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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The Suffering and Blessing of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is hard. It is not as simple as opening the jail cell of a prisoner and saying, “go free – you are forgiven.” Forgiveness is more complicated and more costly than that – and it’s designed to be. We do benefit when we forgive others, as giving others the grace we have been given by God is a joyous thing – but it’s painful.

To forgive is to absorb something. It does not go away. If I slight you and you forgive me, you don’t un-remember my offense; you merely accept it for what it was and you choose to absolve me. That hurts. The offense still happened and if you choose to forgive, you get to internalize it in your memory.

God is an exception, however:

“…For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34 ESV)

God is an exception because of the work of Jesus on the cross – he remembers our sins no more. When our debt was paid by Jesus’ crucifixion, God not only forgave – he forgot. On purpose. It would be helpful if we shared this ability with God, but it appears not to be the case because I can remember nearly every harsh word someone has said to me. Our memories are sticky with other people’s sins and very loose with our own.

When we give the grace of forgiveness, we also taste the grace of forgiveness. It’s like sharing a meal with someone. When we forgive, we remind ourselves of Jesus’ ultimate forgiveness – and this should refresh our spirits. The grace Jesus pours into our hearts is bigger than the bitterness of past hurts.

In Matthew 18, Peter asks Jesus how often he should forgive someone who sins against him, likely searching on the outer limits of forgiveness. Jesus offers no such answer. Jesus tells Peter he should forgive seventy seven times. Seventy seven times. Jesus isn’t being technical here; the point is that you cannot reach the end of your need to forgive others. You cannot stop absorbing the sins of others as you free them from their bondage of their wrong against you. You pay, they go free.

Jesus knows how this feels. He knows what he is asking. He has absorbed your sins already, suffering to the point of death for your transgressions. May that immeasurable grace be our portion as we forgive – and suffer – the sins of others.

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The Problem in the Mirror

In March of 1968, a demoralized company of American infantrymen entered the village of My Lai. Their orders were to destroy the village. Whether the orders included mass extermination of the local populace is a matter of debate, but they did just that, to a heinous degree. It is said that Charlie Company murdered around 500 people that day, nearly all civilians and many of them women and children. They raped, tortured, and slaughtered the village.

It could have been even worse, but Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson was flying through the area in his chopper on a reconnaissance mission. What he saw from the air was incomprehensible. Charlie Company was chasing the retreating villagers, mowing them down as they ran. Thompson acted. He landed his helicopter between Charlie Company and the villagers, right in the crossfire. Thompson threatened to open fire on Charlie Company if they did not immediately cease their attack on the villagers. In what must have been a very tense moment, Charlie Company backed down and Thompson’s heroic move thus ended the massacre.

Charlie Company was a typical group of American soldiers. Some were from farms and others from big cities. They had various upbringings. So what could cause a group of ordinary men to commit such an atrocity? What led to this bloodlust?

I am not qualified to answer this question in detail. I wasn’t there that day and I’ve never set foot on a battlefield. But I can tell you this for sure: they objectified the villagers. Charlie Company had lost a lot of their men from booby traps and fighting, and they saw villagers walk safely in areas where shortly after Americans were killed by traps. Charlie Company decided the villagers were the problem and regardless of their orders, they violently extinguished the problem. The tender faces of babies and the pleading faces of their mothers were from somewhere beyond humanity to Charlie Company, and they struck them down like roaches.

Examples of the objectification are endless. The recent ambush and murder of five Dallas police officers. The terrorism in Nice, France. Racial profiling. Nazis. The Rwandan Massacre. Slavery. The sex trade. Objectification yields hatred and violence. And we do it all the time.

In his sermon entitled “What’s The Problem?” Pastor Scott explained the mechanics of objectification of other people. He explained that when we idolize something, we in turn objectify the opposite or the resistance to our idol. This empowers everything from college rivalries to mass murder, because often we see people as the thing getting in between us and our idols.

Atrocities happen every day in corners of the world that our eyes don’t see, suicide bombs and rapes and slavery. In our white picket fence America, we don’t see the blood, but lately the darkness has become too much too ignore. It seems violence is bubbling up in unexpected places – and we want answers. What is causing all of this and how to avoid it and when will this end?

