Houses.

Christianity, Religion

“In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’…Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house… He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” ‭‭2 Samuel‬ ‭7:7, 11, 13‬

“In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the Lord…
…And in the eleventh year, in the month of Bul, which is the eighth month, the house was finished in all its parts, and according to all its specifications. He was seven years in building it.”

‭‭1 Kings‬ ‭6:1, 38‬ ‭

“Solomon was building his own house thirteen years, and he finished his entire house.”

‭‭1 Kings‬ ‭7:1‬ 

In 2 Samuel 7 we encounter one of the most crucial passages of the Hebrew Bible: the establishment of the Davidic Covenant. This passage details one of the most significant advances in God’s salvific plan for humanity, as it is from the dynasty that God promises to David that the Messiah would come from. 

Repeatedly throughout 2 Samuel 7 the word “house” is mentioned, and there is significance to this. Before God reveals His plan to David, He reminds David that He has resided a tent since delivering Israel out of Egypt. Though God’s residence has been a tent—the Tabernacle—He has never once asked any of Israel’s leaders—David included—to build Him a permanent house, a “house made of cedar.” God’s priority was establishing Israel, not having a house built for Himself. 

God’s reminding David that He doesn’t have a house is juxtaposed with the revelation God gives to David; that God is going to build David into a “house,” or a dynasty.  Just as was the case with establishing Israel, God cared more about building up David’s house than He did His own. When we consider all the messianic implications of the House of David—going all the way back to the promises made to Eve in the Garden, and to Abraham in Genesis 12, and Judah in Genesis 49–we realize that in many ways, what the House of David represents is more important than a permanent structure for God to reside in. We see God’s selfless nature on display—it was more important to God to further progress His plan to redeem humanity than for Him to have His own house built. The salvation of mankind was more important than a temple. 

With the covenant with David enacted, David’s line does what God told David it would do. David’s son, Solomon, builds a house for God in Jerusalem, and the temple is completed in seven years. We are told that the temple is a marvelous structure, beautifully decorated with Edenic imagery, and represents God’s residence with His people. The building of the temple represents the peak of Solomon’s relationship with God. 

Immediately after we are told that Solomon’s construction of the temple took seven years, we are told that construction of his palace took thirteen years. Solomon took nearly double the amount of time to build his own palace that he took to build the dwelling place of God. Herein lies the tragedy of Solomon: he was a man who began his reign as king with immense zeal for God, but he allowed the power and trappings of power corrupt him. Solomon lost sight of what was important, and in his actions he elevated himself above God. Solomon’s actions with the temple and his palace represent the exact opposite of then selflessness that God exhibited when God built David into a house before His own. Solomon falls greatly; he entered into political alliances with Egypt and other nations, he married foreign women, and he worshipped false foreign gods. As if all of that were not bad enough, Solomon began using slave labor to complete building throughout the kingdom—slaves conscripted from among his own people. Solomon became so hungry for power that he began to enslave his fellow Israelites. It is no wonder that the biblical authors began to describe Solomon as they did the Pharaoh in Egypt who enslaved their ancestors. Where God demonstrated selflessness to be able to enact a plan to save humanity, Solomon became so corrupted that he enslaved his countrymen. 

The Davidic Covenant is important because it shows God’s selflessness and faithfulness. It shows that God was advancing His plan to save humanity, and that He was continuing to keep the promises made to Eve, Abraham, and Judah. The selflessness God demonstrated by establishing David’s house before having His house built is a small preview of the selflessness demonstrated by Christ; Christ also was more concerned about redeeming humanity and freeing them from sin, so much so that He died to make it possible.  

Praise God for His faithfulness and selflessness. Seek to live a life that reflects those same qualities. Learn from the failures of Solomon. 

Artwork: “Song of David,” Marc Chagall, c. 1956

Perspective.

Christianity, Religion

“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

    Tell me, if you have understanding.

Who determined its measurements—surely you know!

    Or who stretched the line upon it?

On what were its bases sunk,

    or who laid its cornerstone,

when the morning stars sang together

and all the sons of God shouted for joy?’” Job 38: 1, 4-7

“Then Job answered the Lord and said:

‘I know that you can do all things,

    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,

things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.’” Job 42:1-3

The account of Job is one of the most unique narratives of the Hebrew Scriptures; even those who are unfamiliar with the Bible are sure to have heard reference to Job and his trials.  At its core is the issue of suffering and why those who are righteous suffer and experience hardship. Rabbis and theologians have wrestled with this book for centuries to try to answer this question because, at face value, Job appears to run contrary to many of the lessons put forth in the other books that comprise the Hebrew Wisdom Literature, especially that of Proverbs. The beauty of the account of Job is not found in understanding why things happen; instead, it is found in realizing–as Job did–the finite nature of our existence and God’s eternal sovereignty over everything that has happened and will happen.

Job’s narrative begins with a description of Job: he was blameless, upright, feared God, and turned away from evil. Additionally, he was wealthy and had a large family. Traditional wisdom would convey that these blessings of wealth were the result of his faith and commitment to God, and this type of thinking is brought to the forefront very quickly. Satan appeared one day before God and made the claim that Job’s faith in God was merely the result of God’s blessings upon Job. To test this theory, God allowed Satan to take away all the blessings which Job had received, and they would see if Job’s faith withered along with losing all of the blessings. In one fell swoop, Job lost all of his children, all of his wealth, and his health. The test was on.

