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.

The Core of Christianity

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The Christian faith has experienced a tremendous amount of change over the past two thousand years.  Some of these changes have been positive, such as the agreement of the doctrines of the faith. And some changes have caused havoc, confusion, and turmoil in the church.  All these changes have added layers to the basic truths of Christianity. So when we strip away all these added layers what is the core of the Christian faith?

 “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time . . . Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also.”  1 Corinthians 15:3-7.

The death of Jesus Christ, His burial, and His resurrection are the core, the root, and the foundation of the Christian faith.  Paul said that those are “of first importance.”  That does not mean that other doctrines of the faith are of lesser importance.  We must recognize the humanity and divinity of Jesus, the incarnation, and the virgin birth, but the heart of our faith is the fact that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again. These prove that Jesus was, and is, the Son of God. 

Why are these so important?  Without the death of Jesus, our sin debt remains.  Without the grave, His death is a question, not a fact. Without His resurrection, we are trusting in a dead man with no power.  But He is alive and He promises us that we will have life everlasting if we believe and trust in Him. There are many facets to the Christian faith and we do well to learn about atonement, justification, sanctification, grace, and the other great truths of Christianity. They are the building blocks of our faith.  But before you start erecting the walls, Beloved, make certain you are on the rock-solid foundation of “first importance.”  All other ground is sinking sand.

You’re Not too Heavy for Jesus

Joy and Nana at her 2nd birthday party

When we go somewhere that requires a lot of walking, Joy’s little legs tire very quickly.  She starts to slow down and stumble and cry.  That’s when Nana picks her up and carries her.  The burden of her weight rests on me.  I love to hold her, but at almost thirty pounds, she can become a heavy load pretty quickly. I know every parent and grandparent is nodding. Those babies get heavy, and as they age, the burdens they bring shift the weight from our arms to our knees. The idea of carrying others’ burdens has its roots in Israel’s ancient worship traditions.

When God gave Moses instructions for the priests, He said, “Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel . . . Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders before the Lord” (Exodus 28:9,12).  Aaron, the high priest, would enter the holy of holies at the appointed time to make atonement for the sins of the children of Israel.  He would come before God with the names of each of the twelve sons of Jacob, the family tribes of the nation, engraved on the stones that made up part of his ritual garb.  He would literally bear the weight of the names of the sons of Israel while symbolically bearing the weight of their sin on his shoulders. 

At Calvary, Jesus bore the weight of every sin you and I have ever committed.  But it wasn’t a symbolic act like the priest bearing the names of the sons of Israel, and it was far more than thirty pounds.  The weight of all the sins of humanity – including your sin and mine – was a real, crushing burden heaped on the Son of God.

I bear the weight of Joy because I love her.  Jesus bore the weight of your sin because he loves you.  I’m nearing the time, though, when my granddaughter will be too big of a physical burden for me to carry.  Here’s the good news: you will never be too big of a burden for Jesus.  Your sins will never outweigh His love for you.  You can rest on this promise Beloved – Jesus will carry you – all the way home.

Two Hearts at Calvary

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19

In the midst of the crowd of people at Golgotha that day stood a mother with a broken heart. In the halls of heaven, amid the angels and the saints, the Father’s heart surely broke as well. As the soldier’s sword pierced the side of Jesus, a sword of grief and pain pierced the heart of Mary as she watched her son die. Though the face of God the Father turned away from Jesus, I suspect the same sword that pierced Mary’s heart likely pierced the great heart of God. A mortal woman and an immortal and eternal God, bound by the love only a mother and Father shared over their son. A life’s journey that began before time, in the heart of God. A life’s journey that began in a stable in the heart of a young woman.

Jesus the son of Mary. Jesus, the Son of God.

In the Gospel of Luke, within the familiar Christmas story of angels and wise men and shepherds, we learn something about the mother of Jesus. Luke 2:19 tells us that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Every mother understands, to a degree, how we treasure the sight and sound and smell of our newborn baby. But for Mary, this was so much more than just the birth of her son. This was wonder. This was awe. For she had been told that her baby was to be the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of God. Angles proclaimed His birth. Shepherds left their flocks and came to see this newborn King, then joyfully spread the news to everyone they met.

We find Mary again, tucking away treasures about her son in her heart, in the account of the boy Jesus in the temple. Frantic worry and fear about His absence from their group gave way to that same awe and wonder at the wisdom of her child, and His passion to be in the house of His Father. Luke repeats the phrase, “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.”  I imagine that, through the years, Mary added more and more to the treasury in her heart.   She knew her son was more than a flesh-and-blood man-child. The Son of God. The Messiah. The Deliverer of God’s people.

And what can we say about the heart of His Father? Can anyone describe the heart of God? A mother’s heart I can understand. Even the heart of a human father is not unique to us. But the heart of the God of Heaven and Earth? Vast. Eternal. Unyielding. Yet still, this was His Son. Surely we can say that the love God held for Jesus must have been beyond the scope of human comprehension. If the love God has for us, His creation is more than we can fathom, how much greater His love for His Son? He did not have to tuck treasures away in His heart, for He had perfect knowledge and remembrance; yet I image – just me thinking mind you – that He rejoiced over every moment of Jesus’ earthly life.

