Remember–Our God is One.

Christianity, Religion

For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

 Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” Jude 4-5

The foundational belief of Judaism is that of monotheism, the belief in only one God and it is this religious distinctive that separated the Israelites from many of the other peoples of the ancient world. This fundamental belief is reflected in one of the most sacred and essential prayers of the Hebrew faith, the Sh’ma Yisrael, which states “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one,” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Moses taught these words to the Israelites as they were in the wilderness, so that they might remember who it was who liberated from slavery in Egypt, who it was who was giving them a promised land to inhabit, who it was who gave them a law to live by, and who would correct them when they strayed away. It was all one God, the one and only God, who ruled over Heaven and Earth.

Fast forward a few millennia from Moses in the wilderness to first century Judea. Sometime around 65 A.D. a Jewish man by the name of Jude is writing a letter addressed to the believers of a faith which came directly from the Jewish religious tradition. Followers of this new faith taught that the long-awaited Jewish Messiah had arrived in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. This Jesus taught the scriptures, performed miracles, spoke up for the oppressed, and challenged the religious establishment, and lived a life that was the embodiment of righteousness. He was arrested, crucified, and–three days after dying–rose from the dead. Those who followed Jesus believed that He was not only the Messiah but that He was God Incarnate–God in the form of a man.

False teachers began to infiltrate the early church. They taught a variety of heretical beliefs that undermined the teachings and being of Christ. Jude was determined to confront these false teachers and to help the earnest believers fight to protect the true faith from being polluted.

Jude focused his attention on those who taught that Jesus was not God, that He was only a human, although an incredibly good human. This teaching, according to Jude, was a perversion and a denial of Christ. Any teaching that presents Jesus as anything less than God is false. So Jude appealed to three specific examples from Hebrew Scripture to remind the believers of what they already knew–that Jesus is God.

Jude writes to the believers that it was Jesus who delivered Israel out of slavery in Egypt. It was Jesus who expelled the rebellious angels from Heaven. It was Jesus who rained destruction upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Each of the Old Testament references for these scriptures would have been understood for Jewish believers in Jesus.  They understood what Jude was saying; in these Old Testament accounts where God performed mighty acts, Jesus was there too. Jesus was present because He is God. He is not a different god or a lesser god; Jesus is God in human form. He has existed forever with God and will continue to exist beyond the end of time. He is the Liberator, the Law-giver, the Redeemer, the Sacrificial Lamb, and the Righteous Judge. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. The refrain of the Sh’ma echoes in Jude’s exhortation: Remember, our God is one. Jesus and God are one and the same.

Christ is so much more than an excellent teacher and a good man. He is the just and holy God of the universe. He came to Earth, not merely to perform miracles, but to offer Himself as a sacrifice to make atonement for humanity’s sins. False teachers will demean and deride Him and find any way to deny He is God, and they do this at their own expense. The real teacher and believer finds every way to exalt and worship Jesus for who He is–God. This is the foundational belief of Christianity, and this truth must be defended.

Artwork: “Sh’ma Yisrael/ Hear Israel- Deuteronomy 6:4-5” by Gina Dittmer

Cut.

Christianity, Religion

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” Acts 2:37.

 Jerusalem was crowded with Jewish pilgrims visiting the city for the celebration of Pentecost fifty days after Passover, and the time was right for a mighty movement of God.  The Holy Spirit had just descended upon the followers of Christ who were assembled there together.  Being led by the Spirit, Peter got up to preach to the masses.

Peter’s sermon was powerful. He began with the prophet Joel and described how the coming of the Spirit fulfilled prophecies made by Joel and signaled that the “last day” had now been reached. He continued on through the Psalms and showed how David pointed forward to Jesus in his writings; showing that Jesus is Adonai and Messiah. Peter proclaimed the good news–the gospel–that this Jesus who was crucified and died was now alive, and that all who called upon His name would be saved.

Peter had come a long way; fifty days earlier he was cutting off the ear of one of those who had come to arrest Christ in Gethsemane. After that, he had denied knowing Jesus–not once, not twice, but three times; he even cursed Jesus’ name with his third denial. Peter was bold and brash, he acted before he thought. Now, only fifty days later–and after being filled with the Holy Spirit–he was preaching the first sermon of the Christian era. He was a fisherman from Galilee, utterly untrained as a teacher, yet he was teaching the Scriptures better than any rabbi had. He had been transformed by the Spirit.

