This month we continue our readings in the letter to the Hebrews. In contrast to the long readings when we were going through Jeremiah, this month we are looking in close detail at the letter, sometimes reading only a single verse or two verses. This enables us to dig down deeper into the text.
Friday 1st September
In chapters 9 and the first part of chapter 10 we have learned that Jesus Christ was like the High Priest of the Old Testament, offering a sacrifice for sin. There were, however, several differences: first, Jesus was both the priest and the sacrifice; second, Jesus did not offer his sacrifice in the temple but on the Cross; and third, his sacrifice was not repeatedly annually it was a once for all event. In the verses before us today, we are told that, as a result of the work of our Great High Priest, ‘a new and living way’ has been opened up for us into the most holy place (the presence of God). This is a direct result of the blood of Jesus, which he offered as our high priest. In other words, admission to God’s presence is possible because sin has been dealt with by Christ. There is now no barrier to our coming to God. The only condition is that we come through Jesus. The way to the Father is through the Son who offered himself up as a sacrifice.
As Children’s Church has ended and the Sunday School begins again, we pray for the children, asking that God will enable them to learn more about you and so to grow spiritually. We pray too for their teachers, asking that they would find fulfilment in their work.
Saturday 2nd September
These verses indicate the manner in which we should approach into God’s presence, now that Christ has opened the door for us through his death on the Cross. In verse 22, we read, ‘let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith’. We approach God with ‘sincerity’. That is to say, we come in faith and trust, rejoicing that God wants us to come. We should also come with ‘full assurance’. Do we have such assurance? Do we believe that God loves us, that Christ died for us and that the Holy Spirit lives within us? Some people struggle with assurance, others lack assurance. The Westminster Confession of Faith (the subordinate standard of our Church) speaks of this problem. It says that assurance is desirable but recognises that some true Christians lack assurance. This view is well-expressed by Thomas Boston (1676-1732). He wrote that assurance ‘is not necessary to the being of a Christian. One may have true faith and yet want full assurance, Is. 1:10. One may go to heaven in a mist, not knowing whither he is going… Our salvation depends on our state, not our knowledge of it’. Boston also noted that some believers only come to full assurance when they see the Holy Spirit producing fruit (sanctification) in their lives. We should pray for full assurance but not be anxious if we lack it.
Pray for Jim Fraser, our organist and for those who assist him (Muriel McCulloch and Myra Jerrit). Pray too for the Music Group, as they assist in leading our worship tomorrow.
Sunday 3rd September
These verses teach us that we have a responsibility to ‘spur one another on’ in the Christian life. We should be encouraging and helping one another as we grow together in our faith and commitment. In particular, we should be encouraging and helping one another in the matter of ‘love and good deeds’. The point here is that, as a church, we are a community of people working towards a common purpose and so we should help one another to achieve our goals. One specific point is mentioned, namely, that we should not ‘give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing’. Those times each week when we gather together as the church should be precious to us. When we meet on Sundays, on Wednesdays and on other occasions, we should find these times a real blessing and encouragement. Those who neglect these times of worship, fellowship and prayer are making a bad mistake. They are damaging their own spiritual growth and they are weakening the fellowship of believers. Why is this so important? The writer of this letter highlights the importance of gathering together, ‘all the more as you see the Day approaching’. Our sojourn on this earth is temporary and one day it will come to an end. We should be supporting one another in the light of that day.
Pray for the Minister as he takes the morning service and the Raigmore service today and for Alex Stephen as he takes the evening service.
Monday 4th September
Some people take these verses to mean that it is possible to fall from grace, to lose our salvation. I do not accept this interpretation. Let us look at the two problems raised by these verses. First problem: the writer says that if we go on sinning ‘no sacrifice for sins is left’. The picture here is not of a Christian who rejects the faith but of a person who once professed Christianity and no longer does so. The writer has shown that the Levitical sacrifices are obsolete and that the only sacrifice for sins is that of Christ. What he is saying here is that, if a person chooses to reject Christianity, then there is no other sacrifice for sins available. I believe that the writer has in mind either a nominal Christian or a Jew who made a profession but then returns to the old ways. Second Problem: If this is not referring to a converted person who then falls from grace why is the word ‘sanctified’ used in reference to the person? Surely only a Christian can be sanctified? The answer to this is that ‘sanctified’ is being used in its external sense to refer to all those who were part of the visible Church. In Scripture, the word ‘sanctified’ in not confined to believers. For example, in 1 Corinthians 7:12-14, both the unbelieving husband and the child are ‘sanctified’ or ‘holy’ although neither of them are converted. They are, however, regarded as part of the visible church.
