Sunday Sermon Notes: June 22, 2016

Title: Our Great High Priest

Text: Hebrews 4:14-16

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16

It is altogether fitting that the text shifts from warning against falling away, to the piercing power of the Word of God, to our Great High Priest Jesus, for our author has been warning and encouraging his readers to hang on to their faith through a time of great trial lest they should perish. Think about it: They were being told to endure a really horrible time in history, Christians were being burned alive for fun and amusement, and the author is telling the people to endure that rather than turn their backs on God: Yikes!

There is a huge difference between unbelief, turning our backs on God and making an error or committing a sin.  The error part, the sin part is not a problem, for we have a great High Priest.  Since Jesus, our “big brother” has ascended into heaven where He is our high priest who makes intercession for us with God, we must, and we can hold onto our faith.  Jesus, who makes intercession for us with God, has endured every temptation; He knows what it’s like to be a weak human, so He will understand and intercede for us.

Do you see how encouraging this must have been for those brothers and sisters who first heard it?  Isn’t it pretty encouraging for us now?  Do I hear an “Amen”?

With this in mind, the next step is to approach the throne of grace with confidence.  Why? Because we know who our High Priest is, there is nothing to fear… We can remain in our faith and seek forgiveness when we fall short; there is no need to give up and turn our backs on God, thinking that our case is hopeless, for Jesus is in our corner.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: June, 2019

Title: God’s Rest

Text: Hebrews 4:1-13

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,

“So I declared on oath in my anger,
    ‘They shall never enter my rest.

And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”

Hebrews 4:1-5

The warning continues in this text, but now the warning is building up to something wonderful.  The “promise” of entering His rest still stands. Needless to say, this is sometimes a source of confusion; what exactly is this “rest” that still stands?  In the original Old Testament context, the “rest” was the Promised Land, but it was also the Sabbath.  Now, there seems to be another context taking shape: What’s going on?

Whatever is going on, we still have that hope somehow, and we need to be careful that we don’t fall away from God before we get there. Now our author adds the rest and the Sabbath.  So is the Sabbath as promise?  Some say so, but last time I checked, it wasn’t a promise, it was a Commandment!  In fact, it’s one of the 10 Commandments, but unlike the other 9, Jesus didn’t re-assert this one in the Gospels:  Why? Because it was the sign of the Old Covenant, just as circumcision is the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant; neither are in force now. And yet, there is still a rest for the people of God…?

Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted:

“Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts.”

Hebrews 4:6-7

There it is again!  There is still a “rest” that we might enter into, and we need to ensure that our hearts aren’t hardened into disbelief, or we might miss out.  I don’t know about you, but I think this is really cool… and great fun! What could he mean?

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:8-11

Again the promise, again the warning- and more clues. Joshua led the people into the Land, Moses had given them the Law, and still centuries later, David spoke of another “rest” and the disobedience of old.  Hebrews has several instances where the Old Testament is said to contain “shadows” that are pictures of the glorious reality to come in Christ, and this is the first one of them, even though the author hasn’t come right out and said so yet.  In this case, both the Land and the Sabbath are mere shadows of a great reality that doesn’t come until Christ.  Everything in the Old Covenant is centered on the physical world. The promises, the curses, the worship, the Temple, the festivals… all are physically oriented, but point to a great reality that was to come; this is called “typology” and these things are called “types.”  Thus, the Land and the Sabbath are “types” of something wonderful that the people of the Old Testament had no real concept of… eternity.  When Jesus began speaking of eternal life, He was speaking of something that the Old Testament made no mention of… at all. All of the promises in the Law were earthly, not one was eternal in scope.  Jews do not die and go to Heaven, they die and live through their children. If you don’t believe me, ask one of your Jewish friends.

Yes, I know that some Christians might want to dispute this, saying that God hasn’t kept the Land promise, and will do so in the millennium. Personally, I think that runs counter to our text right here, but my normal reply is: “Would you rather have a Tel Aviv address for a thousand years, or eternal life with Christ?  Jesus fulfilled the promise of land with something far better than real estate: This is the wonderful part. Yet, another warning, “make every effort” to enter the rest and not to perish because of disobedience.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Hebrews 4:12-13

This is the sternest warning of all in this section, and yet it is wonderful at the same time: The Word of God- powerful, penetrating, alive! We often refer to the Scriptures as the Word of God, and so they are.  Then we go and relegate it to a mere academic discipline full of teachings, rules and promises… even trivia, but the Word of God is never trivial.  The Word of God is powerful, the most powerful force in our universe, for it holds the entire universe together as we saw in chapter 1.  The Word is also a Person.  Go back and read John 1:1-4; 14.  The Word of God is none other than Jesus Christ Himself: The Word of God is Wonderful!

