If the world was not surprised that God himself would come to us in Jesus Christ, then what he came to do would certainly have been unexpected. Jesus Christ was not born in a palace, raised with privilege, given an army, nor did he march upon Jerusalem and then Rome to conquer the world. Our coming king came to save us and to rule but he followed the path that led him to the cross. Our God is king and our king wore a crown not of gold, but of thorns.
This was foolishness. How could the Almighty be weak? How could our Victor suffer such apparent defeat? How could our Savior not save himself? But on the cross Jesus Christ showed his power over sin and death and sacrificed himself so that we may be saved. He was the ultimate sacrifice, sufficient in every way to atone for our sins.
At the crucifixion the curtain in the temple that divided God’s presence from a sinful people was torn in two. Behind that curtain was the Holy of Holies where only the select few could enter. But now we are chosen in Christ, we are the select who can be in God’s presence because Christ opens the way. He has reconciled God and humanity. Our sin divided and pushed us away. Our sin alienated us from God and made us his enemy. But God loved us even when we were enemies. And now in Jesus we can boldly go before the throne of grace.
This week’s reading is titled “Introductions.” We had our introductions to what the Bible is with brief readings from Hebrews and 2 Timothy.
When you read the passage in Luke you get an introduction to a way in which we can read the Bible. Jesus himself shows us that throughout all of Scripture we see him. He instructs disciples soon after the resurrection using the Old Testament and reveals all that those books say about him. Jesus didn’t come into the picture of God’s great plan late in the game. Jesus Christ was always the plan–before this world was even made we were chosen in him, as it says in Ephesians 1.
Then we turn to Genesis and are introduced to creation. Genesis has two accounts of the creation with the second one coming in chapters two and three. There we are introduced to the greatest of God’s creations, human beings, but then quickly we see how far we fall.
God made us and gave Adam clear instructions for how to live in the garden alongside God. But temptation comes when the serpent questions God’s word. “Did God really say that?… Oh, you won’t really die if you do that.” Adam and Eve do not believe the truth of God and believe the tempter. They exchange truth for a lie. The serpent wasn’t even holding something out that was an obvious treachery. The promise was for something akin to wisdom; it was to be like God. But in their pursuit of something good in the wrong way, they sin. And with sin there is consequence. There is shame, there is alienation, and there is curse.
Although God is the one who is wronged, he still seeks to provide even in the midst of passing out judgment. God is the one who clothes his children and he then in chapter three of Genesis promises one who will come for the serpent. Many see Christ as the offspring who will bruise the serpent from Genesis 3:15.
At the end of this introduction Adam and Eve are cast east of Eden, out of the garden and its gates are shut to them, with angels guarding the tree of life. What is next for them? Has God rejected the pinnacle of his creation, leaving humans on their own on earth? The good news that we know is that God does anything but leave us. God would one day come and be among us and there would be another tree of life. And on that tree Jesus Christ would die for us, giving us his very own life–a life abundant and eternal.
With two of this week’s passages we are reminded that the Bible is God’s word, and that idea carries great significance. What God has to say to us, in its entirety, isn’t always something we want to hear. But it is what we need.
If we’re familiar with Scripture we may turn to passages that we already know and like in order to find some word of encouragement. We may want to hear how God blesses his people and then turn to see what great blessing Solomon received or see how Jesus heals the sick. But how often do we want to read how those who were so close to Jesus, his disciples, didn’t always receive the sort of blessings we want and instead had lives of pain and suffering?
It seems we have a tendency to seek out what we already believe. We aren’t always in search of truth, but we are in search of confirmation–confirmation of what we already think we know.
You can turn on the TV or visit websites that you know will spin the news and report events in the way you like. It can be as innocuous as preferring to listen to your own local commentators while watching a sports game. I know I’d prefer to hear people who get at least a little bit more excited when my team scores. But it can also cause us to stick our heads in the sand. When all we hear and read is a carefully selected to never push us or confront our views, then we get very comfortable and also prideful. We make ourselves the judge of what is right.
When we are so selective in the way we take in information it leads to confirmation bias. With confirmation bias all we do, in the Bible and elsewhere, is look to reaffirm our ideas–which is to say, we try to reaffirm ourselves. But as Christians we must know we are sinners. We make mistakes and get things wrong. We can’t assume we know everything and have it all figured out.
