Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 19, Who Was The High Priest Melchizedek Of Genesis And Why Is Christ Compared To Him? Part Three

Thank you for your patience yesterday when I had to leave home at 5:30 am to have a medical test done and couldn't do the blog. I was really nervous about having sedation because I'd never had it before, but everything went fine and my results came back great. I was foggy-headed and a little dizzy most of the day afterwards but that's to be expected.

As promised, today we're going to take a look at the top three theories of who Melchizedek was. As we do this, we should keep in mind that "Melchizedek" may not have been a proper name but a title. The name originates from the word "melek" which means "king", and from the word "tsedeq" which means "righteousness". Being called "king of righteousness" or "righteous king" doesn't have to mean he was perfect, for righteousness is imputed by faith. This is how righteousness was imputed to Abraham, for example, so although Abraham was a man who made mistakes, it would not be wrong to refer to him as a "man of righteousness". Apostles, teachers, and pastors could accurately be referred to as "preachers of righteousness". So although being called "king of righteousness" lends credence to the theory that the appearance of Melchizedek in Genesis was an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ, this doesn't exclude the possibility that he was a human being like you and me who worshiped the one true God.

This first theory is one I wasn't familiar with, but there is an ancient Hebrew tradition that Melchizedek was Noah's son Shem. Shem is found in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, and Shem was believed to have been a preacher of righteousness like his father Noah. Since people in those days lived extraordinarily long lifespans, Shem would have still been alive in the days of Abraham at the ripe old age of about 400. If Shem were the leader of his tribe or clan, and if he were also a priest, then in the days before the law was given he could have held the titles of both king at priest at the same time. And if Melchizedek was a title and not a proper name, it would make sense that he wasn't going by his given name of Shem but by the title that indicated his authority. The drawback to this theory is that the author of Hebrews tells us that the genealogy of Melchizedek was not known. Now this could simply mean that Shem didn't explain to Abraham who he was, and since Abraham didn't know, then Moses didn't know when he wrote Genesis. But since the genealogy of Shem is clearly given in the Bible, if he were such a great priest and king we might expect someone to say so. On the other hand, if this king and priest is Shem it would make sense that he was carrying on the faith he learned from his father. It would make sense that he was still serving the one true God---the God who had saved his family from the great flood.

The second theory is one we've briefly discussed: that Melchizedek is Christ. His titles, "king of righteousness" and "king of peace", are titles Christ also holds. When Melchizedek meets Abraham after the defeat of the kings, he brings bread and wine, which calls to mind the bread and wine of the last supper in which Jesus referred to these items as His body that was broken for us and His blood that was poured out for us. The author of Hebrews speaks of this priest as if he has no beginning or end, and this makes us think of the Lord Jesus Christ who has existed forever and will continue to exist forever. It reminds us of a passage we will study later on in the book of Hebrews, a passage that refers to the eternal priesthood of Christ: "Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them." (Hebrews 7:25) The fact that the author says Melchizedek is "without father or mother, without genealogy" places an obstacle in the path of equating Melchizedek with Christ. We do know the genealogy of Christ. We know His genealogy all the way back to Adam on His mother Mary's side and also on His step-father Joseph's side, plus we know that His biological father is God. In addition, when we see appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ in the Old Testament, He is normally referred to as "the angel of the Lord". We don't find Christ called a priest until after He shed His blood to atone for our sins. Just as the high priest sprinkled the blood of an atoning sacrifice on the mercy seat, Christ sprinkled His own blood of atonement on the mercy seat---not on the mercy seat of an earthly temple but on the mercy seat in heaven.

There's nothing wrong with thinking Melchizedek may have been an appearance of Christ. Many highly respected scholars believe this. I believed it for a long time but have gradually begun to lean toward the third and final theory that we're going to look at below.

The third theory is that Melchizedek was a real man who lived during the days of Abraham. He was the leader of his tribe and therefore a king. Since he lived before the law was given, he performed the office of priest for his people. Abraham had never met him before and didn't learn anything about him during their one encounter, so he couldn't speak on the subject of this man's genealogy. The fact that Melchizedek appears only briefly in Genesis doesn't have to suggest anything supernatural to us. The king of Sodom also appears briefly in that same chapter and is never heard about again, but we don't tend to think of him as a mysterious character. We think of him as a real person, which he was, and I think it's likely Melchizedek was a real person too. Two kings meet with Abraham on the same day, which was probably an exciting and remarkable occurrence in Abraham's life, and I tend to think they were both actual human kings. To back up the theory that Melchizedek was a regular person just as much as you and I are, the author of Hebrews does not say that he was Christ but that his priesthood resembled that of the Son of God. (Hebrews 7:3)

The main point we need to take away from the mysterious subject we've been studying is that the goal of the author of Hebrews was not to confuse us but to prove to us that Christ, who was not of the priestly tribe of Levi, has the right to hold the title of great high priest. God previously chose another man, Melchizedek, to be a high priest even though he was not of the tribe of Levi (which did not yet exist). God chose one man, Melchizedek, to be a king and a priest at the same time, even though under the Mosaic law one man could not be both king and priest. Since Melchizedek lived before the law, this rule didn't apply to him. Since Christ made a new covenant and freed us from bondage to the law and put us under the law of grace, He too is not bound by this rule. God is free to anoint whomever He wishes to be a king or a priest, and if He wants to give both titles to one person, He has the right to do so.

We have to remember that the book of Hebrews is written to Jewish Christians. They can clearly see that Jesus of Nazareth possesses the legal title to the throne of David. He has the genealogical credentials to wear the crown. It's not so easy for them to understand why He has the right to the priesthood, so the author uses the example of Melchizedek to help them understand. Because the recipients of this letter are Jews, it's vitally important for them to understand that Christ is their great high priest. They have to see that He made a sacrifice of atonement that is great enough to roll back their sins forever, not just for a year. If they can't get this issue settled in their minds, they may remain stuck in the idea of salvation by works. They may rely on bringing sacrifices and offerings, or on going through the motions of religion, or on abiding by the traditions of men in order to "earn" salvation.

