Hebrews 5

Read Hebrews 5.

One of the struggles I’ve had as a Christian is the feeling that God hasn’t listened to my prayers.

I know that God hears and knows everything, so the problem isn’t that my prayer wasn’t heard. The problem is that, although God hears our prayers, he often seems not to answer.

When you speak to someone and they ignore you, it hurts. It feels like you don’t matter to that person. It feels like he or she can’t be bothered with your issues and problems. It feels like that person doesn’t care.

It feels about the same way to me when God doesn’t answer my prayers. Does he not care? Did I offend him somehow with my request? Is there something in my life that he wants me to address first?

Who knows….?

Jesus can relate.

Verses 7-9 describe Jesus’s prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane. It says that he prayed “with fervent cries and tears” (v. 7). His goal in these prayers was to be saved from death (v. 7b).

Yet he did die. He was betrayed by Judas, arrested by his enemies, denied by Peter and forsaken by the other apostles, tried and crucified. God was able to save him from death but he did not. It seems like an unanswered prayer.

Yet verse 8 says, “…he was heard.”

He was?

How? In what way was Jesus “heard”?

The answer is given in verse 8, “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” In other words, Jesus learned what it meant to be told, “No.” He prayed fervently and emotionally but his request was not in God’s will. He knew that, already, which is why he also prayed, “not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

Jesus prayed fervently and emotionally but he also prayed submissively. Jesus asked God for what he–Jesus–wanted but he learned what it meant to submit to what God wanted instead.

Have you prayed about something and felt like it was a waste of time and breath? God’s answer may still be yes but not now or it may be a hard “No.” Understand, though, that it is not because God does not care for you. It is because his will is better than your will.

Trust in that. Keep praying, but remember to pray submissively.

Hebrews 4

Read Hebrews 4.

Jesus had it easy, right? Sure, he had to contend with the limitations of human nature during his days on earth. But since he was God he did not have to worry about being “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (3:13). He knew what a liar Satan is and how sin offers us pleasure that it cannot ultimately deliver, at least not for long. So it was easy for him to live the faithful life that chapter 3 talked about, right?

At least, it was easier for him than it is for us, it seems. So the statement here in 4:15 that our high priest “has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” feels a bit hollow, yes?

Well…, think about it this way: imagine you are running a marathon-26.2 miles. Some people drop out after a mile, some after five miles, some quit 10 miles in, and so on. You’ve done some training and are in the best shape of your life, but from mile 10 onward your legs are just screaming to you, “Stop it!”

You have the ability to quit at any time.

You can drop out of the race anywhere.

So who feels punishment of running the most, the person who completes the entire race or the one who drops out after a mile? Who feels the discomfort of high winds the most, the runner who quits at mile 5 or the one who finishes the race? What about the hot sun? Who gets burned the worst, the runner who quits after the finish line or the one who quits at mile 15? Whose foot blisters hurt the most? Who suffers most from the internal arguments that your brain engages in to try to get you to quit?

All of these problems are felt most acutely by the runner who completes the race. Whether he or she is in better shape than you or not, the toll of the race is felt most fully by the one who completes it.

Similarly, when I was in seminary my systematic theology professor said that only the one who withstands temptation completely knows the full force of it. If you give into temptation before the temptation goes away, you haven’t experienced the full intensity of it.

So Jesus, the “one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (v. 15b) is able to “empathize with our weaknesses” (v. 15a) fully because he successfully endured every scheme the devil had to throw at him.

Sure Jesus had a perfect nature but so did Adam and he quit after the first half mile. Jesus, however, endured every temptation obediently. He finished the race so he felt the difficulty of it more than anyone else who has ever lived.

This is why the author of Hebrews urges us to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (v. 16).

You may be tempted to throw your faith away (v. 14c) at some point in your life; in fact, you probably will be tempted to do that somewhere along the way.

But the best thing you can do when you feel tempted to sin in any way is to go to Jesus in prayer. Many of our failures to live a holy life by resisting temptation are due to relying completely on ourselves and our willpower instead of coming to Christ for the mercy and grace he offers. So, go to him in prayer when your faith is weak and your desire to sin is strong.

He’s finished the marathon, he knows what it is like, and he will help you if you ask him for it.

Hebrews 3

Today’s reading is Hebrews 3.

An observant Jewish person will have deep reverence for some of the heroes of what we call the Old Testament. I’m thinking here of people like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Joshua, Samuel, David, and others.

Of course, Moses would be on that list, too. As the man God used to deliver Israel from Egypt and through whom God gave the Law, Moses is heroic to all of God’s people, whether Jewish or Gentile. And the Jewish believers who read this letter called Hebrews first certainly had a strong respect, even reverence, for Moses.

There is nothing wrong with having a faith-hero and Moses is a good one to have in many ways. A problem develops, though, when a hero of the faith becomes more real to us than Jesus himself is. Despite all his virtues, Moses was merely a man.

The author of Hebrews wants his readers to love Jesus more than they love Moses. He urged them in verse 1, then, to “fix your thoughts on Jesus.” Every good quality that Moses had, such as his faithfulness to God’s work (v. 2), Jesus has in greater abundance. If the Jewish Christians held Moses in greater esteem than they held Jesus, then they were admiring the house more than the ingenuity of the builder (vv. 3-6). If these believers turned away from Jesus to return to a Christ-less form of Judaism (vv. 6-19), then they would miss the eternal promised land just as the Jewish people who followed Moses out of Egypt missed the Canaanite promised land.

You probably don’t think about Moses more than Jesus. That was a greater temptation for Jewish audience of Hebrews than it is for us.

But you might be tempted to follow some other Christian leader more closely than you do Jesus. If there is a pastor or author or teacher or Christian parent who contributed powerfully to your conversion, growth, and discipleship, you might follow that person more closely than you follow Jesus.

That’s dangerous because even godly people are still human. They can fall or just disappoint you.

Jesus never will.

Is there someone you love and follow so closely that everything he or she says or does is, to you, what a Christian must say or do? Are you in danger–or guilty–of respecting the house more than the builder (v. 3)?

That is a subtle but real form of idolatry. Love your mentors and appreciate all that they’ve done for you in Christ. But follow Jesus and worship him alone. He’s the only one worth is and the only who can get you safely to God’s eternal promised land.

Hebrews 2

Today, read Hebrews 2.

Yesterday’s reading in chapter 1 emphasized to us that Christ is superior to angels. Like, really superior–he’s the Son, they are just servant-messengers.

That does not mean, however, that angels are unimportant. Far from it; the end of chapter 1 said they are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (1:14). Today’s reading in chapter 2 picked up on that truth and told us to be careful not to drift away from Christ. Verse 2 of chapter 2 told us why we should be careful not to drift away: Angels may not be as great as Jesus, but look at the kind of judgment people faced when they ignored the message angels brought. [Think here of Sodom and Gomorrah.] So verse 3 told us, if God punished people who disobeyed the message of angels, what will he do to those who ignored the salvation that Jesus taught us about? Right; he’ll punish us with even greater severity.

Verses 3b-4 told us that the message Jesus taught was also validated by “those who heard him” (aka, the Apostles) and “signs, wonders, and various miracles and gift of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, the gospel is not a made-up idea and the threat of punishment for ignoring the gospel is not empty. Instead, God provided plenty of proof that Jesus’ message was valid; that proof consisted of the eyewitnesses of his life and teaching and the miracles Jesus did to authenticate his message.

Beyond the threat of punishment, though, there is great blessing for those who do believe the gospel and follow Jesus Christ. Verses 5-8 tells us that God is going to make rulers in the world to come out of those who believe the gospel in this world. Although it hasn’t happened yet, Jesus provides the evidence that God will bless us. This evidence is described in verse 9; Jesus was humiliated to death on our behalf, but now has been raised to glory and honor.

Speaking of Christ’s humiliation, the author of Hebrews wants us to know that everything Jesus suffered was to bring us into God’s family. And, despite our sins and rebellion against God, “Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters” (v. 11). His willingness to call us his brothers and sisters stems not from anything we did to become worthy; it comes from his atonement for us on the cross (v. 9, 14, 17-18).

So don’t turn away from Jesus. Even if the cost becomes high and we experience persecution for Christ, don’t turn away from him. Turning away from him means eternal punishment but trusting him means enjoying the acceptance and fellowship of being Christ’s family as well as the promise that we will reign with him in his kingdom. It is true that following Christ can be painful and costly in this life but that cost is so temporary and so cheap compared to what Christ did to redeem us and compared to all that he offers us in him.

So don’t be discouraged today if your faith costs you something in this life. Instead, let that cost strengthen your faith in Jesus because of the promises he’s made to us.

Hebrews 1

Read Hebrews 1. [Note: the schedule I put together for reading through the New Testament moves around so that there is some variety in our readings. That’s why we’re not starting Mark today even though we finished Matthew yesterday.]

One of the challenges to our faith comes in the form of “pluralism”–the idea that every religion leads to the one and only God. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), so we believe that Christianity is the exclusive way to God.

That’s not a popular idea, as you know. Even Christians, at times, have speculated that God might save people outside of Christianity in nations or tribes where there is no Christian witness.

Hebrews 1 provides some important information that explains why pluralism is wrong. It is true that God has spoken throughout human history “in various ways” (v. 1). The writer of Hebrews, though, wants us to know that “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (v. 2a).

Christ, the Son of God, is uniquely qualified to reveal God to us because he “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,” Being God himself, Jesus could reveal God to us as no other person or angel (vv. 5-14) ever could.

Furthermore, Christ has “provided purification for sins” (v. 3), something that no other religion, revelation, or spirit being can do.

It is impossible, then, for any other religion to save someone or reveal God to anyone because there is only one God and Christ is the only one capable of revealing him and reconciling us with him.

Despite the pressures we feel from pluralism, we must maintain our conviction that Christ is the only way to God. If we give up (or just get careless) about this truth, it will weaken every conviction we have as Christians and kill our motivation to spread the gospel message.

Matthew 28

Read Matthew 28.

The resurrection of Jesus is one of the hardest things in the Bible to believe. You may have seen someone resuscitated but you’ve never seen someone who has been dead for days and embalmed for burial get up out of his or her casket. I think about this sometimes when I attend a funeral or a visitation. It would be a distressing thing to witness a bona fide resurrection.

God knew it would be difficult to believe and he knew that it would be easy to fabricate a believable story to explain the disappearance of Jesus’s dead body. What is more likely? What is easier to believe–that someone actually rose from the dead or that someone stole a dead man’s body, buried it out in the desert where it would never be found, and then claimed that he rose from the dead? The question answers itself.

So, here in Matthew 28, Matthew recorded the cover up that the enemies of Jesus concocted to explain away his disappearance (vv. 11-15). But he also recorded the appearance of Jesus to the women (vv. 1-9). Then he recorded the promise Christ made to meet with his disciples in Galilee (v. 10) and then his meeting (v. 16) and his final words to them (vv. 17-20).

All of these appearances were designed to provide evidence that that the resurrection is true. The followers of Jesus didn’t just say, “Trust us; he rose from the dead even though only one or two of us saw him. Instead, he made several appearances, some of which are not even recorded here in Matthew, so that there would be an abundance of witnesses who would see him alive and well on planet earth.

But it takes an act of faith to believe in the resurrection. There is an alternative explanation (vv. 11-15) and it is easier to believe that than it is to believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead. But he did rise from the dead because his resurrection was necessary for our salvation, for our spiritual power, and to prove that Christ is, in fact, the Son of God.

Don’t doubt the resurrection of Jesus and don’t shy away from talking about it to others. It is true and essential to everything we hold dear as Christians. Our hope for eternal life rests in the truth of the resurrection and Christ, by rising from the dead first, shows that God can and will raise the dead.

Matthew 27

Today’s reading is Matthew 27.

At the end of Matthew 26, Jesus faced a religious trial. The religious leaders of Judaism investigated and convicted Jesus of blasphemy (vv. 63-65). By admitting that he was “the Son of God” (v. 63b) Jesus agreed that he shared God’s nature, making himself equal with God.

Here in chapter 27, Jesus was handed over to Pilate to face a criminal trial. It was against Jewish law to claim to be God but it was not against Roman law to make that claim. The accusation against Jesus pivoted, then, from his claim to be the Son of God to his claim to be the Christ (or Messiah)–the King of the Jews (vv. 11-12). Rome took a claim like that seriously because Caesar, the Roman king, did not want countries, like Israel, which were under his authority to rebel. It was blasphemous to claim to be the Son of God; that could get you excluded from the synagogue and the temple. It was treasonous, however, to claim to be the King of the Jews. That charge was brought against Jesus so that the Romans would put him to death.

Pilate, however, was skeptical. Verse 18 says, “For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.” Their prosecution of Jesus was to protect their own interests as Jewish leaders. Pilate even called them out for wanting to kill an innocent man (vv. 23-24). Consider how chilling that is; the religious leaders of Judaism preferred to take an innocent man’s life over losing some of their influence and power over the Jewish people.

The sinful desire for power caused a few ungodly religious men to put the Son of God, the King of Israel, to death. But although it was their desire and decision to kill him (v. 25), all of it happened under the grand plan of God to buy us out from our subjection to sin and death.

Christ died to atone for sins. The tearing of the curtain in the temple that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (v. 51) showed that Christ was offering himself as the once for all sacrifice for human sins.

The temporary resurrection of Jewish believers testified to his power to give new life (vv. 52-53). This is why Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection are so important to our faith. Because Jesus died, we can have new life because he took the penalty for our sins. Those who should have accepted and welcomed Jesus put him to death. By his death, God gave us new life so that we accepted and welcomed Jesus as our Savior and Lord.

So, let’s serve him today through the power and new life he gave us.