Whenever faith tries to base itself on good living, whether the focus be on external morality or on inner spiritual purity, the result is the most sophisticated of all pagan religions. Though it claims belief in God, in practice such religion places no trust in the Lord Himself but only in its own theology. As thoroughly orthodox and as Biblical as this theology may be, it does not represent faith in the living God but in faith itself. Heaven help this religion of good works when it falls on hard times. … True faith depends not at all upon itself, nor upon its own system of piety, but rather upon the Lord alone and His faithfulness. … To have faith is to trust in the faithfulness of our God, knowing that faithfulness is first and foremost not a human but a divine attribute. … Genuine faith is not the faith to do anything at all, expcept to fall to the ground and die. …Consider the roots of a plant. Do the roots worry, or think at all, about producing flowers or fruit? No; they never see what happens above the ground. They never even see the sun or the sky. All they see is the dark womb of the earth, and their only job is to soak up moisture and nourishment from it, to feed in the dark underground of faith. … Paul describes as “taking pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart” (2 Cor. 5:12). Assuming that the opposite of sin is virtue, they conclude that a righteous life is one that will always be producing the visible fruit that is its own reward. Yet in the vocabulary of the gospel, the opposite of sin is not simply virtue but grace. As Paul puts it in Romans 5:20-21, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Mike Mason, The Gospel According to Job
“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Live a life of love. It almost sounds easy. It offers a warm and inviting, harmonious fix to our relational problems.
Why then would I want to live my life more selfishly? Real life loving requires strength that I don’t have, if I am honest.
Am I really taking to heart the life of Jesus and the instructions to imitate His life of love? He lived love. If our wonderful Lord Jesus gave up his “rights” to reconcile me back to God, someone that did not deserve such mercy, why wouldn’t I want to be transformed to have this same sacrificial mind and heart? Christ Jesus is the maker of all things; nothing exists without Him. He is the Son of God, and He alone stands preeminent above every other power or authority. And, yet, Jesus did not choose to live for Himself or grasp at the “God” rights. His love was a giving, extravagant kind of love.
The very sad reason I chafe at living a sacrificial life of love is that I default easily to loving myself more, more than Jesus, and more than the people around me. I want easy comfort. I don’t like relational messiness. I don’t want to give sacrificially and extravagantly like Jesus did for me. I often set standards that must be met before I will love freely. I live like love should have to be earned. But, I don’t know any of these perfect people. Life can get really messy. The person I want to love has weaknesses and failures. I am ashamed that often I demand so much from others, which seems especially terribly when I have been given the truest love generously and without a price tag. I have this ongoing need to have these self-centric desires removed and to return again and again to my first love, Jesus–every single day. So, that out of the joy of His love for me, the comfort of never being abandoned by Him ever, the confidence of every spiritual gift given to me to fulfill His purposes for me, and the resurrection power of His living Spirit working in me, I will have a quiet heart to do His will and live a life of love to Christ first above all, as well as in my relationships. I am dependent on Jesus to love like He loves. When it is easy and also when it is hard, my strength will come from Him as I live in Him and for Him. I could never live a life of love without the presence and power of Christ living in me, and gloriously that is exactly what is offered through His triumphant and generous grace.
The ancient people of God were bound by the law. Daily, it screamed out their failures in unbiased, unrelenting terms. The law was perfect and pure. It revealed wisdom. Although the law was good in every part, the human heart defaulted to self reliance every time. And so the law was broken over and over again.
Heart proud, the people were distanced from what their heart needed most–God’s presence and power. (photo credit: ravenwhimsey)
Every day this constant need for reconciliation was met at an altar. Every day the heart was reminded, for each day brought a new need for reconciliation. Continually needy, the ancient Israeli priests would begin afresh the work of mediation between God and His people.
