Tuesday, November 30, 2010

1 John 1:5-10

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

Questions to consider:
  • How is God like light?
  • What are the four false assumptions that John warns against?
  • What are the contrasting truths?
  • What then is the basis of fellowship? How is the fellowship between individuals related to the fellowship of each one with God (it may be helpful to look back to the first few verses of this chapter)?
Possibilities for prayer:

Images of light and darkness occur throughout the book of 1 John and can be rather helpful in understanding who God is. As humans, we tend to associate light with safety and security and darkness with fear and danger. God represents light--and Jesus gives us the ability to be in the “light” through the forgiveness of our sins (the darkness in our lives). God provides us this safety and security through fellowship with Him. Let’s thank God for the ability to experience the light, despite our tendency toward sin and darkness, for the welcome that God extends to us to fellowship with Him.

Monday, November 29, 2010

1 John 1:1-4

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.

Questions to consider:
  • Why do you think John is writing this letter (it might help to first read the whole thing through, as though you have just received it)?
  • What evidence do you have for Jesus’ becoming man? Why is the issue important?
  • What do you have in common with other Christians?
Possibilities for prayer:

Do you feel as though you are in fellowship with the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ? What does that (or could that) look like in your life? It seems that John’s hope in writing this letter is that those who read it might encounter God and fellowship with Him. Today, let’s ask for the ability to have greater fellowship with God--that we might know God more deeply and intimately, and that, as John writes, our joy may be complete.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Hebrews 13:17-25

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.
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.

Questions to consider:
  • What is you responsibility to those in “spiritual” authority? Why?
  • How does the author regard intercessory prayer?
  • How does the benediction summarize the teaching of the letter concerning what God has done for the Hebrews and will do in them?
  • Rephrase verse 21 as God’s personal promise to you.
  • What is your response to this letter as we reach its end.

Possibilities for prayer:

It can sometimes be difficult to submit to the authority of people above us. But as the author of Hebrews says, the person in authority has much responsibility and often bears a heavy burden. Let’s ask God to make us people that make the work of those in authority a joy. Let’s ask for a spirit of humility, of collaboration, in order to benefit not only those in authority above us but also to bring glory to God.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Hebrews 13:9-16

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.

Questions to consider:

  • Relate verse 8 to verse 9.
  • What truths, does the author claim, are opposed to the strange teachings?
  • To what extent do you identify with Christ? Why?
  • What is your response to abuse and intellectual opposition?
  • What are the suitable sacrifices and offerings to God? In what ways will you “make” them today?

Possibilities for prayer:

The understanding of “sacrifices” as doing good and sharing with others is one that may have been unfamiliar for the Hebrews. Sacrifices to God involved the ritual killing and offering of animals in order to atone for sins. But here, we are asked not to make sacrifices of burnt offerings but of choosing to live lives that reflect pieces of the character of God. Today, let’s thank God for the ability to offer these “new” sacrifices instead of the old ones, and ask for the courage to live the type of lives that God is calling us into.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hebrews 13:1-8

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. 3Continue 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.

Questions to consider:
  • What characteristics of the new kingdom are given here?
  • What attitudes toward God should result from an understanding of the privileges of the new covenant?
  • List the actions and qualities which the author urges.
  • With which of the above do you have problems? Why?
Possibilities for prayer:

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

Do you remember the story of Lot from the book of Genesis, who showed hospitality to strangers in his town, only to eventually discover that those strangers were actually angels. It seems that this story serves as an indication of the way in which we need to think carefully about the way we treat strangers who come into our lives. It is an encouragement to be hospitable to all people, those we know as well as those we don’t. Today, let’s pray for hearts of hospitality--that we might actually “entertain angels” without even knowing it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hebrews 12:25-29

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.”

Questions to consider:

  • Who are "they" in this section?
  • How is God’s dealing with "them" a warning to the Hebrews?
  • How does the author show the superiority of the new revelation here?

Possibilities for prayer:

The goal to worship God acceptably--with reverence and awe-- seems to be one that has been around for awhile. Worship seems to be a space in which people are more easily able to encounter God, which is a great thing. But sometimes it can be easy to forget that when we are worshiping, we are worshiping the GOD of the UNIVERSE, which is a pretty serious thing, and rightly deserves reverence and awe. Today, let’s ask God to show us what reverence and awe in worship looks like, and try to act that out in our times of worship.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hebrews 12:14-24

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.

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.”

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.

Questions to consider:
  • List the commands the author gives and the reasons for each.
  • How does your relationship to God affect your attitude toward others?
  • Under what circumstances have people in the past approached God? What have been their reactions?
  • Where do people meet God now?
  • What is your response?
Possibilities for prayer:

What does it mean to live in peace with everyone? That seems like a pretty large challenge...since “everyone” is a pretty large group of people. Peace is a word that is thrown around fairly regularly, and has maybe lost some of its power and intensity. Of course, there are different ways of interpreting the word. Many would suggest that peace is the absence of conflict, but what if God is calling us to something more than simply an absence, but rather a presence-- the presence of contentment, of tranquility. So today, let’s pray about how we can make peace an active thing and ask God what can we do in our lives to bring peace and live in peace, with everyone.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hebrews 12:1-13

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.
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 produces 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.

Questions to consider:
  • Describe the race you run.
  • In what ways are the Old Testament believers examples to you?
  • What specific sins cling closely to you? What can you do today to get rid of them?
  • Compare the discipline of a father and God.
  • What is your attitude toward God during the training process? Why?
  • What attitudes show that you are accepting the challenge of God’s discipline?

Possibilities for prayer:

This new take on discipline and what it means for us is a helpful one. It helps us understand what discipline is really for and about, and encourages us to look for the “harvest of righteousness and peace.” Maybe there are ways that you feel God is disciplining you in your life right now, or ways that you have felt this way before. Today, let’s take some time to thank God for discipline--for way that even though it can be difficult and unpleasant, it reveals the way that God has claimed us and loves us and desires good things for us.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hebrews 11:27-40

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 something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Questions to consider:
  • Relate faith and action.
  • Account for (a) the Israelites’ safety and (b) the Egyptians’ drowning in doing the same thing.
  • Contrast the results of faith in verses 35b-38.
  • Will your faith be affected by the results which come to you? Why?
  • What unity do you have with Old Testament believers?
  • How does this unity affect your daily living?

Possibilities for prayer:

WHOA. This is a pretty intense piece of scripture-- we see powerful acts of God that are nothing but encouraging, and we also see the ways in which people of faith suffered for Christ. Let’s think a little bit about what these things mean for our lives, in the present. Today, let’s ask for increased encouragement and eyes to see the ways that God’s power is at work in our community, in our lives and for courage to, as we’ve been asking throughout this week, live lives of faith.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hebrews 11:13-26

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, blessed 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.
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.

Questions to consider:
  • What are the attitudes of the people to whom God made promises?
  • What is God’s attitude toward these people?
  • Where will God ultimately fulfill his promises?
  • How will you (a) identification with Christ and (b) faith in God’s promises affect the choices you face today? in the future?

Possibilities for prayer:

It’s kind of intense to think that the aforementioned people did not receive the things that they were promised, and yet lived lives of FAITH. It seems challenging to us that these people were longing after something better than they could obtain here in this world--are we seeking after the same thing? God’s plan for us, the “city that is to come” that God has prepared and is preparing for us? Today, let’s ask for the ability to have vision for the city that God has for us, and to be counted among those who live lives by faith.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hebrews 11:1-12

1 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 offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended 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.

Questions to consider:
  • Relate faith and hope.
  • Relate faith and reality.
  • Relate faith and God’s revealed word.
  • In what areas and circumstances is God now asking for your faith? With what results?
Possibilities for prayer:

So yesterday we were classified as people of faith, and now we have an understanding of what faith actually is: confidence in what we hope for and assurance of what we do not see. Today, let’s be thankful for faith--for what it is and the role that it plays in our lives. And as we did yesterday, let’s ask for an increase in our faith, that we might live lives that are characterized by faith, lives that don’t really make sense to the world without the power and provision of God.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hebrews 10:26-39

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.

Questions to consider:
  • What is the purpose of “for” in verse 26?
  • What attributes of God are revealed here?
  • Describe the good beginnings of these Hebrew Christians.
  • What is their great need? Why?
  • What is your plight if you throw away your confidence in Jesus Christ? How can you avoid this plight?
Possibilities for prayer:

I like the way in which the author of Hebrews ascribes to us the category of people who have faith and are saved--not to the category of those who “shrink back.” Hopefully, we all actually belong in that category, the category of faithful people. This seems to me to be a challenge to the way we live our lives. Today, let’s ask God for an increase of faith, that we might be appropriately labeled people of faith, not only by the author of Hebrews, but by those who encounter us today as well.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hebrews 10:15-25

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.
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 in full assurance of faith, 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.

Questions to consider:
  • How does “therefore” connect verses 11-18 to verses 19-25?
  • How does the author urge the Hebrews to approach God?
  • Through what creative means can you make love and good works a part of your life and others lives?
Possibilities for prayer:

“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...”

Our God is faithful. Chapter 11 will give us a good definition of what faith looks like, and examples of people of faith. But for now, let’s make the verses above our prayer. May we cling to the hope we profess and be about encouraging others to love and good deeds.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hebrews 10:1-14

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.

Questions to consider:

  • What characteristics of the Old Testament sacrifices indicate that they are only preparatory?
  • What is revealed here about Jesus’s relationship to God and God’s will?
  • How do you know that Christ’s death is no tragic mistake or accident?
  • What is the result of Christ’s sacrifice for you? What is your response?

Possibilities for prayer:

The image of Jesus waiting “for his enemies to be made his footstool” is pretty intense one! It gives us a good sense of the kind of power that Jesus wields--we’re not given an image of him cowering in a corner, or even breaking a sweat in battle for supremacy. Instead, he is sitting at the right hand of God, waiting. Because God’s triumph is inevitable. Today, let’s take some time to celebrate the triumph and victory that already belongs to our God.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

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 everything 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 culmination 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.

Questions to consider:

  • What does the death of Christ accomplish in regard to (a) Old Testament believers, (b) the symbolic ratification of the first covenant and (c) ratification of the new covenant?
  • How then, is the death of Christ necessary?
  • How does Christ’s death affect you? What is your response?
  • Summarize the similarities and differences of the earthly and heavenly sanctuaries.

Possibilities for prayer:

What does it mean for Christ to be the mediator of a new covenant? It seems that this is a pretty important concept--Christ’s death sets us free from our sins. Today, let’s ask that we would not take advantage of that fact, but instead live lives in gratefulness for the forgiveness and freedom that we have been given through Jesus’s death on the cross.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hebrews 9:1-14

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.
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!

Questions to consider:
  • Where do priests perform their duties?
  • What is the significance of (a) the curtain dividing the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies (b) the blood taken into the Holy of Holies, and (c) the sacrifices and regulation of the old covenant?
  • List reasons that Christ’s blood has unique significance.
  • To what extent is your conscience changed because of Christ’s blood?
  • How does Christ’s sacrifice release you from dead works?

Possibilities for prayer:

The idea of Jesus as a high priest is a pretty common theme thus far in the book of Hebrews. For the Jewish people, this metaphor would have been particularly powerful and relevant, since the old covenant dictated in large part the way in which they lived their lives. Most of us have likely not lived under a set of stringent laws like the Jewish people, but I think we can still appreciate the way in which Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross has made such a way of living “obsolete” (see yesterday’s passage). So let’s be thankful for the new covenant, for the way in which we are now able to, with clean consciences, serve the living God, without the burden of the sacrificial requirements previously prescribed.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hebrews 8:7-13

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 house of Israel 
 and with the house 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 house 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 neighbors, 
 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.

Questions to consider:

  • List the characteristics of the old and new covenants.
  • Among whom are the covenants made?
  • Can you come up with two reasons why the old covenant is inadequate for salvation?
  • In what ways does God overcome these difficulties?
  • What happens to the old covenant when God initiates the new one?
  • Explain how the new covenant is superior to the old.

Possibilities for prayer:

Verses 8b-12 are originally found in Jeremiah 31:31-34. What’s really cool about that fact is the way in which the author of Hebrews’s use of this Old Testament text only further serves to identify the way in which the NEW covenant is the fulfillment and improvement of the old one. Jeremiah spoke of a time when the old covenant would become obsolete, and Jesus’s death was the fulfillment of that prophecy and promise.

Sometimes it can be difficult to trust in the promises that God has made to us--we feel as though we have waited a long time for them to come true, but we still don’t see them becoming real in our lives. Today, let’s praise God because this text is an example of the way in which God is faithful to fulfill promises. Let’s also ask for an increase in faith, that we might be able to wait with patience and with confidence for the completion and fulfillment of what we have been promised.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hebrews 8:1-6

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.

Questions to consider:

  • What is the duty of a priest?
  • Where and how is Christ fulfilling his priestly duty?
  • How is the earthly sanctuary a model for Christ’s ministry? How is it an expression of the mind of God?
  • How is the setting of Christ’s ministry as high priest superior to the setting of the ministry of earthly priests?
Possibilities for prayer:

What is this talk of covenants? Old one? New one? Well, it’s actually pretty important stuff--the old covenant refers to the covenant that was made between God and the people of Israel around Moses’s time (which is why there are explanations of many and varied laws in the beginning of the Old Testament). The new covenant is the one we have through Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. We are no longer tied in the same way to the very specific laws laid out in the Old Testament, and have the opportunity to have a relationship with God without needing to make sacrifices for our sins. Take a minute to think about what your life would look like if you were required to make a sacrificial offering for every sin you committed--it would be a lot, would it not? Today, praise God for the new covenant you are privileged to find yourself a part of.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hebrews 7:18-28

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.

Questions to consider:

  • In what way is the (a) hope and (b) covenant through Christ better than these things through the law?
  • Determine the meaning of “covenant.”
  • Summarize the characteristics of Jesus as high priest.
  • What is the impact of these truths in your thinking? In your daily living?

Possibilities for prayer:

The idea of Jesus being able to “save completely” those who come to God through Him is an encouraging one--I really appreciate how Jesus is described as being always alive and able to intercede. Jesus is also very set-apart in this passage, as the distinction between Jesus as high priest and a human as high priest is made quite clear. Jesus’ sacrifice covers all sins for all time, which eradicates our need for a human priest to make sacrifices on our behalf (and our need to present those sacrifices to the priest). Let’s take some time to just bask in the generosity that Jesus’s sacrifice represents; and after that, thank God for it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hebrews 7:11-17

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.”

Questions to consider:

  • Explain the relationship between the priesthood and the law in Judaism.
  • To what tribe does Jesus belong? How does this disqualify him from serving as a priest at the altar?
  • To what does “this” in verse 15 refer?
  • What is Jesus’ qualification to be a priest?
  • How does this qualification supersede the law?

Possibilities for prayer:

Jesus, apparently, broke a lot of rules. If you take some time to read through the Gospels, that truth becomes pretty apparent--we see many interactions in which the Pharisees and Sadducees (important, pious, religious people of the day) are rather frustrated with the ways in which Jesus bends the rules that were laid out in the law of the Torah (the Jewish Bible). Today, let’s ask for God to make us rule-benders as well. Not rule-benders just for the sake of breaking the rules, but rule-benders for Jesus. Let’s ask that Jesus would give us the courage and boldness to pursue lives truly after Jesus’s heart, even when that looks different than the established “rules” of our culture, and to be excited about the good things that can come from that.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Hebrews 7:1-10

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 kindred—even though their kindred 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 those 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.

Questions to consider:

  • List and explain the facts of Melchizedek.
  • In what ways is he an excellent representation of Christ?
  • Summarize the ways that Christ is superior to (a) angels, (b) man, (c) Moses, and (d) Abraham.
  • Imagine the effect of these arguments on the Hebrews.
  • How do these truths affect you? What is your response?

Possibilities for prayer:

Christ’s superiority has been a pretty important theme thus far in the book of Hebrews. As we learn about how much greater Jesus is than anything--or anyone--else, we may find ourselves humbled in our human frailty. Let’s take some time to acknowledge our weaknesses, as well as the way in which they are made whole in Christ. Let’s thank God for the grace we are given and the way that we are chosen to be God’s children even in the midst of our shortcomings and Christ’s perfection.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Hebrews 6:9-20

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, in order to make your hope sure. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
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.

Questions to consider:
  • What is the significance of beloved in verse 9?
  • What qualities of God are revealed in this passage?
  • What characteristics of the Old Testament leaders are the Hebrews urged to imitate?
  • What is God’s promise to Abraham?
  • What is the (a) present and (b) future of the Christian hope?
  • How does the position of Jesus Christ demonstrate the reality of that hope?
Possibilities for prayer:

What does it look like to be lazy in your faith, in your pursuit of following Jesus? What does it look like to be faithful and patient to inherit what God has promised to us? Let’s take some time to reflect upon these questions, as they pertain to our unique individual lives and situations. Let’s pray against laziness, whatever that might look like for our individual lives. Let’s also ask God for an increase in our faith and patience, and the ability to truly seek out the good things God has for us, the inheritance that he has promised.