Every Heart

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  Genesis 3:8 (ESV) 

I saw a meme on Facebook the other day about cancel culture. The first person says, “I hate cancel culture.” The second one answers, “The very first Bible story is God cancelling two people over an apple.” I wanted to put in a good word for God here.

What this meme defines as “cancelling” was God closing the doors of the Garden and not allowing Adam and Eve back in. They had just sinned, separating themselves from God, causing a rift in the relationship. And they showed a distressing tendency to continue on that path, refusing to admit their responsibility in the matter, pointing fingers at each other.  

God did not want them to eat of the tree that would give them eternal life in that state. They would have been eternally separated from God and his love for them. Isn’t that the definition of hell? It was an act of mercy and compassion banning them from the Garden and locking them out. He was giving them a chance; he was giving them time to turn, time to realize what they had lost. Until God would come back into another garden and open the door again by offering Himself up as the atonement. 

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. John 18:1-3 (ESV) 

Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. John 19:41 (ESV) 

You are invited to turn around and come back into the garden and walk again with the One who loves you and wants to spend eternity with you.  

“God now fills the recovered garden, and we may without fear walk and commune with Him in the cool of the day.” — A.W. Tozer 

Come back  Salvation

Image, hand-colored lino print by Sheila Bair. Copyright 2020, all rights reserved. 

The Assumptions of Grace

Ever wonder what grace really means?

(This post is reblogged with permission from Seedbed https://www.seedbed.com/the-assumptions-of-grace/)

Philippians 4:23

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

CONSIDER THIS

And so it ends as it began, by grace:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

I wish I better understood this little word we so readily throw around in the Christian faith. It has come to mean so much that it means almost nothing. I assume I know what it means, and so I just mouth the words and move on. I mean, I get it, right? You too?

Paul begins and ends every letter he writes with these same words, yet there is nothing standard about these kinds of greetings. He is not saying, “Hello again, hope you are well,” or “Thanks for everything; wish you were here.” He is not extending his own grace to us. He greets us with the very grace of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. The little word is loaded with assumptions, and, lest I regularly reexamine them, the word becomes little more than my own presumption.

So what does grace assume? Here goes. It assumes I know I am a sinner; that I was born a sinner; that I am a sinner, not because I sin, but that I sin because I am a sinner. Grace assumes I understand I am a son of Adam, infected with sin-cancer from the start, born with a terminal illness, and destined for destruction. I am, by nature, a child of wrath. It’s not that God hates me; he loves me so much he will not allow me, a depraved sinner, to stand in his presence; for in his presence I am destroyed.

God is holy. This is his nature. Just as a fire consumes anything it is fed, so the holiness of God consumes whatever is not holy. And grace assumes I know that there is absolutely nothing I can do to make myself holy. Grace assumes that I understand that, apart from grace, I am hopeless. The holy God of the universe will not tolerate sin, not because he chooses not to but because he cannot, for to do so would be to deny his nature. The wrath of God is not an emotion but a simple fact of his existence.

Grace also assumes I know I am loved. I was loved at my birth, despite my sinful nature, and loved every day of my life, despite my sin; and loved in and through my recalcitrant, rebellious resistance. Grace wants to make sure I know I am loved, not because of anything I have ever done or not done; nor am I not loved because of anything I have ever done or not done. Grace assumes I know I am loved because it is God’s nature to love me.

Yes, grace assumes I know that God is holy and God is love and that these two eternal verities have been made known to us in this gospel: “For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Grace assumes I know that understand that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). 

Grace assumes I get it that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Grace is the unmerited, unmitigated favor of God for sinners like me and you. The more we recognize our sin, the more we recognize our need for God’s grace; the more we recognize our need for God’s grace, the more grace we are given; and the more grace we are given, the more we become the agents of his grace in the world for others.

When Paul says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen,” this is what he means.

THE PRAYER

Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who is grace and truth, holiness and love, God and man, giver and gift. Thank you for the cross where we find grace on grace on grace. Thank you. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

THE QUESTIONS

  1. Are you growing in your grasp of the grace of God in Jesus Christ?
  2. How has Paul’s letter to the Philippians most encouraged you? Challenged you?
  3. What is your top takeaway from this letter and our journey through it?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt
Sower-in-Chief

Image, Baby’s hand, by Fruity Monkey on flickr https://flic.kr/p/99tqDR

Niagara Falls in a Teacup

“His demand for righteousness is insistent, and it is always at the maximum intensity.”

Cheap grace and costly grace. The gift and the “shift.” Transformation deep as the roots of human life. Uncontainable love.

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship  

“The gift element in the gospel is held to be its exclusive content, and the shift element is accordingly ignored. Theological assent is all that is required to make Christians. This assent is called faith and is thought to be the only difference between the saved and the lost. Faith is thus conceived as a kind of religious magic, bringing to the Lord great delight and possessing mysterious power to open the Kingdom of heaven. I want to be fair to everyone and to find all the good I can in every man’s religious beliefs, but the harmful effects of this faith-as-magic creed are greater than could be imagined by anyone who has not come face-to-face with them … 

I think the truth of the matter is not too deep nor too difficult to discover. Self-righteousness is an effective bar to God’s favor because it throws the sinner back upon his own merits and shuts him out from the imputed righteousness of Christ. And to be a sinner confessed and consciously lost is necessary to the act of receiving salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. This we joyously admit and constantly assert, but here is the truth that has been overlooked in our day: A sinner cannot enter the Kingdom of God. The Bible passages that declare this are too many and too familiar to need repeating here, but the skeptical might look at Galatians 5:19-21 and Revelation 2:18.  

How then can any man be saved? The penitent sinner meets Christ, and after that saving encounter he is a sinner no more. The power of the gospel changes him, shifts the basis of his life from self to Christ, faces him about in a new direction, and makes him a new creation. The moral state of the penitent when he comes to Christ does not affect the result, for the work of Christ sweeps away both his good and his evil, and turns him into another man. The returning sinner is not saved by some judicial transaction apart from a corresponding moral change. Salvation must include a judicial change of status, but what is overlooked by most teachers is that it also includes an actual change in the life of the individual. And by this we mean more than a surface change; we mean a transformation as deep as the roots of his human life. If it does not go that deep, it does not go deep enough.” — A.W. Tozer, In Word, Or In Power: The Divine Conquest 

“But this much is clear: when we try to estimate the depth and the persistence of God’s loving-kindness and mercy, we must first remember his passion for righteousness. His passion for righteousness is so strong that he could not be more insistent in his demand for it, but God’s persistent love for his people is more insistent still. The story of God’s people throughout the centuries is that her waywardness has been so persistent that, if even a remnant is to be preserved, God has had to show mercy more than anything else. It is important to realize that though the Hebrew chesed can be translated by loving-kindness and mercy without doing violence to the context, yet we must always beware lest we think that God is content with less than righteousness. There is no reference to any sentimental kindness, and no suggestion of mercy apart from repentance, in any case where the Hebrew original is chesed. His demand for righteousness is insistent, and it is always at the maximum intensity. The loving-kindness of God means that his mercy is greater even than that. The word stands for the wonder of his unfailing love for the people of his choice, and the solving of the problem of the relation between his righteousness and his loving-kindness passes beyond human comprehension.” — Norman H. Snaith, Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament, London (1944) 

“In faith there is movement and development. Each day something is new. To be Christian, faith has to be new – that is, alive and growing. It cannot be static, finished, settled. When Scripture, prayer, worship, ministry become routine, they are dead. When I conclude that I can cope with the awful love of God, I have headed for the shallows to avoid the deeps. I could more easily contain Niagara Falls in a teacup than I can comprehend the wild, uncontainable love of God.” — Brennan Manning, The Ragmuffin Gospel 

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

Image, Niagara Falls, by Boris Kasimov  https://flic.kr/p/2g3fgeL  

Enough

If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear.  Psalms 66:18 (NKJV) 

I always looked at this verse as saying that if I coddled some unrepented sinful act or thought in my heart, the Lord could not listen to my prayers. And it does mean that, but I think God is saying something more to me. The word in the above verse translated “regard” is the Hebrew word ra’ah. It means to look at, see, regard, gaze at, behold, perceive. Derek Prince had a slightly different take on this verse: 

“If I ‘regard iniquity in my heart,’ it means that I come to God with a consciousness in my heart of something that condemns me.”  

