Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Beautiful things

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple (Psalm 27:4).

It is said that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ Each of us is pleased by different things. Some men find beauty in a tuned and polished antique car. Other men are captivated by long legs and blonde hair. Some women are drawn to the work of a favorite fashion designer. Other women find delight in a tastefully decorated home.

Babies come with all sorts of faces, but it is a rare mother who doesn’t think that her baby outshines all the rest. A man who loves his wife finds her attractive regardless of what she’s wearing, and doesn’t care about the changes brought about by pregnancy or advancing age. A photographer can find beauty where most people don’t notice anything out of the ordinary. A sculptor can see the potential for something magnificent in an ugly piece of stone.

Where do you see beauty? Is it in the smell of fresh coffee first thing in the morning? Is it the smile of a loved one as you meet each other for a date? Does your heart swell with joy when listening to classical music, or do your spirits lift at the down-home sound of country bluegrass?

We all have a desire for beauty in our lives. Each of us longs for a perfect picture to hang in the living room or at the office. Each of us wants our home to be filled with a pleasing scent, whether it be cut flowers, fresh baked bread, or the smell of well-aged books. Each of us hungers for beautiful sounds, whether it be birds singing, children laughing, or chimes tinkling in the wind. Most people have some beautiful place that they have always dreamed of visiting someday.

There are beautiful things I long to experience, but haven’t so far. I want to visit heaven. I want to hear the singing of angels. I want to see the beautiful earth God has promised to build when this world is destroyed, a world untouched by decay, waste, or death. Most of all, I want to see my Savior’s face. I want to look into Jesus’ eyes and see His love for me reflected in them. I can’t think of anything that could be more beautiful than that.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Apostles' Creed (part eleven)

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, `Here it is,' or `There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21).

In the Apostles’ Creed we state, "I believe in the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints." But if an unbeliever asked you what you meant by these words, what would you tell him? Many people do not understand what the Church really is. Some regard it as a social club for people who share the same convictions. Some think of the Church as an activist group, bringing about social change through organized political action. Karl Marx called it the ‘opiate of the masses’; he compared religion to a drug that numbs the mind, providing psychological comfort in a harsh world in exchange for the ability to think for yourself. Such views of the Church miss the mark.

The Pharisees also misunderstood what type of organization Jesus was building through His earthly ministry. He claimed to be their king, but as far as they could see, no kingdom was being established. Where was His army? When would He drive the Roman occupation forces out of their land? And so they asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come.

Jesus’ answer must have surprised them. He said: The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation. Earthly kingdoms are visible. They have capitals, palaces, military forces and heaps of weapons. But Jesus said that the kingdom of God cannot be observed no matter how carefully you look for it—it is invisible. I can prove to you that I am a citizen of the United States by showing you the proper documents. I can prove to you that I am a member of the Church by showing you my baptismal and confirmation certificates. But I can not prove to you that I have citizenship in the kingdom of God. Why not? Because the kingdom of God is within you.

Being a member of Christ’s kingdom is not a matter of external things like being confirmed, attending church, reading the Bible or holding family devotions. Certainly these are all important in a Christian’s life, but they do not prove that you are a Christian or belong to God’s kingdom. The kingdom is within you. Your membership depends on who rules your heart. Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He was crucified for your sins? If you do, you have faith—faith that saves you from sin and death and eternal condemnation. When you have this faith, Jesus rules your heart and you are a member of His kingdom. But while faith shows itself through the things we do and say, faith itself is invisible. No one except God can look into your heart and see whether you really believe in Jesus as your Savior. That’s why Jesus says you can’t see His kingdom.

What then is the holy Christian Church? It is the sum of all people who believe in Jesus. It is the kingdom of God, because each member’s heart is ruled by love for the Savior. There are no posers or phonies in the invisible Church. And the Church is not limited by national or cultural boundaries—its members are found in America, Canada, Mexico, Iran, Korea and every place in-between. They cannot be counted, but they are there; Jesus knows each of them by name and welcomes them as citizens in His kingdom.

We say that the invisible, world-wide Church is holy. But since we who believe are the Church, and we are sinners, how can the Church be holy? Paul writes in Ephesians chapter five, Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. The Church is holy because Jesus made it so. You are holy because Jesus has made you so. Jesus cleansed you when He filled you with faith through baptism and His Word. You have sinned. You have done evil things and let opportunities to serve God pass you by. Instead of trusting in Jesus, you have let worry consume your thoughts. You have hurt others with thoughtless words and have desired things that can hurt you. Yet in spite of all this, you are holy—holy because Jesus has shared His holiness with you. That is what forgiveness brings us—the gift of holiness. Even though you look dirty, in Jesus you are clean. Even though you are sinful, in Jesus you are forgiven. Even though you are a sinner, in Christ you are a saint.

When you are a member of the invisible Church, You are part of a privileged group—Peter says you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9). You share Christ’s holiness. So let it show. Sing His praises. Use your waking hours to serve Him with gladness. When you lie down for rest, sleep peacefully. Waking or sleeping, He makes you holy.

The Church is holy only because it is Christian. Some years ago in Texas, two men were at the gas station filling their tanks. One man greeted the other, then said: "I hope you won’t mind my asking, but since I lost a friend in an accident, I ask everyone a certain question. Are you a Christian?" Taken by surprise, the other man stuttered: "Well, I suppose I am." With a gentle smile, the first man asked again: "Are you a Christian?" The other man replied, "Well, I go to church quite regularly and try to do the best I can." "That’s not what I asked", the first man said as he hung his hose on the gas pump. "Unless you believe that Jesus Christ died for you, you are not a Christian." That’s the essential thing. Without faith in Christ there is no salvation; without faith in Christ, a church cannot be holy.

During the first days after Jesus returned to heaven, His followers referred to the Church as ‘The Way.’ But after only a few years, believers started identifying themselves as ‘Christian’, because their allegiance was to Christ. When Peter was told to stop preaching that Jesus as the only way to God and paradise, Peter replied Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about building the Church, he said no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11).

