The Blood of the Lamb

 “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”  1 Peter 1:18-19

John the Baptist officially announced the beginning of the ministry of Jesus Christ. As he saw Jesus passing by he exclaimed, “Look! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).” It may be difficult today to understand the significance of this statement made more than 2000 years ago. It did, however, hold deep meaning, especially for the Jews of that time.

It helps to understand the significance of a lamb to the Jews in Jesus’ time, especially one without blemish or defect. It all began when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. God protected the firstborn sons of His people from the angel of death if they placed the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of their homes. The blood of the lamb caused death to pass over their homes, sparing the lives of their children.

God instructed the Israelites to celebrate Passover with a feast every year to remember how God brought them out of Egypt. They were to select a year-old male lamb without defect and slaughter it at twilight for the feast. This was a reminder to them…and an opportunity for them to tell future generations the story of how God set them free from years of captivity in Egypt.

For the Jews, the Passover Lamb was a celebration of God, the freedom He brought, and His power to deliver them from death. Fast forward 1,000 years or so and you find John the Baptist, baptizing his disciples in the Jordan River. As Jesus walks by, John shouts, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Can you imagine the shock and awe, maybe even the outrage of that proclamation?

Some time later Jesus said to His followers, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life” (John 6:54). Is it a coincidence that the Last Supper was during the time of the Passover celebration? The True Passover Lamb would be slaughtered at twilight for the sins of the world – a male Lamb without blemish or defect. His blood would be poured out and applied through faith to the doors of our hearts so that death would pass over. How precious is the blood of the Lamb!

Holy Father, Thank You for Jesus, our Passover Lamb. I know that my death would be certain without His blood and Your grace and mercy. I am a sinner who deserved death, and yet I stand cleansed and forgiven in Your sight. I praise You for Your salvation. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

The Ransom

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time.” 1 Timothy 2:5-6

Ransom – What is given in exchange for another as the price of his redemption.

Salvation is not free. Redemption had a cost. We tend to forget that because we are not the ones who paid the price. Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death. Much like the jobs most of us do each day, sin earns a wage, a payment. The wage that sin pays is death. And we have all been swallowed in debt.

Eternal life, therefore, is a gift. By definition, salvation cannot be a gift unless it is paid for. When someone gives you a birthday gift, it is not free…it is only free to you. The gift is purchased…paid for by the giver. Someone chooses to pay what he does not owe, not to keep the gift for him, but to give it to you. It is Jesus who paid our ransom.

The first choice to rebel against God earns sin’s wage. At that moment, the sinner is spiritually kidnapped…and death is inevitable. Not just physical death, but spiritual death. Enmity with God is instantaneous. Sin holds us hostage, demanding the ultimate ransom…death.

It is an impossible situation. There is no negotiation, no compromise to be made. The ransom must be paid…and the sinner cannot pay it. The only hope is a mediator…one who can stand between God Almighty and the sinner. There is no one worthy.  For all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. There is only one choice…but how can it be?

Then, one starry night the shepherds got the Good News. In the city of David, the Mediator was born – He is Christ the Lord. Angels rejoiced and shepherds worshiped.   Wise men traveled and earthly kings plotted. Hope was born in a stable that night. Hope of reconciliation and freedom. Hope of life.

And 33 years later, the Mediator hung naked on the cross of our shame. He suffered and died in our place. He gave Himself as a ransom for our freedom. And now the gift of eternal life is offered freely for any who will believe, surrender and follow.

Dear Jesus, Thank You for offering Your life to set me free. You were and are my only hope for escape from sin’s penalty and sin’s power. I need You today as much as I ever have. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

Truth

“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”  1 Timothy 2:3-4

It is amazing that God wants all people to know the truth and be saved. After all, mankind has never been easy to love, have we? Adam and Eve disobeyed the only command God gave them, and when questioned, shirked responsibility for their actions.  After the flood in Noah’s time, God gave instructions to multiply and fill the earth. But instead, over time the people built a tower for themselves and made plans to stay together. When God made an incredible promise to Abraham and Sarah, they grew tired of waiting on Him to fulfill it so they took matters into their own hands. And what a mess they made!

When God, after 400 years of slavery in Egypt, delivered the Israelites, they complained and said they’d rather be slaves than trust God…even after God sent the plagues, parted the Red Sea, brought water from a rock, and rained food down from heaven to fill their hungry bellies. When Moses went up the mountain to meet with God, before he could even return, the people had made idols to worship. And when they finally reached the land God promised them, the spies lied about what they saw to avoid entering it. After 40 more years of wandering in the wilderness they finally entered the land. But their obedience and faith was short-lived. It wasn’t long before they begged for an earthly king to follow “like everyone else.” Eventually the nation split into two kingdoms; and God grew so angry at their sin that he allowed both to be taken captive by their enemies and scattered throughout the earth.

And things are no better today. Throughout history people have rebelled, disobeyed and refused to trust God. Romans 1:18 calls it “suppressing the truth of God.” And yet, 1 Timothy 2:4 assures us that God still desires for all men to be saved, coming to a knowledge of the truth.

It is important to understand that the truth is not a concept or a set of beliefs. The truth is a person. In His own words (John 14:6) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.” The truth we must grab hold of is Jesus.  Knowing Him brings salvation. And this is God’s desire. This is what pleases Him…that His Son be embraced, known and glorified throughout the earth.

Father, I know I have rejected and run from You so many times. And yet You continue to love me. I want to know You more…to know and trust Jesus more. Thank You for never giving up on me. Help me to believe that You are all I need. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Repentance

 

“Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are proved right when You speak and justified when You judge.”  Psalm 51:4 

King David wrote psalm 51 after he committed adultery and murder. God confronted David’s sin through the prophet Nathan. This psalm is the King’s response to that confrontation. It is interesting that David says he has only sinned against God (v. 4). What about Bathsheba, the woman he committed adultery with?  What about Uriah, her husband who he had murdered on the battlefield? Didn’t he sin against them, too?

King David teaches us something important through his repentance: At its core, all sin is against God. God is the only one who is perfect and holy, therefore He is the only one who can determine when we sin. God is Creator, so He sets the standard. The word “sin” literally means, “to miss the mark.” Who set the mark? God did as soon as He created mankind (Genesis 2). God has given us His commandments…from Adam and Eve in the Garden, to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to the Israelites through Moses, and then through the prophets, and finally, through His Son Jesus and the Apostles.

We do not have to guess at how to please God and honor Him as Lord. He has revealed His Word clearly…so all sin, at its root, is rebellion against God Himself. This is what King David understood all those years ago. And because it is against God that we sin, only God can cleanse our sin. This is why David says later in this song of repentance, “Cleanse me…and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (v. 7). David knew where to go first for forgiveness and restoration.

We must understand that all of our sin is against God. He defines sin. He reveals sin. And He is the only one who can forgive sin. The restoration process will often involve seeking forgiveness from those whom our sin has affected, yes. But first and foremost, it is God whom sin offends.

Father, You have given me Your word and I am without excuse. My sin is always against You. Please forgive me for rebelling against You, Lord. Set me on the path of righteousness today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

The Patience Of God

“The LORD is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9

The Lord has promised to return for His bride, the Church. His second coming will bring with it the end of suffering, death, sin, injustice and disease for all those who belong to Him. Therefore, it is easy, especially in times of hurting, to wonder why He tarries. Our hearts long to be free from the effects of sin in our mortal bodies. We long to be with Jesus. And yet, we still wait.

This verse explains why. It is wonderful insight to the heart of God. He waits to return because He is patient with sinners…desiring that every person would repent and believe in Jesus Christ. I have often heard the question, “Why would a loving God send anyone to hell?” 2 Peter 3:9 shows us that God does not want anyone to perish in hell. Instead, He longs for men to repent and turn to Him…so much so that He patiently delays Christ’s return.

This is what God said through the prophet Isaiah concerning Christ’s return:

“Turn to Me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By Myself I have sworn, My mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked:  Before Me every knee will bow; by Me every tongue will swear. They will say of Me, ‘In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.’” 

Isaiah 45:22-24

A time will come when every knee will bow and every mouth will confess the Lord. This is certain. The only question is, when will my knees bow and my mouth confess? Will it be now, while God patiently waits, or later, after Christ returns? He is Lord either way. I do not make Him Lord of my life. He is Lord already. I do, however, have a choice to surrender to His lordship over my life before it is too late.

