Hebrews 13:1-18: “Outside the Gate”

Read: Hebrews 13:1-18

If one could produce a list of similar to the 10 Commandments in the New Testament, Hebrews 13 could probably suffice. In this chapter, the author of Hebrews exhorts his readers with a number of commands to follow that are in line with Christian principles:

  1. Love one another (v1).
  2. Be hospitable to strangers (v2). You very well may be entertaining angels!
  3. Remember those in prison (v3). This is probably talking about those who had been imprisoned for the same of the gospel such as Paul and Timothy.
  4. Honor marriage (v4).
  5. Be free from the love of money (v5).
  6. Remember, obey and imitate your leaders (v7, v17).
  7. Stay true to the teachings of Jesus (v8-9)
  8. Pray for the author (18-19). Apparently, he had been sent away or taken away for some reason, perhaps imprisoned.
  9. Praise God with worship and service to others (v15-16)

In the midst of these commands, the author of Hebrews makes one final doctrinal point concerning the sacrifice of bulls that are made in the tabernacle. Part of the blood and parts of the bull were used as a sin sacrifice, but the rest of the body was taken outside the camp and burned. When Jesus made his sacrifice though, the entire sacrifice was made outside the camp – his blood along with his entire body. The location is key here, because Jesus was ultimately rejected by the religious establishment of his day. Nevertheless, it was through his sacrifice that people are sanctified. In light of this sacrifice, the author encourages his readers to offer “sacrifices” of praise to God and good deeds to others. These are the sorts of sacrifices pleasing to God anyways (Micah 6:7-8).

Christian ideas and principles aren’t always accepted in every culture in every time. Nevertheless, in the same manner Jesus suffered “outside the gate”, Christians ought to suffer scorn even when their ideas aren’t popular. But what awaits Christians when they meet Jesus face to face is of much greater value than anything that being accepted by the world can offer. Knowing this can help encourage Christians as they walk through life, keeping Christ’s commands and holding fast to the promises he has given.

Lord, you weren’t popular when you came, but you endured for my sake!
Help me to do no less for your sake!

Hebrews 12:12-17: “Strengthen Your Weak Knees”

Read: Hebrews 12:12-17

The author of Hebrews has just encouraged his readers to shed sin and focus on Jesus. Coming off of this, he gives a great “therefore” talking about the implication of what he has just said concerning the cloud, race, and fatherly discipline metaphors. First, he encourages his readers to be “healed” rather than have what is “lame” be put out of joint. In the context, the author here is probably talking metaphorically again about the weak areas of one’s life, encouraging them to strengthen these areas so theses areas will not become problem areas later on. Second, he encourages his readers to strive for peace with everyone and holiness. The implication here is that without holiness no one will see the Lord. The author here seems to have a concern for the outsiders looking in, namely those who are not believers yet. For this reason, he wants those who are believers to be at peace with nonbelievers and to live in a way that his holy so the outsiders can see the Lord in through the believers. In regards to holiness, the author lists three things he wants his readers to do: see to that no one fails to receive the grace of God, that there be no “root of bitterness” among them that would “defile” them, and that there be no sexual immorality or “godlessness” (“godlessness” Gk: “bébēlos” here isn’t talking about lack of belief, rather lack of piety – the antithesis of respect for God.)

In regards to this, the author of Hebrews draws from the Old Testament concerning Esau, the eldest son of Isaac and brother of Jacob. Esau notoriously and foolishly sold his birthright – that is his blessing from his father as the oldest son – for a bowl of soup (Genesis 25:29-34). In doing so, Jacob received the blessing instead. When Esau realized what he had done, it was too late. His actions couldn’t be undone. He wanted to turn back his decision (that is “repent”) but he couldn’t. The relationships here were not damaged beyond repair. Jacob and Esau eventually reconciled (Genesis 33), but nevertheless what had been done could not be undone.

The admonitions to strengthen weak areas and to be found blameless speak to the importance of holy living. Many Christians are just one sin away from a something that could forever damage their witness as a follower of Jesus. Just about everyone could name some high profile minister whose moral failure sent his ministry into a tailspin. But being low profile doesn’t make one immune. A fit of rage at the wrong could cost one a job. One too many drinks could be the difference between the life and death of another person. But even so, the slow fade caused by the cancerous effects of a single, seemingly small sin could have last effects. Trading the blessings of Christ for short lived satisfaction is foolish and it is most certainly a hindrance rather than a help to the gospel.  Christians would be wise to identify areas of weakness and strengthen these areas before the weakness turns into a debilitating sin.

Lord, Help me to know where I am weak so that by your help I may be made strong.

