Full atonement—can it be? Yes!

If Leviticus seems incomprehensible, a closer look at that book reveals amazing gospel truth about God, our sin and our redemption from a hopeless state.

A short reading in a difficult book

The schedule last week assigned a relatively short reading (Leviticus 1-16) in a book of the Bible which many modern readers find perplexing.  This allowed time to read helpful introductory notes from a good study Bible such as the ESV Study Bible or the Reformation Study Bible. I rely on these plus Ryken’s Bible Handbook for help with books like Leviticus.

Exodus brought the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt to covenant nationhood at Mt. Sinai.  The covenant which God made with Moses and Israel included law: moral law, civil law, and ceremonial law.  The ceremonial law laid out the details of the priesthood, the tabernacle, and the sacrifices.  Now in Leviticus, God specifies to Moses how Israel must  make the offerings of the sacrifices.  Various kinds of sacrifices are designated: burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings. Priests and worshipers had to pay close attention to these instructions.  God demanded clean and unblemished animals offered according to His law.  The blood was important as it was the life of the animal.

Illegal worship brings death

In the middle of all these instructions, the violent deaths of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, show that God would punish violations to His law concerning these sacrifices and the tabernacle. Not only must the offerings be made properly by the designated priest, but those making offerings were to take care to be ceremonially clean as they came to the tabernacle.  God gave instructions so that all could approach the holy God in a holy way.

Chapter 16 describes the day of Atonement on which the high priest would annually enter behind the veil of the Holy Place.  On that day, he would make offerings for himself and for the people.  The writer to the Hebrews showed how that holy day points to the ultimate sacrifice which Jesus Christ offered, the sacrifice of Himself on the cross.

Takeaways

Here are some observations from this week’s reading:

  1. God is holy and demands holiness in His people. The biblical doctrine of God does not allow for any theology that holds God to be complacent or ambivalent about violations of His law.
  2. Sin is serious. Israel had a problem.  Indeed, all mankind has a problem.  Neither they nor we are holy.  God does not find our transgressions cute or excusable.
  3. Atonement is the only solution for sin. God required a blood sacrifice of an unblemished animal. He set up the old covenant sacrificial system to point to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Praise God that His Son secured reconciliation with God for all who believe. As the nineteenth century hymn, “Man of Sorrows” by Philip P. Bliss says so well.

Guilty, vile, and helpless, we,

Spotless Lamb of God was He;

Full atonement—can it be?

Hallelujah! what a Savior!

He deserves all praise, always. Our guilt is forgiven. Peace with God is ours through Christ who offered Himself for our sin.  That is complete atonement–the price paid for our freedom from sin and guilt. What a Savior!

This week’s reading: Leviticus 17-27 & Acts 1-12.

 

 

Reflections on Hebrews and James

The New Testament teaches us how to read the Old.  Hebrews and James are rich in instructions that open up the purpose and meaning of the Books of Moses.

The Unique Contribution of Hebrews

What if the Epistle to the Hebrews were not in our Bibles?  Hebrews makes a unique contribution to our understanding of the purpose and meaning of the Old Testament law.  In Hebrews we learn how the Aaronic priesthood and the tabernacle and sacrifices were all given to point the Jews (and everyone else) to Jesus Christ.  Here we see the glory and majesty of Jesus who is the Creator of the world and the heir of all things.  The writer goes on: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3).

If this is true, how could anyone doubt that Jesus Christ is superior to angels and Moses?  Who could doubt that Christ’s priesthood surpasses the Old Testament priesthood which was a mere shadow of His? He made a once-for-all offering for sin.  This makes Him our High Priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses and saves us to the uttermost as we draw near to God through Him.  Jesus lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:22-28).  He guarantees for us a better covenant with God than the one Moses had. This covenant cannot fail or be broken.  God has secured it Himself by His Son.

