Posts tagged ‘Salvation’

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

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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

Slow in Anger and Full of Grace

When God appears in a burning bush to Moses and charges him to lead the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt, Moses is fiercely skeptical of God’s rescue mission. He begins by expressing skepticism that the Israelites he is called to rescue won’t express some sort of skepticism:

What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, “The LORD did not appear to you”? (Exodus 4:1)

God responds by giving Moses the power to perform some miracles to back up his divinely mandated mantle – he can turn his staff into a snake, make his hand leprous and then heal it again, and turn water from the Nile into blood.

But Moses is still not so sure. He is not only skeptical that the Israelites won’t be skeptical; he is also skeptical that he will be able to deliver God’s message:

Pardon Your servant, LORD. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since You have spoken to Your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue. (Exodus 4:10)

God insists that Moses will do just fine. After all, He created Moses’ mouth, and He will speak through Moses’ mouth.

But Moses’ problem, it turns out, is not one of Israelite skepticism or a fear of public speaking. Instead, it is simply an old-fashioned stubborn will:

Pardon Your servant, LORD. Please send someone else. (Exodus 4:13)

Moses simply does not want to be bothered with God’s mission. And God is not happy:

Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses. (Exodus 4:14)

Usually, when the Lord’s anger burns, He acts accordingly. When the Israelites build a false god in the form of a golden calf, God says to Moses, “Now leave Me alone so that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them” (Exodus 32:10). By the end of the chapter, we read: “The LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made” (Exodus 32:35). When the Israelites grumble against God immediately after He provides them with a superabundance of quail, we see that “while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and He struck them with a severe plague” (Numbers 11:33).

With the Lord’s anger burning against Moses in Exodus 14, we would expect God to take decisive discipline measures against Moses. What will God do? Strike Moses with a plague? Swallow him up into the earth? Turn the burning bush into a flaming inferno that consumes him?

God does none of these things. Instead:

He said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him.” (Exodus 4:14-16)

God, instead of destroying Moses because of his lack of confidence in Him, gives Moses a companion in his brother. God’s anger may burn, but so does His grace.

When Moses is up on Mount Sinai meeting with God, God proclaims His character to Moses:

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Exodus 34:6-7)

It turns out that not only is God slow to anger, He is also slow in anger. Yes, sometimes His anger results in disciplinary action. But in Moses’ case in Exodus 4, God’s anger was subsumed by God’s grace. In place of judgment, God gave Moses his brother.

When we sin, God can – and, indeed, does – get angry. But as with Moses, God’s anger is ultimately subsumed by God’s grace. And in place of judgment, God gives us a brother:

Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call Him. A crowd was sitting around Him, and they told Him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for You.” “Who are My mother and My brothers?” He asked. Then He looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” (Mark 3:31-34)

God is slow in anger – even with us.

May 17, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Put Down Your Sword

When I was in seminary, I took a road trip with some buddies to the tiny west Texas town of Marfa, famed for its “mystery lights.” These lights appear regularly at dusk and before dawn on Mitchell Flat, just east of Marfa. Strange orbs hover in the night sky – joining with and separating from each other, appearing and disappearing, and changing colors. For decades, researchers, scientists, and curious onlookers have tried to figure out the mystery of the lights. Some say they’re a mirage caused by sharp temperature gradients between cold and warm layers of air. Others say they’re headlights from nearby U.S. Highway 67. Others have paranormal explanations.

The night I and my buddies saw the lights, we made it our mission to solve the mystery once and for all. We took my friend’s Camaro off-roading across the plain to catch the lights. Shockingly enough, we did not. We did, however, raise the hackles of some very annoyed locals who did not like us leaving tire tracks across their land. They let us know in no uncertain terms that the plain was off-limits and it was time for us to leave.

When Adam and Eve stray from God’s command to not eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and go off-roading into evil, God lets them know in no uncertain terms that the idyllic Garden of Eden in which He has placed them is now off-limits and that it is time for them to leave. In fact, just to ensure they never enter the Garden again, He installs what is quite literally a “flashy” security system:

He placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24)

Adam and Eve were able to eat from the tree of life before their fall into sin because they were designed to live eternally. But now, that tree and God’s garden is blocked by a sword that will bring about their death if they try to breach it.

The night before Jesus goes to the cross, He, like Adam and Eve, finds Himself in a garden – the Garden of Gethsemane. After He spends some agonizing moments in prayer about His impending torture and death, a coterie of Jesus’ enemies comes to arrest Him and drag Him away to a series of show trials to try to convict Him of heresy against Jewish theological teaching and treason against the Roman government. Peter, who is with Jesus, boldly brandishes his sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant, who is part of the seditious mob. But Jesus, instead of thanking Peter for his loyalty, rebukes him:

Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. (Matthew 26:52)

It was a sword that once guarded Adam and Eve from a garden. But Jesus will not allow a sword to guard Him in a garden.

Jesus, it turns out, has come to cast out the sword from the garden. As He makes His way to the cross, He is systematically disarming the curse of sin that blocks us from eternal life and threatens our eternal death. The sword is disarmed. The garden is open. As Charles Wesley says in his great Easter hymn:

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!

Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!

Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!

Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

The paradise that was once closed by a curse to Adam and Eve has been opened to us by a cross. That most certainly deserves our hearty, “Alleluia!”

April 12, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Fig Tree Undone

Yesterday began Holy Week, which commemorates the final days of Jesus’ life along with His crucifixion and resurrection. On the Monday of Holy Week, Jesus performs one of His most puzzling acts:

Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to find out if it had any fruit. When He reached it, He found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then He said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And His disciples heard Him say it.

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree You cursed has withered!” (Mark 11:12-14, 20-21)

What an odd episode. Jesus fierily curses a fig tree for no apparent reason. What is going on?

When Adam and Eve fall into sin after disobeying God’s command not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Genesis records:

The eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis 3:7)

An old Jewish tradition claims that the forbidden fruit itself was figs, with a Talmudic rabbi writing:

That which caused their downfall was then used to rectify them.

In other words, Adam and Eve tried to use the fruit with which they sinned to cover their sin.

But Adam and Eve’s pitiful fig leaf getups prove useless. They cannot hide their sin from God. God confronts them in their sin, curses them because of their sin, but then blesses them despite their sin:

The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21)

God sacrifices and skins an animal to make a garment far better than anything they can make for themselves.

Jesus’ strange fig tree curse hearkens back to Adam and Eve’s fig leaf failure. Our pathetic attempts to hide our sin never work. So, on His way to the cross, Jesus graphically condemns every human attempt to fix ourselves in our sin when He curses a fig tree and its leaves. But in its place, God sacrifices His Son and gives us a garment infinitely better than anything we can come up with by ourselves – “a robe of His righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10)

Jesus’ curse on the fig tree undoes the curse of our sin and reminds us that there is a better tree – not a fig tree that brings death, but a cruciform tree that grants life.

March 29, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Jesus’ Love For Children Lost

Jesus Christ, Statue, Children, Catholic, Virginia
Credit: Pixabay

One of the most moving moments of being a pastor is sitting with a family who has just lost a child. Perhaps they had a miscarriage. Perhaps their baby never made it out of the NICU. Perhaps their child lost their life in a tragic accident. There are many questions that a family asks at a moment like this:

How could God allow this to happen?

Did this happen because we did something wrong?

But there is one question I want to focus on in this blog:

Is my child in heaven with Jesus?

This is a weighty question because it reaches beyond a parent’s present pain and cries out desperately for an eternal hope. It deserves our serious consideration.

There is a famous episode in Mark 10 that gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ relationship with children:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And He took the children in His arms, placed His hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

There is an interesting debate over Jesus’ words in verse 14 when He says, “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” What is the referent of “such as these”? Some say the referent is found at the beginning of verse 14 in “the little children.” This means that Jesus is not only welcoming a particular group of little children into His arms at this moment, but making a broader declaration about how the kingdom of God belongs to many other little children who are like these but who are also beyond these. The phrase “such as these,” then, reminds us that “Jesus loves the little children – all the children of the world.”

