Hebrews: This is the Gospel

Tupac Shakur said, “Only God can judge me.” Coming from a guy who portrayed a “gansta” life and sang about violence, rape, drugs, and destruction, he was spot on. I don’t know if he ever read the Bible, but he’s paraphrasing Paul: “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court . . . It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Cor 4:3,4). The writer of Hebrews echoed him saying, “you have come to God the judge of all men . . .” (Heb 12:23). That is part of the gospel story that has fallen out of favor in recent years, but it’s the bad news that makes the good news so good.

I am sure you know John 3:16 well. It reveals the heart of the gospel: God loves sinners. But Jesus also said: “Whoever does not believe [in Him] stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (v. 18).  Here’s the rest of the story (nod to Paul Harvey).  God sent His Son because all of mankind is condemned because of sin.  Not because of our sinful actions, but because sin is the human condition since the fall.  We’re not sinners because we sin – we sin because we’re sinners. It’s not just what we do – it’s who we are. The destiny of all people is eternal condemnation – the wrath of God. Unless we believe in Jesus – and then our destiny is eternal life. That is what Paul means when he says: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Hebrews continues the thought saying, “You have come . . . to the spirits of righteous men made perfect” – just as we will one day be. “You have come to Jesus . . .” Just stop right here and rest in that statement. That changes everything. “You have come to Jesus – the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (v. 24). The new covenant is a covenant of mercy – of a love that saves through holy blood that was shed, not from jealousy and rage, but from divine providence. Abel’s blood brought about a curse on Cain. Jesus’ blood brings freedom from the curse of sin for everyone who believes.

In 279 words I have told you the gospel. Here’s the summary: You are a sinner. God loves you. Jesus died to save you. Beloved, won’t you come to Jesus?

A Gift From God

Several sweet ladies did something kind and generous for me this week. They not only met my need, but they encouraged me greatly with their love. They were a gift from God to me. The Father loves to give gifts to His children. James said, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father . . .” (Jas 1:17). The foundation of the Christian faith is the gift of Jesus. “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Eight times in His high priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus speaks to His Father of “those you have given me.” (John 17: 2, 6, 9, 11-12, 24). The word for “given” means to bestow a gift. It’s the same word used in John 3:16. The great pastor and scholar Elmer Towns said: “As Jesus is the Father’s gift of love to the world, believers are the Father’s gift of love to Christ.” Imagine that. If you and I are in Christ, the Father has presented us to His Son as a gift to express His love. I am stunned and overwhelmed by that thought.

I always believed I was just a burden to Jesus. The Scriptures are clear, He went to the cross because there was no other way to save me. It had to be done. But when I began studying the Bible deeply I realized that Jesus endured the cross with Joy (Heb 12:2). Oh, I know my sins weighed heavy on his shoulders. I know it was an excruciatingly painful death He experienced on my behalf. But the picture the writer painted in this verse is that Jesus looked into heaven and saw my face there – and yours – and that gave Him Joy.

I’ve struggled my whole life with a low sense of myself and I know I’m not alone in that. Life has a way of beating us down. It’s hard to hold your head up when you’ve been told from childhood all the things that are wrong with you and how you fail to measure up. Beloved, Jesus doesn’t see you as a burden He has to bear. He sees you as a gift He Joyfully received from His Father. And everybody loves a gift – even Jesus.

God Sees You

A high school or university has thousands of students roaming the halls, sitting in classes, and congregating on the lawn. Each student is but one of the many wanting to see and be seen, hoping that they stand out from the rest.  Perhaps you go to church Sunday after Sunday and sit in your usual spot, one person in a large congregation, hoping for a word of encouragement.  If you search the internet for “Christian Blogs” or “Christian Devotionals,” you will find that there are millions of bloggers out there vying for readers.  I am one tiny voice in the chorus of Christian writers. It’s easy to feel like we are just one face in a massive crowd.

In the city of Jerusalem, there was a pool, called Bethesda where “a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed” (John 5:3).  They were there in hopes of healing. The rumor held that an angel would come and stir the waters and the first person to get into the pool would be healed.  Historians tell us that when they weren’t watching the waters they were begging for alms.  An invalid of thirty-eight years was part of that great number.  He was there alone, helpless, and hopeless – just one pleading face among so many (v. 7).  But Jesus saw this man out of all the other faces and He healed him (vs. 6, 8-9).  We don’t know why He singled this man out, but I believe John included this account to show that Jesus sees each one of us individually.  We are not just part of the vast sea of humanity. 

The Bible tells us that “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son . . . to save the world” (John 3:16, 17), and it is true that the death of Jesus is sufficient to save all of humankind. (Although we know that not all will believe and receive His salvation.)  But He is a very personal God; He who knows the name of every star knows your name too.  Jesus attested to that; He is the Great Shepherd who “calls His sheep by name” (John 10:3).  If you are in Christ, He knows you – personally, intimately, and completely.  Beloved, you need never worry that you are just a nameless face in the crowd – God never overlooks the one He loves.