Pray for the Trustees of Covenant Fellowship Scotland as they meet tomorrow to consider the various ways in which we can work for the reformation and renewal of the life of the Church of Scotland.
Tuesday 5th September
These verses present a challenge to the casual approach to God which is a mark of so many in our nation. The truth is that there is no ‘fear of God’ in the hearts of so many. This is largely the result of the old Liberal Theology which put all its emphasis on the love of God and said virtually nothing about sin, the holiness of God and divine judgement. Even today, the preaching on these issues is caricatured as Calvinistic ‘fire and brimstone’ preaching. Once something has been laughed at, it can be easily dismissed. This passage puts the lie to that approach. There are three profound truths laid out here. First, God says, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay’. Second, we are told that, ‘The Lord will judge his people’. Finally, we have those words which should challenge even the most casual sinner: ‘It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’. Our God does show love and mercy but he is also ‘a consuming fire’ (Hebrews 12:29). We must challenge unbelievers as to the dangerous nature of their condition and remind them of their future appearance before a holy God.
Pray for our Girls’ Brigade as they begin a new session this evening. Pray for Susan Mackenzie as she begins her last year as captain and pray for Jennifer Morrison and Sheena Fraser as they prepare to assume the leadership at the end of this session.
Wednesday 6th September
The Hebrews reading this letter are reminded here of the early days after they became Christians, when they faced great difficulties. They had suffered, they had been insulted, they were persecuted and they took their stand alongside others who were also suffering for their faith in Jesus. Those were hard days. We are even told that they, ‘joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property’, because they knew that they ‘had better and lasting possessions’. How many of us would view things in this way and be prepared to suffer as much as they did? The writer to the Hebrews, however, is not simply looking back to those difficult times, he is using that memory as an incentive to spur them on to persevere in the faith. He urges them not to throw away their confidence but to persevere to the end. We too are called to persevere to the end. We may not endure what these Christians endured but we still face many trials and difficulties. We must keep the faith and go on with Christ.
Pray for the Minister as he attends a meeting of the Strategy Group of the Council of Assembly in Edinburgh today. This group is preparing a report for the General Assembly in May concerning the priorities of the Church going forward.
Thursday 7th September
The theme of Hebrews 11 is faith. In fact, this chapter of Scripture has often been called the ‘Heroes of Faith’ chapter. In Hebrews 10:38 we have a quotation from Habakkuk 2:3-4: ‘the righteous shall live by faith’. In chapter 11, the writer takes up this theme of faith and expounds it. In verse 1 he begins with a definition: ‘Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see’. Notice, faith is not a leap in the dark; it is an assurance of the reality of things we can’t see with our eyes. The second verse is also very important. ‘This is what the ancients were commended for’. In other words, they were commended for their faith. This chapter, more than any other, proves that the Old Testament saints were saved by faith and not by works. There is a common mistake which says that the Old Testament believers were saved by works, whereas the New Testament believers are saved by faith. This chapter shows that all believers are saved by faith. In verse 3 we are reminded that, even our conviction that God is Creator, is a matter of faith.
The church is blessed with many committed and willing volunteers, who do many things week by week, which are unseen but necessary. Pray that they find blessing in the work they do.
Friday 8th September
Today we have read just one verse, a verse which speaks of the faith of Abel. This takes us back to the first murder in the Bible, the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. We find this story in Genesis 4:1-10. We are told that, by faith, Abel offered a better sacrifice to God than did his brother Abel. When we read the Genesis story it is not immediately clear why God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but not that of his brother Cain. Here we are given the reason, Abel offered his sacrifice in faith. Did Cain offer his sacrifice grudgingly, or as a duty or requirement? Either way, it was Abel who was commended by God as a righteous man. Finally, we are told that he still speaks, even although he is dead. This seems to mean that his story in Scripture is a testimony to his faith which still speaks to people today.
