Monday, December 31, 2012

Hebrews 9:15-17

Summary retelling of Hebrews 9:15-17

Through His death, Jesus Christ is the mediator of the second covenant.  Those covered by His death can receive an eternal inheritance in the second covenant knowing that their transgressions according to the first covenant are redeemed.  For example, think about a legal will.  In order for a person’s will to come into effect, the person must first die.  In the same way, each of the covenants with God is inaugurated through death.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
The word mediator is a very interesting word in this passage.  It literally means “One who helps two parties come to an agreement.”  Of course, that’s exactly what a mediator does.  However, what is interesting is how this applies to our spirituality.  The “two parties” that Christ helps come to an agreement are God and human beings.  God demands righteousness, which we as human beings cannot give.  Human beings need forgiveness, which God can provide but only through atonement.  Christ brings atonement on our behalf so that we can be forgiven; He brings atonement so that we can be righteous and acceptable to God.  Literally, Christ is the mediator and doing far more than a mediator typically does.  It is Christ who Himself satisfies the needs of both parties.

Do you really believe Christ did it all?  Can you explain this idea to another person?

Second Thought:
 Again we see the author of Hebrews’ perspective on how each of the covenants work.  We see that the first covenant points out our transgressions.  The first covenant tells us where we have transgressed.  The first covenant shows us why we need someone like Jesus Christ to die for our sake.  The second covenant is brought about through Jesus death.  The second covenant resolves the transgressions of the first covenant and then extends an inheritance of eternal salvation to those under the second covenant with God.

Given what the author says here, does it make sense to believe that anyone can be saved through the first covenant?  Is the point of the first covenant even to save?  If  not, why do people try and believe that it is possible to be saved through the Law?  If we can’t be saved through the Law, what is the point of being obedient, then?

Third Thought:
At the end of this passage we have a bit of a confusing shift in topic when the author speaks about wills.  If you think about it, a will is just a specific type of covenant that comes into effect when a person dies and they can no longer act out their desires themselves.  After the person dies, their estate is handled according to their wishes.  In a sense, this is what happens with Christ.  When Christ died, His estate – which had been given to Him by God – is handled according to His desire.  That is, forgiveness is extended to mankind and salvation is given to all who genuinely receive it.

Have you ever thought of Jesus’ death as an event which makes His “will” take effect?  Does it make sense to think of salvation as His estate which is handed our as an inheritance to those who are a part of His family like we would see in a will?  Why can this be a helpful analogy in explaining why Jesus had to die and how we receive salvation?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 9:18-22

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Hebrews 9:11-14

Summary retelling of Hebrews 9:11-14

Now we will talk about Christ, who has come as the high priest of the new covenant.  He has come to serve in the true temple of God – that which is not made by the hands of mankind.  Christ entered into the most high place through the sacrifice of His own blood – not through the blood of animals.  The redemption He brings is eternal because He shed His own blood.  After all, if the blood of goats and sheep can purify the outside, then the true sacrifice of an innocent human being should be able to purify more than the sacrifice of an animal.  Through Christ’s death and the influence of the Holy Spirit we are purified from our dead works into the service of the living God.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Christ has come to serve in the heavenly temple of God.  Contrast this point with the point that the author of Hebrews has been making over the studies of the past few days.  The earthly temple/tabernacle of the Jews was a human construction project.  It is a symbolic representation of God’s throne.  Christ did not come to serve in the symbolic temple, He came instead to show us the way to the real thing.

Have you ever wondered why it is that Jesus – a high priest of God and the holiest person who has ever lived – never spent much time around the Jewish temple?  How does this passage help us understand why Jesus spent so much time with the people outside the temple?  What was Jesus’ point?

Second Thought:
Jesus gave His own blood as a sacrifice.  He gave His own life.  He was killed – crucified, even – for the sake of humankind.  He died so that we might know the way to salvation.  He died so that we could know eternal salvation.  Jesus is able to enter into the heavenly temple of God because He forfeited His own life in exchange for doing God’s will.

What can we learn about Jesus in this passage?  What example does Jesus set for us?

Third Thought:
The point that the author makes about purification is also fairly significant.  If the blood of goats and the blood of sheep can symbolically point us to God’s forgiveness, then certainly the actual blood of Christ can do more than symbolically point us to God’s mercy.  Christ’s blood can truly purify us.  The Holy Spirit can indeed affect change within us.  We do not put our trust in symbolic sacrifices reminding us of God’s love.  We put our trust in God’s actual plan of salvation: He gave Himself for our sake.

How does this point answer the question about why we no longer have to partake in animal sacrifices?  How does the Holy Spirit affect change in you?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 9:15-17

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Hebrews 9:6-10

Summary retelling of Hebrews 9:6-10

Under the first covenant, only the priests could go into the Holy place and only the high priest could go into the Most Holy place – and even then only once a year.  Even when the high priest did go in, he had to kill something and bring its blood as a sacrifice for his guilt and the guilt of the people.  Symbolically, this was a sign that the holy places were not yet open to the people.  This is also a sign that the gifts and offerings (sacrifices) cannot truly affect the inner spirit of the person who is offering the gifts; instead these simply deal with the external until the time of purification comes.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
As we carry on in the author’s description of the differences between the first and second covenant, we arrive at the fact that the holy place is closed off to the regular people.  Only one tribe out of twelve (and that’s not even counting the Gentiles) could go in there.  And with respect to the holiest of places, only one person on the face of the earth could go in there!  God was teaching us the consequences of our sin: separation from God.

How often do you think about the fact that your sinfulness has consequences?  How often do you think about the fact that your sin literally separates you from God?  How often do you give thanks to God for sending us Jesus so that the separation could be bridged?

Second Thought:
The fact that there was a barrier from the people also reminds us that the first covenant was temporary.  God’s work had not yet been completed because God was not yet approachable.  The first covenant was about the barrier between us and God.  However, when Christ died on the cross and the temple curtain was torn, the most holy place was no longer set apart.  Through Christ’s death, God became approachable.

Do you think about how privileged you are to be able to come to God?  Do you think about the time in the future when all think will be made new and we will dwell in God’s literal presence?  What do you think about with respect to that time?

Third Thought:
Perhaps the most significant difference from our perspective is that the sacrifices of the first covenant did not change the inner person.  The sacrifices covered up guilt, but it did not change us as people.  Christ’s death – and perhaps most significant, the coming of the Holy Spirit – changes who we are at a fundamental level.  Although it is important to remember that while we are different with the Holy Spirit, we are not yet without sin.  We are changed, but not transformed perfectly.

Do you think much about how you are privileged to have access to the Holy Spirit within you?  How would you be different without the Holy Spirit?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 9:11-15

Friday, December 28, 2012

Hebrews 9:1-5

Summary retelling of Hebrews 9:1-5

The first covenant did have a place for ritual holiness.  There was a tent (tabernacle) that was divided into two sections.  The first section – the Holy Place – had some holy things such as the lamp stand and the table that held the Bread of the Presence.  The second section – the Most Holy Place – was behind a curtain and it held the altar of incense, the ark of the covenant, manna from the wilderness, Aaron’s staff, and the tablets of the Law given to Moses.  Above the Ark were the figures of the cherubim and the mercy seat.  These things had been lost in captivity, so they are no longer present.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Before we go too far into this section, we need to make sure that we start in the right frame of reference.  All of the things mentioned in this chapter were ordained by God.  They were given to Moses by God.  Therefore, as we talk about these things today and tomorrow we need to remember that they are instituted by God Himself.  As such, they are not bad things.  They are not wrong.  That which God gives serves a purpose.

Why do we need to pause and remember that the Old Testament rituals are given by God?  Do we as human beings tend to think that “our way is better” and other things are lesser?

Second Thought:
We have to remember that although these things are instituted by God they are performed by human beings.  The tabernacle was built by human beings.  The priests who served within the buildings were human beings.  Although these things were instituted by God, the human influence upon them makes them also inherently flawed.  (And yes, the same is true about our New Testament “churches,” too).  Human beings inherently have a corrupting nature on all things – even things instituted by God.

Why is it also important to remember that we as human beings have a corrupting influence upon the things that God Himself designs?

Third Thought:
Furthermore, this earthly reconstruction had certain flaws inherent in its nature.  Because it was made of earthly material, it can only ever be in one place at a time.  It would need repair from time to time.  But perhaps the biggest flaw is that it was purely a symbolic place.  Each of the items within the room symbolized spiritual truth.  The sacrifices on the altar didn’t make forgiveness, they symbolized forgiveness.  The bread on the table didn’t sustain the twelve tribes of Israel; they symbolized the fact that God sustained them.  The lamp stand didn’t give light to the world, it symbolized that God was the light in the world (even through the Hebrew people).  Although the tabernacle was instituted by God, it is at best a symbol of truth.  (And for the record, the same thing is true about much of our New Testament “churches.”)

Why is it important to remember the symbolic nature of worship?  What do we gain by reminding ourselves that it is only a symbolic act of true relationship with God which is to come in heaven?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 9:6-10

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hebrews 8:10-13

Summary retelling of Hebrews 8:10-13

In continuing the quote from Jeremiah, we hear that the New Covenant from God will be that He puts His law into our minds and hearts.  It will not be an external influence, but an internal one.  Furthermore, God promises then that He will be their people and the people of the New Covenant will be His people.  God will be so present with us that we will not need to teach one another to know the Lord.  People will all know Him simply through His presence in our life.  God promises to be merciful to us and forgive our sins.  This second covenant makes the first covenant no longer valid.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
God will put His Law into our hearts.  God will be an internal influence upon us.  No longer will the Law be something external that we can ignore at will.  God will be inside of us, guiding us.  He will be our God from the inside out!  I don’t know about you, but I believe that this sounds just like the coming of the Holy Spirit – which Jesus Christ promised to us.  Through the Holy Spirit we can say that God has come to dwell within us!

Is the Holy Spirit easy to ignore?  How do you feel the Holy Spirit in your life?  How does it feel to know that God can literally dwell within you?

Second Thought:
God can be present within us.  God’s Holy Spirit can be our true mentor and teacher.  But this does not imply that we will be perfect.  This does not imply that just because we have God within us that we will no longer sin.  After all, does not Jeremiah (and therefore the author of Hebrews) tell us that God will forgive our sins?  Does it not tell us that God will be merciful towards our iniquities?  If we will be perfect when God comes and dwells within us, why would He need to be merciful towards our iniquities and forgiving of our sins?  No, the truth is that even under the New Covenant we will still be sinful.  But with God within us, we will be driven to humbleness before our God and driven towards repentance – a true internal repentance.

How does it make you feel to think about yourself as a sinner even though you can have God dwelling within you?  How does (or should) this knowledge drive you towards the cross and the forgiveness that comes through it?

Third Thought:
We must be careful how we read verse 13.  Some Bible translations use the word “obsolete.”  For the record, that can be a correct translation.  But when we hear words like obsolete, we have a tendency in today’s modern culture to think that we can throw it away.  This word doesn’t mean that we can discard the Law.  No, the author never makes that case.  What the author is saying is that we should discard (or see as obsolete) is the belief that that salvation comes through the Law.  That understanding is absolutely obsolete.  But the Law still has a function – the same function that over the past two days we’ve seen was actually God’s intent anyway.  The Law reveals our sin and exposes our need for Christ.

I asked this a few days ago, but it is worth repeating.  Why is it so easy for us to want to discard the Law and not worry about having to be obedient?  Why is it so easy for us to simply focus on grace all the time?  What is the danger in that approach to life?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 9:1-5

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hebrews 8:8-9

Summary retelling of Hebrews 8:8-9

We can see God’s true perspective on the Law in the Old Testament (Jeremiah31:31-34).  God says that there will be a day coming when He will create a New Covenant with His people.  This covenant will not be like the covenant that He made with the Hebrew people when they came out of Egypt (IE, the Law).  They broke that covenant.  They showed no regard for that covenant.  Since they disregarded that covenant, God disregarded them.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
It is important to understand the role that the Old Testament plays in the theology of Christ.  It would be one thing for us to say, “We believe Christ said this about the Old Testament, therefore things changed.”  But if that’s all we did, then we’d be no better than someone who came along and said, “We believe ____ said this about Christ’s words, therefore things have changed.”  But if we can go back into the Old Testament and illustrate how the Old Testament supports New Testament theology, we can give New Testament theology a much more stable base.  New Testament theology doesn’t become the next “new thing on the block.”  New Testament theology becomes a fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament.  Rather than it being something new, it can be seen as a completion of the former.

When you think about the two Testaments, do you think of them as separate entities?  Do you think of them as something promoting a uniform message?  Or do you think of them as two separate entities with a drastic change in the middle?  Why do you think of them as you do?

Second Thought:
God talks about a New Covenant.  Remember how the reading from yesterday ended?  If the first covenant was able to accomplish everything, why would we even need a second covenant?  Since this is God telling us about His desire for a second covenant, we know that it had to have been His plan all along.  God knew that the first covenant would not solve anything.  Rather the first covenant would teach us and prepare us to understand why we need a second covenant.  The first covenant would set the example and demonstrate how broken we are.  The second covenant would actually solve the issues that the first covenant exposed.

How does this “first covenant exposes our problems” while the “second covenant solves our problems” approach help show how the Old and New Testaments are not two different stories at all but one fluid story made up of two parts?

Third Thought:
God is clear about the fact that the Hebrew people could not keep the first covenant.  For the record, that’s not a polemical statement against Hebrew people.  The truth is that no human being regardless of race or creed or color can keep the Law.  But since it was given to the Hebrew people, they are the “example” or the “test case.”  They broke the first covenant.  They exposed humanity’s inability to keep the Law.  They demonstrated the truth about all of us: we all are in desperate need of a second covenant that we cannot break.

How are you guilty of breaking the first covenant?  In what ways do you not live up to God’s desire for your life?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 8:10-13

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Hebrews 8:6-7

Summary retelling of Hebrews 8:6-7

Since Jesus Christ is in heaven with God and not in the earthly copy, the ministry that He initiated is superior to the worldly example.  In fact, the covenant that Jesus Christ acts upon is also better.  After all, if the first covenant had been able to enable true and genuine righteousness, why have a second covenant at all?

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Jesus’ ministry is superior.  Logically, if we remember what we said yesterday this makes sense.  The temple and the priests who served in the temple were merely copies – or an example – of the spiritual process.  In a sense, they were an analogy to the spiritual since we cannot see the spiritual.  We know that all analogies are inferior to the concept the analogy is trying to explain.  Every analogy breaks when it is stretched too far.  Thus, it really does make sense to say that the priests under the Law are not superior to Christ but Christ is superior to them.  That doesn’t mean they weren’t important – it just means that Jesus Christ and His ministry is even more important.

Do you struggle with the idea of understanding how Jesus is superior to the Old Testament priests – yet at the same time accepting how the Old Testament priests are still important in preparing us to understand the work of Christ?  Why do we as human beings have a tendency to immediately downplay anything that isn’t of the utmost importance?

Second Thought:
In this passage we will begin to talk about covenants.  A covenant is an agreement between two (or more) people in which things are promised.  God promises salvation through His presence with us.  What do we promise?  What can we promise?  In righteousness or in sin, we can promise to be humble before our God.  But the reason that this covenant is better is because the covenant is based completely on God’s action.  God saves us.  God brings us to repentance.  Since God is capable of doing all the work, it cannot fail.  All we must do is be humble before our Lord and receive what God does with and for us.

What does it mean to you to hear that the covenant we have through Jesus is better than the covenant the Hebrew people had through the Law?  Can you explain the difference between the covenants and how one is completely based on God’s work while the other is based on man’s work?

Third Thought:
The author makes a point that we’ve already heard, but it is so significant that it is worth repeating.  The covenant made through the Law cannot make anyone perfect.  The Law is not strong enough to keep us from sinning.  The Law can only point out where we do sin.  As generation after generation of human beings proves, we cannot choose to live righteously even when we know we should.  Therefore, we have every reason to look for a new covenant – one that is based on God’s action and not our own action.

Why is this such an important point?  Why is it important for followers of God to understand that we cannot choose righteousness on our own?  Why is it important for us to realize that we need a covenant that is entirely based upon God’s work?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 8:8-9

Hebrews 8:3-5

Summary retelling of Hebrews 8:3-5

The point of being a priest is to offer gifts and sacrifices to God, thus it makes sense that Jesus offered gifts and sacrifices as well.  Jesus is not on the earth, because the Law only has a provision for the lineage of Aaron to serve as priests.  Such earthly priests serve a duplication of the real temple of God, as the temple here was build according to the instructions given to Moses when he was on Mount Sinai.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Here we have another difference between the high priests of the Law and the high priest of Jesus Christ.  The priests under the Law offered sacrifices of animals over and over and over.  Jesus offered Himself once and then kept that promise.  This goes a long way to speak to the model He set for us.  God doesn’t desire the sacrifice of external things; He desires we offer ourselves to Him in obedient service and devotion to Him.

What does it feel like to know that He is the only sacrifice we need?  Why should we then focus on devotion?

Second Thought:
The fact that we know Jesus is serving God’s purposes in heaven also challenges us to understand the place of the Law.  The Law teaches us to appreciate the need for a sacrifice – a sacrifice God makes available in Jesus.  But the Law also demonstrates just how much Jesus wasn’t meant for worldly service in the temple.  He wasn’t of the line of Aaron.  Thus, Jesus serves as a priest in an eternal capacity, serving God’s purposes in heaven having completed His work here on this earth.

Do you ever wish that Jesus was still on this earth?  Do you ever wish you could see Jesus face to face?  What do you think it will be like to get to heaven and be in the presence of God and Jesus?

Third Thought:
The author of Hebrews here indicates that the temple in Jerusalem is a “reproduction” of God’s heavenly temple.  At the very least, he speaks of the temple as a duplication of God’s instructions.  This isn’t really meant as an insult.  Rather, the author of Hebrews is trying to show that the earthly temple and the Law’s provision for priests is an example of what we cannot see: the heavenly realm.  Thus, the Law provides a means for us to see in the flesh what Jesus did from a spiritual perspective.  In other words, the priests offer sacrifices to teach us about why sacrifice is important so that when we hear about Jesus we are prepared to understand what He did for us.

What does this passage really teach us about how we should perceive the Law and it’s allocations for priests?  Although certainly not perfect, what can we learn from the Old Testament priests and their duties?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 8:6-7

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hebrews 8:1-2

Summary retelling of Hebrews 8:1-2

All of the study up until now points to the fact that we have a high priest seated at the right hand of God in heaven.  He ministers in the truly holy space.  He is in a place of God’s design, not human design.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Notice the verb that describes the action of Jesus Christ in heaven.  He is seated.  Forgive me if this point is a bit overstated and perhaps not completely in the intent of the author.  However, Jesus is seated in heaven.  Why would Jesus be seated?  His work is complete.  He’s done His job.  He came to earth, died on the cross, and saved all of humanity.  He’s done with what God asked Him to do.  In my opinion, He’s due for a seat besides the Father!

Have you ever thought about Jesus being seated?  What does it mean to you that Jesus’ work is complete?

Second Thought:
Notice that the place where Jesus sits is on a throne at the right hand of God.  The priests of the lineage of Aaron – the priesthood prescribed by the Law – served before God rather than at His right hand.  For that record, they always worked in the temple rather than sat, too.  The author is speaking about the greatness of Christ and how different He is compared to the priests of the Law.  Christ’s work – when done – allows Him to sit at the right hand of God because He is the only priest to officially finish His work.

What does it mean to you that Jesus sits at the right hand of God?

Third Thought:
The author of Hebrews makes one other really neat point.  Jesus is in a place of God’s design: heaven.  All the other priests worked in a place of human design: the temple in Jerusalem.  Jesus is in a truly holy place because it is all about God.  Human beings work in a place that should be about God – and Lord willing most of the time it is – but we bring our humanity with us when we come into it.

When you think of the holiness of heaven, what do you think about?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 8:3-5

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Hebrews 7:26-28

Summary retelling of Hebrews 7:26-28

We confess that our high priest is holy, innocent, unstained, separate from sinners, and exalted in the heavens.  He had no need to make a sacrifice for His own sinfulness as the priests under the Law (from the line of Aaron) do.  He also doesn’t need to offer daily sacrifices for His people either, since that was handled once for all through His death on the cross.  After all, the Law appoints people who are sinners to be priests; but God asked His perfect Son to die for the sins of all those who are in Him.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Look at the list of attributes for Jesus.  Holy: different, separate, of an entirely different nature.  Innocent: blameless, free from sin, not deserving of death.  Unstained: without blemish, perfect.  Separate from sinners: unique among mankind, sent for a specific purpose. Exalted in the heavens: praised even among the divine realms for the work He has done.  I can’t help but read through that list of attributes and feel unworthy.  I can’t also help but feel grateful because of my unworthy state.

Which of those attributes speaks the loudest to you right now?  Why do you think that attribute jumps out at you where you are in your life right now?

Second Thought:
He had to make no sacrifice for Himself.  He was sinless.  He was unblemished.  There was no sin within Him that needed to be covered.  Contrast that with the priest of the Law.  Contrast that with the pastors, ministers, and priests of today even!  Everyone – even the holy ones among us – has sins that must be covered by Jesus.  But Jesus did not sin.  He was in perfect communion with the Father.  That relationship had to be simply amazing.

Do you ever wish your relationship with the Father was like Christ’s relationship with the Father?  What prevents you from being that close all the time?  Why is it important to remember what role our sinfulness plays in our life?

Third Thought:
He died.  He died upon the cross.  He died not for His sake; He died for our sake.  He made atonement for our sin upon that cross.  Because of His death, we don’t need to continue to make sacrificial blood offerings to God.

Stop for a second and think how much Jesus’ death on the cross has changed things in your life.  How different would your life be had Jesus not come and died? 

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 8:1-2

Hebrews 7:20-25

Summary retelling of Hebrews 7:20-25

We draw near to God through Jesus Christ; we can draw near to God because of the oath.  Jesus Christ is a priest forever.  All the other priests were made priests because of their lineage.  When they died, the priestly torch was just passed along.  But Christ is a guarantor of a better covenant because He is always the high priest.  There were many other priests under the Law – and the priestly duties were always changing hands.  We can rely upon Christ because the priestly duty offered to Him will never leave His hand.  Thus, He is able to save those who hear God’s call and draw near to Him because He is, was, and always will be a priest and capable of interceding for us.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
I really like the point made in these verses that the high priesthood was passed along in the ancient days from one priest to the next.  This had to happen, of course, because people die.  The titles and roles and power had to be passed along.  However, this also shows us the difference in perspective.  The old system was focused on this life.  The system under Christ is focused on the life to come.  Sure, we may change pastors and other spiritual influences throughout our life.  But we never change our priest: Jesus Christ.  He is our priest now, and He will be our priest in the life to come as well.

Do you live life with an eternal perspective?  Do you make choices based on what is good for you now or what will be good for you forever?

Second Thought:
This is indeed a better covenant.  This covenant will never go away.  That doesn’t mean that there was anything necessarily wrong with the first covenant.  It was a covenant given in anticipation.  In other words, they were waiting for god’s Messiah.  It is always harder to live in anticipation for something than to live with knowledge about it because it is in the past.  While we are indeed blessed to live in this age knowing what God has done for us through Jesus, that doesn’t mean that we should look down on the people of the first covenant who were anticipating the coming of Jesus Christ.

Do you ever consider how much different your faith is because you live after Jesus came?  How lucky are you to live knowing about Jesus rather than living in anticipation of Him?  Do you live up to your potential that God has for you with respect to living while knowing about Jesus?

Third Thought:
Jesus is always to intercede for us.  There is no need to turn to another, ever.  We’ll never run out of Jesus.  We’ll never reach the end of His ability to save.  Sure, we might run out of our ability to repent.  We might tire of Jesus when we think we’ve seen it all or done it all or we might have our perspective get distracted.  But the reality is that He will never tire of us and He will never run out of saving grace.

What does it mean for you to understand that Jesus cannot run out of saving grace?  What does it mean to you that Jesus will always be your high priest?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 7:26-28

Friday, December 21, 2012

Hebrews 7:15-19

Summary retelling of Hebrews 7:15-19

Again we have another distinction between the priesthood of Melchizedek and the priesthood of the Law.  The priesthood of Melchizedek is based on indestructible life, not on the authority of the Law.  We know that the Law has made absolutely nothing perfect, and therefore with respect to salvation it is weak and useless.  This is why we turn to our hope in Jesus Christ, because of what God has displayed that He can do through Him.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
In this passage we hear that the law is weak and useless.  It is important to hear this passage in the way that it is meant to be heard.  Since the Law has made nothing perfect, salvation cannot come through it.  Since salvation cannot come through it, it is pointless to base our hope in salvation in our ability to keep the Law.  Nobody will ever be able to be saved because of their ability to keep the Law.  In this respect (and this respect alone) the Law is weak and useless.

If we know that we cannot be saved through our obedience to the Law, why do we still live as though we could be saved if we could just be obedient to the Law?  Why is so much of our way of living associated with our attempts at trying to be perfect?

Second Thought:
We also hear that the priesthood of Melchizedek is based on indestructible life.  Of course, we know that Melchizedek died, but we also know that we are never told of an end to his lineage of priests.  We do know that Jesus, who is said to be in the order of Melchizedek, was absolutely able to conquer death.  Death tried to conquer Jesus, but God was more powerful than it.  We can say with confidence that the order of Melchizedek is based on an indestructible power that even death cannot touch.

Why is it important that Jesus was able to conquer death?  What does it say about God and His power if even something like death cannot stop His ability to give life?

Third Thought:
We are told that our hope in Jesus is a better hope.  Rather than having our hope rest on something that has never been able to do what people believed it could do – that is, make a person righteous – our hope is based on what God died through Jesus Christ – that is, conquer death.  We know we will never be righteous.  We know that we cannot be absolutely obedient to God.  We know that no matter how hard we try, we will get things wrong even if we know the Law backwards and forwards.  However, if we believe that God is at work in us through Jesus Christ, then we can have the hope that what God did in Christ God can also do in us.  We may not be able to make ourselves righteous, but God do what we cannot.  God can make us righteous if we just turn to Christ.

Can you explain why Jesus is a better hope than the Law in your own words?  How does our belief in Jesus Christ “take the pressure off of us?”  Does that mean that we have the freedom to slack off?  How should we respond to God’s grace?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 7:20-25

Hebrews 7:11-14

Summary retelling of Hebrews 7:11-14

If people could be made perfect under the Law given to Moses, then what is the point of having another priest come in the line of Melchizedek rather than continue through a line that already works?  However, since we see a change in priesthood, we also have a change in the means of perfection (or Law).  It is clear that Jesus never served at an altar, although He was descended from Judah (and thus of David).  Moses and the Law says nothing about a priest coming from the line of Judah.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
The opening verse in this passage is incredibly powerful.  If we could be perfected through the Law, then what point is Jesus?  This is really huge to understand the importance of being Christian and not Jewish.  While both believe in the same God, one is fundamentally based on being able to become perfect through the Law while the other is based on only being able to be made perfect through Jesus Christ.  It really does come down to the fundamental belief of whether or not we can work ourselves into perfection or if we admit we have no ability to do so and thus depend fully and completely upon God’s action.

It really gets us down to the fundamental question.  Can I make myself perfect through my choices?  Do you believe that you can be absolutely obedient to God this side of the resurrection?  If you have any chance of making yourself worthy, what point does Jesus Christ serve?

Second Thought:
If we acknowledge a need for Christ, we fundamentally acknowledge a change in the purpose of being religious (IE, a change in how we are made perfect).  If the old system really worked, then one came to temple and made the sacrifices because we could make ourselves perfect through our ability to sacrifice out of what we own.  However, the new system acknowledges that we can’t make ourselves perfect through any kind of sacrifice.  In fact, we don’t even own the things we would sacrifice anyways.  We have been given everything by God, so at best we aren’t making a sacrifice but rather returning to God what is already His.  The new system acknowledges that we must rely fully on Christ, because everything God always comes from Him, first.

Do you believe everything you have is ultimately God’s?  How does such a belief change how we live?

Third Thought:
Just because the system changes, doesn’t mean that we have the right to ignore everything in the past, either.  We might argue that perfection doesn’t come through obedience to the Law – and it doesn’t.  We who are in Christ are set free – but we are not set free to do anything we please.  We are not free to sin.  We are free to be obedient to God’s will.  Knowing and obeying God’s law is one way that we can get to know God’s ways.  We simply have our relationship with the Law altered.  Rather than relating to the Law because we believe salvation comes through it, we relate to the Law as a response to our salvation through Jesus Christ.

Why is it easy to hear arguments like we have here in Hebrews and want to throw out the Law and only consider the teachings of Jesus Christ?  Can you put our changed relationship with the Law in your own words?  Why do you need to be in a relationship with God’s Law?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 7:15-19

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Hebrews 7:7-10

Summary retelling of Hebrews 7:7-10

Common sense tells us that it is the superior one who blesses the inferior one.  Certainly we can say that Melchizedek was blessed by Abraham when the tithe was given, but how much more can we say that God – who lives – blessed Abraham!  In fact, if we are talking about comparing Levi to Melchizedek, we can say that Levi – a descendant of Abraham – is inferior to Melchizedek because his ancestor was not the superior when Abraham met Melchizedek.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Admittedly, this is a most difficult section of verses to understand.  However, there are some basic points about which we can talk.  First, it makes sense that it is the superior who is the blessing on the inferior.  This is why we have mentors – so that we can learn from someone superior.  This is why we ask experts of a subject to teach that subject in schools.  Certainly the superior is blessed in the teaching – that is of no doubt.  But the relationship is designed to benefit the lesser of the people involved.

How does this section speak to the need for all of us to have spiritual mentors in our lives?

Second Thought:
Part of this section of verses also has to do with “racial” solidarity.  The Jews believe that they are unique in God’s eyes.  And while they certainly were the ones to whom God sent the prophets and the Law in order to prepare the world for the Messiah, they certainly are not the only ones God loves.  This passage shows that even between Abraham and Melchizedek, Abraham was the inferior one.  Superiority and inferiority is not a question of genealogy but of spirituality.

How would you evaluate your relationship with God?  Do you think people in the world would see you as a spiritual superior or a spiritual inferior person?  What do you need to do in order to become (or stay) a spiritually superior person.  {Keep in mind that I don’t mean superior with respect to being better than others.  I mean superior with respect to being better than your own humanity would naturally allow?}

Third Thought:
Part of this section is also an attempt to demonstrate how Melchizedek’s line of priesthood is greater than Aaron’s line (or even Levi’s line).  If Abraham – who fathered Levi and was an ancestor of Aaron – was blessed by Melchizedek, then Melchizedek must have been a great spiritual person whether his priesthood was “traditional” in the sight of the Jews or not.  The author’s point is not so much in putting down the Jews as it is in exalting Christ.  It is one thing to say that you belong to Aaron’s priesthood.  But if Melchizedek was able to bless the ancestor of Aaron, then those who come after Melchizedek and follow his spiritual pattern – specifically, Jesus – must likewise be great!

