Hebrews: Turn Around

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“Turn around. Don’t drown.” “Turn back. Bridge out.” Road signs tell the driver one thing: you need to reverse course. You need to change your direction. You are on a dangerous path. They are signs we would do well to heed. The Bible also puts up signs that call us to make a change in the way we are going. Scripture calls it “repentance” and we would also do well to heed these warnings.

The writer of Hebrews focuses on one aspect of repentance in his discussion of elementary teachings: “Repentance from acts that lead to death” (6:1) Remember that he has been talking to “lazy” believers who are unwilling to grow in the matters of the faith. They are content with surface knowledge – just enough to make sure they escape hell. You know, fire insurance.  Our author says that this is a foundational truth. I wonder if 21st-century Christians understand it at all.

What is repentance? Paul described it like this: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret . . .” (2 Corinthians 7:10). It is a spiritual and moral change of attitude toward God which turns an individual from sin to God. It is recognizing the dangerous road we are on, how we got on it, and turning back to God. Repentance must have both sorrow and turning. We are often sorry for our behavior (well, let’s be honest, we’re sorry we got caught), but that doesn’t mean we turn back to God.  The Prodigal Son is the perfect expression of repentance.

So what does “acts that lead to death” mean? Other translations may say, “dead works.” This is referring to anything man does in an attempt to save himself. Remember that the readers were largely Jewish, and Judaism had 613 commandments – expounded from the original ten commandments that God had given Moses. These – including circumcision – were the Jew’s “gateway” to salvation. Do all the right things in all the right ways and you will be right before God. The problem was, no one could be right before God even if they followed every jot and tittle of those 613 rules. In the same way, non-Jews cannot be right with God by being “good enough.” Because we never will be.  

Salvation has never been about what we do or don’t do. It is always and only about the work that Jesus has done on the cross. Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Christus. Grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Beloved, it’s not too late to turn around. God will always welcome repentant sinners home.

The Measure of Love

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When I am being a little lazy and I want something to drink, I’ll ask my husband “How much do you love me?” He will answer “With all my heart.” Then he’ll ask, “What do you want?” I’m really not trying to “measure” his affection, besides, there’s no tape measure long enough to gauge love.

Paul said, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19.

How high is the love of God? Psalm 103:11 says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him.” Man may have climbed to great heights through space exploration, but we have yet to pierce the highest heavens. God’s love exceeds heights man can never reach.

How long is the love of God? Jeremiah 31:3 says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” God loved us before time began, and He will continue to love us throughout all eternity. His love for you and me will never end.

How deep is the love of God? “Jesus Christ, being in very nature God…made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness…humbled Himself…to death” (Philippians 2:6-8.) Jesus Christ stepped from the glory of heaven and humbled Himself all the way to the depths of the grave for you and me.

How wide is the love of God? “Carrying His own cross, He went to the place of the Skull. Here they crucified Him” (John 19:17-18) Jesus willingly stretched His arms out to their full span, so His hands could be cruelly nailed to the cross.

Beloved, you will never be able to measure the love of God, but you can trust it. It’s a firm foundation on which to build your life, and it’s a sweet, soft pillow on which to rest your head at night.

Hebrews: When God Says “No.”

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“We’re going to pray, and God will give us the funds for this new building,” the preacher bellowed, and the crowd, whipped into a frenzy shouted their agreement. “Yes!” “Amen!” “Hallelujah!” I, however, did not. The woman beside me said, “What’s the matter? Don’t you believe God can do it?” “Oh, I believe God can do it, I just don’t believe He’s obligated to do it.”  She looked at me like I had two heads and turned her back to me. Please don’t misunderstand me, I absolutely believe that God answers prayers – He’s answered more than a few of mine recently.  But some of my prayers are still hanging, and for some of my prayers, the answer was “No.” God knew better. God always answers according to what He knows is better – what fits His good, pleasing, and perfect will (Romans 12:2). Sometimes that means we don’t get what we pray for. Even Jesus got a “No” from His Father.