Pray for the Open Doors team today. Pray for Bob Matheson as he leads the team and ask that God will bring in many people. Pray for those who speak to people at the tables, that they might be given wisdom, knowing what to say.
Saturday 9th September
These verses speak of the faith of Enoch. His story can be found in Genesis 5:21-24. The striking point is that he did not die but was taken up by God. Here in Hebrews, we learn that he was taken to heaven in this way because of his faith by which he pleased God. Now notice that. It does not mean that he had faith and that he pleased God. It means that he pleased God because of his faith. Here was a man who lived so close to God that he stood out from all other men and when the time came for him to go to heaven, God just took him without any illness or death. This was because he had faith, by which he was able to please God. Verse 6 underlines this point: ‘And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.’ This means that only the believer who is born again of the Spirit of God can please God, because the believer who is born again of the Spirit of God is the only one who has faith. The very best actions of an unbeliever do not please God because they do not spring from faith. Only actions which spring directly from faith are pleasing to him.
Pray for the Minister as he chairs his first meeting of Presbytery as the Moderator for the coming year. Pray for the discussions today about the Presbytery Plan, with all its implications for parishes, buildings and congregations. Pray for wisdom and discernment.
Sunday 10th September
This verse speaks of the faith of Noah. His story is found in Genesis chapters 6-9. We are told in Genesis 6 that God decided to bring judgement on humanity because of sin. The exception was Noah, who had found favour in the eyes of God. Genesis 6:9 says that, ‘Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God’. Today’s passage emphasises Noah’s faith. It was by faith that he built an Ark, when God told him to do so. One can only imagine the ridicule and abuse that he suffered, building an Ark and telling people that there was going to be a flood. He did this, ‘in holy fear’, believing that what God had said to him would come to pass. Finally, we’re told that by faith he ‘became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith’. In other words, he discovered that the only way of salvation was by faith.
Pray for all the services today: the morning and evening services, the Gaelic service and the service at Raigmore.
Monday 11th September
These verses speak to us of the faith of Abraham. His story begins in Genesis 12, when God called him to set out on a journey, promising that he would be the father of a new nation, a nation that would love and serve God. It must have taken great faith to set out on that journey to a ‘Promised Land’, leaving behind him everything he had known before. Yet he did it, because of his trust in God. He lived in a strange land, in tents because he was ‘looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God’. Then his faith was tested again. God had promised that Sarah would have a son but she was past child-bearing age. Abraham, after some mistakes, was carried through by his faith and saw God’s promise fulfilled. He is a great example to us of a man who put his faith in God even when what God required of him was difficult, or seemingly impossible.
Pray for the outreach work in Raigmore, for the use of the Shack, for the Sunday services, for the senior citizens’ lunches and for the work done by a large team of people who are committed to the work in that part of the parish.
Tuesday 12th September
Those described in this chapter did not receive the things promised, they only ‘saw them and welcomed them from a distance’. Their experience was only a shadow of what was to come. They trusted that God would provide all their needs and an eternal home but they did not see God’s plan come to pass. They were looking forward in faith. This is one of the differences between the saints of God in the Old Testament and those who have been born after Christ. Those before Christ looked forward in anticipation of the day when God would send messiah, when God would bring all things to a conclusion but they did not see its working out. This required more faith perhaps than is required by those of us who live after Christ and have seen what he accomplished on our behalf. They looked forward in faith and by that faith they were justified before God.
Pray for the Highland Theological College and for the new intake of students. Pray that it will be a good year for the College in every way. Pray for the staff as they teach and the students as they learn. Pray too for the new campus of HTC, to be known as ‘HTC Paisley’ which is already attracting good numbers of students.
Wednesday 13th September
We are back to the faith of Abraham in these verses. Previously, we saw his faith in leaving his home to set out on a journey, not knowing where God as taking him; and also his faith in believing that God could fulfil his promise to give him a son and heir. Now we find him commended for his faith in being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac. This story comes from Genesis 22. The passage begins by telling us that God ‘tested’ Abraham. Abraham was told to take his son up a mountain and to sacrifice him. This must have been like a dagger in his heart. Here was the son for whom he had waited so long, following the promise of God, now he was to kill him! The measure of Abraham’s faith was that, since this is what God commanded, he was prepared to do it. Here in Hebrews 11:19 we’re told that, ‘Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death’. Happily, at the very last moment, having tested his faith, God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son.
