Hebrews 13

Read Hebrews 13.

The author of Hebrews wrapped up his message by giving believers some ways to put our faith into action. It starts with love (v. 1) which shows itself in how we act toward other believers (again, v. 1), how we receive and care for outsiders (v. 2), and how we pray for and care for those who are suffering under persecution for Christ (v. 3).

Living for Christ in this age means honoring marriage with purity (v. 4), living without greed and materialism (vv. 5-6), acting properly toward the leaders of our church (vv. 7-17), and praying for all those who are serving the Lord (vv. 18-19). Finally, the author of Hebrews prayed a beautiful benediction over the original readers of this book (vv. 20-21) and closed (vv. 22-25).

For today’s devotional thoughts I’d like to focus on verses 15-16: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” These verses follow verses 11-14 where the author of Hebrews made one final reference to Jesus as our priest. Just like the body of a sin offering is offered outside the camp, Jesus was sacrificed outside the city of Jerusalem (v. 12). Going to him for salvation is, metaphorically, like leaving the “city” of Judaism. All who follow Christ are now outsiders but that’s OK because we’re looking for an eternal city anyway (v. 14).

But just as there were thank offerings and free will offerings in the Old Testament whereby a worshipper could bring a sacrifice just because he loved God, now the author of Hebrews says that we Christians bring a thank offering in our words. He tells us to offer this offering “continually;” that is, many times throughout our lives. And the content of this offering is “the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” This is evangelism. One of our acts of worship as Christians is to claim Jesus openly and tell others about our faith in him.

The second type of Christian sacrifice is described in verse 16: “ And do not forget to do good and to share with others….” This consists of being generous to others. It may be others who have a need or simply others whom we choose to bless by giving. So we do not bring a sacrifice for our sins, to appease God’s wrath for what we have done. Jesus paid the penalty for this himself and his blood makes “the people holy” (v. 12). Like an Old Testament worshipper who brings freewill offerings just out of love for God, we bring sacrifices of worship to God when we openly identify with Christ and share his eternally life-changing message and when we are generous to others around us.

Here’s an opportunity, then, for us to look at serving God this week. Are there lost people around you who don’t even know that you are a Christian? Look for an open door to speak to that person about Christ. Are there others around you who have needs or who just would be blessed by your generosity? Reach out to bless them with what you have–a financial gift, a meal, whatever. God loves these kinds of Christian sacrifices because they show our love and devotion to Jesus. Yes, the Lord loves our worship and praise in singing and prayer, but he also is delighted in our actions through evangelism and showing kindness to others.

Hebrews 12

Read Hebrews 12.

The point of yesterday’s “Hall of Faith” chapter was not to exalt believers of the past. It was to encourage us to keep following God, just as they did, even when it is painful, difficult, and costly.

Verse 1 here in Hebrews 12 draws the experience of the believers in chapter 11 to our life when it says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” But, just so we don’t get our attention diverted to one of these great believers or to anyone else, the author of Hebrews wrote, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (vv. 2-3).

When we focus on the cost of discipleship to us or to others, it is easy to get discouraged. When we focus on Jesus and all he endured and accomplished for us, it gives us strength to keep going.

No one else on earth will ever suffer as much for Christ as Christ himself suffered for us.

And, no matter how much you have suffered in this life, the author of Hebrews reminds us that, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (v. 4).

The rest of chapter 11 encourages us to remember that many of our trials in this life are God’s work of discipline (vv. 5-13), to fight sin in our lives so that we will become holy like God is (vv. 14-17), and to remember that our experience of God is not fearful like it was for the ancient Jews leaving Egypt (vv. 18-21) but joyful because of all that God has done for us in Christ (vv. 22-24).

Given all that God has done for us already and all that he promises for us in his future kingdom (vv. 28-29), we should listen to God’s word (vv. 25-27) and be thankful, worshipping God with awe (v. 28).

I don’t know what struggles you are facing in the circumstances of your life today, but don’t quit on God; turn to Jesus and “consider him” for the strength you need to keep trusting and obeying the Lord.

Hebrews 10

Today we’re reading Hebrews 10.

This chapter wraps up the argument about the superiority of Christ to everything Old Testament. The main point of verses 1-14 is that Jesus’ death is superior to the Old Testament sacrifices because his death was a permanent sacrifice for sins. In the words of 14, “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” That’s why Jesus “sat down at the right hand of God” (v. 12b) because there was no more blood work to be done.

The result of Jesus’ sacrifice is genuine salvation, according to verses 15-18. God has forgiven us in Christ (vv. 17-18) and has regenerated us spiritually, putting his laws into our minds and hearts (vv. 15-16). Because all of this is true, the author of Hebrews applied these truths to Christians like by giving us two sets of application steps:

The first set of application steps consist of learning to worship God sincerely (vv. 19-22), devotedly (v. 23), servingly [OK, I made that word up, but it works.] (v. 24), and corporately (v. 25).

The second set of application steps involves not turning away from God (vv. 26-35) but instead to persevere in faith and obedience (vv. 36-39).

Let’s focus today on verse 14: “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” This verse compresses into one capsule two important truths about our faith.

First, we are perfect. Don’t deny it or think about all the ways that you are imperfect. When God looks at you, he sees absolute, perfect obedience. Given how easily and frequently we disobey his word, how is that possible? The answer is in the first part of the verse: “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever….”

Notice that it was Jesus’ death that made us perfect in God’s sight–“by one sacrifice.” And, it was his act, not ours, that made us perfect in God’s sight–“HE has made perfect forever.” You and I are not considered perfect by God because God is blind to our sins and flaws; we’re perfect before God because Jesus paid for all of them–past, present, and future. His death did everything that was necessary to cause God to treat us as perfect.

When a defendant is acquitted of murder, the state treats him as if he is and always was innocent of murder, whether he actually was perfect or not. In our case, we were guilty of many crimes before God but Jesus paid for all them. God in his role as judge, then, treats us according to our legal standing in Christ, not according to our actual record of good and evil. This means that, if you are in Christ, there is nothing you can ever do to cause God to treat you as guilty again. You should not try to impress God with your good works or your righteousness or your growth or your knowledge. You should be thankful that he sees you as perfect. This is a “positional” truth; that is, Christ’s death gave us a perfect position–perfect standing–before God.

The other side of verse 14 is that Christ as perfected “…those who are being made holy.” This is the practical truth of our faith. Positionally, we have perfect standing before God if we’re in Christ. But, practically speaking, we have a long way to go. God, however, is working on us. Notice that the voice of verse 14 is passive; we “are being made holy.” Through his word, his church, trials, the conviction of the Holy Spirit, God is working on us. He is changing us so that who we are practically will eventually match what we are positionally. In Christ we are positionally perfect. Through Christ we are becoming perfect in practice. The reason why we obey God’s word now is not to save ourselves, to make God like us or keep him from disliking us. Our position is secure in Christ; God loves us because we are in Jesus and God loves him. The reason why we obey God’s word is because we want to become holy like God is. Like a child who desires to become like his parents–not to gain their favor but because he truly admires them–we as God’s children have a desire now to become holy like he is.

Let these truths change you! You are secure in Christ so you don’t need to worry about sin knocking you out of favor with God. But God is working in you to change you to think and act like Jesus, too. He wants your position to match your reality, so let him purify you from sin as you grow in your faith each day.

Hebrews 9

Read Hebrews 9.

Hebrews 9 continued the argument that Christ was better than the Old Testament sacrificial system. The author of Hebrews presented a tight argument comparing the sacrificial system under the old covenant (vv. 1-10) and the new covenant Christ has set up and mediated (vv. 11-28).

The key point of this chapter is that Christ’s death on the cross accomplished the new covenant. The blood of his sacrifice was offered in heaven not on earth (vv. 11-14) and it purified everything, including us (vv. 15-28). This is why the sacrificial system revealed by Moses is no longer necessary. Christ’s redemption was better and brought that old system to an end.

One of the key takeaways from this chapter for us is that Christ’s death accomplished something for us spiritually that the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament law never could. In verse 13 the author of Hebrews mentioned that the blood from those animal sacrifices had to be sprinkled on the people to make them ceremonially clean. That process was described in Numbers 19 and was used on someone who touched a dead body.

But in verse 14, the author of Hebrews argues that the blood of Christ removed the works of death from our consciences. In other words, it gives us true relief from the guilt of our sins.

Yes, it is true that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23) but Hebrews 9:14 says that Christ’s death cleanses our conscience from those works that lead to death (in other words, sin).

Are you tormented by guilt for the sins you’ve committed in your life? Don’t be! Not because they were not wicked but because, if you are in Christ, they are fully forgiven. Your past has been redeemed in him so now you have the freedom of conscience to live and serve the Lord.

Hebrews 8

Today, read Hebrews 8.

Christianity is rooted in Judaism. Most of our scriptures are Hebrew documents written for Jewish people living in Israel. Our Lord Jesus was the Messiah who was prophesied in those Hebrew scriptures. His death on the cross was the final, perfect sacrifice foreshadowed by the uncountable number of animals who were offered on the altar of the tabernacle and the temple.

Given all of this, why are we Christians not more Jewish in our practice of Christianity? The answer is here in Hebrews 8. It, too, is rooted in the Hebrew scriptures. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, quoted here in Hebrews 8:8-12, God promised to make “a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah” (v. 8). Verses 9-12 describe this covenant and, among other things, they tell us, “No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” This promise has begun to be fulfilled in Jesus. He mentioned this when he turned the elements of the Passover feast into the Lord’s Supper and said, “this cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Matt 26:28, Lu 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25). The fact that we Gentiles would be part of this new covenant is indicated here in Hebrews 8:11, “No longer will they teach their neighbor… ‘Know the Lord….’” We Gentiles are “their neighbor.”

The reason, then, that we don’t practice Jewish feasts and festivals and keep the Law of Moses is that, according to verse 13, “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” These Old Testament ceremonies, symbols, and laws are unnecessary anyway because, as verse 10 put it, “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.” We have a new nature and the Holy Spirit dwelling within us! There are still blessings promised in the new covenant that await us, but we have God’s power within us to wait for them, to grow in our knowledge and love of him while we wait, and to call others to “know the Lord.”

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.