Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Mark

We are going to finish up Hebrews 10 today!  That being said, let's start with a look at Romans 10.

9that if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with your heart you believe and are justified, and with your mouth you confess and are saved.
Romans 10:9-10 (Berean Study Bible)

Belief, that essential, foundational act of becoming a Christian, is such a mystery!  On the one hand, it is a simple acknowledgement of the truth of Jesus Christ, a trusting in His finished work on the sinner's behalf, an acceptance and surrender which seat Jesus on the throne of one's heart.   On the other hand, it is a profoundly complex act, with eternal consequences.

There is no such thing as "easy believism", as far as Christianity is concerned.  Belief is quite complicated, far from superficial.  In fact, when adults come to Jesus Christ, their belief is accompanied by costly repentance, the giving up of other idols they have accumulated and worshiped along their life's journey.

I wrote in a recent blog post on Hebrews 10:23 that it is impossible for Christians to "keep themselves saved".  In other words, it is God's faithfulness that "holds on to us" and keeps our salvation secure.  With the duality of our carnal and our redeemed natures, it is impossible for us to do this for ourselves, because of the constant warring of those two natures in our lives!

Today, I was at a birthday party with my two-year old great-nephew.  (The party was for his older brother.)  The little boy was dressed in a gorgeous Noah's Ark "shortall" , with smocking on the front. (You mamas out there know what I mean).  But, as beautiful as his outfit was, it became smeared with icing from the cookie cake, the red sauce from the pizza.  It was all over his mouth, hands.... everything he touched bore the mark of grease.
Even Christians get their royal robes dirty! We sin from time to time (let's be honest - - DAILY), and we have to run to our Lord for confession, forgiveness, cleansing, restoration.  Hopefully, along the way, we grow in our faith as we learn more of the heart of our Savior through His Word.
This process is not the same as walking in sin, wallowing in sin - - apostasy.

Saving faith, true belief, is especially complex from the standpoint of identifying who is Christian and who is not.  We can observe a person's life, but only God knows that person's heart.

However ...
I have come to believe that the strongest indicator of a true Christian (that person claiming allegiance to Christ, claiming that He is Savior) is this: steadfast, persevering faith.
Honest, authentic faith endures.  The true Christian's "belief" is so strong and pure that it refuses to capitulate to apostasy when confronted with worldly philosophies or when that belief is challenged by the direst persecution.

Take a look at today's passage, Hebrews 10:26-39 (ESV).  It's long, but so important that I'm choosing to reprint it here.
26For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
32But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37For,
“Yet a little while,

and the coming one will come and will not delay;
38but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”

39But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

Don't worry --- I won't exegete every verse.  We'd be here for hours.  But, let's start with verse 39. The apostle John says something very similar in 1 John 2:19 (ESV).

 19They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

It could be argued that many (if not most) Americans have heard the gospel message of Jesus Christ. In other words, they have "received knowledge of the truth" (vs. 26).  Many of those who "heard" might have gone so far as to profess allegiance to Jesus Christ, yet without a true belief. They may have walked the aisle, parroted a prayer that someone led them in, etc. - - maybe because it was what their family expected, or what their friends were doing.  But, there was no sincere, deep belief in the heart.  It is these folks who are spoken of in Hebrews 10:26-31.  SO many across the world have never had a chance to hear the message of the gospel!  How much worse it will be for those who have had a chance to hear, perhaps over a period of years and years, and still have not believed, truly believed to the point of a changed heart.

The evidence of a true heart change, a supernatural transformation, is the "fruit" which genuine belief, authentic faith, produces.  After all, as Jesus said, "a good tree produces good fruit" (Matthew 7:17 NLT).  You will not see apple trees producing figs.  Or, as the Lord also said, "You will recognize them by their fruit" (Matthew 7:20 NET).

You can resemble a Christian believer and not be one; but you can't be a Christian believer and not look like one.

On the flip side, ...
Verses 32-36 describe the true converts of the first century, and the 20 centuries since.  Because of their faith (vs. 38), they endured sufferings (whether ridicule or physical torture or great loss) with JOY!  And, they endured to the end.

