Skip to content
Dec 21 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 20, 2020

Intro: The story of Jesus’ birth is told in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke

In Matthew the holy family is visited by wealthy magi from the east
– in Luke they are visited by shepherds from nearby hills
• two different nations, languages, and social classes
• but both came to the Christ Child by invitation
◦ a star drew the eastern astrologers
◦ an angel sent the shepherds
– after a long journey, the magi made it as far as Jerusalem
• this makes sense, the capital city is where one would look for the king of the Jews
◦ but when they arrived in Jerusalem, their progress stalled
• asking about for a newborn king got the city stirred up
◦ and raised suspicion of an insanely insecure king
◦ biblical scholars directed the magi to Bethlehem, and that’s where we pick up the story

After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. Matthew 2:9-10

A couple times in elementary school, I experienced moments in which I was suddenly observing my friends and myself as if from a vantage point outside my body. Both times this happened it got me into trouble.
One year my fourth-grade class was assigned a song in a Christmas performance, first for our school in the afternoon and then for our parents in the evening. Two other boys and myself were chosen to sing as a trio the introduction to “Silver Bells.” So, during the school assembly, we began,
Christmas makes you feel emotional,
It may bring parties or thoughts devotional.
Whatever happens or what may be,
Here is what Christmas time means to me.
When we came to the word “emotional” our voices went up in a boyish falsetto, and I do not know what came over me, but the nervousness of the other two boys and the serious expressions on our normally silly faces struck me as the most hilarious thing I had ever seen, and I started to giggle. Then the other two started giggling and a moment later the whole school was laughing–except for the teachers and faculty. Afterward the music director gave us a dire warning, telling us, “That had better not happen tonight!”

– oh well, Christmas does make us feel emotional
• and my message today is, “Let it”
◦ I hope, like the magi, we rejoice exceedingly with great joy
• this fourth Sunday of Advent our theme is, “Feel your way into Christmas”
◦ allow a child-like anticipation to grow in you this week

How big is Christmas? It’s the hinge of history

Alfred North Whitehead commenting on how Galileo and the discovery of the telescope ushered in the modern world, said, “Since a babe was born in Bethlehem, it may be doubted whether so great a thing has happened with so little stir.”
Hannah Arendt added, “Nothing in these words is an exaggeration. Like the birth in a manger, which spelled not the end of antiquity but the beginning of something so unexpectedly and unpredictably new that neither hope nor fear could have anticipated it, these first tentative glances into the universe through an instrument, at once adjusted to human senses and destined to uncover what definitely and forever must lie beyond [human senses], set the stage for an entirely new world and determined the course of other events . . . .
– we have a Savior, we have a hope, we have a new grace-filled life
• the full experience of Christmas involves more than reading the story
◦ and more than theological reflections on the Incarnation
(though that is still significant beyond words)
◦ a full experience must stir up emotions and feelings
Antonio Damasio (Department Head of neurology at the University of Iowa) says, “. . . recall of new facts is enhanced by the presence of certain degrees of emotion during learning. . . . For instance, if you are told two stories of comparable length that have a comparable number of facts, differing only because in one of them the facts have a high emotional content, you will remember far more detain from the emotional story than from the other.”
• in other words, to feel a moment enhances it; feeling adds a layer of depth
– the Christmas story has moments of suspense, danger, and also drudgery
• still, there is one emotion that is not appropriate for Christmas:
◦ to Joseph an angel said, do not fear
◦ to Mary the angel said, do not be afraid
◦ to the shepherds an angel said, fear not
• a proper response to the arrival of Jesus is excitement and great joy
◦ we rejoice in the experience of heaven coming to earth
◦ of God visiting and redeeming his people

Some people think emotions and feelings are fictions

For that reason, they should be ignored or suppressed
– as children, we learned we had to do chores when we didn’t feel like it
• but we also rebelled against the adult notion that chores had to be unpleasant
◦ we found ways to turn chores into play
• still, some believe we should replace feelings with rational thinking
◦ for them, thought is solid whereas feelings are ethereal
◦ these same people try to heal broken hearts with logic
– but feelings and emotions are real – our experience of them is real
• the same brain that produces thought produces feeling
◦ and hardly a thought is not attended by a feeling or generated by one
◦ here’s a shocker that researchers have uncovered:
Damasio, “The neurological evidence simply suggests that selective absence of emotion is a problem. Well-targeted and well-deployed emotion seems to be a support system without which the edifice of reason cannot operate properly.”
• there is a biological basis for every emotion
◦ it has visceral sources as well as mental catalysts
◦ of course, internal organs is precisely the language the Bible uses in describing emotions
Damasio, “. . . all emotions have some kind of regulatory role to play . . . . All emotions use the body as their theater, but emotions also affect the mode of operation of numerous brain circuits . . . .”

Emotions and feelings are real, but they do not define reality
– whenever it is right to flow with our feelings, it is liberating
• being aware of our feelings adds richness to our lives
Damasio, “. . . an organism that is responding beautifully to its environment begins to discover that it is responding beautifully to its environment. . . . Having feelings is of extraordinary value in the orchestration of survival.”
– without feelings and emotions:
• we lose a measure of meaningful interaction with others
• we lose some of our connection with nature and its rhythms
• we lose a big part of ourselves

Some people are afraid of their feelings
This is especially true for those who have been severely traumatized

Strong feelings can be exhilarating and exciting, but also dangerous
– they can cause us to see the world and others through a warped lens
and to see ourselves as if in a distorted mirror
• feelings can be generated by misinformation
• but don’t forget, the same is true of our rational thoughts
◦ the brain’s logic can be as flawed as any feeling
◦ this also holds true for our beliefs
– the rational mind cannot effectively control feelings
• they run on two separate yet related circuits
◦ when the volume is turned up on one, it is turned down on the other
• emotions have their own “reasons” – what “feels right”
◦ but we’re not stuck in an either/or position where we must choose
◦ reason and emotion can be harmonized

Some people denigrate feelings

“I don’t go by my feelings”
– this is said as if it is a superior position to take; more rational, stable, pious
• of course, we betray ourselves if we make this statement in anger
– the word feeling describes two types of experience:
• what the body feels – internal and tactile sensations
• what the heart feels – core emotions
Fr. Romuald, “A death, where feeling is gone, is not a body but a corpse.”
– what about the person who suppresses their feelings?
• empathy for others has much to do with being aware of our own feelings

Red Dragon is a scary movie and not one that I would recommend. To me, the scariest line in movie comes when a blind woman is alone in a darkroom with a man who unbeknown to her is a serial killer.
Blind woman: If there’s anything I hate worse than pity, it’s fake pity.
Serial killer: I have no pity
• the person who has no feeling for others is not a saint, but a sociopath

Is it ever right or justifiable to go by our feelings?

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son. . . .

it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;
I took them up by their arms
. . . I led them with cords of kindness,
with the bands of love
. . . and I bent down and fed them. . . .
How can I give your up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
. . . my heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst (Hos. 11:1-9)
– What kept God from giving up on Israel?
• not justice, not logic, not holiness, but what he felt for his wayward son
• he describes the conflicting emotions that churned within him
◦ ultimately he invoked his divine prerogative
◦ he went with his feelings
– Jesus, too, went with his feelings
moved with pity, he stretched out his hand (Mk. 1:41)
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them (Mt. 9:36)
he had compassion on them and healed their sick (Mt. 14:14)

We want others to feel:
– joy in being with us
• feel interested in us, what we have to say
• feel what we are feeling
– families and friends want us to feel
• they need for us to be physically present
◦ but they want us to be emotionally present too

Conclusion: Wise men and women, allow themselves to feel

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven . . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh
a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Ecc. 3:1, 4)
– delivering a message to philosophers in Athens, Paul said,
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
“In him we live and move and have our being”
even as some of your own poets have said,
For we are his offspring (Acts 17:24-28)

