regarding the tabernacle, the priesthood, and the sacrifices. The incredible attention to detail for clothing, ceremonial washings, and sacrifices offered a reminder that an unholy people cannot dwell with a holy God. If you were a Jew and you were to approach God at the tabernacle or later the temple, then the holiness code must be kept. If you were a non-Jew wanting to approach God at the Temple in Jerusalem, then you had to obey the signs telling Gentiles to go no further. God is holy, and you are not, so stay back.

The young man I quoted at the beginning was told to stay back. Unfortunately, he also stayed away. Whatever lessons the priest and the young man could learn that day, there is an important lesson for us all. Consider these words from the Apostle Paul:

But I have written more boldly to you on some points so as to remind you, because of the grace given to me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. I serve the gospel of God like a priest, so that the Gentiles may become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:15-16 (NET emphasis mine)

Paul’s passion, reflecting God’s call on his life, is to reach the non-Jews with the good news about Jesus, with the good news about God. Paul frames this calling as being like a priest who is to bring an offering before God. In Paul’s case, that offering is non-Jewish people. There are two truths that follow from this for us to consider:

First, because of Jesus, people are brought into the presence of God who should not normally be there. Think of the temple and the signs telling the non-Jews to stop and go no further. Now imagine Paul like a priest bringing his offering, the non-Jews, to the temple. He must walk right past the signs! People who were once far from God and who were to keep a distance are now brought into a sacred space. There is a similar line of thought in Ephesians:

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh . . . that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:11-13 (NET)

Perhaps you feel that you are far from God and should keep a distance. In Christ you are invited to come right up to the altar!

Second, because of Jesus, people become an acceptable offering. Only the best of the best was to be brought as an offering before the Lord. There were to be no blemishes or defects. Do you feel like the best of the best? Probably not and neither do I. However, our perfection as an offering is a reflection of God’s work in us. Paul does not say that he brings the non-Jews to God just as they, as if any old offering will do. What he says is;

I serve the gospel of God like a priest, so that the Gentiles may become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:16 (NET emphasis mine)

It is God’s work to make us holy through the blood of Jesus and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Our part is to show up. Paul here is continuing a thought he expressed earlier:

Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God. Romans 12:1 (NET)

The emphasis is not “Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by your own efforts, to make sure you are good enough, and holy enough, to present your bodies as living sacrifices.” We might prefer it were, for we prefer pedestals to altars, also for then we could boast about our own capacity for holiness. Only, of course, we never could. The main verb focuses us on our part; offering ourselves. It is God’s part to make us “alive, holy, and pleasing to God”, to make us an “acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit”.

I am a Dad, not because I spent nine months of painstaking work building a baby piecing together each and every cell in the correct place. I am a Dad because something incredible happened in my wife’s womb. My only accomplishment for nine months was getting a crib together. We are invited to become an acceptable offering, not because we we have the capacity in ourselves to become holy, but because God has done something incredible.

So let us consider again the yelling priest and the young man sitting on the altar. Was the priest right? The real tragedy here is that the young man, when I met him, could only think of religion in terms of priests, churches, religious people, and religious stuff. The question is not “what do you think of religion?” but always “what do you think of Jesus?” Whatever his answer to that is we know what God thinks of him. He wants him to be where He is, to live fully in the presence of God, to live in a sacred space, in fact to become a sacred space. That is what God wants for you also. Are you sitting on the altar?


read more at www.clarkedixon.wordpress.com

October 17, 2017

Christ as Mediator

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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by Russell Young

What is the mediatorial ministry of Christ? In addressing the role of high priest, the writer of Hebrews has presented: “But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs (high priests of the Old Covenant) as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and is founded on better promises,” (Heb 8:6 NIV)

This passage reveals that Christ is mediator of a new covenant. The New Covenant is a covenant of the Spirit (2 Cor 3:6) and it is through these covenantal blessings that the believer is made competent to become a sacrifice that is pleasing to God and it is through Christ’s ministry within the believer that he is able to mediate by enabling the believer to become fit for the kingdom. (Rom 15:16)

