Sunday, January 31, 2016

"Celebrating FREEDOM in the Lord, our God …"

Day #32

Scripture Reading:  Leviticus 25 - 27 ...

God's instructions to the people of Israel covered virtually every area of their lives.  We sometimes feel as though the government does that today, but in the nation of Israel GOD was ruling over them and His laws were perfect and just.  It is important to understand that God's commands in the Garden of Eden were given to Adam and Eve who were created perfect.  They could have kept God's commands.  But following mankind's fall into sin, laws became necessary not only to reflect God's holiness, His perfection, but also to restrain man's sinful tendency to take advantage of others and to oppress them.  Therefore, God gave them guidelines for how to live together, remembering that HE was their God and that everything belonged to Him, including THEM!

The sabbath day was part of God's commands to the people of Israel.  They were to refrain from work on the seventh day, remembering that God was their Creator and that He had delivered them from their slavery in Egypt.  Now God instituted a "sabbath YEAR," the seventh year in a seven-year cycle.  During that year the people of Israel were not to sow their fields or prune their vines.  They could eat what the land produced naturally.  God promised that if they were faithful, He would "send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years" (25:21).

God also instituted the "Year of Jubilee," which was the fiftieth year, to be celebrated after seven sabbath years.  The year of Jubilee must have been an amazing time.  Land was sold and debts were made based on the time from the year of Jubilee, because on the year of Jubilee the land was returned to its owner or their family and debts were cancelled.  On the year of Jubilee everyone was free ... it was like starting over.  Most certainly, this points to our redemption in Jesus Christ.  It is a beautiful picture of the forgiveness that believers receive when they put their faith in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Through faith in Jesus our debts are cancelled and we become "co-heirs" with Christ.  We become part of His family and inherit His kingdom!!

The word, "redeem," from which we get the word, "redemption," is clearly defined in Leviticus.  To "redeem" meant to buy back ... to remove the debt.  A man could have one of his relatives redeem his land and it would be returned to him.  The same was true of those sold into slavery ... they could be redeemed and set free.  Peter writes in I Peter 1:18-19 that believers were redeemed, not with silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, who gave the perfect payment for sin and removed our debt by paying it Himself.  Such a beautiful picture of God's salvation!

It is clear that God called the people to obedience to all He commanded for their own good and for His glory.  All of this was not to enslave the people, but to remind them that their lives depended on the God who brought their ancestors out of Egypt; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  As God pronounced judgment on those who disobeyed, who turned to idols and who forgot Him, He revealed what would eventually happen:  "I will scatter you among the nations" (26:33).  The history of Israel reveals their idolatry and God's judgment against it.  God does not make idle threats.  Sin brings judgment, in the present and the future.

Yet, God makes the same promise here that He makes later in the New Testament:  "If they will confess their sins ... when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and ... with Isaac ... and with Abraham" (26:40-42).  But how?  How could they pay for their sin?  They couldn't!  They needed a Redeemer ... and God would send them a "kinsman-Redeemer," one who was Himself a true man and a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah ... (now you know why the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 is so important!).  JESUS would do what they couldn't do.

Meanwhile, God promises that "in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them.  I am the LORD their God.  But for their sake I will remember the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God.  I am the LORD" (26:44-45).  The promise of grace existed even in the Old Testament as it pointed to the One who Himself would redeem all who put their faith in Him ... Jesus, the Christ!

All the rules of "redemption" pointed to Jesus, and as much as the people in the days of Moses needed redeeming, so do you and I.  We have in so many ways sinned against God and sold ourselves into slavery to sin.  We have disobeyed God's laws and, yes, we have pursued and worshiped idols of our own making in this world.  Were it not for God's grace, we would most certainly perish under God's just judgment.  But "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should NOT perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).  We inevitably come back to Jesus as our only hope, as the fulfillment of God's promises, as our Savior, our Redeemer, our Lord.

Through Jesus there will be a continual Year of Jubilee in the glories of heaven, and eventually in the new heavens and the new earth.  God will dwell among us and never again will there be any sin or need for redemption, for we shall be made like Him and will live with Him in the glory of His perfection.  How can you and I not long for that time to come??  That is the hope towards which all of Scripture points and for which our hearts must long.

For those who know Christ, the celebrating begins now ... as we look to God’s future kingdom.  We celebrate true FREEDOM in Christ because God says that our redemption is certain and even now He sees us as holy "in Christ Jesus."  May our lives be lived in thanksgiving and praise to God for His remarkable gift of grace in Christ and may we daily live to serve Him, our Redeemer, our Lord and our God!!

