Faith of the Fathers

The three Patriarchs of the people of Israel were amazing examples of faith. Yet, it’s difficult to beat the example of Abraham offering Isaac in obedience to the One promising him children. This event is recorded in detail in Genesis 22. God tested Abraham. In the Hebrew, this word for “test” can refer to temptations as well as qualitative tests.

The word used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (Septuagint) is also used by the writer of Hebrews in 11:17 for “test”. It refers to testing to determine quality, and sometimes originates from ill will (temptation). God does this sort of thing with us, but we are not to do such things with Him (Luke 4:12, quoting Deuteronomy 6:16). The Pharisees did this sort of testing of Jesus constantly.

So, here’s the way the writer of Hebrews uses it:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.

Hebrews 11:17-19 NASB

Think through this test for a second. In Genesis 21, God has had Abraham send away Hagar and Abraham’s son Ishmael, telling Abraham that Isaac would be the “child of promise”. Now, “some time later”, this same Yahweh calls on Abraham to kill Isaac, specifically calling out both Isaac, and the special relationship between he and Abraham. Think about that for a second. It should give you chills. It should give you some pause for a moment, possibly even doubt. Because behind this story is the reader’s reaction of “what might my Savior ask of me?” And that’s a very good question.

The test of Abraham is of his quality of belief. God had promised that He would fulfill Abraham’s promise through Isaac. So, Abraham had to decide whether he would believe this God even when He seemed capricious. Did Abraham believe that this God would make good on a promise even when He seemed to be reneging? Do you?

When things aren’t going well, do you still believe in the goodness of our Savior? When it’s no longer “fun”, when it’s taking too long, when you are actually being persecuted and suffering, will you persist in your belief of the goodness of your Creator? Is Jesus still on His throne interceding for you? Is the Father still caring for you? Is the Spirit of the Living God still residing within you? Do you still believe, even when it’s not convenient, popular, fun, or even safe? What if persisting in belief and being obedient actually costs you something precious?

It’s easy to answer “yes” in the abstract imagination of “what might be”. I suspect that I have a limit to my faith. I don’t know where it is, exactly, but I suspect it wouldn’t be very difficult to find. I have spent time doubting my Savior. I have spent time behaving as if He was’t real, His promises weren’t sure, and as if He didn’t truly love me. For some peculiar reason, He still forgives me. I can’t answer the above questions with absolute confidence because I haven’t been tested to the extremes of my faith, not yet, but my day is coming.

How about you?


Being Unsettled

Have you ever heard someone say that the best commentary on Scripture is Scripture? What they mean, typically, is that the meaning of a passage is best found by what the other writers of Scripture thought it meant. That isn’t always easy, and not every passage of Scripture is referred to by other writers. But when it happens, it’s very convenient.

Scripture is “God-breathed”, and therefore has our Creator as its author even though there were many writers. Precisely how He worked through human agents is still hotly debated, and were not going to continue that debate here. In any case, when a writer of Scripture refers to another passage of Scripture, it’s pretty safe to say they are right about it.

The writer of Hebrews refers to a lot of old Hebrew Scripture, and here he interprets the life of Abraham and the other Patriarchs.

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11:13-16 (NASB)

As I read about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it never occurred to me that these guys were looking for a city. They never seemed to be interested in living anywhere other than their tents. But the life of Jacob and his sons brings out the “sojourner” belief about themselves. And Abraham was very clear about not returning to his home country. In fact, something he says about Isaac makes it clear that the life in tents wasn’t all that easy on them.

The servant said to him, “Suppose the woman is not willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?” Then Abraham said to him, “Beware that you do not take my son back there! The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath; only do not take my son back there.” So the servant placed his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter.

Genesis 24:5-9 (NASB)

Now, this is not a clear assertion by Abraham. And it can mean that Isaac didn’t like the life, but not necessarily. Yet, as I read it, I wonder if Abraham was aware of the choice he made that Isaac never really was able to make. Haran had people like them in customs and speech. Yet they were shepherds living in a city not in tents. Isaac may not have even thought that was an option. Lot did, and moves his family into Sodom. Abraham couldn’t let that happen to Isaac.

