Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Jesus Sits so We Can Ride

After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:3-4, ESV)

This writer is still introducing his topic for this letter/tractate and admonishment of this congregation tempted to return to their former understanding of how Jews should live in covenant with God before Jesus’ claim to have come as the expected bridegroom for his bride, his people.  He has introduced the theme of Jesus’ supreme character as revealer, suggesting that Jesus’ revelation supersedes all others and therefore must be listened to and obeyed.

Now he mentions Jesus’ purification for sins accomplished by his sacrificial death on the Roman cross of execution.  But he emphasizes what happened after Jesus made purification, that he sat down at God’s right hand.  This suggests two things that should startle the readers and us, if we are tempted to return to our former way of life.  One, his authority is equal to God’s.  He is God’s right hand ruler.  His word is God the Father’s word.  None supersede him, so he must be obeyed.  Two, sitting suggests a finished work.  He’ll later highlight the fact that there was no chair in the Tabernacle, no rest for the priest, who could never finally finish offering sacrifices because those sacrifices never really purified sin like Jesus’ sacrifice has.  He gets to sit because his work is finished.  You can’t go back to that which was incomplete.

We probably have already is some ways found ourselves “going back” from our faith in Christ.  I find myself slipping into life as routine over and over.  I forget there has been a battle raging and that I’m a participant in it on God’s side and nothing is routine about that.  I forget that every situation in my life is an opportunity to experience God’s leadership in my life and to bear witness to His presence in my life.  I want to take a break, go back, so to speak, from the adventure of living the new reality created for me by my Savior.  It doesn’t always feel like an adventure because I’m too often depending on my own resources to accomplish it.

Strangely, Jesus’ sitting down is the basis for his increased activity in expanding his kingdom and the basis for my enjoying his energy at work in and through me in that same endeavor.  Stephen Curtis Chapman’s wonderful song, The Great Adventure, should become more and more autobiographical for us:

Saddle up your horses, we’ve got a trail to blaze, Through the wild blue yonder of God’s amazing grace.  Let’s follow our leader into the glorious unknown.  This is a life like no other, whoa, whoa, this is the great adventure.  We’ll travel long, over mountains so high, We’ll go through valleys so low.  Still through it all we’ll find that This is the greatest journey that the human heart will ever see.  The love of God will take us far beyond our wildest dreams

If you want to, you can listen to the whole thing here.  Get back on that horse, that steed of magnificent beauty and power.  Why walk when you can ride?

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Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Rest to Work

And the LORD said to Moses, “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”

And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God. (Exodus 31:12-18, ESV)

Yahweh makes a point to emphasize the law concerning Sabbath. It is a sign between them, an evidence that He has spoken to them and constituted them a nation, setting them apart (sanctifying them). It is a set apart or holy day and failure to keep it by resting from work profanes it, acts as if it is not holy, and so must be punished with the death penalty. Israel is to keep this Sabbath forever as a reminder of Yahweh’s creative activity followed by His rest. They can trust that if they make this day holy and don’t work, God will provide for them.

With this last instruction, Yahweh hands Moses (he has been on the mountain top with God for forty days) the two stone tablets on which He personally engraved or etched the 10 commandments. Moses has written these commandments and laws of God, but the stone tablets are a symbol of the whole law and to be kept as a token of His covenant in the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place.

The principle of the Sabbath is still important for those who believe and are not Jewish. Though we may view any or every day as holy (Romans 14:5,6) it is important that we observe Sabbath, that is, trust God to provide for us without thinking we need to work every day to make it happen. Recent research indicates that greater physical health results from a shorter work week. We are built for work but we are also built by God for rest. All our lives cannot be taken up with work.

You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are.  (Anne Quindlen, A Short Guide to a Happy Life)

He who cannot rest, cannot work; he who cannot let go, cannot hold on; he who cannot find footing, cannot go forward.  Harry Emerson Fosdick

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Investing Value

The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it. (Exodus 25:1-9, ESV)

Just as Yahweh had a meal with the priests and Moses, so He wants to have fellowship and communion with the nation of Israel as a whole. He wants to dwell in their midst. His “dwelling place,” however, cannot be just any place. For the people to understand and acknowledge just how amazing He is there must be a tent of His design and that is costly to put together. And they must make an investment in it. God enriched them through the gifts the Egyptians gave them as they left the country. What they received from the hand of God they may now offer for this tent.

It is often observed that what people get for free they treat with less value. If I’m going to pay you $500 for advice I’m more likely to take your advice. We value what we invest in. This doesn’t mean that our places of meeting as the church have to be ornate like the tabernacle, but we must have an investment in them. And even more importantly, we must have an investment in the Lord. Our hearts must move us to contribute to the things He values, especially His work in the world to see the gospel of the kingdom made known. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be, also” (Matthew 6:21).

Andrew Fuller was a British preacher seeking money for a Christian orphanage in London. He went to a businessman he knew and explained the need. The businessman said, “Andrew, here’s 5 lbs. seeing it’s for you.” Fuller wisely tore up the check and said, “It’s not for me.”  The businessman wrote another. “Here’s 10 lbs, seeing it’s for Jesus Christ.”

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Learning Worship and Rest

“For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.

“Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed.

“Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips.

“Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord GOD.

“You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the fat of my feast remain until the morning.

“The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God.

“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” (Exodus 23:10-19, ESV)

In line with the law of Sabbath, God institutes a Sabbath year for Israel, commanding her to not work her fields every seventh year, with the intention that what grows by itself will be a supply for the poor and the beasts of the field (God cares for both). Like the Sabbath day, they rest and trust that God will provide what they need, just like He did the manna. Rest is proper for the human and for the beast and for the land. Even the foreigner is to keep this law, meaning that foreigners among them cannot be used by the Israelites to circumvent this law.

Worship of God alone also includes keeping the prescribed festivals, particularly Unleavened Bread, which includes Passover, and the Feast of Harvest or Pentecost, that occurred 50 days later. The Feast of Ingathering also must be kept, another harvest festival later in the year. No one should come empty handed, bringing a tithe or some portion of their harvest to recognize God’s provision. These three times are incumbent on all male head of households in the family.

Unleavened bread is again made the standard of all meal that is offered with sacrifices to Yahweh and the need to burn on the altar any fat from the sacrifice within the day is made clear. Another standard is to bring the best of one’s firstfruits. This is a time to honor the Lord’s provision, not try to bring the worst and selfishly keep the best for yourself. And a final standard is to avoid boiling young goat meat in its mothers milk, a pagan practice that God wants Israel to keep separate from.

Sabbath laws remind us that God owns everything and is capable of providing for us when we don’t work.  It is an exercise in trust as well as rest.  Do you rest well?  Or do you find yourself not knowing how to rest?  Ironically, we need to work at rest, preparing ourselves for it and planning it well.  Not trusting God may be a hindrance to our rest.  We rest in Him and then we rest ourselves.

Festival laws remind us that worship is essential to our mental and spiritual health.  Giving time and attention to worship is, just like rest, something we need to prepare and plan for.  We ready our spirits to celebrate the Lord.  And such celebration is a communal thing, not just an individual experience.  Socially we need this experience of community worship.

See Learning to Rest by Sheryl Giesbrecht, Hitting the Pause Button! 5 Strategies for Reducing Stress and Learning to Rest by Kelly Smith

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Protecting Women and Sex

“If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins. (Exodus 22:16-17, ESV)

In the culture of Israel a bride-price had to be paid to the father of the bride for her hand in marriage. This could be several year’s wages, as witness Jacob’s working for Laban 7 years for each of his wives Rachel and Leah. As a precaution against irresponsible premarital sex, which treated the woman as if that was all she was worth, as if she was not worthy of a promise and covenant of life-long marriage, a man who got an unmarried woman to sleep with him was required to pay this bride-price to her father and marry her. To do otherwise was to shame her for life. If her father believed this man was not a good husband for his daughter he could refuse the marriage and still require the bride-price. These consequences served as a deterrent to premarital sex.

We can see this as an extension of the command not to commit adultery in that such a readiness to engage in such value-less sex would not bode well for marital faithfulness. The man or woman who cannot discipline his or her sexual desires and is ready to inflict damage all for the satisfaction of a few moments is a foolishness beyond words. But the Law of Moses recognizes that such foolishness abounds and thus provides checks for it. Does the Bible prohibit premarital sex? Of course. It is a denigration of the emotional and social foundation that such sexual intimacy needs to be couched in. It is an indictment of our culture that we no longer recognize that.

Does this mean that if two people do engage in premarital sex that they must marry?  Probably not.  They may be a good prospect for marriage but they may not be.  The reason there is not a one-to-one correspondence from this Old Testament law to our current situation is that there are huge differences in our cultures.  In the culture of Moses’ day a marriage was protected by the community and law and sex outside of marriage carried way more cultural shame than it does in our culture.  A woman who has engaged in premarital sex today is not necessarily in danger of being unable to marry in the future because of her shameful behavior.  Plus, we recognize that the male involved is just as guilty and that it would be an inequality if only the woman bore these consequences.  The law in Exodus is a protective one for the woman and her family, a protection that is not required in our culture.  Other cultures in our world might be so similar that it would be a law applicable to their situation.

The law of Exodus 22 assumes that premarital sex is wrong but is more focused on the social consequences of engaging in this behavior.  It is to our shame that we have made premarital sex of such little consequence in our world.  We have lost how special the sexual experience is and how such a precious intimacy must be protected.

Sex must be seen as “an earthly pleasure and a heavenly treasure, a feast and a gift, a delight and an honor and therefore a breathtaking responsibility.”  Matthew and Elizabeth Myer Boulton, “The Real Value of Sex” (Christianity Today, May 2013)

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: True Worship

And the LORD said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven. You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it. And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it.’ (Exodus 20:22-26, ESV)

Moses has just given the ten commands from God, the bare bones requirements, if you will, to remain in covenant with Yahweh.  But immediately questions are going to come up. How much work is too much work on the Sabbath?  What if I kill someone accidentally, is that still murder?  And other questions are going to concern the way the community is to respond when someone breaks one of the commands.  Should the person be killed, fined, required to make sacrifice, shunned, etc.?  So what follows are examples of how these commands are to be implemented.

An application of the 1st and 2nd commandments is made here in this passage. Yahweh is to be worshiped without images and He is the only one to be worshiped, and so the altar is to be made of earth or stone and the stone must not be carved. Pagan altars were often carved stone and on the stone were images of their gods. Israel is to be different from pagan nations insomuch as she knows the true God. She must not profane the worship of God and the use of carved stones like the other nations use is deemed a step toward false worship.

An additional application is that the altar must not be one which is so tall that steps are required to reach its top and do sacrifice. It is hard to understand how the long robes that might be worn would allow for one’s nakedness to be exposed while ascending the steps but it too may be a pagan practice Yahweh is forbidding that involved some form of nakedness. Sexual activity was often a part of pagan worship. The sensual can often replace the worshipful as we seek feel-good experiences rather than God Himself.  We might need to ask ourselves during worship whether we are most excited for God or for the form of the worship we are engaged in or how others are seeing us as we worship.

Our worship must be about honoring God in the way He describes rather than our own concoctions of worship.  It is the temptation of all humans to decide for ourselves how to worship God, that is, what we think makes sense.  But God wants us to see that our rebellious hearts are very prone to distorting true worship.  In Jesus’ words, “beware the leaven of the Pharisees.”

While I was serving in Paraguay, a Maka Indian named Rafael came to sit on my porch. I was eating and went out to see what he wanted. He responded, “Ham, henek met.” Again I asked what I could do for him, but the answer was the same. I understood what he was saying but not its significance: “I don’t want anything; I have just come near.”  I later shared the incident with a local veteran missionary. He explained that it was Rafael’s way of honoring me. He really didn’t want anything; he just wanted to sit on my porch. He found satisfaction and pleasure just being near me.  “What brings you here, my child?” the Lord asks.  “Ham, henek met.”  Doesn’t that reveal the heart of true worship?  (Stuart Sacks, Villanova, Pennsylvania)

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Our Opinion vs. God’s Opinion

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20:18-21, ESV)

God has used a powerful display before the people as He hands the 10 commandments to them, a supernatural display that can leave no one mistaking that God in His holiness and power is present. The last time they saw such a display of lightning and thunder it was accompanied with hail as Yahweh visited Egypt with a plague. But the people draw a wrong conclusion from this display. God is not here to kill them. Yes, perhaps they do need a mediator in Moses but Moses makes it clear that God is testing them. He is seeking to birth in them a holy fear, not a cringing one, a deep sense of His holiness and the seriousness of their relationship. The goal is that they will not sin.

God’s heart for us is that we will not sin. The apostle John reminds his readers of this in 1 John 2:1,2. He says:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (ESV)

To sin is to damage ourselves. God’s laws are not arbitrary. They are a protection for us. We have been made in His image and when we act in unrighteousness we act contrary to what is best for us personally and for others. God loves us and longs for us to walk in holiness and be whole and healthy spiritually. There is discipline that comes from Him for sin, a discipline that is added to the already destructive consequences of our unhealthy choices. Hence the fearsome display on Mt. Sinai. But even that discipline is an act of His love.

Harry Randall Truman (October 30, 1896 – May 18, 1980) was a resident of the U.S. state of Washington who lived on Mount St. Helens. He came to brief fame in the months preceding the volcano’s 1980 eruption after he stubbornly refused to leave his home despite evacuation orders, and he is presumed to have been killed in the eruption….Truman had already emerged as a “folk hero” for his resistance to the evacuation efforts prior to his death.  After his death, his friends and family, including his sister, Geraldine (Geri), reflected on his death. Geri commented, “He was a very opinionated person.” [From <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Randall_Truman> ]

We are very opinionated people, all of us, and often believe we know better than God what we should or shouldn’t do.  It costs us our lives.