Archive for the tag “Hebrews”

The Tree of Life in a Cross of Wood

adam-and-eve-60581_1920Two naked sinners, one a woman, one a man, retreat from Eden’s holy orchard with breath that reeks of forbidden fruit. See them there, once perfect, now flawed, leaving behind what would have been, to face what now is.

But see the hands of God, the left calloused with law, the right soft as grace, reaching out as a Father to clothe His naked fleeing children. He wraps their defiled bodies with animal skins. The beasts Adam once named are now named by God as sacrifices. From creator to priest, our God now moves, from forming animals to slaying them, all so that His Adam and His Eve might remain truly His.

And so it goes in this world, with every one of us born naked in a world that has long forgotten Eden. There is only one way back, only one way back to perfection, to paradise, to God. It is a way that is marked by bone and blood, skin and flesh, spear and nail, thorn and wood.

Paradise is regained by the birth of a priest who is destined for the altar. His temple is His body, His vestments are His flesh, and the blood He will sacrifice is coursing through His veins. He knows the way back to Eden, for His are the hands that clothed the two naked sinners. And now He has come, naked from His mother’s womb to clothe her and you and all His fallen children with a robe worthy of royalty.

“It is finished,” He cries from the holy of holies, His priestly voice ringing through earth and heaven. “It is finished indeed,” His Church replies. The temple not made with hands has been entered; the mercy seat has been sprinkled; and heaven is painted red with the blood of God.

And yet He stands, upright, victorious, within the holy of holies. He stands alive forevermore, the veil rent in twain lying beneath His feet. He stands in the new and better Eden, the most holy garden, where the tree of life now grows. He stands ready to clothe you, His naked children, with His own flesh and blood, pouring His robes upon you with water from the font, dressing you with His own body as He places it on your tongue.

So eat and be clothed, all you Adams, and drink and be dressed, all you Eves. Find within the cross of wood the Tree of Life with every good. The price has been paid, Eden has been re-opened, and heaven’s angels are waiting—with swords sheathed—to greet you at the gates of paradise.

*This reflection is part of a series of mediations on hymns that I presented at the “Day of Singing Boldly” at St. John Lutheran Church, Seward, Nebraska. It draws from the language of “The Tree of Life” by Stephen Starke (Lutheran Service Book, #561).

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What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

What’s an Anchor Doing in the Holy of Holies?

The following article was published on the website Christ Hold Fast. It’s the story of a newly composed hymn sung to a dying woman, an anchor, and the Holy of Holies. At the end of these introductory paragraphs, there is a link you can click to read the entire article. Or simply click here to begin reading at christholdfast.com. Thank you!

Some of the last words our Lord spoke were addressed to a man who stood on the precipice of eternity. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” It was no time to blabber some sentimental nonsense. No occasion for chitchat. The words to a dying man must be words pregnant with life. These were. This man, who could taste the bitterness of death, swallowed the sweetness of life in these dying words to a dying man.

Edward Mote got this. When he paid a visit to the bedside of his friend’s wife, who was staring death in the face, what would he say? He would say what the Lord had given him to say earlier that day. On the way to work, he had penned a short chorus. By day’s end, he had four stanzas written on a scrap of paper folded in his pocket. His friend liked to sing hymns to his wife to comfort her, but that evening he had misplaced his hymnal. Out of his pocket Ed pulled the scrap of paper. Into this dying woman’s ears he sang,

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

And he continued to sing until he came to these words:

When darkness veils his lovely face

I rest on his unchanging grace;

In every high and stormy gale

My anchor holds within the veil.

These stanzas were of such comfort to the man and his dying wife that he left a copy of the hymn for them—a hymn, written in 1834, that would wind up being one of the most beloved songs of the church.

If your words give hope to one who is dying, no matter how simple or how elegant they are, those words are poetry to the soul.

I wish every pastor, when he preaches to his flock, would look upon them as the thief on the cross, or as Edward Mote’s friend, and speak accordingly. Physical death may not befall them that day or that week, but death wears many a mask, and he comes calling in manifold ways. The death of a marriage. Death in addiction. The demise of hopes and dreams and friendships and careers. And in all these deaths, darkness veils Christ’s lovely face. When we need him most, he seems most absent. We are tossed about in the darkness, like a ship caught in a midnight storm, searching for him, for hope, for something stable…

To continue reading, please visit ChristHoldFast.

christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

What Bible Story Has CSI’s Fingerprints All Over It?

crime-scene-tape-fingerprintIf the CSI crowd delves into Bible stories, I bet there’s a knowing gleam in their eyes when they cross the yellow crime scene tape that hangs in the middle of Genesis 4. The murder case is pretty much a no-brainer. The victim is one of a total human population of four. That certainly narrows down the suspect list. He was last seen heading out into the field with his older brother. And we know there’s been bad blood between them. It’s an open-and-shut case.

What I think would pique the interest of the CSI folks is the interrogation of the perp.

God: “Where is Abel, your brother?”
Cain: “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
God: “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.”

If there’s a verse in all of Scripture that could be chiseled in stone above the offices and labs of Crime Scene Investigation units, this is it: “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” Our blood has loose lips. It’s no good at keeping secrets. By analyzing the pattern of blood stains at a crime scene, investigators can recreate the events that led up to the murder. And the blood itself tells our inner story, everything from our DNA to our diseases. Our veins conceal secrets of which we ourselves are not even consciously aware. If Abel’s blood is spilled all over the ground or if a mere speck had been lodged in the fabric of Cain’s shirt, that blood cries out. It has a voice and it will speak to whomever is willing to listen.

The Lord certainly listens. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. And the spilled blood of his saints is a language to which God is all ears. The martyrs of ISIS may be led to the slaughter as silent as lambs, but the lips of their severed veins utter words that pierce heaven’s veil. He hears them as he hears babies slaughtered in utero, teens with slit wrists, and soldiers whose homecomings are never to be.

But not only does the Lord hear bleeding bodies; he hears the bleeding hearts of children who feel rejected and unloved, lonely women whose hearts have been fissured by the infidelity of men, men whom the world has wadded up and thrown into the garbage heap. The voice of the blood from their broken hearts cries out from alleys and empty beds and dead-end lives. And that voice travels upward, to the Lord who is all ears, all heart, all the time.

The author of Hebrews says that the blood of Jesus speaks a “better word than the blood of Abel,” (12:22).  The well-known Lenten hymn would have us sing,

Abel’s blood for vengeance,
Pleaded to the skies,
But the blood of Jesus,
For our pardon cries.

But I think the poet may be mistaken. What if Abel’s blood not for vengeance but for pardon pleaded to the skies? Cain’s little brother is a model of fidelity, whose faith was manifest on earth and witnessed from heaven at the altar. Like the crucified messiah, Abel the martyr pleaded for heaven to forgive Cain, for he knew not what he did. And since the life is in the blood, that blood continued to cry out to God, even as Abel’s body lay lifeless in the dust. It sought not vindication but mercy, forgiveness for the crime of which he was the victim. The blood of Jesus speaks a “better word than the blood of Abel,” for it speaks in a superior way. It grants in full that which Abel’s blood only gave in part. For the blood of Jesus finished the prayer for mercy that the blood of Abel began.

The blood of Jesus refuses to be silent. It speaks on your behalf. It is your voice, your advocate before the Father’s throne. The blood of Christ says that you are his brother. He has adopted you into the family so that you are a child of our Father in heaven. So do not think, even for a moment, that your wounds are unknown to the Lord. If even the hairs on your head are numbered, then certainly so are your scars. The voice of your blood, your hurts, your losses, cries out to God, for your voice merges with the voice that once cried out, “Father, may these children be with me wherever I am…sanctify them in the truth…forgive them…it is finished….” Your blood mixes with Christ’s blood, your hurts with his pains, your losses with his death, your all with his all, so that in one mass crimson choir the voice of Jesus and all who are his rises unified to the Father and reverberates in his throne room. He hears; how could he not hear those who are his very heart? He acts; how could he who is love not act in love for his saints?

The Lord who is near to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. He is near you, he will save you, for you are in Christ, whose blood cries out for mercy, at all times, for you.

christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

Spank the Boy or Shoot the Cow? What Texas Ranch Life Taught Me About Leviticus and Good Friday

ImageNowadays a nine pound, low-riding Dachshund is the only animal who looks to me as his Adam. But it wasn’t always so. At various points in my upbringing, my family and I raised chickens, a lamb, cattle, and horses, along with usual assortment of cats and dogs. As much fun as I had with these animals, I learned at a very early age that owning them also meant a steady, unending list of chores. Water to be hauled, manure to be shoveled, hooves to be shod. I also learned at a very early age that when my father told me to do those chores, it was not a suggestion. It was a command, a command with a rather stinging punishment attached to it should I choose to neglect those duties.

I would have thought my father had lost his mind if, to punish me for refusing to water the cows, for instance, he had whipped the livestock instead. Or if I’d balked at shoveling manure out of the horse pens, he’d gone around spanking the butts of the horses. If there was a wrong done, I was the one doing it. So it only made sense that I was the one who got punished. Animals are not whipping boys.

Perhaps because of my upbringing, every time I read through Leviticus, I always thought the livestock in that book got a raw deal. Think about it. On a daily basis, doves have their heads wrung off, and lambs have their throats slit, because some sinner screwed up. These birds and beasts, of course, did nothing wrong; they’re led to the slaughter as innocent victims. Wouldn’t it have made more sense if God had devised a system of atonement in which sinners suffered for their own commandment-breaking? Shouldn’t they earn forgiveness by paying with their own pain for the wrong they’ve done? You’d confess your wrongdoing to the priest, turn around, put your hands on the altar, and take the whipping you deserve for whatever your iniquity is. But, no, a guilty Israelite doesn’t even get his finger pricked to put a drop of his own blood on the altar. He shows up at the temple with an animal which has to bare the throat, spill the blood, be a stand-in sacrifice for the sinner.

It wasn’t until many years after my youth, that the Spirit opened my eyes to see that the livestock in Leviticus were not only sacrifices, but cooing, mooing, bleating prophets of one who was to come. Every dove that lost his head at the altar foreshadowed the one on whose head the Spirit would land in the form of a dove. Every bull that bled and died as a holy sacrifice was a proclamation of the one who, while being sacrificed on the cross, would pray from Psalm 22, “Many bulls have surrounded me, strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me.” Every lamb roasted atop the flames of the altar was a foretaste of the one who was led as a lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7); the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29); the lamb standing, as if slain, on the heavenly throne (Revelation 5:6); the lamb in whose blood our robes are washed to make them white in that cleaning, crimson flood (7:14).

The animals in the liturgy of the Israelites did not get a raw deal; they were ordained, as it were, to the holy office of naming the Adam-to-come, even as the first Adam had named them. His is the name that is above every name—the name of Servant. He serves by substitution His whole life long: serves by a holy conception and birth that cleanses our own; serves by a holy life of commandment-keeping that covers our law-breaking; serves finally at a greater and more perfect tabernacle, where He presents Himself as a stand-in for sinners, as the final and perfect offering for us.

All of Leviticus is but a preface to Good Friday. God did not set up a system of atonement in which sinners suffered for their own wrongdoing, paid with their own blood for transgressions committed. The lamb of God, Jesus Christ, slain from the foundation of the world in the heart of God, and slain as the foundation for forgiveness on Good Friday, He suffers for sinners, pays for their transgressions. He does so willingly, for His will is for our salvation, His will is nothing but love.

In His bleeding, dying, rising love, we see the love of the Father writ large in two simple words: for you. In those two words we behold the depth and the breadth of divine love which gives all, and does all, for us.

If you’d like to read more of my writings, check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. If you’re looking for feel-good, saccharine devotional material, you’d better keep looking because you’re not going to find it here. If you’re looking for moralistic guides to the victorious Christian life, you’ll be thoroughly disappointed by all the Gospel in this book. But if you’re looking for reflections drenched in the Scriptures, focused through and through on the saving work of Jesus Christ, and guided by a law-and-Gospel approach to proclamation, then I daresay you’ll be pleased with this book. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

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