November 19, 2018- Beyond the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Psalm 23, Job 19:25-27

valley of shadow

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23 (ESV)

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another. Job 19:25-27 (ESV)

The valley of the shadow of death is not a popular destination, but mortality is a reality.  No one gets out of this life alive…except…those who believe by the grace of God in Christ will share in His resurrection.  In spite of the really bad pop theology that is rampant in American Christianity, Jesus never was about “your best life now.”   Even though televangelists and “Christian” authors may try to sell us a Cross-less Christianity, Jesus teaches us, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

True Christianity holds to a theology of the Cross, one in which we die to our own selfishness and sins- not to earn points, but in response to the extravagant grace and the undeserved favor God has already given us.

Psalm 23 has been beloved among believers for millennia, precisely because God’s inspired words from David’s pen underscore God’s promise that death and the curse is not the end. We who are baptized into Christ are not alone.  This world and its valleys of shadow are not the end.

God with us, Emmanuel, does not shield us from suffering, but He is in it with us, ever present with his comfort, walking with us through the valley of the shadow of death, (Psalm 23:4) and leading us away from evil.

God so loved the world that He sent Jesus, His only Son to be a man- fully God and fully man- and live in this world with us. (John 3:16) When the time came for Jesus to give His life for us, He struggled with the cup He was given to drink, but the only way for Him to accomplish our salvation was through His suffering and death. Jesus was not spared the bitter path of the Cross.  The sin of the Garden of Eden could only be overcome on by Jesus’ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, and ultimately His sacrifice on Calvary.

God does give us challenges that are way over our heads and way over and above our capacity to overcome.  We do not have life in our own strength. On our own we have no strength.  Apart from Jesus we have nothing to look forward to but despair, hopelessness and death in our trespasses and sins.  Yet in losing ourselves and relying on Jesus we can endure anything.  He has already overcome death and the grave.

As the church year is drawing to a close, we become aware of the groaning of all creation, awaiting the restoration of all things that the apostle Paul speaks of in Romans 8:18-25.

Those who are familiar with the musical work The Messiah, by George Fredric Handel, will recognize the verses from Job 19 above.  I know that my Redeemer liveth / and that he shall stand /at the latter day upon the earth./ And though worms destroy this body/ yet in my flesh shall I see God.

As we are very quickly coming upon the season of Advent and celebrating the arrival of the promised One, we put our focus on Jesus, the living Redeemer, the conquering King.

We can trust that we will endure the suffering that is simply a part of this life here in the now, but not yet. We will stand with Jesus, in our own bodies, on that great and glorious day when all tears are wiped away and there is no more suffering or mourning.

September 16, 2019 – Peace and Joy in Christ- Philippians 4:4-8, Galatians 2:20

joy of the Lord

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:4-8 (ESV)

The apostle Paul didn’t have a lot of worldly stability in his life, to put it mildly.  On the surface he didn’t have a whole lot to rejoice about. Being stoned (with rocks,) beaten, flogged, starved, shipwrecked and put in prison isn’t exactly what most people would call a good time.

Most of the time, Paul had nothing as far as material wealth.  He had little if any assurance of physical safety, but in Christ, Paul had everything.

The human condition is such that there is no permanent home in these imperfect bodies and in this flawed and broken world.  If we put our trust in our health, or our family and friends, or in our abilities, or in our wealth, we are trusting in things that cannot last and are temporary at best.  Only Jesus offers us the peace of knowing that in Him we have life forever, life without end.

No matter what this life throws at us, this life is not all there is.

As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (ESV)

We have peace because we know to whom we belong.

September 13, 2019- In the Day of My Trouble, Psalm 77:1-14, 2 Corinthians 1:3-6

jesus garden

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints.- Selah
You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old, the years long ago.
I said, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search: “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”- Selah– Psalm 77:1-10 (ESV)

All human beings at one point or another will experience times in which it seems God has abandoned us. There is spiritual and emotional pain that is so deep that when one is buried in it, it is easy to believe there is no comfort, no help, and no hope.

Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, sweating blood and imploring God to take the cup of crucifixion and death away, yet God’s will was done. Jesus was wrongfully condemned, beaten, scourged, and left to die a death of ignominy and unspeakable pain on a Roman cross.  We may not understand why or fathom the purpose for it, but God does not always stop the suffering.

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34 (ESV)

Jesus endured being separated from and abandoned by God. Jesus took the punishment we deserve so that we can be forgiven and reconciled to Him.
When we reach out to God in prayer, the Holy Spirit intervenes on our behalf, especially when our grief and pain are so deep we don’t have words.

Jesus is with us in and through our suffering. He comes to us with consolation and solace even when we are so depleted and torn and broken that we can’t acknowledge His presence.

Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. Psalm 77:11-14 (ESV)

Suffering is a reality in this not-yet world, even suffering so painful it seems beyond our endurance. The apostle Paul reminds us that we who belong to Christ share in His suffering as well as His comfort.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 2 Corinthians 1:3-6 (ESV)

Part of the Christian’s vocation is to give encouragement to those who are suffering. Another lesser known and observed part of our vocation is to be willing to seek out other believers in our families and our churches when we are suffering and need help. We also fulfill the law of Christ when we come to others when we are suffering and give them the opportunity to help us.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.- Galatians 6:2 (ESV)

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

There is hope in Christ. God created us to love and serve Him. We have Jesus with us even when we feel abandoned. He does not abandon us.

September 11, 2019- The Unholy Trinity, the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and Jesus Breaks the Curse

adam and eve2
Who or what stands against Christian people in this fallen world of “not yet?”

Sin
Death
The Accuser (Satan, the serpent)

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Genesis 3:1-6 (ESV)

“Did God really say?”

We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil.” It can be said that God does not tempt us or cause us evil. We’re good enough at finding temptation and walking into evil all by ourselves. We may know the difference between good and evil, but we don’t always choose what is good, and we don’t always reject evil.

The unholy trinity of sin, death and the devil are all against us and are all around us. The question behind the Fall of humanity, “Did God really say?,” echoes all around us.

Did God really say… I AM God, the Author and Creator of all things?
Did God really say…You will not bow down to the gods you make?
Did God really say…that He is the only One you will worship?
Did God really say…that you will honor your parents and those in authority over you?
Did God really say…that you will not murder or maliciously inflict harm on others?
Did God really say…that human beings were created male and female, and men and women are meant to be faithful to each other in marriage?
Did God really say…that you are not to steal money or possessions or anything that is your neighbor’s?
Did God really say…that you are not to falsely represent your neighbor or spread falsehoods?
Did God really say…that you are not to desire your neighbor’s spouse, employees or livestock?
Did God really say…that you are not to desire your neighbor’s inanimate material things?

God really did say all of those things. Most of us can agree that the Ten Commandments–See Exodus 20– are good and that we would all have a lot less trouble if we could just follow the rules.

The problem is we can’t just follow the rules, no matter how hard we try. Every human being alive today has inherited the curse of Adam- call it original sin, or to borrow from another Reformed theologian, John Calvin, the total depravity of man, but human beings are born sinners. We cannot fix ourselves.

To make the sin problem even more acute, we learn from Scripture (James 2:10) that if we break one tiny little part of the Law, in God’s eyes we broke all of the laws. Salvation by our own obedience requires perfection.  No human being is capable of perfection.

The apostle Paul makes us aware of our dilemma in Romans 7:7-25.
The Law makes us aware that we fall short and don’t live up to God’s standards. The unholy trinity of our own sin, the curse of death that we and the world around us are under, and the Accuser himself all stand against us and assail us with all sorts of suffering, temptations and trials.

It’s just not possible for us in our own strength and will to live the way that God wants. We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.

But God so loved the world, and fallen humanity, that He sent Jesus- the perfect God-Man- to break Adam’s curse, to suffer the penalty of death and become the perfect sacrifice for fallen humanity once and for all. The Law was not God’s final word to humanity.

Did God really say…?

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 (ESV)

 
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Jeremiah 33:14 (ESV)

 
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)

 
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6b (ESV)

 
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”- John 6:35 (ESV)

 
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17b (ESV)

 
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16 (ESV)

 
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. Revelation 22:17 (ESV)

 
Jesus has the final word. For we who believe in Him, there is no more death. We will pass from this life to eternal life with Him. The unholy trinity who would condemn us and lead us into unbelief does not have the upper hand. Jesus has broken Adam’s curse and Jesus paid the penalty of death for us.

August 30, 2019 – The Wisdom of Solomon, the Sin of Solomon-Exodus 20:1-6, 1 Kings 11:1-13, Romans 3:21-25, 1 John 1:8-9

Solomon

And God spoke all these words, saying,
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:1-6 (ESV)
******************************************************************************
Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.
And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the LORD commanded. Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant. Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen.” 1 Kings 11:1-13 (ESV)
*****************************************************************************
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. Romans 3:21-25 (ESV)

The first of the Ten Commandments is the foundation on which the Law is based: God is God. It sounds simple and basic, but we as fallen humans keep going back to the temptation of the Garden. “Did God really say?,” the serpent inquired of Eve. (Genesis 3:1-7) Part of the tension and the paradox of this life is in truly acknowledging that God is God…but we still harbor the desire to be as God ourselves.
Jesus taught that the summary of the Law is to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:25-28) The rich young ruler Jesus was speaking to in Luke 10 would have heard this before if he were an observant Jew, as Jesus’ teaching came from the Shema, which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9.
Solomon was the son of King David- the second son of David and Bathsheba. Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who David committed adultery with. Solomon wasn’t the oldest son of David, nor was he a likely candidate to inherit the throne from David.
Solomon did have faith in God. At the beginning of his reign he asked God for wisdom above the typical things that people in positions of power would ask for. He asked for wisdom above wealth or territory or the death of his enemies. God added wealth and long life, and military victory (including death to a number of his enemies) and renown to him also. (1 Kings 3:5-14)
Yet even a man as blessed by God as Solomon got comfortable as his life went on. He accommodated his foreign wives and joined in the worship of their false gods. He wasn’t completely faithful to God.
We read the account of Solomon and we think, “How could a guy like this, the wisest man who ever lived, mess up like that?”
Then we remember that no matter how wise or gifted or “good” we may appear, that:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8 (ESV)
David was a sinner. Even though he had a heart for God, and he was truly blessed by God, he was also an adulterer and murderer. David did not love God and love his neighbor as himself all the time.
Sin was a fact of life for all of the “heroes” of the Bible, save Jesus Himself. Only Jesus out of all the humans who walked the earth obeyed God’s Law 100% perfectly all the time, and that was because only He was both God and man. All the rest of us human beings are born under the curse of Adam. All of us struggle with the ancient question, “Did God really say?” All of us entertain foreign gods that are far from God, whether it is out of our own selfishness, or our own obsessions, or our own negligence.
We can’t make ourselves right with God by anything we do or don’t do. Jesus makes us right with God by what He did to break the curse of Adam for us. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, by which we have the ability and the desire to confess our sins and accept that Jesus has forgiven us and covers our sins.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)
We pray that through faith in Jesus we would stay focused on the One True God, and not get sidetracked and obsessed with false gods that cannot bring life or hope. We pray that we would trust Jesus to keep us in His grace and love even when we sin and fall short of His standards.

August 27, 2019 To A More Excellent Way-1 Corinthians 12:12-31

thebodyofchrist-u

(The apostle Paul writes:) For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

And I will show you a still more excellent way. 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (ESV) 
The apostle Paul advocated the value of the individual believer based upon the worth we are given as children of God in Christ. In a world where value is found in a person’s financial worth or in what a person can do, our value in the body of Christ comes from the fact that Jesus loved us enough to come to earth- to live with us, and to give Himself as a sacrifice for us, to pay the penalty for our sins that we cannot pay, and that we neither earn or deserve.

Just as we have social strata today – the wealthy vs. the poor, the educated vs. the unlearned, the privileged vs. the disadvantaged, and so on, there were definite social stations in Paul’s times. Many people were slaves and didn’t even own their own bodies. Women were considered little more than livestock. Yet in Christ, each believer is a valued child of God and an integral part of the Body of Christ, both in Paul’s day and today. When Jesus died on the cross His sacrifice was given for every person who ever lived, no matter how we would look at them or their contribution to society.

Each person has been created by God with certain gifts and abilities with which to serve each other. Some have much to offer in material gifts. Some are great encouragers. Others are artistically gifted or have musical talent. Still others serve in the background with organizational skills or an ability to do building maintenance. Some have a heart for meeting the needs of children.

On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor…

Paul reminds us that it is important to take special care of the weak- those who are elderly or infirm who may not appear to be “gifted” or to bring much to the community on the surface, but who bring us the great gift of the opportunity to serve and share with them.

There is a disturbing tendency in human nature (both in Paul’s day and today) to value people with a view to their “usefulness.”

How do we value the child with Down’s Syndrome who may have limited cognitive function and may never be able to live independently? Is he or she just as much a child of God, for whom Jesus died to save, as the child with the standard number of chromosomes?

How do we value the elderly man with dementia who can remember storming the beach at Normandy in 1944 as if it were happening now, but who is also bedridden, incontinent, and can’t remember his wife’s name? Is he just as much a loved child of God as the paramedic or the preschool teacher who bakes cookies and teaches Sunday School?

In today’s society we can see the devaluing of human life in many ways- through abortion on demand, where a perfectly healthy child can be killed and thrown away like just a piece of medical waste simply for being “inconvenient” or “unwanted.” In some countries and even in some places in the United States assisted suicide is permissible- and often encouraged as an option for the chronically ill and the dying.

What kind of value do we place on the most vulnerable among us- the unborn, the disabled, the dying?

How can we help someone in a crisis pregnancy choose life? How can we bring joy to the disabled? How can we comfort the dying? They too are those for whom Jesus bled and died.

The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. We are not called to be comfortable, but to bring comfort to others in the name of Christ. In this world there will be sorrow and suffering. We are called to endure sorrow and suffering because we have the great promise and hope of life in Christ. We are called to share the hope we have in Christ as we embrace those who are weak and hold them up. Some of us are strong in some areas but weak in others, but each of us is a part of the Body of Christ.

There is a place in the church for everyone- weak, strong, young, or old. Each of us brings unique gifts and strengths. We have life in Christ not because of anything we can do, earn or deserve, but because we have been named and claimed and marked with the cross of Christ in baptism. Our value and our worth is given to us as a gift of God. Each of us is made in the image of God. Every person is someone of value, someone for whom our Lord bled and died to save.

May we as Jesus’ church cherish and defend the weaker members of our body, and by the grace of God come to appreciate each other and all of our varied weaknesses as well as our gifts.

August 14, 2019 We Are Barabbas, By the Blood of the Lamb, Matthew 27:11-26, Exodus 12:23

jesusand pilate

Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.
Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd.  At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”
But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. Matthew 27:11-26 (ESV)

We are Barabbas.  We are the guilty ones who deserved to be in Jesus’ place.  Even Pilate, who was not a guiltless man himself, could see Jesus’ innocence and the injustice of bringing Him to trial.  Pilate washed his hands of the responsibility of condemning Jesus (though one could argue that Jesus died for the sins of Pilate as well) as if to say he would not be party to the death of an innocent man.

We are Barabbas.  We identify with him.  We called to have him- Barabbas, the deservedly guilty scoundrel and murderer exonerated, and at the same time we called for the blood of Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, to be upon us.

Without realizing it, we played right into God’s hand.  The Great Exchange was made. The perfect Son of God was sent to be a ransom for the curse of Adam, to overturn sin, death and the power of Satan- not as a mighty warrior with an army and a sword, but as a suffering Servant, dying a ignominious death on a Roman cross.

The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, was sacrificed so Barabbas- and the rest of guilty humanity- could be reconciled to God and could inherit eternal life.

Even though the sins of humanity cry out through the ages: Crucify Him!, the broken and bleeding and suffering Jesus cries louder through unspeakable anguish and torment: It is finished!

For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. Exodus 12:23 (ESV)

In this everlasting Passover, the blood of the Lamb marks God’s children with the cross of Christ.  The Angel of Death must pass over those who are marked with His cross and covered by His blood. We are brought to this great salvation as a gift- by the grace of God and faith in Christ that are given to us in baptism, in the preaching and hearing of the Word, and in the sharing of the Body and Blood at the altar.

We have nothing to offer God but our sins.  Yet through faith in Jesus we are forgiven and our sins are washed away.

 

 

 

July 30, 2019-Lessons from Galatians, Our Identity in Christ

galatians

Today’s lesson is a little different study. This week’s Catechism lesson (8-4) features key concepts and food for thought from the book of Galatians.  With the new school year starting soon it’s great to remind young people (as well as older people!) that we belong to Christ, and we live as new creations in Him.

The apostle Paul warned the Galatians against teaching a different gospel or of adding to the Gospel message out of fear of what other people might think.  Salvation comes to ALL people, regardless of national ancestry, race, gender or ethnic traditions by faith in Christ alone, by the grace of God alone.  There is no such thing as “Jesus….AND.”  We are not made right with God through circumcision, or by keeping Jewish Law (which the Jews never could seem to do anyway,) but by the grace of God in which we are given faith in Christ. It’s all about God, and it’s all a free gift.  No ANDs.

Galatians 1:10- (NIV) Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

What does it mean to be a person of integrity?

Galatians 2:20- (NIV) I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Even though we are sinners who sin daily and sin much, we are defined by our identity in Christ, not by the sins we have committed.  What does it mean to “put on Baptism as daily wear?”

Galatians 3:26-27 (NIV)- So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 

What does it mean that because we are baptized, our identity is in Christ, no matter what our place in life or our vocation (the things we do) happens to be?

Galatians 4:7 (NIV) -So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

What does it mean to be an heir of the kingdom of God?  Do we share in both the cross of Christ as well as in His resurrection?

Mark 8:34-38 (NIV) Then he (Jesus) called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

As children of God, do we care more about living as someone who Jesus bled and died to redeem and save, or “going along to get along?”

Galatians 5:25-26 (NIV) Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

What does it mean to stay true to our values and to trust the Holy Spirit to give us the grace we need in difficult situations? When is it better to stand and fight or to walk away from an awkward situation?

Galatians 6:9 (NIV) Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 

We may not see the rewards of being kind, helping others, and living as God’s children should.  However, this is the vocation God gives us as His people no matter how other people treat us.  There is a saying, “No matter who your boss is, you are really working for God.”  What does this mean as we navigate our way through life?