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 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 King

The British royal family has had quite a struggle in the past several years. Being royalty doesn’t always guarantee that everyone will behave well and be happy. Because every member of the royal family is a sinner, just like every “common” human being in the world. This is why the author of Hebrews points to the heavenly throne of Jesus as further proof of who He is. “But about the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God,  your God, has set You above Your companions by anointing You with the oil of Joy.’” (vv. 8-9).

These verses are taken from Psalm 45, a wedding song, and they depict the ascension of Jesus to His take His throne. Yes, Jesus is a king, but He didn’t become a king at the whim of humans. Remember the scene at the royal palace when Pilate mockingly called Jesus a king? The Jewish religious leaders replied, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:1). The people refused Jesus as their king, but it didn’t change who He was because it was God who enthroned and anointed Him.

And what made Him worthy of an eternal throne? He “loved righteousness and hated wickedness.” A lot of kings and queens have come and gone through the ages, some were very good, some were rotten to the core, but none loved righteousness – the standard of God – but Jesus. And none went to the lengths to exalt righteousness that He did. Other kings make laws that demand and enforce a measure of civil behavior, but Jesus gave His life that men might be right before God. There is a huge difference between behaving well and being righteous. It’s an eternal difference.

Everything that earthly royalty is not, Jesus is. Holy. Divine. Humble. Perfect. The author of Hebrews wants us to understand that He is the only hope we have for eternal life and real Joy. He rules over a never-ending kingdom. Beloved, does He rule over your heart and life?

When I See Jesus Face-to-Face

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One day I will look in the face of Jesus and I will see that everything I believed by faith was true.

He is good.

He lived a perfect, sinless life.

He is the King of heaven and earth.

He loves me.

He calmed storms around me and in me.

He overcame darkness and evil.

He met my every need.

He made the blind see.

He made the deaf hear.

He made the mute speak.

He made the lame walk.

He made the sick well.

And He made the broken whole.

He ran to meet me on the road back to Him.

He carried me when I couldn’t take another step.

He held me when my heart was breaking.

He raised the dead to life.

He called and anointed me.

He gave me rest.

He brought peace in the middle of chaos.

He brought Joy when I was brokenhearted.

He is everything He claimed to be.

He not only gave me hope but He was my hope.

He made a way when I couldn’t see any way.

He turned this filthy sinner into a spotless saint.

He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

He prays for me.

He died for me.

He rose from the grave.

He is with me to the end.

And when the end comes, I’ll be with Him forever. And my faith will be proven right.

“For now I see through a glass darkly: but then shall I see face to face. Now I know in part: but then shall I know even as I am known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)

Today I see by faith, and that is enough for me.

The Road Ahead

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“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

The image on my GPS only showed the next several hundred yards in front of me.  But I wanted to see my present location in relation to my destination – a bigger picture.  We live in the moment, in the hours of our days, looking at our weekly schedules and our monthly calendars, planning for college and retirement thinking we’re wise in our future forecasts.  But life isn’t just about our plans for the here and now.  Life – real life – is eternal, and the greatest lesson I’ve learned is to have an eternal perspective in all things.

I’m learning to evaluate every situation and circumstance and consider what kind of impact it will have in eternity. Yes, this life hands us some very hard and painful things. Paul wrote: “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (v.17).  Though they often do not feel “light and momentary,” in the reality of eternity, they are just one tick on the clock of forever. 

This eternal perspective affects my desires too.  When I start to feel the pinch of envy, I remember that Jesus is preparing an eternal place for me that the world’s finest custom-built home can never match.  I will wear a robe of righteousness forever that no fashion designer could ever create.  I will have a perfect body that doesn’t require hours in a gym.  Even the events of this world don’t seem so overwhelming when viewed in the light of eternity.

When we have a “bigger picture” of life that culminates in eternity, we understand the journey we are on and the route before us.  We can traverse twisting roads, sharp turns, long stretches, and detours with the assurance that none of these will stop us from reaching our final destination – heaven and the presence of God forever.  Beloved, I encourage you to widen the view before you and trust the One who is leading you.  This life with all its heartache and struggle is part of the journey to your perfect eternal destiny.  Let’s travel on together with our hearts set on forever.

Under the Sun

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Several years ago we lived in a run-down trailer in a dismal area.  Every day I drove past a very affluent neighborhood filled with fine houses and mini-mansions. By the time I go home, I was so depressed. Then I got to know a woman who lived in one of those grand homes, and she was miserable. It blew me away. She had everything, and it wasn’t enough. She thought she should have more. I thought about her this morning as I read Ecclesiastes 2.

Solomon had it all. The most powerful king in the ancient world, he had women – 700 wives and 300 hundred concubines. He built houses for himself, planted vineyards, made gardens and parks, owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem, amassed silver and gold, acquired slaves and singers – he said, “I denied myself nothing . . .” (2:4-19). He sought wisdom and was considered the wisest ruler in the land. (2:12-15). Yet for all he had and all he did, he surmised, “everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (2:10).

Solomon’s mistake was that he chased after everything “under the sun” (2:11). That means he pursued the world and his own pleasures. There is nothing more meaningless than that. In fact, Solomon uses the phrase, “under the sun,” 27 times – always about some pointless, fruitless, useless activity of man.

God has been driving home one main point for me for several years: it’s all about eternity. This life is a blink, a moment, a flash. Eternity is – well – eternal. It’s forever and ever and ever. It’s the only thing that counts. What does inconvenience mean if someone gains eternal life? What does persecution mean if God is glorified? What does it mean to struggle or be harassed in light of heaven with Christ Jesus? What does a mansion, a Corvette, the latest high fashion, or the best vacations gain you in eternity? Not a thing. But humility, kindness, endurance, patience, love, faithfulness – these have great value in heaven.

I know the world’s glitz and glitter are tempting, and the faithful life in Christ can seem dull in comparison. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Invest your life in eternity Beloved. “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last” (C.T. Studd).

What Are You Looking Forward To?

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

What encourages you?  What gives you the strength to press on through hard times? What – besides your alarm – gets you up in the morning to face another day?  Or to put it another way – Where’s your hope? For a group of bewildered men, it was the promise that Jesus would come back. The Lord had said it many times, “I am going to prepare a place for you . . . and I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3). To the people who were being oppressed and persecuted for the Name of Jesus, Paul said “encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess 4:18). What words? The promise of Jesus’ return: “the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (v. 16-17).

How can that help you and me in our daily struggles? Only if we have an eternal mindset – a Kingdom mindset. If you’re only focused on what is happening in the dash between the day you’re born and the day you die, the troubles of this life will be overwhelming. But if your treasure is in heaven, if you’re looking forward to an eternal Kingdom, if you know that this world is not your home, then the promise of Christ’s return is all the hope you need to face another day. It’s what enables you to look past the trials and struggles of this life to a place with no more pain or sorrow or trouble. It what makes you love the ones who are hard to love.  It’s what drives you to tell the story of Jesus. It’s what gives you a sense of purpose in a world that can’t see beyond the next game, the next election, the next paycheck.

Oh, Beloved, I pray you have this eternal hope. I pray that the promise of Jesus’ return encourages you every day. I pray your eye is always turned toward the Eastern sky – because He’s coming back. Above all, I pray you’re ready. Do you know Him?

At the End of the Road

Every step Jesus took on earth, every day of His life brought Him closer to the cross. To pain. To beatings. To mocking and ridicule. To misery. To death. But the pain and misery and death brought Him closer to His resurrection. And to heaven. And to His Father. “But,” we say in our pain, “He is God and He has perfect wisdom of every situation He faced. He knew the outcome was glory.”
It’s not that simple for you and me, is it? We are often blindsided by life. By trials and struggles – disease, pain, fear, loss, broken relationships, financial crisis, rejection, unrest. How can we endure these things?. The same way Jesus did. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus, “the author and perfector of our faith” looked beyond the cross to “the Joy set before Him.” He endured the cross and its shame because He knew that on the other side of it He would be reunited with His Father.
Please understand that I’m not saying we can only expect misery in this life and the good stuff comes in the next. God is a good Father, and He loves to heal and restore and repair and surprise us with blessings. He knows that when the pressure is on, we want relief now, not in some mystical, ethereal, ever-after place. What I’m trying to say is that every heartache, every struggle, every trial and pain brings us one step closer to the glory of eternal life. We have His Word on it. “I am going to [My Father’s house] to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).
At the end of it all, there is glory. Beloved, can you hold on just a little longer?

When Your World is Shaken

“At that time His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” Hebrews 12:26-27

There are two perspectives taught in the church about suffering, one is that suffering is inevitable and unavoidable and the other is that suffering is evil and its presence should be rejected, and in truth they are both correct.

Suffering and hardships are part of human life. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, mankind has been subject to the travails of life outside of the perfect world of the Garden.  Sickness, death, failure and even the ravages of nature are all part of the consequences of that very first sin.  In that sense suffering is unavoidable.

Suffering is also part of the Christian’s life—Jesus told us as much: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). He said the world would hate and persecute His followers because they hated and persecuted Him (see John 15:18-21).  It is both a painful experience and a joyful one to suffer for the name of Christ.  As we watch the world turn farther and farther away from God, it is reasonable to believe that suffering in this way is inevitable.

Suffering is also rooted in evil, as we noted—a direct consequence of the actions of the first humans who listened to the evil one rather than their Creator.  In the Garden, all was perfect.  No disease, no death, no hatred, no failure, do destruction.  Evil entered the picture and Adam and Eve were banished from their perfect home.  If only they had resisted . . .  Now mankind and creation are subject to evil in the forms of hatred, war, crime, poverty and abuse, to name a few.

How are we to comprehend a good God who allows suffering to befall His beloved creation—human beings, animals and the planet He spoke into being?  Look around the world at what evil men have done, at the pain they have inflicted. Why would God allow this to be?  Let’s bring this closer to home—how can we understand when He allows suffering to touch our lives?  Is it possible that God has lost control?

Beloved, God has never lost control of this universe; He is just as sovereign over the affairs of creation—including suffering—as He has ever been.  And He has never lost control of the lives of men.  He continues to hold the reigns of the world, just as He continues to hold your life and mine in the palm of His hand.

So how do we reconcile God’s sovereignty and suffering?  Do we become spiritual Eeyores and resign ourselves to it?  Pat each other on the shoulder and say “Just trust God,” with a sigh?  There are many theological reasons we can consider, but I don’t think that will comfort our hearts.

Our key verse is the hope I hang on to in suffering.  This verse references a passage in the Old Testament book of Haggai, which is written to the Israelite refugees who had returned to Jerusalem after their 70-year Babylonian exile.  The weary and bedraggled Jews came home, not to the shining city of their past, but to a burned out shell.  The walls had been knocked flat, their homes decimated, and worst of all, the temple of the Lord has been burned to the ground.  In their recovery efforts they restored the wall and built homes and even began the work on the temple, but they were too overwhelmed to finish.  God declared to His people, “Be strong and work, for I am with you” (Haggai 2:4), and the Jews did indeed complete the task.  Yet they became discouraged because this second temple was much smaller and less opulent than Solomon’s temple.  So God declared to them that an even greater Temple was yet to come, a heavenly temple far beyond their wildest and greatest dreams.  This is what the writer of Hebrews was drawing on in our key verse.

Times of suffering in the lives of God’s people are tools He uses to prepare us for what is to come.  In this verse, the author used the image of being shaken.  Some things are “shakable,” unstable and unfixed.  They are the temporary things that we too often set our hearts on in this life.  Power, popularity, prestige, wealth, health and beauty—all things that fade away.  God wants us to realize that these things, so sought after in this world, have no value or permanence in the eternal.  So He shakes things up, causing these worldly “treasures” to fall away, and with them our dependence on and affection for them.

What remains after all the shaking is done?  Look at Hebrews 12:28: “a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” What remains is the eternal, unshakable Kingdom of Jesus Christ.  The New Jerusalem, the Holy City where we will live forever in the presence of the Lord.  What value is there in worldly treasures when we stand before the King of kings and Lord of lords?  Those things that captured our hearts in this life are meaningless in the light of heaven.  Oh why do we hold on to the unstable things of this world when an unshakable destiny awaits us?

What is God shaking loose in your life?  What are you holding on to that has no eternal value? Dear one, He will not take anything from you that is lasting and true.  Let God have His way with the temporary treasures of your life so that you may inherit the unshakable and eternal.

Holy Father, in my hand are worldly treasures, trinkets and false gemstones set in fool’s gold.  Shake them from my hands that I may grab hold of that which is unshakable and eternal.  Amen.

Looking at Life from Higher Up

earth-11014_640In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).

 

In his great testimony Paul declared, “I am convinced . . . “– I ask you the same question I ask myself:   Does your life show that you are convinced of this too?  What difference would it make in your life if you knew beyond a shadow of doubt that God loved you?  Would your decisions and priorities change if you were certain of His love?  How might your relationships be affected if this one question were forever answered in your heart?  I believe we can answer this human dilemma, but it takes a change in perspective, and Paul has shown us the way.

When we look at life from our earthly perspective, life and death, angels and demons, the present and the future (and the past), powers and time and distance seem to be unsurmountable forces that indeed come between us and God.  Even if we’re not pondering the great matters of life, the demands of our own existence threaten us.  When we consider the daily struggles of life: bills and sickness, work and rebellious kids, marriage issues, difficult relationships, tragedies and disappointments, and every other thing that overwhelms us,  our hope and confidence in God’s love is shaken.  It’s easy to look at God as our loving Father when it has been a good day and things fell into place pretty well, but when storms come with lightning and thunder, God seems far away and His love is hidden by the driving rain. It is a very human reaction to living in this fallen world where the consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin was separation from God.

But Paul is teaching us to look at life from a higher perspective, from the vantage point of eternity where the things that intimidate and overwhelm us in this life have no impact whatsoever.   This is the hope that believers have, that nothing, but nothing can separate us from God’s love. When we take an eternal perspective of life, we recognize that only that which touches eternity is of any value.  1 John 2:25 is our sure hope: “This is what He promised us – even eternal life.” Paul tells us that the things that seem so huge to us like life and death and those that are ethereal and terrifying like angels and demons and the vastness of the highest heavens and the deepest depths pose no obstacle to God’s love.  He reminds us that nothing in all creation has the power to affect God’s love because everything in all of creation is under the power and authority of the Creator.  And the Creator loves you, therefore His love is as sure as His name and His character.

On what does Paul base this conviction?  Look at the very last portion of this passage: “. . .the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.  Jesus Christ is the fulfillment and culmination of God’s love for humanity.  No greater love exists than the love of God that was shown on the cross.  No other love is as enduring and unshakable and indestructible as the love of God in the face of Jesus.  No other love transcends life and death than the love of Him who raised the dead to life.  What love is this that commands both angels and demons to do His bidding?  Only the love of God.  Only a love that reached down from the throne above the heavens to the depths of man’s sinful hearts to build a bridge for the created to have access to the Creator.

I invite you to personalize this passage with the struggles in your own life. What can separate me from God’s love?  Neither bankruptcy nor foreclosure, neither stupid decisions nor upheavals in life, neither struggles in marriage, struggles in finances, car accidents, infertility, depression nor anxiety can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.  Let the reality of this promise envelope your life and your struggles.

If you are a Christian, you are inseparably joined to Christ Jesus and forever bound up in this amazing love of God.  This is your eternal promise, and it is a promise that can sustain you in this life through all the things that threaten to undo you.  Every trial and struggle and difficulty must submit to God’s love.  Everything in all of creation bows before the God of Creation, the God who has sworn His love for you with the blood of His one and only Son.

Holy Father, when I struggle through my days, remind me to walk in the knowledge of eternity and the promise of your eternal love. Amen.