The true and better Moses (Hebrews 3-4)

For me, one of the most compelling things about Christianity is its coherence—that the pieces of God’s story come together to form a whole.  The Bible isn’t a bunch of different stories collected between two covers; it’s one story, from beginning to end, and it’s a story about Jesus.

THE EDGE OF PROMISE

As I was reading the story of Moses this past week, I was struck by the fact that though the Pentateuch (those first five books of the Bible) is so focused on Israel’s journey to the Promised Land, the people never actually get there.  Moses leads them to the border—though they never actually go in.  It isn’t until the book of Joshua that we see the people actually enter into God’s Promised Land.

The writer of Hebrews notes that neither Moses nor anyone in Israel’s great hall of fame truly experienced the full breadth of God’s promises:

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

This side of the resurrection, each of us is a sojourner, an exile, someone wandering toward God’s future yet never truly getting there—yet. 

We catch a hint of this as the book of Deuteronomy winds to a close:

And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses.

And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land,12 and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.  (Deuteronomy 34:10-12)

Israel, of course, had many prophets who followed Moses.  It may be that they regarded some of these prophets as more or less successful than one another, but ultimately Moses was the man most admired by God’s people.

Except, if we understand how these pieces fit together, then we must conclude that we need a prophet—a true and better Moses—to lead us not merely to the edge of God’s promises, but into them to see them fulfilled.

THE TRUE AND BETTER MOSES

Jesus is the true and better Moses.  The writer of Hebrews picks up on this exact theme, noting that while Moses served God as a servant, Jesus was faithful as a son:

3 Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2 who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. 3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’” (Hebrews 3:3-11)

You may recall that Moses and the Israelites had previously doubted God and refused to enter the land when they saw the Canaanites there.  Their fear—their disbelief—condemned them to their wandering (Numbers 13-14).  They did not at that time get to experience God’s rest, a lesson the writer of Hebrews uses to illustrate the consequences of not turning our focus to Christ.

Jesus promises a better rest, not found only in the land but in the eternal splendor of God’s renewed and restored Kingdom.  The writer of Hebrews takes the word “rest,” applying it not only to the Promised Land of Israel’s history but to the promises of God’s eternal future:

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:8-11)

Jesus is the true and better Moses, whose obedience leads us all into a new world of promise, a renewed and restored creation where perfect joy and perfect justice flow like the fabled milk and honey of Israel’s dreams.

In today’s political and social climate, there are many things that engender fear and disbelief.  But hope engenders hope, and by looking toward God’s glorious future, we are reminded that the battle scars we bear are not exceptions or setbacks to God’s great promise—they are the very reasons for it.  And so we turn, this day and always, to the true and better Moses, to the Savior whose obedience leads us onward into the very heart of promise.

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A Home for the Heart (Hebrews 3 + 4)

The crazy weather of recent weeks that caused us to cancel church last Sunday has me taking a bit of a different order of writing these devotionals than the original plan I set out for Chris and me to follow. I try not to just repeat what was done in the Sunday sermon corresponding to a particular passage as it comes up in this online resource. Chris and I attempt to not just remind you as to how it fits into the flow of our overall study, but to also include some other material and angles.

But with Sunday being cancelled, I have been sharing with you over the past couple of days what you would have heard if we were able to have met together.

Our topic was to speak of how Christ meets and provides the true contentment of the heart. To know him and be restored to relationship with him is the goal and outcome of it all. This is satisfaction that fulfills.

So how does this come about?  I was to mention three points of instruction on how to endure in the faith – from chapters 3 and 4 of Hebrews. Here are the points:

Tools for Endurance

What to do – Fix your eyes and thoughts on Jesus – the Son of God (3:1-6)

What not to do – Follow the foolish example of those who lacked faith (3:7-19)

How to do it – Obey God through the resource of His Word (4:9-13)

So this past Sunday I was going to skip the early portion of chapter 4 and close with the big idea that it leads to in verses 9-13. I will write on the earlier portion of chapter 4 on Monday, but let me first continue the final of the three points from last week.

Here is the passage from Hebrews 4:9-13…

9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Chapter 4 talks about a rest for the people of God, and this is the goal toward which we strive in life. We experience it in fractional form in the peace of Christ that sufficiently rules and reigns in our hearts and lives as we yield to him in spite of the circumstances of this life, and we realize it in its ultimate reward eternally.

We all like to rest, especially after a period of labor. I’m writing this in my easy chair at home, having spent too much of my day shoveling snow!!

The ironic truth is that entering into God’s rest does not come from taking a break from work but rather from working hard. It calls for full seriousness and intensity of application on the part of those who wish to enter into its enjoyment. And so our need is to strive for it like the Apostle Paul, to stretch out for what lies ahead and press toward the goal of God’s heavenly rest (Phil. 3:13ff).

But we are not left to struggle alone or in ignorance with no resources. We have the incredible gift of the Word of God – which is so effective as to cut between the thoughts and intents of the heart. Can you do that? About others? NO!  About yourself? Not even there with certainty – I am often second-guessing my actions and decisions, checking and double-checking to see that they are sourced in God and not some selfish desire or idea.

So, fix your mind on Christ, don’t be foolish like those who lack faith, and use the resource of God’s Word. This provides long-tern endurance in the faith. And when we do these things, we find that our true heart’s home is only ever going to be found in Jesus.

Stupid is as stupid does, so don’t do stupid! (Hebrews 3:7-19)

One of the baffling features of human nature is how so many people can see and have experiences living around the foolish choices in the lives of others, but rather than learn from it, they go out and do the very same things. That is just being stupid. And to quote Forrest Gump: “Stupid is as stupid does.”

As we wrote yesterday about the entire background of the book of Hebrews, these Christians from a Jewish background were on the cusp of doing something very stupid – of walking back to that system from which they had previously departed.

We finished yesterday by giving the first of three points that would have been in last week’s snowed-out sermon. It was to say to those contemplating giving up the faith (and by application to us), here is what to doFix your thoughts on Jesus, the Son of God.

So today, as a contrastive second point, here is what not to do: Don’t follow the foolish example of those who displayed a lack of faith. Of course, the writer was talking about their Jewish ancestors who comprised the generation that came out of Egypt 1500+ years earlier under the leadership of Moses and God’s miraculous deliverance.

7 So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, 9 where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. 10 That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’  11 So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”

12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 

15 As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” 16 Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

On one hand we can sort of understand the small-minded nature of the roughly two million people who comprised the nation of Israel at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. They had been slaves for over 400 years – think of that as comparable to the period of time from Jamestown/Plymouth Rock until now. They were a defeated and oppressed people.

But on the other hand, consider what they had seen happen. They witnessed the powerful hand of God in the plagues brought upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians that resulted in securing their release. After that they saw the waters of the sea open, the army of Egypt swept away, the cloud by day and the pillar by night, manna falling from the sky and water out of a rock … among other things. Clearly God was with them. They were unconquerable.

As they approached the Promised Land at Kadesh-Barnea and sent the spies into the land, the nation (apart from Moses, Joshua and Caleb) failed to act in faith upon what they had seen. Instead of going forward into the good land of God’s promise (called also in this passage “entering God’s rest” – more on that in future writings), they were ready to go back to Egypt.

Get the theme? Going back … to Egypt … and then, for the Hebrews, to the old system of faith. There is only one word for that:  Stupid!

And so it is for you when you have had Christ’s truth come to your life – you’ve understood the Gospel – you’ve begun to walk in it – you’ve seen the good that comes of it – but some troubles come your way and God doesn’t seem to be riding shotgun when you need him – so you head back to your own personal Egypt!  You know what that is?  That’s being stupid … you’re going to end up being a slave again – a slave to sin and the stuff that is never going to survive this fallen world.

And the passage today contains as well some practical advice: to encourage one another “daily, while it is today.”

There is an endless and ongoing need for encouragers in the body of Christ. If we all commit to this with each other and do it for others, we’ll find joy in helping and resources for our own needs when we face the inevitable discouragements of life. Some days you’re the giver, other days you’re the receiver.

Being an encourager and remaining faithful is being smart. Giving up and going back from trusting God is, in a word, stupid.

Jesus – Even Greater Than Moses!! (Hebrews 3:1-6)

In our first seven readings and devotionals of this series, Chris has gotten us off to a great start. The passages he covered in the first two chapters of Hebrews were related to his sermon theme of week #1.

Now, as we turn into chapters three and four, I will be sharing with you over the next seven writings about this material – most of which was going to be included in my sermon this past Sunday that got snowed out!

Let us recall again the critical necessity of understanding the background of this letter. The original audience receiving this writing were first century followers of Christ, and they were now out of step with their Jewish brothers and background, as well as with the Roman authoritarian world.  Life was easier before they got into this “Jesus following” thing.  After all, it now involved a lot of faith. In Judaism there was a real temple with a real priest … and all of that was at least tolerated by the Romans.  The Jesus thing was leading to such hatred and conflict as to incite real persecution.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what may have caused this hostile condition, but it may have been the events of 49 A.D., when it was written in an ancient historical account that “Claudius expelled the Jews because “they were constantly indulging in riots at the instigation of Chrestus.”  Perhaps it was the preaching of Jesus in synagogues may have led to disorder … Romans hated disorder … the Christian Hebrews were blamed, abused and forsaken … many may have lost homes and been persecuted in various ways (all of which is hinted at later in the letter).

So for these early Christians, there was an ever-widening gap between the promises of God and their fulfillment. And that is exactly what a lot of people are feeling today, especially newer and younger Christians who have to function more actively in a very hostile and secular world.

And so it is that the book of Hebrews holds, I believe, a tremendously practical message for a time such as we live in (and may increasingly live in) where we are totally out of step with the rest of the culture around us.  And we are out of step as well to the extent of being even hated by that culture.

The writer’s admonition throughout is to tell his readers to “hang in there” … to look to Jesus and run to him as the greater answer to their life circumstances. And in the process the writer is pulling the readers to understand just exactly how great Jesus is. The early chapters of Hebrews contain one of the great teachings of the Bible on who Jesus is. Up to this point it has talked about how Jesus was greater than the angels, and that’s pretty awesome, because angels are very, very cool. But, they’re just God’s messengers and servants.

Today in chapter three the writer turns to describe how Jesus is greater than Moses – the #1 hero of the Jewish people. And it was a big deal to say that anyone was greater than Moses. In Exodus 33:11 it says that “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”  (Don’t miss our children’s musical program on the 22nd that I’m putting together. There is a song on Moses that I am actually singing – rapping even! – with the kids, and it repeats this “friend” idea over and over in the song.)

We could maybe think of it this way, Jacob as the father of the Jewish people was sort of like George Washington; and Moses, who led the people out of Egyptian slavery and to the gates of the Promised Land, was kind of like Abraham Lincoln. So, to say that Jesus was better than Moses was really a big, big, deal. And that is what the writer does:

3:1 – Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. 2 He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3 Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. 4 For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. 5 Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. 6 But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.

Notice that the readers are called “brothers and sisters who share in the heavenly calling.”  These folks were true believers – secure in Christ (there is nothing here or anywhere in Hebrews that teaches any sort of works toward earning salvation or losing genuine salvation by throwing it away. Rather, it is all about how to be faithful in the salvation one possesses without throwing away its rewards and benefits).

The writer tells them to fix their mind, their thoughts, their eyes on Jesus. Why? Well, let me ask you this – why are you not supposed to text message on your phone while you are driving?  If you crash while doing so, is it the road’s fault?  Is it a lack of signs and directions?  No, it is because you took your eyes and attention off where they should be fixed! Do you think that might have any application to your spiritual life? What are the root causes of spiritual failures?  Is it because the Scriptures aren’t clear? Not at all; it is because we don’t look to Jesus.

Jesus is called the apostle and high priest – the one who brought the message of truth with authority, and the one who is the high priest. This latter concept is going to get several chapters written about it later in the book. The high priest was a big deal to the Jews, and the writer would prove that Jesus is the ultimate high priest.

Jesus was faithful like Moses, thus bringing Moses into the equation. Moses, the father of the very system of worship they were thinking of going back to!

But why do that? The author argues that Jesus is greater than Moses. How? In a variety of ways as pointed out in these verses – which are not to degrade Moses, but to exalt Christ as unbeatable …

  • Moses was a temporary servant, whereas Christ is the eternal
  • Moses was a witness, whereas Christ is the revelation itself.
  • Moses was a faithful steward in the house, whereas Christ is its owner.
  • Moses loved God, but Jesus IS God.

The implication is plain. To forsake the way of Christ for the way of Moses is to go from the greater to the lesser. It is to abandon the permanent in favor of the temporary. It is to reject the fulfillment and accept the foreshadow.

Why would anyone want to do something so stupid as that? That is a timeless question! Why would anyone walk away from the only thing that fills the heart with contentment?

Fix your attention on Jesus; that is the thing to do. (And that is point one of three – come back tomorrow for point two.)