Friday, April 19, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 10, God Is Faithful To The Faithful

In yesterday's passage the writer spoke about the generation of people that the Lord brought out of Egypt. So many of them rebelled and hardened their hearts against the Lord that He didn't allow them to enter the promised land, but instead waited until their death to lead the Israelites on into the promised land We don't want to miss out on God's best like those who died in the wilderness. The Lord Jesus makes us a beautiful offer, "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) But He's not going to force on us the peace which surpasses all understanding. (Philippians 4:7) We have to do our part by being soft-hearted toward the Lord and by believing in Him and by being obedient to Him.

"Therefore, since the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed." (Hebrews 4:1-2) God made the children of Israel a promise, but the only ones who received the fulfillment of the promise were the ones who believed. We who are in Christ also have had great promises made to us, but we can only experience the fulfillment of these blessings if we accept them on faith. If we don't believe we can have the peace of God in our hearts, then we can't receive this peace. Our unbelief keeps us from feeling this peace. Why was Jesus unable to do many miracles in His hometown? Because the people who knew Him best didn't believe that the Messiah could be a poor carpenter from Nazareth. (Matthew 13:58) It's not that their unbelief robbed Jesus of any of His power; it's that their unbelief blocked their ability to receive blessings from Him. He could have forced miracles on them, but He doesn't work that way. The Lord is a gentleman who respects our human dignity and He's not going to make us believe anything we don't want to believe, and He's not going to force blessings on us that we are too hard-hearted to accept from Him.

"Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, 'So I declared on oath in My anger, 'They shall never enter My rest.'" (Hebrews 4:3a) God was angry with those who didn't believe. He had proven Himself to them by mighty works, yet they refused to trust Him. We who believe, though, do have access to the blessings He's promised. God is a rewarder of faith, for "without faith no one can please God". (Hebrews 11:6a) God is not pleased with faithlessness and He doesn't reward faithlessness, but to the faithful He shows Himself faithful. (Psalm 18:25)

I want to claim the promises of Scripture for myself, don't you? I want the blessings the Lord has promised to those who love Him. We all go through dark nights of doubt and fear. We all have days filled with anxiety. We struggle with believing God is going to do what He says He's going to do. But Christ, our great high priest, became a man so He could fully understand how terrifying it sometimes is to be human. When our faith feels low, we can appeal to Him because He knows how we feel. He knows it's possible for us to believe He's able to help us and at the same time to have doubts that He will help us, so the best thing for us to do is say to Him exactly what the father of a sick boy once said to Him, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24b)

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 9, Don't Be Hard Hearted

The author warns us today about becoming hard hearted toward the Lord. This is a problem that starts out small and continues to grow. For example, suppose a person is tempted to commit what he considers a "big" sin. He knows what the Lord has said about it, so in order to willfully go ahead and commit the sin, he has to harden his heart. He has to try to build a tough shell around himself to fend off feelings of guilt. He has to close his mind off to the convicting power of the Holy Spirit so he can keep on committing this sin. Over time the heart becomes so hard that it's very difficult for anything to get through. He no longer feels guilty. He's no longer moved by the pleading of the Holy Spirit to repent. As time goes on, the tough shell around his heart becomes thicker and thicker while he drifts farther and farther away from the Lord.

Because the writer of the book of Hebrews is speaking to Jews, he uses the example of the Israelites who hardened their hearts against God in the wilderness. He urges his readers to be sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit. "So, as the Holy Spirit says: 'Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested Me and tried Me, though for forty years they saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, 'Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known My ways.' So I declared on oath in My anger, 'They shall never enter into My rest.'" (Hebrews 3:7-11)

The author is quoting from Numbers 13, 14, and 20. Though the people of Israel had witnessed God's power for forty years, some of them hardened their hearts against Him. Because of this, He did not allow those who had fallen into rebellion and unbelief to enter the promised land. Only the younger generation, which had been born during those forty years, were allowed to enter in. He had made the nation some wonderful promises, but some did not receive the promises because of their hard hearts. The promises of God are for those who believe in and honor Him, not for those who harden their hearts against him in rebellion. He has given us "great and precious promises" (2 Peter 1:4), but we can cheat ourselves out of those promises by not remaining faithful to our Lord. There are beautiful words of comfort in the Scriptures, but those can only be claimed by hearts that love and honor the Lord. 

