Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: The Senility of the Law

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. (Hebrews 8:8-13, ESV)

The Law of Moses is an old covenant in doddering senility.  Just as Aaron’s priesthood was never meant to be the final priesthood (Jesus is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek), so the covenant that give’s Aaron’s priesthood life was never meant to be the final form of the covenant.  From the very beginning God was committed to bringing a new phase to His covenant that is implied in Genesis 15, mentioned in Deuteronomy 30 and Ezekiel 37, and most clearly delineated in Jeremiah 31.  And that is where our author goes to make his next point, that the old covenant is obsolete.

He merely quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34.  Yahweh declares that He will establish a new covenant with Israel and Judah that is different from the old one in that it does not depend on the sinful hearts of people to keep it but instead puts His laws in their minds and hearts to enable them to keep them.  And, He promises forgiveness of sins forever.  These are the two provisions of the New Covenant, a new heart and total forgiveness.

If God only forgave us but did not give us the ability to keep His commands, we would continue in sin.  If He only gave us new hearts but not forgiveness, we would continue in guilt.  Just giving us a law does not enable us to keep it.  In fact, Paul found the law to be death to him because of his inability to keep it (Romans 7).

When the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 the old covenant in essence vanished away.  Though Jews still celebrate the festivals there is no provision for the sacrifices required because there is no place they are allowed to offer them.  Messianic Jews, on the other hand, who still celebrate the festivals, know that Jesus has provided the sacrifice.  One day all Israel will recognize what Christ has offered and repent and be saved (Romans 11).  The New Covenant’s other provisions, a land for Israel in which God dwells and Israel leads the nations, will also be fulfilled.

Our author is demonstrating that in Christ we have become partakers of the New Covenant.  There is no benefit in returning to life under the old covenant.  It is obsolete.  For Gentile believers who are in Christ, we, by virtue of our relationship to Jesus, have been brought under the New Covenant as well.  We have been given new hearts and forgiveness.  Our covenant relationship with God can never be broken because He has made it unbreakable.  True believers will persevere in faith because of God’s Spirit within us.

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Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: This Is My Beloved Son

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things… (Hebrews 1:1-2, ESV)

What does it mean to be God’s Son?  Why is it so important to know?  If I were to say that I know the president of the United States, but did not know what his full name was, or where he was born, or how many children he has, or his wife’s name, you might question whether I really know him.  As Christians, it is incumbent upon us to know as much as possible about our Lord and Savior to make sure that we truly know Him.  And the only infallible source for such information is Scripture, what God has revealed about Himself.

This is not to say that having a personal relationship with Him in prayer and listening to Him does not give us knowledge about Him.  On the contrary, it is possible to know numerous facts about Jesus and not know Him personally.  And that is a tragedy.  But if I know Him personally I will also want to know Him factually.  And here the author of Hebrews says He is God’s Son.

If a man had more than one son he would normally, in Jewish culture, make the firstborn the one who was given the double portion of the father’s inheritance and the position of patriarch of the family, once the father died, that is.  This was to enable the firstborn to make sure that all the family was kept secure, if, in fact, he was an effective leader who carried on his father’s legacy.  But Jesus is God’s only Son and, though God never dies, He appointed Jesus heir of all things.  His entire “inheritance” belongs to Jesus.  This in itself should tell us that Jesus is not a created being.  Only the true God can manage to handle “all things”.

Son of God describes Jesus’ original and continuing phase of existence, with an additional phase added on when he became, as well, the son of man. He mentions this first phase in John 17 when He says, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (verse 5).  Before Jesus took on human nature (that is before he took the name Jesus) He had a glorious presence with the Father.  He always was and always will be the Son of God the Father.

We need to be careful when we talk about this so as not to suggest that Jesus was somehow less than the Father by being His Son.  We know from Hebrews 1:3 that “the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”  Philippians 2:6 tells us that he was “in very nature God” and “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.”  To be the Son is to be the most elevated person in the universe.

Nevertheless, as a Son of the Father He owed His existence to the Father and owed submission to the Father.  Though the Scriptures don’t clearly or explicitly tell us this, we may suppose that Jesus’ existence as the Son was something that was continually generated by the Father from all eternity, so that there was never a time that Jesus did not exist or was not dependent on the Father for his personage.  The same may be said about the Holy Spirit, though we might suggest that the Holy Spirit was dependent for His personage on both the Father and the Son.  Nevertheless, in every sense, all three are equal in terms of possessing the divine essence and attributes.

