Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Apostle and High Priest

Last night Robin and I were reading from Hebrews and we read chapter 3, verses 1-6, which say:

“Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God's house.  For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.  (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.)  Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”

I highlighted the phrase in the passage that just jumped out at me when we read it.  In the space of eight words the writer of Hebrews is telling us three important things about Jesus.

First, Jesus is “the apostle.”  An apostle is one who is sent to share a message on behalf of another person.  Traditionally within Christianity eleven of the twelve disciples of Jesus early circle (Judas Iscariot is excluded), plus Matthias (Acts 1:21-26) and Paul are considered to be the bearers of the apostolic ministry.  They were all witnesses to Jesus earthly ministry and/or witnesses to the resurrected Jesus.  The book of Acts, in particular, is filled with stories of the apostles and their work as ones sent to share the Good News made known in Jesus.  The apostles were charged with carrying this message to the world.  The author of Hebrews is telling us that this apostolic understanding of ministry also applies to Jesus.

Secondly, Jesus is “the high priest.”  A priest is one who is called to intercede between God and humans.  The priest carries the message of God to the people and also represents the people before God.  Within Judaism of Jesus’ day the high priest was a priest who was given more responsibility than all other priests.  It was the specific task of the high priest, and only the high priest, to go into the holiest part of the temple in Jerusalem to make an atoning sacrifice for sin on behalf of the people.  This was a task that he only did once a year.  The author of Hebrews is teaching us that Jesus intercedes for His people in the manner of the high priest, as the one who makes the atoning sacrifice to God on their behalf.

As an aside, I think that it is important that Jesus is identified as “the apostle and high priest,” rather than as “an apostle and high priest.”  Through the use of one small word choice the writer is giving emphasis to the distinctive, unique way in which Jesus fulfills these roles.  Jesus is presented to us as an apostle and high priest, one who is like, but also uniquely unlike, any other apostle and high priest.  As ‘the apostle and high priest’ we could consider Him to have a rank, or place, that is always above any other apostle or high priest.

And thirdly, as apostle and high priest Jesus both speaks to and represents believers in regard to “our confession.”  The author doesn’t say precisely or concisely what ‘our confession’ means but it forms the basic subject matter of the entire letter to the Hebrews, a letter of certain belief and encouragement in the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ.  He makes this clear in the letter’s opening verses, where he writes:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” 

In the phrase “consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” we are reminded that Jesus is both the most perfect one to bring the message of God to us, as well as the only person who can truly represent us before God, the one who Himself has made atonement with His very body for our sin, so that we who believe in Him, the people He dearly loves, could be reconciled with God.

That phrase, “our confession” brings to mind Romans 10:9, which I have cited several times recently and find to be appropriate here again today:

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

May you know the deep peace of God that is found when the truth of Romans 10:9 dwells in your heart.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A few random bits and pieces…

Spring has come to southeast Minnesota… 

“The heavens declare the glory of God…” 

“…and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” 

The fragments above have been circulating around in my mind most of the day.  The first is a general observation about the changing of seasons where we live.  The second is from the opening verse of Psalm 19 and the last is from Micah 6:8.  And while I have been considering them over and over I can’t come up with enough from any of them to write what I would like to produce for a coherent blog post.  So today I present a few random bits and pieces.

First of all, spring has come here, which for us is most evident by the blooming of the crab apple trees where we live.  Whites and pinks, with a hint of red line, our driveway.  It was a long winter and the warmth and new life are welcome.

Which leads me to the opening of Psalm 19.  As the seasons change we have had some powerful weather recently, particularly last night.  The heavens declared the glory of God through thunderstorms, which were relatively benign as we listened to them last night. 

Yet, as I ran this morning, I saw farm fields that are way behind schedule that now have pools of standing water in them.  They will be unplantable for at least another week.  In other parts of the country those same storm systems spun off tornadoes that left much destruction in their wake.  

As I edit and revise this post my wife just told me of death at two elementary schools in Oklahoma.  My original sentence here was "The same storms that spur my praise of God also call me to ask Him to be merciful to those affected by the damage that accompanied them." but now I am at a loss for words.  I know that God is good, all the time, and I pray that His goodness eventually becomes evident to those whose lives are reeling.

Which brings me to the verse from Micah, which was the concluding part of the devotional reading I did this morning, Micah 6:1-8.  I have heard this verse a number of times and I have a vague memory of hearing it preached once.  I can remember the preacher and I think he emphasized the justice/kindness piece.  But I can’t remember if he said anything about what it means to “walk humbly” with God, and that is the part of the Bible reading that I have repeatedly pondered today. 

Before we can “walk humbly” with God we have to first know who God truly is and we have to be in a saving relationship with Him.  Any attempt to “walk humbly” with God that is absent a saving relationship with Him is a self-serving deception.  But a relationship that is grounded in knowing our brokenness as sinners, and then being reconciled to God by faith through the saving work of Christ, is the place where humility with God can be authentic on our part.   

I don’t know about you but if I had to come up with one word to describe God, one word to characterize the essence of God, it would be that God is holy.  In order for me to “walk humbly” with God I need to remember, again and again, that He is holy, that He is God, and that I am not. 

And that last thought, about God being holy, brings me to my last random thought, which is a certain David Crowder song that has also been floating through my mind during the day, After All (Holy). The song reminds me that God’s holiness points me to His glory.  Here is a link to the lyrics

Thanks for reading.  May some of your random thoughts today point you to God, the one true God, whose holiness and glory are without end.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Hell is for real???

Yesterday Dan Brown’s newest book, Inferno, was published.  Brown is the author of The Da Vinci Code.  I didn’t read that book but I did see the movie.  It was entertaining, but not instructive in a theological sense.  According to this article from the BBC, Inferno borrows its title and theme from Dante’s Divine Comedy, which is another book I’ve heard of but never read.

I did read the BBC article, where the Stephen Tompkins gives us ten bits of information about hell.  Some of them are well-known and others less so.  I liked how he described the sources of this information about hell, such as being derived from representations of hell by Dante, Milton and Bosch.

The last of the ten points was the one that really caught my attention, i.e. that “Hell isn’t all that biblical.”  Tompkins wrote:

“Very few of these ideas are from the Bible. The Bible does refer to Hell and its fires, but more of the details in Dante are drawn from Greek and Roman myths, and the vast majority are the creation of medieval Western imagination. Eastern Christian artists never shared their interest, and even in the West it was a late development - the doctrine of perpetual torment was propounded by the Lateran Council of 1215, just a century before Dante wrote. In modern times Christians have become increasingly skeptical about Hell. There are 622 verses in the Bible (in the New International Version) which mention Heaven, and 15 that mention Hell.”

On the one hand I can easily agree with Tompkins.  Dante’s hell, or what I know of it from reading this article, isn’t all that biblical.

But on the other hand, something is either biblical, or it isn’t, and I don’t think the criteria of counting how many times a thing may be mentioned is a reliable way to decide if it is or isn’t.  Another false argument against the existence of hell is the disparity between the number of times it is mentioned in the New Testament in comparison to the number of mentions in the Old Testament.

Hell certainly is a biblical concept, and one that Jesus taught about, both directly and indirectly.  One example is in the Parable of the Goats and Sheep (Matthew 25:31-46), where to those on His left hand He says:

“Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

And to those on His right hand He says:

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

The closing verse of the passage makes clear that there are just two options for any particular person’s eternal destination, as He says:

“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Jesus doesn’t say ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’ in this passage but it is pretty clear that He is talking about both hell and its counterpart, heaven.

Tompkins insinuates that hell is a concept more suited to the Old Testament, because in the New Testament, where Jesus is essentially the ‘hero’, there are just 15 mentions of hell compared to 622 mentions of heaven.  This is a variation of the theology of Marcion.  Briefly, Marcion taught that different gods reigned in the different testaments, a ‘bad’ god of the Old Testament, who was superseded by a ‘good’ god in the New Testament.  Marcion’s teaching is one of the oldest heresies of the church.  Heresy is a strong word but I believe that it is rightly applied to Marcionism.

So, if you have read this far (and I am glad that you have) we can summarize that hell is indeed a biblical concept, as relevant today, when we have the New Testament, as it was to followers of God who only had the Old Testament to rely on. 

Of course to accept that premise you have to accept that God reveals Himself authoritatively in the Bible.  If you have doubts about God’s disclosure of Himself or His intentions in creation, as both are revealed in the Bible, then no attempt by me or anyone else to teach about hell or any other topic from a biblical vantage point will be persuasive.

Which brings me to Tompkin’s last point: that Christians are increasingly skeptical about hell.  As in my earlier discussion of hell itself, the idea of skepticism about a biblical teaching, by Christians, who are largely presumed to believe biblical teachings, is a generally a consequence of the authority the Bible carries within a particular faith tradition and by individual believers. 

Some Christian groups are strongly anchored in the Bible, while others are less so.  Similarly the degree of which individuals within any tradition accept, or reject, the teaching of the Bible can vary greatly.  A pastor who is anchored in the Bible, who believes that one redemptive story threads through it, and who tries to diligently preach all parts of it over the course time, will be the greatest factor in shaping the degree to which those in the congregation accept and, even better, understand, the teaching of the Bible and God’s claim on their life.

So I started with a somewhat ridiculous rhetorical question and have ended up at a place dear to my heart. 

If you have read this far I believe that God either is making, or has made, a claim on your life. 

Romans 10:9 says:

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved.”

Those words are God’s sure and certain promise.  If you know this promise I praise God for what He has done in you and I look forward to seeing what He will be doing next.

And if you don’t know this promise then I invite you to seek the good news that God has for you.  If you need some guidance or a companion for the journey please feel free to contact me, for I would count it a pleasure to see any reader know the Good News of eternal life in Christ.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Jesus’ Death and God’s Glory

One of the themes of my blog has been God’s glory.  I make reference to God’s glory in the blog title, both the current one and the original title.  And in the ‘About Me’ box on the right-hand side of the blog I note that my intent is to write in a way that points to God and gives Him the glory that He deserves. 

I think that this is the focal point for our faith, that as God’s story reaches its climax in Revelation 22 the primary image is not that God’s people are gathered with Him in heaven but that God’s gathered people are glorifying Him in heaven, eternally so. 

We often think about Jesus and His work on the cross, and how that work benefits us.  His is the work that restores wholeness between God and His people.  In it is the forgiveness of sins.  It is the work that brings eternal life.  To be sure, these are good and wonderful things.  But I think that there is a greater purpose in the finished work of Christ.

Today I was reading again from a collection of sermons by G.H. Kersten that explain the teachings of the Heidelberg Catechism.  In a sermon titled Christ’s Mediatorial Suffering Kersten discusses Catechism questions 37, 38 and 39, which have to do with the necessity for Christ to suffer and die on the cross, and the assurance of salvation that believers in Christ can know as a result.

Twice in this sermon Kersten touches on the presence of God’s glory in this aspect of Christ’s work.  He writes:

“That which He suffered, He subjected Himself to out of eternal love to the glorification of God’s attributes, according to the Father’s good pleasure, and for the salvation of His people.”(195)

Later, writing directly to the matter of assurance of salvation, he adds,

“Oh, people of God, may you earnestly desire to know the great mystery that is to be found in the bearing of God’s wrath by His beloved Son, so that you may be brought back to the fatherly heart of God from which you have withdrawn yourselves in Adam.  I would urge you to do so in order that God may be glorified and your soul may find rest and peace.”(205)

I’ve placed the key points about God’s glory in these quotes in bold.  One of the things that Kersten is reminding us in his preaching is of the priority of God’s glory in all that God does, including Jesus death.

As Christians we know that Jesus dies for our salvation, but Kersten reminds us that Jesus’ death is the work that removes sin, not so much for our benefit, but to demonstrate the majesty and holiness of God as its primary purpose. 

Jesus loves us and acts on our behalf before the Father, but more than that, He loves the Father, perfectly and eternally.  In His death, He brings God glory first, with our salvation as a secondary effect. 

“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be glory forever.  Amen.” Romans 11:36

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 6, 2013


Impatient! Suddenly it came to mind that what I was experiencing was impatience.  I was out with my youngest daughter, doing some shopping for her mother’s birthday and Mother’s Day.  It was our best opportunity of the week to get this task done.  We left on our errands right after I came home from work and I hoped to get them done in an hour, when we would arrive back at home for supper.

On my way home from work I had had what I thought was a brilliant idea for a birthday gift, so that was our first stop.  The planned gift turned out to be at the store I had guessed might have it but in completing the purchase things began to go.  My credit card wouldn’t go through.

So I called the number on the back of the card and waited.  And waited.  About the time I had decided on “Plan B” someone picked up the phone and we worked out the problem.  Bad news and good news. There appeared to be fraudulent activity so they were going to cancel my card, but they would allow our transaction to go through.  We made the purchase and activated Plan B anyway, which was a side trip to the credit union to get some cash.

Off to the second stop of our trip, taking more time than was planned for.  We had a bit of a roundabout trip due to all the traffic, as people drove home from work.  After that stop I called home and told Robin we’d need another half hour.  About the time I made that call the traffic got worse.  Bumper to bumper through town.  We moved over to let a fire engine through and when we got to the corner and made the turn we saw the fire engine a half mile down the road, at the location of our next turn.

Another roundabout path to our next destination, which was when it occurred to me that I was suffering from impatience, large and small.  To end the story, we did get the errands done and home for an absolutely delicious dinner.  But back to impatience.

It occurred to me that not only was I impatient due to relatively little things, such as getting these errands done and the obstacles that were appearing, but also due to several larger things, things that are really out of my hands and where I’m are waiting on the decisions of other people.  And what occurred to me as soon as I realized I was being driven by impatience was the application of a sermon I read last week based on the Heidelberg Catechism.  (I’ve written about the Catechism before, here and here.)

In describing God’s providence question-and-answer 28 of the Catechism says this:

Q. How does the knowledge of God's creation and providence help us?
A. We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing in creation will separate us from his love. For all creatures are so completely in God's hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.

In discussing this question-and-answer G.H. Kersten wrote:

“All things happen according to God’s counsel, but it is a comfort for God’s children that the Lord will guide them with His counsel, and afterward receive them to glory.  May the Lord comfort you with that thought.  Endure the oppression and scorn of the world for a short season.  Let men despise, exclude, and trample upon you; soon it will all be ended.  Before the throne of God you will sing, more than anything else, of the deepest ways – singing unto Him who led you and redeemed you to praise and glorify Him forever.  Amen.”

As I  considered the Catechism and Kersten’s thoughts on it I came to the conclusion that what I needed to do was to lay my impatience before God, for I know and trust that all of creation, from the first day to the last, and all of my life, from conception to my last breath, is fully in His hands.

Neither the little things nor the big things that try my patience right now can compare to the eternal security I possess in the love of Christ, a love that holds me now and will never let go.  A love that, as Kersten writes, has redeemed me to praise and glorify Him forever.

May you too know the providence of God's love, so that you can let go of your anxiety and impatience and live in His providence and peace, a peace as described by Paul in Philippians 4:7,

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

(Here is a link to a different translation of the Catechism, including the scripture references that underscore each answer.)   

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Glimpse of Glory

“Oh my gosh it’s beautiful!” 

Those were the first words Robin spoke as she looked out our bedroom window this morning.  I had been outside to run and she asked me what the conditions were like.  I told her that it was snowing and piling up pretty fast, so much so that I had shortened my running plans. She looked out and was taken aback at the beauty of what she saw.

Now it isn't unusual to have snow, and lots of it, where we live in Minnesota, but to have it happen in May is virtually unheard of.  And it was coming down fast. As I write this post, three hours after my attempt to get to work, it still is.  Today is the first day where we had so much snow that I couldn't get through the driveway.  I got both cars stuck, and given that the neighbor is stuck on our unplowed street I likely wouldn't have gotten anywhere should I have reached it.

My feed on Facebook is filled with pictures of the yards of friends, yards that look like ours does now, showing patios that were delightful places to sit last weekend and which are now covered with 6-8 inches of snow.  And who knows when it will stop?

This late season blizzard isn't fun for everyone.  Schools are closed, children are home and parents who can get to work may be scrambling to find child care.

Some people have lost power to their homes.  And while they wait for their power to be restored there are people who are out and working in the storm regardless of the conditions, such as the power crews, police, plow drivers and others.  Their perspectives on the storm are likely more varied than mine.

But I keep coming back to Robin’s early exclamation of delight, “Oh my gosh it’s beautiful!” 

I think that the delight that she had in seeing the unexpected May blizzard is similar to the delight that Christians will know when they see the beauty of heaven.  As we read the Bible we see glimpses of it in Isaiah and Revelation.  Revelation 21:18-21 gives a rich description of the beauty of the New Jerusalem, a beautiful place prepared by God for those who will be there with Him.

And that is what will really make heaven beautiful, not what is there, but Who is there.  Revelation 21:3 says:

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself with be with them as their God.”

In the snow that has surprised us today we get a glimpse of unexpected beauty, a beauty that points us towards the glory of God.  Heaven’s true beauty will not be in its physical appearance, as wonderful as that may be, but in the presence of the Living God.  

And in God’s presence I suspect we will proclaim, with infinite more delight than Robin found in this morning’s snow, “You are beautiful!”

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.