Jesus, Our Great High Priest

The high priests of ancient Israel played a unique role in the community and in worship. Every year, on the Day of Atonement, he would offer incense that created a cloud filling the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle, and in the swirling mist he would sprinkle the blood of a bull on the Mercy Seat. This holiest of places, shrouded by golden cherubim, covered the Ark of the Covenant and was the very place in which God promised to reside .

This was but one part of a ritual that was the culmination of year’s worth of sacrifices offered on a daily basis for sin – both the sins of the high priest, and the sins of the nation (Leviticus 4). He alone was authorized to offer many of the sacrifices, since God had ordained him as high priest. And, there were many laws which pertained only to him. For instance, he was never to go near a dead body, and he was only to marry a virgin. His role was unlike any other in the community, because he was set apart to be the one person to intercede before God on behalf of the people.

But, these are just some of the peculiarities of the role he played. Just as important, perhaps more so, were the qualities he was to possess. He had to be “one of them,” a member of the Jewish nation, from the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron. He also had to be called by God to fulfill this role. As intercessor, it was necessary for him to be compassionate and caring. We see examples of this in men like Eli and Samuel, and later in Israel’s history Ezra showed such a calling and compassion as he served as high priest after the return from Babylonian captivity. Such compassion would be needed for him to welcome into the tabernacle (and later on, in the temple precincts) those who had sinned as they confessed their sins and had offerings made on their behalf.

In Hebrews 5:1-4 we read about the qualities that were needed:

For every high priest is taken from among the people and appointed to represent them before God, to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal compassionately with those who are ignorant and erring, since he also is subject to weakness, and for this reason he is obligated to make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people. And no one assumes this honor on his own initiative, but only when called to it by God, as in fact Aaron was.”

Clearly, the high priest had to be “one of them,” or “taken from among the people.” Also, he had to be appointed, or chosen and called by God. Furthermore, he had to be willing to offer the gifts and sacrifices necessary for the people to have their sins forgiven. This was a blood-drenched, messy job. It wasn’t easy, and certainly wasn’t an enjoyable task. But it was needed in order for the people to be able to approach God in prayer and be heard. Therefore, above all he had to be compassionate!

What’s amazing is that we have a high priest that meets all of these qualifications and far more. Hebrews 4:14-16 reads:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.

Jesus is the only high priest we will ever need. He is sympathetic, because he has endured every temptation we will ever face. Yet, unlike the high priest of Israel, Jesus is without sin. Because of that, once resurrected he was carried into heaven, in the very presence of the Father where he intercedes continually on our behalf. Rather than offering the blood of bulls, he offered his own blood on our behalf – the only perfect sacrifice possible. We will have more to learn about that in the passages ahead in Hebrews.

So, here’s the great question these facts raise: If you have Jesus to serve as your compassionate, sympathetic, and faithful high priest, why would you want or need anyone else? How can a dead saint possibly be a better intercessor before God? Or why would you possibly need to pray to Mary, when you have the Son of God standing in the presence of God willing to approach him on your behalf?Such a realization should embolden us and comfort us. Jesus, the Son of God, is waiting for you to approach God through him!

Hebrews Part 9 – The Living Word

How would you describe the Bible? Is it just an ancient book, portions of which were written between 2,000 -4,000 years ago? Perhaps you’d even add that it’s well documented? There are more copies and fragments of the Bible that date closer to its original composition than any other ancient text. Now, that’s pretty amazing to consider!

It might be that your description of the Bible wouldn’t be so flattering. You might describe it as archaic, just an old document written about times and places in the distant past and seemingly irrelevant, unable to address the concerns of modern humanity.

I would prefer to liken it to a fountain pen. Initially, I penned these words with one that I use on almost a daily basis. A fountain pen could be described as “old technology.” It was a vast improvement over the quill pen, but not as advanced as a ballpoint pen. However, a fountain pen is just as useful today as it was when it was invented. It accomplishes its purpose, writing, with surprising clarity, and even prompts the writer to be more purposeful with each stroke, and careful to use it properly. Far from being a dead, useless instrument, it is completely capable of doing its work in a fantastic fashion, with utmost clarity!

With those thoughts in mind, let’s consider Hebrews 4:12-13:

      “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul  from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.”

In this passage, God’s word is described in a way that is anything but archaic and irrelevant. Notice first of all the tense of the verb in the first sentence: “the word of God is,” not “was,” “has been,” or even “will be,” but simply “is,” present tense. That alone describes the magnitude and profound influence of God’s word. Just as the divine name given to Moses “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14) speaks of God’s continual presence in our lives, so also by saying the word of God “is,” we realize God’s word is a present, continual force in the world.

This naturally leads us to the first of three descriptions joined by the word “and” in our passage.  The word of God is “living.” Far from being archaic and irrelevant, God’s word is present and alive. It’s not dead words penned thousands of years ago on a page gathering dust. It’s words that once uttered were given life. Second Timothy 3:16 says, “Every scripture is inspired by God,” or “God-breathed” (NIV). Think of the comparison that when God breathed into man the breath of life, he became a living soul (Gen. 2:7). Likewise, when God breathed into the word, it became a living document (1 Peter 1:23).

Far from just being words on a page, the second description joined by “and” in Hebrews 4:12 tells us God’s word is “active.” Isaiah 55:11 says, “My word (that is God’s word) gone forth will not return to me void.” God’s words are measured and chosen to accomplish his purposes. They are a means to an end, and will accomplish what he intends. The word “active” creates the picture of God’s word being at work against the opposing forces of evil, prompted by the devil. Just as he “prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), God’s word is actively at work in the world, waging war against Satanic forces and overcoming them on a daily basis. Whereas the devil is limited by his lack of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence, the word of God has all the divine characteristics breathed into them!

The third descriptive term in verse 12 joined by the word “and” is rather lengthy:

      “sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart.”

Based on archaeological finds, we know the two-edged sword evolved over time from the much shorter dagger. Early swords were much more like the mid-eastern scimitar, a single-edged blade wielded in warfare. But, by the time of the Iron Age, two-edged swords had become formidable weapons, used by nearly all armies, and certainly those of the conquering forces of the Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek, Persian, and Roman Empires.

So, exactly what does God’s two-edged sword, his word, do? It thoroughly dissects our inmost being and discerns the very intentions of our hearts. Like a scalpel in the hands of a skilled surgeon, God’s word is used to discover and remove the cancerous thoughts of our inner person.

