Jesus: Like Us and Yet Greater Than Us

This fall, we will be working through the New Testament book of Hebrews. As part of my preparations, I like to take the time to read through an entire book repeatedly both before and in the midst of preaching it. To this end, I was recently reading through Hebrews once more and something caught my eye:

The primary point and purpose of the first several chapters of Hebrews is to establish that Christ is supreme over all. Chapter 1, for example, tells us that He is supreme over the angels. Chapter 3 tells us that Christ is superior to Moses. Later, we see that Christ is superior to Melchizedek (chapters 7-8). In short, it’s as if the bulk of Hebrews spends time exalting Christ over everyone and everything. He is the better High Priest. He is the coming King. We can’t help but be in awe of Him because He is so different than even the best of us.

And then, the turn comes: it’s not just that Christ is different and better than anyone else, it’s that He is different and better and then He dies FOR everyone else. “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:13-14)” The Priest literally atones for all who trust Him – for those who are, if nothing else, are very unworthy of atonement.
Jesus Christ is not like us in so many ways – we dare not simply think of Him as a good teacher or as simply a buddy. And yet, Jesus IS also like us in so many ways – He gets tired, needs to eat, rests, laughs, bleeds, and dies.

Hebrews proclaims the Gospel loud and clear: salvation comes from God Himself, through His Son, who is higher and better and more absolutely perfect than anyone else. And yet this very same Savior walks and talks and lives amongst us, both back then and someday coming soon. What a Savior! What a Lord! The exalted King walks amongst and dies on behalf of His people! He rises to new life and promises that for all who trust in Him, they too shall inherit new life in His coming kingdom.

God the Father

I read an article recently (though I cannot recall where, unfortunately) that made a hopeful point for parents everywhere: God, in a very serious sense, was the perfect Father – the perfect parent – for Old Testament Israel, and yet they rebelled repeatedly. The same is true, in a spiritual sense, for Christians in this day and age. This is confirmed by Old Testament references to God as Father of Israel (Isaiah 63:7-19 comes to mind) as well as in the New Testament, where we also see this idea in 2 Corinthians 6:16-18, Galatians 4:6, etc.

Let that sink in for a minute, because I think that this is one area that we Christians tend to be overly legalistic and judgmental on. I have heard numerous sermons and talks on how if you would just do A, B, and C as a Christian parent, then your children will turn out maybe not perfect, but certainly faithful. Most definitely not rebellious. And then, since this message is so prevalent throughout Christian parenting literature, if you have a child who does reject the faith or otherwise causes the family grief, your parenting practices – sometimes even your faith – are called into question.

Let it not be so! Yes, the Bible gives mountains of wisdom when it comes to parenting and yes, many parents need to get their priorities in order: what your kids need most isn’t a nicer house, more money, better vacations, or more selective schools. Rather, we must also and always remember that sin runs deep – even in the best of parents and the most obedient of children. That the law can never save, but only reveal sin. And that it is only by grace alone – the grace given to us by Christ on the cross – that any of us, not to mention any of our children, walk as disciples after Him.

Is there hard work for parents to do in bringing up their children? Yes, of course. We dare not be lazy at this most important of discipleship tasks. We must begin to see Christian parenting as no less (and perhaps more) important than our efforts at evangelism and discipleship outside of the home. But does that hard work occasionally not bring forth the desired result? Yes, sadly, this is a possible result as well.

It was often the result for God with His wayward nation of Israel. But there is also hope, because we know at the end of time that God’s Kingdom, filled with all of His children saved by Christ, will someday come into it’s own and there will not only be no more tears or sickness or crying, but no rebellion or heartbreak as well. God the Father is bringing this about. Your and my role this side of heaven is faithfulness in word and example. Prayer for our children. And trust in God’s plan for the ages.

The Wrong Side of History “Argument”

Excellent article on how this phrase really doesn’t say or prove as much as some folks think it does – and how the church deserves a lot more credit than it usually gets when it comes to both science and social justice…

“It has become one of the most common refrains. When Vladimir Putin acts like an international bully, geopolitical leaders are quickly dismissive of his thuggish behavior as being on the “wrong side of history.” Closer to home, when Christians and other religious conservatives maintain that marriage is between a man and a woman, you can count on a chorus of voices declaring confidently that these old bigoted views are on the “wrong side of history.” The phrase is meant to sting, and it often does. It conjures up pictures of segregationists clinging to their disgusting notions of racial supremacy. Or pictures of flat-earthers warning Columbus about sailing off the edge of the world. The phrase seeks to win an argument by not having one. It says, “Your ideas are so laughably backward, they don’t deserve to be taken seriously. In time everyone will be embarrassed who ever held to them.”

No doubt, the “wrong side of history” retort is rhetorically powerful. But it also happens to be intellectually bankrupt. What’s wrong with the phrase? At least three things.”

Read the rest here.

Freedom and Slavery

Regarding Galatians 4, Tom Schreiner has this insightful comment on what true freedom and real slavery look like – and how what looks like freedom to do whatever we want today can easily turn into slavery that we can’t easily escape tomorrow:

“Understanding freedom, however, is more complex than immediately meets the eye. When my dad was young, he decided he wanted to smoke cigarettes. He enjoyed them immensely. He did what he wanted to do when he started smoking. He loved cigarettes so much that he eventually smoked three packs a day. As he grew older, he became more concerned about his health. He decided he wanted to stop smoking. But he found it incredibly difficult to stop. He even enrolled in a one-week treatment program, where among other things they tried shock treatment to wean him off the desire to smoke. But the shock treatment did not work. He smoked the day he came out of the treatment.

Smoking began for my dad as a choice, but he later was enslaved by it. Indeed, he could never shake the habit. And eventually he contracted cancer and emphysema. Even when he had an oxygen tank at the end of his life, he still smoked. My dad thought he was free when he began to smoke, but he ended up being a slave of the habit. The same principle is true, of course in many different arenas of life. We can begin by choosing to eat candy three times a day. But later our body begins to crave candy all day long.”

(Schreiner, Galatians, p.308-309)

A Brief Word on Tithing

Since I wrote a bit about money last week, I thought it prudent to say a bit more this week. “What do Christians think about tithing?” “How much should I give to the church?” “Do we have to give 10% – and is that gross or net?”

I’ll save the long argument for another post, but let me be both clear and frank here: we are not Old Testament Israel and – even for them – 10% was only part of what they were required to give (if you take into account ALL required giving, it would have been somewhere around 22-23% of their income).

Immediately, Christians of all stripes might have several reactions to this. The first is that some might argue that we need to keep all of the Old Testament laws today – though, curiously, most just stick with the part that mentions 10%, not the other tithes. We are studying why this view is problematic as we work through Galatians (seeing as Christ has fulfilled the law, we are Gentiles and not Jews, Christians rather than those who follow the Jewish religion, etc.).

Others might see this as cause for rejoicing: “hey, I don’t have to give anything!” But these folks neglect all of the examples (and there are many) of Christian giving that are seen throughout the New Testament – examples not just of Jewish background Christians, but of Gentile Christians as well.

All of this muddies the waters quite a bit, doesn’t it? It was easy to say 10%, but that’s not really accurate. It was easy to just ignore giving altogether, but ministry costs money just like anything else we value in life.

While I’ll give a more detailed application at a later date, my point in this post is to get us thinking about two things: one immediate and the other larger.

Immediate: when you give to the church, give joyfully. Give impact-fully. Give in a way that will reflect your worship of God. When you look through the letters of Paul where he references gifts and giving, you see that Christians are giving sacrificially for the spread of the Gospel via the only method that God has ordained: the church, who then uses those resources for both local and global mission. Let me highlight that again in our era of parachurch ministries that flood mailboxes with requests (sometimes legitimate, sometimes not) for more money: the God-ordained method of accomplishing the Great Commission is the church. If you are giving more to parachurch ministries or non profits or humanitarian organizations than you are to your church, your priorities are not in line with the Lord’s.

Since this is worship, your and my thinking should not be “can I spare 10% of my income,” but rather should be “how much can I give to show my priorities as a Christian?” And whatever answer you come up with from there – whether 1% is stretching the budget or 50% – is what you should be giving to honor the Lord and promote the Gospel.

Larger: ultimately, what really led to this blog post was a journal article I was reading from Andreas Kostenberger called “Reconstructing a Biblical Model for Giving.” While the article is, obviously, about what our giving should look like now that Christ has come, one phrase jumped out at me that applies to all of Christian life. Kostenberger is speaking about how it takes a lot more wisdom and maturity to think of tithing as an act of worship and not just some set rule or percentage that we can follow and then check off our “I’ve met that requirement” box (which is awfully close to legalism, by the way). We like simple answers. But the fact is, much of life is complex. And the Bible is no different: God’s commands are simple at times and complex at others. To that truth, Kostenberger says this, which you and I should reflect upon:

“It does not matter how simple or complex the teaching may be: if it is biblical, it must be taught and obeyed. If the evangelical church decides to base its teaching on what is pragmatic, then doctrine is relegated to second place. Any church that decides to do this will cease at that point to be evangelical. Doctrine must remain central to our teaching and faith.”

As you can see, this applies far larger than just to tithing. It directs how we as Christians must act and think on many issues – even some of the hot button ones of the day that folks would rather ignore or find easy solutions for. To be frank – and not trite – if the Bible says it, we really do need to obey it and believe it. And when society – or even our own personal preferences – go against Scripture, then it is we who need to change, not the Word of God.

That’s a point worth pondering.

Using God’s Money

Summer is traditionally a time for a lot of sales – store closings, clearance, discounts, back to school shopping… Sure, it doesn’t beat the major holidays during the rest of the year, but then again it’s not just a one or two day event like those either.

With this in mind, I came across an article that was a good reminder to me of how I should spend and use the money that God has entrusted to me. Let us examine our spending and continually ask the question “is this glorifying God?” As well, let us keep the following four questions in mind to help clarify our answer:

1) Is my spending marked by Christian generosity?

2) What does my spending say about what makes me most happy?

3) Does my spending suggest I’m collecting for this life?

4) Is my spending explicitly supporting the spread of the Gospel?

The original article – which is well worth a read – is here.