The High Priest
The rites of purification had been completed. The man’s wrinkled skin had been scrubbed clean in strict rituals. The old man had been a priest for many years, and the rules had remained constant and rigid, never changing at the break of dawn. The separation between God and the people remained fixed, for there was never enough soap to cleanse away their inherent disunion with complete holiness. The distance between the people and their God was so vast that there would not be a way to reach the other side at all had not God El Elyon (God Most High) become God Yahweh (a personal, covenant-making God) intiating a covenant with his people that provided access. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” Leviticus 17:11. Yahweh had made a way for His people to have a personal relationship with Himself through the blood of an atoning sacrifice. Their brokenness and bent toward sin made a daily sweet fragrance of sacrifice an ever-attending need; so, atonement, a perpetual sacrifice for their constant need, was a constant “must have” for the people of God.
There were daily sacrifices, special one-time sacrifices, and then there was the special Day of Atonement. On that one day, a chosen high priest would enter behind the enormous veil that separated the people of God from their holy God to make atonement for the people’s sin. The high priest entered the Holy of Holies robed in priestly garments: bearing the weighty ephod of gold upon his shoulders representing the government of his people; the beautiful ephod, woven in blue linen threads, which covered his heart, bejeweled with precious gems, representing each of the tribes of Israel; the breastplate of judgment, the Urim and the Thummin, lay weighing against his heart representing the verdicts of acceptance or rejection; the sash girding his waist reminding him that he came to serve. The entire costume was both physically and symbolically heavy. The Law prescribed every detail; and access to God demanded a strict adherence to the code, every detail whispering that these were garments of holiness to be worn by the mediator.
Now it was time for the priest to enter behind the thick veil of the Holy of Holies and make atonement for the peoples’ sin. The priest’s heart trembled. The circle of high priest’s garments were adorned with embroidered blue, purple and scarlet pomegranates with little golden bells stitched between, and he purposefully listened for the tinkling bells circling the skirt of his robe as he walked toward the veil. The musical sounds would be the only indication to the rest of the people as they waited for him that God had kept His covenant with them when he sprinkled the blood on the Altar. Let the musical bells sound in worshipful praise; for if the blood did not provide acceptable access to God, the priest would die during the sprinkling of the blood offering.
Walking through the tabernacle courtyard, the old man’s eyes lifted to the flickering flame of the almond blossom cups branching off the hammered, pure gold lampstand. His heart was raised in hope knowing that this constant flame was a visual reminder to assure them of God’s presence among them. God had given them so many reminders. Each part of his day as a priest was filled with reminders of a God who desired to be known and loved by His people.
Born broken in sin, bent toward self-reliance, the priest marveled at the visual, repeated reminders of their need for God’s presence and power. Though ritualistically purified, the old man approached near to the bronze basin of water to cleanse his hands and feet yet once again. He watched as the water splashed from his hands; so many washings, yet he was never holy. God was so very separate from them, and God’s brilliant holiness was once again on the old man’s mind. The chasm between man and God was wider than any earthly canyon; and yet, he mused, God remembered his people and provided a way of access to Himself. Still, he trembled knowing that these offerings for atonement were continual, for none of the people, including himself, could ever stop sinning. The cavernous gulf between God and his people never closed, for their perpetual unrighteousness seperated them from the glorious, shining worthiness of a completely holy God.
He waited as the anointing oil was administered covering his body, again for purification. Again and again, the message was clear: I am holy; you are an unclean people. Everything was designed to remind them of their constant need for God’s presence and power, and their inability to gain it own their own.
The aroma of incense flowed upward filling his nostrils. The incense was also always perpetually burning reminding them of their constant need for intercession with God. The incense of the altar was never to go out; they were visually instructed as to how much the people desperately needed their God.
Constant need. Each step toward the Holy of Holies reminded him of how much he needed God to give him access. Every ritual reminded him of how he could not enjoy God’s presence without God making a way. He was still dirty and would keep being dirty. Only the acceptance of the atoning sacrifice would give him access to God and forgiveness of the transgressions against their holy and just God. Healing of their sins would require the spilling of blood from an unblemished sacrifice. His heart ached. How he longed for complete deliverance from this body of death. The sacrifices were never enough. The work of the priest was never done. No one was ever good enough.
