The Shortest, Yet Most Profound Verse

John 11

1A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. 2This is the Mary who poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. 3So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, the one you love is very sick.”

4But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it is for the glory of God. I, the Son of God, will receive glory from this.” 5Although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, 6he stayed where he was for the next two days and did not go to them. 7Finally after two days, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again.”

8But his disciples objected. “Teacher,” they said, “only a few days ago the Jewish leaders in Judea were trying to kill you. Are you going there again?”

9Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. As long as it is light, people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10Only at night is there danger of stumbling because there is no light.” 11Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.”

12The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, that means he is getting better!” 13They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was having a good night’s rest, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.

14Then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15And for your sake, I am glad I wasn’t there, because this will give you another opportunity to believe in me. Come, let’s go see him.”

16Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”

17When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. 18Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, 19and many of the people had come to pay their respects and console Martha and Mary on their loss. 20When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

23Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24“Yes,” Martha said, “when everyone else rises, on resurrection day.”

25Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again. 26They are given eternal life for believing in me and will never perish. Do you believe this, Martha?”

27“Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” 28Then she left him and returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” 29So Mary immediately went to him.

30Now Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. 31When the people who were at the house trying to console Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. 32When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell down at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, he was moved with indignation and was deeply troubled. 34“Where have you put him?” he asked them.

They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Then Jesus wept. 36The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him.” 37But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Why couldn’t he keep Lazarus from dying?” (John 11:1-37, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

When I was a kid in Sunday school, we’d occasionally be challenged to memorize Bible verses. Everyone knew that the first, and easiest Bible verse to memorize was John 11:35, because it consisted of just 2 words and only nine letters. Jesus wept. Every kid knew that shorter verses were easier to memorize but of course, we missed the whole point of the exercise.

The point of Scripture memory isn’t simply to memorize a collection of words, as if to show off our amazing memory skills. The purpose is for the words to impact you in such a way that life transformation happens. Memorizing the truths of scripture trains our minds to think differently, and rightly, about God, us and the world around us.

As a kid, I didn’t think twice about that, especially when it came to John 11:35. I never thought about why Jesus wept or what that meant for me.

Now that I’m older and reflecting on this verse, I realize how immensely significant these two words are, especially for me.

The context, of course is the death of Lazarus. Jesus knew Lazarus was sick and He purposely delayed going to Bethany so that Lazarus would be dead when He arrived.

When Jesus arrives, He’s met first by Martha and then by Mary, both of whom are sisters of Lazarus. Both separately tell Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Martha and Mary both recognize Jesus as a person who is able to heal those who are sick and prevent death. They recognize Jesus as the Messiah but they don’t quite realize that Jesus has the power to bring the dead back to life.

What’s interesting to me about this passage is that Jesus, in His deity knew that Lazarus was dead even before He arrived in Bethany. And Jesus also knew that He was going to demonstrate His power over death by raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus knew the outcome, which would be glorious. So why does He weep?

The key, I think, is in the preceding verses where it says that Jesus saw Mary weeping and others wailing with Her. He was deeply moved by this and as a result, He weeps.

The impact of these two words is profound. First of all, it demonstrates that Jesus, in His humanity, identifies with people. Jesus sees the suffering and the grief of others and in His humanity, He experiences the same emotions we do. As a result, He is able to weep, just as we do. As God, He knows the outcome is going to be praise and exultation and glorifying God for the miracle of Lazarus coming back to life. Why weep when something good is going to happen?

But in His humanity, Jesus experiences what we experience, and He grieves with those who are grieving, despite the fact that He had arranged the situation to demonstrate His miraculous authority over death.

The second reason why this is profound is precisely because Jesus weeps. I grew up in an environment and culture where crying, especially by a male, was seen as weakness. Guys are supposed to be tough and nothing is supposed to affect us. We certainly don’t want to display emotions because that’s for sissies, at least that was the prevailing message of my youth.

Actually, one emotion was allowed, and that was anger. Tough guys are allowed to get angry because it shows you’re a person who is not to be messed with.

But Jesus stands that macho thinking on its ear by weeping at a grave site.

If Jesus can weep, so can I. I can be real and authentic and express my emotions because that is what real people do.

