Monday, August 13, 2018

Reading Through Hebrews #4 (Chapters 11-13)

cornerstone tim to hebI am continuing my devotional read through of the New Testament. I am reading  the anonymous, but certainly Paul influenced, letter to “the Hebrews accompanied by The Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. The Hebrews commentary is written by J. Ramsay Michaels. Chapters 11-13 close this written sermon by urging its listeners to make a better application of its truths by living lives of faith, hope and love.  I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Chapter 11 is a "celebration of faith." One thing that makes it amazing is that there are some pretty unsavory characters mentioned as examples of faith and all mentioned had serious flaws. What they had in common was a belief that God could be relied on completely and a trust that enabled them to press on steadfastly, despite present circumstances as they believed God's promises. It emphasizes the point that only a life based on faith is capable of pleasing God. Faith is the logical, reasonable response to a God who keeps his promises and is able to raise the dead. It is the only proper response to what Jesus has done for us.

If in fact God “brings the dead back to life,” then he could bring the child Isaac back from the dead, fulfilling his promise yet again! Abraham’s faith is not blind faith but is based on logic or “reasoning” 11:19). If indeed “God exists,” and if indeed “he rewards those who sincerely seek him” (11:6), how could it be otherwise? Hebrews 11.1-19, 439

“His point is not that Christian believers are “better” off than these heroes of faith but that the realization of the promises they received has to do with “us” and depends on “us.” In this author’s vision all the people of God, past or present, reach “perfection” together (at the last day); they could not be “perfected” without “us.” Consequently, their final salvation, like ours, is something hoped for but still unseen (11:1). At best, they “saw it all from a distance and welcomed it” as of old (see 11:13). Their salvation waits upon our own, and now, with them, we await what still lies in store for us. Hebrews 11.20-38, 446

Hope, the subject of chapter 12, is closely related to faith. The hope is based on Jesus' faithful life that calls us to serve others despite persecution and difficulty. So believers persevere by focusing on Jesus’ example, enablement and promises. The emphasis is not so much on winning the "race" as on finishing it. As Jesus did, we must endure trials and hardships as discipline from God prove his love for us and our relationship to him. Suffering and hardship will complete us and enable us to share in God's holiness. So the author encourages the recipients to strengthen themselves in faith and live as God's people so that they will receive their full inheritance. Finally, he warns them to pay better attention to the New Covenant because its inauguration, consummation, stipulations and eternality are much greater! So also are the consequences of rejecting it. Make use of the grace God has given you, be grateful and live a lifestyle that worships God.

“The effect of such a literary device (chiasm in 10-14) is to bind the two ideals of “peace” (eire¯ne¯ ) and “holiness” (hagiasmos) inextricably together. Neither is possible without the other. “Work at” is literally “pursue,” implying that these are the twin goals of the “race God has set before us” (see 12:1).” Hebrews 12.1-17, 452

"The grace of God” is, in its own way, an even more severe taskmaster than the ancient law of Moses. Because God is speaking to us not as he spoke long ago on earth (12:18–21) but now from heaven (12:25), the consequences of not paying attention and failing to receive the grace of God are that much greater (12:25–29).” Hebrews 12.18-29, 454

But Abel’s blood cried out for retribution, while the blood of Jesus cries out for “something better”—not retribution but forgiveness (12:24; see also 10:17–18). Hebrews 12.24, 459

The service that is acceptable to God puts faith into action and puts love to work. Love is expressed by family support, hospitality to strangers, service to the persecuted, fidelity in marriage, valuing people and their needs above possessions and money, honoring of Christian leaders and staying true to apostolic teachings. The "sacrifice" that pleases God is the one that is willing to risk one's honor and reputation to confess Christ and serve the outcast and needy. The letter ends with a greeting and a final exhortation to apply all the teachings it contains.

He now enumerates some specific things that do “remain” and belong to God’s “unshakable Kingdom.” First, “let brotherly love remain” (see note on 13:1), and then a number of love’s corollaries: “hospitality to strangers” (13:2), kindness to those in prison or in pain (13:3), faithfulness in marriage (13:4), contentment with one’s possessions (13:5–6), and respect for one’s leaders (13:7). Hebrews 13.1-7, 464

The public arena is a risky place to be, the author is saying, for it is where Jesus was crucified. Yet it is where we must be...These two things, faithfulness to our confessions of Jesus Christ and faithfulness to one another in time of need, are “the sacrifices that please God” (13:16), that “devouring fire” whom we worship “with holy fear and awe” (see 12:28–29). Hebrews 13.1-21, 466

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