Where’s the Beef?

Where’s the Beef?

God commanded sacrifices in the Old Testament, but Hebrews tells us they were never ultimately effective. They were always intended to be pointers to something––rather, Someone––greater.

The problem with the Israelites’ offerings was not that they were doing something God had forbidden; the problem was, they thought the doing of the deed was all that mattered.

God was after their heart. God wanted their love and their trust; He had no need for their hamburgers.

Wisdom and Knowledge

Wisdom and Knowledge

1 Corinthians 1 is a fairly famous passage, and rightly so. There, Paul inveighs against the foolishness and emptiness of seeking power and wisdom apart from God––the very things both Jews and Gentiles were doing. The only true source of power (signs) and wisdom is Jesus, and without seeking Him, one seeks the others in vain.

It seems to me that Paul has the book of Proverbs in mind, especially chapter 1 (and probably chapters 8-9 too, but I’m trying to stick to one piece of paper at a time). Proverbs 1 has many parallels to 1 Corinthians 1, including some language that is expressly used of Jesus in the New Testament (pouring out the Spirit and teaching the Word).

Paul speaks of the knowledge of God and the wisdom of God as “riches” and “treasure” in both 1 Corinthians 1 and Colossians 2. He also equates Jesus with God’s wisdom and knowledge.

True wealth is knowing Jesus.

True knowledge is inseparable from Jesus, who is the Truth (John 14:6).

True wisdom is inseparable from Jesus, for wisdom begins with the fear of the LORD. Knowledge and wisdom are primarily relational, not intellectual. You can be academically brilliant and spiritually stupid, and you can be a school dropout and spiritually brilliant. Jesus is the difference, not degrees.

Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus

Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus

Chapter and verse divisions were not part of the original books of the Bible. They’re generally helpful as locators (the poor Preacher of Hebrews even says “But someone somewhere…” in Hebrews 2:6), but we can miss connections if we follow them too closely.

Luke put the stories of blind Bartimaeus (not named in Luke but in the other Gospels) and Zacchaeus back-to-back because we’re supposed to see the connections between them.

These two men are both unable to see.
They’re both desperate to get to Jesus.
They both desperately need Jesus.

These two men are quite different: one is a blind beggar, and the other is a powerful, rich, and corrupt tax collector.

Both leave drastically changed after meeting Jesus.

Give What You Command

Give What You Command

John says that the commands of God are not burdensome, but it doesn’t always feel that way.

St. Augustine’s famous line from his Confessions fits well in this passage in 1 Thessalonians: “Lord, give what you command, and command what you will.” In other words, “Lord, as long as you give me the ability to obey, then command whatever you want.”

Say the Word (Luke 7-8)

Say the Word (Luke 7-8)

I’m doing some catch-up reading for the Foundations New Testament plan, and I noticed some connections between Luke 7 and 8.

Luke 7 tells the story of the centurion with the dying servant who begs Jesus for healing. Luke 8 tells the story of Jesus stilling the stormy sea while crossing over with the disciples.

I tried to sketch out the similarities and contrasts between the two events on a single piece of blue-bar paper. The first image is the whole thing (with some comments); the second and third are each the passages from chapter 7 and 8 by themselves.

The centurion in chapter 7 has a good relationship with the Jewish community, and the elders he sends to Jesus plead on his behalf, noting his benevolence and generosity make him worthy of having his request granted. The centurion himself, however, asserts his unworthiness twice. For a man with considerable power, he’s remarkably humble.

He then tells Jesus he understands Jesus has the authority to command healing, just as he commands soldiers and servants. In fact, I believe his last example (“…and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it”) refers to the very servant he wants healed. The one command that cannot be obeyed is, “Be healed.” But if Jesus gives that command, it will be obeyed, he believes.

Jesus is amazed (Greek thaumazo) when He hears this. It’s unusual to find such great faith, even in Israel, where it should be readily found. The centurion had heard about Jesus and believed; “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ,” Romans 10:17 tells us. He hadn’t seen Jesus; he had only heard of him. Yet he believed Jesus could do the one thing he could not, sight unseen. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe,” Jesus would tell Thomas later (John 20:29).

Contrast that great faith with the lack of it shown by the disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee in Luke 8. Presumably, the disciples knew at least as much—likely much more—than the centurion about Jesus. Their responses to desperate situations are drastically different.

The centurion humbly and meekly “requests” Jesus’ help (“Lord, don’t trouble yourself”). The disciples, on the other hand, “came and woke Jesus up, saying”—likely screaming—”Master, Master, we’re going to die!”

In both instances, Jesus issues a command that is immediately obeyed. Jesus asks them, “Where is your faith?” The great faith not found in Israel includes not finding it (yet) in the disciples.

The disciples see Jesus command the storm (and be obeyed), and they are amazed (thaumazo, the same word used to describe Jesus in chapter 7). They ask the question, “Who then is this?”, an interesting contrast to the centurion’s simple faith after he “heard about Jesus” and knew enough to believe.

