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Archive for the 'Highlights in Hebrew' Category

Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)
40. Hebrews 13:20-21 - Farewell greetings.

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21) ESV
(Unfortunately the NLT translation uses a word in the middle of this passage that is not exactly every day English, so I have used the ESV instead.)

The word that is common to nearly every New Testament benediction (literally a good word, finishing a letter or other writing) is peace. As this brief comment goes out from Dave’s web site it may be read, or listened to, by people in many different situations. Some of you will be able to live a quiet and peaceful life with little difficulty. But some of you may be reading this in situations that are far from peaceful. It is almost impossible to write anything to both groups.

Let those of us who dwell in peaceful parts of the world, offer our prayers for those who do not know peace. Our hearts go out to you. You may be struggling to relocate to another country hoping to find a great deal more peace than you are able to in the country of your birth and life so far. You are therefore a refugee. May you be sure of the Lord’s purposes for you and may you be able to follow him through thick and thin until you can find a reasonable amount of peace. Even as I write that I am aware that I should be exhorting you to find peace even in the most difficult of circumstances through your reliance on Jesus as your champion who initiates and perfects your faith. Remember he too suffered greatly for his faithfulness to the terrible task that his Father had sent him to complete. That is the theory. To actually put it into practice is no easy thing. May you be able to do so in rich and richer measure in the days ahead.

For those of us who do not labour under such difficulties the word from our writer is that we should do the Lord’s will, working on things which are pleasing in his sight because he has equipped us to do so. In many ways that is a much easier task. It is also a much easier task to avoid, to slide by, to overlook, to pretend we have not seen and understood what we should be doing.

None of us will ever be completely satisfied in our own eyes by what we have done in the days and the circumstances he has given us. He will be even less satisfied with us. Fortunately these are not the criteria by which he accepts us and loves us. Those things happen because the great shepherd of the sheep was seen to have completed (confirmed, or as the NLT has it ratified) his work through the blood of the eternal covenant.

May God’s grace be with you all.

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)
39. Hebrews 13:1–7 - Keep on … don’t forget … remember …

Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it. Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.
Give honour to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery.
Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said,
“I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.”
So we can say with confidence, “The LORD is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith.

There is no one outstanding highlight in these verses but they constitute a brief but important part of the whole writing. So I have to sweep them together into a little pile and say - look at this! The book of Hebrews is crammed full of teaching about our Lord, Jesus, who he is and why we should follow him. Only now, late on in his writing, does the author comment on what it should all mean in hard significant facts about our daily lives.

He is particularly anxious that we should:
1. Be very aware of the need to offer loving support to our fellow Christians through hospitality, special support to any who have fallen foul of anti-Christian authorities;
2. Be very careful about our sex lives. They will have been living in a situation in which it was as difficult to stay sexually pure as in any modern one. Our sexual appetites can be very strong and difficult to resist. But both within marriage and without we should stay pure;
3. Be aware of the dangers of living a life distorted by too great a concern for money and what it can buy.;
4. Be prepared to give full honour to those who work hard in the gospel, particularly through the pastoral ministry.

We all particularly in the West, are living in a society which in historical terms is rich beyond the wildest dreams of people from earlier societies. Even for ordinary citizens with no exceptional sources of wealth - Our houses are bigger, our kitchens are full of wonderful machines, we mostly own a chariot which will take us faster and in much greater comfort than any that have existed before, we holiday in greater comfort and in many more places than any but the very richest used to do.

Just imagine what our writer would have said to all that! What would he have expected us to do with all that in terms of support for the kingdom?

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

38. Hebrews13:8 - Jesus, Son of God

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (NLT)
 
Taken as it is this doesn’t say too much! We all have a yesterday and a today. Yet when we hear it or read it it seems to say much more than that. There is a very similar statement in Revelation 1, usually translated as about ‘he who is, and who was, and is to come’. One version translates this, as ‘I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come.’

So we read our passage here as:
Jesus Messiah had a very different yesterday from ours since he existed from before creation; he is today very different from us because he is the Lord of Glory and plays a big part in this world of ours; then tomorrow on one future day he will lead us forwards into a very different and wonderful future.

Our writer has said all these things on his way through his writing. He started off with ‘through the Son he created the universe.’ (Hebrews 1:2). Then he said ‘The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command.’ (Hebrews 1:3). Now, as we reach the end of his writing he says we, ‘have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, … You have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. … You have come to Jesus,’

We have all, no doubt, done many things – some good, some bad in our lives so far. No matter, we rest in the arms of the one who always was, is now and ever will be, who will one day take us to be with himself in a better life, the one still to come.

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

37. Hebrews 12:22–24 Our wonderful destination

you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. You have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God himself, who is the judge over all things. You have come to the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect. You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24 NLT

The most astonishing two words in these verses are ‘have come’. Not ‘will come’ looking forward to some future date. Not tomorrow; not next year; not when we die; but now. We are already there. Wow! What is it that we have already come to? Our writer’s words form something of a purple patch in his description of it. He does it all with a half-concealed contrast to what happened to the Israelites as they left their slavery and travelled to the promised land so that there they might build the Temple which was to be the resting place of the Lord.

We are already there, on Mount Zion, that is we are living in the city of God - wherever we may be living in this world of ours. So we are at the place where the Lord God will be. There are countless thousands of angels already worshipping all around us even though we cannot hear them or see them. We are surrounded by God’s first-born children - that is by all those with whom we are in fellowship, world wide. We have only ever met the tiniest fraction of them, a few dozen or a few hundred at most. But they are there, all around us, none the less real because we have never met them. We have met with the Lord, or perhaps we should rather say that he has met with us when we were converted and turned to follow him. He is the judge over all things, but that does not frighten us because we have been accepted through the blood of Jesus. At that same time we met the ‘spirits of the righteous ones in heaven’, that is we entered the spiritual world. But above all we met Jesus.

We are, each of us, one tiny bit of Jesus, the Lord of Glory. Paul says in Philippians 3: 3: 9 he (Paul) had become one with him (Jesus). Turning it the other way round Jesus represents us, every one of us who are his. In all this wide world of ours there is nobody and nothing with which we are in closer relationship than we are with Jesus.

This is because we are now members of the Kingdom, the unshakeable kingdom where no earthquake will ever disturb us, as it did the Israelites as they camped round Mount Sinai. We are now present in the very Temple of God, which is Jesus, a far superior temple to those built in Jerusalem.

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

36. Hebrews 12:7 - Discipline

 
As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? (Hebrews 12:7 NLT )
Discipline, now there is a dirty word – in much of the West, anyway. Several hundred years go the great thinkers decided that men and women do not really need God. We are all quite capable of working everything out for ourselves. This idea was called the Enlightenment and began back in the 16th century. Since then that idea has spread and now determines what people think in most of Europe and North America.

If we are capable of working everything out for ourselves that means that the way you work things out may be different from the way I do. And the way children work things out may well be different from the way their parents do. So the parents cannot discipline their children for doing something different from what they would. The result is not good. In fact it is beginning to show up in an increasingly chaotic society. So the whole background idea from which the writer is working – (Hebrews 12:7–10) has no basis in our culture! Ouch!

However that does not make what he says invalid. We are not talking about human beings, misled by the philosophy of many centuries ago. We are talking about the Lord God, who is far above and beyond our cultures. He is going to be our judge one day when we meet him face to face. He has every right to try and bring us to a point where we can be accepted by his grace and goodness because of a life of faith in which we have tried as hard as we can to be his good people. He calls that, ‘a peaceful harvest of right living’ (Hebrews 12:11).

 
That does not happen by accident. Fortunately we have the Holy Spirit himself with us to help us along the good way. It is only when we slip through his clutches, fail to stay in step with him, that we will need to be subject to discipline. Remember that ‘those who are not holy will not see the Lord.’ (Hebrews 12:14)

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

35. Hebrews 12:1-3 Keeping spiritually fit.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. NLT

If the writer to the Hebrews had known that we all have a mix of fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscles throughout our body he might have used them as an illustration of what he wanted to say. If, like me, you are short of the fast-twitch type you always come in at the back of all the sprint races. You may, however, do much better at the cross-country races. He would have been asking us to ensure that we develop as much slow-twitch spiritual muscle as possible. Experts in such things tell us our muscles are a mixture. Slow -twitch enable us to keep going for a long time: run in cross country races or marathons, or row across the Atlantic. Fast-twitch are good for sprinting, playing tennis and catching the bus. Different people have different amounts of each of these in the blend in their legs and everywhere else. Chickens have slow-twitch muscles in their legs with the brown meat so that they can walk and run a long way. The white meat of their breasts and wings gives them much better intense activity like flying, but they can’t keep it up for long. You may know some people, there are too many of them around, who become Christians with a great flourish in their early days or their teen years. They are full of enthusiasm rushing around telling us all to follow Jesus, do a lot of evangelising, go to many youth rallies and so on. But where are they a few years later? They seem to have disappeared from the church scene. Oh, dear. They were so concerned with their fast-twitch spirituality they failed to develop any of the slow-twitch sort.

The writer is talking about slow-twitch spirituality. He talks about ‘endurance’ in 12: 1; about not becoming weary and giving up in 12: 3; about getting a harvest in 12: 11; and, of course, the outstanding characteristic of the heroes of chapter 11 - Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and all the rest is that they fought their way through many difficulties to reach their barely understood destinations.

Above all there is Jesus, who endured hostility and the shame of the cross, because he knew he was going to a place of honour at the right hand of God on high. We know where we are going - not quite to such an honourable place, but into his immediate presence.

If you want to stay healthy into your old age it is no good waiting until you are old before doing anything about it! It is no good thinking you were fit and healthy at school when you played a lot of football, cricket or netball. Health is something that has to be kept up throughout life.

All that is true of physical health, but it is also true of spiritual health. Don’t think you can turn off your fast-twitch spirituality when you leave your teens, get married, move house to another area with the need to fit into a new church. It will probably slowly decline, as the years pass but it must be replaced steadily by slow-twitch spirituality. That does not mean that you just become one of the too many people who go to church, sit in their pew or their comfortable chair and think that is now their Christian life. After all you would have a job to stay even reasonably healthy physically if you only did anything remotely healthy just once a week. No! You need to join a prayer group, a study group, teach Sunday School, or do something to maintain a reasonable level of spiritual fitness. Come on - get off your backside and do something! (with apologies if you already do.)

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Hebrews 11:32-40 - Ups and Downs

How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death.

But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.

This is a long section to be described as a highlight but it is difficult to know where to cut it off. Up to this point this chapter has all been positive. We have been looking at the great heroes of the faith who accomplished much for God. Now we are looking at lesser heroes. Some of them not so small - Gideon, David and Samuel. But then we get to a list, not of names, but of troubles, pain and martyrdom. Why some of us will live largely trouble free Christian lives and some of us will have a difficult, dangerous and even fatal time in following the Lord we will never know. In simplistic terms it depends where we live. Those who live in the Muslim lands of west Asia can expect trouble! Those who live in the Western world can expect to largely avoid it - though things are deteriorating in many lands with the rise of militant secularism.

And then there are the problems that seem to strike so haphazardly in even the calmest environments. One person is healthy and well all their days; the next person struggles with ill health most of their days. One has cancer; the next does not. Once again we note that becoming a Christian is no guarantee that we shall escape the worst parts of the chaos of this life. It can be very hard to accept the premature death of a loved one, but that is what we have to do. There is no point in blaming God, as so many people do in those sorts of circumstances. We do not know what his purposes are. We do not know why he has allowed the world to be the way it is.

Paul knew all about suffering for the Lord. he said, “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. With eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us …. the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved…. we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8: 18 - 28).

Isaiah did not say on behalf of the Lord: I will let you avoid deep waters, you will not have to go through rivers of difficulty, or walk through the fire of oppression.

What he did say was: When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.
(Isaiah 43: 2)

We are to walk, hand in hand with the Lord through all the difficulties and dangers that may come our way.

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Hebrews 11:23-28 - One like Moses

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.


Moses said that, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God .... And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” (Deuteronomy 18: 15, 18, 19)
On the basis of that saying there was a common expectation of a great prophet - like Moses.
Jesus was not very much like Moses! One of the defining factors about Moses was the way he was able to talk to the Pharaoh of Egypt because, in the amazing providence of God, he had been brought up as a prince of Egypt. The average, ordinary Jewish slave would have had no chance of securing an audience with the Emperor and, even if he had, would not have known what to say. The Jewish nation, the Israelites, looked back to those days as the founding events of their nation. Our writer says he preferred to suffer for the sake of Christ. Of course, he did not know who the Christ = Messiah would be. Instead he will have had a vision of an eventual Kingdom of God. That came with Jesus.

Mentions of the Passover and the sprinkled blood are interesting. Jesus chose to bring his ministry to its climax at the feast of Passover, not the Day of Atonement. He was setting his ministry firmly into a historical perspective, not one of a more doctrinal nature. It is yet another reminder that we are on a journey, a Way, as we seek to follow him. We too are bound for a promised land. We are to be careful not to ‘harden our hearts’ as they did, and suffered by so doing.

When we use the word ‘follow’ in relation to us and Jesus, we are implying that we will be on a journey. It is not the sort of ‘following’ that is implied in talking about following a sports team, which is a purely passive occupation. No, we are to up and go wherever he wants us to go. There is no greater or more exciting prospect in this life for any but to follow the Lord of Glory - wherever he may take us.

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)
Part 32 - Hebrews11:17–19 Ultimate obedience.

It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.

It is impossible to miss out the event referenced in 11:17-19, known as the ‘Binding of Isaac’ or the Aqedar, but very hard to say anything sensible about it. There are references in the Old Testament to child sacrifice (including the awful mistake of Jephthah in promising to sacrifice the first thing he saw when he got home which turned out to be his daughter, Judges 11:29-40) but never in a positive sense. Presumably the lack of comment means that it was a practice regarded with so much distaste in Israel that it did not need comment upon. It was not such an uncommon practice amongst the surrounding tribes.

The clear teaching of this episode is simply that true faith demands obedience. Which was fine for Abraham who seems to have had a hotline to and from God. We struggle much more to know what we should do as a matter of obedience.

We need to be careful. But if the Lord does really want us to do something unusual, something we would naturally not think of doing ourselves then he does make it quite plain to us. (That has happened to my wife and myself at least three times in an otherwise unremarkable Christian life.) Most of our decisions as Christians are ones that we have to take for ourselves. Dont believe people who think the Lord directed them to a particular spot in the local car park! They are trying to make themselves sound very holy and spiritual. But we have been given wonderful minds that enable us to sort out for ourselves where we can park our car and a myriad other everyday decisions.

Abraham was tested far beyond anything he might have expected the Lord to require of him. And I wonder what the effect on Isaac was. Probably a strong young teenager with all his life in front of him he must have been shocked to his very core when he realised what was to happen to him. I wonder did his mother, Sarah, know what was happening. If so, how terrible it would have been for her. Abraham seems to have assumed that the Lord would give him a way out. He had been told, by the Lord, that he would have an infinite number of descendants, which this command seemed to put at huge risk - could Sarah have another son when she was even older? We are not told whether Isaac knew of the great promise of untold numbers of descendants, or not.

The aqedar , potentially at least, lies on the middle of the spectrum of Biblical father-son problems. Better in a way are the situations of the deaths of Saul’s son, Jonathan, fighting the Philistines beside his father and of the death of David’s son, Absalom, when he challenged his father for the throne of Israel. In neither of those cases was the son actually killed by the father, so they are a little easier.

The situation which was far worse was what happened to Jesus on the cross. There he not only died, not quite at the actual hands of the Father, but with his full knowledge, agreement and ability to intervene - not used. Think on that. Meditate on that. Jesus died, as Isaac did not, for you and for me, as the one true and all sufficient sacrifice.

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Part 31 - Hebrews 11:13-16 Faith in the dark


All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. NLT.

Church can be very boring, can’t it! (That’s a statement you wont often see.) Perhaps you have been going to church for many years, decades even. Every pastor has a cycle length, that is, after a certain length of time they have said all they know and are really just repeating themselves even when the scripture being preached from is different. A weak pastor may only last for a few months before the repetition starts. Most pastors can only manage a few years. Only those who spend a lot of time studying can keep going beyond the memory of their congregation.

Then the songs or hymns may have become too well known and the tempo of the singing may be so slow it is boring. If the church follows a liturgy it may become increasingly difficult to focus on the liturgy and not what you have got to do in the garden next, or what would be best for the next meal. Perhaps, if the truth were known, most people are turning up in church not for the service but to meet their friends afterwards.

Oh, dear - you will be thinking this is a very jaundiced view of church. Yes, it is. Fortunately we are all people of habit and once the idea is firmly planted in our brains we tend to turn up every week in the hope that things may have changed.

Life will have been very boring for Abraham and family too. Ur to Haran would have been more than 800 miles. Guessing more than a bit - they would have been able to move only about every third day. They would need to send a scouting party ahead to find water and agree where they could pasture their animals. When they did move they would only cover about 8 miles a day with a mixed family party. The net result is that they would have taken about a year to cover the ground that far and they would have to put up and take down their tents about 100 times. All that would be very difficult and rather boring.

Going from Haran to Egypt - they did not stop where they should have done because of famine - is about the same distance. So that would have been a second year of travelling. It’s no wonder that the writer says they did not receive the things promised but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

That was the sort of stickability they showed. Our writer has described that because he thinks we, helped by the Holy Spirit and our knowledge of what Jesus did for us, should show the same sort of stickability.

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