When you think about Jesus, do you think of Him as a priest?  Do you think of Him as having a priestly heritage?  Why is it important to think of Him not just as a priest but as a great priest?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 7:11-14

Monday, December 17, 2012

Hebrews 7:4-6

Summary retelling of Hebrews 7:4-6

We are then reminded how great Melchizedek was in order for Abraham to give him a tenth of all his spoils of conquest.  The priests from the line of Levi (or Aaron, as the case may be) receive their tithe because the Law demands it of the Jews.  Melchizedek received from Abraham not because Abraham was ordered to do so but because Abraham was led to do so through the blessing.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
In this passage we begin to talk about something called entitlement.  Entitlement is when you receive something that you believe is owed to you, regardless of whether or not you actually deserve it.  For example, when a person believes they should be able to cut in front of you when you are driving regardless of whether or not there is room for them to occupy that space – that is a person who believes they are entitled to drive where they want to drive.  In the same kind of manner, the Hebrew priests were entitled to their tithe because the Law forced it to be given regardless of their actual worthiness.  {Although please don’t hear me saying that there weren’t worthy priests.  Of course there were some who were absolutely worthy!}

How do entitlement systems make you feel?  Do you ever feel that you are entitled to something – even though you don’t actually deserve it?  What such things evoke a sense of entitlement from you?

Second Thought:
Melchizedek, on the other hand, was not entitled to the tithe.  Abraham was not forced to give it to him.  In fact, Melchizedek’s spiritual obedience to God brought about an attitude of generosity within Abraham.  As Abraham saw God in Melchizedek, Abraham began to sense God within himself.  Following God often leads to obedience in God in others who are in a relationship with God.

How does this system that is described differ from the entitlement system?  In what ways can God be present in this system than how we see the entitlement system work out?

Third Thought:
If we think about it, this response from Abraham to Melchizedek mirrors exactly what we should see in Christ.  Christ came to this earth, and we certainly did not deserve that.  Christ taught us about God; we didn’t deserve that either.  Christ died for us; there’s no way that we deserved that.  Christ rose again, demonstrating God’s ability to conquer death; there’s no way we deserve that, either.  Just like Abraham was not entitled to receive a blessing but he received one anyway from Melchizedek, we have also received a blessing from God through Christ to which we are not entitled.

So the question then becomes – how do we respond to this?  Because we are not entitled to it, we must ask ourselves: how can we respond to God’s generosity?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 7:7-10

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hebrews 7:3

Summary retelling of Hebrews 7:3

Melchizedek is without father, mother, or genealogy as recorded in the Bible.  He has no beginning or end to His life as recorded in the Bible.  He is like the Son of God, a high priest forever.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Melchizedek is without father or mother.  Now, clearly Melchizedek had a father and mother, that isn’t up for debate.  He was fully and completely human, so of course he had a father and a mother.  But the point that the author is making is that it isn’t his genealogy that makes Melchizedek great.  What makes Melchizedek great is his service to God, not his lineage.  Clearly this is the same with Jesus.  Jesus’ human heritage was not what enabled Him to be a great sacrifice in accomplishing the will of God.

What does it say to the typical Gentile that Melchizedek was great in spite of his lack of heritage?  How does this help contrast Melchizedek with the typical Jewish priest who had to prove their lineage to Aaron?

Second Thought:
Melchizedek has no beginning or end.  Well, he does.  Again, Melchizedek was fully human.  He was certainly born and he certainly died.  But we don’t have a record of it.  In other words, we don’t have record of Melchizedek’s priesthood beginning or ending.  Literally, we know it did.  Symbolically, though, it is as though scripture is saying that his priesthood has no end.  In this case, again Melchizedek is like Jesus.  Jesus may have died, but His resurrection demonstrates that His priesthood has no end, too.

What does it say to you that there is a pattern for priests of God not based on their birth?  How does it make you feel to know that such a pattern has no ending point?  Does it matter to you that you can join that priesthood regardless of who you are and what you’ve done?

Third Thought:
The author of Hebrews makes a comparison.  We are told that Melchizedek is like a Son of God.  Imagine being referred to as someone who is like the very Son of God!  Yet, we know that through Jesus, we can indeed be Sons of God!

Do you deserve to be a Son (or daughter) of God?  What does it mean to you to know that you can be a Son of God?

Passage for Tomorrow: Hebrews 7:4-6