August 31, 2018

James

General Remarks on James

James gave us one of the earliest of the New Testament writings, dating from around the year 48 A.D.  Its audience is clearly Jewish and its purpose is to instruct Jewish Christians, probably including those who fled Jerusalem during the persecution that followed the stoning of Stephen in Acts 8:1 (Jas. 1:1).  The author identifies himself as “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (1:1), but who is James?  There are three posibilites.  First is James the Apostle.  He is the brother of the Apostle John, and one of the inner circle of the Apostles.  It would be surprising to have nothing from him in the New Testament.  Second is James the son of Alphaeus, who is also an Apostle (Mt. 10:3).  Bible students often refer to him as James the great to distinguish him from the third James, often called James the less.  James the less is the brother of our Lord and the bishop of Jerusalem.  Though not an Apostle, James the less is held in high regard by the Apostles, as seen in Acts 15:13-30.  Since the early Church believed only books written or directly overseen by the Apostles were Scripture from God, it is highly unlikely that James the less is the author of the book of James.  The son of Alphaeus is also not the author, for he would have identified himself to avoid being confused with James the Apostle.  That leaves the Apostle James as the most likely human author of the book of James.  The Apostle was executed by Herod shortly after writing it (Acts 12:1, 2). 


September 1
James 1:1-11

The short book of James encourages Christians to resist temptation and live according to the will of God expressed in Scripture.  This encouragement is repeated and enlarged in  James 4:7 and 8.  James gives a critically important picture of what God is doing in the lives of His people.  God is not trying to give us lives of ease: He is forming us into new people, new beings who are being renewed in every aspect of our being.  He is sanctifying us, and preparing us to dwell in Heaven with Him forever.  In this process He is weaning us from earth and leading us to value, love, and trust Him more and more.

In short, His purpose is to develop Godliness in us.  As James wrote, He is working to make us "perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (4).  Our trials are often the tools He uses to increase us in Godliness.  Every trial is a temptation to desert God and return to sin.  Every temptation is an opportunity to choose God over self; to choose to follow Him in faith, or to run back to sin.  Thus, in temptation, our faith is exercised.  It is tried, it is tested, it is made stronger as the body is made stronger with physical exercise.  Perseverance, or, endurance, is the kind of patience this trying of faith produces in us. And those who persevere become more faithful and more Godly.  Paul may have been thinking of James 1:2-15 when he wrote Romans 5:1-4.  The pattern in both passages is the same: tribulation works patience, patience produces experience, and experience produces hope.  The end result of faithfulness in trouble is Godliness, and Godliness is the goal of God for His people.  

September 2
James 1:12-20

The key to the second part of James 1 is clearly stated in verse 12.  In fact, "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life.” That is also the foundational message of James.  The temptations of verse 12, like those in verse 2, include the temptations to sin, and the trials of life, such as illness.  James probably shocks his readers when he writes, “Blessed is the man who endureth temptation.”  Like us, the early Christians would consider such things as something to be avoided, but James calls them blessings from God, because those who endure temptation will receive the crown of life, which is eternal rest and peace with God in Heaven.

Verses 13-16 picture the progress of sin from temptation to action.  After affirming that God does not tempt or lead us in to evil, James tells us that our own lusts (the flesh) draw or lead us into temptation.  We are then enticed to fulfill our lusts, even by ungodly means.  So sin is conceived in lust and born of lust, and death is born of sin.

By contrast, God gives good and perfect gifts.  Note the line of thinking here; God does not tempt us.  Instead He gives all good and perfect gifts.  Sin leads to death, but God gives the crown of life.  There is no variation in God.  He is good throughout, and He begat us, or, caused us to be born again, by His word, that we may be the first-fruits of His creatures (17, 18).

Finally, James draws two practical conclusions from his statement in verse12.  First, let us be swift to hear, which is to receive instruction in Godliness, and slow to speak and wrath, which is to give in to pride and self-importance, and does not work Godliness in us.  Second, we are to lay aside the lusts and pride that lead us into temptation, and receive with meekness the word which is able to save our souls.

September 3
James 1:21-27

Verse 21 tells us what we all know, that hearing the Word of God is not enough.  Those who allow the Scriptures to move them to faith and faithfulness are the ones who benefit from the Word.  Not surprisingly, James pictures two kinds of people.  One consists of the people who merely hear the word.  The second is of people who hear and do the word.
Those who merely hear the Word will have different reactions.  Some will dismiss it entirely to live in unbelief.  They may be belligerently anti-Christianity, or they may be highly respectful of it.  Either way, the Word has no home in their lives.  But these are not the people to whom James writes.  He writes to professing Christians in the visible Church, and he writes to encourage them to live for Christ as He lived, and died, for them.  Then, as now, many, maybe even most, who heard the Gospel and made some kind of response of faith in Christ, never really understood the Gospel, and never really had Biblical faith.  They may have changed some of their ideas about religion, started attending Church, and maybe even put away some of their more obvious sins; but they never really made any attempt to offer themselves as living sacrifices to God, or to embrace God as their God and His ways as their ways.  Like the Laodiceans of Revelation 3:15, they were neither cold nor hot about Christ.  So they did their religious "duties" but remained unchanged in their hearts.  They did not become Christians, they just added a little Christian flavouring to their lives.  James describes them as looking into a mirror, but forgetting what they see as soon as they leave it (23-24).  The Word, that is, the Bible, tells us about ourselves as much as it tells us about God.  It tells us of our complete alienation from God due our willful sin.  It tells us we are under God's wrath and without excuse, and that our very best works and deeds are but filthy rags compared to Gods' consuming perfection.  It tells us of God's love, love so great it compelled Him to become a man and live and die to reconcile us to Himself.  It tells us that He offers reconciliation to all who will accept it by faith and return to Him.  Yet, those who are hearers only, see themselves in the mirror and walk away unmoved and unchanged.

The Word is described in verse 25 as the "prefect law of liberty.” It is those who "continue therein" who are the blessed, or, as we might say, the saved.  To continue therein is to receive Christ in Biblical faith.  It is also to continually confess and repent of sin, and to continually turn to a life of love for and obedience to God.  To be blessed is to receive the gift of forgiveness and salvation, and the fruits of righteousness.  

The chapter closes with an example of hearers and doers in real life (26-17).  The hearers only do not bridle their tongues.  Instead of being slow to speak (19) they are swift to speak and bold about voicing their views and desires.  Their tongues are not under the control of God, showing that their lives are not either.  We will see more of what this means in chapter 3.

The doers of the word are characterised by kindness, compassion, and charity.  Visiting orphans and widows in their distress, refers to actively working to relieve their sufferings. Rather than causing hurt and strife by their words, doers of the Word bring balm and relief by their actions.  The stinging words of those with unbridled tongues come from a heart ruled by self importance.  The kindness that speaks louder than words comes from a heart ruled by the love of Christ.

September 4
James 2:1-13

It is not difficult to grasp the meaning of the words, "have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons."  Nor it is difficult to grasp the fact that the Church often, maybe, usually holds the faith with respect of persons.  The Love of Christ is for all.  The call of the Gospel, and its offer of forgiveness is for all.  Nationality, gender, race, and, especially, money, mean nothing to Christ.  In His eyes we are all poor, sick, and dirty until we come to Him for riches, health, and cleansing in our souls. "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 5:3).
Quite obviously, not all wealthy people are wicked oppressors, and not all poor people are Godly or victims.  James is not saying they are.  He is saying that our concern, as the Church, is for all people alike.  There is a saying, "The ground is level at the foot of the cross."  It is also level in the Church.  If we create distinctions, it is we who err (9-13).

September 5
James 2:14-26

Many have thought James teaches salvation by works instead of salvation by grace. Verses 21-25 are the primary verses upon which they base their view.  But the point James makes is not that Abraham and Rahab earned Heaven by doing good works; it is that real, Biblical faith results in good works as naturally as being an apple tree results in apples.  James is writing about what Paul calls being transformed (Rom. 12:2), becoming a new kind of creature (2 Cor. 5:17), and sanctification, or becoming more Godly (1 Thess. 4:3).  It is the opposite of the mere assent to facts and doctrines, which even devils know (19).  It is being moved out of knowing about God and into actively doing His will.

If our faith does not express itself in good works, our faith is dead (17-20).  In other words, if your faith (assent to Christian doctrine) does not move you to faithfulness (seeking to live a Godly life), it is not Christian faith in the Biblical sense at all.  It is a corpse, a body without a soul (26).  So James is trying to tell us to move beyond intellectual belief to love and obedience of God.  We do not do good works in order to be saved; we do them because we are saved.  

September 6
James 3 

James returns to the subject of bridling the tongue.  Why does he spend so much time on this subject?  Because the essence of a person is expressed in his words.  Remember James is writing about the way of life of people who have truly embraced Christ as their Master and Saviour.  He is writing about what Paul called being sanctified and transformed into new people.  He is writing about living a faithful life (see Jas. 2:14-26 and accompanying notes).  The tongue (mouth, words) of a person who is becoming more Godly will express the spirit of Godliness.  His mouth is a fountain of sweet water (12).  His conversation shows wisdom (13) and meekness.  "Conversation" as used in verse13 refers to our whole way and pattern of life, not just our words.  The Christian's words express his way and pattern of living for Christ, while the unGodly person's express his way and pattern of living in wickedness.  In short, our words express our character.
There is also a sense in which our words, and thoughts, form and shape our character. "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Prov. 23:7).  Therefore, if we make an effort to control our words, we are also making an effort to control, and, therefore, change, our character.  If, instead of cursing, we bless with our words, we also form a blessing character.  We can influence the way we live, and we can develop our character.  If we are not making a good faith effort to do so, we are simply allowing the bitterness, envying, and strife of sin to rule us, and if we are allowing sin to rule us, and, at the same time, calling ourselves Christians, we are lying against the truth (14).  This is one reason why daily Scripture reading is so important.  By spending time in the Bible we are attempting to let its words shape our thoughts and characters.  We are not simply trying to gain knowledge about the Bible, though such knowledge is very important. We are certainly not merely doing a religious duty, nor are we simply "spending time with God." We are letting the Bible change, and renew our minds.  We are letting it shape our values and goals and life-views.  We are seeking to become more like Christ in our minds, for that will cause us to be more like Him in our actions and our being.  Thus, bringing our minds into contact with the wisdom that is from above through daily Bible reading, produces in us peace, gentleness, mercy, and the fruit of righteousness (18).

September 7
James 4

James is still writing about Godliness in the life habits and life patterns of Christian people.  Elaborating on his statements in verses 2:17 and 18, his point is that real, Biblical faith changes a person and that change is visible, or, expressed, in his actions.  By contrast, a false faith, one that is merely an intellectual assent to doctrinal propositions, makes no change in a person. It leaves him in the same old sinful inclinations he was in before he came to believe the propositions.  Such unchanged people still lust and war over the things of the world (1-2).  Their prayers are not prayers of faith that trust God to supply their needs, they are prayers that God will grant them the things for which their hearts lust, so they may consume them in gratification of those lusts (1).  Unlike Abraham, who was called the friend of God 2:23, their friendship is with the world, and they are at enmity with God (4).  It is no wonder, then, that God resists them (6) for they resist God.

Thus James encourages his readers to submit to God and resist the devil (7). Rather than heedlessly chasing the world, James asks them to draw nigh unto God (8) with the same fervour and devotion with which they formerly sought the world.  He promises God will draw nigh to those who seek Him.  Verse 9 means to turn completely away from the former things.  Let those things for which they were formerly prepared to fight, now become the cause for mourning and heaviness.  No more are they to laugh (find pleasure) in sin, but to be filled with sorrow over it.  To be humble in the sight of the Lord is to mourn over sin; to confess and turn away from it, and to turn to God as Lord and God.  Those who do so will be lifted up out of their degradation and condemnation.  They will be exalted to Heaven forever (10) by the Lawgiver (Christ) who is also the Saviour (11-12).

Continuing to show the difference between "doers of the word" and "hearers only," verses 13-17 show that hearers are primarily concerned about money and the comforts and pleasures it can buy.  They are worldly rather than Godly.  James is not talking here about the openly profane, or about those who use questionable tactics in business.  He is talking about people who profess Christ, but whose faith does not move them toward God and Godliness.  These people claim to be Christians, but go through life with little care or thought for God.  Though such people may be very moral, James says their actions are evil (16).  In this uncertain world, goods, and even their lives can be taken away from them at any moment (14), therefore they should be more concerned about knowing God and seeking Him in all of life, including their business ventures (15).  They know this, yet do not practice it, thus, they sin (17).

September 8
James 5

James turns to the perils of wealth and the evil into which it has led many people. The point of verses 1-3 is that wealth is easily lost.  Verses 4-6 show what evil men do to obtain and keep wealth. 7-11 call Christians, and those who have been "hearers only" to turn their attention to the Lord, waiting for the promises of God as the farmer waits for the rains and the harvest (7-8).  He gives the Old Testament prophets as examples of patient faith, who endured rejection and persecution from their own people, just as Jewish Christians are experiencing in James' time (10).  He calls Job to their minds as an example of one who, though suffering grief and poverty, remained faithful to God, thus, possessing the greater wealth of God's love and mercy (11).  James is saying that the Jews who were suffering persecution and loss for the sake of Christ also possess wealth that cannot perish, and even death can't steal, through the tender mercy of the Lord.

James ends his epistle with several important exhortations.  Swearing, in verse 12 does not refer to "cussing," though cussing is an obviously evil thing.  It refers to attempting to make an oath more valid by swearing in the name of God, Heaven, angels, or holy things which we have no power to bind by our promises. Such "vain and rash swearing is forbidden by our Lord Jesus Christ, and James his Apostle. Accordingly, many churches ask people at baptism and confirmation to promise, rather than swear, and, rather than asking them to attempt to obligate God or anyone else, we simply ask them to respond with "I will, by God's help."  This answer is yea or nay.  "By God's help" is not an oath in the name of God, but a prayerful confession that the help of God is necessary to enable us to keep our obligation.

Verse 13, though short, gives important directions for much of what happens to us in life.  We are often afflicted.  At such times let us seek God in prayer.  When we are merry, let us sing Psalms to God in our joy.  Thus, in joy or sorrow, we come to God.  Often, even Christians, facing sorrow seek relief in things other than God.  Rather than prayer, and seeking to know the Biblical way to deal with our troubles, we think a vacation or a new toy will cheer us up.  But perhaps the Biblical answer may be to persevere and honour God even in our sorrows.  Likewise, in joy, people often forget about God instead of remembering and thanking Him.

Verses14-16 do not guarantee physical healing every time we get sick.  They do remind us that the prayers of our friends, and, especially, our ministers, are as important in the treatment of illness as the medications and advice of physicians.  We are to call for the minister of the church with as much urgency as we call for the physician.  His prayers, which avail much (16), are an important part of the means of our cure.  Our own prayers are also important, and chief among them is the prayer of confession.  This means we are not simply praying that God will heal us so we can go back to business as usual.  We are asking that life in the future will be more Godly.  We are asking not only to be delivered from suffering, but also, even, especially, that we may serve God more fully in the future.

Verses 17 and 18 continue to urge the sick, and all of us, to pray by reminding us that God answers prayer.  If God answered Elijah's prayer to withhold the rain for three years, we may believe He will answer the prayers of those who call upon Him today.


Verses 19 and 20 show that our responsibility for Christian compassion and love requires us to learn and grow from one another.  This includes the sermons, liturgies, and Bible studies of the Church, and also our daily discourse with one another.  Our conversation should be edifying to our hearers, building them up in the faith.  We should also be open to the wisdom of others, who may be able to see things we have overlooked.  This does not mean we are to become busy bodies, looking for faults in others and imposing our advice on them.  Remember James' earlier warning to be swift to hear and slow to speak.  It means that our actions and conversation should be helpful to others by pointing them toward Christ, His Word, and His Church.  If God in His grace uses you to help turn someone from error or sin, rejoice, for God has saved a soul from death and forgiven a multitude of sins.

August 16, 2018

Hebrews

General Remarks on Hebrews

Hebrews gives the New Testament’s most comprehensive statement of how Christ fulfills the Old Testament and inaugurates the New Covenant in His blood.  Christ Himself taught this, and the Apostles continued it.  It was an important feature in the preaching of Paul, who maintained it against those who wanted Christianity to return to Judaism.  According to Paul, returning to Judaism is the same as saying the sacrifice of Christ is not sufficient to cover our sins and save us; therefore, it must be supplemented by continuing the symbols and rituals of the Old Testament.  To Paul, those symbols and rituals were pictures and foretastes of Christ, and are no longer necessary, now that the One they symbolised and foretold has come and accomplished the great work of our redemption.

The authorship of Hebrews has been debated and questioned since at least 200 A.D.  Even John Calvin and Martin Luther had questions about it.  But the presentation of the superiority of Christ over the Old Testament forms and rituals is so Pauline, it is hard to imagine anyone but Paul writing it, or at least overseeing its writing as Peter oversaw the writing of the Gospel of Mark.  Either way, it is a Pauline work.  Its date is unknown, but its mature and scholarly devotion suggests a time late in the Apostle’s life.  Its closing suggests it was written in Rome.

August 16

Hebrews 1

Hebrews has one resounding theme, the absolute supremacy of Christ.  He is the Son of God, which is to say He is God, the Second Person of the Triune God who is One, yet Three.  As the Son of God He is God’s final and ultimate revelation. In times past God has spoken through the prophets. To them He gave visions and visitations and signs and wonders. But Jesus is the final Message of God. The prophets wrote of Him. The visions, signs, and wonders were given to guide Israel toward the fullness of time when Christ would appear and begin to bring all things together under Himself. Therefore, Christ is superior to visions and signs. They are actually superseded by Him. They are no longer needed. God spoke to us in His Son, who gave His word to the Apostles, who recorded it in the Bible. Thus, the Bible is our authority. We should not expect more visions or prophecies or signs or feelings. We should not expect God to speak to us through such measures. We have a much surer way of knowing God; He is revealed in the Bible. To seek to know the will of God apart from the Bible is to treat the Bible as insufficient, and that is the same as saying Christ is insufficient.

This Word of God, the Son of God, is the brightness of His glory and the image of His person (3). “Image” in the Greek is the word from which we derive our English word, “character.” It means Christ is not an image of God as a portrait or statue is an image of a person. Christ is the living expression of God. He is the “character” (nature) of God in a living, human form. Therefore, He is superior to angels. Angels are great and powerful beings. They are good, they are strong, and they dwell in the immediate presence of God. They serve Him and worship Him and do His will. Yet they are nothing in comparison to Christ. He is their Lord. He is their Creator and Master. He gives their powers to them. He gives their existence to them. He can take it away in less than an instant if He wants to.

If an angel were to appear to you at this very moment, you would probably be filled with fear. If the angel told you to do something, you would probably obey immediately. Yet One far greater than all the angels has appeared on earth, and bids you believe in Him and keep His commandments, therefore you should give your utmost to hearing and obeying His Word. This is the point of Hebrews 1, and it begins in the very first verse. The One who is greater than the angels is Christ Jesus, the character of God in human form.  Christ is the heir and creator of all things, who purged our sins by His own blood, and now is seated again at the right hand of the Majesty on high (2). God has spoken to us in Him, a revelation that is complete and full and above every other communication from God. The other revelations looked forward to Him, and He is the completion of their story (1).

August 17

Hebrews 2

People suffered for disobeying the word of God given through these lesser beings. This is seen in the numerous disasters suffered by Israel for their lack of obedience. If Israel was punished for disobedience to the word given through men and angels, God will surely punish those who disobey His word given through Christ Himself. If they who disobeyed angels did not escape, can anyone who disobeys the express image of God expect to escape? “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him” (3). Let us give “more earnest heed” to the things God has spoken in Christ, “lest at any time we should let them slip” (1).


Hebrews 2 reminds us again that God became a real, living human being. This theme begins in verse 9 and culminates in verse 16. Christ was made “lower than the angels” (9) and of the seed of Abraham (16). It is necessary to have this fact firmly in mind to understand the main point of this passage because an angel could not accomplish what Christ accomplished for us. If an angel had become human and gone to the cross his death would be as unable to atone for our sins as the blood of bulls and goats. Why? Because God must bear the cost of our sins, just as we must bear the cost of sins against us if we are going to continue in relationship with other people. So God, somehow remained God, yet also became fully human and participated fully in the human condition even to the point of death. He allowed Himself no special privileges. He had to live by faith, He had to live by the power of the Spirit, and he had to obey the Scriptures just as we all have to do. “Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren” (17). But unlike us, He accomplished it all without sin.

Having made the point that Christ always was/is/will be nothing less than God who became flesh, we are now told why He did so, “that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people” (2:17). His full experience of the human condition allows Him to know by experience what we face in life. He was tempted. He knew physical weakness, hunger, weariness, and sickness. He was constrained by time and space. He suffered these things, and having experienced them, He is able to succour us (2:18). “Succour” summarises this whole passage, for it summarises the work of Christ. It means to have empathy and to feel our sorrows and needs. But it also means to apply healing and help to our wounds. Our wound is our sin and the wrath of God. He heals that wound by bearing it in Himself on the cross, reconciling us to God. But His work does not end there. It continues, as He calls His people unto Himself, builds up His Church, leads us into God by His Word and Spirit, and, finally, places us in His immediate presence in that land where sin and sorrow will never touch us again, forever.


August 18

Hebrews 3

The Old Testament is filled with the works of great prophets. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Samuel, were great men and great leaders, whose works have influenced the world for thousands of years. Yet none of them can compare to the work and influence of Moses. No other human being has left a stamp upon the mind and fabric of humanity that compares to that of Moses. No philosopher, no religious leader, no political leader or empire has had the global historical influence of Moses. Yet One has come among us who is far greater than Moses. This One is Christ Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our faith (3:1). He is superior to Moses as the builder is greater than the building (3:3). He is the builder of all things (3:4), and He is the builder of the Church, which is His house (3:6). Moses was a servant in His house (3:5), but Christ is the owner, the Son to whom the house belongs (3:6). Thus, the book of Hebrews emphasizes again the Divine identity of Christ. He is not just a prophet and not just a man. He is the One who sent the prophets. Moses was His servant. He created the world and all the people, and He is the owner as well as the creator of all things.

Verses 7-19 remind us to give unto Christ the honour and obedience that is His due. The verses remind us that those who disobeyed Moses suffered death in the wilderness. They were brought out of Egypt by the power of God, yet they did not enter into the Promised Land. Their unbelief sealed their fate forever, for they did not make it to the Heavenly Promised Land any more than they made it to Canaan (38). Verse 14 is an important verse, for it tells us only those who continue in Christ to the end will be partakers of His eternal Kingdom in Heaven. This is a conclusion based on the illustration of those who died in the wilderness. They did not continue in faith in God, therefore, they did not enter Canaan. Those who appear to begin to follow Christ, but do not continue in Him to the end, will not make it to Heaven. Therefore, “Harden not your heart as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted me, and saw my works forty years” (8&9). But exhort one another, and yourself, “lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (13). Make no mistake, sin is deceitful, and can convince you that you are in Christ even when you are far away from Him. Please abide in Him, steadfast to the end (14).



August 19

Hebrews 4

Hebrews 4:1-13 continues the theme begun in verse 7 of chapter 3, namely, love and obedience to Christ. This is a pattern of the book of Hebrews. Chapter 1 tells us Christ is the Son of God who is far greater than angels. Chapter 2 tells us that since He is greater than angels, He is more worthy of our love and obedience than they. Chapter 3:1-6 tells us Christ is greater than Moses. This is followed by an exhortation to honour and obey Him more than Moses.  Verses 1-13 are part of that exhortation.

Verses 1-6 use a word we don’t hear much anymore, “fear.” “Let us therefore fear.” And what does it tell us to fear? Coming short of entering into His rest. The Bible is using the experience of the Hebrew people, who were freed from Egyptian slavery, yet did not make it into the Promised Land. We remember that they came to its borders, but failed to enter out of fear of the Canaanites. According to Hebrews, their fear was the sin of unbelief. They simply did not trust God enough to put their lives in His hand. Therefore, they died in the wilderness rather than obey God. The point being made is that many people will appear to start the journey of faith in Christ, but will not make it to Heaven because they will not really trust God with their lives and their souls. They will go astray. They will love the things of the world more than they love God. They will pursue the things of the world, to the exclusion of God, because they will not trust God to provide for them in this life. And if they cannot trust God with their lives, they cannot trust Him with their souls. Therefore, they will be lost. They will not make it to Heaven. These people may be very religious. They may keep the outward forms of the faith carefully. They may pray and worship and read the Bible, and give money, but their hearts belong to them, not God. You can see it in them that they are afraid to trust God. They are afraid to give up their pleasures and amusements to serve Him. They find their life’s meaning in toys and recreations rather than God, and when they face challenges in life, they turn to their amusements rather than God, to see them through. At one time they “tried Jesus.” At one time they started the journey of faith in Him. But at some point they stopped trusting Him. They couldn’t face the giants, so they entered not into the Promised Land, and if they do not return to God they will not enter Heaven.

Thus, verse 7 exhorts us to follow Christ “today.” It is not to be put off. The longer we wallow in sin the harder it becomes to get up and walk in faith. The longer we put our trust in money, or things, or amusements, the harder it gets to put our trust in God. The more we love these things, the more we fear losing them, and the less we trust God to be worth more to us than they are. What if God takes them away from us? What if I have to give up my Saturday night out or my Sunday morning golf to go to Church? What means more to me, these things, or God? Today is the day to choose. In fact you will choose today. You are choosing now. Today, harden not your hearts as the Hebrews did in the wilderness. Do not turn away from God. Today trust Him with all your heart, and enter into His rest.

Verse 12 is often quoted but seldom understood. It means that the word of God sees into your soul and makes it plain whether you are following God or not. It cuts through your defenses and the make-believe world you create to insulate yourself from God. They are coverings of fig leaves, but to God your soul is naked, for He discerns your thoughts. He knows whether you are following Him or turning back away from Him.


August 20

Hebrews 5

The rabbi was a highly honoured man in the Jewish community. Known for learning and wisdom, he was often asked to settle disputes and give counsel on a wide range of issues. And his word was usually followed gladly. Yet beloved and respected as he was, the High Priest was much more so. He lived in palatial grandeur, oversaw the services of the Temple in Jerusalem, and was the spiritual leader and symbol of the entire Jewish religion and nation. The book of Hebrews has already told us Christ is greater than angels and Moses, now it tells us He is greater than the High Priest.

He is greater because He has passed into the heavens and because He is the Son of God. Yet He is also aware of our human trials because He experienced them Himself. He is touched by our infirmities and was in all points tried and tempted as we are, though without sin (4:15). Therefore He is merciful and welcoming to those who continue with Him, steadfast to the end (3:14). We may come to Him boldly, not arrogantly nor flippantly, but in reverence tempered with confidence in His grace, knowing that in Him we will find mercy, grace, and help (4:16).

He is greater than the human High Priest because He Himself is without sin, therefore, every aspect of His work is for His people, not Himself. The human High Priest had to offer sacrifices for his own sins, and to spend time in prayer and confession for himself (3), but Christ is without sin, and His ministry was given entirely for our sake.

He is greater than the High Priest because His Priestly Order is greater than the Human High Priest’s. He is of the Order of Melchisedec (10). We will see more about Melchisedec later. The point of today’ reading is that Melchisedec was the Priest of God long before the institution of the Temple, the sacrificial system, and the order of priests that conducted the services, including the High Priest.

Therefore, let us go on with Christ into mature faith. That means there must be more to our faith than simply repeating “Christ died for my sins, so I am saved.” We must move into fully trusting Christ with our lives and souls. We must move into finding in Him our life’s meaning, our joy, our pleasure, our hope, and our comfort. In other words, our belief that Christ died for our sins must transform and direct every other aspect of our life, else it is not real faith.


August 21

Hebrews 6

Hebrews 6 continues to warn us not to neglect the salvation purchased for us by God in Christ. The heart of this warning is terrible and frightening, for its message is that those who appear to begin to follow Christ in the life of faith, but stop following Him, will not become followers of Christ again. “It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance” (4-6).

 Most people don’t pay much attention to these verses because they immediately call up all their defensive tactics that tell them once saved always saved, and that such people were never saved in the first place. That is true, but that is not the point, because they believed they were saved, and they made a start at living the Christian life. But at some point and for some reason, they quit. They either found out that they really don’t believe, or they decided they aren’t really willing to live the Christian life. They were probably quite happy to believe Jesus died for their sins, be baptized, and do a few churchy things as long as it was convenient and easy for them, but when following Christ began to require trusting Him in difficult situations and sacrificing personal goals and desires to live for Him, they simply quit. Such people will probably continue to convince themselves they are Christians, but in reality, they are not. So the “moral of the story” is found in verse 12, “be not slothful, but followers of them, who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

Abraham is an example of a person who inherited the promises through faith and patience (15). He patiently endured in the faith, though it was not always easy for him. He inherited the earthly Promised Land through his descendants, but he inherited the Kingdom of Heaven as the promise of God. Canaan was but a symbol of the Heavenly Promised Land.

The promises of God are immutable. In verse 17 it says the counsel of God is immutable, but the counsel of God includes His promises. We could interpret the verse as saying the word of God is immutable, meaning the word of God is His bond and He will not break it. His word is confirmed by an oath. God swears by Himself, making it evident that His word is indeed a promise. He binds Himself to keep His promise, that those who trust in Christ in Biblical faith, will inherit the promise, and those who do not trust in Him to the end, will not.

This promise is an anchor of hope in a sea of troubles (19). It gives us faith to continue on, steadfast to the end. It keeps us anchored in Christ, and Christ Himself is “within the veil” the Holy of Holies, which is the right hand of God in Heaven.


August 22

Hebrews 7

Chapter 6 closed with a quote from Psalm 110:4 and a reference to Genesis 14:18-20.  Hebrews 7 explains how Christ is a Priest of the order of Melchisidec. The identity of Melchisidec is a topic of much discussion among students of Scripture. He is noted as the King of Salem, which means King of Peace, and the inference in the book of Hebrews is that he is an appearance of Christ in the Old Testament. Thus, verse 2 calls Him the King of Righteousness to whom Abraham offered a tithe. He is also noted as being without parents and without descendants. Christ is eternally God, so God the Father is not His parent in the same sense that our human fathers and mothers are ours. He has no “beginning of days nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually” (3).

Melchisidec is a greater priest than the Levitical priests of the Old Testament because they paid tithes to Him through Abraham (5). Note also that Melchisidec predates the Levitical priesthood (6) and that His office did not pass to another at His death. Finally, His priesthood brings His people to perfection, which the Levitical priesthood could never do.

The major point being made in Hebrews 7 is that the Old Testament priesthood was a temporary institution, while the priesthood of Christ is eternal. Just as the priests themselves were not permanent, but passed their office on to another at death, so their order of priesthood was also temporary, and would be passed on to another who will continue in it forever. Melchisidec is eternally a priest, Aaron was temporary.

The ministry of the order of Melchisidec supersedes the Old Testament priests’ ministry. Their ministry has ended, but the ministry of Christ continues. Even now He “ever liveth to make intercession” (25). His ministry surpasses theirs because He accomplished it with a single sacrifice, while theirs required daily sacrifices (27). His ministry surpasses theirs because He is able to save to the uttermost (25). His ministry accomplished our salvation, theirs symbolized it.

August 23

Hebrews 8


Chapter 8 begins to state the sum, or, conclusion, of what has been said in previous chapters, especially chapter 7. The sum is that the Old Testament office of priesthood ended when Christ, the Priest of the order of Melchisidec, appeared. Equally important, the Old Covenant ended when the New Covenant began (13). In future studies we will consider the nature of the relationship between the Old and New Covenants (Testaments). For now let us simply say that the Old Testament parts that have ended are those which foreshadowed the ministry of Christ. They have ended, but they are not dead. They continue in their fulfillment in Christ Jesus and in the New Israel, which is the New Testament Church. Thus, for example, we no longer call people clean or unclean because of the food they eat, for those in Christ are clean by virtue of His atoning death, and those outside of Christ are unclean in their souls, regardless of what they eat. Our spiritual cleanness in Christ fulfills the symbolic cleanness of foods in the Old Testament.  So the Old Covenant is waxed old and vanishes away not because it is useless, but because it is fulfilled in Christ.  Both are important to us because both chronicle the history of Redemption.

Christ fulfilled the Old Testament priesthood and now resides at the right hand of the Heavenly Majesty (1). The Heavenly Majesty is God, and the meaning is that Christ has returned to the place of honour in the Divine glory of the Trinity. His true work was and is accomplished in the Heavenly Sanctuary, of which the Temple was a symbol, or shadow (2-5).

Christ, the substance of which the Old Testament was the shadow, has a more excellent ministry than the Old Testament priests because He is the mediator of a better covenant (6). The Covenant is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant. Verse 8 refers to Jeremiah 31:31, but the New Covenant is promised in other verses also. The New Covenant people will have the law of God in their hearts (10) and they will all know God (11). Verses 6-13 tell us much about the New Covenant, all building upon the truth stated in 7:25, that Christ’s Covenant and dying gift to His people is their complete salvation and restoration to God.


August 24

Hebrews 9

Hebrews 9:1-5 describes the Tabernacle as God directed it to be built in the wilderness of Sinai. The plan of the Tabernacle was given directly to Moses, and was followed strictly in the Temple built by Solomon. The point of this passage is the temporary nature of the Tabernacle and its services. This is shown in verses 6 & 7, which tell of the repetitive nature of the services. The priests entered daily into the holy place, and the high priest entered annually into the Holy of Holies to conduct the services and worship of God. So, the temporary effects of the service illustrate the temporary nature of the entire system.

Verses 9 and 10 make another important point; access to the presence of God, symbolized by the Holy of Holies, is no longer prevented by a physical barrier. In Christ the veil, which acted as a barrier to separate the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Sanctuary, is removed and access to God is open to anyone who will come to Him. Meat and drink offerings and washings (10 & 13) are now irrelevant to the real worship of God. Under the Old Covenant, they had their place and function, but the sacrifice of Christ alone can purify the heart and bring a person into the true Holy of Holies. Verse 14 makes an excellent point about the Old Testament sacrifices and services. They did what God wanted them to do, and they did it effectually. They made a person symbolically clean and allowed him to participate in the covenant community of Israel. If such small sacrifices could accomplish their purpose, then the surpassing value of the sacrifice of the Son of God is also able to accomplish its purpose, the complete forgiveness of our sins and the complete restoration of our souls to God. If this has been accomplished for us in Christ, we are free from the need for meat and drink offerings (dead works) to serve the Living God through faith in Christ (14).
Verse 15continues to insist that the Old Covenant, was temporary, and has been fulfilled in the work of Christ and in calling together the New Israel (Church) in the New Covenant. The point of verses15-28 is that Christ did not come to continue the Old Covenant but to be the mediator of the New Covenant.

This point is made first by comparing the Old Covenant to a will, which takes effect at the death of the person making the will. The point is that the promises of the Old Testament become the possession of God’s people at the death of the One making the will, God. Thus, when Christ died, the promises became ours. The Church no longer lives in anticipation of the promises, but in the reality of them.

The point is made second by showing that the people and Tabernacle of the Old Covenant were “purified” with the blood of animals, but the New Covenant and its Tabernacle, which is the true Tabernacle in Heaven, is purified with the blood of Christ Himself. The old Tabernacle was a pattern (copy) of the true Tabernacle (23), and Christ entered into the true Tabernacle and holy place with His own blood to bring us into God.


August 25

Hebrews 10:1-20

Hebrews 10 continues to emphasise the finality and supremacy of the life and work of Christ in accomplishing His peoples’ redemption. The Old Testament ceremonies and sacrifices were but a shadow of Him. Verse 1 makes the point that a shadow is not even a full image or replica. It is but an outline, a silhouette. Christ is much more than just an image; He is the very presence of the good things to come. They have arrived in Him. In Him we have received eternal redemption. In Him, we are in God, and God is in us. Verses 1-8 explain the temporary nature of the Old Testament ceremonial and sacrificial laws. The very fact that they needed to be constantly repeated shows their temporary status. If they had been able to accomplish redemption they would not have needed to be repeated.

Christ accomplished full and eternal redemption by His one sacrifice of Himself. Verses 9-14 are about the full salvation purchased for us by His one, full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice. The conclusion of this section is that “by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” (14).

The chapter can be summarized under three headings. First, found in verses 1-18, reiterates the theme of verse 14, the absolute redemption accomplished by the one sacrifice of Christ. Verse 15 refers to the words of the Old Testament Scriptures as the Holy Ghost bearing witness. The Holy Ghost inspired and directed the prophets and authors of the Old Testament, so it is perfectly natural and right to say that in them the Holy Ghost testifies to the truth of what we read in Hebrews. Several passages from the Old Testament are quoted, bringing us to the point, stated in verse 18, that there is no more offering for sin. The Bible is saying God will no longer remember our sin under the New Covenant. That means He will not hold us responsible for its penalty. How can this be? It is only possible if God bears the cost of our sin in Himself, instead of requiring it from us. In other words, God must suffer for our sins in our places. This was accomplished in Christ on the cross. In Him God made the one full and sufficient sacrifice that is able to bear the cost of our sin, forever. There is no more offering for sin because the price has been paid in full and no more offerings are needed.

Second, made in verses 19-21, is the point that we now have boldness to enter into the holiest (presence of God, vs. 19) because our sins are forgiven through the one full and sufficient sacrifice of the blood of Christ. Compare our boldness in coming to God with the fear and temerity of the people under the Old Covenant. They came with blood offerings lest God take their own blood. They came not into the Holy of Holies, knowing they would die if they dared enter into the direct presence of God it symbolised. Even the High Priest feared to enter the Holy of Holies, lest God may be displeased with Israel, and strike him dead. But we, confident that our sins have been forgiven completely because of the sacrifice of Christ, dare to call upon God and enter His presence with confidence and boldness. Our boldness is not irreverent or glib. Our entrance into the presence of God is reverent and respectful. It is not arrogance; it is faith. It is our confidence that Christ has washed away our sins and made us acceptable unto God that allows us come to Him as His beloved children to our Father.

August 25

Hebrews 10:21-31

A third heading, or section of Hebrews 10 is found in verses 21-25, which encourage us to “draw near” to God through Christ. He is our assurance of acceptance (22). We are also encouraged to hold our faith securely without wavering. That is, we are to be faithful to the end as Christ Himself was faithful to us (23). We are to encourage one another to remain in the faith and to let our lives show our faith through love and good works. Finally, we are to attend the worship and fellowship opportunities of the Church (25). Hebrews 10:25 does not get much “press” these days because our view of following Christ is often considered only in terms of our personal salvation and relationship with Christ. But we have over emphasized the individual aspect and almost abandoned the corporate aspect of following Christ. We often think the Church is optional, and that its only function is to bring others to Christ, which we can do on our own (so it is said). But Christ is calling us to be a part of His new people, new family, new nation, new body, and we are members of one another as much as we are members of Him. Thus we are not to be absent when the Church assembles. We are to be present and active, for the Day of Judgment is coming.

Having taught us of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ, the book of Hebrews turns again to an exhortation to faithfully trust and obey Him fully and forever. The exhortation begins with a dire warning, found in verses 26-31. These verses teach the terrible consequences of falling away from Christ. Sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth (26) does not refer to the constant failures and sins we commit in our daily battle to conquer sin and live for Christ. The sin of verse 26 is willfully deserting the faith. It is turning away from Christ and returning to the life of self-indulgence and self-direction. It is to remove Christ from the throne of your life, and to re-enthrone yourself as king and god of yourself. It is to live in unrepentant rebellion against God. It is, to draw back from Christ and return to perdition (39). What happens to a person who has professed Christ, but now has turned away from Him? Is that person “saved?” No. verse 26 says such a person now has no sacrifice for sin. That person has rejected the only sufficient sacrifice, the only one that can cleanse the soul and make him acceptable unto God. That person, therefore, has no way to atone for his sins. He will stand before God in his sins, and for his sins he will be lost. Thus verse 27 says he has only a certain, fearful expectation of judgment. “Certain,” in this verse, means absolute. There is no question about it. It will happen as surely as God exists. Verses 28 & 29 prove this by the Old Testament, which records that people perished for disobeying the law that was given through Moses. If disobeying that law was a grievous crime, surely the rejection of Christ, Immanuel, God with us, is more heinous and more worthy of wrath. Such a person has trodden underfoot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant (the blood Christ shed on the cross) as unholy. He counts the blood of Christ as not the blood of the Most High given for our sins, but as common and defiled and without value. Verse 30 quotes the words of Deuteronomy 32:35 and applies them to the one who has treated the Son of God so despicably. Verse 31 concludes the warning; it is a fearful thing for such people to fall into the hands of the living God.

Now the passage moves into a word of encouragement. It is based on the confidence of 10:39, “we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” The heart of this passage is verse 35, “cast not away therefore your confidence.” We could restate this verse as, hold fast to Christ in faith. The original recipients of this epistle had faced serious opposition and persecution when they became Christians (32-34). This opposition came from family and friends as well as the larger community. Yet they did not desert Christ. Nor did they desert the Apostle Paul, who was often in chains and prison for his faith in Christ (Heb 10: 34). Just as they stood firm in the faith then, they are encouraged to stand firm now, that they may receive their reward.


August 27

Hebrews 11:1-16

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 their salvation was the gift of God 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 this 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 verses 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 (16).

By faith these people 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.

Looking at Abraham, let us be clear that God is not telling anyone to sacrifice someone as a test of faith today. It may seem odd to see such an obvious statement in this commentary, but it is here for the same reason hand lotion containers have to have warnings; “Not for internal use.” So, “Don’t try this at home.”


August 28

Hebrews 11:17-31
Verse 17 continues to show how people in the Old Testament trusted the promise of God. Abraham is the primary example. Promised an inheritance of land and descendants, He believed God and ordered his life according to the promise. He trusted God even when it looked like the promise could not be kept. Thus, Abraham knew God would somehow be true, and he would return with Isaac alive and well (Gen. 22:5). This is the meaning of Hebrews 11:19. The point is that Abraham trusted God and acted accordingly.

Trusting God applies as much to us as to Abraham. Though not called to literally sacrifice children or people to God, we are called to trust God’s promise and providence when it comes to the people and things we love most in this world. Do we love God enough to trust Him with these things? Do we trust Him with our children, grand children, parents, and siblings? Do we trust Him with life as well as eternity? Will we live our lives with faith in the Promise of God in Christ, as Abraham lived with faith in the promise of Genesis 21:12 and Hebrews 11:18, “in Isaac shall thy seed be called”?

August 29

Hebrews 11:32-40

The people of Hebrews 11 did what they did because they believed God. Following the leadership of God, some were healed of disease, and some died horrible deaths. It is impossible for us today to say to another, or to ourselves, that God will heal us, or give us whatever we ask for, if we only have faith. God deals with us according to the counsel of His own will, and promises us that it will work to our good, if we love Him and are called, according to His purpose. Our task is to trust and obey, no matter where His will takes us, no matter what it brings to us, either blessings or trials. Verses 36-38 especially make this point.

This roll call of the faithful is intended to show two things. First, faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (1). We see God by faith, not by signs and wonders. We walk with God by faith, not by religious experiences. We know God is with us because we have faith, not because we “feel His presence.” Signs and wonders, religious experiences and feelings are not proof God is working in your life, faith is.

Second, the people of Hebrews 11 lived in the era of promise; we live in the age of fulfillment (39-40). Through faith they followed God according to the light given them by the Old Testament. But that light only gave shadows of the Promise, which is Christ. We live in the days of the Promised One. He has come to earth and accomplished His great work of salvation. The Old Testament saints saw this only dimly, as shadows on a wall. Yet they lived in faith. Yet they followed God, even at great cost. We have seen the Light. We see not shadows but the very form of God in Christ. Let us therefore walk in faith also.

August 30

Hebrews 12

The people of Hebrews 11 now become a great cloud of witness. Their witness is first one of watching us who are now running our race. The word picture given in verse 1 is of the stadium with athletes on the track running a race. Those who have already finished their courses now witness those on the track, cheering and encouraging them. Second, they are those who bear witness to the absolute reliability of God. They show that God was faithful to them; thus, we can expect Him to be faithful to us. Third, and more importantly, they are witnesses as examples of living by faith. In this sense, it is we who are doing the watching. We watch them run their race by reading about them in the pages of Scripture. By their example, we learn what it means to live by faith in our generation, as they lived by faith in theirs. Fourth, and most importantly, they are witnesses in the sense of one who tells another about Christ. They lived in the promise of Christ. They looked forward to that great Day when the Son of God would appear on earth and accomplish His great work of Redemption.

Still using the analogy of the athletic arena, Paul encourages us to lay aside anything that will hinder us from running the course. As the athlete lives an athlete’s life of training, diet, and dedication to the sport, the Christian lives a Christian’s life of self-discipline, prayer, worship, Bible study, and purity, trusting God just as the people in chapter 11 also trusted Him.

In verse 2 we see Christ as our example. As the Author of our faith it is He who begins it in us. As its Finisher, He brings it to completion. He brings us into faith and into God, by enduring the cross. He was called to be our Saviour, and He was true to that calling unto death. He endured the cross and the shame to gain the crown. He ran His race. He completed the course. We who would be His must also be like Him. We must not allow our faith to grow weak. We must not give up. The passage goes on to say our trials have the effect of chastening us. We should no more expect a life without trials than a father without chastening. Trials, then, are not a sign that God has deserted us, but that He loves us and is guiding us in His ways and growing us in faith.

To desert the faith over trials is to be like Esau (15-17), who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. How little he valued the calling and grace of God; a bowl of stew was worth more to him. As he gave his birthright away, and was unable to regain it, so the “Christian” who turns away from Christ and returns to habitual and intentional sin, will be unable to gain the Heavenly Kingdom, though he seek it with tears.
Verses18-29 further compare and contrast the law given at Sinai with the Gospel given at the Heavenly Mt. Sion in the Heavenly Jerusalem, the City of God. The giving of the law showed the inability of man to enter into the presence of God. Everything about the giving of the law showed the absolute holiness of God and the absolute unworthiness of man. Even Moses trembled with fear at the presence of God (21). But those coming to God through the sacrifice of Christ come unto God with confidence that, though they are sinners, God accepts them because Christ has made them acceptable through His blood.

The consequences of transgressing the law were terrible. Even an animal accidentally touching the Mountain of God was to be killed (20). Likewise, the consequences of transgressing the New Covenant of the Gospel are terrible. And if people could not escape the consequences of breaking the Old Covenant given at Sinai, no one will escape the consequences of breaking the Covenant in Christ given in Heaven (25) for our God is a consuming fire (29).

Since, therefore, we are given, in Christ, a promise and Kingdom that cannot be “moved,” “let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably."

August 31
Hebrews 13

We are entering the closing paragraphs of the epistle to the Hebrews. Having taught us about the nature and work of Christ, the Apostle now encourages us to be diligent about the everyday things of living for Him, especially in our relationship with one another in the fellowship of the Church. The theme of today’s reading is Christian love. Because Christ loved us and gave Himself for us, we love Him, and His people, and our love shows itself in the way we live (1). In love we entertain (show kindness and mercy to) the needy. We give aid to those being persecuted for the faith, and to those suffering adversity (2-3). We conduct ourselves honourably in the home and keep ourselves sexually pure (4). We conduct ourselves honourably towards one another’s possessions, not coveting, but being content with what we have, especially since we know we have the presence of God with us, and promises of the Gospel for our inheritance (5-6). We conduct ourselves honourably toward those called by God to minister in the Church (7-8). We remember that they have authority from God to preach and lead the Church, and we will treat them with due reverence as they lead us according to the Scriptures for our good and God’s glory. The end of their conversation, meaning the goal and the result of their ministry, is to bring us into Jesus Christ (8).

Typical of St. Paul’s work, Hebrews closes with doctrinal references and applies them to the daily life of Christian faith. Verses 9-16 show how Christ, as the fulfillment of the Old Testament, relates to Jewish Christians. They make it clear such Christians must leave Judaism and come into the New Israel, which is the Church. “Strange," (9) means alien, and not in accord with the Gospel of Christ. “Diverse” means shady and questionable. The words refer to teachings that encourage people to continue in the Old Testament ceremonies, especially the dietary laws and sacrifices. Such things are no longer required, for the Christian’s heart is established by grace, not with diet and sacrifices (meats) that cannot make us holy. Strange and diverse doctrines also refer to Gentile teachings that deny the Gospel. Anything that is not of Christ is a strange and diverse doctrine. This verse is especially applicable to us today, for many run after anything that appears exciting and new, readily abandoning the way Christians have believed and practiced from the beginning. This tendency usually leads to apostasy and theological shipwreck. Verses 10-12 refer back to Christ as the One who makes us holy by His blood, apart from anything we could ever do or offer.

13-16 are the conclusion and point of this section, and also serve to summarise the entire book. Verse 13 states it well, “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp.” Using the fact that Christ was crucified outside of Jerusalem (12), and Moses met God outside the camp, verse 13 says Christianity must also go outside (without) of Judaism. No more are we to keep the Jewish ceremonies. Our sacrifices are works of kindness and thanksgiving, not animals (14-16).


Paul has constantly kept our minds on Christ. He has shown us from the start that Christ is the supreme and final revelation of God, and that we can only come to God through Him. Having shown us that Christian Jews are to leave Judaism as surely as Christian Gentiles are to leave their former religion and come into the Church, verse 13 encourages us to not only join the Church, but also to honour the leadership and structure God has placed in it. Being a Christian is not a life of splendid isolation, and those who proclaim that the Church age is over have seriously misunderstood the Bible. The Church is the Body of Christ and abides with Him and in Him now and forever, and, as long as we abide in this world we are not to forsake her assemblies (Heb 10:25).

Furthermore, the Church is not anarchy. It has structure and organisation, which includes men called to shepherd and teach the flock. Every person in the Church is a servant of Christ, and, in that sense, is called to minister to the body. Some are ordained to a unique ministry of teaching and preaching the word and leading the Church for the perfecting of the saints and the edification of the Body (Eph. 4:11-14). Thus we are told to "obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves" (17). We are to conduct ourselves in such a way that when they give an account of their ministry among us it will be a joyful report of our progress in Christ, not a sad report of our refusal to follow them. We are also to pray for our ministers to have a good conscience and live honestly (18). A minister's authority is not absolute. He is not the Shepherd: he is an undershepherd. The flock does not belong to him, it belongs to Christ. So he only has authority to lead the flock according to the clear teachings of God as revealed in Scripture. Hebrews ends with an exhortation to honour the ministers of the Church, and a greeting from Christians in Italy.