“Now I know…”

Abraham and Isaac
Image via Wikipedia

Wow, this blog has languished for quite some time!  The Holy Day seasons are always busy times, and this year has been no exception to that rule.  Still, I thought I would add a comment here about something that I’ve been thinking about recently as Passover approaches.

Most of us are familiar with the tale of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac at God’s command.  What we don’t often take into account is that Isaac and Abraham were both likely of such ages that Isaac could have physically resisted his father’s attempts to bind him if he chose to do so, Isaac most likely being a young man at the time and Abraham most certainly being what we’ll strategically call not a young man (or, as Paul said, a man “as good as dead”).  So, really, the tale is not only about Abraham’s faith and selfless submission to God but about Isaac’s, as well.

Most of us are also likely aware that the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, however aborted it was at the end, is a type of the experience God the Father and Jesus Christ would go through several thousand years later, as God offered up His only Son, as well.  In asking Abraham to go through this ordeal, He was qualifying him as the “Father of the Faithful,” in a sense, looking to see if Abraham would be willing to do, on a human level, what God, Himself, was going to do later.  Abraham — probably tested at the very limits of his character — was so willing.

God’s response is important: “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Genesis 22:12).

Essentially, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son and Isaac’s willingness to be that sacrifice taught God something very important about the utter completeness of their love and devotion to Him and the vast depth of their commitment to Him.

That said, doesn’t it work the other way around, too?  Doesn’t God the Father’s willingness to sacrifice His Son and Jesus Christ’s willingness to be that sacrifice teach us something very important about the utter completeness of Their love and devotion to us and the vast depth of Their commitment to us?

It does.  And meditating on that should bring us to the same conclusion as Paul, regardless of our current state in life:

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?

“Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.’

“Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:31-39

The days that follow the Passover — the Days of Unleavened Bread — take a bit of courage to prepare for.  To truly “deleaven” your life, as opposed to just your house, takes courage.  In order to remove sin, you must be willing to see it there, and many do not have the courage to face the truth about themselves that honestly.

But reflecting on the lesson that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ should teach us about the depth of God’s love for us should inspire within us that courage, reminding us of just how committed God the Father and Jesus Christ are to seeing us in their Kingdom to spend eternity with them as a part of their glorious Family, forever.  It should remind us of their willingness not only to forgive us of whatever “leaven” or sin that we discover in ourselves as we face the truth about who we are, but also to live within us to complete that work of righteousness until the coming of Christ (Phil. 1:6) — so that we grow to reflect Them in choices, character, and nature more and more, day by day, until at the resurrection we mirror Them perfectly (cf. 1 John 3:1-3).

I hope that — as God said of Abraham after seeing the extent of his devotion seeing, as it were, with His own eyes — we, too, will be able to reflect this Passover on the extent of our Father and Elder Brother’s devotion to us and say, each one of us, “Now I know.”

Entering the Days of Unleavened Bread, Don’t Forget the Passover!

Greetings to all, and warm wishes for the beginning of the Days of Unleavened Bread!

I apologize that I have not written much, recently — especially if you have been checking in frequently!  I have had many thoughts on the Holy Days that I would like to have posted, but it’s hard to post about the Holy Days when you find yourself busily in the middle of “doing” the Holy Days!  Even today, this is only a brief respite between bouts of preparation, but I couldn’t help but post a little something and wish everyone a fantastic Night To Be Much Observed and a great start to the Days of Unleavened Bread.

I would wish you a great Passover, as well, but that was last night (Sunday night, the 14th of Nisan, just as God specified and as Christ kept it) so I would be a little late!  Still, I hope it was meaningful for you and everything that God would have had it to be for you.

The “cumulative” nature of things present in God’s Holy Days strikes me more powerfully this year than it has any previous year.  I think that is important to recognize this as we enter the Days of Unleavened Bread.  Most of us in the Church of God recognize that the “Feasts of the Lord” given to us in Leviticus 23 and kept by Jesus Christ and the Church He founded lay out for us in beautiful detail the powerful plan of God for humanity’s salvation.  The Passover pictured that key step — that first vital step without which all the rest would be for nothing: the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the remission of our sins.  Without that, there is not much point going on to that which is pictured by the Days of Unleavened Bread: the removal of sin from our lives.

It is my opinion that we often focus on the meaning of the Days of Unleavened Bread without fully appreciating the lesson of the Passover.

