As a junior high teacher, there have been a couple of times when a student’s behavior warranted their removal from the classroom, even after multiple redirections and warnings. The school administrator would assign a consequence, such as on-campus suspension for one to three days, and then the student would return to reintegrate back into our class community.
While this scenario isn’t a perfect analogy to what we read in Jeremiah chapters 51 and 52, it has a few similarities.
Throughout generations, Israel had been warned over and over about what would be the consequences if they failed to be obedient to God’s decrees. And yet the kings over God’s people and the people themselves rebelled, they did evil in the eyes of the LORD. And God cannot tolerate sin. There had to be consequences.
So God allowed Babylon to capture Israel. God allowed for His dwelling place, the temple built by Solomon, to be ransacked and destroyed. This was the consequence of decades of disobedience.
But throughout this time, God never stopped loving His people. He longed to see them be restored. And so He made a way. The very kingdom that had caused destruction to Israel, would eventually face its own consequences and be brought down by its enemies. God’s people would be released from captivity.
What we read in Jeremiah 51 and 52, describes what no doubt was a rough patch for Israel, to put it mildly. And it even foretells what it might be like during the time leading up to Christ’s second coming.
But we can also read it through the lens of how God must deal with us as individuals. Because He is the Holy One of Israel, there must be consequences to our sin. We are destined to be separated, exiled, from Him because our sin and His holiness cannot coexist. But God longs to be in a relationship with us. And so God provides for a way, through Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, for this relationship to be restored. So even though our lives are “full of guilt before the Holy One of Israel”, we will not be “forsaken by our God, the LORD Almighty”.
The two prominent subjects in James 3 are the tongue and wisdom. Though the tongue is a body part and wisdom is intangible Godly knowledge, James manages to successfully contrast their attributes for the reader. And as we have seen in the previous chapters, he does not “sugar-coat” his words!
James again uses word pictures to introduce us to this most necessary part of our body, “the tongue.”
“Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their whole body as well.” (verse 3)
The bit is an important part of a horse’s tack and controls the horse’s mouth. The bit, bridle and reins work together to control the horse’s head for its rider. The average bit size is 5 to 6 inches, quite small compared to a horse’s size.
James continues with another word picture to “set the stage” for his coming discourse on the tongue.
“Look at the ships too: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are nevertheless directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot determines.” (verse 4)
A rudder is a flat piece hinged vertically near the stern or rear of a boat and is used in the steering process. But as James points out, compared to the large ship it directs, its size is incredibly small.
Small bits control/direct—large horses
Small rudders control/direct—large ships
Small TONGUES control/direct large bodies—US!
“So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of unrighteousness; the tongue is set among our body’s parts as that which defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one among mankind can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (verses 5-8)
Tell us how you really feel, James! Oh, he did!
Our tongues can get us into so much trouble! Remember, James told us in 1:19, let everyone be, “quick to hear, slow to speak.” Once we share that small bit of gossip, respond with rudeness, call out a mean-spirited comment, or answer in anger, the “fire” has started. It quickly gains ground and can no longer be easily extinguished.
Proverbs 12:27 says, “A worthless man digs up evil, While his words are like scorching fire.”
Think of the massive forest fires that have destroyed thousands of acres in the USA and Canada this past summer. Think of the devastation of homes and property and the loss of human and animal life. NOW, think of the lives wounded, ravaged, and ruined because of thoughtless words from tongues.
“With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way.” (verses 9-10)
What a humbling reprimand!
James finishes this serious warning with another word picture. “Does a spring send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brothers andsisters, bear olives, or a vine bear figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.” (verses 11-12) James wants his readers to “see” the disparity of an uncontrolled tongue.
James’ discourse on the tongue, (“a world of unrighteousness”), contrasts with the wonderful wisdom from above, wisdom from our heavenly Father. Worldly versus Heavenly.
“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom” (verse 13)
Notice that if we have Godly wisdom, it will be evidenced in our daily lives—what we do, who we help, how we serve. Don’t you love that James says our deeds should be done “in the GENTLENESS of wisdom?” Softly, thoughtfully, kindly.
