Friday, May 31, 2019

The Letters Of The Apostle John. Day 2, The Lord Is Faithful And Just

Today John warns us not to deceive ourselves. We are sinners. If we are sinners, then we need the Savior. And if we acknowledge our sinfulness and our need for Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us when we confess our sins to Him.

John, and the other apostles, knew the Lord personally. When John speaks of the Lord, he's sharing things he heard with his own ears and saw with his own eyes. "This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5) If we think anything is wrong with God, the fault is in us, not in Him. We often hear people passing judgment on God, but this is because there is darkness in the human heart. It's true that we don't always understand what God is doing or why He allows certain things to happen. But our lack of understanding doesn't mean that God isn't good. Are we always happy with the choices He makes? No. But by faith the only thing we can do is to trust that if we knew what He knows we would make the same choices. To refuse to serve the God we cannot completely understand is to remain in darkness.

Since the Lord is light, we who belong to Him should be fulfilling the calling of being "the light of the world". (Matthew 5:14) If we are not living in a way that honors the Lord and attracts others to Him, we must ask ourselves whether we have truly given our hearts to Him at all. "If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth." (1 John 1:6)

"But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin." (1 John 1:7) When we walk with someone we are on our way to somewhere. Walking daily with Jesus means we are continually growing in our relationship with Him. It means that He is working to make us more like Him and we are allowing Him to have His way with our lives. We will never be perfectly sinless while we live in these mortal human bodies, so John speaks of the atoning blood of Christ. On the basis of our faith in what Christ did for us on the cross, we can ask for and receive forgiveness. The closer we walk with Christ, the sooner we are going to realize it when we mess up, and the more eager we are going to be to confess our mistakes. This is the evidence of a transformed life---that we can no longer wallow comfortably in sin. If anyone claims to have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, yet there is no evidence of a transformed life, we must question whether conversion took place at all.

"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8) The most dangerous thing we can do is lie to ourselves in regard to sin. The Lord can't help us if we don't acknowledge our sinfulness. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners"(1 Timothy 1:15), and if we can't accept and admit we are sinners, we can't come to a saving knowledge of Christ. You've probably heard the expression often used in addiction programs, "The first step is admitting you have a problem." The first step toward a transformed life in Christ is admitting we have a problem. If we can't admit we have a problem, how will we ever accept the solution to our problem? Christ came to save sinners, and if we refuse to admit we are sinners, we are going to refuse Him as our Savior.

But the good news is that mercy is just one step away. When we take that first step and admit to ourselves and to Christ that we have a problem, He is ready and willing to help us. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) This mercy is not a one-time thing. He extends saving mercy to us when we come to Him in faith and accept Him as our Savior, and then for the rest of our lives He extends mercy to us when we realize we've made a mistake and ask His forgiveness for our mistake. This doesn't mean we have freedom to sin. Repentance means a deliberate turning away from the thing that is wrong. It means experiencing a genuine sorrow in our hearts over that sin and a true desire to stop committing that sin. There are some sins that grieve us so much that we commit them only once. Then there are sins we struggle with over and over. But if we stay as close to the Lord as we should be, we will never get to the point of feeling comfortable with sin. From the depths of our souls we will say to Him, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." (Luke 18:13)

The Lord has called us sinners because that is what we are. So if we claim we aren't sinners, we are calling Him a liar. "If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word is not in us." (1 John 1:10) If we claim we are not sinners, the word of God is not in our hearts, for the word of God clearly states that we are sinners. If we are not sinners, why did Christ come to save us? If we are fine just as we are, there was no need for Him to suffer. Claiming we are not sinners is in complete opposition to the gospel message. Therefore, if anyone claims to be sinless, he is denying the very gospel that is capable of saving him.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Letters Of The Apostle John. Day 1, The Word Of Life

We begin our study of the three letters of the Apostle John today. These are believed to have been written somewhere between 85 AD and 100 AD in Ephesus. We can narrow down the date somewhat by keeping in mind that Emperor Domitian, who would later exile John to Patmos, died in 96 AD. Therefore, if John is writing from Ephesus, he is writing prior to 96 AD. Domitian held very strictly to Roman religion and customs, but although he was opposed to any beliefs that contradicted his own, he was not known to have persecuted the Christians in a manner similar to Emperor Nero. Banishment was Domitian's preferred method of ridding the empire of any persons whose doctrine he considered immoral, divisive, or a threat to national security.

The dating of John's letters mean he is writing them after the fall of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD. It also means he is writing during an era when false doctrines, such as gnosticism, were becoming prevalent. Gnosticism arose near the end of the first century AD and it was considered by the church to be the worst of heresies. In fact, this heresy is what prompted John to write his letters of warning to the church, for gnosticism made the claim that Jesus Christ did not inhabit a human body but only appeared in the form of a human so He could be seen. This contradicts the very foundation of the gospel message, which is that the Lord Jesus Christ (fully God) became flesh (fully man) and offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sins.