Hebrews: Noah and (more than) the Ark

I grew up on Bible stories: Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Joshua and the Battle of Jericho (if you’re my age you just sang that one), and Noah and the Ark. Bible stories are great – when you’re a kid, but at some point, we have to grow up. We have to dig deeper into the familiar stories of our childhood and find the treasures under the surface. Noah and the Ark is a good place to start.

The writer of Hebrews placed Noah in this chapter of heroes – not for the ark that he built, but for the reason he built it.  “By faith, Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family” (Heb 11:7). What was the “thing not yet seen?” Rain. Since creation “streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground” (Gen 2:6). So when God comes to Noah and says, “I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights” (Gen 7:4), Noah had no idea what “rain” was. He had to believe in something he had never seen. Noah obeyed because he was sure that God was going to do what He said He would do.

But there’s another phrase in the verse that gets overlooked: “in holy fear.” Wait – Why was he afraid of God? He is all love, love, love. “Holy fear” means Noah reverenced God. He was in awe of His greatness and power. He respected God. That has been lost and it shows. Noah believed when the Lord said, “I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens . . .” (Gen 6:17). He also believed in God’s promise to save him and his family (Gen 6:18). He did what God told him to do because he believed in God’s power and authority to destroy all living creatures and in God’s salvation.

That’s the foundation of the gospel. I know we’re not supposed to re-write the Bible, but I want to tweak John 3:16 just a little: “For God so loved the (sinful, disobedient, condemned) world that He gave His one and only (perfect, holy) Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish (as he deserves to) but have eternal life.” The gospel of love is incomplete without the truth of man’s sin and condemnation. We have to tell people why they need to be saved. Noah believed in both the judgment and the mercy of God. Do you, Beloved?

You Matter

I am just a middle-aged (moving closer to senior-adult) woman from a small community in the deep south. I live a simple life. We rent a good house – but nothing fancy. I go to work every day at a small Southern Baptist college in a small town in Florida. I drive a very modest car. I’m married to a sweet, kind man. We help to raise our granddaughter. I love to write but I haven’t published any books.  I teach the Bible to my Sunday School ladies, but I’ve never stood on a stage. I’m not well-known and that’s okay with me. I am one face among the billions of faces in the world. And I have lots of struggles and hard situations in my life.

This morning as I was reading Isaiah 40, I came to this verse: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing” (v. 26). I sensed the Lord saying, “I don’t miss anything.” That’s when I realized that as insignificant as I am in the world, God hasn’t overlooked me. The Creator and King of the universe is not only aware that I exist, He cares about me and the difficulties I face. And do you want to hear something amazing? The same thing is true for you. You and I are not just part of the vast sea of humanity to God.

The Bible says that “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son . . . to save the world” (John 3:16, 17). But He is also a very personal God; He who knows the name of every star knows your name too.  Jesus attested to that; He is the Great Shepherd who “calls His sheep by name” (John 10:3). Maybe you feel small and insignificant today like no one notices or cares about you. I understand. I feel that way sometimes too. But nothing could be farther from the truth, Beloved. You are seen and you are known. And you matter. Greatly. You need not worry that you are just a face in the crowd – God never overlooks the one He loves.

The More You Know . . .

To know, know, know him is to love, love, love him

Just to see him smile make my life worthwhile

To know, know, know him is to love, love, love him

And I do.

Written by Phil Spector and first recorded by “The Teddy Bears,” this song hit the number one spot in 1958. Through the years it was covered by many other artists and I bet as you read those lyrics, you were singing the melody. I know I did as I typed them. One of my daily prayers for my granddaughter is that she will grow in the knowledge of God and love for God every day of her life.  Because the more she knows God, the more she will love Him. How can she not?

When she knows that God is holy, when she knows that He is righteous, when she knows that He is high and lifted up and that He not only sees her but cares about her (Gen 16:13)  . . . when she knows that He is mighty, when she knows that He uses His power on her behalf (Eph 3:20) . . . when she knows that God is faithful and will “never leave [her] nor forsake [her] (Jos 1:5), when she grasps “how wide and long and high and deep” is His love for her (Eph 3:18) and understands that “nothing can separate [her] from the love of God (Rom 8:38-39) . . . when she knows that He loves her so much that “He sent His one and only Son” to die to save her (John 3:16) . . .

How can you not? Perhaps it never occurred to you that you can know God, but over and over His Word invites us to do just that. Paul prayed that believers will “know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:19). I have discovered that the more I come to know Him, the more I love Him and the more I love Him the more I want to know Him. Beloved, can there be any better pursuit for your life than to seek to know God? “My heart says of You, “Seek His face!” Your face Lord, I will seek” (Psalm 27:8).

Hebrews: Love and Obedience

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Why did Jesus come to earth? Why did He willingly go to the cross? Why did He leave the glory of heaven to suffer and die? In our modern theology, the answer is because of love – and that is not a wrong answer, but it’s also not entirely the right answer according to the Scriptures.

First, let’s consider the love of God. I’m sure you know John 3:16, which perfectly defines God’s love: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That verse says volumes about God’s love for mankind. Likewise 1 John 3:16 says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.” (Isn’t that a wonderful parallel!) Plain and simple: God sent His Son to die for man’s sin because of His great love.  Paul tried to express this amazing love in dimensions that we could understand talking about “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18). Indeed love was what nailed Christ to the cross.

But there is another element to consider and the writer of Hebrews borrows from David to highlight another important aspect of Christ’s sacrifice:

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said:

Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You prepared for me;

With burnt offerings and sin offerings You were not pleased.

Then I said, “Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll

– I have come to do your will, O God.”

Hebrews 10:5-7

Christ came to earth and surrendered to the cross in obedience to the will of His Father. He came because this was God’s plan from before the foundations of the world. Jesus was “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world’ (Rev 13:8), and He said that the Father arranged our inheritance, a “kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matt 25:34). God provided for your salvation before ever committed the first sin, in fact before you were born; even before He called forth the light (Gen 1:3). Jesus coming to earth, living a perfect life, dying a selfless death was an act of perfect obedience to the will of the Father. So was saving you, Beloved. Because He loves you.

The Gift

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“The Gift of the Magi” was published in 1905 and is a sweet tale of love and sacrifice at Christmas focused on a young couple who wanted to give their beloved a gift. But money was scarce and so, unbeknownst to the other, the gift-givers sold their prized possessions to buy something special for their spouse. Della sold her long, beautiful hair to buy Jim a chain for his pocket watch. Jim sold his heirloom pocket watch to buy Della a set of bejeweled hair combs. O. Henry finished his story with a nod to the Magi – the Eastern wise men who traveled long to bring gifts to the Christ Child. He wrote: “The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”

While I appreciate this lovely story, I think O Henry got one thing wrong – Christmas presents didn’t originate with the Magi – the first Christmas present was given by God. The story of the Young’s Christmas is a shadow of the real story of Christmas. The young lovers sacrificed their most treasured possessions to give to their beloved, God’s sacrifice was far greater. He gave His One and Only Son to redeem men from their sin. The gifts they gave one another were costly – the gift God has given is priceless. “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18, 19). Jim and Della’s gifts – and the sacrifice that enabled them – were given from love, but their love pales in comparison to the great love of God. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . .” (John 3:16). In O. Henry’s story, the sacrifice is part of the gift. In the Gospel story, the sacrifice is the gift.

Have you received this gift? Watch chains and hair combs can never express love like the cross can. Have you received Jesus Christ as your Savior Beloved? He is the greatest gift of all.

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: Why Did Jesus Come?

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Over the past several weeks in Hebrews, we’ve focused on eight theological reasons why God sent His Son from glory to this sinful earth. Let’s put them all together for a recap.

  1. God sent Jesus to “bring many sons to glory” (v. 10). To bring lost human beings – now redeemed – into His eternal family.
  2. He sent Jesus to earth to “Make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering” (v. 10b). Remember that “perfect” means complete and doesn’t imply that Jesus was every imperfect. His role as “the author of [our] salvation” was completed by his suffering on the cross.
  3. Jesus came so that He could present us to God as “the children God has given me” (v. 13). Children who were set apart for Him and transformed into His own image.
  4. God sent Jesus to “destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” v. 14). Jesus came to fulfill God’s first promise “to crush the head” of the devil (Genesis 3:15).
  5. In destroying the devil, Jesus came to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (v. 15). As children of God, we do not fear the end of this life because we know that we have eternal life with Him in heaven forever.
  6. God sent Jesus to be for us “a merciful and faithful high priest” (v. 17). He is the only high priest who does not need to make atonement for His own sins before He can atone for ours.
  7. As our high priest, Jesus came to “make atonement for the sins of the people” (v. 17b). By His death, He made us “at one” with God as we were “me[a]nt” to be.
  8. God sent Jesus “to help those who are being tempted” (v. 18).  He suffered from the same demonic temptation you and I face. He understands and He is able and more than willing to help us.

All of this comes back to one core reason God sent Jesus to earth: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God loves His creation. He wants to redeem sinful humans and restore the relationship for which we were created. He did that through His Son. He did that for you and me. Beloved, God gave the most precious thing in heaven to save you forever. Because He loves you.