Tuesday, November 26, 2013

It’s A Good Thing

“In his book By Grace Alone, Sinclair Ferguson identifies four major ‘fiery darts’ Satan uses to unsettle believers and rob them of their assurance and peace in the gospel:
·   Fiery Dart 1: ‘God is against you,’ Satan says. ‘He is not really for you. How can you believe he is for you when you see the things that are happening in your life?’
·   Fiery Dart 2: ‘I have accusations I will bring against you because of your sins,’ Satan argues. ‘What can you say in defense? Nothing.’
·   Fiery Dart 3: ‘You can say you are forgiven, but there is a payback day coming—a condemnation day,’ Satan insinuates. ‘How will you defend yourself then?’
·   Fiery Dart 4: ‘Given your track record, what hope is there that you will persevere to the end?’ Satan asks.”[1]
The enemy uses every trick in his effort to get us to doubt our Salvation. One of his most successful lies is fiery dart number one. Haven’t you heard people talk about God as though He is just waiting for us to screw up so He can keep us out of Heaven? It’s almost like the heathen practices where, if we want God’s blessing, we have to appease Him in some way.

Thankfully, because of Jesus’ life and death, we know that’s just not true.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:16-17
Now, fiery dart number two, on the other hand, is 100% true – he has a record of every sin we’ve ever committed. And without Jesus, we have absolutely no defense. Without Jesus we are doomed.
“Satan has an accurate knowledge of the sins that he has tempted God’s people to commit, and he urges his accusations against them, declaring that by their sins they have forfeited divine protection, and claiming that he has the right to destroy them. He pronounces them just as deserving as himself of exclusion from the favor of God. . .  But while the followers of Christ have sinned, they have not given themselves up to be controlled by the satanic agencies. They have repented of their sins and have sought the Lord in humility and contrition, and the divine Advocate pleads in their behalf. He who has been most abused by their ingratitude, who knows their sin and also their penitence, declares: ‘The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan. I gave My life for these souls. They are graven upon the palms of My hands.
They may have imperfections of character; they may have failed in their endeavors; but they have repented, and I have forgiven and accepted them.’” (Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, pp. 588, 589)
Fiery dart number three is not far from number two, but Satan brings in the threat of a condemnation or judgment day to up everyone’s anxiety. He has made sure that when most of us, even those of us who claim to rest our assurance of salvation in Jesus, experience some sense of foreboding when we think about a day of judgment. The enemy has twisted and clouded the purpose of the judgment so much that most of us don’t see the promise of freedom within it.

The pre-Advent Judgment, something that is going on right now, is described by Daniel.
“I was watching; and the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them, until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom.” Daniel 7:21-22
“A judgment was made in favor of the saints…” Does that sound like condemnation? It doesn’t to me. It sounds like Jesus showing God each of our records wiped clean because we have accepted Jesus’ sacrifice in payment for the wages of our sins.
“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had pass over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:21-26
As for the last fiery dart, well, we know that Jesus will ensure that anyone who loves Him will spend eternity with Him. He has paid the price for us to enter God’s Kingdom.
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” John 14:1-3
“For many Americans, the college admissions process is an oppressive and extraordinarily stressful area of life. A number of years ago, I watched as two best friends, Wayne and Dave, applied for early admission at the same college. That December, Wayne was accepted and Dave was deferred. The next four months, during which Dave waited for the final ruling, looked very different—and very similar—for each of them. … No longer under the watchful eye of the all-important transcript, Wayne decided to branch out in his extracurricular activities. He started a band and got into rock-climbing. He even pioneered a program teaching underprivileged kids in the community how to climb. … Meanwhile, Dave got involved in a bunch of extracurriculars … that he thought might boost his chances at getting into his dream college.
“By the end of the semester, Dave was exhausted, and Wayne was full of energy. Although Dave did well and kept up his GPA, Wayne got the best grades of his high school career! Freed from having to play it safe, he wrote his papers about topics he was genuinely interested in, rather than the ones he thought the teacher would appreciate, and it showed on the page. Their paths may not have looked very different to the outside eye, but one of these guys was carrying a burden of expectation and one wasn't. No wonder it felt like such a slog.
“The fruit of assurance in Wayne's life was not laziness but creativity, charity and fun. Set free from the imperative to perform, his performance shot off the charts. Set free from having to earn his future, he enjoyed his present. Set free from the burden of self-focus, he was inspired to serve others—and without being told he needed to do so!"[2]
Because of the pre-Advent judgment, we can live like Wayne, free in the assurance of God’s love for us.

[1] Sinclair Ferguson, By Grace Alone (Reformation Trust, 2010), p. 68
[2] Tullian Tchividjian, "Grace and the Summer of George," Liberate: Tullian Tchividjian blog (4-19-13)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

In My Place

“Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. ‘With His stripes we are healed.’ ” (E.G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 25)
I believe those are some of the most profound, powerful and potentially life-changing words ever written, outside of the Bible. In a very clear and succinct way they explain the sacrifice Jesus made so that we could spend eternity with Him.

My question is, then, what stops most of us from completely accepting our already bought and paid for salvation? Well, here’s what I think … I think we tend to gloss over the “what we deserve” part. We jump right to the “what He deserves” part. We don’t spend much time considering what we actually deserve.
We are surrounded by with messages that tell us that we deserve the good stuff – that we’ve earned it. Messages like “You deserve a break today,” “…because you deserve the very best,” and “go ahead, you’ve earned it.”

Even if we accept that “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23, our human minds aren’t really capable, without the help of the Holy Spirit, of understanding the true weight of sin and what it actually cost Jesus to redeem us.

Sometimes we just take Christ’s sacrifice for granted. We kind of get to the point that we say or read the words without actually thinking about them anymore. Paul describes it in Romans as drifting away.
“Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him,” Romans 2:1-3
Many years ago, I lived in Germany in an apartment that had several strikes against it – it was above a bar and the last building before the train tracks. Many of you will already know that trains in Europe are much more important for both carrying people and freight than they are in the United States. The German train system is really pretty spectacular, unless your bedroom window is three feet away from one of its busy tracks.

Thinking back on it now, I really can’t tell you how often trains came by. There were travel trains that came as often as buses do in big cities. There were also freight trains that came by several times each day and night.

When I first moved in, I thought I would go insane! I woke up every time a train passed in the night and was often startled by them during the day. Add to that the bar/night club sounds from the floor below, and I really didn’t get much sleep at first.

But with an amazing quickness, I became deaf to all of those sounds. They didn’t wake me up at night or disturb me during the day. I almost forgot they were there. I think that sometimes, as Christians, we get almost deaf to the story of Jesus and what He’s done for us. Is it any wonder, then, that Mrs. White encourages us to spend time thinking about Him?
“It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones. As we thus dwell upon His great sacrifice for us, our confidence in Him will be more constant, our love will be quickened, and we shall be more deeply imbued with His spirit. If we would be saved at last, we must learn the lesson of penitence and humiliation at the foot of the cross.” (E.G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 83)
The church I attend has, for the past several years, done a large reenactment of the last week of Jesus life on the Saturday before Easter Sunday. It’s outside and the audience moves from place to place and watches different scenes … the Triumphal Entry of Jesus in Jerusalem, his interacting with the scribes and Pharisees, the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, His trial at the Sanhedrin and before Pontius Pilate, His crucifixion and resurrection.

Those who come to view the performance are reminded of the reality of Jesus’ last days. For several years, I have helped prepare the scene where Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate. Logistically it’s difficult because it’s one of the only scenes that requires make up and a costume change – the actor who portrays Jesus receives make up so that he looks like he’s been beaten as well as the robe and crown of thorns.

Emotionally, though, it is difficult because of the angry mob that calls for Jesus’ death. Being part of that mob is not something people want to do … it’s hard to find people who are willing to play those parts. The first couple of years I helped, I was part of the mob and I can hardly explain how deeply and profoundly I was effected.

The next day, as I replayed the scene in my mind, my heart was broken when I thought of what Jesus had borne for me – what Jesus had suffered in my place.

A devastating earthquake hit Iran in 2003. It was described as the deadliest earthquake in a decade, and it “filled the nation of Iran with sadness. But in the midst of despair, one story gave people hope. Cradled in her dead mother's arms, surrounded by the crumbled remnant of a collapsed building, a baby girl was found alive.
“The mother shielded six-month-old Nassim from the falling debris and saved her life. Rescuers found the girl 37 hours after the earthquake.
“Hessamoddin Farrokhyar, Red Crescent public relations deputy director in Tehran, said: ‘She is alive because of her mother's embrace. The baby girl is in good condition considering the circumstances.’
“Christ was ‘crushed for our iniquities’ (Isaiah 53:5, NIV). Those who take refuge in Jesus' embrace are shielded from sin's devastating impact, saved through his sacrifice.”[1]
“He was despised and rejected — a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him    the sins of us all.” Isaiah 53:3-6

[1] MSNBC (12-29-03) and The Herald (12-29-03)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Above and Beyond

I spent some time looking for a good example of atonement, this week. It was more difficult than I expected because so many of the examples I found equate atonement with forgiveness – synonyms. I have to admit, that I have thought of them as the same as well. But when I look at the description of the things that happened on the Day of Atonement, there’s something more going on there above and beyond forgiveness.

