The Childless Father Abraham (Genesis 15:1-21)

Down in my neck of the woods locally in what might be called River Rat Country along the Potomac border of Maryland and West Virginia, so many of the long-time locals have unique nicknames. And no, I’m not just talking about “Bubba and Cooter.” Guys often got their names very early in life and have been unable to outgrow them – like one kid named “Pockets.” I don’t think anyone in Williamsport actually knows what his real name is – hopefully his parents remember. They named him that because he always had his pockets full of stuff when he was a tiny kid. And then there was this other boy everyone simply called “Tubby.” You would think that he was a rather rotund fellow, but the last I saw him he was rather small in height and weight for his age – which I am guessing was dissimilar to his shape as a toddler. There are tall guys named “Shorty” and chubby guys named “Tiny.”

There was likewise a fellow in the ancient Near East who had such an unusual name relative to his appearance and circumstances. It was “Exalted Father” (Abram). The problem was that, until age 86, he had no children; and beyond that, the child came through a means other than his wife. And then, before his second child was born 13-14 years later, God came along and changed his name to “Father of Many” (Abraham). This name changed actually occurs two chapters after our passage today:

17:4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6  I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.

Imagine what it was like for him when he used his credit card at the local Home Depot. The cashier would look at it and say, “So, Father of Many, of how many are you the father?”  And Abraham’s face would turn as red as if burnt in the desert sun. (I’m not sure if she then said, “You can do it, we can help.”)

Though it must have been difficult at times to sustain, on the bottom line at the end of the day, Abraham had a promise from God that his offspring would number like the stars of the sky. And his faith was solidly placed in that promise that it would indeed happen. This faith was “credited to him as righteousness.” It was imputed to his account (to use the word from last week).

The content of his faith in God’s promise secured for Abraham his standing with God, so it would be true to say that he was indeed justified (declared righteous) by faith. And that is a definition of our word for this week – justification: it is a declaration of righteousness applied due to faith in God’s revealed truth.

There were a lot of circumstances to challenge Abraham’s confidence. Years of childlessness did little to bolster any natural security that this was going to happen. At the beginning of today’s reading, Abram simply states his reality – that without children to inherit his estate, it would fall to the steward of his household, a guy named Eleazer. But God restated his promise (originally given in a covenant in chapter 12), and Abram believed in it. God reaffirmed the covenant, and though the fulfillment would ultimately come, there were to be even more challenges of passing time and circumstances.

So over the next several days, while talking about our cross word of justification, we are also going to see the incredible reality of Abraham’s faith … along with God’s reward.

Are you waiting for something in your life? Are you feeling like you’ve been put on hold by God? Stay faithful with the last word you had from him, do what is right and in keeping with biblical holiness, and God will be faithful to you and reward you in ways beyond your imagination.

Genesis 15:1-21—The Lord’s Covenant With Abram

15:1  After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”

2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi <river> of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

PUZZLE REVELATION DAY

Today is the big day for figuring out the word search puzzle. For those viewing this on a devise, you may have to go to your computer. and probably the best and easiest thing to do would be to print it out and work on it in that fashion.

There are two final puzzles … find all 68 words from this list and there will be 17 letters remaining. These letters can be unscrambled to make a phrase in the first puzzle. The 17 letters in the second puzzle spell out one long theological word. The first person to get the answer to one or the other (or both) is a winner. Email the answer to me at randy@tristatefellowship.org

The words:

Adoption / Agape / Aloes / Assurance / Atonement / Blood / Curse / Dark / Deity / Efficacious Grace / Elect / Eloi / Eternity/ Evil / Expiation / Faith / Fall / Favor / Finish / Forgiveness / Freedom / Glorification / Glory / God / Good / Gospel / Grace / Hell / Holiness / Hope / Imputation / Innocence / Jeshua / Jesus / Judgment / Justification / Lamb / Law / Love / Mercy / Nails / Noon / Open / Payment / Peace / Propitiation / Pulse / Pure / Ransom / Reconciliation / Redemption / Restoration / Regenerate / Righteousness / Sacrifice / Salvation / Sanctification / Satan Denied / Sin / Sonship / Thief / Tomb / Torn / Tree / Truth / Veil / Vicarious / Wrath

