Posts tagged ‘Salvation’

God’s Open-Door Policy

Credit: eberhard grossgasteiger / Pexels.com

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

Bearing God’s Name

The Second Commandment is not just a prohibition, but an offer. God says to Moses:

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name. (Exodus 20:7)

Famously, the ancient Jews became so concerned with misusing God’s name that they would not even speak it. Instead of calling God “Yahweh,” the name God gave to Moses to share with Israel when He appeared to him in a burning bush (Exodus 3:13-15), they instead referred to God using a title of respect – “Lord.”

Though this instinct not to misuse the name of God is commendable, it does beg a question: Though we should not misuse God’s name, does this mean that there is no good use of God’s name? It is this question that brings to the forefront God’s offer in this commandment. Because there are most certainly many good uses of God’s name.

We can use God’s name to bless. (Numbers 6:24-26)

We can use God’s name to call to repentance. (Acts 2:38)

We can use God’s name to call to faith. (Acts 10:43)

We can use God’s name to baptize. (Matthew 28:19-20)

We can use God’s name to offer salvation. (Romans 10:13)

God’s name – even though it can be misused – is still quite useful.

In Hebrew, there are two words behind our one English word “misuse” in this commandment. There is the word sawe, which means “vanity” or “emptiness.” There is also the word nasa, which means to “take up” or “to bear.” This is why many Bible translations will render this verse: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” We certainly want to avoid sawe. But we also want to embrace nasa. We want to bear the name of God in our lives and through our lives. As one of Jesus’ followers, Peter, reminds us: “Praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:16).

To whom is God calling you to bear His name this week? It’s a name worth sharing because it’s a name that our world needs to hear.

July 11, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Day of the Lord

Credit: eberhard grossgasteiger / Pexels.com

One of the most prominent themes in Scripture is the Day of the Lord. This is the day God will reveal Himself in His power and glory. And what a day this will be. It will be a day of awe. It will be a day of fear. It will be a day of judgment. And it is a day that is near.

The prophet Obadiah describes this day thusly:

The day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head. (Obadiah 15)

In Obadiah’s telling, the Day of the Lord will be one of recompense. What you have done – both good and evil – will boomerang back to you on this day.

For me, this sounds terrifying. I have done some good in my life – but I have also done plenty of bad. There are things I have done to others that I would not want done to me. A day of recompense, for me, would be a day of ruin.

And this is precisely what Obadiah wants his readers to worry about. He continues:

Just as you drank on My holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually; they will drink and drink and be as if they had never been. (Obadiah 16)

God warns that the nations will “drink continually” – a metaphor for the pouring out of divine wrath. The wrath that God pours out on this day will be so intense and God’s destructive judgment so definitive, that it will be as if there had never been any nations.

But it does not have to be this way. In the middle of a day of inescapable divine judgment, there will be a refuge:

But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and Jacob will possess his inheritance. (Obadiah 17)

Zion will be a place of refuge from the judgment all around it. Jacob – that is, Israel – will receive an inheritance. But how?

A parent bequeaths an inheritance to a child for the simple reason that they are a child. It is not something that is earned – and often not even deserved, for many children are scoundrels – it is simply given out of love.

The apostle Paul writes:

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. (Galatians 3:26)

This is how we are rescued from the recompense for sin that comes with the Day of Lord and, instead, given refuge in spite of our sin at the day of the Lord – through faith in Christ. Jesus is the One who turns a terrifying day into a triumphant day. He is the One who delivers us.

When the Day of the Lord comes, it will be either a day of wrath or a day of redemption in Christ. Which will it be for you?