None of us can earn salvation. We can never be good enough to redeem ourselves. But we don't have to be! Christ was good enough. Christ did the work that we couldn't do for ourselves. Our part is simply to believe in Him, to regard Him as Lord and King, and to trust in the intercession He makes for us as our great high priest.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 18, Who Was The High Priest Melchizedek Of Genesis And Why Is Christ Compared To Him? Part Two

We are taking a look at an Old Testament priest named Melchizedek. He is a mysterious character who appears out of the blue in Genesis and disappears from the pages of the Bible just as quickly.

The author has been comparing Christ to Melchizedek. They were both appointed by God as priests although neither of them was of the priestly tribe of Israel. Each of them was a king, although Melchizedek was not of the royal line of Judah and although Christ has not yet received His kingdom. Both of these men were appointed by God to be both king and priest, a thing that could not occur while living under the Mosaic law. Under the law, only a man from the tribe of Levi could be high priest and only a man from the tribe of Judah could be king. But Melchizedek lived before the law, so it didn't apply to him. Christ fulfilled the law and established a new covenant of grace, so the rules about being both a king and a priest don't apply to Him either.

"This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means 'king of righteousness'; then also, 'king of Salem' means 'king of peace'. Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever." (Hebrews 7:1-3) Sometimes we tend to think of Abraham as the only person of the ancient world who believed in and served the one true God, but there were likely many people besides Abraham who rejected pagan idolatry and gave their allegiance to Almighty God. Melchizedek was one of these people.

There are several instances in the Old Testament of what are known as "Christophanies"----pre-incarnate appearances of Christ. Many scholars hold to the theory that the appearance of Melchizedek is one of these Christophanies. They think because he is called by titles that Christ can also claim (king of righteousness, king of peace) and because no one seems to know his lineage or where he came from, then these men are one and the same. I used to hold to that theory too. I no longer subscribe to it myself, but you are in good company if you do, for many reputable scholars and theologians believe this. I am not 100% convinced that Melchizedek was not an Old Testament appearance of Christ, but am about 90% convinced that he was a real man living on the earth in the days of Abraham. In those days the head of a tribe was recognized as king over it, and in those days the head of each family served as priest for the family. Job (who is believed to have lived at around the time of Abraham and certainly before the time of Moses) performed these priestly duties for his family by making sacrifices for them and interceding for them with God. This would allow for Melchizedek being a king and priest at the same time, and in his case he was not only priest of his family but high priest of his whole tribe.

Abraham only met Melchizedek once, as far as we know, and he had no knowledge of his genealogy. He knew that this man was king of Salem, which is probably the area that is now known as Jerusalem. He knew that this man was a priest who served the same God he served. But he had no idea who Melchizedek's father or mother were, or when he was born, or when he eventually died. These type of details were very important later to the nation of Israel, for they kept detailed records of family trees and of birth dates and death dates. They carefully wrote down the reigns of kings and the terms that each priest served. A high priest's term did not end until his death, but Abraham knew nothing of what later became of Melchizedek, so this man lived on in his memory. In our minds, people are still alive unless we hear that they have passed on. There are people who were dear to me when I was growing up, but in the years since I've lost track of them and I don't know whether they are living or dead. So in my mind it's as if they are still alive somewhere, and maybe that's how Abraham thought of Melchizedek. Melchizedek very well may have outlived Abraham anyway, since we don't know which of them was older than the other. Since Abraham knew nothing of Melchizedek's lineage, Moses could say nothing about it when he wrote the book of Genesis, so the author of Hebrews can't say anything about it either.

We are going to get deeper into this subject in the coming days while we look at the three top theories of who Melchizedek was and while we study the reasons for and against each theory. I personally have always found this subject fascinating. I love a mystery and this is definitely a mystery. So I hope you'll join me while we search for clues in God's word as to the identity of this priest.

***There may not be a blog post for Monday morning. I have to leave home around 5:30 to go in for a medical test under sedation so I probably won't have enough time to work on the blog beforehand. If I am alert enough after I get back home I'll try to work on it. I'd appreciate prayers that my procedure goes safely and that the doctor can figure out and treat a medical problem I've been having for three months. Thank you!***

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 17, Who Was The High Priest Melchizedek Of Genesis And Why Is Christ Compared To Him? Part One

Since the main theme of the book of Hebrews is to present Jesus Christ as the great high priest, and since Jesus is not of the priestly tribe of Levi but rather of the royal tribe of Judah, the author makes a comparison between Jesus and a mysterious priest from Genesis known as Melchizedek. Melchizedek lived in a time before the law was given and before the priesthood was established. He lived before the nation of Israel existed and he was not a Jew. We have no idea what this man's lineage was. God---because He is God---is free to choose whom He pleases to stand before Him as a mediator between Himself and man. We are going to be taking an in-depth look at the mysterious figure of Melchizedek and we are going to develop a clearer understanding of why God the Father told God the Son that He was making Him a priest "in the order of Melchizedek".

When we concluded yesterday we found the author telling his readers that God keeps His promises. But as he stated earlier in Hebrews, not everyone places himself in a position to receive the blessings of God. He used the example of the nation of Israel in the wilderness following their rescue from Egypt. Some did not enter the promised land because they were rebellious and faithless toward God. God kept His end of the bargain. He did deliver the nation of Israel to the promised land. But some did not enter the promised land because of their unbelief. The author has been warning his readers not to allow themselves to miss out on the blessings of God. God keeps His promises, but those who are rebellious and faithless won't receive them. The readers are encouraged to stand firm til the end. It can be difficult for us, as human beings, to be strong when we have waited a long time to see the results of our prayers. When unpleasant circumstances continue day after day with no improvement in sight, it's easy for us to become discouraged. This is why the writer says we must encourage each other daily. (Hebrews 3:13) It helps to have someone come alongside us and tell us they've been where we are and that they prayed for a long time (years maybe) and that the answer finally came. 

Living in this broken word calls for patience on our part. The author now uses Abraham as an example for us. "When God made His promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for Him to swear by, He swore by Himself, saying, 'I will surely bless you and give you many descendants. And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised." (Hebrews 6:13-15) God promised Abraham a son, and through that son a great nation. (Genesis 22:17) He also promised that through one of Abraham's descendants (Jesus Christ) all nations on earth would be blessed. (Genesis 22:18) Abraham lived to see the first promise fulfilled, and because God kept that promise Abraham knew He would keep the second promise as well. 

God not only made a promise on oath to Abraham, but He also made a promise on oath to His Son. We are living in a time when this promise has been fulfilled. Christ came in the flesh and gave Himself for us, dying on the cross for our sins, being buried in the tomb, rising from the dead, and ascending to the Father where He lives forever to make intercession for us as our great high priest. "People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, He confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged." (Hebrews 6:16-18) God cannot lie; therefore His promise and His oath cannot be broken. He swore by Himself because He is the highest authority of all, and He swore by Himself because His integrity is unchangeable. We mustn't lose hope, for God will fulfill every promise He has ever made. It's impossible for Him not to keep His promises.

Nothing in heaven, on earth, or in hell has the power to change the promises of God. This means our hope is based on a firm foundation. "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." (Hebrews 6:19-20) Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place behind the curtain, and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement. On that day he would sprinkle the blood of an animal sacrifice on the mercy seat and he would make intercession between the people and God. But these things only served to roll back the sins of the people for one year, and the next year he would have to go behind the curtain and do the same things all over again. Christ, however, sprinkled His own blood on the mercy seat of heaven, and because His sacrifice is enough to roll back our sins for all time, and because He lives forever, we have a hope that can never be taken away. We have a great high priest who intercedes for us like no other---a high priest whose service is honored by God like no other. 

Tomorrow we will move deeper into the comparison between Christ and the mysterious priest known as Melchizedek. We will begin to see the similarities between them and we will study the top three theories of who this man Melchizedek was.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 16, Be Diligent To The End

In yesterdays study we looked at a passage that is difficult to understand. The author gave a dire warning to anyone who falls away from the truth, because denying the truth and hardening our hearts to it can cause us to reach a point where we no longer feel guilt or a need to repent. I do not believe he's saying that we can reach a point of wickedness where God won't allow us to repent, but that we can reach a point of wickedness where we don't want to repent.

The Apostle Paul once spoke of people who had abandoned the faith to follow lies and whose consciences had become "seared as with a hot iron". (1 Timothy 4:2) A garment that has been seared with a hot iron has holes in it, so Paul compares a wicked person's conscience to a garment that is no longer useful for its intended purpose. God gave us consciences for a reason, so that we can take the warnings of the Holy Spirit to heart. But when the conscience is full of holes through repeated rebellious living, those warnings slip right on through without making an impact.

It's one thing to be living in sin because of ignorance. If we had never heard of the God of Israel and if we weren't familiar with His laws and commandments, we might do something wrong without knowing it's wrong. This is why the Bible says that those who don't have the law will be judged without the law. (Romans 2:12a) This is also why the Bible says that those who know God's laws will be judged by them. (Romans 2:12b) But the author of the book of Hebrews isn't speaking to people who don't know God's laws. He's speaking to Jews who grew up under the Mosaic law. In addition, these Jews have converted to Christianity and they understand that they are now living under the law of grace because of the sacrifice Christ made for mankind. So they can't plead ignorance. And because they can't plead ignorance, if they choose to turn back from following Christ or if they choose to live in rebellion and sin, they should be especially ashamed of themselves. They are dishonoring the Lord who purchased their redemption with His own blood. "To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace." (Hebrews 6:6b)

When we who profess to be Christians live in immoral ways, it gives unbelievers the opportunity to scoff at the power of Christ. It allows them to make remarks like, "These Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites," or, "Christians are no better than anyone else," or, "If Jesus was really the Son of God, He could keep His followers from being such sinners." When we fall into a lifestyle of sin after coming to know Christ, and when we harden our hearts and continue living in that sin with an unrepentant attitude, we are saying that we don't value Christ enough to live a life that honors Him. This sets a bad example for our fellow Christians and it causes unbelievers to feel comfortable remaining in an unrepentant state. It makes unbelievers bolder than ever to blaspheme the name of Christ.

Because it's possible to reach a point where we no longer feel guilty, the recipients of the book of Hebrews are given an agricultural example that is easy for anyone to understand: "Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned." (Hebrews 6:7-8) The grace and mercy of God, and the word of God, falls on us like rain on a field. We can allow ourselves to be made fruitful by these blessings or we can allow ourselves to be unchanged by these blessings. The choice is ours.

Having said all this, the author reminds his readers that he believes they are capable of being very fruitful. They've already made a good start, as he mentioned in the beginning of this chapter. They haven't progressed as deeply in the faith as they should have by now, but they have a solid foundation from which to grow. So now that he's spoken some necessary harsh words to them, he follows up by encouraging them. He knows they have it in them to be profitable for the kingdom of Christ. "Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case---the things that have to do with salvation. God is unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what is promised." (Hebrews 6:9-12)

He says, "You've started out well. You've accepted Christ in faith. You've ministered to the saints. Don't stop there, but keep on growing in the faith and keep on doing what is right in the sight of God. Great promises are given to the Lord's people, so don't become lazy in the faith and cause yourself to miss out on any of these beautiful promises. Don't knock yourselves out of a blessing. God will reward your faithfulness."

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 15, Can We Lose Our Salvation?

This morning we are going to be studying a difficult and controversial passage of Scripture. I feel completely inadequate to deal with it, so I'm praying for the Lord to guide me while we discuss some verses that have been used by some theologians to "prove" a person can be saved and then lose their salvation.

Those of you who have been studying with me on the blog for years will know that I subscribe to the theory of "eternal security". Many times in the four gospels we find Jesus promising us that whoever believes in and follows Him has eternal life. Jesus never says, "You have eternal life in Me unless you do this or that." The writers of the epistles promise us eternal life through our faith in Christ. Even the author of the book of Hebrews will make mention several times of the eternal life we have through our faith in Christ. So why is he talking today about the possibility of falling away? Why is he warning his readers---presumably believers---that they can reach a point where they are so comfortable with sin that they no longer feel a need to repent of it? What does he mean when he says people who reach such a stage are in danger of being cursed?

