Posted in Devotions, Lent

“Drunk with the blood of the saints”

2020 “By His Blood” Lent devotion #45

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. (Revelation 17:6)

Symbolic of the evil which is very real in our world, the “woman” of Revelation has taken the lives of many believers. Martyrdom has always been a possibility for those who follow Jesus, who clearly said, “If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” The way of the cross is suffering, self-sacrifice and yes, death itself. Trusting him means trusting him with our lives, not trying to hold onto them ourselves. 

While most who read this live in a nation where there is freedom to worship, many Christians in other places do not enjoy that privilege. To profess Christ, to be baptized, to assemble for worship or even have Christian friends is a death wish. Persecution is real, harsh and unrelenting. Following Christ is a treacherous path for them. 

And yet, they follow Christ. They don’t play it safe. They risk it all to call him Lord. They have truly taken to heart Jesus words not to fear those who can only hurt your physical body but can’t touch your soul. Instead they fear, love and trust the only who cares deeply about their bodies and souls. Their own lives are not nearly as valuable as the life they have found in Christ.

Like a treasure they’ve discovered in a field or a one-in-a-million precious pearl, they would never dream of giving up their precious Lord. 

You can’t hold on to both your own life and Christ. It’s one or the other. Since he’s the one who holds the power of life and death, I would rather be in his hands than my own. 

But that’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself. 

Lord, thanks for the life I have in you no matter what. Amen. 

Posted in Devotions, Lent

“Hail, fire and blood”

2020 “By His Blood” Lent devotion #40

Photo by Hans on Pixabay

The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. (Revelation 8:7)

Natural disasters, taking their toll on the earth, are always portents of the end, for this world as we know it will not last forever. Violent hail storms move across the heartland destroying crops. Fires burn out of control, wiping out millions of acres of forested areas. When these things happen, there are always lives that are lost, too. Blood is always mixed in. 

Just as we do, the created world around us waits and yearns to be set free from the calamity that sin has caused. It will happen. We just don’t know when. We don’t know when Christ will return. No one does. 

But these kinds of events are signs that there is an end and that he will come and  meant to move us to repentance. They are meant to wake us up and focus our attention on Jesus who is the only one who can rescue us from a world falling apart at the seams. 

Do you need a wake-up call? Probably. Most likely you take a lot for granted. Jesus loves you too much to let you do that. He gives us  birds and flowers to remind us we don’t have to worry about what we’ll eat or wear. He gives us storms and fires to remind us we need a Savior. And he gives us his word to remind us that he is the Savior, Christ the Lord. 

Thanks for the wake-up call, Lord. I needed that. Amen. 

Posted in Devotions, Lent

“Almost everything is purified with blood”

2020 “By His Blood” Lent devotion #37

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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.

Posted in Devotions, Lent

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

Photo by Martin Jernberg on Unsplash

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. 

Posted in Devotions, Lent

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

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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. 

Posted in Devotions, Lent

2020 Lent devotion #29 – The bleeding stopped

And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind Jesus and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. (Matthew 9:20-22)

Twelve years of abnormal bleeding is a long, long time. Do you ever get used to it? I suppose. After a while, it’s just a part of who you are. You do what you have to do to get through the day. You adapt. 

But then Jesus comes along. Word is spreading throughout Galilee that he can heal lepers, paralytics and the possessed. “If I can just get close to him. I’m not going to beg. I just need to touch his clothes. If I can just do that, I know I’ll be made well.” Just a thread. Just a few threads at the edge of Jesus’ robe. That’s all it will take. Do you hear the faith in her words?

I wonder if she felt anything. Was there some kind of sensation when she touched his clothes? Did she feel something inside as the bleeding stopped? Or in that moment did she notice that she no longer felt the blood flowing? 

In any case, I’m sure she never forgot that moment when the bleeding stopped. And she never forgot Jesus’ words of assurance, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” 

Of course, we know it was Jesus who made her well. He stopped the bleeding. But she was right. Her confidence – her faith – led her to the only one who could make her well.

Jesus’ own bleeding wouldn’t begin for another few years. When the soldiers flogged him, put the crown of thorns on his head, and drove the nails into his hands and feet, blood would flow. Jesus would not stop that bleeding. Instead he would willingly give up his life. And he would powerfully take it up again on the third day. Yes, we too can be confident that he is the one who can make us well and give us eternal life!

Thank you, Lord, for life today and life that lasts forever. Amen. 

Posted in Devotions, Lent

2020 Lent devotion #26 – Justice instead of blood

Photo by Delphine Ducaruge on Unsplash

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts;I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. (Isaiah 1:11)

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:16-17)

Does it surprise you to hear God say, in effect, “I’ve had enough of your empty worship and meaningless sacrifices?” I’m sure it caught Isaiah’s audience off guard. They thought that they were on the right track. They thought they were doing all the right things, following the laws for making God-pleasing sacrifices of bulls, lambs and goats.

God’s not happy. If the sacrifices are nothing more than ritual and you worship is simply going through the motions, you’ve missed the whole point. If He is indeed your God and you really are his people, that reality will show up in every area of your life. You’ll seek God’s forgiveness, follow his paths of righteousness, and help the people around you, especially those who struggled to care for themselves, the orphans and widows. 

These continue to be convicting words for today’s Christian worshipers, including you and I. Do our Sunday morning gatherings around Word and Sacrament overflow into the rest of our week, relationships, work and family life? Does the blood of the sacrifice, the crucifixion of Jesus, really mean anything to you? The answer to the question should be obvious to any observer. 

The church season of Lent is always a good time to reevaluate, and see how we have let our faith deteriorate into empty ritual. To catch ourselves just going through the motions. Our Lenten disciplines include spending more time each week in scripture, prayer and worship. We seek God’s forgiveness for the sake of Christ, we learn what our Lord wants us to do, and we focus our energy on bringing His mercy and hope to the lives of those around us. 

God doesn’t need anything from us. But I’ll bet you know someone who does. Let’s make our worship mean something. 

Thank you, Lord, for filing my worship with your grace and leading me to love my neighbor as myself. Amen. 

Posted in Devotions, Lent

2020 Lent devotion #25 – Hands that shed innocent blood

by Brook Anderson on Unsplash

There are six things that the Lord hates,
    seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue,     and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans,     feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies,     and one who sows discord among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

Want to get on God’s bad side? Be arrogant. Dishonest. Stir up trouble. Make wicked plans. Or, take the lives of innocent people. “Shed innocent blood.”

Nothing on this list is surprising. Most people would agree that a person shouldn’t live like that. Whether someone is a person of faith or not, they advocate honesty, getting along with each other, trying to make a positive difference and helping out your neighbor. Those who shed innocent blood ought to be locked up for life, or even executed.

Jesus was innocent. The Holy one of God, the righteous one, was like us in every way, yet without sin. They killed him. The Jewish crowds called for his execution. The Roman soldiers whipped him and hammered the nails into his hands and feet. Innocent blood was shed at Calvary. 

So God hates all those people? Nope. “God so loved the world…” God loves those who put his own son to death. 

Since it was my sin that brought Jesus here to this earth to suffer and die, I guess I would have to admit that I’m the reason for his death. And so are you. We are the reason he died. Our hands were complicit in his innocent death. We had a “hand” in his death.

Does God hate me? He should. But he doesn’t. God so loved me and you that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. Jesus’ innocent suffering and death turn God’s hate into love. 

Maybe he can turn my hate into love, too. 

Thank you, Lord, for your amazing love for me. Amen. 

Posted in Devotions, Lent, Ministry

2020 Lent Devotion #24 – Drink offerings of blood

Photo by Sam Moqadam on Unsplash

As for the saints in the land,
they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.
The sorrows of those who run
after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips. (Psalm 16:3-4)

“Drink offerings of blood” smack of pagan practices that were common in biblical times, but were absolutely excluded from Hebrew worship. Whether animal or human blood was involved, there is no way that David, the author of this poem, would even talk about this practice, much less engage in it. 

On the other hand he was a big fan of the “saints in the land,” those who trusted and followed the commands and promises of God. They were the ones who not only provided a good example, but encouraged David along “the path of life” (Psalm 16:11). 

How often does our attention wander to less than wholesome habits and pastimes in our culture? Much more often than we’d like to confess. Surrounded by those who run after the gods of success, power and possessions, we find ourselves jumping into the race. Those folks always look happier, like they are having more fun and lead more exciting lives than we do. At least they look like that on the outside. Or that’s what they put out on social media for everyone to see. 

Are there others in whom we should delight? Who are the saints in our land, the excellent ones surrounding us? They quietly and faithfully love the Lord with their worship and prayers. They just as quietly and faithful love their neighbors with friendship and mercy. Not very exciting. But they are essential in the fabric of our lives. 

Lives that bestow all honor and glory and blessing to the Lord will never be flashy, popular or even noticed. But those lives will draw us into the worship of myriads and thousands of thousands who know and worship the one on the throne. (Revelation 5:11-12). 

Thank you for the excellent saints who remind me of your power and presence, Lord. Amen.