“How long, O Lord?” Our reading this week tells us not how long, but HOW.. how we get from here to there!
DAY ONE – 1 Peter 1-5
In the middle of a moonless night, a man is crawling across a stretch of what appears to be endless dunes of sand, his parched countenance grimacing with each effort he expends. Everything within him wants to stop, to end it right there; but on the horizon he can see bright light penetrating the canopy of darkness, evidence that civilization and safety are not so far ahead. So he keeps moving toward the light. Addressing Jewish refugees who fled their homeland of Jerusalem and Judea because of persecution of their faith in Jesus; who left all behind to seek safety and an opportunity to live their faith; who were having to rebuild their lives in a strange place and were finding it very challenging, Peter wrote to encourage and strengthen them, to give them hope in a dark world where suffering abounds. Most of us are too busy to do a spiritual inventory, to painstakingly write out the problems we face, the emotions we tolerate, the shreds of hope to which we cling. So, like the man crawling across the dunes, we go about the business of living, often suffering quietly and gallantly, hoping that tomorrow things will be a little easier. But what of tomorrow? What can we write about tomorrow, seeing we don’t know what is there? Not so, says Peter; we do know; we do know, for tomorrow belongs to God, as does today. Now that you are saved through your faith in Jesus as your Lord; now that you are his child, the recipient of His grace and favor; and now that you live under His wonderful promises of salvation and eternal reward, live in a manner as befits the incredible inheritance that belongs to you as a co-inheritor with Jesus. Peter connected the blessings of God’s favor toward us now, with future blessings that are reserved for us in heaven. He also connected the short period of Jesus’ unspeakable suffering with the sufferings we encounter in our lives, on our way to the glorious home He has prepared for us. More than once Peter insisted that we are closer than we think to the end of the world. Yes, I realize every generation has to process that truth, and every generation discovers that the world goes on, and it is still full of challenges to our faith and well-being. But how well we live from our heart, how well we feed and maintain our faith, renews and builds our hope in a glorious future with our Lord Jesus Christ. Finally, we remind ourselves that we are not suffering alone; all around us are others who are believing and trusting Jesus to get us from here to there, to save us to the very day of our salvation, and to keep us along the way. Everyone suffers along the way. The difference is that we who trust in Jesus see the bright light on the horizon that strengthens us and keeps us moving forward with joy, courage and anticipation.
DAY TWO – Hebrews 1-4
We must at once understand that this letter was written to Jewish believers in Messiah (the Anointed One, or Jesus). However, it has universal appeal, because the central theme is Jesus (Hebrew ‘Yeshua’). If I were to simply complete this paragraph by writing the name ‘Jesus’ over and over and over, it would fully convey the most important revelation of the entire book. How important? Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. 2 And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. 3 The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. Hebrews 1:1-4 (NLT) Given that Peter, Paul and our Lord’s other apostles all regarded their times as the last or final days, we may therefore conclude that NO FURTHER REVELATION ABOUT THE LAST DAYS is needed to prepare us for the coming of Christ. We are fully informed and, by the Holy Spirit, fully equipped to prepare for that day. So complete is the revelation in God’s word, that we are warned to not ‘drift away’ from what we have received and what we know. In fact, Jesus made this prediction regarding the end of days. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come. Matthew 24:12-14 (NLT) As we proceed through Hebrews, we will understand that what Jesus did in His life, His death and resurrection, is so complete that we have only to appeal to heaven on any and all occasions in His powerful Name to receive the help we need. By comparing the Old Covenant (our Old Testament) with the New Covenant (our New Testament) we can see how God’s work of grace through Jesus is superior in every detail to any other religious ideal or explanation. Why is it that people still attempt to come up with ANY OTHER MEANS of salvation than that offered by God through His Son Jesus? As Apostle Paul warned, Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. 9 I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. Galatians 1:8-9 (NLT) End of story.
DAY THREE – Hebrews 5-8
In order to fully appreciate who Jesus is and what He has done, there are two terms with which we need to be exceedingly familiar: the Kingdom of this World; and the Kingdom of Heaven. When Paradise was lost to Adam and Eve, they were put out of the Garden of Eden to make their home in the Kingdom of this World–that is, the realm in which humans live disconnected and apart from God, who lives in and rules over the Kingdom of Heaven. In this world people have to find their own way, their own resources and their own future. It is a struggle and requires that we use up our time and energy to survive. In the Kingdom of Heaven, the perfection of Eden is exceeded, for God lives and rules in light, peace, life and abundance. In order to bring us back into His world (although He owns this world as well!) our Lord sent His Son Jesus into the Kingdom of this World to reconnect us to God. But more than a thousand years before Jesus came, Father God was already doing a mysterious thing by calling Abraham to be His friend and colleague. Through Abraham and his descendants, the Lord eventually raised up Moses to be a deliverer of the Hebrew people, and at Sinai gave them the Law (Torah) of Commandments to reconnect them with heaven through RELIGION. Judaism is the ONLY RELIGION God ever gave to this world; and there were priests, a meeting place, sacrifices and offerings, and every other accoutrement necessary for the continual practice of their religion. Everything was specified and required by God. It was a physical and visible representation of what the Lord would later do when He reconnected heaven and earth through Jesus Christ. So the Jewish priests lived and died and were succeeded by their offspring. Jesus lived, died and LIVED AGAIN through resurrection. So He is a priest FOREVER AND EVER. He is our High Priest in HEAVEN, where He has all authority in heaven AND EARTH! The Covenant of Grace is far superior to the Covenant of Religion God gave the Jews. This grace extends to all people everywhere and restores eternal life to the human race, but only if we trust in and follow Jesus as our Lord and Savior. While the Kingdom of this World is under the law of sin and death, the Kingdom of Heaven is full of grace and life through the blood of Jesus. And while earthly religions–even the Jewish religion–offer FALSE HOPE to people who practice them, Jesus Christ offers genuine hope of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven with God’s true family. Paradise Lost is Paradise Found when we trust Jesus to save us and bring us safely to His Eternal Kingdom. Kingdom of this world–lesser Covenant, lesser priests; Kingdom of Heaven–greater Covenant and Great High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ… should be an easy choice for all of us!
DAY FOUR – Hebrews 9-13
Ours is a physical world, but is it the real world? To us it is, for it is all we have known. Yes, it’s real, but it is only temporary, no matter how long we think it has been here. “In the beginning God…” God was before our world, for He created it. So what comes after our world? What’s beyond our view, beyond our temporal understanding and beyond our human reach? It’s the OTHER WORLD, being prepared for God’s growing family. Jesus came from the other world; He came into this world to declare the Kingdom of Heaven to us and to open the way for us to enter that place. Heaven is the REAL WORLD– if real means perfect; and if real means forever; and if real means everything this world can never be. To struggle and to overcome in this world; to become our best in this world; to find peace and happiness in this world is still not permanent. We are all leaving this world in one manner or another, and our Creator has invited us to join Him in His great kingdom to live in a perfect state forever. Abraham, Moses, kings and prophets lived and died waiting for the real world to open to them. We are told they died “IN FAITH.” That means they believed the testimony of God and lived for the real world to come. This letter to the Hebrews, many of whom suffered terribly for their belief in Jesus, fled to other places just to survive. And now they are being begged to keep their faith and endure every trial in order to make it to their real, forever home with the Lord. The religion God gave to the Hebrews (Judaism) was temporary and unable to give them permanent forgiveness and safety. They had to perform its rituals over and over again to receive covering for their sins. They never really understood or knew God as He wanted to be known. So He sent Jesus. Jesus came into our world. He reconnected us to God through faith and obedience. He gave us eternal life by faith. And He has gone into the real world of God’s making to rule heaven and earth until He can gather all of His people into our forever home where He is. THIS IS REAL! Though we cannot see it, we yet believe, for Jesus is real and He was here, and He became our forever sacrifice for sin to reconnect us to heaven and our Heavenly Father. Our hope is well founded, and our faith will take us from here to there. Nothing in this temporary world is WORTH COMPARING OR HAVING if it destroys or impairs our faith. Hang with those who have accepted God’s testimony and are willing to stake their life on it. Hang with those who worship and serve God through our Lord Jesus. Hang with those who by faith live in this world today in order to enjoy the grand entrance into our permanent home tomorrow. Live it out every day, enjoying the peace, love, hope and joy that comes from heaven into our hearts through Jesus.
DAY FIVE – 2 Timothy 1-4
It is said that scores of pastors leave the service of the church every day–worn out, burnt out or otherwise demoralized and/or disillusioned. Some are tired of the poverty and the general hassle of trying to shepherd the flock of Christ. The passion they once knew and which was part of their calling to the profession is no longer. The aging Apostle Paul, still in prison, reached out to his spiritual son Timothy with deep feeling and strong passion. The last time they had parted, Timothy was in tears. And now from prison Paul plead with his young elder/pastor colleague to come to him again as soon as possible, and to bring Mark as well. Paul was alone; only Luke was still with him, because all of his other workers had opposed, abandoned or deserted him, perhaps ashamed of his status as a prisoner; or perhaps because Paul was so strongly committed to the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ and resisted every attempt to change it or adapt its teachings to popular culture. Surely rumors of Paul’s stubborn faith led some to conclude that he was too fanatical or too narrow for their continued loyalty. Paul carefully explained his position to his ‘son in the faith,’ lest Timothy too should lose confidence; he was known to be somewhat timid and needed occasional strengthening from his old mentor. Appealing to his own faith in Jesus Christ and the Gospel that kept him in chains, Paul reaffirmed the strength of his convictions and assured Timothy that he prayed for him night and day to be strong in his faith, according to the example of his mother and grandmother; and to stir up the ministry gift that was conferred when Paul laid hands on him. The younger man had done an admirable job in ministry but was perhaps lagging in his resolve.
Not very many are privy to the approach of their own death, but Paul believed that he was nearing his time to leave this world. Unashamed and immovable, he asserted that he was ready to be with Jesus and receive the crown of life that follows the suffering and obedience of this life. Appealing again to the scriptures, the old apostle declared all scripture to be inspired (God-breathed) and effective for bringing us to strong faith and completion in righteousness. We are to guard especially against spiritual treachery and the breakdown of law and love in the last days, as people give in to their own out-of-control desires that lead into all kinds of sinful and aberrant behavior. A saved soul is a miracle of grace; a soul kept by the power of God is a sign to this generation that the Lord is near. May we do well to preserve our faith in Jesus Christ and follow Him daily through the power of the Holy Spirit. And if you have spiritual mentors, find them and give them a hug and a ‘thank you.’
DAY SIX – Jude, 2 Peter 1-3
‘Faith’ is an extremely common word in our Bible. However, Jude and Peter talk about ‘the faith’ given to the people of God. It seems inconceivable that faith in Jesus Christ could be challenged by the things of this world system or be lost to the follower of Christ. But both of these apostles speak of ‘the faith’ as an entity, a commodity, which is received and stewarded by Jesus’ followers–collectively known as the church, or assembly, of God. And both of them give stern warnings about losing this faith by following men who themselves prove to be false teachers. And what is ‘this’ faith we speak of? It is life transformed by the power of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. It is life based on the revealed word of God, the holy scriptures. It is life that denies and disavows the sexual perversion that has taken hold of the nations of the world, being peddled to the people for money and personal gain. It is godly men and women who have surrendered whatever gain this world system offers in order to gain the promises of eternal life and heaven with our Lord. Appealing to the examples of Noah, a righteous man in his generation, as well as Sodom and Gomorrah, these apostles remind us that a fiery judgment awaits this perverted and sinful world system when the Lord has finished His great work of grace. We are warned against being deceived by the subtle and crafty lies being told by those who follow their own desires. Peter says, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” And Jude says, “But you, beloved, building up yourselves in your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God.” Our salvation is a completed work on God’s part. Jesus finished all the Father gave Him to do. As we recently read in Hebrews 1, when He had completed His work, He sat down at the right hand of the Father in heaven. I typically finish my work or project before I take the liberty of sitting down to relax. And so did Jesus. Everything we need to sustain us in our faith has already been done–granted and offered. We are already partakers of the divine nature of Jesus, by virtue of our faith and following Him. May we never again allow the destructive heresies of the old world system to gain even a foothold in our life. Keep your faith among your fellow believers, and be strong in the Lord together!