Posts Tagged With: sacrifice

Abiding in the Vine: III. Pruning and Cleansing

The previous article in this series mentioned that it is important for Christians to remain connected to other branches of the vine—other Christians, particularly the Church—to strengthen our connection with the Vine, Jesus. Some might say that they do not need church. They say they have been hurt by other Christians, and they think they fare better if they keep to themselves.

It is true that the Church is an imperfect reflection of Christ. Christians fail to live up to the full measure of Jesus Christ sometimes. Some of us can look more like nonbelievers or children of the devil than like children of God. We have to grow. We have to mature. Branches require regular maintenance.

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit {God the Father} takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

A farmer tending to his vine. From pixnio.com (public domain).

We can imagine a vinedresser examining his plant. It has some lifeless branches; they have not produced any fruit for a while. These branches are simply taking up space. They need to be cut off. Perhaps fresh, living, fruitful branches will grow in their place.

There are some other branches, though, that are bearing some fruit. To increase the amount of fruit, the vinedresser might clip away the ends of some branches, beyond where buds, leaves, and fruit are growing. This way, the plant’s sap is not wasted nourishing empty space. Nourishment is maximized. Growth is enhanced. Life springs forth.

There are some people in the church who do not have the life of Christ in them. They may attend worship on Sunday. Some of them might even look really spiritual. But, the life of Christ—the fruit of the Spirit—is not present. The Holy Spirit does not dwell within them. At some point, they will be cut off. Matthew 13:24–30 indicates that this final cutting off will occur at the end of the age. In the meantime, God does not waste His time sanctifying the unsaved. He may still offer them repentance, but they should not mistake themselves for being Christian merely because they are surrounded by disciples of Jesus. In the words of Christian contemporary-music pioneer Keith Green, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.”

Meanwhile, the follower of Jesus undergoes the pruning process of sanctification. Perhaps the dead wood is sin that remains in the believer’s life. God wants to cut it off and set you free so that you can bear fruit. Sometimes, the dead wood is not really sin; it is just excess baggage that holds us back from fully serving Him. Monks throughout church history have made many sacrifices in Jesus’ name. At times, they gave up things that most of us would consider good: relationships with family and friends; careers; a few luxuries; opportunity to enjoy entertainment or engage in casual conversation (some monks take vows to say nothing unless it is in prayer and praise to God).

They gave up good morally-acceptable things to devote themselves to the will of God. What about us? Are there good things holding us back from doing the better things God has planned for us? Are we watching TV, playing sports, reading books, or surfing the Internet, but cannot find time for prayer or fellowship? God may need to do some pruning in your life. It is part of your growth as a Christian and your fruitfulness as a branch on His Vine.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1).

Sometimes, commitment to Christ will mean more than giving up sin. It may involve giving up every weight that limits are faithfulness and fruitfulness. It will require us allowing God to cut off the fruitless ends of healthy branches along with the dead wood.

Let us remember that the believer in Jesus Christ is saved because he already believes. We do not become Christians, or become “more Christian” or “better Christians,” because we let God prune us. If you are a believer in Christ, you are already cleaned, forgiven, and saved. Shortly before He was arrested, Jesus said:

“Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you” (John 15:3).

Earlier that evening, He had already introduced this concept. While washing the disciples’ feet, He came to Peter:

“He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean…’” (John 13:6–10).

The child of God is already clean through the Word of God. We are already saved and forgiven. However, as we live our lives, we collect junk. We face temptation. We give in to temptation and sin. We may be wounded by the attacks of Satan, the mistreatment of others, or the misfortune of daily living. We need to be wiped clean every now and then through confession and renewed repentance. This process does not make us Christians. It merely preserves us so that we can continue to grow in Christlikeness and fruitfulness.

We do not get to decide how God will prune us. Since God is doing the work and we are merely the branches, He is in control. If you sense that the Holy Spirit is convicting you to give something up, do what He says. Do not bargain or offer alternatives. To obey God is better than offering your own self-selected sacrifices (1 Samuel 15:22).

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that we need to be in fellowship with the church, even if we feel that we have been hurt by other Christians. Dealing with their imperfections is one of the ways we grow and are pruned and cleansed. People will hurt us. They will give us reasons to forgive them. They will irritate us, thereby revealing our weaknesses. It is all part of the spiritual growth process. If we avoid church because we have been hurt, we are only hurting ourselves.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Abiding in the Vine, Bible meditations | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lion IS the Lamb

“And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’ And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Revelation 5:5-6, ESV).

This post concludes a three-part series, inspired by a Facebook discussion, about Isaiah 11:6, the verse many misquote as “The lion shall lie down with the lamb.” That passage actually says that wolf will dwell with the lamb, and I offered a few thoughts about that last week.

This week, I will conclude this series by answering a concern some people have about that difference in meaning. Some people object that they do not want the verse to talk about wolves and lambs. Besides the fact that Scripture often depicts wolves as evil (see, e.g., Matthew 7:15), there is the fact that Jesus is referred to as both the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God. They fit so perfectly together: If the Bible said, “The lion shall lie down with the lamb,” then not only do we get a beautiful pastoral image of supernatural peace, we get a picture of Jesus Himself. (Incidentally, like wolves, the Bible often describes lions as symbols of evil; see 1 Peter 5:8.)

Take heart; the Bible brings the images of Jesus as both lion and lamb together. In fact, it does so much more emphatically than the misreading of Isaiah 11:6 does. Furthermore, it does this the only time that the Bible calls Jesus the Lion of Judah.

In Revelation 5, an angel asks, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” Only one person in the universe is eligible: The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. But then, it turns out that this Lion is “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.”

