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Category Archives: Hebrews

Hebrews 13 – Never Leave You, Never Forsake You

In the closing chapter the writer of Hebrews addresses influences Christians should be aware of and avoid: Sex, Power, and Money. Taking a quick glance at CNN this morning I saw headlines about what is in this year for staying sexy (apparently butts are out and faces are in), how to gain power over others in the business world, and multiple articles about people’s obsession over money (favorite headline: Drag queens, fake beards and chocolates: Notable diamond heists).

You will sacrifice for what you love. We don’t have to look too far to see how quickly we sacrifice for sex, power, and money. Women put themselves through horrible pain to attract guys. Guys spend tons of money to get women into bed with them. People sacrifice friendships and partnerships to gain power over others, not to mention the moral sacrifices that are often made to gain power. Parents are absent from their kids lives because they work endless hours at their jobs to support the level of living they desire to keep up. Hebrews response to this is that God has said that he will never leave us or forsake us so quit searching for security in all the wrong places.

We’ve seen a moral decline in our country but things weren’t any better in the early centuries. Though they may not have been bombarded by it like we are today in our media, advertisements, and the rest of culture, sex was rampant in the Roman Empire. Sex has been dumbed down to a physical action that is following the natural instincts embedded in us. We ignore the emotional aspects of sex. It is the greatest level of intimacy you can share with someone and there will be a connection with that person that is hard to let go of. As a 29-year-old virgin I’ve found that our culture finds me a bit taboo and even a bit unrealistic. I’ve heard all kinds of comments from women in my dating life because I’ve found that this is something I need to be upfront about since it is so expected in our society. Sadly we’ve dumbed abstinence down to a “rule in an old book” (an accusation I often hear). Here’s my take on my virginity based on this passage. Sex is the greatest level of intimacy I can share with someone and that emotional and very deep connection is a gift that I want to give my wife. The response I typically get is that my wife most likely hasn’t done that for me but a gift isn’t a gift if something is expected in return. Forgive as Christ has forgiven is where I sit on this. All in all, we need to reclaim sexuality from our culture.

“Keep on loving each other as Brothers and Sister.” Hebrews calls us to be the great cloud of witnesses to one another as well. We have received a Kingdom that cannot be shaken! We are going to mess up. We are going to fight from time to time. Leaving the community of believers is not an option though. We have been brought into the body of Christ, the Family of God, and Family sticks together. Love as Brothers and Sisters. All things should be done in community together. At the very foundation of who we are as a Body is Christ. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We are not a people waiting for tomorrow to come. We live in the reality of today knowing Christ.

The Hebrew writer also mentions a number of times to “remember your leaders” and uses words like “obey” and “submit” in when talking about our relationship with them. In a lot of our churches we have become more so democratic in our relation to our church leaders. We don’t take these positions as seriously as we should. It isn’t that leaders should walk around with heads high in their authority. They are still to be servant leaders in the image of Christ but they are our leaders nonetheless, put there by God, and accountable to God. Submission and obedience are hard things to do in a culture that constantly pushes you to desire power and authority.

I want to end our time in Hebrews with the prayer in 20-21,

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in Bible Blog, Hebrews

 

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Hebrews 12 – Their Faces Move Us Forward

I have a confession to make, and to those of you who know me best this will not come as a surprise.  I am a nerd.  I have always been a nerd and continue to be one today.  I was on the Academic Team, MathCounts, Scholastic Team, and was Academic All-State (and yes, I do have an All-State jacket just like the football and basketball guys.  Mine just has the lamp of knowledge on it).  I also loved a series of Fantasy (like Lord of the Rings, not weird Romance stuff) novels by Robert Jordan as a kid.  The series was completed this month, but before reading the last couple of books I decided to listen to the first eleven on audio book again first.

