His Blood Be On Us

All great stories have certain common components. There is a protagonist (the good guy), an antagonist (the bad guy, or that which stands against good guy), and the stakes (what the good guy aims to win or lose). The good guy wants something, the protagonist stands against him, and the audience watches as the good guy fights for what he wants.

Let’s use Jurassic Park as an example. The protagonists are the humans, whose goal is to stay alive. The antagonists are the dinosaurs, which aim to eat said humans.

In Matthew 27, we see a mockery of a trial. Jesus is accused of, well, no one is actually sure. He’s accused of everything and yet nothing. Though no one says it, Jesus is accused of upending everyone’s life. He was too dangerous. He asked too much of them—their lives. He was too powerful. He upended the status quo.

Pilate tries to punish and release Jesus (Luke 23:15-16), but the crowd will not relent. They want Jesus executed, and they are fired up. Pilate doesn’t see much fault in Jesus, but neither will he stick his neck out on his behalf.

When the mob starts to riot, Pilate figures it’s time to get on with the execution. He publicly washes his hands, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves” (Matt. 27:24). The mob gladly claims responsibility.

They shout:

“His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matt. 27:25)

His blood be on us and on our children. If only they understood the foolishness of these words. If only they understood the irony of them.

And here we must stop for a moment. This is the greatest story ever told, so yeah, the common elements are here. The protagonist is Jesus. The crowd are the antagonists. The stakes? They could not be higher. The stakes are the salvation of the world.

But there is a twist. The protagonist sacrifices for the benefit of the antagonists. The good guy, Jesus, lays his life down for the bad guys. To conquer their sin, he must first bear the brunt of it.

The crowd cheers and jeers as the guards brutalize Jesus. Though he endures unspeakable pain, he does not open his mouth. He takes it. He knows the stakes and he knows what must be done. The bad guys haven’t a clue this man who they mock and torture is their rescuer.

The arrogant mob meant it when they said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” What’s worse, they seem to have been earnest when they drug their children into the situation.

Jesus would turn their wicked statement upside down.

Jesus spilled his blood to atone for the sins of everyone present that day, and he offers that same blood to us. Though we deserve condemnation, Jesus’ blood purifies us. We don’t know who, if anyone, in the crowd experienced the saving love of Christ. I have great hope that some did. Maybe those who screamed for Jesus to be crucified experienced his grace. I hope.

Every night when I pray for my kids, I pray they would know how much God loves them. I don’t say it verbatim, but I pray for Jesus’ blood to be on them. I pray the same for myself, and the same for you.

Let his blood be on us and on our children.

Sweating Blood: From Despair to Redemption

And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:44)

As the rocks pelted Stephen’s skull, he cried out faithful prayers of forgiveness for his murderers. The crowd descended upon him with gnashed teeth and boiling blood. Stephen learned just how offensive the gospel is as the mob brutally murdered him. It must have been terrifying and painful, faithful and hopeful though he was.

Jesus endured far more than Stephen.

As Pastor Scott mentioned in last weekend’s sermon, we should consider why Jesus was so grieved in the garden before his execution. Of course, there’s the theory that he was scared to be tortured to death—and there is no doubt this is true. If Stephen would have had advance warning of his stoning, he probably would have had a similar reaction. There is something more here for us, though. There is something distinctly different between the death of a Christian martyr and Jesus’ death on Calvary.

When I was a toddler, I got into some fire ants. I was in the front yard of a family friend’s beach house just playing away in the middle of a fire ant bed. I began to scream and writhe in pain. One of the men ran over with a water hose and sprayed me off. I began to swell up. I was allergic. My parents scooped me up and took care of me. They got me medicine and made sure I was okay. They covered me with their love.

Imagine if they had seen me and just thought, huh. What if they had noticed my anguish and turned their backs as the ants consumed my young flesh?

As Jesus endured the spit and mocking and torture, his Father had to let it happen. When Jesus died, he remained turned away. I cannot imagine the pain Jesus felt. I cannot imagine the pain the Father felt.

You see, the Father turning from Jesus during this dark hour was not capricious or mean. He was not punishing Jesus for anything Jesus had done. He was punishing Jesus for what we have done.

