9 – Great High Priest

`But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. ~Hebrews 9:11-12

The role of priest and the physical temple were central to the Jewish faith in the Old Testament. Established under Moses, the first temple was constructed according to God’s explicit design, and Aaron became the first high priest. We don’t relate easily to the role of priest in the Jewish faith so a good question to ask is why is it such an important concept that the author of Hebrews devotes chapters to explaining it? In the Jewish faith only the priest made atonement for sins – only he was able to declare righteous, to approve sacrifices, receive tithes, and to confirm one’s relationship with God for another week or year.

The most significant sacrifice was on Yom Kippur or the Passover. The great high priest would enter the Holy of Holies to attain atonement (the appeasement of God’s wrath for sin) for all Israel for one year. The holiest day in the holiest location by the holiest individual in Israel – only one could do this act. The priests in the Old Testament were called to serve the people and the Lord. Hebrews 5:2 tells us that the priest can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Servant leadership in action as the greatest leader who must be the most humble.

When we understand the exchange that had to take place – the life/blood of a perfect sacrifice for sin, and that only priests could facilitate that exchange, then we begin to see the completion and perfection of the role of High Priest in Jesus. We had to have not only the sacrifice but also the priest – prior to Jesus Christ, the sacrifice had to be offered continually and never made anyone perfect. For since the law had but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:1,3-4). We were facing the wrath of Holy God. But Jesus became our perfect, all sufficient sacrifice as the Lamb of God. And He walked into the inner place behind the curtain as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever (Hebrews 6:19-20).

Remember, just like the priests of the Israelites, because of his humanity as our high priest, we can come with confidence to find mercy and grace. He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because He has been tempted but is without sin (Heb. 4:14) And this combination becomes an anchor for my soul in the storms of life and the flurry of lies from the enemy. He is my great Lamb – slain for all my sin as my propitiation to turn away God’s wrath from me. And He is my Great High Priest – seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up (Heb. 8:1-2). He is able to save to the uttermost all of us who draw near to God through Him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Heb. 7:25)

vines part 2

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. ~Hebrews 12:1-2

Why a part 2? truthfully because the Lord won’t let me leave this truth. I am in a season of great threshing or pruning, whichever picture you would like to use. The process is similar – there is a discerning hand at work moving over me, working in me, pulling out of me the things that are not like Him. Discouragement and weariness beckon me, bite at my heels, and whisper to me to just crawl off the floor. Just walk away for awhile, take a break. I wish for a breather, just some moments to catch my breath. My heart aches, my soul trembles a little.

I used to run long mile runs (back before all my kids – now I just run after them and hope it counts as exercise!) and loved the feeling at the beginning of each run, knowing this was my time to think and pray, just looking around in the neighborhoods I loved to run in. Until. Always there was a mile or so in my 6 mile run that was brutal. It wasn’t necessarily the steep run mile or the end of my run, but often the brutal portion was about a mile into my run. My arms would ache, my muscles would feel crampy, my breathing would not be rhythmic, and I would have to work to put one foot in front of another. Now I’m not a “good” or knowledgeable runner – I never read any books or articles about it – I really have no idea why this was my pattern, but it was consistent. And every time I would battle in my mind whether this time I should just slow to a walk, or just turn around and make it a short run. But I learned that if I persisted, if I endured, I would pass through this horrible phase into a gentler rhythm of running, in which I could breathe with ease, enjoy the scenery, and just run. But every time it was a choice to endure. Every time I wondered if I would make it out to the pleasurable place.

The race is set before me. God has ordained a lane in which to run, purposed for His glory and His kingdom work. All of my race is His – the big, the little, special, or mundane – all purposed to change me and grow me in Jesus. In Hebrews 12, the word race in Greek means a contest, a struggle in the soul, a grueling conflict struggle or battle. I’m not running around a track or even cross country – NO! This is an epic battle fought as I press forward.  Maclaren wrote, “By faith we enter the race; through faith we receive His power to run and not be weary but we need to run to advance.” I need to run. Am I in continual movement in this race? Am I walking more deeply with Jesus today than last year, 5 years ago? Growth should be seen, muscles grown – landscapes changing as new obstacles come, new experiences occur to grow deeper in dependency and in faith.

Yet Jesus is the center. He is the faith giver, strength fortifier, lifter of my head. He is the race maker and the race winner. And he promises to lead me out to broad places, to be my refuge in my pantings, to steady my steps, make my bones strong, and make me like a watered garden with abundant springs. So while I am running a mile that feels like torture, He is always with me. He is not only refining me on this threshing floor, He is comforting me and holding me tightly. I choose to praise your name, Jesus.

For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead and guide me. I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul, and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place.  ~Psalm 31:3,7-8

 

 

the vines

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. ~Hebrews 12:1-4

There are vines in my flowerbeds, vines that threaten to choke out the new growth, the established plants, and eliminate the blossoms and fruit that should grow. Interestingly, when I am weeding, I can actively see the vines that entangle the hydrangeas, hostas, and azaleas in my yard. They are obvious and an affront to me. How dare they take over my plants? However when I am just out by the pool, playing with my children, or walking through the yard quickly, my eyes can flick across the green landscape and the vines blend in. They are hard to distinguish sometimes because their tendrils wrap along the stems of the plant, allowing their leaves to lay alongside of the plant’s true leaves. The plant looks thicker, lusher even, at quick glance. As I gaze with intensity at the plants though, I can see the difference in leaves and slowly focus on the vines that wrap around.

Vines will also hurdle over the plant’s true stems, skipping right to the top of the plant, in order to gain the position closest to the sun. Their ultimate goal is not to dwell alongside the plant but to usurp the plant.  Left to their own growth, they will push the original plant down, limiting its new growth and weakening its stems. Whenever I strip the vines off of a plant, I am amazed at how the vines stunt the growth of the true plant causing fewer leaves and little to no fruit or flowers. Finally free of the crippling vine, the plant will begin to thicken and grow again filling in the gaps.

There are sins that entangle my heart, they wrap around my thoughts, crowd my affections and limit my growth. Weights of this world – responsibility, work, care taking – push down on my shoulders, and when coupled with sin, make me weakened, nonproductive, depleted, and bound. So whenever my desire to lead my children well becomes enmeshed with my pride rather than submitted to the Holy Spirit’s work in both of us, I have allowed the vines to grow. Whenever provision becomes about independence rather than dependence on Him, I have begun again to allow vines to shoot up and overtake. And whenever the unknown in the future seems to demand knowledge I don’t possess and I become fear driven and reactionary, the choking vines can block His light, His truth, and His lead.

Hebrews pushes me to remember Jesus. Remember His death on the cross that paid the atonement for me. Remember His position now as victorious King who conquered sin and death, setting me free from the fears, self love, and pride that seek to encircle my heart and drag me down. The struggle against sin is real. It is fierce. It is ongoing this side of heaven. But victory comes from Him!

Sin sometimes is hard to see, it becomes a part of my life and my eyes skim over the lies I have believed. But the Spirit is faithful to convict and teach. He will reveal and refine me as I submit myself to Him. Misplaced weight allows sin to grow. God promises to bear every burden we have (1 Peter 5:7), to provide every need we have (Matt. 7:32-34), to walk before us into every future event (Is. 52:12), and give us the wisdom we need every step of the way (James 1:5).

So let me run with endurance. Steady my feet on Your ground. Strengthen my hands for the weeding with your wisdom and discernment. Enable me to throw off the weights and untangle the sin. Grow in me your fruit. Let my garden display Your glory for Your renown today. You are worthy of all praise!

Do all things

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. ~Philippians 2:14-16

I quote this a lot in parenting, but as I have been studying through Philippians these past few weeks, I am convicted that I may not be leading my kids accurately in the truth of this passage. It’s a convenient quote to get my kids to obey but it’s sadly out of context when I use it as a hammer to stop fussing.

Grumbling – a murmuring; a secret displeasure, not openly avowed. Grumbling is often secretive because we know we shouldn’t voice our displeasure towards the one asking something of us.

Questioning – a reasoning or calculation that is self-based with the fixed mindset that one is right; a hesitation about what is true and disputing from that position. Questioning comes from a place of pride or superiority. 

Holding fast to the word – to hold toward, forth or to present as a light to illuminate; to mark, pay attention to, note or heed.

This verse is an exhortation that follows Paul’s call to be like Christ in humility/position with others. He instructs us to work out our faith because God is doing the work in us – stay committed to Him, submitted to Him. And then the attitude of the heart flows outward as fruit. When we walk with an attitude of superiority or pride, we grumble or question. We wonder what it is we are doing. We yearn for something else, something easier or more palatable. When we walk in humility, we serve and look like Jesus. I cannot simply decide to be humble. I cannot summon up a likeness to Jesus Christ in my flesh. I need to understand His humility.

The call to humility flows through the tunnel of sacrifice. Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore as I am washed in the humility of Christ, as His saving death floods my heart of stone, I too must walk in humility. Andrew Murray in his book, Humility, writes, “If humility is the first, the all inclusive grace of the life of Jesus – if humility is the secret of His atonement – then the health and strength of our spiritual life will depend entirely upon our putting this grace first and making humility the chief quality we admire in Him, the chief attribute we ask of Him, the one thing for which we sacrifice all else.” My pride, my love of self, my sense of self entitlement, must die. And that is very hard. Oh it is easy to say, I am quick to nod my head, yet I embrace myself at every turn.

Grumbling and questioning are merely symptoms of a heart tied more closely with self than with Christ. So what is my hope? How do I loosen the grasp of flesh? Hold fast to the Word of life. Cling to Him and His truth. Let Him illuminate every corner of my heart, root out each pride holdout, and work in me to replace my self love with His love. The more I allow Him to blaze forth out of me, responding with His humility to those around me, the more the world will see Him and not me.

We shine as lights; we look flawless in a world full of flaws. In a world of darkness, we are beacons of light. And the lost will be drawn to His light. The hurting will gravitate.  This is our response to God and the leading of the Spirit. So I also need to be very careful how I wield this verse with my children. The Gospel is central and paramount for a life that does not grumble or complain. How am I communicating Christ to my child? Because what I do not want to do is somehow communicate that grumbling and complaining can be turned off like a spigot. No, they are the very essence of my prideful flesh, and the only power over them is Jesus Christ.

So what is the state of the light that shines within me? Do I complain about where He says go and what He says do? Do I doubt what He says? This is my testimony for this world, either way. So is it “Did God really say?” or is it “Where you go, I will go.”

The other side of the masterpiece

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. ~2 Corinthians 3:18

In my limited perspective, I will fix my gaze on my loved one, wondering why the great Potter isn’t “really working” on my child. I see the need for eyes to be carved in order for my child to see Him, ears to be fashioned for hearing His truth, I long to see a mind aligned with the Gospel and a mouth He can use. And I chafe because all I see are bare imprints or slight markings indicating where these features need to be. I worry about my role in creating this new clay – am I saying the right things, parenting in ways that encourage a relationship with Him?

And then in His great patience and steadfast love, both for me and my child, everything turns.

And the masterpiece He has been hard at work on is displayed.

And I realize I have been looking at the base while the great Artist has been at work on the heart and soul of my child.

My perspective is so off, and I have believed the lie that no one can love my child more than me. When in truth, the comparison of love shows that my love may be as great as a tea cup compared to the vast ocean of love He has for His child. He is trustworthy with our children and He is at work where the work needs to be done. You see, I would have carved a face into the base or on some place completely wrong for that child. I would have demanded features where nothing is needed. But He knows exactly how and where to work in the heart of each one of us in order to create His workmanship, fashioning and carving, working the clay to bring out life.

We talk all the time about how to parent, how to lead, how to help our children navigate this life. Sadly we have become hyper focused on producing a product in 18 years rather than investing in an individual designed by God. When I spend time with my child in pursuit of the Gospel, loving them according to how He has created them, trusting Him for the fashioning of this soul, God reveals the ways the Gospel impacts their lives right where they are.When we talk about poor behavior, the conversation is purposed to dive into the heart to the underlying belief/lie that has led them astray from the truth. Then the truth in God’s Word can slice through the lie, tending the hurt with tender care, replacing bondage with freedom.

So when I am loving on a resistant two year old, the Gospel speaks to his need for Jesus to help him choose to obey and be kind. Jesus is his helper, his friend, and the One who loves him most. When my preteen wrestles with friends and value, the gospel declares how full of value she really is. Success and failure are not defining measurements; rather who she is in Jesus becomes the litmus test. Practicing patience and self control at any age is pointless unless it is layered with the truth that only the Spirit within you can develop these fruits. But the fullness of the Spirit has been given to the one who is saved, child or adult. He is the Transformer.

God is committed for the duration. He is at work on a glorious image bearer for His glory and His namesake. And He works in His timing, moving each of us from one degree to another, patiently and steadfastly engaged and never discouraged. When I keep my eyes focused on the Carver and not the carving, trusting His hands at work rather than my fumbling, I am invited into the great reveal. The other side, the work unseen by me but His focus, is glorious.

