Christ Our Passover

Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened. For our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7).

When we think about Jesus’ death on the cross, we often think of His death in terms of atonement. The Hebrew author makes the parallel in Hebrews 7-10: the old covenant had high priests offering the blood of bulls and goats for sin, and the new covenant has the superior sacrifice based in better promises– Jesus, the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, who offered Himself up for our atonement.

While that is true, it is interesting to note that the Israelite Day of Atonement, also known as Yom Kippur, on the tenth day of the seventh month of the Israelite calendar (Leviticus 23:27). That was the day when the high priest would offer a bull, a ram, and two goats for his own sin and for the sin of the people (Leviticus 16:1-34). But Jesus does not die anywhere near the Day of Atonement. He also is not described as the “Bull of God” or the “Goat of God.” Instead, He dies and is raised again during Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread (Mark 14:1, Luke 22:1; cf. Mark 14-16, Luke 22-24). He is also known as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29). What’s going on here? Is there any symbolism in the timing of Jesus’ death and resurrection? And if bulls and goats were the standard sacrificial animals for atonement, why is Jesus known as the Lamb?

Paul makes it clear that there is symbolism in the timing of Jesus’ death, and he also shows us why Jesus is called the Lamb, when he describes Jesus as “Christ our Passover” in 1 Corinthians 5:7.

The Passover festival takes us back in time to Exodus 11-12 and to the deliverance of the Israelites from the hand of Pharaoh. Pharaoh had been oppressing the Israelites and subjected them to hard, forced labor (Exodus 1). YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, called Moses to be His representative before Pharaoh to deliver Israel out of bondage to fulfill the promise He made to their forefathers (Exodus 2-6). Pharaoh resisted YHWH’s call for Israel’s release, and he and the Egyptians suffered under plagues of the Nile turning to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, death of livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness (Exodus 7-10). Pharaoh still refused to release the Israelites. And then God promised one final plague, and Pharaoh’s hand would then be forced.

The action in the story comes to a screeching halt as God explains what He is about to do and commissions Israel to observe the Passover. It was to be the beginning of the Israelite year– the first month (Exodus 12:1-2). They are to slaughter a male, unblemished lamb a year old on the fourteenth day of the first month, and place the blood on the side-posts and lintel of the doors (Exodus 12:3-7). They are to eat the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, dressed and ready to depart immediately (Exodus 12:7-11). That night YHWH would strike down the firstborn of all of the Egyptians, man and beast, but when His angel would see the blood on the doors of the Israelites, he would pass over those houses and those inside would be spared (Exodus 12:13). Israel would then eat unleavened bread for seven days (Exodus 12:15-20).

This would be a perpetual statute in Israel– they were to annually observe the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:14). The reason why would become evident: this was the time when YHWH delivered Israel out of bondage, bringing them out of Egypt, redeeming them from their captors (Exodus 12:26-27). The Passover and Feast of the Unleavened Bread served as the “Independence Day” of Israel for generations.

So how is it that Jesus is our Passover Lamb? While it is true that Jesus’ death leads to our atonement, that is not the only dimension to His death. Through His death believers are able to be delivered from the bondage of sin and death to become the people of God traveling toward the “promised land” of the resurrection and eternity with God (Romans 8:1-2, 1 Corinthians 6:20, Philippians 3:12-14, Revelation 21:1-22:6). On account of the blood of the Lamb, God passes over the sin of believers, while those who are unbelievers risk suffering condemnation (Romans 5:6-11, 6:20-23, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10). Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, believers are able to celebrate their “independence day”!

Jesus’ death and resurrection represent the fulfillment of the story of Israel, taking place within the context of the liberation of Israel from bondage. Let us praise God for Christ our Passover Lamb and the redemption, Kingdom, and glory that come through Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus the High Priest

Wherefore also [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25).

What is a priest?

It seems like a very easy question, but it might take us a minute. It is a lot easier to describe what a priest does, particularly in the Old Testament, than it is to actually define him. He is the one who offers the sacrifices, maintains the Tabernacle/Temple, and instructs the people (Leviticus). How can all of these be brought together?

We can settle on a fairly basic definition: a priest is a designated man who stands between God and the people. The people bring their sacrifices for God to the Temple; the priests offer them. The priests enter the places the “regular people” cannot go.

In that sense, Jesus, by definition, is the ultimate priest– He is the Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). He stands between God and us in a most powerful way.

The Hebrew author describes Jesus as the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:10) based on the prophecy found in Psalm 110:4. Jesus, like Melchizedek before Him, is both King and Priest (cf. Genesis 14:18, Hebrews 7:1-3), itself an extraordinary matter and responsibility.

