Archive for April, 2010

April 30, 2010

The Danger of Dull Ears

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Song of Solomon 5, Hebrew 5

Street Noise

When out-of-towners come to visit me, they find it hard to sleep because of the New York City noise – cars speeding, people talking, car alarms sounding, or jackhammers pounding. I don’t even hear it anymore.  And, if that noise were the Word of God, I’d be in trouble.

Dull Ears

After already having offered solutions [1], the writer of Hebrews finally identifies his readers’ problem – dull ears: “About this [Melchizedek as a prefiguring of Christ] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing” v. 11, ESV. They had heard the Word for so long that it started going in one ear and out the other.

The Danger

How we hear the Word is just as important as whether we hear it [2].  Hearing it with dull ears is a problem because it leads to not believing the Lord and, as we saw on Wednesday, unbelief leads to not entering the Promised Land.  Since God longs for us to enter His rest, He tells us to avoid dull hearing.

In Hebrews, the readers were hearing with their physical ears, not their spiritual ones.  Thus, they weren’t ready to understand deep spiritual truths like Melchizedek and the priesthood of Jesus (v. 11).  They were still “babies” drinking “milk” – unable to digest “solid food” (vv. 12-13).

There’s nothing wrong with being a baby … unless, of course, you’ve been in the world for ten years.  Then, there’s a problem.  These Christians had been believers for long enough that they should’ve been teachers already (v. 12).  Yet, they were losing their desire for God’s Word because they saw no urgency to apply it to their lives.  Since they had no practice in it, they were increasingly unable “to distinguish good from evil.”

How to Avoid

We avoid dull hearing by craving the God’s Word, being satisfied in it, and then discerning between good and evil.  We let His truth enter through our spiritual ears into our hearts so that it can do its saving work in areas where we’ve deeply sinned or been hurt.  In practical terms, we stop passively engaging with the Word; we let it change us.

This Sunday, after you hear the Word preached, sing the Word in songs, and pray the Word in prayers, how will you make sure that your ears are diligent, not dull?

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[1] Hebrews 3:1, 3:8, 3:12, 4:1, 4:14

[2] In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus emphasized the importance of paying attention to how we hear.  He told of a sower who dropped seed in four different soils, each resulting in different yields.  Jesus explained that the seed was the Word of God and the different soils were the people who heard it.  What accounted for the different yields was not whether they heard the Word, but how they heard it: “Take care then how you hear …” (Luke 8:18, ESV).

April 29, 2010

The Danger of Stopping

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Song of Solomon 4, Hebrew 4

Marathon

In 2001, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon.  At mile 21, my whole body ached and I was about to give up – until I saw a man in front of me whose t-shirt read, “Seventy-One and Still Running.”  Not wanting to be a complete loser at twenty-six years old, I passed him and finished the race.

Living the Christian life is like running a marathon.  It takes endurance, patience, training, desire, energy, discipline and strength.  And, the longer it lasts, the more it is threatened by fatigue and temptations to give up.

Un/Belief

Hebrews was written to answer the question, “What does it take to finish a long race when you’re tired and aching?”  This is enormously important because, as we saw yesterday, we must maintain our faith to the end [1]. We must finish the race.

The Israelites didn’t enter the Promised Land because of their unbelief.  This is the gospel.  They weren’t banned because they broke the rules, but rather because they didn’t trust in God and His promises [2].  And that is what we must fear for ourselves as well: “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it” 4:1, ESV [3].

Rest

Knowing what lies at the finish line helps us endure the race.  God has promised to bring His people into rest with Him, where all weariness and encumbrances will be gone [4].  He has ordained and shadowed that rest for us since the foundation of time:

  • Creation (v. 4).  Our omnipotent God rested after He formed the earth, thus showing Himself to be peaceful and sovereign, not harried and overworked.   [5]
  • Wilderness (v. 5).  As the Israelites wandered, God held the Promised Land for them.
  • Joshua (v. 8). Although Joshua took the people into the Promised Land, he still spoke of another day when there would be a more permanent rest.
  • David (v. 7). Long after the people enjoyed the rest of the Promised Land, David still spoke of a more permanent rest in Psalm 95.

As the writer of Hebrews indicates, God’s rest is still open to all who believe in Him (vv. 9-10).  How can you, therefore, strive to enter that rest by continuing to believe? See 4:11.

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[1] Hebrews 2:14, 19, ESV

[2] God Himself first spoke the gospel on Mount Sinai: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin …” Exodus 34:6-7, ESV

[3] Some of you may ask, “Fear? Didn’t Jesus die to make us fearless?” Hebrews 2:15-16 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” ESV.

[4] Matthew 11:28

[5] See also Genesis 2:2

April 28, 2010

The Danger of Unbelief

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Song of Solomon 3, Hebrews 3

Out of Egypt (Exodus 1-14)

In response to the cries of His enslaved people in Egypt, God planned to give them a land flowing with “milk and honey.”  He rescued them from Pharaoh by sending ten plagues, parting the Red Sea, and defeating their enemies [1].

Water, Bread, Meat (Exodus 15-17)

Within three days of their miraculous escape, they began to question God’s goodness.  When they complained about not having water, bread or meat, God provided for them daily.  But they continued to grumble, as they questioned His plan (“Would that we had died in Egypt!”) and His presence (“Is the Lord among us or not?”).  Yet, He still provided.

Golden Calf (Exodus 19-35)

As the Lord was giving Moses the law on Mount Sinai, the people became impatient.  They created an idol and proclaimed, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (32:4).  The Lord was livid, but He remained merciful; He mitigated their punishment and renewed their covenant.

Spies (Numbers 13-14)

Within two years of leaving Egypt, the Israelites were at the threshold of the Promised Land (Canaan).  Moses sent twelve spies to advance.  Ten of them returned and fearfully spoke of the “strong” occupants with well-fortified cities.  Joshua and Caleb, however, spoke of the “exceedingly good land” whose inhabitants were no match for God.  Yet, the people did not listen to them and, instead, plotted against them.

Enough was enough.  Although they’d seen God profoundly, consistently and miraculously work for them, they persisted in unbelief.  Thus, He delivered His verdict – everyone except Joshua and Caleb would wander and die in the wilderness.

Warning (Hebrews 3)

Hebrews 3 offers a sober warning: Don’t be like the Israelites! Although they had enough faith to leave Egypt and enter the wilderness, they did not hold fast.

Likewise, we cannot presume upon God’s grace by thinking that being a Christian is merely about checking a box or praying a prayer.  It’s about receiving His mercy and allowing it to shape our lives and love for Him.  It’s about trusting in Him forever: “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence from to the end.”

How can this warning be a promise for you – one that you can put into effect today? (Hint: See vv. 13, 15)

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[1] For a more artistic take on these events, check out two short video clips: Subway Series: Passover (video), Disney’s Prince of Egypt (video clip)

April 27, 2010

The Danger of Drifting

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Song of Solomon 2, Hebrews 2

Pay attention

In chapter one, while focusing on the person and work of Jesus Christ, the writer of Hebrews does not mention a single commandment.  Rather, the first duty comes in chapter two: “Therefore [in response to the aforementioned qualities of Jesus] we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard lest we drift away from it” v. 1, ESV. In this short command, he gives two reasons to “pay much closer attention” to what has been heard.

Reason #1: Jesus is God’s decisive word

We should look on Jesus because he is God’s final word.  In the past, “God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (1:1).  Jesus is the heir of all things, the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of His nature, and the one who upholds the universe.  Until Christ returns, God will not speak again as decisively as He did in Jesus.

Given who Jesus is, therefore, our believing in him means far more than checking a box or praying a prayer.  If we want to bear witness to our new spirit, we must focus on him (12:1-2).  We must remember to put down the remote control and newspaper and pick up our Bible and pray.

Reason #2: We do not want to fall away

We should look on Jesus because we want to continue in our faith.  Many of us are drifters.  We don’t spend time looking on Jesus and soaking him in and, thus, we “neglect [our] great salvation” (v. 3).  For the Christian, such drifting is deadly.  For, if God’s words were justifiably punishable when they were spoken in the Old Testament through the prophets and angels, how much more so will they create liability when He has spoken through His Son!

Therefore, we must beg the Lord to satisfy us in Him: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” Psalm 90:14, ESV.

Look on Jesus

The greatest commandment is not to work or labor for God; it is to look on, love and worship Him [1].  Is God awakening in you a desire not to drift from Him?  If so, this is a great sign!  But what practical steps will you take to continue looking on Jesus so that you will not drift?

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[1] Looking on Jesus is not only essential for continuing in the faith; it is also essential for coming to faith. For a short “testimonial” video that I ended up not using in this post, see here.]

April 26, 2010

Who Is Jesus?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Song of Solomon 1, Hebrews 1

The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee.  Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc.  So people who don’t know what the h*** they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.
– You’ve Got Mail

Hebrews and Choice

Today, there is an omnipresence of choice.  We have choices in small things (e.g., coffee) and big (e.g., abortion).  By our choices, we define who we are.

Hebrews offers a choice.  The people to whom it was written had been persecuted for their faith and were being tempted to depart from it [1]. The author, therefore, exhorts his readers to choose Jesus.

Who is Jesus?

In the first century, there were servants of God who were religious leaders and some Christians were tempted to follow them (rather than Jesus) since doing so would have been less morally demanding and socially awkward.  Therefore, the writer of Hebrews lays out who Jesus is.

  • He is the Son. While the other leaders were servants of God, Jesus is His Son.  He is the “heir of all things” and “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” [2].
  • He is eternal.  There was a long line of other leaders because “they were prevented by death from continuing in office” [3].  Jesus, however, “continues forever” [4] with a permanent priesthood.
  • He is human without sin.  The servants of God were passing because they sinned [5].  Although he is human and “tempted as we are,” Jesus is “without sin.”
  • He is the perfect sacrifice.   The other leaders had to repeatedly offer sacrifices because they were imperfect and offered imperfect sacrifices [6].  Jesus, however, was a complete and perfect sacrifice – once and for all [7].  He made perfect forever those who are being made holy [8].

Jesus as the Final Word of God

Jesus is God’s decisive word.  Hebrews 1 celebrates Jesus and declares who he is.  Have you chosen this person and, if so, will you continue to persevere in that choice?

This is the topic of Hebrews and, for the next two weeks, we will consider the dangers of not choosing and/or not persevering in him.

[1] See 10:32-34; 6:10; 5:12 [2] 1:1-5, ESV [3] 7:23, ESV [4] 7:24, ESV [5] 5:1-3 [6] 5:3; 10:4 [7] 7:26-28 [8] 10:14.

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