Even though John 11:35 is the shortest verse in the Bible, it just might be the most profound verse in all of Scripture!

Reflection

What do you see as the benefits of memorizing Scripture? What would keep you from making Scripture memory a part of your spiritual development training?

When you think about the verse that says, “Jesus wept” what thoughts come to mind? How would you have explained this to someone else who didn’t know or understand the person of Jesus? What new insights have you gained from this passage and this verse in particular?

What was the emotional environment like for you growing up? What messages did you hear from your family and the culture around you regarding displaying emotions generally and crying specifically? How does Jesus’s example affirm or change your view and understanding of the appropriateness of expressing emotion?

 

Photo by Luis Galvez on Unsplash

The Sabbath Smokescreen

John 5

16So the Jewish leaders began harassing Jesus for breaking the Sabbath rules. 17But Jesus replied, “My Father never stops working, so why should I?” 18So the Jewish leaders tried all the more to kill him. In addition to disobeying the Sabbath rules, he had spoken of God as his Father, thereby making himself equal with God.

19Jesus replied, “I assure you, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. 20For the Father loves the Son and tells him everything he is doing, and the Son will do far greater things than healing this man. You will be astonished at what he does. 21He will even raise from the dead anyone he wants to, just as the Father does. 22And the Father leaves all judgment to his Son, 23so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. But if you refuse to honor the Son, then you are certainly not honoring the Father who sent him.

24“I assure you, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.

25“And I assure you that the time is coming, in fact it is here, when the dead will hear my voice—the voice of the Son of God. And those who listen will live. 26The Father has life in himself, and he has granted his Son to have life in himself.27And he has given him authority to judge all mankind because he is the Son of Man. 28Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, 29and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to judgment. 30But I do nothing without consulting the Father. I judge as I am told. And my judgment is absolutely just, because it is according to the will of God who sent me; it is not merely my own.  (John 5:16-30, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In this chapter, Jesus has an encounter with the leaders after he heals an invalid. A man who had not been able to walk for 38 years is healed and instead of praising God for this amazing miracle, the Jewish leaders are upset because the healing occurred on the Sabbath.

Have you noticed that the Jewish authorities are particularly hung up on the rules of the Sabbath?

There are a number of things going on in this passage that I want to draw attention to.

First, Jesus responds to their rigid understanding of the Sabbath by telling them that His Father is always working and so is He. What exactly does that mean and how does this response address the Jewish leader’s constant complaints about working on the Sabbath?

Genesis 2:2 says that God rested on the 7th day. The Pharisees obviously thought that meant that there was to be no activity (or work) of any kind.

But if that’s true then it would mean God is not active during the 7th day, which we are currently in, according to the Scriptures. Jesus contradicts this idea that God is not active at all while making the point that one is still allowed to do good, even on the Sabbath.

A second observation is that the Jews were not just incensed because Jesus was breaking the Sabbath. They were also upset that Jesus was making claims of deity. Their response in this passage clearly indicates that they understood Jesus to be making himself equal to God, which in their mind was a claim to deity.

It is very common today for people to assert that Jesus never made claims of deity. However, there are quite a number of passages that clearly demonstrate that Jesus believed Himself to be God and made claims as such. This is one of those passages. I wrote about another passage here.

Third, Jesus is explicitly teaching that the Son should be honored in the same way that the Father is honored. In other words, Jesus is worthy of worship. The law taught that only God was worthy of worship so it’s quite evident that Jesus is affirming that as God, He is worthy and deserves to be honored and worshiped.

Lastly, Jesus claims authority to judge and give life, two activities that are reserved for God alone.

There was plenty of evidence that Jesus was the promised Messiah and that He was God incarnate, but the Jewish leaders rejected all evidence that pointed to these facts, including the amazing miracles Jesus performed. Instead, these leaders got incredibly worked up over the fact that Jesus healed a person on the Sabbath. And this was not the first or last time they got twisted over this particular issue.

The reality is that the Sabbath issue was merely a smokescreen to conceal the hardness of their hearts. When a person’s heart is hard, no amount of evidence or reasoning will convince them that their preconceived position is faulty. Instead, they will reach for the most mundane and irrelevant issue and make that the central argument supporting their erroneous position.

