Cost and Commitment

“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” – Leviticus 1:3-9 ESV

In his book, Holiness to the Lord, Allan P. Ross stated, “Sacrifice is at the heart of all true worship.” The book of Leviticus deals with the fine art of sacrifice that God ordained so that the Israelites might be able to enjoy His presence. This compilation of regulations regarding sacrifice was meant to dictate how the Israelites should express their gratitude for God’s goodness and their reverence for His holiness.

Yahweh was not some mindless, man-made idol that would accept any and all sacrifices offered on His behalf.  He was holy and righteous and entrance into His divine presence required purification and proper protocol. Sin had long separated humanity from God. Ever since Adam and Eve had violated God’s command not to eat the fruit of the one prohibited tree in the garden, mankind had been on a downward moral trajectory, away from God deeper into a lifestyle marked by independence from Him. Once sin entered the world, Adam and Eve lost their direct access to God. They would no longer enjoy unbroken fellowship with God in the garden. Instead, they were ejected from the former home they shared with the Almighty and were forced to live outside the garden and apart from His presence. Yet, God didn’t destroy Adam and Eve for their disobedience. Instead, He covered their spiritual “nakedness” with garments of skin. As they stood before God, literally exposed by their sin, He showered them with grace, offering the first blood sacrifice by taking the life of an innocent animal in order to properly atone for their sins.

Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. – Genesis 3:21 ESV

The Hebrew word for atonement is kāp̄ar and it means “to cover over.” Adam and Eve stood before God exposed by their sin and worthy of His condemnation. But rather than facing the penalty of death, they were spared and given a new lease on life. Yet, blood was spilled so that they might live.

Generations would come and go, and the sinful bent of humanity would display itself through a deepening love affair with sin and rebellion against God. While Adam and Eve had enjoyed God’s undeserved forgiveness, they went on to populate the earth with more of their kind – sin-prone human beings who chose to live in open rebellion to the will of their Creator. Things became so bad, that at one point, God looked down on the earth and determined to put an end to the rampant wickedness that had enveloped humankind, the apex of His creation.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” – Genesis 6:5-7 ESV

Things had gotten so bad that God prepared to destroy all that He had created and deemed to be good. Yet, there was one man who found favor with God. Genesis reveals that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 ESV). In all the unrighteousness that marked the world of his day, Noah stood out as a man who had remained faithful to God. He wasn’t perfect or sinless, but his life was characterized by obedience to God. Therefore, God determined to spare Noah’s life. But in doing so, God sacrificed the lives of the rest of humanity as well as all living creatures that did not end up on the ark. Once again, lives were sacrificed so that Noah and his family could live.

After the flood that destroyed all living things, God started over with Noah and his three sons. But even though Noah was a righteous man, it didn’t take long before mankind’s love affair with sin raised its ugly head again. Things picked up right where they left off. Humanity continued to move away from God and toward independence. Noah’s three sons produced offspring and filled the earth with more of their kind. Their progeny spread over the earth, producing nations that propagated further rebellion against God. And from one of these nations, God chose another man from which to begin again. This time, He chose Abram, a pagan idol-worshiper from the faraway land of Ur. God designated this undeserving Chaldean as the one through whom He would create a brand-new nation that would become a model of righteousness in a sea of sinfulness.

God revealed Himself to this undeserving and unsuspecting man from distant Ur and proffered the following command and promise.

“Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:1-3 NLT

And Abram obeyed. His first encounter with Yahweh produced in him a willingness to take God at His word and step out in faith. Moses records that “Abram departed as the Lord had instructed” (Genesis 12:4 NLT). And this tendency toward willful obedience would show up repeatedly in Abram’s life over the years. He would continue to live in obedience submission to the will of God, regardless of the circumstances. From this one man, God would produce an entire nation, the people of Israel. And it was the descendants of Abram whom God redeemed out of slavery in Egypt and led to the valley beneath Mount Sinai. He had spared their lives through the sacrifice of blood.

“Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.” – Exodus 12:3-6 NLT

Each Israelite household was instructed to take the blood of the lamb and spread it on the doorpost and lintel of the door to their home.

“The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 12:13 NLT

The blood became a covering or source of atonement, causing the death angel to pass over those homes and sparing all the firstborns found inside. Once again, God used blood to produce life. The Israelites had been undeserving of God’s grace and mercy. They had done nothing to earn His favor or merit His salvation. But by obeying His command, they received His protection and enjoyed His unmerited favor in the form of life and freedom.

It was those same Israelites who stood outside the newly constructed Tabernacle and listened to the voice of God as He declared His rules and regulations concerning the sacrificial system. If they wanted to dwell in His holy presence and continue to enjoy His favor, they would have to make sacrifices. Obedience was a non-negotiable requirement if they wanted to enjoy their status as His chosen people.

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV

Their status as His chosen people would require sacrifice. It would involve cost and commitment. And God provided them with exacting details concerning the nature of the investment He expected them to make. The first involved the offering of cattle, and God made it clear that He would not accept any animal as a sacrifice.

“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord.– Leviticus 1:3 ESV

The animal must be free from flaw or injury. God would not accept damaged goods. If an Israelite expected his offering to be accepted, it had to have come with a cost. He could not offer an injured or diseased animal and expect God to be pleased with his offering. This animal was intended to serve as a substitute for the sins of the individual and, therefore, it must be healthy and whole. The blood of the animal would serve as atonement, covering the sins of the one offering the sacrifice.

He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. – Leviticus 1:4 ESV

The goal behind all the sacrifices was a restored relationship with Yahweh. Sin caused a break in the relationship between God and His people, and sacrifice was required to atone for those sins. For the sinner to be accepted as “a pleasing aroma to the Lord” (Leviticus 1:9 ESV), a payment had to be made. The author of Hebrews reminds us that blood sacrifice was essential if the sinner expected to receive forgiveness from God.

…under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. – Hebrews 9:22 ESV

Sin was inevitable and unavoidable for God’s people. They were chosen, yet still fallen and predisposed to disobedience. So, God provided the sacrificial systen as a means by which they might be restored to a right relationship with Him. Their sinfulness separated them from God. But sacrifice was the God-ordained means for being made right with Him. And it came with a cost and required total commitment.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Entrance Into God’s Presence

1 He made the altar of burnt offering of acacia wood. Five cubits was its length, and five cubits its breadth. It was square, and three cubits was its height. He made horns for it on its four corners. Its horns were of one piece with it, and he overlaid it with bronze. And he made all the utensils of the altar, the pots, the shovels, the basins, the forks, and the fire pans. He made all its utensils of bronze. And he made for the altar a grating, a network of bronze, under its ledge, extending halfway down. He cast four rings on the four corners of the bronze grating as holders for the poles. He made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with bronze. And he put the poles through the rings on the sides of the altar to carry it with them. He made it hollow, with boards.

