Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Amazing little jewels in Hebrews

I continue to read and study Hebrews. I have done this before but as usual, I am amazed at the little jewels that you find in this book. I shouldn't be amazed for this is the inspired Word of God and yet, in my humanness, I find myself continually amazed at the Word that the Spirit brings to us through the inspired writers.
Hebrews 4:13 has this gem: "...let us hold fast our confession." What confession do we hold fast? That Jesus is our High Priest who is the Son of God. He is true God and true man. He is the One who is the High Priest, who offers prayers and a final sacrifice on our behalf. Hold fast to this confession. Don't let the cares of this world, the frustrations of life and the temptations of our sinful nature that refuses to accept the things of God, rob us of this wonderful confession of faith. We confess this each week in our worship services as we use both the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. Jesus is Lord! He is the Savior! He is the Son of God who has come to save us.
It is easy for us to give this up. Many in today's world, even in the field of theology, try to make Jesus less than God. The Sanhedrin refused to accept that He could be the Son of God. Called it blasphemy. In fact, it was what finally caused them to slip over the edge and condemn Him to death. Many today don't see how it is possible that God could become a man. It is doubted again and again that Jesus was truly God. It is impossible for the human mind to get around such a teaching. That is why we hold fast to our confession by "faith." We do not try to reason with others that Jesus was true God. We confess it. We hold to it. We support it with all that we are. Will the world believe that Jesus is true God? No. But that doesn't stop me from confessing it for I know it is true.
Another gem: Hebrews 6:1-2 "Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and or faith toward God, and of instruction about washing, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment." It is often said, "Why do we need all this doctrine stuff? Isn't it enough to believe in Jesus as your Savior?" And the answer is "Yes, it is enough." But we do not remain immature in our faith. To hold onto John 3:16 and say that is all that we need in our lives, that we do not need any further doctrine, is to remain an immature Christian, an infant in faith. We begin our journey of faith there - but we do not remain there.
We begin as an infant but no one wants the infant to remain an infant for years. We long for them to begin to feed themselves, to crawl, to make sounds, to talk, to walk, the begin to do things for themselves. If they didn't, we would take them to the specialist to find out what is wrong with them. So it should be in our spiritual lives. We do not remain infants in faith. We are brought to Jesus as our Savior in the waters of Baptism. We are taught, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." But we do not remain there. We continue to grow in our faith and our knowledge of that faith as revealed to us in Scripture.
We attend worship weekly, to grow in faith. We go to Sunday school as a child, to learn the Bible stories for our lives. We attend confirmation to learn the depths of that doctrine of faith. We continue to learn and grow in Bible study, personal devotions, discussions, etc. We do not stop growing in our faith and doctrine. No one can know the depth of their faith. It gets deeper and deeper as we mature in the faith. It is much more than John 3:16. It has to be. For the question could be raised, "Who is that God? Is Jesus truly the Son of God? How can His death save mankind? Is it possible for a just and holy God to declare people righteous? How?" And the list of questions just from that one verse goes on.
Grow in faith. Mature. Learn. There is much to learn about our lives as God's children. It takes a lifetime of learning and studying God's Word for that to happen. We cannot give up the basics that we learned as children but we dare not stop there. If we stopped learning how to talk at age 3, how would we communicate?
Gems from Hebrews. More to come. An amazing book to dig into.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Continued thoughts on Hebrews

