Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Words Still Matter

Like many people, I tuned in to last night's debate from Cleveland State University. I didn't really learn anything new, but there was a moment during the proceedings that did catch my attention.

Sen. Obama mentioned that he "renounced" the endorsement of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Sen. Clinton interjected that she would hope Sen. Obama would use a stronger word like "reject" in reference to the Nation of Islam's anti-Semitic teachings. After a moment of refelction, Sen. Obama declared that he both "renounced" and "rejected" such a point of view. It was one of the more human moments of the debate.

There was something intriguing about these two senators--one of which might be our nation's president--debating the meaning and nuance of words! Reject--or renounce? Which one says is best?

I have discovered that this is also what we do when we "do theology." Early on in my seminary training, I learned through experience that theology is all about precisely defining your terms. Just because you are using the same words as someone else does not mean you are talking about the same thing. Conversely, we may agree in principle, but we have different vocabularies that may lead us to believe we disagree when, in fact, we do not.

Actions speak louder than words. But this campaign reminds me that words still matter. Words drive actions. Sometimes words create actions. Words explain actions. Therefore we must take care with our words, and dedicate ourselves to careful study of the most important Word of all--the One who became flesh and 'tabernacled' among us.

Finding Jesus in Deuteronomy

(The word “Deuteronomy” means ‘repetition of the law.’ The Hebrew name of the book can be transliterated as ‘elleh haddebarim (“these are the words”—see Deut. 1:1).

The Gospel in the Old Testament: God Reveals His Heart

Deuteronomy 4: 31, 37; 6: 5—6; 7: 7—13; 9: 6

A Prophet Like Me, A Prophet Like You

Deuteronomy 18: 14—22 (Peter provides interpretation in Acts 3: 17—23, and Stephen quotes Moses in Acts 7: 37.)

“This is the chief passage in this whole book and a clearly expressed prophecy of Christ as the new Teacher. It is [Moses’] purpose to show that in the future there will be another priesthood, another kingdom, another worship of God, and another word, by which all of Moses will be set aside.”
“Since there cannot be another word beyond the perfect teaching of the Law unless it were the Word of grace, it follows that this prophet will not be a teacher of law but a minister of grace. The sin and wrath which Moses arouses through his ministry that Prophet cancels through righteousness and grace by His ministry.”
“Here [Moses] prophesies that Christ will be true man and will come from the blood of the Jews, because salvation is from the Jews (John 4: 22). No one has ever arisen from this people who taught a different word from the word of Moses and set up a new ministry except this one Christ of ours. However many prophets that were before him, they all preserved and taught Moses. This Prophet freed not only the Jews from Moses but all nations throughout the world and gave them the new Word of the Gospel.” Martin Luther, Lectures on Deuteronomy

Jesus’ Reliance on Deuteronomy

Matthew 4: 1—11 (Matthew 4: 4 – Deut. 8: 3) (Matthew 4: 7 – Deut. 6: 16, Exodus 17: 1—7) (Matthew 4: 10—Deut. 6: 13)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Finding Jesus in Numbers

Lifted Up:
Numbers 21: 4—9 and John 3: 14

A Star and A Scepter:
Numbers 24: 17 and Revelation 22: 16

Meet Joshua
Numbers 27: 12—23

The Feasts of the Lord:
Numbers 28: 16 and following


Passover: Messiah, the Passover Lamb, would be sacrificed for us.
Unleavened Bread: Messiah’s body would not decay in the grave.
Firstfruits: Messiah would rise triumphant from the grave on the third day.
Weeks: The Holy Spirit would inaugurate a New Covenant.
Trumpets: Points to a future day of rescue and judgment.
Day of Atonement: Repentance leading to forgiveness of sins.
Tabernacles: The Messianic Kingdom of “God-with-us,” now and forever.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Finding Jesus in Leviticus

Finding Jesus in Leviticus

Foreshadowing and Fulfillment in the Sin Offering

Offerings for Wrongdoing by a Common Person—Leviticus 4: 27—31

“You must confess it”—Leviticus 5: 1—5

The sin offering was closely connected to the rite for atonement. God used the blood from these offerings to do two things. On one hand, he cleansed the sanctuary, the altar for incense, and the altar for burnt offering from impurity. (Lev. 4:6,17; 4:7, 18; 4: 7, 25, 30, 34; 5: 9) On the other hand, he forgave those who had sinned inadvertently and delivered them from their sin. (Lev. 4: 20, 26, 31, 35; 5:10) Therefore they could approach God unafraid in a state of ritual purity and be certain of God’s acceptance of them.

Romans 3: 22—26 affirms that Christ is the means of atonement for the justification of sinners before God.

Romans 8: 3 asserts that God the Father sent Jesus to be “the sin offering” for sinful humanity.

2 Corinthians 5: 21 makes the same point in a slightly different way.

Hebrews 10: 1—23 ties many of these ideas together.

To the present day, the orders of service based on the Latin Mass praise Christ as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” (John 1: 29), for in his holy Supper Jesus gives us the blood to drink for “the remission of sins” (Mt. 26: 28). We can therefore draw near to God the Father with a true heart and in the full assurance of faith (Heb. 10:19)

The Day of Atonement—Leviticus 16

The Rite for the Cleansing of the Sanctuary—16: 11—19
Purpose: atonement for the purging of the Most Holy Place, the priesthood and the congregation, and the cleansing and consecration of the altar.

The Rite for the Removal of Sin—16: 20—22
The Scapegoat sent out

Presentation of Offerings on the Altar—16: 23—25

The New Testament teaches that the death of Jesus is to be understood in light of the Day of Atonement. (In addition, his temptation by the devil in the wilderness may be explained in part by the Day of Atonement. The goat that bore the sins of Israel was sent into the wilderness “to Azazel,” to the devil, who had plunged humanity into sin. But after Jesus’ baptism and the descent of the Spirit upon him, he went forth into the desert to do battle with the devil , and Jesus prevailed against him (Mt. 4: 1—11). Mark notes that there in the wilderness Jesus was “with the wild beasts” (Mk. 1:13).)

Matt. 27: 51; Mk. 15: 38; Lk. 23: 45 all record the splitting of the temple’s veil. As a result of Jesus’ self-sacrifice, the way into the Father’s presence lay open to all his disciples at all times, not just once a year.

In Romans 3: 25, Paul uses the Day of Atonement to describe the purpose of Christ’s death. God appointed Jesus as the new “mercy seat,” the place of atonement and God’s gracious presence. Jesus is both the place of atonement and the priest who makes atonement before God with his blood.

Hebrews 9: 7—14 elaborates on the idea of the high priest prefiguring the ministry of Jesus. By his death, Jesus offered himself as the perfect sin offering for the whole world, so that, exalted by God, he could enter the heavenly sanctuary with his blood.

Entered the Holy of Holies in an earthly sanctuary to perform the rite of atonement in God’s presence once a year (Heb. 9:7).
Entered heaven itself, the heavenly sanctuary, only once at his ascension, to appear before God on behalf of his brothers (Heb. 9: 12, 24).

Entered the Holy of Holies with the ‘alien’ blood of animals to make atonement before God (Heb. 9: 7, 25).
Brought his own blood into his Father’s presence to make atonement for sinners (Heb. 9: 12)

Brought the blood from the Holy of Holies and sprinkled the earthly altar for incense and the earthly altar for burnt offering (Heb. 9: 21)
Sprinkles the heavenly things with his blood (Heb. 9: 23), sprinkles the hearts and consciences of those who serve the living God (Heb. 9: 13—14), and in his Supper he brings his blood from his Father’s presence and gives it to his guests for their cleansing. Jesus performs an ongoing ministry of atonement by the application of his blood on his people.

Was the only person who ever passed through the curtain into the Holy of Holies.
Entered the heavenly sanctuary to open up a new and living way for all his fellow priests to enter God’s presence (Heb. 10: 20).

We can tread where no Israelite priest ever trod. Through the flesh and blood of Christ, we can approach the “throne of grace” with a clear conscience.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Ash Wednesday 2008 -- Be Reconciled to God

