Friday, June 29, 2018

Hebrews, Day 24: Hebrews 7:18-28 - What's So Much Better About the New?

What's So Much Better About the New?

Hebrews, Day 24

For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.

And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him:

“The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind,
‘You are a priest forever.’”

This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.

The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
-Hebrews 7:18-28, ESV

I love reading magazine articles about old cars. American Pickers is one of my favorite TV shows, especially when they're looking at and talking about old cars and motorcycles. We have a family membership to the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) Museum. Yet, if I'm honest, I have to admit - along with Jay Leno - that the newer cars of today really are better in every way. They have better performance, better handling, better safety features and pollution controls, so they're better for people and the environment. But I do still love those old cars.

What about the Old Testament? The people who first received the Book of Hebrews as a letter were being tempted to think the old was better and to go back to it. They were tempted to think that the sacrifices, ceremonies, dietary laws, holy days and regulations of the old covenant age were good enough, certainly better than being persecuted for their Christian faith.

But was it better? No. Not at all. In fact, Hebrews 7:18 says the Mosaic Law and the Levitical priesthood were weak and useless, for they made nothing perfect. So, it was set aside and a better hope was introduced in Jesus. But how is the hope we have in Jesus now better? What's so much better about the new?

1. A Better Hope: The first better introduced in today's passage is "a better hope." The better hope comes in part because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. He lives forever as our high priest because His life is indestructible in His resurrection glory. So our hope is better, a hope stronger than death.

2. A Better Oath: God has made a better oath to the high priest of the new covenant, Jesus. He has sworn to make Him a priest forever, not just for a few years. Under the old covenant, a change of high priest brought uncertainty, because the new high priest could be unfaithful and unreliable. We never need to fear such an event, for God has sworn a better oath to keep Jesus as high priest forever.

3. A Better Intercession: One of the key roles of a priest is to make intercession for the people. The priest pleads before God for mercy for the people of God, Because Jesus lives forever, He is able to never stop praying for us. "Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him." 

4. A Better High Priest: Our high priest not only makes better intercession because He lives forever, but He is also better because He is "holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens." 

5. A Better Sacrifice: Jesus is not only a better high priest, but He offered a better sacrifice. He does not offer a daily sacrifice. He offered Himself once-for-all, accomplishing all that was needed for our salvation in one supreme act.

And so, the new is indeed better than the old, and our salvation is as complete and perfect as our Savior! Does that make the Old Testament useless? Of course not! In fact, it's impossible to properly understand the new without the foundation provided by the old. But the fulfillment of the old covenant brought by Jesus brings a better salvation to God's people forever.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Hebrews, Day 23: Hebrews 7:11-17 - How Does Melchizedek Point Us to the Need for Jesus?

How Does Melchizedek Point Us to the Need for Jesus?
Hebrews, Day 23

Audio Version

Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him,

“You are a priest forever,
    after the order of Melchizedek.” 
- Hebrews 7:11-17, ESV

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it." But what if it is broken?

Why would God bring up Melchizedek in Psalm 110, hundreds of years after the establishment of the Levitical priesthood and the Law of Moses? Why promise a coming Messiah who would be "priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek," when God Himself had established the priesthood of Aaron and his descendants in the Tribe of Levi?

Hebrews 7:11 tells us why: Perfection could never be attained under the Levitical priesthood. Much of the rest of Hebrews will unfold exactly why this is true. The point in this part of Hebrews is this: If the Law of Moses and the Levitical priesthood established under that law, were capable of providing salvation, Psalm 110 would be unnecessary. In other words, if it wasn't broke, God wouldn't have had to fix it.

But would the new promised priest truly be better than the old Levitical priests? Yes, in many ways! This is where the superiority of Melchizedek and the exact nature of the promise given in Psalm 110 become very important. Melchizedek was superior to Levi, to Aaron. He was a king, as well as a priest, and Abraham paid tithes to him.

Yet the promise in Psalm 110 goes beyond the picture of Melchizedek we have in Genesis 14. God promises a Messiah who will be "priest forever." How could anyone be priest forever? Only if He could live forever! So, the promise of the Messiah-Priest in the order of Melchizedek is a promise of One who has an indestructible life, One who will never die.

This promise in Psalm 110 lines up with another famous Messianic promise, in 2 Samuel 7:13-17. Here, God promised David that he would have an offspring whose kingdom would be established forever: "I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever." 

