Hebrews: The Tabernacle

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Have you ever found a recipe on social media you wanted to try, but when you clicked on the link you had to wade through pages of extra content about why the dish was a family favorite, how Grandpa loved it with extra sauce and Aunt Betty Sue always wanted to tweak the ingredients? By the time you got to the actual recipe, you lost interest. “Just get to the point!” you wanted to say. Why do they do that? All the extra stuff pads the article and allows you to be exposed to lots of ads. Ads are where online writers of blogs and stories and recipes make their money.

The writer of Hebrews starts out the 9th chapter (remember that the original content wasn’t broken down into chapters and verses) talking about the tabernacle which he had mentioned in chapter 8. He described its physical layout and some of the elements that the priests used. He noted the outer room – called the Holy Place – with the lampstand (Ex 37:17-24) and the table (Ex 37:10-16) with the concentrated bread. This was separated by a curtain from the Most Holy Place which held the Ark of the Covenant, God’s dwelling place (Ex 37:1-9). The Ark contained three things – a jar of manna from their days in the wilderness (Ex 16:32-33), Aaron’s staff which was covered in buds to identify God’s chosen priest (Num 17:10), and the tablets of stone on which were etched the ten commandments for the people (Ex 34:28). The Ark featured two cherubim (not the little pudgy baby angels of Valentine’s Day, but mighty warrior angels) who stood guard over the atonement cover (Ex 37:7-9) where God sat to receive offerings once a year.

One of the most fascinating studies I’ve ever done was of the Tabernacle. It’s every element, even down to the colors in the tapestries had incredible symbolism and everything about it and in it pointed to Jesus Christ. And that is where the author wanted to go when he said, “But we cannot discuss these things in detail now” (Heb 9:5). Like the recipe seeker – he wants to get to the point of the Tabernacle – Jesus Christ. But first, he will zero in on the work of the priest, particularly the high priest to set the stage. We will look more closely into his role and work in the next devotional.

Don’t Pack Up the Christmas Spirit

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Christmas Day has come and gone and my living room looks like a toy store exploded all over the place, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. So what now? Well, I’ll clean up the blast zone and eventually pack away the ornaments on the tree. We’ll finish off the last of the Christmas dinner leftovers today. But, where does the Christmas spirit go for the next 11 months?

You probably know by now that Joy abides in my house year-round in my precious granddaughter. But what of the peace the angels declared? According to Jesus, that peace was His gift to me, something the world can’t offer (John 14:27). It doesn’t belong in a box in the shed. It belongs in my heart to rule over my relationships (Col. 3:15). 

Is there a box in my shed for the “Hope” of Christmas? The Hope that God is who He claimed to be, that He is trustworthy and faithful (2 Thess 3:3), that His love is unfailing (Ps. 136) and His promises are as sure as His Name (Heb. 6:13). Hope that His eye is ever on me and His ear is tuned to my cries (Gen. 21:13, 11). Hope that one day this wicked world will be turned right-side-up (Rev. 21:5). I am hanging on to hope – it is my word from the Lord for the coming year. I need it desperately; this past year has drained most of my hope.

And then there is love – the greatest of all gifts (1 Cor. 13:13). Love slept in a manger (Luke 2:7). Love walked the dirty streets, healing and lifting up the downtrodden (Matt. 8:1-3). Love died on a cross (Mark 15: 37) and love brought life from death (Mark 16:6). Love must never be packed away for the world needs it more than any other thing. Love – holy love – is the only thing that can save mankind. And it is the only thing that will draw men out of darkness into the light.

I don’t know if your Christmas was merry or jolly or less than you’d hoped, but I know that the spirit of Christmas lives in the hearts of God’s people all year long. Beloved, pack up the decorations but don’t pack away the Joy and peace and hope and love. Set it out for all the world to see.

The (Complete) Nativity Creche

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When we set up our nativity scenes, we place the star above the stable, and we add the animals – cows and sheep (but no pigs, this is a good Jewish family) – and an angel or two (which the Bible doesn’t mention in the birth scene) and the shepherds. We set Mary and Joseph beside the manger where the little baby sleeps. We even add the wise men, though they didn’t actually come on the scene until some 2 years later. Now everyone is present and accounted for.

The truth is, Satan is also part of the Christmas story, for the Holy Child in the manger was born to break the curse of evil. He was born to set men free from their sins (Romans 6:18). He was born to bring light and life where death and darkness reigned (John 1:4-5). He was born to set right what had been made horribly wrong (Romans 8:22-24). This little baby was the fulfillment of God’s promise, the seed that would crush the head of the enemy (Genesis 3:15). When this newborn baby’s cry pierced the silent night, all of hell trembled.

As you celebrate Jesus, the reason for the season, remember the reason Jesus came and praise God for the greatest gift ever given. The Savior of the world is born.

Mary’s Treasure

I love Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth because, according to church tradition, it is Mary’s own recollections. Only Mary could recall intimate details about Gabriel’s visit the remarkable announcement: “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (vs. 31-32). She remembered her question “How will this be since I am a virgin?” (v. 34), and the angel’s reply about the Holy Spirit’s part in the conception.

She even included the report about Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy and her aged cousin’s joyful greeting, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed I the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (vs. 42, 43). And “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (v. 45). She remembered the song she sang: My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . .”  (vs. 46-55).

Mary was the one who included Caesar Augustus’ decree that sent them to Bethlehem where her Son was born among the beasts of domestic life, bound up in rags, and laid to sleep in the animal’s feed trough.

Mary told about the shepherds who surely reported the angel’s proclamation to the parents. And the angel’s song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” (2:14). Mary also remembered when Jesus was presented in the temple according to the law and the old man and woman who spoke powerfully about her son (2:25-38). Mary remembered Jesus when he was twelve years old, being separated from her and Joseph, and how He amazed the Jewish teachers by speaking with wisdom and authority beyond His years (2:41-50). And he amazed His mother by answering her scolding by saying, “Did you know I had to be in my Father’s house? (v. 49). Oh, how I wish Luke had picked her memory for more details of His childhood – clearly He was no ordinary child. Or maybe He was and the details are much the same as your childhood and mine.

Luke said that Mary, “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51). I’m so glad she did because we have the most detailed, intimate account of our Savior’s birth and early glimpses of His ministry. Here’s my question for us both: What marvelous things has God done for you? Have you treasured them up in your heart (or written them down in a journal)? When someone (a grandchild, perhaps) asks you about your relationship with Jesus you will be glad you did.

Pigs and Kings at the Manger

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Like all little kids, my granddaughter loves to talk and she has a pretty extensive vocabulary for a 2 ½-year-old. With a few malapropisms which I love. She will say “Will you pick my up?” “I want your cup (meaning her cup).” And she calls Sunday School “Honey” School which it will forevermore be. She will get them right eventually, but for now, I think they are adorable and I have no intention of correcting her.  Sometimes it’s okay to not get things right. But the Bible is something we always want to get right.

Take the Christmas story for instance. Every nativity scene comes with a stable with Mary and Joseph and the Baby in the manger. There are shepherds and angels and some animals. My best friend, a Bible nerd like me, once saw a Fisher-Price Little People nativity set and noticed a pig among the animals. She wrote to the company and explained that a Jewish family would not have a pig among their animals because pigs, according to the Jewish Law, are unclean. Want to hear a Christmas miracle? They took the pig out. The scenes also have three kings bearing gifts. This comes straight from Matthew 2 which reports the visit of the Magi. Only Matthew never said how many wise men there were, only that they presented three gifts: gold, incense, and myrrh.” John Henry Hopkins said there were three kings[1] and we just took his word for it. And they didn’t come to see Jesus at his birth. Jesus was about 2 years old when they made their way from the east after seeing the star (see Matthew 2:16).

Now pigs in a kid’s nativity set and three wise men at the manger don’t seem like such a big deal. But they are the small, seemingly insignificant ways that the culture has altered the truth and the church has accepted it as fact. Which makes it easier to accept other changes, more important changes like Jesus was a great teacher and humanitarian but He really wasn’t God. Mary wasn’t really a virgin. Jesus fell into a coma-like trance but He wasn’t really dead when they buried Him in the tomb. Which leads to God really doesn’t forbid certain sins because He wants us all to be happy. Even Madonna (the singer) said that Jesus would approve of abortion. Do you see what a slippery slope that becomes?

So should you move your Magi away from the stable, maybe put them on a table on the far side of the room? I’ll leave the decorating to you, but I will say that you and I need to be certain we are hearing and believing the truth from the Word of God. There is more at stake than pigs and kings.


[1] “We Three Kings” written by John Henry Hopkins Ó 1857.

Telling the Story of Christmas

It is a scene from one of the most beloved Christmas programs ever made. A bewildered Charlie Brown cries out, “Isn’t there someone who knows what Christmas is all about?” I always get goosebumps when Linus walks to center stage, drops his blanket, says “Lights please,” and recites the account of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2.

“And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and goodwill toward men” (vs. 8-14)”.

It seems to be a holy moment in the middle of a simple animated television show. For fifty-six years the world has heard the Christmas story through a blanket-carrying theologian.

As much as I love “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and Linus’ message, I’ve always thought there is an even better verse that he could have chosen to explain what Christmas is all about.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Christmas is all about the love of God that sent His Son to earth as a baby who would grow up to die on a Roman cross for the sins of the world. Linus recounted the events around the Christmas story, but the heart of Christmas is a loving Heavenly Father who gave the very best He had to redeem a lost world. The blessed Christmas story is about a manger and a star and shepherds and angels. It is about a young mother and father with their newborn son in a stable. But the story isn’t complete until the baby in the manger is the Savior on the cross. Because the story of Christmas is a story of love.

Hebrews: Adam, David, and Jesus

In our ongoing study of Hebrews, we have seen that Jesus is the Son of God, superior to the angels, worthy of worship and service, and is the eternal King of heaven and earth. Now the author of Hebrews is going to show us a different and unexpected side of Jesus – His human side.

Hebrews 2:5 says, “It is not to angels that He has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking.” Angels have an important place in God’s hierarchy, they have power and authority in the present world, even over men. But in the world to come, that will change. He goes on to quote David from Psalm 8. “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.”

I suggest that you read the entire Psalm to understand that David is speaking in tones of awe. Even though God would not permit him to build the Lord a temple, He promised to “build a house” for David, meaning his son would follow him to the throne and build God’s house and his descendants would always rule in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 7:11-16). In Psalm 8 David is amazed at the goodness of God to him personally and to mankind generally. After God had created the heavens and the earth, He fashioned a man – Adam and set him “a little lower than the angels” with glory and honor. But sin brought him crashing down. Still, God loves His fallen creatures and works in and through them to accomplish His will. Throughout this Psalm, David marvels at the majesty of God.

Coming back to Hebrews, the author noted that “In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him” (v 8 ). This has a dual understanding. First, God had given man dominion over everything He had made. Man was to rule over the created world. Earth was intended to serve man, but since the fall the physical world is under a curse and nature is often man’s enemy (see Romans 8: 19-22). Then, God’s plan of the ages will bring everything under the authority of His Son. Oh, what a day that will be when everything is set right again! But we’re not there yet. We’re still in the grip of a fallen world. It’s easy to lose hope and think that evil will always have the upper hand.

“But we see Jesus . . .” (v 9)

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 is Eternal

Milky way over the desert of Bardenas, Spain

We’re trying to teach our two-year-old granddaughter to recognize colors so we identify the colors around her – trees are green, Nana’s car is red, her toy truck is blue. We go over and over the colors because repetition helps her learn. It’s no different with adults. The writer of Hebrews uses that same teaching technique to drive home the point that Jesus is greater than everyone and everything the Jewish people revere.

Here he goes back to the very beginning of creation when God “laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands” (Hebrews 1:10). For thousands of years, men have gazed in awe at the specks of light piercing the night sky so far away. We have looked up at the peaks of mountains and observed as far as humanly possible the depths of the oceans with wonder. His creation is marvelous and beautiful.

But, said the author, “they will perish . . . [God] will roll them up like a robe; like a garment, they will be changed”(v. 11-12). He said that creation is like an old overcoat that will one day be discarded for a new one. But the Lord will “remain the same and your years will never end” (v. 11, 12). The eternal Creator who spoke this heaven and earth into existence is will be present in the new creation. While everything around Him will change, He will remain the same.  Why? Because there is no need for Him to change – He is perfect. Creation was marred by the sin of man (Rom. 8:20-21) and so it cannot remain in the perfect and eternal Kingdom of God. It is the same for you and me, imperfect people cannot dwell with the King, but God made a way through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son to make us fit for His Kingdom.

Once again, the author returns to the subject of angels vs. the King of Kings. He said, “To which of the angels did God ever say, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’? Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (vv. 13-14). Jesus is the Sovereign King, the angels are His servants. He sits upon the throne, they bow before it. When all of creation has been rolled away, Jesus remains. And reigns.

Hebrews – Jesus, the Firstborn Son

The author of Hebrews, in this first portion of his message, highlighted the superiority of Jesus over the angels of heaven. And again, he was speaking to an audience steeped in Jewish tradition. Angels were important to the recipient of his message because angels – “myriads of holy ones” (Deuteronomy 33:2) – assisted in the giving of the Law that dominated, not just the Jewish religion, but also the Jew’s daily life. Unlike in the modern western world, observance of religion is not just limited to a day or two out of the week and a devotional in the first five minutes of the morning. The Law was practiced from the first rays of the sun until the last candle was extinguished at night. It permeated every aspect of their lives. Therefore, the Jewish people regarded angels on par with the Law of Moses. 

But, the author contended, the angels whom the Jews so revered, worship Jesus, God’s “firstborn” Son. I hear you asking – what does that even mean?  Is it referring to His earthly birth?  Was He “born” like other children are born? I thought you said He was God.  Yes, I did and yes, He is. He was born on earth like any other baby (though He was not conceived like any other baby). But He was not born in heaven. Our study of Jesus the Son confirmed that He always existed as part of the triune Godhead. “Firstborn,” as it is used here is a title of rank and honor. Jesus is the firstborn Son because all that God has is His. Including worship from the angels of heaven. You probably recall the angels who worshipped at His birth (Luke 2:13-14). I have no doubt they worshipped Him when He came out of that tomb and when He ascended to His throne in heaven. They surely worshipped with every miracle He performed.

They not only worship Him, but they are His servants. They served Him after He fasted for forty days in the wilderness and fought off the temptations of the devil (Matthew 4:11). They served him as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:43). They also serve Him as they minister to His people on earth.

Jesus is worthy of their worship and their service. He is worthy of ours as well. Beloved, how will you worship and serve God today?