A Bloody Covenant

Exodus 29:1-30:10; Matthew 26:14-46; Hebrews 10:1-25

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” -Matthew 26:26-28

 

Biblical atonement is bloody. Sacrifices made to consecrate priests, yearly and daily sin offerings, left a constant reminder of death. As I was reading about the sacrificial practices in the Old Testament I kept thinking how barbaric it is. In our sanitized modern living this world seems so removed from our own. Yet this is what God instituted before Christ, foreshadowing the cross to end all sacrifices once and for all. The blood of bulls and rams did not take away the peoples’ sins but implied confession of sin, recognizing the necessity of shed blood as atonement. God accepted this offering in anticipation of the finished work of Jesus.

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Our sin is barbaric. Animal sacrifices are a picture of what sin does. It kills, as the consequence for sin is death. An in-your-face daily, blood-filled, cut up animal in place of your sin is sobering. I don’t like to dwell on the horrors of sin, mine or in general. The sin of humanity causes destruction wherever it goes, diminishing us to our worst selves as base creatures. This is one of the reasons God graciously reminded Israel of their sin and need for cleansing. We are all sinful. Once we are aware of our sinfulness, only then can a person come before the Lord in need. You realize someone or something is required to take away your sin because we can’t. You need a Savior.

Praise God for sending Jesus as our Atonement. The blood of Jesus covers every believer, serving as the propitiation for our sins. Our guilt is not counted against us as we are no longer condemned (Romans 8:1). At the same time I wonder if we who live post-resurrection frequently mediate on the ugliness of sin. We see its effects all around us but how often do we stop and remember what we once were? If you are in Jesus your sins are forgiven, but by remembering how far the Lord has brought you, no, transformed you, should fill every one of us with awe-inspired worship.

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We have a Savior who redeemed us by becoming a Perfect Sacrifice. Jesus is the New Covenant. There is no longer the need to go through a priest, offering animals to be slaughtered on our behalf. Jesus has completed this function. He is the Great High Priest and Sacrifice. So we look back to the commands of bloody offerings, reminding us of the sorrow sin brings. We also rejoice in what Jesus has done for mankind. He paid the hefty price of my sin so I never have to. For those who place their faith in Him, the stains of sin and death have no hold on them.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

Grow deeper: Ephesians 2:1-9; Titus 3:3-8

Servant Priests

Exodus 28; Hebrews 9; Matthew 25:31-26:13

 

“To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father- to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” -Revelation 1:5-6

How we relate to people, especially in the Body, seems to be of great concern to our Lord. Spiritual unity is a theme found throughout Scripture and was important enough for Jesus to pray over before going to the cross (John 17:19-23). If God’s heart could be summed up in two sentences it would consist of our love for Him and how we love others (Mark 12:28-31). Why do our relationships matter? Can’t it just be me and God?

When we look back to the Ten Commandments, the first four commands are how man lives toward God. The last six speak of people rightly interacting with each other. God gave us a template for relationship in the Trinity. Created in the image of God, we are made to be relational. We are meant for community.

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For the most part I am typically reserved and shy, especially in large groups. It takes a lot of energy to be around people for an extended period of time. So intentional community could potentially be an introvert’s worst nightmare. Our bandwidth is limited more than the naturally outgoing person. Still, this isn’t a cop-out as we are all called to serve others, investing in relationships among the faith family. I can trust God to help me interact with people and not live selfishly to myself.

It is actually a joy to represent Jesus by ministering to someone. My Father ministers to me everyday through various acts of service. It might be a text message from a sister in Christ checking on me, a meal, a joke, prayer, or receiving childcare help. Serving the Body doesn’t have to be complicated. There are many practical ways we can bless another or perhaps be on the receiving end.

The priesthood order outlined in Exodus 28 foreshadows not only Jesus as our Great High Priest but believer-priests in the Church Age: us! Notice Aaron is given the high office (a type of Christ), but his sons are instituted as servant priests also. This is our spiritual heritage, a picture of what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ (1 Peter 2:5). Jesus says how we serve others will define whether we are His or not. This isn’t a works based salvation but a product of flourishing faith, obedience and love. Our spiritual sacrifice requires giving of ourselves with our time and resources. In this way we identify with Jesus who demonstrated the deepest kind of love through action on the cross.

