Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hebrews 9:15-22

What is guilt? What is the price of sin?

The wages of sin is death,” says Paul. (Romans 6:23) In the Bible, the eventual punishment for every form of sin is death. It's the only punishment—there is no other.

Seems harsh, doesn't it? Is it hard to understand? I mean, death for a murderer, maybe we can understand, but death for a liar?

I had a friend in high school that applied for Harvard. He was valedictorian, had a 6.0 GPA, scored perfect on every college placement exam he could get his hands on—you know the type. He was a genius!, and since he wanted to study law, Harvard seemed pretty natural.

He was turned down cold—couldn't even get his foot in the door.

My friends were all amazed, but I said, 'Hey! It's Harvard. There are how many thousands of high school students each year for them to choose from?' They had high standards. It's why he wanted to go in the first place. If they ever lowered their standards, their academic level would suffer, and their reputation in the academic world would be ruined.

On the other hand, Austin Community College even accepted me into their program. Needless to say, their academic standards are fairly forgiving.

At any rate, we dispense law in our country as seems fit to us, based on the standards we set for our society: You can't kill people. You can't attack people. You can't steal from people. In general, these principles seem fair to us, and we try to establish punishments that fit the severity of the crime committed.

Imagine that our society is Austin Community College. We accept just about anybody in our society, even murderers and thieves, because our standards of morality are pretty forgiving.

Now imagine that God is the ethical equivalent of Harvard University. He can't accept just anybody even if He wants to, because His standards are set extremely high. If He did start accepting anybody that came to Him, He would have to lower His standards, and that would ruin His ethical standing in the world.

Is that even possible? Can you even imagine a world where the Creator of the world did not stand for good and for order? The Law of Entropy says that everything in our universe begins in order and reverts to chaos. Who is that beginning or order but the Creator of the universe? What if that Creator suddenly stopped standing for order?

Gadzooks! Meganoito! What in the world!? Would everything in creation suddenly fly apart if the Source of our order ever failed us?

It can't happen—it mustn't happen! We can't let it happen! Would it even be worth it, the destruction of the universe, for God to drop His standards for even a single wrongdoing?

No way! What, are you crazy?!

But we know that God wants, longs, yearns that everyone come to Him and be with Him—we see that in Ezekiel 18, in Hosea 11, in 2 Peter 3, in John 3:16, in so many other places. At the end of Ezekiel 18, He pleads: “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (18:31-32)

And that's the secret to God's plan for fellowship with man, right there: a new heart and a new spirit. It's the new covenant He promised in Jeremiah 31:31, the new covenant that the author of Hebrews mentions in verse 15. The only requirement for this covenant is that someone should die in place of the offender. Under the old covenant that God made with the children of Israel, that place was taken by goats and calves—but how could the blood of an unknowing, helpless animal ever truly substitute for the blood of a knowing, fully responsible human being?

There's just no way. Anybody can see that.

For this reason, Christ came to seal the new covenant with His own blood—given knowingly and willingly, without sin or offense of His own to redeem. A perfect life lived for us, to show us the heart of God; a perfect life given for us, to cleanse our hearts for God; a perfect life resurrected for us, to bring us all into the heart of God through that resurrection.

Jesus couldn't have done it alone. N'est-ce pas?

Jesus could not have done it alone. If you learn anything from His life, see that He lived to give the Father the glory. God was with Christ, and God raised Him up from the dead so that He could redeem us forever with His blood.

Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” (v. 22b) This is a given principle of the Bible, a foundational law of creation. It was true for Adam and Eve, true in the time of Abraham, true in Moses' day, true when Jesus came, and it still holds true for us today. We, as they, achieve our ultimate forgiveness through the blood of Christ. All He asks is that we put our faith in Him enough to take up our own burden for Him.

Am I willing to bear the burden of Christ on my heart today, or will I choose my own purposes? He lived and died for me, so that I may gain the ultimate reward. Am I going to live and die with Him, so that I may gain that reward; or would I rather work for my own wages?

I pray Jesus might help me to choose.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Hebrews 9:11-14

I go out and I buy a notebook at the store. I pay a dollar for it, take it home, and it's mine. I can make paper airplanes out of it, write notes for school in it, use it for a journal, whatever I want, and nobody's going to call me out for misusing the notebook--it's mine, I bought it, I get to do whatever I want with it.
Makes sense, right?

At the end of this verse, we see a clause that recurs throughout the New Testament: "[Jesus redeemed us with His blood] so that we may serve the living God." (v. 14b) We see it in the scriptures all the time. In Ephesians, Paul says "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:10) Jesus saved us, yes, and He saved us with a purpose.
Does that make Jesus' sacrifice into something self-serving or selfish? Does it mean God only uses us for His own gain?

Good reader, think not such things. If I sit down and make a pot out of clay, I can choose to make it a serving dish or a bedpan, and nobody will think less of me for either. If God crafted us, and if He did make us only to suit His own purposes, there would be no fault in it--isn't that what a creator does? Even if God did create some people only to be punished, that would be His prerogative, wouldn't it? (Romans 9)
But that just isn't the way God thinks--look at the Bible! In Ezekiel 18, God tells his prophet, "'Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?' declares the Lord. 'Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?'" (Ezekiel 18:23) In Hosea, He says, "My people are determined to turn from Me... I will not carry out My fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim, For I am God, and not man--the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath." (Hosea 11:7a, 9) In the New Testament, Peter says "The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9) Is this a description of a creator that creates some vessels for beauty and some for destruction? Rather, aren't these the words of a father that cares for His children, that longs for them to come home?

If we accept that God does care for us in all things and that He saves us in order that we might serve Him, then we must conclude that serving God is good. God saves us for our own good, and that good is to serve Him.

Have you ever longed for a greater truth in your life, for a greater purpose? Have you envied those that die for a cause they believe in, whose convictions and sense of purpose were so strong that they were willing to give their lives for their beliefs?
As Christians, we have such a purpose, given by God to us when He saved us from our sins. Before, we were unloved; before, we were not a people--but God has chosen to love us, and has made us His own people. Before, we were slaves of sin--but God offers us the chance to become servants of righteousness. (Author's note: I don't say 'slave' because we don't think of slaves as having a choice--this wasn't always the case. In Paul's day, I could sell myself into slavery to pay a debt. Once my debt was paid, I could buy myself back out of slavery. In Israel, a master was required to set all his slaves free every fifty years. The slave could choose to remain a slave, or he could take his freedom and go. This is the slavery God offers to us: we choose to serve Him, and we can choose to stop serving Him. This at-will slavery is completely foreign to a society that tends to consider any form of slavery as evil, and so I say: slaves (against our will) to sin, servants (by our choice) to righteousness in God.)

This is our purpose, this is our cause; yet, God doesn't force His will or His salvation on us. We can choose not to serve Him; but, by our natures, we must serve some greater master. If we choose not to serve God, then we must choose to serve mammon, the god of this age, the devil. On the other hand, we can choose to let God buy off our debt with the blood of Christ, and we can accept His purpose for our lives.
What choice will I make today? Will I accept God's purpose, or will I find my own?
The choice is mine.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Hebrews 9:1-9

Once again, the writer of Hebrews begins a comparative analysis of the Law: first, the old Law was inadequate, insufficient; then, the Contract of Christ is greater and, in fact, perfect.

The tabernacle, God's dwelling place among the Israelites throughout their time in the wilderness and through their formative kingdom years. It's a memory of pillars of fire and of parting waters, of conquests and triumphs. The tabernacle was the visible reminder of Israel's holy fellowship with God Almighty, given to them through Moses when they agreed that they should be God's people, and that He should be their God.
Think of the tabernacle with visions of glory, of consecration, and of devotion, and you may begin to understand how important this first temple was to Israel. Its building was commissioned by God, its plans laid out by Him, its components given in sacrifice to Him, the trophies of Israel's deliverance from Egypt, which God accomplished for them. This tabernacle, this was the house of God!
And yet, these blueprints, these holy symbols, were only a shadow of the types found in Heaven. The priests that presided among them could only go in to the ark of the Law once a year, and then only with the blood of sacrifice, because they were not worthy to enter into its presence. As priests, they were insufficient to mediate between God and man; and as objects of communion, the archetypes in the tabernacle were insufficient to bring man into closer union with God.
These things, the author says, are an illustration: a visual proof for us, that the Law was incomplete. He calls them "external regulations", and it recalls a verse from Jeremiah that he'll bring in later: "'This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,' declares the Lord. 'I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts.'" (Jeremiah 31: 33a) An internal covenant, better than the external regulations--that was the promise God made to the Israelites, and, the author of Hebrews says, the fulfillment of that promise was witnessed in his generation.

External regulations are reminders, like the pillars of stone set up across the Jordan. (Joshua 4) When people ask, 'What do these regulations you keep mean?' we tell them that the debt of sin was cut off by the blood of Christ. When He died for us, our debt of sin was cut off. These regulations we keep as a memorial for the people of God forever.
And yet, regulations themselves are powerless to save--both those set forth on Sinai and the external trappings we follow today. The Lord's Supper is powerless to save. Worship cannot save us. Praise will not avail. Fellowship with the body of Christ is not enough to win us the victory over sin. Are these things vitally important? Yes!, but only in the role they serve, and it's the same role the tabernacle played: illustration. Now, as then, the ceremonies we keep, external regulations that display heavenly truths, serve as our reminders, ordained and blessed by God, just as those holy stones from the river Jordan served to remind the children of Israel of the power of God in their midst.
It is God Who saves through the Name given to Jesus, which is above every other name, in honor of His sacrifice, the blood and the body pierced for our transgressions. Next to this Truth, all else is but a shadowy reminder.
Like Moses, we live not in the glory of God, but protected from His glory. In this shadowland of grace, we see many things that have the power to remind us of God.

The only question for me is this: Will I allow them to remind me? When other people ask me what these dim forms represent, will I allow them to teach others? This is their sole purpose, their one reason for existence. Will I allow the tabernacles in my life to fulfill the glorious role intended for them by God above, or will I ignore them?
That is for me to decide every day.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Hebrews 8:6-13

Remember the 8-track tape?
These monsters were going the way of the CD while I was young. They've long since been replaced by cassette tapes, which were ousted by CDs, which now seem to be giving way to iMusic.
Ah, progress. Smells like a brand new car.

But seriously, music fans. Why did the 8-track have to go?
If you've ever listened to an old 8-track, you know the answer to this question. If you've ever seen an old 8-track, you probably have a pretty good idea. They were huge, sounded so-so, and did not age well. Listening to an old 8-track tape is a lot like listening to an electric chainsaw band.
As opposed to digital music, which is uber-transferrable (much to the music companies' chagrin), high-fidelity (unless you're seriously into vinyl), and practically free to produce. We get a song over the internet from the comfort of our couch without having to browse those silly music stands at the store. We store the song on our hard drives, dump it onto a flash drive, or put it on our MP3 players. The song doesn't get old or grainy, it doesn't skip beats, and the MP3 player never eats our tapes...
In short, digital music is way, like, totally better. Who'd want to go back to 8-tracks? I mean, honestly!

That's the new covenant. The first covenant was broke. It didn't work. It showed people that they were bad, sure, but it didn't make them perfect. People tried to follow the old law, but they couldn't.
So enter Jesus, the Son of God, to initiate a new covenant, a new promise. And the new promise (which had been promised to the prophets, by the way) was better than the old one.

This is one of my favorite verses. "No longer will a man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying: 'Know the Lord!', for they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them," says the Lord. Isn't that awesome?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Hebrews 8:1-5

What is a shadow?
If you were to look only at my shadow, you'd have no idea what I looked like. My shadow is not a representation of me, it's only an effect made because light can't pass through me. It doesn't show the color of my hair. It doesn't show whether I'm skinny or overweight. It doesn't even truly show how tall I am.
The author doesn't say the law is a reflection of the things in heaven--a reflection is inaccurate and sometimes imprecise, but it at least gives you a good idea of what the original thing is. But a shadow? You can tell the relative outline of an object from its shadow, and that's all.

Think about a new moon. When the moon is full, you can see the entire moon. As it wanes, we see the shadow of the earth on the moon. The shadow has the curve of the earth, so we know the earth is curved. The shadow covers the entire moon, so we know that the earth is close to the moon. But from the shadow of the earth, that's about all we can tell.
That's the way the old law was. We can tell a few things about heaven from the law, but not much. Looking at the law and imagining heaven is like looking at the crescent moon and imagining the earth: it's not very effective.

Now contrasted to this simple light-trick that is the law is the "radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being", which the author calls Jesus in 1:3. It's this perfect image that establishes the new law, as opposed to the weak shadow of the old. The difference between the new law and the old law is the difference between a 10 megapixel photograph of God's will and a cave painting.

Now that's what we're called to serve: the real thing. That's what the author of Hebrews is saying: we're not called to take part in a shadow play any more--we're called to be a part of the kingdom of God, plain and simple, and we've got the one-and-only Son of God leading us in this new kingdom.
Isn't it amazing? Praise God!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hebrews 7:23-28

Because we believe in Jesus, we can see that He is better than the priests of the old law: Jesus is eternal, and Jesus is perfect. He will always be there to go to God for us, and He his intercessions will never be tainted by His own sins, because He is without sin.
What arguments do you make about priests? What kinds of things do we say about preachers and pastors today? We see them shouting at a waiter in a restaurant and we say to each other, "Uh-huh. Look at Pastor So-and-so. He's hellfire and brimstone, all right..." Or we see them going into an R-rated movie theatre and we say, "Look at Preacher So-and-so! He likes the same kinds of movies we like! What makes him so tight with God?"
I'm not saying all waiters are saintly or all R-rated movies are bad, but you know the kind of situation I'm referring to because you've seen them yourself. We see our preachers and our spiritual leaders doing bad things and we say to ourselves, "What makes him so much more spiritual than me?"
That's not Jesus. In order to find something bad to say about Jesus, the priests had to make something up -- and they couldn't even do that right! They had a crowd full of witnesses and no one could agree on a single bad thing to say about the Son of Man. Now that's impressive!

I get disillusioned sometimes. Does it ever happen to you? I feel like the world should be one way, like people should be one way, and when it really isn't and they really aren't, sometimes I get disappointed. And what's the worst is when it's someone you look up to and truly respect.

Jesus is not going to let you or me down, brothers and sisters. Jesus is going to be there for us, and He's never going to not be there for us. He's never going to fall down. No one is ever going to take Him down a notch. He will never fail nor disappoint.
That's what it means when it says Jesus is eternal, and Jesus is perfect.

He's our king. And He's the One that pleads our case with God when we sin against Him.
We can take comfort in that.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hebrews 7:11-22

A logical argument, this--I like it: If the old system (like MS-DOS?) was so good, why did it change?
And did it change, you ask? Of course, yes; observe: the old priesthood came from ancestry of the line of Levi. But this new priest is not a Levite; he's from Judah. And if He is from Judah, then He can't be a priest under the old system. (Ironic, isn't it, that Jesus the Christ was not qualified for priesthood under the law of God passed down through Moses? But that's what the author of Hebrews is saying!) But He is a priest, as it's prophesied: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek."
Now you and me are thinking, huh what? How do we know this is talking about Jesus anyway? It's from Psalms!
Aha, but take a look at the distinctive quote in its own context, in Psalm 110. David says in verses 1-3,
"The LORD says to my Lord: 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.' The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies. Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy majesty, from the womb of the dawn you will receive the dew of your youth."
He's clearly talking about the king, isn't he? And yet, verse 4 throws in a surprise: "The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: 'You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.' "
So what's this? Saul was a Benjamite and David from the tribe of Judah. Neither Benjamite nor Judean was authorized to become priests--and so, when God declares here He'll suddenly decide to make the king a priest, as well...
Well, what else can it mean? The priesthood is going to change!
I just wonder if that's part of the reason the high priests really wanted Jesus dead. The gospel says that the high priest had a vision that one man should die for the sake of many, but I just wonder if this passage wasn't in the back of his mind: God's going to make the king priest, instead of the Levites. Where would that put the priests of the day, anyway? Some of them loved the power they had over the people, and I'm sure they didn't want to give that up. So when Jesus came out and started preaching with authority, saying to people "You've heard this about the Law of God [from the priests and the teachers of the law!], but I'm telling you it means something different!" Other rabbis argued and bickered and quoted other rabbis and scriptures, but Jesus was giving what seemed to be His own interpretation of the Law. What's worse, it was the right interpretation--Jesus spelled it out so clearly that even a fisherman could understand it!
Is it little wonder, then, that men who loved power moved to protect their power?
Anyway. God declared about this king, "I am declaring you priest!"
This was new. And yet, if Jesus was the King--and everyone thought He was; they'd been willing to crown Him during His ministry. Look at what they called Him in the triumphal entry: "Son of David". Son of the Great King! In our language, that means prince. For them, it meant king.
And it was this king of whom David spoke--who else could it be? No other king had been a priest. When Saul tried, God forsook him; and yet, it's God that appoints Jesus as king and priest.

And, this having been said, we come back to the point of the matter: If there's a new priesthood, there must be a new law. If only Levites could be priest under the old law, and if Jesus is not of Levi, and if Jesus is a priest, then the old law must have been replaced.
And why? Because it was weak and useless, and because there's now something better.

Jesus is something better. He was coronated by God, lauded by angels, worshipped by men, murdered by men, raised by God, and now lives to intercede with God on our behalf, waiting at His Father's right hand for God to crush all enemies under His feet, just as He promised.

And what of us that worship Him and that strive to follow Him? Are we waiting for God, too? Have we forgotten what we're waiting for?
It's so easy to forget. Someone gets ahead of me in traffic, and I'm not waiting patiently on God--I'm busy cursing my brother. I see a beggar on the street, and I'm not waiting on God--I'm too busy crossing over on the other side of the road. Someone says something that hurts me, and I'm not waiting on God--I'm too busy lashing out and trying to hurt him back.
But we mustn't. Jesus died for us. Don't we want to live for Him? Don't we want to serve Him? And if I do want to serve, how then shall I serve? How, in my life, will I be faithful?
How will you?