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

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.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

TOMS: Hebrews 4

For an introduction to this series, click here.

November 7, 2007

This chapter continues the discussion of Psalm 95. Most of this chapter discusses a third aspect of the passage: "rest." In chapter 3 we had "today" and "rebellion."

"Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, 'As I swore in my wrath,"They shall not enter my rest,"' although his works were finished from the foundation of the world." (4:1-3)

First of all, the writer has a lot to say about evaluating your salvation. We should never take it for granted that since we prayed some magic words we are saved. That being said, we must also keep in mind the audience here. No doubt there were people who thought they were going to play both sides of the Christianity-Judaism fence, trying to hedge their bets, if you will. 

Secondly, the message of God has always been the same: repent and believe. Verse two says the gospel was preached to the Jews in the desert as well as to people in our time. There are different aspects of following the Lord in different times, but God always listens to the heart's cry of a repentant sinner, no matter what the age.

Thirdly, notice the end of the passage. Christ's work of redemption was finished from the foundation of the world. Those who try to say that Jesus' redemptive work did not apply to people before He died are mistaken, and they fail to see the continuity of Scripture.

"For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: 'And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, 'They shall not enter my rest.' Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, 'Today,' saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.' For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his." (4:4-10)

It is clear that the rest the writer talks about is a spiritual rest. Joshua did not give the Jews rest when they entered the Promised Land. The promise of rest was offered in David's day and it is still offered in our time. Whether this rest is talking about rest in salvation or eternal rest in God's presence, both require faith in Christ, which is the writer's overarching point. 

"Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account." (4:11-13, ESV)

The phrase "strive to enter that rest" makes me think it is talking about eternal rest. This is doubled with the reference to the judgment at the end of verse 13. Whatever it is, one thing is for certain from this passage: we will all be judged by the Word of God, and that Word will lay every one of us open one day. As believers, ultimately God will not find anything to condemn us, but we will face loss of reward, hence the need to strive. For those who are not born again, God's Word will find ample cause for condemnation. That's certainly something to "strive" to avoid.

The last part of this chapter introduces a new topic, and I will discuss it along with chapter 5 tomorrow, Lord willing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

TOMS: Hebrews 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

November 6, 2007

The writer of Hebrews begins to compare Jesus to one of the greatest heroes of the Old Testament, Moses.

"Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God's house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope." (3:1-6)

Moses was faithful with what God had given him. He was a good servant in God's house. But Christ is more than a servant. He is a son, and therefore He is over the whole house forever, not just a temporary servant. 

"Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, "They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways." As I swore in my wrath, "They shall not enter my rest.”'
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." (3:7-13)

This passage is one of the first major clues that this epistle is partially addressed to unbelievers. A genuine believer cannot "fall away away from the living God." But someone who is merely exposed to the Gospel can. Non-believers participating in a Christian-influenced synagogue were in real danger. They could easily rebel against God just like their ancestors in the desert centuries before. All the recipients were indeed brothers, since they were Jewish like the author. But they were not all brothers in Christ, and we should not read "brothers" and assume they were.

"As it is said,
'Today, if you hear his voice,do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.' 
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief." (3:15-19, ESV)

The writer quotes this same verse from Psalms again, this time emphasizing the fact that unbelief doomed the Jews led by Moses to death. Notice that the Jews died in the wilderness because of unbelief, not because of any outward sin. Unbelief is the worst sin man can commit. Ultimately, unbelief is the sin that sends people to hell. No doubt the overwhelming majority of the recipients were good, upright people. But being good and upright is not enough. God always has and always will require belief and faith in Him. And in this time, that means faith in Jesus Christ. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

TOMS: Hebrews 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

November 5, 2007

The writer of Hebrews continues his discussion of Jesus Christ being better than the angels: "Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will." (2:1-4)

He says that if we are to pay attention to what the angels said in the Old Testament, how much more are we to pay attention to the words God Himself said when he walked among us? That was the purpose of the miracles Jesus did: to confirm His ministry. In fact that is the purpose of all Biblical miracles: to show a skeptic world that God is working through the person doing the miracles. This is a pet peeve of mine. You hear lots of people say that if they find some keys they lost, or something else like that, they say, "It was a miracle!" No it wasn't. It's not that God cannot help us or is incapable of doing something miraculous, but a miracle is something God does in public to prove that a person is a legitimate servant of God.

Sorry to go off on that. 

The phrase, "It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard," is one of the sure giveaways that Paul was not the author of Hebrews. Paul spends a large portion of Galatians insisting that his gospel came straight from Jesus Christ himself, not from the Apostles or anyone else. The writer of Hebrews admits that he heard the Gospel second-hand. Paul would never make such a statement.

"It has been testified somewhere,
'What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.'
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,
'I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.'" (2:6-12)

Jesus became a man so that He could redeem us to Himself. Not one of the angels could do this. This is sort of a continuation of the argument from the first chapter. Jesus humbly accepted a temporary placement below the angels by becoming a man. By this He accomplished the work of becoming the "captain of salvation" for mankind. So now Christ is able to bring us together with Him. We understand most of this now, but the purpose of this passage is to show that even the Old Testament foresaw this happening, even though most Jews did not see it.

"Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." (2:14-18, ESV)

Jesus did not become an angel, higher than mankind. He became just like us. This is the basis of our salvation. We will look into this concept a lot deeper in the coming chapters.