Hebrews: Outside the Camp

“We’re New Testament Christians, why are we studying the Old Testament? This stuff doesn’t apply to us anymore.” “One reason,” I answered “is because the New Testament writers used it quite a bit in their books and letters.  If we want to understand what they were saying, we need to understand their references.” That’s what we’re going to do in today’s passage.

“The high priest carried the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp” (Heb 13:11). It was Yom Kippur, the most holy day of the Jewish year. The day when the sins of the nation were atoned for. It was a day for fasting and prayer and confession. It was the day that the slate was wiped clean and the people were declared righteous – at least until they sinned again.  The high priest took the blood of the slaughtered animal into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle/Temple as a sin offering and sprinkled it on the mercy seat of the Lord. The carcass of the animal would be carried outside of the camp/city to be burned because it represented the sin of the people. Sin must not be allowed to remain among God’s holy nation.

The writer makes the new covenant connection in verse 12: “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood.” Jesus was the sacrificial animal. Jesus’ blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat of the Lord. And Jesus was crucified and buried outside of the city of Jerusalem because He bore the sin of all humanity. And by His blood, those who believe and receive His atonement are made holy.

An interesting aside here is that the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus and had Him crucified at Golgotha because of His radical message. But by putting Him outside of the city proper they were unknowingly confirming that He was indeed the sacrifice for the sins of the people. Because his original audience was believing Jews, the writer urged them to “go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore,” symbolically rejecting the old ways of Judaism (v. 13).

As believers in Christ, you and I will often have to “go outside the camp” of popular opinion and cultural relevance, even within the church, to live in holiness. But we’re in good company. We’re out there with Jesus. Remember what He said: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).

Oh, and there’s one more reason why we need to study the Old Testament, even as New Testament Christians – because Jesus is all over it and all in it. It’s worth digging into the early texts to know Him better. All of history, including the entire Bible, is His story. It’s the greatest story ever told.

A Matter of Life and Death

Since I was a little girl, I have known and loved the story of Dorcas in Acts 9:36-42 – for obvious reasons. This was “my story” because, in my childish mind, she was me. I loved to tell about Dorcas, a kind and generous woman who loved the Lord and loved people.

Dorcas’ story has become mine for more reasons than just a shared name. Dorcas was a seamstress and I have also done a good deal of sewing. She used her talent to benefit her neighbors, and I have also sewed to bless others. And Dorcas died and was restored to life through the prayers of Peter. “Now, wait a minute,” you may be saying, “you have never died.” Well, I haven’t in the literal sense of the word, but I have in other hard ways. Dorcas died a physical death – I died emotionally and my very spirit became lifeless and gray. She was laid on a bed in an upstairs room. I have laid before the Lord in deepest pain and soul-rending anguish. When she died, Dorcas’ heart stopped beating and her breath ceased. I have had seasons of brokenness where my heart lay in shards and splinters around my feet and the simple act of drawing a breath was more than I could manage. Dorcas entered the darkness of death. I have been in the darkness of depression and despair – surrounded by the deepest hues of black.

But God restored Dorcas to life – and He graciously restored me too. He heard my prayers and my cries and sat with me in the dark and gloom. His Spirit spoke life to my spirit. His tender mercies restored the pieces of my heart and He breathed hope and peace into my lungs. He restored my soul. He brought light and He brought Joy.

This is for the one who feels dead in your soul today. You have cried an ocean of tears and you have given up on ever feeling alive again. Beloved, please hear my words and my heart: God will restore you back to life. That is His specialty. Bringing life from death. Making broken hearts whole. Bringing light into the darkness. Breathing hope and peace and Joy into your soul.

Please do not give up, Beloved. I died. God restored my life. He will restore you too. I am living proof.

I [Don’t] Got This!

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“You hang in there, girl. God will never give you more than you can handle.” I never wanted to call someone a liar as much as I did the woman who made that statement to me.  But I’m southern and we don’t call our elders liars, so I thanked her and hugged her, and flushed her counsel from my brain. While that may sound full of warm fuzzy faith, there’s not a shred of support for it in Scripture. The Bible is clear that God often gives us more than we can handle.  Paul said, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia.  We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death” (2 Cor 1:8-9a). Not so warm and fuzzy, is it? Friend, if you’re hanging onto that opening statement as a rock for your life, you are going to be very disappointed.

If you’ve walked with Him for very long you know that God indeed allows situations and hardships that are more than we can handle. He does it so that we will turn to the only One who can. Paul continued, “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (v. 9b). I almost stopped that verse after the comma but I realized that those last four words are pivotal to the passage. What is harder to handle than death? And who is it that overcame death? If you’ve got a problem that’s bigger than raising a dead man to life, then you may have reason to worry.

Paul goes on to say, “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us” (v. 10). He has. He is. He will continue. He has been faithful. He is still faithful. He will continue to be faithful.  Your circumstances do not define Him. He defines your circumstances. I can’t stress this enough – God WILL give you more than you can handle. But He will never give you more than HE can handle. Stop trying to carry it all yourself, Beloved. Hold tightly to God and He will carry it – and you through. That’s why it’s called FAITH.

Hebrews: Kill That Sin!

Last week as I was driving I spied something in the road up ahead. When I got closer I realized it was a vulture enjoying his road kill. I thought he would fly away when I got closer but all he did was take two hops to the other side of the road until I passed by and then he hopped back to his feast. I guess his appetite was greater than his sense of danger. Or he was just a fool.

The writer of Hebrews warned them about the dangers of ignoring the gospel, rejecting Jesus, and falling into apostasy and unbelief. Now he warns them about becoming lax about sin. He said, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:4). The fight against sin is a life-long struggle. We cannot let our guard down, even for a moment. We must remain diligent and ready for battle. Armor on. Sword and shield in hand.

In context, the writer was speaking against the sin of apostasy, of walking away from Jesus. His readers were facing persecution and even death for their faith in Christ. Many would sin by turning away from Christianity. They chose not to struggle with the temptation of apostasy, they just abandoned Jesus. They loved their lives more than they loved the Lord. But most of us (at least in the west) do not face the prospect of death for being a Christian – yet. But we do face sinful desires.

And let’s be honest. We don’t really struggle with our sin, do we? Oh, we may give a wimpy word of protest, but we still give in to it more often than we want to admit.  We call it a “stronghold” a “lifestyle” or even a “right.” David called it cherishing sin in our hearts (Ps 66:18). We also don’t look for “the way out” that God provides, because we don’t want to escape it (1 Corinthians 10:13).  Like the vulture on the road, we want to stay close by. And that’s dangerous. Deadly even.

It is time to be brutally honest about your pet sin.  It is not your friend.  Paul said we must, “put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed” (Col 3:5). You need to kill it, Beloved, before it kills you.

Hebrews: The Joy of the Cross

I always thought my mom was super-human. She could power through any sickness and keep going and going and going. Even when she was undergoing cancer treatments. I hardly slowed her down – until the end. Either she had an uncommon strength – or she was a mom.

I always imagined Jesus facing the cross with His divine strength in full force. Surely the Son of God just shut out the pain and powered through. But the writer of Hebrews refutes that thought. He said that Jesus, “for the Joy set before Him,  endured the cross, scorning its shame . . .” (Heb 12:2) Endurance implies difficulty. Jesus endured the difficulty of the cross. It was all very real to Him. He felt the nails rip through His flesh, crush His bones, and tear His veins open. He felt the sharp points of the thorns dig deeply into His head. He felt the whip shred the skin on His back. His shoulders screamed with firey pain every time He took a breath. Jesus felt it all. He suffered.

He also suffered shame. The cross was a disgraceful way to die in the first century. But the shame that Jesus endured wasn’t personal embarrassment; the writer said that He “scored the shame” of the cross. He didn’t consider it as humiliation, though it was. He endured the cross with Joy because His suffering meant our freedom. The shame He experienced was bearing all the sins of all mankind throughout all the ages. Adam’s sin. Eve’s sin. Cain’s sin. David’s sin. Hitler’s sin. My sin. Your sin. It was the shame of the Father’s face turning away from the Son because He can not look on sin.

But I found something mind-blowing when I dug into the words used in this verse. Jesus endured it all. But He didn’t have to. The secondary meaning of the word “endure” means “to remain, to not flee.” Jesus could have ditched the cross and escaped the physical, emotional, and spiritual agony. Then I understood His words when He was arrested: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt 26:53). Jesus could have escaped it all but He stayed. He suffered. He died. Why? To save you, Beloved.  The Joy set before Him was seeing your face in heaven. That’s how much He loves you.

