The first time recorded in Scripture that John the Baptist ever saw Jesus, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, CSB). The next day, he said the same thing to two of his disciples, Andrew and John, when Jesus passed by them. The two left him to follow Jesus.
The scene has become so familiar that it’s easy to fail to notice how little John’s society was prepared to hear it. Not to mention ours.
Blood stains. No cleaning product advertises that it contains blood. Yet Christians sing of being washed in Jesus’ blood.
There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains. — William Cowper
Now there’s a truly unpleasant image. Hardly anything makes me want to wash my hands faster than handling raw meat and getting the blood on them. If sinners are plunged into a fountain of blood, it might cleanse their guilt, but they’ll never get their clothes clean!
To understand the imagery of being washed in the blood of Jesus, we need to consider both the connection between blood and cleansing in the Bible and the role of blood in our own bodies.… Read the rest
According to an old praise chorus, “Love was when God became a man.” That’s why we celebrate Christmas. Most people who have heard the story, even in the church, have a hard time wrapping their minds around it.
In the popular imagination, God is some distant and perpetually angry deity. He demands everyone do things his way or he will punish them by sending them to everlasting torment. Somehow we have to jump through all the right hoops if we want to get on his good side.
Christians know that the Bible says, “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) and “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).
In fact, those are the texts of two popular rounds that are probably going through your head right now.
We know what the Word says. That doesn’t make it easy for us to wrap our minds around what it really means or how to do it. Sometimes, life is so miserable that there doesn’t seem to be anything to rejoice about at all.
And yet Paul, the man who wrote those words, didn’t exactly have an easy life.… Read the rest
John Wesley observed, “The church recruited people who had been starched and ironed before they were washed.” With all due adjustments for differing laundry habits, the same can be said for the church in all times and places from the beginning.
Maybe even before the beginning. In Mark 7, the Pharisees complained to Jesus that his disciples didn’t properly wash their hands before they ate. Jesus didn’t respond with the deferential apology they evidently expected. In effect, he pointed out that they might be ceremonially washed, but not clean.
The kingdom of God has come. It is not at all like other kingdoms or nations. Since time immemorial, when one nation has invaded another, the invaded nation knows. Eventually so does everyone else who cares at all.
Most of you can probably know within a year or two the last two or three times Germany invaded France. It doesn’t have to be an invasion with armies, either. Regardless of where you stand on immigration, you have to know that a lot of Latin America has taken residence in the US. And come without passports or visas.
Has there ever been any kind of invasion on earth where it was not clear just who was invading?… Read the rest
Every once in a while, someone will make the news by declaring that some event is God’s judgment on, well, fill in the blank. The immediate reaction in the media is outrage, often well deserved. Unfortunately, such dustups obscure an important fact: God’s judgment must come upon America. Let me approach the subject with three stories that, at first, will seem wholly unrelated.
Tom, a friend of mine, once told me about the first car he ever owned. To make a long story short, he never thought to change the oil. Of course he never read the owner’s manual.… Read the rest
Nehemiah’s best-known accomplishment is getting a wall built. Lots of people have supervised similar construction projects. Not many have done so in the face of armed opposition that forced them to resort to multitasking. And even fewer have had their stories enshrined in Scripture so that thousands of years later, we can learn spiritual lessons.
Nowadays, multitasking seems to be the rule, not the exception. I have long observed people who claim they can be more efficient by doing several things at once. Usually I observe that they do at least one of the tasks so badly that they have to do it over.… Read the rest
A young woman has a baby boy. That baby grows to adulthood and lives 33 years. How many times has that happened in the history of the human race? Millions?
The young woman and her boy were not members of the ruling class. They lived in an unremarkable village about 2000 years ago. He learned an unremarkable trade and then became an itinerant teacher. Death at 33 was probably not unusual at that time, but this man was executed for his teaching, because the leaders of his community disapproved. Again, it seems pretty ordinary.
Yet today we are still celebrating the birth, life, and death of this man named Jesus.… Read the rest