The ministry of Christ entails more than is often recognized.  A mediator is a person who arbitrates between two people; he brings them together by removing the obstacles that separate. John has identified Christ as the “advocate” or “intercessor” for the person who sins; the same Greek word has been presented as “comforter” and references the Holy Spirit. The mediation of Christ involves his ministries as sacrifice, Holy Spirit, and high priest. Without any of these ministries humankind would remain separated from God, unfit for his eternal kingdom. People need to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Rom 8:29) to become a sacrifice acceptable to God.

As sacrifice, Christ took the death penalty that awaits all humankind because of their sin, and provided access to God so that the believer might be given the Holy Spirit (Gal 3:14) and the blessings of the New Covenant. (Heb 9:15)

As Holy Spirit, he enlightens (Jn 14:26), leads (Jn 10:3, Rom 8:4, 14; Gal 5:18), and empowers (Acts 1:8; 2 Pet 1:3; Lk 4:14; Rom 15:19) for righteousness and conformation to the likeness of the Son of God, his own likeness. This mediation makes the believer suitable to God; it returns him or her to the state that God found “very good” in Genesis. (Gen 1:31)

As high priest, he advocates for the one who has sinned. (1 Jn 2:1) The redeemed person needs to be cautious concerning sin, however. Those who deliberately keep on sinning after they have been informed (convicted by the Spirit) of its presence will not enjoy the advocacy of Christ. “No sacrifice for sins” is left for them. (Heb 10:26) When sin is recognized it is to be humbly confessed so that it might be forgiven. (1 Jn 1:9) All sin is offensive to God and as high priest the Lord intervenes on behalf of the believer when he or she confesses sin or when she or he sins in ignorance. (Heb 9:7; see also 8:5)

Believers should not accept that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is the fullness of Christ’s mediatorial ministry. Nor should they accept a passive or indifferent attitude towards his leading following their redemption. They are to be led (follow) and they are to be obedient. (Heb 5:9; Rom 8:4; Gal 6:7-8) An advocate can only plead for the believer’s pardon based on the elements of the situation. Deliberate disobedience can not be advocated; it is rebellion.

Christ is merciful and faithful and is ready to help the believer “in his time of need.” (Heb 4:16) That need might be wisdom to avoid temptations or for strength to withstand and to defeat them, or it may be to seek forgiveness when defeated.

The mediation of Christ on behalf of the believer needs to be fully appreciated.  It is common to hear praise for the Lord for what he has done, but he also needs to be appreciated and praised for all that he continues to do through his indwelling presence as Spirit (Col 1:27) and for providing his cleansing blood as high priest. To become an offering acceptable to God the believer must be sanctified by the Spirit and transformed into the Lord’s likeness.


Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. He is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. 9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

April 16, 2017

Why Good Friday is Good?

by Russell Young

This being Easter weekend, I was compelled, like most, to consider the events that took place more than two millennia ago. The immense importance of the passion of Christ can never be taken for granted, but perhaps the exact events, those hidden from view, can escape our appreciation. I have discovered that reflecting on the sacrificial offering of Christ has given clarity to other biblical teachings.

Accepting that Christ died for my sins is humbling and awe-inspiring. Appreciating the unseen dynamics is enlightening. For instance, how did his death “destroy the work of Satan”? The Lord’s death was not a simple trade of his life for mine.

Christ came “to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 Jn 3:8 NIV) Trading lives would not have accomplished the destruction of Satan’s power. His power rested in his ability to make people sin, bringing about their death and ultimately defeating God’s plan to have a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. The defeat of Satan’s work could only be accomplished by eradicating sin and the death that accompanied it. It is transgression of the law that comprises sin-the law of Moses. Paul wrote, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” (1 Cor 15:56 NIV) And, “Where there is no law, there is no transgression.” (Rom 4:15 NIV) The law had to be satisfied and terminated. That is what Christ accomplished.

