Sorry for the lack of recent updates, but for the first time in a long time, I’ve been busy, and it has been so refreshing! God has opened doors for me to do ministry targeting the 18-25 year old crowd, and it is an enormous blessing to be a part of a church that has a heart for young adults. We’re meeting around coffee, meals, and scripture, and if you’re in the Dallas area we’d love for you to come join us. But if not, I hope you’ll enjoy reading about it here!
Tonight at sundown marks the beginning of the Jewish celebration of Yom Kippur also known as the Day of Atonement. For most Jews the next 25 hours will be spent in prayer and fasting as they observe this holy day. For the Jewish people, this is the day when the priest enters the holy place, sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice across the lid on the Ark of the Covenant, and ask for the forgiveness of the people’s sins for the year. And for Christians, this day represents a portion of the Bible (Leviticus 16) we often breeze through with little to no regard concerning its spiritual implications. But in my opinion, the Day of Atonement represents one of the most vivid picture of justification found in the Bible… that is, if you understand a little about Jewish history and the Old Testament.
As I said before, the Day of Atonement is when the animal sacrifice was poured out on the Ark of the Covenant. Now all throughout the Old Testament the Ark was representative of the presence of God (hence why the priest could only approach it once a year). Inside the Ark were three important items in the life and history of the Jewish people: the Ten Commandments, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s budding rod. These items represented two things. First, they represented God’s provision for his people. God provided his people with a moral law, with food in the wilderness, and with a priest to lead them. Sadly, these items also represented the people’s rejection of God’s provision. The Israelites had sinned against God, by breaking God’s law, grumbling against God’s provision, and ultimately rejecting God’s chosen man. The Ark represented both God’s presence and the people’s sins. Now, Exodus 25 tells us that the Ark of the Covenant was covered with a lid known as the mercy seat (literally translated “propitiatory covering” or “place of propitiation”) and over this lid was perched two golden cherubim with outstretched wings and heads pointed down, looking into the Ark. While contemporary culture has portrayed cherubim as cute winged babies wearing diapers, they are far from that in the Bible. In Scripture, cherubim are angels of fire and of judgment, which is what makes the imagery of the Ark so cool!
You see, the cherubim are looking down into the Ark judging all they see, and what is inside the Ark? The sins of Israel. But on the Day of Atonement, the priest enters the holy place and sprinkles the blood of the sacrifice on top of the mercy seat, which is the lid of the Ark. Now instead of seeing the sins of the people, the angels see the blood of the sacrifice, which covers the sins of the people!
In the same way Romans 3 teaches us that Christ has become our mercy seat or place of propitiation. When God looks upon a believer in Jesus Christ, rather than seeing the sinfulness of that person, he sees his son whom he put forth as a propitiation on our behalf. How cool is that!? The sacrifice of Christ covers all who place faith in him.
The Day of Atonement was a foreshadowing of the day when all sins would be justified by the grace of God at the Cross of Christ, once and for all. For the Christian, the Day of Atonement is not once a year, but once in a lifetime. As the hymn writer said, “how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.”
One of my favorite words found in Scripture is “therefore.” Circle it, underline it, highlight it, pay attention to it, because it means things are about to get easy. Want to know what the point of a passage is? Find this word and you’ve found your point. So far in Hebrews, our author has shown us the superiority of the Son’s revelation over that of the prophets, and the superiority of his position over that of the angels… but what’s the point?
Therefore! The response to understanding the superiority of the Son should be to pay closer attention to the revelation of Jesus Christ that we have heard. Remember what our author’s main point is from my earlier post Hebrews Overview. “To encourage Christians to remain strong in their faith rather than return to Judaism.” Therefore! In light of all you know, don’t neglect your salvation.
Now one of the most helpful things I found in this passage for me personally was when I noticed how much our author talks about communication. Specifically, our author talks a lot about the need to pay attention to what we have “heard.” The word for “I hear” in Greek is the word ακουω (akoúo̱). Specifically in this passage, the author uses it to command his readers to pay attention to what they have heard concerning Christ so that they might not drift away from their faith. However, he also uses this word in another form, παρακοη (parakoee) which is commonly translated “disobedience.” The formation of this word actually comes from two different Greek words. The first is παρα (para) which is a preposition meaning “from, by, beside, alongside of.” This is the word where we derive our English word parallel. The second, of course, is our word ακουω, which you already know means “I hear.” So when we combine these two words we can come up with a really rough translation of “hearing alongside of” or “hearing beside.” What a cool image! When you are disobedient it means that rather than hearing and heeding, you just let it pass right by your ear. You’re hearing alongside of the truth. It brings a whole new meaning to when the author says, “Therefore, we must pay close attention to what we have heard!”