Not that those among whom they lived, the Canaanites, didn’t tend flocks and live in cities, but they weren’t Arameans, they were Canaanites. They weren’t from Mesopotamia, their religion was different, their language was different, their customs and practices were different. And while the Canaanites were drifting away from El Elyon (God Most High), Abraham and his descendants were drawing closer to Him. It was critical that Isaac remain in the Land of Promise, and yet not become lost among the people of Canaan (Gen. 34:18-24). That required a life in tents.

Perhaps, you feel unsettled. You may feel like everything is temporary, and find it difficult to gain a sense of fulfillment or satisfaction, like you’re done. Good! If that’s you, it’s supposed to be what life as a disciple of Jesus is like. We aren’t home, we’re not “done”, we’re all “strangers in a strange land”. In fact, if you fell settled, like everything is set, and you’re fulfilled and satisfied, then you are done, just not in a good way. This place cannot be our home. The whole point of the writer of Hebrews here is that we should be looking forward in faith to the city to come.

This time of “lockdowns”, “quarantines”, and “pandemics” we can feel afraid of the uncertainties. Don’t fear them. Don’t fear what you cannot see, because what we have to look forward to is just beyond all this chaos. Take courage, in fact, be an example of courage. Be unafraid to love, to care, to encourage, and be respectful of others. What will distinguish disciples of Jesus from those who are perishing should be most evident in times like this. We should not fear what they fear. We will be able to love in the face of cold hard apathy, we will be able to care and encourage in the face of discouragement.

Who can you think of that you can encourage today? Do it! Let the Spirit of Jesus guide you to His work in the lives of those around you.

That’s my view through the knothole this morning.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

The Faithful Example of Abraham

The “Role Call of Faith” continues in Hebrews 11. After the “antediluvian” examples, we reach Abraham. He is such an important example, there are four instances listed where he shows great faith. We’re going to look at three of them:

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE.

Hebrews 11:8-12 NASB

The first is the call. Abraham responds when Yahweh calls him to leave Haran and head to Canaan (Gen. 12:1-4). He responds by obeying, and this meant leaving the comfortable and known and going to the uncomfortable and unknown. There was a promise involved, so, obedience was to be rewarded. But there had to be belief involved, trust in the One making the promises. You and I are called. And there are promises involved. Will we obey, leave the known for the unknown, the comfortable for the uncomfortable? Will we trust the One making the promises?

And then we have the demonstration of faith in Abraham living as a sojourner in the land promised to him. Here the other patriarchs are mentioned, along with a reason for living this way. They were “looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder are God.” Really? Is that why they lived in tents in Canaan? Reading the Genesis account of these men may not leave you with that impression, but what does become clear is that they lived in tents in a land they believed was theirs.

Living in a land believed to be theirs, meant living among cities of stone, and those who lived in them. It meant pasturing flocks around tilled fields of others in a land you knew was yours. It was an act of faith that waited for the timing of the One making the promise rather than taking matters into your own hands (except possibly for Simeon and Levi at Shechem).

How willing are we to faithfully persevere in obedience, even not seeing the promise? How long will we wait for the promise, while being obedient? Abraham sometimes waited more than a decade before another recorded conversation with the One making these promises. How long will we live in tents, temporary houses, waiting on the promise of real permanent mansions? The writer of Hebrews is pushing his audience to persevere to the very end.

And Abraham is used again, along with Sarah, in faithfully conceiving Isaac. Think about that, though. How much faith did that take? We tend to skip by the uncomfortable consideration of intimacy between spouses here. But, really, is it surprising they conceived? Abraham had been promised, and specifically promised that one from Sarah would be his heir, not Ishmael. He laughed, as did Sarah, but the “mechanics” of the process hadn’t changed. It’s just that this time it worked. And yet, the writer of Hebrews calls it faith.

And, I suppose, it was faith. After Sarah dies, Abraham has other kids, so it wasn’t Abraham who had the difficulty, it was Sarah who was barren. That’s not a criticism, it’s an important detail. Abraham doesn’t “jettison” his wife at any point along this process. She’s not the “problem”, from his point of view. He is dedicated and devoted to her even though she cannot, in herself, provide the promised child. In a way, her barrenness is what brings God to the forefront. Unless He steps in, nothing changes. But, even as long as he doesn’t, Abraham is faithful to this barren woman, and is for her whole life. That’s faith.

You see, we can become so pragmatic about how God’s promises are fulfilled. We can “see” His work, only under certain parameters, as if He can only work in certain ways. And yet, Abraham simply obeys God, remaining faithful to this woman who cannot provide him a son, an heir, the one thing he needs to see what he has been promised. And in remaining faithful to her, he remains faithful to the One promising.

Let’s pay close attention to the example of faith provided in Abraham. Let’s be uncomfortable, persevere without seeing our hope fulfilled immediately, and live faithful to the ones our Savior has provided to us. Being cooped up with people around the ones we love can strain that love. But it can also build it, renovate it, rejuvenate it, and make it new again. Your choice. Like Abraham, let’s choose faith.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

The Antediluvian Role Call

Hebrews 11 is considered the “Role Call of Faith” by many. And it is. The writer of Hebrews draws from many important examples in Scripture to point out the path we are to take in our own lives. His choices follow a chronological path through the Torah and Joshua, but stops right at Judges.

Let’s look at the those who lived prior to the Flood, the “antediluvian” examples:

By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

Hebrews 11:4-7 (NASB)

The first example, Abel, offered a better sacrifice. There has been a ton of speculation about why his sacrifice was better. The author of Hebrews seems to believe it was because of his faith. This is at least as good as any interpretation, and better than most. He doesn’t claim it was because Abel offered blood, since offerings of crops were common in Israel, that’s not a great interpretation.

In Genesis, we have a record of God’s conversation with Cain, not Abel. And it reveals something about Cain, and what probably went wrong with the sacrifice.

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Genesis 4:6-7 (NASB)

Just a couple of observations. First off, Cain didn’t sin, but rather sin was close. So, to be clear, Cain did not aim at a mark and miss (sin by definition). What God claims is that “If you do well will not your countenance be lifted up?” In something, some qualitative way, he didn’t bring something regarded by God. The author of Hebrews thinks it a quality of Cain, not his sacrifice. Abel had faith, and Cain did not.

This will become clearer as we move on to Enoch who was “transferred”. The NASB translated what happened to Enoch as “taken up”. The important detail is that Enoch “pleased God” (Hebrew, “walked with God”), and God simply put him in heaven, no suffering death. What this means, precisely, is unknown. But the interpretation of the writer of Hebrews is that it was because Enoch pleased God by faith.

One of the struggles we face as disciples of Jesus is belief. It’s been two millennia, and still no return of our Savior. It’s difficult to hold out, persevering when there is no end in sight. The people then thought Jesus was coming back immanently. We don’t truly have that “angst”. The thing is, we are supposed to have that angst.

When we believe that our Creator and Savior exists and is One rewarding those seeking Him, we please Him. Think about that two-part criteria for a moment. We believe that He exists, which is good, although so do demons (James 2:19). The key activating the effect of faith is that we believe He rewards those seeking Him. Enoch, according to the writer of Hebrews, sought God.

Enoch sought God believing there was benefit in seeking Him. If you want a major point of application, this is where you will find it. Seek God believing there is benefit for you. And if you are curious about what it means to “seek”, or what the “reward” is, keep reading this chapter. It’s probably not what you might expect.

Noah is our next contestant. He has faith to build an enormous “box” in which to float about on the flood. But does so out away from the ocean. By doing so, he condemns those who reject his project, who don’t pay attention to what he’s doing or why. They continue on with life, business, family, friends, and what not. And then, one day, the rains come, and it’s too late.

Noah believed God’s decree, and probably built the ark over a period of 120 years (Gen. 6:2). So, for 120 years, people had an opportunity to catch on to what was happening. It wasn’t like there was no option for them to believe, there was ample time. They chose not to until the opportunity had passed. And in faith, Noah preserved his family before his Creator, who by then, was also his Savior.

