Advent 2022: His Name is Love

“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:31).

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’” – which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).

When my son was young, he loved to go to the playground at the local park which was almost always crawling with boys and girls.  He would join in with one or two children and for some reason, he called all the other kids “dude”.  I told him over and over, “Ask them what their names are.”   One day on the way home I gently lectured him on the social grace of using people’s names.  He replied, “I only seen them today and I won’t see them tomorrow so I don’t need to know their name.”   Lecture over as I tried to stifle a laugh.  But he had a point – to know someone and call them by their name indicates a relationship, ranging from playgrounds to the intimacy of lovers.

God spoke volumes in the name He gave His One and Only Son.  “Jesus” – Iesous in Greek, Yeshua in Hebrew (translated Joshua) – carried the meaning “Yahweh saves.”  The Jewish people would hear Jesus’ name and remember that the Lord had saved His people in the past and He had promised to save them again.  They recalled Joshua in the days of the exodus from Egypt, a mighty military leader and warrior who lead the armies of Israel against multiple enemies on the way to the Promised Land.  They clung to the hope of salvation and restoration from Roman rule.  Jesus was a name that spoke of the power and faithfulness of God.

But Matthew records another name that would be bestowed on this Child – Immanuel – God with us. This name speaks of God coming physically near to His people.  In the Garden, God walked with Adam, until sin came between them.  In the desert, God’s presence was in the cloud of fire, and in Jerusalem, His presence dwelt between the cherubim in the Temple – behind a heavy curtain.  But now God Himself once more walked among his people.  He shared the street with His creation, broke bread together with men, and laid the hand of God on their children’s heads.  He lived among men – and died among them.

In a perfect combination of names, He personally brought the salvation of God to all humanity.  He is the victorious power of God and the intimate love of God.  He is Jesus – Immanuel – the God who came near to save us. It is the name of Love.

Let the Name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore – Psalm 113:2.

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.

Hebrews: In Remembrance of Me

I hated lunchtime in the school cafeteria. Every day I walked around with my lunch tray looking for somewhere to sit. Classmates would quickly throw their purses and books in all the empty seats at their table – the non-verbal way of saying “We don’t want you.” I eventually found my way to an empty table and ate my meal alone. Now, as an adult, I usually gravitate to an empty table out of habit.

This all came to mind because of the verse we’re focusing on in Hebrews: “We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat” (Heb 13:10). Remember, the author’s audience is believing Jews that are being pulled back into their traditions and away from Christ. The brazen altar in the tabernacle was where blood sacrifices were made. The priests were allowed a portion of the meat from which the blood was taken as their meal portion (Lev 6:26, 29, 7:28-38; Deut 18:3-5; Num 18:10-20). But it could only be eaten by the priests and the males in his family. No one else was welcome at that table.

But Christians have an altar and a portion that no one else can share – not even the tabernacle priests. The altar is Jesus Christ Himself, and the meal is His flesh and His blood – the portion He gave to His disciples in the upper room before His death (Matt 26: 26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:17-21). The portion He commended to us who believe in Him. We observe this as a sacrament we call  Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist.

I was privileged to serve communion one Sunday, and as I repeated the phrase “The Body of Christ, broken for you,” to each partaker it became a very profound and special thing to me.  As I passed the bread to each person in the line I realized that Christ’s body was broken for every single person – even those who don’t believe and haven’t received Him. I thought about the juice and the bread that would be left over after the service.  It would just be discarded – like grace poured down the drain.  It made me sad that the devil has blinded the world to this amazing gift of Jesus’ blood and body. After the service, I realized I had flour all over my clothes from the bread I had served.  I had the visible witness of the gospel all over me!

You and I carry the gospel with us wherever we go. Let’s make it clear and bold and winsome. Let’s bring as many to the table as we can. Beloved, your life is the best testimony to the world of the grace of God.

Holy Father

When I pray, whether written or spoken, I use my favorite name for God: “Holy Father” (John 17:11).  It comes from Jesus’ prayer just before his arrest. I love that name because it is expressing the two most important aspects of who God is. Taken separately, each word speaks volumes.

“Holy” describes the highest moral quality, something or Someone set apart and sacred. I think of the Most Holy place in the Tabernacle where God dwelled among His people. It was a sacred space and entry by man was forbidden – except once a year and then only by the high priest who came to make sacrifices for the sins of the nation. A holy thing would never be used for common purposes by common people. The angels in Isaiah’s vision of God’s throne room constantly called out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty” (Is 6:3). Not just holy, but thrice holy.

“Father” is, of course, a male parent or significant leader to a family, a nation, or an individual. It is a title of honor and reverence. It is also a title of endearment – at least for some. My Dad and I didn’t have the best relationship when I was growing up and we were estranged for much of my adult life. (We did reconcile a few years before his death.) “Father” was not a warm fuzzy thought for me. But coming from the lips of Jesus, the affection was deep and sincere. Most Jews would not dare refer to God in such familiar ways. Remember He is holy – set apart from common, sinful people. But after His resurrection, Jesus told the disciples, “I am returning to my Father and your Father . . . (John 20:17). And He is our Father.

But together “Holy Father” serves as bookends with all the wonder and awe and majesty of God in between.  And together they are the complete picture of this God who is both holy and dear, who both demands perfection and makes us perfect through the blood of His own Son. The words speak to my heart of a Father who will never wrong me, never leave me, never hurt me or shame me but will always love me with the holiest of love. With perfect love (1 John 4:18). Because He is a perfect Father (Matt 5:48). Yes, “Holy Father” says it all.

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: One Life, One Death, One Savior

Free Old Tombstone close up Stock Photo - FreeImages.com

If it seems like we’ve been in the tabernacle with the high priest for a long time now, you would be right. The writer of Hebrews has repeatedly contrasted the earthly tabernacle and the human priest with the heavenly tabernacle and the divine great high priest to prove the point that Christ is the better way – the only way – to salvation and eternal life. Don’t forget that he was writing to a people steeped in the traditions of Judaism, the Law, and the sacrificial system. All they had ever known was the yearly atonement and they struggled to accept another way. Every year they watched the high priest going into the holy of holies wearing his ritual garments. On his breastplate, near his heart,  he bore the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (Ex 28). On his shoulders, he also carried the names of the sons of Israel, so that he symbolically  “bore the sins of Israel” on his shoulders before the Lord. Every year he carried the same burden into the holy of holies and repeated the necessary sacrifices because one sacrifice was never enough. Until . . .

When Christ went into the heavenly tabernacle He entered into the literal presence of God and offered Himself for “the sins of many people” (Heb 9:28). He didn’t just carry the names and sins of a single group of people, He carried them all, including the Israelites. But the Jewish believers weren’t sure they could trust their eternal security to a “one and done” Savior. What if His sacrifice wasn’t enough? They would be left with their sins uncovered and would be forever condemned. The choice was to throw their whole life on Christ or turn back to what they had always known. To make the point clearer, he said, “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people” (v. 27). Human life is a one-time thing and so is the judgment that follows. But so was Christ’s sacrifice – once was enough. He will come again to take the judge’s seat and render the final verdict for all who trusted in Him: “not guilty.” Beloved, make sure your one life is safe in the nail-scarred hands of Christ.

Hebrews: The Day of Atonement

See the source image

“Keep out!” I stood there with my hands on my hips staring at the signs on my brothers’ fort. “Boys only!”  I yelled into the curtained doorway, “I don’t want to go in your fort – it should say ‘Stupid boys only!’”  But the truth is I did. I wanted to go in just because they said I couldn’t. I wanted to go in to show them they were not better than me and they couldn’t shut me out.  But mama said “No. Give the boys their space.” Fine. It was probably full of stupid boy stuff anyway. 

In the center of the people of Israel stood an elaborate tent – a tabernacle, the dwelling place of the Lord God. Not just anyone could enter the tabernacle. Only “the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry” (Heb 9:6). Within the tabernacle was another space, and it was even more exclusive than the outer space. “Only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year” (v. 7a). There might as well have been signs saying, “Keep out!” “High Priest only!” Why so particular about who entered and when? Because this was the Holy of Holies, the place where the Lord God dwelt. Admittance was strictly limited and access carried great responsibility. The writer of Hebrews noted that when the high priest entered on the Day of Atonement he was “never without blood which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance” (v. 7b). It was a ritual that had to be followed to the letter with the high priest bathing and putting on his holy garments, presenting the blood of animals first for himself and then again for the sins of the community (see Leviticus 16). The people were declared clean for another year, but they were still kept out of God’s presence. Why? Because, while the sins were atoned for by the blood of the sacrifices, the guilt of their sin remained.  They would never have “a clear conscience.” The memory of their sin would always be with them, like a stain that could never be washed away and no one can enter God’s presence with stains. Something more was needed, something that could do what the blood of goats and bulls could not – make men clean enough for God.

Hebrews: The Tabernacle

See the source image

Have you ever found a recipe on social media you wanted to try, but when you clicked on the link you had to wade through pages of extra content about why the dish was a family favorite, how Grandpa loved it with extra sauce and Aunt Betty Sue always wanted to tweak the ingredients? By the time you got to the actual recipe, you lost interest. “Just get to the point!” you wanted to say. Why do they do that? All the extra stuff pads the article and allows you to be exposed to lots of ads. Ads are where online writers of blogs and stories and recipes make their money.

The writer of Hebrews starts out the 9th chapter (remember that the original content wasn’t broken down into chapters and verses) talking about the tabernacle which he had mentioned in chapter 8. He described its physical layout and some of the elements that the priests used. He noted the outer room – called the Holy Place – with the lampstand (Ex 37:17-24) and the table (Ex 37:10-16) with the concentrated bread. This was separated by a curtain from the Most Holy Place which held the Ark of the Covenant, God’s dwelling place (Ex 37:1-9). The Ark contained three things – a jar of manna from their days in the wilderness (Ex 16:32-33), Aaron’s staff which was covered in buds to identify God’s chosen priest (Num 17:10), and the tablets of stone on which were etched the ten commandments for the people (Ex 34:28). The Ark featured two cherubim (not the little pudgy baby angels of Valentine’s Day, but mighty warrior angels) who stood guard over the atonement cover (Ex 37:7-9) where God sat to receive offerings once a year.

One of the most fascinating studies I’ve ever done was of the Tabernacle. It’s every element, even down to the colors in the tapestries had incredible symbolism and everything about it and in it pointed to Jesus Christ. And that is where the author wanted to go when he said, “But we cannot discuss these things in detail now” (Heb 9:5). Like the recipe seeker – he wants to get to the point of the Tabernacle – Jesus Christ. But first, he will zero in on the work of the priest, particularly the high priest to set the stage. We will look more closely into his role and work in the next devotional.

Hebrews: The Tabernacle

See the source image
Lovely Lane Chapel at Epworth by the Sea, St. Simons Island, Georgia

I love church buildings. I visited some beautiful, ornate cathedrals when I lived in Germany.  My late brother’s high school graduation was held in one in Worms. I didn’t see him walk for his diploma because I was looking at the intricate carvings and high, soaring ceilings. I met for a weekly Bible study in a church with incredible wood beams that always spoke peace to me.  I worked in a church in Florida with beautiful stained glass windows. I loved to sit in the sanctuary and watch the light cast colors across the room. But the church I fell in love with was a small chapel in Georgia on St. Simon’s Island called “Lovely Lane Chapel” at Epworth by the Sea. It is an unassuming white building in the traditional style of the late 19th century set on the banks of the historic Frederica River. But when you open the doors and step inside the all-wood interior will take your breath away. It is an impressive work of architectural art. But it’s just a copy and shadow of the true tabernacle in heaven (Hebrews 8:2, 5).  St. Peter’s Basilica and the pre-fire cathedral at Notre Dame, even the gold walls of Solomon’s temple pale in comparison to the divine original.

Likewise, the ministry of the priests who served in the temple in Jerusalem was significantly less than that of Jesus Christ, the great high priest. The writer of Hebrews pointed first to the gifts and sacrifices presented by generations of human high priests (8:3-4), and later we will see why those gifts and sacrifices fell short of the perfection the Law and the Law-giver demanded. But Jesus’ ministry “is superior to theirs” (8:6) because the gifts and sacrifices He offered were superior.

Jesus’ ministry did not happen in the earthly tabernacle and the sacrifice He offered was not given to a diety shrouded in smoke and incense. Jesus went personally before the Lord with His own pure blood.

Ornate buildings and animal sacrifices don’t make men holy. Neither do programs and weekly services. None of these satisfy the demands of a righteous God. But there is a way. It’s through the better tabernacle and the better offering – through Jesus, the Son of God, the Great High Priest, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Who takes away your sin, Beloved. He will make you holy.

Hebrews: Jesus is Greater

See the source image

Every nation has its heroes – men and women who left an indelible mark on history and are remembered for generations. Alexander the Great. William Wallace. George Washington. Winston Churchill. And the list goes on and on. The Jewish people also had a hero. His name was Moses and he is still revered and lauded by Jews. It was Moses who led the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage, across the Red Sea, through forty years in the wilderness, and to the edge of the Promised Land. It was Moses who delivered God’s Law to the people and built the tabernacle, the place where the Lord God dwelt among His people. He was a pretty big deal to the Jews. But the writer of Hebrews said there is someone who is an even bigger deal. Jesus.

Two points were raised about Jesus that exalted Him above their hero – He was faithful and He was worthy. “He was faithful to the one who appointed Him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house” (Hebrews 3:2). Both Moses and Jesus were faithful to their God-given tasks. Moses was faithful in His role as the leader of “God’s house” – the people of Israel. Jesus was faithful in His role as the redeemer of God’s creation. But, he noted, there is a significant difference between them. Jesus is “worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything” (vs. 3-4). Moses built the tabernacle, but Jesus is the Creator of everything that exists (John 1:3, 10).

The author then brings it all down to one main point: “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house” (vs. 5-6a). Moses was a servant, Jesus Christ is the Son. Moses served God’s people; Jesus redeemed God’s people.  The readers were contemplating giving up their faith because of persecution. If they abandoned Jesus and went back to Moses, they were turning away from the greater for the lesser.

But don’t we do the same? Don’t we trade Jesus for lesser things like pleasure, wealth, power, popularity, and fame? Don’t we give our affection and attention to temporal things that hold no worth? Jesus is greater than everything this world has to offer. Beloved, I implore you don’t trade Him away for anything.