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Category Archives: Scripture

A Cure for a Guilty Conscience

At times, we try to put a Band-Aid on cancer. We want to use an external approach to solving an internal problem. Instead of taking your car to a mechanic, you put a sticker over an offending check engine light. Instead of learning how to program the clock on a VCR, how many people simply covered it with black electrical tape?

This was the same problem faced by Jewish believers in the first century. Because of persecution, they were tempted to leave Christianity and return to the rituals of the Old Testament Law. The writer of the book of Hebrews tries to point out that the Law was never intended to cleanse the inner person. In Hebrews 9:1-14, he states, “Don’t use an external approach to solve an internal problem. Only Christ can give us a clear conscience.”

Don’t use an external approach to solve an internal problem (1-10). The author of Hebrews explains that the Old Covenant tabernacle did not meet the deepest needs of God’s people, namely, providing an intimate personal relationship with God. He points out that the tabernacle for inferior for six reasons:

The tabernacle was an earthly sanctuary (1). The tabernacle was a building built by people. As such, it would wear out and need to be replaced. In addition, it was limited geographically as it could only be in one place at a time.

The tabernacle was a type of something greater (2-5). Each part of the tabernacle had a spiritual meaning and pointed to something of greater significance. The lampstand reminded Israel that they were to be a light to the nations. Jesus is the light of the world. The table of showbread reminded Israel that God was present among them. Jesus Christ is the bread of life. The altar of incense was a picture of prayer ascending to God. Jesus Christ intercedes for us. The ark of the covenant contained the mercy seat where blood was sprinkled on the Day of Atonement. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin.

The tabernacle kept people from God (6). Ordinary people were not allowed to enter God’s presence and worship him. Only the priests and Levites were allowed to worship in the tabernacle.

The tabernacle was ineffective (7). The sacrifices only dealt with the sins of ignorance; sins committed unintentionally. There was no provision for premeditated sins.

The tabernacle was temporary (8). The fact there was an outer court was proof that God’s work of salvation was not yet complete.

The tabernacle was external rather than internal (9-10). The sacrifices and offerings could never change the heart or conscience of a worshipper.

The Old Testament tabernacle focused on rules rather than relationship. It regulated behavior but did not cleanse the heart and conscience. Something greater was needed.

Only Christ can give us a clear conscience (11-14). When Christ appeared as our great high priest, things changed (11). While the blood of bulls and goats could not solve the problem of human sin (11-13), Christ did by offering himself as our sacrifice. In so doing, he bought our redemption and purified our conscience (14).

Application. Don’t overemphasize the external activities and rituals of religion. Instead, focus on the internals and let Christ change your heart.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 21, 2019. It is part of a series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

New & Improved & So Much Better

Technology is obsolete the day it is introduced. We have gone from vinyl records to 8-track tapes to cassette tapes to cds to digital music. We have transitioned from party line telephone to rotary dial phones to push button princess phones to cell phones of various shapes and sizes to smart phones. I typed my master’s thesis on a Smith-Corona portable electric typewriter. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on a Macintosh box computer. Today I use an HP laptop computer. Part of my library are physical books and part are electronic copies.

What is true of the physical world is also true of the spiritual world. Hebrews 8:1-13 explains that the old covenant was obsolete and needed to be replaced. Through Jesus, God has established a New Covenant which provides us with new power, new knowledge of God, and a new assurance of sins forgiven.

The new covenant is so much better because it is ministered by a superior high priest (1-2). The author begins chapter 8 with a transition sentence which summarizes everything he has said thus far in the book (1). He is pointing out the fact that Jesus is our Great High Priest. He explains that Jesus has a better ministry than the Old Testament priests for three reasons (2): Jesus is seated, which indicates that his work is finished because he offered the full and final sacrifice for sins. Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, in the position of power, authority, and honor. Jesus serves in the true, heavenly sanctuary.