It is true that I deserved death for sin just as do all of humankind. I had been caught in Satan’s deceits and those practices that were offensive to my creator and sovereign. Had justice been served neither I nor anyone else would have survived. Satan would have won. There would not have been a single person suitable for God’s presence. Had Christ died for my sins and for those of all of humanity, the devil’s work would still not have been completed since sin would have reared its ugly head again during the remaining part of my life.

Some teach that all sin was forgiven at the cross but this is not so. According to Hebrews 9:15, “[Christ] died as a ransom to set [believers] free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” If at confession of faith, only my past sins had been forgiven, I would have still been at the mercy of the devil since my evil nature would have compelled me to continue in sin.

Christ not only provided my pardon, he defeated sin by destroying the law that defined it. Christ brought to an end the Old Covenant, the covenant of the law of Moses, the covenant that kills. (2 Cor 3:6) There can be no more sin under its jurisdiction. (see again Rom 4:15) This is Christ’s great victory over the devil. He robbed Satan of his power. Again, the writer of Hebrews stated, “For this reason (to cleanse our moral consciences from acts that lead to death) Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” (Heb 9:15 NIV) The writer also stated, “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first obsolete.” (Heb 8:13 NIV) Believer’s are no longer under the righteous requirements of the Old Covenant and the evil one can no longer use its laws to cause sin and to bring about death.

That is not the end of the matter, however. John wrote of The Lord’s victory and of his proclamation: “I am the first and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Rev 1:18 NIV) The one who holds the keys has the power to control their use. That is, Christ has the power to determine who will die, who will be sentenced to Hades, and who will find eternal life. These are his determination!

The sacrificial death of Christ, in itself, does not fully meet the need of believers. The Lord holds the keys, and the matter of righteousness has not been concluded as some suppose. God still has requirements for those who are to dwell with him throughout eternity and the issue remains a “law” issue, not the law of Moses but the law of the Spirit. (Rom 8:2) “For the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”(NIV) The issue remains one of obedience, and God’s righteous requirements still exist; Christ is the means of accomplishing them, however. Paul wrote: “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so, he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3─4 NIV) The New Covenant is a covenant of the Spirit. The Lord is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18) and he must be obeyed. (Heb 5:9) Fortunately for me and for all who claim the name of Christ, the law of the Spirit is embodied in the Spirit and he gives the power to accomplish his law and to achieve victory over Satan for the believer. (2 Pet 1:3) I have been freed from the death I deserved and from the weakness of my sinful nature. I walk cleansed and in the power and authority of the Spirit of Christ. Greater is he that is in [me] than he that is in the world.” (1 Jn 4:4 NIV) I have a better hope of victory because I have Christ and his presence in me. (Col 1:27)

In the end those who have claimed belief will face Christ at judgment to determine their reward or judgment in compliance to his rule. Freedom from judgment comes from allowing the Spirit to enlighten, lead, and empower the believer so that he or she does not commit practices that are offensive to God. Believers are compelled to walk in the light-in obedience to the Spirit-or as Christ walked. (1 Jn 2:6)

The great work of the cross was the destruction of Satan’s power by instituting a new and better covenant empowered by Christ, and the cleansing of believers from the sin that they carried while under the Old Covenant.

September 18, 2016

Communion: Eating and Drinking, the Forgotten Components

Communionby Russell Young

Communion should be a powerful reminder, not just of what Christ has done but of that which he continues to do in the believer’s life.  It is well understood that the body of Christ was broken for mankind; the significance of eating the bread and drinking the wine is less well appreciated.

Christ said, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (Jn 6:53 NIV) Although some do not connect this revelation to communion its linking seems obvious.  The Lord has made it clear that unless the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood is done, a person has no life.  Communion is not only a command of Christ; it should be a potent reminder of the Lord’s ongoing ministry for the believer and of each person’s need.  It is not so much obedience to the command that God requires as it is a reminder to continuously eat and drink of the Lord.