Jesus is the foundation, cornerstone, and head of the Church; because of this, no one will ever be successful in destroying it. Jesus Himself said, the gates of Hades will not overcome it (Matthew 16:18). The devil has certainly tried to crush the Church, and he has had many allies in this project; kings, philosophers, entire nations have tried to shut the Churches’ doors forever. King Ahab, Emperor Nero, Muhammad, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Joseph Stalin, and Madeline Murray O’Hare are just some of the many people that have tried to silence the Church—and failed. In addition, there have always been enemies within our churches, enemies who have denied the truth or twisted Jesus’ words to suit their own agendas. In Jesus’ day, this included the Pharisees; in our day this includes liberals who pick and choose which parts of the Bible to accept as authentic, and legalists who insist that we must earn our holiness by our deeds. But whether the attacks come from without or within, no one will ever destroy Christ’s Church—it will continue forever.

If you want security, a place of permanent safety, then commit to being a member of the Church. St. Paul says, Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5). There is no better time than now. Are you in the faith? Do you realize that you anger God every day? Do you seek forgiveness from Jesus? The Savior calls you—He says, Open your eyes! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me (Revelation 3:20). Jesus wants to enter your life and be your most important friend.

Since Jesus is the foundation of the Church, the Church is built only where Christ is proclaimed as Savior. We hear a great deal about methods for growing the Church. Of course we want to see the Church grow—but we must realize that this only happens when parents, members, Sunday School teachers and the pastor speak of man’s sin and God’s grace. Concerts, bazaars and various kinds of programs all have their place, but no heart is ever changed or comforted until the Gospel is used. As Paul writes, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Do you want the Church to grow? Speak of Jesus to others!

The Church is the communion of saints. A saint is any person who believes in Jesus. Some saints—like you—are here on earth for now. Many others are in heaven, and Jesus promises to unite us with them when we die, so long as we keep believing and do not give up. On the Day of Judgment, all will be raised from the dead and restored to bodily form; we who have died as saints will inherit a new earth, a world completely free of sin, a paradise where we will live together forever, basking in God’s unfiltered love. This is the destiny of the Church; Christ built it to last forever. The communion of saints will never end.

How does a local congregation fit into all this? While membership in the invisible Church is of the utmost importance, your membership in a local group of believers also has value. Without a local congregation, where would you get baptized, instructed in God’s Word, and confirmed? Without a local congregation, how would you receive the Lord’s Supper, where would you go to get married, and who would oversee your burial? Each Christian benefits greatly by holding membership in a congregation. But to receive the greatest blessings possible, a person must be selective. When Jesus left for heaven, His command was this: go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19:20). When choosing a congregation, we listen carefully to make sure they neither add anything to God’s word nor leave anything out. To be sure, people are saved wherever they hear the Word of Christ, but congregations that distort the Bible put people at risk for being hurt or even being eternally lost. According to Jesus, it is the truth that sets you free (John 8:32). Make sure that the congregation you belong to is one that speaks the truth clearly and purely—not just for your sake, but for the sake of your children as well.

The relationship between the local congregation and the invisible Church is like the relationship between doctor’s office and the doctor himself. By entering, you come into the presence of the owner. So the local congregation is very important and deserving of your continued support. It is through you and saints like you that congregations exist, the Gospel is preached, and the doors of the holy Christian Church are thrown wide to welcome all who are willing to join Christ in paradise.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Jesus told him, "Follow me" (Matthew 8:22).

Most of us taking walking for granted. We hop out of bed and dash from room to room, getting ready for work or school. We jog for exercise, or take an evening stroll to relax after a stressful day. We seldom realize how much time we spend on our feet until they start aching in protest.

But we should not take walking for granted. Look at a little child learning to take his first steps; we’ve forgotten how tough a challenge it is. You must learn to crawl before you stand. You must endure many painful falls before you can walk with confidence.

Some people never get to walk, because of disability; others lose their mobility due to accident, disease, or the weakness of old age. Anyone with mobility problems will tell you how frustrating life can be. Going places is time consuming; even a simple everyday task around the house can turn into a major project.

We take our legs and feet for granted; because we can move quickly and easily, we often charge off into trouble. A person who struggles with getting around plans her activities carefully; people with no such limitations often act without thinking. How often have your feet taken you someplace that you shouldn’t be? A party where drunken behavior leads to fights or hurt feelings? A room at a ‘no-tell motel’? A casino that sucks the last dollars from your wallet?

Most parents dread the day when their baby turns into a toddler; when the child is upright and moving, nothing in the house is safe. When we get our feet under us, trouble is easy to find.

This is why Jesus urges us to follow Him. If we wander through life aimlessly, our feet will bring us to disaster. We need Jesus to give our movement direction and purpose. We need His comfort when life pulls the rug out from under us. We need His courage when we have to go someplace that frightens us. We need His strength when we feel as if we can’t take another step. When we walk with Jesus, He will give everything we need to stay at His side, walking through life with a spring in our step.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Finding a secure grip

Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD…is the everlasting Rock (Isaiah 26:4).

A ‘human fly’ is a man or woman who climbs skyscrapers with little in the way of safety measures. Andrew Corey was a human fly. On April 23rd, 1921, he set out to climb the New Howard Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland. The stunt was put on as a fund-raiser for an orphanage.

Corey had no trouble climbing up to the sixth floor. But then, as thousands of spectators watched, he reached for what looked like a gray piece of stone near a cornice. He gambled his life on that handhold, but as he shifted his weight, the crowd was horrified to see him unexpectedly fall to his death. When they examined the body, they found a spider’s web clutched beneath his fingers. What had looked solid and dependable had been a deception—a deception that cost the human fly his very life.

