Archive for April, 2017

Jesus as High Priest

April 20th, 2017
Comments Off

Way back we have always as a church emphasised the resurrection withe the life and work of the risen Christ—who ascended to the throne of God where he is now actively at work in our behalf as our High Priest, cleansing us of sin—delivering us completely from its power. We must rely on Him in faith. Our eternal High Priest.

Thus at the centre of understanding this time of the year is the high priesthood of Jesus Christ.

I would like to focus on that today.

The humanity of Jesus Christ is essential for us to have a true knowledge of God. It overcomes our creaturely limitations.

At the same time, the deity of Jesus Christ ensures that his human word is also the divine Word of God. To mediate divine revelation to us, therefore,

Jesus Christ must be both God and human.

Because only God can save, Jesus Christ must be divine; yet, in order for his saving activity to reach us, he must also be human.

If atonement is to be real, it must take place from the side of humanity if we are to be reconciled to God; yet, it must also take place from the side of God if it is to be effecive. Jesus Christ, who is both Son of God and son of Mary, fulfils the covenant, both from the side of God and from the side of humanity.

The New Testament often quotes the Old Testament. One of the most commonly quoted verses is


The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’

The Gospels tell us that Jesus quoted this verse as a scripture about the Messiah.

If we read further in this psalm, we will come to verse 4, which has a thought found nowhere else in the Old Testament.

4 The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind:
‘You are a priest for ever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.

This Lord is to be a priest—not a Levitical priest, but a different kind of priest.

The book of Hebrews tells us that this verse of the psalm is also about Jesus. It briefly mentions this in chapter 5, and then again at the end of chapter6, telling us that Jesus “has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” Chapter 7 explains this in more detail.
Lets see what we can learn about this High Priest.

Hebrews 7:

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’.

The chapter begins with a quick summary of the story.

First, the unusual name is explained. The Hebrew word melek means king, and tsedek means righteousness, so his name is explained as meaning “king of righteousness.” And since shalom means peace, he was also the “king of peace.”

These meanings are significant because Melchizedek points to Jesus Christ.

3 Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest for ever.

From the grammar, it is not clear whether Melchizedek is like the Son in every respect, or just in being a perpetual priest. Jesus had parents, a genealogy, a birth and a death, so he was different in these respects. Scripture does not say that Melchizedek was the Son of God—just that he was “like” the Son.

However, Melchizedek had no parents that are mentioned in Scripture. His position as priest did not depend on his parents or his genealogy (unlike the Levitical priests). His priesthood was a different kind, a different order. Similarly, Scripture says nothing about his birth or death (unlike the patriarchs, who are carefully chronicled).

He did not create a dynasty of priests, each dying and passing the priesthood to a son. Today we might say today that he came out of nowhere, and then disappeared – neither of those expressions meant in a literal way.

This mysterious priest is the prototype of Jesus Christ. Psalm 110 predicted that the Lord would be a priest in the same way: not according to genealogy, but by special appointment.

This order of priests was significant in several ways:

1. It was more important than the Levitical priesthood,
2. It implied that the Levitical priesthood was temporary and
3. The new order was permanent.

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.

Although little is known about Melchizedek, we can discern that he was important. Abraham gave him 10 percent of the spoils of war (verse 4). The old covenant required the Israelites to give 10 percent to the Levites, but Abraham gave 10 percent to Melchizedek even though Melchizedek was not a Levite (verses 5-6). He was getting priestly honours before Levi was even born.

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.

From this, the author constructs a hypothetical argument: Levi didn’t actually pay tithes to Melchizedek, but in a way he did.

The point is that Abraham is greater than Levi, since Abraham is Levi’s ancestor, and Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, since Abraham gave tithes to him, so Melchizedek is greater than Levi.

The Melchizedek priesthood is more important than the Levitical priesthood. The Levitical priests die, but Jesus has been made a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, a priesthood that is more important for our salvation.

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.

Note here that the law was given on the basis of the priesthood. The law was designed with the Levitical priesthood in mind—the law and the priesthood went together. But neither the law nor the priests could bring people to perfection. That is why Psalm 110 spoke of another priesthood.

The descendants of Aaron would be replaced by a better priesthood, a better priest—and that has important consequences: “When the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also” (verse 12).

What law is changed?

The law that said only Levites could be priests.

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.

Jesus was not a Levite. He belonged to the tribe of Judah, and no one from that tribe was ever a priest, and Moses did not authorize anyone from Judah to be a priest .

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.

Jesus was appointed as priest not by a law that focused on genealogy, but because he lives forever at God’s right hand. The resurrection is his authority to be our High Priest.

17 For it is declared:
‘You are a priest for ever,
    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),

The law that restricted the priesthood to Levites was ineffective.

The Old Covenant did not have the power to make anyone perfect. The best that the old covenant could offer was not good enough.

and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.

Now, we are given a better hope. It is through this living High priest we are now able to draw near to God in a way that was not possible under the Old Covenant centred on the Levitical Priesthood.

The author then uses a small detail from Psalm 110 to emphasize the importance of Jesus’ appointment as priest. God himself makes an oath to appoint Jesus as high priest .

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 for ever.”’

The old covenant was given by God, but here is a new word from God—not just an oath but also a promise of permanence: When this new priest is appointed, the old priesthood becomes obsolete. The old regulation was set aside.

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

It will be picked up again in the next three chapters for more detailed comment, but even here it is implied to be a replacement for the inferior, ineffective covenant given through Moses.

Read more…

Message for the Day

Lesson in the wilderness for us

April 19th, 2017
Comments Off

Hebrews 3: 1-19


The first word in Hebrews 3 (NIV) is therefore, which means that it is drawing a conclusion based on previous things. Chapter 2 explained that Jesus became a human being so he could save human beings, make them holy and share with him his life with the Father in God’s family.
Because he was a human, he is qualified to be our high priest and intercessor. He can represent us. He suffered, so he knows the struggles we go through, and he can sympathize with our weakness. It is in our weaknesses he draws us to himself. He can help us. He not only atoned for our sins, he is able to help us in our trials and temptations as we journey on.

We are no longer dependent on ourselves in overcoming sin. The lesson of Israel showed we cannot do that by ourselves – even with the glorious revealed religion of Israel.

holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus,

What a fundamental command. One we looked at last service.

Since Jesus is the basis of our salvation and the one who makes it happen it in our lives, we need to concentrate on Jesus. We need to make sure that nothing distracts us from a focus on Jesus.

This is the only foundation for our salvation. Apart from him we are nothing and can do nothing.

whom we acknowledge as our apostle

This is the only place in the Bible where Jesus is called an apostle. The word means “one who is sent,” and Jesus was sent from God to us. He had a message, and we are to pay attention to what he said.

But we are also to pay attention to Jesus himself, because he as a person is part of the message of God. His death has meaning for us only because of who he is: the Son of God.

and high priest.

Hebrews is the only book in the Bible that calls Jesus our high priest.

As an apostle, he speaks to humanity on behalf of God.

As a high priest, he speaks to God on behalf of humanity.

He is our mediator, who bridges the gap between us and God. That’s why we need to look to him.

He brings us and God together in himself. He is the atonement. Humanity and God become one in him.

What are we supposed to see in Jesus?

2 He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house.

The readers respected Moses, so our author is building on that. Moses was a really faithful person, but let’s compare Moses with Jesus.

3 Jesus has been found worthy of greater honour than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honour than the house itself.

Jesus, at the right hand of God, has more honour than Moses. This is challenging a Jewish worldview.

Jesus isn’t just another great prophet like Moses. That’s what Islam believes.

4 For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.

God made everything through his Son which he says in chapter 1. That in itself gives Jesus more honour than Moses.

This is an unique claim. Jesus is not just a servant of God. He belongs to a different order of existence.

5 ‘Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,’ bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future.

The author now shifts to a different analogy, the difference between a servant and a son: “ Moses faithfully said what God wanted him to say, but he was faithful as a servant. The best that he could be, the best that any human being could be, was a faithful servant.

6 But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house.

Jesus Christ is in a class by himself. Moses was faithful, but if you look to him as an example of faithfulness, you are looking to an inferior example.

Before Jesus, he was the best example available.

But now that Jesus has been revealed, we should look to Jesus as our example. Our religious life centres on him, not on Moses.

And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.

If we keep our faith in Christ, then it shows that we are his house, his people. Notice the words confidence and hope. We have eyes of the heart to see these invisible realities. We need to pray, like Paul for one another to see. We have the responsibility to hold on, not to carelessly let go and drift away.
This book is written so that people will not leave; it encourages them to be diligent.

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.

This is quoted from Psalm 95, which was apparently read in the synagogues at the start of each Sabbath.

This, like everything else in Scripture, is a message from the Holy Spirit, and it applies today, just as much as it applied when first written for ancient Israel, and in the first century for the church.

Do we hear his voice today?

Those ancient events have lessons for us. They are still living words because God is still speaking to us in the Scriptures.

Are we listening? Are we willing to do what he says?

Hebrews was written to people who were attracted to Moses. And the author says, That’s not good enough anymore. Someone better has come along, and we need to respond to him. You can’t just keep on doing the same old things you have always done. You have to change.

We have to look to Christ as the centre of all our practices.

When Israel was in the wilderness, they had to listen to what God was saying. They didn’t go to Canaan by the quickest highway, because first they had to learn to trust God.

When Christ calls us to follow him, we need to follow. We can’t just pick our own path. We have to continue to follow him. We have to let him change us.

This is what God says about those who resist his will:

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.”’

The ancient Israelites had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years because they didn’t listen. They heard the words, but they didn’t obey them. A whole generation, except for Joshua and Caleb, died in the wilderness. That included Moses who allowed himself to get frustrated and hit the rock for water his way.

Then he makes the application from ancient Israel to the church of the first century:

Read more…

Message for the Day

Christianity is a religion of joy (2)

April 18th, 2017
Comments Off

We asked last time:

How can Christianity be a religion of joy in the midst of the groaning and travail of this world?

Why is it individual Christians in the presence of tragic loss lose their faith and other communities like the Congolese are strengthened in the midst of events too hard to describe.

I would like to share an excerpt from Charles Sturgeon’s biography and how he was converted at age 16.

Look up, looking to Jesus

I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now, had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. I turned down a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist Church. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. I had heard of the Primitive Methodists, how they sang so loudly that they made people’s heads ache; but that did not matter to me. I wanted to know how I might be saved….

The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. Now it is well that preachers be instructed, but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was—”LOOK UNTO ME, AND BE YE SAVED, ALL THE ENDS OF THE EARTH” (Isa. 45:22)

He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimmer of hope for me in that text.

The preacher began thus: “This is a very simple text indeed. It says ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pain. It aint liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look.

“But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Ay!” he said in broad Essex, “many on ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves. Some say look to God the Father. No, look to Him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Some on ye say ‘We must wait for the Spirit’s workin.’ You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ ”

Then the good man followed up his text in this way: “Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me, I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sitting at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! look unto Me!”

When he had . . . . managed to spin out about ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger.

Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well, I did, but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, “And you will always be miserable—miserable in life and miserable in death—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but look and live!”

I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said—I did not take much notice of it—I was so possessed with that one thought . . . . I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, “Look!” what a charming word it seemed to me. Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away.

There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before, “Trust Christ, and you shall be saved.” Yet it was, no doubt, all wisely ordered, and now I can say—

“E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die. . .”

That happy day when I found the Saviour, and learned to cling to His dear feet, was a day never to be forgotten by me . . . . I listened to the Word of God and that precious text led me to the cross of Christ. I can testify that the joy of that day was utterly indescribable. I could have leaped, I could have danced; there was no expression, however fanatical, which would have been out of keeping with the joy of that hour. Many days of Christian experience have passed since then, but there has never been one which has had the full exhilaration, the sparkling delight which that first day had.

I thought I could have sprung from the seat in which I sat, and have called out with the wildest of those Methodist brethren . . . “I am forgiven! I am forgiven! A monument of grace! A sinner saved by blood!”

My spirit saw its chains broken to pieces, I felt that I was an emancipated soul, an heir of heaven, a forgiven one, accepted in Jesus Christ, plucked out of the miry clay and out of the horrible pit, with my feet set upon a rock and my goings established . . . .

Between half-past ten o’clock, when I entered that chapel, and half-past twelve o’clock, when I was back again at home, what a change had taken place in me! Simply by looking to Jesus I had been delivered from despair, and I was brought into such a joyous state of mind that, when they saw me at home, they said to me, “Something wonderful has happened to you,” and I was eager to tell them all about it. Oh! there was joy in the household that day, when all heard that the eldest son had found the Saviour and knew himself to be forgiven.

That joy would be tested in many ways. On one occasion his cathedral burnt down with loss of life. On another, he found himself at odds doctrinally with his denomination and eventually went alone.

This joy does not remove the unpredictabilities of life. It doesn’t guarantee a happy ending with all the loose ends tied together or a restful death in this life.

One of the most difficult things to believe is in

2 Corinthians 4:16 -17

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

Light and momentary trouble? That’s only a statement of contrast. It does not diminish them.

This joy does not prevent the “what I feared has come upon me” as uttered by Job.

One can sense why Paul had to emphasise the resurrection in 1Corinthians 15:30-32

30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I face death every day – yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,
‘Let us eat and drink,
    for tomorrow we die.’

This reflects the perplexity of those who persecute Christians – why not just walk away and join the rest of us.
As I said last week there is a powerful factor in who survives this life in faith and those who don’t.

This is our last in the series on joy.

I want to focus again on the communal aspect of joy.


Joy is best experienced in community. Joy seeks company (“come and rejoice with me”) and the company of those who rejoice feeds the joy of each. Feasts and celebrations both express and nourish joy.

As feasts and celebrations illustrate, though joy is irreducibly personal—nobody can rejoice in my place!—joyfulness can also be an aura of a social space, whether a household or a larger community, so that when we enter such a space, we enter into joy, and, often, joy enters into us.

Psalm 126

A song of ascents.Many scholars believe the title indicates that these psalms were sung by worshippers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals (Deuteronomy 16:16). Others think they were sung by the Levite singers as they ascended the fifteen steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dreamed.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
    our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
    ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are filled with joy.
4 Restore our fortunes, Lord,
    like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them.

There is a sense of “us” in these Psalms.

The Lord has done great things for us.There is a restoration from exile involved. The lost have been found. The captives have been sent free.

It has the good news we hear at the start of Jesus’ ministry

Luke 4:18-19

18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

The ‘joy’ we see in the gospels is: the joy of discovering that Israel’s God was at last doing the thing he had promised, rescuing the people from their ‘exile’ and providing forgiveness, restoration and new life.

The four gospels thus link their narrative, and with it their theme of joy, to the ancient hope of Israel, to the biblical promises and prospects which are now finding a new and different kind of fulfilment.

Hebrews 12:1-3

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,

The church is a community that is inspired by those who have gone before. A Christian is not an individual who relies on the his own insights or even his own generation. He is part of a community which has Jesus as the Centre of the centre.

2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was 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.

The church are those called to gather around Jesus, to worship in as he leads us to the Father and sends the Holy Spirit.

Every aspect of the life of the church has this orientation. In short, we can say that the ministry of the church is to know Christ and make him known.

After discussing how God disciplines his children we as a community come to the mountain of fear and the mountain of joy

Hebrews 12:18 -29

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 trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further 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.’

To be in the presence of a Holy God exposes us. We are very vulnerable in our sinful humanity.

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.

There is great joy in that. Jesus is the mediator of a better covenant. He is standing before us and God. He brings God to us and us to God in himself. It is not blood that cries out for vengeance but brings forgiveness.

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.’

Did you hear the communal reality described. Those who live in community can live with a healthy awe and be filled with joy.

When Jesus was on the cross he was in the community of the Father and the Spirit.

It was such a joyous reality that it sustained Jesus on the cross. But one that is humanly impossible. It required all of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be present. Jesus was not able to do so just in his humanity.

Thats why we pray for one another. We are reminding one another we are not alone. We belong to God’s community.

The church is all those who gather together and look unto Jesus the author and finisher of their faith.

We want our knowledge of Jesus and what we witness about him to be true and faithful.

Whatever words, concepts, ideas and illustrations we use to give faithful witness to who Christ is, must be under the authority of the apostolic witness of Scripture. Yes we use additional words to explain and help listeners understand the witness of Scripture. But our words must be carefully chosen so they reflect the truth of the identity of God in Christ to which the Bible is the only witness.

And of course, we do not do this on our own, We do this in ongoing fellowship with those who have gone before us over the centuries. We also do this with those we share a continual worshiping community.

And we want our deeds or actions that are consistent with who Christ is. We don’t want great slippages between our words and lives.

Such actions are a true witness to Christ when they reflect grace and thus showing forth the life of grace.

Such deeds point to the same character seen in Jesus, and so direct people to him.

Again we want to know Christ and to make him known.

When that is our life and what really matters, we are set free to have Christ’s joy.

Message for the Day ,