The vast majority of the Book of Job is a series of dialogues between Job’s friends who repeatedly tell him that he had somehow offended God and lost His favor. Even Job’s wife grows frustrated with his commitment to righteousness in the face of this  suffering and plight and tells him to “curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). In spite of this continuous barrage from those who were supposed to be supporting him, Job patiently endured and retained his faith in God.

Job, however, is a man; in a moment of pain, anger, and frustration he cries out to God. This cry does not represent a loss of faith on Job’s part; instead, it demonstrates the futility of the human condition: we do not understand why things happen to us the way that they do. Job cries out to God and asks the age-old question, “Why is this happening to me?” He questions God’s methods; when all Job has ever shown to God was faithfulness and devotion, why would God do this in response? To Job, it just didn’t seem fair.

Shortly after Job’s cry out to the heavens, a whirlwind appears, and God speaks to Job from the whirlwind. God’s response to Job is conveyed in some of the most beautiful Hebrew poetry in all of the Bible. The answer that God gave to Job appears, at first glance, to be dismissive and a bit of tough love–almost as if God was telling Job to “man-up” and get over the situation. This, however, is not the message that God is communicating to Job.

God’s response to Job is comprised of several questions, each one designed to change the perspective of Job’s thinking, and also to remind Job that He had every little detail of the universe under control. God asks Job where he was when He laid the foundations of the Earth and set the boundaries of the sea; if the lightning asks Job where to strike; if Job has ever walked in the deepest depths of the sea; if Job has storehouses of snow and hail piled up; if Job can change the course of the stars; or if Job provides food for the ravens and for the lions? 

Job knows who can do all of these things, and he realizes the folly of his questioning God. Job realizes that his perspective on the universe is not the same as God’s, that he cannot see the “big picture.” Job cannot see how his suffering fits into the bigger scheme of things, into God’s master plan, but God–the one who has made this plan–knows how it all fits together. Job understood that he was talking about that which he did not understand, and that God has everything under control and taken care of; that no plan of His can be thwarted. Job also realized that God–the Master and Creator of the Universe–did not owe him an answer or response of any sort, yet out of His love and compassion, God gave Job one. If God cared enough to answer Job’s futile cry, then surely He would sustain Job through the ordeal he was in.

This is an easy lesson to learn in a vacuum, so to speak, when all we are doing is exegeting text and seeking an understanding of what it means; it is a much different lesson to apply in reality when we are dealing with the loss of a loved one, or a devastating financial setback, or some other severe trial. In those times, we also cry out to God and question His methods and His fairness. The account of Job shows us that He hears us when we do this; however, we must realize our position in the scheme of things. In those times, we must remember that this world does not revolve around us and that nowhere were we ever promised that hardship would never befall us. We must not forget that we are part of a bigger picture, a master plan that God–the Ancient of Days–worked out before the dawn of time and that our suffering fits somehow and someway into that plan. We must remember the example of Joseph and how he endured being sold into slavery and years of false imprisonment so that he could save his family and his people in the time of famine. It is not our duty to understand why things happen to us, it is our duty to honor God and worship Him in all that we do and through all that we endure–as Job said “Though he slay me, I will hope in him,” (Job 13:15).

We might not ever understand why we suffer, and we may never see the good which may come from it, but we can take comfort in knowing that the God of the Universe already knows how this trial ends. He has planned it out and prepared you for it. Your trials are not in vain, they are part of a greater plan which will bring honor and glory to Him–even in your suffering and affliction you can bring honor to Him. Most importantly, God will sustain you and be with you throughout the ordeal and suffering you find yourself in. Remain faithful to Him, as He will most surely remain faithful to you.

Disclaimer: I don’t often get personal in these posts, but this will be an exception. I wrote this piece on Friday (July 26) so that it would be ready to go to post on Tuesday (today) morning. In the span between Friday and Tuesday, I have had my own crash course on perspective, and given the opportunity to learn firsthand if I can “practice what I preach.” What I have learned is this:

  • God continues to be sovereign over all things 
  • He is in control of my situation and circumstances 
  • Because He is sovereign and in control, I will praise Him
  • I will continue to praise Him, regardless of what happens to me, or how things in this world turn out. 

Artwork: “Job Praying,” Marc Chagall, 1960

High Places.

Christianity, Religion

“Abijah slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David. And Asa his son reigned in his place. In his days the land had rest for ten years.  And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim and commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandments. He also took out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the incense altars. And the kingdom had rest under him.” II Chronicles 14:1-5.

The books of I and II Chronicles are often, sadly, overlooked by Christians. Following the lengthy narratives contained in the books of Samuel and Kings, the Chronicles appear to merely do just what their name implies—be an entire chronicle of the history of Israel back to the time of Adam. The Chronicles retell much of the same information initially mentioned in other texts, and significant passages Chronicles almost match passages in other books word-for-word. 

Chronicles, like the other Biblical books,  are inspired and in the canon for a purpose; however; that purpose may be a little obscured when looking at Chronicles outside of a Hebrew Bible. For the Chronicles, as in real estate, location is everything. In the order of the Hebrew Canon, the Chronicles are the final book of the scriptures. The repetition of information is for a purpose; it is to drive the information home and ingrain it in the mind of the believer. For example: throughout the Chronicles, the phrases “did what was good in the sight of the Lord,” or “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” are repeated again and again to describe the various kings of Israel and Judah. This repetition was intentional; God was hammering into His peoples’ minds the traits of the godly leaders for which to look, and the traits of the evil leader to avoid. This emphasis on being able to recognize a godly ruler was also for a purpose. The Chronicles conclude with Cyrus of Persia conquering Babylon and allowing the Jews to return home and rebuild the temple to their God. With the Babylonian Exile coming to an end, there was hope for restoration, and there was hope that a new king like David—a Messiah—would be sent to rebuild the temple and restore the kingdom. The final book of the Hebrew Bible concludes with a high degree of messianic expectation, and the Chronicler wanted to help the people of Israel remember the good rulers of the past so they would recognize the perfect ruler to come.

