Independent

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Jesus was feeling the squeeze from dangerous groups during the last year of his ministry. First century Tea Party Jews wanted him for a Revolution. Intensely traditional Pharisees wanted his followers. Herod just wanted an audience. All were happy to use him to their advantage, or kill him out of convenience.

The vise was closing as he heads to Jerusalem in the back half of the Gospel of Mark. Weak hands were dropping off in droves. Political revolutionaries were turning up the rhetoric and demands that Jesus assume the political role they had carved out for him. Religious leaders were ready to accept him if he was willing to vote the party line on legalism and maintain his place alongside the partisan rank and file. Even Herod would have likely allowed him to carry on as long as he didn’t disrupt the political process.

I love how Jesus refused all endorsements. He is the ultimate independent.

Perfect

wallpaper3Sometimes we can read a very familiar passage of Scripture and be struck by it in a fresh way. It leaves us feeling as if we had never really understood the verse after all. Recently that pleasant experience happened to me in preparation for a class on the book of Romans. The verse in question is Romans 8:3, where Paul says, For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.

To start with, God wrote up a good law, but there was something that law couldn’t accomplish. It failed on account of weak human flesh. The greatest lawyer in the world could draw up a fair contract, but if one party it is a lying thief with no conscience, it won’t work.

The perfect law of God irritates man because it exposes weaknesses. It shows us who we really are and shines a spotlight on our sin. This doesn’t however compromise the integrity of the law, or the faithfulness of God to hold up his end of the bargain.

For the law to work as God intended it to, he needed a perfect human example to carry out all that it commanded. He needed to show in real life what it looks like to fulfill every command perfectly and with the right attitude.

By sending his own son, he became the God-man able live up to the perfect standard of the law. As a man he was “in the likeness of sinful flesh” but as God, he was incapable of sinning. He was the perfect man in the sense that he never sinned, but also because he fulfills every command and demand of God.

Joy Cycle

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The good news is that by rehearsing the grace of God in our lives we are drawn closer to him. In a sense the best way to know him is through is excellencies, and those are displayed in both his person and his provision. Thankfulness for the very character of God leads to thankfulness for the gifts that make an otherwise difficult life rather pleasant until he calls us home. He is the gentle catcher at the end of the slide. The added benefit is that as we do this we are filled with the Spirit who produces the fruit of joy on our behalf. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon in preparation for the Lord’s Day.

Lovin’ Leviticus

Leviticus-13In Old Testament times the true followers of God lived according to what was written in the first five books of Moses. The Torah as it was called contained the history and doctrinal distinctive for the nation. Within those five books, Leviticus was the practical roadmap for righteousness. If you wanted to learn how to please God, you went there. It was also the book that gave detailed instructions on how you could be forgiven or your sin. A physical location is established where man can have atonement made for sin. It’s all quite remarkable.

In our day, as New Testament believers in search of what is practical, it’s tempting to read Genesis, scan Exodus, skim Leviticus, ignore Numbers, and pick it up again in Deuteronomy. Unfortunately in doing so we miss out on the Scriptures that shaped the mindset of the Jews Jesus was trying to teach in the gospels.

The audience that Jesus was speaking to actually loved the book of Leviticus. Leviticus was for the faithful Jew what Romans is for the New Testament saint. Leviticus was life. Leviticus was freedom. Leviticus was where you went to find out how you were supposed to make God happy. Leviticus told you what you needed to do in order to get forgiveness, diagnose your rash, overcome guilt, reestablish relationships, reconcile accounts, make restitution, and be made clean in the eyes of God and man.

So in the gospels, when Jesus is telling the Jews that diet and holiness are not linked (Mark 7:15), he is not just unraveling the contents of a book that no one really reads. He is attacking the very heart of their gospel. The good news he brings is the opposite of the good news they were taught by the Pharisees and the good news they spread around the world, inadvertently making proselytes sons of hell twice over (Matthew 23:15).

It’s almost impossible for us to estimate how profound these statements are. As a whole the Jews were likely more religious, fastidious, zealous, and even convinced of the truth then many present-day professing believers are. On top of that, they also had a very formal structure of religious leadership that was brutally oppressive at times, but also comforting in a strange way. It had been there for a long time and was familiar. There was something comforting about the routine, and fact that nothing really changed. The expectations were pretty clear, and the list of rules required no independent thought. Besides, they always had someone else to blame if the interpretation was wrong, and therefore God wouldn’t hold them directly accountable.

Jesus was ruining all that. His message was one that called Jews who were comfortable in their traditional way of doing things, to abandon it and follow him. This was radical. This was heretical. It was also the only hope the people had, and still is.