Pastor's Blog

April 2019

Easter Love - Part 1

One of my favorite chapters from the New Testament is found in the last chapter of John, chapter 21. 

This section contains two very powerful stories of Jesus' ministry after he rose from the dead. It shows what the power of unconditional love can do for sinners. A question many people ask is, "Could God love a sinner like me?" These stories powerfully illustrate what God's love is capable of doing for sinners.

But first we have to go back to very early on the morning of Good Friday. Perhaps is 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. From the courtyard of the high priest's home, Peter is observing the Jewish authorities question Jesus. And Peter does what he never thought he would ever do, he denies that he knows Jesus. Motivated by self-interset, fear and panicking at the thought of being treated the same way Jesus was being treated, he calls curses down upon himself and swears he doesn't know the man. 

Then the rooster crows, Jesus looks at him, and Peter's heart breaks.

Fast forward to the weeks following the resurrection. Jesus has now appeared to his disciples, including a special appearance to Peter (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8), several times. John 21 records a very special appearance. The disciples had returned to Galilee according to Jesus' directions. What's there to do while they wait around? Why not do what they did before Jesus called them and go fishing? So that's what they do.

But wouldn't you know it, they get skunked! Not a fish night long. If this sounds familiar, you're right. Peter and his fishing buddies had been skunked once before in Luke 5. And just like then, this would be a day of fishing they wouldn't forget. Just as they are giving up, Jesus appears on the shore (but they don't recognize him) and he asks if they've caught anything. When he finds out they haven't, he tells them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. Sure enough, a huge catch of fish (just like in Luke 5).

The reaction this time is quite different than Luke 5. In Luke 5, Simon Peter got on his knees and begged Jesus to go away because he was a sinful man. This time, Peter jumps off the boat and swims to shore! (That's so Peter, by the way!) This repeated miracle of Jesus confirmed that Jesus desired a relationship with them. I gotta think Jesus was chuckling to himself at the thought of what was going to happen when he repeated this miracle. Was there a twinkle in his eye when he told them to throw the net off the right side? He probably couldn't wait to see their reaction. In a way, this is like when a father teases his child just to get a rise out of them and see them smile.

Love made all the difference. This was their good friend Jesus. The one they thought was dead, but was very much alive. The one who had said so many important things to them. The one who meant so much to them. And because he was alive, because he loved them and they loved him, they wanted to be with him. So, go ahead Peter, swim to shore, there's no reason to be afraid of Jesus. You are forgiven. Your denial is forgiven.

Maybe you can relate, too? Jesus' victory at Easter means victory over sin. Could a sinner like you be forgiven, in spite of the horrible things you've done and thought? Love makes all the difference, doesn't it? Your Savior loved you, died for you, and rose again for you. Your sins have been destroyed. You are forgiven. And Jesus wants to be with you forever. 

That's Easter love.

Next week we'll take a look at the second half of this very powerful chapter of John 21.

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Curtains, Blood, the Old Testament and Jesus

One of the questions that people often have is, "How did the Old Testament people learn about Jesus?" In today's blog, I thought we'd depart from our normal devotional format, and talk about the important lessons God was teaching with the Temple in Jerusalem. (consult Leviticus 16 and Hebrews 9 and 10)

We're told in the gospels that when Jesus died, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. This curtain was a thick curtain about 4" thick and separated the two rooms of the Temple in Jerusalem: the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place.

The Holy Place

In this part of the Temple, the priests performed their daily functions. They offered prayers at the altar of incense and put out, each day, 12 fresh loaves of bread. These loaves symbolized the 12 tribes which made up the nation of Israel, God's chosen people. Also in this room was the golden lampstand, which symbolized the light of God shining upon his people (symbolized by the loaves of bread). Only priests could enter this room.

The Most Holy Place (Holy of Holies)

This room contained the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was a special box which contained the 10 Commadnments, a specimen of manna (the miraculous food Israel ate in the wilderness for 40 years) and the staff of Aaron which had miraculously budded. On top of this ark were two cherubim (angels) facing each other, with outstretched wings that touched in the middle. This place where the wings touched was called the Mercy Seat. In this place was the visible presence of God's glory, perhaps an orb of light or a sparkling cloud. No one was allowed in this room except the High Priest and only once a year.

Why the curtain?

The curtain did more than separate the two rooms, it separated man from God. It was a symbol of mankind's sin. Nobody could just walk into the presence of God because they were sinful. So the curtain reminded them that sin separates them from their God.

God provided a solution to sin

Once a year, the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place with the blood of a bull and the blood of a goat. The bull would die for the sins of the priests, the goat would die for the sins of the people. In each case, the High Priest would bring the blood of the animal into the Most Holy Place. He would sprinkle that blood onto the Mercy Seat.