All In

A hen and a pig were looking at the farmer’s breakfast plate, with toast, grits, eggs, and bacon. The hen strutted around saying, “Look at the hen’s contribution to this fine breakfast – see those eggs there on the plate!” The pig looked at the hen and said, “You hens make a contribution, but for us pigs, it’s an all-or-nothing commitment.”

“Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). Jesus has very high expectations for His followers. He doesn’t just want contributors, he wants people who will surrender it all to Him. People who will Joyfully “lose their life” for the Kingdom.

What does that really mean? When I study His Word – and look at the world – I realize that Jesus meant exactly what he said. I researched the words Matthew recorded and He said that those who deny Him are more concerned with keeping their earthly lives safe and sound and free from suffering and danger than they are with His Kingdom. (Have you noticed a “suffering” theme in my devotionals lately? That’s not my choice. I believe that God is preparing us for something.) And the life we lose – or destroy according to the Greek – is our souls. When we chose our lives over the Kingdom of God we throw away eternal life with Christ in heaven.

I’ve always heard to lose your life for Christ’s sake means letting go of everything that the world tells us life is all about. Certainly, it’s recognizing that whatever reward this temporal life offers – pleasure, fame, wealth, power, status, or intellect – cannot compare with all Christ offers. But losing our life literally means being willing to die for His Kingdom. We have the examples of the apostles and the martyrs of the faith who died with the name of Jesus on their lips. It’s not only about denying worldly attractions, but it’s being ready to face lions and swords and all manner of suffering – even death. It is trading the small sphere of this world for the much bigger eternal Kingdom of God. So I ask you, Beloved, are you making a contribution to the Kingdom of God or are you all in?

Hebrews: The Blood of the Lamb

As a Christian, I am fascinated by the history of Israel and the people of the Jewish faith – after all my Savior was a Jew. Every person God used in Israel’s history has an important story to tell. Like the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the great kings, David and Solomon. And don’t forget the rescuer of the Hebrew people. Every Jewish person knows the story of Moses. Christians who want to know the Lord better should too because he was a “type” of Christ, an early example of Jesus and His ministry. Maybe that’s why the writer of Hebrews devoted so much of “the Hall of Faith” to telling his story.

One point of Moses’ story that most parallels Jesus is in the Passover – an eight-day festival that celebrates the Jews’ escape from Egypt. It especially remembers the protection of the Lord from the tenth plague when God sent the death angel to every house in the land, and every firstborn son was slain – unless the mark was present. This is where Moses stood tall. “By faith, he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel” (Heb 11:28). It’s not just a dramatic story for Cecil B. DeMille’s movie. It is the most powerful, important truth in human history: personal deliverance only comes through the blood of the Lamb.

The Passover (pesach) lamb, a spotless, yearling, was slain and the blood was applied to “the sides and tops of the door frames of the houses” (Ex 12:7). When the “destroyer of the firstborn” went through Egypt, he “passed over” the Hebrews’ homes where the blood was applied. Consider the placement of the blood – on the top and sides of the door frame. Think about the cross where Jesus’ bloodied head and hands were positioned. The blood on the door frames foretold the blood of Jesus – the Lamb of God – on the cross.

What does all this mean for you? It means that if you have been covered by that blood, you are spared the condemnation due all sinful people. Moses had faith that the blood of the paschal lamb was enough to save the people. You and I can have faith that the blood of Jesus is enough to save us. God has made the way through the blood of the Lamb. He did it for His people. He did it for you, Beloved.

Hebrews: By faith Abraham . . .

“Abraham! Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love . . . and sacrifice him as a burnt offering . . . (Genesis 22:1-2).

As I meditate on Hebrews 11:17-19 (grab your Bible and read it) two questions come to mind: Why would God make such a horrific demand of Abraham and why would Abraham obey it? As I pondered those questions, two points emerge about Abraham and Isaac’s story.

To the first question, the author says that “God tested [Abraham],” (v. 17) and, as He often does, the Spirit whispered in my heart: “what does that mean?” The word “tested” actually has two meanings: to temp or to examine. How can you know which is happening? The difference is in the tester’s purpose: the devil tempts that the believer might fail God’s standards of faith and sin; God tests that He might determine and sharpen true character, with no desire of making the believer fail. God was examining Abraham’s willingness to obey Him, even in the most difficult requests.  Sometimes it’s difficult to understand who’s behind the test, but the way through is always the same. Keep your eyes on Jesus and your heart firmly planted in the Word. In either case, you will emerge with deeper roots of faith and a testimony of God’s power and goodness.

