Hebrews 4:15-5:10, Our Great High Priest, part 2.

In our previous post, we saw that the writer had briefly mentioned the priesthood of Christ in an earlier passage.  In the next several chapters of Hebrews, he will expand on that teaching.  We saw last time the general responsibility of the High Priest, which was, once a year on the Day of Atonement, to enter the Holy of Holies in order to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat.  This would atone for the sins of the nation for that year, though each individual Israelite was also responsible to bring gifts and offerings to God for his own sins.

Having laid that groundwork, the writer now moves in the fifth chapter to the priesthood of Christ.

1.  The origin of the priesthood of Christ, vs. 1-3.
There are some who deny even the existence of the Lord Jesus, and say that He’s a complete figment of the imagination.  It just seems to me, for someone who doesn’t exist, that He’s had a tremendous effect of history and society.  There are others who say that He just decided to become the Messiah on His own.  A noted Muslim scholar, who spoke some time ago at a local Catholic university, teaches that Jesus was just one of a number of self-proclaimed, self-deluded Jews who claimed to be the Messiah and who wound up being executed by the Romans.  It’s true that there were a number of false Messiahs around that time, but the writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus wasn’t one of them:  He did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, v. 5.  See also v. 4.  Even the OT priesthood wasn’t self-originated, but God singled out a single family to fulfill that office.  There were even those who were disqualified from being priests because they couldn’t prove their genealogy from Aaron, from that family, cf. Ezra 2:62; Nehemiah 7:64, an event so important that it’s mentioned twice in the OT.

In v. 5 and 6, the writer quotes two OT Scriptures:  Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4 to show that even the OT prophesied such a Person.  Verse 6 introduces Melchizedek, about whom the writer has a great deal to say in 6:20-7:28.

We don’t know for certain when Jesus became aware of His destiny, humanly speaking, but we do know that by the age of twelve, He was aware of it, Luke 2:41-50.  Later on, in His ministry, He said, “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me,” John 6:38.  Even His message wasn’t “His”:  “…I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things,” Jphn 8:28. (NKJV)  There are a number of other Scriptures, especially in John, which teach the same thing.  Jesus was sent by the Father.

2. The outcome of Christ’s priesthood, vs. 4-6.
a.  for Himself, vs. 7, 8.
Cf. 2:10, 17; 4:15.  Also see Isaiah 53:3, 4:  He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.  We can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for the Lord to assume humanity.  He never complained about it, but there are indications that He felt it greatly.  In Luke 12:50, He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with [His suffering on the Cross], and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!”  He didn’t come to be praised and petted.  His birth was largely ignored in the events of the day – much like it is today – even at Christmas!  His life was spent in a troublesome province in the Roman Empire, and His death was just another of many deaths in that time.  He was despised and rejected, Isaiah 53:3.  He still is – even by many who claim to believe in Him.
There are a couple of other things.  Some who knock on your door will tell you that Jesus was only a creature of God.  He wasn’t God. They misuse several Scriptures to try to prove that.  Hebrews 5:8 disproves their claim:  He learned obedience by the things He suffered.  If He were just a creature in Heaven, wouldn’t He have “learned obedience” there, instead of having to learn it here?
Further, v. 7 says, in the days of His flesh,…He…offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear.
This is another of those things far beyond our understanding and experience.  When was the last time you – or I – prayed with “vehement cries and tears”?  I’m afraid that too often prayer is just part of some “liturgy” or a certain number of forms prescribed by a religious official.  It isn’t real prayer at all.
I suppose part of the reason for that is the prevailing view that “God has done all He can do and now it’s up to” us.  After all, if He’s already done all He can do, what’s the point is asking Him to do any more?
I think another reason the Lord prayed so fervently was that He missed His Father.  After all, He had spent eternity in perfect fellowship with Him.  Now that was hindered by the Lord’s humanity.  I don’t understand the Incarnation at all, but it must have been difficult for our Lord – to get tired, hungry, to have to walk from here to there, to be around people, even His own family, who didn’t understand Him or His message.  He no doubt had an awareness of the Father we know nothing about, but still, it wasn’t the same – and He missed it.
b.  for His people, vs. 9, 10, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.
There’s quite the discussion about the place of “work” in our salvation.  On the one hand, there are those who insist that we must have works in addition to our faith in order to be saved.  We have to keep the Mosaic Law, or the edicts of some “church.”  “Faith” seems almost optional in this view.  We must have “works.”
On the other hand, there are those who insist that we’re “saved by faith alone.”  Works has nothing to do with it.  As long as you’ve made a profession of faith, that’s all that’s required.
The truth lies between these two extremes.  Paul puts it quite clearly in Galatians 5:6:  …in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.  We might translate that last part: “faith energized by love”.
Make no mistake on this!  Paul isn’t saying that we’re saved by faith and works.  Neither are we.  There is nothing to be added to faith:  baptism, agreement with some statement of faith or catechism, as good as some of these may be, church membership, doing good works, etc. etc.
The issue lies around the character of faith:  what is “saving faith.”  There are those who deny that there are different “kinds” of faith, and say that all faith is the same.  I believe this is incorrect.  There is what may be called “a historical faith,” that is, it’s simply about the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord.  There is a “doctrinal” faith, which simply agrees with a particular statement of doctrine.  There is a “natural” faith, which I heard about a lot when I was in Fundamentalism.  This is the faith that expects the car to start when you turn the key or push the button, or for a chair to hold you up when you sit on it.  There is even a “devilish” faith, James 2:19.  Are demons saved?  Though they might have their place, except for the last one, none of these “faiths” saves us.
Saving faith doesn’t come from us.  It isn’t just the “exercise of our wills.”  It come from God’s grace, Ephesians 2:8: Acts 18:27.  Saving faith “obeys” God.  This is the whole essence of James, and it’s the essence of Hebrews 5:9.

