One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

TOMS: James 4

For an introduction to this series, click here.

November 28, 2007

James covers a wide variety of topics here. There is a lot packed into 17 verses.

"What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, 'He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us?'" (4:1-5)

We need to always be watchful of our fleshly desires, whether that be for more money, a better position in life, or whatever else. We hope James is using hyperbole here when he talks about killing, but maybe James is referencing something his readers would have been familiar with. Note the shocking term that James uses: "adulterous." We are the bride of Christ, and he has everything we  really need, but we go traipsing off after a sinful pleasure and abandoning our true love. No doubt this called to mind the word picture found often in the Old Testament prophets of Israel cavorting with other nations for security and commerce instead of relying on God. James goes on to say that the Holy Spirit is grieved and is jealous of our flirtings with the world and our fleshly lusts. God takes our sins, even those that we think are minor, very seriously. It is much worse than a weakness or a mistake. It is a sign of our lack of faith and trust in the Lord for our good.

"Therefore it says, 'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.' Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you." (4:6-10)

Another source of discord is pride. Pride is very simply asserting our own ideas and our own desires above those of God and others. God will not honor the desires of a proud heart, but His ears are open to those who humbly seek His will. And if that means we need to afflict our flesh for a while, it is a worthy means to an end of humility. That is what James is talking about when he tells them to mourn and weep. This is certainly contrary to the prosperity false gospel we hear preached from way too many pulpits today. God wants us to be happy in Him, not happy in the fulfillment of our earthly desires. God did not save us for us to be self-fulfilled or self-actualized. He saved us to be servants of His, that we can be led by Him to do what He wants us to do.

Also note that we have the power to resist Satan, not by saying magic words to "rebuke" him, but by drawing ever closer to God. Satan only has the power over us that we and God allow him to have. Sometimes God uses Satan to work out his purpose: just look at the life of Job, and there are other examples in the Old Testament as well. And certainly God allowed the demons to control several people's lives in Jesus' day so that God would be glorified when Jesus cast them out. Of course God does not allow us to be possessed, but He apparently does allow Satan to stir up turmoil and problems in our lives. But these temptations are ultimately designed by God to bring us closer to Him. But when we allow Satan a foothold in our lives, that is when trouble starts. We dare not try to deal with temptation on our own. Our way of escape is to flee to the Lord, who loves us.

"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." (4:13-17)

This is an amazing lesson in trusting God. When things are going good, we have a tendency to think it is because of something we have done, and not the blessings of God. That is what these people were doing. They had their lives planned out, but they forgot to consider God's plan. We should seek the Lord's will in every detail of our lives, and not just decide what is best for ourselves. Most of the time when we do that we end up making a mess.

But I want you to notice especially that last verse, in context with the rest of the passage. The context adds a lot of richness to that one verse. Most of us just take that verse to mean that if we know we ought to do something good and we don't do it, it is sin. And that is of course true. But the context adds the element of urgency. The reason that neglecting to do something good is sinful is because our lives here on earth are short, and we don't know what may happen tomorrow. Most of us take our lives way too flippantly. The Lord takes our lives seriously, and we need to as well. If the Lord gives you an opportunity to do good today, take advantage of it not because you are afraid of sinning, although that is a valid but shallow reason, but because our lives are short, and we may never again have an opportunity to do good for that particular someone. This passage is an important reminder to live every day to the fullest. We never know what might happen tomorrow or even a few minutes from now.

Friday, December 4, 2015

TOMS: James 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

November 27, 2007

This chapter begins with a very strange warning: "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." (3:1) It is a serious matter when we are dealing with the Word of God. When we are standing in front of a group of people, whether it be an entire congregation or just a small class, we are responsible to proclaim to them the whole counsel of God as best we can. It is certainly a blessed opportunity, and it is an honorable calling. But it is not something to be taken lightly.

"For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison." (3:2-8)

This is an incredible indictment of the power of the tongue. James says here that if you can avoid sin with your tongue, you are pretty near perfection. The words we say have so much impact, we hardly realize it. But we realize it when somebody says some harsh and thoughtless words to us. 

