Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Mature Or Immature Believers

Hebrews 5:12-6:2

Little babies are cute and adorable.  We love to hold and cuddle them, giving them their bottle of milk.  Parents sometimes say in a joking way that they wish they would stay little forever, but they don’t really mean that.  There would be something seriously wrong if one’s baby never grew and matured. They need to start walking, running, and learning.  They need to go beyond drinking only milk, and start eating solid foods. Our author of Hebrews knows this, and is telling us in our Scripture today that the same thing holds true in our Christian life.  Let’s look into the passage.

The people to whom the author of Hebrews was writing had been Christians for awhile.  However, they were still, years later, immature believers. They were like children, who after years, were still crawling, speaking baby-talk, and drinking milk from a baby bottle.  He told these believers that by now they ought to be teaching the Bible to new believers, but instead they were just as unlearned, just as spiritually immature as they were when they were first saved (vs. 12-14).  They should have been teaching and passing on the Gospel to others. Instead they were still babies, too infantile and unskilled to understand themselves, let alone teach the truths of God.

As we look around the church today, we can see that this is a problem just as much as it was to those to whom Hebrews was written to.  Some believers, after they become saved, learn the very basics of Christian doctrine, but then stop studying the word, and even more sadly, stop applying anything they have learned to their own lives.  A Christian, just like a baby, is supposed to grow and mature. To grow from a baby Christian to a mature one, we must learn discernment to distinguish good from evil (vs 14). We must learn to recognize temptation before they trap us.  We need to be able to tell the difference between a correct use of Scripture and a wrong one. In order to become more spiritually mature one must not just hear God’s Word.  We must put it into practice.  That takes studying and following what we learn.

These early Hebrew believers had learned the basic doctrines, such as salvation by faith and not works, baptism, the resurrection, and eternal life, and then stopped there.  They weren’t digging any deeper into the Bible. Today we see the same problem. So many believers, after they are saved, get spiritually lazy and stop learning. They may have been saved for several years, but are like a teen-ager who is still in diapers, crawling, and eating baby food.  That isn’t normal, and neither is a Christian, saved years ago, but is still a baby in the faith. The author of Hebrews tells his readers, and us, that they need to leave the learning of basic doctrines (vs. 1-2). “Leaving” doesn’t mean to reject these doctrines. They are a place to start our learning at, but not to stop there.  Learn these basic doctrines and then go on to deeper, more “meatier” truths.

We are urged to develop spiritual discernment as we grow in our faith (vs 14). Discernment is a trait that will come with saturating our heart and mind with God’s Word.  We can only learn to discern between good and evil by daily study of the Bible, and then being sure to put what we learn into practice.

When we don’t exercise our muscles they will start to atrophy.  It only takes a couple of weeks in a cast after breaking a bone, and our muscles start to grow weak.  We need to exercise to regain strength. Our spiritual muscles will atrophy when we don’t use them. Only constant use will train our spirits to know right from wrong.  The spiritual exercises we need to use to grow as mature believers are Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, and obedience to God.

How are we doing in our spiritual growth as a believer?  Are we still holding on to the baby bottle of milk? Maybe we are only eating mashed, pureed vegetables.  Hopefully we have graduated to eating steak or prime rib. Little babies are wonderful for the first year. Then we want to see our children grow to learn to walk, run, and read. As believers in Jesus, let’s grow in our faith and understanding of the Word, and then encourage and teach other newborn believers.

Monday, October 29, 2018

How Long, Lord?

Psalm 13

Have you ever felt like God has forgotten all about you?  Have you ever been in a trial or problem that just never seems to end, no matter how many prayers are said?  If so, you can relate to this psalm which David wrote. He was in the midst of some very trying times in his life, and for a moment when he wrote this psalm he felt alone and abandoned.  However, he did not allow these feelings to remain. By the end of this short psalm, David was singing praises to the Lord. Let’s look at David’s cry and prayer to the Lord.

As we read in the Old Testament, David spent many years fleeing for his life from King Saul.  He spent many years where he could not be at home with his family, or could only be home momentarily.  As we can imagine, this must have been very difficult and discouraging for him. Surely he wondered how long this must go on.  The words “how long” occurs four times in the first two verses. This shows the depth of David’s distress. He felt that God had forgotten or forsaken him. David was in a triangle of himself, his enemies, and God. With God seemingly gone, he felt at the mercy of his enemies. Thus, in verses 1 and 2, David was on his face, on the ground, focusing on his problems and their depth and length.

It may feel as though God has hidden Himself from us.  Like David, we may feel impatient with how long it seems to take for God to act. Sometimes God may be testing us to see if we will continue to follow Him, staying true to His Word, no matter what we may feel.

Was David going to stay in this position of despair?  No! His remedy at this time was to focus on God’s love, remembering past blessings, and deliberately praising the Lord.  In verses 3 and 4 we see that David has gotten up from his position of despair, and is now in a position of prayer. He is on his knees, taking his burdens to the Lord, dependent on Him.

David prayed to God, and found strength.  By the end of this psalm, he could speak of hope and trust in Him.  Through it all, David affirmed that he would continue to trust God no matter how long he had to wait for His justice to be realized.  As he finished this psalm in verses 5 and 6, David is on his feet, rejoicing and singing praises to God.

When we are in the middle of our depressing and trying times, we can sing praise to God like David did.  God gives us songs in the night (Job 35:10) in the middle of the dark night of our trial. Also, in the middle of the literal night, our trials often seem to loom larger. Singing praises to God at this time is good to do. Demons will flee when we praise the Lord.

During our trials we need to remember the character of God.  As believers, we need to rest our faith and trust on God’s character, not on our circumstances. Can we praise the Lord no matter how long our trials last? Would we be able to praise Him even if our situation never changes?  Let’s follow the lesson that David gives in this psalm, trusting and praising the Lord.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Separation From God

Isaiah 59:1-4, 9-19

“Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?”   Many of us have heard people ask this question, and some of us may have even asked this. Though there are several reasons that Scripture gives as to why someone’s prayers may go unanswered, our passage today from the prophet Isaiah gives one significant reason.  Let’s look at what the Lord has to say to us today in this passage of Scripture.

