31. The Resurrection and the Life

Focus on Christ Meditations: 31. The Resurrection and the Life

Jn 11:25,26    Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

The context for this saying is very clear and obvious. Lazarus has just died and Jesus is going to raise him from the dead. That is implied in the story before this and it is what follows. Life, death and resurrection are the foundation of this incident. There is leading up to this saying an interesting discussion, although discussion does not really describe the interaction between Martha and Jesus. Observe: When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.”  (v.20) From Luke’s little account of the home of Mary and Martha (see Lk 10:38-) we know that Martha was the ‘get up and do’ sister and so it is that when Jesus comes it is Martha who goes out to meet him.

See her opening words: “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (v.21) These are words of reproach. She knows Jesus is a healer and so if he had been there he would have healed Lazarus – and they had sent word to Jesus but he hadn’t come! But then she says something interesting, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (v.22) Now it is probable that the messenger they had sent to Jesus came back with his answer: “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (11:4) The thought of Lazarus coming back to life after he had been dead and buried some time was just beyond her reach and yet somehow, somewhere in the depths of her mind, there was some glimmer of hope even if she did not understand it herself. Verse 39 shows her mind is on the physical reality – if the grave is opened the body will smell for it must have already started to decay.

Jesus prompts her: “Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” (v.23) That sounds hopeful, but when? “Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (v.24) She is a good Jew and well taught and so knows this teaching. It is in the face of this that this strange and, at first sight, incomprehensible word of self-revelation is spoken: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” (v.25a) Now before we try unraveling this, look at what follows: “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (v.25b,26) In the face of the teaching of the final resurrection of the dead (see Rev 20:12,13 and 1 Cor 15:12-) it would appear that Jesus is saying that he is the cause of all being resurrected from death to face God at the Final Judgment, but of course at that moment it will be every person who has ever lived, believer and non-believer, so such a general understanding would have little significance. No, there must be a further meaning to what he is saying.

Look again at verses 25b and 26. Jesus puts forward two possibilities, both about believers in Jesus. First, even though someone dies, they will live. So this puts forward the idea of life after death. The second one speaks of never dying. Are those contradictions? No, they are one and the same. We may appear to pass through physical death but that is not the end for us; we continue living with God, i.e. in reality we never ‘die’. We may appear to die physically but in reality, no, we continue on.

The apostle Paul wrote along these lines to the Romans: “if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:10,11) When we are born again, Christ by his Spirit indwells us. In respect of God, our starting point is that our body is lifeless or ‘dead’ but our spirit is alive to God but then because the Holy Spirit is there within us, He imparts ‘life’ to our physical bodies so that in both body and spirit we are raised up or resurrected to be alive to God. This is how healing can come about, by the indwelling power within us. Yes, our physical body is still subject to physical death, and yet there appears a promise in scripture that somehow our whole being – new body and spirit will be raised in eternity (check out 1Cor 6:14; 15:20,23; 2Cor 4:14; Phil 3:21; 1Thess 4:14) There is a mystery here but without doubt we will receive new spiritual bodies, bodies not limited as they are now (ponder on 1 Cor 15:35-44).

We have seen in earlier word-pictures Jesus as the Bread of Life, the one who imparts life to enable us to live. We have seen him as the Light of the World, and we observed that light is necessary for life to occur and continue. There have been references to eternal life but this present word-picture presses that home more vigorously; it is a life that prevents death, a life that continues after physical death has occurred and a life that will even enable us to have some tangible, expressible ‘body’ after death and on into eternity.

This opens up a whole new world of speculation, but we will have to wait to experience and understand the reality of it when it happens. In the meantime, we can look into the future with hope. This present life is not all there is! The path ahead of us stretches away into eternity but changing and improving all the way. If you have ever read C.S.Lewis’s last Narnia book, ‘The Last Battle’, you will remember he sought to convey this wonder and the cry “further in, further up” was the cry that kept coming, all going on from one degree of glory to another in eternity.

To speculate and ponder on: whenever our hopes are dashed by the enemy or by the world and Sin, just remember Jesus is in the business of resurrection. Speaking of Abraham going to sacrifice Isaac, the writer to the Hebrews declared, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” (Heb 11:19) Whenever our hopes or ambitions die, remember Jesus is in the business of resurrection by bringing himself into the equation, but as with our new bodies in 1 Cor 15, remember what he raises up may not be the same as that which died – but it will always be gloriously better! Hallelujah!

