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Nov 23 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 22, 2020

Intro: I am going to read Psalm 118 to you

But first, I’ll say something about this poem
– it was written by one person
• that’s obvious from the singular personal pronoun in first 24 verses
• we’ll hear other voices — perhaps a priest giving a benediction
◦ and the poet will speak for the whole congregation of worshipers
◦ but he will return to his own voice at the end of the psalm
– the reason I’m pointing this out,
• is because many biblical scholars now see it as a liturgical composition
◦ that is to say, an outline for a service of worship in the temple
• but even if the poem became that, it began with one person,
◦ who went through a terrifying ordeal
◦ then after God brought him through it he was inspired to give thanks

So he begins,
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he his good;
for his steadfast love endures forever

– he borrowed this part of his poem from an earlier source
• King David composed it when he brought the ark of the covenant into his city (2 Chr. 16:34)
• afterward, it became a formal slogan in Israel’s worship
◦ temple musicians were assigned to sing it every morning (16:41)
◦ it was sung at the dedication of Solomon’s temple (2 Ch. 5:11-13)
it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the LORD . . . when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the LORD,
“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever” (2 Chr. 5:13)
◦ and later when turning to God for his assistance (2 Chr. 20:21)
◦ the tradition was continued after Israel returned from exile (Ezra 3:11)
– also the following psalms begin with this slogan 106, 107, and 136
(and every line in Psalm 136 repeats for his steadfast love endures forever)

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Misery loves company”
– well, joyful thanksgiving loves company too

Jesus makes this clear in three of his parables found in Luke chapter 15. The first who tells of shepherd who had lost a sheep, and the second is of a widow who lost a coin. Both the shepherd and widow, when what they had lost was found, calls together [his and her] friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found [my sheep/coin] that was lost (Lk. 15:3-10). The third parable tells of a father who had lost his son, and justified throwing a party to celebrate his return, saying, It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found (Lk. 15:32).

• the poet of Psalm 118 also knew that joy loves company
• so he invites three classes of worshipers to join the chorus
◦ all of Israel, the house of Aaron (worship leaders), and foreigners who had embraced Israel’s God as their God

The poet devotes most of the psalm to telling his story

He does not give us specific details of what happened
– but it was a distressing and terrifying ordeal,
• in which he almost lost his life
• still, all the way through it he trusted God,
◦ and that enabled him to fight his way to the surface time after time
– once he realized he had survived and would go on living,
• he understood something
• that God gives life to humans so that they can praise him
For the dead cannot praise you;
they cannot raise their voices in praise (Isa. 38:18, New Living Translation)
◦ the last verse of the very last psalm links life to praise,
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! (Ps. 150:6)

The poet’s next move was to visit the temple to give thanks

As he approaches the temple, he calls out to the gatekeepers
Open to me the gates of righteousness
– it may be that each of the entrances to the temple had its own name
• Jerusalem today: Jaffa Gate, Lion’s Gate, Damascus Gate, etc.
◦ in the New Testament we find a crippled beggar who sat
daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms (Acts 3:2)
• the poet chose the Righteous Gate, because he had done right thing
◦ he had trusted God through his ordeal
– as he entered the temple, looking around, he saw a stone that reminded him of himself:
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone
• a radical change had taken place in his life and circumstances
◦ from being rejected to finding his place in the house of God
• there it dawned on him that this day is special
◦ God made it especially for him

The poet’s prayer was for himself and everyone in the temple

Save us, we pray, O LORD!
– for “save us,” he used the Hebrew word hosanna
• as Christians, we immediately hear this song echoed in the New Testament
◦ in fact, much of this psalm can be applied to Jesus grand entrance into Jerusalem
• the poet’s prayer was heard,
◦ and immediately he received a blessing
◦ from his house, God spoke the blessing
– with the blessing, God’s light shined on him,
• just as with the formal blessing of the priests
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you . . .
(Nu. 6:24-25)

Almost intoxicated with joy, the poet pours out his thanks
– and then, at the end of the psalm, he circles back to where he began

Before I read the psalm, there’s one more thing for us to notice

This is one of the most dynamic psalms in whole book of Psalms
– the poet re-creates the drama of his experience
• he wants us to feel what he felt
◦ he wants our eyes to be wide open and our hearts to beat fast
• he creates this effect through:
◦ strong language, powerful rhythms, and eye-catching repetitions
– he uses these poetic tools in describing both his crisis and rescue

Psalm 118 The New English Version
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let Israel say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
    the Lord answered me and set me free.
The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
    What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper;
    I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in princes.
10 All nations surrounded me;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
11 They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees;
    they went out like a fire among thorns;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
13 I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
    but the Lord helped me.

14 The Lord is my strength and my song;
    he has become my salvation.
15 Glad songs of salvation
    are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly,
16     the right hand of the Lord exalts,
    the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!”
17 I shall not die, but I shall live,
    and recount the deeds of the Lord.
18 The Lord has disciplined me severely,
    but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
    that I may enter through them
    and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord;
    the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

25 Save us, we pray, O Lord!
    O Lord, we pray, give us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
    We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
    up to the horns of the altar!
28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
    you are my God; I will extol you.

29 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

Now I’ll tell you why I chose this psalm for today

Some of us are thinking that this Thanksgiving is going to be a downer
– we have had to cancel our travel plans,
• or limit the number of guests we can invite,
• or forego even having a big Thanksgiving dinner
There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?” (Psa. 4:6)
– Well, if it feels to you like Thanks giving has been spoiled
• Psalm 118 is your our reminder of the greatest reason to be grateful
Oh Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good!

Conclusion: Whatever else may happen, you will not be alone for Thanksgiving

The Scriptures tell us God is holy (Ps. 99:9)
– holiness is unique to God – this is something we must know
• to approach God, we have to be holy (Heb. 12:14)
• but we cannot make ourselves holy
people who try, become legalistic, moralistic, judgmental and
only succeed in making themselves self-righteous (or weird)
– I have to ask, Does my life belong to God fully?
• because that is what it means for me to become holy
◦ everything he touches and claims as his own is holy
• I am thankful to know that God is holy

The Scriptures tell us God is light (1 Jn. 1:5)
– the one who enlightens our hearts (Ep. 1:18)
• light is purity, light is truth, light is revelation
Send out your light and your truth;
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling (Psa. 43:3)
– then there is that that mysterious verse,
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light (Ps. 36:9)
• perhaps it means, in God’s light everything is illuminated for us
• I am thankful to know that God is light

The Scriptures tell us God is true (Jn. 3:33) and that God is faithful (1 Cor. 1:9)
– we need this reassurance
• I am thankful to know that God is true and faithful

The Scriptures tell us that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8, 16)
– and he pours his love into us (Ro. 5:5)
• this is the source of our compassion, mercy, grace, and forgiveness
◦ whatever religious work I attempt, without love is nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
• I am thankful for God’s love

The Scriptures tell us God is Good
– this is the greatest reason we have to be grateful
• I am thankful for God himself

Nothing can spoil our day of Thanksgiving
– because with or without a big gathering – or a big meal,
God is with us and he is good

So on Thanksgiving Day
whether your table is loaded with scrumptious food
or you sit down to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,
try doing this:
Do not bow your head to give thanks,
but lift up your face
and let the light of God’s countenance shine on you
Rejoice in your heart and say,
“What? All this and Jesus too?!”
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

Nov 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 15, 2020

Intro: This past week I was on extra duty with my grandchildren

Each time heading out the door I quickly ran through our checklist:
– “Do you have your homework? Your thermos? Your mask?”
• I read these last few verses of Hebrews as a checklist
• these verses are the finishing touches to a amazing document
◦ for the writer, these words were as important as everything else
– when we began our study, I explained the value of Hebrews
• in the gospels, Jesus reveals God – in Hebrews, God reveals Jesus
no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (Mt. 11:27)
• the writer began this message
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son (Heb. 1:1-2)
◦ we’ve learned many of the ways God has spoken through Jesus
◦ we’ve also learned that he still speaks to us through Jesus

The first item on the checklist: Follow the leaders
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Hebrews 13:17

I’m going to try not to weaken this verse with disclaimers and qualifications
– but we hear the first line differently than the original audience
• they lived in a culture defined by a stratified hierarchy
◦ people were born into a class and did not move from it
◦ they had to submit to higher classes, and for their own good
. . . for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them (Ecc. 5:8)
• today the threat of spiritual abuse is too great to make the blanket statement,
Obey your leaders and submit to them
– personally, I don’t like to think of myself as your leader
• many times I have been corrected by people smarter than I
◦ by someone who is a better person or better Christian than I
• I don’t feel like I’m out ahead of you, but traveling with you
◦ we’re on this journey together, assisting each other
◦ let’s take a closer look at this verse

“Obey” translates a Greek word, most often translated “persuade”
– to be convinced by someone – in this case,
• by someone with more authority or who knows better
◦ in verse 18 the same Greek word is translated “sure”
• so a leader is someone who we are sure of,
◦ regarding their wisdom, insight, depth, integrity, and so on
-“submit” – this is only time this Greek word is used in the New Testament
• it means to surrender, give way to, defer to
◦ this targets our inner life – our attitude (Am I teachable?)
• how I read this:
◦ use leaders, teachers, and pastors regarding our Christian concerns
◦ ask them questions, consult, pay attention to them, ask them for prayer

What our spiritual leaders do:
first, they keep watch over our souls
• literal, “go without sleep,” stay awake, alert
◦ like the shepherds who were led to the Christ child
in that same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night (Lk. 2:8)
◦ Paul, instructed the leaders of the church in Ephesus
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood (Acts 20:28)
• their primary concern is our souls!
◦ the formation of the inner-self in Jesus Christ
second, they will have to give an account
The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them . . . Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? . . . The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them (Eze. 34:1-4)
Contrast those “shepherds” with Jesus, who prayed,
While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost . . . (Jn. 17:12)
• God is going to ask your leaders about you
• as for us, our concern is that we’re a joy to our leaders and not a pain

