Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hebrews 13:18-25

18 Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. 19 I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.


Benediction and Final Greetings


20 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, 21 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.


22 Brothers and sisters, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for in fact I have written to you quite briefly.


23 I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you.


24 Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings.


25 Grace be with you all.



Dig Deeper

Over the past few years I have found myself with many opportunities to travel for ministry purposes both within the United States and outside of the country.  I have taken most of those trips with my wife but have taken quite a few without her.  I don’t really like being gone without my wife, but I have gotten somewhat used to the process of traveling alone and am now fairly comfortable with it.  But it wasn’t always that way.  When we first started to fly and travel a lot, she always went with me.  And while I would prepare lessons that I was going to preach and take care of myself in that way, my wife would take care of all of the travel details.  She would set up the tickets and the trip, take care of reservations, carry the needed information, and pretty much handle all of the travel, transportation, and lodging details along the way.  Then I suddenly had to go on a trip without her.  I had never done that before and was a bit nervous.  As I was leaving, though, she handed me a folder and told me that whenever someone asked me for information that it would be in that folder.  The first test was at the airport.  They asked me for my confirmation number.  I didn’t know it but I opened the folder, just grabbed the top paper, handed it to the clerk and asked if that was what they needed.  It was and I was in business.  That process continued to happen at the car rental place, the hotel, and throughout the week.  My wife had thought through everything I would need, and the order in which I would need it, and had completely equipped that folder with everything that would be necessary.  I had to go on the trip alone but she had prepared everything and I was able to make it through the entire trip without any problems.


In the book of Hebrews, the author has called his readers to re-focus their hearts and lives on Jesus.  He is the superior mediator who has brought about the superior covenant.  He is the one that we must all follow.  He had blazed the trail for them to travel down and they needed to stay faithful to that path.  Even when the going got tough, they needed to keep going.  They were on a long and sometimes difficult journey.  But as the writer brings his lesson to a close he gives them one final flurry of encouragement.  The way might look daunting and maybe even too difficult, but they must avoid that urge to give up and quit because God had equipped them.  Regardless of how difficult it seemed, they needn’t worry because God had fully equipped them with everything they would ever need.  He would continue to provide for them and makes sure they had everything they would require to complete their journey.


As the writer moves into his final thoughts, he urges the audience to pray for their leaders, a group that would include the author himself.  We have a tendency to assume that when someone requests prayer it is because something has gone wrong but that doesn’t always need to be the case, and probably was not the case here.  He wants prayer to bolster his desire to live a life that is honorable to God and among God’s people in every way.  In fact his “desire” is a little stronger than this translation lets on and could probably be better rendered “We are sure that we have a clear conscience and are firmly determined to live honorably in every way.”  Praying for one another shows support and unity and leaders need just as much, if not more prayer from those they lead than the flock needs prayer from their leaders.


The writer is no pie-eyed optimist, however.  He knows that it is easy for Christians to agree to pray for someone and then not follow through.  Some of us, I’m sure, have been guilty of that.  And while it may just be an honest slip of the mind on occasion, we need to be careful with our promises and watch out that we are not becoming hypocritical, saying that we will pray for someone when we have virtually no intention of doing so and make little to no attempt to actually remember to do it.  The writer asks them twice to pray for him, urging them to do so, and particularly to pray that he will be able to come encourage them sometime in the near future. 


The center of this final greeting, comes in verses 20-21.  The author hasn’t made the resurrection of Christ a focal point of his lesson to this point.  He has assumed it, though, allowing it to serve as the backdrop to the sacrificial death death of Jesus and his ascending to the heavenly sanctuary to serve as our eternal high priest.  Of course, it is the resurrection of Christ that gives meaning and power to the actual crucifixion and makes possible the state of Jesus serving as the superior high priest of the New Covenant.  In this great blessing, though, he directly hits upon the resurrection, something that was a core foundational topic for the early church (Heb. 6: 2).  In fact in these two verses, Hebrews teaches us seven important aspects about God and his relationship with his people.


First, he is the God of peace.  The word “peace” used here means much more than just absence of disharmony.  It means wholeness, completeness, harmony, and fulfillment.  It is a lasting peace which the world knows nothing of.  God is a God of wholeness and harmony and he wants that for his people as well.


