Friday, August 31, 2018

Hebrews, Day 42: Hebrews 11:17-22 - What Difference Does Faith Make in the Face of Death?

What Difference Does Faith Make in the Face of Death?
Hebrews, Day 42

Audio Version

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. - Hebrews 11:17-22, ESV

"What difference does it make, anyway?" Have you ever had someone ask you that question? As a teacher, I've had students ask me that in class sometimes. I'll admit that sometimes that question hits me like nails on a chalkboard.

In many ways, the book of Hebrews is all about true and saving faith. The largest part of the book is spent magnifying the true object of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ. Hebrews shows us the superiority of Christ over angels, Moses, Abraham, the Levitical priesthood, the Tabernacle worship, etc. Then, Hebrews begins showing us what true faith looks like, culminating in this glorious chapter 11, sometimes called "the Hall of Fame of Faith."

Hebrews 11 defines faith as an assurance and certainty of the unseen things of God, revealed in His word. It then further defines faith that pleases God as the faith which sees God as good, a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Then, it clarifies the kind of reward we should be seeking from God, not earthly riches or comfort, but a heavenly country, an eternal city, where we will live with God forever.

So, what difference does it make, anyway? Today's passage makes it clear that saving faith in Christ makes all the difference in the world in the face of death. Consider:

  1. Abraham's faith looked to God and trusted Him for the resurrection of Isaac. He believed this because he knew Isaac was the child of promise and God would not break His promise. Therefore, if he had to sacrifice Isaac, surely God would bring him back to life. This powerful faith was commended by God!
  2. Isaac's faith allowed him to pronounce proper blessings on Jacob and Esau, once he remembered the word of God and realized his errors. He gave the greater blessing to Jacob, knowing Esau was stronger and a little older, but God had given His covenant promise for Jacob.
  3. Jacob, in turn, worshiped God and blessed Joseph's sons, trusting in God's covenant faithfulness, even in a foreign land.
  4. Finally, Joseph himself showed his faith in the face of death by giving instructions regarding his bones. He knew God would keep His promise.

When we have faith in the one true God, who is stronger than death, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, who has overthrown death, we can have confidence and expectant joy, even in the face of death. Such a faith is never put to shame, for it trusts in a God who never fails and in a Savior who is all-sufficient.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Hebrews, Day 41: Hebrews 11:13-16 - What Makes God Ashamed of Someone?

What Makes God Ashamed of Someone?
Hebrews, Day 41

Audio Version

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. - Hebrews 11:13-16, ESV

When we were children, we lived for the approval of our parents. Nothing was more devastating than to have our parents look at us as say, with sincere disappointment, "I'm so ashamed of your behavior." And, on the other hand, nothing was so invigorating than to hear them say, "I'm so proud of you!"

In Hebrews 11:16, God declares that He is not ashamed to be called the God of those who have true faith. "Therefore God is not ashamed . . . " Wouldn't it be wonderful to know for certain that God says of you, "I am not ashamed to be called your God!"? Yet it raises another important and related question: What does it take to make God ashamed to be called someone's God? What makes God ashamed to have someone publicly identified as one of His followers?

Of course, theologically speaking, we know this is what's called anthropomorphic language    - technically, anthropopathic. God is speaking in human terms, terms we can understand. God Himself is never really ashamed, of course.

Still, in this passage, we seem to have the key to understanding the difference between those who say "Lord, Lord" and hear Jesus say in response, "Depart from me, for I never knew you" (Matt. 7:21-23) and those to whom Jesus will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" In other words, some professed followers of Jesus will be rejected as frauds, while others will be commended for their faithfulness. What makes the difference?

Those who are commended are those who died in faith, not having received the things promised. Many people would say this describes Abraham and the patriarchs because they did not receive the promised land of Canaan before their deaths. But that interpretation contradicts what Hebrews 11 actually says. "They are seeking a homeland" indeed, but not any earthly one. "They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one."