June 27, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

When the Heavens Open

Credit: Min An / Pexels.com

The prophet Isaiah requests of the Lord:

Oh, that You would tear open the heavens and come down. (Isaiah 64:1)

As Isaiah makes his request, he is remembering when God met with Moses on Mount Sinai, giving him His law, and the mountain trembled in fire and smoke:

When You did awesome things that we did not expect, You came down, and the mountains trembled before You. (Isaiah 64:3)

Though the people trembled when God gave His law, they did not obey His law, and so God has hidden Himself from people:

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on Your name or strives to lay hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us and have given us over to our sins. (Isaiah 64:6-7)

Because of Israel’s sin, rather than rending open the heavens and coming down, God has closed up the heavens and gone home. So, Isaiah ruefully asks:

How then can we be saved? (Isaiah 64:5)

Around 730 years after Isaiah mourns God’s hiddenness in heaven, the Gospel writer Mark records:

Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are My Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11)

In Christ, the heavens are torn open once again as God returns to His people once again. But that is not all that is torn.

When Christ dies on a cross, Mark recounts this scene:

The curtain of the temple was torn open in two from top to bottom. (Mark 15:38)

The curtain in question is the curtain that guarded the Holy of Holies – the place where the ancient Israelites believed God dwelled. When Christ died, it was torn open so God’s inner sanctum could be seen by all and any.

It turns out that God does eventually answer Isaiah’s prayer. But He answers the prophet’s prayer in a greater way than he could have ever imagined. Not only does God tear open the heavens and come down, as is revealed when Jesus is baptized, He also tears open the curtain to His own inner sanctum so that we may go in, as is revealed at Jesus’ death. Because of the cross, we can walk right into the place of salvation.

The heavens that once separated us and God separate us no more. God is with us – and, one day, we will be with Him.

October 25, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Real Grace for Real Sinners

Credit: Michael Morse on Pexels.com

Whenever the topic of sin comes up in a Bible study or conversation, I have a friend who will joke: “Since we’re talking about sin, how about we all tell each other the worst thing we’ve ever done.” He always gets a laugh, but it’s always a bit of a nervous laugh. I’m don’t think many of us – or, let’s be honest, any of us – are comfortable being forthcoming about the worst thing we think we’ve ever done.

Sin is strange like this. We will speak freely in generalities about how we are sinful, but when someone asks us to get specific – especially about the sins that most embarrass us – we fall silent. We may be comfortable with the idea of being a sinner in general because we know that everyone sins, but when it comes to our specific sins, we can sometimes worry that we’re the only one who has ever done what we have done. And, if people found out what we have done, they would reject us in disgust.

In 1544, a dear friend of Martin Luther’s named George Spalatin offered some advice to a local pastor who wanted to know whether it would be permissible to preside over the wedding of a man who wanted to marry the stepmother of his deceased wife. Spalatin gave this pastor the green light to perform the wedding. When Luther found out about the guidance Spalatin had given, he was aghast and harshly criticized Spalatin.

After being criticized by his dear friend and mentor, Spalatin fell into a deep depression because he assumed that he had committed a grievous sin that could not be forgiven. When Luther found out about his friend’s despondency, he wrote him a letter where he reiterated to his friend that though he thought his advice was wrongheaded and sinful, he himself was not unforgivable:

The devil has plucked from your heart all the beautiful Christian sermons concerning the grace and mercy of God in Christ by which you used to teach, admonish, and comfort others with a cheerful spirit and a great, buoyant courage. Or it must surely be that heretofore you have been only a trifling sinner, conscious only of paltry and insignificant faults and frailties. Therefore, my faithful request and admonition is that you join our company and associate with us, who are real, great, and hard-boiled sinners. You must by no means make Christ to seem paltry and trifling to us, as though He could be our helper only when we want to be rid from imaginary, nominal, and childish sins. No, no! That would not be good for us. He must rather be a Savior and Redeemer from real, great, grievous, and damnable transgressions and iniquities, yea, from the very greatest and most shocking sins; to be brief, from all sins added together in a grand total.

Luther reminds Spalatin that there is no sin for which Christ did not die. There is no mistake – even the mistake of poor pastoral advice – that Christ cannot forgive. This means that the worst thing we have ever done is not beyond the reach of grace that comes from God’s one and only Son. We don’t need to be afraid of our biggest sins because we have an even bigger Savior.

So, what is the worst thing you’ve ever done? What sin would you prefer to keep secret? Don’t let that sin shame you into staying away from Jesus. Don’t let that sin shame you into hiding from others. If Christ can handle the world’s sins, He can handle your worst. He wants to. Because He loves you.

October 11, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Sword That Brought Life

Credit: Fra Angelico, c. 1440

Jesus’ use – or non-use, as the case may be – of swords is puzzling. Shortly before His arrest, Jesus confers with His disciples and instructs them to carry a sword:

“If you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in Me. Yes, what is written about Me is reaching its fulfillment.”The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That’s enough!” He replied. (Luke 22:36-38)

The disciples are ready to go with swords just in case Jesus is attacked by His enemies. And just verses later, Jesus does face an unjust arrest at the hands of His adversaries, and one of His disciples brandishes his sword to defend his master. But Jesus does not seem all that pleased that this disciple is wielding the very weapon He just asked him to bring:

When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And He touched the man’s ear and healed him. (Luke 22:49-51)

What is going on? Why did Jesus ask His disciples to bring weapons if He didn’t intend His disciples to use them?

Jesus’ given reason for asking His disciples to bring swords is interesting. He quotes Isaiah 53:12:

It is written: “And He was numbered with the transgressors.” (Luke 22:37)

Then, Jesus explains that this ancient prophecy applies to Him:

I tell you that this must be fulfilled in Me. Yes, what is written about Me is reaching its fulfillment. (Luke 22:37)

Jesus’ disciples bringing swords to His arrest would have been of no small interest to the Roman government. They would have suspected Jesus of attempting to lead an insurrection, the penalty for which was death. He would have been considered to be a transgressor by the Roman government, just like Isaiah said He would be.

When Jesus asks His disciples to carry a sword, then, He, in one way, almost seems to be planting a weapon that will number Him among transgressors and lead Him to a cross. Thus, Jesus carries a weapon not so He can destroy His enemies, but so that He can die for them – and for the world. For even though Jesus will not pick up a sword, He will be pierced by one:

One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. (John 19:34)

A sword did its job – but not in the way anyone expected. Swords usually bring about death. The sword that pierced Jesus ultimately brought forth life. And that’s good news – for because Jesus got the sword, we receive salvation.

August 16, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Joshua Paused the Battle of Jericho

When I was a kid, I would sing a song in Sunday School called “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.” It was all about Joshua’s conquest of the infamous city, whose walls came “tumblin’ down.” The song was fun to sing, but it also recounted a chapter from Israel’s history that has long been troubling to a lot of people. Israel’s conquest of Canaan, beginning with Jericho, involved a lot of violence and slaughter, which raises an important and understandable question: how could a good God lead His people in such violent warfare?

When Joshua fights this inaugural battle against the people of Canaan, the battle plan God gives him is a strange one:

See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in. (Joshua 6:2-5)

God says to Joshua He will bring the walls of the city down, but only after six days of open marching.

In ancient battle plans, the element of surprise was key. Just a few chapters later, Adoni-Zedek, who is the king of Jerusalem at this time, moves to attack the Gibeonites because he does not like that they have made a peace treaty with the Israelites. The Gibeonites ask for Joshua’s help, which he delivers when he takes Adoni-Zedek in battle “by surprise” (Joshua 10:9). Surprise was standard.

But there’s no surprise at Jericho. The chapter opens by noting that “the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites” (Joshua 6:1). The people of Jericho knew a defeat was imminent. So why would Joshua wait? Why not just make those Jericho walls tumble on the first day instead of waiting until the seventh?

Before they reach the Promised Land, Moses describes God’s character to the Israelites like this:

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6)

God’s desire and nature is not to destroy wicked people in anger, but to patiently wait for them to turn to Him. Indeed, even when a prostitute from Jericho named Rahab trusts in God and helps the Israelites, He gladly spares her (cf. Joshua 2). The six days of marching, then, are six days of waiting – six days of God waiting for the people of Jericho to repent. Before Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, he paused the battle of Jericho.

When God first promises the land of Canaan to Abraham, He says to Abraham that he will have to wait to enter it because its sin “has not yet reached its full measure.” 675 years pass before Joshua fights the first battle against the people there. It turns out that God is not only patient with sinners, He is very patient.

Thus, the violent warfare of Joshua’s day is not the story of a vengeful God gleefully destroying sinners, but the story of sorrowful God who has waited and waited for sinners to repent, but to no avail.

God is still patient with sinners today. His invitation to us remains the same: turn to Him and trust in Him. Sin does not need to destroy you, for His Son can save you.

August 2, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Too Young To Die

Credit: RODNAE Productions / Pexels.com

One of my most sobering tasks as a pastor is participating in funerals. Every funeral is weighty, but those that are for someone who we would say “died too early” carry with them a unique set of challenges. A young child who passes away, for instance, leaves behind intensely grieving parents. A husband or wife who dies in the prime of life leaves behind a devastated spouse.

One of the starkest portraits of life and death comes to us in Genesis 5, which is a genealogy of the first humans. There is a refrain that comes up again and again as each person is listed, beginning with Adam:

Altogether, Adam lived a total of 930 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:5)

Altogether, Seth lived a total of 912 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:8)

Altogether, Enosh lived a total of 905 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:11)

Altogether, Kenan lived a total of 910 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:14)

Altogether, Mahalalel lived a total of 895 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:17)

Altogether, Jared lived a total of 962 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:20)

Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. (Genesis 5:23-24)

Altogether, Methuselah lived a total of 969 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:27)

Altogether, Lamech lived a total of 777 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:31)

The phrase “and then he died” evinces an inescapable reality: ever since humanity’s fall into sin, people die.

There is, however, a hiccup in this genealogy’s refrain with Enoch. The end of Enoch’s life is not characterized as “death,” but as being “no more” because God took him away (Genesis 5:24). His lifespan is also notable – 365 years. This is by far the shortest lifespan of anyone in this genealogy. Compared with lifespans as long as these, Enoch could easily be said to have been taken from this world too early. And yet, as C. John Collins reminds us in his book Reading Genesis Well in his comments on Enoch:

Apparently, there are higher values and rewards than simply length of days, and the text assumes that there lies something worthwhile beyond the grave for the faithful.

We can sometimes wonder why God takes certain people from us “early.” But, as Enoch reminds us, God taking someone is not an indication of a curse. It can be an indication of a blessing. This reality does not remove the severe sting of a person who passes young, but it does offer hope. What happened with Enoch can happen for them, too. They may be apart from us, but they are with the Lord. And anytime is a good time to be with Him.

July 5, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

An Everlasting Kingdom

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is pexels-photo-3773042.jpeg
Credit: Mario A. Villeda / Pexels.com

Kingdoms crack.

History is littered with kingdoms that, at one time, seemed invincible. They had so much wealth and power that other nations sought resources from them and alliances with them. Assyria was one such kingdom. The prophet Ezekiel pictures Assyria as a tree in which other nations find shade and protection:

All the birds of the sky nested in its boughs, all the animals of the wild gave birth under its branches; all the great nations lived in its shade. (Ezekiel 31:6)

Likewise, the kingdom of Babylon was also an empire to which other nations ran for protection, which is also pictured as a tree by the prophet Daniel:

The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed. (Daniel 4:11-12)

But these kingdoms did not last. Assyria fell to the Babylonians. The Babylonians, in turn, fell to the Persians. By Jesus’ time, the Persians had fallen to the Greeks who then fell to the Romans. The shade and support these kingdoms offered did not last. But Jesus draws from this prophetic imagery of a tree to speak of a kingdom that will last:

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches. (Matthew 13:31-32)

It can be tempting to seek safety and security in the things of this world’s kingdoms. Money, we believe, can secure our future. The right house or vehicle or boat, we believe, can secure our happiness. The right job, we believe, can secure our fulfillment. And the right soulmate, we believe, can secure our heart.

But all too often, the things of this world’s kingdom fail us. 401ks lose money. Houses, vehicles, and boats break and decay. Jobs are lost. And even the best relationships have draining moments. Only the kingdom of God, Jesus says, offers shelter and safety that lasts. As a bird builds its home in the branches of a tree, we can find our future in the kingdom of God.

So, when this world seems scary, may we remember that our ultimate and eternal safety rests in the branches of God’s kingdom. As the apostle Paul says to Timothy:

The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:18)

June 7, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Looking for a Messiah

The story of David and Goliath is a favorite of children’s bibles. It features a shepherd boy named David and a Philistine giant and nemesis of Israel named Goliath who fancies himself invincible. The Israelite army is so terrified of Goliath that no one will sign up to fight him. David, however, indicates his willingness to fight Goliath to King Saul, who tries to outfit David in his armor for the battle, only to find out that he is a 42 long while David is a 34 short. So David goes to fight Goliath with nothing but a sling and some stones. But with these unassuming homespun tools, the little boy takes the big bully out:

Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, David slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword. David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem; he put the Philistine’s weapons in his own tent.  As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine’s head. (1 Samuel 17:49-51, 54, 57)

One of the fascinating features of this story is not just that a young boy kills a towering warrior, but how David does it – he does it by striking Goliath in the head. The author of 1 Samuel seems to be quite taken by this because he uses the word “head” or “forehead” five times in these verses. Goliath’s head is so central to the image of David’s victory, that he carries the head around!

When Adam and Eve fall into sin, God curses the couple, but He also curses the one who tempted them into sin – Satan, who appears in the form of a snake. God warns Satan that there will come an offspring of Eve who will one day defeat him. But what is striking about God’s curse is not only that this offspring will crush Satan, but how he will do it. God says to the snake:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel. (Genesis 3:15)

The offspring of this woman will crush Satan’s head.

This promise from God led the ancient Israelites to look for the fulfillment of this promise – someone who would come to save them from the sinful mess of this world by crushing the head of their enemies. They centered their hope around what they called the “Messiah,” which in Hebrew means, “anointed one.” The Israelites were looking for someone chosen and anointed by God to save them.

One chapter before the story of David and Goliath, God chooses a new king of Israel, who, unbeknownst to Saul, is Saul’s replacement. Who is this king? The giant-slayer David. God sends his prophet Samuel right before David kills Goliath to anoint him as the next king of Israel:

Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed David in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David. (1 Samuel 16:13)

Just a chapter later, after becoming Israel’s new “anointed one,” David crushes the head of Israel’s greatest enemy with a stone, which begs a question: Could David be the one? Could he be the Messiah?

We know from the rest of David’s story that he was not “the one.” The one who crushes Goliath’s head with a stone is crushed by his own sin when he has an affair with a woman who is not his wife and then has her husband murdered to cover up their relationship. David may have crushed the head of Goliath, but the head of the ancient snake was still spitting its poison of sin and death. The Messiah who would crush Satan’s head was still to come.

So often, when we see amazing people do amazing things – as David did with Goliath – we wonder: Could they be the one? Could they be the doctor who wipes out cancer? Could they be the politician that fixes our nation’s ills? Could they be the soulmate who mends our heart? Could they be the financial advisor who makes us rich? Could they be “the one”?

David’s story reminds us that there is only one who is “the one.” Placing our hopes in the wrong one will eventually and inevitably lead to disappointment and anger. Placing our hopes in Christ, however, will lead to salvation and peace. He is the one we’re looking for.

May 24, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Older Posts


Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,137 other followers

%d bloggers like this: