Devotional: Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Good Friday Collect 1 from The Book of Common Prayer

Almighty God, we beseech thee graciously to behold this thy family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed, and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross, who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.  Amen.

Leviticus 5:14 Loving Your Neighbor

14 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 15 “If anyone commits a breach of faith and sins unintentionally in any of the holy things of the Lord, he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation, a ram without blemish out of the flock, valued in silver shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering. 16 He shall also make restitution for what he has done amiss in the holy thing and shall add a fifth to it and give it to the priest. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and he shall be forgiven.

The guilt offering was the sacrifice that sought to make repayment for a violation against your neighbor.  In addition to making repayment for a sin committed against a neighbor it dealt with other types of guilt, too.  Specifically, it dealt with three instances which incurred guilt:  against the holy things of the Lord, against God’s commands by mistake, and sins against his neighbor.

When the Bible mentions the “holy things of the Lord”, it means the holy furniture and articles used for worship in the tabernacle, the sacrifices themselves, and the portions of sacrifices designated for the priests.  They were made holy by God when he accepted them as part of his worship.  Somehow, the worshiper profaned one of them in his carelessness (it most likely wasn’t done intentionally, see Nadab and Abihu in Lev. 10).

Sometimes we make mistakes, we mess up and do something wrong, but don’t know it at first.  That’s the second type of guilt this offering covers.  ““If anyone sins, doing any of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, though he did not know it, then realizes his guilt, he shall bear his iniquity.” (Lev. 4:17)

The sin against neighbor, like the sin against the holy things requires a 20% addition to it.  This is kind of the payment for damages.  The whole worth of whatever the priest determines your sinful action requires must be repaid, but in addition 20% more has to be added.   In this sacrifice we see a striking difference to Christ.  It’s presupposed here that repayment can be made, but in terms of our sinful condition, there’s nothing we can do to repay what we owe. 

This sacrifice has a lot to say about the people of God.  We are made into a people, not just individuals who love God and sometimes come together for our good and God’s glory.  We are truly united by Jesus’ work.  This sacrifice acknowledged that aspect of our relationships.  While David said in Psalm 51, “against you only (God) have I sinned”, he said in the ultimate sense of the word.  That God is good and he alone defines sin, and that all sins are ultimately committed against God.  Yet, we still understand that we can and do sin against other people.

It didn’t matter who you were in Israel nor who you offended.  If you sinned against your brother or sister, you were liable to repay its value to them plus 20%.  And your guilt incurred against your brother meant that you also were guilty in God’s eyes.  There are two important principles there:  first, all of God’s people are equal—equal in sinfulness, equal in righteousness, equal in restitution; second, God cares about his people, if you sin against your brother, God holds you guilty too.

Christ came and paid for our sins, not so that we can be free to sin again, but to be free from our sins.  To love our brothers and sisters as Jesus does. To seek God’s help in loving one another as He does.  Jesus said the two great commandments are “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  And You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Having trouble loving your brother or sister in Christ?  Remember that Jesus died for them too.  Remember that Jesus loves them as a perfect husband loves his bride.  Remember that Jesus is even now working in them to present his bride spotless before the throne of God.

In Jesus’ everlasting kindness and love,

Pastor Matt

Daily Devotional: Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Calvary’s Anthem from the Valley of Vision

Heavenly Father,

There is power in the blood of Calvary to destroy sins more than can be counted even by one from the choir of heaven.  Thou hast given me a hill-side spring that washes clear and white, and I go as a sinner to its waters, bathing without hindrance in its crystal streams.

At the cross, there is free forgiveness for poor and meek ones, and ample blessings that last forever; the blood of the lamb is like a great river of infinite grace with never any diminishing of its fulness as thirsty ones without number come to drink of it.  Amen.

Leviticus 4:4-7 Being Cleaned with Blood

He shall bring the bull to the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord and lay his hand on the head of the bull and kill the bull before the Lord. And the anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull and bring it into the tent of meeting, and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle part of the blood seven times before the Lord in front of the veil of the sanctuary. And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense before the Lord that is in the tent of meeting, and all the rest of the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting.

The regulations around the sin offering span Lev. 4:1 through 5:13 and again in Lev. 6:24-29, but we aren’t doing a thorough, in-depth, study of Leviticus.  We’re looking at these sacrifices devotionally.  Still it’s good for us to understand them, so that the applications we find are valid applications.

First, we notice that the symbolic transfer of guilt is the same.  The worshiper or representative worshipers [see provision for congregational sin—4:13-21] lay hands on the sacrificial victim symbolizing that this animal is their substitute.  Second, notice that the blood manipulation is different.  The priest dips his finger in the blood and sprinkles part of it seven times before the veil that separates the holy place from the holy of holies.  And blood is put on the altar of incense; horns on the altar refers to its raised corners that keep the incense where its supposed to be.   Third, in verses 11-12 we read, “But the skin of the bull and all its flesh, with its head, its legs, its entrails, and its dung— 12 all the rest of the bull—he shall carry outside the camp to a clean place, to the ash heap, and shall burn it up on a fire of wood. On the ash heap it shall be burned up.”  We read in v. 21 that a similar thing happens to the bull of the sin offering which was for congregational sin.  The majority of the bull is burnt outside of the camp, not on the altar.  Finally, like the other offerings, this one also has a graded scale based on income, “if he cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring to the LORD as his compensation…two turtledoves or  two pigeons…if he cannot  afford two  turtledoves…then…a tenth of an ephah (about 9 1/3 cups) of fine flour for a sin offering.” (5:7, 11)

Like all sacrifices, God demands atonement for sin, but he doesn’t require the death of his people.  A substitute can be offered instead.  The animal becomes the sin of the Israelites.