Luke has recorded the Lord’s Passover celebration: “And he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me. In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in [because of, through] my blood, which was poured out for you.” (Lk 22:19-20 NIV) The new covenant, a covenant of the Spirit, was made available through the blood of Christ (Heb 9:15) and is only accomplished through the willingness of the believer to be led by the Spirit.

The bread of communion is to remember that Jesus, the Christ, gave his body as propitiation for the sins of the world. Bread also had great spiritual significance for the Israelites. Bread was and is a staple of life.  It nourishes the body and provides strength.  In the wilderness, manna, which was bread-like, had been provided for the Israelites. It was very nourishing and gave life to the Israelites as they wandered the wilderness.  However, Moses told them that “man does not live on bread alone but from every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut 8:3 NIV) Christ said that he was the bread of life, the nourishment they needed.  He promised that those who “eat” (take him in) would never die. He said, “I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.” (Jn 6:48-49 NIV) Jesus is also referenced as being “the Word.” (Jn 1:1; Rev 18:13)

The Bible also states that Ezekiel was given a scroll and was told to eat. “Then he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.’ So I ate it and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.” (Eze 3:4 NIV) The apostle John was also given a little scroll and was told to eat it (Rev 10:9), after which he was told to prophesy again. The scrolls contained the words of God and these servants were told to eat them.

The bread not only represents the Lord’s death, the significance of communion also rests in the understanding that the bread is God’s Word which must be taken in daily. Bread needs to be chewed, to be digested, in order to be made useful; it cannot be swallowed whole. Likewise, the Word needs to be “chewed” and digested.

Neither is wine a mere remembrance of the shed blood of Christ.  Life is in the blood. (Deut 12:23) Blood symbolizes the Spirit and drinking it symbolizes taking in the Spirit.  “The Spirit gives life.” (Jn 6:63 NIV) “He [came to] convict the world [including the believer] of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Jn 16:8 NIV) The Spirit saves through his sanctifying work. (2 Thess 2:13; Titus 3:5-6) Since his sanctifying work has not been completed (Gal 5:5), neither has the believer’s need.  Communion needs to be a reminder of that fact; he or she must take in the Spirit and allow their Lord to live within them, leading them in righteousness apart from the law (Rom 8:4 ), into sonship (Rom 8:9) and it is he who will provide the believer with eternal life. (Heb 5:9; Jn 10:27-28) The people who will dwell in the Lord’s eternal presence are required to “let the Spirit renew [their] thoughts and attitudes.” (Eph 4:24 NLT; Rom 8:29)

Eating the bread is a different issue than breaking it.  The eating is a reminder that Christ is in the believer and that his Word must also be within them.  The living Spirit provided through the Lord’s blood is necessary if the believer is to gain victory over sin and to be conformed to the likeness of God’s Son. Christ in the believer is his hope of glory (Col 1:27) and the means of glorifying him. The acts of eating the bread and of drinking the wine will not clearly portray meaning to the believer until their significance is commemorated. Neither will the fullness of the Lord’s ministry and of the believer’s need be remembered until proper celebration takes place.

How great is God!  There is no good thing in us.  But, with Christ in us what great things can be accomplished.  What “good” is possible!  The fullness of His ministry must be commemorated! This must be remembered regularly.

May 4, 2015

Cana, Covenant, and Christ

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This is an awesome post by Hardin Crowder, a blogger I’ve been reading regularly for many months. I believe it’s his first time here at C201. Click the title below and read this in its original format.

The Joy Behind The Wedding at Cana

When God Attends Your Wedding

I absolutely adore weddings, and I believe that God does too. I don’t think it is an accident that the human story in the Bible both begins and ends with a wedding. I also don’t think that it is an accident that Jesus’ first public miracle took place during a wedding celebration:

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “ Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “ Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “ Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “ Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “ Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

– John 2:1-11

One has to wonder why, of all the times and places, this seemingly uneventful wedding was where Jesus chose to perform his first public miracle. This miracle wasn’t performed in front of Kings, or Pharisees, or great men of power and influence. This miracle was performed in front of servants. It was performed at a wedding for a couple who couldn’t even afford enough wine to feed their guests.

