James 2: “The Fruit of Faith”

A few weeks ago while preaching I shared a story about a farmer in Northern Florida who planted an apple and orange next to each other on his farm. The moral of the story was that the apple tree enjoyed being an apple tree, while the orange tree didn’t want to be anything but an apple. The result? The orange tree became bitter and stop producing beautiful oranges. Instead because of the oranges bitterness and anger, the only thing the orange tree produced was bitterness and anger.

Reality check: We produce who/what we are!

This is exactly the point James is making here in the second half Chapter 2. James 2:14 (NLT) 14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 

Going further I love how James explains that what good is faith if it can’t clothe the naked or feed the hungry? It’s true! Faith is a wonderful and necessary thing, but faith should be the fuel for action.

Faith Like Fuel

Think of it like a machine. The machine is built to accomplish what it’s built for; faith is the fuel that makes the machine spring to life and start producing its product. Faith is not only necessary for salvation, but it should be like jet-fuel in dormant Christian body.

Picture a lawnmower with a gas can sitting next to it. Separately, the lawnmower is in perfectly working condition and the gas in the can won’t get any more gas. Now, the lawnmower won’t be effective at mowing a lawn until it’s filled with gas. But we can’t stop here with the analogy. In fact, the most important point James makes is what’s coming next.

So now we have the lawnmower filled with gas. This is great, but what good is a lawnmower filled with gas that just sits in the garage? (v. 17: So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.) Here’s the reality: A lawnmower filled with gas won’t cut a single blade of grass until it’s pulled out of the garage, started, and placed over the grass! The same is true in our Christian walk!

By My Good Deeds

A person by themselves has the opportunity to do what it was made for; but it’s not until their life is filled with the fuel of faith that they become a Christian. Going further, as James, Paul, and Jesus has said, you need to now put that faith in action! Get out of the garage, get over the grass, and start cutting… you know what I mean.

James 2:18 (NLT) Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

Basically, I will show you that I am filled with the fuel of faith by doing the things that God designed for me to do! James agrees when he give the example of Abraham’s faith in verse 22: You see, his (Abraham’s) faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete.

For Today

Fruit in the Greek can be translated, well, “fruit,” but metaphorically it can be translated “results.” I’m advocating that our faith should produce the results (fruit) of good deeds. I’m also advocating where we started: We produce who/what we are!

Matthew 12:33 (NLT) “A tree is identified by its fruit (results). If a tree is good, its fruit (results) will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit (results) will be bad.

 

James 1: “Introduction”

Welcome to James!

Although it’s only five chapters long, each chapter of James is power packed with practical and insightful information.

Below is helpful information I found in Fee and Stuarts Book, “How to Read the Bible Book by Book:

Orienting Data for James

Content: a treatise composed of short moral essays, emphasizing endurance in hardship and responsible Christian living, with special concern that believers practice what they preach and live together in harmony

Author: James, brother of our Lord (Gal 1:19), who led the church in Jerusalem for many years (Acts 15; Gal 2:1–13)—although questioned by many

Date: unknown; dated anywhere from the mid–40s a.d. to the 90s, depending on authorship; probably earlier than later

Recipients: believers in Christ among the Jewish Diaspora

Occasion: unknown, but the treatise shows concern for real conditions in the churches, including severe trials, dissensions caused by angry and judgmental words, and abuse of the poor by the wealthy

Emphases: practical faith on the part of believers; joy and patience in the midst of trials; the nature of true (Christian) wisdom; attitudes of the rich toward the poor; abuse and proper use of the tongue

Specific Advice for Reading James

James is admittedly difficult to read through, because of its many starts and stops, twists and turns. But along with seeing the threads that hold things together, which we noted above, several other matters should help you to read this letter with better understanding.

First, in terms of content, you will find the letter to have a variety of kinds of material in it, all of it directed specifically at Christian behavior, rather than propounding Christian doctrine. Included are a goodly number of sayings or aphorisms that look like Old Testament wisdom on the one hand and the teachings of Jesus on the other. That is, much as the Synoptic Gospels often present the teaching of Jesus in the form of sayings—which at times ring with echoes of Jewish wisdom—so with James. This is found both in his emphasis on wisdom as such and in the frequent aphoristic nature of so much that he says. In this vein you should also look for his frequent echoes of the teachings of Jesus (e.g., 1:5–6; 2:8;5:9, 12). As with all Jewish wisdom (see the introduction to the Old Testament Writings, p. 120), the concern is not doctrinal or logical, but practical; the test of its truthfulness has to do with how it works out in the reality of everyday life.

Second, in terms of form, you will find a kind of sermonic quality to James. As you read, note the various rhetorical devices he employs, especially some that reflect the Greco-Roman diatribe (see “Specific Advice for Reading Romans,” p. 319)—direct address (“my [dear] brothers and sisters” 14x), rhetorical questions (e.g., Jas 2:3–7, 14, 21; 3:11–12, 13; 4:1, 5), and the use of an imagined interlocutor (2:18–20; 4:12, 13, 15). Thus James’s use of the Wisdom tradition is not proverbial but sermonic; he hopes to persuade and thus to facilitate change in the way God’s people live in community with one another.

Third, don’t fall into the habit, which is easy in this case, of reading James as though it were addressed to individual believers about their one-on-one relationship with God and others. Nothing could be further from James’s own concerns. From the outset his passion is with life within the believing community. While it is true that each must assume his or her individual responsibility to make the community healthy, the concern is not with personal piety as much as it is with healthy communities. To miss this point will cause you to miss what drives this letter from beginning to end.

Finally, you need to read the sections about the rich and poor with care (1:9–11, 27; 2:1–13; 4:13–5:6), since it is not easy to tell whether both groups are members of the believing community. In any case, James is decidedly—as is the whole of Scripture—on the side of the poor. The rich are consistently censured and judged, not because of their wealth per se, but because it has caused them to live without taking God into account and thus to abuse the lowly ones for whom God cares.

 

Hebrews 13: “Proper Praise”

As we read through the book of Hebrews, it seems that once you hit the second half of Chapter 10, there’s a mad dash to cram as much information before the end of the message in Chapter 13.

I found myself at a loss on what direction to go with this chapter. On one hand I’m drawn to the powerful promise from God in (verse 5) For God has said,

“I will never fail you.
    I will never abandon you.”

and then be reminded that this promise comes right after the beginning of the verse… Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. 

I’m also drawn to the imagery and responsibility found in (verses 11-14) 11 Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. 12 So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood. 13 So let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore. 14 For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.

In fact, it’s important that we start here with these verses because they only give context to the passage I want to focus on. At the start of (verses 15-16) we find the word “therefore.” Like I’ve mentioned before, whenever we see the word “therefore,” we have to ask ourselves, “what’s it there for?” The word therefore always connects to the previous statement.

Hebrews 13:15-16 (NLT) 15 Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. 16 And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.

Proper Praise

So what can we learn from the writer of Hebrews regarding proper praise:

  1. Praise that pleases God is only offered through Jesus.
  2. Because of Jesus, our High Priest, we can now offer a continually and is no longer limited to once a year.
  3. Our praise to God should be sacrificial. We are replacing the sacrifice of animals and offering with the sacrifice of praise.
  4.  Doing good and sharing with those in need is an example of a sacrificial praise. Praise is not the only sacrifice that pleases God. We also perform sacrifice that pleases God when we do good and share. Praise and worship are important, but the Christian’s obligation does not end there.

Although I like the NLT, there are times when the interpretation falls a little short. Verse 15 is one of the occasions for me: Hebrews 13:15 (ESV) 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

5. More than just “acts” of worship or silent prayers of praise to God, the writer of Hebrews encourages his listeners to physically speak out or sing songs of praise to God. It’s important to always remember that although the bi-product of a fruit tree is fruit, it’s only fruit if there’s life in the tree! Jesus in Matthew 15:8 (NLT) ‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.

Work of the Lips   vs.   Fruit of the Lips

This is not the endorsement of Hebrews 13. Instead, the writer of Hebrews is trying to indicate the different between the “work” of the lips and the “fruit” of the lips. You can move your mouth without uttering a song. But with a heart leaned toward God, and a sacrifice of praise being continually offered, the only natural outcome will be the fruit of lips acknowledging the name of Jesus.

Donald Guthrie is quoted as saying, “What proceeds from the lips is regarded as fruit, which reveals the character of its source, as the fruit of a tree reveals the nature of the tree.”

Today

So today, don’t just bring a sacrifice of praise, but be a sacrifice of praise in both word and deed. As the Psalmist said, I will praise the Lord at all times.
    I will constantly speak his praises. (Psalm 34)

Hebrews 12: “Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of Faith”

Hebrews 12 for me contains one of my all-time favorite passages of scripture. I don’t know if it’s the creativity of connecting “running with weights on” to sin, or if it’s the image of “fixing our eyes on Jesus” who is the author and perfecter of faith, but this passage has always meant a ton to me. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of today’s reflection, there’s a principle I want to teach when you’re reading scripture.

The “Therefore” Principle 

Whenever you see the word “therefore,” you have to stop and ask, “what’s it there for?” In scripture you’ll see this word “therefore” used in multiple times in multiple settings, but the most important aspect of this word is the connection it make between passages and main points.

The author starts Hebrews 12 with the word “therefore” in order to connect Chapter 11 and 12 together. It’s important to connect our biblical heroes of faith (Chapter 11) to the author and perfecter of faith (Chapter 12). As we’ll read in Chapter 12, Chapter 11 is a who’s who of “such a great cloud of witnesses.”

Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV) Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 

When doing research for this reflection today I wanted to get a sense for the dynamic of writing a story. I looked up some different ideas and techniques in story writing that you could use to turn a blank page or screen into a literary masterpiece. Okay, so maybe not a literary masterpiece, but what I did learn is there is a parallel between the techniques writers use, and the similarities to allowing God to shape our story.

Techniques For Writing a Story

Pay Attention: Writers often find inspiration from looking at the environment around them. There is nothing in a writers environment that doesn’t have potential to be a story.

To You I Say: Pay attention to the work and calling God has for you in your life. Stop long enough to look around and take in the unfolding story of God in your life.

Listen: When you listen to people and really pay attention to what their saying, you can often hear a story coming to life.

To You I Say: Stop long enough to listen for God in your story and the story of others. Not only listen for his voice, but listen and obey. We see in John 17 (NIV) when Jesus was baptized that God said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”  

Think: Thinking is a valuable key to story writing. When you allow yourself to truly stretch the limits of your mind, you are able to take in more information than you thought even imaginable.

To You I Say: Scripture tells us something very profound about some of the things we are supposed to think about. Philippians 4:8 (NIV) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Paul indicates for us that “thinking” is as important as “doing” in the Christian Life. Paul tells us in Romans 12 that transformation is possible when our mind is renewed. Some of us need to get rid of our “stinkin’ thinkin’!”

Read a BookYou may not realize it, but one of the best inspirations to shaping your own story is to read someone else’s!

To You I Say: One book you all know you should be reading as a guide to your story is the Bible, God’s script he wrote for us. It’s not just a story, its history, or His-story. Its not just His story but our story. And it’s a story that has a beginning, middle, and end. There is no book on earth that has more power to shape, change, transform, guide, stimulate and encourage your story. Get into the habit of reading something everyday!

As we close, let these words from Paul resonate to us today.

Romans 15:4 (NIV) “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

 

 

Hebrew 11: “Faith Like a Radio Antenna”

Faith is central to all of life. For example, you go to a doctor whose name you cannot pronounce, and whose degrees you have never verified; he gives you a prescription you can’t read, and you take it to a pharmacist you’ve never met before; they give you a chemical compound you don’t understand; then you go home and take the pill according to the instructions on the bottle. Now that’s faith!

Hebrews 11:1 (NIV) 1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Now I know that many of us have heard and probably even have this verse memorized. You probably use this verse as a verse to defend a faith the many people don’t really understand; but I think if we’re being honest, we would say at some point in our faith journey we’ve heard, read, or even quoted this verse and said…Huh? What in the world did I just hear? Or, what in the world did I just say?

Where Does Faith Come From?
A logical question worth asking at this point is, where does faith come from? Now faith, when referenced in the bible is a totally different animal then we’re used to. The first big game changer when we’re talking about faith from the biblical perspective is that faith doesn’t come from us! We tend to think, look at how big MY faith is. The truth is, when we read scripture, we are reminded that faith doesn’t come from us; it comes from God. Romans 10:17 gets even more specific about where we can find a steady supply of faith.

Romans 10:17 (NLT) 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

Faith comes from God

How does he communicate this faith to us?

By hearing the message

And where is his message heard?

Through the word of Christ?

 I know many people who walk around and say, “I wish I had more faith?” or even pray like the apostles in Luke, “Lord, increase my faith!” But there’s one problem, they don’t go to the source of God’s faith…his word!

This is like wanting to hear your favorite song, but you refuse to turn on the radio to hear it.

Faith Like a Radio Antenna

Speaking of radios, when I think of Hebrews 11:1 I immediately think of a radio antenna; don’t judge me.

Think about how radio antenna’s work: They transmit radio waves typically from a tall tower, across a considerable distance. Take for instance the radio tower at our sister school Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Standing as the tallest point on Olivet’s campus, the radio antenna transmits radio waves that reach as far north as Chicago, and as far West as Valparaiso, IN there frequency is 89.7 and it gets pumped out at 57,000 watts. Radio antennas are constantly putting out a message. Whether we are in our car, at home, or have satellite radio, but whatever we are using to hear the song has to be dialed in to the right frequency to hear the message.

If you’re driving in the car and you want to listen to Shine 89.7, but you tune your radio into 87.9, are you going to hear Shine 89.7? No! You may have the best intentions to listen to Shine, but if you aren’t dialed into the right frequency, guess what, you’re not going to hear the message.

The Point for Today

This is like putting your bible in a place to remind you to read it. You can put your bible on your night stand, your coffee table, kitchen table, passenger side of your car, in your book-bag… but if you don’t open it, you’re not going to hear the message!

God desires for you to tap into his unlimited well of faith, but in order to do that you need to “tune in” to the message and set your spiritual dial to the “frequency” of his word.

 

 

Hebrews 10: “A Hope Built on Nothing Less”

Cursed with Hopelessness

John Maxwell talks of a small town in Maine that stood in the way of a proposed hydroelectric dam. All the residents were told that their town would be submerged by the dam and they would have to pack up all their belongings and relocate.

As construction began on the dam, a curious thing began to happen in the town. All improvements ceased. No one painted their house. Roads and sidewalks were not repaired. Long before the dam was finished, the town looked shabby and abandoned. One resident noted, “Where there is no hope in the future, there is no power in the present.” The town was cursed with hopelessness because it had no future.

Truth About Hopelessness

There are very few things that are more debilitating than hopelessness. A person with a small amount of hope has at least a spark that could ignite a flame. A person without hope not only doesn’t have a spark, but every match they touch is soaking wet.

It’s a sobering thought to consider that there are millions of people right now who, because of a lack of hope in the future, have given up on the present. But the writer of Hebrews is looking to change all of that. Instead of being hopeless, the writer encourages his listeners to “hold tightly” to the very thing they’re not sure they have…HOPE!

Hebrews 10:23 (NLT) 23 Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 

If we’re honest, it won’t take long to realize that we hold tightly to a lot of things in this world, and typically, hope is not one of them. In fact, we can probably name at least two or three things that can trump hope by far. Think about it, hope isn’t going to pay the bills, money does that. Hope isn’t going to feed your kids, food does that. Lastly, hope isn’t going to load the dishwasher, kids, I mean…

Hope In Scripture

It’s interesting to note that hope in the scripture is a little different then the hope we’re accustomed to. Hope for us is a kind of wishy-washy unsure optimism: Like I alluded to earlier, we tend to think…

  • I hope he/she likes me
  • I hope I get the promotion
  • I hope my car doesn’t run out of gas
  • I hope I shut the garage door this morning when I went to work… (no seriously)

In scripture, and during this time, hope is not wishy washy, hope is defined as a strong and confident expectation. So when we read in scripture about hope, it would have the connotation of expectancy or belief of certainty. On the opposite side, a loss of hope would have as much confidence in the certainty, in this case, of death.

Here’s the great news about Hope: Whether positive or negative, hope in scripture is never passive. Hope is always dynamic and active. What do you need to hope on Jesus for? Not a hope of wishy-washyness, but a hope of certainty that God shows up on time, every time.

Closing

Not only does the writer encourage us to hold unswervingly (NIV) to hope, but he also indicates that God can be trusted to keep his promises. Now this is where the writer of Hebrews begins to drive down his listeners street. The reason I say that is because this is exactly the point the writer’s been making! Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection were all promises kept by God dating all the way back to Genesis.

The first verse of the great Hymn, “My Hope is Built On Nothing Less,” says it all:

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame (my own merit),
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

Hebrews 8: “Lost in the Cereal Aisle of Life”

Do you ever remember being lost in a store as a kid? I can remember when I was about nine-years-old being in the Pathmark grocery store by our house while my mom did her typical Thursday night grocery shopping. I remember being so fixated in the cereal aisle that when I finally looked up, suddenly my mom was gone. Like, no where to be found gone! I was left standing there; just me and my new friend Cap’n Crunch (who by the way isn’t a Captain at all. Based on the bars on his sleeve the Cap’n is actually only a Commander. I guess Commander Crunch didn’t have the same ring as Cap’n, but I digress).

Not that my mom left me, she wouldn’t do that, I don’t think… but a part of our trips to the store was my responsibility to keep up. As I frantically started looking up and down the aisle, I realized I was going to have to leave the aisle to find her. Just as I was about to burst into tears I remember seeing a shadow on the floor that looked just like my mom’s. I started to calm down, but I was still a little anxious considering I hadn’t physically seen her yet. Suddenly the shadow moved and my mom stepped around the corner to make sure I was okay and still with her.

Although the shadow was somewhat of a comfort, it wasn’t until I saw my mom that I was assured of being rescued from my fear and worry.

This is exactly what we’ve been talking about when we discuss that the Old Covenant, the Old Law, the High Priest sacrificial system; it was just a shadow (Heb. 8:5) of the real thing (i.e. Jesus) to come! Although the people of Israel were comforted in knowing that their Levitical High Priest had offered sacrifice for one more year, it wasn’t until Jesus came that everlasting hope entered the world.

As we will learn, to the Jewish observer Jesus didn’t fit the mold of the Messiah. He didn’t even fit the mold of the High Priest, but again we need to remember, that was intentional too.

Hebrews 8:1-2 (ESV) 1 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.

Christ’s Role as High Priest

The main point of Hebrews 8 is to fully establish Christ’s role as the High Priest forever! We still need a High Priest (Jesus), but the different is, our High Priest is not weak, or ordinary, sinful, or dying. Instead, He is the Son of God! He is strong, mighty, our defender, and shield! Our High Priest isn’t limited in power or location, but instead offered the final sacrifice as God’s Lamb for the sins of the world. He doesn’t work or worship in a Tabernacle made by man, but like (verse 1) says, he is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven. The question then that needs to be answered is this: What is he doing there?

Hebrews 8:6 (NLT) But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises.

Where the original High Priests were limited to enter the Holy of Holies but once a year, Jesus is granted unlimited access to the Father, mediating on our behalf. Just as we read in 1 John 2:1 (NLT) But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.

Conclusion

Just as the author utilized the words of Jeremiah 31:31-34 in Hebrews 8 regarding the promise of the new Covenant, Jesus meets with his disciples in the upper room to explain that he is the fulfillment of the old covenant. Although they didn’t quite know it yet, but in that moment, the disciples, who only recognized God as a shadow on the floor, saw their heavenly father step around the corner to make sure they were okay and still with him.

 

Hebrews 7: “Melchizedek, a Sign of Christ

You may be thinking, why is it important to know about a man named Melchizedek? Well, it’s not a matter of why it’s important, but rather how important it is to know about a High Priest who…

  1. (v. 1) Blessed people without being blessed himself
  2. (v. 3) No record of having a father or mother
  3. (v. 4) Received a tithe (tenth) of all that Abraham had taken in battle (long before tithing was mandated)
  4. (v. 6) Wasn’t a descendant of Levi (where we get the tribe of priests)
  5. (v. 8) Never died but instead “lives on”

My hope in this reflection is to slightly (as there’s more that can be considered) lift the veil on a biblical character that is only mentioned three times in the bible, but yet is important as a foreshadow to Jesus.

Why the Author Points out Melchizedek

Remember that the authors intention in this book is to convince Jewish Christians that there’s no need to go back to their ritualistic past and old laws. By raising the importance of Melchizedek, the author is building a case for Christ and showing that Jesus fulfilled the purposes of Judaism. Because the author has to engage the old covenant and Jewish history, the writer of Hebrews has to prove that Jesus is superior in every way to the Jewish traditions and laws; hence his now attempt to show that Jesus is more superior even over Melchizedek.

The name Melchizedek first appears in Genesis 14:18 where Melchizedek appears as the King of Salem. As you’ve read through Hebrews these past couple of days, you’ve run into a familiar phrase, “…in the order of Melchizedek.” This phrase is repeated not only in Hebrews but also in Psalm 110:

  • Psalm 110:4
  • Hebrews 5:6
  • Hebrews 5:10
  • Hebrews 6:20
  • Hebrews 7:17

One of the most important reasons for this phrase, “…in the order of Melchizedek,” is to show that Jesus wasn’t limited by the standards of the Levites, and didn’t come from the Tribe of Levi, but instead, as we know, Jesus came from the Tribe of Judah. Jesus is considered a priest in the order of Melchizedek because, like Melchizedek, Jesus was not a descendant of Aaron, and so would not qualify for the Jewish priesthood under the Law of Moses.

Melchizedek, a Sign of Christ

When we’re learning about Melchizedek, it’s important to remember that he is type, a sign, and a foreshadow of Jesus. Pastor and writer Steven Cole wrote, “Herveus (a 12th century writer, cited by Philip Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews [Eerdmans], p. 251) applies the truth here to Christ by saying,

If Melchizedek, who was a sign and shadow, is preferred to Abraham and to all the levitical priests, how much more Christ, who is the truth and the substance! … If a type of Christ is greater than he who has the promises, how much more so is Christ himself!

If Melchizedek could bless Abraham, how much more is the Son of God ready and able to bless those who draw near to God through Him! If we want God’s blessings, we should seek them in Christ, because “as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes” (2 Cor. 1:20). What do you need from God? Eternal life? Yes! Forgiveness of sins? Yes! Inner peace? Yes! Hope? Yes! Joy in the midst of trials? Yes! Grace to endure? Yes! Victory over sin? Yes! Healing from past wounds? Yes! Jesus is the perfect high priest who dispenses God’s blessings to those who have His promises. Draw near to Him!”

Conclusion

The writer of Hebrews drives a large stake in the ground and says to his listeners, Melchizedek is great, but Jesus is greater! Moses was great, but Jesus is greater! What the High Priest was limited to do, Jesus is not bound! This is why we remember the words of Hebrews 4:14-16 (NLT): 

14 So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

 

 

Hebrews 6: “HOPE… As an Anchor For Our Souls”

Dropping Anchor…Literally

Growing up I had the opportunity to go fishing with my neighbor Bruce. To this day I still can’t figure out why he would take me, especially considering that it seemed like I always did something to mess up our trip. Well, this trip for Blues and Catfish under the Commodore Barry Bridge in Philadelphia would be no different. As we pull up to the bridge, Bruce is coaching me through how to release the anchor on the boat:

  • Wait for me
  • Wait till I’m in neutral
  • Watch the waves
  • Don’t put out too much line at first
  • Don’t throw the anchor, just drop it off to the side.

Suddenly he yells, now, now, now… What do I do? Well, I was so surprised and excited I threw the anchor out in front of the boat, to which Bruce says, “I told you not to the throw the anchor, and especially off the front of the boat. Well as he was putting the boat in reverse and watching his prop, I watched the anchor line uncoil and slip right over the edge of the boat and sink over 40’ to the bottom of the river. Bruce turns around and says, “Go ahead and tie off the line to the bow cleat…awkward”

You know, anchors don’t work very well unless they’re attached to something.

Hebrews 6:19 (NLT) 19 This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. But the question is, what exactly is “this hope?” In order to answer that question you have to go back to verses 13-20

Hebrews 6:13-20 (NLT)

The scripture here is pointing to the fact that we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. But the question remains for us, why would the writer talk about God’s Promise to Abram as a form of hope? To answer that question we have to look back at the covenant between God and Abram in the desert.

Genesis 15:7-12, 17-20 (NLT) 

Blood Path

To walk the blood path was a huge deal, it meant that your life was indebted to the person you walked with through the path. That night Abram realized God was “cutting a covenant”, and as the scripture says, Abram became paralyzed by fear. God’s covenant terms were clear. He would bless the world through Abraham… as long as Abraham lived in perfect harmony with God’s ways. But there was one problem; Abraham knew that he couldn’t be perfect and that his sins were like spitting in the face of God. So while he looked at the gruesome blood path, Abraham recognized the high price for breaking the covenant terms. Walking that path would be like signing his own death sentence. Remember, if you break the covenant it will cost you your life. That’s when God did something extraordinary. What God did is the hope that’s an anchor for my soul!

If we’re not careful we’ll miss the hope, but when you stop and reflect, you see it in Genesis 15:17 (NLT) After the sun went down and darkness fell, Abram saw a smoking fire-pot AND a flaming torch pass between the halves of the carcasses.

THIS IS THE ANCHOR OF HOPE! God wants us to be in a covenant relationship with Him, but He says to us, I’m going to walk the path for myself and for you! And in that amazing moment, God took Abraham’s place to die if he couldn’t keep his end of the bargain. You have to remember that this wasn’t just a covenant between Abraham and God, but like God said in Genesis 15:18 (NLT), this is a covenant between Abraham and ALL of his descendants, which includes us.

He walked it for you…he walked it for me. In fact, He still walks it for you…for me. Could you imagine the excitement of these early Hebrew Christians? To know the forerunner, Jesus, has entered on there behalf.

Jesus is an anchor of hope for our soul.

Hebrews 5: “From Milk to Meat”

As you read Chapter 5 of the book of Hebrews, it doesn’t take long to realize the chapter doesn’t end the way it began. In fact, it’s such a strange and abrupt change it almost sounds like a preacher who’s trying to get the attention of his congregation. Truth is, that’s exactly what scholars believe is going on here.

Knowing this information, read the passage from the perspective of a pastor to his people: Hebrews 5:11-14 (NLT) 11 There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen.12 You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. 13 For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. 14 Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.

Spiritually Dull

The Zondervan Illustrated Bible indicates, “The Greek expression, “spiritually dull” here means “dull of hearing. ” The first word in the phrase, nōthroi, can mean “sluggish, dull, dimwit, negligent,” or “lazy. ” For instance, Plutarch notes that Parmenion was sluggish and lazy in battle; the term could also be used of an athlete who was slow because he was out of shape physically. In both the Wisdom literature and Greek literature generally, the word connotes the failure to follow through with work or a responsibility because of being dull or slow in some aspect of life. Specifically the author links the laziness of the recipients of Hebrews to “hearing,” since he is concerned that they are failing to give full attention to God’s Word.”

So basically, the author, who we believe is preaching a sermon, is trying to challenge the audience to wake up, listen, do something, don’t just be “hearers of the word, but be doers (James 1:22).” There’s a call to the audience to move from spiritual “milk” to spiritual “solid food.”

How Does Paul Fit In?

This sounds familiar doesn’t it? It should because it sounds a lot like 1 Corinthians 3:2. In fact, it’s very similar when you read 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 (NLT) in context: 1 Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready…

Because of this similarity, many people believe that surely Paul has to be the author of Hebrews, but again, he is not. But just like Paul desired to teach the Corinthians so they could grow in their relationship with Jesus, the writer of Hebrews is suggesting the same things. “You need someone to teach you” is the equivalent of sitting down and teaching a young student their ABC’s. It’s a “starting from the basics” mentality that the writer believes would be helpful for the Jewish Christians.

Milk to Meat

The challenge for us in this reading is to ask ourselves this critical question: In my own life, do I see a pattern of growth from “milk” to “meat?” In the Christians life you’re either moving forward or you’re moving backward; in between is considered lukewarm, and that’s not an advisable place to be according to the book of Revelation. What should be interesting to us is the connection between spiritual growth (i.e. meat) and “teaching.” Meaning, if you’re teaching, you’re growing. So the question is, are you teaching? Because according to the author of Hebrews, there’s a point in time when you’ve been a Christian long enough that you then should be teaching others.