Saturday, September 27, 2014

"Go on to maturity ..."

Day #274:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - September 28th

Scripture Reading:  Hebrews 5 - 7 …

All of life ... all of YOUR life, is lived one moment, one hour, one day at a time.  Some people set goals and work hard to reach them, while others try simply to exist from one day to the next.  Situations and circumstances change, and we try desperately to adapt when caught in the wind and waves of the storms of life.  We are thankful for calm seas and often use them to rest, to focus on self, to disengage our minds ... at the precise time when we should be strengthening ourselves and preparing for what may come next.  So we ride the roller coaster of life.  No one is really unscathed by these experiences, though some appear to be because they have more of the "stuff" of this world to mask their pain and to disguise the truth that they have nothing to hold on to.  If that sounds depressing, it IS!  But there's a better way ... a better way than pretending, than continuing to ride the waves and feeling like you're drowning!

"Go on to maturity!" (6:1).  Spiritual maturity is the only thing that can lead to a state of peace of heart and mind that continues no matter what goes on in your life or in the world around you.  The result of spiritual maturity is what the writer of Hebrews speaks of in chapter six, verses 18-20:  "God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.  We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure, it enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.  He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek."  HOPE!!  "Hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure!"  Don't you want that?  Don't you NEED that??  How do you get it?

You "go on to maturity!"  There is a sad state of affairs in the church today:  Baby Christians leading baby Christians.  The depth of teaching in most congregations across our country is at the level of children.  I used to give a "children's message" every week in a previous congregation I served.  But over a stretch of a few months several adults shared with me sincerely that they sometimes got more out of the children's message than the sermon.  When I mentioned that to the elders, a few of them nodded in agreement.  Some might say that I should have then examined my messages to make sure everyone could understand them ... I did!!  And what I became convinced of was that these people had been "spoon-fed" for far too long.  They needed to grow up!!  They needed to mature.  But the truth was:  they didn't want to!

The writer of Hebrews writes to the church in the first few decades following the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, but already he is writing to them of things that most people have no understanding of today, and he says to these early believers (who did not yet have the New Testament in their hands), " ... though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again.  You need milk, not solid food!  Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil" (5:12-14).  He then urges them to "go on to maturity" (6:1), and issues what is perhaps the most frightening warning in all of Scripture:

"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, IF THEY FALL AWAY, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace" (6:4-7).  How is this possible?  Can true believers "fall away"?  No!  There are many Scriptures that teach that those who are born again by the Spirit and who put their hope in Jesus for forgiveness and life can never be lost - because GOD Himself holds them in His hands.  Jesus said that not one of His sheep would be lost of all that God had given Him and Paul testifies that "He who began a good work ... will bring it to completion" (Philippians 1:6).  Then who are these the writer of Hebrews is talking about?

They are the same ones Jesus was speaking about in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:12-23).  These are people who have been hanging around the church, who have heard the Gospel, who have confessed Jesus with their mouths, but who have never been born again.  The goodness of God and the power of His Spirit were declared to them, but they had no internal desire to pursue righteousness.  They "repented," they looked like they wanted a better life, but their HEARTS just weren't in it for the long haul.  They had no anchor, so they were blown about by every wind of teaching and ultimately drifted away with the current of the culture and the people around them.  And because they had confessed Jesus and taken His Name upon them, their actions brought disgrace to Him.  Their judgment will be just and more severe than those who never heard of Christ.

These words COULD shake the sturdiest of believers, but we read further, "Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case - things that accompany salvation. ... We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised" (6:9, 12).  Maturing in your faith in Christ requires effort; it requires knowing that God has given you in His Word instruction that you need.  You need to know God, you need to know who He is and how He works, you need to know what He has done in the past and how He is working today and what He has promised to do in the future - and to see YOUR part in it ... OR you will find that words come cheap - your words.  This does not mean that we are not saved by grace; on the contrary, it proves we are saved by grace because it is not by some prayer prayed a long time ago that you are saved.  The faith that saves is the faith that knows this life is a marathon and it holds onto the promise of God through constant learning and growing.

Case in point:  the teaching about Melchizedek.  Melchizedek is first mentioned in three verses in Genesis 14, verses 18-20, where Abraham returns from defeating several kings and meets this King of Jerusalem, Melchizedek.  No one knows who he was or where he came from, but Abraham, the chosen father of God's chosen people, bowed before him and gave him ten per cent of everything he had.  It is said that he was a priest of the Most High God.  The writer of Hebrews describes him as "without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever" (7:3).  Some believe that Melchizedek WAS the pre-incarnate (before flesh) Son of God.    Unlike Aaron and the Levites, THIS priest was also a king and he was not chosen by men, but appointed by God.

What does this have to do with the early believers ... or you and me?  The very purpose of the entire Old Testament was to show mankind that we needed a Savior, one who was at the same time a prophet, a priest and a king.  No man has ever fit that description - except ONE!  This is now the point of the writer of Hebrews:  to point to Jesus Christ as the perfect match!!  "If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood ..., why was there still need for another priest to come - one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?" (7:11).  We will read more about this in the coming chapters.  The Law of the Old Testament and the priests and the tabernacle and the temple, the sacrifices and ceremonies ... NONE of them could bring spiritual life to those who were spiritually dead.  Something more was needed!  SomeONE more was needed!!

JESUS was needed!!!  In verses now applied to Jesus, David wrote in Psalm 110:  "The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind:  'You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek'" (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 7:17,21).  David goes on to say in Psalm 110:5-6: "The Lord is at your right hand; He will crush kings on the day of His wrath.  He will judge the nations ..."  This could be none other than Jesus.  "Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood.  Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them" (7:24-25).  THERE is our ANCHOR!!!  Read on ...

"Such a high priest meets our need - one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.  Unlike the other high priests, He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people.  He sacrificed for their sins once for all when He offered Himself !" (7:26-27).  Incredibly, the things the writer of Hebrews tells us we need to move past in our understanding includes "repentance ... instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment" (6:1-2).  These he considers "milk!"  So what does he consider solid food??  "Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil" (5:13-14).

Solid food is an understanding of God's Word that convicts the heart and changes the mind toward sin and moves the true believer to "seek FIRST the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33).  Where there is no desire to pursue righteousness there is a spiritual infant at best ... and a lost soul at worst.  Those who believe in Jesus Christ, who have been born again by His Spirit, understand that we are saved by GRACE - 100%!  There is nothing we can do to make ourselves righteous in God's sight.  Yet, we believe that the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ has been "credited to us as righteousness" so that we are holy and perfect in God's sight, not on the basis of what we have done, but on the basis of what Jesus has done in our place.

Those who are mature and who are seeking to be mature know that we need a constant diet of spiritual food from God's Word.  We need to be constantly reminded of who God is, who Jesus is, who we are and how the Spirit is at work within us.  We need God's Word and we need the Church, the body of Christ, our brothers and sisters, to walk alongside of us and to hold us accountable.  The alternative is riding the waves and crashing at the bottom of the ocean.  Ask God today to give you the desire to "go on to maturity."  It is a place of hope and security, where your soul is firmly anchored in the promise of God to bring to completion that which He has begun in you.  None of us have arrived yet, but in the words of the Apostle Paul, we "press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me (us) heavenward in Christ Jesus.  All of us who are mature should take such a view of things" (Philippians 3:14-15).

"Press on!"  my brothers and sisters ... "Press on!"  "Go on to maturity!"  Let nothing shake you, for God is at work in you even as you read these words.  Draw near to Him and rejoice that in Jesus you have a great High Priest who entered into the Most Holy Place on your behalf and who even now intercedes for you before the Father.  Trust in Him and know that His Spirit lives within you to accomplish His purpose for all eternity.  And trusting in Him daily, moment by moment, "go on to maturity!"

"O Lord, my God, I confess that in moments of weakness I may still take my eyes off of Jesus and begin to sink, looking at the waves and listening to the wind.  Thank You, Father, for Your constant watchful care of this sheep of Yours and thank You for my great High Priest, Your Son, Jesus Christ!  My hope is secure in Your promise that through faith in Him I have His perfect righteousness credited to me.  Help me now to pursue righteousness, that my life may declare Your glory and Your grace and exalt the name of Jesus Christ, my Savior and my Lord.  Help me to go on to maturity, for Your glory!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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