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Happy Easter!

He is Risen!

The apostle Peter makes reference to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ in the first three verses of his first letter.

In the first verse he writes that his letter is to God’s elect and in verse two he goes on to say, “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus and sprinkled with his blood.”

Whew. That’s a lot to take in. The part I have been focusing on these last few days is the sprinkled with his blood part. What did Peter have in mind when he wrote that? None of the followers of Jesus that were reading Peter’s letter had been sprinkled with his blood. What could he possibly mean? How did his early readers take that phrase? It must have something to do with the crucifixion, but what exactly?

The best book I have ever read on the crucifixion is called The Day the Revolution Began – Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion, by N.T. Wright. With regards to “sprinkled blood” he writes about the lid of the Ark of the Covenant and says, “This was where God met with his people; and, in order for this to take place, it was where the priest cleansed the sanctuary from the defiling effects of the past sins of Israel with the sprinkled blood of the sacrifice.”

So one thing that Peter is trying to communicate with God’s elect is that through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross, the chosen ones are cleansed and can meet with God. Cleansed, meaning forgiven of all sins. Purified, white as snow. That’s how God now sees his followers through the lens of the sprinkled blood of Christ.

One other thing that probably came to mind when Peter wrote about the sprinkled blood, was the great Passover, when the Israelites killed a lamb and sprinkled its blood on the doorposts of their houses. Upon seeing the blood, the killer angel would pass by and spare any firstborn male in the house. The results of this last plague, was freedom for the Jews from the Egyptian slave masters. Similarly, the result of the sprinkled blood of Jesus is that God’s elect are set free from the Evil Slavemaster called Sin, and are free to worship the one, true God.

With regards to the resurrection, Peter writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

Wow! New birth. Living hope. No more living in sin, being totally controlled by passion and pride. Because of the resurrection, we have  new birth, old things have passed away and all things have become new.

Because of Christ’s resurrection we have a living hope. Not dead hopes that many people in the world depend on. Dead hopes like a new job will make me truly happy. Or a new soul mate will fulfill my life. Or a good education is what I really need to live the good life. Those are just a few examples of dead hopes that people rely on to get them through each day. With the reality of the resurrection, Messiah followers have a living hope that brings true and lasting joy now and all the way into eternity.

Because God loves us and wants us to be happy, he has chosen us, sprinkled us with the blood of Jesus, rose from the dead with new life and living hope in his wake! No wonder Peter exclaims, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” and in verse six he writes, “In this you greatly rejoice…” And in verse eight, this, “You love him and believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”

Indeed we love him and rejoice greatly.

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God purifies his people in and through the shed blood of Jesus,

so that the covenant may be renewed,

and not just renewed,

but now effective for the whole world.

N.T. Wright in his book The Day the Revolution Began

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This morning I was thinking about the history of mankind, from Adam and Eve, to the new heavens and earth, and new Jerusalem.  From Genesis to Revelation.   I was thinking about the high points and low points; the great positives and negatives.  The first great positive was the creation of Adam and Eve.  The first great negative was the fall of Adam and Eve, and thus, all mankind.

In my mind there was a timeline, with blips to indicate the highs and lows.  In the middle of this time line was a the highest positive blip, signifying the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The greatest negative down blip was the fall.  The next biggest negative blip was something I read in 1Samuel 7.  The Israelites come to Samuel and tell him they want a king, like all the other nations.  Samuel, who was the spiritual leader at that time felt rejected and went before God.  God tells him not to worry, that the people have not rejected Samuel, but have rejected God.

That is huge!  Almost as huge as Adam and Eve ‘s falling to the temptation of the serpent, with similarities.  Adam and Eve rejected God’s command because they wanted to rule themselves.  The Israelites rejected God because they wanted a human king to rule them, rather than the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Both great sins came down to pride, arrogance and greed.  Both entities felt that God had given them the short end of the stick;  that God didn’t really love them and want them to be happy.  They believed that they could be happier doing things their way.

God has always wanted and chosen a people to be his own.  A people who would love him, follow him and do his will.  A people that he could bless, reveal himself to, and make happy and prosperous.  A people who would respond to his generosity by being generous themselves, both to God and their fellow man.  Thus, the second up blip on the historical timeline is God’s call of Abraham.  God did not call Abraham only for Abraham’s sake, but so that Abraham would be the father of a nation who God could call his own.  Through this man and this nation, God would bless all the people on earth.

This group of people would be initially called Hebrews.  The Hebrews were enslaved by the Egyptians.  God delivered these people from slavery in a miraculous way.  This is the third high point in the history of mankind and pointed to the ultimate high point in history when God would set people free from slavery to sin through Jesus death and resurrection.

The next high point after being set free from bondage in Egypt followed closely on the heels of this miraculous event.  This was the giving of the law on mount Sinai.  God was saying to his chosen people, “I love you and want you to be happy, so I am giving you these laws, precepts and commands.  If you continue to follow me by obeying these mandates, I will prosper you and you will be truly happy and will experience shalom. Slalom was a word the Jewish people used then to greet one another. It meant peace, prosperity, and joy.

Next followed a low point where the people showed they didn’t really believe that God loved them and wanted them to be happy. When it came time to possess the land flowing with milk and honey, they balked. Ten bad spies gave the report of giants in the land that made the Hebrews look like grasshoppers in comparison. Two good spies said the enemy was indeed large, but our God, who delivered us from the Egyptians is the real giant that will go before us and conquer the enemy. The Jews didn’t trust God and thus had to wander in the wilderness for forty years until the unbelieving generation died out and a believing generation rose up.

The believers went in and took the promised land. A definite high point.

The next century was filled with high blips and low dips as God’s chosen people alternatively worshiped and obeyed God, and then fell away and were disobedient. This cycle continued through the period of the Judges and then the kings. Finally, an awful low point occurred when first the ten tribes of Israel were conquered and taken into captivity by the Assyrians, and then Judah was humiliated by the Babylonians and taken into exile.

The prophets had warned the people of Israel and Judah that if they didn’t change their hearts and their ways that God would punish them and send them into exile. They didn’t and he did. The prophets also told of a time of restoration that would come. They told of a new covenant that would be written on hearts of flesh rather than tablets of stone. Daniel foretold of a Son of Man who would come into the world and inaugurate a new era; a new way to relate to God; a new way to experience peace and happiness.

The Son of Man was Jesus. He used the title Son of Man to refer to himself more than any other title. The incarnation of the Son of God, the Son of Man, was the high point on the time line of mankind. God with us, the beginning of the end. The end of the God’s presence in the holy temple in Jerusalem, along with the sacrificial system involving the blood of bulls and goats and lambs. The Lamb of God was the ultimate sacrifice that made a way for all mankind to receive forgiveness of sins, liberation from the bondage of Sin, and to enjoy God forever.

The ultimate high point will be the day when God creates the New Heaven and New Earth and the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven.  God’s radiance will be our light, and his presence will be our joy.  We will enjoy Him, evermore free from tears, pain, loss, suffering and grief.  All will be glory and peace, and that is the point in mankind that I am looking forward to.  Come quickly!

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mankind

 

birth of JesusSunday, December 1st, started the Advent season on the church calendar. Foundation For His Ministry’s Home for Needy Children in Oaxaca, Mexico is joining the world wide celebration this year.  Advent is the time of the year when many Christians look to the future.  We look forward to the second coming of Christ, the second advent, with hope.  Hope for the day when God’s perfect justice reigns supreme.  A time when God’s will is done and his kingdom is come on earth as it is in heaven.  We also look forward to celebrating the first advent, the incarnation, God with us.  It is appropriate to ask the question during this season, “Why was Jesus born on this planet?”  There are many good answers to this question.  One answer is that he was born to bleed.

Blood is God’s way.  Blood plays an important role in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.  Here are just two verses that communicate to us the importance blood plays in God’s Word:

Lev. 17:11    For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.

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

The first notion we get of blood being spilt is in Genesis, chapter three.  Adam and Eve have sinned, rebelled against God and His one rule.  Now they find themselves naked and ashamed.  Their great cover-up is fig leaves.  God says “No good” and kills an animal, takes its blood stained hide, fashions garments from it for the sinners to wear.  Here we have a peak into the future when God will use blood to not only cover our sins, but to wash them away.

