Daily Thoughts on Hebrews: Legacy

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. (Hebrews 11:4, ESV)

What will make your life story a legacy of blessing to your children and grandchildren?  How can you ensure that your voice will continue to be heard, not as a voice of discouragement but one that fortifies the ones you love?  Believe God’s promises!  Live for the kingdom and pray for its coming.  Don’t give up trusting that what Jesus did for us is only the beginning of restoring all things to the pristine glory of the garden of Eden.

Abel and Cain were of that generation whose parents lived in the garden and who saw the introduction of rebellion into God’s kingdom on earth.  But each of them took a different path in light of that reality.  Abel brought an offering to God in faith that God was in the process of restoring all things and was repentant for his own rebellious heart.  He was trusting in God’s promise that He would raise up a seed who would eventually crush the head of the serpent who tempted his parents to desert the Living God.

Cain, on the other hand, took the path of demanding that God make his life one of comfort and joy.  He couldn’t wait for the restoration.  And when his brother was commended by God and his offering was not, his jealousy took a lethal turn.  Abel’s faith spoke as his blood cried out from the ground.  Abel still speaks as one who lost his life in the service of God’s promise.  He did not believe life was to be found in the things of this world, but in God’s promise alone.

If you were the Hebrews and reading or hearing this account you couldn’t help but think of how one of the reasons you felt like leaving Christianity was the suffering you had experienced in life.  This in fact is the cause of many who profess faith in Christ to give up on Christianity.  They think it is their merit badge that should bring God’s unmitigated blessing on their lives and suffering should be a thing of the past.  It is not.

Your children and grandchildren won’t look back on your life and say, weren’t grandpa and grandma so cool the way they gave up on God, got bitter about life, and gave us an example of those who don’t believe.

Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you. —Shannon L. Alder

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Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: The Substance of Things

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. (Hebrews 11:1-3, ESV)

The Hebrews congregation has been wrestling with leaving their current practice of Christianity for their former practice of Judaism and our author has been presenting them evidence that such a move is counter to the new realities about God’s bringing salvation history to a conclusion in Jesus Christ.  Such a move is also therefore counter to the positive prospects of those who stay outside the pale of Christian faith.  He has been sternly warning them of the consequences of not holding fast to their original confidence in the gospel.  But he has also offered gentle and sincere encouragement to them of his confidence in their faith and in the evidence of their faith.  This chapter also serves as a more gentle encouragement for them to stay true to the faith.

He begins what will be a “hall of faith” tour through kingdom history that highlights famous and not-so famous believers who stayed firm in their faith when they had as yet no physical realization of what God promised them.  From that standpoint faith may be defined as the assurance and conviction that what God has promised He will deliver on.  The promise of the New Covenant is that God’s perfect kingdom made up of God’s perfected saints will come and rule on earth forever.  But as yet it has not materialized.

Does this mean we must believe in it despite the evidence?  Of course not!  We have been given lots of evidence that God’s kingdom is coming and so were the people our author will mention in his catalog of believers in this chapter.  But as with any promise, though you have confidence in the promise-giver the fulfillment of the promise will take time and you must wait for it and continue believing it will come.  And there might be times when you doubt its fulfillment.

Faith is that means by which we cling to God’s promise even when we can’t see its arrival yet.  Just as the universe was made out of things that couldn’t be seen but came into existence by the word of God (“And God said, ‘Let there be…'”), so too God will speak one day and what we couldn’t see will become visible.  In the meantime we can be like the ones he mentions in this chapter who were commended because they didn’t give up on God’s promise even though they couldn’t see it physically yet.

In a German prison camp in World War II, unbeknownst to the guards, the Americans built a makeshift radio. One day news came that the German high command had surrendered, ending the war—a fact that, because of a communications breakdown, the German guards did not yet know. As word spread, a loud celebration broke out.

For three days, the prisoners were hardly recognizable. They sang, waved at guards, laughed at the German shepherd dogs, and shared jokes over meals. On the fourth day, they awoke to find that all the Germans had fled, leaving the gates unlocked. The time of waiting had come to an end.

And here is the question I ask myself: As we Christians face contemporary crises, why do we respond with such fear and anxiety? Why don’t we, like the Allied prisoners, act on the Good News we say we believe? What is faith, after all, but believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse? (Phillip Yancey)

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Yellow Beauty Roses

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. (Hebrews 10:32-39, ESV)

Though our author has given a very stern warning to those who “shrink back” from following Christ and treat his sacrifice as worthless, it is not his opinion that his addressees are of that ilk.  He must warn them just in case, because a servant of God must always follow the Lord in His desire to warn the world of His judgment.  Just as Yahweh sent Jonah to Nineveh to warn them of impending doom, knowing they would repent at the warning, so He has sent our author to write to this congregation and warn them lest there be any among them who are unclear about the consequences of rejecting the faith.

The evidence the author of Hebrews has that this congregation of Christ followers are genuine followers after all is the affliction they endured for becoming Christ followers and how they endured it with the assurance that this world was not their final home but a better one awaited them, an eternal one.  They didn’t throw away their confidence then, so he doesn’t believe they will throw away their confidence now, though it has been a temptation.

When someone we know acts like an unbeliever but we have seen evidence in their lives and behavior that they know the Lord, we may need to speak to them about the consequences of not knowing the Lord in order to call them back to their senses.  True believers will respond and be called back.  Unbelievers, who only embrace Christianity in a surface way, will not repent.  God uses our warnings, our admonitions made in love, to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Our confrontations are part of His disciplinary action.

Professor Williams received yellow beauty rose bulbs and planted them and cared for them.  As the plant grew he watched eagerly for the flower.  If the flower had been red, when might Professor Williams have assumed that the flower stopped being a yellow beauty rose?  If it bloomed yellow, was it a yellow beauty rose, being yet only a bulb?

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Fair Warning

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. (Hebrews 10:26-31, ESV)

Doesn’t everyone sin deliberately?  I don’t steal something from a neighbor and later say, “Oops, I didn’t mean to steal that.”  But that is not what our author means in this passage.  He has already talked about how sacrifice was for “unintentional” sin (Hebrews 9:7).  This is contrasted with “high-handed” sins in the Old Testament for which there is no sacrifice provided.  The sense is sins that are committed with a deliberate defiance of God and His laws.  This depicts a hardened heart like our author describes in chapter 6.

Chapter 6 shows the person who tastes of the heavenly gift, shares in the Holy Spirit’s affect upon the congregation, sees the miracles of the age to come and defiantly declares that Jesus is not the Savior, that his sacrifice did not avail for us, and in this particular case for this congregation, that Jesus is not sufficient reason to keep to Christianity.  It is impossible, our author says, to renew such a person to repentance.  This is the unpardonable sin Jesus talked about with the Pharisees, where they saw his miracles and could not deny them but attributed them to Satan.

If the author’s readers are going to reject Jesus’ better way into the heavenly tabernacle as a better priest of a better covenant, they are defiantly rejecting God’s new covenant and there is no sacrifice for defiant sin.  If there is no sacrifice, there is only fiery judgment for trampling underfoot the Son of God and treating his sacrifice as unholy.  God will not spare that person.  The true believer will never go here.

You and I sin, and we should not, and we know we should not and that it is a way of dishonoring God.  But that is not “deliberate” or “high-handed” sinning, the kind that says I will not have God or anyone telling me what to do.  The high-handed sinner raises his fist to God and refuses to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over him.  If you, like possibly some of the Hebrews, are willing to say that Jesus’ sacrifice means nothing and that your old way of life was perfectly fine, you are in danger of falling into God’s hands for payment.  Not good!  This passage stands as your warning from God.

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Access

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. (Hebrews 10:19-25, ESV)

What would it be like to be told by the most powerful person in the world that you would always be welcome at his or her office, never have to make an appointment, and always listened to with utmost attention?  That is akin to what the author of Hebrews is describing as the believer’s privilege.

This privilege was made possible by Jesus entering the heavenly holy place to offer his own blood as a permanent sacrifice and taking over the role as high priest forever in God’s tabernacle.  As a result of that he encourages the Hebrews and us to do three things:

  1. Draw near to God.  And don’t do it tentatively but with full assurance that you are cleansed and in full fellowship with the God who made and redeemed you.  You can enter the King’s court whenever you desire and He longs to meet with you.  He has always said, “I will be your God, you will be My people, and I will dwell with you.”
  2. Don’t waver in your faith.  God not only made this way for you and me but He made a promise that He will always keep that this access is ours because of what Jesus did.  Wavering is tantamount to calling Him a liar.
  3. Meet together for encouragement.  You can’t maintain your faith on your own.  The fellowship of believers you meet with will be doing what it is called to do when it encourages you to love each other and do good works that reflect His coming kingdom.