The people in Isaiah’s day were praying, among other things, for deliverance from enemies.  When they saw that God didn’t jump to their request, they started to say things such as that God is not strong enough, or maybe He has gone deaf, that’s why He hasn’t answered their prayers (vs 1).  Isaiah quickly responds to these charges against God by saying that isn’t so. It’s not that God isn’t strong enough, or is hard of hearing, it’s that the people’s sins have brought a separation between them and God, and caused Him to turn His face away (vs 2).  God has let His people know a number of times that wilful and deliberate sin brings a barrier between them and Himself (Psalm 66:18).

What is it that the people have done to cause God to turn a deaf ear to their prayers?  All of us, every day, do things that are wrong. We commit sins, sometimes significant, often small, but hopefully we turn to God in repentance and confess them.  God promises to forgive and wash them away if we confess (I John 1:9). It’s deliberate, wilful, unconfessed sin that God is referring to here. Among the sins Isaiah lists are murder, lying, and injustice (vs 3-4). When murderers are unpunished and winked at, lying and injustice is commonplace, God will not ignore this.

Living in a society where there is no justice or righteousness is like living and walking in darkness (vs 9-10).  They are stumbling and groping around in the darkness of sin like blind men. They want some answer to their problems, some way out of their predicament, but can’t find any.  Mankind is seeking unsuccessfully to escape their sinful, depraved condition through their own efforts (vs 11).

The next several verses go on to highlight the sinful condition of the people, and how far they have strayed from God (vs. 12-15).  Sin offends our all-holy God. It separates us from Him. Because God is holy, He cannot ignore, excuse, or tolerate sin as though it doesn’t matter.  He is forced to turn His head and look the other way when we pray with unconfessed sin. Those sins we cling to put up a barrier between us and the Lord.

What can we do?  Our sins are overwhelming, and are a barrier to our relationship with God.  He saw this, too, and it grieved Him (vs. 15). He saw that there was nothing they could do, and no one who could stand in the breach for their sins.  Mankind on their own cannot deliver themselves from their sinful condition. God, Himself, stepped in to save mankind (vs 16-17). Jesus came, as the sinless Son of God, to pay the price for our sins.  He is our Intercessor before God (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34). He put on the armor of righteousness and salvation for us. This is the same spiritual armor we are told to put on in our daily battle with the forces of evil (Ephesians 6:10-18).

The Lord has more than enough strength to redeem us, and His ear is always open to us when our sins are covered in the Blood of Jesus, the Savior.  He, also, will bring judgment on all who persist in evil (vs 17-19). As the prophet Isaiah said a couple of chapters earlier - Seek the Lord while He may be found, forsake your wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts, for God will have mercy (Isaiah 55:6-7).

Friday, October 26, 2018

To Serve Or Be Served

Mark 10:35-45

To serve or to be served.  How about taking orders or giving them? Most of us, if given the choice, would choose the latter.  We would rather be in a position of authority. How does God view this?  In our passage today from Mark’s Gospel we read of two of His disciples and their ambitious desires for power and authority, and what Jesus had to say to them.

Jesus had just finished speaking to the rich young man, telling him that he needed to give up his love of riches in order to follow Him and gain eternal life, and also teaching the need to be humble as a little child.  Now as they were walking towards Jerusalem, two of the disciples, the brothers James and John, came to Jesus asking to be given the chief seats in His kingdom, the ones on His right side and His left side (vs 35-37). That is quite ambitious!  That is basically saying, “We’re the greatest! We deserve those seats of prominence and authority.” In the days when kings sat on thrones ruling with great power, the seats to his right and left were given to the ones in greatest favor, and would be second and third in command.

The brothers, James and John, both believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and that He would rule.  However, like most of the people at that time, they thought the Messiah would set up an earthly kingdom.  James and John wanted positions of power in this kingdom. They wanted honored positions of importance. Jesus’s kingdom, as Scripture teaches, is not of this world (John 18:36).  It is not centered in palaces and thrones. Instead it is centered in the hearts and lives of His followers.

Rather than coming down hard on James and John for their arrogance, Jesus asks them a question - are they able to drink from the cup of suffering that Jesus will be drinking from, and be baptized with the suffering He will? (vs 38-39).  The two boasted that they could, indeed, drink the cup of suffering that Jesus would. Jesus assured them, that true to their words they both would. However the thrones that they wanted for themselves was not His to bestow on others (vs 40).  Those thrones would be given by His Father to those for whom He prepared them.

James died a martyrs death not too many years after Jesus’s resurrection.  King Herod had him put to death by a sword, the first of the twelve to die (Acts 12:1-2).  John ended his life as an enslaved prisoner of the Emperor on the island of Patmos (Revelation 1:9). Many of us would brag the same way, that we would willingly suffer for the cause of Christ. Instead, though, we often whine and complain over the littlest thing asked of us.

The other disciples were indignant with the brother’s, but it was not a righteous indignation (vs 41).  The wanted the same spots, and were angry that those two had beat them to asking Jesus for the spots. Jesus now has to set the whole group straight about seeking out positions of greatness and power.  In God’s eyes true greatness comes in serving others. The desire to be the greatest hinders our spiritual growth rather than helping it. Instead of trying to get our needs met, Jesus wishes us to minister to the needs of others (vs 42-43).  Most of us would rather have servants than be a servant. However what was Jesus’s own example to us?  During the Last Supper, Jesus took the role of a servant and washed the feet of the disciples (John 13:3-5).  That was the duty of a slave, yet Jesus performed that task willingly.

Jesus told us that He did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for us (vs 45).  A ransom is money paid to release a person from being held a prisoner by another. We were slaves to sin, and Jesus paid the ransom for us because we could not pay it.  His death released us from slavery. The ransom was not paid to Satan. Satan is a foe to be defeated, not a ruler to be placated. The ransom was paid to God to satisfy His just and holy wrath against sin.