Gnostics also believed that the soul was basically good and that nothing done in the body really mattered, which contradicts another tenet of the gospel message: the fact that we are all sinners in need of salvation. If nothing we do in the body matters, why were sacrifices of atonement ever necessary? And if atonement wasn't necessary, then when Christ suffered in our place He suffered for nothing.

Not only did the gnostics deny that the things done in the flesh really matter, but they proclaimed that only those who attain higher spiritual knowledge could achieve any type of relationship with the Creator. This also goes against the gospel message by asserting that salvation is by works and not by faith. The word "gnostic" comes from the Greek word "gnosis" which means "knowledge". If only those initiated into the deeper secrets of religion can ever hope to attain salvation, then this makes Jesus' offer to "whosoever will" a lie. If man must work toward his own salvation, and if most who work toward it never reach their goal, then what was the point of the coming of Christ? What did Christ achieve through His suffering? Many of these early gnostics claimed to believe in Jesus Christ, but their very doctrine denies this.

Keeping these things in mind, we can easily see why John opens his first letter by firmly asserting that Christ inhabited a human body that is as real as your body and mine. He can testify to this because he saw Christ in the flesh with his own eyes. During the years of Jesus' ministry, John witnessed Him becoming thirsty, hungry, and tired. John interacted with Jesus in the same way we interact with our fellow man. He knows the Lord Jesus inhabited a body of flesh and blood and bone, so he sets this matter straight right off the bat. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched---this we proclaim concerning the Word of life." (1 John 1:1) We can see the similarity between these words and the words John wrote when he penned his account of the gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:1,14)

Do we have any doubts that the people we interact with on a daily basis are inhabiting a human body? Of course not, because all the proof is right in front of our eyes. John is saying the same thing: all the proof that God the Son came to earth in a human body was right in front of his eyes. A spirit doesn't get thirsty and hungry. A spirit doesn't become weary and need to take a nap. You can't put an encouraging arm around a spirit or give a spirit a hug, which are things that John and the other friends of Jesus likely did. And, above all, a spirit can't be beaten, nailed to a cross, or pierced through the side. A spirit can't bleed and die. Jesus endured all these things, and John witnessed them, and his testimony can be trusted.

We don't have to just take John's word for it. All the other disciples knew Jesus in the flesh. All the other disciples knew He died on the cross and was buried in a tomb. All the other disciples, with the exception of Judas, interacted with Him following the resurrection. The resurrection body, immortal though it was, was also comprised of flesh and blood and bone. (Luke 24:39) The Lord Jesus was able to be touched following the resurrection, proving that it was not just His spirit that rose but His body also. Jesus was even able to eat in His resurrected body. Can a spirit eat? No, but a human being can, so John sets out from the very beginning to put to rest any false doctrine that claims that Jesus did not come into the world in the flesh and that He did not rise from the dead in the flesh.

Because John knows what he knows, and because the other disciples know what they know, he puts forth his testimony and theirs. "The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us." (1 John 1:2)

John is busy fulfilling the great commission which Jesus bestowed upon believers by saying, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15, Luke 14:23, Acts 1:7-8) It is the Lord's will that everyone hear the gospel and be saved, so John is working hard to get the gospel message to as many people as he can.

John wants his fellow human beings to be saved. This should be what we all want. It should be the greatest desire of our hearts that others would have what we have found in Christ. "We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete." (1 John 1:3-4)

Just as the Lord Jesus wants everyone to accept Him so they can be with Him for eternity, (John 14:3, John 17:24) we ought to want everyone to accept Christ and be with Him for eternity. When we find something good in this life, don't we recommend it to others? We often tell others about a good deal that's available at a store or about a restaurant that serves good food. How much more should we want to tell others the good news of the gospel?

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 45, Equipped To Serve

We conclude the book of Hebrews today with some final instructions and a prayer for the Lord to equip us to do His will. The conclusion of this book sounds very much as if it was written by the Apostle Paul, and as we said at the beginning, Paul has long been considered one of the primary candidates for authorship of the book of Hebrews. We can't be one hundred percent certain it was written by him, but what we do know is that the author is a Jewish Christian who is writing to other Jewish Christians. We know he is writing from Italy. We know he is a friend of Timothy. We know he is writing in a time prior to the destruction of the the temple, for he speaks of the priests and the services they perform at the temple in the present tense, so this book was written no later than the mid to late 60s AD.

The author is clearly one of the leaders of the church. We can tell because he speaks with the confidence, experience, and authority of one who has been ministering to fellow Christians for a long time. He urges his readers to respect and obey the teachings of the leaders of the church. There is much they can learn from these old soldiers of the cross. "Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you." (Hebrews 13:17) He says, "Don't make it difficult for these shepherds to lead the flock. They are working hard to show you how to live godly lives."