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42. Ezekiel (3)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 42.  Ezekiel (3)

Ezek 40:3,4    I saw a man whose appearance was like bronze; he was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand. The man said to me, “Son of man, look with your eyes and hear with your ears and pay attention to everything I am going to show you, for that is why you have been brought here. Tell the house of Israel everything you see.”

When I started off this series it was, I have come to realise, with a sense of naivety when I thought about one or two verses per book. To create meaning we have had to do far more than that, and now, as we find ourselves still in Ezekiel, we are about to embark on the most strange highlight in these studies, that which covers Ezekiel’s temple in chapter 40 onwards. Ezekiel I have characterised, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, as a mountain of prophecy, but perhaps a mountain range might be more appropriate and when you come to the end of the range, there you have this further ‘mountain’ covered in cloud and with a massive question mark over it.

Indeed this is going to be the strangest ‘meditation’ in this series for here is the thing about this part of Ezekiel:  First it is clearly dated as having come fourteen years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple within (40:1), second it is a vision (40:2), third in the vision Ezekiel sees in great detail the measurements of a temple (ch. 40-42),  fourth, more than once he is told to take great note of what he sees (40:4, 43:10,11 44:5), fifth, the glory of the Lord comes to this temple (ch.43), sixth the detail includes the priesthood and working within it (43:18-44:31, 45:9-24), seventh, there are details about apportioning the Land, layout and use of it (45:1-8, 47:15-48:35) and eighth,  IT WAS NEVER BUILT and these things never followed!

So the question arises, why were these nine chapters written down and never followed? What is the point of them being here? Why bother to read them? Let’s answer those in reverse order.

Why read them? We can only make suggestions. First we read then because for one reason or another they have been included in the canon of Scripture, first by the Jews who compiled the Old Testament scriptures, and second by the early church fathers who accepted it. Second, we might also add that within these chapters there are a number of passages with more details that exhort the Israelites of Ezekiel’s day to repent from their past and live out a new future, a continuation of the earlier parts of the book, if you like. Third, there is also a sense of holiness as the glory of the Lord is seen again, now filling this visionary temple, and with a general sense of holiness which comes through in these chapters.

What is the point of them being here?  Well, we may make several suggestions. First, in the day when the exile is well and truly under way, and the exiles have lost their temple, even though Ezekiel and Jeremiah have both prophesied restoration to the Land, this long, detailed section on the temple declares loud and clear, “God has NOT finished with His temple, His intent is still that He will dwell in the midst of His people.”  Second, they continue that sense of ‘heavenly otherness’ that is common to parts of Ezekiel, a challenge almost against humanistic thinking. We are left with questions that only God will answer. Third, they open up a whole new area of hope, for the Israelites of Ezekiel’s day, and the Jews of today. Why? Because the vision has not yet been fulfilled.

That leads us to think about the different ways these chapters can be seen. Commentators over the years have come up with a number of suggestions. First that this was never meant to be taken literally, that perhaps it is just meant to convey spiritual truths, or that it may even be a description of a heavenly temple. Second, that it should be taken literally which opens up the possibility that the people of Ezra’s time simply failed to build to this scale. The alternative is that it will yet be built in the future, maybe in the thousand year ‘millennium’ period of Rev 20:4 and you know the fun thing about all this – we just don’t know! What a challenge to those who feel insecure in their faith and feel they have to have everything neatly buttoned up and understood!

But let’s finish with a fairly brief reference to a beautiful few verses in chapter 47, the vision of the river flowing out of the Temple. It appears, first of all, flowing out from under the threshold of the temple (47:1). As it flowed it became a deeper and deeper river (47:3-6) and where it flowed down into the Dead Sea, it turned it into fresh water (47:8), and wherever it flows life bursts forth (47:9). On its banks fruit trees grow in abundance providing both food and healing (47:12). No interpretation is give and so we are just left to surmise for ourselves.

Whatever else it might say, it must speak of the life that flows out from the presence of the Lord, life that grows greater and greater the more it flows out, life that brings life, and life that transforms and changes that which is dead into a vibrant living environment. Two observations: first this flows from the presence of God portrayed by this temple in this vision. Second, this is the very life that flows forth from heaven through the Church today and even on a bigger scale through the kingdom of God in whatever form that is expressed – the blessing of God on earth.

