Saturday, September 15, 2018

Jesus Tunnel Vision: Hebrews 10:32-12:17

You have probably read or at least heard of two famous passages from Hebrews Chapter 11: the Hall of Faith and Chapter 12:1-2. What if we are missing the real point behind these passages? This passage is so much more than a demonstration of the power of faith, but there is a much greater and often missed point here.

In order to understand this, we must go back to the context in Chapter 10. The author of Hebrews prompts his readers, Christians with a Hebrew heritage, to consider the struggles of their past brought about by persecution(Heb 10:32-35). The author tells his readers that they need to develop endurance. Once they have endurance to do God’s will, they will be able to receive their promised reward(10:35-36). He reminds his reader of a teaching from the prophet Habakkuk, the righteous will live by faith.

This point launches the famous “Hall of Faith”(10:39). Based off the understanding that the righteous live by faith, the author of Hebrew defines faith- hope in things not seen(11:1). He goes on to give examples of righteous acts done by faith done by: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Israel, Samson, Jephthah, David, Gideon, Barak and Samuel. Throughout the showcase, he emphasizes how all of them experienced struggles and none received what they were promised(11:6, 11:9, 11:13-15, 11:36-40). He lists torture, flogging, imprisonment, being sawed in half and stoning as means of their persecution. Backlash against them was so severe many wore goat and lamb skins to hide, while others hide in caves, mountains, deserts and pits in the Earth.

The author appeals to the examples of the past and creates a forward moving application. All sins and distractions from the pursuit Jesus Christ should be cast aside(12:1). He tells his readers to run the race with endurance by fixing their eyes on Jesus Christ. Since running a race was a Greek symbol for passionately chasing victory, it can mean to continue in life with endurance. Fixing eyes on Jesus literally means, to look away from everything else; in other words we should have tunnel vision focus for Jesus. The author of Hebrews tell his readers to intently and exclusively focus on Jesus Christ and the suffering that he had to endure(12:1-2). The author reminds the readers that most of them have not experience persecution that lead to bloodshed(12:3), but Jesus did experience this.

Finally, the author interprets an old Hebrew proverb written by Solomon: Don’t ignore the discipline of God, do not allow it to wear you down for it is done out of love. The author explains how only a father’s legitimate children receive his discipline, out of an intention of love. The author concludes his discussion on endurance and suffering by driving the point: struggles happen through God’s discipline. The whole point of Hebrews 10:32-12:12 is to encourage the reader to have endurance through their suffering. This passage is ended with instruction: don’t be worn down, be peaceful, be holy and sexually pure, set an example for the unbelievers. Read Hebrews 10:32-12:12 in light of the whole context. What can God teach you from this passage?

Sunday, August 5, 2018

A Teaching of the Cross

During his crucifixion, Jesus hung on the cross in darkness for three hours. On the closing verge of the darkness, Jesus echoed the great question of David, recorded in Psalms (22) (Mark 15:33-34, Mtt 27:45-46, Lk 23:44): “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psa 22:1). In order to understand why Jesus repeated David’s question, his crucifixion must be understood in light of Psalm 22.

By quoting the Psalm, Jesus made an intentional appeal to the Psalm’s content and a personal connection to it’s spirit of agony. The circumstances in which David penned the Psalm are unknown; however, the message of the poetic prayer clearly portrayed suffering. Much of the suffering language David used can be applied directly to Jesus’ death and was regarded as a direct fulfillment by the authors of the Gospels. Verses 6-8 of the Psalm (Ps 22:6-8) seem to describe the exact situation Jesus was in. As he hung on the wood, the spectators jeered Jesus. Matthew and Mark both describe the spectators shaking their heads (Ps 22:7) and shouting “God will save this man”(Ps 22:8; Mtt 27:38-43, Mrk 15:27-32). After Jesus had been put to the cross, the Roman soldiers divided his himatia (outer garments) and divided them among themselves. His chiton (undershirt) was one piece, so they had to cast lots to see who would keep it. John notes this as a realization of David’s Psalm (Mrk 15:24, Mtt 27:35, Jhn 19:23-24).

