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Sep 14 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 13, 2020

Podcast

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. Hebrews 11:23

Intro: Today we turn a corner in this chapter

The people we meet in these verses risked their lives knowingly
– why? Because they recognize it was right thing to do–the thing that had to be done
• integrity is knowing right thing and doing it regardless of cost
Loveday Alexander, “. . . as we move into the story of Moses and the exodus, we find faith becoming progressively more costly. Faith involves a choice, a voluntary loss of status, identification with a despised people, being prepared to share ‘the reproach of Christ.’ It means looking beyond the seen to the unseen reward, but if the rewards are greater, so too are the all-to-visible hardships.”
• at present there is a notable absence of integrity in government, the corporate world, and the personal lives of many people
– integrity makes right choices and faith supports right actions
Timothy L. Johnson, “Distinctive to this part of the exposition is the necessity for faith to make hard choices for God in the face of danger, human wrath, and dishonor.”
• and I would add, in face of loss of status, wealth, and pleasures of sin
• how did they maintain their high standard of integrity? By faith
◦ trust in God gives integrity a reason, because it promises a future
Who shall ascend to the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully
.
He will receive the blessing from the LORD
and his righteousness from the God of his salvation (Psa. 24:3-5)

Faith makes fear irrelevant

The story of Moses’ faith does not begin with Moses
– it begins with his parents
• the infant Moses was hidden — he did not hide himself
• Exodus does not mention the faith of Moses’ parents
◦ but their faith is demonstrated by their actions
◦ and that is the message of this chapter – By faith
– a parent’s faith, when real, can do a great deal of good for their child
• nurturing a small child’s spirit includes “hiding” them from corruption and abuse
◦ providing a shield and within it forming healthy attachments
• that Moses survived infancy was the result of his parents’ faith

There were two motivations behind their actions
– the word translated beautiful literally means “from the city”
• someone who has the right look
◦ in Acts 7:20, Stephen adds to beautiful, in God’s sight
• Moses’ parents saw in their infant son the same quality God saw
– secondly, they were not afraid of king’s command
• many good people have been compromised by fear
◦ faith doesn’t back down when threatened
◦ this is not the same as being foolhardy or belligerent
• sometimes we know we’ll suffer for doing the right thing
◦ but we go ahead and do it
◦ it’s not that we aren’t afraid, but we don’t let fear get in our way
Kent Hughes, “Israel’s deliverance began with an obscure couple believing God in the midst of darkness.”

Faith makes sacrifices
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. Hebrews 11:24-26

When he was grown up – he is now his own man
– he makes his own decisions
• the examples given involve dual-action decisions
◦ that is, a decision that has two sides
• the first dual-action consists of refusing and choosing

Only rarely is integrity as simple as responding to temptation by saying, “I do not want this.” At times, the vortex of worldly temptation is so great that it seems we are sucked into it against our will. At other times, we feel that compromise and corruption are being forced upon us. There is no doubt that sin can be appealing and promise a variety of pleasures. Yet it will always result in more harm than good. In those instances, we cannot be weak, but must take a stand and adamantly refuse the temptation we are being offered.

• lots of people would think, “Couldn’t Moses have greater success in working for Israel if he took a high position where he would be working with powerful and influential people?”
◦ perhaps, but that would also place him in a precarious environment
◦ there he would be exposed to the fleeting pleasures of sin
◦ and there his efforts would be compromised by the inherent corruption of the system
• as Moses saw it, he had to be among his people
◦ his choice was to identify with his people – and suffer with them

What sort of calculations did he make that led to his decision?
he considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt
– Moses lived more than 1,000 years before Christ,
• how could he identify with the reproach of Christ?
◦ we read of Jesus’ reproach in Paul’s letter to the Romans
Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me’” (Ro. 15:2-3)
◦ Paul was quoting a psalm
For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me
(Ps. 69:9)
• notice how this verse connects zeal in one line and reproach in the next
◦ Jesus’ disciples saw in his actions a fulfillment of the first line (Jn. 2:17)
◦ Paul and the writer of Hebrews saw in Jesus a fulfillment of the second line
– that Moses chose the reproach of Christ relates more to the readers of Hebrews than to him
• they had also experienced “reproach” (Heb. 10:33)
• shame is unpleasant in any culture
◦ it can be damaging to a person and family both socially and emotionally
◦ it’s especially brutal in honor/shame cultures, where honor is the bedrock of a prosperous life and shame is the undoing of a family
• the writer sees Jesus as being at the heart of human history
(God’s ultimate revelation, Heb. 1:1-3)
◦ Jesus’ cross and resurrection extend to all of human history
◦ what Jesus has done embraces all that came before him as well as after
– reading this statement back through time,
• Moses made his choice for Christ
◦ even though he did not have that specific insight at the time
• however, the readers of Hebrews did have that insight
◦ they knew that going the way of God always means going with Christ
– making Moses’ choice is not an easy one for us to make
• the other option–that of great worldly wealth–
◦ is seductive and easy to rationalize
◦ but it also results in slavery

Looking to the reward — again we are reminded of two faith facts:
1.) faith sets its eyes on what is ahead; it is conditioned by the future
2.) faith believes that God is and that he rewards those who seek him (v. 6)

Faith takes risks
By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. Hebrews 11:27

This has bothered me for some time – Moses was afraid
Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian (Ex. 2:14)
– I am not certain how we are supposed to reconcile these two accounts
(though I have read a number of different attempts to do so)
• our writer was too well acquainted with the Scriptures he uses to have made a mistake
• perhaps he is saying that faith, not fear was his primary motive for leaving
– but where would he go? How would he survive?
• these questions reveal the faith part of his adventure
◦ and it echoes Abraham’s faith-journey, who went out not knowing where he was going (v. 8)

Important for the author is that Moses endured as seeing the invisible
– the endurance of his readers was one of his key concerns
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive the promise (Heb. 10:36)
• Abraham, last week, was tested – there were tests for his readers
• and there will be tests for us
◦ we have our everyday little trials
◦ we’re also slammed with life-altering big trials
– writer tells us we must endure the tests and trials
• we must keep getting up and doing what we always do
• knocked down, get back up
◦ don’t give up on God, don’t give up on others, don’t give up on yourself
◦ don’t give up
seeing the invisible – this is how faith rolls (2 Cor. 4:18)

Faith follows directions
By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. Hebrews 11:28

Within the verse the writer shifts from the singular he to the plural them
– the people of Israel become active participants in this act of faith
– Passover had to do with Israel’s immediate salvation
• but it also with their permanent liberation from slavery
• every year they remember this moment with reverence
◦ what the exodus was to Israel (salvation), the cross is to Christians
◦ what Passover means to them, the Lord’s Supper means to us

Faith moves with God’s will
By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. Hebrews 11:29

Escaping Egypt was not enough
– their slavery to the Egyptians had to end
• that could only happen if the power Egypt held over them was broken
• otherwise, a free slave may only be a runaway slave
– God eliminated the Egyptian threat so that Israel could belong to him
You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself (Ex. 19:4)

Faith doesn’t worry about looking silly
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. Hebrews 11:30

The writer skips over Israel’s forty years in the wilderness
– he has already informed us that was a failed moment in their history
• they were stuck there for their disobedience
• so he jumps ahead to Israel’s first victory in the land of promise
◦ and here they engaged in seven days of a strange military campaign
– more than once in Israel’s history,
• God set up circumstances to make his intervention obvious
• he wants us to trust him to do what is impossible for us (Mk. 10:27)
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that overcomes the world—our faith (1 Jn. 5:4)

Conclusion: In this chapter, the message of faith is told in stories

That is where faith operates, in the stories of the lives of his people
– beliefs are communicated in forms other forms
• beliefs are recorded and recited in concepts or propositions
• faith, however, is what we live
Len Sweet, “Christians don’t just tell the story of Jesus.” “Christians live the story of Jesus.”

You will be living the next episode of your story this week
Write it with integrity
Write it in faith
Sometime in the future,
someone will be telling others your story,
and at some point that person will say,
“By faith she overcame every hardship”
or
“By faith he endured to the end of the race”
For now, think about the plot that forms this week
and write it well,
because as long as we’re here
there is always more to tell

Sep 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 6, 2020

Podcast

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham arose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. Genesis 22:1-2

Intro: Hebrews chapter 11 can be summed up in two words: By faith

The six verses we dive into today share a sub-theme, which is death
– not in a dark context, but rather in the light of faith and hope
• faith is not short-sighted – it can see a future beyond end of my life
• the big idea in these verses is that faith owns the future
For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s (1 Cor. 4:21-23)
– this passage takes us to one of the most bizarre stories in the Scriptures

At least we’re warned from the outset, God tested Abraham
– the circumstances under the conditions of a test are unique
• tests are performed to determine strength, quality, integrity, etc.
◦ God begins with a dramatic statement
Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love
(the first time that “love” appears in the Bible)
• from that point, the story gets dicey
◦ “Take what you love, and kill it”
– our first difficult question is Why would God use a test like this?
• our second difficulty is why would Abraham go along with it?
◦ why didn’t he hesitate? why didn’t he negotiate with God
(as in Gen. 18:23-33, where Abraham negotiated for pagan cities)
• the story moves rapidly – this is the nature of life’s tests
◦ they come suddenly, demand action, and give us no time to prepare

Everyone I know who has read this story found it to be upsetting
– later, God himself would say of child sacrifice,
I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind that they should do this abomination (Jer. 32:35)
– so what’s the point? Perhaps God was asking Abraham,
“Am I everything to you? Am I more than all the promises and blessings?”
• maybe it is like when Jesus asked Peter,
Do you love me more than than these? (Jn. 21:15)
◦ we might be tempted to answer glibly, “Of course”
• but perhaps God wants us to wrestle with the question
◦ “What if I ask for what is most precious? The unthinkable?”
◦ the question digs at the roots of what is most important to us
– it’s okay to give God an honest answer
• but still, it would require long and seriously thought

How does the writer of Hebrews interpret Abraham’s story?
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” Hebrews 11:17-18

The writer assumes his readers are familiar with the story
– his synopsis moves as quickly as the Genesis account
• but what he sees in the story is that God was testing Abraham’s faith
(not his loyalty, as I suggested)
◦ James also regards this as a test of faith (Jas. 2:21-22)
• as if God said, “If I do this, will you still trust Me? Still believe My word?”
– Abraham considered that God was able – same word used of Sarah (v. 11)
Sarah counted on God’s faithfulness
Abraham counted on on God’s power
• Abraham trusted God to fulfill his promises,
◦ even if that meant raising Isaac from the dead
• after all, Isaac’s birth and life were already a miracle
◦ parents who regarding having a child were as good as dead (Ro. 4:19)
◦ would it be any more difficult for God to raise the dead?

Then the writer adds a comment that should not surprise us
– Abraham did receive Isaac back from dead figuratively speaking
• there is a different Greek word for figures of speech (cf. Jn. 16:25)
◦ the word used here is parable, which appears only in the Synoptic gospels and Hebrews
• a parable is a story or situation that has two meanings
◦ by analogy, a parable uses one thing is used to explain another
– in Hebrews, the Old Testament sanctuary was a parable (Heb. 9:9)
(remember, in chapters 8-10, the former earthly objects and rituals were copies and shadows of heavenly realities, which were opened to us through Jesus)
• now Isaac’s story is a parable – the heavenly reality is Jesus’ resurrection
• what happens if we go back and read the whole story this way?
◦ as if Isaac were in general a type of Christ
◦ we might find hints of Jesus in other details of Isaac’s story
(this could include details from Genesis chapter 24 as well)
1. technically, Isaac was not an “only” son — Ishmael was thirteen years older than Isaac
• but Isaac was the promise, the one that God would sponsor (Ge. 17:18-19)
◦ in John 1:11, we have become God’s children
◦ but in John 1:14 and 1:18, Jesus is God’s only Son
(the same Greek word here used of Isaac)
2. if the temple was built on Mt Moriah (2 Chr. 3:1), where Isaac was almost sacrificed, then that would be the same mount where Jesus was crucified
3. Isaac was obedient to the will of his father, as was Jesus (Heb. 10:7)
4. Isaac carried the wood for the sacrifice, as Jesus carried his cross (Jn. 19:17)
5. Isaac asked about the animal to offer, and was told, Yahweh will provide
. . . as it is said to this day, “on the mount of the LORD it shall be provided” (Ge. 22:14)
– now these (and other) parallels were either:
• inspired by God and meant to be discovered
• or else evidence of our own clever imaginations
◦ but it is interesting to wonder the various ways that the Scriptures may bear witness of Jesus (Jn. 5:39-40)
◦ and we cannot rule out typology

Abraham’s faith enabled him to see beyond Isaac’s death
– he did not let go of hope
• his trust in God reassured him that the promises would be fulfilled

The writer speeds through next three names on list
By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.
By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.
By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. Hebrews 11:20-22

Three brief sentences cover Abraham’s son, grandson, and great-grandson
– all three were near death
(only of Isaac does the writer not mention that he was near death, but in the story of him giving his blessings, he said to Esau, My son . . . . Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death . . . . prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that my soul may bless you before I die (Gen. 27:1-4)
• in my dad’s biography, he talks about the benefit of being a senior citizen
◦ we reach an age when it is possible to see our whole life in perspective
◦ instead of events that seem random or meaningless, you can connect the dots so that a meaningful configuration appears — and it all makes sense
He says, “Everything is preparation for something else”
•all three of these patriarchs were looking beyond their deaths–By faith

The word “blessing” appears all through Genesis
(the only book where bless or blessing appears more times is the Psalms)
– in the first chapter, God blesses all living creatures, and then the humans
• in chapter 2, he blesses the Sabbath
◦ then, at the proper time, God gives his blessing to Abraham
I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you . . . and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed (Gen. 12:2-3)
• at some point, fathers began giving blessings to their sons
• and when worship became formalized,
◦ the priests pronounced blessing on worshipers and the nation
– blessings in the Old Testament focus especially on fertility, health, and peace (De. 7:13-15)
Sigmund Mowinckel, “Blessing is the basic power of life itself.”
Claus Westermann, “The act of blessing, berekh, means imparting vital power to another person. The one who blesses gives the other person something of his own soul. The handing on of blessing from father to son is a result of its being a power of the soul.”
• fathers walked their sons through a simple ritual
◦ combining words and actions – the words were poetic
◦ the actions usually included touch
(a formal act, such as placing a hand on the son’s head, or a more intimate touch as with a kiss)
• these were basic elements, but there was room for creativity
– most importantly, the fathers looked to God to guarantee and supply the blessing
• the blessing was like a prayer, but not a request
• it was more like a spiritual “Will and Testament”

Last week I said God enjoys a person with outrageous faith
-Isaac’s faith was not outrageous – he was a quiet man
• he was not an initiator – life happened to him
• the writer’s depiction of Isaac’s blessings looks brighter than they were
– but our writer is not concerned with the details, but just the act itself
• Isaac looked to the future, as if it were as real as the present
• being certain of it, he could pass on his blessings and die in peace

Jacob’s faith was outrageous – almost scandalous
– “If God is with me, then I’m going to grab up all that’s coming to me”
• his blessing takes up an entire chapter in Genesis
• and he gave it, as the writer says, when dying
◦ for our writer, Jacob used this opportunity to worship God
◦ Jacob recalls all the ways God has been with him through life
– he was fully aware that his blessing was prophetic
• he knew that in the future, the younger brother would outshine his older brother

Of the three, Joseph’s faith is the most impressive
– and like the others, he gave this speech at end of his life
– Joseph never forgot his family or his God – talked about him openly
• to his master’s wife, to a prison warden, with prisoners, and to Pharaoh
◦ and God never forgot him – the LORD was with Joseph (Gen. 39:2, 21, 23; 41:38-39)
• Joseph knew Israel would be leaving Egypt
(God had revealed this to Abraham when he entered a covenant with him Ge. 15:13-14)
◦ it mattered to Joseph where his bones would end up
◦ this was his way of participating in God’s promises

Conclusion: If you were a super hero, what would be your power?

Use your imagination
– you do have a super power; you have the power to bless others
• to transmit some of your energy toward others
◦ through words and actions
◦ or perhaps with a smile or gentle touch
• when my friend Pat drives past our street, he throws us a blessing
◦ he does this to the homes of his other friends who live in our community
◦ he prays for others, but as a priest he blesses them too

Am I able to give my blessing to the next generation?
If they have different ideas than mine? Take a different path?
Or will I try to horde what God has given me?
Control what I’ve built or collected?
And will I set things up before I die, so I’m still exercising control from the grave?

You are a wellspring of blessings
From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers [and sisters], these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? (Jas. 2:10-11)
Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you might obtain a blessing (1 Pe. 3:9)

Throw blessings to others
and trust God to land them where they will do the most good
Let’s do what we can to bring light and joy,
comfort and peace,
the grace of God and the love of Jesus
Let’s be generous with our blessings
and heal our broken world

Aug 31 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 30, 2020

Podcast

Intro: In the bulk of this chapter, the writer shows us what faith looks like

In the verses we’ll cover today, faith looks much like a moving van
– the journey of faith is no vacation, but an indefinite homelessness
• with all of the stress that entails
• faith looks like an endless series of transitions
– this past week, I was counting for a friend all the schools I attended through the twelfth grade
• three elementary schools, three junior high, and two high schools
◦ being the new kid was no fun
• Abraham’s nomadic adventures were no fun for him either

Three of the verses we will read begin, By faith
– two times it refers to the husband’s faith and once to the wife

Abraham: First, faith looks like responsiveness to God
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. Hebrews 11:8

Abraham obeyed God — when he was called to go out, he went out
• he was not headed for a home that he already owned
◦ eventually he would receive a place as an inheritance,
◦ but it was not yet his, and he had no word as to when it would become his
• not only that, but when he left the family homestead,
◦ he did not even know where he was going
– we too have a calling (Heb. 3:1) and like Abraham we also are on the road
(whether or not you are aware of being on it)

Howard Marshall, “If they are still a traveling people, they are the traveling people of God, moving towards a destination rather than wandering aimlessly.”
– I do not disagree with this statement, but I would qualify it
• sometimes it feels like we’re wandering aimlessly
◦ not all of Abraham’s movements were deliberate
(he was driven out of Egypt and Philistine territory)
• he had a destination, he just didn’t know what or where it was
– Jesus’ disciples wrestled with this same difficulty
• when Jesus told them he was about to leave them, he added,
“And you know the way to where I am going.”
◦ but Thomas objected, saying,
“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (Jn. 14:4-5)
◦ the unknown “where” is what we’ve learned about faith, that it is
the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1)
• where’s our destination? where’s heaven? you can’t point to it on any map
◦ we do not have to know the where if we know the way
◦ and Jesus is the way, so we follow him — just keep going

The second by faith: faith looks like heading into the unknown
By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. Hebrews 11:9

In verse 8 Abraham went out and in verse 9 he went in
– literally, he migrated to or sojourned in (a land; cf. Ge. 26:3)
• there are three Greek words I want to share with you
(there’s no need to remember them or think they’re vital, but they give us an idea of the dimensions of Abraham’s unsettled existence)
◦ the first is paroikeo – a visitor, a foreigner
• Abraham arrived in the land God promised, but as a foreigner
◦ he had to negotiate with the locals for only bit of property he ever owned
And Abraham rose up from before his dead and said to the Hittites, “I am a sojourner and a foreigner among you; give me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead (Ge. 23:3-4)

Living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of same promise
– Abraham never owned a house and never lived on his own property
• Jesus said,
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Mt. 5:5)
• but for now they live on the earth as foreigners

The writer provides explanation for why Abraham lived this way
For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. Hebrews 11:10

Here the writer introduces a new key term – the city
– this should surprise us, because there was nothing in God’s promise to Abraham regarding a city
• the writer is looking beyond all the material promises
◦ remember in chapters 3 and 4, God’s rest wasn’t the land of Canaan?
◦ it was something more, and though Joshua brought Israel into the land of promise, he could not get them into God’s rest
• in same way that the temple was a prototype of the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 8:1-5),
◦ Jerusalem was a prototype of Mt. Zion, the heavenly city
you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22)
– the Greek word for city is polis – the root of “politics”
• from the New Testament times to the fourth century Christians stayed out of politics
◦ our city is the same city Abraham was looking forward to
◦ and it and its politics are not of this world (cf. Jn. 18:36)
Hannah Arendt, “Historically, we know of only one principle that was ever devised to keep a community of people together who had lost their interest in the common world and felt themselves no longer related and separated from it. To find a bond between people strong enough to replace the world was the main political task of early Christian philosophy . . . .” (According to St. Augustine, she tells us, that principle is love, and she says that it is) “well chosen” and “admirably fit to carry a group of worldless people through the world . . . provided only that it is understood that with the proviso (‘as long as the world lasts’).”
• let’s say, our next president is not the one you chose
◦ it makes no difference in terms of how we proceed
◦ there is only one way for a Christian to journey in this word, and it is by faith
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Php. 3:20)
◦ so regardless of the outcome of the next election, we’ll continue on in faith

That this city has foundations tells us it is an established reality
– that it already exists
• further more, God is the one who designed and built it
• the design does not have to do with streets, buildings, and green belts
◦ but with its spiritual and social architecture
◦ its environment of perfect peace
– Abraham was looking forward
• our ability to endure in faith depends entirely on where we’re looking
◦ or to whom we are looking
• and this is where chapter 11 is taking us
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2)

The third by faith: faith looks like believing the impossible
By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. Hebrews 11:11-12

When he says Sarah was past the age, he means past menopause
– not only had she been unable to have children, it was now too late
• the story of Abraham and Sarah is really delightful
◦ neither one of them responded with faith immediately
◦ rather, God’s promise struck both of them as very funny
Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Ge. 17:17)
So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” (Ge. 18:12)
• notice, they both spoke these words only to themselves
◦ but with God present, you might as well be talking out loud as thinking to yourself
The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh . . .?” But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh” (even this exchange I find very funny; Ge. 18:14-15)
◦ so when the miracle baby was born, named him laughter (Isaac)
And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me” (Ge. 21:6)
– how did Sarah demonstrate her faith?
• by considering, or counting on God’s faithfulness
◦ this is something the writer has wanted for his readers
◦ for us to respond to God’s faithfulness with our own faithfulness to him
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful (Heb. 10:23)
• the writer says something about Abraham that Paul also said
◦ he was as good as dead
◦ but to this hopelessly infertile couple were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore (this language is drawn directly from Genesis 22:17)

The writer’s commentary on Part 1 of Abraham’s story
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. Hebrews 11:13-16

They lived by faith and died in faith
– here is one thing they did not have and two things they did have:
did not: not having received the promises – they were never settled
did: having seen them and greeted them – from afar

Forgive me this short family story. On a December weekend, years ago, friends invited Barbara and I to join them in Newport Beach for the annual boat parade. Watching all the decorated boats float by, we heard the sound of music blaring from the other side of the harbor. It was not only Christmas music, but worship choruses as well. We could barely make out the distant figures, but I was convinced I could see my mom and dad sitting in the stern of the ferry-like boat.
Now when my brother and I were off playing somewhere and my dad wanted to call us home, he would stand on the front porch and using his thumb and forefinger, produce a loud whistle that could be heard several blocks away. We had our own, specific whistle, and when I heard Dad’s whistle, I would whistle back as Jeff and I ran home. So that night in the Newport harbor, I whistled into the dark, and I could see my folks sit up straight and look around. There was no way they could spot us, but Dad put his hand to his mouth and whistled back. We knew we were both there and we made a connection.
That is what I think of when I read that Abraham and his family greeted God’s promises from afar. God whistled to Abraham, and Abraham whistled back as he headed home.

did: having acknowledged – now those other two Greek words
strangersxeno: a sojourner passing through
(Abraham never became one of the locals)
exilesparapidemos: a resident alien (both words appear in Ge. 23:3)
– Stanley Hauerwas has argued that America is not a Christian nation
• that we live here as resident aliens in a foreign land
• there is significant biblical weight to his understanding of our situation

Verses 14-15 tell us that Abraham and his family looking for their own country
– they were not at home where they sojourned
• and they could not return to where they had lived before
◦ they could not even think of going back
– we do not look back to our past lives, because if we did:
• like Lot’s wife, we would get stuck and never escape our past
• or looking back would be first the stage in going back
William Barclay explains “point of no return” refers to a plane when it reaches a distance in which it does not have enough fuel to return; the “point of no return.” Since it would not make it back to the airport it left, it must continue one to its destination. He says, Once people have “set out on the Christian way, [they] should feel that [they have] already passed the point of no return.”
a better country – the one for which Jesus taught us to pray:
Let your name be revered,
Let your kingdom come,
Let your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven

Briefly, two final thoughts:
God is not ashamed to be called their God — beautiful!
– and Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters (Heb. 2:11)
he has prepared for them a city
– just as Jesus has prepared a place for us (Jn. 14:2-3)

Conclusion: What is the lesson here?

The way you got to where you are, is the way you continue on, by faith
Don’t get too comfortable
Do not get over-involved or over-invested in this world
We are not staying here forever

In the meantime, consider ramping up your faith,
believing God for something really big
I’m convinced that God enjoys people whose faith is outrageous,
perhaps like that for which Rainer Rilke prayed

I Have Faith
I have faith in all those things that are not yet said.
I want to set free my most holy feelings.
What no one has dared to want
will be for me impossible to refuse.

If that is presumption, then, my God, forgive me.
However, I want to tell you this one thing:
I want my best strength to be like a shoot,
with no anger and no timidity, as a shoot is;
this is the way the children love you.

With these ebbing tides, with these mouths
opening their deltas into the open sea,
with these returns, that keep growing,
I want to acknowledge you, I want to announce you,
as no one ever has before.

And if that is arrogance, then I will stay arrogant
for the sake of my prayer,
that is so sincere and solitary
standing before your cloudy forehead.
(trans. by Robert Bly)

Aug 24 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 23, 2020

Podcast

Intro: Reading the New Testament we constantly bump into faith

Jesus stressed it, pointing out instances of little faith and great faith
– Paul practically wore out the word faith
(faith appears almost forty times alone in his letter to the Romans)
• but the writer of Hebrews gives the fullest explanation of faith
• beginning in chapter 10, he reminded us of God’s declaration,
my righteous one shall live by faith (Heb. 10:38)
◦ then he defined faith in chapter 11 verse 1:
Faith is resting in the assurance that we will receive the things we hope for, the certainty of having things that are now invisible (my paraphrase)
◦ he follows that with numerous examples of others who lived by faith
– like I said last week, this is a magnificent chapter
• it would be hard to find a chapter that is more helpful than this
• from all these examples we learn that
Faith finds God, while unbelief gropes in the dark, and finds nothing

After the example of Abel, this second example is a little strange
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. Hebrews 11:5

The book of Genesis can be studied in sections
– each section tells us a story of a person or family
• and each section is separated from the one before it by a genealogy
◦ genealogies: those long, boring lists of “who begat who”
• we don’t expect to find much that interests us in these ancient family trees
◦ but every once in awhile, we strike gold
◦ Enoch is gold
– like Melchizedek, Enoch is a bit character with a minuscule role
• he is no more than a name in a genealogy
◦ yet he captured the imagination of biblical sages and rabbis
◦ he inspired legends and centuries later books were written in his name
• how did he make this list in Hebrews 11?

The writer quotes the Greek translation of Genesis
– in fact, he uses some of the exact same Greek words
Enoch was well-pleasing to God, and was not found, because God [had taken] him (Gen. 5:24, LXX)
• the writer tells us it was By faith that Enoch was taken up
• Genesis doesn’t say anything about Enoch’s faith,
◦ but it’s a reasonable deduction
– the writer adds God’s purpose for taking Enoch, which was so he would not see death
• follow the genealogy’s trajectory through time of fathers and sons
◦ each generation followed by the next, and they all exit the same way
and he died . . . and he died . . . and he died
• there’s only one exception – Enoch, that he should not see death
◦ Enoch is unique even in this chapter of Hebrews
These all died in faith . . . (Heb. 11:13)
death took all the others, but God took Enoch

This mystery haunts the dusty old genealogy
– how did Enoch just go from this world into–what? Heaven? Another dimension?
• God wanted Enoch immediately
◦ and wanted to spare him the experience of death
◦ it would seem that he just disappeared
and he was not found
• this phrase is echoed in another biblical story, equally strange
◦ that was when Elijah was taken into heaven
◦ a few doubtful prophets wanted to go look for him
Maybe the Spirit of the LORD dumped his body on some mountain or in a ravine (2 Ki. 2:16-18)
◦ but when they went and looked, they did not find him
– the point is, Enoch left this world because God took him out of it
• the writer says, prior to leaving he was “commended”
◦ last week we learned that’s what this chapter is all about
◦ all the people who made this list were commended (v. 2)
• his commendation was for having pleased God
◦ again, that is from the Greek translation, not the original Hebrew
◦ later I’ll explain why that’s important to me

The writer pauses to make another fundamental statement
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6

God is pleased when we know him
– when we live with him as the center and circumference of our lives
• when we choose paths that require absolute dependence on him
• otherwise, without faith it is impossible to please him
– God is pleased when we draw near to him
• this is the primary objective of Hebrews (cf. Heb. 10:22)
• so, if we are going to draw near to God, faith is what gets us there

When we move into faith, the first step is believing that God is
– not, as the verse reads, “God exists”
• God could simply exist, yet be in some faraway place
◦ we always want to add something to these two words
◦ like God is “powerful,” or “holy,” or “good,” or “love”
• but prior to those qualifiers, God simply is
◦ there is no blank that needs to be filled-in
◦ the two words are a complete statement
– this takes us back to when God revealed his name to Moses
• Moses asked God, What is your name?
◦ how did God identify and define himself to his people?
◦ in the name Yahweh–“I am”–the God who is
• God is not limited by conditions or attributes,
◦ he is not limited by space or time – he IS
◦ God is all the time, in all places, and all things to his people
– this was the special significance of God revealing his name at that particular moment in history
God saw the people—and God knew (Ex. 2:25)
This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations (Ex. 3:15)
• from his side, God says, “I am”
• in response, from our side, we say, “he is”

The second step of faith is believing that God rewards our quest
Harold Attridge, “Enoch’s faith, like that of anyone who would ‘approach’ God, is grounded in two propositions, that God exists and that he rewards those who seek him. These two affirmations are only one element of the complex portrait of faith that emerges in the chapter, but they are fundamental.”
– that he rewards us, tells us that he cares, that we matter to him
• we must believe this!
◦ we have to believe this journey is worth it,
◦ that it will be rewarded – as it was for Enoch
Luke Johnson, says of Enoch, “It was, then, his disposition of faith during his life that leads to God’s gift of continuing life.”
– I’ve frequently talked about seeking God
• so here I’ll only remind you that our search for God is not:
◦ geographical – or intellectual (an accumulation of information)
◦ neither God nor his reward are visible
Faith walks through emptiness and silence
• we seek God by focusing our attention on this present moment
◦ remembering that God is here now
◦ and God, by his Spirit, awaken our consciousness to his presence
Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it (Ge. 28:16)

Noah shares something in common with Enoch
By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. Hebrews 11:7

Noah’s life was also well-pleasing to God
– Noah’s story differs from Enoch’s in terms of what God expected of him
• God warned him of events that were at that time unseen
◦ we’ve seen, this is where faith leads us–into the unseen
• Moses response demonstrated his reverent fear
◦ this reverence was characteristic of Jesus’ prayers (Heb. 5:7)
Rudolph Otto, in his book The Idea of the Holy describes the natural, human response to holiness as “the deepest and most fundamental element in all strong and sincerely felt religious emotion.”
◦ reverence comes from a felt sense of the sacred; the uncanny power of the holy
– Noah’s faith challenge was to construct a huge ship
• it became salvation for his family
◦ salvation is a theme in Hebrews, where we find that Jesus is
the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (Heb. 5:9)
• that one person found salvation, tells us all could have had it
◦ those who rejected it were condemned by Noah’s example
◦ Noah is the first person in scripture to be referred to as righteous

Conclusion: The one thing I find most interesting in Enoch’s story

Did not interest the writer of Hebrews at all
– and that is, the original Hebrew does not say that Enoch was well-pleasing
• but that he walked with God
• Enoch did something unique
◦ something no one else in the living chain of his ancestors and descendants
– what does this mean, anyway? How does a person walk with God?
• I am not sure, but I am guessing it does not mean hike trails with God
◦ or go on long walks through a park or along the seashore

Perhaps walking with God means
• to go through life with a consciousness of God
• to constantly acknowledge God and interact with him, praying to him and thanking him
• a kind of intimacy with God
• a willing surrender to God, because to walk with him, we have to be willing to go wherever he is going
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me (Jn. 10:27)

The writer of Hebrews
shows us the possibilities of a life we’re meant to live
That life is a potential that faith actualizes
Faith walks with Jesus
. . . as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him (Col. 2:6)
This is the kind of faith that we want growing in our hearts
So that the first step we take every morning
is a continuation of our long walk with Jesus,
until one evening he turns and says to us,
“You must be tired. Why don’t you just come home with me?”

Aug 17 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 16, 2020

Podcast

Intro: Hebrews 11 is one of the magnificent passages in the Bible

It is right up there with Psalm 23, The Lord’s Prayer, and 1 Corinthians 13
– we won’t just step into Hebrews 11 – we need a running start
• last week’s passage culminated in two statements
◦ a line from the OT: my righteous one shall live by faith
◦ a line from writer: we are those who have faith
• it’s a fair question to ask, What does faith do for us?
◦ how does it make my life different from anyone else who is without faith?
◦ What is faith and what does it look like?
– Hebrews 11 gives us answers to these questions
• first, faith is defined – not with a dictionary type of definition
◦ but by explaining what faith does for us and how it challenges us
◦ then it shows us faith in living examples
Mariam Kamell, “What does . . . chap. 11 bring out with its repetition of ‘by faith’? Illustration after illustration verbally hammers home the point that these ‘heroes of the faith’ acted in a certain way as a result of their faith. Stressing an element of right content to faith, the author states in v. 3 that it is by faith we know . . . that God created the world. In addition to the knowledge, however, each of the characters here depicted acted in accordance with God’s will for them, whether it meant triumph and transformation . . . or pilgrimage and death . . . .” “. . . faith must have an active component or it is no faith at all.”
• the active component is stressed repeatedly: Abel offered, Noah constructed, Abraham obeyed, and so on
Luke Johnson observes that ch 11 begins “in a leisurely fashion, lingering over named figures,” giving details of their stories.
◦ but then it builds up speed until it gives only a rapid list of names,
◦ and by the end it lumps together a crew of unnamed heroes, and how their faith brought them to miracle and victory or suffering and martyrdom
Johnson also says “readers are advised to experience chapter 11 at least once in one go, read aloud and at full voice. Only in that fashion can its real power be fully experienced.”
– n chapter 6 verse twelve, we were told to
be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises
• now we get to meet those men and women we are to immitate

Faith, in our lives, is assurance and conviction
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

Hope cannot exist in a vacuum – it requires faith
– there have been interesting research studies on hope
• much has come from what Victor Frankl discovered in Nazi prison camps
◦ hope can be the difference between life and death
• more recently, hope accounts for:
◦ better mental and physical health
◦ improved performance (in school and work)
◦ enhancement of personal relationships
• hope is energizing
– faith supports and focuses our hope and our hope inspires and fuels faith

People we meet in this chapter did not have anything more than we have
– in fact, they had less–for instance, see verse 39
Richard Hays, “The chief emphasis of the whole chapter is not just that the biblical characters mentioned here are virtuous examples, but that their faith remained fixed on promises that were substantially unfulfilled.”
• but the “things” hope for are, in fact, substantial
◦ they exist, but their existence lies in our future
• our assurance is the knowledge that we already own those “things”
– “conviction” can be translated proof – but what does faith prove?
• William Barclay has an interesting answer: It was Pontius Pilate who condemned Jesus, but the centuries have passed and it is Jesus who is revered, while Pilate is all but forgotten
• in the future, the history of the world will prove and validate our faith

The point is, faith connects us to an invisible reality
– it’s invisible, either because the reality is still in the future,
• or because it exists in another dimension, or both
we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:18)
for we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7)
– faith is a way that we enjoy the future now
• when you order something online, do you get discouraged?
◦ do you think, “Oh, it will probably never come”?
◦ or do you look forward to that item arriving?
Dr. Joe Dispenza, “What if you knew that some issue facing you had been completely taken care of? What if you were certain that something exciting or great was about to happen to you? If you knew it without a doubt, there would be no worry, no sadness, no fear, and no stress. . . . You would be looking forward to your future.”
• that is the attitude we can have when we pray in faith, trusting in God
“If you begin to doubt, become anxious, worry, get discouraged, or overanalyze how this assistance might happen, you have undone everything that you originally accomplished. You got in your own way. . . . you lost your connection to the future that the divine mind was orchestrating for you.”
◦ faith connects us to the future that is going to be ours
◦ rejoicing as if it were already here is an expression of faith
William Barclay, “The Christian [says] that the future is not uncertain, because the future belongs to God.”

This verse could be the title of this chapter
For by it the people of old received their commendation. Hebrews 11:2

We will meet men and women of old, who lived “by faith”
– commendation translates matureo; most often translated “witness”
matureo is the origin of our English word, “martyr”
• here, it is God who gives witness, or commendation, to these heroes
– the quote I mentioned before from Habakkuk is relevant here,
my righteous one shall live by faith
• it appears three times in the New Testament (Romans and Galatians)
◦ and it is central to Paul’s theology of salvation
• all of these people were made righteous (right with God) by faith
◦ that is his witness about them–cf. Romans 4:3

A starting point for our faith
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. Hebrews 11:3

“By faith we . . .” – it’s interesting that “we” go first
– we understand something about our world
• this is where God’s will and our lives are played out
• we understand, because faith in God’s word brings enlightenment
The unfolding of your word gives light
it imparts understanding to the simple
(Ps. 119:130)
– my intellect cannot convince me that God even exists
• people of much greater intelligence could out-argue me
◦ so it comes down to a choice I make
◦ a choice for God – I choose to believe, to put my trust in him
• when I do that, something amazing happens
◦ an understanding comes to me – deeper than knowing information
◦ I experience the certainty that it is true – God, heaven, eternal life, all of it!
– faith changes our perspective
• we realize that our universe cannot explain itself
◦ something else brought it into existence, and something else sustains it
[Jesus] upholds the universe by the word of his power (Heb. 1:3)
◦ the word translated “universe” is literally ages,
◦ that which exists through time; the planet and its history – space and time
• once again, faith’s specific orbit is things that are not visible

The first example: Abel
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. Hebrews 11:4

I love this story – it is the first instance of formal worship in scripture
– but it also swirls with mystery – the first two brothers engage in worship
• one worked the soil, a farmer; the other was a shepherd
◦ how did they know to bring God an offering?
◦ who told them what they were supposed to offer him?
• there was something special about Abel’s offering
◦ Cain’s offering appears to be–ordinary
◦ that may say something about them, but it was not the issue
the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard (Ge. 4:4-5)
Notice the following:
1. God’s response was to both the person and the person’s offering
2. Afterward, God spoke to Cain, not to Abel
3. God told Cain what he needed to do to be accepted
If you do well, will you not be accepted? (Ge. 4:7)
4. God warned Cain what would happen if he did not choose to do well
We learn from this important lessons about worship:
1. Worship involves an offering, a gift we give to God
2. Worship is a dialogue with God – an interaction (cf. Gen. 12:7-8)
(the brothers waited to see whether God would accept their offerings)
3. In worship, the worshiper seeks God’s acceptance
(notice that both acceptable and accepting occur in Heb. 11:4. The issue of worship finding acceptance is emphasized all through the Scriptures, beginning in this first instance of worship)
4. The offering is inseparably bound to the worshiper
(it was not that what Cain offered was wrong, but that he was wrong:
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD (Pr. 15:8)

Again, faith is how we are made right(eous) with God
– that though Abel was dead yet “still speaks” refers to God hearing the cry of his blood from the soil (Ge. 4:10)
• Genesis does not give a specific explanation for this
• the writer of Hebrews may seen a hint here at a continued existence for Abel from God’s perspective
◦ if this seems far-fetched, wait until next week!

Conclusion: I am not going to tell you that faith is easy

But faith doesn’t look for “easy” or travel the safest roads
– faith accepts whatever God hands it, and works with that
– unlike our beliefs, faith is not about what we believe, but who we trust

Let me make a suggestion, if I may be so bold,
that every day we take a break from social media,
from television and entertainment,
from the news, whether domestic or international,
and immerse ourselves in the Scriptures

We do not need to be all the time filling our heads with trivia
We do not need to anchor our hearts and minds in this world
We need to know this awesome One
who calls us to himself
who invites us to trust him
Faith in God lifts us out of today’s fears into eternity’s calm
Every day this week,
can we try, consciously, to do one thing by faith?
One thing where our specific goal is to please God
by trusting him with something really important?

Aug 10 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 9, 2020

Podcast

Intro: The passage we are looking into this morning, Is as terrible as last week’s passage was wonderful

I have found last Sunday’s reminder to be very helpful this week
– I’ve survived and thrived on moments of “drawing near”
– but now we come to this:

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:26-31

• last night, I read this passage to Barbara
• when I finished she threw up her hands, and said,
“We’re all going to hell!”
◦ that was not what the writer intended,
◦ but it is an understandable reaction

From the beginning of our study in Hebrews, we observed its structure
– the writer provides instruction that he follows with a warning
instruction-warning, instruction-warning, etc.
• the first warning was in chapter 2, the second in chapter 3, then chapter 6
• it seems that the warnings are getting progressively scarier
– if you’ve read any of the medical reports on COVID-19,
• you know that if the symptoms manifest, they are painful and disorienting
◦ if it runs its course, the patient dies in misery (apart from hospice intervention)
◦ patients who recover may suffer permanent tissue damage to their organs
• why do some websites make a point of publishing these dire facts?
◦ to motivate people to take the virus seriously and act accordingly
– that is precisely the point of our passage
• the writer wants us to take leaving God seriously and act accordingly
• the threat is real and the consequences are tragic

This block of verses is wrapped together by one word: fearful

At the beginning fearful expectation (v. 17) and the end fearful thing (v. 31)
– this way of enveloping a text is a writer’s technique (literary device)
• placing the text within brackets makes the theme obvious
• in this case, the writer does not want us to simply know about fear,
◦ he wants us to feel it
◦ so he uses vivid images and analogy to evoke this reaction

What has the writer so worried?
– that his readers may go on sinning deliberately
• I think most of us will confess that we go on sinning
◦ we’re guilty, IF we take only the surface meaning of the phrase
◦ God has made provision for continued screw-ups
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 Jn. 2:1)
• so we have to look deeper than the surface meaning to understand the writer is getting at
– his warning is basically the same as in chapter 6
• it has to do with someone who has had an experiential knowledge of God
◦ but now they’ve turned their back on God
• “deliberately” is the key word
◦ do you remember the sacrificial offerings in Leviticus
. . . the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the LORD’s commandments about things not to be done . . ., sacrifices were provided so that the people could be forgiven (Lev. 4:1-2)
◦ but what the writer of Hebrews refers to is intentional (deliberate)
[God, to Jeroboam, the king of the northern empire of Israel] . . . you have done evil above all who were before you and have gone and made for yourself other gods and metal images, provoking me to anger, and have cast me behind your back (1 Ki. 14:9)
◦ tossing God behind your back is not something a person does accidentally

There is no way to get to God from there
– a person cannot reject Jesus and once again have the same access to God
• there’s not another sacrifice for the one who has walked away from Christ
• what there is, instead, is
a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries
– we need to appreciate the writer’s use of metaphors
• biblical scholars have recognized “literary devices” in Hebrews
◦ these are used for clarification and to make the text interesting
◦ metaphor is a grammatical device often used in scripture
• generally, it is used for effect
– what author describes is a firestorm
• you cannot outrun it, and it destroys everything
• destructive forces meant for God’s enemies will be released
◦ if you’ve gone over to other side, you’re on wrong team

All along, writer has been comparing Old Testament religion to Jesus
– frequently his logic has been “from lesser to greater”
• “how much more”
• here the comparison is with punishment under the Mosaic law,
◦ and the greater punishment one deserves for turning from Jesus
◦ the greater the privilege, the greater the responsibility (Lk. 12:48)
– what we’ve received in Jesus is infinitely great

Please bear with me – I want to go off on a brief tangent
– I do not believe that God faults people who reject Jesus,
• if the Jesus they reject is a misrepresentation
• today’s media (Christian and non-Christian) have produced many twisted caricatures of Jesus that are not Jesus
◦ I also reject those versions of Jesus that misrepresent him (cf. Gal. 1:6-9)
– but now, back to the passage

The writer emphasizes the seriousness of deliberately rejecting Jesus
– whether they know it or not, the person who walks away from God has done three things:
1. trampled underfoot the Son of God
◦ as a metaphor, trample means to show contempt, to disdain
2. profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified
◦ verse 19 showed us that Jesus’ blood is our means of access to God
◦ to treat it as if not special or not “holy” is to render it useless
3. outraged the Spirit of grace – outraged is better translated “insulted”
◦ the writer puts together two key terms: Spirit and grace
◦ both have to do with God making the Christian life possible (cf. 4:16 and 9:14)
◦ through both, God works directly in our lives
Grace: God’s disposition that explains his generosity to people who don’t deserve it
The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Ex. 34:6)
Spirit: God sharing his divine life and power that enables Christians
◦ to be witnesses in the world (Acts 1:8)
◦ to minister to each other with spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:7)
◦ to glorify God in worship and our lives (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
– to insult the Spirit is to cut off our lifeline

God’s people have a long history of not seeing sin from his perspective
• for us, sin is merely “fooling around,” and “not hurting anyone else”
• for God, sin is “adultery” — it is personal

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God
– “fearful” because as Luke T. Johnson says,
“. . . the worship of the living God is quite unlike the worship of an idol, whose existence depends on human service.”
– this is the really sad part of this passage
• what the person who walks from the Lord is doing is exactly the reverse of conversion to Jesus Christ, where as Paul says, we
turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Th. 1:9)

To help them stay the course, gives them a reminder
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised Hebrews 10:32-36

Forgetting can be the first stage of turning away
– Psalm 106 recounts Israel’s history of repeated failures
• frequently, the first step they took in the wrong direction was forgetting
they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love (v. 7)
they soon forgot his works (v. 13)
they forgot God, their Savior (v. 21
• remember in a way that you re-experience the feelings you had about God

The writer also reminds them of everything they had suffered
– and all the good they did for each other
William Barclay, “In effect he says: ‘Be what you once were at your best.’ If only we were always what we can be at our best, life would be very different.”
• if they remember these things, they will not throw away their confidence
– what all of this boils down to: You need endurance
Barclay refers to endurance it as “one of the great unromantic virtues.”

The key to endurance: faith
For,
Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
Hebrews 10:37-39

Habakkuk, one the prophets quoted here,
– lived in one of most distressing periods of Israel’s history
• God did not have a pleasant message for him
◦ but the important revelation he received to carry him through was
[God’s] righteous one shall live by faith
◦ that is how God’s people maintain their relationship with him through difficult times
– receiving this message, Habakkuk was able to end his prophecy with a song:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor the fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places
(Hab. 3:17-19)
• he is saying that nothing has to change, and he will still rejoice in God

This stern warning ends in reassurance
But we are not of those who shrink back
– in other words, we are not like those he has been describing
• so if you are reading this letter, he is not talking about you
• you’re safe

Conclusion: Evangelists have told us we need to
“make a decision for Christ”

That is somewhat misleading
We are constantly faced with decisions and choices
When many of Jesus’ followers abandoned him, he asked his disciples
Do you want to go away as well? (Jn. 6:66-67)
The door is always open
And the decision to follow Jesus must be made again and again

Keep choosing God – keep remembering
his love for you,
the beauty and goodness he has shown you,
remember how he has always been faithful in caring for you
Whenever you need to catch your breath, do it
Take a break,
we cannot keep going at full speed all the time
Run to the throne of grace when necessary,
refresh and renew your soul
But once you are up and going again
push yourself,
test your endurance
The payoff is when we experience in truth what we read in James
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (Jas. 4:8)

Aug 3 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 2, 2020

Intro: We have come to the climax of the Book of Hebrews

N. T. Wright, “The whole letter has been about Jesus, and about who we are as a result of who he is and what he’s done.”
– now the writer of Hebrews reveals the purpose of telling his story of Jesus
• there is no point in reading or studying Hebrews if we miss what is here
• for me, this is the most wonderful revelation in the entire book
– in Genesis, God created the universe
• and, in particular, he created the man and woman for himself
◦ he revealed himself to them and they knew him
◦ their interaction was as children with him, their true Father
• when they chose something else over him, they were banished from Eden
◦ the entrance to Eden was blocked by angelic guards (Gen. 3:24, cherubim)
◦ we were born into the world outside of Eden

We still belong to God – we were still made for him and in his image
– so God chose a man and his descendants, to live among them
• but not like with the same closeness Adam and Eve enjoyed
• “Eden” was no longer a garden, but a inner chamber of the sanctuary
◦ the entrance to that space was also blocked by angelic guards (Ex. 26:31)
– however, that space never contained God
• it was merely a space to reveal his presence among his people
◦ the space of God’s actual existence transcends our universe
• the book of Hebrews has revealed that Jesus entered the transcendent, heavenly realm
◦ we have now arrived at the message the writer has been wanting to tell us

Two introductory statements that begin with, “since we have
Therefore, brothers, 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 . . . . Hebrews 10:19-21

First, we have confidence to enter the holy places
– this is crazy! We’re not qualified to go where the high priest went
• how can we possibly enter heaven’s holy space?
◦ previously, the writer told us,
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (He. 4:16)
• we get into places we don’t belong by grace and mercy
◦ this is what Jesus has made possible
◦ we’re at a point where we cannot be shy or tentative
• it’s true, we’re not qualified to enter here – but Jesus has qualified us
– “enter” is such an important word — we are not supposed to live outside of God
• this entrance that we make is not physical
◦ in the same way that the holy places Jesus entered are not
earthly (9:1), or made with hands, or of this creation (9:11)
◦ this is where we go in prayer; we are present with God in spirit
• we need to understand that this is real
◦ it does not matter what you see or don’t see,
what you hear or don’t hear,
what you feel or don’t feel
◦ you are as close to God as Adam and Eve were in Eden

The writer explains how an entrance was opened for us
by the blood of Jesus – most powerful sacrifice was the cross of Jesus
• on the Day of Atonement: blood was taken into most holy place
• and there, purification was made for the people and the sanctuary
– Jesus opened a new and living way for us
(in Heb. 9:8, the way into the holy places had not yet opened)
• Old Testament worship was formed according to the law (Heb. 8:4)
◦ law is static–it doesn’t change; worship was static too, in that the same offerings were repeated every day, month, and year
◦ but the way Jesus walks us into God’s presence is dynamic
through the curtain

Try to visualize this curtain that separated the holy place of the sanctuary from the most holy place. It was from floor to ceiling fifteen feet high and from wall to wall fifteen feet wide. The room was mostly dark, because it had only seven lamps on one stand to light an area of thirty feet by fifteen feet. The fabric of the curtain was unusually thick and served as an effective barrier. God was just on the other side of the curtain. God and his priests shared the curtain, so even though it curtain separated them, it also connected them! It is not unlike the Western Wall in Jerusalem, which separates the people who come there to pray from the sanctuary of the temple that stood at one time on the other side of the wall.
When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, Jesus’ body was like that curtain. God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. This is what we mean by the incarnation. God was present, within that curtain of flesh.

It is not important for you to know that the Greek word translated “curtain” is katapetasma. I mention this only because the same word appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke in connection with Jesus’ death, And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom (Mk. 15:38-39). The only other place in the New Testament where katapetasma occurs is in Hebrews (here and in 6:19). It occurs more frequently in the Greek translation of the Old Testament
And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. It shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it (Ex. 26:31). My point is that this is a technical word. We are not talking about just any curtain, but specifically the curtain in the sanctuary. And like the entrance to Eden, angelic guards are represented here, barring the way into God’s immediate presence.
Through his death, Jesus takes us through the curtain and past the guards to God himself.

So first, we have confidence to enter, and second, we have a great priest
– Jesus is over the house of God
• in chapter 3, Moses was a servant in God’s house, Jesus is a Son over God’s house
• I don’t mean to be trivial or disrespectful,
◦ but Jesus gives us a backstage pass
– the high priest wore an apron with jeweled clasps on shoulders
• on those clasps, the names of the twelve tribes were engraved
◦ their names were also engraved on twelve stones set in a bib that covered his chest
◦ in the Hebrew Scriptures, shoulders represent bearing a burden
And Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders (Ex. 28:9-10 & 12)
So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel . . . on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the LORD (Ex. 28:21 & 29)
• the priests brought Israel into God’s presence symbolically
◦ Jesus takes us, on his shoulders and in his heart, into God’s presence for real
◦ in prayer, we are shrouded in transcendence

Based on what we have there are three things for us to do (Let us)
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. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and ll the more as you see the Day drawing near Hebrews 10:22-25

G. Campbell Morgan divides this passage into “privileges and responsibilities”
“Privilege is only powerful as it is practiced. . . . It is not enough to know this. We must enter.”

The two words draw near tell us everything we need to know
– what we bring to the entrance:
a true heart – the “true” sanctuary is a heavenly one
◦ the true heart is one that has its treasures laid up in heaven (Mt. 6:19-21)
◦ it is genuine and it is pure – Blessed are the pure in heart (Mt. 5:8)
full assurance of faith
◦ Israel did not enter God’s rest because of their unbelieving hearts
◦ we do not construct faith by intellect or will (it is not “make-believe”);
we go to God for faith — the more often we go, the more faith grows
acts of faith are cumulative – they build up to trust
hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience
◦ to think of “conscience” as awareness of right and wrong is too limited
◦ the first meaning of the Greek word is consciousness
◦ we come to God with hearts that have no consciousness of guilt, animosity, anxiety, and so on
our bodies washed with pure water
◦ the writer is using these physiological terms as metaphors
◦ the reference to the body speaks of a total integration
◦ in hypocrisy, external appearance contradicts internal motivation
◦ to have heart and body integrated is wholeness and holiness

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope
– confession is a statement we make about our lives in God
• hope means we never stop looking toward the horizon
◦ and past the horizon!
without wavering – that’s the goal, a steady hope
◦ if we let hope slip out of our hands, we lose everything
for he who promised is faithful
God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor. 1:9)
• God called us into this partnership and he is always faithful on his end

And let us consider how to stir up one another
– our encounter with God is inseparable from our lives in community
we cannot love God without loving others (1 Jn. 4:20)
◦ and we love God in others (Mt. 25:36-40)
• the way “church” is described in the New Testament,
◦ looks like a spiritual community, with Jesus at the center
And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers . . . . And all who believed were together and had all things in common. . . . And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people (Acts. 2:42-47).
– previously in chapter 3, the writer instructed us to consider Jesus (v. 1)
• now we’re told to consider each other – be curious, listen, pay attention to
◦ the Greek word translated “stir up” is the root of our English paroxysm
(a sudden spasm; physical or emotional — here the meaning is stimulate; we might think of “a stimulating conversation”)
◦ how do we do that? tell your stories – of blessings and God-encounters
to love and good works
◦ many Fundamentalist Xians have shut down good works (“social gospel”)
◦ they’ve used this slogan to justify hostility, insults, and doing nothing for others in need
Hanna Arendt, in The Human Condition wrote, “Goodness in an absolute sense, as distinguished from the ‘good for’ or the ‘excellent’ in Greek and Roman antiquity, became known in our civilization only with the rise of Christianity. Since then, we know of good works as one important variety of possible human action. . . . The one activity taught by Jesus in word and deed is the activity of goodness . . . .”

Two more instructions regarding the community – a negative and a positive
not neglecting to meet together – this does not mean “go to church”
• it refers to the interactions Christians regularly have with each other
◦ interactions that include the Scriptures, prayer, open sharing, and so on
• sometimes there are legitimate reasons for missing a meeting or two
◦ but our writer does not want that to become “habit”
encouraging one another
Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the bones (Pr. 16:24)
• encouragement is the work of God’s Spirit – “the Encourager”
all the more as you see the Day drawing near
◦ urgency grows with crises and catastrophes
◦ and especially in light of the Lord’s return

Conclusion: Reading in 1 Thessalonians yesterday, I came to this verse:
But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face (1 Th. 2:17)
– this pandemic has torn us away from each other
• suddenly I realized how much I have missed seeing your faces
◦ I felt Paul’s need to connect in person
– there are gifts Christians receive only from our interactions with each other
• it is together that we pray,
together that we listen to God,
and together that we draw near

But whether huddled together or spread out in our homes,
what I will leave you with is this:
Come up close to God
At some points in our week, in our day
we need to experience God
Practice “draw-near” intermissions
William Barclay advised, “In the morning as the day begins; in the evening as the day ends; ever and again in the [middle] of the day’s activities, we must turn aside, if only for a moment or a second, and enter into the presence of God.”
You can do this as easily as taking a slow, deep breath
You can do this wherever you are
You can do this right now!

Jul 27 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 26, 2020

Podcast

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Hebrews 10:1

Intro: The writer of Hebrews has been commenting on the “new covenant”

The first half of chapter ten is a continuation and conclusion of this theme
– he explains how God writes his will into our hearts and minds
• in order to clarify the way Jesus works on the inside of our lives,
• our writer has enumerated contrasts between the old and new covenants
◦ more contrasts appear here, all the way to verse 18
– again, he refers to the old as having only a shadowy existence
• I’m fascinated by this language that he uses:
◦ copy, shadow, pattern, symbol, earthly (versus heavenly)
◦ what seems real to us is a mere silhouette of reality
• a shadow entails a light source – a physical object – and a surface
◦ the physical object prevents light from reaching a specific area of the surface (of the ground, floor, wall, or whatever the surface may be)
◦ a shadow is a darkness that indicates the presence of something else

The shadow of Jesus falls across the surface of the Old Testament
. . . let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ (Col. 2:17)
– New Testament writers discerned the outline of Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures
– even if a shadow is the absence of light, a shadow is not “nothing”
• a shadow is informative–it tells us there is a light and an object
◦ sometimes we notice the light – like the full moon on a clear night
◦ sometimes we notice the object, and may recognize what it is by its shadow
• shadows cannot sustain our lives – they have no substance
◦ but they point to everything that can support life
◦ the shadow of religion points us to Jesus

I’m going to ask a delicate but sincere question:
– Are we living in the shadows?
• religion is a shadow that some people never get beyond
• take worship, for example; it requires “forms” of expression
– the forms that embody worship include ritual, offering, prayer, song, etc.
• it’s a serious error to mistake the form of worship for worship itself
◦ to mistake the elements for the essentials
. . . this people draw near with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me . . .
(Isa. 29:13)
◦ “we must distinguish praying from saying prayers,” David Steindl-Rast
• the essence of worship is to draw near (v. 1)
◦ the shadow is saying prayers
◦ the reality is our spirit drawing near to God’s Spirit
. . . the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (Jn. 4:23-24 — not)

Are we living in the shadows?
– Israel’s worship was effective in changing their status with God
• from defiled to clean, from sinful to forgiven, from unholy to holy
• but their worship could not change them!
it could never . . . make perfect — that is, never bring them to completion

How does the writer know this?
Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Hebrews 10:2-4

Verse 2 is a question
– if the sacrifice worked, why did they have to offer it again and again?
• we’ve seen that worship according to law did not affect their consciousness
cannot perfect the consciousness of the worshiper (Heb. 9:9)
could not, like Jesus’ sacrifice, purify our consciousness (9:14)
• in fact, in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins
◦ if you memorize Bible verses, memorize this one:
For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin (Ro. 3:20)
◦ this tells us what the law cannot do and what it can do

Imagine a woman who is told she is in critical need of a specific surgery on her heart if she is to survive. The surgery will be painful and the period of rehab will be long and unpleasant. Once she accepts that she must undergo this procedure, the doctor tells her that she must have this same surgery every year. A natural question would be, “Isn’t there one surgery that could fix me for life?” Besides that, your annual surgeries would be an ongoing reminder of your condition and compromised health.
Or what about a medicine that relieved symptoms, but did not heal an infection, so that symptoms keep coming back? You would never have the confidence of your health being one hundred percent.
That was the nature of the sacrificial ritual. On the Day of Atonement Israel’s sins were covered for the past year and the sanctuary was purified for the next year, but then the whole ritual would have to be repeated. Their sins would never be fully resolved once and for all.

As Luke T. Johnson says, “This section concludes with a flat denial,” that is, it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (v. 4)

I grew up in a religious subculture that was fixated on sin
– preachers and teachers talked more about sin than anything else
• it was constantly thrown in our faces
• our reminder of sins, was not every year, but every Sunday night!
◦ the sermons were designed to make us feel miserable with guilt
◦ and we’d have to make our way back to “altar: to get saved again
Are we sill living in religion’s shadows?

The writer introduces another quotation from scripture
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the blood of Jesus Christ once for all. Hebrews 10:5-10

But notice, the writer does not say the quote comes from scripture, but from Jesus
when Christ came into the world–that is, from birth this was his destiny
• the New Testament does not take aim at Old Testament religion
◦ the writers considered themselves to belong to the same faith
◦ only, in Jesus they had reached a new experience of God
• the critique of Israel’s sacrificial worship was already in the Old Testament
Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams
(1 Sam. 15:22)
For I desire [mercy] and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings
(Hos. 6:6)
– God did not send Jesus to perpetuate more of the same
• he gave him something different from repetitive sacrifices – a body
◦ if you read Psalm 40:6, you will see that it does not say
a body you have prepared for me
but
my ear you have opened
◦ a Hebrew idiom has been, in the Setuagint version of the Old Testament, translated into a Greek literalism
I have come to do your will, O God
◦ this is so much the life of Jesus in the Gospel of John
I can do nothing on my own . . . because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me (Jn. 5:30)
I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. . . . He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him (Jn. 8:28-29)
My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work (Jn. 4:32-34)

God prepared a body for Jesus, so Jesus could give it back to him

In verses 8-10, the writer interprets the quotation
– in these verses he discerns a two-stage development
• stage one: God’s rejection of sacrificial worship according to the law
• stage two: Jesus announces what he has come to do
– on the basis of this development, the writer concludes,
He does away with the first in order to establish the second
• that is – he does away with the old sacrificial system
◦ and he establishes the fulfillment of God’s will in the person of Jesus
• then in verse 10 the writer explains:
◦ in doing God’s will, and offering his body, Jesus Christ has made us holy
◦ and the offering of this sacrifice was effective, so he only had to offer it once for all time

The writer reiterates the point he has made
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
Hebrews 10:11-14

The priest stands, because he always has more work to do
– Jesus sits, because his one single sacrifice was for all time
• and where he sits is in ultimate greatness and majesty

Kevin McCruden, in a well-researched essay entitled “The Concept of Perfection In the Epistle to the Hebrews,” examined how the word perfect (perfected, perfection) is used in the Book of Hebrews. He brought out dimensions of Jesus’ perfection, being perfectly human, our perfect high priest, and so on. Then he moves on to talk about the perfecting of Jesus’ followers, and how it is ultimately future (Heb. 12:23). But he also observes, “As experienced in the lives of the faithful . . . perfection also has a present dimension in Hebrews, since those who participate in Christ are pictured as already enjoying access to God in their earthly existence.” He adds, “In keeping with its strongly sacrificial assessment of the death of Jesus, Hebrews tends to relate the perfection of the faithful to the idea of sanctification.”
That is the exact connection that we see in verse 14, where Jesus has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Notice how the conditions of our perfection (in salvation) are past tense, where as the process of sanctification (being made holy) is ongoing–we are being sanctified.

The writer returns to the Jeremiah quotation
(only here, it is now the Spirit who is speaking)
And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,”
then he adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
Hebrews 10:15-18

This is a closer examination of new covenant, focusing on one clause
– the writer did not comment on the lines quoted here in verse 17
• in verse 3, the repeated sacrifices for sin under the old system were
a reminder of sins
◦ but now all sins can be forgotten, because God will
remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more
• and where these is forgiveness of these,
there is no longer and offering for sin (v. 18)

Conclusion: When hippies came to faith during the Jesus Movement

They brought their counter-culture values with them
– including peace, love, and a dislike for “the establishment”
• so it was not surprising that when they were asked,
“What religion are you?”
they answered,
“I don’t have a religion, I have a relationship!”

– “religion” refers to the externals of our relationship — the shadows
• you cannot create a relationship out of religion,
• you can only express the relationship you have through it
◦ otherwise, prayers, offerings, and sacrifices of praise are not acceptable
– “acceptance,” in fact, is a primary goal of worship
• so from the beginning, and all through scripture, acceptance is crucial
(see Gen. 4:7; Lev. 1:3; 22:19; Psa. 20:3; Isa. 56:7; Jer. 6:10; Rom. 12:2; Php. 4:18; Heb. 12:28; 1 Pe. 2:5)
• if the sacrifice is accepted by God, so is the worshiper who offers it
◦ the offering, even if otherwise perfect, is not better than the one who brings it
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD,
but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him (Pr. 15:8)

Have I been living in the shadows?
Or am I walking in light as he is in the light?
Jesus leads – we follow;
that is how he does his work in us.
We miss a step, and he takes us back to try again.
We slow down,
and he picks up the pace.
Jesus came to do God’s will,
and in him we learn to do God’s will.
We learn to surrender to God’s will
until it becomes our own.
Describing her work in Calcutta, Mother Teresa said, “From the first [day] to this day—this my new vocation has been one prolonged ‘Yes’ to God . . . .”

It is not so much that we have to go and find God’s will;
God’s will finds us us–every day.
It finds us,
and we surrender to it when it comes.
And then we discover
God’s will has always been to love us
as his cherished children.
And through us,
to love the world.

Jul 20 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 19, 2020

Podcast

Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. Hebrews 9:15

Intro: When we began our study in the Book of Hebrews, do you remember me telling you that I love this book?

That is because it is all about Jesus
– to me, it is like a fifth gospel, but it is different in this respect:
• the other four gospels follow Jesus from a human perspective
◦ we read about him from our view on earth
◦ Hebrews follows him from heaven’s perspective
• it’s as if we watch Jesus through the eyes of God’s angels

From heaven, Jesus is seen being made perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10), taking on our flesh and blood existence (Heb. 2:14), suffering when tempted (Heb. 2:18), and in every respect . . . tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). Heaven watches as Jesus was appointed to be a high priest (Heb. 5:5) after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:10), and when he offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears (Heb. 5:7). From heaven we see Jesus become the mediator of a better covenant (Heb. 8:6), as he entered the holy places of heaven (Heb. 9:12), and as he offered himself without blemish to God (Heb. 9:14), then raised from the dead, and exalted to the right hand of God (Heb. 1:3; 8:1).

– these are events in the story of Jesus never told in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John
• Hebrews reveals the meaning of Jesus’ life in new depths and dimensions
• so, going through this passage I want you to see Jesus’ imprint on it
◦ and perhaps love him even more

I cut off our study last week at verse 14

There we learned that blood of Jesus does much more for us than Old Testament sacrifices
– that it washes the window of our mind and purifies our consciousness
from dead works to serve the living God (Heb. 9:14)
• dead works can refer to deeds from our worldly life or our religious life
• either way, dead works are not how we reach the living God

Verse 15 begins with Therefore, which indicates that the writer is going to tell us what all that Jesus has done makes him to us; namely,
the mediator of a new covenant
• a well-known role in the social world of the New Testament,
◦ was that of a middleman who worked out agreements between two parties
◦ typically it involved linking a wealthy sponsor for a poor person
(social scientists refer to this as a patron-client arrangement. In Luke 22:25, Jesus refers to patrons as benefactors)
• the broker would match a client to the specifications of a patron
Jerome Negrey suggested that Hebrews represents Jesus as a broker, and that brokers “. . . belong to the worlds of both patron and clients and so fairly represent the interests of both.”
◦ whether that’s so, Jesus is the intersection of heaven and earth
◦ in him deity is linked to humanity
– the new covenant has been the main subject of Hebrews since chapter 8
• what we learn here is that certain gifts come with the new covenant
◦ it contains the promise of an eternal inheritance
◦ to be “called,” in this context, is like receiving a notice from an attorney’s office announcing the reading of a will — we’re invited, because we are included in the will
• Paul also talks about the inheritance that belongs to God’s children
. . . having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe (Ep. 1:18-19; see also Ro. 8:15-17)
– the writer of Hebrews says a death has occurred, a death that redeems
• we know about Jesus’ death,
◦ and that as Paul says, Christ died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:1)
◦ our transgressions have been forgive and we are redeemed
• but what the writer of Hebrews says about death here is different
◦ in fact, because of what we’ve learned so far about covenant relationships,
◦ what he says next is confusing

The writer introduces a new significance to Jesus’ death
For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Hebrews 9:16-17

The theme running through this section is the new covenant
– and we understand that as an agreement between two people
• it creates a relationship and forms a bond between them
• but what is he saying about the covenant here?
William Barclay, “Now up to verse 16 the writer to the Hebrews has been using [the Greek word] diatheke in the normal Christian sense of covenant, and then, suddenly with no explanation of what he is doing, he switches to the sense of [a] will.”
– there are two Greek words that can be translated covenant
suntheke, which is specifically a relational covenant like marriage
diatheke, which is more flexible, can also mean a formal contract
diatheke can be used in both senses – and can refer to a will
◦ the writer is playing on this flexibility of this word, now using its other meaning–a will
Luke Johnson, “The shift is not arbitrary, because the new covenant is precisely about the inheritance.”

Jesus’ death serves as a sacrifice,
– but now, on another level, it serves another function
• our covenant includes an inheritance
◦ but like a “Last Will and Testament,”
◦ the inheritance is given only when the one who made it dies
• Jesus’ death makes the covenant-will effective

It is because of passages like this that we first studied Leviticus
Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Hebrews 9:18-22)

The sacrificial ritual of Israel’s worship involved basic elements
– fire, fuel (wood), water, an offering, and blood (the chief element)
• the primary concern of the ritual was to maintain Israel’s relationship with God
◦ this meant atonement, forgiveness, purification, restoration (fellowship offerings), thanksgiving, consecration, and rituals of renewal
• here, the main concern is purification
– the writer combines several different purification rites into one example
• everything having to do with the covenant had to be made sacred
◦ the Book of the Covenant (Ex. 24:7-8), the sanctuary, all the furnishings in sanctuary, and the people
• blood was the primary agent for accomplishing this

The ritual use of blood is outside our comfort zone for most of us
– it’s so foreign that we don’t get it and may even feel repulsed by it
• what we need to know is that in the Scriptures:
◦ nothing is more valuable than life (even animal life)
◦ that the life or soul of living creatures is in the blood
◦ all life belongs to God, and blood is therefore sacred
◦ in sacrifice, Israel offered a life that wasn’t theirs to give
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life (Lev. 17:11)
• God provides a life in place of that of the worshiper

Because of its graphic violence, I cannot recommend that you see the movie, “Man On Fire.” However, to me it contained one of the most beautiful metaphors of salvation I have ever seen. Denzel Washington plays a burned-out ex-CIA agent. In the most dramatic scene in the movie, he saves a child’s life by giving his own. When the exchange is made, Denzel’s character crosses a bridge from one side and the child crosses from the middle. They meet in the middle, embrace, and spend a moment there before they continue across the bridge, the child running to life and Denzel’s character walking to his death. He had made this deal with a drug Lord, who told him the only way to redeem the child was “a life for a life.”

The prototype for Jesus offering himself as a sacrifice is found in Israel’s worship
and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins

Again the writer of Hebrews contrasts old covenant with the new
Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sins by the sacrifice of himself. Hebrews 9:23-26

First he contrasts the copies of heavenly things to the realities
– Jesus’ death and resurrection produced effects on earth and in heaven simultaneously
• earth contained the four-dimensional space of sacrifice
◦ that is where purification, atonement and forgiveness were given
• heaven is the extra-dimensional realm
◦ there, in God’s presence, Jesus appeared on our behalf
◦ and the greater work of inner purification and sanctification becomes ours because of what he did there
– one event, Jesus’ death and resurrection, occurred in both realms
• Jesus, our mediator, belongs to both realms
• what he accomplished on the cross correlated to what he did in heaven

The second contrast is between what the priests did repeatedly and Jesus did once for all

The third contrast has to do with the blood offered by the high priest
• it was not his own, where as Jesus offered the sacrifice of himself

The writer jumps to the end of the road (our lives and the last days)
And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:27-28

The normal course of human life is that we die once and then face judgment
– Jesus went the normal course in regard to dying once,
• but his death was not followed by judgment,
◦ because his death was a judgmentto bear the sins of many
• and also unlike our experience, he will appear a second time
◦ and that will be to complete the salvation of his people

I want to add one thought. I am not one of those preachers who rummages through current events every day searching for evidence that we are in the last days, certain that Jesus will return within my lifetime. I have seen too much scripture twisting and failed predictions to take most of the literature on the “end times” seriously.
However, I urge you not to let go of the certainty of Jesus’ return or the possibility that it could occur at any moment, with the only “sign” of it, is that it is actually happening. Paul said that we are waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ . . . (Titus 2:13). Hebrews says we are eagerly waiting for him. We can still get up each morning and look toward the east to see whether this is the day of his return.

Conclusion: From the beginning of Hebrews the message has been,

God speaks to us through Jesus
– humans have always wanted to be religious, so God gave us a religion
• for hundreds of years we tried to do it on our own, and failed
• we worked at being right with God by following the rules
◦ but now we follow Jesus, and we are made right with God
◦ the old works of the law has been replaced by a life of love

This is the life we have in Jesus, and it is solid
It will never wear out, never collapse, or disappear
It is forever
eternal redemption (verse 12),
energized by the eternal Spirit (verse 14),
providing us with an eternal inheritance (verse 15)
Take it, enjoy it,
you can have it, it’s yours
IT’S WRITTEN IN THE WILL!

Jul 13 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 12, 2020

Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. Hebrews 9:1

Podcast

Intro: A historic decision was made this past week

It is linked to 1500 years of Christian history
– in 537, the Byzantine emperor, Justinian built the Hagia Sophia
• this was the largest church in world
◦ much later, in the eleventh century, Vladimir I sent emissaries from Russia
◦ their mission was to investigate the merits of different religions

In The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, James Billington says that the emissaries were unimpressed with Islam and Western Christians, “But in Constantinople ‘the Greeks led us to the buildings where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty.’”

• in 1453, Constantinople fell to Ottoman Empire
◦ at that time, the Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque
◦ in 1934, pursuing his goal of modernizing Turkey, President Ataturk declared the Hagia Sophia a museum
– this week, President Erdogan declared the cathedral an Islamic mosque
• how upset should we be about this? – not at all (my opinion)
◦ God does not endorse religious brand names or buildings
◦ not even his own temple in Jerusalem (cf. Jeremiah 7:1-15
• buildings are provisional, but faithful devotion is not negotiable

The “first covenant” was supported by worship

We have seen that in Jesus we have a better covenant (Heb. 8:6)
– and this is the new covenant (Heb. 8:13) of Jeremiah’s prophecy
• the first covenant refers to the one God forged with Israel at Mount Sinai
• remember, the purpose of God’s law and Israel’s worship
◦ it was to maintain their covenant relationship with God

The writer explores Israel’s worship in two parts:
– “regulations for worship” and “an earthly place of holiness”
• in verses 2-5 he takes us through the tent
◦ which is in Luke Johnson’s words, “briefest possible tour”
• in verses 6-7 he provides a selective sketch of the regulations
– the place of worship must be holy for the presence of God to rest there
• so the place was sanctified and consecrated by sacred rituals
• from then on, the regulations served to preserve and renew its holiness

One other thought before moving on:
– the terms “Gods house” and “sanctuary” are not synonymous
• the tent or temple could serve as God’s sanctuary (sacred space)
◦ but God could also remove his sanctuary from the tent or temple
[David to Solomon] . . . the LORD has chosen you to build a house for his sanctuary (1 Chr. 28:10)
• and after Solomon’s temple was destroyed, God said,
and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone (Eze. 11:16)

First, we visit the earthly place
For a tent was prepared, the first section in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail Hebrews 9:2-5

The writer doesn’t seem especially interested in the temple
(neither Solomon’s or the more recent one built by Herod)
– he goes all the way back to the prototype – the tent in the wilderness
• which was also called dwelling place, dwelling of testimony, and tent of meeting
• the blueprint for the tent and furnishings consists mostly of rectangles and squares (and a circle)
◦ sharp, well-defined lines
◦ a courtyard surrounded sacred tent, but our writer does not mention it
– the sacred tent was rectangular and divided into two rooms
• he presents the interior as if we had walked into the first room
◦ the label for this room was the Holy Place
◦ it took up seventy-five percent of the the tent
• in it stood the lampstand and the table of the bread of the Presence
◦ it was as if the presence of God shadowed the bread set out on the table
And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me regularly (Ex. 25:30)

The second room was a cube, and the label for it was the Most Holy Place
– the writer locates the altar of incense in this room
(although in the Old Testament it was placed in front of the curtain in the Holy Place, not the Most Holy Place)
• perhaps because smoke from the incense was to obscure the high priest’s vision of God’s glory
And he shall . . . put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony (Lev. 16:13)
• this is also where the Ark of the Covenant was placed
◦ in it were the tablets of the covenant on which the commandments were engraved
(the Ark was therefore the physical heart of Israel’s relationship with God)
◦ over the Ark was a lid with sculpted cherubim above it, all of one piece
(the cherubim seem to be guardians of God’s presence–cf. Gen. 3:24)
– God caused his glory to rest in the Most Holy Place
• in it Israel’s most intimate encounter with God took place, on his own turf

The writer cuts off his comments here and provides no other details
– that’s because his main concern is not with the details of the sacred tent
• he is setting the stage on which the action is played out
• so he creates this visual backdrop that is easy for the reader to envision

After visiting the earthly place, he outlines the regulations
These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation Hebrews 9:6-10

The priests (plural) perform their duties in Holy Place, regularly
– every day, morning and evening, they would trim the lamps and offer incense
– but only the high priest (singular) would enter the Most Holy Place
• it was inaccessible to everyone else (even the other priests)
◦ and he did not go in “regularly,” but only one once a year
◦ the writer has the Day of Atonement in mind
and not without blood – just make a mental note of this for now

By this the Holy Spirit indicates . . .
– the writer tells us that this arrangement is a revelation
• what we are shown that the tent provided us no direct access to God
◦ each curtain was another barrier
• then he gives us an important key to all of this:
which is symbolic for present age
◦ again, just make another mental note of this
– the writer tells us what these regulations could not do
• they could not perfect the conscience
◦ “conscience” tends to have a moral tone
◦ the Greek word can refer to a consciousness of anything
• regulations could not yield a significant consciousness of God
◦ they could not awaken people to a full awareness of his Presence
– the target of worship is internal
• the regulations did work! They did what they were meant to do
◦ atone sin, purify uncleanness, restore fellowship
◦ but the people were not changed!
• the regulations worked externally, regulations for the body
◦ even Old Testament poets and prophets recognized this
◦ and John the Baptist knew also there was more the service he provided
I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire (Mt. 3:11)

Now writer points out contrast of the new covenant in Jesus
But 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 and 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. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Hebrews 9:11-14

A contrast in time: good things that have come
– time references – not yet (8) present age (9) until time of reformation (10)
– the past situation contrasted with the goodthings that have come
A contrast in the tent: Jesus entered the true sanctuary of God
– not a product of human construction
– a tent that does not belong to our four-dimensional universe
A contrast in the number of visits: once for all
– as opposed to “regularly” or “once a year”
A contrast in blood as a cleansing agent:
– Jesus was not turned to “ashes” (like the red heifer, Num. 19:1-22)
– the “eternal Spirit” — the Spirit is never past tense, but always “now”
A contrast of the external and internal: a purified consciousness
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Mt. 5:8)
A contrast between dead works and the living God
– we have a very different attitude about worship
– v. 12, Jesus has secured our eternal redemption
• there is nothing in your life he does not want to redeem
◦ no pain or heartache, no sin or trauma, no moment or season
• the “dead works” were like paying a debt, something done as an obligation
◦ have a greater consciousness of God, we offer service as an act of love

Conclusion: How did the writer imagine the tent Jesus entered?

As an actual structure in heaven? Probably not
– compare what Paul said regarding his vision of heaven:
And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that are not speakable and a man cannot lawfully tell (2 Cor. 12:3-4)
– it is not possible to describe heaven in human language
• we have never experienced anything like it
• the closest we can come to meaningful speech is by analogy
◦ the same reason Jesus used parables to describe kingdom of God
The kingdom of heaven can be compared to . . . . The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed . . . . The kingdom of heaven is like leaven . . . . (Mt. 13:24, 31, 33)
◦ “parable” appears many times in the synoptic gospels
◦ but nowhere else in the New Testament, except two times in
– here, in verse 9, the Greek parabole is translated symbolic
Kenneth Shenk refers to references to a heaven tent as “metaphors”
Howard Marshall explains that “things are described in spatial and material terms although they belong to a different sphere of reality.”

Heaven itself is most holy,
there is no need for a holy building or a holy chamber
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” . . . And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God, the Almighty and the Lamb (Re. 21:3, 22)
Jesus gives us this perfect access to God–no curtains or barriers
Jesus is now in the literal space that God’s being occupies,
in direct contact with God’s essence
(I don’t really know how to say this)
One day, he will bring us into that place,
for now, that is where we go in spirit when we pray

Being with God,
Jesus brings us to a new consciousness;
not of sin, but of Presence,
a presence closer than our breath