See, all the rest of the year (and even throughout the Day of Atonement) sacrifices were happening to forgive individuals of their individual sins – a person would bring his lamb to the tabernacle, lay his hand on the head of the lamb and confess his sin, kill the lamb and then the priest would carry the blood of that sacrifice into the Holy Place. Symbolically then, that’s where the sin of that person stayed, until the Day of Atonement.

On that day, the High Priest would offer a sacrifice to forgive his own sins and then he would do something very different.

 He would take two goats, present them both to the Lord at the entrance to the Tabernacle and then draw lots to tell which goat would be the Lord’s goat (the sin offering) and which one would be the scapegoat.
“Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil … and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness. There shall be no man in the tabernacle of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the Holy Place, until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel. And he shall go out to the altar that is before the Lord, and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. Then he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, cleanse it, and consecrate it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.
“And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place, the tabernacle of meeting, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat. Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.” Leviticus 16:15-22
What I learned this week is that the goat that becomes the Lord’s goat has not had any sins confessed over it and no hands laid upon it, so it is “sinless.” That way it’s blood symbolically cleanses away all of the sins that have been "piling up” in the sanctuary all year long.

Then all of those sins are confessed over the scapegoat, who is not killed but led out into the wilderness never to be seen again – essentially carrying with it all of those sins that had been in the sanctuary. So now, the sanctuary is cleansed of those sins for another year.

Atonement is not about forgiveness because those sins were already forgiven when the individual made his sacrifice. Atonement is something more. It’s erasing the evidence of those sins.

Here’s an example of what I’m trying to say from a book called, Temptations Men Face by Tom Eisenmann.
“Several years ago I heard Bob Sheffield of the Navigators tell a moving story … Before he became a Christian, Bob played professional hockey in Canada. He was tough, loved to fight, and found himself in jail one night after a barroom brawl. Later, Bob and his wife became Christians. They…accepted a temporary assignment with The Navigators…in the States.
“Bob had to apply for landed immigrant status, which would allow him and his wife to continue in ministry in the United States. But because he had a criminal record, his request was denied….They decided to apply in Canada for what is called the ‘Queen's Pardon.’ Following thorough investigation, the pardon was granted. Bob Sheffield received the following notice in the mail:
“Whereas we have since been implored on behalf of the said Robert Jones Sheffield to extend a pardon to him in respect to the convictions against him, and whereas the solicitor general here submitted a report to us, now know ye therefore, having taken these things into consideration, that we are willing to extend the royal clemency on him, the said Robert J. Sheffield. We have pardoned, remitted, and released him of every penalty to which he was liable in pursuance thereof.
“On any document from that time forward on which Bob was asked if he had a criminal record, he could honestly answer no. The pardon meant he was released from any possible punishment for the crimes, and the record of the crimes themselves was completely erased.
That is the kind of pardon we have in Jesus Christ. We are set free from any penalty or punishment. When asked, the answer is, ‘no record, pardoned by the blood of Christ.’[1]
So, since Adam and Eve believe the serpents lie and sinned in the Garden of Eden, the sins that Jesus died to forgive have been piling up in the heavenly sanctuary. But since 1844, Jesus has been going through the heavenly sanctuary and putting those sins right where they belong, on the head of Satan. Then during the thousand years when we’re in heaven, Satan will be wandering this empty earth, carrying the ultimate blame for all the sins in the entire history of the world.

What that means for each of us who have given our hearts to Jesus is, when our name is called and our file taken before the great Judge, instead of being so big it has to be brought in by the truckload, it contains one pristinely blank page to which God adds a giant WELCOME HOME stamp.
“For my pardon, this I see,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
For my cleansing this my plea,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

RefrainOh! precious is the flowThat makes me white as snow;No other fount I know,Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”[2]

You and I only have one responsibility in this process – accept Jesus’ sacrifice to cover our sin. I do – do you?

[1] Tom L. Eisenman, Temptations Men Face (Intervarsity, 1992), pp. 21-22
[2] Words & Music: Robert Lowry, in Gos­pel Mu­sic, by William Doane and Robert Lowry (New York: Biglow & Main, 1876)