Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 26 September 2018

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 1 Timothy 1:8 (NIV).

What is the law?   God’s law is the set of boundaries He gave to us, through the Old Testament, to help steer us back to Him in all things.  More than just the Ten Commandments, God’s law is a complex set of rules He gave to the Jews of old to live by.   It’s not just a bunch of “no’s.”   The law, given to us by a holy God, points us to our need for the forgiveness that only He (God) can give.   We don’t live by the law now, but if we reject God, we may die by it.   To quote Paul in Romans 6, the wages of sin is death and we all die.   Yet we can live.

In Romans 7, Paul illustrates that the law is holy in that it identifies our transgressions.   It does so in order for us to understand the consequences of sin (death).   When we are bound by the law, we’re buried in our sins, and through the law the only sure destination for us is death.  Sin – the defiance of God – works against us, using our knowledge of the law, given by a holy God, to mire us in the despair of our wrongdoings.

So many churches (and so many followers of Jesus) get so wrapped up worrying about what not to do that they forget a crucial thing about the law.

It’s holy.   It’s loving.

The law of God is holy, given to us by a God of loving justice, purity, and righteousness.   The motivation for the law isn’t punishment:   it’s love.   Jesus Himself said so: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.””

God didn’t give us the law to hurt us:   He gave it to us because of love.   Because He wants to see us turn to Him whenever the threat of anything wrong approaches us.  God’s character throughout all of history hasn’t changed.   The same God who flooded the world to destroy every sin-soaked creature on it (except those kept alive in His ark) is the same Jesus of Nazareth who prayed from the cross “forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.”

He gave us a code to live by because He means business, namely to join your soul to His in perfect love.   So that you and I might shy away from things that could try to tear us away.   So that we know the way home when we stray.   So that we would trust Him when He gives us tools like the law to properly guide our hearts.

For further reading:  Romans 6:29, Romans 7:4-12, Matthew 22:37-40, 1 Timothy 1:9

Lord Jesus, thank You for Your holy law.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 25 January 2017

He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.  Hebrews 7, verses 13-14.

Background matters here on the Third Rock.   It’s not the Harvard diploma that gets you the job, but the Harvard name can get you in the door.   It’s not the brand name Velveeta that you buy:   it’s that big block of cheesy love that makes great queso.  It isn’t the car brand that matters as much as it is the smooth ride.  Yet background still can matter to us:   you get a better ride from a Mercedes than you do a used Kia.   And you get a better queso from Velveeta than you do from store brands.   And you get more resume inquiries if you have an Ivy League pedigree than you do if you only graduated from high school.   But background isn’t everything, and background will only carry you so far.   If you want quality, you have to dig deeper.   You need to get past the superficial things that live in front of the background.

The verses since verse 11 have talked about how Jesus is like Melchizedek, the faceless, background-less king of Salem and high priest of God who met Abram in the Canaan wilderness.   The author illustrates how, if human qualifications were enough, we wouldn’t have needed Jesus.   Melchizedek had a pedigree; he may have even been Jesus Himself.  But we needed more reminders, so God gave us strict rules through Moses about who should be priests.   Moses and his brother, Aaron, were descendants of Levi; they were Levites.  The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy contain all kinds of codes for Israelite priests.  What to do, how to act, what to wear, when to offer sacrifices and how; it was detailed for a reason:   God’s reason.  Priests weren’t allowed to change the rules; only God could do that.

Becoming a priest in ancient days wasn’t for just anyone…literally.   To be a Jewish priest, you had to be a Levite, descended from Jacob’s son, Levi (one of Abraham’s great grandsons).   It was to the Levites and only the Levites that God had given the priestly calling.   Exclusionary and discriminatory?   Only if you’re shallow.   Look beyond those twenty-first century words and you see the reason from antiquity was two-fold.   One, God wanted His people to understand that His calling was set apart and unique.   And, two, that His calling would matter, that it would teach people about His glory if they adhered to certain processes.   God gave us these rules for our benefit, not His, so He used groups and symbols that we could understand.

Yet Jesus wasn’t a Levite.   He was descended, both on His father’s and mother’s sides, from Judah (another of Abraham’s great grandsons).   The referenced verses from Isaiah, Matthew, Luke, and Revelation talk about Jesus’ lineage from the tribe of Judah.   And when He wanted to institute a priesthood that would supersede anything earthly, God reminded us that He is the ultimate rule maker, that He is over those rules and not subject to them.   He sent His Son to live by every earthly rule, even those of the priesthood to which He wasn’t subject, yet was not bound by the restriction of being a Levite.   Indeed, Jesus’ human restriction was that He was descended from Levi’s father, Jacob, and grandfather, Abraham, and ultimate Father Himself, God Almighty.  In fact, word, and deed, Jesus ministered as a man in ways to both fulfill God’s priestly requirements and to demonstrate that, as God, He would supersede them for all people.

