Hebrews 4:12-13

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Hebrews 4:12-11

12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

In 1970 the late Russian dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn delivered his lecture after winning the Nobel Prize in literature. Near the end of the lecture Solzhenitsyn said, “And the simple step of a simple courageous man is not to partake in falsehood, not to support false actions!” He the approached the conclusion of his lecture by quoting a Russian proverb: “One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.”[1]

That is a fascinating statement, isn’t it? “One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.”

Indeed, words of truth have weight. But the two verses we are about to consider are going to say more than this. They are going to say not only that words have weight, but that the Word, the word of God, actually has life…and power…and can dismantle…and can search…and can heal.

It is important that we not detach these two amazing verses from the wider context of Hebrews. We have seen, especially in chapters 3 and 4, repeated warnings against ignoring the word of God. We have been told that those Israelites who ignored the word of God in the wilderness fell under judgment. We have been told that those who did not cling to the word in the land of promise fell under judgment. And we have been cautioned again and again and again not to harden our hearts, not to commit the same mistake, but rather to hear and listen and receive what God is saying so that we can live and have life!

So these two verses follow with utter consistency from what precedes them: we must understand that the word of God is not like human words. The word of God is not some passive thing we can take or leave. Rather, it is living, it is life.

We dare not turn from the word!

Grant Osborne, like many others, has argued that the “word” in our text is referring to the scriptures in particular.

These verses provide proper closure to this first major section of the letter, for throughout the letter thus far, the author’s narration has centered on Old Testament citations that provide the background for his argumentation. He wants the readers to realize what this signifies, for it is the word of God, and not just human thoughts, that have been quoted.[2]

Yes, all of the verses that the writer has appealed to cement the point: God has spoken in His word and we must heed what he has said there. Let us consider carefully what our text says about the word of God.

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Hebrews 4:1-11

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Hebrews 4:1-11

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 

I think it is very possible that we have misunderstood one of the most famous verses of the Bible. I am speaking of Matthew 11:28. This will sound familiar to many of you:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

I say I think we may have misunderstood this because most times this is spoken of in terms of Jesus giving rest to tired people, Jesus giving respite to weary people. The problem is not that that is wrong. The problem is that that is not enough. In reality, the “rest” about which Jesus speaks is much more than that. In fact, as we will see in Hebrews 4, it actually means “salvation.” Christ will give us the eternal rest of the Kingdom, the eternal rest of His presence.

In the early church, the fathers spoke of there being “three rests,” and they used our text as one of the texts to justify this. For instance, John Chrysostom said:

He says that there are “three” rests: one, that of the sabbath, in which God rested from works; the second, that of Palestine, in which, when the Jews had entered, they would be at rest from their hardships and labors; the third, that which is rest indeed, the kingdom of heaven, where those who obtain it do indeed rest from their labors and troubles.

That seems clear enough. The church father Theodore of Cyr was even more succinct about the three rests:

…first, the seventh day…second, the land of promise; and third, the kingdom of heaven.[1]

Yes, there are three rests: sabbath, promised land, and the Kingdom of Heaven. This means that the first two rests are preparatory for and types of the greater rests the surpasses them. In other words, Jesus offers something than neither the sabbath nor entry into the promised land could offer, as Hebrews 4 will bear out.

I want us to talk about the rest that Jesus offers. We need to listen and listen very closely to how Hebrews 4 unpacks this important issue. We will approach it by considering two main ideas that emerge from this passage.

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Hebrews 3:7-19

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Hebrews 3:7-19

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ 11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

A few years back Penguin publishers published Cory Arcangel’s book, Working on My Novel. The book is simply a collection of tweets from various people that include the phrase “working on my novel” (with, oddly enough, drawings of kettles interspersed throughout). Arcangel, the compiler, said of the book that it

is about the act of creation and the gap between the different ways we express ourselves today. Exploring the extremes of making art, from satisfaction and even euphoria to those days or nights when nothing will come, it’s the story of what it means to be a creative person, and why we keep on trying.

But Dan Piepenbring, a reviewer for The Paris Review, calls it instead “a sad monument to distraction.” Piepenbring continues:

Arcangel suggests there’s something inherently ennobling in trying to write, but his book is an aggregate of delusion, narcissism, procrastination, boredom, self-congratulation, confusion—every stumbling block, in other words, between here and art. Working captures the worrisome extent to which creative writing has been synonymized with therapy; nearly everyone quoted in it pursues novel writing as a kind of exercise regimen. (“I love my mind,” writes one aspirant novelist…)

The reviewer then makes a devastating observation about these tweets:

But failure is seldom on the minds of these writers, except insofar as it stands, temporarily, between them and inevitable success. As of now, there are 675 of those would-be writers featured on the Twitter version of Working, and yet a rudimentary search shows that the word fail has been deployed exactly zero times. What prevails instead is a kind of Pollyannaish resilience…[1]

In other words the collection of distracted tweets reveals a kind of optimistic naivete on the parts of those who tweeted that there would in fact be time to finish their novels, that there is nothing a bit pitiful about so many comments about doing something one could not be actively doing while commenting on it, and that there was no worse-case scenario where their delays and distractions could result in the, to them, unthinkable: failure.

The scriptures take a decidedly more realistic view. They discourage us from speaking much of tomorrow or of later. They encourage us to make the most important decision—the decision to come to God—now. And they paint a rather chilling picture of the terrible consequences of waiting too long. The latter half of Hebrews 3 paints just such a picture, though, as we will see, the picture it paints is supported by numerous other texts.

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Matthew 16:13-23

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Matthew 16

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. 21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Michael Card once wrote a song about Simon Peter that I find beautiful and moving. Here is how the song begins:

You bore the burden of a name
Along a road that would lead to the cross
Bold and broken, upside-down
A light for the least and the lost

He called you the rock, the foundation
Of a temple formed from God’s love
His robe of forgiveness wrapping you up
Meant trusting in Him was enough

His love called you out on the water
And held you when you were alone
For you were the rock that was
Broken by love, forever the fragile stone

I like that a lot. The image of Peter as “the fragile stone” is a good one, and an accurate one. Card is drawing from our passage by using this image. In Matthew 16 Peter demonstrates that he is (a) a rock, a stone and also (b) that he is a fragile stone.

What I would like to do is focus on Jesus’ two responses to two things Peter says to Him in back-to-back episodes here in Matthew 16. In the first episode, Peter says something correct about the person of Jesus and is blessed. In the second Peter says something wrong about the work of Jesus and is condemned. Consider:

Episode #1

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Here, Peter correctly proclaims that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus’ response to this proclamation is one of joy. More than that, He tells Peter of the great ministry that He, Jesus, has for Peter.

Episode #2

21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Here, Peter attempts to dissuade Jesus from the cross, bluntly announcing that the event of the cross should not, must not, happen! Jesus’ response is one of sharp and devastating rebuke.

In the first episode Peter is in step with Jesus. In the second he is out of step with Jesus. Jesus’ response, then, is not merely to Peter but is also to all of us when we are either in step with or out of step with Jesus.

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CBC Holy Week 2022 Services

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Just a note to let you know that audio (when available) and video of the Central Baptist Church Holy Week services can be found here.

New Volume Released

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[Purchase here.]

“This volume of Garrett’s collected writings does not disappoint. In them, we again see the keen analysis of a theological giant, a historian who could see beyond clutter to essence, and within all his labor, lovingly seek the edification of his community of faith. This rich volume renews our appreciation for the mind, heart, and pen of Garrett and our gratitude to God for giving him to us.”

Jeffrey Bingham, School of Theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Matthew 16:1-12

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Matthew 16

And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

“End of road for woman used by ‘pastors’ to perform fake miracles.”

That is the headline for an article that tells a very sad story of something that happened in in Nigeria. (Some of the translation in the article is a bit choppy.)

A 44-year-old woman, Mrs. Bose Olasukanmi who was used by several ‘fraudulent’ pastors to perform fake miracle has been arrested by operatives of the Inspector General of police Intelligence Response Team (IRT) in Lagos after months of trail on her by the undercover operatives.

According to a source close to IRT, the suspect Olasukanmi used to relocate to another church after being paid for every successful performance so that their trick would not be exposed by people or relations who may see her in the drama.

Mrs. Olasukanmi was in an accident and has a broken arm that has never been set and has never healed properly. The false miracles were centered on the alleged healing of her arm. She was paid money to go up on the stages of various churches for the healing. Perhaps most tragic of all, this lady is not even a Christian.

“I am a moslem, but the pastor, prophet Goffrey Abbey would only ask me to bring my hand down and I will start bringing it down as if his power was the thing bringing it down and be jumping up in joy to the deceit of the congregation who often clapped with joy and praising God for the miracle.  I cannot remember the names of all the churches she took me to because their names were not disclosed to me.”

This is simply tragic. These pastors were using a Muslim woman to deceive the people of God and enrich themselves. The woman offers some interesting closing comments:

“My only regret is that I knew that it was a fake miracle performance, which deceived many genuine children of God and enriched the fake miracle performing pastors and prophets…”

“My advice to people who go to church is that they should open their eyes well and know the type of church they are worshipping. If they are careful, they would discover on time whether they are in a genuine church or with fake pastors and prophets.”[1]

It is a fascinating and troubling thing that a non-Christian woman would have to warn Christians about false prophets, but she is, of course, 100% correct.

There is something within human beings that desperately wants to see signs, wonders, miracles, and displays of power. This desire to see wonders can lay the groundwork for some truly pernicious things, as the article just quoted demonstrates. Of course, sometimes the motives behind these kinds of desires are good: a genuine desire for healing or for appropriate blessing. But sometimes they are not good: a desire to test God, a desire to be rich, a desire to have our curiosity satiated.

Matthew 16 begins with men who want to see a sign. It is abundantly clear from the get-go, however, that their motives were not pure!

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Hebrews 3:1-6

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Hebrews 3:1-6

Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

Michelangelo created his great statue of Moses from 1513-1515. It is currently housed in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome.

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I have stood before this statue and marveled at its beauty. One of the most fascinating features of the statue are the horns coming out of Moses’ head.

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Here is a helpful description of why Moses has these horns (and why they are frequently in artistic depictions of Moses):

Following the iconographic convention common in Latin Christianity, the statue has two horns on its head.

The depiction of a horned Moses stems from the description of Moses’ face as “cornuta” (“horned”) in the Latin Vulgate translation of the passage found at Exodus chapter 34, specifically verses 29, 30 and 35, in which Moses returns to the people after receiving the commandments for the second time. The Douay-Rheims Bible translates the Vulgate as, “And when Moses came down from the Mount Sinai, he held the two tablets of the testimony, and he knew not that his face was horned from the conversation of the Lord.” This was Jerome’s effort to faithfully translate the difficult, original Hebrew text, which uses the term קָרַן‎, qāran (based on the root,  קֶרֶן‎ qeren, which often means “horn”); the term is now interpreted to mean “shining” or “emitting rays” (somewhat like horns). Although some historians believe that Jerome made an outright error,  Jerome himself appears to have seen qeren as a metaphor for “glorified”, based on other commentaries he wrote, including one on Ezekiel, where he wrote that Moses’ face had “become ‘glorified’, or as it says in the Hebrew, ‘horned’.” The Greek Septuagint, which Jerome also had available, translated the verse as “Moses knew not that the appearance of the skin of his face was glorified.” In general medieval theologians and scholars understood that Jerome had intended to express a glorification of Moses’ face, by his use of the Latin word for “horned.” The understanding that the original Hebrew was difficult and was not likely to mean “horns” persisted into and through the Renaissance.[1]

All of this is very interesting, and it should be noted that other theories have been put forward by way of explanation. Even so, what strikes me most about this from a layman’s and a bird’s eye view is a simple point: glory looks a little odd on human beings, does it not? There is something glorious about human beings and, as we saw earlier in Hebrews 2, human beings were made to reflect the glory of God. Even so, glory sits awkwardly on us.

I think there is a reason for this. Only God wears glory naturally. The glory of humanity in our original creation was necessarily derivative and, after the fall of man, it is now both derivative and dimmed. But the glory of Jesus is not!

Moses did indeed have a kind of glory, but it pales in comparison to the glory of Jesus. This is the point the author of Hebrews is making as we move into Hebrews 3, and he makes it in a few different ways.

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Hebrews 2:14-18

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Hebrews 2:14-18

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, the character Billy Pilgrim shares something interesting about the Tralfamadorians, the alien race he encounters in the novel after being abducted by them and taken to their planet.

On Tralfamadore, says Billy Pilgrim, there isn’t much interest in Jesus Christ. The Earthling figure who is most engaging to the Tralfamadorian mind, he says, is Charles Darwin—who taught that those who die are meant to die, that corpses are improvements. So it goes.[1]

Interesting: an alien race more interested in Charles Darwin than in Jesus Christ because Darwin accepted death as an improvement. At the very last one must give the Tralfamadorians this: they rightly understood that Jesus would not accept death as a natural part of life, much less as an “improvement.” In fact, the writer of Hebrews informs us that Jesus was the death-killer and He came to destroy death and the fear of it that so enslaves us.

Hebrws 2:14-18 is a beautiful text that makes much indeed of Jesus Christ! His great work of salvation is depicted here in powerful images. Let us consider four of them.

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