It’s easy to assign blame to other people. It’s the terrorists or the racists. And yes, there are evil people doing horrible things, and we should seek justice. But what about us? What about me? It’s not so easy to condemn the man in the mirror. But I am the problem, and so are you. It is the idolatry in our hearts that perpetuates objectification of other people. We must start our work on the darkness in our hearts. It starts with us.

We must kill our idols and repent.

Jesus offers his hand to us. He sees our false gods and he offers a better way. When we place our worship rightly on Jesus, the world is made better from the oozing of grace, love, and truth that emanates from our hearts. When we idolize false gods, we are violence in waiting.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). I don’t know about you, but with all of the recent violence, I’m pretty heavy laden with grief. It seems like it’s closing in on all sides. Amidst the pain and confusion, Jesus again offers his hand.

When we start with ourselves, with repentance and submission to Jesus, our institutions change (police departments, schools, churches, political parties, etc.). After all, institutions are made up of individuals, of people like you and me. Instead of running frantically down the line of people to blame, we must start with owning the problem ourselves. What idols do we keep on the shelf? How do these idols create objectification of other people? How do we kill these idols?

John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” I would add that our sin might also kill others.

What, if it were taken away from you, would make your life not worth living? What is the one thing that you cannot live without? What in your life, if God were to remove it, would cause you to lose your identity? These are probably inherently good things, mind you. Maybe the answer is your kids or success or a hobby. But when we make good things god things, they become violent things. You may never have thought of that, but it’s the truth.

The answer, as always, is Jesus. Not the idea of him, or tradition, or the good stuff he offers, but a personal relationship with him. The gospel is not merely a story or an idea – it is a relationship. Jesus purchased an eternal union with him for you. Just as infidelity kills marriages, our idolatry kills our relationship with Jesus.

It starts with us. It starts with our idols. When we repent and put on the light and easy yoke of Christ, the world changes.

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Only God Can Judge Me

Judge not, that you not be judged. (Matthew 7:1)

When I was in high school, I listened to mainly rap and country. This proved my identity crisis, I guess. There I was in my blue truck, blaring Merle Haggard or Tupac, depending on the day. I remember that one of the sayings of the time among the rappers I listened to was “only God can judge me”. Man that sounded right. I can do whatever I want and disregard what people thought because only God could judge me. I think the rappers meant they could smoke weed and shoot people and only be liable to God’s judgment, which very well could have been true for some of them.

I had my own issues – don’t judge me – that I felt I could sweep under the proverbial rug by repeating a saying like that. The problem wasn’t the saying, it was the interpretation. The truth is that God is the judge, the one and only judge – but we need to do some work here.

A judge rules on the future of a person, taking stock of their character and their track record. You can picture a judge on a bench, reading glasses perched on the nose, robed arms resting on the built in millwork in front of her. She looks at the defendant and cocks her head, deciding what to do with this accused person before her. Is this person worthy of freedom?

What Tupac and teenage me got wrong is the definition of judge. We thought that to be told you’re wrong is to be judged. For someone to disapprove of your lifestyle, yeah that’s condemnation. But this is foolishness. We all make assessments of the behavior of others all the time, and this is really unavoidable. If your friend treats his wife disrespectfully, you’ll discern his behavior. You might even judge his behavior.

The judgment Jesus is referring to here is a judgment like the judge on the bench. You know the feeling. Someone does something so detestable that you want to harm them. You decide they are not even a decent human being. In this way, what you have done is as good as murder (Matthew 5:4) and you have pronounced judgment on your brother.

Not only is our judgment wrong per se – and it is – but we are missing something. When I watch the news and see some monstrous crime, it is my default mode to determine the perpetrator a monster. And you know what, they may well be – but this misses a crucial issue. The sin in my heart is as dark as theirs and I am capable of God only knows what. By his grace he has saved me and, as Jesus says in the Lord’s Prayer, led me not into temptation. Sometimes someone possesses evil that is unexplainable except that it’s just, well, evil. But before we jump there, we might consider if we were raised in their home with their severely abusive father or drug addict mother or what have you, and then we were faced with the mental illness they face, we might end up in that mug shot.

Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart is deceitful above all things and it’s desperately sick. An unrescued heart – a heart that has not been taken captive by Jesus – is capable of anything and everything. Those of us with redeemed hearts must bear in mind that: 1) our salvation is a gift (Ephesians 2:8) and 2) we are still capable of all kinds of darkness – but God protects us. You see, the credit belongs to God and his work in us, not our Pharisaical moral report card.

Lastly, it is important to consider that Jesus says that if we judge, we too will be judged by the real judge – God. That’s pretty scary, considering I have judged. So what then? Am I headed for hell? No, thank God. I plead Christ, I repent, and I bask in his grace. If we had a pass/fail test on judgment, heaven would be empty. Jesus is speaking to the heart here, I believe. If you constantly judge others and condemn people harshly (again, not their behavior, them), you would be wise to consider if you truly have been born again of the Spirit. Judgment is not a fruit of the Spirit and while we all fail sometimes, a heart set upon judgment carried in the same person whose mouth proclaims Christ is an incongruity.

We have seen this too often in our culture with the issues of the day. Hatred towards those outside the typical lines of Christendom is rampant. Slate named 2014 the Year of Outrage, and it seems 2015 and 2016 aren’t much different. We are mad at everything that is wrong with the world: candidates, bathroom classification, traffic, the church. But what we don’t seem to be mad at is ourselves. Somehow everyone is mad at someone else but no one realizes the sin in themselves.

Jesus says we have a log in our eye, while our brother has a speck. How we can see past the wood impaled through our cornea is beyond me, but we do. It’s so much easier to notice your sin than mine.

Friends, we must ask Jesus for his heart. We must ask for the Spirit to convict us deeply of judgment and warm us with grace and truth and love. We must understand the difference between spotting sin that is hurting our brothers and sisters and damning our fellow man for his misbehavior. Here too we return to the foot of the cross and we come with bloodstained hands.

Will you pray with me?

Help us, Jesus. Help us to see our judgment and renew our hearts such that we might see our fellow man through your eyes. Remove our log and help us to love our spiritual family members well enough to have the courage to tell them when we see their specks. And for those outside our family of faith, may we do as you did. May we engage with them, recline at table, and wash their feet. May we cast aside our judgment and love without restraint, knowing that you are the perfect judge, thus alleviating us for our need of the bench.

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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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The Herod In Us

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Matthew 2:13 ESV)

We are never the bad guy. When you watch The Lion King, you never associate with Scar. He’s the worst, that scumbag lion who wants the kingdom for himself. He’ll step on anyone to do it, even while smiling.

We are Mufasa. Or Simba. We wear the white hat and ride the white horse and we’re on the right side of the fight. We are William Wallace. The horns sound as we enter the scene of life and hope everyone realizes how great we are. We are trying to do the right thing. Did you see that? Why can’t anyone see I’m doing the right thing here?

You see, we all vie for our personal kingdoms. Whether we admit it or not is another matter.

Herod had a kingdom. So when Jesus came on the scene, his stomach turned. Back in Biblical times you were king until you died or until someone stronger came and overthrew you. Herod heard the word on the street that a new king had arrived. So he decided mass infanticide was a good idea. Just kill all the young male babies and that’ll cast a broad enough net to kill this new king baby I keep hearing about.

You are in The Garden. You and your perfect spouse. You walk around in harmony and God is a few acres away doing something cool and you walk upon that tree He mentioned. He told you not to eat of it because you’ll die. But then you hear another voice, a voice telling you that not only will you not die if you eat it but you’ll really live. Like life in HD on top of the mountain live.

You take a bite.

That is what we do. We know what is right, we just don’t want to do it. Because submission to God means dropping our kingdom in the trash as we enter His kingdom. And that’s hard, but it shouldn’t be.

The really odd thing about this dance we do is that there is one real kingdom, and that is God’s kingdom. We, like grass, wither and die when we take the last breath we were given by God on the world He made. Yet He keeps on living. He always has and always will. He makes it rain and He knit you in your mother’s womb. It’s like a toddler telling his parents that he’s in control. Or worse.

When I read the story of Herod, I am appalled. Not only at the baby-killing but at the selfishness of the reason. He wanted babies to die because he wanted to live.

I’m going to have to distance from the baby-killing part of Herod. I’ll keep that line in the sand. But his disgusting kingdom-building feels awfully familiar. And someone bent on building their own kingdom will, if history is any indication, do horrific things to put another brick in their castle.

Let’s not sit in this mess too long. If you’re being real, you can associate with the kingdom building grossness of Herod. I can. That is the essence of sin. It started that way in The Garden and it’s that way here in 2016. Until Jesus returns we’ll fight this nature of ours (Jeremiah 17:9). But we can choose how we respond.

We can get on the building committee for one project only – His or ours.

I don’t mean that to say you can just will yourself to start caring more about God’s kingdom. Our wills are pretty weak. But we can make the choice to submit. We can actually read the Bible and care about what it says. We can pray and ask for help. We can be readers of the Word and doers of the Word. Here’s how.

Our building committee is a joke. It’s just us and we start nailing a 2×4 to a cinder block with a rubber mallet and it just goes bad. God’s building committee is eternal all star. When we submit to the lordship of Jesus, the Spirit moves within us to shape us and mold us. We get into the flow of how things were designed. And it all goes better. We flourish, the world is made better, and we get something done of significance. That sounds a lot better to me.

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Embrace Power, Love, and Self Control (Not Fear)

…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7 ESV)

Several days ago, terrorists from ISIS attacked numerous places in Paris, France. Ambushing a concert and restaurant patios, the terrorists killed over 120 and injured many more. This horrific (and cowardly) attack struck fear into the lovely city of Paris and beyond, the fear ripples now reaching the civilized world. (My parents were in Paris the day before, and praise God they made it out before the attacks.)

Today news headlines are littered with the situation with Syrian refugees. Many feel the only right thing to do is to accept all refugees and many feel the right thing to do is to refuse them all (for fear there are terrorists among them). Some land in the middle or maybe they are still trying to understand the situation.

Presidential debates are an often occurrence these days, with the right and the left doing verbal battle with their fellow party members. We want to know who will be our next Commander-In-Chief and it seems everyone has a hot opinion on who would be best for America. Again, fear seems to control much of the conversation.

There’s a lot going on.

But let me remind you of something: God did not give us a spirit of fear. In Christ, we win whether we live or die (Phil. 1:21). We must seek to lay our life at the feet of Jesus and allow His Spirit to guide us, no matter how scary – or even deadly the path may be (Matt. 16:25).

Here are some reminders from 1 Timothy 1:17:

  1. God did not give us a spirit of fear. Do not be anxious (Matt. 6:34). Our worries don’t add to our life, they take it away (Luke 12:25). The King of the world is our savior, our advocate, and our friend. If He is for us, who can be against us?
  2. We have a spirit of power. Prayer works. It changes things. And our God is sovereign. You have the Spirit of God living within you (1 Cor. 3:16). There is no greater power.
  3. We have a spirit of love. We are not only called to love our neighbors, we are called to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). Do you realize that includes terrorists? Now this does not mean that we sit on our hands and do nothing, but we are to be governed by the love of Christ, which is a love that loves the unlovable. We do not drink the poison of revenge, but rather we leave ultimate justice up to God Himself (Romans 12:19). Even when we suit up for battle, we must have love and respect for the enemy.
  4. We have a spirit of self-control. We may voice our opinions. We ought to when we have something to say that is winsome and helpful. Christians can and should be involved in the public conversation. But we are to do so with love, grace, and truth. Here is a good measuring stick: if you are engaging in dialogue with someone, does it honor everyone (1 Peter 2:17)?

My friends, do not fear. Because of your purchase on the rugged cross, you have no need of it. And remember, it is not that we ought to be fearless, powerful, loving, and self-controlled. This is not a behavioral standard that we must meet to be righteous. No, 2 Timothy 1:7 says that God has given us a spirit of fearlessness, power, love, and self-control. We are recipients of these virtues by way of the Spirit who lives within us.

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Healthy Desires

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15 ESV)

 

New Year’s resolutions are so worthless. You decide you’re going to lose 10 pounds and you spend exactly 3 mornings on a treadmill and then 2 weeks later you are diving into the orange bottom of the bag of chips on your couch. Or you decide you’re going to read your Bible or do “quiet time” (whatever that is) but your Bible remains in mint condition past Genesis 1.

Here’s the deal, we are weak-hearted creatures. We think we want holiness but we really just want the positive byproducts of holiness: a good reputation and a clean conscience. A clean mouth isn’t much fun but being well thought of is. Our desires are half-baked and anemic; we want an end result but not really if it ends up looking like a bunch of work. And we really do want to be good people but that’s just because good people seem to win at life.

We are living our lives backwards.

Wanting God’s stuff is not the same as wanting Him. Nearness to our creator is the goal, and if you want to be close to Him, you will be. The invitation is ever open, so long as your heart keeps thumping in your chest. Now there’s a desire worth having – and a desire that redeems the rest of your desires.

For example, if you love God so much that you want to serve Him with the bodily temple He gave you and thus you want to lose 10 pounds, you have a real mission. A mission of becoming a better instrument in the hands of The Lord Himself. You will run long and hard (literally) after this mission because it means something and you’re heading towards God Himself. That’s sustainable. The same goes with your Bible. If you read it to feel good, the desire to feel good is weaker than the desire to read your Bible – so you won’t last long. If you understand that the pages of your Bible connect you to the source of life Himself, that Bible will look more interesting than your phone. So it goes with the rest of our pangs, hungers, and wants.

And yet…

We’ll fail. Sorry sunshine, your ten steps to a better you isn’t going to work. You need a divine heart transplant – and even then you’ll still struggle. The older I get, the more aware I am of my sin. Now when I look back at my life, I am definitely on a positive trajectory in regards to my sanctification, but for some reason as I become more like Jesus I become more awake to my darkness at the same time.

The satisfaction of our deepest longings are found at the foot of the cross. If we place them anywhere else, we will live permanently hungry and the angst of our soul will manifest itself in a million different unhealthy ways. If we orient our lives in pursuit of Jesus, as we slip and scramble and turn our ankle we’ll still be on a path worth taking. Don’t worry, your failings and sins do not disqualify you from nearness to Jesus. He came to heal the sick and we are sick beyond understanding, so we’re in.

All the hellfire and brimstone in the world won’t do much for you if it just makes you feel small or it makes you think you had better step it up buddy or Jesus is a-coming for you like a furious Santa Claus. No, we must turn the page. Yes, our sin is black and our hearts lead us down the paths we don’t want to take, but that isn’t the end of the story. The end of the story is redemption from all of that – from ourselves.

So be careful of your desires. It’s not that they’re necessarily wicked (though they could be), but if your desires have nothing to do with a deeper relationship with God you’ll find neither God nor satisfaction down that path. But filter your desires through the loving kinship with God Himself and you’ll grow closer to God and just watch, those desires will start to work themselves out.

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Great News for Us Failures

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)

Can you imagine living under Old Testament law? Eat this, not that. Wear this, not that. Oh yeah – and uphold the Ten Commandments and all the implications attached thereto. I can handle the part about not killing people, but I start to sweat when I read Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:21-22 where He explains that anger against a brother is as good as murder.

When I first understood that the Law was meant to showcase the sinful bankruptcy of the human soul, I was confused. And I was also relieved. If we are supposed to live up to a perfect standard to please God, well, I reckon I’m out. You are too (and if you claim otherwise you’re also a liar, so add that to your tab). We are failures at righteousness.

Pastor Scott likes to say that we are not only undeserving of the grace of Christ, we are ill-deserving. Don’t miss this distinction. Undeserving is giving a beggar a dollar, while ill-deserving is giving a murderer a spot on your couch. The murderer not only doesn’t deserve to crash on your couch, he absolutely should not be under your roof under any circumstances.

Remember that stuff Jesus said about being angry makes us murderers? See where I’m going here?

The grace of Jesus is scandalous. It is generous beyond comprehension. I don’t mean to harp on the blackness of your soul, but if you don’t understand that first you won’t see the light of the cross. If we think we’re just undeserving our disposition is “oh, thanks man.” If we get that we are ill-deserving, we’ll drop our life at Jesus’ feet.

God’s grace is for you – and it’s for me. It’s for those of us that fall short. Which is all of us.

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