Monthly Archives: April 2015

Greetings – But Who Wrote It?

GREETINGS – BUT WHO WROTE IT?

Brothers and sisters, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation for, in fact I have written to you quite briefly. I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you. Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings. Grace be with you all (Heb. 13: 22-25).

The final paragraph and greeting ties this letter to the real world. The writer began his letter by launching straight into his topic as though it were too important to bother with hellos and introductions. He assumed that they knew him as he obviously knew them. The content of the letter with its urgent request for them to reconsider indicates that these people were in a relationship with the writer which made it even more unthinkable that they should go back to Judaism.

Many theologians insist that Paul wrote the letter, but this cannot be true because our writer inadvertently dropped clues all along the way that hint at the fact that this is not typically Pauline. It is very different in style and content from the other thirteen letters where Paul identified himself as the author. Why would he choose to be anonymous in this one? The content is obviously different for a reason. The writer was dealing with a different situation from Paul’s letters. But, at the same time, the personal snippets do not point to Paul.

It’s not my purpose, in this final meditation, to set out a reasoned theory about who wrote it. I only suggest that it was not Paul because of the hints – for example, in his farewell greeting he referred to Timothy as a “brother”. To Paul, Timothy was always his son in the faith.

To Timothy, my true son in the faith (1 Tim. 1: 2).

Our writer was obviously writing from somewhere in Italy. We have no clue as to the destination of the letter. Perhaps it was a church of believers who were predominantly Jewish, or perhaps he wrote to a group of churches in which there were Jewish Christians. It was common, it seems, to write to more than one group of people and have the recipients circulate the letter. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was a circular letter to the churches in Asia Minor. Perhaps the letter was copied before it was passed on so that each church would be able to refer back to its content.

If this was a “brief” letter, one wonders what a long letter would look like! Our writer had a brilliant mind and an excellent grasp both of Judaism and its fulfilment in Christ. He must have been a Jew to have been able to present his case as thoroughly and convincingly as he did. He was more than a theologian. He was probably also a pastor because he evidenced a shepherd’s heart for the people. He knew the people to whom he wrote and he also knew those in Italy from where the letter came.

He referred to Timothy as a brother. Timothy had often visited Paul in prison and been a messenger for him from time to time. This is the first and only hint in the New Testament writings that he was also in prison.  As Paul’s understudy, he must have been a prominent figure in the early church and also a marked man from the Roman government’s point of view. It was inevitable that he, too, had to put up with being harassed and incarcerated for his faith and his activities in spreading the gospel.

What can we take away from this letter? I believe that it stands side-by-side with Paul’s letter to the Romans as one of the two most important interpretations of the cross. Where Paul presented the work of Jesus as the culmination of God’s justice and righteousness – setting forth the death of Jesus as the answer to the dilemma of human sin and God’s justice, Hebrews presents the work of Jesus as the fulfilment of all the types and pictures of the Old Covenant.

These two letters are like the two sides of a coin. Each compliments the other and together they present a full-orbed picture of both the intention of the Father and its fulfilment in the Son. Both the Greek and the Jewish mind would be satisfied that Jesus is a perfect and sufficient Saviour of sinners.

Does it really matter who wrote it? The truth is in what he wrote and of that we can be assured.

And so we can leave this letter for the moment with a feeling of contentment because we know that God has taken care of every detail and wrapped up His case for both His justice and mercy by the death of His Son. Once again, just as Paul had presented his side of the story, to the Hebrew writer Jesus comes up trumps. He is the focal point of everything God promised and did through the history of His people, to bring them to this point where His Messiah stepped in to complete what He started in the Garden of Eden.

The writer urges us, then:

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12: 2b-3a).

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Have you read my new book, Learning to be a Son – The Way to the Father’s Heart (copyright 2015, Partridge Publishing)? You’ll love it!

Available on www.amazon.com or www.kalahari.com in paperback, e-book or kindle format, or order directly from the publisher at www.partridgepublishing.com.

Check out my blogsite at www.learningtobeason.wordpress.com

 

A Beautiful Benediction

A BEAUTIFUL BENEDICTION

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 (Heb.13: 20-21).

What a great prayer to end a magnificent letter! This is not just wishful thinking. Our writer penned a prayer that matched what God has already done and what He has promised to do. Let’s take it apart and encourage our own hearts with the magnitude of God’s grace.

He is the God of peace. Our God delights in peace because that is who He is. What is the nature of this peace? This is not about the absence of anything that disturbs – like the calm on the surface of the water when the air is still. This is about the presence of perfection – wholeness where everything is in place and everything functions perfectly and in harmony.

