some see rules, some see grace

(by Pastor Joe)

The Word for Today: Exodus 21:33- 23:19

mark this: Exodus 22:27
“…for I am compassionate.”

The Old Covenant gets a bad rap these days. I suppose that people in general have never cared much for God’s Word, but the Law we find here in the second half of Exodus (along with Leviticus) gets particular contempt from an unbelieving world. Every sort of unpleasant epithet has been hurled its way: hateful, misogynistic, tedious, irrelevant, harmful, intolerant, confusing; on and on the venom flows, from the “educated” PhD, to the loudmouth at work.

But even within the Christian community, I often encounter attitudes towards the Law that are not much better. We know that we are “not under law, but under grace (1).” But the ignorance and negligence of this portion of Holy Scripture (not to mention downright contempt toward it) is quite disturbing. Many believers I know feel a bit embarrassed by some of the commands or prohibitions. Others have gone so far to try to divorce the New and Old Testaments from each other, a heresy that goes back a long time, to the days of the early church.

Some might even point to today’s reading as an example of something tedious, out-dated, if not disconcerting (2). After all, what in the world does anything concerning oxen, or cloaks, or bride-prices or wandering donkeys have to do with any of us?

Fair enough question. But if we look a bit deeper, we see a remarkably contemporary list.
Does our modern society have real issues with revenge? How bout distorted justice? What about dishonest financial practices? Negligence? Oppression? Theft? Bribes? Partiality? Might I recommend Exodus 21-23 as a helpful reference? It beats the heck out of the situational ethics garbage we teach in the Ivy Leagues to all our future CEO’s and politicians.

Furthermore, while particular regulations emerge from the Law, I see just as much, if not more, grace. God declares, “I am compassionate,” then He backs it up with rules that demonstrate that truth. Look at the language used–it is full of words such as restoration, share, full restitution, and evidence. (If only these words guided today’s legal system!) God really does care about truth and justice, and wants to make sure that His revealed legal system did so also. Even the much maligned “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” is not some barbaric measure, but rather God graciously limiting the amount of retaliation for an offense.

In this same Law we see God’s merciful heart as special concern for those who could be exploited at the time: unmarried women, foreigners, widows and orphans, and the poor. The God of the Old Testament, unlike any other ancient deity, was actually concerned with those that other cultures would see as property or worse. There is even provision for acting in a loving way towards one’s enemy (3), a concept that we see a little later on with a certain fellow from Galilee.

As we delve into the whole Law, with all its verses concerning the sacrificial system, the Tabernacle equipment and dimensions, instructions on all the feasts, the vestments of the priests, and so on, it is imperative that we do not turn off our brains thinking that God has nothing to say to us. Go deeper. Look for the bigger picture. Diligently look for Jesus Christ and His grace- because it’s there. Remember “All Scripture is both God-breathed and useful (4).” Therefore these passages are also God-breathed and useful. I am so grateful that even as God spilled out the painfully detailed minutiae found in the Law, He was also revealing what a loving and compassionate God He was; because while prohibitions on shellfish may change, He does not.

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(1) Romans 6:14
(2) see Exodus 22:19
(3) Exodus 23:4
(4) 2 Timothy 3:16

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all in awl

The Word for today:
Exodus 21:1-32

The things He did for love… (He didn’t have to do it.)

Exodus 21:1-6 depicts the ardent love behind salvation. Legally, the servant could go free, but…
If the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever. (Exodus 21:5-6).

If a man became a slave to another man (usually because of indebtedness), at the end of a certain period of time he could go free. Suppose during that period he met another slave, a woman, they fell in love and married and had children. When it was time for the man to go free, he could leave, but his wife and children could not go with him because she was a slave. What could this man do? He could decide that because he loved his master and his wife he would not leave.

Jesus Christ was in no sense actualized or even defined by dying for your sins and saving your life. He could have walked away at any time and been no less the eternal Son of God, eternally adored by myriad hosts of angels, each in rapt awe proclaiming, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

But driven by love for the bride, He shed heaven’s glory to live a life of deprivation and then die on a cross. So too our relationship with Him and service in His name should be propelled by love, not obligation. Our obedience and service derives from the heart — a “want to” and not a “have to.”

***

Why would the Old Testament piercing take place at a doorpost?

Because it would bring to mind the posts which the children of Israel had recently marked at the top, bottom, and sides—in the shape of a cross—with the blood of the Passover Lamb.

Moreover, it is a preview of the day when the Servant would be nailed to the cross:
He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5/NIV)

Just have to ask:  The Servant had his ear pierced.  Did Jesus, then, wear an earring? (1)

The more one studies the Bible, the more one realizes how relentlessly Christ-centered it is. The Old Testament pictures aren’t just suggestive of Jesus, but they are Jesus, in a timeless sense that is so certain it is more than real.

And so while I do not “know” if Jesus wore an earring, of course he did! — it says so right in Exodus 21.

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(1) The slave who was pierced often marked his choice by wearing an earring.

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“Philologus Pfeil”

The Word for today:
Romans 16:17-27

Each of us is besieged by a certain sin more than we are by other sins. For example, I am assailed by pride (the sin God hates the most) more than I am by covetousness, the sin that seems to have been the Apostle Paul’s major nemesis. (1)

I am convinced that I have sins that aren’t even named in the Bible–or even in the dictionary! But covetousness isn’t usually among them.

No offense, but I don’t want your wife, your kids, your car, your house, your bankbook, your dog, or your zip code.

I don’t want your youth or your accomplishments. Been there, done that.

But I do covet what Philologus has. Which might lead you to wonder who Philologus is.

Q. I do. Who is Philologus?
A. Philologus is mentioned only once in scripture, right here:
Give my greetings to Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and to Olympas and all the other believers who are with them. (Romans 16:15)

Q. What’s there to covet? All that’s given is his name.
A. That’s it!
Q. That’s what?
A. That’s what I covet! His name!
Q. His name?

I would like to be known as “Philologus,” which comes from “Philos Logos,” which means “Lover of the Word.” Father forgive me, but I covet that name!

***

In the book of Revelation we’re promised the most delightful memento–a white stone which bears a new name:
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it. (Revelation 2:17)

It is not clear whether the name will refer to Jesus or to the person given the stone. But if it’s a new name for me, I’m requesting that it be “Philologus,” because “Lover of the Word” is the way I want to be known.

I don’t care what they put on my gravestone. But if I could suggest to Jesus what my white stone might say, I think “Philologus Pfeil” sounds just right!

***

What about you? What would you like your name to be associated with? Kindness? Loyalty? Encouragement? Selflessness?

Whatever it is, set your sights on it and just keep being “it” until it becomes who you are and how you’re known.

“It” just might find its way all the way to your white stone–unless, of course, Jesus has something better in mind!

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(1) see Romans 7:7-8

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the Performer

The Word for today:
Romans 16:1-16

Romans is an outline of God’s plan.

But God doesn’t just leave the plan on the paper pages of your Bible. Right now, he’s performing the plan:
Being confident of this very thing, that he who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

The entire Bible can be seen as plan (or promise) and performance. Prophecy, in fact, means nothing more than God performing his stated plan.

God says that he will arrange things so that everything will work out for the good of those who trust him:
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:28)

The infinite dimensions and levels of “galactic chess” that are required to perform such a plan will not be fully understood until we can look back on its perfect implementation. But that doesn’t mean we can’t begin to appreciate it now.

Best of all, the book of Romans prophesies that you will be like Jesus:
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

We call that process sanctification, but we forget that it’s not only a process, it’s a prophecy!

These mind-boggling prophecies will be fulfilled in each individual believer’s life. His Word is going to become flesh in my life and yours, just as it was in Jesus’ life.

***

The book of Romans is God’s script, and the curtain is up.

Watching it unfold–in history on a worldwide level, and day by day in your own life–is the greatest show on earth.

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when those blue snowflakes start fallin’

The Word for today:
Romans 15:14-33

mark this:
Be happy with those who are happy, and be sad with those who are sad. (Romans 12:15)

You’ll forgive me today, won’t you?

I am prone, as many are, to troubling thoughts, triggered by God only knows what. Today it started with, of all things, a secular Christmas song that could barely be heard through a store’s scratchy speakers. When it wouldn’t let go, I fought through by typing the thought progression that follows.

The book of Romans tells us to be happy with those who are happy, and be sad with those who are sad,
so I thought we could go through this together…

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“And when those blue snowflakes start falling
That’s when those blue memories start calling…” (1)

Sometimes I get so sad I can’t carry on. I never know where this comes from. It comes in through the window like a deranged wind. Or a simple song turns against me.

I wish Jesus would hurry up and get here. My heart’s cracked almost all the way across. I don’t mean to be irreverent, but he takes his sweet time.

I don’t mind being hurt as much as hurting some one else. I’d pay it back, I would, if I could.  I’d restore the years I stole from you.

I’d take your tears and make them mine. I’d spend the time I never spent. I’d wait for you until dark.

If your heart is on the verge of cracking all the way across like mine, I can’t save you, but I’ll save you some time. I searched the whole house, but there’s no glue, nothing to hold the pieces together. So don’t bother looking. There’s no thread and there’s no forgetting.

When I was younger I identified with Jesus. I was brave and strong and life lay long before me. But the other day I came of age.

I saw Jesus through a father’s tears. I saw him smile, despite tomorrow. Then I watched him walk into the night.

Then I left him to hang there, and to wonder where I’d gone.

That’s when I searched the house for glue, and that’s when I wrote these words to you.

Hearts seem made to be broken, and just when we think we’ve got them repaired, they always seem to crack again, and always along the same line.

The sins of my father were visited upon me, and so I say screw theology. We can make sin so technical, so distantly theoretical–until the day it assumes a shape to haunt us. What to my wondering eyes did appear but the technicolor consequences of sin.

My sins visited my sons and my daughters, just as we were told. When it all fell apart, even God couldn’t find the glue until his eyes fell on his only. And then, because it was the only thought left to think, he thought the saddest thought ever thought:

“I’ll make him the Son of Man. Then I’ll visit their sins upon him.”

So unto us a child was born, and unto us a Son was given:

Son of God, Son of Mary, Son of Man.

***

Thanks for walking through that with me. I couldn’t have made it without you. A sunnier ‘Rain’ will greet you tomorrow. Until then, I just want to say that if you think you’re crazy, you’re probably right!  But you (obviously) are not alone…

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(1) from “Blue Christmas,” words and music by Billy Hayes & Jay Johnson

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