Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “God

Whatever happens

2016-race-400pxBecause of favorable tail winds, the recent Sydney to Hobart yacht race was won in record time. The most disastrous race was in 1998, when a severe storm developed near Eden, with the loss of six lives and five yachts and 55 other sailors had to be airlifted from their yachts by rescue helicopter. Only 38% of the yachts finished the race in 1998. Meteorological observations showed that mean wind speeds reached 55 knots (100 km/hr; 63 mph), with frequent gusts to 75 knots (140 km/hr; 86 mph). And wave heights were 5-8 meters (16-26 ft), with individual waves up to 15 meters (49 ft). So the weather is a major factor influencing the progress of the fleet. Sometimes it helps and other times it hinders.

Our journey of life is like this yacht race – it’s made up of good times and difficult times. It’s always changing. And sometimes things can be out of our control. But it’s good to know that according to the Bible, whatever happens, God is always in control.

1998-race-book-3-400pxGod’s promise

The year 2017 begins today. What will this year bring in your journey of life? Like the life of Abraham in the Bible, there will be ups and downs. Good times and difficult times. But whatever happens is no surprise to God, because He has promised:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28NIV).

The context of this verse is “our present suffering” (Rom. 8:18). Because hope sustains believers when they suffer (v. 22-25), they can wait patiently for their ultimate redemption (v.25). Two reasons are given for waiting patiently. First, the Holy Spirit helps them when they pray (v.26-27). And, second they can be confident that God works in all the circumstances of their lives to accomplish His good purpose for them (v.28). Whatever God allows to come into our lives is designed to assist our growth into the image of Christ (v.29) and bring us to final glory (v.30). This means that in a coming day we will be free from sin and will have glorified bodies like Christ’s. So, our daily lives aren’t controlled by impersonal forces such as chance, luck or fate, but by our loving God. Instead, we know that God manages the circumstances and events of our lives toward a proper end. The “things” that happen to us might not be good in themselves, but God uses every event for our ultimate good. All hardships, misfortunes, suffering and setbacks contribute to the good. He brings good out of “all things”. So, God is at work on our behalf (v.28-30). He is sovereign over all the affairs of life.

This doesn’t mean that everything will turn out OK in our lives. The reason for this is that the object of this promise is God’s eternal purpose, not just our temporal affairs. For example, Joseph went through lots of suffering, but acknowledged that God allowed it (Gen. 45:5-8), and God used it for good within his lifetime (Gen. 50:19-20).

As well as bringing ultimate good out of every event in our lives, God controls the timing of our lives.

God’s timing

The Bible says that Jesus was born at a time that was set by God:
“But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son (Jesus), born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Gal. 4:4-5).
A father in the Roman Empire marked a specific time when his child became an adult. Likewise, God the Father marked a time when He sent His Son into the world. God had a precise time for Christ to be born (Daniel 9:24-27). He came precisely at the moment God designed from eternity. This is the time when God began to put to an end to the dispensation of the law by sending His Son to fulfill all the demands of the law.

Likewise, for us. We were born at a time set by God. David wrote: “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Ps. 139:16). David’s span of life and its events were sovereignly determined. Our span of life and its events are also sovereignly determined. This gives meaning to our life. Because we are living when God planned for us to live, it’s the right time for us.

But, as well as bringing ultimate good out of every event in our lives, and controlling the timing of our lives, God meets all our needs.

God’s provision

Because David was aware of God’s promises, timing and provision, he wrote Psalm 23 (NLT).

The Lord (God) is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
forever.

With the assurance of God’s provision (v.1), rest (v.2), strength (v.3), guidance (v.3), protection (v.4), comfort (v.4), honor (v.5), goodness (v.6 and love (v.6), what more could David want? If we trust in God through Christ, like David we can experience God’s shepherd care. After all, Jesus said He was “the good shepherd” (Jn. 10:11, 14-15).  He is “good” because He died in order to save His sheep (followers). In this way, God met the needs of true Christians.

Conclusion

We have seen that God uses every event in our lives for our ultimate good, controls the timing of our lives, and meets all our needs. So whatever happens in 2017, let’s remember that God is always in control. And He cares for us.

Written, January 2017


True Christmas: Sacrifice and Celebration

birthday-jesus-4-400pxAt a birthday party we celebrate a person’s life. But what if a person isn’t mentioned at their birthday party? That would be embarrassing! Christmas can be like that, because Christmas is when our culture chooses to remember the birth of Jesus Christ, but not everyone does this.

We usually celebrate Christmas with family and friends. But I was reminded recently that Christmas is not only a time of celebration. It also involves a lot of sacrifice; because it took sacrifices to get Christ here into this world. A sacrifice is something that’s given up (forfeited or surrendered) for the sake of a better cause. This blogpost is a summary of a presentation on this topic by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan.

Christmas is not just holidays, or food, or drinks, or decorations, or Santa Claus or gifts, or greetings. That’s the celebrative part of Christmas, which is an outcome of the real Christmas. But celebrating without recognizing the birthday person (Jesus Christ) is embarrassing and tragic.

The first Christmas

There was a great celebration that first Christmas. When the shepherds were told the good news about the baby Jesus, the angels praised God, “Glory to God in the highest heaven” (Lk. 2:14-18NIV). And the shepherds were very excited when they saw the baby Jesus.

But what about Mary’s family? Because of their shame, they probably weren’t celebrating. Her pregnancy would have been known in their local community. But no-one would have believed that she was carrying a holy baby. Like everyone else, her family would have thought she was carrying an illegitimate child, which brought shame and disgrace on the family and into the community. Even her fiancé (Joseph) planned to divorce her quietly (Mt. 1:18-25). But he changed his mind when an angel told him that Jesus was indeed a holy baby.

Did God celebrate at the first Christmas? Probably not. That was when God lost His Son, giving Him to the world as a human being to stand forever with people who were sinners. So behind the scenes there is a sacrificial aspect to the first Christmas.

Christmas was God’s idea

Jesus taught Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). There are four things in this verse: God’s love, God giving, an invitation to believe, and an invitation to live. The first two and the last two are linked together. God so loved that He gave. For God, to love means to give. And He gave the best He could give. That is Himself. And then He says “whoever believes”. Nicodemus is urged to believe that Jesus is the Son of God in order to have eternal life instead perishing. Giving is always sacrificial, while receiving (in this case, believing to receive eternal life) is a reason to celebrate.

At Christmas we remember that God gave Himself, which is a sacrifice. Sending Jesus to earth was God’s idea. In this sense, God invented Christmas. And when we receive God’s gift (of forgiveness, love, joy, peace, and eternal life through Jesus), that’s a reason for celebration. Let’s look at four things that God sacrificed on the first Christmas so that we can celebrate.

