Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Angels Can’t Be High Priests and Satan Needs Destroying

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. (Hebrews 2:14-18, ESV)

There are three reasons why Jesus “had to be made like his brothers,” that is, share in their flesh and blood, become a human being:

(1) We are human beings.  For God to fully enter into our plight and danger He had to become one of us.  And in order to be the atoning sacrifice on our behalf he had to be able to die.  And so the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, took on human nature.  We call this the incarnation, the taking on of flesh.  Jesus became a “bag of bones,” gave up glory for a cross, chose to experience suffering the way we do.  This does not mean God does not suffer, for He does, way more than we ever have.  But Jesus suffered the way we do, in a body that is subject to death.

(2) Satan needs destroying.  Satan has the power of death over us, not an absolute power, which only God has, but a relative one under God’s sovereignty.  God tells him he cannot kill Job (Job 2), but apparently he could have engineered that if he chose.  Satan’s greatest power with reference to death, however, is the fear we have of death.  He uses that fear to encourage us to pursue all kinds of false paths to immortality, and in the long run as we realize we cannot escape, he moves us to despair that anything can ever change and our slavery becomes lifelong.

(3) Angels can’t be high priests.  Our author is still showing Jesus’ superiority to angels.  Jesus didn’t become an angel to redeem angels.  He became a human to help the “offspring” of Abraham, those who truly believe like Abraham did (Genesis 15:6).  And Jesus couldn’t be a sympathetic high priest unless he was a human.  Jesus, as high priest, is both offering the propitiatory sacrifice (a sacrifice that satisfies the justified wrath of God against us for our rebellion) and he is the propitiatory sacrifice.  This the high priest of Israel could not do.  And Jesus understands our temptations and is able to sympathize and, more than that, help.  The author of Hebrews will go into greater detail about that as he goes.  Suffice it to say that here he is bridging to his next point in the argument designed to bring this erring congregation back to reality.  Jesus is superior to the priesthood of Israel, including Moses the leader-priest and Aaron the high priest.

Many a little boy and some girls have taken some delight in killing ants in their anthill.  Why not, they are little and unimportant creatures.  Some people feel God looks this way on us.  But Jesus’ incarnation is like us becoming an ant to show the ant the way from death to life.  Why would He do this for us unless we were anything but unimportant to Him?  He didn’t die for angels.  He died for us.

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Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Dealing with Discouragement

But the LORD said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.”

God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’” Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.

So the LORD said to Moses, “Go in, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the people of Israel go out of his land.” But Moses said to the LORD, “Behold, the people of Israel have not listened to me. How then shall Pharaoh listen to me, for I am of uncircumcised lips?” But the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron and gave them a charge about the people of Israel and about Pharaoh king of Egypt: to bring the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt.  (Exodus 6:1-13 ESV)

Moses had asked Yahweh why He had not delivered Israel at Moses’ first request of Pharaoh, who made Israel’s slavery all the harder for the request.  Yahweh explains that He has a plan to show Pharaoh His power, bringing misery to Pharaoh to the point where Pharaoh expels Israel.  He rehearses the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to give them Canaan as their property.  And it is not that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not know His name, Yahweh, but He had not revealed Himself as fully as He had to Moses, tying His name into the fulfilling of the covenant.

God’s promises are amazing: I will bring you out, I will deliver you, I will redeem you, I will take you as my people, I will be your God, and you will know that I am Yahweh Elohenu, Yahweh your God, as I bring you into the promised land.

Despite the affirmation, however, when Moses repeats this to Israel they refuse to listen.  They fear being disappointed again.  Even Moses has to be pushed by God to go back to Pharaoh with God’s message.  He doesn’t really believe it either.  This is the perpetual struggle of God’s people.  Knowing Him excites us and that initial feeling carries us until the first or subsequent seeming failures of God to come through for us.  We feel like fools for trusting Him and hesitate to lean on Him again.  But God is teaching us to trust Him for the long haul.  Will we?