“For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take aways sins. Therefore, when He came into world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You do not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you had no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come-in the volume of the book it is written of Me-to do your will, O God.’ Previously saying, ‘Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them’ (which are offered according to the law), then He said, ‘Behold I have come to do Your will, O God.’ He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Hebrews 10:4-10.
The ritualistic symbols and priestly duties were only a foreshadowing of God’s plan for a better mediator. No bleeding bull could take down a proud heart. No precious baby lamb, no matter how wonderfully unblemished, would forever change the bent of a rebellious heart. No the only way to sanctify the heart was to give the owner a new one! The only way to take away the hard rock heart and inscribe righteousness on a living, breathing heart was to give new life. The old covenant was made obsolete, because of the weakness of our flesh. The Law was good and without fault, but we were the messed up ones who could not keep it. A new covenant was offered that would abolish the old one. This time the offering would be a final propitiation for sin. However, it would be very, very different this time. The real body of a man would be offered, an earthly life lived just as we live, tempted, but never sinning. A life lived in complete obedience fulfilling all righteousness 24/7. The unthinkable would take place–this sinless life would be made to be sin—so that a final, forever atonement could be made and all of the holiness could be given to the sinner! There is only one man that could fulfill all of the requirements, and He is the Son of God. So, God, did the unthinkable. Yahweh kept covenant faithfulness and steadfast love with His people by sending His one and only perfect Son to reconcile us back to Himself through a new and living covenant of grace. God gave His Son; the Son gave His life; and the Holy Spirit was given as the seal of this new covenant of redemption. “It is finished!” cries powerfully of this unbelievable reconciliation accomplished by the death of the Son of God.
It is the new covenant of Christ’s own blood that washes me, so that I am no longer defiled. I will not get dirty again. No more washings. When I come before God, I confess my sins. I claim my unworthiness, attesting to the fact that I will never, never be “good enough.” All of my sins, past, current, and those I will still wrongfully do are covered by the atoning blood of Christ. The judgment of God rejected Jesus on the cross blackening the sky, and the Lamb of God took all of my rightful condemnation and bled out; and yet God saw the righteous blood and was pleased to accept atonement in full. We know this because death was not the final word. The thick veil covering the Holy of Holies was dramatically torn from top to bottom opening the way to God’s presence. Death did not hold the Son of God, but He had the authority over death and was raised the third day just as He proclaimed it would be. I am now clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and every time I choose to enter into his Presence and Power, I have the victory of resurrection grace. There is a way across that cavernous gulf between God and his people. Because of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross, nothing can separate His people from His love or from the glorious, shining worthiness of a completely holy God. Jesus is our perfect sacrifice, our perfect mediator, forever interceding on our account; and now there is no need for anything more. “But Christ, because he lives for ever, possessses a priesthood that needs no successor. This means that he can save fully and completely those who approach God through him, for he is always living to interced on their behalf. Here is the High Priest we need. A man who is holy, faultless, unstained, beyond the very reach of sin and lifted to the very Heavens. There is no need for him, like the High Priest we know, to offer up sacrifice, first for our own sins and then for the people’s. He made one sacrifice, once for all, when he offered himself.” Hebrews 7:24-27.
Once for all, the constant need for a clean heart has been satisfied. Our hearts are no longer distanced from what the heart needs most–God’s presence and power. Hang onto this sure hope, “…since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22). Our hearts are happy and we bring a daily sacrifice of praise to Jesus, for there is no more distance between us.
Our constant need has been satisfied once and forever in Christ’s life.
The desire of God’s heart of grace isn’t just to make us pretty externally, but to create new & authentic beauty from the ashy, charred, deep parts of the soul. Physical health, material wealth, & personal happiness are nice, but not what I need most. My heart being changed by His loving heart of grace is what matters most.