He made the basin of bronze and its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered in the entrance of the tent of meeting.

And he made the court. For the south side the hangings of the court were of fine twined linen, a hundred cubits; 10 their twenty pillars and their twenty bases were of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their fillets were of silver. 11 And for the north side there were hangings of a hundred cubits; their twenty pillars and their twenty bases were of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their fillets were of silver. 12 And for the west side were hangings of fifty cubits, their ten pillars, and their ten bases; the hooks of the pillars and their fillets were of silver. 13 And for the front to the east, fifty cubits. 14 The hangings for one side of the gate were fifteen cubits, with their three pillars and three bases. 15 And so for the other side. On both sides of the gate of the court were hangings of fifteen cubits, with their three pillars and their three bases. 16 All the hangings around the court were of fine twined linen. 17 And the bases for the pillars were of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their fillets were of silver. The overlaying of their capitals was also of silver, and all the pillars of the court were filleted with silver. 18 And the screen for the gate of the court was embroidered with needlework in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. It was twenty cubits long and five cubits high in its breadth, corresponding to the hangings of the court. 19 And their pillars were four in number. Their four bases were of bronze, their hooks of silver, and the overlaying of their capitals and their fillets of silver. 20 And all the pegs for the tabernacle and for the court all around were of bronze. – Exodus 38:1-20 ESV

God’s house had a yard. Surrounding the Tabernacle was a large fenced enclosure referred to as the courtyard. The perimeter of this roughly 75-foot by 150-foot space was marked by a fence made of linen fabric hung between 56 wooden posts. Each of these wooden posts featured a bronze base and a top overlaid with silver. The east side of the enclosure, which always faced the rising sun, had a screen that served as a gate and was “embroidered with needlework in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen” (Exodus 38:18 ESV).

Even the fence which surrounded the Tabernacle was intended to reflect the glory of God and serve as a barrier to keep out prying eyes and all those who were unworthy to enter God’s presence. God’s house was at the same time both accessible and off-limits. There was a gate through which entrance into God’s courtyard could be gained, but its use was restricted to the priests only. The rest of the Israelites were required to remain outside the fence, which was high enough to keep anyone from seeing what took place inside. God had agreed to dwell in the midst of His people but access to His presence would be highly restricted and regulated by stringent ceremonial laws. In a sense, the fence served the same purpose as the boundary that God had Moses place around Mount Sinai.

“Mark off a boundary all around the mountain. Warn the people, ‘Be careful! Do not go up on the mountain or even touch its boundaries. Anyone who touches the mountain will certainly be put to death. No hand may touch the person or animal that crosses the boundary; instead, stone them or shoot them with arrows. They must be put to death. – Exodus 19:12-13 NLT

God had just told the Israelites, “Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6 NLT). Yet, their status as God’s chosen people and His special treasure came with restrictions. They could not enter into His presence flippantly or inappropriately. There were conditions. He was holy and they were not. That is why God instructed Moses to have the people of Israel go through a purification process before they came anywhere near the mountain.

“Go down and prepare the people for my arrival. Consecrate them today and tomorrow, and have them wash their clothing. Be sure they are ready on the third day, for on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai as all the people watch. – Exodus 19:10-11 NLT

Mount Sinai was immovable, so it served as a temporary meeting spot between God and His people. The Tabernacle was designed to be movable so that God could have a permanent, yet portable place in which to dwell among His people. Yet, wherever His presence came to rest, that place became holy and inaccessible to all those who were marked by the impurity of sin. That’s why Aaron and his son had to go through their own purification ritual before they could pass through the gates of the courtyard and enter God’s house. Even their clothing had to meet God’s exacting standard before they could pass through the gate and perform their priestly functions.

“Clothe your brother, Aaron, and his sons with these garments, and then anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they can serve as my priests. Also make linen undergarments for them, to be worn next to their bodies, reaching from their hips to their thighs. These must be worn whenever Aaron and his sons enter the Tabernacle or approach the altar in the Holy Place to perform their priestly duties. Then they will not incur guilt and die.” – Exodus 28:41-43 NLT

And when they entered God’s courtyard, their first responsibility was to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. There in the center of the courtyard stood the Bronze Altar. This 8-foot wide by 5-foot tall structure was built by Bezalel and his team of craftsmen. It was made from acacia wood and then covered in beaten bronze. This metallic layer made it fireproof so that it could withstand the constant heat of the perpetual flames that burned day and night.

The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not go out. The priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and he shall arrange the burnt offering on it and shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out. – Leviticus 6:12-13 ESV

The altar that Bezalel made was second in importance only to the Ark of the Covenant. This one sacred object would receive almost constant use as the priests offered up the countless sacrifices and offerings provided by the people of Israel. It was the Bronze Altar where the priests placed the whole burnt offerings of the people. These offerings could be “livestock from the herd or from the flock” (Leviticus 1:2 ESV).  These were sacrifices of atonement, where the animal served as a substitute for the sins of the people. The priests also offered up sacrifices to restore fellowship with God, atone for specific sins, and atone for guilt. And once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would offer sacrifices for his own sins and those of the people.

The Bronze Altar would prove to be a well-used and vitally important part of the Tabernacle’s ritual service. Its location in the courtyard of God’s house provided a much-needed means by which the Israelites could receive cleansing, atonement, and forgiveness. This was to be the place of reconciliation and purification.

“It dominated the entrance, reminding them of the wages of their sin and offering them a way to get right with God. Only a blood sacrifice could save them. As they came to offer their sacrifices, again and again they learned that blood was the way to God.” – Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus

It is impossible to miss the juxtaposition between the opulent splendor of the Tabernacle and the gruesome nature of the sacrificial system that accompanied it. The courtyard of the Tabernacle would have been a place of slaughter with the blood of countless animals soaking the ground around the altar. The immaculate garments of the priests would have been covered in blood by day’s end. So, God provided a large basin of bronze in which the priests could cleanse themselves. Before they could enter the Holy Place to minister to God, they had to be cleansed from all the impurities they had taken upon themselves as they offered sacrifices on behalf of the sins of the people. In a sense, they had taken upon themselves the sins of the people and required purification before they could enter into God’s presence. The bronze basis served that purpose.