The sacrifice of God’s glory

On the night before He was executed, Jesus prayed to God the Father, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (Jn. 17:5). Before Christ came into the world, He lived in heaven with God the Father. He had the glory and splendor of deity. But on the first Christmas Jesus sacrificed (gave up) His glory. Instead of being visible, it was hidden (or veiled). In John 17 Jesus is praying that His visible glory might be restored in heaven.

Paul explains why Jesus sacrificed His glory, “What if He did this to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory – even us, whom He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” (Rom. 9:23-24). God is preparing some people for glory. Jesus had to sacrifice His glory at the first Christmas so that we can regain our glory (which was lost by Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden) by trusting in Jesus Christ.

On the first Christmas, God not only sacrificed His glory; He also sacrificed His riches.

The sacrifice of God’s riches

Paul said that Jesus was the greatest example of generosity: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Jesus was enormously rich because He was God. But at the first Christmas, He became poor. So He went from wealth to poverty. Jesus gave up everything so poor sinners like us who were under God’s judgment can become rich in Him. We are rich “in Christ”. This has been expressed in verse as:
Let the weak say “I am strong”,
Let the poor say “I am rich”,
Let the blind say “I can see”,
Because of what the Lord has done in me.

We can’t understand Christmas without reference to the crucifixion and the resurrection, because the incarnation (Christ’s birth) became a saving event through the crucifixion.

On the first Christmas, God not only sacrificed His glory and His riches; He also sacrificed His nature.

The sacrifice of God’s nature

Paul said that Jesus was the greatest example of humility: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:6-8)

God is a spirit who is immortal, eternal, and beyond our world of time, space, mass, and energy. But on the first Christmas, God shattered Himself and became a human being. The Creator of the universe transformed into a servant. A dependent baby. In this way, His divinity was hidden (or veiled).

Paul said that Christians had “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). God had to shatter Himself at the first Christmas so that sinners like us can be recreated. When we trust in Christ as Savior, we put on a new self, which is created in the image of God (just like God).

On the first Christmas, God not only sacrificed His glory and His riches and His nature; He also sacrificed His life.

The sacrifice of God’s life

Jesus said, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:15) and “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45).

When Jesus came as a baby the first Christmas, He came to sacrifice His life. So Christmas cost God’s life. Why? So that we may have His life. Jesus said “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10). The “life” referred to here is spiritual life. This life is given by God upon trust in Jesus Christ (Jn. 5:39-40; 1 Jn. 5:11-12). Because we have spiritual life, we can celebrate at Christmas by celebrating Jesus who is the source of spiritual life. Christmas is a time to encounter this life in Christ Jesus. As we saw in John 3:16, He loved to give, and we believe to live (spiritually). But if we are spiritually dead, our Christmas is meaningless.

Summary

True Christmas is not just a time of celebration. It involves much more than celebration. Christmas is a time to:
– Reflect on God’s sacrifice (what He has done for us),
– Recognize Jesus our Savior,
– Reconnect with Christ (God’s Christmas gift to us), and
– Rejoice.

Let’s celebrate Christmas meaningfully by remembering God’s sacrifices. Christmas is a sacrifice and celebration of God’s glory. Christmas is a sacrifice and celebration of God’s riches. Christmas is a sacrifice and celebration of God’s nature. Christmas is a sacrifice and celebration of God’s life. And let’s be willing to sacrifice for others just as God sacrificed for us.

Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan on “True Christmas: Sacrifice and Celebration”. Dr. Lakshmanan is Head of Theology in the Australian College of Christian Studies.

Written, December 2016


Who raised Jesus from death?

cross_and_tomb-3Christ’s resurrection and the feeding of the 5,000 are the only miracles recorded in each of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John of the Bible. According to the Bible, Jesus was the first person to be raised from death to eternal life, never to die again (Rom. 6:9; 1 Cor. 15:23). But who raised Jesus back to life from death? The Bible gives various answers to this question.

God did it

The most frequent explanation is that God raised Jesus from death (Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15, 26; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30, 33, 34, 37; 17:31; Rom. 4:24; 10:9; 1 Cor. 6:14; 15:15; Col. 2:12; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pt. 1:21). “God raised Him (Jesus) from the dead so that He (Jesus) will never be subject to decay” (Acts 13:34NIV). As Jesus was both a physical human being and the spiritual Son of God, the death and “decay” refer to His physical body, and not to His divine nature. Only people die, not spirits. His earthly body wasn’t eternal but was subject to death just as ours is.

Righteousness is promised “for us who believe in Him (God) who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He (Jesus) was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom. 4:24-25). So Christ’s death dealt with the problem of our sins and the fact that He rose confirms that the price has been paid to make us right with God. As Paul says, ‘‘If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him (Jesus) from the dead, you will be saved’ (Rom. 10:9).

Also, “by His power God raised the Lord (Jesus) from the dead, and He (God) will raise us also” (1 Cor. 6:14). So because God raised Jesus from death, in the future He will also raise the bodies of believers from death. Resurrection is the opposite of death. Death separates the body from the soul and spirit, while resurrection reunites them. But as noted above, it didn’t affect the divine part of Jesus.

God the Father did it

The Bible also says that God the Father raised Jesus from death (Rom. 6:4; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:19-21; 1 Pt. 1:3). Paul said that through His “incomparably great power” and “mighty strength”, God the Father, “raised Christ from the dead and seated Him (Jesus) at His (God the Father’s) right hand in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 1:19-20). So Jesus was raised and given the place of highest honor and authority (the right hand) in God’s dwelling place (the heavenly realms).

It should be noted that some of the instances of the word “God” used in the context of Christ’s resurrection actually refer to God the Father (1 Th. 1:9-10).

Jesus did it

The Bible also says that Jesus raised Himself from death (Jn. 2:19; 10:17-18). Jesus told the Jews, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn. 2:19-21). In this instance, the temple was a metaphor for His body. So to “destroy this temple” was a figurative way to predict His death and to “raise it again” was a figurative way to predict His resurrection. When Jesus said that He had the power to raise Himself back to life, it shows that He had divine power, because this is impossible for a human being to do.

When Jesus predicted that faithful Jews and faithful Gentiles would be united in the Christian church, He described how this would be made possible: “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father (Jn. 10:17-18)”. To “lay down” one’s life is to die willingly and to “take it up again” is to resurrect back to life. So He willingly died and rose again for those who trust in the saving power of His death and resurrection. This passage says that Jesus used His divine power to rise from death in obedience to the command (instruction or plan) of God the Father. This was possible because His divine power wasn’t affected by His death – it wasn’t destroyed.

Did the Holy Spirit do it?

