Hebrews: Awe and Wonder

Quick! What are you thinking about right now? Right now, I’m thinking about the pain in my knee. I’m thinking about my next course coming up in two weeks. I’m thinking about all the things I didn’t get done this weekend added to all the things I need to do this week. I’m thinking about getting Joy to her nanny and me to work on time.  

The writer of Hebrews said, “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (3:1). One of the first things we learn in Bible study is to pay attention to the word, “therefore” and ask ourselves, “what’s it there for?” Therefore always refers us back to the previous text – in this case, the author has just listed eight reasons why God would send His one and only Son from glory to earth. He is saying, in light of all that Jesus is and has done, our natural response is to “fix our thoughts” on Him, meaning to mentally focus with intentional consideration. That sounds a lot like studying algebra to me.  I would stare at my textbook for hours but just could not wrap my mind around those useless equations and formulas. Thankfully, that’s not what’s happening here.

Glance back just a few words, where the author, speaking to his “holy brothers” (and sisters), said that they – and we – “share in the heavenly calling.” That calling is a divine invitation from heaven to consider all that Jesus is. Redeemer. Savior. Brother. Victor. High Priest. Sacrifice. Helper. Apostle. The book of Hebrews is all about discovering Jesus. Like looking through a kaleidoscope, we keep turning the dial and seeing new and wonderful sides to Him.  

Fixing our thoughts on Jesus is more than a mental exercise we have to push ourselves through like my algebra book. It’s lifting our thoughts above the mundane things of this world and filling our minds with awe and wonder at the Son of the Most High God. It’s not something we have to do, it’s something we get to do! What a high and holy privilege we’ve been given.

That brings me back to the question we opened with. Beloved, what are you thinking about right now?

Hebrews: The Atoning Work of Jesus

Nothing but the Blood of Jesus - Lyrics, Hymn Meaning and Story

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: 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.

How Jesus Decluttered my Life

MY desk on a good day

The saying goes, “less is more,” meaning the less clutter you have in your home, life, etc. the more home, life, etc. you have.  It’s a lesson I’ve yet to learn as I look around my study, cluttered with books, boxes, toys, sewing stuff, and tons of notebooks.  But, because of Jesus, there are some areas of my life where I am truly grateful that less really is more.

Because of Jesus, I am shameless – Romans 8:1 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  I did not always live for God, and my sin caused me tremendous shame.  Even after I became a Christian I still stumbled in many ways, and the enemy heaped shame on me.   But Jesus took all my shame to the cross and the grave.  When He rose to life again, my shame stayed buried forever. Whatever you may have done, no matter how shameful it may be, Jesus can set you free.

Because of Jesus, I am guiltless – Hebrews 10:22 says, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”  We’ve all had feelings of guilt—because we are all sinners.  Jesus’ blood falls on all who will come and kneel beneath the cross, washing away all our sin, and with it our guilt.  You can set down that heavy burden and run into your Father’s presence knowing that His arms are open wide to receive you.

Because of Jesus, I am fearless – 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment.”  God loves you and me perfectly with an everlasting love that will never fail, no matter what we may do.  Because of His perfect love, we no longer have to tip-toe into God’s presence, fearing His anger and wrath. 

Jesus took all our sin and with it all the consequences and the burdens that sin brings. Because of Him you and I can be shameless, guiltless, and fearless.  Beloved, don’t let your life get cluttered with all this stuff.  Grab hold of the “less is more” principle and walk in the freedom Christ won for you.

I am Not a Fan of Jesus

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Celebrity is a fickle thing.  One day you’re everyone’s favorite, the next day you’re old news.  Last year you were on the cover of People magazine, this year your name is buried on the back page of the local newspaper. Celebrities live and die by their fans.

Jesus had many fans.  People flocked to Him and hung on His every word. They lined the streets when He came through town and jostled one another to walk nearest to Him.  I am not a fan of Jesus. Before you count me out as a heretic, let me tell you who I am.

I am a follower of Jesus.  Yes, I want to be near Him, but not for some thrill. I want to be in His presence because He is peace.  He is hope.  He is wisdom and power.  And He is Life.

I am a servant of Jesus.  Paul identified himself as a “bondservant of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:1). The purpose of my life is to do the will of Jesus.  To serve Him by serving others.

I am a disciple of Jesus. He is my Teacher. He teaches me how to walk in righteousness.  He teaches me about the Kingdom of God and how to go to heaven.  And He alone can teach me who God is because He is God.

I am a friend of Jesus.  Fans are not often friends.  Fans are there for the show.  Friends are there after the show.  I love just spending time with Him Monday – Saturday in His Word and through His Spirit.

I am a witness of Jesus.   Jesus saved me, redeemed my life, and gave me a place with Him in heaven. He died so that I would live.  I want to tell the world about my Jesus.

I am a worshipper of Jesus. I will spend the rest of my life and all eternity giving Him the praise and honor He deserves. To be a fan of Jesus falls far short of what He deserves.  And it falls far short of what He desires for you.  Beloved, don’t just be a fan of Jesus. Be His follower and servant and disciple and friend and witness and worshipper. In other words, let Jesus be your everything.

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).

Hebrews – Jesus and Angels

To the Jewish people, angels were just a notch below God Himself in power and authority, and that’s not far from the truth. Angels are God’s messengers and advocates between heaven and earth. They are His instruments of judgment and Scripture shows them engaging in warfare against satan’s angels. In heaven, they constantly praise and glorify God and rejoice as they witness God’s perfect plan unfold. Like humans, they are created beings – thus they are never to be worshipped, even though humans are “a little lower than the angels” (2:7). But humans have a distinct advantage over angels – we can experience God through His saving grace. That’s a perspective of the Creator that angels will never know. In speaking of our salvation through Christ, Peter said, “even angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12).