Reflection

If you encountered someone who said that Jesus never claimed to be God, what would you say in defense?

Why do you think the Jewish leaders were so upset about the Sabbath?

When was a time that you abandoned reason and logic to support a faulty position simply because you couldn’t admit that you were wrong?

What do you think are some reasons why the Jewish leaders were so resistant to Jesus, even though their teaching and training should have prepared them for His arrival?

 

Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash

You’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good, baby, you’re no good!

Romans 3

21But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight—not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago. 22We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.

23For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. 25For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us. God was being entirely fair and just when he did not punish those who sinned in former times. 26And he is entirely fair and just in this present time when he declares sinners to be right in his sight because they believe in Jesus.

27Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on our good deeds. It is based on our faith. 28So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law. (Romans 3:21-28, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Back in the day there was a popular song by Linda Ronstadt with a chorus that said, “you’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good, baby, you’re no good”! (see Ronstadt YouTube video here)

It’s doubtful that Ronstadt (or whoever actually wrote the song) had Romans 3 in mind when they penned the words, but this chorus is actually the sentiment of Paul’s message in Romans 3.

Paul has spent the first 2 chapters of Romans outlining how the pagan, the moral person and even the religious person are all sinful and therefore under God’s judgment.

In this chapter, Paul finalizes his argument that all people are no good. It’s doubtful that he could bust out the lyrics as soulfully as Ronstadt but Paul’s message is essentially, “you’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good….baby you’re no good.”

Perhaps you disagree with this assessment. After all, a lot of people think that people are basically good. And many would argue that at least SOME people are good. So how can Paul say ALL people are NO GOOD?

It all comes down to how you define good. We (people) tend to define good in relative standards that make us look good and feel good about ourselves.

For example, if Hitler is the standard of bad, then I feel good about myself because I’m reasonably confident that I’m a better person than Hitler.

And that’s the problem. Everybody is using a different standard of goodness and each person’s standard tends to be derived in such a way that they themselves end up on the good end of the spectrum.

Is this not blatantly obvious? How many people would actually say they are no good? Very few, in my experience. Even the most hardened criminal is likely to point to someone whom they believe to be a worse person than they are as their comparison for measuring and evaluating goodness.

But God’s standard of goodness is different than ours. God doesn’t use Hitler or Stalin or any other authoritarian tyrant as the standard for what is good. God uses HIMSELF as the standard of goodness.

With God as the standard of goodness, we can see that being good requires us to be as good as God is, which is impossible. This is why Paul says in verse 23 that “all fall short of God’s glorious standard” and it explains how Paul can say that ALL are NO GOOD!

That may seem like really bad news, and it is, but fortunately, that’s not the end of the story. There is good news, really good news actually.

Paul states that God has created a different way for us to be made right in his sight. Before Jesus, Jews tried to maintain a right standing before God by following the Law – the long list of legal requirements as outlined in the Torah – the first 5 books of the Old Testament. Adhering to all these religious requirements (over 600 of them) proved to be impossible for even the most devout God-follower. It simply highlighted the reality that we are sinful and incapable of fully following God’s rules consistently.

God ‘s better way involves us being made right with God when we trust in Jesus to take away our sins. When Jesus died on the cross, he actually was being punished for our sins and, according to verse 25, God’s righteous anger is satisfied as a result of Jesus’s death.

When it says that God’s anger is satisfied, it’s saying that God’s punishment has been poured out on Jesus instead of on us. So when we trust Jesus to pay for our sin, we receive a full pardon from God and there is no longer any punishment reserved for us.

However, we can still choose to reject Jesus and continue to follow the old pattern for achieving a right standard before God. We can choose to be evaluated by our works and our own ability to live up to God’s moral standards. In that scenario, we will be found guilty and we will experience punishment for our sins because we’ve rejected Jesus’s alternate method of paying for the penalty of our sins.

Or we can choose the better way…trust Jesus, receive a full pardon for all of our sin and experience a right standing with God that saves us from the punishment that we actually deserve!

Reflection

What is the standard you have been using for determining goodness? How close is your standard to the one Paul says that God is actually using?

