Friday, December 19, 2014

Hebrews 8:1-13 The New Covenant

It has been so long since I last sent anything out from this wonderful book of Hebrews. Forgive me for being so lapse. Most likely you never even noticed! Getting used to my new job has been exhausting, but I love what I’m doing! However, my routine has changed somewhat, and this has made it harder for me to sit before the computer at home! It’s been so long that we were here, that I’m sure you have forgotten where we were. However, the good new is that chapter 8 is a summary and, therefore, a reminder!

In chapter 8, the writer of Hebrews summarizes what has come before as he stresses his main point:
Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,  and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being. . . But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. (Hebrews 8:1-2, 6-7)

I love how Jon Courson emphasizes the importance of having Jesus as our only High Priest and Mediator:

“What Jesus did for me on the Cross of Calvary opened the way for me to fellowship with the Father regardless of whether I have morning devotions, regardless of whether I made it to church last Sunday; regardless of whether I’ve been tithing or worshiping. Those are not the issues. Yes, it benefits me greatly to cultivate my walk with the Lord through prayer and worship, through tithing and devotions. But my relationship with the Father is not based on any of these things. It’s based on the High Priestly work of Jesus Christ. “So if you have need in any way, you can come boldly before the Father - even if you haven’t prayed in the past ten years. You can come boldly before Him because of one thing and one thing only: the High Priestly work of Jesus Christ and what he accomplished on Calvary. Nothing must be added to that; indeed, nothing can be added to that.” (Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: New Testament, P.1480-1481)

The point is that we have a NEW covenant that replaces the ineffective old one. God knew we would need a new covenant, because He knew we could not keep the old one. So He foretold the fact that the new covenant would be one written in our hearts, not on tablets of stone. The writer of Hebrews quotes the prophecy in Jeremiah 31:

The days are coming, declares the Lord,

    when I will make a new covenant

with the people of Israel

    and with the people of Judah. 
It will not be like the covenant

    I made with their ancestors. . . 
I will put my laws in their minds

    and write them on their hearts.

I will be their God,

    and they will be my people. . . 

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. (Hebrews 8:8-9a, 10b, 13)

This is the most miraculous thing that God does when we receive His gift of salvation: He writes His law in our hearts. He changes us from the inside out. We are transformed by His work in our minds and hearts. Paul tells us, in fact, that when we submit to God’s will for our lives, we will be changed:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

David knew the importance of having the Law in his heart:
I have hidden your word in my heart

    that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11)

Jon Courson points out in his commentary that the first Christians did not have the benefit of small group studies in the book of Romans or in this book of Hebrews. They did not have the written New Testament in their hands. God’s Word was written in their hearts. Isn’t that amazing? We DO have the written word to help us! We have the testimony of those early believers and the exhortation in their letters to encourage and strengthen us through constant study. And, with the Holy Spirit living inside of us, God is able to transform our thoughts and hearts as we read His Word.

Shouldn’t we be turning the world upside down? If it ever needed it, now is the time! And now is the opportunity. At Christmas this year you may be the “token Christian” in your family (Greg Laurie’s words). You surely will have opportunity to share the good news about God becoming a man, the baby born to die for us. Praying this Christmas, as you think about that awesome act in history, that you will be filled with a new amazement at who Christ is and what He did on that cross! Halleljuah! What a Savior!

My sweet friend, Pamie, sent me this link to a musical video about that first Christmas that brought tears to my eyes. Take a few minutes to enjoy this reminder: 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Hebrews 7:11-28 This Isn't Your Father's Priesthood!

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?  For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. (Hebrews 7:11-12)

The writer of Hebrews understands that his readers are struggling with leaving behind the trappings of religion, especially the reliance on an earthly priest to represent them before God. So he argues the weaknesses of the former Levitical priesthood as he also demonstrates the superiority of Christ’s priesthood. He starts with the argument that the Law could not make us perfect. In fact, it just showed us how sinful we are, because we could NEVER keep it. It pointed us to our need for a Savior! Therefore, the priesthood under the law, was also inadequate. We needed Jesus to be our High Priest.

But how could Jesus be a priest when He wasn’t from the correct tribe of Levi? He was from the tribe of Judah. The writer declares Jesus was a priest, not by genealogy, but chosen by the Father, and appointed by an oath made by God:

For it is declared: “You are a priest forever,

    in the order of Melchizedek.” 
The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. 

And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: 

“The Lord has sworn

    and will not change his mind:

    ‘You are a priest forever.’” 
Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant. (vs. 17-22)

One of the problems with the old priesthood is that the priests kept dying!

. . .but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. (vs. 24-25)

Jesus is the eternal High Priest. He is constantly interceding for us! I heard Greg Laurie on the radio the other day talking about how he was able to meet Billy Graham. He said that he had known and worked with Franklin Graham for several years. One day Franklin asked Greg if he would like to meet his father. So Greg was ushered in to meet Billy, because Greg had a relationship with the son. In the same way, Jesus, as our High Priest, ushers us into the presence of His Father. We are able to go into the Holy of Holies through prayer with the Father, because we have a relationship with the Son. My guess is that when Billy Graham met Greg that day, he could have said something like, “Any friend of Franklin’s is a friend of mine” And I’m certain that’s the same way the Father feels about us when we meet with Him in prayer!

Remember this when you hear the accusations of the world or of Satan, the destroyer and joy-robber, who loves to whisper, “You are nothing! Worthless! How dare you think that God or anyone else could love you!” Our eternal High Priest, Jesus, is pleading your case even now with the Father: “Look at her, Father! Isn’t she lovely? She is one of ours. She is spotless and pure because she has believed in me! She is just as you created her to be! How we love her!”

For this reason, the writer of Hebrews can boldly claim the following:

Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever. (vs.26-28)

If you are relying on ANYTHING or ANYONE (yourself, your pastor, your dead grandmother who prayed for you) to save you, you will be eternally disappointed. Jesus is our only High Priest, who has been made perfect FOREVER! Amen.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Hebrews 7:4-10 Tithing: Try it, You'll Like It!

In today’s passage, the author points to the significance of Abraham giving a tithe to Melchizedek:

Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor. (Hebrews 7:4-10 NIV)

Basically what this is saying is that by giving the tithe to Melchizedek, Abraham is acknowledging that Melchizedek is greater than he is. When Melchizedek blesses Abraham, this passage confirms that the greater blesses the lesser. The readers, who were steeped in Jewish law, would have questioned the priesthood of Melchizedek, since he was not of the tribe of Levi, which was the tribe given the priesthood by God. This author is saying that the priesthood of Melchizedek was clearly greater than that of Levi, since Abraham, the Patriarch, gave tithes to Melchizedek. Therefore,it would be as if Levi, as Abraham’s descendant, was giving the tithe. Can we all agree that Melchizedek was greater?? Having argued that, the author will turn next to how Jesus is like Melchizedek, with a superior priesthood.

But before we move on, we just can’t ignore this whole topic of tithing. Is there any topic that makes congregations squirm more? Mention money from the pulpit and you are guaranteed to tick off some in the pews! Why is that? Because deep down we believe that our money is OURS. WE EARNED it and we should be able to keep it. God doesn’t need our money, so why does He expect us to give it?

The truth is that all we have and all we are able to do are gifts from God. Tithing is a way of acknowledging this, and it is also the way God designed the church to take care of the needs of those who serve Him in ministry. The tribe of Levi was called to the priesthood, so their tribe was the only one which was not given any territory in the Promised Land. They could not earn a living from the land, and they were in service to God 24/7. So God provided for their needs with the tithe. So do we have to tithe today? No!

Because Jesus fulfilled the law, we are no longer under the command to tithe. In fact Jesus was harsh in his criticism of the legalistic way the religious leaders would tithe down to the tiniest part of their spices, while ignoring the weightier things that they should have been doing, like caring about the needs of the “least of these:”

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” (Luke 11:42)

You won’t find a command to tithe in the New Testament! However, the New Testament makes it very clear that Christians gave to the church for the care of pastors and to take care of the needy. I read an article by John Ortberg in which he purports that giving is “one of God’s great gifts to us.” He writes:

“What if tithing is actually one of God's great gifts to us? What if tithing isn't opposed to grace, but is actually a vehicle of it? I'd like to go back to one of the classic statements about the tithe in Scripture, and look at why tithing is in fact God's great tool to create generous people. 

He quotes the best-known promise in Scripture on tithing: 

You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. (Malachi 3:9-10)

Ortberg continues:

Tithing is like training wheels when it comes to giving. It's intended to help you get started, but not recommended for the Tour de France.

How do you know when to take training wheels off? The quick answer is: when they're slowing you down. How do you know when its time to stop tithing? For all of us not living in dire poverty, the answer is when you're giving way more than 10 percent. Tithing is a bad ceiling but an excellent floor.” (“Tithing: Law or Grace?” John Ortberg)

I like his thought that tithing (giving ten percent) is just the beginning. Paul tells us that God is more interested in our intention than with the actual amount of money we give. Paul’s exhortation is to be as generous as possible with our giving:

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor 9:6-7)

Giving back to God reveals the attitude of our hearts. If we hold on to our belongings with a tight fist, and begrudgingly peel a few bills out of our wallets for the offering plate, we are saying we can’t trust God with our money. We fear our financial future, because we can’t trust God with it. Yet, God promises to bless us to overflowing if we will just test him in this area. He dares us to open up our pockets to give back to Him in gratitude.

Try it. You’ll be amazed at how it straightens out the rest of your budget! You’ll find that a tithe is, indeed, just the beginning.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Hebrews 6:20-7:3 Who is Melkizedek and Why Should I Care?

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,  where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him,  and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.”  Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever. (Hebrews 7:1-3 NIV)

I have backed up one verse before starting in chapter 7, because we need the context. The author has just stated that our hope is secure because Jesus is our high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. This begs the question, who is this Melchizedek? He is a mysterious person, given only four verses in Genesis 14, who appears, then is barely mentioned again.

First I need to set up the background. When Abraham was traveling around with his nephew Lot, they settled in a place called Bethel. However, the land wasn’t large enough for both of them with their herds and people, so Abraham suggested they part. Abraham selflessly suggested that Lot choose the land he wanted, and Abraham would take what was left. Lot looked out and saw the plain of Jordan, in the east, and found it was perfect, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt (Gen 13:10). So Lot headed east and pitched his tents near Sodom, where the people were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD. (vs. 12-13) This would not be a good move for Lot! He thought he was getting the best deal, but not so much.

If you know the story of Sodom and Gommorah, you know that angels had to forcibly remove Lot and his family from Sodom before God destroyed it. Even then, his wife, having been ordered not to look back, couldn’t help herself from gazing back at her precious home, so she turned into a pillar of salt. Well, even before the destruction of Sodom, Lot found himself in trouble there. There was a war between several local kings, and Lot and his family were carried off with all of their possessions as a result of this war. When Abraham heard what had happened, he gathered 318 trained men from his household, and they routed the men who had taken Lot and rescued his nephew and all of his family and goods. On his way home from this victory, Abraham met Melchizedek:

After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, 

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,

    Creator of heaven and earth.   
And praise be to God Most High,

    who delivered your enemies into your hand.” 
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:17-20)

That’s all that we know about Melchizedek. He was the King of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” and his actual name means “king of righteousness.” His name is mentioned one other time in the Old Testament, in what is considered a prophetic word, spoken by God the Father to Christ, the Messiah: 

“You are a priest forever,

    in the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4)

Melchizedek was both a king and a priest of the Most High God. It was not permissible under Jewish law to have both roles. Yet, Melchizedek did. And he blessed Abraham, and Abraham gave him a tithe. The author of Hebrews indicates that this man had no beginning or ending, no father or mother, and he was like the Son of God, a priest forever. So who was he, and why is it important that Jesus is called a priest in the order of Melchizedek? Well, many commentators believe that Melchizedek was actually a Christophany - an appearance of the Son of God before his incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth.

The significance of linking Jesus to the priesthood of Melchizedek is that it shows His superiority over Abraham, the revered father of the Jewish nation. The argument is that Jesus is even superior to the founder of the Jewish faith, which would be noteworthy to these Hebrew believers, who were in danger of going back into slavery to the law and tradition. But for now, note that Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe, a tenth of EVERYTHING! Tithing preceded the giving of the law. It is a natural response of worship. Abraham was acknowledging that God had brought him this miraculous victory, and in gratitude He gives back to God what was really God’s anyway. More about that next.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Hebrews 6:16-20 The door's open! Come on in!

People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.  Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.  God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.  We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,  where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:16-20 NIV)

When a politician takes an oath of office, he ends the oath with, “So help me God.” When someone says that it signals that the oath is solemn and binding, because it’s been made in God’s name. Our verses today tell us that when God made His promise to Abraham, there was no one greater, so He swore by His own name. And because of this, the promise is more than just solemn - it’s “unchanging. . .an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” The Message puts this in modern language in this way:

When God wanted to guarantee his promises, he gave his word, a rock-solid guarantee—God can’t break his word. And because his word cannot change, the promise is likewise unchangeable. 

I love that there is something God can’t do: He can’t lie! His Word is unchangeable, just as He is. This is why our hope in Christ is an anchor. It is held by God’s very own Word. When we say we hope in Christ, we don’t mean we wish. It’s not like, “I wish I could get a new car.” This hope we have is a solid promise - a guarantee. This is why, when the entire world around us is changing and seems to be crumbling, we can remain unshaken. We know that we know that we know that God’s Word is true. We know that we have an eternal home. We know that our sins are forgiven and we are His. We know that He is coming back, and that He has the ultimate victory.

Jesus is not just superior in His person, but also in His promises. The author is telling the readers that Jesus is the solid anchor of our faith. And He is our eternal high priest. He is the One who enters the inner sanctuary to God. In the temple, the Holy of Holies was where the ark of the covenant and God’s shekinah glory was. Only the High Priest could enter in there once a year, on the Day of Atonement, to make sacrifices for the sins of the people.

 The veil of the temple, which separated the people from God’s glory, measured 60 feet by 30 feet and was 10 inches thick. Jon Courson says it was “so heavy it took one hundred priests to move it.” (Courson, Application Commentary: New Testament, P. 1472) Yet, you may remember that, when Jesus completed His work on the cross, the veil of the temple tore in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:50-51). The way to the Father was open.

 We have no further need of a mediator between God and man, because Jesus, our only Mediator, has opened the way to the inner sanctuary. We are welcomed in! This is great news! You and I don’t need to send anyone in there for us to reach Almighty God. We are guaranteed an audience with our Father, because the Son is at His right hand! This is why Hebrews 4:16 boldly proclaimed, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Can I hear an “Amen!” to that???

Jon Courson points out that the Hebrew audience may have doubted Jesus’ qualifications as High Priest, since only those of the tribe of Levi could be priests, and Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. So he jumps into a comparison of Jesus to Melchizedek, which will move us into chapter 7. Remember that, back in chapter 5, verse 10, the writer had asserted that these believers were not mature enough to understand a discussion of Melchizedek. But now, he is going to launch into an explanation of this mysterious figure who has only a few verses devoted to him in Genesis 14. The superiority of Jesus’ priesthood will be our focus. This is deep stuff, so we will need to pay attention, and I will be entering into it with all humility! Help me, Holy Spirit!  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Hebrews 6:13-15 Part 2 Waiting. . . more waiting. . .

When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. (Hebrews 6:13-15)

I am not the best “waiter.” I don’t like sitting in a freezing exam room for 45 minutes until a doctor can pop his head in; I feel my anger grow as I discover that, once again, I got in the wrong line at the store (if you see me at a store, NEVER get in line behind me). I want to scream at drivers who get on the freeway in front of me going 50 mph! I especially don’t like being put on hold, listening to REALLY bad elevator music, while I wait to get an answer to a simple question.

Yesterday, we focused on the promise of God. Today I want to go back to the same verses to look at the idea of waiting. We know that often there is a long time between the promise and the fulfillment. I have friends who have been waiting for years for their spouse or children to come to the LORD. I see couples struggling with infertility, or friends with a serious illness waiting for answers. Is God ignoring prayers? Will He EVER answer?

Sometimes the fulfillment doesn’t come in our lifetime. This was certainly true of Abraham. I can identify with the Hebrew believers in wanting the LORD to return NOW. What is He waiting for? 2 Peter 3:9 gives us the answer to that one:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Just as God has a gracious purpose in our waiting for Christ’s return, He is being gracious when He delays in answering our prayers. He is building our character, teaching us to be patient, to endure, to persevere, to trust. I love that God does not tell us what is in our future. I don’t think we could bear knowing that news ahead of time. Yet, somehow, over years of walking and trusting Him, we find Him faithful, no matter where He leads us.

Jon Courson says that one of the reasons God waits, is because what He has planned is so much better than what we could imagine. (Eph. 3:20). He uses the example of Zacharias and Elizabeth, who were very old and childless. They had given up the dream of ever becoming parents. Yet God gave them the boy who would grow up to become the greatest prophet in history, John the Baptist! I love what Jon Courson writes:

The language of eternity is faith. When the Lord has us ruling and reigning at His side, under His command, doing His bidding - whatever that means in the ages to come - He’s going to need men and women like you who are not second-guessing, not doubting, not faltering. Jesus taught about the faithful in this life who will rule over five and ten cities in the kingdom (Luke 19). In other words, Jesus is saying there is a destiny far beyond what any of us know or can imagine awaiting us in the next zillion years.

 And the language that must be fluently spoken by us if we are going to be ambassadors for Him in the realm and regions beyond is the language of faith. (New Testament Commentary , P. 1476)

What are you waiting for in this season? Are you waiting for a spouse? Are you wondering why you still have no baby in your arms, even though it is your greatest desire to love on a baby? Are you waiting for a clear diagnosis from the doctor? Are you waiting to find a job? Maybe you are waiting for the burden of overwhelming grief to subside. If God delays in answering, know that it is because He has the perfect plan for you - and that plan is part of His overall Kingdom plan - it’s for eternal purposes, not just our happiness. God is focused on our holiness, and He is working it into us in the waiting.

What can you do while you wait? Rest. Trust. Keep moving forward. Psalm 37:3-4 puts it this way:

Trust in the Lord and do good;

    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. 
Take delight in the Lord,

    and he will give you the desires of your heart. (NIV)

God is the ultimate Promise Keeper. When He says He’s going to do something, He does it. That’s why believers, over centuries, have put their trust in Him. Rest. Trust. Keep moving forward. He is FAITHFUL! As we finish this chapter of Hebrews in our next passage, we will look at the imagery that the author uses to affirm that we have a God who can be trusted. Let’s take delight in Him!  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hebrews 6:13-15 Soon and very soon. . .

Before we move into today's passage, I want to remind you of the context of this letter, Remember that the author is warning the Hebrew believers not to be sucked back into the emptiness and futility of religious ritual. They were being tempted to return to their traditions, which lead to legalism and bondage. Why are we always so eager to do things in our own strength and by our own will? Give us a tangible ritual to perform and we will feel like we have done something to help our spiritual state. If we just complete this ritual or recite this prayer, God will hear us and be pleased.

So this letter, then, is a strong warning to the Hebrew believers to continue to walk in grace. The work that Jesus completed on the cross and continues to do as He intercedes for us, is the ONLY thing which brings us to the Father. In this way, Jesus is the superior high priest; He is the only priest we need.

The first century believers, like us, lived in constant expectancy of the LORD’s return. This is our great and glorious hope - that one day Jesus WILL return as promised! Those believers were thinking it would be any day, and they were becoming a bit impatient to see it. The author may have thought that this delay in Christ’s return was influencing some to turn back to Judaism. So, he reminds them that God ALWAYS keeps His promises:

When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself,  saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. (Hebrews 6:13-15 NIV)

What promise did God make to Abraham? Well, He made several, but this one specifically quotes the one made in Genesis 22, right after Abraham had taken Isaac to Mount Moriah, where he was prepared to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. God had kept Abraham from slaying Isaac, and provided the lamb for the sacrifice. So the LORD made this promise to Abraham:

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (Genesis 22:15-18)

When I first read this passage, I thought, “Wait a minute? Abraham waited patiently? What about taking Hagar, who was offered by Sarah, because they were tired of waiting for the promised son? The birth of Hagar’s son, Ishmael, brought nothing but problems between the Arabs and the Jews since then! However, last week I heard a radio pastor and then read in Jon Courson’s New Application Commentary the same idea that applies here: when the New Testament mentions Old Testament people, it’s always the positive side of that person - what they did by faith - not how they failed. This is a powerful demonstration of God’s grace in their lives. Their past failures and sin, just like ours, have been forgiven. So, when God sees them, and us now, it is through Christ! Hallelujah! We will see that clearly when we get to chapter 11.

We will spend more time on this passage next time. There is much to be mined here!  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hebrew 6:9-12 Keep at it!

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation.  God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.  We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. (Hebrews 6:9-12)

In the previous passages, the author of Hebrews has been speaking some harder words about the need to mature and the sad state of those who reject Christ. But he turns in this next passage to assure them that he knows that these believers will indeed persevere in their faith. He will continue to remind them of the superiority of Christ and His sacrificial death for us.

However, in these few verses it could be assumed that these believers were being justified to God by their works. From the whole of scriptures we know this is not what the writer is saying. He IS saying that their works for God do not go unnoticed. God WILL remember our works done for Him, and, in fact, will reward us for them. But the only work that saves us and reconciles sinful man to our holy God is the work of Christ on the cross. But our works do justify us before men. They prove our faith to others - not to God, who already knows our hearts - but to men who can only judge our faith by what they see in our actions.

The other day I heard that wonderful radio preacher, J. Vernon McGee, though now deceased, still preaching it out in old recordings, quoting John Calvin on the tension between faith and works:

Faith alone saves - but faith that saves is never alone - John Calvin

This just sums it all up for me. We have been saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Period. However, real saving faith will ALWAYS result in works, because it comes from the heart of God. Our hearts should be moved by His to reach out to a lost world. Our faith in a compassionate, loving God should compel us to demonstrate that love to others in tangible ways. They should be able to look at us and see Jesus.

Notice that the author of Hebrews says that the Christian life will require diligence to the end. This is not a faith for the lazy, but will require patience in order to inherit what has been promised. The closer I get to the end, the more I see the need to not rest but to keep on moving and doing. It’s not a time for the “younger folk” to take over while I sit on the front porch. My work for Christ won’t be over “til it’s over.

My job is now to pass on what I’ve learned, to pour myself and my energy into getting out the gospel, and, indeed, living out the gospel - to my grandchildren, to my coworkers, to my neighbors, to anyone God puts in my path! Am I doing it? Not nearly enough or boldly enough! In teeny-tiny ways, maybe. But I’m getting restless to do MORE! Pray with me that we will all want to be more, grow more, and demonstrate more of Christ. 

We are told here to imitate those who have modeled this diligence for us.  Later in this letter the author will list off for us the heroes of the faith who did persevere, but next he will turn to the certainty of the promise of God. Good stuff ahead! Stay with me here!  

Friday, September 19, 2014

Hebrews 6:1-8 Impossible?

In Chapter 6 of Hebrews, the author continues his insistence that they move forward in their understanding, continue to grow in their faith. He includes himself by using the pronoun “us” and “we.”

So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.  And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding. (Hebrews 6:1-3 NLT)

And then he makes a disturbing statement that could, and probably does, confuse many.

For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit,  who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come—  and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame. (vs. 4-5)

Is he saying that it is possible to lose your salvation? I think not. He is clearly not talking about a true believer here, but about someone who has tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come—  and who then turn away from God. Matthew Henry, in his commentary on these verses, suggests that this is like the person at a street fair who tastes a sample of something, possibly likes it, but decides not to buy and moves on. This is someone who has heard the gospel, maybe even liked what he heard, maybe even started coming to church, but when things got a little difficult, this person turns away disillusioned, because he never counted the cost.

The Apostle John seems to confirm this view of those who fall or turn away:

These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us. (1 John 2:19)

Jesus indicated that there were several reasons why people will fall away in His parable of the Sower:

The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts.  The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy.  But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word.  The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. (Matthew 13:19-22)

The writer of Hebrews says it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened. . . and who then turn away from God. Yes, it is impossible for man, but ALL things are possible with God. (Matthew 19:26) We should never give up on anyone - even if his heart appears hardened to us. Only God knows the hearts of men. Our job is to keep presenting the gospel and to pray for the Holy Spirit to do the work in the heart.

However, the author of Hebrews also indicates that there is a point of no return for those who continue to reject Jesus Christ, because by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame. (Hebrews 6:6b) And there is a cost for that: 

When the ground soaks up the falling rain and bears a good crop for the farmer, it has God’s blessing.  But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it. (vs.7-8)

We all know and could probably recite John 3:16, which spells out the good news:

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. (NIV)

But do we know what comes after this? Here’s the “bad news:”

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:18)

Do you have loved ones who have turned away from or rejected Jesus? Don’t give up! Keep praying! Ask the Lord to send believers into that person’s life who will be able to show him Christ - maybe in a way that you can’t. I cling to the wonderful example of the thief on the cross next to Jesus who made the last minute confession of faith before dying, and Jesus promised him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) That’s amazing grace!  

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hebrews 5:11-14 Bring on the Cheerios!

There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen.  You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.  For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right.  Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong. (Hebrews 5:11-14 NLT)

My youngest grandchild, Georgia, now ten months old, got her first two baby teeth early on. Then next six came in all at once! That girl wants to chew on things! She is not satisfied any longer just having baby food. She wants to eat what everyone else is eating! Bring on the Cheerios! She’s even beginning to mimic words. She will say, “Hello,” “Dada,” something that sounds like “Mama,” and even “Nanny,” which sounds more like “NahNah.” These little milestones delight us. However, if when she is five years old this is all she can do, believe me, we would be alarmed! It would mean that she was developmentally delayed and not growing as she should. We would be bringing in experts to help!

There is a time, when we first come to Christ, that we are just overwhelmed by the fact that God is our Father, and that He has saved us, just as we were by His amazing grace. We will gladly tell everyone around us about what Jesus did on the cross. We could recite the basics of the gospel easily: Jesus, the unique Son of God, came to Earth as a man to die, taking the punishment for our sin on the cross; He was resurrected and is at the right hand of the Father, always interceding for us!

 Frankly, we should be marveling at this every day. The fact that He accepts us exactly where we are - with our strong wills, with our nasty tempers, in our addiction to drugs, or alcohol, or sex. Right where we are! Amazing. However, the writer of Hebrews tells us there is more. There is solid food waiting for us in God’s Word. More for us to know, more of HIM to know. While God receives us just where we are, He does not want to leave us this way. His goal is to transform us into His image. He wants us to be changed as we read His Word.

 Note in verse 14 that He wants us to do this through training. This would indicate a commitment to grow. It’s one thing to exercise occasionally. It’s another to put yourself through training. God wants us to exercise spiritually daily. He wants us to grow in our relationship with Him, to dedicate ourselves to learning who He is and what He wants us to do - how we fit into His Kingdom plans. This happens when we read through the entire Word of God - not just bits and pieces - and see the whole picture. Then we do it again and again, like repetitions in a training workout. And the truth is that we see something new every single time we read the Bible. This is the solid food that the author is writing about.

And it’s interesting that one of the outcomes is that we will gain the the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong. When we are babies in the faith, we don’t always make the best choices for ourselves. But once we dig in and start seeing who Christ is, we recognize that there are some behaviors that Christ followers are going to want to develop, and others that they are going to want to drop. This is the maturing process that comes from the training.

I get the feeling from this passage that the author is a little frustrated with this group, like a teacher might be when she’s trying to move on in a math concept, but can’t because her students are still stuck on their facts. Sigh. Let’s move on people! Bring on the Cheerios!  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Hebrews 5:4-9 Jesus Learned Obedience

Why is it that some children learn lessons quickly, while others need to be taught over and over? If you have more than one child, or if you have siblings, you know that, even though the children of one family are all raised in the same home by the same parents, each child has a unique personality and learns life lessons in different ways. And some of us remain that way into adulthood. While many just need to read the sign, “Wet paint,” to know to stay away from the freshly painted fence, others feel compelled to approach the fence and come away with a wet hand!

Being the youngest of four girls, I studied my sisters, and, while I copied much of their behaviors, I also learned that there were some places I did not want to go, some consequences I did not want to suffer. Yet, that didn’t prevent me from blazing my own trails of disobedience - and then suffering my own consequences! Every one of us has the same propensity to sin. I’ve often heard this illustration used: you do not need to train a child how to disobey. They do it intuitively! You have to train them how to be obedient!

Our scripture passage this morning tells us that Jesus learned obedience when He became a man. This is why the Bible tells us He was tempted in every way that we are. The difference is that He did not sin!

While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God.  Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.  In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. (Hebrews 5:4-9)

When the Son of God left His glory in Heaven to come to Earth to save man, He willingly took on the limitations of men. He became fully man while still being fully God. Had He not been fully man, He would not have qualified to take our place in payment for our sins. So, as a man, He had to “learn” obedience. How did He do that. Our passage tells us specifically that he learned obedience from the things he suffered. It is in suffering that we learn how to obey God.

Think back to the wet paint. If you have a tendency to disobey (which we all do), then you will test the paint. When you experience the red paint all over your hand, you will learn to NOT touch wet paint. When you reach for the hot skillet without an oven mitt, you quickly learn from the blisters on your fingers that next time you’d better protect yourself. But more profoundly, when you are in the midst of deep suffering or loss, you learn to lean on your Father in a way that you never have before. Suffering changes your perspective.

People who have gone through excruciating trials will often say that the experience brought them to a much greater personal knowledge of God and His grace and love. Because of the suffering, they grew closer to God and their walk with Him became more intimate and real.

Jesus promised that we would have much tribulation in this world, but through His obedience to the Father, He has overcome the world. Please note the connection of the prayers of Jesus to His obedience: . . . he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God.

In order to be obedient as a man, Jesus committed Himself to His Father. He prayed and pleaded. This was no quiet, contemplative prayer. It was a desperate clinging to and relying on His Father in His great need to stay focused on the cross. His whole life’s purpose was to be obedient to the plan of the Father, so He drew on the strength of the Father to move toward the cross.

We, too, can learn obedience through suffering. Sometimes it is suffering we have brought on ourselves - through our own poor or rebellious choices. Sometimes it is suffering forced upon us by others - a financial loss or a divorce. And sometimes it is given us by God for our good and His glory. Whatever the source of the suffering you are in at this moment, rely on your Father to strengthen you in it, to transform you through it, and to use you because of it.

It’s good to be back in His Word!  

Friday, July 25, 2014

Hebrews 5:1-3 He gets it!

It has been a long dry summer! I have missed being here every morning! It has been over a month since I last posted. The end of the school year was the end of my 22 years of teaching, so I completely cleaned out my classroom. It was so strange to see it so empty of life, but I was not sad. I would have been doing a happy dance had I not been so exhausted! I’m looking forward to my new work, which has pretty much already started. The balance of summer is now filled with meetings.

Shortly after school ended, Don and I took a wonderful Viking River Cruise up the Danube, with an extra three days in Prague. We went with my sister, Susie, and her husband, Don (yes, two Dons, which it easy for everyone we met). It was a dream vacation filled with castles, cathedrals, cobblestone streets, narrow alleys, beautiful bridges, and lots of sausage and strudel! We pretty much ate our way up the Danube!

However, I’m so anxious to get back into God’s Word and to be filled with its wisdom! I have been starving! So, let’s get right back to our book of Hebrews, in which the author argues the superiority of Christ. In this next passage, the author of explains the benefit of having a high priest who understands our weaknesses.

Every high priest is a man chosen to represent other people in their dealings with God. He presents their gifts to God and offers sacrifices for their sins.  And he is able to deal gently with ignorant and wayward people because he himself is subject to the same weaknesses.  That is why he must offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as theirs. (Hebrews 5: 1-3)

The Jewish high priest, who made sin offerings on behalf of the people, understood their temptations because he had the same weaknesses. When he made the sin offerings, he was including his own sin. Our High Priest, Jesus, was without sin. However, he was thoroughly acquainted with our temptations, griefs, worries, struggles, because He, too, suffered temptations. He endured frustrations, interruptions, rejection, disappointment, fatigue, hunger, loneliness, desertion of friends, betrayal, etc.

When we are going through a struggle, it’s nice to have the sympathy of friends and family, who come along side with a listening ear. But when we can actually talk with and pray with someone who has been through the exact same experience, there is so much more power in the sharing. Talking with someone who can empathize with our grief at the loss of a dream or who can completely identify with our fear over a diagnosis because that person has been through the same experience is so much more helpful in the midst of a trial. For this reason, Jesus, who is “acquainted with our grief” (Isaiah 53:3), is the superior High Priest.

I’m so grateful that Jesus gets it! I’m so thankful that He gets me! To think that He knows me completely and, yet, lavishes me with mercy and grace amazes me!     Thank you, thank you, LORD!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Hebrews 4:14-16 Come boldly!

So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe.  This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.  So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

All along, the author of Hebrews has been arguing the superiority of Jesus. He now begins to extol the superiority of the Priesthood of Jesus. The Jewish High Priest was a mediator who went into the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people to offer sacrifices. Once a year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would go in to offer the sin offering on behalf of all of the people. He was not allowed to mingle with the common people, as he was considered too dignified and holy. And of course, because he was subject to death. like everyone else, his job was not permanent.

Jesus, on the other hand is a far superior High Priest, making the author marvel that anyone would choose to go back to that old system. Jesus lives forever at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us. He is a High Priest who understands us and has compassion on us. Not only did he mingle with the common folk, he hung out with the worst of sinners. He honored women and children, who had no status in the society of that day. And best of all, His offering for sin was made once for all! There is no need for further work - it is finished!

For this reason, the author of Hebrews assures us that WE may enter the throne room - the Holy of Holies - BOLDLY! There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hallelujah! We receive both mercy (not getting what we deserve) and grace (getting what we don’t deserve). We no longer need a priest to intercede on our behalf. We don’t need saints to pray for us. We don’t need a really spiritual friend to say elegant prayers for us. We can enter his throne room on our own, because Jesus has opened the way.

One of my favorite nuggets in the New Testament is something that took place when Jesus died on the cross, which might seem insignificant. In Matthew 27:50-51b we read the following: Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit.  At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

The significance of this event is clear: the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies was torn in two from top to bottom when Jesus died. That curtain was a few inches thick. The tear came from the top to the bottom (from Heaven to Earth). The way to the throne had been opened forever. We can now enter into that throne room on the authority of our great High Priest!

Don’t take for granted this access we have to the Father. He is waiting to hear from you directly. He longs to meet with you! We are guaranteed that we will receive mercy and grace when we seek Him. Amazing grace, indeed!  

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hebrews 4:12-13 Exposed!

Today we come to a very familiar passage of scripture that is often quoted. However, I had never truly considered the context until now.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

I have always thought these verses pointed to the supernatural work done in our hearts when we read God’s Word, because it shows us our thoughts and motives and shows us where we need to change. In Isaiah God makes an extraordinary promise about His Word:

It is the same with my word.

    I send it out, and it always produces fruit.

It will accomplish all I want it to,

    and it will prosper everywhere I send it. (Isaiah 55:11)

God’s Word always does what He sends it out to do. There is something amazing about how using His Word or reading His Word does a work in the hearts of the hearers. It changes us from the inside out as we read it. And that is true! However, in the context of Hebrews 4, I’m thinking that is not specifically what today’s verses are saying.

These verses follow the story of the Israelites who failed to enter into God’s rest because they did not believe Him. How is this tied to the power of God’s living Word that has the ability to expose our innermost thoughts and desires? How is it related to entering into God’s rest?

The scriptures which tell us the story of the Israelites cuts our hearts like a sword because it shows us how like them we are. We cannot enter into God’s rest anymore than they could if we continue to trust in anything other than God to save us - if we fail to see that entering the Promised Land has NOTHING to do with us and what we can do, but EVERYTHING to do with what He has already done.

For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. (Hebrews 4:10)

True believers will rest from their own labors, because it is not our work but our belief in God’s work that brings us peace.

But today’s verses from Hebrews also show us that God’s Word is what judges our hearts. It is the measure by which we will be judged and proves that God’s judgments will be righteous, because His Word exposes what is in our hearts: Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. (vs.13)

The warning to the Hebrew believers, and to us, is don’t turn back to the Law to save you - it is what will judge you. Believe God for salvation. It is in His Son, Jesus.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Hebrews 4:1-11 How to get the rest you need

In the next chapter of Hebrews, the author continues to lay out that case that it matters that you believe God. Not believing God’s promises, like the Israelites, is what we should fear:

God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it.  For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God.  For only we who believe can enter his rest. . . So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall. (Hebrews 4:1-3, 11)

The good news, or gospel, regarding God’s rest was given to the Israelites. They were told by God to enter the Promised Land. But instead of believing Him, and the good report of Joshua and Caleb, they did NOT believe, and were prevented from entering the land of rest. They missed out on all that God had for them. The author of Hebrews says we should be very afraid of unbelief!

Sometimes we feel that we don’t deserve any good thing from God - and this is true! We don’t deserve any of His blessings! They are given by His grace, not gained by our merit. There is NOTHING we can do to earn them. Surely the Israelites were correct that, in their own strength, they were not up to the task of defeating the enemies in Canaan. But God was on their side! He was going to give them the victory and the land, if they would just march on in.

Our list of shortcomings is long: not smart enough, not good enough, not brave enough, not wealthy enough, not funny, not good-looking, too old, too fat, etc. And Satan loves to remind us of them! But none of them are relevant when the God of the Universe is on our side and has determined to bless us!

Jon Courson uses a great illustration of how we need to mix the good news with faith, as he recounts the story in Acts 12 where Peter is released from prison by the angel:

The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate.  Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists.  Then the angel told him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Now put on your coat and follow me,” the angel ordered. 

So Peter left the cell, following the angel. But all the time he thought it was a vision. He didn’t realize it was actually happening.  They passed the first and second guard posts and came to the iron gate leading to the city, and this opened for them all by itself. So they passed through and started walking down the street, and then the angel suddenly left him. 

Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said. “The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leaders had planned to do to me!” (Acts 12:6-11)

Courson writes: Now, had Peter not stood up and stepped out, had he not started moving, but instead said, “This is a neat thought, an interesting insight,” had he not mixed the angel’s command with faith - even though the chains were off and the door was opened, he would have remained in jail. (Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: New Testament, P. 1465).

Does it require a mountain of faith? Apparently not, because those who had been praying for Peter’s miraculous rescue from execution did not believe God had answered even when Peter kept knocking on the door where they were meeting in prayer!

He knocked at the door in the gate, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to open it.  When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and told everyone, “Peter is standing at the door!” 

“You’re out of your mind!” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.” 

Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened the door and saw him, they were amazed. (Acts 12:13-16)

I love this scene! It’s so funny! However, don’t we often fail to recognize God’s answers because we can’t believe He actually hears our prayers and cares? The author of Hebrews says this isn’t actually funny - it’s something to cause us to tremble! 

The example of the Israelites is there for us for a reason. Walk in faith! Get up and start walking. What is God telling you to believe? That your marriage can be saved? That your wayward child can return to the faith? That the news of cancer is NOT the end? That He can take care of your finances and provide a house for you? BELIEVE Him! Do not let unbelief rob you of His rest!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Hebrews 3:12-19 The Sin of Unbelief

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.  We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.  As has just been said: 

“Today, if you hear his voice,

    do not harden your hearts

    as you did in the rebellion.” 

Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt?  And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness?  And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed?  So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. (Hebrew 3:12-19 NIV)

The warning to the readers of Hebrews is to hold onto their faith firmly to the very end. The Israelites gratefully followed Moses out of Egypt. They received and experienced deliverance from bondage. But as soon as things seemed insurmountable, they believed the lie rather than God.

Remember that Satan’s goal is to destroy. He is the father of lies. He is cunning and subtle, rarely conspicuous. When things get tough in your life, he will begin to whisper lies in your ears. Don’t believe the lies. Remember God’s faithfulness. Remember His power and majesty. Remember that our loving Father is the one in charge. He is ALWAYS good and only wants the very best for you. Don’t accept anything less.

The Israelites were not allowed to see the Promised Land because of their rebellious, unbelieving hearts. John warned against unbelief in his gospel:

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.  And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. (John 3:16-19)

Many could recite John 3:16 by heart, but most have never read the verses that follow. If we believe in the Son, we receive eternal life. But anyone who does NOT believe is judged, or condemned, already. Jesus was sent to the world, but most of the world has rejected Him.

The author of Hebrews is reminding us that we have been brought into the light. We have been saved from our sin. Stay in that light. Walk in that light. And shine that light in the darkness! The desert is no match for the Promised Land! Don’t turn back! There is a danger, as we get older, to take for granted this matchless grace, and to forget that we have been SAVED. Don’t forget! Hold firmly to the very end!  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Hebrews 3:7-12 A Field Trip into the Desert

Have you ever had experiences with a “Debby Downer?” You know her - the gal who finds something negative to say about EVERYTHING - her family, her health, her job, your ideas, your hair, your vacation plans . . . She has the gift of raining on every parade! These kind of people can be toxic - especially in the church! They find something to critique in the sermon, in the worship music, in the women’s Bible study. God has a lot to say about these people, because for the most part, the Old Testament is the story of the whining, grumbling, complaining, unfaithful “people of God,” and His amazing patience with them. Before we get into the judgmental mindset of “I know, weren’t they awful,” let’s make sure “they” isn’t “us!”

In his attempt to warn the Jewish believers that they absolutely do NOT want to turn back to the bondage of the Law, which was useless to save them, the author of Hebrews gives them a little refresher in Jewish history. He takes them back to the desert with the Israelites who were listening to the news of ten “Debby Downers!” Moses had sent out 12 men representing the 12 tribes to scout out the land of Canaan, the land God had promised to the Israelites, whom He had led out of bondage in Egypt. Ten of these men returned back to report that there was no way they could take this land. They looked at the strength of the inhabitants rather than looking at the strength of God who had promised this land to them. Only Joshua and Caleb gave a positive report, believing God would deliver.

Look at how the “Debby Downers” affected the crowd, the attempt of Joshua to point them back to God, and then the response of the crowd to Joshua:

That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud.  All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness!  Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?”  And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” 

Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there.  Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes  and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good.  If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us.  Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” 

But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. (Numbers 14:1-10 NIV)

Yikes! These are a people with a very short memory! They had completely forgotten the miraculous way that the LORD had delivered them from Egypt. They had turned away from their hope. And this is the reason the author of Hebrews warns his readers so strongly to stay focused! Oh, how often do we forget the God who rescued us from death! The Jewish believers, in yearning to return to their traditions, rituals, and the Law, were just like the Israelites who rebelled against God in the desert.

So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice,
      do not harden your hearts

as you did in the rebellion,

    during the time of testing in the wilderness,  
where your ancestors tested and tried me,

    though for forty years they saw what I did.  
That is why I was angry with that generation;

    I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,

    and they have not known my ways.’  
So I declared on oath in my anger,

    ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”   

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. (Hebrews 3:7-12 NIV)

While this example of the Israelites is overt rebellion and disbelief, how often we must seem like them, shaking our fists at God when it seems like He is leading us to a scary place. Why do we so easily forget that He is sovereign and loves us with an everlasting, unchanging, abundant love?

Is God leading you to enter a scary place? Are you facing an overwhelming new job? [That’s where I’m at!] Are you facing the giant of cancer? Has your marriage fallen apart and you are left feeling completely inadequate to face life without your spouse? Are you being asked to trust God with your infertility? Do we doubt that He is able? Do we doubt that He is willing? Whatever giants you face right now, trust Him to deal with them. Don’t believe the doubts of “Debby Downers” or the outright lies of Satan, who wants you to believe that you are facing destruction. Look to Jesus. Keep your eyes on Him. Do not turn to the left or the right, don’t turn back to Egypt, but trust solely in Christ to lead you into a place that is exceedingly good.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Hebrews 3:1-6 Holy Moses!?

The trouble with putting our faith in people is that they will at some point let us down. Even the best cannot be completely faithful and will eventually disappoint us. That is why the author of Hebrews argues that the Jewish believers would be foolish to turn back to their old traditions and reliance on the Law to save them. Even their greatest heroes, Moses, and his brother, the High Priest, Aaron, could not live up to the expectations of the Israelites. In the third chapter of Hebrews, the author lays out the case for the superiority of Christ over Moses, the lawgiver.

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.  He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house.  Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself.  For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.  “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future.  But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. (Hebrews 3:1-6)

Jesus is called our apostle and high priest here. An apostle is one who is sent. Moses was one sent by God to deliver the Israelites from Egypt, and Aaron was their high priest. But the author urges the readers here to fix their eyes on the Apostle and High Priest who does not disappoint. For, even though Moses was considered faithful to those he lead, they were not happy with him, and they were in continual rebellion, grumbling, complaining, even seeking to stone Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb (see Numbers 13 and 14 to put this into context).

While Moses is described as faithful as a servant in all God’s house in these verses, the author states that Jesus is superior because He is faithful as the only Son over God’s house. Don’t fix your eyes on Moses and the Law. Moses couldn’t save us, and the Law just showed us our desperate need for a Savior. Instead, fix your eyes on Jesus! It’s not that Jesus was faithful to US (although, He certainly was, is, and always will be), but that He was always faithful to His Father. He came to do His Father’s will and was obedient in everything, even unto death. He’s the only one who could save us.

I like what Jon Courson writes:

Biblical Christianity is not about us, gang. It’s not about our prayer. It’s not about our devotion. It’s not about whether we’re good or bad, obedient or disobedient. It’s not about how much we pray or how little we pray. It’s not about whether you go or don’t go, what we do or don’t do. It’s about Jesus’ faithfulness to His Father. And our failures only make His ministry to the Father that much more impressive. (Application Commentary: New Testament, P. 1464)

Jesus is the faithful Savior. As the author of Hebrews moves forward with His argument about the superiority of Christ, he will warn them about the danger of turning back to their traditions, as he reminds the readers that we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. We will see next why we need to hold firmly.  

Friday, May 23, 2014

Hebrews 5-18 He's the Man!!

When you are in the midst of a trial, there is nothing more annoying than listening to the advice of “Monday morning quarterbacks” who presume to tell you what you should do to get out of the situation, or, worse, what you should have done to avoid the problem in the first place. It’s irritating and insulting to have someone advise you who has never been in your place, but is certain he has all the answers. However, when you meet someone who has been through the exact same trial, you find comfort in the shared pain, and you are much more willing to listen to that person’s suggestions and you welcome his encouragement.

Jon Courson tells the following story:

A cartoon in the newspaper depicted President Bill Clinton bidding farewell to the U.S. troops leaving for Bosnia. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” he calls. The next frame is of one soldier saying, “We already are.” (Application Commnetary: New Testament, P. 1455)

This morning’s passage in Hebrews reminds us that we DO have a Captain who never sends us anywhere that He hasn’t already been. He is a Savior who understands, because He has been through the same trials we face.

It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking.  But there is a place where someone has testified: 

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,

    a son of man that you care for him?  
You made them a little lower than the angels;

    you crowned them with glory and honor
      and put everything under their feet.” 

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them.  But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. (Hebrews 2: 4-10 NIV)

Taking up the subject of angels once more, the writer of Hebrews repeats His theme that Jesus is superior to all as our Savior, because He was made fully man. In these verses the ramifications of the Fall are evident. God originally gave Adam and Eve the management of all He had created. But they blew it (even as we do daily). So now we see the world under the temporary dominion of Satan: Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. (vs. 8b)

Jesus sits, now crowned with glory and honor, at the right hand of the Father, because he suffered death. He tasted death for everyone. Courson points out that in tasting death as a real man, Jesus fulfilled the role of a cupbearer in biblical times. The job of the cupbearer was to taste the food and wine laid before a king in order to protect the king from poisoning. Should someone lace the king’s wine with poison, the cupbearer would be the one to taste death, and the king would be saved through the cupbearer’s death. Jesus, our Cupbearer, asked the Father if that cup might be removed, but submitted in obedience to taste death for all of us.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—  and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.  For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.  Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (vs. 14-18 NIV)

We do not have a Savior who sends his troops off to face battles He knows nothing about. He has been through them all and knows what is in store for us. He understands our suffering, because He suffered it all ahead of us! When you pour out your heart to Him, He can say without reservation, “I know. I get it! I’ve been right where you are. Trust me.” Hallelujah, what a Savior!  

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Hebrews 2:1-4 Pay attention, people!

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment,  how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.  God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:1-4 NIV)

The author of Hebrews, just like Paul in his letter to the Galatians, is trying to keep the backward-looking Jewish believers from slipping away from the freedom that is in Christ. Jon Courson writes about their struggle:

You see, the people to whom it is addressed were Christians who had come from a Jewish heritage. Yes, they had been converted to Christianity, but because they had grown up in Judaism, whenever they heard the trumpets sounding from the temple, whenever they smelled the incense, whenever they heard the swishing sound of the priests’ robes, memories and traditions tugged on their minds and hearts. (Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: New Testament, P. 1453)

Traditions are like that. While there is nothing innately wrong with traditions, sometimes we are so caught up in our traditions that we are willing to let go of our freedom in Christ to tie ourselves back into the bondage of thinking we need to keep the traditions to be saved. We think, God will not accept us if we don’t do a particular ritual every Sunday. Sometimes our traditions have become superstitions. We are sure the answer to our prayer won’t come unless we perform some particular task or pray in a particular way.

The author of Hebrews is reminding the Jewish believers in Christ that they are in danger of slipping away from the essentials of the faith. They are thinking they need the rituals to find security, when the security offered in the finished work of Christ on the cross is the ONLY guaranteed salvation. When Peter and John appeared before the Sanhedrin, Peter boldly insisted on this fact:

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 NIV)

Jesus Christ is superior to EVERYTHING, including our traditions and rituals. Do you hold onto some of your traditions in the same manner as these Hebrew believers? Are you in bondage to rituals because you actually believe they are what save you? Jesus is better. He alone saves. Put your faith in HIM, not the rituals. We have been freed from the bondage to works - all works - because ours our insufficient. Only the work of Christ on the cross bought our salvation. Instead of elevating the religion, put your faith in the relationship you have in Christ. Then watch the works flow freely from love.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Hebrews 1:5-14 He is superior to the angels

Many people are fascinated with angels. They have been the subject of much artwork, several movies, and many books. But the author of Hebrews sums up the ministry of angels this way:

Therefore, angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation. (Hebrews 1:14 NLT)

The job of angels is to minister to the saints. They are created beings who often delivered messages from God (Gabriel is an example). Jon Courson reminds us that they watch over and protect us:

For he will order his angels

    to protect you wherever you go. (Psalm 91:11)

They rejoice over sinners who have been saved:

In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away! (Luke 15:7)

They carry people to their eternal home:

“Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham. . .” (Luke 16:22a)

They deliver people from danger (Lot’s family from Sodom and Gomorrah and Peter and Paul from prison).

Children have guardian angels:

“Beware that you don’t look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father.” (Matthew 18:10)

So they are important created beings, but they ARE created beings. The author of Hebrews wants us to know that Christ is superior to them in all respects:

For God never said to any angel what he said to Jesus: 
“You are my Son.

    Today I have become your Father.”
God also said, 

“I will be his Father,

    and he will be my Son.” 

And when he brought his supreme Son into the world, God said, 

“Let all of God’s angels worship him.” (Hebrews 1:5-6)

Only Jesus is called the Son. The remaining verses in the first chapter of Hebrews continue this theme of superiority. The author assures us that, while angels are called “servants,” the Father calls the Son “Lord” (vs. 10) and affirms the Son’s role as Creator. (vs.10-12) Finally, the author ends the chapter by referring back to the seat of honor Jesus occupies at the right hand of the Father:

And God never said to any of the angels, 
“Sit in the place of honor at my right hand

    until I humble your enemies,

    making them a footstool under your feet.” 

Therefore, angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation. (Hebrews 13-14)

Jesus is not just a good teacher or rabbi, or even prophet. Jesus, our LORD and Creator, is superior to all - even angels. In the next chapter, we will see how Jesus has made us children of God.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Hebrews 1:3-4 One last look: He’s holding it all together!

The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven.  This shows that the Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave him is greater than their names. (Hebrews 1:3-4NLT)

This phrase from the above verses absolutely fascinates me: “. . . he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command.” The New King James Version puts it this way: “ . . . upholding all things by the Word of His power.” Jesus not only made all things, but he sustains them, holds them together - whether it is in the natural realm or spiritual realm, He is the One who keeps everything going! Even as He spoke the universe into being, He keeps it going by His Word.

Because I teach the fifth grade chemistry unit in science, I’m excited that He is even holding atoms together. The nucleus of an atom contains protons and neutrons. The protons are positively charged. We all know that, with charges, likes repel and opposites attract. If you have ever played with a pair of magnets you understand not only the force that attracts the north and south poles of a magnet, but you are also familiar with the push that occurs when the south of one magnet approaches the south of another. You cannot bring them together. It’s the same with positive charges.

What is baffling about atoms is that positively charged protons do NOT repel in the nucleus, but hold tightly together. Scientists don’t know exactly what keeps them together. They call it “atomic glue” or “atomic force.” But it is pretty much unexplainable. The force that holds them together is what keeps all matter together. The breaking of this force is what unleashes atomic horrors like Hiroshima. That is a lot of power. Our verse today tells us that it is Jesus who is upholding it all by the power of His Word!

And it’s not just atoms He is keeping together. My heart continues beating because He holds my life in His hands. When we are faced with sudden loss or tragedy, He sustains us. By the sheer force of His Word, we are held together when we should be falling apart. That’s why knowing His Word is so important in our lives. It nourishes us, supports us, keeps us from falling.

The last part of verse 3 tells us something remarkable about Jesus that the author will touch on again when arguing the superiority of Christ:

When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. (NLT)

In Jesus’ day, priests NEVER sat down. There was no chair in the temple for the priest, because his job of offering sacrifices never ended. In fact, the priest needed to offer sacrifices for his own sin. Jesus’ sacrifice was the only offering that completely covered our sins, because, as the Lamb of God, only He was sinless. That’s why He could cry from the cross, “It is finished!” The sacrificial work was DONE!

That’s why the author of Hebrews will insist there is no further need of priests, mediators between God and man. Jesus finished that work and SAT DOWN at the right hand of the Father, where he now is our advocate. We go to God directly through Him alone. No need to go through any man or dead saints - Jesus is our only mediator. Paul wrote, “For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 2:5)

Since 70 A.D., when Jerusalem was completely sacked by the Romans, and the temple destroyed, there has been no place for offerings. The earthly altar is gone. It is no longer necessary. This is GREAT news!

Finally, the fact that Jesus is seated in heaven proves that He is superior to anyone else, even the angels. Verse 4 leads us into our next section of Hebrews:

This shows that the Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave him is greater than their names. (NLT)

We’ll see this argued in our next study. Today, rejoice in the fact that your sins - past, present, and future - are gone completely. You have been made pure once and for all time by our only High Priest! The work is FINISHED! Hallelujah!  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

He's the spitting image of His Father!

As the school year closes, and my classroom teaching career comes to an end, I was musing the other day about all of the things I have left undone. Even in the remaining month and a half of school, there is so much left to impart. For instance, I’m passionate about U.S. history (which is why I love 5th grade), so I feel the urgency of getting through the final unit on the formation of our government as we study the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and all that led up to them. A frequent lament of students is “Why do we have to study this stuff? Why do we need to learn about a bunch of dead man?” Of course, I always answer with the same thing: We study history to learn from the past, so that we don’t continue to make the same mistakes. Yep, that’s the goal, but apparently we aren’t such great learners!

Even so, the purpose of studying Bible history is also to learn the lessons of the past - to see how men have interacted with God throughout that history, so that we might grow in our understanding of God. God could have just given us a list of rules to follow. Oh wait! He did that! :) But because we COULD NOT keep even a small list of Ten Commandments, and because we COULD NOT fully understand God through a list, He gave us a bunch of object lessons in the histories of His people, so that we might know him better. When we get to Hebrews 11, the so-called “roll-call of faith,” we will see specifics.

But even with the great examples of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, etc., it wasn’t until His Son came that we were finally able to clearly see the full character of God. That’s what the writer of Hebrews tells us in the first verse of his letter:

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets.  And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. . . (Hebrews 1:1 NLT)

Jesus is superior to all previous prophets and messengers, because He IS the message! As fully God and fully man, He was the only one qualified to bridge that gap between God and man. Look at how the author of Hebrews describes the superiority of Jesus:

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets,  has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;  who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,  having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. (Hebrews 1:1-4 NKJV)

As the only Son, Jesus is the inheritor of ALL things. Not only that, but He is the Creator of all things. John reiterates this in the beginning of His gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. (John 1:1-3 NKJV)

The author of Hebrews further insists that Jesus is the spitting image of His Father:

The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God. . . (vs. 3 NLT)

When you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father (John14:9-11). Jesus is not just another man reflecting God’s glory - He radiates God’s glory because He is God. He doesn’t just reflect the light, He IS the light. Our goal is to reflect that light, in the same way that the moon reflects the light of the sun.

Before we move into the rest of this chapter, we will spend one more day focusing on the implications of the last part of verse 3: . . . and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. (NLT)

Can’t wait to dig into that!