People depend on all kinds of things, but sooner or later that trust proves to be misplaced. Things that look as if they offer security turn out to be nothing but a flimsy illusion. Some invest their money for retirement, only to see those dollars disappear because of financial instability or criminal misconduct. Others plan their future around their families, only to see those plans ruined by divorce or the unexpected death of a loved one. Some invest their lives in a career, only to find themselves lost when their skills are no longer needed in the marketplace. Others don’t know what to do when age steals their looks and saps their bodies of strength.

Jesus said, Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-20). Life is a serious matter—don’t gamble it on things that only offer the illusion of security. Jesus is our Rock, a firm foundation, a secure anchorage. His words are truth that you can hang on to when everything else is a web of lies. His promises offer security in a world where no one can be depended on to always keep his word. Jesus is the one companion who will never leave you or turn His back on you. In a world of illusion and betrayal, Jesus is the only person you can truly depend on; cling to Him, and you will be safe.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Apostles' Creed (part ten)

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Last week, we took some time to consider the Holy Spirit’s work among unbelievers; we looked at how He plants faith through the message of the Gospel, and how He changes a sinner’s perspective on life through His gifts of wisdom and understanding. Today we will look at the Spirit’s ongoing work in the lives of believers—in your life and mine.

Martin Luther wrote many hymns, but the best known is "A Mighty Fortress." In one of its verses, we sing "With might of ours can naught be done, Soon were our loss effected." Luther reminds us that, fighting on our own, we inevitably lose. That’s because our battle isn’t with men or animals or the forces of nature; our enemy is the devil who was once a leader among the angels of heaven, but has now dedicated his terrifying power to destroying our relationship with God.

History is littered with the corpses of men and women who tried to fight the devil by themselves and lost. Presumably, Judas started out as a believer, yet he ended up betraying the Savior for a small bag of money and hanged himself in despair. Or consider Demas; he came to faith through contact with Paul, and for a time he was a diligent servant of the Lord. Yet after a few years, Paul wrote: Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me (2 Timothy 4:10).

What’s the cause of this tragedy? Is it the devil, the world, or our sinful flesh? Not really; with the Spirit’s help, we can overcome all three. The basic trouble is that people forget that they have to have God’s help, and His help is given to us through the Gospel. We are converted through the Gospel, and we are maintained in the faith through the Gospel. Paul said that the Gospel…is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). If the line which connects your home to the power plant was cut, every light would go out. The Word of God is the spiritual power line that leads from the Lord to our hearts. Is it any wonder that faith grows weak and dies when people cut themselves off from the power line to God?

I know there are people who claim they don’t need to go to church; they can pray at home. But they forget that without power, phones stop working; we get the power to pray from God. If you don’t worship in church, if you leave your Bible closed on the shelf, if you stay away from Bible study and ignore Communion, you are cutting yourself off from the source of your spiritual energy. Without that energy, your prayer life will weaken and die like a cell phone battery that has exhausted its charge. The Good News of Holy Scripture is the power line through which God keeps our faith strong and energizes us to pray.

Jesus said, My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand (John 10:27-28). Neither riches nor poverty can steal away your salvation in Christ; your faith cannot be destroyed by health or sickness, parents or children, husband or wife, false teachers or the devil himself. You cannot be lost eternally unless you become so stupid or proud as to think that you can win your battles without Jesus’ help! Jesus is the only one who could defeat Satan, and look what it cost Him! The Son of God had to suffer and die in order to clear our path to heaven, a path marked out by the drops of His innocent blood shed from the cross. If you try to go it alone in this life, beware! But if you seek shelter in the powerful arms of our loving Savior, you have nothing to fear.

The Holy Spirit also enables you to live by faith and find joy in life. Paul writes, If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! The day that you were spiritually reborn as a Christian, you changed--you became a different person. Your attitudes are different, your priorities are different, and your relationship with God has changed. Before conversion, every person is self-centered. In every situation, his primary question is: "What do I get out of it?" He has no interest in God and only minimal interest in other people, unless they can help him achieve his goals. But the Christian is God-centered. His foremost concern is that of St. Paul after his conversion: "Lord, what do you want me to do?" The Christian is interested in other people simply because they are God’s children and need to experience His love.

The unconverted businessman doesn’t wonder if his product will help those who use it, nor is he concerned whether his business is good for the community. His main questions are: "Will my product sell? Will it make money?" Now the Christian businessman is also concerned with making a profit; however, he wants to market something that will benefit those who use it.

The unconverted laborer usually applies for jobs with the unspoken question: "Where and how can I make the most money with the least amount of effort?" The Christian laborer is also concerned with earning a living, but at the same time he intends to give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage.

The unconverted person often makes promises casually; he might pledge life-long commitment to his new bride, all the while thinking that if the marriage doesn’t live up to his expectations, he’ll simply get a divorce—for him, a prenuptial agreement is more important than the marriage license. The Christian, however, takes marriage vows very seriously; even though problems can and do come up, he knows that God can fix what humans damage. Instead of running to divorce court, the Christian runs to God.

When things go well, the unconverted person boasts and takes all the credit; when things turn sour, he blames others for the failure. The Christian, on the other hand, praises God when things go well, and when disappointments come he turns to God for relief through prayer.

The unconverted is selfish with his money; either he reinvests it, hoards it away, or blows it on having a good time. The Christian gladly gives some of his income to the work of the church and to charity. In fact, his whole reason for living is to be a source of blessings to others.

When death draws near, the unconverted has nothing to look forward to—he is facing a dead end street. He has no hope. But when the grave beckons a Christian, he looks ahead because he knows that death is just the beginning of life—an eternal life thousands of times better than any time spent in this sin-twisted world.

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Together with his new attitudes, the Christian also receives new powers from the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5). The non-Christian operates exclusively with man-power; success or failure, it’s all up to him. The Christian operates with God-power, because the power of God is within him. You’ve heard alcoholics say, "I can quit anytime I want." The same claim is made by anyone who has become a slave to sinful behavior. But how often is the demon in the bottle successfully overcome without God’s help? The road to recovery from sin starts with accepting Jesus’ hand offered through the Gospel. He is ready and eager to send us the gifts of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Since we live in a sin-sickened world, I am sure that you have experienced hurt by someone in your home, at work, at school, or at church. As a Christian, you have forgiven these people and hold no grudge against them. Do you know why? It is because the Spirit of God gave you the power to forgive. You are different from unbelievers, who don’t want to forgive and can’t forget.

It was Sunday, right around noon. Due to a storm passing through the area, the electricity was knocked out. One home was filled with shouts of anger. The husband was mad that he could not watch the football game; his wife was mad because she could not finish preparing dinner. Filled with anger, their day was ruined. But across the street, things were peaceful. The Christian family living there was also without power, but no one got upset. They knew and trusted God’s word given through Paul in Romans chapter 8: we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. They trusted that things would work out, no matter what the adversity: power outages, flat tires, computer viruses, a death in the family, or bad weather crippling the harvest. What made them so different from their angry neighbors? Patience, confidence, and love are gifts of the Spirit.

The sad part of it all lies in the fact that at times, you and I act very much like unbelievers; we forget to use the power of the Spirit that is available to us. Do you ever try to excuse your bad habits by saying, "I’m just made that way"? Do you let little things upset you? Are you impatient with your spouse, children or neighbors? Are you quick to tell other people off when they disagree with you? Do you walk around sad and dejected? Are you stingy with compliments and slow to give encouragement? Do you annoy others in your family with your sloppy habits or irritate them by being a neat freak? Are there things about you that you try to excuse by claiming, "I’m just made that way?" Any time such words pass our lips, we show that we’ve forgotten something important. When the Holy Spirit brought us to Christ, we were re-born. We are no longer helpless slaves to sin, like unbelievers. We are given the power to change our sinful behavior and live a new life according to God’s pattern, a life of happiness for ourselves and for those who live with us. The Holy Spirit has connected us to in inexhaustible source of forgiveness and power, and He urges us to make frequent use of these wonderful gifts.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The trap of temptation

Free me from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge (Psalm 31:4).

I’d like to tell you the story of two brothers—Raynald and Edward. Raynald and Edward lived about six hundred years ago. Raynald was the older brother, he was duke of the country we know today as Belgium. Raynald was also a man with enormous appetite—he was grossly overweight.

As brothers often do, Raynald and Edward had fights with each other. One fight was so vicious that Edward organized a revolt and removed his brother from the throne. But Edward did not kill his older brother; instead, he had a special room built around Raynald inside the family castle. An ordinary person would see nothing unusual about that room. It had ordinary-sized windows and an ordinary-sized door. But the design of the room made locks unnecessary; Raynald was too fat to squeeze his way out.

Edward promised his brother freedom if he wanted it. All he had to do was leave the room. But Edward also made sure that plenty of tempting food was delivered to that room every day. And instead of losing weight, Raynald grew even fatter. As a result, the elder brother stayed trapped in his room for ten years, until Edward was killed in battle. But freedom came too late; overindulgence had ruined Raynald’s health, and he died within a year.

The story of these brothers illustrates our relationship with Satan. We are like Raynald; we are fascinated with overindulgence. Some of us eat too much, others drink too much. Some can’t stop gambling, others are addicted to online pornography. Regardless of what it is, every one of us has a compulsion that dominates our lives.

Satan is like Edward. He uses our cravings to trap us. He leaves the door unlocked, saying that the choice is ours. But he keeps tempting us with the things that keep us trapped, and we lack the self-discipline to push them away.

We need Jesus. We need his forgiveness, which frees us from captivity. We need His strength so we can resist temptation. Without the Lord’s help, we will remain trapped until our sin finally kills us.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dependable leadership

If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it (Matthew 16:24-25).

Back in the year 1914, Ernest Shackleton set out to cross Antarctica by foot. The planned trip would cover 1,500 miles, using 39 sled dogs to pull the team’s supplies. But Shackleton’s expedition did not go as planned. Their ship, The Endurance, got caught in the ice and was crushed. When summer finally arrived, the ice broke up enough for the men to launch three lifeboats and head for Elephant Island. But the place where they landed was inhospitable and far from established trade routes. Shackleton loaded one of the lifeboats with five of his best men and sailed 800 miles to South Georgia Island for help. Before it was all over, the 39 sled dogs had been eaten by the starving men.

What could induce anyone to sign on for such a dangerous adventure? Shackleton’s crew had come in response to an advertisement posted in the London Times. It read, "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger. Safe return doubtful." In spite of this warning, men came from all over to sign on with the expedition. Shackleton pledged that no man would die on this voyage; he said "Follow as I lead, do what I say must be done, and I’ll get you home." After two years of hardship, every man returned home safe.

It is amazing the risks some people will take. Some participate in extreme sports, savoring the adrenaline rush. Some are willing to brave the depths of the sea’s abyss or the void of outer space for the sake of research. Many sign up for service in the military, risking their lives for national security or the hope for peace.

Yet when it comes to following Jesus, many people hesitate to put their lives on the line. Giving up sinful pleasures seems too hard; turning their lives over to Jesus’ leadership seems too risky. They have a hard time trusting the Lord’s promises.

Shackleton, a mere human, promised his men "Follow as I lead, do what I say must be done, and I’ll get you home." Amazingly, he delivered. How much more, then, can we depend on Jesus, no matter how difficult the trip through life becomes. God’s Son does not promise us an easy journey, but He guarantees our safe arrival at His home in heaven.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Apostles' Creed (part nine)

Turn me, and I shall be turned; for You are the LORD my God (Jeremiah 31:18).

The third article of the Apostles’ Creed begins with the words: "I believe in the Holy Spirit". The first verse of the Bible is concerned with God the Father; the second verse speaks of the Holy Spirit. Although we usually focus our attention on the Father and His Son Jesus, the Spirit of God is introduced before the Savior is mentioned! This helps us realize that the Spirit’s work is tremendously important. True, if the Father had not created us, we would not be alive; if His Son had not died for our sins, we would be lost and condemned; but if the Holy Spirit had not done His work, you would not be reading this and no one would have the faith necessary to be welcomed into heaven. The work of God’s Spirit is to create faith in our hearts, a confidence that through Jesus we can be forgiven and live in eternal love. And the Spirit does this work through the Gospel.