The author next asks his readers to pray for him and for the other leaders of the church. Sometimes we think we're being selfish if we ask prayer for ourselves, but the apostles often asked other Christians to pray for them. The Lord Jesus prayed for Himself on the night before the crucifixion and I feel certain He prayed for Himself also on the many other occasions when He went out alone to pray. There's nothing wrong with praying for ourselves or with asking others to pray for us. "Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon." (Hebrews 13:18-19) We don't know what is preventing the author from visiting his readers at this time. It could be that he's currently under arrest for the sake of the gospel. Or it could be that church matters in Italy are so pressing at this time that he is not free to travel. Either way, though he cannot visit the Jewish Christians at this time, his heart is with them. He longs to see them and he wants them to know it.

The following benediction is one of the most beautiful prayers of the New Testament. It is a prayer we can freely pray for any believer, and it's a prayer we ought to pray for fellow believers---and for ourselves. "Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you for everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen." (Hebrews 13:20-21) There is no true peace unless we are at peace with God, and He made a way for us to be at peace with Him through Jesus Christ. From eternity past, God always intended to carry out the plan of salvation, so it was as good as done even during the ages when Christ had not yet been made manifest. This covenant, secured by the blood of Christ, is good for all eternity future. And now that we are in Him, we are to follow His example and be about our Father's business. We are to help others find the peace with God that we have found in Christ. Our greatest desire should be that everyone would come to know Him as their Savior.

"Brothers and sisters, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for in fact I have written to you quite briefly." (Hebrews 13:22) This is one of the verses that makes me lean heavily toward the authorship of Paul. We know he was very wordy, so I can't help wondering who else but Paul would think that thirteen chapters is quite brief.

"I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you." (Hebrews 13:23) Timothy has evidently been held in custody for the sake of the gospel, but he is now free and intends to visit the author of this letter. If he arrives in a timely manner, it appears that the author thinks he will be able to go with him to visit the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews. Again, this lends credence to the theory that the author is Paul, but it doesn't settle the case conclusively.

"Greet all your leaders and all the Lord's people. Those from Italy send you their greetings." (Hebrews 13:24) The author is currently residing in Italy, most likely in the city of Rome. We know the Apostle Paul was in Rome during the mid to late 60s AD, but Luke and several other early leaders of the church were also there with Paul at that time. If the author is not Paul, it is someone who is going through the same struggles and who is performing the same hard work as Paul, and he clearly has the authority and the experience to address the Jewish Christians as someone who has been in the faith for a long time.

"Grace be with you all." (Hebrews 13:25)

***Since we didn't study the books of the New Testament in order, we have already looked at 1st and 2nd Peter and at the epistles of James and Jude. The only books that remain to study are the epistles written by the Apostle John and the book of Revelation. We will begin with the epistles of John tomorrow. Some years back we did an in-depth study of Revelation and we will be taking a fresh look at it after we conclude the letters of John. I'm excited to go through Revelation again, and we are going to do it in such an easy, step-by-step fashion that we are going to dispel any myths that this book is too difficult to understand. We are going to come away from our study of Revelation with a clear understanding of what is going to take place in the future, and we are going to be able to look forward to that future with a great deal of anticipation and hope.***

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 44, Identifying With Jesus, Part Two

We are in the final chapter of the book of Hebrews and the author has been reminding us how to be more like our Savior. In Friday's passage he spoke of having love for one another, of ministering to each other, of refraining from being sexually immoral, and of keeping ourselves from being motivated by greed.

Today he speaks of respecting and following those who are good examples in the faith, of not being seduced by false doctrines, of being willing to suffer for the name of Christ, of being generous to others, and of always maintaining an attitude of praise toward God.

"Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Hebrews 13:7-8) The gospel we have accepted does not change, the word of God does not change, and the Lord Jesus Christ does not change. We must not compromise in any of these areas, for if we do, we are going astray. If any teacher or preacher promotes a doctrine that does not line up with the word of God, we must reject their message. Everything we are taught should be compared with the Holy Bible, and we should not attend a church or listen to a program where things are taught that contradict what the Lord has said.

"Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat." (Hebrews 13:9-10) Eating certain foods or avoiding certain foods is not going to make us more holy. We don't need to mix laws of the old covenant with the grace of the new covenant. When the Lord called the Gentiles to faith in Christ, He instructed the Apostle Peter (and by extension He instructed everyone) to preach the gospel to Gentiles and minister to them. This meant entering their homes, something a devout Jew like Peter was loathe to do. This meant eating at their tables, a thing which made Peter (raised under the law) very uncomfortable. Under the old covenant the Gentiles were indeed unclean, and the Jews were forbidden to mix closely with them for good reasons, since the Gentiles lived in idolatry and immorality. But now Jews and Gentiles who are in Christ are of the same family and therefore they are free to eat at the same table, even if the food on that table includes items which the Jews were previously forbidden to eat. Christ has made these believers clean from the inside out and nothing they eat or refuse to eat is going to change that. As the Lord Jesus Himself said, "What goes into someone's mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them." (Matthew 15:11)

The author is telling his readers, "Don't become caught up in the rules and regulations of the old covenant. Those who are trying to persuade you to do so are not living in the grace in which you are living. They are still trying to obtain righteousness through works. You will not profit by falling under the influence of those who try to persuade you that now that you've been saved by grace you must place yourselves under the law."

If we are going to follow Jesus, we must be prepared to suffer for His name. "The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood. Let us, then, go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come." (Hebrews 13:11-14) Those who reject fellowship with Christ will reject fellowship with Christians as well, and we must be prepared to deal with the attitude of those who hate us because we are His followers.

The type of suffering that most often ensues is ridicule or exclusion. I don't personally know anyone who has been beaten or imprisoned or martyred for the name of Christ, although there are places in the world where believers are suffering in this manner. But there's no doubt it will cost everyone something to follow Christ. He warned us about this ahead of time, telling us that since the world hated Him, the world would hate us also. He said that since the world persecuted Him, it would also persecute us. (John 15:18-21) There are people who will dislike us for no other reason than that we are Christians. We are going to be excluded and avoided by certain people because we follow Christ. We may be passed over for promotions because our superiors at work look down on us for believing in Christ. Our opinions and suggestions may be ignored and rejected, even when they are reasonable and good, simply because there are people who think followers of Christ are illogical. But the Lord Jesus Christ was willing to identify Himself with us, and out of reverence for Him we should be willing to identify ourselves with Him and bear the scorn that so often comes along with proclaiming His name.

We are to be filled with thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us. We no longer have to bring sacrifices of atonement to the Lord, since Christ has made the one and only sacrifice we will ever need. We are only to bring Him a "firstruits offering" in the form of our praise, and as a "thank offering" we are to treat others as Christ would treat them. "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise---the fruit of lips that openly profess His name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased." (Hebrews 13:15-16)

Friday, May 24, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 43, Identifying With Jesus, Part One

As we begin the final chapter of Hebrews, we are reminded of all the ways Jesus identified Himself with us. He became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14) He was tempted in all the ways we are tempted, yet He did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15) Though He committed no sin, He suffered the penalty of sin for our sake. (Isaiah 53:4-5) Considering all He has done for us, it's a small thing to ask that we live lives that honor Him and that we bear bravely the scorn and ridicule that often falls on those who profess His name. If we belong to Him, we should be like Him.

How can we honor our Lord? First of all, we must love each other. "Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters." (Hebrews 13:1) Love is the proof that we belong to Christ, for He said, "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34b-35)

We are to demonstrate a generous attitude toward others. "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2) Abraham and Lot are examples of men who entertained strangers only to learn later they were actually angels. Even if we never entertain angels, it's important to treat everyone with the love of Christ. The way we treat them may have a lasting impact on their lives.

We are to minister to those who are suffering. "Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering." (Hebrews 13:3) In the author's day, many Christians were imprisoned for proclaiming the gospel. There are still places in the world today where professing Christ comes with the danger of imprisonment---or worse. The believers are not to distance themselves from those who are being unjustly treated, but are to visit and encourage them. Jesus said that failing to minister to our fellow man in this way is the same as failing to minister to Him. (Matthew 25:45) In addition, it's not only those who are unjustly imprisoned to whom we are to minister, but also those who have been sentenced appropriately for their misdeeds. Prison ministries have led untold numbers of people to Christ. There are members of my own church who were saved while in prison. Where would these people be today if there had not been believers who cared enough about them to come to the prison and share the gospel of Christ with them?

We honor the Lord not only by how we minister to others, but by how we lead our own lives. Our lives should be a testimony to the transforming power of Christ. Our private lives and our public lives should match up. If someone were to carefully scrutinize us, they should not be able to conclude that we are secretly living in immorality. "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral." (Hebrews 13:3)

We must not be greedy and covetous. Naturally we want to make a living and provide for our families, but that's not the type of financial goals the author is referring to when he says, "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.' So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?'" (Hebrews 13:5-6) The author is talking about having an unhealthy love of money, the kind of love the Apostle Paul spoke of when he said to Timothy, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and have pierced themselves with many griefs." (1 Timothy 6:10) This is an idolatrous interest in wealth. It leads people to compromise their beliefs. They will do things that are in direct opposition to the word of God in order to make more money. Jesus warned us about placing more importance on wealth than on our relationship with the living God, "No one can serve two masters...You cannot serve both God and money." (Matthew 6:24)

Money is not what provides security in life; the Lord is our security. Heaping up riches won't protect us from the troubles that befall everyone else. Wealth won't hold our marriages together, or keep our children from getting on drugs, or prevent us or our loved ones from having health problems. We can't place more value on money (or on anyone or on anything) than we place on the Lord. He is the One who holds all things together. He is our Provider and Protector, which is why the Lord Jesus says, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." (Matthew 6:33)

***I will be going out of town to visit my mother-in-law in South Carolina for several days, so we will pick back up with the blog on Tuesday.***

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 42, Do Not Refuse The Lord

Since the Lord has done everything possible to secure our salvation, nothing but a dreadful fate awaits us if we refuse His offer. The author of Hebrews has previously talked about the fact that anyone convicted of sin under the Mosaic law faced harsh penalties. If breaking the law of Moses was a serious offense, the author asked, "How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10:29) Today we are reminded of the gravity of our situation. We are sinners in need of a Savior. A Savior has been provided for us. If we reject Him, there is no acceptable sacrifice for our sins.