Why Believers Cannot Be Lost

I hope your heart thrills as mine does with the promises and declarations of the letter to the Hebrews.  All this fills out the deep meaning of Jesus’ cry on the cross “it is finished” (John 19:30).  God’s work to redeem all His elect people was complete.  It could never be undone or reversed.  It cannot fail.  You, my believing friend who hear His voice and follow Him as your shepherd, cannot be lost because the Father and the Son hold you securely in their hand.  Nothing and no one can snatch you away.  You cannot perish. [See John 10:28-29.]

The Exhortations of James

James fills out another important truth for believers: that faith without works is dead or, to put it more positively, true faith is active. Paul makes a strong case that faith alone saves (Romans 3:21ff), but James adds that faith which saves is never without works (James 2:14-26). We are secure in Christ but we should not be complacent because of that security. James exhorts us to live out our faith by showing our love and humility toward others (like the poor, widows, orphans), in our speech and actions, in our enduring trials with patience and joy, in our seeking godly wisdom, in our dealing honestly in business, and in confessing our sins to others.  He closes his letter with an exhortation to prayer and to a ministry to those who are spiritually lost (James 5:13-20). James is an exhorter, for sure, but in his exhortation he also reassures us that God gives all good things and He gives them generously whether wisdom, grace, His presence, or exaltation (James 1:5,17;4:6,8,10). And He hears and answers our prayers.  Pray confidently and let the faith in your changed heart flow out in good works and wise attitudes.

This week’s reading: Leviticus 1-16.

 

God’s Glory Revealed to an Idolatrous Nation

It seems odd that God chose the Jews and that He showed them mercy again and again. But do we have room for pride? Are we any different?

Note: Last week’s reading was Exodus 21-40.

In reading through Exodus we see the truth of that statement.: “How odd of God to choose the Jews.” They grumbled about water and food after crossing the Red Sea on dry land.  They became impatient with Moses and asked for an idol to worship.  Aaron produced a golden calf which they worshipped. God would have destroyed them and started over with Moses had he not pleaded with the Lord to spare them.

And God heard Moses.  The book ends with the glory of the Lord filling the tabernacle which was completed down to the last detail that God commanded (Exodus 40).

Yes, it seems odd that God chose the Jews and that He showed them mercy again and again. But are we any different?  Are we any less prone to fashion idols and trust in them over our God?  John Calvin wrote “The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols” (Institutes 1.11.8).  God’s mercy and grace was great to the Old Covenant Jews and also to us who come to Him only by the atoning work of His Son and our Savior Jesus Christ.

Reading or Skimming?

If you are like me, you find these long chapters with details about the tabernacle and its furnishings to be hard reading.  This week I was asked, “Is it disrespectful of God’s Word to skim through chapters 25-31 and 35-39 of Exodus?”  That is a question for which we will each have to seek God’s wisdom.  I do know God inspired the sixty-six books of the Bible.  He revealed them to us for our salvation and sanctification. We may not disregard them.  We are not being commanded to make a tabernacle or a temple in order to worship God today.  That was for Moses and ancient Israel.  Jesus Christ is our temple and we have come not to Mount Sinai but to Mount Zion and to Him who is our mediator (John 2:18-22; Hebrews 12:18-24).

This week our schedule takes us to the Epistle to the Hebrews which sheds much light on the purpose of the Old Testament priesthood and temple.  Meanwhile, when reading Exodus 25-31 and 35-39, we can get help from a good study Bible (like the ESV Study Bible) with illustrations of the tabernacle, the furnishings, and the priestly garments.  You might find yourself reading more than skimming. And you might find yourself saying, “how odd of God to choose me.”

This week’s reading: Hebrews and James.

 

God Remembers

God remembers His people and He purposefully fulfills His covenant with them. Through Jesus Christ He has secured our inheritance.

Note: Last week’s reading was Exodus 1-20.

Do you know anything about your ancestors, say, from the seventeenth century?  Genealogy research has become popular today, but I dare say most of us know almost nothing about our forefathers.  I know only three or four things about my paternal grandfather.  My father told me his dad, John Michael Carroll, was born on a ship traveling on the St. Lawrence River from Canada to the United States in 1875.  When they docked in NY his birth was registered there.  So he was legally born in the USA.  Though a Roman Catholic, he married my grandmother who never professed any faith.  He learned the trade of bookbinding and had the honor of binding the books (official documents, I suppose) for the opening of the Empire State Building on May 1, 1931.  When my father (John Michael Carroll, Jr.) professed faith in Christ as an evangelical during his college years, my grandfather said to him, “Son, I want you to know that I love the Lord.”  My dad took that to be a genuine profession of faith on the part of his father. Grandpa Carroll died in 1940, five years before I was born.

That’s all I know about my father’s father.

The voice from the burning bush

But in the Old Testament times, family histories seem to have been kept better and for longer periods of time.  Over four hundred years had passed since Jacob died, but Moses knew his family history.  He belonged to the Hebrew people who migrated to Egypt during the world wide famine when his ancestor Joseph had managed the stockpiles that saved the Egyptians and the family of Jacob.  When God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, the Lord presented Himself as the “God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:4). Moses recognized who it was addressing him—the God of his fathers.

God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 2:24).  He then commissioned Moses to deliver His people from slavery in Egypt and made Himself known to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” (3:14).  Moses went on to obey God and deliver the Israelites from slavery through many setbacks and discouragements. God made a way through the demonstration of His power to send plagues, open and close the Red Sea, lead them by fire and cloud, and miraculously provide them with food and water.

The inheritance in heaven for God’s covenant people

I don’t remember my grandfather, but God remembers His people and He purposefully fulfills His covenant with them.  Maybe I will meet my grandpa in glory as one of those God chose as His own.  Meanwhile may we trust the God who remembers and who through Jesus Christ has secured for us an inheritance in heaven ready to be revealed at the last day (First Peter1:3-5).

This week I’ll be reading Exodus 21-40.

Gleanings from Matthew

Distinctive Features

My reading this week was the Gospel according to Matthew, the first gospel in the New Testament.  Matthew has the distinctive feature of including five major discourses of our Lord Jesus Christ: the Sermon on the Mount (ch. 5-7); the commissioning of the disciples (ch. 10); parables (ch. 13); humility and forgiveness (ch. 18); and the Olivet discourse (ch. 24-25).

Matthew emphasizes that Jesus fulfills Old Testament prophecies of a coming messiah and that He is the promised king in the line of David.  Matthew includes events surrounding Jesus’ birth including the arrival of the wise men, the threat from King Herod, and the flight into Egypt.  Like the other gospels, Matthew goes into detail about the arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus (ch. 26-28).

Observations

Matthew, also known as Levi the former tax collector, was one of the twelve disciples.  From his gospel we see:

  1. God’s plan of redemption promised in all the Old Testament brought to mankind in the person of Jesus Christ. The kingdom of heaven was taking place on earth. Jesus told His disciples to pray that God’s kingdom would come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven (6:9-13).
  2. Jesus’ life and ministry involved calling, teaching, and sending His apostles into the world with the gospel for the purpose of making disciples of all nations (ch. 10; 28:18-20).
  3. Jesus’ death coincided with a dramatic incident in the temple in which the curtain blocking access to the Most Holy Place was torn in two showing that through His atoning work on the cross God had made a way into His presence and formed a new holy people to proclaim His excellencies (27:51; Hebrews 9, 10; First Peter 2:9).

Responses

My heart rejoices in the good news of Matthew’s gospel.  The one who sold out to Roman authorities to collect taxes from his countrymen became the forgiven believer and apostle to proclaim salvation through Jesus Christ to the entire world.  Through the gospel of Matthew we learn to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (6:33).  We learn that obedience to God is not merely a matter of outward action but of inward holiness (ch. 5-7).  We see that if we are forgiven we will forgive (ch. 18).  We learn that we are sent to make disciples who obey Jesus who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Does that make your heart rejoice, too?

This week I’ll be reading Exodus 1-20.

His kingdom cannot fail

Our first week of Bible reading took us through Genesis 1-25

The whirlwind tour of early human history moved from the Creation, to the Fall of mankind, to the flood, the tower of Babel and right into the life of Abram and on to his son, Isaac.  These are important chapters which set the stage for a biblical understanding of the world and our place in it.

Here are some observations I made on this first stage of our journey.

  1. God is eternal. Nothing but God existed before creation.  And nothing created exists that is not dependent upon Him.
  2. God appears in the world He created making Himself known through His word and actions. As these chapters unfold, we see Him as a covenant maker who watches over all things seeing that what He plans is completed.  At times it appears that His purposes are hanging by a thread.  But He is not limited to human possibilities.  He enables an elderly couple to conceive a child.
  3. His appearances are timely and strategic. Nothing escapes His gaze and His hand. Faith in Him pleases Him, but unbelief brings pain, grief, regret, and death.
  4. He initiates creation and redemption. He ensures that it will come to pass perfectly.  The seed of the woman will bruise the serpent’s head.  His covenant will come to pass and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through Abraham.

In my life, daily circumstances (this blog post was beset with obstacles including a miserable head cold, a power outage, freezing temperatures and a cross country airline flight) frequently overwhelm me with doubt, impatience, and pessimism about the flow of events personal and global.  A flyover of this biblical terrain brings me much reassurance.  Of course, hindsight is 20-20 so it’s easy to see how everything worked out for Abraham, but I am called to believe God and to trust Him in the midst of circumstances that can seem hopeless and whose outcome is still not revealed.

The old hymn of Charles Wesley (1744), “Rejoice the Lord is King” comes to my mind and heart:

His kingdom cannot fail, He rules o’er earth and Heav’n,

The keys of death and hell are to our Jesus giv’n;

Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;

Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Resolved: to honor God by believing Him no matter how doubtful His final victory appears, and to remember that His kingdom cannot fail.

This week’s reading: Genesis 26-50

A Plan for Reading the Bible in Chunks

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Reading the  Bible in Chunks

This reading schedule will take you through the Bible one book at a time during the year and is based on the concept of “reading the Bible in chunks” developed by Dr. Benjamin Shaw of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Used by permission.

The chart gives weekly reading assignments (22 chapters on average) which generally alternate between Old and New Testament books.  The purpose is to read each of the 66 books seeking to understand each one as a unit.  The exceptions are Psalms and Proverbs which may be read devotionally by chapters.  I offer this schedule only for your convenience, but you could easily develop your own unique plan for reading the Bible in chunks.

Click on the table below to expand:

I’ll be posting updates and comments each Monday throughout 2018 (D.V.).  Happy new year. Blessed Bible reading in chunks.

God’s Perspective

Without God’s Word no one can grasp the importance of believing and serving God.  Only the Bible allows us His perspective.

Today’s Reading

Malachi 1-4; Revelation 22

Selected Verses

Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. Malachi 3:18

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.  Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.  Revelation 22:14-15

Reflections

Malachi, like the other prophets, sees clearly the inward and outward sins of the people he addressed. He goes into detail about their idolatry, their failures in marriage, and their stealing God’s money. The Jews presumed that either their status as descendants of Abraham exempted them from obedience or that the Holy One of Israel was unconcerned about righteousness in His people.

The prophet warns them that the day of the Lord is coming. They would see that there is a distinction between the righteous and the wicked. It does matter how one lives before God.

John points us to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Those who are accepted before God recognize their sinfulness and come to have their robes washed in His blood (Revelation 7:14).   These blessed ones do not presume upon God’s mercy but receive the salvation offered in the gospel. They have access to the tree of life and enter the city by the gates. Meanwhile, those who remain in their sins–such as immorality, murder, idolatry, and falsehood–are outside.

Think about it

Although Malachi wrote around 500 years before John penned his Revelation, these writings converge in a harmonious and glorious view of the final end of all things.

All sin will be punished. Unbelievers remain outside the city where God dwells with His people. Meanwhile, Jesus Christ has paid for the sin of His sheep by His atonement. By His wounds they are healed (1 Peter:2:24). Be sure you know that there is a distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (Genesis 3:15).

Thank you for walking through the Scriptures with me this year and, if we have not met here, may we meet in glory to worship the Triune God. Our life here matters and it does matter forever.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Three Motivations to Read the Entire Bible

Expected Benefits Sustain Motivation

To stay motivated on a large project, like reading through the entire Bible, we need a firm conviction of the importance of sticking with it to completion.  So how important is knowledge of the Word of God?  Here are three benefits we can only obtain by knowing the Bible.

Salvation

Second Timothy 3:15-17. The Scripture makes us wise to salvation. We get some idea of the power and glory of God from the Creation, but only God’s Word informs us that we are sinners in need of a redeemer.  In short, God is holy and we are sinners. We have a need, and God has the only adequate provision for that need.  He became flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus died on the cross taking the just penalty for the sins of His people.  By our human reasoning we would never imagine such a remedy for our guilt and shame.  We might attempt to gain forgiveness by our good works, but, without the light of Scripture, we would not grasp that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Sanctification

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (First Thessalonians 4:3 ESV). Sanctification has a progressive aspect, in that, over time we grow in our godliness by the Word of God.  “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (Second Timothy 3:16).  If we would be trained in righteousness, we need the Word of God–not merely on our shelves but–in our hearts.  The Bible works powerfully to teach us truth and to reprove and correct us when we go astray in thought, word, or deed.  The result of this process is training in righteousness or growth in sanctification.  By this growth, we do God’s express will.

Service

Paul concludes his comments on the value of Scripture with this: “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” Second Timothy 3:17. God redeemed us “from all lawlessness…to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).  God called us not for our own benefit alone but to serve Him with zeal.  God intends for us to do this by being equipped with His Word.

Without knowledge of the Word of God we cannot be saved, sanctified, or service-ready.  That knowledge can and will move us forward in these three aspects of the Christian life.  We dare not neglect the Scripture if we care about pleasing God and doing His will.

A plan helps

There are many ways to grow in the knowledge of the Bible: listening to good preaching and teaching, personal reading, study, memorization, and meditation.  All are essential.  We ought to use every means possible to learn God’s truth from His Word.  On this blog, I encourage regular, systematic Bible reading.

God calls us to salvation, sanctification, and service.  Let us develop a deep sense of the importance of starting a regular reading plan and seeing it through to the end.

On Monday, I will post a flexible and practical plan for reading the Bible in the new year based on the concept of “reading the Bible in chunks” developed by Dr. Benjamin Shaw of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  Used by permission.

I think you will like it.

Fleeing the Now Generation

Those who believe God’s word flee from the “now generation” and live today in the light of a day to come when He makes all things new.

Today’s Reading

Zechariah 13-14; Revelation 21

Selected Verses

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one. Zechariah 14:9

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:5

Reflections

Zechariah’s prophecy and the vision of John in Revelation intersect in today’s readings. Here we can see:

  1. God exercises authority over all things. He sits on the throne and there is no one who can compete with Him.
  2. God deserves worship from all.
  3. God makes all things new. The fallen world with sickness, sorrow, tears, and death gives way to a new heavens and earth where He restores all things.

Think about it

The Urban Dictionary defines the “now generation” as “people who want instant gratification.” By definition Bible believers are not members of that group. We live for a day when His kingdom will come and the will of God will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Flee from the foolishness of the “now generation.” They want what they want and they want it now. Don’t fall for that illusion. Cling to the promises of God for a day when He will make all things new. The new year gives us an opportunity to consider how to make necessary changes to live more fully in the light of that day to come. How will you invest the year ahead to reflect an attitude of expectancy and faith in the day when the Lord makes all things new?