Hebrews 13

Today we finish reading the book of Hebrews by reading Hebrews 13. Congratulations! You’ve read two books of the New Testament already; only 25 more to go.

The author of Hebrews wrapped up his message by giving believers some ways to put our faith into action. It starts with love (v. 1) which shows itself in how we act toward other believers (again, v. 1), how we receive and care for outsiders (v. 2), and how we pray for and care for those who are suffering under persecution for Christ (v. 3).

Living for Christ in this age means honoring marriage with purity (v. 4), living without greed and materialism (vv. 5-6), acting properly toward the leaders of our church (vv. 7-17), and praying for all those who are serving the Lord (vv. 18-19). Finally, the author of Hebrews prayed a beautiful benediction over the original readers of this book (vv. 20-21) and closed (vv. 22-25).

For today’s devotional thoughts I’d like to focus on verses 15-16: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” These verses follow verses 11-14 where the author of Hebrews made one final reference to Jesus as our priest. Just like the body of a sin offering is offered outside the camp, Jesus was sacrificed outside the city of Jerusalem (v. 12). Going to him for salvation is, metaphorically, like leaving the “city” of Judaism. All who follow Christ are now outsiders but that’s OK because we’re looking for an eternal city anyway (v. 14).

But just as there were thank offerings and free will offerings in the Old Testament whereby a worshipper could bring a sacrifice just because he loved God, now the author of Hebrews says that we Christians bring a thank offering in our words. He tells us to offer this offering “continually;” that is, many times throughout our lives. And the content of this offering is “the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” This is evangelism. One of our acts of worship as Christians is to claim Jesus openly and tell others about our faith in him.

The second type of Christian sacrifice is described in verse 16: “ And do not forget to do good and to share with others....” This consists of being generous to others. It may be others who have a need or simply others whom we choose to bless by giving. So we do not bring a sacrifice for our sins, to appease God’s wrath for what we have done. Jesus paid the penalty for this himself and his blood makes “the people holy” (v. 12). Like an Old Testament worshipper who brings freewill offerings just out of love for God, we bring sacrifices of worship to God when we openly identify with Christ and share his eternally life-changing message and when we are generous to others around us.

Here’s an opportunity, then, for us to look at serving God this week. Are there lost people around you who don’t even know that you are a Christian? Look for an open door to speak to that person about Christ. Are there others around you who have needs or who just would be blessed by your generosity? Reach out to bless them with what you have--a financial gift, a meal, whatever. God loves these kinds of Christian sacrifices because they show our love and devotion to Jesus. Yes, the Lord loves our worship and praise in singing and prayer, but he also is delighted in our actions through evangelism and showing kindness to others.

Hebrews 12

Today we’re reading Hebrews 12.

The point of yesterday’s “Hall of Faith” chapter was not to exalt believers of the past. It was to encourage us to keep following God, just as they did, even when it is painful, difficult, and costly. Verse 1 here in Hebrews 12 draws the experience of the believers in chapter 11 to our life when it says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” But, just so we don’t get our attention diverted to one of these great believers or to anyone else, the author of Hebrews wrote, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.... Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (vv. 2-3). When we focus on the cost of discipleship to us or to others, it is easy to get discouraged. When we focus on Jesus and all he endured and accomplished for us, it gives us strength to keep going.

No one else on earth will ever suffer as much for Christ as Christ himself suffered for us. Re-read that sentence. It’s powerful!

And, no matter how much you have suffered in this life, the author of Hebrews reminds us that, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (v. 4). The rest of chapter 11 encourages us to remember that many of our trials in this life are God’s work of discipline (vv. 5-13), to fight sin in our lives so that we will become holy like God is (vv. 14-17), and to remember that our experience of God is not fearful like it was for the ancient Jews leaving Egypt (vv. 18-21) but joyful because of all that God has done for us in Christ (vv. 22-24). Given all that God has done for us already and all that he promises for us in his future kingdom (vv. 28-29), the author of Hebrews urges us to listen to God’s word (vv. 25-27), to be thankful and worship God with awe (v. 28). I don’t know what struggles you are facing in the circumstances of your life today, but don’t quit on God; turn to Jesus and “consider him” for the strength you need to keep trusting and obeying the Lord.

Hebrews 11

Today let’s read the Hall of Faith chapter, Hebrews 11

Hebrews 10:39, the last verse of Hebrews 10 says, “But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.” That verse was the conclusion of the warning passage in Hebrews 10; here in chapter 11, the author of Hebrews wants to clarify what faith is and how it is essential to following Christ. The reason why we “do not shrink back” from following Jesus is that we “have faith.” It is our confidence in the promises of God and the rewards that God gives for persevering that cause us not to “shrink back.” So it is important for us to understand what faith is (v. 1) and how it has operated throughout human history (v. 2).

That’s why Hebrews 11 exists and why it was written at this point in the book of Hebrews. In addition to being encouraged by these great and famous men and women of God throughout history, it is important for us to understand what it means for us to stand in league with them. All of us are linked by our faith in God’s promises. But, as verse 13 says, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” In our age, there are many promises made on behalf of God from preachers and teachers that pertain to this life. Most of the best known “ministers” of Christianity will tell you that if you follow Jesus you will be happy. They will tell you that if you follow Jesus and give to his (their) work, God will make sure they get that fancy house, that luxury car, or whatever. Materialism drives so much of what is called Christianity these days in the United States. But the people in this chapter died before they got any of the promises God made to them.

The call to follow Jesus, then, is a call to live for eternity, not for your best life now. Like Moses who “chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (v. 25) we may be giving up much in this life in order to walk with God. And Moses didn’t even make it into the promised land! Do you think he felt gypped? I don’t think so because, according to verse 40, “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

There are, of course, benefits in this life to following Jesus. He gives us relief from guilt and the ability to know and love God. He gives us the power to change and grow to overcome the sins that ultimately hurt us and others. He gives us joy even in the heartaches of life. So it isn’t like being a Christian is all heartache and pain but it is important to realize that there is a price for discipleship in this life but a much greater payoff for it in eternity.

Hebrews 10

Today we’re reading Hebrews 10.

This chapter wraps up the argument about the superiority of Christ to everything Old Testament. The main point of verses 1-14 is that Jesus’ death is superior to the Old Testament sacrifices because his death was a permanent sacrifice for sins. In the words of 14, “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” That’s why Jesus “sat down at the right hand of God” (v. 12b) because there was no more blood work to be done.

The result of Jesus’ sacrifice is genuine salvation, according to verses 15-18. God has forgiven us in Christ (vv. 17-18) and has regenerated us spiritually, putting his laws into our minds and hearts (vv. 15-16). Because all of this is true, the author of Hebrews applied these truths to Christians like by giving us two sets of application steps:

The first set of application steps consist of learning to worship God sincerely (vv. 19-22), devotedly (v. 23), servingly [OK, I made that word up, but it works.] (v. 24), and corporately (v. 25).

The second set of application steps involves not turning away from God (vv. 26-35) but instead to persevere in faith and obedience (vv. 36-39).

Let’s focus today on verse 14: “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” This verse compresses into one capsule two important truths about our faith. First, we are perfect. Don’t deny it or think about all the ways that you are imperfect. When God looks at you, he sees absolute, perfect obedience. Given how easily and frequently we disobey his word, how is that possible? The answer is in the first part of the verse: “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever....”Notice that it was Jesus’ death that made us perfect in God’s sight--“by one sacrifice.” And, it was his act, not ours, that made us perfect in God’s sight--“HE has made perfect forever.” You and I are not considered perfect by God because God is blind to our sins and flaws; we’re perfect before God because Jesus paid for all of them--past, present, and future. His death did everything that was necessary to cause God to treat us as perfect. When a defendant is acquitted of murder, the state treats him as if he is and always was innocent of murder, whether he actually was perfect or not. In our case, we were guilty of many crimes before God but Jesus paid for all them. God in his role as judge, then, treats us according to our legal standing in Christ, not according to our actual record of good and evil. This means that, if you are in Christ, there is nothing you can ever do to cause God to treat you as guilty again. You should not try to impress God with your good works or your righteousness or your growth or your knowledge. You should be thankful that he sees you as perfect. This is a “positional” truth; that is, Christ’s death gave us a perfect position--perfect standing--before God.

The other side of verse 14 is that Christ as perfected “...those who are being made holy.” This is the practical truth of our faith. Positionally, we have perfect standing before God if we’re in Christ. But, practically speaking, we have a long way to go. God, however, is working on us. Notice that the voice of verse 14 is passive; we “are being made holy.” Through his word, his church, trials, the conviction of the Holy Spirit, God is working on us. He is changing us so that who we are practically will eventually match what we are positionally. In Christ we are positionally perfect. Through Christ we are becoming perfect in practice. The reason why we obey God’s word now is not to save ourselves, to make God like us or keep him from disliking us. Our position is secure in Christ; God loves us because we are in Jesus and God loves him. The reason why we obey God’s word is because we want to become holy like God is. Like a child who desires to become like his parents--not to gain their favor but because he truly admires them--we as God’s children have a desire now to become holy like he is.

Let these truths change you! You are secure in Christ so you don’t need to worry about sin knocking you out of favor with God. But God is working in you to change you to think and act like Jesus, too. He wants your position to match your reality, so let him purify you from sin as you grow in your faith each day.

Hebrews 9

According to the schedule, we should read Hebrews 9 today.

This chapter in Hebrews continued the argument that Christ was better than the Old Testament sacrificial system. The author of Hebrews presented a tight argument comparing the sacrificial system under the old covenant (vv. 1-10) and the new covenant Christ has set up and mediated (vv. 11-28). 

The key point of this chapter is that Christ’s death on the cross accomplished the new covenant. The blood of his sacrifice was offered in heaven not on earth (vv. 11-14) and it purified everything, including us (vv. 15-28). This is why the sacrificial system revealed by Moses is no longer necessary. Christ’s redemption was better and brought that old system to an end.

One of the key takeaways from this chapter for us is that Christ’s death accomplished something for us spiritually that the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament law never could. In verse 13 the author of Hebrews mentioned that the blood from those animal sacrifices had to be sprinkled on the people to make them ceremonially clean. That process was described in Numbers 19 and was used on someone who touched a dead body. But in verse 14 (here in Hebrews 9), the author of Hebrews argues that the blood of Christ removes the works of death from our consciences. In other words, it gives us true relief from the guilt of our sins. Yes, it is true that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23) but Hebrews 9:14 says that Christ’s death cleanses our conscience from those works that lead to death (in other words, sin). 

Are you tormented by guilt for the sins you’ve committed in your life? Don’t be! Not because they were not wicked but because, if you are in Christ, they are fully forgiven. Your past has been redeemed in him so now you have the freedom of conscience to live and serve the Lord. 

Hebrews 8

Today, read Hebrews 8.

Christianity is rooted in Judaism. Most of our scriptures are Hebrew documents written for Jewish people living in Israel. Our Lord Jesus was the Messiah who was prophesied in those Hebrew scriptures. His death on the cross was the final, perfect sacrifice foreshadowed by the uncountable number of animals who were offered on the altar of the tabernacle and the temple.

Given all of this, why are we Christians not more Jewish in our practice of Christianity? The answer is here in Hebrews 8. It, too, is rooted in the Hebrew scriptures. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, quoted here in Hebrews 8:8-12, God promised to make “a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah” (v. 8). Verses 9-12 describe this covenant and, among other things, they tell us, “No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” This promise has begun to be fulfilled in Jesus. He mentioned this when he turned the elements of the Passover feast into the Lord’s Supper and said, “this cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Matt 26:28, Lu 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25). The fact that we Gentiles would be part of this new covenant is indicated here in Hebrews 8:11, “No longer will they teach their neighbor... ‘Know the Lord....’” We Gentiles are “their neighbor.”

The reason, then, that we don’t practice Jewish feasts and festivals and keep the Law of Moses is that, according to verse 13, “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” These Old Testament ceremonies, symbols, and laws are unnecessary anyway because, as verse 10 put it, “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.” We have a new nature and the Holy Spirit dwelling within us! There are still blessings promised in the new covenant that await us, but we have God’s power within us to wait for them, to grow in our knowledge and love of him while we wait, and to call others to “know the Lord.”

Hebrews 7

Here we go with today’s reading, Hebrews 7.

We are far removed from the world of animal sacrifices in the temple and the priests who offer them but this letter was written to “Hebrews” not to “North Americans.” Priests and their work was important to Hebrews because their law and their worship revolved around the temple and its sacrifices.

Imagine that someone told you to move whatever you had in terms of money out of dollars and into something new like Bitcoin. I am not recommending that you do that nor am I giving you any financial advice at all. But if someone whose financial acumen you respected told you to move to Bitcoin, I think you still might have a hard time doing that. Dollars are all we’ve ever known, right? So could it really be a good idea to move away from all of that?

That’s sort of what it was like to tell a Jewish person to forget about the Old Testament sacrificial system. The author of Hebrews in this chapter argues to them that there is a priesthood that is older than Aaron’s priesthood in the law of Moses. To return to our analogy, then, the author of Hebrews is not arguing for Bitcoin but for gold. Gold has been used for currency long before money came along and the value of our money used to be based on gold. Spiritually, then, Jesus is less like Bitcoin and more like a return to the gold standard. His priesthood, symbolized by Melchizedek, predated and was superior to Aaron’s priesthood (vv. 1-10), was spoken about during Aaron’s priesthood (v. 15-17, 20-21), and is superior to Aaron’s priesthood because he represented a better covenant than Moses’ covenant (v. 22).

The Hebrews who read this letter were drawn in faith to the promises and person of Jesus but they were uncertain about leaving Judaism behind. Judaism felt like a reliable currency for them; it wasn’t, really, but it was all they knew. The author of Hebrews was concerned that his readers were trying to keep a foot in both worlds; that is, they wanted to be Christian and Jewish at the same time. His warnings, one of which we looked at yesterday, were written to urge them not to turn their backs on Jesus to return to Judaism. Now, here in chapter 7, he urges them to turn their backs on Judaism and go completely with Jesus.

Verses 23-28 brings this discussion of priests to a point where we Gentiles can see the importance of Jesus’ priesthood. Verses 24-25 tell us that Christ is a permanent priest. Since there is no longer any “changing of the guard” now that Christ is our priest, we can be certain that our salvation is eternal because “he always lives to intercede for” us (v. 25b). In addition to being our permanent priest, Jesus’ priesthood is perfect. His perfect moral nature (v. 26) means that he is always qualified morally to be our priest. Because he was the perfect sacrifice, too (v. 27b-28), our sins are atoned for permanently.

Our eternal salvation is secure eternally because our priest is permanent and perfect. Although we have not yet been perfected, we don’t need to worry that our sins will cause us to fall out of God’s favor because Jesus’ perfect sacrificed atoned for all our sins--including those in our future and his perfect priesthood causes him to intercede on our behalf perpetually. If you struggle with assurance of your faith, the priesthood of Christ is just the doctrine for you. God gave us the perfect sacrifice that we could never offer and the perfect person to speak to God on our behalf when we sin.

Hebrews 6

Today let’s read Hebrews 6.

The book of Hebrews contains sections of teaching punctuated by warnings not to turn away from following Jesus. When we read verses 4-8 today, we were reading the scariest and most difficult to interpret warning section in Hebrews. It’s the scariest, in my opinion, because it says “It is impossible for those... who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance” (vv. 4, 6). It is the hardest to interpret because the description of the person who fell away sounds like a genuine convert to Christ. They “have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age” (vv. 4b-5). So it sure seems like someone lost his or her salvation in this passage.

Given these things, there are different ways of interpreting this passage. Some chalk it up to a hypothetical situation--if it were possible to fall away from Christ, such a person could never be saved. Others believe that it does describe someone who lost his or her salvation. I believe the author is describing someone who looks like a genuine Christian in every possible way but never truly came to know Christ. Why do I think that? Verse 9: “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation.” The last phrase, “things that have to do with salvation” is a contrast to verses 4-8. Those things in verses 4-8, then, describe things that are not salvation. They look like it but are not genuine. The warning is about being careful not to fake your faith. If you see all the transforming power of Jesus in operation in the church but you pretend to follow Jesus instead of actually trusting him, then you turn away, you won’t ever come back to Christ and find genuine salvation.

Notice, though, how much ink the author of Hebrews spent reassuring the readers of their security in Christ. That’s what verses 9-20 are all about. The author of Hebrews knew that his warning was scary but he did not write it to shake the faith of true Christians. He reminded them of the evidence of their genuine faith in verse 10, how they had shown love in tangible ways to others. This is evidence of God’s transforming work of faith in their lives and “God is not unjust” so he won’t ignore the real evidence of a person’s conversion on the day of judgment.

The author of Hebrews wrote this chapter to stimulate us to keep following Christ and serving him: “We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (v. 12). But he did not want the believers to think that their salvation was dependent on their good works. Verses 13-18 describe how our salvation is tied not to our good works but to the unshakable promises of God. Just as he swore by himself to Abraham and delivered on that oath (vv. 13-15) so he also has promised to save those of us “who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us” (v. 18). This hope is secure, like an anchor, according to verse 19 because it is tied to Jesus our high priest (v. 19).

In this life you will have ups and downs. You may have moments of strong, deep faith and other moments of questioning. You will have moments of victory over sin and other moments of defeat. Don’t put your confidence in these things. Look at the output of your life for evidence of real faith--yes, but remember that our “hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.” When we stand before God, it is his work on our behalf that will carry us into God’s presence. Given that, we work to glorify God with the time we have on this earth because of the confidence he gives us by grace.

Hebrews 5

These chapters in Hebrews are short--aren’t they--compared to Matthew? So, today’s short chapter to read is Hebrews 5.

The comparison of Jesus to the OT priests started in chapter 4 and continued here in chapter 5. In today’s reading the author of Hebrews was concerned for us, his readers. We might think of Jesus, he reasoned, as someone who was harsh because he was holy. Our conception of Jesus might be that he despises us as moral weaklings because he is so strong, so perfect in his moral vision and action.

The chapter started out, then, with a concession to our thinking. High priests in the Old Testament were chosen from “among the people” (v. 1). They were guys just like us with the same struggles and frustrations and problems. As a result, a priest like that was “able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness” (v. 2). After all, before he can atone for anyone else’s sin with an animal sacrifice, he had to admit to his own sinfulness by offering a sacrifice for himself (v. 3).

Still, not anyone can become a priest; you can’t even volunteer for the job (v. 4), so Jesus was chosen by God to become our high priest just as Aaron and his family were originally chosen for that task (vv. 4-6). So why should we expect Jesus to have any compassion on us since he was not merely one of us and was chosen especially by God for this task? Verses 7-9 answer that question. I wrote provocatively yesterday that “Jesus had it easy” but I’ve felt that way many times as a Christian. If I was “in very nature God” (Phil 2:6), then it would be easy to obey God and always do the right thing. It’s an excuse I’ve made for my own sins and failings in life, but it feels true.

The author of Hebrews, however, wants none of this nonsense. As I mentioned yesterday, Jesus felt the power of temptation more.. uh... powerfully than me because he resisted completely rather than giving in early like I often do. Furthermore, Christ had to face every trick and attack and ally the devil has ever had because there was so much at stake in his earthly life. So Jesus life, while lived in joy, was also more difficult and frustrating than you or I can possibly imagine. Verse 7 describes a man who was tormented emotionally by the thought of the cross--not the pain of suffering but the trauma of death. Death is complete separation from life and the living but Jesus was the author of life, the one who breathed it into Adam’s nostrils. Now the creator and giver of life, the one who came to give it “more abundantly” was going to be cut off from life by death, the penalty of sin. That included physical death but also spiritual death--separation in relationship from God the Father and the Holy Spirit for a time. Jesus prayed fervently--in Gethsemane for sure, but probably elsewhere, too--for some way to avoid all this lifeless separation. The end of verse 7 says that Christ “was heard because of his reverent submission” but God did not grant his request! Think about this the next time God answers your prayer with a “no”--Jesus knows what that feels like! He experienced the pain and disappointment of sincerely, humbly, deeply asking for something that God was not willing to grant. Why? Verse 8: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” Just as you don’t always give your kids what they want because what they want is not what is best in the long term, so God denied Jesus’ request for salvation from death so that he could accomplish salvation, yes (v. 9) but also so that he could completely understand what it means to submit to the difficult will of the Father.

He is the one who prays for us when we ask for help in temptation. He’s the one who aches for us when we are brokenhearted, bereaved, or beaten down by life’s struggles, disappointments, and worries. Really, now, would you rather have another sinner representing you before God as your priest? Or would you rather have someone who bravely faced and defeated the most powerful temptations and the most personal, difficult struggles that humanity could ever know? Be encouraged; whatever you’re facing in life, Jesus is praying for you and representing you before the Father. There’s nobody better or more qualified to do it.

Hebrews 4

Happy Valentine’s Day! Read Hebrews 4.

Jesus had it easy, right? Sure, he had to contend with the limitations of human nature during his days on earth. But since he was God he did not have to worry about being “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (3:13). He knew what a liar Satan is and how sin offers us pleasure that it cannot ultimately deliver, at least not for long. So it was easy for him to live the faithful life that chapter 3 talked about, right? At least, it was easier for him than it is for us, it seems. So the statement here in 4:15 that our high priest “has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” feels a bit hollow, yes?

Well..., think about it this way: imagine you are running a marathon-26.2 miles. Some people drop out after a mile, some after five miles, some quit 10 miles in, and so on. You’ve done some training and are in the best shape of your life, but from mile 10 onward your legs are just screaming to you, “Stop it!” You have the ability to quit at any time. You can drop out of the race anywhere. So who feels punishment of running the most, the person who completes the entire race or the one who drops out after a mile? Who feels the discomfort of high winds the most, the runner who quits at mile 5 or the one who finishes the race? What about the hot sun? Who gets burned the worst, the runner who quits after the finish line or the one who quits at mile 15? Whose foot blisters hurt the most? Who suffers most from the internal arguments that your brain engages in to try to get you to quit? Of course, all of these problems are felt most acutely by the runner who completes the race. Whether he or she is in better shape than you or not, the toll of the race is felt most fully by the one who completes it.

Similarly, when I was in seminary my systematic theology professor said that only the one who withstands temptation completely knows the full force of it. If you give into temptation before the temptation goes away, you haven’t experienced the full intensity of it. So Jesus, the “one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (v. 15b) is able to “empathize with our weaknesses” (v. 15a) fully because he successfully endured every scheme the devil had to throw at him. Sure Jesus had a perfect nature but so did Adam and he quit after the first half mile. Jesus, however, endured every temptation obediently. He finished the race so he felt the difficulty of it more than anyone else who has ever lived.

This is why the author of Hebrews urges us to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (v. 16). You may be tempted to throw your faith away (v. 14c) at some point in your life; in fact, you probably will be tempted to do that. But the best thing you can do when you feel tempted to sin in any way is to go to Jesus in prayer. Many of our failures to live a holy life by resisting temptation are due to relying completely on ourselves and our willpower instead of coming to Christ for the mercy and grace he offers. So, go to him in prayer when your faith is weak and your desire to sin is strong. He’s finished the marathon, he knows what it is like, and he will help you if you ask him for it.

Hebrews 3

Today’s reading is Hebrews 3

Although the grace of God caused us to believe in Christ and keeps us believing in him, the pull of sin never goes away in this lifetime. The sin nature that each of us was born with pulls us toward temptation like a magnet pulls a nail. This chapter in Hebrews taught us that Christ was greater than Moses but just as Moses, the great lawgiver, dealt constantly with sinful rebellion from the people, we--the church--see people who claim to be among us pulled into wickedness and unbelief.

Verses 12-14 urge us to keep an eye our hearts in order to guard against the pull of unbelief. Verse 13, in particular, reminds us that how easy it is to be drawn back into sin. By calling it “sin’s deceitfulness,” the author of Hebrews labels the tendency that we all know too well. That tendency is the tendency to think we can sin without anyone ever knowing or that we can sin without any negative consequences or that we can sin because, in our case, it is justifiable. These lies and others call to us and tempt us to disobey God’s word and to pull away from following Christ.

One of the defenses against sin’s deceitfulness is the community of other believers we call the church. Verse 13 commands us to “encourage one another daily... so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” This is a call to fellowship that is much deeper than chatting over donuts and coffee on Sunday morning. It is a call to fellowship that urges us to get involved in each other’s lives, not so that we can pick each other apart and question each other’s salvation, but so that we can redirect each other’s attention back to Christ and away from the lies that sin is constantly telling us. Verse 14 tells us that continuing to cling to Christ to the end is really the only way to know that we belong to him: “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” We don’t hold to this conviction in order to share in Christ; rather, holding our conviction is the evidence that we did come to share in Christ on the day of our salvation.

Think about your friends in our church. Is there anyone who seems to be wavering in faith? Anyone who seems like they are dropping out? Anyone who’s commitment to the Word of Christ seems to have cooled? Maybe the Lord is bringing that person to your mind today so that you can encourage him or her to hold on to Jesus and not trade him in for the false promises of disobedience and unbelief.

Hebrews 2

Today, read Hebrews 2.

Yesterday’s reading in chapter 1 emphasized to us that Christ is superior to angels. Like, really superior--he’s the Son, they are just servant-messengers.

That does not mean, however, that angels are unimportant. Far from it; the end of chapter 1 said they are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (1:14). Today’s reading in chapter 2 picked up on that truth and told us to be careful not to drift away from Christ. Verse 2 of chapter 2 told us why we should be careful not to drift away: Angels may not be as great as Jesus, but look at the kind of judgment people faced when they ignored the message angels brought. [Think here of Sodom and Gomorrah.] So verse 3 told us, if God punished people who disobeyed the message of angels, what will he do to those who ignored the salvation that Jesus taught us about? Right; he’ll punish us with even greater severity.

Verses 3b-4 told us that the message Jesus taught was also validated by “those who heard him” (aka, the Apostles) and “signs, wonders, and various miracles and gift of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, the gospel is not a made-up idea and the threat of punishment for ignoring the gospel is not empty. Instead, God provided plenty of proof that Jesus’ message was valid; that proof consisted of the eyewitnesses of his life and teaching and the miracles Jesus did to authenticate his message.

Beyond the threat of punishment, though, there is great blessing for those who do believe the gospel and follow Jesus Christ. Verses 5-8 tells us that God is going to make rulers in the world to come out of those who believe the gospel in this world. Although it hasn’t happened yet, Jesus provides the evidence that God will bless us. This evidence is described in verse 9; Jesus was humiliated to death on our behalf, but now has been raised to glory and honor.

Speaking of Christ’s humiliation, the author of Hebrews wants us to know that everything Jesus suffered was to bring us into God’s family. And, despite our sins and rebellion against God, “Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters” (v. 11). His willingness to call us his brothers and sisters stems not from anything we did to become worthy; it comes from his atonement for us on the cross (v. 9, 14, 17-18).

So don’t turn away from Jesus. Even if the cost becomes high and we experience persecution for Christ, don’t turn away from him. Turning away from him means eternal punishment but trusting him means enjoying the acceptance and fellowship of being Christ’s family as well as the promise that we will reign with him in his kingdom. It is true that following Christ can be painful and costly in this life but that cost is so temporary and so cheap compared to what Christ did to redeem us and compared to all that he offers us in him.

So don’t be discouraged today if your faith costs you something in this life. Instead, let that cost strengthen your faith in Jesus because of the promises he’s made to us.

Hebrews 1

We’ve finished reading Matthew’s Gospel; the schedule today calls for us to read Hebrews 1.

God created us with a desire to worship him. When we rebelled against him, that desire to worship him remained but has now been bent by the sinful nature within each of us. A worshipper who is morally bent will look for something else to worship besides God and that means worshipping what God created instead of the Creator himself. This “worship” does not always take the form of bowing down in prayer and praise to something other than God. It can take the form of fascination with something or someone other than God.

The book of Hebrews was written to teach Jewish people that Jesus is better than whatever else fascinates them. Christ as God’s messenger is the focus (vv. 1-2) and the author of Hebrews argued that Christ was superior to other messengers from God, namely angels.

The author of Hebrews does not disrespect angels or deny their importance (or existence!). Instead, the author described the greatness of Christ (vv. 2b-3) and then set out to demonstrate the many ways in which Christ is superior to them (vv. 4-14). First, his name is superior to their name (vv. 4-5). Second, the exaltation he receives as God (vv. 6-13) shows him to be greater than the role of servant that angels have for believers (v. 14). Angels are important agents in God’s creation, but they are merely created beings not the Creator himself, which Jesus is.

I don’t recall ever meeting someone who worshipped angels, but there are people who have more of an interest in the supernatural and the afterlife than they do in God. They want to see “those pearly gates” or figure out who the Beast in Revelation is, or decode some hidden message they believe is in the Bible. Some people are fascinated by believers from the past or images of the virgin Mary on a tortilla or some other aspect of theology or spirituality or paranormal activity. All of these are ways in which people miss the greatness of Jesus because of their fascination. While they may not intend to steal glory from Christ, they dishonor him by focusing on something besides him that is subservient to him.

Has that happened for you? Is there any aspect of spiritual life that fascinates you more than the Lord Jesus? If so, allow this passage refocus your mind on the glories of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Numbers 9, Psalm 45, Song of Songs 7, Hebrews 7

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 9, Psalm 45, Song of Songs 7, Hebrews 7. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Hebrews 7.

