A response

Read: Numbers 34-36, Mark 10:32-52

Do you ever read a verse or two in the Bible and think, I’ve read this somewhere before… For me, today was one of those days. As I read through the account of blind Bartimaeus in Mark, I was reminded of another passage in scripture. And no, it wasn’t someone else’s account of the same man. It was in Hebrews and it feels like a response to the account in Mark. Let me show you what I found.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…

Hebrews 12:1a (NIV)

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd…

Mark 10:46a (NIV)

I understand that Hebrews is referring to all of those great men and women of the faith that have gone before us, but the crowd in Mark also served as witnesses. Some didn’t feel that Bartimaeus deserved Jesus’ attention, but others did.

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”

Mark 10:48-49 (NIV)

Without these people who encouraged him, Bartimaeus would never have experienced what happened next. The passage wouldn’t even be in the Gospels. How inconsequential would a man calling after Jesus be? I’m sure it happened all the time. But because this beggar was surrounded by those who had already seen or experienced Jesus, we have his story to tell.

Let us throw off everything that hinders and thes in that so easily entangles.

Hebrews 12:1b (NIV)

Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

Mark 10:50 (NIV)

Throw, throwing, both of these words come from the same root that mean to get away from. The implication is that it wasn’t a slothful trod away from hindrance, but a sudden casting away from that which may entangle a person. It is likely that Bartimaeus would not have been able to jump up had he remained wrapped up in his cloak. But because he didn’t want to lose his chance at speaking with Jesus, he tossed it aside and got away from it.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.

Hebrews 12:2a (NIV)

“Rabbi, I want to see.”

Mark 10:51b (NIV)

One translation goes so far to say, “That I may see thee.” Bartimaeus didn’t just want to see, he wanted to see Jesus.

…and let us run with perseverance the race marked for us.

Hebrews 12:1c (NIV)

Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Mark 10:52b (NIV)

Many Christians are under the impression that we must be trailblazers, crashing ahead, clearing a path that has yet to be trod. Never once did Jesus tell his followers to go somewhere he’d never been or do something he’d never done. Bartimaeus got up and followed Jesus. The writer in Hebrews tells us to run the race that’s been marked for us.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:2 (NIV)

Jesus already blazed the trail with his suffering. He marked it with his blood. It is through our faith—that begins and ends with Christ—that we see that road before us. And, like Bartimaeus, we must refuse to give in to those who would shut us up or discourage us from receiving that which we’ve been promised, cast away anything that might hold us back, jump up, declare what we want from Jesus, and follow him.

Let’s strip

You don’t have to be an Olympian to know that, if you’re running a race, any extra weight you carry is to your detriment. One might train with resistance, but when you step up to the starting line, you want to approach it with as little on you as possible. Every ounce can make a difference. When you have a crowd of people cheering you on, you want to do your very best. Keep your eyes on the prize and run for all you’re worth.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish.

Hebrews 12:1-2a (NLT)

The term strip here means more than just taking off some clothing. It means to pull or tear off, to cast off, to separate from something connected. It means to sever yourself from anything that might hold you back. The implication is that, once that hindrance has been taken off, you don’t look back. You don’t think twice about picking it up again. You take it off and you run away from it as fast as you can.

When was the last time you saw a runner say, “Oops, I dropped something!” and go back to pick something off the track before continuing the race? Once you start running, the finish line needs to become your only focus. No matter what other distractions may pop up, your eyes need to stay fixed on the prize—Jesus.

Our race may be a sprint or it may be a marathon. Either way, we cannot afford to carry extra weight, nor can we afford to be distracted. That great crowd of witnesses—other believers past and present—are there to cheer us on offering guidance and encouragement. You are not the first to run this race of faith, nor will you be the last. But if any of us are to finish, it will be because we’ve kept our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish.

So let’s strip off everything and anything that may slow us down. Let’s help each other and cheer each other on. We’re all in this race together.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 16, Hebrews 12

Finish the race

When I was a kid, I wasn’t much of an athlete. I’m still not an athlete. It’s not that I don’t enjoy exercise, but it’s never been one of those things that comes naturally to me. I had a hard time finishing a race. But it wasn’t so bad. So long as I participated, I still got a ribbon.