“But say the word,” the centurion says. Better, deeper, he believes. Jesus invites us to hear Him speak in His word and believe Him.

Hope as an Anchor for the Soul

Hope as an Anchor for the Soul

After a sermon on the second half of Hebrews 6 (not the controversial part, if you’re wondering), I started noticing things in the text I hadn’t before. I began just by writing out the verses, then noting the connections in red ink.

Here’s what the scrawl above is trying to note:

God’s purpose is unchangeable because it is His purpose. Nothing has to be done to it to make it unchangeable, but He can do something to show us that it is.

This demonstration is for “the heirs of the promise,” that is, the promise to Abraham (v.13). Galatians 3 tells us that those who are of faith are the sons of Abraham, so this demonstration is for us, too.

God’s proof to us of His unchangeable purpose is twofold: one, He Himself cannot change (which is sufficient proof in itself); and two, He then swore an oath by Himself. These two things are by definition as permanent, sure, solid, and immovable as you can get, and here’s why. First, God cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). Second, He cannot speak anything but the truth (because He is Truth; it’s His very nature).

God offers the heirs of the promise––us––this proof of His rock-solid purpose for this reason: so that “we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us” (6:18 CSB).

God wants those who have take refuge in Jesus (Psalm 2:12) to have no fear that their refuge will fail or that they will someday be evicted from it. This proof is to give them hope to grab hold onto.

What then is this hope?

It is our “anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (6:19 CSB), just like God’s purpose. This hope “enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain”––that is, the Holy of Holies.

What does that? Better asked, who does that?

The very next word tells us: Jesus. “Jesus has entered there [i.e., the inner sanctuary behind the curtain] on our behalf as a forerunner” (6:20 CSB).

Jesus is our hope. Jesus is the proof of God’s unchangeable purpose “for us men and our salvation.”

Jesus is the forerunner into the Holy of Holies, meaning He’s leading us there. The Holy of Holies is the earthly, geographic representation of God’s immediate presence. Our hope––Jesus––takes us there. Takes us to Himself. And He is a better high priest than Aaron (or anyone in Aaron’s line) ever was: He is a “high priest forever” (6:20 CSB).

Our hope then, is that God’s purposes are only as good and certain as Jesus is. As it goes with Jesus, so it goes with us.

The original audience was Jewish Christians who were tempted to forsake Christianity and return to Judaism to avoid the severe persecution they were facing. The Preacher of Hebrews is telling them, “The promise made to Father Abraham is God’s unchangeable purpose, and that purpose is inseparable from Jesus of Nazareth. Don’t leave Him; there’s no hope to hold onto apart from Him.”

Not the Expected Answer

Psalm 27:4 is a prayer, and one that is answered powerfully by the Lord. Just not in the way it’s worded.

David famously offered another prayer that was answered powerfully by the Lord, but not the way he worded it. David asked to build Yahweh a house, and the answer came back: “No, David, I’m going to build you a house” (2 Samuel 7). The answer was bigger and better than even the prayer––bold as it was––could imagine.

The same kind of thing happens in Psalm 27:4. There, David asks for one thing: to dwell in Yahweh’s house forever, rapt by His “sweetness” (Alter’s wonderful translation) and the splendor of His palatial temple.

Jesus and the rest of the New Testament answer this prayer with a familiar, “No. I’m going to make you My house. I’m coming to dwell in you.”

The beauty of Yahweh’s temple is not architectural but personal: we gaze in wonder at the beauty God has wrought in us out of the ashes of our sin and brokenness through His Son who is our Light (Psalm 27:1; John 8:12) and our Salvation (Psalm 27:1; Matthew 1:21).

Ain’t No Sunshine

This is another excerpt from my journal, this time on Psalm 27. Be sure to read the poem inspired by this same text: Hand in Front of Your Face.

Pictures of lighthouses usually accompany quotes of Psalm 27:1, but the Psalm is one of straining to see that light rather than basking in its full strength. (The lighthouse isn’t a bad association, but the pictures are usually too bright.)

Then, further, if Jesus prayed this Psalm during the three hours of midday darkness, this Psalm stands in an even more different light (pun intended).

In the midst of darkness at noon, Jesus cries “Yahweh is my light!” In answer to cries of “Save yourself!” He answers, “Yahweh is my salvation!” Armies of enemies—human and otherwise—deploy against Him, yet He will not fear but be confident in His Father.

The light in the midst of that darkness is the hope of dwelling with God, in His very presence, basking in the full strength of His radiant, glorious beauty. Vindication and freedom are found there, even if they can’t be seen—literally—now.

Now in this darkness, that light and that deliverance and that rest can seem impossibly far. Rely on His truth, His nature, His promises:

LORD, hear my voice when I call;
be gracious to me and answer me.
My heart says this about you:
“Seek His face.”
LORD, I will seek your face (27:7-8 CSB)

You don’t have to seek what you see clearly; you seek what must be found. When we don’t see HIs face by feeling or experience, we seek Him where He may be found: in His promises and past deliverances.

Everyone else is fallible and unreliable, even parents. Not Yahweh. His way is the only sure footing. He is the only trustworthy guide and compass.

Though He does not see now, hope says He will:

I am certain that I will see the LORD’s goodness
in the land of the living (27:13 CSB).

He will have to travel the valley of the shadow of death, but He will see Yahweh alive. This is resurrection hope that is resurrection power for us. This is eternal life.

Until then, until the three hours and the three days of darkness end,

Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart be courageous.
Wait for the LORD (27:14 CSB).

A Darker Valley Than You Think

From my journal, meditating on Psalm 23.

Psalm 23 is one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry ever written, and it is rightly loved and righty famous. Its context in the Psalter is intriguing; its placement is no accident, so the surrounding Psalms (and their potential usage) provide further insight into this masterpiece among masterpieces.

Jesus’ Cry of Dereliction is Psalm 22:1, and His final words are Psalm 31:5. If He prayed the rest of the Psalms between, only vocalizing those two verses, then He prayed Psalm 23 on the cross. (Even if He didn’t, the editors/compilers of the Psalms were inspired to put it here, but the possibility––likelihood?––is fascinating and appealing to me.)

In that light, Psalm 23 becomes a grueling battle rather than merely a serene pastoral scene. Jesus is suffering unspeakable physical torture and the outpoured wrath of God––both wholly undeserved––when He prays,

“The LORD is my shepherd;
I have what I need.”

Psalm 23:1 (CSB)

It is in complete faith beyond circumstances that He prays,

“He lets me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside quiet waters.”

Psalm 23:2 (CSB)

Think of the taunts hurled at Him: “Come down from the cross!” His response is to trust that His Father––Yahweh the Shepherd––will lead Him to green pastures where He may lie down.

Think of the anguished cry, “I thirst!” He trusts His Father––Yahweh the Shepherd––to bring Him to quiet waters to be refreshed.

But not yet. The “darkest valley” (CSB), the “valley of the shadow of death” (KJV), must be traversed first. But there is no need to fear: He is led to and through it by His Father’s­­––Yahweh the Shepherd––hand.

These enemies­­––the bulls and lions snarling and slobbering to destroy Him from Psalm 22––have to watch as a feast-table is spread before them. Bread and wine fill the Holy Table where all who believe may eat their fill and be satisfied with rich food.

The oil of the Spirit, the oil of gladness, anoints Him (for He is Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One), and He gives the Spirit with His Father as an effusion of their own love.

His cup overflows. He is drinking the cup of wrath to the dregs, but the cup of blessing (see Psalm 16:5) can’t contain the wine of celebration that’s coming.

Death and sin are so completely defeated that the only pursuers seen over the shoulder are goodness and faithful love. There in the true house of the LORD, the original from which Moses copied, He will dwell––the very place He has prepared for us by cleansing us from every stain.

Out of Nowhere

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Psalm 14 famously begins, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There’s no God'” (14:1 CSB). Unfortunately, we are usually quick to assume the Psalm is speaking of militant atheists and miss the powerful effect of the David’s masterful writing.

As it turns out, David doesn’t let us sing about those atheist fools over there. No one escapes getting branded a fool. In fact, he even plays up the drama by having God look down from heaven “to see if there is one who is wise, one who seeks God” (14:2 CSB). Where is the righteous man of Psalm 1? Does such a one exist on Planet Earth?

Nope.

All have turned away;
all alike have become corrupt.
There is no one who does good,
not even one (14:3 CSB).

This is so stupid, David screams. “Will evildoers [which, by this point, he’s shown to be everybody] never understand?” (14:4 CSB). Wicked sinners are more interested in consuming people for their own cravings and desires, rather than trusting in the Triune God and calling on Him.

Thus far, the entire human race has been shown to be completely corrupt and unrighteous. Even God can’t find one single righteous person.

That’s why verse 5 comes out of nowhere:

Then they [i.e., the wicked] will be filled with dread,
for God is with those who are righteous (CSB).

Where have these righteous people come from? David just got through saying there aren’t any!

Out of the entirety of sinful humanity, those who take refuge in the LORD become righteous as His gift. They’re no better or more worthy than any of the oppressors and corrupt sinners––they’re just like them!

Taking refuge in the LORD is trusting in His promise of deliverance that comes from Zion: David’s own Son who will reign forever; the Suffering Servant who bears the sins of many, yet having no sin of His own; the Shepherd of the people who is struck in the place of His sheep.

When He comes, “let Jacob rejoice; let Israel be glad” (14:7 CSB) indeed!