Monday, April 1

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Monday, April 1

John 19:28-30
Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the scriptures would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Well, it’s the time of year called “March madness” and, this  year, there are two reasons for the madness. First, along with most everyone living in the Midwest, I’m mad that March feels a lot more like January. I mean, where’s “global warming” when you need it? Second, “March madness” refers, of course, to the annual NCAA college basketball tournament.

It’s the time of year when people who don’t even particularly like basketball fill out tournament brackets like they’re lottery tickets. We find ourselves following with feverish interest the fate of teams from schools we’ve never heard of before; Florida Gulf Coast University anyone? 

And every year March madness reveals a few things about those of us who watch the tournament. First, most of us tend to love underdogs (unless the underdog is playing against our favorite team!). We find ourselves rooting for the small no-name school to rise up and defeat the high profile university with the famous coach and unlimited recruiting budget. 

Second, most of us also love the come-from-behind victory (again, unless the comeback is against our favorite team!). We are thrilled when a team that was seemingly dead in the water rallies from a huge deficit to pull off a dramatic buzzer-beating victory.

It seems to me that so many of the stories that we love; from “Rocky” to “Hoosiers” to “The Lion King”; all follow a similar pattern. There is a central figure; a perilous crisis; a seemingly tragic defeat; then a great reversal where the hero overcomes all obstacles to win the day. 

And, it seems to me, in a way, that many of those stories we love are a kind of reflection of the central story of the gospel; the story of the cross!

John tells us that as Jesus’ earthly life ebbed away on a Roman cross, all seemed lost.

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

If the story of Jesus ended here, it would, indeed, be a tragedy. After a whirlwind public ministry of three years where he preached to great crowds, healed the sick and performed never-before-seen miracles; just days after being celebrated as “the Son of David” as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey; this same Jesus dies the death of a common criminal. He is crucified by the pagan Romans; fade to black, all is lost.

But just as in a good movie, even in the darkest moment, there is a glimmer of hope for the great surprise to come. Notice how Jesus’ death is phrased:

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Even if you didn’t know the end of the story, these two sentences tell you this is not a run-of-the mill crucifixion. Jesus says, “It is finished”; like a runner finishing a marathon; like a writer finishing a magnum opus; like a composer finishing the score of a beautiful symphony. Jesus doesn’t sound like a man who has had his life take from him in brutal and barbaric fashion; Jesus sounds like a man who has finished that which he intentionally set out to accomplish. 

Then this: 

With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Jesus didn’t die fighting for his last breath and clinging to life as most men do; Jesus died voluntarily. He died when and how he wanted to. He gave up his spirit when it was time.

What kind of death is this?

This is a death that hints that death is not the final word. This is a death that speaks of life. 

This is a death that is not the end; but rather just the beginning.

Friday, March 29

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Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.  And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.  And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”   - Luke 23:32-43

What is Jesus really offering here?  Most people, including most Christians, tend to focus on the word “paradise.”  We think of things like streets of gold, pearly gates, or heavenly mansions.  We wonder about what kinds of exciting things there will be to do and see in heaven.  Because of his admission and confession, the second man gets into heaven.  Jesus is saying that, but that is not the most powerful phrase.  It is not the most important part of the gospel message.

The real promise is “you will be with Me.”  Now this is not just a nice sentimental phrase.  We are going to get to hang out with Jesus.  This reflects the very heart of Jesus for everyone who comes to Him seeking His mercy and grace. 

John 17:24 - Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

The promise of Jesus is not just going to heaven, but that whatever happens in life or death, He will be with us!  We will be identified with Him!

This is the lesson of the third dying man - Jesus!  He teaches us about the Greatest gift...Do you see what the cross accomplishes?  He (Jesus) gets what we deserve so we can get what He deserves.  He is numbered among the sinners so we can be numbered among the righteous.  Both the Old and the New Testaments tell us this...

2 Corinthians 5:21 - For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Isaiah 53:12 - Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.   

Do you grasp the implications of this?  D. Martin Lloyd-Jones used to ask people, “Are you a Christian?”  If they answered, “I’m trying to be,” he knew they didn’t understand.

Do you understand?  Do you see the implications of this incredible reality?  He was mocked: “He saved others, but He won’t save Himself.”  The irony is that He saved others because He didn’t save Himself!

These two men show us that neutrality is impossible when it comes to Jesus.  But it also shows/proves to us that grace cannot be stopped!  It is no coincidence that all three characters in this story are dying.  We are all dying!  The only question is which kind of dying man/woman you are.  Are you dying making the easiest mistake—missing Jesus?  Or are you making the hardest admission and receiving the greatest gift??  

