Hebrews: One Life, One Death, One Savior

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If it seems like we’ve been in the tabernacle with the high priest for a long time now, you would be right. The writer of Hebrews has repeatedly contrasted the earthly tabernacle and the human priest with the heavenly tabernacle and the divine great high priest to prove the point that Christ is the better way – the only way – to salvation and eternal life. Don’t forget that he was writing to a people steeped in the traditions of Judaism, the Law, and the sacrificial system. All they had ever known was the yearly atonement and they struggled to accept another way. Every year they watched the high priest going into the holy of holies wearing his ritual garments. On his breastplate, near his heart,  he bore the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (Ex 28). On his shoulders, he also carried the names of the sons of Israel, so that he symbolically  “bore the sins of Israel” on his shoulders before the Lord. Every year he carried the same burden into the holy of holies and repeated the necessary sacrifices because one sacrifice was never enough. Until . . .

When Christ went into the heavenly tabernacle He entered into the literal presence of God and offered Himself for “the sins of many people” (Heb 9:28). He didn’t just carry the names and sins of a single group of people, He carried them all, including the Israelites. But the Jewish believers weren’t sure they could trust their eternal security to a “one and done” Savior. What if His sacrifice wasn’t enough? They would be left with their sins uncovered and would be forever condemned. The choice was to throw their whole life on Christ or turn back to what they had always known. To make the point clearer, he said, “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people” (v. 27). Human life is a one-time thing and so is the judgment that follows. But so was Christ’s sacrifice – once was enough. He will come again to take the judge’s seat and render the final verdict for all who trusted in Him: “not guilty.” Beloved, make sure your one life is safe in the nail-scarred hands of Christ.

For the Foolish People (like me)

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The more I read the Bible the more I am amazed at God’s goodness to fulfill His plan even in the midst of our foolishness. Sarah schemed to give Abraham an heir to fulfill God’s promise. The mess she made of it all is still felt in the world today. Yet, God didn’t abandon His plan in retaliation. He still allowed the foolish Sarah to bear a son – the child of the promise. When Isaac married and his wife finally conceived, God told Rebekah that her younger son would rule over his older brother, but she still schemed to make sure Jacob – the younger son and her favorite – got his father’s blessing. Then he had to run to his uncle far away to protect himself from his brother’s wrath. While there he married two sisters and started a family with them and their maids (and people say the Bible is boring). Out of all this deception, manipulation, and foolishness, God still gave twelve sons to Jacob – sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel and eventually a nation that could not be counted, just as He promised Abraham.

That gives me hope because I have made some major messes in my life, done some foolish and, yes, sinful things.  I have heard God say, “turn to the right,” and I ran instead to the left because the grass looked greener there. It was just an illusion. I have made choices because I thought I knew better than God what would make me happy and only found sorrow and struggle. I have reaped the whirlwind of my stupidity many times. Yet God has never given up on me. He has never turned His back on me in disgust or frustration. He has never left me to rot in the pit of my choosing.  And He has never failed to turn it all around and still fulfill His good, pleasing, and perfect will. Beloved, I know He will be faithful to do the same for you. He is a good and gracious God – even when we mess it all up.

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.

Hebrews: The Better Covenant

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“I promise.” There was a time when those two words meant something. When you could count on the person and the pledge. A couple stood before “God and these witnesses” to declare their life-long love. A politician made campaign promises that ensured his election, and his supporters could depend on the word of their elected official. A prospective employee agreed to a salary and benefits in exchange for faithful, dependable, service. All of these are the pattern of a covenant and covenant is the foundation of the relationship between God and man.