Hebrews 11:23-29: The Faith of Moses and Other Messy People

Read: Hebrews 11:23-29

Moses, although he is commended for his faith, was not without problems. He was a timid man, wanting someone else to take on the responsibility of leading the people (Exodus 3:1-22). He was a fugitive on the run after he killed a man for abusing a Hebrew slave (Exodus 1:11-25). He struggled with obeying God at times, which cost him the ability to partake in the Promised Land (Numbers 20:10-13).  Despite these shortcomings, Moses became the intrepid leader of Israel during the exodus and wandering in the desert. The author of recounts the remarkable acts of faith surrounding his family and Moses. He tells how Moses became the son of the Egyptian princess, yet scorned the wealth of Egypt for his people’s sake, encountered God at the burning bush and followed God’s commands concerning the first Passover.

Moses is but one example of how God takes people and their mishaps and uses them for his purposes and glory. The Bible is chock-full of stories of people who, although they had shortcomings and faltered, God used them. People such as Samson, David, Rahab, Solomon, Peter, Paul and Thomas are a few. Every challenge that Moses and these other men and women of God overcame was done so by faith in spite of whatever shortcomings they had.

Make no mistake: God wants his people to live according to righteousness and  God does not take sin lightly. The author of Hebrews already gave a staunch warning about those who willfully and deliberately keep on sinning after receiving knowledge of the truth (Hebrews 10:26-31). Nevertheless, God can still use sinful people even today to accomplish his will. The difference is what one does with his or her sin. When those who do believe confess their sin, God is faithful and just and forgives and cleanses one from sin (1 John 1:9). Keeping a contrite heart focused on God in faith and acting according to his plan will accomplish much.

Lord, I’m messy, but with your help I believe you can use me for your glory!

Hebrews 10:1-10: True Sacrifices

Read: Hebrews 10:1-10

Burnt offerings and sacrifices are not what the Lord delights in, nor does he require them, according to the Psalmist in Psalm 40. The author of Hebrews quotes from this psalm to make a point about the insufficiency of the blood of bulls and rams to atone for sin. On the other hand, the author of Hebrews argues that in these sacrifices is a reminder of the cost for sin. Israel on many occasions forgot this and got in the habit of rote ritualistic religion. What God really wanted them to do is come to him with a contrite heart and broken spirit (Psalm 51:16-17, 1 Samuel 15:22, Isaiah 1:11-17, Jeremiah 7:22-24, Micah 6:6-8).

The author of Hebrews then goes onto apply what David wrote about the obedience to Jesus who came to “do your will” – that is the will of God. The gospel of John over and over asserts that Jesus came to do the will of the Father (John 4:34, John 5:30, John 6:38, John 15:21). The work of Jesus, as the author of Hebrews notes, was to do away with the Old Covenant and establish the New Covenant by dying on the cross. His death was once and for all. There is no need for the sacrifice for bulls and rams anymore, and even so, they could not accomplish the task of forgiving sins in the first place.

When Christians approach God, they should do so by the blood of Christ, not through their own merits or through some other sacrifice other than Jesus’ sacrifice. God does not delight in any sacrifice made by means of rote rituals or contemptuous hearts. He desires a contrite, humble heart and obedience to his will. Jesus came to do the will of the Father, and so should those who call upon his name.

Lord, you desire obedience and humility – help me to offer these to you!

Hebrews 9:23-28: Once and For All

Read: Hebrews 9:23-28

Toward the end of Hebrews 9, after having showed how Christ inaugurated the New Covenant with blood, argues that Christ’s one-time sacrifice is sufficient on two counts.

  • First, he argues that Jesus offering is sufficient for all time. The offerings of animals were necessary to purify the things that were used in the tabernacle and temple, serving their purpose while the old covenant was in place. The inauguration of the New Covenant was made in blood too in the tabernacle in heaven, but this blood was the blood of Jesus himself. The difference, however, was that Jesus’ sacrifice was once and for all because he offered his own blood – a perfect sacrifice. Jesus does not have to offer himself continually, year after year, but died once, and this satisfied the sacrifices for all time.
  • Second the author of Hebrews argues Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient once and for all because he died once in the same manner as all men do. Jesus died once for many taking their sins upon himself. Jesus himself was without sin, yet took the sins of the world upon himself and died as men do, and in doing so took the judgment due sin upon himself.

Knowing the Christ died once and for all means that salvation is sealed once and for all for those who believe. Salvation will come when Jesus returns. Christians should be “eager” for his return. Jesus’ return could be at any time, and nobody knows when he will return (Matthew 24:42-44). Nevertheless, Christians should not let complacency set in, but should live their lives in eager expectation of his return and be ready when he does. The citizenship of the believer is in heaven, and when he does return he will transform and glorify those who believe! (Philippians 3:20)

Lord, my sin had been dealt with once and for all. Help me to be eager for your return!

Hebrews 9:16-22: The Shedding of Blood

Read: Hebrews 9:16-22

Shedding blood seems like a grotesque and gruesome act. And rightfully so, as the use of blood was used to show the weightiness of whatever it was being applied to, and in this case it was the initiation of covenants. The author of Hebrews quotes from Exodus 24:9, reminding his readers to that the Law of Moses and the Old Covenant was inaugurated by blood. He then goes to argue that the New Covenant, which he spoke if in Hebrews 8 was inaugurated by blood also, namely the blood of Jesus himself.

During Jesus’ last meal with the disciples before he went to the cross, Jesus used common elements during his day – bread and wine – to symbolize his broken body and own blood that inaugurated the New Covenant (Matthew 26:26-28). The early Christians used these symbols and partook of them often to remind themselves of this fact. Paul explains that these elements were not to be taken lightly, because these elements represent the body and blood of Christ that was poured out for the forgiveness of sin (1 Corinthians 11:23-29). Every time Christians take communion, they should examine themselves and think about the price Jesus paid to inaugurate the New Covenant. Forgiveness of sin wasn’t cheap – it wasn’t cheap under the Old Covenant, nor is it cheap in the New Covenant. As Jesus stated and the author of Hebrews stated, his blood was for the forgiveness of sin which is not a light issue.

Lord, you made my forgiveness possible by shedding your blood!

Help me to not make light of it!

Hebrews 4:12-17: The Throne of Grace

Read: Hebrews 4:12-17

Coming on the heels of the author of Hebrews encouraging his readers to enter rest rather than disobey, Hebrews 4:12 teaches that the word of the Lord is powerful: it judges even the thoughts and intentions of man. This verse is often used as a proof-text for underscoring the inerrancy of Scripture, and rightfully so. Scripture leaves nothing uncovered, and each person must “give an account” in light of the Scriptures. Paul gives a similar thought concerning the nature of scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 where he says that scripture is good for reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. For these reasons, one is wise to pay attention to what it says.

Because the word of God does expose sin, the author of Hebrews encourages his readers to “hold fast” to their confession. The confession of Christians is relying on Jesus for the forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice that he made on the behalf of all men. Jesus is also the high priest of the Christian faith, who was without sin, yet was tempted. He can sympathize with our weakness. At the same time he can enter into the throne room of God without spot or blemish. It is through Jesus that those who believe have access the throne room too. In short, the Word of God shows all they are sinners and they need grace, but Jesus who sits on the “throne of grace” intercedes on the behalf of Christians so they receive mercy.

As one studies the word of God, he or she should become very aware of the weaknesses in his or her life. In light of these weaknesses, Christians should plea the mercy of Jesus who is the high priest that can sympathize with weakness. God promises to forgive sin (1 John 1:9) and Christians should make an effort to leave sin behind and pursue righteousness. With the help of the Spirit of God, one can grow and be helped by God in weaknesses (2 Corinthians 2:19).

Lord, use your word to show me I desperately need mercy!

Joshua 16: Could Of, Should Of

Read: Joshua 16

Joshua 16 is a certainly a short text, covering the inheritance of Joseph’s descendants. Verse 10 makes a particular note about this inheritance: they did not oust the people of Gezer, rather they made them vassals to themselves such that the people of Gezer paid tribute Israel.  Verse 10 looks like Joshua 15:63 in some respect because it mentions a people living among Israel although Israel was supposed to drive them out. Joshua 15:63 however notes they “could not” drive out the Jebusites. Joshua 16:10 says that Israel “did not” drive out the people of Gezer. Some commentators have suggested that these should be treated the same, but this is problematic because Isreal was powerful enough to subjugate Gezer. It stands to reason that if Israel could subjugate Gezer, they could have also ousted Gezer as well.

Numbers 33:55 is pretty clear about the implications about what would happen if Israel did not drive out the inhabitants of Canaan. They would be a “prick in the eye” and “thorn in the side” and would also “vex” the land. Joshua gives warning against this in his parting word (Joshua 23:12-13). The very existence of Canaanites among the Israelites would be troublesome, a temptation leading them away from God to following other false gods, and sure enough, this happened (Judges 2:3).

The presence of temptation to turn away in the midst of believers does not always seem harmful, but like. Jesus taught about having sin around in one’s life. He says get rid of that which causes one to stumble (Matthew 18:8-9). James describes the nature of sin when one is tempted: temptation leads to sin, and sin brings forth death. That which Christians do have control over, they should remove. But Christians don’t have control over everything. For this reason one has to also be firmly rooted in what helps guide one away from sin: the word of God (Psalm 119:9, Psalm 119:105, 2 Timothy 3:15-17). By taking reproof from the word of God one can combat the temptations that come one’s way!

Lord, help rid myself of temptations that I can remove, and combat the ones that I cannot.

Joshua 8:30-35: Remembering the Law

Read: Joshua 8:30-35

After the battle of Ai, Joshua and the people of Israel set a time for remembering the law. Joshua built an altar from a large, uncut stone as the law instructed them to do (Exodus 20:24-25) and made sacrifices to the God. He also and wrote a copy of the law on it. After writing the law on the stone, he read the law aloud – every command, every blessing, and every curse. Joshua and the people were meticulous to follow the law in the procedure they did, they copied the law onto the stone, and they also read the whole thing allowed. The book Joshua goes the extra length, emphasizing the fact that Joshua read all of it in detail and that all heard it: men, women, children, and even foreigners living among them.

The people of God had seen what even a little bit of sin could do to them, and the time of remembering was a necessary thing to remember that God wanted their complete obedience to the law. Another time the entire law was read allowed in the presence of the people is found in Nehemiah 9. Here, the people of God remember the law and confess their sins to God. The law is read aloud. They recount God acting mightily among their ancestors during the days of Moses and Joshua and yet Israel still was stubborn and would not obey God. But they also recall God’s mercy and patience with Israel and they plead for it yet again (Nehemiah 9:32).

The New Testament explains that the law was given to make those who had it aware of their sin (Romans 3:20, Romans 7:7). It gives knowledge to what is sin and becomes a “tutor” or “schoolmaster” in the sense that it leads one to Christ and realizes that one must be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24). Paul continues to argue that there is no difference between Greeks or Jews, slave or free, male or female – the condition is all the same. When Joshua read the law, it was in the presence of everyone for the highest of the high to the lowest of the low. And there were even foreigners living among them. For Christians, remember the law makes one all the more aware of sin and how desperately one needs God’s grace, just as it did during the days of Joshua and the days of Nehemiah. Often times the law is overlooked in the scriptures, but reading through the law and hearing it is a good practice. If one’s heart is open to correction, it should have the same effect on Christians today as it has had on the people of God through all ages!

Lord, use your law to lead me back to you!

Joshua 8:1-29: Getting Back in the Game

Read: Joshua 8:1-29

Israel had just suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the people of Ai. They were presumptuous  about God working on their behalf and attacked the city without seeking God. When they suffered a defeat, Joshua was dejected and sought God. They then found Achan who had had kept something forbidden by the ban. Joshua and Israel then dealt decisively with the sin. God told Joshua to not be “dismayed” – that is defeated and broken. Joshua picked himself up and God told him to take Ai as he had Jericho. They used ambush tactics, but God gave Joshua a command: to raise his javelin toward Ai. At this, Joshua did as God commanded and Ai fell and all its inhabitants fell under the ban, just as Jericho did.

Even though Israel had sin among it, they dealt with the sin and felt its remorse. After this though, Israel got right with God and got back on the track of doing as God commanded them to do. A similar story of one failing but getting a second chance happened with Peter. Peter denied Jesus three times, even after saying that he would never do such a thing. And when Peter did deny Jesus, he remembered what Jesus had spoken to him concerning this and wept bitterly. Without a doubt, Peter felt like an athlete who had been ejected from the game and felt like his career was over (John 18:25-27, Luke 22:62). But quite the contrary was true. Even though Peter had denied Jesus, Jesus was not finished with Peter. In fact, this gave Jesus and opportunity to model one of the things he had taught Peter: love and forgiveness. Jesus, after Peter denied him three times, asks Peter if he loved him three times. Peter in all cases answers that he does indeed love Jesus. Jesus in response to these answers commands Peter then to “Tend his lambs”, “Feed his sheep”, and “Tend his sheep”. Jesus was metaphorically telling Peter to not feel down in the dumps, but get back in the game and do what he had been commissioned to do (John 21:15-23). God was telling Joshua to not feel down in the dumps, but get back to the business of carrying out God’s commands and leading the people of Israel in the commands of God.

The command to follow Jesus went out to the original disciples at the beginning of his ministry and at the end of his ministry on earth. Like Peter though, faltering in one’s walk with God does not cast him or her out of God’s presence forever. What God wanted from Israel and Joshua was not a prideful heart that denied what they did, rather a contrite heart and a broken spirit (Psalm 51:17), and Joshua had this. God does not give up on people; rather people give up on God. But when one does falter, one need only confess it to God and God is faithful to restore (1 John 1:9) and give someone a second chance. And one can continue to walk in the ways of God all the more, following his commands!

Lord, help me not to wallow in the mire, but get back to following you after I fall!

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