I tell you all of that to tell you that a number of the scenes in this book take place on royal castles.  One character in particular is destined to be Queen someday and she is always talking about the portraits of former queens that hang around the palace.  They remind her of the great queens of the past and make sure she doesn’t forget the legacy being passed down to her.  They inspire her to pursue this kind of courage and leadership in her own life.  At times, she feels she cannot go on, but the eyes of those queens of old, looking down on her refuse to let her fail.  With an audience like that, she must have a courage worthy of those who went before her.  

You can see why Hebrews 11 and 12 remind me of these stories.  The writer of Hebrews very literally wants us to be inspired, motivated, encouraged and held accountable by this ancient Hebrew heroes.  It’s also worth noting that the writer is claiming Israel’s ancient heroes as the heroes of the Christian community as well, which is interesting since they are not all Jewish.  But chapter 12 begins with the idea that because we have an audience of heroes who are watching us, we should not waver in our faith but press on to the goal.  We should have laser like focus on Jesus and refuse to be distracted from anything.  I mean, think of what those heroes accomplished and think about what we can accomplish with Jesus today!  So just recognize that when troubles come, God is working through those troubles to make us even better children.

And don’t let anything get in the way.  Live in peace with one another so that conflict doesn’t tear us apart.  Live pure lives so that sin doesn’t rip you away from the Gospel. Don’t let earthly desires tear away your true desire for what matters the most…that happened to Esau and look how that ended for him.  Stay focused.

After all, Israel stood at a mountain where God gave them the law and they trembled with fear and anguish because what was on the mountain was terrifying.  But we have come to a mountain of joy, a mountain of salvation, a mountain where God gives us a covenant of peace and love.  How can anybody turn away from this mountain to go back to the mountain of terror?  So worship our God…the God of the unshakable kingdom.  And do not fall away!

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2013 in Hebrews

 

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Hebrews 11 – Stones of Faith

In chapter 10, the readers are reminded to not look back to the old way of doing things but to look forward to what Christ has done. He did this once for all. We were baptized once for our sins. The Hebrew writer keeps giving the reminder to stay the course, don’t look back!

Hebrews 11 then begins with how we are able to look forward and not look back: Faith. Faith is what gives us the ability to move forward without looking back. I really like this translation of 11:1-2. “What then is faith? It is what gives assurance to our hopes, it is what gives us conviction about things we can’t see.”

Faith, for the Hebrew writer, is always in conjunction with hope. Faith is looking at God and trusting him for everything. Hope is looking at the future and trusting God for it. I’ve joked for a few years now that I am not an optimist but a realist. The more I joke about it the more I feel like it is true. I have little hope or faith in my fellow man, which means I am not much of an optimist. Before I get written off as a cynic, I look at history and see all of the advancements we have made and basically see that we have merely created whole new ways of killing each other and ways of blaming our problems on our parents. I’m playing this up a bit but what I want to communicate is that putting faith and hope in our fellow man will fail us. Putting faith and hope in our government will disappoint us. Putting faith and hope in the old way of doing things will always come up short.

Faith is defined in relation to hope because faith gives your hope assurance. It is one thing to hope for a better world, for new life beyond the grace, but unless you believe in the God who raised Jesus from the dead and conquered death then your hope is merely degenerated into optimism…which is why I’m a realist who believes in God.

It is by faith that we understand all things. It is by faith that we understand that God created out of nothing. One of my favorite questions I get asked is, “Where did God come from? What created God?” Those questions are based on an understanding we have within creation that everything has a beginning. The reason we think that way is because we have a beginning. Should this notion of “beginning” be applied to the being that created the world that holds that concept? We take it on faith.

The Hebrew writer establishes that faith goes back to creation and claims all the characters in Israel’s story going forward. I got to do some hiking in the highlands of Scotland back in ’04. The highlands are incredibly rugged mountains that are almost vertical in most places. When you look down below you see these amazing lochs (lakes) gathered at the base of the mountains winding around. The higher we got up the mountain the more I struggled with my steps. We weren’t doing switchbacks like most mountains. We were going straight up. At one point I realized that we were hiking on a stone path. This blew my mind but then gave me great hope. The realization that someone had not only been there before but had carried rock with them to pave the way for me gave me great hope. I can’t help think about that hiking trip when I read about these stones of faith that have been put in place.