As to Abraham’s part, I never understood how he could willingly sacrifice his son until I studied his story alongside this Hebrews passage and Romans 4:18 – 20: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed . . . he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God.”  Did you catch it? Abraham believed the promise because of Who made it. He fully expected that God would still build a nation through Isaac and that meant Isaac would have to live. In his reasoning, he expected God to raise Isaac from the dead after the deed was done. But God stayed his hand at the last moment and provided a replacement sacrifice instead. The point is that Abraham’s faith was not in the promise – it was in the Promise-maker. And so must ours be.

Those are two solid truths you can build your life upon. God will never test you to make you fail and He will never make a promise He doesn’t intend to keep. Abraham is known for his great faith. Beloved, are you? Am I?

Hebrews: Broken Promises?

I’ve wrestled with a lot of Scripture in my lifetime. Some have been difficult to understand. Some have been hard to submit to. Some say things that just grate on my nerves. But the passage we’re looking at today has been one of the most challenging. The writer of Hebrews said, “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” (Heb 11:13). “But,” you wonder, “I thought you said that the foundation of faith is the faithfulness of God.” I did, I still do, and I always will.

So what are we supposed to do with this seeming contradiction? God is faithful, but these people didn’t receive what they were promised. There are things that I am convinced God has promised to me. Salvation for a lost loved one. A future as a real writer. From my current vantage point, neither seems likely, much less possible. What do I do? I wait. And I hope. How do I keep my hopes up in the waiting? By looking beyond what I can see and looking ahead to what I cannot see.

Abraham was promised a nation of descendants that outnumbered the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the beach. He died with eight sons (Ishmael, Isaac, and the sons Keturah bore to him – see Genesis 25:1-4) – and only one of those was the “promised son.” Not exactly a nation. He was promised land on which his family could settle. Abraham died in a tent owning nothing more than the plot where his wife was buried. Doesn’t sound like God kept His promises, does it?

One reason I struggle with this is because of the western perspective of individuality. In Abraham’s world, the deceased lived on in his descendants. Promises made were not limited to fulfillment in the individual’s life. It would be the sons of the sons of the son of the son of Abraham who would become a nation. It would be many more generations after that before they would take possession of the Promised Land. Abraham didn’t see it happen, but he believed with all of his heart that it would. That’s the kind of faith God can build on. Beloved, is that the kind of faith you have?

Just Obey

Joy has a fascination with our cat. Celina does not share the same feelings. She chases her, picks her up, and totes her around the house. All the while we are telling her to “Put that cat down!” It’s not that Joy doesn’t know she shouldn’t aggravate the cat. She has been told countless times to leave her alone. She has sat in her time-out chair multiple times and has taken a couple of swats to the behind over it. And she’s gotten a few scratches from said cat. She knows very well that she is not to harass the cat but she is determined to do it anyway. Joy has trouble obeying.

She is one small example of the human race. Paul said you and I know the reality of God. “What may be known about God is plain to them, because has made it plain to them” (Rom 1:19). And we know God’s law. It has been written on every person’s heart (Rom 2:15). We know what sin is; we are without excuse (Rom 1:20). We know that sin brings death (Rom 6:23). And yet we disobey. And we do so with pride. Why? Because like Joy, we want what we want and we will break every commandment on our way to get it. And we will pay the price for it.

There is a better way, you know. Just obey God’s Word. The Psalmist said, “I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands” (Psalm 119:60). When God handed down the law through Moses he didn’t say, “Here are ten suggestions for a happy life,” He said, “These are my commandments,” meaning they are not optional. Writer and speaker Priscilla Shirer said, “God doesn’t speak to be heard, He speaks to be obeyed.” Believe me, I am preaching to myself here. I know God’s law – I’ve studied it for many years, yet I still have trouble obeying at times. Like Paul, I know what is right, but I still do what is wrong (Rom 7:15-23). And if you’re honest, you will admit the same. There is great blessing in obedience. The Psalmist said, “I run in the path of your commands, for You have set my heart free” (Ps 119:32). Peace. Joy. Freedom. Beloved, let’s walk the path of obedience together.