The Holy Spirit is just what His name describes. Being a Spirit, He has the ability to think and feel emotion, as well as the desire to set goals and achieve them—the only thing He does not have is a body. The Bible shows us that the Spirit has power; during the years of His earthly ministry, Jesus was assisted by the Holy Spirit who came down and rested on the Son of Man at His baptism. And the Spirit is holy; unlike the devil and his evil angels who try to lure us into disaster, God’s Spirit is always working to bring us blessings and guide us according to God’s ways.

The Lutheran Confessions state: "He is true God with the Father and the Son." The Spirit is not an impersonal force or source of power; He is a person just as the Father and the Son are persons. Just like the Father and the Son, He is all-powerful, He is present everywhere, He knows everything, He is eternal, He is righteous, merciful and holy. Just like the Father and the Son, He cares for us and listens to our prayers. Just like the Father and the Son, He is deserving of our respect and love and praise.

There is much to say about the Holy Spirit, but today we will limit our discussion to His most important work: leading us to faith in Jesus Christ. This work is described by Jeremiah as a turning; we also call it conversion. In Arlington Cemetery in Washington, there is a monument dedicated to the Unknown Soldier. Every day there is a soldier assigned to stand watch at this tomb; at regular intervals, he marches along the sidewalk, comes to a halt, makes a complete about face, and strides back in the opposite direction. This illustrates the idea of conversion. Conversion is a complete about face. By nature we fear God, distrust Him, want to go our own way without having Him look over our shoulders in disapproval. When we are converted, we are turned around so that we love God, trust Him, want to please Him with our lives and be near Him all the time. Conversion is a complete change of mind, attitude and heart, an inner change illustrated by Jesus in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).

The young man in Jesus’ story didn’t respect his father and resented living by his rules. He asked for his inheritance and went off to a distant country where he felt free of his father’s oversight. The young man lived an extravagant lifestyle and quickly exhausted his funds; he soon found himself doing disgusting work for next to no money. Then, Jesus said, he came to his senses. His attitude towards his father and his home changed completely. He realized that his father was a loving man and that life under his roof was better than anywhere else. This is conversion—a complete change of attitude regarding our Father in heaven, where fear is replaced with trust, hate is replaced by love.

Conversion is about coming to trust in Jesus for salvation. Just because someone changes their behavior does not necessarily mean that they have been converted; suddenly becoming a law-abiding citizen who gives to charity can be the result of selfish motives. True conversion involves man’s sin and God’s grace. Conversion requires that you and I own up to our sins and realize a need for things to be different; it requires that we go to Jesus for mercy, and trust in His power to save us from all that is evil within us.

It has been said that hell is going to be filled with many ‘good’ people. We judge whether someone is ‘good’ based on what they do and say; God, however, looks first and foremost at what a person believes. The only people God welcomes into His eternal home are those who realize that they are not good, and that they need God’s Son to rescue them from being punished in hell. Paul was put in prison several times for teaching this truth about salvation; during one of these times, a jailer asked him what must I do to be saved? Paul’s answer was clear and simple: Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (Acts 16:30-31). Jesus is the only means of escape from the threat of hell to the promise of heaven: Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him (John 3:36). For this reason, conversion of the human heart is incredibly important.

But how does the Holy Spirit go about converting people? In the Small Catechism Luther says that the Spirit calls us by the Gospel and enlightens us with His gifts.

Jesus told the story of a man who prepared a banquet (Luke chapter 14). When all was in order, he sent his servants to the guests with this message: `Come, for everything is now ready.' The application is obvious. The host is Christ. The great banquet which He has prepared is not meat, potatoes and dessert, but something far more precious—forgiveness of sins, peace with God, hope, joy, a life on earth energized by love, and eternal bliss in paradise. As the servants called the guests, so the Spirit of God now calls us.

There are some who believe that the Spirit brings people to faith through dreams and visions. But Luther rejected such claims; he insisted that the Spirit calls through the Gospel—which, of course, is what the Bible teaches. Paul wrote faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). He also stated, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel (1 Corinthians 4:15). Peter reminded the followers of Christ that they were born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:23).

The Gospel is the means of grace, the pipeline through which the Holy Spirit brings us the water of life. The New York City metropolitan area has a population of millions of people. Do you know where they get their water? There are huge reservoirs in the mountains to the north of the city, which are filled by the melting snows of spring and the rains of summer. This water, however, would be of no practical value to the residents if there were no pipes to bring it to the city and into their homes. Without those pipes, the city of New York could not survive. In a similar way, there is a vast reservoir in heaven filled with the water of life. Jesus provided this life-giving water by suffering and dying on the cross to atone for our sins. The Gospel is the pipeline by which the Holy Spirit brings these blessings from heaven into our lives. Without the Spirit and the Gospel that He uses, we would all die of spiritual thirst.

The Gospel is the pipeline that makes spiritual life possible. That’s why Christian parents are so concerned with teaching their children about Jesus. You can teach a child that it is important to obey the Ten Commandments, but obeying the Law of God can’t save anyone. What that child needs more than anything is to be taught about Jesus’ life, crucifixion and resurrection. To find eternal happiness, that child needs to know that Jesus alone can provide it.

The Gospel is the pipeline. That’s why Christians are so concerned with bringing the Good News to those around us who remain unconverted. That’s why Christians offer a portion of their income to support mission work, so that the unconverted in countries far away can also hear what the Bible teaches about Jesus and be saved.

The Spirit also enlightens us with His gifts. ‘Enlighten’ means to give light, to open the eyes of people so that they might see. Before conversion, all people live in spiritual darkness. Such a person does not know the truth about himself. Such a person does not know God or how to get to heaven. In fact, the person living in darkness doesn’t even know that heaven and hell exist. But through the Gospel, the Spirit of God removes the spiritual cataracts from our eyes so that we can see reality: that we are sinners, that God loves us and is willing to forgive us, that we can never earn God’s mercy by our own weak efforts, that life on earth is only a journey to our true home at Jesus’ side.

To be ‘enlightened’ means seeing the truth and embracing it. It is such a tragedy—so many people hear the truth of the Gospel but won’t believe it. The idea that God’s own Son would suffer and die in our place, then rise from the dead to live forever, sounds like foolishness to the unconverted. When the apostle Paul spoke to the philosophers in Athens they were happy to listen to him, because they were always interested in new ideas; but when Paul spoke of the resurrection, they lost interest. When Paul was on trial for preaching about Jesus and explained the Good News to the court, he was told: Paul, you are insane. Too much study has made you crazy! (Acts 26:24) This is why our Catechism says: "I believe that I cannot, by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts…"

Are you a Christian? Give thanks to the Spirit—it was He who converted you! Are you a Christian? Don’t look down on those who are not. You didn’t convert yourself. Are you a Christian? Spread the Good News that Jesus died for our sins and rose again to open heaven to us. Through this message the Spirit of God can convert the unconverted.

Have you ever been sick in the hospital? Typically, there are three steps to getting you cured. The doctor diagnoses your case and writes a prescription; the pharmacist fills the prescription; the nurse gives you the medicine. In the same way, there are Three in heaven who work to cure the sickness in your soul. The Father wrote out a prescription which involved the suffering, death, and resurrection of His Son. Jesus filled the prescription by dying for our sins on Good Friday and rising from death on Easter morning. The Holy Spirit gives us the medicine, which is the Good News about Jesus. It is all God’s work, from beginning to end.

But if conversion is entirely the work of God, why then are some saved and others lost—even if they were baptized at the same church, went to Sunday School together, and were classmates throughout Confirmation? The Bible assures us that the Lord does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But even though a doctor prescribes the best medicine, the pharmacist fills the prescription correctly, and the nurse brings the medicine to the patient, that patient can refuse to take the medicine and die. Even though God wrote a prescription for our salvation, Jesus filled that prescription, and the Holy Spirit offers it to all who hear the Gospel, a person can obstinately reject it and perish everlastingly in hell. Many of the Pharisees did so in Jesus’ time, and many do so today. I pray that no one reading this would act so foolishly!

Blessed are you who believe. Do you trust in Jesus as your Savior, your Helper, your Friend? Thank the Holy Spirit, because He is the One who called you by the Gospel and gave you that gift of faith.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD (Psalm 33:12).

What does it mean to be a patriot? A patriot is loyal to his country. A patriot respects America’s heritage and wants the best for her nation’s future.

But people who love America often get into fights, calling each other ‘unpatriotic.’ Some think that criticizing anything about our country is disloyal and disrespectful; others believe that America can made even better if we are willing to admit past mistakes and change how we do things in the future. Some believe that America should lead the world, using force if necessary; others feel that our nation should lead by example, preferring negotiation and diplomacy over intimidation or the threat of war.

So long as your goal is making America the best it can be, you are a patriot. But our country is filled with people who are not patriotic. This includes individuals who criticize America but aren’t willing to roll up their sleeves to make things better. This includes those who shut their eyes to America’s faults and refuse to even discuss making changes. The unpatriotic members of our country include folks who are bigots, treating non-Americans as inferior, even though our Constitution and Bill of Rights acknowledge the equality of all mankind. The unpatriotic also include those who want us to give up that which makes America special for the sake of harmony with other cultures.

Patriotism is dangerous if it does not look at the world with eyes wide open. The Bible teaches us an unpleasant truth—all mankind is sinful. Jesus said that poverty and war will always be a part of the human condition. Our nation was founded by sinners. Our government is operated by sinners. Sinners have control of our nuclear arsenal. Sinners have control of our news agencies and economy. The same is true in every other country as well. Some lands are more Christian, others less, but every nation needs God’s help to keep it from making costly mistakes.

A true patriot prays for his country. He wants the laws of the land to be in harmony with God’s holy will. A true patriot knows that you cannot use evil methods to establish something good. She is dedicated to making America better by doing things right. To be a patriot, you must be aware of evil wherever it is, and be willing to fight against it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tabernacle (part 4)

Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because…the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:35).

Of all the things found in God’s Tent of Meeting, nothing was more sacred or important than the Ark of the Covenant.

The Ark was a box made from Acacia wood, covered in gold. The lid featured two angels facing each other, their wings bent down and forward. Inside were the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, a copy of God’s Book of the Law dictated to Moses, the staff of Aaron that miraculously sprouted buds, and a jar of manna, the bread of God sent to feed the Israelites while living in the desert. The Ark was holy; to touch it was to die instantly by the hand of God. This was because God treated the Ark as His earthly throne. The lid was called the Mercy Seat; it was here, between the angels, that God would show His magnificent glory.

The Ark of the Covenant was designed by God as a witness to Christ’s redeeming work. It was made from wood that grew in the desert; Isaiah spoke of Jesus as a root out of dry ground, the only life growing in a world made dead by sin. The box was covered in gold, representing Jesus’ glory as the Son of God. The Commandments and the Book of the Law demand perfect obedience; because no sinner is capable this, God’s Son lived a perfect life as our representative. The manna was bread created by God from the morning dew; Jesus is our bread of life, filling us with a vitality that death cannot bring to an end. Aaron’s staff, although it was dead wood, sprouted with new life by God’s command; in the same way Jesus, although dead in the grave, rose alive by the command of God to live forever as our Savior. The lid of the Ark was called the Mercy Seat; it was sprinkled with the same sacrificial blood that marked the Israelites as children of God. When Jesus sits on His throne and judges us as our King, He shows mercy on everyone marked by His blood and forgives them.

