Monthly Archives: November 2015

Hebrews 11:1-40

1Now 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.

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. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. 32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

 

 

What do all the members of this “Faith Hall of Fame” have in common with each other? First, they were all in communion with God to the extent that they could hear Him promise them. Second, they lived their whole lives in the tension between the promise and the receipt of that promise. In their own lifetimes, they didn’t see what was promised—it was always future. They had to take a big picture to living life; they had to walk by faith. For them, God wasn’t a vending machine Who gave them what they wanted when they wanted it. He was sovereign—He was God. They daily made the choice between satisfying their own desires and waiting for Him to fulfill them.

 

Sometimes we get tired of waiting for God. We take matters into our own hands, attempting to do His job. We fail, and on some level we always knew we would fail, but we are desperate and behave like desperate people. It is in the moment when we’d rather be desperately self-sufficient than desperately faithful that we sin. We are no more or less desperate than we were before the attempt; we are just sinful now that we’ve tried. We are undisciplined children, throwing a tantrum when we don’t get what we want, when we want it.

 

But God has called us to maturity; to a mature faith that knows how to take the long view and wait. We are called to daily choose His way over ours.

 

Can you do that today?

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Editor’s Note

Due to the schedule in the holidays, I have to find time to squeeze in my normal work into crazy hours. Ultimately, this affects this devotional. I will take the next couple of days off in order to get everything done, and will resume the devotional Friday morning. Thanks for reading!

Hebrews 10:19-39

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 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. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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. 26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 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? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 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. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For,

“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
38 but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”

39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

 

 

Now that the author has demonstrate the superiority of Christ to the angels and the superiority of Christ as a High Priest to the Aaronic priesthood, he moves to his syllogism. He begins this section with “therefore,” indicating a conclusion that he is about to draw from a preceding pericope. Because of this superiority, we can come with confidence into the holy of holies, speaking directly to God. We are cleansed, so our hearts are pure. Note also that he references baptism (10.22), emphasizing the communitarian aspect of our faith—we are not merely stand-alone individuals. We have been initiated into the Church. He exhorts his audience to hold fast the group confession of the faith without wavering, and to always be thinking of ways to help nudge others in the community toward spiritual maturity (“love and good works”, 10.24). The only way to do that is “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (10.25). Apparently there have always been those who feel that they can call themselves by Christ’s name while largely ignoring His community. The emphasis in the book of Hebrews has demonstrated the opposite—apart from the community, we begin an inevitable slide backward. Unchecked, and left to our own individual self-delusion, that slide ends in apostasy. The antidote: being engaged in the corporate push toward spiritual maturity.

 

There should be no one who reads the book of Hebrews and thinks that the Church is some “optional” aspect of Christian living. To forsake the assembling together of ourselves is to disrespect the local church, and to disrespect the local church is to disrespect Christ Himself, Who founded her and died for her. The author of Hebrews emphasizes this disrespect of Christ as He writes this pericope. True people of faith live it out together.

 

Are you involved in your local church? If not, find one and get that way. To have a low view of the local church is to have a low view of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 9:1-28

1Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. 11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. 15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. 23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

 

 

Under the first covenant, a tent was set up which was called the tabernacle. It was a tent that could be taken down and moved to the next place where the Israelites camped. It housed the holy of holies and was the official workplace of the high priest, who offered sacrifices that were temporal—they couldn’t deal with sin on a permanent basis, but could only provide atonement. But when Christ appeared, this temporary provision went away. It had always pointed to Him, and therefore was unnecessary. He both fulfilled and rendered inoperable the Law and the first covenant. Moreover, His blood was adequate to completely deal with sin, not just as a temporary provision. His work was eternal, not temporary. This makes Him the mediator of the new covenant, Whose blood was shed once for you—the next time He comes, it will be to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.

 

I am grateful for this. I don’t suppose that there are enough lambs and goats in the world to deal with my own sin and worthlessness. His sacrifice freed me from the death-trap of righteousness-by-obedience, and bought me back. He reconciled me to God through His mediation, and is on His way back to get me before He passes judgment on this world.

 

He is right now in the presence of Almighty God, interceding on our behalf. If you have already laid hold of this righteousness that comes only from Him, what are you doing today to introduce someone else to it?

Hebrews 8:1-13

1Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

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.
10 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.
11 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.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more.”

13 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.

 

 

The reason for this discussion, according to the author, is to establish the a priori argument that Christ is the ultimate High Priest. He is physically seated at the right hand of the throne of “the Majesty” in heaven—serving in the true tabernacle that God set up. For the original tabernacle was simply a copy of the true one, just as the Law was but a shadow of God’s true way. The Law was part of God’s revelation to man regarding true holiness and YHWH-trusting—but it was not the ultimate or real one. It was simply a facsimile thereof. For this reason, the Law was always inadequate because it was merely a shadow of God’s true righteousness. Human obedience can never obtain God’s true righteousness; it can only serve to remind us of our shortcomings—sort of how, the longer one goes to school to study the Bible, the more ignorant one feels about it. The new covenant that He has written has been stamped on our hearts. The true Law of God is in our minds (intellectual) and hearts (spiritual). He has promised to be merciful toward our sins.

 

This is a powerful passage of Scripture. It teaches us not only our own essential worthlessness in attempting to “be good,” which was the provision of the old Law—but it also teaches us that our High Priest has obtained “goodness” on our behalf. He has dealt personally and individually with each of us, having written His law on our hearts and minds. He has been merciful toward our continual iniquities, having put them under the blood of His Son Jesus.

 

Simply put, we are free.

 

We are free from the terror of obedience. We are free from the shadow of true righteousness that can never be real. We are free from the prison of our own fallen-ness. We are free, indeed. He has written His righteousness on our hearts, and continues to do so daily. He is merciful to us in the midst of our failings, and welcomes us into communion with Him.

 

How shall this day be different for you, knowing that you are free? How shall you proceed, knowing that you are invited into communion with the Creator God?

Hebrews 7:1-28

1For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever. See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him. 11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is witnessed of him,

“You are a priest forever,
after the order of Melchizedek.”

18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. 20 And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, 21 but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him:

“The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
‘You are a priest forever.’”

22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. 23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. 26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

 

 

The author has proven Christ to be superior to the angels (1-2) and superior to Moses (3-4); he is in the midst of proving that He is also the superior priest (4.14-10.18). Today’s readings are based on one 3-verse paragraph found in Genesis 14:18-20. He begins by discussing the meaning of his name, which is “king of righteousness” and “king of peace.” This is fitting, since righteousness comes first, then peace. Melchizedek doesn’t literally “abide forever,” but because there is no record of his genealogy or death, he seems to “abide forever.” The major premise of chapter 7 is that Melchizedek’s priestly order is superior to that of Aaron’s. Since Christ comes from the order of Melchizedek, He is therefore greater than any of the priests of Aaron. Psalm 110.4 showed that God intended to raise up an eternal priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, which also shows that He did not intend the Aaronic priesthood to last forever. Verse 12 contains a startling deduction: if the Aaronic priesthood was temporary, then so was the law of Moses! And unlike the destructible Aaronic order, the Melchizedekian order is indestructible. And 7.20-22 shows that the order of Aaron had not oath, while God Himself gives the oath for the other order…this further demonstrates the superiority of Melchizedek’s order. Toussaint writes that “it may be noted the office of the Lord Jesus has four superiorities in Hebrews 7:11-25. (1) It is based on an indestructible life (vv. 11-17). (2) It is founded on a better hope (vv. 18-19). (3) It is grounded on an oath (vv. 20-22). (4) His ministry is based on an eternal priesthood (vv. 23-25).” Finally, the author notes that the sacrifice of Christ was offered “once, for all.” It is not ongoing.

 

A pretty substantial case has been built by this author to prove the superiority of Christ to a Jewish audience. It would have been difficult for his audience to look much beyond the law of Moses, or to see a priest “other” than that of the Aaronic order. But it is evident that such an “other” order exists, pre-dating the Mosaic law and Aaronic priestly order. And this further points to the fact that God meant for those to be temporary, not eternal. The theological implication is clear: God never intended for you to obtain justification on the basis of some temporal mode of obedience. Rather, He has supplied it for you through the intercession and sacrifice of the superior High Priest. Just as the ancient Jews couldn’t come before God except through the high priest, so none of us can come before God except through Jesus. And His sacrifice was once for all of us (hear that, Calvinists?), so we need not take upon ourselves the prideful mode of “I can obey my way to heaven.” Yet another ramification of this truth is that, given the superiority of Christ’s priesthood, it is incumbent on us to spread that good news to others around us who are still attempting to obtain justification through a dead order.

 

Your trust is in Him today. You were never able to “do it.” Only through Him and His sacrifice can this be. And because of that, you should see to it that others know this truth, as well.

Hebrews 6:13-20

13For when God promised Abraham, since He had no one greater than He by whom to swear, He swore according to Himself, 14saying, “Indeed I will bless you and multiply you.” 15Thus, being patient, he received the promise. 16For men swear by something greater than they, and all their disputes end in confirmation by oath. 17So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs the unchangeable nature of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, 18so that by two unchangeable things—in that it is impossible for God to lie, we who run to safety might have strong encouragement to hold fast the hope set before us. 19We have this as a sure and secure anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the place behind the curtain, 20where Jesus has entered as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

 

The author has just completed a portion of his argument in which he outlines the changeable nature of man’s character—how it might be possible to fall away from the promise of God. Typically, this begins with the fallacious belie that one can go it alone, from which point the human mind is susceptible to self-deception and delusion, and leads away from community with God and His people. In contrast to this, we see in today’s readings how God’s promise is unchangeable. When God made His promise to Abraham, He guaranteed it with an oath—just like men were doing in those days (an interesting observation about how God operates within human culture to relate to man). Swearing by Himself, the greatest of all, He demonstrated the unchanging nature of His character, purpose, and promise. Since it is impossible for Him to lie, He is the One to Whom we run for safety from the dangers of self-deception, delusion and sin. The reference to a hope that enters behind a curtain would have been a very Jewish concept: the holy of holies, in which no one was allowed to enter except for the high priest. Because God’s Son Jesus was our forerunner on our behalf (a doctrinal point about the substitutionary nature of redemption), He is therefore the high priest. In the author’s description, Abraham is “us” and Melchizedek is Jesus.

 

So what does that fact mean for our lives today? Now that Jesus has entered the holy of holies for our benefit and on our behalf, there is no further sacrifice for sins necessary. God has handled all of this. He did it through the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb—Who is also the High Priest. And just as He fulfilled His promise to Abraham, He has fulfilled His promise to us, as well. We run to Him for safety from the storm of life here on earth. And we know that such a hope is guaranteed.

 

As I write this, it is actually storming outside. The dogs in my backyard are running to the safety of my barn in order to find shelter from the storm. How very like us this is! As life throws one storm after another our way, we can run to the shelter of the unchangeable hope of God Almighty. His Son has purchased our pardon and reconciled us to Him. The hope that we will be ultimately physically reconciled colors our behavior during the storm here; we know that He cannot lie and will bring us to Himself.