“They must wash with water whenever they go into the Tabernacle to appear before the Lord and when they approach the altar to burn up their special gifts to the Lord—or they will die!” – Exodus 30:20 NLT

Everything about the Tabernacle was intended to illustrate the glory and holiness of God. But there was a constant contrast between God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness. The courtyard would have been a place of death and blood. It was there that the atonement for Israel’s sins would have taken place. And the priests of God, having offered up sacrifices on behalf of the people, would have been required to go through their own purification process before they could enter into God’s presence. Sin separates people from God. Unrighteousness cannot dwell in the presence of perfect righteousness. So, God made a way for sinful men and women to come before Him, and it involved the shedding of blood. But, like so much about the Tabernacle, it was a shadow of something far greater to come. As the author of Hebrews points out.

Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. – Hebrews 10:11-12 NLT

Jesus was the great high priest who offered the final atoning sacrifice that fully satisfied the just demands of a holy and righteous God. He offered His life as the final payment for the sins of mankind, providing a permanent means of forgiveness “and when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices”(Hebrews 10:18 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Which is Easier?

1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” Mark 2:1-12 ESV

Mark has noted that Jesus “went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons” (Mark 1:39 ESV). One of the miracles He performed on that ministry junket was the healing of the man with leprosy. Jesus had physically touched the unclean man, removing all traces of the disease and leaving him completely whole and ceremonially pure. And while he had been warned by Jesus to tell no one, the man couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Eager to spread the news about his restored condition, “he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter” (Mark 1:45 ESV).

Eventually, Jesus returned to Capernaum, the small town on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, where He had established His base of operations. But as news of His miracles continued to spread throughout the region, the crowds grew in number and intensity. They had heard the rumors describing how Jesus had “healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons” (Mark 1:34 ESV). 

These fantastic reports created a sense of hope and longing among others suffering from sickness and affliction. Their desperate desire for healing and restoration drove them to seek out this miracle-working Rabbi from Nazareth. And Mark indicates that they showed up in Capernaum, surrounding the place where Jesus was staying. This was most likely the home of Simon and Andrew, where Jesus had healed Simon’s mother-in-law.

The emboldened crowd pushed its way into the home, filling it to capacity and spilling out into the street. And Jesus took advantage of this captive audience by “preaching the word to them” (Mark 2:2 ESV). The Greek word is logos and it can literally be translated as “word.” But it refers to the communication of a particular concept or idea. Earlier in his gospel, Mark indicated that Jesus had picked up the ministry that John the Baptist had begun by “proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15 ESV).

So, those who had crowded their way into the home of Simon and Andrew were forced to hear a sermon from Jesus. They had come seeking healing but were given a lesson on their need for repentance. The good news was that the kingdom of God was near. The bad news was that they were not prepared to enter that kingdom. They had sins for which they needed to repent. That had been the whole purpose behind John the Baptist’s ministry in the Judean wilderness.

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. – Mark 1:4-5 ESV

And it seems likely that “the word” that Jesus spoke that day contained ample references to the need for confession of sin. But confession without forgiveness is incomplete. As John wrote in his first letter, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV).

Confession and repentance, while necessary, will not provide anyone with entrance God’s kingdom. Without forgiveness, the stain of their sins will remain, leaving them unworthy to enter into God’s presence. The whole sacrificial system of the Jews was based on the fact that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). Sacrifices had to be made. An innocent life had to be taken. Blood had to be spilled.

So, as Jesus preached to the people, He likely declared their need for forgiveness. They had come seeking physical healing but He made sure that they understood their need for something far more significant. And in the sovereign will of God, an opportunity presented itself to demonstrate just what Jesus was trying to communicate.

As Jesus was preaching, four men showed up carrying their paralyzed friend on a pallet. When they found it impossible to get through the mass of people crowded into the small home, they made their way to the roof. In an act of desperation, they created a hole in the roof and lowered the pallet into the room where Jesus was speaking. The noise they made and the debris that rained down as a result of their frantic efforts must have brought Jesus’ sermon to an abrupt end. All eyes were fixed on the ceiling as the bed containing the paralyzed man was lowered into the room.

What happens next is significant. Mark states that upon “seeing” the faith of the friends who had lowered the man into the room, Jesus spoke. But before we look at what Jesus said, it’s essential that we examine how He “saw” their faith. Like everyone else in the room that day, these men had come with a specific purpose in mind. They had gone through all the effort to carry their friend to the home, dig a hole in the roof, and lower him into the room because they believed that Jesus could heal him. Their faith was clearly evident. They longed to see their friend made whole and they believed that Jesus had the power and authority to make it happen.

They believed that Jesus could heal. But what they did not know was that Jesus could also forgive sin. And, upon seeing their faith, Jesus spoke. He turned to the man laying on the pallet and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:6 ESV). Rather than offering the man physical healing, Jesus declared him to be spiritually whole. Jesus gave him something no one in the room had ever expected to receive that day.  And this statement left the crowd in stunned silence. They didn’t know what to say.

But Mark lets us know that there were some scribes in the room who heard what Jesus said and immediately declared Him to be a blasphemer.

“Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” – Mark 2:7 ESV

They had come expecting to see Jesus perform some miracles. They were curious as to whether the rumors about Jesus were true. But when Jesus offered the paralyzed man forgiveness for his sins, they were shocked and appalled. In the minds of the Jews, sickness was directly correlated to sin. Sickness and disease were considered punishments from God for sins committed against Him. And the worse the disease was, the more egregious the sin that caused it must have been. They considered this man’s debilitating paralysis a punishment from God and here was Jesus declaring that his sins were forgiven. And yet, they must have keenly observed, the man remained completely immobilized and unable to move from his pallet.

Jesus, well aware of the debate that His words had stirred up, posed a question to the scribes:

“Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?” – Mark 2:8-9 ESV

In their minds, Jesus had committed the unpardonable sin. He had dared to place Himself on equal standing with God, who alone could offer forgiveness for sins. But Jesus pointed out that offering forgiveness of sins was easy. Anyone could do it. The question was, did He have the power and authority to do so. If given the chance, they would have responded with a categorically emphatic, “No!”

But to prove that He had the power and authority to forgive the man’s sins, Jesus proceeded to do what was obviously the more “difficult” thing. And He makes sure they understand the motive behind the miracle He is about to perform.

“So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” – Mark 2:10 NLT

Then He proceeded to do something that was going to leave everyone in the room slack-jawed and surprised.

Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” – Mark 2:10-11 NLT

Again, speaking those words was easy. Anyone could have done it. But when Jesus spoke amazing things happened, and this time would be no different than all the others. As soon as the words left Jesus’ mouth, “the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers” (Mark 2:12 NLT). In a split second, the man’s paralysis was completely gone. He had been miraculously restored to full health and vitality. And, if this man’s sickness had been the result of sin, then his sins must have been forgiven. It would have been obvious that he was no longer under any form of divine punishment or condemnation.

