The Sacred and the Secular

In the Old Testament there was a view that things fell into one of two categories. Either it was sacred or it was secular, holy or profane. Those categories did not mean things were either good or evil but that they were either set apart for special purposes or that they were ordinary or common. This distinction has to do with how something is used or what its purpose is. For instance, the articles used for temple or tabernacle worship were holy. That means they were only to be used for sacred purposes as defined by God. They wouldn’t go into the temple and throw a big BBQ bash using the tongs, altar, etc…all seemingly great for a nice dinner gathering. But using it like that would be taking something holy and sacred and using it for common or ordinary purposes. It would be using those items and that location in a way inconsistent with what God prescribed in scripture.

In the Old Testament the holy or sacred could be broken down into three categories: people, things, and places.

People – In Leviticus 20:26 we see the Hebrews were to be set apart as a holy nation. This meant God’s people aren’t supposed to act like the other nations because they are holy, set apart, and on earth for a different purpose. We see that in the New Testament in verses like 1 Peter 2:9 – God’s people are still a holy nation. Though now that nation contains both Jews and Gentiles

Things – In Exodus 29:37 the altar is called holy. Lev 5:15-16 tells what offerings to make if someone violates God’s holy things. The point is, you don’t use the objects of worship in the tabernacle or temple however you want and for whatever purposes you want. In the New Testament there is not as much a connection with holy things as it was in the Old Testament.

Places – There were several holy places mentioned in the Old Testament, each of these represented at one time or another the presence of God on earth. Bethel (which means House of God) was considered holy by Jacob in Genesis 28 where he had a dream of angels ascending and descending from heaven – Jacob’s ladder. Sinai was holy (Exodus 19:23). Sinai was also called Horeb and this is where Moses first encountered the Lord and was told it was Holy ground (Exo 3:1-5). The tabernacle and temple were holy. Exodus 26:33-24 mentions the Holy Place and Most Holy Place. You don’t walk into the Holy Place when you want and do whatever you want. It is a holy place to be used for holy purposes.

In the New Testament we see a shift from places to people. Jesus said he was the replacement of the temple in John 2:19-22 when he cleared the temple and said he would destroy it and rebuild it in three days. Jesus also compared himself to Bethel, the house of God in John 1:51 when he said his disciples would see angels ascending and descending on him. Jesus was God in the flesh, the presence of God on earth. After Jesus went back to the Father, we are considered God’s holy place present in the earth (1 Cor 3:16). In that verse we are called a temple where the Holy Spirit dwells. In 1 Cor 6:18-20 we see what it means to be holy today. Because we are God’s holy temple we don’t do things to our bodies that are out of character of a holy place, specifically sexual immorality in this verse. Just like they weren’t to use the temple or tabernacle for common or profane uses, we aren’t to use our bodies for things that are not in line with God’s purposes for our lives.

Because we are God’s temple we are to be used for holy purposes. Just like how they couldn’t go in the tabernacle or temple and treat it however they wanted and disrespect God’s wishes, we are not to use ourselves, as God’s temple, in a way that would desecrate that temple. If forsaking the temple regulations was punishable by death (Exo 28:35, 43; 30:21) how much more serious are we to treat our own bodies that were made holy, not by washing with water, but by washing by the blood of Jesus Christ?

“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy;
without holiness no one will see the Lord.” – Hebrews 12:14

John 10:10-11 Abundant Living and Laying it Down

Is there any coincidence that these two verses are side by side?

10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” – John 10:10-11

Jesus came to give us life and in order to do so the shepherd had to lay down his life for the sheep. There are few verse pairs in scripture that stand together with as stark a contrast as these. God’s love for us is so vast, so wide and deep and pure and good. Most people would say, “I am here so that I might have life and have it to the full.” Jesus knew the only route to full, abundant living was through self-sacrifice.

If you aren’t experiencing life to the full maybe you are getting in the way of the process.

How Much is There Left to Say?

With thousands of Christian blogs, thousands of sermons, classes, and lectures being presented every single week, small group studies, personal studies…is there anything left to say? Blogging ideas used to jump into my head all of the time and it seems like lately they are fewer and further in between. I am sure that has something to do with trying to balance having a 15 month old, a marriage, a job/ministry, and just life in general that I haven’t had enough “left over focus” to put into the blog. I am sure that old pace will return and in some ways maybe you never even noticed it, but I have.

While I know there are still many more things to say, hundreds more blog posts to write, and profound insights being shared, more in the comments of the blog than the actual posts, of course. Today I just feel like resting in the simple yet not so ordinary words of the Gospel that most of us have already heard thousands of times that its almost like you eventually get this John 3:16 callous on your heart. But maybe there is a reason some things get repeated so often. Maybe they are some of the most valuable truths the world has ever heard and they are worth repeating. Actually, there is no maybe about it. The core of the gospel is the best thing the world has ever heard.

So in the race to find something new to write about I will instead mention something old and maybe we can hear it again not with new ears with new perspective but with old ears and old perspective, timeless perspective that reaches back before how old a scripture or a song was could even be considered. Here are a few I personally need to be reminded of”

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him
will not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” – Philippians 4:13

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.” – 1 Cor 13:4-8

While it has already been said before, what simple truth do you need to be reminded of today?

Gospel of John 20 – The Empty Tomb

1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

From bad to worse. First he had been crucified and now it seems his tomb had been desecrated! “They have taken the Lord…we don’t know where they put him!”

Dead men don’t move themselves. Dead men don’t remove their burial clothes. Dead men don’t leave tombs. But alive men do!

Mary went to get Peter and John. The last time Mary was with John was at the foot of the cross and now she sends him running to the tomb only to him there was no mistaking what happened to the body. “They” had nothing to do with it. Jesus was alive! Don’t you wonder if John’s mind went back to the last time he saw grave clothes off a formerly dead person was back in Bethany when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Unlike the others, John didn’t have to first see the risen Lord for the puzzle pieces to fall into place. He knew then and there that Jesus was alive. When Jesus said that if he was lifted up he would draw all men to himself (John 12:32) he was not speaking only of his crucifixion, which is the immediate parallel we draw when we hear the language of being lifted up. The cross is not very attractive. But Jesus was speaking simultaneously of being lifted up from death and the grave. The resurrection is the drawing force of Christ because in being raised from the dead he eliminated any and all obstacles that could keep mankind from having the same new kind of life,

14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. – Ephesians 2:14-18

The Crucifixion of Christ

We don’t like to leave Christ on the cross for very long. Our theology often gets in a rush to the resurrection. But the resurrection lacks its own possibility if you exclude the crucifixion of Christ. Anyone who has watched the movie The Passion of the Christ was moved by the brutality of what Jesus experienced on our behalf. The Romans weren’t out to make any crucified criminal look good or keep their dignity intact. On Sunday we get 10 minutes to reflect on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. I wonder what it would be like to reflect on the crucifixion for a full six hours? Several times I have prayed for a full hour but never for six. Imagine yourself at the foot of the cross, looking up at the dying Lord for a full six hours. Imagine the pain you would see, the blood that would flow, the words that were said, and the testimony from those standing nearby. Five minutes would seem like an eternity much less six long and brutal hours. The breathing becomes quicker, the pain more intense, the words more and more loving. And the seconds, minutes, and hours pass by slowly. To see him dead and lifeless hanging there would be heart wrenching. Could you keep your eyes on a bruised, battered and bloody Christ for six full hours? Could you keep your eyes off him?

There are several things that stand out to me when I spend time reflecting on the crucified Lord:

  1. He is concerned for others. He makes preparations for his mother. He forgives sins. He is concerned for the other crucified men around him.
  2. He experiences the full extent of the pain and agony. D.A. Carson points out the two times Jesus was offered wine in his crucifixion. The first is found in Mark 15:23, “wine mixed with myrrh”. Jesus refused this wine as it was intended to dull the pain. But the second offering of wine Jesus took (Mark 15:36). This wine was to ease Jesus’ thirst and would result in prolonging his life and as a result his agony on the cross (Gospel According to John, 620). Jesus really “bore it all” on the cross.
  3. Jesus is in full control. This isn’t an accident. It wasn’t a slip up. He was in control during his arrest and was in control of his crucifixion. Jesus gave up his spirit (John 19:30). It was his decision, his choice, and his obedience to the Father.
  4. There is glory in the unglorious. The cross was designed to degrade and shame those on it. It was a public spectacle designed to kill as much as to deter others from similar offenses. But through the unglorious experience of the cross Jesus received glory from God (John 17:4-5). What is more Jesus was bringing shame on sin and death itself.
  5. Last and most important is the obvious – love. John 3:16 says God loved the world so much that he gave Jesus. This is true in his birth. It is also true in the crucifixion. God gave Jesus fully. He didn’t let the world borrow Jesus and take him back again at a convenient and comfortable time. God fully gave him in order to fully gain us. John 14:1 tells us that through his foot washing Jesus showed his disciples the full extent of his love. That phrase might be better translated that he loved them to the end. The cross really did show them and us the full extent of his love. The creator laid down his life for the creation so that we could lay our lives down to take them up again just as he did.

From the Harding group The Firemen:

Fear, Control, and the Crucifixion of Jesus

While studying John 19 last night we talked about the role of fear in the crucifixion of Jesus. In John 18:33 we infer the charge against Jesus was insurrection as a competing king, “King of the Jews.” But in 19:7 the Jewish leaders mention Jesus’ claim to be the “Son of God” and we learn Pilate’s reaction was one of great fear. The Romans believed Caesar was the son of God and divine. Pilate realizes the likelihood of this situation going south has just increased substantially. So Pilate asks Jesus the question would determine his divinity, “Where do you come from?” Pilate probably already knows he is from Nazareth as the is what the plaque attached the cross eventually reads but that is not what Pilate is getting at here. Is Jesus from heaven above or earth below? Where and when does he originate from? This takes us back to the prologue that tells us Jesus has always been and that he came from God.

But anyway, back to fear. The whole crucifixion scene is laced with fear. The Jewish leaders are afraid of losing their positions of honor. Pilate is fearful of the divine but even more so afraid of Rome, Caesar, and losing control of this situation and his position. The disciples are fearful. The only one portrayed as fearless is Jesus Christ. He is still in charge even in control of the time for his spirit to be given up. What an amazing contrast for the crucified one to be confident, courageous, and in control while the ones vying for control of this situation are full of fear.

Fear is a powerful thing. We fear the unknown. We fear losing control of situations. We fear what we don’t understand. All of those seem present in the mind of Pilate and the Jewish leaders (all speculative, of course). We can only be fearful of those things if we are arrogant or prideful enough to think we are big enough to know where everything is headed, have total control of each and every situation, and have the ability to understand everything that comes our way. Life just doesn’t work that way. So we are faced with a choice. Do we side with fear and feebly try to maintain control over things we can’t. Or, do we side with the only one in the room who has no fear, is in total control, knows exactly what is going on and can control the outcome? I think I will opt for the second.

Gospel of John 14:5-14 – Way, Truth, Life and Exclusivity of Jesus Christ

In John 13-14 Jesus is revealing things to his disciples about what is going to happen and where he is going to have to go. These are important considerations if you are a follower, a disciple because where the master goes so go the disciples. In John 14:4 Jesus tells them, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” to which Thomas replies with the question on all of their minds, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus proceeds to tell them that the way is not a direction, a path or points on a map. The way is a person, Jesus Christ, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (14:6). In a world full of many “ways” that people hold equal and not necessarily even mutually exclusive (people hold Buddhist, Christian, and Kabbalah all at the same time for instance) this sounds reckless at best. The very best Christianity has to offer is not summed up in a creedal statement, a set of doctrines, or traditions. It is best summed up by the man Jesus Christ.

Many want eternal life but not all are ready and willing to accept the man, his mission and message.

In what ways does your life embrace the mission and message of Christ and in what ways are you still challenged to live up to the calling of Christ?

What challenges do you/we face today in being Christ-followers?

Why does our culture want to live forever but fail to recognize Jesus Christ as having anything to do with that process?


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