Hebrews: A Sabbath Rest

Why It's Important to Allow Yourself to Rest | INTEGRIS Health

Several years ago, for seven seasons, my son and I served as collection center coordinators for Operation Christmas Child in Tallahassee, Florida. We received thousands of shoebox gifts and prepared them for transport and processing. It was wonderfully fulfilling and we enjoyed it tremendously. But the end of collection week I was completely drained. Yet I got up the next day and went to my office. It was an exhausting week, but I didn’t take a day off to rest because there was still work to do.

In Hebrews 4 (read vs. 1-11) the author spoke of the Sabbath rest the Lord offers His people. Drawing from the creation account he said, “On the seventh day God rested from all His work” (Heb. 4:4; Genesis 2:1). Did He rest because He was tired after six days of creation? No. The author said, “His work has been finished since the creation of the world” (Hebrews 4:3). God’s rest was not inactivity, it was completion. God rested because His work was done.

How does this connect to the Israelites and to us? Return to the desert where the Lord told Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites” (Numbers 13:1). Did you see it? God had already promised them the land – it was a done deal. All they had to do was go in and take it. But they saw the enemy rather than the completed promise. They “hardened their hearts” (Heb. 4:7). God responded by saying “They shall never enter my rest” (3:11; 4: 3,5).  Likewise, salvation is also a completed work. Remember Jesus’ final words from the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30). Jesus’ death completed the work of salvation. There is nothing left for us to do to be saved. We receive what has already been accomplished.

There’s an even greater rest yet to come. Our writer said, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience” (4:9-11). Look at Jesus’ words at the new heaven and the new earth: “It is done” (Rev. 21:6). What is done? Creation is done. Salvation is done.  God’s plan of the ages is done. Beloved, don’t miss out. It’s all been done for you. Believe it. Receive it. And rest.

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: 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?

Father, Son, and Spirit

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“Jesus Christ carries on intercession for us in heaven; the Holy Ghost carries on intercession in us on earth.” Oswald Chambers.
I came across this quote and was intrigued so I searched the Scriptures (it’s what good Bereans do) and found Paul’s words of the Lord’s intercession for us: “Christ Jesus . . . is at the right and of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34) and the Spirit’s intercession in us: “He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (v. 27).

That’s powerful stuff! Here’s what it means for you and me: Jesus is interceding on our behalf before God, reminding His Father continually that, as believers, we are covered by His blood. The Holy Spirit is interceding on God’s behalf in us, reminding us continually that, as believers, we are set free from the bondage and power of sin. Jesus declares before His Father that you are made right with God and are no longer under condemnation. The Holy Spirit declares to you that you are made right with God and are no longer bound to obey your sinful nature. Every time I fail Jesus tells the Father, “I died for her.” Every time I fail the Holy Spirit tells me, “This is not who you are – let’s get back up and try again.” Jesus asks the Father to send you strength for your daily struggles. The Holy Spirit is the conduit of that strength to you. Jesus stands before the Father on our behalf and the Holy Spirit dwells in us on the Father’s behalf. Maybe that’s not news to you, but it sure rocked my finite mind!  I believe this shows the powerful work of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit in us, perfecting that which began when the Spirit drew us to the Father by the cross of the Son.

From creation to salvation to intercession, the Trinity works in beautiful harmony to accomplish the plan of the ages. That plan includes you and me. How astounding, how utterly marvelous! I pray you will meditate on this amazing truth: you have all the power of heaven working for you and in you to fulfill God’s perfect plan. He is for you Beloved. I hope that blows your mind and fills your heart today.

Nothing But the Blood of Jesus

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Leviticus is the Old Testament book that holds all the laws of worship, community, and purity for the nation of Israel. It was all very clear to the Jews of that day – and very burdensome. But to a twenty-first-century western reader, it makes no sense. What does a bunch of antiquated rules have to do with New Testament Christians? But there is much value in reading Leviticus – the key is to read it through the lens of Jesus Christ.

Jesus designated ‘love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) as the second greatest commandment (Matt. 22:39).  And the writer of Hebrews drew from Leviticus to describe the person and role of Jesus Christ. Studying Leviticus gives us a deeper devotion to Jesus, helps us grasp the holiness of God, and teaches us how to live daily as Christians.

It also enables us to see sin as God sees it – and reveals the true cost of our redemption through the death of His Son. Leviticus sets the sin of man in stark contrast to the holiness of God and reveals the only resolution: blood, and not just blood from a pricked finger, but the blood of death. Here is what I find most compelling. Repeatedly, the Lord graciously allows sacrifices for “unintentional sin” – that is sins that were committed inadvertently. But not so for intentional sin. “Anyone who sins defiantly . . . must surely be cut off from his people; his guilt remains on him” (Num. 15:30-31). To be cut off from the community meant also being cut off from any hope of atonement for his sin. He would forever stand guilty before God.

Now view this through the lens of Jesus Christ. He who was perfectly sinless sacrificed Himself for sin – but not only unintentional sin – His blood covered every sin of every person for all time.  “He sacrificed for sins once for all when He offered Himself” (Heb. 7:27).  That means the sins we “stumble into” and the sins we choose with our eyes wide open. Jesus paid it all.

There’s great hope for you and me in that statement. When Jesus died, He took every single sin to the cross and to the grave and when He rose again, he left our sins forever buried. All of them. I pray that means something to you. Beloved, nothing you’ve done is too much for the blood of Jesus Christ. 

Are You Sure About That?