On other backpacking trips I’ve been on there is a common sight that most people don’t notice unless they are looking for it. It is called a cairn. A cairn is a stack of rocks that someone has stacked up to mark the trail. These come in handy when you are in the basin of some mountains and you’ve gotten off the trial. You look out and look for a small stack of rocks marking the way. I’ve been on a number of trails where it is hard to see where the path is going and I look for the cairn. I’m thankful for the people who have gone before me to show me the way.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2013 in Bible Blog, Hebrews

 

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Hebrews 10 – You’re Kidding Me

The author of Hebrews has been working to establish how much “better” the way of Christianity is than the old Judaism.  It’s clear that there is a strong pull within the early church to move back towards the old ways, the ways of Judaism.  Some have left the church entirely and are going back to the sacrifices, priests, and obedience to the law.  Others are simply bringing those with them into the church, which is problematic in and of itself.  Now, in chapter 10, we find two strong arguments seeking to motivate people to stay the course and not look back.

The first argument is that the old sacrifices and rituals happened over and over again because they weren’t complete.  If any one of those sacrifices or rituals ever completely worked, then you obviously wouldn’t have to do it again.  Because it happens regularly, it’s clear that they are partial and temporary.  On the other hand, Jesus died once and was resurrected once for all time.  You were baptized once and your sins were washed away for all time.

Hebrews then gives a specific example.  To the first century Jewish reader they could easily read between the lines and hear something like this: “Remember the Day of Atonement you celebrated every year?  Remember how every year the High Priest cleanses and purifies the Holy of Holies?  And remember how they tied a chord to his foot in case he did any little thing wrong and was struck dead by God while behind the curtain and nobody wanted to go get him so they could pull him out by the rope?  They of course do that because of what happened when fire consumed Nadab and Abihu…you remember that story, right?  Remember how scared even the priest were to go behind the curtain…yeah…that’s what you are going back to.”

On the other hand (vs 19 and following), Christians have the confidence to enter the Most Holy Place!  There is a living way through the curtain since our High Priest takes us into the very throne room of God and we enter it, not with fear and trepidation, but with confidence and full assurance as we DRAW NEAR TO GOD!  We don’t need a Day of Atonement because we have been completely cleansed and atoned for already, once and for all.  Jews were scared to the bone to come near God, but now we draw near to God with confidence and assurance to have a RELATIONSHIP with him!  How could you consider…even consider going back to that?!

 

Dear writer of Hebrews, that’s a really good point.  Would you like to add something to that?  Oh you would…

Remember when you first became a Christian and suffered for the name of Christ?  You were mocked, possibly beaten, exiled from family meals, stood beside those in prison (for their faith in Christ), allowed your stuff to be stolen and much more?  Remember that?  You prevailed.  You came through it with your faith intact.  And now you are considering giving it all up….for what?  God will take no pleasure in those who shrink back.

 

“But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.”

Good point Hebrews author.  Can you give me some examples of God’s people who refused to shrink back?  Oh…fine…I’ll wait until next week.  Also, great use of Jeremiah 31 throughout the first part of this chapter.  I see what you did there.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2013 in Hebrews

 

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Hebrews 9 – Does He Still Feel the Nails?

Why did Jesus have to die? This is a question that has been asked for two millennia. Why couldn’t God just say everyone was made whole again? Why couldn’t God just fix creation? Why did Jesus have to die? There’s not much about the answer that I really understand when it comes to blood sacrifice. I am reading the same passages you are reading and it is incredibly foreign to me. Our passage today tells us that blood is required and so we just have to believe it to be true and try and make some understanding out of it. As always, I’ll give my take one something I don’t fully understand.

I think the key to understanding what is going on in the temple and with Christ is to ask the question, “Why does God not just fix creation if it is broken?” The answer is that he does, just not in a way in which we would think he should. From the very beginning of creation God has pursued us on our level. He has desired relationship with us since the beginning. He has met us where we are rather than calling us up to where He is. Relationships by definition have to be two ways and cannot be forced. There has to be a response from the other side.