What would you say to a person who claims to be a good person?

What would you say to someone who claims that it’s not fair that God would condemn anyone to an eternity in hell? What arguments would you make to demonstrate that it is fair and just?

 

Photo by Nick Gavrilov on Unsplash

Fake News and Cancel Culture in the New Testament

Luke 23

1Then the entire council took Jesus over to Pilate, the Roman governor. 2They began at once to state their case: “This man has been leading our people to ruin by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king.”

3So Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus replied, “Yes, it is as you say.”

4Pilate turned to the leading priests and to the crowd and said, “I find nothing wrong with this man!”

5Then they became desperate. “But he is causing riots everywhere he goes, all over Judea, from Galilee to Jerusalem!”

. . . . .

13Then Pilate called together the leading priests and other religious leaders, along with the people, 14and he announced his verdict. “You brought this man to me, accusing him of leading a revolt. I have examined him thoroughly on this point in your presence and find him innocent. 15Herod came to the same conclusion and sent him back to us. Nothing this man has done calls for the death penalty. 16So I will have him flogged, but then I will release him.”

18Then a mighty roar rose from the crowd, and with one voice they shouted, “Kill him, and release Barabbas to us!” 19(Barabbas was in prison for murder and for taking part in an insurrection in Jerusalem against the government.) 20Pilate argued with them, because he wanted to release Jesus. 21But they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Luke 23:1-5; 13-21, NLT)

Acts 24

1Five days later Ananias, the high priest, arrived with some of the Jewish leaders and the lawyer Tertullus, to press charges against Paul.  2When Paul was called in, Tertullus laid charges against Paul in the following address to the governor:

“Your Excellency, you have given peace to us Jews and have enacted reforms for us. 3And for all of this we are very grateful to you. 4But lest I bore you, kindly give me your attention for only a moment as I briefly outline our case against this man. 5For we have found him to be a troublemaker, a man who is constantly inciting the Jews throughout the world to riots and rebellions against the Roman government. He is a ringleader of the sect known as the Nazarenes. 6Moreover he was trying to defile the Temple when we arrested him. 7but Lysias, the commander of the garrison, came and took him violently away from us, commanding his accusers to come before you.8You can find out the truth of our accusations by examining him yourself.”  9Then the other Jews chimed in, declaring that everything Tertullus said was true. (Acts 24:1-9, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

One of the advantages of the Grant Horner Bible reading system is that you begin to see how biblical events relate to each other. This is because each day, the reader reads one chapter from 10 different sections of Scripture. Since each section has a unique number of chapters, the number of days it will take the reader to read through each section is different, creating a unique “playlist” of chapters to read each day.

A few days ago, in consecutive days, I read Luke 23 and then Acts 24. I was amazed to see two different scenarios that played out in almost identical fashion.

In the Luke chapter, Jesus is arrested and appears before the Jewish Council, who then take Him before the Roman authorities to plead their case and seek punishment.

The Council leaders create a false narrative in order to see Jesus prosecuted to the fullest. What was Jesus’s crime? Jesus was accused of telling people not to pay their taxes. However, we know this is false. It’s a New Testament version of “fake news.”

In Luke 20:20, the Jewish leaders had sent “secret agents”, who pretended to be honest men, but were really trying to entrap Jesus. They had asked Jesus specifically if it was right to pay taxes to the Roman government. Jesus sees through their deception and tells them to grab a Roman coin.

“Who’s image is on the coin”, Jesus asked.

They replied, “Caesar’s”.

Jesus responds by telling them, “give to Caesar what is belongs to him and everything that belongs to God should be given to God.”

Now here we are, four chapters later and the story is that Jesus tells people not to pay their taxes. In verse 5, the Council’s desperation unfolds as they claim, without evidence, that Jesus is causing riots everywhere he goes.

Later, Pilate declares Jesus innocent of the charge of revolt, mostly because there’s no evidence whatsoever to support the charge. But that no longer matters because by this time, a mob of people have joined in to promote the false accusations, insisting that Jesus be crucified. Pilate, in an act of cowardice and weak leadership, gives in to the mob and allows Jesus, a man he knows to be innocent, to be crucified.

