Hebrews 12. 18-29

The writer begins this section with the wee word “For”. (It’s actually the second word in the sentence, but that is simply because it was never allowed to be the first word in a sentence! And it’s not even allowed into the sentence in the NIV!) But it’s important, because it links this section with what goes before. All he’s been saying about faith, about Discipline/training and self-discipline, because – “we haven’t come to to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire… but to the heavenly Jerusalem.” We haven’t come to the Old Covenant Mountain, but to the New Covenant mountain.

He pictures the Two Covenants as Two Mountains.

  1. The Old Covenant Mountain: Mount Sinai where God gave Moses his Law for his people, and almost immediately, they failed to keep it. What a day that was. (Exodus 19) All the people are standing in front of this mountain. And the clouds come down, there’s thunder and lightning, smoke, and a long low sound like notes from a ram’s horn trumpet. One old man, climbing up a mountain alone, to meet with God Himself. A whole community told to stay at the bottom, not even to get close to the mountain. “If an animal strays onto the slope, stone it to death.” There is something physically fearful about the clouds and earthquakes (“visible and repellent phenomena.”) People wanted the voice to stop. They covered their ears… The Old Covenant experience of meeting God on Mount Sinai and receiving his law is surrounded by Darkness. Distance. Death. Fear. But you have not come to this mountain.
  2. The New Covenant Mountain: instead you have come to Mount Zion. David chose this mountain stronghold within Jerusalem to build his palace (2 Samuel 5). He brought the ark of the covenant there (2 Samuel 6) and when that was happening David danced with all his might!) And his son Solomon built a Temple there. Eventually the whole city became knows as Zion. It was the centre of the nation and the place where people met with each other and with God. And in Christ and by the Spirit, we have come to the Heavenly Jerusalem. Not to the Heavenly Sinai, (a place of darkness and distance) but the heavenly Jerusalem, a place of celebration and meeting. That place is filled with thousands and thousands of Angels filling the streets and having a festival. It’s filled with the Church: our names are written in heaven and we are seated in heaven (Eph 2. 6). It’s filled with God the Judge, and with the Spirits of just men made perfect (The Church triumphant, the saints of thousands of years who have finished the race and find themselves in that hall of fame Chris was talking about); and it’s filled with Jesus whose blood speaks a better, (stronger, more excellent) than Abel’s blood. Abel was the first murder victim in the Bible and hid blood only cried for vengeance. But the word that Jesus’ blood speaks is grace, it’s reconciliation. We’ve not come to a place of law, and distance and fear. We’ve come to a place of light, colour, joy, intimacy, Life. Community. Presence, Acceptance. Not physically. Our world may well still be a place where “fear reigns and sorrow fills the air.” But spiritually we’ve already come to something better. It would be great to stop there, but we need to go on! There’s more!

Things that can/cannot be shaken

It’s easy to think that what is physical is real and what is merely spiritual is nebulous and vague and imaginary. But what we have come to, is a Kingdom that cannot be shaken. The old Covenant mountain was shaken violently, because it was only rock. All created things can be shaken. So the only really unshakeable thing is what is uncreated. And we have received a Kingdom that cannot be shaken. The New Covenant mountain – the Kingdom of God – cannot be shaken. It will last forever.

What to do?

See to it that you don’t refuse him who speaks. Don’t do what the people did at the bottom of the Old Covenant mountain: don’t put your hands over your ears. Don’t shut out God’s voice or try to run away from him. Receive him and the kingdom he wants to give you. And worship him with reverence and awe: not the fear the Moses had on the old covenant mountain, that makes you panic and want to run away, but with a fear that takes your breath away and keeps you rooted to the spot. A fear that that “shrinks not but with calm delight can live and look” on God (as Thomas Binney said in his hymn)

One God: Consuming Fire

The last sentence begins as the first sentence did: “For.” The writer finishes this section as he began, with reasons for what he says – reasons for coming to God with delight and awe. For “Our God is a consuming fire!” C S Lewis who became a committed Jesus-follower at the age of 32, caught the meaning of these words brilliantly in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. I’m going to read a bit out… The children have recently arrived in the strange land of Narnia and heard the name of Aslan. Here’s a wee taster from the book:

“Who is Aslan?” asked Susan. 

