Sin No More

When I read the Gospels, I marvel at Jesus’ patience and understanding with sinful people. No, He was not (is not) gentle with sin – He called it out for what it was. He didn’t excuse it or call it a disease or disorder. He didn’t accept it or tolerate it or celebrate it. Sin was and is appalling. It needs to be confronted – and Jesus did. Yet even while correcting sin, was always gracious to those lost souls caught in the devil’s snare. “He had compassion on them because He saw that they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:6).

While walking through Jerusalem one day, Jesus passed by a pool that was believed to have healing properties when the waters were stirred by “an angel.” A helpless invalid had laid by the side of the pool for thirty-eight years, waiting and hoping for his chance to slip into the waters at just the right moment. But he was alone and never managed to get there. Along came Jesus who healed Him. At a later encounter, Jesus told the man, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (John 5:1-14). He healed first, then corrected. We need to take notes.

On another occasion, Jesus was teaching in the temple and the religious leaders brought to him a woman caught in adultery. But just the woman – isn’t that interesting? He defended her against her accusers – but he did not defend her actions. When Jesus confronted the men with their hypocrisy they left in shame.  After assuring her that He did not condemn her, Jesus told the woman, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:1-11). I have no doubt that she did. Grace and correction always work hand in hand.

I often look up words to build a devotional and that is what I was doing as I was developing a different point when God turned this in a whole other direction. When I looked up “sin no more” I found these two stories – and something else. Those same words appear again in the Scriptures when the writer of Hebrews talked about the new covenant in Christ. The Lord said, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Heb 8:12). No more. No more guilt. No more shame. No more condemnation. Because all your sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus. The affair. The abortion. The sexual immorality. The lies. That sin you don’t want to remember? You won’t have to Beloved, because in Christ your sins are “no more.”

Hebrews: Outside the Camp

“We’re New Testament Christians, why are we studying the Old Testament? This stuff doesn’t apply to us anymore.” “One reason,” I answered “is because the New Testament writers used it quite a bit in their books and letters.  If we want to understand what they were saying, we need to understand their references.” That’s what we’re going to do in today’s passage.

“The high priest carried the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp” (Heb 13:11). It was Yom Kippur, the most holy day of the Jewish year. The day when the sins of the nation were atoned for. It was a day for fasting and prayer and confession. It was the day that the slate was wiped clean and the people were declared righteous – at least until they sinned again.  The high priest took the blood of the slaughtered animal into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle/Temple as a sin offering and sprinkled it on the mercy seat of the Lord. The carcass of the animal would be carried outside of the camp/city to be burned because it represented the sin of the people. Sin must not be allowed to remain among God’s holy nation.

The writer makes the new covenant connection in verse 12: “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood.” Jesus was the sacrificial animal. Jesus’ blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat of the Lord. And Jesus was crucified and buried outside of the city of Jerusalem because He bore the sin of all humanity. And by His blood, those who believe and receive His atonement are made holy.

An interesting aside here is that the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus and had Him crucified at Golgotha because of His radical message. But by putting Him outside of the city proper they were unknowingly confirming that He was indeed the sacrifice for the sins of the people. Because his original audience was believing Jews, the writer urged them to “go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore,” symbolically rejecting the old ways of Judaism (v. 13).

As believers in Christ, you and I will often have to “go outside the camp” of popular opinion and cultural relevance, even within the church, to live in holiness. But we’re in good company. We’re out there with Jesus. Remember what He said: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).

Oh, and there’s one more reason why we need to study the Old Testament, even as New Testament Christians – because Jesus is all over it and all in it. It’s worth digging into the early texts to know Him better. All of history, including the entire Bible, is His story. It’s the greatest story ever told.

Mistakes – I’ve Made a Few

When I study, I write with a pen in hand and put ink on paper – old school. It helps me remember things like I’m writing stuff directly in my brain. I was writing down a Scripture reference the other day and wrote the wrong number, (I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I do make mistakes) so I wrote the correct number over it. I traced it several times to make the right number show up better and cover over the wrong number, and in the process, I made the right number unreadable. I finally had to just scribble out the whole thing and rewrite it correctly and clearly.