"With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?" (3:9-11)

We are such inconsistent creatures. We can be praising God and saying wonderful things one minute and then criticizing someone else the next minute. We can be encouraging someone who is hurting and then later cursing because something bad happened. The tongue is a powerful force for good or for evil. We need to acknowledge it and strive to use our tongues for good. An encouraging tongue is a blessing to all who hear the words coming from it. You know that as well as I. We all know someone like that. There is someone at your church and hopefully somewhere else in your life who always has an encouraging word to say, and who is a joy to be around. And you also know people who never have anything positive to say. They are always criticizing you or someone else. They are never fun to be around, they are only a drag.

"Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." (3:13-18, ESV)

Now James goes deeper and explains the source of our words. Our words come from our own deepest feelings, and sometimes they even surprise us. But, without trying to sound like a psychoanalyst, they are there, and our goal should be to rid our minds of the wrong thoughts. We need a heart that is clean. A clean heart can only come from the work of the Lord in our lives. James talks about two kinds of wisdom here: wisdom from above and wisdom from below. Actually, I put them out of James' order, but you get the idea. The demonic wisdom likes to stir up strife, envy and pride among people. It takes its joy in making itself look good at the expense of others. Godly wisdom seeks peace among everyone, even among those with whom we disagree or think are doing wrong. It takes its joy in lifting others up at the expense of itself. The demonic wisdom comes easily to our flesh. We are prone to attitudes of pride, jealousy and other such vices. The Godly wisdom takes work. Not that we have to work to earn it, but we have to work to mortify our flesh and learn to walk in the Spirit. Certainly the Lord will help us when we yield to His working in our lives, but we have to consciously take steps in that direction.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

TOMS: James 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

November 26, 2007

I had a wonderful weekend with my folks and Beth Anne. I guess it is back to the old grind this morning. Oh well.

"My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' while you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there,' or, 'Sit down at my feet,' have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors." (2:1-9)

James is concerned a lot with the way we live our Christian lives. Here we have a real-life situation: two visitors comes to church, one obviously very wealthy and one obviously very poor. How do we as members of the church treat them? This is just as relevant now as it was back in the first century. It is an easy temptation to just look at the outside and go out of our way to make sure the rich person is taken care of while at the same time ignoring or begrudgingly acknowledging the poor person. There are several passages in the Bible that say God is not a respecter of persons. When we do that, we show ourselves to be not like God. 

"For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not murder.' If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law." (2:10-11)

This is an important point for us to realize. We are sinners, whether we want to admit it or not. Most people think they are pretty good, and honestly, humanly speaking, most people are pretty good most of the time. But we deceive ourselves if we think that makes us right with God. God gave us the Law not so we can justify ourselves, but so we will be overwhelmed by it and turn to God for salvation.

"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." (2:14-18)

This is practical reality. We are often guilty of saying pious words to people in need or in trouble and not doing what we can to help them. But this illustrates a point about true faith. Faith is more than a simple intellectual belief. Faith is taking our intellectual belief and living it out every day in our lives. It is impossible to have real faith without obedience. Perfect obedience is impossible, but at some level obedience will follow genuine faith.

"You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!" (2:19) 
It takes more than believing facts about God to be saved. Notice James uses language similar to the famous statement in Deuteronomy 6:4. This would have been very familiar to James' Jewish audience.

The demons believe in God. They are more aware of Him than we are. True faith lives itself out in obedience to God. The demons certainly do not obey God: they hate Him, but they do believe He exists. Obedience is a natural result of faith, and James gives us two biblical examples to finish the chapter: 

"Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness'—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead." (2:20-26, ESV)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

TOMS: James 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

November 20, 2007

The author of this book is James, the brother of Jesus. He was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. This epistle is most likely the first New Testament epistle ever written, probably written around AD 45, or just a few years after the resurrection of Christ.

This epistle is very practical and has a lot of good instruction in it, although some have criticized it, saying James' teaching of salvation contradicts that of Paul. Similar to Hebrews, James was written to a group of Jews that were influenced by Christianity, but were not all believers.

"James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." (1:1-8)

It's hard to rejoice when trials come our way, but the point is that our trials are proof that God is working in our lives. We don't like to look at life that way, but that is the way God looks at our lives. Double-minded refers to someone having their mind on both spiritual and worldly things. They seem to be ready to serve the Lord, and then a few days or even hours later they are wallowing in the things of the world. The Lord wants us to have a single mind of serving Him.

"Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits." (1:9-11)

James has a lot to say in his epistle about rich people and poor people. This must have been a struggle in the early church. Of course it is not a sin to be rich, but a rich person has different temptations than poor people. But don't be deceived: poor people have temptations as well. They are often tempted to covet and to be envious of rich people. I guess I am kind of talking to myself here, since I don't have to worry about the temptations of being rich for a while.

"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." (1:12-15)

This is an important lesson. God does not bring temptation into our lives. Satan and our own sinful flesh are responsible for that. Even though we deal with temptation, no one makes us sin. James says here that we will be blessed if we endure temptation, and not give in. We have the power through the Lord to resist temptation, but we don't always take advantage of it.

"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing." (1:22-25)

This is very similar to Jesus' teaching about the wise man and the foolish man. It is important for us to hear and learn from the Word of God, of course. But it is more important for us to apply what we have learned in our daily lives. We do not receive rewards for what we know, we receive rewards for what we do.

"If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." (1:26-27, ESV)

James' epistle is all about real life, living out our religion. Here we have one of the climaxes of the entire epistle. The most religious person is not the one who uses the most pious platitudes or the one who promotes himself at church. The most religious person is the one who lives out his faith in generosity and purity. There are two elements here of true religion: generosity and purity. Unfortunately, it seems most churches and pastors emphasize either one or the other. It is good and right for the church and for individuals to give to the poor. If you don't put some money in the red kettles this Christmas season, there is something wrong with you. But it is also important to live godly, separated lives. And those churches that emphasize strict separation to the exclusion of charity and good will in the community are also emphasizing the wrong thing. The Lord expects us to do both.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

TOMS: Hebrews 13

For an introduction to this series, click here.

November 19, 2007

OK, I have to admit that this last chapter feels very Pauline. There are a lot of disparate instructions thrown together. But they are really good. Perhaps Barnabas or whoever wrote this book was familiar with Paul's style. Luke certainly would have been familiar with it. Or since this was probably written before most of Paul’s letters, maybe Paul imitated the writer’s style.

"Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body." (13:1-3)

If that is not an encouragement for hospitality, I don't know what is. Being in prison was a fact of life for many Christians of that time. A lot of us don't know people who are being persecuted today. But I have a feeling it will be coming, and sooner than any of us realize. 

"Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?' Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." (13:5-7)

I like passages like this, where familiar teachings are juxtaposed with each other. We know we are supposed to be content and not greedy. But do we realize that the reason why is that the Lord has promised never to leave us? That is a real comfort. The Lord will provide the things that we need. Covetousness and discontentment is in reality a lack of faith in what the Lord has provided for us.

"We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." (13:10-16)

This is a neat summary of what the writer has been saying throughout this whole book. Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament. This does not mean we should absolutely toss it, but it means that we should exercise the liberty we have to live our lives in honor of the Lord. Clearly the sacrificial system is done away with in Christ, but notice two types of sacrifices we can give: praise and giving to others. We often don't think of those as equivalent to a burnt offering, but that's what the writer seems to be saying here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

TOMS: Hebrews 12

For an introduction to this series, click here.

November 18, 2007

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (12:1-3)

The witnesses are those mentioned in chapter 11, those who lived in the power of faith and saw God do marvelous things. These people put aside the cares of this world and lived a life dedicated to the Lord. That was the whole purpose of that chapter, of course: to encourage us to do the same thing. And if those people aren't enough, then there is Jesus, the "founder and perfecter of our faith."

"Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.'
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." (12:5-11)

There are a lot of people who think this passage teaches that God punishes believers when they do wrong. I don't deny that God can and does correct His children in this life. But this particular passage, especially given the introduction in verses 3-4, seems to be speaking about tribulations and various hard times we have to endure in this life. God doesn't coddle His children. He gives us what is best for us and for Him. And more often than not that means heartaches and struggles. Trials bring us closer to God and allow us to be a testimony to the world. If you can go through life without a struggle, then you may not legitimately be God's child. 

"Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no 'root of bitterness' springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears." (12:14-17)

The writer here tells us to be careful and to watch others in the church, primarily to encourage those who are going through difficult times and to root out those who are trying to tear things down. Then he gives us an example of that kind of person: Esau. Esau is a strange character. The Bible tells us that God told Isaac and Rebekah before they were born that the younger son would be the one to inherit the blessing. Yet after they were born, both Isaac and Rebekah apparently told their sons that since Esau was the oldest, he had the birthright. Jacob got both the birthright and the blessing of his father by trickery, but it was God's will that he get both of those. Esau eventually got over his hatred of Jacob, as we see when they meet long after the incident, but the Bible tells us here that Esau never fully accepted his place and turned to God for salvation. He wanted the blessing, but he did not want the God from whom the blessing came.

