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“And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen.” Genesis 22:13-14 (Read v. 1-19)

The account of God’s testing of Abraham’s faith is indeed remarkable, for God told Abraham to offer up as a burnt offering his own beloved son Isaac, the son God had promised to him and through whom God had promised to make Abraham a blessing to the nations of this world. Abraham obeyed, taking the wood, the fire and his son Isaac and traveling to the specific mountain at which God told him to offer up his son.

God’s Word tells us in the book of Hebrews (11:17-19) that “by faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son. Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.”

Abraham took his son Isaac, bound him and laid him on the altar; and, as Abraham raised the knife to kill Isaac and offer him up as a burnt sacrifice, “the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (v. 11-12).

It was then that “Abraham lifted up his eyes” and saw “a ram caught in a thicket by his horns, and Abraham offered up the ram as a burnt offering in the stead of his son.” Abraham named the place “Jehovahjireh,” which means, “in the mount of the LORD it shall be seen.”

And this substitute ram offered up in the place of Isaac, the father of Israel, certainly points us to another substitute offering for the sins of the world — possibly sacrificed on the very same mountain in the land of Moriah (cf. 2 Chronicles 3:1). Jesus Christ, God’s only-begotten Son made man, born of the Virgin Mary, was offered up in our stead — in the stead of all mankind. The holy and innocent Son of God bore the sins of the world and was sacrificed upon the cross on Golgotha, just outside ancient Jerusalem, to make full atonement for the sins of all mankind.

The prophet Isaiah wrote (53:5-6): “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” And John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Jesus is our substitute. He atoned for our sins so that we could be pardoned and forgiven by a just and holy God. And when we look in faith to Jesus and His atoning sacrifice for the sins of all, God pardons us, declares us just, righteous and forgiven, and He accepts us as His own dear children (cf. Romans 3:23-26; Ephesians 1:6-7; 1 John 1:7 — 2:2; Galatians 3:26-29).

Indeed, in the mountain of the LORD, God has provided for us a substitute, His only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who was sacrificed for us to atone for our sins and raised up again that we might trust in Him and have forgiveness and life through faith in His name!

We thank Thee, dear Lord Jesus, for bearing our sins and being our substitute, that we might have pardon and life everlasting through faith in Your name. Amen.

[Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible]

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While many may not agree with me, I’d like to point out a denial of Biblical truth which has permeated modern thinking and leads to flawed approaches to dealing with what psychologists and sociologists would call deviant or pathological behavior — deviant being contrary to socially accepted norms, and pathological often being associated with mental deficiencies and mental illness.

Modern thinking views man as basically good. And, where deviant or socially unacceptable behavior occurs, the cause is not sought in the person but in the environment in which he or she lives or was raised or in some sort of mental disease or disorder. That is why, when an evil like the recent school shooting occurs, people immediately begin looking at mental illness or the accessibility to guns as the cause and think that a more healthful and weapon-free environment would prevent such acts of violence and mayhem.

The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that all mankind is fallen. It teaches that we are by birth self-centered and incapable of pure selfless love and good toward God or toward our fellow man and are capable of — and even inclined toward — evil. This does not mean that people cannot do what society considers good and right or live what society considers an upright life. It does mean that the reasons and motivation for doing so are not so selfless and pure as we may wish people would believe. People do good for a reason, whether it be financial gain, public acclaim or just to feel good or better about themselves. And, yes, people sometimes do deeds almost all would agree are terribly evil — sometimes for the same or similar reasons.

The Bible teaches that the fall of Genesis 3 affects us all. “As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). God’s Word teaches: “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21; cf. 6:5). And David wrote in Psalm 51, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (v. 5).

I might add that one of the reasons I find the Bible so believable is that it tells the truth about mankind and about me. Nothing is whitewashed or covered over; even some of the greatest personages in the Bible fell into terrible transgressions and sins — Abraham deceived others in regard to his wife Sarah; David committed adultery and murder; Moses killed an Egyptian guard; the apostle Paul participated in the persecution and execution of Christians.

While the philosophy of the modern world teaches that we are all basically good, the Word of God says: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

We may not like to think it of ourselves, but we all have a propensity to do great evil. While we may not have carried out crimes against others, whether it be because of our fear of God or because we fear human disapproval or punishments, we’ve all at times had thoughts of evil too shameful to tell.

While modern philosophical thinking looks to prevent deviant behavior by controlling the environment and rewarding socially accepted behavior, those who hold to the Biblical view of fallen man recognize that evil does and will exist in this world no matter how stringently the environment is controlled. Rather than pretending all can be well, those who believe the Bible face man’s evil propensity with deterrents — teaching of God’s authority and of His judgment, upholding Biblical moral absolutes and enacting laws and punishments based on Biblical principles.

If all of this sounds foreign to you, consider that America’s founders recognized man’s propensity to evil and divided power between the states and the federal government and even further divided powers within the federal government to limit the powers of any one man or any group of men.

Along with the Bible’s teaching in regard to the fall and sinfulness of man is also a Biblical remedy: forgiveness and a new birth and life from God through faith in Jesus Christ. The Biblical doctrine of the fall doesn’t leave man wallowing hopelessly in his fallenness. It offers pardon and a new life for the sake of Jesus, God’s Son, who paid the just penalty for all sins and gives new life to believers here in this world and a life free of all evil and sin in the age to come.

What’s my point? If the Biblical view of man is true — and I am convinced it is — the attempts of sociologists, psychologists, politicians, teachers and society to rid the world of evil and prevent acts of violence and mayhem by cleansing the environment of poverty, inequality, bullying, intolerance, guns, drugs and the like will be of no avail. Evil and violence will still be with us because it is within us.

On the other hand, if we wish to minimize its impact and devastation, we need to teach the truth about sin and God’s remedy in Jesus Christ, return to Biblical moral absolutes, truly punish criminals and allow people to defend themselves against such coarse outbursts of evil.

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“And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her. And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying.” Mark 14:4-8

Why are we here tonight? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to stay at home and spend time with our spouse or children? Is this a waste of our time and energy? Perhaps we could be working to raise money we could give to the poor. Or, maybe, we could be out ministering to the poor and needy around us and providing them with a supper. Why are we gathered together here instead of being out there in the world?

What about Mary? Why did she pour this expensive ointment on Jesus – certainly an extravagant act – when it could have been sold for nearly a year’s wages and the money given to the poor?

What did Jesus say to the criticism? “Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying.”

While many might consider attending Lenten services as a waste of time, Jesus graces us with His presence and accepts our humble worship (cf. Matthew 18:20). Through the hearing of His Word, we are moved to acknowledge our wretched sinfulness and look to Him and His sufferings and death for mercy. And through faith in His blood, shed upon the cross for the sins of the world, He graces us with pardon and forgiveness, new life here and everlasting life in heaven.

Indeed, it may seem to many a waste of time to gather together here to worship Jesus and hear His Word, but we are graced through it (not because of it) as we learn of Jesus’ sufferings and death in our stead, and of His glorious resurrection, that we sinners might obtain mercy and forgiveness and have life eternal through faith in Jesus’ name.

We thank and praise Thee, O Jesus, for bearing the guilt and punishment for our sins that we wretched sinners might receive mercy and forgiveness through faith in Thy holy and precious name. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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Today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season for many Christians, especially those who hold to more traditional and liturgical forms of worship. Lent is 40 days long, corresponding to the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, but extends over a period of 46 days because Sundays are not counted as part of the traditional Lenten season.

Since the date for Easter is set based on the lunar calendar — the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox — the season of Lent begins on different calendar dates each year. In 2018, Lent begins on Wednesday, Feb. 14, and continues through Saturday, March 31. Easter Sunday is April 1 this year. The first full moon after the vernal equinox is March 31, making Sunday, April 1, the date of Easter in most Western Churches.

On most years, the date for Easter or Pascha falls later in the Eastern Churches. Easter dates were the same in 2017, but this year the date is April 8 in the East (Eastern Churches use the same formula to determine the date for Easter but use the Julian Calendar, while Western Churches and most of the world use the Gregorian Calendar).

Some churches do not observe the season of Lent at all. It is not specifically commanded or forbidden in the Bible, so churches which do not observe the special season cannot be faulted and anyone who insists it must be strictly observed goes beyond the teaching of the Bible. Nevertheless, the observance of Lent can be a good thing if it is observed with the purpose and intent of considering Christ’s sufferings and death for the sins of the world (often called His passion) and as a special time of self-examination and repentance.

While many would simply go through the outward forms of repentance — including ashes on the forehead and fasting during the season — the Bible calls for true contrition and sorrow over our own sinfulness and faith in the shed blood of Christ Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Psalm 34:18 says: “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.”

Psalm 51:16-17 says: “For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”

John, in his first epistle (1 John 1:8-9; 2:1-2), writes: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness … If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

God desires that we live in continual repentance — acknowledging our sinfulness and the judgment we justly deserve but then looking in faith to Christ Jesus and His death on the cross for our sins and trusting that in Jesus we are forgiven and accepted of God. Therefore, as we contemplate the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ bitter sufferings and death for the sins of all, it is certainly also a fitting time to examine ourselves and see that it was for our sin that He suffered and died such an agonizing death.

As Isaiah 53:5-6 says, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Many, of course, speak of giving things up for Lent, and giving up things that we might focus on Christ and what He has done for us can certainly be a good thing. But, we need to always remember that our giving up something, whether it be through fasting or some other form of self-denial, can never merit God’s favor or blessing. Our observance of Lenten self-sacrifice will not somehow atone for our sins and make us acceptable to God. It is only through faith in the shed blood of Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), that we receive God’s pardon and forgiveness and are acceptable in His sight.

It is God who makes “us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:6,7).

It’s really too bad that more people do not observe Lent in a Biblical and Scriptural way — not just giving up some item for 40 days but, rather, repenting of sin and evil and looking to Christ and His cross for pardon, forgiveness and life eternal. In fact, it’s sad that true Lenten contrition and repentance are not observed by more people year round!

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