Posts referencing the book of Hebrews

Resist Temptation When You Find a Short Cut

October 31, 2017

Our last two devotionals looked at the first two temptations of Christ, and how He handled them. Through them, we learned how we can resist when we are weak and when we think we have everything under control. This brings us to the final temptation of the three He endured.

8Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9And he said to Him, “All these I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me.” 10Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

‘You shall worship the Lord your God
    and Him only shall you serve.’"

11Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.

Matthew 4:8-11 (ESV)

Remember that Jesus’ entire mission - His reason for being on earth at this point - is to redeem mankind, and restore them to Himself, so that He will one day rule over them in righteousness. The temptation here, then, is a huge short cut. Jesus knows what is to come; He knows how difficult it will be, and He knows the pain He will have to endure. Satan has been granted temporary power on the earth (called the “prince of the power of the air” by Paul in Ephesians 2:2), and is offering to transfer this control to Jesus.

Just reading this temptation, knowing what we know now, we might come away thinking “The temptation was to worship Satan? That one should be easy to resist!” As we think about it, though, this may be the most seductive of the three temptations. Turning stones into bread would have satisfied an acute physical need, and throwing Himself off the pinnacle of the temple would have been just another miracle story. But this - this is a way to take control of the world away from Satan without going through the pain and suffering. For Satan, there is the added benefit of distracting Jesus from His mission, which means an ultimate thwarting of God’s plan to redeem mankind. He’d gladly cede some earthly power now to win the long game in the future.

However, Satan miscalculated in this temptation; Jesus’ mission was not to come to earth to control it, but to redeem it. Power wasn’t the goal; salvation was. Once again, Jesus uses Scripture from Deuteronomy to rebuff this temptation:

13It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by His name you shall swear.

Deuteronomy 6:13 (ESV)

The translation here isn’t quite the same (Deuteronomy’s original language is Hebrew, Matthew’s original language is Greek), but the point is the same, particularly if you consider that this is the point immediately following the one in that famous speech from Moses that starts “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Interestingly, the point after this one is the one about not testing the Lord, that Jesus used to refute Satan during the second temptation. Within this point, though, it is part of a charge from Moses to the Hebrew people that, when they arrive in the land that God has promised them, they are to serve Him alone, and not turn aside to other gods they will find there.

At this point, Satan is 0-3; three temptations have been refuted with three passages of Scripture. Jesus passed this temptation, and angels came and ministered to Him (v. 11). Showing that He still had power over Satan, even on earth and in His weakened state, when Jesus said “Be gone, Satan!”, Satan had to scram.

John, in 1 John 2:15-17, puts everything wrong in the world into three categories: the “lust of the flesh,” the “lust of the eyes,” and the “pride of life.” It is not difficult to see that each of Jesus’ temptations addressed primarily one of these categories. As the author of Hebrews said, “[He] was tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15b) He withstood these temptations through the power of God’s Word. As we’ve seen with the previous two temptations, we must know Scripture if we are going to able to recall it during times of temptation. We must follow Jesus’ example if we are to find success resisting temptation.

You May Already Be Qualified

June 10, 2013

Hypocrisy is a charged often leveled against Christians. “How can you say you believe ‘x’ and still do ‘y’?”, the unbeliever asks. While the merits of this claim probably deserve an entire devotional on their own, the implication is that these hypocrites are unqualified - unqualified to be taken seriously, unqualified to speak the truth of the Bible, even unqualified to be a child of God. If someone hears this charge, particularly the latter one, with enough repetition, they may actually start to believe it. What exactly qualifies someone to become a Christian, or to at least claim that they are?

Believe it or not, the list of qualifications is quite short.

1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

John 3:1-3 (ESV)

30Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Acts 16:30-31 (ESV)

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ - that’s it!

