Take note of the last lines of 1 Corinthians 15. In this chapter, Paul has gone on and on about the resurrection of Jesus and how our faith hangs upon that fact. Because Jesus lives we are assured a blessed future. Our weak and corruptible bodies will be transformed in a flash. Because Jesus lives, so will we. But that future tense doesn’t mean the Christian life is gazing off on the horizon. We do look ahead and can sing a triumphant song, as Paul does, because in Christ we have the victory. But in Christ we still live our lives in the present. Paul writes:
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
He says “therefore” showing that this line is building upon the truth of the resurrection and our future hope. Because we will be made new in Christ, we now work for the Lord in all we do. The Christian hope does not remove our responsibilities for this life. Rather it should give us all the more reason to work for Christ’s kingdom today, knowing that such labor will never be in vain.
1 John is a book that hits on a number of topics, but love sure is one of them. It could be tempting by the time you reach chapter three to just gloss over all this love talk. But if you do you’d miss a beautiful line of Scripture. I actually like the sound of the NIV so I’ll quote from there:
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
Our understanding of love is defined in many ways through passages in this book as we’re told what love has done, who has loved first, what love should look like now, and so on. But this line has such simplicity and profundity. God’s love for us is visible in the fact that he would call us his very own children. The Christian understanding of how we relate to God is amazing in that fact. There is not some distant God who cares little for the affairs of this tiny world. We do not have a God who tolerates us because of what we do for it. Our God loved us before we ever could and calls us his children. We are no long slaves to sin and bound to death, rather we are rescued from that peril and are God’s sons and daughters.
We are not merely saved from sin then left in a position always needing to please a capricious God who could easily reverse his judgment. No we are saved from sin and saved for God himself. He is faithful to his promises and has adopted us as his children, an action that cannot then be undone. What love God has truly lavished upon us that we are his own, and how overwhelming it is when we fix our mind upon the fact that we are his beloved.
In 2 Chronicle 30 Hezekiah delivers a word to all of Judah and Israel, calling the people to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem. Right worship has fallen by the wayside and when he begins his rule he makes it first order to restore the temple. But what we see in the chapter is another reminder about the way that those who follow God are received. I mentioned this earlier in a post on 1 Corinthians, but I think we should be reminded and then prepare ourselves for how people will see us.
Hezekiah sends out a message and in verse 10 it says the people laughed, scorn, and mock the messengers. They do not disagree or disregard. No simple “no thank you.” Instead mockery. How do you handle condescension? Do you react well when someone thinks so little of your belief that they do not deem it worthy of reply, but just laugh you off? Hezekiah was in the right and was doing what was good and he faces scorn. Are we ready for such a reaction?
There is great blessing for those who follow Christ, but we ought to build up resolve and find courage and conviction because Christ told us that in this world there will be suffering. But the one we serve also tells us that he has overcome the world.
I am appreciative that someone today brought to my attention an interesting reference to Solomon found in the New Testament.
When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
For all the talk of Solomon’s great wisdom, we know something greater than Solomon. Just as with folks like Moses and Abraham, here is another who fails in comparison to Jesus Christ and receives the “greater than” treatment.
In Luke Jesus is shown as greater than Jonah, whose preaching caused a wicked, enemy city of Israel to repent. He is greater than Solomon whose wisdom, wealth, and power were so great that the Queen of Sheba travelled to Jerusalem to marvel at him.
If a city repented in ashes and sackcloth at the words of Jonah and if the world gathered to Solomon to hear his words, how much more will Jesus impact our world. His preaching and his wisdom are matchless. Jesus came to gather all the world and to call all people, Jew and Gentiles, to himself. Even though we’ve read these weeks in Kings and Chronicles of Solomon’s wisdom, a wisdom he sought in order to rule as king, the wisdom of Jesus, our King, is new and greater. As we read elsewhere that even the foolishness of God is wiser than the best of humanity. And in God’s wisdom Christ did not amass great power or wealth as king. As king he suffered and served, sacrificed himself for us, and now reigns on high interceding for us every day.
We ought to be thankful for his wisdom–a wisdom that saves us, and we ought to ask for his type of wisdom as we seek to follow him.
Throughout the book of Hebrews Jesus Christ is being linked to the practices and objects of the Old Testament. For example, Christ is the veil, he is the sacrifice, and he is priest. The ways of the old covenant find their improvement in Jesus Christ and the new covenant that he has instituted.
In chapter 11 as we read about the role of faith in the people of God, going all the way back to Abel, we read one line about Moses that continues to strengthen the link of Christ to the Old Testament. Verse 26 says:
[Moses] considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.
It doesn’t say that Moses considered the reproach of God, but rather the reproach of Christ as a greater treasure than all that could be found in Egypt. Verse 25 tells us how Moses chose to be mistreated with God’s people rather enjoy the sinful spoils of Pharaoh’s courts. In so doing he willingly took on scorn and suffering–the reproach of others, and did so, as the NIV says in its translation, “for the sake of Christ.”
Moses did not know the name of Jesus Christ, but he put his hope in God, and that hope is Christ. Jesus is Messiah, the one in whom all the hope of Israel was wrapped. Moses trusted the promises of God, looking ahead to the reward, knowing it to be better than any fleeting treasure or pleasure. So Moses endured reproach for what to him at the time was unnamed. But now the author of Hebrews looks back and calls it what it was. Moses enduring for the sake of Christ, the only hope we have now.
Likewise we now are called to endure reproach for his sake, and opportunities are not hard to come by. It may not be a Pharaoh seeking to kill us, but we are often given the choice between the fleeting pleasures of sin and Jesus. When we choose the latter we often choose hardship, as well.
As I mentioned last week, writings on Hebrews were slow going as I didn’t want to skip over the difficulty of Hebrews 6. But now that we’re in to the home stretch of the book, I didn’t want to altogether miss out on the amazing passages I’ve yet to focus on.
Chapter six opens with the challenges passage that makes us investigate our security in God, but then it ends with wonderful verses on the certainty we can have with God. He is one who can keep all the promises that he has made to us.
13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear,he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham,having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose,he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.
Hebrews then goes on with a phrase that struck me so much when I noticed it a couple years ago that I have it written on a post-it and stuck to my wall. The certainty that we have in God is like a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. What a reassuring picture of the hope we have in God? When all the world rages on like a storm around us, we have a hope that is fixed, immovable because of the great work of God for us in Jesus Christ.
Beyond chapter six we get the mysterious character Melchizedek mentioned in chapter seven, showing how Christ, like him, is not a priest like any other. He does not depend on his lineage nor does his ministry come to an end. He is a priest forever, always perfectly interceding for us.
This continues the theme that what Christ has done and who Christ is make him the bringer of a new and better covenant. Chapter eight talks of how those old things were copies and shadows of what is real and they looked ahead to Christ’s coming. Jeremiah 31 is quoted to show they longing and to communicate that this future day Jeremiah spoke of has found its fulfillment in Jesus.
I think Hebrews is a wonderful book that helps us to couple Jesus Christ with phrases like “better than”, “how much more,” and “greater than” as we compare him and all he has done to everything that has gone before.
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. Hebrews 6:1-4
I must confess I have slowed in my readings (and writings) of Hebrews this week for two reasons. One – because I was away on study leave enjoying teachings of NT Wright and the beauty of fall in Princeton, NJ. Two – because we began with this extremely troubling passage. I wanted to find some more time this week to study it, but here we are on the eve of week six and I wanted to say something.
It appears as though this passage is saying that someone can come to Christ, be “saved”, and then fall away. If this were to happen, there’s no turning back. Almost like saying you can come and be forgiven for any sin, but only once.
So this is troubling for all the worry it would cause if we can lose our salvation. It would change where I stand before God from solid rock to shifting sand. These verses are also troubling because we read elsewhere passages like (and this is just a small sampling):
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish;no one will snatch them out of my hand. John 10:27-28
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6
So how do we reconcile these passages? Some of the ways I’ve seen this described go like this:
This hypothetical person can’t be forgiven because they do not want it. They have turned their back and it isn’t so much that they can’t, but that they won’t be forgiven. This still has the issue of the possibility of falling away, but the argument can then continue by proposing that no one who would turn their back on Christ would have been a true Christian in the first place. The description of being enlightened, tasting heavenly gifts, and so on are descriptions of enjoying certain corporate benefits of the church. Or maybe it is some individual understanding, but it is not the same as being gifted the saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Quick review: So far the possible readings are that you can’t be forgiven because you don’t want it, or (with some possible overlap) that this hypothetical person hasn’t truly fallen away because that’s impossible and they were not a Christian to begin with.
Another take on this passage that tries to hold on to the witness of other parts of Scripture is that this passage is describing a non-sensical if-then statement. If a person were to fall away then for them to repent and come back would mean Christ is recrucified. But Christ can’t be recrucified. Hebrews itself has already talked of Christ’s once for all sacrifice and how his death on the cross was completely sufficient. If that is the case, and he’s now been raised from the dead, how could he and why would he be crucified again? So if Christ can’t be recrucified, such as it is an impossibility, then the circumstances that would lead to it are also an impossibility. If Christ has died for your sins then you would never have need for him to return to the cross again. If you’ve been redeemed, then you can’t reverse the process and this is in fact an argument against the mere possibility of falling away.
Those are some of the interpretations out there. Again, some just read it as though you can lose your salvation. But I don’t believe that God’s plans can be foiled. If he has chosen you and me, then he has the power keep us in his grasp. I wish I had a plainly obvious way of reading this that would just click. We must read Scripture in light of other scripture which can make things complicated But I believe the greater theme is that of God’s sovereignty.
What I do try to take away is a challenge to remain vigilant. We ought to keep ourselves committed to Christ and to following after his call. We need to be ever vigilant, while also resting confidently in the security that the work of our salvation is thankfully a work wholly of God.
Job 19 includes what are probably the most familiar lines from the whole book. Verse 25 says, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” It is a powerful line and in it we see the hope, similar to what I wrote last week, of Christ. But it is all the more powerful given the context. Job boldly says that he does have a redeemer. He says this redeemer lives and this redeemer is spoken of in relation to Job one day seeing God. But all this he says in his dire circumstances. Earlier in the chapter Job has said this:
All my intimate friends abhor me, and those whom I loved have turned against me. My bones stick to my skin and to my flesh, and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth. Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me! Why do you, like God, pursue me? Why are you not satisfied with my flesh?
Life has been bitter to Job. He has called out hoping to meet death, wishing the day on which he was born was taken from history. The ones who should be close seem far, the ones who should love hate, and Job says even children despise him. Yet even as his world seems to crumble Job is able to find the strength to say, perhaps the strength to believe, that there truly is a redeemer. He does not let his circumstance dictate truth. God is God even when life is painful. We have hope even when there seems to be no hope for us. Even in the midst of sin and death we have one who redeems us from such slavery and who will usher us into the presence of God.