Wineskin in the smoke

My soul longs for your salvation, I hope in your Word. My eyes long for your promise; I ask “when will you comfort me?” For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes. They have almost made an end of me on earth, but I have not forsaken your precepts. In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth. ~Psalm 119:81-84, 87-88

This is me lately, testimony of where I have been stuck or frozen. Somewhere between absolutely longing for and leaning heavily on God’s faithfulness, His Word, and His love and being in a furnace of heat, wondering if I will survive or shrivel up as ash. I was reading through Psalm 119 because I needed to cling to His Word, to love the truths alive in God’s promises, and to rely on the stability of His precepts when it seemed as if every piece of my world was spinning and unclear.

The heart cry of verse 81 resonates with me. My heart must settle on the assurance of His Word ever true. My anchor must be in the truths of Scripture. Security is sourced in understanding the truth of Jesus’ life and death – what that means for me both for now and for eternity. In the depths of me and every aching heart is the longing for salvation. My eyes scan the horizon to see God at work, looking for his hand to move or change my circumstances, but sometimes He is after changing me instead.

Like a wineskin in the smoke, I feel stretched tight, brittle, aching, shriveling into dusty parts, withered more than vibrant.  I want to be out of the smoke, out of the heat, and away from the fire. I wonder. I doubt. I cry out. And His Word becomes my lifeline. It has to.

Jesus in John 17:17 prays for us that God would “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Sanctification, the process of being made more like Christ, can only be done by Him and will be based in the truth of Scripture alone. Forsaking sinful patterns and setting us apart in holiness is the transformative work of the Holy Spirit because of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t come from feel good mantras or easy quips, it often doesn’t present itself like the easiest path, and it certainly stretches and carves on us to rid us of our flesh. Ephesians 5:25-27 details the truth of how Christ loves us and gave himself for us that “he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” And so I run to His Word; his name becomes my strong tower.

The wringing of my hands becomes hands uplifted in worship. The slumping of my shoulders becomes the bowing of my head before Almighty God. The crying eyes of grief become the eyes fixed on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of faith. The stretching of my soul becomes the growth of new trust and faith. The fire may not be quenched. The heat may not diminish.

But His Word stands. And His truth will become my testimony.

 

Known

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles or the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? ~Galatians 4:9

The battle is whether I believe I live in a place of only the Gospel or do I live in a land of the Gospel and my contributions. As soon as I believe I must bring something into this or that I need to contribute, I have left the Gospel and walked back into the Law. It is bondage and a great deceit. Just like the foolish Galatians, I should wonder who has bewitched me.

The gospel is basic but profound. I need it to course through my life, flowing into every crevice and crack. I need the truth of what Jesus Christ exchanged on my behalf to be the foundation of every other interaction I ever have. He needs to color and influence every move. And yet honestly, I walk many days, many moments in my own strength of piety and goodness with ulterior motives or an agenda at play behind the charade.

Oh the wretchedness of the truth! Who saves from this? Is there really any hope? Because as I grow in sanctification, I only see more of me that needs Jesus. I only see more of my struggling, more of my deep-seated flesh that enslaves me. I am squeezed by the viselike trappings of self sufficiency and self adulation, and I desperately want freedom.

But the freedom has come! He knows me!

Paul clarifies for the Galatians in this passage who truly is responsible for the relationship – God knows us fully. In I Corinthians 8:3 we see that if anyone loves God, he is known by God and in I Corinthians 13:12 I shall know fully (speaking of when Christ returns) even as I have been fully known (already). The implication of intimacy and love is present with the verb known. There has never been a day with Jesus when He did not fully know my flesh, what trips me up, what tangles my heart and still love me! He extends his forgiveness over all my sin. The truth basic to the Gospel is that He pursued this wretched sinner, knowing fully all that will be me and loves me deeply right in the midst of it all.

And the freedom that comes with living in Christ Jesus means that the voices of condemnation and shame can be silenced. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free  in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). Paul in Galatians is exhorting a group of believers who are on the brink of believing Jesus isn’t enough, that they are part of the equation, and that what they do will affect their salvation. From the beginning of Galatians, he calls this a distortion and a bewitching. Make no mistake, I can still fall into this trap, and I think many others can too. I run to my contribution, I whisper to myself, “I’m not doing too badly today,” I measure my actions against others, but I am demoralized because the surety of my failure looms. I have believed the lie that I can be perfected in flesh.

Jesus sets me free, His Spirit dwells in me to lead and guide. My response is one of submission to the Holy Spirit, walking with Him. So I return to the truth of the Gospel and worship Him. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. ~Galatians 5:1