What God does for us in Christ is take care of the broken relationship on our end and absorbs our faults in Christ. In Christ, God has fulfilled what needs to happen for us to be back in relationship with Him leaving us with a simple response to be back in this relationship. God cannot fully fix the relationship because relationship requires some level of response. God has fixed everything that is broken but a response is required.

Once you are in this relationship does this mean you won’t have problems again? Of course you will! For too long we have presented a Christianity of guilt that when you mess up you have put Jesus on the cross again. I remember singing a song in the youth group that made my stomach knot with guilt every time we sang it, “Does he still feel the nails every time I fail? Does he hear the crowed cry “Crucify!” again? Am I causing him pain when I know I’ve got to change? ‘Cause I just can’t bare the thought of hurting him.”

The answer to these questions is found in 23-28, NO! He died once for all and continues to intercede for us. His sacrifice was perfect and final! Because of his blood we have confidence to approach God, our Father, in a relationship. Live in this reality!

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2013 in Bible Blog, Hebrews

 

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Hebrews 8 – It’s Just Better

The word “better” appears more times in the book of Hebrews than the rest of the New Testament combined.  It should come as no surprise since the author continues to comb through the Bible of his time, what we now call the Old Testament, providing passage after passage and then showing how things are even better with Christ.  We have a better High Priest, a better sacrifice, a better Temple, a better covenant.  Every time the author looks back at how things were, we are reminded that those things were good.  In fact, they were often very good.  But they anticipated something to come and we now know that is in Jesus and it’s all just…well…better.

So to review, the Hebrews writer wrote chapters 3-4 with his mind reflecting on and responding to Psalm 95.  The writer has been doing the same with Psalm 110 throughout chapters 5-8.  Now, the writer shifts in the middle of chapter 8 to a reflection upon Jeremiah 31 and will continue to do this until chapter 10 of Hebrews.  We have explored how Jesus is greater than the angels, that he will bring us into a more perfect Sabbath rest than Israel ever imagined, the Jesus is the true High Priest and replaces the function of the Temple.  We now move into a discussion of the new covenant promised in Jeremiah 31 and will continue to explore this new covenant for the next several chapters.

All in all, the book continues to make a strong and compelling argument for holding on to Jesus rather than slipping back into the safer and more familiar Judaism that so many have left behind.  To go back would not only be foolish, but unfaithful.  While most of us don’t struggle with returning to Judaism (since most of us didn’t start there) we must be evaluating what it is that we must struggle to not go back to?  What familiar temptations and values did we give up for our faith?  Do we slip back into those?  Isn’t that just as foolish for us to do as it is for the Jews who are the first readers of Hebrews?  At the end of the day, when we choose our old ways, whatever they may be, instead of Jesus we are denying that the way of Christ is in fact….much better.

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2013 in Hebrews

 

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Hebrews 7 – Jesus: More Than a Sin Fix

When we think of the problem of sin we quickly think of what keeps us from a positive eternal destiny. We over simplify the problem of sin as the same problem that every religion is trying to deal with. This is why it isn’t uncommon to hear claims that all religions are the same or have the same goal in mind, “to make us better people” or “to get us to heaven.” Every religion has a way of “appeasing the gods” and so it really just depends on what area of the world you are born in as to what religion you are. Is the ultimate goal just to appease God so that he will not smite you because of your sins? That seems to be a broken system, which will always require appeasement in order to not be zapped (I’m not sure what the past tense of smite is…smitten?!)

Hebrews 7 helps us see that the old system was weak and useless and a better system needs to be put in place. There needs to be a system that doesn’t just cover over sins but removes them all together. Christ came so that we could be the people that God created us to be, perfect. The consequence of sin is death and Christ conquered death. “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (v25).

Jesus was from the house of David, which qualified him to be the Messiah, the King of Israel. It seems to have been problematic that Jesus was not qualified to be a priest because he is not from the house of Levi. The Hebrew writer leans heavily on Psalm 110, that the King is said to be a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek, whose priesthood does not depend on ancestry but on the call of God alone.