This is the culmination of a long process. God created man (Genesis 1:27) in a perfect state, but man chose to sin (Genesis 3:1-7). There were stiff consequences for that sin (Genesis 3:16-19), but in the serpent’s curse, God alluded to His plan (Genesis 3:15). Throughout the Old Testament, many prophecies were made concerning the Messiah, both literal (Isaiah 9:1-7, Isaiah 53) and figurative (Leviticus 4). Jesus came, born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18), and lived a sinless life (Hebrews 4:15) while ministering on earth. He was crucified (Matthew 27:22-26), but resurrected from the grave (Matthew 28:1-7) and ascended to heaven to be with His Father (Acts 1:6-11) until He returns to call His own home (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

Throughout the Bible, there are many, many examples of those who would likely be called hypocrites today. Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife - twice! - (Genesis 12:11-20, Genesis 20:1-18) and is still the father of the nation of Israel. Jacob stole his brother’s blessing (Genesis 27:5-35), but was still the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. David committed adultery (2 Samuel 11:2-5) and murder (2 Samuel 11:14-24), yet God used Bathsheba to give him Solomon, his successor as king. Paul persecuted and killed Christ’s followers (Acts 8:1-9:2), yet he was used to write nearly half of the New Testament.

Were these people hypocrites? Some may say “yes.” The thing is, while salvation is an instant change in state, learning to live in a way that pleases Christ takes a lifetime. As we work to allow the Holy Spirit to control our lives, and deepen our relationship with Him, we can see significant growth. Habits can be changed, thought patterns can be transformed, and we can experience peace and joy that are not possible in our own strength. We will get better, but we will never be perfect.

This is also a great example of God’s redemption. The more cynical person would look at the people above and think “If these are the founders of this religion, I want nothing to do with it!” When you look at each life, though, you see God working to bring about a changed heart, which results in a transformed life. These people weren’t used by God to do those sinful things; those people were used by God to do amazing things for Him in spite of those sinful things!

(A note on leaders - Paul sets out qualifications for deacons and pastors in two different places (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-13). James echoes this along with a warning.

1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For we all stumble in many ways.

James 3:1-2a (ESV)

These guidelines are good for all, but the church should hold their leaders to these standards as a condition of continued leadership. The Bible contains several examples of God removing people from leadership when they turned from Him.)

How, then, do we get qualified? That’s just it - God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. If you have accepted Christ, you are qualified! Don’t let your failures get you down; rather, use them as reminders of how much you (and we all) need Jesus. If you haven’t accepted Christ, the good news is that you’re only missing one qualification. There is no credit check, and no test for which you have to study. God is waiting with open arms to welcome you into His family! All you have to do is ask; God’s Simple Plan of Salvation can show you how.

How to Have Church

November 14, 2007

This week, our journey takes us to Colossians 3:16.

16Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God.

Colossians 3:16 (HCSB)

This verse shows us how to really have church - how to join together with others in worship. The Bible is clear that we’re not supposed to be “Lone Ranger” Christians, but we are to connect with other believers. Hebrews 10:24-25 says…

24And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, 25not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25 (HCSB)

Let’s break this verse down phrase and phrase. What does it mean to “let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you”? The Gospel (the message about the Messiah) is a treasure, the depths of which we will not understand while we are here on this earth. However, the more we do learn about it, the fuller our hearts and lives will be. It should completely fill our hearts, to the point where we can see every thing that happens in our lives in the context of the freedom we have because of what Jesus has done for us.

How do we do that? That’s what the rest of this verse tells us. The first aspect is “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…” As we study the Bible for ourselves, there are two aspects that come together. First, we associate what we’re learning with what we already know, and the experiences that we have been through - this is our perspective. Second, we understand as God gives us discernment - a “Word from God” directly for us. When taken together, the perspective and discernment of each person is somewhat unique.

When we get together with other believers, who are also studying the Bible, we can learn from their perspective and discernment, and they can learn from our perspective and discernment. Listening to a traditional sermon from a man of God who has studied the Scripture regularly over the course of several years can be very enlightening. Sitting down together with a small group of believers and discussing a passage of Scripture can also be enlightening - God will use others’ viewpoints to help the entire group gain a deeper understanding of His Word.

The next way is “singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs…” Music has been a part of worship as long as worship has existed. The Bible says that the angels sing in heaven, and both the Old and New Testaments are replete with examples of music being used in worship. The book of Psalms is, in word form, the hymnbook of the Israelite church. Paul sang hymns regularly, whether he was in jail or in an established church. And Jesus even sang hymns! Notice what happened after He instituted the Lord’s Supper…

26As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat it; this is My body.” 27Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said, “Drink from it, all of you. 28For this is My blood [that establishes] the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29But I tell you, from this moment I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it in a new way in My Father’s kingdom with you.” 30After singing psalms, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Matthew 26:26-30 (HCSB)

The way to do all of this is “with gratitude in your hearts to God.” As we learn more about Jesus, and begin to live an abundant Christian life, this gratitude should flow naturally from our hearts. But, even if we’re not “feeling it,” we should still express gratitude to God for all that He has done for us. Our continued existence on this planet is a testament to His protection, grace, and mercy; how much more should we be grateful for the blessings we have been given on top of that?

Some people think that they don’t need church - besides, it’s just full of a bunch of sinners anyway. Well, they’re partially right - Christians are nothing but saved sinners, and from time to time, they still sin. That Christians can know what sin is, believe one shouldn’t do it, but still do it anyway yet remain Christians, may be one of the most misunderstood parts of the Christian life. While some see it as hypocrisy, we know that it is the spiritual warfare, that struggle between the old man and the new man for cont`rol of our lives. However, just as one would not go into battle alone, we as Christians should not try to wage this spiritual battle without the company of our fellow warriors.

When group worship follows the guidelines given in Colossians 3:16, it becomes so valuable to us that we wouldn’t think of trying to make it on our own. I pray that, for each of us, our church experience will grow to approach the description Paul gave to the believers in Corinth.

How to Learn from the Past

August 15, 2007

This week, we’ll look at Hebrews 3:16.

16For who heard and rebelled? Wasn’t it really all who came out of Egypt under Moses?

Hebrews 3:16 (HCSB)

We’ve all heard certain phrases throughout our lives. “History repeats itself.” “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” (This seems to also be a warning to high school students everywhere.) “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” These phrases all point to the phenomenon of people doing the same thing over and over, regardless of the outcome.

In today’s Scripture, the author of Hebrews reminds us that it was the people who knew the truth and even experienced it - the Jews - who rebelled against God. And rebel they did! In three straight chapters in Exodus, the children of Israel complained and rebelled against Moses.

23They came to Marah, but they could not drink the water at Marah because it was bitter - that is why it was named Marah. 24The people grumbled to Moses, “What are we going to drink?” 25So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he threw it into the water, the water became drinkable.

He made a statute and ordinance for them at Marah and He tested them there.

Exodus 15:23-25 (HCSB)

2The entire Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat and ate all the bread we wanted. Instead, you brought us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of hunger!”

4Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. This way I will test them to see whether or not they will follow My instructions.”

Exodus 16:2-4 (HCSB)

2So the people complained to Moses: “Give us water to drink.”

“Why are you complaining to me?” Moses replied to them. “Why are you testing the Lord

3But the people thirsted there for water, and grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you ever bring us out of Egypt to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”

4Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What should I do with these people? In a little while they will stone me!”

5The Lord answered Moses, “Go on ahead of the people and take some of the elders of Israel with you. Take the rod you struck the Nile with in your hand and go. 6I am going to stand there in front of you on the rock at Horeb; when you hit the rock, water will come out of it and the people will drink.” Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.

Exodus 17:2-6 (HCSB)

But, surely, once they get to the promised land, the Israelites will remember God’s provision, right? Well…

1Then the whole community broke into loud cries, and the people wept that night. 2All the Israelites complained about Moses and Aaron, and the whole community told them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this wilderness! 3Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to die by the sword? Our wives and little children will become plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4So they said to one another, “Let’s appoint a leader and go back to Egypt.”

5Then Moses and Aaron fell down with their faces [to the ground] in front of the whole assembly of the Israelite community. 6Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who scouted out the land, tore their clothes 7and said to the entire Israelite community: “The land we passed through and explored is an extremely good land. 8If the Lord is pleased with us, He will bring us into this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and give it to us.”

Numbers 14:1-8 (HCSB)

It’s easy to look back at the failings of the Israelites, and point fingers at them. But, aren’t we the same? Don’t we do the same foolish things over and over again? It’s easy to see how other people don’t learn from their mistakes, but it’s often more difficult to see our own. Even if we are aware of our failings, though, we still have the inner conflict between the old, selfish nature and our new holy one. Paul expressed this sentiment in Romans 7…

14For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am made out of flesh, sold into sin’s power. 15For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. 18For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. 19For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but it is the sin that lives in me. 21So I discover this principle: when I want to do good, evil is with me. 22For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s law. 23But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body.

Romans 7:14-23 (HCSB)

So what is the solution? Later in Romans, Paul gives us the answer.

1Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Romans 12:1-2 (HCSB)

As gold is refined, it is heated to the melting point, and its flaws are literally burned out. I’m pretty sure that if the gold could talk, it would tell us that it doesn’t particularly enjoy this process. However, the result is a more pure precious metal. This is how God works in a Christian’s life; He brings challenges into our lives to mold us into His image. Some of these challenges are external, but some are internal. We must give this to God, and trust Him to work His will in our lives. Will we fail at times? Of course. Does that mean would shouldn’t try? Not at all!

We have been entrusted with the truth. May we surrender our lives to it, and trust God to use the circumstances in our lives to mold us into His image. May we learn through each of our mistakes, and may God give us the power not to repeat them.

How to Share Christ Without Offending Others

July 25, 2007

This week, we’ll be looking at 1 Peter 3:16.

16However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame.

1 Peter 3:16 (HCSB)

Let’s look at that in its context, to figure out what “this” is…

13And who will harm you if you are passionate for what is good? 14But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, 15but set apart the Messiah as Lord in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. 16However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame. 17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. 18For Christ also suffered for sins once for all…

1 Peter 3:13-18a (HCSB)

Verse 13 starts out with a somewhat rhetorical question - who will harm you if you are passionate for what is good? This is an encouragement to his readers (that’s us) that most people would not harm them just because they were doing right by the Lord and good towards others. But, in verse 14, he goes on to tell them that even if someone does make them suffer, they are blessed; this echoes the words of Jesus at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.

11"Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. 12Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Matthew 5:11-12 (HCSB)

In verse 15, Peter shifts toward evangelism, and tells us that we always need to be ready to defend the faith to those who may ask. If someone is doing good, and others are persecuting them, yet they continue to do good, still others will notice, and will wonder where they get the power to continue doing good. This is just what Paul told Timothy.

2Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.

2 Timothy 4:2 (HCSB)

Now, having set all that up, we come to verse 16, where we learn how we are supposed to do this. The words Peter uses are “gentleness and respect.” Many people today find the Word of God offensive - even in America, there are a lot of people who have puffed themselves up, believing that they are above all this “religion” stuff. When we share Christ with others, they may be offended; but that does not absolve us of the responsibility to share Him with others. Here is how the author of Hebrews describes the Word of God…

12"For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart."

Hebrews 4:12 (HCSB)

Some people will get offended at a two-edged sword diving their soul and spirit, and judging their hearts. Rev. Marc Myers, my pastor during high school, used to put it this way: “A Christian should not be deliberately offensive. If you share the Word of God, and the Word offends, so be it. But if you share the Word of God, and you offend, you would be better off not sharing it at all.” This is true - being offensive while sharing Christ actually does more harm than good. It takes the focus off Christ and puts it on the messenger, and it creates a bad reputations for Christians in general.

Think about the abortion clinic. A gentle and respectful way to fight against an abortion clinic is to stand out on the sidewalk and talk, one to one, to the women coming in. I know from experience that women seeking abortion, a lot of times, are using that as means to an end, not an end in itself. Sharing Christ with them can give them hope, and when God works in their spirit, the baby is not only kept, but welcomed and wanted.

Another way of dealing with an abortion clinic is bombing it, destroying it so that it is no longer a conducive place for abortion. However, not only is this offensive (disrespectful to the property of others, irresponsible towards life in that people may be in the building), it is also illegal. Verse 17 says that it is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. Eric Rudolph is suffering for doing evil, not good.

Peter wraps up chapter 3 by reminding us of Who else has suffered for doing good. Christ is our example, and just as the world was offended at His message when He delivered it, it still finds this message offensive today. In the verse above from Matthew, Jesus said that they also persecuted the prophets before Him. While we should strive not to offend, this should be encouraging to us; if they take offense at our message - well, that’s nothing new, is it? May we have the courage to share Christ, and the humility to share it without our methods offending.

How to Serve God by Serving Others

June 13, 2007

(Since 3 John does not have 3 chapters, this “3:16” isn’t an actual 3:16.)

5Dear friend, you are showing your faith by whatever you do for the brothers, and this you are doing for strangers;

3 John 5 (HCSB)

The book of 3 John is a letter written from John to Gaius, a believer who was doing good things. A group of believers, led by Demetrius, was visiting in his area, and John wrote this letter to commend Gaius on how he was helping them. Helping other people, especially those you don’t know and those doing God’s work, is a recurring theme throughout the Bible.

When Jesus was sending out His disciples, He proclaimed a blessing for those who would welcome then and support them.

40"The one who welcomes you welcomes Me, and the one who welcomes Me welcomes Him who sent Me. 41Anyone who welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. And anyone who welcomes a righteous person because he’s righteous will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42And whoever gives just a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple - I assure you: He will never lose his reward!"

Matthew 10:40-42 (HCSB)

Just a cup of water! That’s not hard at all, yet Jesus said that it will be rewarded. In Hebrews 13, the author encourages hospitality.

1Let brotherly love continue. 2Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it.

Hebrews 13:1-2 (HCSB)

Would you give an angel a hand if you could? By helping others and being hospitable, you may actually have the ability to help an angel! And, even if you never come into contact with one (and I’m not really sure how you would know even if you did), by being hospitable to others, you can do the work of an angel for them.

Finally, let’s look at an Old Testament example of hospitality.

8Then the word of the Lord came to him: 9"Get up, go to Zarephath that belongs to Sidon, and stay there. Look, I have commanded a woman who is a widow to provide for you there." 10So Elijah got up and went to Zarephath. When he arrived at the city gate, there was a widow woman gathering wood. Elijah called to her and said, “Please bring me a little water in a cup and let me drink.” 11As she went to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a piece of bread in your hand.”

12But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I don’t have anything baked - only a handful of flour in the jar and a bit of oil in the jug. Just now, I am gathering a couple of sticks in order to go prepare it for myself and my son so we can eat it and die.”

13Then Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid; go and do as you have said. Only make me a small loaf from it and bring it out to me. Afterwards, you may make some for yourself and your son, 14for this is what the Lord God of Israel says: ‘The flour jar will not become empty and the oil jug will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the surface of the land.’”

15So she proceeded to do according to the word of Elijah. She and he and her household ate for many days. 16The flour jar did not become empty, and the oil jug did not run dry, according to the word of the Lord He had spoken through Elijah.

1 Kings 17:8-16 (HCSB)

This kind lady was willing to give up nearly all the food she had in her house to help Elijah; yet, her kindness was rewarded by God’s provision over many, many days. And, in the remainder of this chapter, 1 Kings 17:17-24, her son dies, but is then raised by God through Elijah! That’s quite a reward, just for the simple act of giving up a little food.

“Random acts of kindness” is the idea that you do something nice for someone else, with the hope that someone else will do something nice for you. Mysticism has the idea of “karma,” where the things you do (for good or bad) determine how the rest of the world treats you. Neither of these come from the Bible - we should do nice things for other people “just because,” not to get a reward; and blessings from doing good come from God, not some nebulous “spiritual balance” that we can manipulate.

However, the prevalence of this theme, both in the Bible and outside It, show us that God blesses those who bless others in His name. Look for opportunities to bless others - you never know who you may be helping!