When I read this I can’t help but think of “The Simpsons.” Ned Flanders, the overly optimistic, overly scrupulous, and guilt-ridden Evangelical ruined the ministry of Rev. Lovejoy. Flanders’ constant pestering of Rev. Lovejoy with his silly questions and inconsequential worries exhausted the minister’s patience. It is easy to imagine him groaning every time the phone rang and Flanders was on the other end.

for that would be of no advantage to you
◦ we would lose whatever benefit our spiritual helpers could provide

Bear with me – I believe Christians need to be warned
– managers are not leaders – we manage finances, facilities and programs
• people need to be led, not managed
• tyrants are not leaders
◦ authoritarian pastors and preachers have done untold spiritual and psychological damage to many of those followers
◦ and unfortunately, those (of us) raised under authoritarian leaders tend to become the same type of leaders
– questions we need to ask when choosing a leader to follow:
• does this person treat you with respect?
• love God? Jesus? the Scriptures?
• love the poor, weak, orphan, stranger – you?
• open to listen to others?
◦ or his he or she a hired hand? (cf. Jn. 10:11-14)
• is this person empathetic?
• narcissistic? materialistic? angry? divisive?
◦ God does not call a person to ministry to become a “success”
◦ but to help you succeed in building a strong relationship with Himself

The second item on checklist: Prayer
Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. Hebrews 13:18-19

Pray for us – the writer and those with him who were also leaders
– he wanted the prayers of his readers to focus on his thoughts and actions
clear – translates a Greek word that means beautiful, excellent, good
conscience – first means consciousness
◦ what was on their leaders’ minds, what they were constantly aware of
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Col. 3:2)
honorably – is the same Greek word translated “clear”
• pray that the writers actions would be excellent
in all things – not only religious duties or spiritual activities

A special prayer request: that I may be restored to you the sooner
Luke T. Johnson says that more quickly “is appropriate because the author suggests that their prayers will speed him to them faster than if they did not pray . . . .”
– in mapping out his work through history,
• God built contingency into the system
◦ that means that the universe does not roll through time like a machine
• instead, God leaves open spaces so events can turn one way or another
◦ for that reason, prayer can really effect changes in what happens
◦ this allows us to participate with God, to work with him
– if our prayers do not effect changes we want to see in our world,
• they can still effect changes in us

The third item on the checklist: A benediction
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good so that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen Hebrews 13:20-21

These verses are loaded with profound concepts
– they repeat crucial themes the writer has raised and explained
• it’s possible that these themes could be nothing more to his hearers than noble ideas and revelations, theological truths
• but what the writer does in the benediction is this,
◦ he speaks these truths into their lives
◦ his speech is performative — it not only states a truth, but makes the truth a reality in them
– as with all benedictions, this one begins with God (cf. Nu. 6:22-27)
God of peace – for us, God is the most sure source of peace
◦ anything else that may provide peace is temporary
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation . . . (Jn. 16:33)
brought again from the dead . . . the cross is not the complete story
◦ resurrection is the essence and bedrock of our Christian hope
our Lord Jesus – perhaps the first Christian “creed” was the short declaration, Jesus Christ is Lord (see Php. 2:9-11)
◦ this is a truth that Jesus’ followers discovered about him
◦ they witnessed his authority (e.g., Mk. 1:21, 27; 2:5-12; 4:41)
the great shepherd of the sheep – Jesus is our ultimate Leader
◦ the one who cares for us, has come looking for us
◦ the image of the shepherd appears in the Synoptic gospels and is explicit in Jesus teaching in John 10, where he refers to himself as the good shepherd
by the blood of the eternal covenant — each word has been thematic in Hebrews
blood — Jesus’ blood has effectively brought us forgiveness and purification
eternalsalvation (5:9), redemption (9:12), Spirit (9:14), inheritance (9:15)
covenant — chapters 8 and 9; it has been inscribed on our hearts

What does the writer speak into our lives with this benediction?
– the work that God does in us through Jesus
equip you with everything good . . .
◦ we do not have it in us – on our own, we would fail
. . . for apart from me you can do nothing (Jn. 15:5)
◦ but God enables us to do his will
(when we do his will, his kingdom enters our world through us, Mt. 6:10)
pleasing (see v. 16) – we make it our aim to please him (2 Cor. 5:9)
through Jesus Christ – we learned last week that Jesus mediates every interaction we have with God
to whom be glory – these are words of doxology
(doxa is the Greek word translated glory, cf. Ro. 16:25-27)

The fourth item on checklist: personal concerns
I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation for I have written to you briefly.
You should know that our brother Timothy has been released with whom I shall see you if he comes soon.
Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings.
Grace be with all of you. Hebrews 13:22-25

The writer describes the message of his letter as an exhortation
– exhortation does not mean a scolding
• in fact, the same Greek word is translated appeal in this sentence
• it is an appeal to others in order to build them up, not tear them down
Timothy was well known to the Christian churches because of his association with the apostle Paul
• here we can see he was close to the writer of Hebrews as well
– the closing greetings are typical
– and finally, grace – the gift that makes all things possible
be with all of you – no one is left out

Conclusion: We have learned in Hebrews that Jesus has come near to us

Jesus has become like us (Heb. 2:14) and sees us as his brothers and sisters
– he tells us that he has come to lead us home
• to take us by the hand and bring us to the Father
• the central message of the book is encapsulated in the words “draw near”

Drawing near to God is possible,
because of everything Jesus did for us
Through Jesus, God speaks to us
and he calls to us by name
So slowly draw a deep breath
and rest in God’s nearness
Allow God to love you,
and by his grace make you worth of his love

Nov 9 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 8, 2020


Intro: Last week we stopped at verse 8,
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever

Rather than treat that statement as belonging to a separate section,
– I see it more as the center point on which the chapter pivots
• retracing our steps through Hebrews, we Jesus at the heart of it
◦ in 2:9 we don’t see our place in world as God intended,
but we see Jesus crowned with glory and honor
◦ in 3:1 we are told to consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession
◦ in 4:14 we have a great high priest . . . Jesus the Son of God
◦ in the summary of Hebrews up to chapter 8, we read, Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven . . .
◦ in 12:2 we are looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith
– in light of all this, what does it mean to us that Jesus is the same?
Yesterday: that is, his earthly life, the people he touched, all that he said and did
Today: he is with us “always” (Mt. 28:2) — and especially in worship, prayer, and meditation
Forever: And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (Jn. 14:3)
◦ the future he promises to us gives the Christian life its meaning
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11-14)

Hebrews has taught us to see Jesus as our everything
– if we’re holding onto him, we can let go of everything else

We cannot let ourselves be led away from Jesus
Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. Hebrews 13:9

When Jesus delivered his famous “end times message,”
– in which he revealed the signs of his coming and the end of the age
• his very first words were See that no one leads you astray (Mt. 24:4)
◦ he also warned of false prophets who would lead astray, if possible the elect (v. 24)
• widespread deception is a characteristic of the last days
– the teaching that leads astray is depicted in two ways; it is:
diverse – daily we live in a market place of religions and worldviews
strange – perhaps because they are different from what we have been taught
◦ in my experience, some teaching I’ve heard is strange because it’s weird
Hannah Arendt, “A noticeable decrease in common sense in any given community and a noticeable increase in superstition and gullibility are therefore almost infallible signs of alienation from the world.”
◦ “alienated,” because these people lose touch with what their senses are telling them about the world (cf. Heb. 5:14)

The writer points to a contrast between “teachings”–theirs and ours
– it has to do with our hearts — the inner life where faith resides
our teaching: is grace
their teachings: a specific diet strengthens the spiritual life
• writer’s assessment:
◦ our teaching of grace does the heart good, it steadies the heart
◦ their teaching has not benefitted those devoted to it
(the weird teaching does not get us where we want to go,
nor does it help us become what God wants us to be)
– doesn’t God’s grace give you a wonderful sense of relief?!
• grace fills the space between perfection and where we are
• grace is anti-gravity – bad religion is a burden

We do have our own sacred meals
We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. Hebrews 13:10

The tent refers to Israel’s sanctuary in the wilderness
– the altar was sacred and central to Israel’s worship
(that is where all of Israel’s important transactions with God took place)
• in some instances the food grilled on the altar was shared
◦ some food from the altar was for the priests along
◦ the food of some offerings were eaten by the priests and worshipers
• no one else allowed to eat portions of the offering
– our altar is not literal – it is heavenly and it is internal
• Jesus is the priest who ministers at our altar (Heb. 10:20-22)
• he is also the bread of life that nourishes our soul

As long as we’re on the subject of worship . . .
For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:11-14

When we were in Leviticus, we saw all sorts of rules regarding sacrifices
– specifically, the “sin offering” included rules regarding:
• blood that was taken into sanctuary, sprinkled and applied to incense altar
• and certain body parts that were burned on altar
◦ the remainder of the carcass was taken outside the camp and burned
– the writer has seen parallels between Old Testament sacrifice and Jesus’ death
• he finds another parallel here
◦ those animal sacrifices prefigured Jesus’ death
◦ and like their remains, he was crucified outside Jerusalem
• his blood was not taken into the temple in Jerusalem
. . . when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (Heb. 9:11-12; cf. 9:23-24)

This is where we belong – with Jesus, outside the society that rejected him
– if he goes to a cross, we go with him
• if he is reproached (insulted, disgraced), so are we
If anyone would come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Mt. 16:24)
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household (Mt. 10:24-25)
• for us, this is doable – why?
◦ because we are not permanent residents in this world
For here we have no lasting city
– we do have a city, we just haven’t reached it yet!
• some of us have lost sight of that city
◦ I have to admit, it has slipped from my mind a few times
◦ this can be a difficult discipline – to stay focused
• last week’s election and ongoing issues provide a perfect illustration
◦ some of us been clinging too tightly to the outcome
IF it didn’t go way you wanted, it’s not the end of the world
IF it went as you hoped, it doesn’t mean utopia or salvation
IF you’re disappointed, let go of this world–it’s not your home
IF you’re pleased, let go of this world and rejoice your name is written in heaven

We belong to God, and he has given us a specific work to do
– we need to stay focused and get back to it

The sacrifices of Christian worship
Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:15-17

Even in Israel’s worship, not all sacrifices were for sin
– some were expressions of gratitude
• others celebrated Israel’s participation in life with God

For us, every interaction we have with God is through Jesus
Geoffrey Wainwright, “The most characteristic function of Christ in Christian worship, then, is understood to be mediation: he mediates human worship to God, and he mediates salvation from God to humanity.”
– our sacrifices are “spiritual” in nature
• the spiritual aspect of sacrifice was recognized even in the Old Testament
◦ the prophet Samuel, to obey is better than sacrifice
◦ the Psalms
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burn offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise
(Ps. 51:15-17)
◦ the Prophets
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burn offerings
(Hos. 6:6)
• praise is one form of spiritual sacrifice
fruit of lips – sacrificial offerings were the fruits of human labor
acknowledge his name – his person; for all that he does and gives
– another form of spiritual sacrifice:
Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have
• God smiles when we care for others — it is pleasing to God
◦ we think of it as “charity,” but to God it is worship
• Jesus was always traveling on the margins of society
◦ the poor, the disabled, sinners, foreigners
◦ all those lived and suffered “outside the camp”
Geoffrey Wainwright, “. . . openness to God is the condition for being transformed by him into his likeness in and through worship.”

Conclusion: Here are the words I recommend for meditation this week

Let us go to him
– and keep going to Jesus–with everything
• with our anxiety, disappointment, anger, sin, relationships, work, etc.
– in verse 9, “devoted” translates the Greek word for “walk”
• for several years, psychologists have been researching the way our mental and emotional state affects the biomechanics of our bodies
Pat Ogden explains, “The way we walk speaks volumes about who we are and how we feel.”
• for instance,
“We may plod along, dragging our feet behind us as if we have very little energy, giving the impression that we are tired or depressed. We may walk with a hurried, rushed gait, leaning forward, eyes focused straight ahead, giving the impression that we are preoccupied, busy, harried, and have no time to spare. . . . We may stomp our feet with every step if we feel angry or bounce with a spring in our step if we feel joyful. Our gait changes with our mood, but our characteristic style of walking, like all our physical habits, is formed over time from a variety of influences.”
◦ here is the point I want to emphasize:
“Our gait changes depending on how we feel, the environment, and who we are with.”

We are walking with Jesus (Col. 2:6; 1 Jn. 1:6)
Practice walking with Jesus and notice
what happens to your stride?
your pace?
the movements of your feet, legs, and arms?
your mood?
But especially, where do you go?
Whom do you meet?
And what happens next?

Nov 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 1, 2020


Intro: I lost a few years of my life in conferences, seminars, and, forums

What I took away from each one was–a notebook
– and those notebooks mostly sat on shelves collecting dust
• after taking in all the information in first twelve chapters of Hebrews,
◦ we need clarity on how to turn these ideas into actions
• in chapter 13 the writer revisits themes in his book,
◦ and supplying simple instructions for incorporating them into our lives
Luke T. Johnson, “Virtually everything said here echoes earlier passages in which the author praises what his hearers are doing or exhorts them to do. Indeed, the several references to memory in this section suggest that the hearers are already well aware of their obligations.”

From verse 18-25 in chapter 12, the writer addressed the readers as “you”
– then, abruptly in verse 25 he shifts to “we”
• both of these second-person pronouns imply a collective group
◦ a community, and communities are built on relationships between people
• the friendships I made at the conferences I attended
◦ were more important to me than content I took home
– the theme of chapter 13 is our relationships with others
• here we learn practical responsibilities that hold a community together
Craig Koester, “By calling for compassion, hospitality, faithfulness, and generosity, the author of Hebrews emphasizes community-building values that listeners would find hard to reject.”

Relating to others in community – our nearest and dearest
Let brotherly love continue. Hebrews 13:1

In No Longer Strangers, Bruce Larson explores “relational theology”
Larson, “I do not believe that the preaching of doctrine, no matter how sound or how stimulating intellectually, does much in itself to enable relationships. . . . It merely describes life without enabling life.” “Very simply . . . God became flesh in the Incarnation and lived among us in Jesus Christ and died and was raised from the dead . . . . Jesus Christ came to enable relationships that bring people closer to one another and closer to God.”
– “brotherly love” translates the Greek word philadelphia
• this compound word literally means love for a brother or sister
– in scripture, love is more a matter of doing more than feeling
• sometimes a writer will add the feeling part, as Paul did here:
Love one another with brotherly affection (Ro. 12:10)
◦ but in love, doing and feeling cannot be separated
◦ they complete one movement of cause and effect
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son (Jn. 3:16)
• the writer stresses the “doing” half here – this would include:
listening – how we get to know each other as a “person”
giving – whatever we have; time, food, wisdom, and so on
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace (1 Pe. 4:8-11)
forgiving – because every relationship cycles through ruptures and repair

There are people, who because of their “disordered thinking,”
– work against Christian unity and love
William Barclay talks about the “danger of heresy-hunting” and says that the “very desire to preserve the faith clean and pure tends to make men eager to track down and to eliminate the heretic and the man whose faith has gone astray. . . . It is a great thing to keep the faith clean; but when the desire to do so makes us censorious, critical, fault-finding, condemning, harsh and unsympathetic, brotherly love is destroyed, and we are left with a situation which is worse than the situation which we tried to avoid.”
• how do we deal with this? A first line of defense would be Paul’s advice
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ (Ro. 16:17-18)

Relating to others outside our community
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2

This instruction is given to us in its negative form, Do not neglect
– if philadelphia is love for a brother, philoxenia (“hospitality”) is love for the stranger
• the writer assumes that we show hospitality to each other
• strangers always appear “strange,” because the are “different” from us
◦ they look different, act different, speak a different language
◦ hospitality is a first step in making new friends
– we never find Jesus eating alone, but every time, with others
• and each meal was an opportunity to teach and reveal insights
• most often, he was the guest
◦ and he would eat with anyone who invited him
◦ a wedding reception, homes of Pharisees, homes of tax collectors
◦ even after his resurrection he broke bread with two disciples at Emmaus and ate a fish in the upper room with the other disciples
• more than once Jesus hosted a meal
◦ feeding the multitudes, the last supper, a breakfast in Galilee
◦ and in the kingdom of God he will host the marriage supper of the Lamb
Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them (Lk. 12:37)

I’ve always found the part about angels enchanting
– the possibility of hosting an angel in disguise
• a different way to think about foreigners than our usual perspective
• we underestimate the relational power of a smile
◦ you can cheer someone up, make them feel special, welcome
◦ you can even communicate comfort and support with a gentle smile
– it seems to me that Christians who know their home is a gift of God,
• tend to be more open in sharing it
• Christians who know the emotional lift of good food,
◦ enjoy preparing meals and treats for others

Relating to those who are in trouble
Remember those who are in prison, as thought in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Hebrews 13:3

If we’re not to neglect strangers, we must be proactive with prisoners
– these Christians had experienced mistreatment and imprisonment (10:32-34)
• Jesus gives a longer list of people to care for
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me (Mt. 25:35-36)
– the writer makes a strong argument for empathy
regarding prisoners: as though in prison with them
regarding mistreated: you also are in the body
• identify with them, imagine yourself in their situation
◦ this is the attitude of the person who prays a prayer of intercession
• sharing a “body” connection with others is powerful,
◦ because it is the way Jesus learned to have empathy with us
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things (Heb. 2:14)
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15)
◦ Paul’s last sentences in his letter to Colossians
I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you (Col. 4:18)

Relating to spouses (our own and those of others)
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Hebrews 13:4

This also has to do with our being in the body; our physical selves
– Paul’s lessons on marriage also have to do with body (1 Cor. chs. 6-7)
• we are to have a high view of marriage
Luke Johnson, “In Israel marriage was a natural symbol for covenantal loyalty between God and humans, quite literally as well, since obedience to the commandment not to serve other gods and not to commit adultery are both fundamental expressions of the covenant . . . .”
• this is the one place where sex is holy–the marriage bed
sexually immoral translates the Greek word pornos
◦ in the New Testament, it generally refers to sex outside of marriage

Relating to God
Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

Again the Greek word, philia, love
– this time it is used in regard to money
• love of money is a major competitor to devotion to God (Mt. 6:24)
excess is implied, and for the believer excluded, in respect to both sex and money
◦ a proper use without misuse is the guideline
– our Christian source of contentment is not detachment from the world
• but having God, who is our helper, provider, and constant source of joy
You make known to me that path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psa. 16:11)
What God says: I will never leave you or forsake you
What we say in response: The Lord is my helper; I will not fear . . . .

Relating to our former spiritual leaders
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

The people who helped form our faith never lose their importance to us
– even if they have passed from this life
• their lessons and example still inspire faith and devotion
• so we are to:
Remember them
Consider the outcome of their lives
Imitate their faith
– these are people who spoke to [us] the word of God
• we are blessed to have had leaders like this
• eventually the true Christian leader disappears
◦ like a good referee or umpire, who is forgotten after the game
◦ referees can spoil a game by drawing too much attention to themselves
• spiritual leaders do not create a dependency on themselves
◦ the prepare the community to follow Jesus after their departure
I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me (2 Pe. 1:13-14)

Relating to Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

The community’s ultimate leader, is Jesus Christ
– and he remains forever (7:23-24)
• earlier in Hebrews we learned the Scriptures said of Jesus,
You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment,
like a robe you will roll them up,
like a garment they will be changed.
But you are the same
[the Greek word used here in Heb. 13:8],
and your years will have no end (Heb. 1:10-12)
Richard Baukham, “He remains himself eternally and can therefore be trusted in the present and the future just as he was in the past.”
• God says, “I am” and explains to us what that means in our timeframe
I am the Alpha and Omega . . . who is and who was and who is to come (Rev. 1:8)
yesterday and today and forever
– the writer refers to the Lord as Jesus Christ
• his name and a title — the human person and his divine mission
• we could spend the entire day exploring these two words

Conclusion: Suppose these verses were a check-list

Which boxes would I need to mark?
– where do I need the most improvement?
• it would be an easy task for me; I would check them all

So that we won’t have to memorize these verses or all the commandments,
there is a short version: LOVE
We can love others in the ways we need to be loved
We can love God by trusting him and being content with having him
We can love Jesus by staying close to him

We can
It is doable,
because God’s love
has been poured into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit
who has been given to us
Romans 5:5

Oct 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 25, 2020

Intro: We are working with a longer passage today, so we’ll jump right in

The writer of Hebrews is finished with his athletic analogies
– in a letter that has alternated between revelation and warning
• we come to the last big warning
• but we are also brought back to Jesus–dramatically
◦ the entire letter has been an adventure in knowing Jesus in a new way
Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer (2 Cor. 5:16)
◦ through the gospels we’ve met Jesus according to the flesh
◦ in Hebrews we’ve met him according to spirit
– there’s a lot of action and depth in these verses,
• but we can discern easily four simple divisions:
◦ You have not come to this (earthly) place
◦ You have come to this (heavenly) place
◦ Do not respond in this (negative) way
◦ Instead, respond in this (positive) way

“You have not come to what may be touched”
For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” Hebrews 12:18-21

Immediately the text bombard us with a spectacle of sight and sound
– the scene comes rushing at us using the word “and” to connect a string of short phrases
Daniel Treier, “While retaining the primacy of hearing, Hebrews broadens the sensory experience of Scripture beyond ethical training and taste to embrace sight, other sounds such as a trumpet blast, touch in feeling the earth shake, and Israel’s palpable fear. . . . Our senses engage with God as we hear, to imagine the grandeur of the divine promise . . . . Ultimately, our senses literally factor into hearing Scripture’s various senses. For the imagination operates as the spiritual and synthetic faculty by which we perceive our place and time in the story of God’s covenant people.”
– the writer takes us to Mt. Sinai to remind us of Israel’s encounter with God
blazing fire and darkness seems like a paradox
◦ but the darkness was in the cloud
◦ so at once God’s presence was revealed, yet he himself was concealed
• the sound was deafening – trumpet and voice
And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder (Ex. 19:19)
◦ speech is a key theme in this passage

This incredible display did not bring the people of Israel close to God
– it had the opposite effect – it kept them at a distance
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us lest we die” (Ex. 20:18-19)
– the tone of this scene is experiential, but it is not our experience
• this is the writer’s point, and it’s important for us to grasp it
◦ he has helped us sense the sheer physicality of the event
◦ but its physicality is its limitation
• our 4-dimensional universe is not bad
◦ but it isn’t everything – it is not the sum total of all reality
◦ our “experience” consists of a larger reality — another dimension

“But you have come to Mount Zion”
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Hebrews 12:22-24

Luke T. Johnson, “The contrast is spelled out on the one side by a set of terms that describe all the physical phenomena accompanying the giving of the law, and on the other side by a set of terms describing the spiritual realities experienced through Christ. No matter how great and fear-inspiring the events accompanying the covenant under Moses, the realities of the new covenant mediated by the blood of Jesus are greater, for they have to do with the actual experience of the living God.”

We are shown the place to which we have come
– Mount Zion was at first a fortified city that King David conquered
– it soon became known as “the city of David”
• but in time, God gave Zion a larger significance
◦ the period of David’s reign was a golden age,
◦ because of his dependence on, and devotion to God
• Zion became idealized – a vision of God’s “dream city”
◦ with all the perfections of prophetic visions of peace, joy, abundance, etc.
◦ Zion was often associated with Jerusalem, but it was always more
(Jerusalem could be destroyed, but Zion was eternal)
The Mighty One, God the LORD,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines forth
(Ps. 50:1-2)
He chose Mt Zion, which he loves (Ps. 78:68)
Then the LORD will create over the whole site of Mt Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy (Isa. 4:5)
Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD (Zech. 2:10)
– we have come to the spiritual reality of Zion
• it is also the city of the living God
(this is the fourth time the writer refers to him as the living God)
◦ and the heavenly Jerusalem
◦ I have been impressed recently by how solid heaven is

We have been shown the place, now we are shown its populace
– heaven is vibrant with life
angels in festal gatheringassembly of the firstborn
• notice the togetherness that characterizes heaven’s citizens:
◦ it’s a gathering, an assembly
enrolled in heaven — registered in the book of life (Php 4:3; Rev. 20:12)
Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven (Lk. 10:20)
– from place, to populace, to a Person – God, the judge of all
• the thought of God as the ultimate judge no longer scares me
• the state of our world makes me long for justice
◦ even though I won’t be excluded from being on trial
◦ the ultimate cease and desist order to the guilty and vindication of the innocent
– again we’re shown more of the populace
and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect
• “spirits” – this is a fuller existence than our four dimensions
• “righteous” – these have passed through judgment
◦ being righteous, God has accepted and now perfected them
◦ brought them to completeness – wholeness
(the total healing of our fractured, fragmented lives)

The highlight of the list comes last – and to Jesus
– we have all sorts of questions about heaven
• just this week I was asked if we’ll recognize others we have known as short while on earth
• I’m as curious as anyone, but none of that really interests me
– what I want most of all is to see Jesus – he is my heaven
Luke Johnson, “The description of Jesus is a brilliant summation of the author’s argument concerning him. He is a mediator (see 8:6; 9:15) of a covenant between God and humans that is both new (see 8:8; 9:15) and better (7:22; 8:6), because it is not temporary but eternal (13:20). His mediation is accomplished through his death, which is here, as earlier, expressed in terms of a ritual ‘sprinkling’ of his own blood. The description of Jesus is rounded off impressively by the statement that his blood ‘is speaking’ better than Abel.”
(regarding Abel, see Gen. 4:10; Hebrews 11:4)
• the essential contrast, however, is not with Abel,
◦ but with the Law revealed at Sinai and God’s word in Jesus
◦ regarding speech, it is Jesus whose voice that now shapes our lives
• we are taken back to the very first verse of Hebrews
Long ago, at many times and in many places, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son (Heb. 1:1-2)

Do not respond in this way
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake no only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Hebrews 12:25-27

Refuse – not just the word spoken, but the person who speaks
– note the contrast is between earth and heaven
• the writer uses his familiar lesser/greater contrast
◦ “if that, how much more is this
• and it is twofold:
◦ first, between those at Mount Sinai and those of us, with Jesus
Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more (Lk. 12:48)
◦ second, between what will be shaken and what is unshakeable
– a couple of weeks ago, by grandson Calum was explaining to me what can happen in an earthquake
• we can run from fires (evacuate) and shelter our selves from storms
◦ but there is no way to escape an earthquake
◦ and simply the presence of God in our world can shake it up (Isa. 64:1)
And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell (Rev. 16:18-19)
• the contrast is marked by the words remove and remain
◦ our whole world today is on a scaffold that is wiggling
◦ the word of Jesus is unshakable (Mt. 24:35)

Instead, respond in this way
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:28-29

  1. Be grateful
  2. let us offer to God acceptable worship
    • this is one of the first things we need to know about worship
    • we have examples from:
    ◦ the Law – Lev. 1:4 (and many, many others)
    the Prophets – Jer. 14:12; Eze. 20:40-41; Amos 5:22; Malachi 1:18
    the New Testament – Rom. 12:1; Php 4:18; Heb. 13:21

with reverence and awe
I am planning on addressing these attitudes in a few weeks, so we’ll simply note them for now

for our God is a consuming fire
– fire can reduce to ashes or it can purify
• it depends on what goes into it
• how we come out of it depends on what we’re made of

Conclusion: Worship refers to every interaction humans have with God

It is prayer and it is praise, confession and forgiveness,
it is asking and receiving, hearing and responding
– and when do we hear God speaking to us through Jesus?
• most of all, when we read and meditate on the Scriptures

Dietrich Bonhoeffer asks, “What do I expect from meditation?”
“In any case, we want to rise from meditation different from what we were when we sat down to it. We want to meet Christ in his Word. We go to the text curious to hear what he wants to let us know and give us through his word. . . . His fellowship, his help and his direction for the day through his Word, that is the aim. In this way you will begin the day strengthened and afresh in faith.”

This is the way to develop a closer relationship with Jesus
He reveals himself to us, gives himself to us in his word
Mount Zion, the angels, the unshakable kingdom,
it is all right here
given to us in the life and words of Jesus
I hope you will determine this week
to cut out time to spend listening to your best Friend

Oct 19 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 18, 2020

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Hebrews 12:12-13

Intro: Once again – what is our writer up to?