In our last Hebrews devotional, I left you in the Garden of Gethsemane, listening to Jesus plead with His Father, “Take this cup from me . . .” Let’s leave quietly and head back to Hebrews 5 to see how it came out. The writer said, “He was heard.” Jesus’ word did not fall to the ground nor fall on deaf ears. His Father heard His prayers and pleading. So Jesus got what He wanted, right? After all, the Father listened to His Son “because of His reverent submission” (v.7b). Yet you know the rest of the story. God said “No” to Jesus. And He knew He would – the eternal fate of the entire human race hung in the balance. If God had saved Jesus from the cross, you and I would be lost forever.

What do we do with those “Nos?” The same thing Jesus did. “He learned obedience from what He suffered,” (v. 8a). We accept the “No” as coming from the heart of our loving, gracious, all-knowing Father and submit to Him in obedience without grumbling. Are we disappointed? Sure – and we can take that disappointment right back to Him and say, “I’m surrendering this to You because I trust You, but my heart is hurting.” God honors honesty and “He heals the brokenhearted” (Psalm 147:3).  Whether the answer is “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait,” you can trust the heart of your Father, Beloved. It’s the same heart that said “No” to His Son so that He could say “Yes” to you.

Hebrews: Jesus, Man of Sorrows

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I’ve been told I am a “strong” person. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I appear strong because I do a pretty good job of hiding when I am falling apart, although some of you have learned to read between the lines. Like you, I have cried and yelled and begged God to change certain things in my life. Like you, I have struggled with depression and anxiety and despair.  But you and I are in good company.  Even the strongest person in human history came under the weight of emotional affliction.

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death . . .” (Hebrews 5:7). If you didn’t know who Jesus was, you would probably think that this guy went into whatever he was facing kicking and screaming all the way. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. Luke said, “As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (9:51). Jesus walked toward the cross with determination. But the Scriptures are clear that it was a terrible strain on Him.

Of course, you know that this verse is speaking of His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His arrest. Jesus was “very sorrowful and troubled,” even “to the point of death” (Matt. 26:37, 38). He said, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour” (John 12:27). Luke said His anguish as He prayed produced “sweat like drops of blood falling to the ground” (22:44).  He pleaded, Abba, Father, everything is possible for you Take this cup from me” (Mark 14:36). I’ve prayed much the same thing, and I am sure you have as well.  The difference is, you and I bear much smaller burdens compared to Jesus, who was feeling the weight of the sin of the entire human race being piled on His shoulders. Isaiah called Him “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). So when the author of Hebrews says that Jesus, our great high priest can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (4:15). it is because He also felt the weight of despair. It was one of the most “human” moments in Jesus’ life.

I’m going to leave you right here, Beloved, in the Garden with Jesus, watching Him cry to His Father. But know that He was not lost to despair, nor are you and I. When we return to Hebrews, we will see that this very human moment is also a moment of divine glory.

Hebrews: A Sabbath Rest

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Several years ago, for seven seasons, my son and I served as collection center coordinators for Operation Christmas Child in Tallahassee, Florida. We received thousands of shoebox gifts and prepared them for transport and processing. It was wonderfully fulfilling and we enjoyed it tremendously. But the end of collection week I was completely drained. Yet I got up the next day and went to my office. It was an exhausting week, but I didn’t take a day off to rest because there was still work to do.

In Hebrews 4 (read vs. 1-11) the author spoke of the Sabbath rest the Lord offers His people. Drawing from the creation account he said, “On the seventh day God rested from all His work” (Heb. 4:4; Genesis 2:1). Did He rest because He was tired after six days of creation? No. The author said, “His work has been finished since the creation of the world” (Hebrews 4:3). God’s rest was not inactivity, it was completion. God rested because His work was done.

How does this connect to the Israelites and to us? Return to the desert where the Lord told Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites” (Numbers 13:1). Did you see it? God had already promised them the land – it was a done deal. All they had to do was go in and take it. But they saw the enemy rather than the completed promise. They “hardened their hearts” (Heb. 4:7). God responded by saying “They shall never enter my rest” (3:11; 4: 3,5).  Likewise, salvation is also a completed work. Remember Jesus’ final words from the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30). Jesus’ death completed the work of salvation. There is nothing left for us to do to be saved. We receive what has already been accomplished.