Some think that the Bible also says that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from death (Rom. 8:11; 1 Pt. 3:18). Romans 3:18 says:
NIV: “And if (since) the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you”.
ESV: “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you”.
HCSB: “And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through His Spirit who lives in you”.
NET: “Moreover if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through His Spirit who lives in you”. And according to the NET Bible “the one who raised Jesus from the dead” and “the one who raised Christ from the death” refer to God. So this verse belongs to the first category. “God did it”.

Another possibility is that the term “Spirit of Him” could be a title of the Holy Spirit like “Spirit of God” (Rom. 8:9). According to this interpretation, the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from death. But according to its context, this verse is saying that the Spirit of God within us is stronger than the sin that is in our bodies. Which is similar to “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). So this verse doesn’t definitely say that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from death – it is only a debatable inference.

1 Peter 3:18 says that Christ was:
NIV: “made alive in the Spirit”.
ESV: “made alive in the spirit”.
HCSB: “made alive in the spiritual realm”.
NET: “made alive in the spirit”. And according to the NET Bible “The reference may not be to the Holy Spirit directly, but indirectly, since the Spirit permeates and characterizes the spiritual mode of existence”.
As most of these contemporary translations don’t capitalize “spiritual”, there is no conclusive evidence in 1 Peter 3:18 that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from death.

Summary

The Bible definitely teaches that Jesus was raised from the dead by God, God the Father and by Himself. Is this a contradiction? No, because God the Father and Jesus Christ are referred to as “God” in the Bible and they can do what God alone can do (Heb. 1:8).

None of the verses say that God the Father alone raised Jesus from the dead, or that Jesus by Himself without the aid of the Father raised Himself, or that Jesus didn’t have the power to raise Himself. Paul called Jesus “the author of life” (Acts 3:15) and Jesus certainly had the power to resurrect Lazarus back to life (Jn. 11:11-44). Furthermore, Jesus told Martha “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11:25).

Also, it doesn’t follow that the Father and the Son must be one and the same person in order for all these statements to be correct, since all that is required is for them to have the same ability and power to raise the dead. After all, Jesus said that He could do everything that the Father does (Jn. 5:19-24).

Whether the Holy Spirit, who is also referred to as “God” (Acts 5:3-4), was involved in the Resurrection of Christ is a debatable matter as the Bible doesn’t seem to provide conclusive evidence of this.

Written, October 2016


Looking for spiritual answers

Story of GodThe National Geographic Channel is screening a documentary series “The story of God with Morgan Freeman”. It asks big cosmological questions like; How did we get here? What happens when we die? Why does evil exist? What is the apocalypse? And, the power of miracles. The series blends science, history, anthropology and personal experience on a journey to understand humanity’s religious devotion. It tells the story of religion and spirituality, across disciplines and faiths.

Freeman played God in the movie “Bruce Almighty”. When asked about his picture of God, Freeman said, “I don’t think there is an image of God. I like the idea of rays coming down from clouds. I like the idea of seeing the Milky Way on a clear and starry night or under a full moon. That is the essence of existence. You’re there totally with the great unknown. That’s God”. Also, “The highest power is the human mind. That’s where God came from, and my belief in God is my belief in myself”.

Many people are aware of a spiritual dimension to life. They may sense a divine higher being that provides meaning and purpose and moral guidance. Or they may realize that their capacity for thinking, willing and feeling is beyond the physical realm. The fact that we need to find meaning and purpose in our lives means that we are spiritual beings.

A Google search on “spiritual answers” gives a range of responses including those based on, meditation, yoga, Christianity, Hinduism, Mormonism, psychics, mysticism, and higher consciousness. Some say that all religions lead to God and heaven. But, according to the Bible that’s not true.

True and false

When Jesus was in Sychar, He asked a Samaritan woman for water to drink from the well. In their conversation Jesus mentioned her previous five husbands. She responded by calling him a prophet and discussing places of worship. Then Jesus said, “a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews” (Jn. 4:21-22NIV). The Samaritan Bible contained only the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). Samaritans worshipped the true God, but their failure to accept much of His revelation meant that they knew little about Him. They mixed the law of Moses with idolatry and built a temple on Mount Gerizim. Consequently, Jesus condemned their ways of worship and spiritual practices, which must have been inconsistent with the Old Testament (the Bible at that time). He corrected her by saying that God’s revelation in Scripture came through the Jews (their Scripture taught that a Messiah was coming into the world) and the Messiah (who was talking to her) was Jewish.

Jesus is saying that God can now be worshipped in any place. In the Old Testament the Israelites were to worship God at the tabernacle (as it moved from Sinai to Canaan) or at the temple (in Jerusalem). But after Jesus came, there’s no one special place to worship God. Instead, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16). We can worship God anywhere. And corporate worship is possible wherever Christians gather together. Also, Jesus said that He was metaphorically the new temple, the new meeting place with God – “Destroy this temple (His body), and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn. 2:19).

Then Jesus said that because God is spirit, people must worship God “in the Spirit and in truth” – “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (Jn. 4:23-24).

Because truth is associated with Jesus Christ, true worship must include Jesus (Jn. 1:14; 14:6). Jesus is “full of grace and truth”. And He’s “the way and the truth and the life”. So there is true worship and false worship. There is true religion and false religion. There is true spirituality and false spirituality. This is how to test spiritual answers. Because the Samaritan worship didn’t include Jesus (as Messiah), it was a false worship. A false religion. Jesus said, “Whoever rejects me rejects Him who sent me (Lk. 10:16). If you reject Jesus, you reject the true God. This means that Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and any other religion or philosophy that does not accept Jesus as the divine Savior of the world who came to die for sinners and rise again and become the Mediator between God and humanity is false. The Bible says that only one religion leads to God and heaven – true Christianity. Despite our pluralistic, multicultural, relativistic and all-tolerant world, all other religions are false.

What about Morgan Freeman’s search around the world for spiritual answers? He said that “the great unknown” is God. Is this true or false? It’s false because God has revealed much more about Himself in the Bible. His search doesn’t include Jesus at all. And God is much more that our mind or our self-belief. What about all the religions and philosophies? All except Christianity as described in the Bible are false. They don’t include Jesus. Or if they do include Jesus, it’s not the Jesus described in the Bible.

Lessons for us

Don’t be like Morgan Freeman and look for spiritual answers in the wrong places. And the results of a Google search that don’t include Jesus as described in the Bible are wrong places.

It’s easy to be influenced by others. For example, the Israelites were influenced to worship the gods of other nations. Likewise, today we can be influenced by the news media, social media, academics, politicians, and movies. In fact, we can be influenced by anyone.

Let’s look in the Bible for our spiritual answers and not be swayed by the other false religions and philosophies.

Written, May 2016


Ten reasons why Jesus is more than a prophet

Obituaries 2 400pxHave you ever been to a funeral where the eulogy doesn’t seem to match your experience of the person? Sometimes our reporting is selective or biased.