But one huge questions remains… In light of all of these things, how could these believers really trust that Jesus is the messiah? Because it has been communicated to them over and over again. The Lord declared it, others have attested to it, and God has bore witness to it. Creation and the creator all testify of the superiority of Jesus Christ. One of the things I love about this passage is that it shows the intensity with which God pursues his creation. God hasn’t just made his Son known through one avenue… but when God pursues his creation, calling them back to himself, it is irresistible. Whether the goodness of your life points you to Christ, or the misery of your life points you to Christ, when God pursues his creation, they know. Will you hear?
Whenever I sit down to study a passage from the Bible I always try to ask three things: What does it say? What does it mean? What do I do now? Sometimes I encounter passages that make it a little more difficult to answer those questions, and this passage is definitely one of them. Figuring out what a passage says is as easy as reading it, but determining what it means and what I should do with that truth can be difficult.
As I read this morning I was struck with a strange realization. Sometimes the key to figuring out a passage of Scripture is not just to look at what it says, but also at what it doesn’t say. In a book all about the superiority of Jesus Christ, the author has yet to say his name! In fact, in the first two chapters of Hebrews the name Jesus only appears one time. Now later in the book of Hebrews the name Jesus appears frequently, but why not here? It has been shown how Jesus provides a superior revelation than that of the prophets, and now our author is showing how Jesus is superior to the angels, but he still never calls him Jesus! Further, our author uses seven quotes from the Old Testament to show that Jesus is superior to angels, but I was having a really difficult time figuring out what any of these passages had in common. Have I mentioned that he still hasn’t called him Jesus? Why not? Because our author isn’t trying to show the superiority of Jesus over the angels, he is trying to show the superiority of the Son over the angels. What’s the difference? Jesus is a person… the Son is a position. Everyone I know, recognizes me as Bobby, but to two people out there I am “son,” and because of that, I am more significant to them than anyone else. Jesus is not simply superior because of his person, but also because of his position. Angels worship him, and enemies kneel before him… His creation grows old, but he remains the same… His earth will perish but his kingdom is eternal. Angels are good… Jesus is better.
Hebrews 1:1-4 is one of my favorite introductory passages in the entire Bible, because the author just gets after it. The writer starts out talking about the way things use to be. For the Jews, the way God had communicated up till this point was through the teaching and the writing of the prophets. BUT (transition words are important! Don’t miss them) now God has spoken through his son Jesus. This is a different way of doing things, and our author is about to tell us why. God did not simply make Jesus a spokesperson like the prophets; rather, he made Jesus an heir of all things. In the end, everything goes to Jesus. Why? Because everything came from him in the beginning. Not only is Jesus an heir of all things, he is the one through which God created all things. This is another example of the superiority of the revelation that comes through Jesus Christ. Genesis 1 teaches us that God created all things by simply speaking them into existence. God spoke words and through those words all of creation came into existence, but that isn’t the full story. In John 1:1 we find out that Jesus is the “Word” of God who has been present from the beginning, and now in Hebrews 1 we find out that Jesus is the one by which God created all things. God speaks, and Jesus does. Jesus is the active and creating agent of God. But it’s not simply that Jesus created it all, and that it all rightfully belongs to him… everything that exists is upheld by him and the power of his word.
Now it’s no secret that I love words and there are two really cool ones that appear in this passage. The first is the word χαρακτὴρ (characteer) which is so cool because it is where we get the English word “character.” This word is typically translated reproduction or representation. The second is the word ὑποστάσεως (hypostaseows) which comes from the same word we use when talking about the hypostatic union (this is just a cool way of saying that Jesus is both completely human and completely God at the same time). The way this word is typically translated here is to talk about his “essence” or “reality.” So when the author says that Jesus is the “exact imprint of his nature” (ESV) what he is trying to communicate is that Jesus is the full representation of the reality of who God is. Jesus isn’t just a spokesperson pointing to God like the prophets; Jesus is God pointing to himself!
It’s this reality about Jesus that enables him to be the one to make purification for sins. Jesus is superior to the prophets because he is not simply telling the people how to get rid of sin, but rather he is the one taking the people’s sins upon himself.
But our author doesn’t stop there. Having shown Jesus’ superiority over the prophets, he now moves to show Jesus’ superiority over God’s other messengers…. angels. Hebrews 1:1-4 sets the tone for the entire book. The old ways are good… Jesus is better.
Let me set up this first day look at the book of Hebrews by saying that I’ve actually already been looking at it for about a week. If you are going to study a book of the Bible you may want to preview it first. The way I preview a book is by reading it all the way through as fast as I can. I’m not trying to go deep… I just want to get a look at the entire thing so that I can figure out what its about. Focus on the stuff that keeps coming up. What keeps coming up in the book of Hebrews? Jesus is better than everything! Jesus is better than prophets, angels, Moses, the law, the old covenant, the high priest… Jesus is better than everything. When you read fast, the only thing you pick up is the stuff that keeps coming up… give it a try.
Ok, so after getting a big picture of the book I usually like to get some background information just to give me a better idea of what is going on. Who wrote it? When did they write it? Who was the intended audience? You get the picture… For this kind of stuff I usually end up checking out the notes in one of my Study Bibles, commentaries, or one of my new favorite books “The Complete Idiot’s Guide To The Bible” (Seriously if you want a book that gives a really brief overview and background to each book of the Bible this one is great!) Ok so here is what we know and don’t know about the book of Hebrews.
Author: No one knows! (it’s not Paul, I don’t care what anyone says)
Date: Somewhere between 60-70AD (the temple is destroyed in 70AD and the book was most certainly written while it was still standing)
Primary Audience: Christian Jews
Purpose: To encourage Christians to remain strong in their faith rather than returning to Judaism. How? By showing that Jesus is better than everything!!
So thats just about all you need to get started. Give it a try. Take a really fast glance over the book… write down a few major themes or repeated ideas… do a little homework… and we’ll be ready to tackle a really cool book of the Bible.
The current focus of my devotional time is Hebrews, so it’s likely that these writings will focus on what the Lord is teaching me during this time. One of the questions I’m asked the most after I teach is “How did you figure that out?” I’m always encouraged that students are not simply interested in answers, but the process of getting to those answers. Because I know that a lot of students (former/current/future) will be reading, my hope is that these writings will give a bit of insight into what it looks like for a real human to spend real time in the Word and look for real answers. I’m not saying this is the only way to have a devotional, but it’s what works for me, so if you’re stuck in a rut, or if you’re looking for a good place to start, I hope this will be helpful.
First things first, I spend about an hour reading, writing, and praying, and I usually do this in the morning. I’ve found that if I don’t get into the Word early, I wont get into it at all, so I do my devotionals in the morning. I typically try to spend 20 minutes reading (the Bible that is), 20 minutes writing down what I found, and 20 minutes praying over the text and anything else that is pressing on my life. (These ideas aren’t mine, I stole them from The Village Church who probably got them from someone else) I also study whole books of the Bible. I think there is so much more to be gained by understanding the whole of what a book is trying to teach us rather than simply jumping around from verse to verse. While I wish I could say I do this to seek the “full council of Scripture,” honestly I just do it like this because it gives me a finish line and encourages me to keep picking up my Bible each morning. So what I do is divide a book up by section (usually something I use a commentary to help me with… check out Thom Constable’s commentaries online at www.soniclight.org they offer great insight into the Bible and they’re free!) Each day I take another paragraph out of that section and I read and study it over and over, seeing how each verse relates to the others, what the author is trying to say at that point, and how that paragraph fits into the other paragraphs in that section, how that section fits into the whole of the book, and how that book fits into the whole of the Bible.
While an hour may seem like an intimidating amount of time, when you have that much to do it goes by really fast.
Now if you can’t handle all of that at once, don’t worry about it! If you’re picking up the Bible for the first time, start slow. You don’t need to cross reference, spend time in original languages, or write your own commentaries. Just read it, write down what is says (says, not what you think it means, just what it says!), and pray asking God what He wants you to do about it. Now when I say start slow, I don’t mean start fast! Can God reveal his divine will for your life in five minutes every morning? Absolutely! But I doubt He will. Take your time, start slow, let’s take a look at the book of Hebrews together.
When I was in middle school I was absolutely obsessed with basketball. Now anyone who really knows me, knows that that this is laughable because I am horrible at the game. Nevertheless, every lunch period of seventh and eighth grade I found myself outside lined up ready to pick teams. Now anyone who has experienced this moment knows just how intimidating it can be, because naturally no one wants to be picked last. But honestly, I didn’t really care. I’ve always had a fairly realistic understanding of my abilities when it came to sports, and I didn’t really care where I got picked as long as I got to play. Pick me first, pick me last, it really doesn’t matter… that is, as long as we win! Strangely enough, for someone with as little athletic ability as I have, I can’t stand losing. There is absolutely nothing worse than starting a game on a team you know doesn’t stand a chance! Knowing that no matter how hard you fight, how hard you try, how fast you run, you’ve been chosen to suffer for the next hour. Miserable.
What if Christianity was like that? Would you still want to play?
I love the book of Philippians for many reasons. First, because it is so encouraging and uplifting to believers, but second, because it is so ridiculous! Paul writes his most encouraging, most uplifting, most excited book of the Bible while he is in jail! But Paul doesn’t sugar coat this letter to the believers of his first church. Keep running, keeping fighting, keep striving toward the goal, and even if you end up where I am, keep rejoicing.
I love Paul’s words in 1:29. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (ESV) Now the word that appears here for “granted” is the word εχαρισθη which I would typically translate “graciously given” (χαρις meaning “grace”). Paul writes that believers have been graciously given two things from God. The first Paul says, is the ability to believe or place faith in Christ. The second Paul says, is the responsibility of suffering. What’s the common thread? They are both acts of divine grace. Believers have been graciously chosen by God not only to believe, but also to suffer. This is counter intuitive. We love the idea of being picked to win, to triumph, to succeed… but not to suffer. What does Paul say? It is by grace that you have been saved, and it is by grace that you will also suffer for the sake of the one who called you. What should the Christian response be? It’s simple. Paul says it over and over again in the book of Philippians. Rejoice. Rejoice in salvation, and rejoice in suffering. Why? Because they are evidence of God’s grace in your life.
So I’m here to play. I don’t care if my team is chosen to go through life without a scratch or without a point… because in the end, all I need to rejoice is to know that he picked me.
The Greek language fascinates me. I’m always amazed at how much each word of the Bible stands out to me in Greek that I wouldn’t normally see when I look at it in English. So often we breeze through a passage without taking time to meditate upon and examine every word, and we miss a lot. This past summer I spent time the book of Ephesians, and I was particularly interested in a word that appeared in 4:27. In this passage Paul is writing about how Christians should live in right relationship to one another, and issues a specific warning against allowing anger to provoke believers to sin. Paul’s imperative command to believers is to be angry and yet remain without sin. But Paul does not stop there. Rather, he commands believers to not even allow their anger to give an “opportunity” or “foothold” to the devil. Now as I was reading this passage I stumbled upon the word τοπον here, which I was always taught has the basic definition, “place” or “location.” Naturally when we substitute those words into verse 27 they don’t fit quite as well as “opportunity”… or do they? Paul is trying to warn his readers of something much more dangerous than immediate sin. Paul is warning believers against making a place in their lives for Satan to sit and wait. While anger is not immediate sin, its continuation and prolonging can breed bitterness, envy, and sometimes even hatred. Paul isn’t simply concerned with the immediate sinful reactions that can come from anger, but rather he is concerned with protecting believers from a devil who wants to take up permanent residency in their hearts, which is far more dangerous. I’m getting better these days at hiding my anger (except in traffic) but reading Paul’s words makes me wonder if I’m simply getting better at housing an enemy who is waiting to destroy me. If so, then I’ve been missing the point. The goal isn’t to prolong sin, but to overcome the one whose desire is to destroy us with it. Paul’s point is clear… be angry and do not sin… now or later.
Long day of schoolin ahead #fb