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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Bold Access before the Throne of God (Hebrews 4)

The home where I grew up in the beautiful and mountainous countryside of Northwest New Jersey was immediately next to an exclusive country club. Our home was opposite the first hole, and it was not unusual for me to find a golf ball in the yard. If a right-handed golfer severely hooked his first shot of the day off the Number One tee, I was the new owner of his golf ball. IMG_1304

Being a bit of an entrepreneurial kid, I collected those golf balls, as well has many hundreds of others that I found by walking around the wooded perimeter of the course, and sold them back to the dopey golfers who lost them! I would wash them up and display them in egg cartons on a bench on the 18th tee.

But there were many hazards for me in this business. My excessive fear of snakes relates to this time of my life. And since the golf club was private, I was NOT allowed on it whatsoever. So my business was truly an underground, surreptitious operation. Most of my golf ball hunting was done in fields and forests just over the property lines of the club, but at certain points I would have to quickly cross a section of the course to get to the next area … always watching to be sure I was not discovered and chased by the grounds crew.

I had one classmate whose family had a membership at the club. One day he invited me to be his guest, and I was thrilled!  With him – a member known there to everyone at the pool, the clubhouse and the pro shop, I was able to boldly walk around places I would have never been allowed to go by myself without him.

In the story of Esther, we have been talking about how in chapters four and five that Queen Esther remarked how even she was not assuredly able to come into the King’s presence without his original invitation. In similar manner, we may ask the question as to who we think we are to go into the presence of the Creator God of the universe. He is perfect and holy — all the stuff that we are not. And yet the Scriptures say we can have an open and bold presence with him, and that in fact he welcomes it!

As one of what is on my first handful of all-time favorite passages is this one from Hebrews 4:12-16 …

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.

Oh man … that sounds rather scary! There is no hiding the mess that each of us are! God sees through it as if our every fault is visible in the open sunlight in the middle of a vast wheat field. There is no hiding anything!  But read on …

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Here is the great asset possessed by the believer in Christ. He is a great high priest who is in the very presence of God. Let me remind you what a priest does — he represents the people before God (whereas a prophet represented God before the people). Jesus was fully human like us, yet without sin and therefore perfect. He represents us before God as having paid our debt of sin, and we have therefore the bold encouragement to come openly before God with our needs — including with our sins and weaknesses that need forgiveness and His strength to overcome.

We are with Christ. And he has made us “members” and “family” who belong in God’s presence without fear of being harmed or driven away. I don’t know how to help anyone who cannot see the awesomeness of this privilege. So use it!

At the heart of things (Hebrews 4:12-13)

My son Benjamin and I have an old 1990 Chevy pickup truck that is … well … very old. I gave up on it years ago, but Ben has a sort of romantic attachment to it as his first truck and simply could not let it go. The truck has been sitting around for a couple of years, used very little; and now Ben has decided he wants to get it going and put historic plates on it.

There was one big problem recently though, and it was something to do with the steering mechanism. So he took it upon himself to try to fix it himself by reading and listening to an instructional video on what I heard as “a notoriously difficult problem in Chevy trucks.” After a while, he had the steering wheel off and the entire column disassembled to get down into the very inner workings to replace a part that was broken. Then there was the challenge of putting it all back together in proper order! It is still a work in process, but the end is in sight … we hope.

When something goes wrong, be it mechanical, or with a computer, or even with the workings of the human body, it is often necessary to dig down inside, taking it apart by the use of tools and devices to expose the inner problem. It can be complicated.

But those illustrations are all material and of the physical world. What tool or device can be used to probe into the immaterial realm … into the metaphysical world of the soul and the spirit? What truly can expose the true nature of thoughts, desires, passions or spiritual values and realities?

There is only one thing able to do this. It is God’s eternal word.

Hebrews 4:12-13

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. 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.

Within the warning passage given to the Hebrews here in chapter four, they are reminded that it is serious business to not trust truly in God and prioritize his values. And there is wisdom in that for us in 2015 as well.

The picture in this passage is twofold: the word is able to penetrate to the very heart and core of things, and it also opens to the light – particularly the eyes of God – the true nature of what lies in the center of the human heart.

Verse 12 list three pictures as to how accurately penetrating is the truth of the word. Each item is something that is unimaginable in terms of how two things could ever be divided.

What is the difference between the soul and the spirit – two components of the immaterial part of man? The soul is usually defined as the intellect, the emotions and the will … but how do we talk about them apart from the spirit of man – that which is the essence of life and relationship with God?

Likewise, the dividing of joints and marrow. In modern science, these are certainly distinct. But the idea here is to not be anatomical or physiological, but rather to picture that which goes together on the inside as a unified working mechanism of the body.

And finally, how are thoughts and intents to be surely divided? The Scriptures elsewhere speak of the deceptive nature of the heart – that it can fool even an individual himself, who can be sincerely wrong about the genuine nature of a thought or intent that underlies an action.

And then verse 13 speaks of how the divisions and surgery that takes place at the deepest levels lay open – literally “naked” is the term in the Greek language – the true underlying realities at the core of the heart. It opens one fully to God to be judged for what it really is.

There is no way around seeing and understanding this passage in a very sobering way. I often wonder how people who read such a clear statement as this, and yet don’t prioritize and value their connection and relationship with God due to other values of life, can find any comfort or peace in this life. Even if you can fool others, there is no possibility of deceiving God.

Yet at the same time there is encouragement in this passage. For those who do value God, and who in spite of human frailty in this world strive toward genuine faith and love for the Lord and genuine service to others, there is comfort in knowing that one’s labors are not in vain. And the writer will specify this thought a bit later, saying in 6:10 …

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.

That is a good truth to know, especially when you know truly of your genuine heart in serving God and others. Though that may be misunderstood by others, God is the good and just ultimate judge.

 

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.