What’s so Good about Good Friday? (Hebrews 9:11-28)

I’ll admit that it seems odd that a day of somber remembrance of death bears the name of “good.”  What makes it good? You may have heard it said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!” Easter – the Resurrection is so big, it engulfs everything. We cannot think about the weekend without knowing the big picture. But beyond that, Good Friday is so good because, in terms of our studies in this series, this is THE DAY that the final payment for sin was made. The humiliation of Christ opens the door for the exaltation of our Savior, including all the benefits of his righteousness that accrue to all who trust and believe.good friday

So today’s reading has the writer to the Hebrews telling them that Christ was a priest beyond the order and function of any priest ever in Israel – beyond Moses and certainly beyond the current sinner occupying that position in Jerusalem at the time of his letter. Those guys went into an earthly tabernacle – appearing twice before the ark to sprinkle blood. They first had to atone for themselves, since they were sinners, and then a second time as representative of the people. Christ, however, made his appearance, not in some place of human construction, but before God himself. And he appeared once (since he was sinless), and he came not with animal blood, but with his own human blood as our perfect sacrifice for sin. There is an argument made here from the lesser to the greater. It is saying that, if the old system made the worshipper ceremonially clean on the outside (and it did!), then how much more will the blood of Christ make the worshipper clean all the way through (and it does!). The writer also again reiterates that Christ did this one time – not year after year after year. Indeed, it could be summarized by the use of actual “cross words” … IT IS FINISHED!

crossesThe middle section of the reading today might give you a bit of trouble (vss. 16-22). Let me illustrate this: I have once been the executor of a last will and testament – of my last surviving parent, my mother. Among the necessary documents for the will to be attested as true and able to be enforced was the actual certificate of death. This may seem very obvious, but, for any will or testament to go into effect, there must be the death of the one who made it. Even if we know we are written into someone’s will, we cannot go out and use those resources and claim them as our own – the person must first die. And so, for us to inherit and lay claim to the benefits of salvation, it was necessary for a death to take place … done of course by Christ, through which we become the beneficiaries – inheriting the cross words benefits of atonement, propitiation, expiation, redemption, reconciliation, etc.

So, for us this is a good day, though a very sobering one. We invite you to come worship with us tonight at 7:00 if you are in the Tri-State area.

Hebrews 9

11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter 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. 13 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!

15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

16 In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17 because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18 This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19 When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20 He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21 In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

23 It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Cross Words:

Ransom – this is in our passage today in verse 15. There is a sense in which Christ has paid a ransom for sin. It may be said that our condition from the curse of sin thereby enslaves to it. A wrong way of the use of ransom is how some will teach that this is the summary of the death of Christ – that he was paying a ransom to Satan to release us. No… that is giving Satan way too much authority.

Noon and Eloi – At the death of Christ, darkness descended on the land for three hours as it says in this passage from Mark 15:33,34:  At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

puzzle day 10

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Credit Card Salvation (Hebrews 9:1-10)

I have really been afraid that in the recent days of this devotional writing project I’ve gone a bit too academic on everyone – I have somehow gained a reputation for that. So, to balance it out a little bit, let me begin today with a quote from my boys’ and my favorite movie of all time – “Dumb and Dumber.” We contend that there is a quote from that 1994 classic that fits just about every life scenario, so let me prove it today! Harry and Lloyd have come into possession of a briefcase filled with money, and over the course of the movie they spend it all, keeping track of it with slips of papers – I.O.U.’s.  And at the end, when the briefcase gets back to the rightful owner’s hands and he opens it to find nothing but hundreds of slips of paper, he says, “What is this? What is this? Where’s all the money?”  And Lloyd answers seriously, “That’s as good as money, sir. Those are I.O.U.’s. Go ahead and add it up, every cent’s accounted for. Look, see this? That’s a car. $275 thousand. Might wanna hang onto that one!”  

We have come to understand paying for things on credit. From Wimpy in the comic strip Popeye telling everyone “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today,” to our federal government running up a spending debt of $16,000,000,000,000.  Perhaps charging things to another account and another day is innate, as last week my three-year-old granddaughter quietly downloaded $380 worth of books on her mommy’s Kindle reader.

