Hebrews

Week 1

  1. God speaks
    Hebrews 1:1-3

    The letter to the Hebrew Christians is often neglected or overlooked in favour of other New Testament letters. This might be because we don’t know who wrote it, where it was written from or exactly when. We can work out the reason for it to be written but it addresses themes that are not familiar to many Christians, especially if they have no background in the Jewish faith. This letter doesn’t have the same features as most other letters either, it doesn’t begin with a ‘salutation’ or greeting and identify the purpose for it to be written. And the author doesn’t identify himself. It reads more like an essay than a letter and assumes that the readers are familiar with Old Testament concepts. Hebrews was probably written about 30 years after the birth of the church and before the destruction of the Jewish Temple in AD70. It is intended for Jews that had become Christians but were either hanging on to their old beliefs and understanding or were at risk of going back to them.

    Without any preamble, the writer launches right into a statement about how God had made himself known throughout history and contrasts that with how different it now was. This sets the context for the letter which contains explanations of how, while the old ways were good, what we have now is far better, and the best is yet to come.

    The Old Testament contains the revelation of God and the promise of a covenant made by him with his chosen people, Israel. God spoke directly to men and women who in turn communicated with the people. Many of those prophets are identified throughout the Bible, some are anonymous, and others have books written in their name. They came from different circumstances, some were shepherds like Elijah and Amos, others, warriors, kings and judges like Moses, Gideon, Samuel and David. One was the wife of Isaiah, who remains unnamed, another was the wife of Lapidoth who we are told was Deborah, the fourth judge of Israel, Huldah was the wife of Shallum and Miriam the sister of Moses. Some were even professional prophets like Elisha, Nathan and Jonah. There were rich and poor, privileged and oppressed, male and female, young and old. God used this diverse group of men and women to speak to the leaders of his people to explain and confirm the covenant he had made with them and to remind them of their obligations.

    Now, in what the writer calls these last days, he has spoken through his son. The last days are those that lead to the coming again of Jesus as the king who invites those who worship him into the new Heavens and brings final judgement to those who have rejected him. We are in those last days, they began with the coming of Jesus on the first Christmas and they will end at a date no one knows except God. The son has existed from eternity and was not only present when God created the heavens and the earth it was through him the world was created. God eternally exists in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and it as the Son that he created the world and now sustains it. He will return in his glory and invite his church to join with him at the great bridal feast in the new kingdom. There are many deep and mysterious things introduced in these few short verses and the chapters to come will explain some, but not all of them. Some will remain a mystery and because they are a mystery they will remain beyond our understanding until we meet him in person!

    God has spoken to us through his Son who is made known by the Holy Spirit and his revealed word, the Bible. It is as we spend time with him and his word that he reveals himself to us, assures us of the promises he has made and his unfailing love and mercy.

  1. Does the letter to the Hebrews seem difficult to you?
  2. Why do you think God used such a diverse group of people to speak through?
  3. Why would you not spend time with God and his word?

 

  1. The Radiance of his glory
    Hebrews 1:1-3

    The son through whom God has spoken is described as the radiance of his glory, the exact imprint of his nature. In doing so the author introduces two Greek words that are found nowhere else in the bible. The first of these is radiance (Greek: apaugasma) which is a word commonly used by Philo, a Greek speaking Jewish philosopher who was alive at the time the church was born. There have been many attempts to describe this word including to emit light or splendor, to shine forth, or light issuing from a luminous body. It can mean either reflected brightness, refulgence (suggested by Calvin and Thayer and meaning, shining brightly; radiant; gleaming ) or effulgence (Diffusing a flood of light; shining; luminous; beaming; bright; splendid, as the Greek speaking church leaders suggest). It is difficult to distinguish between those suggestions!

    Adolph Saphir a Jewish Christian wrote: ‘’The Son is the light, which makes manifest; God is manifest in him. Christ is the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his being. By the glory of God, His own inapproachable, infinite light is understood.” Spurgeon offers that as light is to the sun, so Jesus is to the glory of God. The Jewish readers of this letter were familiar with reference to the glory of God in the Old Testament, in Exodus 24:17 it appears as an all consuming fire on the top of the holy mountain. When Moses asked God to show his glory, he was told if he saw the face of God he would die. Instead God hid him in the cleft of a rock as all his goodness passed by (Exodus 33). Now however, the Gospel of John tells us: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). And the apostle Paul writes that it is in the face of Christ that we behold the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:6).

    The second word that appears only this place in the bible is translated as ‘an exact representation’ in Greek it is charakter. We may understand that word from the way might say that someone shows a certain character or characteristic and mean that it reflects something about their nature. They may be strong, or honest, or caring or the opposite of those things. When it used here it means exact in every detail, not a copy but a perfect expression of all that God is. Jesus is distinct from God the Father and yet identical with Him, whatever the divine essence is, Jesus is its exact and perfect representation and in so doing affirms the deity of Jesus Christ. Jesus has all of the characteristics that are true of a person, and all of the characteristics that are true of a divine being. Both natures fully exist in one person.

    There is a technical word for this mysterious union between God the Father and God the Son. It is called the hypostatic union and means that Jesus is not two persons. He is one person. The hypostatic union is the joining (mysterious though it be) of the divine and the human in the one person of Jesus. (David Mathis). The word hypostatic means essence, nature or foundation. The nature of Jesus is the nature of God, it is this that gives us a foundation for our faith. A charakter was the word used for the imprint left in wax of a seal. It was a representation of the owner of the seal, and exact image. Jesus becomes the seal of God in the life of the believer, he is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), so that he could say “he who sees me has seen the father” (John 14:9).

    The idea that Jesus is at the one time fully human and fully God is difficult to understand and has been the stumbling block for many followers of other religions. It is essential however to our confidence that he can do what he promises he will. Because Jesus is the radiance of His glory it is as “we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

  1. Some of this is difficult, in fact impossible to understand, how do you make sense of it?
  2. Why do you think it is important for Jesus to be both God and man?
  3. How do we contemplate the Lord’s glory?

 

  1. He Upholds all things
    Hebrews 1:3

    It is the Son of God who upholds all things by the word of his power. ‘All things’ is sometimes translated universe, and we might take that to mean the stars and planets and all of the cosmos and that is correct, but it is also everything that goes on within that universe in both the physical and spiritual realm. In Greek mythology Atlas led a rebellion against Zeus and when he was defeated he was condemned to hold up the world for eternity. There are many pictures of Atlas on one knee with the world balanced on his shoulder like a giant ball as he held it up. This is not what is meant by Jesus upholding all things!

    The word that the writer of the letter to Hebrews used means to bear up or carry along, in the same sense that Moses said he was unable to carry all the people of Israel (Numbers 11:14). Jesus is carrying the world to its final destination, Paul writes in Colossians 1:16,17 that ‘’by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Jesus doesn’t uphold or carry some things, but all things. Everything in all of creation is carried by him; in the darkest trial you face, he holds and carries you to your final destination. That is why we can say with Paul: ‘All things work together for good for those that love God’ (Romans 8:28).

    He brings things into existence and upholds them by the word of his power. In Genesis we read that he spoke the world into being, he said let it be, and it was! It is this same word that upholds the word and the same word that he speaks into your life and circumstances. Do you need God to speak a word into your life, or sustain a word that is already spoken? Not one of God’s promises fail, and a promise is simply a word spoken by someone who can deliver what he said he will! What is used here is the rhema of God that is the spoken word. He spoke to the waves and they were still, he spoke to the demons and they fled, he spoke to the disease and the sick person was healed. We are blessed to have the written word of God available to us and the incarnate word is Jesus who lived among us and now sits at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf. But we need the spoken word still. What do you want to hear from God? He may well reveal things to you through the Bible, but you may need to hear the holy Spirit speaking directly to your spirit. What you hear will never contradict what the bible says or what is consistent with the character of Jesus as the son of God, but he wants to speak to you.

    His word is the word of his power, all of who God is stands behind his word. He does not speak empty phrases devoid of authority or without the power to implement his will. The universe operates as it does by the word of his power, the laws that determine how life continues exist by his word and if he so chooses he can change them in a moment. Our world is not hurtling toward some chaotic end, because he upholds it. The same power that destroyed the works of the devil and broke the laws of death when Jesus rose from the dead, is at work in you and me and the church. Paul writes to the Ephesians “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.”

    The word of his power that upholds all things, is at work within us, the church. He has established the church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, because he upholds it by the word of his power. Paul prayed that those who believe would know, ‘’what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come’’ (Ephesians 1:19-21).

    This same power with which he upholds all things, lives in you! Live like you believe it!

  1. Do you feel like God is holding all things together?
  2. Do you need God to speak directly into your life?
  3. How powerful do you feel?

 

  1. He sat down
    Hebrews 1:1-4

    Adolph Saphir asks: “Why has this infinite light, this infinite power, this infinite majesty, come down to our poor earth? For what purpose? To shine? To show forth the splendour of his majesty? To teach heavenly wisdom? To rule by his just and holy might? No! He came to cleanse us from our sins.

    Verse 3 of this first chapter of the letter to the Hebrew Christians introduces Jesus as a high priest. He came to make purification for our sins, and when he had completed that task he returned to heaven and sat down. On the Day of Atonement, on the tenth day of the seventh month of every year. The High Priest was allowed to enter the Most Holy Place to stand before God. Once he had made a sacrifice for himself and for the people, he then brought the blood of the sacrificed animals into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled it on the mercy seat  (Leviticus 16:14-15). He did this to make atonement for himself and the people for all their sins committed during the year just ended (Exodus 30:10). This is the service that is later compared to the ministry of Jesus as our High Priest (Hebrews 9:1-28). As William Lane puts it: “The uncleanness of the people of Israel was acknowledged before the Lord at the altar, and it was from this defilement that they had to be cleansed by the sprinkling of the blood of the sacrificial animal. The blood covered and obliterated the sins upon the altar.” The purification of the people is the condition for participation in the community and the defilement of sin produced a barrier to God which had to be removed.

    Sin defiles, degrades and diminishes the sinner. It is like a cancer that grows undetected, but progressively destroys the sufferer. Sin separates a person from the presence  and protection of God and ultimately results in death and eternal separation. Everyday the priest would offer sacrifices for the people, knowing that on the next day and the day after he would need to repeat the process. The sacrifice would cleanse the one who offered it, but it was temporary and therefore continuous. Jesus came to make purification for sin, and to do it once and once only. The language of the text tells us that Jesus made purification for sin, not that he would or that he might, but that he had. He has cleansed us from all unrighteousness on the basis that we believe in his death and resurrection and confess him as Lord (Romans 10:9,10). There is a wonderful truth in this, that is difficult to grasp or to accept, according to God’s word you have been purified from all your sin. This means that there is no barrier or separation between you and God. Nothing else needs to be done to make you righteous, he has done all that is needed.

    Once Jesus had made purification, which he did not only by presenting the sacrifice as a priest but by becoming the sacrifice by his death on the cross, he defeated the power of sin by his resurrection. Then he returned to the Father and sat down. The priest could never sit down because his work was never finished but when Jesus offered himself he said ‘It is finished’ nothing could be added. Ephesians 1:19-21 asks us: “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come?”

    It is in this place where he now sits and intercedes for you and me, when he ascended to heaven he sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us where he too prays on our behalf. We Have Jesus praying for us, the Holy Spirit praying for us and we have confidence to enter the Holy Place by the blood of Jesus. So let us draw near with a true heart with full assurance of faith that nothing can separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus.

  1. Do you believe that you have been cleansed from all of your sin?
  2. Why is it important to daily confess our sins to God (1 John 1:9)?
  3. What do think about having Jesus and the Holy Spirit praying for you?

 

  1. Better than the angels
    Hebrews 1:4

    At the time the letter to the Hebrews was written there was a lot of discussion among the Jews about the role and function of angels. The Jewish Bible records that they served before God’s throne and they also were used to guide and protect humans. They also revealed the law and God’s will to the prophets and sometimes directly intervened in human activity. Now the writer says that the Son is far superior to them.

    He was superior because he was the Son, not one of the sons, but the Son, the only one. His relationship with God was closer and his inheritance was superior. The statement about Jesus having become better than the angels refers to what was accomplished by his incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension into glory. Angels were sometimes referred to as “sons of God” (Job 1:6), and while believers are called “sons of God” (John 1:12), no single angel or believer was ever referred to as “the Son of God.” That title belongs only to Jesus and signifies His deity. The Jews knew that a claim to be the Son of God was to claim equality with him: “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18).

    As the son, miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit, Jesus took on human nature but without our sinfulness. He lived without sin, remaining pure and was therefore able to pay the debt of our sin. By assuming this human nature he voluntarily became lower than the angels, but now having satisfied the claims of death and defeated its power he is revealed as fully God and is superior in essence, power, and purpose to the angels.

    There was some false teaching about angels emerging in the church ((Colossians 2:18, Galatians 1:8). Some even taught that Jesus was another one of the angels and equal to them, the writer to Hebrews stresses that this was wrong. Jesus was superior in every way, only he was the Son of God, he had the same nature as God, he was the radiance by which God became seen, he upheld the world and all that is in it by the word of his power. He and he alone could make purification for the sins of the people and now he sat at the right hand of the father while the angels ministered around the throne. Jesus was fully God and by his incarnation was fully human. Once a little lower than the angels because of his humanity, now raised to his place in glory above all rules, powers and authorities in the heavenly places. He was and is the Son of the Most High God.

    Curiously there are those people today who hope for an angel to visit them with a message from God. The whole time they have access to the one who is superior to every angel, who has given his word and speaks it still. Angels still have mystical appeal which draws people to them. In a world that seeks to deny God many appeal to angels. Children are taught to rely on guardian angels and caricatures of ‘angelic beings’ appear on greeting cards and in paintings. These figures are often gentle and female in appearance while the Biblical image is often of a warrior clothed for battle. The world seeks the mysterious and the fantastic while rejecting the revelation of the Son who is the exact representation of the Almighty God.

    The Son is superior to the angels, he rules with authority over every created thing in heaven and on earth. He sustains and carries the universe and all that it contains and makes it ready for his return. He is our saviour and our friend and he invites us to call him his brother, but is and always will be the One who reigns with power and authority and reveals the majesty of God.

  1. What do you think of angels?
  2. Do you believe there are heavenly beings, like angels and demons?
  3. What does it mean to you to know that God is superior to any angelic or heavenly being?

 

  1. Why is the son better than the angels?
    Hebrews 1:5-13

    The statement that Jesus is superior to the angels is explained, or proved in the succeeding verses. The writer uses what some people call a ‘string of pearl’s’ which is a collection of passages from scripture joined together to make his case. At the time that Hebrews was written the common language was Greek and a version of the Old Testament in that language is quoted. That means that the words don’t exactly correspond with our Old Testament which is translated directly from Hebrew.

    The argument or evidence begins with a quotation from Psalm 2:7 and asks rhetorically “to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my son. Today I have begotten you?” The answer of course is none of them. John Gill writes: “The words, This day have I begotten thee, must refer either to his incarnation, when he was miraculously conceived in the womb of the virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit; or to his resurrection from the dead”. We know that God took on human form as Jesus and therefore was in that sense the son from then on, but as the apostle Paul points out in Acts 13:33 and Roman 1:4, it was his resurrection that demonstrated his divinity and therefore not just a son, but the son of God. William Lane points out that the title of Son could have had referred to the pre-existent son, the incarnate son or to the exalted son. None of these titles could be applied to angels.

    Verse 6 makes clear that the role of the angels is to worship the son, they are ministers to him. He on the other hand is seated on the throne. He holds in his hand the scepter, an ornate staff that represented rule and authority, that represented righteousness and the Kingdom of God. It is an eternal throne and Psalm 104:14 describes the appearance of the son as he is seated on it.

    The son lived a righteous life, upholding justice and hating evil and because of this he was made the happiest man on earth! Specifically the text says he was anointed with the oil of gladness, more than all of his brethren. He existed before the foundation of the world and would remain even though all of creation would perish. It will change, a perfect and incorruptible new heaven and new earth will replace the old, but he would remain the same. The son sits at God’s right hand where he will remain until all of creation, in heaven and on earth – including the angels are brought in submission to his feet. No angel has ever been invited to sit in the presence of God. The passage tells us, as Sonnenberg writes, that: 

  1. Jesus was appointed to be God’s son, but the angels were appointed to worship the son
  2. Jesus was anointed to rule the creation, but the angels were sent to serve the creation
  3. Jesus was appointed to reign in heaven, but the angels were appointed to serve on earth.

 

  1. Ministering Spirits?
    Hebrews 1:14

    When the writer of Hebrews asks another rhetorical question he refers back to verse 7. Where quoting from Psalm 104 he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.” Now in verse 14 he asks: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?”

    There are a couple of words used here that sometimes take on a different meaning. The word translated ‘angels’ is the same as is used for apostle and means those who are sent with a message. They are referred to as ministering spirits, a phrase that was well known to his Jewish hearers. As used here, to minister is serve in the same way that priests served before the altar. These ministering spirits are sent to serve. This word is often translated as minister but is a different Greek word, this time deacon which is familiar from Acts 6:2ff but also sometimes as an office of the church. You may be familiar with Minestrone Soup a popular cheap meal. Legend suggests that it derived its name from religious monks who, wanting to give food to weary travellers, gathered their vegetables, threw them in a pot and served it to their guests. The word to serve in Latin is minister and Greek Diaconia. Whether a true or not, it’s a good story!

    These ministering spirits are sent to serve not to rule. They are to serve God, but to do it by ministering on behalf of those who are waiting for the salvation that is to come. Angels have received a lot of attention in recent times, sometimes being elevated to at least equal status with Jesus and on occasion seen as more significant than he. There are suggestions that everybody has their own personal guardian angel looking over their every move. While there is ample evidence both in the bible and in historical records of supernatural assistance being given for the protection of believers, it is always spoken of in the plural sense, that is angels will guard you in all your ways (Psalm 91:11). There are occasions when an individual angel has provided guidance (Acts 8:26), gave protection (Daniel 6:22) or gave understanding (Daniel 9:20-23), but these were not personal guardian angels but messengers sent to minister to the believer.

    The service or ministry that angels may provide might include those things, that is guidance, protection and understanding, but also they attend on and worship God (Rev 5:11) , bring judgement on the wicked (Acts 12:23), assisted Jesus and his disciples on earth (Mt 28:2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), will assist Christ on his return to earth (Mt 24:31) and announce his coming (1Thes 4:16). Spurgeon writes: “Angels are the unseen attendants of the saints of God; they bear us up in their hands, lest we dash our foot against a stone. Loyalty to their Lord leads them to take a deep interest in the children of his love; they rejoice over the return of the prodigal to his father’s house below, and they welcome the advent of the believer to the King’s palace above”.

    “John Paton was a missionary in the New Hebrides Islands. One night hostile natives surrounded the mission station, intent on burning out the Patons and killing them. Paton and his wife prayed during that terror-filled night that God would deliver them. When daylight came they were amazed to see their attackers leave. A year later, the chief of the tribe was converted to Christ. Remembering what had happened, Paton asked the chief what had kept him from burning down the house and killing them. The chief replied in surprise, “Who were all those men with you there?” Paton knew no men were present–but the chief said he was afraid to attack because he had seen hundreds of big men in shining garments with drawn swords circling the mission station.” (Moody Bible Institute). We may never experience the dramatic rescue of John Paton, or Daniel or others, but we an be assured that angels are sent by God to minister to us. We do not pray to angels for guidance, protection, understanding or help in a difficult situation. We pray to the one who sends them as his minsters, the one who “upholds all things by the word of His power”.

  1. What form do you think angels might take when they come to your assistance?
  2. Is there an area in your life where you could use a direct message from God?
  3. What do you think about the experience of John Paton and his wife?

Week 2

  1. Pay Attention!
    Hebrews 2:1-4John Owen who was once chaplain to Oliver Cromwell and a contemporary of John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress wrote a commentary on the letter to the Hebrews which he called “The Epistle of Warning”. Throughout the letter there are five specific warnings written to the Hebrew Christians and the first appears in chapter 2.It can be helpful to remind ourselves that when the Bible was written there were no chapters or verses, they were added later to help us to understand and perhaps find our place in the pages we read. The letters, of which Hebrews is one were intended to be read in the way we would read a letter and not in chunks to be analysed. Of course in today’s world it is rare to receive a letter and emails, messages and SMS don’t have the same impact or effect. In the days of the early church they were the primary way of communication, took a long time to get from place to place and a long time to prepare. Once written the letter would usually be given to a trusted companion who would take it to a community of believers and help them to understand it, and then take it on to the next group.What we call chapter 2 in the letter to Hebrews starts with the word ‘therefore’. An aid to finding the meaning in a text is that when you see the word ‘therefore’ find out what it is there for! In this case the writer is making sure that we link what he is going to say with what he has already said, that is the message or word you have received from the Son is far better than anything else you have received, so make sure you pay attention.There was a danger that these new believers would drift back to their old beliefs, they needed to be reminded and without the apostles and leaders with them thy had to be on their guard. In the early church there were no New Testaments to learn from, no daily devotionals written by wise Christians, they didn’t have google or the latest Bible app and they couldn’t pick up the phone or send off an email to get an immediate response to a question. They were learning as they went. The letters they eagerly waited for became the New Testament we have, and those friends of the letter writers like Timothy, Titus and Phoebe were essential to their perseverance.These were Hebrew believers, they had grown up with the Jewish law and prophets and the temptation to go back to what they new was always present. The writer doesn’t question the reliability of what they had trusted, indeed he reminds them that to fail in obeying the law resulted in punishment. If that was so, and they knew that it was, then how much stricter would the consequences be to fail to accept this new message that was so much better? The new message, or covenant offered eternal life on the basis that accepting the sacrifice of the Son by faith, the broken relationship with God was restored, to reject that sacrifice meant eternal separation from God.

    You and I have received the message of the Son which is so much greater than that of the angels or any other religious system. We have unlimited resources available to us to help us to maintain our faith and yet the temptation to drift away is still very real. Like the Hebrew Christians let us pay close attention to what we have heard!

  1. How easy is it to drift in your Christian life?
  2. What are some ways to protect yourself from drifting?
  3. Do you still receive letters? How do you feel when you get them?

 

  1. Declared to be true
    Hebrews 2:3,4The great salvation that we need to play close attention to was first spoken of by the Lord but then confirmed by others witnesses and also by supernatural means.The first witnesses were those who accompanied Jesus when he walked on earth and those who heard firsthand his message of salvation. Luke identifies them in his gospel, chapter 1:1,2: “many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us”. Impressive as these personal testimonies were God still further confirmed them with signs, wonders and miracles as well as spiritual gifts that he gave to the believers.Four separate means are mentioned by this letter’s writer. First of all signs. Signs and wonders are often connected in both the Old and New Testaments and they each have a separate function. A sign is intended to describe an event which has some special significance. It makes something specific and clear. The Greek word is semeion and today the study of semiotics investigates how meaning is created and communicated. We use signs all the time: road signs, images on computer screens or on shop windows. The signs that God used were intended to point to his divine involvement. Wonders on the other hand gained peoples attention, they were amazing, out of the ordinary and demanded attention. Together signs and wonders point to God’s involvement in the world and that there is something behind them that is more than just a display of supernatural activity.Miracles are demonstrations of God’s power and in fact the word that is used here is from dunamis which gives us the word ‘dynamite’. God produced many miracles in the Old Testament as did Jesus when he healed the sick, calmed the sea, raised the dead, advised fishermen on where to get a good catch and fed the multitudes. And more than these, when he was raised from the dead, defeating the power of death. These miracles served to illustrate his superiority over angels, and his divine nature.

    At Pentecost, after Jesus ascended to heaven the Holy Spirit was given to the church and the first evidence of this was the miraculous ability of the disciples to speak in the languages of all of their hearers (Acts 2). Paul writes in Ephesians 4:7-11 that Jesus distributed gifts to men and women to establish the church. He appointed apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. The Holy Spirit also gave gifts to all believers according to 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, for the common good. To each is given a gift which is peculiar to them, it is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. In other words the gift will make known something which is otherwise invisible so that when all believers use their God given gift under the guidance of their Lord and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the whole nature of God will be made known.

    Signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit are all intended to confirm the witness of Jesus. They will attract people’s attention, point them to The lord Jesus Christ and miraculously save them from their sin. The gift that he has given to you is his primary means of making himself known today. Each one of us, you and me, has received a gift of the Holy Spirit, let us pay close attention to it, discover it, cultivate it and use it for the common good and for the building up of his body, the church.

  1. Does God still use signs and wonders to get people attention?
  2. What is the spiritual gift God has given to you?
  3. How do you plan to use it?

 

  1. Such a great salvation
    Hebrews 2:1-4The warning we receive from these verses is that we should not neglect the great salvation that God has made known through prophets, angels and now the Son of God. It reminds me of the story of the man caught in a flood who prays to God for deliverance. As he sits on the verandah of his house with the waters lapping at the foundations and rising steadily, a neighbour comes past in his four wheel drive. “Jump in” he says, “I will take you to high ground”. “No thanks, I have prayed and God said he would save me.” The man replied. The waters continued to rise, and the man went into his house and up to the second floor, he watched as the flood started to rise toward him and continued to pray, a little more desperately. As he did another person came past in a boat, “Get in” he said, “it is too dangerous to stay.” No thanks” said the man “I have prayed, and God will deliver me”. Tragically the flood got higher and higher and so the man climbed on his roof. Now his prayers were very intense, when all seemed lost a helicopter flew over and through a loudspeaker came the message, “Grab the rope we will pull you to safety”. “Thank you, but no, God has promised to save me and I will trust him.” The waters kept rising and the man was swept away and drowned. When he arrived in heaven he asked “Why didn’t you save me? I prayed and I believed what went wrong?” God’s messenger replied, “You were warned three times by those we sent to save you, but you would not listen”.The writer to the Hebrews tells his audience to pay close attention, to listen and to take action. There is a danger and if we don’t pay attention we will not escape. The Great salvation he speaks of includes all that Christ did by his death and resurrection to purify us from our sins but it looks forward to the age to come. In chapter 1:14 we read that we are to inherit salvation, In Ephesians 1 we are assured: “in him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (verses 13,14) and then Paul adds that it is his prayer that,  “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” God has saved us from the penalty and power of sin but he has prepared so much more when he returns in his glory.Jesus compared the kingdom to come as a great feast and in Luke 14:16-20 he gave a parable about how some who were invited to the feast neglected their invitation. When it came time for the feast, messengers were sent to bring the invited guests but one by one they gave excuses. One of them had bought some land and he needed to inspect it, another had taken possession of some oxen and he wanted to try them out while a third had got married and therefore he couldn’t come. Sadly things did not end well for these invited guests and you can read the rest of the story in Luke’s gospel. The distractions and attractions of the present were too much to resist, the guarantee of a future that contained all of God’s goodness, grace and mercy was exchanged for a block of land, a few cows, or even a happy home.We live in a time when short term pleasure is often chosen in place of the promise of a future benefit that seems a long way off. In our Christian life, we often refuse to give up temporary pleasure in order to store eternal treasure. “Yes God we will do something about our salvation, but not now I have too much I want to do first, may be later – but not now.” Do not neglect such a great salvation, pay close attention to his invitation to you.
  1. Do you sometimes expect God to act in spectacular ways when he might just do the ordinary?
  2. Do you think about the inheritance you are guaranteed?
  3. Are you in danger of putting God’s invitation aside because you have other things to do?

 

  1. Everything is Subject
    Hebrews 2:5-9The subject of the Son’s superiority to angels is returned to in verse 5. The writer reminds his readers by referring to Psalm 8 where David writes about the subjection of everything being to the son of man and not to angels.When God created the heavens and earth, he gave the man and woman he created the responsibility and authority to subdue the earth and rule over it (Genesis 1:28). Both man and woman were created in his image, they were the representation of God in his created world. Sadly when they both rebelled against God, having listened to Satan’s claim they could become like gods themselves (Genesis 3:4), they lost their position and dominion and Satan became the ‘ruler of this world’ (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Jesus took away Satan’s power by his own death and resurrection, and victory will be finally proclaimed when he returns in power to bring the New Heavens and the New Earth.This loss of authority suffered by man and woman is called the fall, it broke the relationship God had intended between himself and humanity and left them facing judgement and eternal separation from him. The biblical story is the account of God continually giving men and women the opportunity to be reconciled to him, and their continued failure in doing so. In his final act of mercy God did what was necessary to purify us from our sin and find forgiveness. He gave his own son as a sacrifice, his death paid the penalty for our sin, and his resurrection defeated the power of sin. When he comes again he will invite us to reign with him.

    Verses 5-9 and therefore Psalm 8 refer to this time when men and women were in the fallen state. For a while they were lower than the angels, but a time will come when that will change. The perfect man, Jesus who, “because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Having been made for a little while lower than the angels by becoming fully human, he will be crowned with glory and honour. In these verses the Son is referred to as Jesus for the first time. This emphasizes his humanity. The psalmist asks, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” What is it about humankind, that God would send prophets and angels over thousands of years seeking to bring them back into a relationship with him? That he would finally send his own son to bear unimaginable pain and suffering to take away the debt we owe, knowing that many would reject the invitation he extends to have peace with him? What is the love that God has that looks beyond our fault and rebellion to declare that we are righteous because of the death of his son? This is beyond our imagination and is something that we will not find in any other religion or philosophy. It can only be known and appreciated by faith and grace.

    We know that everything has been put in subjection to Jesus, the Son and yet not everything is – yet. Satan still has limited authority and power in this world which will be taken from him at the return of the Son. All of us still face the prospect of death and sickness in this life, it is the consequence of sin existing in the world. So long as Jesus waits to return sin will exist, but once he does it will be done away with forever, then we will reign with him and all things will be subjected to him as the perfect man, and to us who will be restored to the position God intended before our rebellion.

  1. Do you ever pause to think about what our reconciliation with God cost him?
  2.  Do you eagerly look forward to the return of Jesus?
  3. Why didn’t God just send his son earlier, and why does he wait?

 

  1. Made Perfect
    Hebrews 2:10-11
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    Then founder of our great salvation, who is Jesus, was made perfect. Does this mean that there was some imperfection in him, some flaw or weakness? Was there something lacking that had to be made up before he could do the work of founding our salvation. No, this is not what is meant by the words in verse 10.
    As we have seen the language of our Bibles does not always completely reflect the meaning of the original language and that is the case here. The word for being made perfect comes from the Greek teleos which means to complete, or bring to conclusion. The idea that Jesus had to be made perfect doesn’t mean to add what was needed, but that he should be tested to prove he was perfect for the task ahead. That test was accomplished through suffering which, without explanation may leave the readers wondering. He explains this more fully in chapter 5:8,9 when he writes: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him”. It was by being obedient to God’s will even to the point of death, that he proved he was complete, the perfect and only one suitable on whom salvation could be founded.It was therefore appropriate, or fitting that God establish Jesus as the founder of our salvation, this great salvation that we must pay close attention to. God is the source of all things, they exist for him and exist because of him. It is he that chose to send his son in to the world to ransom humanity, and it is his son that will lead a procession of rescued souls into glory. The word ‘founder’ is in some places translated ‘captain’ or ‘forerunner’, like a captain he will lead sons to glory. He won’t call to them, or stand alongside urging them on, he will lead them. “So he is our Forerunner. He becomes a human being. He suffers and he dies in our place. He rises from the dead victorious, and he enters into glory. Why? So that he might “lead many sons to glory.”” (Piper).The writer to the epistle now introduces another aspect of the reconciled life and he uses the term “sanctified”. This is a word which means to make holy and which creates all sorts of impressions and even caricatures. It is the term from which we get saints and sometimes that is assumed to mean extra spiritual or godly, almost unapproachable, and in some religions that is what is meant. Biblically though it means to be set aside, to belong to God. Yes, someone who belongs to God will be different from others, but our sanctification is not based on what we do but on what God has done. He has chosen you and by faith you have accepted him as the Lord of your life and in this act you are sanctified, set apart, a chosen people, a people of his own possession. The work of sanctification though continues beyond this confession of faith. We are instructed, “just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (1 Peter 1:15). It is as we cooperate with the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we are daily changed into conformity with him – this is sanctification.

    The one who is the source of our salvation, is he who is the source of our sanctification. Just as God and the Son share one essential nature so too does the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity means that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct Persons — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Stated differently, God is one in essence and three in person. These definitions express three crucial truths: (1) the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons, (2) each Person is fully God, (3) there is only one God. (Piper). A profound but mysterious truth that is beyond our imagination!

  1. What do you think of Jesus needing to be shown to be perfect by suffering?
  2. Jesus is our captain and leader and yet he is the radiance of God’s glory how to do you balance these thoughts?
  3. If you have confessed your faith in Jesus you are sanctified and yet you need to continue to be sanctified – what does this mean to you?

 

  1. Not Ashamed
    Hebrews 2:11-15Jesus declares that he is not ashamed to call those who have been sanctified his brothers (and sisters). They all come from the same family, as we read in John 1:12 ‘all those who did receive him, who believed in his name. he gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood or of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God’. The apostle Paul emphasizes this relationship in Romans 8:16 when he writes: ‘The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ’.

    Jesus acknowledges that our faith changes our nature, we now share the same nature as him, we belong to the same father. He insists that he is not ashamed or embarrassed by this. The Son of God, the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his nature, the one who upholds the world by the word of his power and now sits at the right hand of the majesty of God in heaven is proud to call us his family. God is not ashamed of us, but are we sometimes ashamed of him? Are we proud to confess our allegiance to him, quick to defend him when his name is taken in vain? In a country where an increasing number of people deny the reality of Jesus are we spokesmen and women confidently professing our faith? Or do we keep a low profile fearing that our reputation will suffer if people learn we trust in Jesus?

    Not only is Jesus proud of his family he says he will join them in singing praises. The writer of the epistle quotes from Psalm 22 here. The first verse of the Psalm was spoken by Jesus while he was on the cross when he contemplated what his death would cost. Verse 22 which is quoted here testifies to Jesus’ deliverance and resurrection. Prior to Jesus death, his followers were called disciples, friends and sometimes even sheep but now after the resurrection they become his family. The writer also quotes from Isaiah where he spoke prophetically of the Son waiting with the children God had given him. Jesus is going to meet with the church, the assembly of the believers, the congregation and sing God’s praises. John Calvin writes:  “This teaching is the very strongest encouragement to us to bring yet more fervent zeal to the praise of God, when we hear that Christ leads our praise and is the Chief Conductor of our hymns.”