King Asa, who lived centuries before the Exile, was a prime example of the good, David-like king for whom Israel longed. He lived up to the high standard left by his great-great-grandfather, David. Asa was a man who feared God and sought after Him with his whole heart, and because of this, Asa was a good king. He is, tragically, one of only a few good kings described in the Chronicles.

During the reign of Solomon, Asa’s great-grandfather, pagan worship once lured Israel away from God, and this occurred at the encouragement of Solomon. Idols and altars to false gods appeared all over the land, and the people forsook their God. We often wonder how this continually happened in the Old Testament narratives, but when reading the Hebrew Scriptures, we must remember it is a minority report of sorts. It is an account of Israel’s spiritual history written by the faithful, and the faithful were never the majority. Two points prove this fact: first, the Babylonian Exile–had the majority of Israel and Judah been loyal to God, such judgment would not have been necessary. Secondly, acceptance of pagan altars was so widespread that it took an act of the king to remove them. The broader society of Israel and Judah at this time was so accepting of the pagan practices that it took action by the highest official in the land, the king, to get the people to realize their faults.

But Asa did remove the pagan high places, and he worked to turn his kingdom of Judah back to God. He led by example. He did not tolerate pagan worship, even though the masses did. He took a stand for God and did what was right. Asa lived as God expected His people to live; he made no excuses, and he did not sweep sin under the rug. As a result, Asa and the Kingdom of Judah experienced a time of peace. Asa’s reign is one of the few high points of the period of the Divided Kingdom. His people would remember him as a king who sought after God, and who led his people to worship God. In this regard, Asa very much resembled his shepherd ancestor, David.

Things have not changed very much since Asa’s day. Society-at-large worships at the pagan altars and high places today still, just as they did so many centuries ago. Idolatry and sin go uncondemned and are encouraged. All of humanity’s darkest, basest, most carnal desires get flaunted for all to see and to accept. There are still today those who–as they did in Asa’s day and later in Christ’s day– put their faith in the cultural association they have with God. They have convinced themselves that since some righteous ancestor, perhaps a grandmother or great-great-grandfather was a firmly-believing and sincere follower of God, that their salvation is secure as well, and they continue to live as they so choose. Cultural Christianity is no more an appropriate approach to following Christ than were the nominal religious practices of those in Asa’s day who gave lip service to God and continued to worship false gods in the high places. Being a sincere follower of God is no more en vogue today than it was in Israelite society at any point during their history.  Thankfully, for the committed believer, God never changes and He remains just as firmly committed to those who seek Him as He has always been.

The high places are not limited to the broad culture; even believers continue to wrestle and struggle daily with sin. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live,” (‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:12-13‬). Yes, we have been bought and redeemed by the blood of Christ. But our flesh is still fallen, and we wrestle with that. As Paul said, we must put to death the deeds and sins of the body, for they will lead us to death. This process of confronting our sin is on-going and will never end in this life. We will wrestle daily with sin. But, we must also confess that sin to God and ask His forgiveness for it. For a believer to live with unconfronted and unconfessed sin in their life is just as much of an affront to God as were the pagan altars in ancient Israel. We can not be like Asa and tear down the high places in the culture if we are unwilling to first tear down the high places in our own hearts. We cannot change society if we are not radically different from that society.

Sin is a serious topic; it should be of our utmost concern. It seeks to burrow itself deep into our innermost being and to define us and control us. It is a ravenous beast, crouching at the door of our hearts, and its sole desire is to destroy us. Christ died to liberate us from sin, and to remove its grip from our lives; He died so that He might kill that beast which was seeking to kill us. He took our sins—all the ones we’ve committed and will ever commit—upon Himself, and He paid the price of those sins for us. He sent His Spirit to live within us so that we might be empowered to avoid sin and temptation, and to strengthen us as we wrestle daily with the sinful desires of our fallen flesh. Christ died to enable us to remove the high places and the sins in our hearts. The question before us is this: will we rise to the occasion, much like Asa of the Old Testament, and daily tear down the high places and altars of sin hidden in our hearts? Or will we choose to be like everyone else, and wallow in and celebrate our sin, and keep the high places in our hearts intact? Will we choose to be radically different, or will be like everyone else? Will we choose to follow God in such a manner that we become that minority at odds with the broader society, or will we seek to glorify ourselves and mock our crucified Savior, just as the rest of the world does? 

What are the high places in your heart? What is keeping your heart from fully submitting to God? Confess to Him your sins and tear down those secret altars of sin in your heart. Then live radically different. 

Artwork: “The Man and the Wooden Idol,” Marc Chagall, circa 1927.

Exiles and Sojourners.

Christianity, Religion

“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” 1 Peter 2:11

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…” Philippians 3:20.

One of the central themes of the Bible is homelessness. This thread runs throughout both Testaments and creates an apparent uniformity between the Old and New Testaments. Throughout the Scriptures, there are two common ways in which this motif of homelessness plays out: exile and sojourning, or traveling and wandering.