A covenant involves three people (or people groups) – two parties who wish to make an agreement of mutual benefit and a mediator to bring them to agreeable terms.  The covenant would stand as long as both parties lived and fulfilled their responsibilities. God made a covenant with Adam and Eve, first to allow them to rule over the earth (Gen 1:26), and then, after their sin, to bring a redeemer to crush their enemy (Gen 3:15). He made a covenant with Noah to never again destroy the earth with a flood (Gen 9:15). His covenant with Abraham was for his descendants to possess the land of Canaan (Gen 17:8). He made a covenant with Moses and Israel at Mount Sinai which involved a host of laws. He also made a covenant with David that his descendants would always sit on the throne of Israel, including One who would rule over an eternal kingdom ( 2 Sam 7:1-16). All of those covenants except one were dependant solely on the faithfulness of God. The Mosaic covenant demanded obedience from the people for God’s blessings and promised curses for disobedience.

The writer of Hebrews said the old covenant was perfect, but “God found fault with the people,” (Heb 8:8) because they were unable to maintain obedience. Rather than give up on them, he determined to “make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (v. 8). It was a covenant of forgiveness (v. 12) and of the Holy Spirit. The writer quoted Jeremiah saying, “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time . . . I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people . . . and they will all know me” (v. 10,11).

While Moses was the mediator between God and Israel, Jesus Christ is the mediator between a holy God and sinful humanity – and the covenant was sealed with His blood. This covenant will never become “obsolete” and it will never “disappear” (v. 13) because its foundation is the obedience of Christ, not man.  Beloved, it’s not up to you. It’s up to Him, and He is forever faithful.

The Face of God

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The ancient blessing from God contained the words: “The Lord make His face shine on you . . . The Lord turn His face toward you . . .”  (Numbers 6:26). In the terminology of the Old Testament, to “turn one’s face toward” someone was to signify favor and blessing from the greater to the lesser.  A king might show favor to a trusted soldier or advisor and shower him with gifts and position—he had turned his face toward him.  It was a mutual benefit as the king gained greater loyalty from the one he favored.  For the nation of Israel, the God of heaven and earth turned His face toward them and promised His blessing, His grace, and His peace (see vs. 24-26).  This weary group had just escaped from Egypt after four hundred years of slavery.  They had nothing to offer that would garner His favor, they had no country of their own, no wealth or treasure, and no political or military power.  When God turned His face toward them, it was purely an act of unmerited favor on the part of the Lord.

As we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the favor of the Creator poured out on us, His creation.  We celebrate the gift of His mercy and His grace given in the Baby in the manger. Our celebrations are meager compared to this gift. We hang lights in our homes to honor the Light of the World.  We give gifts just as the Magi gave gifts to the Christ Child.  We sing songs remembering the song of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” (Luke 2:14).  We rejoice at the Joy of the shepherds who first saw this wondrous gift from heaven.

But let us not forget that God showed His highest favor toward us at Calvary.  The gift given at Jesus’ birth was made complete in His sacrifice.  At the cross, the Father turned His away from His one and only Son so that He might turn His face toward sinful humanity – toward you, Beloved – and give you peace.  It is the highest act of benevolence and it is the greatest gift you will ever be given.

God is Here

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The boy stood looking at the writing on the angry man’s poster: GOD IS NOWHERE. When the man laid down his poster to step into the nearby café, the lad turned the poster over and wrote diligently.  The man came back to his spot on the sidewalk and the boy said, “You had a mistake on your poster, but it fixed it. He picked up the poster to read what the boy had written: GOD IS NOW HERE.

That is the whole point of the Christmas story.  The Bible shows us that God has continually drawn near to man.  In the garden, He had close and personal fellowship with Adam and Eve, walking through the Garden with them in the cool of the evening.  But sin broke that intimate fellowship, and a barrier was placed between God and man.  God commanded the Israelites to make a Tabernacle that He might come and dwell among His people, and He did for hundreds of years until again, the sin of the nation of Israel became so great that God withdrew from the Temple.  The Old Testament records many visitations of God to Abraham, Jacob, Daniel, and others who were devoted to Him.  But these were brief occasions, to impart a message or empower His servant for a specific act.  God desired a deeper communion with man.  And God had a plan.

The angel recalled the prophecy: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him called ‘Immanuel*’ which means ‘God with us’” (Matt 1:23).  Jesus brought God near to us as a tiny baby in Bethlehem, as a man proclaiming the Good News, as the sacrifice on the cross for our sins, and as the risen Lord.  Then He gave us His presence continually in His indwelling Holy Spirit.  Immanuel is with us in storms and darkness and trial and suffering.  He is with us in our times of doubt and fear and loneliness and emptiness.  The joy of Immanuel is knowing that there is no place we can go and no circumstance of life we will face that God is as near as your whispered prayer.  Jesus made Himself one of us that we might be with Him now and for eternity.

Beloved, I pray that the Joy of Immanuel is with you this Advent season.

* Some translations spell this word differently, the NIV uses Immanuel, the KJV uses Emmanuel – either way God is with us.

Satisfied

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“If I only had a boyfriend, I would be so happy.” “If I were married, I would finally be content.” “Oh, if I could have a baby, my life would be perfect.” “I know if I could find a better job I would finally be satisfied.” Ever said one of these, or something similar? I’ve said all of them – and guess what – they didn’t deliver what I thought they would. The boyfriend was a jerk, the marriage turned sour, the baby cried. All. The. Time. And the job just meant more stress.

Isaiah 55:2 says, “Why spend money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy?” This was God’s call to the nation of Israel to leave behind all the things that had failed them and come to the only sure thing that could satisfy – Himself. They had wearied themselves trying to gain wealth and power, position and pleasure – but still, their lives were empty. The harder they tried to create a satisfying and fulfilled life, the further they got from it.

Does that ring any bells for you? It sure does for me. I’ve known moments of what I thought were satisfaction or Joy or peace, but they were only temporary and soon I was looking to the next thing/person for what was missing in my life. The truth is that I was not looking for what I needed, but for what I wanted. And my wants changed with the next commercial, the newest pair of shoes, or the next hunger pang. But then I met Jesus and I discovered what I was longing for in Christ.  No person can steal that satisfaction. No circumstance can take away that Joy.  No trial can shatter that peace.

Beloved, what are you relying on for satisfaction? Wealth? Status? Food? Perfection? People? Acceptance? None of these will fill that void inside you. It is only when you look to Christ to meet your desires that you gain a satisfaction that is eternal and unshakable. God said to the Israelites, “Give ear and come to me; hear me that your soul may live” (v. 3). There is no need to look for the next thing because there is nothing more satisfying than Him.

Turning the Church Back to God

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Psalm 74 was written during a hard time for Israel. Once they were God’s holy and righteous nation, but slowly, in seemingly insignificant ways, a drift away from God had been taking place.  A small compromise here, a little concession there and they drifted right into captivity. In verse 4 the psalmist said, “[The enemy] has set up their standards for signs. And in verse 9 he lamented, “We do not see our signs.”  Israel could no longer see the signs – that is “the line of measure” – of the Lord. They were lost and confused, and easily drawn into captivity without them.

The Christian Church today – particularly in the West – has drifted dangerously away from the signs of truth.  We have slowly and imperceptibly allowed the world to influence the church’s beliefs and standards. We have allowed the heart of the church to become cold to God, His Word, and His ways. We are repeating Israel’s folly and being taken captive by the world – and we don’t even realize it’s happening.

Lest we forget, the church is you and me.  And if the church has been taken captive, it is because you and I have been taken captive. And if the church is to turn back to God, it will only happen when you and I turn away in repentance from worldly influences, deny ourselves the pleasures of sin, and seek God’s face in whole-hearted devotion. 

Remember the lament of Asaph?  Though the enemy had set up their wicked standards in the Temple, he knew where his salvation and his loyalty lay.  In verse 12 he said, “But you, O God, are my King from of old, who works deeds of deliverance.” Asaph knew that only by keeping his heart devoted to God and to His ways and words, would he be delivered from the hands of the enemy.  His deliverance is our deliverance too.  Only through faith in and wholehearted devotion to Jesus Christ, who is “the same, yesterday and today and forever,” will His church, His people – you and I – be delivered.

I was reminded today of the power of encouragement – that is urging – even begging and pleading – believers to faithfulness. Beloved, with all my heart, I encourage you – return to the Lord, renew your faith, and fall in love with His Word. Walk in His holy ways. Be the one who turns the heart of the church back to God.,

In His Hands

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“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Yes, I know, you’ve heard this verse a thousand times. It’s an old favorite of the church and might even be a bit overused. But that’s because it is true and hopeful and if ever we needed hope, I think it’s now. It seems like the whole world has gone crazy, doesn’t it? Or perhaps the world is too big to contemplate, but your life has been crazy lately.  You find yourself asking “Why?” and wondering if God has forgotten about you. Let me take you on a ride through history to show that the Lord is still very much in control.

In 332 BC, the nation of Israel, along with much of the known world was conquered by Alexander the Great, a Greek warrior and king. Alexander’s conquests were not meant for destruction, but rather for assimilation into the Greek empire. All nations were educated in the Greek language for unification. Alexander ordered the ancient Hebrew Scriptures to be translated into Greek, a work that was accomplished in 70 days.

In 63 BC, the Roman Empire conquered Israel. Though known for their cruelty and harsh rule, they were also known for establishing strong infrastructure wherever they went to enable swift transport for their military. Roads were laid by the Romans throughout the European and Asian continents.

After the death and resurrection of Jesus persecution drove His followers from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria and throughout the region. As they went, they walked along Roman-built roads and shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the unified Greek language. The story of God was read and taught everywhere they went because the language was the same wherever they went.

While all these events seemed to be unconnected, harsh circumstances, it’s clear that the God of heaven and earth was “working all things together” for the spread of the Gospel. Now, don’t you think this same sovereign God is able to manage the circumstances of your life? Not only has He not forgotten about you, but He is “perfecting that which concerns you” (Psalm 138:8). He’s got the whole world in His hands – and that includes you Beloved.

Giants

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David and Goliath. One of the best-known stories of the Bible.  A story of good versus evil in the face of impossible odds.  We learn so much from David here. Faith. Determination. Confidence. Preparation. Fearlessness. All very good lessons. But I saw something in this story that I’d never noticed before and I think it’s a very powerful lesson we need to learn.

When David visited the battle site he discovered that the Israelite army was at a standstill. They were paralyzed with fear and he soon saw why. “Goliath, the Philistine champion stepped out from the lines and shouted his usual defiance” (1 Samuel 17:23). His usual defiance was to belittle them, challenge them, threaten them, and thoroughly intimidate them. He said, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel!” (8-10). They were “dismayed and terrified” (v. 11). I imagine so! Goliath was over nine feet tall, wore 125 pounds of armor, and carried a spear with an iron point that weighed 15 pounds (4-7). “When the Israelites saw the man, they all ran from him in great fear” (v. 24). And this went had gone on for forty days – twice a day (16). The Israelites had given up hope.

David saw the same enemy and heard the same schpiel. But he saw it much differently. David demanded, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (26). He realized that the Israelites 1) forgot whose they were, and 2) they were afraid – of words.

You and I have an enemy who looks like a giant in our eyes and all day long he berates us and accuses us and tells us we are worthless. He tells us we’re going down. And we listen – day-after-day-after-day – until we start to believe it.  Because we forget whose we are – that we are the sons and daughters of God and co-heirs with Christ. Because we are afraid – of words.

Here’s what the Lord impressed on my heart: Giants must be defeated – not feared.

If you are in Christ, satan’s only weapon against you is words. That’s it. But you have the righteousness of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Stand your ground, Beloved. You are more than a conqueror (Romans 8:38).