Dedicating Ourselves to God
As we think of firsts and new things, a Bible story comes to mind — the presentation of the baby Jesus at the temple (Luke 2:22-24). Before Mary and Joseph get too far along into rearing Jesus as their son, they do something first. In this Scripture, Mary and Joesph bring their infant son to the temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the requirements of the law which said that after a time of purification for the mother following childbirth, the parents and child were to go to the temple to offer a sacrifice to the Lord (Leviticus 12). A reason for this is that although the birth of a child signals blessing and joy, it also reminds us of the curse associated with pain in childbirth and the sin passed on from parents to child ever since the fall (Genesis 3:16).
Mary and Joseph obeyed God’s command to offer a sacrifice that day, but they also obeyed another command of the Lord — that every firstborn male was to be dedicated to Him. Jesus represented Mary and Joseph’s firstborn son (Luke 2:7). In requiring that the firstborn be dedicated to Him, God was calling to the people’s memory the great act of deliverance He performed for them. When God struck down the firstborn of Egypt, God preserved the firstborn of Israel, not because of their own merit (Deut. 9:6), but by the blood of the lamb that they placed over the doorposts. Henceforth, God asked Israel to set aside all the firstborn males, human and animal, to the Lord as “a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with His mighty hand” (Exodus 13:16). Dedicating the firsts of their dear possessions to the Lord reminded the people of what God had done for them.
In this act of dedication, the parents relinquished ownership of their child. The child belonged to the Lord for His service. But even here, God was gracious. He appointed the descendants of the tribe of Levi to serve as His servants in the temple in place of the firstborn sons. After symbolically dedicating their child to the Lord, parents could redeem their child — in other words reclaim them — into their household again by paying a redemption price of five shekels to the priests (Numbers 18:16). In the new covenant established through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God doesn’t require us to perform these rituals any longer. They remain in Scripture, however, as a continual reminder of what God has done.
As we start the new year, many of our resolutions center around us. They deal with self improvement, which isn’t a bad thing altogether — eating healthier, getting more sleep, watching less TV are good things for us. But if that is where our resolutions stop, then we are forgetting the greater things to which God has called us. God says that we are a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness and into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). God redeemed us with His sacred blood not so that we could serve ourselves but so that we could serve Him. He has saved us from any empty way of life and given us a life-giving relationship with Him. How can we share that with others? How can we be Christ’s representative in someone else’s life? How can we give more of ourselves to God and less to the things of the world? This would truly be a new year’s resolution for us.
Just as Mary and Joseph dedicated this new life in their arms to God, this new year let us resolve to dedicate ourselves to God’s service, to the God who has done so much for us and has loved us with an everlasting love. He deserves our best.
Thanks be to God.
Revs. Garritt and Sanette Fleming
The advent of something means that it is finally here. For instance, you might be waiting for the advent of the flying car, though I wouldn’t hold my breath for that one. Besides, we think we are still some years away from living like the Jetsons. While flying cars would be lovely, the noun advent is used for the introduction of something important. And, I must confess that flying cars pale in comparison to the importance of the Advent of Christ’s first coming and second coming.
While Christmas is one of our favorite times of the year and we go all out in our decor and table settings and we decorate well in advance, Advent is sacred to us. Advent is what sets the atmosphere for what we celebrate as the Christmas season or the “Christmas spirit.” Think about it this way: The wisemen didn’t find baby Jesus overnight and neither did the shepherds. From the moment the star and angel appeared, the wisemen and shepherds used the scriptures, specifically the Old Testament prophesies, to authenticate the events and the miracles that were happening around them. Advent began— the time of the Messiah was finally here. Days and weeks passed before the wisemen and the shepherds were able to visit Jesus, but they were excited and began celebrating, rejoicing that the Messiah was finally here; the Messiah’s time had come. Hence also the reason why the Christian year begins anew on the first day of advent and not on January 1.
In addition to our decor we have adopted a family tradition, an advent calendar. We are not talking about the advent calendar that has been commercialized with candy in the pockets. We chose to make our own Advent calendar. In each pocket for every day in advent, we have scriptures to read together as a family, prayer requests, and of course a little sweet treat. It’s important to prepare for and celebrate the Time of our Messiah.
How will you prepare to celebrate what God has already done in sending the Messiah? How will you prepare for the second advent using the first as an example that God is a God of His word?
What is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement?
October marks a solemn month for followers of Judaism this year as Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, falls on October 8. Just what is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and why is it significant to us as Christians?
To answer these questions, we first we need to understand the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. While today we have two distinct religions, that is not the way Jesus intended it. Jesus came to fulfill God’s plan of redemption for humanity which had been planned since the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). Jesus came first to preach His message to the lost sheep of Israel (Matt. 10:5-6), to gather them up as hen gathers her chicks under her wings (Matt.23:37). Christ’s first followers did not refer to themselves as “Christians” but rather as followers of the Way (Acts 9:2). By calling themselves this, they meant to say that they didn’t see themselves as followers of a new religion but as followers of the true way to God, as Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The relationship between Judaism at the time of Christ and what eventually became known as Christianity is similar to the relationship between John Hus and the Catholic Church. Hus didn’t intend to start a new church, but he sought to reform the church by calling it back to the true ways of God. In light of a corrupt generation, Jesus came to call the people back to God and also to fulfill God’s plan of redemption that the Lord had foretold to the people throughout the ages.
Some time would pass between when God first spoke to the people of Israel and established a covenant relationship with them and the time of Jesus’ appearing. In the time between, God gave the people His Law which contained directions for living a godly life and maintaining a relationship with Him. But without the revelation of Jesus, the Law was incomplete. It was a “shadow of the good things” that were to come (Hebrews 10:1). It was a guardian until Christ came (Galatians 3:24). The Law before Jesus’ appearing gave people a temporary solution to the problem of sin. Sin is that thing that breaks our fellowship with God. While it promises us fulfillment and satisfaction, it always leaves us empty and lost, and it leaves others and ourselves wounded and damaged. For the harm and the offense we cause by not following the Lord’s will, our God demands justice. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). But our God is also loving and merciful, and even before the time of Jesus’ coming, God provided a way out of the punishment for sin — through sacrifice. With a repentant heart, people could bring an animal sacrifice to God to take the place they deserved to take for their sin. It cost something to them — a precious animal — and many of the animals God allowed for sacrifice had a foul odor to them, further reinforcing the foul consequences of the people’s sinful choices.
But even this regular sacrifice system was not enough. The repeated sins of the priests and the people built up so much and even tainted the temple of God that something even greater needed to be done to remove the sin of the people. God ordained the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, to do just that. Once a year on the designated Day of Atonement, the High Priest would make a sacrifice for the sins that the people had committed over the last year. First he would sacrifice a bull for his own sin so that he could approach God in the temple’s Holy of Holies. Then he would sacrifice a goat and sprinkle its blood on the mercy seat of God to cover the sins of the people. A second goat was also brought to the temple. This goat was not sacrificed, but rather the High Priest would lay hands on the goat and confess over it all the wickedness of the people. He would then send the goat out into the wilderness to carry the people’s sins to a remote place (Leviticus 16:22). This was done as a symbol to the people to show that as far as the east is from the west, so far has the Lord removed the people’s sins from them (Psalm 103:12).
The Day of Atonement provided a means for people to be freed from the punishment of their sin, to be healed from the burden and guilt of their disobedience, and to be made right with God again, but this too was insufficient. It was a temporary fix. This sacrifice had to be performed year after year, with a new bull and a new goat. But with Jesus’ coming, something changed. On Calvary, Jesus entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood and obtained eternal redemption for the people (Hebrews 9:12). What can be more powerful than God saying, “I, Myself, will pay for the sins of my people”? Jesus did just that. He paid the price for the sins of humankind, and He offers forgiveness to whoever believes in Him.
Today, followers of Judaism still celebrate the Day of Atonement because they do not believe in the work of Jesus on the cross. Many followers of Judaism also believe that a sacrifice is no longer necessary for the forgiveness of sins. Rather, through a contrite heart and service we can obtain God’s forgiveness. But God’s standards haven’t changed. Before, God required the blood of creatures for the atonement for one’s life (Lev. 17:11). When Jesus came, the standard was still there, however, Jesus fulfilled that standard with His own blood: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19). Jesus is the final sacrifice and the blood that was shed for our souls.
We no longer need to observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, because of what Jesus has done for us. This holy day’s place in the history of our faith, however, is a reminder for us. It is a reminder that God loved us so much that He Himself was willing to take the punishment for our sin. The day is also a call for us to look into our hearts and ask God, “Lord, how have I sinned against you?”, to turn back to the Lord, and to receive His forgiveness. And lastly, it is a call for us to talk to God about the wound that we carry as a result of someone else’s sin against us and to ask God to help us to forgive that person.
All is made right with the Lord. May we receive His forgiveness, His healing, and His help this month as we accept His gracious invitation to come to Him. Amen.
Getting Back on Track With God
By the time you read this, you will have without a doubt dropped off your child at the bus stop four or five times already, picked him or her up from soccer, football, cheerleading, or band practice several times, and packed a few lunches. If you aren’t a parent of a child in school, maybe you help with some of the running around, or maybe you’ve noticed how traffic has gotten a little busier on your way to work. Maybe you’ve heard the sound of whistles or snare drums from your back yard. Whether you are in school or not, back-to-school affects all of us. We’re entering — indeed have entered — the season of busyness once again.
Just as January marks the start of the new year, the end of August into September marks a change in the seasons of our life. It is the start of something new. We’re turning the page onto the next chapter, and as we turn that page and embark into the new, God grants us the opportunity to start on the right foot and get back on the right path. Perhaps you’ve wandered away a little bit. Well, today is the day you can get right with God again. Today is the day you can ask God to realign you with the purpose for which He has redeemed you — to serve Him and give Him glory. Today is the day in which you can ask God where the good way is so you may walk in it find rest for your soul.
We can do a few things to help us get back on track with God. First is giving thanks. When we give God thanks, we remind our souls that God is the giver and that everything we have is thanks to the Him. As Jesus says, “apart from Me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) One of the first acts of humankind recorded in the Bible is the giving of an offering (Genesis 4). In particular, Abel gave to God the fat portions of the firstborn of his flock. This was good meat from the very first animals to be born in his flock. Abel drew near in his heart to God to give Him thanks. As we turn that page to the start of the new season of life, we too can draw near to God as we give Him a piece of our time, our energy, and our resources as a thank you. In our offering, we move closer to our Father and we embrace Him with a hug and thank Him for all He has done for us.
At the start of something new, there are usually tasks to be done, forms to be filled out, questions to be answered, and problems to be addressed. It can feel like we have no time to do anything but to get to work. To stop to do anything, especially to spend time with God, can seem crazy in the moment. But this is the model that God gives us. Before He embarked on His mission to preach the Gospel, Jesus turned to God in prayer (Mark 1:35-39). Likewise, at the start of his reign, King Solomon, did not forget God but turned to the Lord to make sacrifices to Him. It was as Solomon drew near to God by giving sacrifices that God drew near to Solomon. In a dream, God said to Solomon, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (1 Kings 3:5). Surprisingly, Solomon did not ask for wealth or the defeat of his enemies, but he asked for wisdom to rule in the right way. He said to God, “But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties … So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:7,9). Solomon called himself a little child, but he was probably about 20 years old at this time. By calling himself a little child, he acknowledged how little he knew and how much he needed God to complete the tasks ahead of him. This sincere humility and desire for God’s help pleased the Lord, and God gave Solomon the wisdom he needed. Won’t God do the same for us if we ask Him? As we turn the page to the start of this new season, things can seem overwhelming, but if we turn it over to the Lord and ask for His help, He promises to be there for us.
One last way we can get back on track with God this season is to remind ourselves of our purpose. There are a lot of things that may demand our attention as mentioned above and a lot of things to which we might want to give our attention. But in the midst of it all, God wants us to remember why we are here: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10). As believers born again into the family of God, the Lord has equipped us with gifts of the Holy Spirit to help, to serve, to teach, to give, to encourage, to lead, to show mercy, and more (Romans 12:6-7). Jesus has rescued us with His blood from an empty way of life so that we may live for Him and make His name known to all. Along with our prayer for wisdom each day should be the prayer, “Lord Jesus, how can I serve you today?”
As we begin this fall, let us take time to thank God each day, to pray for His help and direction, and to pray for Him to renew in us our purpose as His servants. Let us get back on track with Jesus and His plan for our lives. To Him be the glory, both now and forever. Amen!
In His Service,
Pastors Garritt and Sanette