The Jews held angels in very high esteem, but the author of Hebrews said there is one who should be held even higher – God’s Son, Jesus. “He became as much superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is superior to theirs” (1:4).

The Bible holds many accounts of angels coming to the rescue of humans, saving them from certain disaster. But angels cannot save a sinful soul from eternal death. Only Jesus can. Because only He is God’s Son. Glance back at the end of verse 4 – that “superior name He inherited” is “Son” (v.5) “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father?’ Or again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son.’”  (v. 5). Only the Son of God could save the world. Paul said that He is “seated at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given (Ephesians 1:20-21). That includes presidents, kings, priests, Imams, Muhammad, Brahma, Lucifer, and the angels in heaven and in hell. Jesus is superior to them all. 

That is why the author of Hebrews says that faith in any other being, even angels, is misplaced and unstable. Only faith in Jesus, the Son of God, can save you perfectly and eternally. Even the angels know that to be true.

Hebrews – Jesus is God

In our Hebrews study thus far we have discovered that Jesus is the Son of God, the Word of God, and the exact representation of God. In fact, He is God. And He does what only God can do. In Hebrews 1:3b, the author said, “After He [Jesus] had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

One day, Jesus was teaching to a packed house in Capernaum when four men, determined to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus, tore through the roof to get him to the Healer. When we tell this story, we always accentuate the faith of the friends, and rightly so. Most people come to faith in Christ because of the faith of a friend. But there’s an even greater point to this story. Jesus said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). And the teachers of the law reasoned in their hearts, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (v. 7). And that’s the point. Jesus is God. He knew what they were thinking. He healed the paralyzed man as proof that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (v. 10). Jesus has the authority, the power, and the means to forgive us of our sins. Because He is God. That’s the argument the author is driving home throughout this letter. Jesus is God.

Remember that he is writing to the Hebrews – people of Jewish heritage who start their day with the Shema – “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). In a polytheistic world, they had one God. So the idea that Jesus also claimed to be God seems to contradict the core of their faith. The author is pressing this point because it is the foundation of his entire message. Jesus is God.

You and I may not have the same background, but we need to set our hearts on the same firm underpinning: Jesus is God. That matters because, as the religious leaders pointed out, only God can forgive sins. You need to know that when you cast all your sins on Jesus, He has the authority to make you right, holy, pure, and acceptable. Beloved, you are a sinner. But Jesus has done everything for you to be forgiven. He’s the only one who can save you. Because He is God.

P.S. I promise we’ll pick up the pace in this study and cover more verses in each lesson. But we need this foundation before we do, so hang with me Beloveds – there’s a lot of good stuff ahead!

What Does It Mean to Be a Christian?

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The world has many different views of what a “Christian” is.  In fact, the church is pretty confused about what it means as well. The title “Christian” was not coined by the Lord Himself or by His disciples. “Christian” was a designation given to the “Followers of the Way” – the first believers – by those outside the church (see Acts 11:26). It meant, “little Christs” because these people were keenly identified with Jesus by their words and actions. Not so much today.

To the culture, a Christian is someone who is filled with hate and intolerance. Strangely enough, the only ones the tolerant culture will not tolerate are true Christians.  In many churches today, a Christian is someone who shows up semi-regularly for church and throws a couple of bucks in the plate.  Oh, and they must not speak out against anything anyone chooses to do or be all for the sake of “love.”  Individually, a Christian is someone who posts Jesus memes on social media, right after posting something laced with profanity. They know just enough Scripture to prove themselves right in their own eyes.

Saying “I am a Christian” does not get you into God’s heaven. Paul said the key to heaven is a profession of faith. “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

There is an important distinction between saying “I’m a Christian” and saying “Jesus is Lord.” What we are to confess with our mouth is the Name, the identity, and the Lordship of Jesus. And it’s not just words we spout, it must be a confession of our heart. I tried an experiment with this when I had to interview several non-believers for my Apologetics class. I asked each one to say, “Jesus is Lord,” and every one of them refused because they said, “I don’t believe it.” Remember what Jesus said – “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). And the heart that believes that Jesus is Lord will lead the mind and body to act like it.

Claiming to be a Christian has no saving power. Professing the Name and Lordship of Jesus Christ does. The true confession of faith is not what I am, but what Jesus is.

God Knows Your Heart

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My friend had been trying for 20 minutes to explain why she kept doing something she knew was a sin. She honestly wanted to put this thing behind her, but she kept going back to it like a drug. We’d had this discussion many times over the years.  She stayed in this continuous cycle of sin and defeat. “I guess I’m just weak,” she sighed. “In my heart, I want to do better, isn’t that good enough?” “After all,” she said with a shrug, “God knows my heart.”
I threw out one of those breath-prayers, took her by the hand, and said, “Yes sweet friend, God knows your heart – that’s why He sent you a Savior.”
God does know our hearts. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts” (Luke 16:15). God knows that in its natural state “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). He knows that our hearts are very human and prone to mislead us by our own desires (James 1:14). It’s why we struggle to break away from sins that we cherish (Psalm 66:18).  It’s why the devil has such a grip on the world – because sin, at its core, is not so much a matter of what you and I do but what our hearts desire. Our actions will always follow our hearts. And there’s only room in our hearts for one. If our hearts desire what the world offers, we will not desire God.

But there is hope for the human heart. He is the divine Savior, Jesus. He knows your heart and mine and He came to redeem our hearts through His death on the cross. Covered by the blood of the Son of God our hard, stone hearts can become living flesh again (Ezekiel 36:26).

Beloved, God knows your heart – does your heart know Him?