Jesus sweat blood because he knew his Father would reject him. He knew he’d drink the cup of the wrath of his infinitely powerful Father and that this cup entailed his rejection. This is a fate far worse than death itself. Rejection of the Father is hell. Jesus sweat blood in anticipation of this hell.

While this incident is dark and horrible, it is brightened by the fact that it was borne out of love. You see, Jesus knew why he was to endure this hell. The Father knew why he had to send his Son. It was for our ransom. It was to pay the price of sin. The blood Jesus wept was the same blood that covers our sins. And as we know from Scripture, Jesus did not stay separated from his Father. He rose, smashing sin and Satan and death and bridging the chasm between us and God. He prepared a way for us to escape the grave of sin to ascend to the perfection of heaven.


If only the disciples who were with Jesus knew the epic story they were caught up in, this grand narrative of loss and redemption and victory at the highest price. If only they understood what Jesus was dreading when he asked them to stay up with him. Maybe then they would have stayed awake. Maybe then they would have remained with Jesus and prayed with him. But they didn’t, and of course, Jesus would spread his forgiveness over them all the same.

Why is Good Friday Good?

But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
Isaiah 53:5

Why is Good Friday called “Good” Friday? Couldn’t we come up with a different term? Good doesn’t describe what Jesus endured on the cross. He was brutally murdered. He was mocked and tortured until he surrendered his spirit as he hung on a cross between two criminals. Not good.

I’ll bet Jesus’ disciples didn’t think it was a good day, either. They saw Jesus do miracles, from feeding five thousand to calming storms to raising people from the dead. Jesus claimed to be God. But now he was dead. And even though Jesus told the disciples about his crucifixion beforehand, I am sure Thomas wasn’t the only one doubting.

Don’t skip to the resurrection. I know, that’s the easy explanation as to why we call Good Friday good. Because Easter makes it so! While this is true, we cannot ignore what happened as Jesus’ righteous blood ran down the rugged cross. Stay there with me for a moment.

We need to consider these words:
“…upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

The crucifixion was not merely an execution of an innocent – well, actually perfect – man. It was that, but it was also a payment.

Sin is dark and deadly. It is treason against God. It is hatred of God. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So what can God do? Here are some options:

1. He could let it go
2. He could kill all of us (the wages of sin is death)
3. He could pay our debt

Letting it go will not do. God is a God of justice and equity. Letting an injustice go unaddressed is contrary to his character. He obviously didn’t kill all of us. He chose the third option: to pay our debt for us. The Father sent his perfect, blameless, wonderful Son to die for us. The bloody gravity of Good Friday covered the bloody gravity of our sin. Because Jesus died in our place, we must not turn away from the violence of this day. We deserve those wounds, the spit, the mocking laughs. But Jesus bore them for us.

Don’t look away. Look right at Jesus. Consider what he endured out of his great love for us. Go ahead and picture it.

Now understand what this day means for us. It means Jesus earned the pardon of peace for us. Now, because of the work of Jesus, God gives us grace in exchange for our rebellion. Good Friday washed our hearts of the stain of sin. Praise Jesus for Good Friday, the day he paid our debts and deposited eternal grace into our hearts.

Would you pray with me?

Jesus, I was not there. But I can picture it. I cannot understand the pain and rejection you endured. But I can imagine it. I know you did that for me. I know you washed me clean and purchased me forgiveness on that day. So I want to thank you. But more than that, I want to follow you and be near you. Draw me closer, Jesus. Help me know you more. I love you. In your holy name, amen.

 

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What Remains

You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down. (Matthew 24:2)

Look around you. Everything you can see will eventually rust, rot, and decay.

Whether we are young or old, fit or out-of-shape, our bodies too are wasting away. I’m only 33 but my injuries seem to linger a week longer than they used to. It happens, and it’s happening.

When Jesus explained to his disciples that the temple was going to be destroyed, they couldn’t believe it. The temple was built like a bunker with hulking, heavy stones. It was beautiful. When Jesus explained that it would all be destroyed, it rattled them. They begin to ask more questions about his second coming and the close of this age.

They are seeking something permanent to hold on to.

We too seek permanence. We want something that will last, whether it is our kid’s childhood or our favorite show. But if we place our hope in things that are passing away, we place our joy upon an altar built with straw. It’ll all come down.

