Posts tagged ‘Jesus’

How Are We Justified?

When Jesus tells the story of two men who go up to the temple in Jerusalem to pray, He relays two prayers that couldn’t be more different. One man, a Pharisee, prays:

God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. (Luke 18:11-12)

The tax collector, to whom the Pharisee refers in his prayer, is the other person who prays at the temple that day. His prayer consists simply of:

God, have mercy on me, a sinner. (Luke 18:13)

In his prayer, the Pharisee compares himself to other people and judges himself better than them. The tax collector compares himself to God and finds himself infinitely lacking, so he asks for mercy from Him. The Pharisee believes he is like God and unlike other sinners. The tax collector confesses he is utterly unlike God and worse than other sinners.

After describing these two prayers, Jesus declares:

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. (Luke 18:14)

Jesus says that the tax collector, and not the Pharisee, leaves the justified before God. Why? Because the tax collector looked to the righteousness of God to justify him. The Pharisee only looked at the sinfulness of others and justified himself compared to them. The Pharisee tried to justify himself before God by using others. The tax collector realized if you want to be justified before God, you need to be justified by God.

It is far too easy to try to justify ourselves like the Pharisee tried to justify himself by using others. But true justification comes not by using others, but by trusting Jesus. May we find our justification in the right place – which is in the Righteous One.

November 7, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

On Pet Rocks

During the Christmas season of 1975, the gift to get was a pet rock. Marketed as “genuine” and “pedigreed,” and sold at $4 a rock, this fad made its originator, Gary Dahl, a millionaire. The fad didn’t last, though, because even though pet rocks are very low maintenance, they don’t do what other real pets do. They won’t purr when you pet them like a cat. They won’t follow you around the house like a dog.

But what if one did?

The apostle Paul summarizes Israel’s journeys through the wilderness when writing to the Corinthians:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:1-3)

Wait, a rock followed Israel through the wilderness?

Paul is alluding to two stories that serve as bookends for Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness. In Exodus 17, at the beginning of the Israelites’ journey, Moses strikes a rock at Horeb and water pours out of it for the people to drink. Then, in Numbers 20, Moses also strikes a rock, though God had commanded Moses to speak to the rock this time, and water again pours out.

Paul picks up on these two stories and surmises that there must have been one water-filled rock following Israel around through the wilderness. But the real key comes in his identification of that rock: “the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:3). Israel’s rock was much more than just a pet. It was a person – the same person who said:

Let anyone who is thirsty come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. (John 7:37-38)

Jesus, Paul declares, followed Israel through the wilderness – providing for them, caring for them, and ultimately, being gracious to them.

When we experience our own wilderness moments – when our souls feel dry and our lives feel difficult – we can rest assured that we have a Rock who follows us into even the driest and most treacherous moments of our lives to water our parched souls and comfort us by His presence.

Our Rock is Christ.

October 17, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Clergy Crisis

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Over the past several days, I have had multiple conversations about clergy who have fallen from their positions in disgrace and sin. Hearing such stories always breaks my heart because such clergy often wind up victimizing those for whom they are called to care and scandalizing the Church.

Sadly, this kind of crisis is nothing new. In Leviticus 8 and 9, God instructs Moses to appoint and ordain priests to offer sacrifices to God on behalf of Israel. Everything begins well. When Aaron, the first high priest of Israel, offers an ox and a ram to God:

Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown. (Leviticus 9:24)

But the joy of Israel does not last for long. In the very next verse, we read:

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to His command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. (Leviticus 10:1-2)

These two priests did not carry out their duties faithfully, but contrarily to what God had commanded. And they paid dearly for it. From almost the very moment the clergy was instituted, they sinned and created a crisis.

When two brothers, Cain and Abel, offer sacrifices to God, God is pleased with Abel’s sacrifice, but rejects Cain’s. Cain becomes incensed and begins to plot to kill his brother. God, knowing what was in Cain’s heart, warns him:

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it. (Genesis 4:7)

Sometimes, sin seems most enticing at the very moment one is doing something spiritual – whether offering a sacrifice like Cain, or leading a church like a pastor. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day are the archetypes of this temptation. Those who appeared to be the most spiritual were also deeply sinful. As Jesus says of them:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:27-28)

Ultimately, what we have seen among many clergy should serve as a warning to us all. Outward spirituality does not automatically indicate inward sanctification. For the sake of the Church, may we pray for those who lead us – that they would lead well. And may we pray for ourselves as well. Whether we are leading worship services are attending them, Satan plants sin at our door. Thankfully, at just the moment Satan seeks to lure us through that door into sin, Jesus steps in and says:

I am the door. (John 10:7)

He is the One who can rescue us – all of us – from our sin. This is why, in the Church, we trust in Him.

October 3, 2022 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Take Your Sin to the Right Place

One of the most tragic stories in Scripture is that of Judas Iscariot – the one who betrayed Jesus into the hands of His enemies and, ultimately, His executioners for a pitiful pittance of 30 pieces of silver. Shortly after Judas leads the Jewish religious leaders to Jesus so they can arrest Him, he is overwhelmed by the anguish of his guilt:

When Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)

Judas’ actions against Jesus are treacherous and wicked. But this does not make his end any less tragic.

Part of what makes Judas’ end so devastating is that he understood the gravity of his actions and began looking for a path to redemption. He rushed back to the ones who had paid him the paltry sum of silver and confessed:

“I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

But the religious leaders only lobbed his sin right back on him.

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” (Matthew 27:4).

“That’s your responsibility.” These are the most damning words anyone can speak to any sinner. They remove every hope for redemption, restoration, or reconciliation. This is why it is so important that we not only feel remorse over our sin, but take our sin to the right person.

I have often wondered what would have happened if Judas would have taken his confession to Jesus. How would Jesus have responded? Here’s my guess:

“Judas, you mean the world to Me. I’ll take your sin to the very place to which you betrayed Me. But it is no longer your responsibility.”

Are you overwhelmed by remorse, guilt, or shame? Take it to Jesus – no matter what it is. He will take it from you and, in exchange, give you freedom, forgiveness, and righteousness.

One more thing: if you, like Judas, struggle, for whatever reason, with thoughts of taking your own life, seek help. Whatever it is that is leading you into these thoughts, Jesus wants more for you. Jesus wants life for you. He died so that you can live.

September 19, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Knowing Thyself

Credit: Temple of Apollo at Delphi / Wikimedia

On the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, there is inscribed a famous maxim: “Know thyself.” But knowing one’s self can be hard. Solomon writes, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters” (Proverbs 20:5). In other words, we often don’t understand our own hearts – our own selves. Or, as the apostle Paul puts it: “I do not understand what I do” (Romans 7:15).

Knowing thyself is key. After all, if we do not understand ourselves – including our hidden motives and perverse incentives – it will be very difficult for us to love others rather than use them. So, what is the key to knowing ourselves better?

Scripture gives us some critical practices to help us know ourselves. The first is that of confession, or self-examination. In confession, we grapple with what we know we’ve done wrong – those things that nag us with guilt and regret. The lie we told. The lust we indulged. The addiction we engaged. The person we hurt. Confession brings the parts of ourselves we would rather pretend not to know into the light. It is the first step to knowing ourselves.

But there is more. For we need not only confession, but counseling, or cross-examination. Oftentimes, our motives are so mixed, or our sin becomes so opaque to us, that we cannot see it for what it is. We become strangers to ourselves. We have all had the experience where we offended someone, often justifiably, and we did not even know it because we did not see how our words or actions hurt others. Those who counsel us – and not just professionally, but as friends, spouses, and neighbors – can help us identify our blind spots. After Solomon writes, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters,” he adds, “but one who has insight draws them out” (Proverbs 20:5). We need people of insight around us to draw out what we cannot ferret out for ourselves.

Both of these practices can help us know ourselves. But, of course, knowing yourself is quite different than liking yourself. When we become aware of the depth of our brokenness and sin, it can be easy to fall into despair or self-loathing. This is why one more practice is needed – that of compurgation.

Compurgation was an early common-law method of trial in which a defendant could be acquitted on the endorsement of friends or neighbors. In other words, if enough people interceded for someone who had been accused of a crime, he could be exonerated on his friends’ testimony.

The apostle Paul asks:

Who is the one who condemns? No one.

Paul says that no one can condemn us in our sin. Why? Because:

Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (Romans 8:34)

Christ is the one who testifies on our behalf. And His testimony is all we need to be exonerated by being forgiven through Him. His compurgation is enough.

So then, who are we? We are children of God through Christ. We are sinners by nature, yes. But we are also saints through faith. How do we know this? By knowing ourselves – and, even more importantly, by knowing Christ.

