So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefor let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.

Hebrews 13: 12, 13

It is amazing the difference that a few feet of distance can make. When the Romans wanted to utilize their ultimate form of torture and public humiliation by way of crucifixion to execute a criminal in Jerusalem, they usually took the convicted person outside of the gates of the city proper in order to carry out that sentence. This process of distancing the crucifixion from the holy city provided a note of acceptability to this barbaric act; so, it kept the temple leaders contented with the appearance of honoring the sacredness of the Jewish capitol city. Yet, in reality, there was nothing honoring or truly thoughtful in the way that a crucifixion was carried out. It was brutal in every aspect of its contemplation and in carrying out its outcome. People died a slow, gruesomely painful, and very public death on those crosses. Their shame was displayed for all of the community to see; yet, the convicted person was taken away and placed outside of the boundary of that same community and its care.

Jesus knew what He was getting into when it came time for Him to go to Jerusalem for that final Passover feast. The Father sent Jesus to a place where confrontation with the leadership of the Jewish temple was inevitable, and Jesus did everything that the Lord’s prophets had set out that the Messiah would do in that time and place. These actions in conjunction with all of the rest of the Lord’s words and deeds that were undertaken while engaging in His short term of public ministry assured that He would be the primary target of the anger and the jealousy that was boiling up in the hearts of those supposedly righteous men. Jesus had already separated Himself from the direction that those in power in His world had taken. He brought love and grace to tortured souls where they tendered control and oppression. Jesus healed the sick and the injured as they complained about the untimely nature of such acts. Jesus provided the heavenly wealth of forgiveness of sin while the religious and governmental leaders sought to drain the threadbare cupboards of those same poor people. 

We live in a world where the safest place to dwell might seem to be found in the center of our cities. At least that safe spot is often found when we move in concert with the culture of our community and as we embrace the tone of its discourse. Yet, Jesus did not do this. He confronted that same form of powerful commentary with the truth that comes from before time and that brings low the mighty and that elevates the oppressed. In our day, we can stand upon that same eternal truth in the form of God’s Word, and this is exactly what followers of Christ should be doing on a daily basis. We are to be a people who deliberately move to a place of dissonance with the tone and the content of our world’s common language when it differs with God’s call to promote peace, to love with generosity, and to provide justice to all people. As we do this, we do move to stand in a place with Jesus that is outside of the safety and the security of the gates of our cultural city. However, in making this journey of faith, we are truly aligning ourselves with Jesus’ heart and will, and we are standing on the holy ground that was consecrated by Christ’s blood of redemption.

You have multiplied, O LORD my God,

   your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;

   none can compare with you!

I will proclaim and tell of them,

   yet they are more than can be told.

Psalm 40: 5

Silenced! Dumbstruck! Overwhelmed! These expressions of the way that David was impacted by the Lord’s engagement with his life are simple and weak in comparison to the actual feelings that must have formed up inside of his heart and mind. God’s grace, mercy, favor, and salvation had been granted to the author on too many occasions for him to not be amazed by it all. Now it seems to have happened again, and David can barely get the words out of his mouth to describe God’s gracious favor; yet, at the same time, he cannot hold his words in, either. He needs to tell the world all about the Lord and give us the details of when, how, and what God has accomplished for the sake of His servant.

So, David speaks out to tell everyone who might listen about the wonders of the Lord. He wants us to understand that God does everything because of His love, and He operates freely in our world because of His sovereignty over all of creation. There is nothing that David or that any of us are involved in that the Lord does not know about, and there is nowhere that we might go where He cannot operate with full knowledge and strength. Additionally, in every instance and upon each occasion that comes about in my journey through life, the Lord has both my best interests and the furtherance of His kingdom in mind and set as objectives. This was true for David, and it has remained so for all of the years that have passed by since. Care, engagement, and participation in the lives of His people have continued to be God’s desire and operating modality, and they are the Lord’s promise to us for all of time to come.

We too can join with David is shouting out praise to God for the way that He loves and cares for us. These shouts are expressions of worship and thanksgiving, and they are also uttered as a means of letting others know that they, too, can be the recipients of this form of eternal grace that does overcome all of the evil in this world. By God’s love, we are forgiven all of our sins, in Christ’s blood we are made eternally clean and proclaimed righteous before God, and through the Spirit’s leading we are granted opportunities to live out the fullest possible expression of our skills, talents, and gifts during the hours that we are granted to dwell upon this earth. As my identity is now found in Christ, so too are my feeble words of praise to God replaced by following the Spirit’s direction as I enter into loving others and caring for and about their needs in ways that would not exist without the Lord’s transformative work upon me. The Lord multiplies His wondrous works and expresses His loving thoughts toward the world through His people; so, let me be a follower that lives for Christ today and through all of those hours of life that God’s grace has granted to me.          