The sin offering demonstrated to the Israelites the corruption and pervasiveness of sin.  The corruption is seen in the fact that the holy things of the tabernacle have to be cleaned with the blood of the offering.  Those holy things are inanimate objects they can’t commit sin.  They can’t commit anything at all!  Yet they need to be cleaned because the Israelites’ sin has corrupted them.  And sin is everywhere, even the clean Israelite camp isn’t holy, so it has sin in it.  Only the holy realm is sin free—only God is without sin. 

The sin offering becomes the sin of the Israelites.  The blood is needed for cleansing, but the flesh of the animal is now wholly sinful and is disposed outside of the camp.  The reprehensiveness of sin is seen here.  Now that the substitute has become so defiled, it can’t be placed on the altar, it can’t even be kept in the camp. 

God’s grace isn’t dependent on ability.  Even the poorest of the poor can give their offering.  All fall short of the glory of God and all of God’s people are given access through God’s appointed means.

Each of these aspects point to our need of Christ and his sufficiency.  We need a substitute acceptable to God, and only Jesus is acceptable.  He is the God-man because man owed God for the offense of sin and only God is holy, thus able to fulfil the requirements of the covenant of works (not to mention only God could withstand the Father’s wrath).

Our sinfulness isn’t fully known by us.  Our corruption touches everything we touch—even our good works are only good as they are offered through Jesus, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus’ sacrifice cleanses us—from our least to our greatest sins!

He became sin for us who knew no sin so that we might become the righteousness of God.   In the process of giving us his cleansing blood, Jesus became wholly defiled in God’s sight.   He is the brightness of heaven, he dwells in unapproachable light, but for our sake Jesus didn’t get dirty from sin’s corruption.  No, Jesus became that filth (think excrement from Joshua’s robes in Zechariah 3) which makes God’s creation unclean. 

All of us are welcome in through our Savior.  It wasn’t than anyone could offer the correct sacrifice.  It was than no one could—all have sinned, none are righteous, their throat is an open grave, there is no fear of God before their eyes.  Only God gave the sacrifice that atones—the sliding scale simply allowed everyone to take part in the ritual.  We are all welcome, not on our merits, but on Jesus’ merits.  Give thanks to him!

We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Heb. 13:10-16)

May the Lord keep you today, tomorrow, and for eternity,

Pastor Matt

Daily Devotional: Monday, April 6, 2020

Calvary’s Anthem from the Valley of Vision

Heavenly Father,

Thou hast led me singing to the cross where I fling down all my burdens and see them vanish, where my mountains of guilt  are levelled to a plain, where my sins disappear, though they are the greatest that exist, and are more in number than the grains of fine sand.

Thank you, most dear Father, for the gift of thy eternal Son, the Holy One given for my sins.  The perfectly Righteous One punished beyond human despair for my unrighteousness.  Stir my heart to give thanks daily, hourly, and moment by moment for the gift I can never repay!  Work in me, Holy Spirit, to worship and know my Savior this day and every day.  Amen.

Lev. 7:11-15[1], Eating with God

11 “And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings that one may offer to the Lord. 12 If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the thanksgiving sacrifice unleavened loaves mixed with oil, unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and loaves of fine flour well mixed with oil. 13 With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring his offering with loaves of leavened bread. 14 And from it he shall offer one loaf from each offering, as a gift to the Lord. It shall belong to the priest who throws the blood of the peace offerings.

 In all the sacrifices, except the whole burnt offering, there were pieces of the sacrificed animal excluded from the fire.  Those pieces, or grain, were reserved for the priests.  The ritual system of sacrifice in Israel helped to maintain the livelihood of the priest.  Furthermore, there was no part of the sacrificial system that allowed the worshiper to eat of the “holy things” of sacrifice, except for this one. 

The word describing this sacrifice is shalom, the Hebrew word for peace.  This word carries a connotation of peace in every aspect of the word.  Total well-being, prosperity in a metaphysical sense, but not excluding physical prosperity (though not always monetary or wealth).  The biblical idea of peace is that it only comes from God, especially known in God’s communion with his people corporately. 

1 John 1:1-4 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

John writes of joy here based on fellowship with each other and God.  Joy that comes from knowing the savior, our Lord Jesus, as he revealed himself in our human frailty yet still in his majestic divinity!  This is the joy and peace of believing Paul mentions in the benediction of Romans 15:13!  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

The Peace Offering emphasizes that to have fellowship with God, atonement for sin must be made.  Blood must be shed.   The blood will be accepted only when it is offered with the right heart ( 3:1, “without blemish”), by the right method (by the priest, according to God’s prescription), according to God’s grace (all sacrifices  in the OT point back to God’s sacrifice in the garden).  

In this sacrifice, we see an obvious resemblance to the Lord’s Supper, where God feeds us from the sacrifice itself.  God not only offers the perfect sacrifice, the only sacrifice, that can atone and propitiate for our sins, but then he gives us the spiritual nourishment we so desperately need for life in his presence. 

The OT sacrament pointed forward to Jesus death in the death of the animal, but it also pointed forward to the gift of Jesus’ continued sustenance for believers.  Especially in the sacrament, but more generally in all of life.   And on top of that it, eating in the presence of God made Dt. 8:3, “man does not live by bread alone”, a sacramental reality.  Not because they were eating meat as well as bread, but because God was nourishing his people spiritually through physical means.

Our sacrifice ascended to heaven, and there he remains until his return.   But that doesn’t mean we are starved until then.  No, rather, it means that we are being fed with the bread of heaven, like Israel in the wilderness.  And even now that we find ourselves in a time we are not able to partake of the Lord’s Supper, we are fed with the presence of our Lord.  

Seek his presence through the reading of his word, in private and in families or with friends.  Through our daily habit of praying.  Dear family, as we look forward to the time when we can gather as a body again and worship our Lord together, let us anticipate with eager hearts that are made hungrier through the continual, daily feeding we receive in God’s word.

All the habits of grace are possible and effective because our Lord Jesus is our sacrifice and he is also our Lord!  All  we receive, we receive in him, and all the spiritual benefits of heaven are just him delivered to our souls.  The puritan Richard Sibbes pointed out, “The special graces and favours of God are compared to a feast made up of the best things, full of all varieties and excellencies, and the chief dish that is all in all, is Christ, and all the gracious benefits we by promise can in any wise expect from him. All other favours and blessings, whatsoever they are, are but Christ dished out, as I may speak, in several offices and attributes. He is the original of comfort, the principle of grace and holiness. All is included in Christ. Ask of him and ye shall obtain, even the forgiveness of your sins, peace of conscience, and communion of saints.”[2]

May the God of all comfort give you comfort and peace as you share in the sufferings of Christ.

In Jesus’ love,

Pastor Matt

[1] Lev. 3 and 7:11-18 deal with the whole ritual known as the peace offering.  All of the sacrifices are dealt with twice in Leviticus, it’s commonly thought that the first record in chapter 1-6 deal with the worshipper’s part and the second occurrence is about the priest’s duties.

[2] Sibbes, R. (1862). The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes. (A. B. Grosart, Ed.) (Vol. 2, p. 446). Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet And Co.; W. Robertson.

Sunday, April 5, 2020: Sunday School and Sermon

Sunday Sermon: Matthew 21:1–11: “The Realities of God’s Kingdom vs. What the World Thinks a Kingdom Looks Like.”

Sunday School: Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 14 and 15.

Correction: reference to the Parable of the Talents in the discussion on forgiveness should be instead to the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.

Daily Devotional: Sat., April 4th, 2020

The Grace of the Cross from the Valley of Vision

O My Lord and Savior,

Thou hast also appointed a cross for me to take up and carry, a cross before thou givest me a crown.  Thou hast appointed it to be my portion, but self-love hates it, carnal reason is unreconciled to it; without the grace of patience I cannot bear it, walk with it, profit by it.

O blessed cross, what mercies dost thou bring with thee!  Thou art only esteemed hateful by my rebel will, heavy because I shirk thy load.

Teach me, gracious Lord and Savior, that with my cross thou sendest promised grace so that I may bear it patiently, that my cross is thy yoke which is easy, and thy burden which is light.  Amen.

Leviticus 2:1-2 The Providential Offering

2 “When anyone brings a grain offering as an offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. He shall pour oil on it and put frankincense on it 2 and bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests. And he shall take from it a handful of the fine flour and oil, with all of its frankincense, and the priest shall burn this as its memorial portion on the altar, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 3 But the rest of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of the Lord’s food offerings.

13 You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.

In the ESV the subtitle for this passage is “The Grain Offering”, which is appropriate since it is an offering of “fine flour”.  Before we go on, let’s notice that there are three parts of the sacrificial system. When you read them, you’re going to think, well that’s obvious, why bother?  First, there’s the worshiper. Second, there’s the sacrifice. And third, there’s the priest. The reason we bother is because every part of the Old Testament (OT) points to Christ and since this sacrifice doesn’t involve blood, it makes it a little more difficult to make it Christ centered.

As we come to think about this sacrifice let’s consider the element:  fine flour. John Currid notes here, “The worshipper makes the preliminary preparations for the grain offering. First, he is to gather some ‘fine flour’. This term in Hebrew refers to luxurious food (Ezek. 16:13, 19) of the kind that is used in a king’s palace (1 Kings 4:22) or for honored guests (Gen. 18:6).”1  It’s not just some old flour that’s gone rancid (easy for it to do before the days of bleaching), nor is it the run of the mill course ground corn meal sized flour.  This flour, like the animal of the whole burnt offering, is of some value. The preciousness of the sacrifice is probably what separated Abel’s righteous offering from Cain’s wicked offering (Abel brought the best of the flock, Cain just brought something he grew, the text says nothing about first-fruits nor best).  

