Hebrews: Just Jesus

History is littered with men and women quitting before the victory. Do you remember any of their names? Neither do I. We remember the ones who stuck it out and stayed the course.  The whole premise of the book of Hebrews is about not giving up; a message twenty-first-century believers need as much as first-century believers. The author said, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded” (10:35). That begs a question: Do you have confidence in God? I hear your “Yes!” ringing loudly through the air. So let me press you a little farther. Confidence for what? That He will fix your problems, clean up your messes, open all the right doors, straighten out your kid, and bring world peace? There’s nothing wrong with any of those things; I’m praying for some of them myself. But the author had bigger things in mind. Eternal things.

The people reading this message were being challenged by the writer to put their confidence in one thing: the grace of God through Jesus Christ for eternal life. Remember these folks are largely Jews and for centuries their confidence was in obedience to the Mosaic Law. Something tangible. Something they could do. It was a constant mantra from the cradle to the grave. But they were now expected to believe that one man bore the burden for all of their sins and there was nothing they needed to do to ensure their salvation beyond trust.  Put yourself in their sandals – you only get one shot to make the right decision about the hereafter. How difficult would it be to stake your eternal security on this – on Him?  But this is what the writer was encouraging – even pleading with them to do. It’s what I am encouraging – even pleading with you to do.

You and I can believe God for many good things. My hope for my life is in His Word and His Name. You place your kids and your future, your struggles and heartaches, and your needs and desires in His hands and you do well to do so. But the one question that you need to answer Beloved is this: What is your hope for eternal life? If your confidence is in anything or anyone but Jesus, you have no hope and no reward. Only Jesus saves.

The King on a Colt

As was the tradition, thousands of Jews flocked to the city, and one question was on everybody’s lips: “Would Jesus come into the city for the Passover Feast?” The people were all abuzz with reports of His miraculous deeds – in particular, raising Lazarus from the dead. The religious leaders had given orders that anyone knowing His whereabouts should report it to them, for they planned to arrest Him on sight. His previous entries into the city were quiet, without any show of publicity. Now, however, with deliberate purpose, Jesus publically presented Himself as Israel’s Messiah and King. He chose a time when all Israel would be gathered in Jerusalem, a place where huge crowds could see Him, and a way of proclamation that was unmistakable.

He made his way into the city, seated on a young colt, to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zec 9:9/John 12:15).  The people lined the road praising God, waving palm branches and throwing their cloaks in front of him to provide a “royal carpet.” They shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matt 21:9) – which meant “save now!” – because they recognized the fulfillment of the long-awaited prophecy. Praises rang out loudly and joyfully: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel! (John 12:13).

Yet once inside the city gates, as strangers asked: “Who is this?” the answer was different. “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” From Messiah to Prophet. First, One who “comes in the Name of the Lord” – now one who comes from Nazareth-a city despised and disregarded by the Jews (John 1:46).

Don’t we still do the same? In the Sanctuary on Sunday morning Jesus is Lord and we sing His praises with voices raised. But what happens we the crowd changes? Do we tuck Him inside the cover of a dusty Bible? How do we respond to the question, “Who is this?” Is He just a “good teacher, a man of peace”, or maybe even a fool? He can not be Lord on Sunday and disregarded on Monday. To which crowd do you belong, Beloved? Who is this Man to you?

Hebrews: Perfection

I’ve known many pastors in my life and my  25+ year career as a church administrator – some of whom I had more confidence in than others. But none of them were perfect. Yet, the Law of God demands perfection, so how can these imperfect men help me to reach perfection? They can’t – and they will tell you that themselves.

The author of Hebrews said, “If perfection could have been obtained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come—one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?” (Hebrews 7:11). The perfect law was given to imperfect people and they were instructed in it by imperfect priests. How then, could they ever meet the law’s demands? Enter Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the other person worthy of both a crown and a mitre.