These promises of an eternal priest and an eternal king come together in Jesus, who is from the Tribe of Judah, a descendant of David. Jesus is made king and priest forever in the glory of His resurrection, by the power of an indestructible life. He is the priest we need, the One who brings the salvation the Levitical priesthood could never achieve. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Hebrews, Day 22: Hebrews 7:1-3 - Who Was Melchizedek? Why is He Important?

Who Was Melchizedek? Why is He Important?
Hebrews 7:1-3
Hebrews, Day 22

Audio Version

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever. - Hebrews 7:1-3, ESV

If you want to start a fight among baseball fans, ask what they think of the Designated Hitter or using instant replay to determine balls and strikes. If you want to start a fight among evangelical Bible scholars who all agree on the full inerrancy of Scripture, simply ask, "Who was Melchizedek?"

In the Old Testament, the answer to this question seems simple enough: Melchizedek's story is told at the end of Genesis 14, when Abraham is returning from his battle to rescue Lot from the hands of Canaanite kings. On his return from battle to Sodom, Abraham is met by "Melchizedek king of Salem [who] brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Possessor of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”   (Gen. 14:18-19, ESV)

The story seems simple enough. Melchizedek was the king of Salem, probably Jerusalem. He was also a priest, which may seem strange, but remember that Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, was also a priest. People outside of Israel did worship the LORD and some were priests in the worship of the one true God, God Most High, even though they were not Levites. In fact, in Abraham's day, no such thing as Levites existed yet.

So far, all is clear enough. The only other reference to Melchizedek in the Old Testament is in Psalm 110, which most Bible scholars agree is a Messianic psalm, which has this promise:

The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
    after the order of Melchizedek.” 

So the Messiah is promised to be a priest forever "after the order of Melchizedek."

Hebrews 7 picks up these two references and interprets them in the light of Christ: Just as Melchizedek was a priest and a king, so Jesus is also a priest and a king. Furthermore, just as Melchizedek was a legitimate priest of God even though he was not a Levite, so Jesus also is a legitimate priest of God, even though He is not a Levite.

Are you not seeing anything worth fighting over yet? Well, hold on, because Hebrews says much more about Melchizedek. Hebrews says Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, the father of the faithful. After all, Abraham paid his tithe to Melchizedek, and Melchizedek in turn blessed Abraham. This certainly seems to indicate the superiority of Melchizedek. Even more, Hebrews points out that Melchizedek's name means "king of righteousness" and that his title, king of Salem, means "king of peace," so he is the king of righteousness and peace. 

What really pushes the envelope and starts the Bible scholar brawl is verse 3: "He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever." Is Hebrews saying Melchizedek is a divine, supreme, eternal priest? It sure seems like it. Is Melchizedek also a priest forever, just like Jesus? 

The strong language of verse 3 has led many Bible scholars to conclude that Melchizedek must be nothing short of a Christophany, an Old Testament manifestation of Jesus in the flesh before the incarnation. So, is he? Honestly, I don't know. Hebrews 7:3 doesn't definitively say he is, but it's hard to imagine such lofty language applying to any mere human being. What human could be so great as to be like Jesus in these incredible ways without being a manifestation of Jesus Himself? 

So, my stirring and provocative answer to this intense Bible debate is, "I don't know." But it sure does seem to me like Melchizedek is something extra-ordinary. If not a full-fledged manifestation of Christ, he is certainly a powerful type or foreshadowing of Christ, as we'll see in the days to come. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

All Things, Day 5 - Generosity & Heaven - from the PCA Foundation

But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. - 1 CHRONICLES 29:14



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Thursday, June 21, 2018

All Things, Day 4 - Generosioty & the Church - from the PCA Foundation

But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. - 1 CHRONICLES 29:14



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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

All Things, Day 3 - Generosity & Jesus - from the PCA Foundation

But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. - 1 CHRONICLES 29:14



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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

All Things, Day 2 - Generosity & Israel - from the PCA Foundation

But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. - 1 CHRONICLES 29:14



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Monday, June 18, 2018

All Things, Day 1 - Generosity & Creation - from the PCA Foundation

But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. - 1 CHRONICLES 29:14



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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Hebrews, Day 21: Hebrews 6:13-20 - Why Would God Bind Himself with a Oath?

Why Would God Bind Himself with a Oath? 
Hebrews, Day 21

Audio Version

For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. - Hebrews 6:13-20, ESV

"Go ahead and let go. I've got you. I promise I won't let you go."

"But I'm scared, Daddy. I can't."

"Trust me, Son. I swear, I won't let you fall. I promise."

Conversations like this used to take place between my now-14-year-old son and me when he was younger and terrified of coming down ladders. He sometimes wanted to go into the attic of our new house in South Carolina, and he would never have a problem going up into the attic. Coming down was a different story. He was paralyzed with fear, as was my now-11-year-old son. I would have to vow oaths and make promises to get them to trust me, to get them to release their death grip and let me help them.

After reading the first 12 verses of Hebrews 6, you may be feeling afraid. If you take seriously the warning of the opening verses and then consider yourself in light of the three-fold test of the middle of the chapter, you may be feeling very uncertain. How can you know you are truly in Christ and bearing fruit, and not just in the covenant community, fitting in with those around you but not really united to Christ? Perhaps you see your own struggles with sin and your lack of fruitfulness, and you are scared.

What can you do with your fear? Thankfully, God answers our anxiety. He tells us to flee to Him for refuge. He invites us to bring our confusion, our doubt, and our fear and flee to Him. But how can we be sure that if we flee to God for refuge, He will accept us? How can we be sure He will save us and keep us?

To give us assurance, to strengthen our confidence, God binds Himself with an oath. Think about that for a moment: God doesn't owe us a refuge. He doesn't owe us anything but judgment and condemnation for our sin. Yet far from condemnation, He offers us not only a refuge but a refuge secured by strong confidence by binding Himself with an oath to save all those who come to Him by faith in Jesus Christ.

God has no one higher than Himself by whom he can swear, so He simply says, "Surely, I will . . . " God first makes a promise, and then he guarantees that promise with an oath. The oath referred to here is probably the covenant ceremony God performs for Abraham in Genesis 15. But the oath God makes in Genesis 15, He fulfills on the cross, where Jesus hung bloody and torn for us. God has made a promise and guaranteed it by the blood oath of His Son!

The certainty of God's promise and oath - two things in which it is impossible for God to lie - should give us strong confidence. God's promise and oath, fulfilled in Jesus, should give us such strong hope that it anchors our souls. When I brought by boys down that attic ladder, I was not going to drop them or let them fall. Knowing that allowed them to let go and come down. Will we let go of our anxiety and rest in Christ? Will be trust Him to be the sure and steadfast anchor for our souls?     

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Hebrews, Day 20: Hebrews 6:7-12 - How Can We Have Assurance of Our Salvation?

How Can We Have Assurance of Our Salvation?
Hebrews 6:7-12
Hebrews, Day 20

Audio Version

For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. - Hebrews 6:7-12, ESV

Sometimes it's a relief to hear reassurance after you've been set up to expect bad news. Many competition shows or reality shows are set up this way. Contestants are told: "The reality is that someone is going to have to go home tonight . . . Thankfully, that someone won't be you!"

"In your case, we feel sure of better things" - Those are nice words to hear after the sobering words of Hebrews 6:1-8. The original recipients of this letter had to breathe a deep sigh of relief when they first heard the words of verse 9. They had been chastised for not growing and warned about the reality of what happens to unfruitful professing believers who fall away. So the word "yet" had to bring real relief.

Would you like to know that same relief? Would you like to be able to say with some confidence, "Even those these things are true, yet I am sure of better things in my case"? That would be nice, right? But how is it possible?

The words of verses 7-12 give you three keys for confidence: spiritual fruitfulness, love for the saints and perseverance in zeal for the Lord. To the extent that you see spiritual fruit in your life - Christ-likeness cultivated by the Spirit manifesting in love, joy, peace, patience, etc. - and to the extent that you have real love for fellow believers and so you serve them in love, and also to the extent that you are pressing forward in faith and hope, then your assurance can be rightly strengthened.

What makes these three the keys? Because they are signs of life. If you belong to Jesus, the Holy Spirit dwells in you. His indwelling should be evident in growing fruitfulness, loving service to fellow believers, and perseverance in faith and hope. The key is growth and life, not perfection. In fact, appearing perfect can often be a sign of death painted with false colors to look alive. Growth involves struggle, failure, repentance, forgiveness, longing, etc.     

So, do you love Jesus? Do you long to be more like Him? Does the sin in your life trouble you? Do you love the people of God and strive to serve them? Are you setting your hope on heaven and not on this life? If so, you, too, can feel sure of better things - things that belong to salvation, which can never be lost!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Hebrews, Day 19: Hebrews 6:1-8 - Can We Lose Our Salvation?

Can We Lose Our Salvation?
Hebrews 6:1-8
Hebrews, Day 19

Audio Version

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. - Hebrews 6:1-8, ESV

Some things you have and hold precious can be lost. I'll never forget the Sunday morning I was in church when I looked down and did not see my wedding band on my hand. I had recently lost weight, and it had gotten loose, and then it was gone. I was devastated. I could barely focus on the rest of worship that day.  Immediately after the service, I began frantically searching for my wedding band. Sadly, I never found it. The one I wear now is a replacement.

Other things you have cannot be so easily lost. I do not expect to some day look down in the middle of a worship service and realize I have accidentally lost my right hand. Why not? Because it is truly part of my body, and not just something I wear.

Hebrews contains two famous passages warning of the danger of falling away, today's passage inch. 6 and another in ch. 10. This has led most Bible scholars to conclude that this letter was written to a group of Christians in danger of apostasy, that is, of falling away from the faith. But is it possible for someone to lose their salvation, to belong to Christ by faith and then be lost? No, but in another sense, yes. 

John 10:22-42, Romans 8:31-39 and other passages emphasize the believer's security in Christ. If we belong to Jesus Christ by saving faith, so that we are joined to Him and He is joined to us in true spiritual union, nothing can break that union. Yet it is possible for someone to profess faith in Jesus, be actively involved in His church, and then fall away and be lost. What's the difference? It's kind of like the difference between wearing a wedding band and having a right hand: One is something you wear, while the other is an integral part of you. 

All professing believers involved in church life are in a covenant relationship with God. They receive many blessings from this covenant relationship. But being a part of this blessed covenant of grace community is not the same thing as truly belonging to Christ by saving faith. To use the language if Romans 9:6-7, "not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring" (ESV).

This is why Paul urges the Corinthians to examine themselves to see whether they are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5) . A passage like Hebrews 6 shouldn't terrify us, but it should sober us up and cause us to pray and search our hearts and God's word to see if we are truly trusting in Jesus alone for our salvation, or if we are just making a show of faith without any substance. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Hebrews, Day 18: Hebrews 5:11-14 - How Do We Mature As Believers?

How Do We Mature As Believers?
Hebrews 5:11-14
Hebrews, Day 18

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. 
- Hebrews 5:11-14, ESV

Seeing a little baby drinking formula out of a bottle is cute. Seeing a small toddler with a bottle of milk is still adorable. Seeing a ten-year-old with the same bottle is less cute, and seeing a grown man desiring only milk from a bottle is a sign of a serious problem. Yet what is an even more serious problem is a baby who is not growing out of infancy.

In our spiritual lives, we sadly see this phenomenon all too frequently. Many Christians who have been believers for 5, 10, or 20 years or longer are still drinking milk and are not ready for solid food. Why? Because they have not matured. The recipients of the letter to the Hebrews had been stuck in basic infancy for so long they were in danger of showing they were not really alive, for growth is a key indicator of true life.     

So, how can we grow? How can we mature as believers? How can we demonstrate that we have real spiritual life and are growing in that life? 

The author of Hebrews describes the immature as those who are "unskilled in the word of righteousness." He then says, "Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good and evil."

I used to believe that people grew spiritually by studying doctrine and growing in knowledge. But Hebrews says something different. It says solid food is for the mature, meaning growth in doctrinal understanding will come to those who are maturing. Maturing itself is not as much a matter of knowledge as it is of applying and living out the knowledge you've been given.

When God gives us basic instruction in the Gospel and in biblical morality, we need to take what He gives us and apply it to our lives. We need to be trained by constant practice to distinguish between good and evil. If we will not take and apply what God has told us, how can we expect God to teach us still more?

Sadly, I have known many Christians who seemed to have advanced theological knowledge, but whose lives demonstrated that they had never applied the basics of the Gospel and biblical truth to their lives. They did not show the fruit of repentance and faith, though they had a head full of doctrinal information. Unsurprisingly, once I dug below the surface, I usually found their doctrinal knowledge to be badly twisted and unfaithful.

God is not interested in filling our heads with facts and information. His desire is to see our hearts and lives conformed to the image of Christ. As Christ is formed in us and we grow to be more like Him in our character, this is real maturity, this is the growth God seeks. It comes by receiving, believing and applying the truth of God's word by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is shown in the fruit of the Spirit, beginning with love, love for God and for neighbor. 

If we belong to Jesus, we must be seeking to grow in Him. If not, we risk remaining immature and unstable, or worse, as we will see in chapter 6. Thankfully, the God who saved us by His grace is growing us by His grace, too. His grace will persevere in us to do His work in growing us until we see Jesus face to face.    

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Hebrews, Day 17: Hebrews 5:7-10 - How Could Jesus Be Made Perfect? Why?

How Could Jesus Be Made Perfect? Why?
Hebrews 5:7-10
Hebrews, Day 17

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. 
- Hebrews 5:7-10, ESV

Thanks to a long and strange history, the English language has picked up some very unusual expressions. Many of us have no idea why, when we're facing a difficult task, we say, "Well, I'm just going to have to bite the bullet." Why in the world would anyone want to bite a bullet? Or when someone is being very quiet, we ask them, "What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?" How could a cat get someone's tongue? What a strange thing to say! 

Hebrews has one of the strangest expressions in the Bible, at least on the surface of it. It's most clear in today's passage, which refers to Jesus "being made perfect." This is one of three times when Hebrews speaks of Jesus being made or becoming perfect (2:10; 5:9; 7:28). To my mind, at first glance, these seem impossibly strange. How could the perfectly sinless Son of God be made perfect?

Some people might jump on these verses and use them to claim that Jesus was not sinlessly perfect, but the Book of Hebrews is clear that Jesus never sinned. (Heb. 4:15 & 7:26). In fact, Hebrews makes it clear that if Jesus ever sinned, He would not be any better as a Savior and high priest than the priests of Aaron (see yesterday's devotional). 

So, if Jesus is sinlessly perfect, how could He have been "made perfect" and why would He need to be? One way to understand this is to understand that the word "perfect" has different aspects to its meaning. In Greek, the original language of the New Testament, the word perfect is usually the word "teleloo/teleion" which means perfectly suited for its purpose or its intended end. 

Hebrews 5 tells us Jesus was being made perfectly suitable for His purpose or His intended end by suffering and by learning obedience as He suffered. When Jesus was in heaven, in perfect blissful communion with the Father, enjoying the worship of angels, He was sinless and glorious, but He was not a suitable Savior or sympathetic High Priest. 

For Jesus to be a suitable Savior, His willingness to obey His Father had to be tested. He had to earn a perfect righteousness for us, in our place, as our representative. Just as Adam was tested in the Garden of Eden and failed, dragging humanity into sin and misery, so Jesus had to be tested. He was tested for forty days in the wilderness and again in the Garden of Gethsemane, resisting temptation and honoring His Father fully to the end.  

For Jesus to be a sympathetic High Priest, He needed to experience every kind of temptation, just as we face. By suffering, He knows what it's like to suffer. By being tempted, He understands what it is to be tempted. He can fully sympathize with the human condition because He is the "man of sorrows, acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). 

So, how could Jesus be "made perfect"? Not by getting rid of any flaws, for He never had any. Rather He was made to be the perfect Savior and High Priest for us, the perfect righteousness, the perfect sacrifice, the perfect sympathetic intercessor and the perfect representative for us before the throne of God. So, instead of puzzling over this seemingly strange expression, we can thank God that Jesus was indeed made perfect for us and for our salvation! 

Monday, June 4, 2018

Hebrews, Day 16: Hebrews 5:1-6 - How is Jesus a Better High Priest Than Aaron?

How is Jesus a Better High Priest Than Aaron?
Hebrews, Day 16

For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,

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

as he says also in another place,

“You are a priest forever,
    after the order of Melchizedek.”
- Hebrews 5:1-6, ESV

I've now reached that age when I sometimes see new versions of things come out and I think, "Well, what was wrong with the old one?" Sometimes, of course, nothing is wrong with the old version. It works fine, and we really don't need to upgrade. However, if you had an infection in your leg, you would probably want modern medical treatment and not the old-school kind from the days of the Civil War. Bloody, dirty saws anyone? 

The author of Hebrews was writing to believers who were being tempted to believe they didn't need Jesus' high priestly ministry because God had already given His people the priesthood of Aaron. They were tempted to think, "Well, what was wrong with the old priesthood? After all, God did call and consecrate Aaron and his sons as priests, right? And don't they offer sacrifices for sin, too? Why do we really need Jesus? Is He that much better?"

The pressure of rising persecution was pushing these Jewish believers to think this way, and the author of Hebrews wants to pull then back from the brink and restore them to a better perspective on Jesus. Throughout this book, he's been arguing for the superiority of Jesus - over angels, over Moses, etc. Now, he is turning his attention to the superiority of Jesus over Aaron.

Aaron was indeed chosen and appointed by God. But so was Jesus. Aaron was sympathetic toward the people, for he knew their weaknesses, just as Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses. But here is where the similarities end: Both men chosen and appointed by God and both men sympathetic.

Priests in the line of Aaron are weak and subject to sin themselves. Jesus is strong and never sinned. Aaronic priests must offer sacrifices for their own sins before they can offer sacrifices for the sins of the people. Jesus has no need for a sacrifice, so the sacrifice He offers is solely for the sake of His people. Finally (in this section), Jesus is an eternal priest, appointed to His office forever, whereas all priests in the line of Aaron die and pass their office to another. 

Hebrews will continue to explore these themes more deeply in the coming chapters. It's already clear in just a few short verses that going back to the Aaronic priesthood makes about as much sense spiritually as going back to Civil War-era medicine. In fact, Civil War-era medicine is a wiser choice, because at least it offers some hope of survival. The priesthood of Aaron offers no real hope for forgiveness and salvation, as we will see in the coming chapters. 

Any other alternative to Jesus falls woefully short of His majestic perfections. In Him, we lack nothing, and everything else falls pitifully short. Let us press on in faithful confidence in our eternal High Priest, the Son of God who never fails! 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Hebrews, Day 15: Hebrews 4:14-16 - How Does Jesus Help Us as Our Great High Priest?

How Does Jesus Help Us as Our Great High Priest?
Hebrews, Day 15

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. - Hebrews 4:14-16, ESV

Have you ever seen an AED machine hanging on a wall? Have you ever wondered what it was for? You might know it is an Automatic External Defibrilator. I have been trained a couple of times in how to use one. Maybe you have, too, but how much do you think about them? I can guarantee you'd think of these machines at one particular time: As soon as you needed one!

You probably know the truth that Jesus is our Great High Priest. You may even know something about His priestly office and work. You may also know He is our Great Prophet and King. But when do those offices of Jesus really mean something to you? When you need Jesus to fulfill those roles in your life!

Hebrews tells us much about Jesus as our Great High Priest. In today's passage, we learn He has passed through the heavens, meaning He is seated at the right hand of the Majesty of God on high (see 1:3). We also learn He is not unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, which is kind of a funny way of saying He does sympathize with our weaknesses. He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because he has been tempted in every way, just as we are, and yet He has never sinned.

So, we have a transcendent, sympathetic and perfect Great High Priest. But what does that mean for us? It means He can and will help us. Because He is at the Father's right hand, He is in a position to send us help from the highest position of authority. Because He is sympathetic, He wants to send us help; He understands how hard it is to face temptation. Because He is perfect and has never sinned, He knows what we need in order to pass the test and resist the temptation.

But none of this does us any good until we see very clearly the depth of our need. It is all just information until we enter into a time of need. Then, we really need the confidence to "draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Mercy here means sympathy and compassion, while grace here means divine favor or help.

Too often, I don't draw near to the throne of grace because I don't feel the depth of my need. I am like a man having a heart attack within reach of an AED who insists, "It's nothing - just indigestion!" I think I can handle it. I think I have it under control. But the truth is I need help. When do I need the help of my Great High Priest? When is my time of need? All day, every day.

Let's stop being so foolishly proud and self-reliant. Let's be willing to humble ourselves, recognize our need, and draw near to the throne of grace all the time. This is what it means to "pray without ceasing." (1 Thess. 5;17) And this is what it means to fully and effectively rely on our Great High Priest.