Wednesday, October 15, 2014

JOY AMIDST TRIALS (James Chapter 1)

James 1:2-4, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

In his response to his insurance company, a man described the events associated with his injuries, “I am writing in response to your request for additional information. In block #3 of the accident form, I put "trying to do the job alone" as the cause of my accident. You said in your letter that I should explain more fully, and I trust that the following details will be sufficient. I am a bricklayer by trade. On the date of the accident I was working alone on the roof of a new six story building.  When I completed my work, I found that I had about 500 pounds of brick left over. Rather than carry the bricks down by hand, I decided to lower them in a barrel by using a pulley which fortunately was attached to the side of the building at the 6th floor. Securing the rope at ground level, I went up to the roof, swung the barrel out, and loaded the bricks into it. Then I went back to the ground and untied the rope, holding it tightly to insure a slow descent of the 500 pounds of brick.  You will note in block #11 of the accident report that I weigh 135 pounds. But to by surprise at being jerked off the ground so suddenly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope. Needless to say, I proceeded at a rather rapid rate up the side of the building. In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming down. This explains the fractured skull, and broken collar bone. Slowed only slightly, continued my rapid ascent, not stopping until the fingers of my right hand were 2 knuckles deep into the pulley. Fortunately, by this time, I had regained my presence of mind, and was able to hold tightly to the rope, in spite of my pain.  At approximately the same time, however, the barrel of bricks hit the ground, and the bottom fell out of the barrel. Devoid of the weight of the bricks, the barrel then weighed approximately 50 pounds. I refer you again to my weight in block #11.  As you might imagine, I began a rapid descent down the side of the building. In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming up. This accounts for the two fractured ankles, and the lacerations of my legs, and lower body area. The encounter with the barrel slowed me enough to lessen my injuries when I fell onto the pile of bricks, and fortunately only three vertebrae were cracked.  I am sorry to report, however, that as I lay there on the bricks, in pain . . . unable to stand . . . and watching the empty barrel six stories above me . . . I again lost my presence of mind and let go of the rope. The empty barrel weighed more than the rope, so it came back down on me, and broke both my legs.  I hope I have furnished the information you have required.” “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). 

Someone has said that life is 10% circumstances, and 90% what we make of them.  “When in trouble and in doubt run in circles, scream and shout,” might be the response of some, but God calls us, as believers, to something better.  He has called us to “joy” (Cf. Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16).  “Joy” is not the same as “happiness.”  Happiness is a worldly commodity that is realized to the extent that one’s circumstances measure up to one’s expectations.  “Joy,” on the other hand, is that Spirit-borne contentment of soul that is sourced ultimately in one’s relationship with God (Cf. Galatians 5:22; Romans 15:13). 

One of the keys to responding to trials in an appropriate way is realizing (i.e. “for you know”; James 1:2) that God has a purpose in them.  An adult will likely react in a different way than an infant when seated in a dentist’s chair for the first time because the adult is cognizant of what is taking place while the infant is not.  The realization of what God is accomplishing in us amidst the trials we face makes a lot of difference in how we respond (Cf. Romans 5:3-4, 8:28).

In trials faith is tested.  Gold is refined by fire (Cf. 1 Peter 1:7).  The heat drives the impurities to the surface where they can be removed.  Trials have a way of bringing “spiritual impurities” to the surface in our lives.  Attitudes, words, and actions--that are inconsistent to who we are in Christ—are made apparent.  Such things are then identified to us by the Spirit through the Word so that they can be put off in the process of spiritual growth into Christ-like maturity.

Andrew Murray was suffering from a terribly painful back, when a woman who was in trouble came to him asking for counsel.  He passed on to her some advice he had just written for himself: “In time of trouble, say: First, He brought me here, it is by His will I am in this place: in that fact I will rest. Next, He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace to behave as His child. Then, He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow. Last, In His good time He can bring me out again--how and when He knows. Therefore say I am here, (1) By God's appointment, (2) In His keeping, (3) Under His training, (4) For His time.”

ACCEPTABLE WORSHIP (Hebrews Chapter 13)

Hebrews 13:15-16, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.  Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

We’ve been created to worship God, man’s chief end being to “glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.”  It is sin that debilitates and prevents us from fulfilling our purpose.  Christ came to rectify that problem, as A. W. Tozer has said, “Why did Christ come? Why was he conceived? Why was he born? Why was he crucified? Why did he rise again? Why is he now at the right hand of the Father? The answer to all these questions is, “in order that he might make worshipers out of rebels; in order that he might restore us again to the place of worship we knew when we were first created” (A.W. Tozer, Worship: the Missing Jewel).

Worship can be defined as “acknowledging God for who He is and what He does in what we say and what we do.”  These two verses speak succinctly two these various aspects.  Worship involves more, much more, than what happens in a “worship center” during a “worship service” under the direction of a “worship leader” on a day set aside for worship.  It is the 24/7 activity of those who “no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:15; Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 10:31).

Acceptable worship is that which is by the Spirit and in accordance with the truth.  “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).  It is by the Spirit that we are empowered and instructed through the Word to worship God in an acceptable manner (Cf. Philippians 3:3; Ephesians 5:18f; Colossians 3:16).

Worship involves both praise and thanksgiving.  These are to be continually offered up to God (Cf. Hebrews 13:15).  The term translated by the phrase “offer up” means “to carry, bring or bear up and so to cause to move from a lower position to a higher position.”  Our praise and thanksgiving our directed upwards to God Himself.  The sacrifice of praise is said to be “the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name” (Hebrews 13:15).  The phrase emphasizes the truth that such praise is borne in us and ushers forth from our lips through the indwelling influence of the Spirit (Cf. Galatians 5:22).  The Spirit of God is the ultimate worship leader (Cf. Philippians 3:3).  It is He that unveils the truth to us and thereby opens our eyes to the glorious and praiseworthy nature of God.  When we are “filled with the Spirit” the worship of God, in praise and thanksgiving, is the result (Cf. Ephesians 5:18; Colossians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:18). 

Acceptable worship is authenticated not just by beautiful words but by beautiful deeds. God is pleased when we “do good” and are ready to “share what (we) have” (Cf. Hebrews 13:16).  Paul, having been blessed by the generosity of the Philippians, understood their gifts to be those given to God in worship: “I have received full payment, and more.  I am well supplied, having received from the Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18).

Andrew Murray commented, “But to do good and to communicate forget not. In our Christian fellowship, and in the world around us, Christ has given us the poor and needy that we may show in them what we would like to do to Him, if He were on earth. Let the Christian study to combine a life with God in the Holiest with lips that praise and confess Him. And this, again, with deeds of love and kindness and Christian help that prove that the Spirit of Jesus is in us, that we are walking in practical fellowship with His self-sacrifice. And let every act of love and kindness be laid at God s feet as a sacrifice to Him. For with such sacrifices God is well pleased. They are to Him a sweeter savor than the sweetest incense. And as we offer them indeed to Him in faith, they will bring our hearts the assurance that we are well-pleasing.”

RUNNING THE RACE (Hebrews Chapter 12)

Hebrews 12:1-2, Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The Christian life is elsewhere likened to a race in Scripture (Cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24; Galatians 5:7; Philippians 2:16).  It is not like a spirit, but a marathon in which endurance is necessary.  Endurance is “a steady determination to keep going.”  It speaks of that characteristic of a person who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and loyalty to the faith by even the greatest trials and sufferings.  The need for “endurance” is in the context of our passage (Cf. Hebrews 10:32, 36, 39; 12:1, 2, 3).

The runner in the race is encouraged by a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).  Who are these folks?  The reference is undoubtedly to those spoken of in the previous chapter, as Kent Hughes explained:  “The scene is a great coliseum. The occasion is a footrace, a distance event. The contestants include the author and the members of his flock and, by mutual faith, us. The cloud of witnesses that fills the stadium are the great spiritual athletes of the past, Hall of Faith members—every one a Gold Medal winner. They are not live witnesses of the event, but "witnesses" by the fact that their past lives bear witness to monumental, persevering faith that, like Abel's faith, "still speaks, even though he is dead" (Hebrews 11:4). (Hebrews- An Anchor for the Soul, Volume 2 Preaching the Word- R. Kent Hughes).

There are encumbrances that work to hinder the runner in the race.  Weight is obviously a big consideration.  The race runners of that day wore little or nothing.  The believer is likewise exhorted to “lay aside every weight” (Cf. Hebrews 12:1).  It is possible for the believer to be weighed down by things that are harmless in themselves but still a hindrance because they hinder progress.  Encumbrances could include such things as material possessions, family ties, love of comfort, etc.  Sadly, we might sometimes be like a man trying to run a marathon while holding a huge over-packed suitcase in each hand.  That’s no way to run in a race!

A more significant obstacle is the “sin which clings so closely” (Cf. Hebrews 12:1).  Encumbrances weigh down, sin entangles.  What kind of sin?  John MacArthur has commented on the matter:  "Obviously all sin is a hindrance to Christian living, and the reference here may be to sin in general. But use of the definite article (the sin) seems to indicate a particular sin. And if there is one particular sin that hinders the race of faith it is unbelief, doubting God. Doubting and living in faith contradict each other. Unbelief entangles the Christian’s feet so that he cannot run. It wraps itself around us so that we trip and stumble every time we try to move for the Lord, if we try at all. It easily entangles us. When we allow sin in our lives, especially unbelief, it is quite easy for Satan to keep us from running.”

One of the important keys to endurance is keeping one’s eyes fixed on the right thing.  Remember the tortoise and the hare?  The hare looked back, and not seeing the tortoise, decided that he could rest for a while.  While he was resting, the tortoise kept plodding towards the goal and eventually won the race.

We are to be “looking to Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).  Peter looked to Jesus and walked on water and began to sink only when he looked away.  “Looking to Jesus,” the Apostle Paul “pressed on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God” (Philippians 3:13-14).  Looking to Jesus—not to ourselves, nor our fellow Christians, nor even our opponents. 

Looking unto Jesus “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).  He is the pioneer of faith, as with those pioneers of old that first established a trail that others could then follow. He is the perfecter of faith--He perfectly fulfilled the demands of faith to the completion of God's will.  William MacDonald has noted that Jesus "not only began the race but finished it triumphantly. For Him the race course stretched from heaven to Bethlehem, then on to Gethsemane and Calvary, then out of the tomb and back to heaven. At no time did He falter or turn back. He kept His eyes fixed on the coming glory when all the redeemed would be gathered with Him eternally. This enabled Him to think nothing of shame and to endure suffering and death.”  He is both the runner’s example and goal.  “May I run the race before me, strong and brave to face the foe, looking only unto Jesus, as I onward go.”

A BETTER COUNTRY (Hebrews Chapter 11)

Hebrews 11:13-16, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”

As many as an estimated one million people immigrate to the United States every year.  They come here supposing that they will find a better life than what was their experience in the country that they left.  They deemed America to be a “better country” and took the necessary steps to get here.  Though far from perfect, we are privileged to live in a country such as ours.  But there is still a far better country than this one.

The readers of this epistle were tempted, under the threat of persecution, to return to their Jewish religion.  The author encouraged them to endure by faith according to the example of the Old Testament patriarchs like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  They lived as strangers and exiles on earth.  By faith they overcame obstacles thinking not of the land they had left behind, but what God had prepared for them.

The believer in Christ is an alien here and a citizen of a better country (Cf. Philippians 3:20).  We enjoy many privileges as citizens of this country, but this world is not our home.  As long as we are here, we “groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:2). 

Jonathan Edwards once addressed the need for us to maintain a heavenward perspective: “God is the highest good of the reasonable creature; and the enjoyment of him is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied.  To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the fountain. These are but drops; but God is the ocean.--Therefore it becomes us to spend this life only as a journey towards heaven, as it becomes us to make the seeking of our highest end and proper good, the whole work of our lives; to which we should subordinate all other concerns of life. Why should we labor for, or set our hearts on, anything else, but that which is our proper end, and true happiness?” (The Works of Jonathan Edwards; Banner of Truth).

The Scottish preacher John McNeill liked to tell about an eagle that had been captured when it was quite young. The farmer who snared the bird put a restraint on it so it couldn’t fly, and then he turned it loose to roam in the barnyard. It wasn’t long till the eagle began to act like the chickens, scratching and pecking at the ground. This bird that once soared high in the heavens seemed satisfied to live the barnyard life of the lowly hen. One day the farmer was visited by a shepherd who came down from the mountains where the eagles lived. Seeing the eagle, the shepherd said to the farmer, “What a shame to keep that bird hobbled here in your barnyard! Why don’t you let it go?” The farmer agreed, so they cut off the restraint. But the eagle continued to wander around, scratching and pecking as before. The shepherd picked it up and set it on a high stone wall. For the first time in months, the eagle saw the grand expanse of blue sky and the glowing sun. Then it spread its wings and with a leap soared off into a tremendous spiral flight, up and up and up. At last it was acting like an eagle again. 

God would have us, as believers, to act like eagles.  Much better to soar into glory than to scratch in the dirt.  It is good to be a heavenly-minded Christian desiring a better country!

WHY GO TO CHURCH? (Hebrews Chapter 10)

Hebrews 10:19-25, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

In this passage the believer in Christ is exhorted to give attention to certain things on the basis of the tremendous advantage that has been availed to him by Jesus.  The phrase “since we have” speaks to the privileged access to God we enjoy (Cf. Hebrews 10:19).  The three “let us” statements speak to how we should respond: “let us draw near” (Cf. Hebrews 10:22); “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope” (Cf. Hebrews 10:23); and “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Cf. Hebrews 10:24).  It has been noted that the three “let us” admonitions deal respectively with the heart, the mouth, and the hands.

It is in this context that we find the oft-quoted reference to the need to be “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some” (Hebrews 10:25).  The context is relevant to the exhortation.  The believer in Christ is one to whom privileged access to “the holy places” has been availed by the blood of Jesus (Cf. Hebrews 10:19).  Not all share in that.  The unbeliever has neither desire nor ability to enter in (Cf. Romans 3:10-11; Ephesians 2:11-12).  But the believer, on the other hand, possesses “boldness and access with confidence through (his) faith in Him” (Ephesians 2:12).  The sin-rebel turned worshiper possesses a Spirit-borne instinct to avail himself of the right of entry Jesus has “opened for us” (Cf. Hebrews 10:20).  The privilege won for us individually is shared by others and together we yearn by the Spirit to worship God. Such was the example of the earliest believers.  Having trusted in Jesus (Cf. Acts 2:41), they henceforth “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship” (Acts 2:42).  Put simply, they loved Jesus and devoted to themselves to those things associated with Him (i.e. His Word and His people).  

The other “let us” admonitions are likewise relevant to the “Why go to church?” (i.e. “why meet together”) question.  There is the need to “hold fast to the confession of our hope” (Hebrews 10:23).   Why do people stop attending church?  It is indeed “the habit of some” (Hebrews 10:25).  We’ve all seen it happen.  Have they not wavered in their “confession of hope?”  They had previously enjoyed the fellowship of believers, but something worked to dissuade and discourage them.  They counted the cost associated with the maintenance of fellowship and deemed it to be too costly.  Tragically, in forsaking fellowship they forsake that very thing that could work to encourage them to “hold fast” (Hebrews 10:23, 25). 

The worshiping community is exhorted to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).  A healthy church is characterized by such practices.  And a sure sign of pending disability in the life of a believer is the failure to apply oneself to these practical aspects of worship.  There is joy to be experienced in the authentic worship which is characterized by serving Jesus in serving others.  The professing believer who is not thereby stirred up is likely to stagnate unto disappointment. 

Why go to church?  Because you, as a believer in Christ, love Jesus and church is the place where you gather with others to worship Him and serve Him.  Why go to church?  Because you love Jesus and that is the place where you go to hear His Word that you might grow in Him.  Why go to church?  Because you love Jesus and you love to meet together with His people.   Fellowship with other like-minded believers is not an obligation to be disdained or avoided, but a privilege to be eagerly taken advantage of.  In these troubled times it is necessary “all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).

ONCE FOR ALL (Hebrews Chapter 9)

Hebrews 9:27-28, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

The sacrifice of Jesus was of a much better nature than the sacrifices offered by the Old Testament priests.  In this chapter the author of Hebrews speaks to this matter.  The Old Testament priest entered into the “holy places every year with blood not his own” (Hebrews 9:25).  Jesus “entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood” (Hebrews 9:12).  The Old Testament priest offered sacrifices that were able only to “sanctify for the purification of the flesh” (Hebrews 9:13).  The blood of Jesus, on the other hand, is able to “purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14).  The Old Testament priests entered only into a holy place made with hands (Cf. Hebrews 9:24).  Jesus entered “into heaven itself” and now resides “in the presence of God on our behalf” (Cf. Hebrews 9:24; 4:14).  The Old Testament made repeated sacrifices (Cf. Hebrews 9:25; 7:27).  Jesus “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Cf. Hebrews 26).  Jesus’ death represents a final “once-for-all” sacrifice for sin.  This phrase is used repeatedly by the author to describe its nature (Cf. Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 9:26; 10:10).  The “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” died on the cross for sins (Cf. John 1:29).  He “who knew no sin” was “made…to be sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  He said, “It is finished” and “bowed up his spirit” (John 19:30).  “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:50).  In suffering “once for sins” Jesus has worked to bring us to God (Cf. 1 Peter 3:18; Ephesians 2:13).

William Vine has commented on this, “Man’s life and work on earth end with death. The results only remain, as determined by divine judgment. So also the death of Christ is final. There was nothing further to be done by sacrifice for sin. The finality of His one offering for sin is corroborated by the analogy of human life. He will return, but to salvation and quite apart from sin. Christ having taken upon Himself human nature, without sin, was offered voluntarily in sacrifice, once, and once only, and now all who believe are delivered from judgment. He will instead bring salvation to them at His appearing. Accordingly, the appearing of Christ for the salvation of His people is set in contrast to the judgment of the unregenerate. That He will appear a second time is the main statement of the last verse.”  (Vine, W. Collected writings of W. E. Vine. Nashville: Thomas Nelson).

The believer in Christ is one who has experienced “eternal redemption” on the basis of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice (Cf. Hebrews 9:12).  Religions suppose that it is somehow possible to earn salvation.  Charles Spurgeon once spoke of the need to trust explicitly in Christ’s finished work, “Great care must be taken that this faith is exercised upon Christ for a complete salvation, and not for a part of it. Numbers of persons think that the Lord Jesus is available for the pardon of past sin, but they cannot trust Him for their preservation in the future. They trust for years past, but not for years to come; whereas no such sub-division of salvation is ever spoken of in Scripture as the work of Christ. Either He bore all our sins, or none; and He either saves us once for all, or not at all. His death can never be repeated, and it must have made expiation for the future sin of believers, or they are lost, since no further atonement can be supposed, and future sin is certain to be committed. Blessed be His name, ‘by Him all that believe are justified from all things.’ Salvation by grace is eternal salvation. Sinners must commit their souls to the keeping of Christ to all eternity; how else are they saved men? Alas! According to the teaching of some, believers are only saved in part, and for the rest must depend upon their future endeavors. Is this the gospel? I trow not. Genuine faith trusts a whole Christ for the whole of salvation.”


Hebrews 8:13, “In speaking of the new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete.  And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”

Something is said to be obsolete when it is no longer in use.  I used to have a typewriter.  It was helpful in preparing documents, but you can rarely find them anymore.  Practically no one uses them.  They are obsolete, having been replaced by personal computers that can do the job much faster and better.  Typewriters have gone the way of slide rules, horse-drawn carriages, eight-track tapes, VHS players, and other such things.  Few feel compelled to use an old thing when there is similar new thing that is better.

The word translated “growing old” in this passage is the Greek term “gerasko” from which we get the English Word “geriatric.”  Both terms speak to that which is related to “growing old.”  In the progress of God’s revelation there is a “first covenant” and a “second” (Hebrews 8:7).  The first was the Mosaic covenant, and though there was nothing inherently wrong with it—the Apostle Paul referred to it as being “holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12)—it was weak and ineffectual because of sin (Cf. Hebrews 7:18-19).  The old covenant is both obsolete and growing old. 

Too many professing believers are stuck in an old covenant way of living when God has availed to us something far superior.  That far superior thing is the new covenant.  The old covenant was limited since it was not able to bring people to perfection.  Its role was to serve as a reminder of sin (Cf. Hebrews 10:3).  It has no ability to impart life (Cf. Galatians 3:21) and served in a limited role as a “guardian until Christ came” Cf. Galatians 3:24).  Through the law sin is “shown to be sin” (Romans 7:13).  In the history of man there has been but One who has perfectly upheld the law—He died for those who couldn’t.

Too many are stuck in an old covenant way of living.  They gravitate to a merit-based approach to their walk with Christ.  To them, Christianity is nothing more than a series of do’s and don’ts and rules and regulations.  But the believer in Christ is one who has been called to a new covenant way of life.  It is no longer we who live, but Christ living in us (Cf. Galatians 2:20).  We live a victorious life by the power of the indwelling Spirit, not by human self-effort.  “For the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot” (Romans 8:7).  J. Vernon McGee summarized the matter this way, “So, my friend, we are not under the Mosaic system.  God says that is an old model and He has brought in a new model…The Law was totally incapable of producing any good thing in man…The Holy Spirit is now able to do the impossible.  The Holy Spirit can produce a holy life in weak and sinful flesh.”

Elwood McQuaid has likewise commented on God’s provision of a new covenant to replace the old: “The key word in Hebrews is better.  The good things of biblical Judaism had been made better in Jesus Christ.  He is better than angels (Cf. Hebrews 1:4).  He is better than Moses (Cf. Hebrews 3:3).  He is better than Aaron (Cf. Hebrews 7:11-22).  His New Covenant is better than the Old (Cf. Hebrews 8:6-13).  Judaism, in the divine plan, had become only a “shadow of things to come” (Colossians 2:17).  Its temporary role gave way to Christ, who transformed the shadow into substance and reared a “greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands” (Hebrews 9:11).  For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24).  In totality, Hebrews emphatically sets forth the departure of the Old Covenant, with its institutions and rituals, in favor of Christ and the New Covenant.  As the Law was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, Judaism, with its sanctuary, sacrifices, services, and ceremonies, served to identify Him.  Once this was done, biblical Judaism had served its lofty purpose.  It was consummated in Christ.”  He is very much better!  The means of salvation availed to us in Him will never grow old or obsolete.

SAVED TO THE UTTERMOST (Hebrews Chapter 7)

Hebrews 7:25, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

The context of this verse has to do with the superiority of Jesus over the “former priests” (Cf. Hebrews 7:23)—the overall context of this section of the book (Cf. Hebrews 4:14-7:28).  There were many of the former priests because they were prevented by death from continuing in office.  By way of contrast Jesus holds his priesthood permanently.  He continues forever (Cf. Hebrews 7:3; 13:8).

There is also, in this context, a glorious description of Jesus in His high priestly role.  He is “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26).  In each of these virtues He was distinctly superior to his former counterparts.  These characteristics likewise set Him apart from every other man and every other religious leader that has ever lived.

He is “holy.”  The term has reference to that which is “’religiously right, holy,’ as opposed to what is unrighteous or polluted” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  Jesus is perfectly righteous of character and righteous in all of HIs ways.  He is “innocent.”  He “knew no sin” and “committed no son” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22).  He never thought a sinful thought, never did a sinful deed, and never uttered a sinful word.  He is “unstained.”  He walked amongst sinners, but remained unstained by sin.  He was “in every respect…tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).  He is “separated from sinners” J. Vernon McGee commented on this: “He is like us, yet unlike us.  He could mix and mingle with sinners, and they didn’t feel uncomfortable in HIs presence, but He was not one of them.  His enemies accused Him of associating with publicans and sinners.  He sure did, yet He wasn’t one of them.  He was separated from sinners.”  He is “exalted above the heavens.”  The former priests were privileged once a year to enter into the holy of holies, but Jesus has “passed through the heavens” (Hebrews 4:14).  The Risen Savior abides in heaven even now and “lives to make intercession” for those who draw near to God through Him (Cf. Hebrews 7:25).

What a Savior!  It is He alone who is “able to save to the uttermost” (Hebrews 7:25).  The term translated “uttermost” means either “forever” or “completely” (the Greek term used can mean both).  The context tends towards the “forever” interpretation of the term, but the “complete” aspect of His salvation is both implied here and elsewhere spoken of.  The salvation provisioned by God through Christ to the believer is no half-hearted salvation.  In every respect salvation has to do primarily with salvation from sin.  It includes three aspects—justification, sanctification, and glorification.  There is justification (i.e. salvation from the penalty of sin).  The repeated sacrifices of the former priests were of limited value (Cf. Hebrews 9:13).  By His “once for all” sacrifice, Christ has worked to secure an internal and eternal cleansing from sin (Cf. Hebrews 9:12, 14).  There is sanctification (i.e. freedom from the practice of sin).  By His sacrifice the believer is cleansed of conscience “from dead works to serve the living God” (Cf. Hebrews 9:14).  There is glorification (i.e. freedom from the presence of sin).  The work of salvation is a miraculous thing.  Something that man could never hope to devise or accomplish.  We all need a Savior, and in Jesus we have One who is preeminently qualified and able (Cf. Hebrews 7:25). 

He is able to save to the uttermost!  J. C. Ryle concluded a sermon on this text with the following invitation: “I would offer counsel, first, to all who are anxious and troubled respecting their soul's salvation, and yet know not what to do.  Reader, if you are such a person, I charge you and entreat you, I beseech you and invite you, to come into the way of which I have been speaking in this tract.  I beseech you to come to God by the old and tried way,--the way of faith in Jesus Christ.  Draw near to God, pleading the name of Jesus.  Begin this very day to cry mightily unto God, in the name of Jesus, on behalf of your soul.  Say not you have anything to plead for yourself.  You have nothing to plead.  Your life, your thoughts, your ways, all alike condemn you.  Say nothing about yourself but this,--that you are a sinner, a great sinner, a guilty sinner, a condemned sinner; but because you are a sinner, you turn to God.  Come unto Him in the name of Jesus, saying, you have heard that through Jesus a sinner may come near Him.  Tell Him that you are a sinner, a great sinner, and an unworthy one.  But tell Him that you come in the faith of His promises, in the confidence of His own Bible invitation; and in the name of Jesus, and for the sake of Jesus, and on account of Jesus, you ask to be received, heard, pardoned, forgiven, and accepted.  Tell Him that you wish to have your name--even that name of yours, connected hitherto with worldliness, thoughtlessness, carelessness, and sin added to the list of God's dear children….”

WELL-ANCHORED (Hebrews Chapter 6)

Hebrews 6:19, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.”

On February 4, 1999, a ship, the New Carissa, was bound for the Port of Coos Bay, Oregon to pick up a load of wood chips.  The ship's crew was informed by the local bar pilots that weather conditions would prevent the ship from entering the harbor until the next morning.  The captain ordered the ship to drop anchor some distance off of the coast in order to ride out the storm.  The crew dropped anchor, but the anchor line was too short.  Heavy winds drove the ship to the shore where it ran aground.  Though no lives were lost, the recovery and cleanup cost tens of millions of dollars.  The New Carissa was provisioned with a suitable anchor, but not being well-positioned it was of no help in the situation.  A “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” has been provisioned by God to the believer in Christ.

We have need of an “anchor of the soul.”  “Sin and despair, like the seawaves cold, threaten the soul with infinite loss” (Grace Greater Than Our Sin).  We face trials and temptations of many kinds.  An untethered soul will inevitably be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 3:14).

The anchor provisioned by God is both “sure” and “steadfast.”  The two terms relate to the nature of the anchor in different ways.  The word “sure” speaks of that which is firm and certain.  The word “steadfast” speaks to the anchor’s security when placed under stress.  The hope of the believing soul is such that it is both firm and unassailable.  It is that because of who God is.  God has promised salvation to the believer.  The believer’s assurance is based on “two unchangeable things” (Cf. Hebrews 6:18)—His promise and His oath (Cf. Hebrews 6:13-18).  Since “it is impossible for God to lie,” we know that in Him we have been provisioned with a suitable and trustworthy anchor.  Charles Spurgeon commented on this, “When a gale is rushing towards the shore, blowing great guns and the vessel cannot hold her course and must surely be driven upon an iron-bound coast, then an anchor is worth its weight in gold!”

An anchor is of no value if it is not laid hold of by means of a rope or cable.  The author of Hebrews spoke to those “who have fled for refuge…to hold fast to the hope set before (them)” (Hebrews 6:18).  How is a soul tethered to the sure and steadfast anchor?  Is it not by faith?  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  Faith “flees for refuge” in the unseen Christ.  It lays hold of him by faith and by faith works to bind one’s self tightly to Him.  No one can be saved apart from it.  And by it the believer experiences both security and stability.

Note the place to which the anchor is secured.  It “enters into the inner place behind the curtain” (Hebrews 6:19).  The well-anchored soul is tethered to heaven itself.  He is bound to heaven’s shore!  And though we face the winds and waves of adversity here, all is calm in that harbor.  Is your soul even now bound by such an anchor to such a glorious place? 

Charles Spurgeon concluded a sermon on this topic with these words, “My cable has grown shorter of late, a great many of its links have vanished.  I am nearer my hope that when I first believed.  Every day hope nears fruition!  Let our joy in it become more exultant.  A few more weeks or months and we shall dwell above!  And while we shall need no anchor to hold us fast, we shall eternally bless that Divine condescension which produced such a holdfast for our unstable minds while tossed upon this sea of care!  What will those of you do who have no anchor?  A storm is coming on!  I see the lowering clouds and hear the distant hurricane!  What will you do?  May the Lord help you at once to flee for refuge to the hope set before you.  Amen.”

And it holds, my anchor holds:
Blow your wildest, then, O gale,
On my bark so small and frail;
By His grace I shall not fail,
For my anchor holds, my anchor holds.
(My Anchor Holds, William C. Martin)

FAT LITTLE BABY (Hebrews Chapter 5)

Hebrews 5:11-13, “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God.  You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.  But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

Soon after I was saved I used to listen to an old Amy Grant song that humorously addressed the concerns of this passage: “I know a man, maybe you know him, too.  You never can tell; he might even be you.  He knelt at the altar, and that was the end.  He's saved, and that's all that matters to him.  His spiritual tummy, it can't take too much.  One day a week, he gets a spiritual lunch.  On Sunday, he puts on his spiritual best, and gives his language a spiritual rest.  He's just a...fat little baby!  Wa, wa, waaaaa....He wants his bottle, and he don't mean maybe.  He sampled solid foods once or twice, But he says doctrine leaves him cold as ice.  He's been baptized, sanctified, redeemed by the blood, but his daily devotions are stuck in the mud.  He knows the books of the Bible and John 3:16.  He's got the biggest King James you've ever seen!  I've always wondered if he'll grow up someday.  He's momma's boy, and he likes it that way.  If you happen to see him, tell him I said, ‘he'll never grow, if he never gets fed’."

The author of Hebrews rebuked his readers since they should have matured in their walk to the point of being able to instruct others.  Instead, the author, though having much to say, was finding it hard to explain certain truths to them (Cf. Hebrews 5:11).  A key word in the passage is “time.”  Enough time had passed for them to be at a collegiate level of spiritual understanding, but they were sadly still in kindergarten.  They should have been able to grasp deeper levels of teaching, but they were stuck on the ABCs of the Christian faith.  They had failed to grasp the need to grow in spiritual maturity and to put into practice the things they had learned.

There is a need for milk.  The Word is compared to milk and we are to long for it like newborn babes (Cf. 1 Peter 2:2).  Milk is essential for one’s growth in Christ but a newborn eventually transitions from milk to solid food.  My 1 and ½ year old grandson made that transition some months ago.  There is something obviously wrong if that transition never takes place.  Milk has to do with “the elementary doctrine of Christ” (Hebrews 6:1; i.e. matters pertaining to conversion).  Solid food has to do with matters pertaining to the “word of righteousness” (Cf. Hebrew 5:13).  Not just the righteousness imputed by faith in Christ, but the righteousness lived out by those “who have the power of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 6:14). 

The mature are those who have put God’s Word into practice.  Because of practice they’ve had “their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Cf. Hebrews 5:13, NASB).  A small child is vulnerable until his or her senses are trained to recognize dangerous situations.  Several touches of a hot stove might be required before it learns to avoid that surface.  The spiritually immature have no capacity to exercise discernment between what is good and bad.  Paul repeatedly rebuked the badly-behaved Corinthians, asking “Do you not know?”  One cannot expect to walk in a righteous way if one is not trained in the “word of righteousness.”  The Word of God is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” but no profit is gained if one has not heart for it (Cf. 2 Timothy 3:16).

Phil Newton has commented on this matter, “Where is your spiritual progress?  I'm not asking you to compare yourself to someone else.  That can be rather unfair and arbitrary. But I am asking you as a believer, what kind of progress are you making in growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ?  The shocking reality among most congregations is that the level of living exposes the level of understanding of God's Word.  When Christ is not evident in our lives it is likely that our hearing has grown dull for the Word of God.  When there is no ongoing passion for Christ then it is because dullness has set in.  When we can flounder around with the world and give in to its lure, then by default we admit that we have "come to need milk and not solid food."  Such admission is that either our faith is weak and possibly faltering; or that our faith has never gotten off the ground in honestly trusting Jesus Christ as our Mediator before God.”

IN TIME OF NEED (Hebrews Chapter 4)

Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

A time of need.  Who doesn’t experience such a thing?  We are needy creatures.  In the world we have tribulation (Cf. John 16:33).  Each day has “its own trouble” (Cf. Matthew 6:34).  So we experience all kinds of needs.  We are confronted by temptations.  We fail in sin.  We face all sorts of needs.  There are soul needs, physical needs, and emotional needs.  There are big needs and small needs.  There are needs which would work to bring us to a degree of despair God alone can understand and sympathize with.  Jesus knows all about our struggles (Cf. Hebrews 4:15).  We are invited, on the basis of His high priestly ministry, to take our needs to the throne of grace.

Men and women of old would approach the thrones of earthly kings with much fear and trepidation lest they displeasure the king and risk their lives.  How is it possible that we, as sinners, could be availed the privilege of confident access to the throne of the thrice-holy God?  In the Levitical system that preceded Christ’s death only the high priest was permitted access to the holy of holies and then only once a year.  The people were excluded.  But Jesus, by means of His sacrifice, has opened up a way of access to God (Cf. Ephesians 2:13, 18).  This was dramatically demonstrated at the cross.  “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.  And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:50-51).  It is “by the blood of Jesus” that the believer can have “confidence to enter the holy places” (Cf. Hebrews 10:19-22).  As the hymn puts it, “No condemnation now I dread: Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!  Alive in Him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine.  Bold I approach the eternal throne” (“And Can It Be?”).

The Greek word translated confidence means “the absence of fear in speaking boldly; hence, confidence, cheerful courage, boldness” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  On the basis of Christ’s shed blood we have the freedom to speak without fear to our Creator God.  We were previously, as rebel sinners, shut off from Him.  But now, by the Spirit, we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15).  He who saved us “according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us,” bids us come to His throne of grace (Cf. Ephesians 1:7b-8).  His throne is according to His nature.  He “gives generously to all without reproach” to those who ask of Him (Cf. James 1:5).  

What can we hope to receive from Him?  Two particular things are mentioned.  The first, “mercy,” has to do with God’s sympathetic response to our need.  It is defined as “the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  From His throne God, who is “rich in mercy” (Cf. Ephesians 2:4), freely dispenses help to us according to His own wisdom and abundant resources.  The second term, “grace,” has to do with God’s unmerited favor.  There is a need for God’s saving grace and then His sustaining grace which is essential to one’s walk and sanctification (Cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9).  Both are freely bestowed apart from any merit on our part.  Though we come to the throne of God with empty hands, we leave abundantly provisioned by the One who is rich in grace and mercy with all that is necessary “to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

One might imagine, in such a needy day as this, that the throne of grace would be much visited by God’s children.  But the evidence suggests otherwise.  The storehouses and God’s grace and mercy bid us come, but we too often look to ourselves or others for assistance.  J. Vernon McGee exhorts us to avail ourselves of God’s gracious invitation: “By the way, have you been to Him today?  What did you tell Him?  Did you tell Him that you love Him?  Did you confess your sins to Him?  Well, why don’t you?  He already knows it, but why don’t you tell Him?  Don’t put up a front to Him.  He already knows that you can come to Him only on His merit.  God to Him with freedom and talk to Him—there is mercy and grace to help in time of need.”

CONSIDER JESUS (Hebrews Chapter 3)

Hebrews 3:1, “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.”

In his book, “God’s Last Word to Man,” G. Campbell Morgan wrote of the tremendous importance of the Book of Hebrews, saying, “The letter of Hebrews has an especial value today because there is abroad a very widespread conception of Christ which is lower than that of the New Testament.”  So, in the letter, the author speaks of the superiority of Christ with respect to: the prophets (Cf. Hebrews 1:1-3), the angels (Cf. Hebrews 1:4-2:18), Moses (Cf. Hebrews 3:1-4:2), Joshua (Cf. Hebrews 5:3-13), the levitical priesthood (Hebrews 4:14-7:28), and the old covenant (Cf. Hebrews 8:1-10:39). 

John MacArthur has commented on this “better” theme: “In this epistle, contrast reigns.  Everything presented is presented as better: a better hope, a better testament, a better promise, a better sacrifice, a better substance, a better country, a better resurrection, a better everything.  Jesus Christ is presented as the supreme best.”

According to this theme, we are exhorted to “consider Jesus” (Hebrew 3:1).  In similar manner we are called upon to “consider him” in Hebrews 12:3.  Two different Greek terms are translated “consider” in these two verses.  The first, in Hebrews 3:1, means “to understand fully, consider closely” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  It is a call by the author for us to fully comprehend the truth regarding who Jesus is.  The second, in Hebrews 12:3, is a strengthened form of a term meaning to account or reckon.  In that verse it speaks of the need to take into account our own endurance in suffering in relationship to the example of Jesus.  The first usage of the term has to do with the person of Jesus, the second HIs work.

To consider Jesus is to consider Him who is of immeasurable glory.  What will serve to instruct us in the truth concerning Him?  The Holy Spirit’s is a “consider Jesus” ministry.  He is even now at work convicting the world “concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (Cf. John 16:8).  Such a work is necessary because Jesus is no longer present with us (Cf. John 16:8).  It is the Spirit who opens blind eyes to behold “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6).  His ministry to the saints is also a “consider Jesus” ministry, in which He glorifies Jesus and discloses Him to us (Cf. John 16:12-15).

The Word of God bids us to “consider Jesus.”  The Bible is all about Him.  The law promised Christ.  The types, experiences, and prophecies of the Old Testament anticipated His coming.  The gospels recorded the details of His life and ministry.  The book of Acts records the details of the birth of HIs church.  The epistles address His Church.  The Book of Revelation speaks to His future unveiling.  Jesus chided the Pharisees, saying, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 6:39; Cf. Luke 24:27).  The Bible is all about Jesus.  The words “Consider Jesus” would well serve as a fitting subtitle for it.

The Apostle Peter’s first sermon, to those who had crucified their Messiah, was a “consider Jesus” sermon.  And the people responded to it.  The Apostle Paul’s ministry was a “consider Jesus” ministry—“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).  I’ve heard of a pulpit inscribed with this reminder—“We would see Jesus.”  Those who preach and teach God’s Word need to do so in a “consider Jesus” manner.

Two particular aspects of His personhood are spoken of in this verse.  He is both “the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Cf. Hebrews 3:1).  He is called an apostle, but He is unlike any other apostle.  The term apostle means simply “one sent forth.”  Jesus is the Heaven-sent-forth Son of God (Cf. Hebrews 1:1-3; John 17:3).  He is the high priest.  There were other high priests, but none like Jesus.  A high priest is one who represents men to God.  Other high priests were merely human and needed to offer up sacrifices both for themselves and then others (Cf. Hebrews 7:27).  But Jesus, the God-man, made a sacrifice “once for all when he offered up himself” (Cf. Hebrews 7:27).  On this basis is able to “save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him” (Cf. Hebrews 7:25).

Consider Jesus.  There is no one else like Him.  He represents the sole means of salvation for lost sinners (Cf. John 14:6; Acts 4:12).  He alone can satisfy our deepest needs and desires.  One day every knee shall bow before Him and every tongue confess Him as Lord (Cf. Philippians 2:9-10).  None but Jesus is more deserving of your consideration.

DEATH TO DEATH (Hebrews Chapter 2)

Hebrews 2:14-15, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

“Lifelong slavery.”  “Fear of death.”  These phrases speak to the tragic estate into which the sons of Adam are born.  “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).  Since the fall of man sin, death, and the devil have worked to hold men in bondage and fear.

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (Cf. 1 Timothy 1:12).  His was a “divine rescue mission.”  “He left his Father’s throne above, So free, so infinite His grace!  Emptied Himself of all but love, And bled for Adam’s helpless race?”  In a glorious act of divine condescension He was born of a woman and born under the law (Cf. John 1:14; Galatians 4:4).  He partook of flesh and blood that He might stand in our place and bear the punishment that we deserve in order that through HIs death and resurrection He might render the devil powerless.

In Christ death met an insurmountable foe, because “it was impossible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24).  Satan’s power was broken at the cross when “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them” (Colossians 2:15).  The resurrection of the Lord Jesus has worked to secure eternal life for the believer.  No longer need he be threatened by it.  “When the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?’  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

F. B. Meyer commented, “Scripture has no doubt as to the existence of the devil.  And those who know much of their own inner life, and of the sudden assaults of evil to which we are liable, cannot but realize his terrible power.  And from this passage we infer that that power was even greater before Jesus died.  "He had the power of death.”  It was a chief weapon in his infernal armory.  The dread of it was so great as to drive men to yield to any demands made by the priests of false religions, with their dark impurities and hideous rites.  Thus timid sheep are scared by horrid shouts and blows into the butcher's shambles.  But since Jesus died, the devil and his power are destroyed.  Brought to naught, not made extinct.  Still he assails the Christian warrior, though armed from head to foot; and goes about seeking whom he may devour, and deceives men to ruin.  Satan is not impotent though chained.  He has received the wound which annuls his power, but it has not yet been effectual to destroy him.  His power was broken at the cross and grave of Jesus.  The hour of Gethsemane was the hour and power of darkness.  And Satan must have seen the Resurrection in despair.  It was the knell of his destiny.  It sealed his doom.  The prince of this world was judged and cast out from the seat of power (John 12:31, 16:11).  The serpent's head was bruised beyond remedy.  Fear not the devil, O child of God; nor death!  These make much noise, but they have no power.  The Breaker has gone before thee, clearing thy way.  Only keep close behind him.  Hark!  He gives thee power over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt thee (Luke 10:9).  No robber shall pluck thee from thy Shepherd's hand.”

The believer in Christ need not fear death.  A dying man was fearful, even though he was a born-again Christian.  He expressed his feelings to his Christian doctor.  The physician was silent, not knowing what to say.  Just them a whining and scratching was heard at the door.  When the doctor opened it, in bounded his big beautiful dog, who often went with him to make house calls.  The dog was glad to see his master.  Sensing an opportunity to comfort his troubled patient, the doctor said, “My dog has never been in your room before, so he didn’t know what it was like in here.  But he knew I was in here, and that was enough.  In the same way, I’m looking forward to heaven.  I don’t know much about it, but I know my Savior is there.  And that’s all I need to know.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Hebrews 1:1-3a, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”

The main theme of the book of Hebrews is the truth that Christ is better than any angel, priest, or old covenant entity.  The readers of the epistle are thereby instructed and encouraged to find true rest and persevere in Him.

The superiority of Christ theme is apparent in these introductory verses.  Jesus is God’s final and preeminent revelation, surpassing all that which has come before (Cf. Hebrews 1:1).  Four points of contrast are made between the revelation which took place “long ago” and that which has been revealed in these “last days.”  The first, of course, has to do with the timing.  Secondly, the agency of revelation is different (“by the prophets” vs. “by His Son”).  Thirdly, there is a difference in the recipients (“to our fathers” vs. “to us”).  Lastly, there is a difference with respect to the content of that which has been revealed (“many times and in many ways” vs. the finality of that which has been revealed by his Son).

Jesus is the Divine Son.  He is also the creator.  John 1:3 ascribes creation to the Son: “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”  Likewise, Colossians 1:16 affirms that “all things were created through him and for him.”  Colossians 1:17 goes on to explain, using language similar to that found in Hebrews 1:3, that “he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

“In him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).  “He upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).  What is the meaning of these statements?  Pastor Phil Newton has commented on this, “We might have a mental image of Atlas bearing the world on his shoulders as we hear this statement.  But that does not convey the meaning of the word.  It is not a static bearing of the world as though it is some gigantic burden he bears.  But it is a word describing the dynamic of God the Son in relation to all things.  There is "movement" in this term-a movement that helps us to understand that he is carrying all things forward on their providential course.  It is concerned, not only with sustaining the weight of the universe, but also with maintaining its coherence and carrying on its development.  He is both Creator ("through whom He made the world") and administrator of his creation.  When we begin to fret about how life will turn out for us, let us think again about how our Lord and Redeemer "upholds all things by the word of His power."  Nothing passes out of his oversight and direction. He has no alarm system in heaven for emergencies or surprises, for there are none with him.  No plunging stock market or troubled Middle East threatens his administration or encumbers it in the least.  He is still moving everything forward to accomplish his good providence.  This means that in spite of how we might be viewing our circumstances and difficulties, we are to take comfort and find strength in knowing that Jesus Christ is sustaining everything about us by his own powerful will.”

In the study of Nuclear Physics we learned of a mysterious force that works within an atom to hold it together.  The nucleus of an atom is surrounded by like-charged positive protons.  Being of the same polarity they should oppose one another and disburse, but they are instead bound together by a force.  That unexplained force is called the “nuclear force” in physics.  But we know where its true source lies.

I used to listen to an old B.J Thomas song that encouraged me in these truths.  One particular part of the song is especially relevant: “He holds the stars in the sky. He holds the land back from the sea.  If He can do all of that, surely he can take care, of you and me.  He's got it all in control. He's got it all in control.   He's put that reassurance, way down in my soul.  He's got it all in control.”

Monday, October 13, 2014


Philemon 11, “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.”

Philemon is unique amongst Paul’s epistles inasmuch as it represents a personal letter from Paul to Philemon regarding a very practical and personal matter.  The letter gives us some insight into Paul’s way of dealing with such matters and speaks also to the gospel’s ability to transform lives and relationships.

Philemon was a well-to-do slave owner who resided in Colossae.  At some time during Paul’s ministry there Philemon heard the gospel and was saved.  Paul expressed thanksgiving to God for the faith and love that Philemon had demonstrated (Cf. Philemon 4-7).  One of Philemon’s slaves, Onesimus, had fled to Rome.  He somehow came in contact with the Apostle Paul and then became a believer (Cf. Philemon 10).  Onesimus became very dear to Paul and ministered to his needs while he was in prison (Cf. Philemon 12-13).  Paul would have liked to keep Onesimus with him, but he knew that Onesimus’ situation needed to be addressed.  Onesimus had wrongfully deserted his master.  So Paul wrote to Philemon exhorting him to receive Onesimus back, but “no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother” (Philemon 16).  Paul did not compel Philemon to abide by his wishes, but rather appealed to his “goodness” that he might respond of his “own accord” (Philemon 14).  Paul also reminded Philemon of that which he owed Paul, by way of having heard the gospel through Paul’s ministry (Cf. Philemon 19).  Paul’s loving concern for his brothers, Philemon and Onesimus, was such that he himself was willing to repay anything owed by Onesimus to Philemon (Cf. Philemon 18-19).

What’s striking in the account is the transformative power of the gospel in the lives of all involved.  Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus were all men who had been saved through its influence.  Their salvation worked to radically alter their lives and their relationships.  In an interesting “God’s providence” kind of thing, Onesimus’ name actually meant “useful or profitable.”  It was a name commonly given to bondservants by masters undoubtedly in the hope that they’d live up to it.  That was his name, but in his escape from Philemon he became “useless” to him (Cf. Philemon 11).  We should note that the lost sinner finds himself in a similar situation before His Creator.  We are created to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” but with respect to our intended purpose we are “useless” before Him.  Romans 3:12, “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless.”  It by salvation in Christ alone that we can be made otherwise.  2 Timothy 2:21, “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.”

Onesimus was made “useful” to both Paul and Onesimus through God’s intervention in his life.  One can imagine him as a fugitive looking over his shoulder fearful lest he be found out.  Burdened by a guilty conscience, and if not for wrongfully escaping from his master, at least for the other sins which he had done.  Where was he to go?  What was he to do?  But God intervened on his behalf and somehow brought him to Paul.  He heard the message of the gospel—how Christ died for his sins and rose from the dead (Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  How he could be saved from his sins through faith in Christ (Cf. Acts 16:31).  And he believed.  And he was saved.  And he was made useful.  By God’s grace he was conformed to his name.  He was made “useful” to Paul.  That former slave became very dear to Paul.  He is referred to in the book of Colossians as “our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you” (Colossians 4:9).  In an ever-expanding role of usefulness to God, he was made useful to Paul, to Philemon, and to the entirety of the church in Colossae.  By God’s grace Onesimus, a former fugitive slave, was privileged to have his name recorded in God’s inspired Word for us to read about 2000 years later.  His story epitomizes God’s ability to make us useful to Him and others through the saving and transforming influence of the gospel.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

SAVED BY GRACE (Titus Chapter 3)

Titus 3:3-7, “For we were once foolish ourselves, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

It is commonly and erroneously assumed by most that people are saved through religious effort.  We tend, in sin, to over appreciate man’s goodness and under appreciate the degree of God’s holiness.  We are all born sinners (Cf. Romans 5:12, 3:23).  “No one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12).  A lost person is “dead in (his) trespasses and sins” and is thereby helpless to do anything to rectify his condition (Cf. Ephesians 2:1). 

With respect to salvation grace has commonly been defined as “unmerited favor.”  There are two aspects to this definition.  From the negative perspective, salvation is “unmerited.”  The recipient has done nothing to merit or deserve it.  From the positive perspective, there is the “favor” aspect.  In salvation God, who is “rich in grace,” bestows His favor on the recipient.  The depth of God’s grace is appreciated in the realization of both the degree of favor bestowed and the extent to which man is undeserving.  This passage speaks to this matter.  There is a before and after aspect to it.  Verse 3 speaks to the undeserving “way we were.”  Verses 4-7 speak to the manifold blessings the believer has received by grace.

The folks to which Paul was referring were wholly undeserving.  They were “foolish” and “disobedient” (Cf. Titus 3:3).  They were ignorant of truth.  They had foolishly denied their Creator and lived in a state of rebellion against Him (Cf. Psalm 53:1; Romans 1:20-21; Colossians 1:21).  They were being “led astray” (Cf. Titus 2:3).  “The devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” was having his way with them (Cf. Revelation 12:9; Ephesians 2:2).  They were enslaved to “various passions and pleasures” wasting their days away in “malice and envy” (Cf. Titus 3:3).  They were “hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3).  There was nothing in them or about them that could deem them worthy of salvation.  They were lost sinners without God and without hope in the world (Cf. Ephesians 2:12).  What was true of them is true of all in sin.  As they hymn puts it, “Guilty, vile and helpless we.”

In Christ’s sacrifice for sins “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people” (Titus 2:11; Cf. Titus 3:4).  Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and His once-for-all sacrifice for sins (Cf. Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Peter 3:18).  At the moment of saving faith God’s grace is “lavished” on the believer (Cf. Ephesians 1:8).  In his “Systematic Theology” Lewis Sperry Chafer speaks of the “thirty-three stupendous works of God which together comprise the salvation of a soul.”  He explains: “They are wrought of God; they are wrought instantaneously; they are wrought simultaneously; they are grounded on the merit of Christ; and, being grounded on the merit of Christ, are eternal.”

Some of these “works of grace” are referred to in this passage.  That they indeed constitute “works of grace” is emphasized inasmuch as “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness” (Titus 3:5; Cf. Ephesians 2:8-9).  By grace the believer is born again, cleansed from sin, richly provisioned by the Spirit, declared righteous before God, and enriched with a promised inheritance (Cf. Titus 3:5-7).  None of these blessings are deserved.  They can all be traced back to but One source—“the riches of (God’s) grace” (Ephesians 1:7) ministered through Jesus Christ, who because of His grace, “became poor, so that (we) by his poverty might become rich” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9).

How incredibly blessed we are by God’s grace!  We deserved God’s condemnation.  We’ve received, by grace, “unsearchable riches in Christ” (Cf. Ephesians 3:8).  We should shrink back with fear from the temptation to take any credit for that which God has done by grace in saving us.  We are trophies of God’s grace, displayed before all that they might behold the “immeasurable riches of his grace” (Cf. Ephesians 2:7).  As the chorus, “Saved by Grace” puts it, “And I shall see Him face to face, And tell the story—Saved by grace.”  That is indeed the story the believer in Christ has to tell.