One also has to wonder why, of all the miracles that could have been performed, did Christ decide to do something so trivial as providing refreshments. Why not start off by feeding the 5,000, or walking on water, or healing the lame? Does a wine shortage at a wedding really merit a miracle?

The New Covenant Wine

One thing I love about the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus is that an event can have multiple meanings. On the surface level, this is simply an act of kindness on the part of Christ. The poor groom had served all the wine he could afford, but it was not enough to satisfy his guests. Everyone attending the wedding would soon know that this groom had reached his limits and had come up short. He had failed to fulfill his duties. Christ’s intervention spared the poor groom the embarrassment of having to own up to his inability in front of all his friends and family.

There is, however, an even deeper meaning here. Jesus could have taken water from any source and turned it into wine, or perhaps even caused wine to appear out of thin air, but he didn’t. Jesus specifically told the servants to use the water from stone jars set apart for Jewish rites of purification.

These jars were used for ceremonial washing, and represented a core element of the Laws of Moses. They were used to protect jewish purity and make sure that people stayed ritually clean. The water from these jars washed away your dirtiness, at least on the surface level, and symbolically covered up the sins of the people. This was not simply drinking water. It served a specific purpose, and Jesus requested it to be used for this miracle.

Jesus Christ, God incarnate, was at this moment fundamentally changing everything. He was saying that these jars no longer need to be used for this purpose of ritual cleanliness. The ritual purity of the law of Moses was no longer necessary to hide your sin. No longer do you need to cover your sin and shame with ritual washings, for Christ has come and a new covenant is upon us!

He took the water meant to cover sin, and turned it into wine for a celebration!

Christ Is Better

Once the water is turned into wine and presented to the master of the feast, he declares that “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, the the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

On the surface one can read this passage and think, “Of course Jesus’ wine is better. What benefit would there be to making miraculously mediocre wine?”

There is, however, a deeper truth to be found here as well. The master of the feast was right when he says that “Everyone serves the good wine first.” I know that I am guilty of this in more ways than one. Human beings like to be loved, and as a result we often present and idealized version of ourselves to others. We put on masks and filter ourselves to make sure that the people around us only see the good side. Only once a person has tasted our “good wine” do we let them see our “poor wine” as well.

All of us are playing a part, hoping to impress. We put out as much “good wine” as we can possibly muster up, and only show our “poor wine” when we have to.  All of us, like the poor groom, are terrified of being left empty and ashamed. We fear that once we have given our all, it will not be enough.

That’s where Jesus comes in. He picks up where you fall short. He accomplishes what you and I never could.

With Jesus the best is always yet to come. When your walk with Christ first begins it is like tasting good wine for the very first time. One wonders how they ever could have thought the poor wine of the world was ever worth anything. One thinks that it can never get better than this, and to their surprise it does.

I’ve been a Christian for several years now, and never once has Christ failed to amaze me. The deeper I go in my walk with him, the sweeter and more beautiful his gospel is. Times of prayer grow from being a chore, to being the highlight of every day. Reading scripture goes from an obligation to becoming a bottomless well of inspiration. His commands stop seeming like limitations as we begin to catch glimpses of the joy that is the faithful Christian life. Jesus becomes your all, and you begin to realize that in Him is a peace, joy, and fulfillment that (like a fine wine) only grows greater with time.

It is no coincidence that the Bible describes the Church as the Bride of Christ. He is the groom we all need. He provides the wine that never runs out, and always proves to be better. We are simply called to taste and see that the Lord is good!

Are You Empty?

Are you willing to admit that even our best can only hope to mask the fact that we simply aren’t good enough?

