Here’s a Monday Extra for Methodist Life readers. As some of you are aware, this blog began as part of outreach efforts by the Holston Wesleyan Covenant Association. The link below will take you to the manuscript of a sermon I preached last Saturday during worship, before our Holston chapter’s annual business meeting.
Tag: Christ's Sacrifice
The Concept of Covenant
As I mentioned in last Saturday’s posting, the nature of my contribution to LifeTalk is changing a little. I’ll now be writing on Wednesdays and Fridays, with these devotions serving as preludes to what will be preached at Holston View United Methodist Church on Sundays.
The Sermon for Sunday, July 4 is “Covenant with Freedom,” which will draw primarily from 2 Samuel 5:1-5. It will be viewable online.
Today’s Bible passage: Genesis 15
By Chuck Griffin
Religious covenants are serious business, much more serious than a simple contract. Hey, blood usually is involved.
To set aside a people through whom a savior eventually would come, God first established a covenant with Abram, later renamed Abraham after being designated father of the Israelites. In the 15th chapter of Genesis, we see that covenant formalized in a vision, one where God made binding the promises he had offered Abram if the old, childless man would move to a new place.
God’s grant of land, a vast number of descendants and even a blessing unto the whole world became guarantees for Abraham and his descendants at this point. A smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, symbols of God’s zeal and holiness, passed between the halves of sacrificial animals arranged at God’s instruction. In effect, God was saying, “If I fail in my promises, may the same be done to me as was done to these animals.”
Contracts usually have a termination point. A covenant with God goes much further, potentially creating an eternal relationship. It takes a lot of reading to explore the biblical concept of covenant—in many ways, it is the primary theme of the Bible. This covenant with Abraham and its ensuing effects keep arising in Scripture until finally we have that great blessing for the world, Jesus Christ.
Christ both affirmed the covenant made with Abraham and established a new way for all people to enter a covenant with God. He did this, of course, by going to the cross, shedding blood and dying to pay for our sins.
Again, God did all the real work and made all the promises in this relationship. Believe in what has been done, and we are drawn into the arrangement.
As the Book of Hebrews reminds us, this new covenant is embedded in our minds and written on our hearts. We are changed the moment we formally enter it through baptism, and the Holy Spirit continues to work within us for our betterment the rest of our lives.
Lord, help us as we read your word to grasp the importance of a covenant life with you. We thank you for the great gift of life you offer us. Amen.
One Life to Live
Hebrews 9:23-28 (NRSV)
Thus it was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the 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.
You may think “One Life to Live” is a long-running soap opera. It’s been around a lot longer as a biblical concept, though.
Christianity, unlike a lot of religions, is about singular moments. Cyclical sacrifices were an important part of Jewish ritual, of course, but they merely foreshadowed the only sacrifice that would matter. Jesus Christ died on the cross to give us the gift of eternal life.
These verses from Hebrews also remind us of how singular each of our lives is. We are not caught up in endless cycles of misery, moving from lifetime to lifetime with little memory of what we have learned. We have one life, one death, and one hope for eternal life in Jesus.
How rare we are! How precious our lives are, each as unique as a snowflake. The eternal nature of God’s mind means our maker never has to repeat an action.
People may seem similar, but even twins are never truly identical. They can never inhabit the exact same point in space and time, and therefore, the universe God has placed them in will give them at least slightly different perspectives and thoughts, making each twin unique.
We move toward a unique moment, too, when Jesus Christ returns to make the relationship with those who have accepted his grace into something full, complete and eternal.
We will be judged as individuals, and the moment will be like no other, in that we will finally know ourselves and value ourselves as fully as God knows and values us.
Lord, help us to better appreciate the gift of life. No matter how broken, every human has the potential to be in relationship with you through Jesus Christ, and therefore every human is at least a smoldering ember ready to burst into a holy, eternal flame. Let us treat each other as such. Amen.
Fight My Enemies
I hope you’ll take time to read these verses from Psalm 35, which can be found by clicking the above link. You can examine the psalm in different translations, if you want.
If you are someone who believes others are working against you, acting as your enemies, this psalm makes an excellent prayer to God for assistance. It creates a stirring mental picture when read; imagine the eternally powerful and wise Lord of All arming himself for battle and coming to your aid.
A word of caution, though. Praying this psalm is no magic trick, no casual incantation. Our God cannot be trapped and contained the way people believed (and still believe) pagan, little “g” gods can be controlled.
There are some serious actions that must accompany such a prayer. First and foremost, people who would lift it need to do some deep soul-searching, examining whether they have aligned themselves with the Lord. Scripture would be their best source of guidance, of course. Is what they desire precisely what God desires?
Do their tormentors, as unrighteous as they may seem, have anything resembling a valid point to make? Might they, too, be in at least partial agreement with God, and might that mean there is a place for reconciliation, for middle ground?
As Paul reminds us in Romans 3:10-12, “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.”
We are all dependent on Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross for salvation. Any righteousness we have flows from our belief in the cross. Any success we might have in praying this Psalm 35 prayer would be rooted in our faith, and a willingness to also pray for our enemies, just as Jesus taught us.
Dear Lord, as we meditate on our relationship with you, may we find ways to escape hostility and be rejoined to our enemies, seeking peace. Amen.
Renewed and Ready
By Chuck Griffin
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (NLT)
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
Just prior to these words in 2 Corinthians, Paul has been laying out what is sometimes called his “doctrine of reconciliation,” where he says that Christ’s selfless sacrifice on the cross for all people transmits a powerful kind of love.
This love is so powerful that believers find themselves transformed, made into people they could not have been otherwise. I see it as an early stage of resurrection, a beginning of the transformation we are to receive in full one day.
With the transformation comes a shift in perspective. Thanks to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we see the big picture of what God is doing. Jesus came for all the world! It should astonish each of us individually that God cares enough to draw us into his plan.
Our astonishment should be so great that we joyously take on the task of helping others understand what God is doing. “Come back to God!” we should cry to others, in whatever manner we believe to be most effective.
Are we at least thinking about how we lovingly make this offer to those around us? Once we’ve thought about this awhile, are we willing to act?
Do we trust that the new people we have become have a new kind of power—do we trust that we have nothing to fear?
The vitality of Christ’s kingdom around us depends on how we answer these questions.
Lord, renew our sense of wonder about what has been done for us, and may others see you in us. Amen.
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