How does that leave a person feeling? Vulnerable. There are aspects of our inmost thoughts that we would like to keep to ourselves, because we’re not proud of them. In fact, they are shameful. This predicament goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Do you recall what Adam and Eve did after they, prompted by Satan, ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? First, they attempted to hide their shame, their nakedness, from each other by sewing fig leaves together to make clothing. Then, they attempted to hide from God in the bushes! That would be a humorous picture, were it not so sad.

Now, all that we have learned in this passage leaves us very uncomfortable. It’s unnerving to realize our predicament when faced with the knowledge that God’s word is living, active, and thoroughly capable of probing into our inmost thoughts. It’s like being on trial, sitting in the witness box, and having a prosecutor who can read your mind!

That’s why it’s so important that we not stop here, and in our next lesson we’ll look at Hebrews 4:14-16 and learn that our Advocate is standing by our side, coming to our defense, and giving us the aid we so desperately need.

You’re Not Alone: Hebrews’ Comfort to Christians in Trouble – When Good News is No Good. . .

We could all use some good news these days. Indeed, it’s very strange times in which we live. Some people are working overtime to keep us all safe. Healthcare professionals, truck drivers, even the attendant at the gas station, all have taken on a new level of importance in our lives and society.

Conversely, some are unable to work, or are having to work from home. The current unemployment rate reached 14.7% this week, which is the highest it’s been since 1948, the year our government started officially keeping track of the figure.

The good news is it won’t always be like this. Economies, and illnesses, run in cycles. So, what is threatening or even damaging to a society today, will be a memory tomorrow. But, far beyond that, there is the good news that one day God will intervene and give us rest from this maddening world in which we live.

I could use such a rest, and I look forward to it. My mother has already gone on to that rest, and I long to see her. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a death wish, but I wish I could experience that bliss God assures his people of coming after death. Part of me says with the apostle Paul, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!”

But, we can’t just assume that once we die, or Jesus returns (whichever comes first) that we will have such a rest.

Hebrews 4:1-2 reads, “Therefore we must be wary that, while the promise of entering his rest remains open, none of you may seem to have come short of it. For we had good news proclaimed to us just as they (the Israelites in the wilderness) did. But the message they heard did them no good, since they did not join in with those who heard it in faith.”

Based on these verses, there is certainly a promise of entering rest with God. In fact, the author goes on to describe how God promises an even greater rest than the Israelites were assured of in the Promised Land of Canaan. But, the reality is that they didn’t enter the rest God promised, and there is the possibility that we might not enter it too. God’s rest is contingent upon the faith of those who receive the promise.

Notice in verse two above that the “good news” the Israelites heard “did them no good.”  What a contrast! What a sad statement! There are many who will hear the “good news” of salvation in Jesus Christ, but not everyone who hears will receive the rest that is promised in that salvation.

I’ve always been a fan of classic country music. So, about 17 years ago I went to a Willie Nelson concert, shortly after Waylon Jennings had died. During the middle of the concert Willie said, “Let’s sing one for Waylon!” and launched into a rousing rendition of the old spiritual, “I’ll Fly Away.” I was sitting some distance from the mayhem around the stage, however I couldn’t help but notice that immediately a chorus of mostly intoxicated people chimed in and sang along with him, beers held high.

Something inside of me was revolted by the whole scene. I was saddened as I realized the absurdity of it all. Something was terribly amiss, but there was nothing in that situation I could do but watch. What is it that was missing? In a word, faith.

We can’t claim as our own a rest received from a God whom we neither live for, nor profess to believe in. And we sure can’t claim that rest apart from faith in Jesus Christ.

Let the “good news” do you great good! Live your life in and for Jesus Christ.

You’re Not Alone: Hebrews’ Comfort to Christians in Trouble Lesson 7, “Partners With Christ”

What would it take for you to give up your faith in Christ? Someone could easily respond, “Give up my faith? NEVER! There’s nothing that would cause me to do that. Or, perhaps you may struggle with faith, and you aren’t sure you believe in the first place?

Whatever your answer to our question may be, I propose that within each one of us there is the seed, the potential, for unbelief. How can that be true? Because we all have one thing in common that can lead us away from Christ, and even to doubt the existence of God. That one thing is sin.

Our text in Hebrews makes this very plain: “But, see to it that none of you has an evil and unbelieving heart that forsakes the living God. But exhort one another each day, as long as it is called “Today,” that none of you may become hardened by sin’s deception.” (Heb. 3:12-13)

Some want to argue that the author of Hebrews is speaking to potential believers, but this passage makes it very clear that he’s speaking to believers. The warning in verse 12 is clear and very pointed: don’t forsake the living God. I cannot forsake something that I don’t have in my possession. I cannot abandon something that I don’t have control of. Rather, to forsake is to leave behind; to neglect something willfully.

Following the warning not to willfully neglect our faith in God, is a much needed word of encouragement, or “exhortation” (a word we seldom use these days). We are encouraged to exhort one another “Today”! Don’t put it off. Don’t neglect to do it. Encourage your brothers and sisters in Christ to remain faithful “today”! Every day we must be on guard against sin’s deception.

The danger of allowing sin to remain in our lives is that it hardens one’s heart. And a hardened heart leads to rebellion and unbelief.

Now, this is the exact opposite — really the reverse — of what we ordinarily think with regard to sin and unbelief. Generally, we believe unbelief precedes sin, and that unbelief is primarily an intellectual problem, faulty thinking, that leads one into willful sin.

But, the author of Hebrews, and the rest of Scripture for that matter, teaches us the opposite: unbelief is primarily a sin problem! When we willfully sin, or allow sin to reside in our lives, it leads to unbelief.

Romans 1: 21 states, “For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened.” The pattern is clear: sin leads to rebellion and unbelief.

Likewise, Romans 1:28 says, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done.” Again, sin leads to rebellion and unbelief.