Credit cards are convenient; they work long enough to successfully purchase something in the short term, but a day of final payment is inevitably going to come.

The last three days we have read Leviticus chapter 16 which detailed the institution of the Day of Atonement. It was a single day of the year of salvation for the nation of Israel – as the blood of a goat was sprinkled over the broken law and the scapegoat was sent off to the wilderness to symbolize the removal of sin. But as we have already spoken of in this series of devotionals, a final payment to truly and fully forever remove sin would have to be made by one of the same substance – man … that the blood of bulls and goats was insufficient. In essence, the Old Testament payment was like a credit card charge – good for the moment, but ultimately in need of a final payment by the real thing.

So in today’s reading, the writer to the Hebrews begins to tell his readers how the work of Christ is greater than this long-standing Day of Atonement thing that had been going on year after year. In fact, his main point is that since it had been going on repeatedly, that very repetition illustrated that it was a weak system of credit … as it says in verse 9 the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.”  And the following verse makes it clear that they were temporary things until a new order could be established – the new covenant in Christ, expressed in the message of the Gospel.

These readers of the book of Hebrews were mostly Jewish people who had come to recently trust in Christ; they were getting beat up for their faith; and they were beginning to doubt to the extent of going back to a system where at least they could see and talk to an earthly priest. And the writer is combating this by saying, “No, don’t go back to a lesser, temporary system. The new system has now come through the work of Christ. You have a better high priest who is in a better place – in God’s presence.” Understanding this helps us understand why the same writer said to the same people:  “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  (4:14-16)

Hebrews 9

9:1 Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. 2 A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lamp stand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. 3 Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, 4 which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered Ark of the Covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. 5 Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.

6 When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. 7 But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. 8 The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. 9 This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.

More “cross words” on the puzzle …

Sin – Yes, the issue that made the mess that made the cross necessary.

Truth – The message and work of the cross is the #1 truth in the world. That is why Christ is so hated and why the cross is such a symbol of fury to people around the world who are enslaved by Satan’s lies.

puzzle day 9

Being Made the Scapegoat (Leviticus 16:20-34)

In this early portion of the “cross words” series, we have been talking about propitiation and atonement. I earlier wrote that I would bet that the word “propitiation” is not one that any of you use during normal daily conversation. However, our study today involves a word that is very commonly used, though I’d venture that the vast majority of people have no idea whatsoever that it comes from the Bible and from the book of Leviticus.

When we use the term scapegoat, we are usually saying that someone is having the blame for something quite unjustly placed upon them, rather than upon the person or people who should properly bear it. For example, I might use the term to say, “Tony Romo has become the scapegoat for the failure of the Dallas Cowboys in recent years.”  Though I am only very marginally a fan of football and of the Cowboys, whenever I watch them play, the poor guy is running for his life because the offensive line totally stinks! Okay – all you Ravens, Redskins, and Steelers fans – don’t get lost in the illustration … you get the point.

So, on the Day of Atonement there were two goats. Lots were cast, and one was chosen to be slain for the blood sprinkling we read about yesterday. The second goat had the high priest lay both hands on its head and confess the sins of the people onto it. Then, a cross country runner (possibly from the Tribe of Randy?) was given the task of taking the goat out to a distant and remote place of the wilderness and leaving it there. This symbolized the removal of sin from the nation.

The rest of the text today talks about the details of what is to become of the carcasses of the animals given for sacrifice. As well, there are details about the washing and cleansing of the priest, the scapegoat runner, and the guy who got rid of the carcasses by taking them outside the camp.

The passage also details that this annual day was to be a Sabbath rest – a time very much set aside by everyone. This ceremony is twice said to be remembered as a lasting ordinance in the nation. For those of you who recently tracked with us through the Deuteronomy “Revive” series, you will recall how many times Moses said that the Israelites were to remember and teach the rising generations about the Lord and His deeds. In like manner, this day was to have special significance that would be evident to all – especially the young. And it was to be forever celebrated and observed.