At times God will confront us. He will challenge what we believe. And that’s good. God is God, and we are not. His ways and his thoughts are not like ours. There should be times when we are pushed and have to change our views and actions in order to align with what we read. 2 Timothy 3:16 doesn’t say “all Scripture is profitable to comfort us in down times.” God’s word may do that. But it is profitable for the hard things, too, like reproof, correction, and training.
We just need to be bold enough to first open the Bible and humble enough to listen for the Spirit to continue to speak to us through it and work upon our lives–even when that means we are convicted and challenged.
Those readings from this week: Hebrews 4:12 and 2 Timothy 3:10–17 ↩
We see this even in this week’s reading and not only in a book like Acts. Paul writes in 2 Tim 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” How often do we hear 2 Tim 3:16 and never hear a verse just a few lines up? ↩
I have had a lot fun scratching my visual arts itch in putting together our plans for Year in the Bible. I’ve used several logos in the past and I leaned heavily on trees early on, inspired by Psalm 1. When we delight in God’s Word it is as though we are a tree firmly planted by streams of water.
But I continued to experiment and went with a more abstract visual that mixed the letter ‘y’ (from year in Year in the Bible) with an opened book. At least that is what I hoped it had looked like.
I wasn’t even sure I wanted to spend anytime changing things up, but I had an idea while driving one day about some of the animals we see throughout the Bible. I thought about including several, but I failed in those attempts. I settled on the image of a lion, often associated with Christ. I think it will work well because as we walk through the Bible we will see Christ on the move, as well. Under the lion is a sword, which represents the Word of God in all its power. As it says in Hebrews, which is part of this first week’s readings:
…the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
My hope in this new reading plan is to see the plans of God that find their fulfillment in Christ all throughout the Bible. And as we read, doing so in humility and prayer, I believe God will use his Word to pierce our hearts. He can speak to us in a way that shakes us to our very soul. Such a reverberation that penetrates us and awakens us to the ongoing work of Jesus Christ will surely transform individuals, families, communities, and churches.
So if we believe that, do we dare pick up and read the Bible? Do we make ourselves vulnerable to that piercing work of God? Are we open to change? Or do we leave our Bibles on the shelf, afraid to see what God will show us?
When Paul mentions the Passover he is calling to mind one of the defining events for the Jewish people. The final plague of Exodus was to be the death of the firstborns in Egypt, but God’s people are spared because he has made a provision for them. The blood of the firstborns is replaced by the blood of a lamb. Its blood is smeared on the doors of the homes and death passes over God’s people. Paul now says to the church that Christ is this Passover lamb.
But the Passover calls to mind not only the passing over, but also the final deliverance from Egypt. The people were to prepare themselves for on the same night that Israel is passed over and death comes upon many in that land, there were to leave. They need to be ready to go and go quickly. Exodus 12:11 says this:
In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover.
Having your belt fastened is what is at times translated, “gird up your loins.” The idea behind it is be ready for travel. Don’t let your robes hang low and trip you up as you make your escape. Don’t just have your shoes by the door, put them on. Fasten your belt, tie your shoes laces–in double knots, have your car keys in hand and not on the table. Be ready to go immediately.
This hurry is why they eat the unleavened bread. Israel would have no time for their dough to rise. They needed to make haste.
Then as God had told them, it all comes to pass. Cries went up in the night “for there was not a house where someone was not dead.” Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron in the night and commands them to go. He says, ““Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as you have said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also!”
There is a great urgency for Egypt to rid itself of such a people that have brought God’s judgment upon them. They fear what may come next. So with such urgency in the land, it was in God’s wisdom that he prepared Israel to make haste. This great exodus was no small undertaking and it would have taken much preparation, and God had guided them through it. Here is what happened, beginning in verse 34 of Exodus 12:
So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders. The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.
And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds. And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.