Many of us approach our faith the same way we might have approached an elementary school track meet. Show up. Good enough. Get a ribbon no matter what. We care not whether we finish or, if we do, what place we take. It doesn’t matter.

But it does matter. We are not the only ones affected by how we run our race. Hebrews 11 is often referred to as the Hall of Faith. It gives a brief list of many who have gone before us and run their race to the best of their ability. And they ran it with fewer benefits than we have now.

All of these people we have mentioned received God’s approval because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had far better things in mind for us that would also benefit them, for they can’t receive the prize at the end of the race until we finish the race.

Hebrews 11:39-40 (NLT)

The promise, the benefit that we have that our fathers and mothers in the faith did not have, is Jesus Christ. We have the fulfillment of the promise they never had. When Abraham laid Isaac on the altar and raise a sharpened blade above his head, he had no guarantee of what would come of his sacrifice. When Moses’ mother sent him down the river in a basket, she had no promise to hold on to. Through the entire chapter, the list goes on. One faithful person after another waiting for a promise they would never see in their lifetime.

But we have seen that promise. We partake of that promise with every breath we breathe. Even knowing that we have received what these great men and women never did, we’re content to settle for the participation ribbon.

Even if we don’t want to run the race for ourselves (but why wouldn’t we?), we should be running it for our Bible heroes. Because we’re all in this race together. Either we all win or we all lose. Jesus’ blood ties us all together as one family. One body. A foot cannot win a race without the leg and the leg cannot win without the hips. The hips cannot win without the torso, and so on. When Jesus comes back in all his glory, we will all cross the finish line together.

Because Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Rahab, Gideon, and all the others ran their race without the promise, we should run even harder because we have the promise and we’re not just running for ourselves. We’re running for the whole body. Finish the race.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 13-15, Hebrews 11:20-40

What is faith?

As Christians, we talk about faith. A lot. It is our belief system. It is the basis on which we live our lives. It is our calling. It is many things. We know that just a small amount—the measure of a mustard seed—can move a mountain. It can heal the sick and open blind eyes. Faith can raise the dead. But how many of us can accurately define faith?

Let’s go the the old standby in Hebrews:

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.

Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)

I once heard a pastor say that grace is God’s grip on us and faith is our grip on God. According to Noah Webster, her statement was more than just something to be typed on a meme and posted to social media.

The sense of the verb is to strain, to draw, and thus to bind or make fast. A rope or cable is that which makes fast.

Our faith, combined with God’s grace, brings us or draws us toward God and binds us to Him. Without faith, we have no grip whatsoever. Grace alone is not enough. It is not the binding agent, faith is.

So, you see, it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

Hebrews 11:6 (NLT)

FAITH: That firm belief of God’s testimony, and of the truth of the gospel, which influences the will, and leads to an entire reliance on Christ for salvation.

When we are called upon to use our faith, our belief should not be in the desired outcome, but in the One who can bring it to pass. We must remember that faith goes beyond a little prayer and a hope. Faith is what binds us to God. It draws us closer to Him. It brings us to obedience to His Word and puts in line with His will. It is our judgement that what God has stated is the truth. And, if He promised it, He will perform it.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 10-12, Hebrews 11:1-19

Uncommon and holy

You may have heard of a message of grace. Not just grace to cover sin when you first approach God in repentance, but a message of a grace that means you can live however you like and God will have to forgive you no matter what. Some may call it hyper-grace.

The conclusion of hyper-grace teaching is that we are not bound by Jesus’ teaching, even as we are not under the Law; that believers are not responsible for their sin; and that anyone who disagrees is a pharisaical legalist.

(Source)

To live a life under hyper-grace, means that, while one may accept salvation through Christ, they do not accept his teachings nor do they experience any real change in their life because of Jesus.

It’s a sad truth that there are many who profess Christianity live in what they believe to be grace, but it’s nothing more than self-condemnation. They devalue the sacrifice and blood of Jesus by expecting that God must forgive them no matter what—without ever having to come to Him in repentance.

Anyone who refused to obey the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Think how much more terrible the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God and have treated the blood of the covenant as if it were common and unholy. Such people have insulted and enraged the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to his people.

Hebrews 10:28-29 (NLT)

Imagine a kid who comes home after having found a mud pit. The child approaches his parents with remorse because he knows that he cannot go into the house in his current state. Since his parents hadn’t yet addressed the repercussions of playing in the mud, they clean him off, put him in new clothes and bring him into the house. The next time they send him out to play, he is reminded to stay away from the mud. But that’s exactly where he goes. Once more, Mom and Dad clean him off, give him clean clothes and bring him inside. But once this happens a few more times, Mom and Dad aren’t so forgiving. Yet the kid only sees that he’s going to get cleaned up no matter what. Soon, he feels no remorse over his disobedience and simply expects that Mom and Dad will clean him up and dress him so that he can go inside. As the parents, how long will you allow this behavior? I doubt it wouldn’t be more than two or three muddy returns before the child is punished. Yet we should expect that God simply smile, shake His head, and immediately forgive us of far worse over and over and over again?

Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we received a full knowledge of the truth, there is no other sacrifice that will cover these sins.

Hebrews 10:26 (NLT)

Do we slip and fall and get ourselves dirty? Yes, of course we do. And God is faithful to help us up and dust us off. But to keep on deliberately sinning is ignorant and insulting to all that He has done for us. God has called us out of the muck (Psalm 40:2). He has called us to live pure, clean lives. It is to our benefit as well as those around us.

Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.

Hebrews 10:23-24 (NLT)

Grace is not a Get Out of Jail Free card to be played whenever we get ourselves in trouble, but rather a gift that should be treated with awe and reverence. We should be doing all that we can to remain under the cover of grace and to pull others into its shelter.

Grace is not common and unholy, but rather uncommon and holy.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 7-9, Hebrews 10:24-39

To boldly go

We, as new covenant believers, don’t know how good we have it. For those who came before us, the old covenant pretty much had one purpose—to make God’s people painfully aware of their sin. Regular sacrifice had to be made to atone for a multitude of sin (both known and unknown). Only the high priest was able to approach God and then only after a long process of cleansing and sacrifice. After that, I imagine his approach would have still been somewhat reserved. We need have no such reservations.

Let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

Hebrews 10:22 (NLT)

We see in Hebrews 10:1 that the old system of the law of Moses was only a shadow of the things to come, not the reality of the good things Christ has done for us. The old covenant was merely preparation for the new. Where the old pointed out sin, the new obliterated it. Where the old stifled believers, the new frees us. The old made man feel dirty and sinful.

And what God wants is for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time.

Hebrews 10:10 (NLT)

Unlike the priests of the old covenant, we don’t have to go through a long, drawn out process of cleansing each time we want to approach God. Instead, we can go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him.

Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf made perfect and perpetual atonement for our sin. We are washed with pure water and covered by the blood. Knowing and trusting in this, we can boldly go to our heavenly Father.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 4-6, Hebrews 10:1-23

He learned

Jesus, while he walked the earth, being completely God, was also completely man. And, being a human, he was susceptible to all the things we humans are, too. He had to learn the same things we have to learn. Even obedience.

Look at a toddler. No one has to tell you that a small human being needs to learn to be obedient. Left to our own devices, we will make poor choices doing whatever we want whenever we want to do it. But, learning to be obedient to our parents and those in authority over us also teaches us how to make better decisions and makes us far more useful than a selfish toddler prone to tantrums.

So even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.

Hebrews 5:8 (NLT)

In an earlier verse in this same chapter of Hebrews, the writer talks about the high priest in the temple and how, because he suffered the same things that everyone else did, he could deal with the people and their sins with more grace. He endured the very same things. In order for Jesus to be able to extend grace to us, he had to experience what we experience. And he did. He was bombarded with the same temptations we face every day. The only difference is that he did not succumb to them.

In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him.

Hebrews 5:9 (NLT)

If Jesus, as a human being, was able to learn to be obedient—even unto death—so we too, can learn obedience. We have the Master to learn from. Jesus, who learned perfect obedience, is waiting as our High Priest both to forgive our sins and to teach us to avoid them altogether. The requirement on our part is to get close to Jesus. Spend time with him. Mature in our relationship with him. Be more like him.

If he learned, we can learn to.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 49-50, Hebrews 5

Faithful

FAITHFUL: Firm in adherence to the truth and to the duties of religion; fidelity, loyal, true to allegiance; constant in the performance of duties or services; constant.

Faithfulness is a rare trait these days. Contracts are broken when it no longer suits one or both parties. Vows are unmade when temptations become too strong. Promises are about as strong as thin ice over a puddle after the first frost.

Since fidelity is no longer a trait we strive toward, it makes our walk of faith even more difficult. No longer do we hear my word is my bond and then see such statements carried out. A handshake is nothing more than a greasy agreement, easily slipped out of. So how can we possibly remain faithful in our Christianity when we have nothing with which to base our fidelity on?

But if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ.

Hebrews 3:14 (NLT)

Just because faithfulness hold little value in society doesn’t give us an excuse to allow the world’s views to spill over into our relationship with God. The world may not be able to give us a solid example of faithfulness, but they don’t have to. God already has. Open your Bible. Those thin pages are full of accounts of weighty promises that have never been broken. At one time, we all as believers, put enough trust in Christ to rescue us from an eternity in hell and we must do all that we can to hold on to that first faith.

We have our example and we must strive to follow it to the very best of our ability—with a little help from our friends.

Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God.

Hebrews 3:12-13 (NLT)

Being faithful doesn’t have to be a lonely walk. It shouldn’t be. By instituting the fellowship of the saints, Jesus set in motion a plan to help us help each other. If we only hold each other accountable and allow ourselves to be held accountable, this whole business of remaining faithful becomes a lot easier.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 43-45, Hebrews 3

I know how you feel

I know how you feel.  These are probably some of the most difficult words to hear. Not because they’re meant to bring comfort, but because they don’t. Odds are that the person who’s saying them to you doesn’t really know how you feel. They’re just trying to sympathize. But because you know that they don’t know how you feel, the words become empty and even more hurtful.

But there is someone who truly does know exactly how you feel.

Since he himself has gone through suffering and temptation, he is able to help us when we are being tempted.

Hebrews 2:18 (NLT)

In order to be the perfect sacrifice for all of our sin, hurt, and pain, Jesus had to have been exposed to everything we are exposed to. The only difference it that, he didn’t deserve any of it. So that he could be the one to legitimately express that he knows exactly how you feel, he went through it all. For you.

While you may not find much comfort in a stranger or even a friend offering sympathy, find comfort in Jesus. He really does know how you feel and, because he knows, he also made a way for you to get through it. Whatever your struggle is—sin, addiction, pain, mourning, sickness—Jesus is the one who can bring you through when no one else can. He knows how you feel.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 40-42, Hebrews 2

Exactly

In all of our attempts to personify Jesus, I think we all tend to make a vital mistake—we imagine him as human.

Sure, Jesus was born on earth as a human, but that doesn’t make him human. To endow Christ with humanity would also be to endow him with the flaws that come with our nature. While he was human in the very base sense of the word, he was not really one of us.

The Son reflects God’s own glory, and everything about him represents God exactly. He sustains the universe by the mighty power of his command. After he died to cleanse us from the stain of our sin, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven.

Hebrews 1:3 (NLT)

Jesus, in order to become a sacrifice for us, had to put on human flesh. But he did not put on human nature. He was and is the exact representation of God—because he is God.

When God sent Christ to earth for the purpose of becoming a sacrifice for all of humanity, He did not send just a portion of Himself or a feathered carbon copy. He sent all of Himself. The term glory in this passage refers to the perfection that is God—the perfection that Jesus reflected while he walked the earth.

There was nothing partial in who Jesus was and is and there is nothing partial about the salvation that he purchased. Jesus represents God exactly and that means that he was exactly what was required as a complete and final sacrifice for our sin. And, when he finished his work, he sat down. At the right hand of the Father. Exactly where he belongs.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 38-39, Hebrews 1