The Prayer Meetings are a very important part of the life of the congregation. Pray that God would increase the numbers of those who meet together and pray together.
Thursday 14th September
Here we have three more saints of God: Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. This is continuation of Abraham’s family line and is intended to demonstrate that the faith of Abraham was carried forward in his son, grandson and great-grandson. It is always a blessing when faith continues through the generations but it can never be taken for granted. We baptise our children since they are the children of believers and are part of the covenant people of God. There comes a time, however, when the faith in which they have been reared must become their own. We must pray that our children and grandchildren will confess Christ as their Saviour and grow in in the faith, as did Abraham’s family. Even if they drift away, we must continue to pray for them.
Pray for the Senior Citizens’ lunch at Raigmore today, asking that more would come, both to enjoy the meal and to hear the Gospel.
Friday 15th September
There are two particularly important things we are told here. First, Moses’ parents had faith and sensed that their son had a destiny. We read in verse 23: ‘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’. We might be amazed by their faith, given the death notice served on all the Hebrew boys, although perhaps it should not surprise us because faith is often seen at its best when events are at their worst. The passage goes on to give a long description of Moses’ faith. This is a remarkable story of a man of remarkable faith. With such faith, God was able to use him to do great things. As a direct result of his faith, Moses played a part in the unfolding story of God’s salvation. We ourselves each have a part to play in God’s plan of salvation. When the drama is ended and played back, will we be seen to have lived by faith?
Our hope is that all those who do not yet know Jesus, may come to acknowledge him as Lord and Saviour. Pray particularly for those people you know who have not yet come to faith in Christ and have not experienced his salvation.
Saturday 16th September
Having given space to describe the faith of some of the greatest saints of God in the Old Testament, including Abraham, Isaac and Moses, the writer now comes to his final gallery of great men and women of God, who had faith. There were so many heroes of faith that he could only mention a few, while highlighting the great things God enabled them to do through their faith. In these verses we have a description of those whose faith led them to do great things for God and which brought them significant respect in the Israelite community. For example, David and Samuel. These men of God were highly regarded and used mightily by God. The story of Samuel, the last and greatest of the Judges and a man much used by God, is very inspiring. He led the people through the transition from rule by judges appointed by God to the appointing of the first two kings, Saul then David. He was an important man of faith who kept the nation on God’s path. David was a warrior king, the greatest of all the kings, who went through many trials and also fell into sin but came through it all to serve God.
May our generation seek the God of heaven and earth over their lives, may they know His great power and might. May repentance ring throughout the streets of Inverness, and people know His saving grace.
Sunday 17th September
This passage of Scripture tells us that, as well as those like Samuel and David who did great things for God and received recognition in their lifetimes, there were others whose faith led them into many tribulations. There were those who suffered, those who were tortured and those who were killed. Faith sometimes involved God’s people taking a stand for Christ which led to their deaths. Faith in God does not guarantee that life will be trouble-free. Indeed, it might mean that we have more trouble than other people, as many Christians all over the world have discovered through the years. We might think about the story of Jim Elliot (husband of the Christian writer Elizabeth Elliot). He and four other missionaries were murdered in the Ecuador jungle – a story of incredible faith and trust. These men believed with all their hearts that God was in control and were prepared to give their lives in his service. The widows who were left did not see the deaths of their husbands as a tragic failure on the part of a God, rather they believed that it was the will of God, even although they could not understand. To have faith at such a time and under such circumstances can only be a miracle of grace.
Pray for the morning and evening services today and for the Raigmore service.
Monday 18th September
Throughout this chapter we have a list of the people of God and a description of their faith. Now, as the writer comes to the end of the chapter, he makes a final very important point. These men and women of God did not receive the things promised, they only had a shadow of what was to come. This is the same message we found when looking at verses 13-16. These verses today teach us that the believers in the Old Testament lived their lives in faith, looking forward to the day when God would redeem his people. We today look back to Calvary when God did redeem his people. All believers, whether looking forward or looking back, were saved together through the Cross. The men and women of faith described in this chapter looked forward in faith to a hope which God had planted in their hearts. If we look back to verse 16, we see this idea of a future hope. We’re told that these great men and women of faith, ‘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.’ For the writer to the Hebrews, the earthly things are only shadows of heavenly things. We are strangers and sojourners here awaiting our call home to that eternal city, prepared by God.
