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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Confidence through Christ

What has Jesus' death and resurrection meant for humanity? Many people think it gives them a “get out of jail free” card. They can do whatever they want and know they are “saved.” Others think it puts too much stress on a person to follow a moral mandate when they want to be their own person and go their own way. Still others think His death is part of the natural progression of life - birth, learning, searching, understanding, believing, accepting, sharing, and dying.  

Most religions of the world follow a moral code and each of these is similar in many ways with the others. These codes are put into place to make people and life more pleasant, harmonious, and manageable. Most people believe these moral codes are acceptable and necessary to living a full life. Would most people think their lives are successful when all is “cashed in” on their deathbed? If your goal in life were to amass the most wealth, you would have to judge your life based on that. What, though, is next after amassing wealth and your death has arrived? If success to another person were to do with their life whatever they wanted, they would have to judge on their deathbed if they had done everything their heart desired during life. What, though, is next for them? Can they affect what they do next or before their death? If success to another person were to aid needy people through actions, donations, and words, they would have to decide at the end if they had done enough to appease their desire to help. Could they have done more? What is next for them; did they cure the cause of death or ease the pain of a loved one after someone has died?    

There is only one way of life that is ultimately successful; this way is Jesus. As a follower of Jesus, you may amass wealth, live an exciting life, or aid people in need, but you do not have to ever wonder what is happening next when you get to your deathbed. God does not call all people to live poor, to be strict, ascetic followers of Him, or to work only for Him and not the needy. God calls people to follow Him. In following God, you will touch people in need, you can acquire wealth, and you can have an exciting life while at the same time reaching out to spread the Good News of Jesus’ sacrifice which gives victory over death. None of the other ways of life can promise with absolute truth they have victory over death, that there truly is a life after death. Jesus is the way to have this ultimate, sincere life. The writer of Hebrews stresses who Jesus is, what He did for us, and what our responsibilities are as followers of Him. Let us look at Hebrews 10 (NASB).  

18 Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. 
Jesus' sacrificial offering of himself as the "once-and-for-all" sacrifice has forgiven all sin if we ask for forgiveness. Because this forgiveness is available, no other offering ever needs be made again.  

19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 

Since (transition from what Christ has done for us to our privilege) we can have confidence, free, fearless, cheerful courage, boldness, and assurance:

a.    We have confidence to enter the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum where the Ark of the Covenant is and God’s throne and seat are. In essence, we can enter into God’s presence. This Holy of Holies is hagios in Greek. It is that which is different from all else and set apart. Exodus 26:33 refers to this place as the “holy of Holies” and in Hebrews 9:3, with an altar, as the Ark of the Covenant and the mercy seat upon which God sits. The Holy of Holies behind the veil of the curtain in the temple was the place God set apart for Himself. Jesus’ death and resurrection tore this veil making it accessible to every person who accepts His forgiveness. 

b.    Before, the Law made us aware we were sinners and we had to offer continual sacrifices enter the temple to worship Him from afar. We had to cleanse the outside of ourselves to be able to go into the temple. The sacrifices were to clean the sin from ourselves on the inside, too. These sacrifices were never enough and, so, the Jews performed them again and again. Jesus has fulfilled the Law, become the perfect sacrifice and the only sacrifice that will ever be needed to forgive our sins.   

c.    We can now enter the Holy of Holies with confidence and boldness knowing Jesus has bought our forgiveness with His blood. Now God no longer remembers our sins and misdeeds nor do they impede our way to be before God who is on His throne.   

d.    Jeremiah said in chapter 31:34b, “…they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the Lord, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Even the Old Testament people knew there had to be a better sacrifice. 

e.    Iniquity is depravity, perversity, and guilt. Sin and iniquity affect a person on both the inside and the out. God cleanses a person inside and out when he accepts Christ’s gift of forgiveness upon confessing his sins. Their God cleanses a person's conscience from the guilt he or she carried from the sins he or she committed.  

20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 

Jesus was able to offer us this forgiveness of sin by a new and living way, by his flesh and blood, a sacrifice that does not need repeating each year like the blood of animals. Jesus inaugurated or opened a new way for us through the veil/curtain, which separated us from the Holy of Holies. His death tore the veil that separated us from God should we wish to seek Him. Jesus’ inauguration of this new living way was by initiation; He opened the door for us. It was by consecration; He set us aside to be His own through His sacrifice. It was by dedication; He knew from the beginning of time humanity would need cleansing to be with Him forever. He dedicated Himself to this need, but He also dedicated us for Himself from the beginning of the world. He made a new way by which we could come before God. 

21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 

Jesus is our priest who not only offered a sacrifice for our sins, but He is a great priest who was the sacrifice for our sins. He is the Priest over the house of God, the children of God and God’s temple. This Great Priest is Jesus Christ. As we accept Jesus’ sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins, after our confession, then we become a part of the priesthood of Christ in the house of God, the Church of all believers. We are purified by the blood of Christ and dedicate ourselves to God alone, to follow Christ solely. We can have a relationship with God and be able to talk to and hear from Him. Jesus Christ becomes our intermediary through His sacrifice on the cross. 

Christ gave confidence to us to enter the Holy of Holies. He gave a pure and perfect priest, Jesus Christ, as our intermediary. He called us as His priests dedicated to God alone.  

22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  

Jesus, giving us these things, these privileges, the ability to walk into the presence of God and to be a priest of God, now calls us to our responsibilities.  

The first responsibility is to draw near to Him. Jesus provided the way for us to draw near to Him; Hebrews reiterates the way in this verse, with a heart sprinkled clean from an evil conscience (guilt) and a body washed with pure water both through His blood.  

We cannot just walk into His presence with a lackadaisical attitude. We must walk in with full assurance of our faith, with a sincere heart. What does this mean? If we doubt we are saved or Jesus’ sacrifices was not enough, then we are not cleansed and we cannot be in the presence of God. A wall is still between God and us, just as the veil in the temple was between the Holy of Holies and the main temple court. 

We must walk into the presence of God knowing with full assurance Jesus’ sacrifice was enough and He died for each of us, you and me. We must walk in with confidence and a sincere heart knowing, with faith Jesus cleansed us inside and out from our evil thoughts and deeds. In addition, if we wish to be in God's presence, we must first confess our sins and receive His forgiveness for whatever stands in the way, now, between each of us and Him. 

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;  

The writer of Hebrews continues our responsibilities as believers and priests of God. We must hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering. Wow, that sounds big. How can we do that?   

Holding fast means to keep secure, keep firm possession of, to get possession of, or to take for ourselves. We must believe with a sincere faith in our Hope. We know our hope for eternal salvation is in Jesus. Our faith tells us of this hope. In the Bible, faith is the first of the three greatest gifts. The one following is hope. Without faith, there can be no hope.  

In verse 22, we saw to what/whom our hope is bound. The Greeks taught elpis/hope is one side of a coin in literature. One side of the coin is misery and the other is hope or expectation. This is like our “tossing a coin” where we place our hope that one side will flip up for us so we can get or do what we want. Life is like this two-sided coin. When we did not know Jesus, we were hopeless and living in terrified misery/fear over what will happen to us. When we became a Christian, we live in hope knowing with whom we will live with forever after this life and live with hope as we face difficulties on earth.   

Our hope is based on our faith in Jesus, that He is the only sacrifice we will need to be able to be in God’s presence and with the triune God forever in heaven. This is our Christian hope and Jesus is the basis for this hope. Our faith is in Jesus. Since our faith is in Jesus and we know God, who promises us eternal life in Him, is faithful, God grounds us firmly in our hope in His promises. God is true to all His promises; God is utterly faithful. Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:9 said, “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”   

Faith, Hope, and Love. Because of God’s love for us, He sent His Son, Jesus, to be the once-for-all sacrifice for our sins, which we can receive by faith and which gives us hope for eternal life with Him in His kingdom and a victorious life now on earth. 

24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 

The author of Hebrews gives a final responsibility to the believers, to consider how to stimulate each of our brothers and sisters to love and good deeds.  We must think of ways to encourage and hold accountable other believers to not just believe (and vice versa), but put into action the love of God, which came through the salvation He has given them. God's love infuses us as we become His children through the Holy Spirit. As believers, we should work out our salvation in the world through good works and deeds (Philippians 2:12). If our salvation is true, then we will not be able to stop the out-flowing of God’s love to others.  

Part of our responsibility is not just to do good deeds but also to encourage other believers to do good deeds. We must consider (reflect upon and determine) how to encourage/stimulate a believer to love others in words and actions. The Greek word from which our word stimulate originates is paroxusmos, from which our word paroxysm comes. It means encouraging someone to increase and make reoccur God-like love in words and deeds. Encouraging others is an action that, like coughing, often occurs in “bouts and fits.” Actions beget actions beget actions. In the process of encouraging and stimulating words of love and good deeds, we stimulate ourselves and the cycle continues. Love is never-ending. “It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7 NASB).    

25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some,  but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. 

Our final responsibility, says the writer of Hebrews, is to remember to assemble together so we can encourage each other more and more as you see the time of Christ’s return is approaching. “Not forsaking” means not leaving helpless, abandoning, or deserting. It means not leaving behind. Each Christian needs other Christians. No one of us is complete without the whole body of Christ. No one of us can serve every function of the body of Christ. We need each other for support, teaching, encouraging, prayer, and communion. 

Assembling is a gathering together of people for a purpose, in general. In respect to Christians, assembling is a gathering of believers to devote themselves to teaching, fellowship, prayer, and the Lord’s Supper. The writer of Acts stated in chapter 2 verse 42, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (NASB).  

            Encouragement comes through relationship with other people and through God. God is relational and made us to be in relationship with Him and other people. Just because we are Christians does not mean we are self-sufficient and do not need relationships with others. God made us in His image and, since He is relational, we will always need relationships. As Christians, the best relationships, by and large, come within the body of believers.  

Encouragement in Greek is parakaleo, which means to entreat, beseech, make an appeal to, urge, please, beg, ask, and invite. It also means to comfort, or exhort. It comes from the word from which Paraclete (Holy Spirit, comforter) comes. We believers need to be in relationship within the body of Christ. God has given to us this gift of the body of Christ to support us, to appeal to us, to exhort us to action, and to comfort and encourage us. We cannot face the battle on earth alone. Each person in body of Christ needs support to from other members of the body in facing life because life on earth will be difficult at times. At times, we will need the support of someone to stand up for us when we become tired or weak. Hebrews 3:13 (NASB) says, “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called today, so  that none  of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin  We need to be in an assembly/fellowship of believers because we need the ministry, accountability, and encouragement relationships of Christians brings. 

As the day of the Lord’s return becomes imminent, we will see our need for other believers grow. We will see evil win more battles and see people give over to the dark side of life. We will see people give up, nations go to war, and the earth begin to crumble. This will increase more and more as the time of Christ’s return comes closer. As these dark days become more frequent and longer, more than ever we will need the assembly of believers to encourage us to not faint in our walk with Christ. We will need them to offer support and comfort. They will need us to be there for them. As we get closer to the day of Christ’s return, we should find ourselves growing stronger in our beliefs in the Lord and our relationships with God and others. If we find we are becoming “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin,” then we need to spend more time in relationship with God and more time receiving strength and encouragement from His people.   

Throughout this passage from verses 18-25, we see why each of these privileges and responsibilities occur. They are possible because Jesus said He has come (Hebrew 10:7 NASB).   

By this, will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all… For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, and on their mind I will write them.’ He then says, ‘And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more. (Hebrews 10: 10, 14-17, NASB).  

This is why we can have confidence to enter the Holy of Holies and how we have become priests who are able to stand before God without ceremonial cleansing. God washed our sins from us by the perfect atoning sacrifice of Jesus’ blood, offered of His own accord because of His love for us, so we can be with Him in His kingdom. These are our privileges. Our responsibilities as believers are 1) drawing near to Him with a sincere heart, 2) holding fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, 3) considering how to stimulate each other to love and good deeds, and 4) assembling together to encourage one another.   

We receive the blessing of God by being followers of Christ and we are to pass on those blessings. We are to pass on our faith and belief to other believers through encouragement. We are to pass on to others the Gospel so they can acquire the victory over sin and death through Jesus. Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:2, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (NASB).
We are relational. We have an upward relationship with God and He a downward relationship with us. We are also to have horizontal relationships with others, to support/encourage and to minister/exhort. To be a follower of Jesus means we expect it to change our lives and relationships in such a way we must, from an inner compulsion, live out what God has put into us, His love, through words and good deeds. All the while, we must be ever vigilant within ourselves that we are not so outward focused we do not see the beam of wood in our own eye. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all need forgiveness and atonement each day.