May 19, 2011

Friday after the Third Sunday after Easter


Lectionary

Morning – Ps.94, Ex. 33:7, Heb. 11:1-16
Evening – Ps. 103, Is. 49:13-23, Eph. 3:1-12

Commentary

Having taught us of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ, warned us against apostasy, and encouraged us to trust in Christ to the very end, St. Paul now shows several examples of faith in the Old Testament.  Their example is given to encourage us to be faithful as they were, but they are also given to show that what God gave to them was truly a free gift gift  received by faith, not something they earned through good deeds or keeping Old Testament ceremonial laws.  Many of these people actually antedated the ceremonial laws, but were received by God because they trusted in Him.  In other words, they were saved by grace through faith, not of works, lest they boast of their accomplishment (see Eph. 2:2-9).  One commentator has captured the essence of the meaning of today's passage, especially verse 1.  He wrote:

“In Old Testament times…there were many men and women who had nothing but the promises of God to rest upon without any visible evidence that these promises would ever be fulfilled; yet so much did these promises mean to them that they regulated the whole course of their lives in their light.  The promises related to a state of affairs belonging to the future; but these people acted as if that state of affairs were already present, so convinced were they that God could and would fulfill what He had promised.  In other words, they were men and women of faith. Their faith consisted simply in taking God at His word and in directing their lives accordingly; things yet future so far as their experience went were thus present to faith, and things outwardly unseen were visible to the inward eye.  It is in these terms that our author now describes the faith of which he has been speaking” (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 277).

The people named in Hebrews 4-12 are often called heroes of faith, but they would probably rather be known as people who were saved by grace.  And salvation by grace is the point of this passage.  By grace, God promised them an inheritance.  That inheritance was symbolized in things like children and land, but it was far more than these things, it was God Himself.  Thus, even though Abraham did not technically own the Promised Land, He did inherit a better country, which is the country, or city, of God (vs. 16).

By faith they believed God and directed their lives as if what God had promised was already theirs.  This is just what we are called to do as New Testament believers.  By grace God has promised full forgiveness and reconciliation with Him.  By faith we act like forgiven people.  By grace God has given Christ to be the propitiation for our sins.  By faith we trust Christ to remove all our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.  By grace God has promised to take us to a land where the troubles of earth, the temptations of sin, and the barriers between ourselves and God will be only dim memories, and we will enjoy His glory forever.  By faith we conduct and order our lives in the light of that promise.

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