PUZZLE 1 – this is fairly easy

puzzle day 21a

PUZZLE 2 – this one is difficult!

puzzle day 21b

Just Put it on my Bill (Philemon 1:1-21)

If you read the passage first today, I know what you’re thinking: “Really Randy? You had us read this little personal letter at the end of a week of devotionals on the theological topic of imputation?”  Yep! Since I’m writing this way in advance of when it is seen by you, I might just even preach on it on April 7th… although it will be difficult to not use Romans 5.

Have you ever wanted someone to do something, all the while realizing that it is indeed going to cost them some money to make it happen? Perhaps it is a scenario where you know something is good for them, or perhaps it is simply the right thing to do – though you are not sure they will quite see it the same way as you do? You hope so, but you’re not quite sure how they will react when you present it to them. In that you have a high view of them, you expect that it will be well-received, but you can’t quite be positive. So, to make sure that the proper deed will be accomplished, while asking and challenging the person to be responsible and take the high ground position, even with its costs, you finish off your request by saying, “If you won’t pay for it, I will.” 

That is what is happening in this personal letter from the Apostle Paul to a fellow named Philemon. This recipient of the letter – an apparently wealthy individual who lived in Colossae and was a part of the church of the Colossians – had a slave named Onesimus who had run away. In the course of God’s sovereignly-directed events, Onesimus comes into contact with Paul, is converted to the faith, and is now being sent back to his owner Philemon.

There is not time now to talk about the issue of slavery in the Roman Empire. Understand that it was not exactly like slavery in American history, and in fact more than half of the population were slaves. Owners and slaves were in the same church together, and Paul did not write to upset these conventions. Though we might picture it more like indentured servitude, it was a crime to do as Onesimus had done.

So Paul writes to implore Philemon to accept him back. Paul speaks of the great benefit he has received from Onesimus, and he tells the owner that he will now not only have a better worker, he will be welcoming back a brother in Christ.

The reason this passage is being used in this series is because of verse 18 – If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.  Paul is saying to Philemon that if it is a matter of not accepting him back because of financial loss, that the owner should charge the loss to Paul’s account and he would make good on the debt. This is an example of imputation – the placing of a debt to another’s account, and the consequent transfer of credit that frees the person from the pending execution if the debt is not paid.

So we finish this week on the great doctrine of imputation, thankful – as was the theme in the sermon – that we have a new identity by being “in Christ” … we have Christ’s righteousness which gives us a standing as God’s children. That’s a pretty good deal for a bunch of broken sinners!

Philemon 1:1-21

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— 2 also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thanksgiving and Prayer

4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Paul’s Plea for Onesimus

8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

Here is a final set of cross words before all the words are given in the next devotional on Monday. There will be additional words there in a master list that were never listed or defined over the past four weeks:

Glorification – This is a word that defines the final result of our salvation, where our earthly bodies are replaced by eternal spiritual bodies.

Regenerate – or Regeneration – speaks of the actual giving of new life – the very moment of salvation. See Titus 3:5.

Forgiveness – No secret meaning here, as this is our great need as sinners; and to be forgiven by God is the ultimate forgiveness.

Holiness – This is the character of God and is the goal of our lives to grow more and more in this direction.

Sanctification – The process of growing in holiness is called sanctification. There is positional sanctification = our perfect standing before God based upon the cross. There is progressive sanctification = the ups and downs of becoming more and more like Christ. And there is perfect sanctification = the reward of the perfect bodies we receive on the other side.

puzzle day 20

Back to Egypt Syndrome (Galatians 3:1-10)

Over the years of coaching high school kids I have had some who start out with the cross country team in the fall of their freshman year and really perform well. They meet a whole new group of good kids and friends, and their high school career is off to a great start. But along the way, something happens to interfere with their early success. Usually it is something to do with a relationship – like a girl getting involved with a guy who distracts her from the disciplines of academics and athletics, or it could be a guy who simply chooses to travel with a bad crowd. It is terribly sad to see someone who started so well and had so much potential get off the tracks in the wrong direction.

