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“Bringing Dry Bones Back to Life” (a study of Hebrews) An Introduction

05 Apr


“Bringing Dry Bones Back to Life” (a study of Hebrews)

An Introduction

Many people believe Christianity faces a fate where its buildings will become museums to be visited by those wanting to review history. It’s believed that Christianity will live in small groups of people, but the vitality will be gone.

People base these pessimistic predictions on reports that say religion is declining in American life. Sociologists tell about a startling contradiction: people are as religious as they were in generations ago, but they go to church less.

How does any person sitting here today evaluate the “spiritual health of this congregation?” Do we look at budgets, attendance, ministries, or patterns of growth? They certainly offer ‘indicators’ but we quickly acknowledge that ‘vital signs’ are taken from the ‘inside out.’

Because we worry about the future of the church, we should recall that the Bible is not a story of triumph after triumph: Discouragement overtook the children of Israel many times. Elijah complained in 1 Kings 19:10: “He repliedezekiel_s_valley_of_the_dry_bones_by_ufrugger-d5tc7n3, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.””

Do you remember God’s response? Verse 18: “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel–all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”

I especially like Ezekiel 37:1-10: “The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. {2} He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. {3} He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” {4} Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! {5} This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. {6} I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.'” {7} So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. {8} I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. {9} Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.'” {10} So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet–a vast army.”

Jesus’ ministry didn’t always look like a success story. There were instances when ” From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (John 6:66 (NIV) There have always been periods of decline among the people of God.

What resources do we have to bring life to a tired community? Of course, it is God who ultimately works to bring life to the church. In the past (and in many places today) periodic “revivals” or “meetings” were tried to achieve renewal. In many instances, these occasions were very useful in stimulating the church to greater service. Meetings, campaigns, and other special programs indicate our awareness that communities do grow tired and that one of our great needs is to find the resources for renewal.

In reality, we have likely been more successful in providing momentary diversions than in providing on going renewal of the church.

If the writer to the Hebrews had one text it was: “Let us draw near.”

Hebrews 10:19-23: “Therefore, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, . . . let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.”

(Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV) “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. {15} For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. {16} Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

(Hebrews 6:1 NIV) “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God…”

(Hebrews 10:22 NIV) “…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”

The Christians here were in danger of committing apostasy (of turning their back on Christ and going back to the law). They had been Christians long enough to have developed spiritual depth and insight…yet they were said to be “dull of hearing” and still needed “milk instead of solid food.”

As Christians, we know the answer to the world’s problems, but the problem was: “How to make the world believe the answer?” Story of a young Christian who seemed considerably troubled. With a deeply concerned look on his face, he said, ” Why doesn’t the world believe what we have to say?” Then he added, “I think it’s because so many Christians don’t act like they believe it themselves.” Then he asked the logical, but thorny, question: “How can we make Christians believe what they believe?”

That is the very theme of the book of Hebrews: How to make Christians believe, how to make Christians act like Christians. This is what the world is waiting to see and what the epistle was written to effect. It is addressed to a group of Jewish Christians who had begun to drift, to lose their faith.

They had lost all awareness of the relevancy of their faith to the daily affairs of life. They had begun to drift into outward formal religious performance, but to lose the inner reality. Doubts were creeping into their hearts from some of the humanistic philosophies that abounded in the world of their day, as they abound in the world of our day. Some of them were about to abandon their faith in Christ, not because they were attracted again by Jewish ritual and ceremony, but because of persecution and pressure.

They felt it was not worthwhile; they were losing too much, and that it was possible, just possible, that they had been deceived and the message of Christ was not true after all.

Hebrews 1:1-2 (NIV)
1  In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,
2  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.

The great tragedy is this: men have groped and grasped after God as though they were in a dark world maxresdefaultthat gave no evidence of God. But this is just not so; there is no need for man to be in the dark about God. Why? Because God has revealed Himself, and He has revealed Himself in many different ways:

  • through nature or what might be called a revelation of His Supreme deity and power. A person can look at nature and clearly see God’s deity and power
  • through conscience or what might be called an inner witness or sense of duty to God.
  • through law or what might be called a revelation of Supreme justice
  • through religion or what might be called a revelation of how to worship and become acceptable to God
  • through prophets and priests or what might be called the revelation of God through human spokesmen and mediators.

The list could go on and on, but the point is that God has revealed Himself to man, and each revelation has been very important for man’s understanding of God. But despite all these revelations, something vital is still missing. If man is ever to know God, there is only one way, the very same way that man gets to know anybody.

Man can know about a person, know all the facts about a person’s life; but until he personally meets the person and associates and fellowships with him, he does not personally know him.

Therefore if man was to ever know God, God had to reveal Himself in the most supreme way possible: He had to come to earth and show Himself to man, revealing exactly who He is and what He is like. This is the whole point of the first four chapters.

The word better is used thirteen times in this book as the writer shows the superiority of Jesus Christ and His salvation over the Hebrew system of religion. Christ is “better than the angels” (Heb. 1:4). He brought in “a better hope” (Heb. 7:19) because He is the Mediator of “a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Heb. 8:6).

Another word that is repeated in this book is perfect; in the original Greek it is used fourteen times. It means a perfect standing before God. This perfection could never be accomplished by the levitical priesthood (Heb. 7:11) or by the Law (Heb. 7:19), nor could the blood of animal sacrifices achieve it (Heb. 10:1). Jesus Christ gave Himself as one offering for sin, and by this He has “perfected forever them that are sanctified” (Heb. 10:14).