Yet Jesus fulfills this task to an extent not seen before. Priests, by virtue of their work, sacrifice animals. They themselves cannot be the sacrifice– in fact, the high priest must first sacrifice for his own sins before he can enter in and make sacrifice on behalf of the people (Leviticus 6:6, 11; Hebrews 7:27). Jesus, on the other hand, offers up Himself, the perfect, unblemished Lamb who can take away the sin of the whole world (John 1:29, Hebrews 7:27-28).

He is able to do this because He was sinless, holy, undefiled, and separate from sinners, but is not really distant– He can sympathize with our weaknesses, having been tempted Himself in all points, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15) and having learned obedience through the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:8).

This ought to leave us breathless, really. A perfect mixture of holiness and humility, righteousness and love, separation and sympathy. Jesus is never sanctimonious, for He upholds the right while being willing to suffer with people, sympathizing with their plight. His ministry is all the more excellent because He was willing to suffer death so that we might be reconciled to God and live (Romans 5:6-11, Hebrews 5:6-9)! Thus Jesus is able to save us to the uttermost, inaugurating a new and superior covenant!

It is immediately apparent that no matter how righteously we might live we will never be anywhere near reaching the perfect ministry of Christ. That high priesthood in the order of Melchizedek is properly suited for One and only One, and we are not Him! We ought to thank God continually for such a perfect and wonderful High Priest!

Nevertheless, in establishing the new covenant and being the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, Jesus changes the nature of priesthood entirely (cf. Hebrews 7-9). Much is often made of the description of all Christians as priests in 1 Peter 2:5, 9, but consider what is being said in those passages. In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter uses many descriptions of physical Israel to describe the spiritual Israel– Christians are as much an “elect race” and “holy nation” as a “royal priesthood.” Furthermore, what do we find in 1 Peter 2:5? Christians are being built up into a holy (spiritual) Temple, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices. And what is that spiritual sacrifice but ourselves (Romans 12:1)? A strange priesthood this is– we are as much the sacrifice as the priest!

This is all because of Jesus’ example. Jesus did not offer up some other person or animal; He offered up Himself, and thus established Himself as the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. The New Testament does not emphasize “priesthood” at all– servants, disciples, brothers and sisters are more appropriate images– but when it does, it focuses on that idea of the priest offering up himself as the sacrifice like Jesus did.

Therefore, as we are able, we do well to follow Jesus’ example. Today He is the only One who stands between God and the people (1 Timothy 2:5); we point to Him to show people the face of God and how to live as redeemed believers made in His image (Genesis 1:27, John 1:18). Our ministry is to offer up ourselves, spiritual sacrifices well-pleasing to God. Let us praise God for and serve our Risen Lord and High Priest!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Messiah: King and Priest

The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent: “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4).

It is important for us to remember that while “Jesus Christ” is used as a name today, it was not always so. His name was Jesus. His title, or His office, is that of Christ– the Messiah. Both words (“Christ” is Greek; “Messiah” from the Hebrew) mean “Anointed One.” David was anointed by Samuel as God’s choice for King of Israel (1 Samuel 16:12-13); his promised Descendant would thus also be anointed (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:17-21). But Aaron, the High Priest, was also anointed by Moses to reach his office (Exodus 30:30, etc.). The image of the two “anointed ones,” one king, one priest, seems to be behind Zechariah 4:11-14. It also seems to have impacted the author of the Damascus Document, writing within the hundred years before Jesus, who seems to speak of two Messiahs– one of Aaron, one for Israel (CD 9b:10, 29, 15:4, 18:7).

It seems that most Israelites in the first century looked forward to the Messiah who would come as king to defeat the Romans and re-establish the glory and power of Israel. Not a few Israelites also sought some kind of divine reformation and restoration of the priesthood and the Temple, imagined by some as a “Messiah from Aaron.” But there does not seem to be the expectation that the Messiah in the line of David would have the concern for ministry or the priesthood that belonged to the Aaronic line. Furthermore, the Jews had recently experienced the reign of priest-kings with the Hasmoneans– but they certainly were not the fulfillment of the predictions of the prophets, since they were not of David and Judah, but from Aaron and Levi!

Then we come to Jesus of Nazareth. He is without a doubt a descendant of David and Judah according to the flesh (Matthew 1:1-17). The throne of His father David is promised to Him (Luke 1:31-33). But in His life He never raises so much as a finger against Rome and its authority. Instead, He preaches a message of the imminent Kingdom of God and dies on a Roman cross– an event His followers understood as the sacrificial offering for the atonement of sin (Matthew 4:17, 23, Romans 5:6-11, Hebrews 9:1-15). He certainly does not fulfill the expectations of the Jews in terms of the rule of the son of David, but He certainly is engaged in functions of ministry, sacrifice, and atonement, the realm generally reserved for Aaron and his descendants.

This challenge was understood by the author of the letter to the Hebrews. He understood that Jesus was of Judah, a tribe concerning which Moses spoke nothing about the priesthood (Hebrews 7:13-14). But he also understood that the Aaronic/Levitical priesthood was imperfect, offering up animals that could not really atone for sin (Hebrews 7:11, 10:4). Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself, however, was perfect, able to atone for any and all sin, and thus speaks of a better ministry, a better mediation, and thus a better priesthood (Hebrews 7:15-28, 1 Timothy 2:5). But how could Jesus be a priest when He was not from Aaron but from David through Judah?

God’s great plan for salvation was predicted before the events took place, and the Hebrew author highlights a psalm of David to demonstrate how Jesus is a priest– Psalm 110.

That this is a “Messianic” psalm, written by David and inspired by the Spirit is without a doubt; Jesus asks the religious leaders about Psalm 110:1 and how David can say that “YHWH said to my lord…” if the Messiah is David’s son (Matthew 22:41-46/Mark 12:35-37/Luke 20:41-44). And then we have the promise in verse 4: God has sworn, and it will not be revoked– David’s Lord would be a priest forever according to the priesthood of Melchizedek?

Who is Melchizedek? We read of him in Genesis 14:18-20, and the Hebrew author describes him in Hebrews 7:1-10. His name means “King of Righteousness,” and he was king of Salem (“peace”; the city is later named Jerusalem) and priest of God Most High. Abraham gives him a tithe of everything carried back from the victory over the foreign kings, and the Hebrew author points out that thus Levi and the Levites, still in the “loins of Abraham,” gave tithes to Melchizedek. He did not receive his position as priest by genealogy or nepotism, and in him the roles of king and priest were truly intertwined.

Even if the Jews believed that there would have to either be two Messiahs or that the Messiah would focus entirely on his role as King of Israel, David in the Spirit knew better– the Messiah would mean the end of the old system (cf. Hebrews 7:12). The Messiah would be King, yes, but also a priest in the order of Melchizedek. The Messiah would be the King of Righteousness over the City of Peace (cf. Isaiah 61:1-4, Hebrews 12:22-24, Revelation 21:1-22:6). He would accomplish this through His priesthood– the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, providing Himself as the perfect offering, a ministry in every way superior to what came before (cf. Hebrews 7:11-28).

There would be only one Messiah, and He would provide the satisfaction for everything. Yes, He would reign as King, but only after He accomplished His ministry and His priesthood on the cross. In the resurrection He receives the authority and the throne promised Him, and the message of the prophets is satisfied. Let us praise God for Jesus the Christ, King of Righteousness over the City of Peace, High Priest, our Advocate!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Lamb

On the morrow he seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, “Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

Generally, when we think about lambs, we are not filled with fear or respect. We would perhaps consider them “cute” or something of the sort. We would think of a young and vulnerable animal, perhaps not the smartest, yet, above all things, harmless and innocent.

Therefore, there are good reasons why you do not see many high schools or colleges whose mascot is a lamb. The designation would be either ironic or all too appropriate. It is also a term that is generally not used to describe another person. You rarely hear someone who has been given the nickname “Lamb.” Even if such a one were to exist, he would not be someone whom you would fear!

Yet John the Baptist, on seeing Jesus, speaks of Him as the “Lamb.” Why would John say such a thing? Is it an insult? What is he trying to communicate?

While we may think of lambs as cute, young, harmless, and the like, an ancient Israelite would have added to all those things “a sacrifice.” Lambs were offered as sacrifices to God even in the days of Abraham (cf. Genesis 22:7-8). In order to mark out Israelite houses, God commanded Israel to sacrifice lambs and use their blood to mark the lintel and the side posts during the Passover (cf. Exodus 12:3-5). Lambs were the perpetual daily sacrifices for atonement (cf. Exodus 29:38-42). Lambs were sufficient sacrifices for sin and trespass offerings (cf. Leviticus 4:32, 5:6).

Yet why the poor lamb? What did it ever do to deserve such a fate? Absolutely nothing– and that was the point. As elaborated in Leviticus 17:11, the life of an animal was in its blood, and animals were offered on the altar in order to atone for the sins of the one sacrificing. The penalty for sin was death (cf. Genesis 3:3, Romans 6:23). For the penalty to be paid, something had to die– and in the old covenant, the innocent lamb was the one who paid the penalty.

This is the background behind John’s statement. By signifying that Jesus is the “Lamb of God,” John forecasts His life and death. Jesus, as the Lamb, would be sinless and innocent (cf. Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 2:21-22). Through His death on the cross He was able to take away the sin of the world– to be the sinless, innocent Life that would atone for all the guilty who believed in Him (cf. Matthew 20:25-28, Romans 5:5-11, 2 Corinthians 5:20).

The blood of lambs, in truth, could not take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). God passed over the sins of the righteous of old, looking forward to the propitiation that came through the obedience of Jesus the true Lamb of God (cf. Romans 3:25, Hebrews 5:7-10). In so doing Jesus broke down the barriers between Jew and Gentile and all people, allowing all to be cleansed of sin and reconciled to God through His blood (Ephesians 2:11-18).

We again see Jesus as the Lamb in Revelation 5:6-14, the One worthy to open the seven seals. The Lamb receives power and honor and glory for His life, death, and resurrection.

Therefore it is important for us to remember that Jesus, the Lamb of God, was not just a sacrifice– He was humble, meek, and lowly, One from whom you would not derive a mascot (cf. Matthew 11:28-30). His way is not the way of the world, but the way of love, humility, and service (Matthew 20:25-28). In order to be His disciple we must also become sacrifices, albeit living ones (Romans 12:1), and we must develop the humility and disposition of a servant as did our Lord (cf. John 13:1-17, Philippians 2:1-11).

The Lamb gave His life so that we could have abundant life, both here and in the hereafter. If we seek to obtain that life, we must give up our own lives and follow the ways of the Lamb of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The End of the Beginning

And the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them (Genesis 2:1).

When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished”: and he bowed his head, and gave up his spirit (John 19:30).

We humans seem to be hard-wired for stories. We like stories with beginnings and endings. We often feel cheated or in despair when we engross ourselves in a story that may not have much of a beginning and provides little, if any, resolution in the end.

As readers or hearers we try to be expecting the “beginning of the end” of a story. But what about the end of the beginning?

The end of the beginning is the moment of great hope in a story. In some way, the reader or listener is now introduced to the main characters and/or theme. Possibilities here abound; soon enough, the story will be fixed into a given channel toward its ultimate end.

We have that pause at the “end of the beginning” of the creation. In six days God created all that exists– He provided the beginning for everything (cf. Genesis 1:1-31). The sixth day was the culmination of creation– the creatures of the land and the man and woman in God’s image (Genesis 1:24-31). The possibilities abounded. God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:1-3), and soon enough the story of His creation would unfold.

And then, in a darker semblance, we have the “end of the beginning” with the death of Jesus the Son of God. Jesus had been active in His earthly ministry, healing the sick, casting out demons, and proclaiming the message of the upcoming Kingdom (cf. Matthew 4:23-24). He did this for approximately three years. Over a six day period Jesus was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, teaching about the Kingdom while the hopes and dreams of Israel burst forth (cf. Matthew 21-27). The culmination of His time in Jerusalem and His entire ministry came again on the sixth day– scourging, a crown of thorns, derision and mockery, and ultimately death on a cross (Matthew 27:1-50, etc.). And then, on the seventh day, God the Son rested (Luke 23:56).

While there is some controversy over the day of Jesus’ death, the evidence from Luke 23:54-56 and John 19:31 provide strong indications that Jesus did indeed die on what has often been called “Good Friday.” In the Jewish calendar, Friday (really Thursday sunset to Friday sunset) is the sixth day of the week. God created the heavens and earth in six days, with the creation of humans on the sixth day, and rested on the seventh (cf. Genesis 1:1-2:3); Jesus completed His task of fulfilling the Law and the prophets and reconciling God and man on the sixth day (John 19:1-30). In each case, we have the end of the beginning.

Since God rested on the seventh day, so Israel was commanded to rest on the seventh day (cf. Exodus 20:10-11). It should not be surprising to us that the full day of Jesus’ rest in the tomb would be on such a Sabbath.

But then the sun would rise on a new week, the first day of the week. In Genesis this meant the real beginning of God’s Lordship over His newly-formed creation; He would not again be active in the work of creation, but He would rule over what is His and seek its best interest.

God’s reign over the creation continued as it were week after week, year after year, millennium after millennium, until that fateful Passover week in 30 CE. When the sun arose on the first day of the week after Jesus’ death, the end of the beginning had its full consummation: Jesus had been raised from the dead in power by God, now to rule over the heavens and earth as Lord (Matthew 28:1-18).

While it may have seemed as if nothing had changed in the way that the world operates, in reality, everything had just changed. In many respects, it was the “eighth” day of the week: a breaking out from the old paradigm and the beginning of a new creation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17). The Kingdom and Reign of God was coming to earth through those who would follow Jesus Christ. As the Resurrected Lord, He represents the firstfruits, the basis of the hope and expectation we all share in Him for resurrection and rebirth (cf. Romans 8:17-25, 1 Corinthians 15:1-58). Jesus’ followers would no longer rest on the seventh day, for the work of God in advancing the Kingdom and bringing in the new creation is not satisfied until we obtain the resurrection (Hebrews 4:1-11). Our greatest loyalty is to the new creation, not the old, and thus Christians came together– and should still come together– on the first day of the week, commemorating the end of the new beginning: remembering the death of the Lord on the day when He arose (Matthew 28:1-10, Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

God has told us the beginning of the story of creation, and He has forecast for us the picture of the end (cf. Matthew 25:1-46, Revelation 21:1-22:6). Those who are willing and obedient will obtain the ultimate reconciliation with God (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Revelation 21:1-22:6). In doing so, according to God’s most profound story, believers will find themselves back at the end of the original beginning thanks to the end of the new beginning– man living in full association with God as in the Garden (cf. Genesis 2:4-24, Revelation 21:1-22:6), all thanks to the reconciliation that was made possible through Jesus’ death on the cross (Romans 5:5-11) and the new life that is found in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-57).

We have heard the story of the beginning, both old and new; the beginning has ended, the end may be upon us soon. Our lives, physical and spiritual, are sustained by the beginning of the stories and the end of those beginnings. Let us participate in God’s story so that we may obtain life in the end, be reconciled to God, and enjoy eternal life in the Son!

Ethan R. Longhenry

A Living Sacrifice

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service (Romans 12:1).

One of the hallmarks of ancient religion, both Israelite and pagan, was animal sacrifice. Jerusalem, Corinth, Rome, and every other city that had a temple of any sort within its walls would see hundreds, if not thousands, of animals brought in to be slaughtered before God or an idol to make propitiation for misdeeds or to make requests.

Therefore, everyone in Rome would understand what sacrifices were, whether they came from Jewish or pagan origins. What Paul is saying would have been abundantly clear.

Romans 12:1 represents, in large part, the sweeping conclusion to the body of theology expressed in Romans 1-11. Since all of us have sinned but have received reconciliation with God through obedient faith in Jesus Christ, and since God has brought both Jew and Gentile into one body, we are all now to become living sacrifices for God!

We are able to do this by God’s mercies. Even though we deserved condemnation (Romans 6:23), God sent His Son to die for the ungodly, allowing our reconciliation (Romans 5:5-11). We do not become living sacrifices in order to earn salvation, for we could never do such a thing. Instead, we become living sacrifices as a response to the mercies God has abundantly provided for us.

But this is certainly not a “do-nothing” scenario. God does not take us despite our will and offer us up on an altar like humans would do with a lamb or ewe. We must submit ourselves as the sacrifice!

We must recognize that becoming a “living sacrifice” is complete. The sacrificed animal does not give only part of its life up on the altar; it gives up everything. In order to secure our salvation Jesus Christ gave everything up for that purpose (Matthew 20:25-28). If we are going to be living sacrifices we must submit to God in all things– our will, our thoughts, our hearts, and our actions– and be willing to suffer the loss of anything and everything, even our own lives (Matthew 10:37-39, Galatians 2:20, 1 John 3:16). As sacrifices we must be holy– set apart and consecrated, reflecting the image of God in our lives (1 Peter 1:16; Galatians 5:17-24, Romans 8:1-11).

There is one major distinction between animal sacrifices and our sacrifice. Once one offers an animal as a sacrifice to God, that animal is dead and done. It cannot be again offered to God in a respectable way. We, however, are to be “living” sacrifices. It is not that we are going to be killed, although circumstances may demand it. Instead Paul wants us to understand that when we offer ourselves as a sacrifice to God it is not merely a one-time thing. It must be continual– we must perpetually place ourselves on that altar and offer ourselves up to God. It will only end when we are no longer living in the flesh (cf. 2 Timothy 4:6-8)!

When we present ourselves to God as a living and holy sacrifice, submitting our will to His, seeking to do the good and shun the evil, we are acceptable to God. This is reckoned as our “spiritual service.” As the priests and Levites officiated and ministered before God in the Tabernacle or Temple and thus served Him, so Christians minister before God when they offer themselves as living sacrifices (cf. Romans 9:4, 1 Peter 2:5-9). This service is “spiritual,” which in Greek literally refers to that which is reasonable. Since God has offered up so many sacrifices for us, it is quite reasonable for us to offer ourselves up for Him (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). Since God’s service has been designed to give us spiritual life, so that reasonable service is spiritual (John 3:16, 5:26, 6:27).

Animal sacrifices are not nearly as prevalent today as they were in the past, and much of that has to do with the teachings of Christianity. We no longer offer up sacrifices for sin because Jesus was that sacrifice on our behalf (Hebrews 10:4-14), and we no longer offer up any other form of animal sacrifices because we must offer ourselves up as a living and holy sacrifice before God. We must suffer the loss of our own will, our own desires, how we would like to think and feel and act, and instead submit to God’s will, God’s desires, and how God would have us think and feel and act. In order to have life in Jesus Christ it must no longer be our will, but God’s will be done. Let us be the living sacrifices we ought to be to the praise and glory of God through Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jephthah’s Vow

And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, “If thou wilt indeed deliver the children of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth from the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, it shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt-offering” (Judges 11:30-31).

The vow certainly seemed to be a good idea at the time.

The Israelites were suffering under the oppression of the Ammonites. Jephthah was certainly not the first choice– the son of a prostitute (Judges 11:1), and now a gang leader (Judges 11:3)– but he’s the one that the Gileadites beg to help them defeat Ammon. If he is victorious, he will rule over Gilead. If he is defeated, he will bear ignominy and shame if not death! Thus he makes his vow, in all seriousness, to God. If he is granted victory, whatever comes out to greet him will become a burnt offering to God– a princely sacrifice indeed!

Yet Jephthah’s vow is a tragic one. He was, no doubt, expecting an ox, a sheep, or a goat to meet him first. The LORD grants him a mighty victory (Judges 11:32-33). But, as Jephthah comes home, his daughter– his only child– comes out to meet him (Judges 11:34). The text then indicates that she mourns for her virginity for two months and that Jephthah then “did with her according to his vow which he had vowed” (Judges 11:35-39). He had paid his vow. He offered up his daughter as a burnt offering.

People today recoil at this story. How gruesome! How terrible! Many wish to soften the story by declaring that Jephthah really didn’t sacrifice her, pointing out that God condemned human sacrifice, and saying that she was just left a virgin. While it is true that God does not demand human sacrifice and would not have commanded Jephthah to offer such a sacrifice, the text is pretty clear. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for his daughter to mourn her virginity for two months if she will be mourning it the rest of her life beyond that. And the text does say that he did to her according to his vow– and his vow was to offer up whatever met him as a burnt offering. The Judges author is describing the events that took place in the days of the Judges– he’s not necessarily condoning them.

Nevertheless, we rightly recoil at the horror of this story. The tragedy is that it was all very avoidable. The problem was not with Jephthah making a vow, or the victory the LORD gave him, or with his daughter coming to meet him. The problem was with the specific vow that Jephthah made. He was operating under a certain set of assumptions and did not factor other circumstances into those assumptions. Had the thought crossed his mind that it would be his only child that would come to meet him first, he would never have made that vow the way that he did!

Jephthah’s vow should be a great reminder for us about the power of words. As it is written,

Death and life are in the power of the tongue; And they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof (Proverbs 18:21).

And I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned (Matthew 12:36-37).

We have all, at some point or another, spoken casually, not really thinking about the whole range of consequences of what we have said. We may feel blindsided when the unintended consequences of our words come back to us and we realize that we have “put our foot in our mouths,” so to speak. Hopefully our words will not cause the same type of devastation as Jephthah’s did– but we will be called into account for everything we say.

Vows to God were serious business, serious enough that Jephthah considered it worse to break his vow than to offer his daughter as a burnt offering. Words, despite how easily they may flow off our tongue, are serious business, and life and death may even hang in the balance. Let us learn from the tragic story of Jephthah and his daughter, and be circumspect about how we speak!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Real Giving

And he looked up, and saw the rich men that were casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites.
And he said, “Of a truth I say unto you, This poor widow cast in more than they all: for all these did of their superfluity cast in unto the gifts; but she of her want did cast in all the living that she had” (Luke 21:1-4).

It is easy for us humans to be enraptured by numbers; it is less easy to get excited about proportions. We tend to put much more value on the numbers than on the proportions.

The treasury box was placed in the Temple so that Jews could leave their financial gifts to provide for the sacrifices, incense, and other such things for the Temple.

Most observers on that spring day in 30 CE would have appreciated all of the gifts of the rich. They were, no doubt, putting in plenty of shekels or denarii to keep the incense burning and the animals on the altar. A widow bringing a couple of lepta would be completely forgotten in the process. After all, what can approximately 23 cents (a rough approximation, in modern money, of the value of two lepta) buy?

According to a worldly perspective, Jesus’ comment is truly laughable. This widow, with her 23 cents, put in more than all of the rich people with their hundreds of dollars? In what universe is 23 cents worth more than hundreds of dollars? If the ministers of the Temple depended on 23 cents as the greatest of contributions, how would they be able to keep up the incense and sacrifices?

But Jesus is not speaking about numbers. His concern is far greater– He focuses on the proportion and the faith.

Jesus would not deny that, in numerical terms, the rich men were putting in more money. But the rich people would go back to their homes with plenty of resources. They would have a nice bed and a good meal and plenty else. They did not really miss the money that they put in the offering box. It was above and beyond their real need. It was not, in any meaningful definition of the word, a sacrifice for them.

The widow has an entirely different story. Those two mites are all that she has. She does not really have a home to which to return. She does not have good food to eat. There is nothing else. The two mites are all that she has. And she proves willing to give them in faith to God for incense and sacrifices. She, truly, has sacrificed!

Today we would entirely understand if someone who was in such deep poverty as this widow were to use his or her meager resources for themselves. But this widow was willing to really trust in God. She was willing to put everything she had on the line and trusted that God would provide for her needs. She truly put God first and foremost in her life in a way that very few of us would ever completely understand!

The odds are that most of us fall somewhere in between the rich people and the poor widow– we do not have a ton of money that we can give without suffering some kind of loss, but we are not on our last dollar, either. We should not conclude from this story that we must give every last penny to Jesus– instead, we are to gain from the story that while we humans may be more enamored with numbers than proportion, God is far more concerned with proportion than number. For some, $20 is giving sacrificially. For others, $20 is a lot like the rich people and their gifts– not something that will be missed. But 20% for most anyone would be a significant loss, let alone 30, 40, or even 60%!

As believers we must give to God and those in need as God has bountifully given to us and with a cheerful heart (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1-3, 2 Corinthians 9:6-11). When we give, let us consider the example of the poor widow and Jesus’ important lesson: we cannot fool God with numbers. He knows the heart, and He knows the proportion. As God has suffered the loss of so much for us, let us also be willing to sacrifice for God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Righteousness, Peace, and Joy in the Holy Spirit

Let not then your good be evil spoken of: for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:16-17).

God desires for all who believe in the name of Jesus to be one (John 17:20-23) and to have the same mind and the same judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10). In order even to begin this process we must all submit ourselves under God’s mighty hand and to be instructed by Him and not the world around us (1 Peter 5:6, Colossians 2:1-9, Romans 12:1-2). And yet, even though we are to be of the same mind and the same judgment, there are matters concerning which God has provided liberty and are not of significant concern. In matters relating to the faith, we must hold firm and not compromise (Galatians 1:6-9). In matters of liberty, we must consider the interests of others and resolve to not put a stumbling block in a fellow Christian’s way (Philippians 2:1-4, Romans 14:13).

This is why the message of Romans 14:17 is so essential: we must use proper judgment to discern the matters of “eating and drinking” so as to not violate or grieve the “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

“Eating and drinking” are the matters of liberty– in context, the eating of meats (Romans 14:2). Observing days is a similar issue that is mentioned, demonstrating that we should not interpret “eating and drinking” exclusively literally (cf. Romans 14:5). These liberties involve practices or means of accomplishing practices that are within the realm of Biblical authority (Colossians 3:17) and yet for which God has not made specific provision.

“Eating and drinking” is contrasted with “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The Kingdom of God is not about the former, but it certainly is about the latter.

“Righteousness in the Holy Spirit” involves that which God has established– doing what God has determined is right, and avoiding that which God has determined is wrong (Romans 12:9). There can be no room for compromising these standards– those who approve what God condemns or condemns what God approves are considered accursed (Galatians 1:6-9, 5:19-21). To believe that Romans 14 can provide “flexibility” in God’s standards of righteousness is misguided and certainly not Paul’s intent. The matters concerning which Paul speaks in Romans 14 are the matters of “food and drink” which are not to hinder the Kingdom of God. If God says we must do something, we must do it. if God says we must avoid something, we must avoid it.

Paul does not stop there. He also speaks of the “peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Peace is not merely the absence of hostility or strife– it involves killing hostility (cf. Ephesians 2:15-17). To have peace requires each person to seek the best interest of others and not themselves, and to work to build up– even if one’s personal preference must be sacrificed (Philippians 2:1-4, Romans 14:19). We must remember that in order for us to have the peace that surpasses understanding and to be reconciled to God, Jesus needed to kill the enmity through suffering and enduring the cross (Ephesians 2:11-18). If we will have peace in the Kingdom, we are going to have to suffer and endure (cf. Romans 8:17-18, 15:1)!

“Joy in the Holy Spirit” is based in our great salvation that God is accomplishing (cf. 1 Peter 1:3-9). There is joy when people repent and do what is right (Luke 15:7). There is joy when we walk in the truth (3 John 1:4). We are to take joy and happiness in one another and the encouragement we derive from one another in our walk of faith (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:19, Hebrews 10:24-25). In Philippians 2:2-4, Paul tells us exactly how we can make the joy of God complete: to be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind, doing nothing out of rivalry, considering everyone better than themselves, looking toward the interests of others. This is the happiness we can have in the Spirit!

While we have examined righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit separately, it only works when all three are present. The Kingdom requires not just the righteousness of the Holy Spirit– peace and joy in the Spirit must also be present.

“Eating and drinking” may not violate the righteousness in the Holy Spirit, but if people insist on their liberties to the detriment of the consciences of their fellow Christians, or if Christians vigorously condemn fellow Christians for matters of liberty and not on the basis of revealed truth, the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit is violated, no matter how “right” or “legitimate” the doctrinal position.

God is not merely concerned about truth– He is also concerned about people (1 Timothy 2:4). We are to be known as Jesus’ disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35), and biting and devouring one another on the basis of liberties does not reflect that love (cf. Galatians 5:15).

We must hold firm to the truth and proclaim it to all men, embodying the righteousness of the Holy Spirit. But we must also work to kill any hostility that may exist among us and to seek the best interest of one another and to share in the peace and joy in the Spirit– and that is going to mean that we are going to have to sacrifice some personal opinions, desires, and liberties for the sake of one another. Let us seek to uphold the righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, building up the Kingdom, and glorify God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Mercy, not Sacrifice

“But if ye had known what this meaneth, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ ye would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 12:7).

The Pharisees have come out again and have attempted to condemn Jesus and His disciples for violating their strictures regarding the Sabbath. Jesus stands against them because they have entirely missed the purpose of the Sabbath on account of their legalistic perspective.

He charges them with not understanding Samuel’s utterance to Saul in 1 Samuel 15:22, a message also seen in Hosea 6:6, Isaiah 1:11-20, and Jeremiah 6:19-20. This message strikes at the heart of what it means to be a true servant of God versus just going through the motions.

In all of those Old Testament contexts, the people of God were providing the sacrifices which God commanded for them to provide in the Law (cf. Leviticus). Yet God would not accept them. It was not a matter of the technical requirements, as if the sacrifices were themselves offered improperly. God rejected them because the sacrifices were not consistent with the rest of their lives. Sure, they would sacrifice to God, but they were not obeying God otherwise! Saul had brought all kinds of animals to sacrifice for God when God told him to devote Amalek to the ban. The Israelites in the days of Hosea, Isaiah, and Jeremiah brought their requisite offerings yet were also serving idols, committing oppressions and violence in the land, and not following the LORD as commanded.

These Pharisees were doing the same thing. They went to great lengths to understand the Book yet did not actually practice much of what was in it. They devised a series of all kinds of guidelines to keep people from violating the Law– a veritable “fence around the Torah”– and in the process missed its most essential commands (cf. Matthew 23:23-24). Even though they did not commit the exact same sins as their forebears, they fell under the same condemnation!

These are strong warnings for us today. It is good to know what the Bible teaches and to do all one can in order to avoid sin (cf. 2 Peter 3:18, Romans 12:9). On the other hand, Christianity is more than just an intellectual exercise, and its core message discourages any attempt at self-righteousness or sanctimony (James 1:22-25, Luke 18:9-14).

We cannot pride ourselves in having all the details of certain elements of our service to God entirely figured out and then miss the whole of the message. If we assemble with the saints and do all things according to God’s purposes, well and good (Hebrews 10:24-25). But we are to show love, mercy, and compassion to all men at all times, and to serve God as fervently outside of the assembly as we do among the saints (Romans 12:1-2, Galatians 5:22-24). Even if we have great knowledge of the Book, we have no reason to be high on ourselves: we remain profitless servants doing only what is our duty when we learn God’s will and apply it (Luke 17:7-10). In the end, no matter how “righteous” we are, no matter how “mature” in the faith, we must remain humble servants of our Lord, encouraging all men to come to the knowledge of the truth in love, confessing that we are not the judges but our Lord will judge everyone on the last day (Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 7:1-5, James 4:12, Ephesians 2:1-10, 4:11-16).

Let none be deceived: if you assemble with the saints but do not otherwise accomplish God’s will, God will reject your “sacrifice.” If you strive diligently to obey God in the areas of life in which it is convenient, but refuse to repent in the more challenging aspects of the faith, God will reject your “sacrifice.” If you understand God’s Word well and seek to apply it in your life yet you look down on your fellow man and consider yourself better than they, God will reject your “sacrifice.” It is only when we remember our place and completely give ourselves over to the Lord Jesus Christ that our sacrifices will be pleasing to God (Romans 12:1, Hebrews 13:15)! Let us both show mercy and provide sacrifice, and be pleasing to our Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry