Category Archives: Hebrews

What Good Friday Is All About

“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.“ Hebrews 7:25

The great passion of the writer of Hebrews is that we “draw near” to God (Hebrews 4:16; 7:25; 10:22; 11:6). Draw near to his throne to find all the help we need. Draw near to him, confident that he will reward us with all that he is for us in Jesus. And this is clearly what he means in Hebrews 10:22, because verse 19 says that we have confidence “to enter the holy place,” that is, the new heavenly “holy of holies,” like that inner room in the old tabernacle of the Old Testament where the high priest met with God once a year, and where his glory descended on the ark of the covenant.

So the one command, the one exhortation, that we are given in Hebrews 10:19–22 is to draw near to God. The great aim of this writer is that we get near God, that we have fellowship with him, that we not settle for a Christian life at a distance from God, that God not be a distant thought, but a near and present reality, that we experience what the old Puritans called communion with God.

This drawing near is not a physical act. It’s not building a tower of Babel, by your achievements, to get to heaven. It’s not necessarily going into a church building, or walking to an altar at the front. It is an invisible act of the heart. You can do it while standing absolutely still, or while lying in a hospital bed, or while sitting in a pew listening to a sermon.

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Love to the Uttermost Devotional Readings for Holy Week
John Piper

Thursday of the Commandment

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” John 13:34

Today is Maundy Thursday. The name comes from the Latin mandatum, the first word in the Latin rendering of John 13:34, “A new commandment (mandatum novum) I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Holy-Thursday-Maundy-Thursday-2015

This commandment was given by Jesus on the Thursday before his crucifixion. So Maundy Thursday is the “Thursday of the Commandment.” This is the commandment: “love one another: just as I have loved you.” But what about Galatians 5:14? “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” If the whole law is fulfilled in “Love your neighbor as yourself,” what more can “Love one another as Christ loved you” add to the fulfillment of the whole law?

I would say that Jesus did not replace or change the commandment, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” He filled it out and gave it clear illustration. He is saying,

Here is what I mean by “as yourself.” Watch me. I mean: Just as you would want someone to set you free from certain death, so you should set them free from certain death. That is how I am now loving you. My suffering and death is what I mean by ‘as yourself.’ You want life. Live to give others life. At any cost.

So John says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16). Was Jesus loving us “as he loved himself ”? Listen to Ephesians 5:29–30, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”

In the horrors of his suffering, Christ was sustained “who for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). And that joy was the everlasting gladness of his redeemed people, satisfied in the presence of the risen king.

Therefore, let us see the greatest love in action on Maundy Thursday and tomorrow on Good Friday. “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1). He loved us to the uttermost. And let us be so moved by this love that it becomes our own. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.(1 John 3:16).

This is the commandment. This is the Thursday.

Love to the Uttermost Devotional Readings for Holy Week
John Piper

The Contender

pt testHebrews 12:1 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us …”

Here is an allusion to the Olympic races. The contenders were often greatly animated by the consideration that the eyes of the principal men of their country were fixed upon them; and by this, they were induced to make the most extraordinary exertions.

In the military, we are equally watched but officers and NCOs over us, subordinates under us and a vast array of “cloud of witnesses” we are aware or unaware watching and listening to the things we do and say.

Do you know what you are running for and your motivation? Are you running for medals or ribbons. Don’t get m wrong, medals and ribbons are good things. They show that you can and will be recognized for doing above and beyond workmanship.

Paul tells Timothy about a different award he should run for, “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:8

We should run the race God called us to run, whatever it is and do our best at it but always remember that justice, integrity, righteousness and honor are values more important than medals and ribbons. Godly right living trumps everything in the life a game of Righteousness, Awards, Advancement (Rock Paper, Scissors game in real life). As those who ran in the Olympic races, throw aside every thing that might impede you in your race.

As you cross the finish line, these are the words you want to hear, “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” Matthew 25:23.

Joy

“In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came to her and said, ‘Rejoice, favored woman! The Lord is with you.’ But she was deeply troubled by this statement, wondering what kind of greeting this could be. Then the angel told her: ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end'” Luke 1:26-33.

candles 3Happiness is an emotion that can disappear as quickly as it rises to the surface. Joy, however, is a choice. We have a choice. God gives us a joy that is unconquerable. We can choose to live in an attitude of resentment, anger, and fear or we can choose to pursue the joy of Christ. So what is the picture of joy in the Bible?

Joy is trusting when you want to doubt.

“Trust in the LORD forever, because in Yah, the LORD, is an everlasting rock!” Isaiah 26:4. As Christ followers we aren’t pressured to do it all for everyone. We trust in Jesus to do the heavy lifting. The key is trust. We just need to have Mary’s response to the coming of Jesus, “‘I am the Lord’s slave,’ said Mary. ‘May it be done to me according to your word'” Luke 1:38.

Joy is receiving what you want to reject.

Can you imagine how the innkeeper would have felt if he said to Mary and Joseph, “Of course you can’t stay in that stable! That’s for paying customers. Who do you take me for?” We find joy in making room for people in need. Reflect on the mysterious words found in Hebrews: “Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it” Hebrews 13:2.

Joy is celebrating when you want to fear.

What’s the first thing angels say to mortals? It’s standard protocol. In just about every divine encounter the angels say: “Fear not.” I can hear Jesus instruct His most trusted angels. “OK, let’s go over this again … Most of the people that I’ll tell you to speak to will be scared out of their wits! So let’s practice the greeting one more time.” Then the angels would all say in unison, “Fear not.”

The message is clear. God is not looking for ways to scare us into faith. He drew near to us to relieve the worries we have about crossing over the divide between heaven and earth. He wants us to know that He’s going to take care of us no matter what happens. One of the names that He was called long before he ever stepped on this world’s stage was Immanuel meaning “God with us.” No matter what we go through we can whisper this simple truth: “Jesus is with me.” Think about it. He is with you in your greatest victories and your most humiliating defeats. Jesus is with you at all times in all things.

 

*** Matt Tullos is pastor of Bluegrass Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee

Prepare

“Sing to Yahweh, you His faithful ones, and praise His holy name. For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor, a lifetime. Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning. When I was secure, I said, ‘I will never be shaken'” Psalm 30:4-6.

“‘Comfort, comfort My people,’ says your God. ‘Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of forced labor is over, her iniquity has been pardoned, and she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.’ A voice of one crying out: Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert'” Isaiah 40:1-3christmas candle light

Whenever we’re on mission with God like Joseph and Mary were as they waited for the birth of Jesus, we have to prepare. No one plants seeds one day and expects a harvest in the morning. There are things to do. We are called to cultivate our lives and rest in the fact that God has our future in his hands.

In the story of the prodigal son, Jesus tells the story of a father. This father knew that he couldn’t control the will of a rebellious, spiteful son. He just gave him what he asked for and let him go. But after the son left with his share of the farm in his back pocket, the father began to prepare for a celebration. He started fattening a calf. He bought a ring and a robe. There were things to be done. Their relationship was broken, but he still had hope as he watched every afternoon for a familiar figure to appear over the horizon.

Preparation is a statement of faith. It’s committing to trust even though you’re hurting and heartsick. Every detail of the Christmas story tells us that Mary and Joseph endured more than their fair share of trials as they waited for the arrival of Jesus. Mary left town. Joseph refused to reject her on the basis of an angelic dream. We can just hear the neighbors gossip about the scandalous events of Mary’s pregnancy. But they prepared and endured it all to be on a much greater mission than any carpenter’s family could imagine.

As you prepare for Christmas and all God has in store for you in the new year, be challenged to prepare for all that’s in store in the following ways:

  • Eliminate distractions. Don’t allow the stress of the Christmas season to distract you from what is really is important. Spend more time with the family and less time at the mall. Simplify your life. Be still and listen to God’s voice. “… keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of faith …” Hebrews 12:2a.
  • Notice God’s hand. Reflect on this past year. Perhaps you, like many, have faced financial difficulty. Or maybe you’ve escaped danger or disease through an unforeseen miracle. Perhaps this year has been a time of suffering or relationship disasters. How has God carried you through all these things? Remember the words of Joseph in the Old Testament: “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good …” Genesis 50:20.
  • Determine God’s will. Ask God to give you direction. “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps” Proverbs 16:9.
  • Unite in a mission. Mary and Joseph undertook an amazing mission on the way to Bethlehem. It certainly must have strengthened their bond as they conquered many obstacles and challenges. There’s nothing more powerful than a couple, a family, or a church rallying around a cause.

*** Matt Tullos is pastor of Bluegrass Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee

Faith

“Wait for the LORD; be strong and courageous. Wait for the LORD” Psalm 27:14. “Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him” Hebrews 11:6.

candle 1What’s the longest you’ve had to wait for something? I imagine almost everyone has a memory of Christmas Eve as a child; squeezing your eyes shut, trying with all your might to go to sleep on Christmas Eve. For those of you with orthodox parents, you knew that even opening one present before Christmas morning was akin to high heresy. And so you counted sheep and waited.

Waiting is still difficult. We expect everything to be at our fingertips the moment we have the desire for it. It’s a world we’re growing into and it’s addicting. We live in a world of downloads, high-speed email, on demand, and Hot Pockets. Yet God finds ways of making us wait. Waiting and faith go hand-in-hand.

  • We wait for the baby we’ve dreamed we’d hold in our arms.
  • Some wait for a prodigal to come to the end of himself and return home.
  • Many of us are waiting for the phone to ring so we can return to a job with a normal salary and benefits.
  • Others are waiting for a spiritual breakthrough that will open our eyes. Waiting is the embodiment of faith.

In Hebrews 11:13 we are reminded that faith involves trust in God’s promise even if the promises of God are fulfilled long after we’re gone. The writer says, “These all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance …”

Advent is about faith and waiting. What are you waiting on God for this year? Remember the years of silence as God’s people waited for the Messiah. Take time today, right now, to reflect on the fact that God’s timing is quite different from ours. The story of Jesus birth gives us assurance and joy because even though the waiting lingered for decades, God broke through at just the right time.

Are you struggling with a lack of faith? That’s OK. It doesn’t take much faith to get God’s attention. Jesus encouraged his frustrated followers this way: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” Matthew 17:20.

Most of us try to grow a forest in one day. Jesus, however, invites you to begin with a tiny seed. Watch it grow and wait for it to become all that you dreamed it would be.

  • An entire nation waited centuries before their eternal king appeared.
  • Mary wasn’t given a full-grown son.
  • The Wise Men from the east didn’t see the Messiah to appear at their front door.

Are you willing to plant faith and wait upon God? Nothing seems to be appearing on the horizon today, but just wait! God always keeps his promises, even to those who have little faith. Just wait.

 

*** Matt Tullos is pastor of Bluegrass Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee

Spiritual Community

1 Chronicles 12:21-22 They helped David against the band of raiders, for they were all mighty men of valor and were commanders in the army. For from day to day men came to David to help him, until there was a great army, like an army of God.”

Hebrews 10:24-25And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

It must have been amazing to watch David amassing men around himself until it was like the army of God — God is doing exactly the same thing in our days. The difference is the kinds of battles we’re fighting. David and his men engaged in physical warfare against bands of raiders; Philistines and local Canaanite tribes. We are in a spiritual war … “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12

isolatedA program by National Geographic gives a powerful illustration for us. In the great annual wildebeest migration in Serengeti National Park in Africa a giant herd, thousands of wildebeest, slowly move in groups across the plain. They are invariably followed by stalking lions. But the lions never attack the herd – they simply watch carefully for the stray wildebeest, either careless or seeking greener grass, who separates himself from the larger groups of animals. The isolated wildebeest will become the sudden prey of the lions who attack with lightening speed and ferocity.

We all need real relationships and spiritual community. It’s not enough to simply “go to church”. We need to be the community of believers, actively participating in loving, serving, praying, counseling, encouraging, admonishing, eating, rejoicing, weeping, and forgiving as the family of God.

Far too many people are isolated. Are you one of them? Do you know someone who is isolated? David’s army was successful and safe because they were together in mind heart and purpose. Wildebeest, as well, survive when they stick together. Find your spiritual community and be faithful to it. It should not be a formality, but a family reality with a warfare mentality.

Hope

Hebrews 6:19-20 “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

In this time of darkness,
We choose to look toward the Light.
In this time when so many are suffering,
We choose faith, not despair,
We choose the work of compassionate justice.
As we move together,
Hungry for transformation, for hope,
Our steps themselves
Transform us, nourish us.
We are on constant pilgrimage,
Moving to the heart of things,
Reaching beyond what any one of us
Can accomplish ourselves.
The brightness of the Incarnation
Guides us as we continue,
With the promise of the Prince of Peace
As the bright star in these dark nights.

You’re Helping to Build the Army of God!

1 Chronicles 12:21-22 “They helped David against the band of raiders, for they were all mighty men of valor and were commanders in the army. For from day to day men came to David to help him, until there was a great army, like an army of God.”
Hebrews 10:25 “Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
It must have been amazing to watch David amassing men around himself until it was like the army of God — Jesus is doing exactly the same thing in our days. The difference is the kinds of battles we’re fighting. David and his men engaged in physical warfare against bands of raiders; Philistines and local Canaanite tribes. We are in a spiritual war against “…principalities, against powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” [Ephesians 6:12]
A program by National Geographic gives a powerful illustration for us. In the great annual wildebeest migration in Serengeti National Park in Africa a giant herd, thousands of wildebeest, slowly move in groups across the plain. They are invariably followed by stalking lions. But the lions never attack the herd – they simply watch carefully for the stray wildebeest, either careless or seeking greener grass, who separates himself from the larger groups of animals. The isolated wildebeest will become the sudden prey of the lions who attack with lightening speed and ferocity.
In spiritual warfare isolation is equally dangerous, as our enemy roams like a roaring lion looking for separated brethren to prey upon. We all need real relationship and spiritual community for protection against our enemy who is constantly stalking vulnerable prey. It’s not enough to simply “go to church”. We need to be the community of believers, actively participating in loving, serving, praying, counseling, encouraging, admonishing, eating, rejoicing, weeping, and forgiving as the family of God.
Far too many are isolated, and seriously vulnerable to the spiritual attacks. Are you one of them? Do you know someone who is in this dangerous condition? David’s army was successful and safe because they were together in mind heart and purpose. Wildebeest, as well, survive when they stick together. Find your spiritual community and be faithful to it. It should not be a formality, but a family reality with a warfare mentality.