Hebrews 10:25, Romans 5:8, John 3:16

Jesus is our encouragement!

The writer of Hebrews calls his readers to “consider” carefully several things. The first thing in Hebrews 3:1 is Jesus. He just wants us to reflect and meditate on the superiority of Jesus. He’s greater than the prophets! He’s greater than the angels! He’s greater than Moses! He’s greater than the Levitical priests and he’s greater than the entire sacrificial system including the tabernacle and all its accoutrements and rituals. All of these things are simply shadows of the “real thing” which is Jesus himself. Now in Hebrews 10:23 he wants his readers to reflect on and think deeply about what motivates people to love and good works. Hebrews 10:24 then guides our thinking in this regard. As the ultimate expression of God’s love for all mankind depicted in Romans 5:8 and John 3:16, reflecting and meditating on that is what changes lives and moves individuals to love each other and do good for each other.

There is something else that helps motivate us to love and good works; that’s encouraging fellowship with others! It’s not a fellowship based on legal observations. It’s not a fellowship based on rules, rituals and regulations. It’s a fellowship based on “encouragement.” Kent says, “This encouragement might take the form of exhorting those who wavered, urging them to steadfastness, comforting those whose Christian commitment had brought trouble and distress, or by lending a strengthening hand to whoever needed it.”[1] Yet it’s the potential of the Hebrew believers to slip back into the religious rituals of Judaism that is the main focus of encouragement. Hebrews 10:25 says, “…not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

When you desert the camp of the forgiven, the only option is to return to the appeal of the religious systems all around you. If we forsake the believers in Jesus who insist that Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice for our sins once and for all, we must go back to the system of daily performance to try on our own to earn God’s acceptance. When Jesus isn’t enough, we lose the joys of “rest” in the finished, completed work of Jesus on our behalf. If we let the religious leaders around us insist on circumcision or anything else as a measure of our standing with God, we lose our peace, joy and rest! Meeting together is to reinforce our faith in the full sufficiency of Christ’s work for us, not to reinforce our need to work for God’s acceptance. We need each other to encourage us with this truth because the pull of religion is all around us and is sometimes so subtle we don’t even recognize it. We need each other to keep us in God’s peace and rest through faith in Christ’s finished work.

[1] Homer A. Kent Jr., The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1983), 203.

Hebrews 10:24, Ephesians 3:17-19, 1 John 4:9

Think about Jesus’ Love!

In Chapter three of the book of Hebrews, the author exhorts his readers to “consider” Jesus. He wants them to think about Jesus especially in light of His superiority to prophets, angels, Moses, the Law and the Levitical priesthood. “Consider” means to think deeply about. It means to meditate on and come to a deeper understanding. He presents Jesus as the ultimate and final sacrifice for the sins of man and that through faith in Him we have peace with God and assurance regarding our final destiny.  We can relax, resting in Christ who accomplished for us what we could not do for ourselves. This is all part of God’s promises to us through the Old Testament and their fulfillment in the person of Jesus. Just as all prophecy was fulfilled in Christ, so too will all the promises and prophecies that Christ gave us be fulfilled. We can trust Jesus. So in 10:23 he urges us to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

He wanted his readers to think seriously and clearly about Jesus. But there is something else he wants us to think clearly about. In Hebrews 10:24 he writes, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” Most sermons I’ve heard on this passage end up being an exhortation to love more and try harder, give more, serve more, etc. Preachers take this verse as a personal exhortation to stir up their congregation by exhortation, manipulation, guilt, rewards and/or a variety of other methods; anything to get the congregation more involved in sharing their faith and serving in the church and community. They rarely talk about the what the verse is really saying: “think about how” we are all motivated towards love and good deeds.

The author of Hebrews is not telling preachers to stir up their congregation for service. He’s telling us all to “think” about what stirs people up to love and good works. What is it that moves us to love God and love others? Well, John tells us what that is. In 1 John 4:9 he tells us that “we love because God first loved us.” Paul prays for the Ephesians in 3:17-19 of his letter to them that “Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” When we get a glimpse of God’s love for us as expressed on the cross and sink our “roots” into that, it will produce the Spiritual fruit, the first of which is love! Good deeds flow from that! One writer put it this way, “God’s love fills us up and makes us want to love others with that same unconditional love. It inspires us to serve, to be selfless, to reach higher and to become all that we can be so we can bring Him glory.” (See https://leonfontaine.com/gods-love-changes-us/)

Hebrews 10:23

Jesus is my all in all!

Stuart Townend wrote a modern hymn that has become one of my favorites. It’s entitled “In Christ Alone.” Here is the first verse:

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.

What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

This simple hymn expresses the difference between religion and the peace that Christ offers. With religion we have condemnation. With religion we’re always exhorted to try harder, do better, commit more, give more and serve more. Jesus is the Prince of Peace that puts us at rest. He calls out saying “Come to me all of you who are weary and worn out on religion and I will give you rest.” In Christ all our striving cease and we have peace with God. Whatever the circumstances we may find ourselves in, Jesus is enough. His grace is sufficient. How did Christianity become all about what I do for God instead of what God did for me? Religious people all around us try to drag us from the security we find in Christ to the unstable, fickle and fallible works of our hands and flesh. They only produce worry, fear and doubt!

The writer of Hebrews is addressing Christians who are being beguiled by religious people into focusing their attention on their own works and efforts rather than focusing on Christ alone. But he will have none of it and in Hebrews 10:23, he exhorts us all, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Many of the sermons we hear about David, exhort us to be like him. We need to stand up to our giants. But in keeping with how the writer of Hebrews interprets the Old Testament, David was the anointed one who fought the battle for his people and delivered them from their enemy. The story of David is a prelude to the true anointed one who fought our battles for us and delivered us from our enemies. Girwood writes, “His victory is also ours. No threat of danger can cost us more or take away what we hope for—and already possess—in Christ Jesus.”[1] In Christ alone my hope is found! Jesus is my all in all!

[1] James Girdwood and Peter Verkruyse, Hebrews, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997), Heb 10:23.

Hebrews 10:19-22

Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

Jesus did not come into the world to die on the cross for us in order that we might have a second chance at being good. A second chance, a third chance, etc., is what the sacrificial system under the Old Covenant gave the worshippers. Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead to pay the full penalty for our sins once and for all and to purchase a place for us in heaven that he offers to all who believe based on faith alone. If it’s only a second chance, we all fail and will never have the necessary confidence to enter into God’s presence, ever! But Hebrews 10:19-22 says, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

The writer refers to his readers as “brothers.” He is addressing those who have come to faith in Jesus but who seemed to have lost their confidence in the full sufficiency of Jesus and his priestly work on our behalf with God. The religious leaders of their day, the Judaizers, the legalists, have so infiltrated their group that some began to question the place of the law in their relationship with God. They began to consider it like the sacrifices of the Old Covenant which only offer us a second chance to be good. Thus all confidence, all assurance of our rightful standing with God is gone! We again wrestle with our failure as the basis for God’s rejection of us. It seems to be the default position in every generation. We can’t let go of our religion and put our full confidence in the finished work of Jesus. We seem to want to contribute something to our own salvation! Our “flesh”, our “pride” wants to make a contribution, but God says “There is nothing you can add and there is nothing you can take away” from the finished work of Jesus.

Through Christ we can come into the presence of God with a clear conscience with the “full assurance” of our acceptance.  Hagner writes, “And we are reminded that our acceptability, as we know from the preceding chapters, depends fully upon the priestly work of Christ. We have been cleansed internally (having our hearts sprinkled; cf. Ezek. 36:25, in the context of reference to the new covenant), so that we no longer have the guilty conscience (cf. 9:9, 14) from which the old, sacrificial ritual could not free us.”[1] Thankfully our acceptance by God is based solely on the person and work of His Son, Jesus. It’s Jesus’ blood that cleanses us from all sin. The torn veil separating man from God was split in two at Christ’s death. Stedman says, “That indicated that the way into the presence of God was now open to all who believe in Jesus. We can, therefore, enter with boldness and with no uncertainty as to our acceptance, since everything rests on the blood of Jesus.”[2] It’s all about Jesus!

[1] Donald A. Hagner, Hebrews, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 165.

[2] Ray C. Stedman, Hebrews, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 1992), Heb 10:19.

Hebrews 10:15-18

Jesus does not offer a 2nd chance!

In Hebrews 10:15-18 the author refers again to the New Covenant promised by Jeremiah. Under that arrangement God would transform his people from the inside rather than force behavior by means of rewards and punishments through laws written on stone tablets.  In reciting this Old Testament passage, the author gives credit to the Holy Spirit as an additional witness to the Hebrews of Jesus’ legitimacy as seen in the prophetic passages of the Old Testament. Hebrews 10:15-18 says, “And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, ‘this is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds.’ Then he adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’ Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”

The Old Testament sacrificial system did not clear our consciences nor wipe our slate clean once and for all. It was a futile practice of a repetitive ritual that availed the participant nothing more than a temporary reprieve that had to be repeated daily, monthly and annually. But according to the Holy Spirit, the New Covenant, promised within the pages of the Old Covenant, would be one that removed our sins totally, even from God’s memory! What an exciting message for those living under the dirge of the law. Guzik says, “The forgiveness is so complete that God can say that He doesn’t even remember our sins in light of the new covenant! The Christian must endeavor to do with their sin exactly what God has done: forget about it. As well, this reminds us that the believer is in no way on probation. Before God, past sin has no bearing on God’s present dealing.”[1]

Many of us still struggle with the idea of being on probation with God. In Christ he has given us a second chance but is keeping his eye on us closely to make sure we don’t mess up again. He’s even referred to occasionally as “The God of the Second Chance.” Forget it! That’s what the old system regarding the blood of bulls and goats provided. That’s what my weekly confessions gave me, but that’s not what God gives me in Christ. Under the old system you can have as many chances as you want and you fail every one of them. Jesus brings the once and for all sacrifice to God on our behalf and God chooses to “remember our sins no more.” Sam Storms writes, “You and I certainly remember our sins and evil deeds, all too often! We can’t shake free from them. They nag at our hearts and haunt us and torment us and oppress our souls. There is a constant piercing of the conscience. And the only way to break free from that remembrance is to remind ourselves that God does not remember!” (See https://www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/when-god-chooses-not-to-remember-2) God does not remember our sins and lawless deeds because He chooses not to remember and hold them against us, not because He’s forgetful.

[1] David Guzik, Hebrews, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible (Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik, 2013), Heb 10:11–18.

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