Jeff Frazier

Thursday, March 28

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Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.  And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.  And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”   - Luke 23:32-43

There are three dying men in this passage.  Each one of them has something to say and each one of them has something to teach us.  Three Lessons from Three Dying Men.  The first dying man is the first criminal on the cross (23:39).  Essentially, he says to Jesus, “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be the One?  Do something!  Prove it!”  (And save me too, while you’re at it.)

The lesson we learn from the first dying man is:  The Easiest Mistake to Make

Clearly this guy misses who Jesus is.  But before we are too hard on him, I want to show how easy and common this mistake is to make.  People make this same mistake all of the time in our own world/culture today.

Two basic reasons:  The first reason he misses who Jesus really is: the influence of the crowd.  Luke tells us that the crowds, the Jewish leaders, and the Roman soldiers were all mocking Jesus. In a sense, this dying criminal is just following the crowd in terms of how he responds to Jesus.  He is just going along with popular opinion.

Things really haven’t changed all that much in our day.  People (all kinds) are still mocking and misunderstanding Jesus.  Conspiracy theories abound.  New ideas and revelations about who Jesus really was keep popping up (not really new at all).  The prevailing opinion about Jesus in our culture, is that the Jesus of the New Testament Gospels is not real, not authentic, can’t be trusted.

Irony: to be a Bible believing Christian today is actually to be a radically independent thinker!  It’s much easier just to go along with the opinion(s) of the crowd.

The second reason this man missed Jesus was because He had the wrong criteria.  Jesus failed his personal authenticity test.  What was his test?  “Help me!” (23:39) “Get me out of this!  Do what I want, meet my needs, and then I will believe.”

I hear this kind of thing from people all of the time.  I prayed:  it didn’t work, Jesus didn’t answer, etc.  We all have our little tests for Jesus (even subconsciously).  Instead of examining the evidence, reading the Scriptures, considering the truth claims, we say, “I hurt and He hasn’t come through for me, so I don’t believe.”  We all want a Jesus that conforms to our image, to our ideas of how He should act and how our lives should go.  We don’t come to God and say, “Here’s how I’ll know that you are real…”  This is no test for God.  You don’t even want a God (not really).  You want a divine and all-powerful personal assistant.

Think about it.  What you are saying is that you want a God that is great enough to answer all your prayers and meet all your needs, but He can’t be any smarter than you; He can’t be any bigger than your ideas.  But this is not the God of the Bible and it is not the Christ of the cross.  You see how easy it is to miss Jesus??  Going with the crowd…wrong criteria (me test).  If the first dying man shows us how people miss Jesus, the second dying man shows us how to find Him.

The lesson of the second dying man is:  The hardest realization to come to 
Notice – dying man #1 & #2 are in exactly the same situation.  (23:40-41). Both men need help/saving.  Both turn to Jesus, but that is where the similarity ends.

The first dying man sees Jesus as a means to his end.  The second dying man sees Jesus as an end Himself.  There is a world of difference!  This is one of the greatest tests of genuine faith.  Do you want Jesus for what He can give you?  Or do want Jesus for who He is?  All kinds of people turn to God in their need, but it doesn’t last or they don’t change.

The first dying man says, “I’ll be with you if you get me out of this trouble.”  The second dying man says, “I’ll stick with the trouble if you will be with me.”

Notice the second dying man does not ask to come off of the cross!?  He realized that what he needed was not primarily a change in circumstances, but a change at his center.  Instead of asking God for the life we want, we need to make God our life!

“We are getting what we deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong.”  This is an incredible statement!  Frankly is an offensive statement to many in our culture.  Most people live believing (if not saying) that they deserve better.  Life is not fair. I didn’t ask for this.  I’m a pretty good person, I’ve followed the rules.  I’ve been faithful.  I’ve sacrificed, etc.  So God owes me.  But this man says I am right where I deserve to be.  This is just and fair.

