Day 323: A counter-cultural gospel

Psalms 92-94; Hebrews 13

And the bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. Their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned up with fire (Leviticus 16:27).

According to Old Testament law, the priests could eat the meat of the goats and bulls sacrificed in most offerings. But they were not allowed to eat the sacrifice offered on the Day of Atonement – the one day in which the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies to make atonement for himself and the people. This sacrifice was burned “outside the camp.”

The author of Hebrews alludes to this point of the law as he closes his letter with a beautiful picture of the gospel:

The bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood (Hebrews 12:11-12).

Jesus was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem as a criminal. He suffered reproach for our sake. In the world’s eyes, he was a weak and sad failure. But in God’s Kingdom, his death makes him victorious!

The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt.
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
Your throne is established from of old;
you are from everlasting (Psalm 93:1-2).

As we choose to live our lives according to God’s ways, we will also suffer reproach. The author exhorts us to stand under the love of Christ as we face the tides of culture. He calls us to sacrifice our sense of entitlement to care for the poor and encourage the prisoner. He calls us to lay down our pride and submit to our leaders. He calls us to keep ourselves pure for one spouse. And he exhorts us to live simply instead of satisfying our hunger for wealth and position.

We live in a culture which is constantly screaming at us to abandon God’s ways. It is difficult to walk in the ways of God, but God does not leave us to tough it out on our own. No. He is our helper. He will never leave or forsake us!

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen (Hebrews 12:20-21).

Day 322: An Enduring Love

Psalms 88, 90-91; Hebrews 12
(Psalm 89 was read on Day 228)

Hebrews 12 is one of my favorite chapters in all of Scripture…

First, I love the example of Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” As the world seems to swirl and threatens to sweep me up in its busyness and noise, I remember to “fix my eyes on Jesus” and to “run the race that is set out before us with endurance.” The Christian life is a marathon, folks – not a sprint!

I also love the teaching that God disciplines those that he loves. This would have been an especially comforting truth to the recipients of this letter who were suffering and experiencing persecution. For me, it is easy to believe the lie that my suffering is punishment from God. Like Job, I am tempted to despair in the midst of hardship for fear that God has abandoned me. I can feel like the psalmist in Psalm 88…

O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me? (Psalm 88:14)

But Hebrews 12 teaches me that God uses suffering and difficult circumstances as a means of discipline in my life. He disciplines me because he loves me – not because he is angry. He is committed to molding my character, and he loves me enough to care more about our relationship than my happiness.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).

Hebrews 12 ends with the reassurance that we no longer have to fear God’s judgment. Because of Christ, we are spared from the wrath of God! So we do not approach God in terror as the Israelites faced Mt. Sinai. No! We come to Mt. Zion…

to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant (Hebrews 12:22-24).

We come to a God of grace and steadfast love! When we are pressed in on every side with difficulty and suffering, we are to fix our eyes on Jesus – who loves us and gave Himself for us. We are to trust in His character. He is trustworthy and abounding in steadfast love! He disciplines us because he loves us! Hear the comforting words of our God…

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation” (Psalm 91:14-16).

Day 321: Hall of Faith

Psalms 84, 86-87; Hebrews 11
(Psalm 85 was read on Day 227)

Faith. Without it, it is impossible to please God.

The author of Hebrews has laid out his case for the Supremacy of Christ. He has exhorted them to not drift away from Christianity back to the familiar ways of Judaism – but rather to strive to keep the faith.

Now he gives an entire chapter full of examples of faith from the Old Testament. These are people who persevered to claim their reward. Think of the encouragement this would bring to these young Jewish converts…

First, they would see that God’s grace pre-dated Abraham, and reached all the way back to Abel! This would remind them that their new faith in Christ was the exact same faith which was credited to Noah and Abraham as righteousness!

They would also be encouraged that imperfect men such as Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Japheth were included as men of faith. Perfection is not a requirement. It is faith in God which justifies the sinner.

Ultimately, they would be challenged to pattern their lives after these Old Testament heroes – men and women who suffered greatly because they believed a God they could not see and died before God’s promises were fulfilled. Yet they continued to trust in the goodness of God…

Be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all the day.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
listen to my plea for grace.
In the day of my trouble I call upon you,
for you answer me (Psalm 86:3-7).

Faith is not just some shot in the dark, wishful thinking. A true, saving faith is a sure anchor for the soul based on the truth of God’s word. It is the belief that the unseen is more real than the seen.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

What do we hope for? A city on a hill, the New Jerusalem, filled with the glory of the Lord. We look forward to the day when every tear will be wiped away and the dim reflection of His presence in this world will be seen clearly in all His glory. We hope for Jesus and the wedding feast of the lamb and an eternity in perfect relationship with the Savior and with fellow man. These aren’t just wistful dreams – these are truths that we should be willing to die for!!!

Where is your faith? Do you place your hope in your own fleeting material wealth or aspirations of success? Is your hope in your spouse or in your children? Or is your hope in the unseen, yet eternal God who is trustworthy and true? Don’t sacrifice eternity for a lesser, instant pleasure.

Strive to enter His rest; persevere in your faith, and be one who overcomes to the end!

Day 320: Judgment as Motivator

Psalms 81-83; Hebrews 10:26-39
(Psalm 78 was read on Day 270 and Psalms 79 & 80 on Day 227)

Once again, the author of Hebrews warns the young Christian congregation to “hold fast” and not throw away their confidence… All of his previous warnings… “Don’t drift away,” “Strive to enter his rest,” “do not be sluggish,” culminate is this final exhortation to persevere.

The author paints a dramatic picture of the judgment awaiting those who deliberately disregard God’s commands. But he reassures the Hebrews that they are  “not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:39).

Judgment is a bad word in our culture, but fear of judgment is a healthy motivator to repent and seek forgiveness from God!

We spend plenty of time talking about God’s love, and rightly so, for it is the magnitude of God’s love which compels us to obey. But we have to remember that God’s wrath is just as awesome and wonderful as His love. Old Testament prophecy and the book of Revelation both vividly describe the horror of God’s judgment. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

The writer of Hebrews has consistently used the fear of God’s judgment to persuade these young Christians to endure in their faith despite persecution and suffering. The more we learn of God’s impending judgment, the more thankful we become to be saved from it! And as we become confident in God’s saving power, we can boldly approach his throne to pray for justice in our world! We can pray for God to…

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked(Psalm 82:3-4).

Fear of God’s judgment also motivates us to speak and act out the truths of the gospel before an unbelieving world. When Christ comes again, he comes to judge the earth, and He delays his return so that the full number may be saved.

Therefore, Christ’s return is both a comfort and a motivator… His imminent return brings comfort to the suffering church, for when he comes, justice will Reign! But his return should also motivate us to proclaim the gospel and pray for the salvation of unbelievers in our midst – so that they will be saved from the wrath of God.

Judgment is not a popular idea – but it is still true. And we must not sweep this truth under the rug, but use it to motivate us to not drift away from God’s goodness and to reach out in love to a dying world. Come, Lord Jesus, Come!!

Day 319: Draw near!

Psalms 75-77; Hebrews 10:1-25
(Psalm 74 was read on Day 226)

The previous chapters of Hebrews have been building to a climax found in Chapter 10. Here we read the author’s final and convincing argument of why Jesus is superior to the Mosaic law in every way.

The bottom line: “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).

The sacrificial system of the Old Testament paved the way for Jesus…

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14).

Jesus, the sacrificial lamb, our High Priest and King – has opened the way through the curtain to the presence of God. He sits at God’s right hand to make intercession for us night and day!

Because of the great truths so systematically presented in the first 10 chapters of Hebrews, the author urges the young Jewish Christians to draw near to God!!

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus […] let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:19-23).

He is faithful. He is trustworthy…Even when the church suffers persecution, poverty and death – God is faithful. Therefore, the author encourages them to meet together for the purpose of encouragement and mutual strengthening.

Likewise, we cannot expect to persevere in the faith without the support and encouragement from other believers, especially through relationships in our local churches. This is God’s design – We are to draw near to God and to each other to find strength and help in our time of need. And as we lay aside our individual rights to come together to support one another, the world takes notice, and Christ is glorified!

We give thanks to you, O God;
we give thanks, for your name is near.
We recount your wondrous deeds (Psalm 75:1).

Day 318: A dim reflection

Psalms 71-73; Hebrews 9

Everything God has done from the beginning of time until now has been done with precision and purpose to prepare the hearts of men to receive his Son.

Consider Psalm 72…It was a royal Psalm, a prayer for the king of Israel – but it pointed forward to a day when the king would enjoy world-wide rule and bring about peace and social justice. It looked forward to a day when Jesus will rule the earth in peace and justice!

Hebrews 9 connects the symbols in the Old Covenant to their true heavenly counterparts. The temple…a temporal copy of God’s true home in heaven points to Jesus. The priesthood, instituted by God but fulfilled by imperfect men, points to Jesus. The sacrifices, offered day after day after day – were copies of the true sacrifice – offered once and for all, by Jesus!

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 9:13-14).

First, God established the law, the tabernacle and the priesthood – to point forward to Christ’s saving work on the cross. But there was more to be revealed!

Just as the temple and priesthood were copies of their true heavenly counterparts…I wonder how much of our world is also a dim reflection of what’s to come…

We look forward to a new heaven and a new earth – where the bride of Christ will be united with her husband. We look forward to the wedding feast of the lamb. Every wedding, celebration and feast is just a dim reflection of what’s to come. Every tree, stream and creature is just a dim reflection of God’s creation in the New Earth!

We live in the now and not yet, the time between Jesus’s two comings. We are the church age, and we look forward to the end of the age when all things will find their fulfillment in Christ!

Day 317: Where do we turn?

Psalms 68-70; Hebrews 8

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.
Deliver me
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
Let not the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the pit close its mouth over me (Psalm 69:13-15).

Have you been here? Desperate? Overwhelmed? Psalm 69 is the lament of a man who has sinned against God – his sin alone could drive him to despair, but to make matters worse, his adversaries are heaping reproach upon him. He is surrounded by both the spiritual enemy of his own sin and the physical enemy of his adversaries. He needs help! Where does he turn in such a desperate situation?

I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox
or a bull with horns and hoofs (Psalm 69:30).

Does he look to burnt offerings to satisfy his soul? No. He depends on the steadfast love of His heavenly Father…

Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
Hide not your face from your servant;
for I am in distress; make haste to answer me.
Draw near to my soul, redeem me;
ransom me because of my enemies! (Psalm 69:16-18).

This is the beauty of the New Covenant…it is a gracious covenant rooted in the promises of the gospel – That Jesus lived, died and rose again to intercede on our behalf to the Father.

As we are pressed in from every side by our enemies…whether from our own sin or the sin of others, we must remember that we have a Great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God!

…we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man (Hebrews 8:1-2).

Day 316: Our Great High Priest

Psalms 65-67; Hebrews 7

In order to fully comprehend the ramifications of Jesus being our High Priest, we must look back at the Old Testament duties of the High Priest. What was his role? He was God’s representative to the people. He made atonement for the people’s sins by offering the sacrificial blood in God’s presence behind the curtain in the Holy of Holies.

Hebrews 7 begins to make the argument for the weakness of the Old Covenant. The High Priest of the Old Covenant had to be a descendant of Levi. He was limited by human weakness and mortality. He was temporary.

Jesus is our High Priest, but he could not be a priest in the order of Levi – no, he would be a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

If you remember the story from Genesis… Lot was captured by a foreign king and Abraham led a war effort to save Lot and all of the people (Gen. 14:14-16). As Abraham was returning home from battle, he met a mysterious king. He was called priest of God most High (Gen. 14:18). Abraham instantly recognized him as one with authority as he bowed and offered the priestly king a tenth of all the spoils.

This is how the author of Hebrews describes Melchizedek:

He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever (Hebrews 7:2-3).

Jesus is our High Priest – not as a Levite – but in the order of Melchizedek. He is not temporary – but eternal. He doesn’t offer the blood of bulls and goats – which are insufficient to atone for sin – he offers his own blood – once and for all.

He is the mediator of a better covenant – a New Covenant written in his blood. His priesthood predates Abraham and encompasses and fulfills all of the regulations of the Old Covenant – but makes possible what was formerly impossible – the salvation of sinners. His sacrifice. His blood. His promise. His intercession. He is our Great High Priest. Draw near and find mercy for your souls!!!

Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
the holiness of your temple! (Psalm 65:4).

Day 315: Another warning

Psalms 61, 62 & 64; Hebrews 5:11-6:20
(Psalm 59 was read on Day 106, Psalm 60 on Day 115, and Psalm 63 on Day 118)

Hebrews 6 (taken out of context) can seem contradictory to other parts of Scripture that teach that salvation is by grace alone; therefore, eternally secure. But a closer look at the context surrounding these verses reveals there is no contradiction, but rather a continuation of the theme found throughout Hebrews (and the rest of Scripture) that true salvation is revealed in perseverance.

Consider the recipients of this letter. Firstly, they were immature in their faith (Heb. 5:11-14) and had to be reminded of the basics of the faith (Heb. 6:1-3). Because this letter was written to a congregation, there would have been a mix of true believers and unbelievers.

Therefore, the author reminded them of the dangers of falling away from the faith (6:4-8). These warnings were given to those who were part of the gathered church and who shared in and experienced the blessings of fellowship within the congregation (6:4-5), but did not possess a saving faith (6:9).

Also important to note… This warning is very similar to the warnings he has already given in 2:1-3 and 4:11. In these two instances, the author warns the congregation against drifting away and also encourages them to persevere in their faith.

Similarly, the author concludes this “warning” section in Chapter 6 by showing confidence in their salvation while also exhorting them to persevere…

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end (Hebrews 6:9-11).

The author, though he warns the church not to drift away, believes the best of the congregation – that they are mostly believers; thus his warnings also serve as motivation for the true believer to guard against becoming lukewarm  in his faith by seeking after God wholeheartedly!

For even though good works done throughout your life have no power to save you, they are evidence of a changed and redeemed heart. Psalm 62, written as a prayer for God to rescue Israel from oppression and attack, ends with the statement that God will “render to a man according to his work.” In other words, if you attack God’s people, these works reveal that you are an enemy of God, and God will ultimately execute perfect justice toward you!

It is because of God’s perfect justice that we depend on Jesus’ righteousness alone for our salvation. He is the one who saves. He is the one who keeps us from falling away. He is the one who will help us persevere to the end…until one day, we will see Him face to face!

Day 314: The way of prayer

Psalms 53, 55 & 58; Hebrews 5:1-10
(Psalm 54 was read on Day 109 and Psalms 56 & 57 were read on Day 107)

Yesterday, the author of Hebrews introduced the concept of Jesus being our High Priest. Today, he continues his exposition by declaring that Jesus is a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. Do you remember Melchizedek from Genesis? Don’t worry, we’ll talk all about him in a few days when we read Hebrews 7 & 8, but for now, let’s look at the idea of prayer…

Have you noticed that most of the Psalms are prayers?

Psalm 55 is an example of an individual’s prayer – it is both a prayer of lament and a call to faith.

Give ear to my prayer, O God,
and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
Attend to me, and answer me;
I am restless in my complaint (Psalm 55:1-2).

Cast your burden on the Lord,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved (Psalm 55:22).

Psalm 58 records the prayer of a congregation – begging God to exercise justice against evil tyrants.

O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!
Let them vanish like water that runs away;
when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted (Psalm 58:6-7).

These aren’t dry, lifeless prayers – these are desperate cries for justice and mercy! And this is how Jesus prayed as well!

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence (Hebrews 5:7).

When we come before the throne of God, we do not come to a throne of judgment and wrath – but rather to the welcoming arms of our heavenly Father. As we approach his throne humbly and with reverence, we can pour out our hearts…our grief, our dreams, our anguish, our joys. We can ask for healing, provision, salvation and forgiveness. For we have a great High Priest who deals gently with us (Heb. 5:2)!