I am not sure we can answer all of these questions to our complete satisfaction, but we are going to take a look at today's passage in a step-by-step manner and hopefully make our peace with it.

"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance." (Hebrews 6:4-6a) It seems to be clear that the author is talking about people who are genuine Christians. I don't think there's any way he could say that they have "shared in the Holy Spirit" if they were not true converts. The argument has been made by some scholars that these are people who had some type of religious experience, were caught up in intense emotion, and joined the church with a great deal of enthusiasm but with little substance. When the going got tough, or when their high state of emotion wore off, they simply settled back into their old ways. I could accept this explanation based on everything the author says in verses 4 and 6 except for the part of their having shared in the Holy Spirit. This indicates, to me, that they received the Holy Spirit upon their acceptance of Christ. We could argue that they felt the call of the Holy Spirit and that they experienced His power during a church service and thought they had given their hearts to Christ when in fact they had not. The problem with this is that the author says a person in that state cannot later repent.

When I was sixteen years old I had a very moving experience in a church I was visiting. The pastor's attention zoomed in on me for some reason during the altar call and he asked the young lady sitting beside me to bring me up to the altar. He believed the Holy Spirit was calling me to give my heart to Christ. And likely He was, but I had no idea what to do when I got to the altar. I just knelt there and cried and no one gave me any instructions or prayed the sinner's prayer with me, so in a few minutes somebody helped me up and everybody in the church thought I'd been saved (I thought so too because I didn't know what the salvation experience was supposed to be like). What I did know was that I didn't feel one bit different leaving the church than I felt when I walked in there that morning. I didn't feel like a new creature. I didn't feel a sense of peace and relief. For several months I tried really hard to read the Bible every day and pray. I tried to be a nicer person. But something just wasn't clicking. I was still the old creature and didn't know it, so of course my efforts to be a better person were unsuccessful. I was relying on works instead of on faith. Within a short time I gave up on my attempts and went back to being exactly who I was before. It would be six more years before I realized I'd never accepted Christ in the first place, but when I did accept Him I was dramatically changed. I knew I was no longer the old creature. I did have a sense of relief and peace because I was transformed from the inside out. So, on that basis, I don't think we can assume that the author of Hebrews is talking about people who thought they were saved but weren't. He can't be, because he says they won't be able to repent at a later date, and obviously I was able to repent at a later date.

Some scholars believe the author is speaking on the basis of rewards that are granted to the believer. The Apostle Paul spoke of loss of rewards in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. In that passage he is speaking to people who are genuinely saved but who have done little else for the kingdom of God. He warns them that only the things they do for Christ will earn them a reward when they get to heaven, and that the things they did that serve selfish ambition will earn them no eternal rewards. He makes it clear though, that the person who once was saved is still saved, but that this person has knocked himself out of rewards he could otherwise have enjoyed forever. We can't earn salvation through good works, but we can earn rewards through the works we do for Christ in the right spirit.

Other scholars believe that, since the author of Hebrews is speaking to Jewish believers, he is warning them not to fall back into relying on the law---relying on works for salvation, in other words. He's already told them in our study this week that they are not progressing in their Christian walk as they should be. They are still standing where they were when Christ saved them, in a way, because they have not moved any deeper than knowing the gospel message. They are not studying the Scriptures in a way that helps them to build a personal relationship with Christ. They are not applying Biblical principles to their lives in the ways that a Christian should be applying them. So perhaps he's saying that, if they fall back into trusting in the law and in good works, they are going to feel no need to repent of future sins, for they will feel that they can bring enough sacrifices and offerings to "make up" for their mistakes. If so, this completely pushes Christ's sacrifice out of the picture and treats His agony on the cross as something that never needed to be suffered at all. For if good works could save us, Christ need never have come into the world to offer Himself for our sins.

Yet another theory says that the person who falls away is still saved, though only by the skin of his teeth, but has fallen into habitual sin that has hardened his heart to the point that his conscience doesn't bother him. I'm going to use another example from my own life to illustrate the point. Some years back I made such a mistake that I shocked even myself. Have you ever messed up so badly that it didn't even seem real? I remember driving to work one morning with the radio tuned to the Christian station playing a song about the nails that were in Christ's hands. And I understood, as never before, how I personally drove those nails into His hands. I also understood in a new way how precious the voice of the Holy Spirit is, for He was speaking right then to my conscience. I felt like I couldn't even lift my eyes to heaven because of the shame I was feeling, but repenting was my only hope of repairing the rift I'd made in my close relationship with Christ. But what if I hadn't heeded the Holy Spirit? What if I'd gone on to make the same mistake over and over again? What if I'd closed my ears to the Holy Spirit over and over again? I could have become so hard-hearted that I could have kept committing this sin without any guilt at all. And when we feel no guilt, we feel no urgency to repent. Repenting doesn't even enter our minds.

So the author could be warning his readers about the same thing the Lord warned the church in Ephesus, "You have forsaken the love you had at first." (Revelation 2:4) The people the Lord is talking to were genuinely saved. He is referring to Himself as their first love. But something has caused them to put other priorities ahead of Christ. They have become worldly and have hardened their hearts. So He issues this dire warning, "Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from this place." (Revelation 2:5) The people of Ephesus have not yet become so hard-hearted that they can't hear the Lord's voice calling them to repent. But if they reach a state where they can easily ignore His voice, the future of the church at Ephesus is grim.

What are we to make of these words about falling away and about being unable to repent? Can we lose our salvation or not? I think we have to take these words in context of what came before them and what comes after them. In yesterday's passage the author scolded his readers for not growing in their knowledge of the Lord. Someone who doesn't have a solid foundation is going to have trouble standing firm in this world full of temptations and trials. If these people do not get with the program and mature in the faith then they are far more likely to fall back into old habits or to be seduced back into trying to rely on good works to be made right with God. Instead of going to the Lord and repenting of sins, a person might instead bring an offering or perform a good deed as if they can "cancel out" the bad deed. The author is also going to go on to say, in tomorrow's passage, that these believers he's addressing have worked hard to minister to God's people and that God is not going to forget that they love His people. This indicates that God will keep on dealing with their hearts in order to keep them from becoming hard-hearted. But He won't force them to do what's right. They have to do their part in staying close to their Redeemer, in heeding the guiding voice of the Holy Spirit, in studying the Scriptures, and in communing with the Lord in prayer.

Having said all this, have I changed my mind regarding eternal security? No, I am still at least 90% convinced that we are "once saved, always saved". But I'm also convinced that it's possible to be saved and to stop right there. It's possible to remain babies in the faith instead of maturing into adults in the faith. I think we can be saved and yet manage to live lives that do little to advance the kingdom of Christ. I think we can be saved and, on the day our works are judged, receive no rewards because we've mainly served ourselves instead of our Lord. So whether or not a person can actually lose his salvation, or whether or not the author's words are regarding the loss of rewards, neither of these things is something we want to happen to us. The best way to prevent it is to remain in close contact with our Redeemer. The closer we draw to Him, the closer He draws to us. The more we want to honor Him, the more He enables us to honor Him. The more we want to help others and lead them to Him, the more opportunities He will give us to do great things for His kingdom. Let's be Christians who finish strong, who can stand before our Savior and Redeemer someday and hear Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews, Day 14, Being Mature In Christ

When we come to Christ and are reborn, we are like newborn babies at first. But as time goes on we ought to grow and mature. It appears that some, or all, of the people the author is talking to have not progressed very far since they came to salvation in Christ. He chastises them for not yet being able to teach others.

"We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again." (Hebrews 5:11-12a) Since we can't be certain who wrote the book of Hebrews, we can't be certain when it was written. So we don't know how long these people have been in the faith, but it's long enough that the writer feels they should be able to guide and encourage others. Naturally a brand new Christian is not going to be able to give much godly advice to anyone else. But as soon as a person becomes a Christian he should be regularly studying God's word and allowing it to minister to him. If he doesn't learn God's word, and if he doesn't communicate with the Lord, then he's basically saved by the skin of his teeth. He can't lead anyone else to Christ because he can't effectively speak about how Christ has changed his life. He can't give anyone advice because he doesn't have a good Scriptural basis for his counsel. We can tell that the author of Hebrews thinks remaining in this childlike state is shameful. When a person is born, he doesn't remain a baby. He grows and matures and becomes an adult and a functioning member of society. The Christian too is to grow and mature, becoming an adult in the faith and being a functioning member of Christian society.

Continuing to compare stagnant Christianity to an infant-like state, the author goes on to say, "You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." (Hebrews 5:12b-14) We don't feed babies a steak dinner because they have no teeth to chew it with and because their stomachs aren't ready to digest solid food. In the same way, when a person first comes to Christ he may know nothing but the simple message of the gospel. He may know little else besides, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." But after he accepts Christ---after he receives the milk of the gospel---he is to gradually move on into the solid food that is the entire word of God. He is to begin learning and applying God's principles to his life. He is to know God's word well enough that he can use it as a guidebook for making sound decisions and for resisting temptation.

No one should be content with stagnant Christianity. As the author told us earlier this week, the word of God is living and active. It is relevant to our lives. It convicts us of wrong attitudes so we can change them. It guides us so we can make godly decisions. It teaches us about our Lord and helps us to be more like Him. For some reason, the people the author is addressing haven't gone beyond the basics of faith. They believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He died for the sins of mankind and rose from the dead. They have accepted Him as their Savior. As we will see in the remainder of our passage today, their church is doing all the things a church does for new believers, such as baptizing them and laying their hands on them and praying for them. It's possible some of them are even performing miracles, since these were prevalent signs of the Holy Spirit in the early church. But they haven't gotten into the meat of the word. They haven't gone deeper. They think of Christ as their Redeemer, as they should, but they don't think of Him as their friend. They haven't built an intimate relationship with Him, and because they haven't, they can't tell anyone else how to build a growing and satisfying relationship with Christ.

The writer urges them to move on. They are still, symbolically speaking, standing on the same spot where Christ saved them. They are not taking hold of the abundant life Christ promised them. (John 10:10) The Christian life is one of action, of forging ahead, of learning to lean on the Lord in every circumstance, and of loving and knowing Him more every day. "Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment." (Hebrews 6:1-2) He says something like, "You've got this part right already. You believed the gospel and repented of your sins and accepted Christ as Savior. You baptize believers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. You pray for each other and minister to each other. You believe in the resurrection and you believe there is a judgment day. You trust Christ to come to your defense on that day. Now it's time to move ahead from these basic principles and become familiar with all of God's other principles. It's time to develop a personal relationship with the One who saved you. It's long past the time when you should have already become teachers yourselves, so step up your game and become men and women who can lead others to Christ and who can give godly counsel to fellow believers."

If we are content to stay where we are right now, we need to ask ourselves why. We ought to have a burning desire to know more and more about our Lord. If we search our hearts and find that we don't feel this way, the best thing to do is admit it to Him and ask Him to place within our hearts a consuming desire to know Him. Then we can say what the prophet Jeremiah said, "His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones." (Jeremiah 20:9) This love for the word of God ruled Jeremiah's life, and we too can have that kind of love. I believe the Lord will honor the prayer of anyone who wants to be filled with a desire to know Him better and better every day.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 13, The Source Of Eternal Salvation

The author moves more fully into the main theme of his letter today as he explains why we need Christ to perform the role of high priest for us, and as he explains why Christ is perfectly qualified to fulfill this role. Those of us who are Gentiles most typically think of Christ as our Savior and Redeemer, but the writer is speaking to Jewish believers and is using terminology that they are familiar with. Christ, of course, is the high priest of both Jews and Gentiles, but all the writers of the New Testament epistles specifically word their letters in ways their audiences can best understand. The formerly pagan Gentiles were somewhat unfamiliar with how the Jewish religious system worked. Using a lot of terminology like this with Gentiles might have caused the words of the letters to go right over their heads. But the Jewish readers will immediately understand what the author of Hebrews is saying when he explains to them that Christ is the great high priest. This is going to help them to understand how Christ is the mediator between them and God, and how Christ has made an offering of atonement for them that lasts for eternity.

"Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins." (Hebrews 5:1) The high priest who was selected by the people had to be a descendant of Aaron, from the tribe of Levi. But what about the fact that Jesus is of the tribe of Judah? Does this disqualify Him to be our great high priest? No, because as we will shortly see in today's passage and again later on in the book of Hebrews, God is free to appoint whomever He wants to the priesthood. When the people of Israel selected a high priest, they were to select him from among the tribe of Levi. But we will look at an Old Testament example of God appointing a high priest who was not only not of the tribe of Levi, but who was also not of the nation of Israel. God's choice outweighs man's choice every time, and He is free to select whomever He wants to stand before Him as high priest.

The high priest selected from the tribe of Levi was a mere human being, and because he was human he was able to sympathize with those for whom he was making intercession. Indeed, he was a sinner himself and had to make an offering for himself before he could stand before God and make an offering for the people. "He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people." (Hebrews 5:2-3) Christ too was a man, and this gives Him a great deal of compassion for us. He knows the pressure we are under. He knows how hard the devil works to tempt us into making bad decisions. But because Christ never sinned, He is superior to a Levite priest in every way. He doesn't have to make sacrifices for Himself, and therefore the sacrifice He made for us is good for all eternity, whereas the Levite priest had to make the sacrifice of atonement every year for himself and for the nation of Israel.

God Himself chose the first great high priest of Israel when He selected Aaron, the brother of Moses, to fill that role. God has the right to choose whom He pleases, so if it pleases Him to select a man from another tribe to serve as priest, His choice supersedes all others. "And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was. In the same way, Christ did not take on Himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to Him, 'You are My Son; today I have become Your Father.' And He says in another place, 'You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.'" (Hebrews 5:4-6) Melchizedek is a mysterious figure we find in Genesis 14. He was not of the nation of Israel; the nation of Israel didn't exist yet. He was not a descendant of Aaron or of the tribe of Levi; neither Aaron nor Levi had even been born. He wasn't a priest who served God under the law; the law had not yet been given. Yet he served the one true God, and God had appointed him as high priest. We will delve deeper into the identity of this mysterious man as we go through the book of Hebrews, but for now all we need to know is that God is free to appoint whomever He wants as high priest, and He chose to appoint His Son as the great high priest whose sacrifice conveys eternal salvation upon us.

Jesus, because He was perfect, did not have to make sacrifices for His own sins. But priests made many other offerings besides sacrifices, so Jesus lifted up His own offerings to God. "During the days of Jesus' life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission." (Hebrews 5:7) Jesus prayed for the "cup"---the torturous death on the cross---to pass from Him. If there was no other way to save mankind, He was going to have to drink this bitter cup in our place. God heard His prayer, but He didn't say "yes" to it. Instead He sent an angel to minister to Jesus to strengthen Him for the ordeal ahead. (Luke 22:43) This is what gave Jesus the strength to make it through. Jesus knows what it's like to dread something so much that the thought of going through it is unbearable. He knows what it's like to need supernatural help to face what's ahead. He knows what it feels like to have God say "no" to a request. Those who try to downplay Jesus' dread of the cross are, as I've said before in this and other studies, taking away from the honor and glory due Him. He had the power to refuse to come into this world as a man in the first place. He had the power to bypass the cross and take the throne by force. But because skipping the cross meant condemning us to death, He went to death for us. As the saying goes, "It wasn't nails that held Him to the cross. It was love."

"Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek." (Hebrews 5:8-10) Wasn't Christ already perfect? Of course He was, but the things He endured as a man supplied the qualifications for becoming our great high priest. He could not obtain these qualifications seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. He could only be trained for the job while down in the trenches with us, fighting alongside us and experiencing all the things we experience as human beings in a fallen world. The high priests of Israel were men who knew what it was like to be human, and now Christ knows what it's like to be human. But unlike those priests, His sacrifice is good for all eternity. This means He is uniquely qualified to be our advocate with the Father.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 12, Our High Priest Has Sympathy For Us

The author begins by reminding us that the word of God is alive. The word actively works to convict us of sin, to lead us to repentance, and to teach us how to live in a way that honors the Lord. None of us is perfect, but we have a great high priest who is, and He has sympathy for us because He has lived in the flesh in this broken world. Because of Him, we can approach God for help.

"For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12) This verse makes me think of a skilled surgeon. Symbolically speaking, the word of God does a form of exploratory surgery on us. Sometimes we're blind to our own faults, which is why David said to the Lord, "But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults." (Psalm 19:12) A lot of times we easily recognize the more obvious sin in our lives, although it's possible to willfully ignore it, but we don't always recognize the less obvious sin. The word of God reveals these things to us so that we can be healed of faults we didn't even know we had. Like a surgeon who has to go inside the body to find and get rid of whatever is causing pain, the word of God has to go into the heart and mind to find and get rid of whatever is hurting us.

Thankfully, He knows exactly how to help us. He is going to find whatever is hurting us so we can get it out into the open and deal with it. "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account." (Hebrews 4:13)

Because Christ intercedes for us in His office of high priest, we don't have to be afraid of going to God to ask for help and forgiveness. Jesus, like the high priests of the Old Testament, lived in the flesh. He knows the things we face in our daily lives. He knows how weak our mortal bodies are and how fearful our minds are and how much strength it takes to stand firm against temptation. Although He Himself never sinned, He understands how and why we end up giving in, so His intercession for us is mixed with the utmost sympathy. "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For 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. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Lest we say to ourselves, "Well, Jesus is God, so it was easy for Him not to sin," we need to stop and consider that Jesus was tempted more than anyone else who has ever lived. If Satan wants to derail God's plans for our lives, how much more must he have wanted to derail God's plan for Jesus' life? Everything past, present, and future hinged on whether or not Jesus perfectly fulfilled His purpose in life. This was the devil's one shot at destroying the plans of the One he hates most. If he could entice Jesus to vary in any way from the task set for Him, God's plan of salvation would fall apart. Mankind would be without hope. Satan had to go big or go home, so he threw everything he had at Jesus. We will never be able to imagine the enormous strain our Lord was under while He walked this earth as a man. I can't even get through the day without sinning, but Jesus withstood an attack of all the powers of hell. So yes, He sympathizes with us. He sympathizes with us in a way no one else can, and because of this He is a perfect great high priest for us. No one can intercede for us with the Father like He can. Because He is standing at our side to put on a defense for us, we can confidently approach God's throne with our regrets, with our needs, and with our pleas for help.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

In Honor Of Easter Sunday, We Will Look At The Resurrection Account That We Previously Studied From The Book Of Mark

Without the resurrection morning, no morning of our lives would have any real hope, as the Apostle Paul points out, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins." (1 Corinthians 1 15:17) If Christ had gone to the tomb and remained there, nothing would have changed for us. But He is alive forevermore, and He sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us who believe in Him, and because He lives we have a hope that can never be taken from us. To quote the Apostle Peter, a man who denied the Lord three times and who once believed the crucifixion meant the end of all his hopes, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade." (1 Peter 1:3-4a) Because Christ is alive, our hope is alive.