Do you see that the actions of these true believers inexorably flowed from their belief, from their saving faith?  The same is true today.  Those who do truly take God at His word concerning Jesus, the Son of God, will not commit apostasy.  They may be enticed and deceived by some false doctrine; but, once shown the truth they will renounce error. They do not "shrink back" (vs. 39)  or eventually reject the eternally saving gospel of Jesus Christ.  Their actions don't "keep them saved"; their actions PROVE they are saved.

Saving faith endures.  This is true belief - - the unmistakable mark of the disciple of Jesus Christ.

Recommended further reading:
I did not take any material from this site in the writing of this post.  But, the article linked above goes on to expound upon the doctrine called "perseverance of the saints".

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Real Deal

Americans are an extremely creative people, with a tremendous ability to "make a buck".  We are also, in large part because of our economic prosperity, often frivolous.  Case in point:

I had to laugh yesterday upon hearing about these jeans you can buy for $425 at Nordstrom.  They are dappled with this rubber-like material which gives them the appearance of being dirty.  Now, true confession:  I own a pair of those skinny jeans with rips in the knees and have endured teasing because of it.  Some may think I'm trying to be fashionable or trying to create the impression the jeans are well-worn but, dang!  I'm just trying to be able to bend my knees!  Those suckers are tight in the legs.  Are you fashionistas feelin' me out there?

At any rate, back to the jeans with the fake dirt.  What a lack of authenticity, right?  Ludicrous, right? But, I tell you....someone will buy them, for sure.  It is so much easier to be fake than to be real....

Last Sunday those of us who had gathered to set up for church finished our work and then stood in a circle and prayed over the upcoming worship service.  I stood between two men and, as I held each man's hand, I noticed how rough they were.  These were the hands of men who use their hands to make a living!  They bore the marks of authenticity!

How about us as Christians?  The bigger question is not: are our jeans muddy?  It is: "are our souls muddy?"  Are our lives authentic?  Are we "the real deal"?  In our journey through the book of Hebrews we remain in chapter 10 a little longer.  Here is our passage for today, Hebrews 10:19-25 (NET) - -

19Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,20by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. 23And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. 24And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 25not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near.

Let's break this down because these verses show us how to live as resplendent, authentic Christians.

1.  Be confident in your salvation (vs. 19-23)
Our #1 enemy, that old Satan, will do his dead-level best to convince you that your faith is a bunch of hooey, that you don't "deserve it" (well, none of us do....), that you need to "earn it", and all sorts of other unscriptural lies, because Satan is such a liar who hates you.  He longs to destroy your very soul, Christian (if he actually could).  Don't listen to him.  Hebrews 10:23 hammers home rock-solid truth to the wavering heart: He who made the promise is faithful and trustworthy!  If we have asked Him to save us from our sins, to be our forever Savior, then He has.  Don't be listenin' to no junk!

2.  Draw near, with sincerity (vs. 22)
Take the time to seek the face of the One who loves you best!  Draw near to Him daily and often, in prayer, during the day.  Walk with Him.  Talk with Him.  Learn from Him.  Long for Him. As He said in one of my favorite passages, Matthew 11:28-30, "learn from me .... and you shall find rest for your soul." Furthermore, if we do this, we will become more and more like Him!
A lot of us women come to the realization in middle age that we have "become" our mothers.  Well, my goodness!  Look at all the time you spent with her!  Not to mention you bear her genetic material in your own body!  As Christians, we bear the spirit of God in our own bodies, souls and spirits.  If we commune with Him, should we not become more authentically like Him?  Most assuredly!

3.  Hold on (vs. 23)
Allright now look, first in this verse we need to be clear that "hope" does not have the same meaning as "Oh, {sigh} I HOPE so!"  No.  This word in the ancient context and Greek language meant "a confident expectation", something you could "take to the bank" because it was going to be made so.
That is why we can "hold unwaveringly" to such a "hope".
To be crystal, it is not our "holding on" that keeps us Christian, that keeps us saved, that keeps us His. He does that, because it would be impossible for us to do that.  We are not able to "keep ourselves saved".  However, He does expect that we will grow deeper in our love for Him as we sincerely seek Him.

4.  Stir it up (vs. 24-25)
Yeah, the ESV of verse 24 translates the Greek as "stirring one another up to love and good works". Don't you love that? I'm sure that all of you readers can think of someone who stirs things up in a negative way.  God forbid Christians be folks who run around creating havoc in order to further their own agendas.  When we create havoc in the process of standing for what is scriptural, right and true, that is commendable. But, when we are operating out of our own selfishness and carnality, that is a huge negatory right there.  Satan loves to divide us by exploiting our own carnality, and it just makes me sick.  Don't give him that sacred ground!
So, on the positive, we are to treat our fellow believers like this:

  • love each other, as Christ Jesus has loved us
  • encourage one another,
  • motivate each other,
  • excite each other
  • and some translations even say to "provoke" one another to good works!  (You know, sometimes, we need our brother or sister to give us a little shove in the right direction.) ⇨

5.  Look up (vs. 25)
What is meant by "the day drawing near" in this verse?  The early Church firmly believed that Jesus would return at any moment.  Oh, that we today would grab hold of that truth!  If we did, $425 jeans of any stripe would be largely irrelevant....This belief the early Church held was righteous and true. It is still true today.  Our Lord could return at any moment.  It was and is a belief that spurs Jesus' own (or should) to make the most of every moment of our lives, to serve Him fervently, in whatever capacity He has given us, in whichever situation we find ourselves daily.
And, if He does not return in our lifetimes?  Then, "the day" that is drawing near is the day of our own death - - that day in which we will step from the earthly into the heavenly, because we know as Lord and King the One who holds our eternal soul in His hands.
It's a win-win!  Hallelujah!

So, my goodness, let's live authentically today, whaddya say?  If we do, our jeans will just be ... dressing on "the real deal"!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Done, Not Done

It is an inescapable truth of this earthly existence:
what gets done doesn't usually remain done.  

A young mother posted on Facebook the other day - - - she felt the satisfaction of her laundry being done and her house clean.  She felt that for a brief, shining few moments.  Then, the other family members returned home, and the cycle began again.

Earlier this month, I filed my household's taxes, after weeks of hunting, gathering, organizing and tallying....lots of tallying.  April 15th looms each year.  On January 1st, the record-keeping begins again.

You can probably think of a similar process in your own life.  It may produce a certain amount of comfort - - that sameness, that repetition.  On the other hand, it may be like tax prep, producing extreme dread and angst.

Some have said, "Nothing is certain but death and taxes."  I've had an abundance of both this month.
But, there is one thing on which I never again have to take action, and that is to prepare for my own death.  Oh, I'm not talking about wills or trusts or funeral arrangements.  In fact, I'm not even talking about physical death.

We recently studied here about the layout and meaning of items in the ancient Hebrew Tabernacle and Temple.  The ritual sacrifices to address the sins of the Hebrew people went on and on and on, day after day, until Jesus Christ cried from the cross, "It is finished!" (John 19:30).

Today, we are in Hebrews 10:11-14 (ESV), with verse 14 being the key verse.

11And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12But when Christb had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

See? The author of Hebrews contrasts the seemingly endless actions of Levitical priests over the centuries with the once-for-all-time work of our High Priest, Jesus.  He came to be that "single offering" of verse 14. He has purchased with His blood all who will receive Him as Savior.  His blood does what (verse 4) the blood of bulls and goats could never do!  It also does what I, myself, on my own power, could never do.

One offering.  One time.  And now, it is finished, forever.

My pastor preached on 1 Peter 1:8-9 this morning, but reached out and grabbed this verse, Hebrews 10:14.  I want to share this point he made.  This eternal sacrifice Jesus made is inexhaustible!  It never runs out.

Have you ever waited in line for something wonderful only to find that when it was your turn....there was no more?  Perhaps at the potluck, after enjoying the entrees and sides you lumbered over to the dessert table only to find....that banana pudding you had had your eye on....was all gone.

Oh hallelujah! There is always room at the cross!  Jesus will never turn away anyone who comes to Him in repentance for salvation.  His blood is always enough, always sufficient to cleanse EVERY sin, always available up until the moment of physical death.

This is why I sorrow at the loss of my loved ones this month, but not as those who have no certain assurance.  Both of my loved ones died having been justified by the blood of their Savior.  I'm so grateful that God gave them grace, gave me grace so that I, too, have been cleansed, redeemed, justified through Jesus' once-for-all sacrifice.

While I will likely know physical death (unless Jesus returns to Earth in my lifetime) I will never know spiritual death.  As Hebrews 10:23 says, "He who promised is faithful."  It is the faithfulness of God that assures my eternal salvation, not my own faithfulness (thank God!)
Let's take up the Scriptures again, this time starting with our key verse, the last verse from the earlier passage.
Hebrews 10:14-17 (ESV).
14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
15And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
16“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,"
17then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Believers in Jesus Christ, listen to me:  your enemy, that old serpent, the devil wants you to believe that you can fall from grace, that you weren't truly saved, that you aren't "good enough" to serve Him....and any number of other lies ... because he was a liar, a deceiver (and a murderer from the beginning, according to Jesus).  Don't you dare listen to that accuser who wants more than anything to steal your peace and joy!

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ - - - our God only sees Jesus' blood when He looks at us.  He "remembers your sins and your lawless deeds no more".  You are forgiven.  It is finished.

However, He loves you too much to allow you to wallow around in unconfessed sin, day after day.
He loves you too much to leave you bound up in the snares, the traps that old devil sets for you and into which you frequently fall.  Because of His great love, He calls you to confess your sins regularly, because that confession is part of His sanctification process...the process where He more and more writes His words from the Bible on your heart and in your mind. The Holy Spirit longs to rule and reign in your life, making you day-by-day, as you confess your daily sins, more and more like your Savior.

Done, yet not done.  Finished, yet a work in progress.

There is a commercial running currently.  It's for Clorox bleach.  The little boy is so excited to show his mama that he has "gone potty" successfully.  Only problem is....he has gone in the bathtub.  The camera cuts from the mother's horrified face to a jug of Clorox bleach slamming down onto a surface. I'm reminded of that when I think of confession and sanctification.

Every Believer's salvation is secure.  It is forever finished, complete, flawlessly executed.  But, our sanctification begins at the moment of our salvation.  From the inside out, God's Spirit moves in us, molding us, shaping us more and more into His image, the One who died for us, the One we adore. How glorious!

Father, as this evening closes, I am humbly grateful for my eternal salvation, which You and only You gave me so many years ago.  And, I am deeply sorry for the ways I have fallen short of your standard today. While I know that all my sins, past, present and future, are forgiven, I surely do hate to disappoint you through my sinful choices, as well as by my unintentional lurches into a ditch of sin.   Thank you for allowing me to apologize and for continuing to create in me a clean heart, day by day. I know and strongly affirm that only You, Holy Spirit, can accomplish salvation and then sanctification, can produce holiness of any sort in this sin-beleaguered soul.  It is because of this truth that I give You, my God, ALL the glory for any good thing that arises out of me.  The only resplendence that could be attributed to me ... is because of You, my Savior.  And, that is why it is so easy for me to give You all the glory and honor and praise for what You have done and for what You are continuing to do in me and in this world.
In Jesus' name, amen.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

So Will We

I think I mentioned here in the blog that, on April 8th of this year, I lost my dear godmother.  If I didn't mention it here, and honestly I am too weary to look back and see, it's because hot-on-the-heels of that loss I got news that one of my beloved uncles was close to crossing over.  And, I went from moving on through one grieving process to adding on yet another.  Sure enough, the day after Easter, my sweet uncle passed on.

It didn't take a genius, since I am certainly not one, to figure this out - - - that generation of aunts and uncles, all in their 70s and 80s, will likely pass from my earthly life, one by one, in an ever-increasing tide of my personal pain and loss.

My bags are packed now.  I'm sitting here waiting on my traveling companions.  We are headed to the hometown of my aunt, uncle and cousins, not only to mourn our nearly inconsolable loss, but to also lift up the name of the eternal One whom he loved so dearly and served so faithfully.

And, there is our consolation.  As he served Jesus Christ, the One and Only, giving our generation of children and cousins a sterling example to follow, we, too, chose to follow the Matchless One in our lives.  It is because we serve the same Savior and King that we can be comforted.  It is because we trust in the finished work He did, and which we just last Sunday celebrated, that we are certain, more certain than of anything else in this world, that we will join with Ted some day, when our time here is over, whenever that is.

As he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, so will we, although not alone.
As he now and forever worships and praises the God his heart adores, so will we.

I spoke these words at my godmother's funeral because they are so dear to me.  They were then. They are today.  They will be every time the pain and loss grow a little greater.  Because these words are spirit and they are life!

Jesus said to herI am the resurrection and the lifeWhoever believes in me
though he dieyet shall he live26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall 
never dieDo you believe this?”
John 11:25 ESV

Yes, Lord, we believe.  And we bless Your holy name forever!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Bloody Believers

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
Hebrews 9:22 ESV

I wonder if you, dear reader, have ever seen another human being die.  What a way to start a post, huh?  I was present when my father died and have also been at the bedside of other dear ones when they died.  What I observed is that, quite obviously, the person who had formerly resided in that body was gone.  Indisputably.

The Bible speaks of our human blood as being the carrier of physical life.  When our blood stops flowing, our spirit can no longer reside in our body.  "The life of the body is in the blood."  That's not Resplendent Daughter's opinion - - check Leviticus 17:11, 14.

Consider the truth of those verses.  Our physical heart pumps our blood throughout our body.  This makes it an organ we simply cannot live without. But, here's a curious fact ... the Scriptures speak much about the heart, referring to it nearly 300 times!  Each reference pinpoints this part of our body as ALSO being the headquarters of our emotions and desires, intricately tied up with our eternal spirit, the very core of "who we are" as individuals.  How amazing!

Perhaps it is for these reasons that physical blood is, in the Bible, also equated with SPIRITUAL life.

In some way, which we cannot fully understand, when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, their very blood became infested, infected with sin.  God's specified remedy for their sin involved spilling the blood of the purest living being which could be found.

Blood of the pure to cleanse the blood of the guilty.
Like it or not, this truth is central to both the Jewish and the Christian faiths.

Do you know who spilled the first blood in the Garden?  It was God, who killed animals so that their skins would cover Adam's and Eve's nakedness.  Do you see the parallel there?  Blood was spilled to atone for, to cover, sins.  Of course, I'm not saying that nakedness is always a sin; but, in this case it was representative of their sinful state.  This requirement of God's, that blood be spilled/shed for sin to be forgiven can be seen in the first accepted sacrifice (Abel's) and the rejection of Cain's (Genesis 4:3-4 and Hebrews 11:4)

We look now at Hebrews 9:11-14 (ESV):

11But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come,e then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctifyf for the purification of the flesh, 14how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify ourg conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

I blogged recently about the Most Holy Place, also called the Holy of Holies.  You remember, the innermost part of the Tabernacle/Temple, whose curtain that separated it from the rest of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom?  The redeemed heart of each believer in Jesus Christ is God's Holy of Holies.

In order for a person to become a believer in Jesus Christ, his or her heart must be transformed.  This is an act by the Holy Spirit of God when the person acts in faith and believes, not just with his head, but also with his heart.  In that moment, each believer is "covered" by the blood of Jesus Christ.  And in that one-time, transformational act, eternal redemption is secured for that person.

This is the meaning behind one of Jesus' names, the Lamb of God, whose blood cleanses the believer from all sin.  Do you know why I love to refer to Christ-followers, saved, redeemed Jesus-lovers, as "believers"?  The first sin committed, by Adam and Eve, was the sin of unbelief.  They did not trust God's word.  They had no faith in His assurance or fear from His warning.  They did not believe that, if they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, they would "surely die."

I am so thankful for our blemish-free Lamb, whose blood sacrifice atones for all my sin and purifies my conscience (my heart) from all sin, including those "dead works" or good actions I might try to do in some misguided effort to earn my ticket to Heaven.  Jesus' blood turns my focus from "earning" to "serving", acts of love flowing out of undying gratitude for what my God has done for me.

Ironically, although Christianity is meaningless without that scarlet thread of blood running throughout, it is the only religion that ends well, in eternal victory.  (Acts 4:16 and John 14:6.)

And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. "You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."
Revelation 5:9-10

Lord Jesus, I never want to stop praising You for Your blood, which washes away all my sin. Thank you for Your unspeakable, indescribable sacrifice of Yourself....for me.  I exalt Your name, which is above every name, amen.


Monday, April 10, 2017

A Free Meal

So, yesterday began a new week, Easter week, and I was glad to put the last one behind me.  It was a humdinger.  I guess that was why I nearly forgot about the Lord's Supper yesterday.  Yep, true confession.  By a small miracle of God, He brought it to my mind as I was getting ready to go set up for church.  See, in our little church, which meets in a school, we set up every Sunday morning, and then tear down afterwards.

My absentmindedness meant I had to stop at Publix on the way down and pick up a loaf of fresh-baked bread and some grape juice.  Fortunately, I carry the cloths, napkins, goblets and such around in my car.  I know - - a special kind of weird.  At any rate.... my friends Carolyn, Cindy and Sloania helped get the bread "chopped", juice poured and everything in place.  Communion went off without a hitch, praise the Lord!  I'm glad that there is no one-and-only-one "right" way to celebrate communion, apart from the fact that it is sacrament for Christian believers only.  At our church, the elements are at the front, and we process row-by-row to the table, where we take the elements, saying "The body of Christ, the blood of Christ.  Thanks be to God!"

Jesus commanded that we take communion to remember His sacrifice, but not how often we should celebrate that sacrament.  Our church does it about once a month.  It is a mysterious thing, The Lord's Supper, communion.  I was thinking last night about yesterday's "near debacle" and about Jesus appearing to the two followers on the road to Emmaus, after His resurrection.  I found it curious that He appeared first to Mary, outside the tomb, but even downright strange that He appeared to two rather obscure followers seven miles outside Jerusalem.  Why would He do that?  Don't you think that He "should" have appeared directly to The Twelve (apostles)?  This is another curious thing:  the two Emmaus road followers of Jesus did not recognize Him until He did one thing.  Do you remember what that was?

30When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Luke 24:30-35 (ESV)

When did they recognize Him?  When He was breaking the bread with them in communion, in fellowship.  Wow.  Who would have imagined their eyes would have been opened at that moment?! He is, in His own words, the Bread of Life (John 6:35).  When we seek Him, study about Him, eat of that spiritual bread, He opens our eyes then too.  The Lord's Supper not only reminds us of His death, burial and resurrection; it also reminds us that He is life, abundant life!  I love how this story stars "the everyday believer", not the "stars of the show" (the Twelve).  Jesus demonstrated that His food is freely available for every one of His beloved, not just those who are them most "visible" or "out front".

This morning I got up much earlier than usual to help with a church outreach.  We are making a big push to invite folks to church on Easter Sunday, since many who don't usually attend will often look for some church to attend that day.  So, four of us Rising Hills Church members met in a parking lot to assemble and then distribute (when "the traffic signal was red"!) over 100 paper bags containing a FREE Bojangles biscuit, jelly packet, juice and a card about our Easter services.  There it is again - - - bread and juice.

We weren't celebrating the Lord's Supper this morning, of course.  We were blessing commuters who were facing another Monday.  But, those elements given today were prayed over by many; perhaps soul-hungry people saw or will see Jesus in the receiving of them.  Hopefully, their hearts will burn within them, in a desire to know more about the one and only Savior.

By the way, last year I wrote in the blog a whole series of Easter posts, laying out a timeline of Jesus' acts during Passion Week.  If you would like to read them, they begin with this one.

Happy Monday, folks!  (Don't forget to eat.)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Most Holy Place: Where Earth and Heaven Met (3)

Let them make for me a sanctuary, so that I may live among them.
Exodus 25:8 (NET)

Why all this falderal about The Tabernacle (and its more recent translation, The Temples) anyhow?
What's the big deal?  Why is Resplendent Daughter spending so much time on this topic?  Aren't we supposed to be studying Hebrews?!  Ha, ha, well, we are!  Our main text for today is Hebrews 9:11-14 (ESV).

11But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come,ethen through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctifyf for the purification of the flesh, 14how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify ourg conscience from dead works to serve the living God. 

I was surprised to learn1 that the Tabernacle's construction and rituals, the Levitical priesthood, and the transporting of the Tabernacle from place to place are mentioned in 50 chapters of our Bible.  So, to ignore the study of this very important Bible component would be akin to ignoring a book of the Bible the size of Ezekiel.  Additionally, it is a representation of the true Tabernacle in Heaven.  We have already seen in previous posts parallels to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.  But, there is one additional reason, one that resonates the most with me; and, that is the one I want to explore today.  In today's post, we will focus on the last and most innermost area of the Tabernacle/Temple, the most "sacred ground", the area called The Holy of Holies.

First, let's examine the physical characteristics of this most holy place.2 

Its entrance was marked by a gorgeous piece of tapestry, similar to the one that marked the entrance to The Holy Place.  (If you have been following my blog, I wrote about that room in the last post.) 
The description of that tapestry can be found in Exodus 26:31-34.  The base material was the finest of linen and it was woven through with scarlet, purple and blue threads, with artistic renderings of cherubim (a specific class of angelic beings - - see Ezekiel 1, 10 and Isaiah 6).  No priest, except for the high priest, was ever allowed to touch this curtain; and, the high priest could touch it only once each year.

The room itself was 15'x15' square. There was no light in the room.  When light was needed, that is, once a year when the high priest (shoeless and with head bowed) entered on the Day of Atonement, the Shekinah Glory of God Almighty, appeared as a brilliant cloud, descended and lit the room.  The ark contained one piece of furniture only: the ark of the covenant. Now, you will be glad to know that I am not going to launch off into an extensive exploration of the ark of the covenant in this post.  But, here is a brief description.3  

The ark was constructed of acacia wood and was 45" long, and 27" high and wide.
It was overlaid with pure gold.  Around the perimeter of the ark's top was a raised "crown", ornate like a crown, and the top of the ark was overlaid with the purest gold.  This flat surface was called the mercy seat.  It was on this mercy seat that the priest would sprinkle the blood of the Passover lamb, when he entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement.  When this occurred, the presence of God Himself, the Shekinah Glory, would appear and fill the room.

And now (finally), your "big takeaway":
The Holy of Holies still exists today.  
"What?!", you exclaim.  "The Tabernacle is nonexistent.  The Temples have been destroyed.  How can that be?"
One of my very favorite verses in the Bible is Luke 23:45 - - 
"The sun stopped shining (was darkened) and the veil of the Temple was torn down the middle."

The Temple veil was 60 feet long/tall and 30 feet wide, weighing thousands of pounds.  Moreover, it was (depending on your source) from 1 to 4 inches thick.   This was a massive curtain.  Luke tells us that, at the moment of Jesus' death, presumably God (who else?) split that sacred curtain (which no one was to touch except once a year, remember?) right down the middle, from top to bottom.

Why?  Why would He do that?  What does it mean?

Jesus had just poured out His life on the Cross, paralleling the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb in the Temple at that same time.  It is entirely possible that, at the moment Jesus died, the High Priest was IN the Holy of Holies sprinkling blood on the mercy seat.  The times of day (when Jesus died and when that lamb sacrifice was to occur on the Day of Atonement) match up!

When Jesus died for our sins, His blood forever paid the price.  There was no longer any need for a physical ark or mercy seat.  The "curtain" separating God from mankind was torn because Jesus Christ, our High Priest, had made an eternal sacrifice, an eternal way for mankind to come to God.

"But, ... you said the Holy of Holies still exists today?"  Yes, that Holy of Holies is in the heart of each and every believer in Jesus, every follower who has asked Him to sprinkle His blood on his heart. At the moment a person asks Jesus to come into the very core of their eternal being, into his spirit, and merge His Holy Spirit with his, that spiritual veil that separates sinful man from a holy God is torn, forever torn.  The Holy Spirit then dwells in the "heart" of every person who gives his or her life to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  Hallelujah!  Let's praise Him!