Hebrews 2:1-9

            Here we are at the end of another Lenten season with Spring upon us and Holy Week’s near arrival.  For many people this is simply old hat.  The redemptive events of Jesus are so familiar to some of us that it runs the risk of being, well, boring.  After all, we know this stuff already – why keep doing this continual Church Calendar thing? 
 
            While some might cry out that lectionaries, the Christian Year, Holy Week, and liturgies are just vain repetition, I would argue otherwise:  we are in grave danger of not paying attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.  Like a beach-goer out on the lake drifting on her flotation device far out from shore, we are unaware of how far we have strayed from our spiritual moorings.  If the passion and death of Jesus can only get a shoulder shrug and a “meh” out of us, there is a real problem.  We have ignored Lent’s emphasis on repentance and want the destination without the time it takes to get there.
 
            “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” protests the author of Hebrews.  The events and services of Holy Week are designed to help us pay attention, to remember, to give thoughtful reflection and due diligence to the incredible work of salvation that Jesus has pioneered and achieved for us through the cross.  The sin which we must turn from is not the overt commission of having done something really bad, but the negligent omission of not doing anything, of treating Holy Week just like any other old week.  Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.
 

 

            Gracious Lord Jesus, you went to the greatest lengths possible to redeem us from sin’s terrible bondage.  As I contemplate your passion in this next week, lead me to fresh appreciation and a depth of gratitude that goes beyond comprehension.  Amen.

John 11:45-57

            We are moving inexorably toward the cross and Good Friday.  The season of Lent marches on and within a few weeks we will be considering if we were there when they crucified my Lord.  Today’s Gospel lesson chronicles the forward progress to the ultimate suffering and death of Jesus.  Within the Apostle John’s account, two streams run parallel with one another.  There is a group of Jews who observed Jesus, listened to his teaching, saw his miraculous works, and believed in him.  Alongside them is another group of Jews who experienced all the same events and heard all of the same words of Jesus.  Yet, they respond in a very different manner by plotting how Jesus might be arrested and killed.
 
            Caiaphas, the high priest, spoke to his fellow Jewish leaders perhaps without even knowing the truth and deep import of his prophetic words:  “You know nothing at all.  Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”  Indeed, not only did Jesus die for the nation of Israel, but on behalf of all nations, and all people. 
 
            Now is the time to begin in earnest a consideration of the cross of Christ.  The implications of his death are magnanimous.  The extent of his atonement for the people includes redemption from the slavery of sin; reconciliation between us and God; satisfaction of God’s wrath against the sin of the world; and, victory over Satan, death, and hell.  March Madness for the Christian is setting aside some significant time for prayer, confession of sin, repentance, contemplation, spiritual conversation with other believers, and fasting as we anticipate the holiest week of the year.
 

 

            Precious Jesus, you endured the machinations of people and the plots of others so that you might face the cross in all of its foulness and degradation.  Enable me to walk with you along the road of suffering.  In doing so, may I know you better and better and know the life that is truly life.  Amen.

Heart and Mouth

 
 
Confession with the mouth and belief in the heart are both necessary for salvation (Romans 10:8-13).  John Wesley was an Oxford don who became an Anglican priest.  He had all the intellectual tools to rightly handle the intricacies of theology and teach the Bible.  Yet, when he first started out, there was no heart behind it.  On a voyage across the Atlantic to America, Wesley spent much of the time on the ship with a group of German Pietists, that is, men and women who deliberately had a heart behind their practice of Christianity.  The Germans deeply impressed Wesley, and he realized that there was something very important missing from his own religion.  The ship encountered a storm and Wesley was afraid for his life, but the German believers seemed unfazed, having a faith of the heart that John could not explain.  He wanted what they had.  When death stared him in the face, he was fearful and found little comfort in his religion. John Wesley confessed to one of them his growing misery and decision to give up the ministry. “Preach faith till you have it,” one of the Germans advised. “And then because you have it, you will preach faith.  Act as if you have faith and it will be granted to you.”
 
Wesley acted on the advice. He led a prisoner to Christ by preaching faith in Christ alone for forgiveness of sins. The prisoner was immediately converted. Wesley was astonished. He had been struggling for years, and here was a man transformed instantly. He found himself crying out, “Lord, help my unbelief!” However, he felt dull inside and had little motivation even to pray for his own salvation. Back in England, in the year 1738, Wesley was in a church service and someone read from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans. About 8:45 p.m. Wesley recorded:  “while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
 
 
 
Simply uttering the words with our mouths, “Jesus is Lord,” by itself does not constitute deliverance and salvation for people.  The heart must also be involved.  Yet, having said this we must also consider the reality that only focusing on the heart without having the mouth involved is an insufficient faith.  There must be a ground of solid objective evidence for our faith – a real historical base from which our hearts can tether themselves.  The mouth needs to confess that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead and is Lord of all, having secured salvation for us through his blood shed on the cross (Romans 10:9).
 
If we only focus on the heart, our hearts will condemn us.  We need to say the words of our faith, to confess them with our mouths, over and over and over and over again until we believe them.  We are not just to wait for our hearts to feel like having faith and living for God, because our hearts can be desperately wicked and they will keep deceiving us.  The heart must be informed by God’s Word.  We are to take the words of Holy Scripture by faith and trust what those words say.  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
 
We need to have a right confession with our mouths; and, we need to really believe in our hearts.  Both must be present for saving faith.  When mouth and heart work in concert with each other something happens:  “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).  It does not matter whether that call is melodious, sweet, and in tune, or whether it is a jumbled off-key joyful noise; both will be saved.  Only uttering the right words like some magical incantation does not save us.  Only having a sincere heart does not save us.  One cannot achieve salvation through self-effort, or making oneself worthy to be loved.  No one is saved by finding the right combination of words in prayer, or having some nice feeling that everything is okay.  Deliverance from sin, death, and hell does not result from getting cleaned up so that we are attractive to God and others.  Calling on the name of the Lord with both mouth and heart, trusting in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, saves us.
 

 

Church ministry, then, is to aim at both head and heart.  It is to provide robust biblical teaching coupled with heartfelt belief and practice.  People are neither only brains on a stick, nor walking headless hearts.  They need intellectual rigor targeted straight toward the heart because we are holistic creatures who must have a salvation that believes in the heart and confesses boldly with the mouth.

John 1:1-18

            I once spent several months in Tacoma, Washington.  The first few weeks I was in that wonderful city it was overcast, cloudy, and dreary.  Then, one morning, I woke up to a bright sunshine and looked out my window.  Behold! It was as if someone had dropped mountains on the landscape overnight.  And there was Mount Rainier staring me right in the face!  But I had seen none of it for weeks.  It is rather amazing what the light can do for us.
 
            “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”  Seeing the light, becoming a child of God, and being born again is a precious gift.  We can neither make ourselves see in the dark, nor can we cause ourselves to be Christians; only God can do it.  Jesus Christ is the light of the world, and through the will of God, Jesus is made known to us.
 
            What this means is that salvation, deliverance from sin, death, and hell is solely the work of God.  It all comes through the willingness of God in Christ to rescue us.  We cannot earn it, work for it, or pay-off our debt of sin.  Just as I was in awe of the majestic mountains that were in front of me, so I am slack-jawed over the grace of God in Christ that saved a sinner like me.  In Christ, there is rest.  Praise and adoration is the appropriate response to such mercy.
 

 

            Saving God, you have sent your Son, the Lord Jesus, to be the light of the world.  Shine in the darkness so that many others might know that grace and truth comes through Christ.  Thank you for saving me.  Please deliver many more from their groping in the dark.  Amen.

Hebrews 10:10-18

            As I sit here at my computer easily keyboarding my thoughts, it is almost inconceivable to me that I made it through my undergraduate college days in the early 1980s with a manual typewriter and notetaking with the old-fashioned pen and spiral notebook.  No cell phone, no tablet, no electronic devices aiding me through my education.  Typewriters are now obsolete, along with corded telephones and wringer washers.
 
            But even more incredible is the complete replacement of an old mundane system of ritual sacrifice to a religion of the heart in which God would remember people’s sins no more.  This is such a radical change that it would be like having self-cleaning dishes or total speech-to-text “writing” of “papers.”  It is much more than a labor-saving device; it is a completely different system that leaves the old system obsolete forever.  That is what Jesus Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice did on our behalf.
 
            We live in a New Covenant era in which God has put his laws on our hearts and written them on our minds.  No typewriter, no computer, no keyboard necessary because the blood of Christ has introduced a seminal change in how we relate to God.  There is now a thorough forgiveness that no longer requires any labor, ritual, or work.  Indeed, it is finished.  Now, we live into the new reality provided for us.  It is an era of great peace, joy, and goodwill.  It is so good that it would be absolutely ridiculous to go back to the old way.
 
            Slow down enough in this season to connect or re-connect with the most wonderful of truths:  Jesus Christ came to save sinners. 
 

 

            Saving God, you have completely taken care of the sin issue once and for all through the blood of your Son.  Forgive me for my predilection to retreat into old obsolete ways of trying to earn peace and joy, instead of adopting the new, which sometimes seems almost too good to be true.  Thank you for deliverance and new life in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

            The news is rarely filled with good wholesome edifying reporting; it is usually filled with the grit and grime of human depravity.  Whether it is terrible war and economic meltdowns half-way across the world, or child pornography, theft, and murder closer to home, we live in a time of both unprecedented communication and unparalleled evil.  So, where does God fit into all this?
 
            He is there, calling his people to a life of moral sobriety, spiritual holiness, and unflagging encouragement of one another.  In the midst of the sinful muck, the Apostle Paul made the astounding statement that “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  God is patiently and constantly working behind the scenes to overshadow the world with grace.  There will come a time when this present order of things will pass away and the fullness of God’s rule and reign will be established forever. 
 
            In the meantime, until that Day occurs, we are to be vigilant to “encourage one another and build one another up.”  While God works, we encourage.  We are to come alongside each other, speaking grace and helping one another become successful in our daily Christian walks.  That is no small task, considering the immense evil in the world.  Thus, no lone ranger Christianity will do.  Individual mavericks will not make it unless they accept the encouragement and help of God’s people.
 
            So, are you trying to live the Christian life in your own strength, on your own terms, in your own way?  “Private Christian” is an oxymoron.  Every believer needs the encouragement that God provides through his people, the church.  What will you do today to foster and/or deepen your bonds with other believers?
            Gracious God, thank you that I do not need to live the Christian life on my own.  Not only have you given me your Holy Spirit, but other believers to help and encourage me as I strive to walk in holiness each and every day.  Empower me to bless others, as well, through Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen.

John 3:16

 
 
John 3:16 is perhaps the greatest summary of the gospel we have in the Bible.  Maybe a closer look at the good news of Jesus will impel believers and churches to share him and pass on his life-giving message not because we have to but because we want to.  Maybe the great message will inspire a great mission impulse.
 
“God” is the greatest subject ever.
 
            The Bible certainly contains lots of messages, promises, and commands.  But those are not the primary purpose for having the Holy Scriptures.  The Bible has been given to us as a revelation or self-revealing of God to us.  In other words, we have this Book in order to know God.  Every time we use it, read it, quote it, pray from it, preach it, listen to it, and learn it, God’s Word is designed for us to know God.  Anything short of knowing God falls short of the Bible’s intended purpose.
 
“So” is the greatest extent ever.
 
            There is a great wideness to God.  That is, God is big, expansive, and huge.  Nothing is outside of his reach.  So, when God decides he is going to do something, there is nothing that can stop him.  We might be limited in our strength and abilities to accomplish things.  But God’s extent is limitless.  Our extent is temporary and small.  But God takes our human prayers and uses them to accomplish his purposes on this earth.
 
“Loved” is the greatest demonstration ever.
 
            There is no greater demonstration of love than our triune God, who loved us with a sacrificial self-emptying love that saw our great need for deliverance and went to the greatest lengths possible to accomplish it.  Where there is a lack of love there is an absence of God.  Every single human on planet earth needs the love of God in Christ and without it we are all lost.  The greatest thing that could ever be said of you is that you are “loved.”  And it is the truth!  Whatever has happened, is happening, and will happen that tears you down, belittles you, hurts you, or causes you to feel like the north end of a southbound cow, is not what defines you.  All may be going to hell around you, but nothing will change the unalterable reality that in Christ you are “loved!”
 
“The world” is the greatest object ever.
 
            The Jews of Jesus’ day could easily understand that God loved the nation of Israel; they readily bought into the knowledge that God loved his chosen people; but to say that God loved the world was going too far.  It meant that God loved Gentiles, specifically, Romans who occupied their land and oppressed their rights.  To capture the punch of this, it would be like Jesus showing up among us and saying that God so loved I.S.I.S.  Certainly God hates evil and is opposed to all that destroys.  But God loves people for whom he placed his image and likeness within.  For God to love the world is an incredible and scandalous thought because there are so many unlovely people in the world.
 
“That he gave his one and only Son” is the greatest gift ever.
 
            God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  God did not give his leftovers.  He did not give his second-hand items.  God gave what was dearest to him.  God gave his best and most beloved gift he could ever give.  So, if it takes cajoling and exhortation for us to give the gift of Jesus, then the problem lies in our hearts.  It takes coming back to God’s Word and knowing the love of God in Christ through the Scriptures.  If you lack love, pray earnestly for it.
 
“That whoever” is the greatest opportunity ever.
 
            If the greatest gift a person could ever receive is Jesus, then the best opportunity one could take advantage of is Jesus.  If you only know Jesus as someone you hear about once in a while, then you have the opportunity today to know him as Lord, Savior, teacher, healer, and friend.  If you have been familiar with the name of Jesus all your life but it has not really gone much further than that, then the next point is vitally important….
 
“Believes in him” is the greatest commitment ever.
 
            Jesus does not want only your acknowledgment of him; he wants you.  Faith is not only recognition of certain truths; it demands action.  Whenever I go home, our dog, Max Power, gets extremely excited.  He is not really my dog, so I don’t really get excited about him.  Everyone in the family knows what I am going to probably say to him: “Yes, Max, I acknowledge your existence.”  I say it in hopes that he will just kind of leave me alone and let me go about my business.  But Max wants more.  He wants my affection, my love, and my commitment.  He wants a pet, a walk, food and water, and all the stuff dogs need.
 
            God does not want to be treated like an annoying puppy.  God wants our commitment.  He does not want us to show up for church once in a while and say to him, “I acknowledge your existence.”  The most common response I get from people when sharing the gift of Jesus is “Yes, I believe in Jesus.”  It is their way of saying that they acknowledge his existence.  It is their way of saying that they are not much interested in giving their lives to him because they just want to go about their business without God pestering them about anything.  But God does demand something from us – our very souls.
 
“Shall not perish” is the greatest rescue ever.
 
            We either believe or perish.  Those are the only two options.  People perish not because God is unloving but because we like our sin and we have no intention of changing to accommodate a holy God in our lives.  The Titanic lost so many hundreds of people not because there was not enough room on the lifeboats.  In fact, most of the lifeboats went into the water only about three-fourths full.  A good many people simply did not believe they were perishing.  They trusted in the “unsinkable” ship.  Only Jesus can save.
 
“But have eternal life” is the greatest promise ever.
 

 

            The promise actually begins now, not someday.  Life is having a life-saving and life-giving relationship with Jesus.  It can be had today.  If you have ever had the feeling that there is something more to life than what you are experiencing; if you have ever wished that you could start over; if you have ever felt that you just can’t do this on your own; then, I have the greatest news for you that you could ever hear.  God has made a way to take care of all your guilt, shame, and lack of direction.  He loves you deeply in the person of Jesus Christ.  You can have new life in Jesus.  The way to have real life is to give up your old one and follow Jesus….