The last part of this chapter deals with the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai and what that pictures for us: 
"For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, 'If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.' Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, 'I tremble with fear.' But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire." (12:18-29, ESV)

The Israelites were afraid when they saw God from a distance, but we will have the opportunity to see God with all of His angels in heaven and join in the celebration. Yes, this of course is a wonderful thing to look forward to, but it is also a fearful thing. It reminds us that God is holy, and therefore we should strive to be holy as well. We will never attain perfection, of course, but we need to remember to "offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe."

Once again it should be noted that the writer addresses unbelievers he knows are in his audience. I hear so many people say that Hebrews is full of "problem passages." The problems arise when you think the writer is always addressing Christians. But when you understand he is writing to a mixed group of believers and unbelievers meeting in the same synagogues, then the problems are much easier to handle.

Monday, November 23, 2015

TOMS: Hebrews 11, part 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

November 16, 2007

The writer continues to recount examples of faith in the Old Testament:
"By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible." (11:24-27)

I will be honest with you, this one has always puzzled me. When I read the account of Moses' early life in Exodus, it seems like Moses was forced out because of his killing of the Egyptian, and it certainly appears he was afraid of the wrath of the king. But I have heard some people say that he was trying to lead a revolt of the Jews. Actually, this passage kind of confirms that. Anyway, I want you to notice one thing: that Moses saw greater reward in following God than he saw in staying in Egypt. It takes spiritual eyes to see this, but the Lord does have eternal riches that are greater than temporal riches on earth. Never once does God tell us not to seek rewards. Why else would He offer them unless He wanted us to work for them?

"And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect." (11:32-40, ESV)

This is my favorite part of this chapter. My first question is, Why Barak? When you read the story in Judges, it seems he was a sniveling, spineless leader who would not lead the soldiers into battle without Deborah. Once again, we find an example of God shedding more light on an Old Testament character in the New Testament. Most importantly, this passage tells us that God sometimes leads His heroes through tragedy. Or at least it seems like tragedy to us. Everybody loves the stories of Joseph and David, men who overcame a lot of obstacles to become the leaders of God's people. Not so many like to talk about the story of Jeremiah, for example, who spent his entire life taking the scorn and abuse of the people. But God was just as pleased with Jeremiah as He was with Joseph. He is more interested in our faithfulness than He is in making us rich or popular. To choose a New Testament example, I have heard lots of sermons from Acts 12 about Peter being freed from prison by angels. I have not heard one about James the brother of John being beheaded in the same week. But God had a different plan for James than He did for Peter. When we sign up for the Lord's army, not everyone gets to be the general. A lot more people get sent to die or suffer anonymously on the front lines. It will be interesting to see who gets the best rewards in heaven. I think we all will be surprised.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

TOMS: Hebrews 11, part 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

November 15, 2007

Wow, where do I start on this one? I guess we will just see where it goes. This is of course the great chapter of faith. Faith is taking God at His word and acting on it, or at least biblical faith is.

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." (11:1-6)

There is so much right here. I guess the first thing that really jumps out at me is the fact that it takes faith to recognize God for who He is. That is the saddest thing about the fact that evolution is accepted as fact by the world. It has created millions of smug people who figure they don't need God. I have met lots of them, and I know you have too. But the problem is that in order to be saved, you have to believe that God exists, and that He can be found if you seek Him with all your heart. 

"By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God." (11:7-10)

Notice in all these people that the sign of faith is action. Faith is not some esoteric thing. It is like Noah, believing that God was going to destroy the world and building a huge boat to carry his family and all the animals through the flood. Or like Abraham who obeyed when God told him to go to a new land.

I also want you to notice that Abraham was looking for a spiritual blessing, not just an earthly home. A lot of dispensationalists (and I am one, generally) de-emphasize the spiritual aspects of Abraham's faith and emphasize the land and the national aspects. This is disrespectful to Abraham.

