Story So Far, Week 8

If you go back and read through Leviticus 14 you’ll see the lengths the priests had to go to make clean those afflicted with leprosy. The priest required the sacrifice of birds, hyssop, scarlet yarn, and cedarwood, and the process involved sprinkling of blood, shaving off hair, and washing. And that was only the beginning.

Compare that to the power and authority that Jesus has in Luke 17. Jesus meets not one, but ten lepers on his travels. They cry out to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” He tells them to do what seems to follow the order of Leviticus, “Go and show yourself to the priests.” But what should amaze the reader is that they are not cleansed after the priest heal them. Luke says, “as they went they were cleansed.” Their faith in Jesus’ words and their obedience was enough and they were clean. They did not need a week of sacrifices and ritual. Christ has greater power.

Sadly only one of the ten, upon finding out he was healed, turned right around to fall at Jesus’ feet and give thanks. If this Samaritan did not fully understand it before, Jesus then makes it explicit, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

In Jesus Christ, God has done so much to make us well, and because Christ has lived the righteous life for us, we need only to place our trust in him to be clean.

Having now finished Leviticus, and knowing that Christ has come to fulfill the whole law (Matt 5), not abolish it, isn’t it amazing that he could do so? All of Leviticus deals with the laws for the priests and much of Exodus directs people how to live in accord with God’s law. Jesus Christ came and perfectly fulfilled it. All that the law could not do, Christ did for us. What the law could never be for us, Christ is. He has fulfilled it and he has made us clean before God.

I hope by reading through these books of law you gain greater appreciation for the perfect work of Christ that he accomplished for us. He fulfilled the law and went beyond what it could ever offer us. “For if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal 2:21b). By his death we are saved and made righteous, and we can take no credit for such a gracious act.

Story So Far, Week 7

We’ve made it to the last day of week seven, so give yourself the customary pat on the back for getting this far. We’re now half way through Leviticus with only one week remaining and we’re getting toward the end of Luke.

I posted earlier this week an image about the most read books in the world, and the Bible tops that list. The question I asked was how many people have read the Bible–the whole Bible? It may be the most circulated book by a mile, but that isn’t the only thing that matters. I want the Bible in the hands of the people, but I want its bindings creased. I want you to open it and read it and love it. Having read half of Leviticus you’re probably in a small percentage of readers. Maybe in these last seven weeks you’ve read more pages of the Bible than you have in your life. Fantastic.

This isn’t to say that you’ve now earned some badge of honor. But God’s Word is a beautiful thing and it is of great value to have spent this time with it. Even if you’re not seeing God work through you in his Word yet, he will do so. He who has planted these seeds will continue to tend them.

So keep out carving time out for the Lord. Spend time with him in study and prayer. Learn at his feet and follow him. We’ve had many challenging words from Jesus to that point. I like his imagery about salt, and how it loses its value when it loses its saltiness. Let the Bible flavor you each day. Be salty.

If you want one piece of homework, one little activity, try going without salt for a few days. I’m not saying put your salt shaker away. Do that, but more than that I mean don’t any eat food that has salt as an ingredient. I suspect it wouldn’t take long to develop a better appreciation for salt and a better understanding of Jesus’ words. Salt preserves, but it also flavors. As disciples of Christ we are the salt of the earth, and what we are endeavoring to do in reading all of Scripture is great preparation for that seasoning process.

Story So Far, Week 6

I’ve read Luke 9:62 many times before. There Jesus says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” I had often thought of Lot’s wife who turns back to her home and is turned into a pillar of salt. She was being delivered from judgment and all she could do was look back to her home.

But as we’ve finished the book of Exodus this week, I couldn’t help but read this verse in Luke and think of the Israelites as a whole. They were delivered from slavery and almost immediately they turn their hearts back to Egypt and to other gods. God is angered by these actions. We read this week in Exodus 34 that our God is a jealous God. He wants us for himself alone. God wants us to only worship him. Yet we look back again and again. We look back to false gods and idols. We look back imagining that an old life was better than it truly was. We rewrite history like the Israelites who wished they could return to Egypt where they felt life was better.

In Luke, Jesus pushes his disciples to not turn back from following him. There is a radical break in the way the disciples and Jesus relate to possessions and treasure–don’t look back to those. Do not return to seeing the world the way the culture does and they way you used to. To follow Jesus in many ways is to leave behind the things of the world.

As always, Jesus never pushes us and challenges us to do what he will not do himself. Earlier in chapter nine it says of Jesus, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus knew what waited for him there. Jesus set his face to the city where he would be crucified, and he didn’t look back. Repeatedly Jesus says to his disciples that he came for that very purpose. Jesus did not look back even though his purpose was to die for those who hated him.

This Jesus is the one who tells us, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” He calls us to come and follow him. We are to firmly fix our eyes on Jesus, and let the things of earth fade away, never looking back.

