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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Hebrews, Day 14: Hebrews 4:11-13 - How Does God's Word Help Us Persevere in Faith?

How Does God's Word Help Us Persevere in Faith?
Hebrews 4:11-13
Hebrews, Day 14


Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. - Hebrews 4:11-13, ESV

I have read magazine articles on how to play golf, but I cannot play golf. I have read about hunting, but I do not hunt. I enjoy reading magazines about cars I will probably never drive much less own. Why? Because sometimes reading is a good diversion, a fun bit of intellectual stimulation, pleasurable education and not much more. But the Bible is something different entirely! 

Sadly, many people do approach the Bible the way I approach magazines about golf, hunting and cars. They find it a fun read, get some stimulation, and then nothing more. Current trends to encourage people to read the Bible like a novel are probably not helpful in this regard. The Bible is not mere information, stimulating education or just a great story - although it certainly does have information, is educational, and does tell the greatest story of all time! 

No, Hebrews 4:12 tells us the word of God is living and active. The Bible works differently than other writings, because it penetrates deeply and cuts us to the core. The Spirit takes the Word and uses it to expose us before the eyes of God and to show us ourselves. This is not always a pleasant experience. I'm preparing to preach Psalm 120 this week. It would be a pleasant task to preach about the lying tongues of others, but the Spirit is dealing with me and my lying tongue. Ouch! 

Yet the cutting, exposing work of the Spirit-empowered word is what deeply sanctifies and strengthens us. Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth!" (John 17:17) Sinful unbelief lies in our souls like pockets of cancer in our bodies. We need the Holy Spirit to take the scalpel of the word and cut us open to expose and remove these areas of sinful unbelief.   

Even as this process is painful at times, it is also deeply encouraging, because we can know this: If the word of God truly convicts us, we have no better sign that we are God's children. Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice." (John 10:27) We hear the voice of the Good Shepherd in His Word, and if we're hearing His voice, we must be His sheep. 

The Spirit also uses the word to heal and bind up those places He has cut open. His law cuts and His Gospel heals. His commandments convict and His promises reassure. This is the pattern of the Spirit's work in our lives, and for His work we should be truly grateful. He works in us because He loves us, and He will not stop working until He brings us all the way home, to rest in the presence of God forever! 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Hebrews, Day 13: Hebrews 4:1-11 - How Can We Strive to Enter God's Rest?

How Can We Strive to Enter God's Rest?
Hebrews 4:1-11
Hebrews, Day 13


"So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience." 
- Hebrews 4:9-11, ESV

Baseball and golf are both sports where trying too hard can quickly get you into trouble. A batter who steps into the batter's box trying desperately to hit a home run is more likely to strike out than get a hit. (I'm an Orioles fan. Trust me, I know this is true.) A golfer who grips his club too tightly and tries to control his swing too exactly is likely to shank it badly. (I've tried golf myself. This one I know from experience.) 

God has a Sabbath rest for His people, and He calls us to enter it. In fact, He even calls us to strive to enter His rest. But, as in golf and baseball, if we try too hard in the wrong way, we will end up doing it all wrong and swinging and missing, badly. 

The Exodus generation is set forth as an example of those who failed to enter God's rest. God brought them out of Egypt, out of bondage, through great miracles and a powerful deliverance. But that generation died in the desert wilderness. Most of them never even saw the Promised Land. What went wrong?

Hebrews 4:2 tells us: "For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened." The Exodus generation heard the Gospel. They were told who God is and how God could save them. They were told all about God's plan for them as His cherished people. They heard, but they did not believe. They saw astounding miracles, but still they did not believe.

Sometimes I'm tempted to think I would have more faith if I had seen more miracles. But that's not how it usually works. The two generations in history who saw the most miracles were the Exodus generation and the generation who saw Jesus' earthly ministry. God did indeed save some out of those generations. Joshua and Caleb, the two faithful spies, made it into the Promised Land. Yet the Exodus generation as a whole was condemned, as was the generation of Jesus' day. Why? Was it because they weren't deserving or didn't want salvation enough? No. It was because they did not believe.

