Sunday, April 30, 2006

Observation Regarding Sacrifice

It is often interesting to examine the ideas culture promotes, and compare them with the same ideas in Scripture. Often the cultural take on these ideas is 180 degrees from the biblical. This is evident in the idea of a what constitutes a sacrifice, and what makes it acceptable.
George Barna, a pollster of Christian thought, reported recently that 51% of American Christians believed Jesus sinned during his life on earth. While this reveals a misreading of scripture, it also shows a lack of understanding about the nature of sacrifice as revealed in the Old and New Testaments. To even begin to get an understanding of the nature of a sacrifice, as delineated by God, we must look into the book of Leviticus which is the ‘handbook’ for the sacrificial system in Scripture. Leviticus lists the various sacrifices the Israelites were to present to God beginning with the Burnt Offering. This particular sacrifice required an animal from the herd or flock; “a male without defect.” In similar vein, the fellowship offering required an animal; “...male or female...without defect.” The Sin Offering and the Guilt Offering, offered to make atonement for one’s sin and guilt for breaking the laws of God, also was to be an animal, “without defect.” All the sacrifices were to be perfect, complete and without any defect.. Later on in scripture, in the book of Malachi, God condemned the Israelites for offering crippled, diseased and blind animals for sacrifices. The clear message is that a sacrifice was to be without defect, perfect.
It is in this context that the poll results of Barna give cause for concern. If as many people believe, Jesus, the sacrifice for our sins, was not without defect, then as Malalchi quotes God “With such offering from our hands, will he accept you?” becomes our concern. A sinful Jesus as our sacrifice, would be, by definition, defective. In essence many are saying that our sin offering, our guilt offering, Jesus, was defective and imperfect. A sacrifice that, by its very nature would be, unacceptable.
However, there is a further problem with the idea of a sinful Jesus. All sin has been given a verdict of guilty and a sentence of death since the first sin in the Garden of Eden. The book of Romans records the reading of the sentence: “The wages of sin is death.” The just sentence for a sinner is death, which in the Scriptures means physical and spiritual death; death of the soul and the body. Therefore, if Jesus was a sinner, He was deserving of death for his own sins. If he sinned during his life on earth, then he was sentenced to death, died, and did not rise, because all sinners die and stay dead, banished from the presence of God, never to be in His presence. That is the fate of Jesus if He indeed sinned. It may be somehow comforting, in a fellowship of thieves kind of way, to think of Jesus as just like us, but if He is, then we are never going to be anything like God. IF Jesus sinned, our sins are still on our souls, not having been paid for, because our sin offering was not perfect, without defect and therefore was not sufficient and not acceptable.
It is time for Christians to think through the ideas currently in vogue and to do so with a background of biblical knowledge.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Second Guesses

What happens when God says one thing and then we think He says another thing, different from the first?
It has happened to me; perhaps also to you. I am inclined to think it a small thing. On the order of misunderstanding a good friend then having to talk it out. Misunderstanding, though, seems a less accurate a term for it than ignoring or dismissing someone altogether. Scripture has an interesting narrative about just this type of situation.
In 1Kings 13 there is an account of a man Of God being commanded to go to Bethel, deliver a message to the king and return to Judah. His itinerary included the interesting instruction to refuse food and water in Bethel. Furthermore, he was told to return home by an alternate route. It almost sounds like an undercover assignment. However his task is anything but private and covert. The man of God is sent to pronounce judgement on the King of Israel for apostasy. That task, though seeming to be daunting, was carried out by the man of God with courage and even grace as he prayed for the healing of the king who had ordered his capture. The exciting and frightening encounter over, the king invited the man of God to his own home for some refreshment and a reward. It is at this point that we hear the man of God state the God given restrictions on his journey; namely the command to refuse refreshment and to return home by a different way. Having refused the king’s offer the man of God left Bethel by another route and started home.
On the way home, the man of God rested under an oak tree and was found by an ‘old prophet’. This man had set out to find the man of God after hearing what he had told the king. The old prophet invited the man of God to return to his home and have some bread and drink. The second offer(temptation) the man of God had in that day. He again refused, repeating the instructions received from God for this journey. Perhaps the old prophet was lonely, or just a jerk, but he lied to the man of God and said;”“I am also a prophet like you, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD, saying, ‘Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.’”
So the man of God went home with the old prophet. Why did he change his mind and dismiss the clear instruction of God? What led the man of God to believe the lie of the old prophet? Was he lonely, hungry, tired, or just weary? The scriptures do not tell why the man of God disobeyed, just that he did and suffered for it. God gave the old prophet one last word - that of the future of the man of God. And it happened as spoken, the man of God died on his way home after eating with the old prophet.
There is no doubt the man of God knew God’s command to him; he stated it twice. But when the prophet told him an angel of God had given an updated command, he believed it.
To obey a only a little is to disobey fully. Perhaps the man of God figured God changed His mind, or that God meant less than originally spoken. That change, in the man of God’s thinking, lead to his death far from home. The command of God was clear. The command was never changed. The man of God ignored it, believed a lie, supposedly spoken by an angel and ended up dead. Ironically, the man of God was sent to pronounce judgement on the king for changing the clear instruction of God concerning worship. The king had instituted another type of worship of God, one that served his own purposes and aims. He was judged for the sin and his worship changes were cursed by God speaking through the man of God. The man of God stopped obeying the clear word of God even as he was on the journey to curse another for the same thing.
The lesson is to beware of changes in the words of God dressed up in religious words and activities. If God has spoken clearly, listen and believe. He is not going to change His mind and send an angel out with the revised command. He is not going to confuse the matter. No matter how compelling the messenger, know that when God speaks clearly He means exactly what He says.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Danger of Doubt

In 1 Kings 11 God promised Jeroboam, son of Nebat, the kingship over Israel; the 10 tribes that He would take from the house of David. God also promised to be ‘with’ Jeroboam and further more to build for him “an enduring house” in the way He did for David. God said to Jeroboam, “ I will give Israel to you.” Additionally, He told him that his family would become a dynasty of rulers if they continued in the ways of the Lord.
But the promises of God did not ultimately convince Jeroboam. In 1 Kings 12:26-29 Jeroboam evidenced his doubt of God. He decided to “make an enduring house” on his own and to rule Israel in another way, outside of the commands and promises of God. He did this by crafting two golden calves as objects of worship placing one in the area of Dan, at one end of Israel, and the other in the city of Bethel, at the other end of the country. This was in order to keep the 10 tribes, those under his rule, from traveling to Jerusalem in order to worship God at the temple. Jeroboam feared the people would desert him for the king of Judah if they continued to worship in the capitol city of Jerusalem.
The Kingdom was promised to Jeroboam; 10 tribes, an enduring house like that of David, and yet he doubted. the power of God and the words of God to keep this specific promise to him. He feared the people would be drawn back to the house of David if they continued to worship in Jerusalem So in order to keep what God had surely promised to him, he rejected God, and God’s ways, setting up, instead, his own way to keep the kingdom, to preserve the promise by his own power.
Doubt that God could keep His Word and fear of losing the promise led to loss of all Jeroboam tried himself to keep. What Jeroboam tried to keep, he lost. What he tried to create, he destroyed. Doubt of God led to total loss of all Jeroboam had hoped to accomplish.
God is able to keep His promises and to provide that which He has committed to do. To doubt this is to lose all, as Jeroboam learned.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Gap

Psalm 107:23: “Moses stood in the gap and turned away the wrath of God.” The psalmist recalls the many times that Moses prayed for the people in order to rescue them from the wrath of God. The Israelites were a headstrong, stubborn, sinful people as even a casual reading of Exodus reveals.
Moses, as their spokesman and leader before God, asked God to defer His judgement, giving mercy instead of allowing His wrath to proceed. And, wonderfully, God did.
But to simply have the wrath of God turned away, is not to have it gone. God’s righteous anger at the rebellion of His people still burned. A deadly situation at best for the rebels, all the rebels, including us. Wrath deferred is still wrath existing. A deferment is only temporary; a judgement waiting to be applied, a sentence waiting to be served.
Moses as the lawgiver can only defer the coming, rightful judgement. Is there a way past the wrath of God? Yes, it is the One who took that wrath and did not just stand in the gap and turn it away, He stood in the gap and took, absorbed, endured, the wrath of God. In Romans 3:25-26 we are told: “ Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”

It is the concept embodied in the word ‘propitiation’ that relieves all rebels, all sinners for all time. Jesus became the propitiation for our sins through his blood which he freely shed when he died on the cross. That blood, of His sacrifice, satisfied the wrath of God. The wrath has been dealt with and is no more for those who put their faith in the blood of Jesus.
Imagine how that must affect you. You were at the edge of the chasm ready, at any time, to be pushed over to certain death; on death row, the footsteps of your guard sounding in the distance, as he came to take you to the electric chair. You knew it was coming, that you deserved it, and there was nothing you could do to help yourself. All you could do was wait. All appeals have been denied. No one believes you are not guilty. No amount of begging, pleading, ignoring, blame-shifting, self-defense helps. While you played your appeals, the wrath was deferred, but now it is time, it has come due.
Then in steps your victim, the One whose law you broke, Whose character you sullied, and He goes in and takes the wrath you deserve, the anger you should receive. He does it because even though you tried to ruin Him, He loves you.
The wrath is gone, the anger dissipated, your future changed, if you want it. Wrath temporarily turned away or gone forever - which is do you want?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

