Posts from the ‘grace’ Category

Christmas Eve Reflections

It’s Christmas Eve, and so many of my fellow Christians are engaged in traditions that have been part of their families for years: decorating the tree, wrapping presents (or, heaven forbid at this late hour, buying presents), baking cookies, maybe mixing up some holiday punch. There are smells of cinnamon and citrus, ole Bing is crooning out “White Christmas,” and family members who might only see each other once a year are wrapping each other in warm embraces.

I am a man of two worlds. Being a nice Jewish boy who is Christian but continues to celebrate his Jewish heritage, tonight is not only Christmas Eve, but for me it is the fifth night of Hanukkah. Growing up in a Jewish household, I was pretty proud of the fact that we celebrated Hanukkah instead of Christmas. I loved the foods. Who could resist the greasy deliciousness – with just a hint of onion – of latkes, the traditional potato pancakes? My dilemma as a child was whether to drown my latkes in sour cream or applesauce! Then there was the dreidel game, in which parent-approved gambling could lead to a wealth of gelt, or foil-covered chocolate coins. I recently discovered that there are now dark chocolate gelt, to which I can only say, “where have you been all my life?!”  Aside from the food, and the games, and gifts, there was also the STORY of Hanukkah, which was a far sight better than any of the comic books I read as a kid. For those unfamiliar with the tale, I present a summary.

In the 2nd century BC, the Jewish people were oppressed by the forces of a Syrio-Greek king, one Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus forbid the Jewish people to practice their religion, and began forcing Greek culture and religion upon the resistant Jews. The final blow came when Antiochus desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem by slaughtering a pig upon the altar. As Antiochus proclaimed that the Temple was now dedicated to the Greek god Zeus rebellion broke out, led by the sons of a priest named Mattathias. The eldest son, Judah, led the rebellion after the death of Mattathias and was given the name Yudah haMakabi, or Judah the Hammer. His followers were known as the Maccabees.

Although vastly outnumbered by the Syrian armies, the Maccabees successfully drove their enemies away and reclaimed Jerusalem and the Temple. Judah ordered that the Temple be cleansed and rededicated (hence the name Hanukkah, which means “dedication”). As they built a new altar and new holy vessels for the Temple, a terrible discovery was made. There was only a single container of consecrated ritual olive oil, which was required in order to keep the menorah (the seven-branched candelabra) in the Temple burning through the night. According to tractate Shabbat 21b in the Talmud, this one container of oil miraculously burned for eight days, precisely the amount of time needed to press and consecrate more oil. Jewish sages hence instituted an eight-day holiday commemorating this miracle, customarily celebrated by lighting candles for eight days.

In my child’s mind, all of this made Hanukkah a vastly superior holiday to Christmas. Where else was I going to find a holiday which celebrated the Jews kicking some serious heiney??? I even wrote a play to be performed for my synagogue. Unfortunately, “The Bloody Maccabees” was far from a success; the special effects involved copious amounts of stage blood, scandalizing the members of my synagogue. Nevertheless, my love for the holiday was not weakened. The custom that developed much later – probably in response to Christian celebration of Christmas – of Jewish parents giving their children presents on each night was just another point of which I could boast. “Sure,” I would say to my Gentile friends, “you guys get a big day of presents… but I get EIGHT DAYS of presents!”

As I got older, I began more and more to meet Christmas and its trimmings with rolled eyes and positively Scrooge-like comments. I would complain to friends that Christmas would be easier to handle if popular Christmas music wasn’t so lame and repeated ad nauseum. “Speaking of nausea,” I would remark, “what’s with the decorations at the mall? It looks like Christmas just threw up in there!” I can remember making my college girlfriend furious when I mocked Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, one of her cherished childhood memories. “What does this horrible Claymation travesty have to do with Jesus? I thought that was the reason for the season??!” I shouted at her.

Even after I had placed my faith in Jesus as my Messiah, it was years before I was able to overcome the idea in my mind that Christmas was rank with hypocrisy. Would Jesus have approved of the focus on decorations, trees, and presents, I asked? If not, why did my Christian brothers and sisters continue to celebrate it with such materialism and greed, rather than focusing on Messiah? It wasn’t until I began dating my future wife that I experienced for myself a Christian family whose focus during Christmas was on celebrating the birth of our Savior. I began to get my first taste of this after being invited to spend the holidays with my wife’s family and being told that we would all be going to an 11:00 PM Christmas Eve service, so that we could worship and praise God for sending us His Son. At long last, I began to see that Christmas had depths beyond sugar cookies and brightly wrapped packages!

