Posts tagged ‘Sin’

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

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

Raising Up a Remnant

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The prophet Micah ministered during a dark period in the nation of Israel’s history. Externally, the Assyrians were menacing Israel, and internally, both the secular and spiritual leaders of Israel had become corrupt. The secular leaders were abusing their privilege to take advantage of the powerless:

They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud people of their homes, they rob them of their inheritance. (Micah 2:2)

The spiritual leaders, in turn, were willing to overlook such gross misuses of power because they were being paid by the secular leaders to do so:

Her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say, “Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us.” (Micah 3:11)

With depravity running rampant throughout the nation, it was tempting to feel as if no one righteous was left – as if evil had gotten its way and seized the day. And for a time, that looked to be the case. The Assyrians not only menaced Israel, but eventually routed Israel, followed by the Babylonians who did the same thing a little over 100 years later. Israel had fallen and righteousness had been extinguished.

But Micah knew better. Micah understood that, even amid much fallenness and darkness, God could preserve and raise up a remnant of people for Himself:

The remnant of Jacob will be in the midst of many peoples like dew from the Lord, like showers on the grass, which do not wait for anyone or depend on man. (Micah 5:7)

Micah declares that much will have been lost by the time Israel’s judgment is through, but God will nevertheless raise up a few.

It is especially important to note how Micah describes this small group. They are “like showers on the grass, which do not wait for anyone or depend on man.” The key difference between those who fall in judgment and those who are raised up in a remnant is that those who are raised up in a remnant “do not…depend on man.” Their status as part of God’s remnant does not depend on any person, any treaty, any riches, any social status, or any act of human power, but on the righteousness of God. It depends not on human efforts, but on faith in God. Their status as God’s remnant is not their achievement, but God’s gift.

In a world where we can sometimes feel isolated because we see sin all around us or we struggle with sin within us, we can rest assured that we are part of God’s people – His remnant. As Jesus put it: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). God’s flock may be little, but it is real. And by simple faith, anyone can be a part. May this be a promise we all take to heart.

July 25, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Freedom and Limits

Happy 246th birthday, America.

On this date in 1776, these United States were formed when the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence. At the heart of the Declaration was a yearning to be free:

That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do.

Freedom is the bedrock of the American experiment. But freedom is also funny. Freedom is a precious gift – one that I believe ought to be granted to all people everywhere – and yet, freedom also works best when it is given limits. If you don’t believe me, ask Adam and Eve.

God gave history’s first couple tremendous freedom:

“You are free to eat from any tree in the garden.” (Genesis 2:16)

But on their freedom, He also placed a limit:

“But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:17)

When Adam and Eve transgressed this limit, rather than gaining freedom, they lost freedom, for they became slaves to sin and cursed by death.

In order to be freed from this slavery and curse, a perfectly free God placed limits on Himself as He became incarnate in Christ. As the French Catholic philosopher Emmanuel Falque explains in The Metamorphosis of Finitude:

What makes Christianity is not solely the extraordinary in Christ’s revelation of His glory … It is also and indeed primarily the sharing by the Word incarnate of our most ordinary human condition independent of sin (that is, human finitude and the humanization of the divine).

The phrase “human finitude” is one of the most ponderous mysteries of our faith. In Christ, the infinite became finite. The perfectly free limited Himself for you and for me. And yet, in the apostle Paul’s telling, this finitude and limitedness becomes the basis for true freedom – our freedom:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. (Galatians 5:1)

As we rightfully celebrate our freedoms today, let us remember that our national freedom was won by men and women who willingly gave up their freedoms as they served and sacrificed for this nation. There would be no land of the free if we were not also the home of the brave. And, as we live out of our freedom in Christ, let us also remember that our eternal freedom was won by a man who willingly gave up His freedom as He served us and sacrificed His life for us on a cross.

July 4, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Hope In Troubles

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Recently, in my personal devotions, I have been reading through the book of Hosea. Hosea is the first of the so-called “Minor Prophets” at the end of the Old Testament. He, like so many of the other ancient Israelites prophets, carried out his ministry during a time of great trouble and turmoil in Israel. The people had fallen prey to idolatry. They were defrauding and exploiting each other. They were engaged in all sorts of crass and harmful immorality, such as cultic sexual rituals. God raised up prophet after prophet to try to call the people back to righteousness – back to Him.

When God called Hosea, He called him not only to be a preacher, but, in some sense, a performer. Hosea is asked by God to use his life as a giant object lesson as a divine message to Israel:

The Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” (Hosea 1:2)

So, Hosea does. And, predictably, she cheats on him. What Israel has done to God – cheating on Him by worshiping other gods – Hosea plays out in his life and marriage, at a great personal expense of suffering.

But even in the midst of much sin and pain, all is not lost. God makes a promise through Hosea to Israel:

I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. (Hosea 2:14-15)

God promises to restore Israel even after her faithlessness. This promise does not mean there will be no fallout from her sin. Hosea speaks of the “Valley of Achor,” which, in Hebrew, means “valley of trouble.” This is the same valley where, eight centuries earlier, a man named Achan was stoned to death for lying about stealing what belonged to God (cf. Joshua 7:24-26). Sin brings trouble.

But God reminds us that trouble does not have the last word. For, even in the Valley of Achor, God brings a “door of hope.”

Where has sin brought trouble in your life? Maybe your trouble is the result of a lie you told, a confidence you betrayed, or a boundary you breached. Then again, perhaps trouble has come to you through no fault of your own. Perhaps it is simply the result of living in a sinful, broken world. No matter what trouble you may be facing, even if God does not rescue you from the Valley of Achor, God will not abandon you in the Valley of Achor. Instead, when you are most troubled, God will give you a door – right in the midst of your valley of trouble. He will provide hope – right there in your pain.

How? Through One who has seen trouble, too – not in a valley, but on a hill called Calvary. And as this One once said:

I am the door. (John 10:7).

Jesus is our hope, no matter what our trouble.

June 6, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Never Left Without a Blessing

Credit: “Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden” by Peter Wenzel (c. 1815) / Wikimedia

Reaping the consequences of sin is terrible and tragic. When Adam and Eve fall into sin, God proscribes many devastating consequences:

To the woman He said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” To Adam Je said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:16-18)

There will be pain in childbearing, pain in work, and eventual death. This sounds awful. Indeed, it sounds hopeless. But then, in the very next verse, we read:

Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. (Genesis 3:19)

Eve’s ability to have children is notable, because God blessed people with the gift of children before they fell into sin:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28)

Even as God curses people because of their sin, He does not leave them without a blessing in their sin. Even though Adam and Eve will die, new life will come from them, resulting in, supremely, the birth of a Savior.

It can be tempting to believe, when we struggle with sin and experience and endure the consequences of sin, that God has forsaken us because of our sin. But as with Adam and Eve, even when we suffer under the curse of sin, God never leaves us without a blessing. He never leaves us without a promise of a new life.

Eve’s blessing was to be the mother of all the living. Our blessing is to be loved and blessed by the One who came from Eve and redeemed her – and us.

February 14, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Bridegroom of Blood

Credit: “The Circumcision of the Son of Moses” by Jan Baptist Weenix (c. 1640) / Wikimedia

Recently, I received a question about a strange story in Exodus 4. God has just called Moses to be the new leader of the children of Israel and has commissioned him to confront the Pharaoh of Egypt, who is enslaving the Israelites, and demand that he let the people go. While Moses is heading to Egypt to carry out his task:

At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.) (Exodus 4:24-26)

This is indeed an odd story. God, at the very time Moses is traveling to Egypt to do the thing God had just told him to do, tries to murder Moses.

But why?

Moses was on his way to becoming the spiritual leader of Israel. The first spiritual leader of Israel was also the progenitor of Israel – a man named Abraham. How did God mark Abraham as the father of this nation?

This is My covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised. (Genesis 17:10-12)

Moses, as the incoming spiritual leader of Israel, had not even marked his own son with the most basic sign of God’s covenant. He has disobeyed God’s command. And God is not happy. So, God seeks to punish Moses.

In many ways, this story in Exodus 4 and another story in Numbers 20 serve as bookends to Moses’ ministry. In Numbers 20, the community of Israel is in the desert on their way to the Promised Land after their rescue from Israel, but they do not have any water. So, Moses approaches God to discuss the problem, and God offers these instructions:

“Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as He commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in Me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Numbers 20:8-12)

In Numbers 20, Moses disobeys God by striking a rock to get water from it rather than speaking to it. And his punishment is death. In Exodus 4, Moses disobeys God by failing to circumcise his son, and his punishment should have been death. But someone intercedes. Zipporah circumcises their son and touches Moses’ feet with the blood and foreskin to remind him that the same feet that just one chapter earlier stood before God on “holy ground” (Exodus 3:5) as God appeared to Moses famously in the form of a burning bush have now wandered into sin. His feet – and his very self – need covering and cleansing. And this is what they get.

After Zipporah performs the circumcision, she calls Moses “a bridegroom of blood” (Exodus 4:25). We, too, have a bridegroom of blood. But unlike Moses, His feet have never wandered into sin. Instead, they have only staggered to a cross where He shed His blood so that we could have “a bridegroom of blood” who saves us from sin.

Israel needed a greater and better leader than Moses. And so do we. And we have One in Jesus.

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

Hagar, Sarah, Abraham, and Circumcision

File:Sarah presenting Hagar to Abraham, who sits at the foot of a bed, from the series 'The Story of Abraham' MET DP828535.jpg
Credit: Sarah presenting Hagar to Abraham (c. 1543) / Wikimedia

We all have concocted a harebrained scheme a time or two to try to solve some problem or get ourselves out of some jam. The people of the Bible were no different.

When God appears to Abraham and Sarah and promises them that they will have a son who will be the progenitor of a great nation even though they are both well past their childbearing and childrearing years, Abraham, at first, responds with incredible faith:

Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

But after years of waiting and no baby on the way to show for their patience, Abraham and Sarah decide to take matters into their own hands:

Sarai said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave Hagar; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. (Genesis 16:2-3)

This is a shocking turn of events and rightly should be repulsive to us. Predictably, Abraham and Sarah’s scheme does not work out well for them:

Abraham slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.” “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her. (Genesis 16:4-6)

Jealousy and abuse are the fruit of a pitifully and pathetically sexually disordered relationship, leaving the reader to wonder: Is there any way forward? Can any of this be repaired or restored?

In response to Abraham’s sexually disastrous choices, God announces:

You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. (Genesis 17:11)

I have been asked many times why God chose circumcision as the sign of the covenant He made with Abraham. It seems strange until one realizes that God takes the very spot Abraham had used to deny and disparage God’s covenant promise of a son and turns it into the very sign of His covenant. Circumcision, it turns out, is a bit of strategic sanctification. It is certainly painful, which Abraham certainly deserves in punishment for his sin. But it is also a sign to Abraham that God’s covenant promises to him still stand. In other words, Abraham’s circumcision is a surgery of grace. And grace is what Abraham needs to cover his sin.

It is no secret that sexual sin runs rampant in our world. But this is nothing new. Just ask Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. And yet, when such sin works to betray trust, shatter promises, separate marriages, and break hearts, God is right there with His grace – working to redeem sexual sinners in their brokenness and restore those who have been sinned against sexually from their shame and pain. The sign God gave to Abraham is a testament to this – and a promise for us. God’s grace meets us when we sin sexually and when we are sinned against sexually.

If you are struggling with either sexual sin or being sinned against sexually, you can ask for help – from God and from others. Even after his sexual sin, God made Abraham the father of a great nation – Israel. And even after being sinned against by her husband, Sarah went on to become the mother of that same great nation. And even after Hagar was sinned against by both Abraham and Sarah, she and her son Ishmael, who also became a great nation, were protected and cared for by God.

God did all that with a giant mess of sexual sin. What can God do with you? It’s a question worth asking – and a hope worth holding.

January 24, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Beauty of Simplicity

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In our complicated world and time, simplicity can be a blessing.

When the prophet Isaiah is preaching, the people of Israel accuse him of insulting them with his simple teaching. They scoff at him and ask:

Who is it he is trying to teach? To whom is he explaining his message? To children weaned from their milk, to those just taken from the breast? For it is: Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there. (Isaiah 28:9-10)

The people of Israel accuse Isaiah of trying to teach them the ABCs and 123s of theology when they fancy themselves to be graduate-level students. They are not dopey youths; they are highly educated and enlightened adults. So, they scoff at Isaiah.

What they do not perceive is that it is not merely Isaiah who is trying to teach Israel the basics. It is God Himself. But since they will not listen to Isaiah, God will use foreign invaders to get through to His people. These invaders will conquer Israel and carry them off into exile until they learn to listen to God. Isaiah warns:

Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people. The word of the LORD to them will become: Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there. (Isaiah 28:11, 13)

As we read the rest of Isaiah, we quickly learn that the Israelites were not heeding God’s most basic commandments. They were worshiping idols, plundering the poor, and abusing the vulnerable. The Israelites did not need a graduate-level course in theology, even though that’s what they demanded. Instead, they needed to obey what they already knew to do.

As we enter into a new year, Isaiah’s message of simplicity presents us with a question: what simple things are we overlooking in our lives to which we need to attend? Have our hands become stingy or our words become prideful or our thoughts become lustful or our relationships become callous or our prayers become rote or our hearts become cold? To us, Isaiah would also say: “Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there.” A little attention here and a little attention there to even the most elementary matters in our lives can go a long way.

Often, a new year is an opportunity to set lofty goals and make grandiose resolutions. If you have such a goal or resolution, I certainly don’t want to dissuade you, but I do want to invite you, along with whatever big project you plan to tackle this year, to continue to consider the smaller and simpler things in life that need your attention and affection. Attention to small things can make a big difference. So, begin with those. And remember: those small things are gifts from a big God.

January 3, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

When the Heavens Open

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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

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