Friday, October 30, 2009

He’s Our Representative

Hebrews 5:1-10

The Prince and The Pauper is a story about a prince who becomes separated from his entourage and forced to live as a street urchin in England. One of the street kids is mistaken for the prince and forced to take his place. The story centers around the two boys’ adventures in their respective situations. The street boy is forced to make decisions regarding the country, and to counter political intrigue, while the prince experiences the day to day struggles of ordinary people, against unjust policies, criminal elements and poverty. Ultimately the situation is corrected, and both are restored to their rightful place. The experience results in them becoming friends, and the prince effects many changes in the laws, recalling his experiences.

The separation of those in authority from the common people, resulting in the disenfranchisement of a major portion of the populace has been a source of conflict throughout history. It was at the root of the American Revolution, The signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 A.D. and in the splitting of the nation of Israel under Rehoboam in I Samuel 12. Leaders become so caught up in their desires and goals they lose contact with their base. When Catherine the Great of Russia went to see what the state of her people was, local leaders hired actors and stand-ins to line the streets and pretend to be local residents of cities along the way to prevent her learning how the people were suffering. She never caught on and continued her policies, unaware of the suffering of the common people. Those who abused them were able to continue their abuse as a result.

God has hated this separation, as we see in Revelation 2:6 and 2:15, when he says he hates the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes. His plan for Israel was for them to be individually responsible to God, This is what Judges 17:6 and 21:25 is describing when they say “There was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Some obeyed God and some did not. Having a King did not change that.

Because he understood man’s propensity to sin, God made provision for an intercessor to represent man when he had sinned. Being tempted with sin himself, he could represent sinners. Before he could deal with other’s sins, he first had to get his own straightened out. It was not an office that could be undertaken by just anyone.

“For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” (Hebrews 5:1-6)

The High priest was a representative of the people. He was not their boss, although he carried God’s message back to them. He was chosen by God to fulfill that office. Jesus Christ was chose by God to be the final high priest. There would never be a need for another priest after the order of Melchisedec. One of the temptations Christ faced was fear of the death which he was to suffer. It was a very real fear. Humanly, it would have been far easier to refuse to go through with the plan. He chose to obey, instead.

“Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; Heb And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.” (Hebrews 5:7-10)

By choosing to obey and face his fear, Jesus made the sacrifice for our sins, and made our salvation possible. Failure to do obey would have been sin, and would have stopped God’s plan. Obeying made qualified to serve as both Priest, and sacrifice. He could receive the Melchisedec Priesthood.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

An Empathetic High Priest

Hebrews 4:14-16

Sympathy and empathy both have the meaning of understanding and sharing feelings and emotions. The difference is that sympathy agrees with those feelings without question while empathy considers whether they are legitimate responses. The difference in the results is tremendous.

A common scenario is for a man and wife to have a disagreement over something one of them bought. He feels she should just give in to him without question because she is his wife. After all, he is the head of the house. He goes to his mother, or to meet with some of his buddies. If they sympathize, agreeing that she was wrong to disagree, he will be encouraged to maintain his attitude and over time, bitterness will begin to creep in. There is a natural tendency to seek sympathy, because it feeds our pride. That is the main reason people go to bars.

An empathetic person, on the other hand, will understand the feelings, but point out that the wife may have had a reason for her feelings as well. Perhaps she has seen a selfish trend in his behavior, or a financial problem he has overlooked, or perhaps her family has always done it differently. She may or not be right, but her feelings are just as real as his. To review what happened and find out what the truth is may enable resolution of the problem.

One experienced counselor said, “There is his side, her side, and the truth. Sometimes the truth is not even between the two sides.” The empathetic person recognizes that while the feelings are valid, they may be based on false premises, leading to false conclusions and wrong actions.

Because Jesus Christ is fully human, even to the point of experiencing death, he is able to empathize with us. He understands our feelings and temptations. Because he is also God, he understands God’s perspective as well. He is uniquely equipped to present our case before God when we sin.

“Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)

The person best equipped to help an alcoholic stop drinking is one who has been tempted in the same manner, but only when he has escaped that temptation. All to often the attempt results in a counselor being pulled back in if his victory is not complete. Jesus was tempted like us, but he never succumbed. He can help us get the victory as a result.

One of the biggest problems in counseling is that people do not give all the facts. Sometimes it is deliberate to conceal guilt. Other times, they don’t realize it matters, or don’t even know about them. Jesus approaches the problem with all the facts according to Hebrews 4:13. “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” His advice and help is not based on guesses.