I have been having a hard time in prayer. I have been feeling like the Lord did not hear. Suddenly, I realized that I had not been coming to God in prayer with a clear conscious. I was always under the burden of some kind of guilt. Guilt about not being a good enough friend, a good enough wife and mother, not serving God enough, not praying enough, not calling my elderly parents enough — not being enough. I had been listening to those accusing voices in my head and had been feeling a closed door, a heavy curtain, between me and God. My heart was condemning me. I was gazing at my failings and not at Jesus.  

Then I read this from J. Vernon McGee. He was describing the tabernacle in the wilderness and its three parts: the outer court where the sacrifices were received and their blood shed, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place, or Holy of Holies, where God dwelt between the cherubim. About the articles of furniture in the Holy Place of the tabernacle, he writes that it included “the table of showbread and the golden lampstand. Then, in the background was the golden altar, the altar of incense, which speaks of prayer – no sacrifices were ever made there” [emphasis mine]. 

No sacrifices were made at the altar of incense, the place that symbolically represented the prayers of the saints (see Revelation 8: 3-4). Why? Because the sacrifice had already been made out in the courtyard on the brazen altar. The sacrifice had already been made. Therefore, the priest could go into the Holy Place and offer the prayer-incense without further sacrifice.  

But these Old Covenant sacrifices, made over and over, “were not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper” (Hebrews 9:9). It is only the once-and-for-all sacrifice of the Lamb of God that can clear our consciences. 

I was bypassing the altar where the Blood of the Lamb has been shed. Should I (in pride) be surprised that I am weak and sinful? No, I should throw away all expectation of ever being “enough.” I can never be enough for anyone, and it’s not my job either. It is not my wonderfulness that helps or saves. Only God can be enough. All I can do is offer my love, serve with the strength he gives and trust him for the rest.  

“We have to get rid of any attitude that suggests some kind of righteousness in ourselves. We have no righteousness of our own. We must come to a place where we are trusting in God’s faithfulness, and that produces confidence … There must come a time when we lay side every attempt to justify ourselves and say, ‘I receive by faith the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to me by my faith in Him according to the Word of God. I will not worry about my merits. I will not worry about my sins. I will not parade my good deeds. I will not blush for my bad deeds. I will not examine and analyze my own heart all the time to see if I am good enough. I will trust God that the blood of Jesus has cleansed me from all sin. And now I am going boldly right to the throne, right into the holiest place of all.’” Derek Prince, Secrets of a Prayer Warrior, chapt. 2, Basic Conditions for Answered Prayer [emphasis mine] 

Instead of beholding, gazing at my real failings and unrighteousness and listening to the accusations of our enemy, I need to fix my thoughts and eyes on Jesus, Our Righteousness (Hebrews 12:2). As the Holy Spirit points out sin, I repent of it and give it to the One who washes it away with his Blood as if it never happened and forgets it. 

The humble find the Holy One. Just when the consciousness of sin and weakness, and the discovery of how much of self there is, makes you fear that you can never be holy, the Holy One gives Himself. Not as you look at self, and seek to know whether now you are contrite and humble enough—no, but when no longer looking at self, because you have given up all hope of seeing anything in it but sin, you look up to the Holy One, you will see how His promise is your only hope.” — Andrew Murray, Holy in Christ [emphasis mine] 

But you know what the really wonderful, amazing, grace-filled thing is? We don’t have to stop at the altar of incense in this new temple. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we can go all the way into God’s very presence and talk to him in person. Let us go there with assurance. 

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a Great Priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19-22 

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. Romans 8:1 (Message) 

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14  

But he answered me, “My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.” So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (The Passion Translation)

Photo copyright Jack Bair

All

None are left out here. All are included on the sin side, and no one is excluded on the redemption side.

All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6 (NKJV) 

This verse begins and ends with the Hebrew word kol, translated “all.” It means the whole, any, each, every, altogether, as many as, whatsoever, howsoever, whosoever – all. 

None are left out here. All are included on the sin side, and no one is excluded on the redemption side. Henry Allen Ironside wrote of this verse as a balancing of the books of heaven and as a condensed version of the story of the world. 