If we diagrammed sin and unbelief it would look like this:

sin -> hardened heart -> rebellion -> unbelief

In Hebrews 3, the example that surrounds verses 12 and 13 is a textbook study of this pattern of unbelief from the Old Testament. The Israelites witnessed first hand God’s power and redemption when he led them out of Egypt. With a powerful hand he led them through the waters of the Red Sea, as though on dry ground, and then destroyed the armies of Pharaoh with those same waters. While traveling through the desert of Sinai he provided them with manna, quail, and water in abundance. Then, when they arrived at Mt. Sinai he spoke directly to them, giving them the 10 Commandments, as the mountain quaked and fire and smoke consumed the top of the mountain. In fear, they begged Moses to intercede for them and receive the remainder of God’s Law, which Moses did.

But, these same people refused to give up their sinful ways. They even took part in the sins of the nations they were to drive out of Canaan! They worshiped the gods of the Moabites, and took part in their pagan sexual rituals. Ultimately, they died in the desert, in unbelief, due to their unwillingness to give up their sin.

I want to challenge you to do some serious introspection. Is there some sin that you allow to continue in your life, unchecked? Could it be that is the very sin that could harden your heart and lead you away from Christ, ultimately doubting the very existence of the God you profess?

If you struggle to believe, is it possible that your greatest struggle isn’t actually intellectual, but that there is some sin, or sins, that you just don’t want to give up? Is it possible you know that acknowledging God will require that you give it up, so it’s more convenient to hold onto your unbelief?

If you are struggling, keep struggling! Don’t give up! Don’t allow Satan to win. Fight for all you are worth! As a good friend once said, “There’s a vast difference between the moral struggler and the moral rebel!”

As you battle sin, realize you’re not alone. Immediately following the exhortation in Hebrews 3:13 the author says, “For we have become partners with Christ, if in fact we hold our initial confidence firm until the end.” Jesus Christ is your partner in overcoming sin. You’re not waging this battle on your own. You have the very Son of God himself, fighting on your behalf!

You’re Not Alone: Hebrews’ Comfort to Christians in Trouble Lesson 6: Whose House are You Living In?

 Whose house are you living in? Now I’m not talking about your parents’ house. I’m talking about whose house are you living in spiritually? In Hebrews 3:1-6 we read:

      “Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, partners in a heavenly calling, take note of Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess, who is faithful to the one who appointed him, as Moses was also in God’s house. For he has come to deserve greater glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house deserves greater honor than the house itself! For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken. But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. We are of his house, if in fact we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope we take pride in.”

Did you know it’s possible for us to live in God’s household?  Hebrews mentions two ways. We can live in God’s house as the son, or we can live in his house as servants. Now, we understand from this passage, and from the broader context of the New Testament, that God only has one Son, Jesus Christ.

So, obviously we can’t live in his household as the Son. In fact, in this passage Jesus is described in two ways that are so unique we could never fulfill his role. He’s described as “the apostle and high priest whom we confess.”

Why is Jesus called an “apostle”? Ordinarily, when we hear that word we think of the 12 apostles. But, it quite literally means “one who is sent,” and in that sense Jesus is an apostle, because he was sent from the Father to us.

“High priest” is a term we may not be familiar with, unless we’ve been studying the Old Testament. The high priest, as will be discussed later in Hebrews, was the one person in the entire nation of Israel who could approach God to offer blood as a sacrifice for the sins of the people. In the case of the Jewish high priests, it wasn’t his own blood, but the blood of a sacrificial animal. Hold onto that thought, because in the chapters ahead we’ll return to it.

But, here Jesus is referred to as the high priest in the sense that he is the one who enables us to approach the very throne of God. He is the one who intercedes for us before Him!

Now, in the text we’re considering, the author goes on to describe Moses as a “servant” who was “faithful in all God’s house.” Throughout the New Testament the word “servant” is used. It’s so common that we might easily overlook the significance of it here. Ordinarily, the word that is translated “servant” in the New Testament is the word duolos, which literally means “slave.” Most modern translations have softened the term by translating it as servant, but slavery was very common in the first century. In fact, approximately 1/3 of the people living in the Roman Empire were slaves. Their numbers were so great, that the government feared that if the people ever actually knew how many slaves there were throughout the Empire, there would be an uprising – a revolt.

However, in this instance, the word translated “servant” isn’t duolos, but therapon. Therapon was a word used to describe a person who was devoted to priestly service around a temple. And, the only time it is used in the New Testament is in this passage! Moreover, the only time it was used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Septuagint, it was used in reference to Moses – just as it is used here!

So, we are being told that just as Moses was a faithful servant, or priest, in the household of God, so can we be faithful priests in the household of God. If we are the priests, and Jesus is the High Priest, then the priesthood is complete. We can approach God, offering sacrifices to him of praise and worship, bringing before him our petitions and prayers, knowing that Jesus, our High Priest, intercedes for us before the very throne of God.

Perhaps your thinking, “I’ve never had any desire to be ‘a priest,’ or to serve as a priest!” Please understand that we are not talking about some kind of special wardrobe, or flowery language that can be used, and we alone understand. No, we’re simply talking about the privilege of approaching God, cleansed of our sins, and knowing that he hears us.

Really, we only have two choices: we can either be a priest, or we can be a slave. In John 8:31-32 Jesus says, “If you continue to follow my teaching, you are really my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The last part of that we’ve hear many times as an axiom applied to almost everything. But, in the context in which Jesus said it, he was talking to Jewish leaders, priests to be exact, who did not believe in him! Shortly after Jesus said this, they replied that they were children of Abraham and that they had “never been slaves to anyone.” That was a boldface lie! In fact the most dramatic story of their nation was how God had delivered them from slavery to the Egyptians.

They continued to argue with Jesus and finally, exasperated, Jesus says, “You people are doing the deeds of your father,” and “You people are from your father the devil, and you want to do what your father desires” (John 8:41,44). We might do well to end that sentence with an exclamation mark, because I highly doubt it was said with a soft tone. Right after this, the Jewish leaders became so enraged they tried to kill Jesus, but he escaped because it wasn’t time for him to die, yet.

These religious leaders believed they were the people of God. They believed they were rightfully priests in the household of God. They believed that they had the privilege and promise that they could approach God in prayer, confident of their salvation. But, in reality they were slaves serving in the household of the devil himself!

How can we know we’re part of the household of God? Quite simply, if we are faithful servants. If we hold onto the confidence we have in Christ. “We are of his house, if in fact we hold firmly to       our confidence and the hope we take pride in.” (Hebrews 3:6)

Don’t let Satan fool you. Faithless servants are not truly servants of God at all. Faithful servants have every reason to be confident and thankful that they can approach God as members of his household.

You’re Not Alone: Hebrews’ Comfort to Christians in Trouble, Part 5 – Like Us in Every Way

“Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death.

For surely his concern is not for angels, but he is concerned for Abraham’s descendants. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. For since he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:14-18)

How deeply did God want to identify with his creation? So much so that he chose to “be made like (us) in every respect.” In our last study together, we discussed how he shared in our humanity to the point of suffering death. We often think of Jesus as being “superhuman,” but rather than being superhuman, Hebrews teaches us he was fully-human. He chose to be like us in every single detail.

Now, before you go and object saying, “Yeah, but he could perform miracles of healing, walk on water, and do all sorts of things that I’m not able to do,” consider that he chose not to use that ability until he was 30 years old. From age 12 up until age 30 we have not one account of what he did, other than the testimony of his own townspeople. Listen to what they say, and their indignation at the thought that Jesus should think he deserves any greater respect than they:

 “‘Where did he get these ideas? And what is this wisdom that has been given to him? What are these miracles that are done through his hands? Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t his sisters here with us?’ And so they took offense at him.” (Mark 6:2b-3)

Jesus was so ordinary to his own neighbors, that they couldn’t believe he was able to teach with superior wisdom, much less that he was able to perform miracles! For 30 years he’d chosen to live a quiet life and be just like them in every respect! He’d worked as a carpenter alongside his father (Matt.12:55), until he evidently passed away, and then continued plying his trade among the members of his small village, possibly going with them to work at the nearby city of Sepphoris that was being constructed by Herod Antipas at the time. Whatever the case, they’d seen him use a saw, plane a board, drill a hole, and drive in a peg with a mallet so many times that they couldn’t get the image of the “ordinary” man out of their minds. He was “like (us) in every respect.”

Why did God choose to do this? Why did God choose to live as a man in a small village in Nazareth of Galilee 2,000 years ago? Sounds crazy when you look at it in print. Sounds even crazier when you say it out loud, but the author of Hebrews tells us plainly, “so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people.” Wait a minute! How does God “become” anything?  I thought he just IS! He’s the I AM, the eternally present divine, all-powerful, all-knowing God! Remember the three “omnis” we’ve learned about in Bible classes or heard used from a pulpit: omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent? While the terms are no-where used in Scripture, they are evident everywhere! So, people came up with adjectives to describe these attributes of God.

Now, back to my question, if these things are true and God IS the I AM, then how did God “become” anything? When Moses asked him at the burning bush who he was to say sent him to the Israelites, God simply said, “I AM WHO I AM. Tell them, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14). When Jesus claimed to be the I AM, the Jews were so angry with him they picked up stones to stone him and he had to slip away from them and get out of the temple (John 8:59). All of these passages speak to God being eternally present, all-powerful and knowing. So, how does God “become” anything?

Let me propose an idea: could it be there are certain aspects of God’s creation that he chose to know experientially? I’ll give you a less-than-perfect analogy: an engineer designs and builds a sports car. He can either choose to have someone else get in the driver’s seat, or he can choose to get in the driver’s seat, take it out on the road, and experience all the twists and turns from the perspective of what it’s like to be inside the car. I’m saying God chose to do the latter. Rather than using his infinite wisdom and understanding to know what it’s like to be human, he chose to become human. He got in the driver’s seat and experienced for himself all the twists and turns of life. In so doing, he accomplished three things:

  1. He “became” merciful.
  2. He “became” faithful.
  3. He made atonement for our sins.

God’s mercy, faithfulness, and forgiveness were all dependent upon his willingness to fully experience the human condition.

Now, back to the “omnis.” How could God be merciful before he became human? His “omni” nature. How could God be faithful to fickle, sinful human beings before he became human? His “omni” nature. How could God forgive sins before he became human? His “omni” nature. As we move forward in Hebrews, the author is going to begin using a word that is generally translated into English as the phrase, “once for all,” or “once for all time.” He’s going to begin using this phrase over and over as he discusses the nature of Jesus’ sacrifice for sins and its implications for our forgiveness. 

For now, let’s draw a conclusion from the concepts we’ve considered: God Almighty lives in an eternal present as the “I AM,” therefore he chose to experientially know his creation, humanity, for the purpose of being merciful, faithful, and forgiving. 

Personally, I’m astonished that God so wanted to know us that he became like us in “every respect.” The older I get, the more I realize my own frailty —  physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Why would God choose to know me that well? I can’t answer that for him, but he did, and one day I want to be able to thank him.

You’re Not Alone: Hebrews’ Comfort to Christians in Trouble, Part 4 – What Are You Afraid Of?

What are you afraid of? Has anyone ever asked you that question? Perhaps it was asked sarcastically, meaning, “You shouldn’t be afraid of this!” – whatever “this” happened to be. Or, more sincerely asked, it could have been an opportunity to share your fears. We all have them. I’ll share one of mine.

At the top of my list would be heights. When I was much, much younger I would scale the bluffs near my childhood home without so much as a rope or harness to keep me safe. I never thought about what would happen if I lost my grip, because I trusted my young and healthy body to do its job! But, as I grew older I realized that it would hurt really badly if I fell from a significant height and hit the ground! I believe the first time I realized it was when I went repelling with my older brother. He was an avid repeller, climber, spelunker, scuba diver, and participated in just about any other “extreme sport,” as they’re referred to today. He may have been the first adrenaline junky I ever knew. We were at a cliff of about 1,000 feet in height (actually more like 75, but it seemed like 1,000), and it was my turn to repel down. I’d never done it.

So, I put on the harness and leaned out over the edge giving my weight fully to the rope. I froze. There was absolutely no way in all of God’s green earth, that I was going to move one step down the face of that cliff! I was coaxed, cajoled, proded, encouraged, teased, and all but kicked over the edge, but I was NOT moving! Even if my body had wanted to, my mind wouldn’t let me. There was no way I was going to trust my then young life to a teeny, tiny little rope made of a few strands of thread, to support my 175 pounds! That was the end of my repelling.

The next time I felt a fear of heights I was at another cliff, and we were jumping the bluffs at Greers Ferry Lake. I’d never had a problem with that. I’d done it practically my whole life. Like everyone else, I’d started on the lower cliffs when I was a child, and worked my way up to the largest cliffs by the time I was in my teens. The king of all cliffs was “Campsite I,” so named because it happened to be at Campsite I (creative name, wasn’t it). It was between 80 and 90 feet high, depending on the depth of the water at any given time.

Now, to appreciate the feat of jumping Campsite I, you have to know what was necessary to accomplish it. You had to run down a wooded path to the cliff’s edge and jump out as far as you could, to clear a tree that grew out about six feet horizontally from the face of the cliff, about five feet below your stone exit ramp at the edge of the cliff. I’d done it dozens of times with my buddies. It was a right of passage in my teens to be able to say you’d jumped Campsite I.

But, the last time I jumped it, something went wrong. I learned that water can hurt you really, really badly! I landed with one leg slightly bent and when I hit the water I immediately felt the most excruciating jolt of pain shoot through my body that I’d ever known. As I floated back to the surface I couldn’t move my legs. At first, I panicked! I thought I was paralyzed. But, then I realized that couldn’t be possible, because I could feel the pain in my lower body. Suffice it to say that 31 years later, as I write this, I’m sitting with a heating pad against my lower back.

My fear of heights is a legitimate fear based on the experiences I’ve had in life.

Do you have any legitimate fears? Probably, so. I would imagine we share, or have shared, at least one legitimate fear: death. It’s human nature to fear death. It’s final. Lights out. Party over. No more chances. You’re done. For that reason, and because we have so little control over the time, circumstance, and nature of our death, in the natural realm we all fear death.

If you say you don’t fear death, then what prompts you to jump back on the curb when you hear a vehicle approaching that you didn’t realize was there? Or, why do you take your medications exactly as prescribed, rather than just swallowing a whole bottle in hope that it will improve your condition? Or, why do you hold a shotgun with the stock against your shoulder, rather than the barrel against your shoulder? It’s simple: you fear death – and so do I.

Right now, we’re hearing a great deal about death. Every night on the news we’re being told how many people have died each day due to Covid-19. It’s really, really sad! It breaks my heart to know that so many loved ones are being left behind. Parents are losing their children. Children are losing their parents. Brothers are losing their sisters. Sisters are losing their brothers. Friends are being mourned. Wives are left alone. Death stinks! It separates. It isolates. It controls. It creates emotional and spiritual pain. It is a rotten reality that we’re all becoming more keenly aware of at this very moment in time.

But, there is a legitimate sense in which we don’t have to fear death. It is possible to say, “I’m no longer afraid of the fact that one day I will die.” How is that possible? By virtue of the fact that someone, just like us, died for us, and in so doing destroyed the power of the one who keeps us in bondage to the fear of death.

Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says:

 “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death” (Heb.2:14,15).

So far, in Hebrews we’ve talked about Jesus’ divinity. He was, without doubt, divine; the one and only fully divine Son of God. That’s been our focus in chapter one and up until verse 10 of chapter two. But, it’s just as critical that we understand his humanity! He was fully human. He had bones, internal organs, skin, hair, blemishes on his face, warts on his hands (when he was a teenager), and he got an upset stomach when he ate the wrong things. When he hit his finger with a hammer it hurt, and when he missed his mark with his saw, he bled. He suffered to the point that he died, just like us. But, better than that, he died for us. That’s the difference. Because he was both fully divine and fully human, he had the power to overcome death and in so doing destroy the one power that Satan has had over mankind ever since mankind willingly chose to disobey God.

How we have access to this freedom from the power and fear of death is another topic, and one we will discuss in depth in Hebrews. But for now, just understand that there is One who is powerful enough that he was able to overcome the thing we fear the most, and in so doing freed us from that fear.

I don’t like being afraid of heights, but I can live with it. In fact, I’d say my fear of heights has kept me alive at times. However, I can’t live with a fear of death. It stifles my joy and robs me of hope. I’m certain you know those feelings, too. It’s the one fear I’m certain we have in common. But, we don’t have to be afraid if we have Jesus Christ. He’s destroyed the work of the devil and in so doing destroyed the one thing we feared the most. Praise God! Praise Jesus Christ, our Lord!

You’re Not Alone: Hebrews’ Comfort to Christians in Trouble Part 3: Just Wait

I don’t know about you, but I’m growing weary during this time of uncertainty. At first, I was watching every press conference and reading every article I could about Covid-19, but I find myself paying less and less attention to the news and spending more and more time just trying to regain a sense of “normal,” or of a new “normal.”

We’re all waiting: waiting for the pandemic to peak and then begin its decline. Waiting to hear that a medicine has proven effective in fighting the symptoms, or that a vaccine has been created to curtail its spread. Waiting to be told we can go back to work, school, or just our daily routines. Waiting for all of this to be over.

But, what do we do during the meantime? We’re not the first to have to deal with such a tragedy. Indeed, my father’s generation, and ones preceding it, dealt with polio – its crippling effects were left on a generation of children. Before that, nearly half the population of Memphis was wiped out by Yellow Fever, and tens of thousands of native Americans were killed by smallpox. I don’t want to imagine it, but as devastating as our present crisis is, can you imagine how much worse it would be if we had nearly a 50% mortality rate of those infected by Covid-19? If that were the case, we would have a little more of a sense of what previous generations have dealt with during various epidemics.

But, until this has run its course, we wait. We don’t like to wait. We’re used to things happening at the speed of the tap of a keyboard. With the click of a key on our computer we can complete our shopping order and have it delivered to our door the next day. Now, we hesitate to have anything delivered to our door, for fear that a virus might lurk on the package and contaminate our homes.

Those who know me best, know that I like old things, antiques if you will. Most of the ones I have are old family heirlooms, handed down to me from generations that have passed. On my desks at home and school, I have manual typewriters. At school I have one that belonged to my grandparents, and at home I have one that belonged to my mother. I have an old coffee grinder that was in my grandmother’s kitchen. From what I can tell, it probably belonged to her mother first, because it’s well over 120 years old. Believe it or not, all of these things still work, and occasionally I still use them. They are reminders that immediate isn’t always better, nor is it necessary.

The passage we’re going to look at in Hebrews today is a reminder that sometimes we just have to wait. Sometimes things are not what we wish they would be, nor are they like they always will be.

Hebrews 2 begins, “Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty,”

In Hebrews chapter one, you’ll recall that we saw how Christ is superior to the angels, by the simple fact that He is divine. He is God, and in the past God spoke through intermediaries when he gave the law on Mt. Sinai.

Deut.33:2 reads:

 “The Lord came from Sinai

and revealed himself to Israel from Seir.

He appeared in splendor from Mount Paran,

and came forth with ten thousand holy ones.

With his right hand he gave a fiery law to them.”

In Acts 7:38 the soon-to-be-martyr, Stephen says,“ This is the man (Moses) who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors, and he received living oracles to give to you.”

Again in v.53 he states, “You received the law by decrees given by angels, but you did not obey it.”

Then, in Gal.3:19 Paul says of the Law of Moses, “It was administered through angels by an intermediary.”

Now, if the Law was given through angels as intermediaries, and people were held accountable to it, then we should certainly give greater attention to the message we’ve received from the Lord Jesus Christ, the fully divine Son of God!

In verse 3 he goes on to say, “how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him,”

As the writer of Hebrews describes this “drifting away,” he uses the word “neglect,” not “reject.” You see, the danger we face isn’t simply rejecting the message of scripture, but having received it to simply stop paying attention to it.

Neglect is a very serious matter. If someone neglects their yard, weeds will grow up and soon it will be overgrown, not only affecting their yard, but the yards of their neighbors around them. Worse yet, if an animal is neglected they will begin to have all kinds of illnesses, and their condition will be evident.

I used to drive by two pastures each day. In one were some beautiful paint horses: well-fed, combed regularly, immaculate condition, so much so that one day I stopped just to tell the owner how beautiful his horses were. But, not even a mile down the road was another pasture, of sorts, where several horses lived in horrible conditions. The pasture wasn’t cared for and was trampled into mud. The bails of hay they ate from were rotting, and the mud caked on their coats indicated that it had been months since they’d seen a curry comb, if ever. Malnutrition was evident as their backs swayed and their ribs were visible.

Likewise, if we give attention to our faith, feeding on God’s word, seeking spiritual pastures in which to grow, we will find our faith is sufficient to sustain us in times like we are presently living. However, if we’ve neglected our faith, this should be a wake up call for us to give far “greater attention” to it.

There’s an old hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, written by Robert Robinson in 1758. One of the verses reads:

“Oh, to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be

Let that goodness like a fetter

Bind my wandering heart to Thee

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it

Prone to leave the God I love

Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it

Seal it for Thy courts above”

“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love,” is a portion of the verse altered in most modern hymnals, but it describes exactly what Robinson did. He wandered into the Unitarian Movement, and eventually away from the faith altogether. 

He began to travel extensively – wanderlust perhaps, or a sense of desperation to find meaning in life. On one such trip he encountered a rather spiritually minded young lady who asked him, “What do you think of the hymn I’m reading?” Handing him the book she was holding in her hands, he read the very words he’d penned. Convicted by his own words, he returned to the faith he’d once professed.

Hebrews couldn’t be clearer: Since the message of the Gospel was spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ himself, and not through intermediaries, we sense the urgency and the veracity of it.

Moving on, in verse 4 we read,  “while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”

This is a synopsis of the account given in Acts where we read of the Holy Spirit’s descent on the Day of Pentecost and the subsequent miracles performed by the apostles. Having received the complete revelation of Christ through their teaching and preaching, we no longer have need of such miracles. But, for a time they were necessary to confirm the message.

He then goes on to say: 

“For he did not put the world to come, about which we are speaking, under the control of angels. 6 Instead someone testified somewhere:

‘What is man that you think of him or the son of man that you care for him?

7 You made him lower than the angels for a little while.

You crowned him with glory and honor.

8 You put all things under his control.’”

Some believe this passage in Hebrews is written with regard to humanity, and in the original context, Psalm 8:4, it is. However, it seems to me that he is extending its implications to what Jesus accomplished in becoming fully human, because in the verses that follow he clearly applies the phrase “lower than the angels for a little while” to Jesus.

The writer is describing the authority given to Jesus because he was willing to submit himself to the authority of the Father, which he goes on to explain:

“For when he ‘put all things under his control,’ he left nothing outside of his control. At present we do not yet see ‘all things under his control,’ 9 but we see Jesus, who was made ‘lower than the angels for a little while,’ now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by God’s grace he would experience death on behalf of everyone.”

Presently, the world we see isn’t fully redeemed. Aspects of God’s creation are what we refer to as “fallen.” This is by God’s allowance, though. He allowed humanity to decide whether to obey him or not. Having chosen not to obey him, sin entered the world and “death through sin.” For that reason, we’re dealing with our present situation; a fallen world where diseases like Covid-19 can run rampant. But, none of this is outside the scope of God’s control. You see, he is allowing time and circumstances to take shape in such a manner as to bring as many people to Him as possible.

2 Pet.3:9 reads, “The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

And in  Acts 17:26,27 we read, “From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.”

Right now, we’re living in a time when we’re experiencing the suffering of an unredeemed world: a creation that isn’t yet fully subject to the Lordship of Jesus. However, “yet” is the key word. You see at some point, when the Father is ready, the Lord will return and “every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phil.2:10-11). At that point there will be no more sickness, or death, or pain, or sorrow for those who have been waiting for his return.

I want to be ready for him, don’t you? Let’s encourage each other through this time, and let’s be ready when he returns. That’s the message we’re going to find in the book of Hebrews.

Psalm 37:7-8 reads in part, “ Wait patiently for the Lord! Wait confidently for him! . . . Do not be angry and frustrated. Do not fret. That only leads to trouble.”

Together, let’s wait patiently for the Lord and give greater attention to our faith.

You’re Not Alone: Hebrews’ Comfort to Christians in Trouble, part 2

Not so many years ago it seemed Christians were enamored by the study of angels. Popular books and even popular television shows were based on angelic activity – imagined and purportedly true. Personally, I enjoyed watching Highway to Heaven, with Michael Landon, and Touched by An Angel, a show that seemed to ride on the coattails of Highway to Heaven’s success.

But such interest in angels is nothing new. Actually, we have record of angelic activity as far back as the first book of the Old Testament, Genesis. Cherubim and Seraphim, types of angels, and Michael and Gabiel, individual angels, are described in the pages of the Bible. Perhaps scripture provides just enough information about angelic activity to whet the appetite? I suppose that’s why Jews living during the intertestamental period created elaborate hierarchies of angels believed to inhabit the heavenly sphere.

In Colossians 2:18 the apostle Paul states, “ Let no one who delights in false humility and the worship of angels pass judgment on you. That person goes on at great lengths about what he has supposedly seen, but he is puffed up with empty notions by his fleshly mind.” Exactly what he is describing, we don’t know, but apparently during the first century A.D. there were those who’d begun to seek the intercession of angels on their behalf, in a sense, worshipping them.

In Revelation 19:10, the apostle John falls on his face when an angel appears before him, but he is immediately told, “Do not do this! I am only a fellow servant with you and your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony about Jesus. Worship God, for the testimony about Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Clearly, we are not to worship angels.

Yet, even if we don’t worship them, is it possible to give greater consideration to them than is due? Certainly! The preoccupation some people have with supposed angelic activities consumes more of their time and spiritual consideration than is due. It’s not that angels are unimportant in the spiritual realm, but they are less important than other things, especially Christ.

That’s what the writer of Hebrews wants us to understand in this first section of his message: Jesus Christ is more important than all of the angelic hosts!

Primarily he does this by demonstrating from scripture Jesus’ divine status. He begins in verse three, “The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”

“Radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence” speak to divine attributes. In the Old Testament God’s glory was his presence. For instance, when the Tabernacle had been completed and the necessary sacrifices offered, Exodus 40:34-35 states, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” It’s obvious in this passage that God’s “glory” means his presence.

Again, at the dedication of the temple we read, “then a cloud filled the Lord’s temple. The priests could not carry out their duties because of the cloud; the Lord’s splendor filled God’s temple” (2 Chronicles 5:13-14). Clearly, “the Lord’s splendor” is the same as his “glory” and represents his presence.

So, by describing the Son as the “radiance of (God’s) glory and the representation of his essence,” the writer of Hebrews is indisputably attributing to Jesus divine status. He concludes his introduction in verse 4 by saying, “Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs.”

But, what “name” is he referring to? The “name” he’s already used, “Son.” He continues in verse five, “For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my son! Today I have fathered you”? And in another place he says, “I will be his father and he will be my son.” These quotations from Psalms 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14, respectively, are written of King David and were clearly Messianic in nature. From the time they were uttered, they were understood to describe the eternal nature of the Davidic kingdom – the kingdom through which the messiah was to come. The writer of Hebrews is introducing Jesus as the fulfillment of the kingdom prophecies by virtue of his divine nature.

Therefore, rather than worshipping angels, angels are to worship the Son: “But when he again brings his firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all the angels of God worship him!’ 7 And he says of the angels, ‘He makes his angels winds and his ministers a flame of fire,’” (Hebrews 1:6,7).

Now, the author is going to give indisputable, scriptural proof that Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, is fully divine:

 “But of the Son he says,

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,

and a righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.

9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness.

So God, your God, has anointed you over your companions with the oil of rejoicing.” (Hebrews 1:8-9, italics mine). Notice the italicized portions, please. The Son is addressed as “God” two times in this brief quotation from Psalm 45. Jesus is not a created being.  He is the Creator of all things! So, when the text previously spoke of the Father bringing him into the world, it wasn’t in the way one is born simply in a physical sense. Rather, he’s talking about the physical manifestation of the Divine; “the incarnation” as we describe it.

He goes even farther to describe the Son’s divine nature:

“And, ‘You founded the earth in the beginning, Lord,

and the heavens are the works of your hands.

11 They will perish, but you continue.

And they will all grow old like a garment,

12 and like a robe you will fold them up

and like a garment they will be changed,

but you are the same and your years will never run out.’” (Hebrews 1:10-12).

The writer describes Jesus, the Son, as the Creator whose creation will eventually give way to time, grow old, be folded up like a garment, and be replaced, all the while He will continue throughout eternity.

Now, in the final two verses of this chapter it’s made clear that angels are in no way superior to the Son:

“13 But to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve those who will inherit salvation?”

In typical fashion, we are introduced to concepts that will be more fully developed later, yet effectively conclude this section of the writing. Angels are interesting, and have their respective place in our relationship to God. But, in no way are they worthy of our honor. That alone belongs to God’s Son, Jesus Christ, the author of creation, the sustainer of creation, and the redeemer of creation.

When we read of angels, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to serve those who will inherit salvation?” immediately my mind begins to race, wondering, “How do they minister to us? Is this activity visible or invisible, only seen in the spiritual realm?” Later in Hebrews we will find reference to the angels who appeared to Abraham to reassure him of God’s promise of him having a son, but personally I’ve never had an indisputable visit from an angel!

Admittedly, there was a time when I was 19 that I was traveling by bus from Searcy, Arkansas to Phoenix, Arizona. The trip out there was rough. I witnessed fights in which people were thrown off of the bus at a stop, and even drugs and money exchanging hands in a terminal’s bathroom. By the time I was making the return trip, my nerves were shot! I wanted to get home fast, but I could only get home as fast as the bus would travel. By the time I reached Abilene Texas I was praying hard for God to keep me safe. I just wanted to be left alone, but even then I didn’t feel very safe on the bus.

About the time I’d given up, a thin-framed old man with a weather-beaten wrinkled face, and white hair poking out from under his well-worn white Stetson, approached me as we were re-boarding the bus at a stop. “May I sit beside you?” he asked politely. “Yes, sir.” I responded. His polite inquiry was in itself unusual, given the clientele I’d been traveling with. Then, from Abilene to Dallas we sat and visited. He explained how he’d drive cars to Abilene for his son’s dealership, and then return via bus to Dallas. He was courteous to a fault and more than once reassured me that I would be alright and that I would make it home to Arkansas safely. At the time I honestly began to wonder if God had sent an angel to minister to me.

In hindsight, I recognize it is unlikely he was an angel, but I do believe God caused our paths to cross in order to reassure me that I would be kept safe until I finished my 36 hour journey.

Personally, I would like to know exactly how angels minister to us. But, practically I don’t have to know that. God’s word says they do and He utilizes them to minister to those of us who believe in his Son, and believing in his Son is what matters most.

Until next time, I hope you have a good week and take time to reflect on the profound truths we’ve seen in a few short verses of Scripture.

You’re Not Alone: Hebrews’ Comfort to Christians in Trouble, part 1

This week we’re going to begin a study of Hebrews. There’s a lot we know about Hebrews.  First of all, it has forms of both a sermon and a letter. The author uses rhetorical forms that were common in 1st Century speeches: repetition of themes, introduction of ideas to be developed later, etc. But, he also concludes it like a letter. In the final chapter he says, “22 Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, bear with my message of exhortation, for in fact I have written to you briefly. 23 You should know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he comes soon, he will be with me when I see you. 24 Greetings to all your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy send you greetings. 25 Grace be with you all.”

In this brief passage we can see several things: (1) He addresses them as “brothers and sisters.” He’s writing to fellow Christians. (2) He considers his letter to be brief, yet it’s hardly so by today’s standards! (3) He is a close associate of Timothy, Paul’s “son in the faith,” and plans to travel with him. (4) He is acquainted with people from Italy. Now, that could mean one of two things: either he’s writing from Italy, or people from Italy are with him when he’s writing.

Given these various points, from very ancient times people have attributed the writing of Hebrews to the apostle Paul.  It is possible, and highly probable. But, without Paul’s typical introductory remarks in which he introduces himself by name, we cannot be certain.  For that reason, in our study I’ll simply refer to “the author of Hebrews,” rather than attempting to call him by name.

Now, that’s more than enough historical background to get us started. I don’t want to bore you before we even begin, so let’s move on.

Consider with me the many ways God has revealed Himself throughout time.  Since the foundation of the world, God’s power and nature have been visible in His creation.  The apostle Paul speaks of this in Romans chapter one when he says, “what can be known about God is plain to [people], because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made.”

Listen to what Paul’s saying: Any person who’s ever lived could look around at God’s creation and realize that there is a Being who is all-powerful and far greater than we are, thus he is described as “divine.”

Recently, my family and I had the opportunity to travel to California and visit several national parks.  Among them was Yosemite. After driving upwards through switchbacks for nearly an hour, we arrived in the “valley” of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  Surrounded by giant Sequoias and grassy meadows, we came to a spot where the tallest peaks were fully on display. El Capitan, a sheer vertical rock stretching 3,000 feet from base to summit was visible to our left. To the right of it was Half Dome, rising 4,737 feet from the valley floor. The highest waterfall in North America, Yosemite Falls, cascaded from a height of 2,450 feet. Other cliffs, crests, and falls of massive proportions filled the landscape.

Instinctively, every traveler in the area stopped at this location. Filled with a sense of wonder and awe, people exited their vehicles in silence and took pictures, or just stood there with their mouths agape. In the presence of such magnificent land forms people seemed to stand in awe of the Creator.  Surely, someone had brought such spectacular beauty into being!

Yet, natural revelation isn’t sufficient to know God fully, so for a period of at least 2,000 years He spoke through prophets.  Hebrews 1:1 begins, “After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets.”

Genesis through Malachi (the books of the Old Testament) are full of prophetic revelation in which God describes his nature, his intent, and his purposes to people. In this manner, people began to know the One who simply referred to himself as the “I Am.”

But, it was never God’s intention to simply reveal himself through nature, or even through others.  He chose to reveal himself personally, in a form that could be seen, heard, and even touched. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world.”

The author of Hebrews describes this son as the “heir of all things,” and the one “through whom he created the world.” That means all things were made through him and all things belong to him. Jesus is ascribed divine attributes!

The apostle Peter says in 2 Peter, “16 For we did not follow cleverly concocted fables when we made known to you the power and return of our Lord Jesus Christ; no, we were eyewitnesses of his grandeur. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father, when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory: ‘This is my dear Son, in whom I am delighted.’ 18 When this voice was conveyed from heaven, we ourselves heard it, for we were with him on the holy mountain.” In this passage Peter recalls the moment in which Jesus was transformed into his divine glory. We can read about this in Matthew 17:1-8. There, Matthew describes how Peter, James, and John went with Jesus up onto a mountain and he was “transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” Peter describes this in 2 Peter as Jesus’ “grandeur.” This highly unusual, unique event revealed Jesus’ identity fully to three of his disciples. He was, and still is without doubt, divine.

Jesus’ own words testified that God revealed Himself in the flesh through him. In John 12 Jesus says, “The one who believes in me does not believe in me, but in the one who sent me, and the one who sees me sees the one who sent me.” If that weren’t plain enough, later he says, “ The person who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me?” (14:9-10).

The apostle John describes the revelation of God, through Jesus, this way in 1 John 1:1-2: “This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life— 2 and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us).”  Can you imagine what he’s saying? “We heard him with our ears. We saw him with our eyes. We touched him with our hands. And, he was and is the eternal revelation of God the Father!”

Now, we have just scratched the surface of the Book of Hebrews; only two verses.  Yet, already the writer has told us what the purpose of his writing is: he wants us to know and believe that God has fully revealed himself and spoken to us through the revelation of his son, Jesus Christ.

Think about that, will you? God isn’t some distant being who set everything into motion and then stepped back and is watching it spin out of control. Nor is he content to simply speak through others. That’s one of the major differences between the Christian faith and all others.  Other faiths claim to have a prophet through whom Jesus spoke, sometimes passing his word through angelic intermediaries, which interestingly, the author of Hebrews will address later. But, in reality God chose to take on human form, live, and even die among us so that we might know him fully. Crazy isn’t it?

So, don’t you think that a God who would do that cares about you? We’re living through a very difficult time right now. The whole world is scared of a virus that’s run rampant. We don’t have drugs to treat it and we don’t have a vaccine to prevent it.  We’re isolated in our homes and can’t even find toilet paper in the stores! These are unprecedented times for our generation.

It’s easy when we’re practicing “social distancing,” to believe that even God has somehow removed himself from our troubles. But, nothing could be farther from the truth. God cares. He cares so much that, as we will find out in Hebrews, he took on human form eternally! Let me say that again, he took on human form eternally! You aren’t alone. Jesus lives in the presence of the Father to intercede on your behalf. He knows what it’s like to be human, because he is human. He knows what it’s like to be sick. He knows what it’s like to face uncertainty. He knows what it’s like to be alone. He knows what it’s like to see people suffer. He knows because he lived it too.

Let’s just stop there for this week. There’s much more we could say about Jesus’ power, glory, and humanity, but those are thoughts to share for another time. For now, let’s just find comfort in the realization that we’re not alone and that Jesus lives in human form because he loves us that much!