And so a final question: does this mean that this long-winded picture of the temple is just God’s way of catching our attention to say, “I have a plan, a detailed plan of how I will bring my presence to the earth so that life can flow forth bringing transformation to this sin-weary world”? Does He further say, “I simply make the point that you will not fully understand it, but this plan is there and it will be fulfilled through my Son, Jesus Christ”?

Well, to get the most out of this study you are going to have to read chapters 40 to 48 so if you want to, copy, paste and print this study and keep it beside you as you read those chapters. You’ll only need half an hour and who knows what the Lord might pick out to speak to you. Be blessed.

6. Man on the Throne?

Meditations from Ezekiel: 6.  Man on the Throne?

Ezek 1:25,26   Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man.

So we have considered the angelic beings revealed as a unity, four living creatures and the wheels that accompany them and now, nearing the end of the chapter we are allowed to see past them, so to speak.

Reality conveyed Symbolically: The creatures come to a halt and Ezekiel hears something: “Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings,” (v.25) and as he look he sees, “Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man.” (v.26)

Now in a conversation with the Samaritan woman, the Son of God declared, God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit,” (Jn 4:24) but we are looking in on a vision that Ezekiel had in which God seeks to convey to this human being, realities of heaven and of Himself, and so everything that we see must be symbolic, picture form of reality that is beyond human comprehension.

As we have commented before the reality of the vision itself was so ‘other-worldly’ that it was confusing to the observer which is why we read just now, “was what looked like a throng of sapphire.” Was it a throne of sapphire? No it’s a vision and that is how it appears to this limited human mind. But it does give the impression of being a throne, a seat where a ruler sits. As for ‘sapphire’ all we can say is that this was a stone highly prized in the ancient world, and so we are shown what appears to be a throne made of the most costly and precious material.

The God-vision: It was on this throne that we read “was the figure like that of a man.” Again notice the word, ‘like’. This in reality wasn’t a man but in the revelation that is how He shows Himself to Ezekiel. Why should God show Himself to us in human form? Well, first, perhaps it is to identify with us and let us identify with Him. If we simply speak of God as Spirit, that is difficult to comprehend.  Scrabbling to define spirit I have suggested ‘energy with personality’ but even that defies our understanding. Second, even though that may be God’s intention, the reality is still far from a normal human man, as we’ll shortly see.

Ezekiel then sees, “I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him.” (v.27) So the lower half of this figure appears ‘normal human’ (with which we can identify) but the upper half is something else! He’s like glowing metal as if just having come out of a foundry, so full of fire and light, and brilliant light thus surrounded him. The apostle John spoke of the Son of God, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (Jn 1:4) This is the truth; this figure IS life, all life emanates from Him, energy, power, and it is seen in the form of light that blazes forth from Him when revelation allows even a tip of the reality of Him being shown to mankind.

Impact: But then we read, “Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.” (v.28a) Do you see what this is saying? This light that pours forth from Him impacts everything around it and everything is revealed in a myriad different aspects of that light. We refer to a rainbow as an expression of this light split up into the spectrum in water droplets that form a cloud. Here His light is shed on everything around Him and it reveals everything in this wonderful way. His radiance reveals the immense variety and beauty of the reality that God has brought into being at the beginning of all things. If you and I had been able to stand there the many facets of the wonder of the Lord would be reflected in us as we stood there reflecting His glory (ponder on 2 Cor 3:18 in the light of this).

Whenever God is revealed through revelation to us (for there is no other way we can see or even discern Him) it is His wonder or His glory that we behold.  His life, His light, is what impacts us and when it is shown or revealed in our human, material context, it comes as bright light in clouds as we have noted before. But when it is revealed, it impacts those who see it: “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.” (v.28b) So incredible was this vision that it seemed to sap all the energy of Ezekiel and in the vision (or maybe literally) he fell on his face. It was too much to behold and maybe it also left him feeling he was unworthy of such a sight.

Perhaps the apostle Peter caught something of this when Jesus took his boat and performed a miracle: “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8) Peter may have been a brash fisherman, but did Jesus, I wonder, choose him because he was so good at seeing the reality. We see another example of it where we read, “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Mt 16:16,17) Peter ‘saw’ it!