As I write this, I am getting ready to go to another Christmas Eve service at 11:00 PM, and I am reflecting on how my life in Christ has made both Christmas and Hanukkah important to me. Both holidays represent the Lord’s faithfulness in keeping his promises, and both holidays show us how the Lord brings light into darkness. During a very dark period for the Jewish people, God kept His promise to defend and preserve the children of Israel. Through Judah Maccabee, the Lord drove off those who would destroy the Jewish people. The miracle of the oil is symbolic of the light of God’s glory shining forth.

And what is Christmas, what is the Incarnation but the ultimate example of God’s light shining forth in the darkness? For those who trust in Jesus, the darkness in their heart is driven away, and they become the temple in which God’s Spirit abides. As my wife and I continue to celebrate Hanukkah, the Feast of Lights, I remember the words of Jesus Himself as He declared,

“I am the Light of the World.” John 9:5

and as we welcome Christmas, I will remember that we are celebrating the birth of our promised Savior – the ultimate rescue mission by God on our behalf!

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

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From the Archives: The Day of Atonement

This is a reposting from a post originally published on September 14, 2010. Astute readers may notice that Yom Kippur this year also falls on a Saturday. This is coincidence. The Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar, and days are calculated as being from sunset to sunset. Yom Kippur actually begins this year at sunset on Friday, October 7.

I’ve posted previously on Rosh Hashanah, the first of the Jewish High Holy Days. This Saturday, ten days after Rosh Hashanah, marks the holiest day in the Jewish religious year: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a day that God set aside so that the people of Israel could atone for their sin as a nation.

“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the LORD. Neither shall you do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the LORD your God. If there is any person who will not humble himself on this same day, he shall be cut off from his people. As for any person who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no work at all. It is a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It is to be a Sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening to evening you shall keep your Sabbath.” Leviticus 23:26-32

Now you’ll notice that that there are two words in the passage which are repeated three times: atonement and humble (which carries the context here of denying oneself). This is the one day when the children of Israel were invited by God to consider their lives before Him and to confess their sin. It was the one day a year that only one man in all of Israel – the high priest – could enter into the one most holy spot, the Holy of Holies in the center of the Temple in Jerusalem. There he would offer a blood sacrifice first for his own sin, then the sins of the nation of Israel. The children of Israel would be gathered around the courts of the Temple, watching and waiting to see if the sacrifice would be accepted by God.

Yom Kippur was tied into the very purpose of the Mosaic Law. God had required that His people to be holy and He had given them the Law at Mount Sinai so that they could be instructed in righteousness. Yet God knew that His people could be not become holy on their own, so He gave them a means to be reconciled to Himself: a sacrificial system. The culmination of this system, by which sinning and rebellious Israelites could have their sin covered over, was Yom haKippurim: the Day of Atonement. On this day the High Priest of Israel would enter into God’s presence where He dwelt within the Holy of Holies, first in the desert Tabernacle and much later in the Temple in Jerusalem. The preparations that the priest had to make in order to purify himself before entering this holiest of places were exacting. Should he make an error it would be doubly disastrous, for the descendants of Aaron would be slain by God should they attempt to stand before Him in an impure state. Even worse, the priest would die without the sins of the nation having been atoned for.

In the Biblical period, rigorous requirements were made of each Israelite on Yom Kippur. They were commanded to humble their souls and present offerings of fire for their sins, or be cut off from the people of Israel. They were asked to set aside their earthly appetites and needs, by fasting from sundown to sundown. They were not allowed to do any work, or risk being completely destroyed. These were far harsher strictures than an ordinary Sabbath rest, and served to point out the absolute seriousness of the Day of Atonement.

Very special offerings were made before God on Yom Kippur. These consisted of incense, a bull, and two goats. Four times the high priest would enter into the Holy of Holies, beginning with the incense offering. As the incense burned, it formed a cloud which obscured the Ark of the Covenant; between the outstretched wings of the seraphim on its lid was the Mercy Seat, where God’s Shekinah (His glorious Presence) rested. This cloud was not just and offering but was for the protection of the high priest, since no man could see God and live. Next was the sacrifice of a bull. The priest would lay his hands on the bull, acknowledging his own personal sin and that of the priesthood. This process of laying on of hands was the symbolic means by which those sins were transferred to the bull, allowing its death to serve as a substitute for others. The bull was then slain, and its blood taken into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled on the Mercy Seat.

