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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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Life with Mikey

Life with Mikey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My ten year old daughter Tifani had broken the rules and needed to be punished.  I don’t remember what offense she had committed.  I just remember looking at her, shaking my head, letting her know that she had disappointed me by breaking the rules and that she was going to be punished.  She looked up at me with big, sad eyes and said, “I’m bad.  I know it.  Daddy,  I need help.”

When I heard her utter those words I burst out laughing, all my anger gone, knowing that my budding little actress had obviously picked up this line from some movie she had watched.  All thoughts of punishment had disappeared and I asked her where she had heard those words, “I’m bad.  I know it.  I need help.”

She had recently watched a movie called LIFE WITH MIKEY, and in this movie, a young girl about Tifani’s age was a pickpocket on the streets of New York.  She gets caught and an angry man accuses her of stealing his wallet.  A small crowd gathers around her.  Michael Chapman (Michael J. Fox) shows up.  He had just had his wallet stolen by this same girl.  He is the head of a child talent agency, and is always looking for new talent.  He sees the way that this girls is playing the crowd, and realizes that she is a natural.  He intervenes, telling everyone that she is his daughter.   Crocodile tears pour down her pretty little face and she exclaims, “I’m bad.  I know it.  Daddy, I need help.”

She made the confession, “I’m bad.  I know it.  I need help”, not out of any realization of her true nature, but in the hope that people would feel sorry for her, give her a break and let her go.

Her words, though, have great significance for those who want to enjoy God.  The life of enjoying God begins with the startling revelation that we are all bad.  That we really and truly Know that we are bad and that without help, we are doomed.

This thought, for many, is the hardest part of enjoying God.  In fact, it seems ridiculous!  When confronted with the possibility that we might be bad, we immediately present our first list of all the good things we do.  We give to charitable organizations and donate time to worthy causes and don’t beat our wives or children and work hard at the office and never cheat or steal.

Our second list is made up of truly bad people like murderers, rapists, thieves and those who cheat on their spouses and take advantage of the poor.  We can always point to those who are really bad and thus exonerate ourselves.

Everyone has their own categories of who is bad and what is bad and we certainly don’t fall into any  of those categories.  But, the category that matters most, is God’s category.  Since He is the one we want to enjoy, and it is He that gives the joy, it is His standard of Good and Bad that we need to take a look at.

In the Bible God reveals His character and ours.  He shows us His standard of goodness and also how far removed we are from that standard.  The Bible tells us in no uncertain terms that because we do not live up to His standard of Goodness that we are His enemies (Rom. 5:10). Indeed, we are dead in our badness.  Dead in our sins as Paul puts it Ephesians 2.  Sin is just another word for bad, a type of bad that utterly offends  a perfect God, and totally blocks our any chance of enjoying God.  In Romans 3:12, Paul quotes Ecclesiastes 7:20 saying, “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”  Even the good deeds we do, the random acts of kindness we perform, the rewards we receive for helping others, are all a stench in the nostrils of God, if done apart from being in right relationship with him.

Help Is Available

This is where the Good News comes in.  We can’t enjoy the God the Good News if we don’t first understand the bad news.  The bad news is that we are bad.  The Good News is that help is available!

The last phrase the girl pickpocket declared when confronted by the angry victim was, “I need help.”  She was insincere in her claim of needing help.  If we truly believe from the bottom of our hearts, that we re bad and desperately need help, God is more than willing to come to our aid and rescue us.

I lived in Sonoma County, California, for a number of years.  There were a few years that we experienced terrible flooding.  I lived close to the RussianRiver and during a particularly bad flood many of the residents were surrounded by high water and had to be helicoptered to safety.  Those residents recognized they were in a bad way and were glad to be helped.

I remember one especially dramatic photograph that appeared in the local paper.  A man was being rescued from the raging river by a fireman who was in the river with him.  The fireman was roped to other firemen standing on the bank.  The drowning man was rescued and the photographer went on to win a Pulitzer prize for the photo.

When we come to a point where we realize that we are drowning spiritually, when we realize that joy, peace and contentment are not the hallmarks of our lives, and that the turbulent waters of depression, disappointment, frustration, anger and disillusion threaten to overwhelm us, and we call out to a merciful, compassionate and gracious God (Daddy), He will rescue us!

In a way, God is like the fireman who jumped into the river to save the drowning man.  God jumped into our hopeless, helpless situation, into our badness, in the person of Jesus Christ.  And all those who became aware of their badness, and followed this God/Man Jesus were rescued, and are still being rescued and given new lives.  Lives filled with joy in God and delight at being delivered from the turbulent flood called existence, and brought onto the safe shore called Life.  Life enjoying God.

Some, like many of the religious leaders of Jesus day, didn’t realize how dire their plight was, and chose to cling to the slippery and perilous branches called self-righteousness and good works. They perished without ever experiencing the joy of knowing God.

Bad Gunky

Unfortunately, that isn’t the end of doing bad things.  While we celebrate and rejoice that our Bad Existence was put to death by Jesus, we still struggle with doing bad things.  Martin Luther said we are at the same time righteous and sinners and that we continue to wrestle daily with the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.  I call these things Bad Gunky.  In Stephen King’s novel LISEYS STORY, one of the main characters explains to his wife, Lisey, all about bad gunky.  As a child he lived with his father and older brother.  At various times they were attacked by what his father called “bad gunky”.  This was an evil presence that would, without warning, fill either the father or one of his sons with a violent anger that would cause them to want to kill.  The only cure that normally worked to rid the family member of bad gunky, was the shedding of blood. One of the family members that was not being attacked by the bad gunky would have to inflict a large, deep cut on his own body, to set the other family member free of the evil known  as bad gunky.

This is a wonderful picture of what our Brother, Jesus, did for us, giving himself up freely to be crucified, to let his blood pour down the cross, so that we could be free from bad gunky, the power of sin, of badness, that caused our spiritual death.  Bad Gunky, with a capital B and a capital G is no longer a threat to our eternal relationship with God, to our eternal life.  However, bad gunky, small b, small g, still nips at our heels and barks in our ears on a daily basis.  This bad gunky tempts us to do bad things.  Tempts us to leave the Lord we love.  We fall victim daily to bad gunky.  Jesus tells us we are to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. He tells us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  We fail at this everyday.  In fact it is an impossible task.  So what sets followers of Christ apart from the rest of humanity that fails everyday?  It is the fact that as followers of Christ we have as our life goal to love God with all our being, and to love our  neighbor as we love ourselves.  We know this is the surest way to a life full of joy with God and with each other.  We begin the day in prayer, asking God’s Spirit to come along side us to help us love as He wants us to love.  And, if we are to be honest, end the day in prayer, noticing the ways we have failed to love, and confess to God that we have not loved Him with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength.  That we have not loved our neighbor as our self.  And we rest assured, knowing that God is faithful to forgive us our sins, our bad actions, our lack of love.  We sleep peacefully, knowing that our merciful, compassionate, patient God has washed away the bad gunky of the day.  We look forward to the morning when God’s mercies are new and we can experience afresh the joy of God.

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The great power of God appears in bringing a sinner from his low state, from the depths of sin and misery, to an exalted state of holiness and happiness.  Jonathan Edwards  (1703-1758) from his sermon God Glorified in Man’s Dependence

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Next blog – God Didn’t Have To, But He Did