The author pointed to Jesus’ lineage as a descendant of Judah, the royal line, but what of his priestly role? He said, like Melchizedek, Jesus is “one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to His ancestry, but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life” (7:16). What does that mean? Indestructible at its root means unable to be dissolved, disunited, overthrown. It means Jesus’s life, ministry, and mission would never be diminished or rendered vain because of His personal moral power. And because His position as priest was not something He inherited, but something He always was – the perfect mediator of the perfect law and the only one who had the power to make imperfect people perfect before God.

Many priests served and retired or died, and the law was never satisfied through any of them. But hear this: “Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood. Therefore He is able to save completely [forever, to the uttermost] those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them” (7:24-25). He alone can guarantee our salvation because He alone is “holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, [and] exalted above the heavens” (v. 27).

Beloved, you will never pull off perfect obedience, but you can put your faith in one who has. You can trust in the indestructible life of the Lord Jesus Christ, your priest and king to make you perfect.

Blessed Faith

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“Did that really happen? It must have been a dream. I have been so anxious over all the preparations Joseph and I are making – it must have caused me to have this strange dream.” Mary was traveling through the hill country of Judea on her way to visit her dear relative, Elizabeth. The angel in her dream had said something strange about her too – that she was going to have a child – in fact, he said she was in her sixth month. Elizabeth – of all people. She and Zechariah were too old to have a baby. Yes, this had to have just been a dream.JBut what if it wasn’t.Could she really be with child – with THE child – the Messiah? Why would he have chosen her? She was nothing special, wouldn’t God have chosen the wife of the high priest for such an honor? Someone in a lofty position in the temple, someone more mature, more wealthy, more righteous. No. She shook her head as if to shake loose the crazy idea. This was just not possible. She saw the familiar house and spied her relative in the doorway with her back turned toward the road. “Elizabeth!” Mary called out and gasped as the older woman turned to face her. The smile on her face was warm and welcoming, but the bulge under her dress was a shock to Mary’s heart. It was true! Elizabeth was pregnant! If that were true – then . . . “Mary! Dear Mary!” Elizabeth exclaimed, and then as if from deep within her spirit she began to speak. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for Joy” (Luke 1:42-44).

Oh, it was true! It was all true! Elizabeth was pregnant. That meant she really was pregnant too – with the Messiah! Then, as if reading the thoughts the younger woman had carried with her along the journey, Elizabeth took Mary’s hands in her own and said, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (v. 45).

Beloved, faith is the sweetest blessing of all.

Faith in the Unexpected

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She stood in the dim light of the early morning with her hand over her belly and her heart full of awe and wonder at the life growing within her. It was all so surreal. She tried to remember every detail but it was so wonderful and frightening at the same time. She pulled her cloak tighter around her and noticed that she was trembling – fear mixed with excitement ran like shockwaves through her small frame. But the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:30). Then the angel said the most remarkable thing – that this child would “be called the Son of the Most High God” (v. 35). Oh my! Did he mean that she – Mary of Nazareth – would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah? She was a simple peasant girl from the nothing town of Nazareth.

In the stillness of the morning, the angel’s announcement still rang in her ears. She repeated aloud the words she said to him that day as if reassuring herself and reaffirming her willingness, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” (v. 38).

Mary’s quiet, well-planned life was suddenly interrupted by God. Her highest aspirations were to marry Joseph and fill their home with lots of children. She was in a most scandalous situation, one that could have cost her her beloved, and possibly even her life. Yet she humbly surrendered herself to the will of God and embraced an unknown future with awe and wonder and faith.

When God interrupts our lives, it rarely comes preannounced by an angel. It usually involves a heart-wrenching phone call, a doctor’s sad face, a police officer’s knock at your door, your teenage daughter’s morning sickness, or a memo that the company is downsizing. We don’t often get advanced notice of life-altering occurrences as Mary did. Still, we can respond with the same humble submission and faith that she exhibited. Why? Because God is with us in the unexpected, just as He was with Mary. Because He still has a plan and a purpose. Because, Beloved, there is still nothing that is impossible with God.

The Beautiful Feet of Jesus

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“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation” (Isaiah 52:7).

On Holy Thursday I wrote about washing the feet of Jesus and I have not been able to shake that thought nor the image of Jesus’ feet since. I’ve thought of those feet carrying Him away from a quiet life in Nazareth and into a mission that would change the world for all time. I’ve envisioned His dusty feet on the streets of Jerusalem or wet from standing at the edge of the Sea of Galilee. Those feet carried Him into the lives of sick children, broken, sinful women, and demon-possessed men. People fell before the feet of Jesus to plead for His help. Matthew 15:30 says that crowds of people came to Jesus, “bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at His feet; and He healed them.” In every instance, Jesus responded with compassion and love. He never walked away from those who needed him.

His feet walked through the home of the high priest where He stood trial and through the halls of the palace of Pilate who sentenced Him to death. His feet carried Him up to Golgotha where Roman soldiers nailed them to a cruel, wooden cross. His nail-scarred hands and feet were the proof of His resurrected body before His disciples.

The feet of Jesus bring us healing, wholeness, freedom, and life. The feet of Jesus bear the marks of His great love for you and me. His feet that once bore nails will one day bear power – earth-shaking, mountain-breaking power.  And at His feet, all of humanity will fall in worship and proclaim that He is Lord. All His glory was bound up in that human body, those human feet carrying Him to souls in need of healing, mercy, freedom, grace, and life. He walked into my life with those beautiful feet bringing good news, peace, and salvation to this weary sinful woman. Beloved, won’t you invite Him to walk into your life today?

When You’ve Made a Mess of Your Life

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Ever seen your fingerprints all over the mess in your life? You’re in good company.  Psalm 107 tells of people who wandered into trouble, who rebelled against God and were prisoners of their sin, or in danger and “at their wits’ end” (v. 27) because of their foolish and selfish actions. In every case, they had no one to blame but themselves. They were suffering the consequences of their actions. Sound familiar? But the Psalmist says that God heard their cries and came to their rescue. He led the wanderers “by a straight way to a city where they could settle” (V. 7). He brought the prisoners “out of their darkness and gloom and broke away their chains” (v. 14). He “stilled the storm . .  and guided them to their desired haven” (v. 29, 30). Even when their distress was self-made, God answered their cries for help.  He did it all because of “His unfailing love” (v. 8, 15, 21, 31).

The God of Psalm 107 is listening to your cries. Wherever you are, whatever your circumstances, and however you go there, God hears you. Even in your lostness, your captivity, your disappointment, your mess, your failure, your sin – God is listening. ‘Despite your circumstance and all appearances, He has not abandoned you.”

This is why Jesus came. Romans 5:8 says “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were without hope. While we were suffering the consequences of our actions. While we are in our miserable state, Christ came with the promise of healing and redemption and eternal life.  Check this out: in Hebrew, “ah” was the root word for “the Lord.” A name that ended in “ah” always referenced the Lord. Jesus is the Messiah. Do you see it? Jesus is Lord (ah) over the mess (Mess) I (i) made of my life.

In your hard circumstances where all hope is lost, God promises His rescue. Not after you untangle yourself from your messes. But while you are in the middle of it, in places you never thought you would be, Beloved, God is near and He is listening. Give your mess to Jesus Messiah.

Jesus – Lord over Your Mess

 

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My granddaughter is sick this morning. She is all stuffed up and her nose is running. I held her while her mommy got ready to take her to the doctor. She wallowed and turned and squirmed. She spat out her medicine all over me. She wiped her snotty nose on my blouse. And I didn’t mind one bit.

It reminded me of the account in Matthew of a man with leprosy who came to Jesus for healing. He knelt before Him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (8:2). Matthew says that “Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ He said. ‘Be clean.’ (8:3). Don’t run past that. Jesus reached out His hand – and touched – the- man – with – leprosy. Leprosy was a very contagious disease that ate away at the flesh. A leper was ostracized from the rest of the community as their nose, fingers, toes, and ears fell off their body. It was a nasty, gross disease. If they wandered into public places they must shout out “Unclean! Unclean!” to warn others to keep their distance. (That sounds familiar in 2020). When Jesus said, “I am willing,” and reached out his hand, He was saying, “I am willing to touch your disease and filth.”