Noah’s “right standing before God”, his righteousness, was based on his faith, which led to his obedience. It wasn’t just obedience, Cain did that. This was obedience that was motivated by faith, obedience as seeking God, obedience as seeking that reward, persevering in obedience because of what is to come.

Noah didn’t see it (Heb. 11:1), but he believed what God said was coming. He obediently built the massive ark, believing in the eventual reward, which he obtained. But his reward exceeded what he expected. He was recorded forever as one of those pleasing to our Creator through faith. He becomes an example for us.

That’s my view through the knothole this morning. What do you see?

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Evidence Unseen

We say it, “seeing is believing”, but I don’t think we believe it . You can probably think of something you’ve seen (or you think you’ve seen) but still struggle to wrap your head around. I experienced a “near car wreck” in my ’20’s that I still struggle to believe, and when I tell people about it, they look at me rather incredulously. And they should. It’s difficult to believe.

So, when the writer of Hebrews floats a definition of faith by us, and we don’t stop to pick it apart, that’s probably why. We already can think of a few things that aren’t God and which we still struggle to believe, even with evidence. If we can struggle with faith in seen stuff, accepting unseen faith in God is easier. Does that sound backwards? That’s probably more psychological than philosophical, but it’s still true.

Even so, let’s look more closely at the definition of faith provided by the writer of Hebrews, especially the second half:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.

Hebrews 11:1-2 (NASB, emphasis mine)

The New American Standard uses “conviction”, but you may be more familiar with “evidence” here. Those two terms are not the same in English. “Conviction” is a conclusion derived from some process (perhaps including evidence), “evidence” is what is used to derive a conclusion. That’s not an unimportant distinction. Take a moment and think about it. Is faith the end of the process or an element of it?

As part of your process in drawing a conclusion about whether faith is evidence or assurance, keep in mind that this statement sits parallel to the first part of the definition, “substance of what is hoped for”, where, again, the NASB has “assurance”. Here, once again, the choice is between an element in the process of arriving at a conclusion, or the conclusion itself. Does that sound unnecessarily confusing? I hope not.

It isn’t absolutely necessary to think about what you think about. I find it helpful. I prefer the elements in the process of coming to a conclusion rather than being handed a conclusion. But honestly, in discussing the Creator of the universe, it makes more sense to simply receive the conclusion. Faith is received (Ephesians 2:8,9). Is it “evidence”? In a very important sense, yes, it is. But in another sense, faith is the conclusion we live by.

The word “things” in the term, “things not seen” is the Greek word from which we get “pragmatic”. For the Greeks it referred to “matters” personal, business, governmental, or even legal. So, events, points in time, of a practical nature, relating to daily life, but which are not seen, what are those? Creation? Salvation? Jesus’ life, His resurrection, His ministry of intercession? All of these, and all the rest of Scripture, make up the pragmatic things we haven’t witnessed personally, but about which we are convinced. 

Having been convinced of these things, we live our lives, make decisions about what to say, where to go, what to do. That is faith. We have hope in a future with Jesus, and faith gives substance to that hope. That assurance of such a future enables us to behave as if it’s true. But there is so much we cannot see, so much that affects our day-to-day lives outside of our view. And we need the gift of faith from our Savior to live out our days convinced it is all proven, even when we can’t see it.

Some thoughts about faith. I hope they help you through another day in quarantine. What are yours through the knothole this morning?

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

What Is Faith

In John’s account of the crucifixion of Jesus, Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?”. Ironically, earlier while Jesus was in the upper room with His disciples celebrating the Passover, He told His disciples that He is the Truth, the Way, and the Life. Jesus answers the question, “what is truth” in Himself. But faith isn’t about truth, it’s about belief.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1 NASB

This sounds simple enough. Faith is the “assurance”, or, as the King James Version puts it, “substance” (which is more correct). These are translations of the Greek word, “hypostasis” which you can look up here. Because of his previous use of this word writing of Jesus’ nature (Heb. 1:3), the writer here connects “substance” to “faith”.

In his previous use of the word, Jesus is the exact struck image of God’s “substance”, as if they were both coins struck from the same mint. Think about that in relation to faith. If faith is the “substance” of hope in the same way that Jesus shares the substance with God, how connected is faith to hope?