He has given us an athletic metaphor,
– and reminded us of the importance of training
• the serious athlete must learn discipline
• learning discipline requires athletes to endure their training
◦ endure those cravings to eat something they know should not
◦ endure getting out of bed in the morning or off the couch to workout
– the beauty of discipline is that once you learn it,
• you can use it to give structure to your whole life
◦ not a rigid structure, imposed on you by someone else,
◦ but you can structure the life you desire to live
• the writer’s main idea: we use discipline to structure our spiritual lives

Until this point, the athletic analogy has been theoretical
– but now the writer gets to the practical
• what do our “workouts” look like?

We concentrate on training our hands and knees

Try to imagine this person with drooping hands and weak knees
– better yet, let your hands hang limp at your side and imagine your knees buckling
• think about how that posture feels emotionally
◦ picture the posture of a defiant child (spine straight, shoulders back, etc.)
◦ do limp hands and weak knees look like defiance? or like giving up?

Pat Ogden is a leading researcher in “somatic psychology”; that is, how the body expresses past experience and current moods. She writes, “The body speaks clearly to those who know how to listen. Nonverbal expressions visibly reveal what words cannot describe . . . . The multifaceted language of the body depicts a lifetime of joys, sorrows, and challenges, revealed in patterns of tension, movement, gesture, posture [and so on]. . . . Postures, facial expressions, and gestures outwardly express internal emotional states, communicating these states to others.”

– hands that droop indicate a slacking off, fatigue, quitting
• weak knees impede progress, risk slowing, stumbling, stopping, or falling

As for you, son of man, groan; with breaking heart and bitter grief, groan before their eyes. And when they say to you, “Why do you groan?” you shall say, “Because of the news that is coming. Every heart will melt, and all hands sill be feeble; every spirit will faint, and all knees will be weak as water. Behold it is coming, and it will be fulfilled,” declares the Lord GOD (Eze. 21:6-7)

◦ our bodies reveal and support our determination
◦ active, skilled hands speak of progress; strong knees speak of stability
• do you see? this is not about preparing for one big race
◦ it’s about a lifestyle that defines us
Hannah Arendt argued that our words and actions tell who we are
“The moment we want to say who somebody is, our very vocabulary leads us astray into saying what he is; we get entangled in a description of qualities [that person] necessarily shares with others like him. . . . In acting and speaking, [people] show who they are, reveal actively their unique personal identities and thus make their appearance in the human world . . . . This disclosure of ‘who’ in contradistinction to ‘what’ somebody is . . . is implicit in everything somebody says and does.”
who are we? People who make steady, stable spiritual progress

Straight paths may refer to making road improvements
– but more likely, has to do with moving on a straight course to our goal
• if a path has a lot of quick twists and turns,
◦ a person who is partially crippled or lame won’t be able to manage it
• we don’t want to be waylaid by a sprained ankle or dislocated knee
– implied here is our responsibility to clear a straight path for others
• who is helping you?
• who are you helping?

What is the goal line? What are we trying to accomplish?
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the LORD. Hebrews 12:14

“Strive” as it’s used in New Testament is an aggressive pursuit
– it would be like one of us running to catch a bus
• first, we are to chase after peace with everyone
◦ we know what it’s like to enjoy peaceful relationship with a friend
◦ we’re relaxed, feel safe and comfortable, we can be “ourselves”
• but peace is not our nervous system’s default setting
◦ around others we’re guarded, defensive, suspicious
◦ and there are many ways to ruin a relationship or end a friendship
◦ and peace with an enemy seems like an impossibility
– in verse 11 we learned about the peaceful fruit of righteousness
. . . peace and righteousness kiss each other (Ps. 85:10)
• why do the Scriptures combine peace and righteousness?
◦ because righteous has to do with the way we treat each other
◦ Jesus raised the bar for what this looks like
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Mt. 12:7)
• it’s not about always being “right”
◦ do you want to be right if it’s going to cost you a close relationship?
◦ righteous is about doing what is right–i.e., what is most loving, what is best
Luke T. Johnson, “There is no reason to think that this pursuit of peace should include only members of the community. Indeed, pursuing peace ‘with all people’ seems particularly important—and particularly difficult—in conditions of oppression. The author asks them both to remain constant to their confession and to seek peace even with those who mock them and do them harm.”

The goal of peace is an outward pursuit – but there’s also an inward pursuit
pursue the holiness without which no one will see the Lord
– there is a reason for putting peace and holiness together
• not only because both require an aggressive pursuit,
◦ but both of these words are relational terms
◦ we tend to make holiness moral, but at heart it is relational
• holiness means we belong to God
◦ anything given to God becomes his exclusively, and is made holy
◦ think, for instance, of the Sabbath
– holiness qualifies us for a life with God
without which no one will see the Lord
• as we’ll see further on in the chapter, seeing the Lord Jesus is everything

Four more rules for spiritual training
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. Hebrews 11:15-16

  1. See that no one fails to obtain the grace of God
    • “obtain” means “fail to reach,” “come short,” “fall behind”
      • if we think of a relay-race, we all depend on each other
    • the only way to reach the finish-line is by God’s grace
      • we fail to obtain grace if we don’t trust God all the way
  2. That no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble
    • look at the contrast between
      “fruit of righteousness” (v. 11)
      and “root of bitterness”
      • you’re not going to get righteous fruit from a bitter root
      Leonard Sweet says we have to dig deep to plant healthy relationships– “Plants can’t grow heavenward without first growing downward. Colorful blossoms are the by-product of bland, down-and-dirty roots.”
      • in other words, to grow strong relationships,
      ◦ we have to get down on our knees and get our hands dirty
    • a root of bitterness is like indigenous weeds, they’re easy to grow
      • even toward someone you have loved and respected
      ◦ just take offense at one thing – and brood over it
      ◦ the seed has been planted, and will eventually bear fruit
      • and by it many become defiled (or contaminated)
      ◦ there are high-conflict people who work at creating chaos rather than peace
      ◦ what is growing in the garden of your heart?
      ◦ we cannot grow the peaceful fruit of righteousness in toxic soil
  3. That no one is sexually immoral
    • the writer has a real concern for the sexual purity of his readers (Heb. 13:4)
      • however, here he may have an additional thought in mind
      ◦ he is going to offer Esau as a negative example
      ◦ in scripture, Esau is depicted as “a man of the world,”
      ◦ someone who did not have a high regard for spiritual values
      • frequently in the prophets, Israel’s reach for the world was viewed as an unfaithful wife (see especially Ezekiel 16)
      ◦ Israel’s idolatry was spiritual adultery
  4. Or unholy – a place or object can be neutral, holy, or unholy
    • if it was once dedicated to God, it is holy
      • but if later it is treated as neutral, it does not return to neutrality
      ◦ rather, it becomes unholy, defiled, profane
      • we cannot go back to what we were before

An example of an unholy (or profane) person
(like Esau) For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. Hebrews 11:17

This was a story of twin boys – Esau and Jacob
– Esau’s values were twisted
• he could not see the importance of his actions and family traditions,
◦ until they cut into his inheritance
– “repent” refers to a fundamental change of mind that changes a life
• it may not be that Esau was unable to repent,
◦ but that he found no place for repentance in Isaac (NASB)
◦ that is, he was unable to change his father’s mind
(about giving him a blessing, Gen. 27:30-40)
• the materialist lives with delusion he or she can have it all
◦ but a day comes when all they have dissolves in their hands

Conclusion: In Hebrews we’ve seen several examples of failure

The wilderness generation in chapter 4
Those who fall away in chapter 6
Those who go on sinning in chapter 10
Now Esau

Let’s return to the athletic analogy
– to enter a golf tournament, each player has to qualify
• then, to play the final holes, each player must maintain a previous score
• otherwise, they do not make the cut
◦ lots of athletes may “try out” for track and field,
◦ but not everyone makes the cut
– Paul expressed his concern over making the cut to the Corinthians
I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Co. 9:27)

But we won’t end on this negative note this morning
Grace is always more edifying (and energizing) than guilt
So let’s remember what we have going for us
God wants us to finish the race,
having giving it everything we’ve got
And to ensure that we do finish well,
he gives us everything we need

Reminiscing on his early relationship with Israel, God said,
I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the LORD . . .
(Jer. 2:2-3)
Israel was holy simply because Yahweh was their God
and they were his people
So here is what we can take away from today’s lesson:
God’s grace makes it possible for us to run this race
and God’s embrace makes us holy

Oct 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 11, 2020

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastens every son whom he receives
Hebrews 12:5-6

Intro: I’m going to tell you a secret

The most amazing commentary on this passage,
– is not a commentary at all, a but story written by G. MacDonald
• MacDonald was a 19th century Christian minister and storyteller
• his story is The Gift of the Child Christ – you can find it online
◦ if you read it, have a box of tissue nearby
– the protagonist is a five-year-old girl, Sophy
• her dad is cold towards her and her step-mother is distant
◦ the nanny is uncaring and easily annoyed with Sophy
• coming home from church one Sunday,
◦ Sophy took herself upstairs to her room and sat in her chair to read

MacDonald, “But she did not read far: her thoughts went back to a phrase which had haunted her ever since first she went to church: ‘Whom the Lord loves, he chastens.’ . . . ‘I wish he would chasten me,’ she thought for the hundredth time. . . .The small Christian had no suspicion that her whole life had been a period of chastening–that few children indeed had to live in such a sunless atmosphere as hers. . . . ‘If the Lord would but chasten me!’ said the child to herself, as she rose and laid down her book with a sigh.”

Sophy wanted to be chastised, because she wanted to be loved
– she saw a connection between the two that we are likely to miss
• and perhaps that is because we are not as desperate to be loved

The writer of Hebrews is working with an athletic analogy
– a key Greek word is paideia, discipline, education, the training of athletes
Patrick Gray, “Some form of the Greek word paideia appears in this passage eight times. It can denote the physical discipline of an errant child or, more generally, the process of education in Greek culture.”
• another relevant Greek word, gumnazo appears in verse 11
◦ from it we get our English word, gymnasium
• the place where boys received their education and physical training
– the Christian life is a marathon,
• and the key to running a marathon is endurance
◦ last week we were told to “look to Jesus” – not at, but to:
◦ we look to him for our example, for coaching, for help, for perfecting
• this week we learn that through endurance we develop discipline

This is the first of three questions writer will ask

Have you forgotten the exhortation. . .?
– exhortation is a spoken word to instruct, correct, encourage, or comfort
(the writer refers to entire letter as a word of exhortation, 13:22)
• forgetfulness can cripple our spiritual development
◦ God’s word doesn’t do anything for us if we do not remember it
– the worst case of forgetfulness is fugue state amnesia
• people forget who they are
◦ our identity is the combination of our history and destiny
◦ we are not only defined by our past, but also by the person God made us to be and therefore who we are becoming
• the quote is intended to remind us:
◦ who we are, and in light of that,
◦ the meaning and purpose of hardship in our spiritual formation

addresses you – as always, for the writer scripture is not an ancient relic written for someone else
– through it, God speaks to us in the present
• in this instance, God addresses us as sons
• I’m going to ask you to ignore the gender reference
◦ in the cultures of Greece and Rome, sons enjoyed a privileged status
◦ that privileged status is what the writer sees for all readers,
and for all God’s children

The quote in verses 5 and 6 comes from the Book of Proverbs
– these are presented as lessons from a father and sometimes the mother to a son
• each proverb provides instruction and training in wisdom
• the point the young person toward the best paths through life
– the Proverbs are structured like poems (it makes them easy to remember)
• Hebrew poetry is typically written in parallel lines
◦ the first line makes a statement or asks a question
◦ the second line repeats the first line, adds to it, expands, or intensifies it
• the topic of this proverb is discipline and there are three lessons:
the first two lines tell us how to respond to God’s discipline
the third line tells us why we want to respond in these ways
1. do not regard lightly – a negative way of saying “take seriously”
2. nor be weary – listening to lectures can be exhausting
◦ “reproof” is to show someone his or her fault, error, or mistake
3. the Lord disciplines the one he loves
– not everyone is comfortable with the image of God as Father
• I understand that
• if so, try to imagine the ideal father–the father you wish you had
◦ and then look to God in that role
◦ otherwise, see if Jesus provides you with a better representation of God

The second question
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are let without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Hebrews 12:7-8

The first sentence explains the purpose of God’s discipline
– it is to build endurance in us (the theme of this section)
Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you (De. 8:5)
• the value of enduring rigorous training is a disciplined life
• discipline benefits every important endeavor
◦ it’s what makes the right response our normal response
◦ discipline is how the brain’s neurons wire together to achieve proficiency
– have you heard of the “conscious competence” learning model?
• it identifies four stages of acquiring a new skill:
1. Unconscious incompetence (you’re not skilled but don’t know it)
2. Conscious incompetence (you know that you lack a skill)
3. Conscious competence (you acquire a skill, but must concentrate to perform it)
4. Unconscious competence (you perform a skill without having to think about it)
• discipline and training are the key to competence
◦ the key to becoming proficient, improving – in sports, music, art, etc.

God is treating you as sons – and then the question,
For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
– another verse that is relevant at this point is one we read in chapter 2:
For it was fitting that he for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10)
– Jesus, God’s firstborn Son, received an education in the same way as we do
• the writer isn’t saying God acts as if he were our father
◦ rather, God is our Father, and so treats us as his children

Years ago I spoke at a men’s retreat for Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. Before I began speaking, I asked for men to share something about their dads, the kind of father he was or some special memory. A few men mentioned how their dad worked hard to provide for their family, came to all of their ball games, or took them fishing or camping.
There was one young man there who was in a wheelchair. If you had attended Calvary Chapel in the early seventies you would have recognized him, because he wheel chair was always between the first row and the stage. Cerebral Palsy had put him in the wheelchair. His brain was as intelligent as anyone else, but it could not control the motor functions of his body perfectly, so that his movements were jerky and exaggerated. For the same reason, his speech was not easy to understand.
But that night, everyone could hear clearly what he had to say. Slowly, and in a loud voice he said, “My dad taught me how to tie my shoes.” Immediately I imagined his dad, working with his son’s rebellious limbs, and the patience it would take to repeatedly rehearse tying his shoes until he was able to get the job done. “My dad taught me how to time my shoes,” and went on, “My dad taught me how to button my shirt. My dad taught me how to brush my teeth. My dad taught me everything! And now I can live on my own.”

We have only the vaguest of ideas of how patient a Father our God is
Blessed be the LORD my rock,
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle
(Ps. 144:1, necessary skills at the time)

If you are never disciplined, then you’re not a child of God
– otherwise, discipline is something in which all have participated
• no believer is exempt – you are disciplined, and I am disciplined
◦ there is no growth in Jesus without it
Before I was afflicted, I went astray,
but now I keep your word
(Ps. 119:67)
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin (1 Pet. 4:1)
– we are like orphans, praying every night,
• that someone nice will show up and want us, and take us home
• Jesus showed up to tell us God is our Abba, our Papa
◦ and he has sent his Spirit to us to adopt us

The third question
Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:9-11

So far, the comparison between God and earthly fathers has been implicit
– now the writer makes it explicit – and he points out the contrasts between them
• first, it makes sense that we have more respect for God our Father
A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts (Mal. 1:6)
◦ the writer contrasts earthly fathers, from whom we received our bodies,
◦ to our heavenly Father from whom we received our spirits
• second, our earthly fathers disciplined us for a short time
◦ our heavenly disciplines us so we can share in his holiness,
without which no one will see the Lord (v. 14)
◦ God’s discipline prepares us to live in his presence forever
• third, earthly fathers disciplined us as it seemed best to them
William Barclay, “At the best there is an element of arbitrariness in an earthly father’s discipline.”
◦ we can trust God, that he knows what’s best for us
◦ his discipline is totally oriented toward our eternal good

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant
John Polkinghorne says the writer observes “the significance of the processes of life in this world for the formation of character in all human individuals. Not only is developmental growth recognized as present in the life of Jesus and his followers, but it is the painful process of suffering that is particularly significant.”
Luke T. Johnson, “the final elaboration of the analogy contrasts the pain of the experience with the joy of the result.”
– I don’t believe God purposely brings us suffering
• it comes to us naturally as a condition of living in this world
Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Mt. 6:34)
• God does not bring suffering into our lives, but he uses it
◦ he never allows our heartaches and miseries go to waste
– and in this life, we enjoy the peaceful fruit of righteousness
• when our relationships are healthy, functioning as they should,
◦ we are at peace — even with our enemies (Pr. 16:7)

Conclusion: This week with one of my grandsons,

The challenge of discipline became clear to me

To love him without spoiling him
To discipline him without punishing him

For us, the choice is not whether we will face hardships,
the choice is whether we will take advantage of them
and make good use of the opportunities they bring
Not all suffering is discipline
Not all discipline entails suffering
But all discipline requires endurance

We are not given a lesson in how to avoid discomfort
but how to take advantage of it – and see it through new eyes
Eternity changes our perspective on everything
So when discipline comes,
regardless of whatever form it takes,
dare to praise God,
and thank him for his patient and persistent fatherly love
for his steadfast love endures forever

Oct 5 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 4, 2020

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside ever weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us . . . . Hebrews 12:1

Intro: Do you know what I mean by “starting blocks”?

You would if you ran track in high school
– blocks are placed on a track provide stable brace for the runners’ feet
• Olympic athletes spend time at the blocks, testing and adjusting them
◦ because that first push-off is critical to a fast start
• part of their workout is practicing their starts
– the writer of Hebrews is not telling us to settle into the starting blocks
• instead, the race has already begun
• like a good coach, he is telling us how to run the race

What do we need to know going into this passage?
first, everything we covered in chapter 11 culminates here
• the writer has shown us example after example of biblical characters,
◦ and the repeated slogan for each one of them was by faith
• now he brings us to the ultimate example: Jesus
second, the big idea, that the writer practically shouts at us is,
• if we’re serious about following example of Jesus, we need:
◦ to streamline our lifestyle
◦ and increase our stamina

The chapter begins with the word Therefore

That tells us, the purpose of chapter 11 is brought to a point in chapter 12
– the next words, “we are” places him with us–we’re in this together
• in this chapter, he is going to explain to us our situation:
◦ our place in line behind the faith-heroes who came before us
◦ we are following Jesus
◦ we are learning the value of discipline
◦ and so on
• we have seen what others have done by faith
◦ now it’s our turn – we are next up at bat

we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
You’ve probably heard that these witnesses are sitting in the stands
– they have entered the stadium to watch us perform and to cheer us on
• meanwhile we are down in the arena, running the race
◦ but that is now how I read this
• it’s true that those people paraded before us in chapter 11 are witnesses,
◦ but that is because they have given their testimony
◦ they are witnesses and not mere spectators
– what we read of their lives, gives witness to their faith
• their witness has been recorded for our encouragement
• they have told us, faith works!
◦ and faith is rewarded
William Barclay, “. . . they are witnesses in a double sense, for they are those who have witnessed their confession to Christ and they are now those who witness our performance.”

The writer coaches us regarding the basics
let us also — like the cloud of witnesses, whose number we now join
lay aside every weight – runners wear little and light-weight clothing
◦ serious runners have conversations regarding the weight of shoes
◦ they won’t wear anything bulky, constricting, chafing, or likely to trip up
• notice that the writer does not say “the weight of sin,” but “and sin”
◦ not every weight we carry is a sin, yet some can still be a disadvantage
William Barclay, “If we travel far, we must travel light. There is in life an essential duty of discarding things. . . . Whatever holds us back must go; and often we will need the help of Christ to enable us to let it go.”
◦ if we’re walking with Jesus, we know the sins that cling closely
(this is not the writer’s last word regarding sin, because sin must be addressed)
let us run with endurance – this is a primary concern in Hebrews
• the writer already told them they’re in serious need of endurance (Heb. 10:36)
◦ this is a marathon, not a spring – being fastest is not our goal
◦ we simply want to reach the finish line – complete the journey
set before us – cross-country runners do not choose their course
◦ we don’t control every circumstance, we deal we deal it

What will help us endure?
. . . looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

Practice, of course, build endurance
– but what about those times when you think you’ve hit the wall?
• the whole book has been about Jesus – now, look to him
◦ notice we are given only his name — not Christ, or Lord, or Son of God
◦ we identify with the Jesus’ human name more than with his titles
founder and perfecter — combining two roles is typical of the writer
Jesus: apostle and high priest (Heb. 3:1)
God: designer and builder (Heb. 11:10)
◦ Jesus’ ministry isn’t limited to these roles – they are merely two of many
– founder – the person who is there from the start, a trail-blazer
• in the military a soldier who “takes point” goes ahead of the rest of the troop
◦ Jesus has taken point, going before us
perfecter – the idea of perfection has come up repeatedly in Hebrews
• Jesus was made perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10)
And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation (Heb. 5:9)
the Son . . . has been made perfect forever (Heb. 7:28)
by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Heb. 10:14)
(there is no “our” in this verse, but it is simply “faith” that Jesus perfects. Faith is the whole race)

When we look to Jesus, what do we see?
who for the joy that was set before him . . .

Jesus is our example of endurance
– there are the situations we despise, and there is pain and shame
• but we live through it all and endure with joy

A friend who knows about a physical trial I’m going through currently (and has experienced it herself) sent me a text this week to remind me, “Attitude is 90 percent of the battle.” She said that “the act of smiling works in your brain to help with attitude adjustment.”

◦ Mother Teresa suffered greatly over the distance she felt from God
However, she made “a conscious choice . . . to ‘keep on smiling in spite of everything’ and ‘to give Our Lord always all with a cheerful smile.” She also instructed those who those who worked with her, “Keep smiling. Smile at Jesus in your suffering—for to be a real [Missionary of Charity] you must be a cheerful victim.”
• Jesus endured the cross – that was the finish line of his race
and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God
• we run, not only for the sake of the race, but for the reward
• we cannot forget the cross, or that Jesus tells us to take up our own
Luke Johnson wrote that the writer believes they “need a deeper understanding of the essential link between their experience of suffering and shame, and the very process by which Jesus himself was brought to full perfection as son.”

Now that Jesus has our attention, consider him
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. Hebrews 12:3

We’ve been told before to consider Jesus, but here a different word is used
– from the Greek word used here, we get the English word analyze
• it is to break something down to its primary components
• think through something thoroughly, to ponder or contemplate
who endured from sinners such hostility
• because hostility is what we can expect from sinners

This past week, a woman I know, who is sensitive, loving, and caring, described how she was heartsick over a hate-filled post she read on a social media site. The person who posted it was someone she has known and loved for years. She found it difficult to accept the fact that someone who follows Jesus could be so profane and hostile.
The human nervous system is designed to respond to hostility immediately. Depending on our experiences in life, the response may be an instant retaliation, exchanging hostility for hostility (cf. Rom. 12:17). Or we may cringe or try to escape. Or we may freeze and hold our breath so we won’t be seen or heard. The point is, we want to discipline ourselves so that when exposed to the hostility of sinners, we respond as Jesus taught us.

Consider Jesus – consider his response to hostility
– he prayed, Father, forgive them
• this will help us not to grow weary or fainthearted
◦ psychological states that make us want to give up – on people, on the race
◦ look at Jesus, so that if you forgive and he smiles, you feel that all is well

How bad has it been for us so far?
In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. Hebrews 12:4

We have not yet spilled any of our own blood in our struggle to resist sin
Timothy Johnson says that the writer wrote this because the readers “need a sense of ‘proportion’ . . . .”
sin in this verse may refer to all the failures we’ve read about
• unbelief, disobedience, hardened hearts, drifting away, etcetera
– the phrase, “struggle against sin” does not define our Christian experience!
• it is a necessary discipline, but our main concern is running the race
• what defines our Christian experience is drawing near to God

Conclusion: I think if the only thing a person ever knew of Bible was this instruction regarding looking to Jesus, that would be enough to to develop a fully formed Christian life

If they look, they will be led to the gospels
– the only place where we can actually look at him
• looking is important – looking affects our brain, changes the activity in it
◦ looking at a photograph can make you weep, laugh, upset
• you can look at something repulsive and your face will express disgust
◦ it happens automatically – you don’t have to try
– looking at Jesus is important, because looking changes us
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18)

We look to Jesus,
and we consider Jesus,
because the more we look
and the more we consider,
the more we discover
The more we discover,
the more we realize what he can do for us;
we just have to surrender and let him do his work
You are not alone
You are not lost–
Jesus knows where you are
But we do not know this
unless we make the time
to look and to consider

Sep 28 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 27, 2020

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets . . . . Hebrews 11:32


Intro: How would you respond if I said, “Show me your faith”?

Actually, I’m not the one who said it and that’s not whole sentence
Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (Jas. 2:18)
– you cannot do it – you cannot give evidence of faith apart from action
– this entire chapter has explored faith’s law of cause and effect
• we’ve heard one story after another of people whose actions were motivated by faith
◦ now he says, “There’s no time for all the other stories I could tell”
• so he summarizes all the volumes he could have written
◦ enclosing them in bookends on either side–i.e., through faith (vv. 33 & 39)

What more shall I say?

We could ask, What more needs to be said?
– is there enough here to convince us of importance of faith?
• are we ready to continue on this journey of faith?
– he could go on, but he hasn’t enough time to narrate all the stories
• so he abbreviates 1,000 years of biblical history

The people whose names he flashes past us are interesting choices
Gideon inadvertently created a cult
Barak was too timid to lead the army to battle without Deborah
(a woman instigated his military campaign and a woman won it, Jdg. 4:21)
Samson’s weakness was his attraction to Philistine women
(that included a night spent with a prostitute, Jdg. 16:1-3)
Jephthah committed an unthinkable crime against his daughter
– these men are not presented for his moral virtue
• they’re here because they believed God IS, and he rewards (v. 6)
• they were each called to a challenge
◦ and they looked to God to be with them to meet the challenge
– after these men, the writer stops listing people by name,
• and lumps together the prophets,
• even though their stories are as interesting as anyone else’s

Anonymous spectacular feats of faith
. . . who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made in strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Hebrews 11:33-35a

Most of these examples are familiar to us from the Old Testament
– especially from the Judges and the books of Samuel and the Kings
• others are found in historical records not included in scripture
– we cannot be sure how the writer meant to organize this list
• but at the least we can see:

  1. There were those who did something through faith
    conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises,
    stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire,
    escaped the edge of the sword
  2. There were those who became something
    were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war
  3. There were those who received something
    women received back their dead by resurrection

(Vv. 35b-38) Mid-verse, the history of faith takes a sharp turn
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. Hebrews 11:35b-38

Loveday Alexander, “The results of faith get more and more impressive: conquering kingdoms, victory against impossible odds, receiving the dead back to life. But meanwhile its costs are spiraling out of control: persecution, alienation, exile, the most gruesome of tortures—and finally martyrdom.”
– the writer exposes us to a different kind of victory
• not the kind that comes through remarkable success
• a more personal sort of victory
◦ these are people who accepted what happened to them,
◦ and refused to dodge the consequences of loyalty to God

Rather than comment on everything in these verses,
– I am going to cherry-pick three statements from these verses:

Verse 35: rise again to a better life
• this statement contains two important themes the writer has emphasized:
eschatology: the future that is at present unseen and specifically
(here there is a hint at the future resurrection to new life)
better: “things” (6:9) “hope” (7:19), “covenant” (7:22) “promises” (8:6), etc.
(and the source of all that is better is person of Jesus,
who is, himself, better than the angels)

Verse 36: chains and imprisonment
• some of the readers of Hebrews had experienced this
. . . after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property . . . (Heb. 10:32-34)
• we need to remember this is still happening
◦ China’s fresh wave of persecution (suppressing Christianity’s growth)
◦ N. Korea sends Christians to labor camps or executing them immediately
◦ Sudan, Somalia, Lybia, Pakistan, Iran, and others

Verse 38: of whom the world was not worthy
• the world proved it’s unworthiness by way it treated them
• some of the world’s rejects have done the most good for it

It is not easy to develop a balanced view of martyrs and martyrdom
– immediately it works on our emotions
• especially if we have details of what people are suffering
• we may be inspired by them, but we don’t want to be them
◦ and we may even have deep-seated fears regarding being persecuted
– at certain times in church history martyrdom was glorified
• it was considered a noble death, fit for saints
◦ some Christians were almost suicidal in the way they courted martyrdom
◦ Origen discouraged seeking to be martyred, and recommended instead the practice of strict asceticism
• after Christianity became a state religion and persecution was lifted,
◦ monks and nuns headed to the deserts to practice the disciplined purity that they imagined to be typical of martyrs

Another complication has to do with the gory details
– a morbid fascination with the tortures endured by martyrs is not healthy
• that we have a record of such things may be of historical importance
• but over-exposure to it can become a distraction from things that edify

A balanced view of persecution and martyrdom might include:
1. Being aware of persecution
• organizations like Open Doors and Voice of the Martyrs do a good job of keeping us informed
• we want to do what we can to offer support to persecuted people
◦ perhaps writing to people in government, making donations
◦ especially remembering to pray for our brothers and sisters
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated . . . (Heb. 13:3)
2. Understanding the mind and heart of a martyr
• Christian martyrs do not die for a “cause,” “a principle,” or “an ideology”
• but for their relational bond with God that can’t be broken
3. Don’t let the fact of persecution overwhelm you
Loveday Alexander, “Wherever Christians are persecuted for their faith, Heb. 11 will be a source of support and inspiration; wherever they are not, it will be a challenge.”
4. Don’t allow persecution or martyrdom to become an obsession (Php. 4:8)
5. Don’t trivialize martyrdom by being melodramatic over our tough times
Abbot Chapman, “I think it is an excellent thing to laugh at one’s self a little whenever one feels like a martyr.”