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Mary of Bethany dignified Jesus in the home of Simon the Leper by pouring an expensive perfume over him. This was possibly her life savings and as the Bible does not record her having a husband to depend on financially, her act was one of reckless abandon to the Lord. Did she have an inclination of what was to come? Jesus said she was preparing Him for burial. Whatever her motivation other than overcome with worship, she ministered to Jesus. Can you imagine that privilege? Even then while Mary was in the act of honoring Christ, others around her were scorning this perfumed sacrifice.

What is more incredible than Mary radically serving Jesus is the way he humbly served His own disciples by washing their feet. Jesus also blessed lepers by touching their sores to heal them, erasing their stigma as outcasts. The Lord allowed children to sit on His lap and enjoy His presence, Jesus turned water into wine for a new bride and groom at their wedding feast. Ultimately, Jesus served all who will come to Him by going to the cross. There is no greater testimony than the life of Christ, our Great High Priest. He calls us as servant priests to follow in His steps. Serve the Church, sincerely love and honor our faith family.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Treasuring Faithfulness

Exodus 26:1-27:21;  Matthew 25:1-30

 

“Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning. In the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain that is in front of the Testimony, Aaron and his sons are to keep the lamps burning before the Lord from evening til morning. This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for the generations to come.” -Exodus 27:20-21

In reading the Exodus passage for constructing the tabernacle I’m amazed how specific it is. God orchestrated every detail in the materials used, measurements and instructions so there would be no confusion. He is the God of order not chaos. We see this reflected in how the Israelites were to worship also. Do we affirm like Israel, after Moses told them everything the Lord commanded, by responding, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey” (Exodus 24:7)? We’re familiar enough with the Biblical history cycle of: call to obedience, failure, judgement, repentance, and restoration. Like a worn path, this is our story too. We all share in this heritage of sin as Adam’s race. But there is hope.

Just as the actions of Israel illustrate every human heart, the components of God’s tabernacle were pointing to an even greater Temple in His Son. We are prone to wander, in need of a powerful and merciful Savior Who is capable and willing to rescue a damned people. God provided Jesus as the way to Himself. Now, as His Beloved Bride the Church, we pursue faithfulness to Christ alone. He is our treasured Bridegroom.

We are to make ourselves ready for Him by staying faithful in the work He has given us to do until His return or until we die. A faithful heart to the Lord creates the desire to walk in wisdom, please our Master, and share in His happiness. Have you ever thought about obedience as a means to be happy?

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Following Christ is not easy. It certainly cannot be done in our own strength, yet those who abide in Jesus, choosing to trust His ways and obey, will discover a deep-seated joy that gets lovelier over time. Its like finding a priceless treasure buried in the dirt. After persistently rubbing off the grime it begins to gleam. The treasure becomes even more precious to you as its beauty is uncovered. This is what its like to know and obey the Lord. He simply calls us to follow Him, to stay true to our Bridegroom.

Jesus laid the pattern for us to walk in, going before us. We know the way, so we walk by faith. And if  when we stumble, His Hand is right there to pick us up because Jesus’ grace toward His children is boundless. Through His Spirit we have access to God and transformed hearts that are now always tied to our King. Jesus’ blood makes standing in His holy presence possible.

The Lord tells us to keep the light of His Spirit burning in our hearts, letting it shine for others to see (Matthew 5:14-16). We are to be faithful and unashamed. Our faces will shine with the light He has placed inside our hearts, one that never goes out. This is our worship. In this way, we actively wait for God, anticipating His coming again.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

Peaceably Disagree

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” -James 1:19-20

 

I’ve repeated these verses in James often over the years because I need the reminder. I don’t want to be known as a grouch who is always loudly shouting my opinions and never listening. That isn’t the way of Jesus and it shouldn’t be true of me either. So how does one have a discussion or debate without losing your cool? How can a Christian promote harmony and not discord?

Romans 12:1-15:6 is an excellent passage on practical living in unity. It does not mean you are unable to share your thoughts, convictions or opinions. After all, God made us with the ability to reason. What it does mean is we keep the other person (or people) in mind during a disagreement. Am I honoring them by listening? Do I show love and humility with my words and body language? 

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The way we deal with confrontation as believers matters because of Who we represent to a watching world. It’s easy to blast someone on social media without thinking much of it. This is especially true if we don’t know the other person very well or at all. Don’t let the lack of physical interaction become a blinder to the fact that words can be destructive and destroy any testimony we have. The virtual world is not a barrier, as we are still accountable for our words and actions. It would serve us well to remember this.

