Tag Archives: Promise

Righteous Sacrifice

Meditations on the Psalms

Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD. (Psalm 4:5 ESV)

Jesus speaks in the first person to those people who dishonor His name and who love vain words, lifting themselves up above God. They do not stand before God with awe, refusing to ponder their own actions and motivations. He told them to contemplate their position before God and to silence themselves and their self-centered thinking. Jesus does not ask them to do anything. He commands them, with an expectation of obedience.

He tells them to offer the sacrifices of righteousness, not just a right sacrifice. Offer and sacrifice are words so closely related they mean almost the same thing. Offer means to kill or slaughter. Sacrificemeans the thing being killed or slaughtered. Slaughter your sacrifice. Commit your sacrifice completely and wholly to God so that it can never be taken back.

We think of form and function when we say right. We want to be correct in what we do and how we act, according to our policy and procedure manuals. This is not what He means by a right sacrifice. Yes, God gave them detailed instructions about what kind of sacrifice, when and where to offer it, and how they were to honor Him with their sacrifices. God told them why they were to offer sacrifices. But He also told them the thinking of their hearts affected their sacrifice. Cain’s sacrifice was not accepted because he was angry. He tried to buy God’s favor, to control God, with a sacrifice, as those who give superstitious offering to an idol. “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:6-7 ESV). Speaking through Isaiah, God is blunt about what He thinks of the offerings of a people who hate Him.

“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings. … When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:11-13,15-17 ESV)

When did an offering become a sacrifice? When Abel and Cain brought their offerings, they were gifts to God. Sacrifices are required. God uses both words in the Pentateuch when giving instructions on worshiping Him. Sacrifices are obligatory, while offerings are gifts. Every person offering a sacrifice does so under compunction of the law, caused by sin and circumstance, while the one giving an offering does so out of the gratitude of the thinking of the heart toward God.

There was only one righteous sacrifice slaughtered for God. All other offerings and sacrifices point to the One Sacrifice, when Jesus offered Himself as the propitiation, the covering, for the sin of all. Jesus tells those who would follow Him the cost of discipleship. “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27 ESV). Those who follow Jesus, who are citizens of the kingdom of heaven, abandon themselves to Him in complete devotion and offering. The identity of the Christian, those chosen by God, is complete. In God’s eyes, what He does the Christian does. The word appeal means to call or summon for encouragement or instruction.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)

We know what we do is not always true to God as we live out our lives in the world. It is not what we do but what Christ has done for us.

Martha didn’t understand what Jesus could do yet still declared she believed Jesus was loved and known by God and that God would give Him whatever He asked. However, she did not believe He could bring life back to a dead body. Her brother Lazarus died. Jesus told her Lazarus would rise again. Martha’s response was “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24 ESV). Jesus’ response to her is game changing.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 ESV)

 Our lives are His. His life is given for us. Our identity is in Him. We slaughter ourselves as a righteous sacrifice to Him because He was slaughtered as a righteous sacrifice for us. Dying physically means nothing in the eternal scheme of things. Losing anything the world has to offer is of no consequence when we gain life in eternity.

You are the righteous sacrifice.

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I Cried Aloud

Meditations on the Psalms

I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. (Psalm 3:4 ESV)

Trust is an emotional response to a promise given by One fully capable of delivering upon that promise. In a world filled with people corrupted by sin, only God is trustworthy. It is to the only trustworthy God Jesus cries out, fully expecting an eternal, righteous, good and true answer.

To cryis to call out, to utter a loud sound, to proclaim, summon and invite. Thus, He cries out to God because He is surrounded by those who are trying to murder Him. All His adversaries consider Him incapable of ruling them and refuse to obey His commands. Instead, they conspire to kill Him, removing Him from authority over them, so they might rule themselves. His cry is for help from the One who has given Him dominion and ownership over the world and all it contains.

He who cries out expects an answer, knowing God hears and responds. Jesus is the only righteous One who lives, the blessed Man (Psalm 1:1). He acts and speaks with God’s full authority, being King over His kingdom. Jesus is God in the flesh and knows God will respond. God does answer, and His answer is eternal, fixed and finished.

Yet, the circumstances under which Jesus cries out to God look hopeless, final, showing a conclusion which seems to defeat the purposes of God. Even in the darkness, God is in control, working all things out according to His purpose and for His glory.

Jesus is on the cross, reviled and mocked by everyone. Then, darkness covers the face of the world as it appears God turns His back on His Son.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Matthew 27:45-46 ESV; see Mark 15:34).

Jesus hangs helplessly on the cross, appearing to all as forsaken by God. Upon His bleeding, hyperextended shoulders, with arms stretched out, the weight of His body borne on the nails in his arms and feet, God places the sentence of death due to all because all people sinned.

Jesus became the propitiation for sin. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2 ESV). Paul uses the same word. “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith”(Romans 3:22-25 ESV). The word translated propitiationin the New Testament means mercy seatin the Hebrew Scriptures (see Exodus 25:17-22, Hebrews 9:5). It was upon the mercy seat, the covering of the Ark of the Covenant, the priest poured out blood once a year to atone for the sins of the people. The blood poured out would cover the broken Law, the Ten Commandments, from God’s sight. Jesus, the Mercy Seat, poured out His own blood for the sins of the people. His blood covers those who are His. For those who are God’s, He no longer sees their sin but the blood of His Son.

Jesus knew why God turned His back on Him. There was no other way to bring sinful, rebellious people back into His eternal presence other than someone fulfilling His demand for justice. Because of sin, someone had to die both a physical and a spiritual death, as demanded by God in the Garden.

God answers Jesus from eternity, His dwelling place. When Jesus died He “cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit”(Matthew 27:50 ESV; see Mark 15:37). Luke tells us His cry. “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last”(Luke 23:46 ESV). He intimately knew God, trusting Him to fulfill the purpose for which He was sent into the world. Jesus died, knowing death could not keep Him.

Jesus told His disciple beforehand all that would happen, including His death and resurrection. Nothing happened which was not ordained and decreed by God from eternity. Nothing can hinder the will of God.

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.(Hebrews 5:7 ESV)

We cannot ignore the anguish and suffering Jesus endured, both physically and emotionally, while in this world. His crucifixion and death is His passion, a Latin word, passionem, which means a short period of suffering and enduring. Jesus endured intense suffering. During His ministry, His suffering was emotional. During His passion, His suffering was physical, compounded by the emotional. He suffered for us. God answered His prayer given for us.

True Freedom

Studies in Genesis 2

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17 ESV)

God’s first recorded words to Adam were not those of a friend or acquaintance. Nor were they the words of a father to a child. His words were of a God, who owns all He has created, to a created being to whom He has giving authority over part of His creation. “Command” means to give a charge, or a commission, an assignment, a boundary. God spoke to “the man” (adam) setting the wide parameters of what he could eat, not where he could go or what he could do. Adam’s natural inclination is to work, taking care of the creation under his God ordained authority. Part of his work is to grow more fruit-bearing trees. He couldn’t possibly eat all of the food growing on these trees. Adam could eat anything he wanted from any tree except one tree.

God does not treat Adam like all of the other creatures He has created. He speaks to him face to face. “Saying”, in its various forms, means to speak one’s heart, to show intention and promise, to be told, to answer. This is not casual conversation. Yet, God’s words are not mysterious to Adam either. God spoke clearly. Adam understood completely.

God makes a promise in His command. We think of God’s promises as positive, yet He recognizes the propensity of the negative in those created in His image. His intent is to train those who are His to restrain and control the negative they will encounter in themselves, not to suppress the negative. Ultimately, He wants those who have an intimate relationship with Him to know the difference between good and evil and have the freedom to always choose the good. This is true freedom.

His words are not a threat but a statement of fact. This is not a covenant. A covenant is an agreement between two where the greater blesses the lesser, guaranteeing a promised outcome when certain criteria is met. God promises an outcome for disobedience but not for obedience. God’s expectation is for obedience from Adam, not disobedience. He did not create Adam for disobedience but for relationship. God’s omniscience gives Him the foreknowledge that Adam will disobey but this does not mean God created Adam for disobedience.

Adam, like everyone, must grow in his intimate knowledge and intellectual understanding of God. But he had an advantage we cannot ignore. He saw God. Before the fall, Adam was sinless and able to come into, or be in, God’s complete presence. God spoke to Adam face to face. God enjoyed His creation and was intimate with Adam, who was created in His image for relationship and intimacy. Adam enjoyed God. Growing and maturing is not limited to his natural surroundings but to the spiritual realm in which God dwelt. Adam could see there was more than the physical world every time he was in God’s presence. Thus to “eat, eat” shows more than physical food and nourishment just as “die, die” implies more than physical death. There is a spiritual second death just as there is a spiritual food, and by implication, life. Eating from the tree of life brought a second life just as eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as an act of outright rebellion brought spiritual death. God was training Adam to live.

Abraham and Isaac

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. [Matthew 5:8 ESV]

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” [Genesis 22:1 ESV]

Do not think God simply winds us up and lets us go wherever we may.  He is intimately and intricately involved in our lives as He prepares us for eternity.

Genesis 22 is a heart tearing and gut wrenching story. Abraham had shown his willingness to obey God, had received God’s blessing, believed God when He spoke. Now, he is told to sacrifice the promise and blessing of God. “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” [Genesis 22:2 ESV].

God tested Abraham. “Test” is also translated “tempt.” We know God does not tempt anyone though He will allow all to face temptations. This word does not carry the idea of driving Abraham toward sin. God seeks obedience which is never sin. Nor did God tell Abraham to do what He was unwilling to do Himself. “Test” means to prove or assay, as in find out what the level of purity is within the substance. In this instance, the substance is a man, created in God’s image, corrupted by sin, chosen by God. We are not to test God, but He is perfectly justified in testing us.

What raced through Abraham’s mind and heart as he, his son, and his servants traveled to the place where God directed him to sacrifice his son? I am a father. Not knowing what he thought and felt I can imagine his turmoil. Before leaving I imagine Abraham wrestling with himself through a sleepless night, struggling with obedience. Every step of the journey brought a search for compromise, or manufactured an excuse to disobey. Every compromise and excuse fell at his  feet trampled as he journeyed. He pondered the promise of God, finally seeing His trustworthiness.

Every step brought him closer to God who is not some dumb idol, chiseled from stone, carved from wood, empowered by corrupt imaginations. He  is God, the Creator of All, the One Who Sustains All, the Giver of Purpose to All, the Owner of All. At sometime during the journey, from the moment of the command to the raising of the knife, Abraham decided God is worthy of such worship. Abraham will do what His God commanded.

Notice Abraham’s confidence in the God of the Universe. “Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you’” [Genesis 22:5 ESV]. We will worship. We will return.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. [Hebrews 11:17-19 ESV]

From the first time God spoke to Abraham until Genesis 22, and beyond, God prepared Abraham, teaching him, working in him, changing him. This test was not so God could determine Abraham’s progress in his studies but to drive out more of the impurities brought by the corruption of sin. Obedience tested by sacrifice reveals the motivation and purity of the thinking of the heart toward God.

God’s intent is not to change the world and us so we can live in the world but to change us so we can be with Him wherever He puts us. He uses the world to test and assay His new creation in preparation for eternity. He will purify our hearts, for only that which is pure will be in His presence.