Ables blood sacrifice
Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Able.  They made offerings to God.  Cain was a farmer and offered produce from his field.  Able was a shepherd and offered a blood sacrifice  of one of his animals.  God was pleased with Able’s offering but not Cain’s.

Noahs sacrifice
God brought Noah and his family safely through the flood.  Noah killed some of the animals on the ark and offered them as a sacrifice to God.  God promised to never destroy the earth with flood waters again.

Circumcision
God called Abraham to be the father of a great nation, a chosen people.  To mark the men as a people chosen by God, they were to be circumcised.  Blood flowed from the males.  They were holy and set apart for God’s purposes.  Later on the Apostle Paul explains to the new chosen people of God, the Church, that bloody circumcision of the body is no longer necessary, but circumcision of the heart is.

Severed animals
God makes a covenant with Abraham, and it is sealed by blood. Abraham brings before God a  heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.  Abraham cuts the animals in half, their blood dripping into the earth, and God walks between the animals, as if to say, “May this be done to me if I don’t keep my end of the deal.”  Of course God is faithful and forever does his part.

Binding of Isaac
God told Abraham to take his son, his only son,whom he loved, and to kill him as a sacrifice to God.  Abraham took Isaac to a mountain, bound him, and as he was about to plunge a knife into his heart, the angel of the Lord intervened.  In stead of spilling his beloved sons blood, a ram that was caught in some bushes, became a substitute blood offering.  Centuries later, another beloved son was sacrificed and bled on the same mountain as a substitute for all mankind.

Passover and blood on the door posts                                                                                                         God’s chosen people, the Hebrews, have been enslaved by the Egyptians for many years.  God sends Moses and nine plaques to try and set His People free.  It hasn’t worked, but a tenth plaque is on the way.  God commands Moses and the Hebrew people to kill a spotless lamb and put its blood on the doorposts of their houses.  When the destroying angel comes to kill the firstborn male of every house, it will passover all the houses with the blood.  The Egyptians sons die that night and Pharoah lets God’s People go.  One day all humanity will stand before God in judgment, and all those not marked by the blood of Christ will be destroyed.

Mt Sinai and the law of sacrifice                                                                                                                      On Mt Sinai, God stipulates, codifies and puts into law the practice of sacrificing animals for the forgiveness of sins.   Every spotless animal that has its throat cut and its blood spilt for the forgiveness of sin points humanity to the ultimate perfect sacrifice of Jesus blood being shed for the forgiveness of sin.

The last supper                                                                                                                                                     Mat. 26:27    And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Blood of Jesus                                                                                                                                                    And then Jesus bled.  He sweat drops of blood as he prayed “Not my will but thine be done.”  He bled when the blood of Christsoldiers hit him.  Blood flowed down his face when a cruel crown of thorns was jammed on his head.  Blood ran down his back as he was mercilessly  whipped.  Blood dripped from his hands and feet while he hung on the cross.  Blood poured out of his body when the sword pierced his side.  And God said, “There is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood.”

Paul and the blood                                                                                                     Romans 3:25  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith.                                                                                                          Romans 5:8-10  God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled  to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

Hebrews and the blood                                                                                                                                           Hebrews 9:12-14   Jesus did not enter (the more perfect tabernacle) by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.  The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.  How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so  that we may serve the living God!

Revelation and the blood                                                                                                                                        Rev. 5:9,10   And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,           and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

As we celebrate the first advent of Jesus, with colorfully wrapped gifts under a Christmas tree covered with blinking lights and pretty bows, and as we gaze on the nativity scene with baby Jesus in a manger, surrounded by his parents, shepherds and sheep, it might be good to take a moment and meditate on the fact that the innocent baby laying in the manger, was born to bleed.  And because of His Blood, we are forgiven of our sins, and freed from  Sin.      

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I am grateful for Shinto, for Buddhism, and for Confucianism.  I owe much to these faiths.  The fact that I was born with a spirit of reverence, that I have an insatiable craving for values which transcend this earthly life, and that I strive to walk the way of the golden mean, I owe entirely to the influence of those ethnic faiths.  Yet these three faiths utterly failed to minister to my heart’s deepest need.  I was a pilgrim journeying upon a long, long road that had no turning.  I was weary.  I was footsore.  I wandered through a dark and dismal world where tragedies were thick.  Tears were my meat day and night.  Buddhism teaches great compassion, but since the beginning of time, who has declared, “this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many unto remission of sins”?      Toyohiko Kagawa, quoted by John Stott in The Incomparable Christ                                                                                                          

One day God said, “You know, I think I’ll make a billion stars today.”  He didn’t have to, but he did,

billion stars 2billion stars 3

billion stars

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Because he loves us and wants us to be happy.

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God didn’t have to give us sunrises and sunsets, but He did,

sunrise sunset

Because He loves us and wants us to be happy.

God didn’t have to make oceans and beaches, but He did,

ocean    beach

Because He loves us and wants us to be happy.

God didn’t have to make the Rocky Mountains,

   rocky mountainsrocky mountains2

The Grand Tetons,

grand tetons grand tetons2

Or the Sierras, but he did,

sierra sierra2

Because he loves us and wants us to be happy.

He didn’t have to make pink roses,

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Purple bougainvilleas,

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Or birds of paradise, but he did,

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Because he loves us and wants us to be happy.

He didn’t have to give us good scents, like star jasmine, citrus blossoms, and lavender, but he did,

star jasmine citrus blossum DSC08906

Because he loves us and wants us to be happy.

He didn’t have to give us pineapples, mangoes, and grapes, but he did,

pineapples mangoes grapes

Because he loves us and wants us to be happy.

God didn’t have to give us puppies, and kittens, and goldfish, but he did,

puppies kittens goldfish

Because he loves us and wants us to be happy.

God didn’t have to be born in a stable

jesus birth

And be crucified,

jesus death

And rise from the dead, but he did,

jesus resurrection

Because he loves us and wants us to be happy!

God gives us all good things,

So that we will glorify him by enjoying him forever.

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“Only wonder understands.”  Gregory of Nyssa

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Next blog – Waves and Lights

crucifiedThe mission pastor at the Home For Needy Children in Oaxaca, Mexico, recently asked me to share a few words on Easter Sunday about the significance of Jesus statement from the cross, “I’m thirsty.”

My first thought was to spiritualize Jesus words.  Thirst indicates desire.  What the gospel writer, John, wanted to  communicate to his readers was Jesus desire that humanity would believe that God loved them; that Jesus desire was for all mankind to be saved; that Jesus wanted everyone to enjoy God, and that the way was open to all because of the sacrifice He was making, hanging on the cross.  That was my initial thought of what I would share with the gathered faithful on Easter morn.

But, the more I thought about it, and the more I studied the book of John, the more I looked into the historical/cultural millieu in which John wrote, the more I realized that I was way off base.  What John wanted to communicate to the readers of his gospel by recording Jesus statement, “I’m thirsty”, is that, (get ready now), Jesus was thirsty!  He wanted a drink.  John wanted his audience to remember that not only was Jesus God, but that Jesus was also human.

In the book of John, you see a lot of Jesus/God.  Jesus/God overcomes the temptations of Satan.  Jesus/God turns water into wine.  Jesus/God walks on water, reads peoples minds, and brings dead people back to life.  When was the last time you did  any of those things?  Never?  Me too.

Those miracles, or signs, as John calls them, point to Christ’s divinity.  They are all wonderful things that a lving Jesus/God did to show His power and compassion.  But I find it difficult to relate to those things because I have never done them or seen them done.

But, I have been thirsty.  And Jesus was thirsty.  I can relate to that.  John also tells us in the 11th chapter of his gospel that Jesus cried.  I cry sometimes too.  I can relate.  In chapter 13, John lets us know that Jesus was troubled in spirit.  I have been troubled in spirit.  I can relate.

So, while the general focus of John is on Jesus/God, he also gives us snapshots of Jesus/human.  I thank God, that Jesus is also portrayed as a man with human emotions and human needs.  He was one of us.  When we have physical, spiritual, or emotional needs, we can be sure that Jesus identifies with those needs and walks beside us in difficult times to encourage us, strengthen us, hold our hand, and sometimes carry us.

I don’t know  about you, but I’m feelin’ kind of thirsty.

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Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature  of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.  Philippians 2:6-8

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Next blog – “I’m sorry.  I’m bad.  I know it.  Daddy, I need help.”