"See to it that you do not refuse Him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away Him who warns us from heaven?" (Hebrews 12:25) In Chapter 12 the author has been talking about the event that occurred when the children of Israel reached Mount Sinai. The Lord spoke from the cloud while the earth shook and while smoke and fire bellowed from the mountaintop. Yet shortly afterward, while Moses was on the mountain with God, the people rebelled against the Lord who had brought them out of Egypt and they made a golden calf to worship. Three thousand people died as a result of their refusal to worship the Lord. If their offense was serious, how much more serious is it to refuse to worship the holy Son of God who has done everything possible to offer us salvation? People often incurred grievous penalties on earth for breaking the law, but rejecting the Son of God has consequences on our earthly lives and on our eternal souls.

Looking back to the day when God addressed the nation from Mount Sinai, the writer says, "At that time His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, 'Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.'" (Hebrews 12:26) This quote can be found in Haggai 2:6. In the second chapter of Haggai we find the Lord referencing the event at Mount Sinai and the giving of the first covenant. But the Lord also appears to be speaking of a new covenant, for He says, "In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come." This verse is generally understood by mainstream Christian scholars to be a reference to the coming of Christ. Christ is the One who is "desired by all nations". The entire creation eagerly awaited His advent, just as the entire creation eagerly awaits the final redemption of all things. (Romans 8:19-21) What has shaken the world more than the advent of Christ? In Acts 17 we find it said that the gospel message has turned the world upside down. The gospel message has continued to turn the world upside down to this very day. Our souls were created to worship Christ, and this is the primary desire of our souls. Some reject Christ, it's true, and try to fill up the empty space in their souls with other things. Some even try to numb the sense of emptiness with various addictions. But nothing other than Christ will ever satisfy our souls, because communion with Him is what we were made for.

"The words 'once more' indicate the removing of what can be shaken---that is, created things---so that what cannot be shaken may remain." (Hebrews 12:27) Many scholars view this verse as a reference to the destruction of the temple that was not far off in the writer's day. The old order of things was about to disappear. The old covenant had been done away with in Christ, and now there was no more need for the sacrificial system or the Levitical priesthood or the law. The new covenant, and the age of grace, has come. Since Christ is the King of an eternal kingdom, nothing can ever do away with the new covenant. It will stand forever. Old things were done away with to make room for the new. The old covenant had its purpose, but the new covenant is superior.

"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire.'" (Hebrews 12:28-29) The author quotes Deuteronomy 4:24. That chapter deals with the nation's acceptance of the law and their agreement not to fall into idolatry. The Lord warned them: "Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that He made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God." (Deuteronomy 4:23-24) If the consequences of forgetting the terms of the old covenant were dire, how much worse will the consequences be if we do not keep the terms of the new covenant? How much worse is our fate if we reject the best God had to offer us: His Son?

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 41, Mount Sinai Versus Mount Zion

The author uses Mount Sinai and Mount Zion as symbols of the old covenant and the new covenant. Just as the new covenant is better than the old, and just as the priesthood of Christ is greater than the Levitical priesthood, we find that our new relationship with God (through Christ) is far superior than the relationship that mankind was able to have with God before the advent of Christ---our great high priest.

"You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: 'If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.' The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, 'I am trembling with fear.'" (Hebrews 12:18-21) This incident occurred in Exodus 19 when the children of Israel, after being rescued from Egypt, reached Mount Sinai. The Lord told Moses to consecrate the people for two days because on the third day He intended to speak to Moses in their presence. He told Moses to warn them not to approach the mountain or touch it. On the third day, the Moses assembled the people and the Lord descended on the mountain in fire and smoke, with a loud blast of a trumpet, and the earth shook. The Lord then spoke to Moses from the cloud of smoke, and Moses and all the people trembled in fear. The presence of the holy and righteous God was so pure that if any mortal being had approached the mountain or even touched it with their little toe, His glory would have burned them up.

This is how holy God is, that no man can see His face and live, that no man can approach the awesome cloud of His glory and survive it. This is why, when Christ calls His church out of the world, we will all be changed. (See 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) Our weak and mortal flesh cannot stand in the presence of God, so we will be given a body like Christ's.