The new covenant is so much better because it is ministered in a better place (3-5). An essential part of the work of the Old Testament priests was to offer sacrifices for sin (3). Jesus’ sacrifice of himself went far beyond anything that was offered in the earthly temple. What the priests did on earth was only a shadow or copy of the real priestly ministry of Jesus in heaven (4-5a). As God explained to Moses on Mt. Sinai, the tabernacle was patterned after the true temple in heaven (5b).

The new covenant is so much better because it is founded on better promises (6-13). There is good ministry and there is excellent ministry. In contrast, the ministry of Jesus is much more excellent because he is the mediator of the new covenant. He brings people back to God.

While the old covenant promised to heal the breach between God and people, it failed to do so because people did not obey it. In fact, it wasn’t powerful enough to motivate people to obey. In contrast, the new covenant is built on much better promises.

The old covenant was built on a list of do’s & don’ts. In contrast, the new covenant provides internal motivation because God writes his laws on our hearts (10a). The old covenant was based on a fear of displeasing God whereas the new covenant is based on a close relationship with God (10b). The old covenant left one with a feeling of insecurity and uncertainty while the new covenant allowed us to truly know God personally and directly (11). The old covenant left us feeling like failures because we could not measure up to its standards. In contrast, the new covenant emphasized God’s forgiveness and mercy (12). Because the old covenant was obsolete, God replaced it with the new covenant (13).

Application

(adapted from Swindoll’s Living Insights: New Testament Commentary Hebrews by Charles R. Swindoll)

  • Because the new covenant provides motivation and power, we can have confidence that God’s Spirit within us can overcome our weakness and inadequacies.
  • Because the new covenant is based on a close relationship with God, we can embrace God as our heavenly Father and enjoy fellowship with him as our ever-present friend.
  • Because the new covenant provides confidence and assurance, we can cast aside our doubts and uncertainties regarding assurance of salvation and our place in his family.
  • Because the new covenant emphasizes forgiveness and mercy, we can always turn to God for forgiveness and mercy.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 14, 2019. It is part of a series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

A Guarantee You Can Trust

We want products and services we can count on. Unfortunately, cars break down, warranties run out, and companies go bankrupt. As a result, we tend to become skeptical when we are told a product is “100% Guaranteed!”

When it comes to our salvation, how do we know it is guaranteed? How can we believe the claim that we are eternally secure? Hebrews 7:20-28 explains that as our great high priest, Jesus guarantees our salvation, brings us to maturity, intercedes for us, and offers himself as the full and final sacrifice for sin.

In Hebrews chapters 7-10, the writer of the book presents the fact that Jesus Christ is our great High Priest. He belongs to a superior order (7), establishes a superior covenant (8), serves in a superior sanctuary (9), and presents a superior sacrifice (10). In 7:18-19, he explains that the Law had to be replaced because it was weak and ineffective. God changed the rules and gave us a better hope that allows us to draw near to God. In 7:20-28, he gives the pastoral implications of the conclusion stated in 18-19.

Jesus’ priesthood is superior because it is …

Guaranteed with an oath (20-22). Jesus is the guarantee of a better covenant.

The Old Testament priests assumed their office due to family succession. They simply passed the baton from one generation to the next.

In contrast, Jesus’ priesthood was guaranteed by an oath. God stated his intention both positively and negatively. “The Lord has sworn” (positive) and “will not change his mind” (negative). The first is an unconditional declaration while the second stresses the eternal permanence of the decree. As a result, Jesus is both the guarantor and the mediator of a new covenant.

Verses 20-22 are one long sentence in the Greek New Testament. The weight of the argument rests on the final word in the sentence, “Jesus.” All of this is possible because Jesus is our great High Priest.

Permanent and continuous (23-25). Jesus is the eternal Savior.

The Jewish historian Josephus said there were 83 high priests from Aaron to the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. The Talmud said there were even more—18 in the first Temple and 300 in the second Temple. Whichever number is true, the number is high because the priests kept dying. The office continued but the priests kept changing.

In contrast, Jesus needs no successor because he will not die. His priesthood is permanent and continuous.

Jesus is able to save us completely, to the uttermost. Not only can he save us from our sins, but he can bring us to spiritual maturity. We can arrive at our destination with all the parts of our lives spiritually mature.

As our High Priest, Jesus prays for his people. Knowing that Jesus is interceding for us right now should motive us to say “No” to temptation, to resist pride and self-centeredness, and to be faithful in our daily walk. Knowing he is praying for us should give us greater confidence to share our faith and stand firm in the midst of persecution.

Based on his character (26-28). Jesus is holy and sinless.

The new priesthood is better because the new priest is Jesus. He is holy and blameless. He is innocent which means he is without guile or malice. He is unstained which stresses his absolute purity. Since he is sinless, Jesus was set apart from sinful human beings. He is exalted above the heavens which emphasizes his greatness, majesty, and rule over all of the universe.

In Israel’s daily sacrifices, the priest had to offer a sacrifice for his own sins before he could offer once for the sins of others. In contrast, Jesus had no sins of his own to atone for. He merely offered himself as the full and final sacrifice for sin.

In view of the superior order of priesthood that Melchizedek foreshadowed, and that Jesus Christ fulfilled, why would anyone want to go back to the old Aaronic order? Jesus Christ is superior because his priesthood did not depend on his ancestors but on himself, he lives forever and never dies, he is sinless and never needs to offer a sacrifice for his own sin, and he offered a perfect and adequate sacrifice. As our great high priest, Jesus guarantees our salvation, brings us to maturity, intercedes for us, and offers himself as the full and final sacrifice for sin.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 7, 2019. It is part of a series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Changing the Rules

Perhaps you grew up with the idea that you had to be perfect to enter heaven. Maybe you believed there was a sign at the gate of heaven that measured how holy you were. Beliefs like that put a great deal of pressure on us to measure up and perform at a very high level. But no matter how good we strove to be, there was still some bad in our lives that disqualified us.

Fortunately, God changed the rules. Instead of entering heaven on the basis of our good works, we can enter heaven through the sacrificial death of Jesus on our behalf. By changing the rules, God made it possible for us to have a personal relationship with himself through Jesus. That is the theme of Hebrews 7:11-19.

The Old Testament Law did not produce perfection (11-12). The purpose of the Old Testament Law and priesthood was to remove the obstacle, sin, which kept men and women from God. Unfortunately, the Law was ineffective and could not produce the desired effect. Consequently, we don’t need something that is new and improved. We need another priest of a different kind. Instead of coming through the line of Aaron, this priest must be one of a different order of priesthood.

The Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah (13-14). Someone might object that Jesus cannot be superior to Aaron as high priest because he did not come from a priestly tribe. After all, the Old Testament stated that priests came from the line of Levi and not from Judah. The writer of Hebrews is making it clear that God is changing the rules. God designated Jesus as a priest even though no one who served as a priest had ever come from the tribe of Judah.

Jesus is qualified to be our High Priest because of his internal character (15-17). The Old Testament Law specified the external qualifications for the High Priest. They had to come from the tribe of Levi, be married, be at least 30 years old (though tradition said they had to be at least 20 years old), and maintain ritual purity. In contrast, Jesus was qualified to be our High Priest because of his inner moral character and because his life could not be destroyed. Death could not restrain Jesus, nor did it destroy his priesthood. He is able to be our king and priest eternally.

God replaced the old system with one which can bring us into an intimate relationship with God (18-19). Rather than being strong and capable, the Law was weak, useless, and ineffective. It needed to be cast aside and replaced with something better. God replaced the old system with a better one that did what the old one could never do, namely, bring us into an intimate relationship with God.

What are you relying on today? Are you still trying to be good enough and earn your way to God’s approval? If so, you’re going to be disappointed. Take comfort in the fact that God changed the rules. Allow Jesus to forgive your sins and draw you into a personal relationship with God the Father.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on June 30, 2019. It is part of a series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Why do I need to know about Melchizedek?

Summer is a time for road trips. You gather the family, load up the car, and head out on the open road. One approach is to take the direct route. When we lived in Seattle and our children went to college in SoCal, we made the trip up or down the west coast in 20 hours. Another approach is to take the scenic route. As one friend expressed it, you simply follow the yellow line to see where it leads.

As the author of the book of Hebrews opens chapter 7, it appears he is taking the scenic route through the Old Testament. Chapters 7-10 are the longest doctrinal section of the book. The author wants his readers to understand the importance of the high priesthood of Jesus Christ. Jesus belonged to a superior order (ch.7), establishes a superior covenant (ch.8), serves in a superior sanctuary (ch.9), and presents a superior sacrifice (ch.10).

In 6:20, the author stated that Jesus became “a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (This is a quotation from Psalm 110:4, which is recognized as a messianic psalm.) Since many of us don’t know the Old Testament very well, we are unfamiliar with Melchizedek. We don’t know who he is or why he was significant. The author spends the first half of chapter 7 explaining Melchizedek’s identity and the second half of the chapter describing his significance.

Melchizedek was a King-Priest (1-3). The author goes back to Genesis 14 where Abraham encountered Melchizedek after the battle of the five kings. Abraham’s nephew, Lot, had been captured, and Abraham and his trusted servants set out on a rescue mission. On the successful return journey, Melchizedek, the King of Salem, comes out to greet Abraham. Abraham gives him a tithe (10%) of the spoils as a thank offering to God Most High. Melchizedek, in turn, blesses Abraham.

From this story, we learn seven facts about Melchizedek. (1) He was the King of Salem. (2) He was a priest of God Most High. (3) His name means king of righteousness. (4) King of Salem means king of peace. (5) We have no record of his father, mother, or genealogy. (6) We have record of his beginning or end. (7) He is like the Son of God in that he remains a priest forever.

Some have concluded that Melchizedek was an angelic being. Rather than put forth a supernatural origin, the author seems to be emphasizing his unique position. Others have concluded he was the preincarnate Christ. However, the author says he resembles the Son of God. Most likely, Melchizedek was an historical person of whom we know very little.

Melchizedek was greater than Abraham (4-10). The author gives us four details to emphasize Melchizedek’s superiority to Abraham. (1) Abraham gave a tithe of the spoils to Melchizedek. The lesser thanks the greater. (2) Melchizedek blessed Abraham. The greater blesses the lesser. (3) Melchizedek had an eternal priesthood. Without a recorded ending, his priesthood seemingly lasts forever. (4) Levi paid titles to Melchizedek through Abraham. Though not yet born, there is a sense in which Levi also gave a tithe through his great-grandfather.

In his commentary on Hebrews, Chuck Swindoll shows the significance of the relationship between Melchizedek and Jesus.

Melchizedek

Messiah
In the narrative, Melchizedek was …

In his nature, Jesus Christ is …

A priest outside the Levitical priesthood, therefore not a minister of the Law of Moses, which came much later

The ultimate Priest outside the Levitical priesthood, therefore not a minister of the Law of Moses, which he fulfilled
A “king of righteousness” according to a translation of his name

The true King of Righteousness, because he purchased righteousness for us on the cross

A “king of peace,” as Salem means “peace”

The real Prince of Peace, who will one day bring a kingdom of universal peace
Without a record of parents, having neither his beginning nor end recorded in Scripture

The eternal Son of God, having neither beginning nor end, eternally one with the Father and the Holy Spirit as God the Son

Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary: Hebrews. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017. p.108

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on June 23, 2019. It is part of an ongoing series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

 

Don’t be a snowplow parent

As parents, we often want to protect our children from hardship. We want to spare them from pain and difficulty. We don’t want them to go through what we did. However, instead of helping our children, we may be hindering their growth. That is the conclusion of an article in Sports Illustrated entitled, The Rise of the Snowplow Sports Parents.”

The author of the article explains the term, snowplow parenting.

The phenomenon also reflects what’s happening in the rest of society, says psychologist Madeline Levine, an expert on the topic. “It used to be helicopter parenting,” she says. “And now it is snowplow parenting, which is much more active: It means you are doing something to smooth the way for the child. It’s not just that you’re hypervigilant—it’s that you are actually getting rid of those bumps, which robs kids of the necessary experience of learning and failing.”

Towards the end of the article, hockey agent Allain Roy realized he was not doing his son any favors by being overly involved in trying to advance him in sports.

Two years ago, hockey agent Allain Roy was flying home with his teenage son after spending several thousand dollars to take him to a weekend baseball showcase to improve his chances of getting a college scholarship. He started wondering, Is this worth the investment? How much is too much involvement? He started typing out his thoughts into a post for his agency’s blog, writing, “As we rush to fix every little blemish in our kids’ lives and try to influence their way to success, we cause more irreparable damage than we know.”

In contrast to that, I remember a statement I heard some years ago when Carol and I were helping our youngest daughter, Caitlin, get settled into the dorms at Gordon College. During one of the sessions for parents, Dr. Judson & Mrs. Jan Carlberg shared some words of encouragement. Jan Carlberg used the phrase, “Struggle is a holy word.”

As parents, our desire is to smooth out the path for our children. We want to shield them from pain. When a child calls home to say they are not getting along with their college roommate, we want to storm the administration to demand a change. When that same child says they are unhappy after the first week of school and wonder if they made the right decision to go away to college, we want to jump in the car or on a plane and bring them home forthwith. Yet, when we do that, we often stunt our children’s growth because we don’t allow them to struggle.

Jan reminded us that God uses trials as a catalyst to help us grow. As James 1:2-4 says in The Message, “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work, so that you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”

Struggle is part of God’s strategy to help us and our children grow to maturity. Avoid the temptation to be a helicopter and/or and a snowplow parent. Struggle is a holy word.

 

An Anchor for the Soul

How many different tools do we use to guarantee our promises? We take oaths, swear on the Bible, and employ the services of a notary public. If we are really serious, we will use a pinky promise or say, “Cross my heart and hope to die.”

When it comes to our salvation, we need to grasp the truth that our salvation is secure because it rests on God’s promises rather than our ability to be faithful.

The previous warning section (5:11-6:12) contains four key instructions. Don’t be immature (5:11-14). Pursue spiritual growth (6:1-3). Don’t fall away (6:4-8). Live out your faith (6:9-12). After reading those instructions, you may be ready to give up and fly the white flag. You may feel like you can never measure up. “My salvation is in trouble,” may be your conclusion. The author of Hebrews counters that viewpoint by explaining that our salvation is secure because of three things: the promise of God, the oath of God, and the hope of God.

The Promise of God (6:13-15). In talking about the things that accompany salvation (6:9), the author encouraged his readers to follow the example of godly people (6:12). He now introduces Abraham as the primary example of a godly man who believed God’s promises.

Rather than appeal to a higher authority, God guaranteed his promise with the statement, “I will …” In Genesis 12-15, God promised Abraham land, blessing, greatness, and countless descendants. In Genesis 22, God asked Abraham to take the son, Isaac, that he waited 25 years for, and to offer him as a sacrifice. Because Abraham obeyed, God promised to bless him greatly and give him more descendants than he could count.

The example of Abraham demonstrates that God’s promises do not depend on our character. They rest on God’s faithfulness.

The Oath of God (6:16-18). When we make a promise, we appeal to a higher authority. We place our hand on the Bible and say, “…so help me God.” While God’s promises do not require an oath, they become even stronger with an oath.

God used two unchangeable elements to demonstrate the trustworthiness of his promise. One is his purpose. God wants to bless us and save us from our sins. The second is his character. God cannot lie. Because of that, we have a safe harbor, a refuge, that we can run to. Our responsibility is to cling tightly to God’s promises.

The Hope of God (6:19-20). This promise, this hope, is a sure and steadfast anchor. It is sure because it won’t bend, twist, or break when it is under strain. It is steadfast because it won’t slip in the storm. Our anchor rests firmly with Jesus in the Holy of Holies in God’s presence in heaven. He is our faithful and eternal high priest.

Hebrews 6:13-20 demonstrates that our salvation is secure. God kept his promise to Abraham. God’s promise rests on his character. God guaranteed our salvation through the ongoing ministry of Jesus. Hold fast to the promises of God.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on June 16, 2019. It is part of an ongoing series in the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.