 

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Worry

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Matthew 6:25-27

Jesus tells us right off that He is giving a summation to this section, by beginning with the word “therefore”. As always, “therefore” is used to indicate that the writer or speaker is drawing a conclusion from what has just been written or spoken; in this case it is the discussion of treasures.

Jesus’ words here are very simple and to the point: worrying is pointless.

“Yes, well that’s all well and good but…”

If you are thinking along those lines, please check the verses once again, and let me know where you found “but” in what Jesus said; I can’t find it.

Jesus continues:

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:28-34

Jesus moves on from food to clothing here, making the same point again: Worrying is pointless. Yet here, He does an interesting thing, He expands the section from the context immediately following His remarks on money into the larger context of 6:1, which you will recall is a Kingdom context, in verse 33, and then restates the point: Don’t worry.

Notice also that in this chapter we began with three illustrations each dealing with spiritual practices (6:2-18), after which Jesus moved into money, possessions and wealth management (6:19-27) and finished on the very practical note of placing our trust in God and putting His Kingdom first. Now comes the hard part: In “real life” what do we actually do?

I can’t answer that question for any of you in particular, but my observation of Christians in general over several decades tells me that what most of us really do is everything Jesus is telling us not to do, especially worrying about things.

We worry about what others think of us, about whether we are the most “righteous” or the most “spiritual”. We worry about money, finances, jobs, paying the bills, retirement, essentials of life… and frills and entertainment; these are even the things we pray about most often, along with health concerns. Yet Jesus is telling the people that in His Kingdom, this is not how His Kingdom people should arrange their priorities.

“But Don, it’s just too hard!”

Please remember that I am also living in this world along with you; I get that this can be difficult, but as is true with most aspects of the Christian life, it is usually not as difficult as we make it, for what it really is, is counter-intuitive more than anything else.

I am a work in progress just like everyone else, and I have a long way to go before I am “just like” Jesus was; a very long way indeed. However, I have discovered that for me at least, a recognition that this is all simply counter-intuitive, rather than overly difficult, simplifies the process quite a bit. The result, at least for me, has been that I have come to see Jesus’ teaching in this area as liberating and empowering, rather than hard and severe, and that most of the cares of this world are a waste of time and energy.

Of course, I might just be crazy…

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Treasures

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Matthew 6:19-24

In the ancient near-East, possessions such as fine clothes, precious stones and food were considered necessary to lessen anxieties and insecurity about the future. Jesus sees it differently, for from His point of view, these things do not bring about security in any way, for all can be lost, stolen or ruined in this very difficult and unpredictable world.

In the previous several verses, Jesus has been hammering away at a principle found in Matthew 6:1, namely that we should not be pious or religious to impress others with our great righteousness, for this is not the sort of righteousness that God is interested in. Rather, God is interested in a people who will follow Him, worship Him, and have relationship with Him. Jesus has illustrated this principle with three examples; giving to the needy, prayer and fasting, and now in these verses, Jesus addresses the money issue.

The accumulation of possessions does not increase a person’s security or safety; money cannot buy us years of life or a moment’s happiness. Following God in close relationship on the other hand, can ensure an eternity of riches in heaven, that nothing can guarantee on this earth, and while there is nothing inherently wrong or evil about either money or possessions, the love of either can (and will) obstruct our relationship with God, placing our eternal future at risk. Can a moment’s comfort on earth be worth risking eternity in heaven?

Sounds like a bad idea to me, and Jesus would seem to agree.

Here’s an interesting thing to consider: If you go back to the beginning of the chapter and carefully read the three examples Jesus has given, you will notice that in each one, He has given us some clear ideas about how to store up some treasure in heaven…

Take a look for yourself!

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Fasting

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:16-18

In Jesus’ day, fasting was a popular, common and much valued spiritual discipline, the Pharisees for instance fasted twice per week, usually on Mondays and Thursdays. It was also a part of certain festivals, such as on the Day of Atonement, and people would often fast individually as a sign of their religious devotion; Jesus would seem to have no problem with this practice. With this in mind, let’s also remember that this is now His third example of the principle He put forth in 6:1…

The difficulty that arose here is that not only was fasting used as a spiritual practice, it was also used to impress others with one’s spirituality. In that vein, I can tell you that I know of two kinds of people who regularly fast: The ones who do it to impress others, and the ones who do it the way Jesus taught. The thing is, I can give names of people in the first group, but I have no idea who belongs to the second… and that is precisely how Jesus wanted it.

I’ve been asked many times if we, as Christians should fast, and all I can really say to that is that if the Lord leads you to fast, then you had best do so, but make sure I never hear of it. I have also been asked to attend sessions where a group gets together for “fasting and prayer” to pray for such and such. I attended one of these once, I left early, and I’ve never done it again. You are free to draw your own conclusions…

So what am I really saying about fasting?

If the Lord leads you to fasting, then obey His leading and fast. If the Lord leads a group to fasting and prayer and you are one of those being led in that direction, then do it. If not, then don’t and don’t concern yourself about what the others think of you, because f you do, then you are the hypocrite.

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“This, then, is how you should pray”

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 6:9-15

Keeping the context of 6:1 in mind, take a look at this prayer, what do you see?

Do you see “look at me”? Do you see “gimme the goodies”?

Hardly.

What we can see here is humility, putting God’s purpose first and foremost, necessities forgiveness, and overcoming the evil one; it is elegant in its simplicity.

We are addressing the Father in heaven, acknowledging His glory and giving Him honor, and then asking for His kingdom to come in its fullness, where His will be the only will that is done on earth, just like in heaven. Notice that this doesn’t leave all that much room for my own will to be done, in fact, my will and your will are not mentioned at all.

There is a request that God would provide for us, a humble request to be sure, and then a request for God’s forgiveness as we forgive others; a scary thought for many, I might add. Finally, we are to ask God not to lead us into temptation, but to deliver us from the evil one, again a request of supreme humility. When you put this all together, Jesus is teaching us to pray in a manner that is entirely foreign to the religious life of His time, and a lot more foreign in our own time than we might like to think about, with only God’s will being mentioned.

After this, Jesus goes on to expand a little bit on the whole subject of forgiveness making a conditional statement in verse 15, which must have blown the minds of the Pharisees and their gang of friends. Truly, this is radical now as it was back then.

Was it Jesus’ intention that we simply recite these words over and over? I really doubt it; I see this as a model for prayer, the elements to be included in prayer, rather than something to be memorized and recited to the absence of anything else, particularly when we lose what He is actually saying here. Of course, I would never say that there is anything wrong with reciting these verses, or any verses.

Here’s some homework: Reflect and pray on these verses, asking Him to reveal them in their fullness to you. I think you’ll find this to be a fascinating exercise in spiritual practice. Next time, we’ll see what Jesus says about fasting.

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Prayer

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Matthew 6:5-8

For us to properly understand these verses, and the ones to follow, we need to be reminded of what Jesus was talking about in this entire section; He set the context in 6:1:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

If we remember this context, and that prayer is His second illustration for this point (after giving to the needy) then the significance of these verses becomes quite stark, even convicting for many of us.

Prayer, talking with God, the very core of our relationship with God, is not intended to be a public spectacle. It is not something you do to impress your family and friends with how righteousness you are; it is never to be a “look at me” kind of thing in whatever form the “look at me” might take. In fact, there really is no part of our relationship with God that is “public” except that others will see the results of our closeness as He works through us to accomplish His purpose.

I hope that doesn’t sound too harsh; but to be fair, I’m being more diplomatic than Jesus was!

With all of that said, there is of course an important role to be played by corporate prayer and worship, but clearly that isn’t what Jesus is referring to here.

Let’s be honest, when these verses are considered in context, they really don’t need much explanation, but I would like to add a note on prayer and relationship with God. God created each one of us, He knows each of us better than we know ourselves, and He comes to us where we are, relating to us in the way that He knows is most likely to be meaningful and significant. As a consequence, He relates to each one of us a little differently; there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to our relationships with Him, and anyone who tries to tell you that your relationship with Him must be like such and such is making a mistake, for our God is much bigger than that. In hearing people describe their relational experiences with God, I am often amazed by what I hear, they are so different from my own rather matter-of-fact “conversations” with Him, yet they are precious to the one describing them, just as mine are to me… and this is perfectly fine, perfectly normal, right and proper.

Yet God’s relational method is never just to make us look impressive to other people; that is the point Jesus is making here.

Next time we will continue in this passage, and in doing so, we will arrive at what is often called “The Lord’s Prayer”. I hope we will all keep this context in mind as we look at it, for in context, it is even more amazing than we might have thought… see you then!

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