Pastor Falck is the former pastor at St. Luke’s in Grand Rapids and former vacancy pastor at St. Mark’s. Though retired, he continues to write devotions and we are pleased to be able to share them here.
Editor’s Note: Pastor Falck is currently working on Devotions on the book of Romans. Please go to that section to see his current work.
April 28, 2016
Hebrews 5:11-14 Milk and Meat
11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 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! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (NIV)
1 Peter 2 urges the children of God to crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation (1Pe 2:2 NIV) Jesus tells us that true believers must possess child-like faith. And then we read these words of Hebrews. What gives? If we are careful in our reading and meditate on these truths we will find that they complement and not contradict each other. There are times when we need nothing more than the milk of the world. When our faith is battered and abused. When the simple truth Jesus died for my sins and that my baptism and faith are enough. Enough to save me. Enough to comfort me. Enough to carry me into eternity in heaven.
But neither Hebrews or 1 Peter tell us to stop at our mother’s breast, so to speak. God desires that we grow into maturity. Children are always children of their parents, but we know and desire that they grow into useful and productive adults. It has been said that Scripture is shallow enough for a child to wade in it and deep enough for an elephant to drown. God is clear on this truth: Christians, nurtured by the milk of salvation, are to grow into people who can digest solid food. We are to grow in both grace AND knowledge. God nudges us out of the baby pool and into the deep end. There are deep truths in His holy Word.
Not one of us has exhausted the depths of God’s mind. But, at the heart of it all remains his hatred of sin and those who do it and his love for sinners. Love that led him to cross to establish the righteousness that remains both our milk and the foundation on which the deeper truths are built. As we study and pray God will train us and our new man will train himself, more and more, to distinguish good from evil. Truth from falsehood. The words of God from the lies of Satan. God will nurture us as we study His Truth!
April 25, 2016
Hebrews 5:7-10 Fervent Cries and Tears of a Son
7 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. 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (NIV)
You can almost see Jesus, prostate in fervent prayer, as he begged for the cup of suffering to be removed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Nor was this the only moment of fervent prayer of the Son of God. How often did He go into seclusion at the end of a hard day of preaching and healing and loving sinners. Sometimes prayer replaced sleep in the life of our precious Savior. These verses lead us to meditate on the depth of the humiliation of the eternal Son. He who knew everything learned by personal experience the reality of being human. He “learned obedience” and became “perfect.” The perfection he obtained was the perfection of a human Son; the obedience was lived in real time human living. But we should not infer that Jesus was less than holy at any time. He entered the world holy. He lived in the world holy. He died holy. He left holy. So how was he perfected?
He became perfect in the sense of attaining the goal for which he took on human flesh. He did not cease to be God, but his humanity shared in the Godhood. And in his humanity God went to the cross. High priests were human, and our high priest was and still is human. He is different from the priests of the line of Levi. He is a priest like the mysterious Melchizedek, who appeared from no-where. Who had no apparent lineage. And Jesus fulfills the name Melchizedek – king of righteousness.
The One who prays with cries and tears is the Righteous One of God who now answers and intercedes in our prayers. His reverent submission – even to the cross – opens the very gates of heaven. Our fervent prayers and tears, taken to God’s throne by our Priest and Intercessor, will certainly also receive an answer.
April 8, 2016
Hebrews 5:1-6 A Priest Forever
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. 2 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. 3 This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was. 5 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.” 6 And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”1 (Heb 5:1-6 NIV)
There are some ways in which Jesus is like the priests of the Old Testament (Covenant). He offers a sacrifice for sin, the FINAL ANSWER to sin. He wears human flesh and suffers hunger, thirst, and, finally, even death. His humanity enables him to deal gently with sinners. And, like the Old Testament priest he is appointed – appointed by God, the Father. Jesus, in his humility, did not take the Priesthood that saves us upon himself. He submitted to the Father’s eternal will. He became an obedient Son. THE obedient Son.
But all the other priests – thousands of them? – were fallible sinners. Their priesthood was for a time. They lived and died. They did not rise. Their priesthood ended. Jesus is a priest forever. In this way he stands in a different order from the other priests, the sons of Levi and Aaron. Jesus is the Son of David. He is not from the tribe of Levi. Nor was Melchizedek, the mysterious priest who shows up and then disappears (but more of this later). The eternal priesthood of Jesus is a big deal. A very big deal. Not only was his sacrifice once for all. Complete. Perfect. The end of all sacrifices. But to this day Jesus stands before the Father with his own blood as the payment for us. He not only sympathizes with us in our weakness. He continues to stand between us and the Father, the One who is angry with sin, to take away the sin that causes the anger. And thus to take away the anger and make us friends with God.