Some of us are trying to fix our own mistakes. We’re trying to write over our sins and failures. We think, “If I just do enough things right, no one – especially God – will notice what I did wrong.” The problem is, the more we try to fix it, the worse we make it. Yep, I see you nodding your head. You’ve done it too.  And what we mess up is not a written word but ourselves.  If we keep going we will not even know who we are. Here’s the hard truth folks, you and I cannot overwrite our sins. God is not fooled. So stop trying.

God has a better plan. He said, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgression, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25). The idea here is that all your sins are written down in a book and God erases them, No, even better than erasing them, He removes them forever by washing our sin-page – and us – with the blood of His Son. John put it like this: “The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). All of it. Every. Single. One. Jesus’ blood makes us spotless, innocent, and pure with no trace of our former sin left behind. Does that seem too good to be true? Trust me, it is true. Better yet, trust Him.

 Give your mistakes to Jesus. Give Him every sin and every failure. Give Him the shame and the guilt. Give Him the pain and regret. Let Him cover over it all with His precious blood and rewrite your story with His grace. Then, Beloved, you will be who God created you to be. His.

Hebrews: By faith Abraham . . .

“Abraham! Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love . . . and sacrifice him as a burnt offering . . . (Genesis 22:1-2).

As I meditate on Hebrews 11:17-19 (grab your Bible and read it) two questions come to mind: Why would God make such a horrific demand of Abraham and why would Abraham obey it? As I pondered those questions, two points emerge about Abraham and Isaac’s story.

To the first question, the author says that “God tested [Abraham],” (v. 17) and, as He often does, the Spirit whispered in my heart: “what does that mean?” The word “tested” actually has two meanings: to temp or to examine. How can you know which is happening? The difference is in the tester’s purpose: the devil tempts that the believer might fail God’s standards of faith and sin; God tests that He might determine and sharpen true character, with no desire of making the believer fail. God was examining Abraham’s willingness to obey Him, even in the most difficult requests.  Sometimes it’s difficult to understand who’s behind the test, but the way through is always the same. Keep your eyes on Jesus and your heart firmly planted in the Word. In either case, you will emerge with deeper roots of faith and a testimony of God’s power and goodness.

As to Abraham’s part, I never understood how he could willingly sacrifice his son until I studied his story alongside this Hebrews passage and Romans 4:18 – 20: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed . . . he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God.”  Did you catch it? Abraham believed the promise because of Who made it. He fully expected that God would still build a nation through Isaac and that meant Isaac would have to live. In his reasoning, he expected God to raise Isaac from the dead after the deed was done. But God stayed his hand at the last moment and provided a replacement sacrifice instead. The point is that Abraham’s faith was not in the promise – it was in the Promise-maker. And so must ours be.

Those are two solid truths you can build your life upon. God will never test you to make you fail and He will never make a promise He doesn’t intend to keep. Abraham is known for his great faith. Beloved, are you? Am I?

Glory!

Why does God deliver us out of our troubles? Why did He send His Son to die on the cross for you and me? Why does He “part the heavens and come down” and “draw [us] out of deep waters” (Psalm 18: 9, 16).

Because we are helpless and in desperate situations? Yes, but that’s not the only reason.

Because He loves us? Without question, but that’s not the whole answer.

Because He is the only one who can? That is true, but there’s more to the equation than that.

The most important reason God delivers us from our troubles and our sin is for His glory. He said, “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will glorify me” (Psalm 50:15). When you and I are pulled from the pit of despair, God is exalted. When His hand lifts us up from our fallen state, He is lifted up before all men. When pitiful sinners become children of God, knees bow and tongues confess His glory and majesty.

In His “high priestly prayer” in John 17, Jesus said, “Father the time has come.” Time for what? His death? Our atonement? The devil’s defeat? Yes, and no. Jesus said the time had come for glory. “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (v. 1). In just five verses, Jesus used the word “glorify” and “glory” five times. His vision went beyond the cross to something greater – glory. That is what it’s all about. David proclaimed, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1) Nature, the heavens, the nations, you and me –were all created to give God glory.  And we will. Paul said that “every knee should bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10,11).

Every knee. Every tongue. Whether they did in this life or not, whether they acknowledge His existence today or not, whether they want to not or not – they will glorify Him. Beloved, maybe we should start practicing now.

Hebrews: The Trouble With Sin

Here we are again at another difficult passage. That is, it’s difficult for us, but to God, it’s perfectly plain. We complicate it by looking for loopholes or playing Twister to make it say something less abrasive. Somebody’s not going to like this, but keep in mind, I didn’t say it. God did.

The writer of Hebrews delivers a strongly-worded warning: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (10:26-27). If this sounds familiar, then you were paying attention at 6:4-6.

When Moses presented the Law that would govern the Israelites’ lives, he differentiated between “unintentional sin” and “intentional sin” (or “willful sin”). “Unintentional sin”  is used in the Scriptures eighteen times – all declaring that God offers atonement for unintentional sin. In Numbers 15:22-29 alone you will find it six times. But hear vs. 30-31: “But anyone who sins defiantly . . . blasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the Lord’s word and broke His commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.”

The writer of Hebrews calls this “deliberate sin.” It’s not that we stumbled into it,– but we deliberately went looking for it. It’s what Exodus 21:14 describes as “scheming” for sin. We could never tell God, “I didn’t mean to!” because we did.  There is no excuse – or sacrifice – for willful, defiant, intentional sin in a Christian’s life because “we have received the knowledge of the truth.” We know better, and in the words of Maya Angelou, “When you know better, you do better.” The writer echoes Moses’ words when he says there is “no sacrifice for [deliberate] sins.” All that is left is judgment and the fires of hell. That is a pretty clear indication that those who follow a pattern of deliberate sin are not saved. Redeemed people will not face judgment and destruction. But God’s enemies will.

As believers who have “had our hearts sprinkled [with the blood of Jesus] to cleanse us from a guilty conscience” (v. 22), the Bible doesn’t say you cannot sin. It says you won’t – at least not deliberately. And if you do . . . well, I think you get the point.

I Promise

You stood together at the front of the church and promised to “love, honor and cherish till death do us part.” Yet, here you are alone and hurting. My child promised to come home on time, and two hours later I’m fuming as I hear his key finally turn in the door. They promised advances and promotions when you were hired, but you’re still stuck at entry-level. What happened? Promises were made and then broken. You’ve been on the receiving end, I’m sure. If you’re honest, you may have been on the giving end as well.

Part of our human sinful condition is that we are selfish and self-centered and that often means we will fail to keep our word. We make promises to get our way. We make promises we know we won’t keep. Of course, sometimes we make a promise and something unexpected causes us to break our promise. Whatever the reason someone usually gets hurt. Someone is placed at a disadvantage. Is it any wonder that we find it hard to trust others? Even God.

One thing of which I am certain is that God is faithful to His promises. His Word is as sure as His character, and His character is flawless. He doesn’t make promises based on feelings, so we never have to worry that His feelings will change and His promises will fail. He does not need to make promises to gain an advantage. He always has the advantage. He doesn’t make promises He cannot keep. He is almighty, all-powerful, and able to do everything He says He will do. He never makes a promise He doesn’t intend to keep. God wouldn’t be God if He did not or could not keep His promises.

What has God promised you? If you are in Christ He has promised you salvation and eternal life. He has promised you hope and peace and joy. He has promised His presence, His power, and His protection. He has promised to provide, comfort and care for you. He has promised you victory over sin and death and this world. Elizabeth said of Mary, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (Luke 1:45). Blessed are you, Beloved, when you take God at His Word.

Hebrews: The Living Way

In our last Hebrews devotional, we talked about the confidence we have to come to the Lord with all our needs and concerns – all because of the blood of Jesus (Heb 10:19). The author went on to call Jesus’ sacrifice “a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body . . .” (v. 20).  There is so much here, we could spend days unpacking this one verse. The old covenant was built on the sacrifices of dead animals, whose blood had been drained away. But Jesus shed His blood on the cross and rose from the dead – He is a living sacrifice and a living Savior. And He is The Way (John 14:6) – the only way – to the Father.

