Monday, March 18
Read: Hebrews 9:1-10
Consider: In the Old Testament—the “first covenant” (9:1)—God planted the seeds of understanding so that his people could get a small glimpse of what was to come. He also did it so that those of us on this side of the resurrection could look back and see God’s great plan of redemption for you and me and all of creation.
Moses was commanded to set up a tabernacle. Solomon would later replace the tabernacle by building the Temple in Jerusalem. Both had an inner room called “the Most Holy Place” (9:3). While the priests offered sacrifices throughout the year in the Holy Place, the Most Holy Place was only entered once a year by the High Priest. There, on the Day of Atonement—Yom Kippur—the High Priest would make a sacrifice for his own sins and a sacrifice for the sins of the people.
That was God’s design. But it was not his ultimate design.
“The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. This is an illustration for the present time…” (9:8-9)
In other words, “the Most Holy Place” wasn’t really the most holy place. That was still to come. And it came in the most unusual manner to a location that didn’t seem holy at all.
“…the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger…” (Luke 2:6-7)
The Most Holy Place is the presence of the Christ. The writer to the Hebrews will later make it clear that the tabernacle with its Most Holy Place was a “sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one…heaven itself” (9:24).
What is heaven? Heaven is the presence of God. Heaven—the true tabernacle—came to us. And with his arrival came our new life—our resurrection.
Pray: “Thank you, Lord, that what was so high came so low. When we could not enter the Most Holy Place, you brought it to us, filling our lives with your presence. Throughout this day, help me to remember that I walk on holy ground as I walk with you.”
Tuesday, March 19
Read: Hebrews 9:11-15
Consider: As we saw yesterday, every year on the Day of Atonement the High Priest would offer sacrifices for his own sins and for the sins of the people. But the writer of Hebrews wants to make something very clear to us. What happened on an annual basis—“again and again” as he put it—has now happened “once for all” (7:27, 9:12, 26, 10:10).
And the once-for-all sacrifice did what no other sacrifice could possibly do.
Even though the High Priest would offer sacrifices—“the blood of goats and calves” (9:12)—those sacrifices would not remove sin and guilt. They couldn’t. They could only point to something greater—something almost too good to be true…
“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (9:24-26)
Did you catch that—“to do away with sin”? I love the way Paul put it when he said that we are no longer “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6) because of what Christ has done.
As we noted at the beginning of Lent, the truths we encounter are too much for us to grasp with our intellects alone. When it comes to Christ’s sacrifice, we can’t force this reality into old paradigms of redemption. In trying to do so, some atonement theories have made God into someone who demanded blood before he would forgive. Don’t let the crucifixion of Christ make God into a monster for you. When you see Christ on the cross, see the crucified God whose very essence is love (1 John 4:8, 16).
As we look toward Good Friday and Easter Sunday, as we take the bread and the wine, and as we consider Christ’s sacrifice, we’re humbled, and we’re overcome with gratitude. This was done for you, for me, for all of creation—once for all!
Pray: Today in your quiet time, try to find words to express your gratitude for what Christ has done. Of course, no words are adequate. But as you verbalize your gratitude, you will experience it anew and afresh. Then try to spend this day in thanksgiving. Whatever comes your way, remember that because of what Jesus has done, you “have passed from death to life” (1 John 3:13).
Wednesday, March 20
Read: Hebrews 10:19-24
Consider: The people of the first covenant viewed the Most Holy Place as the presence of God. As we saw on Monday, it contained some amazing things.
“Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had…the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover.” (9:3-5)
The space between those “cherubim of Glory” was seen as the epicenter of God’s presence. For that reason, the Most Holy Place was a very intimidating place. The people were always aware that God’s glory was so great that a human may not survive being in his presence. Only the High Priest would enter. He would only enter once a year. He would bring a sacrifice. And they always tied a rope around his waist or his ankle, so that in case he didn’t survive God’s presence, he could be dragged out of the Most Holy Place without another mortal having to enter it. No one else would dare to enter.
So, it is shocking that the New Testament writer to the Hebrews proclaims that now “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place” (10:19). How can sinners like us have confidence to enter the presence of a holy God?
The answer is found on Golgotha. As Jesus died, Matthew reminds us of that heavy curtain that separated the Most Holy Place of the Temple from the rest of the world. He said…
“When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Matthew 27:50-51)
That is why, the Hebrew writer says, we have confidence. Because “a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body” (10:20). In his death, Christ obliterated anything and everything that would separate us from God. So now we can “draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience” (10:22).
We don’t bring anything with us. No blood from a sacrifice. No safety rope in case we’re not welcomed. We come with nothing and we are totally accepted because he gave everything.
Pray: With humility, gratitude and confidence, enter the Lord’s presence today. He tore down everything that could separate you from him. If there are any barriers between you and God, they are illusions. Look beyond them and see that you are already accepted and loved beyond your comprehension. With confidence, express your love and gratitude to the One who gave you everything.
Thursday, March 21
Read: Matthew 6:19-24
Consider: This passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is known to most of us. Here he gives us the beautiful image of “storing our treasures” in the right place. While this call to prioritize the eternal over what passes away inspires us, Jesus followed that with the immensely practical statement that we cannot serve two masters. These words are guiding lights for us as we navigate our lives toward his purposes.
But sometimes we miss the other powerful image embedded here. It’s right in the middle of Jesus’ words on treasures and money.
“The eye is the lamp of the body.” (6:22)
Because we often read the Sermon on the Mount in small sections, it can appear to be a series of random thoughts that Jesus shared with the people on that hillside. But Jesus’ statement on the “lamp of the body” was not a digression or a tangent. It was central to what he was teaching about material possessions and priorities.
How we view life matters. Our picture of God determines how we live. Our understanding of Christ’s work liberates us. Our knowledge of the presence of the Holy Spirit empowers us. If your vision is clear, your whole being “will be full of light,” but if your vision is distorted, your life “will be full of darkness” (6:22-23).
Jesus is “the light of the world” (John 9:5). And one of the healings that he repeatedly performed was the opening of eyes that could not see—restoring those who were blind physically and those who walked in spiritual darkness.
During the Lenten Season—these precious forty days—let’s ask God to open our eyes. We may not be blind to God’s love and grace, but perhaps some things have gotten a bit foggy. Life has a way of doing that to us.
While we must earn money, pay bills and deal with important temporal issues, it is easy for life to get a little out of focus concerning the true source of life. While we live in a culture of verbal and physical violence, we can get sucked into a perverted way of viewing righteousness, thinking that to be right is what is most important. In a time when the vulnerable are abused and neglected, we can forget that God became vulnerable for us and died for us rather than killing for us. As the powerful seem to rule the world, we forget that the meek will inherit the earth and the peacemakers are the true children of God (Matthew 5:5, 9).
Lent helps us clean our glasses, wipe the windshield and look again at the magnificence of what God is doing.
Pray: “Lord, I thank you for these moments. You have taught me that time alone with you is essential for keeping my vision clear. As you bring things into focus through the scripture and prayer, teach me to walk through this day with my eyes open. I want to see you and all that you want to show us today.”
Friday, March 22
Read: Matthew 6:22-23
Consider: Part of my spiritual training as a child was learning how to guard my life by guarding my mind. I was taught that it was my responsibility to determine what I would put into my brain and into my soul.
Some people think it’s prudish when we avoid certain movies, books or web sites. But you don’t need a degree in psychology to know that a steady diet of explicit sexual and violent entertainment impacts how a person thinks and acts.
What we take into our lives will fuel our lives. These days I often hear my exasperated friends say, “I’m taking a break from watching the news” or “I’ve got to spend less time with social media.” Our various forms of media have become so coarse, confrontational and combative that we often find it eating away at our values. We see people attacking others with no regard for our inherent dignity as those who are created in God’s image. It takes a toll. Life looks increasingly ugly and hope dissipates. We think we’re seeing reality, when in fact, we’re seeing a distortion of God’s creation. The reality is that God is here. God loves every man, woman and child. God is love. You are existing in that love that is “over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6). But, “if your (spiritual) eyes are bad, your whole being will be full of darkness” and you’ll miss what is around you and in you (Matthew 6:23).
I believe we need to be informed. I think it is important for me to know the conditions and events of our world. I work very hard to keep up on developments around the globe. But I also know that I cannot allow this culture to condition my mind. I need to laugh at the absurdities I see as advertisers tell me what will make me happy. I need to resist our political leaders when they call good evil and call evil good (Isaiah 5:20). I need to understand that I don’t fully understand, thereby helping me have a teachable spirit. In other words, I need discernment and strength to avoid spiritual blindness and keep the hope I have in Christ’s future for me and for all of his creation.
Pray: “Lord, your word instructs us to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23) and you taught us that our spiritual receptors are the gates we must protect. This day I will fix my gaze on you. By doing that, I have confidence that you will give me discernment that will keep hope alive in me. Our world needs your hope lived out in us. Thank you for inviting me to be a source of hope and an agent of grace.”
Saturday, March 23
Read: Matthew 20:29-34
Consider: It seems like such an obvious response. How else would they answer a question like that? The men were blind, and Jesus asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?” (20:32). It sounds like a totally unnecessary question. Was Jesus just making small-talk before he healed them? After all, they were shouting, “Have mercy on us!” (20:30-31).
Actually, it wasn’t a silly question at all. Those men had asked for mercy from a lot of people over the years. Usually the “mercy” they were requesting was money or food. In that day people with any kind of physical limitation were left to beg for help and to rely on the goodness of others. So, asking for mercy was an everyday experience as people passed by them on the road. They asked for food or money or help in getting from one place to another. But I seriously doubt that they ever expected more than that from those they encountered each day. So, Jesus asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Their response showed that they had at least a little insight as to who Jesus was and what he could do, because they answered him saying, “Lord, we want our sight” (20:33).
Early in Jesus’ ministry among us, he went to his hometown and spoke in the synagogue. He described his mission on earth by reading from the prophet Isaiah, including these words…
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim…recovery of sight for the blind…” (Luke 4:18-19, Isaiah 61:1-2)
When I think of the spiritual blindness that Jesus was referring to, I wonder if our healing is dependent on our response to the question Jesus posed to the blind men by the side of the road — “What do you want me to do for you?”
What do I want when it comes to my spiritual blind spots? Do I want to hang on to my opinions? Do I want to embrace my biases and prejudices? Do I want my theology and politics to remain unchanged, only to become more deeply entrenched in my heart and mind? Or do I want to see?
For Christ to do a new thing in my life, I must be open to it. To receive new insight and wisdom, I must desire it. I wonder if today, during this Lenten Season, Jesus is asking me, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Pray: “Lord, I want my sight. I want the perspective on life that you want me to have. If I can begin to see as you see, then I can begin to love as you love.”