Second, he has brought about an eternal covenant with his people that can never be broken because it has been established by the very life force, the blood, of his unique and only Son, Jesus Christ.  So many other contracts and covenants are temporary, unreliable, and constantly in need of renewing but not the one with that we have in Christ.


Third, this was all made possible by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  It is the seminal moment in all of history.  It is what vindicated Jesus’ death on the cross and showed him to be the true high priest, and it is the source of the great Christian hope of being resurrected with our savior one day, just as God has promised.


Fourth, Jesus is the Great Shepherd.  He is the undisputed head of the body and leaders should always keep that mind.  Leaders do have an important role but it must always be in service to the Great Shepherd and the Flock not themselves.  This also reminds us, however, that the body of Christ are like a flock of sheep and they do need shepherds to lead them.  We need the Great Shepherd and we also need to allow ourselves to be influenced and led by the under-shepherds (Heb. 13:17).


Fifth, through the life of Christ, God has equipped us with everything we need.  It is so easy to spend time worrying about whether we will be able to stay faithful, or capable of growing spiritually, or up to the task of evangelizing the lost, or leading in God’s church, or any number of other things to which God has called us.  But we must trust our Father.  He would not call us to do something that he did not equip us for.  Worry is a sign of trusting in ourselves.  Peace comes from trusting that God has the power and ability to work through us in whatever situations we might find ourselves.


Sixth, through Jesus Christ, God will work in us so that we can please him.  But we must trust in him and rely on the life of Christ.  Only then will we walk in the Spirit and be able to please God through our faith in the life of Christ (Rom. 8:5-8; Hebrews 11:6).


Finally, God has done us this to bring glory to himself.  When we live the path that God has marked out for us in Christ Jesus, he will equip us to do the most fitting thing that we can ever do with our lives; we can bring glory to God.  As we surrender to the Great Shepherd and live the resurrected life of Christ we will find ourselves growing in the desire and ability to bring glory to God in whatever we do (1 Cor. 10:31).


As the letter winds to a close, Hebrews reminds the readers that this has been just a brief letter.  It may not seem that way to us, but by the standards of the day, it was a rather short exhortation of this type.  There have been several places scattered throughout the lesson in which the author hinted that he might have much more to say were he not trying to be brief, and although we might wish to have those expanded teachings available to us, we must trust that God has given us everything we need to be faithful and grow.


The final greetings display the true heart of Christianity that are built on God’s family and his grace.  The greeting that comes from “those from Italy,” likely refers to those that had fled Rome years earlier and had not returned, but were instead living at the location of the author. 


It is striking that the final word for them, is not “get it together,” nor is it “obey the Lord and your leaders and stop playing around.”  No, the final blessing is that “grace” be upon them.  It is God’s grace that is like a stream flowing through the desert that would enable them to continue on and finish the race that God had marked out for them.  And it is God’s same grace flowing through our lives that will enable us to finish the race as well.



Devotional Thought

The journey has been marked out and God has prepared in advance everything that you need to complete it.  Are you willing to begin?  And if you have already begun are you willing to persevere and trust that no matter how difficult the going might get, that God has provided for you and will ensure that you finish if you just trust him.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Hebrews 13:7-17

7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.


9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. 10 We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.


11 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. 12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. 13 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14 For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.


15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.


17 Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.



Dig Deeper

We live in a world that is in a constant state of flux.  It seems that everything changes and quite quickly as a matter of fact.  Clothing styles, hair styles, popular products, political views, you name it, it is ever-changing.  One need look no further than your high school yearbook to see how quickly styles change.  I can recall being in high school just a little over twenty years ago and enjoying going to the new video stores.  At first, my town of about 60,000 people had just one video store that I can remember.  Pretty soon, however, there were stores everywhere and they were always crowded.  They were extremely popular and started to get bigger and fancier.  Then, just as quickly as VHS tapes came on the scene and became the center of the entertainment lives of society in some ways, technology changed.  Suddenly DVD’s were all the rage and the video stores became even more popular.  But then one day I saw a little red vending machine box that was distributing movies, doing the same job that these video stores were doing.  Combined with the availability of movies via the internet, video stores were suddenly dinosaurs.  In the matter of one generation they went from not existing to the kings of the world, and now it is difficult to find a video store that is still open these days.  Things change quickly.