The Ark is lost to time; no one knows where it lies or even if it still exists. But it did its job; it helped God’s people understand the great things Jesus would do when He came. That’s what the Tabernacle and the Temple were all about; showing us how God reaches out to sinners through His Son. Jesus is the Tabernacle. He is the Altar, the Candlestick, the Bread, the Ark. Jesus is where you can meet God, now and always.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Apostles' Creed (part eight)

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

Today we pick up where we left off a week ago. Last week, we looked at Christ’s humiliation—today we will consider His exaltation.

God exalted him to the highest place. God promoted Jesus, elevated Him to a position of honor and authority second only to His own. Remember when Joseph saved Egypt from disaster by interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams? Pharaoh subsequently rewarded him by making Joseph second in command of that ancient nation. Joseph was authorized to act as the king’s agent, and Jesus is authorized to act as God’s agent.

And gave him the name that is above every name. What’s so special about a name? In the Bible, a name is more than just a way to tell the kids apart—a name is often a job description as well. Christ is known by many names—Prophet, Priest, King; Son of Man, Mighty God, Prince of Peace. But when Mary became pregnant, an angel spoke to her fiancé, revealing the most precious name of all: "…Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:20-21). Jesus means ‘Savior’, the most wonderful name possible for we who need saving from our sins. ‘Jesus’ is a title as much as it is a name—it describes both who He is and what He does.

At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. When Pharaoh introduced Joseph as his second in command, he demanded that all the citizens drop to their knees and bow as a gesture of respect. Now that God the Father has elevated His Son, He demands the same kind of respect from every human being. When the name Jesus is mentioned, our response ought to be one of total respect and submission.

Jesus did not acquire His position or title automatically. To become Jesus Christ the Lord, He had to first go through humiliation and then be exalted. Last week we examined the humiliation in detail: "Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried." Today we will look closely at His exaltation: "He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead."

"He descended into hell." This is the first step up from the humiliating darkness of the grave. At first blush, going to hell doesn’t seem like a good thing. But Jesus did not go to hell to suffer; we know that all our sins were paid for on the cross because right before He died, Jesus spoke weary words of triumph: it is finished (John 19:30). In 1st Peter chapter three, we are told the true reason that Jesus entered hell—He went to preach to its inhabitants.

When Jesus died on Calvary the devil must have laughed, thinking he had finally beaten the Son of God. But he certainly didn’t laugh for very long. As soon as Jesus had paid the price for our sins, He went to the devil with a message that He wanted to deliver personally: "You’re defeated; your reign of terror is over." Like a general who has won the war, Jesus went directly to the capital of the enemy and stripped them of their weapons. The devil may still try to cause problems, but Jesus has deprived him of his only real power. Satan is always trying to convince God that because we are sinners, hell is the only place we belong. With our sins now forgiven by Jesus, Satan has no legitimate claim on us—his terrifying power to condemn has been removed.

"The third day He rose again from the dead." By sundown on Good Friday, it sure looked as if death had won the victory. Jesus was dead and buried. Gloom shrouded Jerusalem, and His followers went into hiding. The despair in their hearts was given voice by Cleopas: we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel (Luke 24:41). But that hope now seemed as dead as Jesus was.

Although they knew the Old Testament prophecies about the Savior, they had forgotten God’s promise—that the Messiah’s body would not remain in the grave long enough to experience decay (Psalm 16:10). Although Jesus had told them several times that He would rise alive again on the third day after His death, there was no glimmer of hope in their hearts. And so it was that angels had to explain what had happened: He is not here; he has risen, just as he said (Matthew 28:60). Mary Magdalene clung to Him. Thomas touched His wounded hands and side. The disciples ate with Him. Over 500 believers saw Him at the same time. Jesus returned to us alive, showing that He has conquered death. Because of Jesus, not only are we rescued from the devil’s clutches, not even death can hold us!

"He ascended into heaven." Jesus spent more than a month comforting His disciples and preparing them to spread the Good News about the resurrection. On the 40th day, our Lord took the little group out to the Mount of Olives. There He spoke to them one final time and gave them a solemn promise: surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Then Jesus blessed them, and as He was doing this He was taken bodily up into the sky and returned to His Father’s side in heaven. Jesus went home, His earthly career over. Back on the night when Jesus was born on earth, the hosts of heaven sang for joy—can you imagine the enthusiastic response when Jesus arrived home? On top of that, the saints must have joined in cheering His victory! But most wonderful of all, picture the reunion of Jesus with His Father. Do you remember what it was like to come home after being away for a long time? Imagine if you can how Jesus must have felt, returning home after all He’d gone through. Do you remember the pride shining in your parents’ eyes when you accomplished something big, like getting confirmed or graduating? That pride could not begin to reflect the pride in God’s eyes as He gazed lovingly at His Son. Jesus returned to the joyous praise of the angels, the beaming smiles of the saints, and the warm approval of His Father.

But this was still not the full extent of His exaltation. "He sits at the right hand of God the Father." As Joseph became the right-hand man for the king of Egypt, so Jesus is now at the right hand of God, ruling over everything. Even though Christ has ascended into heaven, He is still at work here on earth, working with us and for us. As Christ, the Anointed One of God, He functions as our Prophet, Priest and King.

As Prophet, He still proclaims the word of God—just not in person as He once did in Palestine. Now He speaks through the Bible and everyone who uses the Bible to instruct others—parents and grandparents, teachers and pastors.

As Priest, He still takes the needs of His people to God. St. John writes, if anybody commits sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One (1 John 2:1). What a comfort it is to know that whenever we break God’s Law, Jesus as right at the Father’s side saying, "Father, forgive them—I have already paid for their sins."

As King, He rules the entire world, taking particular care of His Church. Our Master promised that hell would never succeed in crushing Christianity. The leaders among both the Jews and the Gentiles tried to destroy Christ, but He is still alive. They lied about him, beat Him and crucified Him, but they could not put an end to Him. The same is true of the Church He leads.

Since our church is loyal to Jesus and the Scriptures, we are bound to be faced with enemies. Jesus said, If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first (John 15:18). In our country, the dangers come both from without and within. Although our Constitution guarantees religious liberty, atheists constantly fight to keep Christians quiet and the Bible closed. When believers speak out against sin, they are dismissed as ‘intolerant’ and ‘unloving’; some are even prosecuted for allegedly committing a ‘hate crime.’ But even more dangerous are the enemies who wear vestments and preach distortions and lies from the pulpit. Some deny that the Bible is God’s Word, perfect and complete. Even though St. Paul says that the Scriptures are the foundation of our faith, even though St. Peter says that every word was written under the direction of the Holy Spirit, some are willing to disregard passages that do not agree with their modern sensibilities. Reducing the Bible from the Word of God to nothing more than a handbook for living is the most dangerous enemy of the church today.

In spite of how bad things look, we should not fear for the Church. Since Christ shed His blood for the Church, will He not continue to take care of it? If the powers of hell cannot overcome what the Carpenter has built, surely it cannot be torn down by social activists or false teachers. Our task is to keep on sharing the truth which makes people free, and leave the rest to our Lord. Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. All is in His hands; all is well.

We are still waiting for the final stage of our Master’s exaltation. "He shall come to judge the living and the dead." When the king returns, He will judge both those who are alive at that time as well as everyone who has died. The apostle Paul says, the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

On that day our Lord will be fully exalted. He will finally be accorded all the honor that He is due. This time He will not come as He did to Bethlehem—weak, poor, and unnoticed—but as the Mighty One in all His power and glory. Jesus said, When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory (Matthew 25:31). During His years on earth, people told lies about Him, insulted Him, rejected Him. Many still do—more than two thirds of today’s population have nothing to do with Christ. Some refuse to admit that they have done wrong; they don’t believe that they need a Savior. Others resent Jesus for claiming to be the only means to enter God’s kingdom; they want the freedom to enter paradise by their own path. And many just don’t believe in anything that cannot be seen or touched; for them, religion is only a fantasy of the mind.

But a time is coming when no one will be able to deny the truth about Jesus. Our Lord will return suddenly, catching the world by surprise. Peter tells us that all the stuff we love—sporty cars, cutting edge electronics, and fancy homes—will be consumed by purifying fire. There will be no more presidents or congressmen or judges. There will be no more governing boards or chief executive officers. There will be only one kingdom and one throne, and Christ the Lamb of God will be seated upon it. Then every knee [shall] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Everyone—even the devil and his followers—will bow in submission. The vanquished as well as the victors will say He is KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:16).

On that day, we who have been faithful will be exalted too. We shall shine like stars forever (Philippians 2:15). Jesus calls us His brothers and sisters (Matthew 12:48), and the undisputed King of All will welcome us as members of His royal family.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Tabernacle (part 3)

I am the light of the world (John 8:12).

Today we continue our look at the Tabernacle of God.

I said earlier that there were two altars in the Tabernacle—the Altar of Burnt Offering and the Altar of Incense. The Altar of Incense was tended each day, sending fragrance throughout the Tent of Meeting and up towards heaven. The Altar of Burnt Offering was concerned with bringing God’s mercy to the people; the Altar of Incense was about showing appreciation to the Lord of heaven. God’s people wanted to honor Him by burning sweet perfumes for His enjoyment.

The Altar of Incense is also connected with prayer. In the Book of Revelation chapter eight, we read the following: Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand. God loves hearing our prayers; they go up to Him like fragrant incense. He wants us to thank Him for His blessings. He wants us to entrust Him with our lives. Through Jesus, God has proven that He wants to share our joys and sorrows, so He urges us to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Another item in the Tabernacle was the Golden Candlestick. In a room with no windows, this was the only source of light, and it was always kept burning. This candlestick represented the Light of God that pushes back the darkness of sin and death. This light shines in our lives through Jesus, who described Himself as the light of the world; He said, Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12). The Golden Candlestick of the Tabernacle lives on in churches that fill the sanctuary with candles.

The Tent of Meeting also included a table filled with loaves of fresh bread. This represented how God watches over His followers, providing for their every need. However, we must remember that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (Deuteronomy 8:3). The Word of God came to us in human form; it is Jesus who gives nourishment to the soul. He said, I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:35). It is only through Jesus that we can truly have life, life that is full and everlasting.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Tabernacle (part 2)

We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:10).

Continuing our look at God’s Tabernacle.

Among the most important furnishings in the Tabernacle were the altars. There were two: the Altar of Burnt Offering and the Altar of Incense. The Altar of Burnt Offering was the place where animals were sacrificed to the Lord; the Altar of Incense burned aromatic spices that filled the air with their perfume.

The sacrifice of animals was necessary because of sin. God’s punishment for sin is death; however, in order to show us mercy, He was willing to accept someone else’s blood in place of ours; God told the Israelites the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life (Leviticus 17:11). When the people angered God with their disobedience, they brought an animal for sacrifice on the altar. This was not a cheap way to get off the hook; giving away an animal was a financial sacrifice. But giving up a source of food and skins was a small matter when compared to escaping God’s punishment, so they were happy that the Lord accepted animal blood in place of theirs.

We don’t offer animals for sacrifice anymore; Jesus has made the practice unnecessary. In fact, those animal sacrifices were just placeholders serving until the time of Jesus’ death on the cross. Our Lord shed His blood, God’s blood, in place of ours. This is why Jesus had to be Son of God and Son of Man; only as a man could God shed blood and die; only the blood of God could have enough worth to settle the debt incurred by every human sin.

Churches still have altars, but their purpose has changed. There is no longer any sacrifice of blood; Jesus has done everything needed to forgive our sins and make us right with God. But the altar does remind us that salvation did not come cheaply; it cost the Son of God His very life. We should be humbled by this sacrifice and deeply grateful. We should be moved by love to give ourselves to Christ as living sacrifices, putting His work before our pleasures. The altar is a symbol of dedication—God’s dedication to us, and our dedication to Him.

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