But it has not only been with adolescents that I have seen this happen. Over the decades as a pastor I have sadly seen people come to know Christ, walk with him and serve well for a time, but ultimately make choices or be drawn away to a different crowd of people and perspectives. You can see them disintegrating in front of everyone and you can even confront it, but the attraction is strong and it often takes folks away from a healthy place in life.

We might term this spiritual declension “Back to Egypt Syndrome.” There were a number of times in the Old Testament where God’s covenant people ran off to Egypt when things got tough in the land of promise.

And in our passage today, Paul is writing to essentially ask the Galatians what happened that had taken them away from their previous strong position of faith in Christ. The issue was that a group of teachers had come into the assembly to promote the idea that along with the gospel message of Christ, the Old Testament Law requirements still needed to be kept. And Paul is battling this heresy by asking them in our reading today how they had come to faith originally – was it through Christ? or through the Law? … well of course it was through Jesus and their faith in him and his cross work on their behalf.

To support the argument, Paul tells them that their connection to God is not based upon their works of keeping the law, but rather upon faith. And the great father Abraham was likewise the same – not having his good standing imputed to his account because he performed a long series of prescribed deeds, but because he believed in God’s promise to him. His faith was credited (imputed) as righteousness.

The fact is that salvation has always been the same; it has always been by grace through faith. What has changed over time is the content of the faith. For Abraham, it was in God’s promise; and for the Galatians, it is in the work of Christ. But in neither case was it by the Law – which was not yet even given in Abraham’s day, and which served only to point out sin and the inability of man to be perfect. It was an instrument of condemnation, so why would they want to trust in that when they had the better way of knowing God through Jesus Christ?

People still do go “back to Egypt” spiritually. You have all that you need in Christ and by means of his righteousness imputed to your account.  Trusting God – even in the hard times – is the way of living by faith as well as being saved by faith.

Galatians 3:1-10

3:1  You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?  4 Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? 5 So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? 6 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”  9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 

Cross Words for today to add to the word search puzzle:

Elect – This is a controversial word, as is the doctrine of election. But the Bible says that believers are the elect, and it is a word that does mean choosing. The argument is about what is election based upon, and that is a subject for another day!

Adoption – This is a wonderful cross word and concept – to have been taken into the very family of God as his own children!

Sonship – The New Testament speaks often that believers are members of God’s family, and this is called sonship.

Gospel – The Good News.

puzzle day 19

One Check that Pays all Debts (Hebrews 10:1-18)

Here we are just five days away from the most odious of all days on the calendar – April 15th. To be honest with myself and you, it is not just that it involves the payment that it does – though I support the Reaganesque concept of economic growth resultant from lower tax rates. The bigger problem is the actual annual headache it produces in terms of the piles of paperwork and meetings with accountants, etc. This is all greatly exasperated by family business ownership ventures along with unique tax categories for the clergy part of it – involving employee status for the IRS but self-employed status in terms of social security (I’m not making that up!). It is a mess to sort out!

It would be so wonderful to have a situation where it was simply not necessary anymore. Imagine that! Think about what it would be like to not have to pay so much money toward a government that spends so much of it (along with our kids’ and grandkids’ future money) in ways that are far from necessary or honorable. Imagine never again having to gather financial information, tax forms, accountant appointments, etc. That would be fantastic! It is said that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. The annual experience of dealing with the latter makes you want to experience the former!

In the Old Testament / Old Covenant system of worship, it must have been a similar sort of pain to have to deal with sin. After arguing with his wife about whether the sheep in the backyard were a flock or a herd (either is correct), the worshipper was always having to pick out the best young lamb for yet another sacrifice. In honest self-evaluation, it was unjust to be angry about the situation – after all, as a sinner there was no ground for any attitude other than humble contrition and gratitude that a method existed for paying the great debt of sin. It was an annual reminder that a final payment had not been made, and that the best that could be found was always only temporary and short of the perfect ideal.

But in Christ, a new day has come. A new priest has come. This priest was like no other; he was of a different sort. He also brought a new sacrifice unlike any other. It was not some dumb bull or goat (like all the priests heretofore had done). He himself was the sacrifice, as well as the priest. The debt of the old system was paid and an entirely new system established. The new way had no necessity for annual or regular payments, all because there was no more debt to be paid. In fact, the debts have not only been paid, they have been erased and forgotten forever.

So, aren’t you glad that this coming Sunday you don’t have to bring a goat, sheep, bull, turtledove or whatever and slit its throat and sprinkle blood all over the place and burn it on an altar?  Yep!  And … uh … you ARE going to be there at church, right? I mean, after all, isn’t that the least you could do in light of what we’ve been studying about these cross words?

Now that I have gotten this far with these thoughts, and fearing that you might think I’m laying a guilt trip on you that is self-serving, I’m going to ask you to read just a bit farther in the chapter through verse 25.  Here it is: 19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 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. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

OK – YES, I’M YELLING NOW! AND I’M DOING IT FROM THE HIGH GROUND OF BIBLICAL TRUTH! AND I DO NOT FEEL BAD ABOUT IT AT ALL. THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR NOT VALUING REGULAR ATTENDANCE WITH GOD’S PEOPLE. YOU NEED US; WE NEED YOU! DON’T GET INTO A HABIT OF NOT DOING IT! BE THERE!  I’LL SEE YOU SUNDAY.

Christ’s Sacrifice Once for All

10 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. 4 It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me;

6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.

7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, my God.’”[a]

8 First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. 9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”

17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”

18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

Cross Words for today …

Vicarious – This is really another word for “substitution” … the idea of how Christ took our place. In theology it is often used with the word atonement. So, to say “vicarious substitutionary atonement” would be to almost pile up redundant modifiers.

Assurance – The concept of the once-for-all final payment of Christ gives us assurance of salvation.

Efficacious Grace – This means that God’s grace has efficacy = sufficiency… that it works!

puzzle day 18

The Ultimate Innocence Project Client (Isaiah 53:1-12)

It would be a terrible thing to be falsely accused of a crime, tried by jury, found guilty, and sentenced to death. But it does happen; and if it happened to you, it would be your desire to have someone contend for your innocence. There is an organization called “The Innocence Project,” defined on their web page as “a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent further injustice.” There have been 305 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States… 18 of whom were on death row. In about one-half of cases, the actual perpetrator of the crime has been identified.

It is one thing to be falsely accused and sentenced for someone else’s crime, but it would be even more incredible to willingly offer oneself as the substitute for the guilt and death sentence of another – and to do it in such a manner as to not murmur nor complain in any way. And that is what Jesus Christ has done for us as he has taken our place as our substitute – having our sin imputed to his account that he may make the substitutionary atonement for it – done willingly in love.

Throughout this series we have talked about the Old Testament / Old Covenant method of a lamb taking the place of the guilty sinner. We have seen this on the Day of Atonement and the Passover event and commemoration. As well, we recall to mind the Scripture that Christ is the Lamb of God and the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. And today, we see this incredible passage from Isaiah – written by the prophet hundreds of years in advance of the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross.

We see Christ depicted as an ordinary man who had placed upon him the transgressions of mankind. The scene was terribly gruesome, the suffering too difficult to view. See the verbs deployed by Isaiah: punished, despised, stricken, afflicted, pierced, crushed, oppressed, cut off.

The passage abounds with sheep references as well, speaking of how we in our humanity resemble the stupid side of sheepdom – the capacity for wandering away and getting lost in the self-absorbed activity of eating and engaging in creature comforts.

The lamb illustration is also used of Christ’s work, though it is not a perfect picture. Only one aspect of a lamb is selected to make one point – that being the silence of the animal when not complaining about what is going to happen to it. But unlike the daft lamb, Christ knew what was to come in bearing the sufferings of the cross. He wrestled mightily with it in the Garden of Gethsemane, but having dealt with it there, in total submission and obedience to the Father, Jesus set his face to go to the cross willingly as our substitute.