These words in Isaiah were first spoken in approximately 700 B.C. That is more than 2,700 years ago. What a patient God! He waits because His heart has not changed in over 2,700 years. He still desires for men to turn to Him in faith. Have you surrendered to Him as Lord over all? If not, please do so right now. He will not wait forever.

Father, Thank You for Your patience with me. I praise You for Your patience with those who do not yet believe in You. Today, I surrender my whole life to You, agreeing with Your word that You are Lord over all. Use me today as You see fit.   

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Unfathomable

 “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD.  Repent and live!”  Ezekiel 18:32

God hates sin, and He will not contend with sinners forever. We know this to be true from Scripture. In His holiness, He destroyed every living creature on the earth (except for Noah and his family) with a fierce flood of water and anger (Genesis 7). Because of the peoples’ wickedness, God rained down burning sulfur to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). God’s instructions to His people when they took possession of the Promised Land was to drive out every living thing so that they wouldn’t be tempted to worship their false gods (Numbers 33). There are many more similar events throughout the history of God’s people.

These passages are sometimes used in an attempt to disprove God’s existence by saying a real God could not be so cruel. Or religious people, to condone hateful attitudes and actions toward certain people, misuse the passages. And well-meaning Christians will even try to explain God’s actions by saying, “That was the Old Testament,” as if God has somehow changed between the Old and New Testaments. All of these responses are grievous misuses of God’s word. The first blames God for man’s actions. The second manipulates God for man’s actions. And the third denies the very nature of God.

God is not cruel or hateful; and He has not changed from the Old to New Testament. He does, however, hate sin. If all of the aforementioned passages are read in context, God’s patience, grace and kindness are evident, along with His wrath. God gives chance after chance for repentance. He warns people of His coming judgment. He takes no delight in destroying that which He has created for His glory. Why would He?

But His love for people does not trump His wrath against sin. Both are equally part of His character. Does He love all people, even His enemies? Yes. Does He hate sin and all who do evil (Psalm 5:5)? Yes. Does He long for all people to repent and be saved? Yes. Will He punish those who do not? Yes. He cannot forego either His wrath or His grace. If He did either He would cease to be God.

These are the mysteries of God that are unfathomable, as Job 11:7 says. We cannot understand all of His ways, nor should we seek to. But, one thing we can know God tells us in Ezekiel 18:32 – He takes no pleasure in the death of anyone, and wants all men to repent and live.

 O LORD You are so mighty! There is so much I cannot understand. But I believe Your Word and cling to it, knowing that You desire for all people to repent and live. Please use me today to show others Your love for them.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Touching God’s Heart

“When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened.” Jonah 3:10

Repentance moves the heart of God. Think about that for a moment. As children of God, we have the opportunity to touch the heart of God in a profound way. If you are a parent, you have likely been deeply touched by something that your child said…something that truly revealed their love for you. It is easy to say, “I love you, too.” But there are those times when children do or say something that is uniquely “them,” something you know they are not just repeating…something that comes from the heart. These moments stick with us forever, don’t they? They are precious reminders that every parent clings to during difficult seasons.

In Jonah chapter three, God has one of those moments with the people of Nineveh. God sent Jonah to deliver horrible news to the inhabitants of this important city. In forty days, He planned to overturn Nineveh because of the sin of its people (Jonah 3:4). His anger toward them was evident…God was going to punish their sin. But then something happened that touched the very heart of God…

The people of Nineveh repented. There were three main aspects of their repentance that we can learn from today. First, they believed God. Jonah delivered the word of God to them, and on the first day they heard it, they believed that God would indeed destroy the city. Secondly, because they believed God’s message, they grieved over their sin. From the king all the way down, they fasted and wore sackcloth and ashes – a sign of deep sorrow.  Lastly, they urgently called to God in repentance.

Verse 10 tells us that God “saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways.”  Then something amazing happened…God had compassion on them and withheld His punishment. The word “compassion” here means, “To be sorry, moved to pity, to comfort or console.” True repentance consoles and comforts the heart of God. It sooths His righteous anger toward our sin.

It was not the words they said but the action they took that moved God to relent. Do we believe what God says about sin, like the Ninevites did? And if so, does this belief cause us to mourn and to turn from sin? Repentance that moves God is not lip service, it is turning away from sin and to God.

Father, I desire to love and serve You with all of my heart. That cannot happen when there is unconfessed sin in my life. Please convict me of my sin and give me a heart of true sorrow and repentance.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

Second Chances

“And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.”  Jonah 2:10

We serve a God of second chances…and third, fourth, fifth and sixth chances. I do not mean to imply that God is a pushover. He is, however, slow to anger and quick to forgive, redeem and restore.

As the prophet Jeremiah wrote:

“Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

Today’s focal verse (Jonah 2:10) is a perfect example of God’s unfailing compassion.  Jonah cried out to the LORD from the belly of the great fish. It was God’s unfailing love that sent that fish to rescue Jonah from drowning due to his disobedience. And then God, in His grace, gave Jonah a second chance to obey Him. And how does He do this? God commands the fish to spit Jonah out so he can go to Nineveh.

We serve a sovereign LORD. He reigns over all of creation. And yet He is compassionate in our weakness. He is LORD over the wind and the waves. He is LORD over the fish of the sea. He is LORD over Jonah and Nineveh. And He is LORD over you. This holy, mighty, compassionate God has great love for you…and His mercies are new every single morning.

Are you, like Jonah, running from God? Are you in the boat heading in the opposite direction from His plan? Are you in the crashing waves of His discipline, gasping for air?  Are you in the belly of the fish, crying out in gratitude for a second chance? Or are you on dry land with a fresh start that you don’t deserve, but want desperately to take? Take heart!  For our God is the King of second chances. And today His compassions toward you are brand new.

Father, How do I say ‘thank You’ for Your unfailing compassion toward me? Just like Jonah, You have given me so many second chances when I fail. I want to honor You in all I do. I choose today to joyfully surrender to Your plans.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Whose Side Are You On?

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” James 4:4

What does it mean to be a “friend of the world,” as this verse states? It is an important question to answer, because choosing friendship with the world has serious consequences. James is clear…whoever chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

It is interesting that this verse does not make Jesus the object of our choice. The focus is on how we choose to relate to the world. Affection for the world results in enmity with God. Many people think that if they believe in God, that is all that matters. Not according to this verse. A line is drawn. A choice must be made. We cannot claim to follow Christ and still love the things of this world. To do so, God says, is adulterous.

So, what does friendship with the world look like? It helps to understand the use of the word “friendship” in this verse. It means a familiarity or close association…much like a brotherly love. And by “the world,” James is referring to the world order, not the people of the world. We know from Scripture that Satan and his powers are at work in the world, warring against God and His people (Ephesians 6:12). There is an unseen battle raging, and we must choose a side. Remaining neutral is not an option in this war.

Friendship with the world involves the details of our lives. It is what we watch on TV, the movies we will pay to see, the music we listen to, how we allow our children to dress, the language we use, how we spend money, how we spend our time, and the list goes on and on.  In every life choice, we are siding with either the world, or with God. Are we numb to the blatant disrespect for God that is rampant in the world today, or does it grieve us and move us to take a stand…to pray?

As Christ followers, it should be evident in our daily choices whose side we stand on.  Our affection should be for Christ, not for the world that is opposed to Him.

Father, Everything this world stands for is in direct opposition to You. In a world that promotes self, pride, excess and pleasure help me to stand for You, with You and in You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

 

 

Denial

“Then Jesus said to them all:  If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’” Luke 9:23

Self-denial. This is what Christ demands. And more importantly, it is what He deserves.  Jesus isn’t asking His followers to hate themselves; he is asking them to adore Him. Just as the old hymn says:

“Jesus paid it all.

All to Him I owe.

Sin had left a crimson stain.

He washed it white as snow.”

The choice to deny self is born out of adoration and gratitude, not obligation. It is the response of a heart that is ever-conscience of Christ’s sacrifice, and always thankful for His grace.

To deny yourself means to disregard your own interests for the sake of Christ and His glory. Following Jesus is not easy. There are times when He leads us to places that we do not want to go. He leads to places that are unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and even undesirable. I mean this both literally and figuratively. Loving our enemies is not comfortable. Forgiveness is not always easy. Putting others needs ahead of our own desires is tough. All of these are examples of how Jesus asks us to deny ourselves.

