Well, last week the blog was just not happening. I had a sick child and other things to focus on, so I will try to provide some reflections and thoughts this week, maybe I might even shoot for three posts just to make-up some work. Oh…and how about them Eagles! Congrats to all the well-tested and long awaiting Eagles’s fans. Enjoy this one! (I hope Philly is still there…awaiting reports…)
In view of my sermon topic this Sunday, we looked at Romans 4 for those not present at GracePointe church this past Sunday, this passage in Hebrews 2 speaks to the same notions that Romans 3:21-31 and Romans 4 address. First, Jesus Christ is the solution to the sin problem that has enslaved humanity from the earliest time. Second, Jesus’ death is a special fulfillment of the biblical story and releases humanity from that curse of sin. Third, In the Hebrews passage there is great care in selecting the language to point us to the human-ness shared by Jesus; He was one of us, able to accomplish the victory over death by the power of God and providing hope that we too might “run the race with perseverance” and “gain the prize.”
Here is Hebrews 2 (NLT) for you consideration and reflection today:
14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.
16 We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.
I think about what it means to be a “descendent of Abraham” and how we read the story of the Old Testament as our story as New Testament Christians. As I have said before, the death of Jesus is hard to make sense of unless it is placed in the context of God’s covenant relationship with Israel and their constant struggle of being an “unholy people in relationship with a holy God.”
The main points of this reflection from Hebrews 2 are (1) that Jesus Christ served as the “propitiation” for our sins, that is that he stood in the place of humanity’s sin and took the punishment upon himself. Jesus is our stand-in, our sacrificial lamb…behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. Through Christ we are free from the exploitation of sin…but not the struggle, testing, and temptation of a world still waiting for the victory of God to come in full. Which then points us to verse 18, in which we (2) realize that Jesus Christ is not simply the Lamb that takes away sin, but the one who sympathizes and relates to the human struggle. In so doing, Jesus can help us in our times of struggle and testing. He says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” The Hebrews writer encourages us to enter that rest of Jesus Christ…to pursue it in the daily grind. Today, may we choose to enter the rest of Jesus, who paid our sin-debt and provides help to the weary. Amen.
The other night I attended my daughters holiday music concert. She sang in the second grade chorus, but there were other groups including strings, band, and fifth grade chorus and choir. You know, if I’m candid with you I have to say that I have attended better concerts. Some of the performance was lackluster; notes were missed, entrances were shaky, and then there were young musicians playing stringed instruments…need I say more.
Yet, it is hard to compare unequal things even though we do it often. These kids were prepared to give it their best. They practiced and took instruments home. They learn hand motions and sign language to go along with their songs. And they were so joyful and proud of their efforts. What I liked was at the end of the concert, everyone stood up and gave the children a standing ovation. I joined in that, proud of my daughter and the kids who had put in the time and effort to do their best.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that sometimes we think we are being applauded for our performance when we are actually being applauded for our effort. I realize that if I live for the applause of God, I am sure not hoping he compares me to others that are better than I am. If I could supply him with a list of persons who I think might make good comparisons, then we could perhaps go down this path. (Like trying to establish the price of the house you’re buying by looking at the worst prices in the neighborhood!)
God, please don’t compare to Jesus, or the martyrs, or some of the saints who have sacrificed so much to follow you! But what I want to assert is that God’s applause isn’t beckoned by perfection of performance, if that was the case then he would not recognize our achievements at all. You see, even the greatest achievements of the church and God’s people are still imperfect outcomes done by an imperfect people. I do believe God recognizes effort, however, and that is why God is so pleased and happy with us. When we give God “with all of our,” then he is proud of us. The Bible says to Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. We need to practice and take the performance of this verse seriously, because Jesus prioritized it as the number one command. But even when our performance is dissonant and the wrong notes are played, it is the effort that God sees and it is the effort that God applauds.
If you grew up in an evangelistic church, or have a natural tendency to be extraverted and somewhat loud about your faith, then this verse below might come as a challenge to you and to the evangelistic movement as a whole. Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica:
1 Thessalonians 4:11 Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. 12 Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.
The first line of this passage is interesting because in the original language it reads make it your ambition, or zealous pursuit, to live a life of silence or tranquility. Most of us, whether our natural tendency is to be extra- or introverted, would be comfortable talking zealously about the things that peak our passions and we use these things to create a niche for ourselves or some sort of career for ourselves or at least a fan page or group on Facebook! But for Paul, there was something to be emulated in the life of peace, one that allowed someone to “mind their own business” and “do their own work” contributing to the life of the community.
Interestingly enough, this life of quiet confidence leads to the same result that many who stand on the street corners with a bull-horn so desperately want to see; that people take notice, the text reads, “people who are nonbelievers will respect the way you live…” maybe they will begin to ask us questions, or wonder why we are not panicking like those around us and want to know more about what gives us hope.
Now, I’m not against those who have a calling to be evangelistic and more “in your face.” There are some who have chosen to believe in Jesus because their life was interrupted, or they were confronted with the message of Jesus. However, I would also like to assert that for every person who this works for, there are many others who are negatively impacted by the same tactics. Many of the people I know who are believers, either had someone they really respected lead them to Jesus, or there was some sort of relationship that then led into faith conversations.
Another thing about this teaching from Paul to the church is very important; everyone can do this. You don’t have to be a certain type of person, have a particular set of skills, or you don’t have to feel guilty because you just can’t do what others so seemingly easily can do. All of us are asked to be an example of Christ to those who don’t believe, and the question is not a matter of if we do that, but usually it boils down to how we go about doing it. So, make it your goal to live a peaceful life with those around you through the Spirit of God, especially among your neighbors in your community. Do the work of loving your neighbors with your hands and not so much with your mouths, don’t just talk politics, service, and Jesus…but in your actions towards them live your politics, carry out your service, and be Jesus in situations you face. They will respect you, and they will respect that your happiness and peace doesn’t depend on others, or come at the expense of others.
God, help us make a lasting impact on those who have yet to believe in your son Jesus. As Francis of Assisi prayed, may we preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.