True faith in God requires an eternal perspective and looks for a heavenly reward, a heavenly home. True faith in God does not seek to lay up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. Those who look for earthly gain from "religious devotion" are misguided and lead many others astray, too. (see 1 Tim. 6:3-10)

So, what is your heart's desire? Is it to be with the LORD, face-to-face, in glory forever? Or do you crave lesser things, thinking to satisfy your heart with earthly riches and pleasures?  Those who look for the heavenly country are those of whom the LORD is not ashamed, those for whom He has prepared an eternal city!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Hebrews, Day 40: Hebrews 11:8-12 - Why Was Abraham's Faith So Exemplary?

Why Was Abraham's Faith So Exemplary?
Hebrews, Day 40

Audio Version

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
- Hebrews 11:8-12, ESV

When I got engaged to Beth, I bought her a nice engagement ring, the best I could afford at the time. It was beautiful and costly and was an appropriate symbol of our love and my promise to her. In fact, before I gave her an engagement ring, I also gave her a Claddagh promise ring. Beth was thankful for and appreciated both the promise ring and the engagement ring. But if her focus had been fixated on the preciousness, beauty or value of either of those rings rather than on our relationship, we would have been in trouble.

In Genesis 12:7, God promised Abram the land of Canaan. God had called Abram to leave his family and his homeland and to set out to the land of Canaan. When Abram pitched his tent in the land at the Oak of Moreh at Shechem, God said, "To your offspring, I will give this land." Abram responded to God's promise by building an altar to the LORD, demonstrating his faith in the LORD's promise.      

We need to be careful to interpret this passage in Genesis properly. Hebrews 11 gives us the key to understanding Abraham's faith rightly. Abraham's faith was commendable not because He was focused on the land God had promised him but on the God who had promised him the land. In fact, Hebrews explicitly tells us that Abraham was looking to the heavenly city, not to any earthly possession.

Sarah, like Abraham, is commended for her faith in Hebrews 11. Her faith is commendable because "she considered Him faithful who had promised." She was longing for a child and she was thankful to receive a child, but the focus of her faith was on the LORD. And through the LORD's faithfulness, Sarah became the mother of the faithful, just as Abraham became the father of the faithful, the patriarch and matriarch of the household of faith. They trusted God and, through them, God blessed all the nations of the earth with Christ and gave them as many descendants as the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore.

Here's what God wants us to understand through this passage in Hebrews: Our faith should be focused on Him more so than on the promises or benefits He gives us. We should love the Giver more than His gifts. Was Abraham thankful for the promise of land? Yes, but that was not his focus. In fact, he would never inherit the land himself, and it would be almost 500 years before his descendants would. Was Sarah thankful for Isaac? Absolutely! But her faith was in the Faithful One more than in the good gift of the Faithful One. 

What about us? Surely the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life are precious gifts, wonderful beyond any possible earthly value. But what is the point of having our sins forgiven and being given eternal life? Is it just so we can live forever in paradise? What if God said He would let you live forever in paradise without Him? Would that still be heaven? No! 

Saving faith is focused on God Himself. In the Gospel, God gives us Himself. He is the precious gift, just as surely as the promise ring and the engagement ring I gave Beth symbolized the true gift of myself, my promise of a lifelong commitment to be hers. Abraham and Sarah had exemplary faith not because of a strip of land on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, but because of their love for and trust in the Lord God of the whole earth! Is He the true object of our faith, too? 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Hebrews, Day 39: Hebrews 11:4-7 - What Kind of Faith Do We Need?

What Kind of Faith Do We Need?
Hebrews, Day 39

Audio Version

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
- Hebrews 11:4-7, ESV

People who know me know I drink coffee. As I write this, I'm sitting in Starbucks, where I also write most of my sermons. I like coffee, and I was excited to learn recently that drinking six cups per day is good for my health and will likely extend my life. Here's the catch: I drink my coffee black, and since I made that switch, I've become much pickier in my selection of coffee. I like strong, dark, smooth coffee. Today, I'm trying a new single-origin roast from the Rift Valley in Kenya. I like it. It's smooth. Some people would say it's too strong, but is there such a thing?