In our teaching series, we have introduced a second word – expiation – which is closely connected to the first word propitiation. You might think of both of them as speaking of satisfaction; but whereas propitiation is about the satisfaction achieved by God’s wrath being averted, expiation is the satisfaction because of the payment or taking away of sin. Propitiation is Godward and is the first goat, whereas expiation is manward and is the second goat. See, you can handle these big words! Maybe through them around in the office a bit this week!

Leviticus 16

20 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.

23 “Then Aaron is to go into the tent of meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there. 24 He shall bathe himself with water in the sanctuary area and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 He shall also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar.

26 “The man who releases the goat as a scapegoat must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. 27 The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and intestines are to be burned up. 28 The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp.

29 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves[c] and not do any work—whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you— 30 because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. 31 It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. 32 The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments 33 and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the tent of meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the members of the community.

34 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”

And it was done, as the Lord commanded Moses.

Remember the Good Friday Service at 7:00 – a study of the cross word “Atonement”

More words for the puzzle:

Mercy – This word is closely connected to all that we have talked about so far in terms of propitiation / satisfaction / the mercy seat on the top of the ark. It relates to the placation of God’s anger and the averting of His wrath that toward us results in mercy extended.

Favor – Similar to above, favor is the extension of grace and mercy where wrath is deserved.

puzzle day 8

Blood Splattered all over the Place! (Leviticus 16:11-19)

I am not a hunter. I am not against it at all, and several of my boys are very much into the sport. I have a very conflicted relationship with the deer population. On one hand I see them as beautiful creatures of God’s creation; but on the other hand, given the 10+ family incidents of car collisions with these overgrown rodents, I applaud all efforts at herd control! My issue for not taking personal revenge against them with a Mossberg Deer Thugs .30-06 Bolt Action Rifle with Scope is that I don’t want to deal with the blood and guts! Gross! Major Yuck! That is disgusting!blood_spatter

So, I’d probably not do well as a priest in the Levitical system in Israel. There was blood all over the place … regular sacrifices and hunks of meat and innards, etc. Think also about the smells! And did I mention yet?… blood everywhere! Everything about the Old Testament system of sacrifice pictured the terrible cost of sin, along with the costly and bloody price of redemption.

Why blood? Why sacrifice? Why the innocent for the guilty? Well, it all goes back to the beginning. Adam and Eve needed to be clothed to cover their nakedness and sin. Where did the skins come from? Yes, from innocent animals – slain to provide cover for the guilty sinners. A principle was established – a theme was set that would carry throughout Scripture and find descriptive fulfillment in a series of “cross words.”

Today’s reading gives details as to the role of the High Priest on the annual Day of Atonement – the biggest day of the year in terms of sin being paid for by sacrifice. Aaron was to come into the most holy place and into the presence of the ark – over which was the Shekinah glory of the Lord that was the very presence of God amongst His people.

When Aaron entered behind the curtain the first time, he was to take a censor of hot coals (from the altar upon which the sacrifices were made outside the tent) and put incense upon it – the result being that this would make a cloud of smoke which would hide the Shekinah glory from being seen by Aaron, in which event he would die. And he was also to take blood from a slain bull and sprinkle it on the atonement cover of the ark. The idea here is that the blood provided a symbolic covering for debt of the broken law, which was contained in the ark.

On the next trip into the most holy place, Aaron was to take blood from the goat upon which the lot had fallen to be slain. Again the blood was sprinkled on behalf of the nation to provide an atonement for sin. As well, Aaron would put blood upon the various furnishings of the tabernacle structure and even the brazen altar – again, as a cleansing cover for sin.

This entire scene is ripe with significance and meaning that would find ultimate fulfillment in the work of Christ. We will go to Hebrews to detail that for Thursday and Friday devotionals … after reading and commenting upon the scapegoat tomorrow.

No matter how you look at it, paying for sin is costly. I have light-heartedly spoken of blood at the top of these thoughts today. But as we end, let us be much sobered by our own sin that has contributed to the price of our own individual redemption. As Peter wrote:  For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors,but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Leviticus 16

11 “Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12 He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.

