Hebrews 11 – Faith's Hall of Fame

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The 11th chapter of Hebrews is sometimes known as the “faith hall of fame” and it is an important part of the point that the author is trying to make here as well.  Often Christians have an idea that the Old Testament is all about the Law and works while the new Testament is all about grace and faith.  Nothing could be further from the truth, though.

While the Old Testament does emphasize the Law, it isn’t a “works-righteous” (work to earn your salvation) model.  In fact, the Law’s emphasis is all about heart and life change, the stripping of an old identity of slavery and the building of a new identity as the people of God.  For this to happen, though, faith is required.

Actually, all of the great people that followed God did so out of faith and we can see this here.  Many of these folks lived out their faith long before the law was every given too.  The faith, life, and actions of all of these people, however, pale in comparison to the life of Jesus Christ.  Whatever faith they showed, Christ’s was greater.  Whatever hardships, suffering, perseverance, etc. they showed,  Christ’s was greater.  But not only that, Christ did so perfectly and selflessly for the sake of the whole world.

What is revealed here in chapter 11 is the reality that God has never been one who has demanded “works” or “service” from those He calls in order to earn His favor.  Quite the opposite is actually true.  Out of Love, God calls each of us to Himself, desiring a relationship with us, desiring to free us from sin.  Because there is no way for us to do this for ourselves, God sent Jesus to make that way, to remove the barrier of sin, and to wash us so that we could stand before God once again as His adopted Sons and daughters.



Hebrews 10 – Once for All

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As the author has been working to draw forward many of the themes of the Old Testament, he or she has also been showing how Jesus Christ fulfills many of those things in His life, death, and resurrection.  He perfectly and eternally fills the Old Testament offices of Prophet, Priest, and King.  The Law is also fulfilled through Him.  Jesus is the realization of God’s redemptive plan, worked out over a couple thousand years!

One of the reasons and ways that Christ fulfills all of these things is that He is the perfect sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  The “Once for All” nature of Jesus’ work on the cross is an important theological point that cannot readily be overlooked.  Old Testament sacrifices were continuous because the blood of animals and the sacrificial system were, as the author states, “only a shadow of good things that are coming…”  They were never meant to be an end unto themselves.

Jesus Christ was that end, the great sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.  He was the perfect “Passover lamb,” the perfect “atonement offering.”  After Him, no other sacrifices were required.

While this is an important theological point made in Scripture, it is emphasized in Reformed Theology because of its intentional distancing for Roman Catholic tenants.  For Catholics, every time Mass was celebrated, Jesus Christ was said to be “re-crucified” or “re-sacrificed.”  For reasons made clear in Hebrews 10, a constant “re-sacrifice” is not at all necessary or theologically correct.

With all of this said, the Author moves on to talk about the application of this truth in the life of faith.  Jesus has opened the way for us to draw near to God once again.  Jesus was the “curtain,” that which separated the people from God in the Temple.  When Jesus died, the curtain was torn, a moment signifying that the barrier had been broken and our relationship with God can be restored.



Hebrews 9 – Outward and Inward

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Continuing on the theme of Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament and the Old Covenant, the writer of Hebrews now speaks specifically about the work of Christ as it relates to worship and the sacrificial system at the temple.  In the Old Testament, the sacrificial system was part of the cleansing rituals that took place so that people could come before God in worship.

In the Old Testament, the sacrificial system was part of the cleansing rituals that took place so that people could come before God in worship.  This applied, in a very particular way, to the position of the high priest on the day of atonement, when he would enter the Holy of Holies to make restitution of the people’s sins in the very presence of God.  The high priest used the blood of animals, sacrificed in the appropriate way, both for himself and for the people.  All of this, however, was just a matter of outward cleansing.

The true cleansing that takes place is one of inward cleansing.  Hebrews’ author points out that the sacrifice of animals is not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper; it was a matter of outward cleansing that points to a deeper cleansing that would happen through the blood of Jesus.

Throughout the Old Testament, there is a continual pointing forward to a future time when God would do something “new.”  He calls a people, they will eventually be a blessing to the whole world.  He gives the Law, but a time will come when it won’t just be an external thing but it would be written on the hearts of people.  He talks of sacrifices and offerings, but the true sacrifice God desires is an inward one.  He provides prophets, priests, and kings, all of which are shadows of what is to come.

All of this finds its fulfillment and deep meaning in Jesus Christ who, as the only way to the Father, provides a path from outward action to inward transformation, from outward washing to inward cleansing through His blood and God’s grace.