Arthur Pink excerpt (p. 43): “Before any sinner can be saved, he must come to the place of realized weakness.  This is what the conversation of the dying thief shows us.  What could he do?  He could not walk in the paths of righteousness, for there was a nail through either foot.  He could not perform any good works, for there was a nail through either hand. He could not turn over a new leaf and live a better life, for he was dying.  And, my reader, those hand of yours that are so swift to run in the way of legal obedience, must be nailed to the Cross.  The sinner has to be cut off from his own workings and be made willing to be saved by Christ.  A realization of your sinful condition, of your lost condition, of your helpless condition, is nothing more or less than old-fashioned conviction of sin, and this is the sole prerequisite for coming to Christ for salvation, for Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

Jeff Frazier

Wednesday, March 27

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Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”   - Luke 23:32-38

From the very beginning, Jesus was innocent of all of the accusations heaped upon him. He didn’t have to endure the persecution, punishment and harsh treatment because he wasn’t guilty. He could have lashed out against those who falsely accused him. He could have approached it with a spirit of revenge – at least that’s probably what I would have done. I see this within myself that if there’s even a small portion of accusation against me that’s not accurate from my point of view, I want to leap up and defend myself. But not Jesus, He  looks upon them with forgiveness. He asks God to forgive them because in their sin they did not realize what they were doing. 

This is how deep Jesus’ love for people is!  Even though they are causing his death because of their rebellion, he still refuses to let go of his love for them and desire to redeem them. He sees how sin has led them astray and how desperately we need to be set free.

In His prayer, Jesus says that those who are mocking and killing Him really don’t understand what they are doing.  Luke tells us that the Jewish leaders mocked Jesus by saying, “He saved others, let him save himself, if he is the Christ.” (23:35)  This is a perfect of example of what Jesus is saying, in their ignorance, these religious leaders have no idea that their mockery actually contains some truth; He did save others, He could save Himself if He chose, and He is the Christ!  These leaders had no idea what they were saying or what they were doing, in fact they probably thought they were doing the right thing.

Proverbs 16:25 - There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. 

This is true in so many ways. As I go through life, I realize that there are many sins of omission that I commit. I just go through life focused on my perspective and how I want my life to go. I don’t realize all the of the hurts I cause, the many ways I fail to love others, how I deny God through decisions in my life.  And even when I do catch a glimpse of my sin or am confronted with who I truly am, do I really understand the depth to which my sin affects me and others around me?  Do I see the many ramifications they have on all my relationships, how I see myself and the future generations?  I do not. I can only fathom a small portion of the magnitude of my sin. 

The more we see just how sinful we are and just how little we understand about ourselves, the more we will come to appreciate God’s grace in our lives.  He asks the Father to forgive us because we do not know what we are doing.  The very one who should condemn us for crucifying him does not condemn but is in fact at the right hand of God interceding for us!  

Why should God pardon you when you have violated His laws and caused so much pain?  How can He choose to forgive me?  And yet that is the amazing truth of the gospel that you have received. 

O Gracious Lord, I am so grateful for your love. I see only a fraction of my sin, and yet you have forgiven it all!  I know that even in my best moments, I don’t really even know what I am doing.  Open my eyes more and more Lord so that I might see You and myself more clearly - Amen.

Jeff Frazier

Tuesday, March 26

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And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus.  And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.  - Luke 23:26-28

The greatest honor ever given to a human being was when Mary conceived and gave birth to Jesus Christ.  The next greatest honor given to a human being may have been the honor of carrying Jesus' cross.

But how unexpected the honor was!  When Simon left home he had no idea that he was going to play such an important part in history! 

We often hear that a cross is something that we voluntarily pick up; but this is not always so. The text tells us that Simon was compelled, at the point of a roman sword, to carry the cross.  What is it that compels us to carry burdens for the sake of Christ?  It is the power of His love. The love of Christ in our hearts is what compels us to follow wherever He leads and to carry whatever cross He lays before us.  His love compels us, and we would not have the courage to obey, if we did not have His love in our hearts.  Hatred, fear, duty, ambition, pride, these are all things that can motivate people, but nothing compares to love!  Love is the most powerful force in the word!

Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  
– Matthew 10:38-39

Therefore, “Take up your cross and follow Me” means being willing to die in order to follow Jesus. This is called “dying to self.” It’s a call to absolute surrender.  The question we should be asking ourselves is – Where am I not surrendered to Christ?

I do not know what kind of cross the Lord may present to you, but whatever it is, carry it!  Perhaps even as you read this, the Lord will honor you and ask you to shoulder a burden.  Maybe right now He's saying, "I want you to reach out to your next door neighbor.”  Or, “I need you to take a meal to a hurting family.”  He may be calling you to sponsor a child, or volunteer in a particular ministry, or make a generous donation.   Whatever cross He may have presented to you - Carry it for the sake of His love! 

Why did Jesus tell his followers to not weep for him, but for themselves and their children? 

One reason is that Judgment was coming for them, and he knew that it would bring immense suffering for the people of Israel.  In 70 A.D. there was a Jewish uprising against Rome, and the result was that Jerusalem would be laid waste and the Temple completely destroyed.