Finally came the climax of Yom Kippur: the sacrifice of two goats. Two goats were brought before the high priest and lots were drawn. One goat would be for the Lord, and one would be for the sins of Israel as a nation.

The first goat was to be an offering to the Lord, and once more the priest entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled the blood of this sacrifice upon the Mercy Seat. Then he symbolically laid his hands upon the second goat, known by the Hebrew term Azazel, or scapegoat. It was then led from the camp – and later the Temple – into a deserted place, where it would be forced off of a cliff. Jewish tradition holds that people would line the path of the scapegoat and curse at it, strike it, spit at it, and pull out its hair, to encourage it to depart with their sins as swiftly as possible.

Although today Yom Kippur is still considered the holiest day in the Jewish year, modern Judaism observes the day in a radically different fashion. Jews continue to fulfill the command to humble themselves by severe fasting. There is no Temple now, and no sacrifices are offered. Modern Judaism teaches that blood sacrifice is not necessary, and that through prayer, repentance and mitzvot, good deeds, that one’s sins will be forgiven. Yom Kippur is a day on which the practice of charity is encouraged. Observant Jews spend the day praying in the synagogue, where the confession of sin is the high point of the service. The congregation confesses in unison, naming only general sins that cause all men to stumble. There is no mention of specific sins committed by individuals. White clothing is worn to symbolize a contrite and humble heart and confidence in God’s ability to forgive sin. The shofar is blown at the end of the synagogue service to symbolize the closing of the Books of Judgment, and the congregants will gather in one another’s homes to break the fast and share a meal.

In my previous post on Rosh Hashanah, I discussed the sound of the shofar — the ram’s horn — as God’s wake up call for us, calling us to turn away from focusing on the physical world in which we live, and to contemplate the holiness of God and our relationship with Him. If Rosh Hashanah was the wake up call, then Yom Kippur is a day of preparation. Preparation for what? Very simply, preparation to be in God’s presence.

God instructed Moses concerning the Shalosh Regalim, three major festivals when every adult male Israelite would make pilgrimage to Jerusalem and worship at the Temple.

“Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me. You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread [Passover]; for seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed. Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest [Shavuot] of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering [Sukkot] at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.” Exodus 23:14-17

“You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread … You shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks, that is, the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year. Three times a year all your males are to appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel.” Exodus 34: 18, 22-23

“Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths …” Deuteronomy 16:16

If Rosh Hashanah woke us up to point us to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, then Yom Kippur is to prepare us for the last of the fall feasts of Israel: Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. As the name of Sukkot implies, we’re preparing to have God tabernacle among us. The Israelites would go up to God’s house, up to the Temple.

But if you’re going to go up to God’s house, you have to get ready. Therein lays a problem. You see, God is holy, and He hates sin. He cannot even look upon us because we have sin. Luckily for us, God took care of this problem. God made sure that Yom Kippur took place before Sukkot, in order that His people could be cleansed of sin and stand before Him. Yom Kippur allowed His people to know that their sin had been forgiven, so that they could go up and enjoy being in the house of God with a free conscience and a clean heart. When Sukkot arrived, they could truly participate in the rejoicing that God commanded for that festival.

Believers in Jesus Christ have received atonement once and for all through His sacrificial death on the cross. The blood of God’s own Son, Himself sinless in nature, was the only sacrifice sufficient to make final atonement for sin. Interestingly enough, we have confirmation of this from an extra-biblical Jewish source. The Talmud records that on the Day of Atonement a scarlet thread would be hung outside of the Holy of Holies. If the scapegoat, the sacrifice for sin, was accepted by the Lord the thread would turn from scarlet to white, making real the words that the prophet Isaiah had written 700 years before:

“Though your sins are scarlet they shall be white as snow.” Isaiah 1:18

The Talmud goes on to record that each year on the Day of Atonement the thread might turn white or might not, reflecting the changing spiritual state of the nation of Israel. This continued for many years, until 40 years prior to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, after which the thread never turned white. It remained scarlet every year, until the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. This tractate of the Talmud bears evidence to the fact that somewhere around 30 A.D. – the approximate date when Jesus was crucified – the animal sacrifices offered by the high priest of Israel were no longer accepted by God! This is because the blood of bulls and goats could never atone for sin for more than a short time. They were only shadows of a final sacrifice, a once and for all atonement for sin – the sacrifice of our Messiah Jesus on the cross. Jesus is the fulfillment of Yom Kippur, as both our great high priest and a sacrifice for all of our sin. In Him our sin is truly forgiven and our conscience cleansed.

