Thursday, September 15, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews Lesson 53

When the Son Speaks

In the opening verses of this letter, the Writer wrote:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. (Hebrews 1:1-2, NASB 95)

With these opening words, he began his proclamation of the greatness of the Son and the covenant that He mediated. " these last days has spoken to us in His Son" is the cornerstone for understanding these next words from the Writer:

See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven." This expression, "Yet once more," denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:25-29)

It is the Son who speaks now. He speaks through the gospels. He speaks through the Holy Spirit that can now live in us, because of the blood carried by the Son into heaven.

The greatness of the Son can mediate a greater blessing or a greater curse. To be joined to the Son by faith and to "hear" his message is to have access to a great salvation and access to the presence of God. To refuse the Son is to place yourself in great peril. The generation of the children of Israel that left Egypt died in the wilderness, because they did not listen to the words of Moses. "How much more!" says the Writer if we do not listen to the Son, who has spoken more clearly about God and has done so much for us.

We are also to pursue things that cannot be shaken. I have no better words than these from Rick Warren. Speaking on CNN's Larry King live after hurricane Katrina:

I would not focus on what all's lost, but focus on what all's left. Not what all's lost, but what all's left. And if you all are going to help people get over their insecurity, then you must teach them, whether children or adults, that they have to put their confidence, their trust into something that can never be taken from them.

Now, if you put your trust in your career, it can be taken from you. If you put your trust in material possessions, they can be taken from you. If you put your trust in your husband or your wife or even your children, they can be taken from you as we have seen this week.

The only thing that cannot be taken from you is a personal relationship with God and Jesus Christ, as I know him. He gives me strength and you know, America could be taken over by a foreign country, we could be put in concentration camps and they could strip us naked and take away everything, including my wedding ring, but they cannot rob me of my personal faith in God. (Hat tip: The Thinklings)

Test everything. Cling to what is good.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews Lesson 52

Two Mountains

So much of Hebrews has been about comparing elements of the New Covenant with the Old Covenant. After a brief section in which he speaks of the faith that unites the two covenants, the Writer returns to the theme of New Covenant superiority:

For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, "If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned." And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, "I am full of fear and trembling."

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church 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, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:18-24, NASB 95)

The first image refers to the events described in Exodus 19-20. It is a long section, but I would encourage you to read it. It tells of God descending on Mount Sinai and speaking to the people assembled at the bottom. It is a terrifying scene. It represents the relationship of God to His people before Jesus' death and blood. Here we find separation, law, punishment, and fear wrought by the presence of a Holy God. Although the Law is good, it has no power to change the hearts of men and women. The chasm is fixed and cannot be crossed.

By faith in Jesus and the New Covenant established by His blood, we have access to the "city of the living God" that Abraham and the Old Testament saints looked for. We can be where God and the angels are. We can join the assembly of those "spirits of the righteous made perfect." This is our heritage.

Paul expressed a similar thought in his letter to the churches in Galatia:

Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. For it is written,
Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear; Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor; For more numerous are the children of the desolate Than of the one who has a husband.
And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the Scripture say?
Cast out the bondwoman and her son, For the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman.

So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:21-31)

I encourage you to fully realize the access you have to our God in heaven through Jesus Christ. The Writer says that we have access to the throne of grace in time of need. What is our time of need? It is the time of temptation and sin. We do not have to wait until the deed is over and done and we have properly repented--that is after the time of need. Through Jesus we can ask for help and should ask for help at anytime; even, I would say, in the middle of the deed.

Going back to Exodus 19, I note that the Old Covenant erected a barrier between the people and God. The barrier was for their protection. With Jesus the barrier is gone. Learn to live in that reality.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.

Monday, September 12, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 51

Body Life

To look at the hall of faith, we see that we are to set our sights on Jesus as the author and perfecter of our faith. To then look around at the actual people in our churches, we must wonder whether we could ever pull it off. A good distribution of people in a church would have many new believers, some in-between, and several mature men and women of faith. The churches that grew in the best possible way--by adding men and women new to faith rather than acquiring members from other churches with no net gain in the kingdom--would have new believers as its largest group.

Such a church has a problem. It's new members, especially if they are predominantly un-churched, must be cared for. Metaphorically speaking, they will be babies, and will be sick, and will be injured. The high calling, to which the Writer of Hebrews has been spurring us to achieve, will be beyond their grasp. It is to this issue, that the Writer of Hebrews has a few comments:

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.

See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears. (Hebrews 12:11-17, NASB 95)

I have included a concluding verse from the previous section to establish context.

Here is what I glean from this:

  1. As we come under God's discipline, we become mature and begin to experience the "peaceful fruit of righteousness." This is the foundation from which mature believers in the church exercise their authority to help and encourage others. The world desperately wants peace. People who have peace in their personal lives, marriages, children, work situations, and recreation model the end result of walking in relationship with Jesus Christ. With such we will draw in those who will want to listen.
  2. The proper way to deal with the diversity of new comers to our churches is to come along side them and help them to become strong. The church must not place demands on them and their lifestyles that are beyond their accomplishing. Righteousness must be preached with a helping hand extended. Remember "teaching, reproof and correction" from 2 Timothy 3:16. And Remember Hebrews 6:1 and its reference to "elementary teachings." To be sure at some point the new believer must move on.
  3. We need to guard ourselves and help others avoid becoming bitter over issues that arise in a church. This requires consistent admonitions to forgive and instruction on how it is done. According the the Writer, bitterness is what defiles.
  4. Be on guard for those in the church for secondary reasons. These attend for the contacts, the children's program, and many diverse reasons--all good in themselves. The problem with these members is that they are not men and women of faith, but are of those who will shrink back when a certain level of testing comes their way.

From here the Writer of Hebrews will move to some quick admonitions. In an era where writing materials are expensive, this is how you fill up the empty space on a page. We will find many themes repeated and emphasized in new ways.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.