A basic condition in which faith reveals itself
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Hebrews 11:39-40

This may sound wrong or cynical, but faith operates in a void
– we have a promise, but not its fulfillment; a reward, but not now
• faith is spiritually rich, but materially poor
• it moves through incompleteness and emptiness
◦ the chapter began with faith as the conviction of things not seen
Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Ro. 8:24-25)
– faith finds God and his word to be its solid reality
• so rather than look for meaning in the world
◦ faith looks for something “better” – here’s that word again
• the words, apart from us ties you and I to the whole chapter
◦ it ties us to the hope that runs through biblical history
◦ these people who lived by faith are our people
their hope is our hope, their faith is our faith
they are not complete without us and we’re not complete apart from them

Conclusion: As I meditate on these verses, here’s what I see

Christian faith expresses itself in love
– first, in the characters who were named in this passage
• through faith they loved others enough to fight for their welfare
– second, in the stories where they characters who suffered are not named,
• through faith they loved God enough to live for him and to suffer and die for him

I’m urge you to let love and compassion be your priority
It is as if we have been given key that unlocks our prison cell,
and now we start unlocking the cell doors of all the other prisoners
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
(Lk. 4:18)

Suppose you’re convinced you know what needs to happen in this coming election
Does that make you more kind, less selfish, more loving?
This week I realized, people I love have chosen to look at only one side of our nation’s current political situation
They plug their ears and close their eyes to any information the other party brings forward
I also realized, I’ll never be able to get them to even consider other opinions

So instead of wasting my breath, I began asking,
“What is she afraid of hearing or seeing?
How does she imagine it will affect her?”
“What has he experienced to make him this adamant?
This hostile?”
In other words,
I am choosing to try to understand these people better
rather than trying to change them
And to understand them so I can better love them

To show your faith through action,
you do not have to be a saint
or have your doctrine all figured out
You just have to let God’s love into your heart
so that it becomes your motivation,
and then do something
Faith is not often glamorous,
but it never gives up
So get up and go win your victory,
or endure your suffering
by faith

Sep 20 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 20, 2020


By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. Hebrews 11:31

Intro: If we could read this chapter like the original readers,

We would see this verse had been sneaking up on them
– thumbing through Israel’s history, the writer cites examples of faith
• there’s a similar historical review in Acts chapter 7
◦ but there, Stephen uses Israel’s history to make a different point
• Stephen lists the regular heroes found in the Old Testament
◦ Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David provided spiritual leadership for Israel
◦ and also a theological foundation for the people
– so reading this list in Hebrews we can anticipate who will come next
• in v. 29, the people crossed Red Sea–we know that would relate to Moses
• v. 30, the walls of Jericho fell down–we know that would relate to Joshua
◦ only Joshua is conspicuously absent from this list
Carl Mosser, “The list’s now well-established rhetorical pattern leads listeners to anticipate the name of the next major hero in the OT narrative, Joshua. Our author, however, breaks the pattern and neither names or otherwise refers to any person. Without parallel in the rest of the list, inanimate objects, the walls of Jericho are the subject of the entry.”

Previously Hebrews presented Moses in a positive light (Heb. 2:5)
– and previously, Abraham appeared in a positive light (Heb. 6:15)
• but all we hear about Joshua, previously, is what he failed to do
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on (Heb. 4:8)
– now, as Luke Johnson says, “It is striking that Joshua is not even mentioned in connection with these events . . . .”
• Joshua is not the hero of this story
◦ but if not Joshua, then who? Rahab the prostitute
• she is the last person on the list to have a story attached to her name
◦ after her, the writer didn’t have time for Gideon, Samson, or David
◦ but he had time for Rahab!
– it may be that the writer arranged the list to feature Rahab
• perhaps her example of faith is the one his readers needed to imitate

Rahab is one of only two women who made the list

Sarah was the first woman – but Rahab was nothing like Sarah
– Rahab’s name is not connected to that of a famous man
• she was a Gentile outsider – and she was a prostitute
• like Melchizedek, she’s something of a surprise guest in Hebrews
◦ only the prostitute of Jericho is an even bigger surprise than the priest of Salem
– wouldn’t you like to get to know this woman?

We meet Rahab in a spy story

Knowing that this is a story of intrigue and espionage,
– makes it less surprising that she was a prostitute
• Joshua sent spies into Jericho on a reconnaissance mission
◦ there is a logic to them entering home of a prostitute
◦ such places typically provided lodging for merchants and other visitors
• the story includes others characters, like Joshua and the king of Jericho
◦ but the only characters named are Joshua and Rahab
– Joshua’s spies were identified and their mission was discovered
• the king sent soldiers to Rahab and ordered her to hand them over
• instead she hid them on her roof and covered them in flax
◦ she told them,
True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them (Jos. 6:4-5)

I’m going to throw something in here, just because it bugs me
– Christian commentators feel it’s necessary to point out that Rahab lied to the soldiers at her door
• that is true enough–in fact, I can count four lies she told them
• but it’s nonsense to fault her for this,
◦ or to turn the story into a pious lesson on telling the truth
– classic strategies in warfare include misdirection and misinformation
• Rahab did not lie for personal profit or to injure others
◦ it was to save her family
◦ if people were hiding Jews in their home, would we judge or criticize them for lying to Nazi soldiers?
• the Bible makes no moral comment on her actions, nor should we
◦ to twist the plot so that it yields an ethical problem misses the point
◦ let’s take the story at face value and not make unnecessary judgments

When the guards left, Rahab went up on roof and began to negotiate
– I want us to hear this in her own words
I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us . . . . For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you . . . and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites . . . . And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for [Yahweh] your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath (Jos. 2:9-12)
• this sounds as if she were quoting Moses’ exact words (Deut. 4:39)
• the strength of her belief in what she says is obvious
– God had strictly forbidden Israel to make any covenant with the people of the land
• but that is what Rahab was asking the spies to do — swear a treaty with her
Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother and all who belong to them, and deliver them from death (Jos. 2:12-13)
◦ this is the most suspenseful moment in the story
◦ is this outsider clever enough to save herself and her family?
• Rahab barters for mercy and truth – hesed and emeth
◦ sometimes translated steadfast love and faithfulness
◦ these are two key words of Yahweh’s covenant with Israel

The writer does not mention Rahab’s confession of faith

Like everyone else on list, it is her deeds that count
– James, perhaps most prudish writer in the New Testament honored Rahab
. . . was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? (Jas. 2:25)
Charles Spurgeon, “. . . we are somewhat surprised, I think, to find her name recorded by James, because he is an eminently practical writer, and was writing of good works rather than of faith.”
• but her actions beg the question, “Faith in what? or in whom?”
• and that makes her confession important
◦ that reveals the content of the faith by which she acted

There another woman I want to visit this morning

That’s because her story has striking similarities to Rahab’s
– Jesus left Galilee and went north, crossing the border into the region of Tyre and Sidon (Lebanon today)

Jesus wanted to get away. He and the disciples had been traveling and ministering without a break and they needed rest. I imagine also that he was weary from the ongoing conflict with the scribes and Pharisees. While he was in Gentile territory, a local Canaanite woman tracked him down. She begged for mercy (like Rahab), not for herself but her daughter. At first Jesus ignored her, so she pestered his disciples. The Lord explained to them that she was not on their itinerary, but that he had come for the lost sheep of Israel.
Eventually the woman was able to get close enough to Jesus, kneel at his feet, and cry, “Lord help me!” But he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” To which she replied, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (Mt. 15:26-27)

• clearly Jesus was pleased with her answer
O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire (Mt. 15:28)
– do you see the parallels? Here was another Gentile outsider
• she had no right to expect anything from Jesus
◦ in light of his mission, she had no rights at all
◦ and she didn’t argue her rights – she begged for mercy
• her desperate faith inspired her clever response to him
◦ she did what no one else could do, she beat Jesus at his own game
– with both women, faith found a way
• past boundaries, over walls, and around obstacles

Conclusion: What was it about Jesus that irritated religious people the most?

His inclusiveness – he made room for tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes
– we’re told that when the spies rescued Rahab,
they placed her and her family outside the camp of Israel (Jos. 6:23)
• that’s because they were foreigners and “unclean”
• but Rahab and her family did not stay there
◦ the last word regarding Rahab is
And she has lived in Israel to this day . . . (Jos. 6:25)
◦ she was an outsider, who by faith won her way inside

God is going to get the love, devotion and obedience he wants
If not from his own people,
he will find people on the outside to bring in to do it
I’m afraid for church in the United States right now,
it is so divided and distracted by politics
I don’t think we have kept our eyes on God
and what he is doing in the world,
or what he wants us to be doing in the world
There are still so many people he wants to bring to himself,
and he would like for us to make the introductions

Jesus said, I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness (Mt. 8:11-12)
Do you think the same cannot happen to the church in America?
It would be sad for us, if the Lord chose to skip over us
and found for himself a Rahab
or a Saul who had been a persecutor of Christians
But the good news is – it can still be us that he chooses to use,
if we extricate ourselves from world and put our faith to work

Let’s make sure to irritate some religious people
by being as inclusive as Jesus
Because by faith, we can still get in the game