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.

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Revelation 13:1-10, A Beastly Situation, part 1.

1] Then I stood on the sand of the sea.  And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.  2] Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion.  The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority.  3] And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed.  And all the world marveled and followed the beast.  4] So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast?  Who is able to make war with him?”

5] And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months.  6] Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven.  7] It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them.  And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation.  8] All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

9] If anyone has an ear, let him hear.  10] He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword.  Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.  (NKJV)

This chapter introduces the last of the seven beings.  We’ve seen the woman, the Child, the dragon, Michael the archangel, the remnant, and now we’re introduced to two “beasts,” one from the “sea” and the other from the “earth.”  There’s a lot of discussion about these two beings.  Until the time they’re actually here, this will continue, but it will be seen that John describes them perfectly, not in a “physical” sense, but in a moral and spiritual sense.  We’ll join the discussion on the first one in this post.

As we get into the chapter, the first thing is a note on the phrase, Then I stood on the sand of the sea, v. 1.  It’s said that this should read, “he stood on the sand of the sea,” referring to the devil as he goes about to make war with the remnant of the woman’s offspring, 12:17.

Then John sees a beast rising up out of the sea and goes on to describe it as having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.  There’s some discussion about what this means.  Some say it refers to a “revived Roman Empire.”  Others say it refers to the leader of that empire.  I kind of like the phrase, “revised Roman Empire,” because I don’t know that the actual empire will be revived.  And certainly one individual is singled out, as we’ll see.  However it happens, it will be a political thing in play at the same time as other things with the same description, or these things being explained, 12:3; 13:1; 17:3.

It was a boast of the Roman conquerors that they never totally destroyed their enemies, but assimilated the best of their societies.  Hence the description using a leopard, a bear and a lion.  These are reminiscent of the beasts that Daniel saw in Daniel 7:2-7.  There, they represented successive world empires; here they embody a single empire with the speed of a leopard, the strength of a bear, the splendor of a lion’s roar.

It isn’t just these physical qualities that propel a particular person into the spotlight.  A singular event happens to him: he is mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed, v. 3.  This astonishes “all the world,” so that they marvel and follow the beast.

There’s a lot of discussion about this.  Did the man actually die, or did he fake it?

The latter is certainly possible.  There are drugs and chemicals which mimic death to the point that it’s very difficult to know for sure if a person is alive.  That may be, but I tend to the view that he actually dies and is brought back to life.

There are instances, even in our own time, of people being declared dead and returning to life.  One such instance is the book, Heaven is Real, the story of a little boy who gives evidence that he actually was in heaven for a time.  Another instance is the book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, the story of Don Piper, who was declared dead for an hour and a half, a book in which he describes what happened, both to his body and to himself.

There are instances in Scripture of folks dying and coming back to life:  2 Kings 4:34-36; 13:21; Matthew 27:53; Luke 7:14, 15.

The main argument against the idea that he actually dies is that only the Lord Jesus died and rose again.  And that is true.  No one has even risen from the dead as He did.  The individuals mentioned above were or are still mortal and did die or will die again, though I’m not sure about the folks in Matthew 27.

And what about Hebrews 9:27:  It is appointed for men once to die? emphasis added.  That’s generally true, but the instances in Scripture are miracles, which don’t follow natural or normal experience.

What about the devil performing such a miracle?  Scripture tells us that he has on occasion done marvelous things,  Exodus 7:11, 12, 22; 8:7.  Revelation 12 will happen in an unusual time, a time where “normal” isn’t necessarily what happens.

There is more than “normal,” or natural, in all this.  We read in v. 4 of the dragon who gave authority to the beast.  I believe this will be a time when it is obvious that there is more to what’s going on than what meets the eye.  It will be acknowledged that demonic forces are in play.  Men won’t care, but will be deceived into openly following and worshiping Satan.  Such things won’t be hidden, as they are now.