September 12, 2022 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Two Kinds of Self-Righteousness

In our society, little is more despised than someone who is “self-righteous.” No one, it seems, wants to be someone or likes anyone who fits the stereotype of a self-righteous person – proud of their own moral success and judgmental of those who they judge to be morally inferior. And yet, as much as we may despise self-righteousness, we still fall prey to it, often without even knowing it. Self-righteousness, it turns out, is sneaky.

One way that many people have sought to address the scourge of self-righteousness is by dismissing the notion any ultimate righteousness. In this way of thinking, if someone does something you would consider “wrong,” it is excused by calling it “right for them.” Righteousness gets relegated to the realm of personal preference.

But this, too, is its own form of self-righteousness. After all, when we say righteousness is defined by what is “right for me,” we are defining righteousness for ourselves, which, by definition, is self-righteousness.

What Christianity offers is not a righteousness that judges others, but nor is it a righteousness that we create for ourselves. Instead, it is a righteousness that is given freely through Christ. As the apostle Paul writes:

Righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. (Romans 3:22)

The Christian does not self-righteously condemn and judge others because Jesus did not condemn and judge him. Instead, He forgave him. But the Christian also does not make up the rules as he goes, for what matters is not what is right for him, but what is right to Jesus. His righteousness is what the Christian looks to for guidance and for salvation. The only true antidote to self-righteousness, then, is Jesus’ righteousness.

His is a righteousness worth sharing.

September 5, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Contagious Cleanliness

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The prophet Haggai ministered to the nation of Israel as they were seeking to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem after it had been destroyed by the Babylonians some 70 years earlier. But it has been slow going. Israel’s sin has soiled their souls and is stymieing their success. Amid this struggle, Haggai asks the priests of Israel, as the nation’s spiritual caretakers, a couple of questions:

“If someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, olive oil or other food, does it become consecrated?” The priests answered, “No.” Then Haggai said, “If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?” “Yes,” the priests replied, “it becomes defiled.” Then Haggai said, “‘So it is with this people and this nation in My sight,’ declares the Lord. ‘Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.” (Haggai 2:12-14)

Haggai notes that when someone or something is consecrated to and clean before God, its holiness is non-transferable. One cannot share his holiness with another. But when someone is soiled by sin, their sinfulness is highly contagious. Their sin can become a temptation that leads other people to stumble and fall. And this is what has happened with the nation of Israel. The sinfulness of some of its people is a virus that has infected the whole nation and is leading to its downfall.

The sad state of Israel’s affairs poses a tremendous tension. If cleanliness and holiness are non-transferable, but sinfulness is highly contagious, how do we avoid getting sacked by sin? Won’t sin, because of its virulent character, simply infect us all and take us all down? How do we stay safe? How do we get well and live well?

In Matthew 8, Jesus meets a man who has been infected by leprosy. In the first century, such an infection was nothing short of a death sentence. As the bacteria that caused leprosy grew, people would develop lesions and would lose feeling in their limbs and injure themselves. Their injuries would often become so severely infected that the affected person would die. So, when Jesus meets this leprous man, he is desperate for help. He cries out:

“Lord, if You are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” He said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. (Matthew 8:2-3)

The prophet Haggai says that consecration and cleanliness are non-transferable. But defilement and sinfulness are. But here is Jesus, reversing everything. He does what Haggai says no one can do. He transfers His holiness and cleanliness to a man who has been languishing in leprosy. He makes him clean.

What the priests of Haggai’s day could not accomplish, God’s High Priest, Jesus, did accomplish. He transferred His holiness and perfect cleanliness to a leper – and He does the same for us through the cross. Our holiness is non-transferable. But Jesus’ holiness is highly contagious. And that’s something that, by faith, anyone can catch.

August 29, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Joy in Trials

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I love joy.

I love watching a child’s eyes light up when dessert is served. I love watching a dog wag its tail in anticipation of fetching a tennis ball. I love watching a couple on their wedding day look into each other’s tearful eyes and hold each other’s hands tight.

I love joy.

And yet, joy can sometimes be tough to come by – or at least to sustain.

Joy is often overcome by anger when we see injustice in our world. Or it is overtaken with loneliness when we feel isolated with no one to talk to. Or it is overwhelmed by grief when we lose a husband, a wife, a son, a daughter, or another loved one.

The prophet Habakkuk ministered to the nation of Israel during a season when joy was tough to come by. The nation of Israel had fallen into spiritual corruption and the Babylonians were on their way to attack – and eventually conquer – Habakkuk’s home. In the midst of all this, Habakkuk, as most of us would, struggled to find joy. He opens his book by questioning – and implicitly accusing – God:

How long, Lord, must I call for help, but You do not listen? Or cry out to You, “Violence!” but You do not save? Why do You make me look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrongdoing? (Habakkuk 1:2-3)

“Nothing is going well,” Habakkuk complains. “There is no reason to have joy.”

Except that, according to Habakkuk, there is.

Habakkuk closes his book:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

“Even when all else fails and is lost,” Habakkuk writes, “I still have the Lord. And He is enough for me to have joy.”

The apostle Paul writes, “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). This injunction, at first read, feels impossible. We can understand rejoicing, but to do so always seems ridiculous. But if Paul gives us the “what we are to do,” Habakkuk gives us the “how we are to do it.” We are to be joyful in God our Savior. Joy found in things other than the Lord will always come and go because other things always come and go. Joy found in anything other than the Lord is ultimately unsustainable. But joy that is in the Lord can endure always – because He is with us always. Find your joy in Him.

August 22, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Punishment and Patience

Credit: “Jonah foretells the destruction of Nineveh” by Jan Luyken (1712) / Public Domain

At the end of the book that bears his name, the prophet Jonah is seething. God has just spared city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, which is the arch-enemy empire of Israel. Jonah had seen this coming. In fact, he was so concerned that God might allow Israel’s arch-enemy to stand after God called the prophet to go and try to help Nineveh that he tried to hop a ship sailing the opposite direction from Nineveh to Tarshish. Jonah was not interested in giving any opportunity to God to extend mercy to the Ninevites. And he says as much:

Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. (Jonah 4:2)

Jonah wanted the Lord to be a judgment juggernaut – not a gracious God.

And yet, around 150 years later, God’s judgment does come for Nineveh, but through a different prophet – the prophet Nahum. This is what Nahum has to say:

The Lord has given a command concerning you, Nineveh: “You will have no descendants to bear your name. I will destroy the images and idols that are in the temple of your gods. I will prepare your grave, for you are vile.” (Nahum 1:14)

It turns out that the Ninevites repented of their sin during the time of Jonah, but then fell back into their sin after the time of Jonah. And now God’s judgment will come on them.

So often, like Jonah, we want God’s judgment to come in our way and on our schedule. We want to be judge, juror, and executioner of those who have sinned against us, or even of those who are morally opposed to us. But Jonah’s experience with Nineveh echoes the apostle Paul’s words:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is Mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:18-19)

God will judge – but not always in our way and on our schedule. Indeed, as Nahum – the prophet who does announce of God’s judgment – says:

The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. (Nahum 1:3)

The Lord does have power and punishment for sinners, but only after the Lord practices patience – lots of patience – with sinners. And for this, we should be grateful. Because God is not only patient with them, but patient with us. So, let’s be patient with God and allow Him to carry out His mercy and His judgment in His way.

I have a feeling He might know what He’s doing.

August 15, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

God’s Open-Door Policy

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In Exodus 19, as God is preparing to give Israel the Ten Commandments on the summit of Mount Sinai, He issues a stern warning to the people through Moses:

Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. (Exodus 19:21)

And again to the priests and the people of Israel:

The priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the Lord, or He will break out against them. (Exodus 19:24)

Everyone, it seems, would love to have some time with God. But as the Law is being introduced, the Israelites, instead of getting time with God, are being separated from God. The people are to remain at the foot of the mountain while Moses receives God’s Law at the top of the mountain. And to try to get close to God while He is giving His Law – to try to force their way into His presence in the midst of His law – will only result in their death.

Jesus makes a fascinating, perplexing, and seemingly passing statement in Luke’s Gospel:

The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. (Luke 16:16)

“The Law” to which Jesus refers is the Law Moses received up on Mount Sinai, and “the Prophets” are those who proclaimed the Law, up to and including John the Baptist. But now, instead of a mountain, there is a kingdom. And now, instead of being sternly warned not to force their way up the mountain, people are openly and fearlessly forcing their way into the kingdom. Why? Because while the Law separated us from God because of our sin, Jesus came to undo that separation by forgiving our sin. We can force our way right in to see God. In Christ, God has an open-door policy.

So, what do you need to see God about? A worry? A sickness? A sin? A need? Feel free to barge right in. He’ll be happy to see you – and to help you. Because He loves you.

August 8, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

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