This is not temporary. It was not just for first century believers. It is forever. We say forever about things like love and marriage. We think 40 years of loving wife or husband is forever, but then our lives blow right past this forever. Jesus IS forever. As our forevers fade and change, lift your eyes to the heavens. To Jesus. In Him our forever remains forever. And our passing and temporary (and fragile) lives find eternal and certain hope.
April 5, 2016
A “NEW NORMAL”
Forgive me, but there is no text for this devotion; I do believe the thoughts are supported by the realities of our Christian faith. “A new normal” is a phrase, in my observation, that usually grows out of a negative experience. Husband or wife or child dies. An immense change. A job is lost or an accident leaves someone paralyzed. A near death experience transforms attitudes towards life. Social upheaval alters the way a whole land or culture lives. In all of these situations people may speak of “a new normal” to which they must adjust. Life is different now. Like it or not, normal is different. In the blink of an eye. We sigh and submit: “That’s life. Nothing ever stays the same.”
But the new normal that is our Christian reality is different. Just a week or so after the glories of Easter worship – the choirs and trumpets and joyous message, life has settled down again. It was still Easter in the church yesterday, but the crowds are gone. The memories of somber Good Friday and glorious Easter are memories. The grandchildren visited and searched for their baskets and eggs. The ham dinner included mashed potatoes (too many mashed potatoes) raisin sauce and joyful laughter. Now it is very quiet and settled in our house. And perhaps in yours.
But something has changed. Easter has created a genuine new normal. Every year, in the Lutheran church, at least, we travel through a church year that centers – for half the year – on the prophecies that lead up to Jesus, on His life and words and wonders and then, especially, on His passion and death. Resurrections is the end of this chain of events. This is a good thing – the Christian church year. The waiting of Advent turns into the joy of Christmas turns into the revelations of Epiphany turn into the penitence of Lent turns into the horror and comfort of Good Friday turns into the glory of Easter.
In reality, all Christians know that this journey is a journey of remembrance. Ever since the first Easter there has been a new normal in the world. A normal that God grants to every believer by working faith in our hearts. Death no longer rules. It is here. It casts dark shadows. But for believers death has become a sleep “from which none ever wake to weep.” The new normal of Easter is with us even as we “celebrate” the somber seasons of Lent and Holy Week and observe the great cost of this normal. The cost was blood, sweat, and tears. The suffering of the Father’s anger and the pains of Hell. But how good this new normal is, even after the human joys of Easter in the church and in Christian homes has moved on to the quieter realities of the post-Easter season.
If you desire a text for this devotion, read the Easter story once again, or search the Epistles of Paul and Peter for those many places where the new normal of Easter underlie our faith and hope.
March 23, 2016
Hebrews 4:15-16 Confidence at the Throne of God
15 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. 16 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. (NIV)
Verse 15 is one of those verses. Filled with both comfort and mystery. It was part of Jesus’ work and sojourn on earth not only to die for our sins but to suffer in our shoes. Temptation – real temptation – was part and parcel of this process. As God Jesus knew all. As Man his knowledge became human experience. Specifically, he went through temptation. And as we have learned to know, temptation means pain. It is painful to say “no” to a sinful desire. Satan wraps up his temptation in such pretty packages. What is it that you have been saying no to today. What long-term sinful longing is a constant strain and pain in your soul? On the other hand, Satan also tempts us to avoid the world’s scorn and hatred, to mute our witness and avoid the trouble that must come with following Jesus. In other words, to set aside the cross that he lays on the soldier of every believer. What pain is Satan tempting you to avoid?
It is fitting that we see the tempted and suffering Jesus in this Holy Week. While Jesus most certainly experienced the pains of temptation all through his life, there were certain high (or low!) points in his standing and walking in our place. One of those was the 40 days in the wilderness. The other point of excruciating pain was this week. Holy Week. Can we imagine his feelings as He sent Judas out into the night to betray him; as He submitted to the kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane; as He prayed for the Father to remove the cup of suffering; as He was mocked, beaten, spit on and nailed? As he endured the leering of his enemies and desertion of his friends. There was pain in all of this. And He did not shrink from it.