The theme of homelessness appears in the very first chapters of the Bible; in Genesis 3, mankind is forced out of Eden as a result of the Fall. Because of sin, humanity lost access to the home that God had created for them and thus became exiles in creation. From the beginning of Scripture, we learn that mankind is in spiritual exile, and the rest of Scripture is about God leading man back to Himself.

The process of returning from exile would be long and leads to the secondary homelessness motif of sojourning. God set in motion humanity’s return by calling Abraham to leave his homeland and to follow Him to a land that He would give to him. If Abraham did this, God would bless all the nations of the Earth through Him. Abraham followed God, and for the rest of his life, Abraham was a sojourner–a traveler, a wanderer, a pilgrim–following God to the Promised Land. This narrative repeats itself throughout the narratives of the Genesis patriarchs and culminates in the Exodus narrative with Moses leading Abraham’s descendants out of Egypt back to Canaan–back to the land promised to Abraham. This return to the Promised Land–just like man’s return from spiritual exile–would not be easy. The Israelites would continue to test God while en route to Canaan, and this ultimately resulted in their being forced to wander and sojourn in the desert for forty years. The sins of the generation being freed from slavery in Egypt forced Israel to be exiled in the wilderness until that generation died, and then a new generation would inherit the Promised Land. The land would be inherited; however, after several generations, because of sin and spiritual infidelity to God, exile came again. The cycle had repeated itself: just as Adam and Eve were forced into exile due to sin, Israel would be forced into exile because of its sin. It would seem that man was no closer to being delivered from spiritual exile at the close of the Old Testament than he was at the first moment of his exile. God, however, was still at work.

Fast forward several hundred years: the Babylonian Captivity had long been over, and the Jews allowed to return to their homeland. Jesus of Nazareth was preaching throughout the Judean countryside. The message that He preached did not sync with the established teachings of works, self-righteousness, and slavish devotion to the Law that the other rabbis taught. Instead, Jesus preached a radical message that the Kingdom of God was here and that those who genuinely sought to please God were going to live a life of complete reliance upon God for everything–as wanderers would need to rely upon someone else to provide for them. Furthermore, Christ taught that the committed and sincere follower of God would understand that, since we are all exiles and sojourners, we must love and take care of one another. His teachings reinforced the narrative of homelessness and sojourning; a man once approached Jesus and told Him that he would follow Jesus anywhere. To be sure that this man understood this part of the cost of being His follower, Christ told him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,” (Luke 9:58.) In His own life, Christ embodied the motif of the sojourner; He was the New Adam, the New Abraham, and the New Moses.

Many began to recognize that Jesus was the Messiah, the Anointed One, who was sent by God to restore Israel and to be the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham to bless the nations. Many thought that He would be a leader like Moses, who led Israel out of slavery in Egypt and wandering and exile in the desert, or like David, who ruled Israel when they were faithful to God; before they were exiled again. Maybe Christ would overthrow Roman occupation of Judea and recreate the Kingdom of Israel, as it had been in David’s day, and things would be as they should; Israel would once again occupy and inhabit the Promised Land. Then the exile would indeed be over.

Christ did come to end the exile, but not a political exile; He came to end the much more severe spiritual exile. Christ came to end the exile that was begun when Adam and Even were forced out of Eden; He came to restore humanity’s relationship with God. He would do so, not by force or by revival, but by letting His enemies kill Him. His death and His blood would complete the long and arduous process that God had planned to bring mankind back to Himself. Fallen humanity was now redeemed, and those who were redeemed would one day enjoy the home that God had prepared for them.

With the spiritual exile over, the task now became a waiting game. Christ’s disciples and followers had to teach the successive generations that, as redeemed followers of Christ, we are still in exile–not spiritually, but physically. This world is not our home; we must not be conformed to it, nor must we be swayed by the goings-on of this life. Our home–our citizenship, as Paul said–is somewhere higher and better; it is in the realm of God, in the Kingdom of Heaven. We are sojourners, just as Abraham was, following God where He leads us, waiting eagerly to be taken to the Land of Promise. We must live differently from the world while we are here, as Peter encouraged us. We must remember the high price Christ paid to end our spiritual exile and live accordingly.

Christ broke the cycle of homelessness and exile. He died to end our spiritual exile and to give us a home with God. The spiritual exile is over, but we are still physical exiles in this world. We are sojourners here. This world will pass away, our home with God is eternal; our citizenship does not belong to nations, our citizenship is in the Kingdom of God. Remember that and travel on, pilgrim.

Artwork: “Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress,” artist unknown, 17th Century.

Living Sacrifices.

Christianity, Religion

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12:1

The offering of animal sacrifices was common practice in Paul’s day. The Jewish tradition he came out of was heavily steeped in that ritualistic observance, as were many of the Gentile cultures of this era. The religious practices of the Greeks and Romans and many near-eastern societies shared animal sacrifices as a common practice.

For these societies, sacrifices were offered to appease any number of a pantheon of gods and deities who could become displeased with humanity. The sacrifices were used to buy favor with the gods, and hopefully to avert vengeful behavior. In the case of the Hebrews, the sacrifices had a two-fold ritualistic purpose: to atone for sin and to worship God. In the religious system of the Hebrews, sin required the shedding of blood to make one blameless before God, and when sins were committed, a sacrifice must be made to amend the wrong. The Hebrew observance of the Day of Atonement is a prime example of this. On this particular day, a goat would be sacrificed for the sins of the nation, thus atoning the people for their sins.

