Hebrews: Jesus – The Forever High Priest

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I used to be so star-struck when I was younger. I bought every magazine that would tell me all about my favorite singers and actors. I watched every award show and marveled at the beautiful people. Then I grew up. I began to see how egotistical these stars were. I lost interest in the glory-hogs of the entertainment world. Those who seek fame and notice will gladly sell their soul to get it.  I wish we could say that preachers and people in ministry are immune to the lure of fame, but we know that’s not the case.

In our last Hebrews devotional, we discussed the calling of the priestly line of Levi and especially of the high priest. The author said, “No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God” (5:4). The office of the high priest became increasingly political as foreign rulers appointed high priests who would best serve their purposes. But Jesus was called to the position.  “So Christ did not take upon Himself the glory of becoming a high priest” (v. 5). Jesus didn’t go after the position of the high priest out of ego or political ideology, but, in keeping with the nature of the role, out of humility and obedience. The author quoted a verse from the Psalms: “You are my Son, today I have become your Father” (v. 5b; also Psalm 2:7). This is a reference to the resurrection of Jesus which authenticated His claim to be the Son of God. He also identified Jesus as “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” (v. 6; also Psalm 110:4). Melchizedek was an Old Testament king and priest who appeared in the account of Abraham in Genesis 14:18-20. We’ll dig into his story in chapter 7, but the point is that Jesus, like Melchizedek, was appointed to the priesthood – and in Jesus’ case anointed as a high priest by God Himself. The high priest served until his death – but Jesus is alive forever so His priesthood lives on eternally. That means in His role as high priest He forever advocates for us before the Father (1 John 2:1). I find a lot of comfort in that because I am very human in my weaknesses and failures.

Beloved, you are never without your great high priest. When you fall, Jesus leans over to the Father, shows Him the scars on His hands, and says, “She’s covered by my blood.” I believe that makes the Father smile.

The Real Jesus

Matthew is one of only two gospel writers to mention the birth narrative.  He wrote to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah of old.  He included details that were pregnant with Jewish prophecy. Luke wrote his gospel account via careful investigation and eyewitness testimonies (Luke 1:1-4). Church tradition maintains that the story of the nativity in Luke came directly from Mary’s remembrances, which is why his gospel is rich with the details of the event. Mothers remember everything about their children’s birth. It’s interesting to me that Luke, writing from Mary’s perspective wrote about lowly shepherds who visited the holy family in the mean stable, while Matthew wrote about wise men – probably wealthy Persian kings – who followed the star to worship the then-toddler.

The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew reaches back to Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish faith, and identified David, the chosen king of Israel. Luke’s genealogy traces Jesus’ lineage back to “Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:37). Matthew wanted to show Jesus as the rightful King of the Jews.  Luke wanted to show Him as the God-Man, who lived and died in humility among humanity. So was Jesus a King or a common man? Yes and yes. To have a full understanding of Him, we must see Him as both. And as more.

He is the Baby in the manger. He is the itinerant preacher. He is the dead man on the cross. He is the risen Lord. He is the Son of God, seated at the Father’s right hand. He is the Redeemer of the world. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the one who is, was, and is to come. He is part of the Triune Godhead. He is the soon-coming King. He is the Victor who crushed Satan’s head. And He is my Savior. Is He yours?

Wherever You Go

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I am always drawn to the story of Hagar the Egyptian slave girl who served as a handmaiden to the wife of Abram. She was pressed into service as a surrogate mother to bear a child for the barren Sarai. This caused much strife between the two women, as you can imagine. She ran away from her mistress, into the unforgiving wilderness where “The angel of the Lord found Hagar…” Genesis 16:7. Hagar may have been lost in the wilderness, but she was not lost to God. The Hebrew word for “found” means “to cause to encounter.” God purposefully put Himself in Hagar’s path to cause her to have an encounter with Him. That means He didn’t go on a seek-and-find mission, He set Himself right where He knew she was going. She was His wounded child and His heart was tender to her.
One of the most precious promises in the Bible to me is “The Lord your God will be with you where you go” (Jos. 1:9). In my almost sixty years, I have found myself in some difficult places and very hard circumstances, often of my own making, but I have never been out of my Heavenly Father’s sight. In the margin of my Bible I have written these words that God spoke to my heart in one of those seasons: “Child, there is no place you can go that I will not be.” Whether physical places or emotional pits or spiritual dark caves – God has promised “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5). If He willingly went to the cross, and into the dark grave of death for us, then we can trust that He will never abandon us, no matter where we are.
Beloved, I don’t know where you find yourself today but this I know for sure – you are not lost to God. He knows exactly where you are now and where you are going. He has noted every step you’ve taken, even the ones that took you away from Him. God was there for a frightened, lost Egyptian slave girl, and He is there with you. There is no place you can go that He will not be.

Hopeless

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Hagar and Ishmael had been banished to the desert with just a skin of water and no direction. When the water ran out so did Hagar’s hope. She couldn’t bear to watch her son die, so she set him under a bush and walked away. As her tears fell, God sent an angel to comfort her and give her hope. And water. The Scripture says “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water” (Genesis 21:19). A well. In a desert. Just at the moment she needed it. Right where she stopped in her hopelessness.

There are volumes here we can learn from this account, and a good preacher could get a month’s worth of 3-point sermons out of this story. But here is my take-away: God brings hope into hopeless situations. He gives water in the desert, peace in the storm, direction in the wilderness, and light in the darkness. He is watching with tender care to meet you wherever your struggles take you. Whether you are in the desert or on a stormy sea – if your life is a train wreck or you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, God knows right where you are Beloved. He knows exactly what you need. He will meet you in the middle of your hopeless situation. Just when you think all is lost, God says you are found.

Against All Hope

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

If I were Abraham I would gather up my son and run screaming in the other direction. But the very next morning he set out to do what God had commanded him to do. I never understood how Abraham could just willingly sacrifice his beloved son until I studied his story alongside two other Scriptures. Hebrews11:19 says, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” And Romans 4:18 and 20 says “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed . . . he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God

The Spirit showed me that the reason Abraham believed that the Lord would raise his son from the dead is because of God’s promise to build a nation through Isaac (Genesis 17:19). He knew that Isaac would have to live for the promise to be fulfilled. But God had told him to kill the very same son the promise was built upon.  Dead men can’t father children. Yet he reasoned that somehow God would keep His word. Abraham’s faith was in the Promise-keeper, not in the promise. I don’t know about you but needed that reminder again today.

No matter how impossible the situation looks our hope must always be in God, not in an outcome. He is always good and will always do what is right. He is perfect in wisdom and knows what you and I don’t. Beloved, don’t hope that God will do thus-and-so. Trust that God will be God.

Seeing the God Who Sees Me

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The angel of the Lord found Hagar…” Genesis 16:7

You know the story of Abraham and Sarah – childless and old, God promised them a son, but in the waiting, they grew impatient and Abraham slept with Sarah’s maid Hagar, and she conceived. But their act of faithlessness caused tremendous grief for the Egyptian slave-girl. Twice Hagar wound up in the desert, weary, hungry and frightened. On her first excursion, Scripture tells us “The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert” (Gen. 16:7). The Hebrew word for “found” means “to cause to encounter.” God purposefully put Himself in Hagar’s path to cause her to have an encounter with Him. He set Himself right where He knew she was going because His heart was tender to her.  Hagar gained precious insight into who God is.  Realizing that the God of her master was very much aware of her and her plight,  She named the Lord El Roi – “the God who sees me” (Gen. 16:13).

After the birth of Ishmael (which- by the way – means The Lord has heard – Gen 16:11) Hagar and her son were forced to leave their home with Abraham and Sarah.  When their meager supplies of food and water ran out, Hagar recognized their inevitable deaths.  She put Ishmael under a tree and walked away, so as not to watch her weakened son die.  She and the boy were both crying, and God once again came to Hagar and assured her that He was aware of their plight.  Genesis 21:19 says, “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.”  Oh, do you see the beauty of this passage? El Roi – the God who saw Hagar, now opened Hagar’s eyes so she could see.  He showed her a well of life-giving water that would minister to their bodies and to their spirits.

You may find yourself in some difficult places and very hard circumstances, but I can assure you that you have never been out of your Heavenly Father’s sight.  There is no place you can go that God will not be.  Whether they are physical places, emotional pits, and spiritual dark caves – God has promised, “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5) The truth is, it’s often in those hard places that we see the God who sees us. Had Hagar not been lost in the wilderness, running from the hard hand of her mistress, she would have never encountered the Lord and come to know Him.  I know this to be true in my life.  So often I have discovered aspects of God that I would have never known had I not been in difficult circumstances.  When I was unable to put food on our table, I discovered Jehovah-Jireth – the Lord who Provides (Gen. 22:8). When I was desperately ill I found Jehovah Rapha – The Lord our Healer (Ps. 103:3). When I was discouraged and fearful, Jehovah Shalom – The Lord is Peace (Jud. 6:23-24) and Yahweh-Tsuri – The Lord my Strength (Ex. 15:2) came to encourage and strengthen me.  If you are in a difficult season, look for God to reveal Himself to you in a new and encouraging way.

Beloved, if He was faithful to a frightened, lost Egyptian slave girl, and He will surely be faithful to you.

I Promise (part 2)

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“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

I love Hebrews 11 – the great Hall of Faith.  There we see portraits of men and women whose lives were marked by extraordinary faith.  Abel, who gave a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord, and suffered his brother’s wrath.   Enoch, who so pleased God he was spared death and directly taken into heaven. Noah, the ark-builder, who was foolish in the eyes of his neighbors, but wise and obedient in the eyes of God.  There is Abraham who, despite a few stumbles, was called righteous because He believed God for the impossible.  There is Isaac, and Jacob and Joseph – all stalwart in their commitment to faith in God.  The list goes on and on – Moses, Gideon, Samuel and David and even a prostitute – Rahab. The list includes many who were persecuted and martyred, all because they believed God was greater than even their own lives.  These people inspire me and challenge me to endure and live a life of faith.

But there are a couple of verses in this passage that have always given me pause: “All of these people were still living by faith when they died.  The did not receive the things promised; they only saw them from a distance . . .” (v. 13). Go forward a few verses and there it is again: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised (v. 39).

Wait. What?

They believed God, obeyed God, gave their lives for their faith in God and still they “did not receive the things promised.”  How does that make sense?

In the modern world, we equate success with outcome.  When we look at these heroes of the faith, we expect to see results, like Moses, who led the Israelites out of bondage and Noah, who obediently built the ark and saved humankind, and David, the slayer of giants who became the King of Israel.  In the world of faith, a successful saint is not always the one who wins.  Hebrews tells us that some of these heroes endured torture, oppression, persecution, prison, poverty, and death – yet they are listed along with these mighty men and women of faith.   They too were “commended for their faith” (Hebrews 11:39).  Why?  Because they believed God.  They believed He is good and righteous and faithful.  And they believed that the outcome of their situation did not change who God is.  As the three Jewish youth in Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace said, “The God we serve is able . . . and He will . . . but even if He does not” He would still and always be their God.

Abraham is one who pleased God with his faith.  The Lord told him, “The whole land of Canaan where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you” (Genesis 17:8).   Yet we learn in Acts 7:5 that “[God] gave him no inheritance [in the land], not even a foot of ground” (Acts 7:5).  Still Abraham is commended as a righteous man “because he considered Him faithful who had made the promise” (Hebrews 11:11).   Abraham’s faith was grounded in God, not in the ground on which he was standing.

By contrast consider Abraham’s wife Sarah.  She knew about the promise that Abraham would have a son through whom God would build a family and a nation.  She believed the promise, but she didn’t believe God to fulfill it. She turned to the traditions of culture to make the promise a reality and the world is still reeling from it. Her hope was in the outcome not in the Lord.

My friend, the call to faith is not a call to believe God for something; it is a call to believe God. Period.  To believe that He is who He says He is and He able to fulfill his promises.  Genuine faith is in the Promise Maker, not in the promise.  When God says, “I promise . . .” our eyes should always stay fixed on Him, not darting back and forth in search of the thing.  It will come, but in the interim, we must keep our focus on the One who made the promise.  He is the Promise Maker and the Promise Keeper, but the greatest promise He made to Abraham is the same promise He makes to you and me: “I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8). That is a promise you can trust.

Okay God, Here’s Our Plan

Reading in Genesis this morning where God had declared His promise and covenant with Abraham to make him the father of a great nation. You know the story: Sarai grew impatient and nagged Abram into fathering a child by her maid Hagar. Several years passed and God came to Abraham and confirmed His promise – Sarah would still bear him a son. Abraham laughed to himself and questioned God’s promise: “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old bear a child? (Genesis 17:17). Then Abraham said, “Oh, that Ismael [his son with Hagar] might live before you!”
God had made His promise known to Abraham, but in the waiting Abraham and Sarah decided God could not be trusted and they would go to “plan B.” Even in the presence of God with the promise still ringing in his ears, Abraham pitched another idea out – as if God’s plan was not sufficient. “You know Lord, that’s quite a stretch – that two old people would have a baby. We’ve got Ishmael already – why don’t you just your thing with him instead.”‘
I am so much like them. “God I’ve got this situation, I need Your help. I need You to work on my behalf. You are the only one who can fix this.” Then – “Oh, and here’s my plan for what you can do.” Sound familiar? Why do we think we need to give God our advice? I’m speaking this to me as loudly as I am to you – God doesn’t need our input. He doesn’t need my solutions. He can take care of things without your human wisdom. What He wants is our trust. He wants us to give the thing to Him and let Him decide the best course of action. He wants us to believe that what He promised He will also accomplish – without our “help.”
Beloved, let’s make a commitment right now to stop trying to tell God what to do. Let’s give Him free reign with our lives and how to work in them. You know, I bet He will come up with a solution that will be “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

In the Waiting

waiting“Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify about me in Rome” (Acts 23:11).

When God calls a person to service, it is not always immediate nor is it a straight path to their place of ministry.  God declared that Abraham would be the roots a great nation, but it took twenty-five years for the child of promise to be born and a couple of generations for the nation to grow.  Young Joseph had a vision from the Lord of himself in a high position, but he got there after several years of treachery, slavery and prison.  Samuel anointed David as king of Israel, but he tended sheep, served in battle and was on the run for many years before actually taking the throne. 

And then there is Paul.  The scene in Acts 23 has Paul under arrest for declaring the name of Jesus.  For years he has been harassed and persecuted for the Gospel, now he is a prisoner, accused by the Romans of inciting riots and by the Jews of blasphemy.  To truly understand Paul’s call, you have to go all the way back to Acts 9:15, when God declared that this man would carry His name before Jews, Gentiles and kings.  At this moment, he is a long way from fulfilling his destiny.  As he sits in his cell, the Lord Jesus comes to him and speaks our key verse to encourage Paul.

Does this mean the apostle will be released and travel directly to Rome to preach in the great halls of the palace?  Not exactly.  Acts tells us that Paul escaped a murderous plot through a midnight run, endured multiple trials under Roman kings, faced a storm at sea, and was shipwrecked and snake bitten along the way.  But Acts 28:14 says, “And so we came to Rome.”  God was faithful to His promise to Paul, and the rest of Acts and church history tells us that Paul did indeed preach the Gospel and declare the name of Jesus in Rome, despite doing so from prison.  But there was a lot of space between the promise and the fulfillment.

I’m going to be bare-bones honest with you – I’m living in that empty “in-between” space right now.  More than ten years ago I heard God’s call to ministry, but in the waiting I’ve nearly lost hope.  I’ve been pursuing seminary to prepare for God’s work.  But as I walk through the aisles of Publix at my job every day, I wonder if I’ll ever get there.  That’s when I return to the stories of Abraham, Joseph, David, and especially Paul.  And that’s when I recall V. Raymond Edman’s words: “Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light.”  My friend, I don’t know what God has spoken over you, nor how long you’ve waited to see it come to fruition.  But I do know that the God who spoke over your life and mine is faithful.  His word never returns void.  I am praying that you and I will stand firm in the faithful nature of the Lord and believe that what He has declared in the light, will be fulfilled despite the darkness.

“And so we came to . . .”

Life from Death

garden-angel“By faith Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead” (Hebrews 11:19).

What has died in your life?  Your marriage?  Your future goals?  Your plans?  Your hopes? Your dreams?  Your faith?  You sit there staring at this thing that you built your life around as its heart slowly stops beating.  What do you do now?  Where do you go from here?  Why should you even bother to do or to go anymore?  I’m not talking about simple everyday disappointments; I’m talking about those soul-crushing desperations that drain your hope and leave you empty.  I’m talking from experience.  I’ve been in those places, I’ve felt the heart-rending pain.  I’ve buried hopes and dreams – and yes I’ve even buried my faith.

But the God who created me is also the God who brings life from death.  Abraham understood that – God had made promises to him that centered on his son Isaac, then God asked him to put his son on and altar of sacrifice.  Abraham didn’t understand God’s plan, but he knew God would never make a promise He didn’t intend to fulfill.  He knew that whatever God had in mind by making this request of him, He would still be faithful to the promise of descendants – coming from the very son over whom he now held a knife.

I’m sure you know the story, and if not check out Genesis 22.  God stayed Abraham’s hand and brought Isaac from the brink of death.  God fulfilled His good promise.  The thought that runs through my mind over this account is not that Isaac had to die, but that Abraham’s dependence on Isaac had to die.  Abraham had to put all his hopes in God, not in Isaac.  Now, the question for you and me is, what are we depending on?  A hefty bank account?  A great job?  A college degree? (That one is for me.)   Who are we depending on? A spouse?  Children? Parents?  A significant other?  God had to put some things to death that I was building my life around.  He had to break my dependence on things and people so that all I had left to depend on was Him.  It wasn’t just to bring me pain; it was to bring life out of death.  It was to let the perishable die so that the imperishable could live.  Beloved, in God’s hands is life – everlasting and abundant.  You can trust Him to resurrect what you have buried.  You can trust Him with your heart.