Now here comes the cool symbolism. God's presence which looked down from the Mercy Seat and onto the Ark of the Covenant, would see the 10 Commandments - God's law. God's law had been violated by the sins of the priests and the wickedness of the people. But the blood of the innocent animals, sprinkled on the mercy seat would cover the law of God, and cover the offenses against that law. And therefore God would not punish Israel for their sin; he would accept these animal sacrifices in their place.

But these animal sacrifices weren't enough. They had to perform these sacrifices over and over again becuase these were just animals. These animals served as a teaching tool to teach Israel important lessons about sin:

• Sin violates God's law and is punishable by death (blood)

• God would accept the perfect blood of another in place of the death of the sinner

These animals taught the people that they needed a substitute and they needed a better substitute than these animals. It created in them a desire that God would one day fullfill his promise to have mercy on them by sending another, the Messiah, the Christ, who would be the final sacrifice for sin.

Why did the Temple Curtain tear in two?

Jesus Christ was that final sacrifice. His blood was the perfect blood because his life was never tainted by sin. So God accepted him as the one sacrifice to pay for all of mankind's sin once and for all time. This meant that sin no longer had to separate God and man.

So the curtain tore in two. God and man are at peace now. 

Just like the ancient Israelite's looked ahead to the Messiah to be that one, final sacrifice, we look back and see that same Messiah give his life for our sins. On Good Friday, we commemorate this most important event in human history as the day God accepted a sacrifice for you and for me and for this whole world of sinners.

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The Underestimated Savior

It had been a long time since the smell of bacon and eggs filled the Clark house. Both parents, with two teenagers and one autistic 12 year old, were living life at full throttle. The morning routine went something like this: dash out of bed, dash through the shower, dash through breakfast, dash out the door. Sometimes there was even time to look at each other and say good morning!

Frustrated by this, mom and dad were in the other room talking about the last time they remembered sitting down as a family to eat. It happened that Thomas, their 12 year old autistic boy, overheard them. Now Thomas wasn’t known for being able to do much around the house. Because he was autistic they were usually taking care of him. Imagine everyone’s surprise when the next morning, perfectly cooked bacon, toast and eggs were all prepared on the kitchen table. As curious family members stuck their heads into the kitchen, they were greeted with the goofy grin of Tom, the one member of the family no one ever expected to be able to cook a meal. It turned out he had a gift for cooking.

We like those kind of stories because they remind us never to underestimate human potential. What other kinds of things don’t people expect? No one ever expects the straight-A student to fall into a pattern of drug abuse. No one expects a life-long Christian to abandon God. No one expects those kinds of things. Think about some famous "unexpecteds" from the Bible. Would you have expected King David to sin with Bathsheba? If you had been a Jew, would you expect the Pharisees to murder the Messiah? Experience teaches us to never underestimate the human potential for unbelief. In fact, Scripture teaches us that while we have no power to come to faith on our own, we do have the terrible power to abandon the faith.

So God sent his son. Already at the beginning of time God had a plan to undo the effects of sin. And his Son came with a message—an invitation, really. He was inviting humanity to believe what he was saying. But the Son also came with a warning so that believers would learn to avoid unbelief. 

And this underestimated Savior, this man who nobody thought could do what he claimed he could do, did it all. He alone paid for humanity's sin. He alone could bring us back to God.

Listen to how Jesus compares himself to some rejected building material that surprises everyone with what it becomes.

Luke 19:17, "Jesus looked directly at them and asked, 'Then what is the meaning of that which is written: The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone?'"

The underestimated stone, Jesus, would indeed become the capstone. He would do the incredible, the unexpected - he alone would save the world.

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Room for Celebration

In God's house, there is always room.

God has opened his arms of love to welcome everyone, even those who don’t want it and those who don’t deserve it. In Jesus' day, the Pharisees sneered at the tax collectors and "sinners" whom they thought weren't good enough for Jesus. They did not realize the love they were missing out on. The tax collectors and sinners were blessed by the presence of Jesus and his saving message.

God’s love for us is boundless. He will never turn us away.

But, we can certainly reject it. We can abuse it. We can waste it. Yet God waits for us to come to our senses that we would realize what good things he wants to give to us.

Sometimes we are our stubbon in accepting that God’s grace is free or it is nothing to us. We try to attach something that would give credit to us. So,  when we look down on others for not being good enough for our church, or good enough for our group, or good enough parents, or good enough church goers then we have become like those Pharisees who thought good behavior had put them into God's good graces.

We're also sometimes sloppy in handling God’s grace and we're often selfish with it. We think we can strike out on our own, we can neglect the love of God, that we can always say we’re sorry later. And God allows us to wander. He does not shut us into the church and lock us in there. He lets us go and then he waits, hopes, plans, for our return.

And when we do...When we hear the news that our sins have been forgiven, when someone else apologizes to us, when we hear someone say that we are forgiven, it’s time to celebrate that.

"'Bring the fattended calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate." Luke 15:23-34

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Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. ~ EPHESIANS 5:19 (NIV)