Faith is the only way to be saved. Faith takes God at His word and says, "Yes, Lord, I believe what You say is true." When we believe in the promises of God, Hebrews says we rest from our works, just as God has rested from His work. The work of salvation has been accomplished. Jesus has paid it all, and it is finished! Faith says, "I believe," accepts the price paid, and loves the Savior who paid the price. 

This is how we strive to enter: We believe. We embrace what God has done. Out of that faith, we then obey. This doesn't mean we stop sinning and we suddenly get really good at keeping the rules. Rather, we love Jesus because He has first loved us, and we follow Him because He has rescued us to make us His. 

Yet here's where we need to be careful: We can't fall into the trap of thinking our good works are earning us rest in heaven. To do so is to abandon faith and to seek to rest on works. This kind of "trying too hard" will lead us away from the Gospel and back into the trap of trying to earn what has already been purchased for us. 

So, how can we strive to enter God's rest? By faith alone in Christ alone, a faith which leads us to love Christ above all else and to obey Him out of loving gratitude for all He has done for us.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Hebrews, Day 12: Hebrews 3:7-19 - How Can We Help One Another Find Real Rest?

How Can We Help One Another Find Real Rest?
Hebrews, Day 12


7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
    on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your fathers put me to the test
    and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
    they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
    ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. 
– Hebrews 3:7-19, ESV

We need each other. The stereotypical American ideal of rugged individualism is a lie. The John Wayne lone cowboy hero who needs no one, relies on no one, serves no one and stays with no one is not any kind of ideal to admire or strive to imitate. Recent studies have indicated a loneliness epidemic in America. A survey of 20,000 Americans found the average American is significantly lonely. This loneliness has a significant effect on our health, too, triggering Type-2 Diabetes and other problems. (Link)

While Americans are lonely, we are also longing for community. We are not nearly as self-reliant as we pretend to be. We take our cues about morality, lifestyle, priorities and values from those around us, those whom we admire and with whom we most closely identify. Why else are marketers so eager to target social media and bloggers?

This inter-dependence is nothing new, nor is it just an accident. God created us for community. He said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). This was the only time God declared something in His creation as “not good” before the Fall. God created a suitable companion for Adam and blessed them by commanding them to create more human life, to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth with people.

In Hebrews, we discover how important community and relationships are if we are to persevere in faith and enter God’s rest in Christ. We are given a stern warning against unbelief in 3:12: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” Then, in verse 13, we’re told how we can best guard against an “evil, unbelieving heart”: “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

Our hearts are prone to wander and prone to harden. Our sinful nature and the deceitful allurements of the world never stop lying to us and calling us away from the living God. Our sinful nature wants cheap substitutes for the real rest God offers in Christ, and the world is eager to offer them to us.
Sometimes when I come home, I am really hungry and Beth is cooking dinner, and I head over the fridge or the pantry to see what I can grab quickly. I know a delicious, satisfying meal is coming, but I will reach for junk – tortilla chips and salsa or a handful or almonds (or two), rather than wait for the satisfaction I know I need and I know is coming soon. I need Beth to remind me: Dinner will be ready soon!

We need each other. When the world is calling and our sinful nature is itching to wander, we need to call each other back to our Lord and His promises. We need to exhort one another: “Hold on! Rest is coming!” Praying for each other, encouraging each other, holding one another accountable, and living life together are vital keys to keeping our hearts tender to the Lord as we preserve in faith toward the eternal, soul-satisfying rest of God. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Hebrews, Day 11: Hebrews 3:7-19 - How Can We Find Real Rest?

How Can We Find Real Rest?
Hebrews 3:7-19
Hebrews, Day 11


Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
    on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
    and saw my works for forty years.
Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
    they have not known my ways.’
As I swore in my wrath,
    ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. 
– Hebrews 3:7-19, ESV

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to really rest? Most days, I feel like I am rushing from one task to the next, from one responsibility, obligation or appointment to another. The word rest sounds very inviting. In Scripture, God extends to His people a wonderful invitation to enter His rest. Hebrews deals with this invitation to rest in 3:6 – 4:13.

What is this rest into which God invites us to enter? How can we enter into it? Much of our lives are spent busily trying to earn something or create something. Whether we’re aware of it or not, most of us are constantly striving after approval, acceptance, validation and worth. We’re trying to earn or create some version of salvation for ourselves, through our work, our parenting, our worship, our creativity, our social lives or our social media lives. How many likes, how many followers, how many views, how much money, how many toys, how many promotions, how many awards and accolades must we win before we can breathe and feel like we’ve finally arrived, finally earned or created what our hearts deeply desire?

The answer, if we’re honest, is always, “Just a little bit more.” And so we find ourselves always living for the next thing – the next promotion, pay raise, event, relationship, stage of life, weekend, vacation, or whatever. Real life and real rest remains always just beyond our grasp.

In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis said, “All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it, or else, that it was within your reach and you have lost it forever.”

It turns out, the “unattainable ecstasy” we have all been striving after is God’s rest, which He extends to us in Jesus Christ. We were created to find our identity, worth and ecstasy in God alone. Why can’t we find it apart from God? Why won’t God just give it to us in a job or in music or in creativity or earthly pleasures? Again, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.”

So, how do we enter into God’s rest? As Hebrews will unpack and make very clear in the coming verses, we enter into God’s rest through faith in Jesus Christ alone. And the true and saving faith which joins us to Christ and draws us into the promise of God’s rest is a persevering faith, a faith which holds onto Jesus throughout all the tumult of this too-brief-and-too-long life.

In the coming days, we’ll unpack what it looks like to enter God’s rest in Christ, how we can help each other persevere in faith, and what the dangers and consequences are of turning aside from this rest. For today, it is enough to note this: You were created to find your rest in God, and God draws you into His rest through the unique person and finished work Jesus Christ.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Hebrews, Day 10: Hebrews 3:1-6 - How is Jesus Greater Than Moses?

How is Jesus Greater Than Moses?
Hebrews, Day 10

Audio Version

For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. . . Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. - Hebrews 3:3, 1-6, ESV

One measure of greatness: Yankee Stadium was called "The House that Ruth Built." One of the most iconic and celebrated venues in the history of sports, so famous that when the Yankees needed a new stadium, they built it as a replica of the old one, Yankee Stadium stood for 85 years, from 1923 to 2008. Why was it built? It was built for Babe Ruth. on the strength of his fame, to accommodate the larger crowds who came to see him play. 74,200 people came on opening day in 1923, shattering the previous attendance record of 42,000. It was "The House That Ruth Built." No other baseball player in history is on the same level as Babe Ruth, and in many ways, this singular fact proves it. 

Among the servants of God throughout the history of God's people, Moses was remarkable. He was the most humble man in the world, according to Numbers 12:3, and was the most faithful servant of God, according to Numbers 12:7 ("He is faithful in all my house."). Moses was used by God to send judgments on Egypt. led the people of God out of bondage, gave the people God's Law, established the Tabernacle worship, met with God face-to-face, led armies into battle and interceded for God's people in prayer repeatedly. He was a remarkable servant of God, without equal among his fellow servants.

The mistake some Jewish believers were making in the First Century was comparing Moses to Jesus. Some of them were tempted to abandon following Jesus and return to following Moses. They were tired of being ostracized from their Jewish communities and facing coming persecution for their faith. Moses and Jesus were both prophets who gave God's Word to God's people, so why not just go back to Moses? After all, hadn't God said Moses was faithful in all His house?

The author of Hebrews defends Moses' record of faithfulness, but he also makes it clear that no one can rightly compare Jesus and Moses. They belong in two different categories. Moses was faithful as a servant in God's house, but Jesus is faithful as a Son over God's house. Moses did a good job as a faithful steward of the mysteries of God, but Jesus is the Final Word, the full revelation of the mysteries of God. Moses was a key part of the household of God, but Jesus is the builder of God's house. 

It is always a mistake to compare Jesus to any other religious leader. He is in a category by Himself. In this way, the opening story about Babe Ruth applies to Moses but is really inapplicable when it comes to Jesus. As great as Babe Ruth was, he was just a baseball player, like other baseball players. You can compare him to others. He is the greatest, but he is the greatest among his peers, among others of his kind. Jesus is in a category of One, Himself - the only God-Man, the only Builder of God's House, the only risen and exalted Word of God incarnate.