I cringe just thinking about confrontation. It’s not something I go looking for. Yet as a lover of truth, defender to justice, guardian of mercy, sometimes we need to speak. How we go about it is what will honor the name of Christ or misrepresent His matchless grace. All too often Christians default to silence, not wanting to offend Aunt Martha from Idaho or the neighbor down the street. This isn’t always the best solution either.

Disagreeing with someone can be done with grace and peace as we strive for unity- especially among the faith family. To be clear, we do defend the core doctrines of Christianity at all times. This is not to be disputed. The virgin birth, Deity of Christ, the Trinity, resurrection, and salvation by grace through faith, are foundational for a Christian. Explicit commands in Scripture are also non-negotiable. But if there are lesser disagreements then as Paul writes in Romans, “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (12:18). Why would we do this?

  1. All men and women are created in the image of God and therefore should be given proper respect.
  2. Those in the Body of Christ are called to walk worthy, living in spiritual unity with each other (Ephesians 4:1-5; Philippians 1:27-2:4).
  3. You represent Jesus. As a minister of reconciliation, we reflect our Savior.

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There is freedom in accepting we will not always see eye to eye on every issue among believers. Not everyone has to be like me (because THAT would be boring!). This is the beauty of having a personal relationship with Jesus. He addresses us as individuals in our sin because we’ve each been given a distinct personality with certain preferences, habits and weaknesses. It is through our unique personhood we learn to operate as one Body. Only Christ can dream up something so wonderful and improbable yet still make it possible.

It is not a crime to ask questions or form convictions. But we must also be humble to admit when we might be wrong, or change our position if necessary. At the very least we can peaceably disagree. This is how we can dignify another person we have conflict with. Don’t take offense when a brother or sister in Christ disagrees with you. We aren’t robots and may have different views on politics, how we raise our kids, or worship-style preference. This does not make you less (or superior) in your faith if someone does it differently than you.

When we learn to not take an opposing view personally, we are able to practice bearing with one another in love, responding with gentleness and respect. In this way the Church adorns the Gospel, making it attractive before a world in need of some really good news right now.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

The Living Temple

Exodus 23:14-25:40; Psalm 30; Matthew 24:29-51

“You turned my wailing into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give You thanks forever.” -Psalm 30:11-12

 

God’s redemption makes the impossible possible. We can have a peace-filled fellowship, a love relationship, with the King of the Universe. How amazing is that?! In the Exodus reading portion we read of the types of Christ under the law. The institution of a priesthood, sacrifices, and tabernacle foreshadow Jesus fulfilling these roles once and for all as our Great High Priest and Perfect Sacrifice, the Lamb of God. Through Him we are cleansed, forgiven, and restored as God’s own sons and daughters. It is because of Jesus that we are free to worship anywhere. His Presence is no longer confined to a portable tabernacle or man-made temple. Jesus is the Temple (John 2:18-22).

The Holy Spirit dwells in each believer thus making up Jesus’ Church from a patchwork of languages, nations, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Rich and poor, Jew and Gentile all have Christ in common. We, His Bride, become where Jesus’ temple resides (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This truth has enormous impact, ministering to us as we realize God has not left us alone. He has given Himself to be with us always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).

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Even when the curtain of human history comes to a close, if we are still here, we can have courage as our faith assures us of the outcome. Our Father literally wrote out the ending for us (Isaiah 35: Revelation 21-22). The time of judgment will be cut short for the sake of His people (Matthew 24:21-22). God will shake the Earth of wickedness then redeem it, creating a New Earth where Heaven and Earth meet. For now the wheat and tares live together but one day God will separate them. It is His grace and long-suffering mercy which causes God to be slow to anger, abounding in love, not wishing any should perish to eternal Hell.

Christian, you can rest secure in Christ because Jesus lives, and He lives in you, His living temple. God destroyed the Temple in Jesus on the cross so that you and I will never be destroyed. We carry His sacred temple within us. Just as Christ was resurrected we too are not overcome by death, but will taste resurrection for ourselves. When we pass from this Earth to our eternal Home we will see Jesus our Lord, the Living Temple, face to face. This is our heritage, this is our glory.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Judgment to Restoration

Exodus 21:22-23:13; Psalm 29; Proverbs 7:6-23; Matthew 24:1-28

 

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” -Romans 8:22-23

Along with the Ten Commandments, God instituted a standard of living among the Israelites. Like today, we’ve been given commands for how to act with integrity toward each other and abstain from spiritual adultery. “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips” (Exodus 23:13). God alone is to be worshipped.

