Hello everybody, and happy Thursday to you! Today is the beginning of week 8 of quarantine for us in central California/The Bay Area. That seems like a long time. If you had told me at the beginning of the year that my whole city would spend 8 weeks in quarantine this year, and you somehow convinced me it was absolutely true, then after I got over my stunned silence, I guess I would begin to prepare for the end of the world...anything that could keep a whole city/state/country in quarantine for weeks at a time must be horrifying. And yet the reality of what we've experienced has been somewhat less than most Outbreak style movies would depict. It is unnerving, and i don't really think people are exaggerating the coronavirus by and large, at least I don't think the experts are. Some experts seem to consider it slightly worse than the flu and some experts seem to consider it slightly less worse then Captain Trips or XDR Tuberculosis, but when taken in total, the experts seem to paint a pretty accurate picture: Coronavirus is quite serious - more so than flu, but it is not a death sentence to most people. i'd love to know what we will think in a couple of years. Did we overreact or underreact to this threat? Honestly, I think it might be too soon to tell, but my guess is that - in the moment at least - we properly reacted. Two years from now when we are likely to have effective Covid treatments, I suspect that we will will look back and think that we overreacted, but we don't have effective treatments now - at least not in large scale. My money's on Remdesivir, and has been since March. I am not literally investing in it, however, though I would if I could! Well... you didn't come here for the coronavirus musings of a non-expert, so let's get to the meat of the podcast:
Today's Bible readings include Numbers 15, Psalms 51, Isaiah 5 and Hebrews 12. Back to Hebrews for our focus passage, and to Hebrews 12:1-3 for the origin of that question. Honestly, since the pandemic has hit, this has been probably my most comforting Bible passage - Hebrews 12:1-3 or Psalms 34.
Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, 2 keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.3 For consider him who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, so that you won’t grow weary and give up.
As I said, Hebrews 12:1-4 has become a most precious passage to me over these past 8 or so weeks of uncertainty and fear. 7 weeks of quarantine with a family of 7 - all of us eager to be anywhere but home - can be trying and wearying. This passage gives us great counsel on how to get through times of weariness, times of hindrance and times when we just want to give up. What is that counsel? We are to Keep our eyes on Jesus, or FIX our eyes on Jesus. When we consider Him, we will - somehow, someway - have the strength to keep going. It's a great passage, and very spiritual sounding...but the big question is this: HOW (practically speaking) do we keep our eyes on Jesus since He is no longer here on earth, and is invisible to us?
Here's the thing: The Bible is not just giving us spiritual counsel that is impossible to follow in a practical way. I believe there are at least TWO big ways, as we have discussed in part before, that we can keep/fix/focus on Jesus and consider Him.
#1 - We consider Jesus and fix our eyes on Him through His Word - by reading His teachings, His message, and reading the Gospel's description of His life, death and resurrection. This is using what many call our 'mind's eye,' but with the Word of God, I believe it goes beyond mere imagination. We are told earlier in Hebrews 4:12 that God's Word is "living and active," and I'm not sure that most of us have fully apprehended just exactly what that passage means. I am quite certain that it means that the Words of the Bible are far different from the words of other books. When we read Tom Sawyer, we don't encounter Mark Twain, but only his imagination. Likewise reading anything by Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, Lu Xun, Steinbeck, Hemingway or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. All of these are brilliant writers and minds, but we don't actually interact with THEM when we read their books, because they are all dead. When we read the Word of God, however, we DO encounter God and His living and active presence. I don't know exactly how this works, but John 1 tells us that Jesus IS the Word of God. Revelation 19 tells us that Jesus' name is 'the Word of God.' What does this mean? I don't know for certain, but I believe these passages mean that we actually - somehow, someway - encounter Jesus in His Word. Not merely His teachings, but HIMSELF. We see this a little bit in John 15. Initially, Jesus is talking about His disciples abiding in Him, and He in them/us, but then He shifts in verse 7:
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.
It is almost as if the Word of Jesus and the presence of Jesus are...synonymous, similar - I struggle with words here, but I believe the Bible is pointing us to a very interesting dynamic in which the living Word in us is more than a mere remembrance of the teaching of Jesus but is itself the presence of Jesus. The bottom line is this: The primary way we look to Jesus as the author and perfecter/finisher of our faith - and the primary way we consider/concentrate on Jesus is through His living Word.
I also believe that there is a second way, that is somewhat related to the first way. Yesterday, in Hebrews 11, we discussed how faith is SUBSTANCE/REALITY/CONCRETE - the REALITY of what is hoped for and the proof for what is seen. A few days ago, in Hebrews 8 and 9, we saw how Jesus - as the High Priest of Heaven is actively in the Tabernacle of Heaven mediating between God and Man (drawing us and God the Father closer) and interceding for His people. Jesus is - RIGHT NOW - mediating/ministering/interceding in the Heavenly Tabernacle. Ministering before God the Father on behalf of His followers. I believe we can look to Jesus in the Heavenly Tabernacle by faith, in the same way John Piper talked about yesterday in His discussion of faith in Hebrews 11. Since faith is not mere hope, but a concrete assurance of reality - we KNOW that Jesus is in the tabernacle praying for His and mediating for us. As Robert Murray M'Cheyne, the Scottish author of the Bible reading plan we are following says:
“If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me."
Pastor Robert Murray M'Cheyne
And that's it. By faith we BELIEVE with real CERTAINTY that Jesus is praying for His people and mediating on our behalf - and KNOWING THAT gives us perseverance and strength and hope and energy and causes us NOT to quit! In this way, we are SEEING JESUS - LOOKING TO JESUS - CONSIDERING JESUS. Let me close with two more encouraging truths:
“It is a consoling thought that Christ is praying for us, even when we are negligent in our prayer life; that He is presenting to the Father those spiritual needs which were not present to our minds and which we often neglect to include in our prayers; and that He prays for our protection against the dangers of which we are not even conscious, and against the enemies which threaten us, though we do not notice it. He is praying that our faith may not cease, and that we may come out victoriously in the end."
Louis Berkhoff - Systematic Theology
Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.
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