Second, it’s flour made from wheat.  Bread was a staple food for the Israelite.  Even though the processing of it into fine flour made it somewhat precious, at the end of the day, it’s still just wheat.  This offering is of much less value than any of the other offerings, so it must be ground fine and frankincense is added.

Now, let’s consider the worshiper’s part.  The flour isn’t acceptable apart from it being ground into fine flour.  The heart of the worshiper is reflected in his allegiance to God’s guidelines.  We see here a reflection of the regulative principle of worship2 that if we are to worship in Spirit and Truth, we must adhere to God’s design of worship.  Couldn’t Cain have argued he was worshipping sincerely even though his sacrifice wasn’t up to par? 

And, finally the priest.  He is the one through whom the sacrifice is made to God.  The priest is the one who brings the flour (or cooked cake) to the altar and burns it.  The act of burning the offering was essential to the worship of God, not just because God commanded it.  Like the fineness of the flour reflects the perfection of God, the smoke from the altar pictures the “ascension” of Israel’s gifts to heaven where they can please God.  The priest functions to transport the earthly into the heavenly—not just for this sacrifice, but for all of them—through burning.

Christ taught us to pray, “give us this day our daily bread” which is at once acknowledging that all of life’s gifts are from heaven and a plea that they continue.  It is a prayer for both physical and spiritual sustenance. When the Israelite came offering the fine flour of the grain offering, this most ubiquitous of food staples, he was acknowledging God’s ubiquitous provision, physically and spiritually.  When we pray “give us this day our daily bread” we are doing the same thing.

Herman Witsius (a theologian in the Dutch Reformed church during the 1600’s) wrote about the petition, “give us this day our daily bread”:   

My view of the matter is this. It is the will of God that man should consist of a soul and a body united. For both parts he has laid down his laws, that in both the image of his holiness might be seen. To both he has promised rewards, that in both his truth and goodness might shine. On both he bestows the acts of his bounty, that both might form a mirror of his providence. Nay, Christ himself obeyed and suffered, both in soul and in body, that he might not only bless our soul, but might make our body “like unto his own glorious body.” Since, therefore, both parts of us are so much the objects of the Divine care, we are bound by the Divine example to take care of both.3

The priest as the mediator of the sacrifice points to Christ in that apart from Jesus’ work, our work means nothing.  Our sacrifice is nothing—Jesus’ sacrifice is everything and ours are just a small gift of thanksgiving and service. Small in size and small in purity when compared to all Jesus did, and all the Holy One of Israel became for us.  He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).  

And the grain offering was always given with salt.  It’s called the salt of the covenant. This was a typical practice in the ANE, it was a sign that this agreement was binding and it signified both parties were in agreement to keep the covenant.   But the difference between this covenant and secular covenants, the worshiper—you and I—can never truly keep this covenant. So the salt of the covenant reminds us that our duty and devotion are required, but it  ultimately points back to that first sacrifice in the garden, the covenant with Abram in Gen. 15 (“Fear not Abram, I am your shield”), and ultimately in Christ who perfectly did all that we are required to do.  

All that we are, all that we have, is given to us by God through Jesus’ perfection.  Our imperfect obedience to the covenant is made perfect because Jesus took on our covenant obligations for us.  The gifts we give to God are pleasing as we offer them through Jesus.

May the great shepherd of the sheep, Our Lord Jesus Christ, encourage you in body and soul today. 

Pastor Matt

1Currid, J. D. (2004). A Study Commentary on Leviticus (p. 38). Darlington, England; Webster, New York: Evangelical Press.

2 Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 21, part 1, “the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible re presentation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy scripture.”

3 Witsius, H., & Pringle, W. (1839). Sacred dissertations on the Lord’s Prayer (pp. 268–269). Edinburgh: Thomas Clark.

Daily Devotional: Friday, April 3, 2020

The Grace of the Cross from the Valley of Vision

O My Savior,

By thy cross crucify my every sin;  use it to increase my intimacy with thy self; make it the ground of all my comfort, the liveliness of all my duties, the sum of all thy gospel promises, the comfort of all my afflictions, the vigor of my love, thankfulness, graces, the very essence of my religion;  and by it give me that rest without rest, the rest of ceaseless praise.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for taking my sin upon thy shoulders and taking the Father’s wrath upon thy soul for my sake.  May my heart grow in love and desire for thee through the contemplation of thy sacrifice. Amen.

Leviticus 1: 3-9 The Perpetual Sacrifice

“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

In Numbers 28 we find out that this sacrifice, what is called the burnt offering in the ESV, was offered twice a day, every day.  In those two offering times it was performed by the priests, but what is described in Leviticus 1 is a normal Israelite who comes to make an offering.  This is the most fundamental of all the sacrifices in the Old Testament, simply because it most closely resembles what the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph) did before the Tabernacle.  

Look at the description in the passage above.  It says “he shall offer a male without blemish”.  He means the worshiper. The act of laying his hands on the head of the animal demonstrates that this sacrifice, this animal’s death, is going to happen because of his sin.  The sacrifice is a substitute. Then follow through to verse 6— “he shall kill the bull” and “he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces”. This means that after the animal has been accepted to be this man’s substitute, he then kills it.