What the Dirt Knows

In Psalms 96-100 the psalmist tell us to sing to the Lord. And, so it seems, the planet has a voice as the psalmist notes that the earth rejoices- that is the physical planet. In Psalm 97 there is an almost palpable expectation the rises from the soil, the mountains, the coastline. The earth rejoices because its king is coming; to reign and to rescue.
The earth awaits the coming of the rightful ruler, even as it its stated in Romans 8:19ff: “The Creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not of its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in the hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

In this day we have many environmental concerns and nearly as many groups acting in an effort to fix the environment. But this earth, our environment, is now held in bondage to decay. That bondage is the direct result of the sin of Adam. The rebellion of the first people brought with it death and death spread to all people and all things. Therefore, even though I may not pour poison into rivers, the sorry state of the planet is my fault and the fault of all mankind. It is not that we do not belong here, are somehow the wrong species to be on the upper end of creation as some contend. For God put humans here. We are the God created species, placed here for God’s purposes, but in Adam we all sinned, and now we all reap the consequences. So it has ever been, when given a role or purpose, mankind has, since Eden, sought his own purpose, rejecting God’s.
The decay and frustration of the earth can be laid at my feet; an effect of my sin. How powerfully evil is the rebellion. How great that rebels can be redeemed. How glorious that the true Kind is coming. And even the dirt knows it

Two Crowds

Luke 19:36-37 A crowd of disciples welcomes Jesus into Jerusalem as He rides a borrowed colt. They praise God for “all the miracles they had seen.” This is the crowd at Palm Sunday who are also recorded in Luke 19:48 as having hung on His words. Another, smaller group was not there to welcome Jesus, did not recognize the source of the miracles and certainly did not hang on His words. These people who were in effect His enemies. They sought to trouble Him and used several tactics: These were:
1. To question His authority
2. To attempt to trap Him in His speech
3. To confound Him with confusing religious issues
Jesus did not fall for their tactics and in fact continued to turn the traps back on the people who set them. His enemies only captured Him through Judas as he obeyed Satan and betrayed Jesus to His enemies.
Once arrested and convicted under cover of darkness, the attitude of the crowd began to turn against Jesus. And, as the tide itself turns, the progression is deliberate and sure. The soldiers who arrest Him, the crowd at the home of the High Priest, Peter, the soldier guarding Jesus, the Chief Priest, the teachers of the law, Pilate, Herod, Herod’s soldiers, the crowd all begin to believe the lies of the enemies.
Only when Jesus has submitted to His captors does the turning tide become swift. What appears to be weakness to all around, gives basis to the enemies claims about Jesus. He is called blasphemer, not God, imposter, evil.
What appears to be powerlessness to all around, gives courage to the soldiers to ruthlessly abuse Jesus.
What appears to be capitulation, to all around, give justification to the crowds’ choice to crucify Jesus and free a murderer.
The crowd has believed the reasoning of the enemies of Jesus. They have found a powerless, dejected and weak Jesus is no the kind of miracle man they can defend. The crowd; from recipients of miracles and teaching; to the mob of curses and death, has become the embodiment of all Jesus came to rescue.
He rescued the people of the crowd and took them out of the crowd and made them followers, a great throng, a peculiar people.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The nearness of God

Interesting comment in Psalm 73:28; “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;” These words struck me with force as I just read them. The nearness of God is my good: good meaning; beauty, good thing, bountiful, best. The Psalmist, Asaph in this case, looks at all the rich and powerful people in his society, leans toward envy, catches himself and turns, instead, to God. Seeing the end of the rich man, he remains as God’s man rejecting wealth and power as the way to fullfilment..
But it is this phrase that challenged me. “The nearness of God is my good.” How can one say this from afar, or from a place of vacillating, now near, now away from God. To be near God is truly a good and awesome thing. To have God near me is at first frightening, then scary, then that which causes me to fall on my face and repent. But as He remains near, I know I am lifted up, being in His presence, loved beyond my understanding and brought to fullness. When God comes near it is my good, but more than I can ever understand and grasp. How wonderful it is to have a problem like this-grasping how good my life and experience is in the presence of God..