"By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore." (11:11-12)

This is an encouragement to me, because a lot of times my faith isn't very strong. Certainly Sara's faith was not strong. She laughed when she heard the Lord tell Abraham that she was going to have a son. But yet the Lord describes her here as being a woman of great faith. God overlooks our temporary lapses of faith and sees our hearts that truly do believe God, and that is a great encouragement and confidence builder.

"By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, 'Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.' He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones." (11:17-22)

This passage gives us insight into Abraham's faith that we would not have otherwise. He was going to go through with sacrificing his son, even though he believed God's promise that Isaac was the child of promise. 

The Bible also mentions the other patriarchs briefly. I guess I had never thought of Isaac blessing Jacob and Esau being an act of faith. It seems to us that Isaac was intent on going against God's will and giving the primary blessing to Esau. But then Jacob did something similar, giving the primary blessing to Ephraim, Joseph's younger son. Joseph, of course, had lived his whole adult life in Egypt. He did not want to remain buried there, so he made his descendants promise to bring his casket (at least that would be our word for it) out of Egypt and bury it in Canaan.

We will get as far as we can tomorrow.

Friday, November 20, 2015

TOMS: Hebrews 10

For an introduction to this series, click here.

November 14, 2007

This chapter ends the discussion of Christ as the High Priest and goes on to different things.

"For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
'Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, "Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book."’”
When he said above, 
'You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings' 
(these are offered according to the law), then he added, 'Behold, I have come to do your will.' He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." (10:4-10)

This is kind of a summary of the last several chapters. Jesus took away the all of the Old Testament Law, including the system of sacrifices, and established a new covenant with all mankind.

Now the writer explains what we need to do now that we understand what Jesus did for us: "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (10:19-25)

There are three things we are to do: draw near to God, hold fast to our faith and edify one another for good works. And that is what church is all about, which is why it is mentioned here that we need to go. The church, of course, is not a building, but it is a group of people. By worshiping with fellow believers we draw near to God, we learn more about our faith so we can keep it, and we can gain encouragement from fellow believers.

But of course, the question always arises, "What does it mean to 'neglect?'" There are some people who think this means that you should never miss a service. Obviously I don't think this is the case. The word "neglect" means to abandon or forsake. Does missing a single church service for practically any reason mean you have abandoned the church? Of course not. 

"For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, 'Vengeance is mine; I will repay.' And again, 'The Lord will judge his people.' It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (10:26-31)

Once again we come to one of those verses that if taken out of context seems to say that we can lose our salvation. Remember Hebrews was written to both Christian and non-Christian Jews attending the same synagogues. All of them had "knowledge of the truth." They knew enough about Jesus to know His claims, and the proof behind those claims. But not all of them believed. The writer implies in the rest of this passage that the final judgment will be more severe for people like that.

"But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,
'Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” 
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls." (10:32-39, ESV)

Notice that the writer says "we" are not those that are going to hell because of drawing back. This passage is addressing the believers in the audience. They had already endured hardship because of their faith, and it appears some of them were discouraged. The writer is telling them that God will reward their faithfulness, and he gives examples in the chapter that follows.

It is an incredible thing to see God's grace at work in people whom He chooses to send through trials. I have seen it a few times, and the writer had seen it in the lives of the people who received this letter. He says they rejoiced when they lost their homes and possessions. Only a truly born again person full of the Holy Spirit could do that.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

TOMS: Hebrews 9

For an introduction to this series, click here.

November 13, 2007

The writer goes into detail here about the worship in the Tabernacle and how Christ's sacrifice fulfilled all of that. The chapter begins with a description of the items in the Tabernacle. Then the writer says: 
"These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age).[d] According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption." (9:6-12)

The Old Testament system was never sufficient to take away the sins of the priests themselves, much less the people in general. Now don't get the idea that what they did was wrong or bad. They were obedient to God's command. They were doing what God had told them to do, and God was pleased with that. That is why His presence came down among them, and why you read in a few places that the people were filled with joy as they worshiped the Lord in the Old Testament. That was God's plan for that time. But now God has a new plan, and these converted Jews needed to put their old religion into proper perspective.

"For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God." (9:13-14)

The Old Testament law was all about ceremony and symbols. There were lots of things people could do to be ceremonially unclean, and there were things people could do to become ceremonially clean. But in Christ, we are made permanently, spiritually clean once for all. And this is a motivation and encouragement for us to live for God, as the writer says.

"Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, 'This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.' And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." (9:18-22)

Blood signifies death. There was nothing magic in the blood of an animal, but it was the picture of the animal dying in the place of the people that was important. And it is the same with the Lord Jesus. There are a lot of people who claim there was some sort of magic or something divine in Christ's physical blood. But if He did not have human blood, how could He be our substitute? The fact that He died a substitutionary death is the important fact, not that He had special blood. If it was the shedding of His blood that was significant, and not His death, all Jesus would have had to have done was prick His finger to achieve salvation. In other words, if they had a bloodmobile back in Jesus' day, He could have donated. Whatever blood type it was, it was normal human blood. 

"For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him." (9:24-28, ESV)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

TOMS: Hebrews 8

For an introduction to this series, click here.

November 12, 2007

The author continues on the theme that Jesus Christ is the great High Priest for all men.
"Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, 
'See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.'  
But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises."  (8:1-6)

Christ offered His sacrifice once for all in heaven. This is an important difference from the old Jewish system. They certainly could not see it as they went through the rituals back then, but they were living a picture of what was to come. But the writer says that now that Christ has fulfilled the pictures, then the old covenant is no longer needed.

"For he finds fault with them when he says:
'Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts,and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.'
In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.'" (8:8-13, ESV)

It must have been hard for these Jews to read that the former covenant with God was faulty. But even the Old Testament is clear that God had a plan for a new way of dealing with His people. This quotation from Jeremiah has more to do with the Millennium rather than the church age, but the writer here applies it to our time. He says the new covenant we have in Christ is just as different from the old Law as when Christ comes to reign in His kingdom.

Note specifically the last verse of the chapter. The old Law of Moses is "obsolete," "old" and "ready to vanish away." So many Christians get hung up on things in the Law, and so many skeptics mock Christianity by quoting the Law. The Law's primary purpose is to show all of mankind how hopelessly lost they are, but a secondary purpose was to provide a national identity for Israel. Since we are not Jewish, there is no need to identify as such, and, if they will listen, the mockers need to have that explained to them as well. Christians are not required to do the frankly strange things the Law required. We are free in Christ.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

TOMS: Hebrews 7

For an introduction to this series, click here.

November 10, 2007

In this chapter, the writer more fully explains what it means for Christ to be a priest after the order of Melchizedek:
"For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever." (7:1-3)

The fact that we don't know much about Mel is exactly the point. He did not have a father or mother that we know of, yet Abraham looked to him as a priest. If anybody didn't need a priest, it was Abraham. Mel was also king of Jerusalem, which of course at that time was a Gentile city. We assume that he had children, because when Joshua came into the land some 500 years later, he met the king of Jerusalem- Adoni-zedek. There are some who believe Mel was an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ. I obviously disagree with that idea.

"See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.." (7:4-10)

This may be a very fine point, but it's included in Scripture. Levi, of course was the tribe of the Jewish priests. Levi, through his great-grandfather Abraham, paid tithes to Mel. Therefore, Mel's priesthood is greater than that of Levi. The writer says this primarily to show them that Christ is offering something new and greater than the Jewish system. It had its time and its place, but God is doing a new work through a new leader: Jesus.

"For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him,'You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.'" (7:14-17)

Jesus was not part of the priestly line from Aaron and Levi, but God had declared him a priest.

"For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: 'The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, You are a priest forever.’ This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant." (7:18-22)

This is an important passage to tell us that the Old Testament law has been abolished in Christ. We are not under any obligation to any part of it. Honestly, there is enough in the New Testament for us to obey that we can never do it. The Old Testament is a rich, wonderful book. And there are certainly principles and examples aplenty for us to learn from. But the Law in particular is not binding on us as Christians.

"The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them." (7:23-25, ESV)

Here is the climax of this passage, and probably of the whole first half of the epistle. Our Priest, the Lord Jesus, will never die. He will never have to pass his position to another. Therefore He is a priest forever.

This is such a rich book. I kind of feel like a lot of it speaks for itself, and that is why I am not going into a lot of detailed commentary. Hebrews is an indispensable book for us to know who Christ really is. He is more than just a great man. He is the eternal God, who became like us for a while, that we could be forever with Him.

Monday, November 16, 2015

TOMS: Hebrews 6

For an introduction to this series, click here.

November 9, 2007

The first passage we will discuss is one of the most confusing passages in all the Bible. Lots of people use this passage to "prove" that people can lose their salvation, although we will see this passage at the same time defeats their own argument.

"For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." (6:4-12)

If you read the overall context, it is clear the entire passage is talking about people who profess salvation but are not truly saved. (Remember this epistle is addressed to both believers and unbelievers.) The writer here says that two different types of ground receive the same rain, but one bears fruit and the other thorns, and the thorns are to be burned. I think the overall point of this warning is that if you can leave behind the things of God permanently, then you are not saved. Unfortunately, it is easy to sincerely think you are a Christian and deceive yourself and others. There are plenty of warnings about this from Jesus and in the epistles. A believer and an unbeliever may sit in the same congregation, hear the same teaching and arrive at different ends.

But what about the phrases "tasted the heavenly gift" and "shared in the Holy Spirit?" That sounds like it is describing saved people. Now we know the Bible clearly teaches that salvation is forever. When you come to a passage like this that seems to teach otherwise, you don't throw out what you already know to be true. These phrases must describe people who have participated in Christian activities, for lack of a better term. They have been in church and saw God work, and they were excited intellectually. They may have attended prayer meetings and sensed that something exciting was going on. They mistook their excitement for a work of God in their life. 

Perhaps some of the Christians were confused by some of these people. Maybe some of these false professors had left and not come back. They were perhaps wondering how someone they thought was saved could abandon their faith. The message here is that one who is truly saved cannot abandon the faith. They may backslide, but they will be miserable until they come back into fellowship with the Lord and with fellow believers.

"For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, 'Surely I will bless you and multiply you.' And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." (6:13-20, ESV)

God's promises to us are sure. God made a promise and He swore an oath, and so we have "two unchangeable things" on which to place our belief.

Friday, November 13, 2015

TOMS: Hebrews 5

For an introduction to this series, click here.

November 8, 2007

I am going to start here with the last few verses of chapter 4.
"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (4:14-16)

This passage begins a long section where the writer explains how Christ is the great High Priest for all the saints, fulfilling and superseding the Old Testament system of priests and sacrifice.

"For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people." (5:1-3)

In the Old Testament system, the priest offered a sacrifice for himself and for the people. He could identify with his people because he was human, but he was also a flawed, imperfect priest who had to make atonement for himself at the same time he made atonement for the people.

"So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, 'You are my Son, today I have begotten you;' as he says also in another place, 'You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.' In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek." (5:5-10)

Without the book of Hebrews, we would have no idea what the passage in Psalms meant when it said that God had anointed someone as a priest after the order of Melchizedek. You may remember Mel. He was the priest to whom Abraham gave gifts after the rescue of Sodom. The writer will explain what this Melchizedekian priesthood means later in the book, but the most important thing we learn from this passage is that the passage from Psalm 110 is referring to Christ.

"About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil." (5:11-14, ESV)

The writer interjects a terrible indictment here. It continues in the first part of chapter 6, but I decided to address it here. I understand that the writer is partially addressing non-believers here, people who were aware of the truth of Jesus but refused to believe it. But the passage seems primarily directed to the believing recipients. They were shallow in their belief as well.

I wonder how many people in our modern churches fit this description? I think it would be a high number, probably starting right here with me. I think the great failure of the 20th century American church is that we did not emphasize doctrine. We believed in "practical" teaching. "Just tell us what to do, pastor, don't bore us with the details of why," was and still remains the attitude of a lot of Christians. Thankfully it seems we are seeing a move away from that kind of didactism (is that a word?) in our conservative Baptist circles and more toward an expositional mode of teaching and preaching. Christians don't need to be talked down to, we need to hear the whole counsel of God proclaimed.

One other point that needs to be made here. The writer uses the metaphors of milk and meat, comparing them to shallow and deep doctrine. Yet when we read I Peter 2:2, Peter uses milk as a positive metaphor. We cannot assume that all metaphors are to be taken the same way throughout Scripture, especially when dealing with two different authors. Just because something is usually used negatively does not mean it cannot be used positively in another context. Another example is yeast, or leaven. Many times in Scripture it is used as a negative picture of sin. That was the picture of unleavened bread at Passover. But Jesus in Matthew 13 says, "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven." Unless you think Jesus was saying the kingdom of heaven is sinful, then you have to conclude that leaven is used in a positive sense.