And falling to his knees he cries out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 7: 60

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful acts that is within the realm of human endeavor. This is especially true when the person or people that are being forgiven are guilty of perpetrating wrong against their benefactor. The wrong that was done to Stephen in this event from the history of the church in Jerusalem during those tumultuous times that came about after Jesus was crucified was as great as it can possibly get. For Stephen had been tried and convicted of blasphemy against God and was then taken outside of the city where he was brutally and violently executed by means of stoning. Stoning is a highly personal device for bringing about the torturous murder of a victim. This follower of the Risen Christ used his final breaths in order to speak out forgiveness for the people whose anger was being poured into his flesh by the impact of every jagged rock that impacted with his body.

This example of forgiveness is extreme. Yet, Stephen is doing nothing more than following His Master in this attitude of the heart, mind, and spirit. Remember, Jesus also forgave His executioners from the cross as He was establishing this same grace for all of us for the rest of time. In Christ, we are forgiven; through Christ’s blood, we are baptized into eternity as our universal separation from God and antagonism with the Lord are reconciled as Christ pronounces upon us the innocence that only He deserves. For Stephen to be able to forgive the people in the mob that was taking his life from him required something that came from a source that was far greater than anything that he naturally possessed. This was an act of both his will and of his heart, and it was one that, coming in this final moment of his earthly agony, required strength of body and of spirit that was beyond anything that people are capable of doing from within their own resources.

These words are those of the Spirit within Stephen, and this act of forgiveness is supernatural in its inspiration and in its execution. God forgives us because we have accepted Christ as Savior and Lord of our lives. Christ retains the role and the right to judge all human hearts and to tender this same grace to all that He deems worthy. Out flawed and frail human capacity to so determine who is righteous and which of us is worthy is no longer in play. Thus, we have no other choice than to follow Stephen’s example and to forgive people in all sorts of circumstances and situations. Forgiveness is complex, and it does not necessarily mean that a person is trusted and accepted fully regardless of what they may have done or the attitudes of their hearts and minds. Yet, forgiveness releases us from being responsible for establishing judgement and tendering eternal sanctions upon others; so, it also allows for us to extend Christ’s call to repentance and enter into restoration of relationship with the ones that have offended against us. Forgiveness enters us into the processes of bringing life after death, and this endeavor is Christ’s ultimate mission and our greatest calling as His people.  

In Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.

Ephesians 1: 7

So, here is an admission, and it involves an amazing fact of life that I find personally too true as it is way too frequently my current state of affairs. That is, even after many years of living in a relationship with God through Jesus, I am still in need of redeeming. I seem to find myself stuck up to the axles in mud holes that I should have and certainly could have avoided. Among these slick and slimy places are the situations when I am disagreeable and cause other people pain; and then there is the way that I waste the talents, gifts, and resources that God has blessed me with. What I find even more disturbing is that this list barely scratches the surface of the ways that I continually test the Lord’s redemptive grace.

Yet, He never stops coming to my side with His sleeves rolled up ready to do the heavy work of getting me out of the deep mud of sin. The Lord brings the cleansing of His truth into my life, and He shows me how to move forward with the ability to avoid the old errors. Christ does much more than this, too; for, He doesn’t just take me back to where I was before; instead, the Lord’s view of restoration moves me ever closer to Him and makes me continually more like the God-image bearer that I was created to be.

It is important to remember that the grace of Christ is greater, deeper, and more prevalent than any bad actions or misdeeds that we can ever engage in; also, we need to focus on the fact that God wants to walk with us through this life and that He seeks to bring the sin-healing properties of redemption into each of our lives. Whatever the current state of affairs in your or in my world, Christ’s blood has already paid the price for our admission into the continual presence of God and for our complete acceptance there. We can embrace that fact as our personal reality; then, we are able to start seeking the redemptive changes that will continue to fill our days fully with the sweet aroma of Christ’s righteousness.  

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

Romans 8: 35

It might seem that there are forces at work in our world that want nothing more than to keep people away from being close to God. For things just happen to us, around us, and to those that we care about. It can become relentless at times, and the assault certainly does not ever cease for very long. Paul is speaking to the reality of life as he knew it personally, and he is also warning others about what he observed and anticipated in the lives of others. These cold water in the face words are intended to set us free from the sudden assaults of the unexpected and unanticipated, and they are also here to give assurances to each of us that the things that we are experiencing are normal and are a part of the natural course of life in this world where brokenness and sin are cured only by the blood that Christ has shed for us.

A response to the thoughts that have just been expressed might be to question why I see a form of warning or expectant caution in the Apostle’s words of encouragement here. Paul’s point in this section of Romans 8 is that there is nothing on earth or in the heavens above or in the powers of those who dwell in Hell below that can rip, tear, or pry one of Christ’s own souls from His grasp. Christ holds onto the people who come to Him with both tenacity and overwhelming power. Yet, that long list of forces that are attempting to work their potions of trouble, disbelief, and pain upon Christ followers is, in fact, just a sampler or partial list of all that works against us in this world. The faith that we hold in Christ will be tested over and over again as we go about living, and the more that we exercise this trust in Christ by engaging in doing His will and serving His kingdom, the more that various forces around us will see us as targets to be attacked mercilessly.

