Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for…13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. NIV
Hebrews 11 is called the “By Faith” chapter. Twenty one times it uses that phrase to show the human side of the real life of notable “ancients” elsewhere in the Bible. The intersection of living by faith and the evidence of real life circumstance was just as mysterious for them as it is for me today as a new widow but they were commended for living “by faith.” Oswald Chambers said “Believe God is always the God you know Him to be when you are nearest to Him” so…
I will live by faith believing life is different, but still good
I will live by faith that what I can’t control does not mean I am helpless
I will live by faith that redeems without me knowing all the details
I will live by faith in yet undiscovered reserves of strength
I will “live” by faith that Jesus is nearest to me right now
Hebrews 3:12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.a” [NIV]
“That day, next day, one day and someday” is a tongue-in-cheek description I recently read to describe the confusion of keeping track of time and days when the routines of life are altered during long-lasting life circumstances like this pandemic. I’ve experienced that confusion about time and days myself. It’s a real thing that caused me read this Scripture as if it was speaking about the confusion of time and days, then, as a danger in the spiritual life of believers in Jesus Christ now…and the much needed protection offered for “today.”
We have been so blessed for so long as a nation, as a democracy and as individuals that we’ve become confused about how real, and subtle, the danger of a “sinful, unbelieving heart” is. “Today” is the one word in this Scripture that made me realize “that day, next day, one day and someday” is really about missing the warning and protection available “now.” “Now” is our God-given opportunity to to “share in Christ” and “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of [us] may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness…Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…a”
a Psalm 95
I’ve finally reached Chapter 1 of the book of Hebrews. Honestly this grand finale feels like one of the biggest accomplishments of my years of study. I began at the end of Hebrews and have ended at the beginning of the book to discover this simple proof for myself; there is no “the end” anywhere in it. It’s all about beginning.
God’s provision of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are still at work in every chapter even with my own limitations of what I could comprehend from this theologically challenging book. The weeks of reading with the expectation I would personally discover an ultimate conclusion taught my heart something more than I expected. That is surely the gift of the Word of God.
Chapter 13. ”Outside” is where Christ receives your brokenness and disgrace and makes them his own. It’s the plan of God that we who are outsiders can go to where “new” begins, the Cross.
Chapter 1. I’m in God’s Kingdom because of the provision of that righteous scepter, His Son, “the exact imprint of God’s very being,” being the “crutch” that held me up so I could limp into it.
The ultimate conclusion of the Word of God always leads you to the cross and Christ and the reality there is no “the end” to your beginning.
NRSV 1:1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word…8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.
Scepter’s not a common word today so that caught my attention. A scepter is an ornamented staff often used by kings as visual evidence of power but the word also has a practical meaning as something one can lean on for support.
You may have heard a negative description of faith as being a “crutch” as I have. Your reaction may have been as defensive as mine was so it was back to the dictionary for another definition – crutch: a long stick with a crosspiece at the top, used as a support under the armpit by a lame person.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard your faith referred to as a crutch. Raise your hand if you’ve ever been confronted by your own need for support. My heart still has a negative reaction to identifying my faith as a crutch but the reality is my hand is in the air.
My heart and my hand respond today to God’s own words identifying his Scepter: “But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.” My heart and my hand have responded to His Son. Jesus is the righteous scepter God provided for the support of His own Kingdom and for each of us to personally lean on. All you have to do is admit to being lame. I’m in God’s Kingdom because of the provision of that righteous scepter, His Son, “the exact imprint of God’s very being,” being the “crutch” that held me up so I could limp into it.
MSG 2:1-4 It’s crucial that we keep a firm grip on what we’ve heard so that we don’t drift off. If the old message delivered by the angels was valid and nobody got away with anything, do you think we can risk neglecting this latest message, this magnificent salvation? First of all, it was delivered in person by the Master, then accurately passed on to us by those who heard it from him. All the while God was validating it with gifts through the Holy Spirit, all sorts of signs and miracles, as he saw fit.
MSG 13 Again, he puts himself in the same family circle when he says, Even I live by placing my trust in God.
I’m thankful this morning for the wisdom and work of the Holy Spirit in those who dedicate their lives to either translating the Word directly from original texts or taking the risk to trust in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who’s the real author in both cases anyway. I trust that. The Word reveals it’s own accuracy to the heart. The power of that accuracy began here for me today…
The “firm grip” we need to hang on to “so that we don’t drift off” is Jesus. The perfecter of our salvation has recreated His life within us so His experience can become our own. “Even I live by placing my trust in God.”
NRSV Galatians 2:20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God [Or by the faith of the Son of God], who loved me and gave himself for me.
NIV Hebrews 3
• 1…think carefully about this Jesus whom we declare to be God’s messenger and High Priest…
• 7 That is why the Holy Spirit says, “Today when you hear his voice, 8 don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested me in the wilderness…
• 15 Remember what it says: “Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled.”
There’s a mystery involved in hearing the unspoken Word of this book we call our Bible. We know the mystery involves our training to recognize guidance and respond to Word that can speak truth into the human heart. “There is a beautiful story in the Old Testament where the prophet stands at the mouth of a cave and the Lord is passing. There is thunder, and the Lord is not in the thunder. There is an earthquake, and the Lord is not in the earthquake. There is fire, and the Lord is not in the fire. Then there is a still, small voice, and the Lord is in that voice. (See 1 Kings 19: 11–13.)” Intro to Following Jesus [Finding Our Way Home in an Age of Anxiety] by Henri Nouwen
OK, it’s the Holy Spirit…√. Do you imagine the writer of Hebrews was just casually writing “think carefully about this Jesus” or “today when you hear his voice” or “remember?” The answer of course is no! The Holy Spirit is the vital voice that teaches us to consciously respond to that mystery. The “gentle whisper” that happens “today” when you allow Jesus to teach you is the Holy Spirit speaking the reality of the Word within you despite the noise of the world around you.
The passage from 1 Kings ends with the question of the day. “And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here Elijah [insert your name here]?” I hope your answer is thinking, hearing and remembering.
The idea of each Chapter being another layer peeled back has become an intriguing journey for me. My anticipation is building that when I get to chapter 1 of Hebrews I will discover my “final” thought has led me to the “core” of meaning for this experiment of reading the book backwards. Anticipation is the interaction I believe God desires between His Word and the followers of Jesus.
8 Just as faithfully as we practice those other disciplines of experience we need to learn to practice this simple truth…“I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
7 The word sacrifice is familiar when thinking about Jesus but it was a new and meaningful thing for me to consider Abraham’s tithe as the prepaid debt that gave all of us descendants the option of Jesus, God’s promised “perfect” and final “tithe.”
6 A very important concept of faith every believer has to learn is renewal is not repetition. Surely that’s the beginning of a whole new direction that leads us to “become mature in our understanding.” Maturity and understanding have their ups and downs but God has a plan for that.
5 None of the diligent and and rigid rules of sacrifice had the power to deal with the full capacity of a broken human being to choose to sin on purpose. Jesus was “appointed by God to represent the people in matters related to God” in place of those sacrifices.
4 God swears on an oath He will jealously guard the heart, soul, mind and strength of “we who have believed” and entered the rest He’s completed for them.
NIV Hebrews 4:1 Therefore, since the promise of entering his REST still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2 For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. 3 Now we who have believed enter that REST, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my REST.’” And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. 4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God RESTed from all his works.” 5 And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my REST.” 6 Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that REST, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, 7 God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
Rest is apparently something more than lack of activity. That’s a good thing to know because lack of activity often seems impossible. There are schedules to keep, projects that need doing, places to be and people to care for. One of the first questions I asked as I began to write was why? Why did God sound so peevish when he said “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest’” and then He even repeated it?
I looked at all the modifier words and phrases for “rest” in the 11 times it’s mentioned in the 16 verses of this chapter and here’s something I found that’s worth noting. I’ve been looking at ”rest” as a break from activity when in reality every single mention of rest in Hebrews 4 indicates it’s God’s rest, not mine that’s involved. God swears on an oath He will jealously guard the heart, soul, mind and strength of “we who have believed” and entered the rest He’s completed for them. The reality is God’s rest ”still remains for some to enter.“ In that rest lies His peace, His promises and the priceless value of ”the good news proclaimed to us.”
“God keeps renewing the promise and setting the date as today, just as he did in David’s psalm, centuries later than the original invitation: Today, please listen, don’t turn a deaf ear . . .[v6-7 MSG]”
NIV Hebrews 5:1 Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. 3 This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.
Reading this book backwards has resulted in an interesting observation: The truth of Hebrews is becoming more complex as I get closer to it’s beginning. Sacrifices seem pretty straightforward until I read this by William Barclay “…the Jew was always quite clear, when thinking at his highest, that the sins for which sacrifice could atone were sins of ignorance. The deliberate sin did not find its atonement in sacrifice.”
There were two sacrifices demanded by the Lord; one for satisfaction of the sins of ignorance and another for the guilt of deliberate sin. None of the diligent and and rigid rules of sacrifice had the power to deal with the full capacity of a broken human being to choose to sin on purpose. Jesus was “appointed by God to represent the people in matters related to God” in place of those sacrifices. He became God’s deliberate Sacrifice that could remove the deliberate guilt of all sin when He “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
Hebrews 6:1 So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. 2 You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.
A very important concept of faith every believer has to learn is renewal is not repetition. Surely that’s the beginning of a whole new direction that leads us to “become mature in our understanding.” Maturity and understanding have their ups and downs but God has a plan for that. He’s built that plan into us with this expectation: redemption through Jesus has made possible a consistent sense of direction through the moral compass of the Holy Spirit.
Welcome to my spiritual science lesson. A compass has a small magnetic pin suspended inside it’s casing so that it’s free to move and respond to true north. In between that magnetic pin and true north lies a magnetic field that is impacted by local disturbances. Those dips and undulations can affect the compass needle’s ability to point to true north. Users of a navigational compass have charts that help them recalibrate their compass as needed to compensate for those variations in the magnetic field and keep them heading in the desired direction. Does this sound at all familiar to you?
God is true north. The Holy Spirit is the small magnetic pin. We are the casing. Faith is our compass. The inconsistent magnetic field is our world. The local disturbances are the up and down experiences of life. God’s Word is the chart that recalibrates those up and down experiences as needed to keep us heading in the desired direction. “And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.”