God designed church to be the place where our most important identity formation occurs, among other people. We become more like Christ as we participate in the life of the church and form relationships there. But too often we think we must have our spiritual house in order before we can fully participate. Or, by contrast, we see the church as a place of performance, instead of a place where we are developed into more fully authentic—that is, more Christlike—humans.

Further, our Christian subculture is marked by church hopping. We stay put as long as it suits us, until we are offended or decide we’re not being “fed.” So, wanting to quietly validate our own identities, we tend to silo ourselves into churches where everyone looks like us, talks like us, likes the same movies, and won’t embarrass us in public. But what if we took a cue from popular culture’s push for diversity and realized that surrounding ourselves with our duplicates only makes us more self-centered?

Christianity Today article by Alissa Wilkinson, chief film critic for CT and assistant professor of English and Humanities at The King’s College, and author of the book How to Survive the Apocalypse. (Jan/Feb 2016, vol. 60, No. 1, page 48, “The Year We Searched for Ourselves”)

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: The Sitting Priest

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord:  I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,”

then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:11-18, ESV)

Psalm 110 promised that the priest after the order of Melchizedek would sit down at the right hand of God.  And Jeremiah prophesied in the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31ff) that God would put his laws in our hearts and remember our sins no more.  But in the old system of the law the priest stood daily and offered the same animal sacrifices that cannot take away sin.  No sitting and no lasting forgiveness.

Jesus, on the other hand, is the sitting priest, the one whose sacrifice of himself has forever satisfied the just demands of God who made him a priest forever.  He has perfected for all time those who are being made holy.  We are both totally forgiven and thus holy before God and being made holy.  We have a standing of completion or perfection with God and we have a process of being sanctified.  It is the once-for-all sacrifice of the Son that has made this possible.

You and I should trust God when He says we are forgiven by Jesus’ single offering.  Why would you not, unless you still feel, arrogantly, that you must do something to contribute to your redemption.  I’m sorry, sir, I’m sorry, ma’am, but you have nothing to offer to God that could in any way contribute to your redemption.  If you don’t accept that you’ll never be redeemed.

Yes, we know that there is still work to be done in us.  We are being sanctified.  But that process springs forth from the hand of the one who perfected us for all time.  Don’t confuse the two.  Yes, be sensitive to sin in your life.  But don’t think that beating yourself up or doubling down on your efforts to improve is what is needed to perfect yourself.  The sitting priest Jesus has done all that heavy lifting.

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Living in the Shadows

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 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. (Hebrews 10:1-10, ESV)

If you were king David and you had come near to being extinguished in war only to find the God you trusted and worshiped bring you an astonishing victory, it would have been most appropriate for you to bring a sacrifice, a freewill offering, to Yahweh and invite others to a banquet to give testimony to God’s deliverance.  David did this often.

But in Psalm 40, which our author quotes here, David does something different.  Not that he won’t bring a sacrifice, but he teaches something most important, that God’s greatest desire is doing His will.  If I bring a sacrifice but don’t have a heart of worship God will not be pleased.  David has come to do God’s will as it is written in the law.

The author of Hebrews quotes this passage because he has already deduced from the annual ceremony of the Day of Atonement and the use of animals as sacrifices that this is not God’s permanent means of providing cleansing from a consciousness of sins.  Otherwise they would not have to be offered over and over.  And it should be self-evident that animals cannot be adequate substitutes for humans.

Jesus as Messiah is the fulfillment of David’s kingship.  He is the ultimate “David” who has come to do God’s will.  His body is that ultimate sacrifice that God desires.  This congregation that is considering leaving Christ is leaving the fulfillment, the true reality, for its shadow.  They’re going back to what has been done away with and leaving the good things the law anticipated.

What about you?  Have you experienced just how good and real life in Jesus Christ is?  Or are you still living in the shadows?