As John says so plainly and clearly says in 1 John 4:19, “We love Him because He first loved us.”  That Passover in 31AD demonstrated the depth of that love, in which God took the initiative — while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8) — and cleared the way for a relationship with us.  He was willing to pay the ultimate price, the sacrifice of His own Son, so that the stark chasm of sin that lay between us and Him could be bridged.  We mean that much to Him.

The Days of Unleavened Bread picture our only reasonable response to such unfathomable love: the choice to accept it in obedience, which is showing our love to God.  As Paul said, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?  How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2).  The only proper response to such love is to accept it, and we accept it with our willing obedience.  Else, “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3).

But in our efforts to live a life of obedience, we fail.  Perhaps less so as time goes on and as we learn to more fully and completely allow Christ to live His life in us (Galatians 2:20), but still — fail we do.  He who says he does not so fail is a liar according to the word of God (1 John 1:8).

And so, as we strive to live the lives pictured by the days of Unleavened Bread, lives in which we strive to empty our lives of the “leaven of malice and wickedness” and to fill it instead with the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8), we can become dejected and mournful, seeing how time and time again we seem to fall short of the perfect standard of Christ.  At least I know I do, at times, and perhaps I am more alone in this than I would think.  But I suspect I am not.  And that perspective — whether I have it or you have it — is misleading.  Why?

Because we MUST remember that the Days of Unleavened Bread come after the Passover!  The context of the life we live, exemplified by the Days of Unleavened Bread, is that of the love of God shown to us on the Passover!

Paul speaks this so powerfully to us in Romans 8:38-39 when he says, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

Do we believe that incredible statement?  Do we see in God a Father who is COMPLETELY COMMITTED to helping us to succeed?  A Father whose PASSION is to have us in His Kingdom WITH HIM?  Do we believe Jesus when He says that it is His Father’s “good pleasure to give you the Kingdom”?  God is EXCITED about the future with us!

And it is important enough to Him and to His Son Jesus Christ that they were willing to endure the agonies of the Passover.  And it was an agony for both of Them.  I have given an entire sermon on this point recently that I don’t wish to duplicate here, but let me just give you the Father of the Faithful as an example.  Anyone who cannot see that God chose Abraham and Isaac as a picture of Himself and Jesus Christ either hasn’t reflected on the matter enough or simply doesn’t have eyes to see.  Why was the sacrifice of Isaac such a test for Abraham?  Because watching your own child suffer and die is one of the most horrible experiences a human can experience.  Can you imagine how much worse that had to be, knowing that the suffering and death had to be at your own hand?  Does anyone doubt that that was a trial for Abraham?  Yet God tells us we should look to the human father, a role He created, to understand our Heavenly Father (e.g., Matthew 7:9-11).  And I know that when His Son, His Child, asked on that Passover night for the cup to pass from Him if it were at all possible, it had to be heartbreaking for the Father to tell His Boy, “No.”  And it had to involve a sadness that is indescribable to watch His Son beaten and tortured and then to ultimately turn from Him, allowing Him to become the perfect and complete sacrifice for sin, as He hung to death on the cross, ultimately brutally stabbed by a Roman soldier — His blood shed for our sins.

If God Almighty was willing to go through such an ordeal — if He and Jesus Christ believed that having you in Their Kingdom was worth that price — who are we, who am I, to question their total commitment to seeing us get there?

It is in the context of the awesome love of God, expressed in the Passover, that we enter the Days of Unleavened Bread.  And we dare not forget that context!  We do not enter the Days of Unleavened Bread as if it represented a great contest, in which God is on the sidelines merely watching us to see if we’re going to “make it.”  We enter them knowing that God is WITH US, and that He has done all He can to ensure we know — and KNOW that we know — that He is committed to us and our success.  That He LOVES us and that even our many slips and our inevitable stumbles aren’t enough to convince Him to abandon us.  He has paid too big a price to give in so easily.  We fall, yes — but He is ready at hand, right there, to pick us up and to encourage us to keep on going.

The world’s “Christianity” wants to glory in the meaning of the Passover (though that meaning is incomplete and generally misunderstood), without accepting the “rest of the story.”  After Passover and the act of God on our behalf must come our response: repentance and the commitment to remove sin from our lives, typified by the Days of Unleavened Bread.  Yet let us not forget in our putting sin out that the context of it all is the presence of a Father and an Elder Brother who are with us in the struggle and who, while we were yet in our sins, thought of us — thought of you and thought of me — as a prize worth the price.  Their work did not stop at Passover.  It continues, and we should be “confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).  Why?  Because for the God of the universe, the work He is doing in you is not a mere obligation to Him.  It is a labor of love.