Can we feel our way into Christmas?
Can we own our feelings,
without judging them
or judging ourselves for having them?
Can we get up on Christmas morning, excited about Jesus,
eager to welcome him into our hearts? our homes? our world?
Nehemiah was serious when he said,
Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength (Neh. 8:10)
Paul was serious when he wrote,
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice (Php. 4:4)

The day is dawning!
The kingdom of God is at hand!
Our Savior is soon to appear!
“Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel, shall come to thee O Israel”

Dec 14 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 13, 2020

And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here on stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray.” Mark 13: 1-5

Intro: We are in the third week of the season of Advent

We’ve been preparing ourselves to welcome Jesus on Christmas morning
– it’s not that he hasn’t been with us, but we need reminders rituals
• they allow us to participate in events that transcends history
– we began by focusing attention on Jesus then on opening to mystery
• there is a mystery behind all reality – even yourself, myself, our pets, etc.
◦ the mystery must be encountered, because it’s so wonderful
• if you’ve been looking for mystery this past week,
◦ but each day turned out the same old thing, like the day before,
◦ then we need to have a talk about waking up

This “discourse” is ground zero for biblical prophecy enthusiasts
(see also Matthew 24 and Luke 21:5-38)

I am referring to Christians who interpret “the signs” of Jesus’ return, look for their fulfillment in current events, and then predict the day and the hour in which it will occur
– I think most of them miss Jesus’ opening statement,
See that no one leads you astray
Ben Witherington III, “The early church earnestly expected Christ to return, but that expectation was not trivialized into calculation. . . . they knew that God has revealed enough of the future to give us hope, but not so much that we do not need to live by faith. . . . Indeed, to predict the timing of Christ’s return with accuracy would make unnecessary the very sort of trust in God and assurance about the future hope that . . . we should embrace . . . . [Prognostications of the future] is just human beings getting an itchy trigger finger and not being able to leave matters in God’s hands.”
– there are several other verses I want to emphasize:
verse 9, but be on your guard
verse 23, But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand
verse 33, Be on guard, keep awake
verse 35, Therefore stay awake, for you do not know when the master of the house will come
verse 36, And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake
Be on your guard, be on guard, be on guard
Keep awake, stay awake, stay awake
• I find it ironic, and sad, that Jesus gave these explicit warnings
◦ then soon after, when Jesus was struggling in garden
◦ and danger was close at hand, his disciples could not stay awake
• it’s a reminder, that being up-to-date on end times data,
◦ does not necessarily result in appropriate devotion and behavior
– anyway, I take comfort in the fact that the disciples still belonged to Jesus
• Jesus did not give up on them — and he doesn’t give up on us
• if only they had known what was coming
◦ but that is the point, exactly!
◦ we do not know when the next crisis will come crashing down on us

Setting biblical predictions to one side, when I was reading this chapter in Mark’s gospel last Tuesday, it occurred to me,
• if I had been trained by Secret Service for presidential detail
◦ I would always be alert to any potential threat
◦ hiding places, access and egress, dangerous objects, etc.
◦ is janitor really a janitor? Reporter really a reporter?
• since I do not have that training, I live in unawareness most of the time
◦ but can I train myself–to be aware of my surroundings?
◦ aware of others? aware of goodness? truth? beauty?
– I believe I can–that we can–train ourselves to be more mindful
Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (1 Tim. 4:7-8)

My own awareness is threatened by three obsessions

I have to correct these issues to be more awake and aware

Automatic pilot – habit is a wonderful gift
– we do not have to concentrate on every little detail of daily activities
• when I tie my shoes, I never think, “Now I’m tying my shoes”
◦ my mind is free to think about other things
◦ where I’m going, what I’ll be doing, Will I be on time?
• but habit can interfere with awareness
◦ because it allows us to sleep through most of our waking hours
– I don’t think we realize how many moments we lose in this haze

Electronic addictions – email, social media, television, video games
– I know better than to open my email before reading my Bible
• if I did, either I’d never get to Bible
◦ or else the mode of thinking formed by responding to my email,
◦ would dull my reading
– Neil Postman’s warning is as valid today as in 1985,
• his book: Amusing Ourselves to Death
• 24-hour entertainment is America’s most abused narcotic

Dark moods – I’ll return to these in a moment
– for now, when I’m in a dark mood I become self-absorbed
• I lose perspective – fail to notice everything beautiful, the good, the true
• I lose my awareness of others and their needs

It might be useful to give ourselves wake-up calls

The goal of a wake-up call, is to bring us back to awareness
– to open remind us to look and to listen
• and to move from ideas to encounter, from concepts to experience
• what can we do?

Read and listen mindfully to God in the Scriptures
– relax, take slow, deep breaths –focus attention, take your time
• make this an exercise in noticing
• read with both the head and the heart
◦ meditating and contemplating
– respond as you listen – pray, sing, bow your head, sign the cross
• allow yourself to be surprised – surprise is always good for waking us up

Return to nature – as often as possible
– try to see it through eyes of a child
• don’t ignore or squelch the excitement you feel when you see a butterfly
◦ pay attention to sunrise and sunset – respond with praise
– escape the world of artificial “things” and counterfeit values
• escape the noise, the confusion, and the anxiety it creates
• the natural world has a different effect on us

Cultivate reverence – the attitude one has in God’s presence
– worship is inspired by wonder and awe
– look for mystery and say, “I don’t know”
• this is a statement of liberation – the opposite of trying to take control
◦ I don’t know what God will do next, but I want to be there
◦ I don’t know about this evening, but I’m here now
• when coming home, check to see if you’ve been mindful
◦ “I went to the grocery store, but was I there?”
• look for the image of God in other people

Stay with special moments of grace
– I hope you know what I mean
• linger in those moments of realization
The Lord is in this place!

We can make confessing our sins a meaningful act
– we’re all broken – admitting it deepens our humility
– we prefer to hide our sins and ourselves, like Adam Eve
• to deal with our bad stuff on our own
• we miss the help Jesus gives and the love we could receive
◦ returning to God enhances mindfulness
In his story of the prodigal son, Jesus said that it was when he came to his senses that he realized what he needed was in the home of his father and that is when he decided to return

When any change occurs, pay attention
– does not matter if it is a desired or undesirable change
• change wakes us up
• if we’re cold and go stand by the fire, we notice the feeling of warmth
◦ notice how you are changed through transition
◦ how it helps you to see and think differently

Do one thing every day in which you are fully present
– purpose of contemplative prayer: practice being fully present
– ask, “What is being given to me in this moment,” then notice

Count your blessings – I know this sounds cliché and overused,
– but Henri Nouwen reinvigorated this practice for me
• in his book, Life of the Beloved, he has a chapter entitle, “Blessed”
Nouwen tells his friend, “The feeling of being blessed is not, it seems to me the feeling that we generally have about ourselves,” that they have more often felt cursed than blessed.” But the curses “are lies” and we have to make a choice.
Nouwen lists some of life’s daily blessings and says, “These many blessings do not have to be invented. They are there, surrounding us on all sides. But we have to be present to them and receive them. They don’t force themselves on us.”
– people who are blessed become a blessing
• for instance, Abraham, blessed by God became a blessing (Ge. 12:12)

Conclusion: Can these wake-up calls work during lockdown?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, in another context, says, “Literally having nowhere to go makes it easier to be where you are.”

Why do we want to be awake for Christmas?
Well, if the star is shining over Bethlehem,
and angels serenading shepherds,
and the Word is becoming flesh to live among us,
what’s the point if we miss the whole thing because we slept through it?
Or if rather than being awake to the miracle,
we are bothered distracted by the “many things”
of celebrating Christmas in the year 2020?
Heaven is coming close to earth again
Don’t you want to be awake for that?

Dec 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 6, 2020

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
1 Timothy 3:14-16

Intro: Today is the second Sunday of Advent

This is the season for preparing ourselves for Christmas
– last Sunday our preparation consists of contemplating Jesus
– today, we will be concerned with opening our hearts and minds to mystery
• some may find it too difficult to open their minds,
◦ so at least let’s open our hearts

Biblical mystery does not refer to a difficult mental challenge

It is not a riddle, a puzzle, or a conundrum
– mystery is a truth or reality that is unknowable, a hidden part of reality
• the same Greek word, musterion, is translated “secret”
◦ a synonym for this word is “hidden”
But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God . . . (1 Cor. 2:7)
• mystery defies being grasped by the human intellect
Simone Weil, “The mysteries of the faith cannot be either affirmed or denied; they must be placed above that which we affirm or deny.”
◦ regarding our experience of God in worship (and sacraments), she said
“Only that part of myself which is made for the supernatural should adhere to these mysteries. But this adherence is more a matter of love than of belief.” “The organ in us through which we see truth is the intelligence; the organ in us through which we see God is love.”
◦ and one more quote by this saintly woman:
“With those who have received a Christian education, the lower parts of the soul become attached to these mysteries when they have not right to do so. That is why such people need a purification . . . .”

Mystery, in the Scriptures, is not superstition
– superstition is believing too much – it is credulous, gullible
• it’s how the beliefs of pagan gods and idolaters were viewed
– mystery is the acknowledgment, there are things beyond us
• and the only way we can know them is if God reveals them to us
Moses: The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law (De. 29:29)
Jesus: To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given . . . . blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear (Mt. 13:11 and 16)
Paul: [God] is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages, but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made know to all the nations . . . (Ro. 16:25-26)
When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit (Ep. 3:4-5)

You may feel an immediate negative reaction to mystery
– a few years ago Barb and I hosted a discussion in our home
• we were talking about God’s mysteries
◦ a doctor who was present said, “I’m realizing that I’ve been ‘anti-mystery’”
• this is a hallmark of the modern age
◦ and modern-age theologians attempted to clarify everything
Len Sweet, “Those who sold out to modernity tried to empty the church of its mysteries. Then, when they had largely succeeded, they wondered why the church felt so empty.”
– we can study a subject to death
• if we try to dissect God in the lab, we kill the specimen
◦ not the eternal and living God, but we kill our concepts of him
◦ concepts can retain their definitions by be hollowed out of meaning
Blaise Pascal spoke of “the God of the philosophers”
• beware when God makes perfect sense to you
◦ you are likely missing something important, some mystery

What are some of the mysteries we encounter in the Scriptures?

Information: as we’ve seen, information about the work of Jesus
Paradox : two declarations, mutually exclusive, work together
– the Bible sometimes teases our brains by placing contradictions side-by-side
. . . to all who did receive him, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn. 1:12-13)
. . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Php. 2:12-13)
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Mt. 16:25)
Len Sweet, “In Christianity, when you perceive a truth, look for the opposite truth. Heresy is a truth that has lost its opposite.”
– a frequent example of this is denying either Jesus’ deity or his humanity
Realities we cannot know: because we don’t have the means
– we’re not equipped, What no eye has seen, nor ear heard
[God] is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see (1 Tim. 6:15-16)
Realities we can experience, but not comprehend
And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” (Jdg. 13:18)
wonderful means “above your pay grade”–to use a current colloquialism
As David said,
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it
(Ps. 139:6)
Ordinary, everyday things: Moses’ staff, the disciples’ fishing nets
– a jar, a stick, salt, a river, five loaves of bread and two fish
– potentially any object, or type of weather, or sensation
This present moment: What’s so mysterious about this moment?
– everything in it that I don’t see – everything I don’t feel
The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear (Mk. 4:26-28)
– all of this is happening apart from the farmer’s effort or consciousness
– the movement of God’s Spirit within you right now
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (Jn. 3:8)
– the kingdom of God is flowing through every moment of our lives

The mystery Paul reminds Timothy, is Jesus Christ

Some biblical scholars believe Paul is quoting a Christian hymn
– in the history of hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs it is not unusual that the theology of the people is recorded and expressed in what they sing
– if this is indeed a song, it is certainly both lovely and profound

At Christmas, the mystery of Jesus especially the Incarnation
He was manifested in the flesh
– the Hebrew Scriptures emphasize the point that God is not a man
• that he is not flesh, but spirit (1 Sam. 15:29; Job 9:32; Isa. 31:3)
• yet here is God, in the flesh and blood body of Jesus
◦ God giving himself to humankind
◦ God fully revealing himself to humankind

The mystery of Jesus is that his execution is his victory
-listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians (from The Message Bible)
The message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,
I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots.
So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation. While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle—and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one.
(1 Cor. 1:18-25)

The mystery of Jesus is that he makes himself our true home
– one of St. Paul’s favorite terms for the Christian experience:
• “in Christ,” or “in Christ Jesus,” or simply “in him”

The mystery of Jesus is that he makes his home in us
God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27)
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20)
– in fact, Jesus becomes one with his followers
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:31-32)

The mystery of Jesus is forgiveness
Hanna Arendt argues, once an action is performed, can’t be undone-
– possible redemption from “the predicament of irreversibility . . . is the faculty of forgiveness.” “Without being forgiven, released from the consequences of what we have done, our capacity to act would, as it were, be confined to one single deed from which we could never recover; we would remain the victims of its consequences forever . . . .”
• although I would take issue with the term “discoverer,” I do agree mostly with her point that the “discoverer of the role of forgiveness in the realm of human affairs was Jesus of Nazareth.”
• notice how Jesus puts forgiveness in the same class as working miracles
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses (Mk. 11:24-25)
– the generosity of God’s forgiveness through Christ is unexplainable
• equally baffling is fact, he passes on to us ability to forgive

Conclusion: The day to day mystery of our life is that
Surely the LORD is in this place and I did not know it (Gen. 28:16)
– Jacob came to this realization only when he awoke from his sleep
• we will be aware of more of God’s mysteries when we wake up to them

We need to experience God – frequently
– without experience, we forget – how near he is, forget to trust
• it’s like losing a language we had once learned
• if we do not experience it by hearing and speaking it, we lose it
– experiences of God are available to us at all times
• every genuine prayer is an encounter with God
Karl Rahner, “While remaining silent, God is in that depth of our being which opens up to us only when we humbly allow ourselves to be embraced by mystery without wishing to take charge of it. If this happens, then Christmas has already happened in us, the arrival of God, which Christianity says happens by God’s grace, which is granted to those who do not resist it . . . .”

Can we develop a sensitivity to mystery?
To the beauty of the infinite hidden in this moment?
Well, we will try won’t we?
This week’s preparation for Christmas
will be looking not only for the colorful lights
and holiday decorations,
but for the intimations of mystery
that God has hidden in all the old things
as well as new things,
in old places as well as new places,
in the familiar faces
and the faces of strangers
Seek and you will find

Nov 30 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 29, 2020

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark 1:1

Intro: This is the Sunday we begin preparing ourselves for Christmas

We start with what Mark calls the beginning of the good news
– Mark doesn’t take us back to the birth of Jesus,
• but to the birth of his ministry, the hour he was baptized
• this was not the beginning of a brand new story,
◦ it was a new episode of a bigger, older story,
. . . when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:4-6)
◦ the story of Jesus emerges from Israel’s long history with God
– and now we jump from Mark to Hebrews
• we entered Hebrews this year about the time of our first lockdown,
◦ and spent thirty-six weeks taking a close up look at what’s there
• today we’ll view Hebrews from 30,000 feet
◦ try to grasp its entire landscape, even if we miss many details
◦ with this review of Hebrews, we’ll launch ourselves into Advent season

What is the message of Hebrews?
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, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. Hebrews 1:1-4

The message of Hebrews is the same message of whole Bible
– God has spoken and continues to speak to humankind
• his first recorded words: And God said, “Let there be light . . .”
◦ for first six days, God’s only tool was his creative word
◦ he did not roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty until formed the human (Gen. 2:7)
• God’s message has always had one purpose:
◦ to reveal himself to those he made in his image
◦ reveal his intention, his goodness, his love
– John’s gospel opens, In the beginning was the Word
• here it is again, God’s creative Word–only here it is personalized
◦ from here, John builds to,
And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14)
◦ then further, and to make his point clear, John writes,
No one has ever seen God; the only God who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (Jn. 1:18)
• the message of Hebrews is the fullest unfolding of God’s word,
◦ summed up and reaching its climax in Jesus Christ, the Son of God
◦ what is revealed is not mere ideas and propositions, but primarily a person
– everything God had spoken prior to Jesus, was in reference to Jesus
“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (Lk. 24:44-45)
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me (Jn. 5:39)

God sometimes spoke through angels
(see Heb. 2:2; Acts 7:53)

The writer Hebrews had to make it clear that Jesus was not an angel
– he pulled out a cluster of Old Testament quotes to make his point
• humans are lower than the angels (Heb. 2:7)
• and Jesus became one of us,
◦ but he was always more than human or angelic
Richard Bauckham, “To be above the angels is to be God, to be below the angels is to be human. Above the angels, Jesus transcends all creation, sharing the divine identity as Creator and Ruler even of the angels. Below the angels, Jesus shares the common identity of earthly humans in birth, suffering and death.”
– the writer reminds us, we don’t see ourselves as all God has destined us
• but we see Jesus – and this vision is what we hang onto
◦ the writer tells us to consider Jesus, God’s ambassador and mediator (3:1)
• he compares him with Moses – to whom God spoke his law
◦ John made a somewhat different comparison, but it cuts to the point
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:17)
◦ Moses was a faithful servant, but at a critical point he failed
◦ he was not able to get Israel out of the wilderness into the land of promise

Joshua took up where Moses left off

He brought Israel into the land
– however, he wasn’t able to lead them into their spiritual destiny
• the problem was with the people
◦ God’s diagnosis of their problem was their hardened hearts
• and behind those hard hearts was unbelief (Heb. 3:15-19)
◦ this sets up one of big ideas in Hebrews: the necessity of faith
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he is and that he rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6)
– Israel’s spiritual destiny was to rest in their trust in God
• the writer wants us to reach that destiny in Jesus
◦ it is not merely rest from trouble or chaos, but rest even in trouble or chaos
◦ it is a soul rest that allows us to move through life without anxiety (Mt. 11:28-30)
• we don’t have to create this rest or earn it, the work has been completed (Heb. 4:3)
◦ the door is open – we just have to enter
– it is here we discover God’s word is living and active,
• it will find us and reveal what is inside us
• whether it is what unites us with God or keeps us from coming to him

Jesus is more than angels, Moses, Joshua, and now Israel’s priests

The writer begins this comparison and contrast with a radiant statement,
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:14-15)
– and through Jesus, our high priest, we can
with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (4:16)
• we learn how Jesus was appointed by God to this role
◦ and how he was qualified to fulfill it through what he suffered (Heb. 5:5-9)
– this long section of Hebrews educates in the roles and duties of the priests
• but just as the writer is about to go deep into into it, he stops
◦ he explains that there’s a problem, and it is their failure to thrive (Heb. 5:11-14)
• it is like Jesus with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus
◦ they had all pertinent information, but they were missing its meaning
O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! (Lk. 24:25)

By this point in our overview, we see a pattern
– alternating currents of instruction and warning flow through Hebrews
• so the writer prefaces his teaching on Jesus’ priesthood,
◦ with a severe caution
– returning to his subject, the writer can now dive deep
• being a high priest, Jesus is allowed into God’s inner sanctum
◦ not on earth, but in heaven – the real deal
• there he has secured an anchor of the soul
◦ a sure and steadfast hope (Heb. 6:19-20)

We learn that there is not one, but two priestly orders
– they run parallel to each other – they never overlap
• one is the order of Levi – the other is order of Melchizedek
• Jesus belongs to the second
◦ the Levitical priesthood was necessary and effective
◦ but Jesus accomplished everything the other order could not

