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.

Hebrews: The Atoning Work of Jesus

Nothing but the Blood of Jesus - Lyrics, Hymn Meaning and Story

Last night I let my granddaughter play in the bathtub with washable paint. When it was time to get out she looked around and announced, “I made a mess!” I replied, “Yes, you made a pretty mess, but we can clean it up,” as I grabbed the pop-up wipes. She wanted to help clean up, but with her still paint-covered fingers she just spread the red paint even more. I had to clean her up before we could finish cleaning the bathtub.

The author of Hebrews identified yet another reason that God sent Jesus to earth – “That He might make atonement for the sins of the people” (2:17b). That’s not a common word in the non-Jewish church today, but it’s the heart and soul of Jesus’ ministry. Atonement is the work of Jesus on the cross by which our sins are forgiven. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot for which I need forgiveness. I am grateful to the depths of my soul for God’s mercy on this wretched sinner. But atonement provides even more. It also allows for reconciliation between God and sinners.

I unknowingly did something awful to a friend once. It broke her heart, and when I realized what I did it broke mine too. I begged for her forgiveness and she gave it, but she said she could never be my friend again. I was forgiven but still shut out. Atonement provides both forgiveness and reconciliation. Through Jesus, you and I are clean before God and we are welcomed as His beloved child.

We’ve made a mess of our lives with sin, and like Joy in the bathtub, the more we try to clean ourselves up, the bigger the mess becomes. Only the atoning blood of Jesus can wash away all our sins and allow us to stand before God in a righteous state. I love the definition of “atonement” that I heard in a children’s sermon: “at one ment.” Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are “at one” with God – as we were “me[a]nt to be.”

Beloved, are you at one with God?

Hebrews – God speaks

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Hebrews is one of the most challenging books of the Bible for contemporary Christians. It is full of references that would be familiar to a Jewish-Christian congregation but less so for you and me. To grasp the author’s original intent, we will be dipping frequently into the book of Leviticus to understand the many references to the Old Testament sacrificial system. Don’t worry, it won’t be boring!

The most prominent subject in Hebrews is Jesus.  His Name – and names (more than twenty) –  and roles are the core of this message. There are also significant warnings we’ll discuss, warnings that may not sit too comfortably with the 21st-century church. But we will be faithful to the Scriptures and will sprinkle no sugar on the text to make it go down easier.

Hebrews opens with the reminder that God has been speaking faithfully for a very long time.

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,” (Hebrews 1:1). The forefathers would be Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their descendants – the earliest generations of the Jewish people who would become the nation of Israel.  The prophets were men like Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the rest. 

In the days of the first humans, God communed and communicated with Adam and Eve, “walking in the Garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8). Wouldn’t you love to hear those conversations? I like to imagine God telling them about how He created all the things they saw as they walked. I wonder if they laughed together over the platypus? But then along came a snake with an apple and the gentle conversations were over. From then on, the Lord God had to talk about sin and death. And, thankfully, redemption. The Bible tells the story of our Redeemer. With every word in the Scriptures,  God spoke about His Son, and then “in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:2a – emphasis added). And what the Son speaks is important. At the transfiguration, while Peter was rambling about booths, a bright cloud surrounded them, and “a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him.’” (Matthew 17:5). (When we finish Hebrews, we’re going to study the Red Letters.) John opened His gospel by saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” . . . “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:1, 14).

This study of Hebrews is all about what God said in His Word – the Bible – and through His Word – Jesus. Are you ready to hear the Word of God speak, Beloved?

Are You Hiding From God?

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“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?'” (Genesis 3:9)

Did God really not know where Adam and Eve were? Is it possible that the omniscient, omnipresent God was clueless to His beloved creation’s whereabouts and actions? Not a chance. I believe God was asking Adam, “Do YOU know where you are?” “Do you realize what you have done?” They had walked with God every day in the goodness of His creation, but now they feared His presence and thought they needed to avoid their Creator. Sound familiar?

When you and I fall to the temptation of the enemy, when we surrender to sin, our first inclination is to hide, to cover ourselves so God can’t see our shame, and to avoid Him at all costs. But do we really believe that He is unaware of our actions? Do you think God doesn’t see us cowering in the bushes? We can’t hide from Him. We can’t cover up our sin. But the love of God can (1 Peter 4:8). The blood of Jesus covers over our sins and makes us acceptable in God’s sight.