Matthew noted what the prophet Isaiah said about the suffering Messiah: “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases” (Matthew 8:17/Isaiah 53:4). Coupled with the story of the leper and you can hear Jesus saying, “I am willing to take your disease and your filth upon myself.” He reached out His hand and touched all of humanity’s filth and took it all to the cross. Without flinching.

I’m going to change my shirt before I head to work, but I don’t mind. She needed Nana’s comfort – and it got messy. By the way, have you noticed the name “Messiah?” The “ah” is transcribed as “Lord.” Beloved, won’t you let Jesus be Lord over your mess?

Joy to the World!

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The Lord will be King over the whole earth.  On that day there will be one Lord, and His name the only name” (Zechariah 14:9).

 

Joy to the world!

The Lord is come; Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room

And heav’n and nature sing, and heav’n and nature sing,

And heav’n and heav’n and nature sing.[1]

Joy to the World is one of our most beloved Christmas songs, but it isn’t about Christmas at all.  Isaac Watts originally penned these words in anticipation of the return of Jesus.  Notice that verse 1 above calls Him the King, if you read the full hymn, you will see that verse 2 celebrates His reign, verse 3 tells of the end of the curse and verse 4 proclaims Him as the righteous Ruler of the world.

We love the Baby in the manger; He is the embodiment of God’s holy love for mankind and the fulfillment of His promise to free us from bondage to sin.  But we must let Jesus grow out of the swaddling clothes and into the crown of thorns to understand the full impact of Christmas on the world.  We must see Him as the risen Lord standing in the Garden and look to the skies as He ascends back to heaven to grasp the fullness of His promised resurrection.

But that is not the last the world will see of Jesus.  Zechariah 14:4-9 describes His glorious return.  “On that day, His 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” (v. 4).   The world missed His first advent, but there will be no missing His second.  “Every eye will see Him” (Revelation 1:7)!  Christmas brings us joy as we remember Jesus’ birth, but the greatest rejoicing will come when the King of kings returns to earth.

Jesus promises “Behold, I am coming soon!” (Revelation 22:7).  And so we say with the Bride and the Spirit: “Amen. Come Lord Jesus” (v.20).

This is the JOY of Christmas!

[1] Words: Isaac Watts, 1674-1748; Music: George Frederick Handel, 1658-1759; Arr.: Lowell Mason, 1792-1872

Hoping for Christmas

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“When they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her first-born son” (Luke 2:6).
A woman waits many long months before her baby is born. We wait in doctor’s offices, we wait our turn in kindergarten, we wait for a plane, and many a parent has waited up for their kids to get home. Waiting is part of life, often a frustrating one. But it’s really all in our attitude and expectation. Have you ever been around children waiting for Christmas? They are so impatient, but they are so full of joy and excitement at what’s to come. They have great expectations for what Santa will bring.
The Bible tells us that the nation of Israel had waited for centuries for the One whom God would send – the Messiah. Devout Jews prayed daily for this coming. They longed for and watched diligently to see God’s Redemption. Yet the Lord delayed in sending the Chosen One. The people prayed and waited. And waited. And waited.
Can you relate? Have you prayed and waited with no end in sight? What could possibly be taking so long? Has the Lord forgotten you? Not a chance. God’s delays are often a season of preparation. Whether it is a situation, a place or a person, something needs to be made ready. Very often, it’s me and you. I want to give you a Word from the Bible and I hope it will bring you peace as God tarries. “But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4). When the time fully comes – when things or people (or you) are ready for His good plan – God will bring about something wonderful. He never delays one millisecond past the right time.
What is your part? Keep praying. Keep waiting. Keep watching. But do so with hope and expectation, like a child waiting for Christmas. Beloved, God is at work on your behalf – perhaps He’s tying the bow on your gift right now.