Our passage in the Gospel of Mark leaves us with the lesson to regard others as more important than ourselves.  We need to try and support, encourage, and build up others. Have an attitude that gives rather than receives. Are we willing to give up personal freedom, wealth, or status to serve others in the Name of Jesus?  Discard material security, and follow Jesus. When we sacrifice the treasures of this world we gain the treasures of heaven.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Jesus, Our Compassionate High Priest

Hebrews 4:12-16

Today we continue on with our readings from the Book of Hebrews, and the author mentions in this passage both Jesus as our compassionate High Priest, how we can boldly approach the throne of God, and the Bible as as sharp, two-edged sword.  We have someone who can sympathetically plead our case with God the Father. If we have the Lord Jesus as our Savior, we can enter, ourselves, into the throne room of God. These are privileges that the Blood of Jesus has bought for those who have put their faith and trust in Him.  Let’s take a look at our Scripture passage today.

The first verse of our passage describes the Word of God as living (vs. 12).  It is living as its Author is God, divinely inspiring the humans who were His instruments in writing it.  It is also living because the Holy Spirit brings its message in our hearts. Like a surgeon’s knife, it cuts deep within us, revealing who we are and what we are not.  It shows what is within us, both good and evil. The Bible can transform our life, keeping us anchored to God during the storms we face. Verse 12 also describes God’s Word as a two-edged sword.  It is comforting and nourishing to those who have given their lives to Jesus. But it is a tool of judgment and execution to those who have not accepted Him.

Next our author of Hebrews continues on with one of his running themes throughout this book - that of Jesus being superior to every aspect of the old Jewish faith.  Under the Levitical law the people could only approach God with their sacrifices for sins through the priests, and the High Priest could only approach the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement.  Jesus is superior to the Jewish priests, including the High Priest (vs. 14). They were only human, and had to deal with their own sins, as well as the people’s. Jesus is both God and man, without sin. He intercedes for us to God, and assures us of God’s forgiveness.  The Jewish High Priest could only go to the Holy of Holies once a year. Jesus is always at God’s right hand, interceding for us, always available to hear us.

Jesus faced temptation, just like we do, yet Jesus did not sin (vs 15). He can sympathize with us. He knows what we are going through, and is not indifferent to us.  Jesus shows us, though, that we do not have to sin when facing the draw of temptation. If we turn to Him during our trials, Jesus will give us the strength to turn away and follow His path.

God wants us to come in confidence to Him for everything we need as we face the challenges in our lives (vs 16).  He loves us, and wants us to draw near in prayer. There are two specific things this verse in Hebrews says that God will give us when we come to Him.  Those are mercy and grace. Mercy means that God does not give us what we deserve, which would be divine judgment. Our sins warrant God’s judgment. However, because of Jesus, when we accept Him as our Savior, He is compassionate, and forgives us.  Grace means God gives us what we don’t deserve. We are not worthy of God’s love, favor, or salvation, but because of Jesus, He gives them to us freely.

Hebrews urges us to “hold fast” to our confession of faith (vs 14).  We are to hold on to what the Bible says about our situation with a strong faith, the kind that will not let go.  We can always come to God in prayer. We need to come with reverence because He is our King. However, we can also come with assurance because He is our Friend.  

Monday, October 22, 2018

In The Shadow Of The Almighty

Psalm 91

This psalm for today is a favorite of many believers, and is definitely one of my favorites.  It is a passage of Scripture we can go to when we are afraid, when the fears of this dangerous world get too strong. Our world is so stressful and filled with scary events. We can easily be overwhelmed. Psalm 91 is where to turn to.  Jesus calls us to trust Him and run to His arms for protection.

The psalmist, who is not known, starts off right at the beginning by saying to whom the Lord God gives His divine protection.  It is to those who dwell and abide with Him (vs 1). They are those who have a close and personal relationship with God. When we have put our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus, He will be a secret place of protection for us.  Shadows are often a good place to hide, and we can hide in the shadows of God’s safekeeping. God is also called here in verse 2 our refuge and fortress. A refuge is a place to go to to find quick shelter. A fortress is a building intentionally built to provide special security. The enemy has no access into a fortress. We are protected and safe there. When we turn to God to be our refuge and fortress, Satan and the fears he brings with him cannot get to us.

A vivid picture of protection we see in the natural world is that of a mother bird protecting her young chicks.  She spreads her wings over them, and they are safe from both predators and storms. That’s the same way the Lord protects us when we come running to Him (vs 4).  With God protecting us, the enemy has to get past Him before he can get to us. His truth, which is His Word, is the shield we can can safely stand behind.

Night often brings our worst fears (vs 5).  More murders, muggings, and crimes take place at night.  Many fires start at night, as well. It is then that sickness keeps us awake.  Our worries loom much larger at night. Yet God watches over us at night, as well as during the day. He never sleeps (Psalm 121:4). Darkness is not dark to Him (Psalm 139:12). We are children of the Light, and need not fear the darkness (I Thessalonians 5:5).  During the day, as well, we can trust the Lord to watch over us (vs 5-7). Do we need to make a trip into the bad part of town? Maybe a child of ours is being called into military service.  We don’t need to fear those “arrows”. When we hear on the news broadcasts of deadly influenza striking in our city, or some other calamity, do we need to panic when we have the Lord as our protection?  Our psalmist assures us that we do not! He protects us from pestilence and destruction.

In verses 11 and 12, we read that the Lord has appointed angels to give us aid when attacked by the devil and his forces.  These angels oversee God’s people, guarding those who seek refuge in Him. They preserve our steps. The angels will take us up, lift, and carry us, seeing we are not overwhelmed by the deception of Satan.

When we are in the presence of the Lord we have nothing to fear. God’s presence can take away all despair and doubt. Do we truly believe that we live in the secret place of the Most High, and that we abide under the shadow of the Almighty?  If we are believers, and we truly believe this, we can live without fear. We can trust the wings of God to be our shield.

We need to trade in all of the fears that we have for trust and faith in God.  We also need to be sure that we are “dwelling” and “abiding” in the Lord in order to be certain of His sure protection.  When we are feeling anxious and worried with problems and fears, remember in Whom we dwell - the Lord God Almighty, and the truth of His Word. Give those problems to Him. We can find refuge and shelter under His wings. Those who have put their trust in God need have no fear when others are all in a panic over the events in the world.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Jesus - Our Willing Sacrifice

Isaiah 53

Our passage today from the prophet Isaiah is one that is familiar to many believers, as it foretells the suffering and death of the Messiah for our sins.  The whole chapter concentrates on telling of the Suffering Servant, the Lord Jesus, and what He went through for love of us. It is frequently read around Good Friday to remind us of the sacrifice Jesus paid for us.  It is good to look this passage over at other times, as well, so I’m glad the Lectionary brought it up today.

Though I have read this passage many times over, one thing that stuck out for me as I read it this time was in verse 10.  God the Father willingly sacrificed His Son for us, “it pleased the LORD to bruise Him”.  This wasn’t something that God had to debate over and over in His mind, and reluctantly agree to do, against His will.  How much does God the Father love us? Enough to sacrifice His only Son. Some of you know I have two children. Could we sacrifice our child for people who despised and hated us?  I could never willingly give either one up to be tortured and die for others. Not even for someone who loved me, let alone for someone who treated me terribly. Yet that is exactly what God did for us.  We were rebellious sinners when Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8).

All throughout His ministry Jesus endured rejection and hatred from the majority of the very people He came to save (vs 3).  Not only did He suffer physically when His enemies tortured and crucified Him, Jesus suffered internal grief over those who rejected salvation through Him.  Even today our Savior grieves when the millions of mankind curse and reject Him. We all can probably think of a number of despicably wicked people, and when we hear that they die, we might not be too sorry that they’re gone and in hell.  Jesus, though, grieves when people die having rejected Him, no matter how wicked they were. He came and died for all of us.

Those who crucified Jesus, and those who observed this, felt He was being punished by God and rejected by Him (vs 4).  Why would God allow the Savior to suffer so? Jesus was our substitute (vs 5). Our sins demanded a sacrifice for us to be forgiven.  However the blood of animals, the Old Testament sacrifices, could not truly forgive our sins (Hebrews 10:4). Though He never sinned Himself, Jesus was the substitute for sinners.  He assumed the part of the sacrificial lamb. He was our scapegoat. Jesus took our sins and carried them away. He took the chastisement from God so that we would have peace with the Father.  Though sinless, He took the wrath that we sinners deserved. God treated Jesus as if He had committed every sin ever done (vs 6). Could we do that to our child? Yet because He loves us so much, God was willing to do that. Because Jesus loves us so much, He willingly endured that for us.

God chose to save the world through a suffering and sacrificial Messiah, rathering than a conquering king, contrary to what the people of the day believed or would want.  This is contrary to human pride and the way of the world. The Jews intended Jesus to be buried in disgrace with other criminals (vs 9). Instead, though, He was given the grave of the wealthy and honorable Joseph of Arimathaea (John 19:38-42).  Jesus’s execution was totally undeserved. The Messiah’s strength was shown in humility, suffering, and mercy.

This one sacrifice of Jesus provided complete satisfaction in settling the penalty due for sin (vs 11).  Jesus knew exactly what needed to be done to settle that penalty, and willingly provided it to justify the many who came to Him. His reward for His work will be to enjoy the “spoils” of His victory throughout eternity (vs 12).

Because Jesus was bruised for our iniquities we can be free from the debt of sin and its consequence, which is death.  When we accept Jesus as Savior we have been given life - physical life, spiritual life, abundant life (John 10:10). This all because God loved us enough to sacrifice His Son.

Friday, October 19, 2018

What Rules Our Heart?

Mark 10:17-31

What would you be willing to part with for the Lord Jesus?  Is there something so dear to your heart that you could never give it up if the Lord asked you to? These are some questions that are brought forth in our Gospel reading for today. Let’s take a closer look at our passage, and then consider what our answer might be.

As Mark begins here, a young man came up to Jesus, and calling Him “Good Teacher”, asked Him what he needed to do in order to obtain eternal life (vs 17).  This young man was thinking in terms of some religious deed that would guarantee him entering heaven. So many people do the same, thinking some great religious work will gain them entrance into heaven.  Eternal life is in and through Jesus Christ alone.  Jesus responded by asking him why he called Him “good” (vs 18).  Since only God is truly good, and since Jesus is God, was this man prepared to acknowledge Jesus’s deity?  Jesus didn’t contradict the man’s statement. He asked him why he was saying that.  Jesus is God in the flesh. He is good.  Jesus wanted this man to acknowledge it for himself.

Then, in answer to his question, Jesus said to keep all of God’s laws, and proceeds to list some of the bigger, obvious ones.  The young man insists he has done so (vs 19-20). Though the young man may have been blameless in terms of external actions, neither he nor any of us are in terms of internal attitudes and motives.  Jesus gave him a challenge which brought out the barrier in his heart to God’s Kingdom - his love of money and possessions (vs 21-22). Money represented his pride of accomplishments and self-effort. This probably kept him from obeying the 1st commandment.  Jesus wanted him to turn his heart and life over to God. What barriers are keeping you from turning your life over to God?

When Jesus told this man to sell his possessions and give to the poor, He was not making philanthropy or poverty a requirement for salvation.  God doesn’t necessarily want every believer to give everything they have away.  He does, though, want us to use our possessions to serve others.  We must not let anything we have keep us from serving Jesus. Could we, if God asked, give up our house, car, level of income, or position?

Jesus was exposing this man’s heart.  The young man was not as blameless as he thought, since he loved his possessions more than following Jesus.  He was not willing to submit to the Lordship of Christ no matter what He asked of him. Are we? This young man would not acknowledge his sin and repent, nor submit to a sovereign Savior.  He went away lost.

What did Jesus mean when he was talking about a camel going through a needle’s eye in verses 24-25?  Jesus is saying that salvation by human efforts is impossible.  It is wholly by God’s grace.  Many people in that day, as well as today, believe that with financial donations to church or charity, and with good works, one can purchase salvation.  The more wealth one had, the easier that would be. It is difficult for the rich to come to Jesus for salvation because, with their physical needs always met, they become self reliant. When they feel empty, they buy something new, rather than turning to God. Jesus is making it completely clear - no one, not even the rich, can buy salvation.