The book of Exodus then recounts the length of time that Israel had spent in Egypt, emphasizing the ending of that time and the beginning of a new day for Israel. Now they are freed. Generations of slavery have come to an end. So, when death pases over the people and Pharaoh finally tells Moses and his people, “Go!”, the only proper response is to leave. God did not bring about such a miraculous deliverance for his own people from the great worldly power of Egypt for them to remain in captivity. Israel’s response to God’s work and Pharaoh’s charge cannot be to linger. When Pharaoh says to leave, they shouldn’t say, “Give me a minute.” They can’t stay a moment longer. They can’t remain in slavery. God makes this point when he tells them to prepare themselves and dress appropriately for they won’t even have time for bread to rise. When God makes the way for his people, they must go. He desires to free them from Egypt and deliver them into a land that had been promised to them.
Paul is calling upon this theme of deliverance in 1 Corinthians. When he mentions that Christ is our Passover lamb he wants you to remember the Passover. The Passover is not only the sparing of Israel, it is the catalyst of their freedom. Likewise, Jesus is our sacrifice, sparing us from the consequence of our sin. He has taken the judgment on himself. But this Passover lamb was not sacrificed so that we can now linger in slavery. The church in Corinth is making a mockery of the sacrifice and is misunderstanding freedom in Christ. The arrogant sinning that is going on is nothing but a return to slavery. Paul wants them to understand and then live into a true freedom in Christ. His sacrifice is what brings us freedom to flee from captivity, leaving behind the chains of sin and the dominion of death.
Knowing that Jesus is our Passover, we ought to make haste to flee from sin and rush into his arms. We experience true freedom in him. We know the life we are intended to live when we are in Christ.
Using our freedom in Christ to return to sin is a return to slavery. Rather, just as Israel prepared itself to march out of Egypt into God’s guidance, we too must prepare ourselves. We are called to rid ourselves of such bondage, casting aside whatever weighs us down and entangles us because we have a race before us that we must run (Hebrews 12:1-2). We must be ready for a march into God’s promised land. We have a kingdom to be stewards of in this fallen world. We have a life of freedom that leads not to death, but to newness of life and life everlasting. So in our continuing work to leave the captivity of sin and live the life of a freed people, captive only to the righteousness of God, let us prepare ourselves as we are instructed in Ephesians 6, keeping in mind the way the Israelites were to prepare themselves on the night of their deliverance:
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Hebrews 12 opens with a description of past saints in the faith as a “great cloud of witnesses.” We are not in this journey alone and thank God. We are in great need of the encouragement of others, past and present. This has been on my mind since I’ll be talking about it in a class tomorrow morning, but it can’t be said enough that we are called to be a blessing to one another. We need the help, but we are also empowered to be the help for others.
The chapter goes on to urge the reader to cast off what slows us down and trips us up. We need to rid ourselves of sin and distractions. I think we can read this great cloud of witnesses as a contrast to these obstacles. On the one hand all that weighs us down. On the other we have brothers and sisters that lift us up. It is quite the gift that God has called us to be a church; that he calls us out of the world but into a new body.
Throughout the book of Hebrews Jesus Christ is being linked to the practices and objects of the Old Testament. For example, Christ is the veil, he is the sacrifice, and he is priest. The ways of the old covenant find their improvement in Jesus Christ and the new covenant that he has instituted.
In chapter 11 as we read about the role of faith in the people of God, going all the way back to Abel, we read one line about Moses that continues to strengthen the link of Christ to the Old Testament. Verse 26 says:
[Moses] considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.
It doesn’t say that Moses considered the reproach of God, but rather the reproach of Christ as a greater treasure than all that could be found in Egypt. Verse 25 tells us how Moses chose to be mistreated with God’s people rather enjoy the sinful spoils of Pharaoh’s courts. In so doing he willingly took on scorn and suffering–the reproach of others, and did so, as the NIV says in its translation, “for the sake of Christ.”
Moses did not know the name of Jesus Christ, but he put his hope in God, and that hope is Christ. Jesus is Messiah, the one in whom all the hope of Israel was wrapped. Moses trusted the promises of God, looking ahead to the reward, knowing it to be better than any fleeting treasure or pleasure. So Moses endured reproach for what to him at the time was unnamed. But now the author of Hebrews looks back and calls it what it was. Moses enduring for the sake of Christ, the only hope we have now.
Likewise we now are called to endure reproach for his sake, and opportunities are not hard to come by. It may not be a Pharaoh seeking to kill us, but we are often given the choice between the fleeting pleasures of sin and Jesus. When we choose the latter we often choose hardship, as well.