A Prayer on the Aroma of Christ

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

Oh, the sweetness of the aroma
  of the knowledge of Christ.
It is the honeyed savor of God’s
  love and grace amongst creation.

Like the sweet aroma
  of lilacs in Spring,
so is Christ’s victory
  sending its perfume through the earth.

Like the thick-aired freshness
  after a Spring rain,
so does Christ’s redemption
  breathe sweet, dense life into humanity.

With those who have noses to smell,
  whose olfactory glands are spiritually opened,
God’s great victorious grace
  hangs heavy in the air for all to relish.

Who Is Jesus?: insights from Hebrews 7

image 2 - Jesus Pantocrator

Hebrews 7:26 begins by telling us that Jesus is “a high priest [who] truly meets our need.” What does this tell us about Jesus? Well, the writer continues by telling us that Jesus meets our need in two ways, both of which are directly related to who Jesus is.

That first way that Jesus meets our need is found in the rest of verse 26. Here’s the entire verse:

Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. (Hebrews 7:26)

Who is Jesus? First of all, Jesus is “holy” – that means He is unlike us and He is like God. He is “the holy One of Israel”; the One whom Israel has been looking for throughout all their history. We need someone like this.

Next, Jesus is “blameless, pure, set apart from sinners.” No one could assign any sin or blame to Jesus. He is unstained and undefiled. Nothing has come into Him or gone out from Him that reflects sin or evil. He is, as it says in Hebrews 4:15, “one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet did not sin.” We need someone like that.

Finally, we are told that Jesus is “exalted above the heavens.” He is no ordinary man. He is both the One “through whom [God] also made the universe” while also “the exact representation of [God’s] being.” After His death and resurrection, Jesus is now ascended and given by the Father the name above all other names. Jesus is magnificent and glorious. We need someone like that.

The first answer by the author of this letter to the question, “who is Jesus?”, is that Jesus is unlike us and beyond us. We need someone like that because, as we have seen throughout human history, we cannot bring the answer to all our wrongs merely from our own efforts and abilities. We need the answer to come from beyond us.

Now, the second answer to the question, “who is Jesus?” and how does he meet our need, though familiar to us, comes somewhat unexpectedly. Look at verse 27:

Unlike the other high priests, [Jesus] does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. (Hebrews 7:27)

All that we said before has emphasized how transcendent Jesus is – pure, sinless, holy, exalted – but this verse now emphasizes how earthy and humble Jesus is.

He is a priest offering a sacrifice. But He is not some priest who offers the sacrifice and then washes His hands and goes home. No, Jesus is so earthy, so humble, so in the midst of the muck and mire, that He actually offers Himself as the once-for-all sacrifice. John the Baptist helps us here when he says of Jesus:

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

What does this mean? Well, it means Jesus has entered into humanity’s real need to such a great extent that He has actually Himself become the offering. He has become the sacrificial offering so that God’s true blessing might come into the world. As that Passover Lamb, Jesus took judgment that humanity might live. He entered death’s captivity so we might go free.

As the writer sums up in verse 28, Jesus “has been made perfect forever.”

Who is Jesus?

The writer of the epistle known as Hebrews tells us:

  • He is sinless, even set apart from sinners…yet He is the sin-bearer.
  • He is holy and pure…yet He becomes wholly defiled for our life and salvation.
  • He is exalted…yet He is humble.

Here, the writer of Hebrews gives us a most helpful and essential picture of Jesus: He is perfectly what we need.

Jesus’ wholistic mission and the Church (John Oswalt on Isaiah 9)

follow-me-satan-temptation-of-jesus-christ-1903.jpg!HalfHDIn his comments on Isaiah 9:2-4, Dr. John Oswalt makes this astute reflection on the wholistic mission of Christ that the church must keep ahold of in talking about salvation in Christ.

They [God’s people] rejoice because the Lord has freed them. It is not necessary to look for some specific liberation which Isaiah has in mind. It is apparent from the whole context that it is final deliverance which is in view. This is what God holds out to his people and that for which they justly pray and believe. Two extremes are to be avoided here. One extreme is to take the way that the Christian Church has often taken, saying that true bondage is to personal sin from which Christ frees us, and thus turning a blind eye on actual physical oppression. The other extreme is the way of certain forms of liberation theology that seem to suggest that the only sin is the sin of political oppression, and that Christ’s only purpose in coming was to give human beings political freedom.

Neither extreme is adequate in itself. To make God’s promises primarily political is to overlook the profound insight of the NT (and the OT) that the chief reason for the absence of šālôm (harmonious relationships) among human beings is the absence of šālôm between God and human beings through sin. Without šālôm between persons, freedom cannot long exist. But to act as if the forgiveness of sin and the consequent personal relationship are all that matters is to succumb to a Platonic distinction of existence into a “real” spiritual world and an “unreal” physical world, a distinction which is thoroughly unbiblical. The Messiah lifts the yoke of sin in order to lift the yoke of oppression. The Church forgets either yoke at its peril.

From John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, chapters 1-39 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986), 243.

A Crash Course in the Gospel (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Ephesians

One of my favorite books of the Bible is the Psalms. Through the Psalms I have learned how to pray. One of my other favorites is the Gospel of John. John’s telling of Jesus’ story has helped me connect my spiritual longings with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ so powerfully. Right after the Psalms and John comes Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Here, the basic contours of right thinking about God and right living with God come together in such a short space that every sentence strikes with power.

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, as I continued with our series “Ephesians: A Crash Course in Basic Christianity,” I had the privilege of addressing one of my favorite Scriptural texts in this favorite book of mine. I turned to Ephesians 2:1-10 for “A Crash Course in the Gospel.”

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

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A Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 3)

This is the third in a series of posts with thoughts from Paul’s letter to the PhilippiansA Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 1). These posts are personal reflections taken from devotional reading of the book.

I have always been captured by Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:12-13:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good pleasure.

These two short verses provide what I see as the best description of the mysterious tension that exists in our lives between God’s power and our effort. Paul is challenging his readers to obey God – and his teaching about God – even though he is geographically apart from them and in prison. He offers a kind, yet challenging, word to the believers to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

In essence, Paul is telling us that we need to put in hard work to work this all out. It will not just ‘happen’ without energy expended and effort given to the work. I cannot help but think of Paul’s encouragement to his young pastoral trainee, Timothy, to “train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7). His comparison in that passage to physical training seems to echo through the current words to the Philippian believers. ‘Get to it! Don’t stop working at it!’ Paul says.

But the other half of the equation is the reality that “it is God who works in you.” This working out of our salvation is not something based in human effort alone. Our own efforts find strength and their source in the truth that God is at work within us. This should encourage us, but also give us that “fear and trembling” Paul references here. Right now and right here in our lives, the Living God is at work. He will do His work in our lives. That’s why Paul said that God will “fulfill His good purpose” in us or, as he wrote earlier in this same letter, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Philippians 1:6).

So, we find ourselves resting in this mysterious tension that we are to work out our salvation, while knowing that anything that comes worth talking about is fully from God’s gracious work in us. We cannot wait for God to do something without putting some effort into it. Yet, we cannot believe our efforts will do a thing apart from the powerful working of God in our lives.

[If you want to explore Philippians further, consider viewing the 2018 preaching series, “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances,” beginning with the message, “The Joy of Faith.”]