Our sin – imputed to us from Adam, and then transferred from us to Christ’s account – has been judged and God has been propitiated. So why not receive the imputed righteousness of Christ that makes us adopted children of God? The ultimate Innocence Project guy has taken your place and the debt is fully paid. You can be free!

Isaiah 53:1-12    

53:1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
By oppressionand judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of lifeand be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,and he will divide the spoils with the strong,because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Cross Words for today:

Peace – Often the Scriptures speak of the new condition of peace that exists when the work of the cross has made and opened a restored condition of peace between God and man.

Torn – This word is used of the body of Christ upon the cross. It fits well with the verbs used in today’s Isaiah passage.

Pure – A state of innocence exists when something is pure – free from the stain, filth, and debt of sin. 

puzzle day 17

Isn’t It All Adam’s Fault? (Romans 5:12-19)

It is no secret that I am committed to a conservative political agenda and that I have even been active in that realm to some extent behind the scenes in elected party politics and leadership (though I am no longer serving in such a capacity). Whether you agree or not with my perspectives is not the point of this illustration, but rather I simply mention this to say that someone of my bent has an oft difficult time in the very blue state of Maryland. My representatives – particularly on the national level – do not often vote and represent me in the manner that I would wish. And those who serve in state government in my place, though they do represent my viewpoints rather well, are most often snowed under by a massive opposition majority. It is difficult and annoying, to be quite honest.

But maybe that is how you feel about Adam – you know, Adam from Eden, Eve’s husband – that guy! Man, he had it all! He lived in paradise, had a perfect relationship with God, no weeds grew in his garden, it never rained or was nasty outside, and all he had to do was stay away from one tree and not eat the fruit of it. How hard is that to do? But he blew it; he really messed up big-time! And that is what this Romans passage today is all about – comparing how big is the mess that Adam made, but how grand is the fix that Christ secured for those who trust in it.

But again – thinking about Adam … maybe you are just totally annoyed with the way that he “voted” on your behalf! If you were there, you wouldn’t have done such a stupid thing. So why should you have to bear the consequences of his idiocy? Look again at the end of verse 12 – “because all sinned.”  Now don’t make me go explaining this to you right here right now, but, it is actually more than just Adam representing us (though that is true), we were actually sinning in him in an active way. Again – this is the stuff of books, not devotionals. But whatever, we are guilty.

This week we follow up from the sermon yesterday that taught about our next cross word – Imputation. This is a term that is like a banking word for the transferring of funds from one account to another. As was presented yesterday, there are three transfers/imputations: Adam’s sin to our account, our sin to Christ’s account, and Christ’s righteousness to our account.

The main sense of the passage today – which is admittedly very complicated sounding – is that though we had a huge debt of sin come into our account from Adam which results in a judgment of death, the righteousness of Christ that comes to our account upon faith and justification is a credit that is larger than the debt, and it leads to life.

If you really understand this, you really understand the very central idea of what salvation is about. Along with it, in my opinion, comes also the very best way to communicate what salvation entails. Everyone has had a bank account and knows about debits and credits. This presents a great picture for you to explain that we have the debt of sin (few will argue that) in our individual account, but that we cannot ever pay that debt with our deposits; and so we need the perfect deposit of Christ’s righteousness to pay our debt for us. So, stop trying to pay it off, and trust in the one who has done it for you.

Death through Adam, Life through Christ

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Cross Words for today (remember – all words will be released one week from today)…

Innocence – There is not much of this, apart from the perfection of God and the person of Christ. We think of infants as innocent, but the truth is that they too – from the moment of conception – have the imputed curse of Adam’s sin. The lamb sacrifice pictured innocence, but was of course an imperfect example of the perfection of Christ – our sacrifice.

Grace – This is more than a simple extension of mercy or someone choosing to be nice, which is how we might use the term. It is actually favor extended where wrath is deserved. It is getting mercy, when in fact, you fully deserved just the opposite. 

puzzle day 16

The Cross Words Puzzle Faced by the Prophets (1 Peter 1:3-20)

We have been talking throughout this series about words – cross words – and having some fun with building puzzles and crisscrossing words in various ways. You see this in our written devotionals as well as with the stage set (which you can see in a picture on the online landing page, if you are among those following this from a distance like my son Jesse in France – “Hi Jesse!”).

We are able to know and understand these words and concepts from the perspective of a later time in history where we may look back at what has already happened. There yet remains a future fulfillment in the unveiling of the final completion of God’s work. We have this guarantee as a “living hope” in the resurrection of Christ – who lives and has given us through faith a new birth into an inheritance that cannot fade or be destroyed. But overall, we are blessed to possess God’s completed revelation in the Scriptures that detail for us what God has done, along with more than a few hints at what is still ahead.

We actually know way more than the prophets of the Old Testament knew. These great men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, and Zechariah desperately longed to know the things that we now clearly understand. They desired clarity on the prophecies about which they themselves wrote, but they did not get it – all they knew is that what they penned would serve people at a later time. The original language (Greek) verbs for how the prophets were “… searching intently … trying to find out …” are terms that speak of an intensely thorough, turning everything upside down type of investigation to discover something. It even tells us that the angels of God “long to look into these things” – which is the translation of an original word picturing someone from the outside peering into or peeping within to get a view.

The Old Testament prophets were led to write about a Messiah to come. They not only wrote, they also read what other prophets before them had written. They tried to understand it all and put it together, because it was very confusing to them. They knew the coming Messiah would suffer, but they also knew and wrote of his victory and kingdom reign. When would it be? How could this be? The best illustration that I have used over the years is a picture of the Old Testament prophet as looking toward the future, where from his perspective were two mountaintops in the same view – with a cross on the nearer shorter hill, and a crown on the larger more distant mountain. From where he stood, all he could see is both of them at the same time, seemingly in the same place. We are in the valley between, and we have God’s Word to guide our view in both directions.

Today’s passage is immensely practical about what we should do with this advanced knowledge. We should live a different sort of life than the majority of others around us, recognizing we are responsible to God for what we do and how we live. This world should never really feel like home; it is a place where we serve out our time as foreigners – the ambassadors of another world. We are the purchased members of another eternal kingdom, having been redeemed by the payment of the blood of the eternal spotless lamb – Jesus Christ.

Gold is mentioned twice in this passage, and silver once. We are told in hundreds of commercials to invest in these metals as a protection against the uncertainties of varied global currencies. Yet in this Scripture, gold is spoken of as a perishable thing compared to the certainty of eternal life and our inheritance in Christ. As always, the values of this world and the values of eternity totally clash. This is why it is such a value for us to know of the “cross words” that make all of the difference!

1 Peter 1:3-20 – Praise to God for a Living Hope

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

Be Holy

13 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 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, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.

Cross Word:

Deity – Salvation is totally a work of God. He takes the initiative and provides the perfect sacrifice … which has to, of necessity, be the divine Son of God. If Jesus is merely a good man, a great moral example, or whatever, we do not have a payment for sin and the opportunity for forgiveness and imputed righteousness. 

puzzle day 15

The Way it was; the Way it could have been; the Way it is! (Colossians 1:9-14)

Being adopted is a weird sort of internal reality that is always with you. I can report this to be true from about 50 years of my own life experience. Yes, it was about 50 years ago at this exact time of year that I was told by what I knew as my parents, that they were actually NOT my birth parents at all. THAT.WAS.WEIRD!  I had never once considered that there was any other circumstance. The news hit me like a brick! I went into an immediate meltdown emotionally. This lasted, as I recall it, for about 60 seconds at the most. That is about how long it took for me to realize that, wow, what I had in reality – versus what could have been my reality – was a pretty sweet deal.