How have we coped with this vision in this first chapter? Our response reveals our spiritual state, our spiritual health, if you like. Jesus often spoke about how it needed people with open hearts to God to discern the wonder of the truths that he was bringing. If you feel you need it, ask the Lord afresh to open your eyes to the wonder of this amazing, almost bizarre, chapter. Remember it is prophetic reality being conveyed through symbolic pictures, God seeking to convey to us realities.

First there was the reality of the angelic body, shown in such a way as to convey a host of truths about the host that inhabits heaven – beings who serve God but ministering to mankind, coming with the might and authority of God (like lions), coming to serve the will of God (like Oxen) and coming with the revelation of God (like eagles) – a host that is utterly united in purpose, to serve the Lord, who move at great speed to do that and who herald Him and glorify Him. An example for us! Then there is the Lord Himself, revealed as the supreme ruler who identifies with His human creation and yet who cannot but pour forth the life that is His, that is seen as incredible power, revealed as light, one with us but utterly different from us. This one alone is worthy of our worship. Pray that these will be more than mere words for us.

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.

59. A Life of Goodness

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  59.  A Life of Goodness

Heb 13:16   And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Don’t forget goodness: The second of what I have referred to as the Christian’s general outlook on life is seeing our life as a life of goodness. The words ‘good’ and ‘goodness’ come up so many times in the New Testament that  we may take them for granted. Even the writer here says we might even forget to do good. How can such a thing be for a Christian? It has to be because we get so caught up with our own lives and the materialistic world in which we live today. He fact is that, we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10)

Doing Good: Doing good is to be at the very heart of the Christian’s life motivated, no doubt, by the love on which are lives are based. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) i.e. our goodness should reveal God to the world around us.

Hang on to Goodness: The apostle Paul speaks of this in a number of ways, for example, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Rom 12:9) Note the call to ‘cling to’ what is good. This is not so much about doing as being. There is also a recognition that there is a battle going on and it is sometimes a struggle to hold on to good “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:21) i.e. use goodness to counter evil in the world. But is will be a battle!

Do good TO PEOPLE:  The call is in general to bless people and especially (perhaps because we have greater opportunity to do this) to bless fellow believers:  “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal 6:9,10)

The apostle spells it out even more, do good to all around us, especially those who are weaker: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself” (Rom 15:1-3)

Even when Paul was talking about what was permissible in the Christian life he makes this call to consider the wellbeing of others: “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” (1 Cor 10:23,24) He even adds his own testimony to strengthen this: “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God– even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” (1 Cor 10:32,33) Notice the double motivation in this: not only is goodness an expression of love in general, but our goodness can be a means of drawing others to Christ.

Various Applications: This doing good will appear in a variety of ways in our lives. For instance, the work of the Holy Spirit is always to glorify God AND to bless the Church: “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Cor 12:7) But it is not only in the Church, it is to be the world around us (if we haven’t taken that in yet from the above verses): “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work.” (Col 1:10) But there are also various groups within the Church for whom there may be specific applications. First, women: “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” (1 Tim 2:9,10) Second, there are the rich: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (1 Tim 6:17-18)

Indeed, the more we look, the more we find these references to goodness, for example, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16,17) The purpose of our reading God’s word, studying it, and preaching and teaching it is to produce good lives!

It even gets linked with the second coming of the Lord: “we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:13,14) i.e. when Jesus comes back he wants to find a people who are doing good.

Sharing: There is one word that we have not picked up on and it is the word ‘share’. Our starting verse had “And do not forget to do good and to share with others.” Also Paul’s word to Timothy about the rich was, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” We might expect such a teaching of those who are well off and have much to share, but our verse from Hebrews extends that to all of us. An expression of doing good is to share what you have with others, i.e. to bless them.

A Sacrifice: Now this may not come naturally, and so we find the writer closes this verse with, “for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” The word ‘sacrifice’ was also used in the previous verse in respect of praise but both these verses follow a section (v.10-12) which has a number of Old Testament references to worship. Today we no longer bring physical sacrifices or offerings but both praise (acknowledgement of God’s greatness) and goodness (the practical outworking of that praise to God’s world) are to be the ways we seek to bless the Lord so that “God is pleased”.  His desire is that His world is a place of goodness, but since the Fall, it is a battle to reclaim that original world.

46. What a Testimony!

Meditations in Hebrews 10:  46.  What a Testimony!

Heb 10:32   Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.

