Acts 3:19-26, Covenant Redemption

[19] “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, 20] and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, 21] whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.  22] For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren.  Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. 23] And it shall be that every soul who will not hear the Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’  24] Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days. 25] You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’  26] To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.” 

As Peter begins to come to the end of his explanation to the people, he gives four reasons why they should repent and be converted. The first one, which we looked at in our last post, is the return of Christ, about which Peter will have some more to say.  The other three reasons form the basis for this post.

1. Certain Retribution, vs. 22, 23.

Peter builds on his statement in v. 21 concerning the revelation of God through the mouth of His holy prophets by quoting Deuteronomy 18:15-19. showing that from the very beginning of Israel as a nation, God had foretold the coming of One with authority.  Indeed, from the very beginning of human history, God had foretold of such a One.  When our first parents sinned in the Garden, God told the instrument of their sin, that is, the serpent,

“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,

And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”
Genesis 3:15.

Though later prophesies expand on this idea, this verse contains the whole of prophetic revelation about the Coming One:  enmity and conflict.

Jacob’s descendants, having been more or less forced to move to Egypt, at first found themselves respected and honored.  This did not last and they eventually found themselves persecuted and enslaved.  At the appointed time, God raised up Moses to deliver the people.  At Sinai, where Israel was transformed from a motley rabble into an organized nation, the people were terrified at the manifestation of God, and wanted someone as a go-between.  Moses was the one God chose, through whom He gave the Law, the Mosaic Covenant.  At the giving of that Law, God said, “What they have spoken is good.   I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.  And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him,” Deuteronomy 18:18, 19.

The clear implication is that Jesus Christ is this Prophet and to reject Him is to bring down certain judgment, v. 23.

2. Covenant Promises, v. 24.

“All the prophets, from Samuel….have also foretold these days.”

“These days”….

Do “these days” refer to what is known as “the church age,” and is Peter telling his audience that all the OT promises are “fulfilled in the church” and, as a consequence, there is no further or future blessing for Israel?

If you’ve ready very many of my posts, you know that I don’t believe that to be true.

In the first place, vs. 25, 26 indicate that these unsaved Jews did indeed have an interest in the OT covenants.  Granted, repentance was required of them, but even in the OT, relationship with God hinged on a satisfactory answer to the sin question, as seen in all the offerings and in the Tabernacle and later the Temple.  Relationship to God, as we understand that term, in any time in human history since the Fall, has never been and never will be apart from redemption from sin.

Second, Peter preached just a few weeks or so after the Crucifixion and Resurrection.  Early believers had no inkling of such a long period of time until the Second Coming as we ourselves have seen, nor of a body called “the church,” in which people would come to God through the Lord Jesus and not through the offerings and ceremonies of the Old Testament.  This is the whole thrust of the book of Hebrews, explaining to believing Jews the place, the purpose and, yes, the putting aside, of their beloved Mosaic heritage, or perhaps rather, the flowering and fulfillment of what that heritage foreshadowed.

The early disciples were vitally interested in the “time” element.  Cf. the disciple’s question and our Lord’s response in Acts 1:6, 7, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” and He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father has put in His own authority.”  According to Peter, the time element was also of surpassing interest to the OT prophets, 1 Peter 1:10, 11.  This was partly because of such seemingly contradictory things as the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.  But when did it follow?

Further, OT prophecy is filled with “time” references:  the 400 year servitude in Egypt, the 70 year captivity, Daniel’s 70 weeks, as well as Daniel  12:5-12 and Hosea 3:4, 5.

At this time, all Peter knew for certain was that Jesus had been crucified, raised again, ascended into heaven, and that He was coming again.  Perhaps the early church, as seen in its communal attitude, believed that that Return would be very soon.

Therefore, we believe that “these days” refers not the church age, but rather to Peter’s own time and the early believers’ anticipation of and preparation for the return of the Lord Jesus.  Only as Paul came onto the scene and it became evident that the nation of Israel in general would continue to reject Jesus as their Messiah, was further revelation given to the churches and it became apparent that more time might elapse before the Second Coming than was first thought, although that Coming is always viewed as “imminent” in the New Testament.

The final reason Peter gave for them to repent was their –

3. Covenant relationship, v. 25.

“You are the sons…of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed’.”  Peter also mentioned “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” in v. 13.  In this way, he reminded them that they were the beneficiaries and successors of the promises made “to the fathers” through “the prophets.”  At the same time, he cautions them that these blessings do not simply automatically flow from parent or ancestor, but that the ultimate intent of God’s dealings with them, and with us, is that people might be turned from their iniquities.  This can only be done on a personal, individual basis: every one of you.

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Acts 1:12-26, In The Upper Room

12] Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey.  13] And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying:  Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot.  14] These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

15] And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said, 16] “Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; 17] for he was numbered with us and had obtained a part in this ministry.”

18] (Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out; 19] And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.)

20] “For it is written in the Book of Psalms:

‘Let his dwelling place be desolate,
And let no one live in it’;

and ‘let another take his office.’

21] “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22] beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”

23] And they proposed two:  Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.  24] And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen 25] to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.”  26] And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias.  And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Our Lord’s earthly ministry had ended.  He told His disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they received the Promise of the Father, v. 4.  There had been a question about the re-establishing of the Davidic kingdom, and He had replied that it wasn’t time for that, such was up to the Father, and that in the meantime there were things for them to do, namely being His witnesses world-wide, vs. 6-8.  Then He ascended, but not with sending an angel with the wonderful promise that He would return in like manner as you saw Him go into Heaven.”  He didn’t tell them to look for signs or wonders, to check the news for evidence that “the end” was near, or to expect that folks would listen to them.  He simply told them to wait, after which they would be busy.

“To wait.”  That didn’t mean to be idle.  The eleven along with some women, Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers, continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, v. 14.  It’s interesting that nothing is said about them praying to Mary or through her.  She held no place of importance among them.  There was no “veneration” of her.  She was just there as one of them.  And, evidently, His brothers had been converted after first rejecting Him, cf John 7:1-5.

It’s a shame prayer doesn’t have a greater place in our lives.  I’m guilty, too.  We get so busy with lesser things that we forget the important thing.  And I don’t mean just some repetitive formula,  or a few words hastily uttered before bedtime, but real communication with and intercession before God.  And it isn’t just about “asking and receiving,” as one author wrote.  That is certainly part of it, but God is not some heavenly Concierge just waiting around to tell Him what to do.  No, no, if we are believers, we are His children and as children love to be with their father – if he’s the right kind of father – so God’s children love to be around Him.  God is the right “kind” of Father!  If we remember who He is and what He has done and is doing and will do, we have a lot to thank and praise Him for.

There was something to be done while they waited.  One of their number had perished.  Now we don’t exactly what was going through Peter’s mind at this time.  He does say in v. 22 that someone must be chosen to “become a witness with us of His resurrection.”  Again, the importance of our Lord’s resurrection.  If Peter had been a modern preacher, he probably would have talked about witnessing of His love.  But the early church in the book of Acts never once mentioned the love of God.  In fact, the one occurrence of any Greek word for “love” is found in Acts 28:2, where the inhabitants of the island the shipwrecked survivors landed on showed them “unusual kindness.”

Perhaps Peter had in mind the Lord’s promise that the time was coming when the apostles would “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30.  Since there were only eleven apostles at the time, one more was necessary.

Some have criticized Peter for not praying before making this statement.  However, those in the room had been in constant prayer, and it is possible, though not stated, that the lack of an apostle was part of that prayer.

There is a solemn thought in all this.  For three years, Judas had been an active member of The Twelve.  They had no inkling that he was any different from them; indeed they made him the treasurer.  True, Scripture tells us he was a thief and stole from their treasury, but they didn’t know that until afterward.  There was nothing outwardly to mark him as different.  As Peter put it, Judas had obtained a part in this ministry.”

But he was lost.

In Matthew 7, our Lord made a sobering statement:

“Many will say to Me in that day [the Day of Judgment], ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?”  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ “ vs. 22, 23.

It’s a solemn thought.  Many in our time “prophesy” or “cast out demons” or do “wonders” or make much of “the Lord’s name.”  But our Lord rejects such things!  Why??  Read Matthew 7 again.  It’s all about what they have done!  Nothing about what He has done.  Cf. Paul in Romans 15:18, For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me…, emphasis added.  Not once did Paul take the credit for his ministry.  Christ used him, yes, and He uses others, but it is God who gives the increase, 1 Corinthians 3:7.

Oh, that we would remember this.  No one praises the paint brush of a great artist or the chisel and hammer of a sculptor.

We are only tools in the hand of that One who designed the ages and brings His work to pass.  After all, He doesn’t need us.  He simply spoke the worlds into existence.  But He’s pleased to use us, imperfect though we are, not because of us, but because of His great mercy.

Thank you, Lord.

Revelation 5:4-14, “Worthy is the Lamb!”

So I wept much because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, nor to look at it.  But one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep.  Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.”

And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.

Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.  And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth,”

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:

“Blessing and honor and glory and power
Be to Him who sits on the throne,
And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!”  And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and forever.   (NKJV)

As I read over this chapter gathering thoughts about it, chills ran up and down my spine as I contemplated the grandeur and majesty of this “worship service.”  I’m afraid ours pale in comparison with it.

But something else, first.

In the earlier part of the chapter, John had “wept much” because no one was worthy to take the scroll from the hand of the One on the throne and open it.  No one deserved even to look at it, let alone read it!

But one of the elders said, “Wait.  There is One.

“Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seals,”  v. 5.

“The Lion of the tribe of Judah.”  This takes us back to Jacob’s dying declaration to his sons in Genesis 49:9, 10, where he says,

“Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He bows down, he lies down as a lion;
And as a lion, who shall rouse him?
The sceptre shall not depart from Judah,
Nor a lawgiver from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes:
And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.”

“The Root of David.”

This takes us back to Isaiah 11:1, 10:

There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,
And a Branch shall grow out of his roots….

And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse,
Who shall stand as a banner to the people;
For the Gentiles shall seek Him,
And His resting place shall be glorious.

The rest of Isaiah 11 is wonderful and its thoughts are continued in ch. 12.  You should read them, though, for now, we’re only interested in the two verses.

Surely the elder talking to John portrays a mighty warrior, a prince among his people.  So John turns to see this person, and he sees –

a Lamb.

That most inoffensive and defenseless of creatures – a lamb.

True, the symbols of “horns” and “eyes” speak of strength and knowledge, but, still, a lamb.

But that’s not all.  John saw –

A Lamb as though it had been slain.

“As though” –

Not dead, alive, though bearing the marks of death.

And the elder has one more thing to say about this Lamb:  He has prevailed to open the book and to loose its seven seals,” v. 5.

You see, there is where it all starts, if you and I aren’t just simply to be condemned to hell because of our sins.

It isn’t enough just to have the Jesus of much of modern thought, or of other religions, or even much of what calls itself Christianity.  He wasn’t just a prophet or teacher, though He was that.  He wasn’t just a good example, because that would do us no good.  We could never follow His example.  And, contrary to some skepticism and unbelief, He did exist.  He’s not just a figment of some misguided imagination.  And He’s not just our buddy.

Scripture says that He came to be a Savior.  The angel told Joseph, “He shall save His people from their sins,” Matthew 1:21.  Now it’s true that the angel said to His mother that He “will reign over the house of Jacob forever,” Luke 1:33, but that “house” itself needs to be saved from sin.  The Cross had to come first.  He had to be the slain Lamb before He could be the sovereign Lord.

Without His death, there would be no salvation, no blessing, no grace.

But He didn’t just die; He “prevailed.”

He won.

He rose from the dead, evidence, to us,  that God accepted His death as the payment for sin.  Without the Resurrection, we’d have no way of knowing if His death was any different than the others who died with Him that day.  He ascended into Heaven, to sit at the right hand of the Majesty on high, waiting for the fulfillment of the promises the Father made to Him.

Without that, a lot of the rest of the chapter wouldn’t be possible.

This brings us to the “chills”.

I love good music.  Handel’s Messiah.  The 1812 Overture.  Music like that, that doesn’t require an amplifier to be effective.  And that actually is music, and not just an assortment of notes accompanied by theatrics.  Those crescendos up to the climax….  I love them.

Read the chapter over again.  That crescendo of praise and worship.

The living creatures and the twenty-four elders, v. 8.

The voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, v. 11.

And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, v. 13.

The whole of creation raises its voice in a crescendo of praise to its Creator and Redeemer, for even creation itself will be redeemed from the curse brought on it by our first parents, Romans 8:21.  How much more, then, ought you and I, who have been released from the bondage and curse of sin, raise our voices in praise to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and forever.

Hallelujah.

Revelation 1:19, 20: The Seven Churches

“Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.  The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands:  The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.”  (NKJV)

John had been so overcome by the vision of our Lord that perhaps he had missed part of it, that is, what the Lord was holding in His hand.  He held seven stars and was standing in the middle of seven golden lampstands.  Our Lord describes what these things mean:  the seven stars are the “angels” (“angeloi”) of the seven churches and the lampstands represent the seven churches themselves.

There’s some discussion about who these “angels” were.  Some believe the word is simply used in its primary meaning of “messenger.”  These are human messengers sent from the churches.  “Angel” is simply the transliteration of the Greek word into English.  And it’s true that angels often brought messages from God.  Another view is that they are actual angels, who watch over the churches.  We do read in Scripture of the activities of angels with regard to what goes on in this world, Psalm 91:11; Daniel 11:20, many others.  Others believe it refers to the actual pastors and leaders of the various churches.

I tend to the view that it does refer to the actual pastors and teachers.  It teaches us that pastors don’t belong to the church, or to the denomination or even to themselves.  They belong to the Lord Jesus Christ.  They are His and, though they have responsibility to the church they lead, they are ultimately responsible to Him.  There is no greater calling in this world than to stand before people and open to them the Word of God.  But there is also no greater responsibility than that.  Even the simple posts that I write for this blog have eternal repercussions.  Spurgeon used to say that it crushed him into the dust to stand before eternity-bound men and women with the Scriptures.  I’m afraid we’ve lost that sense of awe in this day of mega-churches and Christian “personalities.”

The churches are depicted by seven individual lampstands.  These were lamps which would have burned olive oil.  This compares to the single lampstand with seven flames which burned in the Tabernacle, Exodus 26:31, 32, 37.  I think these portray the distinction between Israel and the church.  As a nation or as a people, Israel was a single entity.  They had a single “holy city,” and a centralized religion with its headquarters in the Tabernacle, then, later, the Temple in Jerusalem.  Later on, in the various dispersions and such, the “synagogue” sprang up as a local focal point of instruction and worship.  But the Jewish heart was always with the land of Israel, regardless of where the body was.

I don’t think Gentiles really understand the attachment the Jew has for his homeland.  I worked for a few months as a janitor in a conservative Jewish synagogue and saw firsthand their love for “eretz Yisrael”.

In contrast to the unity of the nation, “the church” knows no such centralization.  We have no “holy city,” no “headquarters” on this earth.  There is no such structure to the church.  Each church is directly responsible, not to some earthly leader or body, but to the Lord Himself.

Scripture describes the church as both an organism and an organization.  The “organism” is called “the body of Christ,” 1 Corinthians 12:31.  True believers are members of that one body.  If you are a believer, though you and I may never meet in this life and might be separated by thousands of miles, live on opposite sides of the planet and have different languages and cultures, we are still related through the Lord Jesus.  We are brothers and sisters.  For lack of a better word, the body is “universal.”  There is only one.

But that one body functions in and through the local church, the local “organization.”  The problem comes in with the confusing of the organism and the organization.  There is no universal “organization,” no world-wide “church,” in Scripture.  Each local church is independent.  No other church can tell it what to do, and it can’t tell any other church what to do.  Certainly, churches can cooperate in various endeavors.  The problem is that the “endeavor,” whatever it is, tends to take on a life of its own and to overshadow the local church.

Through John, our Lord addressed each of the seven churches.  He didn’t have John give the message to some centralized authority, which then filtered it down to the various churches.

These were seven local, contemporaneous churches.  They all existed at the same time.  But “churches” are really just the people who make them up.  So our Lord isn’t just addressing some nebulous something out there.  He’s talking through them to you and me.  He’s giving each one of us counsel, warning, encouragement, promise.  We can find ourselves described in one of these churches, with the attendant counsel given by our Lord.

Hebrews 13:1-6, Brotherly Advice.

[1]Let brotherly love continue.  [2]Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some have unwittingly entertained angels.  [3]Remember the prisoners as if chained with them – those who are mistreated – since you yourselves are in the body also.
[4]Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.
[5]Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you  have.  For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  [6]So we may boldly say:  “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?”

The chapter break is unfortunate, as are many others, because it breaks up the writer’s thought.  It may not seem like it in what he’s been writing before this, but it’s really all about “brotherly love.”  Our culture has so distorted the idea of “love” that the Biblical viewpoint has totally been thrown out.

In our society, “love” is defined as “tolerance,” or “acceptance.”  Most ideas of saying that something is “wrong” are rejected out of hand, except maybe that it’s wrong to say something is wrong.  The exception seems to be when those who are in the wrong accuse those who differ with them of being wrong.  There’s an example of this in Exodus 2:11-14.  Note carefully who it was who said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us?”  Nothing’s changed.

There’s an interesting instruction about this view of love in the OT.  In Leviticus 19:17, 18,  God said to Israel, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart.  You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.  You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the LORD.”  The Israelite had a responsibility toward his neighbor.  Now, he wasn’t to be the “executioner” if one might have been needed, that wasn’t his place, but he was to say something to the neighbor about it.  Not other neighbors.  That neighbor.  Hear also our Lord in Matthew 18:15.  He does say a little more, but the basic idea is the same.  He also says something about our responsibility when someone has something against us, Matthew 5:22, 23.

Moses carried it a little farther:  to be silent was to bear sin.  “Tolerance” and “acceptance” of wrong is sin.  Not love.

How does all that tie in with our text in Hebrews?

The writer has been faithfully warning his readers against having a casual attitude toward the Word of God, an attitude which ultimately leads to rejection of it.  Indeed, in itself a casual attitude toward the Word is to reject it.

It’s true that the writer isn’t talking about wrong-doing.  He’s showing what it means to “love.”  In warning his readers, he’s been showing love to them.  Now he continues with some other examples.  We could probably write a post on each of them.

Entertain strangers.  In that day, they didn’t have motels and hotels.  Travelers were dependent on people they knew or the hospitality of strangers for overnight accommodations.  See, for example, Judges 19:15; Luke 10:4-7.  You never know who you might be helping, even “angels.”  Abraham did this, Genesis 18, although his hospitality extended to the LORD Himself.  After the Resurrection, some disciples extended hospitality to a stranger who turned out to be the Lord Jesus, Luke 24:13-35.  You never know whom the Lord might bring our way.

Remember the prisoners.  That is, believers who are being persecuted for their faith.  For some reasons, Christians are surprised when persecution comes to them or to others.  We’ve been spoiled in this country.  But church history is filled with stories of believers who did not love their lives to the death, as Revelation 12:11 describes some future believers.  If we can do nothing else, we’re to hold them up in prayer, that God would strengthen them and enable them to be faithful.  If we can help them otherwise, then we must.

Marriage is honorable.  There’s a lot we could say about this current and much-debated topic.  We’ll just leave it at this:  God has given clear instruction in His word about this topic, and those who deny, defy or distort His Word will be judged, and in the words of the last verse of ch. 12, our God is a consuming fire.

Be content.  The writer has given some instruction about love toward strangers, toward the persecuted, toward marital love.  Now he touches on the love of “things.”  He warns against “covetousness.”  We don’t think much of this in a day when, every few weeks, some product, like a phone, is “updated and improved.”  Last year’s car is just “last year”.  My own opinion is that “new” isn’t always “improved.”  An hour of TV has some 20 or more minutes of advertising, most of which is designed to make us discontent with what we have and wanting something else or something better.  In Luke 12:15, our Lord said, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of things which he possesses.”  Indeed, covetousness means that things possess us.   In Colossians 3:5, Paul warned against some things in ourselves, even telling us to put them to death.  One of these things is covetousness, which is idolatry.

We don’t think of it like this.  But when we focus on things, we take our focus off of God.  Whatever thing we focus on other than God, that thing is an idol.  We are idolators.  That doesn’t mean that we have to go off to some monastery or other; it just means that we have to understand that even our very breath isn’t our own, let alone the things around us.  And verse 6 brings in the wrath of God.  He will not take second place, as much as the skeptic or unbeliever might dislike that idea.

I’m interested in history.  Recently, my wife and I have been watching some programs on British castles.  The ones we’ve seen so far, impressive as they are, are all ruins.  I think that’s a fair assessment of “things” in general.  They don’t last.  Some of the owners of those castles did terrible things to get or keep them, but they, too, didn’t last.

In v. 5, the writer tells us to be content with such things as we have.

One of the “things” we’re to be content with goes far beyond the dreams of the wildest imagination of covetousness.  This “thing” is eternal.  The writer continues, For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  This thing is the promise of God.

If you give a little child a choice between a bright penny and a $100 bill, he will probably choose the bright penny.  He has no understanding of “value,” but only that the penny is shiny.

It’s a shame we’re so often fooled by the bright penny of things.

Hebrews 11:32-38, Faith: Paradox and Promise.

[32]And what shall I say more?  For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jepthtah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets:  [33]who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, [34]quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  [35]Women received their dead raised to life again.
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  
[36]Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.  [37]They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword.  They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – [38]of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

Hebrews 11 has been called “the hall of heroes.”  Men and women who did great things for God and were themselves great saints.  Yet this portion starts with men that we might not put into that category.  Here are some men of whom we might say, “What?!  Wait!  Why are they included?”

Gideon did indeed bring a great deliverance to Israel, but then led her into idolatry, Judges 6-8.  Barak, probably the least known of the four, was a man who reluctantly obeyed God, Judges 4, 5.  Jephthah is a man about whom the world and even many Christians have nothing good to say, Judges 11.  I’ve done a post on him if you’re interested.  He certainly isn’t one who is thought to be a “hero.”  Samson, who did do some mighty things, yet is perhaps best remembered for his dalliance with Delilah and his eventual death while a prisoner of and serving to amuse the enemies of his people and his God, Judges 13-16.

Here’s the first paradox.

To have faith doesn’t mean to be perfect and without faults.

There’s only ever been One who was able to say, “I always do those things that please Him,” John 8:29, emphasis added.  All the rest of us fall way short.

God doesn’t deny the faults of His people.

But then, neither does He define His people by those faults….

The second paradox is found in the rest of our text.

Some of God’s people may indeed do great things, vs. 33-35a.  While it’s difficult to know exactly who, if anyone, the author had in mind on some of these things, still, it could be said of Joshua that he conquered kingdoms.  Jeremiah and Ezekiel, even David, received great and wonderful promises.  Daniel certainly is one who stopped the mouths of lions.  His three friends quenched the violence of fire.  More than once, a badly outnumbered Israel turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  At least one grieving woman saw her dead raised to life again.  There are a lot of people the author could have had in mind.

The paradox is this:

Some of God’s people may suffer great things, vs. 35b-38.

We live in a time when, at least in this country, folks on TV tell us that health and prosperity and all good things are the lot of the Christian.  Great ministries have been built on this premise.  The truth is that while these things may and do come to Christians, more often than not their history has been written in their own blood.  This is especially true of those times when “the church” has sat on the throne.  This was true both of Rome and of the Reformers.  And suffering Christians, of whom the world [is] not worthy, live today in a large part of the world, and always have.  We just don’t see it on the 6 o’clock news.

The Apostle Peter put it like this, Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you, 1 Peter 4:12, emphasis added.  The word translated “strange” doesn’t mean “unusual,” but “foreign.”  Some folks seem to have the idea that any idea of “suffering,” whether personal or otherwise, should be “foreign” to them.  But you can’t really read the New Testament without seeing that this is not true.

But, if this world is all there is, as some think, or if we’re all headed to “a better place,” as others think, why would people endure such things?  The answer’s found in v. 35, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  Now, that word “might” doesn’t mean “might or might not,” as if there’s some question about it.  It speaks to purpose, not just possibility.  Faith understands the paradox, but rests on the promise.  As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 5:5, Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God.  Or Peter, We according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells [is at home], 2 Peter 3:13.

For the Christian, this world is neither our home, our heaven or our hope.

 

Hebrews 10:1-25, The Way to God, part 2

In this post, we’ll quote only from Hebrews 10:11, since we covered the first 10 verses in the last post.

[11]And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. [12]But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, [13]from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.  [14]For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.
[15]But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after that He had said before,
[16]“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD:  I will put My laws in their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” [17]then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”  [18]Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.
[19]Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, [20]by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, [21]and having a High Priest over the house of God,  [22]let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  [23]Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.  [24]And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, [25]not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

In the previous post, we saw that Hebrews is a book of contrasts between the First, or Old, or Mosaic, Covenant, and the New Covenant.  We saw that the First Covenant was the preparation for the New Covenant.  We noted that verses 1-25 divide into two sections:
1. Preparation for the way to God, vs. 1-18.
2. Participation in the way to God, vs. 19-25.
With reference to this preparation, three things were seen.  By way of review, they are:

Giving of the Law, vs. 1-4.
1. as the “foreshadowing of good things to come,” v. 1.  This was seen in
a. the sacrifices foreshadowing forgiveness by God, and
b. the tabernacle foreshadowing fellowship with God.
Both deal with the ultimate accomplishment of what God began in the Garden of Eden.
2. as the “failure” of human merit or effort to earn or deserve salvation.
The Law cannot take away sin.  It was given to show the sinfulness of sin and the sentence for sin, in order that we might more appreciate salvation from sin.

Generating ofa body,” vs. 5-8.  Since no OT sacrifice of an animal could take away sin, and no human sacrifice would have worked either, since no human could meet the requirements of perfection in a sacrifice, God “prepared” a human body that could meet the qualifications, the body in which the Lord Jesus was conceived in the womb of a virgin.

Giving of the Sacrifice, vs. 9, 10.  He came “to do” God’s will, perfectly satisfying once and for all both the precepts of the Law, and the penalty of the Law, in both instances serving as the Substitute for His people.  This He did by receiving as His by imputation their sin and guilt and suffering for it, and working for them a righteousness to be imputed to them, by which they could come before God without condemnation.

So much by way of review.  Now to the rest of our Scripture, which continues the discussion about sacrifices.

Finality of the Sacrifice, vs. 11-18.
This is seen in:

1. the contrast between Old and New Covenant sacrifices, vs. 11.
a. multiplicity of the OT sacrifices, v. 11a, “daily…oftentimes.”  The altar was never dry; it was always wet with blood.
b. futility of the OT sacrifices, v. 11b, “can never take away sins,” though they did in a manner of speaking “cover” them.

2. the completeness of the New Covenant sacrifice, vs. 12-14.
a. its extent, v. 12, “one sacrifice for sins, “sat down….”  In contrast to the innumerable sacrifices of the OT.  Further, the OT priest could never “sit down” in the course of his duties; his work was never done.  Our Lord “sat down” because, as He cried out on the Cross, “It is finished!”  This wasn’t the exhausted whimper of defeat, but the triumphant shout of victory!
b. its expectation, v. 13, “waiting till His enemies be made His footstool,” or as the KJV has it, “expecting.”  So, what is He waiting for, or expecting?  It is a complete victory over His enemies.  Further, we believe it deals with the realization of His rightful place as “King of kings and Lord of lords,” a phrase connected only with His Second Coming.  According to His own words in the Gospels (Matt. 8:11; 19:27-29; 20:20-23; Mark 14:24, 25; Luke 22:15-18, 29, 30, among others), He is looking for more than many are willing to grant Him.  These would rob Him of His glory by reducing His “kingdom” to a nominal Headship over a church which, because of its acceptance of infant baptism (in which the great majority of professing Christians believe), has a fair percentage of lost people, who are not, thus, under His headship at all.  We do recognize that many who are indeed the Lord’s own accept the label “Reformed” and disagree with this viewpoint.  Nevertheless, we believe that the Reformed doctrines of the church and the future have, over the centuries, done grave damage to the cause of Christ and the Gospel.
Scripture is clear that the Lord Jesus will “rule [with a rod of iron] in the midst of His enemies,” Psalm 110:2, also Psalm 2:9; Revelation 2:26, 27; 19:15.  If this is just “the church,” why is such severity necessary?  No, no, there is coming a time when Washington and London and Moscow and Tehran and every other capitol of this world will acknowledge, perhaps unwillingly, the Lordship and rule of the Lord Jesus.  That One Who hung naked on a Roman cross, and whom the world rejects and ridicules, will one day, and soon, we hope, be revealed as the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 1 Timothy 6:15.
c. its endurance, v. 14, “perfected forever”.  As we’ve said before, God’s purpose doesn’t just include the few minutes of our lives.  It includes everything that will ever happen.  This includes what will happen to us.  In fact, so certain is God’s purpose that Scripture tells us that, in the mind and purpose of God, we’ve already been “glorified,” Romans 8:30.  We only need to look in the mirror to know that that hasn’t yet happened!  But it will happen – as surely as that the Sun will rise tomorrow morning.  The one sacrifice of the Lord Jesus made it certain.

3. Content of the New Covenant, vs. 15-17.
a. its authority, v. 15, “the Holy Spirit” – not the teaching of men, not the “consensus of scholarship.” but the very declaration of God.  There is no other way to God!  The previous reference in Hebrews to this Scripture (8:8-12) refers to the temporary nature of the First Covenant; this reference is to the finality of the New Covenant.  It has nothing to do with the church “supplanting” Israel in the promises of God, as some teach.
b. its activity, vs. 16-17.
1). renewal (regeneration), v. 16, “I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” says the Lord.  The First (Mosaic) Covenant has no such promise.  In fact, after rehearsing all that the Lord had done for Israel in bringing her out of Egyptian bondage, Moses said, “Yet the LORD has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day,” Deuteronomy 29:4.  This is why Israel so quickly fell into sin and rebellion and why they complained so often.  They had no capacity really to understand what they were seeing and hearing.  One day, they will.
2). remission (forgiveness of sins), v. 17, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”  In our reading, my wife and I have just read Numbers 23 and 24.  We both commented on 23:21, He [God] has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel.  Israel had nothing but “iniquity” and “wickedness.”  And God certainly knew that.  And He judged them severely for it.  At the same time, as the Psalmist put it, “God is my defense,” Psalm 7:10; 59:9, 17; 94:22.  As Paul put it later, Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?  It is God who justifies [who has declared them righteous], Romans 8:33.  God wouldn’t allow a wicked prophet like Balaam or a wicked king like Balak to talk against His people.
While it isn’t yet true of Israel – it will be – God looks at believers through His Son.  When our firstborn son was just an infant, I was someplace where there was a crying baby – not ours!  Now, I had never particularly cared for crying infants – except ours! – but as I looked at this red-faced little fellow, somehow I saw my own son, and it was alright.  So it is, when God looks at us, He sees His Son, cf. Ephesians 1:5-7.  Again, as the Psalmist put it, He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities, Psalm 103:10.  The reason for that is that He dealt with and punished Christ according to them.  He was our Substitute and our Sacrifice, to the point that, as the Psalmist continued, As far as the east is from the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us, v. 12.  We can rejoice in that truth now.  Israel will rejoice in it one day.

3. Consequences of the New Covenant, v. 18.  Once sin is forgiven and the debt paid, there is no need for another sacrifice or payment.  Christ died once.  That is all that’s necessary!  To say anything otherwise is blasphemy.

The question remains, how do we participate in the blessings of the New Covenant?  While a complete answer must wait for the next post, let me say here that we participate by faith.  The just shall live by faith, Hebrews 10:38.  This, by the way, is a quote from Habakkuk 2:3, 4.  Though it’s more clearly delineated in the NT, salvation by grace through faith was known in the OT.