“The man I ate dinner with tonight killed my brother." These words were spoken by a woman at a Prison Fellowship banquet in Seattle. She told how John H. had murdered her brother during a robbery, served 18 years in jail, then settled into life on a dairy farm, where she had met him in 1983, 20 years after his crime. Compelled by Christ’s command to forgive, Ruth Youngsman had gone to her enemy and pronounced forgiveness. Then she had taken him to her father’s deathbed, prompting reconciliation. Some wouldn’t call this a success story: John didn’t become a Christian. But at that Prison Fellowship banquet last fall, his voice cracked as he said, "Christians are the only people I know that you can kill their son, and they’ll make you a part of their family. I don’t know the Man Upstairs, but He sure is hounding me."
John’s story is unfinished. But just as Christ died for us regardless of our actions or acceptance, so Ruth Youngsman forgave him without qualification. Even more so, she became his friend.
Reconciliation is at the heart of the Christian faith. Putting a relationship back together--with forgiveness as the glue--is how the whole thing works. We know this. And yet we can hear a story like Ruth Youngsman’s, and a part of us thinks her foolish—thinks her na├»ve—thinks her weak—or just strange. Because she forgave. Because she did what Christ would have all of us do. Where we hold to this double standard; or worse, where we withhold forgiveness from others, we need to repent and change direction. No buts; no what ifs; no listen to what they did to me’s. Repent and change direction, or else “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” are just words that we whisper from memory, with no real meaning at all.
But maybe I’m putting the cart before the horse. Reconciliation with other people really is not possible unless we are first reconciled with God. If we have real trouble reconciling with others, that suggests we may not be sure about our reconciliation with God.
Perhaps that’s why Saint Paul, writing his second letter to the Corinthians, comes on so strongly: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” The word “implore” here means to beg. In other words, the apostle says: “I’m begging you to get right with God through Jesus Christ.” Is Paul speaking to you, too, right now? If so, the very next verse explains how you can “get right with God”: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” It isn’t complicated. It’s a simple exchange. Jesus gets our sin; we get his goodness. That’s the gospel. For some people, that’s just too good to be true.
A pastor recently told the true story of one of his church members, an attorney, who after meditating on several scriptures, decided to cancel the debts of all his clients that had owed him money for more than 6 months.
He drafted a letter explaining his decision and its biblical basis and sent 17 debt canceling letters via certified mail.
One by one, the letters began to return, unsigned and undelivered.
Perhaps a couple people had moved away-- though not likely. 16 of the 17 letters came back to him because the clients refused to sign for and open the envelopes fearing that this attorney was suing them for their debts.
The first step in being reconciled to God is realizing that He is not out to get us! As a matter of fact, He is the one who wants reconciliation! He wants to be reconciled to you so much that he applied your debt of sin to his Son’s account, and made Him pay! Jesus paid that debt by going to what St. Paul liked to call “the tree.” That was one way he talked about the cross on which Jesus died. But there’s more to the “tree” reference than just: the cross was made of wood, and wood comes from trees. The cross is our tree of life—an image that we will consider from many angles during this season of Lent. On that tree, the exchange has been made. Jesus agrees to suffer, die, and endure hell itself for you--so that you never have to. Believe it! And if the devil tries to drag your old, previously-forgiven sins back out in front of you, shove the letter in his face and show him where it says “Tetelestai…Paid in Full…It is Finished.”
The reconciliation that God offers is not the stuff of the theological ivory tower—the forgiveness that flows to you from Christ is not hypothetical –it is meant to become a real, driving force in your life. It takes on flesh and blood in the decisions you make each day. That’s probably the best way that we catch the power of forgiveness—when we actually receive it or see it being given by a Christian person like Ruth Youngsman, or the kindly bishop in “Les Miserables.”
Victor Hugo’s novel “Les Miserables” tells a story of a man named Jean Valjean, who served nineteen years of hard labor for the crime of stealing bread. When he was finally released, Valjean was a hardened, tough ex-convict. Soon after his release, a local bishop invited him to stay in his home for the night. After the bishop and his sister were asleep, Valjean stole the family silver and ran off into the night. The next morning, he was captured by three policemen and bought back to the bishop.
“So here you are!” the bishop cried to Valjean. “I’m delighted to see you. Had you forgotten that I gave you the candlesticks as well? They’re silver like the rest, and worth a good 200 francs. Did you forget to take them?”
After the policemen had gone the bishop gave the candlesticks to Valjean, who was speechless and trembling. “Do not forget; do not ever forget,” the bishop said, “that you have promised me to use the money to make yourself a new man."
That’s the promise we stand on the edge of tonight. God does not repay us as our sins deserve. Instead, He gives us the silver and the candlesticks. He gives forgiveness and life that never ends, and other blessings besides.
Do not forget how He has dealt with you. Bring it into every corner of your life. I’m begging you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God, and let the pardon you have received become the pardon that you give. Amen.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

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Finding Jesus in Exodus

Finding Jesus in Exodus

The Blood of the Spotless Lamb
Exodus 12: 1—13; 1 Corinthians 5: 7—8; Revelation 5: 5—14

The Exodus: From Slavery, Through Water, To Freedom
Exodus 13—14 (14: 13—31); 1 Corinthians 10: 1—2

Heavenly Bread and Living Water
Exodus 16: 4; 17: 6; John 6: 31—35, 48—63; 1 Corinthians 10: 3—4

“God With Us”—The Tabernacle
Exodus 25—40 (25:8; 40: 34—38); John 1: 14, Luke 24: 13—35
“made his dwelling” is literally “tabernacled”
(heskanoosen—skana=tent, tabernacle)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Listen to Him--Sermon for Transfiguration

The story is told of Franklin Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, "I murdered my grandmother this morning." The guests responded with phrases like, "Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir." It was not till the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, "I'm sure she had it coming."
Listening—really listening and paying full attention is often difficult. We have become skilled multi-taskers. It’s not unusual for us to have the TV on with a book or video game in hand, or music playing while we’re on the phone trying to pull some other project together. Then there are those among us who have perfected the art of selective listening. It can be a challenge to listen, but our most important relationships depend on it.
The story of Jesus’ appearance changing up there on the mountain can be bewildering to us. It suggests many things: we get a glimpse of Jesus’ true glory. There is a glimpse of heaven here, as Moses and Elijah appear, talking with Jesus. The hymns that we sing on this Transfiguration Day put these themes in our mouths. But my focus is drawn to the arrival of Almighty God on that mountaintop. A bright cloud envelops them, and a voice from the cloud says, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!”
We’re only three weeks removed from our remembrance of Jesus’ baptism, so hopefully those words sound familiar to you. “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” is the same statement made by the Father as Jesus is baptized—and we talked about how those same words are spoken over us at our baptism. But the voice from the cloud speaks three new words here on the mountaintop. Those are, simply, “Listen to Him!” Listen to Him.
Peter, James, and John, were eye and ear-witnesses of all this. Our Epistle lesson today is Peter’s written report about this incident. It was Peter, too, who famously said, “It is good for us to be here.” That is the basis for the Transfiguration Hymn “How Good Lord To Be Here.” Maybe we can understand—Peter wanted this experience to last. He wanted to set up little tents like they did for the Festival of Tabernacles and make this glorious supernatural event last a while. But that doesn’t seem to be the point. And when the cloud appears, and the voice declares, “This is my Son, Listen to Him,” apparently it stops being fun, because the disciples fell facedown to the ground, terrified. Again, maybe we can understand. To see Jesus shining like the sun, holding a conversation with two All Star prophets is one thing—but to have Yahweh the Mighty Creator show up, well now, that’s serious. He’s holy, we’re not. He’s perfect, we’re sinful. He’s perfectly just in his judgments, and we know what we deserve. Maybe we can understand. For Peter, James, and John, the show is over. God and sin don’t mix, so this looks like it’s going to end badly.
But the voice from the cloud had said, “Listen to Him.” And doubtlessly, the disciples are listening…listening for what? For the hammer of judgment to drop? Listening for the crackle of lightning and roar of God’s thunder? Those men were listening, all right, because their eyes were probably squeezed shut in terror. With their ears wide open, they hear the familiar voice of their Teacher, saying, “Get up. Don’t be afraid.” When they dare to look up, all they see is Jesus. Listen to Him. The cloud is gone. Moses and Elijah are gone. Jesus just looks like Jesus again. Listen to Him. Don’t be afraid.
Are you listening to Him? Are you listening to Jesus? Who has your ear? Can you even hear Him over the noise of a busy life? Do you create time to listen to Him, shoving other things aside in order to take in his words?
Writer Charles Swindoll once found himself with too many commitments in too few days. He got nervous and tense about it. "I was snapping at my wife and our children, choking down my food at mealtimes, and feeling irritated at those unexpected interruptions through the day," he recalled in his book Stress Fractures. "Before long, things around our home started reflecting the patter of my hurry-up style. It was becoming unbearable.
"I distinctly remember after supper one evening, the words of our younger daughter, Colleen. She wanted to tell me something important that had happened to her at school that day. She began hurriedly, 'Daddy, I wanna tell you somethin' and I'll tell you really fast.'
"Suddenly realizing her frustration, I answered, 'Honey, you can tell me -- and you don't have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly." "I'll never forget her answer: 'Then listen slowly.'"
When you find a place and a way to “listen slowly” to Jesus—however that works for you—then you will hear the same message that greeted the terrified disciples, and it’s exactly what we need to hear, too. “Don’t be afraid.” Those three short words sum up why Jesus came. He came to remove fear by giving himself to you.
To the person running from God, Jesus says: Don’t be afraid. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3: 16)
To the person gripped with anxiety about the future, Jesus says: Don’t be afraid. “Do not worry, saying, What shall we eat? Or What shall we drink? Or What shall we wear? For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow…” (Matt. 6: 31—34)
To the person whose sins are killing them, whose guilt is weighing them down, Jesus says: “Don’t be afraid. “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” (Luke 7: 48, 50).
To the person who is scared of burn-out, Jesus says: Don’t be afraid. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:30)
To the person wondering if God notices them, Jesus says: Don’t be afraid. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10: 29—31.)
To the person scared to death of death, Jesus says: Don’t be afraid. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11: 25—26) “In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14: 2—3)
To the person terrified at the thought that their life is meaningless, Jesus says: Don’t be afraid. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.”(Matthew 16: 16) “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden…in the same way let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
To the person who suspects that their questions and doubts will disqualify them from God’s blessing, Jesus says: Don’t be afraid. “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away. The will of Him who sent me [is this:] that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6: 37—40, paraphrased)
Jesus still comes to you with his power and these words: “Don’t be afraid.” Listen to Him. Amen.