Hebrews 4:14-5:4 – What is Your View of God?

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Since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

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 can deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. That’s 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. (NIV)

Metaphors matter. How we view, imagine, and picture God influences the way we live.

Recently, I met with a young man who was severely distressed, depressed, and had attempted suicide several times in the past several months. After listening to his story, I asked him a question: “How do you see or picture God?”  Without hesitation, he answered, “God is my CO (Commanding Officer).”  He went on to portray and picture General God who gives commands and of good soldiers who obey what’s expected of them. 

As a soldier, you would never walk up to your CO and vent all your feelings. You wouldn’t have a dialogue.  There would be no extended conversations. In the throes of trying to deal with emotional trauma, General God isn’t a metaphor that’s helpful.

Today’s New Testament lesson reminds and invites us to consider Jesus, the Son of God. Christ is pictured as our great high priest. A priest is a person who intercedes for you with God. He stands in the gap and effectively communicates your needs, desires, and feelings to a gracious and loving God.

When you are too emotionally tired to face another day, Jesus our great high priest, has our back and is graciously present with us.

Soldiers don’t have confidence to approach General God with their abject weakness or their ongoing temptations. There is only the giving and receiving of orders and strategies to be implemented. Far too many Christians have such an understanding of God and think there is something wrong with them when they cannot live up to be the kind of soldier that would make others proud.

Grace and mercy, however, are found through the confidence of approaching our great high priest. It is Jesus who thoroughly, completely, and mercifully has a first-hand understanding of what you are dealing with and is able and desirous to help.

As our permanent high priest, Jesus is uniquely positioned to hear us, empathize with our situation, and care for us in ways which truly aid us.

It’s easy to get discouraged. It takes no effort to find yourself on the outside of happiness and on the inside of a black hole. Living in this broken world can sting and hurt like hell. Yet, we have a Savior who has brought deliverance from hell by taking on hell itself.  Jesus, the pioneer of our salvation, knows better than anyone what brokenness feels like. Christ absorbed all the sin of the world on the cross. 

Jesus is presently, this very moment, sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven, awaiting your approach with merciful eyes, a compassionate heart, and listening ears. Jesus is our risen and ascended Lord. Christ is so much more than a military officer. Jesus is our ample and able great high priest. He is awaiting you now….

Ascended and living Lord Jesus, you are my colossal high priest. You live to intercede for me. What a privilege!  May you strengthen my nascent faith today and bolster my confidence as I consider your grace and mercy in this messed-up world. Thank you for your kindness, empathy, and ability. Amen.

Hebrews 3:1-6 – Jesus Is Better

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Therefore, brothers and sisters who are partners in the heavenly calling, think about Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession. Jesus was faithful to the one who appointed him just like Moses was faithful in God’s house. But he deserves greater glory than Moses in the same way that the builder of the house deserves more honor than the house itself. Every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant to affirm the things that would be spoken later. But Jesus was faithful over God’s house as a Son. We are his house if we hold on to the confidence and the pride that our hope gives us. (CEB)

It’s hard to be patient. Perseverance can be difficult. If the Christian life were a piece of cake or bowl of cherries, then there would be no need for the strengthening of faith and the development of spiritual perseverance. But the Christian life is not those things. Every good thing in life typically requires a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears.

So, when it comes to Christianity, the believer’s faith muscles need vigorous work to grow, strengthen, and support the believer for a lifetime of service. If the muscles of faith go unused, they atrophy. Faith requires exercise. Christian belief must be tried in the fire with the struggle of adversity to grow and mature.

The reason the author of Hebrews wrote his letter to Jewish Christians is because they were losing their grip and faltering in their faith. The hard circumstances of those Christians were leading them to entertain the notion of returning to old ways of life, apart from Christ. 

It can be tempting to think of the past as “the good old days.” But if you think about it for any length of time, you know better. Because of struggles in the present, our minds can easily turn to filter out all the crud from the past to make it look like things were better back then.

“Better” is what the book of Hebrews is all about.

The writer consistently and persistently insists that Jesus is better than anything from the Hebrew Christians’ past. Moses was one of the most respected and revered figures of Old Testament history. The letter to the Hebrews acknowledges proper regard for Moses but goes further to point-out and remind the people that whereas Moses was faithful within God’s house, it is Jesus who is Master over the house. Jesus is better than Moses.

What’s more, believers and followers of Jesus are the house. Jesus Christ is Lord – not Moses, or anybody else.  Jesus cares for and protects his house. It might be tempting to believe that a previous house we occupied in another city or town was better. But the reality is that we live today in God’s house.

Therefore, we must hold on and not let go of the confidence we have in Jesus and the privilege we have in living in our present abode. We are to bloom where God has planted us without continually looking how much greener the grass is on the other side of the fence.

When life is tough, reminiscing about the past is easy. For sure, there are plenty of things to miss from previous days in another place. Yet, trolling your personal history, much like a time-wasting galivant on the computer, doesn’t do anything for your need of faith and perseverance. It just isn’t helpful.

Today, however, in this present time and moment, Jesus has a hold of you.

Today Christ wants to walk with you through your trouble, and not just transport you to the past. Sometimes it is necessary to remember how God helped and delivered in the past to aid us in the present with contemporary problems. Yet if the nostalgic trips only end with wishing things were different, it is simply a fool’s errand. It merely detaches us from the support we need rather than connects us with resources to buoy our discouraged spirits in the here and now.

As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:1-2, NIV)

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19, NRSV)

It’s crucial that we keep a firm grip on what we’ve heard so that we don’t drift off. (Hebrews 2:1, MSG)

Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. (Romans 13:11, NLT)

Now is the time to follow Jesus into all the situations which we face. You are not alone. You can do this. Other people and other stuff may certainly help. Yet Jesus is better. He is our best hope through any trouble.

Lord Jesus, you are sovereign over my past, present, and future. Today has its worries and problems. Help me walk into and through them with your gracious protection so that perseverance is developed within me and my faith in you is strengthened for tomorrow. Amen.

Hebrews 9:23-28 – Once for All

Ethiopian Orthodox Church icon of Christ’s crucifixion

It was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world.

But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (NRSV)

Once for all. Those few words are some of the most gruesome and beautiful in the entirety of Holy Scripture.  The sacrifices of bulls and goats in the Old Testament had its place. Yet, those were mere shadows pointing to the reality of the Messiah – the one whose sacrifice is so potent as to do away with sacrifice forever.

The cross of Christ was the once for all sacrifice that has settled the sin issue forever.

This is the heart of New Testament good news. Forgiveness of sins comes through the sheer grace of God in Christ. Through faith, we have the privilege of entering new life. Jesus has paved the way for eternal life, everlasting salvation, and complete remission of sins.

If it has not yet become self-apparent as to why Christ’s once for all sacrifice is such a game changer, then let’s perceive the cross from this angle: guilt is done away with, forever. Do you believe your life would change forever if you never had guilt hanging over your head?  What if all your past indiscretions, unhealthy life decisions, failures to speak or act when needed, overt things done which you cannot take back, or even the little things said or done in anger or hate were all washed away, forever?

Just as Jesus was nailed to a cruel cross, so guilt and shame was nailed there – once for all. There are three options of dealing with a guilty conscience when it happens…

Rationalize

First, you can rationalize it away, as if you have no responsibility or no culpability. One simply ignores their conscience. This is a one-way path to hardness of heart. Whenever we sin in speech or in action, and do not acknowledge it as our fault, then there is a little piece of us which hardens. The next time it happens, it’s a bit easier to respond with callousness. If you’ve ever encountered someone who seems utterly unfeeling to your situation, then there has likely been a pattern in that person’s life of keeping distance from pain. It only leads to hardness of heart.

Punish

A second way of facing guilt is just the opposite of rationalization. It is to punish and beat yourself for your faults and sins. Heaping abuse on ourselves for our sins takes two different tracks with either: discouragement, defeat, and depression resulting in inaction; or, working like crazy to try and earn God’s favor with hyper-activity. Both ways are a kind of self-imposed penance to try and atone for one’s sins or failures.

Confess

Fortunately, there is a better way to face and deal with our guilt. When there is true guilt for things done or undone, said, or unsaid, we must confess it, repent of it, and believe God has taken care of it. Unlike dealing with guilt in unhealthy ways resulting in callousness, discouragement, and hyperactivity, the path of confession and repentance allows the person to have a clear conscience, resulting in freedom. Christ’s once for all sacrifice is completely able to clear the conscience of the worshiper so that they may live into the grace and freedom of an enjoyable daily life. 

Nothing needs to hang over the believer’s head because Jesus Christ, the pioneer of our salvation, has accomplished deliverance from and forgiveness of sin, once and for all. Jesus didn’t just put a nice-looking veneer over sin; he took care of it, thoroughly and completely. Jesus didn’t whitewash things so that we looked okay; the salvation he offers is permanent.

The cross which held Christ’s naked and tortured body exposed the true violence and injustice of sin. The cross revealed what kind of world we have and what kind of God we have: a world of gross unfairness and sin, and, a God of extreme sacrificial love and grace.

What I believe this world, including you and me, need more than anything else is forgiveness – not a cheap sentimental forgiving, but a real forgiveness which lasts forever.

To justify or to judge is God’s business. Our business is to believe in the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus that brings permanent and lasting forgiveness; and, to share that life-giving message with others so that they, too, might experience deliverance from sin and its horrible effects.

“For he delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14, NIV)

May you know the freedom and joy today which comes from knowing Christ as Savior.

Hebrews 2:1-4 – Learning to Pay Attention

We must give our full attention to what we were told, so that we won’t drift away. The message spoken by angels proved to be true, and all who disobeyed or rejected it were punished as they deserved. So, if we refuse this great way of being saved, how can we hope to escape? The Lord himself was the first to tell about it, and people who heard the message proved to us that it was true. God himself showed that his message was true by working all kinds of powerful miracles and wonders. He also gave his Holy Spirit to anyone he chose to. (CEV)

My three girls all have attention deficit disorder (A.D.D.). You might think this is a disadvantage. Rather, since the biology of their brains do not have good filters for sifting out all the stimuli which they hear each day, each of them are much more intentional about picking out the voice they want to hear and engaging with it. Whereas you and I might take this for granted, my girls know the value of creating the skills to pay attention.

We stand at the cusp of Lent, just two days from now. A healthy way of looking at this important season in the Christian Year is that it is a time to listen. It is the opportunity and privilege of giving our complete attention to Jesus as we plod along the 40-day path to Easter. And we need to develop some solid skills in paying attention, whether we have A.D.D. or not.

The cost of not developing such skills is that we will drift away. Taking for granted that we are Christians, that we know something about salvation, and are basically good people, might only be setting us up for spiritual failure. That is, we think we already know about Christ’s person and work of salvation, so we fail to really pay attention. Bad idea.

Assuming we are paying attention is not the same thing as actually doing it. Assumptions lead to drifting away from truth. We are meant to have continual and constant reminders of Christ and his redemptive events. This is what Lent intends for us. To ignore the wisdom of two-thousand years of church practice puts us in a precarious position of being lost at sea.

For the next six weeks, make the choice that you will pay attention to Christ each day through the following:

  • Reading Scripture every day with a combination of standing and sitting, reading silently and out loud.
  • Holding a cross or other Christian reminder in your hand and feeling free to fidget with it.
  • Journaling your thoughts in a notebook.
  • Imposing time limits on yourself each day for the next 40 days.
  • Using different versions of the Bible to read throughout Lent.
  • Going outside occasionally and praying while walking.
  • Focusing on your breathing. Breathe out: “Speak Lord.” Breathe in: “I am listening.”
  • Drinking some coffee, tea, or something soothing.
  • Being mindful of distractions and acknowledging them without judging yourself.

The point is to have an intentional plan for paying attention. Do not assume you will be focused. May your journey with Jesus this season be a fresh experience in knowing him better.

Lord God, the world is rushing by. The days are sometimes a blur. But in those moments when I stop, time almost stands still. Keep my heart open to the simplicity of the day – to virtual interactions and connections with others without being distracted – and paying attention. Help me, Lord. Open my eyes. Open my ears. Open my heart to know you are with me, if I just pay attention. Amen.