There’s something else here, as well, perhaps only hinted at.  We’ve already seen that the devil as active in all this.  Verse 5 says that this man, whom we’ll call the Antichrist, is given a voice and given authority.  Verse 7 says it was granted to him to do something.  This reminds us so much of Daniel 7:25,

He shall speak pompous words against the Most High,
Shall persecute the saints of the Most High,

And shall intend to change times and law.
Then the saints shall be given into his hand
For a time and times and half a time.

You see, and perhaps you’re getting tired of me making so much of it, but I think it’s necessary in these apostate and degenerate times, the devil can only do what God permits him to do.  Cf. Job 1, 2.  I remember a story of a high school student saying, “Satan rules,” and another student, a believer, didn’t know how to answer him.  He should have answered, “Well, he’d like to have you believe that, but it isn’t true.  God rules.”  He rules even Satan.  That’s what got him in trouble originally.  He wanted to be God.

In the time spoken of in Revelation, Satan is given great sway, even more than he has now, when he deceives the whole world, Revelation 12:9.  Also 1 John 5:19.  Satan works through a number of intermediaries to accomplish this, but in the time of the Antichrist, he will have one man in particular to do his bidding.  He will be successful: All who dwell on the earth will worship him – but only to a point – whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

Our Lord said that this time would be so deceptive and so “real” that, “there shall arise false Christ, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect,” Matthew 24:24 (KJV).

Paul put it like this:  …the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.  The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.  And for this reason [not receiving love of the truth] God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness, 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12, emphasis added.  See also Isaiah 66:3, 4; Romans 1:21-32.

It’s a solemn thing, this having access to God’s Word.  This country has been extraordinarily blessed in this manner.  We’ve enjoyed almost unparalleled prosperity and freedom.  But I’m afraid we’re seeing Romans 1 being played out right before our eyes.  Things that were generally unthinkable and unacceptable only a few years ago are openly and aggressively pursued and promoted.  We are truly “worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator.”  And we see the results of that, too, in our culture.  Things described in Romans, the “unrighteousness” described there, are everywhere in our society.

But what about you and me individually”  We can’t do much about society in general, but how about in our own lives?  Where is the Word of God in them?  Do we read the Word?  Do we know it?  Does it influence our lives?  Our thoughts?  Or does it sit, neglected and forlorn on a shelf or table somewhere?

O that more Christians could echo Job’s words in Job 23:12, “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.”

Revelation 1:6, “Kings and Priests”

And has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen. (NKJV)

For the most part, we live in the moment.  That’s all any of us really have.  The past is over with and done, and we have no guarantee of the future, even to our next breath.  So this, right now, this is it.  That doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t plan for the future, but simply that we realize, as James 4:15 says, If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.

And we live in the flesh, that is, our natural bodies.  This means that we see and know and experience what our physical bodies are able to see and know and experience, abilities which can diminish or be destroyed.  And even in this world, we know that there are things we can’t see or hear, things in the light spectrum or as sound, things which animals or other creatures can see or hear.  When it comes right down to it, even with all the advances mankind has made over the centuries, I’m not sure we really know any more about our environment than an ant knows about its.

This is especially true about this thing we call salvation.  Without getting into any of the other things we could think about, when was the last time you heard a sermon or read something on our verse today?

What does it mean:  “kings and priests”?

The second word is easy:  “priests”.

This simply means that, through the Lord Jesus, every single believer has direct access to God.  This is called, “the priesthood of the believer.”  This is something largely lost in the denominational view of the church that has sprung up over time.  But there is no NT office known as “priest” which divides believers into “laity” and “clergy.”  This is an idea which was born out of the effort to mold NT believers by an OT pattern.

There are men who are called as pastors and such, but that doesn’t give them a monopoly on God’s presence.  Through the Lord Jesus, the humblest believer in the pew has the same access to God as the man behind the pulpit.  The believer out in the middle of nowhere has the same access as the believer in the most ornate cathedral, and perhaps more, because we tend to get distracted by all the glitter and pomp and ceremony in such places.

Through the Lord Jesus, we can come directly into the presence of God.  We don’t need saints or ceremony or our Lord’s mother.  There is one God and one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus, 1 Timothy 2:5.  Through Him alone, we come to God.

But we must come through Him.  There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved, Acts 4:12.  Without Him, we are shut out from the presence of God.  With Him, we are completely welcome.

The other word is a little more difficult:  “kings”.

After all, look at John himself.  He was no “king” as the world counts it, but a criminal, exiled onto a tiny and barren island in the Aegean Sea.

To the Corinthian church, Paul wrote, For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence, 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.

There aren’t many among the world’s intelligentsia and elite who name the name of Christ in truth.  There are a few, but not many.  For the most part, God’s people are made up of those whom the world ignores or hates.

So what does it mean?

“Kings”?

I think it’s a promise.

It’s a promise for the future.

Without getting into all the discussion about the future – I do that enough, as it is – let me just say that Scripture says that this world isn’t the end-all and be-all of our lives.  There is coming a time when wickedness and error will be put away, and righteousness and truth will be all there is.  And Scripture seems to indicate that believers will have a key role in the administration of things in that future time.

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about all the troubles they were having in their midst, Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?…Do you not know that we shall judge angels? 1 Corinthians 6:2, 3.  Cf. also our Lord’s parable in Matthew 25:14-30.

But I think it’s also a promise for the “right now, this is it.”  It may be that, with the Psalmist, we can say that the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places, Psalm 16:6.  This was a reference to the division of the land early in Israel’s history, as also seen in v. 6, with the reference to inheritance.  But it may be that, like Daniel in the lions’ den or his three friends in the furnace, Daniel 6 and 3, we have to spend some time in less than pleasant places.

God said to Israel, “But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel:  “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.  For I am the LORD your God…,” Isaiah 43:1-3a.  While it’s true that the whole chapter is addressed directly to Israel, I think we can take shelter under a corner of the promise in these verses because God refers to “everyone who is called by My name,” v. 7.  While that also refers to descendants of those in vs. 1-3, are not true believers also called by the name of Christ-ians?

The promise in Isaiah doesn’t mean that Israel won’t suffer as it goes through the river or the fire.  And it doesn’t mean that believers won’t suffer in this world.  As I write these words, and as you read them, many are suffering in ways that words can’t describe.  Many throughout church history have suffered.  And the idea of “kings” doesn’t mean that we “rule” these things.  We still live in a world in which Satan is its “god.”  As his presence becomes increasingly evident, as it has recently in the political and social upheavals, I expect things will get worse for Christians.

Some Christians seem to have the idea that life should be “without a care,” as a “gospel” song I’ve mentioned before says.  It should all be health and good times.  But Scripture and life itself tell us that that isn’t so.  I think Paul gives us the idea in Romans 8 when he wrote, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  Some Christians seem to think that God’s love can’t possibly include such things.

But Paul continues:   As it is written:  “”For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”  Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, Romans 8:32-39, emphasis added.

The word “kings” does have a promise for the future, but it has a promise for the present.  It means that God has made it so that we can rise above whatever our circumstances might be.  Sometimes when one is asked how they are doing, they’ll reply, “Under the circumstances….”  That’s a terrible place to be.  God intends for us to be above the circumstances.

There’s nothing that life can throw at us that, by the grace of God, we can’t catch.

Hebrews 13:20-25, “Grace Be With You All”

[20]Now may the God of peace, who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, [21]make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.  Amen.
[22]And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words.  [23]Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly.
[24]Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints.  Those from Italy greet you.
[25]Grace be with you all.  Amen.  (NKJV)

As the writer comes to the end of his thoughts, he returns to where he started – with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Earlier, he had spent several chapters on the nature, character and preeminence of the Lord Jesus in connection with the place of God the Father in His life and ministry, 1:1, 2, 5, 8 13, etc.  Now, as he closes, he commends his readers into the care of that same God the Father.

In describing the Father, the writer goes at once to the very heart of the Christian faith.  He says that the Father brought up the Lord Jesus from the dead, v. 20.  The idea of resurrection from the dead includes the thought of death.  It isn’t separate from it.  And “death” relates to the person who dies.  If the Lord Jesus isn’t who He claimed to be, and who the Scripture says that He is, fully God and fully human, then His death has no meaning and the resurrection is nothing more than a fable.  It’s a shame that many professing Christians seem to have this view.  If there is no resurrection, there is no salvation, 1 Corinthians 15:12-17, and those who believe in the Lord Jesus are of all men the most pitiable, v. 19.

