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.