Matthew 6:16-18: Undefiled Religion

Read: Matthew 6:16-18

The only required fast required in the Old Testament law was taken on Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement in which the priest would offer sacrifices on behalf of the the nation of Israel by going into the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 16:29-34, Leviticus 23:23-44). Over time, the Jewish people began to observe even more days throughout the year (Isaiah 58) By the time of Jesus, the most religious Jews were fasting multiple times a week. Jesus, being a religious figure, was often question why he didn’t fast as often as others (Luke 3:7-14, Luke 5:33-39). Jesus on the matter though focused on the heart of the matter. While many used fasting to show off their piety Jesus shows that fasting is not to be used for this purpose. He says that fasting should be a private matter between the one fasting and the Lord and one should do it in a manner so that no one else sees the fast.

Moreover, the real issue that Jesus had with fasting was the the fact that people would observe it while neglecting other issues that were certainly more important such as helping the poor, being honest in ones dealings, among other issues related to justice for outcasts and marginalized in society. James says that true religion is caring for the widows and orphans rather than acts of worship (James 1:26-27) which is a theme that is echoed from the Old Testament (Isaiah 1:9-17, Micah 6:6-8).

Religious activity is no substitute for right living – in fact God rather one help the poor and live righteously than to perform religious rites. Religious rites though can be rich experience when done in the right context. Like in the Day of Atonement, taking a fast to be a time to look introspectively at ones own life and confess sins before God. Churches will often have communion to reflect on the grace and love that Jesus poured out on the cross. Baptism symbolizes the death, burial and resurrection and and new life that Christians have in Christ. Christians do well to constantly evaluate why he or she does particular religious activities to make sure that the activities are done with the right motives and in a way that is not disconnected from the greater points of the law such as righteousness and concern for the poor.

Lord, help my religion to be pure and undefiled.

Luke 2:21-24: Significance in Symbols

Read: Luke 2:21-24

Mary and Joseph were devout Jews that not only kept traditions of the their people, but also kept the instructions that were given to them by angels.

  • Jesus was circumcised and named on the 8th day. This was done in accordance with the Law given to Moses and Abraham (Genesis 17:12, Leviticus 12:3).
  • Mary and Joseph were told to name their child Jesus independent of one another by angels on two separate occasion (Matthew 1:21, Luke 1:31).
  • Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the temple according to the law (Leviticus 12:6).
  • Mary and Joseph also made sacrifices according to the law (Exodus 13:2)
  • Mary and Joseph also sacrificed two doves or pigeons according to the law (Leviticus 12:8). It is apparent that they could not afford a lamb, but the law made provisions for that.

While naming a baby and following traditions may not seem that remarkable, there is great symbolism in what they were doing in naming Jesus and presenting him as first born. The name “Jesus” in English is comes from the Hebrew name that means “God saves”. Matthew 1:21 makes note of this, saying that Jesus would be the one to save people from their sins. Also in this, the consecration of the firstborn male in a family was to remind the people when the Lord brought them out of slavery in Egypt – another motif of salvation. God spared the firstborn of everyone who sacrificed a lamb and put the blood on the doorposts of their homes (Exodus 13:12-15).

Christians don’t follow the laws like the Jews did because Jesus became the sacrifice for sin. Nevertheless there are some symbols that Christians have to remember what Christ did. First, Christ ordained what is known as communion or the “Lord’s Supper” as a memorial to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. This sacrifice was the payment for the sins committed by man (1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Luke 22:17-20). Second, Jesus gave Christians baptism, which notes both the cleansing of sins and the resurrection of Jesus and ultimately all believers (Romans 6:3-5, Colossians 2:12).

Rather than get caught up in rote religion, Christians ought to reflect on the reasons that symbols and signs exists. Usually these serve as a reminder of some work that God has done or a promise that God will fulfill as wit communion does for Jesus’ blood being spilled and baptism does a reminder of the resurrection of Jesus and the future resurrection of all men. These symbols and tradition can help draw us into a deeper relationship with the one who gave them.

Lord help me to remember what you have done and will do!

Hebrews 9:16-22: The Shedding of Blood

Read: Hebrews 9:16-22

Shedding blood seems like a grotesque and gruesome act. And rightfully so, as the use of blood was used to show the weightiness of whatever it was being applied to, and in this case it was the initiation of covenants. The author of Hebrews quotes from Exodus 24:9, reminding his readers to that the Law of Moses and the Old Covenant was inaugurated by blood. He then goes to argue that the New Covenant, which he spoke if in Hebrews 8 was inaugurated by blood also, namely the blood of Jesus himself.