The world didn’t change at quite that dramatic of a pace for the original audience of Hebrews but it did still change.  At least their attitudes towards Christ seemed to be shifting.  And that is something of the point that the writer of Hebrews wants to bring home as he starts to draw his letter to a close.  They were once a thriving and sacrificial community despite the huge odds against them and the stiff persecution.  But many had faltered and now their knees were starting to feel week.  The whole letter has been centered around getting them fixated back on Jesus, who he is, and the superior nature of a relationship with him.  He is still the same Jesus that were once so willing to sacrifice for and so willing to do anything for.  The world around them had changed and perhaps the persecution had grown stiffer, but they had apparently changed some too.  Yet, Jesus is God and he never changes.  He is unwaveringly as deserving of the loyalty now that they once gave him.  And the gospel to which they were called?  Well, that’s the same too because Jesus is the embodiment of that gospel.  They once had undivided loyalty to Jesus and his gospel and they need to maintain that loyalty to the unchanging Messiah if they were going to finish the race strong.


As the author brings his incredible lesson to a close, he calls them to remember their leaders who initially preached the gospel to them.  They should recall what was preached and why they responded to it which would in turn motivate them to do the things that they did at first; to reinvigorate the convictions that they once held.  They should also consider the outcome of their way of life.  The word rendered “outcome” here was a figure of speech that referred to “closing out” or “finishing” and it appears that his point is that those who first shared the gospel with them had died.  But they should ponder the sincerity of their faith and perseverance and see that it was not in vain.  The word that was preached to them then was the same gospel that some were abandoning now.  The gospel hadn’t changed, they had.  The gospel hadn’t lost its power, they had lost their nerve.


But all they need to do is to consider Jesus Christ.  He is unchanging and the power of his life and his gospel have never changed.  Since God is the only being that never changes, this was surely a high description of their Lord and Savior.  He was none other than God and so to abandon him meant to abandon God.  But the logic here shouldn’t be missed.  The author is saying that when they accepted the gospel they did so because they knew it to be true.  To abandon it now would not mean that the gospel had changed or was no longer effective; something that perhaps they were starting to think.  Jesus Christ never changes and neither does his word.  So if they walked away from the faith now it would be a devastating commentary on their own faith.  They would not be leaving one thing for something better.  They would be leaving the only thing worth having because they refused to hold on to it.


It is the unchanging nature of Christ and the gospel that can cause Hebrews to exhort the readers not to be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings, evidently including ancient Judaism in that category as well.  We cannot overstate the challenge of that statement at the time this was written, even after three or four decades of Christianity.  Judaism was still a major influence on the lives of Jewish Christians and formerly God-fearing Gentiles (Gentiles that observed parts of Judaism without becoming circumcised among other things) that had become Christians.  But Judaism had now been moved into the category of religion with the coming of Christ.  It was now a choice between the grace of God found in the life of Christ and everything else, including the Jewish Temple system. 


Our author is about to give one more go at demonstrating the superiority of Christ to all other options and he does so here by outlining four advantages that Christians have that would be lost if they lost their grip and returned to Judaism or turned to any other savior other than Christ.  The first is that we have an altar.  The author does not directly state what that altar is, but he is most likely referring to the Cross (or the Lord’s Supper which represents the Cross).  Those who remain in the life of Christ can enter into and serve in the true tabernacle, the heavenly one, through the blood of Christ.  Those that don’t remain faithful to Christ, however, have no altar and no way to enter into that tabernacle. 


The second, that he is our disgrace to bear, is  a little more complicated point.  The point is that even during the Old Covenant the blood of animals purified the Holy of Holies but they were first sacrificed outside of the community.  In the same way, Jesus made his people holy through his own blood but he was also taken outside of the “camp,” which was the city gate of Jerusalem.  In that picture the writer sees a helpful comparison for the Christian life.  Jesus was exiled outside of the gate and crucified like a man scorned.  That was the intention of those that wanted him dead.  But they didn’t realize that they were doing to him what was rightly done with a cleansing sacrifice.  Thus, we need not be ashamed of how Christ died.  In the same way, when the readers of this letter were being shamed, persecuted, and rejected they could take comfort in knowing that this was the price to pay for being part of Christ’s people.  It shouldn’t bring them shame, though, but the comfort of knowing that they were simply bearing the same disgrace for the benefit of others that Jesus bore.  They were truly living his life.


