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!  

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Book of Hebrews: Christ is Superior!

Having completed the book of Galatians, which was Paul’s plea to his readers to remain in grace and to not stray back to legalism, it feels natural to turn next to the Book of Hebrews. There are so many well-loved verses in this book, so many comforting promises, I believe it will truly bless us to study it.

The authorship of this book is debated, but most ascribe it to Paul. It certainly has his passion and scholarship. However, regardless of who penned this book, the actual author is God. Paul told Timothy. “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17 NLT)

This book was written to Jewish believers, and like Galatians, it’s primary purpose was to warn believers against going back to reliance on Jewish traditions. The theme of the book is the superiority of Christ. The author argues that Christ is superior over angels, over man, over Abraham, and over Moses and the prophets. He holds the superior priesthood and was the superior sacrifice.

We are going to park in the first few verses for a bit, because there is so much here:

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)

Jon Courson, in his Application Commentary: New Testament, writes about the many ways in which God spoke in past times:

God spoke through his creation:

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.

    The skies display his craftsmanship.  
Day after day they continue to speak;

    night after night they make him known.  
They speak without a sound or word;

    their voice is never heard.  
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,

    and their words to all the world. (Psalm 19:1-4)

But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.  They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them.  For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. (Romans 1:18-20)

Courson reminds us that God also spoke through the conscience of men, He spoke through angels throughout the scriptures, and He spoke through the prophets. However, the author of Hebrews wants us to know that those ways of communication were not sufficient to reveal the nature of God and to capture the hearts of men. They still didn’t get it. So God, in Christ, finally came to earth as one of us so that we might fully know Him:

And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. (Hebrews 1:2a)

Courson expresses the importance of this statement succinctly:

“So God sent his Son, His final Word to humanity. There’s nothing more to be said. There’s nothing left unsaid. It’s all said in Christ.” Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: New Testament, P.1435.

The book of Revelation calls Jesus the Alpha and the Omega. The A-Z. Everything we need to know about God is within the Son. If you want to know what God is like, you need to know Jesus. That’s basically what this book of Hebrews is about. We’ll hang out on this verse again next time!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Pressed but not crushed!

April was an extremely busy and stressful month! I was so grateful to see the calendar turn to May! Yet, it seems like just another pile awaited me as I turned the corner! It reminds me of what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians:

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. . . All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9,15)

Paul says earlier in 2 Corinthians that our suffering brings the shower of God’s comfort that we can then share with others going through the same thing:

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.  He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. (2 Cor 1:3-4)

Our trials are meant to grow us and, therefore, are designed to bring God glory. I have seen such clear examples of this in the past few weeks. Two big events brought it home to me: Jodi’s funeral and my daughter, Emmy’s Choose Joy conference for couples dealing with infertility and considering options, including medical procedures and/or adoption/fostering.

Both events were born of suffering, required much planning and labor, and involved strong emotions of grief and joy. And both brought comfort and healing to many, and certainly brought glory to God.

Thank you to those of you who prayed and sent emails and cards after Jodi died. It’s amazing how a simple thought of sympathy sent over the Internet can comfort! The service was everything Jodi would have wanted, and there were so many precious moments among the family gathered in Denver. We cried, we laughed, we had moments of irreverence (another Frost family trait), and we left with a renewed determination to stay connected. God certainly showed up there in the hands and feet of the many who served the family and who shared their Jodi stories.

Don and I arrived home from Denver just in time to help  Emmy, with her big event, Choose Joy. This was the second annual conference that Emmy put on at our church. So many men and women came, at their own expense, from all over the country to attend. They heard speakers and encouraged one another with their stories. There were LOTS of tears, but also amazing JOY! Needless to say, it was a proud moment for me to watch Emmy taking a very lonely time in her life (seven years in the “desert” of infertility), and turn it into a blessing to others. Just what Christ asks us to do. You can read about it and see photos of my adorable grandchildren on the Blakely side by clicking here.

The really special thing about this conference was the amount of people who helped Emmy put it together. Volunteers and all family members (including all of sister, Molly’s family) worked for hours ahead of the event and on that day to make it perfect. I started crying from the first note of worship music until the end, when one very blessed woman walked away with the raffle prize of $7,000 to start building her family.

It was a week of very late nights (never got to bed before midnight), and long, emotional days. But God’s faithfulness was so clear and His love so present in both events. I’m ready to get back to His Word with the prayer that we will all find comfort and blessing in it! The Book of Hebrews is next!