This Saturday my wife and I — as we have done in years past — will observe Yom Kippur. In our own way we’ll follow the tradition of fasting, albeit not a fast from food. Since neither of us are allowed to fast from food for 24 hours due to health issues, we will be fasting from some other normal aspect of life, such as the use of the computer (which is a sacrifice for two people who can’t seem to go an hour without checking email). Why do we do this, if we know that we’ve already achieved atonement? We do it to honor my Jewish heritage, and we do it to acknowledge and honor what Christ went through to atone for our sins. The solemn gravity of Yom Kippur has taken on for us a great joy as well, because we know that our sins are forgiven and that we have eternal life through Jesus.

The God of New Beginnings

We follow a God who gives us a fresh, new start. From the moment we acknowledge Jesus as Lord, the lives we led up until that point are swept away.

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

The apostle Peter knew the truth of this. Although he had followed Jesus for three years, learning from Him and witnessing signs and wonders, in Jesus’ darkest hour — the night before He was crucified — Peter denied even knowing Him and fled into the night. Yet after the Resurrection, Jesus did not condemn Peter. Instead, He saw that Peter could become the bulwark of the nascent Church, and gave him a second chance.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”  (John 21:15-17)

Our God is a God who gives us second chances. In my time in ministry, I’ve made mistakes that I thought there was no coming back from, yet God has given me the same second chance that He gave to Peter and so many other faithful servants throughout history. He is a God who delights in new beginnings.

What new beginnings does He have for you?

Whose Justice?

In 1995, I was a public school teacher. My afternoon classes were interrupted on the afternoon of October 3, when the principal at my middle school came over the PA system to announce that a “not guilty” verdict had been issued in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Absolute pandemonium broke loose, as even my sixth-grade students howled with outrage at what seemed an unjust and unbelievable verdict.

Yesterday, I experienced a heart-stopping emotional flashback to that day, when a similar verdict was handed down in the Casey Anthony trial. Anthony, in case you don’t follow any news at all, is the young woman who was on trial for the alleged 2008 murder of her two-year old daughter Caylee. After a much publicized trial — and to much surprise — a jury found her not guilty of any of the charges against her related to the murder of the toddler.

I’ll admit that like many, my initial reaction was anger. It makes me sick to my stomach that someone who by all appearances seems to have murdered their child will go scot-free. Like many, I was forced to ask, “where is justice?” Now that I have had time to absorb and more importantly, time to pray, I realize I have asked the wrong question. My question should have been, “Whose justice has been served – man’s or God’s?”

How you answer this question depends on which of two camps you might fall into:

  • You feel that justice hasn’t been served and you are angry. If you are in this camp, you probably feel sick inside, just as I did when the verdict was announced. Your internal sense of justice screams that something more needed to be done about  the fact that a little girl was murdered and her body dumped in swamp like garbage.
  • You are upset that other Christians are angry. If you are in this camp, your internal sense of grace is loudly telling you to ask those who are screaming for Casey Anthony’s head why they are not willing to extend a grace that they received. After all, justice would be for you and me to die for our sins, yet instead we received God’s forgiveness. Who, then ,are we to demand justice?

After a day spent working through my own emotions and thoughts, here are some observations on this subject. I pray these might help you to put things in perspective if you are wrestling with how you personally should feel about the Casey Anthony verdict.

  • It is right to have strong emotions about events such as this.  In 1 Samuel 13:14, David is described as a man after God’s own heart. This was the result of David seeking to have emotions like God’s own emotions. When we commit to following Christ, it is essential for us to do as David did, and cultivate hearts that feel as God does towards people and circumstances.
  • There is nothing wrong with desiring  justice. One of the most frequent admonitions found in Scripture is that we be people who love justice. Scripture calls over and over for the wicked to receive punishment that is proportionate to their crimes or sins. Romans 13:1-7 is a clear call for us to allow the administration of justice on earth to be in the hands of human governments, who are to “punish those who do wrong,” as per 1 Peter 2:14 .
  • Grace and justice serve the same ends. As I’ve observed the reactions of fellow Christians during the last 24 hours or so, one thing I have taken note of is an attitude of “either/or” that seems to be present. Either justice must be served (meaning that crimes/sins are punished) OR grace must be given (meaning forgiveness is extended). But grace and justice go hand in hand; if you have no sense that wrongs must be punished, you’ll never feel that anything needs to be forgiven.
  • Overriding all else, it is offensive to the Gospel itself if we do not pray for and earnestly desire Casey Anthony’s salvation. If what goes through our heads in this tragic set of circumstances is more of “I want to see her get what she deserves” than “Lord, may your salvation come to her,” then we reveal that we have hearts that are wicked, not hearts full of the grace of God that was extended to us through the Gospel in Christ. In fact, to do other than pray for her salvation is sin, as Jesus himself made clear through Matthew 5:21-22 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”