What is hope? Isn’t hope an expectation that a desire will be realized? For Paul and the other writers of the Christian Scriptures, hope relates to Jesus’ appearing, to heaven. So, hope implies that we desire heaven. Faith makes that desire real. Without that desire, though, there is no hope, and faith has nothing to substantiate.

Do you believe that Jesus died on a cross? Do you believe He rose from the dead? Do you believe that Jesus is presently interceding with the Father as the divine High Priest? If so, great. But so do demons, rebellious angels ruling the nations of this earth. They also believe and tremble (James 2:19).

The question isn’t whether you believe these people exist or whether these events happened. The question is whether you believe you are part of them. Are you a partner with Jesus? Are you a participant in His suffering? Are you seeking the place He has prepared for you? When you are involved in the things of Scripture, then faith has substantiated hope. Does that sound more like James than Hebrews? It’s both!

What’s your view through the knothole this morning?

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Step Through, Together

How many scenes in Hollywood films have portrayed a group of kids, holding hands, and stepping through a “portal” together? There’s a shimmering blue flat wall or membrane, and they need to be on the other side. It’s scary, so they hold hands, and step through the…what is it? Could it be a “veil” concealing another world?

Before Hollywood, the writer of Hebrews posited this same scene (sort of) to describe our approach to the Father. We approach through the “veil” to the Throne of God.

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Hebrews 10:19-22 NASB

What’s on the other side of the “membrane” is the Throne Room of heaven. It’s like the High Priest passing through the temple or tabernacle “holy place”, the outer chamber, into the Holy of Holies. Only now it’s us and we stumble into Heaven itself, right before the throne of our Creator and Savior. It’s another world. This was the experience of Isaiah when he enters the temple only to stumble into the very presence of God (Isaiah 6), and it’s supposed to be ours. 

We think of prayer as communing with God, but do you think of it as entering through the temple courts, past the altar, through the golden walls of the Holy Place with the lamp and table, past the incense altar, through a heavy drape. But it’s not a “heavy drape”, it’s lighter, and light streams through from the other side.

Our Savior, Jesus, has made a way, a path for us to follow Him, into the presence of the Father. And there He intercedes for us, there we have the ear of the Creator of the universe, and He gives us His attention. It is a terrifying place with creatures who’s voices shake the earth as they praise their King, and yet we are invited, we are called, we are compelled to go! But not alone…

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:23-25 NASB

We go together! There is power in being together. We are bolder together, stronger, often smarter. We can encourage each other as we pass through the temple into the throne room, together. Is your worship like this? Shouldn’t it be? Why can’t our experience be the very presence of our Creator, the Son, our Savior, the four creatures and the unnumbered throng worshiping the One having saved us from death? Shouldn’t that be the very definition of worship? I suppose if it were, there would be fewer of those who were in the habit of not assembling together.

It may be more difficult now, assembling together, perhaps it’s online, Zoom, or Facebook. However your congregation meets, meet! Sing the songs, read along with the Scripture, take notes on the sermon, participate in every opportunity. Worship our King together, because even apart we are joined together through the One Spirit, and we enter into the same room before the same throne, and bow before the same King.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Yes And No

Are there contradictions in the Bible? Well, it was inspired by a Creator who put contradictions into His creation. We call them paradoxes, but in essence they are still contradictions. They exist all around us, and we are in the habit of creating and using them ourselves.

In Hebrews 9, the writer makes a case that blood was used under the law of Moses on everything, in order to sanctify it (make it holy). And he makes this statement:

And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

Hebrews 9:21-22 NASB

The assertion is that forgiveness comes through the shedding of blood, and the assertion is attributed to the law which God gave to Moses. So, it is God saying that forgiveness requires the shedding of blood. But there’s a problem, or seems to be:

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Hebrews 10:1-4 NASB

Let’s start with the first verse of chapter 10, because it, alone, holds several…conundrums. First off, the goal of the process of the law seems to be perfection of those who worship. I don’t know that I would have drawn that conclusion from within the process, as one of the worshipers. It’s true in the sense that holiness (purity) is necessary to approach our Holy Creator. But, as he points out, this ritual purity was not “durable”.