So, the only question left for you to answer is simple and vital: Are you in His house?

Friday, May 18, 2018

Hebrews, Day 9: Hebrews 2:10-18 - What Did Jesus Do to Save Me?

What Did Jesus Do To Save Me?
Hebrews, Day 9



Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 
- Hebrews 2:17, ESV


Last time, we learned that Jesus was made like us so He could identify with us in our struggles. But here's something important to consider: I need more than just sympathy from Jesus. I am profoundly thankful that, because of Christ's incarnation, I have a merciful high priest in heaven, One who was made just like me in every respect (except sin), and was tempted and tried as a human being. Jesus' empathy for me is not something I take lightly, as it cost Him so much to gain it. But I need more than just someone who can relate to me. I need more than sympathy; I need salvation.

So, the other question I ask of Hebrews 2:10-18 and the incarnation of Jesus is this: When Jesus became truly human, what exactly did He do to save me? Well, the answer to that question is tied up in this strange, long word in verse 17: propitiation. Jesus was made like His brothers in every respect "to make propitiation for the sins of the people." 

Propitiation is one of the most difficult and important words in the Bible. We find propitiation at the heart of Paul's explanation of the Gospel in Romans 3:23-25 - 

all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (ESV)

Nothing in life is more important for us to understand than those verses. At the heart of these verses is the truth that God put forth Jesus "as a propitiation by his blood." This is the same thing Hebrews 2:17 says, that Jesus made propitiation for the sins of the people. So, what is propitiation?

Propitiation is the satisfaction of God's just wrath against sin. Because God is perfectly holy and perfectly just, He must punish all sin. If God were to be willing to sweep sin under the rug or just look the other way or just let us off the hook, He would not be holy and just. To have the God of the Universe, the Maker and Sustainer of all things, be anything less than perfectly holy and just is terrifying. It would mean that God is changeable and subject to corruption and less than perfect. Such a God could not be relied on to keep His promises, uphold His commitments or do anything good. We would, in essence, have a corrupt politician in charge of the universe.

Thankfully, God is not a corrupt politician.. He is holy, holy, holy and He never changes. He is perfectly just and always punishes all sin. For God to put forth Jesus as a propitiation and for Jesus to make propitiation for our sins means simply this: God the Father was willing to punish His Son in our place and His Son was willing to be punished for us. All the just wrath we deserve, which we would experience in eternal hell, was instead poured out on Jesus on the cross, and He willingly took it all in our place.

So, what did Jesus do to save me? He became sin for me and absorbed all the wrath I deserve for me. In doing so, Jesus died a death that set me free. As Hebrews says, Jesus died "that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery." (vv. 14-15)  If God's wrath against my sin has been satisfied and the penalty due for my sins has been paid, the devil no longer has any accusation he can make against me and death has lost its fearful power.

“O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. - 1 Corinthians 15:55-57, ESV

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Hebrews, Day 8: Hebrews 2:10-18 - Does God Understand How I Feel?


Does God Understand How I Feel?
Hebrews, Day 8



Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 
- Hebrews 2:17, ESV

Marie Antoinette was famously (and incorrectly) reported to have said, "Let them eat cake!" when she was told that the poor of Paris had no bread. This quote, though almost certainly never actually said by the French queen, has been famous for centuries for a reason: Sometimes rich people seem to live lives completely detached from the reality the rest of us deal with everyday. People born to wealth and privilege do have real problems, but they don't include wondering how they're going to pay for the next month's rent or for the repairs their car needs.

God is all-powerful, all-wise, all-knowing, and never-failing. He never lacks the knowledge, power, or wisdom to do all His holy will. As Psalm 135 says:

For I know that the Lord is great,
    and that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
    in heaven and on earth,
    in the seas and all deeps.  - vv. 5-6, ESV

So, we might wonder: Does God really understand how I feel? Certainly God knows everything; nothing is hidden from His sight. But does He understand what it's like to be lonely, afraid, or tempted? In a word: No.

Some people have tried to make God more relevant to our lives by insisting that He does understand. They have posited a God who "feels your pain" and who is tired, frustrated and lonely at times. This is not the true God. God is an infinite, eternal, almighty Spirit and feels no pain or frustration. God is Three Persons in eternal, loving community and is not lonely. While Scripture sometimes uses language of emotional turmoil for God, this is an accommodation to our weakness so we can understand God somewhat in our own language.

Part of the reason for the Incarnation is so that God can know what it's like to be human. The Second Person of the Godhead, God the Son, took on a true human nature. He was "made like his brothers in every respect" with a nature like ours. He entered into our full humanity, in part so He could suffer and sympathize with our suffering, be tempted and sympathize with our experience of temptation.

This is a depth of love we can never fully grasp. God was willing to become human to truly empathize with us. He was willing to suffer pain, hunger, loneliness, vulnerability, weakness, thirst, betrayal, temptation and abandonment. He had to take on a human nature to do so, but He did so willingly, for us and for our salvation. We needed a mediator, a sympathetic and faithful high priest. Jesus was willing to be that high priest for us, though it required such great sacrifice, beyond human comprehension.

So, does God really understand how I feel? Yes! But only because God the Son was willing to take on a true human nature. In His human nature, Jesus knows our weaknesses and suffering, having suffered more than we ever will, so He could save us from our sin and suffering and bring us home to Himself forever.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Hebrews, Day 7: Hebrews 2:5-9 - Who is the Rightful Ruler of God's Creation?

Who is the Rightful Ruler of God's Creation?
Hebrews, Day 7

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For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6 It has been testified somewhere,

“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
    or the son of man, that you care for him?
You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
    you have crowned him with glory and honor,[a]
    putting everything in subjection under his feet.”

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. - Hebrews 2:5-9, ESV 

I love the story of Robin Hood. Contrary to many people, my favorite aspect of this story is not stealing from the rich to give the poor. Rather, I like the theme of the displaced ruler and the sinister usurper who is challenged by the bold and brave hero. King Richard the Lionhearted is off fighting the Crusades, and Prince John is ruling in his place. Only Prince John sees himself as King John and tries to take the throne for himself. 

Sir Robin of Locksley, a knight who has returned from the Crusades, begins to confront and resist the corrupt would-be king. He is removed from his rightful place as the Earl of Locksley and hides out with his band of men to try to make trouble for John and to seek to restore Richard to the throne. 

This story resonates deeply with me because it echoes the story of creation's fall. Adam was created by God in His image to be the rightful ruler over all creation. God put everything under Adam's feet leaving "nothing outside his control."  Adam and Eve were to rule as vice-regents over all creation. God said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:28, ESV) 

But Satan entered the Garden of Eden in the form a serpent and began an insurrection to overthrow Adam's rule, just as it was beginning. Satan succeeded. He got Adam to submit to his devious design and threw all creation into chaos and death. 

Why could set things right? Jesus, of course! Jesus comes in like a Robin Hood figure, poor and outcast, working outside and against the system. The eternal Son of God agreed, for a time, to be made lower than the angels. Why? So He might taste death for everyone. He came to take the curse of death upon Himself and to defeat the devil by submitting to defeat and death Himself. 

As we continue in Hebrews, we will see exactly what Jesus did to win this great victory, but here the author of Hebrews wants us to pause and consider how gloriously Christ has restored humanity. He tells us that now, while we don't see humanity reigning over all creation yet, we do see Jesus, who was humiliated and who tasted death for all, exalted with glory and honor above creation. We see Him at the Father's right hand, crowned with the crown of the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords. Because He came and overthrew the usurper, restoring humanity to their rightful place of rule in Himself.


Friday, May 11, 2018

Hebrews, Day 6: Hebrews 2:1-4 - What are the Consequences of Neglecting the Gospel?

What are the Consequences of Neglecting the Gospel?

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. 
- Hebrews 2:1-4, ESV

When children learn how to play baseball, the most basic instruction is the most important: Keep your eye on the ball. Children are naturally prone to either close their eyes or start looking at the field where they want to hit the ball before they make contact and follow through with their swing. Keeping your eye on the ball is the best and only way to safely hit. Of course, the advice also applies in basketball and football, and even in living out the Gospel.

Very often, Christians can grow distracted and wonder what they're missing. We talked about our tendency to be overly fascinated with angels last time. Other topics can easily distract us: secret prayer methods, hidden Bible codes, end-times prophecy predictions, trends in worship music, etc. Of course, sometimes we're distracted by completely unspiritual things: sports, celebrity gossip, politics, entertainment, etc. 

If you take your eye off the ball when trying to hit a baseball, you'll strike out. What are the consequences of taking your eye off the Gospel in the Christian life? Drifting away. In our spiritual lives, we never just stand still. We're either focused on Jesus and the Gospel and growing in Christ, or else we're distracted by something else and drifting away from Christ. 

What's so bad about drifting away? Everything! Hebrews warns us: We cannot expect to escape judgment if we neglect so great a salvation. 

God has given us every reason to pay attention to the Gospel: 
  1. The Lord Himself came in the flesh to proclaim and demonstrate the Gospel of the kingdom, the message of salvation. 
  2. Then, the eye-witnesses of the Lord's earthly ministry, life, death and resurrection went out and spread their testimony, which we have written down in the Bible.    
  3. God has also poured out His Holy Spirit, who has drawn our hearts to Christ and has gifted the church for ministry, witness and service. 
We thus have a triple witness to the truth of the Gospel: Jesus Himself, the eye-witnesses of Jesus, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. If we ignore the testimony of three key witnesses to the greatest thing God has ever done for us and for our salvation, what's left? Running after the latest fads instead of focusing on Christ shows what we truly value, and if we do not truly value Christ, can we even say we have come to have real faith in Him?

Those who have come to know Jesus know how wonderful He is. They never grow tired of meditating on the greatness of His person, His work and His promises. "Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it." 


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Hebrews, Day 5: Hebrews 1:14 - What is the Relationship Between Angels and Believers?

What is the Relationship Between Jesus and Angels?
Hebrews 1:14

Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? 
- Hebrews 1:14, ESV

Do you have a guardian angel? If a stranger comes and helps you out in some unexpected way, could they be an angel in disguise? If you extend hospitality to a stranger, could you be entertaining an angel unaware? Do territorial angels rule over and protect particular areas of the world? 

These questions are all fascinating. Each of them also has some basis in a verse or passage of Scripture:

Guardian Angels: Jesus said, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven." - Matthew 18:10, ESV
Helpful Angels: The two angels who helped Lot and his family escape Sodom.
Entertaining Angels: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." - Hebrews 13:2, ESV
Territorial Angels: In Daniel 10, Daniel is told of the mysterious prince of Persia against whom his heavenly messenger visitor had to fight. See Daniel 10:13, 20, ESV

Even though you could make a connection between these verses and passages and these concepts about angels, here's what we often miss: These passages were not written to teach us about angels. The purpose of each of these passages is something different, not a course in angelology. 

For example, we should not conclude from Hebrews 13:2 that the best reason to practice hospitality is the slight possibility that, by doing so, we might end up having an encounter with an angelic being. We are called to show hospitality to strangers because we are called to love one another and to remember that all people are made in God's image. We are called to love people, not to hope for an angelic visitor. Also, in Matthew 18:10, Jesus is teaching His disciples to value and care for children, not to speculate about guardian angels. 

Christians who go combing through Scripture trying to figure out deeper, hidden mysteries about angels are missing the point of Scripture. Scripture wasn't written to reveal the mysteries of angels, but to reveal the mystery of Christ for our salvation. Jesus is the central point of the Bible, not angels. Even here in Hebrews 1, we have an extended teaching on the greatness of Jesus, followed by one short verse about the ministry of angels in the lives of believers. 

What does that one verse tell us about angels? They are servants sent for the sake of believers, those who will inherit salvation. Angels are warrior-messengers from God, and their mission is to protect and serve the children of God, the heirs of salvation. 

The work of angels is almost always kept hidden. We almost never see them, and if and when we do, we almost never know it. Trying to see them or trying to figure out when we see them is actually trying to undermine their ministry and the intentions of God: Angels are seeking to serve believers and glorify Christ, not to draw attention to themselves. God sends angels to do His work for His glory, not for their own. 

So, we can be comforted knowing angels are real and knowing God uses them as part of His good purposes for us. They are powerful, and they are hidden for a reason. We should thank God for them and not get too curious about trying to see them or figure them out.     

The best advice for us to heed when were getting too fascinated by angels is what Jesus told the 72 disciples when they returned from their mission of proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom. We read in Luke 10:17-20 - 

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (ESV)

Let us not find our joy in angels or even in having all power over the enemy, but that our names are written in heaven! 



Monday, May 7, 2018

Hebrews, Day 4: Heb. 1:5-13 - What is the Relationship Between Jesus and Angels?

What is the Relationship Between Jesus and Angels?
Hebrews 1:5-13

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son,
    today I have begotten you”?

Or again,

“I will be to him a father,
    and he shall be to me a son”?

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,

“Let all God's angels worship him.” - Hebrews 1:5-6, ESV

When Billy Graham wrote a book on angels in 1975, more than a million copies sold in the first three months. Books, movies, television shows, and works of art all testify to the same reality: Many people are clearly fascinated by angels. It's no wonder because angels are fascinating beings, mysterious and powerful messenger-warriors of God. In fact, throughout history, many in the church have been tempted to worship angels, to give them the veneration and honor due to God alone.

Clearly, some of the people who originally received the book of Hebrews were confused about the relationship between Jesus and the angels. The Jehovah's Witnesses today teach that Jesus and Michael the Archangel are the same person, that Jesus is the lead angel. Is that what Scripture teaches? No. Hebrews 1 could not be more clear that Jesus is far greater than the angels. Here's what we see:

1. Jesus alone is the Son of God. No angels are ever called the Son of God. This title belongs to Jesus alone, indicating His full deity and superiority to angels.

2. The angels of God worship Jesus. Worship is something which belongs to God alone. Psalm 29 tells us, "Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness." In Isaiah 48, God tells us, "My glory I will not give to another." Think about this reality: The God who calls us to worship Him alone and tells us He will not give His glory to another (because He cannot, because he alone is God) tells His angels to worship His Son, giving Him glory. This clearly puts Jesus in a different category from angels. Jesus is not a creation of God, but He is God Almighty.

3. Jesus is God. If we didn't pick up this truth from the fact that God calls His angels to worship the Son, we're told explicitly about the Son in verse 8: "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom." God the Father is the God of Jesus, but Jesus is also fully and truly God.

4. Jesus is the Creator. Jesus' position as God is unfolded more in verses 10-12. He is definitely not a creation of God because He is the Creator of all things:
You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment,
like a robe you will roll them up,
    like a garment they will be changed.
But you are the same,
    and your years will have no end. 

5. Jesus is enthroned in victory at the Father's right hand forever. Jesus alone sits at God the Father's right hand on the throne of the universe, waiting until the final conquest of His enemies.

Angels are fascinating creatures. We'll learn more about them next time, but for today we can conclude confidently that, however great angels are, Jesus is far greater than angels! He is the eternal, uncreated Son of God enthroned in glory and worshiped by angels. He alone deserves our worship and obedience.


Friday, May 4, 2018

Hebrews, Day 3: What Does Jesus Have That We Need? Hebrews 1:1-4 (Pt. 3 of 3)

What Does Jesus Have That We Need?
Hebrews 1:1-4 (Pt. 3 of 3)
Hebrews, Day 3


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Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. - Hebrews 1:1-4, ESV

I have to admit something: I have absolutely no interest in William and Kate or any of their children. Please don't hate me. I just don't care. I know the new royal baby is named Louis, which as a student of history I think is a really strange name for a member of the British royal family. But, honestly, I don't care. Why not? Am I some cruel, heartless man? No. It's just that they have absolutely nothing to do with me. They are who they are and I am who I am, and we have nothing whatsoever to do with each other.

Some people feel that way about Jesus. They think He might be a wonderful guy, but they don't see how anything He is has anything to do with them. Last time, we looked at five ways Jesus is supremely excellent. But what does His supreme excellence have to do with us? What does Jesus have in His surpassing greatness that we actually need? We can see at least three answers to this question in the opening of Hebrews:

1. As God's final word to the world, Jesus brings us God's truth in Himself. We all need truth, real truth. The world is full of lies and half-truths, marketing gimmicks and political spin. Where can we get straight truth? We get it from Jesus Himself. Jesus is the final and supreme prophet of God, the Word of God incarnate. He is the truth, and He is the truth given to us and for us.

2. Jesus has made purification for sins. This is part of what makes Him qualified to sit at the right hand of the Majesty and to be the heir of all things. But this is also what each of us most desperately need: real forgiveness, real cleansing. We don't need clever platitudes about how good and special we are. We don't need someone to pat us on our heads and tell us we're okay. We know we're not okay. We're guilty and filthy. We need purification for sins, and Jesus secured it for us by offering up Himself in our place on the cross.   

3. As the One at God's right hand, Jesus represents us before the Father. He sits on the highest seat of authority in the universe, for us. He represents us before the presence of Almighty God, His Father. He is our secure righteousness, our intercessor, and He rules over us as our King, if we trust in Him. As our King and our representative, Jesus is praying for us, guiding us, protecting us, and providing for us. 

It should encourage us to know how supreme Jesus is, and it should encourage us even more to know He is so supreme for us. What He accomplished to be exalted to the highest place He accomplished for us and for our salvation. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Hebrews, Day 2: Hebrews 1:1-4 (Pt. 2 of 3) - What Makes Jesus the Fulfillment of All of God's Promises?

What Makes Jesus the Fulfillment of All of God's Promises?
Hebrews 1:1-4 (Pt. 2 of 3)
Hebrews, Day 2

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Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. - Hebrews 1:1-4, ESV

For some people, greatness is a matter of opinion or taste. Some people think Jackson Pollack was a great artist, but many others realize the ridiculousness of calling his works great art. Some people may like a certain band or singer, while others may not like them. These things are subjective.

At other times, greatness of so obvious and/or quantifiable, it's beyond opinion and debate. Few people who know anything about baseball doubt that Babe Ruth was the greatest player to ever play the game. Likewise, Michael Jordan sits atop every knowledgeable basketball fan's list of the greatest players in NBA history. Was Rembrandt a great artist? Was Bach a truly gifted composer? These great ones are great beyond serious question.

Then we have a man who is in a category all by Himself: Jesus. Last time, we said the Last Days were ushered in by the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. These pivotal events changed history and ushered in the Last Days because God had fulfilled all of His promises in Jesus. Now, the only thing remaining is for Jesus to return and consummate His kingdom.

But what makes Jesus so great? What makes His coming and His triumph the beginning of the Last Days? These opening verses of Hebrews 1 tell us five things about Jesus that make Him supreme, the definitive One, the One who alone could fulfill all the purposes of God.

1. He is the heir of all things. The first thing we're told is that Jesus is the heir of all things, having been appointed to this position by the Father. Jesus was also the One through whom God the Father made all things. This makes Jesus the Alpha and the Omega , the beginning and the end. No one else holds this unique position at the beginning and the end of all things.

2. He is the God-man. Jesus is "the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature." The first part of this expression refers to Jesus' divinity and the second half refers to Him as the second and perfect Adam, the exact image of God. Together, this marvelous statement means Jesus alone is true God and true and perfect man.

3. He is the One who sustains of all things. Jesus "upholds the universe by the word of his power." All things everywhere are upheld and held together by Jesus and His power.

4. He made purification for sins. Jesus was qualified for His unique position as heir of all things by His nature and by the work He did. He alone made full and complete purification for sins. All the sacrifices of all the worshipers and priests in all human history could not accomplish what Jesus alone did on the cross in His willing death in our place.

5. He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Finally, because of His finished work of redemption, Jesus sat down at God's right hand, in the place of highest authority in the universe. He is King and all kings and Lord of all lords.

Jesus alone is uniquely great, far above all others. This makes Him the word we must hear and the One we must worship!