(PC: Rebecca Barray)
Dreams are often wishes unfulfilled. Our longings take concrete shape as our minds explore endless ways to create what our visions for justice, push for discovery and desires for beauty beg for. Made in the reflection of the infinite, God wires us with aptitudes and investigative minds able to innovate, design, build, create, examine, explore and solve; and it would seem humanity is a tireless and thrilling resource for more of whatever our restless mind can imagine. Because dreams are not easily navigated, the formidable limitations that hold us back, whether our own inabilities or weaknesses, or the less controllable ones like being born in the wrong century or the wrong neighborhood, can kill our dreams. As poor, destitute Fantine would sing, “But the tigers come at night, With their voices soft as thunder, As they tear your hope apart, As they turn your dream to shame.” Dreams often remind us of what we are not.
Dreams were never meant to define us. All people everywhere are defined by their relationship to God. Because we were intended for oneness with God, God is to be central in all things; and the inspiration of our dreams must be motivated by the realization that our longings will only find a satisfying reality when they are in correct alignment to Him . Hundreds of years ago, the apostle Paul spoke in the meeting of the Aeropagus in Athens saying, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” The reality of whatever we are hoping for is made a real hope in the resurrection of Christ, the glorious central figure in all of reality.
Another interesting aspect about dreams and hopes are how they shift and morph along the sands of time. What you dreamed about as a kid probably is not your current big dream. Similarly, as our culture has shifted its focus on what matters most, we discover it is reflected in our own aspirations. Dr. Tim Keller states, “In ancient cultures what mattered most was honor and making your community proud by fulfilling your duty. The world was conceived as a testing ground to see whether you would be faithful to truth, beauty, and causes higher than your own emotions and interests. Today, however, our cultures are highly individualistic. There is no duty higher than plumbing the depths of your own desires to find out who you want to be. In modern narratives, the protagonist is usually a person who bravely casts off convention, breaks the rules, defies tradition and authority to discover him or her self and carve out a new place in the world. In ancient tales the hero was the person who did just the opposite, who put aside inner dreams, aspirations, doubts, and feelings in order to bravely and loyally fulfill their vows and obligations.” So it is that our lofty goals often mirror our world’s changing reflections. (PC: Rhiannon Logsdon)
The coming of Jesus brings hopes to our dreams. What do you dream about? What keeps you up at night pondering and planning? Each part of our life is to be laid in submission to the King’s command, and yet the eagerness of the King is for his people’s eternal joy. Do we dare to place our susceptible aspirations and most secret, heartfelt longings into the hands of the one who breathed life into us, offers rescue from our sinful destitution, and assures that in Himself is life full of love and acceptance? Is it hard? Are we afraid of disappointment? The beloved preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “If you reject Him, He answers you with tears. If you wound Him, He bleeds out cleansing, if you kill Him, he dies to redeem. If you bury Him, He rises again to bring us resurrection. Jesus is love manifest.” In an individualized society, do we dare to turn over our dreams?
Jesus offers an alternate way of living human. Jesus asks us to have the same mindset that compelled him to completely empty Himself and become a human. Though completely equal with God, Jesus did not grasp after it. Though a king, he became a servant of all. Jesus deliberately gave up the biggest, living dream ever, lost it all, in order to gain something greater–the redemption of his people. Now Jesus tells his followers to do the same, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” The Word became flesh and lived right here among us, and we saw his grace and glory. This glory is life overflowing, and it spills over onto us to give us what we need; grace and truth is spilled out, ever-present, ever-holding on to us, overflowing like a river in us, giving us grace, over and over, grace upon grace.
Jesus also provides us with a new filter for the longings of our heart. Jesus leaves us with His Spirit, the power of the crucified and resurrected Christ. The Lord tells us that we may ask anything in His name, and He assures us that He will do it with every desire and every dream processed through that precious name for the glory of God. We ask for His fame, not ours. Our desires and dreams are put through that filter–His fame, His worth, His wisdom, His honor, His glory. And we find that our dreams were never really big enough, our lens were too small to capture the story of glory that is now ours through Christ.