3. Obstacles to the priesthood, vs. 11-14.
These verse start the introduction to 6:4-6, about which we’ll have more to say.  According to the writer, there were two obstacles standing in the way of his readers understanding what he was saying.
a.  their dullness, v. 11.
Even the OT lamented this.  In Matthew 13:15, our Lord quoted Isaiah 6:9, “For the hearts of this people have become dull.”  In our day, we might call it “Gospel-hardened,” that is, we’ve become so familiar with what we believe the Bible says that we don’t really think about it.  As it were, we’ve gotten used to it.  The readers of Hebrews had “gotten used” to Moses, and had a hard time learning something different.
b.  their “immaturity,” v. 12-14.
They had been believers long enough that they should have been able to teach others, but they themselves hadn’t even mastered the basic principles of the faith.  They still needed the “milk of the Word,” and couldn’t digest what Peter wrote of some of Paul’s writings:  things hard to understand, 2 Peter 3:16.  Sadly, many of their descendants are with us today.

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Hebrews 4:15-5:10, Our Great High Priest, part 1.

[15]For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.  [16]Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  [5:1]For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.  [2]He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness.  [3]Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sin.  [4]And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called, just as Aaron was.  [5]So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.”  [6]As He also says in another place:  “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” [7]who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, [8]though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.  [9]And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, [10]called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,” [11]of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.  (NKJV)

The writer had briefly mentioned the High Priestly office of our Lord in 2:17, where he wrote that the Lord Jesus had to be born into this world in order to fulfill that office.  Perhaps that ought to serve as a reminder this “holiday season,” in which even the name “Christmas” is becoming offensive to some, and forbidden, that Christmas isn’t about gifts and decorations and parties.  A line in a movie we recently watched said that “Christmas is the celebration of all that’s good in this world.”  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Christmas is a reminder that there is nothing good, spiritually speaking, in this world and God Himself had to intervene in order to do something about it.

And He did it in a way that seems counter-productive to human wisdom.

There’s a lot of preaching to the effect that God has done all He can do, and now it’s up to us.  That we have to do our part before He can do His part.  Christmas puts the lie to all that.  While it is indeed true that Mary had to carry the developing baby Jesus in her womb and give birth to Him, and that Joseph had to take care of her and her Child, if God had not moved first, there would have been no life, no development, no birth and nothing for them to do.  Any child they could have had “doing their part” could never have been a savior.  Indeed, such children would need and did need to be saved themselves, cf. John 7:5.  And they did have several children after the birth of Jesus, cf. Matthew 1:25, which indicates that they did enjoy a normal marital relationship afterwards, and Matthew 13:55, 56, which lists His brothers by name and indicates that there were at least three sisters.  Likewise, we are responsible to repent, to believe, to live godly lives according to the Word of God, but without the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit, we do not, can not, and will not, do any of those things.  That’s the clear teaching of our Lord in John 3:  that without the work of the Spirit we can neither perceive spiritual truth nor participate in spiritual life.

The writer’s purpose in writing the book was to encourage his readers to persevere in the faith and to be wary of leaving it, even a little bit – even to “drift”.  But the sad truth is that we do “drift.”  That’s why God doesn’t leave us on our own.  We have One who can intervene for us, One who can help us in our daily walk with God.  We have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, 4:14.

In ch. 5, the writer tells us a little more about the High Priest.
1.  Office of the High Priest in general, v, 1-3.
a. Godward, v. 1:  to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.
The Jew to whom Hebrews was written had long experience with the Mosaic system.  There was no way he could come directly into the presence of God, but had to go through a mediator, through the priests and sacrifices.  He had learned, or at least should have learned, that, apart from those sacrifices he was forever shut out from the presence of God because of sin.
I remember talking with a lady who was upset with all the references to “blood” in Christianity.  There are many like her.  But God didn’t institute the sacrificial system because He was just interested in blood.  No, no.  The sacrifices were meant to show that forgiveness of sin could only come through the sacrifice of an innocent substitute.  Every time an Israelite brought a sacrifice to the Tabernacle, he put his hand on the head of the animal.  This was a confession that he deserved to die, but that he could live only because a substitute had died in his place.
b. Manward, v. 2:  to have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray.  The priesthood was no place for pride, for “looking down” on those whom the priests were supposed to serve.  They needed sacrifices just like the “ordinary” Israelite, as the writer points out in the next verse.  But even they were restricted in their “access” to God, that is, in being able to go into the holy of holies, where God resided symbolically in the Ark of the Covenant and the mercy seat.  Only one man had that privilege, and that only one time a year – and not without sacrifice.  It was a death penalty sin for anyone else ever to enter that place, or even for the High Priest, if he entered it on any other day.  In fact, it’s said that they would tie a rope around the High Priest when he went in on the Day of Atonement, in case something happened and he died while in there.  Nobody else could enter, so the rope was there in order for them to be able to pull him out.  I don’t know that this ever happened, but it shows the solemnity with which they viewed all this.
I know we don’t live under those rules, but I do wish that some of that solemnity would enter into our own “worship” of God.  It would take care of some of the current froth and frivolity in it.
c. Inward, v. 3:  he himself is subject to weakness.
This last is key to understanding the contrast later drawn by the author between Christ and Aaron.  There were to be no “personalities” in the priesthood.  Even though the priests had a high calling, a special calling, in and of themselves they were no different from the “laity,” a distinction, by the way – “clergy” and “laity” – unknown in Scripture.

In our next post, Lord willing, we’ll look at what the writer says about the priesthood of the Lord Jesus.

Hebrews 2:9, “But We See Jesus….”

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone, Hebrews 2:9 (NKJV).

It seems to me there are two main ailments, if I can call them that, that inflict modern Christianity.  On the one hand, we have those who don’t really believe the Bible and so Christianity is all about social issues – justice, fairness, equality.  To be sure, social issues are important, but they’re not to be addressed according to the latest opinion polls or those who have the loudest voices or can cause the most damage or be the most violent.  On the other hand, there are those who do believe the Bible, but we’ve grown so familiar with, so accustomed to, its message that we don’t really stop to think what it’s saying.

A case in point is the fact that I’ve already received my first Christmas catalog.  Christmas will soon be on us and we’ll be inundated with displays of the Nativity, and all the trappings that accompany the modern observance.  Little children will put on their bathrobes – do they even still wear such things? – and gather as Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and wise men, around a little doll in what’s supposed to be a manger.  Cameras will flash.  Parents will smile.  Then in a few days, all the decorations will be put away, and life will go on.

I’m not trying to preach against the observance of Christmas, though we’re nowhere told to observe our Lord’s birth.  In fact, we don’t even really know the day of the year on which He was born.  And His birth, though absolutely necessary, isn’t what saves us.

So what am I trying to do?  What does all this have to do with Hebrews…?

The fact that “we see Jesus.”

Up until now, the writer has been showing the superiority of the Lord Jesus over angels, who were very important in the Old Testament.  The verse before us is the first time he mentions the name, “Jesus,” although things he has already mentioned refer to our Lord’s earthly life.  “Jesus” was the Lord’s human name.

In this verse, we see the two “phases,” if you will, of the Lord’s humanity.  He was made “a little lower than the angels,” though far superior to them.  This refers to His birth, His life, His death and His resurrection.  And, as a human being, He has been “crowned with glory and honor.”  This refers to His ascension and His present position – as a human being – at the right hand of the Father.  Through all this, He was and remains God.  He is the God-man.