The writer to the Hebrews has warned and cajoled his readers again and again. They are clearly living in perilous times when the pressures upon them all had been great. For those of us living in the West, where for the most of the time life is comfortable as a Christian, it is difficult for us to comprehend the strength of the pressure upon the early believers in that first century after Christ.

The Great Contest: The writer now refers to life in that period as “a great contest”. There were many others competing for the truth and some of them – the authorities with the power – used persecution to try to hold down the Faith. Yet, he says, they had ‘stood their ground’ and held on to their beliefs and (mostly) their lives.  The apostle Paul in his famous spiritual warfare passage in Eph 6 said, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes, “ (Eph 6:11) and later added, “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then.” (Eph 6:13,14)  These Jewish Christians had done just that:  “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.” (v.32)

The Opposition they overcame: He then reminds them of the level of opposition that had overcome: “Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.” (v.33,34)  Note the four things they had done as they had stood against early opposition.

  1. Publicly Opposed: “publicly exposed to insult and persecution – there was nothing hidden about the opposition they received, it was outright and obvious. They were derided and physically opposed as well.
  1. Empathized with others Opposed: “at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated.” But it wasn’t just them. The Gentile believers obviously went through the same thing and these Jewish Christians had stood alongside them, encouraging them.
  1. Stood alongside those imprisoned: “You sympathized with those in prison.” Their hearts were with their brothers and sisters who the authorities threw into prison for their faith. The apostle Paul had been doing this in the early days (see Acts 8:3) and Herod had also done it (see Acts 12:1) but it had already happened from the earliest days of the new Church (see Acts 5:18, 16:23,)
  1. Lost Properties: “joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property.” Obviously part of that persecution they endured meant having their property confiscated, and this they had coped with as part of all that was happening to them, but not just coped, they had known the joy of the Lord as they suffered.

The Big Picture:  How had they coped? It was “because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.” (v.34b) There are early echoes here of what will come up again in the hall of faith in Heb 11. They had stood knowing the reality of their inheritance, knowing that what they had in Christ was better than any earthly fame, wealth or possessions.  This was another of those times when seeing the bigger picture helped them cope with the specific difficulties at the moment.  Later on in chapter 12 he will give another: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” (Heb 12:2) Jesus had seen the big picture and looked beyond the Cross to what would follow it and that helped him cope with the whole awful experience of the Cross.

The Exhortation: Remember, this is all part of his encouragements-warnings-challenges that keep coming to these people  So here it comes again: “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” (v.35,36) See yet again, an exhortation followed by a reason. The exhortation is “do not throw away your confidence”.  i.e. don’t let go of the truths you have learned in which you now stand secure. Hold on to them. And why?  What reason does he put forward as yet another encouragement to them to stand?  You “will be richly rewarded…. You will receive what he has promised.” Both on this world and in the life after death there is much more to come. Much more of our inheritance to receive but it can only be received by those who will persevere and hold on to the will of God.

He then gives a final encouragement: “For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one (or the righteous) will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” (v.37,38 quoting from Hab 2:3,4) Again it is a reminder of God’s expectations of His people. Then he finishes the chapter with a faith declaration: “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.” (v.39)

In these verses we have seen a remarkable testimony of these early Jewish Christian believers who had stood in the face of persecution. Indeed their testimony was one of the means of encouraging them to stand firm and press on. It is good again and again to remind ourselves what God has done for us. Reminding ourselves of our testimony is a good way of stirring faith in us for today. Again and again this writer has sought to do that for these believers.

He is now going to do it by expanding this last thought to consider the testimonies of many of the saints in the Old Testament period who stood by faith. Now we have covered chapter 11 in a 49 part series called ‘Focusing Faith’, the first 37 parts of which  take us through chapter 11. Out next study will, therefore, pick up on in Chapter 12.

39. The New Order

Meditations in Hebrews 8:    39.  The New Order

Heb 9:15   For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance–now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

The Link: Ah, we have another of those link phrases, “For this reason.” Verse 13 had spoken of the blood shed under the old covenant and verse 14 had brought us through to the parallel work of Christ whose blood was shed on the Cross at Calvary so that our consciences could be freed from guilt-laden striving to appease God by self-centred works of religion, and freed to be able to relate to and serve God without fear and trepidation.

The Cross Opens the Door to our Inheritance: So, because Christ has done this on the Cross he can now be, “the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” (v.15a) i.e. he can now mediate or administer this new covenant so that we who God calls (and we respond to Him) may be able to receive an inheritance that has been promised by God from long ago, an inheritance that has an eternal dimension to it.

Just in case we hadn’t followed the link between what Christ has done on the Cross and what he now does helping us enter into our inheritance, he backs up the reason with, “now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (v.15b)  He can now work on getting us to receive our inheritance because his death has meant that we have been freed from both the guilt of our sins and the sinful habits that produce the individual sins, which were still products of that old covenant.

Jesus, the Ransom:  Before we pass on, note the word, ‘ransom’. Jesus taught, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45)  A ransom is a price paid to set a prisoner free. We were prisoners to guilt and to Sin and so, by giving his life to take the sentence of death that justice demands for lives of sin, that life dealt with all the problems of justice and so acted as a ransom that released us prisoners from our constant sense of guilt and our ongoing sinning.

The Working of a Will: Now, having spoken about our inheritance, he piles on the teaching by talking about wills: “In the case of a will,  it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.” (v.16,17) Interestingly the Greek word for ‘will’ is the same word as ‘covenant’, but we use ‘will’ here because we are familiar with the procedure that follows a death and the will being administered. The will of a person only becomes operative once the person dies. A death has to be involved. “This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood.” (v.18) This is his rabbinic teaching kicking in again. To receive the inheritance of freedom from condemnation under the old covenant, a sacrifice had to be offered, a life given, a death involved.

Blood & Covenant: He explains how Moses, after having proclaimed all the laws of the Sinai covenant, ratified the covenant with the blood of calves (v.19) and then declared, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” (v.20) Of course there is a similarity here to Jesus’ words at the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28) If Moses had known what was coming, he might have inserted the word ‘first’ in front of the word ‘covenant’. He emphasises the role of blood in the establishing of a covenant: “In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (v.21,22) Although we normally see this as applying to the Levitical Law, it is interesting to note that when God and Abram entered into a covenant, animal death and shedding of blood was involved – see Gen 15:8-19. To create a sense of solemnity, the creatures were cut in two and two lines made between which the participants to the covenant walked – walking between death to acknowledge a new life agreement.

Blood = Life: Perhaps we should emphasise this matter of ‘the blood’. I believe talk about ‘the blood’ when sharing with non-Christians is highly inappropriate, but it is the language of the Old Testament that is used symbolically to refer to ‘life’; when the blood was shed, the life was given. Ultimately the message of the Bible is that a life of sin deserves to be forfeited and, as we are ALL sinners, all of our lives deserve to be forfeited.

Lives of Sin: I deliberately refer to a ‘life of sin’ because before we came to Christ that was the sort of life we lived, one that is characterized by self-centred godlessness; we elevated ‘self’ to the level of deity and took God’s place as the arbiter of right and wrong and we determined the sort of life we considered acceptable. Because it was ours, we made excuses, but nevertheless it was a life that was self-centred and godless, and a life where, if you watched it second by second throughout however many years it lived, you would see example after example of thoughts, words and deeds that were not only self-centred and godless but they also harmed other people and the world, and of course they rejected God. The ways we do these things are innumerable and the impact we have on people and sometimes the  world itself, is immeasurable.

The Penalty = Forfeiture of Life: Oh, someone cries, but do any of these things, even all together warrant, as you put it, someone’s life being forfeit? You miss the point in the big picture and we saw this at the very beginning of this book, that ‘life’ comes from God. He alone is the source of life and without His word and His power and His presence, ‘life’ as we know it ceases.  Now my definition of Sin has been self-centred godlessness and both parts speak to rejecting the presence of God, rejecting the provider of life. So imagine the picture of the dock in a courtroom that we have used before. The charge is that you have rejected THE Life-giver and therefore you should be allowed to follow that through and take the effects of that – and die. That is the sole case that justice presents. You chose that, so live with it – and die! You rejected the Life-giver so trying living without Him in eternity – you won’t.

The New Possibility: But, says God, the Son has already died for you, believe that and I will channel you into a new existence where all your self-centred and godless choices are transferred to my Son’s account and your account is cleared of any such folly. There is no reason why you should not live in harmony with me and receive my ‘life’ and experience eternity – and thus we receive His Holy Spirit and ‘live’ and keep on living in what is called ‘eternal life’. That, I believe, is how it really works.