I bring this up because this is a fact about Jesus that we must ponder and because it is important for us to know that Jesus is quite familiar with the experience all of us have had of being generated by our parents.  He understands and relates to our experience of being dependent on our parents and submissive to them.  Of course, it is not that Jesus has to “grow up” and become independent of His Father in the same way we become independent of our parents.  Rather we might say He came already “grown up” and is delighted with the relationship He has and has had with the Father from all eternity.

He prays for a return to this aspect of the relationship in John 17, a return to the glory of God’s presence and the experience of His own glorious existence as the recognized Son of the Father.  This prayer was answered at the resurrection and ascension to heaven.  This also gives us a clue to what the second phase of His existence was like.  When He took on human nature He of necessity gave up the experience of being recognized as the glorious Son of the Father and gave up the direct experience of the Father’s glory.  He did it to live a life we needed to see and to die a death we should have died.  We have already seen Jesus’ sacrificial love for us and how far He is willing to let it take Him.

Ephesians 5:15-21 — Conversations with God

Be very careful, then, how you live —not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Lord, lately I have been paying more attention to my footing on stairs.  I’m not as young as I used to be and it seems I’ve had more close calls than in the past.  Paul is asking us to take more caution in the way we walk and to apply more wisdom to our lives because there are so many opportunities for evil that must be met with the light of Christ.

If I get foolish and lazy and don’t realize what God’s will is for each situation, then evil and darkness will have a victory.  If I allow myself to get intoxicated with wine or spirits, as if nothing is more important than my own pleasures, evil and darkness will win out.

But if I am intoxicated by You, Lord, and filled up to the full by the holy character of Your Holy Spirit, I will take every advantage to speak into the lives of others with spiritual words.  My heart will be full of joy in You.  I will be driven by an attitude of gratitude for everything You bring into my life.  And I will gladly submit to those fellow believers around me for the greater purpose of defeating darkness with light.

Give me a thirst for You that cannot be quenched except by more and more drafts of your Spirit.

Ephesians 1:11-14 — Conversations with God

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ… In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.  And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Father, I have not worried or even dreamed about whether my dad will leave me an inheritance.  There’s no family land or home to hand down, no nest egg I am aware of.  You, God, have prospered me sufficiently that I have my own home and perhaps even some retirement money.  I know that in other cultures, however, obtaining the inheritance might be the difference between being a beggar on the streets or not.

I had no spiritual inheritance coming to me before You rescued me.  I was spiritually destitute and headed for a very dark eternity without You.  I was drifting and purposeless until You gave me life.  Now I have obtained the most glorious inheritance possible.  I am predestined by You to be an example of the praiseworthiness of Your glory.  I am unutterably rich in relationship with You and an owner of all that is Yours.  The immediacy of Your presence that I enjoy and experience now will only be heightened, deepened, and extended in the kingdom.

You have accomplished all this by merely willing it.  Amazing!

And You have added another blessing to me.  I think this counts as six now that Your apostle lists.  You have sealed me in Jesus with the promised Holy Spirit.  I listened to the message of truth, the good news that proclaimed my rescue by Jesus, and when I believed, the Holy Spirit entered into my life and like a signet ring or a regular sealed pressed into melted wax, He became the evidence that authenticated my rescue by Jesus.

He poured out Your love for me into my heart (Romans 5:3), bore witness with my spirit that I am Your child (Romans 8), gave me power to overcome sin (Romans 6,8; Galatians 5), and took up permanent residence in me (John 14; Romans 8).

Now He is the pledge or promise of my future inheritance because with Him in my life I am marked as belonging to You, Your own possession, and He will certainly complete the redeeming of my life.  I have been redeemed, made Your purchased possession, and I am being redeemed.  You are still winning over portions of my yet rebellious heart bit by bit.  And I will be redeemed entirely at the resurrection and coming kingdom, when all things are made new.

You deserve praise for this, God!

The Jesus Factor in Unity (Theology for Living from Philippians)

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

(Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2, verses 5-8)

You’ve no doubt noticed that the verses above are set in a form that lets you know they are poetry.  Most scholars believe that Paul is here quoting a hymn or poem of early creation by Christians, whether by Paul or someone else.  But Paul is using this hymn to teach the Philippians something powerful about the building blocks of unity.  Instead of selfish ambition or empty conceit, Jesus displayed humility of mind when he considered us more important than himself and gave thought not only to his own needs but to our needs.  He is the perfect illustration of employing the building blocks of unity.

Jesus had a right, so to speak, to be selfish and self-centered in his agenda.  He exists in the very nature of God.  No one is more important to our universe than God.  But rather than greedily or selfishly grasping on to his right to display His royal glory, he “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.”  He had the right to stay in heaven and receive the praise and honor due him, but he exchanged that for something that would meet our needs.

He made himself nothing, a servant, a human.  His humanity shielded us from seeing his other nature.  He bore two natures now, divine and human (he could not give up his deity), but the only characteristics he displayed were those of his human nature.   He committed himself to living just as we have to live, with all our limitations but also with the availability of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  But this meant that no one would give him any special recognition as God.  His body would be subject to pain.  He would be subject to death.

Here is where his second humbling took place.  He not only humbled himself by taking on human nature and living out of that nature only, but he submitted himself to the most humiliating form of death in his day, the torturous death of a criminal at the hands of the Romans — crucifixion.

Why did he do it?  Because we needed him to do it.  Though we are not more important than he is, he considered us more important than himself.  Though his needs were real, our needs mattered to him.  Fixing his eyes on the goal of rescuing us by his sacrifice, he made the good news, the gospel, possible.  He preached it with his own atoning death so we could preach it as those whose sins were atoned for.  Now the gospel and its progress should be at the forefront of our endeavors.  Nothing is more important than reaching those who do not know Him and encouraging those who do to stay in the fight.

Can we be like Jesus?  We must be!

Related articles:

Who is Jesus?

The Eternal Son Becomes a Human

Jesus, Full of the Holy Spirit

Jesus, Filled with the Holy Spirit

Jesus, the Alpha and Omega

Was Jesus Incapable of Healing Because of Lack of Faith?

Our Offensibility:  Lessons from a Facebook App

Knowing How God Is Going to Answer Prayer (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 1, verses 18b-19)

Paul says several remarkable things here.  First, he continues his plan to rejoice despite the fact that some are preaching Christ from selfish motives.  But to his joy that Christ is being preached is added his joy over the fact that he knows that he is going to be set free once he makes his defense before Caesar’s court.  Where does he get this confidence?  It is not from his certainty that Caesar’s judges will always give a just verdict.  It is not from the confidence he has in his own ability to make a Perry Mason like defense that will have the judge weeping at his bench.  It is the next two remarkable things he says that give him the basis for his certainty.  And they can serve to give us certainty, also.

The second remarkable thing he says is that he knows he will be delivered (from death, I might add) because of the prayers of the Philippians.  The Philippians have certainly been praying for Paul, but they have also been keyed in to the idea that their monetary gift is what is going to be so effective in Paul’s situation.  Paul sees things completely different.  He did not send a missionary support letter and add that if the Philippians couldn’t finance him would they at least pray for him.  He really wanted the prayer more than the money.

I walked by a children’s Sunday school class the other day and overheard the teacher tell her students that the Bible tells us that the more people we have praying for us the more likely God will answer.  I don’t see that directly communicated in the Bible and it creates some unique concerns.  It is, no doubt, what motivates some to create prayer chains and to broaden those out across the globe if possible.  But if it is a numbers game how many does it take to tip the scales for God to answer?  My wife, bless her, argued that James’ statement, that the prayer of a righteous person accomplishes much (James 5:16), could suggest that if you have more than one righteous person praying you could accomplish even more.  Perhaps, but who would argue that Elijah was hindered in his prayers in any way because he was alone?

Nevertheless, when we have many people praying for us it may at least signal that we have many people who love us and should increase the chances that a righteous person is praying in faith for us.  We know from Jesus’ own teaching that God is eager to answer our prayers and provide justice for us (Luke 18:1-8), and of course Paul knew this.  He had the Philippians, who loved him, praying for him, people who had demonstrated that they were righteous in the way they had given to him financially from the beginning of their faith walk with God.  And he knew God was eager to provide justice for him in answer to prayer.  So Paul felt confident.

But the third remarkable thing Paul says and that increased his confidence of being released in answer to prayer was that he had the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.  When Jesus was instructing his disciples about what they would face as they preached the good news he foretold that they would experience persecution and would even be hauled before courts and required to give a defense for their faith (Luke 12:11,12).  They would not be arraigned for true crimes but for following him.  And he told them that they would not need to prepare their defense in those situations because the Spirit would teach them what they should say.

Paul was taking this promise to heart.  He believed the Holy Spirit would give him the right things to say in this most tense and frightening of times.  He had no doubt heard how the Holy Spirit filled Peter and John in this very way when they were brought before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8).  They were able to give a powerful defense.  They were still beaten as a show of the Sanhedrin’s displeasure.  But they were released.  Jesus didn’t promise release, however, but simply a supernatural ability to make their defense.

So I believe Paul had one more reason for believing he would be let off of the charges against him.  We’ll see this when we get a little further into chapter 1 of this great letter.  But even lacking Paul’s extra reason for confidence, these he states here are available to us as well.  We can sometimes know how God is going to answer prayer.  When we see the alliance of the factors we have seen Paul mention here, we can feel confident of God’s answer to our prayers.  When we are serving him in the gospel and facing persecution that is unjust, we may know that God is eager to answer our prayers for deliverance and provide us with the filling of the Holy Spirit to enable us.  Paul had experienced this many times.

Admittedly, not all saints are so delivered.  We need only think of Peter and James who were imprisoned at the same time (Acts 12).  James was immediately beheaded, but Peter was released miraculously.  Both had the church praying for them to get justice.  Only Peter experienced justice.  There are times when God’s purpose is to use our suffering as a testimony to the unbelieving world as to the strength and purity of our belief.  But in many cases He wants to demonstrate His power to provide for His children.

Jesus Full of the Holy Spirit

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert (Luke 4:1).

One of the most important factors in Jesus’ earthly life was His dependence upon the Holy Spirit.  We see His relationship to the Spirit from the very beginning of His life.  He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:35).  The Spirit descended upon Jesus at His baptism (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22).  John the Baptist described Jesus as the one who would baptize His people with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16).  Jesus was full of joy by the Holy Spirit (Luke 10:21).  At the very end of His earthly ministry, He became the source of the Holy Spirit for His disciples, breathing upon them to symbolically bestow the Spirit upon them (John 20:22).

To be full of the Holy Spirit is different than being filled with the Holy Spirit.  Being filled with the Spirit is a temporary infusion of power from the Spirit to aid in gospel proclamation.  Being full of the Spirit is a settled condition of demonstrating the character of the Holy Spirit.  We’ll look next time at Jesus filled with the Spirit, but look now at how He displayed the character of the Holy Spirit on a consistent basis.

In fact, we might say that Jesus depended on and reflected the holiness of the Spirit not just consistently, but perfectly and without fail every moment of his life.  There are two places where church authorities declare that Jesus was without sin.  In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul writes, ” God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  And in Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin.”

But Jesus himself recognized and acknowledged that he was sinless.  In John 8:45 Jesus is seeking to make a point to the religious leaders that they should recognize he has come from God and should love him and believe him.  He challenges them, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?”  It is possible that he is speaking of some specific sin they might accuse him of, such as false claims about God, but he obviously had no concern that they would be able to come up with anything to charge him with.  His conscience and his slate was clean.

But even more telling than this was the way Jesus interacted with people.  He didn’t just demonstrate the absence of sin.  He showed the presence of love, unconditional and unabashed love, which is the ultimate standard of holiness.  When Jesus wept at Lazarus’ death the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:36)  And many more could give testimony to how Jesus loved them.  He loved those normally considered unlovable.  He never treated anyone with disrespect (except those who, like the Pharisees, needed to be challenged in the most potent of ways).  He never condemned those who wanted to do right or know the truth.  Even people like the rich young ruler, who rejected Jesus’ and his teaching, were still loved (Mark 10:21).

Though it may not always be directly said that this holy character was a by-product of time spent with the Holy Spirit, we know that all human holiness comes from staying connected to God and having His character transform ours.  John says Jesus was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), which is to say, He was full of God, full of the Holy Spirit.

Paul commands all believers to be full of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).  The results of such consistent connection with the Spirit will result in our being an encouragement to others (“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” 5:19a).  It will result in our having hearts full of gratitude and praise for God (“Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” 5:19b,20).  It will result in our being submissive to one another resulting in unity and peace (“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” 5:21).

Jesus lived the way he did to show us how we should live.  Be full of the Spirit!