When David sinned, he tried to dismiss it, but it was futile. Eventually, he had to confess “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:3). You and I know that too. We can try to dodge it and hide it and pretend it didn’t happen. We can even rename it and make it sound like less than a sin, but it’s always there. When David finally came clean with God, confessed his sin with brokenness and sorrow, he found sweet forgiveness. His spirit was renewed, The Joy of God’s salvation was restored and he now had a testimony of redemption. (See Psalm 51)

Where are you? What are you trying to cover up? God knows all about it. It’s time to bring your sin out of hiding. God will forgive you. He will hide your sin under the blood of Jesus. He will restore your Joy and turn your failure into a beautiful testimony. Come out of the bushes Beloved, your God stands ready with arms open wide.

Death to Life

You may not know this, but I have a granddaughter – I know, I rarely ever speak about her. 😊 She is awesome. Funny, loving, generous, a wonderful dancer, brilliant conversationalist, and gives hugs that can cure whatever ails you. She is so very sweet and precious. Almost perfect – but not quite. At 17 months, she can be rebellious and stubborn. She knows she is not to stand on her toys. But she will do it while looking you dead in the eye. She also has a temper. I may know where that comes from. Bottom line: she has a sin nature. She got it from her parents. They got it from their parents, who got it from their parents, and on and on it goes all the way back to the original sinners, Adam and Eve.

This semester I’ve been digging deep into their story.  Uniquely made above all God’s creation, they were fashioned by His own hands out of the dust of the earth and given His own breath to bring them to life. They were also given His image to enable a relationship between the Creator and the created. They were perfect. But sin entered the picture through a chatty serpent who deceived them into doing the only thing they were forbidden to do: eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That one act condemned every human being ever born to share in their punishment – death (Romans 6:23). Not merely the ceasing of life, but death in the sense of separation from God. He alone gives life, and apart from Him, there is no life. Oh, we’re breathing and walking around in this world, but spiritually, we are dead. Dead people walking in our sin nature. Meanwhile, the image of God has been put to sleep in man.

We need to reverse that. Paul wrote, “Wake up, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Eph 5:14). The sin nature needs to be put to death and the image of God in man reawakened. It’s the only hope we have. I can’t do it and neither can you. But Someone did. Paul said, “Those who received God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:17). Through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the sin nature is put to death and the image of God is awakened. It’s not just the only hope you have Beloved, it’s the only hope you need.

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?

What if . . .?

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“Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘Do not eat from it’ . . .” (Gen. 3:17).

I am working and studying a lot in Genesis 3 for school. This is the account of the sin of Adam and Eve and the fall of mankind. It’s the hinge-point of the entire human race. I’ve asked a lot of “What if . . . ? questions of these Scriptures.

What if Eve ran from the serpent?

What if Adam, as her head and protector, pulled her away?

What if they rehearsed God’s words over the serpent’s lies?

What if they refused to eat the fruit?

What if they called on the Lord to deal with the evil intruder?

So much would be different in the world. There would be no evil, no hate, no sin, no destruction, no disasters, no condemnation, no judgment, and no death. There would be peace. There would truth. There would be paradise and freedom. There would be everlasting life.

I turn those questions on myself. What if I ran away from sin?  What if I drowned out the temptations of the enemy with God’s Word? What if I refused to take the bait? What if I called on the Lord to deal with my tempter? So much would be different in my life.

And then I remember Jesus. He took all my sin on the cross. He bore my punishment and shame. He saved me from the power of sin and death. He assured me of eternal life when He rose from the grave.  Genesis  3 is not the end of the story for humanity, just as my sins and failures are not the end of my story. They are the dark backdrop for the brilliant light of God’s redeeming work. Oh, I wish Adam and Eve and not fallen into sin. I wish they had not caused me and you to have to deal with evil and temptation and sin. Wishing won’t change the reality. But Jesus can. Beloved, your story doesn’t have to end with sin and death.  It can be a story of peace and Joy and life. Jesus is the hope you need. What if you trust Him today?

To Know, Know, Know Him . . .

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“Lord, I do not understand. Why this battle? Why this hard thing? Why this discouraging place? Why Lord, is this happening?”

I wonder if those words or something similar fell from your lips even this morning. Why does God allow these painful things in our lives? I believe it is to show us Who He is. God wants you and me to know Him. Think about it, I would never know God as my Provider unless I had a need I couldn’t meet. You would never know God as your Healer if you were never sick. We would never know He is our Protector unless we needed protection. If you never stand in the darkness you don’t appreciate the Light.

There is a name that I believe God wants you and me to know above all the others.

I ran across a verse this morning in Micah, who was an Old Testament prophet about a hundred years or so before the fall of Judah. The people have rebelled against and disobeyed the Lord. God spoke a word to them: “You will go to Babylon” (Micha 4:10) They would be torn from their beloved home and exiled in a foreign land. It would be a very hard time. God could rightly leave it there. They deserved punishment for their sins. But He doesn’t.

“There you will be rescued. There the Lord will redeem you.” God is our Redeemer – the one who saves us from danger, hostility, and slavery. That is the name I believe He most wants us to know. Because until you know Him as Redeemer, you cannot know Him as Provider, Healer, Protector, or Light. God revealed Himself as Redeemer when His people were in a place of danger and distress and hardship. He redeemed them out of Egyptian slavery. He redeemed them out of Babylonian exile. And He is still redeeming. He gave His one and only Son to redeem you out of bondage to sin and death (John 3:16). God redeemed you because He loves you. When you understand that you cannot help but love Him too.

Beloved, that hard place your in is the perfect place for you to get to know and love your Redeemer. Maybe the Teddy Bears said it the best “To know, know, know Him is to love, love, love Him.”

A Real Love Story

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Hosea is a beautiful love story. God instructed His prophet Hosea to marry Gomer, a prostitute, as an example to the people of Israel of how He took them out of their former life of wickedness and made them His own. As expected, she was unfaithful to Hosea, again a living example of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. The Lord declares that He will punish Israel, banishing her to the desert and revealing her wickedness. But He also promised to restore Israel. In the desert where He sent her, He will “speak tenderly to her” (2:14). In the same place where she knew only trouble, God promised that “she will sing as in the days of her youth” (2:15) He will restore their relationship and send her enemies away.

Here’s what I find so wonderful. God said that He would “betroth” or commit Himself to her forever in “righteousness and justice, in love and compassion, [and] in faithfulness” (2:19-20). Then He says “You will acknowledge the Lord” (2:20). At first, I thought that acknowledging the Lord was her part in the restoration. That she would have to acquiesce to Him. But the word used means “to know” and pictures a husband and wife in their most intimate moment. So the truth is – “acknowledging the Lord” it isn’t a demand God is making, it is a promise He is proclaiming. After the season of discipline, God will pour out His righteousness and justice and love and compassion and faithfulness, and He will lavish her with love. And she will know her beloved in the most intimate, unifying, and satisfying way. She will know Him because He loves her.

That is true for you Beloved. God calls you into a deeper knowledge of Him, not so you can fill your head with facts, but so that you can know – in the very deepest part of your heart – that He loves you. No matter your past, no matter your sin, no matter how far you’ve run or how long – God wants you to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He loves you. Listen carefully and you will hear His tender voice in your ear. “I love you, Child, you are mine forever.”

Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

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There is a game I play when I need to give my brain a break from theology. It’s a “bubble-popping” game where I shoot colored balls at colored bubbles to free the little birds trapped within. It’s a mindless distraction that gives my brain a rest. I was playing the game last night and I was on a roll – popping bubbles all over the screen. There were strings of balls that would give me a lot of points. Then I saw him. The last little trapped bird – and one hit would set him free. I remembered that the point of the game was to free the birds, not take out all the bubbles. I took my shot, setting the little guy free.
There are many, many things we espouse in the church that are very important to the faith and should be passed on to every generation. We must teach (and model) holiness, righteousness, faithfulness, goodness, generosity, compassion, and obedience. These are the support structures of the Christian life. But there is only one foundation – one central truth above all else that we need to keep front and center: the Gospel. Paul said, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Did you catch that: “first importance.” It’s the one message the world needs most to hear. Without the Gospel we’re trying to change mankind without letting Jesus save mankind.
Every other message is secondary to this one great truth: “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). That’s the message. That’s the mission. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing.