26. Jesus is there for us

Meditations in Hebrews 4:    26.  Jesus is there for us

Heb 4:14   Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, (or gone into heaven) Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.

Jesus, the high priest: And so we come to the third reference to Jesus as our high priest. The first was, he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God.” (2:17) and the second was even more brief, “Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” (3:10) The first pointed out his means of identifying with us taking human form and the second simply noted that in this role Jesus is the core of our confession.

Now again the writer returns to this idea as a means of both challenging and reassuring us. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” (v.14) Note he isn’t expounding on the actual role or activity of the high priest – that will come later – but simply on his humanity and divinity.

The Heavenly High Priest: This high priest, the writer says, has “gone through the heavens” or, as the alternative shows, “gone into heaven”. I quite like the “through the heavens” for it reminds us of the human body that ascended up into the clouds (the heavens) and disappeared as he returned to heaven (Acts 1:9).  The ascension is very much a picture where the human is transformed before the very eyes of the disciples, into a miraculous – flying – Son of God returning home. “Gone into heaven” simply reminds us of the end product but thus puts the emphasis on where he now is – as against where he was previously, with us – with full access to the Father and (implied) able to speak up on our behalf: “we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1)

Encouragement/Exhortation: It is because of this assurance that the writer exhorts us, “Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”  i.e. Jesus is doing his part on our behalf, speaking up for us to the Father and sending his Holy Spirit to help us, very well, let us make sure we play our part in this as well.  That is what he is doing here. It is yet another of these warnings or exhortations to play our part in holding on to our faith and the reason or encouragement we are given to do that is that Jesus is rooting for us in heaven and is there with all the resources we need.

The Humanity of Jesus: To help us grasp the wonder of this he reminds us yet again that it is the human Jesus who is now in heaven at his Father’s right hand speaking up for us: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.” (v.15) This high priest, this representative of ours, isn’t cold-hearted and uncomprehending about what we are like, he is not like some stern headmaster who has no feelings, he is not like some callous judge who cares not what happens to us, one way or another.

Oh no, Jesus has been here, lived the life, knows what it is like, knows what it is like to get tired and weary, knows what it is like to be hungry or thirsty, no doubt knows what it is like to go without sleep, knows what it is like to have people against you. Oh yes, in all these ways Jesus has been here and lived the life. Indeed, just like us, he has been through temptations, so he knows what it is like to have the enemy come against you with suggestion after suggestion of how to live another sort of life. Oh yes, he knows the pressure of temptations, the pressure to give way – but he didn’t give way, he didn’t sin. That is the one big different between him and us, but the truth nevertheless remains, he knows and understands all that we have gone through and are going through.

Again, see how this is an encouragement to conform to the exhortation to hold firmly to our faith. We can do this because, as I said earlier, Jesus is rooting for us, a Jesus who knows what it is like to live down here on this Fallen World, and he knows the sort of weaknesses we suffer and he sympathizes and understands and is for us!

The Throne of Grace: So, with all that he gives us a further gentle exhortation: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (v.16) That’s where Jesus is, on a “throne of grace”. His throne, his rule, is a rule of grace which, in this context means warm, loving acceptance and provision. He is there for us with everything we need.

First of all this “throne of grace” is a source of his mercy which simply means loving acceptance based, not on what we deserve or have earned but, simply on his good will towards us. Mercy involves loving understanding and forgiveness and a desire to bless us and restore us. That all flows out of God’s love for us.

But this “throne of grace” is also a place where there is an endless supply of his grace “to help us in our time of need”, i.e. it is his unlimited resources to provide absolutely everything we need in life to help us cope in this Fallen World. This “time of need” encompasses all those times when you and I find ourselves stretched, times when it all seems to be going wrong, times when people appear against us, times when we seem to have got it wrong. These are not times when God stands there laughing or deriding us for our weakness or condemning us for our folly; these are  times when Jesus feels with us (sympathizes and empathizes) and is there for us, not to push us down but to lift us up, not to condemn us but to encourage us. This IS the truth, this is why you and I can, with the readers of this letter, “hold firmly to the faith we profess”, because he is there to help us. All we have to do is “approach the throne of grace with confidence.”   Do it.

Advertisements

25. God has spoken and sees

Meditations in Hebrews 4:    25.  God has spoken and sees

Heb 4:12,13   For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

The two verses before us now give us even greater pause for thought. They are ones often quoted in respect of the Bible or God’s word, and because of that may appear familiar, but the question arises, why are they here, how is this part of the ongoing flow of the writer’s teaching and argument?

The starting word, ‘For’ is another of those link-words we so often come across that show us that in the writer’s thinking this is a logical ongoing flow of thought. The use of the word, ‘word’ has not been seen except very briefly in the opening prologue in chapter 1 but as we have noted as we have gone along, this writer’s teaching has been full of references from the Old Testament, mostly from prophetic psalms.

Now we tend to think of ‘the word of God’ as written words in the bigger text which evangelicals believe is actually all the word of God, but in the writing of Hebrews there has been this constant use of Old Testament quotations which, we emphasise, are prophetic in nature and the writer uses them in that sense; they were spoken by God specifically referring to His Son who would one day appear on the earth. But here is the thing, the writer considers ‘the word of God’ to be vibrant and alive, active and having effect and they come directly from God and cannot be seen separately from God, they are God expressing Himself.

In the beginning at Creation we see, God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Gen 1:3) It is God speaking by fiat, He speaks it and immediately it is done. His authorization also creates. There is no distinction between Him, His authorization (His word), and His act of creating. And so it is, that the writer has been placing all these ‘words’ before us, spoken by God prophetically through His servants in the Old Testament.

The apostle Peter clearly caught something of this process when he wrote, “the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.” (1 Pet 1:10-12) but that tends to show more the yearning that the prophets found within themselves that brought forth the divine utterances of what would come. In his second letter he wrote, “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Pet 1:21) This was God urging His people to speak out His word, and when it is spoken as from Him, it comes with power and effect.

So, to emphasise it yet again, this book so far has been peppered with prophetic quotes from the Old Testament and the writer is pointing that out, somewhat indirectly, as he speaks of the general effect and power of God’s words, and the implication must surely be that if this is so – and it is – then we should surely pay all the more attention to it. This is not just a nice little theological treatise that he is writing, but a call to faithfulness because of what has been revealed by God.

Look what it does: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (v.12) Let’s do it the easy way and see how the paraphrase version put these all too familiar words:  For the Word that God speaks is alive and active; it cuts more keenly than any two-edged sword: it strikes through to the place where soul and spirit meet, to the innermost intimacies of a man’s being: it exposes the very thoughts and motives of a man’s heart.” (JBP version) and “God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defence, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what.” (The Message version) Wow! God’s words penetrate to the innermost being, cutting through our defences like a surgeon’s scalpel or we might say today, like a hot knife through butter.

Yes, this is the point, we may put up all these defensive barriers, making excuses galore, reasons why the truth should not apply to us and God speaks and it goes like an arrow and pierces deep in our hearts and we are changed. Indeed, says the writer, Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (v.13) i.e. not only does God’s word penetrate to the depths, but it can do that because God can see to the depths, He knows exactly what we are like on the inside.

Perhaps the greatest illustration of this truth is seen on the story of Samuel being sent to Bethlehem to anoint a new king who God will reveal, from Jesse’s family. When Samuel started assessing by size and age the Lord told him, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)  God looks on the inside and He sees and knows what we are like and He sees and knows the excuses we make and so speaks a word that penetrates and pierces the excuse and we fall in submission.

That is the power of the word of God, but sometime God speaks it and still we fend it off and sometimes we shrug it off by lack of concern (and what is terrifying is that the Lord allows us to do this!) and so it is almost as if the writer is saying, “Look, I’ve been presenting you again and again with the word of God and those words should be impacting you and releasing faith in you, but if you are just reading them casually, God will not force you, it’s up to you!”  Hence such words as we saw in verse 11 – “make every effort.”  i.e. YOU do it. Or there was “let us be careful,” in 4:1 or “See to it,” in 3:12 and “fix your thoughts,” in 3:1 and “pay more careful attention,” in 2:1. All of these were calls to heed the word of God that had been coming and DO something about it. May we do it!

24. The ‘Rest’ God has for us (2)

Meditations in Hebrews 4:   24.  The ‘Rest’ God has for us (2)

Heb 4:8,9   For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God

Let’s start by recapping the conclusions we saw in this complicated passage:

  • God rested at the end of His work of Creation.
  • That ‘rest’ meant His goal of completing Creation was fulfilled.
  • It also meant He had no more to do in respect of it – hence He ‘rested’
  • When He lead Israel out of Egypt He referred to the Promised Land as their ‘rest’.
  • Once they had taken that Land, they would be at ‘rest’ as far as God’s plans were concerned. However that had to involve faith – which they lacked and why the original generation failed to enter it.
  • Both those two pictures – of God resting after Creation and Israel entering the Promised Land – were pictures or analogies of what God intends for each of us.
  • The call and the warning may come many times through history and apply to each and every person who hears the call and, we believe, all do although many do not realise what it is.
  • When we respond to His call to return to Him, His desire is for us to come to a place of rest, a place to be received by faith.

If you have found this a difficult passage to take in, don’t be to surprised for we have been ‘suffering’ rabbinical teaching which was often a complex, disciplined, logical in-depth attempt to discover all the various senses implicit in the biblical verses, which often took it beyond our simple surface understanding. Remember this Hebrew writer was writing to other Jews who would be familiar with this process. What, perhaps, we struggle with, is the logical depth that the writer goes to as he takes and almost manipulates Old Testament verses.

So, for example, having been speaking about the different ways of thinking about this ‘rest’ (God’s at Creation, Israel’s in the Promised Land, us through gospel salvation) he now goes back to the Promised Land illustration: For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.” (v.8,9) To follow this logic we must see that the writer is saying that even though the next generation of Israelites DID enter the Promised Land, nevertheless the warning was coming at a later date when David wrote his psalm and we’ve already seen the writer home in on the word  ‘Today’.

The original warning said, Today, if you hear his voice,  do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert.” (3:7,8) and that was repeated in 3:15 and then picked up in chapter 4 just before our current verse: “Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” (4:7) i.e. the same warning needed to be applied in David’s time. But if the warning comes, it must infer that there is a ‘rest’ to be taken and a ‘rest’ that could be missed, otherwise what is the point of a warning. This is where his logic now goes in verses 8 & 9 where he points out that there must be another ‘rest’ after Joshua. There STILL IS a rest to be received is the point he is making at laborious length!

He then seeks to emphasise something of the nature of that rest, which we already commented upon earlier: “for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” (v.10) Just as God rested from His activities of creating the world, so now entering His rest means we stop struggling and striving to get back to a place before the Fall. This ‘rest’ means we no longer have to try to be religious, try to be spiritual, or try to get right with God, because the truth is that Jesus has achieved all that us in his work on the Cross. To receive it is a matter of faith which excludes any boasting of personal achievement (see Rom 3:27) Jesus justified us, we couldn’t do it. We just have to be at rest and receive what he provides for us. This is why Paul also wrote, “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord”. (1 Cor 1:30,31) The whole salvation package is a gift of Christ and so when we receive it, we enter into the experience of ‘rest’, no longer trying but just receiving and enjoying. That is the wonder of the ‘rest’.

It is because he has seen the reality of this that our writer makes this warning and this appeal to his Jewish readers (and to us): “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” (v.11) Yes, there is effort required but it is to enter the rest, not once you are in it.

But how do you make an effort to receive salvation?  May we use the illustration of the Israelites? In study no.22 I wrote, “They had witnessed ten incredible plagues, they had witnessed God drowning Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, they had witnessed God cleansing water in the desert, providing fresh water in the desert, providing a constant supply of food in the desert, and known God help them overcome an attack of the Amalekites in the desert. Then they had come to Mount Sinai and had a series of the most incredible experiences of God there. On their traveling to the Promised Land they had again known God’s provision, as well as His chastising. Again and again and again and again they had experienced the powerful presence of God, there for them, guarding them, guiding them and providing for them.” In other words, they had so much evidence, so much testimony about their experiences with God that really they had no excuses for their subsequent unbelief.

Now what about us, living today? In that same study, I wrote, “We have the Bible, we have the testimony of the Church over two thousand years, and we have the Holy Spirit and we have one another.”  The Bible which, if you investigate and learn about its origins, CAN be trusted, is the source for 98% of what we can learn about God and there are probably copies of it in most homes. We have no excuse if we ignore it. Within it we are confronted with the incredible records of Jesus Christ, THE most substantial and profound testimonies to build faith. IF we want to find out, Church history is worth researching and will build faith. Listen to the testimonies (indeed get people to talk out their testimonies) and faith will grow. All of these things build faith to receive the salvation that is being spoken about here. There are no excuses. This is why the teaching of this Hebrew writer is so important, so significant, so challenging.

Addendum: More on this ‘rest’.

To perhaps try and get hold more fully of this idea of this ‘rest’ God wants us to have, may we identify again some of its characteristics:

  1. God ‘rested’ because He had completed creating the world.
  2. Now Jesus has also completed all that is needed for the work of salvation.
  3. When we become a Christian we join with Jesus (“in Christ”) and share in the completeness of his work on the Cross.
  4. Therefore when we receive the gift of our salvation it is exactly that, a gift, not something we earned or deserved; we can add nothing to it, only receive it and enjoy it.
  5. Our lives, therefore, are to be in a state of rest, free from striving to achieve, free to enjoy God’s presence, reconciled to the Father by the past work of Jesus.
  6. We can do nothing but enjoy it and receive the fruits of it.

23. The ‘Rest’ God has for us

Meditations in Hebrews 4:    23.  The ‘Rest’ God has for us

Heb 4:1   Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.

In chapters 3 and 4 the word ‘rest’ comes up ten times, twice in chapter 3 and 8 times in chapter 4. We need to understand what it means. However, the explanation is spread out over the next eleven verses so we are going to have to do a large passage study, which unravels as the writer goes on. But be warned, this is, in our opinion, one of the most complex arguments in this book and it will take some thinking through. We will, however, do all we can to work through it to explain it clearly and then at the end, produce a summary of our findings.  Now as we come to these verses, I know I usually use the NIV but in this instance that version is, I believe, confusing and commentators and interpreters have struggled with it, so I am going to use the ESV which I think is more straight forward.

The ‘Therefore’ links us with the previous chapter that he ended with this reminder of what had gone on after the Exodus from Egypt. The ‘rest’ referred to in 3:11 and 3:18 was clearly the Promised Land which, through lack of faith, that earlier generation failed to take.

So now our writer starts with a warning which he assumes at the outset we will understand: “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.”  (v.1) Now I warned just now that this is a difficult argument to follow so let’s put out front what the writer is going to prove from the Old Testament Scriptures, that “entering his rest” has its origins at the end of the days of Creation, but was a term used to apply to Israel entering the Promised Land, BUT ALSO at any other subsequent time when God challenges and calls us.

Let’s just assume to start with that this ‘rest’ is in general terms ‘God’s goal for each one of us’. When ‘rest’ is used as ‘the goal of our salvation’, he tells us that the promise is still there, that it IS possible to enter a similar state that God entered when He finished Creation, so, says our writer, don’t miss the goal.

In case we haven’t understood the jump between the OT and NT goals, he links that Goal with the Gospel:  “For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” (v.2) The ‘us’ is us who are now Christians and the ‘they’ refers to the Israelites under Moses. The implication is that they were told there was a land that God had for them, but it needed taking by faith. The only trouble was that they didn’t have that faith. There is a subtle indirect warning behind this, for us not to be casual about the Gospel. Be careful that you haven’t fully received it, is what he is saying.

Now in verse 3 he first reassures us because we have believed, and reminds us (by way of warning) what happened to those in the OT who didn’t believe: “For we who have believed enter that rest, (so we’re OK, in contrast with them) as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath,  ‘They shall not enter my rest’”, (even though that ‘rest’ existed from after the Creation) although his works were finished from the foundation of the world.” i.e. God’s rest – His own goal achieved, Creation and rest – existed thereafter and He is telling us that we too can enter into that experience of rest if we come to Him by faith.

The words, “my rest” he referred to in the quote back in 3:11 and now here in 4:3 suggest that it is as if the Promised Land isn’t the only thing God means when he speaks about us not entering HIS rest. When he writes, “And yet,” it’s as if the writer means, “But don’t forget the Creation story where God finished His work and then rested,”  and so he goes on to speak of that, “For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.”  (citing Gen 2:2)  That was God’s rest, the completion of Creation. God had done His part. When he now refers back to that warning of Psa 95: “And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” (v.5) it was simply to remind us that although God has a rest (a position of having achieved His goal of Creation and thus now being able to relax, so to speak) that particular group of unbelieving people did not enter into it. That’s what the prophetic warning was in that Psalm.

The ESV arrangement  of verses 6 and 7 show us a “this-then argument” i.e. IF one group of people failed to enter THEN God sets up a new way of thinking about it: “Since therefore (IF) it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, (THEN) again he appoints a certain day, “Today”, saying through David so long afterwards, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

The Message Version explains it well: “God keeps renewing the promise and setting the date as today, just as he did in David’s psalm, centuries later than the original invitation: Today, please listen,  don’t turn a deaf ear . . .”  or as the Easy to Read Version puts it, “So God planned another special day. It is called “today.” He spoke about that day through David a long time later using the words we quoted before: “If you hear God’s voice today, don’t be stubborn.” i.e. merely because that one group of people failed to enter into the ‘rest’ God had for them, that was not the end of the story. God applies the word again and again in history so it can apply numerous times, just as he did in that Psalm of David’s.

Do you see what the writer is saying? It seems complicated but is, in reality, very simple. The warning came first of all to those Israelites to enter the ‘rest’ God had planned for them, the Promised Land, but when they failed to do that, it didn’t annul the fact that after the Creation God rested and used that ‘rest’ as an illustration of what everyone who came to Him by faith could experience – rest, in a completed world, with all of God’s provision! The goal of God’s plans from before the beginning of time, is a ‘rest’ that means being at peace with God and at rest in His will, with all that He now has available for us.

There is more to come but we’ll leave it until the next one. There has been a lot to take in and you may need to reread the whole of the study to catch it. (We will do a recap in the next study) The outworking of all this?  God has an experience that He wants for all of His children, all those who will come to Him by faith, an experience whereby we can be at complete rest in the knowledge that we have received the end goal of God’s plans – His salvation through Jesus Christ that reconciles us to Him, so no more striving, no more worry, no more wondering, ‘Am I good enough for God?’  As Jesus said on the Cross, “It is finished!”  Hallelujah!

22. The Realities of Unbelief

Meditations in Hebrews 3: 22.  The Realities of Unbelief

Heb 3:19   So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief

It is a legitimate question to ask, why is this writer to the Hebrews bringing these warnings to his readers?  He started it, we said, back in 2:1 – We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away,” and then he hinted at the same thing in 3:6 – “we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast,” and then he came with that big quote from Psa 95, concluding with “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” (3:12) Then there was that final nudge, we saw, “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” (3:14) So, four times there have been indirect and direct warnings to hold onto our faith. Why?

There is, I suggest, a very simple reason: it is so easy to drift away IF our hearts are not firmly committed to Christ. Having said that there will always be three forces or resources that God will use to stop this happening, three POSITIVE forces at work – His own Holy Spirit, who speaks and seeks to convict us when we get it wrong or get into wrong thinking, His own word, the Bible, which He uses to challenge and teach us (see 2 Tim 3:16,17) and indeed the church and its ministries, and other believers.  So, in one sense it is not so easy because God will always be seeking to use all these things to draw you back to himself.

However, we also need to be aware that although there are these three positive forces that God seeks to use to keep us on the right tracks, there are also three NEGATIVE ‘forces’ at work that will seek to draw us away from God. First, the Bible shows us, there is Satan who seeks to tempt us into wrong, distract us from our path and lead us away from God. Second, there is what the New Testament simply refers to as ‘the world’, not the physical planet on which we live, nor all the people who live on it, but the ungodly outlook that sin brings about. We live with this all around us and so we are constantly bombarded by expressions of unbelief through, say, the media. Third, there is our own Sin. Now when we came to Christ we died to that and were revived by the power of the Spirit, to help us live new lives, but the truth is that Sin, which I define as self-centred ungodliness, is always lurking there in the background, which was why the apostle Paul taught, “(You) put to death therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature,” (Col 3:5) and “(You), do not let sin reign in your mortal body.” (Rom 6:11) Now I have inserted the word ‘You’ in both those quotes because Paul is asking us to make an act of will and we need to make the effort to do that.

But that is when we confront this thing called free will because we have the choice, always, how we will act. We can choose not to act badly. So it is that the writer to the Hebrews keeps on pressing this point by referring back to the experience of Israel. Israel’s history is tragically littered with unbelief seen in disobedience. So he now says again, “As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” (v.15) Note the expression, ‘the rebellion’. What rebellion, because there were many in different forms throughout the Old Testament? Researching this some time back, I concluded that the whole of the Old Testament history is there to make us realise the reality of Sin and our need for the salvation which comes in the New Testament.

He wants his Jewish readers to think about the time between leaving Egypt and entering the Promised Land, a time that should have been a matter of a few months but turned out to be forty years! Stop and think about this, he implies, think about what went on back there as recorded in the Pentateuch (Gen to Deut). He asks a series of questions, starting with, “Who were they who heard and rebelled?” (v.16a) We may take this for granted when we read the Bible but there is something incredible here. So who were the rebels? Answer: “Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt?” (v.16b)

Now stop and think about those people. They had witnessed ten incredible plagues, they had witnessed God drowning Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, they had witnessed God cleansing water in the desert, providing fresh water in the desert, providing a constant supply of food in the desert, and had known God help them overcome an attack of the Amalekites in the desert. Then they had come to Mount Sinai and had a series of the most incredible experiences of God there. On their traveling to the Promised Land they had again known God’s provision, as well as His chastising. Again and again and again and again they had experienced the powerful presence of God, there for them, guarding them, guiding them and providing for them AND YET they rebel and refuse to follow God into the Land (and it was ‘follow’ because He had said He would drive out the inhabitants before them) but STILL they were rebellious and refused to enter.

So the writer presses home the point: “And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” (v.17-19) This is the harsh reality. Israel sinned in disobedience born out of unbelief DESPITE their incredible experience of the Lord and as a result the Lord refused to let them try to then force their way into the Land and so that entire generation died of old age, but still in the desert – all because of their unbelief.

Now this is the scary reality: you and I can choose to be foolish, choose not to believe, choose to be disobedient and choose to be recipients of God’s discipline. We too have no excuses. We have the Bible, we have the testimony of the Church over two thousand years, and we have the Holy Spirit, and we have one another. I do not have a problem with people who have a problem with poor church life epitomized by the church in Laodicea (See Rev 3) but if any of us struggle with unbelief and make excuses for just drifting away, I have to say, please, please, look at these things, listen to these things, heed these things. It is down to you. Our unbelief is not God’s fault; it is our choice. Remember God has three resources or forces working to help you stay on track (I may be part of one of them), so listen to His Holy Spirit, read His word with an open heart, listen to your brothers and sisters, because this writer to the Hebrews knows his people, and the Jews are no different from the rest of us; we all have this tendency to drift away and so we must be aware of it and resist it. Amen? Amen!

21. Bombshell Warning No.2

Meditations in Hebrews 3:   21. Bombshell Warning No.2

Heb 3:7,8   So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice,  do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert,

There had been this gentle call to “fix your thoughts on Jesus” (v.1) and then a reminder that we are part of the ‘house’ that Jesus has built. Yes, there had been that element about Moses, but it almost seemed an aside that perhaps left you wondering why he was going in that direction. Now he drops what I always tend to feel is a bombshell of a warning, a mighty reminder and declaration of what had happened to Israel after the Exodus with Moses and it happened because of their failure to be obedient.

