28. Recap 3A

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 28. Recap 3A

Eph 2:6,7 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Perspective of the Ascension: Before we move on to more practical matters, we would do well to go back over the lessons in this third Part which have been about the Theory to do with this idea of reigning with Christ’. We started out by seeking to put this whole section in the perspective of the ascension of Christ and linked that with our verses above.

Us seated in the heavenly realms: We looked first at the fact of Christ’s ascension which concluded with him now reigning at the right hand of his Father in heaven, and we made that link of us being seated with him in the heavenly realms. We faced the fact that we live in a Fallen World where free will reigns and thus the work of Jesus (with us) is to overcome the effects of that Fallen World. Personal growth comes as we start to really understand these things and move into them, thus fulfilling Jesus’ expectations of us.

A New Perspective: We moved on to consider that it is all a matter of understanding our position in Christ, reigning on high with him, bringing about the will of the Father, cooperating with the Godhead, allowing the Spirit to lead us. This taking hold of a new perspective means that we put the will of God the Father first with everything focusing on Him. Because this ‘position’ is in heaven, it is a place of revelation from on high, a place of power and authority, a place of awareness of the holiness of God, and a place where the strategy of God is worked out, countering the effects of the Fall and expressing the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, on earth.

Considering the Kingdom: Having touched on the concept of the kingdom, we went on to consider that in more detail, starting with the reminder that it is all about demonstrating the will of God in heaven, on earth (note the ‘locational’ aspects). Talk of a kingdom also speaks about a ruler who presides over his followers, who conform to his rules or laws. However, because we live in a fallen world there are likely to be those who resist the rule of the king.  Whether it is people or characteristics of living that run contrary to God’s design, the work of the kingdom comes to overcome those ‘enemies’, which will continue until Jesus comes again.

Us called to reign: From here we went into Revelation, chapter 5, to see us designated as a purchased people who were called to reign on earth. We acknowledged that there is a timing uncertainty – now or the future –  which is also seen in one of the early church sayings used by Paul writing to Timothy. However seeing what he says to the church at Corinth, seeing his call and expectation of us to grow up, we see that part of that is learning to reign now and in fact growing in that. We concluded that thought with the observation that in the period after Jesus coming again, his followers’ role is to reign with him. For us, in the present day, our role is to learn to share with him as he works to overcome these ‘enemies’.

The Body of Christ: From there we went on to consider the idea of the ‘body of Christ’ as the church is called in the New Testament and we noted various things about it – that it’s role is to do the will of God, that it is made up of every Christian, and we are all different with different gifts etc., and that it is designed to grow and develop. That growth comes about, we saw, as we live out our relationship with Christ, as we develop relationships of love within the body that strengthen and hold us together, as we each use our gifts, talents, abilities etc. under his leading, and in accordance with the plans that God has on His heart for us, which are conveyed to us by Jesus, our head.

Relevancy Today? We continued in this Part considering whether we are relevant in the light of the threat or challenge that the enemy might seek to bring in the midst of the tremendous changes that are taking place in the world, especially in the realms of technology in its very wide application in so many spheres of life today. Whatever they may be, we concluded, they do nothing to change the existence and reality of God, and the state of sinfulness of mankind that will still need a saviour. The challenge is not to lose a true perspective.

Carriers of Love: Because God ‘is love’, the kingdom is all about love. We observed human need which needs so often strengthening, encouraging and comforting and we saw this is part of the ministry of Jesus to be expressed through His body, both within the Church and to the world outside.

A Community of Goodness: Finally we considered another characteristic of God and of Jesus that should be exhibited in the church – goodness. It is a difficult concept to grab hold of, and yet one with which we are all familiar. However we perceive it, it is to be something we think about and work for, as we seek to represent Jesus and rule with him as he expresses the kingdom

Summary: So let’s try to summarize all these things: Christ is ascended on high and we are to consider ourselves seated with him in his position as a ruler over all things, as he works in this Fallen World to bring the kingdom or rule of God on the earth through his body, the church, and in this manner we will ‘reign’ with him as we allow him to lead and guide and empower us as he works to bring down all those things that run contrary to God’s design for this world, and replace them with his love and goodness.