    It was necessary for God to share the same nature as those he came to save, and he did this through the Son, Jesus. By identifying fully with human nature he was able to deal with the curse that rested on it. He was able to destroy the one who held the power of death as the ultimate penalty, by his own death, because he in every way identified with humanity. His resurrection proved that death had no power over him, the devil was rendered powerless. “Christ makes the devil ineffective and inactive as He nullifies the devil’s power of death.  Though the devil is made futile, death and evil still exist (Heb. 3:12; 9:27), total destruction has begun in Jesus’ death but is not yet complete). Ironically, Jesus defeats death with death.  Jesus took the place of those who deserved death, but because Jesus is divine, that would have been impossible if he had not taken human form” (Easter).

    As children of God, brothers and sisters of the son of God, we have no need of fear. The threat of death has been removed. Physical death will still occur but it is temporary as we wait in anticipation for our resurrection into glory. Slavery to sin is broken, we are no longer held captive by the devil to do his will, but have been set free, there will be times when we give in to temptation but we have been set free to choose and no temptation is so strong that we do not have the ability to resist it and God always provides a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). You are a child of God and as a child have access to his throne for grace and mercy in your time of need.

  1. How does it feel to be the brother or sister of Jesus?
  2. Are you ever ashamed of Jesus?
  3. Do you feel captive to certain temptations or are you able to declare your freedom?

 

  1. Merciful and faithful
    Hebrews 2:17-18

    The Son of God is able to be merciful and faithful because he became human, he had the same nature as all of us and faced the same temptations we do. He was hungry and tired, he faced abuse and suffered rejection. He withstood the challenge of loneliness and betrayal by those closest to him. Unreasonable expectations were demanded of him, and he endured physical pain. In every way he was tempted and tested as we are, that is why he understands and can offer the help we need, when we need it.

    As a high priest he was responsible for doing what was needed to restore the relationship between God and his people. That restoration is called reconciliation and the process by which it is achieved ‘atonement’. The Jewish believers understood that the priest would take an offering to the temple and stand before the mercy seat (Exodus 25:10-22.) on the day of Atonement. This ‘seat’ was a covering for the Ark of the Covenant and represented God’s presence, it was hidden by a cloud of smoke. The priest would present an offering on behalf of the people that would purify them and take away the penalty of sin (Leviticus 16). This act of taking away the sin of the community and the individual within it was called making atonement, an act of reconciliation or expiation. These words all have some technical meaning which are not always easy to understand.

    In the letter to the Hebrews this act of making sacrifice is called in many translations making ‘propitiation’ and it combines a number of aspects of those other words. The basic meaning comes from the words for mercy or to make reconciliation. It can also mean to cover over. The Greek Old Testament uses a form of this word as a translation for mercy seat and incudes the idea of turning away or being the means of turning away God’s wrath. What all this means is that when we sin we make ourselves objects of God’s wrath. In order for us to be released from that the penalty for sin needs to be paid and God’s wrath turned away. Jesus became our propitiation – he offered himself as the payment of our debt and by his death he became the mercy seat which turned away the wrath of God. Unlike the bull or goat of the sacrifice, we do not offer him, he offered himself.

    Atonement and expiation refer to the cancellation of sin, whereas propitiation refers to the turning away of God’s wrath. This is complicated and is expressed in words that are unusual or at least not used in everyday conversation. That is why many Bible translations try to express the idea in other words which don’t always capture the full meaning. However, we read that Jesus made propitiation, he not only provided the sacrifice, in his own flesh, but he becomes the place at which the sacrifice is made – he is the mercy seat.

    When Jesus gave up his life on the cross the curtain in the temple which separated the holy of holies from the outer temple, was torn in two. For the first time access to the mercy seat was available to all who would come, not just the High Priest. The offering had been made, and would need to made again. We can come into his presence to find grace and help in our time of need. Help that is offered by one who suffered as we do, faced temptation in the same way but did not give in to it. He is the perfect offering satisfying for all time the debt of sin and sheltering us from the wrath of God.

  1. Making expiation is something we do, but propitiation is something God did. What is the difference?
  2. What does it mean to know that you are ‘covered by the blood of the sacrifice’?
  3. How confident are you to bring all of your needs to God and ask for mercy and help

 

 

Week 3

  1. Better than Moses
    Hebrews 3:1-2On the basis of all that the writer had said about the superiority of Jesus over angels, he invites his readers to ‘consider Jesus’. He is going to go on and compare Jesus to Moses but first he wants these Jewish believers to take a moment to seriously think about the things he has shared with them. He identifies him here as Jesus, who is an apostle and a high priest.When the readers are asked to ‘consider Jesus’ they were not meant to simply look at or notice him. It was intended that they fix their attention on him, to understand what had been said and what that meant to them. Here was Jesus, the Son of the Most High God, fully God and fully human, a man who had lived among them and now was sitting with God. The radiance of God’s nature and also subject to the trials of human life. Jesus who, by the word of his power created the world and all that is in it and now cares for it and carries it toward its final destiny. A man who offered his own life as payment for the penalty of sin and who by the power that dwelt within him, defeated death by his resurrection and therefore defeated the power of sin. Jesus who sits at the right hand of the majesty on high who calls us his brothers and sisters – consider him.Many people are comfortable with the idea of a supreme being that is somehow remote from human life, who is mysterious and fascinating but beyond our comprehension. He is outside of our experience and unapproachable. The God, who is the awesome, terrifying all powerful being that will always be apart from our experience. The God of films and television and literature, a transcendent force that can only be imagined but never known. The idea that God is Jesus is much less comfortable. We are presented with the idea the God has become as we are, he is approachable and therefore somehow diminished. The popular caricatures of Jesus as a mild figure sitting among lambs or healing the sick is not consistent with an almighty God that demands our worship. A God that can suffer, feel pain and ultimately die is too much for the many to accept. But our writer instructs us to consider Jesus who is God and who has dwelt among us.
    The invitation to consider Jesus is not offered to everyone but to those who are holy brothers and sisters. They are holy, not because of their own godly lifestyles, although that could be expected, but because they share in a heavenly calling. They have been called by God to accept his offer of salvation through Jesus and have responded to him. These people are now the children of God, and if you have responded to God’s invitation to you, then you as well are part of the God’s family, the church. You are holy because he has set you apart and adopted you into his family.Two titles are given to Jesus, he is an apostle and he is the high priest of our confession. We are used to hearing the disciples and Paul referred to as apostles, but less often Jesus. The word ‘apostle’ means a messenger or someone sent with a commission, and in many ways that applies to all of us who have been given the commission to make disciples. Jesus, though was the great apostle, sent from the throne of God with the good news that a new way was being opened into the Holy place. In that holy place is Jesus as both the one who offers the sacrifice but who also became the sacrifice for us. It is as we consider Jesus, the son of man and the son of God and confess our faith in him as saviour and Lord that we have confidence to enter this Holy Place and receive his grace and mercy and the assurance of our eternal inheritance.
  1. Take a moment to consider Jesus – what are your impressions?
  2. Do you find it easier to worship God, the Almighty or Jesus the son of God?
  3. Are you confident to come to God’s throne?

 

  1. The builder of the House
    Hebrews 3:3-6Moses is arguably the greatest figure in Judaism other than God. According to the Jewish encyclopedia: ‘As liberator, lawgiver, and leader of a people which was transformed by him from an unorganized horde into a nation, he occupies a more important place in popular legend than the Patriarchs and all the other national heroes.’ In Numbers chapter 12 God declares that Moses was unlike any other prophet, while he spoke to them in dreams and visions this was not the case with Moses, ‘With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord.’ In Deuteronomy 34:10 God says, ‘And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses’.Moses was a Levite by birth and was called a priest. Chosen by God to deliver the people of Israel from the captivity of the Egyptians he was entrusted with the Ten Commandments and the rest of the law which were the conditions of God’s covenant with Israel. He, along with his brother, Aaron and sister, Miriam led the people through the wilderness. He oversaw the building of the Tabernacle and the priestly ordinances that guided he people in their relationship with God. While the Jewish people traced their origin as a nation to Abraham and the promises made to him to become the father of a nation, Moses stands as the leading figure in their journey of faith. As the representative of God’s law he stood with Elijah, representing the prophets, with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. To challenge Moses would be to attack the substance of the Jewish faith.As the writer to the Hebrew Christians begins to make comparison with Moses he does not criticize him. No negative comment was made even though Moses was a reluctant leaders and through an act of disobedience was refused entry into the promised land (Numbers 20:12). He is described as a servant that was faithful over all in God’s house. Here the writer is quoting from Numbers 12:7. This is the comparison that is made with Jesus, the Son. For the first time Jesus is referred to as Christ. He has now received three titles: the son of God, stressing his divinity; as Jesus referring to his humanity and now as the Christ, the anointed one. The Messiah, anointed as the high priest making atonement for the sins of the people.
    The house that is spoken of could perhaps be better stated as ‘household’, it is the company of God’s people. Moses served God’s people but was always one of them, elsewhere in the bible the church is referred to as the ‘household of faith’. In the days of the Old Testament the house was the people of Israel, now it includes all those who by faith have come into a saving relationship with God through Christ. Moses ws a faithful servant but Jesus, the Christ is the son. He is over the house while Moses is in it. The comparison the writer makes is not one of faithfulness although Jesus would no doubt prove to be superior, but of glory. More glory is given to the builder than to the building. Da Vinci receives more glory than his paintings, an architect more than the building she designs, the chef more than the meal. The house that is built by God reflects the glory of the builder, but it is the builder that receives the glory.The writer is making the point that Moses deserves to be recognized for the way he served God’s house, but glory must go the one who built it. He has demonstrated that Jesus is superior to the prophets, then to the angels and now to Moses. All that has been, has pointed to one who has come, he alone is worthy of our worship everything else has been a preparation for the glorification of the Son.
  1. Why didn’t the writer comment on Moses’ weaknesses and failures?
  2. In what way is the church like a house, or a household?
  3. Is it possible to focus more on the symbols of our faith (the cross, communion, baptism for example) than the person they point to?

 

  1. Today
    Hebrews 3: 7-9The writer of the epistle connects what he has just written with a quote from Psalm 95. The words he uses were familiar to those of Jewish tradition or faith. At the beginning of every Sabbath the call to worship was introduced with the words: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts”. Every week, every year as the people gathered to begin their Sabbath they would hear these words and understand the context they came from.In Psalm 95 the quoted words are introduced with: “For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…” It then goes on to speak about the failure of their fathers and the result that they were not able to enter the rest God had planned for them. Now each Friday as the Faithful Jews prepared themselves to enter the memorial Sabbath rest, they heard those words as a warning.This psalm is attributed to King David but the epistle writer makes clear that the words are those of the Holy Spirit. In quoting this passage the writer begins the second warning delivered to the Jewish believers. They must not fail as their fathers had done, they needed to listen to the voice of God and respond to what he said. The words spoken and repeated are to the community of God’s people and while they have personal application they still refer to the people of God as his chosen possession, a community or a household of faith.Charles Spurgeon wrote: “Today is the only time we have”. Yesterday is gone and who knows, other than God, what tomorrow will bring? The only day we are sure of is this one, today! Nowhere does God say, tomorrow when you hear my voice, it is always today. There are many songs that speak about the regret of putting things off until tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes. The Living years, one of my favourite songs contains these words about a broken relationship:

    I wasn’t there that morning, when my Father passed away
    I didn’t get to tell him, all the things I had to say
    Say it loud, say it clear, you can listen as well as you hear
    It’s too late when we die, to admit we don’t see eye to eye

    While the Bad wolves offer:

    If my world stops spinning, And tomorrow never comes; Will I be remembered? Did I give enough?
    Will I be forgiven For everything I’ve done?; What if I don’t wake up, And tomorrow never comes?

    ‘Today, if you hear his voice’ the writer says. God will be speaking but will you hear him? Do you have an attentive ear, are you shutting out the noise and the distraction so that you can hear? It is possible to miss God’s voice when he speaks, our attention may be elsewhere you might be just too ‘busy’ for God. If you hear God’s voice then you need to choose how to respond. The Fathers of Israel chose to harden their hearts. They didn’t like what they heard and so they ignored it, or shut it out. Maybe answered with a ‘not now, maybe tomorrow’. When God speaks to you, listen.  He may have something different to say tomorrow, tomorrow may be too late. Today, listen for God and when you hear him respond to him in faith and let him lead you to your place of rest.

  1. What are you putting off until tomorrow that you need to do today?
  2. Do you prepare yourself to listen for God’s voice?
  3. If you knew there was no tomorrow, what would you do differently today?

 

  1. No rest for the wicked
    Hebrews 3:9-11The title of this page is a phrase quite commonly used by people who are very busy or have to work hard. It is usually intended to be humorous. The phrase probably has its origin in the Bible indicating that those  who continue to do evil will face eternal punishment. It can also refer to someone who is possessed by an evil spirit and is never at rest, always looking for some mischief. It can be applied to this passage in Hebrews as God denies rest to those who have provoked him and continually rebelled against him.The writer of the letter has just warned the readers against following the example of their forefathers, and he here he reminds them of what they did to provoke him. The reference to 40 years is clearly speaking of the period spent in the wilderness after their escape from Egypt. The distance from the Red Sea to the promised land would have been about an 11 day walk, but it took them 40 years! It was in that time that they were given the law and all the regulations relating to sacrifices and worship. Throughout the whole 40 years God led them, provided food and water, protected them and established his covenant with them. Yet God stated that the people had tested him in that time, so much that he had become really angry.In the 40 years in the wilderness God gave many signs of his presence and his leading. He provided a cloud to follow and to remind them that he had not left them. He miraculously provided food, first by a wafer like biscuit called manna and then quails, he also produced water out of the rock, but they were not happy. They complained about there being no variety in their diet and said they would rather go back to captivity in Egypt than have the same thing every day. They complained about Moses’ leadership and revolted against him. Day after day God provided for them and protected them, and every day they complained.

    There were many signs and wonders, but that wasn’t enough. They had a leader who humbly and sacrificially served, but he wasn’t what they wanted. There were miracles but they wanted more. When God told them to go into the promised land and he would be with them to protect them, they refused because there were big men over there and it was dangerous, then when God told them not to go they decided they would and were beaten in battle. The people had been promised rest but time after time they turned their back on God and chose their own ways. Eventually God had had enough “no more’’ he said “not one person who was in Egypt and come through this wilderness will enter the place of rest”.

    The promise of rest has not been withdrawn. God established a day of rest in creation when he ceased working after six days and rested. It does not mean that God ceased from activity, he is always active but he has finished the work of creation. When Jesus finished the work he had to do on earth he ascended to the father and sat down. We are invited to enter the place of God’s rest because Jesus finished the work for us. Like the fathers of Israel though we need to enter into that rest. Jesus says  “Come to me all of you who are tired, worn out and carrying the burden of sin, and I will give you rest”. If we want to experience God’s rest, we need to come to Jesus. We must trust him by faith and allow him to lead us to the Father. The work of salvation has been completed we need not and cannot add to it, but we need to be obedient to the call of Jesus to come to him.

    The fathers of Israel needed to respond in faith to God’s instruction to enter the promised land, and so do we. They failed and lost their opportunity, we must be careful not to follow their example. Today when God speaks to you, hear him, listen to him and say yes to his invitation to find rest for your soul.

  1. Do feel you are at rest?
  2. Is salvation you need to work at, or can you accept the provision of God’s grace?
  3. Faith requires obedience, what do you think that means?

 

  1. An unbelieving heart
    Hebrews 3:12-13The writer to this epistle intends that his audience read and study it together. He addresses them as a community, not a group of individuals. In our culture, especially in the west we are very individualistic. This contrasts with many other places where belonging to the community is a priority. This was especially so with the Jews, and still is. Community and belonging are essential to wellbeing, to be separated from the community or to be excluded from it needed to be guarded against. The western world has lost much of that character, and while the church speaks of being in fellowship, or having common participation, the sense of community that existed for the Jews and the early church is largely absent.The caution he extends to his readers in verse 12 is addressed to them as a community. Together they needed to make sure there was no one among them who had an unbelieving heart. No doubt any who fitted that description and who heard the words would be challenged by them, but the whole community, or church needed to take responsibility. Attending a church, is not enough, even if a person is the most enthusiastic singer, the keenest volunteer and the hardest worker he or she may still struggle with unbelief.

    Unbelief, as it is used here is not doubt. All of us struggle with doubt from time to time in different ways. The writer is not questioning whether a person believes in the existence of God, but if they have put their trust in him. We might call that saving faith, the decision to demonstrate our belief by putting our faith in Jesus and trusting him for salvation. Unfortunately, there are those who are part of the community of the church who have not come to that decision. Some have grown up in the church, their parents attended and maybe even their grandparents. They may have attended a Christian School and Sunday School, they believe that God is who he says he is, they may have seen miracles and been touched emotionally as they have sung Christian songs, but they have not put their faith in Him. There are others who are new to the church community, they find friendship there and enjoy the singing and company. They recognize that there is something to Christianity which offers them a hope they do not have, but they have not put their faith in him.

    As the church we need to be aware of those who are like this because they are at risk of falling away. No one likes to be nagged, but this is an issue of life or death. As the church we are instructed to exhort or plead with each other every day to make sure of their relationship with God. The writer says we are to do this as long as it is ‘today’, in other words a time will come when today is over and it will be too late. It might be too late because He stops calling or simply because the longer we leave it the more difficult it becomes. As the writer says we become hardened, sin has convinced us we will have an opportunity in the future, or that it isn’t all that important.

    The choice to believe is not a matter of understanding it is a decision for the will. “Unbelief is not inability to understand, but unwillingness to trust… it is the will, not the intelligence, that is involved.” (Newell). Spurgeon forcefully writes: “you have said, ‘I cannot believe,’ but it would be more honest if you had said, ‘I will not believe.’ The mischief lies there. Your unbelief is your fault, not your misfortune. It is a disease, but it is also a crime: it is a terrible source of misery to you, but it is justly so, for it is an atrocious offense against the God of truth.” Each of us need to take care that our heart has not become hardened, and as the church to encourage one another to do the same.

  1. How does unbelief differ from doubt?
  2. How should we encourage one another?
  3. Are you concerned that if you ask someone about their faith you will upset them?

 

  1. Keep on holding on
    Hebrews 3:14-15These two verses have caused concern to many believers. Do they say that if you don’t persevere in your faith you will lose you salvation? Do you have to live with the worry that you may have been disobedient when you die and will face judgement? Will God get tired of your sin and say to you that you will never enter his rest? The short answer is no, it doesn’t mean that.

    There are those who believe that it is possible to be saved and then to lose your salvation, but this would contradict many of the teachings of Jesus and the words of the Bible. John 6:39–40; 10:27–29; Rom. 8:35, 38–39; Eph. 1:4; Phil. 1:6; and 1 Pet. 1:3–5 for example. A particularly important passage for me comes from 2 Timothy 1:12 where Paul writes: “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.” Paul’s confidence was not based on his own performance or activity but on the character and nature of God who promised to keep him. When Jesus was hanging on the cross he declared “it is finished” all that was needed to secure salvation for those who believed in him was done, nothing more was needed.

    What then does it mean? Perhaps the simplest way to put it is that the evidence of a genuine decision to accept the Lordship of Christ and his saving grace is that we will continue to the end. There will be moments of rebellion and disobedience but we will never lose our confidence an faith in him. We may drift away, but with the prompting of the Holy Spirit we will return. Those who do not keep on to the end have not showed any evidence of a genuine commitment.

    Those that have been genuine and sincere in their confession of Jesus as Lord have come to share in Christ. He is the anointed one, he who sits at the right hand of the Father having satisfied all the demands of the law. He has secured for us an eternal inheritance and prepared a place for us. The word ‘share’ can be translated to, ‘participate in ’or be a ‘partaker of‘ Guzik writes: “this is the whole picture. Partakers of His obedience, partakers of His suffering, partakers of His death, partakers of His resurrection, partakers of His victory, partakers of His plan, partakers of His power, partakers of His ministry of intercession, partakers of His work, partakers of His glory, partakers of His destiny. Saying “Partakers of Christ” says it all.”

    Having trusted in Jesus who is the Christ, we have entered into a relationship with him in which we participate in all that he has done and is yet to do. Our confidence is based in the person of Jesus and not in our ability to maintain a spotless life. He has suffered and died for us, more than that he rose again and ascended to the Father. There he sits and in a mysterious way we are seated with him (Ephesians 2:6) in the heavenly places, in anticipation of seeing the immeasurable riches of his grace. Our salvation is certain and the evidence will be that we do not lose hope but persevere to the end.

    The reminder comes: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion”. If you have yet to trust in him, do it now – today!

  1. Will the time come when it is too late to say “yes” to Jesus?
  2. What can you do to ensure that you don’t drift from God?
  3. Have you deliberately and intentionally said yes to Jesus?

 

  1. No Entry!
    Hebrews 3:16-19

    This chapter ends with three rhetorical questions: Who rebelled; who provoked God; and who wouldn’t enter God’s rest? These questions were especially significant to the recipients of the letter because they were Jews and they knew that it was their ancestors that were being spoken of. For most of us these events are a matter of history and while we may understand them in the context of the biblical story it was different for these Hebrew Christians. We don’t have a particular connection to these men and women of the past, but for the Jews it was what defined them as a nation, as God’s chosen people.

    Two passages which describe those who had failed so dramatically are Exodus 17:1–7 and Numbers 14:20–38. God refers to ten acts of disobedience (Numbers 14:22), the number 10 may not be intended literally, it is used often in the Bible to mean ‘many’ or ‘countless’ times. Jacob accused Laban of changing his wages 10 times; Nehemiah claimed the Jews had tried to discourage him 10 times: Daniel was said to be 10 times better than all the other wise men and Job claimed to have been insulted 10 times. 10 is also considered to be the number that reflects perfection or completeness: there are ten commandments, and 10 plagues of Egypt and 10 days of repentance were required ending on the day of Atonement, for example. It may of course have been meant literally in which case they could be the events identified in: Exodus 14:10-12, Exodus 15:22-24, Exodus 16:1-3, Exodus 16:19-20, Exodus 16:27-30, Exodus 17:1-4, Exodus 32:1-35, Numbers 11:1-3, Numbers 11:4-34, Numbers 14:1-3. 10 acts of disobedience over 40 years doesn’t seem so extreme, so perhaps what is intended is reflect a rebellious attitude that characterized their consistent behaviour.
    It was not disobedience that disqualified the people from entering God’s rest though, at least not by itself. It was unbelief. Stephen Cole writes: ‘Unbelief that is unchecked quickly moves into disobedience. Often unbelief is a smokescreen used to hide disobedience. Unbelief is more socially acceptable than sin, so we posture ourselves as struggling with intellectual issues. But beneath the surface, we know that if God’s Word is true, then we need to turn from our sins, and we don’t want to do that. The disobedient who failed to enter God’s rest were one and the same with the unbelieving.’

    The questions asked by the writer point out that the people who were denied God’s rest were given every opportunity. They had been miraculously delivered from captivity, had been set free and led by Moses and yet rebelled. They were provided for, once again, in miraculous ways but they continually complained, they grumbled continually about their food and the water, the leadership, that Moses was away too long, that they had left Egypt at all and so on. When they finally got to the place from where they could see their promised land they didn’t want to go so they sent out spies to check it out. When the spies came back they chose to stay where they were, they did not believe God would deliver them and give them the land he had promised. It was this unbelief that caused them to disobey him. They did not lose their right to enter the promised land because of their sin or because of their disobedience, but because of their unbelief.

    When a person does not believe that God will deliver them and give them rest, they will not respond to him when he invites them to trust in him. When they do not believe that God is a righteous God who will punish those who rebel against him they will not listen to his voice. Their unbelief will lead to disobedience, and they will be denied entrance to God’s peace. This is true in eternal matters, but it is also true every day. God offers his rest to you, but you will only enter into it if you believe that he is who he says he is, and will do what says he will do. We need to act on what we believe to be true, and so demonstrate the faith through which we receive his perfect peace that that keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

  1. Why is unbelief seen as more critical than obedience?
  2. Did you know that God feels so strongly about grumbling?
  3. Are you enjoying God’s rest – or is there any area you struggle to trust God in?

 

 

Week 4

  1. His Rest
    Hebrews 4:1-2While still elaborating on Psalm 95 the writer of this epistle now moves his emphasis to the church, to them the promise of entering God’s rest still remains. What does this mean? The church is not waiting to enter a promised land in the way that the people of Israel did and if it means the rest that we have when we enter eternity, how can some of the church fail to reach it. Are they in danger of losing salvation?There are many different opinions about what is meant here, and those views include the possibility that Christians can lose there salvation and therefore they should be fearful of that happening. If that were the case it means our salvation is dependent upon our activity, something we must do rather than the grace and finished work of Christ. Ephesians 2:8 insists “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”. So if that is not what the writer intends, what does he mean?
    There are three different ways ‘rest’ is spoken of in the Bible. It occurs in the past, the present and in the future. To use Biblical words these could be called: the rest of justification; the rest of sanctification; and the rest of glorification. It can be a little complicated and commentators differing opinions about which one of these aspects is mentioned here.We enter the rest of justification when, by faith, we accept the offer of salvation provided by Jesus. On the day of Pentecost Peter was asked by the crowd what they needed to do to be saved. His answer was: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38). Paul wrote to the church at Rome: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). It is on this basis we are justified, or made right before God and are at rest.The rest of glorification is what we experience in eternity. It is ultimately heaven that is on the mind of the writer of Hebrews as he urges his readers to enter into the rest of God through faith in Christ (Phillips). This is what we look forward to, which some would see the spiritual equivalent to the promised land. In the meanwhile we are in the wilderness. While there some obvious similarities here, there are differences also. In the case of the Jews only two were permitted to enter the promised land, Joshua and Caleb because they believed God, while the rest died in the wilderness because of their unbelief. All of those who have genuinely trusted in Christ, that is the church, have the assurance of this future rest and will not be turned away from the heavenly kingdom. Ephesians 2:5-7 assure us: ‘it is by grace you have been saved. 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’. This speaks of sitting with Christ, in a place of rest.These two ‘rests’ are guaranteed, one we have and one we will enjoy in the future, but right now we are able to enjoy a third type of rest. Jesus calls and says ‘come to me all you who are tired out and burdened and I will give you rest’. This rest is available to those who are already true believers. They are saved but have not entered the fullness of rest in Christ. It is associated with sanctification in which a believer is walking in faith, enabled by grace and by the Spirit. This is rest from the power of sin, from anxiety, worry and guilt. Freedom from condemnation. God said through Isaiah: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (30:15), sadly the next words are ‘but you were not willing’.The promise remains, God’s peace rest is offered to you, it is received by faith and belief in his promises. Be careful not to miss out!
  1. Are you confident that all three types of rest are available to you?
  2. Do you think you achieve God’s rest by working harder at being spiritual or in quietness and rest?
  3. If you are feeling agitated and stressed what should you do?

 

 

  1. What is rest?
    Hebrews 4:3-5Many people say the English language is difficult to learn and one of the reasons for that is that one word may have different meanings according to its context. One of those words is ‘Rest’. When you sit down you may be said to be at rest but when you don’t eat all of the cake, you might leave the rest. You might rest on something while you are waiting, or rest your eyes on a sunset or object of beauty. If you play snooker your cue may be placed on a rest and if a musician, the music will contain a number of ‘rests’. If someone dies they might be laid to rest, while if you sleep well you have a had a good night rest. You can possibly think of other examples. When you grow up with a language that all makes sense, but if it is new to you it can be very confusing.The word “rest” appears 9 times in Hebrews chapter 4. Three different Greek words are translated as rest, they are katapausis, sabbatismos, and anapausis, one or other of these words is used 9 times in the chapter and they all have different meanings! Katapausis essentially means to cease or to finish working, in this sense something is put to rest once it is complete. Sabbastimos means Sabbath and is only used here in the new Testament. Anapausis actually means to relax or rest but it is not used here or anywhere else in Hebrews. So when the word ‘rest’ appears here it has the meaning of a completed work, all that needs to be done has been done. This is God’s rest after he finished the work of creation. He did not cease activity, but he entered his rest and now invites us to join him there.It is the very rest God Himself enjoys and which He Himself makes available to us by grace through faith. (Hurt). Spurgeon wrote: “Do not tell me that there is no rest for us till we get to heaven. We who have believed in Jesus enter into rest even now. Why should we not do so? Our salvation is complete. The robe of righteousness in which we are clad is finished. The atonement for our sins is fully made. We are reconciled to God, beloved of the Father, preserved by his grace, and supplied by his providence with all that we need. We carry all our burdens to him and leave them at his feet. We spend our lives in his service, and we find his ways to be ways of pleasantness, and his paths to be paths of peace. Oh, yes, we have found rest unto our souls! I recollect the first day that I ever rested in Christ, and I did rest that day. And so will all of you who trust in Jesus as I trusted in him.”As we enter the rest of God we don’t settle into a lifetime of inactivity, instead Paul reminds us that: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) And again in Philippians 2:12,13, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” We do not need to work for our salvation, that work was completed by Christ who now sits with the Father, we by faith enter into that rest. But the fact of our salvation sets us free to do the work God has prepared for us, not in order to earn credit with God, but as an act or worship expressed to him.
    John MacArthur notes: “It means to be free from guilt and even unnecessary feelings of guilt. It means freedom from worry about sin, because sin is forgiven. God’s rest is the end of legalistic works and the experience of peace in the total forgiveness of God.” And we who have believed have entered into this rest.
  1. Can you see the difference with rest that is relaxation from activity and the rest which means something is finished?
  2. Do you know that you don’t have to work for your salvation?
  3. How do you ‘work out’ your salvation?

 

  1. Only Believe
    Hebrews 4:3-4The writer of Hebrews makes the statement that those who have believed have entered the rest that God makes available. He is speaking here to those in the Jewish Community who had put their trust in God through Jesus Christ and so had become the church. He doesn’t say that they will enter God’s rest, or that they might but that they, along with the writer, himself have already entered.It is evident he is not speaking here of a future event, the time when either we pass from this life through death or when Christ returns to establish the new heavens and the new earth. He is not speaking about the daily experience of resting from our troubles and concerns. He is referring to entering the rest that was made available by Jesus through his finished work on the cross and secured through his resurrection and ascension. It is in the assurance of our salvation that we rest, it is God’s rest – not ours and if we have believed then we have entered into it.The requirement for entering this rest is belief, but as James writes: “You believe that God is one. Good for you! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (James 2:19). The type of belief mentioned here refers not just to head knowledge but a belief that results in a changed (though not perfect) life. Faith that saves holds on, obeys, endures, bears fruit and does not shrink back, drift away or fall away. To believe means to consider something to be true and trustworthy. It accepts that what is spoken of is genuine, or real and so will produce a benefit that is good, effective and able to do what is promised. It implies total commitment to the one who is trusted.James is a very practical letter and is full of advice about how to live out a life of faith. In chapter 2 he makes the point that faith that doesn’t result in some practical outcome is worse than useless, it is dead. It is certainly not the faith or belief that will gain entry in God’s rest. D Edmond Hiebert writes: “The purpose of James is to goad his readers to recognize and accept their need for a living, active faith and to challenge them to test their own faith by the basic criterion that “faith without works is useless”. He goes on to draw from James’ writings the way faith will be demonstrated in the believer’s life:
    faith is shown by its response to the word of God (James 1:19-27)
    faith is shown by its reaction to partiality (James 2:1-13)
    faith is shown by its production of works (James 2:14-26)
    faith is shown by its production of self-control (James 3:1-18)
    faith is shown by its reactions to the values of the world (James 4:1-5:12)
    faith is shown by its reliance on prayer (James 5:13-18)

    Belief that guarantees entrance into God’s rest, is not lifeless intellectual agreement with a set of propositions or statements. It is living and active and produces change in the one who believes. Jesus challenged his followers when he said: ““Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6:46-49). How strong is your foundation?

  1. George Vins a persecuted Christian once asked, “If you were put on trial for your faith would they find enough evidence to prove you guilty?” How do you respond?
  2. How do you rate yourself against the list of characteristics suggested by Hiebert?’
  3. How has your life changed since you believed in Jesus?

 

  1. Still a chance
    Hebrews 4:6-7“Delay hardens the heart, especially when we are fully aware that we have heard the voice of God in the inner soul. Every shrug of the shoulder that puts off acting on God’s urging for change, every toss of the head that says, “I know I should, but I don’t care,” every attempt at outward conformity without inner commitment produces a hardening of the heart that makes repentance harder and harder to do. The witness of the Spirit must not be ignored, for the opportunity to believe does not last forever. Playing games with the living God is not only impertinent, but also dangerous.” (Stedman).Those Israelites who had been recued from Egypt and having travelled through the wilderness to see the promised land failed to enter into it. Their unbelief caused them to disobey God’s instruction to cross into the land and possess it. The result was that God told them that they would never enter it. They had been given good news, they were going to receive an inheritance, a future in a land of their own. They would be called God’s people and he would be their God, but they rejected it. The offer that God made was not withdrawn though, the promise remained. The rest they anticipated in the promised land was not the final rest that God had planned.Throughout Scripture reference is made to entering God’s rest, it was not located in a physical place but in the presence of God. The act of crossing the river was an act of faith, just as Abraham left his home in the mountains in response to the promise God made to him. Because Abraham believed God he was considered to be righteous and entered God’s rest. God continues to call people to respond in faith to his invitation to enter his rest. They are not asked to mentally evaluate the facts, or to decide whether this is the best alternative available to them, or if this is a convenient time,  but to respond in faith.

    God has appointed a day on which to decide whether or not to enter this place of rest, and he called it ‘today’. As we have previously pointed out, the only day we have is today; yesterday is gone, tomorrow may never arrive, all we have is today. The Jews rejected their invitation and that generation, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, didn’t get another chance. Every one of them were members of one or other of the twelve tribes of Israel and believed God had chosen them, but they didn’t believe him, and died in the desert. There were those that missed out on the Promised Land but still entered God’s final rest such as Moses who later stood on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus and many Jews afterward became righteous through their faith. James mentions Rahab, a prostitute who hid the spies when they entered Jericho. She was justified when she demonstrated her faith through her actions (James 2:25). Chapter 11 of Hebrews provides a catalogue of those who demonstrated their faith and trust in God by their lives.

