Sunday, November 24, 2013

HEBREWS 12:18-28

After urging his readers to endure in the faith, the writer of Hebrews tells them why. That is why he starts verse 18 with the word “for”. He tells them in very poetic terms that, as great as the covenant at Sinai was, the new covenant is so much better. This is a beautiful passage.

What You Did NOT Come to
Hebrews 12:18-21

The Hebrew Christians did not come to the Old Covenant. The writer describes the experience of God giving the covenant as it is recorded in Exodus. It was an awesome and fearful experience.

The thing that can be touched was Mount Sinai. It was physical and earthly. Exodus 19 tells us that the people of Israel gathered at the Lord’s command at the base of the mountain. Moses went up on Mount Sinai to talk to God and receive the covenant. Thunder, lightning and a thick cloud came on the mountain. Hebrews says there was fire, darkness, gloom and tempest (or storm). (18) Then there was the sound of a trumpet. (19) Exodus 19:16 says there was a very loud trumpet blast. Then, the trumpet blew louder and louder. (19:19) When God spoke, there was loud thunder. The people were so afraid they did not want to be there. They asked Moses to do it for them. (Exodus 20:18-19) It was a scary event. Even Moses said he trembled with fear. God demonstrated that he was not approachable except by his designated priest. He demonstrated that he was the sovereign, the powerful party in the covenant. He wanted them to fear him and not sin. (Exodus 20:20)

And, this is the God into whose hands you fall if you live under the law rather than grace. When you stand before God alone, as opposed to in Christ, you bear his wrath expressed in his terrible power. That is why Hebrews 10:31 told us “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God”.

But, Hebrews has already gone to great lengths to tell us the Old Covenant has become obsolete and is replaced with the New Covenant. Therefore he says you who have professed faith in Christ, even though you are Jewish, have not come to the Old Covenant, but the New Covenant instead.

What You Came To
Hebrews 12:22

The first description of the New Covenant is “Mount Zion”. Verse 22 says they came to Mount Zion. That is in contrast to Mount Sinai. t is a heavenly place rather than an earthly place.

What is Mount Zion? The Bible teaches us that Jerusalem, and the mountain on which part of it was built, is a type for a new Jerusalem or Zion that is the holy city of God prepared for the church. And by church I mean the believers of all time. This is why, in verse 22, he uses three phrases to describe this eternal place: Mount Zion, the city of the Living God, and the heavenly Jerusalem.

We have seen that the writer of Hebrews applied Psalm 2:7 to Jesus. In that Psalm, God the Father said to God the Son “You are my son; today I have begotten you”. The verse right before it, though, Psalm 2:6, says “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” Although the first king set on that hill was David, the last king, Jesus, will reign forever in Zion, the symbol of the permanent abode of God’s people with God dwelling and reigning in their midst.

Psalm 110 is the basis for much of the sermon that is the book of Hebrews. Psalm110:2 says “The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter.” Again, he will reign as the Davidic king for eternity amongst his people. Jeremiah spoke of a heavenly city also.

Jesus spoke of preparing a place for us. John 14:3. Paul picked up the theme in Galatians 4:26 says “But the Jerusalem above is free and she is our mother”. Philippians 3:20 says “our citizenship is in heaven”.

And there are other folks there in heaven we come to. First, he says there are innumerable angels in festal gathering. Heaven is full of angels. God is not alone up there. Remember how Elisha was surrounded by a great Army of Syrians and said “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kings 6:16) The Lord opened his servants eyes to see the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire. Jude 14 says the Lord will come with ten thousands of angels (holy ones). John’s visions of heaven in Revelation include angels. In Revelation 5:11, John saw angels numbering myriads and thousands of thousands. This verse is a reflection of Daniel 7:10.

What are these angels doing in heaven? The English Standard Version says they are in festal gathering. They are celebrating, having a festival. I believe they are worshipping God with great joy. The New International Version calls it a joyful assembly. Notice the stark contrast between the fear of Sinai and the joy of Zion (heaven).

So, believers come to heaven, the New Jerusalem, complete with many angels joyfully worshipping God. What else do they, and we, come to? They come to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven. The firstborn is Jesus. He is the firstborn as the Son of God, the first of all who will be saved and resurrected to new life. Romans 8:29 says “For those whom he foreknew (believers), he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers”.

So, the assembly of the firstborn, is the gathering in heaven of all believers who have died and gone to heaven. You do not die and go to sleep until the resurrection. You die and go to heaven and join the assembly, the church, of Jesus in heaven. You are enrolled in heaven because you name is written in the book of life. This is the book opened at the judgment as shown to John and recorded in Revelation 20. John said “if anyone’s name was not found written the the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15)

By the way, when were our names written in this book of life? Revelation 13:8 says it was “before the foundation of the world”. There is a song that talks about a new name written down in glory. But the Bible says all the names were written down before the world was made.

God the father will be there. He is called the “judge of all”. Everyone who ever lived will stand before God and be judged. Those who are not saved are condemned because the have sinned and earned the wage of death. (Romans 3:23; 6:23) Notice that we come to God. At Sinai, Israel could not come to God. They were not to even touch the mountain. Only Moses, representing the people, could come near. When the tabernacle was constructed, a veil kept the people from the presence of God. Only the high priest could go in. It was the same with the temple. But, when Jesus died for us, the veil of the temple was torn. This showed that Jesus led the way into the presence of the Father. Not since man’s fall in the Garden had man been allowed to approach God. But in Christ, we have access to the Almighty God. What a privilege!

The “spirits of the righteous made perfect” is another reference to believers who have died physically, but had their spirits resurrected to heaven, awaiting the resurrection of their bodies. They are righteous, for they are credited with the righteousness of Christ in return for their belief in him. Romans 5:21-22 says “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it - the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” They are also “made perfect”. They no longer sin. They have been made new, at least in spirit.

This picture of heaven saves the best for last. Last is the hero of our story, Jesus Christ. He is the mediator of our covenant. His blood shed for us is the blood that established our covenant.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Trial - A Picture of Justification

A great explanation of Justification in the scene of a criminal trial. Read it here.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ian Murray on Billy Graham

I'm sorry, but I lost the comment requesting information on this. You must be referring to the book "Evangelicalism Divided" by Murray in which he discusses Billy Graham in terms of ecumenism. I'm not sure about the video, but it may be this one:

Let me know if I can help you further.


Sunday, November 17, 2013


Verse 12 tells us that, having considered that suffering is often enduring discipline, we should strengthen ourselves and keep walking with the Lord. Here in Texas we might say “Cowboy up and get back to it”. These are exhortations. He has taught doctrine. Now he teaches how to live out that doctrine.

The language in verses 12 and 13 are poetic. He says to lift your drooping hands, strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet. All of these are ways of saying do not give in to fear, be strong and stand firm. There might also be an allusion here to Isaiah 35:3-4. That says:

Strengthen the weak hands
and make firm the feeble knees
say to those who have anxious thoughts
be strong, fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance
with the power of the recompense of God
He will come and save you.

In these verses, the writer gives us some specifics to work for. First he tells us to strive for peace with everyone. It is amazing how much space in the New Testament is devoted to telling Christians to get along with each other. Jesus started it off by praying for the disciples. In John 17:10-11, he prayed that the disciples would be one as he and the Father were one. Paul rebuked the Corinthian church, telling them to have no divisions but to be united in the same mind and same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10). Sadly, they did not accomplish this. Clement wrote them years later and again urged them to be united. He said they had envy, strife and sedition. (1 Clement III) Ephesians 4:3 tells us to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. So, we need to make peace in the church, peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We are also to strive for holiness. We do not assume that we make a public profession of Christ and are done. No, we continually work to be holy. We pray and ask for strength, for guidance and conviction from the Holy Spirit. Then we act on that. When we see part of our life that does not conform to the word of God, we change it.

I know the pursuit of holiness is hard in our time. The level of behavior that is perfectly acceptable is horrible. Do not strive to be good as defined by your culture, but by the Bible. A book that drives this point home is Holiness by J. C. Ryle. Another good book is The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges.

You should realize that it has always been God’s intention to create a people for himself that are holy. Holy means set apart to God and reflecting his character. In Leviticus 11:44, God instructed the Israelites “consecrate your selves therefore and be holy for I am holy”. Peter reflected this in 1 Peter 1:15, where he says “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all our conduct, sine it is written you shall be holy for I am holy. Believers who reflect God’s holy character honor God. Those who claim to believe but are not holy defame his name.

Verse 15 tells us to see to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God. We are to watch out for those in our fellowship to make sure their confession is genuine. One way we do that is by constantly preaching the gospel. We do not water it down. We do not tell people they can be saved apart from it.

We are also to see to it that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, because many are defiled by it. This bitterness is not just an unhappy person. It has to do with apostasy, or turning away from God.

This is an allusion to Deuteronomy 29:18. (Remember, this is a book written to Jewish Christians using Old Testament references.) In that verse, Moses said Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit...” In this context, the bitter root is the desire to forsake God for idols. If such a person stays in the fellowship, he defiles it. The Jewish member of the congregation reading this letter would recognize the reference, and recognize it applied to them if they were thinking of abandoning Christ for Judaism. In the same way, people today who are bitter spread their bitterness and defile the fellowship.

Verse 16 tells us that no one is to be sexually immoral in the fellowship. Remember 1 Corinthians 5, where Paul rebuked the Corinthian church for tolerating a man who “has his father’s wife”. A person who has fallen into immorality has to be rebuked so that he or she will repent and be restored. If they do not repent, they must be removed from the fellowship.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Look To Jesus - Hebrews 12

Jesus, of course, is the ultimate example of faithfulness and endurance. He endured humiliation. The scribes and elders spat in his face, struck him and slapped him. They mocked him. (Matthew 26:67) Peter denied knowing him. (Matthew 26:70) He was bound like a criminal. (Matthew 27:2) He was rejected for release in favor of Barabbas, a robber. (Matthew 27:15-23; John 18:40) He was tortured by the Romans, being stripped, mocked, spit upon, beaten. (Matthew 27:27-31) He was crucified. (Matthew 27:36) The wrath of God was laid upon him for our sin. (Isaiah 53:6)He endured it all. Verse 2 of Hebrews 12 says he endured the cross “for the joy that was set before him”. What was the joy set before him? The joy was his exaltation to the Father’s right hand. In John 17:5, Jesus prayed “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that had with you before the world existed.” Jesus had glory in heaven. But he gave that up, clothing himself in human form, and was obedient to death on the cross, according to Philippians 2:8. But, then, God highly exalted him, or restored his glory by resurrecting him to his right hand. (Philippians 2:9-10) In a sense, Jesus endured by faith. He believed the Father would raise him from the dead and exalt him to his right hand. He endured horrible suffering because he kept his eye on the prize, salvation for those who believe and exaltation to the right hand of the Father. His suffering was greater than any other, for he not only bore the terrific physical abuse, he suffered the wrath of God for the sin of the world. He did not even care about the shame of it because he was focused on the joy to be accomplished. Crucifixion was not only painful, but shameful. Jesus was stripped. Now Jew would allow himself to be seen without his robe. He suffered in front of a jeering crowd, not exerting his power and glory, but suffering and dying in front of his fellow Jews, seemingly helpless and alone. He endured the hostility of sinners. They jeered at him and spat upon him. Imagine, being the son of God and being mocked by unbelieving Jews and Romans. Yet, he willingly did this. If he suffered so much for us, surely we can endure some suffering or opposition without giving up. (5) Endure Discipline 12:4-12 The writer takes a turn here with regard to suffering. He casts it in regard to God’s discipline. Discipline is to rid us of sin. Verse 4 points out that they had not resisted sin to the point of shedding blood. So, the writer says, unlike Jesus, you have not resisted sin to the point of shedding your blood. Remember the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in Matthew 26. He clearly understood how bad his suffering would be. He was sorrowful and troubled. (26:37) He said “my soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” (26:38) He asked the disciples to watch with him, to be with him and support him. He prayed that the Father would give him another way to do the task, yet surrendered to the Father’s will. Luke records that Jesus was in such great agony and he prayed so earnestly that his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:44) An angel even came to strengthen him because he was in so much agony. I have never prayed so hard I broke out in a sweat, much less sweat like great drops of blood. And neither had the Hebrews that read this letter. I have never struggled to resist sin to the point of shedding blood, and neither had the Hebrews. This is a tie in to his earlier admonition to throw off every weight, including sin that clings to us, so that we can run the race set before us. (12:1) Sin detracts us from our race. It also diverts our focus away from Jesus. We see here that the writer equates at least some of our suffering with discipline. God sometimes sends suffering to discipline us. In verses 5 and 6, he quotes a proverb, specifically Proverbs 3:11-12. This proverb teaches us that the Lord disciplines his children. Every one of the ones he receives, he disciplines. And we are not to regard it lightly nor be weary. You’ll never build a TV ministry selling this truth, but it is truth. Why does God do it? Because his goal is to make you like Christ. James 1:2-4 tells us that trials produce steadfastness, which will make us perfect and complete, lacking nothing. Have you suffered disappointment in not getting something you really wanted? God disciplined you to see that Christ, and not earthly things, should fulfill you. Has someone hurt your feelings? God disciplined you to show that Christlikeness includes suffering the disdain or mistreatment from others and still glorifying God. These are just two examples. Of course, sometimes God really brings tough discipline to us to strengthen our faith or to make us give up a sin that is hurting our spiritual life. Sometimes God takes things away from us so that we will take our focus away from those things and focus on Him. We should never take his discipline lightly, but should always try to grow in our sanctification through our suffering. The writer makes the point in verses 7 and 8 that discipline means God is treating us as his children. He compares this to earthly fathers who discipline their children for their benefit. My father did not think his parents loved him because they never disciplined him. He ran wild and they did not care. The fruit of discipline, set out in verse 11, is the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Hopefully, by the time we are old, we are at peace with God’s will and we exhibit righteousness in our behavior and thinking. If not, God has more work to do. Verse 12 tells us that, having considered that suffering is often enduring discipline, we should strengthen ourselves and keep walking with the Lord. Here in Texas we might say “Cowboy up and get back to it”.

Thursday, November 07, 2013


Union With Christ: The Simile Yes, Jesus used a simile to explain his union with believers. (Don't you love having a grammar lover for a teacher?) In John 15, he told his disciples he is the vine and we are the branches. His reference was to grape vines. The vine is the strong trunk of the plant. Branches grow out of it and produce grapes. Jesus said to abide in him and produce fruit. Only when we are attached to the true vine do we have life. In other words, when we are in union with Christ. That is because he is the source of life. Attached to him, we can produce the fruit of a Godly life. Separated from him, a person produces nothing but death. You can see this with any plant. I trimmed my rose bush. The main plant looked great. The branches I cut off turned brown and died. All blessings and benefits flow from our union with Christ.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Union with Christ (In His Own Words)

Jesus taught about his union with the church, his people. He told his disciples, “in that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (John 14:20) The word “you” is plural in the original language. Ephesians 5:30 expresses it by saying we are members of his body. And it is this union with Christ that is the reason God blesses us. Ephesians 1:3 says that God the Father blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Unions in the Bible

There are 3 main "unions" in the Bible: First, the union of the three divine persons (Father, Son, Spirit) in the Godhead; Second, the union of divine and human nature in the person of Jesus; and Third, the union of the church to Christ.

Sunday, November 03, 2013


After describing many men and women who were heroes in the faith in the Old Testament, the writer of Hebrews admonishes his readers to endure in the faith. Run The Race 1:1-3 After describing many heroes of the faith, the writer transitions into admonishment with the word “therefore”. (1) He is saying, since the heroes of the Old Testament endured by faith, you do the same. So, the great cloud of witnesses was the collection of Old Testament saints who believed in God’s redemption and endured hardship in faith. It is if you were running a marathon and every person who ever finished it was standing at the starting line. They would be witnesses that it could be done and had been done. It is not that they are watching us, but that we look to them as an example of enduring faith. They witness to the life of faith. Next, he continues the running metaphor and tells us to focus in order to finish well. First, we lay aside every weight and sin that clings to us. What weights did these Jewish believers carry? Some carried doubt. They doubted that Christ rather than the law was the way to God. Some cared more about their tradition than the gospel. Some cared more about what people thought of them. Sin were no doubt crippled by sin, weighted down by greed, lust, envy or other sins. If you have ever seen a Strong Man competition, there is always an event where the men have to carry some large, heavy object and run with it. They are amazing in their ability to do it. But they do not run like runners who are unencumbered and sprint to the finish. They struggle and run slowly because of the weight they carry. Once we drop the sin which could encumber us, we run the race with endurance. The race is a metaphor for the Christian life. More specifically, it is the life of sanctification. We pursue holiness, becoming more like Christ every day. That process is slowed when we give in to sin. When we cast sin aside and pursue Christ, we speed ahead. To do this, we focus on Jesus. He is the author of our faith and the perfecter of it. He started our faith and he completes it. You can focus on sin or on Christ. When you focus on Christ, you seek to live like he did and in a way that pleases him. You pursue holiness. You humbly serve. You worship. You pray. You grow. You look forward to finishing well. Here is an example from a real race. In 1986, Ricky Cox was a local hero as a runner. He entered the Cowtown Marathon and the locals wanted him to win. His strongest opponent was Max Cordero, who won the race several times. I went down to the North side of town, a few miles from the finish, to watch the runners go by. To my dismay, Cordero came around the corner first. I kept waiting for Cox, but he didn’t come. Finally, a few minutes behind the leader, he came around the corner. But an amazing thing happened. He started shedding weight. I took off his gloves. He removed his hat. He took off his shirt. He looked ahead and started running to catch Cordero. It was exciting and it made me think of this verse. He caught Cordero close to the finish and won the race. But, to do so, he shed every encumbrance he could and focused on the end. It is a good example for us.