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Diagram of Herod's Temple
Herod’s Temple, patterned after the Tabernacle

In today’s Bible reading from Hebrews 9, the writer says that the ministry under the new covenant ministry is better than the ministry under the old covenant.

Under the old covenant in the Tabernacle — and later in the Temple — the ordinary priests could enter the Holy Place to do their ministry, but ordinary men couldn’t go there. The High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place (the “Holy of Holies”), but ordinary priests couldn’t go there. And the High Priest could only enter the Most Holy Place once a year, on the Day of atonement. He had to do this every year. The writer says that Jesus’ blood was so much more effective than the blood of goats and bulls in cleansing the conscience of God’s people. (Hebrews 9:13–14). (More on this tomorrow)

Application

Imagine feeling the guilt of committing a sin, knowing that it couldn’t be covered by a sacrifice for 364 days. Imagine carrying the conviction for that sin and every other sin you commit multiple times each day for an entire year. That’s a lot of guilt.

Next, imagine the feeling on the Day of Atonement when the High Priest emerges from the Most Holy Place. All that guilt from all those sins you committed for the past 365 days was covered… in an instant!

Ministry under the new covenant is so much better! No longer do God’s people have to look forward to a day when their sins could be dealt with. Now, we can look back, knowing that our sins have been covered — all of our sins, once for all time — by Jesus’ blood. What a relief!

If you are a believer, you don’t even have to worry if a sin you committed a moment ago is covered. It was already covered almost 2000 years ago, long before the Holy Spirit even convicted you of that sin and you asked for forgiveness!

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The writer of the letter to the Hebrews brings out an important point in Hebrews 2:1 in our daily Bible reading.

For this reason, we must pay attention all the more to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away. Hebrews 2:1 (CSB)

wandering

Some translations begin verse 1 with “Therefore”. Anytime you come across “therefore”, you need to ask, “What’s it there for?” The writer is referring back to Chapter 1. The angels (literally, “messengers”) are spirits who minister to those who will inherit salvation (i.e., believers).

In other words (summing up verses 1-4), because the angels have faithfully ministered to us, we need to pay attention even more to what we’ve heard so that we won’t drift away from it. Jesus spoke, the Apostles bore witness of what Jesus said, and God Himself confirmed the message with signs and wonders. Because of all of this, we need to be very careful to pay attention to the Gospel message, otherwise, we will drift away.

Application

The writer implies that we are predisposed to drifting away. Left to our own devices, we will drift away. Because the Fall so radically affected (and effected) us, even on our best day, our own righteousness is utterly worthless. (Isaiah 64:6)

Robert Robinson summed up his heartcry in Come Thou Fount:

Oh, to grace how great a debtor,
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee:
prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
seal it for thy courts above.

The message the angels proclaimed proved reliable and we have the Bible as an authoritative basis for our faith and practice. God’s Word is our map. How much more should we deep-dive into the depths of God’s Word so that we won’t drift away from the Gospel Message!

Yes, we are so prone to wander when we should be prone to wonder at the grace of God. Until That Day when we do, we should all the more, guard our hearts above all else, because our new, redeemed hearts are the wellspring of our Lifesong. (Proverbs 4:23)

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At the end of today’s reading from Mark 12, we find the story of the widow dropping money into the treasury (Mark 12:41-44).

We aren’t told if Jesus was the only person who was watching, but I think it’s safe to assume that he wasn’t alone in observing people as they dropped in their offering. Jesus makes the point elsewhere (Matthew 6:3) that our giving should be done in secret.

Jesus is the only person who should know how much we give. Unfortunately, because of the way tax deduction documentation is set up in the US, it’s difficult to truly give in secret. When you drop a check in the offering plate, put cash into an envelope, or make an online donation, more eyes than you think will see your offering.

It’s important to give. Not because the church needs the money. Not because the preacher needs the money. And not because God needs the money. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). Trust me, He doesn’t need your money!

But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t give. Actually, I would add that we need to give. Giving is good for us. Giving reminds us that everything that we have belongs to God and that we are merely stewards of what He has given us. Everything we receive we should hold with open hands.

Some people give to be seen by others. Some people give in order to receive a tax deduction. But what if you didn’t receive a tax deduction? Would you still give?

When you give, do you give something, just to have something to drop in the offering plate so other people won’t think that you don’t give at all? Or do you give out of the abundance of your heart (and wallet)?

Application

The widow gave what she had… all that she had. How about you?

Today’s Bible reading from Mark 11 includes Jesus cleansing the Temple (Mark 11:15-17).

To understand what’s going on, it helps to get an idea of the general layout of the Temple in the First Century, which was divided into several parts. The High Priest was the only man allowed into the Most Holy Place (Holy of Holies), and then only once a year. Other priests could go into the Court of the Priests and the Holy Place. Men were able to go into the Court of Israel, but not into the Court of the Priests. Women were able to go into the Court of the Women, but not into the Court of Israel. Surrounding the Court of the Women and the Court of Israel was the Court of the Gentiles.

