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.

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. 

Take Heart.

Christianity, Religion

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

After leaving the upper room with His disciples on the first night of Passover, Christ and the Eleven made their way through the streets of Jerusalem to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Judas would later arrive with soldiers to betray Jesus. During the trek to the garden, Jesus gave the disciples His final teachings, and told them what they would endure in the future. The disciples were still not understanding everything that Jesus was telling them, their understanding would come with time and seeing the resurrected Christ, but for now, He was telling them that it was time for Him to return to the Father. Very soon, the series of events that would culminate in His crucifixion would begin to unfold; very soon the very moment that Christ was sent to Earth for would be upon Him.

The future that Jesus spoke of to the Eleven was on which promised hardship. The world had never been a friend of Christ, so the disciples should not expect the world to treat them any differently. There would be sorrow and pain, and there would be tribulation. These things were all experienced by Christ, and since the follower is not greater than the master, those who follow Christ were to expect these same things.

Despite this, Christ promised His disciples and followers joy and peace. The Christ-follower will experience the peace–the assurance of knowing–that God is in control and with them, despite the trials of the world all around them. Jesus is quick to point out to the disciples that following Him is not an immunity against tribulation; in fact, following Christ is the reason why believers are at odds with the world and why believers experience tribulation at the hands of the world. But the believer can find comfort and take courage from one fundamental fact: Christ had conquered the world.

Here, even before going to Calvary, Christ had already overcome this fallen and rebellious world. Jesus gave His word of personal assurance to the Eleven to further reinforces this fact. The battle had yet to be fought, and Christ was already victorious. He had lived a perfect and blameless life for thirty-three years. He had endured every snare and trap set before Him by the Adversary and withstood each and every single one without sin. He did what we could not do so that He could give us that which we could not attain–deliverance from our sins. With His crucifixion and death, this victory would be fixed, and there would be nothing that could change it.

The question for us today is this: do our lives reflect the level of confidence that Christ gives us? Do we take heart in His victory? Do we live with the peace that He promised us, regardless of the situation in which we find ourselves? Or do we anxiously fret ourselves away, drawing more and more grief and sorrow from the current events of the world around us, and lament the hardships that we see the culture imposing on us because of our religious beliefs? Christ promised tribulation; if you want to avoid them, follow the world instead of Christ. You can’t believe that Jesus already overcame the world and still continue to worry about everything that the world throws at us. You either believe Jesus at His word, or you don’t. You either take heart in the victory He already claimed and delivered upon, or you put your confidence in something else to deliver you. The heart that claims Christ as its King cannot simultaneously give itself over to fear and worry about the things of this world. 

Living in this world is not easy; bad news and heartache are around every corner. But this broken world and its broken system have been defeated and overcome. Trust in Christ– the One who overcame it–and He will give you joy that no one or nothing can take away from you.

Artwork: “Christ in the Grapevine,” Natalya Rusetska. 

Freedom.

Christianity, Religion

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” ‭‭John‬ ‭8:31-36‬

Today is Independence Day in the United States; it is the day in which Americans celebrate self-rule and all the many freedoms that those who founded the country fought to obtain for it. This is a day filled with family gatherings, cookouts, and fireworks. For people in the US, it is the high holiday of the summer.

What good, though, is being politically free if one is still enslaved to sin? The freedoms afforded by one’s citizenship ends at death; being born in one country or another never saved anyone’s soul for eternity. One can live as freely as they choose, that will not grant them entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.  Attaching eternal significance to one’s nationality is idolatrous—it is no different than the Pharisees in Christ’s day who said “we are children of Abraham and have never been enslaved.” Salvation does not come through national origin, or heritage.

Christ corrects this wrong thinking, and His words are no less true today than they were then. Unless one has been set free by the Son, they are still shackled to their sins. The freedom granted by Christ is the only one of eternal significance; this is the only freedom that matters, or that can grant one citizenship in the Kingdom.

The freedom given by Christ can only be found in submitting to Him and declaring Him the Lord and King of your life. It is only found in being washed in His blood that He freely shed to save humanity from being damned and eternally enslaved to sin and death. His freedom comes when we say that we are not free on our own; that we are lost and trapped in the chains that we have forged link by link in our fallen states. It is only when we realize that we must be dependent on Christ that we become truly independent.

Remember today the only Independence Day that matters—the day that Christ died to emancipate you from sin and death. The freedom He provides is eternal and sure. It can never be taken away from you. It is upheld not by force or arms, but by His love and His mighty hand. Be washed in His blood and enjoy your new citizenship, and the true freedom it brings.

Artwork: “Resurrection,” Natalya Rusetska

Hold Fast, Stand Firm.

Christianity, Religion

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” Revelation 21:1-4

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” Revelation 22:20

When John the Apostle received the visions that he would record in the Revelation, he was living in exile in a penal colony on the island of Patmos. His crime: preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. The situation throughout the Roman Empire was no better for other Christians. Sporadic outbursts of violence and persecution against Christians had occurred throughout the first century–most famously under Nero, in which Christians were burned alive and fed to wild animals in the Colosseum– and by the time that John received the Revelation at the end of the first century, these persecutions had become state-sanctioned under the Emperor Domitian. Christians were routinely rounded up and imprisoned, exiled, stoned to death, or executed in a variety of other horrific ways. Being a Christian made one an enemy of the state, and no mercy was bestowed upon those professing allegiance to Christ over Caesar.

Due to this, the Church was forced underground. Christians would meet with one another in the dead of night, in the graveyards and catacombs where the superstitious Romans authorities would not venture. There, surrounded by the remains of their dead loved ones and fellow believers, the faithful would worship the Savior who had risen from the dead and defeated the grave.

Fresco of Jesus with Alpha and Omega found in the catacombs of Rome, c. 4th century

It was in this context that John received the Revelation. Though many focus today on this letter for its apocalyptic content, the theme of the letter is much more than just an account of the end times. It is a direct message from Jesus to His Church to hold on and endure; that though times are bleak and dark, there is hope. Christ is comforting His church and reassuring them that He is coming back for them and that they must keep their faith firmly rooted in Him.

At the end of Revelation, in the final two chapters, we are given the most optimistic of all the letter’s content. The tribulation is over, Satan and his armies defeated, Armageddon and the judgment of the world completed, and John sees the new creation–the new Heaven, the New Earth, and the New Jerusalem–all of which were described as a recreation of Eden. It is in this new creation that God’s people will be in His direct presence. He and Christ will rule in this new kingdom, and there will be no sorrow, no pain, no death, no sin. There will be no night, for God and Christ’s collective presence will illuminate the cosmos. Christ will comfort His flock–He will wipe every tear from their eyes. In the embrace of Christ’s arms in the New Jerusalem, all the pain and suffering and sorrow and death endured in the sinful former world will be gone forever, never to be thought of again.

In John’s vision, the New Jerusalem is depicted as an enormous cube, hundreds of miles in length, width, and height. This cubic depiction is for a purpose, and it further highlights the fact that this is the place where God’s people will be in His presence. In Solomon’s Temple, the dimensions of the space in which God’s presence resided–the Holy of Holies–were a perfect cube. Now the New Jerusalem–the ultimate Holy of Holies–would be the place were God and His creation would live directly in one another’s presence, just as they had in Eden.

Following the vision of the New Jerusalem, Christ again speaks directly to His followers. He tells them to keep doing what they are doing, to remain committed to following Him. He is encouraging them to stay strong, to hold fast to their faith, despite everything that is going on around them. He again tells them that He is coming back for them soon and that their faith and endurance will be rewarded.

Just think about the Christians of John’s era. Their faith had made them criminals. They were living in fear of imprisonment and death. They were forced to meet secretly in graveyards and underground burial chambers. Then they received a letter from John, the last living Apostle–the last human connection to Jesus. They come together in their secret graveyard churches, where reminders of all their suffering are all around them, to read this letter, and in it, Christ speaks directly to them. He tells them: I see what you’re enduring. Stay strong; hold fast to me. Things will not always be this way; there is a better day coming. I will come back for you–I am coming back for you, and you will be with me forever, and I will make everything better. You will not hurt anymore, you will not cry anymore, you will not die anymore. I will wipe away all of your tears. You will be with my Father and me forever, and nothing will take you away from me. I have shown all of this to John, it is all true. Just stay strong. I am coming.

Icon of “Christ With the Martyrs of Libya,” Nikola Saric, 2015.

This promise–this assurance–is still valid and true today. Around the world, Christians are still being persecuted–are still being killed–for professing faith in Jesus Christ. Christ’s words of comfort are for them, and for all believers. Despite what we see happening in the world around us, despite what we endure, we have hope for a better day. We have the assurance that this is not the end, that everything is not for naught; our faith is not in vain. One day, we will see Christ and the Father face-to-face. One day we will live in the direct presence of our God. One day, He will wipe every tear from our eyes. We know this to be true because He Himself told us these things would be so.

So stay strong. Hold fast.

Main Artwork: “Christian Martyrs in the Colosseum,” Konstantin Flavitsky, 1862.

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

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.

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/