Now, we can argue about the reality of the temptations – could a holy Jesus really fall? (Of course, He could not, would not!) But the temptations were real. He who died for us knows how hard it is for us to bear the cross of suffering. He bore it first. To God the glory. To the Son our praise! Because Jesus has gone the whole route and He understands us. He knows our pain. He knows how Satan assails us. And since He can sympathize and empathize with us, we can go to His Father as if He were our own. For, through Christ, He is!
When we pray to God, let us pray with confidence. Jesus has earned this right for us. We can go to the throne of God, for it is a throne of grace.
March 18, 2016
Hebrews 4:11-14 Faith Leads to Obedient Exertion
11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. 12 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. 13 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. 14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,1 Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. (NIV )
Making every effort to enter the rest of heaven may throw a good Lutheran off his/her game just a bit. But then we consider this truth from the ancient hymn – we walk in danger all the way. While God has guaranteed His presence and help and assures us that heaven is our certain inheritance, He also warns us lest, by arrogantly thinking that we stand, we may fall. Many have, indeed, suffered “shipwreck of the faith.” It is certainly true that the Christian life is more of a battle than a walk – hence the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
Our High Priest is in heaven; He awaits our arrival. He has made a full and complete sacrifice for sin. And yet, we remain here – under constant attack by the world around us, Satan who surrounds us and our sinful nature, that desperate and insurgent “fifth column” from within us. In the fierce spiritual fight to keep a firm hold on what our High Priest has won for us we have a reliable weapon. The weapon is God’s Word.
His Word may, at first blush, intimidate, even frighten us. We can fool people around us; we can put on a happy face of faith, a jaw set for battle against sin -all the while our heart is divided and uncommitted to the fight against sin in our own hearts and lives. But the Word is with us to help us by laying bare the reality within. When we read it, it does not just reveal things to God; it reveals truths to us. The Law cuts us deeply, showing us what is love and what really is not love at all; it rips back the covers of selfishness and the false face that may fool others and even, at times, our own selves. But the Word of God also comes to the wounded heart, cut deep by the holy Law, with another purpose – to apply the balm of Gilead to the wounded spirit. The Law cuts and divides and discerns. The Gospel comforts and forgives and encourages. It is a healing salve.
There is, for Christians en route to heaven, no tool more important than the Word. It is good to meditate on it deeply; to be an all day “grazer” at the table of God’s grace and instruction. To continually nibble on the Word and to let it be deeply digested, so that it is there to help us in every time of need. The Word strengthens faith. It motivates our spiritual exertion as we focus on the goal of heaven.
March 15, 2016
Hebrews 4:5-10 Don’t Harden your Heart
5 And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.” 6 Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, 7 God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works,1 just as God did from his. (NIV)
It was 500 years later, give or take, when King and prophet and poet David repeated the call to Israel to pay attention to God “today.” To respond in faith today. To avoid hardening their hearts today. Throughout the ages the natural anti-God anti-faith and anti-obedience bent of the fallen nature we have inherited from Adam and Eve continues to make the hardening of sinful hearts a deadly danger. Hard hearts, hearts that go their own way, do their own thing, follow the American mantra of finding who “myself” is and doing what that self desires are hearts that will wake in the un-rest of eternal punishment in the terrors of hell. The mantra of “self” and “my view” and “my way” is always opposed to God.
But Christians, people of true faith, understand that their self-will must be bent to the will of God. Not only has God redeemed us, purchasing us as His own with the holy blood of the Son; He has turned our naturally antagonistic hearts to a life of faith and obedience. The people of God have been given “a new heart,” a heart softened by the grace of complete forgiveness. When God urges people of true faith in Jesus not to harden their hearts, He is talking to people in whom He has worked the ability to say yes to Him. This does not come naturally; we were once “dead in trespasses and sin in which (we) used to live.” (Ephesians 2) But God has worked in us the ability “to will and to do” according to His good pleasure.
There is a certain work for believers to do; it is to fight the good fight of faith; to wield the sword of the Spirit; to engage the shield of faith; to exert ourselves not to earn salvation, but to defeat the fiery darts of Satan. And the end of this work, our rest, is like the rest of God Himself. It is worth the fight of faith; it is a noble goal and a worthy end – to enjoy God’s praise in heaven for the works that He himself has accomplished in us.
Therefore, don’t harden your hearts against the voice of God in His Word; keep your eyes on the prize of heaven, the wonderful rest from this fight of faith.
March 11, 2016
Hebrews 4:1-4 Rest with God
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2 For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. 3 Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.'”1 And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. 4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.”1 (NIV)
No rest for the wicked – this is a truism that the world does not want to hear. All sinners desire rest – rest from the bad news of this world; from illness and disease; from personal conflicts; from the barrage of bad news that greets us each morning; from bad weather and disasters, from . . . This is a fallen world, and, while God graciously grants us much beauty, from the blue skies and mild breezes of spring to the song of birds that greet us in the morning, there is also the stark reality that things often go wrong on this troubled globe. We do well, as we hear the morning news, to seek God’s mercy for those whose homes have flooded, whose loved ones have died in overnight gunfire, whose children are suffering from cancer, and many others.
But the desire for rest from all of this grows in us as we see that some things never change. God allows us to struggle against the weakness he sent upon his creation at the fall into sin. (Romans 8) He even grants doctors and others victories over longtime plagues of disease to give us hope. But, in the end, Christians pray “deliver us from evil,” and await the joys of heaven. We shall find rest there. Our hard labors under sin will come to a peaceful end. The tears that trouble us will be dried. We shall be at rest. But only those who hold fast to faith in the God of salvation, who turn their eyes to the cross that paid for sin and the empty tomb that proclaims Jesus’ victory and rest from his hard labor will find eternal rest with God.
The world grasps for this rest. Drawing us to false and misleading hopes. Enticing us to pleasures that distract us from the only rest that lasts. Therefore, we ask with contrite hearts that God forgive our distracted eyes and focus us on his promise of Rest (the eternal Sabbath) in Christ. In heaven. With our Father and our Brother.
March 3, 2016
Hebrews 3:16-19 Unbelief
16 Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. (NIV)
What was Israel’s root sin? Was it self-will? Rebellion? Or unbelief? Are not these facets of the human sinful psychologically forever linked together? But let’s look at Israel and Egypt once again, and make application to our lives. Indeed, Israel had spent some 400 years in slavery. This was foretold, and it seems a strange way for God to deal with the chosen people. Except that they left a minimum of 2 ½ million strong, ready to inhabit the land promised to Abraham. Even if we do not understand how God is dealing with us, we have his firm promise that his thought for us life and not death. Prosperity and not despair.
In the Garden Satan tempted Eve with lies about the God who had given her everything. Who was her everything. He led her to rebel and climb over her head, Adam, and storm the gates of heaven itself. But if she had simply believed that God wanted the best for her – always – would she have strayed. Likewise, it was unbelief that led to Israel’s great fall and to the millions of bodies scattered over 40 years in the Sinai Peninsula. The great saints have shown us the way of faith. Though flawed sinners, Joseph, David, Abraham et. al. Lived by faith. Later in Hebrews, we will enter into the hall of Hebrews and be encouraged to imitate the faith of those who are like a cloud of witnesses around us.
How shall we avoid the fall? Not by our own strength of will. Faith is still brought into being by the living Word of Promise and it is nurtured by this same Word. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly – by reading and meditating – and faith will survive the challenges of your world, whatever they may be. The alternative is the deadliest sin of all – unbelief.
March 1, 2016
Hebrews 3:12-15 Today
12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” (NIV)
I suppose many Christians, reading the history of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land, marvel at the rebellion and falling away that characterized that time. Had they forgotten the slavery and the taskmaster’s whip? The babies thrown to the crocodiles of the Nile? The ten plagues that finally led Pharaoh to drive them out of the land? The horses and men of Pharaoh floating dead in the Red Sea? Etc. Etc. Etc.
But the writer to the Hebrews warns his Jewish-Christian readers (and us) that forgetting is not beyond then and us. And the forgetting can take place in the midst of daily life. We push the Bible to the side as another day brings its challenges. We wait to pray until later. We have seen many today’s turn into yesterdays. And, in our experience, “the son’ll come up to tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that, tomorrow, come what may . . .”
But, in reality, today is all we have. We are God’s children today. Our baptism is our hope today. The cross stands before our eyes in an eternal today. For the blood shed there, the payment made there, the sin removed there – those are still ours today. But today is also the day that Satan seeks to deceive our compliant sinful nature. As God speaks to us today, let us recognize that the recalcitrant old man within each of us does not desire to submit to the God who has nailed himself to the tree to be our Savior. That old sinner within does not like the demands and restrictions on his “freedom..”
The warning, therefore, is still valid and vital. Many have ignored it, rebelled, and lost the salvation guaranteed to them in the waters of their baptism. Let us listen and let us warn. Today is the day. Your God loves you. Do not harden your heart against your Father and your Brother in heaven. Not today!! God help us. Bend our will. Push down our old man. Lift up the believer in each of us.
February 20, 2016
Hebrews 3:7-11 A Warning against Hard Hearts
7 So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, 9 where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. 10 That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ 11 So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.'”1 (Heb 3:7-11 NIV)
God’s grace is amazing. And total. In grace he rescued Israel from the bondage of Egypt. When the armies of Pharaoh followed them, he destroyed them in the Red Sea. He fed them in the wilderness with manna and quail. He supplied water for their thirst. Through forty years their clothes did not wear out; their sandals did not fail. But the history is not pretty. The reason for the forty years was Israel’s refusal to believe that the God of wonders and miracles, the God of redemption and salvation, could not give them victory over the “giants” who were living the Promised Land. They rebelled just at the point where their dreams were coming true. They continued to test God in the wilderness for forty years – until all the adults (with the exception of Joshua and Caleb) whom God had rescued from slavery lay dead in the dessert. This is what happens when sinners, the objects of grace, turn against God. When their hearts turn hard and stubborn. (Adult) Israel in the wilderness never entered the rest of Canaan. What a sad history!
This is a warning to us. Hebrews speaks in grand tones of the superiority of Christ. Of grace over law. Of the God who rescued us from slavery by the sacrifice of the cross and the water of baptism. We are the objects of God’s grace today (we who have received deliverance from guilt and sin by grace and faith). But we are warned “to take heed lest you fall.” God, in grace, exerts every effort to keep us in the faith. To lead us to a rest that is eternal. A heavenly Canaan of joy in God’s presence.
What shall we do with this warning? Recognize the triple threat of the world around us, the sinful nature within us, and the Lord of this world (Satan) who prowls among us like a ravenous, hungry lion. Let us pray the Lord’s prayer with humble hearts, imploring God to let his kingdom come again and again into our hearts so that his will is done in us (by faith) and that we may finally be “delivered from every evil of body and soul” to our rest in heaven. We “walk in danger all the way,” and are only safe nestled under the wings of God’s gracious care!!
February 10, 2016, Ash Wednesday
Hebrews 3:2-6 God’s House
He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. (NIV)
Are you beginning to sit it – the theme of Hebrews? Jesus is better. The best. The greatest. Better than angels. Even better than Moses. As Christians this may come as no surprise to you. But there is probably no person more important to a faithful Jew than the man the Bible calls the “most humble” of all men. Moses set aside the riches of Egypt. His place in Pharaoh’s palace. An adopted heritage of power and prestige and earthly glory. He did it to be “faithful in God’s house.” It meant hardship. It meant danger. It meant criticism from God’s people. It meant 40 years of wandering in the Sinai wilderness because of the faithless rebellion of the people he had led out of slavery and bondage.
But Jesus is better. Worthy of more honor. Worthy of eternal and absolute glory, worship and praise. Moses was a “servant in all of God’s house.” Christ is “faithful as the Son over God’s house.” This is a contrast that could then (and still today?) shock a Jew. Better than Moses? Really? But Jesus not only is the eternal and divine Son. In his humanity he came to redeem the world from the guilt and punishment of sin. He became our brother. Those whom God has chosen and brings to faith become a part of the household of God. We are called members of the family of God, living stones, brothers and sisters of Jesus and sons and daughters of the king. We are, indeed a royal priesthood, kings and priests before God.
None of this have we earned. In love God’s Son paid the price for our adoptions. The price was a humble and sacrificial life and the sacrifice of his very self on the cross and in the pains of hell. THIS Moses could not do. This no human prophet of any faith, far and near, has done. Jesus has done it. God – Father, Son, and Spirit – lives in us. We are his dwelling place. We are the very house of God. How great God’s love! How great our place in the world!