So, let’s observe first of all what the warning is against, in these verses that follow. First, it is “do not harden your hearts” (v.8) and then expanding on that, See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God,” (v.12) and then, “hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” (v.14) Back at the beginning of chapter 2 he had come with a first warning which was really the same thing but in much milder tones: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” (2:1)

But note that to bring real force to this warning, he brings it in an historical context when he speaks of ”during your time in the desert,” (v.8c) referring back to the Exodus. Moreover, he spells out Israel’s failure back then when he uses such language as “in the rebellion,” (v.8b) and “when your fathers tested me.” (v.9a) He also reminded them of God’s response to His people’s rebellion: “I was angry with that generation, and I said, `Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.” (v.10) and the divine judgment that followed it: “So I declared on oath in my anger, `They shall never enter my rest.” (v.11) Thus verses 8 to 11 are a direct quote of Psalm 95:7-11. Let’s let the power of it come again as we read it in full:

“So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, `Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, `They shall never enter my rest.’”

All the Israelites over the age of twenty died in the wilderness and never entered the Promised Land (the Lord’s ‘rest’, His place for their future home). It was a catastrophe of history which overshadows the wonder of the Exodus itself. If they had obeyed the Lord and just gone in, as they eventually did forty years later, this blot would not have been there on their history. In one sense, it was not as bad as if God had wiped out the entire people over the age of twenty, but He had known that if that had happened then the remaining generation below 20 would not have been strong enough in wisdom or human strength to take the land. No, that generation had to grow up in the desert while their older families just died from old age until eventually the new nation would have had a full age spectrum again from 0 to 60.

So the warning comes through the historical reminder, with the conclusion: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” But he adds a second part: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (v.13) i.e. we can help overcome any tendency to drift away by encouraging one another, to remember and to hold fast to the faith. We will eventually see similar language in chapter 10 where he continues to bring warnings to encourage: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (10:23-25) Note in both passages a warning that the future will not always be the same: “as long as it is called Today” (3:13 which he will expand on in 4:7) and “as you see the Day approaching.”  (10:25 warning of Jesus’ return.)

And then he adds a subtle nudge as he had before: “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” (v.14) which is similar to what we saw earlier, “And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” (v.6b) In both of those verses observe the word, ‘if’ which suggests our salvation is conditional on holding firm. He is going to give another serious warning in chapter 6. Now there are those who suggest “once saved, always saved.” Whether these two verses here apply to our entire salvation or just the outworking of it, I leave up to you. However, note the strength of what they are both implying. If we fail to hold on to the confidence of the Gospel we had at first, we will NOT share in Christ. If we do not hold on to our courage and hope, we can NOT be considered part of Jesus’ house.

Now, as I say, whether you take that to mean we lose our entire salvation or we lose the experience of it on earth, I leave up to you, but even if you subscribe to the latter approach it is a cold, morbid, lifeless experience you can expect for the rest of your life, in no way entering into, and enjoying, the privileges of the heavenly resources (grace) and the goodness of God. Indeed, one might go further, if we move away from these things and no longer hold on to what you had at first, it is probable you will lose it all because you go back to the ways of the world and they produce the anger of God and are self-destructive.

It is a severe warning that we have been looking at and the options are clearly a) entering into God’s goodness (His rest, the Promised Land) or b) wandering lifelessly in the desert. No wonder the warning come – don’t drift away, don’t let your hearts become hard and unbelieving, but hold firm and encourage one another to hold firm. May we do that.

20. Two Sent Ones

Meditations in Hebrews 3: 20.  Two Sent Ones

Heb 3:1,2  Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house.

The idea of Jesus being our high priest has already arisen in the previous chapter. Now the writer adds another concept or role that Jesus fulfilled, but it comes within a very simple exhortation: “fix your thoughts on Jesus”.  You might wonder why the writer says this because everything in this letter-book that we have been considering has been about Jesus.  Perhaps the intent of what he is saying is, ‘Think some more, think a bit more in-depth about Jesus.’ He is going to take us down a new path to enlarge our understanding of just who Jesus is and what he has achieved.

But before we follow that thread, notice the ‘Therefore’ that starts off this new passage. ‘Therefore’ is a link word that takes us from one passage into the next; it challenges us to think about where we have just been. In the second half of chapter two, the writer was making us think about how Jesus is superior to angels because of the relationship he has formed with us, a relationship that has come about as he has fulfilled his Father’s will, come to earth, revealed the Father, died for our sins, and rose again and ascended back to heaven to rule beside his Father. Because of all that we have been able to enter a relationship with God whereby we are part of His family, His children and brothers and sisters of Jesus.