When God had completed His work of shaping the earth and filling every part of it with creatures and provisions for them, including the first human pair, He declared, “It is very good.” “Good” here means “functional”. Everything fitted together and worked together in perfect harmony. Nothing in the universe at that point was dysfunctional – everything in God’s creation was at peace. Every creature and every system worked together in peace.

God is good. God is functional. Where He is in charge and everything submits to Him, wholeness – peace – prevails. When humans leave their foolish rebellion, return to Him and are forgiven and reconciled to Him through Jesus, they return to functionality within themselves and among themselves.

How did this come about? God made a covenant with mankind, sealed it with the blood of His Son, and then raised Him from the dead to prove that His covenant was both valid and eternal. Unlike the covenant He made with His people at Sinai which they failed to keep, this covenant is unbreakable because it is between Him and His Son, sealed with the blood of His Son, and we are the beneficiaries if we are “in Christ”.

Jesus is not only the atoning sacrifice for our sin; He is also the Shepherd God promised in the days of Ezekiel because the human shepherds who were supposed to care for God’s flock, abused and exploited them for their own ends.

The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy and say to them: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves. Should not shepherds take care of the flock?” . . . I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Lord. . . . I will shepherd the flock with justice.’ (Ezek. 34: 1-2; 15; 16b).

This is the God who also declared that He has already given us everything we need for godly living.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness (2 Peter 1: 3).

Every resource we need to live godly lives in a sinful world has already been provided; all our physical and material needs met as we meet the needs of others (Matt 6: 33); sufficient grace in our weakness (2 Cor. 12: 9); strength to overcome temptation (1 Cor. 10:13); hope, joy and peace in the midst of the darkness (Rom. 15: 13) and the power of the Holy Spirit to be Jesus’ witnesses (Acts 1: 8).

And, best of all, He works in us to do what is pleasing to Him. As we yield to Him and obey His voice, He makes us holy, giving us a hatred for sin and a love for Him that motives everything we do in obedience to Him. Unlike His people who failed to obey, we live to honour and please Him.

What a recipe for success! He sets His requirements before us and then provides everything we need to carry them out. Just as He set the penalty for sin as death and then died for us, so He gives us His standards for holy living and then lives His life through us. What an amazing God we serve! All the glory belongs to Him.

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Have you read my new book, Learning to be a Son – The Way to the Father’s Heart (copyright 2015, Partridge Publishing)? You’ll love it!

Available on www.amazon.com or www.kalahari.com in paperback, e-book or kindle format, or order directly from the publisher at www.partridgepublishing.com.

Check out my blogsite at www.learningtobeason.wordpress.com

No Enduring City

NO ENDURING CITY

For we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess His name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased (Heb. 13: 14-16).

There are some pretty bad things happening in the world around us. Apart from the things that irk us in our own country, what about what goes on in the rest of the world? It is easy for us to become despondent, to complain and to criticise, to judge and condemn and, worse still, to blame God for not doing anything about it.

Our writer says, “Don’t do that. You don’t belong here anyway. This present world with its greed, selfishness and injustice, is not your permanent home. This is your apprenticeship for the real life which is to come.” We forget that our citizenship is in heaven when life is tough and uncomfortable down here. When we keep our sights on where we belong – in the realm of God’s presence and rule, we can be optimistic and full of joy because what lies ahead for us is beyond our imagination.

This gives us reason to be a thankful people. It is not sacrifice in the sense of doing something painful when we offer God praise. It is an act of worship, continually remembering what He has done for us and raising our hearts to Him in gratitude and love for His mercy and goodness. This is the reason for our generosity towards others – God has been infinitely generous to us.

We no longer need to offer the sacrifices of animal flesh and blood to cover sin and to worship God since the blood of Jesus is sufficient for the forgiveness of our sin, once for all. However, that does not mean that we no longer need to offer sacrifices – tokens of our worship and gratitude to God. There are at least five different ways to express our love to Him which constitute our “spiritual” worship.

The writer to the Hebrews mentions two here:

Praise as an act of worship is an expression of our love to God, not only for who He is and what He has already done, but also as our way of trusting Him with our lives for the future. When we focus on God instead of on all the bad things that happen around us and in the world, we take our eyes off this world and fill our vision with the hope towards which we are moving.

Our gratitude to God spills over into acts of kindness towards others. It may not necessarily mean giving away material things. What about people’s need for acceptance and affirmation; expressions of gratitude and appreciation; support and comfort; or kind words instead of criticism? There are a thousand ways in which we can spread love and blessing in a heartless world. This is our way of showing our love to God.

Paul gives us at least two other ways in which we can worship God. In Romans 12:1 he urges us to respond to God’s mercy by giving Him our bodies. He is not talking about being literal sacrifices but “living sacrifices”, allowing Jesus to have complete ownership of everything we think, say and do. As he said elsewhere, “No I but Christ lives in me.”

Being generous with our money and possessions is another way of worshipping the Lord. Paul acknowledge the generosity of the Philippian church towards him for sending him money when he needed it. What was more important, however, was that they were worshipping the Lord by their giving.

I am amply supplied now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent.  They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God (Phil. 4: 18).

Jesus spoke more about money and things than He did about anything else. Why? Because He knew how big a part money plays in our lives. It either rules us or we rule it. Generosity is the way to break the power money has over us. We are to be generous with our money because God has been generous to us in every way. When He has control of what we own, we are truly free from the crippling love of money.

Above everything else, however, there is a gift God longs for us to give Him. David understood that God was not interested in animal blood. He wanted something far more valuable from us – our submissive and contrite hearts. In the midst of his guilt because of the terrible things he had done when he committed adultery with Bathsheba, he said this:

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise (Psa. 51: 16-17).

What is the best offering of all? A heart that is submissive and obedient to God. Without it, all our worship is worthless.

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Have you read my new book, Learning to be a Son – The Way to the Father’s Heart (copyright 2015, Partridge Publishing)? You’ll love it!

Available on www.amazon.com or www.kalahari.com in paperback, e-book or kindle format, or order directly from the publisher at www.partridgepublishing.com.

Check out my blogsite at www.learningtobeason.wordpress.com

 

He Suffered Outside

HE SUFFERED OUTSIDE

We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood. Let us, then, go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore (Heb. 13: 10-13).

What a vivid picture of God’s redemption!

Every time an animal was slaughtered and its blood sprinkled on the Atonement Cover on the Ark of the Covenant on the Day of Atonement, it pointed to and spoke of another Lamb whose blood would provide atonement for the sin of the whole world. Daily, the smoke of the burnt offering would rise to God as a reminder of sin and of the price that had to be paid to atone for sin. The priests who ministered in the tabernacle, were permitted to eat their portion of the meat of the daily sacrifices.

Like them, we have a sacrifice of which we are permitted to partake because we have acknowledged the price of our sin and the value of the blood that atoned for it.  We partake of a different altar, not literally eating the flesh of the Son of God and drinking His blood, as some would have us believe but, through faith in Him, acknowledging His sacrifice, participating in the benefits of His death and identifying with Him in His death and resurrection.

Those who ministered in the tabernacle and ate the flesh of the sacrifices, did not have an automatic right to partake of the sacrifice of Jesus unless they, too, were part of the believing community. Being a priest in the Levitical order did not qualify them to participate in the “altar” of Jesus’ sacrifice. There is only one criterion for anyone to share in His sacrifice – repentance from dead works and faith in Him as the true Lamb of God – turning from sin and turning to God. Jesus said:

Very truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him (John 6: 53-55).

If we were to take these words literally, we would be in real trouble. How is it possible to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus without inventing some kind of crazy doctrine about God doing magic? No, that is not what Jesus meant. In keeping with the Hebrew mind-set, they would have asked, “What does the flesh and blood of Jesus do?” Just as we take in food nourish our physical bodies and provide energy to live, so by faith we take in the death of Jesus to nourish our spirits and enable us to live godly lives in a sinful world.

Animal blood, offered by Levitical priests, cannot do that. Only faith in the death of Jesus can atone for sin and provide life for our spirits.

Since we are part of a citizenship that is not of this world, we must stand with Jesus in spite of the hatred and persecution that loyalty to Him brings. Like the bodies of animals that were burned outside the camp, Jesus suffered outside the city. Symbolically it reminds us that He was rejected by His own people. They would have no part of the forgiveness and reconciliation He provided through His death. They threw Him out and killed Him.

When we take our stand with Him, we become outcasts like Him. It may seem like a disgrace in the eyes of the world, just like His death was a disgrace in the eyes of His people, but we wear that disgrace like a badge of honour because it is His death that gives us acceptance and access to the very throne of God, just as the blood of the sacrificial goat gave the high priest access to the presence of God in the Holy of Holies.

Since we are invited to share in His salvation, we are also urged to share in His disgrace. He did not consider the shame of His suffering enough reason to turn away from it.

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12: 1b-2).

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Have you read my new book, Learning to be a Son – The Way to the Father’s Heart (copyright 2015, Partridge Publishing)? You’ll love it!

Available on www.amazon.com or www.kalahari.com in paperback, e-book or kindle format, or order directly from the publisher at www.partridgepublishing.com.

Check out my blogsite at www.learningtobeason.wordpress.com