The writer to the Hebrews did some amazing things. I began yesterday talking about Hebrews 2:1. It is a great verse. But there are many in this letter. As I continue to read it I begin to see the hand of the Holy Spirit, working, leading, guiding, opening the mind of the writer to things that we should already know but in our sinfulness, have set aside and either cannot or refuse to see.
In Hebrews 3;1, there is found this little line, "Consider Jesus." It is actually a phrase inside the verse. But the whole of the book is telling us to do just that - Consider Jesus. He is the One who is the great High Priest who offered the ultimate sacrifice for our sins - His own self. We will spend lots of time with the sacrifice motif as we continue to read through the book. Yet, we would do well to "consider Jesus."
Is He the way to salvation? I was reading an article in Time magazine this last week. "What if there is no Hell?" A Christian pastor has posited that perhaps there is no hell. After all, if God was so loving as to give His Son for the sins of the whole world, would that God allow people to be damned to an eternity in whatever hell might be? Of course not! At least, that is what he says. But what about Scripture?
Consider Jesus! Why would we need Jesus if there is a universal justification despite what you believe? Why would we consider Jesus if a person that has not heard of Jesus was already going to heaven because of a loving God? Why would we need a High Priest who offers a once for all sacrifice of His life on the cross, if it doesn't really matter if you believe in Him or not.
I cannot help but wonder when I come in contact with such passages as: "But Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are in his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope." (Heb. 3:6 ESV) "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God." (Heb. 3:13 ESV) "So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief." (Heb. 3:19 ESV) "It remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience." (Heb. 4:6 ESV)
All of this speaks of one thing - faith in Jesus Christ as the one and only way to salvation. It does not tell us that we can believe in anything or nothing and still be saved by a loving God who will not condemn those that refuse to believe in His Son as their Savior. There is condemnation in those who have an unbelieving heart. What is an "unbelieving heart"? It is one that does not hold to the pure teaching of justification by grace through faith. We cannot boast of our own salvation. We cannot point to our works. We can only point to the cross and say, "There alone I find salvation. There alone is my Savior. My works, my thoughts and my desires all lead me to hell (which is eternal separation from the heavenly Father). Only Christ leads me to salvation."
Yes, "consider Jesus." Consider the One that the Father has sent. Consider the only hope and life that we might have. Consider Jesus.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Reading in Hebrews

I was reading the book of Hebrews this morning and had a couple thoughts. The first comes from Hebrews 2:1, "We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it." (ESV) This verse captured me this morning. I have read through Hebrews before and I am not sure that I have noticed this little verse. I have noticed the verse, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing." But this one, has never caught my attention.

Till now. How often do we lack attention to what we have heard/learned? Confirmation here at St. Paul's is now a month in the past. We confirmed 6 young people on Palm Sunday. Year after year, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod confirms young people as well as adults. We put forward to them that it is important to remain active in their lives of faith. It is important to worship regularly, to study God's Word, to receive the Sacrament of the Altar - to be a an active Lutheran Christian.

And yet, how many of those who are confirmed begin to not pay attention to what they have heard? How many avoid worship the very next Sunday? How many begin to not attend worship, Bible Study or any other activity at their local congregation? I can hear the debate in some of your minds - Why do they have to go to church? Why do they need to worship regularly? The local church isn't the answer to all the problems. We don't need "church" to remain a Christian. We don't need to go and "play" church. Why are we so caught up in the "church"? Can't we just attend where ever we want, as long as it is Christian? Why does it need to be there, at an LC-MS congregation, even the one that they were confirmed in?

"We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away." Note what it says - pay much closer attention. When something is important to you, you pay much closer attention to it than you do that which means nothing to you. Marriages get into trouble when one or the other spouse ceases to pay much closer attention to the marriage.

So it is in the walk of faith. When we cease to pay much closer attention, we be to "drift away from it." That is exactly what happens. No one sets out to become inactive in their church. It just happens. Why? Because they ceased to pay much closer attention to that which they have heard. And yes, it does make a difference what church you go to.

While we focus on saying that we need to attend a "Christian" church, it makes a difference what church we attend. I know that I am about to go where we fear to go in our society today, but I go there anyway. The Lutheran Church does teach correctly. There are flaws in the theology of the various church bodies. We have learned that in our Sunday morning Bible class as we have studied the various Christian churches. While they teach of Jesus Christ as the way to salvation, they also come close to leaving that behind. It is not up to the individual to make the decision to follow Christ - they can't. They are sinners! They are corrupt. They are blind, dead and enemies of God. They do not seek God out! God seeks them out!

There are not steps to becoming a better Christian. The Holy Spirit makes you a better Christian through the Means of Grace. You cannot make yourself better by trying harder. That becomes works of the Law again and the works of the Law only damn you more and more. It only makes it harder to be saved. It is by grace, by the work of the Spirit, not the work of man.

I could go on and on about the differences. What happens is that as we start to pay "less close attention" we "drift away from the truth." As we begin to say, "It doesn't matter," that we find that it truly "does matter." It matters because the more we absent ourselves from hearing the truth, the more likely we will drift away from the truth. And as we drift from the truth, we begin to return to the Law. As we read in Galatians, "Do not be burdened again by the Law."
For some reason, we love the Law and despise the Gospel. I know, no one actually says that. But we return to the Law again and again and in so doing, we are turning from the wondrous gift of the Gospel. We try to "do it ourselves" instead of trusting in the One who has "done it for us."
Pay attention to this little verse. "We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it." Yes, the writer to the Hebrews knew what he was writing (the Holy Spirit guided him!). We would do well to let it sink in for a change.