At this point, regardless of whether the preponderance of evidence points to it, no one can say for certain whether Casey Anthony murdered her own daughter. We may never know for certain who did. That is Man’s justice. But God’s justice is so much bigger than that. If she did murder little Caylee, our hearts can find a place of peace in the knowledge that God’s justice is centered on a grace so deep that God gave up His own Son that we might find forgiveness. God’s justice has been accomplished already at the foot of the cross. If the person who murdered Caylee Anthony trusts in Christ, then God’s wrath for the crime was already poured out on Calvary and His justice was done. If that person does not trust in Christ, then we can be certain that a future Judgement yet awaits, in which the administration of God’s justice will be done.

The Lord’s Supper and Transforming Culture, Part One

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus shares the parable of a man who holds a banquet. When it is time  for the meal to begin, the man’s servant is sent out to tell all those invited that the festivities are to begin. Astonishingly, each of the invited guests has an excuse for not attending: one must  view a field he has purchased, another is tending to his oxen, and another is newly married. When the servant reports this   to his master, then man grows angry and instructs him, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.” When this has been done, there is still room for more guests and so the servant is told,  “Go out to the highways and the hedges, and compel people to   come in, that my house may be filled.” (Luke 14:16-24 NRSV)

The parable has much to reveal about the character of God. His house is immeasurably large, and His invitation to sit down and celebrate is universally inclusive. He wishes to see His house filled with the sick, the lame, the blind and the broken, that they might be transformed by His grace and live holy lives. Both God’s invitation and His grace are present when we in the Church participate in the Lord’s Supper. Whether we call it communion, the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper is irrelevant … it is an act in which God’s invitation to come to the table with Him is accepted, and His grace is served to us.

George Hunsinger has proposed that the Lord’s Supper is not just an act in which we as Christians are transformed into a community, but one which has the power to transform culture at large: “Christ’s sacrificial sharing of himself, under the eucharistic forms of his body and blood, had social implications. It required believers not only to conform to Christ in his sacrificial self-giving (cf. Eph. 5:2), but also to rise above cultural antagonisms of religion, ethnicity, status, and gender: “for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)”

This implies that through the Lord’s Supper, Christ uses the Church as an agent of transformation of the culture that envelops it. It’s all-important to keep in mind that Christ Himself is the transformer of culture, not the Church itself, which I’ll discuss in this first post. It’s also important to realize that a transformation of culture has to be something that the Church is before it is something the church does. To explore both of these ideas, I’ll turn to the Apostle Paul’s discussion of the Lord’s Supper in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you! For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (I Corinthians 11:17-24)

 A brief summary of the history and background of Corinth and the church located there will help to  understand how Christ can be seen as the transformer of culture. Corinth was a prosperous  commercial  city during the Roman era, located on an isthmus approximately 50 miles southwest of  Athens, and a  seat of government for the Roman in which it was located.  Corinth was a very  wealthy city, but its  notoriety in the Roman world was not due to financial success but rather its  reputation as a destination  for pleasure-seekers. Corinth offered any form of entertainment or vice  conceivable, and was a city filled                                                with shrines and temples to every pagan god and goddess imaginable.

The Acrocorinth in the background

The primary attraction that brought those seeking gratification was associated with the Temple of Aphrodite, perched atop a mountain named the Acrocorinth. Attached to the temple were over 1,000 consecrated prostitutes, both men and women, who serviced the wealthy who resided in or visited Corinth. The city was so infamous for an expensive lifestyle that the geographer Strabo commented, “Not for every man is the voyage to Corinth,” and the phrase Korinthiazomai, “to act like a  Corinthian,” was synonymous with being corrupt and decadent.