Is the God of the old covenant the same God as that of the new covenant? Of course He is, but under the new covenant we are able to relate to Him in a new way. We have at last seen Him in the face of His Son, and His Son intercedes for us in ways no mere mortal priest ever could. When the Son gave His life on the cross, the Lord tore the veil of the temple in two, granting us access to Him like never before. This is why the author now compares the new covenant to Mount Zion---the mountain of grace, not fear, "But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel." (Hebrews 12:22-24)

Only Moses was allowed to approach God at Mount Sinai. But when Christ took His blood into the Most Holy Place in heaven, He granted us access to the very throne of God. Instead of shaking with fear like the people at the foot of Mount Sinai, we have been granted the right to come into the presence of God and address Him as "abba" (daddy). (See Mark 14:36, Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6) Christ has consecrated us in ways we could never consecrate ourselves, so instead of fearing we will be burned up by the presence of God, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence, knowing that God our Father will give us the mercy and grace we need. (Ephesians 3:12, Hebrews 4:16)

Considering all this, why would we want to live under the old covenant? Why would we not want to embrace the new and better relationship we can have with God through Christ? Let's have the attitude of the Apostle Paul, who said, "One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13b-14)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 40, Holy Living

Because we belong to Christ, and because we should be following His example, we should strive daily to live holy lives. If we belong to Him, we ought to look like Him. If we are grateful for the mercy He's shown us, we ought to honor Him with the way we live our lives.

The way we interact with our fellow man says a lot about whether we are living as close to Christ as we should be. "Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord." (Hebrews 12:14) Not everyone is going to want to be at peace with us, but that doesn't remove our obligation to maintain a peaceful attitude toward them. This is why the Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Romans, "If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (Romans 12:18) The Lord knows there are people who would argue if somebody told them the sun came up this morning, so He realizes that we sometimes have to deal with people who don't want to get along with anybody. The best thing to do is to refuse to become embroiled in disputes. Agree to disagree. Walk away from a tense situation. Jesus knew what it was like to be opposed, yet we never saw Him shouting on the street corners or stomping His feet in a rage or shaking with anger and making threats. He simply told the truth of God and let the chips fall where they may. His listeners were free to accept or reject the truth, but He never allowed Himself to fall into an undignified argument.

We are taking the high road when we refuse to sink to the level of those who are angry and bitter and who want to start quarrels with everyone around them. Would we have been able to respect the attitude of Jesus if He had behaved just like those who made fun of Him? Will unbelievers respect our faith if we behave like people who don't know the Lord? It's going to be very difficult to get anyone to listen to our testimony about the Lord if we don't appear to be anything like Him. How can we tell somebody He's transformed our lives if we don't look like we've been transformed?

"See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." (Hebrews 12:15) God has shown us indescribable grace through the Lord Jesus Christ. How then can we refuse to show grace to our brothers and sisters in Christ? Bitterness should not be allowed to spring up among believers. Strong friendships have broken up because of disagreements over how to best organize church functions or about who gets picked to teach certain classes or oversee certain charitable duties. Feelings get hurt and the next thing you know there are people who won't even speak to each other. This is not how God wants His children to behave. We have no right to hold grudges and to withhold grace from our brothers and sisters. We are instructed instead to, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32)

The author now addresses the issue of sexual immorality in the church. If we are going to live holy lives, we must keep our bodies holy. I'm seeing a growing trend in the church of turning a blind eye to the fact that some members are living just like unbelievers when it comes to sex outside of marriage. There are couples who are openly living together without benefit of marriage. In other cases, engagements keep dragging on with each person still maintaining a separate residence for appearance's sake while enjoying all the physical benefits of marriage without actually ever taking their marriage vows. Unplanned pregnancies outside of marriage are now taking place among believers almost as often as they are taking place among unbelievers. More and more Christian couples are divorcing because one of them has been unfaithful. Divorce rates among Christians are about the same these days as they are among unbelievers. Living like this dishonors the Lord who shed His blood for us. The world ought not to be able to find anything sexually immoral to talk about when it comes to members of the Lord's church, so we are commanded: "See that no one is sexually immoral." (Hebrews 12:16a)

The writer of Hebrews moves on to the example of Esau who set a bad example of how to live a holy life. We must never treat our salvation as though it is something cheap or as if the grace we've received is something to be easily thrown aside when it suits us. This is how Esau regarded his birthright. The birthright involved far more than the biggest share of the inheritance from his father. The birthright placed upon him the responsibility of being the spiritual leader of the family. Esau lived in the days before the priesthood was established, so he would have had to perform the duties of high priest for his family. But he didn't have it in him. There was nothing in his heart that desired to know God. He didn't aspire to be close to God or to help his family be close to God. He was carnally minded instead of spiritually minded, so much so that he casually gave up his birthright for a bowl of soup. This is how little the awesome privilege meant to him of being offered the job of interceding with God on behalf of his people. We are cautioned not to "godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done." (Hebrews 12:16b-17)

In rejecting the birthright, Esau was rejecting God. Even though he felt sorry later, God did not offer him a second opportunity to be the spiritual leader of the family. Did God forgive Esau? I'm sure He did if Esau's repentance was spiritual sorrow and if it was not just sorrow over losing the material inheritance, but this doesn't mean that God was obligated to reinstate the birthright. Jacob, though he obtained the birthright by deceitful means, wanted to know the Lord. Something in his heart yearned for a relationship with the living God, and although he wasn't yet the kind of man who could set a spiritual example for the family, someday he would be. God knew He could mold and shape Jacob into the man who would become the father of the nation of Israel. In contrast, Esau's descendants (the Edomites, later also known as the Idumaeans) grew further and further away from the one true God. They became so spiritually and morally reprehensible that they openly opposed the descendants of Jacob at every opportunity, to the point that God vowed to make an end of them. (Ezekiel 35:15) Where are the Edomites/Idumaeans today? They cannot be found. But where are the Israelites? They are still a mighty nation. When we honor God, God honors us, and this is plainly shown to us by the difference in how God has dealt with the godless Edomites and with the faithful Israelites.

