Monday, February 27, 2012

There’s A Stirring # 3—The Greatest Pioneer (Heb. 2.5-3:6)

            About 10 years ago, I had a chance to watch a reality show on PBS about modern families who chose to live a life like that of 1880s Montana.

This post in a nutshell: 
Know Jesus, and keep your eyes on him.

            It was as if they had entered a time machine. Three families won a competition, they were from different parts of the country, and they traveled to Montana to participate. The premise was that all aspects of modern life would be totally removed. No tangible aspect of their experience was to be associated with anything but the timeframe of the 1880s.
            Cameras were hidden all over this Montana location, and their lives were recorded over the period of a few months. The thought was, these families would help us to understand what it was like to be a pioneer back in the West in the 1880s. That's why the show was called PIONEER HOUSE.
            The show fascinated me. Evidently, life back then was extremely hard. There were three men who participated, and before the episodes began, each man was rather husky. After only a few months, under these conditions, each male lost an average of 30 pounds. It was a hard life.           
            Their chief competitive event was preparation for the Montana winter. Of the three families, professors of history would evaluate which family would have been the most prepared for a Montana winter in the 1880s.
            Families would work hard to chop wood to supply firewood for the winter. The food would be planted and harvested and canned for the winter. The major question was—would they be able to survive the winter?
            The conclusion of the historians at the end of the event was that none of the families would have survived. All would have perished. Clearly, it was hard to be a pioneer of the West in the 1800s.
            Some of the pioneers of the 1800s perished in real life. It was a difficult challenge. Those who survived often paid a high price. However, the sacrifices these pioneers made assured a better life for us.
            All of this makes me appreciate Jesus. As a matter of fact, the writer of Hebrews uses the term “pioneer” to describe what Jesus was for us. Jesus came to earth to prepare the way for a better life in God. He did a great job.
            Now, to catch up, last week we were talking about how some of the Christians in Hebrews were becoming distracted. They had become Christians, and the community around them had said that was not a good idea. They began to marginalize them. So the newness of Christianity was wearing off.
            We talked also about how many of us may not be distracted by things due to persecution. They may be good things that distract us, but too many good things can be a bad thing. Spiritual failure does not happen immediately. Usually, it is a slow fade.
            I get discouraged sometimes watching a new Christian drift away. All of us can look at the spots in our pews. We can recall friends or families that used to be with us. They got tired, and they got discouraged. They drifted away.
            The Preacher of Hebrews does not say that new programs, promotions or pep rallies will be what will get them in gear. I hope you are not tired and discouraged, I hope your church is not either, but all of us know people who are drifting. We must be proactive, so it does not happen to us.
            What he says is, survival depends on whether or not these Christians know Jesus. It is Jesus’ voice that will last forever.

            No book in the New Testament emphasizes the humanity of Jesus more than Hebrews, nor his transcendence!

Jesus as God (2:5-9)
5 And furthermore, it is not angels who will control the future world we are talking about. 6 For in one place the Scriptures say,
   “What are mere mortals that you should think about them, or a son of man that you should care for him?  7 Yet you made them only a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. 8 You gave them authority over all things.”
   Now when it says “all things,” it means nothing is left out. But we have not yet seen all things put under their authority. 9 What we do see is Jesus, who was given a position “a little lower than the angels”; and because he suffered death for us, he is now “crowned with glory and honor.” Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone.