“Aslan?” said Mr Beaver. “He’s the king of the whole wood and the son of the great emperor beyond the sea. Don’t you know who is the king of the beasts? Aslan is a Lion – the lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan “I thought he was a man. Is he quite safe?”

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king I tell you.”

Our god is a consuming fire. He isn’t “safe”. But he’s good.

Ray Brown, my old College Principal, (who in his nineties is still living in Cambridge) says about this verse: “The believer knows that in the presence of that bright light all his sin is exposed. But he also rejoices that mercifully, in its refining flames, they …can be consumed.”

We come to him, prepared to be consumed. But knowing he is good. With awe and wonder and faith…

Amy Carmichael was born in Dublin, lived in Belfast, went to school in England, and served as a a Missionary in India for over 50 years without home leave. We’ll finish with a prayer from one of her poems.

Let me not sink to be a clod;
Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.

Amy Carmichael, 1867-1951.

Hebrews 12. 4 – 12

When Life is Tough

Warfare (v. 4)

Like Jesus, like the people in the “Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11, and like the early Church, we are in a battle against sin – the “spiritual hosts of evil” (Eph 6. 12). And part of that battle takes the form of direct attacks on God’s people by persecution. But unlike Jesus, and many of the Old Testament heroes, these Hebrew Christians haven’t had to die in that battle.

And we don’t even get close to the world of the early Church. We get it easy. But still, warfare is part of our lives and warfare is the context for what the writer says next.

Discipline (v. 5-11)

Verses 5 & 6 quote directly from Proverbs 3. 11-12. “Don’t despise the Lord’s Discipline.” Now the writer stops short of saying that God sends bad stuff. Indeed, the fact of spiritual warfare suggests that the person who throws bad stuff at us is not God but Satan. But God can still be at work through it. There are some important things to refelct on…

  1. Discipline is training. The language the writer uses is interesting. The main word that’s used 8 times here in Greek is paidea (from the word for a child – the same word that gives us the English paediatric). It means “training or instruction” and the matching Hebrew word always means “instruction” in Proverbs. Then there are two others words. Once, the word that’s used means a good telling off, when you are told what you have done wrong. And once, the word means a “whipping,” when you are punished for what you have done wrong. But the main emphasis is on the outcome of training, which is our growth and development.
  2. Discipline is one activity of a loving Father. Not the only activity. Your Father also loves to give good gifts, listens, speaks, provides, seeks for, takes risks, watches for and knows us. The “discipline” without the rest of father’s activity is a perversion. So is the nice stuff without the discipline. Healthy discipline is not vindictive.
  3. Discipline is painful. All training is painful, but I’m not sure that all pain is training.

So, how to respond to the Lord’s “training”? When difficult things happen in life – to us as individuals, to the Christian community as a whole or even to a nation or the world – what should we do? “Don’t despise it: don’t treat it with contempt, or reject it, or throw it out. Don’t dread it…” Don’t hide from it, but instead, respect it and ask it God a few questions about it. “What can I learn from this experience? Show me how it can make me stronger. Do you want to rebuke me? Are you saying something has to change, in my attitudes? In my habits?”

Discipline is understood even if it is not accepted. What I mean is, you don’t discipline children without telling them what they have done wrong. You don’t send them to bed early and leave them to guess why. When God disciplines us we will know why.

I wonder what God may be saying to us in the midst of the ongoing pandemic situation which is remains so volatile and threatening? (This walk as given at the end of the week when the UK saw a what could be the start of a second wave.)

What is he saying to our world? For the answer to that one I strongly recommend Bishop Jill Duff’s lovely gracious talk from 7th May this year. You’ll find a link to it on our website and our the playlists page of our YouTube channel.

What is he saying to the Church? I believe he is calling us back to the simplicity of the New Testament church – and away from the things we have over many generations learned to depend on.

And what is he saying to us as individuals? Have we even stopped to ask?

Self-discipline. (v. 12-17)

Any parent who is still disciplining their adult son or daughter, has missed the boat somehow. The point about “discipline” is to encourage “self-discipline”. Whether it’s survival training, or as my niece did a year or so ago, the “Iron Man” triathlon, training could be described as “punishing.” But the point is to be able to use the skill or strength that has been gained from the training. The writer suggests three areas for self discipline:

  1. Disciplining our minds. Strengthen your drooping hands and weak knees. (v. 12, RSV) Drooping hands and weak knees are signs of discouragement & despair in Jewish literature… We need a sense of disciplined hopefulness. Emotional self- discipline. Factoring God into our thinking and disciplining our minds and our moods.
  2. Disciplining our mouths. Make level paths, so that the lame (v. 13) – meaning the people who are having a bad time and struggling to keep following Jesus – are healed not crippled further. And pursue Peace in relationships. (v 14a). Making sure our words don’t cause discouragement or disunity.
  3. Disciplining our actions and appetites. Pursue not only peace but practical holiness (v. 14b). Make sure that no root of bitterness grows (v 15). We assume that a “root of bitterness” is about being a bitter person. That’s definitely a thing to avoid! But the writer quotes from Deuteronomy 29. 18f, where a “root of bitterness is” a person or group of people who turn away from God. In fact they say they’re in covenant with God but do their own thing. They talk the talk but deliberately don’t walk the walk. That’s a poisonous root if ever there was one. Not allowing a root of bitterness means we don’t just follow our impulses – for sex, for food, for entertainment or possessions. Way back in Genesis 25. 29-34 , there were twin brothers: Esau, who was the older, and Jacob. One day Esau came in after hunting and smelt the stew boiling over the fire. he said, “I’m famished, give me some of that stew!” Jacob said “No, it’s for tea!” Esau said “Come on, I’m dying of hunger here.” Jacob said “I’ll do a deal: you get the stew, I get the birthright of the firstborn: I inherit from Dad.” And Esau said “Done!” Which he was, well and truly! Jacob had his faults: he was a schemer and that’s pretty vile. But Esau, who as the older should have inherited his father’s place as head of the family, was an impulsive man who lived for the moment like a dog. We need to discipline our appetites and actions.

One last thing.

All of this is about our lives, within the family of God. See to it (v. 15) is the Greek word episcope – oversight. (That’s where the word Bishop” comes from.) Everyone is a bishop. That’s good Baptist theology! As we develop self-discipline, we are all called to oversight: to take loving watchful care of one another in the body of Christ. That’s the new testament Church. That’s part of our life together in the family of God. Together on the front line. Together responding to Father’s training. Together developing self-discipline and taking care of one another.

© September 2020 G Lilly

Hebrews 8 and 9

How are you coping with the Letter to the Hebrews? Just to encourage you, we’re now looking at the main point: and it’s all about how Jesus our High Priest relates to the “old Covenant” which was the foundation that the faith on the OT people of God was built on.

A “Covenant” is a Promise: a legally binding undertaking between two people or groups of people. God Promised to be treat Israel as his people, and to care for them. And he expected them to make Him their only God, and to live the way he wanted them to live. This “Covenant” was undergirded by written regulations. These were very detailed.

There was a place. First, going back to their earliest days in the desert, a tent, later on a stone building (the temple). There were specific instructions about the size, shape, materials, colours, and contents of this place. It held the altar for burnt offerings, and in an inner tent, the holy place and behind a curtain, the Holiest Place, where the Ark of the Covenant (not a boat but an exquisite, gold covered box with winged angels on the lid!) reminded them of God’s actual, awsome presence with them.

There were people. One nation receiving God’s blessings. One tribe (Levi) responsible for looking after all the holy items. One family (those who desended from Aaron, Moses’ brother) designated priests and allowed to make the sacrifices, and one member of that family (the High Priest) allowed into the Holiest Place once a year. There were specific instructions about all that as well.

There were practises. Particularly sacrifices of all sorts of animals, plus grain, bread, wine, for for all sorts of reasons. But also washing, shaving, fasting and eating special meals, what you could eat normally, what to do if you got in infectious disease, the practise of a day of rest, giving the land a rest, borrowing, lending, giving people in debt a rest… There were specific instructions about all that as well. Pretty much all of life.

And it was to these people, among these people, as one of these people, with their place and their practises, that God sent his Son. And some of them were happy (maybe for a while) to accept Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the one who came to fulfil the Old Testament law, to fulfil what the Old Testament prophets had promised. He had come to bring the Kingdom of Heaven, to set up God’s rule in God’s land for God’s People. After all, wasn’t that what God had promised?

But there was a new covenant: a new promise… In 8. 8-12 the writer quotes from Jeremiah 31. 31-34. Facing exile in Babylon for not taking God seriously but worshipping all sorts of false gods, Israel was promised blessing and renewal, back in their own nation. So they started to take God seriously and got quite focussed on keeping his laws. But it was all on the outside. And they seemed quite happy about that. They still didn’t have the new covenant, (or promise). They still needed the law written inside them; they still needed to know God by a living experience; they still needed their sins blotted out. That was fulfilled when messiah came, initiated the Kingdom (God’s rule and left behind the Holy Spirit. The new Promise was a dynamic change, that came when the Spirit came, when the kingdom came, when Messiah came. The problem – part of what the writer to the Hebrews is tackling – was that even with the new and better promise, people struggled to move on from their understanding of Place, People, and Practises.

But under the new promise, Place, person and practises are an illustration for the present time (9. 9). Illustration is actually “parable” – and parables weren’t just pretty sermon illustrations but puzzles to make us think. The Old Place, Person and Practises, are meant to make us think about the New. The are a parable for the presnet time. “Present time” is kairos. It’s not just the present time, or the present age, but it is the present opportune time. At the perfect opportune time, God sent his Son to bring in the new covenant.

But the new Promise dismantles old ideas of Place, People and Practises in order to rebuild them.

The Place is different: the original temple – no that wasn’t original. The original Tabernacle – no, that wasn’t original either. It was only a copy too. The original masterpiece, is the “heavenly sanctuary.” What on earth is that?! It is the place where God lives. When Solomon opened the Temple he had built, he said to God “The heavens cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” (1 Kings 8. 27) God dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6. 16). and he wants our life together to be his earthly temple. (Eph 2. 21)

The person is different – and so are the people! The person is Jesus, who couldn’t be a priest under the old Promise (he wasn’t from the right tribe!) But he goes into that Heavenly Holy Place, with the once for all sacrifice he has made, his own blood, and there he prays for us. And we are different. For a start, the People of God are transformed by the cleansing blood and the power of the Spirit and the word written in our hearts. And we – the People of God – are global, from every tribe and nation. (Rev 7. 9)

The practise are different. One sacrifice, once and for all. A sacrifice that never needs to be repeated. Its finality demonstrates its adequacy. Jesus doesn’t need to keep coming to his Father, year after year, crucified again and offering his blood again. The old practise was for sacrifices that were repeated, to make people “good enough” to worship God in the Temple. Jesus’ blood doesn’t buy you a year of ritual cleansing. It buys eternal redemption (9. 12) that actually is cleanses you on the inside, cleanses your conscience and release you to serve the living God in Spirit and Truth (John 4. 24) by our lives as well as by our words (Romans 12. 1) The blood of Jesus brings inner cleansing and life transformation. God’s new Promise is Word, Spirit and Kingdom, in our haerts.

That’s why Jesus died. Without a death, a will isn’t acted upon. That’s the driving force behind so many detective storylines in real life as well as in Hercule Poirot! The death of sacrificial lambs activates the Old Covenant. The death of Jesus activates the new.

These two chapters begin and end with victory: 8.1 says our high priest, “sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven.” Priests did their work standing up, whether sacrificing, or praying or praising God. Jesus has sat down at God’s right hand because his work is complete. And 9. 28 says “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again. He is the Victor. Our hope is secure. The time between him sitting down, and coming again, is our moment of opportunity, to have a transforming, encounter with God that takes away our sin and writes his law on our hearts.

Hebrews 5. 11 – 6. 12

Becoming

We’re all on a journey. We’re all becoming something: older, stronger, weaker, more confident, or less so…. Computer whizz-kids or out of our depth! And we’re all becoming more like Jesus or less like him. If you think you’re standing still, you’re probably going backwards! So what are we becoming?

The writer suddenly stops himself and says “I may be wasting my time telling you about the High Priesthood of Jesus, because “You’ve become dull.” (“you’ve picked up this bad habit of not listening” says the Message. NIV UK edition says “you no longer try to understand.”) In other words, “it’s difficult to get through to you because you have become sluggish in listening.” Lazy listeners. Not really bothered. Not really engaging. Wanting spoon-fed: “tell me what I’m supposed to believe and I’ll believe it!”

Now, I will always be the last person to say something like “if you don’t get anything out of this talk, it’s because you didn’t bother to listen properly”. I am always going to try to communicate the best way I can and I believe in getting people involved as learners. Dull preaching is a sin. But we need to learn to listen in a positive, engaged way, expecting something. Maybe something to puzzle out. Maybe something to surprise us not just confirm us in our existing views. And definitely expecting God to speak to us. So what are we becoming?

We should be becoming teachers.

By now you should be teachers…The writer doesn’t mean people with a “teaching ministry,” whether preachers or or bible-class leaders. Some people have a gift of teaching, and usually have a deep grasp of truth or a particular knack of making that truth understandable.

“By now you should become teachers” is about the plan of God for all of us as God’s people. It’s about a teaching role for every Christian. Christians teaching Christians. Discipleship.

All of us can potentially disciple others.  All of us should be able to disciples others. So I want to ask, who are you teaching? Who is learning from you? Who is looking to you for an example of how to live the life of a Jesus-follower? And who are you learning from? Its time to grow up. To take responsibility. The writer talks about milk and solid food. The basics, and the deeper stuff.

A crash course in Christian basics.

Chapter 6 verses 1-3 are the ABC; the first foundational stuff.

  1. Repentance from dead works. Turning away from wrong actions that lead people towards death.
  2. Faith toward God, which has to mean faith in the one he has sent, Jesus: Son of God, Messiah, who died for our sin, and rose again.
  3. Washing ceremonies or Baptisms. The word is plural – so suggests different ceremonies using water. But it’s difficult to imagine how you could talk about washings without thinking about Christian baptism.
  4. Laying on of hands, to receive the Holy Spirit, at the beginning of your Christian journey.
  5. The resurrection of the dead: Jesus’ resurrection, and how that promises us resurrection too. Jurgen Moltmann says “Hope for the resurrection of the body is not merely a hope for the hour of death but for all the hours of life.”
  6. And, eternal judgment: Jesus, the Messiah (Christ) who died, rose again and brings the Kingdom, will judge the world.

And that is the basics. What is involved in making a start as a Jesus-follower; what to expect at the end of it all, and how that affects us day by day.

So what is the solid food?

What is the teaching that carries us forward to maturity (Chapter 6 v 1)?

The idea that Jesus is a high Priest like Melchizedek is on the writer’s mind: it’s the obvious example, and as one example, it tells us a bit about “Solid food” is.

  1. It’s the whole of Scripture. Even the unexpected corners of the Bible, like the story of Abraham and Melchizedek in Genesis
  2. It’s big truths about things like who Jesus is. The Melchizedek story points to Jesus.
  3. The Melchizedek story deconstructs and reconstructs Jewish Christians’ ideas of “Priesthood”. Solid food disrupts and resets our thinking. It challenges complacency, that kind of lazy idea that we have god all neatly packaged like a do-it-yourself wardrobe.
  4. And solid food is not just theoretical. It’s practical. “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use (literally by experience) have trained themselves (in the gymnasium) to distinguish good from evil”. (Chapter 5. 14)

Finally, why bother?

Why are the basics and the deeper stuff, the milk and the meat, important?

Chapter 6 v 4 should begin with the word “For”. It’s missing in NIV but there in the Greek and it’s important. That word for says “Here’s why this all matters…”

It matters because it’s impossible to sort out people who have faith, then lose their way in the faith and finish up opposing that faith. That sounds harsh. It sounds like God is saying, “You’ve had your chance you’ve met Jesus, and you blew it – so I’m finished with you!”

But….

  1. Remember that for Jewish Christians, to give up following Jesus would mean going back to a Judaism that was actively persecuting Christians! That’s why the writer talks about repeatedly crucifying Jesus. (Chapter 6 v 6)
  2. And even then, as one scholar wisely suggests, the writer “is stating a practical truth …as a matter of human experience”. Talking about whether rich people could get into the kingdom of God, Jesus said “What is impossible with people is possible with God.” (Luke 18. 27)
  3. This isn’t a judgement on people who have wandered away. It’s a warning to those who are in danger of doing so.

The point is, we as believers have had our eyes opened to the truth, have met Jesus (God’s amazing gift! ), received the Holy Spirit, been fed on the word and known the power of the coming Kingdom. (Chapter 6 v 4-5) We’ve had all that God offers: Light, Jesus, the Spirit, the Word, the Kingdom. It’s like God says “I’ve got nothing to add to that lot. If you’re looking for something better than that, it doesn’t exist.”

The warning calls us to do our part To respond to God’s grace with diligence, urgency, haste. (Chapter 6 v 11) “Don’t drag your feet” (The Message, v. 12). To imitate (v. 12) someone with a strong faith (learn from their example)! The thing to add to what God has done is exactly this: you do your bit. Engage with the gifts God gives.

So if you’ve got a bit lost, there is a way back – if you want it. Don’t drag your feet.

And if you’re feeling like your faith is losing its sparkle, do your bit. Be a disciple, a learner, and grow into someone who can help others to grow. Don’t drag your feet.

Hebrews 4.14 – 5.10:

Let us approach God’s Throne of Grace with Confidence

Did you know that the letter to the Hebrews mentions the word “priest” more times than any other book in the NY? And “high priest” more than any other book in the whole Bible! The idea we have already come across, of Jesus being our High Priest, is really central to understanding Hebrews.

So lets start with a look at “Priesthood” and how it works… we’ll find that in chapter 5.

A priest represents people before God. (verse 1. ) That’s a good basic definition. If you’re running a bit scared of stuff in your world, and want God to protect you, or if you know you’ve done wrong and need God’s forgiveness, then you find someone who will talk to God on your behalf, and (hopefully) you’re sorted.

What does that person have to be like? What qualifies a person to be a priest?

Firstly, “Humanity” (FF Bruce). A priest is “selected from among people”. To represent us, a priest needs to be one of us. An angel can’t do it. A picture on Zoom can’t do it, nor a little “hologram” like on Star Wars.

A priest should be pastoral – awareness of failing brings sensitivity to others’ failings.

A priest is appointed by God. God certainly didn’t choose Aaron because he was a great leader.

  • You don’t appoint yourself. In the time of the Judges, various people “set themselves up as priests” and sold their services to people who could afford to pay a priest. That didn’t produce godly leadership.
  • And the community doesn’t “choose” a high priest. During the last decades before the fall of Jerusalem, High Priests were appointed by Herod, by the Roman governor, and by popular ballot. None of that produced godly leadership.
  • God chose Aaron and his descendants. And in special times of need (because the family line didn’t always produce godly leadership either!) God chose others who were not from Aaron’s family, like Samuel.

A priest offers sacrifices for sin (normally, including his own!) (Because, when Aaron led the Israelites into sin by making the Golden Calf, he disempowered himself. it was Moses who prayed for forgiveness.)

A priest prays.

And how Jesus’ High Priesthood works…

He represents us before God – he has entered into Heaven so has “ready access to God” (Chapter 4 v 14, The Message)

He is fully human. He is in “touch with our reality” (Chapter 4 4 15, The Message): tempted in every way as we are – but without sin. He understands our struggles. In fact he’s ahead of us. We were tempted until we gave up. Jesus never gave up, so he was always tempted. (That makes him unique; it makes his once-and-for-all sacrifice effective!)

Jesus was appointed by the Father, like Samuel, not from the family of Aaron, but from the family of Judah and of David. And God designated (recognised) him as High Priest of the order of Melchizedek (a mysterious Priest who lived at the time of Abraham, way before Aaron and Moses.) Jesus didn’t just pop up and choose himself. And he wasn’t chosen by other people.

He is the sacrifice for sin.

And Jesus prays: how he prays! Our High Pries “Cried out in Pain” (Chapter 5 v 7, The Message). The writer is thinking about what happened in the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed before he was betrayed and arrested. Jesus cried out in immense pain and sorrow. He prayed with a sense of urgency and desperate need, as one facing an “overwhelming calamity.” (Thomas Hewitt) He learned obedience – literally to respond to God’s word – by what he suffered. And his prayers were answered. (v. 7) Not to spare him from death but to bring him through death. To be the source of salvation to those who obey him (literally “those who respond to his word”). And to gain that designation of High Priest of the Order of Melchizedek.

Now that we know what we have (Chapter 4. 14 The Message)… Jesus our amazing high priest…

Hold onto faith “Let’s not let it slip through our fingers” (Chapter 4. 14 The Message). And…

Let us draw near by faith, receiving mercy and grace. In the old Jewish faith, only the High priest could enter the Holiest place where the “Mercy seat” covered the Ark of the Covenant. But Jesus our great high Priest has direct access to the Father and – he gives that to us. We can approach the mercy seat, the “Throne of Grace.” We can come right into God’s presence.

O how shall I, whose native sphere is dark, whose mind is dim,
before a holy God appear and on my naked spirit bear the uncreated beam?
(Thos. Binney)

But that is exactly what Jesus has made possible for us!

And there, we find Mercy and Grace to help in our time of need. Are they two ways of saying the same thing? Maybe, but they bring out two different aspects of how God answers our prayers. Mercy means pity or compassion. It emphasises our need and how our heavenly father feels about that need. When we feel we’ve failed and desperately need forgiveness. When we feel there is some sort of overwhelming calamity and we’re desperate for God to do something. Some who called to Jesus for his healing said “Son of David, have mercy on me.” Grace means a favour or a gift. It emphasises the goodness, generosity and practicality of the one who gives.

To finish: another line from the Message: “So, let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” (Chapter 4 v 16 The Message)

Let us pray

Lord Jesus we are in awe that you are “The High priest Who Cried Out in Pain”. Teach us how to pray. By your Spirit give us the boldness to approach the throne of grace in our need. May we know the mercy and generous practical grace of our heavenly father. For his glory, Amen.

Hebrews 3.1 – 4.13

Fix your eyes on Jesus”

1. Chapter 3. 1–6: The Greatest!

When I was a teenager in Bible class, we were taught “When you see the word ‘Therefore’, ask what it’s there for!” This chapter refers back to the Jesus who is greater than any prophet or angel. Greater than any other priest, but who understands our weaknesses. ”Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” So, the writer of this letter says, family of God, who share in a heavenly calling, when life is tough, when your old Jewish friends are telling you you’re all wrong to be following Jesus, and throwing you out of the synagogue and it’s kind of tempting to give up, what do you do? So family of God, when pressure from your partner, being busy, worn out, stuck in the middle of pandemic world, or a feeling of “what’s the point?”, tempts you to give up, what do you do?

Look at Jesus. Think about him. Fix your gaze on Him… (diligently, continuously, observantly). Meditate on him. Doesn’t the internet distract us? (“Ooh – a picture of a kitten – that’s cute!” Ooh – somebody’s dinner – that’s nice. Click here for free stuff – I’ll try that… er, no, they want my email address and bank details, perhaps not!”) We need that focussed and intentional discipline to ignore the distractions and put Jesus at the centre.

Jesus really is the Greatest. For the Hebrews, the first readers of this letter, Moses had always been the greatest. He was the original Apostle who came to bring God’s releasing word to God’s people when they were slaves, calling them on a journey to freedom and rest in their own land. But Jesus is greater even than Moses, Moses was a good guy, but Jesus is greater. He is our Apostle and leader.

Jesus is the Builder of the House (the OT & NT People of God, the “Redeemed Community”). Moses is really just part of that house. (v. 3) He is a faithful servant in that house. Jesus is the faithful Son and heir. (v. 5) Jesus is the Greatest.

So…. The writer says to these people who felt they had been thrown out for their faith in Jesus, “We are his household.” We are the community of faith. Jewish people think they are. But we are the People. Not Jews, Not Rangers Supporters. Believers in Jesus. And we are to…

Hold fast! What we are is utterly based on who Jesus is!!! We need to hold on to Him. Grasp, hold onto the boldness (or outspokenness) and boasting of hope.

2. Chapter 3.7 – chapter 4.7: Heart trouble!

How does that work out? Did you notice the repeated quotes from the Old Testament in the reading? “Do not harden your hearts” (3.8, 3.15, 4.7 !) and “They shall never enter my rest”. (3.11 and 4.4) The back story to all that is Moses’ story: leading God’s people out of Egypt, through the desert and into the Promised Land. In the New Testament, the Moses story is a favourite story of the early Church. It was over and over again, understood in the light of Jesus. He is the Passover Lamb who rescues us from Egypt. And following him is a journey to a Promised Land.

And part of that story is that after being rescued, the Israelites rebelled, moaned and complained – and suffered for doing so: in the end, a whole generation lost their opportunity to enter into the Promised Land. They wandered in the desert for forty years instead of entering into the rest God wanted them to have.

Do not harden your hearts. As they people were travelling through the desert, they became anxious and angry with Moses several times, especially when they had no drinking water. Not once but twice, God provided water from the rock. That story was important to the people in the Old testament, and was remembered in Psalm 95. It’s important for God’s people today too. So Watch out! (v. 12) The writer of Hebrews calls all this “a wicked (i.e. evil, troublesome), unbelieving heart that falls away, or turns away from God.” We need to be done with rebellion and complaining. And we need to be done with anxiety and fear and negativity because that is where the other stuff starts. We need to encourage one another, because discouragement is one of the worst forms of friendly fire. It is a real shot in the foot. And complaining causes discouragement. It discourages the people we moan about. And it discourages the people we get to join in with us. And it is possible to lose the blessings we have had, through that sort of heart trouble.

Does that hurt? If it does, it’s the Word of God, God’s living and active truth, like a sword; or like a surgeon’s knife, trying to cut away the rubbish in your life. If he cuts he cuts to heal and to bring us into his rest.

God had something better than The Promised Land for Israel. They were invited to share in his rest, his delight in a job completed. For us the Promised land is not heaven but the partially realised Kingdom. It is being seated in the Heavenly Places in Christ Jesus. It is intimate time with God, when you can know his love and begin to resonate with his heartbeat. Good news! God wants us to have “rest” like he did. A rhythmic life of working and waiting. Doing and delighting (Sabbath meanings include stopping, delighting or celebrating!) Don’t miss out. Don’t allow heart trouble – rebellion, complaining, unbelief, to push God away and rob you of rest.

So ask, what is anxiety or anger, fear or resentment, doing to your heart today?

Focus instead on Jesus.

And who can you encourage this week?