Unless you have a Roman Catholic background, priests have probably not occupied much of your attention during your life. But if you were Jewish, especially during the time when the New Testament was written, priests were very important to your religious practice. If you loved God, loved the temple, or thought the life of priests was something to be envied, you were out of luck if you weren’t from the tribe of Levi. The only people who could serve the Lord as priests were those who were born into priestly families, that is families from the Levite tribe. The author of Hebrews, however, wanted to point out that there were different kind of priesthoods. Yes, there was the priesthood of Aaron and his descendants, but before Aaron came along there were other men who served as priests. One of them, Melchizedek, is brought up in this passage and is compared to Christ throughout this chapter. By the end of the chapter, however, Melchizedek is forgotten and Christ is exalted as the greatest priest of all. First, unlike any other priest, Jesus lives forever so his priesthood is likewise permanent (v. 24). In other words, Christ’s priesthood is superior because it transcends death.The result of his permanent priesthood is his ability to save us completely. Although we sin with astonishing regularity, we do not need to worry that someday we’ll sin but there will be no one to secure God’s forgiveness for us because he is dead. Instead, we can be confident that when we come to God through Christ, our salvation is eternally secure because Christ “always lives to intercede” for us (v. 25). Christ is a superior priest because his priesthood will never suffer a gap caused by death.

Second, Christ’s priesthood transcends disqualification. Because of who Jesus was—God in the flesh—he will never be disqualified from saving us because of his own sin. This makes his priesthood superior to anyone else’s because every other priest had to atone for his own sin before he could ask God to do anything about our sin (vv. 26-27a). 

Third, Christ’s priesthood transcends disappearance. Other priests had to keep offering sacrifices because they didn’t really atone for anything. The forgiveness they secured was on credit, waiting by faith for Christ to really pay for them. In order to teach his people that animal sacrifices were not a permanent solution, God ordered that the sacrifices be offered daily. In other words, their power to forgive disappeared almost immediately. Christ’s sacrifice, since he was offering himself instead of an animal, did not disappear for according to verse 27b: “He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” 

You may not think of priests very often, but you need a faithful one who is pleading with God, based on his perfect sacrifice, for your sins constantly. And Christ met our need (v. 26a) in every way because, unlike any other priest, Christ cannot die, will not disqualify himself by sinning, and won’t see the value of his sacrifice disappear. Yesterday’s devotional referenced the doctrine eternal security but today’s explains why we are secure. Not only is Christ’s sacrifice perfect and potent enough to save us forever, he advocates for us forever as our perfect priest.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Numbers 4, Psalm 38, Song of Solomon 2, Hebrews 2

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 4, Psalm 38, Song of Solomon 2, Hebrews 2. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Hebrews 2.

The book of Hebrews is an impassioned attempt by an unknown author to persuade his fellow Jews who have professed faith in Jesus not to abandon their profession of faith and return to Judaism. The book argues that Christ is superior to anything else that can be offered to them religiously speaking. Here in Hebrews 2:1 we see one of the many pleas to tend to their faith: “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” Most of chapter 1 argued that Christ is superior to angels. Chapter 2:2 picks up on that theme and reminds the readers that when angels spoke to people, what they said was God’s word. It was, therefore, required that the people who heard the word of God through angels believe and obey that word. How much more important, then, argues the author of Hebrews, that we not drift away from the word of Christ since through him we have salvation (v. 3) and his message was authenticated by miracles (v. 4). Verse 5 begins to turn the thought to a much more personal connection between us and Christ. He quotes Psalm 8 and refers to how God has “put everything under” the feet of humanity, but that this claim has not been realized yet. However, Christ has been crowned with glory and honor (v. 9) and his death on behalf of humanity makes him “the pioneer” of humanity’s salvation (v. 10). And what was the purpose of this? Verse 11: “Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” Of the many reasons why Christ became human and died, one of the main reasons was personal—he wanted to join the human family so that, though his redemption, we could join his family, the family of God.

What an incredible thought of the grace of God. God would have been enormously gracious to simply send Christ to atone for our sins, then annihilate us instead of sending us to hell. But instead of merely rescuing us from eternal torment—as merciful as that was—Christ wanted to make us his brothers and sisters! This is an encouraging truth to help us when our minds question God and our faith is weak. Jesus came into the world, taught us the meaning of salvation, performed miracles to attest to the validity of his claims, then became the pioneer of the redeemed human family, subjugating all creation to himself, then calling us his family so that we can reign with him by grace. This is one of many things that should keep our faith going when the going gets tough. Whatever you’re facing today, know that Christ has won the ultimate victory and we will participate in it by his grace when God’s decreed time comes.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.