He is able to present our case before God to obtain mercy (leniency), while helping us to correct the problem. He has that super sharp word of God to accomplish the purpose. I John 2:1-2 advises us, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

He has also met the full penalty of the law for our sin, expunging our record so that there is no increased penalty for future offenses. He has even done this for those who do not permit him to represent them, although with no advocate, it has not been applied to them.

Knowing that we have willing and empathetic ear, that we will receive mercy, and that we can be confident about the advice and help, there ought be no hesitancy about coming to God and Christ with our problems. He loves us, and wants to help. We don’t need to bribe him, or to get someone else to establish contact. In fact there is only one who can take care of the problem, and he demands personal contact. “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time,” (I Timothy 2:5-6). No other person, preacher, priest or saint can serve as an intermediary.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sharper Than Any Sword

Hebrews 4:12-16

A lady once told me that she had attended church with her grandmother for several years, but then dropped out in her teen years. One of her friends invited her and she went to a church where the Gospel was preached. She felt uneasy but didn’t respond to the invitation because she knew she was saved. She could remember a specific day when she was small when she went to the altar and he Grandmother led her to the Lord.

Later she decided to get baptized because she’d never been. The Pastor came to their house to talk to talk to her about her salvation before baptizing her. She described her memory of her Grand mother leading her to Christ. Her grandmother was shocked. She’d never dealt with the girl at the altar, although she’d wondered many times why the girl was so sure she was saved. The lady had imagined the whole thing and convinced herself, (with Satan’s help), that she was saved. She’d never questioned whether it was true until she learned that it had never happened.

In a class called Personal Evangelism, we were taught to win people to Christ. Considerable emphasis was placed on giving assurance of Salvation. In it’s simplest form, it consisted of asking if the person believed that Jesus died for their sins. If they did, then we were to ask if they had prayed and asked Jesus to save them. If they said they had, we then were to go to Romans 10:13, which says, “ For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” After all they had ‘fulfilled’ the requirements in Romans 10:9-10, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

Unfortunately, such an approach is little different than that of those who believe in Baptismal Regeneration, that Baptism saves one. They use Mark 16:16, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned,” the same way, to prove that people are saved. Both approaches are dependent on the persons understanding of belief in the way God meant it. He may not. He may simply acknowledge that Christ’s death is a result of sin, not that it is propitiation, for example. Even by questioning carefully, we may reach false conclusions.

Both approaches also ignore other scripture. For example, Jesus said “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day,” in John 6:44 and repeated it in John 6:65. If they came because of our persuasiveness, for emotional relief, or any other reason, other than God’s action, they can’t be saved. Another example is Jesus’ statement about the commitment required to be saved in in Luke 14:26. “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”

Since we are unable to judge what the person really believes, or how God has worked, or even how committed they are, we may well give a false assurance, and mislead people. Fortunately, part of the Holy Spirit’s job is to give that assurance, if the person is saved. He can be trusted to do his job. If he doesn’t provide that assurance something is wrong. Either sin is hindering his working, something is causing confusion, or they are not saved.

The Word of God is a tool the Holy Spirit can use to identify sin that hinders his work, incorrect beliefs and doctrines that cause confusion, or lack of commitment and dead faith which prevent salvation. He can then use it to correct what is wrong and to draw the person to Jesus Christ. The author describes the word as follows:

“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” (Hebrews 4:12-13

My dad fought in battles on Okinawa, Iwo Jima and various other islands in World War Two. During one battle, a Japanese soldier carrying a Samurai sword sliced the end off a machine gun. As Dad said, “we shot him before he got any closer because we knew a bayonet wouldn’t be very effective against that sword.” The word of God is similarly sharp and strong, capable of separating even things which appear inseparable. It is able to distinguish between the soul, or life part, and the spirit or controlling part. It can determine exactly the point where the bone changes from the joint to marrow, down to the exact cells involved. It is able to separate our very thoughts and our intentions, clearly showing what the truth is.

Furthermore it is guided precisely by a surgeon who has clear vision of every detail so that the separation is between the cells, or connectors, rather than damaging the material on either side. There is no danger of him pulling the wrong tooth or removing the wrong kidney. There is no possibility of him leaving some of the cancer behind because he couldn’t see it or it was too close to something else to safely remove it. The word is precise enough to make that unnecessary in the hands of such a skilled surgeon with a good view of what is there.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Has Your Ticket Been Punched?

Hebrews 4:3-11

As a little boy, most of the trains I saw were diesel powered. However, in a trip to visit some of my relatives, we went to Las Vegas, New Mexico, where we saw a coal-fired steam engine coming into town. I was entranced. Later on the trip we saw steam engines in Chama, New Mexico and in Durango, Colorado. Today, the Cumbres and Toltec railroad, running between Antonito Colorado and Chama, and the D&SFNG between Durango and Silverton, Colorado are almost the last operating coal-fired trains in the United States, other than some in amusement parks. People travel thousands of miles to experience riding the trains, and it is sometimes difficult to get reservations.

Suppose some one was to rent entire trains, and then offer free tickets to anyone who wished to ride. You could decide to accept and use the ticket, believing that the offer was valid, or refuse because you suspected it wasn’t. If you accepted and used it, you would enjoy the sights and experiences of the journey, at no cost to yourself beyond the expense of getting there. Refusing to accept or use the ticket would mean you would have to pay your own way, on a different train or not take the trip at all.

Two men board the train, having obtained tickets, and one has his ticket validated and relaxes to enjoy the ride. The other sneaks around avoiding the conductor to prevent having his ticket validated. At the halfway point there is a stop where passengers can obtain food and shop for gifts before the train returns. The man who has not had his ticket validated will not be permitted to reboard and will have to find another way.

Our salvation is much the same. The arrangements and reservations were made before the world was created, and final payment was made when Christ was crucified. Everyone with tickets is allowed to board, but the tickets must be validated to complete the trip. Those who leave without validated tickets may not get back on. Those who have validated tickets will be able to complete the journey, even enjoying the rest stop along the way. Further more, the trip costs them nothing. The old-fashioned seat and drafty car may be less than perfectly comfortable, but they can enjoy their trip to the fullest, knowing there is no question about their right to be there.

Those who have placed their faith in God’s promise freely allow him to validate their tickets, and their salvation is secure. They are assured of reaching their destination. The previous passage was focused on those who didn’t believe and thus didn’t get their tickets validated. We will return to their situation again later. The present passage is about those who have believed.

“For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” (Hebrews 4:3-11)

Those who have placed their faith in him do enter in. Their salvation is as sure as God’s word because they are kept by the power of God as I Peter 1:3-5 tells us. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” They are eternally secure.

On the other hand, there are those who have gone through the motions, appearing to be saved, but have not. Mark 16:15-16 refers to this situation. “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” A person can be baptized, pray the sinners prayer, join the church, witness, and do all kinds of good works, they will still be damned or sentenced to hell if they do not believe, if they do not come to the point of depending totally upon Christ, and giving up everything they held dear. We need to make sure of our faith while there is time, lest we delay and neglect to believe, and find that we have turned away ourselves.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Check Yourselves

Hebrews 3:12-4:3

Jesus is very specific in his statement in Matthew 7 that not everyone who believes they are Christians are saved. He says that he will tell them that he never knew them, not thet he doesn’t know them any more. They haven’t lost their salvation, they never had it. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Because of this, Paul is insistent that we check on our salvation, that it is real. He advised the Corinthian church to “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” in I Corinthians 13:5. Peter expresses the same concern in II Peter 1:10. “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: …” I John 2:19 points out that those who fall away were not really saved to begin with. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”

The author here warns us of the same danger, using the example of the people who came out of Egypt during the Exodus as an example, All of whom had experienced the same things, but many did not believe and turned away. Paul gave a similar warning in I Corinthians 10:1-12.

“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end; While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.” (Hebrews 3:12-4:3)

Jesus used the examples of trees to illustrate how to distinguish true believers from mere professors. Matthew 7:17-20 describes his teaching. “Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Works are not fruit. Every tree produces leaves, converts carbon dioxide to carbon and oxygen, shades the ground, releases moisture into the air to cool it and produces fruit in the form of a seed pod. The seed pod, or fruit is different in different species however. Some fruits are edible, such as apples or peaches, while others such as the berry of the yew are poisonous. People who can’t identify trees by their leaves or the shape of the tree can see the difference between the seed pod of a locust and an apple. We may not be able to identify Christians by their actions, but we can by their distinctive fruit.

II Peter 1:5-10 describes some things that guarantee our steadfastness and fruitfulness in Christ. “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:”

This list is almost the same as what Paul describes in Galatians 5:22-23 as the fruit of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” If the Holy Spirit is present, he will produce fruit, and as Romans 8:9 tells us. “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” As Peter said, if these things aren’t present, there is a problem.

It is imperative that we encourage one another in our Christian life so that those who are not saved will develop real faith, and those who are will produce more fruit. It is a primary reason for attending church, according to Hebrews 10:24-25. “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Failure to attend demonstrates our lack of love and concern for Christ and for others.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Consider the Apostle of Our Profession

Hebrews 3:1-11

“Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house. “ (Hebrews 3:1-2)

An older teacher used to say “when you see a therefore or a wherefore, you always want to go back and see what it’s there for.” In mathematical proofs, it introduces the conclusion as the natural result of previously ascertained facts. As the author has shown in the first two chapters, Jesus Christ is a complete human, having experienced human life in a way where he was far more exposed to trials and temptation than many today. At the same time, he was the creator of the universe. He voluntarily took on the form of a man and went through the worst that men experience, knowing the consequences, to please God the father, and because he loved us.

The word apostle is an English spelling of the Greek word meaning ‘a delegate’ or ‘an ambassador’. As the very creator and future ruler of the universe, he could not be a more authoritative messenger. As was pointed out, it would by unwise to ignore his message. At the same time. He is the only being qualified to serve as our high priest, and our sacrifice, because he is completely human. Taking the time to understand what he went through and what his actions accomplished is the best way of staying focused and committed to him, as Hebrews 12:2-3 points out. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.”

The goal of the book of Hebrews is the development of a strong and permanent commitment to Christ. This is to be done by careful review of What Christ has done for us, using the Old Testament examples to help us comprehend what was done and why. In that light, the ministry of Christ is compared to that of Moses, who was also clearly shown to be chosen of God.

“For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house. For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God. And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. “ (Hebrews 3:3-6)

Moses was faithful in obeying God, and accurately delivering God’s message, but he was still just a servant, an employee, speaking for the King. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, was actively involved in making the decisions, and speaking of what belonged to him. Again, the recurring theme of a commitment that lasts to the end is emphasized, if we are to be a part of his kingdom. Many who started with Moses turned aside after a while. They experienced the same things but Hebrews 4:2 tells us they heard the same things and started but never truly placed their faith in him. “For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” In the parable of the sower, Jesus described them as the seed which fell on rocky soil. It sprang up quickly, but died when confronted with life because it had no root in itself. We are warned of danger, and advised to listen to avoid ending up the same way. It would not be wise to ignore him.

“Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)” (Hebrews 3:7-11)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Without Shedding of Blood

Hebrews 2:9-18

Most people have no conflict with the idea that wicked people deserve judgment. The idea of punishing evildoers is almost universal. Deciding who deserves punishment, on the other hand, is more difficult. Rarely does anyone acknowledge having done anything wrong. And even when they do, it isn’t considered that bad. For example a thief is often heard to say it is the victim’s fault because he shouldn’t have allowed me to get it if he wanted it. Similar logic is used to justify sexual crimes, murders, and many other wrongs. Almost no one considers themselves as sinners, although the Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3: 10-12 is even more emphatic. “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”

Romans 6:23 tells us, “For the wages of sin is death;”, that death is the natural consequence of sin. Romans 5:12-14 makes it clear that we became subject to death as a result of Adam’s sin, even though our sin might not be like his, and regardless of any law forbidding our actions.

“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.” (Romans 5:12-14)

Since every sin required a death penalty, man could only partially pay for his sin. He needed the guilt to be taken away. Hebrews 9:22 explains what would be required for that to happen. “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.” Only someone who had not sinned could pay for all the sin, and purge that guilt by his death. All natural humans were sinners, so God had to provide someone greater than that.

In order to die, and pay for sin, it was necessary that a form lower than the angels be selected, so Christ was chosen to become a man, born a natural birth, but conceived by a supernatural act so that he would not be infected by sin, thus being able to purge our sin. In order to be completely human, he had to be able to experience all our temptations and sufferings as well.

“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (Hebrews 2:9-10)

Because he is completely and perfectly human, Christ is one of us, accepting us as his brothers and sisters, having our humanity in common. It was only possible by his becoming human.

“For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me.

Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.

Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:11-18)

Because he has experienced our temptations, he is able to reach out to us in ways that those who have never experienced those trials and temptations cannot. Most modern politicians are wealthy compared to the average people. Most have been lawyers or from rich families, never experiencing what it is like to have little or nothing. As a result they think that health care or education are the biggest concerns at the present time. They provide money to buy cars or houses when people are in danger of losing the home they have. They do not understand that providing shelter and food must be taken care of, before other things can even be considered. They are confused by people’s resistance to their ideas. They haven’t considered that if you don’t survive to use it, it is of no benefit.

Because he has experienced our temptations and problems, Christ can understand our real problems and why we respond the way we do. His directions and commands will always contribute to our situation, rather than complicating it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Little Lower Than The Angels

Hebrews 2:6-13

We humans like to imagine ourselves as the height of God’s creation. It is hard for us to imagine or understand anything beyond our own experience. Rich powerful people have trouble understanding those less fortunate. I sometimes wonder if animals are as confused by us as we are by their actions. Even in dealing with animals, we tend to ascribe human motivations to them in our efforts to relate. As a result, we make seriously flawed decisions about them. Psychologists have tried to interpolate results with animals to humans with erratic consequences as a result. Similarities do not make us the same.

Dr. Temple Grandin, author of Animals In Translation is autistic. She finds it difficult to function in a human oriented world. As a result of her studies of animals, she realized that her perception of the world was more similar to that of some animals than to that of most people. At the same time she had a human brain and could reason that her perceptions were different, making her able to function like a person. The result has been major discoveries about animal behavior. As she says, her autism made it easy to understand what the animals see. Her human mind still sometimes makes it difficult for her to completely understand the animals actions, and her body is unable to react in the same way.

Mankind is lower than the angels, of which there appear to be several orders, all of which are lower in capabilities than God, their creator. The difference between man and God is greater than the difference between man and a dog, yet people become very closely attached to their dogs. God has reached out to man in similar but much more intimate way, sending his own son to become one of us. No dog lover could, and most wouldn’t be willing to become dogs to develop a better relationship.

Jesus became one of us to enable us to have a relationship with God. He took on himself our nature, and our body, even suffering a human death to enable us to have that relationship with God. Because of his love for us that made him willing to do so, he has been designated to be the ruler of all God’s creation.

“But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. ” (Hebrews 2:6-9)

The same concepts are expressed in Philippians 2, when Paul describes Jesus’ decision to become a man in order to save mankind. He even took the form of a lowly servant, rather than that of a powerful business man or political figure. Isaiah 53:2 tells us there was nothing about his physical appearance that would attract attention and many people ignored him or tried to use him to get healing or food without accepting him, just as they do today.

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)

While he has not yet received his kingdom, it is already his, held in trust until the final judgment, when everything is made right, much like the heir to a home, waiting until it is remodeled before taking possession.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

You Need To Listen

Hebrews 2:1-5

Were the President to come to Farmington, and be in a place where there was a likelihood of getting in, I would almost certainly go if it were possible. I would be seeking information about things which affect myself, and those I deal with to try to help keep my life as uncomplicated as possible. Hopefully the President would address some of the issues about which I am concerned. I listen to the speeches on the news for much the same reason.

Christ never holds a pep rally to get me to help push through some bill. As God he doesn’t need my approval to accomplish his goals. When he tells me something, I can depend on it happening just as he says, because of who he is. As a result, his pronouncements are far more authoritative than even the President’s. They are not proposals, but fact. We had better pay attention to what he says.

“Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak.” (Hebrews 2:1-5)

To ignore or even forget what our leaders have informed us about can lead to serious consequences in this present world. How much worse to ignore or forget what God has told us. These verses are the key to entire book of Hebrews, reminding us of the danger of ignoring what Christ has done for us and of the penalties for disobedience. Hebrews 10 re-iterates the idea.

“For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:26-31)

The consequences for ignoring earthly laws may be quite severe, but the punishment still ends with our death. It does not continue throughout eternity. Ignoring God’s law carries eternal consequences. This is why Jesus said, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” in Matthew 10:28.

Hebrews describes in detail what Christ has done in an effort to cause us to understand the importance of what he tells us. Failure to receive it will result in eternal damnation. It is not something to be lightly entered into or rejected.

At the present time the word disciple is often understood to mean someone who is publicly following Christ. This ignores the fact that Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathaea, and others are referred to as disciples. But secretly for fear of the Jews. The word translated disciple, ‘matatheno’ means a pupil as a noun. It was often defined traditionally as a ‘follower’ in the sense of a student or believer. The traditional definition is more in line with scripture than the modern usage. Using it, we find that Christ stressed the commitment to him in order to be saved. It was not simply saying a few words, or lightly acknowledging his sacrifice. Notice the teaching in Luke 14:26-33.

“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.

Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”

Hebrews is written to enable people to make such a commitment, knowing what Christ has done, and to continue in that commitment. Far too many are like those Jesus described in John 6:26, seeking only immediate relief, rather than a new life. “Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.” They have no interest in what Christ has actually done, or in what it cost. They are not really believers, but only followers for convenience, what some call “Rice Christians.” They will profess Christianity to get what they want, but have no commitment to Christ.

Christ’s Authority as Spokesman

Hebrews 1:5-14

People will go to great lengths to hear a famous or powerful person, despite a dislike for him and what he stands for. Most would listen to a Congressman or Senator. The crowd to see the President is unbelievable. The first Lady will definitely draw a crowd, which will hang on every word she says. Most people will listen to an official spokesperson, but if that spokesperson has official standing, their comments are considered much more binding and official.

The author points out that God has claimed Christ as his own son in both the old and new testament. He is the heir to the throne, and has far more authority than any of the angels. In addition, he has demonstrated his obedience and qualifications. As a result he has ben named as the king. His authority is far above that of any of the angels or other messengers.

“For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” (Hebrews 1:5-9)

Psalm 2:7 records David’s prophecy of God claiming Christ as his son. “I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” Twice God spoke audibly from heaven, identifying Christ as his son. The first time is recorded in Matthew 3:16-17. “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11 and Luke 3:22 also record this incident.

The second time is recorded only by Matthew, when Peter, James and John were on the mount of transfiguration, and is reported in Matthew 17:4-5. “Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.”

Both Peter and John describe themselves as having heard and experienced these things. Clearly, such an authoritative messenger as the King or the Heir Apparent should be heard even more carefully than some other spokesperson.

Beyond his being the Son of God, he is designated as the one who did the actual creating, and as the one who will dispose of creation when their usefulness expires. He will exist eternally, and is literally the one to whom all the angels and messengers answer.

“And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool? Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” (Hebrews 1:10-14)

The Kingdom is to be officially turned over to him as King when the proper time comes and that is the only limitation on his authority at this time. His pronouncements have the full authority of the throne. He has been designated as the ultimate spokesman by God.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hebrews and the Superiority of Christ

Hebrews 1:1-4

Many believe that Paul was the author of Hebrews. While there are similarities to other of Paul’s writings, the author does not introduce himself as Paul did in his other writings. This could be because he did not want his message rejected by the Jews without being read. As Acts tells us, the Jewish leadership had gone to great lengths to discredit and destroy him. This leaves some question as to whether he was the author.

Whoever the author was, he was well versed in the Jewish religion, and in the Old Testament teachings. He uses the Old Testament to help us understand what Christ did for us, completing what the Old testament had initiated. At the same time he is very clear that Christianity is not a continuation of the old Jewish religion, but that it has replaced it. Paul describes this in Galatians 3:24-25. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.”

Modern teachers and schools establish schedules similar to what most workers will experience and teach subjects related to what the pupils will need in the future. In many ways, the school experience is very similar to a work experience, but it is not a job. The old Testament teachings related to Christianity in a similar manner, preparing the adherents, but not being the actual thing. The author seeks to show how different aspects pertain to Christianity.

Genesis 1:1 assumes God’s existence starting, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” God’s existence is assumed as fact. No explanation is required. The author starts with the same assumption. God has used his prophets to communicate his thoughts to us, and prophecy is simply telling what God has said. Not all who claim to be prophets truly speak the word of God. II Peter 1:19-21 describes what comes from God, and how we can be assured of our understanding by comparing it with other scripture.

“We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

The author of Hebrews points out that the same God who directed the old time prophets has used Jesus Christ to speak to us. He clearly identifies Christ as more qualified than any of the old prophets

“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” (Hebrews 1:1-4)

Christ is clearly identified as God’s son, the only begotton son, or only naturally born son of God. Everyone else is an adopted child, and is the product of a spiritual birth, rather than the natural birth. As the natural born son, God has made him the primary heir to all he has. As adopted children, we cannot be disinherited, and thus are joint heirs with him.