Jesus’s teaching was contrary to the prevailing thought of that day, and even by many today (vs 26-27).  Many thought that wealth was God’s blessing on those He loved. This is a misconception. Many good believers live in hardship, while some are blessed with wealth. Wealth is not a sign of God’s blessing. No amount of wealth or works can buy salvation. It is entirely the gracious work of God.

Have you given up something in your life for Jesus?  Verses 29 and 30 assure us that anyone who gives up something for His sake will be repaid a hundred times over!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Jesus Is Greater

Hebrews 3:1-6

This week’s New Testament reading in the Book of Common Prayer’s lectionary continues in the Book of Hebrews.  The first two chapters showed us how Jesus is superior to the angels. Today, as we start the third chapter, we will look at how Jesus is superior to Moses.  This epistle was written primarily to believers of Jewish background who were considering returning to the Jewish faith. The author, who is unknown, is showing that Jesus is superior to anyone who had come before Him.  Let’s look at our passage today, and see what he has to say about Jesus and Moses.

Moses, along with King David, was the Jewish people’s greatest hero. He had led the people out from slavery in Egypt, received the Law on Mt. Sinai, and led the people through the wilderness for 40 years to the border of the Promised Land.  As our author shows, Jesus is greater than Moses (vs 1-3). Jesus is God in the flesh. He existed before Moses. He created Moses, and empowered him to do all he did. Moses led the people of Israel out of Egyptian slavery.  Jesus leads us out of sin’s slavery. The deliverance Jesus offers is eternal.

Our author was not putting Moses down. He acknowledged that Moses was a faithful servant (vs 5).  Jesus, though, was the faithful Son (vs 6). Moses was a witness to what would be spoken by God in the future (vs 5).  Jesus was the message itself. He is the full revelation of God to the world, (Hebrews 1:3). Moses was faithful in God’s house (vs 2).  Jesus was the builder of the house, and the Son over God’s house (vs 6).  The “house” refers to a family of people rather than a building or dwelling.  Moses was only a part of God’s household of faith, whereas Jesus was the Creator of that household. He was the fulfillment of all Moses witnessed to.  Jesus is greater than Moses, and equal to God.

If we are believers in the Lord Jesus, we are a part of that house, built by God (vs 4).  We are God’s workmanship, the masterpiece He has, though we are still under construction and might not look like much yet.  Step by step, day by day, He is working in us and building us (Ephesians 2:10).

In verse 1, our author exhorts us to consider attentively, perceive, observe, and to pay attention to the Lord Jesus.  Jesus is an apostle, meaning “one who is sent”. He is also our high priest. We come to God through Him. As stated throughout this passage, He is the ruler of God’s house, whom we should obey.

We need to have a commitment to remain faithful to God through everything (vs 6).  Those to whom this epistle was written, were faltering in their faith when hardships came, and were tempted to turn back to their former Jewish faith.  We need to know God is sovereign, and able to work all things for our good, regardless of the situation (Romans 8:28). Without enduring faithfulness, we could easily be blown away by temptation, false teaching, and persecution. Verse six is not speaking of how to be saved, or remaining saved. This is more of a proof of real faith. The ones who returned to the rituals of the Levitical system proves they were never truly members of God’s household.

We can easily get lost in this life, and find ourselves on the wrong path.  Often that path will lead us into sin and danger. We need to fix our thoughts on Jesus, and follow Him every step of the way, each day.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Make Every Day Count

Psalm 90

One thing I have realized as I get older is that time seems to go by a lot quicker than when I was younger.  Back then a week was quite a long time, and a year was an eternity. Now the years just speed by. We can hardly turn around and another year has passed.  So many of my parent’s generation are passing, and I realize how short life really is. In our psalm for today, the only psalm written by Moses, he reflects on the brevity of life, and the eternality of God.

This psalm was probably written later in Moses’s life, and he starts off by stating that his whole life has been centered on God, and how He has been his refuge (vs 1).   Though his first years were ones of ease in Pharaoh’s royal palaces, his later years were difficult, leading the Israelites in the wilderness. Moses knew that we need to have God as our sanctuary and place of protection, as no matter how long or short our life may be, we need His help to get through.  His psalm contains a prayer for God to have mercy on us frail human beings, living in this sin-cursed world.

God is infinite.  He existed from all time and eternity past, long before the earth or even the universe existed, as He is the One who created them (vs 2). God will continue on for all future eternity, as well. He is not bound by time and its limits (vs 4-6). As Moses said here in verse 4, and years later Peter repeats in II Peter 3:8, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day for God. He is outside and beyond the limits of our time constraints. We may think that things we pray for are delayed in coming, but they are right on schedule for God.

As Moses has established the fact that God has existed from all eternity past, and will for eternity future, he reminds us that our time here on earth is brief. Like the grass or other plant or wildflower - it is here today and gone tomorrow (vs 5-6). James compares the brevity of life to a vapor or mist, like a puff of smoke that vanishes in an instant (James 4:14).  We are only here on earth for a very brief time. No one knows how long their life will be. We could live to be over 100, or we could die later today. None of us knows. We all live under a sentence of death from the day we were born.  There is no escaping it for anyone. Until the Lord returns, everyone will face death one day.

That being said, this isn’t meant to be depressing, but rather an encouragement to make every day count.  Many of us have heard the question that if you knew you only had six months, or only a month to live, what would you do?  Some have made a mental list of what they would do. As believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, what would or should we do?  Not knowing how long we have, whether decades or days, we should make our days here on earth count for eternity. Are we only concerned with having a good time, what’s in our closet, or what we will eat?  Or are we concerned with what will last for eternity - namely souls? People have said that we can’t take anything with us to heaven, but there is one thing we can bring, and that is other people. Be sure that each day that the Lord gives us will count for Him, His Kingdom, and for eternity.

Perhaps you do not know the Lord Jesus as your personal Savior.  As our psalm has shown the brevity of life, do not put off the salvation of your soul until the last minute, thinking you have time for God later.  We do not know when our last moment will be. Our last day could be today. What a fearful thing it would be to be face your dying breath, and know you are spiritually unprepared to face your Maker!

My one goal in life is to not come to the Lord empty-handed, but instead hear His words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Make every day count!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

God's Judgment On Corrupt Leaders

Amos 5:6-15

Corrupt judges and corrupt politicians.  We see and hear about them all the time. It can really make one angry and frustrated when their corrupt decisions affect us, and it’s especially terrible when their dishonest and unethical ways further hurt the poor, who have nowhere to turn for help.  Our reading today from the prophet Amos addresses these problems, which were just as prevalent in his day as they are in ours.

Amos had grown fig trees and was also a shepherd in the southern Kingdom of Judah when the Lord called him to preach His Word to those living in the northern Kingdom of Israel.  His prophetic and preaching ministry was from about 760 - 755 BC, a relatively short time, but enough for him to bring some powerful messages to the people.

One message Amos spoke forth was against those in power, whether political or legal, who twisted justice and oppressed the poor.  Does God see when those who are our leaders, and should be doing right, instead are doing evil? Does He see, and does He care? The poor and oppressed, who cry out to God day and night, ask this.  Also their oppressors in the law courts, government, and in business rhetorically ask this, believing the answer is no, He doesn’t see or care. Amos assures us that God does see, and He will bring judgment.

In Amos’s day, and sadly often in ours as well, the law courts were not places one could find justice (vs 7).  The poor and oppressed found no relief there. The government, courts, and businesses were instead places of greed and injustice.  Justice was so perverted that it was like wormwood, a bitter herb.

The Pleiades (or 7 Sisters) is a star cluster, and Orion a well known constellation (vs 8).  For centuries the stars were used for navigation across land or sea. If we could trust them to safely guide us to our destination, why are we not letting the Lord God guide us through our life?  We should be seeking His ways. If those who work evil don’t change their ways, God promises to bring His fury and ruin upon them (vs 9).

As history has taught us, a society is in trouble if those who seek to do right are hated and scorned (vs 10-12).  Don’t we see that today? A good and righteous person is warned against going into politics or big business because they “will be eaten alive”.  An honest lawyer is practically a joke. That’s not to say there aren’t good and honest attorneys, politicians, or businessmen, but as time goes on they are fewer, and they are mocked.  So many would rather exploit the poor and defenseless, and they hate the truth. God does see all of this. His Word puts a lot of emphasis on how we treat the poor, and those from whom we cannot hope to gain any monetary reward.  It shows our true character.

What about us?  Most of us are probably not elected officials in government, attorneys, or own a big business capable of exploiting many people.  How can Amos’s message apply to us? All of us are able to help the poor, needy, and oppressed around us, and there are plenty around, but we often fail to.  What excuses do we give? Maybe we feel that they don’t deserve it. God, throughout the Bible, says otherwise. Maybe we feel we have our own needs, or are afraid that we will become poor like them.  God doesn’t approve of that excuse, as He has promised over and over again that He will provide for our needs (Philippians 4:19). In the last two verses of our passage God instructs us twice to seek good and not evil (vs 14-15).

It is only when we seek God and His ways that we will truly find life. Only He can give us an abundant life (John 10:10). The only remedy for a sick and dying world is to seek the Lord and live.  Sin can only destroy, so seek the Lord.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Let The Children Come

Mark 10:13-16

Imagine yourself in church on a Sunday morning, and in a seat nearby you is a squirming, fidgety young child who keeps talking to himself as he tries to color a picture on a church bulletin.  Do you find this irritating, wishing the parents had left the child home with a sitter, or are you glad the parents are bringing the child so he can hear about Jesus? In our short reading from Mark’s Gospel today we see some parents bringing their children to Jesus, and what the reaction of the disciples was.

In Biblical times, parents would sometimes bring their young children to favorite rabbis for them to lay their hands on them, pray, and give God’s blessings to the children.  When Jesus came to town, there were some parents who, having heard Him preach and teach about God and His Word, wanted Him to pray for and bless their children (vs 13). What was the disciples reaction?  They did not like it! They came up to the parents and actually rebuked and chastised them.

Why would the disciples object to a few small children?  For most of history, up until a little over a hundred years ago, children were considered by most to be second class citizens.  They had no rights or standing in society. No one would stop a parent from doing whatever they wished to their children. If they wished to beat them, they could.  There were no such thing as family courts, protecting children. Children were good to work and bring in an income, as child labor laws didn’t really come into existence until the early 20th century. They were also good to care for parents in their old age, but otherwise they had no use or standing in society.

Jesus was often criticized for spending time with the wrong sorts of people, such as tax collectors, prostitutes, and now children.  Even His disciples wanted Jesus to spend time with important people, those who could help improve His standing with religious or political authorities, or who had money to give.  Children could not provide any of these, so they were a waste of time.

Jesus did not look at children this way.  He saw their innocence, and their joy and wonder in life and creation.  Most importantly, Jesus saw that they have great faith and trust. He reprimanded the disciples, telling them to let the children come (vs 14).  He goes on to say that we must receive the Kingdom of God as a child (vs 15). This does not mean that one can only be saved when they are a child, as the disciples came to Jesus as adults, as did Paul in the Book of Acts, along with many great heroes of the faith throughout the years. God wants us to have the faith and trust of a child - childlike faith that is humble, trusting, and depending on God.

Children typically have no worries.  They trust their parents to feed, clothe, and take care of them.  They don’t have to know or understand everything. We shouldn’t have to know and understand everything from God, either.  It should suffice us to know that God loves and cares for us, with childlike faith and trust. Children know that they can’t compare to a president or king.  They know that the fireman is stronger and can protect them. They have an easy trust in the loving kindness and mercy of God, and that is what Jesus wants from us.

Back to our little child in church.  Rather then wish them home with a babysitter, we should rejoice to see them in church!  Children’s Sunday School classes are a very important ministry in any church, where the Word of God is taught to children.  As a parent, I know that my soul could not rest until I knew that both of my children had accepted Jesus as their Savior. The older one gets, the harder one’s heart grows, and it is more difficult and less likely one will turn to follow Jesus.  As Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them.”

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Victory Over Death

Hebrews 2:9-18

Do you have a fear or phobia of something?  Many people do. I have a fear of heights. Some people fear crowds.  Others might fear dogs, snakes, or spiders. Little children often fear the dark.  In our Scripture passage today, the writer of Hebrews speaks of a fear of death. That is one fear that Satan has kept mankind in bondage to since the time of the Fall.  Fearing the pain and sorrow of going through death, and then fearing the unknown of what is on the other side of death. Jesus, though, has brought us victory over death, and the fear that comes with it.  Let’s examine these verses from Hebrews and see what Jesus has done for us.

Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, came to earth as a human for us.  He didn’t come to earth to gain status or political power. He came to suffer and die so that we can have eternal life.  When man sinned in the Garden of Eden, one of the penalties was death, and Satan held the power of death. Jesus was obedient to God the Father in death (vs 9).  He fulfilled all that was required of Him as man’s representative, and now has received glory and honor (Philippians 2:8-11). He is Lord of all and will one day rule on earth.

Jesus is the Captain of our salvation (vs 10), the leader in regards to salvation. He led the way into heaven as our forerunner. Jesus’s suffering made Him the perfect leader.  His divine nature was already perfect, and His human nature was perfected through His obedience in order to be that understanding High Priest.  Jesus is our big brother (vs 11). He is not ashamed to call us His family. Just as big brothers do, He has gone before us in every way.

Through suffering, Jesus completed all that was necessary for our salvation. He took upon Himself a flesh and blood nature in order to provide redemption for mankind.  Jesus tasted death for all of us, which broke the power of Satan (vs 14), and freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (vs 15).  By conquering death He rendered Satan powerless. Satan and the power of death were defeated at Calvary.

The Old Testament high priests were the mediators between God and man. They offered sacrifices for sins, and interceded for the people. Jesus is now the only necessary High Priest.  He paid the price for our sins by His sacrificial death, and He alone can restore our broken relationship with God.  Jesus suffered every temptation, yet did not sin. He is a faithful High Priest who understands our struggles (vs 17-18).  Jesus understands our struggles because He faced temptation and suffered pain as a human being. He took our sins upon Himself.

By partaking in a human nature, Jesus showed His mercy to mankind, and by obtaining forgiveness for His people.  He was tempted, so He is fully capable of understanding and sympathizing with His human brethren, though He fully resisted all of His temptations.  Jesus was made in every way like us, so He can be our merciful and faithful High Priest.

Jesus went through our dark times before us.  He fought the same enemy before we did. He has borne the same load we do.  There is no sin in being tempted, the sin is if we yield to that temptation.  No matter what we may be facing, we should realize that the Savior identifies with our circumstances.  He feels everything we are experiencing. He felt pain. He was misunderstood. He had loved ones turn against Him.  Jesus bore all of our guilt.

Jesus’s death and resurrection set us free from the fear of death because death has been defeated.  Until Jesus returns, everyone must die. However, death is not the end. Instead, if one has accepted the Lord Jesus as their Savior, death is the doorway to a new life.  Jesus Christ’s victory bring us hope!

Monday, October 8, 2018

God Thought Of You!

Psalm 8

Our psalm for this week is another one that David wrote, and one that many people might be familiar with.  From reading his various psalms, it is obvious that David liked the out of doors and nature, and that he spent many a night gazing up at the stars and planets. Today’s psalm is one that he must have written after one such night. This passage of Scripture has three main themes: it is a psalm of praise to God; a psalm of creation; and also one that focuses on the created dignity of man.

Psalm 8 both begins and ends with a call proclaiming praise to the Name of God (vs 1, 9).  The Name of God refers to the revealed Person of God, and encompasses all of His attributes.  His Name is sacred, and should be both praised and held in reverence. The third commandment forbids taking the name of God in vain (Exodus 20:7).

Natural and spontaneous praise and trust of God comes as a matter of course to young children who haven’t been negatively influenced by adults yet (vs 2). Children are able to trust and praise God without doubts or reservations. As we get older our trusting wavers. We need to recapture our childlike faith in God.

David now speaks of the heavens, the universe consisting of the stars, planets, and galaxies we see as we gaze upward at night.  Many a night he must have spent contemplating the magnitude of God’s creation. Even without the powerful telescopes we have today, David could see the vastness of outer space. We know today how huge the universe is, yet it is the work of God’s fingers! We can join David in praising God for how awesome and mighty He is!

David knew that in comparison with this, and with the creation here on earth, the mountains, oceans, etc., he and all mankind was insignificant (vs 3-5). Why would such a magnificent Creator be mindful of such little and frail creatures like us? He created a perfect world, but man messed it up. Man has been mocking and rejecting God from the start.  David asks why would God be concerned with people who constantly disappoint Him? If the whole universe is small in the sight of God, small enough that His fingers made it, how much less is the significance of man.

The psalm should be an encouragement, for God has considered us. We are created in God’s image and likeness, and He sent His Son to die for us.  God did not create any other living thing in His image, nor did He die for anything else, including the angels.  The preincarnate Son of God existed for all eternity with the Father in heaven (John 17:5, 24). For love of us, He was willing to take our nature upon Himself, stepping down to a position a little lower than the angels, live among us, and die for our sins.  Thus, in God’s eyes, we do have immense worth. Jesus will raise up all who are born again above the angels when He comes to reign over a new heaven and earth.

As our passage continues we see that God gave man authority over all of creation (vs 6-8).  With great authority comes great responsibility. How do we treat God’s creation? God will hold us accountable for our stewardship over everything He has created.

The next time you have the opportunity to get out under a starlit sky, and think about the vastness and wonder of creation, know that God thought of you!  He loved you enough to come to earth and die for your sins so that you can live with Him in heaven!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

From Adam's Rib

Genesis 2:18-24

The Lectionary’s Old Testament reading for this week takes us to the beginning of the Bible, right near the start of Genesis.  As we take a look at this brief passage, let’s see what the Lord can teach us.

Our passage takes place towards the end of the 6th day of creation, as man, Adam, has been created, along with the animals.  As God was observing His creation, He saw that man was alone, and knew that man needed a companion (vs. 18). He said that it was not good for man to be alone.  Man needed a companion, a helper, and an equal. God made us for fellowship with Himself and with other people. Though there are often times we desire to spend some time alone, by ourselves, and that is good, we were never created to be a perpetual hermit.  God can meet our need for a deep personal relationship.

Before God made His special companion for Adam, He brought each of the animals that He had created to Adam so that he could give each their name (vs 19-20).  Adam had a job that God had given him to do, and that was to take care of the Garden of Eden (vs. 15). As we see here, this also included caring for the animals, and giving them each a name.  This was an act of discerning something about the creature so as to appropriately identify it. There was, however, no kinship with any animal, since none was a fitting companion for Adam.

As the sixth day was drawing to a close, God put Adam into a deep sleep, so as to take a rib from his side, and create a woman for him (vs. 21-22).  God could have made the woman from the dust as He did the man. Instead He made Eve from the side of Adam. This symbolizes a special union of the couple’s hearts and lives.

Adam was delighted in his newly created companion (vs. 23).  She had her source in him. She was made of bone from his bone, and flesh from his flesh. God gave marriage as a gift to Adam and Eve (vs. 24). They were created perfect for each other.  Marriage was instituted by God, and He treats marriage seriously. The man is to leave his parents, and in a public act, promises himself to his wife. They are joined together by taking responsibility for each other’s welfare, and by loving the mate above all others.

Throughout the Scriptures we read a number of comments and thoughts on marriage.  Let me just mention a few of them for consideration. One is that commitment is necessary in a marriage. In Genesis 24:58-60 we read how young Rebekah was asked by Abraham’s servant whether she was willing to come back with him and become Isaac’s wife.  Rebekah committed to go with him, leaving her family, probably to rarely, if ever, see them again. She made that commitment.

Marriage should be a time of rejoicing.  The prophet Jeremiah, when prophesying about the restoration of Jerusalem, said that the sound of rejoicing, the sound of bride and bridegroom, would again be heard in the city (Jeremiah 33:10-11).  God meant this to be a happy time. Though there are often times when children must be raised in a single parent household, God said that the best, the ideal, place for children to be raised in is within a marriage (Malachi 2:14-15).

Scripture also says that unfaithfulness breaks the bond of trust, which is the foundation for all relationships (Matthew 5:32).  He intended that marriage should be permanent, but sin and the Fall have destroyed that (Matthew 19:6). It is based on a promise, a commitment of love, not just on feelings, which can come and go. God said that marriage is good and honorable (Hebrews 13:4).

God knew the need that Adam had for a companion and helpmate, and His creation of Eve and marriage was His final act of creation at the close of the sixth day.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Who Belongs To Christ?

Mark 9:38-48

“If you’re not part of our group, you have no part in Jesus!”  That sounds rather harsh, but that would have been the gist of what the Apostle John said to a man who was going around and casting out demons in the Name of Jesus.  John, who later in life would write Epistles whose main theme is loving one another, certainly wasn’t showing much love or kindness at this stage in his life. As he, Jesus, and the other disciples were traveling, he saw or heard of a man who must have heard some of Jesus’s teachings, believed in Him, and was now using his faith in Him to cast out demons from those who suffered.  That would seem to be a good thing, but John didn’t think so! John and some of the other disciples confronted this man and stopped him from continuing to minister to people in Jesus’s Name because he was not one of the twelve (vs. 38). This unnamed man was not a fraud. He must have been a true believer in Jesus because he was able to cast the demons out in Jesus’s Name. The 12 disciples opposed him because he was not a part of their group.  They were jealous. They were more concerned with their own position than in helping those in need.

Jesus scolded His disciples and told them to stop.  Someone sincerely acting in Jesus’s Name would not soon turn against Him (vs. 39-40).  There is no neutral ground regarding Jesus. Those who are not against Him are on His side.  Also, those who are not on His side are against Him (Matthew 12:30).

Are we guilty of the same behavior that the disciples showed to that other believer?  Do we scorn believers who attend different churches or are members of a different denomination?  Do we feel that they are less of a believer, or not even one because their church is different, perhaps because their church takes communion only once a month and we do it every week, or vice versa?  Or that their sanctuary is circular, or their songs are different? Perhaps their pastor wears a suit coat to preach and not liturgical robes, or vice versa. Those, and many other issues are not reasons to withhold fellowship or scorn other believers for.

There are several essential points, known as the foundations of the faith, that one must hold to in order to truly be a Christian.  One must believe in Jesus’s death on the cross, and His literal resurrection.  They must believe that the purpose of His death was to pay for our sins, as we are all sinners, incapable of helping ourselves. One must believe that Jesus is both fully God and fully man, that Jesus was sinless, and born of a virgin. One must believe in the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.  If a church or an individual holds to these, then we should be willing to fellowship with them, regardless if they are a different church than ours.

Jesus continues to teach His disciples of their need to show love and charity to others (vs. 41).  Giving a cup of cold water to a person in need is the same as giving an offering to God. By the same token, harming others or failing to care for them is a sin, even if they don’t seem important in the world’s eye.  Acts of kindness done to His followers He considers done to Himself. He also said that to lead a believer into sin is a very serious matter (vs. 42). Even such a terrible death is preferable to leading a Christian to sin.

Jesus then says something rather strong, and that is if one’s hand or eye causes them to sin, to cut it off and cast it forth (vs. 43-48). Jesus is speaking figuratively. No amount of self-mutilation can cure a sin problem, which is really a matter of the heart. Jesus is emphasizing the seriousness of sin, and the need to do whatever it takes to deal with it.  Painful discipline is required of Jesus’s true followers. Sometimes we need to radically cut something out of our lives that can lead us into sin.  Giving up a relationship, a job, or a habit that might draw one into sin or is against God’s will may be as painful as cutting off one’s hand.  Jesus is worth the sacrifice. Nothing should stand in the way of our faith. We must be ruthless in ridding sin from our lives. As Jesus clearly indicates here, there are eternal consequences for sin, as hell is just as eternal as heaven is.