Hebrews 11 tells us of the importance of faith and defines faith for us: Faith is assured and convinced that what God has said and promised is real and reliable. We need true and saving faith, because without faith, we would shrink back from following Christ and be destroyed. But will any kind of faith do? Jesus said we don't need much faith, just as much as a mustard seed. But what kind of faith? What kind of assurance and conviction of the unseen do we need? 

As we read on in Hebrews 11, we find that we need a faith that pleases God. A faith that pleases God believes that God exists and believes that He rewards those who seek Him. In other words, true faith believes in the existence and the goodness of God. We're not just convinced and assured that God is real, but we're also convinced and assured that He is good, that He keeps His promises, rewarding those who seek Him.

This kind of faith pleases God because it leads to joyful, willing obedience and not a begrudging fulfillment of duty or a shallow, hypocritical profession without fruit. Think about it: If you are convinced God is real but think of Him as a tyrant in the sky, any obedience you render will be begrudging, half-hearted, driven by fear, and tinged with resentment. Will God be pleased with this kind of obedience? No!

Think of the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). The man with one talent said, "Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours." (vv. 24-25) Was this man convinced that the Master was real? Yes. Did he fully believe and expect the Master to return? Yes. So, did he have faith? Yes, at least a kind of faith. What he didn't believe was the goodness of the Master. His picture of the Master made him hide in fear instead of risking and serving in love.

Contrasted with the one-talent man, consider the three examples in today's passage:

1. Abel's faith led him to offer a better sacrifice, one that involved the shedding of blood and pointed by faith to the One who would come and shed His blood as a sacrifice for Abel's salvation.

2. Enoch's faith caused him to walk with God, a simple expression describing a life of loving faith and faithful obedience. Enoch's faith caused him to be taken up, delivered from death, just as everyone who is left alive at the coming of Christ will be taken up to be with Christ and spared death.

3. Noah's faith led him to build an ark, an ark that saved him and his family from God's wrath and that provided the means for the renewal of creation. His ark was also a picture of Christ, who saves us from the wrath of God and will renew creation again, one final time, when He returns.

Faith that pleases God trusts, risks, and is rewarded. Why? Because it is confident in the goodness of God. It knows that God will not fail to keep His promises to reward His own.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Hebrews, Day 38: Hebrews 10:39 - 11:3 - What is True Faith?

What is True Faith?
Hebrews, Day 38
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
- Hebrews 10:39-11:3, ESV

Have you ever been quoted out of context, in such a way that made what you said sound so much different than what you actually meant? I've had the experience, and trust me, it's not fun! Sadly, even the best Christians are guilty of doing this to the Bible all the time. 

One of the helpful features of our Bibles is the fact that they're divided into chapters and verses. This makes it very easy for us to teach and discuss the Bible, because we can easily turn to any section of Scripture together. But what is a helpful feature can also sometimes be a hindrance. Sometimes we forget that what is said at the beginning of a chapter needs to be connected to what was said at the end of the previous chapter for us to understand its full meaning. 

I can't tell you how many times I've heard Hebrews 11:1 quoted as a definition of faith. It's a good verse to quote for that reason, because it does give us a concise definition of faith - "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." But in isolation, that definition can sound a bit abstract, a bit academic. Hebrews 11:1 begins with the word "now," which makes a strong connection to what was said immediately before it. In other words, Hebrews 11:1 is being said in the context of Hebrews 10:39, as a follow-up explanation of that last verse of chapter 10.

When we remove 11:1 from 10:39, we miss the urgency of the definition of faith. We miss the importance of why saving faith is so vital to understand and have. The opposite of having faith is shrinking back and being destroyed. The opposite of trusting God for what we cannot see is abandoning God, rejecting Christ, and suffering judgment. This context gives the issue of faith a strong relevance to our lives, something that is far from abstract or academic. 

So, what does it mean to have faith? It is to have assurance and conviction - literally, the substance and the proof of what God has promised. Faith is absolutely convinced of the reality of that which is physically unseen but has been revealed by God in His word. 