Because of all that, it is worth thinking more about Jesus and indeed, the writer is going to use this to lead us into a second even more serious pastoral warning shortly. He is going to challenge our obedience but to do that he prepares the way and calls us “holy brothers who share in the heavenly calling.”  We are not just people, not just human beings, we are those related to God through the work of His Son, and we have a heavenly calling on our lives.  We have been called to God so that one day that calling will be translated into a calling into heaven. In the meantime we have a relationship with heaven and all our resources come from heaven. We’ve come to this position because we ‘confess’ Jesus, we accept him as our Lord and Saviour

So there are all these things he is subtly stacking up by gentle reminders, things to ensure we hold a right perspective and it is a perspective brought about by Jesus and therefore we should clarify and strengthen it by thinking even more about Jesus. Let’s push these things home even more to clarify our understanding where this writer is going:

  • We are what we are because of the work of Jesus on the Cross for us.
  • We are now members of God’s family, his children and brothers of Jesus.
  • We entered into that relationship when we confessed Jesus as our Saviour and Lord.
  • We have a calling that will culminate in heaven.
  • To stand strong in all this and not drift away into disobedience, we need to think more of Jesus and understand even more what he has done and what he has achieved.

And that is where we come back to see how he now describes Jesus: “the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” (v.1b) Well, the high priest part we have started to consider and the writer will take us there in more detail later in the letter, but for now he also calls Jesus an apostle.  Now an apostle simply means ‘a sent one’, one who God has sent with a mission, and that sums up Jesus’ coming to earth. As we have noted before, the Godhead planned it before the foundation of the world and so now the writer concludes, “He was faithful to the one who appointed him.” (v.2a) Now this is important because subtly he is again going to differentiate between Jesus and angels. Jesus was sent with this unique task that we have been considering again and again over these past verses. He was a sent one, and an obedient and faithful sent one, obedient and faithful to the plans of the Godhead we just referred to.

And here comes the new thread: “just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house.” Hullo, where did that comes from? What has the writer got in his mind? What point is he going to make about Moses? Now there were two key figures in Israel’s history – Abraham (because he was the father of faith) and Moses (because he was the deliverer from Egypt and the giver of the Law). To understand the line of argument that follows it might be better to start at the end. The writer says we are God’s house, His dwelling place on earth. The apostle Paul also taught this a number of times, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. So hold the idea of us all comprising God’s house, all God’s people that is. Now who is more significant, the owner or the builder of the house? But also which is more significant, the house or the builder? In what follows, we, God’s people, are the house, God (Father and Son) is the builder, Moses was the servant to the builder and a part of the house, but Christ is the Son of the owner-builder. Now see the text.

“Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself.” (v.3) Jesus was the builder of the house (with his Father) and Moses was simply a part of it. So, to clarify, “For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.” i.e. the house we are referring to was built by God but, “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future.”  i.e. Moses, the prophet, simply spoke about the future of the house (see Deut 18:15-18, one would come greater than him, another ‘prophet’).

So, yes, Moses was faithful as God’s mouthpiece to Israel (but it was God building the nation, building the people who could become His children, His house), “But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” (v.6) We are part of ‘the house’ because of Christ’s work on the Cross and Christ was faithful in bringing this ‘house’ into being and now in ruling over it as the Son of the Father who ultimately owns it.

Note the little nudge at the end there: “And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” (v.6b) We only are part of this house if we hold on – and keep on – with the grace we have for today (courage) and what we expect to get in the future (our hope). Now that is really all the preliminaries to the major warning that is about to drop like a bomb. To summarise: Jesus has greater honour than Moses because Moses was simply a mouthpiece for God to use while the Father and Son worked to build this house (the nation of God’s people) and Jesus’ contribution to the building was dying on the Cross to both deal with our sin and provide a focus for our faith. Clearly Jesus should receive much greater honour than Moses. Now hold on to your seats for what is about to come!