These WORKS contrast greatly from the “LIP service faith” of the tongue. As James said in 2:17, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”
Verses 14-16 tell us jealousy and selfish ambition have no place in our “works.” If they live in our hearts, we don’t have true wisdom, but instead, “disorder and every evil thing.”
What constitutes the wisdom from above? “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (verse 17)
When we have this wisdom described in detail by its eight desirable characteristics, the end result is peace—peace within ourselves, peace in our relationship with others.
“Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (verse 18)
Be wise and grow a Godly garden of goodness, living out your FAITH through your peaceful words and WORKS.
Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 49-50 and James 3
As we consider the second chapter of James today, the writer gives us another easily understood illustration, as he warns about an attitude of personal favoritism.
“My brothers and sisters, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and is dressed in bright clothes, and a poor man in dirty clothes also comes in, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the bright clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters: did God not choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the good name by which you have been called?” (verses 1-7)
We must note that James is not saying we should ignore the rich in our Christian outreach. But he is saying rich people should not be elevated above others because of their bank accounts.
The result of the sin of favoritism is found in verse 9. “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the Law as violators.”
So what is the solution? Verse 8– “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.”
This is why I love the book of James. Simple and direct—easily understood.
A modern-day story I have heard several times fits right in here.
A Pastor transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000-member church where he was to be introduced as the head pastor that morning.
He walked around his soon-to-be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service– only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food — no one in the church gave him change.
He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit in the back. He greeted people only to be greeted back with stares, dirty looks, and people looking down on him. As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements.
When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce to you our new Pastor.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with all eyes on him. He walked up to the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited,
“Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all that he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry, and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?” He then dismissed service until next week.
I hope this story moves you as it moved me. And James reiterates these thoughts in verses 14-17.
“What use is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? In the same way, faith also, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”
Faith without works is dead. They go hand in hand, like salt and pepper, bread and butter, peanut butter and jelly. James’ impassioned words teach us that our faith should totally transform our lives and daily actions. Our faith should be reflected in the life we live. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” II Corinthians 5:17
James sums up his thoughts with two examples from the Old Testament, Abraham and Rahab. “Was our father Abraham not justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called a friend of God.” (verses 21-23)
We cannot imagine the agony Abraham faced on that mountain, preparing to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. But he had ultimate trust, FAITH, in God and followed through with WORKS, laying Isaac on the altar before the ram was revealed for the burnt offering. “And as a result of the works, faith was perfected.”
Such an unfathomable example of faith and works, Abraham was called the friend of God, an honor bestowed on no one else in Scripture.
“In the same way, was Rahab the prostitute not justified by works also when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” (verse 25) The account of Rahab is found in Joshua 2. Rahab hid the two spies Joshua sent into Jericho. This daring deed brought a rewarding outcome for Rahab and her family, as they were saved when Jericho was defeated by the Israelites. Rahab’s faith and actions blessed her descendants as she is found in the genealogy of Jesus.
James concludes his thoughts with verse 26. “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”
Without the breath of life, we are dead. Without a life of daily ACTIVE Christian living and service to others–our works— our faith is dead.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
We begin a new book of the Bible today—James. James is one of my favorite Bible books. I participated in Bible quizzing on James as a teenager in IL, and coached Bible quizzers on James in IN and MN. More than half of the verses of this first chapter of James are underlined in my Bible.
James’ writing style differs from the author of Hebrews. He is blunt and forthright in his writing.
The author of James was most likely the son of Joseph and Mary, which made him the half-brother of Jesus. Interestingly, James and other family members did not initially accept the teaching of Jesus.
In Mark’s account of Jesus, we find these verses.
“He came home, and the crowd gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. And when His own people heard about this, they came out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, ‘He has lost His senses.’” Mark 3:20-21
The book of John tells us “For not even His brothers believed in Him.” John 7:5
However, after Jesus had risen from the dead, (“then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles” I Cor 15:7), James’ life was transformed. He became an important leader of the church in Jerusalem and the surrounding early churches.
The first verse of James ties in with his widespread influence to the churches. He addresses his letter “to the twelve tribes which are dispersed abroad.” This audience was actually Jewish Christians, many of whom had been forced to leave their homeland due to persecution. They were new in their faith and needed instruction and encouragement that was straight forward and easily understood.
Think about the opportunities and choices available today for people who want to be a “do-it-yourselfer.” Whether it is home building or remodeling, cooking, gardening, crafting, “you name it,” there is a book, a manual, a TV program, a YouTube video, or a website that can help you out. (DIY network, HGTV, Craftsy, are a few that come to mind.) Paul A. Cedar calls the letter of James a “how -to-do-it manual for the Christian life.” James offers solid, practical instruction for Jesus’ followers.
“Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials,knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Verse 2 tells us to be joyful when we face trials. It seems like a difficult thing to do, but remember, the Christians who first received this letter had experienced extreme trials to the point they had fled their homes to survive.
Paul writes in I Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except something common to mankind; and God is faithful, so He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”
This is the joy we should have when trials confront us. And, as verse 3 says, “the testing of your faith produces endurance.” When we experience trials, our faith grows in the Lord, as we work towards our “perfect self” in God’s Kingdom. (verse 4)
James’ brother Jesus, our Savior, often told parables, or simple stories to help his audience understand his teaching. I find it interesting that James, like his brother, uses several illustrations in his letter to further explain his instructions to his readers.
If you lack wisdom, ask God for it, but don’t doubt you will receive it. One who doubts “is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. Let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (verses 5-8)
Blunt and to the point! No commentary by me needed!
Story/illustration #2–Verses 9-12
“Now the brother or sister of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; but the rich person is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so also the rich person, in the midst of his pursuits, will die out. Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
A Christian with limited means for livelihood “glories” in his coming inheritance in God’s Kingdom. A rich man/Christian should glory in the fact that his wealth is temporary, only of this world. Verse 11 gives us a visualization of the fleetingness of this life—hot sun, scorching wind, dead grass and flowers. (This picture reminds me of the drought areas around the US this past summer.) Both men are equal in their future reward, a “crown of life,” IF they “persevere under trial.”
James continues with straightforward, sensible instruction.
“No one is to say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it has run its course, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers and sisters. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”
God, the Father of Lights, loves us, and is a generous giver. His greatest gift was His Son Jesus and the plan of salvation, but He has also given us the beautiful natural world to delight in and discover its wonders each day. God has given us our families, friends, jobs, food, homes. How blessed we are. And His care, His protection, His love never changes—“with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” This phrase reminds me of one of my favorite verses, Malachi 3:6a. “For I, the Lord, do not change.”
James continues with his direct approach in verse 19. He tells his readers to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” Why? Verse 20 says, “For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (Insert drum rimshot here!) Obviously!
Quick, Slow, Slow. In other words, 30 seconds to think and respond during a contentious conversation. Even Thomas Jefferson had this sage advice. “When angry, count to 10 before you speak. If very angry, a hundred.”
Verses 21-25 bring us another story/illustration to make James’ point, if we still don’t get it! The guidance is repeated with action words this time to begin the illustration.
“Put aside filthiness and the remains of wickedness.”
“Receive the word”
“Proveyourselves doers, (not merely hearers, who delude themselves.)”
Don’t hold back, James!
Here comes the explanation/story. “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who has looked intently at the perfect law, the law of freedom, and has continued in it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an active doer, this person will be blessed in what he does.” (verses 23-25)
A man looks at himself in a mirror, walks away, and immediately forgets what he looks like. This man is like a person that listens to God’s Word, hears what “the preacher says,” and then leaves church on Sunday and lives his life the rest of the week not connected to God.
However, one who not only looks into God’s Word, (the perfect law of liberty) abides in it, and follows through with appropriate actions, is truly blessed in his life. Paul said it this way, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” Galatians 5:4. Where do you start?
James gives us an example in the last verse of James 1, verse 27. “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Simple love in action. The Bible is our guidebook/how-to manual. We can’t just read it and not follow through. James 1 is direct instruction for the do-it-yourself generation.
Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 45-46 and James 1
When children finish high school, and they go off to college or to live on their own for the first time, those frenzied final weeks before leaving are usually a flurry of activities. To-do lists are checked off and then added to, last minute shopping trips become a daily occurrence, and packing everything needed seems an impossible task. Finally, the day arrives, and the slightly panicked parents are often confronted with this stark realization: did I prepare them sufficiently for the challenges they will face in life? And so ensues final reminders, gentle warnings, and many sentences starting with “Don’t forget,” or “Remember.” The parents want the best experience for their children at college and in life.
The writer of Hebrews also desires the best outcome for his dear readers, his spiritual children, as he finishes his letter. Of course, that best outcome is eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Thus, Hebrews 13 concludes with straightforward instruction to reach this prize.
Consider the direct instructions found in verses 1-7, and the reasons WHY these instructions are important.
“Keep on loving each other as brothers”
“Do not neglect hospitality to strangers—(WHY?)—”for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
“Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are badly treated—(WHY?) – since you yourselves also are in the body.”
“Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; – (WHY?) – for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers.”
“Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; – (WHY?) – for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever abandon you.”
“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; – (WHY?) – considering the result of their way of life, imitate their faith.”
Verse 17 goes hand in hand with verse 7. “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, – (WHY?) – 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.”
Hebrews 13:8 can be a stand-alone statement and beloved promise, easy to memorize (and it should be) and underlined in your Bible.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
What an assurance to us that Jesus has not changed and will not change—he is our Savior and coming King. Perhaps the writer felt a plain statement of our basic hope was warranted after his beginning list of directives.
Building on that simple reassurance, verse 9 warns the early Christians and us today, not to “be carried away by varied and strange teachings,” just as parents might advise their departing children—stay true to your foundation, the principles of your upbringing. It is firm, it is solid, it will keep you grounded.
Now, remember our reading from Hebrews 10 a few days ago.
“But He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God,waiting from that time onward until His enemies are made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Heb. 10:12-14)
Continuing in Hebrews 13, verses 15-16 should be OUR response for this sacrifice.
“Through Him then, let’s continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips praising His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
Our Salvation Gift from God:
Jesus—ONE SACRIFICE for all time
CONTINUAL SACRIFICE of
As the end of verse 16 says, “for with such SACRIFICES God is pleased.”
The writer concludes with a benediction or ending prayer in verses 20 and 21 that sums up his thoughts in this chapter.
“Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, that is, Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
This prayer serves as the perfect final reminder for young adults off to college, and for each one of us.
The 2020 Summer Olympics, (held one year later in Tokyo, Japan due to the Pandemic) were recently completed. This major international multi-sport event is held every four years.
As we consider Hebrews 12, the setting of a great sports stadium can be imagined. Verse 1 talks about the great cloud of witnesses. The ancient Greek word for cloud in this verse was a figure of speech for a large group. These superheroes listed in chapter 11 and down through the ages are witnesses TO US of faith and endurance. Just as a high school gymnasium has mounted pictures of past all-state athletes with a listing of their sports accomplishments to inspire the current sports players, so we can picture our Faith Superheroes encircling us and cheering us on.
Verse 1 continues, instructing us to throw off every hindrance “and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Here we see the sports analogy clearly stated—run the race set before us. A runner wouldn’t compete in bulky clothes that carry extra weight and slow his time. We too need to lay aside conflicting interests that take us away from our “run with God.” We also must be wary of “the sin which so easily entangles us.” Habits or actions that become so addictive, we don’t give them a second thought, can trap us like a spider web. How many times do we pick up our phone instead of praying or offering God praise?
Instead, verse 2 tells us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of faith.” What a beautiful description of Jesus we don’t often contemplate. Jesus, our ultimate superhero, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Every runner pictures his/her victory, and so we keep our eyes on Jesus, our coming king, bringing the prize of the kingdom with him. Jesus saw the “joy” to come as he suffered unimaginable horrors on the cross. Our faith race has twists and turns, challenges and difficulties, but when we picture the end result, as Jesus did, we will “not grow weary and lose heart.” (verse 3)
Going back to the 2020 Summer Olympics, according to Wikipedia, “the Games featured 339 events in 33 different sports, encompassing a total of 50 disciplines.” A discipline in the Olympics is a branch of a sport consisting of one or more events. For example, skiing is a sport, while cross-country skiing, Alpine skiing, snowboarding, ski jumping, and Nordic combined are disciplines.
And discipline is also the necessary foundation for any sport and athlete. An athlete must consistently practice the fundamentals of his/her sport to improve and build their skill in it.
The “discipline of the Lord” mentioned repeatedly in verses 5-11 coincides with this thought, in that it is not necessarily punishment, but rather repeated preparation and endurance for our walk/race of faith. God’s motivation for this is His love for us. “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.” (verse 10b)
Verses 12 and 13 build on this thought, urging our Christian conditioning, just as an injured athlete is reconditioned to compete again through a specific rehabilitation program.
Then, verse 14 urges us to “pursue peace with all men.” Again, referencing the Olympics, we know one of its primary goals is to promote peace through fair play and friendship in its competitions. This Olympic goal of peace is actually another discipline of the Christian walk/race. The Hebrews writer warns us against bitterness, and he uses Esau as a prime example. (verses 16-17)
Finally, verses 18-29 contrast the time of Moses on Mt Sinai, with the coming kingdom of God. Read verses 22-24 aloud with all the expression and emotion you can muster.
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.”
Verses 25-27 give a final warning in this chapter, and we end with this concluding motivation.
“Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let’s show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”
Gratitude, service, reverence, awe. These “disciplines” will keep you in the Christian race, ever striving for that eternal prize at the finish line.
In my job as a school librarian, I often get asked where the superhero books are located. Spiderman and and Ironman are favorites of my kindergarten and first grade students. These characters possess superpowers that amaze their readers.
Since Covid-19 unfortunately appeared in our world, signs started sprouting up in front of hospitals or health-care centers, stating “Superheroes Work Here.” It was a way to honor and recognize the life-saving daily work of our health-care providers fighting this unwelcome virus. These individuals labored long hours, days, weeks, months through challenging and heartbreaking circumstances.
In both examples, superheroes use their powers to help make the world a better place. In Hebrews 11, superheroes used GOD’S POWER to face the world’s challenges, all the while anticipating the “world to come” that God had promised them.
Hebrews 11 is known as the Faith chapter of the Bible, and when you read it, you quickly understand why. It begins with a beautiful definition or statement of what faith is—“the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Let those words sink in. Meditate on them in conjunction with your life circumstances and trials. This singular verse brings so much reassurance and comfort.
Verses two and three continue with an explanation and introduction to verses 4-40, the Faith “Hall of Fame” of the Bible. Read these verses carefully, slowly, reverently.
“For by it the people of old gained approval. By faith we understand that the world has been created by the word of God so that what is seen has not been made out of things that are visible.”
“By faith”, “by faith”, “by faith”—these two words are repeated over and over throughout the chapter to introduce God’s superheroes and to justify their inclusion in this passage with an explanation of what they did “by faith.” Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets. Their stories are inspiring, uplifting, encouraging, HEROIC—because their faith, unfaltering in God and His promises, was the foundation of their lives.
These superheroes, “by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mocking and flogging, and further, chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented (people of whom theworld was not worthy), wandering in deserts, on mountains, and sheltering in caves and holes in the ground. Hebrews 11:33-38
As verse 38 said, the world was not worthy of them!
Going back to Hebrews 10:32-34, the writer reminds his readers of their sufferings after coming to faith. “But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through insults and distress, and partly by becoming companions with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better and lasting possession.” It all ties together—the Old Testament heroes, the New Testament heroes, and faithful believers down through the ages.
The writer’s counsel is this: “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay.” Hebrews 10: 35-37 NASB
The superheroes of Hebrews 11, the Faith chapter, “gained approval through their faith, (but) did not receive what was promised.” (verse 39) They are resting in their graves, waiting for their reward. We are waiting, too.
That same reward can be ours. Have you accepted and follow God’s plan of salvation, so you can receive this reward God has waiting for you, a reward for your faith? I pray you have–I pray you will.
“Because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:40
Have you ever known someone who needs kidney dialysis to live? Your kidneys act as very efficient filters for ridding the body of waste and toxic substances, and they return vitamins and other vital substances to the bloodstream. You need dialysis if your kidneys no longer remove enough waste and fluid from your blood to keep you healthy. Dialysis is usually required if your kidney function is down to 10-15 percent.
Hemodialysis is a procedure where a dialysis machine and a special filter called an artificial kidney are used to clean your blood. For most patients, dialysis is needed three times a week for approximately four hours each session. Most importantly, a dialysis patient needs hemodialysis for the rest of his/her life unless a kidney transplant is received. A dialysis patient continues to live, but not what we would call a “quality” life.
The example of kidney dialysis reminds me of verse 11 of our Hebrews passage today, chapter 10. “And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” The Hebraic priests daily performed their duties, offering up animal sacrifices on an altar for the various sins of the people. But the cycle never ended because God’s people then, like us today, continued to sin. Sin needed to be removed by their offered sacrifices just as kidney dialysis removes waste from a patient’s body.
In truth, the sacrifices were simply a reminder of the people’s sin. This is explained in verse one of this chapter. “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.” Heb. 10:1 NIV
But Hebrews 10:12-14 NASB continues: “but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until his enemies be made a footstool for his feet. For by one offering He has PERFECTED for all time those who are sanctified.”
Praise to our Almighty, loving and gracious God. And to His Son, Jesus, our Saviour, the sacrificial Lamb who died for each one of us, once and for all. Verse 14 says Jesus’ death on the cross made we, who have accepted that sacrifice and entered into a relationship with him, perfect! Perfect! Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we appear pure and without sin to God.
“Now where there is forgiveness of these things, an offering for sin is no longer required.” Heb. 10:18 NASB. When we sin, we ask forgiveness of God, and through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are forgiven. There is NO NEED for daily offering of animal sacrifices by priests.
What then should be our response to this marvelous covenant (verse 16) God has given us?
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 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.” Hebrews 10:19-25 NIV
Draw near, fully assured of our purity before God
Hold fast to our hope in God
Stimulate one another in love and good deeds
Assemble together regularly
Encourage one another
Remember our introduction about kidney dialysis. When a dialysis patient receives the gift of a kidney transplant, from a donor, the regular three times a week dialysis ends. New life begins for the kidney recipient, a life of freedom to enjoy their loved ones, to travel, to appreciate each day. A kidney recipient is no longer tied down to the once necessary dialysis regimen.
Regular dialysis of the Hebrew people’s sins was no longer necessary with the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice. He was their donor; he is OUR DONOR!
Today, when we accept that gift through repentance and baptism, a cleansed and new life is “transplanted” within us. Praise God for the freedom we have in Christ.
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Romans 8:2 NASB
Paula Kirkpatrick lives in Minnesota with her husband, and is a wife, mom, grandma, school librarian, and most of all, a child of God.
We sure could use a few more Jeremiahs today! He was quick to follow God’s instructions, and he boldly spoke God’s truth even when it was quite unpopular. And, he didn’t quit!
At the time of the events of Jeremiah chapter 36 the prophet had already been preaching to his Jewish brothers and sisters for over 20 years – warning them again and again of God’s displeasure and the coming wrath if they don’t repent and turn from their wicked ways. Over and over again he has urged the people, the kings, the priests to stop sinning and return to God. But as a nation, they don’t get it. They revel in their freedom, follow after the gods of their neighbors and fall further and further from what God designed them to be – His chosen people who love Him and follow Him and are blessed by Him.
The 20 plus years of preaching hasn’t turned the hearts of Judah back to their Creator. Maybe if it was ALL written down – would the people listen then? God tells Jeremiah to write down all the sermons he has ever preached – every word that God has given him from the very start of his ministry. God said, “Perhaps when the people of Judah hear about every disaster I plan to inflict on them, each of them will turn from his wicked way; then I will forgive their wickedness and their sin.” (Jeremiah 36:3 NIV). Even though God hates the sins of His people He still loves them and wants to give them another chance to come back to Him. And so a great project begins. Jeremiah dictates as his scribe Baruch writes it all down. Perhaps the people will listen. They spend over a year writing – God has said a lot. How will the people respond to this book that lays it all out?
Since Jeremiah’s unpopular (but very Godly) message has already had him personally banned from the temple, Baruch is sent to read God’s words through Jeremiah to the people. One who hears it, Micaiah, realizes the importance of what has been written and he arranges a reading of it with some of the royal officials. “When they heard all these words, they looked at each other in fear” (Jeremiah 36:16) and they arrange for the king himself to hear the words on the scroll from Baruch, Jeremiah, and ultimately God.
Here’s the king’s chance. He can hear God’s word and repent and lead the nation into a time of Godly reformation, thus saving them from God’s wrath at the hands of the Babylonians – just as his father Josiah had done years ago. But King Jehoiakim thinks he knows better. His arrogance and hardened heart don’t crack. Instead, as the scroll is read to him in his chambers, he cuts it apart and burns God’s word, piece by piece.
Can you imagine the anger and defeat and perhaps fear Jeremiah and Baruch may have felt when they heard the fate of their scroll – God’s words? To know the utter disrespect they (and their God) had received – and how their work was violated and destroyed. And they didn’t even have a copy saved on their hard drive. Totally lost. Over a year’s work, gone. But, God’s Word stands forever (Isaiah 40:8). So, when God tells Jeremiah to write it all down again – with an extra word for Jehoiakim – Jeremiah and Baruch get to work – and the second work is completed, more impressive than the first. And perhaps much of what we read today in the book of Jeremiah comes from this second labor of love and obedience and great persistence.
God’s Words are priceless. Some will hear and respond and pass it on. Like Jeremiah they are motivated to live by, love and share God’s words in order to save themselves and their hearers (1 Timothy 4:16). But others will scoff, show no fear and even seek to destroy it. It does not change the supreme importance and value of the words – or the God who spoke them. Nations, kings, priests, people; past, present and future will be judged by how they respond to God and His Word. The king who brazenly cut apart and burned the scroll paid with his life – and his children and country suffered mightily for it as well. Jeremiah and Baruch had far from an easy life – but they didn’t give up. They kept at it – writing, sharing, reading, speaking and living God’s Word. They persistently worked striving to help save those in danger of experiencing God’s wrath. Will you stand with them today and be a Jeremiah?
Sorry we were late in sending today’s devotion out.
Following God and obeying His will does not mean that we will have a life free of problems as we can see from so many of the stories in the Bible. It does mean that God is with us as we go through the hard times. Sometimes life is harder for us when we tell others what God wants them to hear. As we read Jeremiah 33 & 34, we see that this is true for Jeremiah. Jeremiah is still imprisoned by King Zedekiah and Jeremiah is still obeying and trusting in God and telling them what God has told him to say. In Jeremiah 33:2-3a it says “This is what the Lord says, He who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to create it, He whose name is the Lord: ‘Call to Me and I will answer you,‘” Isn’t it amazing that the God who created the universe wants us to call out to Him, and it’s equally amazing that He WILL answer. We all have hard times that we go through, but we can call out to our Father and He will walk with us through the hard times. But He wants us (and the Israelites & Judeans) to know that there is a bright future when all the hardships will be over and we will live in joy and peace.
It says in Jeremiah 33:11b “Give thanks to the Lord of armies, for the Lord is good, for His mercy is everlasting,” God is a good God and His mercies are everlasting, and He has a great future in store for His children. God reminds them that a day is coming when His word will be fulfilled. In Jeremiah 33:14-16 we have a prophecy about Jesus and it says; “Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch of David sprout; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety; and this is the name by which it will be called: the Lord is our righteousness.’”
In Chapter 34 God tells Jeremiah to tell King Zedekiah that Babylon will come in and take over and he will meet King Nebuchadnezzar face to face, but he says that the king would not die by the sword but that he would die in peace. As we learn in the rest of the chapter that is exactly what happened.
We have all seen commercials about something that is “New and Improved,” which means that something was not as good as it should have been or there would be no need for improvement. Hebrews 8 is all about a new covenant that has been established through Jesus, our sacrificial lamb, and now our high priest. The reason there had to be a new covenant was because the first one was not faultless, but the new covenant is. Hebrews 8:1 “Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, without fault.” Jesus was the perfect sacrificial lamb, without fault or blemish. We have read some of these verses already because they were taken from Jeremiah 31:33. Anytime a verse is used in both the Old and New Testament, we should pay attention to what it says. Hebrews 8:10-11. “For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, And write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they will not teach, each one his fellow citizen, and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them.” God is constantly working in our lives because He is a God of love, He loves His children, and He wants to be our God, and for us to be His people.