But I want to focus your attention on “the curtain, which the writer says is “His body.” Picture Jesus on the cross, his hair matted with blood, His body beaten and broken, life draining from the holes in his hands and feet and side. And as death begins to crush the life out of Him, an unseen hand reaches down from heaven, into the Temple, and tears the tall, heavy curtain in two – from the top down (Matt. 27:51). The curtain had long separated sinful man from holy God. Now the perfect blood sacrifice had been given and God Himself tore the curtain and opened the Way into His presence.

Do you see the beauty here in Jesus’ broken body and the torn curtain? For centuries there was separation between God and man. But through the blood of Jesus, we are invited to “draw near” and “approach the throne of grace” (James 10:22; 4:16). Paul confirms that we have been reconciled to God in his great doxology: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword. 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 8:35, 37-39).

Do you know who Paul was talking to? You, Beloved. The one scrolling through this devotional on your phone. God loves you. Jesus died for you. If you trust in Him, there is nothing – not even your sin – that will keep you from God.

Hebrews: Written on Your Heart

I love to find connections between the Old and New Testaments. It’s like a divine “Aha!” moment. But then, everything in the Old Testament points to the New Testament and to Christ. Even the covenants God made with Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David are reflections of the new covenant He would make with man through Christ.  In fact, the word “testament” is synonymous with the word “covenant” and our Bible is divided into the stories of the two covenants. The old covenant was based on obedience to the Law – something that the Israelites never could master. But that covenant set the stage for the new and better covenant, the one the writer of Hebrews continues to point to. He quoted from prophet Jeremiah: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” (Heb. 10:16, from Jer 31:33).

“After that time” is a reference to the Babylonian exile when the people of Judah were taken captive and their beloved Jerusalem destroyed. Before this, they only attempted to obey His Law when they go into trouble. (Boy, does that sound familiar!) The Law of God was an afterthought in the minds of the Israelites because they didn’t love Him with all their hearts. When they were released to return home, they had a new attitude about the Law – they were obsessed with strict obedience. But again, not out of love for God, but to prove their own “righteousness.”  It was like a pendulum that swung from one extreme regarding God’s Law to the other. And neither end was about loving the Law-giver.  God promised that the new covenant would be different. Because it would not be written on tablets of stone but etched on their hearts and written on their minds so that obedience would be an act of love and knowledge, not self-righteousness.

God also said, “Their sins and lawless acts I remember no more.” (v. 17, from Jer 31:34). Under the new covenant – the one signed in the blood of Jesus – sin was forgiven and forgotten. That’s very good news. All your past sins – all the things that the enemy keeps bringing up to you –have been erased from God’s mind forever. He will not hold them against you because Jesus’ sacrifice covered them all. Do you know what that means, Beloved? You can forget them too.

Obedience is the mark of the believer, but it is obedience that comes from the heart. Right where the love of God overflows (1 John 4:16).

Hebrews: The Throne of Christ

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I worked at a grocery store several years ago as a floral clerk – it was the most fun job I ever had. But after 25 years of desk jobs, it was hard to be on my feet for 8 hours a day. I so looked forward to the end of my shift when I could go home take off my shoes and sit down. When the work was done so was I. There’s a powerful point that the writer of Hebrews makes about Jesus, our great high priest. He said, “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But [I love that word in the Bible!] when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb 10:11-12). Did you get that? He. Sat. Down. His work – providing the atoning sacrifice for mankind – was done so He could climb the steps to His heavenly throne beside His Father and take His seat once more. That is why He was able to cry out from the cross, “It is finished.” (John 19:30). 

This was important to the Jewish believers who were accustomed to the yearly cycle of sin and sacrifice that never completely took away the stain and guilt of sin. But no more. One sacrifice – the death of the God-man, Jesus, was enough. “Enough for what?” you may ask. Enough to permanently remove the sin that hinders fellowship with our Creator. Enough to satisfy the demands of a holy God. Enough to cover the sins of every person who would receive this great salvation. Enough to last “for all time.” Enough for you and for me.

Oh, He will stand once again. The Old Testament prophet Zechariah had a vision of the last days: “On that day [the Lord’s] 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 . . .” (Zec 14:4). When He comes again He will stand atop the very same spot from which He surrendered His will to the will of His Father and surrendered His body into the hands of the murderous Jewish leaders.

For now, He sits, but not idly. He is “at the right hand of God, interceding for us” (Rom 8:34). Beloved, behold your great High Priest.