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Unsung Heroes

“Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of … William Dawes?”
 

There was a time when every school child knew by heart at least the first stanza of “Paul Revere’s Ride,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s classic ode to the Revolutionary era patriot who bears its name. Its galloping cadence was spellbinding, and the poet’s masterful tale telling held us breathless until the end. Yet history shows there were two freedom riders that April night in 1775—Paul Revere and William Dawes. Of the two, it was actually Dawes who successfully reached Lexington with the news of the invading army; his more notable counterpart was caught by British soldiers. Why, then, do we not know of Dawes? Simply this: Longfellow wrote about Revere.

The Bible is filled with historic accounts of God accomplishing great things through its notable heroes. We think of His miracles worked through Peter, John and Paul, for instance—healing diseases and raising people from the dead. Yet serving God in obedience doesn’t always take on, shall we say, such Biblical proportions. Consider those whom Paul greeted in his letter to the church in Rome and how he commended them. There was Mary, “who worked very hard for you”1; Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis likewise “worked very hard in the Lord.”2 Rufus was “chosen in the Lord” and his mother was “like a mother to me,”3 the apostle fondly recalled. Then there was Apelles, “tested and approved in Christ.”4 Though Paul’s co-workers would not generate the same press as his own, there they were, working hard alongside of him, humbly doing what they were called to do. Were we in their place, might we have deprecated our own Kingdom contribution, seemingly small by comparison? Yet Paul genuinely applauded his co-workers, and he treasured their partnership in the Lord.

Sometimes we hold ourselves to a false double standard, denigrating ourselves for that which we would exalt in others. Do we belittle ourselves, for instance, for not engaging hands-on in a particular ministry as others may, even though we financially underwrite the cause? Then how ironic that when we are the ones actively engaged in ministry, we find ourselves humbled by those whose role is to battle for it invisibly on their knees in prayer. Here’s the thing: God calls us to take up our role, regardless of how we regard it or who else knows about it. For now, only God knows the impact of our obedience to His call, and for now that is enough.

Father, You call us into action. Open our eyes to all that You have for us to do today, and no matter how great or humble we might perceive our role, give us hearts that humbly trust and gladly obey. In Christ we pray. Amen.

1 Romans 16:6
2 Romans 16:12
3 Romans 16:13
4 Romans 16:10

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What Is It?

A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. —John 19:29-30

It is finished”—one could argue these to be among the most profound three words strung together in the Bible. Given the fact it was Jesus who uttered them, they carry an all-surpassing tone, a forever finality permanently proclaimed to all creation, both seen and unseen. Something called “it” has happened with an unchangeable completion changing everything for all time. So, what is the “it” that was so important as to rise up from deep inside the Son of God and find voice amid His final breaths?

It is finished” was more than an endpoint of Jesus’ incarnation; it was the coda marking the successful conclusion of a Messianic mission focused on one great purpose. Early in His ministry as they awaited the Samaritan villagers of Sychar, Jesus told His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”1 And only hours before His death, Jesus prayed to His Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.”2 This focus on finishing bookended Jesus’ earthly ministry and, no doubt, filled the pages in between. The “it” Jesus finished was His Father’s work, but again, what specifically was this work now completed?

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews continues the narrative now unseen yet no less historical. “When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”3 What was the “it” Jesus finished upon giving up His spirit? Purification. “Tempted in all things just as we are, yet without sin,”4 He atoned for our sins. Writes the author, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey Him.”5 His mission was to become our perfect sacrifice through a life of obedience and the faith from which obedience comes.6 He did what He set out to do, and now it is finished. We have been become in Christ what we could never become through our own efforts—purified. It is final, for it is finished. May we flourish in our freedom.

Father, thank You for loving us so much that You sent Your Son. Jesus, thank You for finishing Your Father’s work. Spirit, fill us that we will rest in sufficiency of Christ, the perfect sacrifice for our sins. In Him, we are pure. Amen.

1 John 4:34
2 John 17:4
3 Hebrews 1:3
4 Hebrews 4:15 NASB
5 Hebrews 5:8-9 NASB
6 Romans 1:5

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Real Grace

“There are ditches on both sides of the road,” the pastor would occasionally warn, and over time I’ve seen his proverb apply to many life situations. In last week’s post, “People Like Us,” we saw one such ditch in the story of the woman caught in adultery: our tendency to judge the moral failures of “some people,” even though temptations are allurements to which “sometimes we all” succumb. So it was that in one sentence—“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her”1—Jesus guided the hearts of her accusers away from the ditch of condemnation and onto the road of contrition. He thus guides us still today.

Yet it is easy for us to overcorrect from the trench of one extreme and lurch toward that which awaits us on the other side. “Judge not, that you be not judged,”2 we say, quoting Jesus from His Sermon on the Mount, but if we misunderstand such grace, we can find ourselves in an equally dangerous place—condoning sin. This is by no means a new temptation, for Isaiah warns us against it: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”3 And upon hearing of early believers careening toward the misappropriation of grace, Paul wrote to the early church, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”4 Sin is not OK.

Grace, like freedom, is not the permission to do what we want, but the power to do what we ought. Grace leads us to forgiveness, yes, but equally to repentance—turning away from sin. Grace moves us to follow Him who granted it to us in the first place. It calls us to trust God, then also to obey Him. So after sending the woman’s accusers away, Jesus asked her, “Has no one condemned you?” “No one, Lord,” she replied. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”5 She had received the precious gift of real grace—forgiveness from the guilt of sin and the redirection away from its power. May we live in such grace, as well.

Father, we praise You for Your lavish grace, and we thank You for it. Lead us away from the sin for which You have forgiven us, that in the joy of Your love, we would go and sin no more. In Christ we pray. Amen.

1 John 8:7 ESV
2 Matthew 7:1 ESV
3 Isaiah 5:20 ESV
4 Romans 6:1-2
5 John 8: 10-11 ESV