During Jesus’ last meal with the disciples before he went to the cross, Jesus used common elements during his day – bread and wine – to symbolize his broken body and own blood that inaugurated the New Covenant (Matthew 26:26-28). The early Christians used these symbols and partook of them often to remind themselves of this fact. Paul explains that these elements were not to be taken lightly, because these elements represent the body and blood of Christ that was poured out for the forgiveness of sin (1 Corinthians 11:23-29). Every time Christians take communion, they should examine themselves and think about the price Jesus paid to inaugurate the New Covenant. Forgiveness of sin wasn’t cheap – it wasn’t cheap under the Old Covenant, nor is it cheap in the New Covenant. As Jesus stated and the author of Hebrews stated, his blood was for the forgiveness of sin which is not a light issue.

Lord, you made my forgiveness possible by shedding your blood!

Help me to not make light of it!

John 19:31-42: Jesus: God’s Passover Lamb

Read: John 19:31-42

Crucifixion was a slow and painful death for the one being crucified. He would have to push up with his legs or pull up with his arms to breath. Breaking the legs of the prisoners on the cross would force them to use their arms to pull up while they were dying, thereby tiring the faster, and speeding up the process. The Jews wanted the prisoners to die faster so the bodies would not be left hanging outside Jerusalem while it was Passover. No Jew would defile himself by touching a dead body on the holiday or else he would not be able to celebrate the Passover. Jesus was already dead, so rather than break his legs, they stabbed him in the side. Jesus would certainly be dead as a result. John reckons this to be a fulfillment of the requirements for the Passover lamb that was slain every year for the feast and was eaten (Exodus 12:46). Jesus was elsewhere called the “Lamb of God” that takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29, John 1:36) and the “Lamb” all throughout the book of Revelation.  Peter comments on the matter, saying that Jesus was the Lamb and it was through the blood of the Jesus that men are redeemed (1 Peter 1:18-19). Up to this point, John notes the pseudo trials before Pilate and Caiaphas were Jesus’ guilt is never established. He is crucified not because he is guilty, but because Caiaphas and Pilate had ulterior motives. Jesus’ bones were not broken and he was a certainly without blemish. Through this sort of sacrifice, the law was fulfilled.

John also reckons that in the piercing of Jesus’ side, that Jesus also fulfilled Zechariah 12:10. The passage speaks of a pouring out of the Spirit of God and they will look on the one they have pierced with mourning. This outpouring came in Acts 2 when Peter preached a sermon at Pentecost. Luke records that those who heard Peter’s sermon were “pierced” in their own heart. Certainly, anyone who had just been told that they had just killed one sent from God would have been mourning such a deed because of the conviction that was laid on heavy and thick. One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to convict people of their sins (John 16:8). The piercing of Jesus was noted here to point to when Jesus would start drawing all men unto himself, much like the fulfillment of Psalm 22 in which the world would turn and worship him.

Joseph of Arimathia asked Pilate for the body of Jesus because he was a follower of Jesus, but in secret. He was afraid of the Jews too. He, alongside Nicodemus prepared the body of Jesus for burial and put Jesus in a tomb in which no one else had laid. The tomb was apparently very close to the location of the crucifixion. This was apparently done in haste so that the body would not be left up and to fulfill the law requiring executions in Deuteronomy 21:33.

The sacrifice of Jesus is nothing to be taken lightly. Jesus gave his life so that others may live eternally. The good news about Jesus is that he did not stay dead and is able to receive worship because of this. Jesus’ resurrection is proof that resurrection is possible and that there is a real hope for those who believe. But even with this hope, one should never forget what it cost Jesus. Jesus gave Christians a vivid reminder of his sacrifice in communion. This symbol was a proclamation of the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). His body was broken and his blood was spilled so that he would fulfill the law and make a way for mankind. Jesus was not the sacrificial lamb of a man that was required year after year, but God’s Lamb more perfect in every way than anything of this world. This one Lamb was the once and final sacrifice for all men (Hebrews 7:27). The appropriate response to this should be conviction because it was one’s own sin that put Jesus on the cross. One should mourn this and be sorrowful because of it, but at the same time, be joyful that God loves them and that in his mercy made a way. This is truly amazing love!

Lord, help me not forget what you did for me!