The new covenant

In carrying out his work as high priest, Jesus became the guarantor of a better covenant (Heb. 7:20-21)
– a covenant is a treaty or agreement that binds two parties in a relationship
• Israel constantly broke God’s covenant with them
◦ God’s solution was to re-write a new covenant, on their hearts
• he made this happen in Jesus
– this brings us to another radiant passage in Hebrews
Therefore, brothers [and sisters], since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Heb. 10:19-22)

Draw near is one of the key themes in Hebrews and appears in a variety of contexts. If we were to ask the writer of Hebrews, “What is worship?” his answer would have been, “It means to draw near to God.” Everything we do as followers of Jesus and in his name is a drawing near to God. This includes not only prayer, praise, and reading the Scriptures, but also our excursions into nature, our interaction with other Christians, and living by faith in God as we walk and work in the world.

• this is followed by a record of people who lived by faith (Heb. ch. 11)
◦ from them we learn what faith is and what it looks like in real life
• but our ultimate example is not the men and women listed here
◦ but Jesus, the founder and perfecter of faith
◦ we are to look to Jesus as we run the faith race
and we are to consider him (Heb. 12: 1-3)
– in light of what Jesus endured, we have two important reminders:
first, everything we suffer can be regarded as discipline (Heb. 12:7-12)
◦ a necessary stage of education and enhanced performance
◦ also, a validation of our relationship with God and his love for us
second, where Jesus has brought us (Heb. 12:18-29)
◦ Mount Zion, the spiritual city of God
◦ which is contrasted Mount Sinai, which is where Moses led Israel

The Book of Hebrews trails off with practical concerns

Inserted among them is this important revelation:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever
– Jesus completes the story of God
• he fills in all the missing pieces
• and he meets us in our story
◦ our journey, regardless of how crazy it gets,
◦ takes us closer to God every day

Conclusion: In preparation for Christmas day, here is what we can do

Consider Jesus, look to Jesus, draw close to Jesus
– take a story from one of the gospels and sit with it
• contemplating the scene as it unfolds before you
◦ observe the characters in the story
◦ notice how they interact with Jesus
• let you imagination help you see and hear how Jesus responded
◦ then hang on to whatever truth or insight emerges
◦ write it down and keep it as a reminder

I’ve been thinking about something I watched many times as a child. “Christmas Comes But Once A Year” is an old black and white cartoon that was written in 1936. It begins in an orphanage on Christmas morning as the orphans wake up and jump out of bed with excitement. They run into the main hall of the orphanage, where we see the saddest looking Christmas tree ever. They open packages and pull out what appears to be old and worn out toys and stuffed animals that have seen better days. And as they begin to play with their toys, they immediately break and fall apart. Soon every heart is broken and every child is crying as they drag themselves back into the dormitory and weep on their beds.
An old guy in a sleigh, with “Professor Grampy — Inventor” emblazoned on the side, passes the orphanage and hears all the crying. Looking through the window, he sees the broken toys and broken hearts. He enters the kitchen and starts gathering every utensil and gadget he can find. Soon he has fabricated a host of make-shift toys. He then disguises himself as Santa Claus, and rings a bell in the doorway of the dormitory. The children again jump out of bed, elated to see Santa and discover their new toys. Soon the orphanage is glowing with Christmas magic and the laughter of children.

If such cartoons can carry a message, I think this would be:
Christmas cannot be broken
not by pain, not by poverty, not by loss, or any other hardship
Oh, the materialistic holiday can collapse
Even the nostalgic memories of warm family gatherings
(that few of us actually experienced) can disappear
But not the holy day

After all, Jesus entered the world in poverty,
he was born into a dark, chill night
Coming to earth,
he brought light and exuded warmth
Now, with his compassion and our creativity,
we can take the pieces of Christmas that we have
and reconstruct this season of joy
Ring the bells,
Joy to the world, the Lord has come
once again

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