So, the assurance that God is providing for us is founded in the nature and the character of His own heart. The Lord not only desires for us to draw near to Him and to enter into a relationship with Him that will be active and alive today and for all of eternity, but He also will do anything that is required to protect our souls and to defend our place in His kingdom of grace and glory. There will be days when it will feel almost irrational for us to continue to cling to faith in Christ and to stay true to His calling to serve God by seeking out Him and His truth and righteousness; yet, those doubts are nothing more than tools that an enemy is using to develop separation from Christ in His people, and these are times when we are called upon to turn the doubts into trust by submitting it all to Christ in prayer, meditation, and the fellowship of His body of faith. In the end, Christ’s love is so deep, so prevalent, and so all pervasive that it is never far from us, and His hands that are placed upon us in loving embrace cannot be pulled or pushed away from us.       

For in him all the. Fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1: 19, 20

 

God created the heavens and the earth with it all existing in a state of peace, and God has promised to restore Creation to that same perfect and unbroken peaceful state. What happens in between those two periods of time is not very peaceful. We are living in that between time, and we experience the restlessness of God’s peace on a daily basis. It happens in our world as forces both great and small collide and cause drama to fill our ears with their rhetoric of angry posturing and hateful name calling. This is the small-time end of the spectrum where anti-peace dwells as the other extreme of this same condition is filled with violence and death as oppression is worked upon people around the globe. All of this mirrors the rebellion that Satan led in Heaven and that he has continued to prosecute here on earth.

 

God answered that heavenly rebellion, and He responds to all of ours in a manner that is fully engaged with bringing about the restoration of our relationship with Him while it brings conclusion to all rebellion and the elimination of all that is broken by sin in our world. The peace that follows this final removal of sin will be won through great effort, and it will come about after a conflict of a type and with intensity that is far greater than any that our world has seen before. Christ’s peace is deep and it is dense, but those who oppose God will not readily or willingly accept it. Although we live in a time where that same peace is available to us through the acceptance of Christ, we can observe daily the tenuous and the fragile nature of peace’s presence in our world as every corner of it has the potential to erupt into a human or a nature caused battleground.

 

The peace that we can know today came about through His sacrifice that was carried out under conditions that were extremely violent. Christ bled so that we could be restored to a form of peaceful intimacy with God that is the perfect expression of God’s heartfelt desire. The Father and Creator of all wants to dwell in close connection with the entirety of His Creation, and He will bring about that renewal of perfection in His own time. Until then, we reside in a world that knows both peace and conflict on an ongoing and a continual basis. So, the peace that Christ has won for us and that He grants to each of His people is a state of being that settles deep into the soul and that fills us with its calm voice and its gift of deep truth. It is often hard to listen and to truly hear these words of grace and love when the loud voice of turmoil and distress is shouting into our ears, but Christ’s hard-earned peace is ours if we will listen as our first priority to Him and to His words of life throughout each and every day.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh.

John 6: 51

 

Jesus’ mostly Jewish audience would have understood the reference that He makes to the manna that God had provided to their ancestors during the forty years of wandering in the desert. That bread provided food for their bodies, but it also decayed and spoiled after each day. Although it was a gift that came out of the eternal, it was short-lived itself. Now God has given us Jesus as the gift of God’s grace and redemption. He provides food for our souls that does not perish. This gift of life is provided even more freely than was the manna, for the manna was given to a specific group of people, and Christ is given to all who believe.

 

During these days on earth Jesus was engaged in teaching the truths of the Father to the small segment of humanity that He was in contact with. Although the numbers of people who He met and engaged with were small, the impact of it all was universal. Jesus was preparing His immediate followers for God’s calling for the rest of their lives during which they would proclaim the truth of the gift of salvation that has come in and through Jesus. In all of this Jesus was living out His own direction from the Father by serving the redemptive intent of God as the essential sacrifice for the sins of the world. Jesus was serving the Father by bringing the message of life to people and by being the bread that we consume in order to live.

 

So, we consume Christ, not by mouth and stomach but rather by surrendering our hearts and minds to God in acceptance of Christ as our Lord and Savior. After we do this we are fully fed by the eternal food of God’s Word and the unceasing presence of His Spirit. This heavenly nourishment grants to us a vitality that feeds our journey through our days with God’s purpose and will. Although our relationship with Christ does secure an eternal place in the presence of God, that is merely the culminating point in this banquet feast that Christ provides to His people. During every hour of each day of our lives we are invited by Christ to eat the bread of life that is His body and to drink the cup of salvation that is His blood so that we are filled up with the life that He gives freely to all who believe. Then we can join in the long line of people who follow Christ by going into our world to bring the message of salvation through Christ to others.