Hebrews is written to show the superiority of Jesus Christ in every respect. We need perspective to understand this properly. The author shows Jesus superior to the Old Testament revelation and the various elements of worship and service in the Old Testament as well, but he is not despising the Old Testament or disparaging it in any way. Rather he is showing us the proper way to interpret the Old Testament, the way Jesus spoke of the Old Testament (John 5:39; Luke 24:44).
So the Old Testament scriptures are about Christ. That doesn’t mean they aren’t literally true or historically accurate. To say Christ is better doesn’t mean the Old Testament is bad or worthless. As we will see in studying this letter, the Old Testament is incomplete. It is a shadow of something greater to come. That greater substance is Jesus Christ.
Think of it this way. Imagine a husband is separated from his wife for a long time due to military service. While they are apart, the only means of communication they have is by mailed letters. During that time, the wife cherishes those letters and reads them many times. The letters increase her anticipation for her husband’s return home. When her husband finally returns, does she run out to meet him or does she stay in her room reading the letters? The letters were good in their time and place but once the husband returns, she would rather have him than the letters.
Likewise, the Old Testament is pointing to the coming of Christ and building anticipation. Once He is revealed, the substance supersedes the shadow. This doesn’t render the Old Testament untrue or useless, but it can never be looked at the same way again. Everything is now viewed through the lens of Jesus Christ, His life, death, resurrection, and return.
The opening verses of this first chapter immediately establish the foundation and trajectory of this letter. The author divides time into two great epochs in which God has spoken, or revealed Himself. The second epoch being through His Son is greater than the first. This sets up the continual comparison and contrast we have throughout this book.
The letter to the Hebrews is often grouped in the general epistles, but it’s difficult to categorize because it is a unique book. It is the most Christocentric book in the New Testament. Given the four Gospels devoted to Jesus’ life and ministry, that claim seems to overreach. However, when you consider the density and extent of the theology of Christ in this book, the claim is difficult to counter. Hebrews is primarily about the high-priesthood of Jesus Christ and what other book rivals it on that ground?
This letter has several unique features among the New Testament epistles. There is no introductory greeting in the text. We don’t know exactly when it is written or from where it was written. We don’t know who wrote it. I know this is a contentious issue, but we will get to the authorship question in a few moments. We don’t know exactly whom it was written to and where they were located. There are some clues to those questions in the text but they only provide general answers or hints.
Further, this letter is more like a series of sermons than a letter until you get to the very end. The author does call it a “word of exhortation” (Hebrews 13:22). This book also contains the only reference to Timothy’s imprisonment we have in the New Testament (Hebrews 13:23). This letter has the only reference to Melchisedec in the New Testament. In fact, it is one of only three references in the entire Bible. The other two references are in Genesis and the Psalms.
This book also has some notable features. It is not about preaching in the sense that it is a homiletic textbook, but it is a great example of biblical preaching. The author quotes and refers to Old Testament passages and expounds them throughout the letter. It is noteworthy that the author quotes from the Old Testament and gives the quotes as God, Jesus, or the Spirit speaking. There is a scarce reference to David in reference to a Psalm but mostly the book quotes the Old Testament as God speaking. Read more
Solomon conducted a grand experiment, perhaps the grandest. He gives a brief summary of his experiment in Ecclesiastes 2:1-11. An experiment is conducted to test or prove something. What was Solomon trying to prove? For that, we need to go back to chapter 1 and allow the preacher to state his problem and define his terms.
Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 states the problem he experiments to overcome. He names the problem vanity and vanity of vanities (Ecclesiastes 1:2), and spends the following nine verses defining his terms. Vanity can be quickly defined as empty or meaningless. Some are quite satisfied with that and immediately assume Ecclesiastes teaches us that everything on earth is empty and meaningless, so we are best to avoid as much as possible. Of course, if that is the case, we really need nothing beyond the second verse of the book, we Christians are the most pitiable and miserable of men (1 Corinthians 15:16-19), and “let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32). This is a tricky business, but how can we hope to make proper sense of his experiment, initial findings, musings, and final conclusion, if we do not pay attention to his definitions? Read more
No such thing as a slow news day these days.
When we got on board this train in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2006, no one could have envisioned that ten years later the potty break would be as controversial as the photographs, cakes, and flowers. Of course, many thought the destination was Washington D.C. in 2015, but that was only a stop for fresh supplies and a bigger engine. What began with the picture taker, the baker, and the arrangement maker was just that, only a beginning.
Where we are right now
It’s difficult for commentary to keep up with news developments today. We hardly have time to think about something that has happened before the next thing happens. The fire of the moment is the battle over bathrooms. The City of Charlotte passed an ordinance then the state of North Carolina passed a law. Target announced a policy. The courts are hearing cases on bathrooms and locker rooms in schools. Other state governments are debating the issue, and it does go on.
On April 19, 2016, Target posted a statement in explanation of their policy concerning the use of changing rooms and bathroom facilities in their stores. The statement consisted of 226 words in which the corporation spoke of their “beliefs” four times and referred to their stance/commitment/position four times as well. Seven times in the statement, they referred to how they act on, or exercise, their core beliefs.
Let me start by saying I agree with Target. Read more
As far as parables go, this one is rather simple and the point is clear. Jesus told this parable in direct response to Peter’s question: “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). Peter asked about forgiving our brothers and seemed to have repeat offenders especially in mind.
Jesus answered, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). He then proceeded to illustrate forgiveness with a parable that serves a few purposes. It provides a narrative illustration, which makes an impression. It highlights the basis for forgiveness and concludes with a sober warning to the unforgiving.
Before we look into the parable, let’s have a few words about parables in general. We have to be careful with them that we let them make their point and not try to press them too far. Sometimes people want to pick up every detail in the parable, no matter how minor, and try to tie it to some significant teaching. This can do more harm than good and possibly lead into serious error.
In the parable before us, Jesus is not laying out a whole theology of forgiveness, nor seeking to explain fully how God forgives sinners and reconciles them to Himself. This is an important point to understand, as we will see later on. The context clearly indicates this parable is about forgiveness between men and particularly brothers in Christ. The conclusion in verse 35 confirms this.
At the very least, this parable speaks to the child of God about how we are to handle forgiveness toward others. The parable does not try to get into every possible scenario of offense. We can all appreciate how tangled and thorny situations between people can be. But the point of this parable is clear: We are to forgive one another.
Scruples is a card game invented in 1984 and marketed as “The game of moral dilemmas.” Many questions seem to involve awkward social situations or relationships. For instance, there might be a question about what you would do if you spilled something on the carpet at a party. Would you tell the host or not? Or, if a friend asked you to give them a reference for a job and you know they are not qualified for it, would you give them a positive reference or not. So the question gives you a scenario and two choices. I guess it’s also supposed to be fun but doesn’t sound like much fun to me.
Those kinds of questions are low stakes moral questions and get boring quickly. To make that kind of game more dramatic, you have to raise the stakes morally. So you would ask something like: the cashier gives you change for a hundred dollar bill instead of the twenty dollar bill you paid with; do you keep quiet or tell her about the error? Or, you and two friends are adrift at sea. In order to survive do you eat the skinny friend or the fat friend? You are hiding spies in your house and the army commander tells you to either turn in the spies or be killed. Which do you do? You get the idea.
Two thousand sixteen is an election year and Christians seem to focus on little else at such times. Twelve years ago I wrote an article that resulted from a study of the Bible to discern what Scriptural directions a Christian has to guide them in making voting decisions. The article was entitled, “The Christian Voter’s Guide.” I received a little feedback from it, including a piece of hate mail in which I was called some ugly names by someone I don’t know and didn’t respond to. It reminded me of the intellectual level of a school yard exchange that includes many, I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I’s. I guess they took their ball and went home because I haven’t heard anything else from them. Oh well, life goes on, time heals all wounds, and all that.
2015 was a peak and plunge kind of year. We were reeling in the summer from the anti-consitutional Supreme Court decision when undercover Planned Parenthood videos began rolling out exposing the most vile and indefensible wickedness in that organization. Thus far the only thing that has resulted has been the indictment, not of Planned Parenthood, but of the investigator responsible for the videos. If we learned nothing else from these things, we know, regardless of the sitting president, we have wickedness in high places.
Racial tensions across the country were also very high, but it gets confusing when we come to the intersection of racial issues and abortion. Though the racist past and present of the abortion industry has been well documented, none or little of the aforementioned tension knocks on the abortionists’ doors. I wonder if we could finally raise civil ire if we would segregate the abortion mills so that you kill the white babies in one building and kill the black babies in a different building. If that ever happened, you could weigh the irony in kilos and sell it legally in some states.
The serious issues facing this country are far too many to list but they come into sharp focus during a major election year. Based on posts, comments, discussions, and the haunted look about the eyes of many Christians it would seem the times are desperate. When things get desperate, otherwise sane men do desperate things.
Once again, we need to look to the Bible and ask if there’s any light for our current situation and upcoming election. Paul said, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning” (Romans 15:4). Considering Israel, He wrote to the Corinthians: “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Peter added concerning the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah: “And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly” (2 Peter 2:6).
In the verses previous to those of our present text, the extravagance and indulgence of Ahasuerus is manifested. His excessive feasting speaks much about his true character. Just as we might find glimpses of our own true character if we examine the areas of excess and indulgence in our life. In the verses now before us, we shall see the consummation of the grand feasts.
The previous article was an introduction to the Book of Esther. This book is remarkable in teaching the providence of God. We noted there are no extraordinary miracles or supernatural events. Rather, this book sets forth the glory of God in the mundane. As we study this book, we want to be careful to pay attention to the details and seeming incidentals. In this article, we wish to begin looking at the verses of the first chapter.
The book of Esther is named for its primary character. Esther was an orphan, Jewish girl raised by her uncle Mordecai who rose to fame and prominence through some rather unusual means. She is really the main focus of the book. The Hebrew name of Esther is Hadassah which means myrtle. The name “Esther” is a derivation of the Persian word for star. It is commonly referred to as the volume of Esther by the Jews.