Sunday, May 19, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 38, Don't Lose Heart

We've studied many examples of faith this past week, and the author used the stories of these Old Testament saints to encourage us to keep fighting the good fight of faith. Today he uses the greatest example of all to keep us from losing heart: the example of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We face daily struggles while living in this fallen world. We are constantly bombarded by Satan with things that are intended to entice us to do wrong---or to entice us not to do things that are right. Not all of our sins involve obvious and deliberate disobedience. Sometimes they are sins of omission. This is what the Lord's brother James was talking about when he said, "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them." (James 4:17. Sins of omission can take place when we don't follow through when we know we ought to take time to help someone in need, or when we know the Lord wants us to give encouragement to a friend, or when we feel the Holy Spirit urging us to spend time in prayer for people who are struggling. One of the devil's most successful tactics is to make sure we're exhausted so that we become "weary in well doing". (Galatians 6:9)

Sins of commission are more obvious. These are situations where we make a conscious decision to say or do something that goes against the word of God. There are all sorts of reasons why we decide to do these things. Often it's a matter of merely allowing our carnal natures to temporarily get the upper hand over our spiritual natures. Other times we make bad decisions because we're angry, or hurt, or bitter, or disappointed. Sometimes we fall for Satan's lie that it's no use for us to keep on doing right when things are going wrong in our lives. He fools us into thinking that someone has promised us that if we treat everyone right, no one will ever treat us wrong. He tricks us into falsely remembering that we were guaranteed easy lives if we try to always be good people. God didn't tell us we wouldn't have hard days. God tells us to keep on doing right in spite of the hard days. The Lord Jesus Christ didn't instruct us to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Luke 6:31) because this forces others to treat us the way we treat them. Jesus lived on this earth and He knew that sometimes people reward good behavior with evil behavior. But we are to treat others as we want to be treated because this is God's will for us. We aren't to sink down to the level of wicked people. We are to behave like the children of a holy God.

If doing right guaranteed us a life of continual comfort and happiness, then Jesus Christ should have had the happiest and most comfortable life of anyone who ever lived. He never committed a single sin, yet he was mocked, despised, betrayed, beaten, and crucified. This is why the author of Hebrews uses Jesus as the ultimate example of faith. Jesus kept on doing right no matter what went wrong in His life. He was mistreated far more than you and I have been, but He never became angry or bitter or discouraged. Instead, even as He hung on the cross, He prayed for those who were responsible for His agony, saying, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)

If the examples of the past several days aren't enough to encourage us to stay strong, the example of Jesus Christ ought to give us the second wind we need to finish this race. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 37, The Hebrews Hall Of Faith, Part Five

Today we are going to conclude our study of Chapter 11, "the Hebrews hall of faith". The author will mention several more names that are familiar to us, then he will say that there are too many men and women of faith for him to discuss in detail. We have so many great examples of the Bible to follow. We have examples of people who received great promises and who did extraordinary things because of their faith. We also have examples of people who did not live to see the fulfillment of the things they believed in, yet they stood firm in faith anyway.

The author was talking about Moses when we concluded yesterday, so he picks up there today. "By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel." (Hebrews 11:28) It took faith for Moses to believe that God would spare the firstborn of Israel if the blood of a lamb was applied to the doorposts of the houses. It took faith to accept that this simple act would cause death to pass over them when the death angel saw the blood. But let me tell you, it takes just as much faith for us today to accept that applying the blood of the Lamb to our hearts saves us from our sins. Our act of faith when we believe on Christ is just as great as any act of faith that Moses performed, and God is pleased with our faith.

"By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned." (Hebrews 11:29) The people of Israel believed in the God whose power held the walls of water back. But the soldiers of Egypt did not, so the waters fell in on them.

"By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days." (Hebrews 11:30) Did it make sense to the men of Israel to march around Jericho for seven days in a row? Probably not, but their God told them to do it and they did it. If they had missed even one day, or if they had failed to make a complete circle around it even once, the city would not have fallen to them. They had to perform this act of faith to be ready to take the city.

"By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient." (Hebrews 11:31) The people of Jericho were living in opposition to God. This is why Jericho is one of the cities God promised to the people who trusted in Him. Rahab, out of all the citizens of the city, was the only person who feared the God of Israel and who, because of that fear, saved the lives of the spies. In return she and her family were spared when Israel took the city. It took faith for her to go against her own citizens. It took faith to believe in a God who had never been worshiped by her people. And it took faith to hang the scarlet thread outside her home, believing that this would cause death and destruction to pass over her. The scarlet thread, like the blood of the Passover lamb, symbolizes the blood of Christ. Rahab lived long before the advent of Christ, but because of her faith we find her in His genealogy in the gospel according to Matthew. If this is indeed the same Rahab, which most mainstream scholars believe since Matthew takes such care to name a woman in the genealogy of the Lord, then she not only possessed the faith to believe that God would spare her life, but she possessed the faith to completely convert, to become a respectable woman, and to marry into the nation of Israel. She gave up her past and her national and religious background to become a woman of God whose name would later be found in the family tree of Christ.

"And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets," (Hebrews 11:32) Did all these men start out as heroes? Did all these men remain heroes? No. When the Lord called Gideon, Gideon was hiding in a winepress in order to thresh wheat to keep the enemy from stealing it. Gideon was a doubtful man who needed several signs from the Lord in order to have the courage to do what the Lord told him to do. Barak was fearful and had to be encouraged by a female judge, Deborah, before he could lead a victorious battle. Samson made one mistake after another all his life, but in the end his faith in the Lord revived and in his dying moments he managed to kill a great number of the Philistine enemies. Jephthah was mighty in defeating the Ammonites, but he made an unwise vow that brought tragedy to his household. David had a lifelong and unwavering faith, yet he gave into temptation and committed heinous sins. He was mighty in battle and he was successful as a king, but he failed miserably as a father. All these men made pretty bad mistakes, yet we find them listed in the Hebrews hall of faith anyway. This is because our God does not demand perfection from us; He knows we aren't capable of it. But He does demand faith.

Because the people of Hebrews 11 maintained their faith in God, they were able to do mighty things for God, and they received the fulfillment of wonderful promises from God. This is why the author says that they, through faith, "conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again." (Hebrews 11:33-35a)

Others didn't live to see the fulfillment of the things they believed, and some endured persecution for their faith, but they stood strong. "There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated---the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground." (Hebrews 11:35b-38) Persecution didn't begin when people began to believe on the resurrected Christ. There has been persecution against the people of God since the very beginning. Ever since God said to the serpent that the seed of Eve would bruise his head, Satan has sought to completely remove from the earth the people who are faithful to the Lord.

Because these Old Testament saints didn't live to see the advent of the One they awaited, the author says, "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect." (Hebrews 11:39-40) Until Christ came, God's plan of salvation could not be said to be complete (the word used for "perfect" can also mean "complete"). The Old Testament saints were made right with God by faith, but they didn't live to see the One whom God had promised. We are living in an age when the Promised One has already come, in a time when God's plan of salvation has been completed, and we are blessed to be on earth during the days when we can worship and celebrate the resurrected Christ. We are living in days when the things the believers of old longed for have been fulfilled. Many of these old saints would have given anything to trade places with us. They wanted very much to fully understand how God was going to offer salvation to all mankind, but in their days they could only "see through a glass darkly". Yet that dim glimpse was all they needed to firmly believe that God was going to do everything He said He would do. We have much more to hang our faith on than they did, so what's our excuse if we don't believe?

Friday, May 17, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 36, The Hebrews Hall Of Faith, Part Four

We are going to look at several more well-known Old Testament characters today. The author will use them as examples of faith. We should feel encouraged to be more like these people, for they were ordinary people just like you and me. They believed in the enormous power of God and they trusted Him enough to obey whatever He told them to do. Because they placed their faith in Him, their names are written forever in His holy word. You can be sure that when you and I place our faith in Him, He writes our names down too. He isn't going to forget one single time that we trusted and obeyed Him when it would have been easier not to.

"By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff." (Hebrews 11:20-21) These men bestowed blessings based on the will of God, not based on their own feelings. Isaac preferred Esau over Jacob but was tricked by Jacob into giving him the blessing of the birthright. When Isaac realized what had happened, instead of renouncing the blessing he confirmed it, recognizing it as the will of God. Jacob predicted that Joseph's son Ephraim's descendants would become more powerful than the descendants of Joseph's son Manasseh. Because he recognized this as the will of God, Jacob blessed his grandsons accordingly. This is why the author says Isaac and Jacob acted on faith. They trusted the will of the God whom they could not see.

"By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones." (Hebrews 11:22) God had not told the nation of Israel that they would dwell the land of Egypt forever. God had made the promise to Israel, through Abraham, that they would inherit the land of Canaan. Joseph believed this would happen even though he didn't live to see it. His faith in this was so strong that he gave instructions to his people to take his coffin with them when they departed Egypt.

"By faith Moses' parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw that he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king's edict." (Hebrews 11:23) Pharaoh had ordered the murder of every baby boy born to the Hebrew women. But Moses' parents were going to save their baby no matter what the king said. They knew, through faith, that Moses was destined by God to do great things.

"By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw Him who is invisible." (Hebrews 11:24-27) Moses had been brought up as a royal prince of Egypt. He was given the best that Pharaoh's household could offer: the best education, the best political and military training, the best food, the best clothing, the best horses and chariots. He had all the comfort and luxury of Egypt at his fingertips. And yet, though he must have loved the woman who rescued him from the Nile and raised him as her own son, he refused to be considered an Egyptian. Instead he identified himself with his own people. Instead of worshiping the many gods of Egypt, he worshiped the one true God of the Hebrews.

Moses lived in a time before the advent of Christ, but he believed the promise God made to Abraham, that One would come from Abraham's line through whom all the world would be blessed. Moses knew the God whom Abraham worshiped was the one and only God. Moses knew that the one and only God was going to provide the one and only means of salvation. So even though he couldn't possibly have understood in his day exactly how God was going to offer a permanent solution for sins to both Jews and Gentiles, he accepted on faith that God was going to bring this about. He didn't know of any better offer anywhere. The false gods of Egypt were many and they often seemed in conflict with each other. Even if these gods had been real their motives could not be trusted. Their character was too much like man's character. Their deeds revealed that they weren't holy themselves, much less capable of making anyone else holy. But the God of Moses' people was something else entirely. He was holy and righteous and He offered weak and sinful man a way to be considered holy and righteous in His sight. Moses knew this was the best offer he was ever going to receive---the best offer anyone was ever going to receive. So, by faith, he "saw" Him who is invisible. He saw Him in his soul, and he placed all his trust in Him.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 35, The Hebrews Hall Of Faith, Part Three

For the past few days we've been looking at several Old Testament people who had great faith in God. We've looked at Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham and Sarah. All these people believed in a God they could not see. All of them believed He was going to keep His promises.

The author begins today by saying that, although none of these people we've studied so far lived to see Israel settled in the promised land, and although they didn't live to see the culmination of God's salvation plan in which a descendant of theirs (Christ) would give His life for the sins of man, they accepted on faith that these things were going to take place. "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country---a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them." (Hebrews 11:13-16)

Abraham left the prosperous city of Ur to live in temporary tents because God promised He would give the land of Canaan to his descendants. At any time he could have given up and gone back to Ur where the living was easy, but he obeyed the Lord because he believed God was going to do what He said He would do. When Abraham left Ur, he was a childless man. He lived for many decades in tents as a childless man. Finally though, at the time determined by God, Abraham became the father of Isaac, and because of this Abraham was encouraged that God was going to keep all His other promises too. He never lived to see his descendants become a great nation living in the promised land. He never lived to see the One from his line through whom the Lord promised him all the nations on earth would be blessed. But in faith he believed in the One who was coming, and because of his faith the Lord imputed righteousness to him. Since faith is the only way we can please God (Hebrews 11:6), God was pleased with the Old Testament saints like Abraham.

Imagine how puzzling it must have been when, having finally received the son God promised him, Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son. In modern times we find it difficult to accept that Abraham was willing to give his son to God in this way, but this was not an unusual occurrence in Abraham's day. There were a number of pagan cultures surrounding him that practiced child sacrifice. In those cultures, giving one's firstborn son was considered the ultimate gift to the gods. So although this idea is completely foreign and reprehensible to us, Abraham would have been well aware that these things were taking place all around him. He knew that the gods of the pagan cultures did not exist, but he also knew that the God he served did exist, and if the God who really did exist was asking such a thing of him, he was going to obey that God. In addition we have to keep in mind that Abraham expected God to immediately raise Isaac from the dead. This was the only thing that made sense to him, for God had promised that the great nation was going to come through Isaac. Therefore if Abraham sacrificed Isaac to the Lord, the Lord was going to have to bring him back to life in order to fulfill the promise. The proof that he believed this is found in both Genesis 22:5 (when Abraham tells his servants that he and Isaac will go and worship and will return to them), and in our passage below.

"By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, 'It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.' Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death." (Hebrews 11:17-19) Though Abraham didn't end up having to physically offer Isaac, in his heart he had already offered him. He had already accepted that his son was going to die that day and yet he was willing to give anything to the God he served. This is why the author says it was as if Abraham actually received Isaac back from the dead. Have you ever thought someone you love was going to die of an illness or injury but instead they recovered? Is there any greater relief than knowing everything is going to be okay? When we think someone is going to die but they pull through, it's almost as if they actually came back from the dead, because in our hearts we had already faced the likelihood that they were going to die. This is why the joy Abraham felt was almost as great as if Isaac really had been sacrificed and raised back to life.

The Lord never intended to allow Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. The Lord didn't test Abraham because He didn't know that Abraham would do whatever He asked; He tested Abraham so Abraham would know he was willing to do whatever the Lord asked. In order to become the father of a great nation like Israel, Abraham had to know that he loved the Lord enough not to question anything He said. In order to pass down such a great faith to his descendants, Abraham had to have this story to pass on to them. In order to prepare the nation for the coming Messiah, Abraham had to be able to say as he did on the day he intended to offer Isaac, "God Himself will provide the lamb." (Genesis 22:8) Just as God offered a substitutionary sacrifice in place of Isaac, God provided a substitutionary sacrifice for us all. He provided His Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 34, The Hebrews Hall Of Faith, Part Two

The author of Hebrews is speaking to Jewish Christians, so for examples of faith he uses their own ancestors. These examples of faith still speak to us today, plus I bet some of you have had people in your own families who have set wonderful examples for you in the faith. Most of us have known someone who held firm to their hope in God even when everything in their lives seemed to be going wrong. There were a lot of people in the Bible who fit this description, and we take a look at more of them today.

"By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith." (Hebrews 11:7) Have you ever been warned by the Holy Spirit to avoid a certain person or situation? You may not have been able to see with your own eyes what was wrong, but in your heart you felt led to take another path. I've been there, and although I couldn't explain to anyone just why I knew something or someone was to be avoided, I've learned to listen to these warnings. I've ignored such warnings a few times and lived to regret it. Noah must have been a man who was used to heeding the warnings of the Holy Spirit. When warned of the coming flood, he began building the ark even though he'd never seen a drop of rain. Can you imagine how much he was ridiculed? Can you imagine how difficult it must have been to get up every morning for about a hundred years to start work on the ark and to preach repentance to the people when it must have appeared to everyone but his family that he was crazy? That took a great deal of faith!

What does the author mean by saying that by Noah's faith he "condemned the world"? I believe he means that Noah preached the truth of God to them, and that since they heard the truth and rejected it, on judgment day they will be judged by the very words Noah preached to them. Earlier in the book of Hebrews we talked about the fact that it would be far better for a person never to have heard the truth than to have heard the truth and rejected it. A person who has never even heard of the existence of the living God can plead ignorance in the judgment. But no one who heard Noah preach can plead ignorance. No one who has heard the gospel of Christ can plead ignorance either. Once a person has heard the truth, he is held accountable for what he does in response to it. It's not that Noah personally condemned the people of his day to an eternity separated from God. They condemned themselves when they listened to the truth from Noah's lips and chose to remain in disobedience to the Lord.

"By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God." (Hebrews 11:8-10) Abraham left the pagan culture of Ur to follow a God that his people did not acknowledge. Archaeological work at the location of Ur has revealed that these people were quite advanced for their time. Many of the homes even had what passed for indoor plumbing in the ancient world. The residents there must have thought Abraham was insane to leave the comfort and luxury of Ur to live in tents in the wilderness. They must have thought he was suffering from mental illness when he claimed that someone he referred to as the one true God had spoken to him and had told him to leave his people and go to a land he had never seen. They probably laughed at him and told him to get some help when he proclaimed that God was going to make a great nation of his descendants and that God was going to give his descendants a land flowing with milk and honey. But in spite of all this, and in spite of the fear of the unknown which he must have felt inside, he packed up and set out on the journey anyway.

"And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered Him faithful who had made the promise." (Hebrews 11:11) We know that Sarah's first reaction to the news that she would bear a son was to laugh. She overheard one of the three angelic visitors telling her husband, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son." (Genesis 18:10) Did she or Abraham know these men were angels? Probably not, at least not yet. So when Sarah heard these words, naturally she thought the man was crazy, for she'd faced disappointment over and over during her childbearing years. She'd probably tried all sorts of infertility remedies recommended by the physicians of the day. She'd probably, in desperation, even tried things that were basically "old wives tales". None of this had worked. Praying to God hadn't worked either. Every month during her childbearing years she'd hoped for a sign that she was finally pregnant, and every month her hopes were dashed. On the day the angels visit the tent she shares with her husband, she is ninety years old. This means for about thirty-five to forty years she has had no hope at all that she will ever be a mother. Biologically she can't expect such a thing. Looking at her circumstances from a human standpoint, she'd be crazy to believe such a thing could happen.

But what about looking at her circumstances from God's standpoint? Can the God who created every cell of the body not revive an old woman's ovary to produce an egg with which to conceive the child from whom God is going to make the great nation He's promised Abraham? In order to prove that the God who created all things is capable of making a ninety-year-old woman into a mother, the angel reveals that he knows Sarah laughed to herself within the tent. And by revealing this, Sarah realizes that these three visitors are not mere men. After making it clear that he knows she laughed to herself and scoffed at the idea in her mind, the one who made the promise of the coming child said, "Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son." (Genesis 18:14) Sarah is struck with fear. This being knows her very thoughts! He knows she laughed even though she laughed on the inside, not out loud. Doesn't this also mean that what he says about a son is true? In her heart, Sarah begins to believe that becoming a mother just might be possible after all. This kernel of faith, though it might have been as tiny as a mustard seed, enabled her to conceive a child. If she had not possessed this faith, the author of Hebrews appears to make it clear that she would not have received the promise, for he says she was enabled to bear children "because she considered Him faithful who had made the promise".

God is willing and able to do great things for us, but unbelief creates a barrier between us and the blessings He longs to give us. If Abraham had not left Ur in faith for the promised land, and if Sarah had not believed in faith that God was able to give her a son, then the following would never have happened: "And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore." (Hebrews 11:12)

We need to think bigger. We need to think better. If we had any true inkling of just how powerful our God is, we would never hesitate to ask Him for anything, no matter how improbable it looks from a human standpoint. Don't let anyone (not even yourself) tell you that your situation is hopeless. Don't fall for the lie that God can't take an ordinary person like you and enable you to do extraordinary things. Don't let it bother you if people think you're crazy for believing in a God you can't see and for obeying the guidance of a Holy Spirit who speaks to you in your heart. Just keep on doing what's right and keep on believing that nothing is impossible for God.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 33, The Hebrews Hall Of Faith, Part One

We begin our study today of Chapter 11, which is often called "The Hebrews Hall Of Faith". In this chapter the author mentions many famous characters of the Bible who were ordinary men and women who did extraordinary things because of their faith. We should be greatly encouraged by these stories, because if God was able to do extraordinary things through these people of ancient times, He can do extraordinary things through us today. The only ingredient we need is faith; God will do the rest.

"Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for." (Hebrews 11:1-2) It doesn't take any faith to believe in something we can see with our very own eyes. When evidence is right in front of us, it's easy to believe a thing is true. But it takes an act of faith to believe in the God we cannot see, to believe in promises that haven't yet been fulfilled, and to trust in Christ for salvation even though we never knew Him when He walked the earth. This is why the people of ancient times received God's approval for believing in and honoring Him. The Lord knows how hard it is for human beings to believe in what they cannot see, yet these people willfully and purposely decided they were going to believe anyway. It's no wonder the Lord Jesus said of people who never knew Him while He lived on earth and who never witnessed His miracles, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:29) You and I are the recipients of a blessing even greater than the blessing the disciples received, for we believe without having witnessed the things that Christ did. It takes more faith to believe in what we have not seen with our own eyes, so the Lord Jesus took care to speak words that apply to you and me today in 2019.

Were we there when God began His work of creation? No, so it takes faith to believe that God was the master architect of everything that exists. "By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible." (Hebrews 11:3) Do you believe that God created the universe? That's faith!

The author now begins all the way back in Genesis and begins naming people who had faith in the God they could not see. "By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead." (Hebrews 11:4) There are a couple of major differences in the offering Abel brought and the offering his brother Cain brought. First of all, Abel brought a blood offering, which is an offering of atonement. In bringing this offering, Abel was acknowledging his status as a sinner and he was asking God to forgive him and to allow the blood to cover his sins. Cain brought an offering from his harvest, a firstfruits offering. This type of offering is a thank offering to the Lord for providing the harvest. There's nothing wrong with a firstfruits offering, but the Bible never mentions Cain bringing an offering that acknowledged his status as a sinner or his need for redemption.

Second, we are told that Abel's offering was made by faith and Cain's was not. Abel believed in and wanted to serve God. I think Cain likely believed that God was real, for he was living too close to the dawn of creation and too close to the expulsion of his parents by God from the Garden of Eden not to believe God exists. But something in his heart was far from God. I think he felt no desire to serve Him. He brought a firstfruits offering, but was he truly thankful to God or was he simply going through the motions? Does the fact that he didn't bring an offering for atonement mean he wasn't sorry for his sins? Does this indicate he had a prideful and self-reliant spirit? All we can say for certain is that Abel's sacrifice was accepted by God because it was brought in faith, but Cain's offering was rejected by God because something was lacking in the heart of Cain. This example clearly tells us that the only acts we perform which are acceptable in the eyes of God are acts of faith. Do you believe that the blood of Christ is able to cleanse you from your sins? That's faith!

"By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: 'He could not be found, because God had taken him away.' For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God." (Hebrews 11:5) The Bible tells us very little about Enoch, but it tells us enough: he was a man of faith. He was a man of faith during a time when wickedness was rampant on the earth. His faith caused him to swim against the stream in a time when it would have been much easier to go with the flow. He was present in the world when the state of the human heart had grown so sinful that we are told, "And the Lord regretted that He had made human beings on the earth, and His heart was deeply troubled." (Genesis 6:6) But out of this pre-flood generation we find a man who stands firm for the Lord, and the Lord takes him out of the world before the judgment of the flood falls on it. But Enoch left a legacy of faith behind for his family, for his great-grandson Noah would serve the Lord. No doubt Enoch had a great deal of influence of Noah, so much so that when God told Noah to build an ark in order to survive the coming flood, Noah didn't question Him. He set about building an ark in a world where it had never rained. If he had not had a great-grandfather of faith, Noah may not have been a man of faith himself.

Faith not only benefits us, but it benefits those around us. Seeing us walk by faith encourages others to do the same. Our faith lives on long after we are gone from this world; it lives on in those whose lives we have touched and influenced. What extraordinary things might your great-grandchildren do because they observed how you lived by faith? Whose souls might be saved by Christ because people around you saw the power of Christ in you? This is why the author of Hebrews can say that the faith of those who have passed on "still speaks". When you and I are long gone from this earth, what will our faith say about us?

Monday, May 13, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 32, The One Who Hears The Gospel Is Held Accountable For It

We were assured in yesterday's passage that the Lord is faithful to His promises. But God's faithful promises are made only those who are faithful to Him. Today the author reminds his readers that they have a duty to be faithful to the Lord after hearing the gospel. Once a person has heard the gospel, he is responsible for what he does with it.

"If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." (Hebrews 10:26-27) We would be better off not to have heard the gospel than to have heard it and rejected it. The author is not speaking about people who accept the gospel and still make mistakes; none of us is going to be perfect while we live in the flesh. He's not saying that if we commit a sin after accepting Christ as Savior that we have lost our salvation. He's speaking about people who have heard and understood the gospel message but have decided to do nothing about it. We know this because he refers to them as "the enemies of God", for anyone who rejects the sacrifice of God's beloved Son has made himself or herself the enemy of God. We won't find Christians referred to as "the enemies of God". This term can only be used for those who oppose God and who refuse to accept and honor His plan of salvation.

The writer now uses an example from the law. Penalties under the law could be quite severe. The people had accepted the law under the old covenant and had promised to be faithful to obey it. When they failed to obey it (as anyone human would invariably do at some point), penalties for breaking the law would be administered if there was proof that the person had indeed broken it. Penalties varied depending on the seriousness of the sin, but anyone who has read the Old Testament knows that the penalties for some sins was death. "Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses." (Hebrews 10:28)

If a person could be condemned to death for breaking the law of Moses, how much worse must the penalty be for rejecting the only sacrifice for sins that is acceptable to God? "How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, 'It is Mine to avenge; I will repay,' and again, 'The Lord will judge His people.' It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:29-31) If God's view of the breaking of the Mosaic law was harsh, just think how much worse it will be for those who reject His precious Son who suffered and died in order to extend the hand of grace to sinful mankind.

But the people who whom the author is writing are not people who have heard the gospel and rejected it. They are people who accepted the gospel and have remained faithful to God in a time when being a Christian could cause them to lose their reputations, their careers, their property, their freedom, and even their lives. "Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions." (Hebrews 10:32-34) He knows these Jewish Christians are the real deal, for no one would endure what they've endured if they did not love the Lord Jesus Christ. It's difficult enough to endure hardship when we know we've done wrong; it's especially difficult to endure hardship when we know we've done right. A person who is not sincere in the faith will renounce Christ when the going gets tough.

These believers are encouraged to keep standing strong. A great reward awaits those who uphold and proclaim the name of Christ no matter what. They are to be bold in sharing the gospel even though it might mean the loss of their physical lives. The eternal souls of men and women are at stake, so they must get the gospel to as many people as possible while they can. "So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded." (Hebrews 10:35)

The author believed that Christ might return for the church during his lifetime. But even if He didn't, the author knows time is short. The lifespans of humans are quite short when compared with the length of eternity, so it's vital that Christians make the most of their lives for Christ. Also the author doesn't know how much longer anyone will be free to speak the name of Christ. Anti-Christian sentiment is growing in the Roman Empire under the leadership of the madman Nero. As I've said of Nero previously, he was as much of an enemy to Christians as Adolf Hitler was to the Jews. Those who profess the name of Christ are to be about the business of sharing the gospel that saves eternal souls, and they have to take this business very seriously. "You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised. For, 'In just a little while, He who is coming will come and will not delay.' And, 'But My righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.' But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved." (Hebrews 10:36-39)