Wow! That needs rereading more than once, I suggest, but it does sum up what these principles within this Part have all been about. Now we need to try and see how they can be worked out in practical ways. That is what the next Part will be about.

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20. Ascended?

Part 3: Ascended & Ruling:   3A. Theory

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 20. Ascended?

Eph 2:6,7 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Third Phase: We are, you may remember, basing our studies on the idea that when Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be,” (Jn 8:28) there were three applications or phases of his life that correspond to that: first, lifted up on the Cross, his death, then second, lifted up in the resurrection, empowered by God, and now lifted up into heaven, his ascension.  We will take this third Part in two sections, first the theory surrounding the two verses above, and then the practice, how it works out. But first, let’s lay down a basic foundation of understanding from the Bible in respect of his ascension.

The Fact of the Ascension:  In Acts 1:9-11 we see Jesus ascending, leaving the earth and leaving his disciples to continue his work after they have been filled with his Holy Spirit. In ascending in the manner he did, we see him sending the message, I am no longer here on earth, don’t go looking for me. It is also a message, I am ascending to heaven to my place beside my Father. There are in the New Testament 13 mentions of this: Mk 16:19 / Acts 2:33 / Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Eph 1:20 /   Phil 2:9 / Col 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2 / 1 Pet 3:22

His place in Heaven:  Note the things these verses say about Jesus in heaven: He has a place of honour at the Father’s right hand, and is there as Prince and Saviour, and he pleads for us there, has been given a name above all others, and all angels and authorities bow before him. It is important to understand these things.

Jesus Ruling in Heaven:  Prophetically Psa 110:1,2 indicates there is a process whereby he is dealing with his enemies and he rules despite them, or in the midst of them. Eph 1:19-23 show Jesus is above every other rule or authority and every other great name, and everything has been put under his feet and he is head over everything for the sake of the church.  1 Cor 15:24-26 again shows the process of dealing with his enemies and he reigns in the midst of his enemies. 1 Thess 4:16,17 says we will eventually join him there, while our verses above, Eph 2:6,7 declare we are sharing NOW in his reign (by his Spirit) and we receive his grace and kindness.

Us in Heavenly Places? There is a most remarkable truth here apart from the wonder of Jesus ascending and ruling at his Father’s right hand – that we are linked to Jesus by His Spirit and thus in a measure at least, are joined to him to participate in the process of his rule from heaven.

Ruling in a Fallen World: Now many Christians, with limited understanding, question the practical reality of these truth when they focus their attention on the terrible things that go on in the world. There is still slavery in the world, they say, there are still ungodly nations who oppress their people, persecute and kill Christians, there is still injustice, and so on. How can you say Jesus is ruling? Ah, be careful, the Scriptures say Jesus is ruling in the midst of his enemies; he exercises his rule while the ungodly are still doing their thing.

Free Will Reigns: Having given us free will, God will not overrule it and so He has to allow the world to be ungodly if that is what they want. That doesn’t stop Him acting into the affairs of the world in a variety of ways, and we shall try and pick these up as we go along. This is why it is so important that we keep close to Jesus and listen to him and not jump to our own conclusions in the chaos and apparent confusion that is often there in the affairs of men. One of the ways He works into the world is through His people, but even here He limits Himself to what we will do, our responses to Him. Thus, He may yearn to bring good changes to the world, but we may be slow to hear Him and respond, and thus He waits for us.

Little Faith? It is not His lack of desire, it’s more our slowness, even as the New Testament people of God, to respond to both what we read in His word and the leading of His Holy Spirit. There are various times in the Gospels where we see Jesus chiding his disciples for their ‘little faith’ (e.g. Mt 6:30, 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, 17:20). Now we may think these things are of little consequence but in reality, they may be the very things that prevent us growing and becoming the people God wants us to be.

Growth? And there we have just touched on the heart of these studies – things to be considered if we are to grow as the Lord wants us to grow. There is always a danger in the Christian life that we either become very passive or we limit our thinking about spirituality or spiritual things to certain parts of the week (Sundays?). Limiting our thinking in this way will definitely stunt our growth. We may achieve great things in the world, but in the kingdom of God we remain infants and if the writer to the Hebrews was our mentor he would be saying, “By now I would have expected…..” (Heb 5:12).

Personal Assessment: So, we might ask, how have we done so far? Have we taken on board and understood and applied all the teaching about having ‘died’?  Have we understood and taken on board the principles we have seen in the second Part in respect of the Spirit-empowered resurrection life? If we have not coped with these, it is unlikely we will handle the teaching about ‘the ascended life’ where our faith will be really challenged

Jesus’ Expectations: The passive Christian is happy to sit in the pews on a Sunday but that is where it stops. The real Christian is the one who hears Jesus words and does something with them: “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man.” (Mt 7:24) and “go and make disciples of all nations…. teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20) and “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.” (Jn 14:12) So there is the challenge for the days ahead. As we obey and move into these things, so we grow. Let’s rise to it!

53. Christ in Heaven: His Authority

PART SEVEN: The Present Rule of Christ

Focus on Christ Meditations: 53.  Christ in Heaven: His Authority

Eph 1:19-22   That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything.

We have seen Jesus ascend to heaven and then pour out his own Spirit to continue the work of the Father but from a position of power and authority at his Father’s right hand. As we concluded study no.51 we noted that there were at least 13 mentions in the New Testament of him having ascended to the Father’s Right Hand: Mk 16:19 / Acts 2:33 / Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Eph 1:20 / Phil 2:9 / Col. 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2 / 1 Pet 3:22 which spoke about how Jesus:

– has a place of honour at the Father’s right hand

– is there as Prince and Saviour

– pleads for us there

– has been given a name above all others

– and all angels and authorities bow before him

To fully appreciate his position, ruling in heaven today, let’s simply go through some of the verses we find in the Bible (mostly New Testament) and see what they say to us. Let’s start in Psa 110:1,2: The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies.”  i.e. the “I AM” says to the Messiah these things. Although written by David, I suspect we have prophetic insight here of what was decreed before the foundation of the world. The Father appoints the Son to be seen at His right hand, in the place of authority and equality, while he deals with the Fallen World in which he has enemies resulting from free will – Satan, Sin and death. There he must reign until he has overcome those three things, and that is still yet in the future but that doesn’t mean Jesus is not reigning; it just means that part of his reign means allowing these things to work out in the overall process of his drawing people to himself. To summarise, there is a process whereby he is dealing with his enemies and he rules despite them, or in the midst of them.

Next, let’s consider Eph 1:19-23 that we have above. Let’s repeat it: That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” Note: i) Christ is raised and seated at the Father’s right hand. ii) He is over and above every other sort of rule or authority. iii) God has given him this position over everything else, for the benefit of God’s people.  Consider the JBP Version of the last part of that: “the church is his body, and in that body lives fully the one who fills the whole wide universe” Wow! So, to summarise, Jesus is above every other rule or authority and every other great name, and everything has been put under his feet so that he is head over everything for the sake of the church in whom this expression of God lives and rules.

Now see 1 Cor 15:24-26: the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” So again we see the process that continues through the present age, of dealing with his enemies, and the amazing fact is that he reigns in the midst of those enemies who, in the fullness of time and in accord with the perfect will of God, will be defeated.

Then there is 1 Thess 4:16,17:  the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” This is the fact of his Second Coming where he leaves heaven a second time to finally defeat his outstanding enemies and take us to be with him, so we will eventually join him there for eternity. To see the power and authority of this action, read Rev 19:11-21 and see the guaranteed outcome.

But now see Eph 2:6,7: And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” As part of the work of the Cross, we are sharing NOW in his reign (by his spirit) and we receive his grace and kindness, i.e. we are now recipients of the full blessing of God in our lives. I wonder if we appreciate that and appropriate that? We will consider it more fully in a later study.

Finally see Jesus portrayed in Rev 5: 1,6,7  “Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals …I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne …. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.” As the chapters move on we see that each seal, (sealed along the edges of the rolled up scroll) as it is broken, reveals a portion of the document which is part of the history of the end time. Here we see Christ in that prominent and preeminent position of rolling out the end times. Ruling in heaven at the Father’s right hand, we now have a vision of him presiding over the final years of this world as we know it now.

This is the supremacy of Christ. Never see him as anything less than this and realise that whatever is going on around you, HE is in supreme control over it. Yes, we may see the work of the enemy, the work of Sin and the effects of the godless self-centred world causing havoc – at least in our eyes with such limited vision – but Christ is ruling over it all, allowing some, inhibiting some, and stopping some, as he sees best for the will of the Father as he continues his work of drawing men and woman to himself in the midst of it. Never forget that.

In the midst of the godless materialism that we witness in the West, and various other forms of religion in other parts of the world, Christ is still supreme, working to draw men and women to himself, but nevertheless, in overall control of all that happens.  So for you and me, Paul’s famous words are given a foundation in what we have been considering: we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) Hold to this truth as you comprehend something of the glory of all we have been considering in this study and the previous ones in this series.

7. The Father’s Provision

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 7.  The Father’s Provision

Mt 7:9-11 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Again we need to see the context to catch the full import of these three verses. Immediately before Jesus has encouraged his followers:Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Mt 7:7,8) Immediately before that, as we saw in the previous study, he had spoken of us not dropping what we had that was sacred, or our ‘pearls’, before dogs or pigs, and that might lead some to think, “Hold on, what have I got that is sacred, what have I got that are the equivalent of precious pearls?” That leads us to realise that there is more in the Christian life to be appropriated than we have at the moment – and this is always true, there is always more to come from the Lord.

But how do you get this ‘more’? By asking, by seeking, by knocking on God’s door, so to speak. The tense of those verbs is ongoing so it means keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. Now many people don’t realise this and they settle for what they have and settle into a state of inactivity and immobility, but the truth is that we are called to be seekers. Why doesn’t the Father just give it without us asking? Well asking is a sign of spiritual health and it also brings about a closeness in relationship with the Father so, yes, as we mature there is always this balance, there is always this tension between being contented with what God has made us but a yearning for more of Him, more of the expression of His kingdom, more of the experience of His Holy Spirit.

But there is a problem. Now in this year of writing (2017) there has arisen a new term used in the media – false news, or fake news. It means things that are said publicly as if they were true but in reality they are false. Now in spiritual warfare this is nothing new for the Bible tells us that Satan is a deceiver; he deceived Eve at the start and he seeks to deceive whoever will listen to him. Now many of us have listened to him unwittingly and so we have heard such ‘fake news’ as “God is a harsh, judgmental God. God doesn’t love you, you are a nobody, you are a failure in life, nobody loves you.” And all of that is untrue! But people believe it, which is why Jesus spoke out the words in our verses above.

He has just encouraged us to be seekers of more, to keep on asking and keep on knocking at God’s door but the problem is that we are reticent to ask because we’ve listened to the enemy’s ‘fake news’ and we need to get over that. So Jesus asks us to think about any normal family: “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?”

Imagine the picture. A little child comes in tired and hungry from school, say, and says, can I have something to eat please?  The father goes outside, picks up a rock and brings it in and places it on a plate and puts it in front of him on the table. Oh, come on, Jesus’ listeners would have protested, no dad would do that! OK, replies Jesus, let’s change the picture then, let’s make it a living thing. The child asks for a fish and so dad goes out and finds a snake and puts it on a plate before him. Oh, come on!!! A loving dad wouldn’t do that!

OK, says Jesus, think about this. There’s nothing special about this dad, he’s the same as any other human being, a sinner, basically evil when it comes to it. Now you are telling me that this dad wouldn’t ever do something so unkind to his son, so why do you think your Father in heaven is less than this dad? Why is Father going to hold back on giving good gifts to His children when an earthly father doesn’t do that? We might add, think of all the evidence of the whole Bible that tells us that God has blessed and blessed and blessed His people. Think of all the good He has done for you. Think of the salvation He has granted you – earned by the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, imparting sonship, forgiveness, cleansing, righteousness, and power, teaching and direction of the Holy Spirit. All this was free, you didn’t do anything to earn it. You didn’t go looking for it, He came looking for you, He initiated everything.

This is a serious argument. Why do so many of us think, I’m nobody, I’m nothing, I’m a failure? Answer: because it is true – but it is only half the story. The other half is the things we listed near the end of the previous paragraph. Jesus has got so much more he wants you and me to enter into but we don’t get it because we don’t keep on asking, seeking and knocking for it, because we listen to the likes of the crusading atheists with their ignorant rantings and believe the fake news. No, we are NOT unloved, No, God is NOT a harsh God. He is a loving heavenly Father and if He holds back, it is because He wants to strengthen your heart, strengthen your resolve and draw you closer to Him.

Go back to that Old Testament ‘equation’: “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psa 37: 4) When we delight in Him, when we make Him the focus of our lives, then He starts putting desires on our hearts and as we start recognising those desires and asking and asking for them, so He grants them. There is so much more just waiting for you, but it starts with this ‘equation’.

10. The End Game

Short Meditations in Philippians: 10. The End Game

Phil 1:21   For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

When a dictator puts a Christian in front of a firing squad only a Christian can smile and say, “Your loss, my gain.” There is one characteristic of all world religions – except Christianity – and that is uncertainty. There is uncertainty about the type of ‘God’, uncertainty about that ‘God’s’ intentions towards you, and uncertainty about what happens after death.

This little verse from Paul is dynamic. It not only has eternal meaning, but it also applies to everyday life. I will explain. First of all, let us consider death in the most simple way possible: it means the end of physical life, except for the Christian it is not the end of life, just a transfer from one dimension into the next. The next, the Bible indicates quite clearly, is more glorious than the present one, and it is the inheritance of all believers. In the next world, heaven, there will be no more pain, no more illness, no more suffering, no more struggle, no more stress, just the wonder of knowing the fullness of God and all that He has on His heart for us – and that with no restraint!

The first Christian martyr, Stephen, (see Acts 7) saw heaven opening to receive him and he rejoiced in the face of death. Many other martyrs subsequently had similar experiences; it seemed it was one of the ways God gave them grace to face what was happening. We rarely get the grace before we actually need it, but it is always there when we do. When we grasp the wonder of heaven, it is not the fear of what happens after death but the means of death that troubles many people, yet when it comes to it, God’s grace will be there. The writer to the Hebrews wrote of Jesus, For the joy set before him he endured the cross.” (Heb 12:2) i.e. Jesus looked beyond the awful experience of death on the Cross, and saw the wonder of being reunited with his Father in the glory of heaven, and that sustained him and helped him face that trial.

But there is another usage of the word ‘death’ or dying.  Jesus taught, I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (Jn 12:24) There is a spiritual lesson here and it is that if we are to bear much fruit, all our natural, human, earthly desires, plans and schemes have to die so that Jesus can bring the Father’s will into being through you and me. Now in this present context, we can know the truth of this principle and that the outworking of it is ALWAYS good, but to face this ‘death’, to be willing to lay down our hopes, plans, ambitions etc. is naturally impossible. ‘Self’ survival instinct is so strong it is only as we pray and surrender and ask for, and receive His grace, is this possible.

66. A City to Come

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  66.  A City to Come

Heb 13:14   For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

At times the Christian life is a strange contradiction of feelings. For example, we have already considered the subject of contentment in an earlier study but now we come, in our verse above, across a familiar experience that is unhappy about the status quo and longs for something better. Perhaps we should first put this verse in context.

Recap Context: The writer has taken us through a number of practical issues, for example, marriage (v.4), avoiding love of money (v.5), realizing that Jesus is our helper and is always with us (v.5,6) and is always the same (v.8), but that we have leaders to act as examples for us (v.7) as we struggle to counter false teaching (v.9), remembering we have a much better access to our Saviour than the people of old did (v.10) and yet one who was rejected thus brining us a life that is often one of rejection (v.11-13). All of these things speak of a Fallen World in which we live where we have to resist temptations and battle untruths and opposition.

Something Better? It is not surprising, in the light of all this, that sometimes we are left feeling, “There must be something better than this!” Indeed there is something inside us that yearns for something better that God has for us and it is in respect of these feelings that the writer now says, For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” (v.14) Much of the struggle is to do with people. Even within the church there are people who seem to fall far short of what we might expect of the people of God, and outside it there are certainly people with whom we often do not feel comfortable.

Desiring Real Community: We long for a community (for that is what a ‘city’ is) that is not constantly changing, that is not constantly expressing stress and conflict. In one sense it is good that life is constantly changing and we are glad that circumstances change and we’re able to move on, but the next set of circumstances so often are little better. It is true inside church and outside it. The bigger the church the less obvious are the tensions but look deeply into any smaller church over a period of time and you will see the stresses and strains of being human beings; delivered from being in bondage to sin, yes, but nevertheless so often handling life in a less than perfect way. There must be a better way!

Back in chapter 11 we have the gallery of faith, the heroes of faith from the Old Testament, headed up by Abraham who had an amazing relationship with the Lord, only exceeded by that of Moses with the Lord, but when he received his call to go to a new land, he went as a nomad looking for something better, a city or community or people built by God: “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb 11:10) Thus now we have an exact echo of that. Just like Abraham we have received a calling and we have responded to it and gone and followed the Lord, and yet as wonderful as that is, we are so often left feeling, there must be something better than this.  In chapter 12 we caught a glimpse of ‘this’: “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.” (Heb 12:22) The ‘City of God’ is in fact heaven, the dwelling place of God. That is our destiny.

Back in chapter 11, the writer explained this all more fully: “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. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Heb 11:13-16) Let’s examine this passage more fully.

The people of faith: All these people were still living by faith when they died.” (v.13a) It is a life of faith right up to the end (or the beginning!!!) That is what they were and that is what we are, people of faith, and in that we are not failures and we do not fall short.

And yet! “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.” (v.13b) Despite being people of faith they had not received the full package, everything promised by God. That is how it is this side of eternity.

Still looking:  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.(v.14) All these people had this same feeling of life falling short of what they wanted, of there being something better ‘just over the horizon’ we might say.

A Different Country:  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.” (v.15,16a) It wasn’t as if they yearned to have a ‘retake’ of their past years. No, they wanted something better.

Accepted: “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (v.16b) It didn’t matter that they were dissatisfied with their past experience, they were people of faith and indeed it was their awareness and their faith that pleased the Lord.  So many other people are content with the world that they know and just want more of it – more money, more prestige, more fame, more possessions, more experiences.  The fact that all these things are tainted with sin which makes life ‘second best’ doesn’t appear to matter to them and until the Holy Spirit comes and convicts they rarely say, “There must be something better than this.”

So where do these thoughts leave us. First, with a reminder that we live in a fallen world where things go wrong, circumstances are sometimes bad and people even worse and, it seems, life seems ‘second best’ i.e. it could be better! Second, it is not wrong to yearn for a better experience, indeed it is an awareness not only of this world but of the world God has put on our hearts, the world yet to come. So, third, despite this we need to take hold of the grace of God to remain faithful and true to Him while we live and work out our time on this earth. Reach out for the better where you can and don’t accept second best if that is possible.

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.