This is a hard task, greater than our efforts could accomplish, but thanks be to God that he gives us the strength and works in us, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:13).

The Story So Far, Week 4

This week we made it through some of the most monumental events in the history of God’s people: their captivity in Egypt, the Passover, and the Exodus. It was a lot to cover in only sixteen chapters. In Luke we see the birth of Jesus and John foretold, people recognize Jesus’ for who he is, whether it is Simeon or shepherds, and Jesus initiates his public ministry with fasting and teaching in the synagogue. We also read the first four of the psalms.

Like in the beginning of the Gospel of John, John the Baptist plays a large part in the opening chapters of Luke. What I love about him is his amazing humility. The people around him see his boldness and how he speaks with authority, and his followers don’t want anyone to detract from his notoriety, but John recognizes that he is only to prepare a way for Jesus. He is unworthy to untie Jesus’ sandals. John’s job, and a job he is delighted to do, is to point others away from himself and to Jesus.

It’s a humility that recognizes that we shouldn’t seek out glory for ourselves or try to claim credit for work that only God can do. God is the center of this whole story.

We see God as the main player in our Old Testament readings. Looking back to Joseph, we saw how only God could bring him from slavery into the courts of Pharaoh, and only God is able to do it again with Moses. Because of the persecution of the people of Israel, when he is just a baby, Moses is set adrift and found in a river. It is the daughter of Pharaoh who finds him, has him cared for, and makes him her son. Joseph and Moses have two very different ways to be brought into Pharaoh’s courts, but God is there in both.

When Moses is called by God to return to Pharaoh’s courts, to the very person who had sought to kill him, again it is only achieved because God is with him. God gives him words, God reveals his name to Moses, he promises he’ll work signs and wonders through Moses, and he even provides Aaron. Moses is a great character from our history, but like John the Baptist, his greatness is only in that he points others to God. There is no way Moses is taking credit for parting the Red Sea. His job is to make sure the world knows that it is our God who has done such a marvelous work.

That is our job as well. We don’t broadcast how great we are or what great things we have done. We just point others to our God and give him credit for all the good things that he has done.

The Story So Far, Week 3

Dressed for success

In reading about Joseph, a story I’ve read before, heard a lot about, and have even watched a movie on, it was fun to see what jumped out this time. We all know Joseph for his coat of many colors. It was given to him by his father Jacob, because Jacob loved Joseph dearly. It was an outward sign of his father’s favor.

But that robe would later be a sign of his brother’s treachery, as they take his robe and give it to Jacob indicating Joseph had been killed by an animal. Joseph goes from being loved in his father’s house, to being stripped of his fine clothes, sold into slavery, and he ends up working in Potiphar’s house.

But God was still with him as he prospered in all he did and found favor in Potiphar’s eyes. Unfortunately again Joseph’s dress was used in a plot for his harm. After rejecting advances from Potiphar’s wife and in the process leaving his cloak behind as he fled, Potiphar’s wife takes out her anger against Joseph by presenting the cloak as though it were proof of his misdeeds.

Joseph is again upended and goes to prison, where again he prospers and finds favor with those around him. Joseph ends up, through the work of God in giving him interpretations of dreams, leaving prison to be the highest ranking man in Egypt, except for Pharaoh himself. He had been robbed of his life by his brothers when they stripped him of his robe, but now he is restored by Pharaoh who, in chapter 41, “took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck.” Again we have an outward sign of Joseph’s status. He is dressed in such a way by Pharaoh for he is valued and given great responsibility in the land.

We see clothing play a part in another story that will be read in the coming weeks from Luke. The prodigal son leaves his father’s house and upon his long-awaited return is dressed in a ring and given shoes and the household is told to make preparation for a great celebration. The clothing signifies the father’s joy and acceptance of his son.

We might not give such thought to how we are dressed or how we see others dressed, but how we are clothed matters greatly in another sense. In 1 Peter 5 we are told to clothe ourselves not in literal attire, but in humility, for God opposes the proud. The dress of a Christian is to have certain characteristics like humility, but none as important as what we see in Romans 13:14. In the NIV is says:

Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ…

Whatever status is afforded to us by the way that we dress in this life cannot compare to the status that comes by our being clothed with Christ. Our clothes represent much of who we are when we are clothed in him. For when that is the case, we who are sinners gain instead the appearance of Christ’s righteousness. When our God sees us, he does not see our sin, instead he sees the perfection of his Son.

As we close out Genesis and John, the contrast is clear. So many figures of old are just ordinary like you and me. The only extraordinary one is seen in the gospels, and that is Jesus Christ. We do not boast in Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, nor can we boast in ourselves. We only boast in Christ. If not for our being clothed in him, boasting in his appearance, we would be nothing.