Elsewhere in the Old Testament, we see sacrifices used as a form of worship to God. Throughout the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures, we see people building altars to YHWH, and offering sacrifices to Him as forms of sincere and reverent worship. Abel does this, as do Noah, Abraham, Jacob, and Moses, to name a few.

Offering a sacrifice was one of the most sincere ways in which to worship God, so much so, that God only allowed this form of worship to be carried out in the Temple in Jerusalem once it was completed, and they could only be carried out by temple priests. Making a sacrifice to God was also a grave matter; it required something living to die, and it required the one making the sacrifice–especially before the institution of the priesthood– to get up close and personal with death. Offering a sacrifice was not a clean and sterilized form of worship; it was not one in which participants could opt-out. It was dirty and brutal, and there was blood. This form of worship was not for the faint of heart; it was for those who were serious about seeking after God and serious about offering genuine and sincere worship to an awesome God. Only those who took God seriously took the time to slaughter a beast to Him.

With the crucifixion of Jesus, the temple-sacrifice system had been fulfilled. Christ was the once-and-for-all atonement for all humanity, and there would be no need to continue making sacrifices in Jerusalem, nor should Gentile converts continue to make sacrifices to deities at their pagan temples. Instead, Paul–under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit–made a bold statement about what Christians should now do regarding sacrifices: they should live their lives as continuous sacrifices to God. This is not a sacrifice of atonement; Christ already accomplished that for us. Instead, we should lay ourselves down upon the altar as sacrifices, just as the saints of old laid their animal sacrifices down upon altars to God in worship.

Our most sincere and genuine worship to God comes when we lay entirely upon the altar at His feet. It is when we wrestle with our fallen flesh–our sinful desires, selfishness, malice, greed, anger, everything–and we cast those things upon the altar to be sacrificed to Him. It is when we realize we must continually plunge deeply into and be covered by the blood of Christ to live correctly as His follower. The most genuine worship we can give God is by dying to ourselves, and offering ourselves as a sacrifice–a living sacrifice–to Him each and every day. It is when we fully and totally submit to living for Him and doing His will. This form of worship isn’t for the faint of heart; it is also only for those who are serious about seeking after God and worshipping the awesome God who died to save His people.

God does not want our worship with the blood of animals; He wants our hearts covered in the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. People often cringe and complain about how bloody the Bible is. A word of warning: the Christian life, properly lived, is no less bloody. That blood is what ransomed your life.

Christ laid down His life as a sacrifice for you. Dedicate living yours as a sacrifice to Him. 

Artwork: “In the Slaughterhouse,” Lovis Corinth, 1893. 

For Good.

Christianity, Religion

“But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” Genesis 50:19-21.

The saga of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis is a familiar one, full of family turmoil and division, bad blood, divisiveness, heartache,sorrow, and redemption. Joseph was his father’s favorite son, and also the son of his father’s favorite wife. Due to this, he enjoyed a connection with his father that none of his other brothers experienced. This favoritism, coupled with Joseph’s youthful boisterousness, caused his brothers to resent him, and lead Joseph’s brothers to seek to find a way to be rid of him. Their eldest brother, Reuben, would not let the younger brothers kill Joseph, so several of the brothers agreed to sell him as a slave to some passing traders. After this, the brothers told their aged father, Israel,  that his beloved son was dead, killed by wild beasts. To fully sell the deception to their father, they tore up the special cloak that Israel had given to Joseph and spattered it with animal blood.

After being sold to the traders, Joseph was taken to Egypt, where his story did not get much better. After rising to some prominence as a servant in the house of Potiphar, he was falsely accused of rape and imprisoned for several years. Even in prison, God was with Joseph and allowed those who were overseeing him see that he could be trusted and given responsibilities. While in prison, Joseph used his God-given ability to interpret dreams in an encounter with two disgraced members of Pharaoh’s court– Pharaoh’s butler and baker. This encounter with the butler would be significant, but only after the passage of much more time. 

After a curious turn of events, Joseph found himself before Pharaoh, interpreting for him a dream that none of Pharaoh’s court magicians and interpreters could understand. The meaning of the dream was that a famine was coming soon and that Egypt must begin stockpiling food for survival. Joseph’s ability so impressed Pharaoh that he pardoned Joseph of his crime–that he had never committed–and elevated Joseph to be his top deputy. There was no one in Egypt more powerful than Joseph, other than Pharaoh himself.

Fast-forward to the middle of the famine years. Hunger was widespread, and there was no food anywhere. Egypt, however, was flourishing because of the plans that had been put in place by Joseph. People came to Egypt from all of the surrounding lands to buy food. Even Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy food, for there was none in their land. After a tense series of back-and-forths between the two parties, Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers. He was the same Joseph who they had sold into slavery all those years before, and in so doing, unkowingly began a series of events that led him to be before them again that day. There was a beautiful reunion, and all of Joseph’s family–the brothers, Israel, everyone– was brought to Egypt to be together.

Everything was fine until Israel died. With their father dead, the brothers feared that Joseph would now take his revenge.

But Joseph had no such intention. He had long ago made his peace with the situation; He had placed his trust in God and His will. Joseph now understood that he had endured everything that he went through so that he could save his people. He had to endure the rejection of his brothers, the separation from his family, the false imprisonment so that he could one day be elevated by Pharaoh and save his people during the time of famine. There was much more on the line than just Joseph and his comfort; had he not been in Egypt before the famine, there’d be no food stored up for his people to buy, and they would have died. If Israel and Abraham’s line died out, what would become of the promise that God made to Abraham? How would all the nations be blessed? Joseph’s suffering was for a greater good. He was able to save his family, and he had no ill will against his brothers. He wanted now only to enjoy the time they had remaining together.