During the First Century, Jews would go to the Temple to offer their sacrifices. For convenience’s sake, instead of bringing the animals from home, they would often purchase acceptable sacrificial animals when they got there. The marketplace for buying their unblemished animals was in the Court of the Gentiles. And this is where Jesus created a scene. Well, actually, the scene had already been created by corrupt and crooked vendors, and Jesus just showed up to clean it up.

So why was Jesus so upset? Think about it: The Court of the Gentiles was the only part of the Jewish holy place that Gentiles could access. So all they could see of Jewish worship was corrupt, crooked activity. Instead of it being a sacred place, it was a profaned place. Instead of it being a place of prayer, it had been turned into a “den of thieves”. (Mark 11:17)

Application

Although He does not live in a building (Acts 7:48), God takes worship very seriously. Where we worship isn’t nearly as important what and that we worship. (John 4:21-24) And what was being done in the Court of the Gentiles distracted Jews from a God they could worship and kept Gentiles from knowing a God they should worship.

God is worthy of Worship. Christians do missions and evangelism because we want to help people to find the God Who created them to worship Him.

My family and I have watched ABC’s The Middle since it began its first season. Because we’re normally occupied with other things on Wednesday Nights, we set our DVR and watched it later. This Fall, for its ninth and final season, The Middle was moved to Tuesday Nights; we still DVR the show to watch later. And I may keep this week’s episode for posterity’s sake. Yes, it was that good!

TheMiddleFinalSeason400wIf you’ve never watched The Middle, you have missed out on some funny programming. ABC’s description of the show is, “Forget about athletes, movie stars and politicians. Parents are the real heroes—but we think Frankie Heck, must be some kind of superhero. A loving wife and mother of three, she’s middle class in the middle of the country and is rapidly approaching middle age.” Thus, it’s called “The Middle”.

In the December 12th episode (Episode 10, The Christmas Miracle), Axl, the recent college graduate and oldest child in the family tells his mother that we won’t be going to church with the family on Christmas Eve. He doesn’t see a valid reason for going. As Axl’s family members learn of his disinterest, they express their thoughts of why they go to church. Mike, Axl’s dad says that he’s not one to ask; he’s not very sure of his own faith commitment. His mother, Frankie, searches for her reasons, and settles on the subjective, pleasant feelings she gets when she goes to church. After Axl’s sister, Sue can’t fathom the idea that someone in her family could possibly struggle with their faith.

Many of us experienced a kind of “crisis of belief”, normally around the time Axl does. We wonder what’s the point of maintaining our family’s faith traditions. I see this as a very healthy thing because if we are going to grow in our faith (2Peter 3:18), we must “own” it for ourselves. The faith of our dad, mom, and grandparents is insufficient for eternity, as well as for right now. It’s in these “crisis of belief” times we think that church and the Bible are boring. We don’t see the point of continuing in the Christian faith because we don’t see how it has made a difference in anyone’s life. We don’t see church, faith, the Bible as being… relevant.

Over the past couple of weeks, many of our members have talked about how our adult children – whom we faithfully took to church every Sunday, and tried to instill the value of going – don’t attend church anymore. We invite them, but they seem to have other commitments with their kids’ soccer games, going out to the deer lease, or just sleeping in. Each Sunday, on our way to church, we drive past many homes with all the cars in the driveway. Axl Heck’s feelings are voiced by many former church-attenders and never-attenders alike.

A couple of weeks ago I said that people don’t go to church because they don’t see any reason to go. They see the whole “church thing” as boring. They don’t understand anything in the Bible (assuming they ever pick up… and assuming they have a translation they can understand). They think the church is full of hypocrites. They don’t like the music. They think that everybody’s beliefs are equally valid. They think that all religions basically teach the same thing. They feel they were dragged to church as children and have no interest now that they can make their own decisions, they decide to not go. They think all we ever talk about is money.

Yes, I think “relevance” is the right word for the times. “They” don’t see the relevance. And if we’re honest, we don’t see the relevance either!

Several of our members – who have been believers for decades – have recently told me that 2017 marks the first time they have ever read the entire New Testament. One told me that he’s never read the entire Old Testament, and for most of his Christian life, he has memorized very few verses of the Bible. From other conversations I have had, I can sadly say that his experience is typical of many of our members – and it’s typical of most people who call themselves, “Christians”!

Whether or not we want to admit it, based on our priorities as we live them out, we don’t see the Bible, prayer, Scripture memory, fellowshipping with other Believers, and evangelism/discipleship as being relevant! At all! Sure, we can say we do, but we really don’t. I say these things, not to judge, but to simply state the facts.

Whether or not we realize it, Axl Heck’s question is our question. Why go to church? Why read my Bible? What differences do any of these things make in the early Twenty-first Century?

These are good questions. Questions that I look forward to following up on in the coming days.

Pastor Craig

 

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