But at a deeper level,even though Jesus suffered terribly on the cross, He knew it was a necessary step toward redemption.  Although temporarily what he was suffering seemed worthy of mourning, the final outcome would be great joy and salvation as it would lead to people being reconciled back to the Father.  Jesus said, “do not weep for, but weep for yourselves...” (23:28) Of course we should weep over our own sin, and it is also true that Christ suffered and died in payment for our sin, but this verse teaches us that the Cross of Christ is not fundamentally a cause for sorrow and mourning, rather it is a cause for joy and praise to the God of our salvation!  

What Jesus saw as truly tragic and worthy of tears was not His death, but the fact that people did not accept him and would face eternal condemnation.  Weep not for Jesus, for He has conquered death itself, weep (and pray) for those poor souls who do not know His mercy and love.

Jeff Frazier

Monday, March 25

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Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.”  But they all cried out together, “Away with this man...Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.   - Luke 23:13-25

No one would argue that Pilate was a man in position of power. He was a Roman governor with armies of soldiers under him. He had the power to determine the fate of criminals—to sentence them, punish them, or in some cases, release them. He also had the power to crucify men, something that the religious leaders did not have. And yet, with all the power that he had, he was ultimately powerless when it came to releasing Jesus. Though he “found no basis for the charges against him, we see him becoming more and more powerless to the cries and demands of the crowd, and ended up resorting to compromises in order to both appease them and maintain his position of power.  

We see Pilate engaging in a struggle of will—torn between appeasing the crowd and sticking up for truth. We see him trying to find some wiggle room to be able to satisfy both, and therefore busy compromising and negotiating in order to find a happy medium.

I find myself many times in the same position as Pilate—a struggle of will of sorts. Having been a Christian for some time now, and being involved in ministry, there is a set of truths about God, about reality, and about the Christian life, that I know are true.  I’ve investigated them and found them to be true, and my conviction in these truths has grown over the years. And yet, I still find it difficult to faithfully, consistently live out these truths in my day to day life, truths that I know are true, right and good?  

Why?  Because of external and internal sources that “shout” a different “truth”. Voices within and voices in this world that tell me that the truth of life is that I must look out for my own interests, that I cannot fully trust other people, that I need to carefully measure out how much I’m going to give to others. The “truths” of this world that says that my significance and worth comes from status, title, numbers, results, people’s approval and respect.  

Or another “truth” for Pilate would have been the call to maintain peace and order to his life–to exercise tight control over his life, and to do so at all cost. If he released Jesus, that would have meant opening up a whole can of worms, as riots and rebellion would start up in the city, as he would not only receive disapproval from Caesar, but his own position as governor (or possibly his very life) would have been jeopardized. There were the audible “shouts” of the crowd that he had to appease, but there were also the “shouts” within that painted a bleak future of his life. Therefore, in the end, though he believed in Jesus’ innocence, though he tried to make compromises and have the best of both worlds, and the shouts of the world prevailed.

As I reflected over the character of Pilate, I saw that when it comes to Christian life, the most miserable position to be in is when you’re living a compromised life–like Pilate, trying to find some sort of happy medium, where you can honor God’s truth and at the same time, honor yours as well and constantly in negotiation with God in terms of what you’re going to give to Him and how much.  In my heart, I know that it’s simply not possible to have both, and yet, at the base level, I keep operating in negotiation mode as though it can. 

It is very sobering to see the end result of Pilate’s compromise. “Pilate decided to grant their demand.” Finally, he made a decision, but it was a decision to have his own way and reject truth.  

Oh do not try to negotiate with Jesus, and do not hold part of yourself back from Him.  The very best deal you could ever have is waiting for you if you will only surrender yourself completely to Him!

Jeff Frazier

Friday, March 22

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1 Peter 1:18
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

The most valuable metal on earth is gold. The current price of gold is running right about $1600 an ounce. And while there are many other precious metals, including rhodium, platinum, ruthenium and iridium (don’t ask me about them, I only saw them on a list on the internet), it is silver, which trades at about $30 an ounce today, that has typically joined gold as the most common forms of human currency throughout history. 

And since the very dawn of civilization, human beings have searched for, traded, worshiped and started wars over both gold and silver. Gold and silver, historically speaking, have been the standard and measurement of wealth. The ancient Egyptians forged gold coffins in which to inter their dead. The Bible tells us that King Solomon was so wealthy that his household articles, place settings and goblets, were made of pure gold. 

Today, many people invest in gold as a hedge against unstable economic conditions. Even if we don’t invest in precious metals, we continue to shape both silver and gold into rings, necklaces, watches and all kinds of other items. Someone has actually made a gold plated vacuum cleaner that sells for $1,000,000. If you are married, you wear a gold wedding band. Many of you reading this are wearing a cross shaped of gold around your neck.

Gold and silver are valuable and can be used to purchase many things, but the Bible reminds us that all the gold in the world cannot buy what we need most!
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
There’s an old joke about a rich Texas oil man who told his wife that, upon his death, he wanted to be buried in his gold Cadillac. Sure enough, when the man died, his wife bought two burial plots side by side and hired a crane to lower the gold Cadillac, her deceased husband inside, down into his resting place. As the car dropped into the enormous burial vault, one onlooker was overheard to whisper gently to himself, “Whooeee, now that’s livin’!”

That story, goofy as it is, makes me smile because the irony is obvious. We all know that when that day comes, all the gold and silver and Cadillacs we have accumulated throughout our lives will be of absolutely no value. The only thing that will matter is the eternal destiny of our souls.

And that destiny cannot be purchased with gold or silver, but only with blood.

Brian Coffey

Thursday, March 21

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1 John 1:7-9
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

One of my Christmas gifts this year from my wife was a new white dress shirt. Now I already had a white dress shirt that I wore every now and then on Sundays, but over time even a white shirt fades a little, so I was happy to get a nice, crisp, clean new white dress shirt!

I made sure to wear that new white shirt the very first Sunday after Christmas; and I have to say it looked pretty sharp along with my new Christmas sweater! But somewhere during the morning I took a pen out of my coat pocket, made some notes, then put it back in my shirt pocket….but without the cap back on the pen. 

When I got home after church I took my jacket off and saw the huge ink stain on my brand new white dress shirt. With much chagrin I showed my ruined new shirt to my wife. She immediately applied every stain-removal product at her disposal and sent it through the washer at least a couple of times. But, alas, she couldn’t get the stain completely out. 

I can still wear my new shirt, but only with a sweater or jacket that hides the stain.

There is a very obvious illustration in my stained dress shirt; and I’m sure you can see it. We are like the shirt and sin is the stain; and we are all stained. The question is: How do we get the stain out?

In 1 John we read:
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
Back to my stained shirt for a moment. My wife was able to get most of that stain out; enough, at least, so that I can continue to wear the shirt so long as I cover the remnant of the stain. I think that’s how we sometimes think about the forgiveness of Christ. We know that he forgives us, but we struggle to feel completely forgiven. In a sense we still feel stained; we still carry remnants of our sin with us; we work hard to hide those stains because we do not feel cleansed.

What if my wife had at her disposal a cleaning product that could not only completely remove the ink stain, but restore the very fabric of the shirt to its pristine original condition? What if there was a cleaning product that not only removed the stain, restored the fabric, but caused me to forget that the stain ever even occurred in the first place? Now, that’s a good cleaning product!

That’s what the blood of Christ does! The Greek word translated “purify” in 1 John 1:7 is katharitzo (from which we get our English word, “catharsis”) and it means to cleanse from all impurity. It’s the word used to describe what the leper asks Jesus to do for him in Matthew 8:

“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said, “be clean.”

This is the kind of cleansing that God promised through the prophet Isaiah:

Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow… Isaiah 1:18

See that? Not kinda white; not mostly white; but white as snow. God is telling us that by the blood of Jesus the stain of our sin is not somewhat removed, not mostly removed, it is completely removed! 

In Hebrews 8:12 we read:

“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

So why hang on to remnants of that which God no longer remembers? 

The old hymn writer said it well:

What can wash away my sin? 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

Brian Coffey

Wednesday, March 20

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Hebrews 9:22
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed by blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

As a pastor I have had the privilege of hearing hundreds and hundreds of people share parts of their stories with me. Like fingerprints, every life story is absolutely unique; like fingerprints, every life story is also somewhat similar. Every life story includes joys, sorrows and pain. And at some level, sooner or later, every life story revolves around forgiveness, or the lack thereof.

We all need to be forgiven and we all need to forgive. Each one of us is both sinner and sinned against. The names, faces and situations may be completely different, but somewhere, sometime, someone did or said something that caused us injury and pain; or we did or said something that created pain in another. And until we forgive and are forgiven, we carry that pain with us and in us.

But forgiveness is not easy. Forgiveness is hard; and forgiveness is always costly. To forgive someone is to surrender the right to both judge and punish the person who wronged you. To forgive is to give up the natural desire to seek retribution. In another sense, to forgive is to refuse to carry the weight of another person’s sin in our hearts and minds as bitterness. To forgive is to release someone from your judgment and turn them over to God’s judgment. But forgiveness is always costly.

So how do we forgive others? We forgive byy remembering what it cost God to forgive us. Scripture says:

…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

The price God paid for our forgiveness was the blood of his own Son. My sin and your sin are covered, paid for, atoned, forgiven, by and through the blood of Jesus Christ poured out for us. He accomplished our forgiveness before we asked for it; he provided for our forgiveness before we were even aware of our sin; he paid for our salvation before we understood we could not.

So how do we forgive others? By remembering that forgiveness is always costly; by understanding that forgiveness is always a gift; and by knowing that forgiveness is never, ever, deserved.

Brian Coffey

Tuesday, March 19

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Leviticus 17:11
For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.

When I visited Africa a few years ago we had the opportunity to visit a Masai village. The Masai people are one of the oldest continuous cultures on the face of the earth; dating back nearly 10,000 years. Some scholars believe the Masai lived during the time of Abraham and before.
The Masai are nomadic herdsmen; they keep mainly cows, along with sheep or goats. But cows are their main thing. They build their villages completely out of sticks, mud and cow dung and when the rains move out of their area they simply pick up and move and rebuild their huts wherever there is water for their cows. Interestingly, the Masai also believe all the cows in the world belong to them.
But the Masai don’t keep the cows for the meat. They rarely, if ever, slaughter cows in order to consume their meat. Rather, they keep the cows for their blood! They have a way of “bleeding” the cows in order to harvest the cow’s blood without killing the animal; and they regularly drink the blood as a primary food source. Sometimes they mix the blood with the cow’s milk, sometimes they drink it straight. But they believe the blood makes them stronger and healthier. Just thinking about it makes me dangerously nauseous! 
While the Old Testament actually forbids the eating or drinking of blood, but it does say, “For the life of a creature is in the blood.”
This is critical to understanding why blood plays such an important role in the history of salvation. Sin, according to the Bible, is serious business to God. God is holy; and sin, all sin, is not only a violation of God’s holiness, but destroys everything it touches. Simply put, sin destroys life; sin kills. 
Therefore, sin is a life and death issue to God, and demands a radical life-saving solution. God’s solution is blood, because the life is in the blood.
For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. Leviticus 17:11

The Hebrew word translated as “atonement” means to appease, to make propitiation, to cover over. It carries the sense of making reparations for wrong or injury; to cover payment; and is central to understanding the cross.

In the Old Testament God was telling his people that sin is so serious and so destructive that the payment for sin would be blood. So God allowed the payment to be made through the blood of sacrificial animals. This was the heart of Israel’s annual “Day of Atonement” described in Leviticus 16.

Some will ask, “Why blood? Why would a merciful God require a blood sacrifice? It just seems so barbaric!” To understand we must remember who God is and what sin is. God is holy. Sin is a violation of that holiness. And, in his holiness, God responds to all sin with wrath. In his mercy, God provides a way for his people to acknowledge both his holiness and their own sin by offering blood as atonement. The shedding of the blood of an animal reminds them of the costliness of their sin and the costliness of forgiveness, for the life of the creature is in the blood.

Fast forward to the cross. 

On the cross the blood of Jesus was shed, poured out as the final and perfect atonement for all sin. No longer do we need to offer the blood of sheep or goats to atone for our sins. Even though our sins deserve death, though his blood we find life.

In the blood of Christ, therefore, we see the holiness of God, the horror of our own sin, and the mercy of God all at once.

Brian Coffey

Monday, March 18

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Luke 22:20
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

A number of years ago I spent two summers with short term mission teams in Bolivia, South America. The trips were designed around sports evangelism, using basketball as a vehicle to communicate the gospel, and were run through an organization led by a missionary named Paul Johnson. Paul was an amazing guy. The son of missionary parents, Paul was raised in the jungles of the Amazon basin alongside the indigenous tribes of Indians that his parents served. He told stories of learning to hunt monkeys with bows and arrows; of killing and skinning giant Anaconda snakes; of fishing at midnight on the Amazon and having flying fish actually leap into his dugout canoe. By the time he was a teenager he could slaughter and gut a tapir (a large hoofed animal resembling a cross between a pig and a cow) by himself and bring the usable meat back home. Like I said, Paul was an amazing guy.

But we eventually discovered there was one thing Paul could not do. He could not tolerate the sight of his own blood. One night we were playing a basketball game in a small village and, although Paul was not a basketball player, he played a bit in this particular game. Late in the game he took an elbow to the nose and when he reached his hand to his face and saw the blood, he said to my brother, “Catch me, Joe,” and immediately fainted. When he came to, Paul explained that while blood, in general, did not bother him, the sight of his own blood always caused him to faint dead away. He had no idea why.

Most of us, if we are honest, are at least a little freaked out by blood. We might not faint but my guess is, unless you are a trained medical professional, the sight of blood makes you at least a little uncomfortable. So it stands to reason that we might find it a bit disconcerting that blood plays such a big role in the story of the cross; and is, in fact, central to the story of salvation.

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Luke 22:20

The Bible is a pretty bloody place. The Old Testament in particular is filled with bloody battles, with blood spilled in murder, and blood offered in sacrifice. When Jesus refers to the “new covenant” he is assuming his disciples understand very well the original covenant established by God in the Old Testament. In Exodus 24, after God has given Moses the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), we read:

Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” Exodus 24:8

The “old covenant” was established and sealed by the blood of animals offered to God in sacrifice. These sacrifices were offered over and over again to atone for the sins of the people. But when Jesus speaks of the “new covenant in my blood” he is talking about the same covenant but with a new sacrifice. He is talking about his own blood, offered as the final sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world.

The writer of Hebrews says of Christ:

He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. Hebrews 9:12

But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Hebrews 10:12

As we have mentioned over the past couple of weeks, the cross was an instrument of torture and death. Crucifixion, as a form of capital punishment, was a bloody process. As those living in our modern and supposedly more civilized world, we can scarcely imagine the brutality and bloodshed of the cross.

Jesus hints at such when he says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

“Poured out,” he says. 

Poured out; as in poured out from the nail wounds in his hands and feet; as in poured out from the dozens of punctures in his scalp and forehead from the wicked crown shoved onto his brow; as in poured out from his nose and mouth from the beating administered the night before; as in poured out from the mutilated flesh on his back due to the scourging; and finally, as in poured out from the gaping wound in his side.

“Poured out,” he said, “for you.” This is the gospel of the cross. This is the gospel of blood.

Brian Coffey

Friday, March 15

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We have been examining how the message of Christ is often missed, misunderstood, and even rejected as foolishness by people in our culture today.  The truth is that even those closest to Jesus sometimes missed His message, and did not always understand Him.  Consider the following examples from the Gospels.

John 1:9-11 -  The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

Luke 2:49-50 - “Why were you searching for Me?” He asked them. “Didn’t you know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” But they did not understand what He said to them.

Luke 18:34 - But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

Matthew 15:16-17 - Then Peter replied to Him, “Explain this parable to us.” “Are even you still lacking in understanding?” He asked. 

John 16:17-18 - Therefore some of His disciples said to one another, “What is this He tells us: ‘A little while and you will not see Me; again a little while and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” They said, “What is this He is saying, ‘A little while’? We don’t know what He’s talking about!”

It encourages me to know that Jesus' own disciples, both before and after Pentecost, frequently didn't understand what the Master was doing.  Although they had a perfect Teacher, they often failed to understand him correctly.  Nevertheless, Jesus used them. This demonstrated that the disciples' success was a result of God's work, not human achievement.

Over and over again, the followers of Jesus fail to fully comprehend who He is and what He is all about.  Sometimes they come right out and ask Jesus what He means, and sometimes Jesus has to prompt their understanding.  But Jesus does not leave them (or us) in the dark.  He reveals Himself to those who seek Him!  

One example of this is found in Luke 24, when Jesus reveals Himself to two confused disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Luke 24:26-27, 30-31 - And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself...And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”

Another example is in John 6, when soon after performing a miracle involving physical bread, Jesus proclaimed himself the bread of life (John 6:32-35). He then said that people must eat his flesh and drink his blood if they want to have eternal life. This was much too strange for many people. His disciples called it "a hard teaching," and they grumbled about it. They did not understand it, and many left him. But the Twelve remained because they knew that Jesus alone had the teachings of eternal life (even if they didn’t understand them quite yet).

They didn't understand, but that wasn't a reason to leave. They set a good example of faith and patience for us today. The disciples eventually learned what Jesus was talking about. The people who left him, however, remained in ignorance. Although the human desire is to understand everything right away, we need patience when dealing with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

One of the best examples of this kind of patient trust comes from Mary, the mother of Jesus. In Luke 2, we find the 12-year-old Jesus was in the temple, amazing everyone with his understanding. But his parents were astonished that he had done such a thing. They did not understand. His mother treasured these things in her heart, but she didn't understand her Son until many years later, probably after his resurrection more than 20 years later.

We need to ask God for patience like that — if there are things we don't understand, questions that haven't been resolved to our satisfaction, then we can treasure them in our hearts for a while. In time, Christ will reveal to us whatever we need to know — if our hearts are right, if we are trusting in him.

Jeff Frazier

Thursday, March 14

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For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.   - 1 Corinthians 1:21-24

In this passage, Paul gives us the three basic responses to the message of the cross in his day, and they are the same responses that people have even today; some people stumble over the cross, some laugh at the cross, and yet some believe in the cross.

Many people stumble over the cross. 
The Jews “stumbled” over the cross because most of them were looking for signs of power.  They wanted God to prove Himself to them. In a sense, they required God to submit to them, or to their ideas about Him, before they would consider submitting to Him. Jewish history is filled with miraculous events, from the Exodus out of Egypt to the days of Elijah and Elisha. When Jesus was ministering on earth, the Jewish leaders repeatedly asked Him to perform a sign from heaven, but He refused. They were looking for a political leader who would deliver them from the heel of the Roman Empire. They simply could not imagine a crucified Messiah.

It is difficult for us to understand what crucifixion meant to the Jews. We’ve sanitized the cross and domesticated it. We gold-plate it and wear it around our necks. We put it on earrings and on our stationery. We hang ornate crosses in our sanctuaries and on our steeples. We build churches in the shape of the cross. All of this would have been unthinkable in the first century.  So terrible was crucifixion that the word was not even spoken in polite company. If we want a modern counterpart, we should hang a picture of a gas chamber at Auschwitz in front of our sanctuary.  Or an electric chair with a man dying in agony—his face covered, smoke coming from his head. The very thought sickens us.  But that’s what the cross meant for Jesus.  And that is why the Jews were scandalized by the cross.

Because the Jews were looking for power and great glory, they stumbled at the weakness of the cross. How could anybody put faith in an unemployed carpenter from Nazareth who died the shameful death of a common criminal? They looked for a Messiah who would come like a mighty conqueror and defeat all their enemies. He would then set up His kingdom and return the glory to Israel. This was the attitude of the Jews, because their emphasis is on miraculous signs and the cross appears to be weakness.

There are many people today who are looking for some kind of miraculous sign from God.  they may not be looking for a Messiah, but they are looking for God to somehow prove Himself to them on their terms before they will believe.

Many people laugh at the cross. 
Paul identifies with the Greek quest for wisdom. People think that they might submit to God as soon as they can “figure Him out.”  They want God to fit into their minds or into their worldview before they will let Him fit into their lives. This was the response of the Greeks. The Greeks weren’t looking for a deliverer or a physical Messiah, so they didn’t have the problems that the Jews did.  They looked to philosophy as the answer to the deepest problems of life.  The notion of a man hanging on a cross to save the world was utter nonsense to them, it was silly, foolishness.  

The Greeks emphasized wisdom and we still study the profound writings of the Greek philosophers today.  But they saw no wisdom in the cross, for they looked at the cross from a human point of view.  Had they seen it from God’s viewpoint, they would have discerned the wisdom of God’s great plan of salvation.

Many people laugh at the message of the cross today.  They scoff at those ridiculous Christians who are so foolish that they would believe in a God-man who supposedly died and rose from the grave 2,000 years ago.  Perhaps you have felt this way, or you have felt the laughter of our culture over what you claim to believe.

Some believe and experience the power and the wisdom of the cross. 
Paul says that those who are “called” experience the message of the cross as the very wisdom and power of God.  He is echoing his own words in Romans 1:16 - “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

Part of being called is being able to hear God’s call, and being open to it. Those who respond by God’s grace are granted His wisdom and power. I think it is worth noting that Paul did not alter his message when he turned from a Jewish audience to a Greek one; he preached Christ crucified, that’s it!  the message of the cross calls us out of our need to have God prove Himself to us, because He has already done that on the cross and at the resurrection.  The message of the cross calls us out of all of the foolish philosophies and ideas that present themselves as wisdom in our culture because they cannot comprehend the simple beauty of the grace of God.

Lord Jesus - the ideas that this world holds dear and mighty will be destroyed and laid bare as the foolishness that they are. Your plan of salvation reaching out to mankind is so beyond our thinking we tend to brush it off as nonsense. But You reach out to one heart at a time, refocusing the heart and the mind to see more clearly. Give us the insight to understand your Word, and the courage and the to share it, to show the world something they desperately want that only You have - Amen.

Jeff Frazier