John 11:54 As a result, Jesus stopped his public ministry among the people and left Jerusalem. He went to a place near the wilderness, to the village of Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples. 55 It was now almost time for the Jewish Passover celebration, and many people from all over the country arrived in Jerusalem several days early so they could go through the purification ceremony before Passover began. 56 They kept looking for Jesus, but as they stood around in the Temple, they said to each other, “What do you think? He won’t come for Passover, will he?” NLT
The Jews carved out a convenient and workable system of government for themselves even though they were actually under Roman rule. It’s a system dependent on being able to exercise their authority by maintaining a low profile. People are coming into Jerusalem from “all over the country” to ceremonially purify themselves before Passover begins. The stories of Jesus and his miracles are being repeated and many believe. Jesus has become an inconvenient attention-getting detail that has too many people talking.
They gather because this preparation is a necessary prerequisite to their eligibility to participate in the week of Passover. There are ceremonial washings in small pools filled by “living waters” fed by a nearby spring or well. In a land of dust and heat that baptismal-type of cleansing has become both a sign of their repentance from ceremonial pollution and an official pardon for their separation from God. They have evidence from their own Scripture that God has acted on their behalf. They have awareness of needing purity. They have the desire for holiness. They have firsthand stories of miracles people have seen Jesus do with their own eyes. They have the right question: “What do you think? He won’t come for Passover, will he?” Only one right response is missing in all their devoted preparation …Come, Lord Jesus!
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Psalm 139:23-24 NLT
8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.
9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)
These verses reminded me of this screen shot I took last Easter from the live broadcast of Gracepoint Church in Sturgis, Michigan. That empty tomb for those closest to Jesus resulted in fear, not hope. Hindsight has proved God’s plan for the salvation of many, became a reality despite those frightened people caught in desperate circumstances. Jesus’s body had disappeared from that fortress of stone. How could that possibly be anything but bad? “(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)”
That parenthetic verse 9 has become a modern-day lesson for me. As odd as it is to type this sentence; doubt and fear have always been a part of faith, even for those closest to Jesus. Even the “other” disciple, the one Jesus loved, hesitated. “Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.”…and
“Thomas felt a surge of shock and unbelief…Then he felt regret for having left. Then he felt isolated. He was the only one who hadn’t seen Jesus. He had seen so many things that would have been unbelievable if he hadn’t seen them. Most haunting right now was Lazarus. And then it happened. Thomas was staring at the floor, sinking again under the fear that maybe Jesus had rejected him because of his stubborn unbelief. If so, he knew he deserved it. Then someone gasped. He looked up and his heart leaped into his throat! Jesus was standing across the room looking at him. “Peace be with you”a
Faith is what gives us the courage to come out of our hiding place, confront our fears and doubts and to believe Jesus’s words are meant to shield us today, too – “peace be with you.” These two verses have become my reminder that recognizing the reality of an empty burial tomb is more than evidence of my faith…it’s evidence of God’s faith in me! “Finally” I “saw and believed” and He turned that stone cave into a fortress of hope that “the LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”b
a When it’s Hard to Believe
b Psalm 18:2
2 Peter 2:1…there will be false teachers among you…3…these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories…4…God did not spare angels when they sinned…5…did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood
7…he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless
9 if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. NIV
Genesis 2:7 tells us “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Dust + the Breath of God combined to become the recipe of man. Consider this – God Himself created two separate natures in the soul of human life; the physical [dust] and the spiritual [His breath]. The God of all creation designed us to be evidence of His love, not puppets.
Those two natures were at war even in that first perfect environment. That first sin was a shocker. Clearly the soul of human life has the dual ability to respond to the instincts, passions and impulses of the physical nature at the same time it has a longing to respond to God’s love with the instincts, passions and impulses He breathed into us. We need to be shocked by that realization. “Our great security against sin lies in being shocked at it.”a.
Peter doesn’t sugarcoat the consequences of the physical nature of sin or neglect to remind us God breathes within the spiritual nature of the righteous. “IF this is so, THEN the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.”
aJohn Henry Newman
John 15:7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. [NRSV]
If you “accept and act in accordance with” Jesus what He says will establish a relationship of life between Himself and you. What makes that matter is this reality: Jesus IS God. The first assurance of John 15:7 is when you “abide” with Jesus, God Himself is alive within you and He understands the reality of whatever you ask. That makes His answer perfect for what He knows you need. The second assurance is God’s answer comes with a greater blessing “if you abide in” Jesus and let his words “abide in you.” Your relationship of life with Jesus makes you living evidence of the glory of God.
Hebrews 13 – 9
Throughout the book, we are also challenged to remain faithful to Jesus and follow great models of faith from the Old Testament despite hardships and persecution. These challenges will make us uncomfortable but instead of fearing them, remember that rejecting Jesus is foolish. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God’s love and mercy and is worthy of all our trust and devotion.
[The Bible Project]
All of Scripture is God letting us look into the past to show us how to build our life of faith today. Usually I read as if chapters are layers that pile up one after another to result in the truth of the book. Reading Hebrews backwards is like peeling those layers back, one a time, to discover for myself truth that can be built into everyday life AND the future. So these are cliff notes from my writings on chapters [13 – 9] each numbered and listed without further editing in that same “backwards” order. My goal is to discover confirmed evidence the Holy Spirit is working through these layers of God’s word to teach me exactly what I need to learn.
 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.  God has saved the unmerited favor of His Grace IN us. Living with the reality of that forgiveness is the discipline of Grace that turns faith into action.
 Those ancestors made it into this “By Faith” chapter because their faith reached into the future of US. That past and their faith has reached beyond time to strengthen our present with the promise of completion for US all as the future unfolds. US is God’s version of “outreach” at it’s most creative.  Today we have God’s incredible exception to those annual sacrifices. The blood of Jesus and the Grace of God have provided a way to remove the guilt of our sin from God’s memory forever…but our memory is still a natural consequence of sin.  Circumstances are where God begins. Right from the beginning God desired to be present with us because of love. Right from the beginning when circumstances might have denied that truth, God began.
√ Re·new·al: the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken
1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first…7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
I’ve looked for evidence in these second chapters of God’s continuing desire to replace and repair what is worn out, run-down, or broken. That word “broken” has been a part of every post. God created life to be an unending circle for those first two people but they broke the circle because they violated the rule of one unique tree. “The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Why two unique trees? I know what the results of that break are and I know Revelation 2 is the answer that repairs that broken circle.
Despite our best efforts here on earth perfection is still lost. God has noticed our desire has changed from being content to know His perfection to the confusion of trying our best to sort out the knowledge of good and evil. “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance…you cannot tolerate wicked people.” I know “that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.” I know “You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary…Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. ”
Here’s the Good News from Revelation 2 about that other unique tree. “The tree of life” is still standing, untouched, and we still have it’s promise of that first love. There is repair and renewal for that worn out, run-down, or broken circle. “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
Psalm 51:10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
The Firsts are done. The Easter celebration is over. What’s next? Now comes the hard part; continuing the renewal we just celebrated. Renewal will take you beyond what you already know to the recognition of all you still need to know to sustain you. This prayer is both our plea and our evidence of renewal happening in our life. “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me…Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
Mark 1:12 The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, 13 where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him. 14 Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. 15 “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” [NLT]
I couldn’t avoid the red letters of verse 15 in this very familiar story. This chapter is filled with truths I think I know but I know for sure there are still new kingdom things to ponder. Those things turned out to be the few verses that preceded Jesus’ own words combined with this quote from a commentary on Mark .
“Life would be very different if, instead of yearning for some distant and at present unattainable goal, we did all that we could to bring that goal nearer.” [Barclay]
Forty days of temptation plus a dear friend and cousin who’s been arrested don’t bring to mind a neon GO sign do they? Don’t forget the fact that Jesus was fully human and he’d just endured a long period of Satan making sure he knew that. Jesus was experiencing humanity at it’s lowest point but it became his confirmation that “The time promised by God has come at last!”
There’s another compelling thing to remember: he was fully God. That’s even more important because it’s our evidence that his eyes were wide open to just what his “unattainable” goal was – he would not avoid the cross. That was his painful reality and he still chose to do all he could to bring that goal nearer.
That’s the example Jesus gave us to follow: holiness that defies humanity.