Eternal is a third word that is important to the message of Hebrews. Christ is the “author of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:9). Through His death, He “obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12) and He shares with believers “the promise of eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15). His throne is forever (Heb. 1:8) and He is a priest forever (Heb. 5:6; 6:20; 7:17, 21). “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

When you combine these three important words, you discover that Jesus Christ and the Christian life He gives us are better because these blessings are eternal and they give us a perfect standing before God. The religious system under the Mosaic Law was imperfect because it could not accomplish a once-for-all redemption that was eternal.

These people were “second generation believers,” having been won to Christ by those who had known Jesus Christ during His ministry on earth (Heb. 2:3). They were true believers (Heb. 3:1) and not mere professors.

They had been persecuted because of their faith (Heb. 10:32-34; 12:4; 13:13-14), and yet they had faithfully ministered to the needs of others who had suffered (Heb. 6:10). But they were being seduced by teachers of false doctrine (Heb. 13:9), and they were in danger of forgetting the true Word that their first leaders, now dead, had taught them (Heb. 13:7).

The tragic thing about these believers is that they were at a standstill spiritually and in danger of going backward (Heb. 5:12ff). Some of them had even forsaken the regular worship services (Heb. 10:25) and were not making spiritual progress (Heb. 6:1). In the Christian life, if you do not go forward, you go backward; there is no permanent standing still.

“How can you go back into your former religion?” the writer asked them. “Just take time to evaluate what you have in Jesus Christ. He is better than anything you ever had under the Law.”

Much like our own times, the writer of Hebrews and his audience are not accustomed to daily miraculous experiences that make God’s presence in our world glaringly obvious. These people are not first-generation followers. None of them saw Jesus; apparently they are not accustomed to the miracle-working of the early apostles and leaders.

Like us, the activity of God in their world is apparently more subtle. When the social world around them seems to be doing just fine without God or when they seem to be suffering and ridiculed and excluded from the materialistic successes around them, they could decide that God really isn’t active. Their faith has cost them a great deal in the social setting in which they live.

They could decide to just blend back in, find their identity in the social structures and material world around them. Or they could believe that God has acted in Christ in ways that have eternal import for their lives.

“God Speaks To Us…Through Jesus

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways. (1:1)

Here is an indication of how God wrote the Old Testament. Its purpose was to prepare for the coming of Christ. Whether by prophecy or type or principle or commandment or whatever, it made preparation for Christ.

This He did through the words of the Old Testament. He used men as instruments, but was Himself behind them, enlightening and energizing them. The deists teach that God started the world going and then went away, leaving it to run by itself. But God is not detached from His creation; He is not uninvolved in our world. The true and living God, unlike the false gods of man’s making, is not dumb or indifferent. The God of Scripture, unlike the impersonal “First Cause” of some philosophers, is not silent. He speaks. He first spoke in the Old Testament, which is not a collection of the wisdom of ancient men but is the voice of God.

The senses of man, marvelous as they are, are incapable of reaching beyond the natural world. For us to know anything about God, He must tell us. We could never know God if He did not speak to us. Thus, in the Old Testament, the writer reminds us, “God … spoke.”

How does God work in our world? Through Jesus!

In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. (1:2)

God’s full, perfect revelation awaited the coming of His Son. God, who used to speak in many different ways through many different people, has finally spoken in one way, through one Person, His Son Jesus Christ.

The whole New Testament is centered around Christ. The gospels tell His story, the epistles comment on it, and the Revelation tells of its culmination. From beginning to end the New Testament is Christ. No prophet had been given God’s whole truth. The Old Testament was given to many men, in bits and pieces and fragments. Jesus not only brought, but was, God’s full and final Revelation.

Yes, he has always cared about and paid attention to our needs. He has desired to be in communication with us from the start. He spoke to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He talked to Abraham through angels and in bodily form. He came to Joseph and Daniel in dreams. Oh, he even raised up a string of prophets to give a more general word to people – Moses, Deborah, Isaiah, Amos. But we weren’t getting his point. We were garbling the message. We were fighting over words and their interpretation.

So heaven pulled out all the stops and God chose to enflesh his message in a Son. Love became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. In the mind of the unnamed writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Jesus is the final and unanswerable proof that God not only knows about our human plight but cares for us with love that knows no boundaries.

Jesus isn’t almost divine but “the exact imprint of God’s very being.” He isn’t trying to come up with a remedy for sin but “made purification for sins” and sat down at God’s right hand. He isn’t as good as God’s other servants and messengers but has inherited “the name” that is “more excellent than theirs.”

He isn’t as good as God’s other servants and messengers but has inherited “the name” that is “more excellent than theirs.”

This preacher-writer of ours can’t say enough about Jesus! He strings together a series of descriptors for him that anticipate the all-important, incomparable role assigned to him in this sermon-epistle. These verses are very simple. They tell us Christ is superior to everyone and everything. The three primary features of His superiority are: preparation, presentation, and preeminence. Keep in mind that all through the book Christ is presented as being better than the best of everyone and everything that was before Him—absolutely better than anything the Old Testament, the Old Covenant, provided.

*Appreciation to James Thompson and “Strategy for Survival” book

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2015 in Article

 

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