In contrast to this gloomy and hopeless idea, the writer describes the Lord Jesus in view of His mission:  that great Shepherd of the sheep, Hebrews 13:20.  Our Lord used that same figure to describe Himself in John 10.  The angel Gabriel told Joseph that this child whom Mary would bear would save His people from their sins, Matthew 1:21.  Though Joseph possibly only ever knew the OT promises of the salvation of Israel, the Lord Jesus came to redeem folks out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, Revelation 5:9 (emphasis added), not just the nation of Israel.

If you are a believer, then the Lord Jesus had you in mind when He walked the dusty roads of Israel.

In the NT, believers are described as “sheep.”  Though this isn’t a particularly complimentary description, in Biblical times, sheep were a common sight and the Bible uses the relationship of shepherd and sheep more than once.  Psalm 23 and John 10 are only two examples.  The thing is, sheep are utterly dependent on the shepherd.  Left to themselves, they will get into all kinds of trouble and are exposed to danger on every side, against which they are defenseless.  It’s the shepherd who takes care of them and keeps them safe.  Cf. John 10:11-13.

The Lord Jesus came with a specific goal in mind:  the salvation of His sheep.  He didn’t just come to this world hoping for the best.  To hear some preachers and believers, apparently all that happened when the Lord left the glories of heaven was that the Father hugged Him and wished Him luck.  That’s a completely inadequate and false idea.  The writer alludes to this when he mentions the blood of the everlasting covenant, v. 20.

An old “gospel” song painted a scene in heaven of utter confusion when Adam and Eve fell into sin, with God searching everywhere to find someone who could step in and do something about it.  Finally, according to this utterly unScriptural and God-dishonoring song, Jesus volunteered to come to this world as Savior.

Whatever difficulty we might have in understanding or accepting it, the Bible is clear that salvation is carefully thought out and planned.  It speaks of believers being chosen by God for that blessing even before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1:4, and given to the Lord Jesus, John 10:29, in order that He might save them, John 17:2.  It describes the Lord Jesus as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, Revelation 13:8.  So certain is our salvation, in fact, that believers are already considered “glorified” in the mind and purpose of God, Romans 8:30.

Just to clarify something:  this “choice” by God the Father means the salvation of some who would otherwise by lost, Romans 9:29, not the condemnation of some who would otherwise be saved, as some charge that we believe.  Without election, there would be no salvation.

One more thing.  God didn’t just “look down the corridors of time,” as some say, and choose those whom He saw would choose Him.  That is not what the Scripture means when it refers to our salvation according to God’s foreknowledge, as in 1 Peter 1:2.  God’s foreknowledge isn’t dependent on what He sees His creation is going to do, but on what He Himself has planned to do.  This is taught in such verses as Acts 2:23, which says that Christ was delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, and Romans 8:28, which says that believers are the called according to His purpose, before it says, in the next verse, says that we are “foreknown.”

In v. 21, the writer continues the appeal he began in v. 20, asking God to do something in according with that everlasting covenant, namely, to make his readers complete in every good work to do His will.

This verse was the subject of the saddest example of misreading the Bible that I’ve ever heard.  The college-age class I was in years ago had a leader who taught from this verse that we were to make ourselves complete, etc., etc.  It was all about us.  Apparently, he had never noticed that the subject of the verb “make” in v. 21 was “God” in v. 20.  It’s not about what “we” do at all, but about what God will do.  Now he was a good man, an earnest man, but he himself admitted that, though he had led the class for 17 years, he had never read the Bible through.  It is so sad that there are so many like him, believers to whom the Bible is as foreign a book as if it had never been translated into a language they can read, because they never read it.

The objective of salvation isn’t just to take us to heaven, or to give us “a life without a care,” as another unfortunate “gospel” song put it, but to make us like the Lord Jesus Christ, holy and without blame before God, Ephesians 1:4.  The work won’t be completed in this life to be sure, but it does begin here, and it’s a work which God must do because we don’t know how to do it – and can’t do it, for that matter.

In v. 22, the writer does turn his attention to his readers and appeals to them to bear with the exhortation, the few words he had written to them.  He’s not the only one who ever had difficulty with this.  John had the same problem.  There’s just so much that could be said about the Lord that, as John put it, even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written, John 21:25.  There’s just too much that could be said.  Indeed, according to Ephesians 2;7, it will take God Himself the ages to come…to show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  I don’t think we get much more than the first little bit of the introduction in this life.

And he’s not the only one who has been concerned that his readers pay attention to what he wrote, or, if he were a preacher, to what he said.  I’ve often wondered, when a person leaving a service tells the preacher, “What a wonderful sermon that was,” what would happen if the preacher would ask him, “What was it about?”  (What was your preacher’s sermon about last week?)  This may seem harsh, and it may be, and I’m sorry, but as I look around and see the terrible condition this nation is in, and “Christians” right out there in the middle of it, I wonder if anybody is listening to the Word at all.  Too many churches seem to be concerned more about personalities or programs or prosperity or politics than they are about the proclamation of the Gospel of our Lord and God Jesus Christ.

The writer closes his “few words” with grace be with you all.  I hear a great deal today about “love” and very little about “grace.”  Without the grace of God, though, we’ll never experience the love of God.

That’s why the writer closes his writing, and I close this series, with –

Grace be with you all.  Amen.

Hebrews 13:7-19, Some Things to Remember

[7]Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.  [8]Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  [9]Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines.  For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods, which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.
[10]We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.  [11]For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp.  [12]Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.  [13]Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.  [14]For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.  [15]Therefore by Him let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.  [16]But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
[17]Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.  Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
[18]Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably.  [19]But I especially you to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner. (NKJV)

As the writer begins to close up his thoughts, he reminds them of some things to keep in mind.

1. Remember the message, vs. 7-9.  While it’s true he starts off referring to those who rule over you, his emphasis here is on what they preached:  the word of God.  This “word” focus is on the Word, John 1:1, that is, Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Then he warns them against being carried about with various and strange doctrines.
Many in our day seem to think it’s right and necessary to throw out the old doctrines, the old beliefs, and substitute new ones in their place.  This may be from social convention or political maneuvering.  It may be from something else.  Regardless, the old paths, Jeremiah 6:16, of divine revelation are neglected, overgrown, and forgotten in preference to the broad way of unbelief and “reason” and “science”.
In contrast to this, the writer warns his readers that the object of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ, is eternal and unchanging.  While it’s true that our understanding of Him has developed throughout the ages of the church, the truth about Him has not.  What was true 2000 years is still true, and will be true 2000 years from now.  There will be no new revelation, no change in the truth.  And it’s true regardless of who disagrees with it or denies it or tries to substitute something else in its place.  It’s true even if nobody believes it.
In a world of constant change and increasing chaos, this unchanging truth is the one thing we can hold on to with assurance.
Among other things, the first century church was troubled with controversies about diet.  What one could or could not eat had been an important part of Jewish culture in the Old Testament.  When first century Jews were converted to Christ, they brought a lot of this view with them.  Hence, our writer’s comment about the heart being established by grace and not by diet, which has not profited those who have been occupied with it.  Paul had to deal with this problem, as well.  Cf. Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 6:13.  Even our Lord had to deal with this problem.  Cf. Matthew 15; Mark 7:1-23.

2. Remember the Master, vs. 10-16.  Thinking of food perhaps led the writer to think about the Old Testament sacrificial system.  Without getting too deeply into it, many of the sacrificial animals weren’t completely consumed on the altar.  Part of the sacrifice was eaten by the priest and/or by the one offering it.  The most notable example of this was the Passover, Exodus 12:8-10.
This leads into a difficult saying of our Lord found in John 6, starting with v. 41.  We’ll pick up His thought in v. 53.  His audience was questioning what He was saying, quarreling among themselves about it, v. 52.  In answer, our Lord said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise Him up at the last day.  For My flesh is food indeed and My blood is drink indeed.”
This Scripture has led some to believe that the Lord was referring to actual flesh and blood, so the elements of Communion, bread and wine, are really transformed into the flesh and blood of our Lord by the words of a priest.
A close reading of John 6 dispels this notion.  Earlier in the chapter, the Lord spoke of believing in Him, vs. 29, 35-40, 45, 47.  In v. 63, He told His disciples, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.”
When our Lord instituted the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, using things from the Passover meal He and His disciples had just eaten, He said of the bread, “Take, eat; this is My body.”  Of the cup, He said, “Drink from it, all of you.  For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sin,” Matthew 26:26, 27.  See also Mark 14:22, 23; Luke 22:19, 20.  Pay close attention to the fact, though, that after the Lord said this, He was careful to call the wine, “the fruit of the vine,” Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25.  It had not been changed into something radically different, not been changed into real blood.  Our Lord was saying that the bread and the cup represent His body and blood, not that they had or would become them.
The Lord Jesus died once for sin, Hebrews 9:26-28.  It isn’t necessary to offer some man-made “unbloody sacrifice” around the world millions of times a day for salvation.  His life, as represented by the bread, and His death, as represented by the cup, are the only things which bring salvation.  All else brings only death, regardless of what is said about them.
In remembering the Master, we mustn’t forget that the writer said that He suffered outside the gate, v. 13.  Jesus wasn’t “popular” in any sense, but was despised and rejected by men, Isaiah 53:3.  He suffered reproach and rejection, especially by the religious leaders of His day.  It was they who were foremost in demanding He be put to death, cf. Matthew 27:11, 20.  If we would follow the Lord Jesus, it must be outside the camp, v. 13, because that’s where He is.
In our last post, we wrote of the danger of being possessed by things.  That’s because this world isn’t our final home.  In the words of v. 14, here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.
Through the Lord Jesus, we’re to continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, v.15.  That’s because we have a hope that this world isn’t all there is to life, that all the trouble and difficulty we face will one day be gone, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away, Revelation 21:4.
At the same time, the writer reminds us that we still have responsibility in this world: But do not forget to do good and to share, v. 16.  As someone has put it, we’re not to be so heavenly-minded that we’re no earthly good.  We’re here to please God, not just ourselves, and to sacrifice our own interests in service to others is well-pleasing to Him.  God has left us here to be salt and light in a dark and corrupt world, not just to serve ourselves.

3. Remember the ministers, v. 17.  V. 7 speaks of the message of those who preach.  V. 17 speaks of their responsibility – and ours.  The word translated “rule over” simply refers to leaders, not to kings on a throne.  There are some preachers like that.  Such men fail to realize the responsibility that they have.  Spurgeon used to say that the idea of facing thousands of people in preaching the Gospel was enough to crush him into the dust.  He understood that the Gospel, church, Scripture – these all deal with eternal things and how we treat them in this life has a lot to do with the next one.  He knew that he would give an account of his ministry one day, and it wouldn’t be about how popular he was, though he preached to thousands and his sermons circled the world (long before the internet and instant messaging), but how faithful he was to the Word and to God.
As listeners, we, too, have a responsibility to faithful ministers – not to be a burden to them, but to listen to them and give them honor due them as ministers of God.  To do otherwise is unprofitable, v. 17.

4. Remember me, vs. 18, 19.  The writer recognized his own need of prayer, even though he desired to live honorably, v. 18.  But even though he had a good conscience, he knew that his own strength wasn’t enough for this.  Further, he wanted to be restored to them, and prayer was a means to this.  We don’t know if he were in jail or what it was that was preventing him from being with them, but God knew.
Praying is an essential part of the Christian life.  By prayer, we don’t mean some rote petition said while we think about something else, or some formula given out by a priest, but the outpouring of a heart burdened with this life and/or thankful for God’s grace and blessing through it all.  When Saul of Tarsus was converted and people would have trouble believing that he was no longer their enemy, what was the evidence of his new life?  “Behold, he is praying,” Acts 9:11.  Now, as a Pharisee, no doubt, Saul had said many a prayer.  But he had never prayed.  There is a difference.  It’s one thing to “say a prayer,” as I’ve occasionally had folks ask me to do; it’s an entirely different matter simply to “pray.”

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 12:1-3, The Race Set Before Us

[1]Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [2]looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  [3]For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.  (NKJV)

The writer has just finished a long list of the heroes of the faith, men and women who either did great things or suffered great things.  But he’s not content simply to think about the past, or for us to stay there in our thinking.  After all, we live in the present.  What about us?

And what about this great cloud of witnesses in v. 1?

More than once, I’ve heard preaching on this verse as picturing a great stadium, with us down on the field running, and the OT saints up in the stands cheering us on.   That may be, although I don’t know that the Bible says very much about what the inhabitants of heaven are doing right now, or what they think about those of us left behind.

I look at this verse another way.  The writer says that we “also” have a cloud of witnesses.  For the OT saints, what was their “cloud”?  Who was cheering them on?

I think this verse could refer to one of two things.

First, it could simply refer to the testimony they left behind, especially those who endured the sufferings the writer listed.  In the words of Revelation 12:11, some of them did not love their lives to the death.  The way things are going in this country, and are already happening in other parts of the world, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs may be more relevant than we like to think.  (I wonder how many in our comfortable, casual, contemporary Christianity have even heard of it.)

Second, and this is what I think it means, it refers to “the great cloud of witnesses” who see us in our day to day lives.  The clerk in the grocery store, the waitress in the restaurant, the auto mechanic, the people we work with, the people we deal with in a hundred different ways every day.  And I don’t mean that we have to “witness” to them, or try to “get them saved.”  If such an opportunity comes along, we should take advantage of it and thank God for it, but that’s not what I’m writing about.  How do we treat them?  Are we courteous or churlish?  Do we thank them when they help us?  Are we honest when the clerk gives us too much change back?  What kind of a “job” do we do at work?

In short, do we “live” Christianity?

Or, is it “Sunday-only?”

The writer gives us some advice about this race –

“let us lay aside every weight.”  Now, I’ve never really been a runner, but I expect that when someone get ready to run, especially in a race, they don’t load themselves down with extra stuff.  They wear as little as possible.  Their focus is on the race.  They don’t spend a lot of time checking out their electronic devices while they’re on the track or on the road.

There’s something for us here.  We live in a time where “busy” is the order of the day.  There’s just so much going on – so many distractions, that we just don’t have time to serve God.  We don’t have time to read His Word.  Sad, though, that we do have time for our favorite shows on TV or Netflix.  Or some useless Facebook game.

We just carry too much weight.  (No, not that kind.  Though that’s not good for us, either.)

But there’s another kind of weight that we need to get rid of –

weight on the inside:

the sin which so easily ensnares us.

Paul put it like this in Romans 7:21, I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.  There’s a lot more he says, but he would never say that he had “arrived,” as far as perfection was concerned.  In fact, as we’ll see in a moment, he specifically denied that he was where he wanted to be.  He still battled with the corrupt nature he was born with.  There are those who say that this chapter refers to his pre-conversion life, that time before he was saved.  That can’t be.  More than once, he himself refers to that time as a time when he was well-satisfied with himself.  For example, in Philippians 3:4-6, he wrote, If anyone thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so:  circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

“Concerning the law, blameless.”

That was his pre-conversion view of himself.  But in Philippians 3:7, 8, he continued, But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.  Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish.  

There’s only ever been One who could say, “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” John 8:46.

There are some things on the inside we need to get rid of.

“run with endurance the race set before us.”  I like the KJV rendering: “run with patience”.  I know, it’s outdated and out of favor, but it’s what I grew up with, and it’s ingrained.  You see, no race is just about the starting line.  The Christian life isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.  The writer had mentioned “endurance” before in 10:36, in warning his readers to be faithful in their profession, that they had need of it.

In Philippians 3:12-14, Paul wrote, Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.  Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

A good attitude for any and all of us.

Too many of us tend to live in the past, rehashing old hurts or failures.  But as someone has said,

“There’s no future in the past.”

By the grace of God, we look forward to a glorious future, a future beyond description.

Let’s go!