As I write this, I saw just today a picture someone had posted on Facebook. It was of a man who had written his date and location of birth, stating that he was searching for his birth parents – asking also for others to re-post his picture in hopes of locating his lost family. My heart went out to him. I knew about my birth parents – know one of them personally, as she is still alive. And I miraculously learned information about my father just this past year – a totally amazing story of even meeting a lost relative.

But spiritually speaking, there is no confusion about our past and where we have originated. We were by sin connected to the Kingdom of Darkness and enslaved to such. But in his love, the Lord has rescued us from that and brought us into a new kingdom – the Kingdom of Light – the Kingdom of His Son. The text today says that it is through the Son that we have REDEMPTION – the forgiveness of sin due to the payment that Jesus Christ has made. What a great cross word!

My own adoption set up an inheritance powder-keg with a 51-year-long fuse before it exploded. A certain part of the biological family of my adopted parents had never accepted the fact that I had been adopted and thereby did not believe I stood in line to receive the inheritance of my parents upon their death. Their inquiry into this was an exercise in futility, as the legal ground of the adoption and will was indisputable … and so it is for us spiritually speaking, as we will see this even more graphically expounded tomorrow.

The knowledge of these blessings should indeed fill us with a desire to more significantly know our adoptive Father and to live a fruitful life worthy of the love of someone who has reached out to rescue us from a horrible condition. Over the years I’ve looked around at the friends and families I have known who have traveled, in some cases, literally to the other side of the world to adopt a child. That little one was, in most circumstances, rescued from a desperate situation in an orphanage and civil system where their very life may have been lost. But someone they did not know and did not seek out came to get them and essentially rescue them out of a hopeless circumstance. THAT is exactly what Christ has done for us spiritually. This should lead us to know – in the words of today’s devotional – “joyful thanks.”

Colossians 1:9-14

9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Cross Words:

Evil – the reality that Satan brought sin to mankind, and Satan worked in devious ways to attempt the destruction of Christ and his work on the cross.

Veil – the curtain that separated the most holy place from the rest of the tabernacle/temple.

Nails – (think “spikes”) the human objects that held Christ to the cross – though it was really love and obedience.

puzzle day 14

The Crossroads of the Cross Words (Romans 3:20-26)

I was recently in Dallas, Texas and several times drove through what is one of the most amazing and confusing connections of roadways anywhere in America. There is an area to the southwest of downtown Dallas that has always been called “The Mixmaster.”  At this point Interstate Highways 30 and 35E join, along with a collection of other state roads and city street exits. It was a mess when I lived there in the late 70s and early 80s, and it has only gotten worse with the growing population of the past three decades. The Mixmaster received national notoriety and dubious distinction by being named as one of the top ten ‘Worst Commuting Bottlenecks’ in the nation by the American Automobile Association.mixmaster

You might feel a little bit like this when you read today’s passage and see the crossroads of a whole host of “cross words” in a stretch of but seven verses! It seems like there is a lot of theology and big terms coming together in a very small space! In fact, 13 of the 68 cross words on the final word search puzzle are used in this passage, and many others are inferred or illustrated by the material discussed. Books have been written on this paragraph, and future words and teachings in our series are a part of this reading.

I reference you back to the very first of this series of devotionals – “No Excuses for Mankind’s Situation” – where the reading was from Romans chapter one. Here Paul stated his theme – the righteousness (perfection) of God in Jesus Christ. This is the problem we have, due to sin:  To be right with God, we need to be perfect, but we aren’t … so we need to get perfect somehow, but we can’t! And so verse 20 today (from chapter 3) states that the Law could not make anyone perfect – it could only make a person aware of their destitute situation. However, there is a big BUT coming next (sorry if that phrase weirded you out a little bit!).

In verse 21, there is a righteousness out there that has been made known, being testified about in the Old Testament Scriptures, and is now revealed in Jesus Christ. This perfect standing may be given to all who believe through faith (this process is “imputation” and will be the cross word for this coming Sunday!).  It does not matter if you are Jew or Gentile, all have sinned, and all who trust are in the same way graciously justified (the word for the following Sunday!) – which means to be declared righteous – because the debt has been paid by Christ’s blood through his redemption (our word for this week!) that was an atoning sacrifice (the word for Good Friday!) for all the sins of all time. Wow – that’s a mixmaster of theology!

The final verse basically says that God did this because He could! Again, as we’ve seen before, God is both the one giving the payment and the one receiving the payment. That is amazing grace!

So, where is there any room for you or me to be at all angry with God – annoyed with him that he is maybe not seeming to do quite enough for us? Hey – when is enough, enough?  Not only has he given us salvation to be of benefit now, but there are all sorts of eternal inheritance benefits that accrue to us as well … and these will be detailed in the next several readings. Wow!

Romans 3:20-26

20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

Righteousness Through Faith

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Cross Words to add to the puzzle:

Jesus – the puzzle had to have the name of the one who made it all possible!

Righteousness – a condition of perfection. This is the answer to the question: “What is the one thing you need to be saved?”

Nails – the human instrument hold Christ to the cross, though it was love and obedience that actually held him in place.

puzzle day 13

What is that in the Family Tree? (Ruth 4:1-12)

There is a saying that “every family tree has some sap running through it!” Or another: that old so-and-so “is the nut that fell from the family tree.” If you’ve ever done genealogical research, let me tell you from experience that you may not like what you find out! The adopted/biological half of my background goes honorably back through Revolutionary War soldiers to certain founders of the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland. The biological half that I’ve only recently worked to uncover was more problematic – only got as far as a great-grandfather who appears to have been an orphan and then later a state prisoner … for what, I don’t know … maybe he assaulted a New York Yankees fan!

Today’s devotional reading involves a number of family tree types of considerations. Our selection is near the end of the story which encompasses the whole book of Ruth; and you almost need to read the preceding three chapters to fully appreciate this section. Briefly, it is the story of a Jewish husband and wife – Elimelek and Naomi, and their two sons Kilion and Mahlon – who during a time of famine leave Israel and go to the land of Moab. The sons both marry Moabite women, but before long all three men die and leave three widows. After a decade or so, Naomi determines to return to Israel, and her devoted daughter-in-law Ruth travels with her. Poor and destitute, Ruth (in the custom of care for the poor) gleans grain at the edge of the barley fields to eek out a living. This is done in the fields of Boaz – a relative of Elimelek. Through a series of Naomi-guided actions, Ruth is positioned to seek refuge from Boaz who would act as a “kinsman-redeemer.” This is in keeping with Old Testament law provision such as written in Deuteronomy 25:5-6, “If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.”

Boaz was a just man and was willing to fulfill the role, but there was a closer relative. This fellow was at first willing, that is, until he heard that a Moabite woman was a part of the deal! You can almost see him slamming gears into reverse when he realizes this! As we read later in the Scriptures, Boaz and Ruth are the great-grandparents of David, and are therefore in the family tree of Jesus.ruth-to-jesus-family-tree

The theological significance of this is that Christ can be regarded as an example of a kinsman-redeemer, since he identified himself with us and redeemed us because of our need. As we have seen in passages in Hebrews that we have covered already in this series (2:11) – “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” Jesus is not only our redeemer from sin, but as Hebrews 2:16-18 and 4:14-16 display, he is a kinsman to us and understands our human weakness and struggles. Thus he is able to help us in our times of need.

Ruth 4:1-12 – Boaz Marries Ruth

4:1 Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat down there just as the guardian-redeemer he had mentioned came along. Boaz said, “Come over here, my friend, and sit down.” So he went over and sat down.

2 Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, “Sit here,” and they did so. 3 Then he said to the guardian-redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our relative Elimelek. 4 I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.”

“I will redeem it,” he said.

5 Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the[c] dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.”

6 At this, the guardian-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.”

7 (Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.)

8 So the guardian-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.” And he removed his sandal.

9 Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. 10 I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses!”

11 Then the elders and all the people at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.”

Cross Words:

Payment – the necessary deed to make redemption and all the cross words a reality.

Aloes – It says in John 19 about Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea – Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.  Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.

puzzle day 12