Too often, we are hurt by those close to us and never recover from that wrong. We squander our most valuable resource–time–being focused on the hurt and those who hurt us and never healing from it, instead of trying to see how God might be at work in and through that pain. Joseph chose to trust God and make his peace with the situation, and he was able to move on with his life. If we find ourselves unable to move on from similar pain in our life, perhaps it is because we are not doing as Joseph did. Maybe it is because we are choosing to hold on to the pain instead of letting go and trusting that God is preparing us for something at that moment. 

Even more powerful than the example of Joseph is the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus willingly left all the glory of Heaven to come to a sinful and rebellious creation who sought not after God. His own people rejected Him and turned Him over to the Romans on false charges for execution. He was beaten and mocked and ridiculed by all–both then and today–and yet He still willingly went to his death. Christ endured all that He did because, if He did not, there would be no salvation for humanity. Without the shedding of blood, there would be no reconciliation with God. Without someone to take the punishment of sin, God’s wrath and judgment would still be upon us. But Christ did it all willingly because His suffering was for the greater good. Our sins put Him to death, yet He still made peace for us.

Whatever you’ve been through, or are going through, God is in it, and He will use it for good. Trust in Him.  Make peace with those who have wronged you, for the wrong might be for the greater good.

Artwork: “Joseph Recognized By His Brothers,” Marc Chagall.

Each and Every Day.

Christianity, Religion

“And remember, I am with you each and every day, until the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20.

At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, the author presents the reader with the resurrected Jesus, now gloriously victorious over the grave, and bestowed with all authority in heaven and earth, as He gives His final words to his disciples. It is in this final scene that Jesus demonstrates His power by commissioning–entrusting with authority–His disciples to go make more disciples.

While making his ascent back into heaven, Christ also gives His disciples–the Eleven then, and all future ones–a promise of reassurance and hope. Christ promises His followers that “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” How beautiful and sweet that promise is, to know that Christ is always with us, no matter what. What strength we can draw from that assurance.

But there’s so much more to this promise than what meets the eye.

The vast majority of English Bible versions translate Matthew 28:20 just as was discussed above– “with you always.” This is a paraphrase of what is in the Greek texts. According to the Greek manuscripts, what Jesus said was literally, “I am with you all the days until the end of the age.” Consider how much more emphatic this makes His promise. Each and every day, Jesus is with us. He isn’t just with us ‘always,’ in some sort of abstract concept of time, He is with us all day every day. He is there through the good times and the bad; through the trials and sorrow, during the times of feasting and of famine, through joy and mourning. He celebrates with us, He grieves with us, He consoles us, He comforts us, He strengthens us, He encourages us, He carries us. We are not alone; He is in the trenches with us. He never quits, He never leaves, He never forsakes us.

The Old Testament reaffirms this promise made by Jesus. As David wrote to the Choir Director (remember that ‘choir director’ could also be translated as ‘the One Who is Eternal,’ ‘the Conquering One,’ or ‘the One Who Directs All Things’):

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,” Even the Darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day Darkness and light are alike to You. (Psalm 139:7-12)

Or as God said to Jeremiah: “Am I a God who is near,” declares the LORD, “And not a God far off? “Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?” declares the LORD “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:23-24).

Jesus proved, again, to be literally what Isaiah prophesied He would be–Immanuel– God with us. Here, at the end of Matthew, He promised to be God always with us, every single day.

Do not be disheartened; do not be discouraged. Jesus of Nazareth–The Eternal One, The Conquering One, The Christ, The Alpha and Omega, the One through which all things came into being and apart from whom nothing has been created that was created, the Firstborn of the Living and the Dead, the Son of Man, the One who humbled Himself to death on a cross, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the One who crushed the head of the serpent, the One who defeated sin, death, and the grave, the Son of God–is with you each and every day, until the end of time. He promised you this; He gave you His word–and He never breaks his promises.

Artwork: “Ascension of Jesus,” by Natalya Rusetska.

Son of Man.

Christianity, Religion

“I kept looking in the night visions,

And behold, with the clouds of heaven

One like a Son of Man was coming,

And He came up to the Ancient of Days

And was presented before Him.

And to Him was given dominion,

Glory and a kingdom,

That all the peoples, nations and men of every language

Might serve Him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion

Which will not pass away;

And His kingdom is one

Which will not be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14

“Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.’ And he said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshiped Him.” John 9:35-38

While he was living with his people in exile in Babylon, the prophet Daniel had a vision in which he saw into heaven. In this vision, Daniel saw two figures, one which he called the “Ancient of Days,” and one which he said was “like a Son of Man.” Both of these figures were in heaven and had very distinct roles. The Ancient of Days is depicted as a wise ruler, taking his seat in his throne, being attended to by his innumerable servants. The Ancient of Days is full of power and wisdom, and it is only he who can bestow power and dominion upon others. The figure of the Ancient of Days in Daniel’s vision is a depiction of God the Father, the eternal Creator and Ruler of the Universe.

Daniel notices something unique in his vision of the throne room of the Ancient of Days; he sees that there is more than one throne (Daniel 7:9). Even after the Ancient of Days has been seated in His throne, there is another seat reserved for someone else; for a co-regent. This other figure is introduced in the figure of the Son of Man, one whom Daniel says was already in heaven with the Ancient of Days, though he has the appearance of a human. Daniel witnesses the Son of Man be presented before the Ancient of Days, and the Ancient of Days gives the Son of Man power and authority over the earth; “to him was given dominion, glory, and a  kingdom that all the peoples, nations, and men of every tongue might serve him.” This bestowal of power and dominion over all the earth upon the Son of Man by the Ancient of Days is eternal; for eternity the Son of Man would be co-ruler of all things with the Ancient of Days.

As the Scriptures were handed down from generation to generation and studied and taught, the figure of the Son of Man was often the subject of much debate. Many believed this enigmatic figure to be a representation of the promised Messiah who would come to Israel and who would make all things right, and who would ultimately rule over Israel as God’s anointed perfect king. By the time of Jesus’ life and ministry in the first century, this was a popular idea, that the Son of Man in Daniel’s vision was the Messiah.

During Jesus’ ministry, He performed many miracles. On more than one occasion, He healed the blind–a deed that Isaiah prophesied the Messiah would do. In one such instance, Christ healed a man who had been born blind, and He did so on the Sabbath, much to the dismay and disgust of the Pharisees. The Pharisees questioned the formerly blind man about the nature of his healing and who did it, and because the healed man would not speak ill of Christ, the Pharisees kicked the man out of the temple. The healed man was cut off from his religious community because he believed that Jesus was from God and doing God’s work. Though this man had once been physically blind, it was the Pharisees who were blind to the great work God was doing.

Jesus heard that the formerly blind man had been kicked out of the temple, so He goes to see the man. Christ asks the man a simple question, one which tied directly back to Daniel’s vision, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Christ was asking this anonymous man if he believed in what Daniel saw; if he believed that there was a messiah who would come and be co-ruler with God. The man asks Jesus who the Son of Man is so that he could believe in him. The previously blind man’s faith had already put him in opposition with the religious establishment in Jerusalem and here he was now needing hope and reassurance in the things that he had been taught. It was in this moment that Christ made one of His most direct revelations of His identity; He told the man that “you have seen him and he [the Son of Man] is the one talking to you.” Christ revealed to the man that He is the Son of Man, therefore, He is the Messiah. The formerly blind man understood the magnitude of what he had just been told, he proclaimed his belief, and he worshipped Jesus.

Throughout the gospels, the Pharisees and the multitudes demanded that Jesus tell them outrightly if He was the Messiah or not, to provide some sort of sign that they might see and believe in who He was. Repeatedly Christ refused to do so because those demanding signs had no faith and were spiritually blind since they couldn’t see the power of God being put on display through Christ. This blind man, however, who had faith in Christ and believed Jesus was a prophet doing God’s work–a belief that resulted in him being kicked out of the temple–to this anonymous blind man was the identity of the Son of Man revealed. This man saw what Daniel saw; he saw what Abraham and Moses and what all the prophets would have given anything to see: He saw the Son of Man–the Messiah, God’s co-ruler–in the flesh. More incredible than that, this man who was once blind saw Immanuel–God with Us–God Incarnate–God Himself face-to-face.

Jesus is the Son Of Man and He is the Messiah. To Him was given all power and authority in heaven and on earth. He rules alongside God the Father–the Ancient of Days–, and of their kingdom, there will be no end. We must have a faith like that of the anonymous blind man who was healed; a faith which recognizes these facts about Jesus. We must not be like the faithless and spiritually blind Pharisees who let their traditions and practice of their religion become an idol which usurped their love for and devotion to God. We must be disciples of Jesus; not of Moses, not of Paul, or of anyone else.  We must be Christ’s disciples, no matter the cost to us, for He saved us from our sins despite what it cost Him.

Artwork: “Jesus Christ,” by Laur Iduc

Departed.

Christianity, Religion

“And he awoke from his sleep and said, ‘I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him.” Judges 16:20.

Samson is one of the most tragic figures in all of Scripture. His story is sad, not because he suffers unduly or because he was the victim of some terrible wrong; instead, the tragedy of Samson is entirely self-inflicted. He is the ultimate example of wasted potential. Samson’s greatest enemy was himself, and what he had in physical strength, he lacked in discipline and commitment to God.

In many circles, Samson has been cleaned up into an Old Testament action figure. Attention is focused on his exploits and his accomplishments, while the rest of his story is swept under the rug. Samson was not a hero; he was a scoundrel. He was a man who had the talent and abilities to be one of the greatest judges of Israel, but he did not take his responsibilities and commitment to God seriously. Instead, he forsook his duty to God and pursued every worldly pleasure.

Before Samson was born, the Angel of the Lord told his parents that Samson would be a Nazirite from before the day of his birth (Judges 13:7). This meant that Samson would adhere to the obligations of the Nazirite vow: to abstain from alcohol, to refrain from cutting his hair, and to avoid becoming ritually unclean. Before his birth, Samson had been set apart by God to be different from everyone else.

Very quickly in Samson’s story, we see that this is not a vow he intends to keep. Though he keeps from cutting his hair, Samson’s main passions in life are drinking and killing. Time after time, we see where Samson becomes ritually impure by touching the dead bodies of animals and men, or by pursuing relationships with non-Israelite women. Samson was ruled by his lusts and desires, and he pursued them when he should have been seeking God. His eyes were always looking for his next conquest–whether it be in bed with a woman or in a fight with dozens of men. This man who was called to abstain from drinking and being unclean could not stop drinking or remain clean.

Additionally, Samson continually mocked and provoked those around him; humility was a concept that was foreign to him. Samson conducted himself like a godless heathen when he was supposed to be the moral authority in Israel. Step by step, sin by sin, Samson fell further and further into debauchery and did not turn to the God whom he was supposed to be serving.

Eventually, Samson’s choices–and sins–caught up with him. His enemies found out the great secret of his strength–his hair–, and they used his lover to cut it so that they could capture him. When he was about to be caught, Samson thought that he would escape, just as he had done so many times before. But Judges 16:20 reveals the sad truth of Samson’s state; God had departed from Samson. God would no longer protect this man who mocked and defied Him. Samson had repeatedly demonstrated that God did not matter to him, and he had scorned the mission for which God had created him. When given a choice between sin and God, Samson continuously chose sin. God, therefore, allowed Samson’s sins to consume him, and his enemies to catch him.

Once captured, the Philistines gouged out Samson’s eyes–the very same eyes which had been the root of so many of Samson’s sins. He was paraded around by his captors like an exotic animal, mocked and jeered by the same Philistines that he had so often mocked and ridiculed himself. It was only now, at the end of his story, that Samson realized the folly of his ways; it was only at the end that he turned to God.

Judges 16:22 says, “but the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.” Though God had removed His spirit from Samson, He would still use Samson to accomplish His will. Samson had been prepared to be a judge of Israel and to free Israel from the yoke of Philistine oppression, and God would still use Samson to do just that. While he was chained between the pillars of a Philistine temple for all to see, Samson prayed to God–for the first and only time in the narrative account of his life. Samson asked for God to give him his strength just once more, and with all of his might, Samson pulled down the pillars to which he was chained. The temple collapsed upon him, killing him and 3,000 Philistines.

Samson, a man who could have been so great, was only exceptional in his death. He squandered his talents and abilities. He wasted what God had given him. He was a man of tremendous physical strength–he pulled a lion apart with his bare hands–but he wasn’t strong enough to withstand the sins and temptations of this world on his own. We are no different; when we attempt to live in our own strength, we fall continuously into sin. We must learn from Samson’s failures. We must readily admit that we are not strong enough to live without God. We must not boast in our sins but must confess them to God. We must seek God’s strength and protection from the devouring beast that is sin as it seeks to consume us, as it did Samson. We must remember that we are more like Samson than we would like to admit; he was no more fallen than we are, and we are no better than him. His mistakes could just as easily be ours.

Seek God and his strength in everything you do; don’t wait until your sins have you chained up with your eyes gouged out to call upon Him.

Artwork: “Samson,” Norman Rockwell, 1948-49.

But God.

Christianity, Religion

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),” Ephesians 2:4-5.

After reminding the Ephesian believers that they had once been dead in their sins and transgressions, the Apostle Paul penned what would become two of the most famous verses in all of Scripture. In doing so, Paul presents the entire Gospel in just a few short words, and he highlights the drastic change that was brought about in each believer. What is truly amazing is that Paul’s entire treatise, the whole of his incredible argument and exposition, can be summarized with two words, “but God.”

We were wretched and despicable, and we sought only to please ourselves, but God was rich in mercy. We were enslaved to sin and death, but God loved us. We were fallen and broken, but God chose to restore us. Despite all of our many sins and failures and shortcomings, God loved us; not only did He just love us, but He loved us with much love–with great love. While we were still broken and tarnished–while we were still dead in our sins–God saw in us the creation which He had made and which He had said was good. We deserved eternal separation from Him, but He withheld from us the punishment which we deserved; He showed us grace.

Adam and Eve’s sin in Eden required two things: 1-something had to die to cover Adam their nakedness, and 2- Adam and Eve had to be removed from God’s presence. Due to His incredibly holy nature, God cannot be in the presence of sin; sin–and those containing it–are destroyed by His very presence. God could have required Adam and Eve to die for their sins; He could have made them remain in His presence and be destroyed. God could have done these things, but He did not. Instead, He spared them from what they deserved; He showed them grace. He loved them and did what was best for them. He sent them away from His presence, but with the promise that one day, the broken relationship between Him and mankind would be restored.

Everything that occurs in the Holy Writings after Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden is the story of “but God.” For no other reasons than His great love, mercy, and grace, God continued to pursue a relationship with His creation. Despite the fact that man was enslaved to sin, God still sought him. God pursued mankind with the sole purpose of recreating that unity that had once been enjoyed in Eden. Throughout the Bible, God calls out to man; He pleads for man to return to Him. It is as though God was saying to humanity “You don’t remember how incredible our relationship once was, but I do. I remember that you were good. You can’t remember because of your sin; because you are dead. Come back to me, and I will make you alive. Come back to me, and I will make things even better than before.”

God did just that. He sent His son, Jesus Christ, to be the ransom demanded by the sin that was holding us captive. Christ’s death settled our account and broke our chains; His blood purified us of stains of our sins and made us able to enter God’s presence once again. God loved His creation so much that He transferred the punishment that we deserved to His one and only son. We were only able to receive grace–only able to avoid getting what we truly deserved–because Christ took God’s wrath for us. God loved us so much that He allowed someone else–His son–to take our punishment for us; Christ loved us so much that He actually took the punishment for us. God and Christ both did this to free us from sin and restore that Edenic relationship. That is love; that is a great love. That is love which requires our full devotion and thanks and adoration.

Paul–through the inspiration of the Spirit–encapsulated all of this in “but God.”

Remember that you were dead in your sins, but God made you alive.

Artwork: “Exodus,” Marc Chagall, 1952-1966.