Are you willing to admit that, though you might put out your best for everyone, you know that you can’t keep up appearances forever, and you are afraid that one day people might just sees the real you?

Are you worried that one day you are going to run dry? Or maybe you are completely spent already, and you don’t know where else to turn?

Are you tired of falling into the same messes? Tired of trying to get yourself clean, only to find that the stains never fully go away?

If that is you I have good news…

Christ is enough

Christ sees the real you, and wants the real you to be his bride.

He died for you to save you at your very worst.

He will not let your cup run dry, he will fill you up so that you never thirst again.

His sacrifice is enough to wash away all your sins in a way that soap and water never could, and he takes great joy in washing you white as snow (or perhaps white as the dress of a bride on her wedding day).

Christ is seeking out his bride and calling her home, will you come?

 

August 9, 2014

What People Might Say

ESV John 5:2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic[a] called Bethesda,[b] which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.[c] One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews[d] said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

Today’s blog post is a reminder that sometimes we might hesitate to do something truly good because we’re concerned about what people might say, or that they might think we’re doing it in the wrong way.  The writer, who goes simply by Dan, blogs at Apprentice 2 Jesus. To read this at source, click on the title below.

You bunch of Sabbath breakers!

John 5 gives us the story of the lame man healed at the Pool of Bethesda. The real problem the Jewish leadership had was… horrors! … Jesus healed on the SABBATH. 

They were so concerned about Sabbath breaking they missed the larger point of actually helping someone. 

Each of us, regardless of our theological leanings, have this temptation in us. We cut to the rules and find the rules we like to harp on and then we camp right there waiting for someone to trip over the rules, or our narrow theological definitions, or (place your issue here) and then we pounce.

For some theological circles, it’s upsetting if I hang out with homosexuals and call them my friends. For some theological/political circles, it is anathema that I mention Israel possibly doing something wrong in the current situation in Gaza.

For some, it’s upsetting to buy a sandwich at Chik-Fil-A, or buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks, or shop at Target…

In each case I could hear shouted out at me, “YOU SABBATH BREAKER!”

I have yelled it at times myself. It’s fun. It gets a lot of energy out. I feel a bit more superior… and RIGHT.

Which brings me to the point… and I do have one.

We are far more concerned (and I speak to “right,” “left,” or whatever stripe of theology you may bear) with being RIGHT than being RIGHTEOUS. We become consumed with winning the argument rather than being the apprentice to Jesus like we are called. We hesitate to help a Muslim or a homosexual or a Republican (I won’t let anyone off the hook. I’m an equal opportunity offender) because we fear someone wagging a religious finger at us and yelling, “SABBATH BREAKER!”

God help us to DO righteousness. To DO justice and to LOVE mercy! THEN we will know God!

March 31, 2013

It’s a New Day

I thought we’d begin today with a comment that George Hartwell left here a few days ago:

It is still the evening before it all – the evening when God revealed the secret that had been hidden for 1,200 years. All those Passover meals, all those animal sacrifices over all those years would soon be cancelled from the Roman cross with the declaration that “It is finished!”

The whole system of remembering the Passover is about to be fulfilled in one who revealed at a Passover meal with his disciples that he is The Lamb. The secret was revealed by the Spokesman for the Three, to a small group of 12 or so.

The Temple, the priests, the sacrificial system, the religious way of appeasing and appealing to God was all fulfilled and finished. Fulfilled in the one who is The Lamb and finished by the one who is The Lamb.

Enough of law, ritual and feast, They – the Three – want to meet with you and me, face to face, like Jesus that night having a special meal with his men, and sharing the secret. “I am the Lamb. Don’t you know me,__________?”

It’s a new day.

The sun rises on the age of a new covenant.