Why is Jesus a lion? Why is He a lamb? And, how can He be both at the same time? They are very different animals. I’ve fed lambs at petting zoos; they are harmless creatures. However, I will keep my hand away from lions’ mouths. If they bite, it hurts.

While Revelation 5:5 is the only time that Jesus is called “the Lion of {the tribe of} Judah,” it is not the first time Scripture associates Jesus’ ancestral tribe with the king of the beasts. When Jacob blessed his sons, shortly before dying, he said:

“Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:9-10).

Jacob compared his son to a lion. Jacob had a lion-like spirit that would make his lineage ideal to rule. On several occasions, Judah showed a natural gift for leadership. Eventually, that gift developed a spiritual, godly dimension that points to the ministry of Jesus.

The first time Judah displayed leadership is described in Genesis 37. When Joseph’s older brothers decided, in a fit of jealousy, to throw him in a well and leave him to die, Jacob thought of a shrewd way to avoid the guilt of murder while making some extra money: “Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers listened to him” (Genesis 37:26-27). Thanks to Judah’s planning and influence, Joseph lived (although he was sold into slavery) and the brothers made a few extra shekels. This was not Judah’s finest hour, but it showed that he knew how to influence people and effect change. He was a leader.

Let us fast-forward a few decades. Joseph had been a slave in Egypt for a while and, by the grace of God, emerged as a leader in the Egyptian government. His spiritual discernment and wisdom elevated him so, in response to a prophecy of severe famine, Pharaoh appointed him to manage food collection and distribution. When famine struck, Egypt had food to spare. Jacob’s ten oldest sons, including Judah, came to buy food from Joseph. Jacob kept his youngest son, Benjamin, home. Joseph warned them not to return unless Benjamin was present. Eventually, Judah persuaded his father to send all of the sons, by agreeing to take full responsibility for his youngest brother’s safety. In the end, he showed that he was willing to accept a role of slavery in place of his youngest brother. (See Genesis 43 and 44 to read this very detailed story.)

At first, Judah could influence people to act out of greed. In the end, he would influence people by acting in the interest of others. He would place his own life and freedom on the line to save his brothers. The Lion had learned to lead through sacrifice.

About 1800 years later, Judah’s descendant would prove Himself to be the Lion of the tribe of Judah by offering Himself as the Lamb of God. As the lion is the king of the beasts, Jesus is the King of Kings. He does not rule by acting selfishly. Nor does He rule by throwing His weight around violently. He rules through self-sacrifice. He showed His most lion-esque leadership not by devouring or conquering, but by offering Himself for our sins. The Lion of Judah was most lion-like when He displayed His lamb-like gentleness as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Obeying God—1 Samuel 15:22–23

Samuel Cursing Saul, by Hans Holbein the Younger
Samuel pronounces God’s rejection of Saul, woodcut by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/1498–1543) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And Samuel said,

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has also rejected you from being king.”

(1 Samuel 15:22–23, ESV)

1 Samuel 15 begins a turning point in the Old Testament’s history of Israel. The Israelites have begged God for a king, so that they could become just like all of the other nations. God chose Saul to be the first king. However, since Saul chose to do things his own way and disobey God, he was rejected as king. In 1 Samuel 15, God declares that He has rejected Saul and will appoint a new king in his place (David, the ancestor of Jesus).

For the sake of brevity, I will simply summarize this chapter (you can read 1 Samuel 15 in its entirety on your own if necessary). God commanded Saul (through the prophet Samuel) to destroy the Amalekite nation. Saul did not fully obey God: he spared some livestock and the king.

God viewed Saul’s partial obedience as full disobedience. The consequences lasted for centuries. Since Saul chose to spare a few Amalekites, more survived. David ended up having to battle them in 1 Samuel 27:8 and 1 Samuel 30. Many commentators believe Haman the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews in the Book of Esther, was a direct descendant of the Amalekite king.

Some of Saul’s excuses sound similar to excuses we hear nowadays. “I did this for God, even if it goes against His Word” (1 Samuel 15:15). “Everybody else was doing it” (1 Samuel 15:21). “Quit making a big deal about it; you’re making me look bad!” (1 Samuel 15:30).

This verse came to mind recently while I was meditating on another Bible passage. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said the following:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23–24, ESV).

Modern-day Christians do not rely on sacrifice, in the Old Testament sense, as an element of our spirituality. We do not slaughter sheep and goats and roast them on an altar. We have other ways of serving God that have replaced sacrifice: evangelism, church ministry, worship, prayer, Bible reading, Bible teaching, tithing, fasting, etc. Yet, Jesus calls us to make healthy interpersonal relationships a higher priority than all of these things.

To obey God is better than sacrifice—or evangelism, or serving in the church, or worship, or prayer, or reading the Bible, or tithing, or fasting, or anything else we say we are doing for God.

To wilfully disobey God defiles the sacrifice or ministry. To do your own thing and ask God to bless it defiles the altar itself. For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?” (Matthew 23:19). Far too often, we are tempted to decide to do our own thing and then ask God to bless it. Shortly before He was betrayed, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” We are often tempted to instead pray, “Okay God, this is what I am planning to do. I ask You to bless it and provide what I need to succeed in this.” (Even worse, in some circles they do not ask God to bless or provide: they demand it, bossing the King of Kings and Lord of Lords around by “claiming” the blessing, often by twisting a verse of Scripture to mean what they want it to mean.)

God has called us to obedience and service. He is the Lord, which means our responsibility is to do exactly what He calls us to do. Many live with the desire to one day hear our Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 15:21, 23). That commendation is reserved for those who obey God, not those who look for excuses to do things their way. May we always have a heart willing to hear the will of the Lord and obey.

For a closing thought, I will leave you with this classic song by Keith Green, inspired by this verse:

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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