The Spirit moved mightily in those hearing Peter’s words. Acts 2:37 tells us that they were “cut,” literally pierced, to the hearts. They were filled with the conviction of their sins and allowed to see the truth before them that Jesus is the Messiah. This cutting to the heart echoes the Old Testament prophets and is connected to the most fundamental of all Israelite customs: circumcision. We see this merger between the two when Moses commanded the Israelites to “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn,” (Deuteronomy 10:16). Jeremiah echoes this appeal in his prophecies when pleading with the people to repent of their sinful ways.  People needed to change their hearts–cut away the sin and excess– and follow God, yet they could not make this change through their own strength or actions.

The Spirit was the tool by which God would change the hearts of His people. The Spirit is transformative and regenerative. It provided the means of circumcising their hearts, and it presented them with a renewed spirit. Those whose hearts the Spirit cut and transformed would now be able to walk according to God’s statutes and commandments. They would now be able to be His people.

The Spirit is still at work and cutting hearts today. It can still transform lives. It has been poured out upon all mankind and is seeking to circumcise the hearts of those who feel the pierce of conviction. Submit to it, be baptized in the blood of Christ, be filled with the Spirit, and let it prune away the dead sinful skin of your heart. Allow it to transform you, just as it transformed Peter, and just as it transformed 3,000 people who heard him preach that day.

Bread of Affliction.

Christianity, Religion

“‘You shall not eat leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat with it unleavened bread, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), so that you may remember all the days of your life the day when you came out of the land of Egypt.’” Deuteronomy 16:3

The Passover is the most significant of all the Jewish holidays. During this sacred annual observance, the Jewish people remember the mighty acts that God performed to free their ancestors from slavery in Egypt. At the heart of the Passover celebration is the somber and solemn recognition of the great lengths which God would go to free His people.

One of the most iconic pieces of the Passover celebration is matzah or unleavened bread. As the Israelites were preparing to make their exit from Egypt, God gave them specific instructions for the Passover meal. He was going to pass through the land of Egypt striking dead all the firstborns of the land. But the houses which had followed His instructions, and taken the blood of a firstborn lamb and painted it upon the doorframe of the house, these houses would be spared; He would pass over them. This lamb which was slain for its blood to be used as a sign to God was to be eaten with unleavened bread. The Israelites were to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice; there was not even time to allow the bread to rise.  As a result of having no leaven, the bread they ate with the Passover meal was flat, and this flatbread became synonymous with the Passover. Due to its association with their bondage in Egypt, matzah is often referred to, even during Passover services, as “the bread of affliction.”  During Passover celebrations, the matzah is taken, blessed, and broken, and each participant takes a piece to eat as a reminder of the affliction suffered by their ancestors before being freed by God. Matzah is a tangible reminder of the suffering experienced in Egypt; the matzah reminds each new generation that, without God’s intervention, their affliction would be yours too.

On the Thursday after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus and the disciples gathered to observe the Passover. Christ was obedient in His observation of the mandated holidays, and He and the disciples had—like the generations before did and after them would as well—matzah to remember the affliction of the forefathers in Egypt. During this Passover, Christ would institute a new observance: The Eucharist, or Communion—the Lord’s Supper. He took the matzah and blessed it and broke it and distributed it to the disciples; however, He did not tell them this was the “bread of affliction,” instead, he said, “This is my body, which is given for you,” (Luke 22:19). Elsewhere in the Gospels, we see where Christ refers to Himself as the “Bread of Life,” (John 6:35), and He said that “whoever feeds of my flesh and drinks of my blood has eternal life,” (John 6:54). Christ is changing the paradigm; something new is happening. He is using the observance of the Passover to teach the disciples—and all future generations—of the new Passover which is about to take place, one complete with a new Paschal lamb and new matzah.

The connections between the original Passover and Christ’s sacrifice must not be lost on us. Just as the first Passover proved to the Israelites just how far God would go to save them from Pharaoh’s oppression and bondage, Christ’s Passover shows how much farther God went to save His people from slavery and bondage to an even more powerful and vile oppressor: sin and death. God would offer up His Son—the firstborn of His flock and of all things—to be the Passover sacrifice, and being covered by His blood would free us from death just as the Passover lamb’s blood spared the households it covered from death. In His agony, Jesus—the Bread of Life—would become the ultimate matzah—the bread of affliction. He bore our sins and guilt so that we might be liberated from sin’s shackles. He suffered our affliction so that He might give us life. He provided our exodus from sin and this world.

