A Special Invitation

I wrote last week about the tearing of the curtain in the Temple at Jesus’ death and suggested its significance was that of an invitation: an invitation into the presence of God.

It’s a really big deal, speaking volumes about God’s grace.

Note that, normally, the only person who could enter the Most Holy Place was the High Priest of God’s people. He had to be a descendant Levi, the son of Jacob. He had to be a descendant of Aaron, Moses’ brother. He could only enter once a year, and when he did, it had to be with an offering of blood. To enter any other time carried a death sentence. For anyone else to enter was unthinkable.

But Jesus was not of the tribe of Levi. Though he was a High Priest, he was not a descendant of Aaron. Though his priesthood was much older than Aaron’s, entering into that Most Holy Place still cost him his life, for the blood of his admission was his own.

In doing this, God opened the way into His presence not just for one man, but for all. In doing it, God changed everything. He changed everything for us. Oh yes, the change was all a part of God’s original plan. But the plan was to involve a demonstration of the lengths to which God would go to give us fellowship with Him. It was a demonstration of His grace and love for us.

Consider what God has done for you. And then, consider what you can do for God.

Sunday, December 14. Hebrews 8 – 11

In Hebrews 10, the writer points to “the law,” the covenant of Israel, and notes that it never really was the last word. He’s already made that point in chapter 8 with the promise of God in Jeremiah of a new covenant. The problem with “the law,” is that it could not effect change in the lives of people who drew near to God to worship. He explains what he means in verse 2. This perfection is a continually cleansed state, free from guilt for sin.

But the continued offering of the sacrifices showed that nothing had changed in Israel’s life.

When Christ came, however, he offered a superior, once for all sacrifice and we have, by that sacrifice, been cleansed once for all and been made, in God’s eyes, perfect.

“Perfect,” however should not be construed as “sinless.” The writer’s point is that we have been raised to a different status, the same status as that of a risen Jesus (note Jesus was made “perfect” through suffering in 2:10). Given that status, a people for whom the guilt of sin is no longer an impediment to our lives, we are not allowed to press on persistent in sin. The one who does that has no hope, for there was one sacrifice in our behalf. There remains no further sacrifice.

The point of this is that when Christians sin, as they undoubtedly will, God simply forgives them. The idea is to learn from the mistake and do better. The life however that makes no attempt to do better ultimately ends up in a land of no return and will discover what a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God.

Monday, November 25. Hebrews 11 – 13

Leadership in the Church is not a matter of wielding power; it is a matter of imitative mentorship, the kind of leading that inspires others to follow and provides direction by example. We all would like to point people to Jesus and say: Follow the Lord; not me. But that will not do.

People need mentors they can see and God provides leaders in the church to model behavior. Deacons had to be “full of the Holy Spirit,” a trait best seen in a holy life rather than in the performance of miracles. Elders must be “worthy of respect” and preachers must be examples in speech, life, love, faith and purity (1 Timothy 4:12).

The Church is not a republic where everyone gets an equal vote and a say. Those who by virtue of their holy living, and informed, dedicated and willing service inspire the respect of others have more vote and more say because they speak and live the way of God. The church should respect these people and submit to their leadership. The writer of Hebrews, in a flurry of imperatives in the last chapter, exhorts his readers to the holy life. This includes respect for leaders of the past who have now passed on (verse 7), and leaders of the present who are entrusted with the task of watching for the souls of their brethren. Christians who find submission to others difficult will find submission to God impossible. We are not called to be an oppressive people. Neither are we called to personal independence. We are called to be a submissive community whose surrender to God is seen in the way we treat one another and follow those among us entrusted with leading.

Sunday, November 24. Hebrews 8 – 11

What does he mean by “it is impossible to renew them to repentance” (6:6) Does he mean once you sin you cannot repent? God won’t forgive you? Who are these people who seemingly cannot be saved? Are they Christians?

Let’s start with the last question first. Whatever this passage means, it applies to Christians. Only they would qualify as those who have “been enlightened,” “tasted of the heavenly gift” and “shared in the Holy Spirit.” The old idea that once one is saved he cannot be lost (and if he is, he was never saved) must be, then, entirely unbiblical. Older translations render the passage “if they fall away,” but the Greek text lists five particular participles, having been enlightened, having tasted of the heavenly gift, having shared in the Holy Spirit, having tasted the goodness of the word of God, and having fallen away.

Why is the writer disturbed about this?

Because his readers are in danger of this happening to them.

If they fall away, can they come back to God?

Yes, but they can’t come as they are. They have to change first, renouncing their fallenness. God’s people cannot expect to live as they please and remain in his fellowship and grace.

Then, there is another possibility: that the fallen will not be able to renounce their ways. It is possible that a person become so hardened in their sin that they not only cannot give it up, they won’t want to.

Saturday, November 23. Hebrews 4 – 7

What does he mean by “it is impossible to renew them to repentance” (6:6) Does he mean once you sin you cannot repent? God won’t forgive you? Who are these people who seemingly cannot be saved? Are they Christians?

Let’s start with the last question first. Whatever this passage means, it applies to Christians. Only they would qualify as those who have “been enlightened,” “tasted of the heavenly gift” and “shared in the Holy Spirit.” The old idea that once one is saved he cannot be lost (and if he is, he was never saved) must be, then, entirely unbiblical. Older translations render the passage “if they fall away,” but the Greek text lists five particular participles, having been enlightened, having tasted of the heavenly gift, having shared in the Holy Spirit, having tasted the goodness of the word of God, and having fallen away.

Why is the writer disturbed about this?

Because his readers are in danger of this happening to them.

If they fall away, can they come back to God?

Yes, but they can’t come as they are. They have to change first, renouncing their fallenness. God’s people cannot expect to live as they please and remain in his fellowship and grace.

Then, there is another possibility: that the fallen will not be able to renounce their ways. It is possible that a person become so hardened in their sin that they not only cannot give it up, they won’t want to.

Friday, November 22. Hebrews 1 – 3

The letter to the Hebrews proclaims that God has spoken, and spoken in a way unlike any ever before. God has come to this earth and actually spoken himself. We know this God-become-man as “Jesus.”

And this God has not just spoken.

He has provided purification for sins, announced salvation to the world, made it possible for us to become God’s family, and has opened the way into God’s glory for us. He has tasted of death and provided the antidote to its poison, and has become our High Priest, walking with us every step of the way into God’s glory.

In chapter three comes an extended warning: “fix your thoughts on Jesus . . . hold on to your courage and hope . . . do not harden your hearts . . . see to it none of you turns from the living God.”

Why?

Because God has something he’s been wanting to give his people for a very long time, something he calls his “rest.” It belongs to his people by virtue of the fact that we are his people. We can’t earn it or merit it. God will never owe it to us. It is ours as a gift. But we can lose it by turning away from God.