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A Journey through the book of Genesiswith Willow Creek Community Church

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Week 4 Day 5 // A Response of Worship

Willow Creek Community Church

 

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise— the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

HEBREWS 13:15-16

 

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Introduction

The book of Hebrews concludes with a chapter filled with practical instruction which tells us how we are to live as Christians. The style of this chapter is noticeably different from anything we’ve seen in the first 12 chapters and, at first glance, it seems like a strange addition to the book. In fact, some critical scholars suggest that it really is a secondary addition written by a second author. A more thoughtful approach to this chapter might be to see it as a summary of next steps for how to worship God in light of everything we’ve read.

There are a few reasons why we might view chapter 13 as next steps for how
to worship. First, the final challenge of chapter 12 contains a call to worship: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28). A list of instructions on how to worship naturally follows a call to worship. Second, Hebrews has reminded us time and time again that because of the blood of Jesus Christ, we now have access to the throne of God where worship happens (Hebrews 9:14). If we have access to God, then what other response is more natural than worship? Finally, Jesus’ sacrifice brought an end to the old sacrificial system in which believers worshiped God by offering animals (Hebrews 10:1-18). But that doesn’t mean that He put an end to worship; people can worship in many different ways. Scripture teaches that we can worship God with our voices and with our service. This is exactly what the writer of Hebrews invites us to do in the middle of this chapter: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Hebrews 13:15-16).

When we consider all that Jesus has done for us, and the incredible sacrifice He offers, we are compelled to worship Him. These closing instructions give us a road map to worshiping God with our voices and with our lives. It is important that we think about how we can put Hebrews’ closing instructions into practice so that Jesus can receive a worthy response of worship through our lives.


Scripture

CONCLUDING EXHORTATIONS

1 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. 3 Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

6 So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”

7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. 10 We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.

11 The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. 13 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14 For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

17 Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

18 Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. 19 I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.

BENEDICTION AND FINAL GREETINGS

20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

22 Brothers and sisters, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for in fact I have written to you quite briefly.

23 I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you.

24 Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings.

25 Grace be with you all.


Reflection

  1. Worshiping God involves more than just singing, it involves sacrificial living. If worship is more than just words to a song, how would you say that you worship God in your daily life?

  2. Hebrews 13:9 instructs us to “not be carried away by strange teachings.” While this might seem obvious, it is actually very easy to fall prey to. We live in a world where we are taught to be accepting of everyone’s beliefs and viewpoints. As Christ-followers, we should be loving and accepting of everyone, but we should also hold firmly to biblical truth. What “strange teachings” have you come across in your life that have made you question what the Bible teaches? What do you need more clarity on as you seek to understand God’s truth in today’s world?

  3. In Matthew 25, there is a well-known parable that ends with Jesus saying, whenever we serve the least of these we are serving Him. This parable teaches us that loving others glorifies God, and when we serve others, we worship Him. Understanding the link between serving and worship is important. God doesn’t need us to serve Him— we serve others to worship Him. When you understand that, it changes the way you view serving. So, who are you serving? If you’re not serving, how can you get started today?

Week 4 Day 4 // We've Come to a Greater Mountain

Willow Creek Community Church

 

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; . . . you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.

HEBREWS 12:18, 22

 

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Introduction

As the book of Hebrews draws to a close, the writer makes one final contrast between old things and new things. Here, the contrast is between two different mountains: Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. Mount Sinai is an actual, physical mountain. Some believe that it is the mountain known today as Jebel Musa (though this cannot be verified and is a matter of significant debate). Wherever Mount Sinai may be located, we know that this is the place where God established His covenant with the people of Israel after He saved them from their slavery in Egypt. Exodus 19-24 narrates this event and describes what the experience was like for the Israelites as they stood at the base of the mountain. For the Israelites, this was both an awe-inspiring and fear-inducing incident. As remarkable as it was that God actually physically settled in their sight on top of this mountain, the event was terrifying because it revealed to them just how unqualified we are as sinful humans to be in the presence of God.

In Hebrews 12, the writer contrasts Mount Sinai and these associations of fear, with Mount Zion. Like Mount Sinai, Mount Zion is also an actual, physical mountain upon which the city of Jerusalem has been built. However, the Mount Zion that the writer has in mind is not this physical mountain and city, instead it is a spiritual mountain and city. Heaven is described in Scripture as a spiritual Jerusalem and this is what the writer intends to convey (Galatians 4:26, Revelation 21:10).

Through this contrast, the writer was pleading one last time that readers should not put their eternal hope in the Mount Sinai experience. As life altering and important as that experience was, it cannot compare to the experience that can be had at the spiritual Mount Zion. At the spiritual Mount Zion, one does not need to tremble in unqualified fear. Jesus has qualified all who believe in Him to stand in God’s presence. This is important not just for the original readers but for us today, as well. Many of us cling to a view that God is a judge to be feared. This is true, in part. If we aren’t qualified to stand in His presence, then we should be afraid. But if we continue to believe, allowing the blood of Jesus to speak on our behalf, then we have no reason to fear. At the spiritual Mount Zion, we are welcomed in and can experience God in all His glory.


Scripture

HEBREWS 12:18–29

THE MOUNTAIN OF FEAR AND THE MOUNTAIN OF JOY

18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trum- pet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no fur- ther word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”


Reflection

  1. We often try to impart human attributes on to God since that is the viewpoint we understand. However, God is greater and more perfect than our human understanding can comprehend. Considering this, what is your posture as you enter into God’s presence? When you speak with Him in prayer, how do you humbly worship Him and exalt His name?

  2. Hebrews 12:25 refers to the judgement that we face when we reject God. If we choose to reject Him, then we should be fearful because we aren’t qualified to stand in His presence. But, if we surrender our lives in faith to Christ, we have nothing to fear. How do you know if you are qualified to stand in His presence? What fears about God do you need to surrender?

  3. Eventually this world will crumble, and only God’s Kingdom will last. Those who follow Christ are a part of this unshakeable Kingdom. When we feel unsure about the future, we can find confidence in Hebrews 12:27-29. In your own words describe what God’s Kingdom means to you?

Week 4 Day 3 // The Race of Faith

Willow Creek Community Church

 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

HEBREWS 12:1-2

 

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Introduction

In Hebrews 12, the writer uses a great word-play to shift the focus of the book from the heroes of old to the opportunity we have before us. Hebrews 12:1 says that we are surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses.” The phrase “cloud of witnesses” does refer to the heroes of Hebrews 11 whose lives provided “witness” testimony about God. This is a group of people we can look to for encouragement in our faith. Yet, the phrase “cloud of witnesses” is also intended to portray these heroes as a crowd of spectators looking back at us. In fact, the New Living Translation emphasizes this by translating this phrase as “crowd of witnesses.” The idea here is that we have been set in a stadium, all eyes are on us, and these witnesses are eager to see whether we will finish the race of faith.

Here the writer outlines what it will take for us to finish this race. First, we must “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1). In ancient competitions, runners often ran naked or close to it because clothes added weight and got in the way. In a similar way, we should free ourselves of the things in life that can weigh us down or trip us up in our faith. The writer also urges us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). Faith isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Just like long-distance runners have to find the mental fortitude to keep going when their legs are burning and their lungs are out of breath, we have to find a way to push through even when following Jesus isn’t the easiest or most popular decision.

Most importantly, the writer urges us to fix “our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Just like runners keep their eyes on the finish line, we must keep our eyes on Jesus because He has already run and won the race. He is the perfect example of how to live our lives. Now, like the rest of the crowd of witnesses, He’s looking at us, cheering us on, and eager to see if we, like He, will finish the race.


Scripture

HEBREWS 12:1–17

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

GOD DISCIPLINES HIS CHILDREN

4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it pro- duces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

WARNING AND ENCOURAGEMENT

14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17 Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.


Reflection

  1. To run the race God has set for each of us, we must remove the things that slow us down from maturing in our faith. Hebrews 12:1 says that these things “hinder” and “entangle” us. What are those things for you? Maybe it’s an activity or an action? Maybe it’s a person or a friend group? Maybe it’s a place? Whatever it is, what do you need to remove from your life so you can grow closer to God?

  2. Hebrews 12 teaches us that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who are cheering us on. Who are the people in your life cheering you on in your faith journey? Who is discipling you by helping you grow in your faith, challenging you, and holding you accountable? If you don’t have someone cheering you on, how can you take a step towards finding someone (or a group) to disciple you?

  3. It is never pleasant to be corrected or disciplined by God, but His discipline is a sign of His deep love for us, as seen in Hebrews 12:5-11. Reflect on a time when you experienced God’s discipline. Maybe you didn’t realize at the time that that’s what it was, but now when you look back, you can see God’s hand at work. What did He teach you during that time?

Week 4 Day 2 // Anyone Can Leave a Legacy of Faith

Willow Creek Community Church

 

By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

HEBREWS 11:31

 

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Introduction

The final person whose story is recited among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 is an individual named Rahab. Rahab’s story can be read in Joshua 2. In this story, Rahab, a prostitute from the city of Jericho, provided protection for a couple of incompetent Israelite spies as they searched her city. She didn’t have to do this.
In fact, we know of laws from the ancient Near East which said that people could be put to death for providing protection for spies like she did. In spite of these laws, Rahab risked her life for these spies because of her faith in God. In doing so, she helped ensure the success of the Israelite army in the city of Jericho.

One of the many remarkable things about Rahab’s role in the book of Joshua is how utterly unique it is within the larger literary context of the ancient Near East. Archaeologists have uncovered many ancient conquest accounts like the book of Joshua. In these accounts, kings wrote about how they conquered lands just like the Israelites did in the book of Joshua. What is missing from those accounts, and what makes the book of Joshua so special is that it includes a tale of a foreign, female prostitute sweeping in to save the day when the conquerors floundered. Her story stands out among ancient conquest accounts, and it shows that God wanted to make sure her name and story were remembered. God wanted future generations to know that any person, no matter their ethnicity, gender, or past, could make a difference and leave a legacy of faith.

In Hebrews 11, the writer of Hebrews could have stopped short of recounting the story. Just like the book of Joshua, the writer included it so that readers would know that stories like this can and should inspire us. This was undoubtedly significant for the original readers of Hebrews. Although they likely shared a Jewish religious background, we can safely assume that the original readers were of diverse occupations, genders, and ethnicities. The story of Rahab is a reminder for each of us that it doesn’t matter where you are from, what you look like, or what you’ve done in the past. Anyone can leave a legacy of faith.


Scripture

HEBREWS 11:24–40

24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.

31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered

kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned some- thing better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.


Reflection

  1. In Hebrews 11:24-26, Moses is remembered for choosing to identify with the Israelites instead of the Egyptians. This was a huge decision because Moses was essentially royalty and would have had access to immense wealth had he identified with the Egyptians. Why do you think he did this? What motivations drive your decisions? Is it comfort or wealth? Or something greater?

  2. In Hebrews 11:31, Rahab’s story is a powerful reminder that we all leave a legacy behind when we die. The good news is that it doesn’t matter what our gender is, what our ethnicity is, or how bad our past is—all that matters is how we lived with faith. What legacy of faith do you want to leave? What do you want people to remember about you long after you’re gone?

  3. One common misconception of the Christian life is that because we have Jesus, we won’t experience pain or suffering. Hebrews 11:35-39 reminds us that God allowed Christians to experience pain or suffering for their faith. When suffering occurs today in our lives, we often ask, “Why me?”, and we feel as though God has deserted us. However, in reality, we live in a sinful world full of suffering, even for believers. How do you think our pain can actually help us grow closer to Christ and become more like Him?

Week 4 Day 1 // The Best is Yet to Come

Willow Creek Community Church

 

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.

HEBREWS 11:13

 

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Introduction

While most of the stories in Hebrews 11 show clear, straightforward examples of our biblical heroes’ faith, there are a few stories where it is not immediately clear how a person’s actions demonstrated faith. The story of Joseph in Hebrews 11:2 says, “By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.” How did Joseph’s words reflect faith?

It is helpful to get a little backstory on Joseph. In the book of Genesis, God gave Joseph’s great-grandfather, Abraham, a set of promises: he would make his offspring into a great nation, his family would inherit a land of their own, and they would be a blessing to all nations. As the book of Genesis unfolds, God begins to fulfill these promises. He provides children for the childless Abraham, He enables Abraham to buy a burial plot in the land God promised him, and He also uses Abraham’s descendants as a means of blessing other nations, particularly Joseph who masterminded a plan to deal with a famine in Egypt.

Even though God had begun to fulfill these promises, the book of Genesis ends with the promises only partially fulfilled. When Genesis ends, Abraham’s descendants are only 70 in number, hardly a great nation, and his descendants own a burial plot in Canaan, but not the whole territory. In fact, the final verses of Genesis that are alluded to here accentuate the fact that they were living outside the land God promised them: “And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.’ So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.” (Genesis 50:25-26).

So how did Joseph’s words reflect faith? They reflected a faith that believed that even though God had not yet completely fulfilled His promises, He eventually would. God would eventually return the Israelites from Egypt and give them all of the Promised Land. This is important for us as we also sit in the tension of having partially received what God has promised us, but not all of it. If we ever find ourselves doubting or wondering whether this is all there is to the Christian life, Joseph’s example reminds us that the best is yet to come.


Scripture

HEBREWS 11:13–23

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.

21 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, bless- ed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

22 By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.

23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.


Reflection

  1. After reading today’s passage, we are reminded in Hebrews 11:13 that each one of these people died without seeing the fruit of their faith on earth, yet they never lost sight of their vision of Heaven. In what ways do you find yourself discouraged or frustrated with God when your needs, wants, or expectations go unmet? How do you respond when God doesn’t answer your prayers the way you want Him to? What do you need to do stay focused on the vision of Heaven?

  2. Our faith is not meant for earthly purposes. Our motivation should never be for personal comfort or gain. Instead, our faith should have an eternal vision. Take a moment to reflect on what your faith means to you. What is the eternal significance causing you to persevere in your faith journey?

  3. In Hebrews 11:23, Moses’ parents are remembered for trusting God to protect their son’s life as they placed him in a basket and pushed him into the river. Imagine having the kind of faith in which you can give up control of caring for your child! Have you trusted God to fully care for your children, parents, siblings, or spouse? Or, do you try to control their safety, health, or well-being? Take some time to pray that God will protect your loved ones and ask Him to give you the faith to trust in Him.

Week 3 Day 5 // Faith: Seeing Through Reason

Willow Creek Community Church

 

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

HEBREWS 11:1

 

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Introduction

Hebrews 11 contains what is popularly known as the “Hall of Faith.” It highlights key expressions of faith from the lives of biblical heroes. As Hebrews builds to its climactic moment, this list of stories is intended to encourage and inspire us as readers to follow their examples of faith. But before this sequence of stories begins, the chapter starts by clarifying what faith is. Hebrews 11:1 describes faith this way: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

This verse has frequently been interpreted in pop culture as saying that faith is a blind leap that ignores reason. This interpretation couldn’t be further from the truth. First, faith is not blind. Faith is actually something that involves keen spiritual vision. By faith, people are able to see what is unseen—God and His promises.

As Hebrews 11:13 says, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance” (see also Hebrews 11:3, 27).

Second, faith is not something that ignores reason. Faith is actually rooted in reason. Faith looks at the evidence, how God has already begun to fulfill His promises, and makes a reasonable decision to trust that God will one day completely fulfill these promises. This is exactly how the faith of the heroes in Hebrews 11 is described. Hebrews 11:19 says, “Abraham reasoned . . . .

The significance of these things for us is that we live in a culture that says in order to have faith, you have to blindly check your brain at the door. If faith was that simple and easy, more people would do it. The truth is that faith is difficult, not because it ignores facts, but because it may require us to do things that are uncomfortable for us. The point of the stories recorded in Hebrews 11 is to encourage us; others have walked this road before us. They were able to walk this road because they saw and reasoned that God is worthy of our trust.


Scripture

HEBREWS 11:1–12 

FAITH IN ACTION 

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. 

4 By faith Abel brought God a better offer- ing than Cain did. By faith he was commend- ed as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead. 

5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. 

7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith. 

8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.  


Reflection

  1. Faith is not easy. Questions and doubts about God can prevent people from exploring faith or simply stall them from growing. The reality is that there are limits to human reason, and at some point, we have to choose if we are going to have faith in the things we don’t understand, or not. Imagine how hard it must have been for Abraham to have faith in God when He asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac! It’s ok to have questions and doubts, but what’s important is how you address them. What questions or doubts do you have about God? How can you use reason to help you process them? Who can you bring your questions and doubts to?

  2. The greatest understanding of faith is believing in God’s promises even though we may not see them come to fruition. Just like Sarah demonstrated her faith in Hebrews 11:11-12, we demonstrate true faith when we believe God will do what He says He will. What promises from God are you waiting on? How can you continue to have faith even if you don’t see what God is doing?

  3. In Hebrews 11:8-10, Abraham is remembered for obediently leaving his home and going to another land. He was even willing to sacrifice his own son (Hebrews 11:17). We should not be surprised if God asks us to give up our security or comfort in order to carry out His will. What might God be asking you to give up to live in obedience to His will? Are you willing to sacrifice the things that the world says you need in order to do that?

Week 3 Day 4 // The Deliberate Sin of Rejecting Jesus

Willow Creek Community Church

 

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

HEBREWS 10:26-27

 

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Introduction

The last half of Hebrews 10 contains the fourth and harshest of the five warning passages in the book (Hebrews 2:1-4, 3:7-4:13, 5:11-6:12, 10:19-39, 12:14-29).
In the middle of this warning, the writer says, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Hebrews 10:26). This warning has caused a great deal of anxiety for Christians over the centuries and has led many to wonder whether they are guilty of committing this deliberate sin.

The writer of Hebrews would undoubtedly say that all sin is inappropriate for followers of Jesus, and we see this throughout the New Testament. In Romans 6:1-2 it says, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” But, when we look closely at the description of this particular sin for which “no sacrifice” remains, it becomes clear that it is a proud, persistent, and purposeful rejection of Jesus as the source of our salvation. This sin proves that it is proud when it has “insulted the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:29). It is persistent because it is something people “keep on” doing (Hebrews 10:26). It proves that it is a purposeful rejection of Jesus as the source of salvation when it has “trampled the Son of God underfoot” and
has “treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant” (Hebrews 10:29). In other words, the person who commits this sin knows exactly what they are doing when they reject Jesus and never shows remorse or repentance.

In light of this description, we should not anxiously wonder whether we have committed this sin. If we are worried about whether or not we have committed this sin then, ironically, we prove that we have not committed it. We are not continually rejecting Jesus. That said, we should pay close attention to this warning. If we reject Jesus as the source of our salvation, “no sacrifice . . . is left” for this sin because there is no other sacrifice that can save us.


Scripture

HEBREWS 10:19–39

A CALL TO PERSEVERE IN FAITH

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For,

“In just a little while,
he who is coming will come and will not delay.”

38 And,
“But my righteous one will live by faith.

And I take no pleasure

in the one who shrinks back.”

39 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.


Reflection

  1. We all have to choose if we are going to accept or reject Christ. Sadly, many people decide they don’t need God in their lives and choose to reject Him. Scripture is clear that those who reject Christ will be judged by God. This is why it is so important for Christians to spread the “Good News.” Who in your life has rejected Christ and/or isn’t actively seeking Him? Write their name(s) here. Commit to praying that God would equip you to share the Good News with them and that they would be open to receiving it.

  2. In Hebrews 10:25, the author instructs us to not give up “meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing,” and to encourage one another. We gather together for church and small group to share our faith and strengthen one another. However, the world will always be vying for our attention. Work, school, sports, family, etc., will always tempt us from making church a priority. What things are pulling you away from a weekly commitment to church or small group? Although it might be counter-cultural, what changes do you and your family need to make to ensure that your priorities are in alignment with Scripture?

  3. Hebrews 10:32-36 encourages believers to persevere when facing persecution and pressure. We don’t often think of suffering as good for us, but it can build our character and our patience. In what ways has God used suffering to shape you? What have you learned or how have you grown because of it? Consider journaling about a specific example.

Week 3 Day 3 // Doing God’s Will

Willow Creek Community Church

 

Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

HEBREWS 10:9-10

 

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Introduction

In some books that appear in the Old Testament, a theme emerges about God’s view of sacrifices. God expressed time and again that He wasn’t interested in empty sacrifices which were not backed up by lives of obedience. If worshipers were not interested in loving their neighbors, caring for the poor, or working for justice, then they could leave their sacrifices at home; God didn’t want their worship. Psalm 40:6-8 reflects this attitude: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire but my ears you have opened burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come— it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, my God.”

In these verses, the psalmist uses a bit of hyperbole. It wasn’t that God didn’t actually desire or require sacrifices. God is the one who asked for sacrifices earlier in Scripture. Instead, the psalmist comes to realize that God is interested in more than ritualistic acts of worship. God wants us to obediently do His will.

In Hebrews 10, the writer of Hebrews applies this passage to Jesus because Jesus fulfills it in some profound and unexpected ways. First, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, these verses no longer contain exaggerated statements or claims. God truly doesn’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings because Jesus’ sacrifice has made them unnecessary. Second, Jesus’ sacrifice was no mere ritual. In obediently offering His life for us, Jesus has given us the purest expression of what it looks like to do God’s will.


Scripture

HEBREWS 10:1–18

10

CHRIST’S SACRIFICE ONCE FOR ALL

1 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. 4 It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me;
6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings

you were not pleased.

7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—

I have come to do your will, my God.’ ”

8 First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. 9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the

second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

16 “This is the covenant I will make with them

after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts,

and I will write them on their minds.” 17 Then he adds:

“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.”

18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.


Reflection

  1. Read Hebrews 10:9. What do you think is meant by, “He sets aside the first to establish the second”, in reference to God’s covenants?

  2. Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” Through His death and resurrection, Christ made His believers perfect in God’s sight. At the same time, He is making them holy in our time on earth. We should not be surprised that we need to continually be growing. How can we encourage this growth process in our lives? In what ways do Scripture, discipline, and surrender play a role in our spiritual growth?

  3. God wants our obedience and a right heart, not empty compliance. In fact, Scripture talks about “lukewarm Christians” who say they are in a relationship with God, and might even act the part on Sunday morning, but in actuality aren’t fully committed (Revelation 3:15-16). God doesn’t want half-hearted, nominal believers. He wants obedient, all-in, fully surrendered commitment. So, how would you describe your obedience—is it lukewarm or fully-committed? Describe how obedient you are to God with your time? With your resources? With your gifts, skills, and abilities? What needs to change?

Week 3 Day 2 // Nothing but the Blood

Willow Creek Community Church

 

In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

HEBREWS 9:22

 

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Introduction

In the last half of Hebrews 9, the writer of Hebrews continues to reflect on the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice. One thing that stands out in this chapter is how often the word “blood” appears. The word “blood” is used 12 times in this chapter, more times than any other chapter in the Bible except Leviticus 4. For those of us who aren’t accustomed to sacrifices, all this talk of blood can seem disgusting, if not disturbing. What was the significance of blood and why did the writer emphasize it so much here?

To understand the significance of blood, we must first understand how profoundly important blood is to God. Blood is sacred in God’s eyes. In fact, God gave the ancient Israelites strict protocols for how they were supposed to deal with blood. They weren’t supposed to drink blood. They couldn’t eat meat containing blood. They had to discard of blood with care and dispose of it in specific locations.

The explanation God gave to the Israelites as to why they were supposed to treat blood with such great care was because “. . . the life of a creature is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11). Life is so important to God that blood, which carries life, is equally important and requires great care.

Blood is so important to God that we can be certain that He would not have asked for it to be offered through sacrifices for trivial reasons. God asked for blood to be offered because only something as sacred as blood could account for something as gravely serious as sin. As much as God cares about life and blood, the carrier of life, He also cares about right and wrong. He can’t look away from or ignore sin. Sin has to be dealt with and blood is the solution. He told the Israelites in Leviticus 17:11, “I have given [blood] to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”

This helps us appreciate the significance of blood and helps us understand why the writer of Hebrews makes such a big deal about Jesus’ blood. Our own sin separates us from God and creates an insurmountable obstacle that must be dealt with. Through the offering of Jesus’ superior blood, we have a solution that cleanses us of these sins from now through eternity.


Scripture

HEBREWS 9:15–28

15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance— now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

16 In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17 because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18 This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19 When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20 He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21 In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and every- thing used in its ceremonies. 22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

23 It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the cul- mination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.


Reflection

  1. Hebrews 9:20 references the “blood of the covenant.” What covenant does Jesus’ blood confirm?

  2. The greatest symbol of life is blood, and in Hebrews 9:22, it says, “without the shedding of blood there is not forgiveness.” Why do you think forgiveness requires the shedding of blood?

  3. All people die physically, but Christ died so that we would not have to die spiritually. When we decide to surrender our lives to Christ, we can have confidence that He has forgiven us for our past sin and has given us the Holy Spirit to help us deal with present sin. What sins are you presently struggling with that are separating you from a deeper relationship with God? Are you ready to confess and surrender them today?

Week 3 Day 1 // Cleansing God’s Tabernacle

Willow Creek Community Church

 

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

HEBREWS 9:14

 

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Introduction

In Hebrews 9, the writer shifts from a focus on the high priestly status of Jesus to the sacrifice that Jesus offers as our High Priest. The writer begins by calling to mind the tabernacle, God’s mobile house in the Old Testament, and the holiday Yom Kippur. The nature and purpose of Yom Kippur is described in Leviticus 16.

In this passage, we learn that once a year on Yom Kippur, the Israelite high priest was to offer a specific set of sacrifices. The high priest entered the innermost part of the tabernacle, where God’s presence dwelt, and sprinkled the blood of these sacrifices all around for the purpose of cleansing the tabernacle. This may seem a bit counterintuitive to us as we think of blood as more of a staining agent than a cleansing agent. But this wasn’t the kind of cleansing that would take away stains, rather, this was a cleansing that would take away sins. The high priest was required to do this each year because the tabernacle needed to be cleansed of the Israelites’ sin that had polluted the place where God’s presence dwelt. This annual cleansing was the way that a holy God could live in the midst of a sinful people.

It’s important to note that the blood of these sacrifices did not actually cleanse the Israelites of their sins. It cleansed the tabernacle of the Israelites’ sins. English translations of the Bible sometimes mask this. When the Hebrew verb kipper, translated as “cleanse” or “make atonement,” is used in reference to the tabernacle, it is often followed by what is called a direct-object marker that clarifies “this is what is being cleansed.” On the other hand, when the verb kipper is used in reference to people, it is always followed by one of two different prepositions that mean “on behalf of” or “for the benefit of.” The point is that the blood of these sacrifices was never intended to cleanse people of their sins. It could only cleanse the tabernacle for the benefit of people so that God could continue to dwell among them.

In Hebrews 9, the writer picks up on this background in order to explain why Jesus’ sacrifice is so critically important. Jesus’ blood accomplishes things that

the blood of the Yom Kippur sacrifices could never do. His blood cleanses the tabernacle in Heaven in preparation for our arrival (Hebrews 9:11-12, 23-26) while also cleansing the innermost parts of people—our consciences—so that we can become tabernacles for His Holy Spirit (Hebrews 9:14; 1 Corinthians 6:19).


Scripture

HEBREWS 9:1–14

WORSHIP IN THE EARTHLY TABERNACLE

1 Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. 2 A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. 3 Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, 4 which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. 5 Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.

6 When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. 7 But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. 8 The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. 9 This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.

THE BLOOD OF CHRIST

11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!


Reflection

  1. One purpose of the Israelites’ sacrificial system was to cleanse the tabernacle where God resided. Why do you think that blood was used as the cleansing agent?

  2. Jesus’ blood not only cleanses our consciences, it also makes our bodies into dwelling places for the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). With this in mind, what might you need to change about how you treat your body (i.e., food, exercise, substances, sexual purity)? How does this affect your view of your physical body?

  3. We often fall prey to believing that we have to work hard to make ourselves good enough for God. But rituals and rules have never cleansed people’s hearts—only the blood of Jesus can do this. Take a moment to reflect on what Jesus’ death means to you. Journal a prayer of confession to Jesus. Ask Him to forgive your sins that are causing you to carry guilt and shame. Thank Him for His deliverance.

Week 2 Day 5 // Written on our Hearts

Willow Creek Community Church

 

This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

HEBREWS 8:10

 

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Commentary

In Hebrews 8, we learn that Jesus has established a new covenant between God and humans. In our modern context we don’t frequently use the word “covenant,” but it’s not really all that different from a modern day contract. In the ancient Near East, covenants were formal agreements between two parties that defined what each party would do on behalf of the other. These agreements were usually written down, with two copies prepared so that each party could have a record of the agreement.

In the book of Exodus, God established a covenant with the nation of Israel. This covenant defined what God would do on behalf of Israel and how the Israelites were to live in response. In accordance with the ancient custom, this covenant was also written down on two stone tablets, one for God and one for Israel (Exodus 31:18).

Unfortunately, over the course of ancient Israel’s history, the Israelites repeatedly and increasingly broke this covenant with God. This may have been due in part to the nature of their covenant records. Written records, such as the two stone tablets of the covenant, could be destroyed (Exodus 32:19), or worse—lost (2 Kings 22:18). More importantly, their breaking of the covenants was due to the nature of their hearts. Their hearts had become hardened like stone by sin. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah wrote that their hearts had become like stone tablets that were inscribed with the message of their sin: “Judah’s sin is engraved with an iron tool, inscribed with a flint point, on the tablets of their hearts” (Jeremiah 17:1).

Jesus, wanting to make it as easy as possible for people to remain in relationship with Him, established a new covenant between God and humans that would overcome these limitations. This covenant would not be recorded and stored on external stone tablets. Rather, God would erase what was written on sinful human hearts and write the words of the covenant within each one of us. As Hebrews 8:10 says, “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.” This is God’s promise for us. When we become followers of Jesus, agreeing to this new covenant, God erases our sin and gives us His Spirit so that His words and desires are, in effect, written within us.


Scripture

HEBREWS 8

THE HIGH PRIEST OF A NEW COVENANT

1 Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.

3 Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. 4 If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. 5 They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” 6 But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.

7 For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8 But God found fault with the people and said:

“The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.


9 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.

10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts. I will be their God,
and they will be my people.

11 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.

12 For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.


Reflection

  1. After reading today’s passage, describe what the “new covenant” means in your own words.

  2. If God has empowered us by writing His laws on our hearts, why do you think we as Christians still struggle with sin?

  3. When we become members of the new covenant community, God sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts. But, that doesn’t mean we are now incapable of sin. We still have free will and the ability to make choices. As a Christian, how would you describe the Holy Spirit’s role in your life? How does it affect the temptations you face?

Week 2 Day 4 // A Priest Forever in the Order of Melchizedek

Willow Creek Community Church

 

For it is declared: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

HEBREWS 7:17

 

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Commentary

Over the last few chapters, the book of Hebrews has been building an argument that Jesus serves us as “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” The phrase “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” is not original to this writer. It is a quote from Psalm 110, a psalm that the writer quotes or alludes to many times (Hebrews 1:3, 13, 5:6, 10, 6:20, 7:3, 17, 21, 8:1, 10:12-13, 12:2). What does this phrase mean? To understand the original meaning and its use by the writer of Hebrews, it’s helpful to dig a little deeper into Psalm 110.

In its original context, Psalm 110 was written as an enthronement song to be sung whenever a new king would rise to the throne in Jerusalem. The song was intended to celebrate the inauguration of a new king and to acknowledge some of the king’s new roles. One role was to serve as a priest as King David did when he offered sacrifices in 2 Samuel 6.

By law in ancient Israel, only people who belonged to the tribal family of Levi could serve as priests. The Israelite kings did not belong to this family; instead they came from the tribal family of Judah. Because the Israelite kings did not have the right to serve as priests, based on their family of origin, God based the kings’ priesthood on a different precedent that preceded the law. This was the precedent of a priest-king named Melchizedek who reigned and ministered in Jerusalem many centuries before the Israelites even existed as a people (Genesis 14). Therefore, Israelite kings were declared priests “in the order of Melchizedek,” and they were priests “forever” on the basis of a promise God made to King David that his descendants would reign as kings “forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-13).

So what does the phrase “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” have to do with Jesus? Jesus serves us as a priest, but not on the basis of His family origin. Because Jesus is a direct descendant of the kings for whom Psalm 110 was written, His priesthood is based on the precedent of Melchizedek. Also, Jesus’ priesthood is literally “forever.” Unlike all other priests who are subject to death, Jesus overcame death and, in so doing, fulfilled the promise God made to David that his descendants would reign forever. Because of this, Jesus is able to represent us forever before God. As the writer puts it in Hebrews 7:25, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”


Scripture

HEBREWS 7:11–28

JESUS LIKE MELCHIZEDEK

11 If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood - why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. 13 He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is declared:

“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”

18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.

20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21 but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:

“The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’ ”

22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.

23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

26 Such a high priest truly meets our need - one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.


Reflection

  1. Read Hebrews 7:25 and reflect on what it means for Jesus to “intercede” with God on our behalf. What do you think this means?

  2. Hebrews 7:17 says that God planned to accomplish eternal salvation through the high priesthood of Jesus. This is something the Old Testament law could never do and gives Christ-followers confidence in a relationship where we can “draw near to God”. How exactly do we draw near to God? What can we do?

  3. Jesus has a permanent priesthood. He should be the ultimate authority for our spiritual life. However, in our culture today, we often elevate people with authority or power into positions of guidance and direction for our lives. We might even consider these people’s opinions before we consider the words of Jesus written in the Bible. Who are some people in your life that you seek advice or counsel from? How do you compare them against what Scripture says? Are there any changes you need to make on where you go for help?

Week 2 Day 3 // Confirmed with an Oath

Willow Creek Community Church

 

Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.

HEBREWS 6:17

 

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Commentary

In Hebrews 6:13-20, the writer of Hebrews reflects on the story of Abraham, a story more fully recorded in Genesis 12-25. In this reflection, the writer notes that God not only gave Abraham a set of promises including the promise of offspring, the promise of land, and the promise of blessing, God also swore an oath that He would fulfill these promises (Genesis 12:1-3, Genesis 22:16-18). This begged the question: why would God need to swear an oath when He had already given His word with a promise? After all, “it is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18). An oath seems totally unnecessary for God.

The writer concludes that God did this because he wanted “to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised” (Hebrews 6:17). In other words, God took an extra measure to give Abraham assurance about His promises. This showed how accommodating God can be for us humans. God chose to do this so He could meet Abraham where he was in his faith.

As we will discover later in Hebrews, God has sworn an oath about Jesus as well (Hebrews 7:21). Just like He met Abraham, God meets us where we are in our faith. In swearing this oath, God has assured us that we can be perfectly sure about His promises. This is significant because it can be so easy for us to go through life wondering whether we can be certain about our eternity. We don’t have to struggle with uncertainty. Just as Abraham waited patiently and received what was promised to him, we can be perfectly sure about our future if we continue to believe (Hebrews 6:15). He has not only given us His promise, He has also confirmed it with an oath.


Scripture

THE CERTAINTY OF GOD’S PROMISE

13 When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” 15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

16 People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

7 MELCHIZEDEK THE PRIEST

1 This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, 2 and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” 3 Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

4 Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! 5 Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also are descended from Abraham. 6 This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. 8 In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. 9 One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, 10 because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.


Reflection

  1. In Hebrews 7, the author is trying to make a point that the priesthood of Jesus is grounded in the same order as that of Melchizedek, which makes His priesthood superior to that of other priests. As you read Hebrews 7, write down the attributes that make Melchizedek’s priesthood greater than the Levitical priesthood. After reviewing your list, what parallels do you see to Jesus?

  2. Hebrews 6:18-19 refers to two things that are unchangeable—God’s promise and His oath. This passage should give Christ-followers confidence and assurance, but because of our human nature, we might find ourselves doubting God. In your own words, what does God’s promise mean to you? In what ways do you find yourself doubting God?

  3. Hebrews 6:15 refers to Abraham’s patience after God’s oath to give him children. What it doesn’t say is that Abraham had to wait 25 years! Because our trials and temptations are often so intense, they seem to last for an eternity. However, the Bible encourages us to wait for God to act in His timing and not to take matters into our own hands. Reflect on a time where you decided to “go it alone” or even ignored a prompting from God? What did you learn? If you are going through a trial or temptation today, what do you need as you await God’s timing?

Week 2 Day 2 // The ABCs of Scripture

Willow Creek Community Church

 

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God.

HEBREWS 6:1

 

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Commentary

In Hebrews 5:11-6:12, the writer of Hebrews laments a problem within the original audience. Hebrews 5:11-12 says, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” Like the biting critique of an aggravated coach, the writer calls out the readers who were unprepared to understand the argument the writer wanted to make. Instead of being able to discuss a complex topic, they still needed to learn “elementary truths” about the Bible.

The Greek word translated here as “elementary truths” is a word that outside the Bible refers to the letters of the alphabet. It is almost as if the writer is saying to the audience that they still needed to learn the ABCs of Scripture. The Revised English Bible has actually translated it this way, “You need someone to teach you the ABC of God’s oracles over again.” The writer’s point was that even though the original audience was made up of people who had been Christians long enough that they could be teachers of the Bible, they were still students whose faith was at a kindergarten grade level.

It’s important to note that the writer is not addressing new Christians or people who are exploring faith. Nothing is wrong with needing to learn the ABCs of Scripture at these stages in one’s faith journey. Everybody starts learning this way. In fact, you can’t advance to higher levels of learning without the basics. The problem comes when we remain stuck in the basics. When we fail to grow as Christians, both in our knowledge of Scripture and in the application of its principles to our lives, we wind up in a dangerous place. The early readers of Hebrews weren’t just negatively impacting the lives of others by not becoming mature teachers themselves, they actually wound up in a place where they were about to fall away from their faith because of their lack of wisdom and discernment. So the book of Hebrews pleads with them and with us to keep growing. Hebrews 6:1 says, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity.”


Scripture

WARNING AGAINST FALLING AWAY

11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

6 1 Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2 instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And God permitting, we will do so.

4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6 and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. 7 Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

9 Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case — the things that have to do with salvation. 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. 11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.


Reflection

  1. In Hebrews 5:12, the author makes a direct correlation between spiritual maturity and teaching others. What the author is saying is that spiritually mature Christians teach or disciple others to help them grow in their faith. Are you ready to disciple others in their faith journey? In what ways do you need to mature in your faith? Who could you begin to disciple?

  2. In Hebrews 5:11, the words “you no longer try” can also be translated from Greek as “you are lazy” or “you are negligent.” That might seem harsh to the readers of this letter, but the author wanted to hold these Christians to a higher standard. The truth is, all Christians are held to a high standard, and spiritual laziness can get in the way of growing in our faith. Have you been lazy in your relationship with God? If so, how?

  3. To grow in our faith, we must learn discernment. We must be able to recognize the difference between right and wrong. Hebrews 5:14, says that through training, we can develop the skill for discernment. What training do you need to help you grow in your discernment?

Week 2 Day 1 // Emathen and Epathen

Willow Creek Community Church

 

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.

HEBREWS 5:8

 

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Commentary

Hebrews 5:8 uses a pair of rhyming words that were proverbial at the time Hebrews was written. The Greek words emathen “he learned” and epathen “he suffered,” were used together to depict how people learn lessons through their suffering. This saying was frequently applied to foolish people who only learn things the hard way because of their mistakes.

In a fairly bold move, in Hebrews 5:8, the writer applies this proverb to Jesus. This was not done to teach that Jesus was a fool who learned through the consequences of His mistakes. Instead, the writer does this to show that Jesus understands what it is like to suffer as a result of remaining obedient to God. Hebrews 5:8 says, “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” In other words, Jesus learned through experience how hard it can be to remain obedient to God. He learned through His own suffering how a person can suffer because of their faithfulness to God.

For the original audience of Hebrews, this was written to be a source of encouragement as they were undergoing their own trials and persecution. Jesus was fully sympathetic to how they felt. In fact, the Greek word from which we get the English word “sympathize” is used in reference to Jesus in Hebrews 4:15. Jesus knew how difficult it is to remain obedient to God and yet He did it. This is a source of encouragement for us as well. Despite the trials and suffering of this life, there is comfort in knowing that God never asks you to endure anything He wouldn’t endure Himself.


Scripture

HEBREWS 4:14–5:10

JESUS THE GREAT HIGH PRIEST

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.

1 Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. 3 This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.

5 In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,

“You are my Son;
today I have become your Father.”

6 And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever,

in the order of Melchizedek.”

7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.


Reflection

  1. We learned on Day 3 of our reading that the high priest served as a mediator between God and the people, atoning for their sins. According to Hebrews 4:14-16, Jesus fulfills the role of High Priest, absolving the need for a human high priest. Now, only through Jesus could the people become right with God. Consider what a huge change that would have been for the Jewish people and their religious traditions! How does Jesus’ role as the High Priest affect us today? What comfort and assurance can this bring us?

  2. In Hebrews 4:15, we are reminded that Jesus faced all of the same temptations we do. Reflect on what these temptations look like in your life, and consequently the sins that have resulted. Take time to journal your confession below. How does it feel to confess to a God who has experienced the same things you have?

  3. While on earth, Jesus suffered greatly (Hebrews 5:7-10). He endured physical torture, betrayal, abandonment, and rejection, yet He freely chose to continually make God’s will His own. He chose to obey even though His obedience would lead to suffering.
    We often ask, “Why would God allow people to suffer?” When you experience suffering of any kind, how does it affect your obedience? What can we learn from Jesus’ suffering and the great reward obedience brings?

Week 1 Day 5 // Entering into God’s Rest

Willow Creek Community Church

 

. . . for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.

- HEBREWS 4:10

 

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Commentary

In Hebrews 4, the writer of Hebrews reflects on the topic of rest and includes a quote from Genesis 2:2, a verse that says God “rested” on the seventh day of Creation. This verse from Genesis frequently strikes people as odd. If God is really the all-powerful Creator of the universe, why would He need to rest? Was God tired?

We often associate the idea of “rest” with being tired and needing sleep, but in the cultural context of Genesis, rest — specifically a god’s rest — was associated with security and control. When a god was said to be resting in his temple, the idea was that he or she had things under control, all potential crises had been averted, and life was operating normally. This is the idea behind God’s rest in Genesis 2:2. To say that God “rested” in His cosmic temple was to say that He had successfully brought order out of chaos through Creation and He had control over the universe.

So why does the writer of Hebrews include this verse in Hebrews 4? Genesis 2:2 makes a powerful statement that God is the One who is really in control of the world, but we frequently live our lives as though we are in control. We allow our success — the fruit of our labor — to deceive us into thinking that if we work hard enough and long enough, we can secure whatever outcome we desire. This false sense of control can even bleed over into our belief about our eternal outcome. We believe that if we do enough good things, we can secure a spot in Heaven. This conflicts with the argument that the writer of Hebrews has been making and will continue to make throughout the book: eternal security only comes through faith in what God has accomplished, not from anything we can do. As Hebrews 4:3 says, “Now we who have believed enter that rest.”

In light of this, the writer challenged the original readers and us to do our best to “enter [God’s] rest” (Hebrews 4:11). We enter God’s rest when we humbly acknowledge that He is in control and “rest from [our] works” to secure our own eternity (Hebrews 4:10).


Scripture

A SABBATH-REST FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD

1 Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2 For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. 3 Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,

“So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”

And yet his works have been nished since the creation of the world. 4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” 5 And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”

6 Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, 7 God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted:

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 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.


Reflection

1. The concept of God’s rest has multiple meanings. Hebrews 4:3 says, “Now we who have believed enter that rest,” referencing eternal salvation. In light of this, what do you think we need to believe in order to receive God’s rest? What are the implications for those who don’t believe?

2. God’s rest also means that He is in control. Entering into God’s rest requires us to humbly surrender control over our lives. What in your life do you need to relinquish control of and trust God with more?

3. Hebrews 4:12-13 vividly describes how the Word of God is like a two-edged sword, capable of dividing and exposing our innermost parts. By this, the writer means that Scripture has a way of revealing the condition of our hearts to God. Why do you think this is? What has Scripture revealed to you about the condition of your heart?

Week 1 Day 4 // Faith Through the Wilderness

Willow Creek Community Church

 

We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.

~ HEBREWS 3:14

 

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Commentary

In Hebrews 3:7-4:11, the writer of Hebrews quotes Psalm 95:8-11 and then explains at length the significance of this passage. One reason why the writer focuses so much on these four verses is because they were very familiar to the original audience. Outside evidence indicates that this psalm was frequently read in Jewish worship services at the time, so the writer’s audience would have known it well. Another reason why the writer focuses on this psalm is because the writer feared that the original audience was in danger of suffering the same fate as those described in the psalm.

Psalm 95:8-11 describes the disastrous consequences suffered by the ancient Israelites who rebelled against God in the wilderness after the Exodus. We know from Scripture that these Israelites witnessed some of God’s most profound miracles. They experienced salvation from their slavery in Egypt. They even received direct instruction from God when He gave them the Law at Mt. Sinai. Yet, despite all that God had done for them, they began to doubt Him when they left Egypt and found themselves in the wilderness. When life got tough and they faced hunger, exhaustion, and fierce new enemies, this generation of Israelites stopped trusting in God and started following their own plans. As a direct result of their unbelief, they were not allowed to enter the land God had promised them.

The writer of Hebrews saw parallels between these ancient Israelites and the original readers of Hebrews. Just like the ancient Israelites, the writer’s audience had witnessed miracles (Hebrews 2:4). They had experienced salvation from slavery, not from Egypt, but from sin. They had been taught by those who had heard and learned from Jesus firsthand (Hebrews 2:3). Life had also become tough for them as fierce new enemies began to persecute them because of their faith (Hebrews 10:32-36, 12:3-4, 13:3).

So in Hebrews 3, the writer desperately pleads with the original audience, and with us as well, to learn from the example of the wilderness generation. We should not let present circumstances harden our hearts toward God. The place God has prepared for us after this life isn’t promised to those who only believe once and then turn away from God. It is promised to those who continue to have faith through the wilderness.


Scripture

JESUS GREATER THAN MOSES

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.

WARNING AGAINST UNBELIEF

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 rmly 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.


Reflection

1. Hebrews 3:16 asks, “Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt?” Many people today say they need to see a miracle to believe, but as this verse points out, the vast majority of those who experienced some of God’s most profound miracles failed to continue to believe when life became difficult. How important should present-day miracles be to our faith? Why do you think the struggles of life so easily pull people away from God?

2. Hebrews 3:7-19 reads like a cautionary warning. What do the wilderness wanderings represent to the readers of Hebrews, and to us today?

3. Hebrews 3:13 says, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Who is your Christian community that encourages you, and that you also encourage? In what ways do you, or could you, encourage one another?

Week 1 Day 3 // Crowned with Glory and Honor

Willow Creek Community Church

 

But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.

- HEBREWS 2:9-10

 

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Commentary

In Hebrews 2:6-8, we read a quote taken from Psalm 8, a psalm that reflects on the majesty of God and the mystery of such an incredible being having any concern at all for humans. The quote says:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?
You made them a little lower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honor
and put everything under their feet.”

The original writer of this psalm wondered why God would show concern for humans. After all, in the ancient Near Eastern context in which this psalm was written, the typical view of humans was very low. Many people in the surrounding cultures believed that humans had been created by the gods to do the gods’ slave labor. Because of this strongly held belief, the poet marveled at the fact that this God, the God of the Bible, would actually make people not as slaves to work His creation, but rather as kings and queens to rule over His beloved creation.

One reason why Psalm 8 is quoted in Hebrews 2 is because the writer wanted to explain why it was necessary for Jesus, the Son of God, to become human. The issue was, as the writer says in verse 8, “In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them.” In other words, even though humans were made to have authority over all creation, the present state of things suggested otherwise. Humans were subject to the forces of nature and death. Even today, hundreds of millions of people worldwide struggle just to survive. For many people, life isn’t ruling—it is suffering.

This is why Jesus became a human. As another expression of His concern for people, Jesus came so that He could suffer on our behalf and, in so doing, prepare a way for us to experience the “glory” described in Psalm 8 (Hebrews 2:10). Through His own suffering and death, Jesus overcame our problems of sin and death. Now, as the ideal and perfect human, Jesus enjoys the destiny that awaits us in Heaven where He is “crowned with glory and honor” (Hebrews 2:9).


Scripture

HEBREWS 2:5–18

JESUS MADE FULLY HUMAN

5 It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. 6 But there is a place where someone has testi ed:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?
7 You made them a little lower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honor
8 and put everything under their feet.”,

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. 9 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was tting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the assembly I will sing your praises.”
13 And again,
“I will put my trust in him.”
And again he says,
“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.


Reflection

1. In the Old Testament, the high priest was the mediator between God and His people. His job was to regularly offer animal sacrifices and intercede with God for the forgiveness of people’s sins. Hebrews 2:17 refers to Jesus as our High Priest. How did Jesus fulfill the role of High Priest?

2. Hebrews 2:10 and 2:18 talk about how Jesus’ suffering made Him a perfect leader, capable of helping us when we are being tested. Why do you think Jesus’ experiences equip Him to help us in times of testing? With Jesus’ suffering as an example, how can our suffering make us more sensitive servants of God?

3. Hebrews 2:15 says that Jesus came not only to overcome the problem of death, but also to free us from the “fear of death.” What is it about death that instills fear in us? Why do you think Jesus can free us from this fear?

Week 1 Day 2 // Jesus is Superior to the Angels

Willow Creek Community Church

 

For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.

- HEBREWS 2:2-3

 

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Commentary

At the end of yesterday’s reading, in Hebrews 1:4, the writer of Hebrews introduced a topic that dominates the first two chapters of this sermon - the superiority of Jesus over the angels. For us in modern day, this may not seem like a big deal. After all, in today’s pop culture, angels are portrayed as Cupid-like figures with rosy cheeks and sweet smiles. There is no doubt that Jesus is superior to these caricatures. However, in the first century world, angels were a big deal. They were understood to be immensely powerful spirits, more like The Avengers than Cupid, with significant roles in God’s Kingdom.

There is some truth to this ancient perspective of angels. The Hebrew Scriptures (known to us as the Old Testament) portray angels as powerful beings who sit in God’s Heavenly council, a spiritual parliament (Job 2:1). Angels served as God’s messengers and had a key role in handing down the Law from God at Mt. Sinai (Deuteronomy 33:2; Galatians 3:19). However, literature from outside the Bible shows that at the time Hebrews was written, there was a growing preoccupation with angels and their activities. Some contemporary books, such as the Book of Enoch, took classic Old Testament stories and embellished them to highlight the exploits of angels. A few New Testament passages even suggest that some went so far as to worship angels (Colossians 2:18; Revelation 19:10, 22:8-9).

With this context in mind, the writer of Hebrews spent nearly 30 verses explaining why Jesus is greater than these powerful beings. The writer did this with a few purposes in mind. One was to correct misguided notions about the role of angels. Angels are not meant to be worshiped; they exist to worship Jesus and minister to us (Hebrews 1:6, 14). Another purpose was to explain why Jesus, who became a human, was not inferior to angels (Hebrews 2:5-18). Perhaps the most important intention the writer had was to explain to readers why they should not ignore Jesus’ message of salvation. In a “lesser-to-greater” argument, the writer argues that if people were wary of the punishment they would receive for breaking the Law— which angels had a role in mediating—then how much more should they be concerned about ignoring the message of Jesus. This is relevant for us. Jesus has announced a message of salvation that is available to all. If we want to receive this salvation, it is critical that we listen to and not ignore Him.


Scripture

HEBREWS 1:5–2:4

THE SON SUPERIOR TO ANGELS

For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son;
    today I have become your Father?
Or again,
“I will be his Father,
    and he will be my Son”?
And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”
In speaking of the angels he says,
“He makes his angels spirits,
    and his servants flames of fire.”
But about the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
    a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
    therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
    by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

10 He also says,
“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
11 They will perish, but you remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
12 You will roll them up like a robe;
    like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same,
    and your years will never end.”

13 To which of the angels did God ever say,
“Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet”?
14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

WARNING TO PAY ATTENTION

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.


Reflection

1. In today’s passage, the author uses a variety of Old Testament texts strung together to deliver the theological point that Jesus is superior to angels. Do you think it’s just as important for us to understand the connection between the Old and New Testaments as it was for the early Jewish people? If so, why?

2. In today’s context, you may not think that highly about angels, but are there other people, institutions, or activities that preoccupy your thoughts or take priority over Jesus? If so, who or what and why?

3. In Hebrews 2:1, it says we must “pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” When have you felt yourself drift away from God? What does it mean to “pay the most careful attention” to God? What steps can you take to listen to God more carefully?