We concluded our last post with this:  “God’s original intent in creation was that man was to be His administrator, as it were, over this new planet and all it contained.  However, man rebelled against this idea and decided that he would be the boss.  The result is that not only doesn’t man have dominion over this world, he doesn’t even have dominion over himself.”  This is why…

…we see Jesus,…made a little lower than the angels….

I’ve always read this verse as “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death,…”  That is, He was made lower than them, He became human, in order to die for sinners.  That’s how the KJV, with which I grew up, has it.  However, the NKJV has it as we quoted it at the beginning of the post.  This looks beyond that death to the honor and glory the Lord Jesus received because He died for sinners.  Cf. Philippians 2:9, 10.

This verse isn’t the first time the writer has mentioned the death of our Lord.  In 1:3, he wrote that our Lord, having by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.  This certainly indicates more than the fuzzy views of His death most Christians have today, that He did something on the Cross, but we’re not really sure what it was.  At the very least, we don’t really stop to think of what was involved in that awful, bloody death.

He “purged our sins.”  The word translated “purged” means “to cleanse, purify.”  And the writer says that He did this by Himself.  In other words, His death on the Cross, His payment for sin, didn’t require the sinner’s “acceptance” of it to make it effective.  It only required that God accept it, and this He did, as shown by the resurrection and the Lord’s placement at the right hand of the Father’s throne.

Having said that, I’m afraid that some might take that to mean that I don’t believe that we must believe on the Lord Jesus in order to be saved.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I do believe that – because that is what the Scripture says.  My point is that I’m afraid that for far too many people the emphasis is on what THEY do, instead of what the Lord Jesus did.  If you ask people about their hope of heaven, their answer will probably have “I” in the first few words.

Now, it is Scripturally true that we believe, and must believe, and are saved by means of that faith, but our “hope” must not be centered on what we do, but on what the Lord did:  that death that took care of, took away, our sins.  There’s so much more that we could say about this, and probably should, but we must go on.

That He by the grace of God should taste death for everyone.  The KJV has it, “for every man.”  There is, however, no word for “man” in the original.  The verse could translated “for all,” or, “for the whole.”  This, of course, brings up the question, “all what”?”  “the whole what”?

The writer doesn’t leave us guessing.  He himself tells us in the next few verses.  V. 10 talks of many sons.  V. 11 refers to brethren.  V. 13 says, “Here I am and the children whom God has given Me.”   So we are justified in saying that Christ “tasted death” for every “son,” every “brother,” every “child,” not indiscriminately or haphazardly, but in accordance with the will and purpose of the Father.

To hear some preachers, one would think that all that happened when our Lord left the glories of heaven, was that the Father hugged Him and wished Him luck.  Not so.  Not so.  The Cross was not “an emergency measure,” as one writer put it.  Nor is the plan of redemption “a colossal failure,” as another writer put it.  How could a Christian even think such a thing??  As much as we might have questions about it or not understand it, what happened on the Cross was a carefully worked-out way to save sinners.  Without this “working out,” there would be no salvation, cf. Romans 9:29, and no hope.  There would be only certain condemnation.

Ah, we’ve only skimmed the surface of something which Ephesians 2:7 tells us will take God Himself the ages to come to show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 

Oh, listen, what is your hope of heaven?  For there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved, Acts 4:12.  Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…, Acts 16:31. 

Life’s Hardest Lessons

Our “education” doesn’t end when we finish school, whatever level that may be.  I sometimes joke that I’ve learned the most from that school whose colors are black and blue. 🙂  I seem to keep getting set back a grade, though, because in some things I never seem to learn.   This world isn’t the only one which believes in “continuing education”.

The most difficult lessons are about something the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30 (NKJV),

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” 

Spurgeon had a tremendous sermon on this text, and if I still had it, I would be tempted  just to print it, even if it is twelve pages long.  He’s not to be blamed, though, for the thoughts which follow.

There seem to be two “grades,” if you will, in this school.  These are found in connection with the word, “rest.”

In the first grade – would that it were that simple because that was where we learned the ABC’s and 123’s – in the first grade, our Lord says to “come” and He will give us rest.

This, I believe, is the “rest” of salvation.

With this phrase, I don’t mean that there is something “more” to salvation, that is, the “rest” of it.  Perhaps I should have said, “the rest which comes from salvation.”  There are those who look for something more, some experience, some emotion, something… beyond “salvation.”  They look for the “abundant life,” as if eternal life itself isn’t enough.  They want a “second” blessing, as if we haven’t already received every spiritual blessing in the Lord Jesus, Ephesians 1:4.  They just feel that something is missing.

Nor, by this phrase, do I mean that we can “kick back and take it easy;” we can just “rest” and goof off.  We’re on our way to heaven.  Saying this, I DON’T mean that we somehow have to work our way to salvation, or that we even can do such a thing, though our Lord does address those who labor and are heavy-laden. 

No, no, I believe He’s talking to those who “labor” in the shackles of sin, though modern “wisdom” has lessened that thought to a mere “addiction.”  They are “heavy laden” with the effects of their lives: disease, poverty, crime, violence, to name just a few.  Just in passing, though I’m not really railing against “evil Joe Camel” or “Demon Rum,” but how much do you suppose an average person spends in a year on tobacco or alcohol?  In a life?  I don’t know, though I suppose someone has figured it out.  But at $5 or so a pack for cigarettes – and a pack or two a day?  No wonder folks are “poor!”  And that doesn’t figure in the cost of alcohol.  Or the price of a “fix.”

Even for those who aren’t one of “them,” life apart from the Lord Jesus is expensive. How much will some pay for “success,” however that may be defined?

What will they pay for “stuff?”

No, no, our Lord talks about “rest” because the work of salvation is done.  When He cried out on the Cross, “It is finished,” He didn’t mean there was something left for us to do to “complete” salvation.  He lived the live we can’t live; He died the death we can never die – the only life and death which can satisfy God’s law and justice.  That work is forever done.

Some people look to the “merits” of saints to help them out.  Beloved, there’s only ever been One Who had any merit to begin with, let alone have any “left over”!

To “come” doesn’t mean to walk an aisle or pray a prayer or do any of a hundred other things religion says to do.  It means to believe, to trust, to “rest” on Christ, Who He was and what He did for sinners like you and me.  To rely on Him to the point that if He were to fail – and He can’t!  He won’t! – there’s no other hope for us.

Because, apart from Him, there IS no other hope!

However, there is another word our Lord uses.  He said, “Take.” 

This, I believe, is the “rest” of submission. 

Oh, that word raises the hackles.  It makes us arch our back and spit like a cat.  There are whole bunches of religious people who oppose this idea with all their might.  And these aren’t just “liberal” folks; they might otherwise be very “conservative”.  They might even “believe the Bible from cover to cover.”

I spent several years among them.  Saw perhaps hundreds of “professions,” but only handfuls who were ever baptized or joined a church.  But they were “saved” because they had “prayed the prayer.”  Or so it was said.  I really don’t know in any particular case because I can’t see the heart.

But I do believe that there will be multitudes who will “weep and wail” at the judgment because they did what some preacher or soul-winner or priest or rabbi or imam or guru or whatever told them to do, only to find out when it’s too late that it’s not what God told them to do.

The “yoke” speaks of service.  It was put on the neck of animals so they could pull a plow or some other item.

All of us have a “yoke” of one kind or another.  But our Lord tells us to take His yoke, to serve Him, not sin, nor self, nor stuff.

It amazes me even after several years of study and writing, etc., that even in the middle of writing this very post, I saw something I can’t say I had really noticed before.  In reading over our Lord’s words, I was struck that there was a third thing He told us to do.

He said to “learn” from Him.

There are multitudes who are “Doctors” or “Masters” of some particular branch of learning.  And I am not against “formal” education.  I have a degree, though not as exalted as those.

Ah, but to learn from Christ Himself!  And not just about Him!  How I would love to have been with those who sat at His feet or those on the road to Emmaus who listened to Him and who testified later, “Did not our hearts burn within us, …while He opened the Scripture to us?” Luke 24:32.

But why Him?

“I am gentle and lowly in heart.”….

Yesterday was Christmas.

Today – not so much.

The wrapping paper has been picked up and put in the trash.  All the food has been put away, though I fear the scale might tell us we put too much away!  In the retail world, this is a very busy day, with gifts being returned and exchanged, and with all the “after-Christmas sales.”

The nativity set probably still sits there, sharing space with a tree and ornaments and decorations.

Christmas was yesterday.  (Sounds like the title of a post.)

In a few days, there will be a New Year, the ball will drop in Times Square, and life will go on.

Will the lesson have been learned – the gentleness and meekness of Christ?

“Very God of Very God.”

Born a Baby.

In a feeding trough.

Probably not….

But there’s another reason “why Him”?

“My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” 

So much easier than that burden you’re carrying right now.

The world looks at Biblical Christianity as a terrible thing.  I had a man tell me that God  forbids all the things we want to do.  That’s because they’re bad for us, now and forever.

So, why do that?  Why “come”?  Why “take”?  Why “learn”?

Because we will “find rest for our souls.” 

The most popular drugs are tranquilizers.  One of the most common ailments is stress.  That’s because this world has no resting place.  There’s nothing that really can say, “That’s enough.”  There’s always another dollar, another pleasure, another rung on the ladder, another “thing.”  We need this year’s model; last year’s model isn’t any good any more.  We have been taught to believe that “new” is “improved.”  That it’s better.

But it wears out or becomes old itself.

Only God’s blessing, in Christ, in new every morning, Lamentations 3:23.  (You might take note of the surrounding verses and chapters in this short book.  It isn’t about “health and wealth” or any of the other things our modern superficial spirituality looks for.  It is about trusting God when everything around us says, “Why?”)

Oh, there’s so much more I could write.  So many things.

But I don’t know you, my dear reader.

I pray the Spirit of God will do that which I cannot, and find you wherever you may be in life and make you a student in the School of Christ, that One Who alone has the words of eternal life, John 6:68.

May God add His blessing, for Jesus’ sake.

The Baby at Bethlehem.

I belong to a facebook group where there’s been a rather spirited and lengthy discussion going on about celebrating Christmas.  There are earnest people on both sides of the question. Though I personally don’t like all the trappings that obscure the true meaning of Christmas, I have no problem with celebrating His birth.  Apparently, some do.

I thought the best post of them all was by a person who included a cartoon.  The cartoon showed the nativity scene with Mary, Joseph and the Baby, but also showed Santa, a chair, an elf and lights and a camera.  Santa has his arms outstretched, but Mary is holding Jesus away from him, and the caption, which I have altered slightly, has her saying to Santa, “Why in the world would we want a picture of Him with you?”  I’d have included it here, but my low-tech mind hasn’t figured out such high-tech thingys.

Anyway, that’s not what this post is about.  Perhaps some of you who have been with me for a while will find the rest of the post familiar.  Though not completely copied, it is taken from a post published last year at Christmas.

In all the celebration of Christmas, even with the nativity sets included, have you ever thought about the fact that the Lord Jesus is the only historical figure who apparently never grows up.  Nelson Mandela died the day before my birthday, which is how I can remember it.  This year, there was a news item about his being remembered.  It was very short, yet it was from the standpoint of his life, not about his birth.  And yes, I know there are those who deny the Lord’s historicity.  Not interested in that here.

Someone commented to me that we do celebrate Jesus’ death at Easter.  That is true, for without Christmas there would have been no Easter.  Still, we don’t normally associate those two events, His death at Christmas or His birth at Easter.  When we observe the birthday of any other figure, George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc., we talk about what they did, not so much about their births.  Only Jesus stays in the manger on Christmas day.

Why do you suppose that is?

Could it be that nobody’s threatened by a baby?

True, Herod was, but his was a unique case.

I don’t know what the situation was back in the Lord’s day, but folks today will come up to the parents of a little one and “ooh” and “aah” over how cute he or she is.  They’ll smile at the little one, want to know his or her name, and then go their way.  They have no real interest in the youngster, no responsibility toward him or her.  He certainly poses no threat to them.

What about the Baby in Bethlehem?

He grew up.

The Lord Jesus began His ministry by commanding people to repent.  He talked about sin and death and judgment and hell, where “the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched,” Mark 9:43-48.  Now there weren’t ignorant pagans in some out-of-the-way place somewhere.  They were people who for centuries had prided themselves on being God’s people.  After all, they were the chosen nation.  No other nation had ever enjoyed that privilege.  And no doubt many of them did know the Lord.  But the idea to some of them that they had to repent just like Gentiles who converted was just too much.

Jesus told them that unless “their righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,” they would “by no means enter the kingdom of heaven,” Matthew 5:20.  You have to understand that the Pharisees especially were looked up to as the height of virtue and righteousness.  And there were good Pharisees, who lamented the “street-corner Pharisees,” as much as our Lord, who scolded them more than once for their hypocrisy.  Still, the idea that something more than what they had was unthinkable.  After all, they were the guardians of Israel and her heritage.  No wonder they perceived Him as a threat to them and to their way of life, cf. John, 11:48.

Even though Jesus was mostly against the leaders of the nation, it  doesn’t seem to have taken long for them to incite the crowds later to cry out, “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!” Luke 23:20; John 19:15.

The Lord Jesus as a Baby poses no threat for folks.  They can ignore Him and go their way.

But as the incarnate God and Judge of all mankind – well, then He’s a threat.  People don’t want to think about things like death and the judgment to follow.  They don’t want to be told they’re sinners and that, apart from faith in the Lord Jesus, they stand condemned in the sight of God.  They want to hear about “love”, not righteousness, about a “better place”, not that other place.  They want “health”, not holiness.  Riches, not redemption.

The Lord Jesus as a Baby is safe.

But He grew up.

Thank you, Lord.

Happy Birthday.

 

 

The Seriousness of Christmas.

This will probably be the next to last post until after Christmas.

Though it’s almost the last, I hope it’s won’t be the least.  It’s about something which will still be here long after the tree is down, the lights and ornaments are put away and the Santa figures and snow men are stored back in the attic or shed.

It’s about what the angel told Joseph after it was discovered his affianced wife was pregnant,

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she shall bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins,”  Matthew 1:20, 21.

Christmas is about salvation.

“He will save His people from their sins.”

Some folks focus on this statement, which they see as an indication of what might be called the definite purpose of salvation.  They will always emphasize that Jesus died to save His people.

Others, with what they consider a wider view, proclaim  “Whosoever will”.

Both are true.

Neither of them, in and of itself, is the Gospel.

You see, the Gospel isn’t so much about “who,” but “how.”

Even the salvation of “whosoever” is limited to those who believe.

And even that is limited:  “whosoever believes in Him..,” John 3:16.

And how does He “save His people”?  Through faith in Himself.

Yes, but can’t God just “forgive” sin?  After all, He’s a God of love.

True, but He’s also a God Who is holy, righteous and just.

His holiness requires absolute perfection in our dealing and views of Him.  His righteousness demands absolute perfection in our dealings with ourselves and with others.  His justice says there are consequences if we fail in any of the areas.

In other words, He requires perfection in life.

And who of us can truthfully say that we haven’t failed – times beyond counting?

Regardless of how we may dress things up or explain them, the sad truth still is, We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.

But because God IS also a God of love, He sent His Son to remedy that situation.

His Son, Jesus, was born as a helpless babe, in order that He might grow and develop and mature and experience everything there is to life.  The fact that He never drove a Chevrolet or had a facebook account has nothing to do with it.  These things, and all the other modern “conveniences,” are secondary to life, which has to do with how we react to ourselves, to others and to God.

He’s the only One who could truthfully say, “I always do those things which please Him,” John 8:29.

That goodness of life, that righteousness, is what we need if we’re ever to stand uncondemned before God.  I used this phrase in talking to a Jehovah’s Witness, but I may as well have talked to the chair he was sitting on.  He had no idea what I was talking about.  During our conversation, he told me that he thought he had a pretty good chance of making it to Paradise.

I was talking with a young lady and I asked her if she loved the Lord with all her heart, mind and soul.  She replied with an emphatic, “Yes, I do!”  I resisted the temptation to tell her that when she got to heaven, she could go up to the throne and say, “Move over, Jesus.  Now there are two of us.”

It’s sad that we can think that we’ve “got it,” when we don’t even come close!

All that we have is unrighteousness.

Sinfulness.

Even our best is bad.

Isaiah 64:6, though it’s Israel’s lament, could just as well be ours, But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.  We all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. 

“Our righteousnesses” – those things we think are on the positive side of the ledger, the “good” we do, are just like “filthy rags” in the sight of God.  These were menstruous cloths, or the rags a leper might use to dress his sores.  Not very pretty, but graphic.

And we all know that we really have very few “righteousnesses” when it comes right down to it.  If our “best” is this foul and disgusting in the sight of God, what must our “unrighteousnesses” be??

I’ve made the comment before that Jesus is the only historical figure who’s never allowed to grow up.  He’s always viewed just as “the babe in the manger.”  Nelson Mandela died the day before my birthday – that’s how I can remember it.  This year, there was a news item about the observation of the anniversary of his death.  It was a very short item, but it still was from the standpoint of what he had become, not just that he was born.