Faith looks at the world around us, the world in which we live, and knows that it did not create itself.  God spoke the universe into being, from nothing, by the word of His power. People sometimes ask me for proof of Gods existence, and I sometimes reply, "Look around you. You live in the midst of the proof. Look at yourself. You are the living proof." People who can look at the sunset and the stars, the human hand and heart, a butterfly on a flower, or a dolphin playing in the ocean and not see God are blind and lacking faith. Logic and evidence will not convince them. They need eyes to see.

Faith is having the eyes to see, and it's a gift of God. It says to God, "I believe," because it knows, it has assurance and conviction. Jesus is both the object of our faith and the giver of our faith, as Hebrews will go on to say in chapter 12. Faith does not shrink back because faith is fully convinced and assured that what God has said is true, more true than what my eyes can see, more true than what the world tells me, and more true than what my flesh desires. 

Faith says simply, clearly and confidently: "Let God be true, and every man a liar." (Romans 3:4)

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Hebrews, Day 37: Hebrews 10:32-39 - What Role Do Good Works Play in Assurance?

What Role Do Good Works Play in Assurance? 
Hebrews, Day 37

Audio Version

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.  For,

“Yet a little while,
    and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
    and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
- Hebrews 10:32-39, ESV

I drive a gold 2002 Buick Century. It is not a Jeep. If I were to take it off-roading on the Rubicon trail, that would not make it a Jeep. It would, in fact, show how very much non-Jeep my car is. Taking a vehicle off-road does not make the vehicle a Jeep, but if you have a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and you take it off road, it will soon demonstrate its distinct quality.

Christians are made Christians by the Holy Spirit's work in our hearts, making us born again, giving us the gift of faith and uniting us to Christ by faith. Christians are called to do good works. We are called to love God, love one another, share the Gospel with our neighbors, and endure hardship and persecution. We do not become Christians by doing these works. If a non-Christian, who is not born again by the power of the Spirit, tries to do the works a Christian is called to do, he may succeed in some of them for a time, but before long, he will quit in despair.

In doing good works, Christians are called to bear the fruit of the Spirit - love, joy peace, patience, etc. These are not fruit we produce ourselves. This is the fruit of the Spirit!

When we are doubting our salvation or are filled with fear, we can look back at the fruit of the Spirit we have displayed in the past and the good works we have done previously and be encouraged. This is what the author of Hebrews is encouraging his readers to do: Look back and remember what God has done in and through them in the past.

The author of Hebrews has just written some hard and sobering words. He has sternly warned his readers that they will not escape the wrath of God if they reject Christ and abandon their profession of faith. His last words were "'The Lord will judge his people.' It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (vv. 30-31)  But now he wants to reassure them: "But recall the former days . . ."

Sometimes we feel overwhelmed as believers. It may be temptation or doubt or peer pressure, but whatever it is that overwhelms us, we need to learn to look up and look back. The author of Hebrews has been continually urging his audience to look to Jesus, which he will do again. Now he is telling them to look back and remember how much they were willing to endure in the past because of their strong hope in Christ. When we look up to Jesus and look back for evidence of the Lord's work in our lives in the past, God can bring us through whatever is threatening to overwhelm our faith!   

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Hebrews, Day 36: Hebrews 10:26-31 - Do New Testament Believers Still Need to Fear God?

Do New Testament Believers Still Need to Fear God? 
Hebrews, Day 36

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 
- Hebrews 10:26-31, ESV

"I don't believe in the angry God of the Old Testament. I'm a New Testament believer."

"People in the Old Testament had to fear God, but I believe in the God of the New Testament."

"In the Old Testament, God was angry and judgmental, but once Jesus came, God became a God of love and forgiveness."

Have you ever heard or maybe thought or even said yourself any of these things? Many people put a division between the Old Testament and the New Testament that would even go so far as to see two different Gods at work. "The God of the Old Testament" seems to many people to be so different from "the God of the New Testament." This is due mostly to stereotypes, misconceptions and a superficial reading of isolated portions of the Bible.

