Monday, March 1, 2021

March 1 - Leviticus 1, James 1

 Key verse: Leviticus 1:3

Big idea: A sacrifice for sin must be holy.

Imagine a groom who is in charge of purchasing the flowers for his wedding. He waits until the day before, goes to Walmart, and finds the ones marked “Must-Go”! They are slightly wilted, slightly brown, and slightly likely to lead to his death when his bride sees them. Or maybe he went to the venue and asked them to set aside any leftover flowers from the weddings that week so he could use them. Is any man, consumed with love and excitement for his wedding, going to give his new wife what is left over? Or is he going to give her the best he can afford? She certainly expects more than that. It seems ridiculous, but how many of us treat God that way?

Under the Law of Moses, sacrifices needed to be “without blemish.” You could not take the sheep that was lame or sick and offer it to God, like some people bring beat-up furniture to the Salvation Army to write-off on their taxes. God demanded and deserved the very best. Giving Him anything less than you would give your fiancĂ© or your boss reveals how little you think of Him. It is an insult, and in some sense, blasphemy. It does not please God, and does not win His favor.

When someone sinned, a sin offering was required. The sacrifice must be perfect, or it would not be accepted. First, a cheap sacrifice would reveal an unrepentant heart, still more concerned with what benefits me than what a deserve. Second, it undermines the severity of sin by denying that it is costly. But ultimately, it is because the sin offering was not an end-point but a signpost to Christ’s sacrifice. 1 Peter 1:18-19 puts it this way, “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for sin because He “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21, see also: Romans 8:3 and 1 John 3:5). The sacrifice of the sinless Jesus showed the cost of sin and paid it, and showed a heart of unchained grace: the very best Heaven had to offer to rescue rebellious sinners.

If that was the price of our salvation, what do we give God? Do we give Him the time we have left over after working overtime for our vacation, kids’ sports, our social life, and TV? Too often the Lord who made us and bought us gets the scraps when everyone else is finished. Do we give Him the last of our money or what’s first? Your bank account will often show who your true master is even why you try to lie to yourself. God gave the very best for us, so we should give the very best to Him.

Discussion idea: Ephesians 5:27 says that Jesus presents the church to Himself “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” How does that relate to the standard for sacrifices? Compare and contrast the church as a “sacrifice” with the sin offering of Jesus. See Romans 12.

Prayer focus: Lord, thank you for giving us the truly perfect sacrifice and redeemer, so that we could have abundant life. Forgive us for the times that we have given you second-best. Help us to put you first as individuals, as a family, and as a church.

Key Verse: James 1:5
Big Idea: Wisdom comes from God.

James was written by the half-brother of Jesus (the son of Mary and Joseph, rather than Mary and God). It is short but extremely rich. In many ways, it is a kind of loose commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, taking and applying many of the things that Jesus taught during His earthly ministry. Going back much further, it reflects some of the content of Proverbs in the Old Testament. James is where the rubber meets the road in the Christian life. It is the handbook of wisdom, the skill of living well. 

It is easy to live well when things are going smoothly, but life is full of bumps that threaten to throw us off course. James 1 warns us that when these trials come, we have to patiently endure. If we do, the challenges of life mature us and make us stronger. But handling these difficulties requires wisdom. Where do we get that wisdom? Do we need to go to a special school? Does it require a certain amount of failure in life to learn the lessons to succeed? The answer that James gives is surprising in its simplicity: just ask. Ask, and like when Solomon asked, God will give generously without finding fault (1 Kings 3:1-14). We must not ask in a double-minded way, where we look for God's guidance but still intend to keep our own counsel. Instead, we must ask with the kind of humility that recognizes that rich and poor, young and old, and everything in between are all just as dependent on God. Like the wildflowers wither and fade, any delusions of strength we may have are fleeting. 

The only thing that grows naturally in the soil of our hearts is sin. But every good gift, including the wisdom to use those gifts well, comes from God and God alone. When we stop turning inward and turn upward, we find that we have all that we need. The secret to living life well is to simply ask God, in faith, to show us what to do, and humbly do it. If we trust and obey, we can live the life God intends for us.

Discussion Idea: Why might we be reluctant to ask God for the wisdom to deal with a situation? How might our own desires keep us from asking in faith?

Prayer Focus: What is the most challenging decision facing you right now? Pray for God to give you the wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it.

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