Once and For All

Picture of a wooden Christian cross on St. Cuthbert’s Isle, Holy Island, Northumberland. St Cuthbert’s Isle is a small island used as a retreat by both Aidan and Cuthbert.

Picture of a wooden Christian cross on St. Cuthbert’s Isle, Holy Island, Northumberland. St Cuthbert’s Isle is a small island used as a retreat by both Aidan and Cuthbert.

Read Leviticus 16

“He sacrificed for their sins once for all when He offered Himself.” Hebrews 7:27

In a dusty, desert wasteland, a man slowly unties a rope from the goat’s neck. His fingers trace the dried blood on the goat’s forehead, where a few hours before the priest had laid his hands. The transfer of sin is complete. All that remains is for it to be removed from the camp.

The man slaps the animal’s rump and it jumps. It runs a few paces, then stops and looks back. “Go on,” the man yells. “Run. Run away!” He claps his hands. He chases the goat. And it runs. But it keeps looking back, hesitating, waiting and wondering if the man will change his mind.

But the man doesn’t change his mind—he can’t. When he is sure the goat has gone far enough, he turns to leave. He makes the dusty journey back alone, without the sound of trotting hooves or bleating to keep him company. The sin of the Israelites has been temporarily atoned for, sent away on the head of the goat that was left in the desert.

The Day of Atonement was Israel’s most solemn holy day. On that day, God made a way for his sinful people to set things right with him, the Holy One of Israel. But like the scapegoat that kept looking back, sin and guilt always returned. Year after year, goat after goat, the ritual was repeated: One goat slaughtered to atone for sin, the other sent far into the wilderness to remove the presence of guilt. But it wasn’t enough. It merely symbolized what was to come.

When Jesus died on the cross and was banished to the tomb, he fulfilled the requirement for the two goats on the Day of Atonement. His sacrificial death on the cross atoned for our sin, finally making us one with God for all time. His journey to death removed our guilt for all time. He took our sins with him to the pit of hell, just as the scapegoat was banished into the solitary wasteland.

It was a high price to pay. The scapegoat didn’t have a choice, but Jesus did. He chose to die because of his unfathomable love for us. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul! What wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul, To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.[1]

[1] American Folk Hymn

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Anatomy of a Miracle

woman in prayer“You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples” (Psalm 77:14).

When we read the Bible today, we have the decided advantage of hindsight, or as Paul Harvey said, we know “the rest of the story.”  We have the record of God’s activity and know the outcome.  Don’t you just wish you could tell the disciples, in the hours between His death and resurrection, that hope is not lost and Jesus will rise from the dead?  Or wouldn’t you like to yell to Eve – “Don’t touch that fruit!”  I have always wanted to tell Sarah and Abraham, “Please be patient with God in this, you will have a child.”  Oh, what peace this world would have if only we could warn them of the future consequences of their actions.  This thought really struck home with me while I was reading the story in Mark 9:17-27 of the father who took his son to Jesus for a miracle.  I invite you to take a moment and read the account to get the scope of the story.

Now I want you to put yourself in this father’s shoes – or sandals – and look at the scene again through his eyes.  He is a loving, but very worried father.  His son is under the control of spirit that is causing the boy to harm himself, throwing him into fire or water to kill him and causing him to convulse and foam at the mouth.  (Many scholars believe the child had epilepsy.)  Now I’m a mom, and simple fevers, cuts and scrapes don’t phase me, but this – this would be terribly frightening and disconcerting.  No doubt they have carried their child to countless doctors and religious healers, and probably spent all their money hoping for a cure.

Think about this from the father’s perspective – in real time – as he stands before Jesus with pleading eyes, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (Mark 9:22).  The father doesn’t have our vantage point to know how this will end, he has no guarantee of healing to hang his hope on.  All he has are scraps of others people’s stories of their encounters with Jesus– and a plea that the rabbi will do the same for his boy.

Stay in the moment as we see Jesus turn to the child and speak with authority, “I command you to come out of him and never enter him again” (v. 25).  Watch through this father’s heart as “the spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out” (v. 26)” But wait, what did Jesus do?  The boy looks dead – like a corpse!  The father brought his boy to Jesus and Jesus made everything worse.

Now, freeze this scene right here and consider with me, how many times you and I have been in the same place.  You brought your problem to Jesus in hopes that He would help you.  You pray and plead with Him.  You’ve heard of others’ testimonies of the wonderful things He’d done for them, and you hope He will do the same for you.  And what happened next? It all got worse instead of better.  And so the questions start: “Did I pray wrong?” “Did God not hear me?” “Does He have something against me?”  “Why does He do good things for others, but not for me?”  Now, in addition to our problem we have all this anxiety and we’re wondering, “what just happened and what do I do now?”

You see, just as the father lived out his story in real-time, you and I are also living out our story without the advantage of a written script that tells us how it all ends.  All we know is, right now, in this moment, it all seems hopeless.  Jesus has let us down.

“But Jesus . . .” these are the most precious words in the Bible to me.  When all seemed more hopeless than before, Mark said, “But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet” v. 27).  Wonder of wonders, the boy is not dead – he is alive – and healed!  He runs into his father’s arms with a smile of triumph.  The stunned father bends his head to kiss his child, and then looks at Jesus in amazement.  “My child . . . my child is alive?” “My son is healed?”  “Surely,” he muses to himself, “this is no ordinary rabbi!”

My friend, may I remind you not to give up on Jesus before the miracle is complete.  That moment when all seems lost, just as it was for this father, may be the moment before all is found again.  I have some dear friends whose grandmother wrote a song that said “Don’t give up on the brink of a miracle . . .” I think that is wonderful advice.  Bring your problem to Jesus, give Him room to work, and don’t give up until He pronounces the miracle fulfilled.

Mighty, merciful, awesome Father – how often we give up before You are finished working in our situation.  Please remind us that miracles always end with glory, so if we haven’t seen the glory of God displayed, we must wait and trust that it all still rests in Your hands.  Amen.

 

Looking at Life from Higher Up

earth-11014_640In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).

 

In his great testimony Paul declared, “I am convinced . . . “– I ask you the same question I ask myself:   Does your life show that you are convinced of this too?  What difference would it make in your life if you knew beyond a shadow of doubt that God loved you?  Would your decisions and priorities change if you were certain of His love?  How might your relationships be affected if this one question were forever answered in your heart?  I believe we can answer this human dilemma, but it takes a change in perspective, and Paul has shown us the way.

When we look at life from our earthly perspective, life and death, angels and demons, the present and the future (and the past), powers and time and distance seem to be unsurmountable forces that indeed come between us and God.  Even if we’re not pondering the great matters of life, the demands of our own existence threaten us.  When we consider the daily struggles of life: bills and sickness, work and rebellious kids, marriage issues, difficult relationships, tragedies and disappointments, and every other thing that overwhelms us,  our hope and confidence in God’s love is shaken.  It’s easy to look at God as our loving Father when it has been a good day and things fell into place pretty well, but when storms come with lightning and thunder, God seems far away and His love is hidden by the driving rain. It is a very human reaction to living in this fallen world where the consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin was separation from God.

But Paul is teaching us to look at life from a higher perspective, from the vantage point of eternity where the things that intimidate and overwhelm us in this life have no impact whatsoever.   This is the hope that believers have, that nothing, but nothing can separate us from God’s love. When we take an eternal perspective of life, we recognize that only that which touches eternity is of any value.  1 John 2:25 is our sure hope: “This is what He promised us – even eternal life.” Paul tells us that the things that seem so huge to us like life and death and those that are ethereal and terrifying like angels and demons and the vastness of the highest heavens and the deepest depths pose no obstacle to God’s love.  He reminds us that nothing in all creation has the power to affect God’s love because everything in all of creation is under the power and authority of the Creator.  And the Creator loves you, therefore His love is as sure as His name and His character.

On what does Paul base this conviction?  Look at the very last portion of this passage: “. . .the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.  Jesus Christ is the fulfillment and culmination of God’s love for humanity.  No greater love exists than the love of God that was shown on the cross.  No other love is as enduring and unshakable and indestructible as the love of God in the face of Jesus.  No other love transcends life and death than the love of Him who raised the dead to life.  What love is this that commands both angels and demons to do His bidding?  Only the love of God.  Only a love that reached down from the throne above the heavens to the depths of man’s sinful hearts to build a bridge for the created to have access to the Creator.

I invite you to personalize this passage with the struggles in your own life. What can separate me from God’s love?  Neither bankruptcy nor foreclosure, neither stupid decisions nor upheavals in life, neither struggles in marriage, struggles in finances, car accidents, infertility, depression nor anxiety can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.  Let the reality of this promise envelope your life and your struggles.