Somebody made the point that we do celebrate the death of Christ.  That’s true, but still, the two events aren’t really connected in our minds.  We normally don’t think of His death at this time of the year and we won’t think of His birth next Spring.  And what happened between those two events is just as necessary as the events themselves.

What happened was His life – that perfect, sinless, righteous life.

That life we can never live ourselves.

And yes, He died.

Though He had no sin of His own, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that God made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 

I don’t even know how to do justice to that verse!  It says that Jesus took to Himself all the foulness of sin, all the filth of sin, that leprous cloth, that menstruous cloth, as if it were His own, and God treated Him as if it were His own.  Jesus felt the full weight of the wrath of an offended holy, righteous and just God.  We don’t ever think of God like that in our superficial and sentimental Christianity, but Jesus experienced every ounce of it for those for whom He died.

But just as there came a time for Him to be born, and a time for Him to die, so there must come a time when we, too, must come, not to that cradle, for there is no salvation there, but to the Cross.  It is only there that our sin question will find an answer.

The Apostle Paul answered one such individual, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.

“To believe” means “to trust,’ to so completely trust that if He were to fail – and He cannot! – if He were to fail, there would be no other escape from our sins.  There IS no other escape!

“That we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

There are two sides to the coin of salvation.  One side is that Christ took our sins.

The other side is that God gives us Christ’s righteousness.  He imputes it to us, credits it to our account.  This is called justification.  In addition, He treats us as if we were righteous, just as He treated Jesus as if He were sinful.  The work of the Spirit is to show some evidence of that righteousness in our lives, lives which show conversion, no matter how imperfectly it may show.  This is called sanctification.  Paul wrote that we are God’s workmanship, Ephesians 2:10.  The Spirit’s job is to make sure that we look something like it.

Oh, that today, God might do His work through the Holy Spirit, that there might be some, perhaps even you, who come to Bethlehem to find that One Who was born in order that He might live and die for sinners.

Christmas is serious!

 

The Splendor of Christmas

And, no, we’re not writing about all the glitter and glitz of Christmas as it’s celebrated today.  Without doubt, there are some gorgeous displays of lights and ingenuity this time of the year, but, as with our last post on Christmas, we’re thinking of another day, a day which could not have been more opposite to today.

True, there were a couple of bright spots in that day of scandal, as we labeled it.  There was a visit by a few shepherds at the birth itself.  There was a visit perhaps a year or two later by an entourage which had traveled hundreds of miles to bring gifts to and worship the little one.  Their gifts, by the way, probably financed the family’s trip to and stay in Egypt.  This is not to leave out the angelic visits to Mary and Joseph explaining what was going on.

But for the most part, there was more shadow than light in that event.

So what was it that made this day worthy of remembrance?

Why should we care about something that happened 2000 years ago?  Is there anything else that happened back then that anybody cares about today?

Why this day?

It’s not about anything that happened “outside”.  It’s not even about Joseph or Mary, though a large part of professing Christendom has made it about her.  Indeed, it seems, for the most part, that they’ve made everything about her.

No, no, the day is special because of the Baby Himself.

But why this baby?  There may have been several other babies born in Israel that day. Certainly, world-wide, there were probably hundreds of babies born that day.

So. why this One?

John 1:14 says that He became flesh.  Philippians 2:7 says He took the form of a servant. 

What?

“Became”?

“Took”?

Who does that?  Nobody has any choice in the matter.  We don’t ask to be born.  Our kids will sometimes remind us of that.

This One did ask.

All the arrangements for what happened at Bethlehem, both leading up to and after, were made before God said, “Let there be light,” Genesis 1:3.  See 1 Peter 1:20.

You see, John 1:1 says that this One Who became flesh was God.  Oh, I know there are some who knock on your door who will say that He was only “a” god.  But if that were true, and it isn’t, then there is no salvation.  If only a creature, as JWs insist, then Jesus would have had all He could do to make it back to heaven Himself, let alone bring anyone else with Him.

Philippians 1:6 says that this One Who took the form of a servant, before then was in the form of God .  He didn’t think that exalted position was something to be selfishly clung to, but made Himself of no reputation.

“The form of God” means that He was truly God, just as “form of a servant” means that He was truly human.

“Made Himself of no reputation.”

Reputed illegitimate Son of a reputed adulteress.

Scandal.

No reputation.

Indeed.

There is an old hymn which says, The Son of God goes forth to war.”

Yes, He did.

As a baby.

That is the splendor of Christmas.