We have been reading about the great Hebrew saints of God in the Old Testament, so let us pray today for Christian Witness to Israel (CWI), as they reach out to Jewish people with the message about their messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Tuesday 19th September
The imagery used in 12:1-2 is the imagery of the Olympic games. The Old Testament saints are the ‘great cloud of witnesses.’ They are pictured as spectators and we are the runners. They are cheering us on, as it were. With that in mind, we can summarise the connection between chapters 11 and 12 in this way: Having heard of all these men and women of faith, let us not give up when things are hard, but let us by faith, win the victories which they won. Then we are introduced to another theme, in verses 2-3. Not only are these godly spectators cheering us on, however, but Christ himself is ahead of us. We are to fix our eyes on Christ and be encouraged by the saints, and win the race. What does the writer mean by this imagery? What is the race in which we are running? The answer is also in verse 1: ‘let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…’ What the writer is referring to then is life itself and the battle against all that is sinful and wicked. This is a lifelong struggle.
Let us pray today for the Church of Scotland, that the truth of God’s Word will be brought to bear upon every decision and action of the church, both locally and nationally. Pray for a revival through the Spirit of God that the church might be reformed and restored.
Wednesday 20th September
In these verses, the writer goes on to speak of God’s discipline. It is clear, especially in verse 7, that the Hebrews were suffering hardship for the sake of the Gospel and the writer is concerned to teach them that it is all to the good. Just as a human father disciplines his children, so God disciplines us. It is never a pleasant thing when it is administered but afterwards we can look back and be thankful because it makes us better people. Again, this is concerned with sanctification. In verse 10 we read this: ‘God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness…’ The end product of hard times and hard suffering because of the Gospel, is holiness. That is why Christians who have suffered are often so much more Christ-like, more sanctified. Indeed, verse 11 tells us that God’s discipline, ‘produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it’. If we take Hebrews 11 together with what we have here in Hebrews 12, we learn that growth in the Christian life is due to two things: faith and obedience. We must trust in God and obey him in all difficulties and hardship.
Pray for those in our families and in our church who need healing and also for those who are hurting. Remember too those who are anxious or afraid, worried about the future.
Thursday 21st September
In verses 14-29, the writer underlines the point he made earlier by exhorting his readers to holy living, reminding them that they are the people of the New Covenant. In verse 25 he concludes that if the people of the Old Covenant suffered when they rebelled against God and refused to listen to his Word, so our punishment will be that much greater because so much more has been revealed to us. The key verse in this last section of the passage, and indeed the verse which sums up the whole chapter, is verse 14: ‘Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy: without holiness no-one will see the Lord.’ Notice two things here. First, we are to ‘make every effort’ to be holy, to strive to be holy. Second, if we are not holy we will not see God. Notice, obedience to God is part of what is required to become holy. We might say that this is the ‘other’ side of sanctification. Sanctification is a work of God. It is not something we do, it is something he does but there is this other emphasis in Scripture: God’s command that we should become holy. It is quite clear from Scripture that we have a summons to obey. As we have seen in this very chapter, we are to ‘throw off the sin that so easily entangles’ and we are ‘to make every effort to be holy’. In other words, we have to do something, we have to ‘work out our own salvation with fear and trembling’. James Philip put it like this: ‘The focal point where the divine work and the human meet is obedience’.
Thank God for the continued work of the Multimedia Team. They do a great job every week and they bring benefit to the church, not least through the powerpoint presentations, the sound and the recordings, as well as preparing CDs for those who cannot come to church. Pray that God will continue to bless the work and the team.
Friday 22nd September
The writer begins by laying down a general principle in verse 1: ‘Keep on loving each other as brothers.’ The ‘keep on’ suggests that, in this area at least, these Hebrew Christians were on the right track. They were already loving one another but they must go on doing this. The writer then demonstrates three practical ways in which this might be accomplished. The first of these is found in verse 2: ‘Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it’. This is probably a reference to Genesis 18-19. This emphasises the gift and grace of hospitality. The second practical way of demonstrating love is found in verse 3. The Hebrews are urged to remember those in prison. It seems likely that what the writer had in mind were the Christian people who had been imprisoned for their faith. They are also to remember those who are ill-treated. The third point about love comes in verse 4 and is concerned with marriage and its sanctity. The writer speaks very clearly: ‘Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral’. This verse is very clear and very definite. Many of our modern ‘experts’ would do well to read this. Love, then, is a very practical thing and we are to show brotherly love to one another in these very down to earth ways.
As we look to reach out to the community, pray for the outreach taking place tomorrow, centred on the church building. Pray that many will come in, to see and to hear everything that is happening. Pray that the organisation all comes together and that the evil one puts up no barriers to the hearing of the Gospel.
Saturday 23rd September
We have a command in verse 5: ‘Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have’. We are to be content with what we have. The writer quotes God’s words to Joshua as he took up his mantle of leadership, ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.’ In other words, we don’t have to be greedy because God will look after us. This teaching about contentment really goes back as far as the tenth commandment, in Exodus 20:17: ‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.’ We sometimes imagine that all the commandments are concerned with visible actions. But here is a commandment that goes beneath public conduct and deals, not with a wicked act, but with a wicked desire. The history of this sin begins at the very creation of men and women. In Genesis 3:6 we learn that Eve ‘saw… she desired… she ate….’ Only three steps from innocence to sin. Adam and Eve were not satisfied with all that God had given them, but coveted more. All through history, from then until now, men and women have lacked contentment. How many of us could truly say that we have never looked at someone else’s house, car, salary or clothes and coveted them for ourselves? Take time today to read Paul’s words on this matter in Philippians 4:10-13.
Continue to pray today for the outreach to our city. Pray for John Bruce and the leadership group and pray that many East Church people will volunteer to be involved. Pray for conversions.
Sunday 24th September
One of the other concerns in this chapter is obedience to the leaders of the church. We see this in verse 7: ‘Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith’. There is to be respect for those who lead the church. We can compare this with 1 Timothy 5:17-20, where Paul speaks about the way elders are to be treated. Christians are to submit to the authority of the leaders of the church. We see this also in verse 17 of our chapter: ‘Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you’. We might say that there is no place for free-lance Christians, who do not submit to the authority of the elders of a local congregation. Those who see themselves to be independent of the leadership of the church are acting contrary to Scripture. That is why every Christian should be part of a local congregation of God’s people. All those in a congregation are under the authority and discipline of the elders and must submit to that. This is part of the significance of what we call ‘membership.’
Pray for the services today. The Scottish Northern Convention begins tonight in Dingwall and the committee has arranged for one of the speakers, the Rev Ian Hamilton, to preach at our morning service. Pray too for the Convention Meeting at 8pm this evening in Dingwall.
Monday 25th September
The writer of this letter to the Hebrews is cramming in many different themes, as he comes near to the end of the letter and in verse 8 he turns to speak of Christ, with this marvellous statement that, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever’. There are various ways we can express the meaning of this. First, Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever because he is the unchangeable and eternal Son of God. He has always existed in the being of God, with the Father and the Holy Spirit and his inner nature and person have not changed and will not change. Second Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever in terms of his action. He is constant and never-changing, which means that he is trustworthy and reliable. He does not act one way today and a different way tomorrow. Also, Jesus is faithful to his people and he keeps his promises. In short, he is utterly dependable and we can trust him completely.
Pray for the leadership of the church, particularly the elders and deacons. Grant that God would enable them to lead wisely and well. Pray for the elders as they share in the pastoral oversight of the congregation and for the deacons as they care for the financial, fabric and other practical work of the congregation.
Tuesday 26th September
Here in verse 9 of the chapter, the writer to the Hebrews says, ‘Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings’. In other words, it was important for these Hebrew Christians and, indeed, for all Christians, to be solidly rooted in sound biblical teaching. It is all too easy for Christians to be led astray by teaching which sounds fine but which, at its heart, is deeply damaging to the Christian and to the church. The second part of verse 9 gives some indication of the particular problem being addressed when it talks about eating ceremonial foods, ‘which are of no value to those who eat them’. From this we might gather that the false teaching concerned eating ceremonial foods. This false teaching about eating ceremonial foods as a way of spiritual growth is tackled head on here in our passage. We are told in verse 9 that, ‘It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them’. The way to spiritual growth is through grace not through ceremonies, or ritual meals or anything like that. There is, of course, a broader point at issue here. The underlying point is that we must avoid all kinds of strange teaching. As Christians we must hold on to sound teaching.
Pray for the Minister today as he travels to Edinburgh for another meeting of the Strategy Group of the Council of Assembly. Pray that God will lead the group to prepare a useful and challenging report for the General Assembly.
Wednesday 27th September
In verses 10-12 of our chapter, there is a contrast between the Jewish sacrifices and the sacrifice of Jesus. Throughout this letter, we have seen the contrast drawn between the Jewish religion and the way of Christ. In particular, in chapters 9 and 10, we saw the contrast between the work of the High Priest in the Old Covenant and the work of Christ who has brought into being a new covenant. We see that the work of the High Priest in offering animal sacrifices was a temporary solution to the problem of human sin, pointing forward to the day when messiah would come and offer one final sacrifice, bringing to an end all the sacrifices of the old covenant. We return to that contrast in these verses. The old sacrifices are no longer necessary. How then can we be cleansed from sin? As we read here, it is the blood of Christ which cleanses us from all sin and makes us holy before God. This was something that the old covenant sacrifices could never do. They merely covered over the sin, until Christ came to take it away. This is the heart of the Gospel. Through the grace of God and by the sacrifice of his Son on the Cross, we can be forgiven and our sins washed away.
Remember all who are sick, at home or in hospital. Pray especially for the many people in our congregation who have suffered or are suffering from cancer and who have either just completed treatment or are in the midst of such treatment.
Thursday 28th September
We are to obey our spiritual leaders. We touched on this when considering verse 7 but we return to it again here where it is stated very bluntly: ‘Obey your leaders and submit to their authority’. In other words, the elders of the church are worthy of respect and obedience. The elders themselves, of course, are answerable to God for their leadership. As the passage goes on to say, they are ‘men who must give an account’. That is to say, they are answerable to God for the leadership that they exercise. Our calling, however, is to obedience. We are not to sit over the elders of the church as judges but rather to submit to them, recognise their authority and obey them. Obedience does not come easily to human beings, especially in a society where every kind of authority is derided and rejected and where people do what is right in their own eyes. Yet for the Christian, this is unacceptable. Obedience is required and submission to authority is required.
Pray for Fraser and Dawn Jackson as they try to finalise the arrangements for their new work in South Africa. Pray that the practical matters of health checks, visas and so on work out according to God’s good plan for their lives.
Friday 29th September
Verses 18-19 tell us that, not only should we obey our leaders, we should also pray for them. Do we pray for the elders and deacons of the church? Do we pray for ministers and missionaries? Do we hold up before God those who are advancing the Gospel in various ways and through various means? Prayer is a means God has given us by which we can participate in the advancement of his kingdom. We must not neglect it. One of the marks of a living church is its life of prayer. Already in the New Testament we see individual and corporate prayer, given as a model for ourselves. A friend spoke to me recently about the ‘life of prayer’, which implies much more than a few prayers in the morning or at bedtime. It speaks rather of a life in which prayer, deep prayer, is at the centre. It means that moment by moment through the day we ‘practice the presence of God’ and bring everything before him. It means that we ask the Holy Spirit to help us in prayer to open up our lives before God, so that we can grow spiritually.
Pray for the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship as they gear up for the coming college and university sessions about to begin. Pray for the outreach to new students and pray for the committees of the various Christian Unions, that they might be used by God to evangelise and present a faithful witness on campus.
Saturday 30th September
As we come to the end of these studies, we reflect briefly upon verses 20-21: ‘May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen’. Notice the richness of these verses. The God we worship is the God who raised Christ from the dead. There is no other God. This God has made an ‘eternal covenant’ with us in and through Jesus Christ who shed his blood for us. He is the great ‘shepherd of the sheep’ who cares for us, body and soul, providing all that we need and protecting us from harm and danger. He equips us ‘with everything good’ and by his Holy Spirit he works in us ‘what is pleasing to him’. What a God this is!! May God help us to learn the great truths found in this letter and so understand more adequately the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Pray for Sheila Murray, doing such an excellent job in the office. Thank God for her gifts and talents and pray that God will grant her real blessing in her work.