The Heart of Hebrews

My house has a few great rooms. The living room is cozy, surrounded by bookshelves. The kitchen bustles with my wife’s activity, delivering wonderful meal after wonderful meal. But there is one room that is the heart of the entire house – the dining room. It is there where life enters and is sustained. It is there where the smells from the kitchen land, the laughs from my children ring, and the stories of visitors are told and re-told. All of the rooms in my house are important, and they all serve a purpose. You can’t have a house without a bedroom, or a kitchen, or a bathroom, but, in our house, the dining room is the heart.

Books of the Bible can be like that. Many important doctrines can fill the room, stories can inform and transform our thinking, and bits of wisdom can adorn the hallways of the Scripture, but within the book there is a heart – the place from which everything else gains it’s strength.

Hebrews 7:25 is, I believe, the heart of the book of Hebrews. It is the dining room of the book, the centerpiece, the life source. It is the main point. It is the climax, the supreme word from God to these people through this author.

“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

Hebrews is the New Testament book on priesthood. And it presents Jesus as a certain kind of priest. He’s better than the temple-dwelling Levitcal preists. He’s more worthy than the High Priest of Israel. He’s more qualified than the most perfect of Israel’s mediators. Because of the kind of priest Jesus is, and the appointment from God as both priest and Son, he alone is able to save in a fully effective and eternal manner.

We need a high priest like this. The Levitical priests could not accomplish the deepest desire of God for his people. They could not bring his people close enough to his heart because they themselves lacked the very holiness that was required to usher God’s people into God’s throne room. We needed a high priest who was radiantly holy and completely innocent that could bring us with him into the innermost place of heaven to be with the Father in his holiness. Jesus is that perfect priest, and he alone is that perfect priest.

He is able to save to the uttermost. There is not a time, not a season or second or your life that Jesus is not able to save you. His power to save is limitless. The grace of God in Christ extends further than you can imagine to the deepest, most outrageous sin that you have ever committed, and to clean the whitewashed tombs of your most self-righteous acts ever performed as treason against his grace.

He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him. One of the key responsibilities of the priest is atoning for the sins of the people for the purpose of bringing them back into a right relationship with God the Father. Jesus does this perfectly. We go to God through the person and work of Jesus Christ. We cannot go on our own merit. He is our merit. We cannot barge in like a child because we have orphaned ourselves. But our big brother comes and finds us in the pigsty and brings us joyfully back to the Father’s house for the banquet. He is our entry fee. He is the one who brings us into God’s glory forever. We can draw near to God because Jesus carries us into God. We have the access of a child again, because Jesus has paid it all.

He always lives to make intercession for us. Jesus is alive in heaven at the right hand of the majesty on high (Heb. 1:4). His purpose now is to pray for us. Your sin – past, present, and future – is covered because there is a high priest in heaven right this very moment praying for you, both now and forevermore. A fully effective priest must always live in the presence of God to intercede for us because in our sin we have a constant need of a priest to make intercession for us. Only a holy man can stand in the presence of God and not die. Only Jesus has died as a holy man for unholy people. Only Jesus has risen from the grave to defeat death. So Jesus is the perfect priest. He always lives. And because of that, we always will too.

Excuse Making Comes So Naturally

desert

Excuse making is at the heart of disobedience. I am a professional excuse maker. Unfortunately, that’s my inheritance from Adam. He left me some nice things, like life, but also some bad things, like death through sin. In the death basket lays a ready-made excuse generator for hearts that want to preserve pride and avoid responsibility.

Moses received the same inheritance as me. Unfortunately for him, his dealings with God were recorded in the Bible, excuse making and all. We see it first in Exodus 4:10 after God calls him to go to Egypt and free his people.

But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”

Not being an eloquent speaker is a good reason for not standing before the most powerful man in the world. It makes sense. Most of us would shudder at giving a presentation to a room full of people, so to be shy to stand in front of Pharaoh makes sense to us. But the problem for Moses is that this is just an excuse. Yes, he’s not eloquent. But God has just told him to go. He has a power-vision problem. He holds the opinion of Pharaoh of more worth than the opinion of God. This isn’t humility; this is disobedience through excuse making.

God answers in Exodus 4:11-12,

Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”

God’s answer is so God-like. Ok, Moses, you’re not eloquent. Great. I’m the one who made your mouth.

Moses continues. Exodus 4:13

But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”

His excuse didn’t work. Now he just flatly asks God to remove him from this responsibility.

The call of God on our life is not easy to accept. Sure, some parts are easy – like salvation and love – but the call to obedience and the call to mission is hard. The journey he takes us on is always surprising. It always costs us more than we are willing to pay. It is a higher mountain than we are able to climb. It is a more uncomfortable path than what we’d like. The call always has hard terms.

Moses understood this. He made excuses because he could not fathom going through with God’s plan. It seemed too hard, too ridiculous, too risky. And it was. That’s how God works. He uses us and calls us into ridiculously hard and risky things because he has a purpose of glory to reveal, and glorious things do not come easy.

Moses started with excuses and progressed to refusal. But in the end God used him anyway, because God, for reasons we can’t fully explain, has determined to use sinners like Moses, and me, and you.

We may tell God to send someone else, but his grace is large enough and forceful enough to run through our objections and use us in spite of ourselves. After all, it is the Lord’s work and he will accomplish his goals.

 

What Trusting In Jesus Gives You

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

(Romans 5:6-11)

If you believe in Jesus Christ for the salvation of your soul you are eternally secure in his overwhelming love for you. You have nothing to fear in this life or the next. If Jesus is your greatest treasure, then you have been transferred into a different kingdom. Nothing is the same. Everything is wonderfully different. The person you once were is gone, a new person has been created. You are alive and on your way to even greater life – abundant life. You are fully saved, without one reason to doubt your eternal security. That’s what trusting in Jesus gives you.

Here’s the truth about all who believe in Jesus for their salvation: God has declared you righteous in his sight and has drawn near to you in a new kind of relationship. You are infinitely worse than you ever imagined yet loved infinitely more than you ever dreamed. And your future salvation is as secure as the seat you are sitting on.

Our Cravings and God’s Mercy

We live in an age in which we make demands of one another while repudiating demands others make of us. Our outrage gauge is always on the high side, but wonder how others could find any problem in us. We demand what we crave and, as you know, cravings are personal – they come and go, change and redirect, ebb and flow.

Psalm 78 helps us see what comes of these cravings. It recounts the history of Israel, pointing to their unbelief and God’s faithfulness. It’s the story the Bible tells often: Sinful man rebels against God, blaming him for the terrible spot they’re in, demanding he make it right.

I wonder what demands we are making of God right now? What are we holding him accountable to do that he has not explicitly told us he would do? What bitterness is taking root due to our misdirected cravings?

Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert. They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness? He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed. Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people?”

Psalm 78:17-20

Can’t you just hear the indignation in those verses? The accusation that God is holding out on them, unwilling to give them what they want! How dare he deny his people whatever their heart wants whenever it wants it.

They did not believe in the goodness of God. They thought they knew better what would bring them joy in life, and they refused to be satisfied until he had met their demands. So too do we act like such selfish children before our Holy God.

But God will not be bullied. He will not give in to our demands because we do not know what is best for us.

“You be you.” “Follow your heart.” “Live out your passion.” “Be your truest self.” Are the damning phrases of our age. They are all attempts at defining and justifying ourselves apart from God. And the further in we go the deeper down we sink into despair. Life is not meant to be lived upon the blissful shores of my cravings. We cannot grow on the fruit of evil desires, but in the barrenness of God’s desert training. When we give ourselves over to his care we will find that he knows best.

Notice the verbs in verses 17-20: sinned, rebelling, tested, demanding, spoke against. The Israelites condemned God as a bad Father. And so do we.

Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not faithful to his covenant. Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again.

Psalm 78:37-39

Yet he. God is gracious. He has mercy. And for people as sinful as the Israelites, and you and me, what good news this is! God shows mercy to mercy-less people. He gives grace to grace-less people.

He remembers that we are but flesh, and the flesh is no help at all (John 6:63). Our flesh demands what God is not willing to give because our flesh does not understand what goodness awaits in God. Our flesh only knows what we want, not what we need. And so we need someone to watch over us to give us what we need, like a good parent who monitors their child’s food, refusing a diet of desserts and providing a diet of fruit and vegetables. We need someone to give us what we really need because we have no idea what we need.

Our cravings cause us to condemn God, and God’s mercy causes him to forgive us. God gets the raw end of this deal. He is abused and maligned, and we are freed and forgiven.

The Antidote to Pride and Vanity

towers.jpg

“Pride,” observed Mary, who piqued herself upon the solidity of her reflections, “is a very common failing, I believe. By all that I have ever read, I am convinced that it is very common indeed; that human nature is particularly prone to it, and that there are very few of us who do not cherish a feeling of self-complacency on the score of some quality or other, real or imaginary. Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

The twins, Pride and Vanity, have plagued the human race since that grievous day the apple was eaten in the Garden of Eden. They know no barrier, are intimidated by no wall of protection, and have no care for status or economy. Pride and Vanity attack all equally. We should tremble.

Our sin will find us out. There is no doubt about that. But Pride says it will not be so. Pride props himself up in our hearts as the most faithful of friends. He keeps us from despair. He whispers to us of our value and worth. He sings over us the love song of self-admiration. He won’t back down and he won’t let go. Of the two, Pride is the meaner.

Vanity is timid. He panders, shifts, sways, flip-flops, changes with the wind. He has our best interest in mind, maintaining high views of ourselves in other’s minds. To have even a little Vanity with a lot of Pride causes us to care just enough to be nice, but not enough to be happy. Vanity, in a sense, is the governor of Pride. Left alone, Pride will run through the heart like Alexander the Great, conquering every land with unquenchable thirst. Vanity is the regulator for worldwide conquest, beacuse he must ensure that a majority likes us in the end.

But these twins, though their power is great, have an enemy even greater. His name is Humility. Like the tongue he is small in stature, yet the most powerful weapon to wound or heal. So he first wounds, then heals. He first tears down, then builds. He first destroys, then repairs.

Humility cares enough about the self to ruin it all so that it might in the end be saved. Pride, given enough time, will destroy beyond repair. Vanity, left unhindered, will cause self to wither away. But Humility destroys early and frees forever. Humility gives the self the proper order of things, restoring peace where fear once ruled. Humility alone opens us up to God and to others that we would live a proper life, fitting of the kingdom of God.

Humility comes between Pride and Vanity and breaks the bond between the two. The twin towers crumble and something new begins to grow.

Pride is a very common failing. I believe that. But Humility is the antidote. Choose wisely the friends we make. Some give life, some take it away.

 

God Really Likes Caring for You

God really likes caring for you. His disposition is not that of a disappointed father, with scowl and grumpy voice to match. He is not waiting for you to get your act together before you deserve the grace he has at his disposal. He is your shepherd who loves you, his sheep.

I have nothing more to say. Simply that. God really likes caring for you. Rejoice and be his child today.