"Almighty and everlasting God, to be able to call You, 'Abba, Father,' is the greatest privilege anyone can receive.  I confess my sin before You today and trust in the cleansing blood of Jesus for forgiveness and life.  You are MY God and I am yours, in body and soul, in life and in death.  I thank You for redeeming me and vow to live my life daily for You until I receive my inheritance among the saints by Your amazing grace.  I love You, Father, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Saturday, January 30, 2016

"What will YOUR meeting with God be like?"

Day #31

Scripture Reading:  Leviticus 22 - 24 ...

Some day I will stand in the very presence of the God who created the heavens and the earth and everything in them ... and so will you.  What will that meeting be like for me ... for you ... ?  No matter what religion people may ascribe to, or even if some don't claim to believe in any god at all, every person who has ever lived on this planet will have a meeting with God.  For many that will be a frightening moment that will result in judgment and condemnation, what the Bible calls “eternal death.”  People will come to that meeting with preconceived ideas about God that will be proven wrong.  But the good news revealed in the Bible, God’s Word, is that God has made a way for those who have sinned against Him to enter into His presence without fear ... with great joy and anticipation.  And God gave pictures of that way in our reading for today.

God had instructed the people of Israel to bring sacrifices to the Tabernacle, also called the "Tent of Meeting."  It was here that the people were called to meet with God.  There were very specific requirements for the sacrifices and offerings the people brought and how the priests were to offer them to the Lord.  In Chapter 22, God says repeatedly, "I am the LORD, who makes them holy" (22:9, 16).  We are not "holy" by nature and unless God MAKES us holy, we cannot enter His presence without facing His judgment.  That's the message of the Bible.  Other religions declare that you can approach God by means of your own good deeds or religious acts, but the Bible says that is not the case.

Even in the sacrifices themselves, God made it clear that only animals without any defect could be brought as an offering.  There was a reason for that:  the offerings pointed ahead to Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  Peter wrote, "It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed ... but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (I Peter 1:18-19).  But it was not only the offerings that pointed ahead to Jesus.  In Chapter 23, the seven "feasts" of Israel were instituted by God, and each of them points to an event in God's plan of salvation through Jesus.

The seven feasts of Israel are the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles.  The first four took place in the spring of the year, while the last three took place in the fall of the year.  Jesus fulfilled the first four feasts in His suffering, death, resurrection and the pouring out of His Spirit.  Jesus was crucified on the Passover, laid in the grave during the feast of Unleavened Bread, rose from the dead on Firstfruits and poured out His Spirit on Pentecost.  That could not have been by accident, but was by God's design.  So what about the last three feasts?

God says that Jesus will return at the sound of the trumpet (I Thessalonians 4:16; Matthew 24:30-31).  In Revelation 7, it appears that Jesus will rapture His Church just prior to the sounding of the first of seven trumpets.  The Day of Atonement appears to be foreshadowed in Zechariah 13:1, as the people of Israel recognize Jesus as the Messiah and put their faith in Him for forgiveness; and the Feast of Tabernacles is mentioned in Zechariah 14:16.  All of the sacrifices and all of these feasts point ahead to the One who Himself would be the perfect sacrifice for sin and through whom sinners like you and me are allowed entrance into the Most Holy Place to meet with God!

In Chapter 24, God instructs Moses and Aaron to keep the lamps burning continually before the LORD.  It is as if the lamps pointed the way to the throne, and this once again points to Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and who is Himself the "Light of the world!" (John 8:12).  How vital, how necessary is the light Christ gives, for without Him there is no forgiveness, no life, no hope.  The result of meeting with God for those who do not confess Jesus Christ is the same as the blasphemer in 24:10-16 ... they will be removed from God's presence and face death - eternal death, separated from God ... forever!

But it doesn't have to be that way!  God sent Jesus into the world in fulfillment of His promise to send a Savior.  The Bible says, "God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. ... We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ's behalf:  Be reconciled to God.  God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him WE might become the righteousness of God" (II Corinthians 5:18-21).  God Himself has made a way for us to meet with Him ... without fear ...

... and it's called GRACE!  The undeserved favor of God is the ONLY thing that makes it possible for anyone to meet with God and be received.  In the Gospel of Jesus Christ God calls people to come to Him, and sends His Spirit to open the hearts and minds of those whom He has chosen so that we will respond in faith, trust in Jesus for forgiveness and repent of our sin, seeking to live in obedience to His Word.  God's love, wisdom, righteousness, holiness, faithfulness, mercy, compassion and grace open the door into His presence.  God will not turn away anyone who comes to Him in the name of Jesus!  “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!” (Romans 10:13).

You have a meeting with God in your future.  Don't plan on going to that meeting and relying on your own goodness to be received.  Your offering must be perfect, without defect, and only Jesus meets the requirements. Trust in Him, rest in Him, believe in Him and on that day when you are called before God you will be able to approach Him without fear, knowing that because of the sacrifice of Jesus, you have been made holy in God's sight, and you will enter into God's presence, to live with Him forever!

