God's Perfect Timing.

Esther 1-2, Hebrews 13

The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me. Hebrews 13:6 ESV

Meanwhile, back in Babylon. While Nehemiah and the Jews had returned to Judah and were busy rebuilding the walls of the city and recommitting themselves to remain faithful to God, there were still Jews who had chosen to remain in exile in Babylon. The story of Esther takes place during the reign of King Ahasuerus and covers the same period of time. The King Xerxes of Nehemiah is the same person as King Ahasuerus of the book of Esther. Xerxes was his Greek name. So in the book of Esther we get a glimpse of what was taking place back in Babylon to the Jews who were still living as exiles in a foreign land. While it is obvious from reading the book of Nehemiah that God had been with the Jews who returned to the Promised Land, He had not forgotten or forsaken those who remained. And while God is not mentioned anywhere in the book of Esther, His presence can be felt throughout the book. It is the story of a young Jewish girl who found herself surprisingly and suddenly thrust into a very unexpected role. She went from the obscurity of life as a poor peasant girl to the throne room of the king of Persia. Through a series of seemingly random events, she became the next queen. Her rapid and unexpected rise to prominence reminds me of the story of Joseph. Like Joseph, Esther would experience some very unwanted trouble early in life. She lost both her parents at a young age and ended up being raised by her cousin, Mordecai. She later found herself included in a special "beauty pageant" that had been designed to find the next queen of Persia. Again, like Joseph, Esther found favor with the man who was placed in charge of caring for these young women. Out of all the girls brought in to compete for the king's favor, Esther stood out. We read that, “he [Hegai] advanced her and her young women to the best place in the harem” (Esther 2:9 ESV). Later we read that “Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her” (Esther 2:15 ESV). And finally, we're told, “the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti” (Esther 2:17 ESV).   

What does this passage reveal about God?

While the name of God is not mentioned in the book of Esther, He is inferred all throughout the story. The original audience for this book would have been the people of God living long after the events recorded in the book had taken place. It was intended as a reminder of God's sovereignty and providence. The Jewish readers of this book would have clearly seen the hand of God in the circumstances recorded on its pages. They would have recognized that Esther's rapid rise to fame was totally the work of God. He had been behind the scenes, orchestrating every single circumstance – from Queen Vashti's refusal to obey the king and Esther's unparalleled beauty to the favor she found all along the way. You also see God's sovereign hand in the seeming good luck of Mordecai to be in the right place at just the right time so he could help foil a plot on the king's life. Every single aspect of this story speaks of God's involvement in the lives of men and the history of mankind.   

What does this passage reveal about man?

But the story of Esther is also the story of human responsibility. While God could prepare the path and order the events surrounding this young woman, the day came when she had to step out in faith and do her part. She was going to have to recognize that God had placed her right where she was for a reason. She had a part to play in God's divine plan for the people of Israel. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16 ESV). He even asked for prayer from his readers, saying, “for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things” (Hebrews 13:18 ESV). Esther was going to have to do good and share what she had – her influence over the king. She was going to have to take full advantage of the role in which God had placed her and act honorably in all things. The temptation would have been to protect herself by playing it safe. She would find it easy to justify self-preservation and ignore the difficulties of those around her. But the story of Esther is the story of human responsibility in light of God's overwhelming sovereignty. This young girl had been crowned queen for a reason. And the ramifications of her seeming good luck went far beyond her solitary life. God had placed her in that unique spot for a very specific reason. But would she obey? And what would have happened had she not obeyed? 

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The story of Esther is also the story of the ongoing reality of both human and spiritual opposition. While God is not mentioned in the story, neither is Satan, but his handiwork will be evident throughout. There is far more going on in this story than the life of a single young Jewish girl who finds herself the recipient of some remarkable good karma. What we have here is a vivid glimpse into the spiritual warfare that Paul so aptly describes: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). There is an epic battle recorded in this little book that pits the ruler of this world against the God of the universe. And what we learn is that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4 ESV). Every day, God is raising up an Esther. He is putting in place a particular person to accomplish His divine plan by living in submission to His revealed will. Which is why the writer of Hebrews says, “Now may the God of peace—who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood— may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21 ESV). God places us right where He wants us. Then He equips us with all that we need to do what He has called us to do. We may find the role intimidating and overwhelming. We may feel that we are not up to the task. But we must always remember that God doesn't place us without empowering us. Esther would find the inner resolve to do what God had called her to do. She would find the strength to face her fears, stand up to the enemy and watch God use her life for the good of man and His own glory.

Father, there is no such thing as luck for us as believers. You are at work in and around our lives each and every day. You are orchestrating events and placing us in situations and circumstances so that You might reveal Your power in us and through us. May we truly approach life with the mindset of Esther. Help us to see You at work and recognize Your sovereign will placing us where we need to be and equipping us with what we need to succeed. Amen

Remain Faithful.

Nehemiah 13, Hebrews 12

As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. Hebrews 12:7, 10 NLT

Nehemiah had served as governor of Judah for 12 years; then, as he had promised the king, he had returned to Susa. He would remain in Babylon for a period of 3 years before returning to Judah again. And when he arrived he found things had deteriorated once again. The people had violated the covenant they had made with God. They still had not separated themselves from the Ammonites and Moabites. They had continued to marry outsiders and make alliances with their enemies. Eliashib, the high priest, had allowed Tobiah the Ammonite to marry into his family. Not only that, he had provided Tobiah, a proven enemy of Judah, with his own private quarters inside the temple itself. This was in direct violation of God's word found in Deuteronomy 23:3-4. The high priest had put friendship with the world ahead of obedience to God and had desecrated the temple in the meantime. But there was more. The people had not paid the temple tax or provided for the Levites, leading Nehemiah to accuse them of forsaking the house of God. They were violating the Sabbath by buying and selling goods on the holy day. Things seemed to be about as bad as they had ever been. But Nehemiah took action. Rather than walk away in disgust and return to his life in Babylon, he once again took it upon himself to make a difference.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God was going to use Nehemiah yet again to bring repentance and revival among His people. God is always looking for a man that He can use to speak His truth and call His people to repentance. Over in the book of Ezekiel we find these sobering words: “I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22:30 NLT). God isn't looking for extraordinary men. He isn't looking for perfect men. He is simply looking for obedient men like Nehemiah. Men who are willing to rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. And God's search is not relegated to men. He is looking for men and women who, in spite of their flaws, will remain faithful to Him and stand in the gap on behalf of His people.  

What does this passage reveal about man?

We live in a day much like that of Nehemiah's. The spiritual walls are in need of repair. The people of God are in a weakened, vulnerable state. God is looking for men and women who will be difference-makers. The apostle Paul warned Timothy of days like this: “You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!” (2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT). In the book of Isaiah, we read about God's assessment of the people of Israel and it is NOT a pretty picture. “Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast. Shout aloud! Don’t be timid. Tell my people Israel of their sins! Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me” (Isaiah 58:1-2 NLT). There comes a time when someone has to step up and speak out, so God raises up a Nehemiah. to say the difficult things that need to be said and do the hard things that no one else wants to do. 

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God loves His people. But He will not allow them to live in ongoing sin and open rebellion to His Word. He will bring discipline. But He will also at time bring an individual along who will act as His instrument to bring healing to His people. Over in Isaiah 58 we read these encouraging words: “Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes” (Isaiah 58:12 NLT). As bad as things may get, there is always hope that God will bring about His loving discipline and correction. There is also the assurance that He will use men and women like us to bring it about. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to “lay aside every, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1 ESV). We have work to do. It may be that God wants to use us to bring about healing and restoration to His people. The question is whether or not we will be ready and willing when that time comes. So the writer of Hebrews challenges us, “So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong” (Hebrews 12:12 NLT).

Father, help me remain faithful and ready so that I can be used by You when the time comes. And help me recognize the need when necessary and be ready to step into it boldly and confidently, knowing that You will be with me. I want to be a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes. Let me be the Nehemiah of my day. Amen

By Faith…

Nehemiah 11-12, Hebrews 11

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Hebrews 11:39-40 ESV

It took a lot of faith for Nehemiah to leave his safe and secure job as a civil servant working for the king of Persia. It took faith for him to go before the king and risk his anger by asking for permission to return to his native land and rebuild the walls. It took faith for him to ask the Jews living in exile to make the long journey back to Judah and take on the formidable task of doing construction work on walls that had been destroyed 70 years earlier. It took faith for him to face the unceasing attacks of his enemies and continue to build in the face of opposition and the mounting discouragement of the people. It took faith for him to call the people to renew their covenant with God and give up their foreign wives and the children they had born. All Nehemiah had to go on was the word of God. He couldn't see the outcome of his efforts. He had no guarantee as to how things were going to turn out. And there is no doubt that Nehemiah had second thoughts along the way. He got discouraged. He had misgivings. He questioned himself and his calling. But he kept trusting and building. The writer of Hebrews provides us with a wonderful definition of faith: “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1 NLT). The apostle Paul gives us similar sentiment: “…for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 ESV). In this life, we can't always see the outcome. We aren't always given a crystal clear image of how things are going to turn out. We simply receive a word from God and are expected to trust Him – sight unseen. That is the essence of faith. Like Nehemiah, we must learn to trust God, not the circumstances. While everything around us may point to a less-than-satisfactory conclusion, we must keep our eyes focused on God and His unwavering character. We must trust in His power and His uncanny ability to always keep His promises.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Chapter 11 of Hebrews is often called the Hall of Faith. It contains a list of Old Testament characters whose lives, like Nehemiah's, demonstrated what it means to live by faith. We read of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and the rest of the patriarchs. There's the familiar story of Moses. And yet, the central character of the chapter is God. At the end of the day, it is He in whom they are placing their trust and basing their faith. Abraham left his hometown on nothing more than the word of God. He traveled a long distance to get to a land that God had said He would give him, then spent his entire life living in tents and never really occupying the land that had been promised. He waited years to have a son through whom God said He would make a great nation. But then God asked Abraham to sacrifice him. And we read that, “ It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac” (Hebrews 11:17 NLT). Abraham had to trust God. He couldn't let reason take over. Nothing about what God was asking him to do made sense. But “Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again” (Hebrews 11:19 NLT). His faith was in God. Abraham would not live long enough to see the promises of God fulfilled. He would never have a permanent home or see his descendants proliferate and spread throughout the land of Canaan. But he kept trusting. Over and over again we read those two powerful words, “by faith.” Each of these Old Testament saints lived by faith in God. Even Rahab the prostitute and a non-Jew, placed her faith in the God of Abraham, choosing to trust that He was able to defeat the gods of her own people. She took a huge risk and protected the Hebrew spies, asking them to spare her life when they conquered the city. With no guarantee of success, she trusted God. And time and time again, we see that God proved Himself trustworthy. 

