TBT: Justification by Faith Alone

Exodus 30.11-12, 16
Then the LORD said to Moses, “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the LORD a ransom for his life at the time he is counted… It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the LORD, making atonement for your lives.”

TBT: Justification by Faith Alone | by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

Christ by suffering the penalty, and made atonement for us, removed the guilt of our sins, and sets us in the same state that Adam was in the first moment of his creation. It is no more fit that we should obtain eternal life only on that account. 

Adam did not have the reward merely on account of his innocence; if so, he would have had it fixed upon him at once, as soon as ever he was created. He was as innocent then as he could be. But he was to have the reward on account of his activeness in obedience; not on account merely of his not having done ill, but on account of his doing well.

On the same account we have not eternal life merely as void of guilt, which we have by the atonement of Christ; but on the account of Christ’s activeness in obedience, and doing well. 

Christ is our second federal head, and is called the second Adam. He acted that part for us which the first Adam should have done. When he had undertaken to stand in our place, he was looked upon and treated as though he were guilty with our guilt.

The second Adam brought himself into the state in which the first Adam was on the first moment of his existence — a state of mere freedom from guilt — and hereby was free from any obligation to suffer punishment. 

There was need of something further, a positive obedience, in order for him to obtain — as our second Adam — the reward of eternal life.

God does, in the sentence of justification, pronounce a man perfectly righteous. This, according to the established rule of nature, reason, and divine appointment, is a positive, perfect righteousness.

Prayers from the Past
Glory to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Holy God, deathless, strong,
pity us, save us,
Son of God, our Savior.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

— Anonymous prayer discovered on a pottery fragment, published in 1900.

Today’s Readings
Exodus 30 (Listen – 5:06)
John 9 (Listen – 4:56)

Ancient Symbols, Modern Faith
Part 4 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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One Reason Why We Needed the Sacrificial System

Exodus 29.44-45
[God said,] “So I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar and will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests. Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God.”

We have a tendency to believe that our sin is unique. In order to manage the guilt of sin, some people respond by jettisoning whatever transcendent truth reveals their actions as sinful. Others discipline themselves, crafting elaborate (and often painful) pathways of penance. Many disconnect from genuine community, for fear they’ll be found out. 

At first glance the sacrificial system solved all of these problems. First, everyone in the community participated — it was clear no one was alone in sin. Second, it gave a tangible action to pay the debt of sin. Most importantly, it gave people a way home. 

God’s presence fell on the tabernacle, and his glory guided his people. One would expect this would have reoriented the hearts of the ancients — but sin persisted. The sacrificial system proved insufficient to pay the price of sin, let-alone restore humankind’s relationship with God. 

We must ask ourselves, then, why we needed the sacrificial system at all.

I’m not sure we would believe that we can’t restore our own relationship with God without the track record of the Old Testament. As modern people, we can do anything. Why wouldn’t we be able to reestablish our relationship with God?

The first covenant was broken, not by God, but by humankind. We’d already been proven impotent. And yet, it was God — in his love — who would pay the price of restoring all that was lost.

“For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests,” Hebrews teaches, “but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.”

It is our salvation, not our sin, that is unique. Christ came as the true and better high priest and — this is the scandal of the gospel — the true and better sacrifice. Because his sacrifice was complete we can live freely under grace, engage whole-heartedly in community, and rest assured in the promise Christ will complete that which he has started.

Prayer

Father God, our hearts long for you. Forgive us for trying to manage our own sin and pay our own debts. Help us to create communities where sinners like ourselves are welcome, where healing can take place, and where your Son can be glorified through our love for one another.

Today’s Readings
Exodus 29 (Listen – 6:23)
John 8 (Listen – 7:33)

Ancient Symbols, Modern Faith
Part 3 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Reengaging Earth With Heaven

Exodus 28.3
[God said,] “You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood.”

The first people to be filled with a spirit from God were not priests, but craftsmen. Few had direct access to God’s Spirit at this moment in human history — those that did engaged in their vocation in a way that could not be explained merely by human skill. (This happens more than once.) 

What they create under this empowerment is remarkable not only for its detail, but for its transcendent meaning.

The priestly garments are a picture of the world properly ordered. In his 21-volume series, The Antiquities of the Jews, the first-century historian Josephus describes the symbolism of the priestly garments as understood in the time of Christ:

The robe of the high priest being made of linen, signified the earth; the blue denoted the sky, being like lightning in its pomegranates, and in the noise of the bells resembling thunder. 

He also appointed the breastplate to be placed in the middle of the ephod, to resemble the earth, for that has the very middle place of the world. And the girdle which encompassed the high priest round, signified the ocean, for that goes round about and includes the universe.

And for the headdress, which was of a blue color, it seems to me to mean heaven; for how otherwise could the name of God be inscribed upon it?

Faith is designed to reengage earth with heaven. Even in the darkness of our sin and brokenness, God did not abandon us — his redemption plan begins its renewal here and now — and he will stop at nothing to complete his work. Not only is God’s name inscribed on the earth, his blood is spilt on it.

The craftsmen are a case-study of how to respond to God’s spirit of grace. As an act of faith they hone their skill over years of practice, invest themselves deeply into their work, and engage in projects which help humanity flourish.

Prayer
Father, we know no greater love than yours. Help us to see our work as part of your redemption plan for this world and those around us. Empower us to invest in the lives of our coworkers. Sharpen our ability to see what you’re doing in and through our work.

Today’s Readings
Exodus 28 (Listen – 5:54)
John 7 (Listen – 5:53)

Ancient Symbols, Modern Faith
Part 2 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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It Is Finished

Exodus 27.9
[God said,] “You shall make the court of the tabernacle.”

The tabernacle covered over 11,000 square feet at the center of Israel’s nomadic camp and was the fulcrum of ancient Jewish society. The writers of scripture occasionally referred to it as the “tent of meeting,” revealing its role as the seat of early Israeli culture, politics, and jurisprudence. 

“Tent of dwelling” is the more common term to describe the tabernacle, and gets at the transcendent purpose it served for Israel. Everything in the tabernacle is designed to bring man into communion with God.

Instruction for the tabernacle’s design is fastidious and consumes one-third of the chapters in the book of Exodus. Every object is meticulously detailed, all the way down to pegs for the sacrificial tools and fasteners on the priestly garments.

One object is conspicuously absent: a seat for the priest. 

Sacrificing animals that weigh hundreds of pounds would have been exhausting. Serving all day in the heat of the Near East would have made it more difficult. Yet the ancient priest never sat down because the work of atonement was never complete.

The author of the book of Hebrews describes Christ as “our great high priest.” Jesus, Hebrews says, “entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

The New Testament’s vision for God’s presence in daily life is no less central than that of the tabernacle. It is however, no longer contingent on humanity’s sacrifices, mediated by earthly priests, or centered on a building.

The reason for this, Hebrews reveals, is stunning; “When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” 

The sacrificial system isn’t gone because humankind evolved to more civil forms of worship. We no longer sacrifice because the final sacrifice has been made on our behalf. The great high priest sits because the work is complete.

Prayer
God, thank you for ending the sacrificial system by paying a price we were unable to pay. Thank you that the work of faith is no longer about restoring our relationship with you. Strengthen us to respond in joy, cultivating what you have given us through grace so that others see, experience, and respond to your never-ending love for us.

Today’s Readings
Exodus 27 (Listen – 2:52)
John 6 (Listen – 8:27)

Ancient Symbols, Modern Faith
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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The Promise of the Gospel

John 3.16
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

If people know only the basics about Christ they usually know the verse above, the tension he had with the pharisees, and the story of the cross and resurrection. Our minds often default to picturing Jesus delivering teachings like John 3.16 while surrounded by agreement and joyful response. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The observation of John 3.16 is that God loves the world and gave his Son. This reality is radically different than the religious options Jesus’ audience had. Most gods don’t love the world; they want to see it destroyed. Jesus’ Father was so set on redeeming the world he sacrificed his son to make it possible.

The promise of John 3.16 is that whoever believes shall not perish, but have life. But who is this promise for? At the moment Jesus is not talking to the faithful; he is talking to a Pharisee named Nicodemus. 

The Pharisees were the sworn enemies of Christ. They disdained him, betrayed him, took glee at his beating, and relished in his execution. John 3.16 is a promise for the enemies of Christ. 

Before we distance ourselves from this group we must remember Nicodemus was an enemy of Christ not because he was a Pharisee, but because he was sinful — he sought his greatest good in himself (and his religious performance) instead of in God.

“The covenant of grace is excellently fitted to bring us to the chiefest good,” writes the puritan Samuel Annesley. “Now the chiefest good consists in communion with God. That was broken by sin; and can never be perfectly recovered, until sin is abolished.” 

“Therefore,” Annesley continues, “when the guilt of sin is taken away by justification, and the filthiness of sin is taken away by sanctification, and the penalty of sin taken away by resurrection, then what can hinder our communion with God? When we have once obtained perfect holiness, nothing can hinder us of perfect happiness. Thus you have the promise of the gospel.”

Prayer
Lord, thank you for loving us before we loved you. Thank you for sending your Son to live the life we should have lived and die the death we deserve to die. Thank you for offering us your grace, so richly and so fully. Renew our hearts though your love.

Today’s Readings
Exodus 24 (Listen – 2:48)
John 3 (Listen – 4:41)

Hope in the Darkness
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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This Weekend’s Readings

Saturday: Exodus 25 (Listen – 4:20); John 4 (Listen – 6:37)
Sunday: Exodus 26 (Listen – 4:18); John 5 (Listen – 5:42)

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