Friday, April 10, 2015

Bread and Wine

So how did you do?

Oh, come on, you know what I'm talking about. Where did you find leavening this week?

Today was the last Day of Unleavened Bread for those of you in the Churches of God. Traditionally, at services today, you swapped anecdotes about the most unlikely place you found leavening this week. A sandwich in the glove compartment of your car. Cracker crumbs that fell from the pages of that book you pulled off the shelf. Maybe that hand vacuum cleaner bin you forgot to empty.

It's funny, a week and a half ago you found those crumbs so vile that some of you baptized your toaster and scrubbed your pantry shelves with a toothbrush. No judging here. I was in the habit of "deleavening" my sock drawer, even though I have never, even once, eaten cake in my bedroom with socks on my hands, and then put them back in the drawer.  Anyway, where you were frenzied last week, today you chuckled, clucked your tongue and said, well, "God doesn't expect us to be perfect."

What does God have to say about those crumbs, or the sin you believe it symbolizes? Even the stuff way back in the dark corners of your life?

(James 2:10) For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.

Or should I say, whoever keeps the Days of Unleavened Bread, and yet finds one cracker, he is guilty of violating the whole thing.

(Revelation 3:5) He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before my Father and before His angels.

Maybe it should be, he who overcomes, who gets rid of all his sin, shall be clothed in white garments. In his pockets no crumbs shall be found.

Hmmmm... this is where the classic COG cognitive dissonance comes in. On the one hand, we believe that God doesn't expect us to be perfect, and that our works do not earn us salvation. On the other hand, we believe that our efforts, in both moral matters and in cherry-picked rites from the Sinai Covenant, help maintain our salvation.

So how much leavening, er, sin, do you need to get out to properly "keep" the Days of Unleavened Bread? Better than me, who didn't participate? Better than your wife, who drives a van full of children who sustain themselves on goldfish crackers 51 weeks a year? Better than your minister? What threshhold is good enough? (Please click here for more information what was being discussed in 1 Corinthians 5 regarding the Days of Unleavened Bread)

It's easy to see why the Days of Unleavened Bread were a shadow intended to point Israel to Christ (Colossians 2:16-17). No matter how hard they tried, sin remained, sin returned. They repeated the ritual for decades. Each year, they tried. Each year, they failed. They could never clean out all the crumbs, all the stains of sin. They needed Jesus to do what they could never do themselves - reconcile them to God and clothe them in garments of righteousness. Where the Light is, the shadows flee. They are no longer needed. Once we have learned the lesson, we no longer need the tutor (Galatians 3:24-25).

Many of us the COGs think we have embraced Christ, yet we place much of their faith in our effors to follow the tutor. We know Jesus died for our sins, and that we cannot be justified through our works. But our misunderstandings about salvation lead us to accept false teachings like "maintaining" our justification through our track record of sin and repentance. Unable to shake the cognitive dissonance, we hang our head in shame, and pray that God shows us mercy, or that He looks on the heart and determines we have been "good enough." Is this outlook the peace that surpasses all understanding? The spirit of joy, and of a sound mind?

Since the Days of Unleavened Bread are just about over, maybe it's time to switch to a different metaphor. Let's turn to John 2, the miracle at the Wedding at Cana. Historically, the COGs have missed the point of this lesson. They make it all about how Jesus produced high-quality wine. About the richness and abundance of God's Kingdom.

Christ's miracles often revealed deeper spiritual truths. He gave sight to the blind, signifying His ability to give spiritual sight and discernment to those who place their faith in Him. Those who rejected Him remained spiritually blind. (John 9:40-41). He raised a dead man to life. This demonstrated both His power over death and the new life available through faith in Him. He cursed the fig tree (Mark 11), showing His qualification to pronounce final judgment on fruitless humans (Matthew 7:19).

So is it likely that the miracle at Cana, Jesus' first miracle, was really just about top-shelf wine? Or is there a deeper spiritual truth that the COGs miss in their misunderstandings about salvation?

(John 2:6) Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, "Fill the waterpots with water."  And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, "Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast." And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, "Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!".

These waterpots were used for ceremonial washing for the Jews, who were expected to wash their hands both before and after eating in order to be considered clean. These pots were not exactly the sterilized drinking glasses that come out of our dishwasher. They had held a lot of dirty water from a lot of grubby hands. They were not unlike the cup Jesus described in Matthew 23:25-26. But how do we clean the cup from the inside, as Christ instructed?

Jesus took these dirty, common vessels, filled them, and transformed the contents into a totally different substance. This is a picture of what Jesus does with each Christian. We come to Him as dirty clay vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7). We are helpless to clean ourselves. God fills us, then transforms us. We are already a creation in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17). Just as they miss the message of transformation in the miracle at Cana, the COGs miss the message of 2 Corinthians 5 because they're too busy trying to clean and transform themselves. With the "help" of their Holy Spirit power tool. It is not getting rid of the spiritual crumbs that ensures salvation. We will naturally have fewer crumbs because of our salvation. It is an effect, not a cause.

We, of course, must be submissive to this process, to God's will. We can't be filled, can't be transformed, if we are not in proximity to the source. This may require effort, active striving, resisting sin. As well as engaging in spiritual disciplines like worship, prayer, Bible study, fasting and the like.
And we should be bearing fruit and demonstrate good works, as James said. But that fruit is the evidence of our faith, evidence of our justification, not the thing that brings it about.

At the end of the day, scripture commands us to be filled with the Spirit, not to fill ourselves (Ephesians 5:18). Like those waterpots, which held 160 pounds of water at the very least, we are unable to move ourselves. We like Paul, need someone to save us from ourselves. Who is that? That someone is Jesus. Our primary responsibility is to place faith in Christ, not ourselves. We will bear much fruit when we are thusly connected to the Vine.

(John 6:28-29) Then they said to Him, "what shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said unto them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent."

Beloved children of God, you already believe the blood of Jesus covers your sins. Scripture tells you that you are already unleavened. You can choose to remain in the shadows of Sinai, trying to sweep out crumbs from the corners. Or you can trust Jesus to do what you cannot - clean you from the inside and transform you into something new. Stop putting new wine into old wineskins. Step fully into the New Covenant and place your full faith - not just part of it - in Jesus' finished work on the cross.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11

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