Consider what the Old Testament says about God's relationship to His people:

"Fear not, O Zion;
    let not your hands grow weak.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing." - Zephaniah 3:16-17, ESV

And then read today's passage from Hebrews again: "fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire . . . much worse punishment . . . Vengeance is mine . . . It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

This is seriously sobering language! We cannot say the fear of the LORD ends with the close of the Old Testament, can we? After all, it was Jesus Himself who said, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28, ESV)

It is never safe to reject the grace of God. It is never wise to trample underfoot the goodness of God. And the more grace and goodness God has given, the more dangerous and foolish it is to spurn it and trample it underfoot. Thus, it was really foolish for the people of Israel to break God's Law even as God was giving it to Moses, but it is even worse for people today to turn their backs on Jesus and forsake the One who poured out His life on the cross.

I do not believe anyone can lose their salvation, if they are truly born again and justified by saving faith. But apostasy is a real sin. Professing Christians - who believe they are redeemed but are mistaken - fall away from the faith, deny Jesus, and end up under God's wrath.

So we should rejoice in the salvation we have in Jesus, but we should rejoice with trembling. We should seek the Lord for the grace to never deny Jesus, never turn away from the faith. For it is indeed a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God - and that's New Testament theology!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Hebrews, Day 35: Hebrews 10:23-25 - How Can We Grow in Faith and Confidence?

How Can We Grow in Faith and Confidence?
Hebrews, Day 35

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. 
- Hebrews 10:23-25, ESV

My boys are both playing football for the first time this year. They're on the same team and I'm one of their coaches. Our team has lots of first-year players, and so we've been focusing on growth rather than success. (I'm also an Orioles fan, so I understand the need to focus on growth rather than success.) For our players to grow, they need to work on their physical conditioning, their understanding of the game, their knowledge of the playbook, their technique, their timing, and their coordination as a team. In each of these areas, we are excited to see growth. 

So, how do we grow as Christians? How can we grow in our faith and confidence in Christ? Much of Hebrews so far has been focused on displaying the superiority of Christ. Then, the author Hebrews has turned from the superiority of Christ to what it means to really trust Him and have confidence in Him. Now, before he gives a warning at the end of chapter 10, he gives some brief words about how to grow in our faith and confidence. 

Step 1: Hold fast. The first thing we must do to grow is to hold fast to what we know is true. We must continue to believe in the astounding promises of the Gospel. We have no reason to waver because God is faithful and never changes. God's promises will never fail because they are anchored in His strong and unfailing character, and so our hope in them should be steadfast and persevering, no matter what trials we face. 

Step 2: Stir up one another. We must hold fast, but we cannot stand still. We need to be continually encouraging and prompting one another toward love and good works. In other words, we need to be helping each other live out the faith we have inside. 

Step 3: Keep meeting together. In order to be able to stir up one another, we need to be meeting together. Gathered church worship is not an optional add-on to the Christian life. It is vitally important to our growth in faith and assurance. As we gather together, we have opportunity to encourage one another to hold onto the hope we have in Christ, to remain steadfast under trials. 

It sounds simple, doesn't it? Hold fast to our hope, stir up one another to love and good deeds, and keep meeting together to encourage one another more and more. It is simple, and yet our adversary knows how vitally important these things are for our growth, and so he never stops attacking with doubts and distractions. His attacks make our perseverance more difficult and more vital. 

In the midst of our struggle to persevere, we have this final word of encouragement in today's passage: The Day is drawing near. We are one day closer to seeing Jesus face-to-face today than we were yesterday, one week closer than we were last week. Life goes by quickly, but that means we are quickly drawing closer to the Great Day of the Lord, and that should keep us running together and encouraging each other.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Hebrews, Day 34: Hebrews 10:15-22 - How Can We Have Confidence in Our Salvation?

How Can We Have Confidence in Our Salvation?
Hebrews 10:15-22
Hebrews, Day 34

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
    and write them on their minds,”

then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
- Hebrews 10:15-22, ESV

Not all confidence is created equal. A false confidence is a world apart from a true confidence. False confidence is the chihuahua confidence he can take down the rottweiler, a confidence sometimes known as "little dog syndrome." True confidence is something very different: secure, not boastful; peaceful, not brash. True confidence is my daughter jumping off the couch at me, knowing I will catch her. 

How can we have a true confidence in our salvation before the Lord? Better still, how can we have peace, knowing the confidence we have is true and not false?  

Last time, we rejoiced in the truth that if we are being sanctified, it is because we have already been made perfect by Christ's sacrifice. We experience ongoing sanctification because our sanctification before God is secure and complete in Jesus. But how do we know if what we're experiencing is really sanctification and not hypocrisy, false religion, or self-deception?  

Well, Hebrews 10 gives us a sure sign, something which is so strong it almost becomes a definition of what it means to experience sanctification: When God saves us, bringing us to Himself by the power of the Holy Spirit, He writes His laws on our hearts. This is the promise: "I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds." 

To have God's law written on our hearts and minds means to have our consciences aligned with the word of God by the Spirit of God. In other words, we are deeply grieved over our sin, we truly desire righteousness, and we agree with the holy standard God sets in His word for defining righteousness and sin. It doesn't mean we don't sin, but it means we truly hate our sin and desire to please God in obedience. Perfectly? Agaian, no, but sincerely.

Those who have God's law written on their hearts have a true confidence before God, a holy boldness to enter the very presence of God in prayer and worship through the blood of Jesus. Notice how our confidence for access is only through Jesus. It's not a confidence grounded in our own experience of having God's law written on our hearts. Our confidence does not come from our own sincerity, even a Spirit-given sincerity, but only in and through Jesus.

Because of Jesus, and Jesus alone, we who have God's law written on our hearts, can draw near in full assurance of faith, knowing we are washed clean. We can come through our great high priest knowing we are truly redeemed, deeply loved and warmly welcomed.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Hebrews, Day 33 - Hebrews 10:1-14 - What Does It Mean to Be Sanctified?

What Does It Mean to be Sanctified?
Hebrews 10:1-14
Hebrews, Day 33
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
    but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
    as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
- Hebrews 10:1-14, ESV 

Christians use language we all think we understand but sometimes we really don't. It reminds me of a story from years ago of a child who was leaving church and asked her mom why God was so tired. The little girl's mom was really confused as to where her daughter would have gotten this idea, so she asked, "What makes you think God is tired?" The little girl quickly replied, "Well, in church, we sing, 'He is exhausted, the king is exhausted on high.'"

One of the Christian buzz words we use that many of us don't understand - and that the world around us really doesn't understand - is "sanctified." When the world hears Christians use the word sanctified, they probably think we mean "self-righteous and holier-than-thou." When Christians use the word, we often use it to mean "more spiritually mature." I'm afraid neither understanding of this wonderful word is really biblical or helpful.

Hebrews 10 uses the word "sanctified" twice, in two different ways, both tied directly to the willing, all-sufficient self-sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. First of all, Hebrews 10 repeats the already established truth that Jesus came willingly in God's plan to set aside the old covenant system of sacrifices tied to the Tabernacle and Temple. That system was only a shadow of the good things to come, while Jesus brought the reality in His own flesh.

Jesus was able to do away with the system of sacrifices and offerings offered according to the Law because He came to establish something better. He came to accomplish what all the blood of bulls and goats could never accomplish. What did Jesus accomplish? One way Hebrews describes what Jesus did for us is by the word "sanctified." "And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." 

So, this sanctified is a past tense accomplished reality. But what does it mean? The most simple definition is "made holy," which means "set apart by God for God." In order to be set apart by God for God, we have to be acceptable to God, which means we need to be cleansed of our sin and purified in the sight of God. So, to be sanctified is something only God can do for us, and it requires a cleansing, which Jesus accomplished on the cross.

While verse 10 uses the word sanctified as a past reality, verse 14 uses the term to describe an ongoing present experience: "For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." Here, the accomplished reality is nothing less than our perfection, and the evidence that we have been perfected is the ongoing reality of our progress in sanctification, being made more and more holy.

Is this a contradiction or confusion? No. Jesus has sanctified us in the sight of God. His sacrifice of Himself in our place has made us perfect in the eyes of God for all time. This is our accomplished sanctification. Yet we are still being made holy in our actual character. We are still being cleansed in heart and behavior, day-by-day. The foundation of our accomplished sanctification is actually the basis for our progress in experiencing sanctification in our daily lives.

It's wonderful good news that gives us powerful hope on our worst days. We have been made perfect by Christ. We have been sanctified by one offering for all time. This assures us that, however many times we may stumble and fall, we will continue to progress in our sanctification until we personally reach the goal Christ has already secured for us.   

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Hebrews, Day 32: Hebrews 9:27-28 - What Are the Only Two Certainties?

What Are the Only Two Certainties?
Hebrews 9:27-28
Hebrews, Day 32

Audio Version

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. - Hebrews 9:27-28, ESV

You've heard it before: The only two sure things are death and taxes, right? Really? Because some people never do pay taxes. While tax evasion might have caught up with Al Capone, some people have figured out how to legally avoid paying almost all taxes. Others manage to get away with tax evasion for years and aren't found out until after their death.

So, taxes seem far from certain. Does that leave us with only one sure thing? One thing we know for sure is that everyone dies. Doctors and medical researchers discuss the mortality rates of different medical conditions as they battle death and disease. Yet in thousands of years of human existence, the mortality rate for the human condition is 100%. Everyone who lives is sure to die, with the exception of only three people, as far as we know: 

1. Enoch, who walked with God and was not, because God took him. (Gen. 5:24)
2. Elijah, who was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire. (2 Kings 2)
3. Jesus, who died, but then rose again and ascended into heaven. 

So, unless you're Enoch, Elijah, or Jesus, you face one absolute certainty in this life: You will die. And yet this is not the final certainty. Death may be the end of this life, but God's Word assures us that we will each face one more certainty: Judgment.

Everyone will die and everyone will be judged. How can we know? We know because Jesus rose again from the dead, and He made some serious claims about Himself, all of which were confirmed by His resurrection:

1. Jesus said He was the Son of God. (John 5:17-18)
2. Jesus said all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to Him. (Matthew 28:18-19)
3. Jesus said all judgment had been committed to Him by His Father. (John 5:22)

Anyone can say these things, of course. Merely saying them does not make them true. But Jesus rose again from the dead. Once dead and buried in a grave, Jesus walked out of the grave and showed Himself to His disciples. They were eyewitnesses of His resurrection and His ascension back to heaven. Just as surely as they saw Him raised from the dead and ascended into heaven, so certainly He has said He will return and judge all people.   

The only two certainties are death and judgment. We know we will all die, and we know we will all stand before Jesus to be judged by Him. Do you know what He will say to you on that day? He says He will say one of two things to everyone, either "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master" or "Depart from Me." To depart from Jesus is to be shut out from all light and life and hope, forever.

So, when you stand before Jesus- a coming reality as real and as certain as death - what will He say to you? If you are eagerly waiting for Him, you can know for certain that He will come to save you when He comes to judge the world. 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Hebrews, Day 31: Hebrews 9:18-26 - Why is the Bible So Bloody?

Why is the Bible So Bloody?
Hebrews, Day 31

Audio Version

Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
- Hebrews 9:18-26, ESV

I once knew a man who wanted to be a doctor, but he couldn't stand the sight of blood. Our family is watching old episodes of Monk, a TV show featuring a detective with OCD and anxiety. He's the most brilliant detective, but he's a germaphobe and can't stand getting dirty or having too much close contact with people. 

Many people are offended by the Bible for different reasons. I used to think it was my responsibility to clear up any and all offense people might feel over the Bible, to try to get them to love it as much as I do. And while I still want to clear up confusion and misunderstanding, I've come to see that many people don't like the Bible because they don't like God, often because they resent God's position as God, a job they would rather take for themselves.

One common problem people have with the Bible is with all the blood. The Old Testament is filled with bloody sacrifices, and the New Testament writers focus a lot of attention on the blood of Jesus. So some people really want to know: Why is the Bible so bloody?

The answer goes all the way back to the opening chapters of the Bible, in the first days of humanity's presence on earth, God told Adam not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day that he ate of it, he would surely die. By choosing to sin, Adam chose the death penalty for himself. As Romans 6:23 would later say, "The wages of sin is death."

The Bible also says, "The life of the flesh is in the blood" (Leviticus 17:11). That is, God's way of carrying life to our bodies is through blood, and so blood comes to symbolize, or represent, the essence of life.

The only way to make atonement for sin in the Bible is by the shedding of blood. As Hebrews 9:11 says, "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." The bloodshed of animals never actually removed anyone's sin. It couldn't. Animals can't pay for people's sin. However, the regularly repeated bloodshed was a constant reminder of the need for forgiveness, the need for atonement. The price for sin needed to be paid. God's justice needed to be satisfied.

The requirement for bloodshed comes to an end at the cross. There, Jesus died once for all, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God. (see 1 Peter 3:18) His sacrifice was final, perfect, sufficient and satisfactory, and so He died only once. He died once and lives now forevermore, securing the salvation of His people with His shed blood and His glorious resurrection life!  

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Hebrews, Day 30: Hebrews 9:6-26 - Do Churches Have Sanctuaries?

Do Churches Have Sanctuaries?
Hebrews, Day 30

Audio Version

By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age) . . . 

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.  . . .

Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. – Hebrews 9:8-9, 11-12, 23-26, ESV

What do you call the large, central room of a church where the people of God gather for worship? Is it a sanctuary? The word “sanctuary” means “holy place.” Do churches have sanctuaries? We know the Tabernacle and Temple did. They had both a Holy Place and a Most Holy Place, or Holy of Holies. But what about churches?

The language of Hebrews 9 is complex and dense, and we won’t be able to fully unpack all of it in these devotionals. Today I’d like to focus on the language of “holy place.” Hebrews draws a contrast between the holy places of the old covenant (the earthly sanctuaries of the Tabernacle and Temple) and the real heavenly holy place of the new covenant. Under the old covenant, the priests would enter the holy places with the blood of animals, but when Christ inaugurated the new covenant, He entered into the heavenly sanctuary – the real holy place – with His own blood.

The ineffective nature of the old covenant sacrifices was shown in the fact that they had to be made over and over again. The complete perfection of Christ’s sacrifice was shown in the fact that He made His sacrifice once for all. He died once, presented His sacrifice before the throne of God in the heavenly sanctuary, and it was finished.

Interestingly, the language of Hebrews says that Jesus did this “at the end of the ages.” Look back at the opening words of Hebrews, and you’ll see it says we are living “in these last days.” Jesus’ death and resurrection marked the close of one era of human history – actually, of all previous ages of human history – and the beginning of the end, the start of “the last days.” Why? Because the way of access into the real, eternal, heavenly sanctuary has been opened by Jesus’ perfect sacrifice for sins.

So, do churches have sanctuaries? No. Our sanctuary is in heaven. And yet, while churches do not have sanctuaries, churches are sanctuaries. Believers are living stones being built into an eternal, living Temple for God. When we gather for worship on the Lord’s Day, we are gathering as the sanctuary of God and we are lifted by the Spirit into the real holy place, into the presence of God in heaven. Churches are sanctuaries and become doorways to the heavenly sanctuary when we gather for worship on the Lord’s Day in these last days.

That’s a powerful picture of what Jesus has done for us, in opening access to heaven itself and in making us His holy dwelling place. It should change the way we view gathered worship on the Lord’s Day. We are being given a weekly foretaste of our final ingathering, a regular time to anticipate and participate in real heavenly worship.