In verse six God, as it were, balances the books of the world – two debit entries and one credit entry. The two debit entries: “All we like sheep have gone astray” – there is the whole fallen human race; “we have turned every one to his own way” – there is each individual’s own personal sen; and then the credit entry that clears it all on the books of God if men would but receive it: “Jehovah hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (R[evised]. V[ersion].)

Here we have the entire story of the Bible epitomized: Man’s ruin both by nature and practice, and God’s marvelous and all-sufficient remedy. The verse begins with all and ends with all … The first is the acknowledgment of our deep need. The second shows how fully that need has been met in the Cross of Christ.

H.A. Ironside, Expository Notes on the Prophet Isaiah

And where it is translated “the Lord has laid on Him” our iniquities, the Hebrew word is paga. In the form used in this verse it literally means that the Lord made our iniquity to fall on him or attack him.  

[Paga] sometimes refers to a hostile encounter or attack … the Lord makes “sin” attack “him.” In their sin the group was like sheep who had wandered from God’s path. They were vulnerable to attack; the guilt of their sin was ready to attack and destroy them. But then the servant stepped in and took the full force of the attack.

NetBible Translators’ Notes

I love that! He stood between us and our sin and took the full force of the attack! And who is the “Him” who is spoken of in this verse? He is God’s Servant who is first introduced in Isaiah 42. He is the One who will “sprinkle many nations” and who will be “despised and rejected by men,” who will take up our infirmities and carry our sorrows. The one who will be, and has been, pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, and healed us by his wounds (Isaiah 52:15-53:5). He is Jesus Christ our Lord. 

All (the whole, any, each, every, altogether, as many as, whosoever) we like sheep have gone astray (erred, wandered, reeled and staggered, been intoxicated, led astray, misled, deceived); 

We have turned (turned from, away, back, aside), every one, to his own way (road, path, journey, direction, manner, habit, course of life, moral character);  

And the LORD has laid on Him (made to fall on him and attack him) the iniquity (perversity, depravity, sin, moral evil, fault, guilt, punishment, consequence) of us all (the whole, any, each, every, altogether, as many as, whosoever).  

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:22-24 

Sin

It’s never too late to confess our sins to God and seek refuge in His salvation.

This week a definite theme emerged in the blogs and devotionals I receive daily. Sin is not something we like to think or hear about, but it became obvious what the Spirit is saying. 

Just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned   Romans 5:12 

The Bible does not say that God punished the human race for one man’s sin, but that the nature of sin, namely, my claim to my right to myself, entered into the human race through one man. But it also says that another Man took upon Himself the sin of the human race and put it away— an infinitely more profound revelation (see Hebrews 9:26). The nature of sin is not immorality and wrongdoing, but the nature of self-realization which leads us to say, “I am my own god.” — Oswald Chambers, The Nature of Degeneration, From My Utmost for His Highest Updated Edition 

The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit. Psalm 34:18 

A broken heart, a contrite spirit, and a subdued will are rare things, especially in this age in which men everywhere are taught to demand their rights; and the church has become a place where man is exalted and enshrined as though he were God. Self-esteem, self-worth, and self-promotion are the cry of the day. Every man does that which is right in his own eyes. — Steve Rebus, Broken People!, https://steverebus.com/2020/10/05/broken-people/  

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  2 Corinthians 5:21 

Sin is a fundamental relationship— it is not wrong doing, but wrong being— it is deliberate and determined independence from God. The Christian faith bases everything on the extreme, self-confident nature of sin. Other faiths deal with sins— the Bible alone deals with sin. The first thing Jesus Christ confronted in people was the heredity of sin … — Oswald Chambers, The Nature of Reconciliation, From My Utmost for His Highest Updated Edition 

Just as the nature of sin entered into the human race through one man, the Holy Spirit entered into the human race through another Man (see Romans 5:12-19). And redemption means that I can be delivered from the heredity of sin, and that through Jesus Christ I can receive a pure and spotless heredity, namely, the Holy Spirit. — Oswald Chambers, The Nature of Regeneration, From My Utmost for His Highest Updated Edition 

When a Bible verse comes to me from two different sources in the same week, I pay attention:

How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:9, 11 

The psalmist answers his own question: By living according to God’s Word … Then he goes on to say, “I have hidden God’s word in my heart that I might not sin against God.” That’s the secret of purity. It’s hiding God’s Word in your heart, because one or other of two things is going to happen: Either God’s Word will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from God’s Word. 