Hebrews 8 – Shadows and Dust

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Building on the notion that Jesus is the fulfillment of an ancient priesthood, established by Melchizedek, and that this priesthood also has Kingly “intonations” which are also fulfilled by Jesus, the author moves ahead to point to Jesus as also fulfilled the old covenant while also establishing a new covenant.

There are a number of things that make the writer points to as being superior about that which is established by Jesus.  His priesthood is eternal because Jesus Christ is the eternal God, the resurrected Lord, who lives and reigns forever.  He is seated at the right hand of God and Scripture tells us that Jesus is forever interceding for us.  Whereas the priests of the Old Testament had to continually offer sacrifices for the sins of the people as well as worship God in the earthly sanctuary built for Him, Jesus fulfills these roles perfectly both on earth and in heaven before the presence of God.

All of these things, the author points out, are shadows of what was to come in Jesus.  Though at the time they carried great meaning for the people, they now give meaning to Jesus’ life, work, and position in redemptive history.  Jesus’ sacrifice means a lot, but it gains its deep meaning and from the Hebrew sacrificial system that was performed for many years and set up by the law.

In the same way, the Tabernacle and the Temple were built in such a way to be a shadow of the true Temple of God in heaven, God’s true dwelling place.  There was a need for them to be built in such a way as to do this well on earth, but their meaning and purpose point to the greater reality of God in heaven and of the work of Jesus Christ to bring salvation to the world and to reconcile all things which will reach its greatest and true fulfillment when Christ comes again.



Hebrews 7 – Melchizedek

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The Old Testament priest, Melchizedek, is a rather mysterious character in the Bible, showing up only a couple times throughout all of Scripture.  He shows up in Genesis 14 and blesses Abraham after he returns from battle.  In return, Abraham gives 10% of everything he had.  This event, though isolated, becomes a rather a foreshadowing of things to come.

Everytime time Melchizedek is mentioned in the Bible after Genesis 14, he is mentioned by saying “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”  This saying is unique, and it appears to be said in a manner which suggests familiarity from the reader, though its true meaning in an ancient context is probably no lost.

Interestingly, the name Melchizedek means “righteous king,” and it is noted in Scripture that he is the king of Salem, which means “peace.”  There may be something to these meanings that is drawn forward and fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

In addition to this, Melchizedek combines the functions of both king and priest, something only two other people do in Scripture: King David and Jesus Christ.  So when the writer of Hebrews is talking about Jesus being like (better than) Melchizedek, it is likely that the writer is referring to this in the same way that David mentions this in Psalm 110:4.  While David is an imperfect echo of Melchizedek, both David and Melchizedek are foreshadows of greater things to come, the true fulfillment of both King and Priest (and Prophet) in Jesus Christ.

In addition to this, Jesus Christ fulfills this role eternally as the resurrected Lord, the Great High Priest (in the order of Melchizedek), and the true prophet of God who brings the Word of the Lord to the people, and also represents the people before God.  Everything that comes before Him is a foreshadow, pointing to Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption that came through Him.



Exodus 19-31 "Defining Freedom"

  1. Think about your first experience with the 10 Commandments. How were you introduced to them?  What were you told about their purpose or how you should be following them?  How has that impacted your view of the Old Testament Law?
  1. After leaving Egypt, God had a lot of work to do replacing the identity of the people of Israel as slaves with the identity of being God’s chosen people. How does the giving of the Law help that process?  Do you think that these things could be helpful for us today as we leave our own personal “egypts?”  How?
    1. Do you think the Law could give our church some direction when it comes to leaving our “egypts?” How?
  1. Essentially, the giving of the Law and God’s work to re-identify Israel as His people is an invitation to Love. This is different than slavery’s demand of work and striving.  How does God’s invitation to love challenge you?  What are some of the biggest obstacles to loving well?
  1. Far too often for us, the Law becomes more like “rules” and “regulations” rather than “boundaries.” What is the difference?  Does that difference change your perspective of the Law?  Of God?  Of how we approach the Law in our own lives?  How?
  1. Egypt seeks to take away our true identity and replace it was that of a slave. God begins the process, here at Sinai, of piecing together Israel’s identity once again.  Have you had a “Sinai” moment in your life?  What lies needed to be replaced with truth in your life?
  1. How does knowing that you are called a “treasured possession” make a difference? How do you feel when you hear the words of dignity and love that God speaks over you?

*Some questions taken from Leaving Egypt, by Chuck DeGroat



Hebrews 6 – Moving Forward

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There are some difficult sayings in this chapter that, when we read them, don’t always jive with what we think we know about Scripture and what we know about God’s grace and salvation either.  The author says that it’s impossible for those who are of the faith and then turn away “to be brought back to repentance.”  How does this stand up next to Paul’s words in Romans 8, that nothing can separate us from the love of Go that is in Christ Jesus?

Considering these words, and looking at those around them, and the context in which the author is writing, it doesn’t seem so much that the author is trying to set down some sort of new doctrine where salvation can be lost, but rather to cast a warning about falling away from the faith and the impact that it can have both on the life of the believer and on the church as well.

None of this, however, negates the promise of God, originally made to Abraham, to be God to His people.  Because of God’s mercy, love, and enduring faithfulness, we know that God will always be with us and never turn His back on us.  No matter what we do, God promises to be faithful to us.

This promise was confirmed to us in Jesus Christ, who came to the earth as a human to make a way for us to be in a relationship with God.  As Jesus eternally fulfills the role of “priest,” as the writer of Hebrews says, He eternally intercedes for us before God.  As the sacrifice for our sins, He washes us clean so that we have the hope of salvation which can never be taken away.

Here the writer of Hebrews encourages us to move forward, deeper into this relationship.  As we realize the love that God has for us, we respond in relationship with God, growing closer to Him and taking greater hold of our hope and salvation.



Hebrews 5 – The Great High Priest

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There are three major offices, or important positions, in the Old Testament: Prophet, Priest, and King.  Each one has its own function.  However, each represents God to the people in a different way.  Jesus fulfills the roles of each of these offices.  He is the King of kings, the one true King who will reign forever.

He is also the Prophet to which all the prophets before pointed.  Jesus is the very Word of God, as John says, and represents the ultimate way that God speaks to His people and communicates His love.

Here, the writer of Hebrews talks about Jesus as fulfilling the role of  Priest.  In the Old Testament, the priests serve as a mediator between God and the people.  Priests represented the people before God through the sacrificial system, bringing the sacrifices of the people to God and seeking forgiveness.  They were also responsible for the worship in the Temple, bringing the worship of the people before God.

In the same way, they represented God to the people, communicating that forgiveness as well.  The priests were set apart from the rest of the people, consecrated and clean, keeping to the rituals of cleansing so as to be able to do the work of worship as part of their calling.

Jesus fulfills this role in many ways.  He represents God to the people, the incarnation of God in human flesh.  Being human, Jesus understands our weaknesses, but being God, He is able to come before God.  He also communicates the forgiveness of God through his ministry and also through His work on the cross, not just offering a sacrifice, but becoming the sacrifice for our sins.

Because of this, the author of Hebrews writes, we can approach God’s throne with confidence and boldness, knowing that we have been cleansed through the blood and offering of the Great High Priest and are welcomed into God’s presence as His own people.



Hebrews 4 – Sabbath-Rest

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The theme of “sabbath” is much greater than a simple “day of rest” once a week that the people of God are called to honor.  Sabbath is about intentionally honoring God through the putting aside of one’s self and the things that we value in life and giving that time to God.  When I was young, we knew some people that wouldn’t let their kids even ride their bikes on Sunday because it was the Sabbath…  while I can see now what they were trying to instill in their children, I think, I do believe that rules like that entirely miss the point of the Sabbath.

Sabbath has often been relegated to the notion of self-care as well.  We take our own “sabbaths” from work in an effort to regenerate or re-energize ourselves.  Though self-care is an important part of our lives, sabbath’s focus is directed toward God, not self or rules, and it is in that intentional redirection that we find true rest.

But the notion of Sabbath extends far beyond physical or even spiritual rest.  God’s true Sabbath rest for His people was the fulfillment of His promise to bring them into the promised land.  The reality, though, is that the physical land was not actually what brought them the rest, it was following God, His Law and living into the identity that He gave them; something they did not do.

Jesus, through His life and ministry, draws this idea forward, offering a Sabbath rest for all people by grace, through faith.  The true promised land, then, is a relationship with God and the salvation that comes by putting our faith in Jesus Christ.  Because of what He did, the way is opened for us to enter this Sabbath rest which is actually a new beginning, not an end unto itself as the Israelites thought the promised land was.

What is no longer necessary is work, striving for salvation… here we find rest.  Here, then, we find true freedom and life in Christ, responding freely to the grace we have been given.



Hebrews 3 – If You Hear His Voice…

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The main theme of the book of Hebrews is the supremacy of Christ over all who have come before and, as such, all who will come after as well.  Moses was, our at least could be known as a type of Old Testament messiah.  He was called by God and used by him to save the people of Israel from the hands of the Egyptians.  After leading them through the Red Sea, Moses brought them to Mount Sinai where they received the “Law of Moses,” which became the standard for rules and laws and the identity of the people of Israel from that point on.

Yet, here the author makes a distinction: Jesus is greater than Moses.  Everything that Moses represents was merely a shadow, an echo of what was to come in Jesus Christ.  What Moses did, he did imperfectly; Jesus represents a fulfillment of that position, as well as the Law that was given at that time.

Here, then, the author gives a warning.  Moses came, and the people followed him for a while.  When it came time to “enter God’s rest,” which the author uses to refer to as the Promised Land, the people rebelled, fearful of the inhabitants of the land.  Their rebellion is attributed to a lack of faith and as such they were punished and a whole generation had to die (including Moses) before they entered into the promised land.

What the author doesn’t say here is that Christians should be fearful of God punishing us with death if we rebel, or don’t follow Him.  But there is a warning that is given.  We have to be careful to listen to God’s voice and to follow closely what He says.  Just as the people of God had hardened their hearts back then, so too can we do that now and the results can be just as devastating.  Perhaps we won’t experience the physical loss of life, but rather the spiritual ramifications of people living and dying without knowing the Lord and of the people of God living our a spiritually dead religion that means nothing and leads nowhere.



Hebrews 2 – Angels

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The writer of Hebrews talks about angels more than any other book in the Bible except for the book of Revelation.  This is a topic that is highly interesting and often gripping to people, especially in Western Culture (North America and Europe) where the notion of a spiritual realm that impacts the physical has been highly dismissed by many.

However, the reality of a spiritual realm that both impacts and often times shapes the world around us is a reality that the Bible both addresses and assumes is true.  There are, according to Scripture, beings that we know as angels who are “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation,” as the writer points out here.  What their exact work is, though, we may not be so clear on.

Scripture also addresses the other side of the Spiritual realm, that of Satan and his demons and the evil that he brings to this world.  We know that this is a reality that we come up against all the time as well.  The enemy is always working to thwart the plans of God and to deter, detract, discourage, and derail God and His work in the world through the Church.  Paul points this out in his letter to the church in Ephesus:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

There is a really important point that the writer of Hebrews is trying to make here, however, which is that, as real as angels are, they are not the ones that bring salvation, Jesus is.  Jesus Christ is infinitely more important than the angels, and all creatures in heaven and on earth are under his reign.  So as fun as angels can be to talk about, and we should talk about them, it is much more important to keep our eyes focused on the one who brings salvation to the whole world.



Exodus 15-17 "Pretense or Provision?"

  1. Having crossed the Red Sea, the people of Israel now look ahead into the wilderness. Have you had a time like this in your life, a spiritual high followed by a “wilderness low”?  What was that like?  How did you respond?
  1. Throughout Scripture, wilderness and desert are often synonymous; dry times of emptiness and difficult (even harsh) conditions. Have you experienced times like this in your life?  Where did you feel God was during that time?
  1. Think about the difference in response between Pharaoh and The Lord when the people cry out. What are those differences?  What does that say about the nature of the enslaver vs. the nature of God?
    1. How does this play out in church settings with ministries? How are ministries impacted when we live into our freedom rather than bondage?
  1. God provides Israel with all their nourishment in the wilderness, giving them everything they need in ways they likely wouldn’t have expected. Have you experienced provision like this in your life?  What was your response when you experienced such provision?
  1. Israel’s experience in the wilderness brought conflict from a new source, The Amalekites, who didn’t want to enslave them, but would rather see them plundered and destroyed. Have you experienced something similar to this (conflict coming from an unexpected source) in your life?  How did God empower you and provide for you in that time?
    1. Apply this question to the life of the church over the past few years.


Hebrews 1 – God's Mic Drop

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Throughout history, God has spoken to His people through a number of ways.  God brought forth great leaders for the people in Abraham, Moses, Joshua, the Judges, King David, and all of the prophets that He sent to the people of Israel.  All of these people and the events surrounding the testimony of Scripture are part of what we call “redemptive history,” God’s actions since the very beginning to bring about the salvation and restoration of His people.

All of this, the author shows us, culminates in the climax of God’s redemptive work through sending of His Son Jesus Christ to the earth.  Everything before pointed to the coming of the Messiah and everything after His coming was impacted by it.

The Son wasn’t simply just another prophet either or great Old Testament leader either.  Hebrews’ author makes it very clear that the Son is indeed God in every aspect of who and what God is.  He is the “exact representation of His being…” and, more than this, sits at God’s right hand ruling and reigning with God.

There are some important distinctions made here too between the authority and magnitude of the Son and other heavenly beings such as angels.  In the Old Testament, there is a tradition of angelic appearances, something that represents the work and power of God through a physical appearing of an Angel.  The author is careful here to set the Son apart from that tradition.  Jesus is much more than your average “run of the mill” angel.  He’s also greater than the great archangels that we encounter in Scripture too.

We could talk much more about the theology of angels, who they are and what they do, but the point that the author is trying to make here doesn’t actually have to do with whether angels exist.  Rather, the author is saying that, whatever exists in heaven or on earth, in the physical or the spiritual realm. the Son is vastly superior to all of it.  What’s more?  It is the Son, in all His superiority, who comes down to earth to become the atoning sacrifice for our sins that we may be reconciled to God through Him.



Introduction to Hebrews

Unlike most of the books in the New Testament, the authorship of Hebrews is not attributed to anyone specific.  For about 1200 years, it was traditionally thought and widely accepted that the Apostle Paul wrote this book.  While there is no direct evident to contradict this thought, there are substantial differences in the writing style as well as many of the theological emphases that make it unlikely that Paul was the author.

What is made clear about authorship in this book is that it is a personal letter and that the original recipients were familiar with the author.  It is likely, then, that the author was a prominent church leader, like Barnabas or Apollos, or perhaps even a female author like Lydia, though the language in one section uses masculine pronouns to reference the author as “I.”  There is also language in the text that indicates that the author was not one of the Apostles, indicating that this person had not met Jesus personally during His ministry here on earth which makes him/her rather unique as far as writers in the New Testament go.

The letter itself is directed primarily toward Jewish converts to Christianity who would have been very familiar with the Old Testament, which the letter references a great deal.  It appears that the Jewish converts were being tempted to revert to Judaism or to apply Jewish principles to the Gospel, specifically regarding elements of the Law.

Hebrews’ theme is the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ.  He is the mediator and the revealer of God’s grace and the ultimate revelation of God’s love and work, far above that of the prophets or any of the great Old Testament figures.  All of God’s promises are fulfilled in Jesus Christ as well as the Law and the Covenant.  Because of this, there can be no turning back to or continuation of the old system of laws.  All of it has been replaced by Jesus Christ, who becomes the “Great High Priest,” and the only way to the Father.



Philemon – Letter to a Slave Owner

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Paul’s letter to Philemon is the shortest letter that Paul writes incorporated into Scripture, but it is also one of the most profound applications of the Gospel in life that there is.  Philemon is a slave owner.  In our context today, that sounds like a horrible thing.  However, in that day and age, it was a fairly normal way of life and, while that is not a defense of slavery, the life of a slave back then was not what we think about when we look at the horrific reality of the African slave trade and its impact throughout the world even up to today.  Slaves worked in more of a “service industry” type of a setting, working for a master, often getting paid for doing the tasks required of them.

There were rules about the conduct of slaves, however.  Because their masters “owned” them, they were able, at times, to inflict harsh punishments on their slaves when things were out of line.  In the case of Onesimus, one of Philemon’s slaves, the offense he committed (stealing and running away) was punishable by death.

Apparently, though, while Onesimus was away he came to faith in Jesus Christ and also met Paul.  Now, Paul is sending him back to Philemon and Paul’s appeal for him is that he would be accepted as a Christian brother, not as a slave, a thief, or a runaway.   Paul even offers to pay whatever debt might be owed for his offense.

This really is a beautiful picture of the Gospel’s truth in our lives as well.  We too have offended God by our sin, running away from our relationship with Him.  At some point, though, when we encounter Jesus and our status before God is changed.  We are no longer sinners, subject to death for our sins, but are, as Paul writes, heirs to the promise and co-heirs with Christ.  Rather than returning to God guilty, Jesus has taken our debt on Himself so that we can come before God clean and pure, with a restored and renewed relationship!