And Jesus’ background was meager.   He didn’t have a rabbinical background.   He wasn’t a trained Levite or priest.   He didn’t go to all the right schools, and He didn’t have any upbringing to set Him apart from anyone in particular.   Jesus was a simple carpenter’s son, from royal but undisclosed heritage, who hailed from a poor, simple town in Judea.  No Harvard degree; no Velveeta branding; no sweet ride for the streets of Nazareth.   When all will be said and done, Jesus matters more than the background.

For further reading:   Hebrews 7:11, Isaiah 11:1, Matthew 1:2-6, Luke 3:33, Revelation 5:5.

Lord Jesus, thank You for signs and things that matter here in this world.   Let them all be to Your glory and be ways that help me to point to You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 29 November 2016

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Hebrews 4, verse 15.

One of the qualities I love most about my Savior is that He’s like me.   He has been tempted in every way and yet He overcame those temptations.   I haven’t; I’ve fallen; I’ve been tempted and I have given in over and over and over again.   Yet I’m like Him and He’s like me.  He had real flesh, real skin, real blood, real pain, real joy.   Jesus spent most of His life working as a carpenter’s son (or some kind of tradesman) in Nazareth.   Do you think He ever whacked His thumb with a hammer?   I’m betting He did and I’m betting it hurt just as much as when you or I do it.   It isn’t a sin to yell “ow!” when something hurts you.  When Jesus saw a pretty woman, I’m betting He said to Himself “she’s beautiful” and He meant it.   When Jesus was sad, say when Joseph died or something bad happened to someone He knew, He was genuinely sad.   Sure, He knew that person’s fate and He understood the real differences between the temporal pleasure of life here and the eternal peace of living forever in heaven.   Yet He also really, truly grieved when people endured things like suffering, death and sorrow.  And have you ever considered that Jesus probably laughed at jokes, too?

These are all things with which you and I can identify.   They mean Jesus is like us in every way as a human being.   How amazing is it that He put off His God qualities to experience life the same way we do.   He creates life, then comes to live one just like ours in every way save one:   He never sinned.   The small and big things we think, say and do that trip us up in front of His Spirit and His Father:   Jesus never once did them.   Over and over throughout history He had commanded humanity to “be perfect.”   Have you ever considered how this actually means we could be?   Yes, that perfection eludes us because of sin and our sinful nature, yet Jesus Himself commanded us to be perfect.   He commanded us to do something He knows we can do…yet we don’t.   We don’t because we choose not to.   We choose sin, even when it doesn’t seem very fair.  And yet He still put off that eternal God quality of His and chose to come here to live as one of us anyway.   I like to think that there’s a mountaintop someplace where I could sit and comprehend that very idea for the rest of my life here.

Yet all that navel-gazing can’t walk away from a very simple, stark fact that (literally) makes all of the difference in the world.  Part of that “He’s like me” quality is what is mentioned in 2 Corinthians.  In being fully man and fully tempted, God Almighty took all those sins that Jesus resisted and put them on Him anyway.   Think about it:   the man spent His entire life resisting even the smallest temptation and yet God stuck Him with the sins anyway.   Jesus didn’t deserve it.   He kept the Divine command perfectly and yet the Divine punished Him anyway.   Why?   You know why:  because it had to happen if humanity would have any hope, any eternal promise, of standing blameless in front of its Creator.

Astounding.

Much of the book of Hebrews – including today’s verse – is also spent describing Jesus as a great high priest.  The priests of antiquity weren’t any better than the priests or pastors of today.   They’re flawed sinful men just like anyone else, yet they’re chosen to minister to God’s people.   It must be hard to be a pastor; I am friends with many priests and pastors and I admire their tenacity in trying so hard to live more moral lives than average guys like me.   They do it to uphold the highest standard of representing God.   Yet they’re still just men.   They fail and fall like anyone else.   Pastors and priests need a savior too.

And they have one:   the truest high priest of all.   Jesus came to not just lead His church but to actively minister to it.   To care for it, to build it up, to rebuke it when necessary and to spread His love through it to people who desperately search for real love and real meaning.  That truest priest of all was fully God and fully man all at the same time in a mystery we can only slightly comprehend.  Yet, way back when, He was down in the dirt with people who couldn’t pull themselves out of it.   Majestic, holy and Lord of all today, He still is.   Our Savior high priest is still right here with us, in the toughest of struggles and the highest of highs.

For more reading:   Hebrews 2:17-18, 2 Corinthians 5:21.

Lord Jesus, all praise be to You for being our Savior, for being man and God, and for all the love You spread in Your ministry here and from eternity.