"My Father and my God, I draw near to You, knowing that it is by Your grace that my prayers are heard from Your throne in heaven.  I come humbly, yet boldly, for I believe Your promise that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.  I love You, Father, and I need You ... every moment of every day.  I long to see Your face and to join with the angels and saints in worship.  Until then, I give You thanks for Your love and Your grace, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, January 29, 2016

"Be holy, because I am holy!"

Day #30

Scripture Reading:  Leviticus 19 - 21 ...

What would you say to someone who asked you, "What is the Bible about?"  The Bible covers many subjects, but ultimately it is all about the God who created the earth and the entire universe and everything in it; the eternal God who had no beginning and who will have no end.  But in order to understand the Bible you need to ask another question:  What is it about God that makes the cross of Jesus necessary and the Gospel of Jesus Christ such good news?  The truth is that from the time mankind sinned against God in Genesis 3, the rest of the Bible is about how sinful man can enter into the presence of a holy God.  Mankind’s sin, our need for redemption and God’s provision through the Savior, Jesus Christ, is revealed in the Bible, God’s Word.  This explains why, in Leviticus, Moses is continually commanding the people to obey God, and in our reading today, to "be holy," because God is holy.

Chapter 19 begins with the Lord saying to Moses, "Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: 'Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy'" (19:1-2).  What follows is a long list of "Do not's ...  It may seem like the commandments are “negative,” but remember that the commandments of God are summarized, first by Moses (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18), and later by Jesus, as "Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself"  (Matthew 22:37,39).  The problem lies not with God’s commandments, but with our sinful nature.  Human nature is BENT ... is prone toward evil.  The natural state of mankind leans toward sin.  Before the flood God described mankind in the words of Genesis 6:5:  "The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time."

So God chose one man and promised to make a great nation out of him.  The man's name was Abraham.  Israel was the nation God brought forth from Abraham and He was with these people, even as they languished as slaves in Egypt; and He brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and promised them the land of Canaan, the land He had sworn to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants forever.  It was now to these people that God spoke His law and said, "Be holy, because I am holy."   "Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the LORD your God.  Keep my decrees and follow them.  I am the LORD, who makes you holy" (20:7).

Through the specific prohibitions God showed them how to live and how NOT to live.  God says, "I am the LORD your God, who has set you apart from the nations."  ... "You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own" (20:24,26).  Israel's holiness had less to do with them and more to do with their God ... the only true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  God says "you are to be holy TO ME ..."  To be "holy" is to be "consecrated; set apart" ...  Israel was no ordinary nation, no ordinary race, no ordinary people ... they were the people of God!  And it was not because they had done or could do anything to earn God's favor.  God had chosen THEM!!

People in general just don't get this today.  Most people want God to treat everyone the same ... but if God were to do that everyone would be lost!  We give people way too much credit and then act as though anyone, with a little bit of effort, can be "good enough" to enter God's presence.  God says otherwise.  God chose this people, gave them His law, and sets them apart from the nations of the world.  The Savior would come from them and save all whom God would choose, set apart and consecrate from all the nations.  But how?  We still haven't answered the question of how sinners can come into the presence of our holy God.

As He talks about the priests, God says, "Consider them holy, because I the LORD am holy - I who make YOU holy!" (21:8).  " ... I am the LORD, who makes them holy ..." (21:23).  We can never become holy by ourselves.  Unless God MAKES us holy, we cannot ... we dare not, enter His presence.  The punishment of those who attempted even to offer a sacrifice when they were unclean was death.  Eternal death awaits those who are not "made holy."  THAT's what the Bible is about!!

Speaking about the sacrifice of Jesus, the writer of Hebrews explains, "By one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy" (Hebrews 10:14).  Because we CAN'T be holy, God MAKES us holy through faith in Jesus.  As He set apart the priests in Leviticus, listen to what God says of those who believe in Jesus:  "To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and father - to HIM be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen!!" (Revelation 1:5-6).

THIS is what the Bible is all about.  It is what every believer should be able to share with those who ask where our hope comes from.  This is the Gospel, the good news, as Paul writes to the Romans:  "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes ... for in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith" (Romans 1:16-17).  As you read Leviticus and the consequences of sin, how thankful we who believe in Jesus must be that we have a Savior.

Now God says to us, His people who are saved by grace, "Be holy, because I am holy" (I Peter 1:16).  God sees us as holy as we put our faith in the blood of Jesus Christ and then we seek to be holy as His Spirit works within us. Our faith and hope are found in this Gospel ... the message of the entire Bible.  As those chosen and saved by God, how shall we respond?  By being holy ... because HE is holy!!

"Our Father and our God, Your plan of salvation for those whom You have chosen to be Yours is found nowhere else but in Your Word.  Thank You for revealing the WAY into Your presence through Him Who IS the Way, the Truth and the Life ... Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Lord.  With humble thanksgiving I praise You for Your love and Your grace and ask You to work in me by Your Spirit to give me the desire to BE holy, because You ARE holy!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, January 28, 2016

"You are saved by the blood of Jesus ... OR you are not saved at all ..."

Day #29

Scripture Reading:  Leviticus 16 - 18 ...

You can either try to "work your way" to heaven, or you can believe that the blood of Jesus Christ, shed on the cross, satisfied God's justice and made "atonement," payment for your sins.  The choice should be an easy one, for the standard by which God will judge every person who has ever lived is perfection.  "Be perfect, for I am perfect" (Matthew 5:48).  "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it" (James 2:10).  Since no one can meet God's requirement for entering into His presence, all of mankind should be looking for a better way ... but they're not.  Having been deceived by Satan and the old nature of sin, most people in the world insist on making their own way, bringing their own offerings before the Lord, believing that He will accept them and excuse their sin.  But there is only one thing that will cover your sin in God's sight:  BLOOD!! ... and not just any blood.

Having given the people of Israel His law at Mt. Sinai, God instituted what has been called "the sacrificial system."  He instructed Moses and Aaron to teach the people of Israel that they could approach God only through this system of sacrifices in order to point them to the coming Messiah, who Himself would make atonement for their sins.  They could not possibly imagine how that would happen, but they were called to have "faith," to believe God's promise to forgive their sins through the blood.  In order to help them understand His holiness and their sin, and the need for atonement, payment, God commanded them to bring offerings to the priests at the tabernacle, and later to the temple.  Only the priests could offer sacrifices, and they must follow strict rules or they themselves would die.

Among the many offerings the people were to bring and the priests were to offer, there was one that rose above the rest in importance:  the Day of Atonement.  On this day, once a year, the High Priest (Aaron was the first), could actually enter into the Most Holy Place (the "Holy of Holies") ... but only with the blood of a special offering.  The Most Holy Place was separated from the Holy Place, where the regular offerings were brought, by a thick veil.  If anyone entered there in a different way or at a different time or with a different offering, they would die.  This is a picture of those who attempt to enter God's presence in any way except through faith in Jesus.  They will endure spiritual death ... spiritual separation from God - forever!

But God made a way to approach Him.  The High Priest first had to offer a sacrifice for himself, for he, too, was a sinner.  Then he had to offer a sacrifice and take the blood into the Most Holy Place and sprinkle it on the Ark of the Covenant in the way God had commanded.  The top of the Ark was called the "Mercy Seat," and it was there that God offered His mercy ... withholding His judgment, not giving people what they deserved, but instead showing His grace - undeserved favor.  The High Priest killed the goat for the sin offering for the people and took its blood behind the curtain, the veil, and sprinkled it on the atonement cover and in front of it.  God said, "In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites" (16:16).

When Aaron finished making atonement (a payment covering sin in God's sight) for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting (the Tabernacle) and the altar, he brought another goat and laid both hands on the head of the goat and confessed over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites - all their sins - and put them on the goat's head.  Then he sent the goat away into the wilderness as a sign of Israel's sin being taken away.  This goat was called the "scapegoat," a word we still use today to describe someone who is blamed for or who carries the burden of someone else's sin or wrongdoing.
God then declared, "on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you.  Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins" (16:30).

In Chapter 17, God forbids the people to eat blood, saying, "For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life" (17:11).  The beauty of God's Word is that it all goes together like pieces of a puzzle designed by God.  All of this pointed to Jesus Christ and the cross.  In the book of Hebrews the writer explains in Chapter 9 how the earthly tabernacle and the people were cleansed by the blood of the offerings brought by the High Priest into the Most Holy Place.  Then he says, "The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing" (9:8). "How much more then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God" (9:14).

Then he says, "For Christ did not enter a manmade sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence" (9:24).  "When this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God.  Since that time He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool, because by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy" (10:12-14).

This IS the Gospel!  This is the good news only those who trust in the blood of Jesus know, and it is the only message that reveals the way into the Most Holy Place!  No one, not one, will enter His presence without their sins being covered by the blood of Jesus.  In his letter to the Romans Paul writes, "God presented Him (Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood" (Romans 3:25).  There simply is no other way to enter the Most Holy Place, into the very presence of God!

You are saved by the blood of Jesus ... or you are not saved at all!

"O Lord, my God, I praise You for Your mercy and Your grace.  Give me wisdom to hear and to believe all that You have revealed in Your Word.  I trust in the blood of Jesus alone and claim no other way to be saved.  He is my life and my salvation, for my life is found in HIS blood.  To You, Father, I give my thanks and praise, now and forever!  In Jesus' name, Amen"