1. The Father has placed everything under the son’s feet (2:8.)
            Let me give you a quick summary of what the writer is saying. In verse eight, he tells us that the heavenly father has put everything under Jesus feet; that is to say, Jesus is over all things on this earth. He rules this world.
2. Jesus has been crowned with Glory and Honor (2:9.)
            This is basically an expository sermon from Psalm eight.
3. Jesus has tasted death for everyone (2:9.)
             A note of commentary here—obviously Jesus suffered a physical death. I believe the more profound thought here is Jesus tasted is spiritual death for everyone.
Jesus as Man (2:10-18)
10 God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.
 11 So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. 12 For he said to God,
   “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people.”
 13 He also said,
   “I will put my trust in him,” that is, “I and the children God has given me.”
14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.
 16 We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.
            Hebrews 2:10-18 is a commentary on v. 9, talking about the humanity of Jesus.
1. He is our pioneer. (2:10)
            The word here in some versions is “author.” This is the word used in the Greek myths for Hercules when they described him as champion. Jesus is our champion. Another way of saying it is he is our superhero. He is in solidarity with us.
            What Christmas is complete without a viewing of the movie WHITE CHRISTMAS? My family and I have watched it almost every year.
            The fifties’ film stars Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, as World War II veterans seeking to help their old general, who is struggling in Vermont managing an inn that he owns.
            General Waverly was a beloved general whom they had followed in the war. Speaking of their devotion, they noted, “First we ate, then he ate. First we slept, then he slept.” That was the sacrificial love that had caused the men to sing, “We’ll follow the old man wherever he wants to go…” (Watch the movie sometime on Netflix—it’s a classic.)
            I don’t know if the person who wrote the movie was thinking of Hebrews chapter two, but flip the movie’s words around, and you have our relationship with Jesus—first He died, and someday we’ll die. First He was resurrected, and someday we will be resurrected. He is our pioneer, our trailblazer. Consequently, we’ll follow THE man wherever he wants to go.
2. He is our brother. (2:11-12)
            I wanted a big brother growing up. I used to daydream about how neat it would be to have a big brother. One who would be interested in me, who I could look up to, who would mentor me; I have always been envious of those who have had big brothers.
            I realize there are many of you who cannot related to what I am writing about… those of you who have big brothers! You too have always daydreamed about having big brothers who would be interested in you, who you could look up to, who would mentor you… I get that—that is a different passage for a different day.
            I remember when I was seven years old—we would keep a boy who was eleven or twelve from the Boles Home—a children’s home in Quinlan, Texas. We would keep him for a week or two at a time. I grew quite close to him; his name was Perry.
            My parents tried to adopt him, but his family would not sign off on the papers. I always wondered what happened to him. I wish that we could have adopted him. He was the closest I ever came to having a big brother. I have fond memories of that experience.
            I did not realize until I got older, and began studying the Scriptures, but I have a big brother. He mentors me, he looks after me, He has gone before me, and He protects me. His name is Jesus.
3. He was faithful. 2:13-14, 17, 18
13 He also said,
   “I will put my trust in him,” that is, “I and the children God has given me.”
14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.
            Jesus experienced all of the scuz and crud of this world and was faithful. Verse 17 is our first reference to faith in the book of Hebrews. Faith will be a big deal in this book. Because Jesus held on, God wants us to hold on. Look at chapter 4:14:
             14 Since we have a great high priest, Jesus the Son of God, who has gone into heaven, let us hold on to the faith we have. CEV
            Look at Hebrews10:23: Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.. NIV
            What does the word “unswervingly” mean? Because these Christians did not want to hold on, they wanted to let go.
            This was how the Preacher motivated them. He did not say, hey, let's have a pep rally.
            He who promised is what? Faithful. Faithfulness is important to this preacher because our Lord is faithful. What is the point of this teaching in an exhortation?
              If the Christians of Hebrews were on the fringe, the author says Christ has been on the fringe too. These Christians were not surrounded by a society that was pro-Jesus. Some Christians had lost their jobs; some have lost positions of importance. Some were made to feel embarrassed around their friends. These friends did not think it was very cool to be a Christian. Jesus understood because he had been there too.
            He is saying, "Therefore Holy brothers–that is our status. He has come down to earth to lift you up to heaven.”
4. He is our redeemer. 2:17-18
            17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.
            He uses the word “Redeemer” here in Hebrews, and he repeats it in chapters nine and ten. The archaic old-English word for “Redeemer” was “atonement”–“at one meet.” Through Jesus, the father meets us.
            This word in the Old Testament meant “cover.” The blood of lambs and goats was shed to cover sins. The blood of Christ covers our sins.
            The Preacher also notes that Jesus was tempted. Have you ever committed a sin and later pondered it by thinking, “I can't believe I am still not over this sin. I should have been over this years ago.” Do you have any pet sins with which you wrestle? Pet sins can be deadly.
            I read a Christian author's work, discussing the fact that children grow up loving teddy bears. They sometimes figure that since the toys are cuddly, the real things might be also.
            In 1990 two boys scaled the fence at the Bronx Zoo in New York City and went into the polar bear compound. The next day they were found dead. Your pet sin can kill!
            Jesus knows the temptation to have pet sins. My guess is that selfish anger was one of them. Whatever they were, he has faced those. Yet, he never sinned.
            I love this verse in chapter five: During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered… (Heb. 5:7-8.)
            He was our pioneer in learning how to obey the Heavenly Father. He was a trailblazer to show us how to deal with temptation. Jesus has experienced the trauma of dealing with sin.
            Now, where do you think the Preacher is going to go with this? An application arrives in Chapter 3.
            How does the writer begin chapter 3? In the NIV, he begins with the word “therefore.” I was always taught that when you see the word “therefore,” you look to see what it is there for. In this case, you consider the fact that he has written all of this information up to now, so what? We would say it like this, “In light of what I've just preached, here is how I would apply this.” (If you want to have fun with the book of Hebrews, get a highlighter and highlight the word “therefore” every time it appears in the book of Hebrews. You might be interested in what you find.)

3:1 Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. 2 He was faithful to the one who appointed him…
            I saw a movie about Nelson Mandela and his jailor named James Gregory. Back in the 1960s, the South African government strategically placed a jailor over Mandela who could understand the prisoners’ language and dialects. In other words, the jailor was to eavesdrop in order to discover Mandela’s secrets.
            In time, something the South African authorities would have never suspected happened—Gregory grew to sympathize with Mandela. Observing the violent treatment against the blacks, the jailor decides to read the “Freedom Charter”—a document written by Mandela and his followers.
            The jailor became sympathetic to Mandela and his cause. When others who worked in the prison saw hints of this, they pushed the jailor on the fringe—out in the margin. His own peers withdrew from him. His son was killed in a car “accident.”
            The jailor persevered, and history has proven Gregory correct. He paid a high price for that, but in time, he was very glad he stayed with his beliefs.
            You may be paying a high price for your faith. In time, eternity will prove you correct. You will be glad you paid that price.
            Your family may be pushing you away right now for your faith. You may be a pariah at school or college. You may be suffering at your job for Jesus. The preacher of Hebrews says—hang in there. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Stay focused on Jesus. Keep your thoughts on Jesus.
            How often do you think about Jesus? Hebrews says think about Jesus all of the time. Constantly.
            Therefore... thoughts of Jesus should drive us and motivate us. Unfortunately, too many times my thoughts are focused on me; my self-interest and my desires are what motivate me. This should not be. The Preacher’s admonition changes everything.
            We fix our thoughts on the great pioneer-Jesus-who was faithful.
            Have you heard of Polycarp? Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna, which today is the city of Izmir, on the west coast of Turkey. He was part of the generation of church leaders who succeeded the apostles. According to one tradition, he was taught by the apostle John and was appointed to his office by the apostles themselves.
            Polycarp was captured by the governing authorities for being an atheist (he did not recognize Caesar as Lord) and was brought before the proconsul. The proconsul tried to persuade him to deny the faith. The proconsul urged him, “Take the oath and I’ll let you go. Curse Christ.” 
            Polycarp replied with the immortal words, “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”
            Perhaps some of these Christians of Hebrews knew Polycarp. If so, that is the conviction the writer wanted them to have.
            Probably for some of these Christians, there had been no one greater than Moses. And so this preacher says to them, “as far as men go, Moses was great. But Moses was nothing like Jesus. Jesus is the epitome of faithfulness.”
…just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3 Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. 4 For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. 5 “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future.
            And then note verse 6:
But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory (Heb. 3:6.)
One Question: Who is God’s house?
One Answer: The Church
             When you look in the New Testament, you see references over and over again to “house”, “household”, “family”—you know why? Because a lot of people in the New Testament chose to follow Christ, and lost their earthly families over that decision. So God's community, God's family, became their family.
            Talking about these phenomena, John Elliott wrote a book about the first letter from Peter, and he called it HOME FOR THE HOMELESS. That was the life that many Christians found themselves in. So this preacher is telling these Christians, “Jesus is your big brother. The church is your family. They will love you. You love them.”
            James Thompson taught us in class that you cannot look at Hebrews and see it as a book of individuality. This is a book of community. This is about the communal church.
            We live in a day and age that celebrates the individual. People scream out, “I want my rights!” We celebrate the rugged individualists of the westerns.
            I love the movie Shane–a lone gunfighter who addresses the terrorism against a Western settlement in the pioneer days.
            Alan Ladd plays Shane. All Shane wants to do is just fit in and leave his life of gun fighting behind. But Shane is Shane–he is an individual.
            In the movie, the bad guys are killing the pioneers, the settlers, in this little western settlement, so Shane takes it upon himself to face them all down.
            He rides into town, and Joey, a little boy who idolizes him walks behind him all the way in. Which makes me wonder, what kind of mother is Jean Arthur’s character in this movie? But I digress.
            First, Shane encounters the evil gunfighter, Jack Wilson, (played by Jack Palance) in a Wild West duel:
        Shane: So you're Jack Wilson.

        Jack: What's that mean to you, Shane?

        Shane: I've heard about you.

        Jack: What have you heard, Shane?

        Shane: I've heard that you're a low-down, Yankee liar.

