Be Like Jesus

“Look at this pretty dress,” my Mom said, “this silhouette would look so nice on you.”
“It’s okay, but it’s not exactly the style today, nobody’s wearing stuff like that now.”
My mom was a master seamstress and made a lot of my clothes; we were in the fabric department, looking at patterns. Or she was. I was impatiently trying to drag her to the young women’s section to buy the things my peers were wearing. My mom wanted me to be different – or as she said, “to be yourself.” I didn’t want to be myself – I wanted to be like everyone else. The thing is, on those rare days when I did wear something my mom wanted me to wear, I got the most compliments. Most days, I was just one more face in a look-alike crowd.
When God called the nation of Israel to be His people he said He had “set you apart from the nations, to be My own” (Leviticus 20:26). He wanted them to be distinct – holy – like Him. His people were meant to reflect Him to the nations. They resisted this throughout their history, and when they had settled in the Promised Land, they demanded a king “then we will be like all the other nations” (1 Samuel 8:19). They did not want to be like God, they wanted to be like everyone around them.
Not much has changed. God’s people, now under Jesus’ sacrifice, are called to be different, to be like Christ – distinct, set apart – holy. But we try our best to fit in – to be like everyone around us. We don’t want to “stand out from the crowd.” But the crowd needs to see you and me looking like Jesus, talking like Jesus, loving like Jesus – not a mirror image of themselves. You may not get compliments, but you will be noticed, and that allows you to “give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

Do you blend in with the world, or do you stand out from the crowd? Do people see their own weary reflection when they look at you – or do they see the hope of Christ? The truth is, you cannot be a follower of Christ and look like the world. You are either one or the other. Which will it be Beloved? 

Hebrews: Nothing But the Blood of Jesus

See the source image

I’d seen pictures of the Grand Canyon, but they didn’t prepare me for the breathtaking sight when we visited the real thing. Every perspective we got as we moved around the rim was beyond description. The pictures were beautiful but they couldn’t do the real thing justice. The writer of Hebrews had set up  two tabernacles in his message – one on earth – a man-made structure with beautiful tapestries and rich gold and silver, and one in heaven: “the greater and more perfect tabernacle . . . not a part of this creation.” He did not attempt to describe it, but I am sure that he could have never adequately portrayed the heavenly dwelling place of God in mere human words.

Likewise, the work of the high priest ministering in the earthly tabernacle was a pale substitute for the work of our Great High Priest ministering in the heavenly tabernacle. The high priest entered the Holy of Holies with animal blood because blood was necessary to purge the sin and make the people clean – “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22). But why? “The life of a creature [human or animal] is in the blood (Lev 17:11). Blood is synonymous with life – any physician will tell you that when the body runs out of blood the life is drained with it. This is the price of our sin.

Let’s spell this out. In God’s holy covenant only “blood makes atonement for one’s life” (Lev. 17:14). God in His mercy allowed for animals’ blood to stand in for our blood, but its effect was short-lived and only partially cleansing. But God had planned a better way; a way that would atone for sin “once for all” (Heb. 9:12), but it required perfect blood that was only available through a divine and holy being – but there’s a problem.  God can’t die. So His one and only Son became a man – a man with divine blood – that He might atone for humanity’s sin. He hung on a cross and dripped that perfect blood from His broken human body. Then He collected it in a bowl and took it into the heavenly tabernacle into God’s very presence. No other sacrifice would be needed. Jesus had done it all.

The blood of Jesus still stands as the only way to be clean before a holy God. But it is enough. Come, Beloved, and be washed in the perfect blood of Christ.

Jesus is . . .

See the source image

“We’re New Testament people, we don’t need to read the Old Testament.” “I just want to know about Jesus, so I’ll stick with the New Testament.” Ever thought or said anything like that? I’ve heard it many times. As Christians – Christ’s followers – we are focused on only what Jesus did and taught.  But the Old Testament looks ahead to Jesus Christ.  Check it out:

In Genesis, He is the Seed of the woman who will one day crush the head of Satan.

In Exodus, He is the Passover Lamb and the one who leads His people out of bondage.

In Leviticus, He is the great high priest and the perfect sacrifice.

