Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: Jesus sacrifice

Either it matters, or it doesn't

Every year, millions of people change their weekly routine to accommodate all the events that happen around Easter.  Eggs must be dyed, baskets need filling, ham dinners are expected, and – if you go at all during the year – you gotta go to church for Easter.

But what are we celebrating?  Pull away the eggs and the games, the chocolates and the bunnies…even take away the extra-special songs and skits that happen during a church’s Easter service – what, exactly, are we doing?

When you get right down to it, we are carving out one weekend of the year, every year, to commemorate one of the most bizarre claims in human history.  And yet, this absurdity is claimed to be part of history.  Not myth, not fairy tale, but a-human-being-really-did-this story.

Christians actually believe that a man (who claimed to be God in the flesh) died in a manner that has eternal, cosmic consequences.  Christians believe that this man’s gruesome death on a wooden cross paid for every single sin the world has ever committed – past, present, and future.  And if that wasn’t fantastical enough, the man who made all these claims is then said to have come back to life.

In his book “God in the Dock”, C.S. Lewis summed up the whole situation like this:

‘What are we to make of Christ?’  There is no question of what we can make of Him, it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us.  You must accept or reject the story.

The things He says are very different from what any other teacher has said.  Others say, ‘This is the truth about the Universe.  This is the way you ought to go,’ but He says, ‘I am the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.’  He says, ‘If you are ashamed of Me, if, when you hear this call, you turn the other way, I also will look the other way when I come again as God without disguise.  If anything is keeping you from God and from Me, whatever it is, throw it away.  If it is your eye, pull it out.  If it is your hand, cut it off.  If you put yourself first you will be last.  Come to Me everyone who is carrying a heavy load, I will set that right.  Your sins, all of them are wiped out, I can do that.  I am Re-birth, I am Life.  Eat Me, drink Me, I am your Food.  And finally, do not be afraid, I have overcome the whole Universe.’  That is the issue.

Lewis was right.  Based upon Jesus’ own words, there is no middle ground here.  Writing to the believers in Corinth, the Apostle Paul put it this way:

1 Corinthians 15:13-19
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is in vain, and so is your faith.  Moreover, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified wrongly about God that He raised up Christ…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  Those, then who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished.

If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.

Either Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection means nothing, or it is the most important moment in all of human history.  There is no in-between.  The big question for each of us is the same one Jesus asked Martha:

John 11:25-26
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.  Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

Either it matters, or it doesn’t.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Aftermath of a miracle: the ultimate setup

Nothing in human history “just happens”.  There’s always a backstory, a winding of paths that leads up to the moment when the whole world is captivated by an event.  Think about the recent history of the USA, and how everything seemed to stop for events of both greatness and tragedy: a man lands on the moon or an underdog hockey team wins gold at the Olympics and we’re in awe of what’s possible; yet when a terrorist attack is committed or a space shuttle explodes due to an unexpected malfunction, we stand in stunned silence.

There are always dots to connect, paths to retrace, and decisions to evaluate…all leading up to “that moment when…”.  However, as we live through the days leading up to the event, we are often unaware of how connected everything truly is.

The events of the Scriptures are of the same nature – nothing just spontaneously happened.  But to the people living their lives throughout the times of the Bible, going about their daily business, they didn’t know what was coming next.  They couldn’t predict what God was doing in their time.

One event in Jesus’ life has always seemed to me, well, a little weird.  I know, I know…Jesus’ life was full of unique experiences and happenings – He is the Son of God, after all.  All four gospel accounts recorded it, and we celebrate this particular event every year, like clockwork.  Our calendars have this day marked out for us, just like it has Christmas and Easter.  It was a huge event in the life of Christ, but up until this recent study, I just couldn’t wrap my head around why it happened.

I’m talking about the Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, celebrated in churches each year as Palm Sunday. 

The Passover was the biggest event on the Jewish calendar.  It was the annual remembrance of when God used Moses to rescue His people from their cruel Egyptian masters, and sent the children Israel on the path to having their own land.  Due to the Roman occupation in Jesus’ day, the Israelites would have held this ceremony especially close, since God had promised that He would send someone like Moses – the Messiah – to come and rescue them again…and the Messiah would be the one to set up the Jewish kingdom to rule, forever.  Of course, there were rumors that Jesus was God’s Messiah…but people weren’t quite sure…

John 11:55-57
The Jewish Passover was near, and many went up to Jerusalem from the country to purify themselves before the Passover.  They were looking for Jesus and asking one another as they stood in the temple: “What do you think?  He won’t come to the festival, will He?”  The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it so that they could arrest Him.

Jesus did come.  But first, He went to visit His friends – Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  His visit happened not long after He had raised Lazarus from the dead.  Of course they were excited to see Jesus, and they threw a big dinner party for Him to say THANK YOU.

John 12:1-3, 9-11
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, the one Jesus had raised from the dead.  So they gave a dinner for Him there; Martha was serving them, and Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him.  Then Mary took a pound of perfume, pure and expensive nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped His feet with her hair.  So the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume…Then a large crowd of the Jews learned He was there.  They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, the one He had raised from the dead.  But the chief priests had decided to kill Lazarus also, because he was the reason many of the Jews were deserting them and believing in Jesus.

Can you feel the tension?  The Jews has been oppressed by Rome for nearly 100 years at this point.  The Passover was coming.  The religious leaders feared the nation was on the verge of revolt, with Jesus (and Lazarus) being the tipping point.  And then…this happened:

John 12:12-14, 17-19
The next day when the large crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet Him. They kept shouting:

“Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!”

Meanwhile, the crowd which had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify.  This is also why the crowd met Him, because they heard He had done this sign.  Then the Pharisees said to one another, “You see?  You’ve accomplished nothing.  Look, the world has gone after Him!”

No Facebook event page, no mass text, no TV commercial, no news broadcast coverage…and somehow, a parade breaks out?  While the people’s shouts may have contributed to the crowd swell, did you notice who John said was spreading the news of Jesus’ arrival?  The crowd which had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify.

Lazarus’ pain, suffering, and death was what connected others to witnessing him being brought back to life.  These eye-witnesses were the ones who connected to an entire city, testifying that the one the Jews had heard about was, in fact, the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for.  Jesus’ Triumphal Entry didn’t just happen.  God had been coordinating events that were seemingly unconnected, all in the background, until His Plan was brought to light. 

His plan was that the world would stop and see Jesus for who He is – our Messiah, our Savior, our King.

But in order for the Triumphal Entry to happen and for Jesus to be revealed to an entire city…it cost Lazarus his life.  Christians often point to God’s willingness to send Jesus to the cross as proof that God will go to any length for us.  And that is absolutely true, God loves us that much…but the flip-side scares me, and no one ever talks about the flip-side: If God is willing to have Jesus die on a cross, then nothing in my life is untouchable or off-limits. 

Am I more valuable than Jesus?  Absolutely not.  If that’s the case, do I trust God when life hurts?  Do I believe He knows what He’s doing…even as my body fails me?  Am I willing to let God tell His story, even if He expects me to make a Lazarus-level sacrifice?

Am I willing to let my suffering set up Jesus’ Triumphal Return?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Free to breathe

Remember the moment when your last head cold cleared up and, suddenly, you could breathe again?  It almost caught you by surprise, didn’t it?  And the very next thing you wanted to do was tell everyone “I can finally breathe free!”

After demonstrating Jesus’ superiority over the earthly priesthood and the earthly tabernacle, the author of Hebrews presents his ultimate theological point – that Jesus is superior to the Mosaic Law.  Since Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic Law, His followers are now free to interact directly with God.  To prove his point, you’ll see the author’s reliance on Old Testament scripture…

Hebrews 10:1-10
Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the reality itself of those things, it can never perfect the worshipers by the same sacrifices they continually offer year after year…For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.  Therefore, as He was coming into the world, He said:
               You did not desire sacrifice and offering,
               but you prepared a body for Me.

               You did not delight in whole burnt offerings and sin offerings.

               Then I said, “See –
               it is written about Me
               in the scroll –
               I have come to do Your will, O God.”
(Psalm 40:6-8)

After He says above, “You did not desire or delight in sacrifices and offerings, whole burnt offerings and sin offerings” (which are offered according to the law), He then says, “See, I have come to do Your will.”  He takes away the first to establish the second.  By this will, we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time.

The author of Hebrews then provides evidence that Jesus – the Greater Messenger – has not only fulfilled the duties of the high priest, but in doing so, He has also fulfilled the requirements of the entire Law:

Hebrews 10:11-18
Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins.  But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.  He is now waiting until His enemies are made His footstool.  For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified.

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this.  For after He says:
               This is the covenant I will make with them
               after those days,
the Lord says,
               I will put My laws on their hearts
               and write them on their minds,
(Jeremiah 31:33)
and:
               I will never again remember
               their sins and their lawless acts.
(Jeremiah 31:34)

Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.

The burden of following the Mosaic Law is no longer needed since the sin has been permanently removed.  We are free to breathe and partner with God(!) – and from this point on, the author examines what that freedom-based partnership looks like in the life of a believer who seriously takes up God’s offer to pursue maturity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Having our conscience cleared

Ever feel like God won’t accept you because you’re not being good enough?

Have you ever been afraid that if you do one more bad thing God will reject you?

The truth is…those feelings do not represent reality.  Why?  It’s all because of Jesus, and the effects of His significant sacrifice.  Check this out:

After establishing that Jesus the High Priest is greater than any high priest which served under the old covenant, the author moves on to another example – this time an illustration using the tabernacle:

Hebrews 9:1-7
Now the first covenant also had regulations for ministry and an earthly sanctuary.  For a tabernacle was set up…with these things prepared like this, the priests enter the first room repeatedly, performing their ministry.  But the high priest alone enters the second room, and he does that only once a year, and never with out blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance.

This is the way the old covenant worked.  One mediator, one messenger, the high priest (on one day per year), who had to offer sacrifices for both his sins and the peoples’ sins.  The author then points out that

Hebrews 9:8-10
The Holy Spirit was making it clear that the way into the most holy place had not yet been disclosed while the first tabernacle was still standing.  This is a symbol for the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the worshiper’s conscience.  They are physical regulations and only deal with food, drink, and various washings imposed until the time of the new order.

Just as Jesus’ priesthood is greater than previous high priests, so is his interaction with the original, Heavenly tabernacle:

Hebrews 9:11-14
But Christ has appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come.  In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation), He entered the most holy place once for all time, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 


For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God?

And that is the point – the old covenant’s sacrifice was essentially skin-deep, its activities were done for the purification of the flesh and to maintain the relationship with God.  However, since Jesus gave his own, most-valuable blood, His sacrifice has a greater, deeper effect.  Christ’s sacrifice isn’t just skin-deep, it cleanses all the way down to the level of our consciences.

Because of Jesus, we can now live life free from the guilt of our dead works that were never good enough, because everything we did was always tainted with our selfishness.  Notice too, the author’s contrast to the dead works – instead of doing dead activities, we’re now free to work for and with the living God!

Complete service to and partnership with God was obstructed under the old covenant, due to its limitations.  The previous covenant was limited in that it couldn’t remove sin from humanity, it only covered the sin…until the Greater Messenger of the Greater Covenant came.  In case you missed the author’s point in verse 14, he reiterates:

Hebrews 9:15
Therefore, He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance, because a death has taken place for redemption from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

Remember that the author has previously established in this letter that the promised eternal inheritance is the future partnership with Jesus in His kingdom.  And it is possible to aim for it only because our high priest has fully paid for and removed our sins. 

With our sins fully removed, we can have our consciences cleared from dead works…leaving us ready and available to do everything God created us to achieve.

What has Jesus freed you to do?  How will you serve the living God?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The one thing God wants us to know

If you were to boil everything in life down to one idea, what would it be?  What is the one thing that God wants us to know?

1 Timothy 2:1-4
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 

This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

So what is the truth the God wants everyone to know and accept?

1 Timothy 2:5-7
For there is one God and mediator between God and man,
a man, Christ Jesus,
who gave Himself – a ransom for all, a testimony at the proper time.

For this I was appointed a herald, an apostle (I am telling the truth; I am not lying), and a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

A mediator is responsible for brokering the conditions of a settlement between two opposing parties.  This person is not involved in the conflict and does not take sides, but their job is to use their persuasiveness to convince both parties to compromise a little bit of what each one wants so that reconciliation can occur.  The difficulty with the problem between God and man was that God is incapable of compromising His holiness and mankind is unable to offer an acceptable sacrifice as atonement for our sin of rebellion against God.

Given this stalemate, Christ Jesus did what only a desperate mediator would do – He entered into the negotiations Himself.  Because Jesus is fully God and fully man – not a partial, not half/half, not a created being – His abilities and attributes are unmatched by anyone or anything else.  As such, Jesus has the greatest value in all creation…which is why giving Himself has the ability to be a ransom for all.

As Paul had previously told the believers in Ephesus:

Ephesians 1:20-21
[God the Father] demonstrated this power in the Messiah by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in the heavens – far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

God thinks so highly of Christ Jesus’ sacrifice that He is willing to accept everyone who will come to the knowledge of the truth and believe in Jesus for eternal life.  The value of Christ’s sacrifice is so great that ANY and EVERY sin is covered.  In a practical sense, this means that a mass-murderer and your average, nice-guy neighbor both have the same opportunity for a relationship with God.

The flip side is that because God thinks so highly of Jesus’ sacrifice, He will not accept anyone who rejects Jesus’ offer as their ransom.  As such, they will have to stand on their own record…and when left to that scenario, none of us make the cut.

This is gospel in a nutshell.  The focus is on how great a sacrifice Jesus made, not on how badly we’ve sinned in comparison to other sinners.  That is the one message God wants us to know – that a direct relationship with Him is now available because of what Jesus has done.  The mediator has stepped in to do what we could not, in order that we could be reconciled to God the Father.

Keep Pressing,
Ken