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I was in the 5th grade and was doing my math homework one night (and anyone who knows me knows how much I hate math) and I kept asking my mom, “What’s so-and-so times so-and-so?”, over and over until she lost her patience with me and snapped, “Figure it out!” So I did. I added and added and added and . . . well you get the idea.  I know for certain that 7×8=56 and you can bet it will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Why do you believe what you believe? Because your childhood Sunday School teacher told you a Bible story? Because your pastor preached about doctrine on Sunday? Because you read something profound in a book by a smiling author? What we believe is too often just what we’ve been told – but not what we know. And there is a difference. What you’ve heard just sits in your ears, but what you know takes deep root in your heart and, like your circulating blood, affects every part of you. If your faith is built on other’s thoughts and opinions, how can you be sure you are building on solid ground? When someone challenges your belief, you can’t make a good defense and it all starts to crumble. But if your belief is built on what you have mined from the Scriptures and chewed on and have wrestled your heart and mind into submission then your faith will stand up against the questions of the world. Like my math equation, what you invest in stays with you. Paul said, “I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). As Christians come under fire in the coming days, it’s more important than ever that you know what you believe, and why you believe it. And it’s eternally important that what you believe is the truth. Beloved, you don’t just need to know about religious-sounding stuff. You need to know and be convinced of the truth.

The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Know

resurrectionChrist Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God.  Romans 8:34

In the world of biology, all organisms are classed or grouped together by certain similarities and separated by differences in their cellular makeup.  These grouping are known as “kingdoms,” such as the “plant kingdom,” and the “animal kingdom.”  Those are pretty obvious in their classifications, but other groupings such as bacteria and a kingdom known as “Prostista” (complex microscopic cells) have a far wider range of characteristics.  So how do the biologists determine the criteria for classifying species? My Biology 101 textbook made a statement that drew my attention: “Evolutionary assumptions are generally used to decide which characteristics are most primitive and therefore most important.”[1]  In other words, in tracing a species’ changes and growth, classifications are based on the most basic characteristics—it’s “starting point”—as the most important.  Please note, I am not endorsing an evolutionary perspective, but merely pointing to the way all life forms grow and change from their earliest state.  For instance, all human beings start from the same organisms and from there a person changes and grows, but the basic building blocks of human life are evident throughout those changes.  All humans share this starting point, regardless of gender or ethnicity or location.  Thus we classify all humans differently from say plant life or bacteria.

So how does a biology lesson apply to a Christian devotional?  I’m glad you asked.  The Christian faith has experienced a tremendous amount of change over the past two-thousand years.  Some of these changes have been positive, such as the agreement of the doctrines of the faith and some have challenged and strengthened the faith—consider the inspiration of the martyrs during the persecution of the church.  Some changes have been hard, but necessary, such as the Reformation, which gave birth to Protestantism.  From there we have multiple branches of denominations, each with their own traditions and structure.  These are not bad things in themselves but they have changed the complexity of the faith.  And yes, some changes have caused havoc, confusion and turmoil in the church.  I’ll leave those unnamed so we don’t lose focus.  The point is, all these changes have added layers to the basic truths of Christianity.

The question then becomes, when we strip away all these added layers what is the “most primitive and most important” aspect of the Christian faith?

Paul makes it very clear in his letter to the church in Corinth:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time . . . Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appear to me also.”  1 Corinthians 15:3-7.

The death of Jesus Christ, His burial and His resurrection are the core, the root, and the foundation of the Christian faith.  Paul said that those are “of first importance.”  That does not mean that other doctrine of the faith are of lesser importance.  We must recognize the humanity and divinity of Jesus, the incarnation and the virgin birth, but the heart of our faith is the fact that Jesus died, evidenced by His burial, and that He rose again, as seen by the many witnesses afterward.  If your faith is built on anything other than this, if your confidence is in your religious affiliation, if you follow a Jesus who is a “good teacher and moral example,” if you adhere to traditions rather than truth, I dare to say you do not have saving faith.  Only faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is saving faith.  If your Christianity is not built on this single most important truth of all, then you should reconsider whether you truly are a Christian.

Why are these so important?  Without the death of Jesus, our sin debt remains.  Only Jesus could be the perfect sacrifice for your sin and my sin and the sins of all of humankind.  Simply put, Jesus’ death paid for our sins.  But why is it so important to know about His burial?   Because without the grave His death is a question not a fact.   Jesus was visibly buried in an earthly grave to validate His death.  It is also important because, to borrow from Bill Gaither, “The empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.”[2]  The empty tomb was the first indication that Jesus’ followers had that He was alive.  Jesus’ resurrection is the assurance we have of eternal life.  Without His resurrection, we are trusting in a dead man with no power.  But He is alive and He promises us that we will have life everlasting if we believe and trust in Him.

There are many facets to the Christian faith and we do well to learn about atonement, justification, sanctification, grace, Christology and the other great truths of Christianity.  If you’ve never studied these important doctrines, I encourage you to do so.   They will enrich your understanding of the Bible and of your relationship with Christ.  Consider them the building blocks of your faith.  But before you start building, make certain you are on the rock-solid foundation of “first importance.”  Be sure your faith is resting on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Chris. “All other ground is sinking sand.”[3]

Lord Jesus, there are many voices that claim to know the truth, but only Your Word tells us what is “of first importance.”  Guard Your church Jesus lest we wander from the substance of our faith and lose our foundation.  Amen.

 

[1] Charles Detwiler, Kimberly Mitchell and Norman Reichenbach, Life by Design, (Boston, Cengage Learning, 2014), 14.

[2] William J Gaither and Gloria Gaither, Because He Lives, (1971).

[3] Edward Mote and William B. Bradbury, The Solid Rock, (n.d.)