If you are a Christian, you are inseparably joined to Christ Jesus and forever bound up in this amazing love of God.  This is your eternal promise, and it is a promise that can sustain you in this life through all the things that threaten to undo you.  Every trial and struggle and difficulty must submit to God’s love.  Everything in all of creation bows before the God of Creation, the God who has sworn His love for you with the blood of His one and only Son.

Holy Father, when I struggle through my days, remind me to walk in the knowledge of eternity and the promise of your eternal love. Amen.

On that Glorious Day

sunrise“The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers.  They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him.  And they began to call out to him, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’  Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him” (Mark 15:16-19)

The scenes are riveted in our minds having been played out over and over in countless passion plays, movies and church Easter dramas.  Jesus praying in the Garden, dragged before the High Priest, standing before Pilate, beaten and mocked, stumbling under the weight of His burden, then finally hanging on a cross.  While the events are staggering, they also offer a key prophetic glimpse into the future.  You probably know the story as well as I, but let’s revisit the final hours of Jesus’ life and see what awaits.

All four of the gospels record a similar account of the soldiers’ mocking of Jesus (Matthew 27:27-31; Mark 15:16-19; Luke 23:11; John 19:2-3). In each one, Jesus is held up to ridicule as the “king of the Jews”. Matthew, Mark and John also mention Pilate’s sign placed on the cross above Jesus’ head: “the king of the jews.” (The sign angered the chief priests, but Pilate refused to change its wording, perhaps an indication that he believed Jesus was indeed the rightful king of the Jews.) Both Matthew and Mark point out the soldiers’ actions as well as their words: they fell to their knees in false homage to Jesus. Little did they know that their mocking act was indeed a prophecy of what will come.

The Bible tells us that one day – very soon I believe – Jesus is coming again. One of the Old Testament prophets describes it this way: “On that day his

Mount of Olives in Jerusalem

Mount of Olives in Jerusalem

feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west. The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name” (Zechariah 14:4, 9). This prophecy declares His return will be an unmistakable spectacle, and the proclamation of His name of will heard throughout the world. Think the news media will notice? Do you believe the world leaders will be aware of this phenomenon? He will be on everybody’s radar. How different from His first visit to earth.

The world did not recognize Him when He came as a helpless infant, nor did they see His greatness when He stood and read Isaiah’s words proclaiming His mission. They did not see Him as the Messiah when He healed the sick, cast out demons and raised the dead. They missed his majesty as He rode into Jerusalem on a lowly beast. They failed to perceive His righteousness when He stumbled under the burden of His cross on the Via Dolorosa. They did not know that the bloodied, battered man that hung on the cross bore the weight of every sin they ever committed. Even the disciples at first still did not quite understand His divine nature when they saw Him resurrected from the dead.

And today He is still mocked and scorned, His name often spat out as a curse soaked in venom. His story is held up as a fantasy and a lie. His teachings are misconstrued at best, dismissed, and even considered “hate-speech” today. His followers have been ridiculed, imprisoned, battered, beaten and martyred for His name. His church, His bride, is attacked from every angle, her wounded lay dying in the dust.   Even though His story has been told and retold throughout the ages, even though lives have been transformed and mighty things have been done in His Name, after more than two-thousand years the world still doesn’t recognize Him.

Oh, but one day they will.

John the Revelator penned these words: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him” (Revelation 1:8). Did you catch that? Even those who pierced him! All those who have mocked Him and ridiculed him will suddenly and clearly see Him as “the Lord of lords and the King of kings” (Revelation 17:14). And what will be their reaction? The Apostle Paul tells us “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10). Every knee. Every tongue. Do you see the irony of the soldiers mocking? Do you see how they were doing in jest what all of humanity will be doing on that glorious day? They will not have a choice. Every person will, out of the sheer power of His majesty and holiness, be compelled to fall to their knees, as if an unseen hand is forcing them to buckle under an irresistible pressure. Every tongue will proclaim His identity and His sovereignty, as if the words were being pulled from their very soul. Paul says even those under the earth will respond to His appearing. For those who reject Him in this life, it will be a moment of abject terror as they confront the truth they so long tried to deny.

