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 – 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?

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 . . .

God is . . .

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“One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.” Psalm 62:11.

David identified God as his Shield, his Refuge, his Rock and Fortress, his Shepherd, and so much more. He used so many beautiful and powerful expressions to describe his God. Yet in these two simple words, I believe David paints a picture that comes the closest to the true essence of who God is. Strong and loving.

God is strong. Not strength that lifts massive barbells.  This is strength that breaks the power of sin, overpowers the enemy of our soul, and raises the dead back to life – and not just life, but eternal, everlasting, unending life!  It is a strength that overcomes our weaknesses and lifts the weight of all our burdens. I don’t know about you, but need a God who is strong, because my burdens are heavy and my weaknesses are many.

David also said that God is loving. Do you believe that God loves you? Over and over in God’s Word proclaims His love for you and me. His is

  • Unfailing Love – “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken” (Isaiah 54:10).
  • Loyal Love – “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6).
  • Devotion – “By day the Lord directs His love, a night His song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:8).
  • Mercy – “The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion” (Numbers 14:18).

Paul said, “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). That is the kind of love that I need. A love that never turns away never dies, and never gives up. A love that lasts for all eternity. This is the love that God has for you and me. His love is steadfast and sure – you can’t make Him love you more, and you can’t make Him love you less. He loves you because He is love. His is perfect love because He is the perfect lover.

God’s love was perfectly expressed at the cross of Jesus Christ. His power was perfectly revealed at the empty tomb, through the resurrection of His Son – our Savior. We can never know all there is to God, for He is holy and righteous and beyond our finite understanding. But we can know this about God: He is strong and He is loving. And that’s a very good place to start.

You’ve Been With Jesus!

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There’s a verse in Acts 4 that has been on my mind lately. It comes in the narrative of Peter and John before the religious leaders. They had been arrested and were being questioned by the ruling Jewish council. Luke said that these fishermen turned preachers astonished the learned and (self)righteous men and “they took note that these unschooled, ordinary men had been with Jesus” (v. 13). How do people know that you and I have “been with Jesus?”

This story says the council “saw the courage of Peter and John”  who had just boldly declared the name of Jesus of Nazareth before them. Boldness and courage were the tell-tale signs for the Lord’s disciples. You and I are going to need their boldness and courage in the days ahead. We get that when we spend time with Jesus.

Peace is also another way that others can see that we have been with Jesus. He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). When you and I can face the challenges of life with peace others will notice. They will want to know how, and we can tell them, “I’ve been with Jesus, the peace-giver.”

Probably the most definite sign that we have been with Jesus is love. He said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Love is the hallmark of those who have been with Jesus. You cannot be around divine love without it “rubbing off on you.” Love one another.

Then there is the story of the woman who anointed Jesus prior to His death. She came with her alabaster jar of perfume “which she poured on His head” (Matthew 26:7). As I meditated on this scene, it occurred to me – now Jesus smelled just like her and she smelled just like Him. She brought her love and worship to Him. He welcomed and received her fragrance – and her – and in return He shared with her His grace. She was there to pour out her worship on the Lord and when we worship Him, He joins with us and we share in His sweet fragrance.

That, Beloved, is how the world will know that we have been with Jesus.

A Song of Love

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On the weekdays when Joy stays with us, she goes to a terrific babysitter while I am at work. I know she is getting good care, but when I pick her up every afternoon she is tired and not too happy. I can relate. Yesterday was one of those days. She fussed as soon as we started driving away. She had a fresh cup of milk and a snack, and her favorite musical toy. Nope. Not what she wanted. The fussing got louder until her favorite song, “Good God Almighty” came on the radio. I turned it up and started singing along with Crowder. Almost immediately the fussing stopped and I heard a new, sweet sound from the backseat. Two little chubby hands clapping her delight. The rest of the ride home the car was filled with her happy chatter. It filled my heart with – you guessed it – Joy!

One of my favorite verses is Zephaniah 3:17. Let me give you some context. Zephaniah was a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah, just before the nation would fall to the Babylonians. The people had been under a great deal of oppression because they had turned away from God to worship idols. Their sin had caused them great misery. That sounds all too familiar to me. God declared that He would bring punishment on them—and He would also bring gladness to them again. For a season, they would be removed from their beloved Jerusalem, but God promised to take away their chastisement and fear and to bless them once again with His presence. He said, “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Now, I’ve never heard His audible voice, but I always feel His love and comfort in songs of worship and praise. And yes, I’ve even sensed His delight as I lift (and clap) my hands in glad adoration.

Some days are just hard. God knows that. But He wants you to know that He is always near to you, always working on your behalf, lavishing love on you to quiet your anxious heart and rejoicing over you with songs of delight. Beloved, get still and quiet and see if you don’t hear the faintest melody in your spiritual ear. And maybe clap your hands to the rhythm of Joy.

Star-Struck

Screaming Beatles Fans – GALLIVANCE

I used to be so “star-struck.” I was fascinated by the life of the rich and famous. I bought all the magazines so I could keep up with my favorite celebs. I soaked up every detail of their lives – where they went, what their house looked like, and especially what they wore. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be them

.Then I met Someone – He wasn’t a star by the world’s standards, but He created the stars and calls them all by name. And suddenly the lives of actors and singers fell far short; their glitz and glamor couldn’t compare to His splendor. I don’t waste money on magazines since I found the Book He wrote. I want to soak up everything about His life. I want to walk like He walked. I want to be wherever He is. I want to look like Him and talk like Him. I want to be like Him. His name is Jesus.

This world idolizes celebrities and makes kings and queens out of men and women who can sing a song, pretend to be someone else, bounce a ball, or show themselves off in outlandish ways. But there is One who set aside His incomparable splendor and became the most humble of men. He deserves all our worship and all our praise. One day, at the mere mention of His name, “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11). Even LeBron and Miley and the whole Kardashian clan.

Beloved, who has caught your attention? Who is a “star” in your eyes? No one will ever shine as brightly as Jesus.

Thankful People

The Philistines had captured the Ark of the Covenant, the one element of the Tabernacle that was God’s special dwelling place. David set out to bring the Ark home, and the people and their king were ecstatic with joy and gratitude. They celebrated with sacrifices and offerings to the LORD and joyful thanks. 1 Chronicles 16:41 says, “With them were Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen and designated by name to give thanks to the LORD, ‘for His love endures forever.’” Did you catch that these priests were “chosen…to give thanks to the LORD”? Their sole responsibility was to lead the Israelites in songs and expressions of gratitude to the LORD who was again dwelling among His people.

You and I are chosen by God to be His royal priests. We are chosen to give thanks. We have been given the special calling of leading our families, churches, communities, and nation in gratitude to the God who created us, sustains us, provides for us, and, most importantly of all, saved and redeemed us and made us His dwelling place through His Holy Spirit. You and I are God’s priests , chosen to led the way in thanksgiving. Yes, even in 2020. Especially in 2020. As long as there’s breath in your body Beloved, you have a reason to give thanks.

An Unpopular Jesus

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The great philosopher John Lennon once remarked in the mid-sixties, that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.”  Christians took great offense at his statement and the Beatles’ albums were burned and smashed to pieces. It was an inflammatory statement, but the truth is, Lennon was probably right. In the fifty years since, he has been proved right with any celebrity, sports star, or politician you want to name. Even in the church, Jesus is not the most popular figure in the world, at least not the Jesus of the Bible. There are variations of Jesus – the political Jesus (we’ve seen a lot of him lately), the social justice Jesus (he seems to be the one most folks like) the anything-goes Jesus, and on and on.  

The Jesus of the Bible is at the same time humble and exalted. He is gentle and fierce. He is gracious and confrontational. He accepted women with bad reputations and chastened the religious leaders who are lauded for their (self)righteousness. He is unpredictable and yet He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But He never was popular – the same crowd greeted Him as Messiah, shouted for His crucifixion. Throughout human history far more have rejected Him than accepted Him. He may be worshiped in small bands but He is scorned in the public square. But one day . . .

The Bible says that  Jesus will come again, splitting the sky and riding the clouds like a wave. And every eye will see Him. Every person will know exactly who He is. Because God has exalted Him to the highest place and given Him the name that is above every name. One day, that name will ring out -across the universe, and then “every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).  Every knee. Every tongue. 

Yes, you will bow and you will confess. Will it be an act of delight that you have practiced often in worship and praise, or will it be one of shock and horror, when you realize Who you rejected.  The choice is yours now, Beloved. Are you ready?

Awe

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“Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).

A few years ago there was a three-year research project done on awe at U Cal Berkley, their report included such awesome findings as “Awe binds us together,” “Awe helps us see things in new ways,” and “Awe makes us nicer – and happier.” It also touted “the healing potential of awe.”  Suggestions for finding awe included observing nature, listening to music, and one I heartily agree with – putting down the ever-present cell-phone and simply looking up. [1]

I don’t dispute any of their findings or suggestions, but the article failed to ask and answer some very important questions, such as “Why do we feel awe?” and “What makes something awe-inspiring?” 

We feel awe because we were created for worship – and worship is at its purest and truest when it is accompanied by awe.  The article says “Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast or beyond human scale, that transcends our current understanding of things.” (Dacher Keltner)[2]  Is there anything more vast or farther beyond our human understanding than the God of the Universe?  David declared “You are awesome, O God, in your sanctuary” (Psalm 68:35)!

What makes something awe-inspiring is when we, in our smallness, stand in the presence of greatness.  I’ve seen the Grand Canyon, and it is awesome because it is huge and beautiful. Deuteronomy 7:21 says “The Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God.”  When we sense the presence of God we have no other response but to stand in awe.  Actually, when we truly sense the awesome presence of God we cannot stand at all.

But I think the most important question is, “What happened to our sense of awe?”  Sin happened. Pride happened.  The sin of Adam and Eve, at its root, is the sin of pride.  Where pride reigns, we lose the necessary humility to be awed.  Beloved, if you ponder the fact that the holy, sovereign God of heaven and earth has singled you out for salvation and relationship and eternal life you should be humbled and awed.  Nothing is more incredible, more grand and glorious, and more awe-inspiring than that.

[1] Paula Spencer Scott, “Feeling Awe May Be the Secret to Health and Happiness,” Parade, Sunday, October 9, 2016, 6-8.

[2] Dacher Keltner is a psychologist who heads the University of California, Berkeley’s Social Interaction Lab, and helped create the new Facebook response button emojis.