Hebrews: Everything Old is New Again

New Testament writers often referred back to the Scriptures – what we know as the Old Testament to confirm the fulfillment of prophecy. The writer of Hebrews is one of them. One key I learned in hermeneutics (how to study the scriptures) is to go back to the OT reference to gain the writer’s context.

In Hebrews 10:38 the author loosely borrowed from one of the OT prophets when he wrote, “But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.”  Verses 19-39 are a call to persevere in Christ. The promise of Jesus’ return was given in verse 37 and is followed by this “gentle” warning. So what was happening in the OT that influenced this NT verse?

Habakkuk prophesied to Judah in the final days before Jerusalem fell. He lamented the injustice, violence, strife, lawlessness, and wickedness in the land. Does that sound familiar? God’s answer was to announce judgment – the nation would be destroyed and taken captive by the Babylonians, a “ruthless and impetuous people . . . bent on violence . . . guilty men, whose own strength is their god” (1:6,9, 11). Habakkuk questions God’s plan and the Lord responds by contrasting the evil Babylonians with “the just” – the one who remains righteous despite the circumstances. The one who perseveres.

This was the author’s theme throughout Hebrews. The Babylonians would take the Jews that survived the onslaught and either enslave them or indoctrinate them into their culture and completely erase their way of life in God. Just as the enemies of the believing Jewish community were trying to do. Just as the world, satan, the culture, and our own sinful nature are trying to do today.

“But,” said the author, “we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved” (v. 39). He expressed his confidence in their faith and their ability to persevere in it under the most dire circumstances. Our enemies may look different today, but they all spring from the same root – satan, the devil, the enemy of God and God’s people.  The call to persevere is as important today as it was thousands of years ago. Only those who stand firm in their faith please God and inherit eternal life. I want that.  And I want that for you, Beloved. Let’s hang on to Jesus together.

The King on a Colt

As was the tradition, thousands of Jews flocked to the city, and one question was on everybody’s lips: “Would Jesus come into the city for the Passover Feast?” The people were all abuzz with reports of His miraculous deeds – in particular, raising Lazarus from the dead. The religious leaders had given orders that anyone knowing His whereabouts should report it to them, for they planned to arrest Him on sight. His previous entries into the city were quiet, without any show of publicity. Now, however, with deliberate purpose, Jesus publically presented Himself as Israel’s Messiah and King. He chose a time when all Israel would be gathered in Jerusalem, a place where huge crowds could see Him, and a way of proclamation that was unmistakable.

He made his way into the city, seated on a young colt, to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zec 9:9/John 12:15).  The people lined the road praising God, waving palm branches and throwing their cloaks in front of him to provide a “royal carpet.” They shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matt 21:9) – which meant “save now!” – because they recognized the fulfillment of the long-awaited prophecy. Praises rang out loudly and joyfully: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel! (John 12:13).

Yet once inside the city gates, as strangers asked: “Who is this?” the answer was different. “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” From Messiah to Prophet. First, One who “comes in the Name of the Lord” – now one who comes from Nazareth-a city despised and disregarded by the Jews (John 1:46).

Don’t we still do the same? In the Sanctuary on Sunday morning Jesus is Lord and we sing His praises with voices raised. But what happens we the crowd changes? Do we tuck Him inside the cover of a dusty Bible? How do we respond to the question, “Who is this?” Is He just a “good teacher, a man of peace”, or maybe even a fool? He can not be Lord on Sunday and disregarded on Monday. To which crowd do you belong, Beloved? Who is this Man to you?

Do You Know Jesus?

I recently saw a meme that said, “I follow Jesus, not the Bible.” But the Bible is where you will find everything you need to know about Jesus.

He is the Seed of the woman who will one day crush the head of Satan and the Passover Lamb. He is the great high priest and the perfect sacrifice, the Prophet and the Captain of the Lord’s army.  He is the Deliverer and our Kinsman Redeemer and the King in the line of David. He is the Restorer of Jerusalem, the Shepherd, and the Source of all wisdom.  He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and Suffering Servant. He is the Man acquainted with sorrows and the one who brings life to dry bones. He is the Ancient of Days, a faithful Husband, Source of Hope, Judge, Preacher, Mighty Savior, and the Son of Righteousness.

Matthew declared Him as the long-awaited Messiah and the fulfillment of prophecy. Mark showed that He was the King with power and authority over every realm. Luke proclaimed Him as the Son of God full of compassion and mercy.  John said that Jesus “was the Word” made “flesh” and the “true light” and the “One and Only” from the Father (John 1:1, 14, 9, 14, respectively). And throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus is revealed as “the Bread of Life” (6:48), “the Light of the world” (8:12), “the Door” and “the Good Shepherd” (10:9,11), “the Resurrection and the Life” (11:25), “the Way and the Truth and the Life” (14:6), and “the true Vine” (15:1). Paul said Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15) and the writer of Hebrews said that “the Son is . . . the exact representation of [God’s] being. In other words, when you see these truths about Jesus, you are seeing God. What we know about Him from the Scriptures is enough to change our lives forever.

The Lord posed the most important question when He asked, “Who do you say I am?” (Matt 16:15). You need to know the right answer, Beloved. Your eternal destiny depends on it.  You will only find Him on the pages of Holy Writ. I encourage you to pick up a Bible and meet the Son of God. It’s the most wonderful discovery you’ll ever make.

Open Eyes, Open Mind

I was looking for something in the first chapter of John and my eye caught two verses I had previously marked on the opposite page: Luke 24:31 and 45. Luke 24 is the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus as witnessed by His disciples. The first was when Jesus met up with two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus. For most of their journey together they didn’t recognize Him, even though they talked about Him the whole way. (Boy, there’s a commentary on the state of the church!) Actually, Luke reported that “they were kept from recognizing Him” (v. 16). Why? As the account plays out, Jesus gave them the bigger picture of Himself and the purpose for his life and death – and resurrection, which they were struggling to believe. Verse 31 says: “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.” Their physical eyes were able to recognize Jesus their teacher and their spiritual eyes were able to recognize Jesus the Son of God.

While the now seeing disciples reported their encounter to the rest of His followers Jesus came into the room and showed them His hands and feet, proof that He was indeed alive. Luke says, “they still did not believe it because of Joy and amazement” (v. 41).  He reminded them of the things He had taught them about the Law of Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms, and the fulfillment of prophecy. “Then,” the Scripture says, “He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (v. 45).  This means that He enabled them to put what the Scriptures (what we know as the Old Testament) proclaimed about the Messiah with what they witnessed about Him. He enabled them to finally understand who He was and what His mission was all about. And what their mission was going to be: that they would be witnesses of all they had seen and heard and experienced “to all nations” (v. 47).

That’s my prayer for the church: that our eyes would be opened to recognize the Lord and our minds would be opened to understand the Scriptures. And our hearts would be opened to share the gospel – the good news of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God with a lost world. Beloved, do you understand who Jesus is? Pray for your eyes and mind to be opened wide to believe that He is . . . everything.

Hebrews: Written on Your Heart

I love to find connections between the Old and New Testaments. It’s like a divine “Aha!” moment. But then, everything in the Old Testament points to the New Testament and to Christ. Even the covenants God made with Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David are reflections of the new covenant He would make with man through Christ.  In fact, the word “testament” is synonymous with the word “covenant” and our Bible is divided into the stories of the two covenants. The old covenant was based on obedience to the Law – something that the Israelites never could master. But that covenant set the stage for the new and better covenant, the one the writer of Hebrews continues to point to. He quoted from prophet Jeremiah: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” (Heb. 10:16, from Jer 31:33).

“After that time” is a reference to the Babylonian exile when the people of Judah were taken captive and their beloved Jerusalem destroyed. Before this, they only attempted to obey His Law when they go into trouble. (Boy, does that sound familiar!) The Law of God was an afterthought in the minds of the Israelites because they didn’t love Him with all their hearts. When they were released to return home, they had a new attitude about the Law – they were obsessed with strict obedience. But again, not out of love for God, but to prove their own “righteousness.”  It was like a pendulum that swung from one extreme regarding God’s Law to the other. And neither end was about loving the Law-giver.  God promised that the new covenant would be different. Because it would not be written on tablets of stone but etched on their hearts and written on their minds so that obedience would be an act of love and knowledge, not self-righteousness.

God also said, “Their sins and lawless acts I remember no more.” (v. 17, from Jer 31:34). Under the new covenant – the one signed in the blood of Jesus – sin was forgiven and forgotten. That’s very good news. All your past sins – all the things that the enemy keeps bringing up to you –have been erased from God’s mind forever. He will not hold them against you because Jesus’ sacrifice covered them all. Do you know what that means, Beloved? You can forget them too.

Obedience is the mark of the believer, but it is obedience that comes from the heart. Right where the love of God overflows (1 John 4:16).

Hebrews: The Throne of Christ

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I worked at a grocery store several years ago as a floral clerk – it was the most fun job I ever had. But after 25 years of desk jobs, it was hard to be on my feet for 8 hours a day. I so looked forward to the end of my shift when I could go home take off my shoes and sit down. When the work was done so was I. There’s a powerful point that the writer of Hebrews makes about Jesus, our great high priest. He said, “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But [I love that word in the Bible!] when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb 10:11-12). Did you get that? He. Sat. Down. His work – providing the atoning sacrifice for mankind – was done so He could climb the steps to His heavenly throne beside His Father and take His seat once more. That is why He was able to cry out from the cross, “It is finished.” (John 19:30). 

This was important to the Jewish believers who were accustomed to the yearly cycle of sin and sacrifice that never completely took away the stain and guilt of sin. But no more. One sacrifice – the death of the God-man, Jesus, was enough. “Enough for what?” you may ask. Enough to permanently remove the sin that hinders fellowship with our Creator. Enough to satisfy the demands of a holy God. Enough to cover the sins of every person who would receive this great salvation. Enough to last “for all time.” Enough for you and for me.

Oh, He will stand once again. The Old Testament prophet Zechariah had a vision of the last days: “On that day [the Lord’s] feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west . . .” (Zec 14:4). When He comes again He will stand atop the very same spot from which He surrendered His will to the will of His Father and surrendered His body into the hands of the murderous Jewish leaders.

For now, He sits, but not idly. He is “at the right hand of God, interceding for us” (Rom 8:34). Beloved, behold your great High Priest.

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.

God’s Plan

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“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea . . . “Matthew 2:1

The Bible is filled with story after story of God’s hand in the events of human history, and in particular in individual lives, as He works to fulfill His will.  But almost always, the path He chooses is very different than those individuals might have envisioned, and often very difficult as well. Joseph had a destiny in Egypt that would affect his family, the nation of Israel, and the entire world.  But God took him through pits and prison on the way.  David would be king of Israel – after running for his life through the wilderness.  I love the story of Paul. The Lord had a purpose for him, to “carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel,” (Acts 9:15).  Jesus told him, “you must testify about me in Rome, (Acts 23:11).  And he did indeed make it to Rome to declare the name of Christ Jesus, but he arrived as a prisoner, by way of a storm and a shipwreck and a snake (Acts 27-28).

Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem fulfilled a prophecy made hundreds of years before: “Out of you, Bethlehem Ephrathah . . . will come one for me who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).  How would that happen when His mother lived in Nazareth, some 100 miles away?  God worked through the highest office in the land: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  And everyone went to his own town to register,” (Luke 2:1, 3). While it seemed that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem for Ceasar’s edict, they were really there to fulfill the promise of God – to bring forth the promised one in the place of His prophecied birth.

A life surrendered into the hands of the Lord God Almighty may have twists and surprises, and yes even doubts and struggles, but you can be assured that He is faithful to keep His promise and to fulfill His purpose.  Don’t be afraid of these “strange things that are happening to you,” Beloved,  (1 Peter 4:12).  It’s just God at work working behind the scenes,  preparing you for “His good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Romans 12). 

REPENT! THE END IS NEAR!

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He stood on the corner of a busy intersection in Tallahassee holding signs that read: “REPENT! THE END IS NEAR!” “JESUS IS COMING AGAIN! ARE YOU READY?” People gave him the middle finger salute of ridicule.  I doubted that his methods were very effective, but I knew that he was not wrong. The end is near. Jesus is coming back. Soon. But this has been said in every generation since the Apostle’s day. Before the dust had settled at the empty tomb, Peter and Paul were watching the eastern skies. Maybe I’ve just become very cynical in my “old age,” but I believe the signs are so prevalent that we really are in the last days.

Let’s consider Paul’s words in the context of our world today: “Mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves (the ‘selfie’ generation), lovers of money (how high did the latest lottery get?), boastful, proud (entertainers and athletes), abusive (people punching out random strangers), disobedient to their parents (ever raised a teenager?), ungrateful (see the previous), unholy (sexual deviants in church leadership), without love (mass shootings), unforgiving (how high is the divorce rate?), slanderous (politics in general), without self-control (how high is the illegitimate birthrate?), brutal (Antifa), not lovers of the good (Washington, D.C.), treacherous (I refer you back to politics), rash (daily shootings), conceited, (refer back to boastful and proud ), lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (pretty much the world in general), having a form of godliness but denying its power (the Western church). ” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, adapted).

Globally many things are coming together according to prophetic Scriptures of the end. Nationally, evil rules the day from the highest office in the land to the decisions of the local school board. Jesus spoke of the end of the age with an increase in war, natural disasters, famine, persecution of Christians, unholiness in holy places, and an increase of wickedness and a decrease of love. If you don’t recognize these things in the world today, you need to put down your phone.

But there is still time – at least a moment – before the end.

Do you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

If Jesus is your Lord and Savior, are you spreading the gospel?

Beloved, it is time to repent because the end is near. Jesus is coming back. Are you ready?

You Are Here

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“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” Micah 5:2

Sometimes I feel like I’m looking at a map with one red dot that says, “You are here,” and another red dot way on the opposite side of the map that says “God’s purpose for you is here.” I’m so very far away.  Four hundred after Micah’s prophecy, a young woman was startled to learn that she was pregnant with the Promised One – the Messiah.  But wait—she is in Nazareth and the prophecy said the Messiah would come out of Bethlehem, some 80 miles away.  So was the prophecy wrong?  Did God make a mistake?  Not at all.  God had a plan and He would use a pagan ruler to fulfill it. Check it out:

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. Everyone went to his own town to register.  So Joseph went up from Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child” (Luke 2:1-5).

Mary made it to the right place – Bethlehem – at the right time – when her baby was born – through the “whim” of a Roman ruler who had no reverence for the God of Israel.

Beloved, God has a time and place of purpose in His plan for you.  You probably won’t get there via a straight line.  You may feel you are completely off track, or that God has forgotten all about you.  You’re not sure how you wound up where you are or why.  But be assured that God, who created you with a time and place in mind, is still guiding you.  He knows exactly where you are right now and where He wants you to be and when.  He didn’t fail to fulfill the prophecy of old, and He won’t fail to fulfill His purpose for your life.  Wherever you are today is not the end of your journey.  Trust Him, trust His ways, trust His heart.  He knows the where and the when and the way to get you there.