    The offer of God’s rest has never been withdrawn it is offered to each one of us, and is accepted by faith. A faith that is demonstrated by an observable response, a commitment to the Lordship of Jesus. But the time to respond is today, if you have not accepted God’s invitation, then today he is calling you and today is the day to respond.

  1. Have you accepted God’s invitation into his rest?
  2. Do you think a time will come when God will stop calling?
  3. How has you decision to trust God changed your life?

 

  1. The living Word
    Hebrews 4:12-13“The Word of the Lord is a light to guide you, a counselor to counsel you, a comforter to comfort you, a staff to support you, a sword to defend you, and a physician to cure you. The Word is a mine to enrich you, a robe to clothe you, and a crown to crown you.” (Thomas Brookes).There are no secrets from God, as Psalm 139 reminds us ‘he knows the thoughts and intentions of our heart’. It may be possible to convince some people that you are a sincere committed follower of Jesus, but when you are alone or with others your true nature becomes obvious. The most godly and enthusiastic worshipper on Sunday may be the ungodly businessman or woman on Monday, or the footballer who curses the loudest on Saturday. We may be the keenest servants of the church but be denied entrance to God’s rest because we never really did trust him. As the writer to the epistle says, “we are all naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account”.

    The word of God which exposes us is the same word that gives us life. It contains the promises of God that convince us of the assurance and guarantee of our salvation. It is the word that calls to come to Jesus because he will give us rest and takes us to the Father. It is the same word that tells us that on our confession of faith we become children of God and coheirs with Jesus of the glories of heaven. It is this word that is a guide to live by and a promise to trust in. We call this word the Bible, which is a Latin word that means a book or collection of brooks and is drawn from the Greek, meaning a paper or scroll. We also call it ‘Scriptures’ or writings. What makes our book, or collection of books special is that is God’s book, it is alive, it is sharp and it is active. Luther writes: “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold on me.”

    The writer of Ecclesiastes said: “there is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). And while it is true that in many books there is knowledge and benefit to be found, none of them compare to God’s book. There is value in daily commentaries, devotionals and writings such as this one and they may serve to encourage or challenge us in our relationship with God, but they can never accomplish what God’s word can do. The epistle writer compares it to a broad sword which has two sharp edges and at the same time a rapier which is a sword with a pointed end designed to pierce through the sternest defence. When we are exposed to God’s word, like a sword it cuts through the defences we put up, the false arguments and excuses. It doesn’t take prisoners, it is brutal, sometimes savage. The Rapier though pierces our heart, finds the vulnerable places and convinces us of our need.
    God doesn’t use his word to hurt his people, in a similar way that a surgeon doesn’t intend harm when he or she applies a scalpel. He uses is it to bring healing and life, sometimes that means cutting away the things that would cause harm or damage and that then allows healthy growth and restoration.

    Of course a sword has little value if it remains in its sheath. It must be taken out and used. The word of God needs to be read and listened to, God will use it to encourage, challenge, convict, bless and comfort you. He intends all of it to be read, even the tricky parts, it is his message and promise to you and sometimes he will speak from the most unexpected places and if you just stick the familiar parts, you might miss out on something that he really wants you to hear.

  1. Do you find the bible to be alive when you read it?
  2. Have you ever experienced being ‘pierced to the heart’ by God’s word?
  3. Are there parts of God’s word you avoid?

 

  1. The Great High Priest
    Hebrews 4:14-15The writer to the Hebrew people returns to his theme that Jesus is High Priest (Chapter 2:17), but he is not like other High Priests, he is a ‘great’ high priest. His audience were being persecuted, not only by the Roman authorities but by the Jewish people that had remained committed to their beliefs and rejected the idea that Jesus was the Messiah. Some of them were tempted to return to those old beliefs and abandon the Christian church. This letter is an encouragement to them not to desert their belief in Jesus and to hold on to their confession of faith.

    Central to the Jewish faith was the High Priest who would enter the holy of holies on the day of atonement and offer a sacrifice on behalf of himself and the nation. This sacrifice would restore the relationship that had been broken by sin and turn God’s wrath away. The writer now goes back to his introduction that Jesus is a high priest and a better one than any that existed before him.

    In order to get to the holy of holies the priest would have to pass through the outer courts, the inner courts, the holy place and then through the curtain into the holy of holies. Only he was permitted entrance and only when God permitted it. In the 13th Century Jewish scholar Zohar wrote about the High Priest: ‘A knot of rope of gold hangs from his leg, from fear perhaps he would die in the holy of holies, and they would need to pull him out with this rope.’ The idea being is that the High Priest might prove to be unworthy and would be struck dead, no one else dared to go in after him, so thy would pull him out. There is no evidence that is actually true, but it has entered some Jewish traditions.

    Jesus never entered the Holy of Holies in the temple on earth, but having offered himself as our sacrifice, and once the temple curtain was torn in two, he passed through the heavens to sit at the right hand of God. He sat down, the work was finished, no more offerings were needed. He was in every way greater that every other High Priest; they never sat in the presence of God, their work was never finished, there would be repetitive offerings made. The High Priest was just a shadow, a type of the one to come. He was replaced by Jesus, the Messiah the Great High Priest.

    Confession is the outward expression of inner conviction; the letter writer tells his hearers to hang on tight to that confession. Temptation to turn back will come, the distractions of life will threaten to weaken our grip, but we must hold on. The apostle Peter wrote in his second letter: “This is why you must make every effort to add moral excellence to your faith; and to moral excellence, knowledge;  and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, endurance; and to endurance, godliness;  and to godliness, affection for others; and to affection for others, love.  If all these are yours and they are growing in you, they’ll keep you from becoming inactive and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whoever lacks these things is shortsighted and blind, forgetting that they were cleansed from their past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be eager to confirm your call and election. Do this and you will never ever be lost.” (2 Peter 1:5-10). God has called you and chosen you, you have confessed him by faith, now is the time to grow in your faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

  1. Many of those who trusted in Jesus in the New Testament confessed their faith by being baptized, What other ways of publicly confessing can you think of?
  2. The list of qualities Peter writes about are not supposed to be added one after another but developed together, are there any there that you need to work on?
  3. Peter says that having these qualities, and if they are increasing, will make you active and fruitful in your knowledge of Jesus, is this your experience?

 

  1. Come Boldly
    Hebrews 4:15,16

    The writer of this epistle invites his readers to join him in drawing near to God’s throne, with boldness. What a contrast to the old system they were used to! Numbers 18:22 warned that “the Israelites must not go near the tent of meeting, or they will bear the consequences of their sin and will die.” Now they, and we can come right up to God’s throne. What other God invites and allows his followers to confidently and boldly walk into his presence? This was never possible for the Jews and yet now becomes open to all who would come by faith.

    We are invited to not just come, but to come confidently or boldly. The word that is used there has been described by Wuest this way, “freedom in speaking, unreservedness in speech, free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance… free and bold speaking; speaking out every word. Its dominant idea is boldness, confidence, as opposed to fear, ambiguity, or reserve.” Specifically, we come to receive mercy from the throne of grace.

    Who of us do not face times of need, when mercy is all we need? Are we concerned that our words will not be adequate, or our sins will prevent God from hearing us? Is there some special formula we must use or ritual we must follow when we come? Certainly, we come with reverence and respect, but we come confidently. Sitting alongside God is the Lord Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest. He has cleansed us from any and all sin that may bar us from God’s presence. Alongside the throne is the Holy Spirit who “himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because   the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26,27) He puts our inadequate words and feelings into the meaningful language.

    God does not want us to adopt a special tone of voice when we pray; Prayers do not become effective because of how long they are, Jesus said: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (Mathew 6:7). They do not get ignored because we forget to say “amen” or add “In Jesus name” at the end. If we stumble over the words he still hears us, if all we do is weep or cry out he understands. He just wants us to come.

    The place we come to is the Throne of Grace. It is a Throne, the place of authority and absolute power but we come as sons and daughters not as servants. His son, Jesus who sits alongside him introduces us as his brothers and sisters and offers to speak on our behalf. It is a Throne of grace. Grace is seen when we receive something that we have not earned or paid for; it is freely given. God’s Throne is the place where grace is dispensed. We don’t ask God for mercy because we deserve it, or because we have fulfilled the right obligations, or done enough good deeds to outweigh the bad ones. We ask for grace because God is a God of mercy and he delights in giving good gifts to his children. And we expect mercy because he promised he would give it and he keeps his promises.

  1. Do you sometimes think you need to use special word or tone of voice when you pray?
  2. Do you boldly bring all your needs to God, whatever they might be?
  3. When is the right time to pray?

 

 

Week 5

  1. The qualifications of the High Priest
    Hebrews 5:1-3

The qualifications for the office of High Priest were laid out in various places in the Jewish books of the law, the first five books of the Old Testament which the Jewish people know as the Torah. It was a hereditary office handed down from Aaron the brother of Moses to his oldest son, and then the oldest son of each successive generation. A seven day ceremony was conducted during which special clothing as well as ointments were applied to the incoming High Priest and sacrifices were offered to ensure he was acceptable to God. The High Priest was held to a higher standard of purity than any other, he could not go near a dead body, even if it was one of his parents and he was not allowed to show any visible evidence of mourning. There were strict limitations on who he could marry, it must be an Israelite virgin, not a widow or divorced woman or a foreigner. If he committed a sin, the whole nation became guilty, and a special sacrifice had to be offered.

According to Ryrie the fifth chapter of Hebrews adds the following requirements of the High Priests office:

  • he had to be a man (Hebrews 5:1);
  • he had to be compassionate (Hebrews 5:2);
  • he had to be chosen by God (Hebrews 5:4, 5, 6);
  • he had to learn through suffering (Hebrews 5:7, 8).

By time of the Romans, the office of High Priest had become corrupt and in fact was something that would go to the highest bidder. The term of office was also no longer for life, and often several persons living at the same time had held the office and were still called “high priest”. At the trial of Jesus that led to his crucifixion it was Caiaphas was presided over the Sanhedrin, the supreme council of the Jews. It was this trial that lead to Jesus’ death and opened the way for His eternal High Priesthood. There was still a religious function to the office, but it was associated with power and political influence.

Jesus is not only presented as one who met the qualifications required of a High Priest, but by his own life and character proved to be superior to those who occupied the office. However Jesus did not marry and did not have children, so the office would end with him.  On behalf of those they represented the High Priest brought gifts and offerings. How are these two things different from one another? Ironside suggests that Jesus offered sacrifice for our sin on the cross and now in heaven he presents our gifts of praise and worship. Others make the point that an offering may be rejected as being unacceptable, and takes the form of an obligation while a gift is voluntary and is therefore always received. There were laws in place that dictated how and what would be an acceptable offering, but opportunity existed for freewill gifts beyond those. (Leviticus 23:38 for example).

Jesus has offered his life in satisfaction of the obligations the law set down, and that sacrifice cannot ever be repeated. The opportunity to freely give thanks still exists though and later in his letter the writer speaks of the sacrifice of praise which is the fruit of lips that confess his name. While Psalm 142 asks: ‘May my prayer be set before you like incense, my uplifted hands like the evening offering’ which are spoken of in Revelation 8:4: ‘And the smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, rose up before God’. There are other practical ways that gifts are freely given, they be in time, talent or resources that are given through the bride of Christ, the church and they too are presented to the Father by Jesus our great High Priest. Are your gifts from a sense of obligation or with deep gratitude and thanksgiving for all he has done and will do for you?

  1. Sometimes pastors or church leaders are called priests, in what way is that appropriate?
  2. What gifts does Jesus offer on your behalf?
  3. Is there a law about what we should give?

 

  1. To Deal Gently
    Hebrews 5:1-3If Jewish believers in Jesus’ day were asked to describe the character of the High Priest, ‘gentle’ may not have been high on the list. The actions and behaviour we see them display may seem rather more strict and even harsh. Jesus acknowledged and respected the role of the priesthood, but he had occasions to come into conflict with them (Luke 20 for example). In this passage, however we are told that the high priest could deal gently with those that came to him because he was one of them and faced the same struggles with sin and disobedience.Bible Scholar William Barclay writes about the word ‘gently’: “metriopathein, we have translated it to feel gently; but it is really untranslatable.” It is a word that only appears once in the bible but was popular with the philosophers of the day, especially the Stoics. They understood it to refer to the middle between two extremes. One being outburst of anger and the other uncaring indulgence when dealing with the failings of others. It means to be measured in how a person would respond, Kenneth Wuest writes: “means to be moderate or tender in judgment toward another’s errors. It speaks of a state of feeling toward the ignorant and the erring which is neither too severe nor too tolerant.”If you are a parent this is challenge you will face on a regular basis! How can we be reasonable and measured in our response? What is the balance between anger and indulgence, discipline and forgiveness, holding a child to account and letting them off? The high priest was expected to remember that he dealt with the same struggles and should treat those that stood before him with their offering in their hand, seeking forgiveness, just as he wanted to be treated by God before whom he stood. The high priest was surrounded by opportunities to sin, sometime his own lack of knowledge or discernment made him unaware and he found that he failed unintentionally. He may have gone astray from God’s path and found that he been involved in activities or made choices of which God did not approve. These were challenges all of the people faced and so he was able to understand, express and feel real sympathy with them. But he was still required to act as the mediator between them and God and apply God’s law.Peter writes that we, as believers in Jesus have become a royal priesthood and while there are priestly functions that Christ alone can fulfil there are those that we too can exercise. Like the priests of the Jewish faith, and Jesus himself, we are taken from the men and women of our world. Like them we face the same tests and trials, the same temptations attract us. We too are often ignorant about God’s purposes for us and go astray. We may be still learning (in fact we always will be) and do the wrong thing unintentionally. Because we share these characteristics with those we relate to we understand and can deal with them gently. We can pray on their behalf and ask God’s forgiveness. As priests we can stand before him praying for those who have yet to accept the sacrifice that Jesus has offered, interceding and asking God to draw them to himself.Jesus is the great High Priest and he intercedes for us on the basis of the perfect sacrifice that he offered for us. He deals with us gently because he too was surrounded by sin and temptation. He does not respond to our weakness with outbursts of anger, but neither does he ignore or indulge us allowing us to become spoilt children. He is measured and controlled in his response and always acts with mercy and grace. Always be certain that whatever your concern, your past or your failure, Gods response will be gentle.
  1. How easy is it to forget that you once struggled with the same issues as your children?
  2. Are you measured or gentle in your response to the failings of others?
  3. How else can you act as a ‘Royal priesthood”?

 

  1. Called
    Hebrews 5:4-6Writing at a time when appointment as high priest had become a political appointment, a position of power, influence and significance, the writer of this epistle reminds his readers of how it should have been. He makes the point that no high priest, not even the first of them, Aaron, chose the office for themselves – they were called by God.In doing this the writer will make a comparison with Jesus the Great High Priest, but will also show have far the practice of the Jewish faith had fallen from the expectations of God. The high priest held a position of honour, it was only open to those specifically called and chosen by God. In the Old Testament we read of Korah, King Saul, and King Uzziah who all thought they could assume the role of the high priest with tragic consequences. In matters of the relationships between God and his people no one had more responsibility than the high priest. That had changed by the time that this letter was written however.While it would be wrong to draw exact parallels between the role of the high priest and that of pastors and church leaders today, there are some principles that apply. In the first place all believers are part of the Royal Priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), and each has been a gift of the Holy Spirit to equip them for the role to which they have been called. So this means, that if you are a believer, you are a priest and God has called you to that ministry. He has equipped you for the role prepared for you by a gift or enabling of the Holy Spirit.We often hear the phrase ‘called to ministry’ applied to pastors and leaders, but that is true for every believer even though the arena of your ministry is most likely your workplace, community and home. There are those called to leadership roles however and they may serve (which comes from the same word as ministry) as pastors or leaders of churches, Ephesians 4 also speaks of apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers. The point here is not to explore those roles but to recognize that those who serve in that capacity must be called by God. Leadership is not something to be campaigned for or sought because of ambition or desire for significance. It must always be a call from God, which will most often be affirmed by his church.Each one of you reading this, however, has been called to serve, or minister. Do you know what God has called you to? Have you accepted his call, knowing that God has equipped and prepared you for it? As the author of letter reminds us, God firstly calls and then appoints. Paul writes to the Corinthian church: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). From this it is evident that it is the Holy Spirit that equips you for service, but Jesus will determine the place of your ministry. God, the father will energise your gift and it is he who will determine the effectiveness of your service.

    Jesus didn’t assume for himself the role of high priest, He was called into it and appointed by God; Moses didn’t choose to be the leader of Israel, in fact he was reluctant, but God called him. Jeremiah thought he was too young, but God called him, David was the youngest child and a shepherd, but called him. Amos wrote, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs.” There are many other examples in the bible and in history in which God called the most unlikely people to minister before him on behalf of his people. He has called you, the only question is “Into what ministry?”

  1. What is the difference between being called and appointed?
  2. How do you know if you have been called to a specific place or ministry?
  3. What do you do if you feel inadequate?