The third advantage is that Christians have a city that is to come.  We can get caught up building our own castles that won’t last very long or focus on the Kingdom of God which will last for eternity.  The only city that will last is God’s Kingdom and that is the only one that makes sense to seek.  Taking a return to the physical Jerusalem and its impressive Temple would not be a smart move.  This point would have become even more powerful just a few years later when the Temple was destroyed by the Roman army.


The final element is that through Jesus Christ we have a sacrifice to offer.  Only Christians can now offer a sacrifice that God truly wants because we have entered into the only sacrifice that will ever be needed, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.  Lips that confess that Jesus is Lord and call on his name (Rom. 10:9, 13) by being baptized into his life (Rom. 10:13; Acts 22:16) and a life that responds to that mercy (Titus 3:4-8) by doing good and sharing all that God has given us with others is the sacrifice that God is looking for.  Only in Christ do we have that and only in Christ can we please God.


Verse 17 seems to hint that some of the problem was that they were no longer listening to their current leaders.  In verse 7 he called them to recall and hold to the teaching of their first leaders, the ones that had called them to the gospel.  Now he he encourages them to listen to their current leaders who were no doubt teaching and exhorting them to stay faithful to Christ.  They should, he says, “have confidence” or “obey” their leaders.  The 1984 NIV used the term “obey” while the newer NIV version’s “have confidence” probably better captures the essence of the passage.  Another good way of understanding the term is to “allow yourself to be influenced by.”  In their struggle, they had forgotten to listen to those leading them in Christ, and in so doing were rejecting the message that they had converted to when they first heard the gospel.  What benefit is it, after all, to constantly disregard, fight against, and refuse to have confidence in or be influenced by one’s leaders?  One should never follow blindly, but as long as the leaders are teaching the same core gospel that was preached to them at first, they should trust them and have confidence in what their leaders were saying over and above their circumstances or emotions. 


It is easy to let the wind and waves of life come and throw us about and change our convictions.  But we must always remember that we have a mediator who has never changed and never will change.  He made the final sacrifice for us and that is all that we will ever need if we just trust it to the end. 





Devotional Thought

Does your commitment to the Kingdom of God and the Gospel of Jesus look that same as it always has?  Is your zeal for God and his church every bit as much as it used to be?  Certainly our situations in life can change and that may impact certain things in our life, but it should never change our loyalty, commitment and zeal to God’s Kingdom.  If things have changed over the years perhaps it’s time to ask yourself if the Gospel has changed or have you. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Hebrews 13:1-6

13 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. 3 Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.


4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;

    never will I forsake you.”[a]


6 So we say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.

    What can mere mortals do to me?”



Dig Deeper

The ancient Jews had a brilliant system, associated with their marriage ceremonies, known as the Ketubah.  We can’t be certain that the Ketubah was practiced in biblical times but a form of it very likely may have been.  A Ketubah is a contract of sorts that describes in detail what life will be like for a married couple during their marriage and as they develop into a family.  They are quite different in modern times than they were in ancient times but back in ancient times they would basically describe the various important elements that a husband would perform and maintain as part of the family that he was creating through this marriage.  It would highlight the things that would characterize their family and marriage, describe his duties and obligations, and give general protections for the rights of the bride-to-be.  It is a clever idea and one that I wonder if it wouldn’t be helpful in more marriages today.


I am certainly not claiming that this section of Hebrews is a modified Ketubah contract or even based on one.  But it does carry something of that flavor to it.  The writer has gone to great lengths to show us just exactly who Jesus is.  He is the promised Messiah and the superior mediator between God and man.  He is far superior to the Law, to Moses, to angels, and to anything else we could ever put in that place.  He is our great high priest who will serve unflinchingly in that role forever.  He is the one who deserves and demands unshakeable loyalty, and when we give that, we will find that he will enable us to stay faithful to him despite the difficult circumstances.  He has, as the author mentions in chapter 12, made us part of God’s family.  When we understand all that Christ is, what he has done for us through his blood, and the fact that he has called us into the family of God, then we should realize that this should have some major implications.  That’s what this last chapter is all about.  It might seem a bit disjointed or that it randomly jumps about, and in some senses it does.  But it has the feel of a description of the important things that we need to know as we enter or choose to remain faithful to God’s family.  It’s almost like a reading of a Ketubah contract where we are being reminded of the most important aspects of our life in the family of God.  Above all, though, we must keep in mind the understanding of who Jesus is that this lesson from the book of Hebrews has given us.  For if we keep our eyes fixed on him, all of the rest will fall into place quite naturally.