What does this passage reveal about man?

We are wired to live by sight. We demand proof. We want guarantees. But the life of the believer is based on faith. It “is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1 NLT). So the daily test for each of us is whether we will trust God and place our faith in Him. Will we do what He tells us to do or go with our gut? Had Nehemiah listened to his own inner voice, he would never have returned to Judah, never have attempted to rebuild the wall, and never experienced the joy and elation of celebrating its dedication a mere 59 days after having started. But even Nehemiah didn't get to see all his hopes fulfilled. The city would remain in a state of disrepair and virtually empty for years to come. He would leave and return to find so many of his reforms and renovations having fallen by the wayside. And yet he would keep on believing and building. One of the main roadblocks to our faith is our tendency to be shortsighted in our perspective. We have a short-term mindset that tempts us to expect everything in the here-and-now. We expect immediate results. But the writer of Hebrews reminds us that those great saints of the Old Testament “all died in faith, not having received the things promised” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). They somehow knew that there was more than meets the eye. They had an eternal perspective, “having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). Somehow they understood that God had something far greater prepared for them than just the immediate gratification of their hopes and dreams. “But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:17 NLT).  

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Living by faith does not mean that everything always turns out for the better. It is not a guarantee of the easy life. In fact, chapter 11 of Hebrews tells us of those who “were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11:35-38 NLT). The apostles themselves fit into this category. Most of them died martyr's deaths. They didn't live to see the return of Christ. But they never stopped believing that His promises were true and that God would accomplish all that He had said. They had an assurance about things they could not see – based on their understanding of the character of God. To live by faith is to live with an eternal, not a temporal perspective. It is to understand that what will be is not limited by what I can see. God's plan is not hindered by my eyesight. The best is yet to come. God is not done yet. I must learn to place my confidence in my unseen, yet unfailing God.

Father, You are trustworthy. You are faithful. You are all powerful and completely in control of all things. I can place my faith in You. Forgive me for the many times I attempt to live by sight. I still find it so easy to focus on my circumstances and judge Your goodness based on what I can see. But we are to live by believing, not be seeing. I won't always understand what is going on. I want always like what I am going through. But I can trust You. I must always remember that Your best is out ahead of me – “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4 ESV). Amen

Our Gracious and Merciful God.

Nehemiah 9-10, Hebrews 10

Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God. Nehemiah 9:31 ESV

Chapter nine of Nehemiah contains one of the most profound prayers found in the entire Bible. It spans almost the entire chapter and it contains a tremendous understanding of the character of God and the sinfulness of mankind. In this prayer, we have an overview of the relationship between God and His people since the day He chose Abram. It provides a glimpse into the character of God and the nature of man. It juxtaposes God's holiness and man's sinfulness. It contrasts God's mercy and grace and man's unfaithfulness and rebellion. For generations, God had shown His undeserved faithfulness to His people. He had rescued, led, fed, guided, provided, spoken, and even appeared to them. And yet they had repeatedly rejected, disobeyed, and forsaken Him. But this prayer expresses a remarkable awareness of just who God really is. “But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them” (Nehemiah 9:17b ESV). Even after their ancestors had made the golden calf and attributed to it the glory due to God alone, God had remained faithful – “…you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness” (Nehemiah 9:19 ESV). God continued to keep His covenant promise made to Abraham. “You multiplied their children as the stars of heaven” (Nehemiah 9:23 ESV). “And they captured fortified cities and rich land, and took possession of houses full of all good things, cisterns already hewn, vineyards, olive orchards, and fruit trees in abundance” (Nehemiah 9:25 ESV). God had given them the land – not because they deserved it, but because He had promised it. And yet, they continued to live in unfaithfulness and disobedience. Their history is one in which the cycles of sin, rebellion, God's punishment and ultimate deliverance can be seen over and over again. Through it all, God had remained faithful. “Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God” (Nehemiah 9:31 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

This prayer reflects an understanding that God was righteous and just, merciful and gracious. It contains a clear admission of guilt and a remarkable awareness of God's holiness and righteousness in His dealings with the people of Israel. “Yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly” (Nehemiah 9:33 ESV). The people of Nehemiah's day knew full well that their current situation was due to their own sins and the sins of their ancestors. They were living back in the land, and while they had completed the restoration of the Temple and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, they were still surrounded by enemies. They were still weak and powerless, without a king or a standing army. They were also guilty of having disobeyed God's laws and neglected His commands to keep the Sabbath and His yearly festivals. God was entirely free from any wrong doing in His dealings with the people of Israel and Judah. Any pain and suffering they may have experienced, while brought upon them by God, was due to their own sin. God was simply keeping His word and visiting upon them the curses He had promised should they disobey His commands. The most incredible aspect of this prayer is its portrait of God's faithfulness, holiness, righteousness and love. He is rightfully referred to as “our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love” (Nehemiah 9:32 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

God had been loving, faithful, gracious, and merciful – over and over again. And yet, the people had proven themselves incapable of remaining faithful to Him. Their sin and rebellion in the face of God's mercy and grace should not surprise or shock us, because it is the story of our own lives. Even those of us who have received the incredible gift of God's grace made available through the death of His own Son, find ourselves wrestling with the daily task of trying to stay faithful and true. We battle with the desire to rebel and do things our own way. We forget His mercies and neglect His calls to obedience and faithfulness. And in some ways, our guilt is even greater than that of the Israelites, because what we have received from God is even greater than what they had experienced. We have been offered complete forgiveness of sins – once for all. No more need for repetitive, ongoing sacrifices. We aren't obligated to try and keep the law in order to remain in a right standing with God. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship” (Hebrews 10:1 NLT). There was a certain sense of hopelessness attached to the sacrificial system. It was always intended to be impartial and incomplete. “But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world” (Hebrews 10:3-5 NLT). Jesus Christ is the ultimate and final expression of God's marvelous grace. He came to do the will of His Father and to accomplish what the sacrificial system could only allude to, but never truly provide. “For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time” (Hebrews 10:10 NLT). While the priests had to offer repeatedly the same sacrifices for sin, Jesus offered “for all time a single sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:11 ESV). 

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

As a result of Jesus Christ has done, there is no longer any offering required for our sins. God has promised to remember our sins and our lawless deeds no more. He has provided us with complete forgiveness for our sins – past, present and future. We stand before Him as righteous because He views us through the blood of His Son. As a result, we can “go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22 NLT). That incredible reality should dramatically change the way we live. It should motivate us to live differently and distinctively, with an understanding that our behavior does not earn us favor with God, but simply reflects our love and appreciation for all He has done for us. “So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36 NLT). Our final reward is yet to come. This life is not all there is. God has promised us something far greater than what we can experience in this world. We are to keep our sights set on the hope to come. Eternity is our destiny. Heaven is our home. “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25 NLT).

Father, You are so incredibly faithful, loving, kind, merciful and gracious. You have done for me what I could have never done for myself. You have provided complete forgiveness for my sins and have promised me an eternity in Your presence, free from guilt or any form of condemnation. Help me to realize the magnitude of what I have received. Give me the strength to live with my eyes focused on the promise yet to come, instead of living in the fear of the present. I want to hold tightly without waving to the hope we affirm. May my actions be always based on Your character and faithfulness. Amen

God's Provision.

Nehemiah 7-8, Hebrews 9

And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:16 ESV

The walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt – in just 52 days. The temple had already been restored under the leadership of Ezra. But the city was a virtual ghost town. The majority of the people who had returned to the land were living in the towns outside the walls of the city. But Nehemiah knew that his work was incomplete. While he had done what he had set out to do, the rebuilding of the walls, he chose not to return to Susa. He stayed because he knew that rebuilt walls did not make a city. It had to be repopulated. And the people who would repopulate that city would have to be made right with God. So he assembled the congregation of Judah and arranged for Ezra to read from the book of the law. This could have been the entire Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, or it could have been just the book of Deuteronomy along with portions of Leviticus. But whatever it was that Ezra read, it took hours for him to do so, and the people stood the entire time. The law was read and it was explained in detail so that the people could understand it. And the result was that the people were convicted of their sins. They wept and mourned as they heard how they had violated the commands of God. But Nehemiah told them, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep” (Nehemiah 8:9 ESV). He encouraged them focus their attention on God. While the law had reminded them of their sin, he wanted them to remember their gracious, merciful God. It was time to celebrate because God was their strength. He had provided a means for them to receive forgiveness for their sins. All of this would have taken place in the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. Part of what was read to them out of the law was the command to keep the festivals of God. They were to celebrate the Feast of Trumpets, the Feast of Booths and the Day of Atonement. These festivals were designed to remind them of all that God had done for them in the past. And they were to culminate with the once-a-year sacrifice made on their behalf by the high priest, when he entered into the Holy of Holies and made atonement for the unintentional sins they had committed that year. This was to be a celebration. While they stood guilty before God, He had provided a means of receiving forgiveness and pardon.

What does this passage reveal about God?

