We like sheep

I got ahead of myself. Yesterday, the verse for the day were two out of Isaiah 53 and becuase it’s such an awesome chapter, I went ahead and posted the whole thing. So . . . guess what the verses for today are?

Yep.

Isaiah 53:5-6

 5 But he was pierced for our rebellion,
      crushed for our sins.
   He was beaten so we could be whole.
      He was whipped so we could be healed.
 6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
      We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
   Yet the Lord laid on him
      the sins of us all.

I always found it interesting how this verse refers to people as sheep. That won’t mean anything to anyone unless you’ve raised sheep.

Sheep are the dumbest animals alive. I’m telling you, they’re on the level of turkeys who look up during a rainstorm and drown. We had sheep grazing on our property for a number of years, and for two years I raised market lambs for 4-H. So I have a little bit of experience with them, and what experience I have has taught me a lot about why the Bible calls us sheep.

And it’s not a compliment.

Yes, lambs are cute and cuddly, but like most other farm-type critters, they grow up and they’re not cute and cuddly anymore and they’re just a headache.

For example, if we knew we were going to be out of town for a day or two, we had to get our neighbor to help us feed them because if you put extra food in their stall to sustain them while you were gone, they wouldn’t stop eating it. It’s like they have no “I’m full” switch in their brain. So they’ll gorge themselves, literally eat themselves to death.

My sheep actually almost did that too at the fair one year. We had set their feed bag too close to their stall, and they’d chewed into it and eaten most of what was in there.

Similarly, you have to mix salt in with their food instead of giving them a salt lick because they’ll gnaw holes in their teeth.

And it doesn’t matter what the situation is, if you have six sheep and a tiny little door they will all try to run through the door at the same time.

I’ve seen them stampede each other for no apparent reason. I’ve seen them freak over something that was going to help them and cause damage in their panic.

So . . . . how much of this sounds like us?

How many of us are so undisciplined that we gorge ourselves? And not necessarily on food. There are other things we shouldn’t have too much of . . . even if they’re good for us. How many of us do things we know we’re not supposed to do? How many of us do things that hurt us even though we know it will hurt us? How many times have we caved to the herd mentality and followed someone even though that person didn’t have a clue what he/she was doing and usually ended up making decisions that damaged everyone?

I know I’ve been there.

The Bible calls us sheep. There are other instances in the New Testment where Jesus also compares us to sheep. I can’t remember the reference, but it’s spoken in a good way. About His sheep knowing His voice. That’s the difference between shepherding in the Eastern World and in the Western World. In the U.S., we herd sheep and demand that they follow us; in the Middle East, the sheep follow their shepherds.

But in this context in Isaiah, being a sheep isn’t a good thing. It’s the epitome of rebellion by stupidity. All sheep have a shepherd, and the shepherd takes care of His sheep. That’s what shepherds do. But sheep are stupid and they want to do things their own way, even though any thinking sheep could see (if sheep could think) that following the shepherd makes sense. So what happens? Sheep wander off. They stray. They take off down a path that they think is the best option for them, and they end up in trouble.

Jesus tells a story about how the shepherd goes and gets the sheep that’s wandered off and brings it back to the fold. But this statement in Isaiah is different. It’s not about the shepherd and his work to rescue a sheep. It’s about the punishment that the shepherd endures because his flock is stupid.

All of us are like sheep. Not one of us has actually stayed on God’s path, and for that reason, Jesus accepted punishment. We’re the ones who made the mistake, but He was the One who paid for it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be like a sheep. I’ve worked with them enough to have little respect for them. Cute and cuddly will only get you so far when you’re dumber than a post.

So the next time I’m tempted to go off on my own — to do something I know God has said is wrong or not good for me — I’m going to think about those sheep all trying to cram through one tiny little door. Finding sheep who act stupid is easy. Finding a sheep that actually keeps following his shepherd when it has the opportunity to run away? That’s unusual.

Isaiah 53

Today’s verses are one of the most beautiful sets of verses in all of Scripture. It’s probably fitting since we’re coming up on Easter.

I don’t want to clutter these verses up with commentary, so I’m going to keep it brief.

Isaiah 53:3-4

3 He was despised and rejected—
      a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
   We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
      He was despised, and we did not care.

 4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
      it was our sorrows[a] that weighed him down.
   And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
      a punishment for his own sins!

Yes, this is about Jesus. And, yes, it’s in the Old Testament, which was written centuries and centuries before Jesus was even born. Like Genesis 3:15 or Psalm 22, it’s talking about something that hadn’t happened. And sometimes I wonder if the people of the day realized what this was when they read it. That it was talking about the Person who was coming to save us all.

I don’t think I have anything to add that’s going to make this clearer. What more is there to say? Jesus suffered, and we figured He was simply being punished for something He had done, when in reality He was being tormented for everything wrong I’ve ever done.

If you have time (and even if you don’t) you should read all of Isaiah 53. Actually . . . here it is. You should read it:

1 Who has believed our message?
      To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?
 2 My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
      like a root in dry ground.
   There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
      nothing to attract us to him.
 3 He was despised and rejected—
      a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
   We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
      He was despised, and we did not care.

 4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
      it was our sorrows[a] that weighed him down.
   And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
      a punishment for his own sins!
 5 But he was pierced for our rebellion,
      crushed for our sins.
   He was beaten so we could be whole.
      He was whipped so we could be healed.
 6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
      We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
   Yet the Lord laid on him
      the sins of us all.

 7 He was oppressed and treated harshly,
      yet he never said a word.
   He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
      And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
      he did not open his mouth.
 8 Unjustly condemned,
      he was led away.[b]
   No one cared that he died without descendants,
      that his life was cut short in midstream.[c]
   But he was struck down
      for the rebellion of my people.
 9 He had done no wrong
      and had never deceived anyone.
   But he was buried like a criminal;
      he was put in a rich man’s grave.

 10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
      and cause him grief.
   Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
      he will have many descendants.
   He will enjoy a long life,
      and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
 11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
      he will be satisfied.
   And because of his experience,
      my righteous servant will make it possible
   for many to be counted righteous,
      for he will bear all their sins.
 12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
      because he exposed himself to death.
   He was counted among the rebels.
      He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

I can’t say it any better than that. This is grace. And it’s love. And I don’t deserve it. But I’m so thankful for it.

Scapegoat

Have you ever gotten in trouble for something that you didn’t do? Or have you ever taken the blame for someone else’s mistake? I’ve been there before, and it’s not much fun. You feel cheated. Or, at least, that’s what I feel when things like that happen. But I also don’t have any good feelings for the people who should be punished. In fact, I usually get downright angry at them, mostly because I feel like they should step up and claim responsibility for their own stupid mistake so I don’t have to pay for it.

This is what I thought about when I read today’s verse.

2 Corinthians 5:21

21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin,[a] so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

Wow.

Just think about that for a moment.

First off, Jesus never sinned. Not once. Some people have a hard time beliving that. Heck, I have a hard time believing it sometimes too. But that’s what the Bible says, and so I believe it. I don’t understand it, but do you want a God you can understand? I don’t.

Jesus never sinned. He was tempted. But it’s not a sin to be tempted.

So, Jesus never sinned. He was perfect. He never did anything wrong. He always did the right thing. He loved people who didn’t deserve to be loved with no expectation of recompense. He healed the sick and brought the dead back to life and never asked for anything in return (other than faith). He was a friend to the friendless, hope to the hopeless, a light in the darkness. And the people turned on Him and killed Him.

Now, there’s no point in discussing who killed Jesus because we all did. It might have been the religious leaders at the time who convinced the people into turning against Him. It might have been the Romans who nailed Him to the cross. But no one could kill Jesus unless He let them. Jesus went willingly for a reason, and that reason was to make a way for us to have a relationship with God through His death. So if you want to point fingers at who killed Jesus, look in the mirror.

Jesus, who had never done anything wrong, was punished for me.

I love people, but I don’t know if I love anyone enough to let them do to me what Jesus let happen to Him. Beyond the physyical pain. Beyond the public humiliation. God turned Jesus into Sin itself and poured out His wrath on Him. On those hours on the cross, Jesus paid for every sin I would ever commit, along with all the sins of the entire world. He suffered the punishment for the entire population of Earth for all time.

I can’t even imagine it. I can’t begin to describe what it must have been like. Because I’ve never been punished for my sins. I’ve suffered consequences from them, but that’s not the same as being punished for them. It’s something I’ve never experienced, and I never will, thanks to Jesus.

It boggles my mind that He would do something like that for me.

And I complain when I get a lecture for someone else’s mistake? It doesn’t even compare. How can I grumble and feel angry toward someone who’s wronged me on such a minor level when Jesus could take the blame for everything I’ve ever done wrong and feel nothing but love for me?

He never hated us. Do you realize that? Even as He was suffering, even as He died, He never felt anger toward us. He loved us.

I don’t understand that kind of love. Even when I’m willingly taking the punishment for people who deserve it, I can’t help but feel slighted. Or I feel like they should appreciate me more than before. Or I think that I’m such a good friend and they’re lucky to have me. Or I think that I’m such a good Christian. But Jesus didn’t do that. All He wanted was to keep us safe, to make a way for us to be free. There was no desire for exultation or elevation when He died on the cross. He was here on a rescue mission.