In the Acts story, the names are changed but the scenario unfolds in almost exactly the same way.

Paul is the accused now instead of Jesus. What is Paul accused of? Inciting riots wherever he goes. 

Do you see a pattern here?

After Paul is accused of being a troublemaker and inciting riots, other people chimed in, agreeing that it was true (verse 9).

So, the formula for using a fake narrative to get your enemy canceled seems to be:

    1. Find some powerful or influential people to accuse your enemy of something egregious, even if it’s not true.
    2. Get other people to repeat and vocalize the false narrative, creating a viral effect.
    3. Take the charge to someone who has the power to exact punishment.
    4. Use the power of the mob’s outrage to have your enemy canceled.

A few things I noticed in these two passages:

First, the people leading the charge against the accused are the same, the Jewish leaders. Though they may not be the exact same leaders in both cases, it’s interesting to note that this group of people, who should be the harbingers of truth and justice, ultimately wield their power for their own political purposes.

Secondly, while Jesus doesn’t answer His accusers, Paul speaks out and defends himself (we see this more clearly in the later verses of Acts 24, which were not included in this post for the sake of brevity).

Third, the outcome was slightly different in each case. In the case of Jesus, He is condemned to death mostly because of Pilate’s unwillingness to stand up to the people and do what he knows is right.

Paul’s situation dragged on, not because Felix was standing up to the mob, but because he was greedy and was hoping Paul would pay his way out of his predicament. He also wanted to gain favor with the Jews so he kept Paul’s case open for two years.

The last thing I notice, is that despite the injustice of it all, God uses both situations to fulfill His purposes.  Jesus’s injustice sends Him to the cross where He secures the salvation of the entire human race, while Paul, because of his situation, is able to take the gospel to Rome. Hundreds, if not thousands came to Christ even while Paul was in chains.

Reflection

When have you experienced an injustice that you didn’t understand? How did God use that situation to accomplish greater purposes in you and around you?

What do you think is the appropriate response if you’re being falsely accused? Should you keep quiet, much like Jesus did, or do you think it’s ok to defend yourself as Paul did?

What safety measures can you take to ensure that you don’t unwittingly become part of a mob that unjustly seeks to cancel others?

 

Photo by Joshua Miranda from Pexels

Are You or Aren’t You?

Luke 22

66At daybreak all the leaders of the people assembled, including the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. Jesus was led before this high council, 67and they said, “Tell us if you are the Messiah.”

But he replied, “If I tell you, you won’t believe me. 68And if I ask you a question, you won’t answer. 69But the time is soon coming when I, the Son of Man, will be sitting at God’s right hand in the place of power.”

70They all shouted, “Then you claim you are the Son of God?”

And he replied, “You are right in saying that I am.”

71“What need do we have for other witnesses?” they shouted. “We ourselves heard him say it.” (Luke 22:66-71, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Have you ever heard people say that Jesus never claimed to be God? It’s a popular view among non-Christian religions and skeptics alike.

There’s just one problem….Jesus clearly DID claim to be God. There are a number of verses and situations that demonstrate this but this passage in Luke is a clear example.

Jesus has been arrested and at his trial, He’s asked directly if He is the Messiah. Jesus, in his typical fashion, doesn’t answer the question directly. It’s this tactic that often gives people the impression that Jesus never claimed deity. The theory is that Jesus is so cryptic and elusive in his responses that he could not be God, as Christians claim. If Jesus really WAS God, then surely he would have been more direct.

Instead of giving a direct answer, Jesus gives a reference to Him being seen sitting at the right hand of God.

The reaction of the Jewish leaders tells you all you need to know about what Jesus was really saying.

The text says they shouted, “Then you claim you are the Son of God?”

The Jewish leaders understood that Jesus’s reference to sitting at the right hand of God was a direct reference to deity. They recognized that Jesus was claiming a special relationship with God that was putting Him on par with God, hence, the claim to deity.

In response to Jesus’s reference and subsequent admission to being the Messiah, the Jewish leaders recognized that they now didn’t need witnesses in order to convict Jesus of blasphemy. They had all the evidence they needed straight from Jesus’s own lips. Jesus was not only claiming to be the Messiah, but was also asserting deity and the Jewish leaders now had the necessary motive and reason to crucify Jesus.

You can reject Jesus’s claim to deity as perhaps being false, but you cannot say that Jesus never made the claim. For if he didn’t make the claim, the Jewish leaders would have not had a basis to crucify Him.

Reflection

What has been your view of Jesus? Do you see Jesus as a great teacher, or do you recognize Him as God incarnate?

Why do you think Jesus did not always respond directly to the questions people were asking Him? 

Why do you think the Jewish leaders were so set on arresting and killing Jesus instead of embracing Him as the long-awaited Messiah?

 

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Access Granted!

Hebrews 10

19And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20This is the new, life-giving way that Christ has opened up for us through the sacred curtain, by means of his death for us.

21And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s people, 22let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

23Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. 25And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near. (Hebrews 10:19-25, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In my daily DAVEotional entry yesterday from Hebrews 9, I showed how Jesus’s sacrifice is better than the Old Testament sacrificial system for 3 reasons.

In the next chapter, the author of the letter to the Hebrews shares the practical implications of Jesus’s better sacrifice.

You might remember that when Jesus was crucified, immediately after he breathed his last breath, the Scriptures tell us that the veil that separated the most holy place from the Holy of Holies in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. I wrote about the significance of that event here.

The author of Hebrews picks up on that theme in verse 20, sharing that this new life Jesus gives us, because of his shed blood, grants us access to the very presence of God. This was a radical shift for the Jewish person of Jesus’s day.

To the Jewish person from the Old Testament through the time of Jesus, God was seen as holy and unapproachable. Coming near to God might result in death. In theological terms, we call this the doctrine of transcendence. The idea is that God is so much higher than us, so much greater than us, so much more righteous than we are, that it is impossible for us to enter His presence.

This idea that God is transcendent is, in fact, the view that many major religions have regarding the nature of God, even today. As an example, one of the reasons Islam rejects the deity of Christ is because it is unthinkable that God could stoop himself to take on human flesh and become a man.

But Jesus flips the doctrine of transcendence on its head, according to the author of Hebrews. Because of His death, and particularly His shed blood, we can now approach God with confidence. We don’t have to be afraid of Him and we have free access without having to jump through any religious hoops.

Theologically, we call this the doctrine of immanence. Whereas most Jews, and other religions for that matter, see God as wholly transcendent and distant, one of the hallmarks of Christianity is the truth that God is not only transcendent, but He is also immanent – he is near and accessible.

This is incredibly good news for those who trust and follow Jesus. God is not the cosmic killjoy that some presume Him to be. He is near. He is accessible. He is compassionate. He is a FATHER and we are His children. And it’s the blood of Jesus that makes it all possible!

Reflection

When you think about God, which of His qualities do you tend to emphasize…the doctrine of transcendence – that He’s holy, righteous, immense and so far beyond us? Or do you tend to emphasize His immanence – the fact that He is near, accessible, approachable, loving and gracious? 

What experiences and factors have influenced your current view of God?

What do you think would be the downsides of emphasizing one of those doctrines too much over the other?

What about this passage do you find most encouraging and what do you find most challenging as it relates to  your view of God?

 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

A Better Sacrifice

Hebrews 9

11When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation.  12He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 13The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

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

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

23It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.  25Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,  28so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:11-28, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

The theme of the book of Hebrews is “better”. The author gives a logical argument for why Christ is better than all of the elements of the Jewish religious system. He’s better than Moses; He’s better than the angels; He’s a better high priest and in this chapter, the author outlines why and how Jesus’s sacrifice is a better sacrifice than the Old Testament sacrificial system.

The short answer to why Jesus’s sacrifice is better is: it’s the blood.

In the first 10 verses, which I didn’t list, the author gives a brief description of the layout and function of the earthly temple, including the exact detail of the priestly duties in relation to the Holy of Holies, which the high priest entered only once a year to atone for his own sins and the sins of the people.

The first reason the author gives for Jesus’s sacrifice being better is that Jesus offered his sacrifice in the heavenly temple, not the man-made temple. According to verse 24, the earthly temple was merely a copy of the heavenly temple, and when the earthly high priest made atonement, once a year, he was doing it in the earthly tabernacle, which was merely a symbol of the heavenly temple.