But, when we hold these acts of self-denial up to the cross…they don’t seem so hard, do they? When we choose to consider Christ’s sacrifice, we realize that He has the right to ask for whatever He desires from our lives. After all, we wouldn’t even have life physically or spiritually, if it weren’t for Him.

And as if what He has already given us isn’t enough, He continues to lavish His grace upon us. Whatever He asks us to give up He will replace with His abundant life. What we find is that the more we sacrifice, the more He gives. In God’s kingdom, death to self is the only way to truly live.

Jesus, You have shown me what self-denial really is. Thank You for dying so that I may live.  Please help me to deny myself and follow You today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

 

Risk

“Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.”  Jonah 2:8

In this one short verse lays unending implications. It reminds me of the lyrics to a worship song:

“It’s Your love that we adore, it’s like a sea without a shore. 

Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid; just set your sail. 

And risk the ocean, there’s only grace. There’s only grace.”

Following Christ wholeheartedly will always involve risk…the risk of the unknown; or of what He will demand. Sometimes it involves the risk of personal safety…or of comfort and predictability. It is not an easy thing to do as the writer of this worship song says, “Set your sail and risk the ocean.” But, as the song also says, in the ocean of following Christ, “there’s only grace.”

Ironically, Jonah set his sail, quite literally, and took a different kind of risk. Instead of risking in order to follow God, he risked to run from God. Yet still, in the ocean of his disobedience he found God’s grace. Jonah knew firsthand what it meant to cling to the temporary and forfeit the eternal. He clung to the idol of comfort. He gripped the idol of control. He went to great lengths to avoid God’s plan. And when the winds blew and the waves crashed around his plan of escape, he knew what it meant to forfeit God’s grace.

But even there, Jonah found God faithful…faithful to discipline and to rescue and to redirect. Yes, following Christ is risky, but perhaps, as Jonah discovered, not following Him is even riskier. Life is stormy either way. Wouldn’t you rather be on the side of the One whose voice the wind obeys…the One who can call off the waves if He so chooses?

Are you forfeiting the grace that could be yours today? Are you clinging to the temporary things of this world at the expense of the eternal riches of Christ? If so, take the risk and let go…there is only grace.

Father, I admit that sometimes I am scared to obey You. Sometimes what You ask is so hard. Please help me to believe that following You will never lead to disappointment. You are worth so much more than anything You could ever ask me to give up. I want to risk it all for You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

 

Perspective

“From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. He said: ‘In my distress I called to the LORD, and He answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and You listened to my cry.”  Jonah 2:1-2

Jonah chapter two chronicles Jonah’s prayer of thanksgiving to the LORD. He is praising the LORD for rescuing him in his distress. Jonah uses phrases such as: “I called to the LORD and He answered me; I called for help and You listened to my cry; You brought my life up from the pit O LORD my God; salvation comes from the LORD.” It is apparent that Jonah is overwhelmed with gratitude for the LORD’S mercy despite his disobedience.

Do you know what stands out to me the most about this passage? It is not so much what Jonah is saying as much as from where he is saying it. The passage begins with, “From inside the fish Jonah prayed…” These words of thanksgiving and praise are being lifted up from deep inside a giant fish’s hot, stinky belly. From Jonah’s perspective, this fish’s gut was the LORD’S salvation. Did Jonah know at that point that God planned to command the fish to place him on dry land after three days? From the Scripture we have no indication that he had such knowledge.

So what did Jonah know? What led him to such gratitude despite his bleak circumstances? He knew he directly disobeyed God. God commanded him to go to Nineveh, and he chose to rebel and run from God, boarding a ship headed as far from Nineveh as possible. He knew that God sent a huge storm that threatened to sink the ship of his escape. And when the men on the ship threw him overboard, the raging sea grew calm. He knew that he was drowning…and perhaps that he deserved such a fate due to his rebellion towards God. And he knew that just in time, a fish swallowed him whole, rescuing him from certain death.

So many times we choose to focus on where we are instead of on who God is and how He has proven Himself faithful. Perspective is everything. Will we focus on the belly of the fish, or on the God who has brought us safely through the storm? Will we lament our situation, or gratefully praise our God of second chances?

Father, Thank You for second chances. Even when I fail, You stand ready to forgive me and set me back on Your path. Please help me to focus on Your goodness, even when I don’t understand Your ways. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.