Until now. Until the cross. Until His mother and His Father witnessed the gruesome and cruel death of the son they both loved.

I wonder if Mary, watching her son’s life ebb away, took out those precious treasured memories of angels and shepherds and wonder and awe and tried to understand how this infant she bore could be the hated, dying criminal hanging before her. Was this really her child? Did she look at his hair, matted with blood from the thorns and recall pushing that same hair from His eyes? Did she remember how those hands held tightly to hers as they went to the market together?  The hands that were now nailed to the wood? Did she wonder, “How will he save anyone now?” The Son of God, the Messiah – battered, broken and bleeding. The light in His eyes dimmed as He surrendered His Spirit and died.

How much more was the Father’s heart in heaven breaking? If the love God had for His Son was multiplied to the nth degree, how much more His grief? And then, the Father did the hardest thing imaginable. He turned away from the sight of His Son, for in that moment, all the sin and shame and filth of mankind was cast upon Jesus. Adam’s sin. Eve’s sin. David’s sin. Peter’s sin. Your sin. My sin. The sin of the generations yet to come. The sin of all humanity for all time was heaped upon Jesus, and the Father turned away. Matthew 27: 46 records Jesus’ mournful cry: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? Which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Yet Jesus knew why. It was the plan of the ages to redeem mankind from sin and death. They had prepared for this from before time began. Prepared, but still shattered by grief.

Mary grieved for her son. Surely God grieved as He turned away from the sin His beloved Son bore.

Two broken hearts, forever entwined by love for the God-man who died at Calvary that day.

Please Forgive Me (Part 9 in the Apostle’s Creed series)

“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’”  Luke 23:34

 

THE APOSTLES’ CREED

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Crucified, dead and buried;

He descended into hell, The third day He rose from the dead;

He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand

of God the Father Almighty;

From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit; The Holy catholic Church;

The communion of saints; The forgiveness of sins;

 

I believe in the forgiveness of sins.  I am grateful to the depth of my soul for the forgiveness of my sins.  Let’s take a closer look at this part of the Apostle’s Creed.

Why do we need forgiveness?  Because we are creatures given to sin.  The first man and woman, Adam and Eve, committed what is known as the “original sin,” and mankind has born the burden of that sin ever since.  But surely, we don’t consider ourselves as “sinful.”  We are making “life-style choices,” living as the “free people” we are.  This is a new age, and the concept of “sin” is terribly outdated.  Our society has tried to deny the truth of sin, to call it less than what it is- a personal offense against God’s holiness.  It is the true story of the history of man.  Paul expressed it like this: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”(Romans 3:23). The penalty of sin?  “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23).

Well sure, we are all going to die, right?  But this is an eternal death that is best described in Revelation 21:8: “The cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murder, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  This will be the second death.” I tried to find a nicer way to say it, but the Bible is very clear about the result of man’s sin.  If I water it down, I am not being faithful to the Word of God.  It’s not popular or “politically correct,” but hear Paul’s words: “For those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Romans 2:8).

I hear you saying, “This is so depressing, I thought this was going to be about forgiveness.”  And it is, but we cannot understand and appreciate forgiveness until we understand the truth about sin.  When we are faced with the darkness of our sin, the glory of God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ shines like stars in the night sky.

Paul recognized the blackness of his sin in Romans 7:24 when he cried out: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from the body of death?” It is a question that has only one answer, and Paul followed his lament with a blessed proclamation: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)

Jesus Christ is the answer to man’s sin problem.  He gave His perfect life as the only acceptable sacrifice for our sin.  He bought our forgiveness with His blood.  There was nothing you or I could do to gain forgiveness. Jesus did everything necessary for us to be forgiven and made right with God.  Romans 4:25 says “He [Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”  To be justified means that we are declared innocent in God’s sight – “Just-if-I’d never sinned”  Paul goes on with this thought in Romans 5:9 – “Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!”   Do you see now why we needed a Savior? Forgiveness is possible only through Jesus Christ.

If Jesus did it all, what, then, is our part?  Peter tells us the most precious truth you and I will ever hear, “Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” (Acts 10:43).  Simply believe.   Believe that you are a sinner, helpless against God’s wrath.  Believe that Jesus Christ paid your sin-debt and His sacrifice on the cross is all you need to be forgiven and made right with God.  1 John 1:9 makes this promise: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Sweet, glorious forgiveness from the merciful and loving heart of God, made possible by the sacrifice of our Savior Jesus Christ.  It can be yours right now, by praying this simple prayer:

God, I know that I am a sinner, and I cannot save myself.  Thank you for sending Jesus to take away all my sins. I accept Your gift of forgiveness today.  Thank you for giving me a new life in Christ.  Amen.