Yesterday, Jeff Dunn at Internet Monk posted a song which, strictly speaking is not an Easter song, but then again, it is insofar as it describes the next climactic scene in the panorama of scripture, when God and man sit down together, which is made possible by Calvary. He introduced it:

This week I thought I would share my favorite hymn with you, a hymn very appropriate for this weekend. Truly, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, God and man at table are sat down. Enjoy, and Happy Resurrection Day.

Yes, fellowship with God starts now; eternal life starts now.  He has a different version posted, this one is an earlier one that is audio-only for my readers in remote places. You know who you are!

This is Hebrews 10: 11-12 from The Voice Bible, which is similar in some respects to The Amplified Bible:

11 In the first covenant, every day every officiating priest stands at his post serving, offering over and over those same sacrifices that can never take away sin. 12 But after He stepped up to offer His single sacrifice for sins for all time, He sat down in the position of honor at the right hand of God.

Click here to read the whole chapter in The Voice.

March 21, 2012

Rewriting the Epistles in the First Person

Here’s a really cool idea I’ve never seen before. You take a chapter of one of Paul’s epistles and rework it verse-by-verse into a first person declaration.  B. J. Stockman guest posted this at Vitamin Z, and I’m going to give you about half of it, but you’ll have to click through for the whole chapter.  He calls it “preaching to yourself.”  This could also be a great exercise for a small group, Sunday School class or youth group.

Galatians Chapter Three
  • I will not be foolish and be cast under the spell of trading the true Gospel of grace for a different one.  My greatest remedy against false gospels is to be infatuated and continually familiar with the true Gospel.  (3:1)
  • I will not be impressed with preachers that do not focus my eyes on Jesus Christ and whom do not consistently paint the picture of the crucified Jesus before me no matter how clever and inspiring and motivating they are in their preaching. (3:1)
  • I receive the Holy Spirit by faith, not by works.  I desire more of the Holy Spirit’s work in my life, and I receive the Spirit by faith in the finished work of Christ not by doing works. (3:2)
  • I will not pursue sanctification by works, but by faith.  I recognize that justification and sanctification are both by faith.  (3:3)
  • When suffering comes I know that it is not in vain, but that the Holy Spirit is still working.  Therefore I trust Jesus for endurance through suffering. (3:4)
  • God generously provides me with the Holy Spirit and works miracles through faith, not works.  I desire God’s gifts of a greater filling of the Holy Spirit and miracles, and I trust Him to provide them. (3:5)
  • I will not despise the preached word, but will believe the preached word that glorifies Jesus and emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit.  I recognize that hearing the word is critical in building my faith. (3:1-2, 5)
  • I know that God counted Abraham righteous because he believed God.  (3:6)
  • I am a son of Abraham because I believe the Gospel.  My brothers and sisters who believe the Gospel are sons of Abraham as well. (3:7)
  • The Old Testament Scriptures foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith.  Abraham had the gospel preached to him, as all nations are blessed in Abraham.  Therefore I will not ignore the Old Testament, but trust God’s word and God’s gospel in all the Scriptures. (3:8)
  • The blessing of Abraham is upon me because I am a believer like Abraham. (3:9)
  • When I work from law I am returning to the curse because I do not do all that is written in the law.  I refuse to live under the curse that the law brings, because I am now in Christ. (3:10)
  • It is evident that no one is justified by law-keeping, because in the Old Testament God has made clear that the righteous live by faith.  God’s righteousness is imputed to me by faith in Jesus not by law-keeping, and I am justified before God by faith not by law-keeping.  (3:11)
  • I will not live with the idea that the Old Testament was about law, while the New Testament is about faith.  God has always, in the Old and New Testament, said that the righteous live by faith not law. (3:10-12)

You’re almost halfway through but the best is ahead…. keep reading (click here)

You’ll also find on the same blog examples of Galatians 1 and Galatians 2.

Update, Saturday March 24th: Later on in the week, B. J. added chapters four and five.  We decided to publish both chapter five in the NIV and B. J.’s first person version at Thinking Out Loud in parallel, so you could compare what he wrote side-by-side with the text.