The first verse in this section flows quite comfortably from the discussion of chapter 12 concerning being part of God’s family and one of his children.  The challenging times that the recipients of this letter were going through should not cause them to think that they were outside of God’s will.  On the contrary, they should realize that God was disciplining and training them as his children.  God was lovingly teaching them to be his family and to grow into the image of the supreme son, Jesus the Messiah. 


As God’s children, then, we are no mere collection of religious adherents.  We are to be a family and bind ourselves together as such.  We are to be, above all else, a loving family.  And although that would include feeling and showing affection for one another as our brothers and sisters in Christ, that is not the main thrust of the idea behind the biblical word “love” when it comes to the family of Christ.  The primary idea is to act loyally towards and care for one another.  In fact, scholar NT Wright suggests that verse 1 be translated “Let the family continue to care for one another.”  The sentiment is dead on, but I would shy away from a translation of this verse that fails to include the word “love.”  If we really understand who God is and that he has called us not to be members of a religion but members of his family, then it only makes sense that we are to love one another and take care of one another.  Religions don’t need to do that, families do.


One of the clearest indicators of biblical love for one another was caring for and showing hospitality to one another (you can see that if you do a New Testament study and see how often discussions of loving brothers and sisters is followed by an example to provide for one another and give hospitality to one another).  Hospitality was an important part of the ancient world and it should be continued and taken even a step higher in the family of God.  If the gospel was to spread around the world then disciples would have to go and travel.  They should be cared for and shown hospitality when they do.  But that family hospitality should be a way of life that would extend to anyone in need.  The author then brings to mind the ultimate biblical and cultural example of hospitality, that of Abraham who showed hospitality to three strangers, not knowing that they were angels.  The author’s point here is likely not that if believers generously bring people into our home, care for their needs, and show them hospitality that we just might be inviting in some angels without knowing it.  His point was that Abraham showed indiscriminate hospitality and was blessed by having angels as his guests.  In the same way, when we show lavish and generous hospitality and care for others, we will very likely receive unforeseen benefits from doing so.  There is not only the inherent benefit of being generous but when we constantly show love, generosity, and hospitality as a way of life, our household and all those in it will benefit beyond our wildest imagination.


Another important aspect of life in God’s family is the need to remember those in prison.  With all due respect to those that engage in ministries that go into prisons and reach out to the prisoners (I certainly believe that this is a noble ministry in which to engage), this is not what Hebrews is referring to.  The Christian community frequently experienced persecution, expulsions, and imprisonment.  Paul urged his readers not to be ashamed of his chains (2 Tim. 2:16) and praised Onesiphorus for coming to refresh him in prison.  In addition, the early Christians were well known for caring for one another in prison, interring themselves so that prisoners did not have to be the only Christians locked up, and even taking the place of less physically capable brothers or sisters that were prisoners.  In short, Hebrews was urging them to continue that behavior and to truly be a community that shared identity and honor with one another, realizing that when one part suffers, we all suffer (1 Cor. 12:25-26).


The common thread in all of these reminders, of course, is selflessness.  When we understand who the Messiah truly is and what he is calling us to be as his people, then we will embrace a lifestyle of self-sacrifice, self-control, and putting the interests of others ahead of our own.  Loving one another demands that, as do hospitality and remembering those in prison.  But so does keeping the marriage bed pure.  There were two extremes in the pagan world that were assaulting the marriage bed and both appealed to selfishness in different ways.  The first was the call to indulgence and self-pleasure.  It was the encouragement of having extra relationships outside of marriage, including the Temple cults witch often engaged in ritual prostitution and orgies.  On the other extreme was the ascetic view that encouraged people to truly be happy by avoiding any physical pleasure, including marital sex.  In doing so, some types of people found personal happiness by training themselves to not have needs or desires.  Both were self-focused and Hebrews calls for God’s people to avoid both extremes.  The adulterers and immoral were obviously sinful and God would deal with that.  The marriage bed should be kept pure but it should also be attended and “kept” (“the marriage bed” was a figure of speech denoting marital sex).  Selfishly depriving one’s spouse because of some newly cherished philosophy was not the way of self-sacrifice for God’s people either.


Another area that will display the family ethic of self-sacrifice is that of money and possessions.  Christians should constantly be on guard against the greed and materialism that so characterize the world.  The guard against this greed and love for money and possessions, however, is not to adopt a lifestyle of pointless and abject poverty but, once again has to do with understanding the nature of Jesus.  Money is not evil, but the love of money is.  We should not seek money but we should not seek poverty either.  What we should seek is the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.  When we do  that, money and wealth will take their proper roles in our lives.


All of this self-less living hinges on our understanding of Jesus and God.  The writer demonstrates this with two quotes from the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 31:6 in verse 5 and Psalm 118:6-7 in verse 6.  When we understand that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, and that God is our relentless helper, we need not be afraid of what the world can do to us or be attracted by it.  It is our understanding of God that informs us as to what type of people we ought to be and then sustains as we seek to live lives that look radically different from the world around us.





Devotional Thought

When those outside of the Christian community of which you are a part look at your life, what do they see?  Do they notice that your life is radically different?  Do they see you living as a selfless member of a group of people that understand that they are family through Christ?  Which of the areas mentioned in this passage today is a struggle for you in which you really need to grow?  What are you going to do about it?



Monday, February 11, 2013

Hebrews 12:18-29

18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.”[c] 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”[d]


22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.


25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”[e] 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.


28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”



Dig Deeper

Many years ago now we were able to purchase a new vehicle.  It was the first new car that we had ever had and it was pretty cool to have something that was brand new in every way.  And our response to it was as you might expect.  We wanted to do everything in our power to keep it as nice, and clean, and new as possible.  For the first several months, I cleaned it out constantly and we were very careful to not bring in any food or do anything that might mess it up.  But as time wears on, you begin to get more comfortable and take an object like that for granted more and more.  I won’t bore you with the whole process but if you fast-forward a few years, all of that new car reverence and awe had worn away.  We regularly ate in the car when we had to, we used it as a work vehicle when need be, we moved things in it, and so on.  Pretty soon the vehicle was not exactly a beater, but it was certainly not in pristine shape any more. 


I suppose that the processes that we go through with things like that are fine and maybe even healthy, but there are times when we can do something similar and it is not so healthy.  We might start out in a relationship really respecting someone immensely but then as we get to know them better, we go beyond just being more familiar with them and we start to take them for granted.  That is decidedly not healthy.


In a sense, this is what the author of Hebrews is warning us against here.  Yes, Jesus is the mediator of a far better covenant than the Old one.  In fact, he will give us one more memorable picture in this section to drive that point home.  And yes, the New Covenant has replaced the Old Covenantal system of fear and obedience with the ability to be confident and bold as we approach the throne of grace; thanks to the blood of Christ which has allowed us entry into the life of the Kingdom.  But there is a human tendency to at first be grateful for God’s grace and mercy that is poured out in the New Covenant but then to drift over time.  Pretty soon, it is God’s grace that can allow some to grow too relaxed and to abuse the freedoms that we have been given in the Kingdom.  We can forget to be thankful and to continue to approach God with the reverence and awe that he so richly deserves.


At the heart of this whole section is comparison and contrast.  It’s like trying to explain to a young child who has never seen a zebra before what a zebra is like.  Rather than starting from scratch you might compare and contrast the zebra with a horse and a tiger.  In certain ways, it is like each of those animals, while in other ways they are very different.  Comparison and contrasting things helps us to understand something new based on the information that we already have.  That is why there is so much comparison and contrast in this sermon called Hebrews between the New and Old Covenants.  It is a teacher using a wonderful technique to help us understand the New Covenant and Kingdom that we have in Christ.


To start this comparison and contrast, the author takes us first to Mt. Sinai (although he never actually says “Mt. Sinai,” it is clear that this is what he is thinking about).  That mountain was a fearsome thing.  The people could not even come near because they had no standing on which to draw near to the magnificent presence of a holy and almighty God.  Mt. Sinai was terrifying.  Anyone who dealt with it without the proper fear and reverence were sure to die.  Even Moses trembled with fear, knowing that he was hardly worthy to go into the presence of God. 


The author of Hebrews is using Mt. Sinai to represent the Law and the Old Covenant.  It was full of laws and requirements which would train the people, if followed precisely, to at least approach holiness.  Yet, they never could and God knew that.  In fact, that was kind of the point.  God was showing human beings that what we really need to reconcile our relationship with him could never be done through our own abilities or efforts.  We needed something new; something that only God could do.  That is why, under the Old Covenant, drawing near to God was a fearful and terrifying thing.


But he doesn’t draw that picture to mind just to scare us.  In fact, understanding that picture more clearly should steady our legs.  For we haven’t traveled to that mountain.  We have come to an entirely different mountain.  We have come to the serene beauty and peace of Mount Zion, which of course represents the Kingdom of God as is available in the New Covenant.  We now have a new mediator, who through his own blood, has blazed a trail that seemed impossible to go down previously.  We no longer have to keep our distance in fear and trembling.  We can enter into God’s presence and do so with boldness.  We are the recipients of a new and better covenant and can stand with confidence.  When you really stop to think about that, it is stunning in its scope and implications.  We can now do regularly what could never even be thought of before.  We can enter into God’s presence with the assurance that we belong there.


This New Covenant is far superior to the Old Covenant, but there is also a danger.  It is human nature to grow accustomed to things and even begin to take them for granted.  Human beings have learned how to control and use things like fire and electricity but they can still be quite dangerous things if not respected.  The New Covenant is all about forgiveness, grace, and access to God in Christ.  And that’s precisely where human nature can become so dangerous.  It’s easy to slack off a bit and start to take things for granted.  What we used to approach with incredible reverence and thanksgiving can easily become commonplace and ordinary in our own minds. 


That is why the writer gives us two very important warnings.  The first is a negative command that comes in verse 25 as he urges us to “not refuse him who speaks.”  Yes, God has made incredible new arrangements in Christ for us to have access to him but we had best not forget that we are still dealing with a holy and almighty God.  The more we understand about God, the more we appreciate him and grow in maturity, and the more we have access to his presence, the more that we should increase our reverence and awe for him, not decrease in those things.  We should show even more reverence for God’s commands under than the New Covenant than did those under the Old.  We do not live in constant danger of being struck down like those at Mt. Sinai were but that should drive us all the more to respect and honor God. 


After all, the impact and effect of Mt. Sinai was limited.  But God’s Kingdom now is far more threatening.  Mt. Sinai shook those around it for a short time.  Mt. Zion will will shake the earth and the heavens.  It’s not that holiness doesn’t matter under the New Covenant, but that a new way has been found to draw near to God.  God’s holiness is still every bit as dangerous as it ever was when trifled with.  And one day, at the resurrection and return of Christ, that holiness will shake everything, so that whatever is temporary, second-rate, and unholy will shake off and fall away.  This is the new creation that is coming and that chapters 11 and 12 have been pointing to all along. 


But the author has one more warning for us, and this one is a positive action.  “Let us be thankful and so worship God acceptably.”  The HCSB translates that phrase more correctly, I believe: “Let us hold on to grace.”  In other words, we have received this incredible Kingdom and access to God through the grace of Christ so let us hold on to it.  Let us cling to it so that we can approach him.  But let us continue to approach him in the manner that he deserves.  Let us not treat casually that which is holy.  God is still a consuming fire.  He may have given us new access to that fire, but as we all know, if you play around with fire you will get burned.


It is certainly worthy of taking some extra time in consideration.  Perhaps we have stopped taking our shoes off when we walk onto the holy ground and have started to treat the holy with a casualness that it doesn’t deserve and won’t tolerate for long.  Do you take God for granted?  Do you approach him with little sense of holiness and reverence?  Do you worship him with indifference?  As bibilical commentator, Charles Swindoll once wisely observed, “When we stop taking our shoes off before the burning bush, it is we who change—not the bush.”




Devotional Thought

Do you take your approach to God and his presence every bit as seriously now as you always have?  Or have you drifted a bit in your reverence and awe for God and his Kingdom?  If you have, what is the solution offered in this passage to get things straightened out?