Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Lion of Judah and Lamb of God

The Bible is full of rich metaphors, word-parables so to speak.  One of my favorites is Christ depicted as the Lion of Judah.  We get our first hint of the connection at the end of Genesis when Jacob-now-Israel blesses his twelve sons before he dies.  These sons represent the twelve tribes of Israel, and none is more significant than the tribe of Judah.  In Genesis 49:9-10 we read:
                        Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He couches, he lies down as a lion,
And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
The scepter shall not depart form Judah,
Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

Numbers 24:9 records the prophet Balaam repeating part of Jacob’s prophecy, and it is generally recognized as an early proclamation of the coming Messiah, Christ.  The expanded and fulfilled prophecy is proclaimed in Revelation 5:5:
…and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the
book and its seven seals.”

But Christ is not always depicted as a lion, as a fierce ruler.  The prophet Isaiah describes the Messiah as a lamb that is led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7).  This imagery is potent and powerful.  When the Lord used Moses to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt, He gave instructions for each household (or group of households) to sacrifice a lamb—the Passover Lamb—and paint their door lintels with its blood in order to escape the imminent judgment that was coming upon Egypt.  The sacrifice of lambs for sin was an integral part of the Old Testament Law. 

When John the Baptist proclaimed to two of his disciples that Jesus was the Lamb of God, there were a few dots to connect.  Many and probably most Jews anticipating the coming of the Messiah were looking for a king, for the Lion of Judah.  And here was a lamb, blameless to be sure, but not even particularly attractive.  The concept of the Christ suffering and dying was abhorrent to the Apostle Peter (Matthew 16: 21-23), and we can be sure Peter was not alone in his perspective.
And so we come to the point of Easter.  Jesus was not sometimes the lion and sometimes the lamb. He was not merely both the lion and the lamb.  He is the Lion who became the Lamb.  He died for us that we might rule with Him.  Again, the fifth chapter of Revelation gives us a glimpse of what this will look like:
And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. 7And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

Evangelical Christians often claim Christ as their Lord and Savior.  It is the Lion-Lamb who we celebrate at Easter.  May we appreciate both elements of His character and celebrate with joy and gratitude.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

An Extended Fast

Last month, churches across the United States in a 10-day fast for spiritual renewal.  The Christian Union generated this initiative to encourage believers across the country to seek the Lord and place the church in a position to experience the Lord’s power in ministering to a culture that is in desperate need of God’s truth and grace.

While the Christian Union emphasized a focus on refraining from eating food, many pastors broadened the fasting concept to include any activity that might interfere with a focus on the Lord.  I very much appreciate this concept, and as I’ve considered how the Lord would call me to participate, it has occurred to me that many of my indulgent non-edible habits that would be good candidates for fasting are in fact not good for me. Ever.

There are good reasons to fast from food.  Our Lord did so before He started His public ministry.  It is a good way to be reminded that we do not live on bread alone but by the power, Spirit, and Word of God.  It is also a way to “reset” our priorities and affections to reflect our faith. And fasting from food encourages us to confront any ways that we express our sin nature by abusing food.  But God made us to need food and He created food to sustain us.  We cannot refrain from food indefinitely.  Food is a good blessing from our heavenly Father.  

God gives us other blessings, non-food blessings, that we also distort and pervert to please our sin nature.  Whenever we use some thing or some activity to feel good about ourselves apart from God, whenever we depend on this thing or activity to earn or prove our value, that thing or activity becomes an idol.  It separates us from God and limits what He can do in us and through us. A fast that encompasses such things and activities is appropriate.  Some of these things and activities are like food: they are necessary and good.  For example, we need to shop in order to acquire what we need.  But shopping can also be perverted: we can develop a habit of shopping that is more about feeling good than it is about satisfying genuine needs.  Exercising can fall into this category, as can ministry that becomes more and more about us and less and less about our Lord.  The possibilities are, tragically, limitless. Other things and activities—also limitless—are in a different category: neither necessary nor good.  Gambling and gossiping leap to mind as good examples. 

A call to prayer and fasting is a powerful invitation to come before the Lord to be known and sanctified, to become equipped and empowered to serve the Lord and advance His kingdom’s purposes.  We can join King David and come before the Lord, to ask Him to search us and know us, and to reveal our lifestyle patterns that reflect our sin nature rather than our faith relationship with Him.  Prayer is a crucial component: our hearts are deceitful, and we are not capable of identifying our “pet” sins.  But as our sin is revealed, we must confess and repent.  Fasting from ingrained sin patterns may be a good start toward spiritual growth and maturity.  Some of our favorite sin patterns may in fact be food-centered, but others may involve behaviors other than eating.  A fast from those things and activities that the Lord reveals as problematic is an excellent Biblical prescription for spiritual renewal.

In a typical fast, we eliminate meals or all food for a short period of time.  But we appropriately return to eating when the fast ends.  However, as prayer and fasting reveal unnecessary things and activities that pull us away from the Lord, we have an opportunity to extend the benefits of a fast, to pursue an extended—indefinite—fast from those activities in order to put aside every encumbrance to a life of faith.  We would do well to consider carefully what a time of prayer and fasting reveals to us.  It may be that when our time of prayer and fasting has been concluded, extending a fast from idols and sinful habits will enable us to experience a richer relationship with the Lord and exercise a more powerful witness in the world. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Thought For The Day

"Problems are opportunities in their work clothes"

                                            Whiting Bible Church
                                            Manchester Twp.,  NJ

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A Lesson From History

Two years ago this month marks the two-year anniversary of our granddaughter’s emergency surgery when she was just nine days old.  Although she appeared healthy at birth, our granddaughter was born with a congenital condition known as malrotation.  Her intestines did not develop properly, leaving them predisposed to twisting. Such twisting makes it impossible to digest food and cuts the blood supply to the intestines.

No one in our family had ever heard of malrotation that morning two years ago.  My husband and I were on a plane en route to northern Iowa to meet the newest addition to the family.  When our plane landed, we learned that our new granddaughter had been vomiting “highlighter yellow” fluid and had been sent to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, by their local doctor.

By the time we arrived at Mayo, testing was completed.  We had a brief opportunity to meet our new granddaughter before the pediatric surgeon rushed her into surgery.  Not more than an hour later he returned, joking about the bad coffee and reassuring us that she was just fine.  He also commented that the surgery had been just in time to save her intestines.  Our granddaughter recovered quickly and without complications.  It is fair to say that her parents and grandparents took longer to recover from the event.

Several months later, this same granddaughter experienced another bout of vomiting.  Again, “highlighter yellow” fluid.  Her parents quickly returned with her to Mayo, where testing reassured them that she was “just” vomiting.  During their follow-up visit with the doctor a couple of weeks later, he reassured them that once he “fixed” the malrotation problem, it remained fixed.  

There are a few aspects to this part of our family’s history that make the history quite relevant to the spiritual considerations that often accompany a new year.  Although I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, a new year is a good time to deal anew with our sin problem in the context of our faith. 

Often, our sins are hidden from us, much the same as our newborn granddaughter’s medical condition.  We seem like nice people.  We don’t lie, cheat, or steal.  Nevertheless, we are fallen people in a fallen world.  We are sinners.  We need to come before the Lord and ask Him to reveal what we cannot see, the subtle and not so subtle ways we have failed to love.  This is not something we can do ourselves.  We need professional help, so to speak, to save us from our sin before it kills us.  King David certainly appreciated the Lord’s revelatory work in his life: “You have searched me and known me.”

And just as our granddaughter’s condition needed immediate treatment, corrective measures must be taken once our sin has been revealed.  Confession and repentance: a change in heart, thought life, lifestyle.  Sometimes the corrective measures are dramatic, and spiritual surgery is necessary to remove the root of sin: “If your righteyemakes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”  Sin is serious and life-threatening and must be treated as such.

Finally, we must depend on the Lord’s forgiveness and His sanctifying work in us.  Lingering guilt is one of the most potent weapons of our enemy, the accuser. But just as the pediatric surgeon fixed our granddaughter’s problem, our Redeemer has provided an ongoing and permanent fix to our sin problem: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  We need not and must not rehearse our forgiven sins: when we do so, we presumptuously play God and focus on ourselves rather than on Him.  Although we will undoubtedly continue to sin, we can continue to confess and repent and depend on the Lord’s forgiveness and redemptive work.

Living in a sinful world is tough, and our own sin makes it even tougher.  But praise the Lord!  He has not left us to die in our sins.  Jesus died to cover our sins so that we can enjoy a restored relationship with Him. He has given us His Word and His indwelling Spirit to reveal our sins and lead us to confession and repentance. So while we do need to seek His professional spiritual help to correct what threatens our spiritual well-being, we no longer need to live in guilt and fear.  Instead, we have the incredible privilege of living in faith before our Lord who became God Incarnate to die for our sins, who guides and guards us and is preparing us for our place in His kingdom.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

To Think About

"Human progress isn't measured by industry.  It's measured by the value you place on a life.  An unimportant life.  A life without privilege."

                                                                                                 Dr. Who

In The Bleak Mid-Winter

We don’t know when the original Christmas Day was.  Scholars have worked hard to determine Christ’s real birthday, but there is no general agreement.  Most scholars come no closer than an estimate of the year: 6-4 BC.  We don’t know the day of the week or time of year.  Given the weather in Israel, it is highly unlikely that snow lay on the ground.

It is widely believed that Christians have appropriated a pagan holiday that celebrated the winter solstice and designated it as the time to celebrate Jesus’s incarnation.  Even though this might not represent actual history, it works very well as a metaphor.  Celebrating Christmas in winter is not merely a strategy to break up the dreary winter months.  It provides an excellent illustration of the need for a Messiah.  Just as the winter is associated with cold and darkness, so this world is cold and dark in sin.  We don’t merely need a break from the dreary weather; we need hope and redemption from sin.  C.S. Lewis describes our current world as “enemy-occupied territory,” a world under the influence of Satan and enslaved to sin.  Christ’s coming is an invasion to reclaim His creation and His creatures, not unlike the Allies’ invasion of France that began the defeat of Germany in World War II.  Celebrating Christmas in the winter is an excellent reminder that as Christmas comes in the dark and cold winter, Jesus has come to our dark and cold sin-sick world, and to us.  And although the Christmas season is full of twinkling lights, Christmas carols, and decking our halls, the darkness and emptiness that sometimes threaten our hearts and souls need not be ignored.  In fact, it makes Jesus’s invasion, as our rescue, all the sweeter and makes our Christmas celebration all the richer.  Celebrating Christmas even in the midst of pain and struggle is truly the most genuine way to celebrate Christmas.  It is a recognition that we need Christ, and He has come!

Celebrating Christmas at the winter solstice also provides a helpful illustration of the work of Christ. John proclaims Jesus as the Light of the world.  And just as daylight begins to increase after the winter solstice, Jesus, once arrived, brings more and more light to the world and to our lives.  This brings with it a challenge.  As the light of Christ becomes brighter in our lives, more of our sin is exposed, and we encounter more opportunities to confess and repent. This may seem contrary to the spirit of the holiday, but in fact it is at its core: we celebrate because Jesus came to save us from our sin.  If we had no sin, we would have no reason to celebrate.  As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  As we submit to Christ’s Lordship, He becomes our ever-brightening light.  And in this way, we can pledge with Ebenezer Scrooge “to honor Christmas in our hearts, and try to keep it all the year.”

Christians are often reminded to “keep Christ in Christmas.” I do not believe that this means, as some would have it, that we need to be more solemn about this holiday.  In fact, the more we understand the significance of Christ coming to overcome the darkness and cold in our souls and in our world, the more we have to celebrate.  Come, Lord Jesus!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

A Thankful People

November.  Giving Thanks.  November seems to require a focus on thankfulness, on gratitude.  We celebrate Thanksgiving soon, which gives us an excellent opportunity to gratefully count our blessings before we head into the Christmas rush.  

There is a lot to be said in favor of giving thanks.  Many of the Psalms reveal that King David, the man after God’s own heart, was a man of praise.  In I Chronicles 15 and 16, we read about David bringing the ark of the covenant of the LORD into Jerusalem amid great celebration: David leapt as the ark was brought into the city, and he appointed some of the Levites to specifically thank and praise the LORD God of Israel as the ark was established in its new location. A few chapters later, in I Chronicles 23, we read that of the 38,000 male Levites, David appointed 4,000 to praise the LORD with instruments that David had made specifically for giving praise.

The giving of thanks and praise continues in the New Testament.  The Gospels record Jesus giving thanks to the Father as a matter of practice.  Those who are touched by Jesus in some way almost always respond with thanks and praise. The Apostle Paul exhorts the believers in Philippi to dwell on those things worthy of praise, and he encourages those in Thessalonica to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks.  Thanksgiving is more than a holiday for God’s people.  It is a way of life.

In the 1940 Book of Common Prayer used by the Episcopal Church, a responsive acknowledgement of thanks is part of the weekly communion service.  The priest says: “Let us give thanks unto our Lord God.”  The congregants respond: “It is meet and right so to do.”  The priest continues: “It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty, Everlasting God.”  These words ring as true today as when they were written generations ago.  But it seems to me that it would be very dangerous to our spiritual health if we stop there.  If giving thanks was nothing more than duty, a fulfillment of an obligation, a practice of a tradition, we miss the point, badly.

Giving thanks is not about meeting an expectation or fulfilling a duty.  It is the fruit of a genuine relationship with our Lord and our Redeemer.  It isn’t something we haveto do.  It is something we get to do.  Giving thanks is not just about what we do, but about who we are, and who we are becoming. To be sure, it isn’t always easy. We are fallen people in a fallen world. Jesus said that we would have tribulation in the world.  The writers of the New Testament did not shy away from the reality of suffering.  But we can give thanks that Christ has overcome the world and that He will redeem our suffering and transform it into glory.

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving and enter the holiday season, may we, like King David and the Apostle Paul, give thanks as thankful people.