            Jack draws, but Shane shots him dead. Then Shane kills the rest of the bad guys who were laying in wait for him. Victorious, Shane rides away into the mountains of the Grand Tetons. Joey again trails Shane, beckoning Shane to return. He calls out in plaintive cry, like a little lamb, “Shane. Come back Shane.”
            When he realizes Shane is not coming back, he calls out, “I love you Shane.” Cue the tears.
            We celebrate movies like Shane. (I bet I’ve seen it ten times myself.) The Hebrews’ preacher does not. He instead talks about community, family, unity, togetherness, sacrifice for the community, self-sacrifice, and he tells them, “We are God's household; we share together; we help each other; we encourage each other; we work together; we play together; we are family.”
            So how do we pull this off? He says, “If you're going to survive, the key thing, is whether or not you know Jesus. Know Jesus, and keep your eyes on him.”
            We look at him and we know that he did not quit; he was faithful; from him we gain our perspiration, our motivation, and our inspiration to carry on.
            In the lives of many Christians, there comes a moment when they truly become serious about following Jesus. I've always wondered what motivates that. I think it has something to do with seeing Jesus in a new light—seeing him more clearly as he truly is.
            There is a legend told about the ancient emperor, Cyrus, who was mowing through city-states, territories, and countries, capturing the land and creating an empire. In this story, he entered into one small kingdom, and his soldiers brought the defeated prince and his family into his presence.
            Cyrus had a way of testing the mettle of those whom he conquered, so he asked the Prince, “What would you give me for your life?”
             The prince replied, “I would give you up to half of my kingdom.”
             Cyrus asked, “What could you give me the lives of your children?”
            “I would offer you all of my kingdom—everything that I have,” answered the prince.
            Cyrus saw a beautiful woman standing beside the prince, and he perceived this was the wife of the Prince, so he asked, “What would you give me for the life of your wife?”
            The prince replied, “Then Sir, I would offer you my very life itself.”
            Cyrus was impressed by that answer. He decided to spare the family, including the Prince, and he gave the family their own plot of land to live on.
            Later, reflecting on the events, the Prince spoke about Cyrus and said to his wife, “You know, that Cyrus was a handsome man.”
             His wife answered, “I would not know. For I could not take my eyes off of you.”

            There is something about a husband who loves his wife so much that he would willingly give his life for her. There is something about a bride who loves her husband so much that she lovingly cannot remove her eyes from him.           
            We as the bride of Christ have a husband, who has willingly given his life for us. Let us fix our eyes on Him.

Thanks James Thompson and David DeSilva.

Monday, February 20, 2012

How NOT to Catch the Drift

            Do you like to fish? I do, and I have found that if you use a boat, you can fish trying various strategies.
            You can lower an anchor and sit down. I have done that before, fishing for crappie or catfish.
            Another method is fish using artificial lures for bass. In the past, I have often enjoyed pulling up the anchor and moving my boat a few yards from the bank. I would then cast toward the bank.
           I cannot tell you how many times I would cast… and cast… and cast… and, all of a sudden, notice that I had drifted. Sometimes, my boat would have moved as much as a quarter of a mile. I would think to myself, “How did this happen?” The reason, of course, was that it had happened so slowly, it was imperceptible. The way the wind was blowing, the way the current was running, all of the elements conspired together to cause me to drift.

If you don’t want to read this post, here it is summarized in six words:
Don’t drift.
Focus on the Son.
            About a month ago I was taking my son Timothy duck hunting; we were on land that we had never been on before. It was the afternoon, and since this was land with which I was not familiar, I was concerned about being out after dark. I did not want to get lost.
            I had a compass with me, but something was wrong. I don't know the reason, but somehow my compass was not functioning properly, and it got us off course. We were supposed to be headed toward the pickup, but I could sense that we were drifting off course.
            I was not surprised, because I knew how easy it is to get off course in the forest. If you're at point A, and point B is two miles away, all you have to do is walk one foot off course for every ten feet forward, and by the time you have walked two miles, you will arrive at a place very distant from point B. You will find yourself way off course.
            That can happen in life too. I have noticed that when I mess up, it is rarely because I wake up one day thinking to myself, “I want to mess up today.” It is because, little by little, I drift off course, spiritually. Often times it is because I am distracted; I am not focused on the right things.
            I have seen this in the lives of others. When they really messed up, it is because they have been distracted and they have gotten off course. This is particularly true with catastrophic events.
            The secretary, who runs away with her boss and leaves behind her husband and children, did not simply wake up one morning saying, “I think I'll sabotage my family.” What happened was, she lost her focus, and, little by little, she drifted off course.
            This is what is happening in the book of Hebrews. As a matter of fact, the preacher uses a nautical term in chapter two pertaining to drifting, but more on that later.
            He is talking to a church that is distracted. Little by little they are drifting off course. He is trying to call them back again before it is too late.
            In Chapter one of Hebrews, the preacher is trying to remind them of whom the focus should be on.

THE ONE WORD (Heb. 1:1-4)

1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. NIV 1984

            In Hebrews 1:1-4, you have the story of Jesus told in three stages. And through that telling you see how He impacts us:

1. Maker-Jesus Made the Universe (Heb. 1:2)
            The writer of Hebrews, the Preacher, wants his audience to remember that Jesus made everything in creation. This is a point the Apostle John emphasized as well.
            In John chapter 1, John tells us that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Furthermore, John says, the Word, Jesus, was the chief agent who created the universe. Everything that we know that has been made, has been made by Him.

2. Redeemer-Jesus’ work took care of removing our sins.
            Any Jew that heard of Jesus sitting down at the right hand of God would have perked up his ears at that phrase. A writer from long ago, Arthur Pink, noted that the Old Testament records the High Priests always standing up to offer sacrifices. They could never sit down because their work was never finished.
            Jesus came to Earth, performed his saving work, and He sat down. The Preacher is going to emphasize this over and over again: Jesus sat down.

3. Ruler-Our Lord rules this world
            Where did Jesus sit down? At the right hand of God.
            What does this signify? He is ruling!
            This just in… we live in a fallen world. There are things that we dread; there are things that we fear; and it is all because we live in a fallen world.
            This reality can affect a lot of areas. What's going happen to the economy? What is going to happen in the world of terrorism? What is going to happen to my family? What is going to happen to me?
            I don't know all that is going to happen, but I do know that our Lord is in charge of this world. And nothing is going to happen unless our Lord allows it to happen. Our Lord rules this world.
            I don't understand the decision-making process of the Lord, why He sometimes chooses to act in this world, and why sometimes he chooses to abstain from action, but I know our Jesus rules this world.
            This preacher is not finished pointing to Jesus:  

THE ONE SON (Back to the Bible...Heb. 1:5-13)
5 For God never said to any angel what he said to Jesus:
   “You are my Son. Today I have become your Father.”
   God also said,
   “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son.”
 6 And when he brought his supreme Son into the world, God said,
   “Let all of God’s angels worship him.”
 7 Regarding the angels, he says,
   “He sends his angels like the winds, his servants like flames of fire.”
 8 But to the Son he says,
   “Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever. You rule with a scepter of justice.  9 You love justice and hate evil. Therefore, O God, your God has anointed you, pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else.”
 10 He also says to the Son,
   “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundation of the earth and made the heavens with your hands.  11 They will perish, but you remain forever. They will wear out like old clothing.  12 You will fold them up like a cloak and discard them like old clothing.    But you are always the same;  you will live forever.”
 13 And God never said to any of the angels,
   “Sit in the place of honor at my right hand  until I humble your enemies,  making them a footstool under your feet.”

Jesus is better than angels (v. 5-7):

            The Preacher in Hebrews is holding up the one Son, Jesus, above the angels. We must remember that before Jesus came upon the scene, the biggest thing that could happen to a human being was to have an encounter with an angel–a messenger of God. That was a big deal; humans of the late first century needed to change their understanding—Jesus is greater than the Angels.
            As you read, the Preacher in Hebrews decides to do something interesting; he decides to use a lot of poetry to express his ideas (for example, he draws deeply from the Psalms.) This is not unusual; many writers in the Bible used poetry to express great truth. Poetry is often the vehicle through which great ideals are conveyed.
            We are familiar with this concept from history. For example, when Thomas Jefferson and others were crafting the Declaration of Independence, they did not sit down and write, “The guys and I have been doing a lot of thinking, and we have come to this conclusion–we are right and you were wrong.” No, they put words such as these down on paper, “… We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….” That sounds a lot better, doesn't it?
            When Abraham Lincoln began his crucial Gettysburg address, he did not commence with a joke and then follow up with the words, “87 years ago….” No, he began, “Four score and seven years ago….”             
            When CBS invited the world to compare and contrast the respective values of rural life and city life, the network did not announce it in that way. Instead, CBS broadcasted it like this, “Come listen to a story about a man named Jed, the poor mountaineer barely kept his family fed, and then one day he was shooting for some food, and up through the ground came a rumbling crude….” I could go on and on with that beautiful portrait, but I think you get the idea.
       This writer, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is communicating wonderful ideals and he's doing it concisely. He takes these passages from the Old Testament and uses them to demonstrate that Jesus is the Son of God.
            One of his preferred verses is Psalm 2:7. (Incidentally, this is the second most quoted verse from the Old Testament.) He deploys the psalm to illustrate how the angels recognize Jesus' unique status.
            Next, he compares to Jesus with the Angels. We live in a time when many people are fascinated once again with angels. People in the day of the Christians of Hebrews were fascinated with angels as well. Nothing was more awesome for them than the infiltration of angels from the spiritual world into our tangible, physical world. As awesome as that was, this writer wants them to know that the angels are nothing compared to Jesus. Jesus is greater than the Angels.
            This writer gives four facts, four demonstrations, four ways, or four statements illustrating how Jesus is greater than the Angels.
1. His throne is forever and ever (1:8).
            This is a quote taken from Psalm Ps. 45:6-7 and the writer was originally talking about the Heavenly Father. The concept is the Heavenly Father puts His arm around the Heavenly Son and says, “Our family business is the universe. Son, I am going to turn it over to you.” It is a beautiful word picture of the Father the Son walking through the scripture having and this conversation.
2. He stands above the world’s change and decay (1:10-11)
            The creation is decaying. The Israelites understood this to a limited extent, and the New Testament writings added more to the Christian understanding.
            We are all demonstrations of this. All of us are getting older. That is a nice way of saying we are decaying. But Jesus is above that. Jesus is unaffected by the decay of a fallen creation.
3. The universe will be destroyed, he will remain. (1:11)
            Some of your translations here say, “he will abide.” I like that. We have a song that is written in reflection of this: “Abide with Me.” We desire to connect with some kind of spiritual being, who is all-powerful, and who will stay with us. And we want this being to be someone whom circumstances and time cannot affect.
4. Even though the universe changes, he remains the same (1:12)
            Jesus is not going to change. The Preacher affirms this in Heb. 7:24; he had talked about how the priesthood of the Old Testament had wound down. It went out of business. But, in 7:24 we read, 24 But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. NLT (Consider also Heb. 13:8, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. ESV)
            I think that is pretty good news.
            Now, having said all of this, if Jesus stands above all else, if Jesus stands above everyone else, why would one turn to anyone else or anything else for salvation? Yet, there are plenty of people who are guilty of this; as a matter of fact, the majority of the world is guilty of this. The majority of the world turns to someone else or something else for salvation.
            Some turn to pop psychology. A lot of the new recruits in the New Age movement come because they are looking for something else in their lives.
            Some people get discouraged in their Christianity and turn to politics for salvation. Others, in their discouragement, turn to moralism for salvation. Part of this is because politics and morality are more tangible. You can see the results much sooner. This is why you will see Christians sacrifice and slave for hours and hours and hours doing things that no one likes to do-such as knocking doors and talking to strangers-for political or moral causes.
            A lot of churches today are concerned about losing the crowds. So what they do now is lick their fingers to hold them up to the wind, and try to figure where the cultural winds are blowing. They will literally do a market survey to see what the average pagan is thinking and then construct a worship service to try to appeal to this modern pagan.
            (I am certainly all for studying the culture. I am in favor of finding points of intersection with the lines of non-Christians. However, to apply Hebrews, we use that information to bring a focus on Jesus, not humanity.)
            A lot of people understand they need salvation. Our job, according to this letter, is to help them understand that salvation will only be found in Jesus. And we commit to Him and live a life that exemplifies Christ. That is what we need, that is what our churches need, that is what our cities need, that is what our countries need, and that is what our world needs.
            Do you member where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001? Do you remember how you felt when you watched the Twin Towers fall? We thought they would stand forever, but they fell. That is a great symbol of the fact that everything in this world we think will stand, will ultimately fall. However, Jesus will never fall.
The Application:
Pay careful attention. Focus! On Jesus
            How do you keep from drifting? The writer of Hebrews has preached a little sermon in chapter one, and as he moves into chapter two, he basically offers his application. Look at chapter two and verse one, We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away (Heb. 2:1.) NIV 1984
            Do you hear what he is saying? Here is this Jesus; here is this elevated Christ; here is this King; He has a Kingdom; focus on him. Focus on the Son. Focus on Jesus.
            Don't get distracted. Don't lose your focus. If you do, you will drift away.            
            The idea of drifting away is a nautical image; they used it back then to describe a boat or ship moving slowly off course.            
            “Focus!he says.
         Sometimes, it is amazing how we can become distracted from what is important. The DALLAS MORNING NEWS’ columnist, Kevin Sherrington, wrote about 10 years ago about three guys, who were fishing off the coast of Florida.
            They noticed something floating in the water, approaching their boat. Upon further review, they observed that it was a human head. They scooped the head up with a net, put it on ice in a bucket and… fished on for two more hours!
            When they finally arrived to shore, someone asked them about why they had not immediately returned after finding the head. One of the fisherman answered, “We figured there was nothing we could do anyway, two more hours would not hurt. So we kept on fishing.”
            How in the world could these fishermen be so blasé about another human being so obviously victimized in such an inhumane way? My guess is that they had become desensitized by the violence of our society, and they had become distracted from what was important.
            Finding a human head floating in the water is a tragedy of awesome proportions. Unfortunately, humans can be desensitized to the awesome, especially when the awesome is God.
            The fishermen got so distracted, they lost focus as to what was important. The Preacher of Hebrews says, “Do not lose focus!”
            Last week, we read about some of the evil things they culture was doing to the Christians in Hebrews. These were tempting the Christians to lose focus.
            This week I want to assert that the Christians were receiving some data from the society around them that, in itself, was good; after all, the Roman Empire had some good things to offer. Sadly, even good things could get Christians off God’s course, and that was happening to some of these Hebrew Christians. So, whether it was a good reason or sinful reason, they were drifting. They were headed in a bad direction. This preacher is trying to get them to stop. He tells them, “Focus on the Son.”

ONE ASSERTION (Heb. 2:1-4) Salvation has consequences!
            If you read my blog last week, you might remember we talked about how the Christians had begun bailing out on Jesus. They had been persecuted, or insulted, or ostracized; consequently, they were making decisions to leave Jesus. We also talked about where the parallels lie in our own Christian lives.
            It is Jesus to whom we look to for salvation, but this salvation has consequences. Whether they are negative or positive, there are consequences.

            2The message spoken by angels proved to be true, and all who disobeyed or rejected it were punished as they deserved.
3So if we refuse this great way of being saved, how can we hope to escape? The Lord himself was the first to tell about it, and people who heard the message proved to us that it was true. 4God himself showed that his message was true by working all kinds of powerful miracles and wonders. He also gave his Holy Spirit to anyone he chose to. CEV 
            Hebrews is filled with concepts of reward and punishment. As we read, 2:2 speaks of two punishments in the Old Testament. Meanwhile, chapter eleven inspires the Christians as the Preacher refers to the faithful of God in the Old Testament who sought their reward. Finally, in Heb. 2:3, the Preacher is emphasizing--don’t ignore this message!
            Think about today. You go into any bookstore and the biggest section is the self-help section. While these books are not inherently wrong, they can lead us to lose our focus.
            Ever had a week where you daily read out of your favorite self-help book but not out of your Bible? It is just a little step, but the little steps get us off track and even into a catastrophe.
            According to Hebrews, the biggest catastrophe is a break in our relationship with God; second on the list is a break in our relationship with the community of God.
              With great salvation comes great opportunities, and great consequences. The stories of the Old Testament illustrates this principle. In chapters three and four, he will be discussing how God’s people got off course, and they received punishment from God. Later in Hebrews, you see where God is described as a father, who sometimes must discipline his kids. To the Preacher, this is important stuff.
            You may be sitting there reading this thinking, “I don't know Mark. I don't think I like all this talk about sin, rewards, and punishment.” Remember, this is God's Word we are talking about. Keep in mind also, the church that is receiving this letter is a church that needs to be revived. These people need to be refreshed. They have gotten complacent, they have gotten stale, and they are drifting off course.
            If you notice in Scripture, typically when God’s people experienced a revival, it came after they recognize the sin in their lives. They recognize the need to confess that sin. They recognize the need to repent of that sin. Furthermore, throughout history when you see great revival, that is the place it always starts: people recognizing sin, confessing sin and repenting of sin.
            It does not begin with people who say, “Wow, I've got a great life, but Christianity will make it a little bit better.” No, it begins with brokenness.
            You find the call for conviction over and over again the Hebrews. Look at 10:26, “Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins” (Heb. 10:26) NLT Sin is serious business.
            Incidentally, you know what 10:26 follows, don't you? In Heb. 10:25–he says, in effect, “Guys, you need to be meeting together every Sunday. You've got to be gathering around the table. You've got to program into your mind what is critical--what is essential. You’ve got to focus together on Jesus and encouraging each other.”
            He is saying this because somebody in this church is saying, “You know, they killed my aunt Gertrude. I don't think I want to go to church because I may die.”            
            To which the preacher responds, “And?”
            Keep in mind, he is not saying this so that they can punch a time clock for God; he's talking about a view that elevates Jesus as King over everything. He’s admonishing them, “I want to organize my life around King Jesus; I want to be part of a community that organizes its life around this reality. That is what will drive our lives. Whether the data around us is good or bad, at some point it will take us away from the King, if the King is not over everything, and if His Kingdom is not over everything.”
            If you are part of the Kingdom of Satan, you see the power of this prioritizing, which the preacher is proclaiming. But if you are part of any other organization on the planet, even those that are good, it is harder to recognize this. They can distract us. We forget that at some point, every organization on earth, outside of the Kingdom community, breaks off from the agenda of the King and his Kingdom.
            Harding University is a great place. ACU is a great place. I went to ACU. But at some point, their agenda breaks off from the King and the Kingdom.            
            Hopefully, they submit themselves to the King in the Kingdom, but the mission of Harding and ACU ultimately is to academically graduate people. Granted, they wish to graduate them with a Christian worldview, but there is still an academic element to the mission. People will go to heaven without college degrees.
            The Lions Club is a great group, but it is not the kingdom.
            Homeschooling is a great thing, but at some point its mission breaks off from the King and the Kingdom.
            Your work may be terrific and meaningful, but at some point there is a deviation from the King to the Kingdom. All focus has to be on the King and His Kingdom.
            Hebrews 1-2 tells us—watch the Son, and watch His Kingdom. Keep your eyes on the Son.
            Remember, Satan wants to take you away, and he does not have to use the Church of Satan to do so. If you're not focused on Jesus, any good thing can take you off the King and the Kingdom.
            Whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, you have to be careful and watch the King and His Kingdom.
            Extraordinary salvation–extraordinary consequences. If you and I submit to Jesus and watch the Son, we can influence a lot of people to become part of the Kingdom of God and live with Him forever. But, if we get eyes off of Him, we can hurt people.
            What is the most dangerous group of people in America? You may be thinking terrorists, or you may be thinking teenage boys. I would vote for middle-aged men. I have watched this a lot through the years.
            A teenage boy can make a bad decision and wreck his car, and that will wreck his car. A middle-aged man can make a bad decision, and it will wreck his career.
            A teenage boy can do something stupid, and fracture his fibula. A middle-aged man can do something stupid, and fracture his family.
            Whether it is a teenage boy, a middle-aged man, the event is precipitated by a distraction, a loss of focus, and drifting. The ending can be a shattering event; the beginning is typically slow and subtle. But gradually, an individual gets off course.
            We live in a world that offers us a lot of data. We have smart phones, Internet, TV, radio, papers, magazines, and billboards—all offering us input. Typically, this information encourages us to maintain the attitude of a consumer that can get us off course.
            Living in a materialistic culture creates and forms people who treat the Kingdom in a consumerist way. You then have the church filled with consumers. That’s not good.
            If you discover in your church a Christian who's living a sexually immoral lifestyle, it is not difficult to discipline that individual. But if you have someone in your church who is maintaining consumer mentality, the implications or more ambiguous, and that's why this mentality is dangerous.
            Typically these steps in the consumer mentality are so tiny they are imperceptible, yet they take us away from God. Ultimately, those steps take the consumer way off course. God did not call us to be consumers, he called us to be Christ followers. Disciples stay focused on the Son.
            A young man told me about a song from the Christian group Casting Crowns. The lyrics are powerful. The song is called “Slow Fade.”
            Some who have been Christians for a long time will remember a song from Vacation Bible School with words like, “Be careful little feet where you go” and “Be careful little hands what you do.”
            The lyrics of “Slow Fade” evoke those memories. The video is very powerful (here's a link– and here are the lyrics to the song:

"Slow Fade"

Be careful little eyes what you see
It's the second glance that ties your hands as darkness pulls the strings
Be careful little feet where you go
For it's the little feet behind you that are sure to follow

            It's a slow fade when you give yourself away
It's a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It's a slow fade, it's a slow fade

            Be careful little ears what you hear
When flattery leads to compromise, the end is always near
Be careful little lips what you say
For empty words and promises lead broken hearts astray

            It's a slow fade when you give yourself away
It's a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day

                        The journey from your mind to your hands
Is shorter than you're thinking
Be careful if you think you stand
You just might be sinking

            It's a slow fade when you give yourself away
It's a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
Daddies never crumble in a day
Families never crumble in a day

                        Oh be careful little eyes what see
Oh be careful little eyes what you see
For the Father up above is looking down in love
Oh be careful little eyes what you see

            The writer of “Slow Fade” is saying, “Don't drift off course. Pay attention; keep your eyes on the Son.” That is what the writer of Hebrews is saying as well.
            As I wrote earlier, I was duck hunting with my son, Timothy, and we were on land with which I was not familiar. I had a compass with me, and for some reason, it did not work correctly.
            I sensed we were getting off course. Something did not seem right.
            I was receiving input from the compass, yet I looked up at the sun and became worried. As I looked back at my compass, I asked myself this profound question, "When did the sun start setting in the East?"
            I knew that winter did crazy things to the solstice, but this? I then faced a difficult decision: do I follow my compass-seemingly the best data that the world has to offer-or do I follow the sun?
            I chose to follow the sun, and Timothy and I made it home.
            You and I must make a decision today and every day. Will we choose to follow the best data that this world has to offer, or will we follow the Son? The preacher of Hebrews says, “Follow the Son, and you will make it home.”