Luke 9:23-24:”Then he [Jesus] said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.'”

One of the tell-tale signs that Jesus’ ministry on Earth was coming to a close were His early predictions of His upcoming arrest. He was on the road to Jerusalem where He knew He’d face certain death. Yet He kept on walking. His mind was made up. Approaching Jerusalem, Jesus addressed the crowd with the following words (Luke 9:24):

“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake, you will save it.”

Jesus walked the talk. He did not hang on to His own life; giving up His life He saved it as God resurrected Him on the Third Day; and by freely giving His life He ultimately saved the world.

When we departed from the Garden of Eden we left God and got further and further away from Him; God on the other hand did not leave us. Even though the human situation got really nasty, He still did not drop us like a hot potato. Instead, we experience the goodness of the Lord on any given day when He helps us out and leaves us gifts; He lets the Sun shine on the good and the bad. Some actually take offense to that and say: that’s not fair. Our God does not intend to be fair. Our God is extremely generous and very patient. Thank God that He is!

Our faltering attempts to live a good life on this planet have not gone unnoticed. God came to our rescue. Jesus’s death on the cross is a martyr’s death – He died the death of a criminal and didn’t deserve it. However, there’s more to the story: He died so we can live.

Similar to being caught in quicksand, our failures lead to yet more failures. Jesus broke this vicious cycle. He accepted the consequences of our shortcomings in our stead. The buck stops right there – at the cross. Jesus on the cross lived our pain, breathed in our brokenness and exhaled His last breath in death to save us from the repercussions of all our bad choices. Instead of punishment God’s open arms are wide, ready to receive us back.

Our heavenly Father loves to be gracious! Jesus is a hero in the Father’s eyes because what His heart wants most – extending grace to all His estranged children – is now happening on any given day. People realize one by one that they are loved by God and that the doors to reconciliation are wide open. Reunions take place. People find Heaven or Heaven finds them. Jesus’ sacrificial death enables grace upon grace.

The longer we live the more God’s belief in us strikes us. Yes, this is an astounding fact: God believes in us – so much so that He bet His Son’s life on it. He invests in us by withholding nothing and giving it all! If God so fully invests in us why wouldn’t we take a step of faith and invest in Him?

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Ephesians 1:7: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”

Richness means abundance, and God is rich in many things. His richness of love is spectacular. Like the bottomless sea, His love never runs out. Neither does God’s grace. This is important to note – if His love was scarce and His grace wanting, life would look a lot differently from what we have known and seen. If God was stingy, there would be less natural resources. And without nature’s bounty, we all go hungry. In the season of spring there’d be less bloom, in the summer fruit trees bear less fruit. In the fall crops would repeatedly fail, and the winters would be just plain brutal. Animals would hardly reproduce for lack of resources, so there’d be scarcely any new life forthcoming. Ultimately this planet would be doomed to die.

Thankfully, one of His finest features is God’s generosity, and because of His willingness to share from His abundance of grace and love everybody wins. Yesterday I witnessed an abundance of chicks waddling behind their parents as I was visiting a nature preserve. Nesting birds usually have at least four babies, which gives their species a good chance of survival. It is heartwarming to see new life everywhere. Spring is a season of optimism, hope and trust that God’s resources won’t run out.

We can rely on God’s grace to do the same. His grace never fails to provide new life, new hope, new beginnings. There is nothing God cannot fix. There is no insult or offense that would turn His grace off. His door is open; His heart is welcoming; like a river His energies are streaming into one direction: to give life and to encourage life, to save life and to preserve life. God, the life-giver, eternally is an enemy of death.

How God became a man and paid with His lifeblood to redeem us from the death grip remains His secret, however, He pulled it off. The Trinity split and Jesus became a human being, complete with childhood history and young adulthood. He didn’t just fall from the skies to save us, He was part of our human network. He had a family name. He had relatives. He developed friendships. He had mortal enemies from day one. His lifeblood redeemed us and that includes all life forms. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans (Romans 8:19-21):

“In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God! “

God’s redemption is as abundant as His grace and love.

Isaiah 53:5-6: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

It’s a difficult pill to swallow that an innocent man got brutally murdered to make things right for everybody. Things have gone wrong the more we got disconnected from our Creator. Our selfish tendencies and increasing self-absorption have been one of the major reasons why we’ve become strangers to Heaven.

The concept of putting ourselves first has thrown the world under the bus. An ongoing string of disagreements and wars is the result. Jesus came with a refreshingly different approach saying: “Love your neighbor as yourself!” He actually lived these words. Jesus loved everybody just as He loved Himself. In Jesus’s eyes, we are family. In His mind, He is our big brother who bails us out. He willingly laid down His life for us.

Whether or not we accept His gift is completely up to us. God’s generous love includes people who don’t accept His gift.

I have opened God’s incredible gift and have accepted what Jesus did for me. Right now I cannot imagine living life without being connected to God. I know that I would feel utterly alone, restless and empty. Being disconnected from the Godhead is both the most horrifying and unnatural thing there is. To be reconnected to the source of all being, however, is the most striking experience there is. A beautiful mystery is being revealed when we become aware of God’s love.

Jesus’s healing of the broken relationship between us and our Creator will always be remembered. Jesus’s death and resurrection revolutionized the fabrics of all creation. In the new world to come, even animals will stop killing each other. The lion won’t have lamb for dinner. The lion will hunker down with the lamb and will no longer look through predator eyes. That is a safe world for our children and children’s children. The kingdom of God is the kind of place everybody wants to live in. It’s a wonderful world.

Deuteronomy 34:4:“Then the Lord said to Moses, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have now allowed you to see it with your own eyes, but you will not enter the land.”

Moses died on Mount Pisgah where he could see the Promised Land before he passed away. His death is highly symbolic in nature: Moses representing the Law of Moses does not have access to the Promised Land. He was allowed to see it but not enter it. In the same fashion will the law help us to see God’s values but it won’t get us into the Promised Land. We need to be redeemed to gain access and this is where Jesus, the Messiah comes in.

The Law of Moses is pointing out the blessings of adhering to them but is also spelling out the curses of disrespecting them. The curses outlined in the Torah all fell on Jesus. Prophet Isaiah wrote about the Messiah:

Isaiah 53:3-4: “He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins!”

On Earth, Jesus loved to refer to Himself as the Son of Man – or Son of Adam. I believe He did that to claim His Human identity, even though He is the Son of God who has lived long before He was born to Mary and Joseph. It was important to Jesus to identify Himself as a human being because Jesus would be the only living and breathing Son of Adam who satisfied the Law of Moses.  Not only did He follow the law in His lifetime with all the blessings that come with obeying the law, he also satisfied the law by accepting the curses coming from disobeying the law.  And since He did not have to take care of His own sins – He took care of humanity’s sins by absorbing the full punishment, including death. The wages of sin is death.  Jesus labored grief-stricken, mortally wounded, tormented and despised to absorb the full punishment of disobeying God to pay the price for humanity’s release.

That’s our Redeemer. That’s what Jesus did. After He had satisfied the law and died, God received His offering and opened up the grave to wake Him up from the dead.  After three days Jesus came back to life. And the rest is history.

“See from His head, His hands, His feet sorrow and love flow mingled down. Did ever such love and sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown?” (Isaac Watts)

Romans 9:7: “Being descendants of Abraham doesn’t make them truly Abraham’s children. For the Scriptures say, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted,” though Abraham had other children, too.”

Abraham’s other children – who were they and how many children did Abraham have?

In the 25th chapter of Genesis we read that after his wife Sarah passed away Abraham married another wife before he died. Her name is Keturah. Keturah gave Abraham six children. Add Ishmael and Isaac to the equation, and we are looking at eight children with Ishmael being Abraham’s firstborn. These days we call that a blended family. While all eight children were fathered by Abraham, three different mothers were involved to give birth to his eight children: Sarah, Hagar, and Keturah. Even though all three women gave birth to Abraham’s children they did not have equal status. Sarah was Abraham’s wife, Hagar was Sarah’s servant girl, and Keturah was Abraham’s concubine. The different status of the mothers deeply impacted their children’s future. We read in the same chapter in Genesis:

“5 Abraham gave everything he owned to his son Isaac. 6 But before he died, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them off to a land in the east, away from Isaac.”

Earlier, also Hagar and Ishmael were sent away. Over time all of Abraham’s children were blessed with many descendants. Out of his descendants grew tribes, and out of tribes, nations – nations who, despite their family relations tracing back to their father Abraham, have not been friendly with one another. Instead they became downright hostile when they started hating and killing each other. What is up with these family feuds that have lasted for centuries and are causing major trouble in modern day Middle East wreaking havoc worldwide with relentless warfare and devastating terrorist attacks?

A lot of the resentment can be traced back to what was perceived as violation of firstborn rights. The special status of the firstborn in the ancient Middle East was to a great degree materialistic: they were the first to receive their parent’s inheritance (some say the double portion); when Abraham’s firstborn Ishmael was sent away without his rightful inheritance and his Concubines’ sons were sent away with “gifts” – talking about preferential treatment here – one can say that trouble was in the making! Incidentally, centuries later, when Moses penned down the laws on Mount Sinai, a section of the laws was specifically dedicated to the protection of the firstborn rights. In Deuteronomy 21:15-17 we read:

“If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son to the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn, but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the first-fruits of his strength.  The right of the firstborn is his.”

In the eyes of the Lord firstborn play a crucial role, and it became very apparent on the night of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Israel’s exodus was not achieved through political prowess or diplomatic pacts or even violence and warfare.  Israel’s exodus was not achieved by nine devastating plagues (which must have left Egypt economically bankrupt). It was achieved through death of the firstborn, celebrated as Passover ever since.  In the 12th chapter of the book of Exodus we read (Exodus 12:29):

“And that night at midnight, the Lord struck down all the firstborn sons in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sat on his throne, to the firstborn son of the prisoner in the dungeon. Even the firstborn of their livestock were killed.”

On the evening of the first Passover ever God gave the following instructions to Israel (Exodus 13:1-2): “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Dedicate to me every firstborn among the Israelites. The first offspring to be born, of both humans and animals, belongs to me.’” Firstborn livestock was to be sacrificed.  Firstborn humans were to be redeemed.  So the striking difference between Egypt and Israel on that fateful night is the dedication of their firstborn – or lack thereof!  While the people of Israel willingly sacrificed a portion of their livestock and applied the blood on their door-frames to save the lives of their children, the Egyptians lost all of their firstborn – children and livestock alike.

Dedicating the firstborn is one of the many ways our heavenly Father honors His Son.  Centuries later Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that Jesus is the firstborn elder brother of many brothers and sisters to come (Romans 8:29): “For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”

Surviving that fateful night prior to Israel’s exodus established a sacred role for the firstborn:

  • Firstborn is to be set apart (dedicated to the Lord);
  • Firstborn has redemptive power (as seen in the redeeming story of Exodus);

In the end all of Abraham’s children and all of everybody’s children for that matter were to benefit from Isaac’s firstborn status. Isaac is Jesus’ ancestor who is set apart to redeem all of humanity. This blessing goes way beyond any material blessing Abraham’s family members could have ever received. In hindsight it turns out that their jealousy is actually unfounded.  God knows no preferential treatment.  He loves every single person on this planet and has a plan to redeem them – He made it happen when He sacrificed His Son Jesus. He alone has the power to redeem!