He kills it, probably in a prescribed way so as to catch the blood in a basin so that the priests can throw the blood against the sides of the altar (v.5).  Then he has to dismember the animal (“flay and cut it into pieces”) making sure to remove the entrails so they can be washed before they are burned. So, what happens is that by the time the Israelite worshiper is done, he is literally covered in the blood of the sacrifice.  Through this ritual he is made experientially aware of the pain of sin (imagine the sound of the animal being killed) as well as the guilt, the pollution, and corruption sin causes (that’s the reason for all the blood).

They would have been painfully aware of what God’s grace costs.  They would have been reminded of Adam’s sin and God’s sacrifice in the garden.  Part of their bringing the offering forward and placing his hand on it would have included a confession, understanding their perpetual need for grace.  And this sacrifice was always burning in the camp—one in the morning and one in the evening, at least.  

The effect of that would have reminded the Israelites of God’s great mercy he’s shown them so many times.  The times they grumbled. The times they disbelieved. The times they worshiped other gods. In one sense we can sometimes think that having that smell and sight of smoke in their presence all the time must have been better than what we have.   But even though our perceptions aren’t always aware of God’s grace through the sacrifices, we have the Holy Spirit! The Spirit who was only given because Jesus, our perfect sacrifice came and died for us!

With the Israelites, we should keep in mind that sin brings death.  Death in guilt before God. Death in the corruption of our souls and depravity we live in daily.  Death in the pollution of the sinful world around us. Our Savior, through his cross, gives life through forgiveness, life by renewing our minds, and life by giving us a place of rest away from the broken and fallen world.  

May God show you grace and peace today.

Pastor Matt

Daily Devotional: Thurs., April 2, 2020

The Grace of the Cross from the Valley of Vision

O My Savior,

I thank thee from the depths of my being for thy wondrous grace and love in bearing my sin in thine own body on the tree.  May thy cross be to me as the tree that sweetens my bitter Marahs, as the rod that blossoms with life and beauty, as the brazen serpent that calls forth the look of faith.

As we approach thee, dearest Savior, help us to do so with eyes of faith and hearts warmed to the thought of thy precious blood poured out for us.  Amen

Starting today, the devotional will be focusing on the sacrifice of Jesus.  We’re going to begin in the beginning, Genesis 3 today. Then we’ll look briefly at each of Israel’s major sacrifices.  The devotional schedule for our next week will be:  

Today: God’s First Sacrifice, Gen. 3

Friday: The Perpetual Sacrifice, Lev. 1

Saturday:  The Providential Sacrifice, Lev. 2

“Palm” Sunday:  Video Sermon, “The Realities of God’s Kingdom vs. what the World Thinks a Kingdom Looks Like”  Matthew 21:1-11

Monday:  Eating with God, Lev. 3

Tuesday:  Being Cleaned with Blood, Lev. 4

Wednesday:  Repaying the Debt—Love Your Neighbor, Lev. 5:14-6:7

“Maundy” Thursday:  Video, “The Reason for Sacrifice:  God’s Love vs. the World’s Hate” Matthew 26:17-29

“Good” Friday:  Video, “The Dereliction of Sacrifice:  The Death of the Light and Life of Men”  Matthew 27:1-51

“Holy” Saturday:  The Grave of Jesus, Matthew 27:57-61; Isaiah 52:14-53

“Easter” Sunday:  Video Sermon, “Resurrection Life vs. Eternal Death” Matthew 27:62-28:10

Genesis 3:6-7, God’s First Sacrifice

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. 

I imagine most of us know this story, Eve was tempted in the garden by Satan disguised as a talking serpent.  Instead of listening to the voice of her Father—at this point God, is both heavenly and earthly father—she listens to the snake!  We’re all guilty of it, so we can’t be too hard on Eve, but still we probably all routinely think about how much better life would be if Eve hadn’t succumbed that day.

God had told Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 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.” (2:16-17)  So, at the point of sin, when Eve took that first bite and when Adam took his bite, justice demanded death. They would suffer death, but not physical death until later.  

Immediately, though, they experienced spiritual death.  No longer could they exist in each other’s presence without guilt and shame.  They covered their nakedness (which wasn’t sinful) with fig leaves, because they were ashamed of God’s creation.  They also likely knew their thoughts were no longer pure toward each other.  

So, they also experienced relational death.  Their relationship with each other would never be the same!  Part of the curse would include Man’s proclivity to domineer his wife and Woman’s proclivity to usurp her husband’s authority (3:16).

Their minds were darkened with sin’s presence, they no longer thought or imagined things in the way God does.  They had bought Satan’s lie, “He knows that in the day you eat of it, you will be like him.” God made Adam and Eve in his image:  they already were like him!  Believing Satan’s lie is part and parcel with forgetting God’s grace.  Sinning is forgetting God and also not being content with God at the same time—they wanted God’s authority and ability, not just his image.  In seeking to save or increase their lives, they lost them!

They died spiritually in losing the presence of God, for their own protection God evicted them from the Garden of Eden.  “22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” (3:22-24)  The rest of the Bible is devoted to God restoring that relationship—to God being with us in every sense of the word, Immanuel.  