There is much more in Psalm 22 that the Gospel writers do not connect to Jesus’ crucifixion. Without the insights of the Gospels, it is difficult to apply all of the Psalm directly to Jesus; yet, David’s word clearly are applicable in spirit (and even the physical descriptions). Whether or not he recited the entire Psalm, Jesus came to the same conclusion David did: “It is finished”(Ps 22:31, Jhn 19:30). Then he dedicated his spirit to God and he died (Lk 23:46, Mrk 15:37, Mtt 27:50). Even while on the cross, Jesus taught something: rest in God! He used David’s deep question and made it his own while he suffered excruciating physical pain, ultimate humiliation and an intense spiritual battle (which brought about Salvation). When feeling abandoned by God, rest in him. Study Psalm 22 and discover David’s amazing insights into life.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Will God Reject Forever: Psalm 77

Dramatized reading of Psalm 77
Suffering can lead to some of the most surprising and difficult questions, often leading to the doubt of God’s goodness. The psalmist and musician, Asaph struggled with some of the great questions of God’s goodness while suffering and wrote them down in what is now the 77th Psalm.

Asaph started by recording his suffering (either a past or present event): every time he thinks of God he is in despair, his soul is exhausted and his arms are outstretched without rest, he is speechless and does not obtain any rest (Psa 77:15).

So the poet begins to use the recollection of the past to help him in his struggle. As he remembers his past, four great questions arise. Will God permanently reject me? Has his love stopped? Are his promises no longer valid? Has his compassion ended due to his anger? (Psa 77:6-9). The psalm describes Asalph’s soul as ‘’searching’’, showing this was not a simple consideration, but a very deep effort to discover the answers. The reason for Asaph’s suffering is unknown here, but there is a very clear indication that the suffering is intense. Asaph’s suffering is so great, he is physically, emotionally and spiritually fatigued. His great suffering led him to seriously doubt some of the fundamental traits of God’s goodness. Asaph makes it known that his questions have arisen from the seemingly different nature of God’s actions and power (the right hand of God) from what it has been in the past. (Psa 77:10)

The psalms ends with the recollection of God’s past deeds, namely the deliverance of Israel. It was through God’s good deeds of the past, he proved who he was. Specifically, God’s control of the weather and the parting of the Red Sea (the same event) are taken as a testimony of God’s character (Psa 77:16-20).

In Asaph’s great questions of doubt, he recalled God’s good works of the past. While God’s actions may have been different for Asaph in that time, Asaph had assurance of God’s goodness based on recollection of past events. While anyone can have intense questions of doubt, by looking at what God’s has done in the past, we can be reassured that God is always good.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Does God Treat Good and Bad Alike: Abraham's Question of Doubt

Why does it seem that God treats good and bad people the same? Abraham asked this same question. In 1897 BC, God visited Abraham and Sarah manifested as three men. He came with some good news, Sarah would give birth to Isaac well beyond her child bearing years. With the promise of many descendants, Abraham had the burden of imparting righteousness on his children, so that it would carry on for future generations. Standing by the trees in Mamre, the three men contemplated whether or not they should reveal God’s plan to Abraham. Wanting to teach Abraham God’s righteousness they revealed God’s plan- to visit the metropolis of Sodom and destroy it if it proved to be wicked. (Gen 18:18-20, 2 Peter 2:6)

Just as the men got up to leave for Sodom, Abraham asked
“Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”(Gen 18:23-24 ESV).
Abraham knew that God was just, but he pondered if God would really kill the innocent alongside the wicked. God replied and said he would spare the city if there were fifty righteous in the city. It seems that this answer was not enough for Abraham for he proceeded to ask the same question again for forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty and ten people with a few pleas of pardoning(Gen 18:27-32). Every time God gave the same response, “for the sake of ‘number’ I will spare the city”.

After this Yahweh left and his two Angels went down to Sodom to investigate. There they verified that the city was very vile after they witnessed an attempt by the townsmen to rape them. So, Lot and his daughters escaped to the nearby town of Zoar and escaped Sodom before its destruction (alongside the cities of Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim(Deut 29:23).

God listened to Abraham’s request, by saving his nephew Lot from the city’s ultimate destruction(Gen 19:29). God did spare the righteous, like Abraham wanted. Lot was now out of his home and no longer had his wife(Gen 19:26, Luke 17:31-33)., but he was still spared. God did not treat good and evil the same here, in fact he gave some a chance to flee, but they did not take the opportunity(Gen 19:12-13; 19:17). Abraham had not witnessed God’s righteousness like in the destruction of Sodom and deliverance of Lot before(2 Peter 2:7). Abraham knew God’s nature, without it being shown to him; yet he doubted.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Where's God When You Need Him?

When bad things happen, where is God and the good things he brings? This a common question that many people have today when going through times of suffering. Over 3,200 years ago (around 1191 BC), Gideon asked this very question. Yes, Gideon the mighty warrior of God struggled with the same question
“if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian” (Judges 6:13 ESV)
Israel had been under oppression of the Midianites (also the Amalekites and other eastern peoples) for seven years when Gideon asks God his question. Anytime the Israelites would farm, the Midianites would come and take all of their produce and livestock (Jdg 6:3-5). The oppression of Midian was so severe, many of the Israelites hid in caves. Grain was so scarce, people would stuff it down wine presses in order to hide it (Jdg 6:11).

In the midst of Midian’s iron fist, the Angel of God appeared to Gideon and told him God was with him,a mighty warrior (Jdg 6:12). Here is where Gideon asks “God if you are really with us (me), where are your acts?”. Gideon made an appeal to God’s works when he delivered Israel from Egypt, such as the miracle of the Red Sea. If God had been so good to Israel back then, why were they under Midian’s oppression?

Around the same time God sent a prophet to the people to remind them of the promise made long ago after they were delivered from Egypt- obey me and you will be blessed, disobey me and you will be cursed (Deut 28). God told them not to worship false gods, yet here they were even after God did do amazing works, turning their attention to Canaanite deities (Jdg 6:7-8). So Gideon’s question was answered by the prophet- Israel was disobedient to God. Gideon’s claim that God had forsaken them, had seemed to be true- until God gave his reply:
“Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” (Judg 6:14 ESV)
Unfortunately, this answer did not satisfy Gideon, because he doubted that he could really save Israel from Midian. So when things are awry why aren’t God’s deeds present? It seems from this passage, that when God’s deeds are not present in our lives,it does not mean his watchful eye has left us. Oftentimes there is a good deed coming we don’t see or maybe he has something in store that is greater than our present suffering. Like Gideon, who was the least important man in the Tribe of Manasseh (Jdg 6:15), we doubt God’s ability to bring goodness out of bad circumstances. God punishes evil, but he always is willing to restore your relationship with him.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Cause and Effect or God's Act? An Analysis of Romans 6:23

A verse commonly quoted by Christians is
 Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (ESV) 
 this is a great summary of the grace of God. Sadly, it seems in today’s epidemic of biblical illiteracy, many do not see the full meaning of this thought . Reading the entire thought surrounding this line of Scripture and thinking about the wording can illuminate a message far deeper than what is commonly seen on the surface. By simply taking the time to think and consider the message Paul was communicating in his Epistle to the Romans, one can see what the Holy Spirit  has in the store. When one breaks down this verse you notice that this is a comparison, a contrast between death and eternal life. What is really profound about this verse is how the contrast between the opposites is made. Sin leads to death and God leads to eternal life, but many stop there. When the logic is not followed through, the full meaning of God’s Word cannot be truly known, therefore the full value is not achieved. Here is what is profound: the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life. This means they are opposites! Death is what is owed, eternal life is what is given voluntarily by God. Most people approach this Scripture as a simple cause and effect: Sin equals Death, God equals Eternity. Looking at this from the perspective of God pays us with eternal life when we place faith in Jesus Christ, misses the entire point of this Scripture!
A Roman slave pours his master a drink

Let’s not forget the preceding passage before, Rom 6:17-22. Romans 6:23 is the conclusion for the rest of the passage which says that Christians are slaves to God. Formerly, all believers were enslaved to Sin. As slaves to Sin, believers bore the fruit of (think of a plant at harvest) death. As slaves to righteousness and God, the fruit that is given is holiness. Connect that with the end and you get: a slave of Sin is paid with the fruit of death, a slave of God is given the gift of eternal life. One needs food to survive and food (or money) is what is given in exchange for work. Being enslaved to Sin at birth, it owes the food that is worked for. A slave to God used to be a slave to Sin, so they are not owed anything. The master chose to give his food not out of obligation, but out of complete choice.

All this exposition required was a little time and thought. Think about the Word of God, listen to the Holy Spirit. Sure the surface meaning can taste sweet, but when Scripture is truly seen for what it is, one can discover truths that are life changing.