Hebrews: Awe and Wonder

Quick! What are you thinking about right now? Right now, I’m thinking about the pain in my knee. I’m thinking about my next course coming up in two weeks. I’m thinking about all the things I didn’t get done this weekend added to all the things I need to do this week. I’m thinking about getting Joy to her nanny and me to work on time.  

The writer of Hebrews said, “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (3:1). One of the first things we learn in Bible study is to pay attention to the word, “therefore” and ask ourselves, “what’s it there for?” Therefore always refers us back to the previous text – in this case, the author has just listed eight reasons why God would send His one and only Son from glory to earth. He is saying, in light of all that Jesus is and has done, our natural response is to “fix our thoughts” on Him, meaning to mentally focus with intentional consideration. That sounds a lot like studying algebra to me.  I would stare at my textbook for hours but just could not wrap my mind around those useless equations and formulas. Thankfully, that’s not what’s happening here.

Glance back just a few words, where the author, speaking to his “holy brothers” (and sisters), said that they – and we – “share in the heavenly calling.” That calling is a divine invitation from heaven to consider all that Jesus is. Redeemer. Savior. Brother. Victor. High Priest. Sacrifice. Helper. Apostle. The book of Hebrews is all about discovering Jesus. Like looking through a kaleidoscope, we keep turning the dial and seeing new and wonderful sides to Him.  

Fixing our thoughts on Jesus is more than a mental exercise we have to push ourselves through like my algebra book. It’s lifting our thoughts above the mundane things of this world and filling our minds with awe and wonder at the Son of the Most High God. It’s not something we have to do, it’s something we get to do! What a high and holy privilege we’ve been given.

That brings me back to the question we opened with. Beloved, what are you thinking about right now?

Hebrews: When You are Tempted

One of the foundations of recovery programs is the helpful presence of those who have “been-there-done-that. The former addict can uniquely connect with and help the one struggling to break free from drugs. The same applies to recovering from alcohol, pornography, and all manner of bondage.  I have a dear friend who turned the shame of abortion into a powerful post-abortion ministry – she could offer another woman her hand and tell her, “been there, done that, let me tell you how God set me free.”

The author of Hebrews pointed to another reason that God sent His one and only Son to earth – “Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). This verse is important because it also highlights the humanity of Jesus, that He was made as we were, and suffered just as we do.  Therefore He is in a unique position to help us when we suffer, especially when we face temptation.

What does it mean that Jesus “suffered” when He was tempted? The word used means “to experience or endure” often with a negative experience. Let’s be honest – most of us don’t  “suffer” with temptation. We don’t “endure” through it. Most of us give in to it without much of a struggle. Jesus faced temptation from the devil, but He did not give in (Matthew 4 and Luke 4). He also faced temptation in the garden before His arrest and crucifixion, but He did not give up (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22).  

It is important to note that while Jesus suffered with temptation, He never sinned. If He had He could not have been our high priest and Savior. Peter said of Jesus, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22).  He experienced the full onslaught of temptation such as you and I will never face, and He overcame it. How? Love for His Father who sent Him and love for those He came to save. Indeed, He is able to help in our time of temptation.  If we will allow Him to. An old devout saint was once asked, what is your secret to living a godly life? He answered, “Every time I am tempted I look to God and say, ‘Your property is in danger.’”  Beloved, the next time you are in danger from temptation, reach out to Jesus. He understands and He will help you.

Hebrews: Jesus – Son of God, Son of Man

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 “But we see Jesus . . .”

Surprisingly, after speaking of Him from the opening of his message – after identifying Him as the Son of God, the eternal King, the Creator, the Lord – this is the first time the author identifies Jesus by name. But there is no doubt that the recipients knew exactly whom he talking about. There is only one Son of God who was also “the Son of Man.” There was only one who could fill every role perfectly. “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9).

Adam was God’s special creation, His pièce de resistance. He was meant to carry the image of God and give his Creator glory. He was meant to rule the created world in peace and productivity. But he fell from his lofty status and brought chaos and rebellion and condemnation to the human race. There should have never been wars or poverty or abuse or neglect or hatred or corruption. There should have never been earthquakes or hurricanes or tornadoes or enmity between man and animals. There should have never been sin and death. But there is. Everywhere we look we see repercussions of Adam’s sin. But, thanks be to God, we also see Jesus who was God’s answer to man’s dilemma before man ever existed.

Jesus, who was “made a little lower than the angels” in a human body. Jesus, who willingly bore all of mankind’s sin and shame. Jesus, who “suffered death” – but only for three days – He only “had a taste” of it. Jesus, who rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. Jesus, who is now and forever “crowned with glory and honor.” We see Jesus, the Creator who became a man to redeem His creation, to set right what Adam turned upside-down. Why?

“To bring many sons to glory . . .” Beloved, the struggles in your life, the pain and heartache, are all the result of your fallen condition as a human being. That’s not to say that everything is necessarily your direct fault, it’s just part of living in a sinful world. But it wasn’t meant to be this way. You were meant to bear God’s image and bring Him glory. Jesus came to give it all back to you. Will you let Him?

Romans 8:28 – But Wait -There’s More!

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I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve turned to the Bible for encouragement and hope and help and wisdom. The Word of God is the only thing that can soothe my sometimes weary, broken heart. One verse I and many others turn to often is Romans 8:28: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” When everything is falling apart around you, that’s a good, solid rock on which to stand.  God works in all things. Good things and bad things. Happy things and painful things. Exciting things and mundane things. There’s great comfort in that. But is that all this verse offers? No my friends, in the words of Billy Mays Hayes, “But wait! There’s more!”

I’m going to skip over the part about “those who love Him” – we’ll pick back up on that in a couple of days. I want us to zero in on the end of this verse: “who have been called according to His purpose.” For me, this is the most hopeful part of this verse because it tells me that my life and all its struggles are not a haphazard crazy quilt of circumstances. There is purpose in everything God does and allows, things that work toward the purpose for which He created and called me. Now there are many things I am called to: wife, mother, grandmother, employee, friend, student, Bible teacher, writer – and all of these are important. But they are not God’s purpose for me. That’s in the next verse.

“For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son . . .” (v. 29). God’s purpose for me – and for you – is to be like Jesus. It’s His purpose for all of His children. There are things we are called to do, but God is most concerned with what we are called to be. The power God exerts in my life is not about making me a good teacher or grandmother or any of the other roles in my life. It’s about making me His daughter. Who looks like His Son. Who looks like His Father. That what “all things” are working toward in my life. And yours too, Beloved.

When it seems like the sky is falling, know that God is perfecting you into the image of His Son. On purpose

Hebrews – Jesus, the Firstborn Son

The author of Hebrews, in this first portion of his message, highlighted the superiority of Jesus over the angels of heaven. And again, he was speaking to an audience steeped in Jewish tradition. Angels were important to the recipient of his message because angels – “myriads of holy ones” (Deuteronomy 33:2) – assisted in the giving of the Law that dominated, not just the Jewish religion, but also the Jew’s daily life. Unlike in the modern western world, observance of religion is not just limited to a day or two out of the week and a devotional in the first five minutes of the morning. The Law was practiced from the first rays of the sun until the last candle was extinguished at night. It permeated every aspect of their lives. Therefore, the Jewish people regarded angels on par with the Law of Moses. 

But, the author contended, the angels whom the Jews so revered, worship Jesus, God’s “firstborn” Son. I hear you asking – what does that even mean?  Is it referring to His earthly birth?  Was He “born” like other children are born? I thought you said He was God.  Yes, I did and yes, He is. He was born on earth like any other baby (though He was not conceived like any other baby). But He was not born in heaven. Our study of Jesus the Son confirmed that He always existed as part of the triune Godhead. “Firstborn,” as it is used here is a title of rank and honor. Jesus is the firstborn Son because all that God has is His. Including worship from the angels of heaven. You probably recall the angels who worshipped at His birth (Luke 2:13-14). I have no doubt they worshipped Him when He came out of that tomb and when He ascended to His throne in heaven. They surely worshipped with every miracle He performed.

They not only worship Him, but they are His servants. They served Him after He fasted for forty days in the wilderness and fought off the temptations of the devil (Matthew 4:11). They served him as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:43). They also serve Him as they minister to His people on earth.

Jesus is worthy of their worship and their service. He is worthy of ours as well. Beloved, how will you worship and serve God today?

Hebrews – Jesus and Angels

To the Jewish people, angels were just a notch below God Himself in power and authority, and that’s not far from the truth. Angels are God’s messengers and advocates between heaven and earth. They are His instruments of judgment and Scripture shows them engaging in warfare against satan’s angels. In heaven, they constantly praise and glorify God and rejoice as they witness God’s perfect plan unfold. Like humans, they are created beings – thus they are never to be worshipped, even though humans are “a little lower than the angels” (2:7). But humans have a distinct advantage over angels – we can experience God through His saving grace. That’s a perspective of the Creator that angels will never know. In speaking of our salvation through Christ, Peter said, “even angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12).

The Jews held angels in very high esteem, but the author of Hebrews said there is one who should be held even higher – God’s Son, Jesus. “He became as much superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is superior to theirs” (1:4).

The Bible holds many accounts of angels coming to the rescue of humans, saving them from certain disaster. But angels cannot save a sinful soul from eternal death. Only Jesus can. Because only He is God’s Son. Glance back at the end of verse 4 – that “superior name He inherited” is “Son” (v.5) “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father?’ Or again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son.’”  (v. 5). Only the Son of God could save the world. Paul said that He is “seated at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given (Ephesians 1:20-21). That includes presidents, kings, priests, Imams, Muhammad, Brahma, Lucifer, and the angels in heaven and in hell. Jesus is superior to them all. 

That is why the author of Hebrews says that faith in any other being, even angels, is misplaced and unstable. Only faith in Jesus, the Son of God, can save you perfectly and eternally. Even the angels know that to be true.

Hebrews – The Son of God

I’ve decided our Hebrews study will be twice a week – Mondays and Thursdays. I don’t want to rush this rich book.

The main subject and star of this amazing book is Jesus. There are lots of heroes in Hebrews – we’ll get to those later, but there is only one who commands the whole book. His name is Jesus. And the first thing we learn about Jesus is that He is the Son of God and as the Son, he is “the radiance of God’s glory . . .” (Heb. 1:3a). Jesus doesn’t just reflect God’s glory – His majesty and brightness – He shares it. Because He is God. He has always been fully God and fully divine, even when He was also fully man. It’s one of those mysteries that theologians have pondered for centuries. I can’t explain it either, but the Scriptures are clear on it so we will take God at His Word.

Jesus is also “the exact representation of His [God’s] being”. (v. 3b). The image the writer drew is of an “engraving or carving that is a precise reproduction in every respect.” People often remarked about how much our son favored his Dad, and now how much our granddaughter favors her Daddy.  In the south, we would say that Jesus is “the spitting image of His Daddy.” But it’s not a physical resemblance. He has His Father’s mind and heart and spirit – because they are one. While there are many ways that my son resembles his Dad, there are also many ways that he does not – that he is “his own person.” There are no differences in God the Father and God the Son except Jesus’ human body while He was on earth. At the core of both, they are exactly the same. Even down to His sustaining power and His Word. Paul echoed these thoughts, saying that Christ “is the image of the invisible God . . . and in Him, all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15, 17).

 Jesus said to His disciple Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). The Old Testament is chock-full of God’s call to “know the Lord your God.” Because to know Him is to believe in Him and love Him – forever. Jesus prayed, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (Joh 17:3).  In a world that says there is no God, or that God is whatever you want him to be, Beloved, you need to know the truth. There is a God. If you want to know Him, you will find Him in Jesus.  

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?

When Life is a Puzzle

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Murphy’s Law says, “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” Robert Burns wrote: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” In the south, we say, “If the good Lord’s willin’ and the creek don’t rise!” We make plans – big and small – and life happens. In high school, I planned to go to college, get married, have 3 kids, be a writer, and live happily ever after. Five years later I never made it to college, was working at a dead-end job, and going through a divorce. Not exactly what I had in mind. Perhaps you intended to get a big project finished at work yesterday, but a minor hitch derailed your plan. Flat tires, sick kids, an unexpected phone call, or the boss’s priorities can turn our day upside down. Divorce, cancer, lay-offs, rebellious kids, and death can turn our lives upside down.

Aren’t you glad God is not subject to the winds of change and the whims of other people? Job testified, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:1). God is the perfect planner because He is sovereign; that is He has absolute authority to set a plan and absolute power to pull it off. He also has the advantage of seeing “the bigger picture.” Like putting together a puzzle, He not only sees each piece as it fits into the whole but He’s got the box lid with the finished picture. And what is that picture? “The likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29). That’s the good that God is working toward in “all things” in your life (v. 28). In hard seasons you and I can take comfort in knowing that God is never taken by surprise when life takes a left turn. He has already determined how this thing that has rocked your world will fit into the completed picture of your life.

God never sits on His throne and wrings His hands over the unexpected. Because nothing is unexpected to the One who rules over it all. You can rest in that, Beloved. Nothing in your life will ever take Him by surprise.

Glory!

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Why did Jesus die? To atone for our sins, yes. To bear the curse of mankind, yes. To bring redemption to lost sinners, yes. But what if there’s more to it than that. Reading John 17:1-5 and something jumped out at me.

Glory.

Five times in these verses Jesus speaks of glory.

“Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (v. 1).

“I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (v. 4).

“And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (v. 5).

Jesus began His prayer by saying, “Father, the time has come.” Because we know “the rest of the story” we automatically think he means the time for His death had come. But these verses tell us Jesus had a much different focus. The time had come – not for death – but for glory!

In fact, not once in those five verses did Jesus even mention death. He spoke of eternal life and the work given to Him by the Father. He talked about making known “the only true God.” But death? Not a word.

The cross was the plan. Glory was the purpose.

But how can the cross bring glory to the Godhead?

By lifting high the Son of God so that all men can see Him and believe and have eternal life. God sent His Son to die for you and me, and in His death and resurrection by the Spirit, to glorify the Father and the Son. I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to shout . . .