Say That Without Spitting

Propitiation. That’s one you don’t hear often, but it has become one of my favorites. We really should use it more (just pass the towels). I got so excited when I started studying the big, “church” words. We quit using them because we were trying to make church “seeker friendly.” But we dumbed ourselves down, when we should have just educated our listeners.

If you look up the English word propitiation in a lexicon, you find other big, religious words – like expiation, conciliation, redemption, and justification. Webster’s dictionary defines most of these words around the concept of attempting to please God, to make atonement, find forgiveness, restore peace or friendship with God. It all sounds like things we have to do – big, heavy, burdensome things. And that’s just wrong!

propitiaion

In Exodus, God gives Moses the detailed instructions for building the tabernacle and everything inside it, including the Ark of the Covenant. In Leviticus, He tells him how all these things he built are to be used. On top of the Ark, Moses was told to make a seat, like a bench. The Hebrew word for this is “capporeth.” It was to be 2½ cubits long and 1½ cubits  wide, the same as the Ark itself, and apparently functioning as the lid. Figuring a cubit at about 18″, that would be about 45″x 27″. It was called the mercy seat. At each end of it was a cherubim. The whole assembly of bench and cherubim was to be made of gold. Each of the cherubim was to face inward, looking at the mercy seat. The wings of the cherubim swept inward, toward one another, over the mercy seat, and touching wingtips. The Ark was in the innermost part of the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies. God told Moses, “And there I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.”

On the annual Day of Atonement, the high priest would sacrifice a bull as a sin offering and a ram as a burnt offering. Then he would take from the congregation two male goats for a sin offering and a burnt offering. He would cast lots and thereby select one of the goats for the sacrifice. The blood of the bull was sprinkled on the east end of the mercy seat, and in front of the mercy seat. The blood of the goat was sprinkled on and in front of the mercy seat. The other goat was the “scapegoat,” and was presented alive before the Lord, and then released into the wilderness, representing the sins being carried away.

In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the word “capporeth” is always translated by the Greek word “hilasterion.” That is the word used in Romans 3:25 referring to Jesus as the one “whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.”

While the Law was given as commandments to be obeyed, we miss the point that God is the “prime mover.” He is the One who told Moses to make the mercy seat. In other words, He is the One who chose to make a way, and chose the way to reconcile man to Himself. He acted first. It was not about man attempting to appease God, please God, make atonement, find forgiveness, restore peace…. God moved first! He reached out. He made the way.

Consider then, Romans 3:21-25. God took on flesh and blood in the person of His Son, the Messiah, Jesus. Jesus became the propitiation – the Mercy Seat. It wasn’t the blood of bulls or rams or goats, but through His own blood and because of the incredible “forbearance (patience) of God that He passed over the sins previously committed.” In Jesus is the Mercy Seat, the Blood, and the Passover. In Jesus is redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, atonement, forgiveness, and salvation. He is where we come to meet God, to enter His presence. And, it is by His doing. “Apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God, He passed over the sins previously committed.” This, to me, is what Jesus meant when He said He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill!

God loves you. He wants fellowship with you. He delights in you. It isn’t about what you have to do to appease Him. It’s about what He has done to reach out to you, and to demonstrate His love. Have you accepted that love? Will you?

A Better Way

In case you are wondering, I frankly will not spend a lot of time in the Old Testament on this blog. The last post, and maybe just a few more, will hopefully serve the purpose of showing some new covenant principles that were foreshadowed in the old. It is not an attempt to be exhaustive on the subject, but to be illustrative.

Last time I mentioned that, because of Abraham’s and Sarah’s being well past child-bearing age, the birth of Isaac was an example of life out of death. It set the stage for the sacrificial system to come.

Considerable detail is given in the Old Testament to the entire system of sacrifices and tabernacle/temple worship. The tabernacle is described in Exodus 25-27. Materials, colors, designs, and dimensions are laid out in detail. There is an outer court with the altar of sacrifice and the bronze laver of water for cleansing. The enclosed part was divided into two parts, the Holy Place held the table of shewbread, the golden candlestick, and the altar of incense. A veil separated this from the Holy of Holies, which housed the Ark of the Covenant. Similar detail is given to the description of the temple, the more permanent structure, in 1 Kings 6-7 and 2 Chronicles 3-5.

Tabernacle

The sacrifice was the core of the old covenant system of worship. On its most practical level, the daily sacrifices and offerings provided food for the priests, whose job was not to farm, but to keep the people focused on God. On the bigger sacrificial events, such as the Day of Atonement, the people were to bring their individual sacrifices, which provided the food for the feast days.

Spiritually, by the sacrifice, sins were forgiven and purification was made. The priest would slay the bull at the doorway of the tabernacle, sprinkle some of the blood in front of the veil of the sanctuary, put some on the “horns of the altar of fragrant incense” (an extension of each corner of the altar), then pour out the blood of the animal before the altar of sacrifice – where the offering was “burnt,” or cooked. The symbolism of all these things is beautiful to consider. Books have been written about it that are more thorough than I have the time or purpose to go into here. I want to focus on the Holiest of All – or, the Holy of Holies.

The Holy of Holies was considered the dwelling place of God. Only the High Priest could enter within the Holy of Holies. He could only enter once a year, on the Day of Atonement. As long as the tabernacle/temple system was standing, the way into the holiest place was not disclosed, according to Hebrews 9:8. The gifts and sacrifices offered through this system could not make the worshiper perfect in conscience. If they could, the average person could have entered with confidence into the Holy of Holies. The old covenant regulations had to do with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body “imposed until a time of reformation.” They had to be repeated over and over. Their effect was not total, nor did it last indefinitely. Hebrews calls it weak and useless because it makes nothing perfect, pointing us to a better hope and a better covenant enacted on better promises. In the “fulness of time,” or at the proper time, God “summed up” all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth (Ephesians 1:10).

Jesus replaced the repetitious system with a once-for-all system. Not by the blood of bulls or goats, but by His own blood, Jesus entered a greater and more perfect tabernacle, that of Heaven, entering the Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.

Adam and Abraham

Most Christians can “share their testimony” of how they “got saved.” However, I am not so sure most understand, or are even aware of the spiritual principles and dynamics of that experience. As a result, they struggle in self-effort to achieve righteousness. They lack a foundation for spiritual growth. They may know a lot about the Bible, but are well-educated spiritual babies. They lack a foundation for righteous living, so they strive to live by the letter of the law, seeking “holiness” by living up to rules plucked from both the Old and New Testaments, and constantly failing, repenting, failing, repenting, ad infinitum. Over the next few blog posts, I want to lay that foundation of understanding the spiritual dynamics of salvation. Understanding how we begin the Christian life can make a world of difference in how we live the Christian life.

Wenera

God has always wanted a relationship with man. He walked with Adam in the Garden. Adam, which means mankind, being the only human at the time, was all of mankind, both male and female. It wasn’t until after the 1st sin, that man designated himself as Adam and his wife as Eve. Through Adam, sin entered the world, and with it, death. The first eleven chapters of Genesis tell of this relationship and how it was disrupted by man’s sin. During this time, God is depicted as relating to man on an individual basis.

Coming on the heels of the stories of the fall and corruption of mankind, is Abraham. In Abraham, God’s relationship with mankind takes a new twist. God narrows the focus of redemption history to one select group, a chosen people. Just as there are significant lessons to be learned from the concept of mankind beginning with one individual created by God, there is significance to God’s establishing a covenant with a one man and thus establishing a chosen people through whom He would relate to the world. And there is significance to the specific man He chose.

Abraham and Sarah had no children, and were too old to start. They were in effect dead to childbearing. Paul says Abram was as good as dead, and refers to the deadness of Sarah’s womb. Out of this death God provided life through the miraculous birth of Isaac. This significant beginning was also the beginning of the ancestry of the One through Whom “all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Abraham became the father of Him who was before him. God demonstrated through Abraham that life comes out of death.

This concept is the basis of the old covenant system of sacrifice. That’s for upcoming posts. For now, let’s look at Adam and Abraham.

  1. With both, God was the prime mover. In other words, He acted first. He created Adam. He walked with Adam in the garden. He sought out Adam after he sinned. God came to Abraham (Abram at the time), and established His covenant with him.
  2. The idea that God created Mankind beginning with one individual teaches the value of each individual. To the Jews, killing one individual was equivalent to killing mankind. More than that, the idea that God took the time and effort to specifically form one individual speaks to the personal value of each individual to God. Random evolutionary process just doesn’t communicate that concept.
  3. When Russian President Putin was asked what he thought of American President George W. Bush calling the 9/11 terrorists “evil,” and how that compared to President Ronald Reagan referring to the USSR as an “evil empire,” Putin had a very insightful reply. He said Reagan’s comments did not bother him. It was just the kind of rhetoric one nation uses to describe a political adversary. “But,” he said, of the Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, “they are truly evil. To them we are but dust.” What an accurate description of evil. God lovingly formed man from the dust of the ground a breathed into him the breath of life. Evil, in direct opposition, sees living men and women, values them as no more than dust, and ultimately seeks to return them to dust. Kill, mutilate, rape, destroy, covet, commit adultery – it doesn’t matter. It is just dust. You cannot get there if you truly believe that God lovingly created that individual.
  4. When God came to Abram, He was not coming to a religious group. He was not coming to an existing nation and telling them a specific way to worship. (That came later). He came to one man and established a relationship. It was a relationship based on His promises. He promised an old man with an old wife descendants as numerous as the stars. He did not give Abraham any rituals to follow (circumcision came later), or any laws to obey. He just gave Him promises. All Abraham needed was faith. That’s why Paul declares that Abraham was the father of all who are of faith, and that if you come to God on the basis of faith, you are Abraham’s descendant. That’s why Rich Mullins sang, “Sometimes I think of Abraham, how one star he saw had been lit for me.” God loved Abraham. When God told him his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, if you have come to God on the basis of faith, one of those stars represented you. Even then, He had you in mind.

Do you find yourself struggling with righteousness? When you fall, do you sometimes want to just give up? Do you know that God loves you because He chooses to?

A Mommy’s Love

I was re-reading Andrew Murray’s Abide in Christ. I highly recommend it. What I read this morning had to do with Jesus being our righteousness. Murray pointed out that as we begin with Christ and begin to understand righteousness, we think of it as something we have to put on regularly. When we begin to really grasp not only what He has done for us, but that He is our righteousness, it changes our perspective. We no longer look at it as a robe in which we clothe ourselves, or a way of life or behavior. Instead, we realize that the Lord Himself is our righteousness. We learn that because we are His, and He is ours, His righteousness is ours as well. That makes us want to abide in Him all the more.

Murray wrote: “The life and the righteousness are inseparably linked, and the believer becomes more conscious than before of a righteous nature planted within him.” As I read it, I became aware that we often fall short of this realization. Why? We are busy and distracted – in our personal lives, by our culture, all the sensory stimuli available with media, computers, games, activities, and even in the events and programs that make up most of our Christian experience. We think we are righteous because we “put on the robe of righteousness.” We never quite really know that we are righteous because we abide in Him as our righteousness. We love the world; we love church; we love being religious, but we don’t have time to love Him.

motherlove

A friend stopped by yesterday. She was telling us about her daughter. Her daughter is adopted, and recently met her birth mother. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for them all. In telling us this story, she gave us some of the background about her daughter. Unable to have children herself, our friend and her husband met an unwed mother who was considering placing her baby for adoption. They got to know her, became somewhat involved with her life, and adopted the baby girl right after her birth. When she was about 8, a girl at school told her that her real mommy didn’t love her and had given her away. That evening she talked with her adopted mommy who pointed out that her birth mother had loved her so much she wanted her to have both a mommy and daddy who would love her and provide for her in ways she could not do. The next day at school, she told her classmate that she was actually the lucky one because she had two mommies who loved her very much, and she was sorry her classmate only had one mommy.

So many people think that having a baby will give them someone to love, or someone to love them. Some fear that if they give the child away, even to a loving couple who would be eager to adopt, that they would be rejecting the baby or shirking their responsibility. I was struck by the depth of love this birth mother showed. I was struck by the deep love our friend has for her daughter – there is obvious joy and delight. In addition, I was struck by the healing and the confidence the daughter found when she came to know of her birth mother’s love. And the healing came full circle. When they met, the birth mother had feared that her daughter might hate her for “giving her away.” Instead, all those years of wondering and worrying were erased as her daughter thanked her for loving her so much.

I don’t know if this is “the best” illustration for the point I want to make, but it evoked in me the same emotion I felt as I read Murray’s challenge to realize how God loves us and provides for our righteousness. If we could but understand the depth of the love of God for us, we would find liberty and strength for life. We are called to abide in Him. Too often we love the idea of loving Him. We love the idea of being a Christian, of doing religious, or even “righteous” things. We don’t get around to actually loving Him, much less abiding in Him.

God does not just make demands on us. His “standard” is not a goal we are commanded to attain and then left struggling to fulfill. He took on flesh to bring holiness into the human experience. He died to open the veil, through the torn veil of His own flesh, and make away for us to abide in His presence. He rose again to become executor of His own will, and to live within us as our righteousness, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Whatever He commands, He enables the willing follower to do. His command is His promise – He is at work both to will and to work for His good pleasure. It is by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who was made to us the wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.

What keeps you from abiding in Christ? What are your distractions? What other illustrations can you share of lives that have been made stronger through sacrificial love and/or a grateful heart?

 

No Other Message

Paul said it. Many have tried to follow his example. “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

Usually, I’ve heard that applied by someone saying that was all they were going to preach. Or, a salvation message would be worked into every sermon they preached. I think that’s a narrow view of what Paul meant. In fact, that’s somewhat what this blog is about.

Wenera

I went to Africa with Jimmy Hodges Ministries (now called Reaching Souls International). We preached a clear evangelistic message in market places and villages for two weeks. Nearly 30,000 responded to the Gospel message.

Is that what Paul meant by knowing nothing else, but Jesus Christ and Him crucified? Paul’s own description of his ministry among the Corinthians suggests a broader application. And his other letters do also. Jesus said it best: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

The daily cross is not a salvation message per se. (I am convinced, however, that if Christians would take up their cross daily and live the “crucified life,” lost people would be less confused about both how to become a Christian and how to live as one. But, that’s a whole ‘nother post.) The daily cross is about denying self. It’s about dying to self. It’s a difficult message to teach for several reasons.

  • Most people don’t really want to hear it. We’re selfish. That’s why we need the message. That’s why we don’t want it.
  • We’re scared. It means change. And most of us don’t like change, at least not when it means changing us. We’ll rearrange the furniture. We’ll change jobs. We’ll change lots of things in our lives. Just don’t ask us to change anything at a more fundamental “me” level.
  • We’re scared because of what it represents, too. Death. Suffering. Loss. Not too pleasant a picture. And you want me to live that way? Daily?
  • We don’t understand it. How does it apply in our day to day living? How do you die to self?

I put that question to one of my mentors. Dr. Jack Gray was a missions professor at Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Ft. Worth. He was saved in his youth and entered the ministry at the age of 17. He was one of the godliest men I ever knew. He just had a heart for God. He loved God. He was 75 years old I asked him if he could give me a better way to describe the crucified life when someone asked. He thought a moment and replied, “I’m not sure I can come up with a succinct answer, because I do not have a completed experience.”

Books have been written about it. Among the best in my opinion:

  • The Christians Secret to a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith
  • The Centrality of the Cross, The Climax of the Risen Life, Life Out of Death, and The Cross – the Touchstone of Faith – all by Jessie Penn-Lewis
  • You’ll find it in many of Andrew Murray’s works – Abide in Christ, Like Christ, and The Blood of the Cross
  • Key to Triumphant Living by Jack Taylor
  • The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee
  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (I’ve had this book a long time, started reading it a couple of times over the years. Just finished reading it all the way through – I highly recommend it.)

For that matter, a strong case could be made that this very subject is what the Bible is all about. The Old Covenant points us to the law as a standard that is beyond our capability to live. The New Covenant points us to God’s provision. He took on humanity to bring righteousness into the pool of human experience. He died and then rose again to become executor of His own will. And He puts that will in our hearts and gives us His own support, help, companionship and ability to live it.

There really is no other message. If you want to teach people how to be good, it takes Jesus and the message of the cross. If you want people to live holy lives, it takes Jesus and the message of the cross.

It’s really not so scary if you open yourself to it. As Lewis put it: “The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of ‘little Christs,’ all different, will still be too few to express Him fully…. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”

What does “death to self” or “denying yourself” mean to you? Is it easy? Is it hard? Is it in someways both? What books would you add to the list above?