God’s Redemption of a Filthy Priest

clothes-line--2Have you ever felt unfit to stand before God?

If so, you’re absolutely right. You are unfit. We’re all unfit to stand before God, but he invites us anyway.

The prophet Zechariah had a beautiful vision of God’s gracious response to the unworthiness we can do nothing about (Zechariah 3:1-5).

It begins with Joshua, the high priest, standing before God, with Satan ready to accuse him.

The accuser cleared his throat and God rebuked him before he could utter a syllable. The name “Satan” means accuser, but he can’t make his accusations stick before God. Apparently, God won’t even let him utter them in his presence.… Read the rest

Cornelius: Anyone Can Be Saved

Cornelius

A historical reenactor in Roman centurion costume. Note the transverse crest on the Galea (helmet).It was worn to indicated the wearer’s rank in regimental ‘triumph’ and honorific parades. It purpose was purely symbolic. In ordinary events, it was not part of the standard battle-dress of Roman soldiers in the field.

Just before ascending into heaven, Jesus told his disciples to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In Matthew 28:20, he specifically said to “make disciples of all nations.”

It took a while for them to understand that he meant for more than just Jews to become disciples.… Read the rest

Jesus and Judas in Holy Week

judas receives silver

Judas receiving silver for betraying Jesus. 16th century fresco painting on the vault in the Saint Sébastien Church, in Planpinet. Clarée valley, Hautes alpes département, France.

I wrote of Jesus’ trial before Pilate a couple of years ago and noted that Jesus had to work very hard to keep from being acquitted. Studying the Last Supper and events leading up to it, I notice that Jesus had to work just as skillfully to orchestrate his betrayal.

Judas went secretly to the chief priests and offered to betray Jesus. Luke’s account (Luke 26:3) specifically says that Satan entered him. Once the conspirators agreed on the fee, He kept his eyes open for an opportunity.… Read the rest

Remember God

Moses Pleading with Israel

Moses Pleading with Israel, as in Deuteronomy 8:11-20, illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company

Lent is a time of repentance and preparation for Easter. That Jesus died for our sins and rose again to take them away means nothing if we don’t recognized ourselves as sinners. For all our individual differences, we all have one sin in common. We forget God.

Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt to the doorstep of the Promised Land. and they refused to enter.

They had forgotten God’s power, protection, and provision. When they heard the report of fortified cities, they wailed and declared it would have been better if they had died in Egypt.… Read the rest

Mary: After the Angel Departed

Mary, Simeon, Jesus

Simeon Receives Jesus in the Temple / Simon Vouet, 1640-41

Have you ever had a vivid encounter with God? What happened a day or two later? A week? Years?

Quite often Christians have reported an overwhelming spiritual high followed by a deep spiritual low.

God’s presence can be so vivid that it seems like what he says is bound to happen in the next 15 minutes, but it never does.

A cherished promise never seems as far off and distant as it does after vividness of the divine presence fades.

Does that mean perhaps that we had no genuine spiritual experience?… Read the rest

Who Were the Magi, and Why Should We Care?

Magi

Detail from: “Mary and Child, surrounded by angels”, mosaic of an Italian-Byzantine workshop in Ravenna, completed within 526 AD by the so-called “Master of Sant’Apollinare”.

Did the three wise men really visit the manger in Bethlehem on that first Christmas day bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh?

The town and the gifts are right. At best, the rest of the familiar scene is dubious. Who were the wise men (magi), and what does it matter?

The Bible (Matthew 2:1-12) simply says wise men (it’s plural, so there were at least two) followed a star from the East (a vague enough reference that only rules out other directions).… Read the rest

Benedictus: Zecharaiah’s song

Zechariah--annunciation

Annunciation of the Angel to Zechariah / Domenico Ghirlandaio (1490) Fresco in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Florence

Zechariah’s song (known as the Benedictus) doesn’t get nearly the attention as Mary’s (the Magnificat) earlier in the chapter, but it is the first recorded prophetic word since the Book of Malachi some 400 years earlier.

Its outpouring of praise culminates a long life of both piety and disappointment. After years of waiting and hoping, Zechariah, an aging priest, drew the lot for the once-in-a-lifetime assignment of burning incense in the temple.

The angel Gabriel appeared to him and said his prayer was answered. What prayer?… Read the rest

Greatest of men, least in the kingdom of God

john the baptist

John the Baptist, Preaching / Luca Giordano, ca. 1695

In Luke 7:28, Jesus summarized his description of John the Baptist and his ministry saying, “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John, yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

What was so special about John? And how can the least in the kingdom of God be greater than John?

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Strength, courage, and adequacy

Moses blesses Joshua

Moses Blesses Joshua Before the High Priest / James Tissot, late 19th century

God’s first words to Joshua are, “Moses my servant is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan.” Joshua had known that this moment would come.

Everyone knew that Moses would not lead the people into the Promised Land.

We have all experienced starting a new venture or getting a big promotion, something that we have prepared to do for a long time.

But when it comes time to actually start working, it’s only natural to have some jitters about our adequacy.

Read the rest

Justification: by grace or works?

Saint Paul

Saint Paul / Bartolomeo Montagna (1481)

Does the Bible contain contradictions? It can appear so.

Paul wrote, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28), and a few lines later, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (Romans 4:2).

James, on the other hand, wrote, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? . . . You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:21, 24).… Read the rest