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!



Titus 3 – Saved for Good

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Paul’s closing words to Titus could be read as a deeper explanation and examination of what he writes to the church in Ephesus.  Specifically, in Ephesians 2, Paul writes,

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Here, Paul expands on these words, relating them to Titus with regards to the church in Crete and what it means for them.  In doing so, Paul gives us a greater understanding of God’s work in the process of salvation.  What we learn is that God’s work doesn’t begin at the time of salvation but long before as the Holy Spirit builds up our faith and brings us to the point of decision, when we place our faith in Jesus Christ.

Knowing this brings a greater revelation of what it means to be under grace!  We hear that God chose us, and that grace is given and available to all.  What we don’t often hear, however, is that God’s work in our lives, the love, and grace that He shows to us, is actually present and active even before we come to Him.  It’s truly amazing that God’s love for us is there long before we show our love for Him.

But it isn’t just what happens before we come to faith that is important here, it is what we are saved for, which is to “do good.”  In other words, we are called to live our lives in direct response to the love that God shows us.  That means staying away from things that would distract us, things that would take us off track, and things that would draw us away from God’s love and our calling.



Titus 2 – Salvation or salvation?

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As Paul is writing to Titus, he is imploring Titus to teach and encourage transformed living in a way that is applied to all who are believers.  It isn’t simply enough to have leaders who reflect the transformative work that is done by the Holy Spirit, all must live in this way.  This is a response to our eternal Salvation, and yet at the same time is part of “earthly,” contemporary (current time) salvation as well.

Far too often we get “salvation” mixed up as being something that happens to us when we die.  When we believe in Jesus, we know that we will “go to heaven” after we die.  But if this is the extent of the salvation that we understand, we are getting a very small picture of what God is actually doing in our lives.

The work of our salvation begins even before the very moment that we place our faith in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit’s work in us, building up our faith.  God is constantly at work in us, reforming and reshaping us into the image of His Son.  We call this “sanctification,” and it is a very important part of the Christian life.

Not only is God working on us in this way, He continues to work in this world to bring about redemption and restoration to all of His creation.  This is something that He has been doing since the very beginning and something we also are called to participate in through the careful tending and treatment of this planet.

When we limit the scope of God’s salvific (salvation related) work to a sort of “escapist” mentality line of thinking that is only true for us when we die, we grossly limit and box in God’s extraordinary work throughout history, culminating, but not ending in the work of Jesus Christ when He went to the cross.



Titus 1 – Do Good

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Paul opens his letter to Titus explaining both why he left Titus in Crete and what he should now be doing while he is there.  The Cretan churches were in some manner of disarray, needing sound leadership and a strong hand to guide them.  To facilitate this, Paul encourages Titus to work on appointing elders in every town throughout Crete.  The Elders, leaders in those communities, should live as examples as to how those in the church should be.

Though Paul seems to emphasize “good works” here as a major theme, it is important to note that all of this comes from his application of the Gospel message onto the lives of believers.  In the instance of the Cretan churches, there is a stark contrast in the way that “all Cretans” live and the new life that they are called to as believers in Christ.

It is interesting here that Paul lumps laziness with “law following” as part of the things that need to be rebuked and corrected.  Indeed, it is much easier, and takes much less effort to just follow the rules with no real thought or internal change.  What is more interesting, I think, is that Paul tells Titus that they must “do good,” citing the example of those who are appointed elders, as the way of faith.

This would seem, to many, as Paul advocating for “works righteousness,” exchanging one set of laws for another.  However, what he is suggesting is to actually live into this transformed life.  “Doing good” by way of the law is simply following the rules… doing good in response to the Grace of God in Jesus Christ is a sign of a redeemed and transformed life.

Especially for those who are new to the faith, there are some boundaries that are necessary to help foster growth and encourage change and transformation.  In the same way that a young, newly freed Israelite nation needed the law to show them the boundaries of their new freedom, so too do we need some boundaries to foster our freedom in Christ.  What is important, though, is that those boundaries don’t become laws for us, simply following the rules for the sake of the rules, rather than living in response to God’s love for us.



Introduction to Titus

While the book of Acts lays out the journey of the Apostles, especially Paul, as they move from Jerusalem outward, proclaiming the Gospel and planting churches, no mention of Titus is found.  Because of this, little is known outside of the references Paul makes to him in his other letters.  From what we can glean, though, Titus was a very close friend and worker with Paul.

In fact, when Paul went to Jerusalem to discuss the spreading of grace to the gentiles, who were uncircumcised, as recorded in Acts 15, Titus went with him (Galatians 2:1-3) as an example of a Gentile that God had gifted (and who was uncircumcised).

The book of Titus was written sometime between Paul’s first letter to Timothy and his second.  It would have been written after he was released from his first imprisonment in Rome when Paul was traveling on his 4th missionary journey.  Titus had been traveling with Paul but was left in Crete to manage the churches there.

After Paul had gone on to a number of other places, he wrote Titus to instruct him on how to correct matters that had arisen in the Cretian church.  Like the letters to Timothy, Paul also warns Titus against false teachings which were creeping into the churches in Crete.  Paul also gives Titus his personal authorization to deal with dissenters and those opposed to the Gospel or Titus’ leadership.

As is always true for Paul, his words are a practical application of the grace that God has shown to all and has given to those who believe.  This rings true for those in leadership as well, all of whom should be working to apply this grace in their daily lives and be teaching it to all those they come in contact with.

Grace, Faith, and “good deeds,” are all major themes in this short letter.  The “good deeds,” however, are not to be the product of human ingenuity, legalistic religion, or tradition, but rather the work of God’s grace through faith in the power of God as manifested in Christ, the Savior.



Exodus 12-15 "Barrier or Baptism?"

  1. Israel’s route out of Egypt and to the Promised Land was not direct. How do you think they felt heading in the “wrong direction?”  Have you ever felt this way in your life?  What do you think about that journey now?
  1. Israel’s first response when they saw Pharaoh coming after them was to complain and panic. What does this say about Israel’s ability to trust?
  1. The “Egypts” of our lives erode our ability to trust others and to trust God. How have you seen that in your own life?  Has this happened in the life of this church?  How can we regain this ability to trust, both individually and corporately?
  1. Part of the great escape involves God’s presence moving through the people to defend them from behind. Have you experienced a particularly difficult time in your life where you felt God’s presence very close to you?  How did that change your perspective of the situation?
  1. God provides Israel a way out that is both amazing and probably a little scary, walking through the middle of the sea. Have you ever had a “Red Sea” experience?  Do you think the Israelites considered not going through?  Did you?  What did you end up doing?
  1. The other side of the Red Sea is not the Promised Land, it’s the wilderness. In Scripture, the wilderness brings a time of transformation; what was God trying to change in the Israelites?  How have you experienced the wilderness of transformation in your own life?  How has HCRC experienced this recently?  What was/is God working on?


2 Timothy 4 – Inconvenient Truth

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Once again Paul makes a number of remarks that have come to pass in a number of concrete ways once again in the present time.  In a culture which celebrates truth as being “relative” to each individual, people are becoming less and less open to hearing the teachings of Scripture, the message of the Gospel, and the call of God to live a transformed life.  People are happy enough to simply be “good” people, even “spiritual” people, but all without the commitment of faith and religion.

And why not?  Christianity, as well as all of the other major religions, has its dark marks throughout history.  We are imperfect people, seeking to follow the will of God, and messing it up far too often.

Through it all, however, the message of the Gospel has not changed, and the call of God to live in response to grace has also not changed.  Scripture tells that we are to flee from sin in all its various forms.  It also outlines what sin is.  Unfortunately, as we “progress” in society, those boundaries seem to mean less and less.

Paul says that a time will come when people will no longer listen to sound doctrine, but instead will seek to hear only what they want to hear.  We have seen this happen in the church far too much in recent history.  In one sense, this is the reason that we have so many denominations of Christianity in the Church today.  It is also the reason why we continue to fight and argue about peripheral things rather than focusing on the unity that Scripture calls us to as the Body of Christ and the message that we are called to proclaim together.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News for everyone, but good news doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t challenge or ways of life.  Grace abounds through all things, but God calls us to not conform to this world but be transformed by the Holy Spirit’s work in renewing us each day.



2 Timothy 3 – Mark My Words

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I’ve talked to a number of people over the years who are completely surprised and baffled by the moral decline in society in the present age.  More and more is seems as though people are given to doing whatever they like and the line between good and bad is becoming quite grey, if it exists at all in people’s minds.

For a while, there as a widely held belief that Scripture pointed to a society that was always progressing towards a more idyllic state, which would be the manifestation of the beginning of the 1,000-year reign of Christ described in revelation.  This belief emerged after the middle ages when many aspects of the human experience were developing rapidly and the quality of human life had risen dramatically.

All of this was pretty much destroyed by 1945, after two devastating world wars.  It became all too obvious that society was indeed headed down a different path.  This, however, shouldn’t have been surprising for us.  Scripture is actually quite clear that:

  1. Sin has infected every part of our lives, we are not capable of saving ourselves
  2. The closer we come to the end, the more corrupt and godless society will become
  3. It is Jesus Christ alone who will set up His Kingdom here on earth

Paul’s encouragement, in light of this reality, is once again to hold fast to the teachings of Scripture.  In the face of increasing godlessness, of moral decline, and of persecution, Paul reminds Timothy that it is God’s Word that will provide the foundation for perseverance in faith.

Things have not changed today.  Moral decline is an everyday reality; Christian faith is being challenged and the “relative truth” teachings of western culture allow for any type of sin and lifestyle.  These things are creeping their way into the church as well.  While we are not called to be judges and haters of others because of their choices, but rather to love them with the love of Christ, we too much be careful, holding fast to the Word of God so that we persevere in the faith and do not fall victim to the temptations of the world .