Victory in Jesus
1John 2: He solved the sin problem for good.
An old preacher’s line is when asked the topic of his or her sermon is to reply “I’ve decided to preach about sin…I’m going to take a stand against it.” In this passage we find John doing just that. He tells his readers that he’s writing “to guide you out of sin.” Then, if a believer falls back into sin, he points us to the remedy, our “Priest-Friend” Jesus. Beyond that, as I consider the broader problem of sin, I’m told that Jesus has already dealt with sin at that level too. Sin, which breaks our relationship with our Heavenly Father, has been decisively dealt with through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. “He solved the sin problem for good.” When sin is an issue in my life there’s a remedy and his name is Jesus. From this passage I learn, then, that Christians can live in victory over intentional spiritual failure. I learn that if that failure comes anyway that Christ’s victory can yet be mine. I learn that, even as I’m dismayed by rampant, destructive sin in the world that there’s hope, a way out through the Lord. Because of him I’m set free from the domination of sin. That opens the way to abundant life. For every person who struggles with some old sinful habit; for everyone who sometimes feels the tug of some especially powerful temptation; for everyone who wants to live freely in Christ – for everyone – this is a wonderful, hope-filled Word from the Lord.
Take Away: At the cross Jesus defeated sin and death once and for all.
Why it’s taking so long for Jesus to come back
2Peter 3: So what’s happened to the promise of his Coming?
The Apostle tells his readers that as the time for the return of Christ gets closer that people will be more outspoken in their doubt that it will happen. One of their reasons for doubting is that it’s been so long since the promise was made. Common sense, they think, dictates abandoning belief. People will think, “Nothing like that has ever happened since the beginning of time, now so long after the promise, things have continued as they have always been. It’s time to move on and forget about the promise.” Peter gives a three point response to that kind of thinking. First, there’s precedence for God stepping in and changing everything. After all, for eons the universe existed without this planet. Then, God stepped in, bringing about the creation of this very world. Later on, in Noah’s day, God changed everything again by bringing to pass a great flood. Here are two prime examples of God intervening in Creation to do a new thing. Second, time matters a lot more to us than it does to the Eternal One. A thousand years is a lot of time for humanity, but it’s a blink of the eye for the Ancient of Days. Third, God has reason to wait. That reason is that he wants to give more generations opportunity to be redeemed. The Lord wants to save people; all the people he can save. Therefore, he’s patient, taking all the time necessary to get as many in as he can. The Day of Judgment is definitely coming. Jesus will return and that will set the whole End of Time in motion. Meanwhile, we wait with the understanding that God knows exactly what he’s doing and at just the right time Jesus will come back. My job is to get ready, to stay ready, and to help all who will to prepare for that certain upheaval of history.
Take Away: No doubt about it, Jesus is coming back.
Hebrews 10: Not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on.
All the heavy lifting to provide my salvation has already been done by Jesus. It’s his obedience to the cross that’s opened a new, living way to God. It’s his blood that’s been shed, providing the final, ultimate sacrifice. Now, the way to God is opened and I have sure, absolute promises upon which to take my stand. So, that’s what I do. I respond in belief and then do all I can to nurture that hope I’ve been so graciously given. One of the ways I do that, according to the writer of Hebrews, is to worship with fellow believers. In spite of the fact that some folks don’t think it is necessary or worth the time, I’m to see it as a valuable component of the life of faith. As part of a worshiping community my connection to Jesus is strengthened, my understanding of the things of God is deepened, and opportunities for serving the Lord are provided. Some may think they know better or that they have bigger fish to fry. I see it as one of several ways in which I more firmly grasp my hold on the things of God. After all, Jesus has already done the heavy lifting here. My being faithful to his Church and all the other disciplines of the Christian life is nothing in comparison to his bleeding and dying on the cross.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for the gift of the Church, the Body of Christ.
No more blood needed
Hebrews 9: He brought together God and his people in this new way.
It was a bloody religion. Even the giving of the Law was accompanied by the sheading of the blood of innocent animals. Through the centuries the blood continues to flow and on one day each year, in particular, the blood is taken behind the curtain into the Holy of Holies to atone for the sins of the High Priest and all the people. Then, Jesus, the Son of God, comes to make the ultimate blood sacrifice: his own. This High Priest gives himself, and in so doing, finishes the old bloody system once and for good. No more blood and no more curtain. These things that stood as a barrier between God and man are abolished for good, belonging in history books and museums rather than in real life. Jesus creates a new connection between God and man, the curtain removed and no more blood necessary. Today, we follow the Lord’s command to “remember” by receiving the Lord’s Supper. In the cup though, we don’t need blood. The absence of blood is, in itself, a lesson. Because Christ’s blood was shed long ago, just a bit of wine (in my church tradition, its “new wine”) is all that’s needed.
Take Away: Christ’s sacrifice was what was needed all along and it never needs to be made again.
My brother is King
Hebrews 2: It’s logical that the savior took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by his death.
Once the awful persecution of the ancient Church ended, it turned its attention to formalizing the doctrines of Christianity. What beliefs are required to be “Christian” and what beliefs are outside of the boundaries of Christianity? Creeds were debated, created, and adjusted as Christians tried to better understand what was and what was not “Christian.” It’s no surprise that the main focus in all this was Jesus, himself. Who was he? What does it mean for him to be the “Son of God”? What does it mean for him to be the “Son of man”? Some people focused on his humanity and decided Jesus was a very good man who was picked by God to be the Savior of the world. Others focused on his divinity. They decided that Jesus appeared to be human, but was actually God dressed up in human flesh. Ultimately, the Church abandoned mathematics in favor of faith. It was concluded that Jesus was, at the same time 100% man and 100% God. Never mind that this adds up to 200% — we’d just believe that that’s how it is. Here we are, way down the road and so comfortable with this approach that we don’t think much about it. Today’s passage played a role in this understanding of Jesus. The writer of Hebrews describes one who was so human that he died a very human and real death for all. At the same time, he’s positioned in the loftiest of realms. For human beings, this is good news indeed, it’s great having one we call “brother” also be our Lord and Savior.
Take Away: Jesus is 100% man. He’s also 100% God. This God-man is the Savior of the world.
Life in the middle
Titus 3: Stay away from mindless, pointless quarreling over genealogies and fine print about the law code.
Since Paul’s somewhat critical of the average resident of Crete I assume that his warning to Titus here isn’t based on some natural tendency of Titus to get caught up in trivial matters. It seems to me that Paul thinks that the people of that island do share this tendency and if he isn’t careful Titus will get bound up in it too. Paul wants Titus, and all believers, to focus on the big picture. The Lord has graciously and in mercy reached out to us in our sinful state to establish us in a new relationship with him. He stepped into this world and knowing full well that we don’t deserve it, loved us anyway and went to work transforming our lives. Now, we’re made new, cleaned up by Jesus, recipients of God’s gift of himself to us. These are the things we’re to think and tell about. We’re to let others, outsiders, have the corner on worrying about the minutia of the law. They’re welcome to it. After all, if such things provide salvation, the Pharisees and Sadducees would have been Jesus’ best friends. Paul tells Titus to “put his foot down” and insist that the business of the Church is declaring Jesus and to provide evidence of what he does in people’s lives by being “bighearted and courteous,” law-abiding citizens. On one side of us are those who are “ordered every which way by their glands.” On the other side are those who focus on debating the finer points of the Law. Here in the middle, we just live for Jesus, telling our story to all who will listen.
Take Away: It’s easy to major on the minors – but to do so is to fail to live the life to which the Lord calls us.
I’ve been changed
1Thessalonians 1: Something happened in you.
The Apostle writes two letters to the church at Thessalonica, a city of Greece that still exists today: Thessaloniki. Bible scholars tell us that these letters are some of the earliest writings of the New Testament, penned a mere 20 years or so after the ascension of Christ. Jesus promised that he’ll come back and it’s that promise that drives these letters. When the gospel was preached at Thessalonica a few years earlier it was wonderfully received. People believed and in believing their lives were changed right then. As our Lord put it, they were born again and thus made new. Not only were they changed in the present, but their view of the future was changed too. Now, every day contains in it a sense of anticipation as they “expectantly…await the arrival of…Jesus.” That expectancy drives them, flavoring their lives in positive ways. No life situation is forever and a better day will begin any moment now. This has made these made new people into optimists who are admittedly curious as to exactly how it will all come about. Today, I’m 2000 years distant from these believers. Still, I have this in common with them: I too look forward to that day with both optimism and a certain measure of curiosity as to how it will all play out in the end.
Take Away: Christians anticipate the Second Coming even though we admit we don’t know exactly how it will all play out.
Wandering in the wilderness
Ephesians 2: You’re no longer wandering exiles.
We know the story of how under the leadership of Moses the children of Israel refuse to enter the Promised Land and end up wandering in the wilderness for 40 long years. In this passage, Paul describes the Gentiles as also wandering out in the wilderness, separated from God. Now, thanks to Jesus, the way into the Promised Land, the “kingdom of faith,” has been provided. Everyone is invited, both Jews and Gentiles, to make the crossing into that place of peace, at home with God. The reason, of course, that the children of Israel even make that long detour in the first place is that they didn’t trust God. Having rejected him, they turned away to the misery of the desert. For the Gentiles, the situation’s a bit different. Because of Jesus they’re experiencing their first opportunity to come to God and they’re taking full advantage of it, coming in by the thousands and tens of thousands. For those who respond, the wandering days are ended and the days of spiritual abundance have begun. On a personal level I’ve seen more than one respond to what Jesus has done. They’re rewarded with new, everlasting life for their decision. Sad to say, I’ve seen a few who have opted for the wilderness instead. Decisions have been made, priorities have been set, and they’ve followed the road out into the desert. Happily, God is the God of Second Chances. At some point, I hope and pray that they’ll find themselves once again at the point of decision. I sincerely pray that at that time their wandering days will end.
Take Away: Jesus provides us all the way to God.
Galatians 3: Anyone who tries to live by his own effort, independent of God, is doomed to failure.
It’s astounding to read the writings of this once exemplary Pharisee as he takes on the failure of rule keeping. Paul was, at one time, a Pharisee’s Pharisee. He was cheered for his dedication to a thousand-and-one rules; zealous for that way of life to the point that he hunted down and imprisoned any who threatened it. Now, years later, he’s making a lawyerly case against that approach, urging his friends at Galatia back from the brink of yielding to a “Jesus-and” approach to God. When a past Pharisee says rule keeping dooms a person to spiritual failure I’m wise to listen. Paul says the key to spiritual life isn’t trying harder, rather it’s trusting God more. He says this secret has always been out there, hidden in plain view. After all father Abraham is counted as righteous, not because he’s so good at always doing just what God wants (in fact, he’s notoriously bad at it) but rather because he trusts God. Rather than creating a human powered way to God the rules prove to me once and for all that that approach will never work. I’m left in a hopeless condition unless a superior way is made available to me. And that’s exactly what happens. Jesus, the Son of God, accepts my failure as his own. What rule keeping can’t do, he does. The door to righteousness is opened wide. To surrender to a “Jesus and” approach is to take a step backward to a failed system. My hope is firmly fixed on “Jesus only.”
Take Away: There’s no other way to God than through faith in Jesus.
Rules and regs
Galatians 2: If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.
Years earlier the council at Jerusalem came to a momentous decision. While it was okay for Jewish Christians to continue to observe the Jewish rules and regulations the burden of keeping those rules wouldn’t be placed on the Gentile believers. That was a very big deal, but it wasn’t the end of the subject. Some of the “rule keeping” Jewish Christians refused to accept that decision. Off they went to the Gentile churches to “re-educate” the new Christians. Their brand of Christianity was quite Jewish. Beyond that, even Jewish believers like Peter tended to walk on both sides of the road on this one. Around Jews they were very Jewish, but when they were with non-Jews, they relaxed and conducted themselves as though it is, indeed, faith in Jesus that alone makes a person right with God. Paul and Peter had a bit of a falling out about it when Peter, who had been getting along just fine with the Gentile Christians, quietly withdrew from them when a group of rule keeping Jewish Christians showed up. Clearly, in spite of the fact that there had been an official ruling on the matter, in practice, things were still up in the air. Paul, in this case, doesn’t appeal to the Jerusalem ruling, but, instead goes straight to the cross of Christ. He reminds his readers that if rules did the job, then the Jews, of all people, would be happily satisfied with their situation. He also tells them, that, if that was possible, then Jesus would have never gone to the cross. After all, his message to us isn’t “try harder and you’ll be fine.” Rather, his message is that he is the “way, the truth, and the life.”
Take Away: Even if we somehow managed to keep all the rules we’d still be unsaved outside of Christ.