Bought with blood

Christians talk a lot about the blood of Jesus. In fact, it’s such a part of our lives that it doesn’t seem strange to us to even sing about it. Imagine, though, being new to Christianity and visiting a church and hearing men, women, and children sing, “Are you washed in the blood?” So, what is this preoccupation with the blood of Jesus? It’s this:

Peter calls the believers to live lives of reverent trust in God, and the basis of that is that they know that they were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from their forefathers. To be ransomed means to be released from imprisonment by way of payment. What was the prison? The futile ways inherited from their forefathers.

Peter is likely writing to non-Jews primarily, so he likely has Gentile paganism in mind. They were in bondage to that system of belief and its accompanying lifestyle. They continually rebelled against God, and so they were prisoners in need of ransom.

What was the cost of this ransom? It wasn’t perishable things such as silver or gold. No, there isn’t enough silver or gold in the world to make payment for the sins of men.

No, they were ransomed with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. Now, this needs more explanation. Let’s start with the blood of a lamb without blemish or spot. In the Old Testament, God established a sacrificial system for the Jews designed to express His justice and His mercy. The people sinned, and rather than receive the wrath that they deserved, an innocent animal would take it instead. With the bloody sacrifice of the animal, God’s wrath was symbolically poured out on it, and thus He showed mercy to His people.

One of the animals sacrificed was a lamb (especially on Passover), and this lamb needed to be without blemish or spot, partly so that people didn’t bring their ugliest animals to sacrifice, but more importantly because it symbolized a pure animal, worthy of redeeming the people from slavery to sin.

But the lamb was never meant to be enough. Sacrificing animals was never sufficient covering for the many sins of the people. But the lamb pointed forward to Jesus the Messiah, who would come and be the perfect and final Lamb, to be slain and sacrificed on behalf of the people. And since His blood was poured out on our behalf, God’s wrath and justice were satisfied, and He shows grace and mercy to all who believe in the Lamb.

So, that’s why the blood of Jesus is such a big deal to the Christian. That’s why we sing about it and read about it and talk about it. It’s because Jesus shed His blood for sinners like us that we have eternal life and joy. Do you have that? Trust in Jesus, and you too will have been ransomed with His blood.

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Be holy as God is holy

Have you ever heard a parent say to a child, “We don’t do that in this family!” Well, apparently they do in fact do that, since the child just did it. But we know what the parent means. “This does not meet our family standards.”

The same is true for God’s family. Though we sin, we can say of all sin, “We don’t do that in this family.” The Christian is to be holy, and the standard is God Himself.

Look at what Peter writes to his audience:

Leading up to this, he has just described how Christians have been born again to a living hope. And thus, they should prepare their minds for action, and being sober-minded, set their hope fully on the grace that will be brought to them at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, they should not be conformed to the passions of their former ignorance. They should not act like their old selves.

Instead, they are to be holy in all their conduct, just as He who called them is holy. God had called them from death to life, from darkness to light, and now they are free to live lives patterned after Him.

But why does the fact that God is holy impact whether the Christian should be holy? There are several reasons for that.

First, it’s out of gratefulness. When a Christian considers the hell that he deserves and the grace that God instead gave him–by grace through faith in Christ–he should be filled with gratitude and desire to respond accordingly.

Second, it’s out of obedience. God commands His people to be holy, righteous, good, pure, and He Himself is all of those things, perfectly. Thus, obedience demands that He be our own standard for what we are commanded to do.

Third, it’s out of joy. We need to understand that holiness is not meant to be a burden. Sometimes, it feels that way, since we have the old self lingering in us. But when we are thinking clearest, we realize that freedom from sin is exponentially more satisfying than being in bondage to it. Holiness is not only pleasing to God; it’s also beneficial to us.

So, the Christian is to live a life that is consistent with someone who is part of God’s family. Whatever “we don’t do” in our family, we should strive, by God’s grace, to eradicate, and instead, we should experience the freedom from sin that we have been given, out of gratefulness, obedience, and joy.

What it means to believe in Jesus

Christians are always saying you need to believe in Jesus, but what does that mean? Is it like “believing” in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny? Certainly, belief in Him is in part a mental assent that He is real, but there is more to it than that. We see this in Peter’s first letter:

Unlike Peter, his audience hadn’t actually seen Jesus here on earth. This was decades after Jesus’s earthly ministry. They had not seen Him, but they love Him. They didn’t now see Him, yet they believed in Him. What is this belief? It’s trusting in Him. Trusting what He said and promised.

Not only did they believe in Him, but they also rejoiced with joy that is inexpressible. These people who had not seen Jesus on earth and did not see Him now loved Him, trusted in Him, and rejoiced with inexpressible joy.

Not only was the joy inexpressible; it was filled with glory. What does that mean? John Calvin writes that it is “magnificent and glorious…contrary to that which is empty or fading”. It is solid. It’s a joy that cannot be removed.

And here’s the result of loving Him, believing in Him, glorious rejoicing in Him: obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

The outcome of believing in Him is the salvation of one’s soul. It is just as Peter’s friend and brother wrote in John 3:16: whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.

