6 – Lion of Judah

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. ~Rev. 5:5

Just a little history: In Genesis we see the emergence of a family descending from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob who has 12 sons. Jacob favors Joseph out of all his sons such that the other brothers jealously conspire to rid themselves of him by selling him into slavery in Egypt. When famine comes on the land surrounding Egypt, Joseph’s brothers seek aid in Egypt before Joseph. Without recognizing him as their betrayed brother, they speak of their father and youngest brother Benjamin. Joseph demands that they bring Benjamin back in order to receive more of the food they desperately needed. They agreed, but when they present this idea to their father Jacob, he absolutely refuses to lose another son. However as the famine continues and more supplies are needed, Judah promises his father that Benjamin would be protected and pledged himself for his safety. As the brothers are leaving Joseph again with laden bags, Joseph sends his servants to search their bags for a missing silver cup. Benjamin’s bag holds the cup. His life now hanging in the balance, Benjamin cannot return to his father. Judah steps forward and offers his life in exchange for his brother’s, willing to die in his place that Benjamin may return to his father. At this act of sacrifice, Joseph reveals his true identity as their brother.

Following this reunion, Jacob gives a blessing to each son with prophetic messages for each. Judah is called a lion’s cub and a lion whose hand will never lose a scepter nor a ruler’s staff until One comes. Prophetically the ruling line of David and Solomon will descend through Judah, and ultimately the King of Kings Jesus Christ will be born of the line of Judah (Heb. 7:14), the line of David.

Judah is a type, an imperfect picture of Jesus Christ. In his actions regarding Benjamin, he readily stepped forward to offer his life as a substitute in order to allow Benjamin to return to his father. But the perfect substitution was Jesus Christ himself! He offered his life as the atonement for our sins that we may be truly, eternally saved and able to have relationship with our Father. For I am guilty of far more than stealing a cup and deserving of death, but He died for me.

And as the Lion of Judah, He is the ruler of all. His dominion is vast. His power never diminishes. He alone has the authority. The mighty conqueror who saves.

 

5 – Living Water

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” ~John 7:38 

Living water – why would Jesus reference water in that way to the people at the temple and why is it important?

But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.~John 4:14. Jesus begins a conversation with a Samaritan woman at a well, purposed to draw her to himself by using a task central to her daily existence.

In Israel then and even now, water is a focused need, something that is required and sought. Israel has always had to work for water; today they are facing a water crisis with shortages due to drought and demand. We can shortchange the importance of obtaining water in our day to day because we have running water in our homes, but during Biblical times obtaining water was a daily task. And the adjective living is significant – I see this adjective through the lens of salvation almost immediately and think, “Of course, living for eternity” but that is not what the Jews thought. Living water then was vitally important because it was safe to consume and use. It brought healing. It was not tainted, dirtied, or stagnant.

In John 7, the Israelites were finishing up the Festival of Tabernacles in which every day the priest walked down to a spring and drew water and brought it up to the temple with the people celebrating, praising and praying as he walked. He then poured it out on the temple floor, signifying the living water that heals and replenishes, sates thirst, and satisfies a dry land so that new growth and a new season can happen. Into this Jesus stepped on the last day of the festival and announced that He is the one to whom anyone thirsty should come. Water would no longer have to be gathered; rather the Water would reside within.

Psalm 36:9 states, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.”

In Israel a cistern or well would be dug in order to capture flowing water or runoff and store it for future use. This water never offered fresh, flowing streams, but it provided for times of drought.  Unless there was great maintenance, these cisterns would crack or wear down. God uses this picture to caution the Israelites in Jeremiah. My cisterns are the things I trust hold what I think I need for life other than trusting in the constant flow of Jesus Christ – His grace, mercy, faith, power, fullness. Anything that moves me away from gospel dependence and toward self reliance is a cistern I am trying to fill. Sometimes that may look like the goodness of my character or hitting the marks of Christianity (church attendance, etc). It may be the picture I want others to see of me, of my success as a wife or mother; it may be a cistern filled with money, organization, or time management. Hoping that these faulty cauldrons can give me life is the great deception.  Just like cisterns of old, I spend a lot of time maintaining, crafting, and shaping that which is already cracked. Life, “goodness,” and hope will all seep away when they are held by me, requiring my filling. I commit great amounts of energy hewing out my cisterns – working on their shape and construction when I could be trusting that the fountain of life will never run dry, that I will never be without Him and His work in me. He justifies. He sanctifies.

My cistern will always be broken, it will never hold water – I cannot DO enough for my salvation, but God doesn’t require my payments! Come everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come buy and eat! (Is. 55:1) He offers the exchange needed to taste, sip, and guzzle the living water of His salvation through His son, Jesus Christ. So am I hewing cisterns because I am more concerned with the disciplines of faith and less with my true position in Christ? Still seeking that which I can carve, shape, measure, or improve? or am I standing in the forceful blast of flowing, life giving water allowing the Spirit to fill me completely and flow through me? For He is Life.

 

4 – Intercessor and Advocate

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. ~Romans 8:34

My little children I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. ~1 John 2:1

Jesus Christ, Intercessor and Advocate. In the painful wrestling with sin and the doubt and condemnation that follows, we have Jesus. In the times of failure or accusation, we have Jesus. In the times of discouragement and suffering, we have Jesus. Jesus came with great purpose, and one of the many facets of His glorious personhood is Intercessor and Advocate.

To intercede in Romans 8 is a Greek word meaning to entreat, make a petition or application for. But the root of this word means “to strike, hit the bulls eye” and in classic Greek writing this word was used as the antonym of the word that meant “to miss the mark, sin.” Jesus Christ intercedes for us as one who has hit the bulls eye, who has not sinned. From that position, intercession is powerful before a holy God. Romans 8 declares that sin has been condemned by Christ, we have been justified and have become sons of God, and from this secure position, no more charges can come against us. Hebrews 7:25 proclaims, “Consequently he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Our Intercessor has saved you and me to the uttermost by completely hitting the mark we never could. He presents the truth of our salvation through His death and resurrection to the Father.

An advocate is a legal term, paraclete in the Greek, meaning one who appeals, gives evidence in a court, stands on one’s behalf. When the Greek word paraclete is broken down into its root words it truly means “one who is close beside who makes a call.” Jesus Christ comes before the Father appealing on my behalf, pointing not to my sin but to his actions. He is the propitiation for our sins, the sacrifice of atonement that paid in full my sin debt. His righteousness, represented eternally for me by Him, will ensure my redemption – that my sin has been covered by the sacrifice. Uniquely, this word for advocate also has been used by Jesus to describe the Holy Spirit in John chapters 14 – 16. Jesus Christ intercedes for us before the Father as the one who bore our sin. (Is. 53:12) The Holy Spirit has been sent by Christ to help us, indwelling and interceding for us before the Father. The One who is close beside and makes a call, an entreaty on my behalf because He has fully paid my sin debt.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~Romans 8:37-39

It’s Not How Good You Are

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ~Ephesians 2:4-9

“Have you been good this year?” “Are you on Santa’s nice list?” “What’s Santa going to bring you?” Words spoken with kindness but layered with threat and repercussion. The questions rang out with a fierceness, and my heart wanted to stop that moment and run. My little 4 year old turned to me, eyes wide open, searching my face, and I quickly covered the moment with assurances to all involved that presents would be under her tree.

We walked away from the exchange, and the moment we were quietly alone, I kneeled down and looked into her precious eyes and asked her, “What do you think about those questions? Are you good this year?” Her answer tore at my heart, exposed her doubts, and opened the door for the truth of the Gospel. She quietly replied, “Maybe. But I don’t really know.” And so for a little while, sitting in a parking lot, we talked about the truth of Christmas in a language that she can understand and that I pray plant seeds of truth to combat the wicked evil that seeps out of every part of those questions.

Caraline, I want you to understand something very important and foundational. It doesn’t matter What you have done; it matters Whose you are. You see, sweetie, we celebrate Christmas why? because Jesus came as a baby with one purpose in mind – to die on the cross for your sins and mine. He was our special present that day because He would make a way for you to have a relationship with God, have peace in your life, and have hope for when you die that you will live with Him forever. That is why we celebrate Christmas. But do you have to do anything for Jesus to be your Savior? Do you have to be good for Him? Ever? No, baby girl. There is no performing needed, you get to mess up and sin. He will lead you to repentance and forgiveness every single time. So we may be sad that we have sinned, but we never have to be afraid or worry that God will not forgive us or take us off his list. Because you are His, and He loves you no matter what. It is by grace you have been saved.

So at Christmas, we celebrate this great gift of Jesus by learning about His birth, learning about his names, singing songs that celebrate Him. And we give gifts to one another. But you will have gifts under the Christmas tree whether you have been good or naughty. Even if you have had many days of getting in trouble, you will still have all your presents under the tree. Why? Because you are my child, and I love you no matter what. Your presents on Christmas Day are because you belong to our family and you will be richly blessed with gifts given in great grace.

As believers we cannot just sit by and let culture dictate and pervert one of our holy days. And we certainly cannot allow our young children to be taken captive by a belief system utterly in opposition to the true meaning of Christmas. Yet we do. We allow these questions of goodness, performance, behavior to be asked of our children as if they are benign questions when really they have the fire of hell steaming off of them. We welcome a performance mentality for our little ones who believe as if that may provide some relief and keep them in line in a time full of excitement and craziness. There is no performance needed for the greatest gift ever given, the reason for Christmas. Jesus Christ came while we were all completely lost, sinful, full of all wickedness, and He came to freely give salvation to all who believe.

So while in our household we may decorate with Santa Claus, he doesn’t wield any power. We love the Christmas movies about elves, Santa’s workshop, reindeer, and snowmen. But he is never exalted as the giver of our gifts. There are no lists made, no hopeful yearnings in letters to the north pole. He certainly is not omniscient or omnipresent. His elves do not live in our house to check on behavior because again behavior is simply a symptom of a heart that needs the truth of the Gospel applied. So we purpose to direct the hearts of our children to the One who can and does save and work change in their lives because He loves them unconditionally and calls them to Himself.

I will do battle on this point against an enemy that wants nothing less than to convince my children that their performance factors into the equation. Because if he can convince them of that condemning thought, then grace is lost and bondage results around a day that is full of God’s rich, redeeming grace. I want my children’s hearts to sing that God’s gift of Jesus is their greatest gift.

3 – Cornerstone

Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’ ~Isaiah 28:16

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORDS’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. ~Psalm 118:22

Jesus is our Cornerstone. All three of the synoptic gospels reference the time when Jesus is speaking in the temple, following the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The chief priests and elders have challenged his authority to teach, and Jesus proceeds to tell them two parables regarding the kingdom of God and who will be a part of it. In the second parable, the wealthy owner of a vineyard has cared for and leased his land to some tenants. When it was the harvest, he sent servants to retrieve the fruit. The tenants beat and killed them. Again he sent servants and again they were killed. Finally the owner sends his son, believing they will respect him. The tenants instead kill his son in the hopes of gaining his inheritance. Jesus is drawing a parallel between the chief priest and Pharisees and these tenants – through Israel’s history, prophets, servants of God, had been sent to lead the people to repentance and now before them was the Son. Yet instead of repentance, the leaders through the years had created more religion, tradition and rules.

Here now in front of them was the Christ, Messiah, their Savior who would rid them of all sin, sacrifice, and empty religion. For He had come to set the foundation for true relationship with God built on grace, forged through His sacrificial love and death, that we may be saved. He knew the path of the next few days, and He called for repentance but knew rejection.

A cornerstone, often called a setting stone or foundation stone, was the first stone set in masonry foundations. All other stones were set in reference to this stone, determining the entire structure. This stone kept the walls straight. The total weight of the building would rest on this stone, so if it were to be removed, the building would collapse.

Jesus is the foundation, the stable, immovable set point on which the redeemed are built, both corporately and singularly. This picture of Jesus is not just a prophecy that He fulfills; we see the continued teaching of this idea all through the New Testament. Peter referenced Jesus and Ps. 118 when he was brought before the Council following Pentecost in Acts 4:11. Then in 1 Peter 2:4-8 Peter explains that as we come to Christ, the living Stone rejected by men but chosen by God, we too are living stones being built up as a spiritual house to worship God though Jesus Christ. Paul also uses the same word picture in Ephesians 2:19-21. In Romans 9 Paul declares that righteousness comes through faith, but many will stumble over the stumbling stone as they seek to work their way to righteousness.

The beauty of salvation is that not only do we freely gain relationship with the One who is the cornerstone on whom our hope rests and our faith is built, but we also join Him in declaring to this lost world that true stability and peace are from Him. Peter reminds us that the world watches our walk. To the lost, the Cornerstone is an obstacle to trip over, even to the lost pious ones who desperately seek righteousness in works and law.  But to the found, He is the sure foundation, a tested stone who ensures our salvation, forges relationship, and ultimately returns to bring us home. He alone deserves the glory.

2 – Light of the World

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” ~John 8:12

Looking at different names for Jesus this advent season, Jesus Himself declared he was the Light of the world. He was speaking in a part of the Temple court during the Feast of Booths most scholars agree. In the temple court there were two huge lanterns burning as part of the Feast – these were symbolic of God’s presence as a fire by night, pillar of cloud by day that led the Israelites in the wilderness. Now during the feast, people would congregate around them to sing and dance, remembering God’s provision.

Jesus stands within this celebration and he points to what was and declares He is. The cloud and fire were the very presence of God – the Israelites knew that. Ex. 13:21 explains, “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light.

Then in Exodus 40:34-38, we see the presence of God through a cloud covering the tabernacle the Israelites have erected. Moses was not allowed to enter initially because the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. The cloud by day and the fire in it at night, centered in the Holy of Holies, led the people throughout their journeys.

1 Kings 8:10-11 speaks of God’s presence in the temple that Solomon built, because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the LORD. 

Finally in Ezekiel 11 the glory of the LORD leaves the temple as the people of Judah fall to Babylon in judgment, leading to years in captivity and the destruction of the temple. When the Jews return to rebuild the Temple, God’s presence does not return in physical form to the ark of the covenant or Holy of Holies. The Shekinah (glory of the LORD) had departed in its physical form of cloud by day, fire by night.

And now Jesus declares, “I am the Light of the world.” The Glory of God had returned to Israel as Light as John details in John 1. And Jesus takes what was now merely symbolic and puts flesh on it. He openly declares that He is the Light that will guide all men out of the darkness of sin and death. We see Jesus teaching this truth to Nicodemus in John 3:16-21, in John 9:5 when he heals a blind man, & finally John 12:46 when he cries out, “I have come into the world as light so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” 

The darkness of the soul that blankets the sin works of men can be dispelled by only Jesus. His presence however is no longer an external entity, waiting on sacrifice in a temple. He indwells the heart of the believer. Only He can rid your heart of the vestiges of sin that move and have power in darkness. For whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 

1 – Man of sorrows

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. ~Isaiah 53:3

Sitting around the table for what we call “Morning Meeting” today, this phrase “Man of Sorrows” was brought up and wondered about by the boys as we were reading through different prophecies for the coming Christ. So we began to take this one title apart, looking to understand more fully what was meant by Isaiah in this prophecy.

In Hebrew the phrase “Man of Sorrows” signifies sickness or pain, suffering, anguish. Jesus’ flesh was just as frail as mine or yours. He was easily injured just as we are, and his nerves weren’t stronger or less responsive. He opened Himself up to illness, pain and fatigue – all things that are part of the curse of sin.

He was a man so full of suffering, rejection and pain that it becomes one of His titles. Why?  Christ’s life began in rejection and sorrow. Herod sought to kill him as a child. We see the lack of initial understanding of his parents at 12 in the temple, and then as he moved into ministry, the Pharisees actively led the Israelites in rejection of him and sought to trick him at every turn. His ministry moved among the lowly, afflicted, the lost. Christ saw the people without a shepherd and it grieved him deeply in Mark 6. Most crowds however used Him for what He could do and then left. For Christ spent years on earth seeing the depths of the hearts of men – their layers of sin that result in an outcome of death, despair, hopelessness. This grieves him deeply daily. He seeks to consistently speak to their need for salvation through Him, yet He fully knows the path and the cost of salvation for himself.

He grieves in the Garden afflicted with great sorrow  so much so that He sweats blood. At the time of his greatest need, he asked for companionship from his disciples, a fellow banding together to walk with Him in final sorrows, but He was still rejected by those who claimed to love Him most.

On the way to the cross, in His torture, man ceases to see Jesus as human, ceases to have a measure of compassion and instead metes out the greatest level of punishment prior to the crucifixion. Then on the cross He is afflicted with true spiritual suffering so great that has no bounds as the sins of the world are placed on Him. He experiences the fullness of God’s holy wrath; the full breaking of their glorious union – the tearing away of it in order to save you and me. He was broken in sin and death, wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. For we are healed by His stripes, brought to peace through his chastisement.

For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him, Isaiah 53:2. We live in a culture that openly values beauty, majesty, great form – those who possess these are given platforms, power, attention. Christ was none of these, therefore then as now He was despised and rejected. But despite his great sufferings He willingly walked to the cross out of love so that the free gift of grace would abound to many, leading to justification, righteousness, and life.