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Archive for the 'Highlights in Hebrew' Category

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Part 18 - Hebrews 6:20–7:10

The great high priest – Melchizedek

The argument our writer is pursuing is going to be that Jesus is the greatest High Priest, superior to all others and therefore the one who should set us all the greatest spiritual example. So he says “… Jesus … has become a high priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek. This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace. Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.”

Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! So the argument continues “Now the law required the descendants of Levi who were the priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also were descended from Abraham. This man, Melchizedek, however, did not trace his descent from Levi - who was not yet born - yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.”

There have already been several references to this rather strange episode involving Melchizedek. The argument of our writer is that Jesus was and is the greatest high priest ever, surpassing all others. This is not obvious because he was descended from Judah and not from Levi and Aaron as all high priest had to be.
The connection he uses is in Psalm 110. Here there is a prophecy of a man with three roles. He is to be the Messiah. That is not obvious from the psalm but is the way it was interpreted by both Jesus and the Pharisees (Matthew 22: 41 - 46). Then the Psalm refers to ‘your sceptre’ (Psalm 110: 2) and a sceptre is the symbol of kingship. Finally it says ‘you are a priest for ever’ (Psalm 110: 4).


How can this be? King Saul got into major trouble with Samuel because he acted as a priest when Samuel was late for a ceremony (1 Samuel 13: 8 - 14). Only Solomon seems to have been allowed to offer sacrifices as a king (1 Kings 8: 64 - 66). The Messiah was to be both a king and a priest because he was to be ‘a priest in the order of Melchizedek’. This refers to the unusual story of Genesis 14. It is about how Abraham had to rescue his nephew Lot when he got caught in the skirmish between 4 kings and 5 kings. (Since Abraham could sort them out with only 318 men, ‘king’ is a bit of an exaggeration. ‘Warlord’ or ‘Clan chieftain’ would probably be more realistic titles.) On his way back Abraham meets Melchizedek. Every other significant man in the book of Genesis gets a detailed genealogy. Melchizedek doesn’t. Hence our writer says “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.” He just comes into the account from nowhere and disappears again. Yet Abraham treats him as the senior personage, giving him the tithe of a tenth of all his plunder and accepting a blessing from him. All that is very difficult to understand; it seems that Melchizedek was a priest of some senior line, which also worshipped the God of Abraham.

All this is exactly what our writer wants to explain the role and status of Jesus. From his very first verses he speaks of Jesus as the Son, the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his [God’s] being. Beyond dispute Jesus was and is King. Now we see he was also a priest, a High Priest, senior to the Levitical high priests, more able than any one else has ever been to “ save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.” (7: 25 - 28).
This is the glorious reality the writer presents to our wondering gaze. Worship Jesus.

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)
Part 17 - Hebrews 6:18-19

Hope is an anchor

God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,

Hope is the desire for something longed for. At school it was perhaps to be in the top team; then it became the hope that our new computer would be as good as we hoped; then we hope for a good and loving life mate; for a happy and enriching family; for a satisfying and rewarding job. In all probability it is only when we reach old age that we begin to think of hope in terms of what might happen when we die. Hope stands out in the New Testament as something to be sought and it is about the last of those things. We, in the more developed parts of the world anyway, are little concerned with such thoughts. They, in the writer’s days, had a life expectancy probably only in the 40s or 50s and a good chance of dying at any age. We, with all the modern medicine available to us, can expect to go on in a reasonable state of health much longer than that. It is therefore no wonder that we are less concerned with hope than they were. They will have been much more used to seeing people die young or not very old. We hide the thoughts away for many years until we come to the point where we begin to hope we shall not get dementia, or will not only die until after a long and painful illness. And what happens next is not a major consideration until we are so set in our ways and beliefs that we have no real hope.

New Testament hope is quite different. Paul talks of “the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1: 27). It is that part of hope that, I am guessing, does not come much into your thinking until you are fairly old. In a way that is not surprising because our natural hopes exist with vast gaps between them. When we are younger that final hope is something that flits in and out of our thoughts at quite rare intervals. But this - hope in our future beyond this life, and in our Lord Jesus - is another matter. If we are members of the Kingdom here on earth we have a great and wonderful hope that we shall still be members after we die.

What guarantee do we have that this will indeed be the case? Our writer says it is as secure as an anchor that is firmly embedded amongst rocks on the sea bottom.

Going back a couple of verses he has said that there are two unchangeable things. It is not obvious what these were but he must be referring to what God said to Abraham after Abraham had passed the terrible test of being prepared to sacrifice his son and thus appearing to destroy the previous promise of God that he would have many descendants. “I swear by myself, declares the Lord …” (Genesis 22: 16). Nothing we experience will ever be as bad as what happened to Abraham. The Lord gave his great promise to Abraham and confirmed it ‘by himself’. In other words our God is totally trustworthy, whatever may be happening to us that seems to prove otherwise. This is our hope. Then, mixing his references up in quite a confusing way our writer says that our anchor is in ‘the inner sanctuary behind the curtain’, which is where the Lord God was thought to reside more than anywhere else.

The rocks between which our anchor is so firmly wedged that it can never be pulled out are our Lord, his person, his Word, our Lord and Master.

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Part 16 - Hebrews 6:4-8

The perils of falling away.

 
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

This is a tricky passage. It seems not to agree with what is said elsewhere in scripture. But here it is in front of us and we must heed what it says. To highlight the problem here is one famous type of theology, followed by Reformed churches, which indicates the alternative very forcefully. T.U.L.I.P. is the mnemonic used by some of the more extreme advocates of a Calvinistic theology. These stand for:

  • T - Total depravity. This does not mean everyone is just as bad as they could possibly be but that everyone is naturally so sinful the initiative for their salvation must come from God, even when they think it is their own choice to follow him
  • U - Unconditional election. God chooses us; we do not choose him.
  • L - Limited atonement. Jesus did not die for all men and women, being only made effective for those who he chooses. Rather he only died for those who God knew he would call.
  • I - Irresistible grace. If God decides to call us we are called. There is nothing we can do about it; we cannot refuse his offer.
  • P - Perseverance of the saints. Once chosen, called and saved we cannot turn away from that. We are believers for ever.

There is much to commend in this view of faith. All these points can, and are, easily supported by scripture quotations.

Reading through all these things is a useful reminder that becoming a follower of Jesus is not like joining the Boy Scouts or the local golf club. There we, or our parents, pay the joining fee and we are in. It is all our doing. But when we become followers of Jesus we are not the sole partakers in what happens. God has a part to play. In fact he has the major part to play. In particular we receive from him the gift of the Holy Spirit. Once we have received that gift can we back out of the arrangement? No, of course not says TULIP. But the verses in front of us in Hebrews say something different.

There is no easy way to reconcile the two. The easy, but rather unsatisfactory, way out is to say the one who is falling away was never really a Christian believer in the first place, but was just imitating the activities of those who are. But that doesn’t really fit. Our writer talks about a person being enlightened, tasting the heavenly gift (presumably meaning experiencing the power and joy of heavenly love), sharing in the Holy Spirit, becoming excited by reading the Bible and looking forward to the eventual life in the kingdom. These two things simply do not fit.

How you resolve this tension will depend almost entirely on your background and the sort of church you are in. I will say just this:the TULIP type approach gives us great confidence in the Lord and encouragement on our way; what our writer says is a strong warning against the perils of turning away from faith once embarked on the great journey it offers. Both points of view are found in scripture and we must heed both.

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00:0000:00
Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Part 15 - Hebrews 5:11 – 6:3

Poor scholars

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.


Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.

The writer has a grumble about the poor level of knowledge of Christian things in many of the churches of his day. If your situation is anything like ours you will agree that nothing much has changed in nearly 2000 years!


I would place a lot of the blame on the idea of the sermon as it is commonly used in our country. What is the purpose of a sermon? The answer would seem to be something like this:it is part entertainment and part so that those attending may be convinced that good things have been said. They will therefore go home pleased by what they have heard rather than gaining anything from it. This is particularly true of the so called ‘gospel address’. This consists of a statement about the sinfulness of the average person, a call to repentance and conversion and an exhortation to ‘follow Jesus’. This is preached even if there is no one present who is not known to be a Christian or is a hardened listener to such things without the slightest intention that they should change their ways. Everyone goes home pleased that ‘the gospel’ has been preached even if there has been no effect, and no effect could ever have been expected. Any preacher who fails to follow this pattern will be in grave danger of never being asked again however Biblical what he, or she, said may have been. This is the pattern in thousands of churches, chapels and meeting houses in our country. What about yours?
No school teacher or university lecturer could expect to get away with such things. Only a minority of the population is capable of learning anything after about 10 or 20 minutes anyway so the preacher who goes on for a further 10 or 20 minutes is wasting their breath. There - I’ve had my grumble too to add to that of the writer!

What can we do about it? Not a lot has to be the sad answer. We need to think hard and carefully about what it is we are doing. I remember a church in a city containing a large number of students. The preacher catered for the students preaching in a university lecture style and many of them took notes as he spoke. But some of the older locals grumbled about that because it was not the conventional wisdom they expected. I also remember asking the pastor of a church in Pakistan, many of whose congregation will have been illiterate, whether he got them to learn passages of scripture off by heart. He was amazed at the very suggestion even although he was working in a culture where learning by heart the Qu’ran was an accepted and encouraged practice. Conservative Evangelical churches tend to be generally conservative so any change is frowned upon.

We need to learn these things our writer talks about. That is why Dave works away at these Partaker notes. Read them and learn from them every day. If possible go on to some of the study courses he also makes available.

Learn and teach to be a true disciple of the Jesus who ran a 3 year study course for his disciples and a true user of the Holy Spirit in your life and that of those you are able to disciple.

Two of the action words of the Great Commission in Matthew 28 are discipling and teaching. Go. Disciple and teach.

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Part 14 - Hebrews 4:14–16

Jesus the great high priest

Here are the first 6 verses: “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 honour 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.”

Chapter 5 starts with what may be a somewhat idealised description of life with the original high priests. All too often a man appointed to a high position will forget his background and begin to lord it over people rather than ‘dealing gently with them’. Perhaps, you may retort it was different because these men were appointed by God, not man, but we must remember that although Aaron was appointed by God he became the prime mover at the incident of the golden calf so even that was no guarantee of always having a good man in post as the high priest.

Anyway, after quoting two Old Testament statements, our writer proceeds to talk about Jesus, where he was on firmer ground. And so we come to verses 7 to 10 which are indeed the central statement of the whole book.

Here they are, “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.”

The curious use of Melchizedek is a big subject, which comes to prominence in chapter 7, so we will look at it then.

There are 2 possible ways to see problems in these verses. Was Jesus originally disobedient if he had to learn obedience? And was he less that perfect if he had to be ‘made perfect’? These two things touch on the very central core of the Christian faith. It is the common view of people that it is best to be strong and dominant, to be one who does not give way or suffer being put down. Jesus taught otherwise. But his way is so different even he had to learn it in his obedience to his Father. It came to a pinnacle as he approached the cross. It was his supreme test. And as the perfect student only reaches perfection when he, or she, sits the exam and achieves 100% so it was only when Jesus was put to that final test that he could be shown to be perfect.

Paul puts it beautifully in Philippians 2:6 - 8 when he says,
“Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”

Of course Paul then goes on to say, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

And that is it. The way up is down; our Lord and Master lowered himself, setting us an example which it is very hard to follow. If we are naturally not one of nature’s strong men or women it is not so difficult. But if we are one of them then it is very hard to walk as he walked. He is the “source of eternal salvation for all who obey him”. May the good Lord find us to be those who obey him.

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00:0000:00
Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Part 13 - Hebrews 4:14–16

Jesus the great High Priest

 
“Therefore, 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.” Hebrews 4:14-16

Apart from a passing mention in Hebrews 3:1 this is the first mention of Jesus by the writer as the great high priest - an idea which is going to dominate the next 6 chapters and thus forms the central core of his book.

He is going to talk of Jesus as high priest against the background of the Old Testament and not the current reality of his day. The high priest used to be the spiritual leader of the people of God. But by the times in which the writer lived he had become a political figure as well. The Romans appointed him and he was regarded by them as responsible for the way the people lived within the Roman empire - quite a difficult task.

In those next few chapters we will have plenty of opportunity to think about the spiritual aspects of high priesthood. Here we will look at the political work of Jesus. This was that he had set up a new kingdom, the kingdom of God, of which he was the king or at least the Crown Prince under his Father God.

It is the kingdom to which we belong as citizens of heaven, as Paul said in Philippians 3:20 ‘our citizenship is in heaven’. If we are Christian we have two passports, representing two citizenships. One, the obvious one, is our citizenship, our membership, of a nation in this world, the one into which we were born. The second, less obvious but more important one, is our citizenship of the kingdom of God. We are here, now, members of it on earth. One day we shall become members of it in heaven when we die. What a huge privilege that is and will be.

It is hard to change your citizenship from one country to another. It is equally hard to change our citizenship and leave the Kingdom of God, which is just as well considering how easily we can be tempted to try to do so. That is what the writer means when he talks about how we are to ‘hold firmly to the faith we profess’.

And it is only from within the kingdom that we can ‘approach God’s throne of grace with confidence’. That is pretty obvious. The king does not go visiting other kingdoms, so we need to be members of his kingdom to approach him. The kingdom is not all pleasure and excitement. Many difficult things will happen within it but we need not worry because the king has been there before us ‘tempted in every way just as we are’. The prime temptation that the writer will have been thinking of was the way in which Jesus felt a natural human horror at the thought of the cross, and how he wrestled in the garden of Gethsemane with his wish that he could avoid it. Someone has said that the biggest miracle Jesus ever did was not to turn away from his destiny on the cross! But he didn’t, so we can ‘find grace to help in our time of need’.

What a king! What a kingdom! What a great high priest to lead his people not only in spiritual things but in all the many difficulties and troubles of their every day lives.

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Part 12 - Hebrews 4:12-13
Under the knife.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

It is hard for us to see any benefit in the work of a sword. The writer will not have known anything about a surgeon’s scalpel so he could not have used that picture for what he wanted to say. But that does not stop us doing so. A surgeon’s scalpel, that little thin knife, is probably the sharpest sort of blade that there is around these days so it would make a good illustration.

‘The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any surgeon’s scalpel ….’few of us modern people will not at some time in our lives had to willingly submit ourselves to a surgeon carrying out an operation on us. He (or it may have been a she) may have had to sort out some part: a finger, an arm or a leg, that got broken. He will cut to make it better, to ensure that things naturally heal in the way that they should and not in some twisted way that will leave us permanently crippled. Or there may have been something wrong with one of the major organs in our body and he has had to go deeper in and try to sort things out. Yes, a surgeon’s scalpel is a better illustration of what the writer wants to say than a double-edged sword because its purpose is beneficial

The word of God that the writer was thinking about would almost certainly have been mainly the Old Testament. It may, or may not, (we don’t know when this book was written) have included any of the New Testament we know, but will almost certainly have included information about the life and words of Jesus. Our Bible has both Testaments, of course. Paying close attention to these Words of God will not always be a comfortable process. Sometimes, it will cut deep in order to straighten us out, make sure we do not get twisted in our thinking, keep us long term healthy when things were beginning to go wrong.

Make sure that you live a long and healthy life by paying close attention to the wonderful Word of God that we have in the scriptures. Sometimes they may cut deep to sort us out so that we continue along the good and narrow way. That will then ensure that we reach the ‘rest’ we were thinking about a few verses back, the Kingdom of God both in this life and the next. Another psalmist said, (Psalm 119:11) “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” The writer of Hebrews was thinking of what we should do; the Psalmist was more concerned with the outcome.

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Part 11 - Hebrews 4:11
Seeking rest

“Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:11

‘Rest’ now there’s a thing! I hope you manage to get some even if you are a young Mum with several children , a farmer striving to get enough to eat out of a patch of not very good ground, or a busy executive in industry. Our writer never says very much about what he means here, thus indicating that the expects us all to know what ‘rest’ is. He has at least four different sorts of rest in mind:


1. ‘Rest’ is an essential and totally necessary part of the world we live in because even the Lord God rested ‘from all his work’ (Genesis 2:2). Rest is an essential part of creation.
2. Having set this example to all creation it became part of the law set out for all the people of God in Exodus 20: 8 - 11. Leviticus 16:29-31 even associates the day of rest with the cleansing of atonement. Unfortunately it became, and still is, one of the walls built around Israel to keep others, Gentiles, out. So that, instead of being a good thing it became a bit of a bad thing.
3. The Psalmist in Psalm 95:8-11 thinks of the Promised Land, towards which they journeyed through the desert, as a place of rest. There they would be able to settle down, stop travelling and putting up tents every night, build houses, cultivate the land and by generating a little more than they actually needed become richer and be able to have some leisure. Unfortunately that did not go well. They were not obedient in all they did as they travelled; they ‘hardened their hearts and ‘tried’ the Lord making him angry with them, thus delaying their arrival in the land by forty years (Psalm 95: 9, 10) thus serving as a warning to those for whom the psalmist was writing not to behave as they did.
4. The writer to the Hebrews uses all this background as a warning to his readers, including us, about how to behave. He does this by laying emphasis on the word ‘Today’ thus connecting the words of the psalm with the situation of his readers, like us. It is not completely clear what he now means by ‘rest’. He calls it a Sabbath rest but seems to mean something rather more than a weekly day off. One way of thinking of it is as entry into the Kingdom. In the Kingdom of God we will be able to rest; we shall no longer be struggling to gain acceptance by God because Jesus has secured that for us by his death on the Cross; when our days here are done we shall move, still within the Kingdom, into the glory where we shall surely have the real and final ‘rest’.

‘Rest’ number 4 takes us back to number 1 and the greater glory. ‘Rests’ numbers 2 and 3 are but stepping stones on the way. In a practical every day way these things are important. There is a realisation amongst those who know such things that there is a limit to how much work a person can do in a week. If someone is overworked in terms of hours, or demand on them, they become less effective than if they have a reasonable amount of rest. In our society that used to be accomplished by most people taking a Sunday/Sabbath rest. Shops were shut. Fields were not ploughed. By far the greater number of people in our society did not have any work to do on a Sunday.

All that has now changed. In our society the urge to get as many sales and therefore as great an income as possible means many people now have to work on a Sunday. Since the same number of people have the same amount of money to spend (allowing for the increase in population and general levels of affluence) it is hard to see who has benefited by this change. It just makes it harder for ordinary people to get an adequate amount of rest. As so often the Biblical, God-given way of doing things was, and is, better than that developed by ever greedy human beings. I hope you do not have to work beyond gaining a reasonable amount of rest, day by day and week by week.

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00:0000:00
Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Part 10 - Hebrews 3:14
Hold on tight

Or as the NIV has it “let us hold firmly to the faith we profess”. That is very good advice, perhaps particularly for older folk, like me. (Sorry - if you can count yourself still young. Though it is probably worth while reading or listening on because one day we may all hope to become old if the Lord does not take us early.) It is very easy as our natural vigour slides away from us to begin to lose the vigour of our faith. Once we used to spend a lot of time working with the Sunday School or the young people of the church- now we are too old; or we used to do a lot of preaching but now our voice is beginning to betray our age, our memory is not as good as it was and it takes us many more words to say something than it used to do; or we have simply been active around the church but now we are too arthritic, or lazy, to do so.

Some of that is natural. In fact we can divide what happens into two parts: there is natural energy and vigour and there is spiritual energy and vigour. We quite inevitably lose some of our natural energy as we get older. For some of us this becomes evident to us, and other people, as we get into our 60s or even 50s. For some it is not so evident even as we get into our 70s or 80s. This we cannot fight or do much about apart from aiming to keep ourselves active and fit as long as possible by exercising or walking nearly every day, assuming you do not live in one of the parts of the world where you are expected to work until you are completely incapable of doing so.

But our spiritual energy is another matter. To some extent it will fade as our natural energy fades but it is also true that we can control it better. It may well change its shape as we get older. But we can hold on firmly to our faith. We can pray more when we pass retirement age, or the need to work everyday. We will have more time to explore the foundations of our faith. We can aim to become more knowledgeable about scripture and more loving towards our Lord as we gain an ever increasing understanding of what he has done for us and therefore what he means to us. We may become much better equipped to be a mentor to a younger person. Fundamentally we never know when we may not be called to use some skill in the Lord’s service even in our very old age.

If I may intrude a personal comment: I, a mathematician by training, never for one moment expected that I would be writing short encouraging things for the Internet in my mid-eighties. But I am thrilled to be able to help Dave Roberts, who happens to be in the same church, in the wonderful work he is doing in reaching out to encourage and teach folk all round the world.

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)
Part 9 - Hebrews 3:13

Working Together

Hebrews 3:13 tells us we should “encourage one another daily”. That was presumably good advice in those days when everyone lived on top of each other in very small and cramped accommodation. It does not work so well with many of us who may be living in one place, working in another and finding fellowship in a third place. In our last study I suggested that we should be careful to work out a schedule for our personal time with the Lord and stick to it - even if it was not the ‘approved’ version.


Exactly the same thing is true here. We need fellowship, preferably fellowship of the sort that encourages each other with the sort of friendly fellowship contact that a small group can give. We need to have a good schedule for such things and stick to it. Once a week in a big church building listening to a preacher is not really the best way to do this, popular though it is! If you live in one of those parts of the world where the small shops are closing and everyone does most of their shopping in big stores, supermarkets, then also driving to a big church once a week, or even less often, would seem to fit with that lifestyle. But we are people, naturally gregarious people, if not quite pack animals, who need human contact to live good and happy lives. Going in to a big church once a month for some entertainment is not what we were designed to do!

Some of you reading this may be those for whom Dave Roberts puts together his Partakers web site. If you cannot get out or meet other Christians because of ill health or safety concerns then the thoughts that he and some other people write are a good substitute. It is not ideal, face to face fellowship is always better, but it is much better than nothing.
As our writer goes on to say,
“ See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” (Hebrews 3:12–14).

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You can now purchase our Partakers books including Roger's latest - The Puzzle of Living - A fresh look at the story of Job!

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Part 8 - Hebrews 3:1
Jesus rules


The writer says “Therefore fix your thoughts on Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1) This reminds me very much of the old song that starts ‘fix your eyes on Jesus’. Both of them are very good advice.

The image they bring to my mind is that of a collie sheep dog. We, in this country, herd sheep with the help of dogs who race around the flock and move it in the right direction. A collie will walk alongside its master or mistress scarcely taking its eyes off them and so walking very awkwardly. At the slightest command they are away very fast to follow voice or whistled instructions. Not only are they very obedient they are also very intelligent - one of the most intelligent breeds there is. So if there is a fold in the ground that takes them out of sight of their master they will almost certainly continue to do the right thing.

In the previous chapter the writer has been explaining things about Jesus, how effective his death has been for us in making us acceptable to God in spite of our sinfulness and general waywardness. He has now come to a ‘therefore’, challenging us to live in a way worthy of Jesus. (He does this most of the way through his book, alternating descriptions of what Jesus has done for us with challenges of how we should respond to him.)

Here his ‘therefore’ indicates that we are being challenged to act towards him as a sheepdog does to its master: with complete obedience whenever possible and intelligence when it is not. That is an intelligence that has been well developed by our past history of concern for scripture reading whenever possible, studying it and developing a good working knowledge of what it says.

When and how we do this is important. It used to be that everyone was exhorted to start the day, everyday, with Bible reading and prayer. That is all very well if you are retired and come to life as soon as you wake up. If you have a young family, need to start work as soon as you can, or, like me, are quite hopeless until you have some breakfast inside you, that is not very good advice. What you need to do is to set yourself a pattern of activity with the Lord that will fit into your day or week. I remember one time in my life when it was one evening each week, always the same one, which I dedicated to Bible study and prayer. That fitted into my life in a way that an early morning daily ‘quiet time’, as we used to call it, would not. Don’t worry if you can’t fit into someone else’s idea of what you should do. Make up your own schedule and stick to it. The good Lord will surely approve of you if you do that provided you are consistent and persevering.

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You can now purchase our Partakers books including Roger's latest - The Puzzle of Living - A fresh look at the story of Job!

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)
Part 7 - Hebrews 2:17
Jesus atones for us


For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

A few days ago, as I write, Liverpool football club took on Real Madrid for the Champions of Europe cup. The game is remembered for two awful mistakes made by Loris Karius, the Liverpool goalkeeper. They might still have been beaten but he made sure they were. He threw the ball out far to close to an opponent who was able to score easily from it, then he let a very catchable ball slip through his hands into the goal. One can only imagine what he felt like in the changing room afterwards. He must have sat in a corner and wished the ground would open up and swallow him! Nothing he could do would remedy the situation. Nothing he could do would atone for his awful mistakes. They had lost and that was that. He will have been the outcast of the team. He will have been lucky if anyone was prepared to say anything kind to him. He will not have been at-one with the rest of the team. (Only much later did they realise he may have been concussed in an earlier incident.)
We too have made some awful mistakes. Nothing we can do will make us winners who can appear before the great Lord God. Although we may not have broken any of the greatest laws of mankind such as murder or adultery, we have failed to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and souls and minds. We have lost the game of life.


But we are not as Karius. We, amazingly, have been put at-one with the Lord God. Not through anything we have done or could possibly do, but because of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus has made at-one-ment for the sins of the people. He has done that by his death on the cross; by giving his blood as a sacrifice for us. Later our writer categorically announces that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (9:22) The reference is, of course, to the blood of animal sacrifices made for the forgiveness of sins. Why that should be is never completely clear but it is a fundamental background understanding through scripture. The writer to the Hebrews is going to go on to explain this background in great detail though he only uses the word ‘atonement’ once more in his book.

Rejoice then! We have been accepted into the favour of the Lord God through the action of Jesus. Charles Wesley’s great hymn starts, ‘And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Saviour’s blood’
 
Its answer is Yes, Yes, and Yes.

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You can now purchase our Partakers books including Roger's latest - The Puzzle of Living - A fresh look at the story of Job!

Please do click or tap here to visit our Amazon site!

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