When God had given the people of Israel His plans for the tabernacle and His commands for observing the sacrificial system, it was all a foreshadowing of things to come. It was an earthly picture of a heavenly reality. It was designed to be temporary and incomplete. The author of Hebrews says, “They serve as a copy and shadow of heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5 ESV). The law, associated with the Old Covenant, was not intended to be lasting. It was not a permanent fix to man's persistent sin problem. “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second” (Hebrews 8:7 ESV). God had told the people of Israel, “Behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Hebrews 8:8 ESV). He had a plan for a new and improved covenant that would be permanent and complete. Everything that the people of Israel had done in association with the tabernacle and later, with the temple, had been intended to point toward something greater to come. One of the key elements involved in man's atonement under the law was the shedding of blood. “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). Every year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest had to offer a sacrifice for his own sins before he could intercede for the people. Why? Because he was a sinner just like to whom he ministered. Then he had to offer a sacrifice and take the blood, mixed with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkle it on the book of the law and the people, declaring, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you” (Hebrews 9:20 ESV). At that moment, the covenant between God and His people was ratified and renewed. But again, it was just a foreshadowing of things to come. Because that event had to take place every single year, because their atonement was only temporary. It was incomplete. In the next chapter, we will read, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 ESV). Complete, permanent forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of bulls and goats could never happen. But God had a better solution.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Our sin is an ever-present reality. It follows us wherever we go. It is a permanent part of our experience as we live on this planet. When we read God's Word, we are reminded of our sin. It convicts us of sin and reveals to us our unfaithfulness and consistent rebellion against a faithful, loving God. But rather than weep and mourn over our sin, we must learn to rejoice in our Savior. God has provided a solution to our sin problem. And this solution is far better than the one the Israelites had. “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Hebrews 9:24 ESV). Christ didn't enter into an earthly tabernacle or temple. As our high priest, He took His sacrifice right into the presence of God the Father. And the sacrifice he made was once and for all. “But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrew 9:26 ESV). He gave His life as a sacrifice for our sins and, unlike the animal sacrifices under the Old Covenant, His sacrifice was a permanent solution to man's sin problem. His death provided complete atonement for man's sins – past, present and future. He has secured an “eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

So what should our reaction be to this news? We should rejoice and celebrate. We should recognize that the joy of the Lord is our strength. He has provided for our salvation. He has made a way for us to be restored to a right relationship with Him that is not based on human effort. God has done for us what we could never have done for ourselves. “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4:9 NLT). “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). That is cause for celebration. That is reason for rejoicing. Our God is great. His love is unimaginable and His grace is immeasurable. Yes, our sin is real. But so is our salvation. Those of us who have placed our faith and hope in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross can celebrate because our redemption is eternal, our atonement is complete. And the truly great news is, “so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28 NLT). Now that's cause for celebration.

Father, never let me lose sight of the staggering implications of the salvation that You have provided through Your Son. Rather than wallow in my sins, let me rejoice in the fact that my sins are forgiven, my future is secure, and Your Son is some day coming back for me. Thank You for the new covenant made available through the death, burial and resurrection of Your Son. He died, but He rose again. He left, but He is coming again. I have plenty to rejoice about. Amen

Our Great High Priest.

Nehemiah 5-6, Hebrews 8

Here is the main point: We have a High Priest who sat down in the place of honor beside the throne of the majestic God in heaven. There he ministers in the heavenly Tabernacle, the true place of worship that was built by the Lord and not by human hands.  Hebrews 8:1-2 NLT

It is amazing to think that God had restored the people of Judah to the land – in spite of their ongoing disobedience and unfaithfulness. He had delivered them from their captivity in Babylon and miraculous arranged for a pagan king to orchestrate and underwrite the entire venture. And when they arrived back in the land, while they found a city that was still in ruins and the constant presence of their enemies, they also were able to witness the ongoing presence and provision of God. And yet, they continued to be unfaithful. It came to Nehemiah's attention that there were serious inequities and injustices going on among the people of God. Their greatest threat was not from without, but from within. According to the Mosaic Law, the Israelites were to care for their own. In fact, God had told them, “But if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them. Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need. Do not be mean-spirited and refuse someone a loan because the year for canceling debts is close at hand. If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the Lord, you will be considered guilty of sin. Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do. There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need” (Deuteronomy 15:7-11 NLT). God had made it clear that the Israelites were to treat the poor with dignity and respect. In fact, while God had made it perfectly okay for one Jew to lend to another, He had arranged that every seven years those debts would be wiped clean. Whatever had not been paid was to be completely voided from the books. If a fellow Jew was forced to sell himself as a slave because of a debt, the one who bought him was to set him free every seventh year. The picture was one of mutual care and concern. But in Nehemiah's day, the people were taking advantage of one another's difficult circumstances. Their were few paying jobs and a famine in the land. So the more well-to-do Jews were buying as slaves the children of those who were in desperate need. They were charging high interest on loans made to those who could barely make ends meet. And Nehemiah became incensed.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God's standards had never changed. While the circumstances were quite different than when He had given Moses the Law, the expectations remained the same. He wanted His people to treat one another with love and mutual respect. He wanted them to care for their own and live with a sense of community and mutual responsibility. God's intention had always been that “there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess” (Deuteronomy 15:4 NLT). Even all these years later, God still intended for His people to care and provide for one another. No one should go hungry. No one should go without. God's blessing would be great enough for all to benefit, not just some. The abundance of a few was intended to be shared with the many. God would give so that others might receive. It reminds me of the scene that took place in the early days of the Church recorded in the book of Acts. “And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need” (Acts 2:44-45 NLT). No one lacked anything, because they shared all in common. That was what God had intended to be the case even in the days of Nehemiah.       

What does this passage reveal about man?

It's interesting to note that Nehemiah “brought charges against the nobles and officials” (Nehemiah 5:7 ESV). He accused them of exacting interest. He sarcastically accused them of enslaving and oppressing those whom God had just set from the slavery and oppression of Babylon. Evidently, some of the worst offenders were the leaders of the people of Judah. The most influential were the most guilty. So Nehemiah charged them, “Ought you not to walk in the feat of our God?” (Nehemiah 5:9 ESV). Their actions exhibited a disregard for God's law and a flippancy toward God's justice. They had no fear of God's retribution. And yet Nehemiah was a living example of what God had expected. He feared God. He showed it by his actions. Rather than live off the salary made available to him as governor, he paid his own way. Not only that, he fed and provided for 150 people – out of his own money. And as governor, he didn't sit in his palace overseeing the work of rebuilding the wall. He got his hands dirty. He worked right alongside the people. He had to put up with the daily threats of his enemies. He had to deny their vicious rumors and continue to encourage the people to remain strong and faithful to their God-given task. And his efforts proved successful. The wall was completed in only 52 days.

But while Nehemiah was faithful, there were others who were compromising and caving in to the constant temptations to trust the world rather than God. One of the more glaring examples was Shecaniah, who according to chapter 12 was a member of the priestly order and was possibly a Levite. This man had allowed his daughter to marry Tobiah, an Ammonite and one of the most vocal enemies of Nehemiah. Later on, in chapter 13, we will find out about another priest named Eliashib, who had also married into the family of Tobiah and had even provided this non-Hebrew with his own apartment in the Temple of God. It seems that even the very men who had been set aside by God to act as His mediators had compromised their convictions and sold out to the enemy.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

But the good news is that God has always had a plan for man's persistent problem of unfaithfulness. He knew that His people would prove to be unfaithful. He knew His priests would prove to be incapable of remaining pure and dedicated to acting on His behalf. Which is why He provided a sacrificial system that would cleanse them from sin so they could effectively stand before God on behalf of the people. But in Hebrews we read about an even better plan God had in mind. It involved His own Son. From before the foundations of the world, God had planned to send His Son as the answer to man's persistent problem of sin and unfaithfulness. In essence, Jesus became our High Priest, our mediator before God, who offered an acceptable sacrifice for our sin. It just so happened that the sacrifice He offered was His own sinless life. The writer of Hebrews described Jesus as “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” (Hebrews 8:1-2 ESV). Jesus' offering didn't take place in some man-made Temple, but in the inner recesses of heaven itself. And because His sacrifice was acceptable to God, Jesus now sits on a throne in heaven seated right next to His heavenly Father. He accomplished what no earthly priest could have ever done. He lived a completely faithful, sinless life; then offered that life as a sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. And some day, Jesus is going to accomplish for the people of Israel what they were totally unsuccessful at doing. In spite of their unfaithfulness, God has promised them, “I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Hebrews 8:10 NLT). This will be accomplished through the work of Jesus Christ. The great High Priest will restore the people of God to a right relationship with God – once and for all. Unlike the priests in Nehemiah's day, Jesus Christ will accomplish the will of His Father and fulfill the promises of the God of Israel.

Father, Your Son is the faithful, righteous, totally obedient High Priest who has offered the once-for-all sacrifice for my sins. He has done what no man could have ever done. He has satisfied Your holiness and paid the price due for my sins. He offered the sacrifice that was beyond value – His own sinless life on my behalf. And one day He is going to fulfill Your promise to the people of Israel, because You are a faithful God and Your Son is a faithful High Priest. Amen

Our Great Intercessor.

Nehemiah 3-4, Hebrews 7

Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.  Hebrews 7:25 NLT

God has always provided a way out for His people. While they may have found themselves facing times of difficulty and despair, God was always nearby, ready to intercede on their behalf. As Nehemiah and the people began the task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, they not only faced a formidable task, they encountered opposition. Any time the people of God attempt to do the work and the will of God, they will find themselves confronted by the enemies of God. As the people worked side by side repairing and restoring the walls, their enemies mocked, jeered and threatened them. The enemies of God will always attempt to undermine the efforts of His people. “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices? Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?” (Nehemiah 4:2 NLT). God's enemies will always try to feed the doubts and fears lingering in the minds of God's people. Satan has an uncanny knack of getting us to question our own ability to carry out what God has called us to do. ““That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!” (Nehemiah 8:3 NLT). But the remedy to the taunts and jeers of the enemy is prayer. We must always turn to the One who can provide a way out. Which is exactly what Nehemiah did.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Nehemiah took their need to the very One who could do something about it. He turned to God. He begged God to intervene and hold their enemies responsible for their constant threats and their unceasing efforts to undermine the work of God. Nehemiah knew that those who stood against him and the work on the wall were really standing against God. As long as the people of God were doing the work of God, they could count on His protection and provision. Nehemiah was able to encourage the people to trust in God, despite what they might hear or see. “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!” (Nehemiah 4:14 NLT). But isn't it interesting that while Nehemiah reminds the people to remember God, he also tells them to be prepared to fight. God would do His part, but they must also be ready to do theirs. We see in this passage a timeless principle that mixes prayer with preparation. Right after Nehemiah's prayer recorded in chapter four, we read, “So we built the wall” (Nehemiah 4:6 ESV). Nehemiah knew that they had a job to do – a job given to them directly from God. He also knew that they must be prepared and vigilant. While the battle was ultimately the Lord's, that did not mean there would be no role for them to play. So they prayed AND took practical steps to prepare to defend their families, their nation and their work. “But we prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves” (Nehemiah 4:9 NLT).      

What does this passage reveal about man?

God has work for His people to do. Just as He had called the people of Israel and set them apart to be a holy nation, He has called believers to live lives that are distinctly different and wholly dedicated to His Kingdom. We exist for His glory, not our own. We are here to serve as His ambassadors, acting as salt and light in the world, and conduits of His grace to a lost and dying generation. And as we do His will, we will face opposition. His enemies will become our enemies. They will taunt, threaten, and even attack us. And when they do, we must turn to the One who always stands ready to provide protection and provision. We have a great High Priest in Jesus Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father, and the writer of Hebrews tells us, “He lives forever to intercede with God” on our behalf (Hebrews 7:25 ESV). In Jesus, we have found an advocate and representative who ministers on our behalf. He stands ready to aid and assist us every step along the way as we attempt to faithfully do God's will in the face of ongoing opposition. The people of Judah should have been very grateful that they had someone like Nehemiah to stand in the gap for them and take their problems to God. But as believers in Jesus Christ, we don't have to rely on a fallible man, we have Jesus Christ, “who has been made perfect forever” (Hebrews 7:28 ESV). “He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven” (Hebrews 7:26 NLT). And we can turn to Him at any time to help us with any need we may have.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

This life can at times be difficult. As the people of God we will always be surrounded by the enemies of God. When we attempt to do God's will and accomplish the work He has given us, we can count on facing opposition. We will even encounter our own sin natures along the way. We are told that we will face the world, the flesh and the enemy. All three will do their best to undermine our efforts and cause us to doubt and despair. But we must remember that we have an advocate with the Father. We have an intercessor who stands ready to step in and provide us with all we need to fight the good fight to the finish. As we do God's will, we must never forget that we have God's Son on our side. He has already won the battle. He has already conquered sin and death through His selfless sacrifice on the cross. His resurrection turned defeat into victory and should turn our despair into hope. I am reminded of the words of Paul recorded in Romans 8:31-39:

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”)  No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Father, You never told us that this life would be easy or without struggle. But You did tell us that You would be here for us. You even sent Your Son to provide us with a way to have constant, unhindered access into Your presence. Now He sits at Your right hand, interceding on our behalf. We can face the condemnation and threats of the enemy because of what He has done. We can live victoriously in this life because He is with us. At the end of the day, we can rest in the knowledge that we are loved by You. And nothing can ever separate us from that love. Amen

Standing On the Promises.

Nehemiah 1-2, Hebrews 6

Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, “If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.”  Nehemiah 1:8-9 ESV

Nehemiah was living in captivity in Susa, the winter capital of Artaxerses, the king of Persia. He was part of a group of Hebrews who were living in exile as a result of their sins against God. Nehemiah was an employee of the king, serving as his cup-bearer. He was well-acclimated to conditions in Persia, but still had a heart for his native Judah, When he received news of just how bad things were back home, he was devastated. The images of the broken down walls of Jerusalem and the burned gates were too much for him to bear. He recognized that his home town, the city of God, remained in a state of disrepair and the remnant who had returned under the direction of Ezra had failed in their efforts to rebuild. As a result, they remained easy prey for their enemies. But rather than allow this bad news to demoralize him, Nehemiah took action, and he began with prayer. He took the need before God. He confessed their sin, recognizing that the entire situation, including their exile and the broken down walls of Jerusalem, were the result of disobedience and God's punishment. They had gotten what they deserved. But he appealed to God's love and covenant faithfulness. He reminded God that He had promised to restore them to the land if they would return to Him and keep His commandments. Nehemiah puts his hope in the character of God. He knew that God was a promise-keeping god who never goes back on His word.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Nehemiah was very familiar with God. He refers to Him as the “God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (Nehemiah 1:5 ESV). He knew that God heard the prayers of His people. In fact, he counted on it. He knew that God kept His promises, regardless of how things might look at the present time. He knew that God was powerful and had a track record of rescuing His people from their self-inflicted problems. He knew that any hope they had would be found in God alone. So he prayed.

The writer of Hebrews also knew a great deal about God. He recognized that, when God made His promise to Abraham, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you” (Hebrews 6:14 ESV), God had guaranteed that promise by swearing on Himself. In other words, God bound His word to His own character. The promise being referred to in this passage is the one God had made regarding Isaac. He had promised to bless Abraham through Isaac and make of him a great nation. But God had also asked Abraham to sacrifice this same son on an altar. And Abraham had been willing to obey because he trusted in the promise of God. He believed that God could still fulfill His promise even if Isaac had been killed. God could have restored Isaac to life. God's promise was greater than Abraham's predicament. Nehemiah believed the same thing. As bad as things appeared back in Jerusalem, God was greater. The problem was formidable, but God's promises were more reliable and dependable.      

What does this passage reveal about man?

The context in chapter six of Hebrews is the danger of believers “falling away” from the faith. The reality of the day was that there was real pressure on Jewish converts to Christianity. They were under constant pressure to reject their faith in Christ. These were real believers facing real persecution. And the possibility of them giving in to that pressure and persecution was just as real. There had already been those who had denied Christ or had turned to a compromised version of the truth. They were not in danger of losing their salvation, but of becoming incapable of repentance and restoration. The writer is addressing those who find themselves hardened by sin and living unrepentant lives. “Take care, brothers lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12 ESV). He reminds his readers that they, like Abraham, must stand on the promises of God. God has promised them eternal life. He has promised to keep them and protect them through this lifetime, and fulfill His promise to give them a place in His eternal home. So the writer of Hebrews uses God's promise to their own ancestors as a reminder to keep trusting, even when things are hard. “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:17-18 ESV). The two unchangeable things are God’s promise and His oath. God has promised us future blessings. And He has sworn to keep that promise based on His own character. Rather than fall away, we need to stand on His promises. Rather than cave in to the pressures of this world, we need to stand firm on what we know of God and His unchanging character.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order or Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20 ESV). When Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, He went where we could not go. But He did so as an assurance that He will one day return to take us to be with Him. His presence with the Father is a reminder that the promises of God are true and reliable. Just before His death, Jesus told His disciples, ““Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3 ESV). Where I am you may be also. That's a promise. We can stand on it. We must place our hope and trust in it. In this life, we will face trials, troubles and tribulations of all kinds. But we must stand on the promises of God. We must stand firm on the character of God. Jesus Himself told us, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV).

Father, Your promises are totally reliable because they are based on Your character. You are a holy and wholly trustworthy God. You do not like You never go back on Your Word. You never fail to keep Your promises. Help me to focus on that fact. Don't let me be overcome by the pressures of this world, but let me focus on the promises found in Your Word. Amen

The Power of Intercession.

Ezra 9-10, Hebrews 5

O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.  Ezra 9:6 NLT

We live in the age of the individual. Even as believers, we tend to view our lives independently from those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We focus on our own personal walk with Christ. We worry about our relationship with God and how well we are living the Christian life as individuals. But throughout the Scriptures, the emphasis is always on the corporate body of believers. God sees us as His people and views us collectively. God does care for each of us as individuals and loves us for who we are, but He also sees us as part of His family, as members of the body of Christ. We must always understand that our sin, while committed as individuals, always impacts the entire body. Individual sin has corporate consequences. Like a cancer, it can spread throughout the body, infecting and influencing others, and causing a sense of corporate culpability. Ezra understand this truth. When it came to his attention that there were many living in the land of Judah who had violated God's commands and had intermarried with the various people groups surrounding them, he realized that God viewed their guilt from a corporate perspective. Ezra had not sinned, but he immediately went into mourning. He fell upon his knees and spread out his hands to God. While innocent of any wrong-doing, he included himself in the sins of the people. “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads” (Ezra 9:6 ESV). He refers to “our iniquities” and “our guilt.” Ezra alone goes before God and confesses the corporate sin and guilt of the people of God. “Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this” (Ezra 9:15 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

Ezra makes it clear that God is totally just in all His actions toward the people of Judah. If God chooses to punish them for their sin, He will be justified and right. He is holy, just, and righteous. They are guilty as charged and deserving of any punishment He should choose to mete out. But Ezra also knows that God is merciful, gracious and a God who shows favor when none is deserved. The very fact that they were back in the land at all was the result of God's mercy and grace. “But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery” (Ezra 9:8 ESV). God had returned them to the land, not because they deserved it, but because He chose to shower them with His undeserved favor. And yet, they had responded with continued disobedience to His revealed will. Ezra knows what they deserve. But he appeals to God's love and mercy. He asks God to forgive them yet again.       

What does this passage reveal about man?

The truly amazing thing about this passage is the impact that one man could have on the entire nation of Judah. Just as the sin of one infects the whole, the prayers of one can have a cleansing influence over the entire group. Rather than sit back and smugly gloat over his own sinlessness, Ezra chose to include himself in the sins of the people. He knew that God viewed them as a whole. Their corporate sinfulness would bring corporate punishment. They were to have remained pure as a nation. They were His people collectively, not just individually. Ezra knew this well, and so he did what no one else seemed willing to do – he went to the Lord in prayer and interceded on behalf of the nation. He mourned, fasted, confessed and called out to God. And his actions not only got God's attention, but that of the people as well. “While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly” (Ezra 10:1 ESV). One man had a powerful influence over the nation. His willingness to intercede on their behalf led to corporate confession. Ezra’s actions led others to step up and speak out. Shecaniah, convicted by Ezra's prayers, came up with the plan to put away all the foreign wives they had married. In other words, he knew that confession was going to have to be accompanied by a course correction in terms of their behavior. They were going to have to do something about their sin and repent of it. And that change was going to come at a high cost. They were going to have to remove the negative influence from their lives, even thought it was going to hurt. Confession must always be accompanied by concrete steps of action. “Now then make confession to the Lord, the God of your fathers and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives” (Ezra 10:11 ESV). Sin always has consequences. And true confession always has next steps.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

None of this would have taken place had not Ezra been willing to intercede on behalf of the people. He alone was struck by the severe nature of their predicament. He recognized the danger they were in and knew that God would be completely justified in punishing them for their sins. So he stepped in and called out to God on behalf of the entire nation. We need more men and women with the spirit of Ezra today. The church of Jesus Christ is wracked by sin. We have “intermarried” with this world. We have compromised our convictions and cozied up with the world, allowing it to diminish our influence and dim our light. The church has become complacent and allowed the love of the world to infect itself. We are weak and ineffective. We have lost our influence. But just as in the days of Ezra, all it takes is one man or woman to step in, stand up, and speak out. We must be willing to come before the Lord and intercede on behalf of the body of Christ. We must be willing to say what no one else is willing to say. We must recognize that our sense of corporate culpability. I am reminded of the words of the Lord found in the book of Revelation. To the church in Ephesus, He said, “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4 ESV). To the church in Laodidea, he said, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot or cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15 ESV). The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we have a High Priest in Jesus, who is interceding on our behalf. He knows our weaknesses. He understands our struggle with sin. Which is why He left us His Spirit to assist us as we live in this world. But we must also intercede for one another, confessing our sins, admitting our guilt, and calling on God to extend mercy and grace in our time of need. James would remind us, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16 ESV).

Father, Your Church is in need of healing. We are weakened by compromise and complacency. We have fallen in love with the world and allowed it to distract us from our true calling as Your children. Lord, give me a sense of corporate responsibility. The sins of the one affect the many. But the prayers of the one can go a long way in bringing about corporate confession and healing. May I be an intercessor in this day. Amen

Entering God's Rest.

Ezra 7-8, Hebrews 4

So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall.  Hebrews 4:11 NLT

Ezra would lead a remnant of Israelites on a 900-mile journey from the land of Babylon to Jerusalem that would take four long months. He clearly knew that God was behind this endeavor because he had seen God bring it all about. King Artaxerxes had decreed that Ezra would lead a group of Jews back to the land of promise and had provided funding for the trip. Ezra's response was, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem, and who extended to me his steadfast love before the king and his counselors, and before all the kings mighty officers” (Ezra 7:27-28 ESV). Ezra was encouraged by what he had seen his God do. He knew the hand of God was one him, so he would gather the people together and plan for the trip that God had ordained. It would be hard. It would be long. It would be dangerous. So he called the people to fast and pray, seeking God's divine protection and “a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods” (Ezra 8:21 ESV). And God heard their prayers and He answered. Four months after having left Babylon, they would arrive in Jerusalem, tired, but thankful to God for His hand in making their trip possible. “The hand of our God was one us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way” (Ezra 8:31-32 ESV).

But not everyone made the trip. Not every Jew was willing to leave the safety of Babylon to make the long, arduous trip back to Jerusalem. Many had grown comfortable with their lifestyle in captivity. A great many of the Jews had been born in Babylon and had never set foot in the land of Judah. So they were reluctant to make the trip. Ezra even had a difficult time finding enough Levites to return with him. This was the tribe God had appointed to serve in the Temple. They were the spiritual leaders of the people of Israel, and yet when Ezra gathered all the people to prepare for the trip to Jerusalem, he said, “I found there none of the sons of Levi” (Ezra 8:15 ESV). Not everyone shared Ezra's enthusiasm and optimism for returning to the land, even though it was in direct fulfillment of God's promises.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God was orchestrating all the events in such a way that His divine will was being fulfilled just as He had planned. Once again, He would use a pagan king to accomplish His will. He would use King Artaxerxes' fear of divine retribution to motivate him to send the people of God back to the land. Artaxerxes would write, “Whatever is decreed by the God of heaven, let it be done in full for the house of the God of heaven, lest his wrath be against the realm of the king and his sons” (Ezra 7:23 ESV). This great and powerful king feared God. His actions were motivated by self-protection. We don't know how God communicated His divine will to Artaxerxes, but it is clear that this man was not willing to anger God by disobeying His will. And yet, there would be countless Jews who would refuse to return to the land. They would choose remain in captivity, even though God was providing them with a miraculous opportunity to return to the land He had given them many years earlier. God was faithfully keeping His promise to return them to the land, but many of them would refuse to go. The people of God would reject the offer of God for His divine protection, provision and peace. After 70 years in captivity, He was offering them the chance to experience His rest and peace once again. But they would refuse.      

What does this passage reveal about man?

And yet Ezra and his small band of faithful followers would make the trip. They would take God up on His offer and walk the 900 miles back to Jerusalem. They were willing to suffer the dangers and difficulties all along the way, with their kids in tow, the treasures given to them by King Artaxerxes hidden among them, and their sights set on their final destination. The writer of Hebrews addresses another group of God's people, the believing Jews who were living out their faith during difficult days, surrounded by all kinds of opposition and enemies. These Christian Jews were finding it difficult to remain faithful to God's call on their lives. They were being tempted to give up and give in to the pressures to compromise their faith. So the writer reminded the, “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.  For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (Hebrews 4:1-2 ESV). He uses the history of their own people to remind them of the need to remain true to their calling. Their ancestors, who had made the trip from Egypt to the land of promise under the direction of Moses, had failed to enter the land the first time. When they had arrived at the edge of the land, they discovered it was filled with “giants.” So rather than trust God and enter, they gave in to their fears and turned away. That entire generation of Jews would die off in the wilderness as they wandered for the next 40 years. The author uses this historic event was a warning. “ Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts’” (Hebrews 4:6-7 ESV). He strongly encourages them to remain obedient and faithful, and to “strive to enter tha rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Hebrews 11:11 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The rest spoken of in this passage is a future rest. It has to do with the ultimate fulfillment of God's promises of eternal life. He is speaking of our final inheritance, set aside for us by God, and made available to us by our relationship with Jesus Christ. Peter reminds us of the nature of this inheritance. “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see” (1 Peter 1:3-5 NLT). In this life, we are to live with our hopes set on what is to come. This world is not our home. The things of this earth are a mere shadow of what is to come. Our expectations of greater things to come should motivate us to remain faithful in this life – regardless of the difficulties we may face along the way. Peter goes on to say, “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world” (1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT). Keep you eye in the prize. One day you will enter that rest. But in the meantime, stay focused. Stay faithful. Keep walking. Keep trusting.

Father, help me to never lose sight of what really matters. Don't let me make this world my home. I don't want to be like those Jews who were willing to stay in captivity when they had been given the chance to experience Your power, provision and peace. They were unwilling to step out in faith and suffer the pains of the journey, but they missed out on Your rest. While I know I can't lose my salvation or do anything to cause You to disinherit me, I don't want to be unfaithful or ungrateful for all that You have done and are going to do for me in the future. I want to remain true. I want to walk in faith. I want to trust You through it all until You accomplish it all, just as You have planned and promised. Amen

The Constant Danger of Unbelief.

Ezra 5-6, Hebrews 3

And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. Hebrews 3:18-19 ESV

Unbelief is a constant reality – even for the believer. But how can that be so? How can you be a believer and yet not believe? It's simple. Belief is not just a state of mind, but must always be accompanied by action. In other words, belief must be visibly tied to faith. During the days of Ezra, after King Artaxerxes ordered the cessation of all construction activity on the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews would stop all work for nearly 16 years. In spite of the fact that God had miraculously arranged for their return to the land under King Cyrus, and the king had provided the funds necessary to rebuild the Temple, the people stopped believing. Rather than step out in faith and trust that God would protect them, they simply gave in and shut down all construction. That is, until Haggai and Zechariah the prophets of God stepped in. With the encouragement of these two men of God and the leadership of Zerubbabel, the grandson of King Jehoiachin, the people stepped out in faith and began to build once again – even in the face of opposition. They were immediately confronted by their enemies, who questioned by whose authority they had restarted the construction. But rather than give in to the pressure, the people continued to work. And believe.

The news reached King Darius, the new ruler in Persian, that the Jews were rebuilding the Temple, in violation of the decree of his predecessor. But he also received word that the people of Judah were justifying their actions because they had originally been given permission by King Cyrus. A search of the royal records revealed that the Jews were right. A decree had been issued and they were fully in their rights to rebuild the house of the Lord. So King Darius issued yet another decree, providing them with permission to continue and he ordered that their work be paid for out of the royal treasury. Then he threatened death to anyone who tried to prevent the Jews from accomplishing their objective.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The people of God just needed to believe in their God. He had told them rebuild. He had provided the help of a pagan king to make it all possible. The problem came when the people started facing opposition. Doubt began to creep in. And doubt almost always leads to disbelief. Then disbelief leads to disobedience. And disobedience inevitably results in a lack of God's rest. Throughout the history of the Hebrew nation, God kept trying to prove to His people just how trustworthy He was. He bailed them out time and time again. He provided miracle after miracle. He defeated their enemies for them. He clothed and fed them. He made them a mighty nation. But they continually struggled with unbelief. They lacked faith. They could claim to believe in God, but their actions proved otherwise. And yet, God still wanted to prove His trustworthiness to them. When Haggai and Zechariah encouraged the people to keep on building and they obeyed, in spite of the opposition, it was an act of faith. They had no idea how the king would respond to the letter that was sent to him. They had no guarantee that the king would respond favorably. But faith doesn't dwell on possibilities. It focuses on the God of the impossible. Jesus Himself, said of His Father, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV). When faced with a test of his faith, Moses was reminded by God, “Is the LORD’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not” (Numbers 11:23 ESV). The prophet Isaiah would tell the people of Israel, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear” (Isaiah 59:1 ESV). God is the God of the impossible. But we must not only believe it cognitively. We must put shoe leather to our belief and act on it in faith.     

What does this passage reveal about man?

The people built. Their enemies accused. The king searched the records. But God had the last say. Their faith to keep on building in spite of opposition resulted in them getting to see the hand of God. King Darius would issue a decree that said, in part, “May the God who has caused his name to dwell there overthrow any king or people who shall put out a hand to alter this, or to destroy this house of God, that is in Jerusalem. I Darius make a decree; let it be done with all diligence” (Ezra 6:12 ESV). Man naturally doubts, and that doubt can quickly turn to disbelief and then disobedience – even for believers. The author of the book of Hebrews, in speaking of Moses, said he “was faithful in all God's house as a servant” (Hebrews 3:5 ESV). In other words, Moses did what God called him to do. He faithfully revealed God's law to the people. He faithfully orchestrated and oversaw the building of the Tabernacle. He faithfully led the people, even though they constantly rebelled against him and grumbled and moaned about his leadership. Those people are described in less-than-flattering terms in Hebrews 3. “For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses?” (Hebrews 3:16 ESV). They provoked Moses for 40 years. They sinned against God by refusing to occupy the Promised Land. They doubted that He could deliver it into their hands. And their doubt turned to disbelief, which led to disobedience, and resulted in them never entering God's rest. The writer of Hebrews warns us: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12 ESV). The danger for all believers is apostasy, or falling away from God. He is described as a “living God.” This is not about turning away from a dead, lifeless religion, but from the very active, alive God of the universe.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

When we begin to doubt God, it plants a seed that can grow into full-blown disobedience. Which is why the book of Hebrews tells us, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13 ESV). The presence of the enemies of God is a constant reality for the believer. The key is whether or not we allow ourselves to listen to their lies and fall prey to their words of intimidation. Or will we stand firm on the character and promises of God. There were many in Moses' day who were unable to enter into the rest God had prepared for them, because of unbelief. They failed to step out in faith, enter the land, and watch God deliver on His promises. God never said it would be easy. He just said He would make it happen. All they had to do was believe.

Father, I want to continue to learn to act out what I say I believe about You by putting that belief into action. I want to step out and hold on to Your promises. I want to see You work, even when the odds seem stacked against me. Because You are trustworthy and true. Amen

For A Little While.

Ezra 3-4, Hebrews 2

“What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Hebrews 2:6-8 ESV

Most of us don't like delays. We are an impatient people who can't stand to wait for anyone or anything, including God. When we find ourselves in times of difficulty or facing less-than-acceptable circumstances, we can quickly grow impatient and demand immediate action on the part of God. We want our situation resolved right away. But there are times when God delays; and when He does, there is always a very good reason. When the Jews who had returned to the land began the process of rebuilding the Temple, they immediately found themselves facing strong opposition. The land to which they had returned was filled with people who had been sent there by the Babylonians and Persians. These transplanted foreigners didn't like the prospect of the Jews returning to their land and rebuilding their cities. They saw the Jews as competition, so they began to cause trouble, harassing them and doing everything in their power to demoralize and dissuade the Jews from accomplishing their God-given mission. At the close of chapter 3 of Ezra, the people are rejoicing because they had successfully laid the foundation of the Temple. But then chapter 4 opens up with the arrival of their adversaries. The work of God was immediately met with opposition by the enemies of God. “Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build, and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose” (Ezra 4:4-5 ESV). This would go on for years, spanning the reigns of Cyrus and Darius. But one of the things the people of God needed to remember was that God was in control. According to God's divine timetable, this delay would be only for a little while. And while the efforts of their enemies would eventually result in the halt of all construction on the Temple, it would prove to be only a delay, not an end.

What does this passage reveal about God?

There are so many times in Scripture where it appears as if God's people have lost. We are given countless examples of the seeming defeat of God and His people. But time and time again, we are shown that these apparent defeats are little more than delays in God's divine plan. It is important to remember that the book of Ezra, like the books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles, was written to an audience who was living long after these events took place. These books were designed to be reminders of God's sovereign power and His ultimate victory over their enemies. The Temple would eventually be rebuilt. The walls of Jerusalem would be restored. The city would be repopulated. And the enemies of God would be proven unsuccessful in their attempt to thwart His will. The writer of Hebrews was also addressing a predominantly Jewish audience, but made up of those who had accepted Jesus as their Messiah. They too were surrounded by enemies. They face opposition and oppression. They were children of God, but they were living under difficult circumstances. So the writer of Hebrews reminds them that they must remember that God was not done yet. The same Jesus in whom they had placed their faith for their salvation was sitting at the right hand of God. This Jesus had taken on human flesh “for a little while.” God had made him lower than the angels “for a little while.” He died and was buried, but only “for a little while.” But then He was crowned with glory and honor, and God put everything in subjection under His feet. It was essential that Jesus become a man “for a little while” so that He might die in man's place. His death, while a blow to the hopes and dreams of the disciples, would prove to be temporary. Satan's apparent victory would be short-lived, because Jesus rose again.   

What does this passage reveal about man?

We have limited vision. We can only see so far into the future and we are prone to judge our circumstances based on our limited perspective. But we must always remember that God is in control and that His plan is eternal, not temporary. God knew that the Temple would be rebuilt. It was part of His plan. He knew that the walls of Jerusalem would be restored. It was part of His plan. He knew that Jesus' death was not permanent. It was part of His plan. But on the day that Jesus died, the disciples could only see that their Messiah and friend had died. Their hopes were dashed. Their future dreams were shattered. Even though Jesus had told them that He would rise again on the third day, they were unable to see past the painful reality of their circumstances. If only they could have understood that all of this was going to be but “for a little while.” God was not done yet. As men, our perspectives are often limited, but our God is not. He is always in control and His plan is always unfolding perfectly and precisely as He has arranged it. The seeming defeats and disappointments of this life are nothing more than a pre-planned delay. The opposition we find ourselves facing are little more than opportunities to watch God work. The enemies of the people of God thought they had won the day when they forced the halt of the rebuilding of the Temple. But little did they know that their victory would be short-lived. God would win the day and have His way. He always does.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

For a little while. I must remember that God is at work and that delays are not the same thing as defeat. In the end, God will be victorious. He wins. At this point in time, His Son is seated at His right hand in heaven. But only “for a little while.” There is a day coming when He will return. And while it may appear that the enemies of God are winning the day, we must never forget that God is not done yet. He will one day send His Son to the earth a second time, and when He comes, He will accomplish God's divine plan once and for all. He will conquer sin and death completely. He will defeat the enemies of God and establish His Kingdom on earth. The rebuilding of the Temple was delayed, but only for a little while. Jesus died and was placed in a grave, but only for a little while. He sits on a throne in heaven, but only for a little while. “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.  His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:11-16 ESV).

Father, may I learn to patiently wait for Your will to be done. Help me to remember that in Your grand plan, all apparent delays are only for a little while. You cannot be stopped. Your plan cannot be defeated. Your will – will be done. Amen

The Unfolding Plan of God.

Ezra 1-2, Hebrews 1

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. Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV

God spoke through the prophets. He used these men to communicate His word to His people and to warn them of things to come if they continued to disobey His Law. But He also told them of things He was going to do in the not-to-distant future that would be the result of His grace and mercy. Isaiah the prophet, under the influence of the Spirit of God, had written concerning God, “…who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid’” (Isaiah 44:28 ESV). God had given Jeremiah the wonderful news, “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place” (Jeremiah 29:10 ESV). And then we read the opening lines of the book of Ezra: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing” (Ezra 1:1-2 ESV). God was fulfilling His promise.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The book of Ezra, like the books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles, was written to the post-exhilic community who had returned to the land. The audience is made up of Jews who had been living in exile in Babylon, but who now found themselves living back in the land of promise. But they had returned to a land that was nothing like what it had been before. They found Jerusalem, the great city of David, in shambles. The walls that had been demolished by the Babylonians seven decades earlier, were still nothing more than a pile of stones. The great Temple built by Solomon was little more than rubble. And yet, God was at work. This entire book is a look back at how God miraculously and graciously provided for His people, not because of them, but in spite of them. These words were intended for the Jews who were living in the land long after the events recorded by Ezra had happened. They were to serve as a reminder of the sovereignty and faithfulness of God. Even after the walls had been rebuilt, the Temple restored, the sacrificial system reinstated, and the city of Jerusalem repopulated, the people of God would still find themselves living in a land surrounded by their enemies, without a king or a standing army, and with little hope for the future. But these words were to be a reminder that God was still in charge. He was in control and at work, no matter what their circumstances might say to the contrary.  

What does this passage reveal about man?

The entire Bible has been given to us to reveal the nature and character of God. It tells us the kind of God we worship. It gives us a glimpse into His divine nature and allows us to see just how holy, righteous, powerful, sovereign, loving, gracious, faithful, reliable and resourceful He can be. Just like the remnant of Jews living in the promised land long after the days of Ezra, we can sometimes find ourselves doubting God's power and presence. We can begin to wonder why He is not as active as He was in the “good old days.” Based on our circumstances, we can easily begin to doubt God or feel like He has somehow abandoned us. But the Scriptures give us proof of God's reliability and trustworthiness. He is always in control. He is completely sovereign over all things, including kings. He has a divine plan that is time-sensitive and He is working that plan to perfection. Our problem is that we can only see our present circumstances and we forget that God's plan is far greater than our personal comfort and convenience. We too often fail to recognize and remember that God has something far greater in mind than our temporary happiness or our deliverance from some particular problem or difficulty. He has greater things in store for us. The challenge for us is to look for the bigger picture of God's plan. We need to open our eyes and see what He is doing on a grand scale. But it is so easy to become myopic and focus on our own personal problems and limit the work of God to our own personal circumstances.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Like Ezra, the writer of Hebrews was addressing an audience of Jews who were living in difficult times. They were surrounded by enemies and suffering persecution for their faith. His readers were made up of Jews who had come to accept Jesus as their Messiah. They had placed their faith, hope and trust in Him as their personal Savior. And as a result, many were suffering rejection from their families and the Jewish community. They were considered outcasts by their own people. By placing their faith in Jesus as their Messiah, they had ostracized themselves from their fellows Jews. But the writer reminds them that their faith in Jesus is worth it, because “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” (Hebrews 1:3-4 ESV). He goes on to quote an assortment of Old Testament passages, using them as proof of Jesus' deity and divinity. He is God's Son. He is the King and Lord. He is eternal and all-powerful. And He sits at the right hand of God the Father. In other words, He is in charge and in control, no matter what their circumstances may say. Oh, how easy it is to doubt God or lose hope in Jesus as my Savior, just because things don't quite go the way I expected them to go. How quick I can lose sight of God's sovereignty and Christ's majesty. I can see Him as the Savior who paid for my sins, but fail to recognize Him as the King of Heaven who is coming some day to put an end to sin and death once and for all. I need to keep a big-picture view that includes eternity, not just my little slice of history. Yes, God is involved in the here and now, but His plan is all about the hereafter. My hope is not to be in this world, but the one to come. 

Father, thank You for the countless reminders in Your Word of just how faithful, powerful, and reliable You are. Forgive me for doubting You so often. Help me to take my eyes off of the world and my own circumstances and place them on You and Your plan for eternity. AmenKen Miller Grow Pastor & Minister to Men kenm@christchapelbc.org

All You Need.

Hebrews 13

And now, may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, all that is pleasing to him. Jesus is the great Shepherd of the sheep by an everlasting covenant, signed with his blood. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen. - Vs 20-21 (NLT)

In this closing chapter we have been encouraged to "let love of the brethren continue," to "not neglect to show hospitality to strangers," to "remember the prisoners as though in prison with them," to see that the marriage bed is "held in honor among all," to "make sure your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have," and to "not be carried away by varied and strange teachings." We are reminded of the unique sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for our sins. In gratitude for what He has done we are to "continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name" (Vs 15). And we are to please God by "doing good and sharing" (Vs 16). We're to obey our leaders, submit to them, and imitate their faith.

But how are we supposed to do all this? Is this just some kind of a gut-it-up, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of effort on our part? It all sounds great, but it also sounds impossible. At least for me. I find it hard to continue loving the brethren. Some of them aren't so lovable. I don't particularly like showing hospitality to strangers or even friends. I sometimes find it difficult to be content with what I have. And I don't always do a very good job of praising God and thanking Him for all He has done. Complaining and murmuring seem to come easier to me. So how am I supposed to pull this off without just gritting my teeth and trying like crazy to make it work?

That's where this closing prayer come in. My hope is in the same God who raised Jesus from the dead. He will equip me with all I need to do His will. That word equip means "to strengthen, perfect, complete, make one what he ought to be." God will fully provide what I need to do what He is calling me to do and become. It is God who produces in us the capacity to do what is pleasing to Him – all because of what Jesus has done for us. This is totally a God thing. Jesus is our Great Shepherd. He is the one who provides for us. He gives us the ability, the empowerment to do all the things mentioned in this chapter. In fact, they are a natural response to our growing dependence on and relationship with Him. So if we struggle with them, it is a sign of our need to depend more on Him and less on ourselves. I need to learn to turn to Him more and more for the strength to live the life I have been called to live. I don't need to gut it up and try harder. I need to give up and lean harder on Him. That means spending more time in His Word, more time on my knees, and less time living in my own strength. Not only is salvation God's work, our sanctification is as well. That Greek word translated equip can also mean to repair, restore, or mend. It was used when speaking of restoring something back to the way it was originally supposed to be. So God is restoring us back to the condition He first intended for mankind. He is perfecting us. He is repairing what was broken by the fall and marred by sin. He is doing it, not us. That is why the writer of Hebrews says "to Him be the glory, forever and ever." God gets all the glory, not us. Because He is doing ALL the work. He is doing in me what I could never do. All because of what Jesus has done for me. To God be the glory!

Father, I can't thank You enough for the reminder this morning that it is ALL up to You. You are the one who equips me with what I need to live this remarkable life to which I have been called. You give me the capacity to do the things You call me to do, those things that are pleasing to You. All because of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ Your Son. Thank You! Amen

Love and Discipline.

Hebrews 12

My child, don’t ignore it when the Lord disciplines you, and don’t be discouraged when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes those he accepts as his children. As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. - Vs 5-7 (NLT)

Discipline. Not exactly a favorite word in our culture today, even among Christians. It conjures up some fairly negative images. The concept of self-discipline brings to mind dieting, exercise, abstinence, denial of self in order to achieve some worthwhile objective. Being disciplined by someone else is even more distasteful because it usually thoughts of punishment or pain due to some mistake we have made or our failure to meet someone's expectations. So when we run into a passage like this and read, "For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines," all kinds of conflicted ideas come into our minds. Love and discipline just don't seem to go together. In spite of the fact that most of us have told our children when spanking them, "I'm only doing this because I love you."

Nine times in seven verses the writer of Hebrews uses the word discipline. It is the Greek word peideia and as is usual with most Greek words, it is rich in meaning. It comes from another Greek word, pais, which means "child." So the term peideia has to do with the training of a child. "The word is a broad term, signifying whatever parents and teachers do to train, correct, cultivate, and educate children in order to help them develop and mature as they ought" (John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary). The NET Bible defines it this way:

The whole training and education of children (which relates to the cultivation of mind and morals, and employs for this purpose now commands and admonitions, now reproof and punishment) It also includes the training and care of the body

So while the word does include the idea of punishment and reproof, there is much more involved than that. It is a positive term that involves instruction which aims at increasing virtue. So when hardship or trials come our way, we are to view them with the perspective that God loves us and is disciplining or training us. "It is for your training that you undergo these things" (BBE). We are to see our difficulties as part of God's sovereign, loving plan to discipline us. It is not always punishment for wrongs done, but like a loving parent or teacher, God is using every circumstance in our lives to mold into us Christ-like character. My kids hate exams in school. They see no value in them. They only view them as some kind of sick punishment meted out by unfair teachers who seem bent on ruining their lives. But what they fail to see is that their teachers have a greater goal in mind than my children's happiness. They are responsible to mold and prepare their minds for future study and in to ready them for future careers. But because my kids live in the immediacy of the moment and do not want to think about the future, they can only see these tests as roadblocks to their personal pleasure. They would prefer they be taken away altogether, not realizing that to do so would be an act of hatred, not love.

So we too are constantly asking God to take away those tests or trials we find distasteful or disturbing to our idea of comfort and pleasure. But because God loves us, He refuses to do so. Instead, He treats us as a loving Father, who knows exactly what we need and refuses to give us what we want. God loves us too much to give us our way. He knows better. And if we will learn to view the difficulties and hardships of life through Gods eyes, we will begin to see that He has a plan for even the hardest moments of our life. We have to cultivate an eternal perspective that helps us see beyond the moment. "No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening––it is painful! But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way" (Vs 11 - NLT).

Father, thank You that you love me so much that you are willing to train me. Please help me look past what I can only seem to see as the pain of discipline and see the fruit that will result from it. Give me an eternal viewpoint that sees my circumstances from your perspective. Help me to remember that Your discipline is proof of just how much You love me. Amen

The Object Of Our Faith.

Hebrews 11

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see. - Vs 1 (NLT)

What is faith? That's a great question. Is it something we muster up or is it, like salvation, a gift from God? For years I have heard this passage referred to as the "Great Hall of Faith." In it we have chronicled the great feats of faith of such icons of the Old Testament as Noah, Abraham, and Moses. Verse after verse tells us that these men and women accomplished certain things in their lives "by faith." Abraham offered up his son Isaac as a potential sacrifice "by faith." "By faith" Noah built a boat big enough to hold two of every kind of living thing, plus his family – when there wasn't a body of water big enough to float it anywhere nearby. We read of Jacob's faith, Sarah's faith, Isaac's faith, Joseph's faith, even Rahab's faith (a woman referred to as a harlot). Over the years this chapter has become a source of inspiration and irritation for me. It has been used by pastors in an attempt to inspire me to greater feats of faith. To muster up the kind of faith that Abraham and Moses had. It has been used as a measuring rod to determine the amount of my own faith as compared to that of these members of the great hall of faith. Which is why this chapter has also irritated me. I have found it defeating and deflating to look at the lives of these individuals and try to compare my meager faith with theirs. I just never seem to measure up. I ask myself what I would have done if God had asked me to sacrifice one of my sons on an altar. I just don't think I would have had the faith to pull it off. If God had asked me to build a boat in my backyard in order to save the world from a flood, would I have had the faith to pull it off? Probably not. So I just don't measure up.

But I think I've missed the point. This isn't a celebration of these people's faith. This isn't about their ability to conjure up just the right amount of faith so that they could be recognized and rewarded for it. This is about God producing faith in us, in spite of us. The very fact that we have faith is evidence of God's work in us. Faith is the evidence of things we cannot yet see. The New American Standard Bible translates verse 1 this way: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. That word conviction means "proof, that by which a thing is proved or tested." Faith is proof of the unseen things of God. The very fact that we have faith is a gift from God. We can't manufacture it or conjure it up. We can't try to have more of it. As I read through these verses, it hits me that I could replace the word "faith" with the name of God and it all begins to make more sense.

"By God Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance…"

"By God Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark…"

"By God he [Moses] left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king…"

These people were able to do what they did because of God, not because of themselves. Their faith was proof or evidence of God's work in their lives. He was orchestrating things behind the scenes that they weren't even aware of. It was God who gave Joseph the faith to believe that the people of Israel would some day return to their land. So he asked his family to return his bones there when it happened. The faith of every one of these individuals was future-oriented. It was based on things yet to come. We are told that "all these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance" (Vs 13). Their confident assurance was in things they hoped were going to happen. Isaac and Jacob both blessed their sons, hoping and trusting in God's faithfulness to fulfill the blessing. Rahab helped rescue the spies, at great risk of her life, hoping and trusting in God's faithfulness to rescue and protect her. The very fact that we have faith is the evidence of things we cannot see. It is the proof that those things really do exist. God has given us the faith to believe in them. He has given us the faith to believe in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. He has given us the faith to believe in a future kingdom and our place in it. He has given us a faith to endure the trials and tribulations of this life because we know He has given us eternal life. Faith is a gift from God.

Nothing supports this more than verses 33-40. Here we see a list of nameless individuals – some of whom accomplished great deeds. They conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, shut the mouths of lions, from weakness were strong, became mighty in war, etc. It is by faith they were able to do these things. But who gave them the faith to do so? God. Others didn't fare so well. They were mocked, scourged, imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, tempted, put to death, afflicted, ill-treated, and destitute. But they are noted for having had faith. They endured what they did because of faith. They had hope in something yet to come. "Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised" (Vs 39, NLT).

The emphasis is not on their faith, but on the One behind their faith and on the object of their faith. Our faith is God-given and future-oriented. It isn't about the here and now. It is about what is to come. It is about the things not yet seen. It is about the gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news that we have an inheritance reserved for us in heaven because of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The fact that we can live lives of faith here and now is proof of the reality of God's promise. We live with our eyes set on the hope that lies before us and ahead of us. "What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see."

Father, thank You that the issue is not the amount of faith I bring to the table, but the fact that I have any faith at all. The presence of faith in my life is evidence that You have changed my life. The fact that I have a hope in things I can't even see is proof of Your Holy Spirit's presence in my life. Thank You for giving me the faith to believe. Amen

Draw Near.

Hebrew 10

Let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds."- Vs 22-24 (NLT)

Let us draw near. Let us hold fast. Let us consider. These are the three encouragements given by the writer of Hebrews in light of the fact that they have "been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Vs 10). Unlike the sacrifices made under the Law, which had to be offered "year by year" (Vs 1) and "time after time" (Vs 11), Jesus "offered one sacrifice for sins for all time" (Vs 12) and He has "perfected for all time those who are sanctified" (Vs 14). "Now where there is forgiveness … there is no longer any offering for sin" (Vs 18). What Jesus did for us is done. We can have complete confidence to enter into God's presence completely forgiven and accepted by Him.

So we can draw near with a sincere heart us full assurance of faith" (Vs 22). Or as the New Living Translation puts it: "go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him." Why" Because we have had our hearts made clean and our bodies washed pure. What were our hearts made clean from? The condemning nature of our own conscience. Our conscience condemns us and reminds us of our own guilt. But Jesus' death removed our sin and, therefore, our guilt. The second aspect of our cleansing is that our bodies have been washed with pure water. This is not a reference to baptism, but to the cleansing and transformative presence of the Holy Spirit.

He saved us, not because of the good things we did, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins and gave us a new life through the Holy Spirit." - Titus 3:5

The Holy Spirit within us changes us. He is sanctifying us daily – transforming us into the likeness of Jesus Christ Himself. The reality of both of these cleansings allow us to come boldly and confidently into the presence of God Himself.

Secondly, we are to hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering. Why? Because He who promised is faithful. We are to remain faithful because of God's faithfulness. Again, the New Living Translation says it well: "Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise." Our steadfastness is based less on the strength of our own faith than on the reality of God's faithfulness. He will do exactly as He has promised. "Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass" (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

Third, we are to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. We are to "think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds." Once again, we see the importance of the community of faith – the body of Christ. We are to constantly be thinking about ways we can encourage or stimulate each other to love and serve one another. Notice that in all three of these words of encouragement, the writer uses the terms "us" and "our." WE are to do these things, and we are to do them together, not alone. We are to love and be loved, serve and be served – all in the context of community – "not forsaking our own assembling together" (Vs 25). There is no place for free-agent, Lone Ranger Christians in the family of God. We are in this together. We need one another. We are to encourage one another – to draw near and to hold fast. Because the day is drawing near. The Lord is coming back. We are to live with that reality in mind.

Father, thank You for the once-for-all sacrifice of Your Son that has provided me with complete forgiveness and complete access into Your presence. Because of what He has done for me, help us to not be afraid to draw near to You – free from guilt or condemnation. Help us to hold firmly onto what we say believe because You can be trusted to keep your promise. And help us to constantly be thinking about ways we can stimulate each other to greater love and acts that reflect who we are in Christ. Amen

The Son’s Selfless Sacrifice.

Hebrews 9

…all thing are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. - Vs 22 (NASB)

The concept of shed blood would not have been foreign to the writer's Hebrew audience. In fact, they were well aware of the role blood played in their sacrificial system. But the author is comparing the old and the new. The old covenant (law) and the new covenant (grace). Under the old covenant, the High Priest had to enter the Holy of Holies "year by year with blood that is not his own" (Vs 25). No one sacrifice was enough. And his sacrifice was to cover the sins of the people and his own as well. He was just as sinful and in need of cleansing. Even Moses inaugurated the giving of the covenant with blood. "He took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people" (Vs 19). "Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood" (Vs 18). Blood played a major role in the old covenant. The purpose of the blood was to symbolize sacrifice for sin, which brought cleansing from sin.

Even under the old covenant, forgiveness was a costly thing. It involved the loss of life. In the case of the old covenant, the lives of countless innocent animals. But under the new covenant, the loss of the life of Jesus Christ Himself – the sinless, innocent Son of God. But we take forgiveness so lightly. We are grateful that we have forgiveness for our sins and it is readily available any time we ask for it. We love verses like 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." But Paul warns us in Romans 6:1-2: "Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more kindness and forgiveness? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?" I love what John MacArthur has to say on this topic in his commentary on Hebrews:

To realize and rejoice in God's boundless grace is one thing; to presume on it by willfully sinning is quite another. How can we, as forgiven sinners, take lightly and presumptuously, the price paid for our forgiveness? We become so used to grace that we abuse it.

Our sin cost Jesus His life. It's why He came. Yet we can't overlook the cost. We can't ignore the fact that your sin and my sin are the reason He died. Our sinfulness caused His blood to be shed. Because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Our sin demanded payment by death. And the only death that could pay for all the sins of mankind was that of the sinless Son of God. God didn't overlook sin, He provided the payment for it. And it cost Him dearly. So should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more kindness and forgiveness? Of course not! The Savior of the world has paid for the sins of the world with His own life – once for all. And one day He is coming back, but this time not to deal with sin, but to consummate our salvation. "So also Christ died only once as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again but not to deal with our sins again. This time he will bring salvation to all those who are eagerly waiting for him" (Vs 28). So lets live our lives in appreciation for the forgiveness we have been given and in anticipation of the salvation we will one day receive.

Father, thank You for Your Son's selfless sacrifice. Thank You for the blood that was shed for me. Forgive me for taking His death so lightly and Your grace so cheaply, without considering the cost. Without Jesus shedding His blood, I would have NO forgiveness for my sin and NO hope for salvation. Keep that thought in the forefront of my mind at all times, so that I might live a life that reflects my appreciation and gratitude. I can never repay You, but I can live for You. Amen

New and Improved.

Hebrews 8

But our High Priest has been given a ministry that is far superior to the ministry of those who serve under the old laws, for he is the one who guarantees for us a better covenant with God, based on better promises. - Vs 6 (NLT)

A more excellent High Priest. A superior ministry. A better covenant based on better promises. Chapter 8 seems to sum up everything from the previous 7 chapters. In fact, Paul says, "Here is the main point: Our High Priest sat down in the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand" (Vs 1 - NLT). Jesus, our High Priest, sits at the right hand of God, a place of power, honor, and authority. He has complete access to God the Father. He ministers in the true sanctuary, not a temporary, man-made, representation of what is to come. It is not "a copy and shadow of the heavenly things" (Vs 5), but the real thing. He is the real High Priest who has real authority and who ministers in the real sanctuary in the very presence of God Himself.

And as our High Priest, Jesus guarantees us a better covenant. A new covenant. Why? Because the old covenant had been broken. The people of Israel had failed to keep their end of the covenant. They had disobeyed and rebelled time after time. They could not and did not keep the laws that were tied to the Mosaic covenant. They did not hold up their end of the agreement. Paul backs this up with a quote from the prophet Jeremiah. He says that this is going to be a completely, radically new covenant, "not like the covenant which I made with their fathers" (Vs 9). The blessings of the old covenant were conditioned on Israel's obedience to the law that God gave with the covenant. Because they "did not continue in" the covenant, God "did not care for them" (Vs 9). In other words, their lack of obedience led to curses, not blessing. God could not bless them because of their disobedience.

But God made a new covenant with Israel.

But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds so they will understand them, and I will write them on their hearts so they will obey them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. - Vs 10

The old covenant was based on externals. It was external rules and regulations that required complete obedience. And obedience was primarily out of fear of punishment. The new covenant is internal. Obedience will be inwardly motivated and generated. It will come from the heart and will be empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit. And there will be a knowledge of God unlike anything they have ever experienced before.

And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their family, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will already know me. - Vs 11 (NLT)

Paul is telling his Jewish readers news that should be extremely exciting to them. The old covenant, based on rules and ritual, has been replaced with a new and better covenant. One that is based on the faithfulness and mercy of God alone. It is the new covenant based on the blood of Jesus Christ (Luke 22:20). It is a new covenant "not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old way ends in death; in the new way, the Holy Spirit gives life" (2 Corinthians 3:6). It is a new covenant based on mercy and forgiveness of sin. It is an unconditional covenant, that requires nothing of me because I have nothing to give. It has been written by God, ratified by God, and made possible by the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son. It's new. Its better. It's available here and now. Are you living in it and under it? Or are you still trying to keep a set of rules, somehow trying to earn favor with God? Do you still believe that your salvation or better yet, your sanctification, is somehow up to you? That is the old way. You are living according to the old covenant based on works, human effort, and self-righteousness. We live under the new covenant. We have the Spirit within us who has given us a new heart and a new desire to obey because we are loved, not to try to earn God's love. The new covenant is better. So let's live in it.

Father, thank You for the reality of the new covenant. I do not have to live under the law. I don't have to try to keep a set of impossible standards in some attempt to appease or please you. I am not doomed to failure and defeat. Because of Your Son's death and resurrection, I am a new creature with a new nature, and a new capacity to obey and worship and know God that I could never have manufactured on my own. Help me to live according to the new covenant and not the old. Amen


Hebrews 7

He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has now been set apart from sinners, and he has been given the highest place of honor in heaven. He does not need to offer sacrifices every day like the other high priests. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he sacrificed himself on the cross. - Vs 27-28 (NLT)

This is a confusing chapter. All the talk of priesthoods, laws, Melchizedek, commandments, and covenants can leave your head spinning. So what's the point? It would seem to be to stress that Jesus brought a new way of doing things. Instead of life lived according to the strict and stifling requirements of the Law, administered by sinful men serving as priests from the tribe of Levi, we are offered a better way. We have a High Priest who was born into a different tribe and offers a totally different solution to the problem of sin. He is Jesus, our High Priest. He is "holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens" (Vs 26). Unlike the Levitical priests, who had to offer up sacrifices every day to atone for their own sins and the sins of the people, Jesus offered one sacrifice – "once for all when He offered up Himself" (Vs 27). And He never had to offer a sacrifice for His own sins, because He was sinless.

God provided a new way. He provided His own Son because the Law, administered by sinful men, could never give the people what they desired: restored communion with God. No one could keep the Law, not even the men who were sworn to uphold it. The sacrificial Levitical system never accomplished what it set out to do. It couldn't. It pointed to a future sacrificial system that would satisfy the justice of God and pay the debt for sin that was owed by mankind "once for all." Through Jesus Christ, God made a way for us to have our sins forgiven permanently and perfectly. He made a way for us to have our relationship with Him restored, mercifully and justly. And it wasn't left up to us to keep some set of rules or standards that were beyond our ability to obey. Jesus did that for us. He lived the life we could not live. He fulfilled the requirements we could not meet. He satisfied the righteous standard of God we never could have kept. And He "has become the guarantee of a better covenant" (Vs 22). The covenant that God made through Jesus is better than the old one because the old one was temporary and the new one is eternal. A better priest guarantees a better covenant. This is not to say the old covenant was bad, but only that it was imperfect and temporary.  In Romans, Paul defends the Law when he says, "Well then, am I suggesting that the law of God is evil? Of course not! The law is not sinful, but it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, "Do not covet" (Romans 7:7).

The Law, the old covenant, was given to reveal my sin and my need for a Savior. The Law and any attempt by men to keep it only further proved our complete inadequacy to live up to the kind of standard God required. God knew that the Law could never save us. Why? Because we have a sinful nature that prevents us from obeying it. But if God had never given us the Law, we would have never realized just how sinful we really are. Without a holy standard of measurement, we would never have realized we don't measure up. But God didn't leave us in this sad state.

The law of Moses could not save us, because of our sinful nature. But God put into effect a different plan to save us. He sent his own Son in a human body like ours, except that ours are sinful. God destroyed sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the requirement of the law would be fully accomplished for us who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4 NLT)

He gave us His Son, a better High Priest. He gave us a way to become righteous that is completely outside of ourselves and not based on our own efforts. Or salvation is no longer based on us having to do something, but on what His Son has already done on our behalf.

Father, thank You for coming up with a better way. Because if You had not, we would have all been doomed to failure. We were without hope, lost in our sins, incapable of saving ourselves. But You graciously provided another way for us to be restored to a right relationship with You. You provided a way for us to stand in your presence as righteous and holy in Your sight, that was not based on our own efforts, but on the sinless sacrifice of Your Son and our great High Priest. I am literally forever grateful. Amen