Secondly, when Jesus made atonement, he did it with better blood. The earthly priests offered up sacrifices with the blood of goats, bulls and calves, which are imperfect animals. As a result, the earthly priest made this atonement on an annual basis. There was always a reminder of sin because of the constant need for atonement.

Jesus, on the other hand, offered up his own blood, which is perfect in every way, because he is not only better than an animal, he is God himself. His blood does not come from an imperfect, sinful being.

This logically leads to the final reason Jesus’s sacrifice is better. Jesus sacrifice is better than the Old Testament sacrifices because it is FINAL. As has been mentioned, the Old Testament sacrificial system required a constant stream of sacrifices to atone for sins committed. This is because the blood of bulls and goats could not permanently atone for sin.

But Jesus’s blood DOES permanently atone for sins. The author declares in verse 28 that:

Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people;

The argument the author is making is crucial to his audience, the Hebrews because there was a strong urge to hold fast to Old Testament rituals and to maintain adherence to the Law, even after trusting in Jesus as the Messiah. It was difficult for these believers to shift their thinking and see that there was no longer a need for the religious rules and rites they had been following for centuries. The author is helping them to see how the Old covenant had a purpose, but Jesus offers a new and BETTER covenant.

He offers this better covenant to us as well as the author notes that “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

Reflection

Early Jewish Christians had difficulty discarding their old religious traditions, (namely, the sacrificial system) and putting their trust in Jesus’s sacrifice alone. What religious traditions might be easy for you to subtly make a substitute for Jesus’s sacrifice? In other words, what rules or religious rituals apart from Jesus,  are you apt to put your hope and trust in as somehow providing a means of forgiveness and atonement?

The author states in verse 27 that man is destined to die once, and then comes the judgment. What is your reaction to the idea that there are no second chances after we die?

What new awareness or insights do you have regarding Jesus’s sacrifice as a result of this chapter of Scripture? How will this new awareness impact your relationship with Christ?

 

Photo by Dave Lowe

A Prophetic Psalm

Psalm 22

1My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me? Why do you remain so distant?Why do you ignore my cries for help?

2Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.

3Yet you are holy. The praises of Israel surround your throne.

4Our ancestors trusted in you, and you rescued them.

5You heard their cries for help and saved them. They put their trust in you and were never disappointed.

6But I am a worm and not a man. I am scorned and despised by all!

7Everyone who sees me mocks me. They sneer and shake their heads, saying,

8“Is this the one who relies on the LORD? Then let the LORD save him!If the LORD loves him so much, let the LORD rescue him!”

9Yet you brought me safely from my mother’s womb and led me to trust you when I was a nursing infant.

10I was thrust upon you at my birth. You have been my God from the moment I was born.

11Do not stay so far from me, for trouble is near, and no one else can help me.

12My enemies surround me like a herd of bulls; fierce bulls of Bashan have hemmed me in!

13Like roaring lions attacking their prey, they come at me with open mouths.

14My life is poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.My heart is like wax, melting within me.

15My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.

16My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; an evil gang closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and feet.

17I can count every bone in my body. My enemies stare at me and gloat.

18They divide my clothes among themselves and throw dice for my garments. (Psalm 22:1-18, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Usually when I read the psalms, I think of poetic arrangements that communicate lament or praise from the author. I often try to put myself in the shoes of the author and imagine similar circumstances I may have experienced. I seek to lament with the psalmist when he laments and rejoice and praise God with the psalmist when he praises God.

On the surface, Psalm 22 may look like a typical psalm of lament or anguish but upon deeper reflection, it turns out to be so much more. I don’t usually think of the Psalms as prophetic, but Psalm 22 provides a number of verses in which David’s experience ultimately foreshadows the experience of the Messiah.

In verse 1, for example, David utters the very words that are expressed by Jesus on the cross in Matthew 27:46, when he cried out, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?”

In verse 7, David’s words accurately describe events that occurred in Matthew 27:39-43, when soldiers mocked Jesus after his arrest and onlookers jeered at Him during His crucifixion.