Jesus was before. He is here now. And he will remain after. He is past, present, and future. His redeeming work on Calvary spans the test of time – forward and back – and his kingdom endures forever. He is worthy of our hope. He will never pass away.

We have the choice to orient our lives around that which will pass away or that which will endure. Put your hope in Jesus, our indestructible Savior.

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Our Insurrection, His Faithfulness

Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ (Matthew 21:37-38)

Jesus’ parables were not just good stories meant to convey a point. No, he used parables as swords. I imagine that many within earshot of his parables would nod in agreement until Jesus reached the end of the parable. You see, it is tempting to see yourself as the good guy in the parable – the loving father, the one using his talents for God’s glory – but Jesus didn’t tell parables so we could improve our self-esteem by relating to the hero of his story. By the time Jesus reaches the end of his parables, most of them bring the bitter truth of conviction for the audience.

So it goes with the Parable of the Tenants. Jesus tells this story to a group of religious upper-crusters. These were the pious, educated, ceremonially clean guys – the chief priests and Pharisees. In the Parable of the Tenants, there was a farmer who leased his vineyard to some tenants. This was common in Jesus’ day. Wealthy farmers would lease their land to tenants so the farmer could run multiple operations at one time. The farmer owns the place, the tenant stays and works it. The fruit belongs to the farmer.

At harvest time, the farmer sends his servants to get the fruit of the vineyard – and the tenants assault them. The farmer sends more – surely the first time was a mistake – and the tenants attack these servants, too.

The farmer sends his son.

The tenants are not only jealous of the son’s claim to the fruit, they are jealous of his status as the farmer’s son. He is a privileged man, the heir to the fortune of the farmer. Their jealousy ignites and they murder him.

As the upper-crusters hear this parable, they imagine the rage of the farmer. Jesus asks them what the farmer would do to the murderous tenants in this scenario. The upper-crusters respond:

He will put those wretches to a miserable death…” (Matthew 21:41)

Of course, the upper-crusters are like the wretches in the story. Though they don’t realize it just yet, they are condemning themselves as they speak. They intend to do to Jesus what the tenants did to the farmer’s son – and for the same reasons.

Be careful – don’t condemn the upper-crusters, because Jesus is also talking about you.

We are tenants of the earth. We don’t own a molecule of it. We don’t own our lives, either. But we want to claim them. When God comes after our lives, we are all too prone to reject him. We are prone to start an insurrection against his reign over our lives. Don’t believe me?

Do you surrender your will to God’s on a daily basis?

Have you ever read Scripture and decided a command was for someone else because you didn’t want to obey?

Have you ever done something in God’s name to make yourself look good?

My answers to these questions convict me. I am guilty. Too often I seek my own will, explain away commandments, and do the right thing for the wrong reason. I join the insurrection.

If you too have joined the insurrection and assembled among the ranks of wretches, Jesus offers a way out. His parables are intended to instruct and convict, but not condemn. By getting to the gritty, painful truth Jesus unearths our need for a savior. And of course, he offers himself as that savior.

Jesus is king. He owns this place and he owns us. He wants the best for our lives. When we stop our rebellion and repent of our insurrection against his reign, we will taste more of his fruit. We may rebel, but God is faithful and longsuffering. He made a way, and his name is Jesus.

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You Do Not Know What You’re Asking

And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:21-22)

Years ago I had to fire a guy. It was a volatile situation and he had nearly come to blows with one of his colleagues. As I sat him down, I began to explain that things were not working out. To my surprise, he nodded and affirmed everything I was saying – that is, until I explained that we were letting him go.

“You’re letting me go? I thought you were letting him go?”

He thought we were firing someone else. He was shocked. His behavior which led to his dismissal was completely excusable to him. To paraphrase Stephen M.R. Covey, he judged himself by his best intentions and others by their behavior. He was completely unaware of his wrongdoing.

We all do this. We self-justify and compare our intentions against the faulty behavior of others. This is how marriages crumble, business partnerships dissolve, and churches split. When we ignore our own sinfulness yet see sin in others, we are delusional destroyers. We will hurt those around us and in so doing, we will starve our souls of grace.

When the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus, she brought this delusional mindset with her. She expects that her sons should sit at the right and left hand of Jesus in his kingdom. She wants Jesus to confirm that this will happen. This is not unlike the dad who yells at his son’s t-ball coach because his son isn’t batting cleanup. Nevermind that little Timmy can’t even hit a stationary ball – he should be in the best position just because.

The funny thing is, we all approach Jesus like this to some degree. We may show up proud and we may show up ashamed, but we all show up entitled. And you know what, Jesus died so we could be entitled. Let me say that again: Jesus died so we could be entitled.

If our salvation was based on the net result of our good and bad, none of us would be saved. We do not want a merit-based salvation because we come with no merit. With empty hands we approach the throne of grace. But it does not matter, at least not to Jesus. He knew we’d need help. He knew we’d be so blind as to think we might somehow measure up to the standard of a holy and righteous God. So, because of Jesus’ work on the cross, we are now entitled to his love, acceptance, and eternal salvation. We didn’t earn it, but he freely gives it to us.

As Pastor Scott said last weekend, “Grace isn’t fair.” If grace was fair and only those who deserve it would receive it, we’d all be out of luck. No, grace is not fair – it is benevolent. The grace of Christ is generous. It is merciful. It is not a reward for good behavior, it is a surprise party for failures.

We cannot earn grace, but we can accept it. Praise God that grace isn’t fair.

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Scattering Gospel Seed

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)

I am a ministry failure. Countless times I have given someone counsel, presented the Gospel, or encouraged someone with God’s truth with absolutely nil results. From strangers on planes to neighbors to close friends, I know what it feels like to fail – at least by my short-sighted temporal standards.

There is an unwritten rule we live by: if you’re expending effort, you had better be sure you will gain something from it – or you had better at least achieve your desired purpose. This is why dating websites are so popular. It is a zillion times easier to approach a woman through the distance of the internet than to look into her dazzling eyes and choke out a request for a date. We don’t want to tread into the unknown where our egos are at risk.

This is economical, instinctual even. We are wired to expend energy in worthwhile places and in many cases this is a good convention. Take for example, American Idol contestants. I know you’ve seen one of those horrendous auditions where the terrified young singer screeches out a song like a mammal giving birth. These youngsters, bless their confused hearts, need to spend their energy somewhere worthwhile. In their case, that would be anything but singing.

But ministry is an exception to this rule. This is due in part to the fact that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is of the utmost importance and thus, all effort is worthwhile. When we see our fellow man on the road to eternal separation from our dear Jesus if we have a modicum of love we will try to turn his head – even if he heads up a local atheist softball league.

The primary reason ministry is an exception to the cost-benefit analysis is that the Gospel is maximally effective. When we eek out our attempt at a Gospel presentation in a coffee shop, there is spiritual nuclear warfare going on. We aren’t just a red-faced evangelist, we are a warrior from heaven. You see, when we share the story of Christ with another human being we invite the hosts of heaven into a cosmic battle. And because the Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26), while we may feel more like one of those American Idol contestants, our words may come across like a John Piper sermon as the Spirit steps in miraculously.

The good news of Jesus’ perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection is not flashy. To claim belief in such a story is arcane and foolish to the unbeliever. But it’s true. And thus, we have the truest and most potent news in human history. This is a story that changes eternities just by telling it. It must be told.

There are several kinds of mustard plants that grow in different parts of the world. We don’t know which species Jesus referred to, and I don’t think Jesus was trying to give a lesson in botany. Mustard seeds are small and they can grow large plants – or even trees – from a very small beginning. That is what we need to know.

My wife and I just finished building our garden. After creating the border and fence, we put in the plants, which we had already started from seeds by using small trays. Now the plants are in the ground. They may grow, and if they do, it’ll be gradually. I doubt very seriously that we will look out the window and see anything shockingly different. Some of them may die. When you garden, you don’t grow vegetables, you plant them. In the same way, we don’t convert people -and God help us for even trying. If we think our Jesus sales pitch is compelling enough to change someone’s soul, we are delusional. We plant Gospel seeds by sharing the story of Jesus’ work and then we water by love and friendship. And if something does sprout in the heart of our friend, we aren’t entitled to the credit.

We are to sow Gospel seeds as we walk through life, in the cracks and soils of our context in which God has placed us. And we should do so with tact and love and without the expectation that our seeds will sprout conversion just because we planted them. But we should also understand we are not playing a trivial game. We are engaging in war, with a violent battle taking place for the soul of our friends. Because God is sovereign, he wins this battle every time – but we may not be able to make sense of it.

Lastly, there’s something to Jesus’ mentioning of the birds in the mustard tree. Because Jesus was God, he surely understood how plants grew. After all, he’d made them. And Jesus surely knew that birds eat seeds and spread them over a large distance. So if a mustard tree grows through a man planting a seemingly insignificant seed, it would attract birds. These birds might eat seeds from the tree and they might just chill there for a bit – or both. If the birds ate the seeds, they would disperse the seeds over a wide territory. If you follow this logic for a bit, you can imagine an exponential increase in mustard trees.

Our seemingly insignificant Gospel seeds might grow mighty forests, but they might not be within our range of vision. An investment in sharing the precious and powerful news of Jesus’ victory for sinners is the planting of world-changing truth. So, beloved brothers and sisters, may we run hard and scatter Gospel seed all over the place. You never know what God might grow.

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The Pass/Fail Test of Following Jesus

On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:22-23)

We like ranking systems. When the college football rankings come out each year, the media outlets buzz with judgments on who should be ranked where. We want to know where our kid’s elementary school stands in the ranks. Some people want to know their IQ so they can rank themselves against other people. We rank cars, restaurants, and computers. When I got a dog recently I found his two breeds (he’s a mix) were at the top of the list of best gun dogs by Field and Stream – and somehow this made me feel proud. Rankings – and competitiveness – are part of our economy and this spirit is woven in the fabric of our country.

If we aren’t careful, our American competitiveness can creep into our relationship with Jesus. You see, there are no echelons of Christianity. One person cannot be more Christian than another person. The very notion that someone could be a lesser or higher Christian shows a belief in a false assumption.

The false assumption is this: by our good behavior we can raise our standing with God. But this is far from true. Now this doesn’t mean that obedience isn’t important or that we should not fight for holiness – we absolutely should. But we are not going to change our standing with God. If my daughter throws a rip-roaring fit in the grocery store she will still be my beloved little girl. I will love her no more if she folds her little hands and prays for everyone as we go down the aisles. Her standing with me is sealed once and for all because she is mine.

When we follow Jesus and put our faith in him, we are adopted. And that means the deal is done, finished. We are adopted into God’s family. If you were to ask my son if he were a Larson and he said he was “trying to be”, you would be confused. You either are or are not a Larson, it has nothing to do with your behavior. So it goes with our faith in Christ – we either are or are not adopted into Jesus’ family. As Yoda said, “there is no try.”

So how do we know if we’re in the family?

Well, first, some good news. Christianity isn’t a Rubik’s Cube. It is not reserved for those who can unlock its magic. God is not interested in making us squirm while we wonder if there’s an open seat at his table. No, he makes it plain to us.

If you want to know if you are a Christian, consider where your hope lies. A faux Christian is someone who puts on Christian clothes and hopes in a standard of good behavior, serving the poor, or tradition. A legit Christian is someone who lays their moral and spiritual bankruptcy at the nail-pierced feet of Jesus and gasps, “help me!”

He not only saves us, he brings us in close. His Spirit lives within us and we become his friend and family member. We are saved by faith as a gift (Ephesians 2:8).

Say you are drowning. You have tread water for hours and you are about finished. The sharks are about to show up. A boat pulls up and a man stands there at the railing with a life preserver. As your head slips beneath the surface of the water, the man throws you the life preserver. You are saved.

The follower of Jesus knows he is drowning. His resume won’t help, his strength as a swimmer won’t help, and his arguments won’t make a difference. His traditions won’t help, nor will his reputation. We can worship Jesus with our mouths, but if we are busy measuring our behavior instead of trusting in Jesus (Matthew 7:6), we should be scared. A drowning person needs help or they will die.

So, friend, you are not trying to be a Christian. This is pass/fail. You are either in the family or you are not. Where is your hope? As Jesus cried “It is finished!” he bore your penalty and earned for you what you could never earn. He is our hope and if you trust in him and depend upon him and believe in him as your only hope, you are already sitting at the table. You are accepted, saved, and loved.

For he himself is our peace…(Ephesians 2:14)

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He is (Still) Risen

For as by a man came death, by a man has also come the resurrection of the dead. (1 Cor. 15:21)

 

The landfills are littered with colorful plastic eggs. The leftovers sit in the fridge. That chocolate bunny with one ear eaten is still tempting and your pastel Easter shirt is back in the closet. Easter has come and gone.

But Jesus is still risen.

It is quite easy to get caught up in the brightness of Easter. In the midst of the colors and family (and this year, heavenly weather), the air is electric with praise. After all, we celebrate the greatest news in the history of the world. Great news carries great buzz (“Did you hear?!?!”) and the greatest news carries the greatest buzz.

So how do we move on from this news? How do we zombie though another day and forget the power of Jesus’ resurrection? For many of us, it’s like watching a great movie. You’re moved and then you move on. But we cannot move on from celebrating Jesus’ resurrection. It is the hope from which we live.

 

Hello, Immortal

Grab your phone. Look at your contacts and picture their faces. Think of your friends and those who you might consider enemies. Picture everyone you have ever known in a giant room.

They are all immortals.

We are on an eternal trajectory to heaven or hell, to (as Scripture playfully puts it) “recline at table” with Jesus or to endure eternal separation from Him. Death is a transition, not an ending. Those of us in Christ shall be made alive (1 Cor. 15:22) again.

Today is not another day spent in our short existence, it is another day to enjoy in our permanent union with Jesus. We are immortals because of Jesus’ resurrection, and we will enjoy Him forever.

 

The Power

Jesus was fully human. He humbled Himself to be fully human. This means He wept, slept, and ate. He endured the human experience just like we do, one day at a time. When He was tortured and hung on a cross, he asphyxiated and died. If you have ever seen someone recently dead, the heavy reality of their death is unexplainable. They are without life, just a shell.

Jesus reanimated and walked out of there. When the angel told the two Marys about what happened, they trembled in fear. Could it be true? It’s true.

The man who raised Himself from death is the same man who offers Himself to you this very day. If He can lay down His life and pick it back up, imagine the strength He can wield in a difficult marriage, an illness, or depression. Jesus’ power was showcased in His resurrection and He continues to show it off, raising us to eternal life and working in the right now of our lives to draw us nearer to Him.

 

Rescued

We live in a broken world on a path to redemption. Things aren’t right but they’re being made that way by God over time. This world is His even though Satan has a stronghold. When Jesus raised from death, He conquered evil and sealed our promise of hope. We live in that light.

Too often we see ourselves as the rescuers, the heroes. Or maybe we don’t think about it at all. We just live through today and do some stuff and send some texts and sleep so we can do it all again. We are like the avalanche victim who, when uncovered and warmed, chatter through blue lips, “What’s f-f-f-for d-d-dinner?”

You, my friend, have a bright future – one that never ends. Having been rescued from your sin and the death it rightly causes, you will live in the Father’s house when your last breath leaves your body. Jesus will be there with you. Live today in light of that hope.

He is still risen.

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The Coiled Spring of the Sermon on the Mount

And he opened his mouth and taught them…(Matthew 5:2)

The Sermon on the Mount never convicted me. I have always read it, the red letter brilliance, as advice and commands from Jesus. Clearly words to heed and live by. Certainly good verses to pray over and seek for clarity. And it is that, no doubt. But this past weekend when Pastor Scott recommended we also use the Sermon on the Mount as a diagnostic, it took me down the path of brokenness.

If you consider Jesus’ words in the SOTM and compare yourself next to them, you will despair. You will feel anguish. If you don’t, I hope the Spirit moves and makes you more contrite because none of us can stand in the light of the SOTM with swagger.

The SOTM is a gracious self-fulfilling command if we see it rightly. Jesus starts with “blessed are the poor in spirit.” There are two reasons, I believe. First, when we are poor in spirit we are humble recipients of the grace we so badly need. Second, I believe Jesus was about to help us get poor in spirit with His words. The SOTM sobers us if we consider how our life compares. By Jesus helping us get poor in spirit we can then come to the fountainhead of grace – His feet – and drink.

 

Why Go There?

You might wonder why it makes sense to turn this beautiful sermon into an opportunity to feel broken. Shouldn’t we just sit underneath His wisdom and listen and stay positive about it all? Why the long face?

The reason we should welcome the awareness of our spiritual bankruptcy – both in this context and in the broader context of our walk with Jesus – is that brokenness precedes healing. And we are all broken. If we deny our brokenness, we are delusional and we remain in a posture of pride. A person who knows she is broken will walk behind Jesus, meet Him at the well, and pour her expensive perfume on His feet in an effort to get better. She’ll plead with Him, and she will lay hold of the Word until the Spirit lights up the pages and delivers the words deep into her heart.

You are sick. You are guilty. If you’ve ever been angry at someone, it’s as good as murder to Jesus. So you’re a murderer. Have you ever lusted for someone who wasn’t your spouse? You’re a cheater. I won’t go on – you get the point. We need to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to the words of the SOTM to help us understand how badly we need Him.

 

A Good Cycle

As we read Scripture, we should see God more clearly. And when we see God more clearly, we can then see ourselves more clearly. The more I read the Bible and the more I walk through life with Jesus, the more convinced I am of my depravity and God’s goodness. I’m a mess and He is magnificent. The distance between my righteousness and Christ’s righteousness seems to grow in my mind even as, by the power of the Spirit, He makes me more like Himself every day.

Beholding the glory of God and our human brokenness, we feel small. Have you ever stood on top of a mountain or watched giant waves pound the shore? It’s a glorious smallness we feel. We comprehend that what we observe is massive and we are not but we don’t want anything to change. We search the expanse with our eyes on top of the mountain and we stand there on the beach with the salt air as the waves roar. We were designed to take in awe and stand amazed at God’s greatness.

The more small I feel, the bigger God seems. And this is a good cycle. Because the more I see God’s power and holiness, the happier I get. He has adopted me as His son. He has my back. All of this grandeur, this terrifying power, is leveraged in my favor. How great thou art!

 

The Coiled Spring

The SOTM compresses us. We read it and lap up every word Jesus says and if we do so from a self-aware mindset, we will feel our unrighteousness. Jesus perfectly exhibits the qualities He preaches on and while we may have glimmers of them, we want more. But we don’t measure up. But we want more.

As we sit at Jesus’ feet and listen, we are like a coiled spring. The more we are compressed by our imperfection the more potential energy is stored. The Gospel – the Good News of Jesus’ perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection for us sinners – releases that kinetic energy. When we are weak we are strong (2 Cor. 12:10). We spring upwards in joy as Jesus looks into our eyes and says, you are mine. I will heal you.

The Lord doesn’t give us commands so we can fail a test (unlike my math professor in college). He gives us commands so we can understand how to live and to see the grace of Christ more clearly. So let us sit underneath the SOTM and soak up Jesus’ words as applicable ways to live our life. And let us also notice how dreadfully short we fall. But let us move from there to spring upward into the arms of God with a soul-penetrating grin. He has saved us and He is making all things new – including us.

 

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The Remission of Sins

For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. ~Matthew 26:28 KJV

When we put our faith in Jesus, we do not merely make a choice to be better. We do not simply sober up, act right, or clean up our language. These things should happen as symptoms, but they are not the action we aim for. If we think we can save ourselves, we are delusional. And thus if we choose to go to battle with our sinfulness without Jesus we are like David vs. Goliath without God’s help. If God was not with David, he would have been stomped into the ground by Goliath. His borrowed armor would have been crushed like a soda can and Goliath would have roared in victory.

Ephesians 2:8 says our salvation is a gift. The recipient of a gift is the passive party – the party being given something. The giver is the active one. And our gift, this gift of salvation from God, is a gift of death (Romans 6:3). We were buried with Him so we might walk in the newness of life (Romans 6:4). Death to life.

 

Progressive Sanctification

While our former nature is gone and the new is here, we are not yet perfect. We have died to sin nature – that is, being ruled by sin – but sin still remains. This is a long journey. We are a work in progress and the Artist is still hard at work with His chisel, piling up shavings as we become something beautiful – like Jesus.

Here is how it works:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. ~2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV

We move from one degree of glory to another. It is progressive. If you think of a line graph, the line is pointing up and to the right over time. Upon salvation, our standing with the Father is perfected (Ephesians 2:16), but we remain imperfect and sin-prone people. Saved but still being sanctified.

Notice the engine of sanctification – beholding the glory of the Lord. We see Him rightly and our faces glow as we stare into His light. When we behold Christ through prayer, Scripture, song, church community, nature, and family – sanctification happens. And our sanctification, like our salvation is also a gift: “For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

 

Remission of Sins

The King James version of the Bible says that Jesus’ blood was shed for the “remission of sins.” The English Standard Version uses “forgiveness of sins.” Both sound pretty good to me. The Greek word used for forgiveness/remission here, aphesin, means to pardon, release, and/or send away. The idea I get here is a prisoner released and told to leave the prison. You are free to go.

Romans 6:12-14 states:

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. ~Romans 6:12-14 ESV

“Let not.” “Do not.” “Present yourselves.” These are active verbs. Jesus opens the door to our cell and offers His hand. Will we get up and leave our prison of sinfulness? Will we take His hand and present our bodies as instruments for righteousness?

The saving work and the sanctifying work are God’s. Let’s not get confused here. We are not the agents of change. But we do have a role. Jesus’ atoning work on the cross put our sins into remission and bought us right standing with God, and that’s finished work. Irrevocable work. And now we live not under the law but under grace.

May we take up arms and fight our sins with the armor of God. May we walk out of our prison emboldened by our pardon, ready to wage war against the sin remaining in us. Christian, you are no longer under the law. Your sins have been sent away. Walk out of that prison cell into the freedom purchased for you on calvary.

Take His hand.

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What if He Didn’t Come?

As we step into the Advent season, we look toward the birth of Jesus. We celebrate and anticipate our savior taking on flesh to rescue us from sin and death. The season is filled with great music, gifts, food, and celebration. It is truly a magical time and those who do not even know Jesus still celebrate, albeit for different reasons.

Jesus’ coming to earth changed the world forever. No one argues that, not even the aforementioned nonbelievers (as they sip their coffee in their cars listening to Christmas music heralding the good news of Jesus).

But what if He didn’t come?

I know, that’s a weird question to ask. Why bother asking that question? Sometimes we need to look at the absence of something (or someone) to understand the real value of its (their) presence. The coming of Jesus is so earth-shattering it is worthwhile to stop and think about what it would look like if Jesus hadn’t come.

Let’s step into the darkness of that thought for a moment.

If Jesus didn’t come, we would still be under the law of the Old Testament. We would be required to keep the perfect covenant with a perfect God, with the huge problem being that we aren’t perfect. Take the Ten Commandments. Could you keep them all? Well have you? Let’s see:

 You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21-22 ESV)

Do you pass the first test? Yeah me neither. Murderers all raise their hands (all hands go up). Guilty. We could go on and on with the other commandments. It doesn’t look good.

If Jesus didn’t come, we’d stand condemned, liable to judgment. His blood would not cover our filth and we would have to try like crazy to be perfect. Or maybe we’d just run from God altogether, terrified and exhausted.

Furthermore, if Jesus didn’t come we would still be eagerly waiting like a dog at the front door. When would our Master return? Is that Him? Nope, just the mailman again. But wait, don’t we already wait for Jesus to return? Aren’t we in the same position we’d be in if He hadn’t come to earth? Well, no. We do await the second coming of Jesus. As we watch the world crumble, we groan for His return. But we await His return as freed men and women. That’s a huge distinction. The Jews did (and still do) await their rescue.

If Jesus didn’t come, there’s no need to celebrate. There’s no time to celebrate when you’re trying to be perfect and righteous all the time because you’re too busy looking over your shoulder.

But He did come.

Jesus came, humbling Himself, to rescue us from our rebellion. His love was so benevolent we struggle to make sense of it. So with our chains thrown off, we have been set free. Free forever. Free to celebrate Advent with all the bells and whistles and what nots.

Because Jesus came, we can join together to sing:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King.

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