In Deuteronomy, he is the Great Prophet to come.

In Joshua, He is the Captain of the Lord’s host.

In Judges, He is the one who faithfully delivers His people from the cost of sin.

In Ruth, He is our Kinsman Redeemer.

He is the anointed King in the line of David in the books of Samuel.

In the books of the Kings, He is the Spirit filling the Temple.

He is the great Teacher in Ezra and the Restorer of broken walls in Nehemiah.

He is the Interceder for His people in Esther and the coming Redeemer in Job.

He is the Shepherd in Psalms and the Source of all wisdom in Proverbs.

He is the Teacher in Ecclesiastes.

He is the Beloved Bridegroom in the Song of Solomon.

In Isaiah, He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and Suffering Servant.

In Jeremiah and Lamentations, He is the Man acquainted with sorrows.

In Ezekiel, He brings life to dry bones.

In Daniel, He is the Ancient of Days.

He is the faithful Husband in Hosea, the Hope of His people in Joel, the Judge of the nations in Amos, and in Obadiah the One who warns of coming judgment.

In Jonah He is the preacher of the Good News, in Micah He is the Ruler from Bethlehem.

In Nahum, He is the judge of His people’s enemy,  the Sovereign Lord in Habakkuk, and in Zephaniah, He is the God who is mighty to save.

In Haggai He is the Glory of the House of God, in Zechariah He is the Royal Priest and in Malachi Jesus is the Son of Righteousness.

Beloved, if you want to know Jesus, read the Old Testament. He is all over the place.  Then read the New Testament with a fresh understanding of Jesus who was and is and is to come.

Nothing But the Blood of Jesus

See the source image

Leviticus is the Old Testament book that holds all the laws of worship, community, and purity for the nation of Israel. It was all very clear to the Jews of that day – and very burdensome. But to a twenty-first-century western reader, it makes no sense. What does a bunch of antiquated rules have to do with New Testament Christians? But there is much value in reading Leviticus – the key is to read it through the lens of Jesus Christ.

Jesus designated ‘love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) as the second greatest commandment (Matt. 22:39).  And the writer of Hebrews drew from Leviticus to describe the person and role of Jesus Christ. Studying Leviticus gives us a deeper devotion to Jesus, helps us grasp the holiness of God, and teaches us how to live daily as Christians.

It also enables us to see sin as God sees it – and reveals the true cost of our redemption through the death of His Son. Leviticus sets the sin of man in stark contrast to the holiness of God and reveals the only resolution: blood, and not just blood from a pricked finger, but the blood of death. Here is what I find most compelling. Repeatedly, the Lord graciously allows sacrifices for “unintentional sin” – that is sins that were committed inadvertently. But not so for intentional sin. “Anyone who sins defiantly . . . must surely be cut off from his people; his guilt remains on him” (Num. 15:30-31). To be cut off from the community meant also being cut off from any hope of atonement for his sin. He would forever stand guilty before God.

Now view this through the lens of Jesus Christ. He who was perfectly sinless sacrificed Himself for sin – but not only unintentional sin – His blood covered every sin of every person for all time.  “He sacrificed for sins once for all when He offered Himself” (Heb. 7:27).  That means the sins we “stumble into” and the sins we choose with our eyes wide open. Jesus paid it all.

There’s great hope for you and me in that statement. When Jesus died, He took every single sin to the cross and to the grave and when He rose again, he left our sins forever buried. All of them. I pray that means something to you. Beloved, nothing you’ve done is too much for the blood of Jesus Christ. 

Why the Old Testament Still Matters

See the source image

Reading the Bible is paramount for the believer who wants to live and walk as Jesus did – after all, that is the purpose for our salvation – “to be conformed to the likeness of [God’s] Son” (Romans 8:27). I’ll bet you have started trying to read through the whole Bible and found it to be more challenging than you thought. Especially in the Old Testament – especially in Leviticus! What do all those old rules and sacrifices and rituals have to do with us as New Testament believers? EVERYTHING!

The entire Old Testament looks ahead to Jesus Christ. He fulfills every promise and completes every command. In Genesis He is the Seed of the woman who will one day crush the head of Satan. In Exodus, He is the Passover Lamb and the one who leads His people out of bondage .In Leviticus, He is the great high priest and the perfect sacrifice. In Deuteronomy he is the Great Prophet to come. In Joshua, He is the Captain of the Lord’s host.

In Judges, He is the one who faithfully delivers His people from the cost of the sin. In Ruth, He is our Kinsman Redeemer. He is the anointed King in the line of David in the books of Samuel. In the books of the Kings, He is the Spirit filling the Temple. He is the great Teacher in Ezra and the Rebuilder of broken walls in Nehemiah. He is the Interceder for His people in Esther and the coming Redeemer in Job.

He is the Shepherd in Psalms and the Source of all wisdom in Proverbs. He is the Beloved Bridegroom in the Song of Solomon. In Isaiah He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and Suffering Servant. In Jeremiah and Lamentations He is the Man acquainted with sorrows. In Ezekiel He brings life to dry bones. In Daniel He is the Ancient of Days.

He is the faithful Husband in Hosea, the Hope of HIs people in Joel, the Judge of the nations in Amos, and in Obadiah the One who warns of coming judgment. In Jonah He is the preacher of the Good News, in Micah He is the Ruler from Bethlehem. In Nahum, He is the judge of His people’s enemy, the Sovereign Lord in Habakkuk and in Zephaniah He is the God who is mighty to save. In Haggai He is the Glory of the House of God, in Zechariah He is the Royal Priest and in Malachi Jesus is the Son of Righteousness.

When you read the Old Testament, always look for Jesus, He is on every page, in every verse. Then read the New Testament with a fresh understanding of Jesus who was and is and is to come.

A Shameful Woman and a Gracious Savior

See the source image

Luke 8:42-48 tells the story of a very shameful woman and a very gracious Healer. She had “an issue of blood” or as we might say in the South – “She had woman troubles.” In that culture, a woman’s monthly cycle rendered her “unclean” for the duration (Lev. 15:19. Anyone who touched her or anything that she touched, such as furniture, would be unclean. This woman had suffered for twelve years!  Twelve years of being unclean had heaped tremendous shame and isolation upon her. Plus she had spent every penny on doctors who could not help her.  She was a woman in desperate need of divine help.

She knew the Law and the ramifications of what she intended to do. But she had heard of the rabbi’s healing miracles and somehow knew He could do the same for her. So she dared to approach Jesus, albeit stealthily. She thought she could receive healing without His notice, but – horror of horrors – He stopped and sought her out. “Who touched me?” He demanded (v. 45).  The disciples pointed out the crowd around Him, but this touch was different from the rest. He knew the touch of faith when He felt it. When she bravely came forward, He was gracious and merciful. Before the whole community—those who regarded her with shame and had ostracized her—He commended her faith and proclaimed her healed. Can you imagine how her disgrace surely turned to rejoicing? She “owned up to” what she had done – “In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched Him and how she had been instantly healed” (v. 47). Listen to Jesus’ response to her confession: “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace” (v. 48).  Did you catch it? Because of her faith, the Lord not only healed her but claimed her as His own. And announced it to all her neighbors. Oh, had she never stepped forward she would have still been healed, but what a witness she was to the community.

Beloved, I don’t know what scandalous burden you carry. But I do know that when we are honest with the Lord, no matter what we have done or how shameful we feel, He honors us with healing and acceptance that is evident to everyone around us. I just really believe God wants someone to know that.

Obedience = Love

The class I’m taking this semester is a study of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.  This week we’re in Leviticus, the book where New Year’s Resolutions go to die. I know – this book is so antiquated – so many strange rules, weird diseases, and issues that rub against the grain of our culture. But it is also completely applicable to the 21st Century if we will take the time to study it and think.

As I sat down to read this week’s assigned chapters, right off the bat, God spoke a timeless word to me.  The Lord said to the Israelites “When any of you bring an offering to the Lord . . .” (Lev. 1:2). Can you guess what jumped out at me – what word is as relevant today as it was then?  “When.” Notice that God didn’t say, “If you bring an offering to the Lord” – He said, “When.” What did that mean for Israel, and what does that mean for you and me? Simply that God expects obedience. He didn’t offer a suggestion they can accept or decline. The sovereign Lord gave a command. The Israelites were obligated to obey.

That chafes against our modern sensibilities and our independent, autonomous attitudes. We stand proudly and say, “I’ll do what I want to do.” “I make my own decisions.” No one has the right to make any demands on me. And when it comes to “religion” – we “pick-and-choose” from the Bible what we feel comfortable with and then put our own spin on it. “This is what I think this verse says and that’s what I intend to follow.” How else could the church applaud and celebrate what God so clearly condemned? 

What was true for Israel is true for the church and believers today. God expects obedience. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). Obedience is the fruit – the evidence – of our love for Him. Beloved, what had God been calling you to do? That can be a big as a call to ministry or as small as pulling weeds for your elderly neighbor. Are you regarding it as a choice you can take or leave – or as the Word of God that you will commit to obey? Obedience = love. Do you love God?

What do a bunch of old laws have to do with me; or why should I read Leviticus?

Image may contain: one or more people

I am doing a slow dig through the book of Leviticus – yes Leviticus – the book where most New Year’s resolutions come to die. Why would I spend months studying a hard-to-understand bunch of antiquated laws that don’t apply to me as a New Testament Christian? Because Jesus is found in Leviticus more than any other Old Testament book. He is the fulfillment of every law therein. Three verses into the first chapter and there He is: “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to bring an unblemished male” (Lev. 1:3). That’s Jesus. Unblemished. Perfect. Sinless. Innocent. Pure. The only sacrifice that could atone for your sin and mine – making us acceptable to a holy God.
I look into the next verse and I see, not only Jesus this time but also me. “He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering so it can be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him” (Lev. 1:4) In the ancient sacrificial system, the person placed his hand on the animal’s head symbolically transferring all of his sins onto it. This innocent animal now bore the guilt for the sinful person; the animal – not the man – died for those sins.
I am the one with my hand on the head of Jesus. Those sins are mine. The guilt is mine. I am shaken by Charles Spurgeon’s comment on this verse: “If the worshipper was a right-minded person and not a mere formalist, he stood with tears in his eyes and felt in his heart, ‘That death is mine.’” Oh, God let me never look at the cross and forget – “That death is mine.”
Beloved, that is your hand on the head of Jesus too. That death is yours. Those sins are yours. The guilt belongs to you. But so does the atonement. The sinless, innocent Son of God graciously received your sins and bore your punishment so that you would be accepted by His Father. May you and I never forget the price that Jesus paid to set us free.

Leviticus: More than Just a Bunch of Rules

Law.

Most of us start our Bible reading adventure on January 1 with great promise – until we get to the book of Leviticus. The rules and laws and regulations make no sense to us and frankly, offend our modern sensibilities. Here’s what you need to keep in mind about Leviticus: Through all these rules, God was showing both His absolute holiness and man’s absolute sinfulness. In addition, as New Testament believers, we must read Leviticus with Jesus always in the forefront of our mind, for He fulfills every jot and tittle of the Law that Moses delivered.

For example: consider Leviticus 1:1-2 – The Lord is giving instruction to Moses to give to the people: “When any of you brings an offering to the LORD, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.” The first thing I see is the word “when.” Not “if” you bring an offering, but “when” you bring an offering. An offering is expected of God’s people. I’m not just talking about a check in an envelope to throw in the plate. I’m talking about our whole selves. Everything we have and everything we are. And the next part of verse 2 brings that home: “an animal from either the herd or the flock.” Herds and flocks were the Israelite’s livelihood, his means of support and the dinner on his table. The offeror was not to bring any animal he could chase down in the wild. It had to be an animal in which he had invested personally, financially, and often emotionally. An offering that would mean a loss to the giver.
And this is where we see Jesus. God offered up on our behalf a personal offering, an offering that was valuable to Him. An offering that would be a intimate loss to Him. His Son. This offering magnifies the holiness of God, for it required the highest sacrifice – not on our part, but on His. You and I have nothing of that great value, so God provided the offering on our behalf. Jesus.
The book of Leviticus is rich with symbolism that points us to Jesus and to the cross. We must read this book with an eye to the greater Fulfillment of the Law. Don’t miss Him as you force yourself to wade through this difficult book. He is on every page.