Monday, 31 January 2011

Hebrews 13:1-17 Living looking for the City

I was really struck in preparing for yesterday just how good God is and how powerfully his word speaks to us his people throughout the centuries. It is timely, living, pertinent, challenging, encouraging, uplifting and precious.

Here are the notes from my rather lame attempt at teaching and applying God's word.

What is worship? How do you and I this morning worship God? How do we do it tomorrow? Authentic worship is life lived in praise of God and shared, in cross patterned love, with others.

I guess we think of conflict over worship being a very modern thing. But worship was a contentious issue in the first century, in fact the Hebrews are under-pressure because they’ve given up Jewish ways of worship and adopted those of disciples of Jesus. They’ve given up an authorised worship for an unauthorised one. Their faith has transformed their thinking and worshipping just as it should because Jesus is the fulfilment of the sacrifices, the temple, the priesthood, and the Old Testament, he is greater than any other mediator, greater than Moses, and brings a new way of worshipping God which makes the old obsolete.

But they are feeling the pressure, not least from the Jews. Judaism is an authorised religion, Christianity isn’t. It has led some to be imprisoned, to have property confiscated and to be publicly exposed to insult. And it may be about to happen again. Sometimes going through something once makes it easier the second time round, but sometimes it just means you know what is coming.

Wouldn’t life be easier if they compromised, if they adopted and adapted, if they played down the uniqueness of Christ, or how he transforms worship. I guess they are pressures we’re familiar with.

As the pastor closes his letter he wants them to respond rightly to God’s grace in Jesus and live worshipping boldly by faith. 12:28 “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

What are the marks of such worship?

1. Practical Worship
As the pastor examines what it means to worship God his focus is on their love for one another and the actions that produces, actions dependent not on circumstance but commitment.

a. love in action. (1-2) What does he call them to do? “Keep on loving...” Continue to do what you’re doing; love your family of faith. How do you do that? It’s back to 12:15-17, living at peace, watching out for each other and working the gospel into each other’s lives. This love is also shown in showing hospitality to strangers – having brothers and sisters you don’t know into your home. What is the motivation he gives for this? “for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Abraham is the man in question(Gen 18), the people you show hospitality may be a blessing from God to you.

b. Commitment in Crisis(3) Back in 10:32-34 the pastor reminds them of how when they faced hardship and opposition in the past they identified with those in prison and being mistreated, how they committed to them. Keep on doing that he says, don’t distance yourself but identify with them. Remember means not just to think about them and pray for them but to actively show compassion, its practical outworking was providing for the families of those in prison for their faith and for the prisoner themselves.

c. Pursue Purity(4) What is the next outworking of practical worship? Honour marriage and pursue purity. Flee from any sexual immorality – any sexual activity outside of marriage. Why? Because the sexually immoral will be judged. Sexual immorality and discipleship are incompatible.

d. Be content and confident(5-6) What are they to avoid? “the love of money”. Money is not evil, but loving money is. Instead be content with what you have. Previously when persecuted the Hebrews had their property confiscated but reacted joyfully, why? because they knew they “had better and lasting possessions.” Here the call is to contentment in God’s presence and trust in his promise. Contentment flows over into confidence even as possessions are taken away by those who oppose them enabling them to say and live(6).
Worshipping God is living practically day by day in the light of his word, its warnings and its promises. It is allowing that to seep deep into our hearts and our thinking so that our actions flow from grace, transformed by Jesus.

How is your worship this morning? Is it practical, is it love in action, is it committed in crisis, are you pursuing purity as one way you worship God, are you content because of your confidence in God.

2. Distinctive Worship (7-19)
It is important, however, not just to do the right things but to have the right focus, all through Hebrews the call has been to focus on Jesus Christ and it’s the same here.
(7)Remember those who taught you the word of God, their way of living, their faith in action, and live like them grounded on what they were grounded in. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Why do they need to remember it? Because they are in danger of being carried away from it by strange teaching. This stranger teaching is a weird blend of Judaism and Christianity; it isn’t that they are in danger of abandoning Christianity but adapting and adopting a fusion of the two. Notice the contrast in (9)feed on grace not ceremonial foods; the church was in danger of adopting sacramentalism, special meals and the like as ways of worship, as additions to the gospel.

The gospel has transformed their worship but they are tempted to go back. But, the pastor says, you don’t need food to strengthen your faith, what you eat won’t build you up, grace will. You don’t need an altar or a high priest from the temple because you have the cross, you have Jesus who fulfils all that and whose once for all offering makes you right with God.
Why are they tempted to adopt elements of Judaism? Comfort of the familiar maybe, it will make them less distinctive and ease their suffering. (11-14)Why do I say that? Because he exhorts and encourages them to identify with Jesus, to stand out, to go outside the camp – to leave the people of Israel. Why? Because disciples follow their master and that is what Jesus did for us suffering outside the city, rejected by the people to make us holy. And because we know now is temporary and what is eternal is to come and that is what we live looking for.

The worship of the disciple is to be distinctive, (15-16)it is to openly profess and confess his name in word and loving action. Worship is transformed by Jesus, every believer serves God, with worship that is from both lip and hip.

We need this call to distinctive living; worshipping Jesus by confessing him because we face those same pressures to compromise not with Judaism but with multiculturalism. The pressure is always there to compromise, to fit in, be it through adopting society’s values or simply by not confessing what we believe and allowing others to assume our silence means consent.

Fundamentally the problem is allowing society to shape us rather than God’s word. And the pressure is on us just as it was the Hebrews not to believe God’s word, not to live by it, not to hold the it is THE truth.

Identify with your Saviour, worship distinctively.

3. Led to worship God
One of the features of Hebrews has been the reminder that each of us has pastoral responsibility to care for others, to look out for, encourage and teach one another the Bible. Here the pastor turns to the churches responsibility to their leaders as they carry out their task.

What are the churches leaders to do? (7)teach the Bible, model the bible, have an imitate-able faith, and keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Leaders are accountable for those they lead, that’s why leadership is something to be aspired to but not something to take on lightly – and you fulfil that charge as you faithfully teach God’s word in every context; be it Sunday morning, or at Lighthouse, or 1-2-1 or through conversations, and as you stay fixed in focus on Jesus.

How is the church to treat its leaders? Remember them, have confidence in them, and submit to them. Make their leading of you a joy not a burden. How do you do that? You respond to the teaching of the Bible, engaging with it together, you love one another practically.

How could you make it burdensome for your leaders? By being apathetic to the Bible being taught, by not focusing on Jesus, by worrying more about traditions and sacraments than grace, by not being changed as you are exposed to the Bible, and by drifting, hardening your heart and so on.

It poses the question doesn’t it; am I a joy to lead?

I think there is another danger with leaders today. One large church in the US found that when their internationally renowned pastor was on his sabbatical church attendance dropped 25%. Our problem in the western church is that we buy into the celebrity culture. We must not!

God gives us leaders to teach us the bible, to model gospel living, to care for us, and for us to submit to and trust but in no sense are they to be worshipped. They must not be put on a pedestal.

The letter to the Hebrews is a great model of this? Who wrote Hebrews? No one is sure, but that doesn’t matter, what we see is a pastor who constantly points his people to Jesus, who teaches those under his care how to use the bible and how to worship God in the light of grace.

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can human beings do to me?” Do we have that confidence that will liberate us from the fear of man, from being though of as non-pc? Remember God’s promise he will never leave us, remember what he has done for us in Jesus and strengthen your hearts by feeding on grace, by thinking about it, meditating on it. And live worshipping God distinctively despite the pressure.

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