One half a persons DNA comes from each parent, and thus there is more similarity between a parent and a child than their can ever be between any who are less closely related. Christ is, as the natural born son, genetically, God. He is also genetically human, as the child of Mary. Speaking to Philip, “Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?” (John 14:9). Many times, as humans, we know what the parents are like from knowing their children. This is even more true of Christ.

I John 1:3 tells us “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Paul expands this a little further in Colossians 1:16-17. “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” Not only did he make everything, it is through his power they continue to exist.

Colossians 1:20-22 describes how Christ purged our sins. “And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:” Colossians 1:18 depicts thew resulting exhaltation. “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.”

Peter describes how they came to preach what they preached in II Peter 1:16-18. “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.”

John gives a similar description in I John I:1-3. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

God has used his son to complete the message the Old Testament started. Hebrews helps us understand what he did so that we can fulfill God’s plan for us, rather than giving up along the way.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Final Instructions

I Thessalonians 5:25-28

Brethren, pray for us.” (I Thessalonians 5:25)

Paul was not asking for superficial “Lord , bless the missionaries type of prayer, but for a earnest fervent prayer for specific needs. II Thessalonians 3:1-2 illustrates what he wanted them to pray about. “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith.” Paul didn’t want to waste God’s time on those who were not willing to hear the gospel or allow it to be heard by others. He wished to obey Jesus’ injunction in Matthew 7:6. “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”

He was also concerned that he would be able to present the Word of God properly, that it would be clearly and correctly understood. Colossians 4:2-4 directs, “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.” He wanted his preaching to be like he had done at Corinth. “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (I Corinthians 2:4-5)

“Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss.“ (I Thessalonians 5: 26)

Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another in John 13:34-35, stipulating that it would be the evidence of our love for him. “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Paul here instructs the church to demonstrate that love in a very personal way. It in no way implies a sexual relationship. Both failure to demonstrate our love in a personal manner, and improper demonstrations leave doubt of the reality of our love. People need those demonstrations, but they need to be motivated by proper love.

Because of the ease of abuse many have ignored Paul’s directions, or forbidden others to obey.. Please note the following commands.
“Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.” (Romans 16:16)
“All the brethren greet you. Greet ye one another with an holy kiss.” (I Corinthians 16:20)
“Greet one another with an holy kiss.” (II Corinthians 13:12)
“Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity. Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen.” (I Peter 5:14)

Jesus, Paul, and Peter all stressed the importance of personal demonstrations of love in a holy, chaste manner.

“I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.” (I Thessalonians 5:27)

Like his other letters, the Epistle to the Thessalonians was not intended solely for the ones to whom it was addressed. It was for all Christians, and was to be handled like the Colossian Letter. “And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.“ (Colossians 4:16)

Peter explains his reasons for writing his epistles., “This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: 2pe 3:2 That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:: (II Peter 3:1-2)

They will be of limited value if others are not allowed to know what was written as well.

1th 5:28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

Obtaining Victory Over Sin

I Thessalonians 5:22-24

“Abstain from all appearance of evil. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Thessalonians 5:22-23)

To abstain is to voluntarily refrain from a behavior. There are a number of things that t Christian should abstain from because they have serious consequences for our spiritual life. It is God’s will that our life be pure and dedicated to him. Some of these things are listed in the following verses.

“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;” (I Thessalonians 4:3-4)

“Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;” (I Peter 2:11)

“For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.” (Acts 15:28-29)

“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.” (I Timothy 6:10-11)

Paul instructs that we should go beyond his list to abstain fro everything which gives an appearance of evil for the sake of our testimony. In return God can be counted on to prevent us getting involved in sin. Philippians 4 advises us to allow our self control to be apparent, and God will take care of our thought patterns.

Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5-7)

We are not to worry about even those thoughts, but rather to focus on the things of God, choosing not to dwell on the evil, but focusing on what God wants, because a Galatians 5:16 tells us, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” While we have a responsibility to choose not to commit sin. we have God’s power to enable us to overcome it. As I Corinthians 10:13 says, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

Our ability to not sin does not depend on our will power, but on our descision to do what pleases God and his faithfulness to uphold our decision. As Paul states here in I Thessalonians 5:24, “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.“ He restates this in II Thessalonians 3:3’ “But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil.” When we fall into sin, it is not because of a failure on his part, but because we chose to. He still would have freed us from the sin even though we failed to believe him according to II Timothy 2:13, “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.”