So the problem is that the process didn’t stop the worshiper from sinning, and, therefore, becoming profane again. And that necessitated the repetition of the process regularly, daily in one sense, annually in another. The lack of durability, and that as the stated goal of the process is probably our first paradox: The solution provided by our Savior through Moses didn’t do the trick, but it alluded to the solution to come.

But, my question is, does “Jesus stop me from sinning? Am I ‘perfect’ now that Jesus is my Savior?” Paul doesn’t seem to think so (Romans 7), and neither does John (1 John 1). But they both claim there is a “freedom” from sin (Romans 8, 1 John 2), said in different ways at different places within their writings.

Perhaps a reminder of the problem being fixed is in order: access to our Creator. Nothing “unholy” or “profane” can approach our Creator. We, in our natural state, are unholy profane creatures, and it’s our own fault. The process of worship prescribed in the Law of Moses brought access through an intermediary (sort of, lots of “exceptions”). Jesus provides perfect access without dependence upon our holiness. Or, said another way, the holiness He provides is durable.

The writer of Hebrews has made a case for this durable holiness using the Law of Moses in contrast to the work of Jesus, on the cross and in heaven. And, within the argument He comes upon this paradox: There is no forgiveness without blood (Heb. 9:22), but the blood of bulls and goats is insufficient (Heb. 10:4).

Keep in mind that part of his argument relies on the various exceptions, David, Abraham, Jacob, even Moses. The following quotes from Psalms in the remainder of chapter 10 are allusions to the “Role Call of Faith” to come in the next chapter. These exceptions clue us in to the holiness enjoyed by us through Jesus. It’s not our own holiness, it’s His. His holiness is as durable as He is!

So, yes, we are forgiven through the shedding of blood, not our own, and not the blood of bulls or goats. We are forgiven through the shed blood of Jesus, shed by Him on our behalf. That forgiveness and sanctification is durable, having been done once and for all time, backwards and forwards from the point in time when it was shed.

So, this paradox having been resolved, leaves the question, what will you do? Will you, by faith, rely on the durable holiness of our Creator? Or will you seek another route, perhaps to bypass the requirement of life-blood altogether? That is the nature of rebellion, attempting to bypass the design of our Creator. I don’t recommend it. It creates its own set of deadly paradoxes (Matt. 6:25-34, 16:24-26, Mark 8:34-37, Luke 9:23-25, James 4:4).

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

The Secret to Success

We are sheltering in place. I say “we”, because I am not sheltering alone. My favorite person is with me. The love of my life is my partner in sheltering alone. And, even so, we have an enemy, one that transcends the walls and distance between people. We have an enemy seeking to divide us further, to separate us emotionally and spiritually.

As more people are confined to shared spaces, the opportunity for frayed emotions increases, and emotional and mental health can degrade. I think most Americans are not used to it. My wife and I should be used to this, we both work from home, and live in the “country”. Even so, we seem to fight more. As used to these conditions as we should be, this global crisis has caused us stress.

The Serenity Prayer, attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, is normally associated with addicts, but I think the full text of it would be helpful to everyone as we endure this crisis in our own contexts:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference;
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will,
That I may be reasonably happy in this life, 
And supremely happy with Him in the next.

For some reason, we tend to think everything should be good, easy, or at least pleasant for us. When our situation isn’t any of those things, we’re surprised, confused, and often despondent. Why? I know that, for myself, it’s because I’m selfish. You’ll need to answer that question for yourself about yourself. I recommend refraining from answering it for anyone else.

The other night, my wife and I were reading through Acts 16, and once again, I was struck by the experience of Paul, the most amazing and intimidating Christian missionary ever. He was on his second journey with Silas, and experienced a wide range of results and situations:

  • He found Timothy, yet had to circumcise him even though sharing a letter from Jerusalem freeing Gentiles from Jewish legal requirements (Acts 16:1-5)
  • He was prevented by the Holy Spirit from going into Asia (Acts 16:6)
  • He was not permitted to go to Bythinia by the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7)
  • Winding up in Troas, he received a vision to go to Macedonia, and going, is beaten and jailed in a Roman colony without trial (Acts 16:8-40)

Now, that’s not all that happened to them in Acts 16, but it was full of ups and downs. They were prevented by the Spirit from going certain places, and when they went to where He wanted them to go, were beaten and jailed. You can see that it would have been easy to be dejected, give up, and just go home. Yet we have things like these things happening as well:

And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

Acts 16:13-15 NASB

But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately ball the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.