There are others, however, who argue that the phrase “such as these” is better informed by the word “anyone” in the next verse. In this interpretation, Jesus is not declaring that little children can enter His kingdom. Instead, He is only calling people in general to have a childlike faith. Though Jesus is certainly calling people to have a childlike faith in verse 15, syntactically, the specific referent of “such as these” is quite clear. In Greek, the word for the phrase “such as these” is tointoun, which is neuter. The word for the children who come to Jesus is paidia, which is also neuter. The word for “anyone” in verse 15 is hos, which is masculine. It is important to note that the genders of each of these words are incidental features of Greek syntax and not determinative of which genders of human beings can and cannot enter God’s kingdom. Syntactically, however, Greek pronouns and nouns do need to generally match in their genders. Thus, the first interpretation of which referent is the appropriate one for the phrase “such as these” is correct: it is children like the ones who are coming to Jesus in Mark 10 who can enter God’s kingdom. Age is no barrier to a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Of course, I would not walk a grieving family who has just lost a child through the technicalities of the Greek syntax in Mark 10 like I did in this blog. But a careful consideration of the syntax is important for my pastoral ministry because it allows me to confidently proclaim:

Jesus welcomes children into His kingdom.

Just because a baby cannot intellectually assent to the great truths of the Christian faith does not mean they are barred from eternal life. Indeed, one of the reasons that adults can have a faith like a child is because there is such a thing as a faith of a child (cf. Matthew 18:6). Children – and even babies – can sing babbling praises to the Lord (Matthew 21:15-16). Babies – and even infants in the womb – can respond to God’s good news of a Messiah (Luke 1:41-42). A child lost to a parent does not mean a child lost to the Lord.

If you are reading this and you have lost a child, this I want you to know:

Jesus welcomes children into His kingdom.

You can have hope.

If you are reading this and you have a child or are expecting one, share with them God’s Word, even from the womb. Allow them to hear the voice of their Savior calling them. It’s never too early to teach the faith because it’s never too early for someone to have faith. And it is by faith that we live – and live eternally.

March 1, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Sunshine & Branches

Tree, Aesthetic, Log, Branch, Winter Sun, Winter, Kahl
Credit: Pixabay.com

When an elderly priest named Zechariah is chosen by lot to burn incense at the temple in Jerusalem, it marks a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, there were around 20,000 priests serving at the temple in the first century. Many of them never got to bring such an offering before God. So, Zechariah, when his lot is drawn, is obviously overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment. But an already overwhelming moment becomes even more potent when, in the middle of Zechariah’s liturgical service, an angel appears to him, telling him that he and his wife Elizabeth, both of whom could have easily qualified to be members-in-good-standing of the AARP by this point in their lives, will have a child who will, in fulfillment of ancient prophecy, “prepare the way for the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3). At first, Zechariah is skeptical of this angelic announcement, but his suspicion quickly melts into praise and hope, both at the promise that he and his wife will have a child and that his child will prepare the way for the arrival of God’s salvation. At the end of a song of celebration, he muses:

You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heavento shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. (Luke 1:76-79)

In his song, Zechariah celebrates both his child and God’s Messiah. He describes the Messiah as “the rising sun” who will come “to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

This picture of light was a common metaphor for the Messiah among the prophets:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

And:

For you who revere My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. (Malachi 4:2)

In a world full of the darkness of sin, the Messiah would bring the light of righteousness.

When Zechariah speaks of the coming Messiah as “the rising sun,” the Greek word Luke employs is anatole, a word which refers to the east, the place from which the sun rises. What is fascinating about this word is that it can also be translated as “branch,” as it is when God speaks through the prophet Zechariah, who lived over 500 years before the priest Zechariah did:

I am going to bring My servant, the Branch. (Zechariah 3:8)

God calls the Messiah “the Branch,” the Greek word for which is anatole. In a world full of death, the Messiah would be like a tree that sprouts and brings life.

This one little word speaks to who the Messiah is in multiple ways. He sheds light in the darkness of sin and he branches out from death with life. Though Zechariah, more than likely, did not understand the fullness of who the Messiah would be and what He would accomplish when he sang his song, we live in what the apostle Paul once called “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4). In other words, we have the benefit of historical retrospection to understand more fully how Jesus changed the world – and how Jesus still changes lives. And because of this, we, like Zechariah, can have praise to offer and hope to hold this Christmas.

December 21, 2020 at 5:15 am 3 comments

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