Real or not? H.C. Question 78

Do the bread and wine become the real body and blood of Christ? 

Ephesians 5:26 – to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,

Titus 3:5 – he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,

Matthew 26:26-29 – While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

1 Corinthians 10:1-4, 16-17 – For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

1 Corinthians 11:26-28 – For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.

Genesis 17:10-11 – This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.

Exodus 12:11, 13 – This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.



Pilate: H.C. Question 38

Why did he suffer “under Pontius Pilate” as judge?

Luke 23:13-24 – Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.”

But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)

Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.”

But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand.

John 19:4 – Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.”

John19:12-16 – From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”

When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparationof the Passover; it was about noon.

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.

But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.

Isaiah 53:4-5 – Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

2 Corinthians 5:21 – God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Galatians 3:13 – Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”



Hebrews 10 – Once for All

Read Hebrews 10

As the author has been working to draw forward many of the themes of the Old Testament, he or she has also been showing how Jesus Christ fulfills many of those things in His life, death, and resurrection.  He perfectly and eternally fills the Old Testament offices of Prophet, Priest, and King.  The Law is also fulfilled through Him.  Jesus is the realization of God’s redemptive plan, worked out over a couple thousand years!

One of the reasons and ways that Christ fulfills all of these things is that He is the perfect sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  The “Once for All” nature of Jesus’ work on the cross is an important theological point that cannot readily be overlooked.  Old Testament sacrifices were continuous because the blood of animals and the sacrificial system were, as the author states, “only a shadow of good things that are coming…”  They were never meant to be an end unto themselves.

Jesus Christ was that end, the great sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.  He was the perfect “Passover lamb,” the perfect “atonement offering.”  After Him, no other sacrifices were required.

While this is an important theological point made in Scripture, it is emphasized in Reformed Theology because of its intentional distancing for Roman Catholic tenants.  For Catholics, every time Mass was celebrated, Jesus Christ was said to be “re-crucified” or “re-sacrificed.”  For reasons made clear in Hebrews 10, a constant “re-sacrifice” is not at all necessary or theologically correct.

With all of this said, the Author moves on to talk about the application of this truth in the life of faith.  Jesus has opened the way for us to draw near to God once again.  Jesus was the “curtain,” that which separated the people from God in the Temple.  When Jesus died, the curtain was torn, a moment signifying that the barrier had been broken and our relationship with God can be restored.



Mark 14 – Why the Waste?

Read Mark 14

Admittedly there have been times in my life where I have seen people do things or give money where I wondered, “why waste time/money on that?”  Like the disciples, we think we know where other’s priorities should be and what they should be doing with the things God has blessed them with.

However, Mary’s actions here, Jesus points out, have a much deeper significance than what they saw on the surface: preparation.

In the sequence of events unfold here at the end of Jesus’ life, there is a great deal of parallelism between His sacrifice and the Passover feast.  What we don’t get here is that, when the Priests prepared for these events, there was a considerable amount of preparation and washing that needed to take place so they would be clean.  There was also specific things that needed to be done by each family to prepare the Passover meal which included what needed to be done to the Passover Lamb.

Jesus Himself is our Passover Lamb, the one who would die and whose blood would cover our sins and grant us eternal life.  Jesus functions in the position of the priest, performing the sacrifice before God in representation of all humanity.  In both cases, Mary’s actions serve as preparation for what was about to take place.

It is important for us to be willing to open our eyes to a bigger picture.  We don’t always know what God is up to when we see people do things that we wouldn’t necessarily agree with.  Why give so much to a university when you could give to the church or the poor?  What if that money went to a scholarship for someone who came to know Jesus through a campus ministry?  It wouldn’t seem so wasteful then would it?



Day 296: Luke 2-3; The Birth of Jesus

The Gospel of Luke contains the highest degree of detail surrounding the account of Jesus’ birth.  Like we talked about yesterday, Luke’s whole goal and purpose in writing this Gospel was to “compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us”  as he writes in his intro to Theophilus.  Luke wants to know the facts, which is why there is so much detail surrounding His birth and also why there is very little mention of the Scriptures that these events are fulfilling.  Unlike Matthew, this is not the emphasis of Luke’s writing.  Yet if we read the Old Testament and Luke’s account of Jesus’ life carefully, it becomes quite clear that He is familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and is showing that there are definite similarities and much fulfillment that are taking place.

Luke’s account of the immediate details of Jesus birth are probably the most familiar of all four Gospel narratives.  Of the Scriptures that are read on Christmas day in my experience, Luke 2:1-20 was probably there over 75% of the time.  Very often we get caught up in the commercialized version of Jesus’ birth, focusing on the star and the three wise men (Magi) that come to visit Him, which is recorded in Matthew.  Yet today I notice that this particular detail is left out of the passage in Luke.  As a matter of fact, Luke records something that would be considered the exact opposite of Magi as he tells of the visit of the shepherds.  Rather than being honored by the highest of the high, baby Jesus is worshiped by the lowest of the low.  Only the diseased would have been considered lower in Jewish society.  Yet these are the people that God chose to reveal the “good news of great joy.”  I think this difference in the two Gospels marks both the significance of Jesus’ birth and the broad scope of who it would impact.  As the angels say, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people!”  Both the high and the low from Israel and abroad were drawn to worship Him.  More than that, even the priests and prophets of that time are moved by God’s ‘invasion’ of planet earth.  Truly Christ’s incarnation is for “all the people.

In today’s reading, we also get the account of Jesus’ interactions with the priests at the Temple during the Passover.  We are seeing that Jesus is not just some ordinary kid, but that He is growing up as the Son of God and even at this young age He is “being about His Father’s business.”  It is clear that His parents do not quite fully understand all that is going on in Jesus’ life.  They are astonished that He would act like this, making them worry and search for Him, yet Jesus seems relatively un-phased by the whole thing as if it were only natural for Him to be in the Temple.

Finally today, we see John the Baptist come on to the scene.  Luke makes a point to link John’s ministry in the desert to the passage of Isaiah 52, talking about the one who would come to prepare the way for the Lord.  There is much to be talked about that has to do with Jesus’ preparation for ministry, including His baptism and wilderness experience, however I think today it is important to recognize the preparation that John is doing in the name of the Lord.  We read that “the Word of the Lord came to John” in much the same language that is used to talk about the prophets in the Old Testament.  Though Luke doesn’t always make a point to link what he is writing to the Old Testament Scriptures, in chapter 3 He does it several times making sure that the reader knows that this isn’t something entirely new that is happening, but instead is a continuation of what has already been foretold.  John is preparing the way by calling people to repentance, a voice calling in the desert after several hundred years of what seemed like silence from God.  This direct link along with Luke’s linking Jesus to all of Israel’s history all the way back to Adam is a very specific attempt to show that God has been at work throughout history to bring all of this to fruition in the person of Jesus Christ.



Day 288: Matthew 25-26; The Lord's Supper – Passover Rebooted

Today’s reading is likely a familiar narrative for many people.  The story of Jesus’ death is likely the most told story of Christianity, rivaled I think only by the story of His birth.  While there is a lot to cover, and we will cover it, I think this time through I would like to look a bit deeper into the Lord’s supper.  To do this, I would like to offer some thoughts and then I am going to include some writing I have done for our Church recently regarding Communion.  I hope that this writing helps to locate this celebration of the Sacrament a bit more in the context and also give a bit of light to all that we do to celebrate it.  We will talk more about this again too as this is one of the most important parts of Christian Worship.

It is important to remember that the Lord’s Supper is actually an extension of the Passover celebration that has taken place since the time that the Hebrew people were in Egypt.  They were charged to celebrate this feast in remembrance of the night that the Lord “passed over” the people of Israel when He killed all the first born of Egypt.  There is a great deal of symbolic action that takes place here that has to do with sacrifice of a lamb, the use of blood as a marker for exemption from punishment, and even a communal meal together.  All of these things are shadows of what was to come, the fulfillment that would be found in Jesus Christ!  Remember that, especially in the early church, the Passover meal would have been the context in which the Lord’s Supper would have been understood; none of it really made sense to them without this historical fact.  Keep in mind too that, though we live in a different context, this “greatest of sacraments” has a lot deeper meaning than just taking a bread cube or reciting a liturgy.  I hope that the following helps a little.  We will talk more about this in coming posts.  I think it is also important to remember and recognize, as we read today, the different places where Matthew says “to fulfill Scripture” and such.  Again this is important because of the audience that Matthew is writing to and the point he is trying to make.