Into this pagan, immoral city the apostle Paul came during his second missionary journey and with the help of Aquila, Priscilla, Silas and Timothy founded a church there (Acts 18:1-11). The Christians who composed this church were from very markedly different classes of society; some were wealthy merchants or officials, others were the poorest of the poor, and others were slaves or former slaves. Such a group of haves and have-nots would never – in the course of normal Roman life – have sat at table together. In the joining together of such a diversity of social strata, it is possible to see Christ at work as the transformer of culture. Through His sacrifice on the cross, the members of the Corinthian church were called out of sexual immorality and paganism and transformed to live a holy life.

Eduard Schweizer also wrote on the transformation Christ accomplished in those formerly steeped in the immoral culture of Corinth, observing, “According to Paul, in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the church is constituted as the one Body of Christ. Of course the church continues to be the Body of Christ when it is not celebrating the Supper; nevertheless, Paul uses this term in connection with the worship of the community, because only there does the Body of Christ manifest itself concretely.”

Hunsinger echoes this, saying, “Christ has caused a social transformation by his blood that finds its initial expression in the community of faith. The church is essentially a fellowship of reconciliation, which (despite its failings) stands a provisional sign of that which is promised to all.”

The cultural transformation that took place in Corinth didn’t involve merely the fusing together into one community individuals who had been of widely separated social classes and religious backgrounds, but also the integration of those who had previously been segregated by a wide economic gap. Christ’s transformation of the culture as seen through eucharistic celebration points us towards the coming Kingdom of God, which prompted John Howard Yoder to comment: “Its context is good news and the work of Christ, which is being experienced already in its first fruits. The grounds for equalization is not (as in much modern Christian concern for economic justice) the vision of an original wholesome order already present in creation and needing only to be restored. It is rather the beginning fulfillment of the promises of the messianic age.”

Christ’s role as the transformer of culture, then, leads you and I as His followers into the age to come, when His Kingdom shall reign over all the earth.

In part two, I’ll discuss the second idea: that transformation of culture has to be something that the Church is before it can be something the Church does.

A Hymn for Easter

Christ the Lord is ris’n today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Foll’wing our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

                                                                       (Charles Wesley)

Passover and Holiness, Part 1

 It doesn’t happen that often, but when it does it carries great meaning to me. The Jewish  holiday of Passover falls during Holy Week this year. I was born and raised in a Jewish  family, came to faith at a Messianic Jewish congregation, and spent eight years in Jewish  missions prior to my involvement with the Church of the Nazarene. I believe many of the  biblical feasts carry great significance for Christians, so in this and the next couple of  posts, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on why Passover should mean something to holiness  people.

Passover celebrates God’s redemption of the Israelites from slavery in the land of Egypt, as  told in the book of Exodus. Part of the story involves the ten plagues which God sent  against Egypt, in order to convince the Pharoah to let the children of Israel go.

  • The Plague of Blood
  • The Plague of Frogs
  • The Plague of Gnats
  • The Plague of Wild Beasts
  • The Plague of Pestilence
  • The Plague of Boils
  • The Plague of Hail
  • The Plague of Locusts
  • The Plague of Darkness
  • The Death of the Firstborn

It is during the last plague, the death of the firstborn, that the Passover feast was instituted. According to Exodus 12, God commanded Moses,

“This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. ”
 (Exodus 12:2-14)

Note that it is the blood of the Passover lamb which protects the Israelites from the consequences of the final devastating plague which is visited upon Egypt. The lamb was without any blemish, and its bones were not to be broken. Its an amazing picture of God’s grace and redemption towards His chosen people, but it is merely a shadow of an even greater redemption: the Messiah Jesus. It was Jesus of whom John the Baptist declared,

“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

The Passover event foreshadowed a greater sacrifice, in the death of Jesus. Christ was without the blemish of sin, and none of His bones were broken in His death — just as none of the original Passover lambs’ bones were broken when they were sacrificed. Just as the blood of the lambs saved the Israelites, the blood of the Lamb saves us all from death. Those first lambs redeemed the Israelites from the physical death which the tenth plague brought, yet Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was for something far greater: redemption of the whole world from sin. For a Christian to miss this is to miss the entire meaning of Holy Week : what took place on the cross was an atonement greater than any animal sacrifice, a gift that gives eternal life to those who place their faith in Him.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

This is what the focus of all who claim to follow Jesus should be during Holy Week.

In the next posts, I will discuss the symbolism of special foods eaten during Passover, and how they can point us to holiness and an understanding of the nature of God.

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