“A bloody struggle against sin”

2020 “By His Blood” Lent devotion #39

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In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:4)

The writer of Hebrews is encouraging his readers to run the race with endurance, that is, to stay faithful in a hostile world, not getting weary or fainthearted. They can do this by looking to Jesus and never forgetting the hostility He experienced from sinners. 

It was tough for some early Christian believers. When they came to faith, they suffered public embarrassment, the loss of property and prison time (Hebrews 10:33-34). But it could be worse. Faithfulness to Christ might just mean physical injury and even death. 

That’s how it ended for Jesus. He was faithful to his anointing and his mission as the Christ. But he would pay for it. Big time. He would shed blood on the cross, for your sins and mine. 

So sometimes faith is hard. Forgiveness is hard. Mercy is hard. Loving your neighbor is hard. Obeying God is hard. Giving a tithe is hard. Not complaining or grumbling is hard. Not being anxious is hard. Witnessing is hard. 

Would it help if I told you, “It could be worse. You could have to die for your faith”? Probably not. All those things would still be hard!

It was hard for Jesus, but he focused on something different. He focused on the joy set before him rather than the shame of the cross. The journey may be hard, but the destination is worth it. That’s why you always want to focus on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith. He’ll get you there. 

When it’s really hard, Lord, thanks for mixing your joy into my journey. Amen. 

“I’m going in”

2020 “By His Blood” Lent devotion #38

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Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)

When I go to…
…my daughter’s house…my son’s house…my in-laws’ house
I have no doubt they will welcome me, give me something to drink, offer me some snacks, and let me hang out with them for a while. 

Am I that confident to enter the holy places?

In a word. No. 

The holy places? That’s where God is. The nation of Israel was content to let Moses go up in the cloud while they watched at a distance. The priests did their thing in the holy place of the temple while I watch from outside. And I am content to let Jesus be my intercessor before God, paving the way for me to be in heaven one day.

But today? I’ll keep my distance, thank you. 

It’s time to get past that. I’ve been forgiven because Jesus shed his blood for me on the cross. I am confident that he is my Savior. I have no doubt that I am clean and righteous in his sight. 

So I’m going in. I’m going in by prayer. I’m going in through his word. I’m entering in through the waters of my baptism and the sacrament at the altar. 

Jesus has opened the door for me. I’m going in!

Thank you, Lord, for making a way for me to be in your presence today and forever. Amen. 

“Almost everything is purified with blood”

2020 “By His Blood” Lent devotion #37

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Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:22)

Wash your hands. Wash ‘em again. Wipe down everything. Stay six feet away. Stay home. We all know the drill. Our lives in the age of the Covid-19 virus are defined by avoiding germs. 

Go back several thousand years to the time of Moses. Purity, cleanness and separation are a big deal. They just did it differently. “Under the law almost everything is purified with blood.” In preparation for worship, everything is sprinkled with blood. Using a branch of hyssop as a tool, Moses sprinkled the book of the law, the people, the tent and all the vessels used for worship with blood. In other words, if you want to go to church, you’re gonna get sprinkled with blood!

Just imagine showing up at church and seeing a drop of blood on the page of the hymnal with the opening song. Or spying drops of blood on the tile floor of the chancel. Blood on your white dress shirt or on the sidewalk out in front of the church. You’d be mortified. Yes, we live in a much different time, don’t we?

Let’s think about it in a spiritual sense for a moment. What is it like for a sinner like you to come into the presence of the holy God? It’s terrifying. It’s foolish. It’s unthinkable. Every bone in your body says, “Don’t do it!” 
But Christ has died for your sins. His blood paid the price. If you can hide behind his perfect life and innocent suffering and death for you, maybe you’ll stand a chance. 

That’s what it’s all about. The blood of bulls and lambs and goats were just reminders of what the Messiah would do. He would make a way, a way for you to be able to embrace the God who is able to do so much more than anything you can imagine. His blood means our sins have been paid for. His blood means we are forgiven. 

Let’s not mince words. Worship is messy. But I am forgiven. A few stains here and there are certainly worth it. 

Thank you, Lord! I am forgiven and I am clean by your blood. Amen.

“He shared in our humanity”

“By His Blood” 2020 Lent devotion #36

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Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Are you afraid of death? Who isn’t? Even those who say they aren’t afraid of death do things that promote and preserve life. They don’t eat the moldy leftovers in the refrigerator. They don’t walk out into the traffic of a busy street. They buy guns to defend themselves. They buy life insurance policies. They elect sheriffs. 

How many of our behaviors are driven by our mortality? Why is eating healthy, getting enough sleep, taking vitamins, having access to clean water and medical care so important to us? Because we value life and want to avoid death. 

Jesus became flesh and blood and shares in our humanity. So he had to eat, drink and sleep. He needed care as an infant. He needed to work. He occasionally had to evade those who sought his death. He did all this to be and stay alive. 

But Jesus also became flesh and blood to die and break the power of him who holds the power of death, the devil. Once you die and come back to life, death is no longer a threat. It no longer controls you. In our place, Jesus died and rose, paving a path for us. If that is truly my future, death and even the fear of death doesn’t control or guide me. He does. And just like that, the devil has lost his power over me. 

What a gift!

Thank you, Lord for becoming like me to give me the freedom to live! Amen. 

“The real struggle”

“By His Blood” 2020 Lent devotion #35

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For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

That one sentence from scripture goes against everything we think, feel and experience in a day. We have to deal with flesh and blood, that is, people, from the moment we wake up until we fall asleep at night. People say things that anger us. People fail to follow through with commitments. People cut us off in traffic or cut us off in conversation. It’s “flesh and blood” who eat the last cookie, put the empty milk container back in the refrigerator and never clean up after themselves. People start wars, fires and rumors. Flesh and blood neighbors play their music too loud, don’t take care of their yards and let their dogs bark all night. 

I could go on and on. I’m sure you could, too. 

But let’s move on and consider the different reality that God’s word declares. We are really struggling with the rulers, authorities and powers of the dark world. We are engaged in a battle with the spiritual forces of evil. 

I don’t care how you look at it, that is scary. I am not only frightened by their existence but I’m terrified to think I encounter the spiritual forces of evil daily. This sentence reminds me that there is always more going on in my world than I can see. It also reminds me that I need someone who is up to the challenge of overcoming those powers. 

Ironically, even though our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood, the one who overcomes these spiritual forces of evil, Jesus, became flesh and blood for the very purpose of defeating them. Fully human – flesh and blood – just like us, you wouldn’t think he would stand a chance. Yet he resists Satan’s temptation, commands the demons, restores lives and overcomes death itself. 

In that sense, the struggle is over. We are more than overcomers through him who loved us. The struggle that remains is to listen to him rather than the lies of enemy. His word is truth, and that is always where I will find the victory. 

Thank you, Lord, for your word of truth and victory. Amen. 

“Sweat like drops of blood”

“By His Blood” 2020 Lent devotion #34

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And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  (Luke 22:44)

Just hours before his arrest, Jesus pauses to think and pray about everything that is going to happen to him. The physical suffering has not yet started. But the mental and emotional struggle has already begun. He prays in agony. He is covered in sweat which falls to the ground like drops of blood. 

Have you ever prayed with such intensity? Have you ever prayed yourself to exhaustion, drenched in perspiration? Me neither. Most of the time, I’m pretty comfortable when I pray. I may have some worries or concerns on my mind, but I don’t break a sweat. 

Why not? Well, for one thing, I’m not Jesus. I’m not the one who will be bruised and crushed for the sins of many. And I never know what that feels like. Because he stood in and did it all for me and for you. 

I suppose there may be a day when my prayer exhausts me. But I don’t think that’s what God wants. He doesn’t want me to be anxious about anything. He’ll take care of me. He doesn’t want me to wear myself out. He offers a yoke that is light and easy. He wants me to rest, assured that he’ll be awake all night to take care of things. He offers perfect peace to replace my fears. He turns my mourning into dancing.

Instead of tears, he wants my prayers to be filled with joy, thankfulness and trust. 

Lord, I am amazed at your prayers. I’m even more amazed by your love. Amen. 

“Blood mingled with sacrifices”

“By His Blood” 2020 Lent devotion #33

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There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. (Luke 13:1)

Boy, that’s a gruesome headline, isn’t it? Imagine traveling to Jerusalem to worship. But as you bring your sacrifice to the temple,  there is pushing and shoving, a fight breaks out, swords are drawn as soldiers step in and before you know it, there’s more than the blood of bulls and lambs to clean up. Some of those from Galilee died that day, too. 

Why did that happen? Were these Galileans worse sinners than those who lived to worship another day? No. Stuff happens. All the time. Jesus then adds, “But if you don’t repent, you will all likewise perish” (15:3). It could happen to you! 

For those who gather to worship, it’s not about who is better or worse. In the mirror of God’s law, we all sin and fall short of his glory. We all deserve the wages of our sin, not just a messy death but eternal separation from God himself. 

In repentance, we realize it’s only by God’s grace that we stand. It’s only because of his mercy that we live. It’s only because of Christ that we have a chance. His blood, shed on the cross, becomes the atoning sacrifice for our sins. For my sin. And for the sins of everyone in the world. 

You and I have to get past comparing ourselves to others. Comparisons will never give you the security that Christ can. And nothing compares with Him!

Lord, be merciful to all caught in the crossfire of sin in this world. Thank you for your grace and mercy. Amen. 

2020 Lent devotion #32 – “His blood be on us”

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After Pilate washes his hands and declares, “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:24-25)

The people got what they wanted. Barabbas will be released. Jesus will be crucified. But Pilate isn’t going to take the fall for this. When he declares his innocence, the crowd accepts responsibility. They’ll take the blame. They’ll even share their guilt with future generations. Almost too willingly, they shout, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 

Chilling words from Jesus’ own people. Vicious words from the very people Jesus came to save. Mutinous words as a kingdom turns against its own king!

I wonder if some of those in the crowd were also part of the Palm Sunday gathering who welcomed Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Were they the same ones who shouted, “Hosanna”? Had some of them eaten bread and fish on a hillside after Jesus’ long day of teaching? Were there some there who didn’t even know who Jesus really was, but were swept along with the mob?

Sometimes we’ll take the blame. “Hey, it’s not you, it’s me.” Sometimes, rather than making excuses, we simply admit, “I did it. I screwed up. It’s my fault.” 

But how many of us look at a crucifix and declare, “That’s my fault”? How many of us read the passion of our Lord in one of the gospels and insist, “His blood is on my head”? It is humbling to know and admit that I am to blame for the scourging, the thorns, the nails and my Lord’s death. He did nothing wrong. He was punished for my sins. 

The whole thing is my fault Lord. Thank you for loving me that much. Amen. 

2020 Lent devotion #31 – “I am innocent of this man’s blood”

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So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” (Matthew 27:24)

It’s a mob scene. The governor, Pilate, has given the crowd a choice of two prisoners to release. He would either set Barabbas or Jesus free that day. The crowd, prompted by the chief priests and elders, ask for Barabbas to be freed. Pilate then asks, “And what should I do with Jesus?” The crowds demands that he be crucified. When Pilate asks, “Why?” the crowd is even more stirred up, demanding his crucifixion. 

All the ingredients for a riot are in place. But Pilate is not about to take the blame for executing someone he knows doesn’t deserve it. In front of them all, he literally and symbolically washes his hands of the whole affair. He declares himself off the hook for Jesus’ death. “I am innocent of this man’s blood.”

You and I have been there. We’ve thrown up our hands and declared, “I had nothing to do with that.” We weren’t there. We had no knowledge of what was going on. We are off the hook. 

When it comes to Jesus, though, it’s not that simple. Since he died in our place for our sins, we are not innocent. We are the reason he came, suffered, died and was buried. We have everything to do with his death! 

It’s humbling, but it’s also reassuring. Jesus doesn’t wash his hands and renounce us. We don’t wash our hands and renounce him. Instead, in the waters of baptism, we are joined with both his death and resurrection. By grace, we are a part of all that happened to him, and he is a part of everything that happens to us. 

Thank you, Lord, for being a part of my life yesterday, today, and forever. Amen.