 

  1. Prayers and Supplications
    Hebrews 5:7-8Jesus was a man of prayer; throughout his earthly life he was found in prayer. He demonstrated his dependency on his heavenly father by constantly communicating with him and trusting him for the resources to meet whatever need he was to face. In John’s gospel he said to the crowd: “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father, who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.” (John 12:49). He listened to his father so that he knew what to say to his listeners.We read in the gospels that Jesus would often slip away to pray, he would get up early, before it was light or even pray through the night. He prayed on his own and with others, in private and in public. He would go to desolate places to be with God, and at other times would offer prayers as easily as holding a conversation with his disciples. The passage in this epistle tells us that he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and supplications and while there were times when Jesus wept, it is likely that those offered at Gethsemane and on the cross were in the writer’s mind here.There are three occasions in Jesus’ life where we know he wept: At the side of Lazarus’s tomb, just before Jesus called him back to life; as he looked over Jerusalem and saw the future that was in front of that city; and in Gethsemane when he passionately asked God if it were possible for him to be spared the pain that was ahead of him. Jesus’ tears are not mentioned but the struggle and agony of the Gethsemane prayer are graphically described. He may have wept at other times as he ministered to the poor and the broken, but that is not recorded.Jesus prayed to the one who could save him from death and the writer tells us that he was heard because of his reverence. But we know that Jesus wasn’t spared death, the most brutal of deaths, as he was nailed to the cross. So what does this mean? Did God hear him but ignore his request? In two senses God answered Jesus’ prayer. In the first Jesus qualified his prayer by immediately adding: “nevertheless let your will, not mine be done”. We know that it was the will of the Father that Jesus offer his life as a sacrifice to cover over our sin, his death was essential and inevitable. Jesus prayed that if it were possible, he be spared the agony of separation from God and the suffering of the cross, but knowing that was not possible he submitted to the will of God. In the second sense Jesus was spared from death in that he defeated it and destroyed its power by his own resurrection. Death could not hold him, he is risen!

    We all face challenges that test us beyond our own limitations. We might be threatened by a health crisis, or our finances are desperately low. Relationships might be broken or on the verge of falling apart or we might be caught up in a natural disaster or a man made conflict. Our example is that of Jesus, he took his prayers and requests to God with loud cries and tears because he knew that God could deliver him. We live in a time when there is an abundance of advice on how to improve our situation, books are written, conferences available and YouTube videos on every conceivable subject. Even if they were available to Jesus, he would have ignored them he knew where his salvation came from and he cried out to him. When you follow his example it is possible you won’t get exactly the answer you wanted, but you will find yourself in God’s will where all things work together for your good.

  1. How would you describe your prayer life?
  2. Do you find yourself weeping in prayer, if you do is it for yourself or for others?
  3. Are you willing to insist on God’s will rather than your own?

 

  1. Designated as a High Priest
    Hebrews 5:8-10The Contemporary English Version (CEV) translates Isaiah 53:3: ‘He was hated and rejected; his life was filled with sorrow and terrible suffering. No one wanted to look at him. We despised him and said, “He is a nobody!”’ Isaiah is speaking of the Son of God, the one who was to come as the Messiah, Jesus. We know from the gospels that there were times of suffering throughout his life, but the culmination was in the garden of Gethsemane. It was here that he sweated drops of blood and then went on to the cross where he experienced both physical pain and also the burden of sin that separated him from God. The writer to the Hebrews declares that it was this suffering that made him perfect.Barclay explains that a thing was perfect if it carried out the purpose for which it was designed. What the writer to the Hebrews is saying is that all the experiences of suffering through which Jesus passed perfectly fitted Him to become the Saviour of men. It is a common word used throughout the letter to the Hebrews, of the 24 times it appears in the bible, 19 of those references are in this epistle. There is no suggestion that there was any imperfection in Jesus, some flaw that need to be fixed. He was the perfect man and perfectly God, but in order to be perfectly fitted to the role of High Priest and saviour he needed to demonstrate his obedience through suffering. This suffering also made him completely suitable and able to identify with those for whom he intercedes.Jesus was not, and is not, a God who is removed from humanity. One who is remote from suffering and weakness. He is not a God who calls us to live to a standard that is greater than is possible, he is one who has suffered in every way as we have, and beyond anything we could imagine. Having endured this suffering, faced death and conquered it he has become the source of our eternal salvation. Other priests offered temporary salvation as they brought the offerings on behalf of the people, but it was salvation that didn’t last. Again and again offerings needed to be brought, but Jesus offered a sacrifice that gave eternal salvation, it was eternal. He was not a priest like Aaron, he was of a different type of order, that of Melchizedek who is described in later chapters.

    This salvation is available to all who obey him. In many ways ‘obey’ and ‘believe’ are used as similes but the two are essentially connected. Some hold to the view that obedience leads to faith, however it is better to understand this as meaning faith leads to obedience and is the evidence of it. Sadly, as Newton says: “there are many who want the eternal benefits of Christians without desiring the present, ongoing walk of obedience as Christians. They are lawless-without Christ. Does that describe you? Then wake up to what is truly Christian.” The life of faith must result in a life of obedience. Jesus asked some of those who followed him: ‘’Why do you keep on saying that I am your Lord, when you refuse to do what I say?” (CEV) and James writes: “But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18). The profession of faith without the evidence of obedience is of no value.

    Spurgeon makes the point: “If you desire Christ for a perpetual guest, give him all the keys of your heart; let not one cabinet be locked up from him; give him the range of every room and the key of every chamber.” Every area of our life is to be brought into the obedience of faith, but it is a process that is called sanctification and it will take time. But it starts with a choice.

  1. How is it possible for Jesus to be God and suffer as a human?
  2. Does your suffering take you closer to being perfect?
  3. Can you have faith without it changing your life?

 

  1. Is Your hearing dull?
    Hebrews 5:11-12All the author has written so far is an introduction, it sets the scene for what is to follow. He explored complex ideas that would be hard to grasp by those with no previous understanding of either the Jewish or Christian faith. He now explains that he has a lot more to say but there are difficulties. What he wants to communicate is both hard to explain and difficult to understand!In the first place it was hard to explain because this group of Hebrews consisted of both those who come to a faith in Jesus and those who had not yet made that choice. Some were still unsure about how to make sure of the things the writer had already addressed, others needed more persuasion. There was no doubt a group that had understood and found new freedom and rest in what was to them a new set of beliefs that challenged all that they had held on to. Some of the concepts were hard to put into words and others raised questions or doubts in the readers minds. What the writer now wanted to explain would challenge them further.

    The second reason it was hard to explain was because of his audience, they had become dull of hearing! They had not always been dull, but had become so. The phrase ‘dull off hearing’ was a common phrase among the Greeks to mean sluggish or lazy intelligence, a sluggish person had no drive or desire to move forward, the idea is that they were slow, lazy, slack, obtuse, lacking in mental energy or desire. This a harsh description and seems to reflect a level of frustration the epistle writer felt in trying to communicate with his audience. Wiersbe writes: “The problem was not that the writer was a dull teacher, but that they are dull hearers!”

    How had they become dull? They had once been alert and interested to learn more of God’s Word. They did not start out dull but became that way. They were enthusiastic in worship and meeting with fellow believers, they wanted to learn and they wanted to grow, but something changed. It may be the challenge of persecution robbed them of their initial passion, or the pressure of circumstances and the distractions of work and family. Whatever the reason (or excuse) they had become dull. When a knife is called dull it means it has lost its edge, become blunt; a light may become dull when it is covered in grime, or the batteries are running out. Dullness doesn’t happen suddenly, it occurs over time, spiritual dullness develops as well, you could say it creeps up on you!

    The sharpening tools of the Christian mind are often the things that are abandoned first. They include reading the bible, prayer, meeting with others, confessing faith, giving and worship. When we are tired, feeling lethargic or ‘busy’ with the affairs of life it is tempting to neglect these things. Where once they were a source of joy they become an obligation, when once we were quick to grasp the teachings of Jesus they have become complicated and difficult. Little by little the light grows dim, or the blade loses its edge and can’t cut anymore, or when we stop exercising everything becomes more difficult, we become tired and listless- even sluggish. No doubt the writer of this letter intended to provoke his hearers by his strong criticism. It may be that you are in danger of following their example and his words will serve to challenge you to wake up before you too become dull!

  1. Have you lost edge or become dull?
  2. What can you do to stay sharp?
  3. Do you find things more difficult to understand now than before?

 

  1. You should be meat eaters
    Hebrews 5:12-14Having expressed his frustration at his readers the writer of the epistle carries on his criticism. “You should be teaching others” he says, “but you still need to learn the basics”. It is obvious that new believers must have the opportunity to learn and to have a good grasp of the truth before they try teaching others, but there were mature believers among his audience. These are the people he is addressing now. They have been taught the first things but haven’t gone any further, in fact the things they did know they have forgotten and need to be taught again.

    It is expected that the things we learn should be passed on to others, to give them the benefit of the good news we have received. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that what he had heard from Paul, he should teach others so that they in turn would teach the next disciples (2 Timothy 2:2). Educators remind us that the best way to master a subject is to teach what we have heard to other people. The people that this writer was addressing had not done that, in fact they still needed to once again start at the beginning. He describes this as needing milk.

    When children are very young they get their daily needs from milk, either from their mother of as some sort of formula. As they develop the ability to chew and to swallow they progress to more solid food until at the right time they can manage meat or solid food. Some people choose not to eat meat and find the nutrients elsewhere, but we all need to move on from milk. Sadly there are many people who regularly attend church whose diet is that of a baby. It is milk and not meat. Sometimes they expect their pastor or teacher to pre-chew the food for them so that they don’t have to make the effort. In effect they are fast food Christians. They don’t want to expend the energy on preparing the food or cooking it, they just want to go through the drive through, pick it up and eat it.

    In the same way that children need to develop their bodies so that they can manage solid food, we need to develop ourselves spiritually so that we can handle the solid food of God’s word. It is by putting into practice the things we learn that these spiritual muscles develop. It is as we invite the Holy Spirit to assist us in discovering the meaning of the things we read that we learn discernment. Sometimes the meat we eat contains pieces that are hard to swallow and we need to put them aside or cut them into small pieces, so too with the things of God. Sometimes we are just not able to chew through it and we need to wait or get help, but as we continue to work through even the hard bits we will develop and grow so that we will become the mature people the writer of the epistle is seeking.

    The writer was going to move on to some solid food that would take some chewing and he was concerned that his readers would not be able to handle it. Have you moved on from milk or baby biscuits yet? Have you developed the capacity to eat and digest the more solid food or are you still relying on someone to mash it up for you? As mentioned earlier one of the best ways to learn is to teach others, or to discuss with them the things you have discovered. I encourage you to find those you can share with but also those that you can teach, so that they too will be able to teach others.

  1. Are you off the baby food yet?
  2. What do you do when something is a bit hard to digest?
  3. Are there others that you know that can cut up the food for you into

 

 

Week 6

  1. Press On
    Hebrews 6:1-3It was time to move on from the basics, the baby food and start growing into adulthood. It would take time, maturing always does, but in order to do so, some things had to be left behind. Many children like to hang on to things, maybe a favourite toy, even a security blanket, perhaps particular foods they enjoy, but as they grow those things lose their importance and are let go. As the child grows the trainer wheels come off their bikes, mum no longer holds their hand as they go to school, the spoon is swapped for a knife and fork. Their needs change and so do their desires, they want to be less dependent, to be able to make their own decisions. That can be a difficult time for a parent, but it has to happen, it is part of growing up.The writer of the epistle suggests three pairs of teaching that needed to be left behind. Each of them are grounded in the Jewish faith and while they were foundational to their newfound Christian belief they had to be built on with new understanding. They needed to press on, not remain where they were. The apostle Paul writes in Philippians 3:14,15: ‘I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way,’ even though he was an apostle, a teacher and a scholar, he knew he had to press on, to grow more. How much is this the case for those who are still struggling with solid food?The first pair elementary doctrines the Hebrews needed to leave behind was repentance and dead works. These are the things the apostles first taught and were announced by John the Baptist, they are the points of entry into the Christian faith. Repentance means to change one’s mind and direction, it only needs to be done once, otherwise we will be continually travelling in circles. We change our mind about trying to earn salvation by good works or deeds, and accept Christ’s offer of grace. There are times we turn away from sin that we become aware of, and renounce it in the same way that as we grow to maturity we turn away from unhealthy behaviours and choices, but we do not need to keep learning what we already know.The second pair is instruction about washings and laying on of hands. Washings were part of the sacrificial rituals that were necessary to be acceptable to God, we are now made clean by being ‘washed’ by the blood of Jesus. Baptism is a symbol of that cleansing, but once it has been undertaken it does not need to be repeated. The Priest would lay his hand on the sacrificial animal to identify it with the people and later in the church the leaders would lay their hands on people as they received a commission or ministry representing the work of Jesus.The third pair is the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgement. Once again these are the very basic building blocks of the Jewish beliefs and now the Christian faith. They needed to be understood and accepted but then built upon.
    Entropy is a concept taught in management among other disciplines. Basically, it argues that a closed system will move toward disorder or chaos, or, whatever doesn’t grow will die. What is true in biology and business is also true of our spiritual life. The term ‘arrested development’ in psychology refers to being stuck in a certain emotional or mental level of development, and can be the reason why some adults act like children emotionally or mentally. It can be true of us spiritually as well. We must press on to maturity, to grow up in to the man or woman of God that he intends us to be.
  1. Are you pressing on?
  2. Do you think you have grown in your faith over the last twelve months?
  3. Would you like to be told to ‘grow up’ as a Christian?

 

  1. A Difficult passage!
    Hebrews 6: 4-8This passage has been described as “this most controversial section of Scripture which has caused many believers considerable distress”. Dwight Pentecost notes: “It is unfortunate that some believers struggle and agonize under the misconception that, although they desire to walk with God, they have regressed beyond some “point of no return” and can never again walk in fellowship with Him.” There is a very clear warning contained in these verses though, so what does it mean?After the strong encouragement of verse 3 we are now confronted with some very challenging words. Who are those who have once been enlightened, and can they fall away? The word enlightenment means to bring to light, or to cause light to shine upon some object, in the sense of illuminating it, to give guidance or understanding or to make clear. In the 1960’s the term psychedelic became popular as it was connected to the use of drugs, particularly LSD which were thought to be mind enlightening. The users saw things they had never seen before. Obviously the word here is used in a very different sense, as Jews they were familiar with the prophecy of Isaiah that those who dwelt in darkness would see a great light (Isaiah 9:2). They had their eyes opened, Jesus was the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecy, the Messiah, the source of their salvation. The knew there was no other way to be saved except through faith in Jesus.
    There were those though who had come to this knowledge but were in danger of returning to the Jewish faith and its laws. They had experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit as they met with true believers and worshipped with them. They had been blessed by being part of the company of God’s people and shared in their blessings, they had even seen and possibly experienced miracles, but they had stopped short of entering into God’s rest. These people were on the verge of falling away or turning back.The writer argues that for those that came to a point of decision and deliberately turned their backs it was impossible to be restored. This wasn’t a matter of falling into temptation but of deliberately renouncing the saving power of Jesus. Having claimed to be a part of the church, God’s chosen people they have revealed that the confession was never genuine. As the writer has demonstrated earlier, the evidence of saving faith was that those who claimed to possess it would persevere. There were some in the congregation who had chosen to reject what they knew to be true and return to their old ways and beliefs.Those that were in danger were described as being partakers or those who shared in the Holy Spirit: “Remember that partakers of the Holy Spirit in this context does not signify that the readers had been born of the Spirit, sealed with the Spirit, indwelt by the Spirit, anointed with the Spirit, baptized by the Spirit into the Body of Christ, or filled with the Spirit. If the writer had qualified their “sharing” with any of these designations, then we would conclude they were genuine believes and would have to deal with that problem (in regard to those who fall away). But the writer does not qualify his statement regarding their sharing and neither should we.” (Precept Austin).While the warning exists to those who have been enlightened not to reject God’s invitation to fully enter his rest, to those who by faith have confessed him their salvation is secure. While it is impossible to restore those who have intentionally and deliberately renounced the truth about Jesus, those who persevere, even with the slips and slides along the way, are sure of the certain hope that awaits them.
  1. Do you ever feel anxious that you might lose your salvation?
  2. Jesus gave a parable about good wheat and weeds growing in the same field, how might this apply here?
  3. How can you be certain of your calling?

 

  1. Land that producesIllustrations and parables from farming are common in the bible, in the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus in particular. The Israelites were agricultural people and understood the land, its needs and its benefits. It was essential to the economy and the well being of the people and so it made sense to connect the idea of fruitful land to the blessings of God.Having spoken about the danger of falling short of God’s rest the writer uses an illustration from the land to illustrate his point. Isaiah 5:1-7 compares Israel to an unproductive vineyard and this was a metaphor that would have been very familiar to these Hebrew believers. Jesus gave the parable of the sower to contrast the fruit that came from different types of soil and the story of him cursing the fig tree because of its lack of fruit would also have been well known.In the illustration given it is not the quality of the seed that is in question, nor the rainfall that was received. He does not comment on the effectiveness of the cultivation, what matters is the type of crop the land produced. The point he is making is that the farmer takes good seed to a field that has been cultivated so that it is ready to receive it. At the right time in the proper season the seed is sown and is tended until the time comes for the harvest. When the farmer goes out to pick his crop in one place there is good produce that will meet the needs of his family but in another place there is just rubbish. All he can find are thorns and thistles. All he can do is gather them all together and have a bonfire. There is no point planting seed there, the ground is no good, it is not receptive and it cannot support growth.Within the community both soils are represented. There is good soil that has received the seed. As the rain comes and then the sun the plants grow and at the right time they will bear fruit. The bearing of fruit is the evidence of good healthy soil. On the other hand there is poor or bad soil, it has been cultivated and fertilized but it is still not receptive. No matter what was done the soil just would not accept the seed and when the rain came all that came up were thorns and thistles in the place of the good crop. On the surface both soils looked the same, they were both cultivated, both received the same rain and the equal amounts of sunshine but one produced a good crop, the other didn’t.In any community, including faith communities there are those who receive the seed gladly and good fruit is produced, but there are also those who have become hardened to the seed of God’s word. These people have attended church services, read the bible and even prayed, but the fruit that is produced is not good fruit. Jesus, using another agricultural metaphor said: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:5-8). The evidence of true faith, or of being a true disciple is in the fruit that is produced. In God’s orchard he doesn’t expect to find ornamental trees that bear no fruit – he wants to see abundant fruit!
  1. What is the fruit God expects to see?
  2. How fruitful do you think you are?
  3. How can you be sure that God’s seed is being planted in the good soil of your life?

 

  1. Better than that
    Hebrews 6:9-12Steven Cole writes about this passage: “the author has warned the Hebrew church about the danger of repudiating faith in Christ and returning to Judaism. He is fearful that there may be some in the flock who are in danger of doing that. But he knows that this is not true of the majority. He also knows that some sensitive souls in the church may be discouraged by his strong rebuke. He wants them to know that his words do not come from anger, but from love and concern. So in 6:9, he changes his focus from warning to encouragement. He addresses them as “beloved” (the only time in Hebrews), and tells them, “We are convinced of better things concerning you, that is, things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way.”The word ‘beloved’ that the writer uses here is only ever used to refer to believers when it appears elsewhere in the New Testament. That would indicate that while the preceding verses deal with those who have not fully trusted in Christ, the focus is now on those who have and are wanting to grow to maturity. Better things are expected from them. Better is a key word in the letter to the Hebrews, of the 19 times it appears in the New Testament, 12 of those are found in this letter. The new is contrasted with the old, the perfect with imperfect and in this case the fruit of the mature with the barrenness of those that have fallen away.Genuine salvation is always accompanied by visible evidence. That evidence may take a number of forms, some of which are described as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. Here too is a contrast between the fruit produced by the righteous and that presented by the ungodly. The activity of the Holy Spirit produces a crop of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; while the ungodly life produces: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these (Galatians 5:20). The evidence of maturity will also be shown in service or good works: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

    The writer recognizes that these genuine believers had demonstrated these characteristics and just as the Apostle wrote to the church at Thessalonica, they ‘have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing …But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.’ (1Thessalonians 4:9-12 para.) They needed to press on, keep pushing through because as Peter wrote in his letter that it is as we grow in the qualities of faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love that we will make certain of his calling and we will never stumble. In this way entrance into the eternal kingdom will be abundantly supplied! (2 Peter 1:5-11).

    Another aspect of evidence is found in the words of Paul when he wrote that we should not conform to what the world expects but instead be transformed by our minds being renewed. The life of faith is total transformation, it is not trying to improve on the old, but replacing the old with the new. We are new creatures in Christ, the old has passed away, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

  1. What is the evidence of your growing maturity?
  2. Do you intentionally try to grow in the characteristics of the life of faith?
  3. What does it mean to you to have your mind renewed?

 

  1. Hope!
    Hebrews 6:11-12“To live without Hope is to Cease to live.” (Fyodor Dostoevsky). This epistle’s writer expresses the deep desire of him and his colleagues that these Hebrew Christians make every possible effort to have a full assurance of hope. In many parts of the world there are people who have little or no hope for their future, they exist rather than live. For them there is no expectation that tomorrow will be any different from today. They may live in places where there is extreme poverty, but they also may be among the wealthy whose marriages have fallen apart, or are facing financial ruin or a health crisis. I worked for a time in a maximum security prison in which prisoners when faced without the hope of a future were full of despair. I visited a prison in Argentina that has a section called “Christ the only hope” prison, it is populated by those who had come to faith in Christ whilst they were in prison. In him they had found hope.What is hope? For some it is little more than a wish, they hope to get a new job, or a present for Christmas, some may hope to win the lottery or live in a mansion. They have no real expectation that they will, but they hope so. This is not the hope the writer to the Hebrews or any other of the biblical writers meant. One way to understand hope is to consider its opposite: ‘hopelessness’, the state of despondency and despair. Websters dictionary describes hope as: “to cherish a desire with anticipation, desire with expectation of obtainment, expect with confidence.” In the Old Testament hope is always directed toward the future and this hope stimulates action directed to attaining it.

    In Romans 5:2-5 the apostle Paul writes: “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Hope animates and energises us as we look forward in eager expectation and certainty of what we will receive.

    The word translated ‘earnestness’ can be translated ‘diligence’ and means to make every effort to ‘leave no stone unturned’ in our effort to achieve what is desired. This is not a half-hearted, wishful thinking it a full commitment that demands our attention, energy and resources. This earnestness or diligence is to be directed toward having a full assurance of hope. The expression ‘full assurance’ is used four times in the New Testament and in its original language it carries the idea of being in full sail. Like the sails of a boat billowed by a strong wind as it heads toward its destination. There is a strong suggestion of certainty, absolute and entire confidence that the destination will be achieved. It means that believers should be moving along spiritually—they should be moving along for God with a clear goal in mind.

    When we are faced with difficult, what may even seem impossible circumstances, we may be tempted to lose hope. The Hebrew Christians were facing persecution from a number of sources. They were tempted to return to their old beliefs they may have started to doubt and so the writer exhorts them to continue until the end. When we see disaster, pain and suffering in our world, political powers pursuing agenda’s that are intentionally anti-Christian and which may result in persecution we might lose confidence that God is in control and think our future is uncertain.. We must press on, not become sluggish but remind ourselves that our hope is certain, God has prepared a place for us, and he will welcome us there. In the meantime we set our sails, and commit ourselves fully to our destination knowing that he who promised is able and he will do it!

  1. How would you describe hope?
  2. Some place their hope in financial success, a good job or a happy family – what about you?
  3. Hope can you be fully assure of your hope?

 

  1. God keeps his promises
    Hebrews 6:13-15This passage begins by the writer encouraging his readers to refer to the example of Abraham as one who waited patiently for God to keep his promise. Jews were known as the children of Abraham and they wore that title as a badge of honour. It was Abraham that became the father of the nation of Israel based on God’s promise to him.

    There are three places were God made and confirmed his promise to Abraham: Genesis 12:1–3; 17:1–22; 22:16–18. The first promise, in chapter 12 came when Abraham was known as Abram and lived in the mountains with his father and family. God promised him that if he left them behind and went to wherever he told him, he would be made the father of a multitude. He did as God said and took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew and headed to the land of Canaan. Because Abram went in response to God’s promise not even knowing where he was going he was considered by God to be righteous. The promise was that he would be a father to a multitude but for 24 years nothing happened. Sarai was past the age of having children and Abram too was old. What happened to God’s promise? Chapter 17 tells us that God appeared to Abram again and affirmed the promise, he also changed his name to Abraham and Sarai became Sarah. What was difficult before was now impossible, but the apostle Paul writes: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.  Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” (Romans 4:18-21).

    Sure enough the impossible happened, Sarah had a baby! He was given the name Isaac and they lived together as a family, but no more children were added. Some time later, how much later is not stated, God appeared again to Abraham. This time the news was not good, he told Abraham to take his son and offer him as a sacrifice. This was his only son who he loved, but God asked Abraham to kill him. Not only that but his future as the father of nations depended on this son, how could that be? It made no sense. Experts come up with a range of ages that applies to Isaac at the time he accompanied his father to the place of sacrifice, anything between 5 and 37 years. Most likely he was in his early 20’s.

    Remarkably Abraham did as God commanded, took Isaac to the mountain made an altar and prepared to sacrifice his son. At the last moment God provided a substitute ram and Isaac was spared. God appeared again and chapter 22 tells us “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” Abraham was subjected to the ultimate test, not only of his love for his son but of his faith in God’s promise. He persevered in hope and was rewarded.

    The promise to Abraham was and continues to be kept even though he only had one child and didn’t see the fulfillment of that promise in his lifetime. The Hebrews knew this story well, it defined them as a nation, they also knew that God sacrificed the son he loved, his only son in fulfillment of that same promise. Abraham lived in full assurance of the hope that was in front of him and we are called like him, not to weaken but to grow strong in  our faith knowing that God has the power to do what he has promised.

  1. Has God promised you something that you have been waiting for, have you started to doubt?
  2. How do you strengthen your faith?
  3. Why did God wait until it was impossible for his promise to be fulfilled?

 

  1. We have an anchor
    Hebrews 6:18-20

    The writer of the letter gives two reasons why it was possible to believe what God had said. In the first place he had made a promise and God keeps his promises. The people could look back through their history and see that whatever God promised he would do, he did. The second was that he had confirmed his promise with an oath. In public ceremonies and courts of law people are often asked to swear or make an oath, that maybe on the bible or the nations flag or some other symbol. At times some may swear on their own or someone else’s life. Whatever they swear by it needs to be of greater value than themselves or of what is being promised, when God made an oath there was nothing of greater value than himself. He swore by himself, his character depended on the promise being fulfilled. In essence he is saying that “if this promise does not come to pass then I am not God”. With that sort of oath and guarantee we can be absolutely confident in the hope that is before us.

    This hope is described as an anchor with two characteristics – it was sure and it was steadfast. The hymn written by Priscilla Owens in 1882 has this refrain:
           We have an anchor that keeps the soul
    Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
             Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
             Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.
    She does change the order of the words and our anchor is in the heights rather than the deep but the source of our confidence is clearly stated.

    The word ‘sure’ come from two words and gives the meaning firm, sure, secure, safe, unshakeable, certain, steady, immovable. A boat that is anchored well will not drift, it will withstand the storms and provide a safe refuge. A sailor had to rely on the anchor, it had to be trustworthy. The anchor we have is both of those things and is guaranteed by the one who made it. ‘Steadfast’ describes something that is fixed, stable, sure, tested and certified. It is something which is unwavering and can be relied on or depended on. Kenneth Wuest writes that it: “speaks of something which does not break down under the weight of something that steps on it. This hope which the believing soul has in the Lord Jesus is an anchor of the soul which cannot be made to totter nor break down when put under stress and strain.” We have an anchor which is both sure and steadfast, it is guaranteed by the promise of God and the oath he made to fulfil that promise.

    At this point the writer mixes his metaphors. We would expect an anchor to descend into the ocean depths until it finds a firm hold and is caught there. But this anchor is secured to a rock in the inner place beyond the veil, in the Holiest of Holies. It is a metaphor though and we probably shouldn’t expect to find a rock or a physical anchor in the Holy place. It is beyond this veil that Jesus has gone as our forerunner. He has gone to prepare the way with the intention we will follow him, this idea turns the role of the priest on its head.

    When he entered the Holy Place it was as a representative of the people, they were never intended and never could follow him. But Jesus went ahead of us so that we could follow him. The Romans used the word translated as ‘forerunner’ to describe reconnaissance teams that went ahead of the main army. The Greeks used it to refer to the pilot boat that went to meet large ships and guide them into harbour. Jesus has gone to prepare the way and guide us into presence of God were our anchor the hope of our salvation is held secure.

  1. In times of trouble and unrest how secure is your anchor?
  2. What does your hope depend on?
  3. The words of the song mentioned ask “will your anchor hold in the storms of life?” how would you answer that?

 

 

Week 7

  1. The King of Righteousness
    Hebrews 7:1-3This is a difficult chapter, especially for those who have little knowledge of the history of Israel. The mysterious figure of Melchizedek has already been introduced a few times in Hebrews and now the writer returns to his discussion of chapter 5. Melchizedek is a significant figure for the Jews even though the Bible says very little about him. He appears on the scene in Genesis 14:18–20 and is referenced once more in Psalm 110:4.As recorded in the Genesis passage a conspiracy of five kings attacked and looted the city of Sodom and took captive the people. One of those living there was Lot the nephew of Abraham. When Abraham heard of Lot’s capture, he called his private army of 318 men and gave chase. When he caught up with the attackers he engaged them in battle and recaptured Lot and the others who were with him and returned to Sodom in triumph. As he came near to Sodom the king of Sodom came out to greet him and with him was Melchizedek the King of Salem.Melchizedek means righteousness and Salem of which he was King is the translation of peace. He blessed Abraham and presented him with bread and wine which according to the passage in Genesis identified him as a priest of the Most High God. All of this occurred before Isaac was born and well before the establishment of the Levitical priesthood. The priesthood that the Jews depended on to restore their relationship with God through the sacrifices they brought had not been instituted, no information is given as to how Melchizedek became a priest or what qualified him for the role. The Levitical priests relied on their connection to Levi, and unless they could demonstrate their ancestral line they were excluded.There are many theories about who Melchizedek was, he came out of nowhere, blessed Abraham and received a gift from him and then disappears. Some suggestions about who he was include that he was an angel, Shem, the oldest son of Noah, an appearance of the son of God, the archangel Michael, or a man. The majority view is that he was a man like any other, while the opinion of many Jewish Rabbis is that he was Shem. Hebrews 7:3 say that: “He is without father or mother tor genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.”He was a king of righteousness and of peace besides being a priest. In all of these ways he was a type of the one who was to come, Jesus. His action of blessing Abraham (or Abram as he was then known) reflects their relative positions. Abraham may have been one of the most powerful leaders who had just won an impressive battle against overwhelming odds, but Melchizedek was his superior. The superior always blesses the lesser, and Abraham submitted to the blessing he received.This chapter begins the writers reasoning of why Jesus was superior as a priest. He was not of the same line as Aaron on Levi which depended on the unbroken line back to them. Proof of parentage was essential, but the priesthood of Melchizedek didn’t have it. Jesus too was not of the line of Levi, his genealogy was traced back to Judah and so he could not be a priest of the order of Aaron and the writer establishes that his line was an unbroken one, conferred by God and not by man. It was eternal it would never end.
  1. Jesus’s priesthood is different from the religious order of the day, why is that important?
  2. Melchizedek comes out of nowhere and is not spoken of much again, how is that different from key leaders today?
  3. Sometimes God intervenes in what we see as normal to bring change, is it likely he will do that again?

 

  1. Greater than Abraham
    Hebrews 7:4-6The readers of this letter were encouraged to ‘see how great this man is’’. The man spoken of was Melchizedek who has been introduced as both the King of righteousness and the King of Peace. When Abraham met him on his return from rescuing Lot he gave him a tenth of the all he had won in battle. He recognized this mysterious King as a priest, but that he was something more than that.When the readers were told to ‘see’ the greatness of Melchizedek, they were expected to carefully consider or observe what they knew about him. To see was not simply to notice or acknowledge in some way but to pay particular attention. His greatness was reflected in the gift Abraham presented to him. The writer uses what is called the ‘definite article’ when he says ‘the patriarch’, it means that the person being referred to was known or could be identified. As a lecturer to overseas students, I often needed to explain the difference between the definite and the indefinite article to those for whom English was not the first language. The indefinite article meant something which belonged to a group of things. Abraham was identified as ‘the patriarch’ that could have been intended to set him apart from a number of Abrahams, or as the patriarch that was set apart from all others. There as no confusion, this was Abraham who was the patriarch, and this Patriarch was set aside from all other patriarchs.  In the Bible the title ‘patriarch’ is given to important male ancestors who were the father of a tribe or nation. Since Abraham is the Patriarch and head of the Jewish race and nation, all of his descendants including the Levitical priests could be compared with Melchizedek.Abraham gave a gift to Melchizedek, he wasn’t required to, later the people of Israel were required by law to give a tenth of their possessions to the Levites, but that law was not yet in place. The law was established because the Levites were not given land to possess but had to be supported by their fellow Hebrews. This was not the case in the interaction between Abraham and Melchizedek. Abraham recognized Melchizedek as his superior and gave the gift to him. The writer of this letter is establishing that because Melchizedek was superior to Abraham, he was therefore superior to all those who descended from him, including the priests and the Levites.The Hebrew Christians were accustomed to the need to support their priests and Levites by giving a tithe, or ten percent of their wealth. This did not confer any superiority on the recipient of the tithe because it was a legal obligation, the Law required it and obedience to the law was necessary to maintain a right relationship with God. Abraham was under no similar obligation. Melchizedek evidently played no part in the battle, and had offered no service to Abraham, but Abraham recognized him as a Priest of the Most High God, and gave to him tenth of all of his spoils of war. Melchizedek blessed Abraham, the text here suggests it was after the gift was received while the account in Genesis has it the other way around, whichever it was, the offering of a blessing reflects the superiority of the one receiving it, and that fact that Abraham accepts it indicates that he recognized this.The writer is establishing his case that the priesthood of Jesus is greater than the priesthood of Levites which was descended from Abraham. Jesus is a better priest, established with a greater authority and which had no limitations.
  1. What do you think about the idea that the superior always blesses the inferior?
  2. Abraham gave a gift to Melchizedek because he recognized him as a priest, what do you think of that?
  3. Why s it important to demonstrate that Jesus did not need to be a Levite?

 

  1. The Blessing
    Hebrews 7:6-10One of the challenges of reading and understanding the bible, especially when it refers to the Old Testament is language. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, then translated into Greek in a bible called the Septuagint (LXX) and then translated again into English, or Chinese or another language. Each time words have to be found which convey the original intended meaning – and that is not always easy! Added to that the culture and historical context needs to be understood as well as the reasons why something has been written. When a writer such as me puts words in English I am adding my understanding which also may not always translate well or easily into another language. So we depend on the Holy Spirit and the assistance of others as we look to God to speak to us through his word.The word we have translated ‘blessing’ poses some of these issues. The Greek word that is used is the same as that from which we get ‘eulogy’. It is usually heard at funerals and refers to when someone is asked to speak well of the deceased person. The Latin word, which is sometimes used, is ‘benediction’ meaning ‘good word’. In those cases and at other times it is quite common for people of equal standing to bless one another, it is a common word to use at the end of a letter or in a greeting. It is even a word used as we say ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes! It does not indicate that a greater person is conferring something on someone of lesser standing or position. This is not the way it used in the interchange between Melchizedek and Abraham.Adam Clarke writes: ‘The blessing here spoken of…is not the simple wishing of good to others, which may be done by inferiors to superiors; but it is the action of a person authorized to declare God’s intention to bestow good things on another.’ And Leon Morris: ‘There are senses of the word “bless” in which men “bless” God, i.e., praise him, or in which an inferior prays that God will prosper some superior. But the word is not used in such a way here. It is rather the official pronouncement given by an authorized person’. Abraham had recognized the authority of the person giving him the blessing and that he was authorized to do so. When commenting on priests blessing the people John Calvin points out: ‘a command is given to the priest to bless the people, and then a promise is immediately added, that they would be blessed whom they blessed. It hence appears that the blessing of the priest depended on this, that it was not so much man’s blessing as that of God’.Abraham is described as the one who ‘had the promises.’ It was to him the promise that the Hebrews would be God’s chosen people was made, that they would be led to the promised land, that He would be their God forever. It was only through Abraham that these things would happen. ‘Normally one would suppose that the one who had the promises (Abraham) might be considered to have been above being blessed by any other man. However, as the writer has made amply clear, Melchizedek is not “any other man” but is indeed a unique and great king-priest. This fact again accentuates that the Priesthood of Jesus according to the Order of Melchizedek was greater than the Levitical priesthood.’ (Precept Austin).

    Abraham accepted the blessing and Melchizedek accepted the offering. Melchizedek then disappears from the scene. This does not necessarily mean that he didn’t die physically or that he was something other than flesh and blood. But it does indicate that his priesthood was not based or limited by the same requirements of the later priests. His priesthood was of a different order, a different nature. He was a type of the one who was to come, a better Priest that provides us with a better salvation.

  1. How do you use the word ‘blessing’?
  2. When God gives his blessing, he also gives a promise – what does that mean?
  3. Can the blessing in Genesis 14:19-20 be applied to your spiritual battles?

 

 

  1. Everything is changed
    Hebrews 7:11-12“The argument of Hebrews 7:11-19 constitutes a bold, and even radical, declaration by the writer. This section asserts unequivocally that the death and resurrection of Jesus has introduced a new and permanent priesthood that brings the Levitical priesthood to an end and, with it, the demise of the law of Moses.” (Stedman). The phrase ‘demise of the law of Moses may be a little strong and we will come back to that. Nevertheless what is being said expands on what has already been written and challenges the basis of Jewish belief and practice. The readers had been faithful Jews and while they had for the most part embraced Christianity it would be a big leap for them to abandon their old certainties.Attempts were made by some of these new converts to marry the two belief systems together, to insist on the Jewish law while embracing this new hope presented by Jesus. The apostle Paul takes issue with this particularly in his letter to the Galatians. While there may not be many reading this who have recently left the Jewish faith, there may be some who have come from other religious systems and it is tempting to try make them fit together, or hold on to the good parts of what has been left behind. The writer of this epistle is insisting that cannot be.The priesthood and the law that sat with it was intended to provide a temporary solution to alienation from God. Spurgeon writes: “The priesthood of Aaron and his successors was intended to be temporary. God did not confirm the priests of old in their offices, because He held in reserve the right to set them aside when He pleased. He from the first intended that their functions should be abolished when the fullness of time should come for another and better priest to take their place.” The law was given to support the priesthood, not the other way around. The priesthood and the tabernacle with its sacrifices were the means God used to make sinful people acceptable to himself. The law regulated not just how the priestly rituals would take place but made everyone aware of their need for atonement or reconciliation. But the law could not make people perfect according to verse 11. The use of the word ‘perfection’ means to be permanently right with God, at its very best the law and the priests could only bring a temporary reconciliation.

    A change was needed, not an alteration to what was there but a replacement of it. When the writer speaks of another priest he does not mean one similar to the one that was there, but something of a different nature. It could not be priest that was temporary and who needed to offer sacrifices for his own sin, it had to be one of a different order. This new and different priest did not need the law to support him, instead he fulfilled the law. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” He had fulfilled all the requirements of the law, even to death on the cross and in doing so satisfied its demands. The law can be divided into two parts, the Moral Law and the Ceremonial Law, although some churches add a third, the Judicial Law (the Reformed Church). The Moral law relates to God’s character and covers regulations on justice, respect, and sexual conduct, and includes the Ten Commandments. It does not however lead people to Christ. It can be said that these laws are written on the heart of all believers and will never fall away. The Ceremonial law though includes instructions on regaining right standing with God, reminders of God’s work in Israel, regulations which distinguished Israelites from others, and signs that point to the coming Messiah. Christians are not bound by ceremonial law, and even fulfilling perfectly the moral law, if that were possible would not lead to salvation. The readers needed to leave behind their old ideas, as do we.

  1. Do we try to add our Christianity to our old beliefs, or replace them, completely?
  2. Can you think of example were beliefs from other religions have been adopted into the Christian life?
  3. What do you understand by God’s moral law being written on your heart?

 

  1. Jesus our Guarantor
    Hebrews 7:13-22To be eligible to be a priest a candidate had to be from the tribe of Levi and while the Hebrews assumed this was a permanent arrangement God never said so. God did not swear to Aaron that his priesthood would be forever. In fact God never suggested, to Aaron or to anyone else, that that priesthood would be anything but temporary. However, many Israelites no doubt thought that it would be permanent, but their belief had no basis in Scripture. Psalm 110 speaks of the Messiah who was to come and states in verse 4 that he would be of the order of Melchizedek. God had confirmed this with an oath; neither when the old priesthood was established nor since when any priest or group of priests were consecrated had God made oath-or any sort of promise, conditional or unconditional-that this priesthood would be permanent or eternal.“The Levitical priesthood was inferior to the priesthood of Melchizedek because the sacrifices under the Levitical order cannot make anyone righteous. However, the sacrifice of the priest from the order of Melchizedek is able to make men righteous…The Levitical system was a temporary fix, never able to perfect anyone.” (Sproul). Qualification for priesthood was based almost entirely on physical characteristics, they had to be descendants of Aaron and there are other requirements as well, they must be pure, unspotted and without physical defects before he could offer sacrifices or offering to God. (Leviticus 21:17-23). In fact as Kenneth Wuest writes, “no matter how ill-suited he was and reluctant to take the office, the law made him a priest because of his pedigree.” There was not a single moral or spiritual qualification the prospective priest had to meet!

    In accentuating the difference between the old priesthood and that to which Jesus belonged the writer points out that he wasn’t even of the tribe of Levi, but instead was of Judah. This tribe was never part of the priestly succession plan according to Moses. He did not have the physical limitations of the priest either, he was indestructible. Death could not conquer him and he priesthood was eternal. While Melchizedek did not live forever, there is no record of his birth or of his death and so was of a completely different order to the priests. Abraham and Melchizedek were both set aside by an oath or a promise of God and it was this oath which established the priesthood of Jesus.

    The law and the priesthood which were the foundation of Jewish belief had proved ineffective in securing perfection or permanent right standing with God, the writer says it was both useless and weak!. Now though, a new covenant or promise has been made which gives a better hope and access to God. Abraham, Moses and others all brought their worship to God and offered sacrifices through the priesthood, but they never had access to the Holiest of Holies. We through this new and better covenant are able to draw near to God. ‘’Our Lord Jesus does more than mediate the New Covenant. He also guarantees it. He has become surety for it. All of God’s promises in the New Covenant are guaranteed to us by Jesus Himself. He guarantees to pay all the debts that our sins have incurred, or ever will incur, against us’’ (Wuest.)

  1. Why was the old priesthood and law weak and useless?
  2. Why do you think there was so much emphasis on physical characteristics in the old priesthood?
  3. What do you think of Wuest’s comment that Jesus guarantees to pay all the debts that our sins have or will incur?

 

  1. Our God is Able
    Hebrews 7:23-25Spurgeon remarks that there were 83 high priests between Aaron and the siege of Jerusalem in 70A.D. and by the time of King David there so many priests that they had to be divided into 24 divisions so they could all have a turn (1 Chronicles 24). Each High Priest served for life but obviously needed to be succeeded at that time, or replaced earlier if it became necessary. Now though, a High Priest had come that would never be replaced or succeeded, his would be a permanent priesthood. The writer had already established that this is Jesus the Son of God.

    Because Jesus’ priesthood is permanent he is able to save permanently. The word that the writer uses is translated ‘uttermost’ which is a word that is seldom used in daily conversation! An English dictionary would define it as the most extreme, the furthest or greatest, but that is not what is being conveyed here. The Greek word is panteles and is only used twice in the Bible. The other time is in Luke 13:12 where Jesus heals a crippled woman and she is able to stand straight after being bent over. The word contains the root telos which means perfect and so in the Luke reference the woman could stand perfectly. So the first sense in which the word is used in Hebrews 7:25 is that Jesus is able to save us completely or perfectly, and in another sense it is until the end, or forever. Some English translations do translate pantelos as forever.

    There are many references to what God is able to do in Scripture, including:
    He is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance (Acts 20:32)
    The Lord is able to make you stand. (Romans 14:4)
    He is able to establish you (note Romans 16:25)
    God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, (2 Cor 9:8)
    He is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, (Ephesians 3:20)
    He is able even to subdue all things unto himself. (Philippians 3:20; Philippians 3:21)
    He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. (2 Timothy 1:12)
    He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. (Hebrews 2:18)
    God is able to raise men even from the dead; (Hebrews 11:19)
    He is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)
    He is the One who is able to save and to destroy; (James 4:12)
    He is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy (Jude 1:24).

    The ones he will save to the uttermost are those who draw near to Him. We can only do that through the person of Jesus. It is his death that opened the way to the Holiest place and it as we accept his offer of salvation by faith that we are able to draw near. Jesus not only opened the way but he continually intercedes for us. That word can be understood as intervenes, he doesn’t just speak on our behalf but stands in our place securing us release from our debt and freedom from sin and all of its consequences. His salvation is complete and permanent. Every blot, every stain, every imperfection and weakness has been removed completely and forever.

  1. What does it mean to you that you have been saved of every fault or weakness?
  2. Is there any sin that troubles you that you think God is not able to deliver you from?
  3. Your salvation is not dependent upon your ability but on God’s how does that make you feel?

 

  1. It is Fitting
    Hebrews 7:26-28

    The writer of the letter to the Hebrews has been diligent to demonstrate the inadequacy of the priesthood that had been the basis for the hopes and beliefs of his readers. He pointed out that it was temporary and suffered from some fundamental weaknesses, so that something that was better, was permanent and sufficient to satisfy all the demands of God’s righteousness was needed. “So it is fitting” he says “that we have such a high priest.” He then proceeds to set out the qualifications of this new high priest.

    The writer begins with saying that the new high priest is holy. There are two main words translated as Holy in our Bibles. One is from the Greek word Hagios and means to be set apart for God. It is the word from which we get saints and sanctified and is the most often used. The other main word and the one that is used here is Holios and that is more about the moral character and behaviour of the person. It is used in the Old Testament about God. The priest was holy (hagios) because he was set apart to set serve God, but this new high priest was holy (Hosios) because he was, “pure from evil conduct and observant of God’s will”. (Vine).

    He was also innocent, the idea here is he is childlike almost naïve in his innocence, not just that he had not committed an offence. He is unstained from corruption of the world and its sin and in that way he was separated from sinners. He was separated in the sense that he was not one of them, not that he was not with them. We know that Jesus was criticized for spending time with sinners and he identifies with us and our temptations, but he did not become stained by sin. Now having risen from the dead and ascended he is exalted above the heavens and sits in the place of authority at the right hand of the Father.

    He lived perfectly and  sinlessly and so the sacrifice he offered, which was his own life, was also perfect and complete. His life was not taken from him, he was not forced to the cross. He willingly went and gave himself in our place. He took upon himself the weight of our sin, endured separation from his father and the pain of the cross freely and voluntarily. He did this once, because that was all that was necessary. His life was without sin, it was spotless and entirely innocent a fitting and acceptable sacrifice that satisfied the debt that was owed through sin.

    Jesus did what the old priests could never do. Each year, on the Day of Atonement the high Priest would  offer a sacrifice first for his own sin and then for the sins of the people. The high priest was overcome by the same sin as those he represented, but Jesus never offered a sacrifice for his own sin, because he was sinless. His obedience on the cross confirmed his obedience to the father and made him perfect, not for that occasion only, but for all time.

    It is indeed fitting that we have such a priest that is able to intercede for us as our high priest. Having offered a perfect sacrifice he has sat down, his work complete. Nothing needs to be or can be added to his sacrifice to make us acceptable to God, everything necessary has been done. All that is required from us is to believe with our hearts that he risen from the dead and confess with our mouths that he is Lord, and our God, who is able, will do the rest.

  1. Do you see the difference between being set apart for God and being set apart to God?
  2. What does godly innocence look like?
  3. Do you think you have something you need to do to secure your salvation?

 

 

Week 8

  1. The True Tent
    Hebrews 8:1-3

    The writer of the epistle now says, in effect, ‘now the whole point of what I have been saying is this: that priest that I have been speaking about, the one who is better than those you have trusted in, in fact better than the law which you insist on. The only one that can do all things that the old system could not do – we have that priest!” There are many religions in the world, most of which offer an opportunity to the believer to be good enough to be acceptable to God. None of them work, because none of us could ever hope to do all that these religions require. No matter how hard we try we always come short of the standard necessary. The Hebrew readers of this letter had followed such a system, if they were able to perfectly keep the law then they would be acceptable. When they fell short (and the Bible has a word for this, it is ‘sin’), then sacrifices could be offered to turn away God’s displeasure until the next time they failed. This cycle would continue, it was a temporary fix.

    Jesus came to offer provide a way so that every one who accepts it would be guaranteed peace with God. It was a better way, indeed the only way. While other religions insisted that we make ourselves acceptable to God, Jesus told us we never could, but he could make us righteous, or acceptable. He would do this by offering himself as a perfect sacrifice, and rather than relying on a priesthood that was weak, he would be the priest that interceded on our behalf. He would pay the price that settled the debt we owe God. All we needed to do was believe in him and by faith confess him as Lord.

    These are revolutionary ideas; Jesus was advocating the overthrow of the foundations of Jewish life and faith. He was not saying a few changes needed to be made, more effort and discipline was needed, no, something entirely new was needed. His readers couldn’t add faith in Jesus to their existing beliefs, they had to replace them with a total commitment to this new high priest.

    The high priest the writer speaks of is seated at God’s throne. The earthly high priests could enter the holy place, but this is greater than that. This is the very throne of God, the place of authority and power, and while the old high priest stood before the altar, this high priest sat at God’s right hand. His work of offering sacrifices was complete, never to be repeated. The holy place that he entered was not in a tent (Tabernacle) like the priests of Moses’ day entered. A structure made by human hands and designed to be temporary. Not even a Temple like that of the days of Solomon which had been destroyed and had to be rebuilt. The holy place that our high priest entered is in the highest place, the dwelling place of God.
    On the Day of Atonement When the high priest of the old order came to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people he first had to offer a sacrifice for his own sin. Jesus likewise brought a sacrifice. The high priest brought the flesh and blood of animals, Jesus presented his own life. His body which was broken on our behalf and his blood that was poured out to cleanse us from sin. The two things we remember in the celebration we call communion (in some churches called the Eucharist). His life was without sin, spot or blemish; in everyway it was acceptable to God. He didn’t offer himself to satisfy his own debt of sin, because he had none. He did so to pay the debt of all those who by faith accept his sacrifice on their behalf. As a priest he was appointed by God to do what was needed to repair our broken relationship with God. As the Son of God he was able to do it.

  1. Why is it important not to try to fix our old beliefs but to totally replace them?
  2. Did Jesus need to offer a sacrifice for himself?
  3. What does it mean to us that Jesus sits at the right hand of God?