We have a priest that isn’t making us better but making us new. To be made better as we are, is to fall short of what God desires for us. I hear people often say of themselves, “I’m a good person” as if that is what God fully intended for them to be. “I can be good without God” is another comment I hear often. To be honest, there are a lot of really good people in the world who don’t know Christ. Some of the best people I know are openly anti-Christian. The reality is, Christ did not come to make us “good people” but to make us new. One of the responses of this newness is that we live as Christ did in this world till this newness is fully realized in the resurrection. We do not live “good lives” in order to receive what Christ has done. We live in response to what Christ has done for us as we anticipate fully being made new in the resurrection. You cannot be good enough to “go to heaven.” If you could, Christ died for nothing. Heaven has come to you in Christ so live in response to that reality.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2013 in Bible Blog, Hebrews

 

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Hebrews 6 – Beyond the Basics

When it comes to learning, foundations matter.  I remember as a kid in school that every fall we had to relearn everything we had covered the previous year (and then went and forgot during the summer).  My teachers knew that if my foundations from the previous year were not strong they could not continue teaching me new things.  On a side note, it’s this principle that actually makes me an advocate for smaller summer vacations since there is a more continuous teaching process and less “foundation repair” required.

For Christians, we cannot simply stay in kindergarten our entire lives singing the ABC’s.  We must master our letters and then move on.  This is the natural order of things.  Can you imagine walking into a high school classroom and hearing the teacher say, “Students, please stand up and all together let’s sing our ABC’s”?  And yet there are basic foundational teachings of Christianity that people struggle with all of the time.  But it’s often not because we mastered them and then forgot them, but more often is because we never knew them in the first place.

So what are these fundamental teachings the Hebrew writers hopes we have all mastered so we can move to more difficult teachings needed for mature Christians?

  • Repentance from acts of death (sin)
  • Faith in God
  • Instruction about cleansing rites (baptism)
  • The laying on of hands
  • Resurrection of the dead
  • Eternal judgment

I am going to completely ignore the fact that not many churches today to much of anything that looks like the New Testament practice of laying on of hands.  But how much do most Christians know about the reasons we get baptized (or in some cases don’t get baptized)?  How much do we know about the resurrection of the dead, which in the New Testament is shown to be a bodily resurrection?  If we understood this, we would likely have fewer pictures of people floating in the clouds with wings and harps.  Certainly modern Christians have room for improvement in the basics before we even more on to maturity.

The text then talks about how those who move beyond these things and then walk away from their faith cannot come back.  I don’t personally think that Hebrews is attempting to deal with the larger theological question about whether or not fallen Christians can return to their faith.  I understand it to be a continuation of this idea
that dropping out of Calculus to go practice your simple addition is counter to the way things are supposed to work.  Once you are “in” and “beyond the basics” keep moving forward towards maturity.  I think personal experience has brought most of us in contact with Christians who fell away for a time before being restored to their faith.  This passage doesn’t tell us that isn’t possible.

Instead of falling away though, what we should do is stay firmly attached to God’s Kingdom.  Verse 19 goes on to talk about how our Christian hope is an anchor.  Although the metaphor is a little odd because the anchor isn’t on a boat or in the water.  Rather, the anchor goes behind the curtain.  The Jewish audience would have immediately recognized that the curtain was the boundary to the inner sanctuary of the Temple, where God lived among his people.  But Jesus doesn’t anchor us to the Temple.  Rather, Jesus goes behind the real curtain to the real throne room of God, that is heaven.  Our hope in Jesus is the chain that holds us firmly and safely attached to God’s throne room in heaven.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2013 in Hebrews

 

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Hebrews 5 – Like God Like Us

A successful businessman from my hometown goes to my parent’s church and is on the board of trustees for Oklahoma Christian. You can’t go very far in Wichita Falls without seeing his name. He’s managed to purchase pretty much all of the car dealerships in town making himself one of the most successful people in town. Over the years I have seen his son working in just about ever part of their business. He has sold my family cars, worked with us through the financing, driven are car off to be washed, and now runs his own section of his dad’s dealership. He pretty much knows every part of the business and understands the needs of the different areas. When different employees come to him with complaints or suggestions, he has an idea of where they are coming from because he has been there to at some degree or another.