February 5, 2016
Hebrews 3:1 Fixing our Thoughts on Jesus
Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. (NIV)
Context is important. By ignoring the verses around a text or the broader context of the book or even of the time and history we can come to the wrong understanding of what God is saying. But some verses stand alone. “God so loved the world . . .” John 3:16 is one of those verses. It is a truth that needs no context – always true. And so is this verse. It is always wise and right to “fix your thoughts on Jesus.”
But that does not mean it is easy. So many thoughts float around in our minds. Our finances crash and our anxiety distracts our focus. We deal with a bad diagnosis and our worries for the future are magnified. We watch the news of the world and stress over our grandchildren’s future. There is ALWAYS something to incite our sinful hearts toward worry and turn us from faith and confidence in the God who loves us with an eternal love.
It is precisely in times of trouble that our God reminds us to focus on Jesus. How can we doubt the love of our God, how can worry be our first and last reaction to the current crisis in our world or our own life? If we can just remember this truth – that Jesus is God’s apostle to us – sent out to assure us of God’s love; that he is our high priest – the One who entered the holy places of heaven with blood, his own blood, we can refocus our anxiety to faith. For this high priest sacrificed himself so that “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.” Sin is our real problem. Sin is the cause of our anxious worry that this life will not turn out well for us. Sin is the cause of God’s anger toward sinners.
And God’s apostle and high priest removes our sin with a spotless life and perfect sacrificial death. With sin removed we can be certain that all things do work for the good of those who love God, who have been “called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8) This is the calling that leads us to confess (acknowledge) Jesus as Savior and Lord. This is the answer to anxiety. Focus on Jesus. Direct your anxious heart and mind towards him.
February 3, 2016
Hebrews 2:16-17 For Abraham’s Descendants
For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them,1 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. (Heb 2:16-17 NIV)
This is a letter, clearly, to those who claim Abraham as their father. They are Hebrews. Once again the writer contrasts angels – but not to Jesus, to the fallen children of men. One wonders what this is about. Were people as obsessed with angels as many are today? (In our culture many who want nothing to do with “organized religion” or even with Jesus seem to have angels on the brain.) Now, angels are important. They serve us. They are God’s holy messengers and agents of good. But they are not Jesus. And they are not the ones for whom Jesus came and died.
Jesus came for the descendants of Abraham. Reading their history, it is clear that those who came from the line of Abraham needed the Savior that God promised the “father of the faithful.” They had a great father but they were not always so great. Sin rippled through the generations of this family. In the history of Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Esau, the 12 sons of Jacob, etc. Clearly these people had “feet of clay.” They are children of fallen Adam and Eve as much as of Abraham, the hero of the faithful.
And Jesus came into their lives, their flesh and blood, their land and political mess. And – into their religious culture. The religious life of the children of Abraham became the life prescribed by God through Moses. It was the blood and sacrifice of the Temple. It was about payment for sins, given daily to God and then, on the high point of the worship year, in one great orgy of blood and sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. On this day, EVERY YEAR, the high priest went into the Holy of Holies (or Most Holy place) behind the curtain to make atonement for the sins of Abraham’s children.
But it was never enough. It was mandated. It taught a lesson that needed to be learned – a lesson about the seriousness of sin and the need for blood as payment. Because it was only a picture of spiritual truth, Jesus came as the reality (cf Colossians 2:17). Since he was going to die for humans and not angels, he took on human flesh. He came into a particular tribe, a line, a family. He came into the line of David. The line of Father Abraham.
How great a refreshment this must have been for the parched souls who had been trying, in vain, to keep the Law of Moses, the Law of God, without flaw. But Jesus did keep the Law flawlessly. And then died and his death became the real Yom Kippur. Good Friday was the last and real Great Day of Atonement. Every fallen child of Abraham can go to bed with the smile of the truly redeemed and forgiven.
What about those who are not physically descended from Abraham. Who are not Jews, but those others called Gentiles (the alien nations or peoples)? It is clear from the promises given to Abraham and from the words of the New Testament (written by Abraham’s children) that the blessings Jesus won for the Jews are also the blessings that belong to every believer. It is by faith that the true children of Abraham are counted. Jesus took on our flesh as well as theirs. How great our Father!. How merciful and faithful His only Son!