Thru the Bible – Day 340

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Day 340 – Thru the Bible

Today we complete Hebrews. Well done!

Hebrews 11We sometimes do not see the forest because we are intently looking at the trees. So it is with this great “faith chapter.” It is easy to get lost in the details and to miss the big picture. The heroes and heroines of faith have much in common. Often their faith is directed to the future, which is unseen: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Why this emphasis? The answer lies in the historical occasion of the book. The writer motivates those who have professed Jesus under the threat of persecution. He wants them to endure to obtain God’s unseen, future promises. This is the accent when he introduces the concept of faith in 6:12: he wants his readers to be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” That is what Abraham did and that is what the witnesses to faith in chapter 11 do too. “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household.”

Because the original readers of Hebrews would not receive the full benefits of their faith in this life, the author focuses on heroes whose lives highlighted the future dimension of faith. Abraham, for example, “was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” In fact, the writer summarizes the witnesses to faith up to and including Abraham in this way: “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.”

Another key dimension of faith extolled in chapter 11 is its firm, steadfast character, especially in light of present sufferings and future glory. So it is that Moses chose “rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ [i.e., being like Christ in suffering on behalf of God’s people] greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt.” Hebrews combines the steadfastness of faith with its unseen reward when it says of Moses, “he endured as seeing him who is invisible.”

If ever there was a biblical chapter that prosperity theology teachers should avoid, this is it! The heroines and heroes of faith hardly “named it and claimed it.” To the contrary, “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about. . . . destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy.” The chapter ends still focusing on the future promises of faith: “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” These words draw attention to the final salvation accomplished by Jesus’ priestly ministry. Old Testament saints looked forward to this ministry and, amazingly, Believers now enjoy its fruits, solely by God’s grace.

Sometimes Hebrews 11 is referenced as the New Testament’s “Hall of Heroes,” but it is important to remember that the “heroes” identified were often quite fallible in character. They became heroic not by their abilities or advantages but by the eternal purposes of the One in whom they placed their faith. The strong medicine of chapter 11 is applied to hearers’ needs in the first four verses of chapter 12.

How does seeing the faith of Old Testament Believers encourage your faith?

 

Hebrews 12Missiologists teach us that the church in any one locale needs the church in the whole world in order to read the Bible correctly. So it is with this passage. Believers under persecution will find these words and their ensuing fellowship with Jesus in His sufferings very precious. Those Believers who have not known persecution will have more trouble identifying with the kind of suffering the writer of Hebrews wants to address.

So, the writer appeals to the “hall of fame” of faith in chapter 11 to motivate his hearers and future generations: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses . . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

But Hebrews does not ultimately look to these old covenant heroes for motivation to run the race; rather, we are to run “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus, as Mediator of the new covenant, is the supreme example of a faith that endures to the end. He suffered the ultimate martyrdom—the holy Son of God on a Roman cross—to save us from our sins. His struggle and victory are ours—He alone is “the founder and perfecter of our faith,” the champion who brought faith to its complete expression and as such is also our ultimate example of bearing up steadfastly under unjust suffering (1 Peter 2:19–23).

Perhaps it is shocking to us, when reading Hebrews 12:3–4, how tough biblical Christianity is. Yet even more shocking perhaps is how soft and untested many Believers are who have not faced persecution. The writer points his readers squarely to Jesus: “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” We are to draw courage from Jesus’ steadfast example of honoring God no matter the cost. And we too must be willing to pay the ultimate price: “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

Many of us will not likely have to be martyrs, but when we face any level of persecution how do you allow the Gospel to strengthen you?

 

Hebrews 13The readers are to remember their former leaders, who preached the gospel to them and have since died, and to follow their example of faith in life and death. These leaders, similar to the examples of faith in chapter 11, displayed a faith that looked to the future. They remind us of Abel, who “through his faith, though he died . . . still speaks.” What message did the deceased leaders bear? In a word, the gospel! “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Leaders come and go, but the message about Jesus, our Lord and Savior, remains the same. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). And this is the word the church is heeds. We are not to “be led away by diverse and strange teachings,” whatever they may be. Verse 8, which extols Jesus, is the bridge between verses 7 and 9. The leaders who have passed on to their reward preached Jesus, our faithful High Priest. Any teaching which rejects Him must itself be rejected.

In contrast to the false teaching, “it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.” The author has implied this all along and now says it explicitly. God’s grace is not only His love that saved us when we were estranged from Him (Ephesians 2:4–9); it is also God’s power that enables us to live in the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:10). “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9) is a key principle for the Christian life.

We need God’s grace once and for all to become His children. We also need it every day of our lives to walk as His children. That is why Paul prays that God would grant his readers grace both at the beginning and at the close of his letters. And that is why Hebrews ends this way too. We must rely on God’s matchless grace day by day.

The end of Hebrews combines a prayer with a benediction. The author prays that “the God of peace” may equip his readers to bring glory to God. As we might expect, once more he exalts Jesus, the theme of the book: “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 . . .” Although Jesus’ resurrection was implied earlier (7:16, 24–25), here alone in Hebrews is it explicit. God the Father raised His Son from the dead, ratifying His work on the cross and promising eternal life to all who believe in him. “The blood of the eternal covenant” speaks of Jesus’ death; it refers to “the new covenant” that He ratified with His blood (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25). As, in John’s Gospel, Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11–18), so here He is “the great shepherd of the sheep.” He is the Savior who on the basis of His death and resurrection leads His flock to eternal rest.

The writer prays that God the Father who raised Jesus will furnish Believers with all they need to bring glory to God. It is important to see that God is at work here. As Paul says elsewhere, “Work out your own salvation . . . for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12–13). God not only equips His people to follow and to honor him, He also works “in us that which is pleasing in his sight.” Hebrews thus concludes with another reminder that the strength to glorify God is provided by God Himself. We work hard in the Christian life. But it is not a self-help program. Paul succinctly summarizes, “I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29).

How do you see God being glorified in your life?

 

What other thoughts or questions does today’s reading bring up?

 

Some of these notes are from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible study notes. We highly recommend this study Bible.

Videos produced by www.TheGospelProject.com.

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