New And Improved

Scripture: Hebrews 8.6
But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.

Reflection: New And Improved
By Jon Polk

The Old Covenant, the Law delivered through Moses, was a covenant of works, a legal contract. Do these things. Observe this rule. Act this way. Don’t act that way. It was full of ritual, hard to understand, and even harder to keep.

There’s the problem. And it is a problem. In fact, if there wasn’t a problem with the Old Covenant, then there would have been no need for a new one.

The people of Israel did not and could not keep the Old Covenant. Because they did not remain faithful to the covenant, God turned away from them. The Old Covenant served to highlight the unfortunate truth that no one is righteous, not even one.

Except for Jesus, the only righteous one. The Son of God, our great High Priest, has mediated for us a New Covenant, a better covenant, with God. This New Covenant is a covenant of grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

The content of the New Covenant, quoted from Jeremiah 31, reads more like marriage vows than a legal document.

Do you, God, promise to put your laws in the people’s minds? I will.

Do you, God, promise to write your laws on their hearts? I will.

Do you, God, promise to be the God of your people? I will.

Do you, God, promise that your people will be yours? I will.

Where God once wrote his laws to his people on stone, God will now write a new law in his people, in minds and hearts of flesh. This law written in us stirs us to obedience because it is inscribed on the deepest parts of our being: our mind where we reason, remember and reflect and our heart where we love, hope and give thanks. This is the soil in which God’s new law of grace and forgiveness takes root.

Where God had once turned away from his people because they were unfaithful, God now promises that he will be their God and they will be his people once again. This New Covenant is not dependent on our faithfulness, but rather on God’s faithfulness.

The New Covenant has made the old one obsolete. In his classic commentary, Matthew Henry declares, “It is antiquated, canceled, out of date, of no more use in gospel times than candles are when the sun has risen.”

Sisters and brothers, thanks be to God that we have this New Covenant because the Son has indeed risen.

The Call to Prayer
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. — Isaiah 1.18

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 1-2 (Listen – 11:18)
Hebrews 8 (Listen – 2:22)

No Spiritual Fast Food

Scripture: Hebrews 5.12
In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!

Reflection: No Spiritual Fast Food
By Jon Polk

Fast food. We love our fast food. The results of a 2013 Gallup Poll indicated that almost 50% of Americans eat fast food at least once a week. This is in spite of the fact that the majority of those who eat it at least weekly also agreed that fast food is not good for you. But fast food has become an integral part of our culture because of its convenience, portability, and low cost.

What if we managed our spiritual diet in the same way we treat our physical diet? What if we approached our spiritual health in the same way we ignore our physical health?

The reality is that we live in a fast-paced world. We eat fast food not because it is healthy, but because it is efficient. Often the same is true for our spiritual lives. We read our one-minute devotion, say a quick prayer as we head out the door, and maybe listen to a song or two on the local Christian radio station on the way to work. Quick, easy, convenient.

Unfortunately, spiritual maturity does not come quickly, it is rarely easy, and is definitely not convenient.

The recipients of the epistle of Hebrews wrestled with spiritual immaturity. They weren’t willing to grow in their faith and knowledge of God’s truths. They didn’t even try to understand.

The word of God is alive and active and ought to continually challenge us and reshape our thinking and living. We should not be lazy with our faith and simply remain as spiritual infants, but rather work diligently to love God and serve his people. Like the first hearers of this letter, some of us who ought to have matured into teachers and leaders of the faith are still repeating Christianity 101.

A CEO of a large company was interviewing a field of internal candidates for a promotion. When the announcement was made that a five-year employee received the promotion, another employee angrily challenged the executive, “I’ve had twenty years with this company and I was passed over for the promotion by a colleague with only five years of experience.” The CEO replied, “That is not exactly true. You have only had one year’s experience twenty times.”

There are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity. It is a lifelong process of learning and growing and training ourselves in the ways of God’s love, grace and truth.

The Refrain
I call with my whole heart; answer me, O Lord, that I may keep your statutes. — Psalm 119.145

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 23 (Listen – 7:43)
Hebrews 5 (Listen – 1:57)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Kings 24 (Listen – 3:21) Hebrews 6 (Listen – 2:58)
2 Kings 25 (Listen – 5:24) Hebrews 7 (Listen – 4:01)

A High Priest Like No Other

Scripture: Hebrews 4.15
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

Reflection: A High Priest Like No Other
By Jon Polk

According to the sacrificial system in Israel, the high priest, the chief religious official of Judaism, was the only one who could offer sacrifices for the sins of the people and for other priests and even for himself.

On the Day of Atonement (the annual Jewish festival of Yom Kippur), the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies and offer sacrifices for the penance of the people of Israel. Only the high priest could enter this sacred inner sanctuary of the temple and he could do so only once a year, on this holiest day of the Jewish calendar.

However, there is one who is called our great high priest, whose power and authority supersedes that of the high priests of old.

Jesus, our great high priest, walked among us as a human being, therefore, he is able to identify and sympathize with us. He drew near to us in order to understand us. As a human being living alongside his creation, Jesus was tempted like us, faced trials like us, and endured suffering like us. Jesus participated fully in the human experience with one important exception, Jesus did not sin.

Jesus, the Son of God, while similar to us in his humanity, is also significantly different from us in his divinity. Although he faced temptations common to all people, he did not give in to sin. This critical distinction elevates Jesus above any earthly high priest.

As our great high priest who is without sin, Jesus mediates payment for our sins through the sacrifice of his own life. Through his death, resurrection and ascension back into heaven, we can receive God’s mercy and grace.

As a fellow human, Jesus is able to identify with us. As the divine Son of God, Jesus is able to save us.

Israel’s high priest was allowed access to the presence of God in the Holy of Holies only once a year. Our great high priest Jesus has provided each of us with access to God’s throne of grace in any time of need. May we live our lives in faithfulness and gratitude for the great high priest who redeems.

The Refrain
Cast your burden upon the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous stumble. — Psalm 55.2

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 22 (Listen – 3:45)
Hebrews 4 (Listen – 2:43)

A Cautionary Tale of Unbelief

Scripture: 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.

Reflection: A Cautionary Tale of Unbelief
By Jon Polk

From the ancient history of the Israelite people comes a familiar story, a warning from the Holy Spirit. We recall those whose rebellion against God resulted in forty years of punishment in the wilderness, those whose hearts wandered away from faith, despite what God had done for them.

And it is here we discover that the heart is, in fact, the heart of the matter. In Hebrew thought, the heart was the core of a person’s being. The heart was the locus of emotional, intellectual, and moral activity and the center of physical activity. Thus, the heart controls motivations and produces actions. A clean heart produces faithful living. A corrupt heart leads to the opposite.

The Israelites who had followed Moses out of Egyptian captivity were given the opportunity to return home, back to the Promised Land that God had provided for their ancestors. But the Israelites’ unbelief, their lack of faith, determined their action. They walked away from God’s plan and his desires for them.

The English words belief and faith are both translated from the same Greek root word. We tend to think of belief as a set of propositions to which we give intellectual assent, but it is much more than that. To believe is to have faith. To have faith is to trust. To trust results in action.

An unbelieving heart does not trust in God’s ability to provide and lead and consequently results in decision-making and action that turn away from the good nature and grace of God. And such was the demise of an entire generation of Israelites, who walked away from the Promised Land because of their unbelief and perished after forty years of wandering in the desert. Moses brought God’s salvation to the ancient Israelites, but their hearts of unbelief charted a course of disobedient action.

Let the warning of the Holy Spirit be heard by those who are followers of Christ, do not harden your hearts towards God. May our souls sing with conviction these words from the great hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing:

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let that grace now like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

The Request for Presence
Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; shout for joy, all who are true of heart. — Psalm 32.12

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 21 (Listen – 4:06)
Hebrews 3 (Listen – 2:25)

Fully Human, Fully Saved

Scripture: Hebrews 2.14-15
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

This week and next, Jon Polk is taking us on a deep dive through the book of Hebrews. Check out the first one if you missed it. I’m looking forward to this journey. — John

Reflection: Fully Human, Fully Saved
By Jon Polk

For most believers of the Christian faith, accepting the divinity of Jesus is a given. This one who is called the Christ, the Son of God, is the fullest representation of the character and being of God. Jesus is fully divine.

But what are we to make of Jesus’ humanity? This is often where we struggle. How can Jesus be both fully divine and fully human?

When we read the gospels, we find that at times…

Jesus became hungry.

Jesus was thirsty.

Jesus became tired.

Jesus was sleepy.

The scriptures tell us that Jesus was born, he grew physically, he died, and he had a human body after the resurrection.

Was this all absolutely necessary?

Given the number of eye-witnesses to Jesus’ earthly life, it may seem odd that one of the earliest heresies to plague the early Christian church was Docetism, the belief that Jesus’ physical body was merely an illusion, that he was actually pure spirit and only appeared to have a human body. John addresses this issue in his letters, stating first that “those who acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” are from God and second, that “those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh are deceivers.”

In the case of Jesus, neither fully divine nor fully human was sufficient on its own. This is one of the great mysteries of the incarnation. Why did God, through his Son, come to earth in human flesh?

He did so for our very salvation.

It was not the angels in the heavenly realms that Jesus set out to rescue, but flesh and blood human beings who were held in slavery by the great deceiver. Jesus became fully human so that he could serve as our high priest to not only administer the atoning sacrifice for our sins, but also to become that sacrifice himself.

For a God who only appeared to be human, could only appear to have saved us. But our God, who became fully human, did so in order that he might fully save us. And therefore, we should not ignore so great a salvation, because we recognize that we are fully indebted to him.

The Request for Presence
Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; shout for joy, all who are true of heart. — Psalm 32.12

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 20 (Listen – 3:39)
Hebrews 2 (Listen – 2:47)

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