If we treat the grace of God lightly, we are going to miss out on great opportunities. During our study of the book of Hebrews we've taken a look at ordinary people who did extraordinary things. How did they do these marvelous things? By scorning the grace of God? Or by being grateful to Him and by remaining faithful to Him? When we live in opposition to God's word, we are treating His grace as if it's a disposable commodity. He is not obligated to bless children who are living in disobedience to Him; in fact, as we studied yesterday, God disciplines those who are His. Do we want to be in a position to be disciplined or in a position to be blessed? Let's take heed, then, how we go about our daily lives. Of course we all mess up from time to time, but God knows our hearts. He knows when we are genuinely sorry for losing our tempers or for having impure thoughts or for looking too much like the world and not looking enough like Christ. If we are truly grateful for His grace, we will be quick to repent as soon as we realize we've made a mistake. And when we do that, we have this promise: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

Monday, May 20, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 39, Look At Hardship As Training

Now that he's given us many encouraging examples to follow, the author of Hebrews reminds us that hardships come into our lives for various reasons. He uses the word "discipline", a word that tends to make us think of punishment. Sometimes God does send hardship into our lives in order to correct us, as we will see today. Other times He allows us to go through tough times in order to make us stronger, as we will also see today. Think of it this way: when you want to get into better physical shape, what activities help you reach your goals faster---easy exercises or difficult exercises? Spiritual muscle works the same way. It's not built by hopping over the easy hurdles, but by climbing the mountains.

In yesterday's passage the author told us to keep our eyes on Jesus for encouragement, for He endured more than we ever have endured, and yet He stayed strong. This is where we pick up today with the writer saying, "In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." (Hebrews 12:4) He's saying something like, "Why do you become discouraged so easily? Doing the right thing hasn't cost you what it cost Jesus."

We can't expect everything to go our way in this world. We will have to fight against the temptation to do wrong. We will have to face hardships too---sometimes because we've brought them on ourselves by sinning against God, other times because God is using hardships to accomplish a purpose in our lives. Whatever the reason for our tribulations, the author quotes the words of King Solomon to point out that we are to accept these situations in the right spirit. "And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, 'My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and He chastens everyone He accepts as His son.'" (Hebrews 12:5-6, Proverbs 3:11-12)

A father disciplines his own children, not other people's children. Have you ever seen someone else's child throwing a major tantrum in the middle of the aisle at WalMart and thought to yourself, "If he was my kid he'd be getting a spanking about now."? But of course you don't do anything about the tantrum because he is not your child and you'd get beaten up by his parents (or even arrested by the police) if you tried to discipline him. In this same way, God disciplines only those who are His children. He doesn't overstep and discipline those who don't belong to Him and who are out in the world behaving badly. Of course bad things often happen to people who are living in sin, but the majority of those bad things are happening as a natural consequence of their actions. The remainder of the bad things are either a result of simply having to live in a fallen world where things go wrong, or as a result of God allowing bad things to happen in order to turn them to repentance. If they do not ever repent, God will indeed judge them, but in the meantime their hardships are not a result of being disciplined by God the Father, because He is not their Father. They have not allowed Him to be their Father, although He wants to be.

If God never disciplines us either in order to correct bad behavior or in order to train us to be stronger and more faithful, then we don't belong to Him. "If you are not disciplined---and everyone undergoes discipline---then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all." (Hebrews 12:8) Everyone who is a child of God will be disciplined by the Father. That's what a good father does.

The author now points out that we have no right to resent the discipline of our heavenly Father anymore than we have the right to resent the discipline of our earthly fathers. "Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in His holiness." (Hebrews 12:9-10) When we were kids, did we think our fathers had no right to discipline us? Of course not, because we knew they had our best interests at heart. We knew it was their responsibility to bring us up in the right way. I was a stubborn, willful child and my father often got very frustrated with me. I was the baby of the family and it was more often his habit to indulge my whims than to discipline me, but sometimes I gave him no choice. I knew he was in the right when he finally resorted to spanking me or removing a privilege from me. Would I have respected him if he let me get away with anything and everything? I don't think so. How could I? In the same way, would we respect our heavenly Father if He allowed us to repeatedly and purposely violate His instructions? I don't see how we could.

Our earthly fathers sometimes give us difficult tasks to accomplish. These are not intended as punishment but to train us for the future. As we grow physically, we are given more and more responsibilities in the household. God works the same way. As we grow spiritually, we are given more and more responsibilities in the household of God. No one wants their child to live an unprofitable, stagnant life. God doesn't want this either, so He trains us to keep on doing bigger and better things. It's not always going to be fun when given large tasks to complete, but it's going to accomplish a purpose. "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:11)

If we accept correction and training from our Father in the right spirit, it won't discourage us. It won't make us resentful. Instead it will put us in a position to be helped and to be made better than we would have been otherwise. "Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 'Make level paths for your feet,' so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed." (Hebrews 12:12-13, Proverbs 4:26) Again the author quotes words that King Solomon said to his own son. Discipline and given by a good father is never intended to discourage a child and make the child give up. It's intended to help the child grow into a mature and talented adult who is capable of handling responsibilities in a godly way. The discipline and training are coming from a loving heart and we accept it as such. We must also accept the discipline and training from God in the same spirit. His intentions are pure. His goal is to use difficult tasks and hard times to make us into stronger, more mature children who have been trained to choose the good over the evil.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 18, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 17, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 16, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 13, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 31, Let Us Draw Near To God

Under the old covenant, no one but the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place in the wilderness tabernacle and later in the temple in Jerusalem. Christ, in His office as our great high priest, took His blood not into the earthly Most Holy Place, but into the Most Holy Place of heaven itself. Now we can all draw near to God and have access to Him in a new way, for when Christ gave up His life on the cross, God reached down and tore the temple veil in two to signify that now there was no barrier between Himself and mankind. (Matthew 27:51) Through our faith in Christ, our prayers go directly to the throne room of Almighty God (the holiest place there is). We are able to speak with God in a new way: on the basis of our relationship with His Son. He will never turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to anyone whose life and whose sins are covered by the blood of Christ.

"Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water." (Hebrews 10:19-22) The high priests of the old covenant never entered the Most Holy Place with boldness. They knew they were weak and mortal men who were coming into the presence of a holy and righteous God. They knew they were coming into His presence with nothing but the blood of animals to serve as a temporary covering for their own sins and for the sins of the people. They knew they owed their own blood for their sins and that it was only the mercy of God that allowed animals to stand in for man year after year. The hearts of these priests must have been pounding so hard that they felt faint. Their knees must have been knocking together in fear. At this point, they'd done all they knew to do to sanctify themselves well enough to stand before God, but they couldn't be certain that they didn't harbor something unholy in their hearts. In that case, they knew that being struck dead in the Most Holy Place was a very real possibility. Ancient Jewish tradition states that the high priest had a rope tied to his ankle so that if he died in the Most Holy Place he could be pulled out, since no one would have been able to enter to retrieve his body.

But Christ, unlike the other high priests, entered the Most Holy Place with all the confidence that belongs to the perfect Son of God. He didn't tremble and feel faint when He presented His blood to God. Christ knew He had never sinned. He didn't have to repent of His own sins and sanctify Himself before making an offering to God on our behalf. Because His perfect sacrifice covers us, we too can go into the presence of God on the authority of Christ (not on our own authority) and on the basis of our relationship with Christ, and receive mercy and grace. (Hebrews 4:16) Our hearts have been sprinkled with His blood, as the author said above in verse 22. Our bodies have been washed by "pure water", as the author says in verse 22, likely referring to the baptism we undertake after accepting Christ, for this public practice symbolizes what has taken place on the inside.

Because we have been made new by Christ, and because He will never break a promise to us, the author urges us to stand firm in the faith. As the people of Christ we have a hope that can never be taken away from us. He is going to do for us everything He has said He will do. "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful." (Hebrews 10:23)

In addition to encouraging ourselves in the Lord, we are to encourage those around us. "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another---and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:24-25) How can we encourage each other if we never meet together? In these verses we can clearly see that we are commanded to be in church. We are told to add our physical presence to the body of believers. Just as the Bible tells us it was the habit of Jesus to be in the synagogue on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16), we are to attend church services and other types of gatherings where believers are present. We are living in a fallen world where we face trials and temptations every day; if we don't band together and support each other we are far more likely to fall into discouragement and to fall into sin. Attending a gathering of believers and finding out that prayers have been answered is one of the best ways to feel more hopeful about our circumstances. We can then say to ourselves, "If the Lord fixed Tom and Susie's marriage, He can fix mine too," or, "If the Lord brought Ellen's wayward prodigal son home, He can transform my wayward daughter's life," or, "If the Lord healed Frank of his serious health problems, He can heal me too."

Believe me, one of the things Satan wants most is to separate us from the body of believers. He's a roaring lion who is looking for the one who strays from the herd, because the one who drops behind the rest of the group is easier to pick off. So stay in church. Meet with a small prayer group on a regular basis. Spend time talking with and giving encouragement to fellow Christians. Let them give encouragement to you. Pray together over each other's needs. It's amazing how much your faith will grow when you do what Jesus did---when you make being in the Lord's house a habit.