Are you a Christian Who Needs Milk or Meat?

Hebrews 5

11There is so much more we would like to say about this. But you don’t seem to listen, so it’s hard to make you understand. 12You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things a beginner must learn about the Scriptures. You are like babies who drink only milk and cannot eat solid food. 13And a person who is living on milk isn’t very far along in the Christian life and doesn’t know much about doing what is right. 14Solid food is for those who are mature, who have trained themselves to recognize the difference between right and wrong and then do what is right. (Hebrews 5:11-14, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In this section, the author of Hebrews rebukes his audience for their immaturity.

Truthfully, these words could easily be directed towards the mainstream of today’s evangelical church, as data suggests that a majority of those who call themselves Christians today are either uninvolved or only marginally involved in the activities of their local congregation.

So what’s the issue?

According to the author, these believers were experiencing a spiritual dietary problem. They were drinking milk when they should be eating steak!

The author states that these believers had been Christians for a long time. If you’ve been a believer for a while, there is an expectation concerning your growth and maturity level. Yet these recipients had not attained an expected level of maturity.

The author compares them to babies. Babies drink milk because their bodies cannot handle solid food. So essentially, they need pre-digested food.

The food the author is talking about is related to an ability to understand right and wrong and to do the right thing. These believers were not new followers of Christ, but because they had not grown much spiritually, their lives looked like the lives of someone who had only recently been exposed to the Christian faith.

The author states that as long-time believers, they should be at the point where they are able to teach others.

What should they be teaching?

The author states that they should be able to teach others concerning what is right and what is wrong. But they weren’t able to do that. Instead, they still needed others to step in and lead them and teach them “again the basic things a beginner must learn about the Scriptures.”

The growth process isn’t automatic. In order to experience growth in the Christian life, there’s a process that we undergo where we begin to learn what is right and what is wrong. We learn this by understanding the Scriptures.

Those who are growing and becoming mature are learning what the Scriptures say about what is right and they are DOING what the Scriptures say we must do if we want to do what is right.

This process, over time, causes us to become mature and it results in our ability to teach others what the Scriptures say.

So the question is, are you a Christian who needs milk or meat?

Milky Christians are characterized by the following:

    • lack of knowledge of what the Scriptures teach
    • need for others to explain basic truths about Christianity
    • Incomplete or limited understanding of right and wrong
    • Consistently unable to make right choices in actions
    • Unable to teach others these truths (primarily because of a lack of personal understanding)

Meaty Christians may be characterized by the following:

    • Ability to recognize between right and wrong
    • Consistent application of God’s truth in their lives
    • Not overly dependent on others for understanding
    • Able to teach others Scriptural truths

Reflection

Which of the two conditions best reflects where you’re at? Are you a Milky Christian or a Meaty Christian?

What has been your experience in teaching the Scriptures to others?

What do you think is the biggest barrier to you growing in maturity and becoming someone who is able to teach other?

What steps can you take to become a person who is mature, knowing right from wrong, and able to teach others?

 

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

What Can We Learn from the Temptations of Jesus?

Luke 4

1Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit to go out into the wilderness, 2where the Devil tempted him for forty days. He ate nothing all that time and was very hungry.

3Then the Devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, change this stone into a loaf of bread.”

4But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People need more than bread for their life.’ ”

5Then the Devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6The Devil told him, “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them—because they are mine to give to anyone I please. 7I will give it all to you if you will bow down and worship me.”

8Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say,

‘You must worship the Lord your God; serve only him.’ ”

9Then the Devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! 10For the Scriptures say,

‘He orders his angels to protect and guard you.

11And they will hold you with their hands to keep you from striking your foot on a stone.’ ”

12Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘Do not test the Lord your God.’ ”

13When the Devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came. (Luke 4:1-14, NLT)

Hebrews 4

14That is why we have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to him and never stop trusting him. 15This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. 16So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it. (Hebrews 4:14-16, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few days ago, in my daily bible reading, I came across both Luke 4 and Hebrews 4. Both of these chapters have portions related to the temptations Jesus experienced from Satan in the wilderness.

What exactly was the purpose of the temptations Jesus experienced in the desert and how can we learn from His example?


NOTE: Many of my thoughts concerning the temptations Jesus faced come from a talk that Dr. Bill Lawrence, a former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, gave to a group of Cru staff at a conference in March, 2011.


Sin has been described as our attempt to meet legitimate needs in illegitimate ways. In other words, we all have basic human needs that need to be met but we sin when we attempt to meet those needs in ways that are outside of the boundaries that God has set for us to meet those needs.

Dr. Lawrence, in his talk on the temptations Jesus faced, described the 3 temptations this way:

Every one of the temptations is related to what God wants you to do but not the way God wants you to do it. We are tempted to do God’s will but man’s way.

So how exactly are these three temptations an attempt to do God’s will but in man’s way?

In the first temptation, Jesus experiences the temptation to meet His own needs – to rely on himself instead of on God.

Clearly Jesus needed to eat. We all need food and sustenance to survive. But Satan was inviting Jesus to rely on His own resources instead of relying on the Father. Jesus recognized Satan’s tactic and quoted Deuteronomy 8:3, which states that people need more than bread for life, we need the Lord Himself in order to really live.

The second temptation, according to Lawrence, is the temptation to Self-Advancement. Jesus knew that it was the Father’s will that He would rule over the nations. Satan offered Jesus a shortcut to that outcome. But at what cost?

Jesus would have had to bow to Satan, who is NOT God.

Sometimes, because of our impatience, we can seek to get to a godly outcome via an ungodly process. In our haste to get what we want, we can cut corners and do things our way instead of God’s way.

In the third temptation, Jesus faces the temptation to make an impact. Remember that this desert encounter with Satan occurs at the very beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He’s a relative unknown. By throwing Himself down from the highest point and saving Himself, He would have instantly been seen as a divine being by the crowds.

Lawrence says that this is the temptation to self-assertion – to be successful.

There’s no doubt that had Jesus followed Satan’s plan, He would have gained an instant following. People would have recognized His power and divinity. But humility is more messianic than self-assertion and so Jesus rejects Satan’s offer for immediate fame and popularity.

These temptations are illustrative of the kinds of temptations we all face as human beings. We too face the temptation to meet our own needs instead of trusting God. We too face the temptation to do things our own way in order to get an outcome that we justify as “godly”. We too can act without humility, seeking to advance our own name instead of advancing God’s name.

In the Hebrews passage, we’re told the reason why Jesus experienced these temptations. Jesus experienced the temptations He did so that He could identify with our weaknesses and offer help to us in our time of need.

Jesus is our High Priest, which means He works as a mediator between us and the Father. Jesus is the perfect mediator because He knows from first-hand experience what it is like to be tempted with the kinds of things we are all tempted with.

The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus experienced, “all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin.”

Jesus knows what we’re going through. He doesn’t just know on a cognitive level. He knows on an emotional level because He has endured the kinds of temptations we’ve endured, and yet, He did not sin.

This last part, He did not sin, is important because it means that Jesus is divine and therefore can relate to the Father, who shares in His divinity, while at the same time, He can relate to us because He lived a life where He experienced all of the same struggles, hardships, and yes, TEMPTATIONS, that we have experienced.

As a result of these two truths, the author of Hebrews tells us that we can have confidence to come boldly before God’s throne. Because of Jesus, God will extend mercy to us and offer grace to us when we need it most!

Reflection

Which of the three temptations outlined in Luke 4 do you struggle with the most and why?

In what ways have you seen the statement “sin is meeting legitimate needs in illegitimate ways” to be true in your own life?

What do you learn from Jesus’ encounter that you can apply to your own life in terms of resisting temptation?

The author of Hebrews states that Jesus is our High Priest and that He’s experienced temptation just as we have, and yet did not sin! This gives us confidence to boldly approach God’s throne. What does it look like for you to boldly approach God’s throne? What are some practical ways you have done that in your own devotional life with God?

NOTE: For more on this topic, check out this online article from Dr. Lawrence regarding Ten Temptations of a Leader”  

 

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Biblical Warning: Round 2

Hebrews 3

1And so, dear brothers and sisters who belong to God and are bound for heaven, think about this Jesus whom we declare to be God’s Messenger and High Priest. 2For he was faithful to God, who appointed him, just as Moses served faithfully and was entrusted with God’s entire house. 3But Jesus deserves far more glory than Moses, just as a person who builds a fine house deserves more praise than the house itself. 4For every house has a builder, but God is the one who made everything.

5Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house, but only as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. 6But Christ, the faithful Son, was in charge of the entire household. And we are God’s household, if we keep up our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ. 7That is why the Holy Spirit says,

“Today you must listen to his voice.

8Don’t harden your hearts against him as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested God’s patience in the wilderness.

9There your ancestors tried my patience, even though they saw my miracles for forty years.

10So I was angry with them, and I said, ‘Their hearts always turn away from me. They refuse to do what I tell them.’

11So in my anger I made a vow: ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’”

12Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. 13You must warn each other every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. 14For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. 15But never forget the warning:

“Today you must listen to his voice. Don’t harden your hearts against him as Israel did when they rebelled.”

16And who were those people who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Weren’t they the ones Moses led out of Egypt? 17And who made God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it the people who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18And to whom was God speaking when he vowed that they would never enter his place of rest? He was speaking to those who disobeyed him. 19So we see that they were not allowed to enter his rest because of their unbelief. (Hebrews 3:1-19, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few days ago, I wrote my thoughts about a warning that was included in Psalm 95. You can read my thoughts here.

Just two days later, I came to this passage in Hebrews 3, in which the author quotes the very text I had read from Psalm 95 and highlights the same warning that I mentioned a few days ago.

Coincidence?

Actually, these kinds of random biblical cross-references happen more often than you might think when you’re following the Grant Horner Bible reading plan.

So what is happening in this passage and why is the author referencing Psalm 95 to issue this warning?

The theme of the letter to the Hebrews could be labeled as “Jesus is Better than…”

The audience, as the name of the letter implies, is Hebrew Christians. These believers were in danger of reverting back to their Jewish rituals and customs as a means of appeasing God and gaining His favor.

So the author erects an outline, detailing in point by point fashion that Jesus is better than everything associated with the Old Testament religious system.

In chapter 1, the author demonstrates that Jesus is better than the angels, and now in this chapter, the author takes on the greatest icon within the Jewish religious system, Moses himself.

The author states that Jesus is better than Moses in the same way a builder of a house is better than the house.

The author then develops their argument by stating that Moses was faithful in God’s house but only as a servant. Jesus, on the other hand, is in charge of the household because he is a son, not a servant. I wrote about the implications of slaves/servants as opposed to sons here, in a blog post which referenced a passage from Galatians.

The point is that in the household of God, Moses was a servant. Yes, he was important and he played a key role and he was faithful in his duties. But Jesus is a SON in the household and therefore deserves more glory because as a son, He is the heir to the household. He is the owner!

The author then says that we (people) ARE God’s household. Our choice is that we can follow Moses who is a servant in God’s household, or we can follow Jesus, who is a son in God’s household. Which person makes more sense to follow?

It’s at this point that the author references the warnings from Psalm 95.

The warning can be paraphrased as follows:

    • We must listen to God’s voice today
    • Don’t harden your hearts as the Israelites did when they rebelled (see the Psalm 95 blog post here to read about the incident in which the Israelites rebelled against God)
    • The consequence for their rebellion was that they were not allowed to enter into God’s rest – they were not allowed to enter the promised land.

Starting in verse 12, the author of Hebrews begins to unpack the warning of Psalm 95 a bit more, demonstrating the implications of how the warning applies to his readers.

Remember, the recipients of this letter were being tempted to forsake Jesus as the object of their faith and trust for salvation and revert back to the Old Testament legal system, with its many rules and regulations as a means of achieving a righteous standing before God.

The author then elaborates on the warning, saying:

    • Make sure your hearts are not evil and unbelieving
    • This results in turning away from God
    • You must warn each other so that you won’t be deceived by sin and hardened against God
    • This hardening results in a lack of trust in God (unbelief)
    • Unbelief is characterized by disobedience

So the pattern is as follows: sin, hardening (lack of openness to God), distrust, disobedience.

When this pattern fully develops into disobedience, we will no longer experience the benefits of God’s rest. All of the benefits Jesus wants us to experience now as His beloved children and followers will fail to materialize.

How do we avoid the hardening, distrust, disobedience cycle?

It starts with listening to His voice, a command the author reiterates again in verse 15.  When we listen to His voice, we learn who He is and we learn to trust Him. We also learn what He wants from us and we learn how to follow Him.

When we don’t listen to His voice, it means that we’re listening to another voice, whether it’s our own or that of the culture or someone else. At that point, we’re no longer following God but we’re following ourselves.

How then do we listen to God’s voice?

It’s possible God may audibly speak to you but I would say that is not typical. The primary way in which God speaks to us today is through His word, the Scriptures. If you want to listen to God’s voice, to know Him and understand what He expects, then read the Scriptures. It’s through God’s word that we understand what is sin and what isn’t. It’s through His word that we understand who He is and who He isn’t.

If we fail to appeal to God’s word as our means of listening to His voice, it is quite likely we will be deceived by sin. We will begin to follow our own ideas about what we think is right and wrong. We may even attribute our new moral values to God Himself. Indeed, it’s quite common today for people to reject certain moral standards from the bible and replace them with more updated, contemporary values that speak to today’s cultural norms.

It is also common for these same people to claim to be God worshipers and Christ-followers. But if they are creating their own morality while rejecting what God explicitly says, they are in effect, creating their own version of God. This is the modern day equivalent of idol worship. I wrote about this in a previous post here.

This is deception, which leads to a hardening of the heart, which is characterized by not listening to God. This results in unbelief which is characterized by disobedience.

This cycle is alluring and it’s easy to fall into, which is why the author exhorts the audience to “warn each other every day”.

We are ALL susceptible to deceiving ourselves and falling into this religious trap.

Hence, the author says again in verse 15, “Never forget the warning”!

Reflection

In what ways are you tempted to harden your heart towards God?

What are some examples in today’s culture where you see people forsaking biblical moral values and substituting them for something that seems to fit our current culture better?

The author says that those who reject God because of their unbelief will not enter God’s rest? What do you think that means? What would it look like to not enter God’s rest?

What are some ways you could heed the author’s warning and ensure that you are listening to His voice today?

What can you do to ensure that you don’t harden your heart towards God?

 

Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

 

Access Granted!

Hebrews 10

19And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20This is the new, life-giving way that Christ has opened up for us through the sacred curtain, by means of his death for us.

21And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s people, 22let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

23Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. 25And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near. (Hebrews 10:19-25, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In my daily DAVEotional entry yesterday from Hebrews 9, I showed how Jesus’s sacrifice is better than the Old Testament sacrificial system for 3 reasons.

In the next chapter, the author of the letter to the Hebrews shares the practical implications of Jesus’s better sacrifice.

You might remember that when Jesus was crucified, immediately after he breathed his last breath, the Scriptures tell us that the veil that separated the most holy place from the Holy of Holies in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. I wrote about the significance of that event here.

The author of Hebrews picks up on that theme in verse 20, sharing that this new life Jesus gives us, because of his shed blood, grants us access to the very presence of God. This was a radical shift for the Jewish person of Jesus’s day.

To the Jewish person from the Old Testament through the time of Jesus, God was seen as holy and unapproachable. Coming near to God might result in death. In theological terms, we call this the doctrine of transcendence. The idea is that God is so much higher than us, so much greater than us, so much more righteous than we are, that it is impossible for us to enter His presence.

This idea that God is transcendent is, in fact, the view that many major religions have regarding the nature of God, even today. As an example, one of the reasons Islam rejects the deity of Christ is because it is unthinkable that God could stoop himself to take on human flesh and become a man.

But Jesus flips the doctrine of transcendence on its head, according to the author of Hebrews. Because of His death, and particularly His shed blood, we can now approach God with confidence. We don’t have to be afraid of Him and we have free access without having to jump through any religious hoops.

Theologically, we call this the doctrine of immanence. Whereas most Jews, and other religions for that matter, see God as wholly transcendent and distant, one of the hallmarks of Christianity is the truth that God is not only transcendent, but He is also immanent – he is near and accessible.

This is incredibly good news for those who trust and follow Jesus. God is not the cosmic killjoy that some presume Him to be. He is near. He is accessible. He is compassionate. He is a FATHER and we are His children. And it’s the blood of Jesus that makes it all possible!

Reflection

When you think about God, which of His qualities do you tend to emphasize…the doctrine of transcendence – that He’s holy, righteous, immense and so far beyond us? Or do you tend to emphasize His immanence – the fact that He is near, accessible, approachable, loving and gracious? 

What experiences and factors have influenced your current view of God?

What do you think would be the downsides of emphasizing one of those doctrines too much over the other?

What about this passage do you find most encouraging and what do you find most challenging as it relates to  your view of God?

 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

A Better Sacrifice

Hebrews 9

11When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation.  12He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 13The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

15For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

16In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

23It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.  25Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,  28so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:11-28, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

The theme of the book of Hebrews is “better”. The author gives a logical argument for why Christ is better than all of the elements of the Jewish religious system. He’s better than Moses; He’s better than the angels; He’s a better high priest and in this chapter, the author outlines why and how Jesus’s sacrifice is a better sacrifice than the Old Testament sacrificial system.

The short answer to why Jesus’s sacrifice is better is: it’s the blood.

In the first 10 verses, which I didn’t list, the author gives a brief description of the layout and function of the earthly temple, including the exact detail of the priestly duties in relation to the Holy of Holies, which the high priest entered only once a year to atone for his own sins and the sins of the people.

The first reason the author gives for Jesus’s sacrifice being better is that Jesus offered his sacrifice in the heavenly temple, not the man-made temple. According to verse 24, the earthly temple was merely a copy of the heavenly temple, and when the earthly high priest made atonement, once a year, he was doing it in the earthly tabernacle, which was merely a symbol of the heavenly temple.

Secondly, when Jesus made atonement, he did it with better blood. The earthly priests offered up sacrifices with the blood of goats, bulls and calves, which are imperfect animals. As a result, the earthly priest made this atonement on an annual basis. There was always a reminder of sin because of the constant need for atonement.

Jesus, on the other hand, offered up his own blood, which is perfect in every way, because he is not only better than an animal, he is God himself. His blood does not come from an imperfect, sinful being.

This logically leads to the final reason Jesus’s sacrifice is better. Jesus sacrifice is better than the Old Testament sacrifices because it is FINAL. As has been mentioned, the Old Testament sacrificial system required a constant stream of sacrifices to atone for sins committed. This is because the blood of bulls and goats could not permanently atone for sin.

But Jesus’s blood DOES permanently atone for sins. The author declares in verse 28 that:

Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people;

The argument the author is making is crucial to his audience, the Hebrews because there was a strong urge to hold fast to Old Testament rituals and to maintain adherence to the Law, even after trusting in Jesus as the Messiah. It was difficult for these believers to shift their thinking and see that there was no longer a need for the religious rules and rites they had been following for centuries. The author is helping them to see how the Old covenant had a purpose, but Jesus offers a new and BETTER covenant.

He offers this better covenant to us as well as the author notes that “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

Reflection

Early Jewish Christians had difficulty discarding their old religious traditions, (namely, the sacrificial system) and putting their trust in Jesus’s sacrifice alone. What religious traditions might be easy for you to subtly make a substitute for Jesus’s sacrifice? In other words, what rules or religious rituals apart from Jesus,  are you apt to put your hope and trust in as somehow providing a means of forgiveness and atonement?

The author states in verse 27 that man is destined to die once, and then comes the judgment. What is your reaction to the idea that there are no second chances after we die?

What new awareness or insights do you have regarding Jesus’s sacrifice as a result of this chapter of Scripture? How will this new awareness impact your relationship with Christ?

 

Photo by Dave Lowe