On New Year’s Day, 1929, Georgia Tech played the University of California in the Rose Bowl.  In the first half, Roy Reigels recovered a fumble for California, but he became confused about direction and ran the wrong way.  One of his teammates tackled him just yards before he scored for the opposing team.  When California tried to punt, Tech blocked the kick and scored a safety, which became the winning margin.  During halftime, the Cal players sat quietly, waiting to hear what the coach had to say. He was uncharacteristically quiet.  Riegals put his blanket around his shoulders, stayed in a corner, put his face in his hands, and cried like a baby.  Three minutes before playing time, Coach Price looked at the team and said simply, “Men, the same team that played the first half will start the second.”  The players filed onto the field, but Riegels did not budge.  “Roy didn’t you hear me?” the coach asked?  Riegals responded, “I couldn’t face that crowd in the stadium to save my life.”  Coach Price put his hand on Roy’s shoulder and said, “Roy get up and go on back; the game is only half over.” Tech men to this day will tell you they have never seen a man play football as Roy Riegels played that second half.

May we likewise not give in to discouragement when it seems God is not coming through for us but play with all the more enthusiasm knowing that the game is only half over.  No matter what the outcome of this day, tomorrow holds the promise of God’s kingdom pervading all and changing everything.  That day is coming.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: The Benefits of Misery

Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.” And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.”

So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.’” So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw.” And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?”

Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this? No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD.’ Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.” They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; and they said to them, “The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”  (Exodus 5 ESV)

Yahweh had told Moses that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart to resist Yahweh’s command, and sure enough Pharaoh derisively denounces the name of Yahweh and his responsibility to obey Him.  Moses and Aaron say, “Thus says Yahweh,” but Pharaoh’s representatives say, “Thus says Pharaoh,” setting up a battle between the two to show who has ultimate authority.

The people of Israel are understandably upset and even Moses has trouble understanding why God is doing what He is doing.  What Moses does not see is that Israel needs to recognize just how miserable their lot is in Egypt.  Are they servants of Pharaoh or servants of Yahweh?  Will they trust Yahweh despite the circumstances seeming to the contrary of what God has promised them?  Will they follow Moses as Yahweh’s spokesman?  In order to see where we must go we need to see first where we must leave.  Is my current lifestyle keeping me from truly following God’s lead and accomplishing His purposes?  I need to see how inadequate my current lifestyle is before I will be attracted to God’s calling.  I need to see how bad off I am before I am willing to make major changes to seek something better.

The process of realizing how miserable you are before you take positive action and institute radical change works in every aspect of our lives.  I don’t get knee replacement surgery until I can hardly walk.  I don’t quite smoking until I can hardly breathe.  I don’t learn how to stop hurting my relationships until I’m all alone.  It is a shame that we cannot see the way forward until we have totally explored all other directions and come up lost.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: The Value of Suffering

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.  (Exodus 1:1-14 ESV)

Israel is the new name Yahweh gave Jacob when He wrestled with him at Peniel (Genesis 32), and his sons are here listed in order of their birth to their various mothers.  As a summary of what is recorded in Genesis, Moses notes how many of them there were when Joseph had them come to live with him in Egypt.  And even as Yahweh had commanded Adam and Eve, and later Noah, to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, so the people of Israel thrived in Egypt.

But that created a problem in the minds of the new Pharaoh.  Joseph had favor in Egypt and was a leader but the new Pharaoh had no loyalty to him and feared the vast number of Israelites.  Yahweh had told Abraham that his offspring would be oppressed in Egypt for 400 years and Moses here explains just how that came about.  The Israelites became slaves to the Egyptians and were worked ruthlessly to build Pharaoh’s store cities.

Why would God allow this?  God loved Abraham, Isaac and Israel and had made a covenant with them and their children forever to bless them in the land of Canaan.  But now He was allowing them to suffer and even causing their numbers to swell the more they suffered.  It would seem that God was doing something miraculous to build the number of Israelites.  And Satan, who has been at enmity with God’s people from the beginning (Genesis 3:15), was seeking to destroy them.  The Israelites could well be complaining about God’s treatment of them and wondering why He didn’t rescue them.

God saw a bigger picture than they did, one that included suffering and that nevertheless was good for them, a plan to bless them and all nations through them (Genesis 12) and show His mighty power to save.  You and I parallel Israel in our own lives as we too were slaves to sin and miserable without God until we surrendered to Him and found life and freedom in Jesus the Messiah.  The rest of our story is about becoming a blessing to others and demonstrating the power of God to save.  We may well be complaining about the suffering God is allowing in our lives and wondering why He doesn’t save us.  But He sees the bigger picture and knows how to use suffering in our lives to bring honor to Him and blessing to the world.  And, He knows how to take care of us in the middle of the suffering.

Ephesians 6:5-9 — Conversations with God

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.  Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

If I were a slave, Lord Jesus, owned by another person, owned by a Christian person, and your apostle told me to obey my earthly master as I would obey You, I could be very tempted to doubts and to giving up Christianity. I could argue that being a Christian has certainly not changed my situation as I hoped it would.  Why wouldn’t Your apostle command my Christian master to give me my freedom?  Where is the justice?  Where is the compassion?

But when Paul reminds me that I am a bondservant to You, Lord, I have no qualms about it.  I willingly serve You as your slave.  I owe everything to you.  You own my life and I willingly embrace that and want to serve you from a sincere heart.  And the fact that You will reward me for such service blows my mind.  I don’t deserve that!

And commanding masters to “do the same thing,” to live as Your bondservants and do Your will from the heart, this could certainly lead to real changes in the way I am treated and reminds me that the Christian life is not about righting all the wrongs that are here in this world before the kingdom comes.  It is about demonstrating the righteousness of the kingdom despite all that is wrong continuing to make it countercultural to live as Your followers.  How else will people see that You really do transform our lives?  You don’t just change our conditions, You change our hearts.

Ephesians 3:11-13 — Conversations with God

…according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.  In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.  I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

Lord, even today I am thinking and praying about countless believers around the world who are suffering tribulations because of their faith and in a very real sense they are doing it on my behalf and on behalf of all believers everywhere.  I could very easily lose heart but for the truth spoken by Paul here that they are for our glory.

Those who are being persecuted will, I believe, be rewarded by You in heaven and be given an unusual amount of grace by the Holy Spirit to walk through this.  Their families and loved ones will receive Your comfort.  They will be enabled to rejoice at being worthy of suffering for Your name.

I, on the other hand, will be encouraged to be more faithful in my own witness, more faithful in prayer, and more ready, if need be, to suffer similar tribulation.

Thank You for giving us in Christ Jesus bold and confident access to You by faith.  Thank You that part of Your eternal purpose has always been to have loving relationship with me.  I need that assurance and I want to take advantage of the access You have provided.

Fellowship With Jesus (Theology for Living from Philippians)

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.  (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verses 10,11)

When Jesus spoke those burning words to two disciples walking to Emmaus, “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:26), He laid out forever the path all His followers will have to walk if they want to have fellowship with him.  Do we want to know the power of His resurrection?  Then we must first know the pain of his sufferings and become like him in His death.  First comes suffering and then comes glory.

I have yet to experience the fullness of what Peter and John experienced when they were beaten at the command of the Sanhedrin and the “apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).  I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, but I am hesitant to get excited and rejoice over suffering disgrace for His Name.

And yet, this is Paul’s desire.  He is wanting to know Christ in this way.  He is currently in jail as he writes because of his willingness to suffer with and for Christ.  He is ready to die, if need be, in order to bring glory to his Savior.  Though he doesn’t say it directly here, we know that his motive is gratitude for the rescue Jesus has done in his life, saving him from trying to face God with a righteousness of his own instead of that which comes from God by faith in Christ.  Another motive he states plainly here is so that he might attain to the resurrection from the dead.

This raises questions for those of us who believe the Scriptures teach that one can never earn nor lose one’s salvation.  Does Paul believe he has to suffer with Christ in order to attain to the resurrection?  Does he doubt that if he does not pursue this course he will be refused resurrection?  Yes and no.

Paul believed all who were true believers would be willing to suffer persecution with Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12).  He didn’t presume that no believer would struggle with the fear of such a decision.  That is why in the beginning of this letter he was counting on help from the Philippians’ prayer and the supply of the Holy Spirit (1:19).   He didn’t believe that after all this time serving Jesus he would quit now, but he knew and taught that true believers are enabled both to will and to do God’s good pleasure and would persevere in their faith (2:13).

Do you want fellowship with Jesus?  Of course you do.  Do you want to suffer?  Of course you don’t.  But if it comes to a choice of sharing in the life of Jesus or avoiding suffering, I believe we both will choose Jesus.