In verses 14-16, David accurately describes details of a crucifixion, such as extreme thirst, asphyxiation and the trauma to the hands and feet. These verses are all the more amazing because crucifixion as a means of execution was not known until Roman times.

Finally, in verse 18, David’s description of clothes being divided and dispersed by the casting of lots is fulfilled in Matthew 27:35.

All of these events were fulfilled by people who would have had no knowledge of the prophecies concerning Jesus. Yet their actions were accurately described over 1000 years earlier by the very man through whose lineage the Messiah would emerge.

David is not fearful of sharing all his emotions when he pens his words. He is honest with God when he’s sad, lonely and angry. Yet he praises God in spite of his circumstances and in the case of this psalm, his words foreshadow the emergence of the Messiah, the one who ultimately experiences everything David is feeling as he writes those words, yet emerges victorious as the Savior and eternal King!

Reflection

What has been your experience in reading and reflecting on the Psalms? How have they helped you to connect to God on a deeper level?

What is your response to the verses in this Psalm that are Messianic in nature, as they predict events that the promised Messiah would endure?

How do these verses strengthen your faith in the Holy Scriptures as an accurate revelation from God?

 

Photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash

 

 

The Significance of the Torn Veil

33At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

35When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

40Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there. (Mark 15:33-41, NIV)


Mark 15 documents the climactic struggle of Jesus on the cross. Jesus shouts out something in Hebrew and those who are watching assume that He’s appealing to Elijah to save Him.

Jesus breathes His last breath before succumbing to the brutal effects of crucifixion, a torturous method of execution that is designed to slowly suffocate its victims.

And then comes verse 38. It’s so easy to gloss over because before this verse you have people standing around wondering if Jesus is appealing to Elijah and then immediately after this verse the focus shifts back to a centurion who had witnessed Jesus’s ordeal and who concludes that, “surely this man was the Son of God!”

So what’s the deal with verse 38? It seems so out of place to mention that the veil in the temple was torn in two right in the midst of describing Jesus’s death on the cross. It’s almost like the subliminal message that briefly interrupts the flow of the video you’re watching. If you’re not paying attention, you hardly notice it.

Yet this verse is extremely significant. If you’re familiar with the importance of the temple to Jewish religious life, the significance of this verse is probably evident. But if you’re not familiar with the role the temple played in the lives of the Israelites, let me give you some information that may shed new light on this passage.

The temple was THE center of religious life for the Israelites because it represented the very dwelling place of God. The temple was where Jews brought their sacrifices as an act of worship to God.

Inside the temple was a section called the Holy Place, which was separated by another room called the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies contained only one item, the Ark of the Covenant. The Holy of Holies was a room that could only be entered once per year, on Yom Kippur, by the high priest, who would enter the room and sprinkle the blood of a unblemished sacrifice on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant in order to atone for the sins of the people.

The Holy of Holies was separated by a large thick veil, a curtain that created a barrier between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The significance of this veil cannot be underscored. It represented the idea that God is holy and man is not and therefore, God is not accessible to man because of his sin.

Yet immediately upon Jesus’s death on the cross, this tiny, easy to overlook verse says that this veil was torn in two, giving access to the very presence of God. The text specifically says the veil was torn from top to bottom, which is no accident. The symbolism is clear – the veil was torn by God Himself, giving access to His presence that was previously unavailable.

The heart of the gospel message is this: Jesus died on a cross, atoning for the sins of the world and giving sinful humanity access to Holy God. We no longer need to make yearly sacrifices because of the sacrifice Jesus has already made on our behalf.

We have two possible responses. We can respond like the centurion, who recognized Jesus is the Son of God, or we can respond like the religious leaders, who took the torn veil, sewed it up and reattached it, thus ignoring the sacrifice that Jesus had made.

Reflection

What is your response to the death of Jesus and the tearing of the veil? Are you more like the centurion, who recognized Jesus as the Son of God? Or are you more like the Jewish religious leaders who preferred to dismiss Jesus’s sacrifice in favor of their former way of life?

What are the veils (barriers) that you put up in your life that keep you from entering into the presence of God? 

For more details about the layout of the temple click here.

 

Photo by Nikola Bikar on Unsplash