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Gone. Really. Gone.

close-up of brown wooden cross

God does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. [Psalm 103:10-12]

When I was younger, I bashed my shin really bad, and it split open. Blood poured out, and I had to go to the Emergency Room to get some stitches. Eventually the wound healed, but it left a big scar. And that scar is not going to disappear. Ever. It will always be there, on my shin.

We can think about our sin in the same way. We do something wrong, we mess up, we break a promise or say things we later regret. And maybe the “I forgive you” brings about some healing, but it leaves a scar. It leaves our soul with pock marks, scratches, and holes that will never fully disappear. Our relationships continue to bear the mark of iniquity, even if the wound is decades old.

But we have missed God’s message to us. As high as the heavens are from the earth. As far as the east is from the west. That’s how far gone our sins are. They are not meant to leave scars on us. God has forgiven us in Jesus, and he has done away with the wounds and is making us new!

That might be part of the reason that Jesus’s body still bears the scars of the cross. To show that the only scars that will remain are his. The scars that brought us peace, forgiveness, and healing. The holes that we can put our perfectly-forgiven fingers into. The gash in which we can, along with Thomas, place our hand. The scars which will be the only mark in eternity of the slates that have been wiped clean, the transgressions that have been washed away. The iniquities that have been forgiven. The sins that are gone. Really. Gone.

Dear God, we give you thanks that your love has truly worked healing in the depths of our being. It will take us a lifetime to realize the fullness of your work on the cross, and eternity will finally reveal the magnitude of your love. Remind us, now and forever, to live in the forgiveness that Jesus has won for us. In his name we pray, AMEN.


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Peace

shallow focus photography of open book beside blue ceramic cup

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Romans 5:1

Peace.  Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and think of what peace would look like in your life.  Is it hard to imagine?  No stress, no chaos. Sleep…plenty of restful, uninterrupted sleep.  Relationships with family and friends that are healthy and whole.  A calendar that has plenty of time for relaxation and fun.  A checkbook with a cushion for life’s surprises.

Ok, back to reality!  Peace seems so elusive doesn’t it?  Anxiety – that I can picture.  Craziness – that I can point you to in my life.  But peace?

Then again, maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way.  And maybe, just maybe, the kind of peace that we need happens in the middle of the stress and the chaos, the anxiety and the craziness.

Paul wants us to know that we have peace with God.  Because we’ve been justified by grace through faith, we are no longer enemies of God.  By His death and resurrection, Jesus has made us right with God!  The Creator of the Universe is on our side; the Lord of all calls us “friend.”

Does that mean the chaos and stress disappear?  Nope.  “In this world you will have trouble” says Jesus, “but behold I have overcome the world!”

Peace in the midst of chaos.  That’s what we have.  And that peace with God puts the chaos in perspective:  it can’t separate me from God’s love. So, at the end of the day, I can rest my head on my pillow knowing that God and me are all good.  It is well with my soul.  And that is all I need.

Merciful Father, sometimes I’d like for you to take all of the chaos and stress out of my life.  And yet I know that it’s that chaos and stress that you often use to draw me closer to You.  Give me strength to endure whatever troubles I face, and in the midst of those troubles, give me the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that comes from knowing Jesus my Savior.  And in this world of trouble, point my heart always to that Place where troubles will be no more. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


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The Power to Set Free (or enslave)

brown cross on mountain
 
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” [John 8:34-36]
 
Forgiveness sets us free. Even if we are locked up, imprisoned, quarantined, exiled, in chains, we are set free. We live freely when we live in Jesus’ forgiveness. Regardless of earthly circumstance. That is what Jesus is saying here in John 8- “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!”
 
So, what happens when people freed by the gospel choose not to forgive? In keeping with the metaphor, we leave people in prison. We keep people enslaved when we refuse to forgive. If forgiveness has the power to set us free, then unforgiveness has the power to enslave.
 
Isn’t that scary? If we choose not to forgive others their trespasses, we are choosing to keep them imprisoned by guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, or worse. Why would we want to do that? It is against the very nature of God, and living against God’s nature is bound to get you outside of God’s Kingdom.
 
When we refuse to forgive, we ourselves are in danger of becoming enslaved once more- to bitterness, anger, malice, greed, envy. We are in danger of giving up the joy we have in Jesus. We are in danger of reaching back and putting the yoke of slavery on our backs once again.

Let’s stay away from slavery. Let’s live in freedom. Let’s live our lives in a way that demonstrates the love of Jesus- the freedom of Jesus- to everyone we meet.
 
Prayer: Dear Jesus, you have set us free. Empower us to live as freed people, freeing other people from the dangerous and deadly weight of sin and despair. We trust in you for all things, by the grace of God we live and move and have our being in you. AMEN.

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What He Said Week 6

Study Six: RESPONDING TO AN INVITATION

 

TAKING IT IN

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. 13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”  Matthew 22:1-14

 

GETTING AT IT

The Gospel is an invitation.  It’s an invitation to receive full and free forgiveness for the sake of Jesus’ death in your place.  It’s an invitation to become part of God’s family and enjoy his love and the fellowship of spiritual brothers and sisters.  It’s an invitation to an everlasting celebration of God’s goodness in perfect peace and joy.  Who wouldn’t say yes to the invitation?

Well, it turns out that some people don’t read the invitation, while others think it too good to be true.  Some people don’t want anything to do with the God who issued the invitation, and others think they’re too good for his family.  You can say no to the Gospel invitation.

Those who accept God’s invitation do so only because the Gospel is so wonderfully compelling that it captures their heart and mind.  The Holy Spirit convinces them of its authenticity and ushers them into God’s family.  St. Paul wrote: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3) The apostle also wrote: “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”  (Romans 10:17)

With a parable about an invitation, Jesus spoke volumes to people in Jerusalem that week of his passion.

DIGGING INTO IT

The cast of characters in the parable is this: The king is God the Father.  His Son is Jesus.  The guests who received a “save the date” card and then the wedding invitation are the people of Israel.  The servants are the Old Testament prophets, and then the apostles and Christian missionaries.  The wedding banquet is the kingdom of God, ultimately an eternal celebration of what Scripture elsewhere calls the wedding of the groom – Jesus – and his bride – the Church. Those invited from the streets are the Gentiles, people from every nation.  The wedding garment represents the righteousness of Christ.

The chief themes of the parable are: 1) Jesus is the Son of God.  2) He is the Messiah, who has arrived and seeks people to join him in celebrating the fulfillment of God’s promises.  3) The chosen people of Israel have a history of rejecting the inviting message of God’s prophets.  4) The Gospel becomes God’s invitation to all people.  5) Only the righteousness of Christ qualifies someone to participate in the celebration of God’s forgiving love.

Scripture uses the analogy of a wedding reception several times to depict the union of Jesus and his believers, particularly focused on everlasting life at his return.  (Cf. Isaiah 25:6-9, Matthew 9:15, Matthew 25:1-13, Revelation 19:6-9) Everlasting life is not depicted as some ethereal existence.  A physical resurrection to a life like that which God intended for Adam and Eve before the fall into sin is affirmed when Jesus in Matthew 26:29 talks of enjoying a glass of wine with his disciples in eternal life.  A banquet is how God intends us to think of forever with him.

The rejection of God’s invitation is described in three ways.  The first is outright rejection.  The second is indifference.  People were too caught up in their own little worlds. In the third case the rejection of God’s invitation turns violent.  Like the Pharisees who rejected Jesus summarily, there are atheists and followers of other religions today who say no to the Gospel vehemently.  Like others in Jesus’ day who were too busy making a living and pursuing happiness to listen to his message, a large number of people in an affluent culture don’t have time for Jesus and his Word.  Like the religious leaders of Israel who killed prophets and ultimately Jesus himself, there have been violent and murderous persecutions of Jesus’ messengers throughout history, from Roman emperors to Islamic terrorists in our time.

There is a note of urgency in Jesus’ parable.  When the invitation is issued, it calls for a response.  In Hebrews 3, quoting Psalm 95, the apostle wrote: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”  Jesus’ parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) warns that we do not know the time of the Bridegroom Jesus’ return, so we are to “keep watch.”

Verse 8 says, “those I invited did not deserve to come.”   Actually, no one deserves to come to the banquet of God’s kingdom.  Grace alone places us there.  But there is an especially bitter conclusion for those who have had God’s truth and rejected it.  In Acts 13:46, Paul says to the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia: “We had to speak the word of God to you first.  Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.”  Rejecting the Gospel after having it is self-condemnation.  In John 12:48 Jesus said: “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.”  Jesus hints at degrees of punishment in eternity when in Luke 12:47-48 he says: “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what this master wants will be beaten with many blows.  But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.”

The “good and bad” who are invited off the street may describe those who live a quite moral life and those who’ve lived a life of depravity and crime.  There will be penitent murderers as well as “decent sinner” believers in eternal life. No one is good enough to deserve eternal life; and no one is so terrible that he is beyond God’s redemptive grace.  It is also possible to understand the “good and bad” of the parable as a reference to the fact that the outward church can include both true believers and hypocrites, while the Holy Christian Church is all believers and only believers.  Jesus’ parable of the weeds in Matthew 13:24-30 says as much. 

It would seem unfair of the king to consign the man without wedding garments to “weeping and gnashing of teeth” if he was too poor to own appropriate clothing.  Commentators suggest that it was not uncommon for a wealthy ruler to provide wedding garments for those he invited.  In that case, the man condemned refused to put on the clothes provided.  In any case, the man without wedding clothes was snubbing the king who issued the invitation.  Several places in the Bible depict the righteousness that Jesus lived in our place and gives to us as a garment.  (Cf. Isaiah 61:10, Galatians 3:27, and Revelation 7:9.)  The man consigned to outer darkness in the parable represents those who reject the gift of Christ’s righteousness and insist that they are good enough in themselves to appear before their God.

“Outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth” is a frequent expression for hell.  (Cf. Matthew 13:42 and 50, 24:51, 25:30.)  The point of emphasis is that eternal condemnation is separation from God and his goodness, with painful regret at having ignored God’s grace.

The burning of the city which was home to the murderous rejecters in Jesus’ parable is prophetic.  In 70 AD Roman armies captured and burned Jerusalem.

“Many are invited, but few chosen” is Jesus’ closing statement.  The Gospel is an open invitation to everyone. Jesus specifically chooses some to follow him.  In John 15:16 he told his disciples: “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”  The same could be said to each of those who believe in and follow Jesus.  Faith isn’t our choosing Jesus, but his choosing us.  Ephesians 2:8 says, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”  In Ephesians 1:11 we’re told, “In Christ we were chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”  As the ultimate expression of God’s grace and for our certainty and comfort, Scripture teaches that those who believe and are saved are his elect, his chosen. 

 

 

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

Scripture depicts eternal life as a banquet, a party.  Jesus spoke to his disciples of enjoying a glass of wine with them in eternal life.  Those who see Christianity as a guilt trip and Christians as dour kill-joys have it all wrong.  How does the party image impact your view of Christianity? Your view of God? Your view of heaven?

 

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT

Try to understand acquaintances who don’t share your belief in Jesus.  The parable offers a few possibilities.  Is it that they just don’t get it?  They have the notion that Christianity is just another set of rules.  Is it that they are too caught up in their work, their family, their pleasures, and they won’t make the time to pursue the claims and promises of Jesus?  It could be that they are angry at God as a result of life experiences, or just angry at the suggestion that there is a God who governs the universe.  Some people think they live good enough lives that if there’s a God and judgment, they’ll be good enough to come out OK.

How can you frame the conversation with friends who don’t believe in Jesus so that you can better understand where they’re coming from, what they object to, what they don’t understand?

 

SOMETHING TO PRAY ABOUT

From educators to politicians, there are leaders and influencers in contemporary life who have rejected the truth and invitation of Jesus.  Pray for your nation and those who lead it, that angry rejection of Jesus does not result in a burned city.

 

SOMETHING TO DO ABOUT IT

In cynical times as well as periods of hardship, there is a lot of negative talk.  Bad news travels far and fast, whether via the news media or social media.  Be counter-cultural.  Talk about blessings.  See the positive in people.  Look for opportunities.  And when you stand out for doing so, let people know that faith in Jesus has changed your outlook.

 

SOMETHING FOR FURTHER STUDY

Read Romans 10 to reinforce the truth that the Gospel produces faith and to remember that God hasn’t given up on Jewish people.

 

 


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God forgives, but…

GOD FORGIVES, BUT…

 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

What went well for you last week? What successes did you experience last month? What good came to you in the past year? Or, would it be easier for you to dwell on the things that went wrong, the times you messed up or failed, the people you let down, the tasks that never got completed? I know for me, I am much more prone to focus on the second of those two.

Every week, in churches across the world, the gospel is proclaimed, “Your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!” And every week, people leave worship still caught in the weight of their sin. Just look at the scribes in Mark 2. These men dedicated their lives to studying, copying, and transmitting God’s Word so that the world would know it. Yet when they heard Jesus proclaim, “Son, your sins are forgiven!”, they were incredulous. They were in shock. They couldn’t compute the words they just heard. No one can forgive sins except for God. This man is abusing God’s Word!

They were uncertain about the grace of God for this person- and probably themselves, too. Professional church workers, people who should know the Bible. So, there is hope for us, too, even as we doubt God’s forgiveness in Jesus, that this man Jesus could really work the salvation of our souls. But does his forgiveness cover that sin? Can I really be washed clean from this dirty heart? Can those words be cancelled out by the cross? Can my actions be made acceptable before God by the atonement of Jesus?

Our hearts, marked by doubt, can find their assurance in the actions of Jesus. What proof did he give the scribes that this forgiveness was real? He healed the man of his paralysis. What proof does Jesus present to us that we are forgiven? The empty tomb. The cross of Good Friday was proven to be effective because Jesus rose from the dead. The wages of sin is death, Romans 6:23 states, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ.  Jesus took on the wages of sin and showed his power over them by rising again to life.

There is no “but.” You are forgiven, no matter what, because of Jesus.

 

Lord God, heavenly Father, we are awestruck by your love. We cannot comprehend how You look at us with love, even though we have fallen so far short of your glory. But through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, you have made us holy, you have set us apart, you have paved the way for us to live forever with you. We bless you and thank you that you have forgiven us in Jesus, no matter what. May we always cling tightly and joyfully to this promise, in Jesus’ name, AMEN.


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