Hebrews: No Sting in Death

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My mom passed away 34 years ago at the very young age of 57. In her last months, I was able to spend almost every day with her.  We talked about so much – sewing projects and her flower garden and recipes and memories. We talked about my friend who was expecting a baby. But we didn’t talk about heaven or Jesus or eternal life.  There’s no doubt in my mind and heart that my mom was saved and I believe I will see her – and my brother – in heaven someday. But she tried to keep our conversations light and I didn’t have the courage or knowledge to broach deeper subjects with her. After she died, I cleaned out her room – my last act of service from a daughter to her mother, I found a poem she wrote. The only line I remember is: “I looked into the darkness and no tomorrow could I see. . .” There was so much sadness in those words. She knew where she was going, but she also knew what she was leaving behind.

The author of Hebrews highlighted yet another reason why the Father would send His Son to earth to take on human flesh: “ . . . so that He might . . . free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15).  Who it is that fears death? The one who believes that life ends. The one who believes that there is nothing beyond this life. But for the believer, life doesn’t truly end. We simply change addresses – an earthly zip code for a heavenly one. 2 Corinthians 5:8 says “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (KJV).” And in the presence of the Lord is eternal life.  Jesus declared, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Paul asked, “Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).  It has lost its prick in the promise of eternal life. Even though my Mom didn’t want to leave her loved ones, she was not afraid to die. There was sadness in her poem, but the sting of death was gone. She may not have had another earthly tomorrow, but she has an eternity full of them.

Hebrews: Jesus in the Flesh

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Paul Harvey told a story about a man who didn’t believe in the incarnation – the humanity – of the Son of God. Sitting home alone after sending his family to Christmas Eve services, he heard thuds in his living room. Looking outside he saw that it was snowing and a flock of confused birds had flown into a large picture window in an apparent attempt to find shelter. He was concerned for them and remembered the warm barn where his daughter sheltered her pony.  He opened the barn doors and tried to shoo the birds in, even spreading breadcrumbs as a trail for them to follow but they remained huddled and frightened. He realized that they were afraid of him! They didn’t know that this huge creature was only trying to help them find warmth and safety. “If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.” Then he understood why God sent His Son in human flesh.

The author of Hebrews said, “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity . . .” (2:14a). John said, “The Word [meaning the Son of God] became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (1:14). Why? So that he could make God known to us (see John 1:18). Jesus came as one of us so that He could express God’s love and care to us – so that we could hear and understand that the Father only wants to save us. Jesus became a man so that He could lead other men to His Father and to eternal life.

He also came “so that by His death He might destroy Him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” (14b). Jesus came to fulfill God’s first promise “to crush the head” of the devil (Genesis 3:15).  “Every promise God has made is “Yes” in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20, paraphrased).

 Jesus became like us that we might become like Him. Holy. Righteous. Sons and daughters of God. Victorious over the devil. Not just in heaven but today and every day of your life. Beloved, this is your heritage in the family of God.

Jesus Loves Sinners

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In the days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples wondered what they should do. Jesus had appeared to them and they recognized that He was the living Son of God. But what now? They had received no direction from the Lord at this point. Was their ministry season over? Peter, carrying the additional weight of his betrayal, decided to go back to doing what he knew best, fishing. I understand him. I’ve been in a season where my life was full of ministry, then a fall in my character took it all away and I wondered if God was done with me. Just like Peter, I discovered that the Lord doesn’t give up on His people.

After a night of futile fishing, Peter and the disciples who had joined him headed toward home. A man stood on the shore and called out, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” (21:5) “No.” they replied. He then directed them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat, where they caught more fish than they could manage. That struck a memory in John. He knew that man on the shore! “The disciple whom Jesus loved said, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7).

Peter, the impetuous one, jumped out of the boat and into the water. The shame of his betrayal must have nearly drowned him. But to Peter’s credit, he didn’t try to dodge Jesus. He was oblivious to everything else but his Lord.

It is so easy to fall into sin; even the greatest saint is one temptation away from the pit. What do you do when the dust clears and you’re standing there in the aftermath of your failure? Judas refused to come to Jesus for forgiveness. But Peter splashed his way to Him. We don’t have a record of those few private moments before the rest joined them, but I have this picture of a repentant Peter standing on the shore, dripping with water and tears. Oh, the blessed, tender heart of Jesus. He forgave His rebellious disciple and restored him fully.

Beloved, have you fallen into sin? Have you stumbled in your walk? Do not sit in your guilt. Do not run away in your shame. Run to Jesus. He has promised, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). He stands on the shore waiting for you with forgiveness and restoration in His hands.

Hebrews: The Family Resemblance

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One of the greatest pleasures of my life was being part of the FSU college ministry through my church. I felt so blessed to have their feet under my table. We had American students and students from Russia, China, Korea, India, and other points around the globe. They were our kids, and many of them called us “Mom” and “Dad,” and my son called the guys his “brothers.”

In a previous post, we talked about the true identity of a “child of God.” It’s not the whole of humanity as many popular singers and authors want to claim, but it is salvation through Jesus Christ that makes you part of the family of God. What is the defining family trait? Holiness. The author of Hebrews said, “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are bring made holy are of the same family” (Hebrews 2:11).  He’s talking about Jesus – and us who believe in Him for eternal life. If, as Paul said in Romans 8:29, God’s purpose for us is to be transformed into the image of His Son, then it means we are “being made holy” as He is holy. It is our life-long mission and the essence of the child of God.

What is the glorious result of holiness? “So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers” (v. 11b). (And yes, ladies, we can include ourselves in that statement. Jesus is not sexist.) The author adds some support from Psalms and Isaiah, one of which is another answer to our ongoing question: “Why did God send Jesus to die for our sins?” He quotes Isaiah 8:18: “Here am I and the children God has given me.” God sent Jesus that He might have sons and daughters from His creation. The amazing truth about this is, Jesus is presenting to God the very ones God has given to Him.  Listen to His prayer recorded in John 17: “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me . . . they were yours; you gave them to me” (v. 6).

Someday Jesus will present all believers to His Father as His brothers and sisters and children. The family resemblance will be unmistakable. No, not physical traits, but holiness, a measure of which should be evident in us today. May we always bring honor to the family name. Beloved, can others see your big Brother in you?

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?

Love

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1 Corinthians 13:7 says “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

That’s a beautiful sentiment for a wedding day. With stars in our eyes surrounded by family and friends and “white lace and promises,”[1] we pledge our love forever. But love – real love – is for far more than wedding days. This verse – in fact, all of the “Love Chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13 – is not just flowery prose, it is the mark of a follower of Christ. Jesus said that the world would know that we belong to Him by our love (John 13:35).

Some people are easy to love. Some not so much. The truth is, love – this kind of love – shows up the best in difficult relationships. Do you have any of those? I’m pretty sure we all do. And to be honest, there are times when I’m the difficult one. So how do we maintain love when it’s hard?

First, looking at these words we find that love always stands with the beloved and covers their failings with mercy and grace. (Note: that does NOT mean we tolerate abuse. If you are in an abusive relationship run now to safety.) Love believes the best of and for the beloved and acts on those beliefs, love looks ahead to a good outcome and love endures to the end. How different from the world’s throw-away response to hard relationships. How different from our own human nature.

Then, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The simple truth about love is that we only do it because God did it first. He declared His love for us at the cross of His Son, when we were covered with sin and unworthy. “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  We don’t wait until they “get their act together” to love them. We love them while they are a work in progress.

Is it easy? No. But I am confident that if we follow this prescription in difficult relationships, amazing things will happen. How do I know that? Because “Love never fails” (v. 8 )

Do you know why I always call you “Beloved?” Because God loves you. Now, go love someone today.


[1] We’ve Only Just Begun by the Carpenters @ 1970 – written by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams

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?

Hebrews – The Son of God

I’ve decided our Hebrews study will be twice a week – Mondays and Thursdays. I don’t want to rush this rich book.

The main subject and star of this amazing book is Jesus. There are lots of heroes in Hebrews – we’ll get to those later, but there is only one who commands the whole book. His name is Jesus. And the first thing we learn about Jesus is that He is the Son of God and as the Son, he is “the radiance of God’s glory . . .” (Heb. 1:3a). Jesus doesn’t just reflect God’s glory – His majesty and brightness – He shares it. Because He is God. He has always been fully God and fully divine, even when He was also fully man. It’s one of those mysteries that theologians have pondered for centuries. I can’t explain it either, but the Scriptures are clear on it so we will take God at His Word.

Jesus is also “the exact representation of His [God’s] being”. (v. 3b). The image the writer drew is of an “engraving or carving that is a precise reproduction in every respect.” People often remarked about how much our son favored his Dad, and now how much our granddaughter favors her Daddy.  In the south, we would say that Jesus is “the spitting image of His Daddy.” But it’s not a physical resemblance. He has His Father’s mind and heart and spirit – because they are one. While there are many ways that my son resembles his Dad, there are also many ways that he does not – that he is “his own person.” There are no differences in God the Father and God the Son except Jesus’ human body while He was on earth. At the core of both, they are exactly the same. Even down to His sustaining power and His Word. Paul echoed these thoughts, saying that Christ “is the image of the invisible God . . . and in Him, all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15, 17).

 Jesus said to His disciple Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). The Old Testament is chock-full of God’s call to “know the Lord your God.” Because to know Him is to believe in Him and love Him – forever. Jesus prayed, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (Joh 17:3).  In a world that says there is no God, or that God is whatever you want him to be, Beloved, you need to know the truth. There is a God. If you want to know Him, you will find Him in Jesus.  

Glory!

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Why did Jesus die? To atone for our sins, yes. To bear the curse of mankind, yes. To bring redemption to lost sinners, yes. But what if there’s more to it than that. Reading John 17:1-5 and something jumped out at me.

Glory.

Five times in these verses Jesus speaks of glory.

“Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (v. 1).

“I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (v. 4).

“And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (v. 5).

Jesus began His prayer by saying, “Father, the time has come.” Because we know “the rest of the story” we automatically think he means the time for His death had come. But these verses tell us Jesus had a much different focus. The time had come – not for death – but for glory!

In fact, not once in those five verses did Jesus even mention death. He spoke of eternal life and the work given to Him by the Father. He talked about making known “the only true God.” But death? Not a word.

The cross was the plan. Glory was the purpose.

But how can the cross bring glory to the Godhead?

By lifting high the Son of God so that all men can see Him and believe and have eternal life. God sent His Son to die for you and me, and in His death and resurrection by the Spirit, to glorify the Father and the Son. I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to shout . . .

Do not be Afraid

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As an aged priest performed the ritual of burning incense, an angel of the Lord appeared and spoke the first words that heaven had uttered in four centuries: “Do not be afraid” (Luke 1:13). God knows His creation so well. He knows that, because of the curse of sin, we live with fear. Fear makes us run. Fear makes us hide. Fear makes us cry out. Fear makes us worry.  So the very first thing God said after 400 years of silence is “Do not be afraid.”

I wonder this morning who needs to hear those words. I know I do. Every day the media bombards us with murders, hate, riots, and disease. Every day it seems evil becomes stronger and good withers away.  Every day satan stokes the fires of fear with his lies.

When fear tries to overtake me, I do two things. First, I ask God to flood my mind and heart with His peace. I don’t mean peace that sticks its head in the sand and ignores the realities of life. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and [here it is again] do not be afraid” (John 14:27).  Then He gave us the basis for this peace: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16: 33). We can have peace in this world because Christ has overcome the world and all the things that make us afraid. Trouble is a reality, but trouble cannot defeat the Lord Jesus Christ nor His people.

The second thing I do is remind myself of the wonderful, all-consuming, love of God. 1 John 4:18 says, “Perfect love casts out fear,” and the love of God is a perfect love. Maybe that’s why the angel spoke those words as his greeting to Zechariah. Perfect love was coming from heaven to the earth.

Beloved, whatever fear has gripped your heart, grab hold of these two things: Jesus has overcome the world and God loves you. That ought to fill your heart with peace.