So, believing in Him, trusting in Him, is not merely a mental assent. It is that, but it is accompanied by a love for Him and an inexpressible joy in Him. The one whose eyes were opened by God to see the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot but have a love for Him and a joy in Him, albeit it’s never a perfect love or joy. So, that’s what it means to believe in Him: to trust in Him, love Him, and rejoice in Him.

If that’s not true for you, hear this: just like me, you are a sinner who deserves God’s judgment for your sins. And that judgment will come, if you don’t surrender to Him. But He lovingly invites you to forgiveness and right standing with Him, eternal joy in and fellowship with Him, because of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross. Believe in Him.

Knowledge puffs up; love builds up

There’s an old saying which goes, “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” We can also say, “God doesn’t care how much you know if He knows that you don’t care.” Knowledge by itself is not good. Knowledge must be accompanied by love.

Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 8:

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. – 1 Corinthians 8:1

Paul in this point of the letter is responding to some concerns the church had raised. This particular concern is about whether it was permitted to eat of animals which pagans had sacrificed to idols. Some thought it was, others thought it wasn’t, and it was causing division in the church.

To respond, first he says, we know that “all of us possess knowledge”. The ESV puts it in quotes, because it was likely a slogan used by the Corinthians.

But Paul is not impressed with their knowledge on this matter. Knowledge was an issue for them. He writes, This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. Some of the Corinthians were aware that eating food sacrificed to idols was no different from eating any other food. But that knowledge did nothing for them but puff them up, fill them with pride. They were arrogant and unloving in their knowledge.

On the other hand, love builds up. The issue isn’t knowledge. That’s likely why the ESV made the editorial choice to put quotation marks around the word. It’s a loveless knowledge, which isn’t true knowledge at all. If the Corinthians had knowledge, they would know that what pleases Christ more than rightly understanding what a person can or can’t eat is His disciples loving another and building one another up. And a loveless knowledge that puffs up is no true knowledge at all.

Now, we may not continue to struggle with whether we can eat food sacrificed to idols. But one real struggle we do have is having this kind of loveless, up-puffing “knowledge”. It’s not enough for us to understand doctrine. Who cares if we have a clear eschatology if we don’t love the Saints who will be raised? Who cares if we master textual criticism if our hearts are filled with hateful criticism? Who cares if we have Apologetics if we are unapologetically unkind to others? God doesn’t care—no, He does. But not in a positive way.

God’s will for us is not merely that we would know more. His will for us is that we would know more and that the knowledge would work its way out into an ever-growing love for Him and for neighbor. If that’s not what’s happening in one’s life, then it shows that he doesn’t have true knowledge of Him who loved us.

Having a love for the lost

I recently saw a meme that accused people of faith of forcing their religion on others. That language is strong, but there is a real sense in which that should be true. Not that we should or could be forcing anything on anyone, but we should speak boldly about the truth that has been given to us (of course, with gentleness and respect).

In truth, it is unloving to not do so.

The Apostle Paul, writing to Romans has just said that he “has great sorrow and unceasing anguish in” his heart (Romans 9:2). Why?

He writes in verse 3,

For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. – Romans 9:3

He says that he wishes that he himself would take on God’s wrath in Hell and be cut off from Christ. What a strange thing to say. Why would anyone want that?

Paul says that he would want that “for the sake of” his “brothers”, that is his “kinsmen according to the flesh”. Here, he’s referring to those Jews who did not believe in Jesus and trust Him for their salvation. They rejected Him and were thus hell-bound.

But still. Why would he want to experience being cut off from Christ and be accursed for the sake of others?

We could excuse it and just say he’s speaking hyperbolically here, and it’s likely that he is. But there’s something more than a mere literary device. Paul is expressing a deep love for the lost.

You know who else was accursed and cut off from God for the sake of humanity? Paul’s Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus was not only willing to take on the sin of many and the wrath it deserved, but He actually did it on the cross. What Paul expresses is in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

Do you have a love for the lost? Do you have great sorrow and unceasing anguish for those who are not safe from the eternal wrath of God?

If you do, share the good news. That is your hope in Christ. The triumphant gospel is the means through which people are turned from their sin and to Christ and saved from the wrath of God. May we have a love for those who don’t know Jesus that translates to action.

If we do not share the good news with others, we are not loving them. We should rather be accused of forcing our beliefs on others than be apathetic about their eternal fate.

Created in God’s image

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27

We have an image problem. And it’s not that we think lowly of ourselves. It’s that we don’t look like we should.

You see, in the beginning, God created humanity in His image. Many of His attributes were passed on to humanity, in a way and to a degree in which it wasn’t passed on to all creation. First of all, we were created to steward the rest of creation (v. 26). In addition, humanity was good. We were rational, emotional, relational, and untainted. Most importantly, humans were His “unique representatives on earth” (Faithlife Study Bible).

But that wouldn’t last long. Sometime after, Adam and Eve disobeyed God and thus was the stewardship disturbed, ration confused, emotion skewed, relationships damaged, and humanity was tainted. While humanity continues to be God’s image-bearers, we are poor images of who God is.

But something happened. God gave His only Son Jesus Christ, One who perfectly bore His image, and He lived a perfect life, to go to the cross for sinners like you and me. And He rose from the grave, so that all who believe in Him will not only be saved from the hell they deserve, but something else also happens.

We begin to start looking more like Him, through the work of God in us. We are becoming restored to His image. And one day, we will be finally without sin, we will be untainted, we will truly be in God’s image.

Mercy for those who fear God

Who is right with God? There are a few answers to this question that are all correct: those who believe in Jesus, those who love Him, those who trust in Him. Another one that is equally true is “Those who fear Him”.

That’s what Mary says in her song to God after she had become pregnant with Jesus, the Savior of the world. Luke 1:50 says, His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.

Now, this is not a separate requirement from John 3:16, which says that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. This is not separate from Romans 8:28 which says, “those who love Him”. All of these are true simultaneously. Those who believe in Him love Him, trust Him, and fear Him. Now, this is not a fear of a child terrified of monsters. Rather, this is a fear of a child reverent of his loving father. It’s a loving reverence that desires to be right with and not disciplined by the father.

All true believers fear God, through Jesus Christ. And He has mercy on them. And this is true from generation to generation.

Do you fear God? If not, then you must fear Him in a different way. Rather than a loved child should fear a father, you should fear an Almighty King who will bring justice to His enemies. But He extends grace and mercy if you would simply lay down your arms and join His righteous and good Kingdom in faith. Christ died on the cross to secure such a peace. Receive it, and fear Him with love and joy.

When Christ speaks, we are to listen

When Christ speaks, we are to listen.  In an age where we don’t think much about authority and we overvalue human autonomy, we would do well to remember that.  Revelation 2:1 says, 

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. – Revelation 2:1

Here begins the letters from Jesus to the seven churches, which we shared in a previous bleat are representative of the church universal.  And first, he writes to the church in the city of Ephesus, a metropolitan city, full of idolatry and sin.  

Notice there the words, “the words“.  This is the authoritative tool of the Savior.  The words need no qualification.  What He speaks is gospel, as the old saying goes.  What He speaks is true and authoritative.  

And these words are “of Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands“.   In chapter 1, the Savior is seen in the midst of the seven golden lampstands and holding the seven stars in His right hand.  (The lampstands are the churches and the stars are the angels/messengers of those churches.)  Here, we see stronger language.  Here, the word translated “holds” is stronger than the word translated “held” in chapter 1.  This one is more of a firm hold, like when Jesus says that no one can take His sheep from His grasp.  

And where He may have been standing in the midst of the lampstands in chapter 1, here it says He is walking.  Walking in activity.  Active involvement among His lampstands.  Jesus is not merely watching from afar like a lifeguard.  He swims in the pool as an instructor.  

So, when He speaks, we listen.  We listen attentively.  We listen humbly.  And when we say, “speaks”, here, we mean from the Bible, the complete and perfect revelation, the one that is living and active, through which He speaks authoritatively.  

So, when we read the Bible, we listen.  When someone preaches from it faithfully, we listen.  When the Holy Spirit brings to mind a passage we know well, we listen.  For it’s not mere words.  It is the words of Him who grasps the seven stars and who walks among the lampstands.  

How to apply the seven stars and lampstands in Revelation 

The book of Revelation, packed with symbolism, can be a challenge to read and apply.  For example, Revelation 1:20 says,

As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. – Revelation 1:20

The Savior explains the vision

Jesus has just instructed John to write what He was about to reveal to him, and to start, He begins to explain the meaning behind what John saw in verses 12 and 16.  It was a “mystery” to John, and now the Savior would explain it. 

The seven stars

Notice that the “seven stars” were in His right hand.  The right hand symbolizes power and authority.  He has power and authority over these seven stars. 

What are these seven stars?  The Savior says, “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches”.  There has been much discussion about what these angels are.  Some think it refers to actual angels, i.e. something like guardian angels.  But it doesn’t make sense that the Lord would rebuke the angels for the church’s misgivings.  Others say that the angels are presbyters or pastors or messengers.  (The word translated “angels” means simply, “messengers”.) 

In any case, the messengers here are representatives of the church, as we see in the fact that the letters written to them coming up in the next couple of chapters is not written to one person, but to the whole church.  But human leaders are accountable, as well, so it would make sense if these messengers were actually elders of the churches.  

The seven lampstands

The Savior says, “…and the seven lampstands are the seven churches”.  So, the stars are the angels of the seven churches and the lampstands are the seven churches themselves.  

But surely there were more than just these seven churches.  And surely Christ had more than just the seven stars in His hand.  

Seven is a number of perfection and completeness, so what likely is going on here is that these seven stars and seven lampstands are representatives of the church as a whole, at the time and throughout church history.  The temptations they faced and the weaknesses they had are not unique to them; we face them even today.  

And so as we review the letters in the coming days, may we not distance ourselves from these seven lampstands.  Instead, we should ask how this book may speak to our churches today.