Hebrews 5:1-10 – Our Great High Priest

Mosaic of Jesus Christ in the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.

In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,

“You are my Son;
    today I have become your Father.”

And he says in another place,

“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.”

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (New International Version)

The New Testament letter of Hebrews is perhaps the most Christ-centered book in all the Bible. If you like Jesus, or are at all intrigued by him, this is the best place to go, outside the four Gospels.

Hebrews deliberately points out and exalts the supremacy of Jesus Christ over the Old Testament prophets, the angelic realm, and even Moses and the Law. And, as today’s New Testament lesson insists, Jesus is superior to the old Levitical priesthood because Christ is our salvation. His priesthood is from a different and better order.

With all this talk in Hebrews about Christ’s superiority over everything, some might expect a focus on his deity. Yet, it is the humanity of Jesus which gets the most attention. The actual lived experience of Jesus on this earth is the highest qualification there is to intercede between God and us.

Jesus, as a true bona fide human person, had to learn obedience just like the rest of us. He went through all the hardships and sufferings of life, too. Jesus was dependent on prayer, just as we are. And he was heard by God the Father because of his reverent submission.

One of the great deceptions which can befall Christians is that Christianity is all about strength, victory, and glory. That, however, is only part of the story. If Jesus needed to learn and grow by means of suffering, then how much more do we need to be spiritually formed through the adversities, challenges, and heartaches of life?

Jesus Christ proved himself through his obedience to God. Even though he himself was God, he submitted himself to being human with all of it’s limitations, weaknesses, and pains. Through it all, Christ maintained perfect submission and obedience to the will of God.

All of this means that Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, is eminently qualified to be our great high priest. Jesus can relate to us. Jesus knows us. Jesus understands what it’s like for us. And Jesus has dealt with the endemic issue of guilt and shame once for all through the cross.

So, what does this mean for you and me? Without a realization of who Jesus is, what he did for us, and continues to do for us, we easily take Christ for granted and slip into spiritual lethargy – and perhaps even spiritual self-loathing – and needlessly suffer in loneliness and despair.

The truth is: Jesus Christ loves us. He has become our high priest, the one who is able to intercede for us – constantly taking our prayers and advocating for us to God the Father.

Let Christians everywhere be reminded that we serve a Trinitarian God – Father, Son, and Spirit – who conspires to do what is best for us, at all times. There is a divine community of three persons, the Holy Trinity, who work seamlessly and with perfect unity to provide deliverance from sin, death, and hell. The God whom we serve is both willing and capable to meet our most pressing needs.

Here are 17 ways we can live into being mature Christian believers who are spiritually growing in the grace of God:

  1. Realize God has called you to be holy and righteous and has given you everything you need to do so. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
  2. Be an integral part of a Christian faith community so that you can be encouraged and encourage others. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
  3. Listen to the counsel of others and discern what is good and what is not. (Philippians 1:9-11)
  4. Stick to a consistent regimen of Bible reading and Scripture study. (Hebrews 4:12-13)
  5. Find good books to read and go through them carefully. (2 Timothy 2:15)
  6. Seek to obey Holy Scripture with all your heart. (Psalm 119:89-96)
  7. Persevere and keep growing spiritually. (Hebrews 10:35-36)
  8. Pray continually, realizing your utter dependence on Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
  9. Always look for ways to praise God and serve Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:1-7)
  10. Consider the consequences of your words and actions before you say and do them. (Galatians 6:7-10)
  11. Enjoy God and God’s people. (Philippians 4:4-9)
  12. Understand that the Christian life is not always easy. (Philippians 1:27-30)
  13. Be patient: Spiritual growth and maturity take time. (Hebrews 6:1-3)
  14. Use the spiritual gifts given to you for the benefit of others. (Romans 12:3-8)
  15. Make plans with other like-minded persons to become spiritually self-disciplined. (Proverbs 27:17)
  16. Pursue genuine and intimate spiritual friendships. (2 Corinthians 7:1-4)
  17. Engage in spiritual conversation and prayer around the Bible’s contents and message. (Colossians 4:2-6)

Gracious Father, we pray for Christ’s Church. Fill it with all truth and peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior. Amen.

Revelation 7:9-17 – Persevering to the End

After this I looked, and there was a great crowd that no one could number. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language. They were standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They wore white robes and held palm branches in their hands. They cried out with a loud voice:

“Victory belongs to our God
        who sits on the throne,
            and to the Lamb.”

All the angels stood in a circle around the throne, and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell facedown before the throne and worshipped God, saying,

“Amen! Blessing and glory
        and wisdom and thanksgiving
        and honor and power and might
            be to our God forever and always. Amen.”

Then one of the elders said to me, “Who are these people wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”

I said to him, “Sir, you know.”

Then he said to me, “These people have come out of great hardship. They have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s blood. This is the reason they are before God’s throne. They worship him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them. They won’t hunger or thirst anymore. No sun or scorching heat will beat down on them because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Common English Bible)

There is a day coming when followers of Jesus will see him face to face. Believers will serve the Lord continually. God’s very presence will be their permanent shelter. It will be a glorious time of unending peace, harmony, and rest.

There shall be no more worrying about how to make ends meet, where we are going to get our needs met, and anxiety about the future. Injustice will be a thing of the past. Unending love and light will replace it.

First, however, before this permanent Sabbath, there will be trouble, hardship, trial, and even martyrdom. There is presently pain and suffering. Like a woman in labor, this must take place before there is the glory of new life. 

“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

Christopher Reeve

Sometimes the difficult circumstances of life seem to have no end. Yet, they will eventually pass, and we must continually keep this in mind. Christians have the hope of God’s pastoral presence forever guarding and keeping our lives if we endure to the end.

Perseverance, endurance, and pushing through hard situations are necessary to realize the finish line. We cannot just sit here on earth in some sort of holding pattern waiting for the end to occur. Just as an athlete must go into strict training in order to run the race well, finish strong, and cross the line, so we as Christians are to be in training – utilizing an array of spiritual practices that will fortify our souls to keep going and finish the race. 

The book of Revelation was a vision of the Apostle John given to believers in hardship who needed to persevere. Giving them a glimpse of the glorious ending was one way of helping them in the present to live for Jesus Christ, despite the pain.

Since the Christian life is not a sprint but a marathon, here are some ways we can build a enduring and persevering spirit until Christ returns:

Don’t be afraid to fail.

That’s because, for the believer, we know the ending. We may feel like colossal failures, at times, yet, because the Lord is with us, we have nothing to fear. Being secure in our identity as God’s people enables us to step out and engage the world.

When I am afraid,
    I put my trust in you.
I trust God, so I am not afraid of what people can do to me!
    I praise God for his promise to me. (Psalm 56:3-4, ERV)

Take small steps of faith.

We can incrementally improve ourselves daily through our growth in grace. We don’t need to always do big things for God. We can do small acts of kindness with big love.

Continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory, now and forever! Amen. (2 Peter 3:18, GNT)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’The second most important command is this: ‘Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.’ These two commands are the most important. (Mark 12:30-31, ERV)

Identify the resistance.

Name the obstacles, impediments, and challenges to perseverance. Our awareness of what hinders us gives us the power to choose how to handle it.

We should remove from our lives anything that would slow us down and the sin that so often makes us fall. We must never stop looking to Jesus. He is the leader of our faith, and he is the one who makes our faith complete. (Hebrews 12:1-2, ERV)

Practice good self-care.

The body, mind, emotions, and spirit are our vehicles to doing the will of God. So, it is imperative we steward these precious gifts of humanity with care. The only way we will make it over the long haul of our lives is through paying attention to this.

God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us new people so that we would spend our lives doing the good things he had already planned for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10, ERV)

Surely you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you! (1 Corinthians 3:16, GNT)

Know why you are persevering.

Losing connection with why we do what we do leads to dropping out and giving up. Yet, when we can maintain what is most important to us, it helps us push through all the sticky points of our lives.

So, if you eat, or if you drink, or if you do anything, do it for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31, ERV)

Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17, CEB)

Patient God, you tediously work until your plans and purposes are accomplished.  As you are slowly bringing your kingdom to the world, strengthen me so that I do not give up.  Help me to persevere, living and loving like Jesus, to his glory.  Amen.

James 5:13-20 – Pray In Times of Trouble

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again, he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (New International Version)

This entire letter of the Apostle James to a suffering church is grounded in two important theological truths:  God is good; and God acts powerfully in the world for good. 

The foundation of Christian prayer is the conviction that God cares – that the Lord hears us and responds. Prayers can be lifted at any time. Yet, the God-focused and God-honoring prayer has a price. It will cost us time, effort, vulnerability, and follow-through with appropriate action. Biblical prayer is more than private requests; it requires something of us as a community of believers in Jesus.

When To Pray?

We are to pray whenever there is trouble in our lives which causes us to suffer. Whether physical trouble, emotional suffering, or relational difficulty, we are to pray about it all. We are to pray even when we do not feel like it. In short, we are to be pray continually because there is always a need for prayer.

The Apostle James practiced what he taught. The Roman historian, Eusebius, wrote concerning James that “his knees grew hard like a camel’s because of his constant worship of God, kneeling and asking forgiveness for the people.” James was in constant intercession to God for people. 

“His knees grew hard like a camel’s because of his constant worship of God, kneeling and asking forgiveness for the people.”

The fourth-century historian Eusebius, describing the Apostle James

Like James, we all need prayer is to be our default response in trouble and suffering. When in trying circumstances, a temptation is to lash out at the person who enabled the adversity. We may even become mad at God for allowing trouble in our lives.

Yet, when afflicted, suffering, or in trouble, we need to pray. Sometimes God will always take away our afflictions, suffering, or troubles. Sometimes not. However, by bringing our circumstances before the Lord and acknowledging our need for divine help, we can see God intervene in the situation we are presently facing. What’s more, prayer can give us the grace we need to endure and come closer to God.

So, when the bottom drops out; when you feel you are hanging by a thread; when circumstances are overwhelming or grow worse by the minute, we should pray. We should pray, whether afflicted, sick, or overcome by guilt and shame.

The cost of prayer is time. For many people, time is as precious as money. So, we try to fit prayer into our lives without ever altering our schedules. That will not do. Prayer takes time because it is a conversation with God, and it requires extended focused attention.

Who Should Pray?

Everyone is to pray – including everyone in the church who are happy, suffering, healthy, or ill. Specifically, James tells us the elders of the church are to pray for those who are sick – including physical suffering, mental illness, emotional hurt, and spiritual sickness. Prayer is for all those who are weak, weary, and worn down by life circumstances.

Notice the chain of responsibility here in today’s New Testament lesson. The onus is on the sick person to contact the elders of the church. Scripture clearly puts the need for communicating an adverse situation on the person who is undergoing the trouble. For many people, this is humbling and difficult, so they simply don’t do it. Prayer has a price: openness and vulnerability.

When the needy person communicates the trouble, then the elders are to anoint the person in the name of the Lord and offer a prayer of faith for the afflicted person. It is the leadership’s job to pray. In the ancient biblical world, anointing with oil was a deeply symbolic act of encouragement. It was a tangible way of lifting the person out of trouble.

And all kinds of sickness are in view: physical ailments of bodily sickness; heart problems of anger or bitterness; spiritual struggles of doubt; emotional challenges of depression or anxiety; along with anything and everything that causes ill health. It all should be prayed over, with people being anointed and encouraged.

Prayer is not a strictly private affair; it is a communal activity. Consider the thought that if you are not experiencing healing, wholeness, and health – whether physical, relational, or spiritual – then perhaps God is calling you and I to more than private prayer but to corporate prayer offered by the elders of the church. 

It is not just the prayer offered by one solitary individual that makes the sick person well – it is the collective faith prayer of the church’s leadership on the troubled person.

How To Pray?

Pray in faith. Pray earnestly. Trust God for healing and wholeness with prayers that are persistent, passionate, and prolonged. Again, this will cost the troubled person a profound willingness to be vulnerable, real, and honest. No vulnerability, no healing. No gut-level honesty with the true condition, no power to raise the person up. No willingness to stop fighting and let go of the pride and perceived ability to handle it ourselves, no end to the trouble.

Today, many people throughout the world are trying to independently get out of their trouble and do not want others to help them through the ministry of prayer. The cost of letting others see their terrible situation is too high for them. So, they suffer in silence, failing to confess and receive healing prayer.

Why Pray?

The goal of prayer is total and complete healing from physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual ills. In addition, it is through prayer that prodigals return from their wandering in the muck of the world.

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. The Old Testament prophet Elijah simply believed God’s Word and prayed accordingly. Elijah knew from reading the book of Deuteronomy that God said whenever God’s people wander from the truth, there will be drought, no rain. 

So, Elijah prayed the words of God. He prayed that it would not rain, and it didn’t. Then, when there was a great revival of the people back to God, Elijah prayed it would rain with passionate, sincere, believing, and persevering prayer. And it rained a gulley-washer.

So, let’s pray…

Good and gracious God, we believe you are compassionate, willing, and able to heal people in the name of Christ. Today we pray for those requiring surgery; needing confidence and courage; trying to understand their suffering; having a sense of guilt or failure; experiencing great anxiety; lacking patience; feeling disappointed; tiring of limitations; wearying of old age; lacking sleep; and wandering from the truth. For all these people and their situations of trouble, we pray to you, Lord, for healing, health, and wholeness. 

Eternal God, send your Holy Spirit upon each person we are praying for right now. Drive away all sickness of body and spirit. Make whole that which is broken. Give deliverance from the power of evil. Provide strengthening of faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who suffered on our behalf, yet also rose from death so that we, too, could live a new life.

Most gracious God, you are the source of healing. We give you thanks for all your gifts to us, but most of all, for the gift of your Son, the Lord Jesus, through whom you gave and still give strength and deliverance to all who believe. As we wait in eager expectation for the coming of that day when suffering and pain shall be no more, help us by your Holy Spirit to be assured of your power in our lives and to trust in your eternal love, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Hebrews 12:3-13 – Interpret Your Circumstances Wisely

“The Kingdom Comes” by Bangladeshi artist Nikhil Halder, 1978

Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us, and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. (New International Version)

Missed expectations often result in discouragement, even depression.

If we expect God to continually bless us with unending positive circumstances, we will, sooner or later, be confused and/or frustrated when life goes sideways.

The ancient Jewish Christians, for whom today’s New Testament lesson was addressed, faced opposition. Not only did they encounter the hardship of being Jews living in a Gentile world, but they also had to experience the difficulty of being Christians in a Jewish community.

Its one thing to put up with adversity for a few days or weeks. It is quite another thing altogether to deal with hard circumstances day after day, week after week, month after month, even year after year.

Where is God in all this negativity? When are the earthly blessings going to come? What the heck is going on here? Why are my prayers bouncing off the church ceiling?

Over time, the believers began to lose their joy. They started getting discouraged. The Jewish Christians, after beginning well in their faith, gradually slid into misinterpreting their circumstances as God being mean to them. Things got so bad, they even entertained the notion of returning to Judaism and leaving Christianity behind.

Their faith was shrinking.

However, their plight was very much seen by God. In fact, God was the One orchestrating the situations, as difficult as they were.

It is not our lack of resources, the disrespect, or the difficult people around us who are the problem. The issue is our interpretation of those events and persons.

The author of Hebrews invited the struggling believers to take a different interpretation of their hardship: They were experiencing divine discipline.

We are all responsible for our own children. As parents, we discipline them (ideally) for their own good. We know it will hurt temporarily. Yet, in the long run, the discipline will work out.

In fact, we understand this with all kinds of things. Everyday, people submit themselves to getting cut open, poked, prodded, and tested by doctors, surgeons, and healthcare workers because we know there needs to be temporary pain for permanent healing to occur.

It is the rare child who grows up without any discipline and becomes a productive citizen of society. It is the exceptional person who knows nothing of medical interventions for health and healing. And so, it is extremely unlikely that a Christian will experience holiness, righteousness, and live wisely in the world apart from some gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, and mind-bending circumstances for which they neither saw coming, nor ever asked for.

So, when the divine baseball bat whacks us upside the head, how will we interpret it?

Discipline is education by correction. God is the Father, treating us as family, as children who need to learn the ways of grace. God is the Divine Coach, exhorting us to work, run the laps, put in the reps, and reach beyond what we think we can do – knowing all along what our true capabilities are.

Godliness comes through discipline, training, and plain old fashioned hard work. Unless there is the suffering which comes through trials to our faith, Christianity is only a theory.

Before I suffered, I took the wrong way,
    but now I do what you say.
You are good and you do good.
    Teach me your statutes!
The arrogant cover me with their lies,
    but I guard your precepts with all my heart.
Their hearts are unfeeling, like blubber,
    but I rejoice in your Instruction.
My suffering was good for me,
    because through it I learned your statutes. (Psalm 119:67-71, CEB)

The appropriate response to difficult and adverse circumstances is to view them as God’s gracious guidance and correction. Rightly interpreting our life events gives us renewed resolve for the Christian marathon.

Endurance and perseverance are needed. Keeping good running form, consistent spiritual exercise, and maintaining liturgical rhythms, all help us face the adversity with energy, focus, and strength.

Christianity isn’t a matter of doing more. It is a way of life – a continuous evaluation of beliefs and thinking, addressing the shadows of the heart, and listening to the compassion deep in our gut.

Don’t give up. Keep going.

Be safe. Be strong. Be smart. Be spiritual. We are all in this together.

Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which you have given us; for all the pain and insults you have borne for us. O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly day by day. Amen.