Acts 16:25-32 NASB

One of the most telling verses is 25, where, after being wrongfully beaten and jailed, Paul and Silas are singing praises to God, and the other prisoners are listening. Have things been going well? Sort of, but at that moment, not so great. Yet, they are in stocks, bruised and battered, and singing praises to God. By the way, they are praising the God who put them there.

There is definitely a spiritual aspect to this global corona virus pandemic. Lots of people have “conspiracy theories”, some of which spiritualize it. But I believe the greater spiritual aspect is our vulnerability to failing to love each other as Jesus loves us, to being obedient to our Savior, believing instead that He only leads us by worldly success. I believe this crisis brings our selfishness to the surface, or it has for me.

So, in response, let us pray and sing praises to God, the God who put us here, and let everyone with us in this pandemic listen. Are you finding that difficult? Then go back up and pray the serenity prayer. Paul’s writes to this church in Philippi some time later and says this:

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:11-13 NASB

Contentment and serenity go together, and this church to whom he writes already knew this about Paul, they had seen it in his life, and a prominent member had followed Jesus because of this quality in Paul. Paul learned the secret of being content, and the “secret” is that we can do all things through Jesus who strengthens us.

Blessings upon you all as we go through this crisis together, even as we are separated.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Living in Shadows

One of my pet peeves is when people want to do away with “religion”. It irritates me because it’s ignorant to want to do so. Getting rid of religion means the person doesn’t understand what religion is. Because, everyone, including an atheist, practices some sort of religion.

On the other hand, I get why people say they want to get rid of religion. They see that the practice has become more important than Who we worship. And when that happens, I agree that change is necessary. But I disagree that the solution is to pretend to get rid of religion.

Nicodemus, aka the writer of Hebrews, points out the ineffective practice of the law of Moses through the priestly ministry. In his argument that the ministry of intercession of Jesus before the Father is superior, he points out that even the structure of the tabernacle itself is merely a shadow of the real tabernacle in heaven.

The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation.

Hebrews 9:8-10 NASB

The terminology adopted by the NASB is the “outer tabernacle” for the Holy Place, or the first part of the sanctuary (where the lamp stand and show bread are). The Holy-of-Holies is referred to as the “holy place”. The NASB is pretty consistent with the terminology, at least in chapter 9. So, what Nicodemus is saying is that as long as there is a two-part tabernacle/temple, the pathway to the inner Holy of Holies has not been revealed.

Yet, in a sense, he is also saying that this way has been revealed, through Jesus’ having traversed it. It’s not a path we follow, but the path Jesus has followed on our behalf. And a day is coming when we will follow it ourselves, and meet Jesus there, in the true Holy of Holies (see the end of chapter 9).

So, in the days when Nicodemus is writing, there is an existing temple/tabernacle. And in our day, there is a practice of worship as well. In his day, priests functioned according to the law given by God to Moses. In our day, we worship in may different ways, according to culture and personality. The point of congruity for both then and now is that these forms can become a distraction. The true path to the throne of God remains through Jesus.

When how we worship becomes more important that the One we worship. When His character is absent from us, absent from how we treat each other, then we have left the path to the throne of God. Our Creator desires us, a relationship with us, and that isn’t about the what song we sing as much as our heart as we sing.

Are we singing to Him or for the congregants around or in front of us? When we preach, is it for our Savior, or for the people listening? In a sense, it’s both. But in another sense, it needs to be more about Him than them. There are things our Savior wants His people to hear, are those things being preached? Or are we preaching what we think they want to hear, or worse, what we want them to hear?

The music, the building, the preaching, the food, the coffee, the clothes, and the hands either raised or in pockets, are not the point of worship. These things can help or hinder, but the focus must always remain on Jesus.

What’s your view through the knothole today?

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation