Hebrews: Examing the Hard Stuff

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And so we come, in our study of Hebrews, to one of the hardest passages in the Bible. Let me remind you where we are in this message: “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace” (Hebrews 6:4-6).

If you’re wondering where I’ve been the past two weeks, it is dealing with life issues and researching this passage. Here is what I’ve discovered: There is more confusion around these words than coherence. These are people who were never saved to begin with.  Or, they were once saved and became so hardhearted they drifted or walked away. In either case, there is no assurance of salvation and eternal life. So who’s right?   In today’s devotional, we’re going to define some terms. It’s not important that you know the original Greek words, but that you understand them as the original author did. This may be a little dry, but hang with me, we’ll put it all back together later.

Impossible: the word combination negates the power to accomplish a task. Because we know He has infallible power we can reason that the task is not impossible for God.

Once: once for all; what is done is eternally valid and never needs to be repeated.

Enlightened: to illumine; spiritually imbue with saving knowledge, to instruct, inform, teach.

Tasted: to come into existence: to prove to be – implying the partaking and enjoying of the experience.

Gift: a thing given

Shared: sharing/participating in (by context: sharing in the Holy Spirit)

Fall away: to fall beside a person or thing; to slip aside; to deviate from the right path (by context to fall away from the true faith and worship of Jehovah God).

Brought back: renew, restore; to renew that he shall repent (only appearance in Scripture)

Public disgrace: to make a public example in a bad sense, to expose to public disgrace.

What do all these words and terms mean together?  That’s the next Hebrews devotional. Stay tuned . . .

Be Perfect

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“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

I’m trying. But I’ll never pull it off. I’ll never be perfect. I am too human, too flawed, too me. That was made sharply and painfully apparent to me this weekend. My heart is still. I’ll never reach that impossible measure. I might as well give up. Why would Jesus demand such a thing of me? He knows I can’t do it.

Because He is not telling me to be without fault, He is telling me to be complete. The word “perfect” in Greek is teleios, and it means to bring to an end, to finish, to be mature. (Honestly, I’m not even sure I can pull off mature.) Jesus used that word when He told the rich man to sell all he had and give it to the poor and follow Him (Matt. 19:21). Paul used it to say that we must put childishness behind us and be mature (1 Cor 14:20). James said that perfection comes from patience (sigh) (Jas 1:4). And John said that God’s love is perfect – complete and full.

Here in Matthew 5, it comes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – after the Beatitudes and do not murder or commit adultery. It comes in the passage where Jesus said “Love your enemies” Oh.

He said “Do not resist an evil person . . . turn the other cheek . . . go the extra mile . . . give with no conditions. (vs. 38-42). He said, “Pray for those who persecute you, who despitefully use you.” (vs. 43-48). Be kind and gracious to those who stand against you. That, He said is what sons (and daughters) of the Father do. That is what perfect people do. That is what the Father has done for me and for you.

There are two times that Jesus used a word – teleo – that shares the same root meaning as teleios – both of these words come from the base meaning of “an end result or goal.” Twice Jesus said, “It is finished” – at the cross when work of salvation was completed (John 19:30) , and in Revelation 21:6 when the work of creation was completed. Finished. Done. Perfect.

I do want to perfect. Jesus said that comes in loving those who are against me, just as He did on the cross. I can’t do that on my own. Thankfully, I don’t have to. Neither do you Beloved.

Is There a Point to All This?

motivator-confusion

“March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days” (Joshua 6:3).

“Is there a point to this?” I fumed last week as I worked nonsensical logic problems.  Once again I was frustrated by course work that seemed to have no practical purpose.  I want to know the reason for whatever I’m being asked to do.  It helps me in the learning process if I can understand the “why” as much as the “how.” 

The Christian life rarely give us practical reasons for what we’re called to do.  Often we don’t even know how to accomplish that calling.  Throughout the Bible we see God calling people to do the impractical as well as the impossible.  Deliver two-million people from slavery, go through a raging sea with your captors literally on your heels, oh and I’m not telling you where you’re going; you’re just going to follow me day-by-day.  “Lord, how am I going to pull this off?”  “Just trust me and you’ll see.”  Take down a fortified city with no weapons – just walk around the city every day.  I can hear the bewildered people asking, “Lord, why such a crazy battle plan?”  “Just trust me and you’ll see.” 

How often does God ask you and me to do something that makes no sense and is completely outside of our power and ability to accomplish?  Is there a point to all this?  Why on earth would He make such a request?  How does He expect us to do the impossible?  I can almost hear His answer: “Just trust me and you’ll see.” There really is a logical and practical purpose – to give God the glory and honor He deserves.  He asks us to do the impractical and the impossible to show His power and might and sovereignty.  He asks great things of us to show that He is a great God.  Beloved, you and I have the awesome blessing of being vessels for the glory of God.  And that is the point of it all.

Anatomy of a Miracle

woman in prayer“You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples” (Psalm 77:14).

When we read the Bible today, we have the decided advantage of hindsight, or as Paul Harvey said, we know “the rest of the story.”  We have the record of God’s activity and know the outcome.  Don’t you just wish you could tell the disciples, in the hours between His death and resurrection, that hope is not lost and Jesus will rise from the dead?  Or wouldn’t you like to yell to Eve – “Don’t touch that fruit!”  I have always wanted to tell Sarah and Abraham, “Please be patient with God in this, you will have a child.”  Oh, what peace this world would have if only we could warn them of the future consequences of their actions.  This thought really struck home with me while I was reading the story in Mark 9:17-27 of the father who took his son to Jesus for a miracle.  I invite you to take a moment and read the account to get the scope of the story.

Now I want you to put yourself in this father’s shoes – or sandals – and look at the scene again through his eyes.  He is a loving, but very worried father.  His son is under the control of spirit that is causing the boy to harm himself, throwing him into fire or water to kill him and causing him to convulse and foam at the mouth.  (Many scholars believe the child had epilepsy.)  Now I’m a mom, and simple fevers, cuts and scrapes don’t phase me, but this – this would be terribly frightening and disconcerting.  No doubt they have carried their child to countless doctors and religious healers, and probably spent all their money hoping for a cure.

Think about this from the father’s perspective – in real time – as he stands before Jesus with pleading eyes, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (Mark 9:22).  The father doesn’t have our vantage point to know how this will end, he has no guarantee of healing to hang his hope on.  All he has are scraps of others people’s stories of their encounters with Jesus– and a plea that the rabbi will do the same for his boy.

Stay in the moment as we see Jesus turn to the child and speak with authority, “I command you to come out of him and never enter him again” (v. 25).  Watch through this father’s heart as “the spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out” (v. 26)” But wait, what did Jesus do?  The boy looks dead – like a corpse!  The father brought his boy to Jesus and Jesus made everything worse.

Now, freeze this scene right here and consider with me, how many times you and I have been in the same place.  You brought your problem to Jesus in hopes that He would help you.  You pray and plead with Him.  You’ve heard of others’ testimonies of the wonderful things He’d done for them, and you hope He will do the same for you.  And what happened next? It all got worse instead of better.  And so the questions start: “Did I pray wrong?” “Did God not hear me?” “Does He have something against me?”  “Why does He do good things for others, but not for me?”  Now, in addition to our problem we have all this anxiety and we’re wondering, “what just happened and what do I do now?”

You see, just as the father lived out his story in real-time, you and I are also living out our story without the advantage of a written script that tells us how it all ends.  All we know is, right now, in this moment, it all seems hopeless.  Jesus has let us down.

“But Jesus . . .” these are the most precious words in the Bible to me.  When all seemed more hopeless than before, Mark said, “But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet” v. 27).  Wonder of wonders, the boy is not dead – he is alive – and healed!  He runs into his father’s arms with a smile of triumph.  The stunned father bends his head to kiss his child, and then looks at Jesus in amazement.  “My child . . . my child is alive?” “My son is healed?”  “Surely,” he muses to himself, “this is no ordinary rabbi!”

My friend, may I remind you not to give up on Jesus before the miracle is complete.  That moment when all seems lost, just as it was for this father, may be the moment before all is found again.  I have some dear friends whose grandmother wrote a song that said “Don’t give up on the brink of a miracle . . .” I think that is wonderful advice.  Bring your problem to Jesus, give Him room to work, and don’t give up until He pronounces the miracle fulfilled.

Mighty, merciful, awesome Father – how often we give up before You are finished working in our situation.  Please remind us that miracles always end with glory, so if we haven’t seen the glory of God displayed, we must wait and trust that it all still rests in Your hands.  Amen.