How do we discover facts about someone who lived about 2,000 years ago? We examine history books written as closely as possible to their lifetime. To find out about Jesus we read parts of the Bible that were written by eyewitnesses and their contemporaries, 30-60 years after He lived. In this post we see that according to those who knew Jesus best, He was more than a prophet because He is the divine Son of God who is equal with God and is alive today.

What’s a prophet?

In the Bible, a prophet is one who speaks on behalf of someone else. For example, Aaron was Moses’ spokesman (Ex. 7:1). So he was a prophet of Moses. God’s prophets brought messages from God, which were called prophesies. They were God’s messengers to humanity who were enabled by the Holy Spirit (2 Chr. 15:1; Neh. 9:30; Mic. 3:8). So a prophet spoke God’s words. There were two kinds of prophets, those who were true and those who were false.

In the context of Christ’s coming reign on earth, Peter said that Jesus would be a prophet like Moses (Acts 3:21-23). The similarity is that both are raised up by God (Dt. 18:15, 18). Does this mean that Jesus was just a prophet like Moses, Isaiah, and John the Baptist? Indeed, after He was rejected in Nazareth, Jesus identified with the prophets by saying, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown” (Lk. 4:24-26). He also gave examples of this using Elijah and Elisha who were prophets. Jesus also predicted that He would die in Jerusalem where many prophets had been put to death (Lk. 13:33).

So, who did Jesus claim to be?

1. What Jesus said

Jesus said He was similar to God. He asserted, “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19); “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9); “The one who looks at me is seeing the One who sent me” (John 12:45); “Whoever hates me, hates my Father as well” (John 15:23); “All may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23). These references certainly indicate that Jesus looked at Himself as being more than just a man; rather He was equal with God.

When Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30), He meant that He is united with God the Father. Because of their unity, Jesus displayed God the Father (Jn. 14:9). Then He said, “the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (Jn. 10:38; 14:10-11). They were interconnected.

The titles used by Jesus (“Son of God”, “Son of Man”, and “I am”) showed His divinity. During His trial, Jesus was cross-examined by Caiaphas the high priest “‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven’. The high priest tore his clothes. ‘Why do we need any more witnesses?’ he asked. ‘You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’ They all condemned Him as worthy of death” (Mk. 14:61-64). So Jesus said He was the Son of God. No other prophet ever called himself the Son of God.

The Jews knew that the “Son of Man” was heir to the divine throne because “all nations and peoples of every language worshiped Him” and He will have “everlasting dominion that will never pass away” (Dan. 7:13-14). He’ll rule forever. Nations will worship Him and His kingdom will be unstoppable.

Jesus told the Jews, “Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was born, I am!” (Jn. 8:58). “I am” was a title that God used when he revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3:14). In fact, Jesus had dwelt with God the Father from all eternity, which is a long time before the time of Abraham! So Jesus claimed to be Israel’s God.

Jesus also said that He was “the First and the Last” (Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 22:13), which is another title of God (Isa. 44:6; 48:12). Also, Jesus said that He was the Jewish Messiah (the Christ) (Mt. 16:16-17; 26:63-64; Mk. 14:61-62; Jn. 4:25-26; 17:3). Furthermore, Jesus claimed to be the judge of humanity and the one who grants eternal life (Jn. 5:21-22; 10:27-28).

Jesus often showed people, by His actions, that He had divine authority. For example, He claimed to forgive sins (Mt. 9:2-8; Mk. 2:3-12; Lk. 5:18-26). While priests and prophets could mediate forgiveness by praying for people, forgiving sins committed against God was something the Jewish religious leaders believed only God had the authority to do (Mk. 2:7). Because of claims like this they tried to kill Him.

Before He ascended back to heaven, Jesus told his followers “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). This is a claim of omnipresence, which is a characteristic of God.

So in many ways, Jesus often claimed to be divine. But what did God the Father say about Jesus?

2. What God said

When Jesus was baptized, “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased’” (Mt. 3:17; Mk. 1:11; Lk. 3:22).  Here God the Father quotes from Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1. As the context of these verses is a king and a servant, they indicate Christ’s regal rule and suffering servant roles.

At the transfiguration, Peter offered to put up three shelters, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. He was giving them equal status. But God the Father interrupted and told Peter, James and John, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Mt. 17:5; Mk. 9:7; Lk. 9:35). It’s the same message as that given at Christ’s baptism. So God says that Jesus is pre-eminent, and not just a great prophet.

When Jesus predicted His death, He prayed “Father, glorify your name!”. Then God the Father replied, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again” (Jn. 12:28). This means that God was glorified by all that Jesus did, particularly His death, resurrection and ascension. After all, John said, “We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn.1:14).

So God said that Jesus was His Son who glorified God. But what did the disciples say about Jesus?

3. What His disciples said

Immediately after Christ’s death, two of His disciples said that He was “a prophet powerful in word and deed” (Lk. 24:19). But at other times His disciples said that He was more than a prophet. For example, when they were called to follow Jesus, Andrew said He was the Messiah and Nathanael said He was the Son of God (Jn. 1:41, 49).

When Jesus asked “Who do you say that I am?”, Peter answered “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16-20). So Jesus was recognized as Israel’s Messiah and God the Son. Then Jesus commended Peter and told His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah. Here the Bible uses “son” metaphorically to refer to someone other than a biological son. In the ancient world, the majority of sons took up the same occupation as their father. The son was identified by his father and his occupation. For example, Jesus was known as “the carpenter’s son” (Mt. 13:55). In this case “Son” indicates the close relationship and unity between Jesus and God the Father.

Peter wrote about, “Our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt. 1:1). He also urged Christians to “revere Christ as Lord” (1 Pt. 2:15).

After the resurrection, Thomas called Jesus “my Lord and my God!” and Jesus commended him for this (Jn. 20:28). So although the disciples were taught that Jesus was distinct from God the Father who sent Him, they also recognized that He was God.

John made many claims about Jesus:

  • “the word (Jesus Christ) was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made” (Jn. 1:1-2). And Jesus was God in the flesh (Jn. 1:14).
  • “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son (Jesus Christ), who is Himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made Him known” (Jn. 1:18).
  • “Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 Jn. 2:22-23).
  • “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 Jn. 5:11-12).

So the disciples said that Jesus was the Son of God. But what did the Jewish religious leaders say about Jesus?

4. What the Jewish religious leaders said

After Jesus healed a disabled man on the Sabbath day, the religious leaders accused Him of “calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (Jn. 5:18-30). Then Jesus gave more reasons why He was equal with God the Father. So the Jewish leaders tried to kill Jesus because He claimed to be God and the Son of God (Jn. 10:33; 19:7).

Even His enemies could see that Jesus was presenting Himself as God. The religious leaders accused Jesus of blasphemy (Mt. 9:3; 26:65; Mk. 2:7; 14:64; Lk. 5:21; Jn. 10:33, 36). And that was the reason Jesus was crucified.

So the religious leaders had Jesus killed because He claimed to be equal with God. But what did the common people say about Jesus?

5. What the common people said

When Jesus asked, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”, the disciples replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Mt. 16:14; Mk. 8:28; Lk. 9:19). And when He came to Jerusalem as King, the crowds said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee” (Mt. 21:11). That’s why the religious leaders found it difficult to arrest Him (Mt. 21:46).

After Jesus raised a widow’s son back to life, the crowd said He was a “great prophet” (Lk. 7:11-17). And the Samaritan woman thought Jesus was a prophet (Jn. 4:19). When Jesus healed a blind man, the man referred to Him initially as “the man”, then he said, “He is a prophet”, and finally after speaking with Jesus, He said “’Lord, I believe’, and he worshipped Him” (Jn. 9:11, 17, 38). So He came to acknowledge Him as the Son of God.

After Jesus feed 5,000 men, some thought He was the Prophet promised by Moses (Dt. 18:15, 18; Jn. 6:16; 7:40-41, 52). Others said that Jesus was Christ, the Messiah. But some thought this was impossible. They believed that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and there was no prophecy in the Old Testament that the Messaih would come out of Galilee.

Finally, the centurion who witnessed Christ’s crucifixion said “Surely this man is the Son of God!” (Mk. 15:39).

So the common people had a range of views about Jesus. But some of those who had a close encounter with Jesus recognized Him as the Son of God. What did Paul say about Jesus?

6. What Paul said

In his letters, Paul referred to Jesus as:

  • “God over all” (Rom. 9:5)
  • “in very nature God”, having “equality with God” (Phil. 2:5-6)
  • “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15)
  • “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col 2:9)
  • “Our great God and Savior” (Ti. 2:13)

As Romans was written in AD 57, the term “God” was applied to Jesus early on in the Church’s life.

The writer of Hebrews applies a Psalm to Jesus; “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever” (Ps. 45:6; Heb. 1:8).

So Paul said that Jesus was God. But what did His birth show about Jesus?

7. His birth

The birth of Christ was unique in many ways. The Old Testament predicted it to be in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2, 4; Mt. 2:6), and that His mother would be a virgin and He will be called Immanuel (Isa. 7:14; Mt. 1:23). The birth was announced by angels (Mt. 1:20-21; Lk. 1:28-38; 2:9-12). And a special star guided the Magi to where Jesus was in Bethlehem (Mt. 2:1-11).

Mary was the sole natural parent of Jesus (Mt. 1:18-25; Lk. 1:26-38). Because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, an angel said, “the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Lk. 1:35). He was called the “holy one” because He was sinless (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26). Jesus never sinned like the rest of the prophets.

Because of this unique birth (He was both fully human and fully divine), Christ was uniquely qualified as the sinless One to go to the cross to die as the Lamb of God. This is why the Old Testament predicted the Messiah to be a servant whose death would pay for all the sins of humanity (Isa. 53:5-6).

His names were also significant. Before His birth, Jesus was given the name Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Mt. 1:23). And He was called “Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21).

So His birth shows that Jesus is the unique Son of God. But what did the resurrection indicate about Jesus?

8. His resurrection

Three times Jesus told His disciples that He was going to be killed (Mk. 8:31-32; 9:30-32; 10:33-34). On each occasion He predicted that “three days later He will rise” back to life. And it happened like He said it would. The Romans sealed His tomb with a large stone and posted a guard nearby. But this didn’t stop the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible says that Jesus raised Himself from the dead (Jn. 2:19-21; 10:17-18). So He had power over life and death.

After His death on the cross Jesus’ body was laid in a tomb which was visited three days later by some of the disciples and women who had followed Jesus. They expected to find a body to mourn, but instead they found that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb and the body of Jesus was no longer there. Many attempts have been made to explain away the empty tomb – from the idea that the disciples stole the body, to the idea that they went to the wrong tomb. But none of these satisfactorily explain the transformation in the lives of the disciples who were willing to face death because they believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. Besides this, after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to more than 500 people at once (1 Cor. 15:6).

Because of the resurrection, Jesus is still alive. This is different to the Biblical prophets who are all dead now. Although Enoch and Elijah went to heaven without dying, none of the Old Testament prophets resurrected never to die again.

So the resurrection shows that Jesus is alive. But what did the miracles indicate about Jesus?

9. His miraculous power

When He was on earth, Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead and controlled the forces of nature.

He instantly cured: fevers, paralysis, chronic bleeding; blindness, dumbness, chronic invalidity, withered limbs, deafness, leprosy, a severed ear, and demon possession (Mt. 8:1:30-31; 9:1-8, 27-33; 12:10-13, 22; Mk. 7:31-37; Lk. 8:43-48; 17:11-19; 22:50-51; Jn. 5:1-9). In fact, Jesus “healed all the sick” who were brought to Him, “healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Mt. 4:23; 8:16-17).

He raised back to life people who had died: Lazarus, the widow’s son, and Jairus’ daughter (Mt. 9: 18-26; Lk. 7:11-18; Jn. 11:1-46).

He calmed a storm, enabled a huge haul of fish, fed thousands of people, turned water into wine, walked on water, and withered a tree (Mt. 8:23-27; 21:18-22; Mk. 6:48-51; Lk. 5:1-11; Jn. 2:1-11)

These are called miracles because they illustrate supernatural power. So the miracles confirm that Jesus had divine power (Mt. 11:2-5; Jn. 20:30-31).

10. The parable of the wicked farmers

Vineyard 400pxAfter Jesus rode into Jerusalem as a king and cleared commercialism from the temple, the religious leaders asked Him who gave Him the authority to teach, to perform miracles and to cleanse the temple (Mt. 21:23; Mk. 11:28; Lk. 20:1-2).

Then Jesus told a parable which taught that He was more than a prophet (Mt. 21:33-46; Mk. 12:1-12; Lk. 20:9-19). A landowner (like God) rented a vineyard to some farmers (like the religious leaders). Whenever he sent his servants (like the Old testament prophets, Jer. 7:25; 44:4) to collect his fruit, the farmers persecuted or killed them. Finally, he sent his son (like Jesus), but they killed him as well to seize his inheritance. So the landowner rented the vineyard to other famers (like Gentile believers) instead. When the religious leaders heard this parable, they knew it was about them and that it meant that Jesus wasn’t just another prophet like John the Baptist (who was killed), but the Son of God (Mk.12:12). Like the son in the parable, Jesus claimed to own everything that belongs to the Father.

Then Jesus quoted the reason for His authority as “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Ps. 118:22; Mt 21:42; Mk. 12:10; Lk. 20:17). He was saying that the stone that was rejected (like Jesus was killed) would become the most important stone (like Jesus was raised back to life and given the place of pre-eminence by God). His authority came from being equal with God.

So the parable of the wicked farmers shows that Jesus is God’s Son and heir. He’s greater than a prophet, as a son is greater than a servant.

Conclusion

We have looked at ten reasons why Jesus is more than a prophet. These are all consistent with Jesus being the divine Son of God who is equal with God and is alive today.

This wasn’t always evident when He was on earth, because most of Jesus’ teaching was via parables and the meaning of these was restricted to the disciples and not the crowd because the latter would reject Him (Mt. 13:11-13). Also, people were influenced by the Jewish religious leaders who saw Jesus as a threat to their power and authority. So Jesus polarized society.

Let’s be those who accept the Biblical record about Jesus and not those who reject it. Let’s exalt Him now.

“Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).

Written, March 2016

Also see: Were prophets infallible?


What happened to the temple?

Apple PC 3 400px

Apple products are declared “obsolete” if they haven’t been manufactured for at least 7 years; and “vintage” if they haven’t been manufactured for at least 5 years. Spare parts and service isn’t available for all obsolete products and for most vintage products.

Today we will see that the Jewish temple is now obsolete. Because Christ’s sacrifice atoned for our sin, we no longer need a temple where priests offer animal sacrifices. Instead of living in a special building, God now lives in His people. This means that congregations of people are more important than the buildings they use.

Ancient history

In about 1450 BC, the Hebrew tabernacle (a tent) was built in Sinai and transported to Canaan, where it was later superseded by the temple in Jerusalem. The first temple, completed by king Solomon in about 950 BC, was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The Babylonians were God’s agents in this judgment of Judah’s idolatry which was called “the day of the Lord” (Jer. 1:14-16; 4:5-17; 5:15-19; 9:11; 12:7-15; 19:3, 11; 21:3-7; Zeph. 1:1-18). The temple was rebuilt after the Babylonian exile by Zerubbabel in 538-515 BC. Later, king Herod renovated and expanded this temple, commencing in 19 BC (Jn. 2:20). It took 46 years to complete the main building and another 36 years to finish the entire Temple complex.

The house of the Lord

The term “the house of the Lord” (Strongs #1004 #3068) appears about 221 times in the Old Testament. It meant a place of worship such as the tabernacle and the temple. The following verses show that it’s synonymous with the “temple” (#1964) of the Lord.
“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple” (Ps. 27:4NIV).
“He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord, and there at the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men” (Ezek. 8:16).
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Now hear these words, ‘Let your hands be strong so that the temple may be built.’ This is also what the prophets said who were present when the foundation was laid for the house of the Lord Almighty.” (Zech. 8:9).

The tabernacle/temple was a place for God to live amongst His people the Israelites (Ex. 25:8-9; 29:45-46; 2 Chron. 6:2; Isa. 8:18). God’s presence was shown by the cloud above them (Ex. 40: 34-38; 1 Ki. 8:10-11). Although Solomon said that God lived in the temple, he knew that God wasn’t restricted to one place (1 Ki. 8:13, 27). Before the end of the first temple, Ezekiel had a vision of God’s glory departing from the temple because of the people’s idolatry (Ezek. 8-10).

The tabernacle/temple was where the Jews offered sacrifices to God (Lev. 1:1 – 7:27) and celebrated their festivals, particularly the Passover, Pentecost and the Tabernacles (Dt. 16:16). On such an occasion David said, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” (Ps. 122:1).

After Solomon finished the first temple, God said that if the Israelites turned away from obeying the Lord, then “this temple will become a heap of rubble” (1 Ki. 9:8; 2 Chron. 7:21). And the temple was destroyed for this reason in 586 BC. While Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple, Daniel predicted that it would be destroyed likewise after the Anointed One (Christ) was put to death (Dan. 9:26).

The fact that the curtain of Herod’s temple was torn in two when Christ died symbolized that His death opened new access to God (Mt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45). Priests and animal sacrifices were no longer required. Although the temple was now obsolete, the Jews kept offering animal sacrifices. But God put an end to this when Herod’s temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 (like he used the Babylonians to destroy Solomon’s temple in 586 BC) and it wasn’t rebuilt. These two destructions both occurred on the 9th day of Av (5th month in the Hebrew calendar; which is in July-August in the modern calendar)! As predicted by Jesus, Herod’s grand temple was completely dismantled (Mt. 23:38; 24:2; Mk. 13:2; Lk. 13:35; 19:44; 21:6, 20-24).

God’s house today

What is the “house of God today”? The Bible says that God doesn’t live in a building (Acts 7:48; 17:24). Instead the Christian congregation (church) is said to be “God’s temple”; “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16NLT). In this figure of speech, the collective body of believers is like the temple. In a similar metaphor, they are said to be a “spiritual house” (1 Pt. 2:5).

“But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are His house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory” (Heb 3:6). Here the writer explains what God’s house is today. It is made up of all true believers in Christ. Their endurance in the faith (holding firmly to their “confidence” and “hope”) shows the reality of their faith. Those who don’t endure aren’t true believers (Heb. 3:7-19).

As Christ is the head of the church, He is the leader of the “house of God”. The book of Hebrews says He is metaphorically like a great high priest; “we have a great priest over the house of God” (Heb 10:21).

And each Christian’s body is a metaphorical temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). So Christians, individually and collectively, are the “house of God” today! What was a physical term in the Old Testament is now a metaphorical one.

Lessons for us

We have seen that God tore the temple curtain when Christ died and He used the Romans to destroy the temple in AD 70. Because Christ’s sacrifice atoned for our sin, we no longer need a temple where priests offer animal sacrifices. So the Jewish temple is now obsolete. Instead of living in a special building, God now lives in His people. This means that congregations of people are more important than the buildings they use. So let’s keep the right balance between people and buildings.

Also, because the “house of the Lord” is no longer a building, we shouldn’t call a church building “the house of the Lord”. God’s people are the house of the Lord (God’s temple) today, whether they are aware of it or not!

Written, November 2015


How to please God

Bridge climb 2 400pxChecklist in Hebrews 13

Before you climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge there’s a checklist that covers your: age, height, blood alcohol reading, pregnancy status, essential medication, and health. To climb the bridge, you need to satisfy all these requirements.

Today we are looking at a checklist given at the end of Hebrews that helps us to keep following Jesus and not turn back to our old ways. Then we will please God by doing His will.

Context

Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were being tempted to give up following Jesus and turn back to their Jewish religious customs. Hebrews tells them what God wanted them to know and to do. They were to know three things. First, that Jesus is greater than all their Jewish heroes like the prophets, angels, Moses, and the priests (Ch 1-10). Second, that following Jesus is like running in a marathon race (Ch 10-12). As athletes keep running through adversity, we can keep following Jesus through adversity by: focusing on God and Jesus; encouraging one another; and removing the obstacles that hinder us. Third, the danger of not believing the gospel message because this excludes people from heaven and leads to eternal punishment for one’s sins (Ch. 1-12). Once they knew these truths the final chapter tells them what to do about it.

As Hebrews was probably written to a church about AD 68, which is well after the early days of the church, we can generally apply the principles in it to us today without needing much consideration of the changes since then.

Hebrews 13 begins with three outward things.

Love one another (v.1)

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.

The Greek noun used here is philadelphia (Strongs #5360), which is love among brothers and sisters in a family. It describes the connection and relationship that should be felt with all true Christians. Because God is now like our Father and we are like His children, all who have trusted in Him are like siblings in a spiritual family. That’s why we often call each other brothers and sisters. These metaphors should influence our thoughts and behavior towards each other. Paul wrote, “Be devoted to one another in love (philadelphia)” (Rom. 12:10NIV).

Do we feel the family connection with believers in our church? Do we feel the connection with other believers in our area? In our city? In our state? In our nation? In other nations across the world?

Practice hospitality (v.2)

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

The Greek noun translated “hospitality” (#5381) means friendliness shown to strangers. It’s providing them with food and shelter. The Bible also says “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” and “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13; 1 Pt. 4:9). Christians who were fleeing from persecution certainly needed hospitality. Jesus commended those who showed hospitality, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in” (Mt. 25:35).

By showing hospitality, we can support God’s people and God’s servants. Abraham (Gen. 18:1-15), Lot (Gen. 19:1-17), Gideon (Jud. 6:11-24 and Samson’s father Manoah (Jud. 13:9-23) each showed hospitality to angels although they didn’t know who their visitors were at the time.

Do we show hospitality to Christians who are in need? Have we taken the initiative and invited them into our home? In this way we can share in their Christian lives and our family can benefit from the interaction. Do we show hospitality to non-Christians? Have we invited a non-Christian into our home over the past year? This can be a blessing to both families.

Practice empathy (v.3)

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Christians were imprisoned and mistreated during this time of persecution. Their colleagues were told to remember them in a particular way. The Greek text says “as being bound with them” in prison and “as also yourselves being in their body” when they are mistreated. This is empathy, which is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Paul expressed it as, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). Previously they had “stood side by side” with those who were persecuted and “suffered along with those in prison” (Heb. 10:33-34). Also, Jesus commended those who visited prisoners, “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Mt. 25:36). Ancient prisons didn’t give prisoners any food, so visits from friends were essential.

Do we have empathy for Christians who are suffering? Can we imagine what it is like walking in their shoes?

Hebrews 13 then addresses two inward things.

Be sexually pure (v.4)

wedding 2 400pxMarriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
Before sin came into the world, God created marriage between a man and a woman. He wants us to hold it in high regard. On the other hand, the Bible says that sexual immorality is a sin against God (Gen. 39:9). Besides the problems it causes in this life, it brings God’s judgement unless one is pardoned through Christ’s death as our substitute.

A reason to honor marriage is because it is to be an example of the loving relationship between Christ and His bride the church (Eph. 5:22-33). Marriage is dishonoured by adultery and sexual immorality, which is having sexual relations with someone who is not your spouse. Sexual sin impacts one’s relationships, family and Christian witness. It has more influence on one’s life than other sins (1 Cor. 6:18). God’s people need to exercise self-control in this area. After all, one of the gifts of the Spirit is self-control.

How are we influenced by the loose sexual standards in society today? What about pornography? If we are married, are we faithful to our spouse?

Be contented (v.5-6)

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”

These Christians were tempted to want more money and what it can buy. Paul used the same Greek adjective (#866) to say that a church elder shouldn’t be “a lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:3). He also learnt “to be content whatever the circumstances” and taught that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”, which brings griefs and causes people to wander from the Christian faith (Phil. 4:11-13; 1 Tim. 6:6-10). Instead they were to be content with what they had, which was Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Verse 5 quotes Moses at the end of his life telling the Israelites that God would help them possess the land of Canaan, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Dt. 31:6). This strong promise is the key to being freed from the love of money. It’s realizing that God is always with us; we’re never alone.

Verse 6 quotes the Israelites giving thanks to God for deliverance from their enemies “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The LORD is with me; He is my helper” (Ps. 118:6-7). Nothing can separate us from God and His love and His promise of eternal life. Likewise, Christians can trust God for their safety, protection and economic welfare. They shouldn’t fear financial loss or poverty. Instead trust God to take care of you.

If we believe the promise that the Lord is always with us and empowers us, then we will love one another, show hospitality and empathy, be sexually pure, and avoid the love of money.

Are we contented with what we have in life? Or are we discontent and influenced by materialism? Are we greedy? Are we afraid of the future? Or do we trust that the Lord is with us?

Hebrews 13 then looks at how we live our spiritual lives, beginning with a source of strength to live a Christian life like this.

Follow godly church leaders (v.7-8, 17)

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

They are given the example of godly church leaders to follow and imitate. In the past these leaders had taught them God’s word. The leaders kept following Jesus throughout their lives – they were faithful despite the difficulties, and they finished well. They didn’t go back to their previous Jewish ways of worship. That’s the kind of faith to follow and imitate.

These leaders’ teaching and faith was based on the fact that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (v.8). This means that His character is the same, not that He does the same things in every age. As God, He has the same love, wisdom, righteousness, power, knowledge and plan. He never changes His mind because of unforeseen circumstances.

Church leaders are also mentioned in v.17.
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

Church elders are to care for (“keep watch over”) the spiritual welfare of the congregation. Elders are accountable to God at the Judgment Seat of Christ for this pastoral care. This is serious business. They will be asked, what did you teach? How did you live? How did you care for the lonely, the suffering, and the disobedient?

The congregation is to respect, trust and follow such godly leaders (elders) because of the work they do. This gives them joy and the congregation benefits.

If we are an elder are we a godly example for the congregation? Are we keeping watch over them? Do we pray for them regularly? Are we interested in their spiritual growth? Are we ready to give an account of our time and effort used in this task? If we are in the congregation, do we respect the elders? Do we pray for them? Are we willing to let them take an interest in our spiritual growth?

Next they are urged not to return to the false teachings of Jewish legalism.

Follow Jesus (v.9-12)

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat (v.9-10)

Holiness doesn’t come from following rituals and food laws, which were some of the false teachings they were being tempted to follow. Only God’s love and kindness shown to us by Jesus can empower believers to live holy lives through their relationship with God. It takes inner strength to live the Christian life as it is described in Hebrews 13.

Then it says “we have an altar”, which is a figure of speech (metonymy) for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Through it we can have forgiveness and hope. Instead of Jewish rituals and rules, we have Christ’s supreme sacrifice and the blessings it brings. All those involved with the Jewish religion had no right to the better things of Christianity (because they rejected Jesus as their Savior). They must first confess and repent of their sins and accept Him as Lord and Savior.

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood. (v.11-12)

Under the Jewish sacrificial system, certain animals were killed and their blood was brought into the most holy place of the temple by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin. The people’s sins were symbolically transferred to the sacrificial animal. The body of the animal was disposed of away from the temple (or “outside the camp”) (Ex. 29:14; Lev. 4:12, 21; 9:11; 16:14, 27). Likewise, Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem at a place where criminals (those rejected by society) were punished (Jn. 19:17). His death enabled us to have our sins forgiven so we can be holy before God. It says that God can make us holy through the death of Jesus (“His own blood” means His death).

Are we tempted like the Jewish Christians to go back to our old ways of life? To the things that occupied us before we changed to follow the Lord.

Because of Jesus, Christians don’t need to sacrifice animals. Instead they offer different sacrifices.

Suffering, praise and good works (v.13-16)

Let us, then, go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (v.13-14)
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (v.16-17)

Instead of offering sacrifices at Jerusalem, as Christians they were to offer three other kinds of sacrifices. The first is a sacrifice of suffering for Christ (v.13-14). Because Jesus suffered outside the city of Jerusalem to meet our need (v.12), Christians are urged to join Jesus in His sufferings (v.13). “The camp” represented their old Jewish religion centred at Jerusalem (for us it can mean our previous way of life before we followed Christ). The Jewish believers escaped from Jerusalem because they were persecuted and ridiculed by the Jewish religious leaders for following Jesus (Acts 8:1-4). They suffered insults and shame. As disciples of Christ they denied themselves, took up their cross and followed Him (Mk. 8:34). Likewise, to meet the needs of this world we need to leave our comforts and security. Instead of putting our efforts into building our lives in this world, which won’t endure; we should be putting them into heaven, which is everlasting.

The Jewish religion was centred on the city of Jerusalem. That’s where the temple was.
But Christians don’t have a special city on earth. Instead, they look ahead to the new Jerusalem (the coming city) where God and Jesus are enthroned (v.14). Unlike earthy cities, this city is permanent and secure. They long for heaven and its joy and eternal pleasures (Ps. 16:11). Because they are satisfied with all that God has done, they long to be with Him. They value the Creator above the creation. They’re only visiting this planet, it’s not their home.

The second is a sacrifice of words of praise offered to God through the Lord Jesus (v.15). It’s “through Jesus” because that’s the only way we can approach God (Heb. 7:25; 10:19-21). He’s our mediator. This is to be “continual” verbal praise, not just on Sunday. Every day of the week and in good times and bad times (Acts 16:23-25). It flows from our satisfaction with God and longing to be with Him (v.14). How can we creatively mention our faith in Jesus and God’s greatness and goodness in our conversations? Are our meetings God-centred?

The third is a sacrifice of good works (v.16). It says “to do good and to share with others” who are in need. This would include the things mentioned earlier in the chapter, such as using our time and possessions in loving one another, and showing hospitality and empathy. Living for others. Doing the good works that God has prepared for us (Eph. 2:10). Then a reason is given for doing this “for with such sacrifices God is pleased”. God is pleased with this sacrifice because when we live like this, we show that He is more valuable than the things of this world. If God is our treasure, we’ll serve Him by helping others instead of being devoted to the things of this world.

How do we rate on these sacrifices? Are we willing to suffer and be ridiculed because we are a Christian? What about moving outside our churches to evangelize our neighbourhoods, our cities, our nation and the nations of the world? Do we have a heart of praise? Do we live for others?

Up to now the book of Hebrews has been like a sermon, but it finishes like a letter.

Keep praying (v.18-19)

Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.

The writer appeals for their prayers. Because he says he has a clear conscience and desires to live honorably in every way, he may have been attacked by Jewish critics. As he also asks them to pray that he might be able to visit them soon, it seems as though he had been delayed. Perhaps he was in prison (v.23). Prayer is another way to seek God’s help to live a life that pleases Him.

Do we pray for others?

The writer now expresses his final desire and prayer for those he is writing to.

Recognize God’s work (v.20-21)

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

He calls God the “God of peace”, because through Jesus we can have peace with God. Our sins separate us from God, but through Jesus we can be reconciled and draw near to God.

The fact that Jesus was raised back to life after being in the tomb showed that His mission was accomplished – His death paid the penalty owing for the sin of humanity. Because of this we can share in God’s eternal covenant, which is also called the new covenant. A covenant is a promise, and because of what Jesus did, we know that God keeps His promises.

Jesus is called the “great Shepherd of the sheep”, which is a metaphor for a great leader of all the redeemed. Sheep need guiding to fresh pasture and protection from predators. Because He is alive, and because by His Spirit He is always with us, He can guide and protect those who follow Him.

His prayer was that God would give them the desire and resources to do His will and the power to carry it out (also see Phil. 2:13). Doing God’s will is what pleases Him. Then they could be faithful and keep following and serving Christ and have inner strength and faith to persevere to the end (Jer.32:40).

All this equipping believers and pleasing God is achieved “through Jesus Christ”. It’s the same explanation as given for how Paul learnt to be content in all circumstances: “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13). That’s why Jesus deserves glory and praise for ever and ever.

Do we give Jesus glory, honor and praise as our great spiritual leader? Do we realize that God equips us and works in us? Are we like Paul whose goal was to please God (2 Cor. 5:9; Col. 1:10; 1 Th. 4:1)?

Conclusion

Hebrews 13 400pxWe have seen that an understanding of the greatness of Jesus, the importance of perseverance and the danger of unbelief needs to be expressed by loving one another; showing hospitality and empathy; sexual purity; avoiding the love of money; following Jesus and godly church leaders instead of false teachings; persevering in the Christian faith by accepting suffering, by continual praise and by doing good works; prayer; and by letting God work though us.

In 1935 a Boeing B-17 aircraft crashed when being evaluated by the US Army. The crash was caused by pilot error. When they realized that flying the plane was too complex to rely on the pilot’s memory, they developed checklists to make sure nothing was forgotten.

Let’s use this checklist in Hebrews 13 to keep following Jesus and not turning back to our old ways. Then we will please God by doing His will.

Written, May 2015

Also see summary of the book of Hebrews:
Never give up!