15 “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17 No one is to be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.

18 “Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. 19 He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.

Two more “cross words” for the puzzle:

Judgment – God’s justice demands that He judge sin. It cannot be in His presence. We need to be perfect to be with God – to have righteousness … which we don’t have. But we may gain Christ’s righteousness – the one who took the judgment of God on our behalf.

Blood – Life is in the blood, and the shedding of blood was the giving of life. Without the shedding of blood (the Scriptures say) there is no remission of sin.

puzzle day 7

No Pressure, Just Don’t Mess Up! (Leviticus 16:1-10)

Any of the several hundred great kids that ran cross country for me at Williamsport High School can tell you that the title today is my famous final word to them on the starting line of every race. I would say, “OK, remember now, no pressure – just don’t mess up” and then I’d immediately turn around and walk away. It was meant to communicate that while this was indeed a serious athletic event, we should also have fun while competing (and winning!).

Moses’ brother Aaron – the high priest for the nation of Israel – received pretty much the same message from God … although there was no humor whatsoever attached to it.

In today’s reading, we have laid out the prescription for the sacred annual event in Israel known as “The Day of Atonement” (listed on our calendars as Yom Kippur). To cover this chapter 16, we will use three days of readings – today gives the basic overview of it, with the following verses over the next two days detailing the precise activities to be observed.

The first verse gives a historical context as to exactly when this revelation came to Moses – to be passed along to Aaron. It was (presumably soon) after the death of two of Aaron’s four sons. This is recorded six chapters earlier in Leviticus 10. It is not exactly clear what Nadab and Abihu did when it says they came before the Lord with “unauthorized fire,” but whatever it was, it is apparent that they should have known better and were not being respectfully accurate about how they were serving. Fire came out from the Lord and killed them on the spot – and Aaron and the two other brothers were essentially told to stay there and not grieve over them at all! All of this happened on day #1 that Aaron and the boys were doing their priestly job.

So – back to our chapter 16 – if you were Aaron, and Moses came to you and said, “The Lord says that you are not to go behind the curtain into the most holy place where resides the ark and the mercy seat whenever you want to” … would you, in light of what you saw happen to your boys, be ready to listen and to apply every detail? And, oh my – there were details.

This ceremony was to occur but once a year; Aaron was to wear certain garments that were clean – and he was not to be stinky himself; Aaron was to prepare a sacrifice for himself and his family, since they were sinners; and Aaron was to secure two goats to make atonement for the sins of the people. We’ll circle back along with the text in the next two readings to go over these details and what they mean.

But today, let me make one main point about this whole scenario. Notice how in the old economy of the Old Covenant that it was a scary sort of “stay away” kind of thing? The picture is of a God who is filled with wrath at sin – one who could only be approached in very precise and prescribed ways. The reason for that is … well … God was angry at sin and could only be approached carefully in specified ways. But then, in the New Testament economy of the New Covenant, the attitude is one that is grace-enriched with an entire open-armed flavor of “Come unto me!”  Why the difference? In a word – “propitiation.”  God has been satisfied by the covering (atonement) for sin that was paid by the blood of Christ. Remember the moment of the death of Christ and what happened?…  The thick curtain in the Temple that separated off the most holy place was ripped open and people could even see into this place that was continuously hidden from sight – representing that the way to God had been opened to all.

Are you getting this? Are you picking up on these “cross words”??  They are important. How about making plans to worship with us this Friday night at 7:00?  We’ll talk about this some more.

16:1 The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the Lord. 2 The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.

3 “This is how Aaron is to enter the Most Holy Place: He must first bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5 From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

6 “Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.

Let’s identify two more cross words on the word search puzzle today – again, the final words list and all letters will be available three weeks from today!

Faith – This is “believe” in the sense that you place your “trust” in it. It must have been difficult to have trust/belief/faith that Jesus was the Son of God if you were there seeing him hang on that Roman cross. But there were 500 or more witnesses who could testify to the truth of resurrection – yet, faith remains necessary to apply the Gospel message, being saved by grace through faith.

