< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: November 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hebrews 12 Part 4

Hebrews 12:18-24 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned." The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling with fear."

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

This section contrasts the old and the new. The difference between getting the law on Mt. Sinai and the new covenant of which Jesus is the mediator. The first part is a bunch of phrases and remembrances from the story of the giving of the law.

(Deuteronomy 4:11, Exodus 19:12-13, Deuteronomy 5:23-27)

3 things were stressed in the giving of the law.

1. The sheer majesty of God and the story says nothing about His love.
2. His absolute unapproachability. In fact, those who tried to approach Him died.
3. The sheer terror they had of God. They were even afraid to look at or listen to Him.

But, then the second half! The Christian has a new covenant. A new relationship with God. And the author lists the new glories that await the Christian and are open to him:

1. The New Jerusalem. The heavenly Jerusalem. This world will be gone some day and we’ll live in a new, perfect world. If you want to learn more about this place, you can see here
2. The angels will rejoice in our joy!
3. This will happen to God’s first born His elect. The ones whose names are written in God’s book.
4. God is still our judge and we will face Him as our judge some day.
5. We will join the honor roll o f faith, like the people in Hebrews 11.
6. And finally, the author says Jesus makes all this possible. It was Jesus who took away the terror and gave us a new relationship with God. It was Jesus, the perfect priest and perfect sacrifice who make the unapproachable approachable. The author contrasts the blood of Abel and the blood of Christ. Genesis 4:10 says when Abel died – when he was slain – his blood upon the earth called for vengeance. But, Jesus’ blood called for reconciliation.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hebrews 12 Part 3

Hebrews 12:12-17 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. "Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.

Most people can come through in a pinch. But it’s the day in day out of living our faith that can be hard. This section deals with a Christian’s daily life and struggle. The author tells us to strengthen ourselves so we can strengthen others. Christians have a duty to God, but they also have a duty to man: that they don’t mislead him.

Our example needs to make it easier for others to believe in and follow Christ. If we say one thing and do another it confuses people. And that’s wrong. Christians should live a life above reproach. One commentator said, “A man must offer his heart to God and his service and example to his fellow men.”

Where is says we should make every effort to live in peace means we should pursue it. It requires effort. Peace to the Hebrews was not just freedom from trouble. It meant 2 things. First, it was everything which makes for a man’s highest good: it meant the highest welfare man could enjoy and that (as the Hebrews saw it) could only be found in obedience to God. So the Christian must aim at that complete obedience to God in which life finds its highest happiness, its greatest good and its peace.

The second meaning is a right relation between men. Where man only seeks good for his neighbor. Love, forgiveness, service…no hatred. So, tying this together; the peace we strive for comes from obedience to God’s will, which enables us to live in and produce right relationships with our fellow man.

Going on in this verse we are also to aim for holiness. The intense pursuit of holiness is to be the predominant priority of every Christian. The pursuit is a spiritual mindset. If someone is spirit-filled, there will be a burning thirst to experience God’s holiness in every corner of his being. Daily, serious Bible reading and prayer are the primary means by which we pursue such purity and growth. In Matthew 6:20 Jesus said we are to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” The entire book of Leviticus was written so the Israelites would learn how to be holy. God tells us to “Be Holy because I am Holy. Remember that holy means to be separate, different and that the world’s standards are not ours.

Our ideal is different, our reward is different. We are not holy now, but holiness is our destiny. (1 John 3:2-3) Our lack of holiness is what causes most of our problems in life though and that’s why we need to strive to be holy now. Ask yourself, “What changes must I make to live a holy life?” That would be a good way to spend quiet time with God, a pencil and paper. Then check yourself on it everyday.

We’re also told not to let a root of bitterness spring up. Bitterness comes when we allow disappointment to grow to resentment or when we nurse grudges over past hurts. Bitterness is ugly and it causes jealousy, dissension and immortality. But the Holy Spirit can heal us from the hurt that causes it if we ask Him.

The author uses Esau in the next verse as a man who put his earthly comfort and pleasure above God and lost his inheritance. Any man who lives just for this world throws away his birthright – eternity. Remember how God promised Abraham that He would make him the father of a great nation and that people would be blessed through him? And that Jesus was the fulfillment of that? He was the one from Abraham’s lineage that would come and save people. The promises to Abraham were what Isaac was passing on to his eldest son. He didn’t have any land to speak of. His birthright was still in the future. In a previous post I wrote that the great people of faith who were listed in Hebrews 11 died without seeing all of God’s promises fulfilled, but they kept their faith. They kept God first so they, including Abraham (Esau’s grandfather), Isaac (Esau’s father) and Jacob (Esau’s twin) were listed in the “honor roll of faith” but Esau is in Hebrews 12:16 called a godless man. It says that later he sought his birthright, but was rejected because he didn’t repent. Remember Judas went back and tried to un-do the sin he had committed too. But saying you’re sorry and truly repenting (changing your action and your attitude and your life!) are two different things.

The author says that Esau despised his birthright. He deliberately rejected God. Therefore God rejected Esau. We too have a spiritual birthright. We may have been born into a Christian family, but we still, when we reach the age of accountability, must choose God. We may know the facts, we may know the promises, we may know the only way to receive eternal life is through believing that Jesus died and rose again for our personal sins. But if we are acting any other way then the way God calls us to be we are despising our birthright.

We live in a land where there are Bibles and we have the freedom to read them. If we don’t, we despise our birthright. We can belong to a church, but when we stay at home on Sundays to enjoy the weather, or whatever, we despise our birthright. We make daily choices whether we think about them or not. God wants us to take our birthright seriously.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hebrews 12 Part 2

Hebrews 12:3-4 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
We need to realize that walking with God doesn’t guarantee we will be free from opposition. Otherwise we will become discouraged. Suffering does help us mature as Christians.

Where it says they “haven’t resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” The author’s readers were living in a time of persecution, but they were reading his words. They were alive. They hadn’t yet died for their faith like Christ and other saints and martyrs. And he was telling them to not give up. It cost other people their lives and a thing which cost so much cannot be taken lightly. A tradition like that is not a tradition a man can let down. We should show ourselves worthy of the sacrifices that men and God made for us.

Hebrews 12:5-11 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Does God discipline us? Well, it says right here in the Bible He does! The first part of this section is a quote from Proverbs 3:11-12. As parents do we show our love of our children by letting them run wild?

Even if it hurts us to let them bear the consequences of some action; we know we have to so they can grow. So they can become mature, stronger, better people; able to not only get along better in life, but to have compassion and wisdom for other people. All of these things come out of a good suffering!

This verse says God disciplines us so we may share in His holiness. And admits with us that disciple isn’t pleasant and we may respond to it in several ways:

1. We can accept it with resignation
2. We can accept it with self-pity (thinking we don’t deserve it.)
3. We can get angry with God or resentful
4. We can accept it gratefully – knowing it shows that God loves us like a Father and He is growing us.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Hebrews 12 Part 1

Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

The cloud of witnesses is the group of faithful people we just read about in Hebrews chapter 11. Remember the author wrote about them to inspire us, encourage us and remind us of our responsibility as a Christian. Many times in the Bible a Christian’s life is described as a journey or a race. Our goal is to someday be like Christ and be in His presence. And every night we should ask ourselves if we are closer to that goal. If we are going to travel far – we must travel light. And the author tells us to “lay aside every weight and sin that clings.”

Ask yourself what’s holding you back on your journey to be more like Christ? A bad habit, some sin you can’t repent from, some sin you have repented from but can’t forget? Selfishness? We can get rid of these things and we can finish our race, if we keep our eyes on Jesus.

He had trials, a lot more than most people ever will, but He got through them – not around them. And He was able to because He put God first and kept Heaven foremost in His mind. And that’s what we’re supposed to do. One commentator said about this passage: “Jesus is not only our goal at the end; He’s our companion along the way.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hebrews Chapters 11 Part 7

Hebrews 11:32 -40 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

These verses summarize the lives of other great men and women of faith – some experienced great victories in their lives – some were mistreated and even killed. Steadfast faith doesn’t guarantee us a carefree life. On the contrary our faith almost guarantees us some type of trial or abuse from the world. While we are on earth we may never see the purpose of our suffering, but, we know God’s promises will come true in His time.

There are too many people listed in this section to talk about in a short post, but it is a list of people who faced incredible odds for God. Who were in God’s minority rather then the world’s majority. Men who accepted God-given tasks. And they are in Hebrews to be an example for Christians. The writer of Hebrews is seeking to inspire new courage and a new sense of responsibility by making his readers remember their past.

God’s power hasn’t grown less over time. What He did once, he can do again. The God of history is the same God we worship today. They died before the Messiah came. We may die before He returns, but someday these people of the Old Testament will stand with us before Christ. Old and New Testament believers will be glorified together.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Hebrews Chapters 11 Part 6

Hebrews 11:23-29 By faith Moses' parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king's edict. By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel. By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

Moses was incredible! I spent an entire year studying him in Bible Study Fellowship. What can I say in a couple paragraphs to sum him up?

Earlier in the book of Hebrews the author pointed out the superiority of Jesus to Moses and that the Jews could not imagine anyone closer to God. He led his people out of slavery to the Promised Land, he was the receiver of the laws; the most important thing to them and he talked to God “like a friend.” Moses had faith because he knew God the way he did. He spent time with God before he did anything else. He came straight from the presence of God before any task. Our failure and fear is often due to the fact we try to do things alone. The secret of victorious living is to face God before we face man.

Hebrews 11:30-31 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days. By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

Joshua and Rahab were both after Israel entered the Promised Land. Jericho was a strong city; barred and fortified. How did God command Joshua to take over the city?

Joshua 6:1-20 1 Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.

2 Then the LORD said to Joshua, "See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. 3 March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. 4 Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams' horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. 5 When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in."

6 So Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, "Take up the ark of the covenant of the LORD and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it." 7 And he ordered the people, "Advance! March around the city, with the armed guard going ahead of the ark of the LORD."

8 When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the LORD went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the LORD's covenant followed them. 9 The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark. All this time the trumpets were sounding. 10 But Joshua had commanded the people, "Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!" 11 So he had the ark of the LORD carried around the city, circling it once. Then the people returned to camp and spent the night there.

12 Joshua got up early the next morning and the priests took up the ark of the LORD. 13 The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets went forward, marching before the ark of the LORD and blowing the trumpets. The armed men went ahead of them and the rear guard followed the ark of the LORD, while the trumpets kept sounding. 14 So on the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. They did this for six days.

15 On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. 16 The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the people, "Shout! For the LORD has given you the city! 17 The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the LORD. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. 18 But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. 19 All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the LORD and must go into his treasury."
20 When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city.

The taking of Jericho was the result of an act of faith. The people were acting not on what they thought they could do, but on what God could do for them.

The story of Rehab is also in Joshua.

Joshua 2:1-21 1 Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. "Go, look over the land," he said, "especially Jericho." So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.

2 The king of Jericho was told, "Look! Some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land." 3 So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: "Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land."

4 But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, "Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. 5 At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don't know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them." 6 (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) 7 So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.

8 Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 and said to them, "I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea] for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.] 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. 12 Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign 13 that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death."

14 "Our lives for your lives!" the men assured her. "If you don't tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the LORD gives us the land."
15 So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. 16 Now she had said to them, "Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there three days until they return, and then go on your way."

17 The men said to her, "This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us 18 unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house. 19 If anyone goes outside your house into the street, his blood will be on his own head; we will not be responsible. As for anyone who is in the house with you, his blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on him. 20 But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear."

21 "Agreed," she replied. "Let it be as you say." So she sent them away and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.

It’s amazing that Rahab is even listed in the Bible – she was a prostitute and a Gentile. But because of her great act of faith, James in chapter 2 verse 25, quotes her as a great example of the good works which demonstrate faith. The Rabbis who could do so were proud to trace their descent to her, and her name is one in the genealogy of Jesus Himself.

When Rahab made her great faith statement, “I know that the Lord hath given you the land…for the Lord your God, He is the God in Heaven above and in the earth below” there didn’t seem a chance in a million that Israel would capture Jericho. But, she believed in God against the evidence of the facts. And that’s what Christians are to do.

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Hebrews Chapters 11 Part 5

Hebrews 11:11-16 By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

None of the people mentioned saw the fulfillment of God’s promises in their lifetime. They saw some – Noah did experience the flood – Sarah did have a baby. But not all. The point is: what we need to learn from them is: they never lost faith and the earth is not our forever home. We need to keep our eyes on eternity.

Foreigners are often looked down on. Look at the letters to the editor in the daily newspaper about illegal aliens! Abraham didn’t have a land of his own for the rest of his life. And the author is saying Christians are not really in their own land. Our home is heaven and we are foreigners on earth. We can expect to feel and experience all the things related to living in a foreign land. But, we are on a journey for God and because of that “God is not ashamed to be called our God.” He has prepared a city for us in Heaven.

Hebrews 11:17-19 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.

God had told Abraham he would be the father of a great nation, and yet now He tells him to sacrifice the very son this nation was supposed to come from! But, Abraham was willing to do it! Maybe he believed that if God took Isaac he would also raise him from the dead. The point is, he was ready to give up what was dearest to him – for God – and because of that he was blessed even more.

Hebrews 11:20-22 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.

Remember Isaac had twins: Jacob and Esau, and it was Jacob’s 12 sons who became the 12 tribes of Israel. And one of those sons – Joseph – was sold into slavery by his brothers. But through that incident God was able to move His people, Joseph’s family, to Egypt where He wanted them until it was time to set out for the Promised Land. Joseph remembered God’s promise to Abraham about the Promised Land and when he died he requested that his bones be taken and buried there. He never doubted it would happen.

And 400 years later his bones were with the Israelites when they left Egypt.

But, again, all 3 of these men died without seeing the promises fulfilled. We may die before we see something happen, but we are a link in that fulfillment. We must live in a way to move things along according to God’s will. Christians have the task of helping God make His promises come true.

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