But for those who have received Him, who have believed in His Word, who have stood fast in the face of persecution and endured the slings and arrows of the culture in which we live, our knees will gladly bow in honor of His grandeur and our tongues will joyfully confess the Name and praise of Jesus Christ who is forever exalted in heaven and earth. I bow before Him now and offer Him my praise, so that when that day of days comes, I am so well practiced that I slip into the posture of worship as naturally as drawing a breath.

I pray you know Him today as your Savior and Lord. I pray on that day you will greet him as your King and His Name will roll from your lips with delight. I pray that He is as real to you today as He will be when your eyes take in the glorious sight of His face. If you do not know this Jesus, please let this be the day that you say “Yes” to the king of Kings and the lord of Lords.

 

Jesus, my Savior and Lord, every day with You is filled with joy. Every thought of You draws my breath in amazement. And to think, one day I will see Your glorious face and bow before You as my King. Oh what a wonderful day that will be!

The Alabaster Jar

Alabaster Jar“Her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much . . .” (Luke 7:47)

She heard that the Rabbi was dining nearby at the home of one of the Pharisees, probably one of many who had sneered at her in the marketplace.  She hesitated for a moment as she reached for the alabaster jar sitting in the carved-out niche in the stone wall and cast a glance around the well-appointed room.  Her wanton life had afforded her many good things, clothes made of rich fabrics, fine jewelry, the best wine and food, and the beautiful, smooth jar that contained the finest perfume money could buy.  The value of that perfume alone would support her for the rest of her life.

But it wasn’t the money that made her hesitate, it was the place she was heading and the people she would face.  It was the hostile stares and abrasive words they would throw at her – a common, sinful woman daring to enter into the home of a powerful, religious man.  She wondered how many of those piercing words would be cast by men who had enjoyed her favors not too long ago.  Some of them were her best clients, but they would sooner cast her to the dogs than acknowledge their own guilt.

Still this rabbi – there was something about him – he carried himself in a way the Pharisees never did, with authority and dignity, yet without arrogance.  He spoke of the Kingdom of God as if he alone had the key to the gate. He treated common, everyday people like they were his friends.  He did not make a public display of the good things he did like the religious leaders – and he did incredible, amazing, miraculous things like healing the sick and casting out demons. Rumor said that he even raised the widow’s son from the dead right here in Nain.  And he was kind to the poor, gentle with the lame and actually compassionate toward the people who stumbled in sin. “People like me,” she thought to herself.

When he walked through the village that day she saw him surrounded by his disciples and the townspeople; she could have never gotten through that throng of people to draw close to him, even if she dared to try.  But when he looked across all those faces and saw her, she knew he saw straight into her heart.  He saw both her sin and her sorrow, and somehow, was not repulsed by either.  That one look had stayed with her since that day, and it changed her life forever.  It was a look of intimacy, but not the kind she was used to, if you could call her nightly visits intimate at all.  No, this look went to her very soul and shook loose some dark and oppressive thing that had bound her for years.  That evening, when she turned away one of her clients, she knew she would never go back to that life again. It was as if the power of her sinful passions had been broken forever.

She shook her head, grabbed the alabaster jar and slipped out of the house.  Her pace quickened, almost as if she were moving faster so she would not change her mind.  Breathlessly she approached the perimeter of Simon’s property where a crowd had gathered around the house, watching the festivities and craning to hear every word the Rabbi spoke.  She began to weave her way through the people, holding tightly to her precious jar and the offering it contained.  She didn’t understand why it was so important to do this strange thing but she was certain a force outside of herself was driving her on, thrusting her into the suddenly silent room.  As she knelt at the foot of his couch, tears spilled from her eyes, washing the Rabbi’s feet and cleansing her own soul.

What would make this woman who had been so sinful courageously enter the home of a religious leader and risk being scorned and berated?  Why would she, who had given up her lucrative lifestyle, pour out her most valuable possession on the filthy feet of a rabbi? What had possibly taken hold of her?  In the words of Jesus: forgiveness and love.

Do you hesitate on the edge of the crowd that follows Jesus?  Are your sins and failures so great you don’t dare come near Him for fear of being exposed and rejected?  Is your soul stained and your heart broken?  Then Jesus bids you come and let your tears fall on His feet.  Bring your alabaster jar full of sin and pour it out on His feet.  Hear Him say to you, “Your sins are forgiven.  Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”[1]

[1] John 7:48, 50.