It’s interesting to observe the contrast in God’s will for us versus the natural bent we have toward sin. Moses wrote down the Lord’s system of order and peace. In the end, a life outside His will leads not only to our own destruction but the breakdown of society. Where moral corruption exists, divine judgement follows. Deception of false Christs, blind leaders, wars, famine, abortion, earthquakes, open hostility and persecution are the norm- for now. Jesus Christ rules and will judge everything.

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One day His final judgment will undo the tangled knot of sorrow. Sin does not triumph. The world and the relationships God had in mind for us in Eden will be made true again. Jesus has already conquered death, yet we wait in the “already and not yet” season as God fulfills future promises. In the meantime, the Bible speaks of our weariness and groaning, along with creation, for everything to be made right because deep down we know it isn’t supposed to be this way. We see the devastation sin has done to the world and our lives. Take heart because this is not the end of our Story. Believers look forward to the most wonderful Day when we receive our resurrected bodies no longer tainted by sickness, sin or death. As we live in the middle of the Fall, between Genesis 3 and Revelation 21, God promises to “[give] strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace” (Psalm 29:11). Jesus will restore, making all things new, but first God must refine, judging the dross. If you are in Christ, the Lord is on your side. Who can be against you?

 

Grace upon grace,

April

God’s Way

Exodus 19:16-21:21; Psalm 28; Proverbs 7:1-5; Matthew 23:13-39

 

“What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come […] So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” -Galatians 3:19; 24

 

There has to be a reason I repeatedly teach my 9 year old not to whine or argue. One, I just don’t like hearing it. But more importantly, I’m parenting for obedience. The lessons I lay out for him now will hopefully change into a habitual behavior. My hope is one day he will want to walk in obedience on his own without me reminding him! I can only assist in modifying actions I know please God, but He has to transform the heart.

In a similar way, God gave us His law not to go through the motions but to promote heart change. Through the law God demonstrates His standard of holiness and how we always fall short because of our sin nature (Romans 3:23). Following the law cannot save us but reveals our need for the Savior. God’s commands are right and good. They keep us from grievous sins against Himself and others. Even the cultural laws for Israel were beneficial to the people as they learned to operate as a set apart nation governed by God.

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When we reduce the Lord’s decrees to playing church on Sunday we are no better than the outwardly pious legalists Jesus condemned during His earthly ministry. God says He desires mercy, not sacrifice. So what does that mean? Jesus cares more about the motivation of our hearts than how we appear before others. Is our focus to look “holy” with lengthy superficial prayers, checking the church box, or visible acts of service? Or are we more concerned with what the God of this Universe thinks? Our Father inspects the fruit of the heart.

The Israelites trembled before the Lord in reverence and wonder. They couldn’t bear to have God speak directly to them in all His Glory.  In Psalm 28, David cries out for God to hear his prayer and deliver him from those who defy God’s ways. Our response should be a combination of these two reactions.

As God’s beloved sons and daughters we have the family privilege to boldly approach His  throne of grace. We can cry out to Him in our need, in our thanksgiving, even asking Him to defend us, and He will hear you. Yet this is done with a heart of humility and reverence toward the One who created you. I’m always awe-struck with fear when a storm blows through the area I live in, known for it’s tornadoes. There is such power in the wind and lightning. God is the source of this fierceness. Do you know this kind of God?

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When the Lord comes again He will meet us not only as our Shepherd, but as the Great Warrior He is. He will come to end the final war that has raged since the Fall (Genesis 3). His Name is Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11-16). This should bring us to our knees and worship. One day, all will bow the knee before King Jesus and confess Him as Lord (Philippians 2:9-11).

As we seek God, He will fashion our hearts after His own. Over time our desire will be to obey Him more and more as our love for the Lord grows deeper. We won’t be as concerned with what the world thinks of us. We are either being fit for heaven or fit for hell through our obedience or rebellion. Knowing Christ is the one solid anchor we have to hold onto- everything else is shifting sand.

Follow God’s perfect way today. When you realize this isn’t possible to do on your own, go to the One who made our righteousness possible. Jesus fulfilled God’s ways because we never could. Walk with Jesus.

 

Grace upon grace,

April