There’s an even greater rest yet to come. Our writer said, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience” (4:9-11). Look at Jesus’ words at the new heaven and the new earth: “It is done” (Rev. 21:6). What is done? Creation is done. Salvation is done.  God’s plan of the ages is done. Beloved, don’t miss out. It’s all been done for you. Believe it. Receive it. And rest.

At the Feet of Jesus

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“Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair” (John 12:3).

I often think about the feet of Jesus. Those ten tiny toes kicked against the swaddling clothes as He lay in a manger. Those feet carried Him into the lives of sick children, broken, sinful women, and demon-possessed men. People fell before the feet of Jesus to plead for healing for themselves or someone they loved. And every time Jesus responded with compassion, He never walked away from those who needed him. His feet took Him to teach on the side of a mountain and the lakeshore. They carried Him up to Golgotha where Roman soldiers nailed them to a cruel, wooden cross. His nail-scarred hands and feet were the proof of His resurrected body before His disciples.

All His glory was bound up in that human body with human feet that carried Him to souls in need of mercy, freedom, grace, and life. He walked into my life with those beautiful feet bringing good news, peace, and salvation to this weary sinful woman.

There is one more place in Scripture where we see the feet of Jesus. Zechariah 14:4 says “On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west.” When Jesus Christ returns to earth in all His glory, His feet will touch down on the Mount of Olives – the place where He surrendered His will to the will of the Father (Luke 22:39-42) – and His glory will be so great that the mountain will split in two. Those beautiful feet will stand atop the mountain, and those scars that spoke of the humble servant of God will now shout of the mighty King of kings. “The Lord will be king over the whole earth” (Zechariah 14:9).

The feet of Jesus bring us healing, wholeness, freedom, and life. The feet of Jesus bear the marks of His great love for you and me. His feet that once bore nails will one day bear power – earth-shaking, mountain-breaking power. And at His feet, all of humanity will fall in worship and proclaim that He is Lord.

Beloved, have you invited Him to walk into your life?

Hebrews: The Atoning Work of Jesus

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Last night I let my granddaughter play in the bathtub with washable paint. When it was time to get out she looked around and announced, “I made a mess!” I replied, “Yes, you made a pretty mess, but we can clean it up,” as I grabbed the pop-up wipes. She wanted to help clean up, but with her still paint-covered fingers she just spread the red paint even more. I had to clean her up before we could finish cleaning the bathtub.

The author of Hebrews identified yet another reason that God sent Jesus to earth – “That He might make atonement for the sins of the people” (2:17b). That’s not a common word in the non-Jewish church today, but it’s the heart and soul of Jesus’ ministry. Atonement is the work of Jesus on the cross by which our sins are forgiven. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot for which I need forgiveness. I am grateful to the depths of my soul for God’s mercy on this wretched sinner. But atonement provides even more. It also allows for reconciliation between God and sinners.

I unknowingly did something awful to a friend once. It broke her heart, and when I realized what I did it broke mine too. I begged for her forgiveness and she gave it, but she said she could never be my friend again. I was forgiven but still shut out. Atonement provides both forgiveness and reconciliation. Through Jesus, you and I are clean before God and we are welcomed as His beloved child.

We’ve made a mess of our lives with sin, and like Joy in the bathtub, the more we try to clean ourselves up, the bigger the mess becomes. Only the atoning blood of Jesus can wash away all our sins and allow us to stand before God in a righteous state. I love the definition of “atonement” that I heard in a children’s sermon: “at one ment.” Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are “at one” with God – as we were “me[a]nt to be.”

Beloved, are you at one with God?

Hebrews: Am I a Child of God?

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The humanity of Jesus has long been a point of contention among scholars, theologians, and skeptics. It is difficult to grasp the idea that Jesus is God. A man. The divine in human flesh. It raises so many questions. Why would God subject His one and only Son to the frailties of a human body?  Why would He send Him away from perfection in heaven to walk with sinful men? Why would He impose death on His own Son for such sinful, ungrateful creatures? The author of Hebrews gives us several points in these next eight verses.

We’ll start here: “In bringing many sons to glory . . .” (Hebrews 2:10a).

God’s plan was to “bring many sons to glory,” to bring lost human beings into His eternal family. You have probably heard someone say “We are all God’s children.” It’s a nice sentiment, but it isn’t true. We are all God’s creation, but only those who have trusted in Christ as their Savior are God’s children. Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister . . .” (Matthew 12:50). What is the will of the Father?  “My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life . . .” (John 6:40).  The children of God believe in the Son of God. God’s desire is not to build a household of servants or an army of soldiers or a cult of mindless followers, but a family. Jesus’ death and resurrection are His means to accomplish that goal.

How do you know if you’re a child of God? If you “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7). If you “obey His commands” (2:3; 5:3). If you “walk as Jesus did” (2:6). If you “love your brother” (2:10; 3:10, 11; 4:21). If you do not “love the world” (2:15).  If you “do what is right” (3:10). If you “love with actions and in truth” (3:18-19). If you “acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come from God” (4:2). If you believe “that Jesus is the Christ” (5:1). If you “do not continue to sin” (5:18).

The only question then is, Beloved, are you a child of God?

Hebrews: Don’t Ignore Jesus

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Have you ever received a message and found another message lurking “between the lines?”  Sometimes reading the Bible is like that. That’s why careful observation is vitally important in Bible study. Hebrews 2:1-4 is one of those message-behind-the-message texts. You recall from our last devotional when the author of Hebrews cautioned his readers to “pay more careful attention . . . to what [they] have heard” because they were in danger of drifting away from the truth. They were about to forsake Jesus for a false “salvation.” He wanted them to think about the reality of their salvation in Christ and stand firm in the truth. The underlying message throughout Hebrews is a warning not to abandon faith in Christ.

“For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation” (Heb. 2:2-3a). The “message spoken by angels” was the Old Testament Law, which carried tremendous weight. Violation of even a single command brought punishment and demanded an elaborate system of sacrifice and atonement. What’s more, those who deliberately violated God’s Law faced death (Num. 15:30).  The gospel story is that a new covenant is now in place and Jesus has taken on the punishment we deserve, even to the point of death. If we ignore this great salvation Christ offers, we will not escape our due punishment. What a terrifying prospect to face a holy God without the blood of Jesus!

If, the author continues, the old covenant that came via angels was binding and every sin was punished, rejecting the salvation of the new covenant carries an even higher penalty – eternal condemnation – because it came through the Lord Himself. He added, “God also testified to it by signs, wonders, and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will” (v. 4). It’s as if he said, “Don’t take my word for it, look at the evidence of all Jesus did and all His followers did through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

The message of salvation through Jesus alone has the weight of heaven behind it, the authority of Christ within it, and the power of the Holy Spirit Spirit through it.  Beloved, I implore you – do not ignore Jesus. “There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

What Is a Christian?

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How do others know you’re a follower of Christ? Is it your “Daughter of the King” T-shirt? Maybe it’s the fish on your car or posting Jesus memes on social media. Perhaps it’s how you rail against sins you would never commit. Do these things say you are a Christian? No more than sitting in a garage says you are a car. There are three things that Jesus identified as marking His followers.

Love – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Twice: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” ((John 15:12). And again: “This is my command: Love each other” (15:17). Three times Jesus said, “Love one another.” And this is the only time in all four gospels that Jesus called His words a “command.”

Fruit – “This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8). Fruit is the evidence of what something or someone is. A peach tree bears peaches. A banana tree bears bananas. A Christian bears the fruit of the Spirit: love (there it is again), Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Persecution – “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). If you belong to Christ, you have a target painted on your back.

The church wants to say it is all about doing and saying the right things. The world says it is approving all kinds of sin for the sake of “love.” But Jesus said the mark of a Christian is love for the Body of Christ, producing fruit, and being hated by the world. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little uneasy right now. Beloved, what is it about you that tells the world you belong to Jesus?