Just as God instructed the Israelites to remember the Passover and to commemorate it, Christ taught the disciples—and all future generations—to observe the Communion, and to do so “in remembrance of Me,” (Luke 22:19). In taking Communion, we remember that Passover in Jerusalem when Christ became the ultimate Passover sacrifice. We remember how He took our affliction and shame and sin and guilt. We remember how the Bread of Life became the bread of affliction and was broken so that we might be freed from sin and death. Communion is our tangible reminder that, without Christ’s intervention, our sins and afflictions would still enslave us. Each time we partake of Communion, we are reminding ourselves of and celebrating the ultimate Passover. With a somber and solemn heart, we try to comprehend the great lengths to which God went to redeem us and save us, and we pray:

Christ, our Passover Lamb

Christ, our Matzah, our Bread of Affliction

Christ, our Liberator

Christ, our Redeemer

Christ, our Messiah

We do this in remembrance of You.

photo courtesy of http://www.oneforisrael.org https://www.oneforisrael.org/bible-based-teaching-from-israel/the-meaning-of-matzo-unleavened-bread-in-the-bible/

Choose Life.

Christianity, Religion

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God…” Deuteronomy 30:19-20

Once again we find ourselves looking at Deuteronomy, studying Moses’ final words to the Israelites. The great leader who had shepherded his people out of Egypt and through the wilderness had reached the end of his journey. The Israelites were on the precipice of entering the Promised Land, but Moses would not be going with them. His mission would be ending now, just shy of the land God promised to Abraham and his descendants.  Moses would see it—the land flowing with milk and honey—-from the mountaintop, but he would not enjoy it in this life.

Moses goes before the people of Israel and instructs them on how they must live once they go into the land that God had set out before them. He reminds the Israelites that God had made a covenant with the previous generation at Sinai—-that they would be His people and keep His law—-and in turn, He would be their God and bless them. The Israelites of the previous generation agreed to these terms and were sprinkled with the blood of a sacrificed animal to show their acceptance of the covenant, yet this was the same group of people who got cold feet when they reached the border of the Promised Land. They were too scared of the giants that inhabited it and too intimidated by the other obstacles that were before them; they did not have faith in God to keep His promise to give them the land. For this, they were forced to wander in the desert for forty years, until that faithless generation died.

Moses is now before the new generation, one that is faithful and will enter and inhabit the Promised Land. He goes over all the terms of the covenant with them, the good and the bad. He spells out for them the blessings that they will experience if they follow after God and seek Him and hold up their end of the covenant. He also details the numerous disasters, plagues, and sufferings they will endure if they fail to abide by the terms of the covenant.  Moses put it simply for the Israelites:  “I’ve made it clear for you,” he said, “I’ve set before you two options: obedience and blessings or disobedience and curses; life or death.”

“Choose life,” was Moses’ exhortation.

All Israel had to do was obey God, and they would experience blessings and life.

Where have we heard language like this before?

Think back—-way back-—to a time when everything was perfect: Eden.

After God completed creation, He told Adam and Eve that they could eat from any tree in the garden, except for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. “Do not eat from that tree,” said God, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17).

God told man to obey and choose life. Man disobeyed. He sinned. He chose death.

God is the Fount of All Being, He is the source of all life. To seek after God is to seek life. To do what God wills is to choose life. To seek after anything else is sin, and that is to pursue death. To choose anything over God is to choose death.

In Deuteronomy, Moses is telling the new generation of Israelites that they have a unique opportunity: God is presenting them with a beautiful and bountiful land, and they can stay and live there as long as they choose to seek after God—-as long as they obey Him. In a way, Israel is getting a second chance at the choice Adam had; to obey and choose life or disobey and choose death.

Israel chose to seek after God for a time, but then their hearts began to turn away. They began to serve false gods and failed to abide by the terms of the covenant. As punishment, they were driven from the land God had given them, just as Adam and Eve had been driven from Eden. Israel broke its covenantal vows. They had disobeyed, just as Adam had; they forsook the Promised Land, just as Adam forsook Eden.

God knew this was how the story would unfold. He knew even before Adam fell what would have to happen to restore the proper relationship between Himself and His creation. His son—-God-Incarnate and Immanuel—-Jesus Christ, would have to come to Earth. Christ would seek God in everything He did.  He would live a perfect life; He would choose life. Christ would do all of this so that He could die to create a New Covenant, one that He would seal with His own blood; whoever is covered in the blood of this New Covenant will have eternal life. Christ is the New Adam, the perfect Adam, who didn’t stumble where the Old Adam or Israel did. He perfectly upheld the covenant so that He could be the perfect covenantal sacrifice. Those who seek after Him choose life—not only here and now, but also when He ushers in the New Heaven and the New Earth and restores everything to Edenic perfection.

So kneel before the cross at Calvary, where Christ, the Son of God—the New and perfect Adam—chose to die, and choose life.

photo courtesy of ms-reseacrch.com