As soon as the Sabbath ended at sundown on Saturday, some of the women who were followers of Jesus got their spices ready to take to the tomb, "When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body." (Mark 16:1) These women are not expecting a risen Savior at the tomb; they're expecting a dead body. They are no longer certain who Jesus really was because they can't reconcile the idea of a dead Messiah with the King who will reign forever. All they know is that He did great things for them and for countless others. In return they want to do for Him what they can, so they intend to give Him the dignity in His death that He did not receive on the cross.

"Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, 'Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?'" (Mark 16:2-3) As they walk sadly toward the garden tomb, carrying a load of spices and an even heavier load of grief, the women wonder how they will gain access to the body. The stone covering the doorway would have been quite heavy; some examples of these stones still exist and they are estimated to weigh anywhere from 3/4 ton to 2 tons. Such stones were put in place by rolling them downhill into a groove in front of the door. The stone in front of Jesus' tomb would not only have been very difficult to move, but it would have had to be rolled away at an uphill angle. The three small women know they don't have the strength to do it. They've brought no men with them because the disciples are too frightened to appear in public. They may or may not know Roman guards have been posted at the tomb, but they can hardly expect the soldiers to be sympathetic to them. Nevertheless, although they have no idea how they are going to accomplish their task, the women set out to do it. Their faith might not be strong enough to believe in the resurrection, but it's strong enough to trust that God will help them to perform a final loving service to a man who served Him.

"But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away." (Mark 16:4) Matthew tells us that an angel rolled back the stone and that at the appearance of the angel the guards "shook and became like dead men". (Matthew 28:2-24) I don't know whether Matthew means the guards freeze in place out of fright or whether they actually pass out. Because the doorway is open to them, the women enter the tomb. "As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed." (Mark 16:5)

The women are almost as frightened as the soldiers at the sight of the angel. "'Don't be alarmed,' he said. 'You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.'" (Mark 16:6) The tomb was sealed and under guard until just a few moments ago. No one has tampered with it. No one has stolen the body of Jesus. Jesus was gone from the tomb before the angel rolled the stone away. The angel didn't roll the stone away to let Jesus out, but to let others in. He says something like, "You saw where His body was placed late on Friday afternoon. No one has had an opportunity to remove it. And yet, when I rolled the stone away from the door, He was already gone. This is the proof you need to believe He has risen just as He said He would."

Matthew tells us that while this is going on the guards run into the city to report what has happened. They appear before the chief priests, shaking like leaves on a tree in a high wind, and relate a hysterical account of the ground shaking beneath their feet and a man in shining clothes coming to roll the stone away and a tomb that cannot possibly be empty and yet is. This is the last thing the enemies of Jesus want to hear. Despite all their precautions, the body is missing. They have been unable to prevent its disappearance so now they quickly move into damage control mode. "When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, 'You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole Him away while we were asleep.' If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.' So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day." (Matthew 28:12-15) It was an offense punishable by death for a soldier to fall asleep at his post or to lose the person or object he was supposed to guard. Herod Agrippa put sixteen guards to death when an angel miraculously let Peter out of prison in Acts 12. The situation is dire indeed when a soldier would rather admit to sleeping on the job than tell the truth. The money involved must have been considerable. The assurances of the chief priests to keep them out of harm's way must have been trustworthy, perhaps because the soldiers know their governor (like them) will accept an enormous bribe and keep his mouth shut.

Back at the tomb, the angel is still speaking with the women, "But go, tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.'" (Mark 16:7) We cannot know for certain why the Lord worded His instructions to the angel in this way, "tell the disciples and Peter". Is it because Peter no longer considers himself worthy to be called a disciple? Is it because the Lord doesn't want Peter to think that when He says "the disciples" He intends to leave Peter out? Whatever the intention, this specific mention of Peter's name displays the awesome mercy of a Savior who still loves the one who has denied Him. This is the same mercy Jesus shows us when He says, "Okay, you messed up. You and I both know it. But I also know how sorry you are that you messed up. Let me pick you up, dust you off, and set you back on the path again. Don't keep lying there wallowing in self pity. Put your eyes back on Me and keep moving forward. We've got places to go together, you and I."

The four gospel accounts differ somewhat when describing the events at the tomb. None of the writers were actually there and so they had to relate the details as they were told to them by various participants in this earth-shaking drama. Mark concludes his account of the women by saying, "Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid." (Mark 16:8) Matthew doesn't tell us what the women did after speaking with the angel. Luke says the women did end up going to the disciples but that the disciples didn't believe them because "their words seemed like nonsense". (Luke 24:11) John says the empty tomb was reported to the disciples, but he only mentions the name of Mary Magdalene and not the names of the other women. (John 20:2) There's no reason for us to become unnerved by the slight differences in these accounts. Matthew and John were disciples but neither of them actually witnessed the early morning events at the tomb. When the women recovered enough from their experience to tell the disciples what had happened, Matthew and John, along with the other disciples, dismissed their tale as the ramblings of hysterical and grief-stricken women. (We must keep in mind that in those days the testimony of women was considered worthless. A woman could not appear in court, not even if she were the only person who witnessed a crime.) Because they did not believe the women, it's understandable that Matthew and John might not have remembered their exact words or the exact order of the events of Resurrection Day. This is no way casts any doubt on the resurrection itself.

In addition, Luke and Mark were not present at all during the events of Resurrection Day. Mark is believed to be the John Mark who was a cousin to Barnabas and who accompanied Barnabas and Paul on some of their journeys. He was probably a convert of the Apostle Peter, for when Peter is miraculously released from prison in the book of Acts we find him returning to the house of John Mark's mother where believers are gathered. Mark was not present at the resurrection and he didn't see the women finding the tomb empty and he wasn't in the room when the women told the disciples the tomb was empty. He relates the story to us as it was told to him by various participants. Luke was a Gentile who became a believer probably through the preaching of the Apostle Paul. Luke wrote his gospel account based on his interviews with eyewitnesses, and when it comes to eyewitness testimony we have to keep certain things in mind. For example: let's say ten people witness a bank robbery. All ten of them are going to remember that the bank was robbed. All ten of them will remember that the robbers wore masks and carried guns. But all ten of them may not agree on the exact order in which the events unfolded or the exact words the robbers spoke. This is what we have when we read the gospel accounts. Everyone agrees Jesus died on the cross. Everyone agrees that He was buried in a tomb. Everyone agrees that the tomb was empty on Sunday morning. Everyone agrees that the women were the first to find this out. Everyone agrees that Jesus appeared in the flesh following the resurrection and spent time with the disciples and others. Various miscellaneous details of Resurrection Day may differ here and there, but the fact remains that on Sunday morning the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead, everything is changed. Remission of sins, salvation by faith, and the hope of eternal life in the presence of the Lord became a reality. Hope was born, a real and living hope based on fact: the fact of the resurrection.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 11, A Sabbath-Rest For The People Of God

God invites us to rest. He tells us to "be still, and know that I am God". (Psalm 46:10) The author of Hebrews continues talking about people who did not avail themselves of God's offer of rest, then he speaks of how to make certain we too do not miss out on the Sabbath-rest of God's people.

We concluded yesterday with the author reminding us that God did not allow the rebellious generation to enter the promised land. He had done many mighty miracles among the people of Israel when He brought them out of Egypt and while He took care of them in the wilderness. Yet there were some who did not believe. We see the same thing happening in our world today. God could perform the same great works for two different people and yet each of them might have a different reaction to Him. One might believe on Him in faith; the other might reject Him. The promise of rest belongs to the person of faith, not to the one who remains in stubborn unbelief.

God is still working today, as the Lord Jesus said in John 15:17, but God has rested from His work of creation. He rested from this particular work because it was complete. So the writer says, "And yet His works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere He has spoken about the seventh day in these words: 'On the seventh day God rested from all His works.'" (Hebrews 4:3b-4) This quote is from Genesis 2:2. God had finished the job of creation, so He stopped. He sat down and regarded with satisfaction a job well done. If everyone He brought out of Egypt had believed and trusted in Him, they could have all entered Canaan together. Though much would have remained to do in conquering the tribes of the promised land, they could have taken a well-earned rest to be thankful to the Lord and to enjoy the feeling of having arrived. The same is true of us today. We could have peace and rest in our souls if we would just believe what God says. I'm as guilty as anybody of worrying myself to death over things and lying awake at night turning stuff over and over in my mind. The sad thing is, it doesn't have to be that way. If I'd just turn everything over to the One who created the universe and everything in it, and if I'd just trust that the One who did that can handle my problems, I could go peacefully to sleep instead of tossing and turning.

The writer makes it clear that those who didn't enter the promised land had no one to blame but themselves. God was angry with their unbelief because they had no excuse for it, so He refused them entrance to the "rest" of the promised land. "And again in the passage above He says, 'They shall never enter My rest.' Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it 'Today'. This He did when a long time later He spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: 'Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.'" (Hebrews 4:5-7)

God keeps making the invitation to enter into His rest. We aren't promised tomorrow, so today is the day to make things right with Him. The Lord gave the children of Israel forty years in the wilderness to make things right with Him; some did and some didn't. The time came when He did not plead any longer with the ones who persisted in rebellion. Their hearts were too hard for His words to penetrate. There comes a time in each person's life when, if he remains hard hearted, the words of the Lord won't have any effect on him. That person's conscience will no longer bother him. He will feel no guilt and will feel no need for a Redeemer. So, as the Apostle Paul said to the believers of Corinth, "Now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation." (2 Corinthians 6:2b) If you say "no" to Him too many times, you may become incapable of saying "yes" because your heart will be too hard. Tomorrow isn't promised to any of us, so there's no guarantee you'll get another chance. If you don't know Christ as your Savior, there's no better day than today to answer His call.

Though the entrance into the promised land signified a "rest", an even better rest was promised. This is why David, who lived many years after Israel entered Canaan, spoke of another day and another rest. David is the one who penned the words of Psalm 95 that the author quoted above in verse 7. If the entrance into the promised land were the complete fulfillment of the rest that God promises to His people, then David would have said nothing about it. But prophetically David knew there was more to it. By the Holy Spirit he was given a small glimpse of God's salvation plan, and he spoke of a beautiful rest that was yet to come. "For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from their works, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience." (Hebrews 4:8-11)

Joshua led the people into the promised land, which was a fulfillment of God's promise to the faithful ones of Israel. But Joshua didn't give them the complete fulfillment of God's promise of rest---he couldn't, because that rest is fulfilled by Christ. Christ is the One who leads us into peace with God, peace with our fellow man, and peace with ourselves. In Him we are complete, so just as God rested when His work of creation was complete, we receive a rest in our souls knowing our salvation is complete.

I want to rest from my works, don't you? Aren't we worn down by carrying heavy burdens day in and day out? Aren't our minds weary from turning our problems over and over in our minds? Aren't we sick and tired of feeling sick and tired? I think it's time we learned to be still and let God be God. Nothing in this world is really within our complete control anyway, so why not place all our problems and all our hopes into the hands of the One who is in control? This is the wisest thing we could do, and we will conclude with the words of Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Solomon said if we hold fast to wisdom (in Proverbs wisdom is the knowledge of God and obedience to God) we will be able to rest. "When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet." (Proverbs 3:24) Amen! Who wouldn't want that?

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.