The Table, part of our response to God, is a very unique time for Christians in the Church.  I would like to take a moment to talk through this time, though I must admit that a moment will hardly do it justice.  Often in the Church, especially the reformed churches we have focused in on one very particular meaning of the Lord’s Supper, and have kept its practice well in check.  Yet in doing this, sometimes we lose the much fuller, richer, and deeper meanings behind our practice of going to the Table.  It is appropriate that we talk about Communion in this week as we prepare for the Church’s celebration of Worldwide Communion Sunday on October 6.

As we approach the Table on our communion Sundays, we often read the same liturgy which talks about the meaning of the sacrament and we say that the Supper which we are about to eat is a feast of “remembrance, communion, and hope.”  Following this, we often explain what it means to remember, to commune, and what we have hope for.  Some liturgies specifically state that the Lord’s Supper is a feast of “Remembrance, Celebration, and Anticipation” for many of the same reasons.  When we come to the Table, we remember the night that Jesus was betrayed as well as His death on the cross through which we receive atonement in His blood.  In this supper we also celebrate, because Christ did not only die, but He has risen from the dead and is ascended into heaven from which He sits and reigns!  We celebrate because our sins our forgiven and we have received grace upon grace!  We also anticipate, and our anticipation comes from the hope that we have that we are not left to struggle on our own, but Christ is with us Spiritually and will one day again be with us on this earth when He comes again in glory!

Along with these three main thematic elements, the Church in the New Testament used several different terms for this sacramental celebration, though they wouldn’t have called it a sacrament back then as the word sacrament actually comes from the Latin word for mystery.  Each of these four terms comes with different Scriptural references and emphasizes different elements of the Table.  The first of these and probably the most familiar to us is “The Lord’s Supper.”  This is referenced in 1 Corinthians 11:20 and points to communion as being the Lord’s Supper.  Here we see an emphasis placed on unity and equality as we come to the Table, reminding us that this Table, this feast is not ours but God’s.  The reference to 1 Corinthians 11 is also one of the foundational texts that were used in writing the Belhar Confession, the RCA’s newest confession emphasizing unity within the Church.  We need to remember this as we come to the Table, that Christ welcomes sinners (including ourselves) at His table to fellowship with Him.

Communion is also a familiar reference to the sacrament of the Table that we celebrate.  The ESV Bible that we now use here at ORC, in 1 Corinthians 10, has substituted the word “communion” for “participation” which only helps us to better understand this particular emphasis.  When we partake of the bread and the cup we are communing with and participating in the Body of Christ.  In this we touch Christ and Christ touches us, not in a manner in which these elements actually are Christ’s physical body, but in a spiritual sense in that at the Table, for these brief moments, Heaven and earth meet and we actually come to the Table of our Lord and sit with Him.  The liturgies of the earth church, and the great prayer of thanksgiving that is included on the next page, held this view as well.  As we approach the table we are lifted up and the barriers between heaven and earth are broken down and we are welcomed at the Table of our Lord.  This isn’t often how we think about Communion, especially as we sit in our seats and receive the elements from a tray, but it is a greater vision of what is happening in this time.  We are both communing with our Lord, but we are also participating as part of His Body.  Augustine said of this, when you take the elements, “Be what you see, receive what you are.”

The final two terms for the sacrament that we use a bit less are the terms “Breaking of the Bread” and “Eucharist.”  These terms come from Acts 2 and the Gospels of Matthew and Mark respectively.  The emphases of these are both fellowship and thanksgiving.  Acts 2 gives us a vision of the early church in which the believers celebrated “the breaking of bread” whenever they were together.  Jesus Himself gives us a vision of giving thanks when He breaks the bread and when He passes the cup as He explains these things to His disciples.

On the next page, you will see the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, a prayer that has been used before communion for many years.  See if you can find elements of what we just talked about in this prayer.



Day 178: Psalms 120-131; The Songs of Ascent

Ascending to the Temple of God in Jerusalem Photo Credit: www.praisechoir.com

Ascending to the Temple of God in Jerusalem
Photo Credit: www.praisechoir.com

Today’s psalms are part of a collection of psalms known as the “Pilgrim Psalms,” or as the they say in their titles, “song of ascents.”  They are also sometimes called Gradual Psalms or Songs of Degrees.  Many scholars believe these psalms were sung by the worshipers as they ascended up the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals which are recorded in Deuteronomy 16:16.   They may have also been sung by the kohanim (aka. the Korahites), who were the Temple priests, as they ascended the fifteen steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Its also possible that these songs were sung by the captives as they returned from Babylon to Israel!

While information like that is nice to know, I think it pales in comparison to what we get from these psalms today.  These songs were indeed used for preparing the people and their leaders for worship.  If you think back to Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the whole purpose of worship was to come before God and be made new and clean once again.  This happened through sacrifice and, if it never happened at any other times in a year, it did happen on these three dates: The Passover (aka. The Feast of Unleavened Bread), The Feast of Weeks, and The Feast of Tabernacles.  Each of these feasts come with their own appropriate code of conduct, but all of them have one thing in common, a corporate re-orientation of the lives of those in the Israelite community; a remembrance of who they are and where they came from.  We can see this very clearly in the lines of these psalms:

“In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me…”

“I lift up my eyes to the hills.  From where does my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

“To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!”

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.”

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

The Psalms of Ascent: A Call to Prayer Photo credit: www.cccooperagency.wordpress.com

The Psalms of Ascent:
A Call to Prayer
Photo credit: www.cccooperagency.wordpress.com

These psalms, as is true with many of the other psalms, make me think a lot about my own orientation and that of the Church as well.  Do we come into church on any given Sunday expecting to encounter God?  Do we take time to prepare ourselves for worship?  Do we recognize who God is and who we are?  Do we feel like we even need God’s help?  Is this really the first time we have thought about God since last Sunday?  These are difficult questions to ask not because the answers are difficult to find, but because the truth of the answers is difficult to swallow.

Today’s psalms are short and quick to read.  They run the gambit of praise, thanksgiving, lament, hope, trust, and just about any emotion you can think of.  The page(s) that they are on are good to keep bookmarked or dogeared in your Bible and the psalms contained therein are good reminders of the right orientation for our lives.  Like a compass always pointing north, these Psalms (and the whole Bible really) point us directly in the direction of God… a reminder that I’m sure we need on a daily basis.



Day 176: Psalms 116-118; The Egyptian Hallel

The three psalms that we are reading today are part of a 6 psalm unit known as “The Egyptian Hallel.”  A Hallel is considered to be a portion of a Jewish worship service that take place during their times of festivals.  It consists of psalms 113-118, which are spoken, prayed, or chanted aloud as a unit as part of the morning prayer service.  Typically, this would happen especially around the time of the Passover, when the people of God remember their time in bondage and the freedom that has been given to them by the power of God.  And this is really what these do, give honor and glory to God for His amazing work!

You really can’t just read the psalms from today without including psalms 113-115 as well.  They really are a unit, a single entity; they could be one long psalm.  In many ways, these psalms tell the story of God’s faithfulness, providence, and power when He remembered Israel and brought them out of the land of Egypt and freed them from the oppression that they had suffered for so many years.  I would encourage you to read through all 6 of these psalms together and take time to reflect on and remember the story of God’s amazing work in Exodus.

We know too that this story is not just something that happened in the past, but it is indeed the story of our lives as well.  You and I and every human on this earth have been born into the bondage of sin.  Yet God didn’t leave us there either just as He didn’t leave the Israelites in Egypt.  God sent His Son Jesus as a direct assault on sin, our abusive master, and freed us from it through His death on the cross.  We had been slaves… now we are free by the blood of Jesus!  This Egyptian Hallel is our song of praise as well!  Take time to read them… to reflect on them… and to find yourself in them.  Maybe they will give you the words to say to express your thanks and praise to God as well!

PSALM 116-118 are psalms of thanksgiving and praise to God for His work in the lives of His people.  These psalms were written anonymously, are clearly didactic in nature, and are actually part of a unit of psalms from 113-118.  Psalm 117 is the shortest chapter in the Bible and the shortest psalm.  Psalm 118 is also a messianic psalm with prophetic overtones.



Day 136: Ezra 5-7; Rebuilding the Temple

Yesterday we read that there was some trouble in Jerusalem as the process of rebuilding the temple continued.  Some of the people from the land, possibly people from the Northern Kingdom who we would now know as Samaritans, wanted to have a part in building the Temple.  When the people of Judah say no, there is trouble and the building is suspended for a while.  However, when we pick up the story today, it seems that the building has been restarted and is well under way.  The people are diligently at work building the walls of the Temple and all the many things that go into it.

Dedication of the Temple Photo Credit: www.bibleencyclopedia.com

Dedication of the Temple
Photo Credit: www.bibleencyclopedia.com

Remember a while back, we talked about how we should always be looking for God in the narratives and stories that we read in the Bible?  I think that this is a really good place to be doing that.  Not only has God allowed for His people to travel back to Jerusalem, something that didn’t happen in these old empires, He has again provided a way for them to continue working on the Temple.  And whats more, He continually provides a way for all this to happen just as He said he would.  God is continuing to be faithful to His people even after exile just as He said he would in Leveticus 26.  There is a lot about the curses that God would bring upon His people for their disobedience, yet even at the end God says that He will be faithful to them even in their exile and if the people would turn to them, He would hear them and forgive them and continue to be faithful to them.

After a great deal of hard work we read that the Temple is finished and dedicated.  What an awesome sight this must have been.  Though, even as we read yesterday, I’m sure it was a drop in the bucket compared to the 1st Temple, yet even in this we see that the people have been faithful to God and God has intern blessed them with all the resources and funding that they need, as well as the support of the most powerful ruler of the known world at that time.

What we are seeing here, in many ways, is a fundamental re-identification of the people of God.  Like we talked about in books of 1 and 2 Chronicles, what the returned exiles need here is a way of re-identifying themselves with who they are and whose they are.  In many ways they were “dismembered” in the exile, sent back into the wilderness to be stripped of what they had become, and have now returned to the land that was a part of their identity.  Through the book of Chronicles we see that they have looked back into the past to identify themselves with God through the story that is their Story, the ancestors that are their people.  The re-dedication of the Temple followed by the celebration of the Passover is a fundamental part of their “re-identification,” or their being “re-membered” as the people of God.

Celebration of the Passover Photo Credit: www.whataboutisrael.blogspot.com

Celebration of the Passover
Photo Credit: www.whataboutisrael.blogspot.com

This also helps us to draw a parallel, one that is evident in the Bible throughout history, the parallel between water and blood.  We draw this parallel when we celebrate… you guessed it… Baptism!  In all the other wilderness experiences that we have seen Judah go through there was one thing that was in common, the passing through of the waters, which we related to Baptism.  Think of the Exodus and the crossing of the Red Sea, and the crossing of the Jordan, all of these times were points at which Israel was being re-identified some how.  First from a group of slaves into a people of God.  Then from a group of nomads to a nation of God.  They were re-identified through the waters, and each time they either celebrated or had just celebrated the Passover or the rehashing of the covenant.  When the people returned from exile, a 70 year wilderness experience, they may have had to cross the Jordan… the Bible doesn’t say, but they immediately begin the work of recovering their identity.  They start sacrificing to God again, the rebuild the Temple (their spiritual center in the whole world), and they celebrate the Passover, the one feast that sets them apart.

What of the parallel between blood and water then?  In Baptism, we claim that a person is sealed as a covenant member of the people of God.  In circumcision (which is bloody) this was also true of the people of Israel.  When the people of Israel crossed through the Red Sea or the Jordan they were also making a statement that they were God’s people following His command by His power.  In Baptism, at least in infant baptism, we make vows saying that we will raise our children in the ways of God and we will do it by the power of God.  The Passover then, a holiday of remembrance that celebrates that passing over of a household that has blood on its doorpost, a sign that they are indeed the people of God.  Interesting, this is why John refers to Jesus at “the Lamb of God.”  What reference do you think John is making when he refers to Jesus in this way?



Day 132: 2 Chronicles 30-32; Hezekiah's Reign

If we take a look at the chart from yesterday, we see that Hezekiah‘s reign was a complete 180 degree turn from his father Ahaz.  He actually turns out to be one of the best Kings in Israel, second only to Josiah, who we’ll read about in the next two days, because of the amount of reforms that take place in Judah during his reign.  Right from the get-go Hezekiah goes after cleaning up the temple and getting things back in order so that the people that worship the one true God once again.  He tells the priests to consecrate themselves and the Temple as well.  They do so happily and offer so many sacrifices that there isn’t enough priests to do all the sacrificing!

Hezekiah Celebrates the Passover Photo Credit: www.whataboutisrael.blogspot.com

Hezekiah Celebrates the Passover
Photo Credit: www.whataboutisrael.blogspot.com

Second, Hezekiah reinstate the Passover Celebration which, if you remember back in 2 Kings, hadn’t been celebrated since the time of the Judges.  This is an important celebration for the whole of the people of Israel, both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms in that it was commanded by God in Exodus 12 to be kept every year for all generations.  It might have been kind of understandable for the people not to keep this during some of the bad seasons that they endured, like the evil king Ahaz or others like him.  But to find out that they had been completely unfaithful in following the command of God and hadn’t practiced it since the time of the Judges (several hundred years earlier)??? wow… just wow…

I think in many ways this is a confirmation of the Hebrew idea of backing into the future, the notion of the Hebrew concept of time and identity that we talked about that the beginning of 1 Chronicles.  The locus of their identity was found in who they were as a people.  This was especially true of them as a people of faith, chosen by God to be a nation that was to represent God to the rest of the world.  Apart from the narrative of God’s choosing Abraham and calling him out of the land of Ur in Genesis 12, the Exodus was really the defining moment in Hebrew history.  This moment was surrounded by God’s power on both sides, from the killing of the first born to the crossing of the Red Sea.  In reality, if the people of God weren’t remember this, they were likely not remembering the true nature of their identity.  Not knowing who you are makes it a lot easier for the things around you to define you.  This may be one of the reasons that the people of God continually fell into sin.

Sennacherib's Siege on Jerusalem Photo Credit: http://fontes.lstc.edu/~rklein/Documents/judah.htm

Sennacherib’s Siege on Jerusalem
Photo Credit: http://fontes.lstc.edu/~rklein/Documents/judah.htm

If we follow in this, we see the strength that comes with remembering who you are and living into it.  When Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, invades Judah, the people could have crumbled in fear before him, turned to other gods, or just plain given up.  Yet that doesn’t happen here… not in the slightest.  Hezekiah not only leaps into action making physical preparations for war, he also makes spiritual preparations, reassuring the people of who they are and whose they are.  They are not where they are today because of what they have done, but because of the blessing of the Lord and His continual faithfulness.  Sennacherib may say whatever he wants to say about God, but as Paul so eloquently writes many hundreds of years later in Galatians 6, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”  The people of God stand firm in their faith to God and God is faithful, as He always is, to His people as well.

It is interesting that this particular passage would come up on a Sunday, during the Easter season, when we have celebrated one of the 3 high points of the Christian year and are about to celebrate another.  In a time that the Church is struggling to find its identity in a changing culture, we are reminded today of the power and faithfulness of God in times of trouble.  We celebrate our identity in the risen Lord on Easter and yet we struggle day after day, week after week with the many things that would otherwise seek to define us.  While I am not saying that this shouldn’t be a struggle, it absolutely is a struggle… we are about to celebrate another major identifying mark of our faith: PENTECOST.  Next Sunday, a week from today, we will gather to remember that our Risen Lord did not leave us on earth to fend for ourselves, but that the Holy Spirit has been given to us as a seal of Christ in us.  We do not face the hordes of evil in this world alone.  No… we walk every day with the Spirit of God in our hearts and in our minds, that we may stand up to the whatever Sennacheribs we might encounter knowing that God is forever faithful and always with us.