I know this post has been a bit rambly (as are about 86.7% of my posts, I think), but I have seen (and, to be honest, experienced to some extent) that difficulty and sickness of heart that can come from struggling against the flesh to put out sin, rightly living the lesson of the Days of Unleavened Bread, while losing sight of the vital lesson that comes before it: the lesson of the Passover, and the context it provides concerning the incredible love of God for each of us, personally.  With that context FIRMLY in place, the life pictured by the Days of Unleavened Bread can be the joy that God intends it to be — a life in which we are learning to feed on Christ and to allow Him all the more with each passing day to live His life within us.

I am pressed for time, and I apologize for the many typos that I am virtually certain are scattered throughout the verbose and rambling paragraphs above!  I will try and come back and clean it up a bit when I have more time.  Let me conclude this post with a memory that has taught me a great deal.  I have shared it in all of my congregations, and I think it represents something important to keep in mind during this wonderful Holy Day season.

A good number of years ago, my wife and I and our not-quite-so-big family were in Waco, Texas, visiting with my aunt-in-law there, when Boy #1, who was maybe 3 or 4 at the time (possibly 5), was desperately trying to peddle a little tricycle across the grassy lawn to the paved patio.  Well, he was getting nowhere.  Really, nowhere — he couldn’t move it even a quarter inch (or about 6 millimeters, for you metric junkies out there).  The grass was just too formidable an obstacle and his little muscles simply weren’t up to the task.

I saw him frustrated and crying and wanting to give up.  I told him that I would be glad to help him pull the tricycle to the paved patio where he could ride it easily to his heart’s content.  Well, that was no good.  He wanted to ride it to the patio.  So the crying and frustration continued.

It seemed a character building moment, so I made him a deal.  I didn’t want him to give up, and I told him that I would push him to the patio on one condition: he had to keep peddling.  I told him clearly that I would guarantee that he would arrive at the patio by pushing him myself — doing what he was completely incapable of — as long as he did not quit pushing against the peddles.

That seemed like a good deal to him, so off we went.  He continued to struggle against the peddles, and I was there behind him, pushing the tricycle forward.  He was moving!  Where previously under his own power he was going nowhere, now he was making steady progress under “Dad power.”

That’s when, of course, he figured something out.  After we had gone a ways, he just picked up his feet — “Free ride!” seemed to be the thought bouncing around in that noodle of his.  So then, I stopped, too.  It was not my goal to give him a “free ride” — if he was going to build any character out of this, he had to be in the fight.

Well, his lack of progress was a quick tutor, so he began to strain against the peddles once more — and I began to push again, too.  And, soon enough, we were there — the goal had been reached, and the tricycle was out of the grass and on good smooth pavement, at which point he peddled away on his own and my help was no longer necessary.  (I’m not sure if I got a thanks, but I will pretend that I did…)

Did he make it to the patio on his own?  Hardly!  Indeed, in the grass he wasn’t even able to budge that thing on his own.  It was all me — “Dad power.”  Yet, had he not been willing to struggle himself — to persevere, to be in the fight — I would not have been willing to push, because it was the character in him that I wanted.  While I provided the power and the strength to do the job, he had a role to play, too.  Because my goal wasn’t a successful tricycle ride.  My goal was building a bit of character in the son I loved.

And the lesson I learned I hope I never forget.  As I am peddling my way en route to God’s Kingdom, I hope I do not begin to trust in my own power, else I will be dead in the grass.  And I also hope I do not pick my feet up for a “free ride” — else I’ll be just as dead and defeating the purpose my Father has me peddling for in the first place: building a bit of character in the son He loves.  He will get me there, but I must keep peddling.

As we enter the Days of Unleavened Bread, peddle away!  But don’t forget who’s pushing you to the patio, and take comfort in the knowledge that your Father loves you more than you can ever understand, and that He is going to get you there, if you are just willing to keep on peddling.  As we review, once again, the lesson of the Days of Unleavened Bread, let’s not forget the lesson we should have learned at the Passover.

[If you are unfamiliar with God’s Holy Days and the plan they lay out, please request our free booklet, The Holy Days–God’s Master Plan, which you can order here.]