So is it wrong to expect people to respect us? No. There are some common courtesies people should uphold. And is it wrong to call someone out when they’ve done something wrong? Well, no. Right is right; wrong is wrong. And is it wrong for us to be blamed for other peoples’ mistakes? Of course. When you’re doing your best to live the way you should and you have to take responsibility for others, it’s certainly not right. . . . . but the world is broken. And if accepting the blame for someone else will bring peace between people, don’t you think it might be worth it? Granted, it varies with every situation. But it has to start somewhere.

This is something I’m working on. I always try to love people, but people are a lot easier to love when they behave. When they do the right thing. When they make the right choice. But Jesus loved me before I made right choices. And He still loves me now, even though I make wrong choices all the time. So that’s what I need to do.

We say we want to live like Christ, but do we really understand what that means? To love people the way Jesus did is to love them even while you’re being punished for them.

Driving the wrong way down a one-way street is not a good idea.

Have you ever turned the wrong way on a one-way street? This is something I can tell you that I haven’t done. Yet. And it’s a miracle, actually, since I work downtown and many streets in that area are all one way.

Now, I have been driving and someone else has turned the wrong way down a one-way street.  And that’s a little disconcerting. I remember one morning I was driving down Second Street (a one way street) and I saw a semitruck heading directly for me. The driver had gotten confused and turned the wrong way. I remember seeing cars scrambling to get out of his way before he realized what he had done. I’m not sure what he was trying to do, but if he wanted to get on the highway he couldn’t. Not on Second Street. You can get off the highway onto Second Street but you can’t get on from there. Because it’s a one-way street and it only goes one direction.

It’s not a very good example, but that’s what I thought of when I read today’s verse, 1 Timothy 2:5-6.

5 For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. 6 He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.

As much as people would like to argue the fact, there is only one God. Granted, people don’t live like there is. And even Christians don’t live like this is the truth, but the Bible says there is only one God.

Similarly, there is only one Mediator between God and Man and that is Jesus. It’s not a priest. It’s not Mary. It’s just Jesus.

What is a mediator, though? What does it take to be a mediator?

Well, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law, a mediator is “one that works to effect reconciliation, settlement, or compromise between parties at variance.” So a mediator is a person who intervenes between two people (or groups of people) who are at odds and seeks to bring peace between them.

Well, how does that work? Ideally, a mediator is going to need to understand both sides of the story.

If you’ve ever been in the middle between two people who are fighting about something, you (as the third party observer) will understand if you open your eyes that there is always more than one story happening. And if you desire to bring peace between two people, you have to understand both (or all) sides of that story. Who wronged who. Why they did it. What their motivation was. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Then, once you understand both sides, you can start to bring peace between them.

This is what Jesus did.

He is God. He’s has always been God. God created everything we know through Jesus, and Jesus is the force holding everything together.

But what we celebrate as Christmas is the miraculous event where God came to us in flesh and bone. He lived here with us. He walked with us. He talked to people and loved people and experienced everything people experience — just without sinning.

I’ve heard people say that they don’t think Jesus really understands us because He wasn’t the same as us. I can understand how people would believe that because, yes, He’s God. And even if he put on skin and lived among us, He was still God while He did it. But He was still 100% human at the same time. How can that be? I don’t know. That’s one of those things in Scripture that can’t be explained. How can anyone be 100% anything AND 100% something else at the same time? That’s not anything we can do. But we’re not talking about us. We’re talking about God. And for God to understand 100% what it was like to be us, He had to become us. So that’s what He did.

Every temptation and every struggle and every difficulty and every problem we have in our lives, Jesus experienced too.

So, now, He’s in heaven at God the Father’s right hand mediating. He understands what it’s like to be human. He knows how hard it is to keep working even though you’re overloaded. He knows how hard it is to be a good son (or daughter). He knows how hard it is to say goodbye to friends who are bad influences. He knows how disappointing it is to say no to temptation. He knows.

And it’s not to say that God the Father doesn’t know what it’s like to be human. Of course, He does. He’s God. But there’s a big difference between knowing and understanding. And Jesus understands.

And I guess I said all of that to say this:

There’s one God. There’s one Mediator. So that means there’s one way.

People get really upset when we talk about there only being one way to get to heaven, but that is what the Bible says. Of course, you are free to disagree. But if you do disagree, please don’t say you believe the Bible. Because that is what the Bible is about.

As it says at the end of 1 Timothy 2:5-6, this is the message that God gave us. There is one way to get to heaven, and that is through Jesus, who gave His life to bring everyone freedom.

I’m thankful there is a way to get to heaven. Knowing who I am and what I have done in my life, I don’t deserve any way. But God loved me enough to send a solution — and not just a solution so I can get into heaven, but a means for me to be reconciled to Him. So now I have a relationship with God Himself. I can drop everything I’m doing and talk to Him, tell Him how I’m struggling, tell Him what I’m worrying about, and He’ll help me. He’s my Father. He’s my Friend.

You can try other ways to get to God if you want, but they won’t work. Much like a one-way street, you can drive the wrong direction down it, but you run the risk of getting hurt (or hurting others) and, in the end, you won’t get where you’re trying to go.

Addendum

I don’t usually do this. But this morning I was so caught up in blogging about the first part of 1 John 1:9 that I totally ignored the last part of the verse.

And the last part of the verse is the most important.

9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

If we confess.

If we say we’re sorry and we meant it and we repent and turn from the bad things that we’re doing . . . .

God is faithful.

If we confess, He’s faithful. He won’t turn us away. He won’t scorn us. He won’t reject us. No matter how far away we have fallen from Him, He is always faithful to us.

He is faithful to forgive us.

How? Because He’s perfect.

Why do you have to apologize the person you’ve wronged? Because you are the one who’s done wrong. You are the one who needs to be forgiven for something you’ve done or said. You have to ask forgiveness of the innocent person you’ve hurt.

We have all turned against God. To be forgiven, we have to ask for it.

And not only will He forgive us, He’ll restore us.

Getting to the point where you’re willing to confess is important, but knowing that God will forgive you no matter what is even more important.

And I just thought I needed to mention that.

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Today’s verse is 1 John 1:9.

9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

Okay, I’ll be honest, even though I’m probably going to reveal how much of a terrible Christian I am (lol). I didn’t think of grace and peace and repentance when I read this verse this morning. In all honesty, the very first thing I thought of when I read this verse is the well-known Monty Python skit, The Spanish Inquisition.”

We grew up with Monty Python, and I think it’s all pretty hilarious. But this was one of those that sticks with you.

Obviously, it’s a humorous take on a real historical group that did horrible things to torture confessions out of innocent people. It was founded in 1480, and it became well known for forcing confessions out of people. Monty Python’s group had some fun with this in a couple of skits, trying to force confessions out of people with terrifying orders of “poke her with the fluffy pillows!” or “put her in the comfy chair!” I still remember laughing as I watched these crazy guys wearing red poking this old woman with a pillow, chanting, “Confess! Confess! Confess!”

Forced confessions aren’t real. They never are. Maybe in the movies. Or if Jack Bauer is interrogating you, then they’d be real. But in real life, whenever you force someone to confess something, generally you can’t trust it.

Have you ever said you’re sorry for something and didn’t really mean it? I know I have. I have definitely apologized to someone simply to placate them, when deep in my heart I wasn’t sorry at all.

If you’re not really sorry for something, isn’t it a good idea to forgo apologizing for it until you actually regret doing it? Until you have an earnest wish not to do that sort of thing again? Apologizing for it before you really feel sorry about it is dishonest. Saying you’re sorry before you mean it doesn’t really accomplish anything.

If we’re sorry for something, that means we change our minds about our actions or our thoughts; changing our minds about our actions or thoughts means that we realize they were wrong, that they’ve hurt others, and that we are committed to never repeat those thoughts or actions again. It doesn’t always mean we’ll succeed. But we can certainly try.

That’s what the Greek word for repentance actually means. I don’t know if I’m spelling it right, but it’s transliterated metanoya. A change in thinking. People would have you believe that repentance is this giant, overly emotional show of deep feeling. It’s not. It’s a quiet change deep in your own heart and mind that shows you’ve thought about what you’ve done and come to the realization that it was wrong. And that you’ve vowed to stop doing it.

What’s more, repentance is between you and God. It’s not something that other people should get involved in. It’s not our responsibility to make other people confess their sins. One, because we can’t. Two, because we can’t see their hearts or minds to know if their “confession” is real. Three, we have our own sins to repent from, so how can we judge others for theirs?

Now . . . is it wrong to call a friend out on their sin when they know it’s wrong? No. It’s our responsibility as Christians to keep each other accountable. But if that friend still refuses to repent and turn from what they’re doing, you’ve done everything you can and now you have to give them up to God.

It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do.

But I can tell you this. When you repent — seriously turn from the things that you’ve done — there’s a change in you. We think we’re so smart. We think we’re so wise, living our lives the way we want to live. But we don’t know anything. We are so happy doing what we know is wrong because it makes us feel good, but the Bible isn’t kidding and God isn’t making up the fact that what we sow, we’ll reap. A harvest of it. The exact same thing we planted in abundance much later down the road.

Doing what feels good now even though we know it’s wrong will result in consequences for ourselves, our families and our friends years down the road.

But God is in control; He knows what He’s doing. (Goodness, I think this should be the slogan for this silly devotional blog since I swear I write it down every morning. Maybe it’s because I’m trying so hard to believe it.) But on top of that, He also knows what we are doing. He knows what we are thinking. He knows when we’re really, honestly sorry. And He knows when we’re faking it.

And when it all comes down at the end, it won’t be the Spanish Inquisition we face. It will be Him.

Marching to the beat of a different . . . faith?

Do you ever stop to think how different Christianity is from every other faith out there? It’s really interesting, actually. Maybe I should clairfy what I mean when I say “Christianity,” though, because a lot of times people don’t actually know what it is.

Christianity isn’t a religion. When I talk about Christianity in this post, I’m talking about the faith explained in the Bible. I’m not adding anything to it. I’m not taking anything away from it. Biblical Christianity is different than any other religious system in the world. And if you don’t believe me, just study them.

I’m not a world religion expert by any means so I’m not going to launch into an explanation of every one of them, because for every religious leader in the world you’ll find a different religion — even if they supposedly belong to the same type of faith system.

But what I’ve experienced or studied about other religions usually is something like this:

  • There’s a God but He’s distant and doesn’t care about us.
  • Or there’s no God, no heaven, no hell and everything ends when we die.
  • Or there is a God and He has a plan but we have to cower before Him and sacrifice (our lives, children’s lives, unbelievers’ lives) to please Him.
  • There is no God. Just nature. And we live the best we can and die and come back again to try once more until we reach perfection.
  • Or God exists and Jesus was a prophet who did a lot of good things, and we have to do good things too to get to heaven.
  • Or God just loves everyone so much that He can’t stand to be separated from anyone, so everybody goes to heaven.
  • Or (here’s the real kicker) God exists, Jesus is His Son, the Bible is true but you must follow church ritual and tradition to be saved.

I know there are a lot more. But it seems to me that these sum up the vast majority of religious systems out there. None of them are biblical. Some come close, but if you add or subtract anything away from Scripture, it’s no longer viable. This is biblical Christianity:

Romans 6:23

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

 We’re not perfect. Our world is fallen, and our spirits are evil, separated from God through our rebellion. And although I have spoken to a number of people who think God is unfair for letting the whole human race take the blame for Adam and Even’s mistake, I don’t think anyone else would have done better. We’ve all fallen. We’ve all sinned. We’ve all let our pride get in the way of our relationship with God. And that’s no different than what Adam and Eve did. They were our best shot, and they blew it. But that wasn’t the end of the story.

We sin. We die. BUT. God gives us eternal life. And it’s free.

Free means free. You don’t have to pay for it. How could you? What do you own? What do you possess that God hasn’t given to you? How can you have anything worth trading for eternal life?

But it’s not just free — it’s a FREE gift.

Gifts are supposed to be free. Gifts don’t have strings attached.  If someone gives you a gift and expects you to pay for it, it’s not a gift; it’s a joke.

But the other thing about a gift is that you have to accept it. Anybody can give you a gift, but it doesn’t do you any good until you take it. It would be like someone giving me an Amazon Gift Card (yay, Kindle!) and me leaving it sit. What’s the point of that? That’s books someone’s given me, and I just leave it sitting on a table or under a Christmas tree? Why would I do that? Is it going to add itself to my account sitting there? Is it going to pay for the books I want just sitting there? No. It doesn’t do a thing until I take it, claim it, and use it.

The most important part of this verse, though, is how we are given this free gift of eternal life. Through Jesus Christ.

Jesus paid the price for our gift. He’s the one who offers it to us freely. He could charge us if He wanted to. He could demand that we reach a certain standard in our lives before we are worthy to accept His gift, but then it wouldn’t be free. And He could expect us to pay Him back after we accept His gift, but then it wouldn’t be a gift.

Don’t you see how different this kind of faith is?

God loves us but He’s perfect, and we’re not. So the only way to make us perfect so we can talk to Him was to send Jesus to pay for our sins with His death, so He could offer us the opportunity to have a relationship with God and with Him (and with the Holy Spirit, but it’s way too early in the a.m. for pheumatology). Everyone can believe it. There’s nothing we can do to earn it. There’s nothing we can do to lose it. And the only requirement of us is to accept it.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty cool.