Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 12 September 2017

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12, verses 1-2.

These are the same verses from yesterday, but I’ve added in the last sentence in verse 2.   It’s one of the most famous, most quoted verses in the entire Bible.  To get the full effect, you really need the previous words.  “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”   Read that to yourself over and over a few times, and try to let it sink in.

Yesterday we talked about Franklin Graham and his relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse.   Neither Franklin Graham nor anyone in Samaritan’s Purse set aside pure joy to endure pure torture for you or anyone else.   We talked about volunteers and first responders fighting fires and rebuilding after hurricanes, fires, and earthquakes.   None of them ever set aside joy, endured the cross, and sat down at the right hand of God the Father.  Your neighbors haven’t done this.  Barack Obama never did this and can’t; ditto Donald Trump.   Neither can Brad Pitt, the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, Benny Hinn, Miss America 2017, nor your saintly little old lady grandma.

Jesus did.   He didn’t just do it willingly:   He did it lovingly, fully, without hesitation.   It’s the theme of the entire Bible and the central event in all of human history.   Everything that every is or was or will be hinges on Jesus dying on the cross, then rising to live forever.

The creator of all things, the most powerful being imaginable, who created everything simply by speaking; the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (as both Isaiah and Handel called Him):   He, the omnipotent and omniscient God willingly, enthusiastically let sinners He created nail Him to the most humiliating device of torture ever devised in hell.   He did it with gusto.   Jesus not only took the worst mankind could throw at Him:   He ASKED for it.  He ran the race of life fully, to its end, to show us where we were going.

He did so because Barack, Donald, Brad, Francis and the rest of us can’t.   We simply can’t.   We aren’t Him; we aren’t God.  He is.   We desperately needed Him to do it, too.  All too often, we don’t throw off those entangling sins.   Too often, the race seems like too much for us.

Yet there He is in the race, running ahead of us, drawing our gaze, our focus.  He’s in there to pace us, to give us someone to run toward.  He beckons us to persevere, to endure because He endured much tougher things than our day to day lives.   Notice that Jesus doesn’t take us out of the race.   He doesn’t pluck us from the middle of the world, removing us from our sins.  No, Jesus stays with us to give us a reason to push forward.   The reason is Him, sitting as equal with His Father in heaven, beckoning us to persevere, to run the race day by day.  With Him there is peace now and a meaningful forever.  In Him is the victory; in Him is the goal of running the race.   All of human history prepared for His coming, and when He came, all of history after Him was set on a different path.  No empire could prevent His resurrection; no ideology can refute it, deny it, or withstand it.  Every Christmas, memes and cards say “Jesus is the reason for the season.”   That’s true, but don’t bottle that up until the Holidays.   Jesus is the reason you run your race today.   He’s there in every step, not just every December.

Get up and get back in your race.   Your goal is dead ahead.   For the joy set before Him Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.   He did it so you could run your race.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:24, Hebrews 10:36, Psalm 25:15, Hebrews 2:10, Philippians 2:8-9, Mark 16:19.

Lord, I lift up Your Name to praise You for running my race with me.   Abide with me, push me forward, and help me to finish in Your strength.

 

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 6 April 2017

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.  Hebrews 9, verse 24.

There is a line from “The Shack” that I continue to ponder.   When Mack (the protagonist) is talking with “Papa” (the Father character), they talk about Jesus and how He died on the cross.   Mack says he doesn’t understand how the Father could abandon the Son.  Papa reveals to Mack that he (Mack) truly doesn’t understand, but not how he thinks.   “I was with him there all along,” says Papa.   On its face, that statement seems to be contrary to much Christian doctrine which states that Jesus died a full and human death and that God the Father turned His holy face from His Son.   Who knows if the statement is true, either that the Father abandoned the Son, or that the Father was with the Son even through death.   Only they know, and we are only left to believe.

But think about that for a second, then consider verse 24.   When Jesus died, He did something that nobody else could do; this you know.  Jesus, being fully God and holy and having lived a life without sin, took ALL sin on Himself and wiped it out.   He erased the consequences of it from ever touching sinners who believe in Him.   When He did that, He took on that sin yet remained holy and perfect.   It’s a mystery, perhaps the greatest mystery of all time.  How could God actually do this?   When you figure that out, call me.   Better yet, call me, Franklin Graham, the Pope, and the Dalai Lama.   Come to Paris and I’ll buy you all dinner.  Invite Bill Young, the author of “The Shack,” too.

Yet there’s something undeniable about it all.   Jesus died the death we deserve and then entered God’s holy presence again.   He who had given up being in His Father’s presence for a time re-entered it fully, righteously, and having made all things new again.  He didn’t need to go to the Temple and offer a sacrifice for sins:   He had been the sacrifice.   That Temple, and before it the desert tabernacle, had been made to represent the Holy Temple in heaven where God resides in person.  Now came back Jesus to the original Temple – the presence of God – and He had been made all sin yet made all pure on our behalf to stand in His Father’s presence again and proclaim “Abba, we did it!”

I don’t know if the Father abandoned the Son during the time He forsook Him.   I don’t know (and neither does your pastor) whether or not the Father was there in Spirit or in person, and I don’t know exactly how the miracle was fully completed.  Like the transaction of actually requiring blood, I don’t fully understand the mystery.  In the end, I also don’t know if that really even matters.   To me, it seems like a fine point of theology ripe for navel gazing.

Bill Young is on to something, namely that it doesn’t matter how God accomplished our redemption.   Yes, I said that.   It doesn’t matter how God did it, but it does matter THAT He did it.  It isn’t for us to fully understand the mechanism through which God made right what we could not.  It doesn’t matter whether the Father was present throughout the Son’s passion or whether He turned His holy face away.  What matters is that, however it happened, God accomplished our salvation.   We know it required blood – meaning it required submitting life to God – and we know that it required the full submission of a sacrifice.   And we know that Jesus gave both of those, taking all our filth onto His pristine Spirit to make us righteous again.   He did this for our benefit, and He then ascended back into heaven to regain His place at the Father’s side.

When He did that, Jesus re-entered the heaven to which we aspire.   It was the same place He had left years before when He became incarnate here on the Third Rock…and yet it wasn’t.   Something had changed.   It wasn’t less perfect; it wasn’t even more perfect, as if that were possible.   Instead, the fact of man’s condition had changed because of what He Himself had done.   When that happened, the representation of heaven was no longer needed because He who would live through each of us could fully reside once again in the true heaven where perfection remained perfect.    And He did it for us, to intercede for us when we couldn’t.

For further reading:  Hebrews 8:2, Hebrews 4:14, Romans 8:34.

Lord, You are magnificent, worthy of all praise, and fully perfect in every way.   Thank You for all You have done!

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 6 September 2016

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.   After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.   Hebrews 1, verse 3.

Before moving off verse 3, let’s talk about that “purification for sins” part.

This was the whole purpose of Christ’s life.   His life wasn’t just a great morality lesson.   He didn’t come here to be just a teacher, wise man, prophet, or all around good guy (like George of the Jungle). Jesus of Nazareth came here and died to provide the purification for sins.   As a result, everything changed.

On a Tuesday after a holiday weekend, does that blow your mind?

Dictionary.com defines “purification” as “to make pure; free from anything that debases, pollutes, adulterates, or contaminates; to free from foreign, extraneous, or objectionable elements; to free from guilt or evil; to clear or purge (usually followed by of or from); to make clean for ceremonial or ritual use.”

You and I: we’re impure.   Mother Theresa: impure.   Pope Francis and Billy (or Franklin) Graham:   impure.   The Dalai Lama, Orthodox patriarchs, your saintly grandmother, a newborn baby not five minutes old, the best person you can think of:   all impure.   All of us, every human ever born of man, are impure.   We’re thick with sin, tainted irrevocably with it.   And what is sin?   Going back to dictionary.com, sin is “transgression of divine law; any act regarded as such a transgression, especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle; any reprehensible or regrettable action, behavior, lapse, etc.; great fault or offense.”

Whether it is by a single thought of selfishness or the murder of a hundred people, we have sinned against God, against Jesus.   We have transgressed against Him by willful and deliberate violation of His principles.   We’re guilty of great fault and offense against the pure love that is Him.   Every time we choose anything but God or what is of Him, we sin.   We become guilty and impure whether it’s in thought, action, or both. There’s no getting away from that fact.   It’s part of who we are as people.

God didn’t make us to be sinful; our ancestors chose it and tainted us.   We each choose it willfully whether we’re children or adults.   Don’t agree?   Have you ever had a “no” argument with a toddler?   How about any kind of argument with anyone else?   Ever wondered lustily what your neighbor looks like in the shower? Knowingly fudged your taxes or driven over the speed limit?   Ever told a white lie?   No matter the human consequences, these and so many more are sins against God.   They’re unholy impurities in us that are an affront to the pure, just love that only He offers.

God tells us to be Holy but we don’t listen; in truth, we can’t on our own.   He tells us to be holy because He is holy and He created us to be in union with Him.   We can’t be in full union with Him as long as we’re unholy.   Our sins make us unholy because each one of them is a subtle (or loud) rebellion against Him.   It’s a chasm we can’t bridge on our own.

Enter Jesus.   Enter Jesus the one and only Savior who came here to bridge the chasm and purify us from our sins.   He willingly lived and died an agonizing death bearing the spiritual consequences of every sin humanity ever undertook. Fully God and fully man, He who could not die willingly died a hero’s death on that cross so that He could restore balance to creation. He did it while still preserving our ability to be made holy and to live in free will, choosing to love Him rather than being compelled to. He takes away the eternal damnation consequence of those sins.   He makes it possible for us to be in union with God again by clothing us in His righteousness and imputing it to us as our own.   In doing that, He makes it possible for the holy Majesty who is God the just Father to not see the millions of sins I’ve done in my life. Instead, He sees only Jesus’ pure perfection.   My impurities no longer keep distance between us.

Buddha didn’t do that.   The Dalai Lama can’t do that.   Neither Billy Graham nor your pastor can do it. No imam, holy man, or shaman can do it.   Nothing any of us can think, say or do can do that.   But Jesus did.

Now does that blow your mind?

For more reading:   John 14, Colossians 1:17, Titus 2:14, Mark 16:19.

Lord, I’m in awe of Your purifying, righteous love.   Thank You for doing for me what I didn’t deserve and could not do.   Thank You for purifying me of my guilt and restoring Your true love to my life.