So don’t just flow with the current like a dead fish. Be willing to be a live fish and swim against the stream. God’s Word will give you the strength if you hide it in your heart. It is possible to lead a pure life even in today’s world. — Derek Prince, Devotional: Hiding God’s Word 

With my whole heart I have sought You … Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You … I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways. Psalm 119:10-11, 15 – Blogged by Gary Wilkerson, Attentive to His Presence, World Challenge online devotional https://worldchallenge.org/devotion/attentive-his-presence?ref=devos   

Blogging about the raising of Lazarus, J.D. Walt writes (The Problem behind All Our Problems): 

Death was not part of God’s plan for his creation. It was a consequence of human sin—not a consequence as in punishment, but as in irrevocable laws of the universe, like gravity. If sin, then death. It turns out the law of sin and death was not so irrevocable after all. In fact, it’s not really accurate to call it a law. It’s an aberration. The only true and real law is the law of the spirit of life. The law of sin and death merely describes the outcome of rebellion against the law of the spirit of life … Love overcomes sin and life overwhelms death. 

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” John 11:40 

The gospel is the good news that God saves his sinful people from his wrath through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, promising to share his glory with them in a renewed creation forever—all to the praise of the glory of his grace. — Adam McClendon, via Dr. Peter Cockrell, The Gospel is Big Enough for Your Church https://pjcockrell.wordpress.com/2020/10/06/the-gospel-is-big-enough-for-your-church/  

It’s never too late to confess our sins to God and seek refuge in His salvation. He will deliver us from our sins if we only acknowledge and repent them. — Derek Prince 

Photograph copyright 2018 Derek Bair

In a Pitiful State

The concept of checed is as big as God himself it seems. There is no limit to God’s checed, so of course it would overflow us.

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Psalm 90:14

Satisfy us (Hebrew sabà=to be satisfied, sated, fulfilled, surfeited, filled, have desire satisfied, have in excess, be surfeited, overflowing, sate, i.e. fill to satisfaction, have enough)  

with your unfailing love (Hebrew checed=goodness, kindness, faithfulness, lovingkindness, merciful kindness, plus, plus, plus, more, more, more),

that we may sing for joy (overcome, triumph, be overcome/undone, cry out, shout for joy, give a ringing cry in joy, exaltation, praise, sing out for joy, rejoicing)

and be glad (rejoice, be joyful, be merry) all our days.

That word translated “satisfy” above is the Hebrew word sabà – to be satisfied, more than satisfied. This Psalm asks that we may be sated, fulfilled, overflowing with God’s checed. The concept of checed is as big as God himself it seems. There is no limit to God’s checed, so of course it would overflow us.

The LORD’S lovingkindnesses (checed) indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. Lamentations 3:22 (NASB)

 Checed is too big for a short definition. The NetBible reference notes from the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament uses 2,444 words to attempt a definition, but still doesn’t sabà-fulfill this concept. But one statement resonated deeply with me as the very heart of checed.

[Checed] is a kind of love, including mercy, ḥannûn, when the object is in a pitiful state. It often takes verbs of action, “do,” “keep,” and so refers to acts of love as well as to the attribute. The word “lovingkindness” of the KJV is archaic, but not far from the fulness of meaning of the word.

H. J. Stoebe[i]

Mercy and acts of love when the object is in a pitiful state. Yes, and amen.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless (strengthless, helpless, weak, feeble), Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8

You could say that when we were in a pitiful state, Christ died for us. When we were sunk in the muck up to our chins and sinking fast, when there was nothing left for us to try, when we were at the end and knew it, stuck, ensnared, trapped, hopeless – pitiful – Jesus stepped in and proved God’s checed for us by dying on the Cross. Jesus, our Emmanuel. God’s very Presence with us showing us the Way to God’s very Presence within us. And shout for joy, give a ringing cry, exalt rejoicing, for that is where we find our sabà. In His Presence.

You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness (sabà) of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. Psalm 16:11

Thank you Jesus that you demonstrated the Father’s unceasing, unlimited checed for us, saving us when we were in our pitiful state and making a way for us to find sabà, overflowing fulfillment, in your Presence forever.

Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits- who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love (checed) and compassion, who satisfies (sabà) your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:1-5

If you long to find fulfillment and satisfaction in God, but are in that pitiful state, trapped in sin, please pray.

“Dear God,

I know I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness.
I believe Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe that He died
for my sin and that you raised Him to life.
I want to trust Him as my Savior and follow Him as Lord,
from this day forward. Guide my life and help me to do your will.

I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.”

∗Prayer from Billy Graham ministries

Image copyright 2019 by Derek Bair


[i] Stoebe, H. J., “Die Bedeutung des Wortes Hasad im Alten Testament,” Vetus Testamentum, 2:244–54.

The Snake

“… faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.”

So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived. Numbers 21:9

Snakes kill in lots of ways. Some inject a poison that quickly or slowly paralyzes its victim. Some use constriction, squeezing the life out of its prey. Others just swallow their victim whole, headfirst to immobilize them and lessen the chance of resistance and escape. Sounds like sin to me, especially the headfirst part. So often sin starts with wrong thinking.

In the Bible snakes are symbols of both sin and the consequences of sin. Numbers 21:5-9 the people grumbled against the Lord and he sent poisonous snakes among them. They cried out to Moses and God instructed him to make a snake image (or substitute) and raise it up on a pole for the Israelites to look at. If they looked at the snake, they would be healed/delivered. By looking at the snake in obedience to the command they were putting their faith, not in the snake, but in God who provided this way of salvation.

Pointing to this event, Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). Moses’ snake was a foreshadowing or picture of Jesus on the cross. The snakes were what was killing the people – a snake was lifted up on the pole. Sin is/was what is killings us – Jesus became that sin and was lifted up on the cross. When we look to him in faith we are healed and saved. A.W. Tozer commented on these verses.

Our plain man, in reading this, would make an important discovery. He would notice that look and believe are synonymous terms. “Looking” on the Old Testament serpent is identical with “believing” in the New Testament Christ. That is, the looking and the believing are the same thing. And he would understand that, while Israel looked with their external eyes, believing is done with the heart. I think he would conclude that faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.–A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

It is hard to think of Jesus as a poisonous snake, but that is what he did for us. He became that poisonous snake of sin. He did this so that sin could receive its righteous and just consequence from God in Jesus’ body. The consequence of sin – death and separation from the God who loves us. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he cried (Matthew 27:46). He was separated from God hanging there on the pole. He became our sin; he took our consequence. The people in Moses day were healed/saved temporarily – we are healed/saved eternally.

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. Isaiah 59:2

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” Galatians 3:13

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:14-17

God did not send his Son into the world to condemn, but to save.

 

The Snake is also available as a Bible study which you are free to print and use at The Snake Bible Study

 

Image Death in the Afternoon, Common/Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) swallowing an American toad (Bufo americanus), by Sarunas Burdulis, https://flic.kr/p/chmx5S

Another Lost Sheep

Jesus came for the ones who have been written off.

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:
“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.  Luke 15:1-5

This fellow welcomes sinners. One of my favorite verses. He welcomes us sinners! He doesn’t just tolerate us. That word means to receive or give access to one’s self, to admit into companionship, to accept and not to reject. It comes from a word that means to receive into one’s family, to embrace, make one’s own. What glorious grace! And, praise God, he doesn’t wait for us to come to him, because if he did, most of us would never find our way. This fellow goes out and tracks us down.

Everyone will be lost at one time or another. Or many times. Some of us chronically wander into narrow canyons where paths stop so abruptly you can’t even turn around and go back out. Only a shepherd’s crook from an overhanging ledge in the hands of a strong shepherd can haul you up to safety.—Suzanne Guthrie

I love that – everyone will be lost at one time or another. I love, too, the title of the above image by Kristen Klein: Found – Another Lost Sheep. Yes, another.

There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God … (Romans 3:22-23)

And that lostness does not merely mean the meandering wandering of a confused sheep. The word translated “lost” is the Greek word apollumi, which means to destroy, mar or render useless, perish, be lost, die or kill. It comes from two words:

apo = the separation of a part from the whole; separation of one thing from another by which the union or fellowship of the two is destroyed; a state of separation, that is of distance

olethros = ruin, death, destruction

Isn’t that what sin is all about? Separation from the family. Separation from fellowship, leading to ruin, death, and destruction. It’s a hopeless word; it’s a seemingly final word. Yet (yet!), Jesus said he came for us destroyed, ruined, marred, perished, dead ones. He came for us, who by our sin and wandering from the way, have been separated from the flock, separated from fellowship with God, headed toward ruin, death, and destruction.

If you are trapped in one of those dead-end canyons and feel like you can’t turn around, that you can’t go back, that it’s too late for you, know this: Jesus came for the ones who have been written off. The ones, who in the eyes of world and maybe their own eyes too, are already dead. But not in the eyes of God. Never in the eyes of God.

He is seeking you right now. He welcomes you. Cry out to him and the strong Shepherd will be there instantly.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 1 Timothy 1:15

For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. Romans 3:22-24 (MSG)

 

This blog is also available as a Bible study, free to copy and use, at Another Lost Sheep Bible Study

Image, Found – another lost sheep . . . by Kristen Klein https://flic.kr/p/iZRiZV

The Face of the Lamb

The next day he [John] saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 (NASB)

“Just watch the one who is approaching—not the Baptist there in the water but the one who is walking toward the Baptist along the edge of the water. Siehe, das ist Gottes Lamm. Nothing matters except him. See how the air stirs, bending the rushes in front of him. Watch his face as he picks his way along—nobody else’s face. His. Everything that matters is in his face. Everything that matters is in his hands. In his hands is the meaning and purpose of creation, the first voice says. In his hands is your life, the second voice says. Behold, he taketh away the sins of the world. Das ist Gottes Lamm.” –Fredrick Buechner

I love this quote by Buechner. “Everything that matters is in his face. Everything that matters is in his hands.“ It reminds me of this verse in Psalms:

It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them. Psalm 44:3[i]

I also love the German translation of John’s prophetic exclamation – Siehe, das ist Gottes Lamm! – See, this is God’s Lamb! Something happened that day as Jesus walked down the riverbank. John the Baptist had come as a forerunner to announce the coming of the Messiah. But, he hadn’t known who he was looking for until that day when Jesus, his familiar cousin, had come down to the river to be baptized.

John’s eyes were opened, and he received the revelation. See! It makes me wonder if maybe there was something different in Jesus’ face that day. Maybe Jesus had already set his face like flint to accomplish his suffering, his mission to take away the sin of the world. Or maybe, to John, Jesus’ face shone like Moses’ had when the veil was lifted. Or maybe the veil over John’s own mind and heart was lifted. Maybe all of those. Whatever it was John knew, “See, this is God’s Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world!”

God’s Lamb, or the Lamb of God refers to the ancient prophecy in Genesis 22:8 when Abraham assured Isaac, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Géza Vermes has written: “For the Palestinian Jew, all lamb sacrifice, and especially the Passover lamb and the Tamid offering, was a memorial of the Akedah [the binding of Isaac] with its effects of deliverance, forgiveness of sin and messianic salvation.”[ii]

The Lamb of God who “takes away.” The Greek word is airó (αἴρω) and its definition tells the story of Jesus’ ministry and his death on the Cross.

to raise up, elevate, lift up

But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself. John 12:32

to draw up a fish

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” Mark 1:17

to take off or away what is attached to anything, to loose, remove

And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed (loosed) from your sickness.” Luke 13:12 (NASB)

to raise from the ground, to take up stones

“My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. John 10:29-31 (NASB)

to take by force

Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Luke 22:54

to take from among the living, either by a natural death, or by violence

By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. Isaiah 53:8

to take upon one’s self and carry what has been raised up, to bear

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24

to expiate sin

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:2

“See, this is God’s Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world!”

For God, who said,

“Let light shine out of darkness,”

made his light shine in our hearts

to give us the light

of the knowledge of the glory of God

in the face of Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:6

 

Image, detail from John the Baptist by Jack Baumgartner. Used by permission of the artist. See more at his blog here The School of the Transfer of Energy

 

[i] All Bible quotations from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

[ii] Géza Vermes. Scripture and Tradition in Judaism, 1961.