"See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God." (Hebrews 3:12) I suppose we don't often think of it in quite this way, but it's a sin not to believe the living God exists. The inability to believe is not something a person can't help. According to verse 12, it's a conscious deliberate choice. According to what the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Romans, even if a person has never heard of the God of Israel, there is no excuse for not believing in a Creator. "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities---His eternal power and divine nature---have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." (Romans 1:20) This beautiful world with its complex life forms, and this wondrous universe, are the proof that there is a Creator. The glory of the creation and the diversity of life within it testify to His great power. In order to reject the idea of God, a person has to close his mind off to all the evidence for God. In order to rebel against God, a person has to harden his heart against the laws and commands of the holy and righteous Creator and Judge.

"But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called 'Today', so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. As has just been said: 'Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.'" (Hebrews 3:12-15) We who believe in Christ have been granted a miraculous deliverance from the bondage of sin, so the author compares it to the miraculous deliverance of Israel from the bondage of slavery. We have accepted this deliverance, so now let us not harden our hearts against our Deliverer. The people of Israel were glad to be delivered from slavery in Egypt, but some of them later hardened their hearts against their Deliverer. As a result, those who rebelled did not enter into the promised land. They caused themselves to miss out on a great blessing. Let's learn from their example and keep our hearts soft and open toward the Lord who has delivered us from a greater bondage than that of slavery in Egypt. Let's stay in close communication with the One who has delivered us from sin and death.

"Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear they would never enter His rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief." (Hebrews 3:16-19) There is a rest God has promised believers will enter into after this life is over, and there is a rest promised to believers during this life on earth. The Lord Jesus made this invitation: "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) I feel weary and burdened sometimes, don't you? Christ offers to carry our burdens for us. We don't have to carry them ourselves; we were never meant to carry them. But if we don't accept His invitation by honoring Him with our faith and obedience, we are left to carry our heavy burdens alone. To the faithful the Lord shows Himself faithful (Psalm 18:25), and the faithful have the right to claim the promise the Lord made through the prophet Isaiah: "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in You." (Isaiah 26:3)

Do we want peace in our hearts? Do we want help carrying our burdens? Then let's not harden our hearts against our Deliverer and Redeemer. He has done everything possible for us, giving all He had to rescue us. We owe Him our allegiance. The promises of the Scriptures are ours if we remain faithful to Him.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 8, Fix Your Thoughts On Jesus

The writer is concerned because he's seen a trend of people focusing on the wrong things. They are in danger of becoming "spiritual" but not in the right way. They've become caught up in regarding angels on a level with Christ, and this is idolatry. They also must take care not to elevate anyone else to the level of Christ---Moses for example. Remember, the author is writing to Jewish people, and they have been used to living by the law of Moses for many centuries now. There is a danger that the Jewish Christians might consider Christ and Moses of equal authority, since they both made intercession for the people with God, but Moses is no more Christ's equal than you and I are. So the author urges the people to fix their thoughts on Jesus, to make Him the Lord and King of their hearts and lives, and to worship and revere Him alone.

"Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest." (Hebrews 3:1) The word "apostle" means one who is "sent" by God. I don't think we will find Christ called an apostle anywhere else in the Scriptures, but this is a title He legitimately holds, for as John's gospel declares, Christ was sent into the world by God to save the world. (John 3:17, John 17:18) Nowhere will we find that God sent Moses into the world to save the world, and nowhere will we find that Moses was ever a priest. He did mediate the covenant between God and man, but now we are living under a new and better covenant. This is the new covenant that the Lord told Jeremiah would come (Jeremiah 31:31) and this is the new covenant Jesus mediated between God and man with His own blood. (Luke 22:20) Since Christ was able to do far more for us than Moses could ever do, the two of them are never to be regarded as equal in authority and power. Moses was merely a man, but as we studied yesterday, Christ was fully man and fully God.

Moses did what God called him to do. Christ did too, and He has done more for man than anyone else could ever do. He deserves the highest honors. "He was faithful to the One who appointed Him, just as Moses was faithful in all God's house. Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything." (Hebrews 3:2-4) Moses deserves recognition for his faith, and the author of Hebrews isn't putting him down. He's just reminding his readers that Moses was only a human being. He was an ordinary man who, because of his faith, was called by God to perform the extraordinary task of leading His people Israel out of Egypt. But Moses couldn't save their souls and redeem them from sin. He was faithful in his obedience to God, but since he was only a man he could only do what man can do. Christ, because He is God, is deserving of worship. Moses, because he was only a human being like the rest of us, is never to be worshiped.

"'Moses was faithful as a servant in all God's house,' bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. But Christ is faithful as the Son over God's house. And we are His house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory." (Hebrews 3:5-6) The author quotes from Numbers 12:7. This is a great compliment to Moses, for God to say he has been faithful. But in no way does this make him equal to God's Son. Moses was faithful in his work on God's house, but the house belongs to God---and therefore it belongs to God the Son. The body of believers known as the church does not belong to Moses but to Christ. Christ is the head of the church.

So let's fix our thoughts on Jesus. Let's fix our thoughts not only on who He is and on what He has done for us, but let's also fix our thoughts on Him so that the troubles and trials of this world don't overwhelm us. The One who conquered death and who redeemed us from destruction is more than able to handle any other problems we have. Lately I've been struggling with several issues and I've come close to feeling hopeless several times. And I probably would give in to hopelessness if I didn't have a Lord who is able to do all things. If He weren't part of the equation, maybe I couldn't find hope in my circumstances. But I keep thinking of what David said when he was in danger of being overwhelmed by his circumstances. I'm going to use the KJV here because that's the version in which I first learned and memorized this passage: "I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord." (Psalm 27:13-14) If our thoughts and our hope are not fixed on Jesus, we may faint when trouble comes. We may fall victim to discouragement and hopelessness. But with Christ in the equation, we can be of good courage. He will strengthen our hearts.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 7, Fully Man And Fully God

Christ became like us so we could become like Him. He came to earth in the flesh and suffered in the flesh so that we could become His brothers and sisters. Only One who is both fully man and fully God could accomplish our salvation for us.

"Both the One who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. He says, 'I will declare Your name to My brothers and sisters, in the assembly I will sing Your praises.' And again, 'I will put My trust in Him.' And again He says, 'Here am I, and the children God has given Me.'" (Hebrews 2:11-13) These quotes are from Psalm 22:22 and from Isaiah 8:17-18. Psalm 22 is considered a Messianic psalm, with Jesus quoting from it while on the cross. It contains several prophecies regarding the crucifixion. Yet it is the crucifixion itself that allows Jesus to call us His brothers and sisters, for if He had not come in the flesh and had not taken our punishment on Himself, He could not identify Himself with us and we could not identify ourselves with Him. Through faith in His death and resurrection we are born again, becoming the children of the living God---children of whom He is not ashamed. We can now call God "Father" just as Jesus did. We can now come to God with the same confidence Jesus had that He will hear us and will help us.

"Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death---that is, the devil---and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." (Hebrews 2:14-15) This passage reminds me of the lyrics of a song called "Christ Is Risen". In that song it says, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling over death by death." Who would have thought that death could conquer death? Or, as the prophet Isaiah said when he foresaw the suffering of Christ, "Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" (Isaiah 53:1) In other words, The Message Bible translates Isaiah 53:1 like this, "Who believes what we've heard and seen? Who would have thought God's saving power would look like this?" Whichever version of the Bible you use, Isaiah is asking, "Who would have thought that death could conquer death?" The entire chapter of Isaiah 53 talks about the Messiah not looking the way we expected Him to look, and not being who we expected Him to be, and not receiving what we expected Him to receive. Instead of a king's crown, He wore a crown of thorns. Instead of a royal throne, He hung on a cross. Instead of honor and glory, He was buried in a tomb. But thanks be to God, He didn't stay there! He did something no one expected Him to do: He rose from the dead, proving that He's who He says He is, demonstrating for us that His sacrifice is acceptable to God for all our sins, and leaving no doubt that He is more than able to handle anything we bring to Him.

To bring us out of the darkness of sin and into the light of the living God, Jesus had to become like us. He didn't become like angels; He became like fallen man. He temporarily laid aside the glory that was His to become a human being. "For surely it is not angels He helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason He had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted." (Hebrews 2:16-18)

The One who is fully God became fully man. Because He was fully man, He was able to feel the same things we feel. Temptation comes in many forms. Sometimes it's the lure of doing something wrong and sometimes it's the struggles we go through as we deal with the trials of this life. Satan threw every imaginable temptation at Christ. I think he hit Him with everything possible to try to make Him become an unacceptable sacrifice or to try to make Him bypass the cross and take the throne of David by supernatural means and by force. But because Christ was fully God, He did not sin. He didn't give in, but I think He felt the lure of temptation and I think He dreaded the pain and suffering of the cross so much that it weighed Him down terribly. After all, on the night before the crucifixion He said, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." (Matthew 26:38, Mark 14:34) I've felt worried to death at times, haven't you? So has Jesus! The holy Son of God, who is deserving of the highest honors, knows what it's like to be so burdened down He can barely keep going. This is what qualifies Him to be the mediator between God and us, because He appeals to God for us with a heart full of compassion and love.

When someone we know is going through the same type of things we've been through, our prayers for them are filled with understanding and compassion. We appeal to God for them in a special way because we've been where they are. We are able to comfort and encourage them because we've experienced the same troubles and have survived them by the grace of God. The same can be said of our Great High Priest. He can pray for us like no one else can because He's been where we've been. He's felt what we've felt. His humanity taught Him what it's like to be us, and because He is God, He has the power to endow us with the strength we need to make it through.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 6, Perfected By Suffering

The author of Hebrews has been talking about the humanity of Christ. Today he expounds on this theme by showing us how necessary it was for Christ to become human. If He had not, He could not have become what is going to be the main theme of the book of Hebrews----our great high priest. He could not be the mediator between man and God if He did not understand the human condition. He would not have the level of compassion He has for us if He had not walked the dusty roads of this world Himself, suffering in His body, enduring temptation, and dealing with opposition and betrayal. There's nothing we can go through in this world that Christ doesn't understand. There's nothing that comes against us that doesn't cause Him to feel sympathy for us. He had to come into this world as a man in order to be to us everything He wanted to be.

Yesterday the author quoted from one of David's psalms. David stated that God has made man on a lower order than the angels, and he wondered why God chose to put unworthy man in charge of this world. This is where we begin today, with the writer of Hebrews saying, "In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone." (Hebrews 2:8-9)

We humans don't seem to be in control of very much on earth these days, do we? We've made a mess of things. God created this world in a perfect state, but through man sin entered the world, polluting the world. Because of man's sin, sickness and death entered into the world. Hard work, worry, and troubles entered into the world. This all began because one man, Adam, fell from grace, taking the entire human race with him. Since Adam we've all felt the struggle between our earthly natures and our spiritual natures. In order to undo what the first man had done, the firstborn of God had to come into the world as a man and live a perfect, spotless life. As the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:22, "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."

"In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what He suffered. Both the One who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters." (Hebrews 2:10-11) The author is not saying that Jesus wasn't already perfect. As God, He couldn't be anything but perfect. But in order to identify Himself with us, and so He could understand the struggles and the fears and the temptations of being human, and so He could give Himself for us, Christ had to become a man and suffer as a man. This is why the author will later say, "We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are---yet He did not sin." (Hebrews 4:15)

The empathy Christ feels for us enables him to be our high priest---the mediator between us and God---in a way He couldn't have if He hadn't become a man. Because He knows what it's like to be us, He can intercede for us like no one else can. I'll tell you something the Lord showed me several years ago: He's the only one who can get down into our troubles with us, feeling the same things we feel. No one else on earth can get inside our minds and our hearts to feel our sorrow or our anxiety. When we're suffering, Christ feels it. He understands it in a way even our spouses or best friends can't. Sometimes death comes into our family and several of us are struggling with grief at the same time, but no one can truly feel someone else's grief. In a sense, each of us is alone with our feelings. Except we're not alone, for Christ is with us. He's felt grief. He's cried at the graveside. He's mourned with the mourners. He's experienced all the types of suffering we experience: mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. He's been let down by those closest to Him. He's been betrayed. He's been mocked. He's been slandered and accused of things He didn't do. There's nothing you and I are going through that He hasn't experienced Himself. This qualifies Him to be our great high priest. He's more qualified than any high priest who has ever lived, and He's in a position to intercede for us with the Father like no one else can.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 5, The Humanity Of Jesus

In order to carry out the plan of salvation for mankind, God the Son had to become a man. In becoming a man He temporarily laid aside the honor and glory that are His and became "lower than the angels" for the purpose of bearing our sins on the cross. This doesn't make Him less worthy of our worship, but more worthy of it. Since bearing our sins on the cross, dying, rising from the dead, and ascending to the Father, Christ now has the highest honor and glory and is seated at the right hand of the Father and has been given the name above every name.

As I said once before in our study of one of the gospel accounts, downplaying the humanity of Jesus actually takes away some of the glory that is due Him. I occasionally hear preachers or Bible teachers, who have good intentions, saying things that enhance His deity while taking away from His humanity. They are doing this because they think they are honoring Him by denying that He ever felt temptation and denying that He dreaded the excruciating pain of the cross. In my opinion, the fact that He did feel these things in His humanity actually adds to His honor, for I can't imagine the power and self-control it must have taken to resist all the temptation Satan threw at Him and to remain on the cross when He had the power to set Himself free. Jesus could have immediately put a stop to all the opposition He faced, and He could have ordered Satan to silence, and He could have come down from the cross and overthrown all governments and set Himself up as Lord and King of all the earth. But He didn't do any of these things because He couldn't have saved our souls unless He adhered strictly to the plan of salvation. So I won't downplay the humanity of Jesus. It took more strength than you and I could ever imagine for Him to endure what He endured. When I'm going through unpleasant things, the only thing I want is to make the unpleasantness stop, but that's not always within my power. It was within Jesus' power but He didn't use His power because doing so would have left us without hope.

Because Jesus was obedient unto death in order to save mankind, He will someday be Lord and King of all the earth. God the Father is going to give God the Son this dominion because He willingly lowered Himself so that He could carry out the plan of salvation. "It is not to angels that He has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking." (Hebrews 2:5) Though Jesus set aside His glory for a time to become a man and be a lower order of being than the angels, the greatest glory of all is now His. As the author of Hebrews has already told us, we are never to worship angels. The angels themselves worship Christ. 

"But there is a place where someone has testified: 'What is mankind that You are mindful of them, a son of man that You care for him? You made them a little lower than the angels; You crowned them with glory and honor and put everything under their feet.'" (Hebrews 2:6-8) The author is quoting the words of David from Psalm 8. David is viewing the heavens and the creation and wondering why a God powerful enough to make all these things would concern Himself with weak and sinful mankind. He's asking God why, since man is so unworthy, He gave man dominion over the earth and everything in it. But this is all part of God's plan and, in order to carry out God's plan, Christ also had to be a man. If He were not a man, He would not possess the dominion over the earth that has been given to man. And if He were not a man, He could not have borne our sins and taken our place. And if He were not a man, He could not have become our great high priest----the mediator between God and man. 

There were things the Lord wanted to do for us that had to be done in the flesh. This meant that Christ had to temporarily lay aside the glory He had with the Father before the world existed. (John 17:5) In order to save us, He had to become like us. He had to be born under the law and perfectly keep the law so that as a spotless Lamb He could give His life for us. This is why the Apostle Paul says that God "made Him who had no sin to become sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God". (2 Corinthians 5:21) Under the law, sin was symbolically transferred to the sacrificial animal. When Christ, the Lamb of God, hung on the cross, our sins were transferred to Him---but in a literal sense during a transaction that took place between the Father and the Son. This sacrifice was so perfect that it never has to be repeated, unlike the sacrifice that was performed yearly on the Day of Atonement. This sacrifice was so holy that it literally transferred our sins to Christ once and for all. 

So I will try never to say anything that strips Christ of one speck of His humanity, for doing so would strip Him of some of the honor due Him. 

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 4, So Great A Salvation

Today the author of Hebrews is going to warn us not to drift away from the gospel message. We've already learned that in his day there was a growing habit of elevating celestial beings to the level of worship, a thing which is the same as idolatry. To bow the knees in worship to an angel is as bad as bowing the knees to a false god. Today we are told not to deviate from or add to the gospel message because doing so can cause us, and others, to miss out on the free gift of salvation. If we believe and teach that we must do things to "add to" our salvation, we are missing the whole point of what Christ did on the cross for us. The point is that He did something for us that we could never do for ourselves. His sacrifice was perfect and there's nothing we can do to add to it. Relying on our own good works or mixing pagan beliefs with Biblical truths can water down the gospel message to the point that it has no effect on its hearers. Even in our own day there are those who believe there are many ways to God, and teaching a watered-down gospel or teaching salvation by works is only going to add to this false belief. It's going to make people believe that following Jesus is an option instead of what it really is: a life or death choice of the soul.

"We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away." (Hebrews 2:1) The study of God's word is essential to our faith. Although we know the gospel message, we are still to study it so that we can recognize and reject any teaching that contradicts it. Although we are familiar with the stories of the Old Testament, we are to study them as well, for Jesus said of them: "These are the very Scriptures that testify of Me." (John 5:39b) Christ is present in the Old Testament. His blood sacrifice was symbolized by all the sacrifices that came before Him. His advent was foretold by the prophets. We know from the Old Testament that Christ would come from the tribe of Judah, of the line of King David, that He would be born in Bethlehem, that He would be called out of Egypt just as Israel was called out of Egypt. These are predictions that Jesus of Nazareth had no control over, yet He fulfilled them. He couldn't cause Himself to be born from the tribe of Judah and from the line of King David, but His genealogy records prove that these things are so. He couldn't make Himself be born in Bethlehem, which would not have happened if Rome had not conquered Judah and if the Roman government had not decided to take a census in order to tax the people. If the magi had not told the wicked Herod that the king who was foretold had just been born in Bethlehem, Jesus and His family would not have had to flee to Egypt for a time. The fact is that Christ came in exactly the way and in exactly the place the prophets predicted, so the study and the understanding of the Scriptures is vital to accepting that He is who He says He is. And the study of the gospel message is vital in order to keep it from being changed and stripped of the power it has to transform lives.

"For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?" (Hebrews 2:2-3a) In Chapter 1 we were told that in times past God spoke to us in various ways, but that now He speaks to us through the Son. If the word of God given to man by angels and prophets in the Old Testament was to be believed and obeyed, how much more is the word of the Son to be obeyed? The penalty for violating the Mosaic law was quite harsh in many cases. How much more harsh will the penalty be if we ignore the word given to us directly by God the Son? If we refuse to accept His message, what hope do we have? If we reject His offer of salvation, what sacrifice is there for our sins?

"This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard Him." (Hebrews 2:3b) John the Baptist, an Elijah-type prophet who bridged the gap between the Old Testament and the New Testament, gave his testimony on the identity of Jesus of Nazareth on the day he baptized Him. On that same day, God the Father spoke from heaven, giving His testimony on the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. According to the law of Moses, the testimony of two or three people was all that was needed to establish a thing as truth, so John and the Lord God are two witnesses, which would have been enough. But Jesus Himself testified as to His identity, making Himself the third witness to the truth. The disciples also gave their testimony as to His identity, having witnessed His life, His miracles, His death, and His resurrection. We have all the proof we need. If we reject this proof, we are neglecting the great salvation offered to us. When we stand before God we will be without excuse and without Christ as our Mediator, Defender, and Redeemer.

If the word of God and the testimony of all these other witnesses aren't enough to convince us, the things Jesus did ought to convince us. "God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will." (Hebrews 2:4) Jesus performed miracles on a scale never seen before. After He ascended to His Father, the Holy Spirit was poured out on believers so that they too performed miracles on a scale never seen before. Although we don't generally see what are called "the signs of the apostles" in our own day, there's no doubt Jesus is still performing miracles. He is transforming hearts and lives, rescuing believers from the bonds of addiction, putting marriages back together, and bringing prodigal children home. I can testify to knowing a large number of people whose lives have been radically changed by Christ. They once were lost in sin and were living according to the desires of their human nature, but now they live to honor and glorify Christ in everything they do. I can give my own testimony, because when I came to Christ I was pulled out of darkness into His glorious light. I'm not who I used to be, and believe me you wouldn't like who I used to be. I am unrecognizable now, spiritually speaking, and no false gospel would have had the power to transform me into a new creature. If Christ isn't who He says He is, He couldn't have done for me what He's done. I can give no greater testimony than this. This is all the proof I need.