Wednesday, November 27, 2013

This week's lesson: the Pre-Advent Judgment

Think of it as a circuit-breaker.

We all know how easy it is to make stupid decisions, after all -- the car that looked like such a good deal on the lot . . . the file we thought it best to delete . . . the angry words that seemed like the right thing to say at the time.

That's why we give ourselves time to pause, reflect, and maybe even reconsider.
  • Buy a used-car, for instance, and the law will give you several days to "cool off" and decide if you should keep it.  
  • Try to delete a file, and most programs will ask stop you to ask, "Are you sure you want to do this?"
  • And much as we'd like to tell somebody just exactly what we think of them and what they did, most of us have learned to count to ten before we do so . . . and sometimes, even a hundred!
Even the stock market has learned the value of this; if it starts going crazy, then a "trading curb" kicks in, shuts down trading for 15-minutes, and gives people a chance to catch their breath and figure out what's going on.

Likewise, God does not rush into the Apocalypse -- and what's more, He never punishes the wicked without taking the time to make sure this needs to be done.
  • Think of the plagues He sent before the Exodus -- plagues that showed there was no other way to free God's people.
  • Think of the Millennium that comes before the resurrection of the wicked -- a Millennium (and a resurrection) that shows there is no other way to deal with these people.
  • And when Jesus comes again in glory, we can be sure this was not a spur-of-the-moment decision -- something triggered by a whim or a momentary fit of pique. No, God has thought this through. He's "slept on it." He's made sure this is a good idea in that process we call "the pre-advent judgment."
To be sure, God doesn't need to do this. He doesn't learn anything in the process; there is no danger of "buyer's remorse" in His judgments.

But even if God doesn't need to do this, we need to know that He does -- that "the LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love, forgiving sin and rebellion, even though He does not leave the guilty unpunished" (Numbers 14:18).

In short, the pre-advent judgment is not a threat, but a promise.

Like a circuit-breaker, it is there for our protection.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

This week's lesson: Christ, our priest

When you call God . . . who picks up the phone?
You can always judge someone's importance, after all, by how difficult it is to get in touch with them.
  • Call me at work, for instance, and my secretary will answer the phone, then transfer the call to me.
  • Call my boss, and a secretary will answer the phone, transfer the call to the President's Executive Assistant, and then she will forward the call to him.
  • But call the President of the United States of America, and I suspect your message will go from a secretary, to an Executive Assistant, to a Special Executive Assistant, to the Deputy Chief of Staff in charge of Special Executive Assistants, and then to . . . 
Okay, I'm not sure where it goes from there -- but you get my point.
No, important people don't answer their own phones when somebody calls.
Important people don't open their own front doors when somebody knocks. 
And important people would never read a letter you wrote to them -- not unless that letter had already made it through a cordon of secretaries, schedulers, security guards . . .
Or priests.
That's what priests do, after all -- they control access. 
  • Like secretaries, they determine who meets with their boss.
  • Like Executive Assistants, they determine the nature of that meeting with their boss.
  • And like the retinue that surrounds the President, they serve as a reminder that we are dealing with someone who is much more important than ourselves -- someone whom we could never hope to meet without the help of all those intermediaries and go-betweens.
Yes, for God to be His own priest is akin to saying that He picks up the phone when we call . . . that He answers the door when we knock . . . then He opens every letter we send and reads it Himself.
Not something you'd expect from somebody important.
But if Jesus is our priest, then that's exactly what we're saying.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

This week's lesson: Christ, our sacrifice

The way of the cross leads down.

It was Martin Luther who pointed out that most people associate God with His glory -- with His works of power in Creation, the Exodus, or the Final Judgment.

Look at the way He's portrayed in the movies, after all; either He shows up with the full donner und blitzen . . .or He's a light, streaming down through the clouds from above.

But in his Theology of the Cross, Luther argued that we know God best, not when we look at His grandeur, but when we look at His humiliation, His suffering, and His death on the cross.

Yes, these things show us what God is really like -- and they show us how desperate He was to save us.

In the incarnation, after all, God gave us Himself. He did not hold back anything; there was nothing more that He could give.

And in the crucifixion, God Himself died. He did not spare Himself anything; there was nothing more that He could do.

In short, the cross is not a sacrifice we offer to God; it is a sacrifice He endured for us.

No, the cross is not is not a ladder we climb to God.

It is the ladder He descended to be with us.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

This week's lesson: the Day of Atonement

Even the Sanctuary needed cleaning.

364 days of the year, remember, the Sanctuary was the place where everything else got fixed -- the one place where every sin could be forgiven and every relationships restored. Yes, even in a broken world, it was a place of wholeness; even in a fallen world, it was a place of holiness.

But on one day of the year, the Sanctuary closed for repairs: spiritual repairs. And it did not open again for business until an elaborate ritual of cleansing had been finished -- the ritual we call the Day of Atonement.

Now if this was true of the Sanctuary . . .
  • Then maybe we shouldn't be surprised when our "sanctuaries" need cleaning.
  • Yes, maybe we shouldn't be surprised when we need time for rest, reflection, and repair.
  • And if the ministries of our church need to be shut down for repairs -- to be shut down until they are places of forgiveness and reconciliation, to be shut down until they are both whole and holy once more . . 
Then there's good precedent for this.
Yes, even the Sanctuary needed atonement.