By doing what He did, Jesus was not confirming the scribes’ belief that the man’s illness was a result of sin. He was demonstrating that He had the God-given power and authority to restore both physical and spiritual health. He could irradicate the effects of sickness and eliminate the condemnation of sin.

The formerly paralyzed man was not made sinless by Jesus’ actions. He was made physically whole. The sad reality is that, in his newly restored state, that man went on to live a life marked by sin. It was inevitable and unavoidable. But by healing the man, Jesus was demonstrating His divine power. If He could restore a paralyzed man’s capacity to walk, He could also restore the spiritual health of a humanity paralyzed by sin. And that is exactly why Jesus had come to earth.

The people “were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’” (Mark 2:12 ESV). But which was easier, “to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’?” (Mark 2:9 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Authenticating Authority

1 And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. – Matthew 9:1-8 ESV

One thing that becomes readily apparent when reading Matthew’s gospel is that he seems to play fast and loose with the timeline surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus. A cursory comparison between his account and that of Luke and Mark reveals some obvious and, seemingly, glaring discrepancies as to the order in which some of these events took place. The content remains the same, but Matthew has chosen to reorder the narrative for thematic emphasis. He is linking together key events in the life of Jesus so that they complement and reinforce a particular aspect of Jesus’ identity. In this case, Matthew has been stringing together a series of miraculous events that clearly showcase the authority of Jesus as displayed in the supernatural encounters.

Matthew has recorded the following displays of Jesus’ authority and power:

His healing of the leper

His healing of the Centurion’s servant

His healing of Peter’s mother-in-law

His calming of the storm

His healing of the Gadarene demoniacs

His power over demons and their recognition of Him as the Son of God

Now, Matthew adds one more miracle to his evidentiary compilation of miracles supporting Jesus’ divine authority. This one took place in Capernaum, the town on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus had set up His ministry headquarters. On this occasion, Jesus had returned to the house in which he resided, and with the news of His arrival, it was not long before a crowd of friends and followers had filled the small space. And as usual, Jesus’ appearance also attracted those in need of healing. Mark and Luke provide us with details concerning this event that Matthew chose to leave out.

And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. – Mark 2:2-4 ESV

And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus,  but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. – Luke 5:18-19 ESV

Luke also lets us know that there were others in the crowd that day who would not have been considered close friends or associates of Jesus.

…as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem – Luke 5:17 ESV

And he adds: “And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.”

Imagine the scene. Jesus is in His home, surrounded by a crowd consisting of friends, family members, followers, and foes. Jesus is teaching. Perhaps He is expounding on the content of the message He had given on the hillside. There are those in the crowd eager to hear what He has to say, while others listen with a degree of incredulity and a growing spirit of animosity. When suddenly, they are all distracted by sounds on the roof and the sudden appearance of a hole in the ceiling above their heads. The falling debris causes those in the room to scatter, creating a space in the center of the room. Then, to their surprise, a small wooden cot is lowered by ropes into the room and comes to rest in the midst of them. On it lies a man whose condition is readily apparent. He is paralyzed and crippled. Perhaps many in the room know him and are familiar with his long-standing condition.

But everyone is shocked by the scene. The Pharisees and scribes are probably put off by the lack of decorum and a bit irritated by the over-the-top display of trust in Jesus. And Matthew makes it clear that trust is exactly the motivation behind the efforts of those holding the other ends of the ropes. He states, “Jesus saw their faith” (Matthew 9:2 ESV). In other words, their faith was tangible and visible. It showed up in their effort to get their friend in front of Jesus, no matter the cost. And notice that Jesus recognized their faith and not that of the paralytic. Yet, He addressed His words to their friend lying on the mat.

“Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” – Matthew 9:2 ESV

Rather than address the man’s paralysis, Jesus mentions His sins. And it would seem that Jesus did so deliberately, knowing the reaction it would produce in the Pharisees and scribes. Matthew simply states that they accused Jesus of blasphemy. But Luke and Mark provide the thinking behind their conclusion.

And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” – Luke 5:21 ESV

Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” – Mark 2:6-7 ESV

Up to this point in his gospel, there are no other healings that Jesus performed where forgiveness of sin was mentioned. So why did Jesus use such language in this case? Was it because this man had been paralyzed as a result of some sin he had committed? That would have been the normal assumption of everyone in the room. It was a common belief among the Jews that illness was a direct result of sin. This errant understanding of sin and disease came up on another occasion when Jesus and His disciples encountered a blind man. They asked Him, “Rabbi…why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” (John 9:2 NLT). And Jesus’ response would have shocked them.

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” – John 9:3 NLT

So, why did Jesus offer the paralytic forgiveness for his sins? Because Jesus knew that the religious leaders would have a problem with Him doing so. And their reaction proved Him right. They accused Him of blasphemy. And notice what they based their reaction on: Who can forgive sins but God alone.

In their minds, Jesus had no right to offer this man forgiveness of sins. That was the sole prerogative of God. Yet, that was exactly the point Jesus was trying to make. Remember that the demoniacs addressed Jesus as the Son of God. They knew who He was, and they knew He had the power to cast them out of the two men whom they had possessed. They also knew that Jesus had the power to torment them.

The Pharisees and scribes saw Jesus as little more than an itinerant rabbi from Nazareth who had been drawing crowds with His radical teaching and supernatural displays of power. But in no way did they every harbor any suspicions that He might be the Messiah.

And Jesus knew their thoughts and their hearts. Before they could even articulate their accusations against Him, Jesus addressed their suspicions by asking them a logical question: “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” (Matthew 9:5 ESV). Jesus had healed before. Everyone had seen it. And He had proven He could do so with just a word from His mouth. Yet, as marvelous as healing might be, forgiveness of sins was greater. And He wanted everyone in that room to understand that He had the power to offer both. 

And He let them know that His power to heal was proof of His authority over not only disease but over sin and death as well.

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” – Matthew 9:6 ESV

By healing the man, Jesus offered proof that He was not a blasphemer and that, in fact, He had power that had been given to Him by God, including the power to forgive sins. He had God-given authority over sin because He was the Son of God.

Yet Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man. This designation was intended to reflect His unique status as the God-Man, God in human form. He was the visible manifestation of the invisible God. He was God incarnate. And He had full rights and access to the power and authority of God. Including the power to forgive sin. Healing as easy for Jesus. But so was the offer of forgiveness of sin. And the Pharisees had been right when they stated, “Who can forgive sins but God alone.”

Jesus was God. He was the Son of God. He was God in the flesh. And while men would marvel at His ability to heal the sick and even raise the dead, His greatest feat would be His sacrificial death that would make possible the forgiveness of sins for all those who placed their faith in Him.

When Jesus had finished, the paralyzed man had received the ability to walk. The Pharisees and scribes had been given ammunition to accuse Jesus of blasphemy. And the people had been given one more display of Jesus’ miraculous power. But notice the point that Matthew makes. He stresses the authority of Jesus, and he makes it clear that even the crowds had begun to understand that the ability of Jesus to perform His miracles was God-given.

When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. – Matthew 9:8 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Discipline Lovingly.

When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin, when you afflict them, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel, when you teach them the good way in which they should walk, and grant rain upon your land, which you have given to your people as an inheritance. – 1 Kings 8:35-36 ESV

1 Kings 8:22-53

This is the third of seven scenarios that Solomon used in his prayer as a means of illustrating the potential unfaithfulness of the people of Israel and to plead for God’s mercy and forgiveness. Solomon was no stranger to the promises of God concerning the land of Canaan. He knew that their very existence as a people and their presence in the land was the work of God. He had chosen them as His own and then provided them with a land in which to live. But their privileged position as His people and their possession of the land came with conditions. God had clearly warned them that, as His chosen people, they would be required to live in obedience to His commands. If they obeyed, they would experience His blessings. If they chose to disobey, their would be ramifications in the form of curses.  “And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full.  Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you” (Deuteronomy 11:13-17 ESV).

It is with this warning in mind that Solomon prays. He knew full well that there was always a distinct possibility that they would prove to be unfaithful. As a people, their history was replete with stories of unfaithfulness and idolatry. Remaining true to God had proven to be difficult for them. During their 400 years of captivity in Egypt they had forgotten Yahweh and worshiped the gods of their captors. Even after God’s miraculous deliverance from their slavery in Egypt, it had not taken long before they were worshiping the golden calf in the wilderness. When they had arrived in the land of promise, God gave them victories over their enemies, but the people just couldn’t seem to keep their hearts and hands off the false gods of the very nations they had conquered. So the scenario Solomon used in his prayer was far from unlikely or impossible. He knew in his heart that their unfaithfulness was a distinct and potentially dangerous possibility. If Solomon knew anything about God, it was that He kept His word. So He appeals to God’s promise to forgive. But he knows that God’s forgiveness would be conditioned on their repentance and confession. They would have to acknowledge God’s name and turn from their sin. This would have to be more than just a casual, “I’m sorry.” To acknowledge God’s name was to confess that His unique character as the one true God. It was to openly admit that He alone was holy, righteous, almighty and worthy of their worship. And to turn from their sin was to reject all false gods and renounce their improper dependence upon them. Solomon knew that God’s forgiveness would required their genuine repentance. He also knew that God’s punishment of them would always be positive in nature, designed to turn them from their unfaithfulness and return them to a right relationship with Himself. God disciplines His people for their own good, so that they might give Him glory. “For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12 NLT). “I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference” (Revelations 3:19 NLT).

The unfaithfulness of God’s people was inevitable, but God made provision for it. In Solomon’s day, it came in the form of the sacrificial system. It required repentance and confession. The shedding of blood was necessary. Sin required punishment. But God provided a means by which sin could be atoned for or covered over. It was through the death of an innocent animal whose life was sacrificed as a substitute or stand-in for the guilty party. But those sacrifices were never intended to be permanent or complete in their effectiveness. They simply foreshadowed a greater sacrifice to come. God would eventually provide His own Son as the perfect, sinless sacrifice for the sins of man. His Son, Jesus Christ, would give His life as payment for the sins of all men – past, present and future. He would die in their place, taking on their punishment and paying their debt so that they might have forgiveness from sin and escape the penalty of death – eternal separation from God. But this gift must be received. The payment made by God through His Son must be accepted. Men must acknowledge their sin and turn to God for the forgiveness made possible through the death of Jesus Christ. Many years after Solomon prayed this prayer, Peter would preach a message to the Jews gathered in Solomon’s Portico, an area just outside the temple. “But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus” (Acts 3:18-20 ESV). Repent. Return. And receive forgiveness from the hand of a loving God.

The Blood.

This is he who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. – 1 John 5:6 ESV

1 John 5:6-12

It is fascinating to me that so many Christians today want to reject any image of God as judgmental or wrathful. They cannot stand the idea of God being somehow associated with the events found in the Old Testament. So what they do is re-imagine the Bible, seeing it not as the divine Word of God, but as the writings of men. They portray it as the self-revelation of men, not the self-revelation of God. It is nothing more than men, in their unenlightened state, attempting to portray God. Surrounded by pagan imagery of gods who were characterized by wrath and vengeance, and who rewarded good behavior and punished “sin,” they mistakenly placed these same characteristics on God. But as their relationship with Him progressed, so did their understanding. So by the time Jesus came along, He was able to give them an enlightened view of God as loving, kind, gracious and merciful.

But here’s the rub. That same God who Jesus introduced to the Jews of His day was the same God who required His own Son to die a cruel death on a Roman cross. Jesus had to sacrifice His life in order to pay for the sins of man. That had always been the way God worked. The Old Testament was a foreshadowing of the coming of Christ. In fact, the author of Hebrews spends a great deal of time talking about the Old Testament sacrificial system – a bloody, primitive-like and ritualistic collection of gruesome animal butcherings – and ties them to the death of Jesus. In referring to the sacrificial system, the author writes,    “For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22 NLT). This was a God-ordained system of sacrifice that was intended to provide remission from or forgiveness for the sins of the people. To us it sounds barbaric and cruel. But there was a divine purpose behind God’s plan. “That is why even the first covenant was put into effect with the blood of an animal. For after Moses had read each of God’s commandments to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, along with water, and sprinkled both the book of God’s law and all the people, using hyssop branches and scarlet wool. Then he said, ‘This blood confirms the covenant God has made with you.’ And in the same way, he sprinkled blood on the Tabernacle and on everything used for worship. In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood” (Hebrews 9:18-22 NLT). Every year, thousands of innocent animals had to be sacrificed in order for the sins of the people to be atoned for. Their sins, including sins of omission and commission, inadvertent and premeditated, known and unknown, had to be paid for, or their was no forgiveness. God had a sacrifice or offering for every imaginable sin. Why? Because He is loving and gracious. He wanted His people to have a relationship with Him. But He knew that they were incapable of living sinless lives. He knew they could not remain faithful. So He instituted a system by which they could have their sins paid for and forgiven. But this was a temporary solution. It was a type of something far greater to come. “That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals” (Hebrews 9:23 NLT). For God to restore men to a right relationship with Himself, a greater sacrifice was required. A more precious, permanent and costly offering was going to be necessary.

Again, the author of Hebrews provides us with insight into these seemingly confusing and difficult to understand things. “The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared. But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1-4 NLT). The sacrificial system was perpetual because the sins of the people were ongoing. The whole system was designed to show them their sins and remind them of their need for God. The blood of the bulls and goats was a temporary, impermanent fix to their problem. Something greater was needed. “For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. And he did not enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice” (Hebrews 9:24-26 NLT).

Jesus died so that we might live. He gave His life so that we might have eternal life. His blood was shed for the permanent forgiveness of mankind’s sins. But in order for that sacrifice to be effective, it must be received. Men must acknowledge their sin and their need for a Savior. They must believe that Jesus is the Son of God, sent by His Father to pay for the sins of the world. Peter makes it quite clear: “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:18-21 NLT). What kind of God would sacrifice His own Son to pay for sins He didn’t commit? A loving, gracious, merciful, kind God. The God of Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, and every other Old Testament character. The God of the Bible. The God of creation. The God of the universe who is out to redeem His creation from the ravages of sin and death, and who chose to do it through the loving sacrifice of His own Son.

Nehemiah 7-8, Hebrews 9

God’s Provision.

Nehemiah 7-8, Hebrews 9

And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:16 ESV

The walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt – in just 52 days. The temple had already been restored under the leadership of Ezra. But the city was a virtual ghost town. The majority of the people who had returned to the land were living in the towns outside the walls of the city. But Nehemiah knew that his work was incomplete. While he had done what he had set out to do, the rebuilding of the walls, he chose not to return to Susa. He stayed because he knew that rebuilt walls did not make a city. It had to be repopulated. And the people who would repopulate that city would have to be made right with God. So he assembled the congregation of Judah and arranged for Ezra to read from the book of the law. This could have been the entire Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, or it could have been just the book of Deuteronomy along with portions of Leviticus. But whatever it was that Ezra read, it took hours for him to do so, and the people stood the entire time. The law was read and it was explained in detail so that the people could understand it. And the result was that the people were convicted of their sins. They wept and mourned as they heard how they had violated the commands of God. But Nehemiah told them, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep” (Nehemiah 8:9 ESV). He encouraged them focus their attention on God. While the law had reminded them of their sin, he wanted them to remember their gracious, merciful God. It was time to celebrate because God was their strength. He had provided a means for them to receive forgiveness for their sins. All of this would have taken place in the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. Part of what was read to them out of the law was the command to keep the festivals of God. They were to celebrate the Feast of Trumpets, the Feast of Booths and the Day of Atonement. These festivals were designed to remind them of all that God had done for them in the past. And they were to culminate with the once-a-year sacrifice made on their behalf by the high priest, when he entered into the Holy of Holies and made atonement for the unintentional sins they had committed that year. This was to be a celebration. While they stood guilty before God, He had provided a means of receiving forgiveness and pardon.

What does this passage reveal about God?

When God had given the people of Israel His plans for the tabernacle and His commands for observing the sacrificial system, it was all a foreshadowing of things to come. It was an earthly picture of a heavenly reality. It was designed to be temporary and incomplete. The author of Hebrews says, “They serve as a copy and shadow of heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5 ESV). The law, associated with the Old Covenant, was not intended to be lasting. It was not a permanent fix to man’s persistent sin problem. “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second” (Hebrews 8:7 ESV). God had told the people of Israel, “Behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Hebrews 8:8 ESV). He had a plan for a new and improved covenant that would be permanent and complete. Everything that the people of Israel had done in association with the tabernacle and later, with the temple, had been intended to point toward something greater to come. One of the key elements involved in man’s atonement under the law was the shedding of blood. “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). Every year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest had to offer a sacrifice for his own sins before he could intercede for the people. Why? Because he was a sinner just like to whom he ministered. Then he had to offer a sacrifice and take the blood, mixed with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkle it on the book of the law and the people, declaring, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you” (Hebrews 9:20 ESV). At that moment, the covenant between God and His people was ratified and renewed. But again, it was just a foreshadowing of things to come. Because that event had to take place every single year, because their atonement was only temporary. It was incomplete. In the next chapter, we will read, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 ESV). Complete, permanent forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of bulls and goats could never happen. But God had a better solution.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Our sin is an ever-present reality. It follows us wherever we go. It is a permanent part of our experience as we live on this planet. When we read God’s Word, we are reminded of our sin. It convicts us of sin and reveals to us our unfaithfulness and consistent rebellion against a faithful, loving God. But rather than weep and mourn over our sin, we must learn to rejoice in our Savior. God has provided a solution to our sin problem. And this solution is far better than the one the Israelites had. “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Hebrews 9:24 ESV). Christ didn’t enter into an earthly tabernacle or temple. As our high priest, He took His sacrifice right into the presence of God the Father. And the sacrifice he made was once and for all. “But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrew 9:26 ESV). He gave His life as a sacrifice for our sins and, unlike the animal sacrifices under the Old Covenant, His sacrifice was a permanent solution to man’s sin problem. His death provided complete atonement for man’s sins – past, present and future. He has secured an “eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

So what should our reaction be to this news? We should rejoice and celebrate. We should recognize that the joy of the Lord is our strength. He has provided for our salvation. He has made a way for us to be restored to a right relationship with Him that is not based on human effort. God has done for us what we could never have done for ourselves. “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4:9 NLT). “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). That is cause for celebration. That is reason for rejoicing. Our God is great. His love is unimaginable and His grace is immeasurable. Yes, our sin is real. But so is our salvation. Those of us who have placed our faith and hope in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross can celebrate because our redemption is eternal, our atonement is complete. And the truly great news is, “so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28 NLT). Now that’s cause for celebration.

Father, never let me lose sight of the staggering implications of the salvation that You have provided through Your Son. Rather than wallow in my sins, let me rejoice in the fact that my sins are forgiven, my future is secure, and Your Son is some day coming back for me. Thank You for the new covenant made available through the death, burial and resurrection of Your Son. He died, but He rose again. He left, but He is coming again. I have plenty to rejoice about. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Samuel 5-6, Romans 5

The Salvation of God.

1 Samuel 5-6, Romans 5

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. – Romans 5:10 ESV

The story of the captured Ark found in 1 Samuel 5 and 6 seems designed to stress the superiority of God. While the Israelites were wrong in assuming they could use the Ark as some kind of good luck charm by bringing it into battle and hoping it would guarantee them a victory, God was still in control of the situation. The Philistines placed the Ark in the temple of their god, Dagon. This was a visible testimony of their belief that their god was the superior god. But the next morning they were shocked to find the statue of Dagon lying face down in front of the Ark of the God of Israel. They set their god back on his feet, only to return the next morning to find him fallen again, and with his head and hands sheered off. They immediately recognized that Yahweh was superior to Dagon. In fear, they sent the Ark to a neighboring Philistine city, where the people were immediately afflicted with tumors. They then sent the Ark to the city of Ekron, where they encountered the same problem. What ensued was like a game of hot potato, where the Ark was passed around from city to city, until wiser heads prevailed and determined to send the Ark back to Israel.

What does this passage reveal about God?

This entire scenario is about God’s saving power. The Ark was holy. It belonged to God and was dedicated solely to His use. And while its presence among the Philistines was due to the ignorance of the people of Israel, it’s salvation was completely up to God. There was no one in the land of Israel who was even remotely concerned with trying to rescue the Ark out of its captivity among the Philistines. They had abandoned it. But God had not. The text makes it clear that God was behind all that was going on involving the affliction of the Philistines and the eventual salvation of the Ark. “The hand of the Lord was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors…” (1 Samuel 5:6 ESV). God even seemed to be behind the actions of the two cows used to pull the cart carrying the Ark, by causing them to ignore their natural, instinctive concern for their own calves and walk directly to the nearest Israelite town.

God stepped in and did what no man could or would do. He saved the Ark. He rescued what belonged to Him. Not only was God superior in power, He saved.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The Ark had been lost in battle, and the people of Israel stood helplessly by, incapable of doing anything about it. One of the most significant things about the loss of the Ark is that it represented their atonement. Once a year on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would enter into the Holy of Holies and offer sacrifices for the sins of the people. He would sprinkle the blood of a lamb on the Mercy Seat which was found on the top of the Ark. This action would provide atonement for the sins of the people, allowing them to continue to enjoy God’s presence rather than experience His wrath. The Ark was the visible representation of the presence of God. He had told the people of Israel, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:22 ESV). Now the people of Israel had lost the presence of God and their only source for experiencing the mercy and forgiveness of God for their sins. They were in a hopeless, helpless state. But God stepped in. He did what they could not do. He provided salvation.

Paul talks about the same thing in Romans 5. God provided salvation for mankind through His Son Jesus Christ. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6 ESV). “Since therefore, we have not been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9 ESV). God did what no man could do. He stepped in and provided salvation, rescuing man out of his helpless, hopeless condition. He corrected the problem that man had created.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

I am reminded of the words of the song, “Mighty To Save.”

Everyone needs compassion
A love that’s never failing
Let mercy fall on me

Everyone needs forgiveness
The kindness of a Savior
The hope of nations

Savior he can move the mountains
My God is mighty to save
He is mighty to save
Forever author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave.

God has rescued us from captivity to sin and death. Through Jesus, we can experience the mercy and grace of God. Jesus’ sacrifice of His own life provided a way for men to be restored to a right relationship with God. He has made it possible for men to enjoy the presence and power of God in their lives once again. God is the author of salvation. He provided a solution to man’s problem. He corrected what mankind screwed up. He did the impossible. “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19 ESV).

Father, thank You for providing a way of salvation. Thank You for making it possible for us to enjoy Your presence and power in our lives, for restoring us to a right relationship with You. We were in a hopeless and helpless state, incapable of fixing the problem we had created, but You stepped in and did what we could not do. And we are eternally grateful. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Leviticus 15-16, Luke 9

The Day of Atonement.

Leviticus 15-16, Luke 9

Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst. – Leviticus 15:31 ESV

Once again, we have an entire chapter dedicated to a fairly disgusting topic: bodily discharges. The level of detail given in this chapter gets a bit embarrassing at times. But the point remains the same. Uncleanness among the people of God was to be taken seriously. Many of the conditions described were abnormal and unsanitary. There are some commentators that believe some of these conditions describe a form of a sexually transmitted disease like gonorrhea. Yet others describe normal bodily functions such as a woman’s menstrual cycle. But we can’t lose sight of the focus of this chapter. The real point is that these conditions, whether normal or abnormal, made those who had them unclean before God. And God could not and would not allow those who were unclean to enter into His presence. Their state of uncleanness would prevent them from entering into the Tabernacle, lest they defile it with their presence. Uncleanness disqualified the individual from participating in public worship as part of the nation of Israel.

The Israelites were not the only people who suffered from these conditions. They were common among all people groups. But remember that God had set apart the people of Israel for Himself. They were to be different and distinct. They were required to live up to a higher standard. And by providing the people with rules and regulations regarding this various diseases and disorders, God was reminding them that their own humanity was a barrier to His presence. Just by living life on this planet, they were going to come into contact with someone or something unclean. Given enough time, they would contract some kind of disease or disorder. Living on a fallen, sin-racked planet was going to expose them to impurity and uncleanness. And yet their God had called them to a life of holiness, purity and righteousness.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Surrounded by sin and constantly susceptible to sickness and disease, the people of Israel were in a difficult spot. No one could remain pure all the time. Nobody could keep themselves from committing sin or breaking God’s law. Eventually, everyone would find themselves guilty of sin, unclean because of some sickness, and unable to come into God’s presence. So God provided a means by which His people could atone for their sins and their sickness. When they found themselves infected or sick, He gave them rules to follow that would keep them from defiling His Tabernacle. And because God knew that they were going to sin and would inevitably have sickness in their midst, He provided a yearly day of sacrifice that would cleanse all the sins and impurities that might have gone unconfessed and unaccounted for throughout the rest of the year. The Day of Atonement was a once-a-year, once-and-for-all opportunity for the people of Israel to have their sins and sicknesses atoned for. Chapter 16 of Leviticus outlines the exact order of the events required for atonement to take place. The sequence and details were non-optional and non-negotiable. It had to be done God’s way. In order to come into God’s presence on behalf of the people, Aaron, as the high priest, had to atone for his own sins first. He had to make atonement for the sins of the people. He had to cleanse and consecrate the altar from the sins of the people of Israel. God required the Aaron, “make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins” (Leviticus 16:33-34 ESV). The amazing thing about this day is that it provided cleansing and forgiveness for the people for all the sins they had committed, both intentionally and unintentionally (Hebrews 9:7) that entire year. And it was done on their behalf. They didn’t bring the sacrifice. It was provided for them.

What does this passage reveal about man?

No matter how hard we try, we can’t keep from sinning. Now matter how much we try to keep from getting sick, it inevitably happens. Disobedience and disease have been a part of the human condition ever since the Fall. And just as in the days of Moses and the people of Israel, no one can ever stand in God’s presence totally pure and completely whole, physically or spiritually. It’s impossible. So in the Old Testament, God provided the Day of Atonement. And one of the unique features of that day was the scapegoat. This was one of two goats that were used in order to make atonement for the sins of the people. One goat was presented was slaughtered and presented as a sin offering. But the second goat was not killed. Instead, Aaron would “lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins” (Leviticus 16:21 ESV). Then that goat was led away into the wilderness where it was left alone to die. The goat that was killed was a visual reminder to the Israelites that for atonement to take place, there had to be judgment on their sin that resulted in death. The goat that was released or “escaped” into the wilderness carrying the guilt of their sins was to be a reminder that their guilt had been removed from their midst. It reminds me of the words of Psalm 103: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11-12 ESV). Their sins had been paid for and their guilt removed. And God did it for them.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Over in the book of Luke, we read the words of Jesus as He tries to tell His disciples what is going to happen to Him once He gets to Jerusalem. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22 ESV). He is attempting to prepare them for the inevitable and unavoidable reality of His death. What they don’t realize is that the death of Jesus was the plan of God – from the beginning. He was to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of man. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:26-28 ESV). Jesus had to die. He had to be the one to take on our sin and bear our guilt. He became the once-and-for-all sacrifice for the sins of man. He did for me what I could never have done for myself. He paid for sins I have committed willingly, knowingly and rebelliously. But He also paid for sins I have committed unwittingly and ignorantly.

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

For nothing good have I
Whereby Thy grace to claim,
I’ll wash my garments white
In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.

Father, You provided a way to atone for my sin and sickness. You made it possible for me to be restored to a right relationship with You, not because of me, but in spite of me. You gave Your Son to die in my place. You have forgiven my sin and removed my guilt – as far as the east is from the west. Let me live in the joy of that reality. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Leviticus 7-8, Luke 5

Forgiveness and Cleansing From sin.

Leviticus 7-8, Luke 5

But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins — he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” – Luke 5:24 ESV

Reading through the book of Leviticus, one can’t help but recognize the emphasis on sin, guilt, impurity and uncleanness. But there is also an emphasis on holiness, consecration, purity, and forgiveness. It is perfectly and painfully clear that the sin of man was a problem. It was a pervasive and inescapable reality – even among the people of God. The psalmist reminds us, “They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3 ESV). That sobering assessment refers to mankind in general, but most certainly includes the Israelites. They had proven themselves to be fully capable of turning aside from God and, therefore, had become corrupted by their own sinful hearts. But God had a solution. He provided a means by which they could find forgiveness for their sins and freedom from their guilt and condemnation. It would be costly. It would require a great deal of sacrifice on their part. It would be a perpetual, never-ending necessity in their lives if they wanted to continue to enjoy the presence and power of God in their lives.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The sheer number and variety of sacrifices required by God are staggering. In chapter seven alone we read of the guilt offering, peace offering, wave offering, ordination offering, grain offering, and sin offering. The various requirements associated with each can be overwhelming to keep up with. The amount of details that had to be considered, remembered and followed to the smallest detail are hard to read, let alone to obey. But it shows us the seriousness of sin and the price required for sin to be dealt with effectively. God’s desire was that His people understand and appreciate their role as His chosen ones. He had personally handpicked them and set them apart as His own. And elsewhere in Scripture, God makes it clear that His choosing of them was based on one thing alone. “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8 ESV). God loved them. And all the demands He was placing on them were a reflection of that love. He wanted to cleanse them and forgive them of their sins. He wanted to remove their guilt. But He also wanted them to appreciate all that He had done for them. He wanted a people who would express love for Him in return and show their faith in Him through obedience to Him.

As His chosen ones there were going to be requirements placed on them by God. There were demands, regulations, rules, rituals and rites. They were going to have to listen to God and obey what He told them to do. Not because God was demanding and severe, but because His holiness required that sin be dealt with. His very character required that He justly and rightly deal with sin. He could not tolerate it, overlook it, or ignore it. To do so would have made Him less than God. But God is love. He wanted to express His love to His chosen people. To do so, He had to provide them with a way to satisfy His holy requirement to punish sin. That is what the entire sacrificial system is all about. And it was designed by God to provide forgiveness and cleansing from sin. It was onerous and difficult because sin was dangerous and deadly. God could not take sin lightly and He wanted His people to understand that they could not afford to do so either.

What does this passage reveal about man?

In the prophetic book of Malachi, we read a prediction made by God concerning the people of Israel. It provides a glimpse into Israel’s future, long after they had arrived in the land of promise. It tells of a time that will take place after the building of the Temple and the nation of Israel has enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity in the land God had promised them. God, speaking through the prophet Malachi says:

“A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty. “It is you priests who show contempt for my name.

But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’

“By offering defiled food on my altar.

“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

“By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 1:6-8 ESV).

The day was coming when the people would disregard God’s requirements and, instead of offering the best of the best, they would offer the lame and the sick. In doing so, they would show contempt for the name of God. They would defile His altar. They would treat the sacrifices ordained by God with contempt. They would bring “injured, lame or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices” (Malachi 1:13 ESV), treating His means of forgiveness with ingratitude and disrespect.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

In the book of Luke, we see the coming of the Son of God to earth. In the early chapters of Luke’s gospel, we read of the coming of Jesus and the beginning stages of His ministry. While we read of His miracles and His choosing of the twelves disciples, we must not lose sight of the fact that Jesus came to forgive sins. He came to pay the penalty required by His Father for the sins of mankind. Jesus’ miracles were simply a proof of His authority as the Son of God. He could heal the sick, calm the sea, cast out demons and even raise the dead. When accused by the Pharisees of blasphemy for telling a man his sins were forgiven, Jesus responded, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” (Luke 5:22-23 ESV). Proving a person’s sins had been forgiven would be impossible. But proving a lame man was healed would be easily verifiable. So Jesus healed the man. His power to heal was a demonstration of His power as God to forgive sins. His mission was to go to the cross. His assignment was to offer His life as a payment for the sins of all mankind. Once again, God had provided a means by which men could receive forgiveness for and cleaning from sin. Why? Because He loved us. Paul makes this perfectly clear when he writes, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation” (Romans 5:8-9 NLT).

God loved me so much that He sent His Son to die in my place. And my response to that incredible love should be to do what Paul encourages us to do in Romans 12:1: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

Father, from the very beginning, You have had a plan for dealing with the sins of man. You knew that man was incapable of solving the sin problem. Once it began, it was like a cancer that spread throughout Your creation, infecting everyone and everything. The only solution was for the penalty for sin to be paid for. Thank You for the permanent solution provided by Your Son’s death. Thank You that we are no longer under the temporary means of the Old Testament law. I am so grateful for the reality of my forgiveness and right standing with You. I don’t ever want to take it for granted. I don’t ever want to take sin lightly or treat Your gift of grace and forgiveness with contempt. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men