Jesus is not the disconnected son of a CEO who has no idea what is going on within the interworking of the family business. Jesus came down to where we are. He represents us, not as someone who stands on high looking down on us lowly people, but as one who understands what we are going through because he lived like us, suffered like us, and knows the struggles of this life.

There are verses in this section that I am not quite sure what to do with. “He learned through his sufferings to be obedient. When he was made perfect…” Where I find hope in this is that the writer of Hebrews seems to be continually promoting the humanity of Jesus to make sure we understand that we have a representative that not only is God but is also is one who has lived as we do and sympathizes with us because he has been there. When we go through trials and sufferings, we learn to be obedient. We learn that we must lean on God to make it through this life. We learn to lean on God first and the sufferings becomes less and less.

Learning to lean on God and allow God to take care of us is to move from drinking milk to eating meat. A prayer that was prayed over me and a group of other new Youth Ministers at our Youth Minister’s conference has stuck with me for all of these years, “Lord selfishly we pray that nothing bad will ever happen to these new ministers but in good faith we as for everything to happen to them that needs to happen to them that will make them depend on you completely.” That prayer has stuck with me because I want to be able to do this on my own but I am continually reminded that God is my source of strength and I can’t do it on my own. Allow suffering to produce obedience and mature you into the adult in Christ you’ve been called to be.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2013 in Bible Blog, Hebrews

 

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Hebrews 4 – Psalm 95 Unlocks the Meaning

If you have been reading Hebrews 3-4 without considering Psalm 95, then you are missing a lot of what’s going on here.  Psalm 95 is the key that unlocks this passage.  That Psalm tells the story of Israel, wandering in the wilderness, struggling to maintain confidence in both God and Moses, losing faith at the spies’ account, and wandering for 40 years before the next generation finally entered “God’s rest.”  It’s important to know that in Psalm 95 the phrase “my rest” is talking about Israel completing the wandering (much of which is alluded to in Hebrews 3), completing the conquest, and finally entering the Promised Land.  Of course, no conversation of “God’s rest” exists without reminding us of God’s complete rest on the seventh day of creation, and the establishment of the Sabbath rest in Israelite law and custom as a weekly remembrance of that first event.

So when we read about a future Sabbath rest for the people of God, we are reading about a third rest.  The first was God’s rest following the creation.  The second rest was given to Israel following Joshua’s conquest as they occupied the land that had been promised to them by God.  And now the writer of Hebrews speaks of a third and final rest that the people of God has invited into.  However, we must make sure that unlike those who lost faith in the wilderness, that none fall away, become disobedient, or harden their hearts.  So let us make every effort to enter that rest.

Are you reflecting God to the world and the world to God?

And just as Christians have a new and future Sabbath rest, they also have a new and more perfect High Priest.  The Hebrews author continues to show how Christianity and the church provide greater fulfillments of many of the Jewish faith traditions.  Jesus is the great High Priest, functions as both the provider of the sacrifice, the one who carried it out, and also the sacrifice itself.  Jesus, as a human, was like us and knew every temptation.  Now, as our High Priest, he is truly qualified to stand in the gap between God and humans (as both God and human in and of himself) as our mediator.  It’s a very powerful image when you realize how uniquely qualified Jesus is to be the representative of God to humanity and the representative of humanity to God.  It’s perhaps equally powerful that we are called to join Jesus in that role today as the mediators between God and the world we live in.

It ultimately must leave each of us asking two questions, “Am I helping to bring God to other people and am I helping to bring other people to God?”  If not, then shouldn’t you be stepping up to help guide them towards the third and final Sabbath rest?

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2013 in Hebrews

 

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