Hell – All of the great enemies of God are defeated by the cross and the resurrection: Satan, sin, darkness, death … and hell.

puzzle day 6

The Devil Made Me Do It? (Romans 8:1-4)

I know, I know … I just lost everyone under age 50 with that title. It of course refers to the 40-years ago television program called “The Flip Wilson Show.”  I guess we were easily entertained in those days, because everyone tuned in to see Flip play the character roles of “Reverend Leroy” – the arrogant pastor of “The Church of What’s Happening Now,” and the sassy “Geraldine Jones” – the impulse-shopping African-American woman who would justify her every indulgence by saying, “The Devil made me do it!”  The phrase became a national catchphrase. Yep, it was a simpler time!

However, the problem we all know is that there is some power that makes us prone to sin – even after knowing Christ as Lord and Savior. The Apostle Paul was no exception to this. And in chapter seven of Romans he goes through a cyclic litany of “I don’t do what I want to do, and the things I do, I don’t want to do” utterances that express the frustrations of the war that goes on within the human heart and flesh. Then, in the final verses of that chapter he says, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

So what about this evil power of the flesh and sin nature … are we bound by it? Are we condemned by it?  The beginning of chapter eight of Romans – our reading for today – says that we have no condemnation against us in Jesus Christ. The word for “condemnation” is one that means there is no sentence of punishment against us because of a guilty judgment. Why? Because God has been propitiated – satisfied – by the substitutionary payment of Jesus Christ on the cross.

The law condemned a man – showing him his sin and demonstrating the utter impossibility of keeping it … it was a law of sin and death. But a new law exists – the law of the Spirit – a power within that makes it possible to live a life of obedience to God and truth. And the old law of sin in the flesh leading to death – that law and power is what has been in actuality handed the sentence of condemnation (the same basic word as above).

So that is very cool! Sin and death is being judged, not us. Rather, we have the Spirit of God to help us live for Him as we yield to His presence within. The title of the first sermon of this “Cross Words” series last Sunday – “I’ve Been Judged” – no, we do not need to have that feeling; sin has been judged and God is satisfied with the payment.

8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set youfree from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.And so he condemned sin in the flesh,in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

To those of you reading this on varied devices — to follow the ongoing puzzle you will need to go to the URL or in some fashion go to the web page to see it. The big day when the whole thing is revealed will be on April 22.

Again, here are two more words for the puzzle. I hope you are keeping track of this so that at the last week, you can take a shot at solving the whole thing and winning the grand prize!

Law – We talked about this today. The Law of Moses with all of its regulations – though it had a prescription for atoning for sin in a temporary way, it ultimately was powerless to defeat it and give a final victory. But Christ fulfilled the Law, and as the perfect sacrifice paid the penalty that rendered the Law of no lasting effect.

Freedom – The Law never made it possible for a person to feel free. There was always a sense of condemnation and requirement. But as it says in today’s reading, we have been set free from this by the great work of Jesus Christ. Freedom is indeed a “cross word.”

Puzzle day 5

Brothers and Sisters of Christ? Really? (Hebrews 2:10-17)

One of my favorite commercials of recent years is one about undershirts – featuring Michael Jordan and an “average Joe” carpet salesman, who happen to be seated next to each other on an airplane. The guy says to Jordan – referencing a person across the aisle, “That dude keeps looking over here; I must have sold him some carpet or something.” Oblivious to the obvious, the salesman nonetheless does observe that, unlike he and Michael Jordan, the dude across the aisle has an undershirt that wrinkles at the neckline – which he calls a bacon neck. He says of their shirts, “Ours lay flat … we’re like twins!”  Jordan sort of laughs and says, “No we’re not.”  (A video link to the commercial is HERE.)

The passage we read today talks about how Jesus Christ is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters. We are siblings with Christ? Is he like us? Yes, he is! No, he’s not!  Which is it?

This early portion of the book of Hebrews is addressing the issue of identifying exactly who Christ is – as both divine and man. Here, speaking of his humanity, a couple of Old Testament Scriptures from Psalms and Isaiah are quoted. And the writer defines how it was necessary for Christ to be fully human like us if he was to be the perfect sacrifice for sin. He had to be of the same flesh and blood substance to be an adequate substitute – as it would say later, that the blood of bulls and goats was insufficient for a final payment.

Yet at the same time, for Christ to be the perfect sacrifice, he had to be … perfect (possessing righteousness – to use another “cross word” we’ll talk about a lot later on in this series). And the only way he could be perfect is if he was deity. And the only way he could be both perfect God and perfect man would be if he was born of a virgin birth, conceived not by man but by the Spirit. This is why precise theology is important.

There is another Greek word, besides the one referenced the past two days in 1 John, that also carries the meaning “to placate, appease, propitiate.” And this word (hilaskomai) is used in today’s passage in verse 17 when it speaks about how Christ was “… fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”  (In all of these passages, we begin to note how the words “propitiation” and “atonement” are closely connected.)

But here is the main idea for today:  The reason God is able to be satisfied (propitiated) with the offering of Christ is because Jesus was the perfect sacrifice to pay the price to cover the debt of sin and placate God’s wrath toward sin – because he was fully man … and therefore, in Christ, we are his brothers and sisters in the fullest sense within God’s family. Yes we are!

The only other occurrence of this word translated “make atonement” in today’s passage is over in Luke 18:13, where the repentant tax collector said, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.”  He was saying in essence, “Lord be propitiated toward me, a sinner.”

Hebrews 2

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.”  And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

We add two more words of identification to the puzzle:

Tomb – The reality of the true death of Christ is important … that he was indeed in a tomb for three days. A tomb was necessary for a resurrection from the grave to occur.

Tree – The wooden cross is often referenced as the “tree.” … as in Galatians 3:13 about the curse of anyone who hangs on a tree.

Puzzle day 4

My Annual Day of Perspective (1 John 4:7-21)

I really could write a book about our parenting and family experiences in a home of five boys. Among the chapters would be one entitled “My Annual Day of Perspective.”

Our first three boys are rather close in age. And being a good father during the years when they were very young (toddlers, preschoolers, early elementary), it was my annual duty to take them shopping for Christmas presents for mommy. OH MY! They were always so pumped up about this, whereas I just hoped to survive it. I had already about exhausted my energies just thinking up what we might actually buy for Diana. And they would have a few ideas of their own … not exactly normal present ideas, nor something you could do with one-stop shopping.

So, off to the malls we would go. This of course required at least two car seats and a stroller. So there was the confusion of getting younger ones out of the seats without the older ones running into parking lot traffic. Next was the challenge of getting through multiple layers of the airlock doors at the store. One of them fell down inside the door, while simultaneously the door blew shut to knock the other two on top of the first one. This, of course, engendered a fight – as the boy on the bottom was angry that his brothers piled on him, while the guy on top was offended that the bottom one did not understand it was the door’s fault. But the result was that all three were crying and yelling.

Eventually, we would find something to buy and we would take it to the checkout counter. There I would ask, “So who is going to pay for this?”  Six eyes would look back at me as if to say, “Oh wow, we never thought about that until now!”  So, dad would say, “I’ll take care of it for you!” (And we would go home – the boys with presents for mom, and me with a perspective on what Diana went through every time she went to the store!)

In our reading today we see the second of the passages in the New Testament where the word “propitiation” is used (and again translated as “atoning sacrifice”). In both the sermon on Sunday and in the writing yesterday, we have spoken about how this term speaks of the idea of “satisfaction” – that God’s wrath toward sin was satisfied by the payment of Christ on the cross. BUT, it is even more amazing than that. The Father has not only been satisfied with the payment, HE made the payment possible through the sending of his Son! We could not pay. We possessed no currency to cover the price – having nothing more in our “moral pockets” than my boys had dollars in their britches. The one being satisfied also had to be the one who made the satisfaction possible. Certainly you have to agree with me that THIS.IS.AMAZING!

I have pulled out of this passage the portion that deals with the theological “cross word” we are studying – propitiation. But, do not miss the teaching of the context in which this concept was used as an example: the duty of Christians to love one another. Here is the main idea of this section: If you will consider the great love of God that He has first lavishly displayed upon us, certainly there is no reason why all of you who have received such grace should not, it turn, be committed to love one another!

The passage teaches that our love for one another had not only “ought to be,” but that it is the measure of the reality of the Spirit in us, it is what makes us complete, and it is what demonstrates whether we are people who are truthful or liars. Notice the ending where after such an argument is given, there is nothing remaining to write but to give it as a command – verse 21:  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

God’s Love and Ours

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Let us identify two more words in the word search:

“Love” and “Agape” – You might say, “Well, I know that that is the same thing.”  Yes, it is – agape is a Greek word for love. But this is one of those occasions where the Greek language (of the New Testament) has several words that can be translated into English as “love” – there is eros which speak of a sensual love (hence like “erotic”) and philia which depicts a brotherly love (hence like “Philadelphia”). But agape is used of selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love – such as God has displayed for us. It is the glue of the cross words – love held Christ to the cross, not the nails.

Puzzle day 3

God is Satisfied (1 John 2:1-10)

(Note – Our reading today will be best understood in combination with tomorrow’s passage – just two chapters later – 1 John 4:7-21.)

The first of our seven words that we are studying in this series is a big one – propitiation. I am going to guess that it is pretty unlikely that you have used that word sometime this past week or two in common conversation. A simple definition would be “satisfaction.” The concept is bigger than merely that – involving also what made satisfaction possible – but this one word definition can get us started on understanding this doctrine and this “cross word.”cropped mercedes pic

Have you ever been really angry about an unjust situation that came into your life – like, let’s say you just bought your dream car – a late model Benz 300 Series with only 40,000 miles. And sure enough, the next day this dude in an ’89 Ford pickup runs a red light and crushes the front end of your sweet chariot. Ugh! So, you have to go through an entire insurance process dealing with companies and police reports; and then you have to arrange to eventually take the car to the body shop … all the time wondering if you are really going to see the issue repaired. Then finally, when you get the car back … wow! The repair is so good that, in fact, the car looks better than it did when you bought it. And you are SATISFIED. Your anger is soothed and the debt is paid … the situation is rectified to your total satisfaction and you are at peace. In Bible theology talk, we might say that you have been “propitiated” … or that there has been a “propitiation” for your anger.

When you think about all the religions of the world who have presented their ideas about their “gods,” always included is the notion that the gods are angry – that they need to be placated in some fashion to keep the worshiper from being smashed like a stink bug. Remember the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal? (1 Kings 18)  All the prophets of Baal built an altar and put a bull on it; then they called out “O Baal, hear us” and danced around, even cutting themselves in an effort to get their gods to send fire. After hours of this bizarre scene, Elijah even begins to taunt them – asking if their gods are asleep, or perhaps on a vacation cruise. And finally, God’s prophet comes to Him in the divinely-prescribed way – in faith with the sacrifice of a lamb. There is no display of human effort or deeds to appease an angry God, rather the sacrificed lamb pleases God – satisfying Him, and the answer is sent in most dramatic fashion.

And so, on the cross of Christ – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – the sacrifice of God’s perfect Son who takes our place of judgment – satisfies God’s wrath toward sin. Yes, God is angry at sin (as we talked about yesterday), but the payment of Christ is more than sufficient. The credit that covers the debt is enough to please God. And the passage today – written to those who already have that relationship with God through Christ – teaches that if any of them sin, there continues to be credit in the account that is sufficient to satisfy God. In fact, that credit is enough not only for them, but for the sins of the whole world (though not all accept and apply the payment).

In verse 2, the New International Version translates the Greek word hilasmos – which means “propitiation” by the words “the atoning sacrifice.” Many other translations have kept the actual word “propitiation” without giving an explanatory equivalent. The rest of the reading today goes on to a sort of application in our lives as it would relate to first obeying God, and then loving others. Essentially, if God has so forgiven us, it certainly would not look like we are the real deal if we cannot forgive another Christian for their sins against us.

This is good stuff … but it gets even better tomorrow!

2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him:Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.

We identify two new words in the puzzle again today:

Fall – By this, we are speaking of the “fall of man” – meaning the original sin that caused mankind to fall from a perfect relationship and standing with God… and incur the debt of sin and the curse of death.

Dark – Darkness symbolizes sin and stands as the opposite of God and light. The Bible speaks of a kingdom of light and a kingdom of darkness – the latter of which is defeated by the cross. Of course, at the time of the crucifixion, a darkness descends upon the earth at midday.

Puzzle 2

No Excuses for Mankind’s Situation (Romans 1:16-32)

Before talking about today’s Scripture reading, let me welcome you to the first of what will be a total of 30 devotional readings and writings (Monday to Friday for six weeks) that supplement the current Tri-State Fellowship teaching series called “Cross Words.”  These writings are timed daily to hit at 6:00 each morning, and I remind you that you may have them delivered automatically to your email.

The Reason for Cross Words

Of course, what we mean by cross words are those Bible and doctrinal terms that are connected to the work of Jesus Christ in dying on the cross of Calvary to save us from the debt of sin. But before we can begin to delve into these terms, I thought it appropriate to take one written session to be reminded why the cross was necessary.

So, Just How Bad are Things?

The answer – worse than you can even imagine … as bad as it could possibly be. It is a death sentence.

The Great Epistle to the Romans

The Apostle Paul’s premier writing is the book of Romans – a message that describes in greatest detail all which God has done through Jesus Christ to make us acceptable to Him in His perfect kingdom and presence. In a word, to be His presence, we must be perfect – righteous. We need righteousness – and that is the theme of the Book of Romans … as it says:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Paul begins to describe this salvation in chapter 3, verse 21 and following. But first, Paul writes from 1:18 to 3:20 to prove that all mankind is totally lost and without hope – condemned by sin. The style of writing throughout this section is of a prosecuting attorney presenting a foolproof case of condemnation against the accused criminal – all mankind. You may have heard some preacher at some point say that, when sharing the Gospel with someone, you have to get them lost before you can get them saved. Well, that is a kind of simplistic statement, but it contains a lot of truth.

My wife Diana comes from a largely Pennsylvania Dutch family background. And it is from her grandfather that I heard a term I had never encountered before: “Nix Nootz.”  This was a way of most often describing a child who was misbehaving, but doing it in a sort of cute and endearing way. Unfortunately, that is how many people believe God looks at our sins and our all-too-human condition … a sort of “boys will be boys” way of it not really being THAT big of a deal! After all, they’re just human!

But as you read through this passage, you see that there are no excuses. Mankind is lost in sin. It is not even a matter that, well, some folks just haven’t heard the truth very clearly, so they should be acceptable and excusable if anyone is! But the answer even there is a solid “no.”  The creation shouts out that there is a God to be sought after and to be known and obeyed – leaving them also without excuse.

There are no excuses whatsoever. Man in his own state and condition is totally, utterly, impossibly lost and condemned to death and separation from God. In theology, this is what is termed “total depravity” … which does not mean that every person is as bad as they could be, but that every person is lost and possesses nothing in themselves of righteousness that might give them any merit with God.

Simply stated, man is lost … needing “cross words” to find a connection of salvation with God and any hope for eternity. And that is what we are going to talk and write about over these six weeks.  (If you read today’s Scripture in your own Bible or translation, be sure to look under this attached Scripture reading for the first of the daily puzzles.)

God’s Wrath Against Sinful Humanity

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Here is the daily puzzle where we will regularly identify a couple of words every day… for a total of 66 cross words altogether. On April 22nd, the missing letters will be filled in to spell something for which YOU may be a prizewinner if you can be the first to identify what it says.

Our words for today:

Wrath – This speaks of God’s anger toward sin. As Christ took our sins upon himself, God’s wrath executed a judgment of them upon the cross.

Curse – No, not saying something wrong … this means that sin entered the human race through Adam’s rebellion, and the curse of death has passed down to everyone (except Christ), making us unacceptable in that state to a perfect God.

puzzle 1