In Genesis 3 we see man’s answer to sin:  the fig leaf loin cloth, shame, hiding from God, and blaming everyone else.  But we also see God’s answer: better clothing, removal of shame, God’s presence, and sacrifice for guilt.  “And the LORD God (Yahweh Elohim) made for Adam and his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”  

This points forward to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus which covers us with His righteousness.  It shows how God deals with the shame of sin in his sinners—not to grind us into the dirt, but to restore us and see us be fruitful.  God is present with Adam and Eve even after the Garden incident, He speaks with Cain in chapter 4 and Seth’s descendants begin call on Him (4:26).  God makes the sacrifice for the guilt of sin, not the sinners, He does it out of his mercy and forbearance to justify the ungodly (Rom. 3:25-26). The sacrifices of the Old Testament are  memorials of God’s mercy in the garden, thanksgiving for God’s continued presence, and a prayer for the perfect sacrifice to come in Jesus!  

He is our propitiation, our substitute, our Lord, and by His resurrection He is our Life.  May the great shepherd of the sheep bless you today according to the great mercy He has shown us in life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  

Pastor Matt

Daily Devotional: Wed., April 1, 2020

O God, who has given us the great and saving truths of your gospel: grant us, we ask you, to live amid these things, to meditate on them and to seek them; for one who goes on seeking, finds. Help us, therefore, to learn those things on earth, the knowledge of which shall abide with us in heaven. Grant this for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen. Jerome1

John 9:1-5, 11:1-4, 32-36  The Perfect Savior

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 

11 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 

32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

In the first passage, a well-known passage, Jesus corrects his disciples’ misunderstanding of our sinful condition.  They ask our Lord, “who sinned?” Jesus replies that the man’s blindness didn’t come because of anyone’s sin. Well, this man was born blind because of Adam’s sin, but Jesus wasn’t trying to assign blame to Adam so he didn’t say that.  Jesus was telling his disciples that the Savior of the World, God’s Passover Lamb, fixes everything that sin has screwed up.

It’s the same thing in chapter 11 with his dear friend Lazarus.  “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God.”  Remember back in chapter 9, Jesus said pretty much the same thing, “the works of God might be displayed in him”.  Lazarus died because people die, not because he was being judged for his sin. Of course, Lazarus did sin as we all do, but like all believers Lazarus was also loved by Jesus.  In fact, it would seem that Lazarus enjoyed a special friendship with our Lord—look at v. 3 “he whom you love is ill”. What a wonderful thought, to be called “the one whom Jesus loved” in the gospel written by “the disciple whom Jesus loved”

What we see here in these two stories is a reminder that not all suffering is a result of personal sin.  It’s the result of sin, for sure, but not our personal guilt producing sin.  The curse has its hold and sway over the world and our lives.  Jesus understood that, and being human he even suffered because of it.  He wept at Lazarus’ tomb. Jesus cried for many reasons. To name three:  Jesus cried at the effect of sin on the world (do we cry because sin has disturbed the peace of creation?) and he genuinely cried at the death of a friend along with the sorrow he saw in Mary and Martha’s faces.

What we learn is that Christian faith isn’t stoicism—the Greek philosophy that we should go through life in a totally objective manner, unaffected by emotion.  God made us body and soul with all the physical and spiritual, and physico-spiritual feelings associated with life. God made us to feel, to experience life, to know Him subjectively as well as objectively!

Jesus suffered many things.  In these two passages we see some of his suffering.  He suffered because his disciples were like me, dim-witted and slow on the uptake.  They were quick to judge and wanted cut and dry answers for a complex problem. Jesus suffered loss; his friend died.  Even though Jesus knew Lazarus was going to come back, there was still loss, even for the moment. Jesus suffered because he saw his friends, Mary and Martha, suffering.  He felt just like we feel.  

Our savior came to take away the guilt of sin and pay its debt for us, that is the most important aspect of Jesus’ work for us, in an objective sense.  But sometimes we need more than that truth—as wonderful as that truth is, it sometimes doesn’t give me much comfort. We need comfort in the face of great sickness (COVID-19, cancer, chronic illness, weakness) and in the effects of the curse (loss of job/income because of the quarantine, loneliness).  Where do we find it? Is our Savior here to fix that to?

We can find comfort in the great Comforter, who we have because Jesus earned Him for us.  The great Comforter is the Holy Spirit who indwells believers because Jesus lived, suffered, and died not just to defeat Satan, satisfy our debt, but also to deliver us from all suffering.  Jesus conquered the curse as well as guilt!

Jesus’ work was done to conquer evil and the Evil One as well as to give us divine support through our trials as well as conquer them!  I cannot recommend the Puritans enough for your devotional reading, here is the Puritan pastor Thomas Goodwin on the Holy Spirit’s work.   

“Do none of you feel your hearts moved in the preaching of these things, at this and other times?  Who is it that moves you? It is the Spirit, who speaks in Christ’s name from heaven, even as He Himself is said to ‘speak from heaven’.  When you pray, it is the Spirit who incites your prayers and makes intercession for you in your own hearts—intercession that is the evidence and echo of Christ’s intercession in heaven.  The Spirit prays in you because Christ prays for you.  He is an intercessor on earth because Christ is an intercessor in heaven.”2

God’s transcendent comfort is available to us because the transcendent Son became flesh for us.  Through Jesus’ flesh we are saved! Through Jesus’ flesh the greatest gift of salvation is given to his people:  the Holy Spirit. Jesus didn’t just come to free his people from sin’s dominion spiritually, but also to give his divine support physically and spiritually and emotionally to the weak and weary, to rejuvenate the smoldering wick and not to put it out.  

Rest in Jesus’ perfect love today, He is your Perfect Savior.

Pastor Matt

1 Oden, T. C., & Crosby, C. (Eds.). (2007). Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings: Lectionary Cycle A (p. 91). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books.  (Jerome translated the Bible into the Latin Vulgate used in the Roman Catholic Church.)

2  Goodwin, Thomas. A Habitual Sight of Him:  The Christ-Centered Piety of Thomas Goodwin. Ed. By Joel Beeke & Mark Jones. (Reformation Heritage Books:  Grand Rapids) P.54.

Daily Devotional: Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2020

Today’s prayer is an excerpt from a particularly long prayer in Piercing Heaven:  Prayers of the Puritans.  This is an excellent collection of prayers I have found very useful in my daily devotions. 

“A Prayer for Revival”  by Phillip Doddridge1

Eternal, unchangeable Jehovah!  Your perfections and glories will never change.  Jesus your Son is “the same yesterday, today, and forever”.   The closer the eternal world gets, the more I must consider it.  But sadly, my views, my affections, and my best intentions keep changing—just like my poor body.

Where is the blessing I once had?  My joy in you as my Heavenly Fahter was so obvious that strangers could not miss it.  My heart overflowed with so much love to you, and passion for serving you, that it felt like self-denial not to express it.  Where did I fall? You see me still, but I am not the same. I blush to see how cold and indifferent I have become.

Even when I do speak with you, my prayer is comld and formal.  What happened to the passion I once felt, the intense pursuit of you, O God?

Give me grace to turn toward your testimonies, without further delay, that I may keep your commandments (Ps. 119:59-60).  

Search me, Lord, and try me.  Get toteh root of this disease which spreads itself over my soul, and heal me.  Show me my sin, Lord, that I may see its horror. Show me Jesus in such a light that I may look upon him and mourn, that I may look upon him and love. 

Grant me your abiding presence to stir my affections for you and all things spiritual again.  Amen.

Psalm 106:21, 45  The Perfect Timing

They forgot God, their Savior, who had done  great things in Egypt…45For their sake he [God] remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.

This is a longer Psalm, it has 48 verses, and is considered a historical Psalm.  It’s historical because it recounts the history, or at least part of the history, of Israel.  There are other historical Psalms throughout the Psalter, and like this one, most of them, if not all of them, focus on God’s faithfulness.  And sometimes, like Psalm 106, God’s faithfulness is made all the more bright against the backdrop of Israel’s sin and rebellion.

As you read through this Psalm you notice that it follows some chronological pattern after first acknowledging personal sin (we have sinned, v.6) as well as corporate sin (and our fathers, v.6).  So the basis of this Psalm is found in confession of sin and a plea for help. The sins of Israel, like my own sins, are many. 

 They sinned in Egypt.  They sinned right after being freed from Egypt by God’s mighty hand (6-12), they sinned by grumbling (13-15), they sinned in jealousy (16-18), and idolatry (19-23).  That’s just their “wilderness” sins before the 40 years of wandering! The Psalmist goes on to their sins involving the Promised Land and wandering about in the wilderness.  First they refused to enter, they doubted God’s word (24-27), and then they worshiped another god (28-31). In the Promised Land it doesn’t get any better, the Israelites didn’t destroy the Canaanite inhabitants as God commanded, resulting in pagan practices, idolatry, and human sacrifice (34-39).  This eventually resulted in Israel’s exile from the Promised Land (40-46), yet God remembered his covenant for their sake, he relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.

Like Israel and like “A Prayer for Revival” above, I’m prone to forget God.  I’m prone to lose my energy and verve for God on an embarrassingly regular basis.  The thing that keeps me going isn’t me at all. It’s God’s faithfulness to his covenant according to the abundance of his steadfast love!  There are days when we might feel like God shouldn’t love us and shouldn’t have sent Jesus to be our savior, but who are we question God? What right has the pot to say to the potter why did you save me when you should have cast off this broken pot and start again?

Yet we do.  We can look at our histories, or even current state of our hearts and just wonder at God’s mercy and timing.  Mercy in that God shows me mercy when I fail him and rebel against him so often. That makes me wonder and be thankful.  And also God’s timing. Timing in that why are you taking your time in fixing this broken pot? Why aren’t you fixing me into the thing you have planned NOW?  That makes me wonder and be, well, be all kinds of things that aren’t thankful.

Don’t forget God.  He has all of life worked out and the way he works it out is through a Redeemer, through Jesus.  The law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, could only save if it was kept perfectly, in body and soul.  Which means all of us were excluded because of our union with Adam, the first sinner, our first human father.  “21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-25)  

In our timing, well in my timing anyway, I think I wouldn’t have redeemed Adam and Eve at all, but if I were going to I’d have done it right away.  That’s not God’s plan, and his plan is perfect! If there’s one thing I know about my plans, it is that they are very far from perfect! Eve though Cain and Abel might be the promised seed, then she put her hope on Seth.  Abraham wanted Ishmael to be the promised son, but even Isaac wasn’t the ultimate son. Israel looked to Moses as the final deliverer, then Aaron as the priest, then Joshua as the conqueror. The list goes on and on, the point is Israel was looking for Jesus to come for a long time—why did God wait?  He waited for the perfect time.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Gal. 4:4-7)  

God’s timing in our lives is perfect, too.  His timing in our trials. His timing in our sanctification.  His timing in our children’s faith. God remembers his covenant for our sake according to the abundance of his steadfast love!  Part of God’s covenant includes being called children of God and receiving the Spirit of Adoption to pray to him in heaven, crying out for renewal, revival, restoration, and rejuvenation!  

May God be present with you today in all that you do.  May he grant you to see the fruits of your labors and encourage you with his perfect steadfast love and timing.

Pastor Matt

1Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans. Robert Elmer, ed.  Bellingham, WA: Lexham press, 2019. P. 76-79.

Daily Devotional: Mon , March 30, 2020

WE beseech thee, Almighty God, mercifully to look upon thy people; that by thy great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore, both in body and soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.1

Haggai 2:20-23 God’s Choice is Perfect

20 The word of the LORD came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, 21 “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, 22 and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. 23 On that day, declares the LORD of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.”

This is the second prophecy Haggai received from God on twenty-fourth day of the ninth month of King Darius.  Each of the prophecies has been to the people of God, as does this one, but this one is first given to one individual, “Zerubbabel, governor of Judah”. 

Zerubbabel and Joshua, the priest, are credited in Ezra 3:2 with rebuilding the altar in Jerusalem following the nation’s return.  In Zechariah, Joshua (alternately spelled Jeshua in some places) received specific prophesies (Zech. 3,6). And remember Haggai and Zechariah are the “post-exilic prophets” along with Malachi—they are all prophesying in the same time period, to the same circumstances of God’s people.  

Haggai is told by Yahweh to speak to Zerubbabel, “I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, 22 and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother.” We’ve seen this language before, back in 2:6, “For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.”  This is the language of Theophany (God appearing), similar to His descent on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20, but God has expanded it here.  

Not only will he be “shaking heaven and earth” and the nations, now kingdom, nations and their armies are referred to specifically.  The inclusion of these specifics intensifies God’s plan, making his resoluteness clear to those who have “ears to hear”. Not only will God be removing the foundation of the kingdoms so that will totter and fall, but he is going to throw them into such turmoil that they will crumble from within—“every one by the sword of his brother” (cf. Ezekiel 38:19-23, Zech. 14:13-14).  But God’s kingdom will last forever, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

Which brings us to the security of God’s perfect choice.  That’s what we’re seeing here in this prophecy concerning Zerubbabel.  “Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the LORD, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the LORD of hosts.”   

God’s choice of His people isn’t based on anything in and of themselves—it’s based on and continued in His love. Deuteronomy 7:6-7, ““For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you.”  

His choice is according to His plan, which He is always trustworthy to fulfil.   God had made a covenant with David many years before that his descendent would be king of Israel, which pointed to the immediate future as well as the distant future and true fulfilment in Jesus.  But, because of Judah’s reckless sin and idolatry, God sent His people into exile. Before Jerusalem was destroyed, Jeremiah came and prophesied to the King, ““As I live, declares the Lord, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet ring on my right hand, yet I would tear you off and give you into the hand of those who seek your life, into the hand of those of whom you are afraid, even into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and into the hand of the Chaldeans.”  God’s signet ring had figuratively been removed and given to Babylon, leaving the Davidic promise of King left up in the air, so to speak.

Now, in Zerubbabel, God was declaring that thought it looked bleak His promise would never be broken.  Zerubbabel would be God’s signet; Zerubbabel would be the one through whom the righteous seed2 would be spared and eventually come to deliver God’s people.   This is confirmed in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1:12, “And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel.”

This doesn’t make our situations any easier, but it reminds us who is in charge.  God controlled Babylon as an agent of punishment for His people. God also controlled Persia as an agent of positive change for Judah.  God directed Judah’s steps, He had chosen this nation, and this leader, Zerubbabel, and this priest, Joshua to show them his love. Our God’s choice is perfect, we can and should take comfort in that.  We should also understand that He understands us. He knows our frames, He knows we are nothing more than dust, so He understands our weakness. Cry out to him, He’s promised to love you, and as we’ve seen His word never fails.  

I pray today that each of you are blessed with the divine comfort, hope, and presence of God.  I leave you today with the peace of God, and this passage from Psalm 105.

Oh, give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!

Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! 

Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered, O offspring of Abraham, his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones!

Pastor Matt

1The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. (1976). The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church (p. 132). New York: The Seabury Press.

2  Zerubbabel means the seed of Babylon.  He was born in exile in Babylon, but the word seed points back to Gen. 3:15 and ultimately forward to Jesus.